Their motives are confused. Ask any one of them why they're here and each will give you a different story. Sometimes it seems like the only thing uniting them is their love of their leader: a mysterious near-mythic figure they reverently call "The Master."
The Master is Lars Metzger, a German expatriate whose records are sealed by the Bundesrepublik. Trust me, I tried, but the Germans are as tight-lipped about the self-proclaimed marshal as he himself. No one knows who he is, where he came from, or what prompted him to topple the American government in the single most successful terrorist attack on American soil in history.
As his gang of loyalists, bristling with Kalashnikovs, hunting rifles, and the occasional military-grade AS gun take me to their leader, I shiver a little bit. Metzger has never granted an audience to a journalist before. To hear him tell it, he never will again. I'm it. The end. Finito. What I don't find out about The Master of the Claw today will remain a mystery forever (or until the Claw establishes a legitimate new regime, which even the die-hards seem skeptical about.)
He cuts a dashing figure. He lets me take one photograph in his fanciful, self-designed uniform. He might as well be a vampire, a mystique he cultivates. He doesn't waste small talk on me. We are both here with a purpose: he wants to get his word out, I want the biggest scoop of the war. We get down to brass tacks.
MB: Thank you for meeting me.
LM: No danger to me. You're the one who passed through Germano-American lines.
MB: That's...not what I meant.
LM: You meant why, of all the journalists in all the gin joints in all the world did I pick you.
MB: Yeah, I guess.
LM: No reason.
MB: Interesting that you put it that way...uh...marshal. "No reason" has become something of a catchword for your actions recently, at least among the American public. Would you care to expand on your reason for...what shall we call it?
LM: In polite company, you mean? Don't worry, I'm fully aware that the media refers to the neutron bomb attack as "The Rape of Washington." Fair enough. I'm not sweating what you people call it, only how you react to it.
MB: And your reason for it?
LM: I am trying to bring you to water and watching you stubbornly refuse to drink.
MB: Are you implying that you set off the bomb for the sole purpose of watching how people react?
LM: That is a simplistic explanation, but it makes sense, doesn't it? Your country is supposed to be all about freedom, but then you set up a government that over the course of the centuries has passed law after law to sap that freedom. It was a process so gradual that no one seemed to notice it. Politicians get elected by promising to pass laws, and then, surprise, surprise, more and more laws are passed until true freedom is all but curbed by meaningless regulations. So what happens when you free the people from their own strictures? Give them what they claim they prize most?
MB: Civil war? Murder and rioting in the streets? Foreign invasions and the goose-stepping of Mexican troops all over the Southwest? Is freedom worth the price?
LM: There was a breed of American a generation or two ago who would have said freedom was worth any price.
MB: There are many who still do.
LM: Then what are they complaining about?
MB: I'd like to ask you a little bit about your past.
LM: I'm afraid that's outside the bounds of our agreement.
MB: Are you saying you're limiting my freedom of the press?
LM: (laughs) Touche. Very well, you may ask.
MB: Could you tell me about your childhood?
MB: (laughs) Fair enough. You know, you are not what I expected.
LM: Not the brutish serial killer your media has made me out to be?
MB: Well, that's an interesting point. Erudite or not, how do you justify mass murder?
LM: I don't. Why bother? Why obsess over it?
MB: Are you saying the ends justifies the means?
LM: I didn't say that. I simply refuse to acknowledge it as a concern worth addressing. Well, i'm afraid that's about all I've got time for. I have arranged for my second-in-command to give you a tour of some of our facilities. You understand why you'll be blindfolded, correct?
MB: Yes...of course. Thank you.
LM: My pleasure.
As the tattooed "colonel" nicknamed Basilisk shows me around the compound it's clear that neither of us are interested. After the hydroponic gardens and the armory, I am bored and he is obviously sick of me. We take our leave. I am disappointed that I couldn't get any more about Metzger. It felt more like meeting with my old journalism professor during office hours, where he would lay the Socratic method on with a trowel, rather than meeting with an enemy head of state. Head of state, is that even the right word? He's certainly running something, within our own borders, and it's independent and it doesn't seem like it will fall anytime soon, despite the earnest work of our besieging army and our German allies. The compound remains mysterious and aloof, and I fear that my mission to deliver an important report from within remains woefully unfulfilled.