Friday, March 26, 2010

[Mythos V] The Hunters in the Darkness of Doomed Days

Perhaps you'd like to read the introduction and beginning of the story, or perhaps Part II, or perhaps Part III, or Part IV?

I used to love the night. To some degree I still love the night, but not in the way I once did.

When I was a kid, the house used to be pretty much on the outskirts of town, and such streetlights as we had were large incandescent bulbs. They were pretty inefficient, and didn't produce much light, and what light they produced tended to be useful only when directly below them.

In the modern day, the sodium arc lighting is far more useful, and it's useful illumination farther from the light... for some values of "useful". If your deepest desire was to stand out on the sidewalk and see the stars, or follow the planets, the sodium lights are less than useful. The sickly orange glow they cast everywhere washes out all but the brightest sky features.

But I did so love the stars -- when I was a child, I was intensely excited by the burgeoning space program, I made it one of my life goals to get as close to the stars as technology would permit -- that when the stars were taken from us, still I managed to love what once held them, the night. And who could say this was wrong? For perhaps someone would develop a new form of street lighting, and the streets would be visible, if not exactly safe, but the sky would not longer be washed out by that sickly glow. I could then again marvel at the stars.

I can have no better proof, as I do know what are those stars, than that something greater than great has been at work here, and everywhere, and for all time past and all time to come. I am but a small man standing in a thin veneer of life on a small and insignificant planet, circling a small and insignificant star, one of 100-million in this galaxy alone, with that galaxy itself of 100-million or more. It helps to have some sense of perspective.. To that which created the stars themselves, all of the space to contain them, the time through which all moves, and the laws by which all are governed... to that alone do I extend my worship, and my thanks for letting me be a part of it all.

I really dislike those sickly orange sodium arc streetlights... they are preventing me from seeing and admiring the clear handiwork of the creator of the universe.

Yet in recent years, the passage of time has to some degree restored to me a sight of the night sky and the stars therein. Spotty maintenance of public infrastructure allowed a lot of trees to grow up and over and around the streetlights. Night falls, and what's visible is a sickly orange glow wrapped up in leaves.

And while the stars wheel overhead, though they bespeak the presence and business of an almighty G_d, still one does well to keep an eye on the surroundings. For the stars are cold and distant, but they are your friends for all of that. All else may come and go, but the stars will always be there for you.

It is what is far closer that should be the object of concern, and potentially cause for alarm.

Once upon a time, I had too much money kicking around in the bank account, but not enough of a chunk to invest, and I was surfing the web from work and saw a spiffy product and I pulled out my debit card and placed an order.

It seems that when the USSR fell, some of the few really functional businesses remaining were those which produced hardware for the military. Of course, most of these items were not for sale in the US, not by mail order with a handy web-based ordering system. For a while there, the market was suddenly flooded to saturation with "surplus" Russian military technical toys. For example, the Russians made exceptionally good optics and their field binoculars gave high quality at a price nobody else could match. Their nightscopes were also quite good.

One beautiful and dry and very clear spring night, a cool night from the time before the insects emerge from their winter sleep to feed on mammals, a night before the endless drone of thousands of central air-conditioning units saturated the environment, I was sitting on my porch testing my "surplus" Russian nightscope. Of course, in most directions I didn't need it much, though it had built in magnification that made it useful as a spotter scope without even needing to energize the photomultiplier, much less to activate the high intensity infrared LED spotlight. For the darker recesses of the back yard, however, energization of the photomultiplier was required, but when the IR LED was on, things really came to light, almost brighter than the day, it seemed. Looking into the eyepiece left that eye dazzled.

There's only so much interest that can be held by a device that lets you see at night the exact terrain you've seen so often by day. So I was simply enjoying a clear spring night, which I should mention had a lot of planets lined up. I was drinking beer, and enjoying the quiet and the absence of bugs, and I was smoking cigarettes, pretty much all by myself as best I could tell. A weekend night doesn't get a lot of traffic, or at least not on that night.

Yet a car did come rolling up the street. It was small, and ran quiet, and it had two guys in ballcaps riding in it. And there was a fascinating green glow in that car, and that glow was the exact color of the emissions of the photomultiplier tube in "surplus" Russian nightscopes. My own nightscope was powered down and fitted with lens caps, and standing on its end on the porch.

In the quiet of the night, once of the riders' voices carried to me. "What's he got there, a bong?" Suddenly the intensity of the green glow in that car grew, and I knew that the observer had re-energized their photomultiplier tube in their nightscope. I took another swig of my beer. I was tempted to pick up my own scope and power up the IR LED and beam them with it, which would have looked like a flashbulb going off in the observer's eyepiece. I resisted the temptation. "No, he's just getting drunk," said another voice.

They made a U-turn in the intersection, and drove back the way they came.

This wasn't my first observation of paramilitary organizations operating in Aspen Hill, Maryland. It was just one of the most blatant and obvious cases. At least these guys spoke English.

I'd been seeing that green photomultiplier glow on a lot of faces since I got back into town in the late mid-1990s. I did say that the market for such nightscopes was pretty saturated, didn't I? Besides... Aspen Hill was home to a fairly significant player in the international arms business. BAE Systems, at one time Vitro Labs, had both a very large office building and a lot of locally resident employees. Long long ago, I was one such. I am not at liberty to discuss it other than to say that "stuff happens". If you've ever seen those spy movies where totally ordinary people take one step off of the beaten path and find themselves whisked away into a world of weirdness and spend the rest of the film desperately hoping to become sufficiently less clueless in order to survive, you get some idea about what the life of people working in the military-industrial complex is not like. Well, for most of us.

One of the reasons that you don't have a lot of weird spy stuff happening to most folks is that everyone understands the situation. Most everyone does, anyway. There are workers, and there are spies, and the people who provide security at the workplace know that there are spies and take measures, and the spies take countermeasures, the security people take measures against the countermeasures. Eventually the whole situation becomes several layers of abstraction removed from the commonplace reality inhabited by most people, and the so-called 'intelligence community" becomes practically a culture apart, or maybe just a cult.

Imagine, in a totally unrelated example, that you live in a certain part of Aspen Hill which happens to be within the scripturally mandated allowable distance to walk on Sabbath. You might be an average Sunday-go-to-meeting Christian and so are half of your neighbors. The other half of your neighbors are Sabbath-go-to-meeting Jews. Anytime other than the weekend, probably anyone driving through your neighborhood is going to think that everyone there is probably pretty close to the statistical abstract of "average American". Such expectations based on inexact and superficial observations might be bolstered if you drive through again on SuperBowl night. From every house comes a lot of yelling and the sound of parties. Yet drive through that neighborhood sometime when there has been a flare-up of tensions between the Palestinians and the Israelis. You might see a lot of the Christians out doing their yardwork, but suddenly half of the neighborhood seems to be nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, if you are driving around like this at such a time, and you look like a Palestinian, things could get very strange for all concerned. But my point is that the majority of the Christians who live in that neighborhood might not care, and surely would not notice, that a significant portion of their neighborhood had gone into a high-security lockdown. If you lived in that neighborhood, you might know and understand. But if you lived in the next-door neighborhood, you might notice nothing, and if you did notice, you might never figure out the real reasons... you might easily come to the conclusion, however, that the next-door neighborhood was full of cultists.

You might definitely think so if you decided to take a walk in the neighborhood, and the second you stepped over an invisible line, suddenly appears a car full of healthy young men trying to keep a discreet distance from you and narrating your every move into a handheld two-way radio.

There is an explanation, of course, and it doesn't involve cults, but you don't know that. What you have here is a "neighborhood security committee".

And that's what I had drive past my house to take a look at me, one clear spring night when I was watching planets align in 2001.

The thing is... I don't look the least Palestinian, and I was miles from the nearest Eruv.

So who the hell are these guys?

Let's take it from the top.

There are spies. There are people who spy on the spies. There are people who spy on people who spy on spies. The spies are probably all spying on each other. Everyone else is probably wondering who is a spy, who is spying on spies, who is spying on spies spying on spies. This shit can get confusing and it's sort of like the opera, unless you're part of the production, you probably can't figure out what's happening unless you've bought a copy of the program.

I previously mentioned that I was once a Boy Scout. Obviously, being helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, I was not involved in an ongoing organization of continuing criminal conspiracy. No, as minors, we Boy Scouts left that all up to the adult phase of Scouts, the Explorers.

In the modern day, some people might get a little weirded-out if someone mentioned to them that the woods over yonder was crawling with tweens and teenagers dressed up like little soldiers.

Back in the day, if you pointed that out to someone, they'd look at you like you were some sort of Commie for not knowing that it could be nothing but the Boy Scouts on excursion. Having a scavenger-hunt, most likely, dontcha know.

Just about every boy in my age group was at some time a member of the Scouts, or a comparable organization. Generally speaking, it was pretty egalitarian and non-denominational; there was little or none of today's bizarre mis-association with traditional Americanism patriot sentiment and Evangelical Christian ideology. No, we were learning to cherish and defend America and our great American way of life, and not incidentally to get and stay ready for the damn Communists who were clearly out to get us. See also Khrushchev and his "we will bury you" speech.

Of course, in the modern day, there is almost no wilderness to defend, little of Nature which is natural, campsites everywhere are overrun with the homeless and other drifters, and you can't see the stars through the sickly orange glow of the streetlights. Rather than Scouting, teens play video games or txt each other or experience timesuck from FaceBook or YouTube.

Yet doubtless there are some kids who feel a need to associate with others towards a common goal or set of goals, and some will want to have these goals lead towards a future career. For some, that career is in fields related -- directly or tangentially -- to law-enforcement.

For some, it will be police work. For some, post-graduate careers in military intelligence. For some, it'll be in private security and/or private investigations.

For some, they'll eventually have acquired all of the skills and will have been on all of the field trips, but their association will increasingly take criminal turns.

And they will look just like, and act just like "Police Explorers", except that at least some of their organized activities will constitute major crimes.

They'll look and act just like junior field operatives of the intelligence community -- meaning probably like clean-cut frat boys home from college on vacation -- but they will in fact be particularly dangerous gangsters in a very well hidden but extremely active gang.

And if anyone catches them at it, they'll probably just say "we're helping keep the community safe"... but how, and for which community, and from whom do they keep the community safe?

And are there even any laws against this?