Analyst Bradly set a small device down on the meeting room’s table, dimmed the lights and touched a button on his wrist com. A familiar picture appeared on the room’s wall.
It was the North American continent. The east and west coasts were shaded blue while a portion to the north, stretching down the middle, and a portion to the south, rising to meet it, were both shaded in red. Once, those regions were called the Dominion of Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.
Jason had seen projectors before, of course, but the picture this one made was utterly perfect, better than the television he and Hector shared. He assumed this was simply another example of Citadel tech. Even their more mundane devices always seemed to be cutting edge or a little beyond. Jason jerked his attention back to the Analyst as he began speaking.
“I assume you’re all familiar with the Battlegrounds, at least in general terms, so please forgive me if you’ve heard some of this before. The background’s necessary for what comes later.”
The older man looked around the room, gaze resting on Jason for a moment before moving on to Operative Robert and Hector. His friend was paying attention, at least two of the three hims that were present were staring at the projection. The third was idly scratching at the edge of the bandage just above his wrist. The other two had identical wounds, oddly enough the skin sample he had given resulted in all of his bodies losing the same portion, but were seemingly ignoring them.
“The term Battlegrounds was coined by press, back in the twenties, when the Canadian government collapsed. Understand, this could have happened to us. The governments of the world just weren’t ready for the Empowerment phenomenon. There are always… people who disagree with their nation’s rulers, sometimes even violently. They didn’t use to amount to much, but when even a handful of them develop powers…”
He shook his head.
“No one had a consistent policy in place, a real way to deal with it. Empowerment began in oh eight and spread across the world overnight. The chaos of the First War should have been a warning but… well, most countries didn’t adjust fast enough. That includes us. The competing groups of Empowered that all but destroyed Canada’s infrastructure weren’t unique, and neither was the damage they did.
The fighting spread, along with Canadian refugees, and it was only because of the American veterans of the war and their actions that we were able to restrict the damage done. This is when William Power first came to prominence. He put down no less than a dozen… I can only call them coup attempts. People and groups that we’d call Lords today, attempting to take over a city by force.
We lost chunks of the Great Lakes states, but, quite frankly, it could’ve been a lot worse. The northern border stabilized just as Mexico collapsed. We don’t know the details, it happened too fast. In the span of a week, the Central Americas disintegrated and the New Aztec Empire rose up. They sealed their borders by a method we don’t understand to this day.”
The picture changed, going from one overhead photo to another. They showed a series of large structures, similar to the famous Egyptian pyramids but… flatter, perhaps? There were steps on either side of most of them and the pictures showed long lines of people along them and milling around the base of the structures.
“These were all taken during the last month, courtesy of a recent invention by…” he seemed to wince as spoke the next part, “… by the Great Bell. Think small aerial devices, similar to the early space probes but designed to permanently stay just below the area of interference in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. We have teams working to reverse engineer the technologies involved but the Bell’s one of the strongest Richards types on record and… well, there’s stuff in those things that we probably won’t figure out for a decade or more. For now, he’s our only source.
The point is, whatever the cause, that region of the world seems to have regressed, turned back to something like it was before the European colonists arrived. Northern Mexico wasn’t included but they had the same reaction as Canada did to the King in Winter. Initial panic, followed by an outburst of Empowered violence. Cut off from central government, the northern cities couldn’t cope and we got a second Battlegrounds.
We didn’t cope as well this time. I won’t speculate on why, but we lost a good chunk of the southern US. Texas, New Mexico and parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Eventually, the spread slowed and we even managed to get back a few cities. The problem was, it didn’t last. There was a period of back and forth, cities lost and gained. There’s never been an official body count but…” He gave a disgusted sigh.
“Conventional forces just couldn’t fight high end Empowered. The government didn’t trust the general Empowered population of the US, not until the Dreamer and the civil rights crusades of the sixties. Once the Citadel was formed, attempts were made to take back our lost territory. It went largely the same way.
Citadel forces could take back a city but they couldn’t hold it. By then, the Battlegrounds culture had taken route. Only naked strength was respected. We’d put down a Lord but before we could start on the work of building infrastructure, reintegrating the city, a new one or even a group would pop up. Citadel operatives usually had the advantage, but civilian casualties were… unacceptably high. After the Bug Bomb, the attempt was abandoned.
The Hive now occupies most of the former Bread basket, basically all of the territory between the southern and northern Battlegrounds. They aren’t… aren’t exactly hostile. The collective mind… it doesn’t think like a human but it doesn’t hate us. The difficulty is that most people don’t feel the same way. I’m sure you’ve all seen at least one movie where the Bugs invade and normal humans heroically wipe them out in retaliation.
Well, the Bugs’ve seen those movies too. Relations are… strained. They’re willing to allow limited over flight but not the construction of cell towers. This leaves the West and East coast portions of the country damn near isolated. Again, not a state that lends itself well to large scale military actions of the sort we’d need to really reclaim the Battlegrounds.
That’s been the situation for the last thirty years. A slow creep as they occasionally take a city on the Border while fear of collateral damage keeps us from doing anything that might actually resolve it. With a few exceptions, the last hundred years have seen similar events around the world. Civilization is dying, will die, unless we stop it.”
Analyst Bradly paused, turned off the projector and returned the lighting to normal. He spent a few moments with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply. Jason was confused by the action but soon noticed something stranger. He could hear his own heartbeat, his own breathing. This was followed by the sounds of Hector shifting in his seats, breathing…
He was aware of every sound in the room, no matter how slight. One by one, they died off. The room was utterly silent. He opened his mouth to speak, to question the Analyst, but nothing came out. There was an eerie… hollowness to the air.
“That brings us to today, to Project Janus.” Analyst Bradly spoke, and it was literally the only sound in the room.