An essay by James Dultry, as provided by Franz Bidinger III
Illustration by Luke Spooner
The newspapers called it Colombian Devil’s Breath. The scientists, Scopolamine. I call it the drug that ruined our country.
This isn’t a morality tale about the war on drugs or some sad story about how addiction destroyed our youth. This is my recollection of how the world’s paramount superpower was turned into a nuclear wasteland because of a little white powder.
I was working as a bodyguard for the Vice President of the United States. The job description stated that my life was not as important as this man who wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. It’s doubtful he even knew my name as anything other than bodyguard number one or two. But shit, it was hard for me to complain. Lofty benefits and a bloated salary to maybe take a bullet for a man no one cared about enough to shoot at? I figured that my long stint with the special forces would prepare me for any danger surrounding Mr. Vice President.
I followed the guy everywhere. The five other bodyguards and I all had sleeping cots at his estates and we accompanied him to whichever country he was sent to brownnose in. Before we were sent anywhere though, the CIA briefed us at the Pentagon, explaining every possible threat we might find and how to adequately protect the Vice President. Half of it was always paranoid horseshit and half the time they missed a real threat. Nonetheless, we figured Colombia would just be another quick in and out featuring black coffee and beautiful women. And it was. But that was when the government should have known that some very messy shit was brewing.
We were scheduled to meet with various Colombian dignitaries over a two day period. On the second day, we met the Mayor of Bogota.
He was late. When he finally arrived, he hastily shook the Vice President’s hand and sat behind an ornately carved wooden desk while muttering softly under his breath.
“My apologies, Mr. Vice President. We have had a string of crime as of late and my people needed reassurance.”
The Vice President looked only mildly interested. “Murders? Drugs?”
The mayor responded with a sigh. “In a way both. It is burundanga.”
“And this burundanga is what exactly? Cocaine? Heroin?” The Vice President was swirling the ice in a glass of water he was holding.
“Oh no, it’s none of those. It is very powerful. Much more so than any street drugs.”
The Vice President stopped swirling the glass and looked up. “Go on.”
“A tiny amount of this powder exposed to a person’s nose or mouth and they are not able to exercise will power. Anything the criminal tells them to do they will do.”
“So it’s like rufalin?”
“Not so much. These roofies are found here as well but the burandanga leaves the victim fully articulate and able to control their bodies. This is why it is such a big problem. We cannot tell who is suffering from the effects. The criminals expose a person to the burundanga and ask them to take out all their money from the bank. When the person wakes up the next day, they cannot remember anything that has happened but their possessions and families are gone.”
The mayor continued to explain that this burundanga, as he called it, had become a major problem in the recent decade. It was being used as a kind of mind control agent to leave people easily persuaded into doing nearly anything. This shit wasn’t solely domestic either. Customs agents at the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota started finding it packed in with cocaine and heroin that smugglers were trying to take out of the country. It was steadily rising as a prolific illegal export and the Colombian authorities could do almost nothing to curb its production. The mayor told us that the stuff was refined from flowers that grow on trees found on every other corner in the city.
I was baffled that the CIA hadn’t highlighted this on the list of potential threats we’d find in Columbia. When we arrived back in the states, the Vice President briefed the CIA on this burundanga. Apparently, they hadn’t even looked into details on the drug. So much for a fucking intelligence agency.
It was winter. The ground was frozen and the Vice President spent the holiday months staying with family at his estates and visiting local businesses; doing what we called “pre-promotion” for the mid-term elections that would happen the following year. This was effectively my off time. You’d think that I’d appreciate a little lull in my job, but years of preparing yourself to take a bullet on cue tends to give rest an anxious undertone. My colleagues started joking that I would have a heart attack before I’d get the chance to take a bullet. Ever since the Vice President had that meeting with the Mayor of Bogota, my confidence had been fleeting and I couldn’t piece together why.
Well, my paranoia came full circle when the bomb went off in Los Angeles. We rushed the Vice President to the Pentagon for a national security briefing minutes after reports of the explosion began circulating. The CIA suspected that this was the work of some small scale terrorist organization, as they had linked a group of possible suspects to previous affiliations with Hamas and certain sects of Al-Qaeda. We were being told to take the Vice President to a safe house when my memory faded out.
I awoke to the muffled sound of phones ringing. I was leaned against a wall in the same briefing room we’d been in before my memory cut out. There were other people passed out in chairs and on the floor, breathing silently. None of them were the Vice President. I staggered to my feet and wandered around the room, searching for the man I was paid to protect. I left the room and walked down a short hallway towards the cries of the telephones in a nearby room. One of my colleagues was lying face down in the middle of the hallway.
I shook him awake and asked, “Where’s the Vice President?” He blinked at me and stammered, “What? Oh, shit, I don’t … I don’t know. What’s going on?”
I stepped over him and passed through the doors into a lofty room with large monitors on the walls and rows of desks with computers and phones incessantly screaming for someone to pick up. Most of the desks were occupied by sleeping people, somehow dozing through the violence of the ringing phones inches from their heads. It felt as if the room was vibrating.
I stood on an elevated platform at the front of the room and yelled, “Wake up people! Where is the Vice President?”
A dozen people shrugged awake and gazed at me with empty eyes. A soft murmur arose but no one answered me. Fucking useless. I had no interest in “what was going on,” my job security was missing and he was my number one priority. I never even thought about the fact that the President wasn’t lying around anywhere either. No doubt people would be looking for him first, but I couldn’t give two shits. Not my liability, not my problem. I walked out of the ringing room and down more hallways until I found a door locked by a passcode screen and labeled “Security Maintenance.” No time for codes. I pulled out my 9mm, fired a half a dozen holes around the handle of the door, and kicked it open. I sat down at the first of four computers in the room and flipped through security footage until the screen showed the briefing room. By this time, people had heard the shots and found me. Five of them shuffled into the room and leaned over me to watch. The video had been recorded six hours prior. It all seemed just as I remembered it. Everyone was sitting or standing, breathing in and out, and talking with each other. The chief of the CIA turned towards me and then everyone just stopped. No one talked and everyone, including myself, just stared like static drones. I had to rewind just to make sure that the footage hadn’t paused or stopped. The surreal nature of the footage was disrupted twenty seconds later when a man dressed in a black suit walked through the doors and started addressing everyone. I had never seen this man in my life, but all of us seemed to react as if his presence and his words were normal or expected. I turned the audio up and heard the suited man say, “Everyone else just stay here and rest. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, we have some work to do. Please come with me.” The video showed the three of them walk out of the room while the rest of us just stared. I couldn’t help thinking back to that day in Bogota.
Our little viewing party ended when the chief of the CIA poked his head into the doorway. “People, you need to see this now. Follow me.” The group of us reentered the large command room where the phones were still ringing, but periodically being picked up by their moderators. The double monitors on one of the walls were showing the national news. The female anchor had black tears pooling beneath her eyelashes. “… number of casualties is unknown at this point. We have yet to confirm who is behind this attack. It is not clear as to when the President will address the American public but we will continue to give you information as it comes to us. If anyone in the Chicago-Great Lakes area is out there listening, please call our national hotline and let us know how this dreadful situation is unfolding.”
Over the next three days, the details of what actually happened gradually became more clear. The bomb in Los Angeles had been a decoy to get the President and other top officials to the Pentagon. Whoever orchestrated this knew that there would be a short time frame in which the President and his advisors would be at the Pentagon after reports of a national security threat surfaced. The CIA finally decided to take it upon itself to investigate our warnings of scopolamine and found faint traces of it in the air filters that pumped heat into the Pentagon on that cold day. Someone had swiped security with scopolamine, scattered the stuff in the building’s air ducts, and waltzed right through the Pentagon. With the most powerful governmental officials at his disposal, the man in the suit asked the President to order the detonation of three nuclear bombs. One went off in Hong Kong. Another went off in Seoul. The last decimated Tehran. The suited man then took the President and Vice President and left. We still don’t know where they are or if they’re even alive. No one can seem to tell us who this prick wearing the suit is either. So much for a fucking intelligence agency.
These three atom bombs went off within fifteen minutes of each other. Fifteen minutes to destroy three major cities that collectively held nearly 26 million people. Over the next hour, a retaliatory nuke had been detonated in Chicago, an Iranian army was in motion to sack Israel, and China was threatening war with the U.S. The fear of the Cold War was realized. Four nuclear bombs had been detonated around the world within a single hour.
To say that this has created a monumental clusterfuck is a massive understatement. South Korea and North Korea are now under the sole rule of Kim Jong Il, who surprisingly came to the aid of the South Koreans and executed every American soldier he could hunt down and corner. Under his orders, an atomic bomb had destroyed Chicago and consequently polluted Lake Michigan, eliminating the major water source for millions of people in the Midwest. The Chinese now have a reason to demand the $1.2 trillion worth of debt the U.S owes them and is also threatening to side with Kim Jong Il. The national Iranian army has invaded Israel and it’s thought that they plan to use our own weapons against us.
The worst part about all of this, if that’s even a reasonable thing to say, is that the American public doesn’t believe the truth. The CIA released the details of that winter day in an attempt to reassure the public that the U.S government is a victim in this case. But any faith Americans previously had has gone. The President and Vice President still haven’t been found, and the public is demanding to know why they disappeared immediately after they ordered the detonation of atomic bombs on two of our allies. I don’t blame them either. This government has been fucking with its people’s trust for a long time and now that we are all collective victims, no one wants to believe it. Instead, they want to attribute blame somewhere nearby. Saying that the bad guys are over in North Korea or Tehran doesn’t hold any water when trust has been replaced by a toxic cynicism and doubt in the authority that governs you.
Now people just grieve and wait. They grieve for the millions who have died and are dying and wait for the retaliation inevitably coming from the world that our violence has nearly destroyed. Most of the population has moved to the coasts or farther south in an effort to get as far away as possible from the radiation floating around the Chicago area. There’s no doubt that the radiation will eventually touch most of the U.S. but what can we do? The devastating truth is that no government can ever adequately prepare for a tactical nuke on its own soil. The tools needed to undo this kind of destruction just don’t exist.
What will the world come to? I don’t know. All I can tell you is what it is right now: a floating orb of confusion where a couple grams of white dust can drop bombs.
James Dultry is an ex-special forces officer who spent ten years as a bodyguard for high profile individuals. He played his part in allowing the world to turn to shit and he’ll never let himself off the proverbial hook for losing the Vice President. He currently resides in a government regulated radiation bunker at a location that’s still classified.
Franz Bidinger III is not as foreign as his name might suggest. He enjoys fly-fishing, hockey, and bourbon-laced evenings discussing philosophy and other impractical matters.
Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that peaks his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com