It’s Election Day in the United States of America– go vote!
And while you’re waiting on line, take a few minutes to read this timely preview from our alternate American history anthology, Altered States Of The Union!
MOOSE AND SQUIRREL
by Peter David
In the year 1958, when Alaska was being considered for statehood, Texas governor Price Daniel strenuously objected. His reasoning was quite simple: He did not want there to be a state larger than Texas. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became so tired of Daniel’s protests that he threatened him. He told Daniel that if he did not shut up, he would divide Alaska in half, and there would be two states larger than Texas.
Daniel refused to stop complaining, not taking Eisenhower seriously.
He should have done so.
Eisenhower did exactly that and on January 3, 1959, North Alaska and South Alaska were officially declared states of the Union.
They did not get on well. There was peace between them, but an uneasy peace, and it was certainly not helped by the fact that the majority of the populace wielded guns. A frontier mentality gripped the separated regions and it slowly devolved over time. Since the two states were so far removed from the continental United States, no one really cared.
And then a new governor made it a lot worse, and it descended into war.
“Are you sure he’s dead?” Sarah Palin could scarcely believe it. She could hardly form the words. For so long, the fate of the crazy-haired bastard had hung over her, formed such a huge aspect of her life. Now that she was finally receiving the words that she had been looking forward to, anticipating, for so long, now that the long-waited-for news was being uttered over her cell phone. . . she was having true difficulty accepting its veracity. “I mean, are you really sure? That he’s really not breathing dead? That’s very important, the not-breathing part. And the heart. The heart has to have stopped beating too, because he could always fool somebody by holding his breath because, y’know, I read about this man who held his breath for something like ten minutes and everybody was just amazed. But you can’t hold your heartbeat. Except someone like James Bond, I heard about that, and Nick Fury, their hearts were so slowed down that nobody could be sure they were, you know, dead, which they weren’t, but since they were never real in the first place you can’t say whether they were ever alive in the first place…”
“Yes, Governor,” came the patient voice of her aide over the phone. “We didn’t see the body, but it did not matter. We had positive intel that he was in the bunker when our planes hit it. There was nothing left. There won’t be enough left of him to identify him from DNA testing. He is most definitely dead. Shall we come retrieve you?”
Palin felt all the energy seeping out of her body. To some degree, it was amazing that she was still upright. She sagged against the wall, letting months’ worth of tension drain from her. Her security guards, Carter and Vandenberg, were nearby, seated in the same semi-comfortable chairs they typically sat in. They were like twin brothers, both broad-shouldered with buzz-cut red hair and freckles on their tanned faces. Their guns were tucked in their shoulder holsters but were visible as lumps against their jackets. When they breathed, their breath misted in front of them, as did Palin’s, because the damned cabin was so freaking cold.
Carter and Vandenberg had been with her for a number of years and she trusted them implicitly. They had helped her get through several close shaves, particularly in the past year when the battle between North and South Alaska had reached a fever pitch. It had been Carter who had suggested that Palin take refuge in the relative outland area of the Alaskan Peninsula, at a hunting cabin he maintained in the Kodiak Island Borough. Since it was his personal cabin, it was quite well furnished, including such personal perks as bullet proof windows and heavy duty walls and ceilings that could resist most assault weapons. Palin had embraced the idea, feeling that the capital city of Fairbanks was no longer safe for her.
Not after what that bastard did to my family…
She pushed the tremulous thought out of her head and had to remind herself what her aide had just asked her. “Tomorrow,” she said after a moment of thought. “Come get me tomorrow. Let the South have some time to mourn his loss before they have to look at my face. Not that there’s anything wrong with my face. It’s a good face, don’t’cha know.”
“It is indeed, Governor.”
“Darn right it is. You see this face looking out and smiling at you, and it just warms the heart of your cockles or whatever that thing is in your heart that gets warmed.”
“As you say, Governor. We’ll be in to extract you tomorrow at 9 AM.”
“We’ll be waiting for you.”
She handed the phone over to Vandenberg, no longer wanting to hold it for some reason. She felt the energy leaving her legs and sank into a chair. “You okay, Governor?” asked Vandenberg.
“Hmm? Oh. Fine. Yes, I’m fine.”
“May I ask why we’re not going back today?” said Carter. “I have no trouble staying, obviously, but…”
“I have one more shot at tracking him down,” Palin told him. She glanced out the window and saw the dark clouds hovering above. “I think the weather should hold up for a little while longer.”
“I very much doubt that, Governor.” Carter cast a worried look outside. “There’s already snow on the ground…”
“Which should make it easier to track him! Because he’d leave tracks! Wouldn’t he?”
Carter and Vandenberg exchanged looks and then shrugged together. That struck Palin as typical. They had worked together for so long that they frequently mirrored each other’s gestures. But then Carter said in a low voice, “Governor, I feel the need to point out…”
“Yes, yes, I know,” she said impatiently. “He’s a legend. He’s a myth. He’s this thing that people have just made up to lure gullible hunters out into the middle of nowhere bringing their oh-so-wonderful tourists big bucks. That’s the story, that’s the 9-1-1, that’s what they say.”
“Four—“ Carter started to correct her.
But she wasn’t listening. “But I believe. You bet’cha I believe. And I’m gonna take him down. The great white moose is going down today, Carter. I can feel it. Right here. It’s totally felt.” She thumped her chest and, to her surprise, moisture began to form in her eyes. “It’s what Todd would have wanted. And the kids, and…” Her voice trailed off and she reached under her glasses and wiped the tears away before they trickled too far down her cheek.
Vandenberg instinctively reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. She patted it a moment, reaffirming the gesture of concern, and then drew in her breath and let it out slowly. “Let’s armor up, boys. Let’s get out there and celebrate the end of this idiotic north and south war by taking down Big White. If I can’t have the late governor of South Alaska’s head on a wall,” and she grinned mirthlessly, “then I’ll settle for Big White.”
Big White was indeed a legendary animal. There was some Inuit who believed that Big White was more than just a huge Alaskan moose with silky white fur. Some opined that he was a god, or the incarnation of a god on Earth. Reports of his existence dated back a hundred years, which was absurd since the average moose lifespan was barely two decades. The notion of a moose existing for a century was preposterous. Indeed, Palin was anticipating perhaps having the creature autopsied when she slew it. The body, that was; the head was going to be all hers.
Minutes later the three of them emerged from the cabin. There were two heavy duty black Jeeps waiting outside for them. Normally Palin rode with either Carter or Vandenberg in one while the remaining agent drove the other, but this time Palin strode for the lead car while waving the men off. “I wanna do this alone,” she said. She had a Browning BAR Mark II hunting rifle slung over her shoulder, and she felt comforted by the weight of it. She remembered when Todd had given it to her on her thirtieth birthday…
She forced her mind away from him and clambered into the vehicle, once more gesturing that Vandenburg and Carter should follow in the second jeep. The agents looked nervously at each other for a moment but then shrugged and obeyed instructions. There were about two inches of snow on the ground, and more was drifting down from overhead in a leisurely fashion. It was so light that Palin’s vision was completely unobscured as the wipers batted away the few flakes that stuck to the windshield.
As she carefully studied the barren ground in front of her, her thoughts wandered back—despite her best efforts—to her life with Todd and her family. How wonderful their hunting trips had been. How splendid had been their lives together. And now it was all gone, all left far behind.
She should have gone with them. It was all her fault.
To this day, she berated herself over her last moments with Todd. What had they been fighting about, anyway? She couldn’t even remember. Political? Personal? In the end, what difference had it made? She had yelled something insulting at him, which she mentally cursed herself over because the kids were all there, and they had heard her. That had never been something she wanted her children to witness, her and their father battling over some stupid, trivial concern. She had stormed out of her house because she hadn’t been able to keep looking at Todd, but soon something like thirty seconds had passed and she had managed to calm herself down and even begin to feel mortification over her attitude toward him. She had taken several long, slow breaths to calm her pounding heart and then turned back to the house and prepared to reenter and somehow work things out.
That was all she remembered. She had no recollection of the bomb that had dropped from on high. She did not remember the house exploding in a ball of flame. She was thrown off her feet, propelled about ten feet in the opposite direction, had struck her head on a tree trunk and had been found unconscious and badly injured by her personnel an hour later. For days afterward she refused to accept the reality of what had happened. She kept trying to convince herself that her family had fled destruction, that they were hiding secreted in underground tunnels. The fact that there were no underground tunnels near her house did not deter her for some time from fabricating their non-existent reality.
She did not have to ask who was responsible for the assault, who it was that had destroyed her family, her life. He had announced it on national television. Palin had lain there in her hospital bed, watching the screen with frozen eyes as her rival governor boasted of the latest assault upon her. She hated to admit it, but she had never suspected he would stoop to this level; never believed that he would take the states-wide civil war to such a direct attack. Yes, there had been skirmishes, and terrorist assaults in cities, but the government of South Alaska launching a full-blown attack on the leader of North Alaska? It seemed to defy imagining. Who could possibly have expected that he would descend to such depths?
You should have known, should have suspected. You should have realized what he would do. How could you have let your family down by not preparing?
She still had no clue how she could have prepared, but then realized that she should have done what he had done. He had vacated the governor’s mansion at the very beginning of hostilities, kept himself mobile, always one step ahead. She had disdained to follow suit. She had wanted stability for her family.
And they had paid for it. God help them, they had paid for it.
She did all that she could to dismiss those thoughts from her mind. Instead she tried to focus her concerns on the hunt. She had studied the area in which they were residing and had managed to track down all the most popular areas that Big White had been rumored to frequent. She was closing in on one of them now and she shifted her attentions once more to the ground in front of her. She wasn’t seeing anything. There were rumors that Big White was not of this mortal world; that he could walk across snow without leaving any tracks. She knew that was ridiculous, but part of her started to wonder.
That was when she heard the whirring of chopper blades in the sky above her.
She angled her rear view mirror and tried to see from where the sound was originating. Overhead, obviously, but its presence in this vast, snow-covered wasteland was surprising nonetheless. Briefly she wondered if it was her own people, having ignored her instruction and come to pick her up anyway.
And that was when the clatter of machine gun fire ripped through the air.
Palin let out a shriek as she reflexively hit the brake of her jeep. She unbuckled her belt even as she opened the overhead hatch in the roof. She clambered upward, thrusting her head out of it so she could see what the hell was happening, giving no thought to the fact that she was making herself an easier target in doing so.
She recognized the helicopter instantly. It wasn’t exactly a brand new brand; a Sikorsky as near as she could determine, possibly a Comanche model. It was painted, of all things, gold.
And she saw who was seated in the passenger seat, operating the controls of the machine guns that were mounted on either side of the chopper.
“Drumph,” she snarled.
To read the rest of the story, get your copy of Altered States Of The Union now!