"What Madness Is This?" Volume II: Prophecies in the Dark

AN INTRODUCTION
  • I want to thank the countless readers and commenters that have fueled my imagination in the original 2013-14 WMIT and the Redux that was written from September, 2018, to present day. Without these posters, none of this would have been possible or close to as much fun. I especially wish to thank DocBrown, Zoidberg12, Murica1776, SargentHawk, AtomicPunk0, Traveller76, HeX, Imperolo, and many more for their ideas, input, illustrations, and advice. A large part of the fun of this entire little lunatic saga is the meme and comment culture around it, from running jokes like Joe Steele's "Pocket Bacon" to interesting little spur of the moment serious ideas that I scribble down furiously in my notebook for later use. I have been writing about the WMIT universe, off and on, for the last seven years, which is rather extraordinary. During my dark ages, where I left AH.com to pursue my job and whatnot, I wrote very little because I didn't think I'd ever be a good author.

    Then one day, when I was lurking on the board like the swamp creature I am, I saw a comment reference me, with the poster proclaiming, "He was a great author, very imaginative, but I just wish he'd stick with a story and really exploit it to be the best it can be rather than trying to write a bunch of stories at once and burn himself out." That made me bound and determined to rewrite WMIT, and focus solely upon it. I consider WMIT to be the "Pinnacle" of my imagination, at least for now. Anything else I try to write will be inherently derivative and "Inferior" to this literary universe. Some may not like it, considering it too funny, too dark, too unrealistic, too close to home, too long, too short, not detailed enough, way too detailed, etc, but there's been a whole lot of people giving me positive feedback through the years and I find it incredibly inspirational and fulfilling. I write this for free, knowing it's likely too "out there" and complicated for most publishers, although I do have a Patreon in my signature if you want to say "thanks for the rip-roaring tale" with a buck, haha! I was asked what I wanted to do as a child by my parents, and instead of saying "doctor" or "pastor" like they wanted, I said, "I want to entertain people." When I make other people happy, I'm happy. I don't know any of you people in real life, but it means the world to me when I post something I worked hard on and get positive feedback and constructive criticism.

    It's safe to say WMIT Redux: The Union Forever brought my timeline back with a roar, snagging two hard-fought Turtledove Awards, one for best Colonial and Revolutions Timeline, and another for best quote. I want to once again thank anyone who voted for me. Redux has become one of the longest active threads in this section of the forum, nearing 10,000 posts, 500 pages, and now well over one million views (Praise be to the Prophet Burr!). If the timeline chapters were properly printed and typeset, Redux: The Union Forever would be 1400 pages long and half a foot thick. But the thing is, just like the story of real history, it's not over until Judgement Day. The Madnessverse, out there in its pocket dimension, coexists with our own and only grows more interesting and intricate by the day. So let us return to the realm of Christian Magick, bomb-throwing anarchists, the Manifest Destiny Party, and Joe Steele in the next volume of this series.


    "What Madness Is This?"
    Volume II:
    PROPHECIES IN THE DARK

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    MAP OF THE WORLD IN 1936

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    MAP OF THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE, 1938

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    - USEFUL LINKS -

    "What Madness Is This?" Vol I: The Union Forever
    (current continuity)


    Current Continuity TV Tropes Page
    (maintained by readers)

    The Official Youtube Channel of WMIT

    The Star-Spangled Expanded Universe of WMIT
    (short stories and tales written by WMIT fans)


    The Original "What Madness Is This?"

    The Original TV Tropes Page
    (maintained by readers)






    July 1, 1937
    Shicagwa, Iowai


    Joseph Steele sat in the Presidential Booth high above the stage at the Father Lincoln Memorial Auditorium, listening to an orchestra back up Floyd Underwood, world famous singer and Shicagwa's favorite son. The crowd was dead silent as Underwood strolled across the stage in a purple pinstriped double-breasted suit with a black shirt and silver tie. The horn section rose from their seats at the click of the debonair crooner's fingers and blared out the first note of "Old Black Magic." Underwood embraced the silver tear-drop microphone, making love to it with every lilting verse. When the drummer would let loose a flourish, he would step back and do a little spin. Despite the calm and collected demeanor Underwood was putting on, he was anything but. No one who performed for Joe Steele could be anything approaching calm. In fact, no one in the audience was at ease either. Everyone sat with bated breath. For every performer who had ever entertained the all-powerful President of the Republican Union, fascist strongman Atheling of the unitary Manifest Destiny Party, the final curtain could be the absolute final curtain if they mistepped, mispoke, or failed to demonstrate adequate respect or even too much. Joe Steele had untold thousands of victims to his name, with reasons for these state-sanctioned murders being anything from political rivalry like the late Theodore Roosevelt, failure to perform duties adequately like Ambrose Jansen, or to Steele merely waking up on the wrong side of the bed and deciding to have his butler taken out back and shot 37 times at point blank range. Truly, few things in the human experience, through decades, centuries and millenniums of human civilization, could instill as much fear as watching the dark, glassy eyes of Joseph Michael Custer Steele glare at you and only you. Floyd Underwood was sweating bullets.

    Steele's wife Millicent Arkham, whom he lovingly called Milli, sat next to him in the booth, her legs crossed under her silk evening gown, her elevated foot moving in rhythm with the beat of "Old Black Magic." Her pale, slender frame was accentuated by the flowing dress, handmade by her personal wardrobe designer Pennington Faust. High cheekbones underlined her bright blue eyes, eyes which seemed to bore into Underwood's soul almost as much as Joe's. If trying to please Joe while keeping calm was difficult, trying to please Joe and his spoiled Old New England heiress was almost enough to make one want to kill themselves and be done with it.

    Finally, at Joe's right sat Wyetta, their twenty year-old brunette daughter. She looked much like her mother yet with smoother, kinder features. She was a lovely creature, enough to make even a Papist blush, but she was visibly tired and upset, as she had been since her famed suitor Charles Oswald had gone missing in action in January of this same year, and she clearly had not moved on. He was not listed as killed in action yet, but it was expected to be announced at any time. One Richard Lionheart Nixon, heir of the famed Lucky Duck Studios, was currently making moves to eventually replace Oswald as Wyetta's future husband.

    It amazed Underwood how clearly he could see the First Family watch him, how he could make out even the whites of their eyes from so far down below them. There were several thousand people present for the concert, but to him they didn't exist. He was the court jester of the "royal family," and he knew his neck was on the line. And so he sang. Between every song he drank a full glass of water, careful not to take too long doing it. One sour note or strained vocal could mean his literal demise. "Under that Old Black Magic called love!" he crooned into the microphone as the band roared out a roaring high note to finish the song. He gave a right-arm salute and then bowed. He didn't come back up from his bow, showing humility until he hoped applause would signal his safety. There was silence. Dead silence.

    Millicent looked at Joe and Joe looked back. They seemed to be able to have discussions without opening their mouths. She raised an eyebrow. He blinked. The audience didn't dare look their way. Two thousand music fans, military brass, and assorted political creatures sat stock-still, waiting for the President's final verdict. Slowly, the mustachioed Union President rose from his seat and clapped his hands together. Then again. And again. Millicent and Wyetta also rose, joining him in his applause for the legendary performer below.

    At long last, every single person in the auditorium rose from their red velvet seats and began to applaud as if their lives depended on it. They put their hands together in perfect unison, creating a deafening echo that reverberated through the entire building. Underwood carefully rose from his bow, a smile on his face. He had made it. He bowed again, a single tear rolling down his cheek. He had survived the most terrifying show on earth and now he could let himself breathe. He couldn't wait to get his necktie off backstage. But first he would have to wait for the audience to stop clapping and to see if, Jehovah-forbid, the First Family wanted a face-to-face meeting after the curtain fell.

    The applause continued, every eye in the building focused not on Underwood or the stage but on the Presidential Booth, waiting with bated breath to see when Steele would stop clapping. They would only stop when he stopped. Precisely at the exact moment. Not before. Not after. After a solid minute of applause, Steele suddenly stopped, and so did everybody else. The red curtain descended on the stage as Underwood saluted the crowd one more time. At last, he was safe behind the wall of fabric. Weeping and trying to compose himself, the singer fell to the floor. Several band members picked him up and carried him to his dressing room.

    "Well, dear, I'd say that was an excellent performance," said Millicent with little visible or audible emotion. She picked up her small clutch from the small table beside her chair as they prepared to leave.

    Joe Steele replied, "Quite the voice, I agree. 'Old Black Magic' is my favorite Underwood tune." He turned to his his daughter and asked her, "Would you care to meet Comrade-Patriot Underwood, Wyetta? Perhaps you can get a photograph taken with him and a signature. The world is your oyster, child."

    Wyetta shrugged, depression obvious on her face. "That'd be nice, father. Thank you."

    Just as Steele was prepared to send one of his personal Wolf Pack bodyguards to summon Underwood, the door to the Presidential Booth swung open and a high-ranking Army officer stepped in. "All hail, my Atheling!" the blonde man saluted, clicking his heels together.

    Steele saluted back casually. "General Cornwall, why are you here?"

    "It's the Reverend-Colonel, sir. He's dead," Cornwall replied bluntly. "The Council of Jehovah has voted Lovecraft to be the next Reverend-Colonel."

    Steele stared at him with those same unblinking eyes he had had aimed at Underwood moments before. Slowly, ever so slightly, a smile curved onto his lips, a very rare sight since the start of Operation Manifest Climax. "That bastard Sunday has finally bit the dust? Huzzah. Have my personal plane readied at Goodyear Aerodrome." He turned to his daughter and put his hand on her shoulder. "Wyetta, perhaps you can meet Underwood next time, honeybear. I need to be in Philadelphia ASAP. I'm sure Lovecraft will be wanting to meet with me."

    Cornwall cleared his throat awkwardly and said, "Sir, Sunday was found in a... most compromising position."

    Steele raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

    The officer grimaced and explained, "He was found dead in his closet, hanged with a leather belt. The coroner suspects... ah, some sort of, um... sex play gone wrong, sir."

    Steele let out a cackling laugh. "The old pervert!" he said, slapping Cornwall on the arm jovially, as if he had just been told a knock-knock joke. "By Jehovah, that's beautiful. I love it! The old bastard was still trying to get his rocks off at 75. My, my! Like I said, Cornwall, have my personal plane readied. I will be at the Aerodrome in twenty minutes."

    "All hail, my Atheling!"

    ***

    July 2, 1937
    Tobias Institute, high in the Poconos Mountains


    "I have felt a disturbance in the ectoplasmic fields, your excellency," Howard Lovecraft said quietly to Joe Steele. "I have been watching the stars and the phases of the moon. The heavens are putting on a strange and weird display, unlike any I've seen before. The voices of the spirits of the Other Side whisper to me of things, dark things, bad things. Things that have been, that are, and that will be. They speak of death and change. Cataclysms. The suffering of billions. I sense that these are the last days of man. We are entering a new era, Mr. President. And I am afraid, so very afraid. Above all, I sense a threat to your life and mine. This is why I summoned you here."

    Joe Steele stood before the tall, scrawny Lovecraft in a simple navy blue uniform and jackboots, devoid of medals or decoration save for his Pentagon Star draped around his starched collar. They were in what was known as the Observatory. The Observatory was a massive structure, perhaps the most recognizable of any at the Tobias Institute. The top featured a retractable ceiling to allow the massive brass telescope to view the sky, and the walls were covered in strange Enochian script, star-maps, and Latin phrases. A portrait of a silver-bearded man with only white orbs for eyes was painted onto the ceiling directly above the telescope, representing the Grand Architect of the Universe, he who the Fundamentalists called Jehovah. The reflection of the murals, paintings, and portrait could be easily discerned via their reflections on the heavily-polished checkered marble floor. Anyone who stood in the massive domed building would be forgiven if they though it seemed as if the universe itself centered on this one spot in the middle of the Pennsylvania countryside. It was truly breathtaking, and even Joe Steele was taken aback every time he visited the place. "What do these voices tell you, Reverend-Colonel?"

    The newly-christened Reverend-Colonel of the American Fundamentalist Christian Church looked away from Steele and up to the portrait of Jehovah, muttering a prayer. The gangly Lovecraft resembled a mortician or perhaps a funeral director in his all black suit. Even his shirt and tie were black. His long, pale face seemed to glow in the moonlight let in by the retractable ceiling. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "I fear you may not wish to hear of what the spectral beings have told me. I fear you may not believe their prophecies in the dark. So I wish to contact them for you in person so you will know what is to come, just as I do. It shall be our curse, but perhaps also a blessing if listen and take heed."

    Steele had always secretly doubted the faith, simply using Fundamentalism as a tool to control the masses. But something had happened a few months before that shook him to his core, something that made even his utilitarian mindset crumble. "I had a nightmare, worse than any imaginable, last Thanksgiving," Steele said, monotone but with just the ever-so-slight shaky hint of fear. "It was when Manifest Climax first began. I don't know if I put stock in my dreams, or anyone's dreams, but let me tell you, Lovecraft, nothing has scared me like that nightmare. In it, an apocalypse happened, things too horrible to describe. Do you think it was... related? I was practically raised by the Blind Christian Gentleman and I know the ways of Magick better than one would suspect of me, and I know sometimes the Grand Architect speaks to his followers in their sleep."

    Lovecraft readied an altar beside the telescope for a ritual. Soon he would begin his full-body tattoo process in which the Council would permanently ink Enochian scripts into his skin. His rituals would be even more powerful then. He looked over at Steele as he placed some tealights in a pattern and in a grim tone inquired, "What happened in this dream?"

    "The dead rose," Steele answered immediately. "The Council of Jehovah performed dark rites, unspeakable ceremonies, and broke the Veil. Monstrous creatures crawled forth, from bugaboos and harpees flying down from above to a massive cyclopian Leviathan, covered in scales and writhing tentacles, rising from the darkest abysmal crevice of the ocean. Everything was destroyed. The New Jerusalem was over before it began. I was killed in battle by these beasts. The world was laid to waste. I relive this terror every night as I try to pass into the realm of slumber and I cannot for the life of me forget this one morbid nightmare. What do you think of it, Lovecraft?"

    With a slightly unsteady hand the new Reverend-Colonel lit the candles on the altar and took a small dagger out from under his jacket. It was the Dagger of Solomon, a sacred relic that had once supposedly belonged to the Prophet Burr. He ran the ancient bronze knife along his palm, cutting himself every so slightly and letting his own blood dribble down onto the Enochian runes that covered the altar. "That dream would be most troubling to me as well, Mr. President. I can see why it has remained with you all these months. It could have been the stress of running a war again that triggered it, or it could be related to my visions and to the signs I have spotted in the heavens. If you will give me one moment here, I will allow myself to become possessed by a Spirit of Heaven, and through me he will tell you what you need to know."

    Steele nodded grimly. He hated to watch these Enochian summoning rituals but this was possibly a turning point in history. He sighed, finally accepting the fact that he was becoming a believer, however reluctant. Should he not use every available tool at his disposal to fight the forces that would destroy both him and the nation? Just as in the days of Moses, Jesus, Burr, or Tobias, the Veil could be lifted to directly commune with the Other Side, or so they said. It was necessary. "Do what you need to, Lovecraft."

    After several minutes of chanting in strange, otherworldly tones, Lovecraft began to shake and convulse at the altar before collapsing onto the floor in a writhing heap, his limbs twisting unnaturally. "BEHOLD THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD!" he howled as his mouth foamed. Steele stepped back and knelt in a mix of awe and horror, trying to both watch the unfolding possession and cover his eyes at the same time. He hadn't seen such a show since his old tutor Tobias was still alive. Truly, Lovecraft was of pure fluidation to even attempt such a monumental and herculean task. Then, as soon as the fit started, Lovecraft fell silent and still, almost as if dead.

    "L-Lovecraft?" Steele asked with a quavering voice as he shakily lowered his hands to his side. "Are you all right, Lovecraft? Are you still there?"

    "LOVECRAFT IS NOT HERE, SERVANT!" roared a metallic, almost inhuman voice from inside of Lovecraft's mouth. "I HAVE DISPLACED HIS SOUL INTO THE OTHER SIDE. BOW BEFORE ME, MICHAEL CUSTER!"

    Steele prostrated himself on the ground, tears running from his eyes. "Who-who are you, oh great one?" Steele could barely get the words out.

    "NJARL, HE WHO IS CALLED THE ANGEL OF DESTINY, THE RIGHT-HANDED SWORD OF ZION, FATHER OF PROPHETS. I COME TO YOU NOW TO SHARE WITH YOU THAT WHICH YOU SHOULD KNOW. THE DAY OF RECKONING APPROACHES LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT."

    "Oh, great Angel!" cried Steele, prostrating himself. "What am I to do? What would you have me do?"

    Lovecraft's "possessed" body twitched and almost seemed to levitate, although Steele didn't look long enough to see if this was actually the case. "LIKE DAVID AND ABSALOM, YOU SHALL BE BETRAYED BY YOUR SON. THIS JUDAS ISCARIOT SHALL BRING RUINATION TO YOU AND END YOUR RULE."

    Steele couldn't believe it. Marcus Aurelius Steele was a simpleton, a dolt even. And Joe Steele was a lot of things, but he loved his own family. "My-my son? My son is going to betray me?"

    "YES, JOSEPH. YOUR BLOOD SHALL BE ON HIS HANDS. THE BLOOD OF MILLIONS SHALL BE ON HIS HANDS. A BEAST OF AMERICA HE SHALL BECOME AND HE SHALL USHER IN THE DAYS OF CHAOS."

    "Can... can-should I kill him? Can I stop him? Angel! Can I stop this madness? Can I right this ship of state and prevent these things, or are they written in the stars?" For the first time in his life, Joseph Steele found himself crying his eyes out on the floor in a heap, as if totally defeated.

    "I TELL YOU THESE THINGS BECAUSE YOU ARE THE CHAMPION OF MY CHOSEN PEOPLE, THE FATHER OF THE NEW JERUSALEM. SERVE THE LORD AND YOU MAY YET SURVIVE. AND IN THE SOUTH A MIGHTY MAN RISES, AND HE SHALL SPREAD MY WORD. WATCH FOR HIM. NOW I SHALL LEAVE. BUT I SHALL BE WITH YOU ALWAYS."

    At that, Lovecraft's body slumped to the floor and the Reverend-Colonel's correct personality returned. Shakily picking himself up, he asked Steele, "Did you learn what you needed to, Mr. President?"

    Steele sat rocking back and forth, his arms wrapped around his legs and his chin on his knees. "My son is going to betray me and destroy the New Jerusalem," he replied, tears streaming down his face. "I have to kill my boy. I have to kill this Absalom in my midst."

    Lovecraft's eyes widened in horror. "Are you sure, sir? Is there any other interpretation of this?"

    Steele shook his head briskly, almost at the point of hyperventilation. "No, damn it! The Angel of Destiny told me my son is going to kill me! He told me to act quickly. I need to leave and get back to Philadelphia. I need to get home! And I need to kill my own boy before he destroys me and the entire country. This is what the Angel told me. And I will do as he commands, Lovecraft. He also told me of a mighty man in the south. He said 'he is rising and shall spread his word.' What... what do you make of that?"

    Lovecraft wiped the cold sweat from his brow and plopped down onto a nearby chair. He adjusted his tortoise-frame glasses and said, "I have seen this too. All the voices tell me of He Who Is to Come. I have heard them tell me of him since 1918, during my days of insanity. I foresaw great destruction and coming war, and I saw a mighty Man of God in the midst of it all, speaking in tongues and full of the Holy Spirit, a serpent in one hand and a rod of judgement in the other. I have wondered if this could be the Second Prophet."

    Steele almost gasped. "A... Second Prophet? There is only one Prophet of Jehovah, and that's Aaron Burr! Any schoolchild knows this."

    Lovecraft's head whipped back and forth in nervous disagreement. "No, no, sir. The Council of Jehovah first predicted the rise of a Second Prophet in 1838. Grand Wizard Brother Crow foresaw it while imbibing of the Fruits of the Spirit. He foresaw a world in flames and a final rebirth of Fundamentalism in the Last Days. I think we are on the verge of this epoch, this Armageddon. Pray, Joseph Steele, pray to Jehovah for guidance, and I shall pray for you. Do what must be done with your son. So let it be written, so let it be done."

    "All hail."
     
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    HOLY HELL: PROJECT BLISS

  • HOLY HELL: PROJECT BLISS
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    A plane takes a photograph of the Black Bliss Sootstorm near Sweetwater, Oxacre, 1937

    Despite the fact that Manifest Climax was in every sense a war and that anyone with half a brain cell was well aware that there were clear steps being taken to move forces south long before the Neutrality Pact's Sunday punch, the Republican Union government refused to even refer to it as a war. From Uncle Sam's Talkiebox Station to newspapers to internal memos, Manifest Climax was a "continuous national security operation dedicated to the purpose of purging foreign subversives and manpower from rightful American soil." Advisors had warned Steele that calling the "counterattack" after Point Pierce a declaration of war could be a mistake, as the American people were still recovering from the Great World War over twenty years later. This move to "normalize" a never-ending slog in South America would prove to be the right one, logistically speaking, as the government knew that even if victory was eventually assured, it could take ten or more years before the final South American governments would fall.

    But if it was up to the brass at the secretive Fort Lincoln in the frozen north of the Boreal Territory, it would take much less than that. What Fort McClellan in Texas was to mind control and what Reeducation Camp 222 in Chersonesus was to biological warfare, Fort Lincoln was to chemical warfare. At the time of Manifest Destiny, Fort McClellan was very much Supreme Chief Patton's pet project and was considered a haven for crackpot psychiatrists and Camp 222 was considered one for serial killers and sadists, but Fort Lincoln was known as a place of legitimate research and was home to some of the brightest minds in the American armaments community. To understand the story of Fort Lincoln and the Black Bliss chemical weapon used in South America during the 1930s and 1940s, we must examine the story of Fort Lincoln itself. From chemical weapons to massive orgies to worshiping an ancient demonic deity, the saga of Fort Lincoln is a bizarre one, indeed.


    THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING BIG
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    Legate General Arnold Blooker circa 1925

    Following the Union occupation of Canada and Quebec at the end of the Great World War, new states were formed. Keybeck (formerly Quebec), Newfoundland, Hudson (formerly the Manitoba region), and Custeria (formerly the Yukon region) entered the Union as states like any other, however depopulated, while the snowy wilderness formerly known as Nunavut became the Territory of Boreal, named after the gorgeous Northern Lights. By the time of Manifest Climax, Newfoundland, Keybeck and Hudson were carrying on business like most other states, while Custeria and Boreal remained mostly empty, save for hidden pockets of Native Americans, wartime refugees and former members of the Canadian and Quebecois military. Moose Factory, Keybeck, would see the rise of Phoenix Oil and the Oswald family. Old Kinderhook grabbed up the former property of the Hudson Bay Company and rebuilt most of the new state of Hudson in their corporate image. With the use of hired mercenaries, O.K. Industries took over much of the policing and occupation duties from the Union government. Finally, the 1925 Gold Rush brought Custeria into the modern world, with small cities and modern roads popping up almost over night. This left the Territory of Boreal still empty and with no promising future.

    And where there are vast empty expanses you will find the Union military ready to establish secret bases away from prying eyes. Fort Lincoln was constructed at the behest of Army weaponry expert Legate General Arnold Blooker, commander of the newly created Army Group VII. Blooker, born in 1877, was a native of Trenton, New Jersey, and was a second-generation Prussian-American. His father Konrad traced his ancestry back to Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher and his mother was a choir songstress and devout Fundamentalist named Elizabeth Sands. In 1898, Arnold had joined the Grand Army of the Republic as a private in the 1st Cohort, 2nd Legion, Army Group I, the legendary Lincoln's Hammer. During this same time, he was involved in the new Chemical Weapons Program established in 1900 and was going to the Philadelphia Military Academy free courtesy of the 1890 Service Bill, with a major in chemistry. By the time of the outbreak of the Great World War he had established himself as an excellent soldier and in 1910 was appointed Colonel of the 1st Cohort.

    During Acme Ashton's days as Legate General of Army Group I, Arnold Blooker proved himself both at the Battle of Peterborough and the Kawartha Lakes campaign, leading several charges into almost certain death and surviving a gas attack with no protection. By the end of the war, thanks in part to casualties and purges, he had been promoted to Major General in charge of the 2nd Legion and was placed in command of the Occupational Government of the Hudson Bay Occupied Zone, serving as its military governor until 1919, when statehood was officially granted. 1919 would also see Blooker take command of Army Group VII, the newest unit of its kind since Army Group VI was created in southern Old Mexico following the Great Immolation. Group VII covered the entirety of Old Canada west of Keybeck, drawing manpower from far and wide to try to come even close to the goal of 120,000 men for a proper Group. Keybeck was initially lumped into Army Group I with Newfoundland, but in 1922 they separated into Army Group VIII, which would remain under the control of Legate General Larry Canterbury until 1950.

    When construction began on Fort Lincoln in the middle of the wilderness of Boreal, few eyebrows were raised because of regional underpopulation and general secrecy. The only people who would occasionally see the base were hunters and explorers, many of whom were sent packing by armed guards long before they had time to take a picture or anything of the like. The base was ring-shaped, with very high walls and a central structure in the middle. It looked over a roughly six square mile patch of snowy forest land with numerous bunkers, buildings, and depots. When Blooker first pitched the idea for Fort Lincoln to Supreme Marshal Ambrose Jansen, he billed it as the "future of chemical weaponry and biological warfare." According to Blooker, the glory days of mustard and chlorine gas were in the past and while they could still be used effectively, too many armies and even civilians owned modern gas masks in the modern era for them to make an actual difference in warfare. Instead, Blooker wanted to create "Bliss," a neurotoxin that was odorless and colorless and could be absorbed easily through the skin and would kill in seconds. A scientist named Bobby Peters had convinced Blooker of the viability of this "superweapon" the year before when he demonstrated it on lab rats, who fell over dead within ten seconds of the gas being vented into their enclosure. The gas was almost painless as it destroyed the brain's ability to recognize pain itself within a second or two. Despite a huge amount of guesswork involved in making Peters' tiny original batch, which was more a fluke than genuine science, Jansen finally gave in and consented to large-budget testing in 1923.

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    Bobby Peters circa 1920

    Bobby Peters was an absolute quack who had lucked his way into the creation of the Bliss, but he was too deep now. For the entirety of the time between 1923 and 1929, Peters struggled to figure out what had made his initial batch so successful and even Blooker himself would venture into the lab and trade his dress uniform for a silver biohazard suit. While work continued on the Bliss project, Blooker involved dozens of other scientists in research of other weapons and programs. In 1926, while experimenting with different types of rubber to use in gas masks, a sort of yellow glue was discovered. Despite the many future uses of this new "Ultraglue," including as liquid wound sealant during Manifest Climax and beyond, the government was growing tired of Peters' failed experiments. It would also be the basis of new research into what would become "bullet-proof" glass.

    During one test March 15, 1927 on death-row murderers, what was supposed to be a quick and painless death devolved into one of the most horrific events in the history of the Union's Chemical Weapons Program. Ten convicts were bused all the way from Moose Factory Prison for the "most promising test of Bliss yet." They were loaded into a cell measuring about twenty feet by fifteen feet and strapped into chairs. As they begged and pleaded for their lives, Army brass and even elderly RUMP Supreme Chief Henry Willow (Thomas Custer's successor who had controlled the organization since the latter's 1921 death) joined Blooker and Peters in the observation deck, gazing through an installation of one-way mirrors. Promising up and down that the honchos were in for "the show of your lives," Peters slowly turned a crank that pumped Bliss into the execution chamber. Nothing happened. Confused, everyone watched closely for any sign of the gas taking effect. When nothing happened for over ten minutes, Peters tried to reassure everyone that it was all a technical difficulty and that he would have it sorted out quickly. Equipping a biohazard suit and wielding a service pistol, Peters stepped down to the main level, opened the massive steel vault door that sealed the room, and ventured into where the convicts sat strapped to their chairs. After taking a few moments to check their temperatures and general signs of life, he frowned and proceeded to the nearby utility room, which contained the massive drum of Bliss being used for the experiment. He checked the duct work and the wiring and found no problems there. Confused and nervous about embarrassing not only himself but also Blooker and the entire program, he returned to the observation deck and once more turned the crank that should have released the neurotoxin.

    Several officers, including Supreme Chief Willow, were showing signs of growing disinterest or even anger. Willow, a gaunt man in his mid-70s with cheekbones that could cut apples and a decorative uniform that looked like it was from the last century, asked Peters, "Why don't we all leave and come back when you create something useful at this slip-shod icebox, Peters?" Incensed by the jab, Peters turned the crank even more and angrily declared, "It'll fucking work! I know it will fucking work, you pompous ass!" Everyone was taken aback by his flagrant disrespect of one of the most powerful men in the country and the room fell silent as Peters continued to spin his little metal wheel over and over and as the cries of the convicts below begging for salvation could even be heard through the thick glass. As men began to file out of the observation deck, Legate General Blooker stepped over to Peters and reportedly told him, "Confound it, man, you can be shot for disrespecting the Supreme Chief like that! What the hell is wrong with you? I'm shutting this down. The whole Bliss project. I'm not going to have my reputation dragged through the gutter anymore!"

    At this, an incensed and out-of-control Peters shot Blooker in the abdomen at point blank range before turning his gun on Supreme Chief Willow, hitting him in the shoulder and sending the old man crumpling to the floor. As soon as they could register what was going on, armed guards leveled their rifles and riddled Peters with holes. This had the side-effect of blowing a crater through the one-way mirrors and thus allowing airflow. A sensor on the wall began rapidly beeping and everyone watched in horror as they thought their lives were ending. Scrambling to his feet, Blooker raced out of the room alongside Willow, who was being carried by several other officers and scientists. It would turn out that it was not the oxygen sensor going off but rather an overheating sensor signalling a massive problem in the delivery system. As medics and scientists helped Blooker and Willow on the snowy ground outside and checked everyone's vitals, relief came over them as they realized they were unharmed. Just then, at approximately 12:01 pm, the Bliss delivery system exploded from a cross-fed hose, killing all of the convicts inside and causing absolute mayhem on the base. Fort Lincoln went into Code Red, with everyone equipping gas masks and biohazard suits and a several ambulances whisking high-ranking personnel away from the blast site. After three hours, scientists gave the all-clear. The small amount of Bliss had actually been destroyed by the heat of the initial explosion.

    Now began the investigation. Under-Chief of the Military Police Huxley Foreman demanded that RUMP conduct a total and complete examination of the program, of Peters, and of Legate General Blooker. After two weeks of leave, Blooker was cleared of any wrong-doing. But with Bobby Peters, there was much more than meets the eye. Rather than a momentary lapse into insanity triggered by stress and humiliation, Peters had actually planned a suicidal terrorist attack upon all the officers and staff present. Just a week prior, he had been given an ultimatum by Blooker to produce something within the next month or his entire program would be defunded and he would be sacked from government payroll. Knowing he was in far, far over his own head and was facing total humiliation and a loss of years of research, he had planned to blow himself up with as many government officials as possible. This was all discovered in a note laying on his bed in his personal quarters in Fort Lincoln. This was unacceptable. The third most powerful man in the Union had been shot by a deranged scientist who had attempted to blow up many other powerful men.

    On March 28, President Steele boarded the new Trans-Canadian Railway after flying to Moose Factory, Keybeck. He arrived at Fort Lincoln on April 4 to "personally inspect the base and review whether or not Fort Lincoln was fulfilling its purpose of producing superweapons for the Grand Army of the Republic." Blooker, his torso still in a brace to help his gunshot wound heal, met Steele at the Fort Lincoln train depot and gave a straight-arm salute, fully expecting to be purged at any moment. His blood ran cold when he saw ORRA Supreme Chief Patton come rolling out behind Steele in his wheelchair. Over the next ten hours, the dictator of America and his lackies poked and prodded at every aspect of Fort Lincoln, criticizing the lack of progress, and in general making Blooker feel a firing squad or a Redemption Maniple was coming swiftly his way. At the end of the day, Steele and Patton simply boarded the train once more and left, leaving Blooker feeling completely at a loss as to his own fate. He was actually preparing his own suicide the next day in his personal library when a telephone rang on his desk. Sighing, he removed the noose from his neck and stepped down from the chair to answer it. He could hardly believe it.

    "This is Supreme Chief Ambrose Jansen, Grand Army High Command. Despite recent setbacks, President Steele has given me the go-ahead to reinstate funding for Fort Lincoln. Parcels will be incoming with research that needs to be completed, but the President trusts that you will be able to create a viable superweapon within one year. This is your last chance, Legate General. That is both a threat and a vote of confidence in you by the President. You should be flattered. All hail." After several moments of heartfelt thanks and gratitude, Blooker inquired as to the health of RUMP Supreme Chief Willow. "Oh, him," Jansen replied. "Supreme Chief Willow has retired to the Goodyear Islands as of two days ago after submitting his official resignation. Huxley Foreman is now RUMP Supreme Chief." Instantly, Blooker knew that Willow had been purged. "Retired to the Goodyear Islands" was Army slang for being purged. Willow had served loyally for decades and even attended the Kissimmee Conference. Blooker would never find out the whole story, but Steele and Foreman had been planning a "new era" of RUMP for some time now. In actuality, Peters had almost done them a favor, but he had aimed too high. While recovering cleanly from the assassination attempt at a military hospital in Ruperttown, Hudson, located right on Hudson Bay, an agent walked into the room and suffocated the old man with a pillow. His death was never listed or written down and his body was fed to the hospital furnace in the deepest corner of the basement. Overnight, some 376 members of RUMP were purged and replaced. The next morning, papers said that Willow had retired to a tropical paradise with his wife Shirley. Shirley was also purged.

    CULT OF SUCCESS
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    "Father of the Black Bliss" Leo Merkwürdigliebe, circa 1940s

    The story of the Black Bliss superweapon cannot be told without also telling the story of the Merkwürdigliebe family. Descending from a long line of shoemakers, Friedrich "Fred" Merkwürdigliebe dreamed of a better life and left the Nordreich in 1890 at the age of 20 with only a suitcase and enough cash from his father to put him through Benedict Arnold University of Boston, where he was to study art. BAUB was offering a very generous scholarship to Better-blooded foreign-born students as part of a wider attempt by the Union to keep growing the population. Rejecting his staunch Lutheran father's wishes, he converted to Fundamentalism and majored in racial science and hygiene. In 1899, the immigrant landed a job working for the Boston branch of the Office of Racial and Religious Affairs. There he proved adept at his job, coming up with innovative new methods to track and monitor Inferiors of Society, the "unpeople" who he was rapidly beginning to believe had to be "dealt with" sooner or later. In 1905, he would return to BAUB disgusted with the current state of the Inferior population and determined to change things. He accepted a position as Professor of Racial Science and Hygiene and began to communicate with officials high up in the Custer government on the possibility of "limiting the future growth of the Inferior population."

    Around this time he also paid for his younger brother Leonhardt "Leo" Merkwürdigliebe (born 1890) to travel across the Atlantic and join him in America. Leo proved as adept at science as his brother, but was much more... unique in his religious views. While publicly proclaiming faith in Jehovah, Leo was an ardent follower of ancient paganism and mythology from a young age. He kept his unusual beliefs to himself for the time being, though, and excelled at his studies. In 1909, he was offered a scholarship with the Philadelphia Military Academy to study chemical warfare, just as Arnold Blooker had done. Fellow students described Leo as "odd" and "reclusive" and even "a bit insane," but no one doubted his genius or his tremendous skills.

    In 1912, Fred Merkwürdigliebe would attend the Kissimmee Conference, hosted by Dr. Midas Israel Goldstein, and would help propose ideas that eventually led to the Cleansing Month and the genocide of the Inferior population. Fred himself was still championing forced sterilization, and many present at the Conference were of like mind, but Goldstein and Joseph K. Finch would eventually win them all over to the idea of a weaponized cure for the Beckie Flu. He would actually help organize vaccination efforts in the ghettos of New England and Pennsylvania, a monolithic task, and he threw himself into it with aplomb and dedication. He spoke in a heavy German accent but he was always the first to call himself an American, and he could be seen most days out on his front lawn in a button-up plaid shirt, brown cardigan, khaki slacks, and a pipe in the corner of his mouth, tending to his garden or trimming his hedge. A Union flag waved proudly over his backyard gazebo, where he and Leo would routinely host get-togethers with their wives and families. Following Midas Goldstein's promotion to Supreme Chief of the Office of Health and Wellness, Fred would leave his wife Mary and their five children in Boston while he became Chief Camp Counselor of Reeducation Camp 222, just south of Crawford, Chersonesus. He would perform thousands of morally bereft and sickening, charnel experiments there, able to so easily shut off his outgoing, friendly personality and replace it with one that could put living Inferiors into a giant vacuum or freeze their limbs and smash them with hammers. Despite the seemingly random nature of the "experiments," these actually produced some invaluable information for the Union, in particular laying the groundwork for the future Space Force to put men into space in the 1950s. Fred would remain at the facility during the winter and early spring every year before returning to Boston to spend the rest of his time with his family.

    Leo, on the other hand, served on the frontlines of the Great World War, fighting in Lincoln's Hammer as a corporal. He served aboard then-Legate General and future Supreme Marshal Acme Ashton's personal aeroship, dropping chemical shells onto the Quebecois below. He would eventually become Ashton's personal adjutant and errand boy. Once, during the Kawartha Lakes campaign, when the crude field telephones couldn't transmit far enough Leo had the bomb doors opened and he personally descended a rope with no parachute some 1200 feet to the planet below. After trudging a mile and a half through a shell-pocked hellscape with a bullet hole in his right arm and wearing only a dress uniform and a gas mask, he reached the officers he needed to find and they coordinated their attacks. Leo was awarded the Order of Valley Forge his wound, the Pentagon Star Second Class for valiant heroism, and several other lesser medals.

    After the war, he would return to his studies and eventually became a professor like his brother, only this time at the Philadelphia Military Academy. There he would remain until 1927, when Legate General Arnold Blooker sent him a letter asking him to take command of an effort at a top secret chemical weapons facility somewhere in the far north. Accepting immediately, he was at Fort Lincoln inside of a month. It would turn out that Leo had actually met Blooker once before, during his fateful mission repelling from the Ashton's aeroship. The officer he had handed Ashton's orders to was none other than then-Colonel of the 1st Cohort, 2nd Legion, Army Group I, Arnold Blooker. This served to be a catalyst to a lasting and successful friendship, and the two hit it off like they were lifelong friends. Leo would even get Blooker to join him in doing LSD in a brightly lit room, his favorite hobby. It would be during one of these acid trips in July of 1927 that Leo hit upon an idea for the next great superweapon.

    Plans for Orange Bliss were quickly drawn up. It had little to do with Peters' original failed Bliss experiments at all, but Leo said he liked the codename all the same. The purpose of Orange Bliss was to blanket a region with a chemical fog that served as a defoliating agent, killing all plants and rotting them to their core. This could prove very effective for rapid deforestation along borders, in wartime, or during large-scale construction projects. Orange Bliss was actually white, but to fulfill his acid-induced visions he had an orange dye added to the mix that gave it its name. "It MUST be orange," Leo was quoted as saying to his staff many times. Leo was by this point a devout follower of the The Worm, or the The Great Faceless One, as the supposedly indescribably ancient deity was sometimes described. The Worm was a bizarre hidden and idolatrous cult created by Charles Dexter Armitage at the turn of the century that had found believers in some high-ranking military brass, scientists, and politicians.

    "With this power I will become death, able to smite entire valleys, forests, and make even the mightiest oak crumble before the wheels of progress. Our enemies will have nowhere to hide. Not a single leaf to cower under."

    -Prof. Leo Merkwürdigliebe

    The first small-scale tests of Orange Bliss were carried out in enclosed rooms full of potted plants. Phase 2 began some fifty miles from Fort Lincoln in the middle of the frozen tundra. It went off without a hitch and the trees and plants at the test site were dead within 48 hours. Over thirty square acres were destroyed. Orange Bliss was deemed a success and ready for Phase 3 tests, the outcome of which would determine whether or not it would be accepted by the Army as a new superweapon. For this, Leo believed a different climate was needed to show the true potency of Orange Bliss in any environment. Much thought was given as to what would be the best and yet most remote location for this test. After several months of planning, several Navy ships carried Bloocker, Merkwürdigliebe, and a crew of Army photographers and filmmakers to Pitcairn Island in the Pacific. Pitcairn Island had been the site of the 1790 mutiny on the HMS Bounty, and the descendants of those villainous crewmen had since bred with local Inferior savages. Pitcairn had been a pretty tropical backwater that most Americans didn't even know existed and if they did it was because of the Bounty story. From some ten miles out to sea, cameras were rolling as ship guns blasted Orange Bliss shells onto the island paradise. No warning was given to the inhabitants. Within the hour the whole island seemed to almost glow with an orange hue. Everyone retired to quarters to wait and see what the effect would be.

    It was devastating. Two days later, only a handful of Pitcairn Islanders remained, most in critical condition, and the island itself was a wasteland of brown, black, and gray. Breadfruit trees were crumbling, the grass was withering, and the air itself hung very heavy with an acidic, carcinogenic stench. To Leo, it was as if his weapon was a gift from The Worm, to which he had prayed these many years. Despite literally risking execution or life in a reeducation camp, Leo then decided to share his beliefs in the ancient Worm deity with Legate General Blooker, who he saw as a fellow intellectual almost on his own level. Blooker essentially said "thanks but no thanks" and swore he would never out Leo as a heretic. That was not all he would swear not to out Leo for. He promised to keep Merkwürdigliebe's incredible list of murder victims to himself. Leo performed dark rituals with the bodies of random people he would kill and used his political power to shield himself. Using this method he believed he could live forever with the blessings of The Worm. He also organized "sexual magick" rituals, sometimes with as many as thirty women. Quite simply, Blooker thought if he was found to be consorting with another kook, a dangerous one at that, he was sure he would not only lose his job but his life as well. He might as well start tying his own noose again if he ratted out Leo. Leo would go on to replace Midas Goldstein as Supreme Chief of the Office of Health and Wellness in early 1937, when Midas decided to focus full time on atomic weapons research.

    Thus the origin of Orange Bliss has been told. But what of Black Bliss? Was there another chemical weapon developed by the insane pagan doctor? No, Orange Bliss was one and the same with Black Bliss. Even when it was deployed to the frontlines of Manifest Climax in 1937, it was still quite well known by the Union government as Orange Bliss. The name-change was unofficial. When the ORRA Torchboys used their powerful Liberty Torches to set fire to the South American jungle after heavy use of Orange Bliss, the fires grew out of control very rapidly and the smoke from the poisoned vegetation turned black as night and rose far, far into the air. This was deemed acceptable and the saber-rattling high command pushed for more, more, more use of the defoliant to make the advance against the Neutrality Pact move even faster. Leo himself was pleased with the results of his handiwork and privately praised his occult master for this success.

    When the Monsoon season uncharacteristically began to blow the Black Bliss north, into Old Mexico, the Union government began to panic. In June of 1937, as the future Prophet Billy Graham descended into New Canaan with his friend, the future Apostle Andrew, they would see just what Merkwürdigliebe's and Blooker's superweapon was capable of. Monolithic 100 foot-tall walls of soot would wash up over the land, reaching as far as Southern Texas. Black ash would roll in with the Lewisiana tide. Metropolis, Gem of the Southwest and City of Tomorrow, would be swarmed with refugees, as the Metropolis Valley largely shielded it from the direct storm but made it a target for those seeking salvation. Whole cities would disappear or empty overnight. Corpses could be seen along the Destiny Road, which would be completely shut down in late July for all of Old Mexico for anything but vital military traffic. Roaming gangs of outlaws and hooligans would rob, steal, rape and murder. But through it all, despite the rapid breakdown of society, the country boys of Old Mexico would survive and emerge as the toughest, most resilient, and dare-say most truly American people of all time. And at their head would be the Prophet Graham. In 1938, Graham would receive his first divine visions from Njarl, the Angel of Destiny, and he would begin rebuilding Old Mexico in his own image.

    "They don't even know it yet, but this 'god' they worship in this country, this 'Jehovah,' it is not the Christian Yahweh. It is not Jesus Christ. It is something darker, far more ancient, and much more destructive. Something which has been and always will be. Since the first primeval ape men clashed with rocks and sticks it has been with us. It provides and nourishes from its blood-soaked teat. And when the times are hard, sacrifices and rituals in its name make us strong once again. I sacrificed an entire fucking island in its name. -It- is The Worm, the Great Faceless One, the Crowned and Conquering King. And it is with this country, and one day the American people will realize who truly has been listening to their prayers."

    -OHW Supreme Chief Leo Merkwürdigliebe to Legate General Arnold Blooker, 1937
     
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    MYSTERIES OF THE WORM: HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

  • MYSTERIES OF THE WORM:
    HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

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    Charles Dexter Armitage, circa 1910

    Our story begins on the ancient streets of Salem, Massachusetts, Republican Union, for it was there that on the fateful day of October 12, 1883, that the Armitage family welcomed its new bouncing baby boy. His name was Charles Dexter Armitage, destined to be one of the most interesting and bizarre figures of the 20th century. The son of an insurance salesman named Thaddeus Winslow Armitage and his wife Rebecca Steinschneider, a Jewish seamstress, Charles Dexter Armitage would become a legendary mystic, occultist, pagan, war criminal, and author. Rebecca refused to convert to the Fundamentalist faith of her husband and also refused to bring her son up in the "American religion," instead instructing Charles in the ways of Judaism, the only other generally accepted faith in the Republican Union. This resistance to "following the crowd" would help shape who her son would become in later years. Charles stood by his loving mother and resisted his father's increasingly brutal punishments for small offenses and random abuse over the first few years of his life. Thaddeus hated the fact that his son wasn't "following the faith of every red-blooded, Christ-fearing American boy," and sought a divorce in 1893 when Charles was ten years old. Because of laws at the time favoring standing members of the AFC Church, custody of young Charles was granted to his father. He would never see his mother again. Rather than accept this fate lying down, Charles continued to profess his faith in Judaism and adamantly refused to be baptized. His father referred to him as his "Jewish Hellion."

    Determined to break his sons rebellious streak, Thaddeus asked his own father, Colonel Winslow Armitage, a cantankerous old veteran of the Immolation of Mexico, to raise Charles for a few years. Much to everyone's surprise, Charles became absolutely enamored with the old Colonel, whom he called "Pap." Winslow Armitage's house was a three story mansion in the late Pax Napoleonic style, built around 1850, and it was basically a museum of his own exploits and adventures, from Mexico to the Pacific to even an Arctic Expedition. Winslow would often remind folk of the fact that he was in the first trip to ever truly stand at the north pole. A devout Fundamentalist and a proud original member of Custer's Manifest Destiny Party (Member Number 124), Winslow enthralled his grandson with tale after tale of violence, bloodshed, brutality, heatstroke, frostbite, and daring-do. During the Immolation of Mexico, Winslow had personally led some of the ORRA death squads that conducted the largely forgotten massacres in Chihuahua (Cheehoohoo, in his own dialect). Charles felt in himself a growing fascination with glory, death, and the afterlife and yearned for his own military exploits. "You'll make a little McClellan yet, son," his grandfather would say.

    Among the relics of a bygone age that his grandfather had collected over the years aside from his own old uniforms, sabers, and regalia was a vast array of ancient books and artifacts of mysterious and sometimes unknown origin. There were local items, such as original court papers from the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, at which an Armitage had been a judge, or the macabre, such as Winslow's own frostbitten left hand in a jar of embalming fluid. What peaked the young boy's interest most of all, however, was an ancient stone statue of what appeared to be cross between a bird and a snake or worm of sorts. "That's Keezelcote, the Feathered One," his Pap would tell him. "The Mexicans used to worship the thing, or so I hear. Took that from a museum during the Fall of Mexico City, I did. Just thought it was interesting lookin'. Some redskin prisoners saw me load it in the wagon and they tried telling me it was cursed, that I didn't know what I was messin' with. I laughed in their faces. And then I took them out to the desert and showed 'em who was cursed."

    "Pap, are there such things as curses?" young Charles asked.

    "Of course," Winslow shrugged. "Powerful Christian Magickians can summon the power of the Other Side to curse those who trespass against God's will. And those who dabble without proper trainin' or spiritual fortification in the art of divination can summon up terrible harpees and bugaboos from the bowels of Sheol. There is a place far beyond the veil of time and space that the human mind can't even imagine. I dare say we'll never come close to unlockin' all of the secrets of the occult until Christ and Prophet descend."

    "What does 'occult' mean, Pap?" came the next question.

    Winslow, always keen to enlarge his protege's vocabulary, led the boy over to a dictionary on the study table and looked up the word, reading the definition aloud. "Secret or hidden knowledge." One thing led to another and before the week was so over Charles was scouring every single one of his grandfather's books on Spiritual Marxism, the Jewish Kabbalah, Christian magick, the Blind Christian Gentleman, and the enterprising exploits of John Dee, the father of the Enochian script that the Council of Jehovah used for its rituals at the Tobias Institute. There was one issue that made the 13 year-old Charles' interests unique: he was still unbaptized. While he still professed faith in Judaism outwardly, he was becoming more and more engrossed in and dedicated to the occult. A neighbor girl one year his junior named Lizzy Ross would repeatedly show interest in the thin but darkly handsome Charles. She would remark in later years, "He said he was an Israelite. But I was never so sure of that. He never talked about it. But he would talk about witchcraft, sorcery, and magick as if it was the greatest thing he had ever heard. I don't think his Judaism was ever real. He just used it to rebel against his own abusive father. He was a troubled boy. All of his fellow Custer Youth troop members would bully and harass him for his strange habits." This remark would prove itself to not be far from wrong. Despite his most ardent attempts to convert the young Charles, Winslow was unable to do so, telling Thaddeus, "You're boy is a fucking Jew. Ain't nothing in the world can change that."

    At the age of 18, in 1901, Charles asked Lizzy Ross if she would like to run off with him. "I loaded up Pap's old wagon with supplies and a little bit of money. And my books, of course. We could really make it out west, you know. Pap says there is wide open land in New Canaan and Oxacre. Won't you come with me?" When Lizzy awkwardly thanked him for the offer but said she could not simply abandon her family like that, Charles flew into a rage, something she had never seen. "Fine then, you whore. I offered you a place at my right hand. A new age is coming, and I am going to be its master. I am the great I am, Merlin reincarnated. I don't need you, or Pap, or my fucking father. Burn in hell." His grandfather of course knew he had been planning to leave, but there was little he could do to stop him. His view was that Charles had to make his own mistakes. He told his grandson he loved him and wished him luck. And with that, Charles was off, leaving the old world of Massachusetts behind for the wonders of the Wild West.

    During his trip, it is worth mentioning, he stopped at the Circle P Ranch for several nights rest. This ranch would later be famous as the birthplace of the Apostle Andrew, right hand of the Prophet Graham. In August of 1901, Charles would arrive in Sweetwater, Oxacre, nearly destitute. His main reason for visiting the locale was to find the site of the ancient Aztec pyramids his grandfather had described seeing in his military exploits, the ones that were dedicated to the worship of the Feathered One. The statue his grandfather had shown him so many years before was now his most prized possession, wrapped in socks and taking up half of the room in his suitcase. His bundle of books on the occult was his only other real earthly possession at the time. In late September, after having investigated for weeks as to their whereabouts, he was finally able to locate and visit a timeworn, desecrated heathen pyramid. The structure was truly ancient, having mostly been reclaimed by the jungle. There were clear signs of "investigation" by Yankee explorers, who had mostly destroyed or stolen anything of value, including ancient hieroglyphs, and several crumbling spots were obviously used for artillery target practice at some point. But not to be defeated by dangerous structural instability or venomous snakes, Charles ventured to the top of the pyramid and performed several incantations he was trying to master, to no effect. His guide, an old vet who had lived in the area since the Immolation, was able to recall a few facts about the old temple when asked. When he was asked what the stone slab at the top was used for, he replied, "Well, if I recall that was where the Injuns would rip the hearts out of their prisoners. They would cut them open alive and rip it right out. Then they'd roll their bodies down these very steps. Godless savages."

    "These sacrifices, who were they made to?" Charles asked another question of the old man.

    "I don't know how to pronounce the old Infee name for him, but it was a worm lookin' thing. Had feathers. Real weird lookin' bugaboo, for sure. Couldn't tell you anything else. Little before my time, you know."

    The guide was never seen again. Charles wrote in his diary that visiting the Aztec pyramid and performing a "black sacrament" atop its altar had made him feel like a new man. After several more months of exploring the area and experimenting with peyote, the hallucinogen so favored by the Council of Jehovah, young Armitage received a telegram telling him to return home to Salem as quickly as possible because his father had suffered a horrific carriage accident. The telegram also asked him to please convert to Fundamentalism and finally redeem himself for his father. Furious, he sent a telegram back which simply stated, "I am the Beast 666." His father died soon after, leaving himself as his Pap's only heir, despite the old Colonel's growing disgust with him after all these years.

    1903 would see Charles Armitage settle down in Metropolis for a period, where he became involved with "Miss Carter," the most famous Christian Magickian and charlatan in all of New Canaan, a woman who even claimed to have slept with the Blind Christian Gentleman Mr. Tobias. Miss Carter was fifteen years his senior but that did not stop them from constant acts of what they dubbed "sexual magick." Miss Carter would frequently invite her multiple female lovers (known as the Night Lilies) into the relationship, many of whom actually began to follow Charles more than herself. The Night Lilies were famous for their floor-length hair which they proclaimed were like "antennas to amplify the voices of the spirits." They would also help run her ongoing frauds, such as a magnetic spirit board. Despite growing realization that Carter was a scam artist, Armitage and Carter would live together for the period between 1903 and 1907, with her paying the way for him at Benedict Arnold University of Metropolis, sister school of the more famous Boston campus. He majored in Other Side Studies with the help of falsified baptismal records and was issued a 10-dollar license to practice magick in the state of New Canaan, a turning point in his career. It would also be at B.A.U.M. that he would meet his future wife Ethyl Butcher, a blonde, blue-eyed young thing who was known as the "Devil's Daughter" on campus for her rather unusual interests that sometimes landed her in hot water. While initially trying to fit Miss Carter and her substantial personal fortune into their relationship, his growing disgust with the "false magic" and "cheap parlor tricks" of the famed Christian Magickian caused him to move out on his own and marry Butcher on April 1, 1907. This also served to sully his view of Christian magick in general and convinced him "real power only resides in following the darkest impulses of Lucifer himself."

    Miss Carter would actually go to the Office of Racial and Religious Affairs to report Armitage for "heresy, paganism, blasphemy, witchcraft, hedonism, Satanism, and breaking and entering," but due to his family's good name and the accusations sounding so absurdly over-the-top evil, he was never investigated beyond a quick inquiry at his new home. He simply showed the officers his falsified baptismal paper, professed faith in Jehovah, and accused her of being a con artist. ORRA officers would arrest Miss Carter on May 3, 1907, for blasphemy, misuse and abuse of Christian Magick, fraud, and defamation. She would wind up in Reeducation Camp 138, where she would spend the rest of her life at hard labor. The ease at which he had deflected her claims made Armitage proud of himself, and more egotistical than ever. With his new wife and the Night Lilies as his firm supporters, he began thoroughly exploring the dark arts in secret and his lovers began to refer to him as the Great 666, a name he reveled in. He began a deep-dive into Egyptian religion at this time, as well, particularly the slithering God of Chaos Apep, which he associated with the Feathered One of Aztec lore. There was no way that he could imagine that there wasn't some truth to something so ancient and so wide-spread as these "slithering cults."

    It would be in 1908 that his grandfather would finally pass, leaving Charles his estate. With more than enough room for everyone, the Armitages and the Night Lilies moved into Winslow's old mansion. The beginning of something big was on the horizon. It would be during this time that he would drastically increase his usage of peyote and other drugs, and his wife would frequently join him. During one night of rituals and hallucinogens, Ethyl claimed to be in contact with a "supreme deity." At first, Charles merely laughed off his wife's story. After all, he had been trying to truly contact the Other Side for years, and here was this mere woman accidentally stumbling into the success he had so long desired. But after several more hours of testimony of contact with this deity, Charles began to take notes. At last he asked her what the name of this god was. She replied simply, "The Worm, the Crowned and Conquering King. "

    This of course launched Charles into a frenzy of excitement, linking it with the ancient Egyptian and Aztec deities he had so long been interested in. Over the next few days, his wife would tell him what this "deity" was revealing to her and he would transcribe it and try to make sense of it. In the end, he would call the work The Mysteries of The Worm, told partially from the point of view of the ancient deity and partially from that of the unnamed author. Supposedly, this ancient faceless being was a primordial god of chaos, war, and destruction. Ethyl claimed it told her, "For too long have my altars been dry. For too long has man sat in lofty peace. The day of reckoning cometh like a thief in the night. The world will be plunged into primeval chaos, drenched in the blood of millions." This could be seen as a direct prophecy of the Great World War that would erupt just two years later, though skeptics would say most people expected such a cataclysm by this point. Charles and Ethyl were soon crafting an entire religion based around her visions of The Worm. Among the most memorable lines of the cursed book were "Death conquers all," "Do what thou wilt," and "Only when the altars are moist with blood and the planets are aligned will The Worm be sated, and all who follow The Worm be granted their richly deserved reward." Despite his lack of faith in Spiritual Marxism, Charles was an ardent supporter of Scientific Marxism and declared this "Cult of The Worm" was a religion for a true Pinnacle Man, a faith for real pure-blooded strongmen. It would be a few months into the editing of The Mysteries of The Worm when Armitage himself professed to have experienced visions from a "primordial and inconceivably large serpent or, indeed, worm, that showed him the secrets of the universe." It told him that it had in fact been The Worm that revealed itself to Aaron Burr. That it had been The Worm, not the Christian Jehovah, that had brought about Manifest Destiny. It would be The Worm, so the voices said, that would lead the Republican Union to victory in the coming war.

    "I am so thirsty, so very thirsty, for the blood of conquest in my name. Like a sword forged blow by blow, I too have forged this nation. It shall be mightiest among men, and it shall serve my name just as it always has. My followers will signal the start of a new age and I shall again be strong enough to dwell in the house of man and tread upon the earth once more. I bring death and chaos, but also knowledge and glory. I hate, yet I love. I tried once to help man unlock the secrets of the universe but I was cast out and rejected, forced to dwell in the deep underground of the hollow earth so many millennia ago for merely trying to gift the flame of knowledge. There I lay sleeping in my home of Ia'nuru to this day, but through my slumbering dreams I can speak to my chosen. Grow my power and make sacrifice and you shall be richly rewarded. Feed the Great Faceless One. Awaken The Worm, The Crowned and Conquering King, and you shall be richly rewarded in the life that is to come."

    - The Mysteries of The Worm (page 34)

    Dedicating himself to the prospects of a future war, Armitage sold his ancestral home in Salem and moved his wife and followers to Pennsylvania, where he attended the Philadelphia Military Academy, finishing first in his class. He would enlist into the 13th ORRA Mechanized "Bad Luck Brigade" in 1911, just months before the Great World War would break out. While studying and training, he would occasionally find other students and ORRA men interested in the dark arts, with which he would share his messages from The Worm. Some thought him insane, but the beginning of the war made even the most insane soldier still a useful one. Besides that, the 13th was considered a "berserker unit," a tool of mindless violence and merciless attack where a sane mind could only hinder its purpose. While serving in the 13th ORRA, he would be involved in untold atrocities in Quebec, murdering members of the fleeing Bonapartist Royal Family his unit captured and ritually sacrificing them in a glen in the name of The Worm. By the war's end, he would become a captain. Using some of his vast wealth his wife would purchase a printing press, with which she began printing copies of their heretical new religious work. Those men and women that the couple deemed worthy and interested in "unlocking the secrets of the cosmos"could expect to find a copy of The Mysteries of The Worm on their doorstep. Even Supreme Marshal Ambrose Jansen was known to have possessed a copy, a copy that Supreme Chief Patton claimed as his own following Jansen's murder. It is not known whether Jansen read the book or if it merely showed up in his mailbox. But Patton, in his quest for enough power to offset his own insecurity with his paralysis, seemed interested and apparently collected copies of the cursed grimoire, despite it immediately being designated as contraband in its first edition. Seemingly overnight, the cracks in the Fundamentalist nature of upper society began to show, however small. Most people considered themselves Christian Fundies, but it was now clear that a great many people were much less devout than it would seem. Certain men of violent and powerful disposition took comfort in The Mysteries of The Worm and secretly adopted it as a mantra or warrior's code of sorts. For a long time, since the days of Lincoln, there had been soldiers and generals who offered libations to Mars, the Roman God of War. It was practically an Army tradition. Now they offered libation to The Worm. Was it any different? It was all still heretical.

    By 1920, despite numerous investigations in the new Steele post-war era, no one had actually realized who had written The Mysteries of The Worm, as it was published anonymously. If discovered, Charles and Ethyl would face almost certain death by the pro-family, super-American president. But around the country, completely organically, local cults began to pop up worshiping The Worm. One devotee, the ironically named Eddie Christian, led some 23 cultists in the state of New Canaan to form a compound dedicated to performing strange rituals to summon forth The Crowned and Conquering King. When ORRA officers battered down the doors of the compound in 1923 following complaints of "flagrant Satanist activity," screams, and "eldritch chanting," they were horrified to find the bodies of an incredibly long list of missing persons ritually sacrificed. Joe Steele was reportedly so disturbed by reports from the situation that he ordered Christian's immediate execution, as well as the torture and death of anyone who was involved. All cult members were summarily shot in their cells, with shouts of "Long live Steele!" and "Death to heretics!" ringing out over the gunshots. The compound saw a visit from members of the Council of Jehovah itself, an extraordinary event, who performed "purification rituals" and spread salt around the compound before ordering its burning.

    "It was like a picture out of a perfect nightmare. They were cutting the hearts outta these guys on a stone slab, chanting and singing some weird hymn I never heard before. They all said they were prepared to die and asked if we felt the same. I have been to war, been in the middle of bloody riots, and even Inferior uprisings, but nothing will ever chill me to my core as much those normal Pinnacle folk butchering and sacrificing other decent Americans to some primeval monster."

    - Sergeant Wilbur Hawthorne, ORRA Special Crimes Unit, on the Eddie Christian Compound Raid of 1923

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    ORRA officers pose for a photo following the Eddie Christian Compound Raid (1923)

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    Remains of the Eddie Christian Worm cult (1923)

    Similar raids were happening all across America. Almost without Armitage having to lift a finger, his new faith had spread far and wide to the point where the government of the most powerful country on earth worried it posed a national security threat. Things were so far out of hand that Reverend-Colonel Billy Sunday created the Zealot-operated Church Occult Activity Unit in 1925, determined to get to the bottom of things. But even though the cult was rapidly growing, their numbers were still tiny and their members careful. They stopped building compounds and instead embraced the fact that they were one and the same with the worshipers of Jehovah. After all, all things were of The Worm according to The Mysteries of the Worm itself, and they thought The Worm was leading America to global domination. From scientists to soldiers to politicians, the "Children of The Worm" believed the Last Days were approaching and that a giant primordial deity would rise from the "hollow earth" and reward them for their service. Fewer than one percent of officers officially believed anything but the Bible and the Four Books, but the few who did follow The Worm showcased a growing crack in Fundamentalism and the fact that there were enough demented and sadistic men in places of power to promote such an awful religion. By the time of Manifest Climax, Joe Steele's personal goons and the AFC's OAU were beginning to unravel the conspiracy behind The Worm cult, but at the same time radical yet secretive cultist Leo Merkwürdigliebe destroyed an entire island with Orange Bliss chemical weapons in the name of The Worm, performing the biggest ritual sacrifice of all time.

    Manifest Climax was a hell of a time to be Joe Steele, and even though he was managing one of the largest war efforts in history he also had to deal with an insane death cult that believed in human sacrifice infiltrating his ranks. Steele might not have seen himself as a hero of humanity, but he certainly drew a line at ritual disemboweling. To top it off, wartime stress and constant night terrors were causing him to slip into debilitating states of paranoia, when he would accuse everyone around him of being "worm-tongues." By 1937, the noose was tightening on Charles Armitage, who lived every day in fear of arrest and execution, but there was still no concrete proof he was behind the movement or its titular grimoire. He was actually able to use his position at ORRA to monitor the investigation into the cult and even foil and hamper it several times. In the worst case event that he did go down, there were still hundreds of followers who would continue to spread the word of The Crowned and Conquering King. A new age was coming, Armitage thought, and Manifest Climax was the herald of The Worm's return to the surface of the earth. An era of madness and carnage that would precede a great and terrible enlightenment.

    "He dwells in great caverns and Stygian pools, sleeping yet all-knowing, still working in the hearts and minds of men. The Worm, The Great Faceless One. He slumbers decade upon century, spreading his truth and speaking through dreams and visions to his prophets and servants. But soon the veil shall be lifted and the Crowned and Conquering King will ascend to the surface world. And when The Worm rises from the depths, great and terrible, it shall remake the earth in its own image and the Age of Aquarius will truly begin. Hail, Oh, Hail to thee, Worm. May thy return be swift and may thy maw run red with the blood of the unworthy."

    Mysteries of The Worm (final page)

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    Sigil of The Worm
    "Death Conquers All"
     
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    MYTH OR REALITY: THE TRINITY CITY APEMAN
  • MYTH OR REALITY:
    THE TRINITY CITY APEMAN

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    Famous
    1950 photograph of the "Trinity City Apeman"

    The 1920s, '30s and '40s saw a peak in the attempted development of dubious "superweapons" around the world, but no where saw more bizarre attempts than the Republican Union. During the period, President Joseph Steele authorized tens of millions to be spent on research and development. The Economic Clans, still terrified of Steele since the Yankee Stadium incident, were also working around the clock to invent new weapons of mass destruction, medical technology, and equipment. But perhaps nothing was as "interesting" as Yankee biological research during this time.

    The original home of this biological research in the Union was everyone's favorite reeducation facility Camp 222, the old stomping grounds of Dr. Midas Goldstein and the birthplace of his and Dr. Joseph K. Finch's Beckie Flu Vaccine. The camp had originally been built during the days of the Hamilton Fish administration as a supply depot for the GAR, and legend says that it was constructed on the grounds of the ancient French Fort Victoire. Fort Victoire was a small base that had supposedly been used by the French Royal Army in the 17th century to reinforce the path to Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, some 50 miles north, though much of that history would later be erased by the RU and verification of these stories as fact is a long-lost cause. At any rate, the French and Indian War did see extensive combat in the area and a French camp in the vicinity of the supposed original fort were slaughtered in their sleep by an unknown foe. Some blamed the Native American legend of the "Wendigo" for their deaths, but most historians suspect a British group of scouts committed the massacre. When the modern age arrived and Detroit (now Crawford) was taking off economically, few wanted to live in Camp Victory, as the area was now called. Many thought the place cursed.

    During the Custer years, reeducation camps sprung up around the country at a shocking rate, despite the fact they had existed since early in the 19th century as "foreigner camps." Custer's new Office of Racial and Religious Affairs took command of these institutions and put a happy, smiling face on them, referring to guards as "Camp Counselors" and commandants as "Chief Camp Counselors," almost making it sound like some sort of wilderness resort or Bible camp. They would also begin numbering them. The numbering process helped avoid stigma surrounding local communities who didn't want to be known for a prison camp. Thus, Camp Victory, and the surrounding small community of Victoria, welcomed the name change to Camp 222. Over the years, the population of the town dwindled from about 300 to less than 50, owing to an 1890 outbreak of cholera and the collapse of the local economy (furthering stories of a curse). In 1893, the community of Victoria was unincorporated. ORRA quickly bought out the last few stragglers and took full possession of the town. Jewish-American architect Werner Englander was hired two years later to design the "reeducation facility of the future." By 1900, the camp was the most secure in America, an experiment in brutality and utilitarian design principles.

    Enter one Midas Goldstein, the "Polymath of the Ages." From his early days of "E=MC2," to coming up with the idea for the "mobill oven trucks" that burned up corpses during the Beckie Flu, to the Final Solution to the Inferior Question, the bald Jewish-American mad doctor remains to this day the symbol of modern American science. When he took command of Camp 222 in 1912 following the Kissimmee Conference, he was taking over for retiring Chief Camp Counselor Robert Clement, a cantankerous and brutal former prison warden with a penchant for personally beating inmates with a metal baton at the slightest show of disrespect. When Goldstein arrived, many prisoners hoped for some sort of change, as the Jew wore a white seersucker suit rather than Clement's dress uniform and kepi and seemed to convey an attitude of warmth and friendliness, even to Inferiors. Goldstein was known for personally visiting hovels with his staff to speak with the detained and ask how they were doing, sometimes giving the children George Washington Carver's Pep-O-Steps or Little Sweetums and sometimes even a bottle of Sweet Victory. Finch would express his distaste of "mingling with the mongrels," but Goldstein seemed to show empathy.

    It was all a ruse. In reality, Goldstein was a sociopath who merely viewed Inferiors as interesting but short-term playthings, to be examined, broken, and thrown away. He was responsible for turning Camp 222 from a mere camp into a medical research facility with the funding of then Supreme Chief of ORRA George Dewey (who also was fulfilling Presidential duties at the time thanks to the secret wartime death of George Custer). His headquarters and main research facility at Camp 222 was known as "Solomon's Temple." It would be here that the original vaccine for the Beckie Flu would be developed and rolled out, among many other future experiments. But Goldstein's time as the "Black Jew of Camp 222" was short, as he quickly accepted the role of Supreme Chief of the Office of Health and Wellness (OHW) two years later. Camp 222 was then shared by ORRA and OHW from that point on, as were many of the camps, in a "joint venture to discover the future of health and chattel maintenance."

    Among the very peculiar research assistants at the facility that served under the Black Jew was a "thin, short, dour little man" named Dr. Elija Johnson, former professor of biology at Kalamazoo University. After Goldstein left and Fred Merkwürdigliebe took over the driver's seat, he promoted Dr. Johnson to the position of Chief of Biological Research at the Camp 222. After waiting year after year for a promotion to Deputy Chief Camp Counselor that never came, increasing personal tensions between himself and Merkwürdigliebe saw Johnson apply at a different facility in 1925. In early 1926, a farewell party was thrown in the staff dining hall at Solomon's Temple, complete with a blonde vixen popping out of a cake and fine wine. Johnson was off to Fort McClellan.

    Now Fort McClellan has a much less interesting history than Camp 222. It began its life as a supply depot during the Great World War and only later became a place of intrigue as part of Project Percival, the top secret program that developed LSD, methamphetamine, and mescaline, as well as research into mind control and more. Johnson arrived just as things were getting interesting, serving as an aide to Dr. Gilgamesh Singleton. The two men were experts in different fields, with Singleton having taught brain science at Yale, but Johnson's expertise was greatly needed because of his knowledge of human anatomy and his understanding of the effects of drugs on the human body from his time at Camp 222. Many know the "Big Six" of Project Percival: Dr. Harvey Stein, Dr. Enoch Casey, Dr. Slim Woods, Dr. Festus Mueller, Dr. Gilgamesh Singleton, and Dr. Gabriel Snow. But many medical historians say that Dr. Johnson was the seventh of the group, but just more private, shy, and reclusive.

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    Dr. Elijah Johnson (1943)

    "For the first time in years--since Goldstein left 222, really--I felt fulfilled. They didn't have books on the stuff we were doing at Fort McClellan. They were still writing the books! And they were basing them on our research. We were forging ahead into a brave new world. It was really something. I will always cherish my time on the project. Some people say I should be more famous than I am, that I'm the forgotten seventh member of the Big Six. I am not some spotlight-seeker and I will not compare myself to my superiors. I will write this memoir for history and be done with it. I am just glad to have enjoyed the company of such great minds, particularly Dr. Singleton and Dr. Snow, and for the knowledge I have gained from them and with them. As the staff party in Solomon's Temple sang to me on my last day before transfer to Fort McClellan, "Auld lang syne," gentlemen!"

    - Dr. Elijah Johnson in his 1950 autobiography Sapere Aude (Heart and Hearth Publishing House)

    What Johnson would definitely not include in his autobiography, however, was his own mostly failed biological superweapon project, the classified Project Silverback. Project Silverback was one of the most laughably failed Union experiments of all time, and it was a public relations disaster and information war that led to mass hysteria and eventually to one of the most enduring American "urban legends" of all time: the Trinity City Apeman. The story of Project Silverback is so bizarre that few would believe it even if it were to be declassified. There was office politics, bizarre fetishes, organ transplants, and much, much more, and all of it can be traced back to Dr. Elijah Johnson in the winter of 1933, well into the initial build-up phase of Operation: Manifest Climax.

    It began on November 10, 1932, in the "Paul Revere Wing" of Fort McClellan, when Johnson was given the staff and office of Dr. Enoch Casey following Casey's retirement. Johnson was told by Supreme Chief Patton that he was deserving of a reward. This reward would come in the form of funding a personal project of Johnson's that the doctor swore up and down would create a modern "super-soldier." This would not be merely a superweapon, but it could turn men themselves into superweapons, or so the doctor declared. The idea for Project Silverback had been floated by Johnson since his days at Camp 222, where he was mocked as the "monkey man," the harassment that led directly to his transfer out of there. Since about 1913, he had drawn up plans for "human-monkey hybridization" to create a "supersoldier." He also proposed exciting fare like transfering a human brain into an ape, transplanting a cat's head onto a dog's body, and assorted random chimera. While many of his colleagues thought his research a waste of funding, Supreme Chief Patton was willing to welcome him with open arms for one specific reason: Patton's own physical insecurities.

    Since being paralyzed in the Great World War, Patton had been obsessed with find some sort of "serum of rejuvenation" and Steele seemed uninterested or uncaring as to how much he spent on this goal. In reality, Steele's personal doctors informed him that Patton would never walk again. Seeking someone to be his right-hand who could never be physically stronger than him, this made Patton a perfect choice for ORRA Supreme Chief, a position that filled the role of Vice-President. Patton never picked up on this cynical move and always dreamed of a day when he would stand again, a day when he would overthrow Joseph Steele. Just several months after the start of Project Silverback, Patton would dispatch the Office of Artifacts and Antiquities to Lake Maracaibo in a vain attempt at locating the fabled Fountain of Youth, almost sparking an early war with Gran Colombia in the process. He also would collect multiple copies of The Mysteries of The Worm in an attempt to solve the mysteries of his own "worm." Clearly willing to try anything to improve his physical condition, all Johnson had to do was whisper sweet nothings about walking again and Patton would throw money at him.

    "Doctor Johnson,

    Your reputation as an expert biologist precedes you, and I have heard many grand things about you from your former colleagues at Camp 222 and from Dr. G. Singleton. I understand that you wish to launch a program dedicated to studying the preserving of the human brain, cognitive functions, fluid rejuvenation, animal hybridization, and transplantation. As a man no longer endowed with functioning legs, having lost their use in service to this country, I am happy to tell you I firmly back your research and so does the entirety of ORRA and OHW. You will be given all funds necessary without question and all of your needs will be met to your liking. On the topic of meeting needs, I would also ask for you to help me with my current problems down where the old walnuts hang, as I haven't felt the touch of a woman since 1912. As you can imagine for a man of my stature and appearance, I am inundated with requests to rattle my saber, to spread my seed and reap the wild wind. With my divorce finalized, I am once again a heart-throb to many of America's fairer sex. Now, this doesn't really bode well for me if I can't perform in the bedroom. If you could please look into this situation and perhaps assist me with this problem, I will be forever in your debt. Good luck, and Jehovah bless.

    - His Excellency,
    Supreme Chief George Patton
    Office of Racial and Religious Affairs"

    Seeking to humor Patton about this matter but unwilling to do anything that could actually harm the Supreme Chief's health, he prescribed him a series of placebo sugar pills that would "enhance his virility." Despite everyone on Project Silverback agreeing that this should be the indefinite solution to Patton's request, the Supreme Chief actually complained that the pills weren't helping. Following a physical during one of his annual two month stays at Fort McClellan in mid-1933, Patton demanded a new course of treatment after Johnson admitted that his testicles had actually degenerated and were no longer usable. Furious, Patton ordered the doctor to prepare him for testicular transplant. After a thorough temper-tantrum from his boss, Dr. Johnson told Patton that he would not advise such a life-threatening treatment on such an important member of the government. Having none of it, Patton drunkenly ordered Johnson, "Give me a set of gorilla nuts. Tear 'em off one these damn monkeys and put them on me!" Or so the legend went. In reality, Patton simply had a human cadaver's testicles transplanted onto his own nether-regions. This did not stop him from deliberately spreading the rumor that he was packing "gorilla nuts." Patton regained some sexual functions but would never fully recover.

    But the story one is likely to expect from this chapter is not that of a high-ranking government officer shouting for gorilla parts to be stitched onto his own body, but the story of the Trinity City Apeman. This is where things take a very freakish, weird turn. After several more experiments involving genetics and animals, such as keeping a severed dog head alive for three months in early 1934, the idea for the creation of a "supersoldier" was put forward again by Johnson. Using Inferiors, he theorized, they could actually artificially inseminate them with gorilla or chimpanzee sperm, or vice-versa, and create a "Voidling-ape" hybrid. After all, he argued, Inferiors, particularly the Irish, were not fully human and if Satan had created them as a mockery of God's creation of man, then they were much closer to apes already, if not outright. If they could be trained and brought up with careful monitoring and tutoring, these new "apemen" could be used as berserkers the likes of which the world had never seen. The Inferior's job was no different than any of the other animals in creation: to serve the Pinnacle Man as he built the New Jerusalem.

    Of course, these experiments failed utterly for the next two years. In early 1936, after over 200 attempted pregnancies that ended with absolutely nothing to show, Johnson was prepared to give up on the research when he began to feel pressure from ORRA to show something useful for their time and money. He quickly drew up plans to create "men like apes," using a system of steroids, growth hormones, and numerous other stimulants and drugs. He personally visited reeducation camps around the country, desperately searching for the largest or the large, the tallest of the tall out of all prisoners. He would settle on 200 different Inferiors or convicts that were over six feet eight inches tall and that had broad shoulders and faces. Most of the subjects were Irish, however there were at least 30 convicts, 5 ancestral Mexicans, and a Spaniard. Many of these test subjects suffered from a condition known as "hypertrichosis," leading to incredible hair growth all over their bodies.

    The victims were strapped to tables twice daily and administered the cocktail of horrific substances. In the meantime they were kept in cages and forbidden from speaking, living in filth and sleeping on piles of straw. Johnson said this was necessary to invoke their "carnal ancestral spirit." "These are the Goliaths of the battlefields of the Pinnacle Future!" Johnson would proudly declare to visiting ORRA officers. Fire hoses were used to blast the inmates whenever they fought back or refused to cooperate, as beating them or killing them would ruin the study. 25 died in the first five months, with a further 15 dying by 1937, usually of cardiac arrest or hyperthyroidism. But the ones who did survive were completely broken emotionally and mentally, lapsing into insanity. They were absolutely muscle-bound, constantly in a state of rage and violence, barely able to be contained with the fire hoses. Frequent treatments of LSD mixed in with their food were among the only things that calmed them down. Johnson promised Patton that at some point in the near future these "apemen" could be trained to fight on the frontlines as naked, hairy stormtroopers, used more for shock value than anything. Many could take several bullets before buying the farm, and their strength was unrivaled. On January 3, 1937, one ORRA scientist ironically named Darwin Tyler was seized by a group of inmates and mercilessly beaten to death with the brass tip of the hose and then torn apart. The "apeman" responsible for ring-leading the murder was immediately shot before Johnson could stop it, enraging him. "Tyler went inside the enclosure with the hose! It was Tyler's fault for not staying far enough away! Play stupid games and win stupid prizes, dammit!"

    On June 1, 1937, Patton phoned up Johnson. The following in a transcription of the call.


    PATTON: "What we need down south on the battlefield is some of your apemen. It'd crush Neutie morale and really make 'em think twice about messing with Uncle Sam. So if you could spare a truck-full of your hairy little rascals for us to use down south aways, that'd be fantastic, Doctor Johnson. The War Room would be forever grateful."

    JOHNSON: "Yes, of course, your excellency... Uh, if I may speak freely and whatnot, sir, I don't think they are quite ready for this sort of testing at the moment. They are very... ah, strained, mentally."

    PATTON: "Mentally? They should be mindless humanzees, Doctor. Kill, kill, kill! They are a weapon of terror, and should be used as such."

    JOHNSON: "Well, yes, of course, but this is a long-running project, sir. Uh, I would humbly ask for an additional six to eight months to fully take control of their minds and render them fit for transport."

    PATTON: "We're at war-, er, in the midst of an ongoing national security operation, Doc! I will be sending Captain Jack Turgidson and a squad of his boys down to Trinity City in about two weeks to pick 'em up. This'll be very interesting to see how they perform in combat!"

    JOHNSON: *audible sigh* "All right, sir, I can work with that, of course. I'll tell my staff to prepare them for battle. Anything else, sir?"

    PATTON: "No, I don't believe so. The Yankees are playing in a few minutes and I don't wanna miss the opening throw on the talkiebox. Have a good night, Doctor. All hail!"

    JOHNSON: "You as well, your excellency. All hail."



    Now we finally arrive at the part in this story where things went drastically, terribly off the rails. On June 17, Captain Turgidson and his men arrived in an armored, windowless Colonel Ford transport truck to pick up twenty "apemen" test subjects and transport them via Destiny Road to the battlefront in South America. Using hoses and tranquilizers, the unfortunate victims of "science" were maneuvered into the truck, kicking and screaming the whole way. One ORRA man was severely injured but would later make a recovery. Two armored autocarriages, with belt-fed grinders mounted on top, were brought in to flank the transport. The troops involved were ordered to immediately execute every test subject if a breakout would somehow occur. They were actually terrified of these freakishly huge "monsters" and were incredibly uncomfortable and uneasy around them, which worried Johnson greatly that they would open fire at the slightest hint of trouble. Being the middle of summer and being locked in a metal windowless transport truck was also not the greatest situation to bring the apemen into in the first place. Every four hours, the scientists told Turgidson, a rest was needed and the test subjects should be given water and some slices of pork (which was stored in a cooler toward the front of the truck).

    They wouldn't make it twenty miles. The test subjects reaction to the oven-like conditions of the transport was unreal, and they began to slam their bodies into the walls in an attempt to flip the truck over. Screeching and roaring, they did this over and over, within Trinity City limits even, causing many pedestrians and motorists to later recall that "weird unmarked government truck that sounded like it had a herd of elephants inside it." Captain Turgidson grew increasingly unhappy with how things were unfolding and ordered the caravan to stop in the middle of the woods some fifteen miles outside of Trinity City. Turgidson grabbed his drum-fed riot shotgun and ordered his men to open a small observation hatch on the top of the trailer. He climbed on top of the vehicle, pushed his shotgun through the hatch, and blasted a shell into the unlit trailer, killing one of the apemen. "Shut the fuck up and lay the fuck down or taste lead!" he shrieked, slamming the hatch shut.

    Just as the convoy was about to continue on, the apemen began to mourn for their dead cellmate by going even more berserk, actually managing to loosen the locks on the back door. Several seconds later, the door hinges snapped out of their mounting, sending doors and test subjects crashing to the ground in a cacophonous ruckus that stunned the ORRA men. The apemen wasted no time, grabbing the nearest ORRA officer and snapping his neck like a toothpick. The rear support vehicle opened up with its grinder, killing at least five apemen with its 50 caliber, but they were too fast for most of the troopers. They swarmed the vehicle and overtook the gunner, one apeman actually turning the gun on the Yankees, mowing them down. Captain Turgidson was brutally beaten to death and his body thrown in a ditch. As the the last ORRA man lay dying he managed to radio backup. Within fifteen minutes, ORRA and RUMP troops were on the scene. Detective Jericho Roberts of the Trinity City RUMP Special Crimes Unit called the massacre "the scariest thing I've ever seen, and I've seen the basements of serial killers." The general public was ordered to go into lockdown while "escaped, armed, and dangerous convicts" were hunted down by the authorities.

    Around fourteen apemen had escaped into the woods of southeastern Texas. Within two days, four of them were found and shot by ORRA and RUMP, but still more were still on the lose. Motorists began calling local talkiebox stations reporting sighting "massive hairy apelike creatures in the forest." It was a nightmare and humiliating for both ORRA and Project Silverback. Fort McClellan immediately issued press briefings, such as this one that appeared in the Trinity City Examiner:

    "Any sightings of a so-called apeman in the woods outside Trinity City or anywhere are nothing more than alarmist, paranoid conspiracy theories. Fort McClellan, in particular, has nothing to do with research on any apes or monkeys of any sort, and is dedicated to medical research to improve the health of all Americans. However, armed convicts are still at large, and ORRA and RUMP asks that each citizen do his duty by remaining inside and at home for the duration of this dragnet. All hail."

    Over the next few weeks, a further six apemen would be killed by the government, but the remaining four would never be located. One was presumed dead in 1944, but that was never confirmed. Campers and hikers would come upon "crude huts" as if built by "enormous humanoid creatures." A popular culture movement began, with Trinity City even holding the first-ever annual "Texan Apeman Festival" in 1951, a year after a local hunter named Patterson Hodge took the clearest and most detailed photo of one of the escaped Project Silverback inmates and claimed it to be an undiscovered species of "American great ape." Candy bars, sodas, even breakfast cereals would feature the likeness of the "creature." 1955 would see the release of the horror/science-fiction flick "King Goril," featuring a man in an ape suit abducting a pretty teenage girl and going on a rampage in a small southwestern Texas town.

    ORRA and OHW would never admit as to the actual origin of the "beastmen," and Doctor Johnson was forced by Patton to terminate all remaining specimens. Johnson was forbidden from ever speaking of Project Silverback again, including in his 1950 autobiography Sapere Aude. While Johnson was devastated by the loss of his pet project he had invested so much time and energy into, he would instead be ordered to begin work on another Patton fever-dream: cryogenic freezing.
     
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    SUNDAY MOURNING: THE FUNERAL OF THE REVEREND-COLONEL


  • SUNDAY MOURNING:
    THE FUNERAL OF THE REVEREND-COLONEL

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    The Holy Roller, containing the embalmed corpse of Reverend-Colonel Wilhelm Sonntag (Billy Sunday) passes in front of Independence Hall (July 7, 1937)

    The sound of massed pipes and drums down historic Chestnut Street was almost ear-splitting Tens of thousands of mourners, clad in black and their "Sunday best," packed the streets and saluted and knelt as the Holy Roller, the official hearse reserved only for the Reverend-Colonel, passed by at a snail's pace, black smoke puttering from its exhaust as various members of the Church and armed forces walked beside it, their suits and uniforms crisp, black bands of mourning replacing the standard MDP ones. Boom, boom, boom, came the sound of the Army drummers keeping time, hammering a beat per second on their eagle-festooned blue war drums, their kepis pitched forward over their eyes. They were followed by some 300 bagpipes, blaring forth their cacophonous tribute to the legendary tyrant, womanizer, and sycophant whose embalmed corpse rode ahead. Overhead, some 500 state of the art fighter planes buzzed overhead in a roaring tribute, spewing out red, white, and blue contrails behind them. Following the pipers came the Republican Union Military Police Philadelphia Branch, clad in their navy blue patrol uniforms, copper badges shining in the Wednesday sun and bolt-action rifles resting against their shoulders. Several high-ranking police officials marched ahead, carrying the traditional pike of old 17th century line infantry unit commanders. Next came the Zealots, some 1000 in all, crimson uniforms and pinch-crown hats resplendent, ceremonial sabers drawn, each sword bearing Enochian script embellishments. Behind them came cavalry from the Grand Army of the Republic, numbering about 500, sporting dress uniforms and Custer-era cavalry slouch hats. The clatter of 2000 hooves on the ancient colonial cobblestones was almost as raucous as the pipers, but still the surreal silent nature of the moment was what was truly deafening. Now came the roar of the mechanized infantry, rolling through on landships and motorcycles. Many of these men would depart for the South American theatre of war several weeks later, giving their last full measure of devotion to Manifest Climax. As the troopers passed by, local men all, women wept even harder, worrying this funeral was just the first of many that would roll through Philadelphia.

    Several columns of MDP party elites marched next, trying to ingratiate themselves with the press, attempting to show to the man that they were each more heartbroken than the last, more faithful to the beloved scum-sucking preacher than all the others. Next came the Presidential motorcade, Joe Steele in an armored 1934 Rollarite Victoria and surrounded by plain-clothes security on motorcycles and on foot, his secret "Wolf Pack." The procession came to a halt after several more blocks at the world-famous First American Fundamentalist Christian Church, home of the catacombs containing the bodies of the Prophet Burr, Patriot-Saint Washington, the Martyr Arnold, and many more. It would be here that Billy Sunday would be laid to rest, among the greatest figures of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, a true American Pope. A guttersnipe, wannabe dictator notwithstanding, the American government wanted to make sure they curried favor with the overwhelming majority of citizens who viewed Sunday as a fanatical, handsome, Pinnacle-blooded pastor of the True Faith.

    Waiting on the portico of the Prophet Burr's original church was the new Reverend-Colonel, Howard Lovecraft, in a black tuxedo with tails, a red silk cloth draped over his shoulders decorated with scenes from American history and Enochian script, black tassels blowing slightly in the wind. Flanking their new chosen one, in their blindingly white robes, stood members of the Council of Jehovah in a pyramid formation down the steps, each hooded figure holding a flag of the AFC Church. As the Holy Roller ground to a halt, an ethereal trumpet sounded from the steeple of the church. Not a pin drop could be heard as the eerie music continued. It was a rendition of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," a song written by the founder of Protestantism Martin Luther and a favorite of Sunday's. At last, the song finished and all stood silent once more. Lovecraft raised his hand in a straight-arm salute. "Blessed be he who comes to the bosom of the faith, this our First Church. Who comes before the House of the Lord?" the dour-looking New Englander inquired, following an elaborate script of almost Shakespearean nature.

    The hearse driver, now standing at attention besides the Holy Roller in his crimson Zealot uniform, raised his hand, took a knee, and replied, "It is William Sunday, comrade-patriot! Will ye allow him entrance into the House of the Lord?"

    Lovecraft raised a silver bell aloft and shook it slowly seven times. "Yea, the bell doth toll for thee, William Sunday. May ye find rest and peace eternal in this glorious heart of the New Jerusalem." At this, the military cadre surrounding the Holy Roller took their positions at the rear hatch of the ivory-white vehicle. The driver pulled a lever which opened the back up and pushed the golden coffin along with it. Slowly, they all grabbed hold and heaved it out, grunting and straining under the enormous weight of the decorative box. As soon as it was out, Lovecraft again spoke. "Psalm 116:5. 'Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints.'" The military funeral dirge played on a single trumpet from the steeple as the soldiers made their way up the steps with the coffin. Generals and officers stood to the sides, swords drawn and dipped to the ground in respect.

    The inside of the church, remodeled in the mid-20s with a lavish budget, could hardly be recognized by previous generations. It was palatial, as fine as something out of Versailles or London in their glory days but with a distinctly American tone and feel. The rotunda under the central steeple carried the image of the Prophet surrounded by the angels in heaven, a fasces in his right hand and a cross in the left. The central pulpit was about six feet off the ground-level on a raised stage, with a white marble baptismal pool in the rear. On the back wall was an image of the Angel of Destiny, bloody sword in his hand, a wreath of stars around his head, and the phrase "1776 - VIA VERITAS VITA - 1801" under his feet. Above him was a terrifying rendering of the Fundamentalist "Jehovah," a Zeus-like white bearded tyrant, his eyes hollow white and yet able to pierce the hearts of any heretics brought before his lair. American and MDP flags adorned the rest of the wall space as far as the eye could see, and the afternoon sunshine poured in through the 200 year old stained glass windows. Sunday's living relatives took up the first pew, dressed all in black like every other civilian present in the Church proper, sobbing hysterically as their patriarch's casket was gently placed upon the altar by the soldiers.

    Normally, on each side of the pulpit there would be the choir. Now, however, each side was filled with hooded Councilmen of Jehovah, their hands clasped together in prayer. Lovecraft followed the casket in, each step measured and calculated, his shiny oxford shoes muffled by the red carpet that led to the altar and pulpit. President Steele, his wife and daughter and his cabinet followed him in. Supreme Marshal Acme Ashton shuffling along with his officer corps brought up the rear. Only then could invited guests begin filing in. As the mourners took their seats, more musicians marched along the side of the main chamber, playing and singing deafening version of "Amazing Grace" as Lovecraft took his place behind the pulpit. They gathered around the casket as if bringing laurels to Julius Caesar himself, playing their hearts out and their faces blue. The bass drum carried the inscription, "Pennsylvania Office of Racial and Religious Affairs Choral Jubilee." As they played, President Steele and his men saluted the crowd and Lovecraft and took their places standing beside the casket, relieving the soldiers of their duties who then took positions at the end of the first rows of pews.

    Photographers and film crews captured the moment. The whole world would be waiting to see this, and everyone there was putting on their best dramatic face. Among the filmmakers was Benny Riechenthal, destined to become the greatest filmmaker in American history. He made sure to ingratiate himself with Steele, focusing on the stoic President and the single tear running down his cheek, the only public tear Steele ever shed. Newspapers and newsreels would report "even the most iron of Pinnacle men shed a tear for the loss of our dear Reverend-Colonel." After about 20 minutes of shuffling and seat-taking, the band stopped their music and allowed Lovecraft to speak.

    "Comrade-patriots! We are gathered together today to mourn, celebrate, and commemorate the soul of Reverend-Colonel William Sunday, our beloved 'Bible Billy.' Let us pray." Lovecraft lifted his hands to the air on each side in a field-goal position, his long, lanky wrists sticking out past his shirt and tuxedo sleeves. Closing his eyes and looking upwards, the portrait of Jehovah looming behind him, he bellowed, "Oh, Jehovah! Oh Father in Heaven! Hallowed be thy name, and hallowed be the memory of Reverend-Colonel William Sunday, your chief minister among men! For seventy-five years you filled him full of fire, and of vigor, and of the Holy Spirit! For seventy-five years you guided him and used him toward your own ends, pushing us ever closer to our Divine Destiny! For seventy-five long years William Sunday walked this earth, doing your will, speaking in your tongues, wielding serpents, and casting out devils. While a lifetime will never be enough for a man with so much to offer, so much to give, we thank thee, Lord, for the gift of William Sunday, and we thank thee for bestowing upon us such a faithful Lamb of God. Mild in manner, kind of heart, handsome of features, and white-hot with your Word, William Sunday is riding to meet you now on a winged Yankee pure-bred stallion. As we opened the earthly gates of this, the First Church, we trust that you will open the Pearly Gates for our beloved Reverend-Colonel. May he rest in peace and laurels forever, amen."

    After a rousing "Amen!" from all in attendance, the drummer struck up a fast beat and Lovecraft descended from the podium and walked to the casket. After saluting it briskly, he asked President Steele if he would have the honor of opening the casket. Uncle Joe quickly did and revealed the wrinkled dead face of Sunday, his asphyxiation rope-burn hidden with the help of a high starched white collar and necktie. His suit was almost as white as his hair, which was combed neatly to the side with pomade. Makeup made him look lifelike enough, Lovecraft thought, though he was glad to know he was very, very dead. In Sundays, clasped hands rested a Brown Bess musket, a relic of the Revolution that supposedly belonged to the Prophet Burr. It was one of the holiest artifacts in Fundamentalism. Gently, he tried to remove it as per the ceremony, but the corpse's fingers were locked up. After several agonizing moments of Lovecraft struggling to free the gun amid a few awkward coughs and the sound of dead, rubbery flesh on metal, it finally released. Recomposing himself, Lovecraft turned to the crowd and and held the gun aloft. "From your cold, dead hands do we take this weapon of war. No more shall Brother Sunday fight the good fight, for he has been graciously received in the Heavenly City above. All hail!" More straight arms salutes followed.

    After an hour eulogy of the womanizing murderer, Lovecraft stepped away from the podium and allowed Steele to take his place.

    "All hail, comrade-patriots! It is with heavy hearts and no lack of tears that we commend our beloved Reverend-Colonel to the All-Father. Now, Brother Lovecraft here has said all that could be said about the purity and sanctity of William Sunday's spirit, but I wish to tell you about the true nature of this man, the real man behind the curtain, the actual William Sunday. I don't want to tell you lines you've heard before or inform you of how holy he was, or how much he knew about our faith. No, I wish to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In reality, William Sunday was one of the nicest, warmest, and most caring friends I've ever had, truly exemplifying the Golden Rule. From my early days when I first took office, he was there, standing beside me, feeding me spiritually over cups of late-night coffee and sandwiches, praying with me and leading me into the light. When I succeeded my father and faced challenges to my legitimacy, there stood Bible Billy, ready to go to bat for me in a heartbeat. I will not talk for as long as Brother Lovecraft either, but I will say this, hand upon the Good Books: I loved William Sunday almost as much as I loved my own father. And I very much look forward to seeing him again one day. People of the Republican Union, members of the Cabinet, Councilmen of Jehovah, and soldiers of our glorious armed forces, take heart! For though William Sunday is gone, he shall never be forgotten! We shall enshrine him in our hearts forever, until Judgement Day. All hail!"

    After several more speakers (ranging from Supreme Chief Patton to well-known evangelists) and the accompanying perfunctory applause, the band struck up the national anthem. The Council of Jehovah even joined in as Lovecraft frantically, almost demonically waved his hands like a conductor, bacon-greased hair whipping about, leading the crowd in song. Outside, the roaring blasts of 21 artillery pieces sounded at Independence Hall, while the Liberty Bell rang true once more. Church bells across the city and the country joined in, and all of America stood still, even in wartime. Horses whinnied and reared in the streets as the cavalry tried to calm them. RUMP vehicles blared their sirens, a haunting undertone to the current racket. Even in the streets, civilian and soldier alike held their hats, helmets, and caps aloft and erupted into song. Goosebumps ran up and down the arms of thousands as a gentle summer breeze whipped through historic downtown Philadelphia, the birthplace of America.

    Our flag is proudly floating on the land and on the main!
    Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!
    Beneath it oft we've conquered, and we'll conquer oft again!
    Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!

    The Union forever, hurrah! boys, hurrah!
    Down with the slavers, up with the stars!
    While we rally round the flag, boys, we rally once again,
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

    Oh, we're springing to the call for three hundred thousand more,
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
    And we'll fill the vacant ranks with a million freemen more,
    Shouting the battlecry of freedom!

    We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
    And although he may be poor, not a man shall never be a slave!
    Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

    So we're springing to the call from the East and from the West,
    Shouting the battle cry of Freedom!
    And we'll hurl the Devil's Lot from the land that we love best!

    Shout, shout, the battle cry of Freedom!

    As the anthem finally ended, the soldiers who bore the golden casket into the Church once again swept into position, heaving the coffin from the altar. With a rollicking chorus of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" breaking out "spontaneously" from the crowds, they made their way to the entrance to the catacombs beneath the church, carrying the Reverend-Colonel to his final earthly destination. Lovecraft led the way, the musket in his hand almost like a Papal scepter, Councilmen of Jehovah carrying torches to light the way. The sound of the singing had an eerie effect underground, echoing throughout the sacred stone halls. They passed the tomb of Washington, his sarcophagus in the center just beyond a barred door, an original flag of the Revolution still draped over it some 150 years later. Fresh white roses adorned gilded pots around the final resting place of the first Commander-in-Chief. Next came the Martyr Arnold, Shayes, then the Prophet himself. A few other lucky patriots joined these legendary figures, but Sunday was going two tombs down from Lincoln, one across from Reverend-Colonel Moody. A black-and-white tiled marble floor and the scarlet red walls had been designed according to Sunday's exacting specifications last decade, when he first began to fear the Reaper. Lovecraft unlocked the iron door to the room and allowed the soldiers to carry Sunday in.

    They carefully placed the casket inside a granite sarcophagus fit for a pharaoh or a Bonaparte and made ready to slide the heavy lid in place. Before that was done, Joe Steele asked to be left alone in the tomb for just a moment to "say a prayer." Everyone exited, even Lovecraft. About 50 seconds later Steele exited the room and returned to the main floor of the church. In came the soldiers to finally close the sarcophagus, but to their disgust an awful stench filled the air. It took a few seconds to realize, but they found the casket's lid slightly ajar, a trail of fresh piss dripping off the side.

    grand army of the republic.jpeg

    Veterans of the Velvet Revolution and Mexican Immolation pose one more time in dress uniform as Rev-Col. Sunday's hearse rolls by. The center-left veteran carries a traditional fasces


    council.jpg

    The Council of Jehovah marches in full regalia to the First Fundamentalist Christian Church

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    Mourners march past a squad of Zealots outside the First Fundamentalist Christian Church

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    Soldiers of various branches carry the MDP flag-draped golden casket of Billy Sunday up the steps of the Church, where Lovecraft and the Council of Jehovah await

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    A Zealot stands guard to an outside entrance to the catacombs where the Founding Fathers are entombed

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    Professor Gilgamesh Singleton, retired Sky Marshal Warren Harding, and Supreme Marshal Acme Ashton attend the funeral of Billy Sunday
     
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    WUSN 1050 METROPOLIS (RADIO BROADCASTS)
  • These are still very much canon, and thoroughly enjoyable for all WMIT fans! If you haven't listened, you're missing out on everything from commercials to sightings of the Trinity City Apeman. I plan on making more episodes as Graham ascends to Prophethood.


     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: DUSTBOWLS, SKY PIRATES, AND OUTLAWS

  • RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    DUSTBOWLS, SKY PIRATES, AND OUTLAWS
    billyg.jpg

    The Reverend Graham speaks before the adoring masses in Boston, with the Apostle Andrew to the left (1942)

    It was all so simple. It was just me and Billy Graham. I could never have guessed what was about to happen to our lives. Every day was a challenge, an adventure, and a very real chance to die. But I fought on with Billy and we started a revolution. A revolution based on lies, drugs, and delusions, though I convinced myself otherwise at the time in an apocalyptic frenzy of excitement. If I could go back and stop the whole thing, I would."

    - Andrew Philips, the so-called Apostle of the Second Prophet



    - AN INTRODUCTION TO BILLY GRAHAM AND THE APOSTLE ANDREW -

    June 27, 1937, was the day Andrew Philips got the call from his father's old ranch hand, Mark Marlboro. Mark told him his father was really sick and that law and order in New Canaan was breaking down thanks to the Black Bliss Sootstorms (although they had no idea of what caused the storms). The hardy old Great War veteran told Andrew that they were keeping his old man as comfortable as they could, but it was not looking good. Andrew was just a 21 year-old kid studying at the Waxahachie Bible Institute in the great state of Texas. Above all else he desired to live a good clean life, marry a pretty Pinnacle-blooded woman, and enter the clergy. He enjoyed helping on his father's Circle P Ranch as a child and always thought that one day him and his little brother Shadrach might divide it between the two of them and keep it proudly in the family. He was surely blessed in life... and then Marlboro's phone call came. Despite his protestations, Andrew told him he would be on the next train to Metropolis--the capital of New Canaan and the city nearest to the Circle P--that very night. He told Andrew to bring a gun. The ministerial student rushed back to his humble little two-person dormitory to pack up, his heart pounding and anxiety raging.

    He would never forget this moment as the start of a great unexpected journey, a grand, bloody adventure that would end up shaping the modern world. He heard the bathroom faucet turn off and his young roommate stepped out into the living quarters. His name was Billy Graham, one day soon to be known as the Reverend Billy, and eventually as the Second Prophet of Manifest Destiny. But no one had any idea about any of that then, and couldn't have imagined it if they had tried. They were just two students, like any other. Billy eyeballed Andrew with a confused expression and inquired as to what he was doing causing such a commotion and packing a suitcase. Andrew told him that there were huge sandstorms ravaging his family estate and that he needed to board the next train to Metropolis as soon as possible. When Graham realized the magnitude of the situation, he selflessly proclaimed "I'm coming with you." He sincerely cared for Andrew and the Philips family, customary of his typical forthright character.

    Philips was one of the few people on campus that treated Billy Graham with the respect he very much deserved, at least at that point. The future Prophet was not born an American citizen at all. In fact, at this point he had spent a large portion of his life outside of the Republican Union. He had been born on November 7, 1918, in the Confederation of the Carolinas, America's oldest ally and the only remaining foreign power in North America, with the exception of Russian Alyaska in the far, frozen north. According to his own later testimony, he had been born in the cradle of the Johns River Gorge, near the small town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Also according to the man himself, the night he had been born his humble hamlet saw a comet streak across the sky and the local hillbillies said this was a sign of great things to come for the newborn infant. Although when Andrew first met him this story was strangely absent, a later addition to his personal mythos he would create out of thin air as the "greatest smooth-talker in history." His parents, Mr. William Franklin Graham, Sr., and Morrow Coffey, were newly-wedded Scotch-blooded Presbyterian farming stock just striking out in the world, and they welcomed their one and only child with the greatest of aplomb, showering him with attention and as many gifts as they could afford. From everything history has shown, the Grahams seemed to be quite lovely and kind folks. Billy would wind up an only child, as his mother suffered a series of miscarriages that left her broken and depressed. She would die when Billy was only 9 years old of unknown causes.

    With just himself and his boy, William Graham the First pressed on as well as he could with life, trying to turn whatever profit he could from the small farm and suffering from acute depression and a growing doubt in the existence of God. He was truly shattered and broken. When young Billy came home one day from playing in the fields to discover a woman preparing a meal in the tiny kitchen area of their house, he was very confused, then angry when he realized his father was trying to bring someone else into the family, "to replace my mama." He said later on that, "I was so jealous. I loved my late mother dearly and now here was this strumpet, thinking she could waltz in here and take my pops. I hated it. I hated her. But there are none so blind as those who will not see, and thankfully Jehovah opened my eyes and heart to this wonderful woman." Indeed, Billy would always say it was this new woman, Susan Grant, that would lead him to God. For Susan was not just any Cokie woman: she was a devout and radical follower of American Fundamentalism. A raven-haired former witch from a long line of such eldritch persons who had dwelled in the foothills since the days of the Puritans, she had viewed the Great World War and the American victory that ensued as a message from the ethereal plane. She viewed Fundamentalism as the strongest of all faiths and the one most in contact with the spirit realm, and she was ready to adopt its ways as her own. In her own words, "I saw the light. I forsaw the coming of the New Jerusalem, and I knew I had best make myself right with Jehovah and Prophet before it was too late."

    When Billy was 11, in 1929, his father and Miss Grant married and his father declared himself a Fundamentalist. Despite the alliance between Chancellor Johnny Gamble's Confederation and the Union, this did not make them popular figures in the Blowing Rock area, or really anywhere in the Confederation of the Carolinas. They were treated as second-class citizens or even traitors and were often abused and mistreated, sometimes physically assaulted. The new Misses Graham was proclaimed a sorceress and was the subject of numerous threats from superstitious hillbilly locals, perhaps rightfully so, including a slap-dash attempt at assembling a posse to kidnap and burn her at the stake. Clearly, this current set-up could not last forever. In 1931, the Grahams loaded up their beat-up old truck, the make of which has never been clear to historians, and ran for the border, begging to take up American citizenship. This would be granted by ORRA and the family, for a while, took up residence at a Church ward in Atlanta. The year or so spent in Atlanta saw little of import happen save for the conversion of one Billy Graham, age 13. The way his parents were treated and taken care of by the AFC Church touched him and showed him what he would like to call, "the Better side of humanity." William the Elder would soon find himself working a steady job as a bus driver and Susan earned some income as a waitress at a local diner. Billy became a tremendous reader at this time, thanks to his step-mother working with him to memorize the Bible and the Books of Manifest Destiny. He would devour any and all books and magazines placed before him, but he particularly enjoyed biographies of famous Christians and cowboy and detective adventure serials, something which certainly foreshadowed how he would later live his life.

    Despite their good fortune in Atlanta, it had never been the goal of the Grahams to stay there forever. They yearned for something wide-open and where they could really put down roots, where the air was pure and the game plentiful. They wanted a farm, a real farm, and to save up enough money to one day send young Billy to college. What better place, they thought, than to move way out west, where land was cheap and the living was honest. They bought train tickets to Texas, about thirty miles from Waxahachie, Lewisiana, home of one of the most famous and prestigious Bible colleges in the world. The Bible Institute there had produced some of the finest young ministers of the post-War era, and the Grahams had high-hopes for young Billy to one day take up the shepherd's rod there and heard the next generation of sheep. He would do this,with far more prowess than they could ever imagine. In 1936, at the tender age of 18, Billy Graham began his training at the Institute, the same year Andrew Philips also joined the ranks of the that prestigious and hallowed hall of learning.

    His first thoughts upon meeting Billy was that he was truly someone worth getting to know. He was somewhat tall, and his square-jawed face had an air of almost Presidential nobility to it. His sandy brown hair was a bit wild at the time, always combed up into an elaborate pompadour that would make Joe Steele's look positively uninspired. Piercing hazel eyes stared you down in every conversation, as he was never one to break eye contact. He once told Philips that his step-mother had taught him that "You can devour another man's essence, read his whole character, by staring him down right in the eyes, the windows to the soul." Despite his good looks and his calm demeanor, he was hardly popular on campus. In fact, due to his foreign heritage and somewhat creepy, off-putting conversational habits, young Philips was really the only friend he had at Waxahachie. His bold and brash demeanor suited his new Texas home quite well, but further served to alienate him from his fellow students who saw him as a foreign-born mimic, merely adopting Texas while they had been born in and molded by it. Despite their opinions, Billy was a great Texan and a good man at this point, though he was not far away from that horrible descent into insanity and sorcery that would forge him into one of the most important and feared figures in history. He never fooled around with women and he never drank or partied. He always attended Sunday services and he could handle a rattlesnake like it was a worm, heaving it above his head while speaking in tongues, fire in his eyes. But this was not so unusual for a campus full of promising young ministers.

    When Philips and Graham showed up at the Waxahachie Train Station and asked for two tickets to Metropolis, little did they know they were making history. Billy Graham, not yet twenty years of age, was on his way to become the Second Prophet of Manifest Destiny.


    And behold the Prophet Graham, Second Prophet of the One True Church, descended from the Waxahachie Bible Institute in the year of our Lord Nineteen-hundred and thirty-seven, with the noble Apostle Andrew and a mighty iron on his hip, and the name of the iron was Judgement. And the Lord was with them.

    - The Book of Graham, Verse 1



    - THE STORY OF CANDY JOHNSON AND BUCKSHOT SETTLE -

    candyjohnson.jpg

    "The Outlaw Angels," Candy Johnson (left) and Buckshot Settle (right) pose for a picture at the Prophet Graham's Birthday Ball in Philadelphia, 1965
    "They traded their black hats for snowy white."


    Billy Graham would have been nothing without the various cutthroats, scoundrels, little people, and bastards that would help propel him to a national and global spotlight. While the Apostle Andrew would receive a lion's share of the credit and would be the one who would eventually type up the first draft of the Book of Graham, their adventures would never have happened without the long and storied career of Candy Johnson, a drug-addicted, bowlegged, washed-up conman. Candy Johnson has been called many things by many people, and his life sounds like something out of one of the western serials young Billy Graham so enjoyed, but one thing is certain: Candy Johnson would ride off into the sunset as an American legend and a key figure to a religious movement that would sweep Old Mexico during the Black Bliss Sootstorms of Operation Manifest Climax.

    The man known to history as "Candy" Johnson was born Malcolm Conrad Johnson in Custer City, Texas, on May 4, 1882. Son of GAR cavalryman John "Jack"Johnson and his wife Cindy-May (nee Brown) Johnson, Candy's childhood would be a chaotic one. His father participated in the Immolation of Mexico in the 1886, as well as the ensuing genocide of the ethnic Mexican and Native American peoples there. For his service and troubles, Jack Johnson would be awarded a thirty-acre farm near Emancipation City, state of Brown (formerly Sonora), and a lifetime of post-traumatic stress, then called shell-shock. Jack would have frequent night terrors, waking up in the middle of the night screaming about boxcars and mountains of corpses. Jack Johnson was not an ORRA man or a Zealot, but a simple Army man. During the Immolation, though, he had born witness to the endless slaughter of unarmed men, women, and children out in the desert, where the ORRA grinders never fell silent. This deeply bothered the man to the point of near-insanity, and their new family farm was soon going belly-up as Jack spent all of his waking hours with a bottle.

    Candy would say of his father, "The devil done got to him. He always had a bottle in his right hand and a belt in the left, and my mother suffered the former and I suffered the latter. Jack would become domestically abusive around 1890, beating his wife and son for the slightest of offenses and experiencing increasingly horrible night terrors. In 1893, Jack would walk out to the barn, turn the electric sawmill on, and flung himself upon the blade while intoxicated. Cindy-May was officially done with the farming life and saw the farm as cursed and "built upon ancient heathen sacrifice altars." She would sell the farm just to pay off her husband's extensive credit bills, and only some of them at that. Land in Old Mexico during the period was readily available that it could sell for as low as ten dollars an acre, depending on the region and state. Cindy-May took young Candy to live in Emancipation City, Brown, freshly built on the ruins of Old Hermosillo. The new city was representative of post-Immolation Mexico, with constant construction, veterans and soldiers staking their claims, miners trying to strike it rich, and city slickers from the East Coast plotting their next business venture. Candy loved it.

    In 1895, tragedy struck once more when Cindy-May was sickened with cholera and passed away. This left thirteen year-old Candy an orphan, in the care of a local Fundamentalist Church. A kindly woman named Sarah Clinton, who worked as a choir mistress at the church, would try to teach him the Words of Christ and Prophet but he was much more interested in older girls and learning poker tips from soldiers in the nearby bars than he was in religion. "Sister Sarah tried. She really did. But I didn't want to hear what was good for me. I just wanted to raise hell." By the age of 14, Candy was mastering the art of pick-pocketing and fencing small stolen items for quick cash... cash that he would then go and gamble away at the tavern. He was already six feet tall and was known by the other street urchins as "Big Malcolm," a name he despised. But he would acquire his much more famous sobriquet soon enough. "Candy" would become his nickname at the age of 16 for habit of chewing cocaine lozenges.

    Despite his lack of interest in religion, he was nonetheless very fond of Sister Sarah, and he wanted to make her happy. In 1898, he would go out into the countryside with a chum named Billy "Buckshot" Settle to "find Sister Sarah a birthday gift." Together, he and his friend robbed a small ranch of two mules. What was supposed to be an easy steal went wrong when the farmer, an old NCO and veteran of the Immolation, opened fire with an old belt-fed M1885 grinder from the loft of his barn as they were riding away. The bullets struck Billy in the back, sending him and his mule crashing down onto the desert floor. The farmer ordered Candy to get off his mule and put his hands behind his back. A quick telegraph to the city some ten miles away summoned RUMP Rangers to the ranch. Billy was patched up and would live and both were placed under arrest for rustling, a capital offense. The two teens were booked at the Emancipation City Jail on October 1, 1898. Sister Sarah was furious that they would do something so brazenly illegal and serious, but she begged the local judge and MDP Party Bannerman to let the young boys off the hook. Her wishes would be partially granted thanks to her respected name and Candy and Billy were spared the noose. However, according to the same judge who stayed their execution, "Rustlers of any age don't have any place in Emancipation City and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Settle are no longer welcome here. " Candy and Billy were banned from ever returning to the state. While possibly keeping them from re-offending in Brown, this by no means halted their criminal careers, which only blossomed into a gin-soaked flower.

    By 1900, the two men were roaming Texas, Arnold, and New Canaan, committing a string of robberies and cattle rustling crimes that earned their faces on every telegraph pole between Metropolis and Trinity City. By 1911, they were experienced at card sharking, confidence games, and swindling, adding those cons to their repertoire. In that same year, they would plot their most ridiculous scam yet. Cocaine was becoming enormously popular in the Union at the time, largely thanks to George Washington Carver's Sweet Victory Company. Johnson and Settle created new identities for themselves as "Mr. Hiram Goldberg and his assistant Mr. Levi Thorne" and bought train tickets to New York City to perpetrate one of the most insane crimes of all time. Dressed in white "Texas Tuxedos" (western style suits with ten gallon hats), they asked for a meeting with Carver himself. Carver was a polite, trusting man who saw the best in people, so he did not consider for a moment that Goldberg and Thorne were anything but what they said. Their ruddy complexions and calloused hands only served to back up the idea that they were hard-working farmers rising to the top. "Yessir, Mr. Carver," said Settle in an exaggerated drawl, "My associate here Mr. Goldberg owns 5,000 acres of prime Oxacre co-caine growin' soil. And he would like to sell it all to you for the steal of a lifetime, yessir."

    Carver was eager to make the deal and was ready to sign the papers right then and there, only stopped from doing so by his personal secretary Wallace Hampton. Hampton wasn't so much suspicious as just generally wary of any large deals. He told Carver that it would be smart to actually come see the property first before signing. After all, he said, Carver had been wanting to cut out Caribbean cocaine growers because of the prohibitive shipping costs. If they could build a Sweet Victory railroad line to supply all the factories and bottling plants across the country, dividends would grow like crazy. But Carver should first go see the 5,000 acres and strategize the construction of a railway if the land was what was promised. This was very much NOT what Johnson and Settle desired. But rather than pull out now and risk blowing their cover and totally wasting the trip, they agreed to accompany Carver on his personal airship, the Century Falcon (that he won playing poker), and survey the supposed property, located on the Old Yucatan Peninsula, now called the Oxacre Peninsula.

    This was the start of a long and painful trip, and the more that Hampton was around the "Goldberg and Thorne," the more he began to suspect them of not being on the up and up. When they docked for refueling at Custer City, this would prove to be the moment when everything went wrong. While grabbing a drink at a local bar with a few airship crewmen, they noticed wanted posters for Johnson and Settle, and remarked on how similar they looked to Goldberg and Thorne. In seconds, they were rushing out the swinging doors and back to the airship to alert Carver, who remained on board the Century Falcon with his "Jewish friends." When Hampton finally reached the ship he had a posse of some twenty lawmen riding behind him. Johnson and Settle were up in the observation suite enjoying some whiskey with Carver when they realized the jig was up. Sighing and saying "I had a bad feeling about this," Johnson pulled a revolver out from under his suit jacket and pointed it squarely at the stunned Carver. Settle pulled his own pistol out of his cowboy boot and fired several shots through the observation window, breaking the glass and sending bullets zipping down into the dirt below. Worried they could damage the ship irreparably or hurt Carver, the lawmen and Hampton held their fire, desperately riding after the Century Falcon as it slowly rose into the air, Carver ordering the small remaining crew to follow Johnson's commands. Before they knew it, they were some 1,500 feet in the air and on course to move out over the Main and head to South America, where Johnson and Settle thought they could escape into the jungles and mountains.

    Kidnapping one of the most famous industrialists in American history was probably not the smartest decision to be made if they had any desire to escape, never mind the rest of the whole cocaine adventure. But they treated Carver with immense respect, as he was pretty much their only surefire way to know they couldn't be blasted out of the sky. By the next day, ORRA, RUMP, the GAR, and the Navy were out in force looking for the Century Falcon. Newspapers all over the country told the story of Carver being kidnapped by "sky pirates." When the aeroship drifted over a small, seemingly uninhabited Caribbean island a few days later, it would be the mistake that would end their misadventure. The island's only structure was a small observation post belonging to the Navy. Before long, several aeroships and two aeroship tenders were dispatched from Point Pierce and on their way to cut the Century Falcon off. On the morning of September 1, 1911, talkiebox transmission gave away the pursuit and alerted Johnson and Settle. Desperate for an escape and knowing a fight would be suicidal, Johnson and Settle ordered Carver to show them how to operate the escape biplane, a new design Carver had purchased from the military. Bidding Carver a final farewell, they deployed the escape plane and made for the coast of Cuba, only barely reachable with their limited fuel supply. Carver quickly took control of the Century Falcon once more and talkieboxed the authorities that he was now safe and heading back to Texas.

    The plane, as it turned out, was quite unreliable in its fuel estimation. The plane went down in the Caribbean, luckily just a few miles from an island. The island, as it would turn out, was one of the Florida Keys. They were back in the Republican Union by sheer bungling luck and were miles off in their understanding of where they were. But the bad news was that they were also the most wanted men in the country. But just ten days later, the Great World War erupted, plunging the globe into chaos. For Candy Johnson and Buckshot Settle, now hiding in the swamplands of southern Florida, this couldn't have happened at a better time. They enlisted as cargo train employees pushing out ammunition to the Californian Front in early 1912, the world seemingly forgetting all about their unbelievable exploits just months earlier. Their wanted posters came down and the propaganda posters went up.

    The next few years were a haze of wartime civilian service for the two men, but when the war ended and the Steele era began, they quit their job and returned back to their old stomping grounds in New Canaan, running small cons that wouldn't draw too much attention. By 1925, the seedier parts of Metropolis knew the name of Candy Johnson as a gangster and "last of the old outlaws." He now ran an outfit that kept him out of the limelight, hiring younger swindlers and petty criminals to do his job for him. Buckshot Settle, though, was captured and saw service in the Redemption Legions, finally being honorably discharged in 1935 and retiring to a life of peace and quiet on a small farm outside of Metropolis, not far from the Circle P of Apostle Andrew fame.

    When the Black Bliss Sootstorms came through in 1937 and wiped out the farms in much of Old Mexico, Settle's was included. He fled just in time in his beat up autocarriage, making it to a Metropolis now plunging into chaos and lawlessness. And in the midst of the riots and unrest was his old comrade Candy Johnson. Johnson and Settle were reunited amidst the carnage of the moment and were sincerely glad to see each other. They had each other's backs during the worst of the rioting, about the same time as Andrew and Graham arrived in Metropolis after a very tumultuous stop in nearby Willoughby. Bonds were about to be forged, adultery committed, backs stabbed, drugs taken, and a wild, crazy, religious movement was about to begin in the midst of one of the most chaotic and bloody wars in history....
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: HELL ON RAILS
  • This is a soft rewrite of two TPF chapters and is actually set and threadmarked before the last chapter involving Pennington's Revolt. I consider this information still vital and thought there were too many good or world-building lines to just use narrative only. It only will get crazier from here as we head to the Miracle of 37 and we'll soon get a MAJOR, MAJOR revelation about Pennington that'll make your hair stand up. Also, this update introduces the main timeline to the Metropolitan tunnel network. Imagine brutal, savage fighting between RUMP and the Overtons in the dark, art deco underworld of the city. It'd be sheer chaos.

    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    HELL ON RAILS
    trainstation.jpg

    The City of Tomorrow Train Station Atrium, circa 1935

    Billy Graham and Andrew Philips arrived in Metropolis on June 30, 1937, after witnessing a riot and being fired upon by mobs of refugees in the hamlet of Willoughby just hours before, 15 miles outside of the city. It was in Willoughby that Graham first took it upon himself to claim ownership of the pearl-handled revolver in Andrew's suitcase, stuffing the gun under his jacket. And it would be not long after they got off the train in Metropolis that they would need it. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. We must first look at Graham and Andrew's relationship with a certain Mr. Chick Sheffield, whom they met on the train.

    Sheffield was a Michiganian-born Great War veteran of the Black Hand Front and real estate magnate who was on his way to retrieve his asthmatic wife and get her to safety. He was quite fearful that she had been killed by looters or worse, as the wealthy neighborhood they lived in would surely be a prime target for anarchists and desperate people. Sheffield was keenly interested in religion and philosophy and formed an unlikely friendship with the two young Bible students following a disagreement over Biblical matters.

    "The beauty of the American Experience lies, in its purest and most pinnaclean essence, in its capability to raise up the most humble among us to unparalleled greatness," Graham said, between sips of coffee black as night as they were a few miles out from that fateful last stop at Willoughby. "Every Jehovah-fearing Patriot who believes in Christ and Prophet can attain the righteous bounties of heaven. The Blind Christian Gentleman was a mere mage of Jehovah, stumbling around in the darkness and in poverty before he became one of the Fathers of our Country. Many will pass peacefully in their sleep--Patriot-Saints all!--worthy of every stepping-stone on those ethereal Golden Roads. But! John 15:13, AFC Standard Edition, clearly states that 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his comrades.'" Billy thumbed through his Bible and found the verse and pointed for emphasis after he quoted it from memory. "The Martyr Arnold laid down his life for his friend, the Prophet, may both rest in peace, but so did scores of our boys when they were gunned down during the Great War. So too does every RUMP officer when he is killed stopping a criminal. So too does the firefighter when he burns alive saving children from an apartment inferno. Arnold was the first, an example for all to emulate, but he was not and will not be the last martyr."

    Andrew could tell the gravity of their current situation was weighing heavy upon Graham and he was using religious debate to calm his nerves. There were only a few other passengers on the train, as it was mostly carrying mail and cargo, but the few who were within earshot sat and listened to the discussion with interest, likely also to combat frayed nerves and entertain themselves. A few might have been listening in for reportable heresy, but they seemed mostly innocuous. "Billy," Andrew began his reply, thumbing through Manifestum, the First Book of Manifest Destiny which discussed the death of Arnold numerous times, "While I agree that all who lay down their lives for kith and kin are to be regarded with the utmost respect, Arnold is the One True Martyr, as he gave his life for our One True Prophet. It is open and shut to me, Billy."

    Graham's temper seemed to flare. Although Andrew knew they were still the best of friends, he took religious debate very seriously, almost life or death, and Andrew couldn't think of a single time when his roommate changed his mind on any major doctrine or belief he held to be not only true, but self-evident. His voice raising, he flipped his Bible shut and stared Andrew down with piercing eyes. "Andrew, confound it, I know I am right on this and I will go to my grave defending the doctrine of New Martyrdom."

    "Doesn't that essentially create a class system in Heaven?" asked a nearby eavesdropper, a gaunt old fellow with snowy white hair combed back neatly under a freshly-blocked brown snap-brimmed hat. "If all those who you say are 'martyrs' are indeed martyrs, what of it? Do they enjoy more of the fruits of heaven than the rest of us? I myself am likely too old for any heroic bravado, and I suppose very much that my death will come peacefully in my bed. But I fought in the Great War in my younger days and am devout in my beliefs and prayers. Will I not spend eternity shoulder-to-shoulder with a Patriot-Saint who dies in battle?"

    Billy seemed happy to involve another party and he smiled and answered, "Well, mister, I reckon Revelation 20:4 will answer your question!" He quickly found the verse and read aloud, "'Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been slain for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.' Mister, it is plain and clear to me that those who fall in the Name of Christ and Prophet ascend to these Judgment Thrones, and in the next life they shall be the executors of Jehovah's Will. Yes, you shall experience the wonders of Heaven, but it shall be the Reverend-Colonels and the Martyrs, one and all, who shall rule and dictate and lead in worship the souls of the Chosen."

    The old man furrowed his brow and scratched his chin before he replied. "Well, sonny, you have a lot more book-learnin' than this old vet, I reckon, but I just can't stand the idea that those who have lived a good, clean life like me and done our part will be lorded over by those who, unfortunately and sadly, died before their time." He took a drag from a cigar and looked out onto the horizon after he said this, a contemplative and depressed look on his face. "I saw men, my friends and brothers, mowed down like grass in their prime. If this doctrine of yours is true, perhaps I should have thrown myself into the Californian guns to entitle myself to these honors you speak of."

    Andrew felt bad for the man, likely a picture-perfect dictionary definition of "survivor's guilt," and asked him politely, "What is your name, sir? Why are you makin' your way down here? I trust you know of the sootstorms by now."

    "Chick Sheffield. Real estate is the name of my game. Born in Michigania, but I own property from Oxacre all the way up to Pacifica. And... yes, I am aware of the sootstorms. My wife Betsy called me the day before yesterday when I was in northern Texas signing a land deal, just before they cut the phone lines. We live in Metropolis, y'see. I'm headin' down to pick her up and bring her to our vacation home in the Goodyear Islands until this disaster is over. The ORRA men at the station told me she would be fine in Metropolis and that the sootstorms are overrated, but she has been battling asthma her whole life, so I think it's a good decision for us to simply take a tropical vacation."

    "Trust in the Lord, Mr. Sheffield," Billy said, gesturing up at the ceiling. "I will pray for you and your wife to have a safe journey. Hopefully this will all be over soon and we can get back to normal." I nodded in agreement.

    This seemed to soften Sheffield's opinion of Billy. "Well, thank you, son. What are you two young parsons after going south right now? Going to minister to the masses?"

    Andrew shook his head and replied, "Actually, no. I'm Andrew Philips. My father Abednego runs the Circle P Ranch, just south of Metropolis, and I got a call saying he's real sick because of the dust. So I'm coming to run the farm in his stead and oversee repairs while he's on the mend-like. My friend Billy Graham here elected to come with me and lend a hand. Mighty kind of him to cut class to help a friend."

    Sheffield smiled and said, "Indeed. That's mighty proper of him. Say, you fellows smelling what I have been smelling? Smells like sulfur."

    Billy nodded briskly, adjusting himself in his seat and straightening his red tie. "Yeah, we smell it. Have since we woke up. You can almost taste it."

    After a few more minutes of pleasantries with their new companion, the whistle blew and the train began to slow down. A porter in a navy blue suit and dark red cap entered the car, exclaiming, "Hear ye! Mail stop in Willoughby! Mail stop in Willoughby! Please remain seated for the duration of the stop! Again, please remain seated until the stop has concluded!" At that moment, armed guards from the back of the train entered through the door behind our trio, wearing laced-up black oxford boots, gray denim jumpsuits, and with drum-fed automatic grinders slung over their shoulders. They joined the porter, had a short conversation, and walked toward the front of the train as the wheels completely halted and the sound of steam expelling from various stacks could be heard.

    Andrew shot a curious look at Billy, who simply shrugged and turned to look out his side of the train. "Probably just some valuable mail. Maybe a jeweler or something is sending a diamond north or the like."

    Not at all satisfied by this reasoning, Andrew fired back, "But why would they ask us to remain in our seats? And Willoughby is hardly the kind of place that merits priceless cargo. Metropolis is only 15 miles south and that's where they would ship out valuable stuff."

    "I don't know, my man. Maybe--" he was cut off by whatever he was staring at outside his window. "By the Prophet!" he exclaimed, nearly jumping out of his seat. The picture that was greeting them was like something out of a Lucky Duck war film. Hundreds of people were milling through the little farming town of Willoughby in sheer panic, many with masks wrapped around their faces. The train station, made in the last century to accommodate perhaps 50 people, was filled to bursting with several hundred people, some sitting on piles of suitcases while others carried simple bags or nothing but the shirt on their back. Many were covered in a dusty black grime, fear shining out from eyes which were reddened and irritated, some with clean streaks down their cheeks from extended crying. This was especially true for the children, many of whom were hysterical and desperately clutching their parents. Still more older children seemed to be watching over their younger siblings and trying to keep them under control. RUMP officers and railway security forces desperately formed human barriers to hold the crowds back from the boarding area as sacks full of white and yellow envelopes were rushed by employees to the armored car of our train, located right behind the engine. But far more numerous than mail sacks were the stretchers full of wounded and battered troopers and law enforcement. The train definitely wasn't just picking up mail.

    It was like nothing they had ever seen, a portrait in human misery. Many were coughing, retching dryly and trying their best to expel the soot from their lungs. Some had streaks of blood running down their lips from irritation. Someone threw an empty whiskey bottle at the RUMP officers and a jeering, screaming crowd pushed forward against the line of law enforcement. Most were pleading to be let on board the train while others were begging and warning us to turn around and go right back north. A RUMP man just outside Billy's window used a bolt action rifle to smack a refugee squarely in the head. With a burst of blood, the man's forehead split open and he went sailing backward onto the ground before his friends pulled him back into the crowd. An officer in a rather bedraggled uniform with gold braid stood atop a shipping container, megaphone in hand. The braid indicated he was a local chief, but his untucked shirttails and the stubble and look of sheer exhaustion on his face probably meant he hadn't slept in a long while. "Attention citizens! Step away from the train and follow all instructions! By order of the Republican Union Military Police, this train is off-limits for non-essential personnel! Please remain orderly or we will be forced to employ harsher methods!"

    "Fuck you, copper!" shrieked a dry-throated hoarse young man at the front of the line.

    A rain of more trash followed the expletive and the chief was hit squarely in the chest with a full bottle of Horton's Brand Pounded Tomato Paste Product. He fell to one knee, picking bits of glass and tomato glop from his uniform and swearing profusely. He raised the megaphone to his lips once more and exclaimed, "This is your final warning, comrades! By the power invested in the RU Military Police, I order you all to step back and disperse! Show respect to the Law or we will be forced to beat it into you!"

    A rock came crashing through a window in the train car, sending glass flying. Everyone ducked down behind their seats. Andrew clutched his suitcase with white knuckles and raised it over his head to defend himself against other possible projectiles. Never in his life had he ever been this scared. Not even the one time he was twenty feet from a mountain lion as a boy on the Circle P Ranch came close to the level of fear he was currently feeling. He thought at any moment that they would be swarmed like an anthill by angry, sick refugees.

    On the other side of the aisle, Billy calmly sat with his back against the wall, right under his window. Pointing at Andrew's suitcase, he mouthed the words, "The gun!" and then pointed at himself. Catching on quickly, Andrew shakily unlatched the case and pulled the silver revolver out from his belongings. Carefully, he slid it across the aisle to Billy, who quickly checked to see if it was loaded and then tucked it under his jacket, finger on the trigger.

    A horseshoe then came flying into another pane of glass, severely lacerating another passenger's face down the aisle. Blood pouring out of his nose and down his cheeks, the passenger screamed out in pain.

    "That's it!" bellowed the RUMP chief. "Men, disperse this crowd!"

    It was at precisely this moment that everything went to hell in a handbasket. Shots rang out. Screams and shrieks of pain and anger reached a fever pitch, almost impossibly intolerable to the ears. Through the cacophony of noise our trio could tell that many of the rioters were fleeing for their lives, stampeding each other in the process. A cry of "For the Union!" could be heard, followed by a gunshot and a scream. The pattering intonations of hands desperately scratching against the side of the train car made it sound as if the entire train was going to be tipped over, rocking it the heavy car back and forth on the track. That was when the automatic bursts could be heard, likely the railway security men seen earlier. The sound of meat being torn open by a hail of bullets joined the chorus of apocalyptic noise.

    "Push them back! Push them back!" shrieked the chief into the megaphone. "Fire at will!" Billy shot Andrew and Sheffield a look of absolute horror. They all knew children were dying out there. Billy drew the pistol out from under his jacket and cocked back the hammer. They sat there for another five minutes before the roar of the locomotive greeted them once more and the iron horse lurched forward. Slowly, they stood up and slumped back into their seats.

    "My God!" exclaimed Sheffield as he pulled himself up off the floor as well. "That was horrifying! What the hell is going on down here!"

    The door of the car was flung open and medics wearing gas masks and covered in soot were bringing in stretchers full of wounded officers down the main walkway, heading toward the sleeping berths. One medic oversaw the passenger who had been struck in the face and bandaged him up before heading back to his comrades. The porter from before came back into the car, his hat missing along with a sleeve of his jacket, and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience during that unfortunate incident. Smithers & Sons Railway has forms located in your ticket book for you to file injury claims. We will be in Metropolis in twenty minutes! Please remain seated till we arrive and follow all orders from security to maintain our continued safety! Thank you!"

    Judging by how bad the formerly quaint little town of Willoughby had gotten thanks to this apocalypse, they all found it unlikely that Metropolis was going to be anything but a deeper circle of hell. They would be proven correct. The Sootstorms were wreaking absolute havoc in New Canaan and the rest of Old Mexico, and everyone knew that it was going to just get worse the closer and closer they got to Metropolis. That last leg of the journey to Metropolis was truly terrifying. The sky was darker, the taste of ash in was in their mouths, and streams of refugees--both on foot and in vehicles--lined the Destiny Road alongside the railway tracks. Desperate people in their hundreds slogged on, many blackened by soot and the hot sun burning down on them, contrasting to the burgeoning eldritch darkness ahead.

    Most of the passengers in the train had caught wise by this point and had fashioned crude masks for themselves out of available fabrics or handkerchiefs. Chick Sheffield instructed them to soak them in water, an old trick he remembered from his California battles during the Great World War. Billy still sat fingering the revolver under his jacket, gazing with sadness at the masses out in the desert.

    "'Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me," Billy quoted Psalm 23:4 almost without thinking. He seemed eerily calm at this point, more depressed than scared. This was the precise opposite of Andrew's feelings, where his faith in God was still strong but the anxiety was becoming overwhelming. He began to doubt the entire trip and whether or not his family was a lost cause, and he expressed such feelings. Billy turned to him, shook his head, clicked his tongue and said, "Andrew, it's too late to turn around now. We are up the creek without a paddle, quite seriously. But I also see this as a test." When Andrew inquired what he meant, he replied calmly, "A test, chum, like Job in his sackcloth, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace, or Christ in the Wilderness. The character of every Christian Pinnacle Man is forged not through an easy, complacent life but through hardship and sacrifice. Jehovah and Prophet are watching us now, to see how we will handle this adversity. And they are with us, verily. Let us not be afraid. Let us use this moment of tragedy to serve the Lord and glorify his name. Andy, are you with me?"

    Andrew was so proud of his friend, who was showing himself to be a great man in this time of crisis. Smiling under his mask, he shook his hand firmly and with conviction and declared proudly, "Let us prove our fluidation, brother. I am with you."

    It was around noon when the train pulled into Metropolis Station. It was completely empty, much to our protagonists surprise, aside from a defending garrison of ORRA officers and a handful of Military Police. The air was intolerable even beneath the rag masks, and it was no surprise to see every nearby trooper sporting a military-grade gasmask. The floors of the station were littered with detritus and overturned benches, chairs, and equipment. Bloodstains, spent shell casings, and the subtle tinge of gunpowder in the air proved that fighting had occurred in the not too distant past. As the train finally lurched to a stop, they prepared to disembark, but they were left waiting awkwardly for several long, quiet minutes after two officers climbed aboard the main engine and quietly discussed something with the driver. Finally, the porter entered the room, visibly shaken. Sporting his own impromptu mask, he bellowed, "Last stop, Metropolis! Please follow all orders from security and government personnel. This is a civil emergency! Again, please disembark the train now or you will be forcibly removed to make room for wounded and essential personnel. Smithers and Sons Railways apologizes for this unfortunate situation. Our Board of Directors wishes to offer each and every single one of you a free train ticket of your choice at a later date if you mail in your current stub to the Smithers and Sons Customer Relations address found in the back of your ticket book. Thank you for riding Smithers and Sons Railways and always remember the jingle of the Dancing Frog, 'Smithers and Sons! Smithers and Sons! Affordable travel for everyone!'"

    After that -extremely- awkward sing-song plug, everyone grabbed their bags and were headed out onto the concrete floor of the indoor train station. Immediately a line formed for the twenty-some passengers while several ORRA officers checked S.I.N. numbers and other information. Andrew took his wallet out and readied his papers and stepped up to the counter. A blonde-haired man in a dusty khaki uniform and a pinch-crown hat stare at him through the lenses of his gasmask. A name-tag below his small collection of peacetime medals read "CAPTAIN A. CARPENTER."

    "All hail. S.I.N., please, sir," he said without emotion, almost as if he were an android from a Zap Zephyr comic. After a customary salute, Andrew handed him his papers, which he quickly approved. "Purpose of your visit?" he asked.

    "Coming to help my father. He's gotten sick from the sootstorms and I need to help him run the family ranch."

    His head cocked as if surprised. "Sootstorms?"

    "Y-yeah," Andrew said, shrugging awkwardly. "You know, the reason we're all wearing masks and why the sky is gray?"

    He straightened out as if still trying to mentally masticate what he was being told, as if he had said the moon was made of cheese. "There are no sootstorms, sir. Nosireebob. Not in Metropolis, the glorious City of Tomorrow."

    Andrew stared at him dumbfounded. It was his turn to tilt his head and give a bewildered look. "What? Look, my good man, I'm not stupid and I'm not sure if you're all there right now. I know this has been a stressful time for everyone. But I am here for my family and I'm here to help them during this time of crisis."

    Captain Carpenter didn't so much as blink. "Sir," he began again, "there is no such thing as a sootstorm. If the weather is anything but sunny, it is due to the sometimes volatile monsoon season of this region. Only defeatist Neuties spread disinformation about 100-foot tall walls of soot and these rumors are not only detrimental to the war effort but patently false and untrue. It is my duty as a patriot and Captain in the Office of Racial and Religious Affairs to inform you that the government of the Republican Union does not take kindly to the spread of demoralizing enemy propaganda, even if you may be a minister in training. My respect for your vocational calling is the only thing letting you walk out of here without being detained for spouting subversive heathen defeatism."

    Andrew's mouth was agape with a combination of shocking realization and terror. "Of... of course, Captain. Thank you," he quietly murmured.

    Behind the gas mask, Carpenter smiled. "Good stuff, pardner! Alright, sir, your information lines up and you are free to advance to the main atrium, where you will be briefed by security personnel before enjoying your visit to our rootin-tootin' city. All hail!"

    Never so fast in his life had Andrew Philips returned a salute, his shaking, sheet-white hands desperately seizing his wallet and ticket book back and making way for Graham. Andrew proceeded, bag in hand, to the atrium, where the rest of his fellow passengers sat on wooden benches surrounded by armed guards. He noticed Chick Sheffield sitting alone so decided to keep him company. He nodded and seemed glad to have a friend. "You get the same speech I did, Chick?" the Bible student asked quietly, too quiet for anyone else to hear.

    Chick turned his head, his face covered with a silk scarf and his eyes peeking out under the brim of his hat, and he replied with a slight tremor in his voice, "What speech?"

    Wiping the sweat from his brow with a spare sock from his suitcase, Andrew answered, "The speech about there not being any sootstorms."

    "Sootstorms?" he asked, sounding puzzled. "I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't seen weather this fine since last I visited the Goodyear Islands, my good man."

    "Wha-?" Andrew cut himself off. He realized what was happening quickly and shut his mouth before he could even finish the first word. "Yes," he agreed, monotone. "Just lovely weather we have here. I'm not sure what came over me, sir. A thousand pardons, Chick."

    Chick shot him another fearful glance and took a small bottle of pills out of his bag and popped the cap off, pouring three small white capsules out before swallowing them dry. "For my nerves. Doctors say my heart can't take much stress, and you know how stressful, uh... travel... like this can be. Not that there is anything wrong, of course. Why, this trip is veritably pinnacle. Say, would you and your other young minister friend need a traveling companion, by chance?"

    Andrew contemplated for a moment. Chick seemed as if he were a genuinely nice old man, and he couldn't bear to say no to him. He knew he was actually asking for protection from whatever looters or rioters might lay outside the train station and quickly told him he could join the duo. The future Apostle caught a stone-faced Billy up to speed when he entered the atrium. He welcomed Chick with open arms. Looking back in later years, Andrew couldn't help but wonder if he just wanted a theological punching bag around to put himself at ease and make him still feel in control.

    Little did they know at this time--and they wouldn't know until years later when they received high-level security clearances in Union government--that on the other side of the train station dozens of bodies from Willoughby were being unloaded from their former ride. Medics and ORRA officers were removing dogtags and personal effects and taking them down into the furnace room in the basement and hurling the bodies in feet-first. The cemeteries couldn't keep up anymore with the overflow of bodies from both Manifest Climax and those who died from the sootstorms, and refrigerator trucks and train cars were needed to transport essential food and medical supplies in the equatorial heat of summer. Those who were wounded and still possibly able to pull through were whisked away into the Metropolis Catacombs, a feature of the "City of Tomorrow" designed by ORRA themselves after the Immolation of Mexico late last century, and partially built from a series of tunnels dating back to the Aztecs. These secret passages were available only to government personnel and also led directly to hospitals and RUMP offices all over the city. A neat, modern system for quiet, quick arrests and patrols.

    After all the passengers had been seated in the atrium, a gas-mask sporting officer with a megaphone addressed them. His face was sunken, and his right hand was a riding crop and silver concho spurs jangled against the floor. He addressed them all with a stern face. "All hail, y'all. Please continue to cooperate with law enforcement. There has been an unfortunate upswing in... violence by street thugs and, while we are definitely getting it under control, we ask you please stay on main thoroughfares and avoid back alleys or areas off the beaten path. We are also battlin' rumors that this here City of Tomorrow is being sub-jected to some kinda dust storm, which isn't true at all and is defeatist propaganda of the highest order. What we are experiencing is typical monsoon season conditions of a sunny, subtropical breadbasket. This is what you will convey to your friends and family and neighbors. This is what you will say over the phone or in your letters. This is God's honest truth. Over the last few days, this kinda bullshit has been piped along the information highway as part of an effort to undermine our boys in South America fightin' for our freedom and destiny. I don't need to remind y'all that the penalty for the uttering and publishing of enemy propaganda after being warned by government authorities of its origin is 20 years hard labor. Now, Jehovah bless y'all, and all hail! Sergeant Hodge! Open the doors!"

    A husky young man rushed over to the giant doors, at least twenty feet tall, that led out of the station. With some effort, the portly sergeant unbolted the lock. Carefully, our heroes all began to walk out into the former bustling heart of Metropolis's main drag. They gasped at the sight before them. Metropolis was burning. Papers and ash were falling from the sky as several high-rises belched out black smoke to the heavens, not unlike the fiery sacrificial pyramids of the ancient savages who once dwelt in the same place. Groups of civilians ran hither and thither, seemingly trying to avoid attention. Cars were parked at all angles all along the garbage-covered streets and some vehicles were even tipped over onto their sides or showed signs of vandalism and fire damage. A tower not half a block from them was burning like a torch, and several firetrucks were parked here and there as their crews tried to extinguish the inferno. It looked like a scene from Revelation. The only thing absent was the roving gangs of active rioters our trio firmly expected to see. They guessed that they had already gone into hiding or fled the city. Little did they know that Metropolis had called in every available member of law enforcement in the state to the big city to fight them the day before, and hundreds had been killed en masse. The streets were empty, at least for now in the broad daylight hours.

    Graham turned to Chick and said, "You said your wife is here in town? I say we find her first and then head south to the Circle P, if that's alright with Andy here."

    Andrew quickly nodded in agreement. "That's fine by me," he stated. "I don't think an older woman should be out in this sort of, uh, 'sunny monsoon' weather."

    Chick nodded. "Yes, all right. She's at the family home on 22nd and Johnson. God, I hope she's safe."

    "Why wouldn't she be safe, Chick?" Billy asked through gritted teeth, his eyes saying all he needed to say.

    Chick turned white. "Oh, yes, I'm sure she's fine. Just anxious to see her again and all." When the three comrades approached the stately mansion at 22nd and Johnson, Billy and Andrew looked at each other nervously. The side of the white structure had obviously seen massive fire damage. Several bodies of random looters decorated the front lawn. "Oh, God! Norma! My home!" Chick fell to his knees. "I'm too late."

    "I SWEAR I'LL KILL THE FIRST SONOFABITCH WHO STEPS FOOT ON MY PROPERTY!" came a shrill battle cry from inside the house. Billy whipped out that single communal revolver and all three men hit the dirt. To their amazement, a young woman with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes stared out at them behind the barrel of an old bolt-action rifle, a relic of the last war. Her face was blackened both by the storms and the gunpowder from the battle she had obviously been fighting against looters for who knows how long. She was wearing a silver silk blouse that at one time would have been expensive and exquisite before the current stains and tears had ruined it. She paired it with some double-buttoned black sailor-style pants that came up high on her waist. When she realized who she was looking at, she lowered the rifle and sighed, slumping against the door frame. "Chicky-baby, you know what this kinda bull-hockey does to my asthma! Get me the hell away from this place!"

    Chick wiped away his tears and went running as fast as his aging legs could take him toward his young wife. Billy and Andrew stared slack-jawed at each other. "Oh, Norma! Jehovah be praised, you're safe!" Chick blubbered, holding her tight as she dropped the rifle.

    "Thanks to your old field piece, Chicky," she said, giving him a peck on the cheek. "If you could kill some Californian Bonapartists with it I figured I could lick a few common criminals."

    "Well, that's not what I was expecting. Pardon me and nothing against Brother Chick but I sorta expected to find a dead old grandmother, not this, uh... interesting young woman," Billy said to Andrew out of the married couple's earshot, his sandy-colored eyebrows raising as high as he could get them.

    Andrew laughed quietly and told him, "I guess you don't run a massive real estate company without proving your, um... 'fluidation' in other ways, Billy. C'mon, let's get them packed up and get the heck out of here and find my folks."

    "Amen, Andy," Billy said, once again packing the revolver away under his jacket. "Amen." He shot a strange look at Chick's wife, scratching his head. Andrew didn't like the look and it seemed uncharacteristic of him at the time to care much about women, especially gun-toting, cursing women, but the future Apostle instantly had a bad feeling about it. He sighed. He didn't think his life could get much worse, but he didn't want to test that theory...
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: GRAHAM EMBRACES DESTINY
  • One more slight restructure. I changed the date of Pennington's coup to December, 1937, instead of September. That means the Overton chapter takes place after this one. The storyline flows much better now! It's tricky figuring out all of these moving parts.

    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    GRAHAM EMBRACES DESTINY

    sootstorm.jpg

    Sootstorms impact Springdale, just about 50 miles south of Metropolis.
    The medium-sized town would be abandoned until 1940, its residents among the thousands
    pouring into Metropolis and pushing the already-strained city into total collapse.

    To say the visit to the Circle P Ranch did not go how anyone would have wanted is an understatement. The flight out of the city for our four protagonists was a hot mess, consisting of dodging roaming street thugs, the homeless, and government forces that had gone too many shifts without break or sleep. Indeed, even the firemen were subjected to violence and mayhem, their vehicles being pelted with rocks and bottles as they arrived on the scene of the never-ending fires. Some of them were even shot at by men desperate enough to murder for a few cans of rations the fire crews stored in their trucks. It was total chaos. While Andrew had wondered before if his family should have withdrawn into the city instead of sticking it out on the Circle P, he knew now that the city was not any safer than the countryside.

    The Second Prophet would one day recount in the Book of Graham that they were blessed with transport out of the city by the hand of God. In reality, they stole a beatup 1921 Rollarite Runabout (know one would ever know). They tried to navigate through the mess of closed-off streets, downed powerlines, and crumbling infrastructure. Down where Fleet Street met McClellan Way, a soup kitchen spiraled into madness, the homeless and needy rioting at the poor portion sizes. Graham and company drove through the chaos as exhausted RUMP officers with riot shields plunged into the fray. Our group's morale was near nothing at this point, with everyone desperate to get out of the city.

    There were certain areas of town that weren't wholly soaked in bloodshed, though, particularly in the richest part of town, known as the Crown District, named for Major General Benjamin Crown, hero of the Immolation of Mexico, whose bronze statue stood overlooking rows of high-rise luxury apartments. Benjamin Crown III, his grandson, owned most of the land the apartments were built on and he was instituting his own brutal methods for keeping law and order. The gated community had been walled up completely and no one was to come in or out unless they showed proof of who they were and that they lived there. The gates were merely wrought-iron decorative fencing before the storms, but now they had been shored up with sandbags, plywood, and whatever they could find. As the 1921 Rollarite rolled down Crown Street in front of the barricades, stocky men armed with hunting rifles watched them closely. The sun glinted off of a belt-fed grinder planted on the fourth story of a parking garage that kept the lone passing car in its sights.

    "Land sakes," Chick said to the other people in the car, clutching his wife's hand. "This is the worst shitshow I've ever seen. Uh, pardon my language, parsons."

    Graham waved his hand dismissively. Andrew was driving and Graham was sitting in the front passenger bucket, the revolver in his right hand covered by the Bible in his left as they drove past the watchmen. He hadn't needed to use it yet, but everyone feared that time was coming. As they left the Crown District, the streets widened into highways, and before they knew it they were out in the desert, headed straight for the Circle P. Abandoned vehicles, both horse and motorized, were strewn about among the cacti. Rotting corpses of horses and mules and other livestock dotted the landscape. A pack of dogs with dirty, matted fur hungrily devoured a horse that looked fresh enough, they mouths foaming and their jaws dripping with blood. They weren't wolves or coyotes, but household dogs. Graham spotted a German Shepherd and a tiny Osage Shorthair, among others, all working together to devour the steed. It sent a shiver down his spine. It had been so short a time since this all began, but here they were, someone's pets going feral. He knew the longterm impact of this cataclysm would take years to sort out.

    When the Circle P was spotted on the horizon, everyone held their breath to see if someone would greet them. There was still a chance that the Philips family had fled, if not to Metropolis. When they pulled into the long driveway that led to the farmhouse, black ash could be seen all over various items, such as the mailbox and fencing. It was clear that the farm had gotten a right proper avalanche of the pollutants. Andrew grimaced and glanced over at Graham as he applied the break. Graham nodded and readied the pistol. In the back, Chick pulled a little knife out of his jacket he had found in the city and his wife Norma readied his old military rifle that she had grown so adept with. They stepped out of the car and scanned the vicinity for signs of life. The family's horses were scattered in the back, all dead. Graham and Andrew opened the barn. Lester Higgins, the oldest farmhand, was inside, his body rotting with those of the cattle. The chicken coops were next to check. All livestock was dead. Finally, they confronted the inevitable and decided to enter the house. Everyone noticed there were no lights on and everything seemed abandoned. They feared the worst.

    Walking through the home of his childhood in such a state was not great for Andrew's well-being, and he openly sobbed seeing furniture overturned and windows broken. It looked like a mob had torn through the place. Dusty bootprints covered the rugs and floors, and the kitchen was a scene of looting, with all the canned goods being taken and some of the cabinet doors ripped off their hinges. The refrigerator, old Abe Philip's prized new possession, had clearly been shoved against the back door, but had nonetheless been overturned. Green coolant was dripping from it and caustically eating into the floor.

    "I'm sorry, Andy," Graham said, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Jehovah works in mysterious ways. It's up to you to decide how you will handle this. I am here for you, though. Stay strong, pal."

    "No," said Andrew through red-hot tears. "We still have to check the cellar. That's where Mark told me everyone was."

    Graham checked his revolver nervously and nodded. "Alright," he said calmly, "let's go check it. I got your back, Andy."

    The two men stepped outside again and motioned for Norma and Chick, who were checking a storage shed for supplies, to meet them at the cellar door. The door bore obvious signs of attempted entry, with what looked like shovel damage near the center. When no reply came to their cautious knocks, they tried opening it and it swung open instantly. Now they could see the lock was shattered, its screws stripped out of the whitewashed wood. The basement was as dark as night, too dark to make anything out even with the sun's stubborn yet dwindling rays. The horror which consumed Andrew's mind seemed to reach like great tentacles of sorrow from below, causing his face to turn pale and set his hands to trembling. He pulled a silver flashlight out of the canvas bag that hung around his torso and clicked it on. With the speed of a snail, they snaked their way down into the cellar. The first thing that was noticeable were the jars of preserves smashed all about, their fetid contents wreaking of rot on the floor. Several shelves were overturned, with screws and bits and bobs and tools scattered around the wreckage. The search was quickly over. While there was no one, living or dead, in the cellar, there was no sign of Andrew's family. There was, however, a large amount of blood in the left corner of the room, as well as a shotgun that had seen its stock shattered by some great force, no doubt in some last measure of defense.

    Andrew broke down in a heap as soon as they reached the surface. While he let his friend have some time to himself, Graham stepped over to check out a nearby drainage ditch, where he saw some vultures gathering. A sinking feeling in his chest, he approached it with the gun cautiously aimed ahead. As Chick tried to kindly care for Andrew, Norma noticed where Billy was heading and caught up to him, her rifle in her hands. They peaked over the edge only to see their worst fears confirmed. There laid the corpses of Andrew's entire family. Mark Marlboro was mysteriously not among them, but the entire Philips family was slain. They had obviously put up a fight, even Andrew's little brother. Many more wounds told the story of the struggle, with Mrs. Philips shot twice in the chest and with several more in her left leg, which was indecently extended from her torn dress.

    "God, what a massacre," Norma sighed, her eyes clenching shut as she tried to block out the sight. "I've seen a lot of horrible shit since this song and dance started, but this is something else."

    "Don't tell, Andrew," Billy instantly said, his left index finger up to his mouth in a shushing motion. "I don't think he could handle it. He's a soft soul. Doesn't have what it takes to be a country boy out here. He told me once that his father called him a lazy son of a bitch because all he wanted to do was read instead of tending to the animals or plowing the fields."

    "What?" Norma asked, shocked. "But he's spoken so highly of his father since we met."

    Billy nodded grimly. "Yeah, well, a son craves the love of his father, no matter if the father treats him like human detritus. He was going to cut Andy from the will and leave the farm to Andy's brother over there until he switched his studies to theology."

    "What was he majoring in before?" Norma inquired, looking back across the dusty lawn at the still sobbing, wretched-looking Andrew curled in a fetal position by the cellar door.

    "Psychology," Graham answered quickly. "Psy-chol-o-gee. Yessir, sur e as you're born. Old Abednego said he didn't much truck with psychobabble. Said it was either a rifle, a Bible, or a plow in the hands of his children. Ornery old cowpoke. Please do not tell Andrew about these bodies. If he wants to stay here a while before we get back on the road, I'll throw some dirt over these. With the wind like it is, he'll never notice some disturbed soil even if he came out looking."

    Norma nodded reluctantly. "Isn't that lying to the poor fellow, though?" she asked, tilting the rifle over her shoulder and running a hand through her wavy black hair.

    "Yes, but sometimes you must lie to protect others. Jehovah will... understand."

    "What will we tell him, then?"

    "Nothing. If he wants to keep searching, let him search. I sense Jehovah's hand in all of this. A man of the cloth can do a right fair large amount of good in times like this. He'll probably want to return to Metropolis to resume searching there. We shall minister to the masses. Evil can be used for good."

    Norma looked downward, showing her reluctance, but then voiced her approval of the plan and walked back to her husband. Billy scanned the horizon, noticing a well about fifty yards out, with what appeared to be a body leaning against it. He made his way over, his revolver glinting in the final rays of the New Canaan sun, and inspected the body. The man was dressed in simple clothes, like a field hand, and his body was slung up over the edge as if he had died in a last desperate attempt for the cool taste of water. His body looked broken, his face was black and blue, and he had several bullet holes of the same caliber as the rest of the family. His pale, stiff arm stretched desperately even in death for the bucket of water that hung so close yet so far away. "This must be Mark," Billy mumbled to himself as he knelt down and inspected the body. He reached into the back of the man's black denim dungarees and pulled out a well-worn buffalo-hide wallet. Inside was the man's S.I.N. booklet. Quickly flipping it open, Graham found what he was looking for. It was Mark Marlboro, all right. Everything lined up now. A mob of ruffians had besieged the cellar and broken through, and a battle ensued. With Abe sick from the soot, Mark had tried to be the man of the house and used a shotgun to defend his adoptive family. He had been broken and beaten in the corner of the cellar and his shotgun broken in the melee, but he was not killed instantly. While Abe and Shad were murdered and the wife was raped and beaten, he was ignored. After the looters left, Mark had dragged everyone out and put them in the ditch to give them some sort of resting place before dying at the well. A horrible tale of a horrible time.

    Billy looked through the rest of the wallet and saw a couple crumpled up bank notes, which he gingerly withdrew and raised to the heavens. "The Lord works in mysterious way," he murmured. He also grabbed the S.I.N. booklet and stuffed it in his pocket with the cash. At that, he grabbed Mark by the back of the shirt collar and belt and heaved the man's corpse into the well. A soft splash in the inky abyss below reached Graham's ears. He knew what to do. That night, as everyone tried to restore the parlor to some sense of order and sat and talked, Billy went out "for air," loaded the corpses in a wheelbarrow, and bussed them to the well, heaving each over the edge and sending them to join Marlboro below. Setting his own wallet and SIN booklet on the ledge of the well, he threw his now blood-stained clothes in with them and changed to a fresh pair of slacks and a plaid flannel from his suitcase. He put his wallet in the pocket of his slacks but wouldn't notice for several days that his own S.I.N. must have fallen into the well when he wasn't looking. He grumbled to himself about losing his S.I.N. and contemplated the twenty dollar fee for a new one as he headed back to the house. Andrew was back to some sense of composure, largely thanks to Chick Sheffield's kind words and encouragement, and the two men agreed that all was not lost. There was still some chance, they said, that the Philips family had gotten away from the fight in the cellar or were taken for Prophet-knows-what by who-knows-who into the foothills.

    "I say, Andy, that Metropolis is our best bet to find them," Graham calmly spoke up from a rocking chair by the upright talkiebox console, an oil lamp casting his bobbing shadow against the papered wall. "We ask around, we meet some people, we inquire with the military police, and we find them that way. It makes sense to me, at any rate. Maybe Marlboro got away. I found his S.I.N. booklet out by the edge of the drive."

    Norma shot Graham a nasty but interested look. She couldn't decide how she felt about Graham. She knew she couldn't trust him now, but the man said he "lied for a good reason." What was a good reason to Billy Graham? She knew he was the adopted son of a Cokie witch, as she had asked Andrew about Graham's family earlier. He was rather handsome for being so young--he was barely 20. But he clearly had the mind of a much older man, with all the inner machinations and workings of that mind shrouded in mystery and half-truths. He shot a her a look that said "Agree with me!" and she reluctantly piped up. "Yes," she said, her conscience bothering her all the while, "I say we head back to the city to resume our search. There is nothing... conclusive... here."

    And so it was agreed. After sleeping uneasily in the parlor, taking turns standing watch, the group awoke the next day to get back in the car and head back to the city. While Andrew desperately searched for a dead family that was certainly turning into algae in the bottom of their own well miles away, Graham was busy "ministering to the poor, elderly, and infirm." Years later, diary pages would reveal that he saw this whole catastrophe as something divinely pressing him into the "service of the Lord." "I heard the trumpet of the Angels," he said, "and who is Billy Graham to deny destiny?"

    This brings us to the most interesting component of Billy Graham's personality in this period. His former witch mother had raised him to believe that he would lead people in a time of great crisis. She used "Spirit Cards," something frowned upon even by Spiritual Marxists, and told him that his future would be "forged in fire." He had been taking the whole trip as a sign from Jehovah that his time was coming. To hell with Bible college, he now thought, it was better to seize the day and write himself into history. Naturally, this brings us to the next and nastiest and most core component of the Second Prophet: his continent-sized ego. Few men in the history of the Union were as dogmatically sure of themselves and convinced in their beliefs as Billy Graham. Steele was paranoid of betrayal at every corner and his belief in the supernatural was shaky, to say the least (although the events of Manifest Climax pushed him farther and farther into the arms of religion). Graham was always sure that, no matter how wicked his own personal deeds, that life was divinely ordained. He was fearless, actually, and genuinely brave, but in a haughty sense, always thinking back to his mother's black magic prophecies and shoring up belief in his own greatness with the adulation of others. He lived to be the center of attention, and in the midst of this disaster a personality like his could shine. He could become a leader of men at an extraordinarily young age with his good-looks and personal charm.

    He began calling himself "Bible Billy" in a direct imitation of the late Reverend Colonel, and he would travel through securer areas of the city, particularly the Crown District, preaching and proselytizing to the masses. Chick Sheffield and his wife stuck it out, with even Chick falling more and more under the spell of the charismatic preacher. Next came the title of "Reverend," which he was granted by the local church "for the interim of the disaster." AFC Reverends were supposed to be graduates of an accredited bible college, but this was Graham's way of getting around that obstacle. He knew, as did everyone else, that Reverend Billy was here to stay. He became so popular with the people of the riot-torn city that they began airing his sermons on WUSN 1050, the biggest talkiebox channel in the county.

    While the riots and unrest still plagued the city, these were usually caused by the most morally-bereft citizens. Most Americans simply wished to hunker down, follow orders, and defend their homes. To hear this young man preaching a message of uplifting and hopeful joy in Jehovah and Prophet was wonderful. He even helped to ease their pain at the death of loved ones, telling them that those who died in the line of duty defending their country and home against the forces of evil and darkness--both foreign and domestic--were not only comrade-patriot saints, but also Martyrs of the Faith. Martyr was the highest honor possible in Fundamentalism.

    To say this caused controversy with the local church elders would be to put it mildly. In early October they asked Graham to join them in private for a sit-down, where they asked him to recant his words and take to the airwaves on the next broadcast and remind believers of the validity of Benedict Arnold as the One True Martyr. "This is a focal point of our entire religion, Graham," said Reverend Duke Gottfried, Chief Minister of the Central Church of Metropolis. "There is One God, and Aaron Burr is His Prophet. There is only one Prophet, and Benedict Arnold is the Martyr." Graham refused, telling them that the words of the Book of Patriots were taken out of context and were misunderstood. For a lad of only 20 years of age to step into conflict with Church elders over core doctrine was shocking.

    "Graham's concept of Universal Martyrdom was reviled by the Church establishment, taken as an assault on our sacred beliefs that remained untouched and unchanging since the Fourth Book of Manifest Destiny," Church historian Richard Seawell would write in his 1989 biography of Graham titled The Second Prophet: A History. "Graham accused them of being Pharisees and Sadducees, unwilling to consider that their understanding could be wrong on anything. His refusal to recant his heretical ideas was jaw-dropping." He was warned to denounce Universal Martyrdom in his next broadcast or be removed from the ministry and kicked out of the church. Always sure of his own destiny, he scoffed at these warnings and his next broadcast went on as usual. Furious that their last offering of peace had been rejected, the Church elders ordered Zealots to bring Graham in.

    On the evening of October 15, 1937, the offices of WUSN 1050 were stormed by the scarlet-uniformed Zealots and Graham was seized and brought before the elders. His friends, including Andrew, Norma, and Chick, were also placed under custody. In a quick bit of ceremony, they took his credential card as a reverend away from him and burned it in a sconce. Then they proclaimed him a heretic and ordered him to either leave town or be sent to a reeducation camp. Unbeknownst to the elders, the recording microphones had gone live the second they breached the WUSN office. The entire city had heard their favorite minister arrested in a shocking display of brutality. Converging in the streets once again, they rallied outside the Central Church and demanded the elders reinstate Graham as a member in good standing and restore him to the cloth.

    Reverend Gottfried stepped outside onto the portico of the church and tried to address the crowd but was met with throngs of starving, angry, poor people. The lower classes loved Graham, and they were here to prove it. Chanting, "We want Billy! We want Billy!" they pushed against ORRA and Zealot personnel fiercely. The jails were already filled to capacity and were having daily escape attempts, so most people knew that if they acted out little could be done. They had gone through months of government propaganda telling them the sootstorms that were killing them were not real and unending lawlessness, and now the young man who brought some rays of hope every night into their homes was violently seized and was being drummed out of the AFC. It was unbelievable to them. The flickering torches, lanterns, and flashlights of the citizens blinded Gottfried and lit up the night. Unable to say a word over the boos and jeers of the crowd, Gottfried slithered back inside.

    Flanked by men in red pinch-crown hats carrying riding crops, Graham began to laugh. "Can't you see, Reverend Gottfried? We're entering a new era! Change is coming, whether you want to admit it or not. The people of this country are ready for change, sure as you're born! We can't stay in the past forever. They need hope. They need to believe in a Pinnacle Future that awaits them and their children. You can't simply horsewhip dogma into people forever and promise them that someday the New Jerusalem will come. They need to believe they are building it -now-. They need to believe that their suffering is for a greater cause. Or we're going to lose this country. We'll fall apart and eat each other. This city is already on the tipping point. It has been for months. If you do this, you aren't going to like the results, Reverend."

    "Is that a threat, Graham?" Gottfried's words biting like acid. The two red-coat goons prepared their riding crops for more blows.

    Graham chuckled again through the pain of the two large men's grip. "I ain't threatenin' you, Reverend. I'm tellin' you. These people love me, not you. I know what they want. I know that you're just an old pompous jackass and so do they." Andrew, restrained nearby by more Zealots, was horrified at his friend's unrestrained disrespect, as was Chick. Norma loved it, and she loved seeing the fire burn in the young minister's eyes as he spoke with total conviction.

    "Insolence! You will respect your Betters, heretic!" shrieked one of the Zealots as both men brought their crops down with blind fury. Graham laid on the ground gasping in pain, his back bruised in a million places. Norma and Andrew cried out while Chick simply turned a ghastly white.

    Gottfried signaled for the beating to end. "Enough," he said solemnly. "You have said enough, boy. The only way you will ever join this Church again is by recanting and serving in a Redemption Legion. This is the sort of rebellion that we cannot afford during an extended military operation like this."

    "It's a fucking war!" Norma cried out in rage. "It's a Jev-damned war and you know it and everyone knows it who doesn't have their head shoved forty cubits up their own pompous asshole. Ever since this shitshow began, we've practically been speaking Chinese about what is really going on. I speak God's English, thank you very much, and it's clear we are in a state of total war and everyone knows we caused these fucking storms. I understand we can't exactly unfuck ourselves in this situation but Billy Graham is the least of--"

    "Enough!" exclaimed a shaking Gottfried, pointing a finger at the woman. A Zealot slammed her against the floor, knocking the wind out of her. "How dare you blaspheme in this holy house! How dare you speak treason in front of the servants of Manifest Destiny! And that's what you just committed. You will be made an example of. You will be transferred to an ORRA holding station and tried for uttering defeatist propaganda. The prisons are full, so expect that 10 years of hard labor to be reduced to a firing squad!"

    "No!" shrieked Chick. "She's my wife!"

    A guard kneed Chick in the side and warned him, "I'd advise keeping your mouth shut, old man. Unless you want to join her."

    Gottfried ran his hand over his slicked back gray hair and straightened his red necktie. "As for Graham," he said, trying to regain composure in his voice, "have him escorted out into the desert. He will never enter this town again, so help me. Same for his friends. They are all apostates, henceforth."

    "So let it be written!" saluted the Zealots, dragging Graham and his friends away.

    "I'm warning you, Gottfried! You'll regret this!" Graham hissed. "Just wait until my flock finds out!"

    The young minister's warning was appropriate, it would soon become clear. The area around the Central Church erupted into violence when a visibly beaten Graham and his friends were loaded into the back of a truck. Norma was led into a waiting ORRA patrol car, feet and hands cuffed. This was a breaking point. Someone pushed too far and fighting broke out. The Zealot who had been Graham's chief tormentor was seized and dragged into the crowd. Other Zealots drew their sidearms and demanded the return and safety of their compatriot. Instead, the man was brutally beaten as chants of "We want Billy!" continued. A shot rang out. RUMP whistles from across the massive churchyard and the sound of riot officers' boots didn't stop the people from mauling the Zealots, seizing control of the ORRA squad car, and whisking Norma away to safety, despite them having no idea what she had done. She was an enemy of the old farts who beat Graham, and that was enough. One of the Zealots was killed with a rock to the head, cracking his skull open.

    Even as gas was deployed and RUMP troops slammed shield-first into the crowd's flanks, the mob continued their push to free Graham. Grabbing the keys to the cuffs from the first Zealot they had beaten, they released Graham and company and carried them over their heads with loud cheers. All four were loaded into a nearby car and surrounded by armed rioters. Now they turned their attention to the Central Church itself, chanting, "Pharisees! Pharisees! Pharisees!" over and over as they tried to force their way into the colossal structure. With communication limited and all hell breaking lose, the RUMP riot troops chalked up the escaped prisoners as a loss and saw defending the Church and the elders as their primary goal. With jubilant cries of "We love you, Bible Billy!" and "All hail Graham!", the car passed through the masses and into the street, where it was able to build up speed and slip away. The Flight from Metropolis had begun. Andrew watched in awe as hundreds of Metropolitans who hadn't smiled in months beamed at the sight of the hopeful young minister. While the Graham Riots would take up most of the news for the next few weeks and the young minister and his friends would become wanted fugitives with huge prices on their heads, the actions of a private security force were about to totally transform Metropolis and plunge it headfirst into civil war....
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: OF OVERTONS AND ANARCHY

  • RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    OF OVERTONS AND ANARCHY

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    The Overton Agency was founded in 1892 by Sherman J. Overton II, scion of a wealthy Delaware family. The family trade was private security, such as at mines throughout Appalachia, factories in New England, banks, and much more. They were well-known as trained strike-breakers, able to whip Inferior laborers back into line and restore order at troublesome facilities. Stanley Winthrop, a member of the Industrial Clan, referred to the Overton Agency in 1898 as such: "The most vicious pack of hirelings, drunkards, and debauched villains as can be found in these States, but sometimes that is exactly what a workforce needs to have a Christian work ethic instilled in them. If a few voidlings snuff it in the process, they should have done as they were asked." Most of all, they were known for their very capable security operations on board locomotives across the Union, even being hired by the mail service as guards. During the 1890s, Colonel Goodyear Enterprises hired out the private army to keep control of the Hawaiian Islands, now private property of Colonel Goodyear Enterprises and known as "The Goodyear Islands." The Agency raped, looted, and murdered the native inhabitants in the largest non-government initiated genocide in history since the East India Company of the former British Empire, and far more systematic and complete than even the most rabid tea-sipping Englishman of that storied company.

    By the 1920s, Sherman Overton's son Oliver Overton was in command of the company, and Oliver was also the de facto dictator of the Goodyear Islands after signing the Corporate Pact of Pearl Harbor in 1923. The Corporate Pact meant that in exchange for providing muscle to keep the islands under control, the Agency was allowed thirty percent of all taxes paid by all residents. They quickly became one of the best equipped mercenary armies in the world with this new revenue stream, outfitted with state of the art grinders, cannons, and ships. The fact that most of their men were washed up veterans, failed recruits, or those otherwise deemed mentally or physically unfit for service in the actual military was partially made up by the fact that they had equipment that--in some cases--was better than the actual military's gear.

    Oliver Overton referred to his Agency boys as "a bunch of merry but professional scoundrels," and was wildly popular with his lowest ranking employees, who were officially titled "Worksite Security Specialists" (WSS). He restructured the company with a goal of total efficiency and worked toward becoming the first totally modernized paramilitary corporate mercenary force in the world. The "WSS" title was part of a "corporate jargonization" trend of the paramilitaries in the 1920s. Higher and more specialized positions at Overton included "Hostile Takeover Management Coordinator" (HTMC), "Risk Assessment Manager" (RAM), and "Assistant to the Regional Manager" (ARM). In 1929, the makeover continued further, trying to rid the idea of mercenaries of its Old World connotations once and for all. The 1929 corporate mission statement posted on the walls of every Overton Agency office read:

    "We at the Overton Agency strive to create a client-centric, modern worksite and operational security environment by assertively unleashing goal-oriented customer service and synergistically striving with today's corporations to formulate the best solutions to the abundant needs of today's varied and fluctuating worksite environments. In the brave new modern world, companies search for the best methods to protect vital cargo and equipment from the hazards of day-to-day operational situations, resulting in the need for constantly evolving and economically sound policies and employees who conceptualize out-of-the-box, streamlined business practices up to the standards of the Overton Agency. They must also demonstrate artisanal performance and equipment utilization, all while enthusiastically facilitating distinctive customer service. Overton Agency: Apply today and ask us about our great benefits*!

    *Applying for the Overton Agency does not guarantee employment. Benefits, including retirement pensions, exclude terminated employees. Benefits do not cover employees who are killed or maimed by strikers, rioters, or other Inferior menaces off the clock, up to and including lunch break period worksite security detail failures and strategic infrastructure loss, in the states of Rhode Island, Chersonesus, Florida, and wherever local jurisdictions or gubernatorial mandates apply. Membership in the Manifest Destiny Party is necessary for application to the Overton Agency. Physically disabled or psychologically impaired? Ask our nearest recruiter about ways for you to be reasonably accommodated and utilized in the exciting and sometimes chaotic field of professional soldiery and security."


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    Overton Worksite Security Specialist, circa 1935

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    Overton Agency Metropolis Office Regional Manager
    Richard "Dick" Pennington

    By the 1930s, the Overton Agency had three major headquarters in the world, and many more smaller operational offices. The original headquarters was located in downtown Dover, Delaware. However, the Dover facilities were easily dwarfed by those in the Goodyear Islands. Finally, Metropolis saw a third base's creation in 1930, allowing easy coverage of most of the American empire. Special attention was focused on Metropolis, as the need for private security in the "City of Tomorrow" was extremely high in the post-Great World War era and economic boom. Despite the Cleansing Month, there were still Inferiors to be transported, beaten, and harassed into performing certain menial tasks seen unfit for the Betters of Society, as well as protection in the vast empty swathes of desert, plains, and mountains surrounding the city. The Metropolis Agency was under the command of Regional Manager Richard "Dick" Pennington, a one-armed, potato-faced boulder of a man who had quite literally fought his way up the corporate ladder since the early 1920s since his discharge from the Army for mental instability. He had been wounded five times during the Great World War and was known for his popularity with his men despite making other high-ranking company men despise him for his backstabbing, self-serving ways.

    It is here that our stories so far intersect, for it would be Pennington who would decide to take advantage of the Black Bliss Sootstorms to try to not only take over Metropolis as a personal dictatorship but also all of New Canaan. In the face of the societal collapse into rioting and looting, Pennington promised security and safety, rallying his men to his cause of a "Sovereign City State" in the face of a "regional administrative and legislative failure." This was nothing short of treason, but Pennington was also promising his men food, homes, and clean water, an offer that tempted 3/4 of his staff into joining him. This was the largest act of rebellion since the Inferior communes resisted the forced vaccinations during the Beckie Flu. On the morning of December 19, 1937, train crews suddenly found themselves locked in cabooses as the security specialists they had hired turned on them, rerouting supplies and gear to Metropolis. In Metropolis itself, months of rioting and looting had exhausted the RUMP forces, even after drawing support from nearby cities. Too many officers were wounded or exhausted to fight back when Pennington's men swept through the downtown area and engaged RUMP in a massive rolling gun battle on McClellan Way, the central thoroughfare.

    Marshall and Carter, a famed department store, and its accompanying shopping mall became the scene of chaos as retreating government forces took cover within its marble halls. Plaster rained down from the ceiling and grenades were exploding between sales racks and displays, sending shrapnel and glass everywhere. One survivor later wrote, "My ears were bleeding. I had ruptured my left drum after one explosion. The echo of us blasting away from inside that building was unholy. It was like firing a canon in a concert hall." Despite the best efforts from the Overton men, the mall held out to fight another day. It would continue to be the base of operations for government forces while the rest of the city fell to now-Warlord Pennington. The City Hall was seized at midnight and its staff thrown from windows to their doom, in what became known as the Defenestration of Rockfort Hall.

    Joe Steele was beyond mortified by the treason, the most brazen under his watch since 1914. He immediately was on the phone with Oliver Overton, threatening to have him shot at dawn. Overton pleaded for his life, telling Steele that he had no knowledge of the subversion at all. "I hope the actions of one member of middle management and some low-level employees will not shape your opinion of the Overton Agency. We are committed to providing any and all assistance needed to combat this horrible act of treason, your excellency." Steele told him that if he didn't have Overton men bound for New Canaan within the week, the whole company would be wiped from existence. By the next morning, dozens of Overton offices emptied out and their employees boarded transport vehicles to Metropolis, accompanied by RUMP and ORRA troops to ensure their loyalty. Several high ranking officials within the company were indeed purged immediately, but Oliver Overton was spared for now. The Pennington Revolt was well and truly underway.

    Other events in the city during the Revolt didn't paint a prettier picture. The Horton's Brand Pounded Tomato Paste Product factory, the largest Horton had in operation due to the popularity of the pulpified condiment slurry in the region, saw an explosion in its boiler room after machinery had been left on unsupervised. This began a roaring fire that covered some six square city blocks and rained red liquid from the sky. Firefighters were already stretched thing trying to combat smaller blazes throughout town, so the Horton's fire was allowed to become an inferno before trucks arrived on scene. Fighting began to erupt in the area around Clinton Park, several blocks away, and this forced the fire crews to withdraw, abandoning the condiment factory. Horton's also produced Horton's Tomato Lager at this facility, which only served to keep the flames pumping higher and higher into the night sky of the City of Tomorrow.

    All while government and paramilitary forces fought each other to a standstill, everyday looters and homeless refugees turned to a rollicking life of crime, murdering in the streets and pilfering whatever they needed to survive. Many had already been doing this since late June, but the problem reached a fever pitch when Pennington's Revolt began and RUMP was forced to ignore petty or smaller-scale crimes in favor of battling the Overton mercenaries. A wave of murder, rape, and robbery swept through the wealthiest part of town, with neighborhood warlords forming gangs to patrol newly-occupied mansions and skyscrapers. Total anarchy was erupting across the city, an embarrassment and slap in the face to everything the Union stood for. Steele seethed and seethed, enraged and declaring that he would have every single lawbreaker in Metropolis hanging from lampposts inside of a month.

    Even Benedict Arnold University of Metropolis was not immune to to violence and bloodshed. The sister school of the more famous Boston institution was protected by a group of armed students who guarded the various buildings on campus by manning the roofs and using hunting rifles and whatever they could find to fire down onto looters and attackers. Besides the Marshall and Carter Mall, this was the only major location in town that withstood the assault of Pennington's men. Pennington himself planned on storming the college after the mall fell, thus solidifying his control over the city totally, but continued resistance from the courageous RUMP troops kept him from diverting resources. Many priceless and valuable artifacts were thus saved by the students, including some of the last remnants of Aztec culture and art inside the BAUM Archaeology Department. Several ORRA agents working for Supreme Chief Patton helped secure the Archaeology Department and procured several crystal skulls, one of Patton's obsessions, as well other important artifacts that could be easily carried.

    Above all, the every day Metropolitan citizen suffered the most, being gunned down, robbed, raped, and beaten in the streets as their own countrymen turned on them. It was the first time that cracks ever showed in the loyalties or belief in victory since before Father Abe. This was an apocalypse, hugely demoralizing the entire region. Parents were desperate just to feed their children, let alone defend themselves from hordes of looters or treasonous mercenaries. It was the perfect situation to show what New Canaanites were really made of. It would be this civil unrest and pestilence that would shape the identity of generations of New Canaanites, and it would leave the door wide open for the tongue-talking, revolver-wielding Second Prophet to make a name for himself....
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: THE RATWAY
  • I'll add illustrations later. For now, I'm exhausted! But this chapter was a blast to write! I was inspired by the "documentary" style of World War Z. Ever since I rebooted WMIT, I wanted to do "eyewitness" chapters in WWZ fashion. I figure now is a great time!

    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    THE RATWAY

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    Overton WSS mercenaries attempt to storm a section of the Metropolitan "Ratway"

    The following was taken from the 1972 documentary film Metropolitan Memories: Dustbowl Daze, and was directed by Joseph S. Wallace of Lucky Duck Pictures. It was the first real documentary film to cover the stories of the everyday troopers and civilian and student volunteers fighting the Battle of Metropolis, the largest single civil disturbance in the Union since Custer came to power.

    ***

    A simple, homely room awaits our film crew as we interview Manifest Climax and Battle of Metropolis veteran Earnest Winslow in his home in Shalom, Iowai. The floral print papered walls are decorated with old black and white photographs, relics, and a few hand-painted portraits. One depicts a gallant young lad in a blue uniform, a junior officer by the looks of it. Strong Anglo-Saxon features match the almost silver eyes and the wavy mass of golden-brown hair pushed into a slick part. Under his left arm is his peaked visor cap, bearing the All-Reaching Octopus insignia of RUMP. It is Staff Sergeant Earnest Winslow, Republican Union Military Police, Metropolitan Division, Sixth Precinct, at the tender age of 27. That young man saw the gates of hell open up in his own city during one of the most dire moments in Union history, and he met that horror with guns-blazing and determination on his face.

    That young man sits just a few feet under the portrait, but he is now 62. Staff Sergeant Winslow reclines in his favorite avocado green easy chair, a Morton's cigarette dangling from his tight, wrinkled lips. You can see in his grizzled features that life has taken quite the toll on him. While merely 62, he looks 72, and a lifetime of health problems are a daily reminder of the hell he survived back in the 1930s. He is missing an eye, the old socket covered by a patch depicting the logo of the Order of Valley Forge. Nearby skin is covered with a porcelain mask painted a flesh color. His fingers are rough, large, and worn. His brow has a hundred wrinkles. While he still looks strong and is a veritable Pinnacle Man, he has truly eked out a hard existence. Our interviewer, Barabas Johnston, asks him if he has stories to tell.

    "No shit," the old man chuckles. His age and health can't take away his sense of dry humor. He smiles and extinguishes the cigarette in an ashtray on the coffee table in front of him. He takes a minute to pour himself a glass of whiskey from a chrome bottle shaped like a rocket ship. "1964 vintage New Galilee Distillery. Commemorates the Space Force landing on the Moon, Jev bless 'em. Been sitting on this bottle since. Figured I needed a special occasion to pop it open. Talking about this shit is as good a reason as any, I suppose." His New Canaan drawl is still heavy, though he has been living in Shalom for the past three decades. "But yeah, lost my right peeper in Metropolis during the Overton affair. Nasty shit, pardner. Nasty shit. Can I cuss?" We motion for him to continue and he takes a sip of the vintage whiskey. "Okay, so yeah... I lost it there. But a lot of men, women, and children lost a lot more than me. I'm one of the lucky ones."

    We ask him to clarify how he is "lucky." He says, "Well, that was a hell of a shindig, hell of a shindig. I was in them Jev-damned tunnels from the start. We Metropolitan MP's called it the Ratway. You see, way back during the Custer years when Metropolis was first being built, they wanted to make it the most connected city in the world. Herman Moos built Lake Washington and all the canals, and Daniel Burnham built the buildings themselves, with some input from Moos. Fathers of Metropolis, they call 'em. But it was Edward Stockton, a Brit, who built the tunnels. Now these here tunnels was so RUMP and emergency services could get anywhere in the city real quick-like. They connected to all the major train stations, hospitals, jails, morgues, and armories, as well as at regular intervals. They also connected to the subway system, which was built in the early '30s. It was a web of access hatches, shadowy ramps with 'Government Use Only' plastered onto them, and whole walls that moved to allow vehicles access for police patrol cars and ambulances. It was supposed to make any civil emergency ten times more manageable."

    Winslow chortles blackly and drains his small orange glass and grabs the whiskey bottle to pour again. We ask him if it, in fact, did not live up to its purpose. "Yeah... haha, yeah, you could say that. The Ratway was a shithole. I'm talking a real shithole. It was built in the 1890s, in a turn of the century style. Lots of eagles sculpted into the walls, lots of sconces and details. Don't get me wrong, Metropolis was always big. But by the 1930s, it was just plum too big. All that weight bore down on the damned tunnels somethin' fierce. Mayor Cline was elected in 1933 on a promise to 'remodel and modernize the Stockton Metropolitan Tunnel System an.' We boys in the precincts were overjoyed. While a few miles of tunnel did get redone in the style of the day, with lots of pillars, big bold lines, and sturdy struts--real Steele shit--the rest continued to waste away day by day while the civilian subway system got all the love. When Operation Manifest Climax began and nation went into a wartime economy, the Ratway was left high and dry. We still used it, though. Hell, we had no choice. The Metropolitan Police Union withdrew our support for Cline and were gonna back Theo Moos the next election, but then the war came and the temporary, slap-dash fixes stayed."

    The old veteran takes a sip of his whiskey and then grabs a pencil and paper from the coffee table to draw us an illustration. "Boy, was it shit. Okay, so you see these two lines?" he asks, pointing to the two lines he just penciled onto the page. "That's the Ratway walls. Whenever we would get new vehicles, they tried to make sure they would fit in the tunnels. But by the Steele era, we were drivin' practically Jev-damned buses down there. The need to transport criminals and drunken tourists overwhelmed us. In 1925, right when I joined the Force as a gopher boy junior member, I was able to ride my bicycle on the walkway area and two cars were able to drive side by side. By the late '30s, the vehicles were way more beefed up and armored and they could barely squeeze in side-by-side." He draws two squares about a centimeter apart, symbolizing how narrow the margin of error was while driving in the tunnels. "It was just askin' for a catastrophic accident to trap some of us guys down there. Here's where it gets better! The city, obviously, predates the autocarriage. They were driving patrol buggies down there to begin with. Brick roads! And if you have ever tried to drive a patrol car at 60 miles per hour over brick, you'll know that shit wears down real damn fast. Plus, whenever there was an auto accident down there, it could really weaken a section of the tunnel. The constant weight from above, crossed with the constant weight from inside, caused the Ratway to start bowin' and sinkin'. Oh sure, they slapped a few struts up and called it safe. But it wasn't. It fucking wasn't!"

    The aged veteran's mood seems to drop second by second as memories come flooding back. "Okay, okay," he says, sitting back. "Now that I gave y'all a Ratway history lesson, maybe you can understand why it was about as fun as being a horse in a glue factory durin' the whole Overton treason thing. Worse days of my life, bar none. That bottle of whiskey celebrates when we went to the Moon, and let me tell you, I would volunteer right now to be blasted into outer space in the cheapest one way rocket than serve one more day in those hellholes. Imagine an ant farm, like the one in your kids bedroom. Now imagine each ant is a Jev-fearin' Christian Yankee boy doing his job. Now dump in a bunch of ant-eatin' beetles and then light the whole ant farm on fire, jump up and down on it, and then throw it out the window. That's how bad it was. That's where I lost my eye."

    After his... poignant parable, we ask him where he was when it first began. He takes another Morton from his orange-and-brown flannel button-up's chest pocket and loosens his wide brown wool tie. He takes a silver-plated lighter off the coffee table and lights the cigarette, taking two long drags as he searches through memory lane. "I remember," he says, almost dreamily. "I remember... I was in Tunnel 43. December 19, 1937, 8 o'clock in the evening by damn. Big Dick Pennington had started his hostile takeover earlier in the day, but Metropolis is a big place. The attacks came in waves. City was already a mess. For months we had been dealin' with rioters and looters, mostly refugees fleein' the dust storms. There was also the persecution of the Second Prophet and his followers going on. At any rate, we were already exhausted and in deep shit by the time the Overtons acted out. I was in a patrol car with Private Henry Orwell. Fresh-faced kid from New York who had just graduated high school. We were both exhausted and were putting away a few donuts between us when we saw a whole line of other cops coming from the other direction, lighting up that whole damn tunnel. The sirens were deafening. It's like I can still hear 'em. We knew somethin' bad--and I mean really damn horrible--was goin' on. We drove ahead till we reached a loop to switch lanes and followed after them. Patrol cars comms weren't great underground, another brilliant pre-modern era problem caused by the tunnels, but when we were this close together and following behind the big pack, the communicators worked well enough.

    "So we started beepin' 'em, tryin' to figure out what in the Sam Hell was goin' on. 'Treason,' they told us. 'There has been city-wide assault by the Overton Agency. They are trying to seize the city. They've breached Tunnel 42. Prepare to fight like hell.' At that, we turned our siren on and checked our guns, and after I patted the rookie on the back, we rushed to meet this new Hamiltonian enemy. Fuckin' swine, all of 'em. Not enough bullets in the world to riddle their corpses with. Justice would come, but we suffered for that justice. -I- suffered." At that, he thumps his chest with his calloused hand. "They breached the tunnel network, at least in our precinct, in Tunnel 42. The entrance was located behind the largest Kingfish Supermarket in the city, right on Saxon Avenue. They used explosives to blast the doors off the hinges and had already taken over most of the damn tunnel by the time we got there. It was a bloodbath. They had already pushed several patrol cars in the way, blockin' our advance and forcing us to get out and go forward on foot under a hail of small arms fire. They were using bolt-action Arnold Arms service rifles and semi-auto pistols. Hell, was it loud. While they had taken us by surprise and forced us out of our vehicles, we still were better-trained than they were. Most of them had never seen real combat. We'd been living in a rioting hellhole for months. We were exhausted but trained. Even Orwell the Rookie with me had already seen some action, leavin' him shaken but stronger. We thought we might even be able to push them back since a few of us had pump-action shotguns. Corporal Harris blasted two shells their way, scattering buckshot into three Overtons. They started to give way after a few more of us opened up. We were all scared shitless still, but there was hope."

    The retired staff sergeant takes a moment to knock some ash into the tray. It is clear that these memories are extremely troubling to the man. He looks wistfully at the portrait of his younger self on the wall a few feet away before continuing. "Then... the automatic grinder opened up. It was a damn massacre. While they tried to hold us back, further up the tunnel they had built up a grinder nest. We thought they were pullin' out like the pack of gutless chicken-livers they were, but they were trapping us. The lone gunner just had to pour lead down-tunnel and just keep a-squeezin' that trigger. A squad car exploded, sendin' debris and shrapnel and fire in all directions. I saw one of my brothers go running out right in the front of it all, his back on fire, his mouth hanging open in a death-scream. And that gunner ripped through him like he was made of butter. His guts exploded and his body hit the ground like a bag of mashed potatoes. Me and Orwell barely made it behind an access alcove in time to avoid the hail of bullets. About ten more of us went down right after, some screaming and others struck down before they could tell what hit 'em. I fired a couple shots up-tunnel, but they were useless. No way I could hit that bastard. We were fucked.

    "So there we were, bein' diddled like a whore in a campground by these bastards, pinned down six ways from Sunday with no Jev-damned clue what we were goin' to do. It was about 100 yards to the nearest bend in the tunnel. So it was 100 yards of gettin' shot at by a full-auto nutjob. The only thing to do was wait and hope he got taken out from behind. We were down there for hours, must have been three at least. Sometimes we'd try to move and that gun would open up again on us. They were trying to divert us, keep us occupied. Tunnel 38, just a few blocks north, was the main emergency access to the Palace of Patriots, the town hall and general administrative headquarters for the entire city. If they took that, they could kidnap or kill the mayor and local elders, maybe even get to Metropolitan RUMP Chief Arnold Walters, as he frequently was at the Palace. While they distracted us in Tunnel 42, more Overtons were runnin' wild in 40. They launched an all-out siege on the Palace. I'm talkin' balls-to-the-wall, shamrock shake-throwin', full-on assault. Finally, with about thirty of us left, we get sick of waitin' this fucker out. A captain... I think Wilkins was his name... gets the bright idea to just start all the fires. If we started all the cars on fire, the amount of smoke would probably give us about enough cover to sprint to cover. There were already several burning wrecks, but by shooting some gas tanks we managed to get a couple more goin'. Before we knew it, the whole place was up in smoke and flames. The plan worked too well."

    Winslow has a look of sheer horror on his face as he tells us the next part of the tale. "Lemme tell you another flaw of the Ratway," he tells us, staring straight into our camera. "Like I said earlier, pardner, that place was made for the era of horses. Horses might take some shits and piss everywhere, but they don't spew carbon monoxide. The Ratways always had a decent amount of what we called "the fumes." But no one died from it. It needed far more ventilation, but it was a big enough thing to wear it wasn't suffocating. The smoke caused by all those fires let us slip away, but that smoke also completely filled the damn tunnels. Couldn't see our hands in front of our faces as were crawling along. We could hear the cries of the Overtons as they blasted blindly into the shadows, unable to make out a thing. And then the first collapse happened."

    One of the best known events of the Battle for Metropolis, the collapse of the Ratway tunnels greatly changed the outcome of the struggle. It is clear this was one of the most terrifying moments in Winslow's life. We ask him if it was such and he replies, "Oh sure. Yup. Hands-down. Even scarier than when I lost my eye later on. That first collapse sealed up Tunnel 42 and brought half a grocery store down on top of it. Bricks and struts and mortar and shelving and merchandise came raining down like it was the end of the world, and to us it might as well have been. There was an awful groaning noise and then the thunderous crashin' and screams as men got buried forever. That Overton grinder piece of shit was among them, I have no doubt. But that was small compensation for us as we dragged our broken and battered comrade-patriots through the smoke and soot and flames and bricks and wreckage and bodies. In the dim light of a flickering sconce, I saw a man impaled on a ceiling strut. Damn thing went straight down the back of his neck, sending his spinal column into the ground. We were crying out to the Prophet and Jehovah to save us, to guide us through through this nightmare. We came up on a junction, linking 42 with 41 and 40. We dragging our buddies through this shit, the ceiling caving as we went. Tunnel 40 looked like salvation. Closer to the main city square, 40 had been remodeled and was significantly more durable. While some dust was falling from the ceiling there, it wasn't caving in. We poured into that tunnel like bats out of hell, our eyes stinging and our lungs burning. The smoke was still following us the whole time, but increased ventilation in 40 made the area more breathable, and the electric lighting allowed us to help the wounded more efficiently."

    We ask Winslow about the attack on the Palace of Patriots. He shrugs and tells us, "I wasn't there for it, but it burned. They killed Mayor Cline and ripped down the Union flag, damn them. They hoisted the 'Starry Wisdom' flag, they called it. Evidently, it was some feverish delusion of Big Dick Pennington that he was the modern Constantine and that the stars had shown him "the way," or some bullshit like that. Real nutjob. Anyway, it was this purple flag with some stars painted on it. Very ugly to look at. Some of the Overton men wore purple ribbons around their arms and such, too. We never complained about that. With everyone covered in dust and filth during the battle and with the uniform code becoming less and less strict, those armbands actually saved our asses more than a few times. After setting up a field hospital in 40, we used a comm set to beg for reinforcements. More would come about an hour later, around the time the Palace was abandoned to the enemy. They told us we were heading to the Marshal & Carter Mall to make a stand. That was where I lost my eye, actually." The man caresses the eyepatch as he tries to remember events that happened almost 40 years ago. "Funny thing, that. I didn't even know what happened. We were running out of the tunnel through the access hatch in the back lot of the shoppin' center when small arms fire opened up from across the street. A pistol round went right into my eye. I'm lucky though. It hit at an angle so it just fucked my face up and took that eye. If I had had my head turned any other angle, it probably would have put me six feet deep. I instantly lost consciousness. I remember nothing. I would find out later that Orwell grabbed me and dragged me 30 yards through intense enemy fire to the safety of the Mall. He took five bullets for me doing it, but they all missed vital areas. Still alive today, that Orwell. Real son of a bitch. We still keep up on things and go golfing every winter in Florida. I owe him my life. He's the real hero."

    We ask him what his next memory is. "I woke up a day later inside the Mall, my whole faced wrapped up in bandages and hurting like hell. I'm talkin' real gen-yoo-ine bullet-to-the-face pain. But we needed all hands on deck to fend off those nutjobs and so I was back on the ramparts before I knew it, blasting away with a grinder mounted on the rooftop. We would hold out there. They called us the Sixth Precinct Bastards. We were like iron gates to those Overtons. They couldn't break us. They wouldn't break us. And all over town, citizens were taking up arms to defend themselves from these traitors as well. My favorite was always the students. Benedict Arnold University of Metropolis decided that not one Overton was too advance one step closer onto their campus. They used their American right to bear arms and fought like sons of bitches. We all did. The world was ending. Everything was collapsing. And we fought like sons of bitches until we couldn't fight no more. I am proud of myself for fightin' the good fight, but I'm far more proud of my old hometown for uniting in times of hardship to fight real traitorous scum together."

    We ask him if he still loves Metropolis, and why he moved to Shalom. He laughs quietly, takes another drag of cigarette, and replies, "Of course I love it. Always will. The smell of concessions at Moos Park, the din of the traffic and the hum of the planes and helicopters overhead. But while I never gave up or stopped doing my best to defend it, the battle broke me inside. I can still remember those tunnels like yesterday. The screams, the cries for mothers from boys too young to die. The smell of charred flesh. The sound the Liberty Torches made when we started to flush those Overton motherfuckers out of that ant farm in '38. I went back into those tunnels time and time again. It was like playing chess in four dimensions. Just as you'd get the situation above-ground figured out, they'd strike below. It was hell. When I retired from the Force in '45, I moved to Shalom here because land is cheap, beautiful, and peaceful. Shalom means 'peace' in Jew, you know. I like it here. I'm proud to call it home. I still visit Metropolis, but I will never again go into those tunnels. I did my part for Country, Prophet, and President, and wouldn't take it back if I could, but if I had to do it again I'd lose my sanity. It's a miracle I didn't become a maniac murderer after the war, because I became addicted to killing down there. The Ratway makes you into a different person. Changes who you are. And makes you do stuff you never thought you would. When Overtons would surrender, I'd line 'em up and personally gut them with a bayonet. Slit their throats and watch them gurgle like stuck pigs on the ground. I kicked them and beat them as they lay dying. But they got what they deserved. I did what Uncle Joe asked of me, and I did it without question. Death always to traitors. All hail."

    The aging, scarred veteran lifts his right arm in a salute. Our film crew thanks him for his time and service and a few final pleasantries are exchanged. We set off for the home of Peter Brown, who was a member of the "Student Militia" that defended B.A.U.M. from the Overtons and secured and rescued untold amounts of knowledge and artifacts from theft or destruction. Brown is now Regional Bannerman for the Greater Metropolitan MDP, and will meet us at the rebuilt 1952 Palace of Patriots.

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    Propaganda poster backing Dick Pennington's Starry Wisdom Revolt


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    Banner of the Starry Wisdom Revolt​
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: TIME IN THE WILDERNESS

  • RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: TIME IN THE WILDERNESS
    mexico.jpg

    June 2, 1938
    New Canaan Badlands

    50 miles outside Metropolis
    Two horsemen rode through the ash-blanketed desert of New Canaan, one on a black horse, the other on a palomino. It was a rare clear day since the sootstorms began. Both men had gas masks draped around their necks and red ponchos blowing in the wind. The thunder of the horses hooves was the only sound for miles as they galloped across hill and dune, through scrub brush and past endless numbers of cacti, some as tall as fourteen feet. Now they entered a canyon, impressive sandy walls on each side of them. In the Immolation days this had been the site of an Infee guerrilla ambush on Yankee cavalry. Now it was silent and bare except for the two riders and the occasional skeleton of man and beast still bleaching in the sun's rays, bones long bare of flesh and cloth. Here and there a gold eagle button or beltbuckle could be spotted among the rocks and pebbles.

    A rider, the one on the black horse, hollered at the other in a gruff voice, "You sure you believe the story, man?"

    The other man laughed as he lashed his horse onward. "Nah, nah, I ain't sure of shit in times like these. The world's endin', don't you know. But you know what the Good Books say?"

    "Whole lotta shit. But what verse or quatrain or other are you wantin' to sockdologize on about this time?" the gruff one asked, before coughing some black dust out his mouth and onto his leather gloved hand. Even though the weather seemed clear, it was still in the air, almost invisible.

    "Hosea 10:8, my friend. 'The High Places shall be destroyed, and the sinners shall say to the mountains, cover us; and to the hills, fall on us.' I reckon we're either gonna find this 'Miracle Man' I told you about or we'll ask these mountains to fall on us." A hint of bitter doubt hung in his voice even as he spurred his palomino on again.

    "You reckon to save our souls?" the other asked. "We done an awful lot of sinnin' in our lives, man. We've had a few too many campground shakedowns and nose powder, don't you think?" A grim chuckled escaped his contaminated throat.

    Palomino-rider chuckled as he heard the chugging of a train in the distance and spotted the outline of the Miracle Man on the horizon, atop a dune, standing tall like an Old Testament Judge. "Well, I reckon we're still Pinnacle Blooded, Buckshot. And if this dude is for real, then I think we might just find our names and souls on the winning side of history, if history is to continue and the world doesn't pass into darkness. In that case, we're just fucked. And I'll ask this canyon to fall on me and my sinful ass."

    "I thought we had enough of this religious hoo-hah from the orphanage. But whatever you say, Candy."

    Candy Johnson looked over at Buckshot Settle and shouted, "And there's shitton of money in it for us, if the world doesn't end!"

    A smile spread across Buckshot's face. "Well, hush my mouth and call me corn pone! Count me in, pardner! This better not become another Century Falcon, though, by-fuckin'-Jev. "

    ***

    The October Flight from Metropolis would go down as the stuff of legends. A smiling, laughing Billy Graham waved at the adoring masses as they rose up against the local government and as he fled to the safety of the desert. He was a local sensation, a charismatic "down-home people's parson," and the people were willing to riot in his name. This was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him, however. Being disrespectful to a Church elder and promoting heresy was a major offense. Many historians are still surprised that Reverend Duke Gottfried was willing to merely run him out of town rather than just have him executed. It is likely that the sparing of Graham's life was to prevent the very riots that were now erupting all across the city anyway. While RUMP and Zealots managed to contain the crowds around the First Church of Metropolis, Gottfried himself was now public enemy number one to the rioters and had to remain under heavy guard inside the temple. Graham and his escaped comrades were now listed as being wanted dead or alive by both RUMP and ORRA. He was now a terrorist in the eyes of the state, and a terrorist inciting rebellion at that. It would be at this point that Joe Steele first heard the name of Graham via a report from Gottfried forwarded to him by Lovecraft.

    But even though a massive superpower had just christened him a revolutionary, the ongoing sootstorm catastrophe and the fact that the largest war of conquest in human history was being waged to the south prevented much action at the time, and the December start of the Starry Wisdom Revolt pushed Graham out of the law's eye for the time being. Graham and his cohorts now found themselves seeking refuge in the heart of the desert, using a large cavern as a hideout as the world crumbled around them. Once every couple weeks, several members of the party would venture out to resupply from abandoned cars and traveling traders. There were a decent number of caves in the area, and many refugees were making use of them, so the traders were more common than one might think for such a desolate locale.

    Many of the local cave-dwellers were aware of Graham's talkiebox broadcasts. When they realized the inspiring young minister was living in the cave right next door, they began to turn up with offers of food, supplies, and support. They loved the young minister. One family in particular, the Baxters, would frequently stop by and converse and pray with Graham. Mr. Roy Baxter was a carpenter and the father of four sons named Zion, Zeb, Zeke, and Zephyr Baxter. All the children were in their early teens aside from Zion, who was only three years old at the time. Roy's wife, July Constance Baxter, was only in her late 40s but became bedridden with an unknown illness. Graham would spend many nights helping tend to July, who reminded him of his own step-mother in appearance. After a while, the Baxters and Graham became very close friends and helped organize the refugees into specialized groups, building decent structures and ramshackle little apartments underground while the might of the Union military tried to crush Pennington's Revolt.

    Andrew was marveling at his friend's success. Graham was years younger than almost all present, but he was somehow becoming a de facto leader of sorts over some thirty refugees. Every Sunday, they would have services in the "Chapel," which was a large area by a placid underground lake that looked as if it were one enormous mirror. The torches and campfires cast an eerie glow onto the makeshift pulpit, made from banana crates draped with a hand-painted altar cloth. Graham was getting better and better, lifting morale when everyone needed it and launching into fiery sermons promising a better, brighter tomorrow in a Pinnacle Future of the New Jerusalem. Even though Graham was officially an enemy of the state, a fugitive, and not even born an American citizen, he was welcomed by the needy and downtrodden. In fact, he often failed to mention his Cacklacky heritage, letting his new followers believe he was from somewhere in the Old South. His words brought hope and pumped new life into the Holy Books. "His sheer charisma could have made a horse get in line at a glue factory and smile while they ripped his hooves off," Zeb Baxter would say years later.

    In truth, his cult of personality was already gorging his ego, and he wanted more. His step-mother promised him he would be a leader among men, and now here he was, administering to his own little compound. As the people's love for him grew and the situation in Metropolis was getting more and more dire by the day, they held him up as an example of what a Christian American man should be. More refugees came, as news of the "Hole-in-the-Wall Church" spread. They began to properly fortify the cave system. On clear days, trucks would roll out, disassemble nearby desert homes for materials, and work on a system of walls and stockades. It was America, so of course most people were armed with decent firearms already and knew how to use them. Watchman shifts were created, with citizen guards promising to "protect the Good Parson." This was about when it all began to spiral far out of control and into the pages of history.

    One important and almost totally overlooked aspect of Graham's character was his depression, deep and dank in nature. Wallowing in self pity, Graham would often disappear for sometimes a day at a time to huddle at this base of "Wailing Rock," a bizarre-looking cave formation deep underground. He would pray and beseech God to show him greater purpose. As the weeks faded into months in the compound, he began to almost resent his own followers, telling Andrew, "I wory we'll be stuck here till Hell freezes over. This place is fine enough for some mud-covered savages, but a page in the history books or a booth at a talkiebox station it is not." The frequent days at a time without sunlight and the poor air quality likely also exacerbated his deepening depression, as did his lust for the married Norma. Norma clearly was interested in him from the start, but her always-present elderly husband prevented any further growth of the relationship. Graham wanted to beg her to be with him and leave Chick, all while Chick sang his praises, having no clue his charismatic young minister friend was trying to steal his wife. Graham's own religious beliefs and Steele's Focus on the Family Act also made Graham feel incredibly guilty and sinful. This same radical devotion to religion was what had guided him through depression in the past. Everything came to a head on May 23. Graham, despondent and alone, decided it was time to end it all. He had a light meal of some stew, drank a glass of water, and went alone to the Wailing Rock to kill himself. The revolver he had "borrowed" from Andrew still hung on his hip.

    The Wailing Rock was surrounded by a large amount of brown mushrooms, known by the locals as "foolish mushrooms," ugly things that they warned were poisonous and not to be trifled with. Graham played with the idea of blowing his own brains out for several hours, even raising the gun to his head with his finger on the trigger multiple times. Unable to follow through with such a bloody suicide, Graham tearfully plucked one of the mushrooms out of the ground and shoved it into his mouth, chewing and swallowing it before collapsing to the ground to await his own death. As the future Second Prophet of Manifest Destiny laid on the filthy cave floor in the fetal position, weeping hysterically and believing he had failed his step-mother, her prophecy of his greatness, and God himself, everything around him began to spin in a whirling kaleidoscope of colors. And then the laughter began. He howled and cackled and the emotional cacophony echoed throughout the cave. Irritated bats began to swoop hither and thither, screeching loudly. It was perfect madness. Instead of killing himself with poison, Graham had unintentionally ingested large amounts of psilocybin hallucinogens. He picked himself up, stretched his hands to the heavens, and felt another wave of visions and colors explode in his mind.

    1. It was as if the entire history and future of mankind and the earth were revealed to me all at once. Through these Fruits of the Spirit, all uncertainties and doubts and fears were carried away in a dazzling, rapturous, raucous wave of sublime jubilation. I rejoiced, for the day of sanctification was upon me and I sensed the presence of strong Magicks coursing through the very air I breathed.

    2. Almost like unto a motion-picture in the mind's eye. I saw Nothing, before Jehovah moved across the face of the waters, and then I witnessed the creation of light. I saw the Garden of Eden, and I saw the Forbidden Fruit with that Daemoniac Worm luring Mankind to Hell. I watched Moses parteth the Red Sea, and I saw Pharaoh's forces become engulfed in the tide, carried off to the Hell. I saw Christ upon the Cross, and I saw him ascend into the heavens. I saw the Prophet Burr at Valley Forge, and I saw the Martyr Arnold die for him. I saw the golden streets of Heaven. I saw the nothingness and emptiness of the Void, filled with Inferior un-souls. And I beheld the deepest, foulest pit of Sheol, where the treacherous, murderous, and barbaric souls of the damned burneth for eternity upon eon, from Judas Iscariot to Drummond the Despoiler.

    3. Then it was as if a divine light blinded me, and I fell to my knees. When I saw again, a shining figure stood before me, clad in gold raiment and with a face masked by glory. I bowed and groveled, for I knew it was the Angel of Destiny. The Angel put his hand on my shoulder and said unto me, "William Graham, Second of your Name, thou hast been chosen by the Maker, Great Jehovah, to preach and prophesy His Word. The End of Days is upon the people of Earth, and the New Jerusalem shall gird up her loins for the coming battles by following the words of a mighty Chosen Man of God.

    4. Yea, though thou art Cackalack in stock, ye shall be great among the American Race, a Second Prophet of Manifest Destiny. Thou shalt restore order to my Shining Gem of the Desert, and thou shalt go forth and preach in my name with no fear in thin heart, for the Lord God of Zion is with thee. Go and speak these things unto thine brethren, and trust in Jehovah. A host of angels and patriot-saints surround thee, and no harm can befall thee. All hail the Pinnacle Son of the New Zion."

    - The Book of Graham, Chapter 2, Verses 1-4

    ***

    To say that Graham's friends were... taken aback by his new revelations was something of an understatement. Here was this man, only twenty years of age, professing that the Angel of Destiny, the most sacred figure in Fundamentalism next Jehovah and Burr, had anointed him the next Prophet. It was heresy. It was possibly another form of suicide. No man since Burr had been so bold as to deny the One Prophet Doctrine. This was unheard of. Not once in the church's history sprawling two centuries had such a claim been made. No one would have dared risk it. But here he was, already listed as a heretical religious terrorist and now claiming to be the next rightful head of the Church. It was also incredibly bold. Graham was a gambling man, always upping the ante and raising the stakes. Aside from his bouts with extreme depression, he usually possessed an uncanny self-confidence, instilled in him by his step-mother and demonstrated by how he dealt with Reverend Gottfried back in Metropolis. Now he was overcoming this depression once and for all.

    "I have been filled full of fire, full of vigor, and of the Holy Spirit," he proclaimed proudly to Andrew after he explained his experience, still high as a kite on the mushrooms.

    Even Andrew was still quite dubious on whether or not to believe Graham, but had no idea about the effect of the mushrooms or even that Graham had eaten any. To him, Graham was just acting extremely weird. Andrew told him, "I need a sign. A genuine miracle. Prove to me that you are the Angel's vessel and I will follow you to the gates of Hell, brother."

    Much to his surprise, Graham agreed that such a sign would be forthcoming. "I shall heal Mrs. Baxter. I will bless her and bestow unto her a new lease on life. Within a day, she will rise and walk once more. So let it be written, so let it be done. Hal-le-lujah!" Graham jubilantly proclaimed, clapping his hands together on the "hallelujah." He practically ran to July Baxter, laying motionless on her straw mattress in the living quarters of the compound. He knelt down and prayed over her, speaking in tongues. "Hoo-baba-kanda! Tala mo shiki alaa, kedo mo shiki kanda! Rise up, woman! In a days time I order you to rise up, in the name of Jehovah Almighty!" He picked her up, and as a crowd of followers and friends gathered around, he carried Mrs. Baxter outside with him. "Let the rays of God's sun warm your bones and set free your body from the grip of death! Moga dal kedo mo shiki!" The next day, July Baxter's fever broke, and she walked again for the first time in two months.

    What no one knew was that July was not sick. She was slowly being poisoned to death by her own husband after he realized she and Graham were having sex, or as Graham called it "spiritual conjugation." He had been drawing the murder out, taking happiness in her suffering. After his wife's "miraculous" recovery, Mr. Baxter left under cover of going on a routine supply run and began the ride to Metropolis to report the growing power of Graham's movement to the Church. Baxter would be shot a mile outside the city by marauding bandits, who stole his horse, wallet, and dumped his body in an unknown gully.

    The reaction from the followers was immediate. Many began to believe Graham really was the Second Prophet. Many were simply so heavily invested in him, trusting him, that they felt no other way forward. Several left, proclaiming blasphemy, but most stayed on and began to jubilantly cry, "The New Jerusalem begins here!" Andrew wanted to believe, and the "July Baxter Miracle" was no joke to him, but he was still uncertain. It was all so bizarre. This culminated in the night of June 3. Graham entered Andrew's personal quarters and, while Andrew was sleeping, pressed one of the mushrooms into Andrew's mouth. After waiting a short while to allow the hallucinogen to kick in, Graham shook Andrew awake. To Andrew, the whole world was a giant splatter of paint and shadows, and he could barely make out the face of his best friend who now was pulling him out of bed by the arm.

    "My friend Andrew!" Graham shouted. "Join me and rejoice! For the Angel of the Lord is with us! Can't you see him! Hal-le-lujah!"

    Rubbing his eyes in desperate confusion, Andrew soon fell into a trance-like state, easily manipulated by Graham. "Billy? What is going on?"

    "Andrew, you shall be my Apostle! It has been written and it shall be done! The Angel revealed to me you are to be the right arm of my ministry. Together, we shall pave the way for a glorious new era. Come, follow me! Let your tongue move freely in the Spirit and let your eyes partake of the wondrous splendors of the fruits of the spirit! Come, follow me!"

    In a dazed, drug-fueled stupor, Andrew reluctantly followed Graham through the underground compound and out into the desert, where the orange sun was just beginning to peak over the foothills. For hours they ran, as if possessed. Andrew felt compelled to follow Graham as the sweaty, dust-covered minister sprinted ahead, spinning at irregular intervals and joyously screaming to the heavens. Before long, Andrew fell in with the erratic behaviors as the mushroom fully kicked in. He began to spew nonsensical gibberish at a feverish rate, almost as fast as Graham. By high noon, they were far from camp and deep into the desert, without a landmark in sight. But still he followed his friend, the Second Prophet, over hill and dale. At last, the drug's effects waning, Andrew collapsed in a foamy, sweaty, sunburned heap onto the sand. "Billy! I cannot go on!"

    Graham's cowpoke boots, black with silver tips, stood right by his head. In a blurry haze, he faded in and out of consciousness, unable to move. As the sun glinted off the silver boot tips, he passed out. He awoke just a minute later to a splash of water pouring from Graham's canteen directly onto his face. Gasping, he shot upright. "Billy, no more! Please! I cannot bear it! I am exhausted."

    Graham smiled and handed him the canteen. "Drink, my brother! And behold! The reason I brought you here is right over this hill!"

    After a long while spent nursing the canteen, Andrew let Graham pull him up and lead him over the nearby dune. "Billy, I do not understand what came over me. How long have we been running out here?"

    "Several hours," said Graham matter-of-factly, as if gallivanting across a desert warzone was normal for two seminary students. "Look! Train tracks!"

    Before them, in the heart of the desert, was a shiny, modern railroad track, stretching from one horizon to the next. After not explaining that he had visited this spot the day before and met with two new friends, Graham looked at his pocket watch. "Just ten more minutes, Andy! Ten more minutes and you shall see our deliverance!" About nine minutes and thirty seconds later, a massive armored train appeared in the distance. The two men laid low in the sand to watch it pass by. Several of the cars were painted purple and covered in bizarre star-like symbols and other occult emblems.

    "W-what is it?" asked Billy, slurring his words from exhaustion and the lingering side effects of the drug.

    "What is it?" Billy scoffed. "What -is- it, he asks? Hal-le-lujah! Brother, this here is the hand of God leading us out of the Valley, son. They will call this the Miracle of '38, one day! That right there is the train running from Lapham to Metropolis. Lapham was overrun by Pennington's middle management lunatics months ago and has an easily defensible train yard. They are using it to rush new supplies and men into Metropolis. That's how the Starry Wisdom cultists never run out of ammo or food. It all comes from Lapham."

    Andrew was confused still. "That's all well and good, Billy, but how does that help us?"

    "Glory, glory, Andrew, my Apostle! Trust in me to lead the way! We are going to take that train, by hook or by crook, and cut off Pennington from the outside world completely. We're going to save Metropolis, boy! We're going to crush this nascent cult into dust and take back our rightful place among the Betters of Society. And then the world shall know of the Second Prophet. All the supplies going to the Starry Wisdom will be redistributed to the people! Freedom from want! We will be heroes."

    "Billy, how on earth are we to take an armored train?" Andrew gasped, still fearing his friend insane while the drug trip also made him doubt his own.

    "Some new friends which the Lord hath lead into our flock, Andrew. They caused quite a stir before the war by stealing George Washington Carver's personal aeroship. Tell me, have you ever heard of Candy Johnson and Buckshot Settle?"

    "No," squeaked Andrew as he feverishly sipped from the canteen while eyeing Graham like a crazy man still.

    "Well, turn around and say hello," Graham said, the sun shining off of his perfect teeth as he smiled widely and gestured with his arm for Andrew to turn around. With gas masks hanging around their necks and with broad-brimmed hats upon their heads, Candy Johnson and Buckshot Settle sat atop two mighty horses. Settle had the black one, and Candy rode the palomino. Both were armed to the teeth. Candy looked Andrew straight in the eyes and extended a hand, as if to pull him up on his horse.

    "If you're a friend of the Miracle Man, you're a friend of mine. I hear y'all have a train to rob," said Candy Johnson.

    Andrew stood up, laughing madly. "You fellas look tough, but that's an armored train completely full of mercenaries. You and what army are going to take that train?"

    In the distance, more horses could be heard. From over the hills came a massive dust cloud, but not one caused by nature or a monsoon. There were probably forty horsemen galloping toward them, rifles shining in the sun. Hoots and hollers and cheers rang out as the mob of hooves thundered around the two ministers. Many of them sang the praises of the "talkiebox preacher."

    "You were saying, pardner?" Candy said wryly, still extending his hand.

    "Right. That army," Andrew said blankly, grabbing the hand and heaving himself up behind the horseman.

    "Alright," said Graham, hopping up behind Settle, "let's get back to camp and plan the crime on the century, gentlemen, in Jesus' name!"
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: PLANTING THE FLAG
  • RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    PLANTING THE FLAG

    teamsters-police-Minneapolis-strike-1934.jpg

    RUMP officers brawl with pro-Pennington rioters, 1938

    The following was taken from the 1972 documentary film Metropolitan Memories: Dustbowl Daze, and was directed by Joseph S. Wallace of Lucky Duck Pictures. It was the first real documentary film to cover the stories of the everyday troopers and civilian and student volunteers fighting the Battle of Metropolis, the largest single civil disturbance in the Union since Custer came to power.

    The smell of fresh apple pie greets our film crew as we interview Matthias Goldenrod, a civilian anti-traitor activist who participated in the Battle of Metropolis, from 1937 to 1938. We are in the beautiful coastal city of Apocalypse, Oxacre, four hours away from Metropolis, New Canaan. Despite coming from humble roots, Mr. Goldenrod, a surly black man with a bushy white beard and short, close-cropped hair of an equally snowy variety, is living a happy life in one of the most popular retirement communities in the entirety of the New United States. As we set up the camera and recording equipment, his gray-haired wife swoops in from the kitchen, a beaming smile on her face. A well-known hospitality fanatic in her neighborhood, she passes out slices of fresh-baked pie and tall, cold glasses of lemonade to everyone. We thank her and she finally plops down next to her husband, who is sitting on their modern styled pea green couch. She wraps her arm around his and playfully pats his shoulder. For a man about to recall the horrors of one of the most chaotic events in Yankee history, Mr. Goldenrod looks relaxed and at ease. A Bible sits open to the Book of Acts on the end table next to Matthias, and a portrait of the Prophet Burr hangs upon the wall next to a photograph of the Prophet Graham. Above these two paintings is a stylized picture of Christ holding a dove. One other picture hangs on the next wall, depicting a smiling black man wearing a military uniform.

    We ask him about life before the uprising, and if the portrait is one of him in his early years. He replies, "Well, I'm an undertaker. That picture is my boy Thomas, but I've never officially served." He pats his wife's hand and smiles again. "Or, was one until I retired two years ago and we moved to Apocalypse. But yessir, I was an undertaker. My daddy was an undertaker, and his daddy was an undertaker. Ever since Old Mexico was brought under the Stars and Stripes, my family been undertakin'. Before that, we were slaves in the Old South. When the opportunity came to start a new life in the new states in Mexico, my granddaddy jumped on it. Somebody gotta bury the dead, no matter where you go. All Betters are equal, includin' in death. Everyone needs a Jev-fearin' Christian man to prepare their loved ones for the great beyond, and that's how the Goldenrods became known as the best undertakers in the Metropolis. And unfortunately, during Manifest Climax, business was boomin', man. I couldn't keep up. Most of the casualties at the time were from Army Group VI and the like."

    Upon being quentioned as to if he owned his own funeral home or embalming shop, he says, "Oh no, nothin' like that. Granddaddy's pension paid the property taxes on his land awarded to him for his military service. So we lived for free, pretty much, but you still have to feed your family and send them kids off to college, you know? Nope, I worked for the largest government graveyard in the entirety of Old Mexico. They call it the Necropolis. I'm sure you're familiar with it, and it's basically like Patriot's Rest in Philadelphia, but started for veterans of the Immolation whose families wanted them buried within a reasonable distance. After a while, those same soldiers' wives and children ended up there. Before long, all government officials of any sort and their families could be buried for free at the Necropolis. Me and about twenty other undertakers were doin' all we could to keep up with the war casualties, but it was pure heck to do it. Really wears you down. Even before the riots and the Starry Wisdom hoo-hah went down, we were more than behind on trussing up everyone's sons and brothers for burial."

    Mr. Goldenrod runs a hand through his beard and pulls his wife closer. "Now, the Necropolis was built around Lake Washington, a man-made stand-in for the old Lake Texcoco, right smack-dab in the center of the city. This was great planning. Not only could the artificial lake be stocked with fish and the like and serve as a park, the water offered a lovely backdrop for all the good folks buried at the Necropolis. Down the street, on Cotesworth Street, was where we worked our behinds off on causalities. Now if you /thomaa story that will make your skin crawl and your hair stand on end, ask me about the Pyramid."

    We oblige him, and the man leans forward, elbows on his knees. For the first time since we arrived to film the interview, Mr. Goldenrod's smile vanishes. "An underground tunnel system they called the Ratway would deliver the bodies in the basement of the Morgue. This kept the 'unpleasant' business of visible corpse wagons or refrigerated trucks to a minimum on standard days. But Manifest Climax put us into overdrive, by Jev. There were so many that we had to shorten our treatments of our clients to merely sprucin' up their hair and face, trussin' them up in their Sunday clothes or uniform, and slappin' them in a pine box. For an artist like myself, this was an insult to my profession and I hated every second. But the necessities of war meant that this was the only way. We had so many bodies that we had no more room inside and had to start stackin' the coffins up out back. I still have nightmares about those stacks of crates. With a lack of proper embalming techniques and the hot sun, many decomposed fast, especially the ones who didn't have a family to claim them easy. The smell was the worst. They had been using ovens on some of the bodies already since things had gone to heck in a handbasket, but we didn't want to start that practice. We were all deeply devout and believed in givin' everyone a decent Christian burial if at all possible. Those who didn't get claimed and started to stink were taken to the Village Green, right next to the Necropolis around Lake Washington, and buried in a mass grave. We even stayed over without being asked and without pay just to help bury the dead."

    Mr. Matthias gets up and walks to his liquor cabinet and pours himself a shot of whiskey. His left leg drags just enough to be noticeable. We ask him about it. "That? Oh no, not from the Metropolis days. Got that truckin' in Pacifica in '55. My whole semi flipped over 'cause of ice. Fun times. No, my leg is from peacetime, but I do have a scar from the Starry Wisdom days." The elderly man unbuttons his starched, wide-collared shirt to reveal a scar about as big around as a silver eagle. "Took that right after the fighting broke out in the city center. Starry Wisdom lunatics." He hobbles back over to the couch and retakes his seat. We ask him where he was when the Revolt broke out. "I was workin', naturally. Necropolis was on double-shifts for us 'takers. Me and my coworker, Enoch Lowe, were workin' together that day. We prepared probably 15 corpses before mid-day. That was when the first shots could be heard. We all stepped outside or opened the windows of our building to see what in name of the Prophet was goin' on, and that was when we could see a gaggle of mercs tanglin' with police down an alley besides the capitol buildin'. One of 'em was carryin' this funky purple flag with some weird white squiggles on it. Flag boy pointed at us and screamed, 'Citizens, to arms! The revolution has broken out! Fight for bread! Fight for freedom!' Naturally, most of us weren't impressed. We were all loyal Americans doin' our part. Instead, we armed ourselves with whatever we could find, from scalpels, to hammers, to pipes, and decided we weren't goin' to stand by while our RUMP boys were gettin' assaulted and shot at by some kooks with some weird flag.

    "The police were bein' overrun by the mercs. RUMP had some good fighters, but most of them on average were too young or too old to go fight in South America, so they were havin' more than they could handle. We rushed out there, swearin' and cussin', and took the fight to them. It was a glorious hour. And by that, I mean they opened fire and killed a few of us, injured more, and sent the rest scuttling back into the corpse house. I was layin' there for an hour before fighting moved a block away and Enoch Lowe came out, hauled me by arms back into the buildin'. Enoch Lowe was the grandson of a Georgian slaver. I even heard rumors he was secretly a racist against the black man. But let me tell you, there ain't no racists in the foxhole. He saved me from bleedin' out, Jehovah bless him. I got bandaged up and we waited for the coast to clear for us to head home and secure our families. That night, a big old force of cops showed up and escorted us out of the buildin'. That would be the last I saw of the Necropolis for several months. When I returned, it would be as part of a volunteer force tryin' to take it and the whole of Lake Washington back from the Revolt."

    Our interviewer asks what happened in the months between the start of the Revolt and the retaking of the city center. "We survived," he says simply, his face void of emotion but seemingly also distant. "It was hell. The Revolt had its volunteers too. When the chips are down, Americans have always worked together. That's just how we are. But there's always a little coward in every crowd. Someone willin' to steal, loot, and murder to get what he wants. A barbarian. I imagined then that Metropolis during the Revolt and the storms felt like how the Romans felt when the barbarians came. But we overcame. The best thing about those traitors was that many didn't believe in any bit of nonsense that Dick Pennington said, even if he was a son of the Blind Christian Gentleman. Almost none of the mercs did either. No, they were in it for a paycheck and to get food in their bellies and to take what they wanted, from jewelry and booze to sex slaves. Scum of the earth. Probably partially funded by the Neuties. False Christians, all. I killed many a man, even with my injured shoulder, in defense of my family and home. We didn't live in the walled in compounds like the rich folk in the Crown District or somethin'. We lived in a house in the suburbs, away from all the hustle and bustle. That was the first place the rioters and thieves and mercs moved to to pillage and loot. I was a crack shot with a pistol, and I'm left-handed, so even with my shoulder like it was, I was doin' just fine killin' mercs and thieves. Soon I got asked to join the Neighborhood Watch. It was a militia made up of all the guys I'd see at my local MDP rallies and meetings. Most of us were blue-collar, middle-class patriots, ready to take our city back. We didn't like the mercs, we didn't like Pennington, we didn't like the opportunistic rioters, and we didn't like the treatment of 'that Parson Graham' on the talkiebox before Pennington attacked.

    "And let me tell you, we were some of the first to doubt the validity of his claims to bein' the Second Prophet. I mean, come on, he was about twenty years old. But he spoke words of wisdom and he gave us hope when it looked like the city was going to crumble. Even when President Steele began the counter-assault to take back Metropolis, the Ratway was still infested, as were the colossal high-rises. It would take months before the rebellion was crushed, even with Steelist efficiency. Most people back then were like, 'Oh, this is just one city. Take it back no matter the cost.' Not only had Pennington taken over several nearby towns by promisin' distribution of food and supplies to starvin' out-of-staters, Metropolis was one of the biggest cities in America with a massive influx of refugees, millions of citizens, and a suburban sprawl that stretched miles and miles. That's a major operation by anyone's standards."

    We ask him about the "out-of-staters," and if he holds grudges about it to this day. "Yeah," he begins, letting out a sigh, "the Outies, we called 'em. They were desperate people who did desperate things, taken in by a charlatan who acted like he was the Messiah and told them he had all the answers. Pennington was crazy, but a good talker. They sinned greatly and committed treason and turned to a life of lootin', robbery, and murder. While I pray for them, I know where they are right now. And I know they've been there since 1938, when Steele signed Executive Order 0909. The Pearly Gates, it ain't. As for grudges? The Oxacre crowds were the least desperate and the most prepared, as they had a longer time to prepare and flee the sootstorms than people in Grand Panama. The Panamanians were the worst. A bunch of well-to-do port officials, transport and commerce agents, and the tourists. Man, I tell you somethin', if there's a war goin' on in South America, and you're takin' a vacation to the Isthmus, then you deserve to be desperate. Idiots and fools. I can't tell you how many of the Outies I fought were actually some Bankin' Clan rung-stepper or some accountant from New York who didn't want to lose the money he spent reserving a vacation. There were plenty of tourist Outies in Metropolis to begin with, too. Most from New England and the like. They had been trapped there, essentially, since the railroads shut down for non-emergency travel and the Destiny Road went military-only.

    "Us New Canaanites are a hateful breed, they say. Not true Yankees, they say. Just like always, though, it was us New Canaanites who proved ourselves to be the most American of all. Do I thumb my nose at New Englanders when I see 'em? I live in Apocalypse, so I see plenty of 'em retired here. But no, I don't treat 'em differently. I treat everyone how Jehovah wants me to treat them, as brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow citizens of the New Jerusalem. Do some New Canaanites still hold a grudge against the rest of the country over the Outies raisin' hell in a place that already done been raised enough? Absolutely. Do I blame 'em for holdin' it? No. I get it. Worthless tourists. Instead of pitchin' in, they flipped and went crazy. We're the backbone of America. We were the first to bleed for Manifest Climax. We had the first nuke plant. We are the shipping spider that holds the American web together. I'm proud to be from New Canaan. I'm proud of my people, and how we took back the city square. But--praise be--we also had the Young Prophet on our side. We literally were fightin' a holy war. Kinda tough to lose when God's on your side!"

    After being questioned as to his whereabouts during the Miracle of '38, Matthias replies with a broad smile, his white teeth gleaming, "Oh, I was there all right! The day the Prophet Graham took that Revoltist armored train loaded down with food, supplies, and ammunition into the middle of Metropolis was the day everything became worth it. We were literally starvin'. The shortages were never as bad as they were in the early summer of 1938. My whole life, I been six foot and 210. I got down to 140. I was skin and bones. My family was about the same. When you're trapped in a megacity in a desert during a micro civil war, food is real scarce. Outlyin' farms in the fertile area around the city were useless. Many of the crops were failin' due to soil contamination thanks to the soot. Much of our food was comin' from the west coast, where we are sittin' pretty right now, and from the north. When that train came chuggin' on down the line into Petersen Station with the Prophet Graham wavin' at people as he sat on top of the engine, it felt like Christ ridin' in on a donkey. Like somethin' truly divine had happened. This young minister we all looked up to and who had given us hope when there was none, who made us march in the streets when the corrupt Metropolis church tried to destroy him, had taken over an armored train full of mercs and was now distributin' all the goods on board to us. It was our manna from heaven. And when the Prophet Graham began to tell us of the land of plenty that awaited us in the glorious Pinnacle Future that he had foreseen, we cheered. It was the Fourth. We spoke in tongues of fire. We praised Jehovah. We sang Yankee Doodle. Because hope had returned. We were ready to take back the city. And that's what we did. I didn't see a whole lot of action that final day, but the Prophet spearheaded it. It was like the righteous hammer of God descending upon the infidels. Like somethin' out of the Old Testament, but with a lot more gunfire. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. And I'm proud I was there for it."

    Matthias Goldenrod stares into space, a look of pride on his face. A tear forms at the corner of his right eye. He raises a hand to cover himself while he begins to cry. His loving wife rubs his shoulder and holds him for a moment. We ask him if he is okay and if we need to stop the interview. He shakes his head and composes himself. "No, no, I'm fine. Just cryin' tears of joy over it still. You know that famous picture of the miltiaman who clambered to the top of the ruins of Metropolis City Hall to plant the flag? I may not have had much fightin' that day, but I did my part. I carried the Stars-and-Stripes through the battle, rallying the men for the final push. The feelin' I had carryin' that blessed banner was like how it must feel to die and go to Heaven. I felt the divine hand of the Angel of Destiny behind me. I had tears streamin' down my face then, too, when I wormed my way up that spire. I looked out over the ruins of my hometown, sun shinin' off Lake Washington, praised Jehovah it was over, and I planted that blood-stained flag. 'All hail!' still rings in my ears. That's all you could hear through the whole city. For the first time in half a year, Metropolis was at peace. People started to sift through the wreckage to piece their lives back together, and the Second Prophet was there for all of it, praise be and all hail, guidin' and leadin' us into the light. He reminded us of the conquests of the past and of the triumphs and glories yet to come. 'Freedom!' the Prophet cried. 'Freedom from want! We are building the New Jerusalem through blood, sweat, and faith, and only through these things, through the narrow path, will we realize our destiny of a Pinnacle Future!' I remember every word. I was standin' right beside him. And to read somethin' you heard fresh from his mouth in the Book of Graham, it's like bein' there when they wrote the Bible. I can't describe it. I am so very blessed, and so very, very proud to be an American."

    As we wrap up the interview and thank the Goldenrods for their time and kindness, we ask Matthias what became of his son Thomas, whose portrait hangs on the wall. Our interviewer says it appears someone finally broke the family tradition of being an undertaker. "Thomas gave his life in the line of duty five years ago in a radiation pit in South America." He shakes our hands and we leave the house.

    Our next stop is Mayame, Florida, to meet with Joshua Ambrose Reynolds, who was a survivor of the explosion of the Horton's Brand Tomato Lager plant, the detonation which gave birth to the urban legends about apocalyptic "blood rain" over the streets of Metropolis.
     
    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: THE LAST BROADCAST
  • A preview into the not-too-distant future! This chapter was pretty darn fun to right, and I think caps off the Second Prophet arc great. We will still get one more chapter tomorrow that will show the truth about the Miracle of '38, the rise of Graham as an enormous dick and alienating his friends as soon as he is welcomed into the old upper class he supposedly despised. The ultimate prosperity gospel false prophet. And yes, we'll finally see him get with Norma. Weeeeee. What a chad. This was originally going to be the Miracle chapter, where the story is retold as a televisor show, but decided this little short story better ties in with everything I have planned. Readers of the cancelled "Pinnacle Future" novel may recognize where this is going. At any rate, I'm off next two days and plan on covering a bunch of stuff if all goes well! I'll illustrate this one as well tomorrow.

    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    THE LAST BROADCAST

    November 20, 1964

    The Apostle Andrew slowly stepped out onto the purple stage as the saccharine-sweet melody of a gospel choir singing "I'll Fly Away" lilted up into the rafters of the colossal televisor set. The Apostle Andrew Old-Time Gospel Hour, based in Metropolis, New Canaan, hit the airwaves of public broadcasting every Wednesday night at seven o'clock on the dot, just after the Wild, Wild World of Morty Krummhorn, and had for the last twenty years. In 1944, during the first wave of televisor sales to American households, The Old-Time Gospel Hour was the Prophet Graham's inroad into the average household. Reverend-Colonel Lovecraft and the Council of Jehovah had already anointed him as the True Second Prophet in 1942, following a massive wave of terrifying success among the war-ravaged people of Old Mexico. In truth, following the Miracle of '38, if the American Fundamentalist Christian Church had not welcomed Graham in, it might have even torn the country into a bloody, cataclysmic civil war. If Lovecraft and Steele had decided to maintain the belief in Burr as the One True Prophet and Arnold as the One True Martyr, everything might have collapsed. But that was all many years in the past, and Lovecraft had since shuffled off this mortal plain and left the mantle of Reverend-Colonel open for Graham. And now here was Andrew, as he had countless nights before, stepping out into the spotlights and using his chrome, bullet-shaped microphone to announce messages from sponsors over the music of the choir.

    "Good evening, America! All hail! Tonight's episode of the Old-Time Gospel Hour is brought to you in part by Republica Beer. Republica Beer! A Lager for Pinnacle Tastes! As well as The Metropolitan Council of Elders, Marshall & Carter Department Stores, and donations and gifts of faith from viewers like you!" belted the Apostle as his charismatic, booming voice swept the studio audience into a rapturous applause. From several locations, film crews belonging to The Word Broadcasting Agency (TWBA) panned their cameras his direction, some from the sidelines and in the shadows, others from on high, descending on boom set-ups that looked like mechanical pythons stretching from the ceiling and dangling, writhing over the enthralled audience. Andrew's graying pompadour glimmered in the spotlights, as did the silver arms of his sterling horned-rim glasses. His blue and teal checkered sportcoat was paired with black slacks, a wide red tie, and a white shirt, taking advantage of the popularity of color televisors to become a style icon. Everyone wanted to be like Andrew. He was one of the most respected and most popular figures in the American sphere of the last twenty years. He was the one who had transcribed the holy words of the Prophet Graham. His glasses were matched by a silver signet ring bearing the Starry Cross of Fundamentalism and a large wristwatch engraved with well wishes from Graham.

    High over the stage, on a large screen never shown to the audience, hung a massive televisor screen connected to TWBA's control room. Every second of every broadcast was carefully and perfectly directed by TWBA to have maximum impact. Every action the Apostle did was greeted with the on-screen cues of "laugh," "applaud," or "weep." This was a mechanized church service, dedicated to the soul principle of bringing in as many tithes and donations as possible for the ministry. There was not a single word spoken or step taken that was not devised to capture the hearts of God-fearing Americans and get them to take their checkbooks out and write one to the Church. Graham's long-time private motto had been, "Get 'em twice. Get 'em on Sunday. Get 'em on Wednesday." What had begun as an upstart religious movement in Metropolis during the opening gambits of Manifest Climax was now a multi-billion dollar industry. When Graham took the reigns of the Church in 1949, his goal had been to make sure that the economic devastation wrought by over ten years of non-stop total war was turned around. "The Lord helps those who help their fellow comrades," had been the cry of Graham's ministry. "We are entering a bright, brand-new Pinnacle Future, when the wild lands of the South will be rightfully divided between God's Chosen People. We will all get out living space in this New Jerusalem, but until the final guerrillas are dealt with and until the radioactive zones clear up, we need to stick together and help each other out. Money donated through gifts of the spirits, however much you can afford, goes to help your fellow men and women who need help the most." Graham's ministry took advantage of the long-standing "Christian Charity" movement inside the AFC, which expected those well off or with more than enough to get by to donate a portion of their wealth to the Church, who would then divide up the spoils with the poor, out-of-work, war-wounded, and disabled. But in reality, much of the cash went straight to the Church, funding ever-more luxurious lifestyles for Graham, his cadre of personal friends, and high-ranking Church officials.

    Andrew was hardly free from this sin. He himself had enjoyed a lavish career as chief "televangelist" for TWBA and the AFC, owning several homes and vacation houses staffed and guarded by his own personal squadron of Zealots. Even now several Zealots people-watched as the crowd applauded, looking for any hint of a sleepy audience member or nonconformity or, even worse, a potential assassin. But unlike almost everyone else in the upper echelons of the Fundamentalist cult, Andrew was never as all-in as it seemed. He always questioned and doubted, right from the beginning. Of course, he could never voice these doubts if he wanted to keep his head, as speaking against the Prophet Graham was nigh unto treason in Chuck Oswald's New Jerusalem, a Christian caliphate stretching from Alaska to the Straight of Magellan. Even through all the doubts and depression, Andrew was still shilling for Graham, Church, and State every Wednesday night at seven, right after Krummhorn's cartoons and exercises in adolescent psychological manipulation. Even worse, like many, many members of Oswald and Graham's Kingdom of God on Earth, Andrew was cripplingly addicted to cocaine and alcohol, substances not only legal but encouraged "in moderation." Needless to say, it went a bit beyond "moderation," and Andrew was sure to take cocaine lozenges before every show to keep him energized, and then would take a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to bring himself down afterward, and when he went on tour every Patriot-Saints Day Season, it got even worse, and the drugs and alcohol were combined with harlots and late-night parties. It was a chaotic, unstable lifestyle that he was sure was taking years, if not decades, off his lifespan, not to mention his constant breathing problems and asthma ever since the Sootstorms of Manifest Climax.

    "I want to thank you all for joining us here tonight for the Apostle Andrew Old-Time Gospel Hour, wherever you may be across this vast New Jerusalem," Andrew said as he took center-stage, his game leg from his wound during the Miracle of '38 dragging behind him. He felt dizzy for a moment and noticed he was sweating far more than normal, but tried to play it off. "Heck, we've got viewers in Lincolnia courtesy of Broadcast Free Africa, and many more Christian brothers and sisters in the British Isles, Australia, Norway, Israel, and beyond. I also wish to give my undying gratitude and uplifted prayers to the members of the New United States Army, National Guard, Office of Racial and Religious Affairs, Navy, Marine Corps, and every other branch of this mighty nation's military that continues to fight every day for our beloved freedom, and for our Destiny ordained in the stars by Jehovah himself. We will start off tonight's show with a performance by Zion Baxter, the King of the New Canaan Sound, as he brings us his rendition of the sacred negro spiritual, 'Down By the Riverside.' Please welcome my dear friend and someone who I have literally watched grow up, Zion Baxter!"

    From stage right came a man so tanned he was almost brown, as he spent most of his time yachting on the Main. His long face was framed with thick black sideburns and a quaff of slicked hair on top, the fringe of which dangled in his face. He wore an all-white suit, gold double-breasted buttons glinting in the studio lights, and every finger had a ring. While Zion had been hot stuff for years, this was his first appearance on the Apostle Andrew show. As he strutted out onto the stage, the decorative chains on his black, gold-tipped cowboy boots made a jingly noise, almost like spurs. He smiled a wide, pearly-white smile, saluted, shook the hand of the Apostle and said in a charming Metropolitan drawl, "Quite a long way from that old cave in the Wilderness, huh, Your Grace?" He used the official pronoun for Andrew according to AFC doctrine, but Andrew hated it.

    Andrew's sweaty hand clutched Zion's and the room seemed to spin. Maybe he had taken one too many lozenges, or maybe drank a little too much whiskey the night before. He felt like garbage, despite the plastered-on charm and confidence, but he tried to make Zion feel welcome. "I'm sure glad to have you on finally, son. Your momma must be proud."

    Zion smiled even more as he grabbed a shiny, light brown guitar from a stage hand. "Yessir, and she sends her regards to you as well as to the Prophet, of course."

    Andrew's grin faded as he remembered the whole affair with July Constance Baxter. "Of course, son, I'll be sure to tell him that. He no doubt would tell me to tell you to tell her that he feels warm as well," Andrew replied, trying to use his awkward phrasing to push through the awkward silence. Thankfully, the microphone was not live at the moment, and the adulating noise of the choir and fanatical applause of the demented crowd covered up any strained conversation.

    Crew members were doing one final test of the audio equipment as Zion slung the guitar over his shoulder and asked Andrew, "Say, Your Grace, you don't look so hot. Are you feelin' sick?"

    Andrew's faded grin became a frown. "Uh, well, to be honest, no. It must have been something I ate. Pinnacle blood, though. I'll push through! Knock 'em dead, Zion!"

    The first note of "Down By the River Side" sounded from Zion's guitar as the microphone went live again and the crowd went absolutely wild. "I would like to thank His Grace, the Apostle Andrew, for havin' me on tonight, comrade-patriots! And I would also like to thank all the members of the American Fundamentalist Christian Church Zealot security force that have chosen to join us in the auditorium at this time! All hail, man!" And with that, the twanging gospel beebopper was off to the races, rocking and rolling with the rhythm of the old black spiritual, as Andrew dipped off stage.

    The Apostle barely made it behind the curtain before his already spinning room turned into a virtual gibbering merry-go-round. Wincing and barely standing up straight, he grabbed a nearby chair and threw himself down and ordered a stage hand to bring him some coffee. After a few sips from the plastic cup brought to him, he threw it to the ground in disgust. "Fluidation of the Nation! That tastes like piss! Do I look like I enjoy dirt-water, Elma?" he snarled at the petite young blonde woman in a green dress who apologized profusely through tears that made her thick layer of mascara run down her cheeks. "I only have two minutes until the kid's song is done and I have to drink this shit? Un-fucking-believable."

    Elma the assistant continued to cry pathetic tears as she tried to pick up the spilled plastic cup. "I am so, so sorry, Your Grace, sir. I thought I made it to your liking. I will immediately have a fresh cup brought to you, sir!"

    "I don't have fucking time for this horseshit or your bullshit excuses, girl! Get me some fucking cold water. Plain fucking cold water, can you do that, Elma?" Though she knew her tears had no effect on Andrew, she continued the downpour as she scrambled to fetch him his water. As he waited for his beverage, Andrew tried to regain his bearings, but to not much avail. For a moment, the decent side of him felt disgusted with himself for the way he treated the crew. The other part of him shrugged it off. They knew their jobs. He had been doing this show for twenty years. And if they couldn't get a simple cup of coffee right, then why were they here?

    Just as she brought him a cold glass that might as well have been filled with her own tears and sweat at this rate, a Zealot in a crisp crimson uniform saluted Andrew and said, "Your Grace, the Prophet wishes to speak with you on line one."

    Andrew's eyebrows shot up in a combination of surprise and confusion. Billy Graham hardly ever even talked to him anymore unless it was about profits and donation growth. They hadn't been close in years. "The Prophet? Well, of course, but I need to get back on in one minute."

    The Zealot's unnervingly unemotional face showed little interest, and the uniformed man said, "Baxter can do a second song. The Reverend-Colonel demands you answer his call."

    Barely able to shuffle over the black rotary phone bolted to the wall, Andrew asked the operator of the building's phone system to give him line one. "Hello, sir?"

    "Hello, Andy," came the calm and collected voice of Billy Graham, one of the most powerful men on earth, and Andrew's former best friend and college roommate. "You look terrible tonight. Are you fucking high again?"

    Andrew was shocked and stammered out a reply. "N-n-no, uh, Reverend-Colonel, sir, I, uh--"

    "--Bullshit, Andy," growled Graham, showing emotion suddenly. "You look like shit. You delivered your lines but you look about as collected as a hype behind a drug store. I let you get away with everything. I give you anything you want and let you be on TV every Wednesday and you dare do my fucking gospel hour while hyped? What's next? You gonna have that blonde number Elma give you a campground shakedown on stage in front of some Custer Youth? I see everything, Andy. Get. Your. Shit. Together. We go way back, man, we do. Back to the wasteland days, when we didn't have a scrap of pocket bacon between us. I love you like a brother. But if you embarrass me, my Church, and this country on international televisor again, I will put you out to pasture. You understand, Andy?"

    Sweat seeped from every sticky pour on his body as he heard his former best friend threaten to end his decades long career. After a moment, he answered Graham: "Yessir. Uh, yes, I understand. It will not happen again."

    "Better not, by Jev. All hail."

    Before Andrew could hail back, the other line clicked and Graham was gone. Not only would Andrew not be able to piece himself back together that night, it would turn out to be the last episode with Andrew as the host ever. Andrew stumbled back out onto the stage and sockdologized about scripture in a disoriented, nonsensical manner, Zion Baxter standing at his side, and after a few minutes he fell forward off the stage and into the orchestra pit, breaking his nose and sending him into unconsciousness. The show mercifully was broadcasted on a five-second delay, enabling the channels to cut the feed before the world could see the second highest-ranking official in Fundamentalism face-plant off a stage while high on a slurry of drugs and drinks. Instead, a gray screen appeared worldwide, the center of which bore an eagle logo and the phrase "Technical Difficulties. Please Stand By," until the time-slot was over, and a rerun of the Krummhorn show from earlier began. The newspapers played it off as Andrew feeling "under the weather." The next week, the show was hosted by Candy Johnson and Buckshot Settle, as it would be for the foreseeable future.

    Graham was going to throw Andrew to the wolves and blow the whistle about his addictions, but he worried how that would make the Church look as a whole and was concerned Andrew might in fact blow the whistle on his own... extracurricular activities. Not that he was genuinely worried about the public's reaction to such "nonsense," as they practically ate out of his holy hand, but just the idea of people questioning his own character or legitimacy kept him up at night. He was the Second Prophet and America was basking in the glow of Manifest Climax and the Church's coffers overflowed, and he did not need something as petty as a drug-addled old comrade going rogue, but he also didn't want to have him killed. It was just an unfortunate situation all around, as Graham saw it, and he decided the best solution was to fire Andrew from official duties and address it as a "well-earned early retirement due to health complications from servicing millions of Americans for over twenty years." Andrew "retired" to his estate near McClellan Point, Lewisiana, the former home of Huey Long, the proprietor of Kingfish Supermarkets. There he would throw himself into self rehabilitation, a last attempt to save himself from the clutches of his addiction. He would ultimately succeed, but in a bitter irony would be diagnosed with lung cancer in 1970, no doubt caused by inhalation of Black Bliss defoliant in the Sootstorms of the 1930s. He would be given three to five years to live.
     
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    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: INTERVIEW WITH THE COWBOY
  • At this point, some of you guys were probably about to create a massive conspiracy theory called "N Anon." "KEEP THE FAITH. UPDATES WILL COME SOON. IT'S ALL PART OF THE PLAN. YOU WILL ALL SEE HE'S NOT DEAD." XD Writing (and pretty much all my hobbies and passions) has gone through an intense rough patch ever since I experienced my breakup. It's tough finding joy anymore. I apologize for keeping everyone waiting, but in between all that, my anxiety about the world, and everything else in this crazy year, I just needed a month or two to relax. SO BACK TO MADNESS! This is a conclusion of the September 11th (geez, I let time slip away) update. While I was going to conclude the Rise of the Second Prophet saga with this chapter, I kind of lost concentration and track of my plans for how I was going to have Buckshot tell the story of the train heist "miracle." Fortunately, I have a new awesome chapter idea that will be a really cool final showdown and hopefully make it seem worth it, which I am already in the middle of. I also have drawn stuff up for the Halloween special, which we will just ignore isn't during halloween. XD I apologize again for being so out of the loop and missing comments and inboxes! It's just been a struggle lately. Jev-willing, I'm back full-time.

    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: INTERVIEW WITH THE COWBOY
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    The Crimson Rail 031

    The following was taken from the 1972 documentary film Metropolitan Memories: Dustbowl Daze, and was directed by Joseph S. Wallace of Lucky Duck Pictures. It was the first real documentary film to cover the stories of the everyday troopers and civilian and student volunteers fighting the Battle of Metropolis, the largest single civil disturbance in the Union since Custer came to power. The closing interview, however, was with a much more famous eyewitness and was the finale of the film. Wallace initially wanted the Second Prophet himself to sit down for an interview, but the director had to "settle" with someone of lesser stature, but by no means unimportant.

    The time has come for our most important interview of all. At the respectable age of 89, The Right Honorable William "Billy Buckshot" Settle has agreed to sit down for an interview with us to discuss the Miracle of '38 and the rise of the Second Prophet. Together with his late friend, the Right Honorable Malcolm "Candy" Johnson, they are two world-famous redeemed "Outlaw Angels," close friends of the Prophet Graham, and known by Americans as the host of the The Word Broadcasting Agency's Old-Time Gospel Hour since the Apostle Andrew's retirement from public life in 1964. The show has since gone on to feature rotating hosts since Candy Johnson's death from lung cancer in 1969.

    Settle's sits in a buffalo-hide throne of sorts, and his face shows the many decades and hardship he has endured. His eyes look foggy and he is nearly blind. His lower jaw shakes and trembles and his breath rattles inside his lungs. He says he knows he doesn't have much longer left in this world, and that's okay with him. Despite his advanced age and declining health, he still dresses as sharply as he did when he hosted the Gospel Hour. His fine white cowboy hat sits on the coffee table next to him, the same hat he became famous for on the televisor, its hatband coated in rhinestones. Some would call the flamboyant suit he is wearing a "Gamble Suit," from Carolina's ruling dynasty's tendency to wear similar suits. Settle calls it a "Nippon Tuxedo," as they are made in Holy Nippon in a strange sort of exaggeration of American western wear that looks more Yankee than what actual Yankees wear. The sharkskin suit he is sporting is immaculate, and the delicate and outrageous rhinestone- and bead-work sparkle like stars in the glimmer of the overhead chandelier.

    Settle calls his home "The Lodge." While that gives it the homely, Father Abe-esque sound he desires, it is far more "semi-tropical palace" than trapper post. When asked why he chose Candle Cove, Florida, as his new home, he replies, "I think y'all know I spent some time in Florida after the whole Century Falcon incident. We was a-layin' low, like. Hopin' and prayin' Carver would give up tryin' to find us and leave us be, and then the Great World War happened. I guess I grew to kinda like Florida then. I told ol' Candy one day I was gonna live here. Here I am." He gestures a shaky hand at the rather elaborate living room we are sitting in. Nearby windows look out over the Atlantic Ocean. Beach-goers a half-mile down the shoreline give Settle one dollar for entry onto his private beach-front property, known as Camp Settle. Local Custer Youth Brigadiers utilize the numerous buildings and structures for events, as well as the sunny waters for weekly swimming practice. "It ain't Krummhornland, by golly, but it's a rootin'-tootin' heck of a nice set-up I got here. I thank Jehovah Almighty I have this place to call mine. I have lived here for twenty years. I expect to die here. When I do, they're gonna take me five miles out to sea and dump my casket off the N.U.S.S. Buckshot Settle."

    He refers to the Lincoln-class atomic-powered aerocraft carrier named after himself. The hulking gray monstrosity of a ship displaces 94,000 tons and clocks in at over 1,000 feet long. Built in 1970, it is the newest ship to join Navy Group V, famed for enduring the murderous Neutrality Pact attack at Port Pierce, Cuba. Group V relocated to Candle Cove in 1937 while Port Pierce underwent reconstruction. Port Pierce was never reopened for official duties as a port, and is now the Point Pierce Historic Museum and Memorial, while Candle Cove serves as the beacon of American readiness in the Caribbean. A nearby framed leather bomber jacket--a gift from the New United States Navy to Settle--proudly bears the official logo of the carrier, with the phrase "AC-7: Guardians of the Caribbean Gateway" stitched over a stylized atom. The Settle is the seventh such atomic carrier in service to the New United States Navy. AC-6, the N.U.S.S. Candy Johnson, is its sister ship and virtual clone, and is anchored in Apocalypse, Oxacre--the same city where we interviewed Mr. Goldenrod two weeks ago--as part of Navy Group VIII, guarding the south-west shores of Old Mexico.

    As for why such a respected and noteworthy American citizen would aspire for burial at sea rather than to be enshrined in a tomb is a long story known by all Yankees who bother to do their civic duty to read the news. In 1970, his late comrade Candy Johnson's remains were stolen from his crypt by a group calling themselves "Necromancers for Jesus," who wished to "imbibe of Johnson's powers" through devouring his body in a sort of blasphemous cannibalistic communion. The group has been linked to wanted fugitive and heretic Sweeney Ericson, who calls himself "The Third Prophet" and authored the disgusting and long-banned 300-page tome known as the "Necrotic Manuscript." Many of America's famous public servants are incredibly disturbed by the thought of their eternal rest being interrupted by fiends wishing to turn their corpses into unholy edibles. We ask Settle briefly if this is the case. The elderly patriot smiles casually and replies, "The day they do to my body what they did to Candy's is goin' to be a cold day in hell, pardner. They are gonna encase me in concrete and dump me overboard to rest in Candle Cove till the Lord and the Patriot-Saints return."

    Our interviewer asks Settle how he is feeling as of late, rendering all due respect to such an honored figure, and easing him into the interview. A hoarse laugh escapes Settle's throat as he shows his pearly-white dentures and says, "I'm middlin', I suppose, pardner. I'm middlin'! Jehovah be praised for another day. That's all I can ask for. I don't expect to be among the land of the living much longer, but I am doin' my best, son. I surely am. I understand y'all have some questions for me about early days, right?" We nod. He continues, "Well, I'll do my best to dust out the cobwebs up in here, hah!" He raises a shaky pointer finger to his temple and taps. "I done told all my stories I rightly can remember over all these years, but I'll do my best to root around for ya, pard."

    A horse whinnies in the distance. It is one of Settle's many stallions he keeps at the Lodge. Despite their race-readiness and amazing conditioning, the horses are mere trophies, as Settle is long out of the saddle. He fell from Shortbread, his favorite steed, in 1970, and broke his hip. He miraculously recovered but he has stuck to riding around in his white 1979 Rollarite Apocalypto. The seats are a shimmery gold fabric and the chrome is tinted to match. Six headlights and a set of huge steer horns decorate the front of the armored beast's grille. Our cataract-afflicted host earlier drove our crew around in the lumbering behemoth in a guided tour of Candle Cove (what he could make out at least), before we sat down in the Lodge with the cameras rolling. A New Canaan gentleman, he believes in hospitality, and his treatment of our crew has been nothing less than grandfatherly. Despite his tongue-in-cheek declarations of forgetfulness, he knows (and we all know) that he is a man with many stories to tell, and Buckshot Settle tells some really fine tales.

    We ask him about how he and Johnson became involved with the Second Prophet. He smiles once more and replies proudly, "Second Prophet saved my filthy soul, pardner! I never was much for religion, foolish as I was, until Candy and I met the Second Prophet. I was lost in a world of vice and crime, a lot more concerned with what was between a girl's legs than what was between some holy book's cover. I drank and swore and stole and cheated. You might hear some stories now and then that me and Candy were murderers. That we never did. We didn't want to actually hurt anyone. We just lived wild lives doin' whatever we had to to make a buck and spread our fluids. But that was before Manifest Climax and the dust monsoons. By the time of the Second Prophet's arrival in Metropolis, I was a land-ownin' farmer. Had me a small number of acres and a beat up ol' Colonel Goodyear truck to my name. When the storms came, I, like many of us country folk, fled to Metropolis to take refuge. The valley it was in seemed to make the dust go around it, so it was safer there. Or at least, so we thought.

    "Anywho, pard, I was stayin' in a cheap hotel by this point. I thanked my lucky stars I was able to find one! Place was a filthy rathole. Moldy walls, no electric, but I was safe from the storms, and that was all that mattered. Now this was on McDonald Way, the Bowery of Metropolis, where all the hoods and urchins and ladies of the night lived. Someone recognized me. I don't know who. Somebody told ol' Candy Johnson his friend was in town. Two days into my stay, I had a knock at my door. I took out my revolver--I never went nowhere without my .44--and opened the door. There stood Candy, fit as a fiddle. We laughed and cried and slapped each other silly. Had a few Republicas and then sat down and talked about life and about the storms. Candy was practically running organized petty crime in Metropolis. Now, I'm not makin' no 'scuses for such behavior, but I wanna lay to doggone rest the stories that Candy was some sort of murderous cutthroat. He was not. There's a big difference between running prostitution, pick-pocketing, and card-sharking versus murders for hire. He never killed nobody. But yeah, so we caught up and had a good time."

    He stops for a moment to ding a small bell on the table next to him. A butler appears from down the hall, wearing a wide-lapel white suit and bowtie. "Yes, Master Settle?" the servant inquires in a thick Floridian accent.

    "Fetch me some Sweet Vic, will ya, Dalton?" our host orders the butler politely. After about two minutes, the servant, presumably named Dalton, appears once more with a bottle of soda and an opener shaped like a golden six-shooter. He pops the cap off the bottle of Sweet Victory Omega and sets the drink down on the coffee table. The 90 year-old cowboy picks it up and takes a long, slow swig. "All the cocaine, none of the calories!" he laughs while licking his thin, pruned lips. "Just a joke, of course. I'm with President Oswald, though. This stuff hasn't tasted the same since they took most of the good 'stuff' out. Now where was I, pardner?" The old man scratched his chin as he tries to get back on track. "Oh, yes! I told you how I ran into Candy again. After that happened, things were really starting to fall apart in Metropolis. Looting was breaking out all over the city, people were getting murdered by refugees and unprepared tourists. What a disaster. Anyway, Candy told me we should stick together. He always was lookin' out for me and he had never let me down, so I said 'sure.' Now, most of the rest of the time till the Graham Riots broke out was pretty uneventful for us. Perilous, but nothin' no different than you can hear from anyone else who lived through it. We survived. We had enough food. Candy's men were on guard at his house, 24/7, lookin' out for crazy people. Then the Graham Riots broke out when the local pharisees tried to arrest and exile the young Second Prophet from the city.

    "I didn't know much of him at the time. He was just some preacher kid on the radio. But Candy was a big fan from the start. He said 'this new preacher boy is givin' folks hope when they need it most, and they're trying to crush him.' Lots of Candy's 'employees' listened to Graham on WUSN 1050, too. There was even a revival of sorts goin' on with the good-time girls. A lot of them joined Tau-Rho and wanted to become nurses to help with the crisis." He refers to Tau-Rho, the volunteer nursing society formed during the Great World War that is now part of the Church's "Galatians 2:10 Initiative." Tau-Rho lives on in the form of its iconic Staurogram, the ancient symbol that now graces all American first aid kits--kits first packed by the hard-working ladies of Tau-Rho during the fateful years of the early 20th century. "So yeah, Graham was already a big deal to many, way before he ever revealed himself as a Prophet! He was a charismatic, youthful figure, just the type we needed to get us out of the sacrifice and dreariness of the Steele years and herald the dawn of the Pinnacle Future we now enjoy. Even if God had never used him as his prophet, I believe he would have still led us into the light and would have become Reverend-Colonel anyway. The man was and still is an undisputed genius, almost incomprehensibly intelligent and graced with a voice that you just can't help but listenin' to, because he never says anything that isn't important. Lots of Candy's boys and girls joined the march on the Church and helped free Graham from captivity. He went into hidin' in the Wilderness, where history wrote itself."

    As he drinks another swig of diet soda, we ask him about where he was when the Starry Wisdom Revolt occurred. He is silent for a moment before replying, "I was sleepin' off a hangover when I heard shots outside in the street. Not just the sound of rifles or pistols, like we were used to by that point, but like an actual war was goin' on. Full-auto grinders, grenades, the works. It was a bloodbath. Some nutjob named Pennington who was the regional manager for the Overton Security Agency had started a heretical rebellion against everything that is right. It was repugnant. Good men and women were being killed by this radical lunatic and his mob of hired and starving guns. Real Americans stick together in tough times, when the chips are down. Traitors and scum reveal themselves during those same moments as opportunistic spawn of the devil. Now, this Pennington hick, he said he was a son of the Blind Christian Gentleman. This may or may not be true, and it doesn't matter, although I like to think no son of Tobias could ever be such a morally repugnant jackanapes, especially when HOST was laying down their all fighting the Cuban Insurrection at this same time."

    He is referring to the Holy Order of the Sons of Tobias, a militant and monastic order of Zealots all sharing the same progenitor in the Blind Christian Gentleman. Today, Tobiasson, or Tobiason, is one of the most common last names in the nation, a lasting testament to a peak example of Anglo-Saxon-Teutonic Christian fluidation. HOST responded to the Neutrality Pact-aided rebellion of corporate property and unpersons with total commitment and courage, giving their all and showing that not only the Union was fully committing to the conflict, but the Church as well. Over the next fifteen years, until President Oswald recalled them home, they held Cuba in a vice-grip, until the island was granted regular statehood and the last vestiges of Inferiors were eliminated in 1952.

    "The last thing this country needed was another rebellion along with Cuba. Some folks joined Pennington out of desperation or out of genuine belief he was some sorta sky--guru. I barely understand to this day what he was goin' on about, but evidently he thought he was some sort of modern Constantine and that the stars had 'spoken to him,' whatever that means, and told him to build a new order because the end of the world was comin'. While I will say things were rather grim back then, I'm sure you can tell that we are still here and Pennington is most certainly not. At any rate, Pennington believed HE was the Second Prophet, and that there was someone called "He-Who-Is-To-Come" that needed to be found and killed before it was too late. He was still tryin' to figure out who that was when he went down. But we'll get to that soon enough, I reckon."

    Settle smiles casually at us and sits back for a moment to finish his soda. "Goodness, I haven't talked this much in ages. Bear with me, pardners." We patiently wait for him to continue. He sighs and licks his purplish, cracked lips. His jowls droop over the collar of his dress-shirt and he takes a deep breath. "Anyway, Graham had a plan. Graham always has a plan. I swear, if you stood by his side against ten thousand enemies, you'd feel sorry for the ten thousand enemies. Graham might not have had ten thousand enemies just yet, y'know, but he did have the Elders of the Metropolis Church against him since he had escaped the clutches of their tyranny. He had been on the run a longgg time, yessir, buildin' up his support and ministry in the caves on the outskirts of the city, healing the sick and making the blind see. When Candy figured out where the Prophet was, he told me that we were gonna ride out and meet this holy man and save our souls. Candy couldn't stand what Pennington was doing to this country and he wanted to do somethin' about it. When he and Graham met, boy, it was fate, the divine hand of Jev, for sure. Both men wanted to clear their names. So did I. Some started comparing us to the Three Crucified, and the holy man was offering up redemption. I wasn't totally convinced yet this young man was the hero he was being made out to be, as he looked a tad bit green around the gills, but I wanted to give him a chance. If Candy trusted him, so did I.

    "The plan was to hijack the Overton supply train from Lapham. Now if that sounds a might bit complicated and like it might involve some advanced tactics, you are not mistaken. That train was considered impossible to take with conventional manpower. You'd need to derail it, shell it with some major artillery or bomb it from the sky--and that would defeat the whole purpose of why we even wanted it! We wanted that train because it had many tons of supplies desperately needed by our fellow patriots but it was being delivered for Pennington's flock. So it had to be taken without damaging the train itself too much. And therein lies the tale. I tell you, that night that we took the Crimson Rail 031 was every bit of the divine hand of Jev as all the rest. No one should have had the 'luck' we did, and it wasn't 'luck' at all. We all know of the Miracle of '38. It was all Jehovah acting through his new Prophet.

    "The mornin' of July 5, 1938, I said my prayers. I didn't expect us to succeed, but I felt an unshakable urge to -try-. We set up at what they now call Prophet's Pass, but back then it was called Papist's Junction, on account of it bein' the site of the ruins of an old Papist church and, well, a junction. It was where the track could either go to City of Tomorrow Train Station, on the west side of town and firmly in the grip of Pennington, or Cumberland Station, which was mostly a stronghold for militias fighting back against him. We were gonna take the 031 to Cumberland come hell or high water, pardner. We couldn't just switch the rails. They could just back that steel-plated behemoth up, fight us off, and switch the rails again. If we tore up the rails, it again would do no good. We had to stop that train before it got to the damn switch. That was when the Prophet stood up and took total control. He said he would trust Jehovah and show us the way. We never could have guessed what was about to happen...."
     
    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET: THE MIRACLE OF '38
  • Help me find a worthy chapter picture for this update!

    RISE OF THE SECOND PROPHET:
    THE MIRACLE OF '38

    May 3, 1960
    Museum of the Miracle
    Metropolis, New Canaan, New United States of America


    Orson Roland, a bright young lad of 12, kept the pace alongside his fellow 7th grade Custer Youth Brigadiers as they followed their history teacher, Mr. Watson, through the halls of the Museum of the Miracle. They were in downtown Metropolis, at the heart of the city. It was a city very much American in flavor but far different from what Roland and the other Kissimmee area boys were used to. Kissimmee was cultured, mannered, and altogether more dignified than the hubbub currently surrounding them. Metropolis still had its towering skyscrapers and monuments, but it also had beat-up jallopies running amuck through the streets. It had slums and ghettos, something which President Oswald was working hard to destroy and erase. But above all it had this certain country-fried, weather-beaten, aesthetic that was hard to put a finger on. The fact that the people here had been fighting and scraping together for decades to rebuild after the Starry Wisdom Revolt and the damage done during the Sootstorms was obvious.

    Orson could tell a survivor just from the way they looked at outsiders. One man they passed in the hall of the museum was wearing overalls, a button-up white shirt, and a weather-beaten fedora. On his face were deep creases, and under his eyes were bags the size of quarters. On the chest pocket of his overalls hung a medal depicting a silver eagle clutching a cactus flower, marking him for meritorious civilian service during the Starry Wisdom Revolt. He was gently running his hand over bronze plaques marking the names of deceased freedom fighters who helped end Pennington's nightmare. The old man turned and looked at the Custer Youth Brigadiers, locking eyes with Orson for a moment before glancing at the Florida flag patches sewn onto their sleeves. He scowled, and gave them a nasty look. Like many others citizens of Old Mexico and especially New Canaan, they had begun thinking of themselves as more American than other regions of the country. To have a bunch of bubblegum-chewing Pinnie punks from Florida come stomping around the hallowed halls of their monument was almost an insult. These children had no idea what hardship and sacrifice were. They were born into the land of plenty, reaping what the old guard had sewed. The old man bit his tongue and turned his head back to the plaques.

    Mr. Watson, a black man with a short, close-cropped haircut and a pair of horned-rim glasses ordered the class to halt in front of a large glass display case. The centerpiece of the display was a large brass bell. "Does anyone know what this is, Brigadiers?"

    Tommy Lawrence, a stubby young blonde boy raised his hand. "Sir, it's the bell of the 031, the train liberated by the Second Prophet and brought to feed the starving people of the city, sir." Orson snickered at the young man, always the class know-it-all, who currently had a ball of snot hanging from the end of his nose. Tommy had been having one hell of an allergy attack since arriving in Old Mexico.

    Mr. Watson smiled, nodded, and then gestured for Tommy to wipe his nose, causing the rest of the twenty or so children to giggle. "That is correct, Tommy. This bell was the very one that the Second Prophet rang in celebration as he pulled the liberated 031 into the city. Can anyone tell me which station it was?" Several children raised their hands, and Mr. Watson picked Tobias Greene at random. "Yes, Brigadier Greene?"

    A handsome young black boy promptly answered, "Cumberland Station, sir."

    "Correct!" beamed Mr. Watson, rubbing his hands together. "Cumberland was held by the resistance and law enforcement. At the time of the Miracle of '38, they were about to collapse against the onslaught of Starry Wisdom traitors. If the Second Prophet and his allies had not captured the 031, there is a very good chance that all of Metropolis would have been crushed under Pennington's boot. Let us move on to the next display."

    Several civilians were standing contemplating the next display, but they made room for the children. It was a massive painting, at least twelve feet tall and about twenty four across, in a modernist style depicting, at its center, a young man in a preacher's collar heaving a portly fellow with a mustache off of a balcony of some sort. On the left side of the painting was a depiction of the Metropolis skyline, with dozens of people being thrown from windows and balconies as well. On the right side, hundreds of Union soldiers marched through the battered city gates, the Stars and Stripes flying high above them. Orson was a fan of art and media of all sorts, and was hoping his teacher would ask about it.

    He wasn't disappointed when Mr. Watson asked the group, "Who can tell me about this painting?"

    Orson's hand shot up faster than a rocket to the moon and he proudly said, "Sir, I can! It's the Defenestration of Metropolis by Bernard Althoff, painted in 1958 to honor the 20th anniversary of the Miracle of 1938."

    Mr. Watson nodded eagerly and said, "Ah, yes, young Orson! Always the art fan. Tell us more if you can." Mr. Watson was a great teacher who encouraged his students to push themselves and learn more about their personal passions and how they could better serve the state with them.

    "Well, the Prophet Graham is depicted here flinging the False Prophet Pennington from the balcony of the Wentworth Hotel, which was Pennington's command center. That side on the left shows the people of the city rallying and tossing the other traitors into the streets as well. On the right is the Union Army arriving to fully bring the city back under control. It is painted in Althoff's signature style, which has become frequently copied by other artists. Heck, sir, even I have drawn it myself from pictures."

    "It's a masterpiece!" agreed Mr. Watson, raising his finger upward to drive the point home. "It has been called one of the great American works. I'm proud to see it in person finally. Thank you, Orson, for your explanation. You will have to show the class your copy of this painting sometime. Let us continue!"

    The next display was around the corner. The dozens of pairs of glossy, polished Brigadier dress shoes clacked against the marble floors.While they walked, Orson spotted various interesting inlaid mosaics in the walls. One was another, much larger version of the symbol on the old farmer's medal: a giant bald eagle clutching a cactus flower, both surrounded by a wreath of flames. Underneath it was a bronze plaque inscribed with the words, "Igne natura renovatur integra," meaning "Through fire, nature is reborn whole." This referenced both the Sootstorms and also the fires of revolution and counter-revolution that swept through the city, leading to not only a rebrirth of Metropolis, but also of American Fundamentalism under the Prophet Graham. The students all looked up at the mosaic and gave a stiff-arm salute, all well aware of its symbolic purpose.

    Just around the corner was a sarcophagus upon a marble plinth. A portrait of an elderly man with white hair and a thin mustache sat upon a wooden easel before it, and an American flag sat folded up into a triangular case at the base of the plinth. Two Zealots in crispy crimson uniforms stood on either side, rigid and alert. "This, children," said Mr. Watson with a stoic face and a tone of respect, "Is the final resting place of Patriot-Saint and Martyr Chick Sheffield. He who stopped the train. He who gave his life so that others might live. It was Patriot-Saint Sheffield who made sure that the way for others was safe. He rode alongside the 031 with a horse laden with explosives. When he gave his life, the hole blown through the armor of the train was enough for the Second Prophet and his followers to exploit. Using this weakness, they were able to accompany it with shock and surprise to overpower the Starry Wisdom traitors inside and take control of the train. Jehovah used Patriot-Saint Martyr Sheffield to bring about his will. Even the lowest among us can give the last full measure of devotion. What makes Patriot-Saint Martyr Sheffield so interesting is the fact that the first time they met, during the Second Prophet and the Apostle Andrew's first journey to New Canaan, Patriot-Saint Martyr Sheffield and the Second Prophet had a religious debate wherein Patriot-Saint Martyr Sheffield dismissed the Prophet Graham's newly formulated doctrine of universal martyrdom offhandedly. Ironic, as he now rests in Heaven as a martyr himself, canonized by the Church. Can someone tell me an another interesting fact about this hero?"

    Elizabeth Wilkinson raised her hand and said, "Yessir, he was the first husband of Lady Graham, the Second Prophet's wife. After he died, the Second Prophet took her as his own to honor the memory of his friend."

    Nodding, Mr. Watson replied, "Yes indeed, Elizabeth. What greater way to honor a brother in arms than to take his widow as your own? Truly, the love the Prophet Graham knows no bounds. They have a child about your age right now! Benjamin Franklin Graham. While it is very sad that the Patriot-Saint Martyr Sheffield is not around to physically see what has become of his sacrifice, he is watching. Numerous ectoplasmic sessions over the years have placed the Second Prophet and the Lady Graham in contact with his spirit, and he is at peace and proud to be the catalyst for such an amazing historical and spiritual event. All hail this Man of Destiny and all hail the Pinnacle Ichor that flowed through his veins!"

    "All hail!" came the chorus of cries, salutes, and heel-clicks. Orson joined in, of course, doing his damnedest to to shout louder than all the others. The two Zealots on guard duty also snapped crisp salutes in return.

    The assortment of displays and memorials was dizzying and went up five stories. One of Orson's favorites was a beat-up 1920s pickup truck, covered in bullet holes, and with a belt-fed grinder mounted to a stand in the back. It was Candy Johnson's "War Wagon," used during the assault on the train. The fact that such a vehicle, not to mention its passengers, withstood constant fire from the 031 was nothing short of amazing. According to the stories, Candy Johnson drove, while Graham rode in the passenger seat. Buckshot Settle stood in the back, manning the gun. While Johnson suffered two bullets in the right shoulder and the Second Prophet was grazed, all passengers miraculously survived. Truly, Jehovah was in control that day. The whole capture of the 031 was so fantastic and legendary, and it put Orson in awe to see the actual relics of this fateful moment in history.

    Another popular display was the blood-soaked, mangled uniform of the Traitor Pennington. Mr. Watson asked his pupils, "Who can tell me about the last day of this lecherous enemy of the state?"

    Tommy once again piped up, this time his nose not dripping snot but his voice still an annoying nasal. "Sir, I can. After leaving the supplies at Cumberland Station, the Second Prophet rallied the, uh, people. They, um, they marched on the hotel where Pennington was and chucked him out a window when the planes came."

    Mr. Watson chuckled lightly and said, "Thank you, Tommy. But that's only part of it. After resupplying Cumberland Station, the Second Prophet was welcomed as a Pinnacle Hero by the people, who threw the poorly-fluidated disgraceful Elders out of the city, ending his status as a fugitive. Using his legendary charisma and outstanding leadership skills, Graham united the people of Metropolis, from the farmers and busboys on up to the soldiers and bankers, into a force that told Pennington 'we are sick and tired of your treason.' They patched the 031 up, loaded it up with fighters, and steamed over to the City of Tomorrow Station. The Republican Union Aeroforce and loyalist patriot elements of the Overton Agency had commenced a bombing operation of the Starry Wisdom strongholds at the same time. Despite risking getting blown to kingdom come, the Second Prophet led the attack, blowing the whistle of the 031 as it roared on into the station, announcing the final reckoning had arrived. Fighting raged for the next two days, with massive losses on both sides. But the Second Prophet and his followers fought on! Room by room! House by house!"

    Mr. Watson's voice shook with inspired emotion as he pounded his fist into his other hand at every word to add emphasis. "They cleared out the treasonous vermin and stormed the Wentworth Hotel, trapping Pennington in the upper levels. At 5:03, on July 10, 1938, freedom fighters broke through the final resistance and took Pennington prisoner. For his crimes against the state, President, and Jehovah, Graham throttled him by the neck before flinging him out of a nearby balcony window. The tyrant's body had to be poured out of the uniform you see before you. Legend has it that every July 8, you can see the ghostly apparition of Pennington falling from the balcony, doomed to relive his final, terrifying moment as part of his eternal infernal punishment. Pennington's defenestration marked the beginning of the end for the rebellion, and Overton men began to surrender in their masses, even in the sewers and the Metropolitan Tunnel System which they had held so tenaciously. With Pennington the False Prophet a mere splatter on the pavement, their will to fight was gone. Cut off the head, and the rest of the snake dies. This was the real Miracle of '38. It was not merely the taking of an armored train full of soldiers against impossible odds. It was not merely the taking of an armored train and replenishing the true freedom fighters against impossible odds. It was doing both those things, rallying a city, deposing an illegitimate and blasphemous tyrant, and opening the gates for the military to finally arrive and wipe out the last vestiges of the disgusting insurgency." Let us ascend to the fifth floor, students, and behold what happens to traitors!"

    Slowly, the entire group of children marched up the marble steps to the fifth and final floor of the Museum of the Miracle. A sign above the main entrance to the central chamber read, "Thus Always to Traitors!" and depicted a clenched fist wielding a cactus flower. Unlike the other levels of the museum, which consisted of spiraling hallways full of exhibits, this level was one giant room, the ceiling some fifty feet high. Blue lights shined down from above like stars. Orson grew almost dizzy from looking up. The ceiling was also stair-stepped, which gave an illusion of an almost infinite height that messed with Orson's eyes as well. But the main exhibit was what was on the floor. The entire floor covered in an epoxy, keeping the contents underneath in place and protected. Underneath the acrylic, though, was the most horrific sight Orson had ever seen in all his young life. The entire floor, which had to have been at least 60 feet by 70 feet, was covered in human skulls, many of which had severe trauma or chunks missing. They were neatly arranged into stripes, with bits and pieces of other bones mixed into the gaps. They had all been perfectly bleached, and the blue lights from above made every detail quite clear. All the students gasped. They had all heard stories about the "Treason Room," but had never actually seen it. In the center of the room stood a statue of the Second Prophet, his jaw squared and his mane slicked, and his arm was the Sword of Destiny. The Sword was plunging into the chest of a man in an Overton uniform who had a demonic, howling, agonized face. Suspended from the ceiling was a depiction of the Njarl, the Angel of Destiny, his hands clutched over Graham's, driving the sword into the man's heart. It was plain and clear to see what this meant, even to a group of 12 year olds, but it was nevertheless spelled out letters etched into the base of the morbid statue:

    "What is done in the Dark shall be brought to the Light."

    Orson swallowed hard. It was breathtaking. A sea of traitors, their heads made into stepping stones for Pinnacle Men to trod to behold the memory of their defeat and extinction. Like an old time Mongol warlord, Joseph Steele wasn't the type to take rebellion lightly. Not a single man who surrendered following Pennington's death was granted a prison sentence. Every single last one was executed without hesitation, most by single bullets to the forehead, made obvious by the condition of the skulls. Aside from their skulls being preserved for morbid tile-work, the rest of their bodies were incinerated in enormous bonfires and industrial ovens. The people of Metropolis had no more patience for these backstabbers, and they wanted to exterminate the entirety of this treasonous infestation from their city. Over the last couple decades, Metropolis, New Canaan, and Old Mexico as a whole continued to play up to stereotypes marking them as less educated, hard-drinking, fast-living cowpokes living a life more Pinnacle than all other regions of the country. They had been through hell and survived. Why shouldn't they be proud? Life was often short, fast, and loud. Why shouldn't they go out with bangs? Their fathers and mothers had fought the largest uprising the Union had ever seen since the rise of the Manifest Destiny Party. Their region was the stomping grounds of the Second Prophet, a man tertiary only to Jesus Christ and Aaron Burr to most Americans. The American Empire, the New United States that President Oswald was supplying with good times and rampant wealth, was built on the backs of Old Mexico.

    It was at that moment that Orson understood the scowling old farmer, in that he would never understand that scowling old farmer. He couldn't imagine living through all that had befallen this city, state, and region. When the travel commercials famously said, "Visit Old Mexico: it's like a whole 'nother country," they weren't joking. A region poisoned by chemical dust storms and vastly depopulated by said storms and one of the largest wars in human history (in the form of Operation: Manifest Climax) had reforged itself into an economic powerhouse and was the site of the world's first nuclear energy plant, the rights to which Governor Zeke T. Oglethorpe had secured the following spring and was currently under construction. It had come a long way, and it would be very interesting indeed to watch its future evolutions.

    Mr. Watson led the group of children back down the steps in silence, not saying a word.
     
    CATCHING UP: THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
  • CATCHING UP: THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
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    League of Nation propaganda poster

    As we catch up where we last left off on the war itself, we find the Union in a hard-fought slog, barely able to move the needle against the Neutrality Pact for the entirety of 1937 and going well into 1938. Chuck Oswald and Reginald "Lazarus" Hubbard were marooned in the jungles of Gran Colombia with a handful of shipwrecked men of the R.U.S. Cape Cod, butchering and razing villages behind enemy lines and attaining folk hero statuses. Australian "Kanga" troops, under Field Marshal Thomas Shelley, arrived in the Canal Zone in early 1937, reinforcing the area and helping to sift through the rubble, even participating in the Defenestration of Metropolis when the Union military took back official control of the rebellious cityscape. Despite radio broadcasts and newspapers promising the flight of Neutie troops and the devastation of America's enemies, the reality was far grimmer. Yankee efforts at using the Black Bliss chemical defoliant weapon backfired with the monsoon season's arrival, blowing 100-foot tall clouds of carcinogenic chemicals and other harmful particulates onto the soil of Old Mexico. An attempted occult revolution known as the Starry Wisdom Revolt was finally crushed by freedom fighters under the command of the Second Prophet, William Graham, who launched the Revolt's leader off of a hotel balcony to his death.

    Late 1938 would finally see a bit of a turn in the tide. With Metropolis back under control and the war taking a huge tole on the Neutrality Pact, Gran Colombia's government collapsed in October of 1938. While this also marked the entry of Eduist Brazil into the fray out of fear for its safety rather than actual love of its neighbors, this was the morale-booster that Steele and Supreme Marshal Acme Ashton so long desired. In truth, this likely saved Ashton from an "unfortunate demise" like that of Ambrose Jansen. The rescue of Chuck Oswald, Lazarus Hubbard, and the surviving sailors of the R.U.S. Cape Cod in a daring operation led by Richard Nixon and Franklin "Full Metal" Johnson. Nixon, while still a civilian and current "Playboy King of Kissimmee," also was the self-proclaimed "greatest pilot alive," and was frequently seen flying the skies of the Deep South in his chromed-out aeroplane appropriately named "Lucky Duck." The heir to the largest motion picture company in the world had been trying to court Joseph Steele's daughter, Wyetta, but she remained infatutated and obsessed with her last boyfriend, Chuck Oswald. When news broke that Chuck was still alive and was waiting for a rescue deep in the jungle, Nixon resigned himself to defeat and instead offered to lead the expedition himself. "If anyone can land a plane in that terrain, Nixon can, toots," he said of himself in the third person. He did indeed land the small miitary craft and the Cape Cod's men were finally going home.

    In the Britannic Union, General Director Winston Churchill, an American agent who had taken the highest dictatorial position in the British Isles, experienced a break from reality, murdered his Director of Propaganda Phil Kent, who was aware of Churchill's duplicitous Order 78 that would hand over Britannic sovereignty to America. A palace coup led by Deputy Director Clement Atlee had tried to peacefully remove Churchill, but a naked Director-General was shot while attempting to assault Atlee in his office. This left the B.U. in a precarious position, and while Atlee tried to shore up power in his own name, Ullapool Chemical Command (under Beckie Flu vaccine hero Joseph Finch) moved closer and closer to developing the Operation Cromwell biological superweapon. While Churchill had pressed for OpCrom to be ready in 1937 come hell or high water (he had instructed Dr. Finch to "cordially take his concerns and throw them out the nearest window"), Atlee ordered work to slow and for all due safety protocols to be followed as the Britannic Union prepared to "finally annihilate the Irishman from the face of the earth." The Britannic Union maintained troops in West Germania, especially in the capital of Hamburg, and also in Mittelafrika and participated in the pacification of the Cuban Insurrection (1936-1942) and the subsequent Operation Tropic Thunder (1942-1952)--the occupation of the reconquered island and the purging of any remaining Inferiors. While the Holy Order of the Sons of Tobias would be the main fighting force in Cuba during these events, leaving the Grand Army and ORRA to fight in South America, the B.U. lost the second-largest amount of casualties in that sunny Caribbean paradise.

    The Confederation of the Carolinas, still under the playboy Chancellor Adelbert Upjohn "Johnny" Gamble VI, was experiencing a period of unparalleled growth, possibly the only member-state of the League of Nations to experience a bull market during the first few years of Operation Manifest Climax. While thousands of troopers flocked to the call of South American adventure and became future walking baskets of cancer due to the biological weapons used there, still more were steaming across the waters of the Atlantic to Africa, where growth in Jacksonland, the Carolinian Corridor, and Yonderland continued. Foreign troops, mostly consisting of Cokie boys, fought in the Handhunter Legions propping up Mittelafrika's Fuhrer, Reinhardt von Bachenheim, in his struggle against "Congo King" Opulo Odika, a native warlord seeking to become Emperor of Mittelafrika. Carolinian scientist Dr. Herman William "Big Bill" Jennings proposed the Congo Sea Project, to flood the Congo Basin and wipe out millions to create the world's largest man-made lake in what was also the world's largest human engineering project. Von Bachenheim saw himself barely able to retain power most days and had far too much territory to properly control, and so he agreed that the project would in fact be the best solution. So deep was Dr. Jennings' power that some called him the "Shadow Fuhrer."

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    "Shadow Fuhrer" Cokie scientist Herman William "Big Bill" Jennings

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    Fuhrer von Bachenheim

    While native tongues still far outnumbered white settlers in Mittelafrika, English was becoming every bit as widespread as German, and even most German citizens spoke some degree of English. Some hardline Germano-centrists took offense at this, calling increasing Carolinian, American, and Britannic influence "foreign subversion." In mid-1937, the Germans First Party (Deutsche Erste Partei) was founded in the capital of Kappsburg, demanding the eradication and enslavement of black tribes and the eviction of non-German-speaking white citizens to "to create a new German Fatherland." While they at first agreed to work with Fuhrer von Bachenheim, over time their tone became more rebellious and insolent, prompting the late 1938 ban on all political parties aside from the ruling Reichs Partei. This only served to escalate tensions in the unstable Reich, and the "Headhunters" began to slaughter supports of the Germans First Party. In Kappsburg, many began to decry von Bachenheim as "a tool of the decadent fascist West," and accused him of "selling out Mittelafrika before it even had a chance to shine." The war against the Congo King would continue indefinitely, as would the roundups and slaughter of enemies of the state. A time bomb was ticking away in Mittelafrika.

    In Holy Nippon, things were very interesting indeed. Dictator-General Arthur MacArthur had ruled with an iron fist since the death of John Splendidfaith in 1914. MacArthur said in early 1915, "I am no President or emperor, I am a Dictator-General. I serve at the pleasure of the President. Holy Nippon is under direct rule from Philadelphia, not from myself. I merely humbly carry out the instructions of Party, Atheling, and President to the utmost of my ability." He worked entirely under Steele's thumb and hugely advanced the state's anti-Nipponese culture policies, demanding conformity to American ways or else. While Splendidfaith had sought to join Nipponese and American cultures under a Christian banner, MacArthur sought to create a "mini-America." His efforts to rid the island nation-state of anything deemed "Un-American" led to the creation of the Holy Nipponese Council on Un-American Activities in 1923, with his son Lincoln MacArthur at the helm of the twenty-seat agency to snuff out "subversive" citizens. His other most important action was the seizure of Sakhalin Island in 1920 during the Russian Civil War, which he renamed Washington Island. The independent Sakhalin Island Republic had set itself up in the chaos, leaving it an easy target for an expansionist MacArthur. Later that year, when Russia's civil war ended and Oleg Volkov became Protector of the Russian People, he demanded "Washington Island" back, which Holy Nippon promptly refused. Rather than risk war with America, the Russians dropped the matter but did not forget or forgive it.

    When Arthur MacArthur died in 1927 at the age of 82, Steele placed 47-year-old Lincoln MacArthur in power as Dictator-General. While his father may have despised native Nipponese, Arthur was more pragmatic. He tried to tone down the persecution and offered a "chicken in every pot" promise to end starvation on the island. Agriculture was abysmal there for much of his father's rule due to Steele demanding its rice crops to feed his bloated armed forces. The Second Chinese Civil War (1933-1955) plunged Mainland Asia into chaos. Qing Emperor Puyi was found dead in his chambers in 1930, likely of a remaining strain of Beckie Flu. Without access to huge quantities of vaccine, China never fully recovered from the Beckie Flu until herd immunity occurred somewhere around the early 1940s. In a blackly humorous similarity to what happened when Custer died of the same ailment, the Imperial Household Department decided that the best course of action was to deny Puyi's death and pretend that everything was fine, all while facing growing calls in various regions for secession. When the truth finally leaked out of the Forbidden City that the Emperor was a corpse, the Second Civil War erupted. Firebrand, populist young lawyer Mao Tse-tung declared himself Hongxian Emperor and offered a "blossoming future of democratic-imperial rule," to which half the country said, "Hell no." By 1938, most of the country had fractured, and MacArthur saw his opportunity to shine. While both were part of the League of Nations, Holy Nippon signed the Alliance of the Nippon Sea with the Republic of Corea and created a joint "Exploratory Task Force" to conquer parts of mainland China. This also opened up new trade deals with Corea that further helped stave off the agricultural nightmare in Nippon. While we shall learn more about the Chinese Civil War and the breakup of China into a plethora of nation-states in later chapters, this brief summary is helpful to understand the situation on the ground for the League of Nations and the Alliance of the Nippon Sea. While Steele was dubious on the ETF and wanted all focus put on South America, his successor Charles Oswald would eventually order full League of Nations involvement in the conflict in 1950.

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    Dictator-General Lincoln MacArthur

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    Holy Nipponese troops participate in the Chinese Civil War (1940s)

    In West Germania (officially known as the Germanian Republic), by far the weakest of any of the League of Nations member-states, Wolfgang Kapp, the titan of the nation, passed away in 1938. He was 80 years old and still in great health, but a case of food poisoning brought him down and destroyed his body within a week. Some accused Illuminist agents of assassinating him, but rather than spend its time witch-hunting as always, the Republic's government in Hamburg knew it had to get its act together to keep itself from fracturing. Kapp was a behemoth of a man, and that fact cannot be understated. American historian James Carter said of Kapp in his 1969 work Iron Wolfgang: "Wolfgang Kapp, it is my firm belief, was the only thing that kept all of central Europe, a beacon of Teutonic Christian culture, from succumbing to the godless hordes of the East." Upon Kapp's death, his right-hand man Hermann Ehrhardt became Reichsprasident, only to be assassinated in 1939 by a disgruntled Army veteran.

    The Republic looked to an uncertain future as an emergency election swept young Alois Decker into power. Decker was a well-respected veteran Handhunter who had been fighting in the Mittelafrikan Civil War against the Congo King and called himself "The Happy Warrior." His good looks and charisma made him a darling of the gutter press, as did his love affair with a third cousin of George Custer. As tensions heated up between the New Holy Roman Empire, the Illuminist Bloc, and Europa throughout the 1930s and 40s, Decker had to walk a fine line to avoid bringing his country into various entanglements. The economy was... rough, to say the least, and civil unrest was rife as the various major powers attempted to influence the population. Decker also faced a crisis in 1939, when Kaiserin Erika finally passed away in Finland, leading to the collapse of the so-called Empire of Germania there. While many called for political union with West Germania and feared Illuminist revolution there, the population was traditionally monarchist and full of Russian expatriates that loathed Illuminism. Rather than join the fascist block, the short-lived Sovereign Free Territory of Finland offered its throne to Sweden's King Gustaf V. While Sweden was an "Honorary League Member-State," it was mostly concerned with trade and the like and remained politically neutral. Gustaf feared at first that the rest of the League would eliminate his trade deals and foreign aid and so at first turned down the throne. However, a few days later the League snubbed West Germania for reasons of political expediency and gave its blessing for the political union. Finland entered into union with Sweden on New Years Day, 1940.

    In 1944, Reichsprasident Decker faced a terrible scandal when his mistress Brunhilda Mueller was revealed to be an Illuminist agent. Mueller was executed for treason and mobs began to flock around the Bundesgesetzgebung (Federal Legislature), the capitol building of the Republic, demanding Decker's resignation and worse. Decker, formerly the press's golden boy, now faced disgrace. He ordered the military and police to mobilize to "put down a rebellion" on February 9. The Carolinian ambassador, Humphrey Ward, acting on behalf of Joe Steele and the rest of the League of Nations, called Decker directly and ordered him to stand down and resign or face immediate action. Decker stepped down an hour later and fled the country back to parts unknown. Some reports say he lived out the rest of his life in Norway's Iceland, as photographs were taken of an elderly man in 1968 at a local grocer in Hellnar, Iceland, and printed in American tabloids definitely resembled an aged Decker.

    When Decker resigned, emergency elections were once again held and Wilhelm Friedrich Burst was inaugurated. An elderly statesman of the old Kapp school and a veteran of the Germanian Civil War's Lutheran Brigades, he was palatable for all parties involved, including Joe Steele. Whereas Decker was a womanizing celebrity in his prime, Burst was essentially a nonentity, a blank slate that did whatever his masters in Philadelphia commanded. He would also preside over the secret installation of American nuclear warheads in West Germania during the early 1950s, leading to one of the gravest diplomatic episodes in years.

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    Prime Minister Alois Decker "The Happy Warrior"

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    Prime Minister Wilhelm Friedrich Burst
     
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    A PORTRAIT IN EVIL: THE BIG BILL JENNINGS STORY
  • I decided to break it into two updates! One focusing on the early days of Jennings, while the second will be about the Jennings and his involvement in the Congo Sea Project itself.

    A PORTRAIT IN EVIL: THE BIG BILL JENNINGS STORY
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    The Apollyon of Africa

    In one's study of history, it is easy to declare a man a cad, born and raised, worthless from the start and hellbent on vice and evil. But so many mistake the evil actions of a man to be the whole of his character, which is usually a poor substitute for proper character analysis. The truth is that most men are imperfect, some even monsters, but they are not inherently evil or diabolical from the time they exit the womb. But there are exceptions, true paragons of evil. Ones without psychological excuses or battered childhoods spent at the punishing hands of a drunken father or wicked stepmother. A primal few men seem to be born evil, a black heart icier than the waters of the Arctic pumping piss and vinegar through their veins, fueling careers of spite and hate, often seemingly for no or little reason other than personal enjoyment and to feed sadistic tendencies. Mittelafrikan Fuhrer Reinhard von Bachenheim was not one of these men. For all his brutal ways and ruthless suppression of the native population of his bloated realm on the Dark Continent, von Bachenheim was no mere mustache-twirling champion of debauchery. He loved his wife, doted on his children, tried to help poor German-speakers in his country rebuild their lives after fleeing the chaos and destruction of the Great World War, Germanian Civil War and the various Illuminist uprisings tearing Europe apart. Von Bachenheim was a man like any other, and also a brutal colonial warlord dictator. But it could definitely be argued by those whom he had helped over the years that he was what was needed for the Reich to survive in a time of crisis. A misguided and morally gray man of a morally gray era.

    In reality, von Bachenheim was a weak man. He was constantly under the sway of various American and foreign companies, who pretty much set the policies of the Reich in exchange for financial aid. All the resources in the world were useless without means to extract them. But the government set up a cult of personality around the Fuhrer, calling him the father or grandfather of the nation, a kindly uncle in times of trouble. This, too, was a product of foreign propaganda campaigns and overnight secret police raids. In response to the bloody attacks from the "Congo King" Opulo Odika, no one questioned the massive hordes of foreign-born, mostly English-speaking mercenaries dubbed "Handhunters." The Handhunters kept the rebels at bay, and that was all the German-speakers wanted.

    Herman William Jennings was a black-hearted villain who seemed to relish in the role to an almost Shakespearean extent. While von Bachenheim was a mere pawn in the global game, the man known as "Big Bill" was miles ahead of him in actual ability to shape and influence the world around him. There a few redeeming qualities about Herman Jennings, even from close confidants, and he was seemingly an unapologetic monster. This "Apollyon of Africa" was responsible for one of the largest mass-deaths in human history as well as for an ecological disaster that wiped out an entire region of the planet, erasing tens of thousands of years of human history under the waves of the Atlantic. Herman Jennings was a monster. But all monsters begin somewhere.

    His life story proves him an unlikely scientist. Born in 1890 along the shores of the Mississippi in West Carolina, Confederation of the Carolinas, he was the son of Tyrone Austin Jennings, a shoemaker, and Mary Tanner. Born into unrelenting poverty, his family could not even pay the small price for yearly admission to school, resulting in Bill dropping out of second grade and going to work on the family farm. In between chores, he enjoyed torturing insects and dropping cats from high places, such as the loft hatch of the barn, to see if they could always land on their feet. He rarely played with other children, and when he did he played the part of the bully, stealing and breaking toys and other prized possessions. He would say of his childhood in later years, "It taught me life's most important lesson: you have to take what you want." Making matters worse, the creation of the Department of Public Virtue--Wade Hampton III's secret police force--made things even harder for his family. His parents were not legally married and experienced numerous run-ins with the law for things like check forgery and selling moonshine, a habit not taken kindly to by the government, causing numerous visits by the Virtuemen of future Chancellor Adlebert Upjohn Gamble V. Fines were levied, taxes were increased, and the DPV proved that they did not want people like the Jennings taking up valuable real estate. In 1899, with his family knee-deep in bankruptcy and unpaid fines and taxes, Tyrone was given a choice. He could either go to debtors prison for five years or he could join the Plantation Project of Chancellor Nehemiah Baker.

    The Plantation Project was the latest in Baker's policies that wanted to see further white expansion in Jacksonland, while at the same time ridding the mainland Confederation of "uneducated hillbillies" and "closeted old Normanists." Getting rid of "undesirable" citizens by loading them up on steamships and dumping them in Africa opened up new space for further gentrification of the country back home. Just as Wade Hampton III and Nathan Bedford Forrest invented the policy of "denegrification" back in the 1870s to get rid of the freed slave population, so to did the first "Common Sense Party" Chancellor, Baker, seek to get rid of the poor and uneducated. In 1893, during his first campaign for Chancellor, Baker promised to "eliminate poverty in the Carolinas." This said nothing of the African holdings. An ocean away, Jacksonland became a dumping ground for the unwanted, a land where it was possible to succeed, but most found it incredibly difficult. Tyrone accepted the offer. The Jennings were going to Africa.


    The Formative Years
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    A young Big Bill Jennings

    The boat ride to Africa was one of immense tragedy. The rickety old steamer carrying the Jennings, along with about 50 other undesirable families, was named the C.C.S. Polk after the Chancellor that led the country through the Great American War. It wasn't much younger than that storied conflict, and experienced numerous technical issues frequently, often patched up by the crew without any supervision or inspection. On April 9, 1899, the boiler room erupted into chaos when a fire raged out of control. Before long, most of the ship was ablaze, the flames licking at the time-worn timbers and and turning them to ash. Several families and numerous crewmen died almost immediately, trapped by the fire and smoke. Withing twenty minutes, the remaining families and crew were lined up on the deck trying to lower the lifeboats.

    Among them was Bill, holding his mother's shaking hand. When a fight broke out between two families over one of the boats, a shot rang out from one of the crewmen, sending one of the angry fathers over the railing with a bullet in his head. The ship broke down into anarchy as every man, woman, and child pressed forward, demanding salvation or else. By the time the flames had almost covered the upper deck, several lifeboats were still lashed to the side as the passengers and crew fought for them. Finally, just before the fire became unbearable, Tyrone fought his way into one of the boats, dragged his family in with him, and cut the rope. As the little lifeboat lazily floated in the sea, the sun shining down on them from a perfect sky through the debris, the ship turned into a raging bonfire.

    Castaway some ninety miles off the coast of Jacksonland, the family's boat drifted for days, the tinned rations stored under the seats depleting rapidly. Just when all looked hopeless on the fifth day, a military patrol vessel happened upon them quite by chance early in the morning. In the end, no other survivors of the Polk would be found. Praising God, Bill's parents told him they were saved by God for a special purpose, and that Bill would do great things one day. It truly was a perilous situation, and one that all the world might have stood to benefit if no survivors had been found. But such is fate, and the patrol vessel had them safely in harbor by nightfall.

    The family's reaction to New Raleigh, and the rest of Jacksonland, was nothing short of delight. Compared to the "civilized" and increasingly gentrified homeland, Jacksonland was full of rough-and-tumble characters, wide open spaces, and plenty of ways to earn a living. Tyrone wanted to eventually own his own plantation, but his first act of business was to secure a job as an overseer at a grape farm in a town called Peyton's Gap. Tyrone's main job was to keep African laborers in line, frequently by any means necessary. Jacksonland was much more open and sure about its racism against blacks, and this showed Tyrone for the man he was. He would routinely beat workers with a club if they did not move quickly enough. He would yell insults and curses and epithets, all while soaking up the praise of Mr. Henry Watkins, who owned the farm. It was to no great surprise that many of the natives viewed Tyrone Jennings as enemy number one. On one occasion, a native Hottentot attempted to assault him with a hunting knife. The attempt failed, and white man gained the upper hand and slit the native's throat. As other workers gathered around, Tyrone bellowed, "Which one of you niggers wants to try me? I am a Cokie boy from the Mississippi and if you don't think I done been in my share of knife fights, y'all are fucking stupider than you look."

    This angered the natives even more, who now were all actively plotting revenge. That revenge would come in 1903, as Tyrone was showing young Billy around the farm. Billy had just turned 13 and was eager to get to work like his father and help save up money to buy their own farm. A shot rang out from the brush and the overseer clutched his chest, slumping to the ground in agony. A group of native workers stepped out of the shadows, moving quickly, knowing the shot was sure to alert other white farmhands. They dragged the wounded Tyrone and his boy deep into the wilderness. There they lashed them to poles and began torturing them, beating Tyrone to death and leaving Billy with a broken rib and covered in cuts and bruises. Billy, once again, likely would have faced certain death if not for the arrival of a squad of dragoons at just that moment, riding in on their horses guns blazing. A full-scale insurrection broke out in the region, leading to the deaths of ten more white citizens and several dozen Hottentots. In the end, the rebellion was crushed easily and inside of a week, one of dozens of endless colonial conflicts that rarely made headlines outside of their immediate locales.

    Billy's mother wasted away. Always frail, the new surroundings, stress, and the death of her husband overwhelmed her. Her cause of death in 1904 was officially of tuberculosis, but likely brought on by alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver. Now an orphan, 15 year-old Billy was transferred into the care of the Jacksonland Department of Public Virtue Family Services Auxiliary. Obsessed with the idea of race war and revenge against "those people" who "murdered my parents," Billy asked if he could sign up with the Jacksonland Home Guard as an emancipated minor. Instead, he was transferred to Friedrich Meier Orphanage back in New Raleigh, under the watchful eye of its titular Germanian-born headmaster. Meier insisted on instilling what he called "Prussian discipline" in the children, even in the girls, and was ruthless in handing down punishments. At first, ever the rebel, Jennings wanted to try to be as disruptive and unruly as possible, but the brutal, harsh punishments that would be handed down for even the smallest infractions forced him to change his outlook. Instead, he decided to put what his father had taught him about being an overseer to good use, volunteering to "spy," as it were, on the other children and teens. Within five months, Meier was calling Billy "my little Virtueman," and the other kids were calling him "Big Bill." He excelled in sports, playing Jacksonland Rules Football frequently, a sport far from popular back home, and was a local champion swimmer by 17 (overcoming a horrendous fear of water he had had since the wreck of the Polk). But there was a new calling in his heart, a new passion with which he spent all of his free time. And that was science. And war.


    A Scholar and Warrior
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    The New Raleigh Lancers charge Mozambique defenses (1912)
    This painting was Carolinian propaganda, and the enemy that faced the Lancers were much better equipped than the "Hottentot Savages" depicted here

    Big Bill Jennings was a genius of the highest order, and he knew it, which led to him forming an uppity and smarmy personality around his pears, while being a smooth-as-butter polite Southron gentlemen around his superiors. Like his father before him, he strongly believed that some people are born lower, meant to be servants and destined to sink into obscure nothingness. He also thought that others, those like himself, were preordained for recognition and respect. He was the sole survivor of so many near-death experiences by this point that he felt no uncertainty about his destiny. He would become a world-renown scientist and national figure and nothing could be done to stop it. He would one day also find a way to take revenge on the "darkies" who had killed his father and caused his mother to drink herself to an early grave, despite the fact that his father was a brutal maniac and that his mother had already been a hard-drinker back in West Carolina. Somehow, and he wasn't quite sure how, he would find a way. But first, he had to make a name for himself.

    When Bill turned 18 in 1908, Meier put in a word for him with government officials as a rising star and a savant with scientific matters, asking that he be given a full ride scholarship to the college of his choice. Promising himself to return to Jacksonland after he was finished with college, Bill chose to attend Chapel Hill University, the most prestigious university in the Confederation. While there was a college in New Raleigh, it was hardly the place for a budding young scientific mind like Jennings. Jacksonland was famous for only a small portion of its soil being appropriate for full-time farming, and droughts were common issues. He also was interested in the ever-evolving field of electronics and power. Thus, Jennings set out to find ways to remedy the land and power issues of his adoptive homeland by hook or by crook. It was then that he discovered the writings of Europan Werner Wunsch, a rather delusional Bavarian-born mad scientist who published the work Atlantropa. In his insane "masterpiece," Wunsch proposed damming the Straight of Gibraltar to lower the sea-level of the Mediterranean and produce thousands of more square miles of farmland. This would feed Catholic Europe, according to his strategy, and eliminate global hunger. Despite the fact that most Europan books were banned in the Confederation, its sheer insanity made it a popular read among Cokie college students, who liked mocking and writing parodies of its contents. Jennings, however, took a sincere interest in the idea and never forgot it. Before Big Bill could graduate, however, the call to arms began. It was 1911, and the Great World War had just begun.

    Rather than participate in the Caribbean theatre of the war, such as the seizure of St. Domingue and the creation of East Carolina, he volunteered to ship back out to Africa to join the New Raleigh Lancers, a celebrated local unit of dashing and thoroughly drunken cavalrymen, in their fight against the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, later to be known as the Carolinian Corridor and Yonderland. While the age of the lance was elsewhere a relic of the Pax Napoleonica, they still found themselves as a useful unit in Africa. Portugual's military presence in the colony was weak, and while Europa originally shipped in troops and advisors, by the late years of the war Mozambique was mostly held by native volunteers and press-ganged "auxiliaries." Big Bill would participate in the last Carolinian cavalry charge in history at the Battle of Witchy Crick (the original Portuguese name for the place has been lost). Lances in hand, over one hundred members of the New Raleigh Lancers charged the dusty hilltop defenses of the native defenders and a handful of Portuguese officers. Grinders chewed through man and steed and Jennings saw three men directly in front of him hit the ground in a bloody, pulpy mist as their bodies and horses skittered and flipped in the sandy soil. But still he pressed on, impaling a black militiaman through the chest before leaping from his horse, drawing his sword, and personally dispatching the two Portuguese gunners. As the grinders fell silent, the Mozambique troops raced headlong into the river, being cut down at every side by the devilish horsemen. The infamous Cokie "Bearcat Call," a strange mix of a yodel and a yelp, filled the African air as the Moon and Stars flew over the hill.

    Scraped up and battered, Jennings was sent back to New Raleigh to recover from his injuries. While there, he was presented with the Order of Jackson, the highest Carolinian medal for bravery in combat, for his daring and near suicidal charge onto the grinder nest. He acquired a massive pinch-crown hat with the brim pinned to one side, a huge red plume adoring it and marking him as a recently promoted Captain. This suited his rather fantastical and flamboyant persona he was building for himself as the "Youngest Cokie Captain in Africa." He also hid his homosexuality quite well, and despite numerous affairs remained a well-known and popular man with the ladies. He built himself up as the complete package: a strapping, handsome young cavalry captain and ingenious scientific mind. During the final weeks of the war, he was again injured in fighting against Mozambique resistance fighters in the capital of Lourenço Marques. On crutches, he became military governor of the city and imposed brutal, masochistic punishments on those that dared to defy his orders. Every day, he would have a cattle pen full of "resistance operatives" shot at noon to "send a message to any who doubted Cokie authority." But mostly it was merely to satiate his own bloodlust. Some of his men quietly referred to him as the "Great Khan," referencing both Mad Viktor as well as the original Mongol leaders. In between duties, he furthered his education and never stopped studying.

    After the war, he was removed from command of Lourenço Marques, now Yonderland's capital of Larengo. He was then tasked with the building of the Pan-African Railway, linking Jacksonland with the new territories of the Corridor and Yonderland, as well as branching into Dutch South Africa and Germanian Mittelafrikan. This would be accomplished by use of slave labor of Portuguese and native prisoners of war, worked to the bone under horrific circumstances. Like his father before him, Big Bill rode on his horse up and down the line, plume blowing in the wind, his whip cracking over his head at the slightest sign of a worker "slackin' off." As workers collapsed from exhaustion, Big Bill sipped from a tall, cold glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade spiked with moonshine. Workers who couldn't keep up were to be taken away and shot over the nearest ridge. "It's not that I don't want their friends and comrades to see them die, I just don't want blood and guts on my brand new railway." Those who survived the harrowing construction of the Pan-African Railway called the route the "Road of Bones," for the innumerable lives cut down by the Cokie overseers.

    With the war over and the railway built, Jennings grew bored of his station in life and longed for either excitement (meaning battle) or furthering his education. In 1926, he retired from the Army at the age of 36, having attained the rank of Lt. Colonel and a chest full of medals, and left for North America once more. By 1931 he had gone from student to teacher, serving as Professor of Engineering at Chapel Hill. He became famous for his wild, thick black eyebrows and his sharp black suits, tailored in Kissimmee. In 1933, he was offered a job with the American ORRA, specifically with the Artifacts and Antiquities Unit, helping to excavate several ancient Hebrew sites in the Middle East. One might be surprised that ORRA was poking around Europan soil, but licenses to dig were granted in exchange for a hefty sum and the repatriation of several thousand Great World War dead to Europa. While no archeologist, Jennings was invaluable with damming streams and moving entire hills effectively and quickly. He never seemed very excited about his job with ORRA, other than it being an easy way to fuel his growing fascination with the dark arts. It would be in 1934 that Big Bill would be introduced to Olaph Zimmerman, an Ohioan working for the AAU who was searching for ancient artifacts involving a serpent god in Africa. This would be the point where Jennings became involved with the Worm Cult, read a contraband copy of the Secrets of the Worm, and embraced the darkness within himself. He dedicated himself to the Conqueror Worm, and through scheming and cheating and threatening rose to become the chief advisor to the Mittelafrikan Fuhrer. The clock was ticking, and the Congo Sea Project was to move ahead. Another sacrifice was to be made to the Worm.
     
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    DEUS VULT: THE BALKAN CRUSADE BEGINS
  • DEUS VULT:
    THE BALKAN CRUSADE BEGINS

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    An armored column painted with Crusader livery photographed somewhere in Grand Serbia (circa 1939)

    The fact Europe avoided total war in the period directly after the Great European Schism, the creation of the Second Avignon Papacy, and the unilateral power grabs going on in both Europa and the New Holy Roman Empire is nothing short of remarkable. Besides the all-around saber-rattling and constant threats launched from Paris, Avignon, Vienna, and Rome, the ongoing civil disorder in Italy constantly risked exploding into a major conflict. In 1935, the island of Sicily erupted into the Sicilian Civil War, pitting a minority Supercatholic revolutionary government under Alessandro Fiorentino against the wishes of the common people. While bloodshed was kept to a minimum, night raids on villages and farms pitted plain-clothes peasants and civilians against each other, with a sprinkling of foreign uniformed "military advisors" and other such personnel. The police force split down the middle, and lawlessness ensued. The commoners begged Caesar Napoleon V to restore order as soon as possible. Thousands of "volunteers" gathered on Malta in September of '35, mustering quite a force to retake the island. After an initial bloodbath on the shoreline, the Golden Eagle of the Bonapartes flew from the ramparts of the city of Licata to the raucous cheers of the local populace. Knowing they were beaten, the Supercatholic revolutionaries fled the island to the mainland boot of Italy. Sicily proclaimed itself a Revolutionary Protectorate and asked Napoleon V to rule directly from Paris, which he obliged. The 120-year reign of mainland Italian soil by the Bonaparte family had finally ended, though Napoleon V's extended family would continue to claim it as their own. King Giovanni I would pass in 1940 without an heir, bringing the legacy of Joseph Bonaparte to an end.

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    Pro-Avignon female volunteers in Sicily (1935)

    This was far from the only blow-up on the border between the two rival powers. On July 1, 1936, a skirmish occurred between Europan border patrol and Rhenish police after a mistake was made and the Rhenish police cruised into Europan soil. Thankfully, although hundreds of pot-shots were exchanged, no one was killed and order was restored when the Rhens realized their mistake and asked for a ceasefire. Several incidents also occurred on the high seas, with various boardings and cargo seizures, but both sides gradually backed down when push came to shove. In December of 1937, the Europan embassy in Zanzibar, one of the few unaffiliated states left in the world, was bombed by extremists screaming, "Ave Maria!" The attackers were found to be Italian nationals, though all were killed by security forces before interrogation could be performed. The only surviving attacker took a cyanide pill moments before his arrest.

    The reason for the lack of total war between Europa and the New Holy Roman Empire was, quite simply, neither side was stupid enough to commit. Another continent-wide bloodletting would almost certainly shatter the monarchic system and leave the entirety of Europe open for Illuminist invasion. Even Caesar recognized the fact that if there was one positive thing about the current situation, the NHRE, and the Supercatholic movement were determined to resist godless Illuminism and hamper the spread of any more chaos. In fact, not only had the tide of Illuminist revolution been halted at the borders of Pope Peter's realms, but the 1933 Austro-Ruthenian "Lightning War," perpetrated by then-Reichsminister Adolf von Braunau without consulting the then-Royal Family, had almost certainly stopped the fall of bankrupt Ruthenia to Illuminism. Meanwhile, while the hardships of the Great Depression that started when the Hapsburgs were assassinated still continued, Ruthenian spoils encouraged the stock market in Vienna and the enlightened despotism of Caesar Napoleon V and Prime Minister Jean Ponte in a time of great need assured stability in Paris. As things were, the rivalry between the two different Catholic super-states could continue indefinitely, with both factions' leaders continuing to shake their fists and yell threats to appease the masses but going home at the end of the day.

    When General Director Churchill "passed of natural causes in his office" and Clement Attlee replaced him, this created a firestorm inside the League of Nations. Joe Steele had been anticipating Churchill's death, whenever it would come, to be directly followed by Order 78, a surrender of Britannic sovereignty to Philadelphia. With Attlee now in power and ordering a screeching halt to OpCrom, Yankee agents inside Britannia feared that Attlee might try to go his own way. These fears were not unfounded. Attlee had been unaware that Churchill was essentially an elaborate American spy, and this led to him questioning the entirety of the fascist system. But in the end, the neverending system of political backstabbing and sycophancy within the BU government left him no choice but to plow ahead. OpCrom was pushed to 1940, and later to 1943, following a massive incident at the Ullapool facility that involved the release of toxins into the air, killing thirty researchers. It would be discovered that a Europan agent started the incident, meaning OpCrom was no longer secret to the outside world. The Europan Imperial Science Bureau reported to Caesar that by 1943, they hoped to successfully test a nuclear weapon, something which would hopefully deter Britannic aggression and curb OpCrom dreams. In the disastrous aftermath of the incident at Ullapool, all of Europe now warned Britannia to not utilize its new weapon or risk a massive invasion. Bogged down in South America, the Republican Union did not have the time, energy, or resources to deal with a world war. Joe Steele, in fact, feared Europan entry into Manifest Climax so greatly that he now personally visited London and warned Attlee that if a biotoxin was released and was pinned on the Britannic Union, the Republican Union would denounce it and remove them from the League of Nations rather than back them up in a war. He also ordered troops to be sent to aid in Cuba and South America, such as the large number of Britannic troops that served in Cuba and Operation Tropic Thunder, as described in a previous chapter.

    With Europa fearing a war in the west and busy dealing with near-weekly revolts in India, the New Holy Roman Empire fearing incursions from the Illuminists, war between the two Great Powers was unlikely. Ever the crafty statesmen, Peter II, Emperor Adolf, and Reichsminister Evola decided to turn to the other remaining Great Power in Europe, if it could still be called such. The League of Tsars suffered such a beating in the last war that its population had still not recovered. The Viceroyalty of Constantinople continued to experience revolts from the Turkish peasantry and unity among the League of Tsars was at an all-time low. With the Grail in hand and his realms stretching from the boot of Italy, over to Dalmatia and up to Vienna and Ruthenia, Peter II decided the next thing to do was to finally cripple Eastern Orthodoxy forever and remove them from the playing field. It was also the last space left to expand in Europe, and the NHRE leadership desired more resources, land, and people for the final cataclysmic war that they believed was coming against the Illuminists. This "Volksraum," or "People's Space," would be needed to breed the Evolist Supercatholic Man by the millions. There were hundreds of thousands of loyal Catholics in Grand Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, people crying out for salvation at the hands of increasingly hostile Orthodox majorities. As a cherry on top of the cake, taking Constantinople would cripple the Illuminist Black Sea Fleet and secure the Mediterranean from Illuminist influence.

    In February of 1937, Orthodox mobs attacked and lynched Catholics in Athens after several Catholic priests in the area were caught dispensing Supercatholic propaganda to their flocks. As "Defender of the Faith," Emperor Adolf condemned the pogroms as "Orthodox debauchery" and threatened to use military force to protect the Balkan Catholics. This triggered a firestorm of counter-threats, with Grand Serbia going so far as to send troops to the border and start digging an elaborate system of trenches and grinder nests. Greece also mobilized its armed forces, but it was still so drained from the Great World War that it was one hundred percent reliant on Grand Serbia and the rest of the League of Tsars to defend it. If Grand Serbia fell, Greece would fall. If Greece fell, Bulgaria would be all that was standing between Constantinople and the NHRE.

    The Catholic priests in Athens were actually Holy Roman agents, intentionally spreading propaganda to stir the pot of discontent. The pogroms made the NHRE appear legitimate in its threats. The priests were part of the Holy Roman Heeresnachrichtenamt, or Army Intelligence Service, led by Erhard Raus. Raus intended to whip up so much discontent that the Balkans would erupt into civil war. He would not fall short of his goals. In Grand Serbia, a bloated multi-ethnic empire under Tsar Miroslav I, Muslim majority regions such as Bosnia were secretly equipped with old Russian weapons leftover in the captured stockpiles of the last war. The conflict exploded in late 1937 when a Serbian general named Spiridon Nikolic was shot in Sarajevo by Islamic radicals during a state function. Surviving the initial attack but badly wounded, Nikolic was whisked away to the nearby hospital. As the doctors worked to save his life, more extremists attacked the hospital. After an initial shootout pushed the revolutionaries back, a rickety old surplus biplane loaded with explosives flew itself into the building, killing 46 people, including the general. Miroslav I furiously ordered the military to restore order, only to be met with widespread violence from several sectors of society, not even just the Muslims.

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    General Spirodon Nikolic lays wounded in the back of his car (1937).

    The Serbian Civil War was a delicious success for the Heeresnachrichtenamt, and Serbian troops that had been at the NHRE border since February were drawn back into the heartland to deal with their collapsing empire. Grand Serbia walked away from the Great World War an apparent winner, the only member of the League of Tsars to gain from the war. Russia's place at the Viceroyalty of Constantinople was replaced with a Serbian, and although Dalmatia remained a part of Austrian holdings, it still had done quite well. But the state was far too big to last forever, and thus it seemed natural to most in Europe that the country should collapse in on itself. This was exactly what Pope Peter desired and fit perfectly into his plan. Catholics called out for rescue and law and order as society collapsed. As the Muslims and the Orthodox went to war, the Catholics caught in the crossfire were often ethnically cleansed. On January 1, 1938, Peter II issued the New Year Decree from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

    "People of the Vatican, People of Rome, People of the New Holy Roman Empire, blessings be upon you! It is my sovereign duty as the Holy Father of the Catholic Church, one and true under Christ, to come to you with a tear in my eye and a pain in my heart. The downtrodden Catholic people of Grand Serbia call out like sheep in the night, as wolves run among the flock, rending flesh and breaking bones in their gnashing teeth. The blood of innocents drips down the ravenous maws of the Orthodox and Islamic swine of the Balkans. Caught in the middle of a civil war they want no part of, in a multi-ethnic kingdom that does not care for them, the true sons and daughter of Christ our King are trapped. And they are begging for our help. As the Holy Book says, we are all our brother's keeper. How can we call ourselves Holy when Christian brothers and sisters are murdered by the score in the Balkans.

    The mongrels we faced before in the Great War yet remain, a troublesome reminder of how we did not impose true justice on these subhumans in 1914. We let them live to see another day when we should have picked apart their nations and made sure that the Orthodox threat in Europe was gone forever. We let them have Constantinople, one of the holiest cities in the world and rightfully a city of the One True Papacy. We took Ruthenia in 1933, taking what was owed us. Let us once again take up arms not for what is owed to us, but what we owe to God. Our Holy God wills it that we take the Balkans and ensure the safety of all Catholics in the region. It is not a war of physical conquest, but of spiritual liberation.

    Hundreds of years ago, the First Great Schism brought about the Orthodox church. Now a Second Schism brings about two popes. There can be only One True Church! All others are heresy! And what do we say to heresy, my children? Death! Death! Death to heresy! I proclaim a Holy Crusade, a War of the Cross, with the objective of freeing the oppressed peoples of the Balkans, curtailing anarchy and genocide, and bringing order and security to our continent, and our Empire. All who serve in glorious battle shall ascend to Heaven when they pass, their sins absolved, their muddy tunics replaced by golden robes! All who die in glorious battle shall be recorded as heroes of the New Empire and shall be with the saints also. Let every true Christian from across Europe, even ones who have committed heresy by backing the degenerates in Avignon, know forgiveness awaits on the field of battle. We have the Grail! We have the Holy City! We have the Power of the People and of the One True God! Deus Vult!"

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    Pope Peter II addresses the people (1938)

    The next morning, January 2, 1938, the New Holy Roman Empire declared war on Grand Serbia. The League of Tsars declared war several hours later. By midnight, Holy Roman heavy bombers pummeled the living daylights out of the undermanned Serbian static fortifications. Serbian anti-air gunners managed to down some of the attackers, but the weakness in the border defenses was already being exploited. 33,000 troops, so numbered because of Peter II's obsession with numerology, were crossing the border with heavy artillery and landships spearheading the assault. Behind the vehicles came the shock cavalry of the Croatian Holy Roman Guard, thundering into the fire of grinders and mortars, ancient banners of the Renaissance and Middle Ages once again flying in the breeze. Regiments of civilian volunteers wearing unmarked green tunics and carrying whatever firearms they owned brought up the rear, carrying red flags with white crosses.

    The Serbian troops were terrified. Most were waiting for several months' worth of pay and on half-rations due to the civil war, having to forage for most of their sustenance. This made them wildly unpopular with the locals, many of whom on the border were Catholic. These Catholic majority northern regions greeted the attack with open arms, waving crudely made cross flags out of their windows and cheering as the grey and green uniformed Holy Romans passed outside their windows. The Holy Roman Airforce was under strict instructions to only bomb military targets, so as to keep the locals on their side. When the initial onslaught passed and the Serbians fled, the Heeresnachrichtenamt swooped in to spirit away potential trouble makers and "enemies of the state." Local Catholics ratted on their neighbors who had spoken against Petr and Adolf, or those who were pretending to be Catholic. Many of the non-Catholic civilians retreated with the Serbian army, however, terrified of the unholy delights the "New Inquisition" would bring.

    The war was a massacre. By the time the other League of Tsars members managed to get their troops marching in the right direction, half of Grand Serbia had fallen and Tsar Miroslav had been found strangled in his palace in Belgrade. A military junta took power, trying to salvage the situation by offering a truce and the regions of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro, which would eliminate all gains made during the war by a long shot, and cut of their access to the sea, but the ambassador who delivered the request was sent back beaten and bloodied with a simple reply from Rome and Vienna: "God does not will it." The Muslim revolutionary groups were quite autonomous by mid-1938, but it was not to last. Ignoring the rules they had used on Catholic areas, civilian targets were fair game for the NHRE Airforce if they were Muslim. Whole towns were destroyed in minutes and without so much as a blink from the Crusaders. Whatever doubts they had, the Holy Father had promised them Eternal Absolution. It was no skin of their backs if a bunch of heretics and idolators were killed. They were impeding the march of the True Faith.

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    NHRE troops on the march during the invasion of Grand Serbia (1938)

    The winter of 1938-39 would see the collapse of Serbia once and for all. After a desperate siege that lasted two months, the Serbian leadership surrendered to the NHRE in Belgrade, were placed in chains, and were transported to Budapest to stand trial not only for "atrocities committed against Catholic Christians," but also for their "crimes they levied at the people of Hungary during the Great World War." For men who served during the horrific Siege of Budapest, like Adolf and Goering, it was a moment of smug satisfaction. While the war continued to rage and would not be halted until the Crusaders stormed the gates of Constantinople, morale was soaring at home. As Serbian generals and politicians hanged from gallows in Budapest, enlistment rates were at an all-time high. Catholics from all over Europe heard moving testaments from "survivors of Orthodox brutality" and were very much on board with the idea of slaughtering any "heretics" that caught their eye.

    Pogroms all over the New Holy Roman Empire broke out, enemies of the state being beaten and arrested by the "New Inquisition." Finally deciding to drop all signs of restraint, the Heeresnachrichtenamt, which had been formed from the old Austro-Hungarian Intelligence Service and still bore its German-language name, joined with the Vatican to form the more universal Imperial Office of Inquiry as an empire-wide secret police force. The New Inquisition lacked the red robes of centuries past, opting instead for a more conservative black military uniform with a clerical style collar, and often simply plain black suits and trenchcoats. Erhard Raus was appointed Supreme Inquisitor and took to the job as a fish takes to water. But as the success in the Balkans continued, the NHRE was falling behind in the field of nuclear research. While several of its best and brightest were working on such matters of import, many had fled to the more rational and liberalized Europa, which was now on track to become the first-ever nuclear power...

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    Erhard Raus, Supreme Inquisitor of the Office of Inquiry

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    Crusaders parade through occupied Belgrade (1939)
     
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    A PAEAN FOR THE PRODIGAL: THE RETURN OF OSWALD, 1939
  • A PAEAN FOR THE PRODIGAL:
    THE RETURN OF OSWALD, 1939

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    FROM THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
    PHILADELPHIA, PA, R.U.

    Jan. 28, 1939

    Dear Comrade-Patriot:

    You are cordially invited by His Excellency JOSEPH STEELE, President and Atheling by the GRACE OF GOD, to attend a welcome-home celebration jubilee in the honor of CHARLES OSWALD. Com-Pat Oswald has returned home from a months-long sojourn and trial behind enemy lines in Gran Colombia, a nation now under Union occupation in no small thanks to our distinguished young guest. Com-Pat Oswald and his fellow stranded compatriots used their own unfortunate situation to disrupt Pact troops, burn supply depots, and to strike fear into the hearts of America's enemies. This Pinnacle Specimen of a man is expected to soon take the hand of President Steele's beloved daughter, Wyetta. Please join us for this celebration of heroism and proper fluidation.

    The Celebration will be held at the PRESIDENTIAL MANSION Your attendance is HIGHLY ADVISED. R.S.V.P.

    Yours sincerely,
    The Honorable Secretary
    Armistead Bueller.

    ****

    As the tangled web of waltzing dignitaries, soldiers, and Manifest Destiny Party patrons spun around them, former Sky Marshal Warren Harding and ORRA Supreme Chief George Patton sat sipping cocktails by the desserts table. Patton himself had prepared the Presidential Mansion's ballroom for the occasion, from the colors of the drapes, to the menu, to the music currently being performed by the ORRA Supreme Chief's Orchestra, resplendent in dress uniforms freshly tailored and decorated for the event. It was the least Patton could do, he himself thought, to throw a splendid welcome-home party for the President's future son-in-law. After all, it had only been a few months earlier that Steele at long last broke down and granted Patton's request to forge an ORRA state out of the lighty-populated southern half of the state of Magnum. Falcon Point would be the heart of ORRA's operations. The crippled egomaniac never realized that by signing Miskatonic into existence, he was essentially eliminating Patton's usual presence in Philadelphia. Of course, Patton remained owner of the late Ambrose Jansen's estate, but in a war such as this there was little time for him to be laying around half a country away from his new headquarters. It had been Harding who had come out of retirement to rejoin ORRA as head of its Artifacts and Antiquities Unit, essentially making him the treasurer and accountant of Patton's collection of bizarre, occult, and ancient relics. And Fort McClellan could be designated for projects less likely to cause a scene like the Trinity City Apemen.

    "I say, old boy, this is one humdinger of a pow-wow," Harding said jovially, slapping Patton on the shoulder with his typical irrepressible vigor. "In times like these it's good to put on a smile and buckle up your wowzer-trouser and show the people that we still know how to have a good time."

    Patton smiled dryly, clutching his glass tightly for fear the fervent physical adulation would send his cocktail sloshing onto his lap. "Yes, indeed, Warren. Indeed. Don't want the people to think we can't put on a jubilee for homegrown heroes like Comrade-Patriot Oswald."

    "Yessir, by Jev," Warren continued as he set his glass on the silk covered table behind them and grabbed a strawberry on a stick in his meaty hand, "This is just magnificent. Paeans for laurels and all that." He sank the strawberry under the steady, delectable flow of molten chocolate pouring over the rims of a multi-tiered fountain. On the very top was a golden eagle clutching a laurel wreath. It had taken ten ORRA officers to carry the huge fountain into the building and place it on the table.

    "Speaking of jubilee, I sense one coming from three o'clock, Harding," Patton said with a hint of a chuckle. From their right came a cadre of old guard ORRA veterans, some of them veterans of the Custer and Immolation years. At their head was a veritable walking corpse by the name of retired General Clive Justice, bedecked in the medals and ribbons of thirty campaigns and with enough scars to match. Thin, snow-white hair was plastered back onto his scalp with enough oil to lubricate an entire autocarriage and then some. Despite his rather stern appearance, a broad smile showed off his somehow immaculate teeth, polished to proper ORRA standards still at 86 years of age. The group of men behind him were of similar decor and coiffure, but some not as spry as "Old Blood and Guts."

    Justice snapped a brisk salute, or at least as brisk as an 86 year-old grandfather could, clicked his heels and received a salute back from Harding and Patton. "Warren Jev-damn Harding, how's it going you old plucky fly-boy!"

    Harding extended a large hand out and the two men shook each other's arms to the point Patton thought they would tear off. "This old fly-boy is doing pretty good, by golly! Yessir! You holding up, you old grinder-bait?"

    "Peak, I say, just peak, Harding!" proclaimed Justice as they finished their hand-dance and he rested on his gilded sword like a cane. The sword was probably about as old as Patton, in all honesty. ORRA officer's rarely changed sabers, rather choosing to enhance, modify, and upgrade their original cadet model. In the back of Patton's mind, he knew that sword probably snuffed out a few Mexicans and Nipponese in its day. He had heard stories that once upon a time Justice was in the running for Supreme Chief. That made him a threat, of a sort, but Patton figured he was a little past his prime. "What a tremendous show. I hear Supreme Chief Patton, here, arranged everything just so! My compliments, sir!" Justice adulated while bowing slightly to Patton's direction.

    "Well," Patton started while gently stirring his cocktail, "I saw it as the duty of the Supreme Chief, the second-in-command of this Union, to arrange the jubilee for the President's future son-in-law. I take my duties very seriously, whether they be on the frontlines or in the ballroom."

    Justice nodded happily and accepted a cocktail glass from Harding. "I think it has been some time since you have been on the frontlines, George!" A chortle arose from the gaggle of gnarled old ORRA men circling the chocolate fountain and dessert table like vultures circling the mass graves of Mexican in the desert. "What did the Immortal Bard say, 'the pen is mightier than the sword?'"

    The smile and all pretenses of joviality slipped from Patton's face like a guillotine on the neck of a French king. "That was not Shakespeare. It was Bulwer-Lytton. And I might push some papers, but let's consider who is the second-in-command of the mightiest empire this world has ever seen, shall we, Justice? What rank do you hold?"

    Justice coughed awkwardly and bowed slightly again in a show of apology. "General of the Racial and Religious Affairs, retired, sir."

    "And what are you currently?"

    The already awkward silence and glass-clinking from the other men grew ever more stoic by the moment as Justice replied, "State Minister of Veteran Affairs, Pennsylvania, sir."

    Patton slowly pulled himself out of his high-backed chair and onto his leg braces, staring the elderly man down. "That's right, State Minister. In the roll-call of succession to the Presidency, I can assure you that Pennsylvania's State Minister of Veteran Affairs ranks very, very, very low, somewhere just ahead of the city dogcatcher of Oshkosh and a smidgen behind the Presidential Mansion cook. If you ever dare insult my bodily affliction again I will have your rank stripped and your sword cast in the Schuylkill River. Is that clear, State Minister?"

    Justice clicked his heels and saluted. "Of course, your excellency. No disrespect or ill will was intended. Simply a joke from a crotchety old veteran. My sincerest apologies, sir."

    Patton's smile came back. "Good. You are excused! Enjoy the party." He plopped back down into his seat and finished the last sip of his drink before motioning for the elderly veteran to have a nice time.

    Harding, ever the one to try to make a bad situation worse by trying to make it better, raised a glass and said, "Come on, chums! Let's not let our night turn sour just because of a few misplaced words! Let's sing a jubilee! In honor of old days and young boys!"

    The awkward silence was almost unbearable for the cadre of officers in their area. Even the orchestra had ceased playing and so the only noise to be heard was the shuffle of feet and politely quiet conversation of the other party-goers at other tables. Mercifully, Patton voiced his agreement, feeling almost poorly of himself for snapping like that. This was not the time or place to make a scene or distract from Oswald. Besides, he could have just had Justice meet an unfortunate accident after the party and no one would have been the wiser. "I say that sounds like a fine idea! Let's sing a song they'll hear in Paradise!"

    Harding looked gleeful and not a little tipsy as he headed to the orchestra to request a song. "Conductor! Conductor! Play Bring the Jubilee!"

    Patton once again pulled himself to his braced feet and drew his saber, as did the other nearby veterans and even the embarrassed Justice. As the band thumped out the first few notes and opening drum-roll, they raised their swords to the sky, some with their hats mounted to the tips, and ripped out a thundering, half-intoxicated chorus.

    "In the army of the Union,
    We are marching in the van,
    And we'll do the work before us,
    If the bravest soldiers can!

    We will drive the Infee forces
    From their strongholds to the sea,
    And will live and die together,
    In the Army of the Free!

    Army of the Free,
    The Army of the Free,
    We will live and die together,
    In the Army of the Free!"

    Visibly moved by this show of fluidation by their oldest veterans, other guests from all walks of life and age suddenly began to rise from their seats and raising their glasses high in the air in the direction of the carolers. After a moment, many began to join in, tears forming in their eyes as they knew that, for some present, it would be the last hurrah before passing away of old age. Others stamped their heels on the marble flooring, sending goosebumps up many spines.

    "We may rust beneath inaction,
    We may sink beneath disease,
    The summer sun may scorch us
    Or the winter's blast may freeze.

    But whatever may befall us,
    We will let the Infees see,
    That unconquered we shall remain,
    The Army of the Free!

    The Army of the Free!
    The Army of the Free!
    Unconquered we shall remain,
    The Army of the Free.

    Our fluids and spirits run pure,
    and Christ dwells in our souls,
    And only resting on our arms,
    Till the war cry onward rolls!

    When our gallant leader Custer calls,
    Why ready we shall be,
    To follow him forever,
    With the Army of the Free!

    The Army of the Free,
    The Army of the Free,
    We will follow him forever,
    With the Army of the Free!

    Then hurrah for our Legion,
    May it soon be called to go,
    To add its strength to those who have
    Advanced to meet the foe!

    Jev bless it, for we know right well,
    Wherever it may be,
    It's Eagle will never fail to honor our great
    Army of the Free!"

    Just as the final stanza filled the ballroom, Charles Oswald entered the ballroom in full Navy dress regalia and all heads suddenly turned to him. All swords and glasses suddenly were lifted in his direction. Wyetta Arkham Custer-Steele clutched his arm proudly, her tight-fitting ballgown sparkling in under the bright glow of the chandeliers. As the song faded, wild applause, cheering, and hailing reverberated through the room as if the Prophet himself had just risen from the dead to give everyone a pot of gold and eternal life. It was a spectacle if there ever was one. Oswald meandered through the tables, shaking hands and saluting hither and yon. His perfect pompadour hairstyle was combed to perfection. His teeth shone almost as brightly as his girlfriend's dress. His square jaw outlined pointed, sculptured features that would not be amiss on a bust of a Roman statesman from Pinnacle times. His soft Boston accent had a hint of genuine kindness and intelligence to it. Despite his tender age, he looked every inch the war hero. "Oswald the Despoiler." "Oswald the Scourge of the Neuties." "Oswald the Kissimmee Star." He was all these things and more. He was the full package, the total real deal. A hero of the Republican Union. And if the ring that was already waiting in a nearby office off the main hall to the ballroom was any indication, soon to officially marry into the ruling dynasty.

    Oh, hell, Patton thought to himself. "This is a fucking threat. Did I just throw my replacement a damn party?"

    He turned to say something to Harding, but he was not there. Neither was Justice, or any of the other old codgers Patton had just led in song. They were surging forward to meet Oswald. Patton stood helpless, his braced, withered legs straining under the continued wait. He had practiced for this. He deliberately left the chair in the same office with the ring because he did not want to be seen as week by his boss's new son-in-law. He would do it. Using his sword as a cane, he would walk to meet the hero of the hour. He was second in command of the most powerful empire on earth. And he wasn't about to look week in front of the new kid.

    He stepped forward. Success. Another step. Success. He leaned his weight onto the sword just as he had practiced in his office so many times before. Another step, another success. Just as the crowd began to take notice and respectfully part aside for him to get to Oswald, the worst possible event happened. With a loud thud, the Supreme Chief of the Office of Racial and Religious Affairs, second in command of the Union, came crashing down. To Patton, it was all in slow motion. His sword slipped from his hands, rattling onto the marble. His nose hit the floor right after, sending a gush of blood spewing from his instantly broken nose. His right wrist twisted awkwardly under his gut, spraining it.

    For ten agonizing, excruciating seconds, no one did anything. The morbid quiet returned to the room, this time without even hushed idle chatter sounds of tuning instruments to break the silence. For ten seconds the second in command of the Union was sprawled on the floor of the Presidential Mansion, his crippled legs bent behind him, his wrist sprained, and his face in a puddle of his own blood.

    "Somebody get a doctor and a chair!" cried Oswald, running across the room to Patton's side. The silence ended as men dashed here and there, fetching medical supplies and calling for a doctor. Oswald asked Patton in a quiet, dignified voice, "Your excellency, are you all right?" He took a handkerchief from out of the inside of his jacket and used it to clean the blood off Patton's face as the Supreme Chief pulled himself to a sitting position.

    Patton took the cloth and used it to apply pressure to his nose. "Yes... thank you, son. I... appreciate the help. Damn... floor is slippery. Rather... embarrassing."

    Oswald smiled a toothy grin and said in that forced, learned BAUB accent, "It's okay! Glad to help, sir. You're not as young as you once were. It happens to all of us." Before Patton could even take offense to that, Oswald was pulling him up by the underarms, heaving him to his feet as they waited for his wheelchair.

    Pop. Pop. Pop.

    Cameras flashed.

    "Oh, hell," Patton thought. "Oh, no."

    There wouldn't be any censoring of those photos, not ones that made Steele's future son-in-law look even more like a gentleman and hero. Oswald the Despoiler gallantly waved and posed for the cameras.

    "Oh, fucking hell, George."
     
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