Despite the wind howling outside the RV walls, I ended up getting a better night’s sleep than I anticipated. There was no small amount of objects being blown against the side of the RV, but it eventually just turned into white noise. Plus the swaying of the RV from the wind made me feel like a baby in a cradle.
I can’t say it had the same effect on Cleaner, who is grumpier than normal this morning. We are up early enough that we don’t have to rush through our morning wakeup rituals. We take turns in the bathroom, and settle down to a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, thanks to Darwin, our resident chef.
Greaser has opened the portal and will keep it open so they can listen in while we explore. Our mission today is to work our way around Washington, DC, looking for anything that might help us understand more about when and how civilization as we know it ceased to exist. Our first stop: The White House.
We pulled four REFC from the RV and inserted them into the tankcraft. That leaves one to power life support and communication, which is about all it can do.
What is normally a ten-minute drive straight down Connecticut to Pennsylvania Avenue, takes us twice as long due to the debris all around us. None of the buildings we pass have remained unscathed. The road is littered with pieces of buildings ripped apart by heavy winds, along with other flying debris.
Here we are in the pinnacle of our country’s government and there is not a living, breathing person that remains. Or a dead one, for as much as we’ve seen. This lends credence to Greaser’s theory that this was not a sudden event, but rather one that happened gradually, over a period of time. With no hope and diminishing air supply, people would be more likely to stay indoors, using as little oxygen as possible, rather than running around the streets. At least that’s what we are currently thinking.
I make a mental note for us to explore some of the housing areas before we leave.
We round the corner on our tankcraft onto the cordoned off Pennsylvania Avenue. As we do I see a sign that tells me that the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian is on my left. Or at least what’s left of it, as half the building lies in ruins. I’m not necessarily an art guy but I wonder how many millions of dollars’ worth lies destroyed in the rubble? And if any of it is still salvageable.
Cleaner must be thinking along the same lines as me. “What say we pop on in there and grab some pieces to bring back home? We could make a few bucks on the side.”
From hero to villain in the blink of an eye.
As we continue on, I look to my right, expecting to see the eastern corner of the White House come into view. Instead, we see nothing but an empty, debris-ridden field. The White House isn’t where it’s supposed to be.
We race across what was once the North Lawn as if we hoped the Presidential palace would reappear in front of us. Instead, all we find is a concrete slab. Just like the Gateway Arch, it looks as if the whole thing was removed right from its foundation.
“What do you make of that?” I say. “We have another missing national treasure.”
“I know this is going to sound farfetched,” GoPro says over the comm from Home Base, but what if this was some kind of alien invasion?”
“Seriously, all that knowledge in your head and this is what you come up with?” Brooklyn replies from the RV.
“Actually,” Greaser says, “Based on what we’ve seen, that’s not too far out of left field. We are looking at the complete removal of the earth’s most precious resource: water. If I was running out of water on my planet, I’d see Earth as a good resource.
“Right,” Brooklyn cracks. “And they decided to take a couple of souvenirs along as well?”
“Sure,” GoPro explains. “Like as a trophy, or something for further study. Think about it, if we found ancient artifacts on another planet, wouldn’t we want to bring some home?”
“Yeah, but that’s like a rock or tablet or something small, not an entire building,” KJ says.
“For all we know, a building could be considered small to them,” GoPro says. “I mean, if they took all the water off the planet, a couple of buildings are small change.”
I don’t have an opinion or theory one way or another, but GoPro’s is about the best one I’ve heard so far.
“Not to interrupt your theorizing,” Darwin says, “But I thought the White House had a basement.”
Growing up out west, I often forget that most homes on the eastern side of the United States are built on top of underground basements rather than the concrete or raised platform foundations that I was accustomed to. At best, you’d get a small crawl space under your house. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that basements were a real thing, not just a prop for horror movies.
Cleaner steps off his tankcraft and walks onto the concrete foundation, looking and stomping occasionally. “I don’t think this is the foundation. It looks like the concrete was added to seal the basement off. The question is, did they fill in the entire basement or just cap it?”
“What would be in the basement?” I ask.
“Office space. Bunkers. Dead bodies.” Cleaner says.
“You’re pleasant,” KJ remarks.
“How would we find that out?” I ask. “Whether it’s been concreted in completely or just capped off?”
“Wouldn’t take too long with the right equipment. You think the aliens took all the backhoes as trophies, too?”
I guess we’ll find out.
Brooklyn tells us that we should have an unobstructed view of the Washington Monument from where we are, but for whatever reason, we don’t see it. We hop back on the tankcraft and head across the south lawn toward Constitution Avenue. As luck would have it, the fences and barricades are in shambles and the tankcraft fly right over.
I try to remember what the city looked like when I was here just a few weeks (and a hundred and twenty years) ago. All around me would be lush greenery, pools, and fountains. Now it’s dead, brown and empty. Anything that was once alive has been torn from its roots and blown away.
We pull up to what should be the base of the Washington Monument, but instead of seeing pieces of it scattered around us, the only evidence of it that remains is the platform it was attached too, and an outline of where it once stood. By now, however, none of us are at all that surprised.
Back in the RV, Brooklyn is providing us with directions to the locations we want to visit next. Under normal circumstances, this might be a great team-building retreat, but sightseeing is the farthest thing from our minds right now.
Not having to navigate paths, walkways, and streets allows us to get from one location to the next rather quickly. Our only obstacles are the debris we have to navigate around and over.
Getting through the debris would be near impossible in traditional vehicles, but there is little that the tankcraft can’t handle. And the fact that they are designed to conform to the ground beneath their treads, creates relatively smooth ride regardless of the terrain.
Based on the destruction around us, I can’t image anyone surviving the wind storms that came through. That’s likely another significant contributing factor in us not seeing any human remains outdoors. While the winds still blow pretty heavily at night, we are grateful that the worst of it is years in the past. At least from when we are now.
As we make our way around DC, we see a repeat of our findings. All the pieces of the WWII Memorial appear to have been removed. The Lincoln Memorial is gone. Half destroyed sculpture platforms are scattered about the city, but remains of the sculptures themselves can’t be found.
The Capitol Building, like the White House, has been completely removed from its foundation and concreted over. I’ve never been to the Capitol, but the footprint is massive. I can’t imagine the effort that must have gone into getting it off the ground, let alone hauling it off someplace else.
I’m starting to think that GoPro’s alien theory has some merit as we find that almost every building of historical significance has been dismounted from its foundation and removed. To where we have yet to determine.
I don’t know whether to be relieved that these precious treasures have escaped the destruction around us or if it would be better to have some destroyed remains of our history rather than none at all.
We find that most of the Smithsonian buildings have been left in place and for a moment we get our hopes up. Most of these buildings are modern, though what’s left of them isn’t a pretty sight. We kick through the rubble and make our way through portions that are still standing. Our hopes are dashed when we find that the buildings have been cleaned out of anything of historical value. No art, fossils, artifacts or anything of significance remains behind.
We spend the day working our way around DC looking for answers but only find more questions. It appears that whatever or whoever looted the city knew what was coming. But where could everything possibly have gone to?