Tim Riley sat at his kitchen table with his old friend Marty Steinberg in the year 2028. Both men were now 88 having been born in 1940 just before World War II. They had been friends since grade school back in Dublin, Ohio. After college they had both settled in suburban towns in Southern New Jersey, gotten married and raised families. They were both widowed now and their eight children were spread across the country.

“But how the hell did it happen?” asked Marty. “When did it really begin? There was a time when this country seemed on the right track. Sure --- mistakes were made like the interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II --- and the McCarthy era. But then we seemed to straighten out. Truman integrated the armed forces and instituted the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe --- Ike gave us peace & prosperity --- Kennedy gave us the New Frontier --- Johnson gave us the Great Society --- and people seemed to be abandoning the prejudices of the past. I just don’t get it!”

Tim sipped his beer as he pondered this question. “Some say it really started with Viet Nam, my friend. The protests grew, riots ensued and the sixties ushered in a period of permissiveness. There were the hippies --- free love --- pot and LSD --- the Beetles --- Woodstock --- and all of that. But none of that caused lasting harm --- although the over-reaction to that period did. Ronald Reagan was one of the most conservative presidents we had had in a long time --- but he never really pushed a conservative agenda because the country wasn’t ready for it. After Reagan and the first Bush we even elected a fairly liberal Bill Clinton. He was a rascal --- but he was our rascal. Then came the second Bush. He might’ve been relatively harmless --- until 9-11. But after that devastating day more and more Americans seemed willing to trade in their liberties for security. First there was the Patriot Act --- then the Office of Homeland Security --- then the Terror Codes. Then we attacked Afghanistan --- which probably needed to be done. But a year later we attacked Iraq --- under false pretenses ---which proved to be a colossal mistake. If all had remained calm at home for several years after that perhaps we would’ve elected John Kerry in 2004 and voted in a Democratic Congress. But the second 9-11 changed all that.”

“Yeah --- that was a terrible day, too”, mused Marty. I remember it well. It was a Saturday --- September 11th, 2004 --- and I had planned to play golf that day. I’m sitting in my kitchen around 11 am having a late breakfast and watching TV. Then the breaking news came on --- and I completely lost my appetite for the rest of my breakfast. I stayed glued to the TV for the rest of the day. By late afternoon we all began to comprehend the enormity of that attack. Terrorists had set off so-called dirty bombs in 26 different large shopping malls in 17 different cities. 19,000 people died that day --- and another 15,000 people died of radiation over the next two years. It was unbelievable!”

“It sure was.” said Tim. “After that the second Bush was re-elected less than two months later. Then during his second administration it all just went downhill from there.”

The two elderly men then discussed all of the draconian things that had happened in the last 24 years. The Patriot Act had been expanded to cover all kinds of innocent stuff. The Office of Homeland Security had been given extraordinary powers never held by any previous governmental agency --- including the formation of the dreaded Security Police. The Draft had been reinstated and we had attacked Iran in 2007 and North Korea in 2012. Most of the rest of the world had cut off almost all relations with us. Then our right wing government had begun to institute all of their right wing agenda in the name of “security”. First they amended the Constitution to ban gay marriages --- then to ban gay sex --- then finally to brand all gays and lesbians as security risks. Across the country known gays were arrested --- held without trial or legal representation --- and placed into interment camps similar to the ones that had housed our Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Then the First Amendment was revised to prohibit “speech that was detrimental to national security”. What that meant --- thanks to the nine right wing Supreme Court Justices that had been appointed by the next several right wing presidents --- was whatever the government deemed to be “detrimental to our national security”. As a result, any person or group that did not agree with the right wing agenda was jailed or banned. Organizations that were banned included the ACLU --- the Americans United for Separation of Church & State --- People for the American Way --- and Handgun Control. Inc. The leaders of those groups and many others were placed in different interment camps around the country. Many “liberal” newspapers were banned as well --- the New York Times --- the Washington Post --- and the L.A. Times included. Other papers simply decided to tow the party line to stay in business. Ditto all the major TV networks. Now they all sounded like Fox News. It was all unbelievable!

Of course the right wingers in control of the country also had their way by tearing down the wall between Church and State. God was put back in the schools --- bible reading was mandatory in every school --- “vouchers” were now instituted in every state --- and churches were permitted to support political candidates and parties. The Republicans had changed their name to “The Party of God”. The Democrats --- who had by now become as right wing as the Republicans --- and not to be outdone --- had changed their name to the “Christian-Judeo Party”.

There were those who disagreed with all this, of course --- maybe 20% of the population. But those people either kept quite or were sent to the interment camps. The majority of these dissenters kept quiet. Hell --- they had jobs to keep --- families to support --- bills to pay and so on. You could hardly blame them.

Tim then recalled the old adage that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain silent in the face of injustice”. “Well, maybe” mused Tim. “But what the hell do you expect people to do in that kind of atmosphere?”

The criminal justice system had become a sham. Hanging and the Firing Squad had been reinstated in many states. Censorship of TV, radio, books, magazines, newspapers and movies were the order of the day. All government jobs and most private jobs required signing a loyalty oath. All abortions had been banned and there were no longer any gun control laws.

On a personal level, one of Marty’s daughters was in a gay interment camp in Kansas. And one of Tim’s sons was in an interment camp in Montana for having written a thesis at Princeton criticizing many of the new laws. His own professor had alerted authorities.

There were secret meetings held by dissenters, of course. But many such groups had been infiltrated by the Security Police and it had become imperative to know exactly who you were inviting to such meetings. For this reason such groups rarely had more than six members --- and the groups were not connected to each other for fear that they would all be discovered. Tim and Marty belonged to such a group that contained just five members. They would meet at the different member’s houses to discuss the events of the past and present. Nothing was ever written down --- and it was all just talk. But it served an important purpose nevertheless. It brought two or so hours of rational discussion among rational people. It was an escape from this century’s “1984” or “Brave New World”. It kept them sane and aware of what was right and what was wrong.

“Maybe we should have moved to Europe” said Tim.

Marty replied, “Hell, Timmy --- we were in our mid-sixties when it all began to go downhill. And we really didn’t think that we’d live this long. In addition, we kept thinking that it was all temporary --- that things would return to normal soon.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“You know I am. But I know what you’re feeling. Just like me you want to breathe some free air once again.”

Many Americans had fled to Europe during the past 24 years --- and some had gone to South America --- and even to China --- which was now about as democratic as America had been at the turn of the century. It had become a topsy-turvy world.

The elderly gentleman had finished three beers each and they knew it was now time.

“Well, old friend, I think it’s time for our final journey” said Tim.

“I guess it is, buddy.”

As Tim walked to the refrigerator using his cane, Marty thought of the telephone good-byes they had had with their children earlier in the day. All of the children had approved of their decision.

Tim took the bottle of liquid from the refrigerator and placed it on the kitchen table with two clean glasses. The concoction which they had obtained from one of their five “discussion” group members, who was a druggist, was “guaranteed” to put them to sleep and to die without pain in less than two hours. Tim poured half of the liquid into each glass and offered a toast. “Here’s to us, my old and best friend --- and to a better life for those still living and those yet to come”. The two men raised their glasses and touched them to each other. But before they could take the first sip, the wall phone in the kitchen rang. They put their glasses down and Tim answered their phone. “Unbelievable! He shouted. What else did you hear?”

Tim then listened intently for about 5 minutes. He asked several questions. After he hung up the phone he hurriedly told Marty the news. One of their discussion group members had received a call from a sister in California. The entire West Coast was in revolt. The states of California, Oregon & Washington had seceded from the United States and formed a new country called “Free America”. Their National Guards were patrolling their streets and all the oppressive laws had been repealed. Furthermore, the draconian laws of the Federal Government were longer recognized by those states.

“How did it all happen? asked Marty. “How did it happen so fast?”

“It didn’t really happen fast”, Tim replied. It seems that over the last ten years the public voted in legislators in those states who had been members of the secret organizations. They eventually became majorities in those states and they developed connections among the three legislatures.

“But will the Federal Government just let them do that?” asked Marty.

“The word is that those states now have their own nuclear weapons thanks to Europe and China. So there’s not much the Federal Government can do.” said Tim. “Furthermore Free America has invited all the other states to join their new country and at least a dozen more have asked to join already --- including New Jersey. The media outlets in those three states can reach the entire country and they have eliminated all censorship. They have also released everyone from those detention centers out there. It is predicted that freedom will be restored across this country very soon. It is all just unbelievable!”

Tim poured the two glasses of liquid down the drain and washed the glasses carefully. “It seems we have more time left on this earth than we thought, my friend. I think that calls for another beer.”

Marty smiled. “No my friend, this is a very special night and it calls for our favorite”

“Right as usual, old friend” said Tim as he opened the liquor cabinet and removed a bottle of Remy Martin XO while Marty lifted two brandy snifters from the shelf.

Then the two old friends retook their seats at the kitchen table and Tim poured that fine cognac into their two glasses.

“Can you smell it, Marty?”

“Yes, I can, Timmy”

And they both knew that they were not talking about the fine cognac’s bouquet. No, they were talking about the sweet smell of freedom. Their “new” country would be free once again.

Then Tim and Marty began to sip their Remys --- as tears rolled down their weathered cheeks.

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