…and for two days several hundred hippies and pseudo-hippies packed inside two separate riverboats coursed down the Mekong’s suntanned waters, sitting on uncomfortable wooden benches, gazing in delighted awe at the unknown world, their bare feet propped on splintered window frames, toes wriggling in warm daylight. Forests carpeted great mountains that rose in pyramids beyond the riverboat windows, thick and bushy like the moss draping the branches of the mango trees growing closer to shore. Some had shed their foliage, and others had flushed their leaves an embarrassed crimson. Beyond the great cottons and banyans and palms, the woods were blessed with a pleasant lack of visible human beings, and soon all the other boats vanished from the river, leaving it as primordial as when Adam first had to watch his children marry one another.
There were two bicycles wheeling up and down the hills beside the Mekong, the pedals pumped by two backpackers who were more hardcore than anyone inside the boat could ever hope to be.
But we did soon encounter villages sprouting along the riverside, because not all the passengers were tourists. A few silent Lao women sat with terrified, staring toddlers, as well as some leathery roughnecks whose black-and-white checkered keffiyeh, jungle-green coats, and habit of eating sticky rice clumps with their bare hands marked them as the old communist guard. Communists! Those long-forgotten bugbears of the free world, existential threats to the golden arches of deep-fried prosperity and knockers-down of innumerable dominoes, were at last defeated by the combined strength of the star of Bedtime for Bonzo and the individualistic genius of Ayn Rand. But now that America was focused more on vaporizing random dark-skinned Middle Easterners with drone strikes these reds found themselves free to walk about in the sun without any fear of Arclights slamming the forests open with concussions of white sound and flame.
One Lao looked like George W. Bush’s Asian doppleganger, and in the dark sparrow’s eyes tucked into his tough tanned hide the American bombs and missiles were still pouring from the sky in waterfalls, he was still firing his rattling kalishnikov at the relatives or the friends of the sunburned tourists riding this very boat. Squatting at the cabin’s far end with one knee lowered to the wooden floor, his tense calm muscle was ready to spring into the Mekong at the first faint hum from a B-52’s distant engines, darting through blurring brush, resuming the conflict.
This excerpt comes from Kingdoms in the Sun, an ebook of pulse-pounding adventures across time and space which costs less than a decent sandwich.