58. Exit The Garden
There had been no signs of trouble in Eden as the two dozen men dressed in camouflage gear, their faces covered in balaclavas, moved stealthily down the mountain shortly after midnight on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening in late May. The Eden project had been underway for a little over three years, and work was underway at all seven village sites. The first two villages, the Labyrinth, the Community Center and about ninety percent of the transportation grid were nearing completion. Most of the people from Cibola, as well as most of those from Barley Mill who sought to relocate to Eden had moved out of the FEMA trailers, and work was also nearing completion on many of the federally-subsidized houses rebuilt in Barley Mill. The Cibola site far back up the mountains had now been completely abandoned and was beginning to be reclaimed by the forest, just as centuries earlier, the communities of Mayan civilization had been reclaimed by the jungles of Central America. Adam Sennett and his daughter-in-law, Freddie Watson, and her husband Cane had spent an entire week on a walking-tour survey of the boundary fence with its federal No Trespassing signs that had once completely surrounded the Cibola site. They found that the fence was rusting badly and falling into disrepair in numerous places. In particular, large gaps had been opened in the direct path of the deluge that was created when the slurry pond gave way and the other residents of Dare County suddenly learned of the existence of the Cibola community several years before.
Each of the men carried an automatic assault rifle, several clips of ammunition, three or four hand grenades, and a small package of C4 and PE4 explosives. Unbeknownst to anyone in Eden, this group who called themselves the Rural Nationalist Association, the RNA, had covertly been stockpiling caches of weapons, ammo and explosives in locations on the perimeter of Eden for several weeks, prior to what they were calling, with no sense of any historical irony, “VE Day”. VE in the RNA battle plan, was short for Vengance toward Eden, with no seeming awareness of the misspelling.
The RNA as an organization was committed to the preservation and protection of traditional rural ways of life by any means necessary. To them, the Eden Project represented the single most repugnant development in rurality in the last half-century. Nationally, the political and public relations arm of the RNA had issued numerous warnings of the threat that The Eden Project represented. Now the time had come for action, and the men who moved swiftly through the night were committed to acting. Their dedication to the mission was unanimous — with one exception.
From his location in the woods, he heard no further noise for at least an hour. Then, at precisely one A.M. the explosions began and pandemonium reigned for what seemed an eternity. For roughly the next half an hour he could hear the sounds of explosions, gun fire, screaming, shouting and the general din of battle. Then, just as suddenly it was over and he knew that things had gone according to plan and all of the men of the RNA were making their escape back into the woods and moving toward the rendezvous point, where he hoped their journey would end.
After he was certain that all of his two dozen collaborators slipped back into the woods as silently as they had come, one lone figure dressed exactly like the others emerged from the woods, pulled off his balaclava, laid down his unfired weapon and, with an anguished scream of pure rage threw his cell phone against the nearest large tree almost certainly shattering the screen and destroying it. He knew they might miss him temporarily but it no longer mattered. His cover would be blown, but that didn’t matter either. He had done everything that he set out to do, and even as he sat there the federal “roll up” of the RNA would be beginning.
In the planning for the raid, he had been assigned as a one-man team to set explosives to bring down the parking garage and Intermodal Transportation hub (IMTH)on the outer ring of the PRT tracks and as the other men had begun splitting up to set their explosive charges, no one noticed that while he set off in the general direction of the hub before he had moved back into the cover of the surrounding woods, sought a position on high ground and had spent nearly all of the time during which the raid was unfolding trying to reach his control officer, who in turn had been trying to convince his superiors that the raid was, indeed, occurring, and waiting for the forces of law and order which had not yet arrived.
The sheer audacity of the raid and the speed with which it was executed, together with the late hour had worked to the advantage of the RNA, just as they had hoped. What the leaders of the RNA had not counted on was a mole in their midst, one who could now identify all of those who participated, and who in his 27 months undercover with the organization had systematically generated enough evidence to put all of them in prison for the rest of their lives. Thanks to him, the feds knew for example, the secret location in the forest where they would gather two hours from now to debrief one another on their mission. He knew also that federal agents were already waiting for them there and would immediately arrest and transport the men to different locations for interrogation. He hoped that this would mean they would not be able to immediately determine his absence, before he too had a chance to get away.
Although the RNA had been planning and talking about this raid for months, he was still horrified at the extent of the devastation to the new town of Eden. Everywhere he looked he could see fires burning, and in the flickering light of the flames the damaged and destroyed houses and buildings.
Abbe reflected as he sat there and waited for his control officer to arrive along with unknown others what a strange, disconcerting several years it had been for him. He had left Barley Mill nearly 40 months ago for Washington DC. He thought at the time that he was leaving for a short six month stint deep in the federal bureaucracy as so many of his ancestors, including his dad’s great uncle Arthur, had before him. After that, he had expected to return to his dual life in Barley Mill and Cibola to begin the long process of preparation under his father’s guidance to take up leadership of the Cibola community, including the steps necessary to get himself elected as the next Dare County Clerk. It was less than two weeks later that “Digger” Proffitt’s slurry pond had failed flooding the secret valley where the Cibola community had existed for more than four hundred years, poisoning the environment, destroying most of the buildings in the town and killing more than two hundred of the friends, neighbors and relatives that he and his brother Cane and sister Sable had grown up among. He learned of the flash flooding the day after it happened when his father called. It had been a highly emotional call as his father described what had happened, and how his mother, as the principal medical officer of Cibola and the county had borne the brunt of the effort. He also explained how Cane had risen to the occasion, how Freddie Watson had gradually pieced together the story of Cibola and joined the rescue operation that night. He called again less than a week later told Abbe numerous additional details of ghastly and heroic events associated with the storm that destroyed Barley Mill.
In the weeks and months that followed, Abbe’s family, which seemed to increasingly include Freddie, as well as Abbe’s fiancé Juanita whose parents and three siblings had drown or died of chemical poisoning in the flood, had also kept him abreast of the storm that destroyed Barley Mill. Although they weren’t actually engaged yet, Abbe’s parents took his eventual marriage to Juanita more or less for granted, and after the devastation of her family of origin, they asked her to move in with them in their newly constructed siheyuan. She had gradually assumed an increasing role in the many details of the completion of their new home in one of the hutongs of Eden, where there would be accommodations for Abbe and Juanita, his parents Adam and Evie, both of his grandmothers and a widowed aunt and who had somehow survived the devastation, as well as his baby sister Sable, and Cane and Freddie, who were already living together in one of the FEMA trailers on the outskirts of Barley Mill.
His involvement in the planning of these domestic arrangements in Eden had ended abruptly a few weeks later when he was contacted in his tiny office in Washington by a representative of the clandestine service which had replaced the NSA as the nation’s most super-secret intelligence service. The recruiter explained that he was part of a super-secret federal effort originally designed to protect Cibola, and he had known Abbe’s father and mother for years. Adam later confirmed this. The recruiter then asked Abbe to join a covert training program, following which he would be assisted to infiltrate the RNA, which they had learned was planning a series of attacks on Cibola, which they had somehow learned about.
It had all gone, as they say, like clockwork after that as he completed the standard course of agency training, worked with the ‘scribes’ as they created a plausible life history for him, complete with all the proper documentation. The story the documents told was of an alienated, anti-social youth, Robert Wayne Marshall, abandoned by his father at an early age and raised by his single mom, whose substance abuse problems had grown gradually worse until she died of a drug overdose when he was 14. Subtly woven into his new life history were the facts of his racially pure Anglo-Saxon heritage, and his hatred for “race mixing” which he had learned from his father and uncles. Left on his own, his legend also showed that he had been in and out of trouble with local police and in various foster care homes for the next four years, until he enlisted in the U.S. Army. In the military he had been trained as a signals intelligence operator, able to handle the transmission of coded and uncoded messages in a variety of forms. What it didn’t show is that he also had been given sufficient training in equipment service and maintenance during his agency training period to be able to install nearly undetectable nanotechnology listening devices in just about any equipment. None of this was enough to keep him out of trouble and he received a dishonorable discharge, following a 180 day sentence for assorted misdemeanors.
With his training completed and his backstory intact, ‘Robert Wayne Marshall’ began the slow but deliberate process of infiltrating the RNA. As his recruiter Burton Smith had first suggested to him, Abbe was a perfect candidate for the agency because he and his family had been living double lives for generations, as community leaders in Cibola and ordinary residents of Dare County. Abbe had first joined a survivalist compound in the Ozark mountains of rural Missouri, moved into Branson, Missouri and almost before he knew it been recruited by the RNA, quickly moving into the leadership group of the local cell. Like many domestic terrorist operations, RNA leaders were highly paranoid, but not the brightest bunch, and so with expert guidance from the counter-intelligence experts at the agency, they had devised a near perfect approach.
He began by taking a small apartment in an old, tired section of Branson. In evenings over the next several weeks, he worked his way through a series of local bars and road houses, appearing to drink too much and getting more obnoxious as the evening wore on, loudly holding forth on a wide variety of racist, paranoid and nativist thoughts and opinions expressly designed to attract the attention of the RNA. Eventually each night, he would be asked to leave and the next night he would repeat his act in another similar joint. After the seventh such performance, as he entered a roadhouse on the edge of town with a large neon sign proclaiming it as Porky’s Lounge, he noticed something different. The bar, like the parking lot, was nearly empty, there were no cars in the ground parking lot outside and inside a single bartender was serving five guys with shaved heads at a single table.
“Hey stranger. Why don’t you join us for a beer?” one of them said as he entered in a tone that made clear it was not a question.
“Glad to,” he replied, pulling back the only empty chair. “Name’s Robert,” he volunteered as he said down, “Robert Marshall, but my friends call me Sonar.”
“Sonar? That’s a strange moniker.” The same man who had spoken before said. The others just looked back and forth between Robert and the speaker. Clearly he was the leader, at least for now.
“Got it in the army,” ‘Robert’ replied. “I was a radio op and tech.” He omitted the detail about his dishonorable discharge on purpose.
Ignoring his explanation, the leader said, “Sounds like you’ve been makin’ a real pain in the ass of yourself and gettin’ kicked out of every two bit bar in Branson. What’s the deal?”
“I got this thing about gub’ment. I hated the army. I hate taxes. I hate all this socialism taking away our freedom, and after I drink a little bit I don’t give a damn who knows it.” Robert said and smiled sheepishly. Then quickly: “Got any idea if a man can get a drink in this place?”
At this one of the other men signaled the man behind the bar, who called out “Whaddya drinkin’ Sonar?” Clearly, he was part of the group and had been listening along with the others.
“Bud. Light. ‘Less you got any of them Chinese or Mexican beers,” Robert replied, pronouncing the adjectives with a sneer. At this, all the men laughed, acknowledging his joke. One by one they introduced themselves: Vern, Jack, Scorch, Fletcher and Milt. Only the leader failed to volunteer his name.
“Bud Light comin’ right up” the bartender, whose name was Irv, said as he reached for a glass and placed it under the spigot. He brought the beer to the table, and set it down in front of Sonar. “Here ya go.” he said and then reached back and pulled a chair from the next table and sat down slightly behind Sonar’s right shoulder. Clearly he was part of whatever was happening here. No one said anything or reacted in any way other than slightly shuffling their chairs to the left and right to make room for Irv. Clearly, he was a member of the group and they were all regulars in this particular tavern.
Over the next half hour, they talked about the usual things men talk about in bars — baseball, the NFL, high taxes, the NBA, the stock market, women, until finally the leader, who finally said his name was Mel, said “So, Sonar, we could use a guy like you. How’d you like to do something real and not just sound off in bars?”
That was it. The moment he had prepared for. With no more introduction or fanfare than that, Mel had inducted ‘Robert (Sonar) Marshall’ into the RNA. The questions that followed suggested they must have already done background research on him before this barroom “meet and greet”. They continued talking for another hour until Mel said it was time to show him “our little country place.” They all got up to leave and Irv turned out the lights and the neon sign out front and locked the back door as the men all of the men began to pile into two cars that were parked out of sight behind Porky’s along with a lone pickup truck. Mel indicated to Sonar that he should join him in the F-150.
“I’m sorry to do this to you, but it’s for your own safety, really,” Mel said as he handed him the large sleep mask. “This way if those bastards in the FBI ever question you, you won’t be able to tell them where we are.” Mel couldn’t know that even as they spoke, the agency (not the FBI) was monitoring and recording not only their location but every word they spoke through a nano transmitter embedded in Abbe’s cheek. The transmitter was able not only to transmit every sound that Abbe himself could hear, but also to offer constant feedback on his location through GPS.
“I’ve asked one of our guys to stop by your place and pick up your things.” With his statement, Mel made clear that, first, they knew where he was living. Just as importantly, “stopping by” to pick up his suitcase meant also that they would have ample opportunity to thoroughly search his meagre belongings, and that it was probably already searched and packed. Fortunately, his training had fully prepared him for this eventuality and they would find nothing there to compromise him.
He could now hear the gradually increasing sounds of the task force approaching his location, so he pulled off his camo top exposing his white teeshirt and placing his arms up and his hands on top of his head in a gesture of surrender as he had been trained to do. They were coming along the PRT tracks from the direction of the IMTH he was supposed to have blown up.
The troops had obviously been warned to be on the lookout for him. As the first squad came into view, the leader said something to his men and then called out “Are you Abbe Sennett?” After he said he was, the leader spoke into his helmet mike and the troops immediately surrounded him, forming a complete wall with no breaks and their backs to him facing outward. Clearly, they had been told to protect him and were intent on doing so. Within a matter of minutes what appeared to be an armored All Terrain Vehicle appeared from the opposite direction and Abbe was quickly loaded aboard. There was only one other man inside, driving the ATV. He immediately recognized his recruiter, Ben whatever. In the confusion of the moment, he was unable to remember Ben’s surname.
“Abbe. How are you?”
“I wish this hadn’t happened,” was all he could reply.
“Yeah, well let’s get you out of here.”
And with Ben driving slowly and carefully across the mountain landscape to a larger vehicle waiting just outside the newly reconstructed Barley Mill, Abbe left Eden for what he knew would be the final time.