Along the East Coast with Correspondent X

Interview by John Nowak

Any work the size of the AADA Road Atlas & Survival Guide is not the product of one writer. Each volume, however, has one writer responsible for most of the book's content. Road Atlas Volume One - The East Coast was written by a man who prefers to remain anonymous. ADQ correspondent John Nowak was able to interview him about his experiences on the road, researching the Atlas.

The most obvious and memorable thing about Mister X is that there is absolutely nothing obvious and memorable about him. His appearance is so perfectly average that it was hard to remember I was speaking with one of the most well-traveled people on the East Coast. He has at least eighteen kills, and one can get some idea as to how seriously he takes his privacy by the fact that he has fewer than five kill markers on his car. I asked him why he had so few marked and he discussed his philosophy about anonymity:

People notice aces, and as a correspondent for the AADA, I don't particularly want to be noticed. To take a trivial example, if I go to a restaurant and the waiter suspects I'm going to mention the place in a column, then I'm obviously not going to receive the same treatment anyone else is getting.

You know, I'm still not used to the idea of being interviewed. Kinda strange. I keep expecting you to ask me some silly question like what kind of tree I'd like to be.

But yeah, I'd say that my kill stickers are a perfect example of what I'm trying to say. I look dangerous enough for most drivers to think twice about engaging, but I don't look dangerous enough to provide some psycho with sport. And if I do happen to bump into some gung-ho twit with six kills under his belt, it's quite likely he'd underestimate me.

So you have no desire to be known?

I don't know. I guess everyone wants to be famous. Of course it would be nice some time to get the best seats in the house, but all in all my job is better served this way. Quite frankly, I see no point in making myself an assassination target.

A target of whom? EDSEL?

No, not really. Scragging an AADA member because he says something bad or damaging about EDSEL ... that's not their style. Not at all. I was thinking more along the lines of some of the corporates of New Jersey. Now look, I'm the last person to have a grudge against big corporations, really, but they've made Jersey the biggest sweatshop in North America - worse that Oklahoma. Everyone you meet's a victim, even the cops. You get the feeling they don't care anymore. In all the time I spent there I never met a soapbox politician, an artist, anybody who liked their work. They have no dreamers left. It's too late for anti-trust legislation - mobilize the National Guard. You can't believe it's just across the river from Manhattan.

Along those lines, could you tell me a few of your impressions about the people you met along the way?

Just some quick impression? Let's see. Manhattan's just incredible. I mean, I'm from upstate New York and well, we wouldn't say Manhattan was at the mouth of the Hudson; we'd use some other orifice, if you know what I mean. But I really can't believe just how well off Manhattan is now, especially when you compare it to what it was like back in the twenties. Manhattan has the most stubborn and persistent people on the face of the Earth. Give them a leader who can motivate them and make them believe it can be done, and it will be done. They don't call it the Big Apple for nothing.

The Hill Clans in New England remind me a lot of Manhattanites - the same determination and spirit. In the hills, you've got people who can trace their ancestry on one farm aback three hundred years or more, people who spend their entire lives on a few square miles of farm and know every knothole in every tree. If you drop one blindfolded anywhere on their land, nine times out of ten they can tell you where they are by scent and sound. They're a slightly distant folk; I mean, even if you're a friend, they're not going to hug you and dance with joy when you meet them. They'll die for you, though. Distant, quiet, undemonstrative, but I'd say that the happiest hours of my life were spent near Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts as a guest of ... one of the clans. When they shade your hand, it damn well means something.

Connecticut. Less urban than Manhattan and more urban that the Hill Clans. Connecticut's a nice place to live; the biggest auto gang there appears to be more interested in weirding out than anything else. I had a conversation with a member of EVIL once; he basically argued that violence has ceased to be an attention-getting strategy and that the future of social protest lay in doing things which were just too interesting not to talk about. He made his point by saying that Booth would have gotten his statement across far more effectively if he had tossed a pie at Lincoln. I guess I can't really argue with that.

When I think of Delaware, I think aerospace. The Dover AFB and Downstation Central can both remind you of what the species is really capable of in a pinch. I've met some people from NorAm Chemical, the outfit that runs Downstation. They're really proud of the fact they're running the biggest space program Earth has. With the change in management at NorAm, I understand they're going into pure research: the Osiris sample return probe to Titan is going to be launched from LEO-1 in a few years. It's like they've actually got a purpose beyond survival.

Pennsylvania's another nice place to live. Loved Hershey. Couldn't stand the tourist traps at Gettysburg. The state's pretty much a military dictatorship, but it's a well-run, orderly, and bloodless military dictatorship. I'd rather live there than Newark.

I think that when a good soldier dies, he's stationed in Rhode Island. The state's whole economy is centered around all the Navy and Marine bases, and the locals are very friendly to strangers.

In Maryland you can visit the Cumberland Valley Rocket Club and meet the college students who'll be working in orbit some day. These are people like Goddard and Overth and Tsiolkovskei, artist/engineers who are really working for love. There's something about a rocket, something dramatic and awe-inspiring that spaceplanes can't really match. These are really the most important people on Earth.

Virginia's very sad, rough and tumble and barely civilized. West Virginia's worse. It's pretty amazing to me that the Hill Clans who are poorer than Virginians actually live so much better. I suppose you can't really find fault with them, but Virginian nightlife is not my idea of a good time at all.

How many miles did you log researching the atlas?

About thirty thousand. I wanted personally to authenticate as much as I could.

And did you see Vandervechin's Sharks?

The ghost cycle gang in Connecticut which is supposedly cursed to search eternally for Exit 37? Well ... not personally. I did hear from a guy whose third cousin once met a drunk who bought a drink from a barkeeper who heard someone say she had seen them. Awful sight; zooming up and down the highway, wailing, manacled to their cycles with the anchor chain from the Flying Dutchman.

One of the points that you were very emphatic about in the Atlas was just how well the East Coast had been able to survive the oil collapse and the Grain Blight, compared to much of the rest of the country. Would you attribute that to differences in the character of the people?

Absolutely not. I think the East Coast had a lot of advantages the other parts of North America didn't have. First of all, the Coast has a lot of raw materials: lots of oil, coal, seacoast, hydro power, and so on. Generally speaking, the reserves weren't worth exploiting back in the nineteen hundreds. But when the other sources dried up, the East Coast was able to turn to its own resources. Secondly, I find that a lot of people have this mental image of the East Coast being one tremendous suburb. That's not really true at all. The whole East Coast is dotted with farms, mostly dairy or fruit farms, and a lot of them were able to survive the Blight. Also, since you are on the coast, it's always possible to fish. It was hardly the bread basket of the nation, but the Food Riots weren't quite as severe as they were elsewhere. Finally, the East Coast never went through the string of secessions and border wars which tore up a lot of the other parts of the continent.

What about the civil war in New York?

Oh, yeah. My parents fought in that war. I don't mean to denigrate the courage and gallantry displayed on both sides, but that whole "war" was a pie fight compared to some of the slaughter and destruction that took place in Texas and the Midwest. It was more of a protracted siege than a war of conquest. No, East Coasters aren't any smarter than anyone anywhere else. They were just lucky enough to be able to roll with the collapse.

Why do you think support for EDSEL is so strong there?

Everyone wants disarmament, provided the other guy disarms first. I don't think that there really is all that much support for EDSEL in a meaningful sense. Sure, there are a lot of people donating funds and so on, but you don't see any of them throwing their weapons away. People want to pretend they are pacifists.

As to why EDSEL does so well on the East Coast and nowhere else . . . I don't really know. Maybe it has something to do with just how successful the East Coast has been recovering from the Big Spinout. After Manhattan's comeback, I guess it's easy to believe in miracles. Maybe the rest of the continent's just too cynical.

You claimed that the biggest problem EDSEL has is it's organization and its platform. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Certainly. EDSEL cannot work effectively on the interstate level because its own charter works against it. EDSEL can't expand well - they aren't even able to establish a beachhead in New York. It's platform might as well have been deliberately designed to antagonize every other vigilante group on the continent. If I were a Brother or a vigilante, I'd be absolutely stupid to work with EDSEL. The Brotherhood and militia in New York are probably justified in considering EDSEL to be as much of a threat as the cycle gangs. EDSEL should be working with the militia, the Brotherhood and maybe even the coverts - I don't think they're ever going to accomplish anything significant until they admit that they don't have a monopoly on good judgement.

Do you think there's hope for an EDSEL/AADA alliance in the future?

I dunno. If Great Britain can coexist with France, I guess anything's possible. But it would mean major changes in EDSEL and in the AADA before we could really hope for something like that.

Anecdotes would obviously have been out of place in the atlas, but you must have collected a few. Was there any time you were terrified?

Scared? Oh yes. Many times. Anyone who doesn't get scared can't be very smart. Now I don't know what frightens you, but for me it's waiting for something to happen. When action starts, I'm too busy to be frightened. But when you've made your plans and it's just a matter of sit and wait, then you can remember all the chopped bodies you've seen in your life and imagine your face lying beside them.

There was this one time I was with the POPPERS in upstate New York. We were advancing by stages toward a cycle gang, with units leapfrogging over each other. My squad was an artillery unit; One off-road car and two artillerymen with a mortar.

Now, we had reached our position, right next to the Hudson River. I was in the car, ready to get us the hell out of there if we were spotted. It was about three in the morning and it was warm. All you could hear were the crickets, the peepers, and the soft sound of the Hudson lapping against the bank.

I was nervous, had nothing to do but wait while the artillerymen set up their mortar. One of them took a drag on a cigarette and flipped it in the river. You could see the glowing ash, and I was making a mental note to nail his butt to the wall when we got back - you can see a glowing cigarette for miles at night - when the invisible smoke trailing the cig drifted and lazily revealed this thin, green line of light.

Sounds like a targeting laser.

Score one for your side. That's exactly what I realized. I had no idea what might be using it. The Hudson there was three thousand feet across. It could only be a boat or a stealthed copter. Regardless, we were compromised, and I gave the signal to bug out. As one of them asked who was firing the laser at us, the other snapped, turned on the searchlight and swung it over the river. I damn near killed him, but the searchlight focused on a periscope.

The sub surfaced immediately and silently, barely rippling the water. It was small for a submarine, only about fifty feet long, facing straight at us. The sub was flat, shaped more like a stingray than a cigar. She had gun turrets, more than a bus can carry, and we didn't even have a pistol to bear.

We froze. I've never felt so utterly helpless and overwhelmed before. And then we heard a voice from the sub.

"You're POPPERs," he said. Must have seen our colors.

"Yeah," I said. I always did have a ready wit.

"We're Coast Guard."

I don't have to tell you how good that sounded. Without saying anything else, the sub dove and I guess they went away. I looked it up in Jane's: it was a Grumman Piranha-class submersible river patrol boat. The funny thing is, nobody from the Coast Guard will admit they even have a Piranha. I don't know, maybe they were covert vigilantes.

On the lighter side, what would you say was the funniest thing that happened to you? Funny? Well, a lot of things are only funny in retrospect, and I suppose this would qualify.

I was visiting some friends in Massachusetts, the hill clan I mentioned before. It was the second of January and an Edsel combat flight of five copters violated our airspace, so we went on alert. Janice and I were stationed in a secret storage room filled with these burlap sacks on top of their barn with two tripod-mounted laser-guided MFR pods which had been rigged up by the local genius. I had expressed concern about the backblast from these weapons in an enclosed space, so we had shored up the walls with the sacks, like sandbacgs. And then we sat and waited.

Now then, flyovers happen all the time and while it's annoying, nothing much ever comes out of it. But one of these jerks must have been eating lunch: he tossed a bottle out of his window. Hill clans are slow to anger, but there are limits. From all over the farm man-pack SAMs arced gracefully upwards. I can't be certain of the chain of events afterwards but to me it looked something like this: two of the pilots bailed out the moment they saw the smoke trails. One of the rotors hit a third copter and forced its crew to jump. The explosions were very violent and I blinked. When everything cleared I saw nothing but a lot of falling wreckage.

Janice started cheering and I hushed her. I had a helmet radio and I was receiving transmissions on an EDSEL frequency. We had killed four helicopters: the fifth was damaged but stable. Janice saw it first. It was a lean nasty-looking CACR machine, carrying external mounts; not a standard EDSEL copter at all. And it was moving incredibly fast, dropping much faster than I thought a copter could dive. It barely cleared the trees at the edge of the pasture and I swear it was within ten feet of the ground when it leveled out.

We registered on the copter with our lasers. Smoke started to come out of the machine's nose: later on, we found out it was a laser-reactive web linked with a smokescreen, but the copter was out-running it's own screen. As I said, not a standard EDSEL helicopter.

The copter began to turn, probably abandoning its attack run when the laser alarm went off in the cockpit. Then we fired.

Both our ears promptly popped, and the room was filled with the densest smoke I have ever been in. Every closed shutter in the room exploded outwards, along with big patches of the wall. It was then that I discovered my gas mask was defective. It cracked in the cold and let the smoke into my eyes and nose. I started gagging.

Most of the burlap sacks split open with the blast and emptied their contents. It turned out that this was where the clan stored the goose down they had collected over the years.

So, the room was filled with tiny feathers and smoke. Janice noticed that not all the smoke was from the rockets: some fires had broken out where hot wadding had hit some spots of hard cider we had spilled during the New Year's Eve party the night before.

Why were you in the barn during the party? Wasn't it freezing?

We were hiding out from the snowball fight on the roof. And it wasn't too cold; homemade goose down quilts are amazing. But we're digressing.

The fires were too big to stamp out, so, like any true clan warrior, Janice was putting out the fires by throwing her body on them. She had armor and a fireproof suit so she was safe.

I couldn't help her; I was on all fours, gagging. Big holes had been blown out of the walls and roof, and clouds of grey smoke and down were rolling out, wafted by the hot air. Finally, satisfied with the fire control situation, she dragged me out of there. We went down a few levels, and I was able to breath and walk in a short time. Then I could see Janice. The outer surface of her armor had melted slightly when she rolled around in the fires. Thousands of tiny pieces of down had adhered to her armor, almost as if she had been tarred and feathered. I would have laughed, but remember that we had no idea what had happened to the copter: we hadn't even heard our warheads go off. So we went to a chink in the wall and peeked.

We had downed it. The pilot had skidded the machine, plowing up about a hundred yards of snow and bringing it within thirty feet of the barn. We could see him struggling with the harness.

Janice tapped me on the shoulder and gave the cover-me sign. I aimed at the pilot with my submachine gun and waited. I assumed that she would go down the two or three levels to the ground and sneak up on the pilot.

Instead, she ran across the floor, hurled herself out through a door they used for hay bales, grabbed a rope on a pulley, and swung out through the air, leaving a trail of loose feathers like some molting, armored Tarzan, landed right next to the copter, pushed her Magnum in through a broken window, stuck it in the pilot's face and cried, triumphantly, "Your butt is mine!" What a gal.

What happened to the pilot?

Oh, we called EDSEL in New Boston and they sent a bus to pick up the prisoners in neutral territory, the police station in Shelburne Falls. EDSEL claims that the patrol was not sanctioned to fly over clan territory and they apologized for the incident. I'm inclined to believe them. Besides, it was the holidays and we didn't want to kick up a fuss.

What kind of tree would you like to be?

Sugar Maple. Growing near Shelburne Falls.

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