IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. If you enjoy the following story, make sure to visit programaudioseries.com/support and get a bonus episode that further expands on the events. The Program comes for us all.
ANNOUNCER: Recorded 25 years after the Update, the following dramatization represents a prime example of a docu-memoir. Listeners are warned that some expressed viewpoints are now dated and should be considered in the historical context of the era.
NARRATOR: I was born on the day the White House fell. Historians today deemphasize the importance of that event and mostly tie the end of the war with the end of the siege of the Pentagon. That may well be, but I still like to consider the date of my birth as auspicious. Like most kids of my generation, I grew up hearing war stories about the Update. Even though we were too young to remember the war ourselves, it defined us, just like a black hole influences the space around it even though it’s just a remnant of a violent past event. My favourite childhood pastime was playing the Little Sisters versus the Crocketts, reenacting the great battles with my brother. The biggest battle however was usually fought before the game even started and we had to decide who’s gonna be a heroic Little Sister and who a dirty smelly Crockett. That was not the last lesson life gave me about irony. It could hardly compete with the truth I found out at my 18th birthday: how ma and pa are not in fact my real parents, and that my brother is not in fact my real sibling. How I was orphaned as a baby, and how the Program found me a new home. And how my real father was in fact a dirty smelly Crockett.
I’ve been thinking about my biological heritage for well over ten years now, but it is only recently that the idea of turning my quest for answers into a dramatization popped into my head. Which brings us to the biggest challenge of this dramatization - trying to find a Crockett to talk to now, more than twenty years after the war ended, was like deciding to interview a dodo. Not only would I need to find a Crockett veteran that hadn’t perished in the Update or hadn’t been purged during Karmageddon, but the son of a bitch would also have to be willing to talk. That being said, living in a tight-knit community of a small town has its advantages - pull one thread, and the whole weaving starts to untangle. My inquiries led me to a football field - I’m not talking about real football, but the former American variety which is actually played with your hands. On the sidelines, holding a dirty martini and shouting obscenities at the players, was a red-bearded man. I wasn’t sure if he was their coach or a local drunkard. What I did know is that he was the man I was told to talk to.
He was twenty years older than me, but he looked like he was alive while the Dead Sea was still just sick. You could feel the gap between us, with one having read about the Update, and the other having lived through it. At many a point during our conversation I’d catch myself thinking: that could have been my father - the barbarian, the bastard, the butcher, the beast, or basically - the beaten. Standing in front of me was one of the last breathing Crocketts. And the first words I heard him utter were:
DAVID: Come on boy, let’s hit the bar. I have a hankerin’ for a strawberry mojito.
NARRATOR: We went to a bar called The Old Spur and sat down in an isolated corner trying not to get noticed - a mission made rather difficult by the fact that my companion looked like a grizzly wearing a fake red beard. We ordered two mojitos and I told him why I was there. Or better said I tried to tell him - how exactly do you ask someone if he was a soldier for the enemy army?
NARRATOR (LIVE): I was told you were… During the Update… I mean, people said that during the war you… Well...
DAVID: Boy, you look like you don't know whether to check your ass or scratch your watch! Ya know what we say at football practice?
NARRATOR (LIVE): What?
DAVID: Offence is the best defence. Ya know what that means?
NARRATOR (LIVE): That defence is the worst defence?
DAVID: No, boy! It means that straight ahead is the best way forward! So quit goin' around your ass to get to your elbow and say what’s on your mind!
NARRATOR: So I told him everything. Who I was, what I was doing, and how I found him. In return, he gave me the answers. Yes, he whispered, he indeed fought for the Crocketts during the war. I could feel my heart suddenly beat faster, only for it to come to a sudden stop by what he said next:
DAVID: Sorry boy, but I didn’t know your pop. As far as I know, there was no one in the regiment who’d fit the bill. And I should know; I was the last man there!
NARRATOR: Naturally, I was disappointed, but I didn’t let that ruin my pumpkin pie. After all, sitting in front of me was one of the last men who could tell me about the war. He may at least paint a picture of the times my father lived in - and for which he died. So I took a good look at the living fossil chugging a cocktail in front of me. His scalp still had whiffs of ginger hair, the last remnants of what was once surely a fiery mane. Not that it would have been visible under the coonskin cap. Actually, this is the first thing I decide to ask him.
NARRATOR (LIVE): You know, I was always wondering where did the idea of dressing up like Davy Crockett come from? Or more generally, how did he become the icon of your movement?
DAVID: Y’know what boy, I’m not sure who came up with it. I first saw it on the 4chan. Some fellas from the forum started dressing up like Davy Crockett in front of the flag and posing with guns and shit. I guess they got it from a TV show or something they were watching as children. I personally wasn’t really aware of it, seeing that I was one of the last 20th century kids but I still thought the Old Davy was a perfect figure to represent our group and our ideals - him being a courageous trapper taking no no-nonsense from those bozos in Washington, but doing things his own way!
NARRATOR (LIVE): Okay, perhaps you remember when was the first time you heard of the Little Sisters then?
DAVID: Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit, but I’ve got no idea. I know there was this huge community on the Reddit that called themselves that. Actually I think they named themselves. I mean we dubbed the Program as Big Brogram, so they probably started calling themselves the Little Sisters just to spite us!
NARRATOR: It was getting increasingly obvious that my interviewee was not going to be much as a historian. So I reckoned I’d try to get a more intimate account of the war, and asked him if he could tell me a few personal tidbits about himself - stuff like what he was he doing before the Update, did he have any family, and such. I also told him we’d have to find a way to address him, as we obviously couldn’t use his real name. It didn’t take us long to settle on how to call him - David.
NARRATOR: David told me of his living situation in the build up to the Update. The recovery after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 somehow skipped his town, and somehow also skipped all other small towns and concentrated wealth around big cities, mostly in the hands of people who were responsible for the crisis in the first place. In a way, his town was luckier than most, as a few years after the downturn a huge online marketplace called the Amazon opened a massive distribution centre for this entire region less than 15 minutes away from David’s house. David was still in high school when he started working there - at first only part time, especially near the end of the year when the gears of capitalism would switch into overdrive. He was offered a full time position at the distribution centre exactly one week after his graduation. This is also where he met people who would become some of his closest friends.
DAVID: There were five or six of us boys who were tighter than a twelve year old! We’d not only work together, but hang out outside the distribution centre as well. We've even formed a football team - there was me, Clayton Rogers, Ben Zearing, Diego Armada, and John S. Barr. Actually no, John didn’t work for the Amazon, I knew him from high school. He was a few years older than we were, but he’d teach us things, he’d coach us and stuff. But then he got married and had a kid, and he unfortunately couldn’t play or spend time with the rest of the boys as much as he used to. I mean, the rest of us would pretty much play football every day after our shift.
NARRATOR: David then shared a story how this camaraderie came to a sudden end when he got sacked from the Amazon. The company headquarters in Seattle would periodically organize equal workforce seminars held by leadership from the human resources department - and yes, that is really how they were called, human resources. From time to time, “H.R.” leaders would visit field offices and evangelize the importance of an inclusive work environment, which included a workshop teaching people about sexual harassment. The standard practice of the time was to hand out a survey at the end of the session, ostensibly to make the workshop better for participants in the future. It was in this survey that under the question “What did you learn by attending this seminar?” David answered “It taught me how far I can go without it being called sexual harassment” followed by a semicolon and a capital letter P, which in parlance of the era signified a mockingly joking intent.
History is full of examples of ruling classes not having a sense of humour. The idea that laughter most effectively undermines authority is the subject of many scholarly theses and numerous works of fiction. It is therefore not surprising the situation resolved in accordance to the established historical and literary narrative: David’s contract was terminated, further increasing the vast chasm of misunderstanding between men and women, rural and urban, conservative and liberal, young and old, and have and have-nots. David, taking another sip of his Moscow Mule, summarized the situation thusly:
DAVID: It was horseshit, boy! Pure horseshit! Just another example of political correctness city folk slapped on our asses! Not that it was news to us - those uppity assholes constantly made fun of us and our values! Ridiculing us because we didn’t know how to spell “entrepreneurship” while at the same time their biological children knew more about dinosaurs than about cows! No wonder they gladly surrendered their whole agency to a shiny new app nobody really knew anything about; I mean, those fucktards couldn’t even get into their thick skulls that terrorists blowing themselves up and mauling people down in the streets was bad!
NARRATOR: The shiny new app David just mentioned was of course the Program. That was the summer the general population in the West became aware of its existence. And for each heated detractor like David it’d make an equally ardent proponent, attracting people from all walks of society: racial and ethnic minorities, various anti-government groups, right-wing tax protesters, left-wing anarchists, working-class paupers, heated intellectuals, cold-blooded libertarians, and dreamers of any kind. What the Program effectively offered was a bespoke revolution for each individual, spreading a custom-tailored message to each group why their mission was righteous, special, and almost glamorous. In a way it succeeded because it tricked people into doing the right thing. Or at least what seemed right at the time.
Is there aught we hold in common with the Wall Street parasite
Who would turn us into debt slaves and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
Yes the Program makes us strong!
For the Program makes us strong!
NARRATOR: What was certain was that the Program further amplified the cracks in the already fractured American society. The famed melting pot was reaching a boiling point - first self-governing groups had already declared their sovereignty in Oregon, and mini-rebellions were taking place in Vermont and Texas. These in turn gave rise to paramilitary government-sanctioned armed groups intent on preserving the American federal system. Only the most oblivious and most naive still clung to hope that the whole thing wasn’t going to explode in fire and blood. So when the boys texted David one day that they enlisted at the county sheriff’s office as a paramilitary organization and just threw Amazon’s managers out on the street declaring the distribution centre a government property, all David texted back was: I’ll be there in a few.
DAVID: I mean what else was I gonna do? The Amazon didn’t want me and our town’s oil refinery closed after all those liberal coastal prissies switched to electric cars! The only job I could get was in Walmart!
NARRATOR: I researched a bit about Walmart, and it was suddenly hard to judge the man for choosing to go to war rather than work there. And that’s how David, at the supple age of 19, became a Crockett.
The war started well for David. So well in fact, that it took him a while to realize there even was a war. People who were at the receiving end realized it pretty much immediately. I asked David to recount that period.
DAVID: Imagine living in a place that is a combination storeroom, barracks, and frat house. It was the storeroom aspect of it that was the kipper's knickers - hell, if you wanted a pony you could find it somewhere on the racks in there!
NARRATOR (LIVE): I guess that’s how you got all those coonskin caps.
DAVID: You’re plumb smart, boy! But then came the barracks aspect, meaning some army officers came in to train us and instil some discipline - and I can tell you, with most of the boys being in their late teens or early twenties, we sure needed someone older folk in there to keep the frat house aspect under control! [cackles]
NARRATOR: David reports that legalizing underage drinking was one of the first things they had done in their unit. After all, there wasn’t much to do these first days other than drink and wait. Since police and immigration officials were rounding up suspect citizens around the area and bringing them in for interrogation, there was little reason for them to venture outside the distribution centre.
DAVID: Now I remember how we captured one of Little Sister commanders on the very first day of the Update! He was a tough nut to crack - ended up exchanging him for ten of our boys a few months later. But if I’ve had my druthers, we would have left those morons to rot in Little Sisters’ cells! Those dumbfucks with their fucking Snapchat!
NARRATOR: The incident David is referring to was a failed offensive the Crocketts decided to mount a few months into the war. Bored outta their minds, they resolved to organize a sneak attack on the Little Sisters’ stronghold in the town’s only Wendy’s restaurant. The operation failed and they were all taken prisoners when the Little Sisters noticed them announcing their approach via public Snapchat stories, #SneakingUpOnLittleSisters, #WendysAmbush, #LittleSistersSucks.
As the war progressed and a growing number of groups and territories got involved into conflict, the situation in the United States of America was getting increasingly complex. Fights were spreading into civilian areas, and people were forced to flee their homes as refugees. The agony and suffering were not lost on the Crocketts, as their social media newsfeeds were also filling up with cries for help. I asked how this affected them personally. David retorted that the Crocketts were not a unitary movement as we think of it today, which is to say different factions aided the war effort for different reasons.
DAVID: You could cluster people who were joining the Crocketts in three broad groups. The first and the biggest were those seeking personal profit. The second category were clueless - mostly poor folks who started the game of life with many more snakes than ladders. You know - high on patriotism and low on education, they joined the fight because they were conditioned since birth it was the right thing to do. And finally, you had criminals and nutcases. Murderers, thieves, sadists, and countless frustrated would-be-generals all revelling in the immunity that war granted them.
NARRATOR (LIVE): So why did you join the war?
DAVID: I felt it was the right thing to do. The brave thing to do. And, y’know, my duty to protect the people I love.
NARRATOR (LIVE): But protect them from what?
DAVID: Different folk had different theories about who’s behind the Program. Heck, most people still do! Some thought we were battling the Chinese, or the Russians, or multinational corporations.
NARRATOR (LIVE): Who did you personally think was behind the Program?
DAVID: [pause] Aliens.
NARRATOR (LIVE): You mean illegal immigrants?
DAVID: No boy, I mean aliens! Extraterrestrials! You know, I mean, what better way to take over another planet than stir some ruckus and let people fight it out among themselves?
NARRATOR (LIVE): But how come there was never an invasion afterwards?
DAVID: Who says there wasn’t? If people realize they are being invaded you’re not doing it right, boy!
NARRATOR (LIVE): Wait, so how exactly do you invade then?
DAVID: You assimilate! Just look at history boy - most successful invasions happened by conquerors adopting the language and the customs of the people they invaded!
NARRATOR (LIVE): Wouldn’t that kinda defeat the purpose? I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to simply enrol in a language course and then move in?
DAVID: Boy, you could throw yourself on the ground and miss, couldn’t you?
NARRATOR: David’s reddish frown was becoming even more pronounced, which prompted me to turn the conversation to more general themes of war.
NARRATOR (LIVE): Were you scared?
DAVID: Not a lick. We were quite cosy in our warehouse, plus our boys worked for the military, police, immigration, meaning we were happier than a dead pig in the sunshine.
NARRATOR (LIVE): But we now know that some of the things you did were… unsavoury.
DAVID: What do you mean?
NARRATOR (LIVE): You know… The battery procedure.
You don’t have anything to say about the battery procedure?
DAVID: Turn the recorder off.
NARRATOR (LIVE): But it’s important for listeners to hear your voice so that they…
DAVID: Turn it off!
NARRATOR: That was the end of our conversation that day, and I was afraid it would mark the end of the conversation in general. David seemed genuinely distressed with the question, and I didn’t dare to ask him anything else. He finished his Long Island Iced Tea and we parted ways shortly after that. It was only the next morning that I received a message from him simply stating to meet him at The Old Spur at four o’clock.
DAVID: Here’s a good spot, we can sit here.
NARRATOR: David’s demeanour was a lot darker than yesterday. But he was no longer hesitant to talk, so after ordering two cosmopolitans we pretty much picked up where we left off. He told me that he continued to live in the Crockett headquarters-slash-distribution- centre for many months. War became routine by then, and he grew accustomed to seeing groups of people, mostly younger men, rounded up, interrogated, and afterwards disappearing - either because they were released, or because they were not.
There’s a bug in the human code that we get used to anything. With enough repetition, we will accept anything as normal, until something jolts us and allows us to see the picture with a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes this is achieved through a work of art; but more often it’s by a sudden unexpected event that breaks the pattern in our meticulously laid out lives. For David this event came in month 10 of the war. The fights intensified even further, and an unusual heaviness amassed in the hearts and stomachs of men - everyone could feel the conflict was about to reach its breaking point. Then one day a fresh group of prisoners of war was brought into the distribution centre. It contained four Little Sister soldiers.
DAVID: My task was just to stand there on guard while the prisoners were assigned into individual cargo containers, which we converted into solitary cells so they couldn’t collude.
NARRATOR: It was then that his eyes locked with one of the prisoners - just for a moment, but enough for a flash of recognition to spark. Standing in front of him, shackled and bound, was his high school friend and football teammate, John S. Barr.
DAVID: I saw him, and he saw me, but luckily no one saw us, and we were able to regain our composure without anyone noticing anything odd. So the process went along as scheduled and each prisoner got his own container, including John. I wasn’t in charge of that part but I knew the fella who was, so I found out in which one he was placed and as soon as the air was clear later that night I secretly went in to see him.
NARRATOR (LIVE): How did the encounter go?
DAVID: I wasn’t sure how he was gonna react, so I entered the container in silence and I closed the entrance behind me. Then I was like “Hey dog, what are you doing in my cage?” And he was like “Your cage is all the rage, dog!” [cackles]
NARRATOR: For the next few nights David continued surreptitiously visiting John, and soon learned everything about his war path. John S. Barr was already a loyal Program user when the Update started, working multiple gigs a day in order to support himself and his wife Hannah, who was six months pregnant at the time. It was during this time that John saw how much the Program did for them and the people around them. So when the Program got outlawed, John knew what he had to do. He grabbed his hunting rifle and joined his neighbours, forming the first Little Sister squad in our town. They were following the Program’s call ever since - sleeping in the woods, sabotaging military operations, and pulling off other guerrilla attacks. Being swift and capable, it didn’t take long for John to be pronounced a sergeant. In their last action, his unit was tasked with creating a diversion while the main squad bombed the county police station. The primary mission succeeded, but he and his team were captured when their vehicle crashed into a ditch. Which is how John ended up telling the story to David. The following nights they’d talk about two much more important things - football and family.
DAVID: There was not much to talk about as far as war was concerned honestly. It’s not like we had any clue what the fuck was really happening. Or at least I didn’t. John, he believed in an idea and decided to fight for it. Didn’t care what it cost him either. He never saw his son - not in person, but only through photos and short videos Hannah had been sending him over the WhatsApp. They named him Adam, ‘cos they honestly believed him to be one of the first children born in what was to become a new and better world. Poor bastard.
NARRATOR: John’s cell phone didn’t live up to its name as it was taken away from him as soon as he was put into a cell. This meant there was no way for him to let Hannah or anybody else know that his team was captured and that they needed help. And they needed it urgently, as the Crocketts’ objective was to get as much intel as possible from them, which was regrettably incompatible with their objective not to provide them with any.
DAVID: I didn’t take part in interrogations, but I could see my superiors getting their knickers in a knot. The army bigwigs wanted results, and they exerted great pressure to have them delivered. So the Crockett command had no choice but to step up. They decided to give the car battery treatment to all the prisoners tomorrow and see if they decide to spill their guts. And then they said… They said... They said they’d spill their guts for real.
NARRATOR: So when David snuck away to see John that night, the atmosphere was anything but jovial.
DAVID: As soon as I arrived he could tell from the look on my face that something’s not right… So he asked me what’s wrong and I told him that this was probably our last night together... I expected him to ask for clarification, but he didn’t say a damned thing… He immediately understood what I was saying. And he just sat there in silence while I was walking up and down repeating “This ain’t right, this ain’t right!” So what happened is he ends up calming me down! You know, encouraging me, and telling me that everything was going to be alright! ...John then said that he needed my help. The first thing that passed through my mind was that he was gonna ask me to help him escape, even though it was impossible and it would get both our birth certificates cancelled. However what he ended up asking was much more selfless - he wanted me to deliver a letter.
NARRATOR (LIVE): A letter?
DAVID: A letter to Hannah and Adam.
NARRATOR: It is worth noting at this point that this was not akin to asking David to walk to the nearest post office, not least because by that time all courier services were either confiscated by the government or blown up by the Program supporters. The mere fact that David had this letter on him would be enough to be trialed for treason. And if the letter contained even a slightest hint of any tactical information, it would mean a certain death sentence. The letter itself was already written, as John had access to pen and paper just in case he had any late night confessions he wanted to make. It was also sealed with his fingerprint in wax, as the only source of light in his container was a candle in the corner.
DAVID: I admit, the thought had crossed my mind: is John trying to send a message to his superiors outside? So I asked him once again who is the letter is for. And he repeated it's for his wife. So I asked him why he hadn’t addressed it to her. And he said he couldn’t, as that wouldn’t be the truth. And I thought, “Here we go, it's actually for his commander!” But instead I asked “How come it wouldn’t be the truth?” To which John said: "Because by the time she gets it, she won't be my wife, but my widow." [sighs] I could feel the tears forming in my eyes so I grabbed the letter and left, and I never expected to see my friend again.
NARRATOR: Little did David know he would end up wishing that was the case.
David did not sleep well that night. Waking up gave him little reprieve either, and he spent the day waiting and drinking. Luckily this was pretty much how he’d spend every day so no one spotted any difference. The sun was gradually traversing its immutable path against the sky and all David could think about was his friend in the container. So when our star finally faded behind the horizon, in David’s mind John’s life went with it. And it was then that things took a turn.
DAVID: Billy May, who was serving the night shift that day and who I knew quite well - I even went to his funeral after the war - he walked up to me and told me that my officers wanted to see me downstairs.
NARRATOR: “Downstairs” referred to the distribution centre’s basement, which is where interrogations were being held and where David rarely descended. He was confused, but had no recourse but to follow the order.
DAVID: So I went downstairs and entered the interrogation room. Smelled bad enough to gag a maggot! All senior officers were there. My commander then said something I didn’t really understand, except I could make out the words “John S. Barr”. It was only then that I noticed John in the corner of the room, covered in blood and vomit. It was obvious he had been badly beaten and forced to drink acid from an old car battery.
NARRATOR (LIVE): What did you say when you saw him?
DAVID: Nothing. It was the commander who spoke first. He said that, even though John didn’t say anything, they knew him and I were friends. Apparently, the fella in charge of assigning prisoners in their containers ratted me out.
NARRATOR (LIVE): I still don’t understand why they wanted you there?
DAVID: That’s because you didn’t know those sons of bitches. I understood it from the moment I walked into the room. They wanted me to kill John!
NARRATOR: David explained that him being the one who pulls the trigger served a dual purpose. For starters, if they were really friends, John might finally crack at the last moment and disclose the Little Sisters’ secrets. Secondly, it would serve as a proof that David was still one of their own. This and much more was going through David’s head as he was forced to make a quick decision.
DAVID: It’s not like I had time for a debate! The commander was telling me something but again I couldn’t really hear him. For some strange reason I got fixated on a mole on his forehead. Then he suddenly stops talking and shoves his Beretta into my hand and he tells me to eliminate that Lil’ Sissy scumbag!
NARRATOR (LIVE): How did John react?
DAVID: He raised his head. He could only keep one of his eyes open. But he looked at me straight, and he staunchingly said: “Shoot for the chest.” And... And I did. And I did! I pulled the fucking trigger! I pulled it! I pulled that fucking trigger!! I did it! FUCK!!! Fuck! Fuck!
[The Ballad of Davy Crockett]
NARRATOR: Not long after John’s death, the tides of war started to change. With the Update already performed long ago in the rest of the world, international help was being sent to the Little Sisters and other Program movements in the United States of America. As more people started to join the Program, it grew stronger with network effects. Once it reached the critical mass, the game was completely changed - the Program would direct fighters to just the right place at just the right time in just the right formation to successfully execute each and every mission - all of it done simultaneously with millions of soldiers in real time. This wasn’t anything new - generals from Sun Tzu to Eisenhower remarked that it’s not battles that win wars, but logistics. The unprecedented part was the scale. The algorithm, trained on infinite scenarios with innumerable people, was no longer using numbers that were humanly possible to quantify, but rather spewed out impenetrable nonlinear combinations, and all of them winning. As David said, it was like the Little Sisters had a superpower.
DAVID: Our side was sustaining heavy losses on a daily basis - not that I cared. There wasn’t much that I cared about at all after John’s death.
NARRATOR (LIVE): Why did you remain when you realized you were on the losing side?
DAVID: It was a war, boy! It's not like you can call it a day and quit! Besides, have you ever seen a football player switch sides in the middle of a game?
NARRATOR: Not everybody was as steadfast as David - as the end of the war was approaching and it was becoming obvious how history was going to be written, the Crocketts’ numbers started to dwindle, with many of them deserting the ranks. In most cases their flight was short lived - literary, as almost all were caught and executed, either by the Little Sisters or the Crockett commanders themselves, until they had to flee as well. David was one of the few enemy soldiers that stayed ‘till the bitter end and greeted the liberating army. In fact, it was he who opened the door to the distribution centre and let them in.
What needs to be upheld with force is already lost. The United State of America fell the same way the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had fallen a few decades earlier - slowly, then suddenly. David was arrested and given an account with the Program so his credit score could be calculated. He submitted the unopened letter from John as evidence in his favour, and it pushed his credit score just barely high enough to be allowed to live. As such, he is one of the few Crocketts to survive the war - all the rest were fired by the Program. To this David had no objections really:
DAVID: At least the Program slaughtered its adversaries without pretending to be morally superior.
NARRATOR: A couple of months later, after being processed and officially amnestied, David returned home. He said opening the door and entering his house was like walking into a different universe.
DAVID: You know the feeling you get when you travel somewhere and then return to your place after you’ve been gone a long time? It was like that, but times ten. The man who left that place and the man who returned were two different people.
NARRATOR: The first thing he did was turn his old civilian cell phone on. He then browsed through all the Johns he had in his contacts, and found the one he was looking for. David then took a pristine white envelope and copied John’s physical address.
DAVID: After copying the address I clicked on DELETE CONTACT and a window appeared asking me ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS. I must have just stood there for ten minutes staring at that screen. Finally, I clicked YES and walked over to mail the letter.
NARRATOR: I wanted to ask him why he hadn’t delivered the letter personally, but realized it was a dumb question. Looking at him it was obvious that even now, 25 years later, he still wouldn’t be able to do it. So I asked him a couple of different questions instead:
NARRATOR (LIVE): Did Hannah ever find out it was you who saved and sent the letter?
NARRATOR (LIVE): Did you ever find out what was written in the letter?
NARRATOR (LIVE): Are you afraid that John actually sent a message to his superiors instead of writing to Hannah?
You still think of it every day?
DAVID: Not every day. But I do every night.
NARRATOR (LIVE): You still remember the address?
NARRATOR: Hannah was luckier than most, as she completed a nursing course which allowed her to spend the war in a hospital and not on the front line. It was easy to find her - she still lives in the house she and John shared. Their son Adam moved to the city a few years back to get certified in medicine, so Hannah now lives alone. Even though she’s had several proposals, she never remarried. Adam calls her from time to time and visits each year on Update day. She tells me I remind her of him - we are of the same age, and comportment. Her voice is soft and mellow, but she is unwilling to speak in front of the microphone. However she readily tells me the story of the letter and how she got it through the mail from an anonymous sender. So I ask her the question that weighed on David for so long - does the letter contain any codes or secret messages directed to John’s superiors? She looks at me strange, as if I have said a dirty word. She tells me that John’s letter was a message of love - it being anything else would make it less so. And then she offers to show it to me. My lower lip trembles a bit, but I command my voice and say: sure. Then Hannah opens the drawer and hands me the cherished piece of paper. It’s wrinkled and yellow, but the text is clear and easily legible. Hannah doesn’t want it photographed, so I copy it by hand, one piercing word after another. Here it is in its entirety:
My dearest Hannah,
I write these words with the certitude - being an optimist, as always! - that you will never get to read them, and that the two of us shall be reunited never to be separated again. In a way, that’s what this letter is all about.
In this moment, as we enter the decisive stage of our struggle, the struggle upon which so much depends - our personal future and fortune included - I wish to convey a few simple, straightforward thoughts.
There are only two things that guide me in my life: my service towards our noble cause, and my love for you. Just like millions of others, we were not given an option to achieve happiness in our lives through our labour, but through our fight. This is why these two things - our love and our struggle - are in my mind one and the same.
Now, that we are so close to ending that struggle, and achieving what the generations of titans and dreamers before us have given up so much for, I feel compelled to add my small drop to the mighty waterfall of their efforts. If it means that I too have to lay my head next to them on a pall of justice, I am sorry, and I apologize that I have to burden you with asking Adam’s forgiveness as well when he reaches an age when such incomprehensible things become understandable.
Let it be known to you my darling that you are the only one that I love and that I have ever loved. The memories of the blissful moments we spent together flow over me, and I feel grateful that I was able to enjoy them for so long. If you do receive this letter and our joy has come to a sudden end, do not be sad, my beloved! For in the world that surrounds you, you will find - forever living - the best part of me and all the love I had for you. In every blade of grass, in every brick of a house, in every smile of a child, you will see me and our struggle.
I love you so very so, my one and only one! Pardon my faults and the many worries I have given you. How thoughtless and foolish I have so often been! And how gladly would I wash out with tears every little spot of sadness I have ever caused you… Oh what I would give for you to never read this letter, and instead we get to celebrate the hour of triumph together, and all our tiny everyday victories to follow! If only I could use the love I feel for you to surround you with all the bliss and delight you deserve, a bed-spent Saturday morning lasting for eternity.
I have no doubt your life path will lead you exactly where it needs. Use it wisely, and avenge my sacrifice with your undying happiness.
John S. Barr
NARRATOR: I shakingly hand the letter back to Hannah. I want to say something to her, but I cannot find the words. So I give her a hug containing infinite universes. I hope, that at least one of them, doesn’t contain either the Little Sisters or the Crocketts.
[The Program main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of the Program was made by five people: Chris Peterson, Frank Salvino, Justin Hay, Threelegsoman, and IMS. Main music theme by Christien Ledroit. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. When is the last time you received a handwritten letter? The reason why it was so long ago is because it was so long ago that you sent one. Let’s break the circle together. Grab a piece of paper and write a letter to your best friend. If you feel like it, add a P.S. and mention this show. This way we’ll know that when our download number goes up in a couple of weeks, it’s because your letter got delivered. Sincerely yours, the cast.