Thursday, April 29, 2010

[Mythos XVI] Life Underground... and Otherwise

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

Ah yes, the end of an era. After nearly 50 years of defense contracting facilities at the heart of Aspen Hill Maryland, now there's not much there except a lot of stores surrounded by emerging ghetto, dysfunctional or non-functional everything, and a huge vacant building full of rapidly-evolving zombies prowling the halls. Oh, and a boatload of pissed-off cops caught between the zombies and a couple of thousand foreigners waving machetes at the sound of gunfire.

In 1963, the site of the demonstration is woodlands, second-growth forest spring up over former farms. Aspen Hill Road is gravel in most parts, and only half as wide as the majority of the side-streets in the nearby and new subdivisions:

By 1970, of course, things are far different:

This neighborhood used to be a lot more friendly, a lot more welcoming, or so it seems to me, with my imperfect memories and doubtless rose-tinted recollections of a time when we were all very much living in the shadows cast by the looming spectre of global thermonuclear war.

In 1970s, the murders hadn't yet started, as far as I know. People died pretty frequently, especially in high-speed car accidents. Yet people killed people mostly by accident, not with intent, and it's kind of hard to get away with murder when neither you nor your victims have enough strength to crawl from the wreckage.

This isn't to say that there was not any funny stuff, any spooky business, going on around here.

The gentleman that built most of the neighborhood was a survivor of the Holocaust, and before he got into the business of developing residential suburban subdivisions, he was in the business of building large apartment buildings and even skyscrapers, mostly in New York City, but some also down in the District of Columbia, where to this day the largest single apartment unit in town is in a building he designed and built. His New York buildings were characterized by, among other things, their connections to the subway, and their many levels of basement, moreso than seen in most New York City high-rise buildings.

A lot of people here know that the building taken over by the zombies was once leased -- from the time it was built -- by a defense contracting firm that at one time was this county's largest civilian employer. Yet they don't know that all three buildings the firm leased were connected by a network of tunnels.

One of those buildings was located right next to a grocery story. When the massive Mitrokhin Archive of Soviet espionage secrets was smuggled out of that failing country, it was revealed that for many years, Soviet intelligence officers would meet their defectors and spies-in-place at this grocery store. Of course, everyone else met there, as well, it being the only grocery store for miles around, for many years.

Interestingly enough, about the same time as the sole surviving building was constructed, another layer of building was erected atop one of the existing buildings. From an aerial photograph, or in the modern day a satellite image, it looks like the same building. But it's not. The newly constructed upstairs was initially a WT Grant's Department store, until Grant's put itself out of business by extending revolving credit to just about anyone, including, famously, people's dogs. Until quite recently, that had gone down in history as the largest bankruptcy of any US commercial enterprise.

Down below, however, it was not the famously open and airy environment of the Grant's store upstairs. WT Grant himself had achieved fame for pioneering the department store concept; he more or less took a thriving city market square full of all sorts of little businesses, put a roof over it, bought out the owners, and then paid them to keep doing the same job at the same place. This worked so well in the initial instance that he reproduced the experience all across the country, becoming fabulously well-to-do in the process.

Below, in what came to be known as "Grant's Tomb", it was windowless darkness, top security files and records, everything super secret and hush hush. Like possibly everything else in the area, it was possibly connected by tunnels to, well, possibly everything else in the area.

Look, this is Aspen Hill, not some five-star hotel out in the Shenandoahs; it's not the fucking Greenbrier.

Don't get your hopes up. This is not a story about some secret underground city with more people living under Aspen Hill than in the surface Aspen Hill. Nearly 32,000 people live on the surface in Aspen Hill.

I am here to deny, categorically, that sometime in the early 1980s a situation of DEFCON 1 was briefly declared, the facility went into lockdown, the DEFCON was downgraded, but failure of exterior sensors made it impossible to transmit the all clear inside the facility. Without the sensors informing the refugees that everything was safe as houses outside, and the air not choked with radioactive dust, and Ronald Reagan still President of these here United States, the lockdown would have continued until... April, 2010.

No, I deny it, categorically I deny it!

Actually, they broke out of lockdown closer to the Year 2000, when their old computers got borked by the Y2K Bug.

After nearly 20 years locked in what might as well have been a spaceship, people had become... different.

Living in totally regimented society, the people in that society became... different. So did society, both ours, and theirs.

Living on nothing but freeze-dried fallout-shelter rations for 20 years, that alone would do it to you.

And when, after 20 years, years of living in a subterranean skyscraper built on secret contract awarded to the lowest bidder, when after 20 years these people were at last permitted to go back into the light of day and the world as we now know it, they really truly were Not Like Us, and to make matters worse, they fervently believed that We Were Not Like Them, and that it was we out in the world who would have to adapt.

Then they set about finding or making ways to make that happen.

It's not like all of a sudden, at twelve midnight, January 1, 2000, all of a sudden the top popped off like the lid of a giant jack-in-the-box. It's more like a bank-vault door unlocked, and someone went out with their radiation detectors and air samplers wearing a space suit, and they did it about three in the morning and the very first surface person they ran into was someone picking up a pack of cigarettes coming from from a downtown bar. A Goth.

Well, the air up above was fine, but considering that one of their favorite films "down here" was the Charlton Heston classic "the Omega Man", it was about another week before they dared to show their faces outside. Even then, they went out in disguise, not in a space-suit, but in a ghillie suit. After a night spent disguised as a bush at the edge of a parking lot at an Aspen Hill gas station, they were much relieved to be able to conclude that the world had not been overrun by vampires. Slowly, they began to prowl the maintenance shafts outside of the underground complex, trying to restore connections to the outside world. Meanwhile, they did a little burglary and stole clothing in modern fashions, and did a bit if exploring. People who encountered them tended to interpret them as people who had maybe spent a full military career stationed in the ass end of somewhere so far out in the sticks that they had to pipe in daylight. Eventually they adapted, somewhat, but they never lost their habits of regimentation, and never achieved anything resembling cultural competency, or even open-mindedness.

They certainly didn't just emerge in mass, and go parading down the streets. That whole accidental lockdown thing was one of the biggest fubars ever in a whole Cold War full of snafu, and the government wasn't about to just dump 20,000 people with no modern job skills -- or even much concept of modern -- onto the job market. And 20,000 people who were totally used to living in a subterranean skyscraper didn't feel quite like abandoning home. For a whole generation under the age of 20 or so, that was the only home they had ever known. The population "down here" had grown substantially over the years. As the lockdown had happened with about 20 minutes warning, the facility had been only about half-full at the time; they'd had room to grow.

The staffers who had been in their 40s (or older) in the 1980s when the lockdown began, they could be surreptitiously snuck to a retirement in the rapidly-expanding gated retirement community of Leisure World. A lot of the people between the ages of 20 and their 40s, they were generally absorbed by the military or by top-secret contractors around the country. For those younger? The government knew a good thing when they saw it, a whole cadre of youngsters raised in regimentation that made the military look loose and sloppy by comparison, and more importantly, these youngsters had no alliance to anyone other than themselves and their parents, and no alliance at all to any element of society or to any social cause.

And with the April 2010 lease coming to an end and with it a final decommissioning of the underground intallation, it was going to be necessary to get all of these people aboveground, and almost all had been "resettled", mostly staffing local stores, or working and retraining in local offices, where they could be close to home, close to each other, and assist in keeping their home and origin secret, until the day when the government finally closed it down.

Now imagine their surprise, when the day after the last of them was "evicted", the place was subjected to a real electromagnetic pulse, usually symptomatic of a high-altitude nuclear blast, everything stopped working, and when they tried to get into the tunnels to get back to their old home, those tunnels were full of rapidly-evolving zombies infested with hostile alien software crafted by malicious Elder Deities from beyond time and space.