Behind the Bastards

There’s a reason the History Channel has produced hundreds of documentaries about Hitler but only a few about Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bad guys (and gals) are eternally fascinating. Behind the Bastards dives in past the Cliffs Notes of the worst humans in history and exposes the bizarre realities of their lives. Listeners will learn about the young adult novels that helped Hitler form his monstrous ideology, the founder of Blackwater’s insane quest to build his own Air Force, the bizarre lives of the sons and daughters of dictators and Saddam Hussein’s side career as a trashy romance novelist.

After the Revolution: Chapters Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty

After the Revolution: Chapters Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty

Sat, 17 Jul 2021 04:02

This week's chapters from Robert's fiction podcast, "After the Revolution."

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Follow your podcasting dreams. Let's breaker handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to That's In the 1980s and 90s, a psychopath terrorized the country of Belgium. A serial killer and kidnapper was abducting children in the bright light of day. From Tenderfoot TV and iHeartRadio, this is La Monstra, a story of abomination and conspiracy. The story about the man who simply become known as. Lamaster. Listen for free on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. What grows in the forest, our imagination, and our family bonds? The forest is closer than you think. Find a forest near you at, brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council. We've all felt left out, and for people who moved to this country, that feeling lasts more than a moment. We can change that, learn how it belonging begins with, brought to you by the ad council. After 30 years, it's time to return to the halls of W Beverly High and hang out at the Peach Pit on the podcast 9021 OMG. Visit Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling for a rewatch of the hit series Beverly Hills 90210. From the very beginning we get to tell the fans all of the behind the scenes stories to actually happen so they know what happened on camera, obviously, but we can tell them all the good stuff that happened off camera. Listen to 9021 OMG on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Chapter 18, Sasha Sasha didn't feel safe out on the street after Anna's abduction. The next day, she'd volunteered for four extra hours of duty in the emergency ward. She changed bandages and administered antibiotic saves and delivered food to wounded soldiers until her eyes started to glaze over and Doctor Brandt ordered her home. She'd barely had the energy to eat that night, but by the time her driver dropped her off at the House of Miriam, it was dark. And there's been no one waiting for her. That strategy hadn't worked. The day after that. Doctor Brandt had even tried to send her home early. Sasha had talked him out of it, but not out of sending her back downtown at the normal time. She was sure her driver must have noticed how anxious she was. By the time they reached the main drag, she was drenched in sweat. Her hands were shaking. She asked him to drop her off 1/2 block down from the normal spot so she could enter the square from the left side and get a good look at who was hanging out near the House of Miriam. Alexander had been there, of course, sitting out in front of a building 2 doors down from the house along with one of his friends. Avoiding them had brought her to the cafe Clement, and then something she could only assume was God's Providence had bumped her into Emanuel. He was sweet and fun to talk to, and it was actually refreshing to have a conversation with someone who didn't constantly quote Scripture or Pastor Mike. She was surprised at herself for feeling that way. A few weeks ago she'd have given anything to have an open conversation about her beliefs, but now that she was deep. Than the Kingdom. It was nice to talk about normal things with a normal boy. The next day had brought her back to the hospital, which was filled with wounded soldiers from an airstrike on a troop transport. Sasha had spent nine hours without a break, helping Doctor Brandt cut clothing off of horribly burned young men. She'd applied slick gummy burn dressings and changed Ivy drips of painkillers. The day was long, bloody and brutal. 4 men died in front of her eyes and there was no time to really think about it. She knew that she should have been more horrified at what she was seeing, but the exposed organs and burnt, shriveled limbs. Didn't feel like parts of people. Even the screams felt more like Rd hazards or bad weather than damaged pieces of human beings. They were obstacles to be dealt with. She and Doctor Brant dealt with them well. A still, small voice in the back of her mind recoiled in horror at the sheer volume of human misery she saw that day. But that voice was quieter than it had been on other days, and it grew quieter as the day went on and the death toll mounted. Sasha had read about post traumatic stress disorder back in school. She understood the mechanics of it. That people tended to cope with terrifying situations by suppressing their fear. But this didn't feel like that. It felt like she was just doing her job and she enjoyed her job. Before she knew it, 10 hours had gone by and Doctor Brant demanded she find a ride back to the House of Miriam and get some rest. That was the first time in the entire day when Sasha felt truly scared. It started in her chest. Her heart fluttered faster and faster until the flutter turned to a pounding so loud it felt like someone was smashing a hammer on the inner walls of her cranium. She pressed her back hard into the seat of the Jeep and hoped her growing panic wasn't obvious to the driver. He dropped her off on the other side of the square again. She didn't see Alexander or his comrades near the House of Miriam this time, but she knew that didn't mean they weren't watching the place. She had plans to meet Emmanuel again anyway. Sasha half expected him to have moved on since she'd been so late, but he was there, standing out in front of the cafe Clement when she arrived. I'm sorry I'm so late, she said. He shrugged in response. I just got here myself. They dismissed us late. We had a special lecture before dinner about a his face grew red, and he trailed off about what she poked. Maybe let's just sit down first, huh? So they found a seat and ordered their coffee. Manny tried to change the subject by asking Sasha about her day, but she was curious about his reaction and would not be dissuaded. I'll tell you all about my day if you tell me about that lecture and why just thinking about it made your face go red. He grew redder and stared down into his coffee. A pastor came over to lecture us about our duty and helping the Heavenly Kingdom grow. You know our duty. Emmanuel gave her a significant look. She gathered his meaning and then she blushed too. That's why they bust us out here every day, he continued. It's so we can get to know the local women and then get to know them in the biblical sense. She laughed in spite of herself. I think that was the First off color joke I've heard in weeks. It felt good and risque. It was actually the same sort of thrill she'd gotten back home when she'd sneakily read issues of Revelator and browsed the media feeds of various martyrs brigades. You know Emmanuel, she said. You're not quite like anyone else I've met here. It's nice to meet someone who isn't afraid to joke. I didn't think I'd missed that. He was quiet for a little while. Manny stirred his coffee awkwardly, cast his eyes down. He went paler. You seem different too. I don't know this place, maybe it's not exactly what we thought it would be. She should have gotten angry at that. It was the kind of comment that could have gotten Emmanuel into a lot of trouble. Why would he say that to me, she wondered. And why am I OK with all this? Maybe it was Marigold rubbing off on her. Maybe it was just gradual disillusionment, the climax of a process that had started with Alexander's betrayal, but the Heavenly Kingdom no longer felt magical, or even all that holy. It's complicated here, she finally said. I mean, before I came here, I knew it couldn't be perfect. No places. But yes, it's not what I'd hoped to find, exactly. Sasha felt a spike of panic as soon as the words left her mouth. You barely know this man, Sasha. His whole job might be ferreting out potential disloyalty. She coughed and tried to walk her admission back a little. It's still better than the SDF or any of the other heathen states. I have to keep telling myself that what's important is what we're fighting for, not the imperfections we have to live with in this moment. Hmm. He gave a noncommittal grunt that surprised her. She hadn't expected anything specific, exactly, but that surprised her. He started to say something else. Then his eyes went wide. Who? He started to say. Sasha heard footfalls. She felt the presence of several tall men behind her. The heavy, familiar scent of Alexander's Cologne filled her nostrils. Mother Emmanuel Sanchez, Miss Sasha, may the blessings of the Lord be with you. And also with you, Sasha replied by rote. Emmanuel chimed in a second or two later. He sounded a bit awkward, like he wasn't exactly sure which words to use. Alexander pulled up a chair and set it against the right side of the table. He sat down, placing himself between them. He rested one arm on the table, but his left arm hung directly over his sidearm. He looked at Emmanuel, smiled, and then looked at Sasha. She felt a wave of nausea, grabbed her by the guts, and tug his lips curled up, revealing his straight. White teeth. Excuse me, Manny said. But who were you? Alexander looked back to Manny, his expression unchanged. Marta Alexander Debois, I'm a friend of Sasha's. He glanced back at her with a wink. That curdled her stomach, and I'm also in charge of recruitment for the storming battalion. Never heard of it, Emanuel said in a gruff, clipped tone. Sasha realized she was shaking a little. Alexander's lips curled up into an even more ghoulish variant of his already unsettling smile. He replied. There's a reason for that. Maeda Sanchez, the storming battalion, plays a key role in our success on the battlefield. They've been central in every one of our victories. We don't publicize their work for various reasons, but I assure you it's a distinct honor to be recruited by me. That's actually why I'm here, Emmanuel. We've chosen you. By now it felt like the pit of Sasha's stomach was boiling. Something terrible was clearly happening. Even Emmanuel seemed to realize that his face had gone pale. His pupils were the size of dinner plates. I thank you for the honor, but I'm happy with my unit. I feel that's where the Lord needs me. My friend Aaron Alexander put a hand up flat, palm facing Emmanuel. Your comrade will be taken care of, and we'll be the judges of where the Lord needs you. Trust me, we've got a lot more experience interpreting his will than you do. There's a reason the cross flies over this entire city. Emmanuel half stood in his chair. It was a sudden gesture, and a faintly aggressive one. Sasha noticed his hands were balled up into fists. His eyes darted left and right. He seemed to be looking over the heads of Alexander and his men. Alexander tensed. Both the men put hands over their sidearms, but Emmanuel didn't take any further action. After a few turns of his head, he stopped looking, relaxed his hands, and sat back down. OK, he said. I get the feeling you want me to go with you now. Alexander smiled. It was a vicious, oily thing, and it confirmed in Sasha's heart that he had something terrible planned. Yes, that's exactly what I want. He cocked his head up and pursed his lips in an exaggerated gesture of consideration. Well, actually, I want you to go with these men. I need to stay here and have a word with Sasha. Emmanuel looked into her eyes. He was scared clearly, but he kept his voice steady when he spoke. Sasha, I've got to go do my duty, find errand for me, will you? Tell him I am. Wish him the best and I hope to see him soon. He put definite emphasis on that last word and then he gave Sasha a very deliberate nod before he stood and stepped towards Alexander's men. Take him to the factory for his intake processing. I'll be along shortly, Alexander said. He put a hand on Emmanuel's forearm as the young man passed by and said you should give a prayer of Thanks, Brother, God has blessed you with a great honor. A manual smile was as false as Alexander's. God bless you, martyr de blois. I'll pray that you and all your men grow closer to our Lord. Was that a threat? She wondered, before deciding, of course it was. In a more normal situation, Sasha would have mulled that over. It certainly was not the sort of comment she'd have expected from a true martyr, but just then she was far too consumed with terror, both for Emmanuel and for herself. Alexander's guards led many away and Alexander took his place at the table. He took a long sip from Emanuel's cooling coffee and smiled his snake smile again. I must say, Sasha, I thought you had better taste than that. For the first time in her life, Sasha found herself trying to stare daggers at someone. Oh, with only I could shoot knives out of my eyes, she thought as she imagined 1 striking Alexander in the forehead with enough force to burst out the back of his skull. Is that something chromed people can do? She wondered, and decided she'd ask Marigold if she ever got another chance to talk to the woman. Hey. He snapped his fingers in front of her eyes, and she hated him a little more. She was sort of surprised to learn that was possible. Look, I know coming here can be disorienting. I know this is a lot to get used to. But him a ******* it's people like him who filled this continent with their mongrel spawn and tore American civilization to splinters. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, she said. We are all the fruit, fruit of the same tree. Yeah, I know I've met Pastor Mike. I know God made us all, and I also know he made some of us better than others. There's a reason civilization reached its peak under white men, and there's a reason it crumbled once we let them take the reins for a while. It's not worth arguing with him, she told herself. So Sasha decided to ask a blunt question. What's going to happen to Emmanuel? Alexander smiled. Exactly what I said was going to happen to him. He's going to the factory for a training, and then he'll participate in the invasion of Waco as part of the storming battalion. And what is that? In a way, it's the luckiest unit in the Heavenly Kingdom's whole military. They are the first ones in guaranteed glory. He took another long, slow sip from Manny's coffee. His eyes bored into her all the while and guaranteed modem. Sasha felt a little pride for not crying. Tears threatened at the corners of her eyes. Praise be to God, she choked out, followed by I still have duties tonight at the house. May I go? Alexander sneered at that, and then he waved his hand in a gesture that was surely meant to be casual and dismissive. It looked calculated, though, like it was important to him that she feel like this didn't matter to him. For some reason, that observation made Sasha feel a little stronger. Go on, then, he said. We'll talk to Mara. Maybe we'll do more than talk, maybe not. She stood up, still fighting back tears, and left the cafe without a response. Sasha wanted to go to someone, anyone, in the wake of all this, there's nothing to do. The smarter, colder part of her brain, the part that always sounded like her mother, warned her. Anything you say will only make it worse. She knew that was true. Even Helen couldn't do anything for Emmanuel now. She'd made it very clear that military matters took precedence over everything else in the Heavenly Kingdom. It made sense. And yet shouldn't right and wrong be what matter most here? She wasn't even sure what either of those words meant anymore. Was this really what God wanted? Was this how a society based on his laws operated? Sasha told herself over and over again that she'd made the right decision, that the Kingdom wasn't perfect, but it was the best of all the other options. That voice grew quieter and less convincing as she walked through the doors of the House of Miriam and noticed another missing person. Where's Suzanne? She asked Helen after scanning the dining room for her friend. The older woman smiled, but it wasn't the warm look Sasha had come to expect. Helen looked strained, tired, perhaps even a little ill. Suzanne met her husband today. Sasha narrowed her eyes and fought down an immediate surge of rage. She met him, or did he see her and claim her like Anne Suiter? Helen did not like that. She almost growled her next words. Be very careful with what you insinuate, Miss Sasha. I know this isn't what any of you dreamed of, but you did come here to help further the Kingdom. This is how that looks. Sasha knew in that moment that there was nothing else she could say to Helen. What would be the point? So she nodded meekly, and she apologized. And then she ate her dinner like a robot and cleaned up for bed. Throughout all that, marigold's words rang louder in her memory. You got suckered into a ******* nightmare. It's time to wake up. It's time to wake up. It's time to wake up. It's time to wake. Sasha went to bed around 9. She'd had a long and exhausting day. Tomorrow was sure to be more of the same, but she couldn't sleep now that she was safely in bed. Hidden from the world, the tears refused to stay hidden behind her eyes. It was all Sasha could do to avoid audible sobs. She lay awake for an hour, maybe more, until she heard a thwack followed by a thump. She opened her eyes and rolled over to face the door and the time it took to complete that motion. She heard the door whoosh open and then a series of thumps so rapid they sounded like 1 long drum roll. Sasha felt A rush of air and then since the presence of a new person the instant before she completed her role, she looked up to see a man at the side of her bed. He was big, broad, and clad in a torn and bloodied martyrs uniform. He had a heavy metal pipe in his hand. Sasha rose her hands up in an instinctive gesture of self-defense the moment before she saw the hulking man's face. And realized who he was. Aaron? The man blinked. He looked confused for a moment, and then he laughed. Alright, yes, now my name Hun. You can call me Roland. What are you? What's happening? Are we under attack? Yes, sorta by me. I knocked out the old lady. He gestured his head back towards the other girls sleeping in their beds. I knocked them all out too. Just minor concussions, but they're out cold. I am very confused, Sasha said in a flat voice. And very frightened. You're not frightened. She was surprised to realize that he was right. Sasha knew she should have been scared, but her heart rate didn't elevate. She didn't start to sweat. She did feel confused, but she also felt calm. Maybe I've just been so scared the last few days. My body can't handle anymore of it. Maybe I've reached the limit of my capacity for fear. I guess you're right, she said. I should be afraid. This is also. She trailed off, grasping for words. Yeah, it's ****** Roland said. And then he pulled up a canteen that had been hanging from his shoulder. Took a deep pull. The scent of alcohol wafted over to her. You want some? He asked. I made it in my guts filled canteen as I finished up at the base. Wait, Sasha said. What happened at the base? Roland gave another shrug and took another pull. The boss guys told me, man, he had been reassigned to some sort of, don't know, suicide battalion. This ****** me off, so I broke exactly half of their bones. Sasha could hear sirens now. Off in the distance, it sounded like there were rather a lot of them. She imagined this was connected to whatever Roland had done. I'm going to guess you and Emmanuel aren't really martyrs, are you? He chuckled. I mean, maybe someday, sister. Just now I don't see any causes worth dying for. But I get your meaning. And no, I don't give a **** about your heavenly Kingdom. Manny actively hates it. We're spies or we were spies. Now he's a captive and I'm a terrorist again. Oh, she said. And then I think I would like a drink. He handed her the canteen, and she took a generous gulp. Sasha had only tried alcohol once before. She'd been 13, not yet a Christian, and at a party she'd been far too young to attend. She remembered the sensation of gentle warmth spreading down her throat, and the sense of elation and well-being that had followed. She'd taken a few more sips, which had made the world far too spinny for her comfort. She'd vomited not long after, but she figured, if there was ever a time to try alcohol again, it's now. The drink tasted like beer, but it burned like a shot of hard liquor. Sasha passed the canteen back. She felt like taking more would be a bad idea. Alright then, Roland said. I'm going to make a few guesses. Guess one is that you're a little less than enthusiastic about the Heavenly Kingdom now that you've seen it up close. Guess 2 is that you're looking for a way out. And guess 3 is that you know something about where my little buddy went, huh? Emmanuel? Manny. You know where he is. I don't. She started. I'll bet you do. Even if you don't know you do. I know you were there when he was taken. I could smell it in the street. Smell it? He sighed and needed the bridge of his nose. This is the time where you explained things. The time where I explained things comes later. Or maybe never. He lifted up the pipe in his hand so she could see how bloody and dented it was. I have the pipe. 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You can turn back now or read the stuff they don't want you to know. Available for pre-order now, it's stuff you should read or wherever you find your favorite books. Wife, look, she said this. This boy I know Alexander. He found us at the cafe. We were just sitting down to coffee. He had two men with him and he said Emmanuel had been selected for the storming battalion. Do you have any idea where they took him? The kids sent trail grows cold about a mile from here. Sasha racked her brain. Of course, she didn't know where the Heavenly Kingdom did this sort of training, but Alexander said something about the factory. And at that, Roland's eyes lit up. He turned around, as if to leave. I know where he is. Then he looked back and down to Sasha and said moment of truth time. Darling, you want to stay here in this **** pile Kingdom? Or he jerked his thumb to the door. Do you want me to break you out? And I'll make offers like that often, so take it as a compliment. This time, it didn't take long for Sasha to make up her mind. Yes, she said. I'd like to go with you. What grows in the forest? Trees? Sure, no one else grows in the forest. Our imagination, our sense of wonder and our family bonds grow too, because when we disconnect from this. And connect with this, we reconnect with each other. The forest is closer than you think. Find a forest near you and start exploring and brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the ad Council. Hello and welcome to our show. I'm Zoe Deschanel and I'm so excited to be joined by my friends and castmates, Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris. To recap our hit television series New Girl. Join us every Monday on the welcome to our show podcast, where we'll share behind the scenes stories of your favorite New Girl episodes, reveal the truth behind the legendary game True American, and discuss how this show got made with the writers, guest stars, and directors who made the show so special. Fans have been begging us to do a New Girl recap for years and we finally made a podcast. Where we answer all your burning questions like, is there really a bear in every episode of New Girl? Plus, each week you'll hear hilarious stories like this at the end when he says you got some Schmidt on your face. I feel like I pitched that joke. I believe that I feel like I did. I'm not 1000% I want to say that was I? I tossed that one out. Listen to the welcome to our show podcast on the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast. Conquer your New Year's resolution to be more productive with the Before Breakfast podcast and each bite size, daily episode time management and productivity expert Laura Vanderkam teaches you how to make the most of your time, both at work and at home. These are the practical suggestions you need to get more done with your day. Just as lifting weights keeps our bodies strong as we age, learning new skills is the mental equivalent of pumping iron. Listen to before breakfast wherever you get your podcasts. Chapter 19, Manny. He knew where they were taking him. As soon as the transport exited Hwy 75, it took exit 40B White Ave McKinney. He visited the town a few times as a kid before things in this part of DFW had gone entirely to ****. Many thought of the satellite photos Reggie had shown them. He thought about that Tesla plant and what strange mysteries it must hide. Somewhere in that plant was the answer to how the martyrs had so thoroughly deflocked the SDF's defence network. Manny hadn't exactly planned to find an answer to that question on this trip. Now it seemed like he wouldn't have a choice in the matter. His escorts, Alexander's men, hadn't said much. They directed him to the proper transport and told him to keep his mouth shut when he asked for an explanation. And he did as they asked, because he half expected them to gun him down if he made a real fuss, Roland's bound to find me. He can find any ******* one. I just need to stay alive long enough for him to get here. Once Upon a time, the Tesla factory had been an Immaculate sign of what some commenters called the Texan Renaissance. After the fall of the old United States, the Republic of Texas had been one of the first functional states to arise in the southwest. Dallas had been wrecked by the Lakewood BLAST, but the rest of the state still had 10s of millions of people and abundant natural resources. For a while, the ******** libertarian policies of the Republic had created a minor economic miracle. Tesla had gotten this factory going about three years before that boom. That bust. The first room they were taken to had clearly been some sort of reception area, and probably a showroom. At one point there were three large Oval shaped plinths that had once held cars, and a handful of metal desks bolted hard into the ground. There were also several benches stripped of whatever they'd once been upholstered with, and a few dozen folding chairs that were clearly recent additions. Manny could see signs that the walls had been attacked at several places in an attempt to strip them of wires. The damage was obvious, but not as extensive as he'd expected. Messiah. With the metal standards, this building was in good shape. A dozen martyrs occupied the room. They wore quality, non powered body armor and toted rifles that must have been looted new from their republic's armories. One of the desks was manned by a harried looking young man in an off white suit. He wore no sign of rank, but did have a white cross arm band around his left bicep and a Golden cross pin on his lapel. He was balding, baby faced, and the deep bags under his eyes spoke of severe exhaustion. His face lit up when he saw Manny another. My prayers have been answered. As the Lord Wills it, one of Manny's escorts replied. They brought him to the desk and the besuited man looked up at him. He had a hungry look in his eyes. He'd started to sweat a little too. He may call me Isaac. What's your name, young man? Man? Emmanuel Emmanuel Sanchez. The little man jotted that down on a piece of paper and then continued asking questions. What's your date of birth? Do you have any family history of allergies or illnesses? Have you ever undergone surgery before? What bio modifications, if any, are currently active in your system? Do you have any inactive modifications? And so on. After about 10 minutes of questioning, the little man told Manny to stand up and follow him into an examination room. His tone was cordial, even warm, but Manny tasted doom behind it. He smelled death in this place, and his soul cried out against heading further into its bowels. But there was nothing to do but follow. Alexander's men left after dropping him off, but there were plenty of guards on the front room. Two of them followed. Manny and the young man backed through the double doors and into the heart of the facility. They walked through what had once been an open floor office. There were a few overturned desks and chairs, but mostly the place was barren and half cannibalized for scrap. It was ill lit and derelict. What are we doing here? Manny asked. Isaac put a hand on his shoulder and smiled. We're doing God's work, he said. The same as everywhere in this Blessed Kingdom. I know that, Manny said in a slow, careful tone, but I don't understand why I was pulled out of training or why I was removed from my unit. What is this place? Isaac didn't answer. Instead, he walked Manny to a door in the back of the empty office and opened it to reveal a small, well lit white room with a bench await scale and a computer terminal built into the wall above a rolling cabinet. Isaac weighed him, marked down his height, and then pulled a strange measuring device out of the cabinet. It looked like a cross between a protractor and a pin vice. This is a cranium ometer, Isaac explained once he saw the confusion on Manny's face. It's for measuring the size of your skull. Isaac set right to work. He fit the strange device around Manny's head and tightened it until the vice gripped bit into Manny scalp. Isaac jotted down some more numbers on his notepad and removed the cranium. Ometer, he looked pleased. That alone was enough to turn Manny's stomach. Can you please tell me what this is all about? Isaac's eyes darted up from his paper for justice a moment. He gave Manny an insincere, distracted smile. Everything will be explained soon enough, young man, right now, which should be enough to know you're doing the Lord's work. Manny was very, very tired of that response. Isaac finished his notes and led many out of back door in the room and into what Manny had to assume was the final step in their journey. The scent of blood in the air was too heavy for anything else to be the case. Many felt hair stand up on the back of his neck. His shoulders went tense and a moment later he felt the strong hands of his guards on either bicep. This new room was part mechanic shop, part abattoir. It had once been the main factory floor and it was filled with the half looted carcasses of robotic auto workers. Several of those machines had been restored. Some level of functional capacity. Many could see 20 ish new vehicles in various states of construction across the vast space instead of sleek consumer grade electronic cars. Most of these vehicles seem to be very old and worn sedans and trucks. A handful of them were outdated and nigh obsolete military drones. Pallets of plastic explosives sat outside several of the vehicles. Many could see human workers packing blocks of it into a battered off white Kia a few dozen feet in front of him. None of this was particularly shocking. Vehicle based improvised explosive devices had been deregulated for terrorist insurrections for the last 70 years. Two things about this factory struck many as strange. The first is that none of the vehicles in construction had any armor added to them. Most VBI Ed's would be covered in thick slabs of concrete and welded scrap metal to ensure they made it safely to their target. The vehicles here seemed like they would look normal when they finally rolled off the reassembly line. The second odd thing was that dozens of surgical tables and the rather significant amount of red blood coating the floor underneath them. Five of the beds were occupied with bodies covered by blood speckled white sheets. The men under them appeared dead. Oh God. Manny forgot his cover in the dawning horror of the moment. What the hell is this place? What's your mouth, young man? Isaac snapped. This is a temple of the Lord, where young heroes delivered themselves into the waiting arms of eternity. A tall man in a lab coat made his way over to them. He had Gray hair and warm brown eyes behind horn rimmed spectacles. He gave Manny a warm smile and extended out a hand in greeting. The Lord be with you, Emmanuel. I'm doctor arnst. I'm sure you must be full of questions right now, gentlemen. He glanced towards the guards who still had their hands on Manny. You can let him go now. This young man is a hero and he should be treated as such. The hands loosened, Manny heard the men step back. He flashed a nervous smile back at the doctor. Keep him talking, man, he thought. The longer you drag this out, the more time Roland will have. What is going on here? These are he grappled for the correct terminology. These martyrdom devices seem different, and I don't know what's going on with with with all the medical equipment and the bodies. Doctor Ernst finished his question without so much a break in his warm smile. Yes, God bless him, but diplomacy is not Isaac's. Strong suit. He gets rather focused on the task at hand. Many noticed that the odd little man had already wandered off towards a rolling tray of medical equipment near one of the surgical beds that set Manny's heart beating even faster. Follow me, said Doctor Ernst, and I'll explain everything. The doctor led him to one of the shrouded bodies and pulled its covering down, revealing the dead man's face. Manny wasn't exactly surprised to see that it was Jonathan, the young man from Atlanta he'd met just a few days before. Jonathan was, of course, quite dead. A bloody red line ran across his skull just above his ears. His eyes were closed and his lips were turned up in a beatific smile. You know this man? Yes, doctor? Ernst asked gently. Yes, of course you do, the doctor chuckled. You're both colored men in the heavenly. Kingdom I'd be surprised if you hadn't developed a connection. It's only natural to gravitate towards your own kind. Many fought down the urge to slap doctor Ernst. Jonathan here started his journey to martyrdom just a few hours ago. I know he appears dead, but as it was with our Lord and Saviour appearances, queen be quite deceiving. His brain is still quite alive and alert. It's just been moved. Doctor Ernst gestured over to the Kia. Many saw that another lab coated worker was now carrying a peculiar metal box over to the VBI IED. The box was about head sized and covered with sockets and plugs. A single green light flickered on one side. See, they're loading him into his chariot now, and soon he'll pilot this anointed engine of heavenly will to the ruin of our enemies. Many thought back to that last day before the invasion, to Reggie's questions about that mysterious checkpoint bombing. This must be how they did it. He realized the SDF's checkpoints were perfectly capable of reading the itinerary of any autonomous vehicle that drove towards them. They'd shoot anything that didn't broadcast its destination, but the Kingdom had found a way to hide a human driver capable of taking over once the car was past the checkpoint. His eyes drifted over to a combat drone lying half disassembled on the table a few yards to his left. It was a hefty beetle black monster with a heavy underslung machine gun. It reminded many, terribly, of the drone that had almost killed him and Reggie a few days earlier. This explains why the SDF drone jammers didn't work. The Heavenly Kingdom wasn't really using drones. Many realized with dawning horror that the drones open cavity was likely the intended resting place of his brain. Ah, Doctor, Ernst smiled. I see you've already spotted your chariot. Yes, Emmanuel, you are quite fortunate. Martyr Dittmar noted your intelligence and suggested you be implanted into a drone. I assure you, it's a high honor even in this sacred place. Manny's heart thudded like the tolling of a church bell. For a while he couldn't hear anything else. He felt himself gripped by a sudden, claustrophobic terror. The worst thing wasn't even the thought of being cut open, torn apart. It was the thought of being trapped inside that little metal box, forced to kill and die in the name of a cause he aboard. Many knew he'd started to shake, but there was nothing he could do to quell the terror. Dr Ernst put a hand on his shoulder. Many assumed it was meant to reassure him. It did not have that effect. Emmanuel, I know this is quite a lot to take in, but all you really need to know is that you've been blessed, truly blessed, with the chance to play a real role in making the Heavenly Kingdom a reality. The storming battalion of gods Elite, the holiest of our martyrs. I'm sure once the shock wears off, you'll realize what a privilege this is. Manny heard footsteps he didn't need to look to know. His guards were stepping back up behind him. He felt the noose Titan and his hopes slip ever farther away. Where the hell is Roland? I am, he stuttered. Can I have some time to to to prey on this? Of course, Emmanuel. Dr Ernst smile never looked false or forced. He put a hand on Manny's shoulder. It will be a few minutes before we're ready to begin the operation. I commend your devotion. This is an ideal time to pray for guidance. A few minutes. His heart pounded so hard he thought it might beat its way free from his chest. He was sure Doctor Ernst must have heard it, but if he did, he said nothing about it instead. Doctor led Manny over to a small carpeted area that looked to have been set aside as a prayer room for the soon to be martyred members of this battalion. It consisted of a half dozen shares at least. They're padded A3 foot tall white stone, statue of Christ on a cross, and two small end tables each with a couple of dog eared Bibles. Manny sat down, bereft of any better idea, he grabbed a Bible and flipped it open to a random page. King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold 60 cubits high and six cubits wide. Many rolled his eyes. What the flaming hell is a cubit? He skimmed the next few verses until he realized which story he'd stumbled upon. His religious schooling hadn't been intense, but he had gone to church most Sundays for the better part of a decade. He'd listened to enough sermons and attended enough Sunday school classes to know the story of Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego, three stupid ******** who'd wandered into a furnace and trusted in Deus Ex Deus to save them. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. It struck Manny that his current predicament had more than a little in common with these ancient men, if they'd ever existed in the 1st place. The chief difference was that, of course, Manny wasn't praying for the help of a God. He was, however, strongly hoping for rescue from a God like being that felt close enough to give him a sense of kinship towards the men and the story. The King's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot, that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the burning furnace. He hadn't remembered that bit from Sunday school, the part where the King soldiers were burnt alive by the heat of his fire. Many wondered what kind of soldiers would so willingly step into a pointless death at some Mad King's command. And then he remembered where he was. He looked up from the Bible at the 20 or so armed men stationed around the factory. I really, really hope someone comes along to burn them to death. Many heard footsteps behind him. He looked back this time and saw Doctor Arnst advancing with two guards and Isaac, the Bald little man was visibly excited and obscene smile played across his features. He held an almost comically large needle in his hands. Many looked over from him to the doctor. Emmanuel, Dr Ernst said. It's time. Many stood. His mind raced for some sort of delaying tactic. I need to pray more. I I need more pray time. Confusion passed over all the men's faces. Time is of the essence here, Doctor, Ernst insisted. Don't delay this important work because you're scared. Trust in the Lord. Open your heart to his will. See, I have I I totally have, Manny stammered. And I'm pretty sure he's actually not down with this. Yeah, I think he wants me to be a soldier. A regular soldier with a gun, not a brain and a drone, doctor Ernst glanced back at the two guards flanking him. He nodded, and they advanced. One man had a clash nikov on his back. The other had a holstered. Right arm. Both men were much larger and more muscular than Manny. He glanced around for a weapon, as if anything left around would be useful against two firearms. There was still a Bible in his hands that probably would have been enough for Roland. Manny had no doubt the posthuman could kill a dozen men with a book, more if it was hardcover Emmanuel. The Doctor's voice was low, soft, and as comforting as a lullaby. I know this is a frightening thing, but you must trust me. You must trust all of us. The heavenly Kingdom. Not spend your life this way. If we were not certain your sacrifice would further the will of our Lord. That is why you came here, Emmanuel. I know. If you listen to God, you'll see what's right. Manny closed his eyes. He listened not for the voice of God, but for the sound of footsteps. After a few seconds pause, he heard the guards move towards him again. He gripped hard on the Bible in his hand, and he tried not to think too much about what he'd already decided he had to do. The footsteps grew closer until Manny could almost feel the heat coming off the other men's bodies. Very good, Emmanuel. Dr Ernst kood. God loves you. Many opened his eyes. The guards were right in front of him now. Reaching for him, many swung the Bible up, underhanded into the Kalashnikov man's chin. Then he dove to the right and slammed his head into the other man's crotch with all the forces 5 foot 10 inch frame could bring to bear. The man howled. Manny half fell, caught himself, and dropped into a dead run aimed straight for Isaac. Both the bald headed Needleman and Doctor Ernst stared at him in astonishment. Belatedly, Isaac raised his arms up in defence. The gesture did nothing to stop Manny. From plowing into him and knocking him to the ground, he punched the other man in the face hard, and then scrambled back to his feet too. He felt the pain of the gunshot before he heard it. Or rather, he didn't register the sound of the gunshot as a gunshot until the pain made it clear he'd been shot, and then Manny was on the ground. His world shrunk to the space below his belly button, which now pulsed with spurts of deep red blood. His hands covered the wound, pressing back against it in an instinctive attempt to protect himself. He stared in fascination. The spreading red he watched as his blood turned chunky and thick. The spurting faded away to a slow ooze. The pain caught up to him now, and Manny's vision went black for a moment. The world faded into view after a while. Doctor Ernst, Isaac and both guards were standing above him. The guard with a handgun had it drawn. A wisp of smoke trailed up from the barrel. Manny watched, enthralled, as it curled up to the sky and gradually disappeared into the air around them. You've made a grievous error, my boy. Doctor Ernst's voice was grave now, devoid of all compassion. You was so close to paradise, it almost brings me to tears. The doctor was only a few feet away, but his voice sounded distant and muffled. I'm dying, aren't I? Manny thought. No. If that was a kill shot, I'd be dead by now. The Bleeding's already stopped. The thought did little to calm his nerves. He'd thoroughly blown his cover. Even if they never guessed his true purpose in coming to the Heavenly Kingdom, he'd be executed for trying to flee. This is going to put us even further behind schedule. That was Isaac. His nose was bleeding, but it didn't look broken. I wish I was better at punching. Take him outside, Doctor Artz said to the guards, and make it quick. There's no sense in stringing him up in public for simple cowardice, so this is how it's going to end. Manny was confused by how at peace he felt with that. Some of it was guilt. Alejandro was dead, Hamid was dead, Oscar was dead, Mr Peron was dead. This was nothing more than he deserved. He was pleasantly surprised to find that as the little robots in his blood flooded his system with happy drugs, that sense of guilt began to fade. He felt wonderfully detached from the world. He wondered if this was how Roland felt all the time. Disconnected and pleasant in a vague, indefinable way. The guards bent down. Many felt their hands on his arms. He felt them lift him up. He felt a terrible, shifting pain in his gut as another rush of clotting blood poured out of him. Many thought of Mr Perrone. He could almost see his face. Maybe the Christians were right about the afterlife. That was a nice thought, actually. He thought Mr Peron would be proud of him. I tried to do something, Sir. I really did. Many didn't see the source of the noise. It sounded like something heavy falling from a high height onto something soft and squishy. Someone soft and squishy, he realized. The guards dropped him. Men started to yell. Gunshot, gunshot, gunshot, many thought, and he giggled a little bit. The sounds of chaos and violence that had erupted inside the factory could only be Roland's doing. Many lifted up his head with considerable effort and looked over towards the waiting area where most of the guards had sat idle. It was a mess now. Several of the chairs in one of the big tables were mashed together with a chunky red paste that resembled good salsa. People salsa, he thought, and then giggled again. Many caught a glimpse of Roland as the chromed man rocketed across the factory floor and into a trio of guards. The men didn't even have the chance to fire their weapons. The first guard burst like a balloon full of Jelly. It was hard to tell exactly what happened next, as it occurred under a Red Cloud of human viscera. Many slipped in his own blood and fell back onto the floor. He stared up at the ceiling for a little while and just focused on trying to keep his breath steady. There was nothing else he could do here anyway. Emanuel, Sasha, he thought. Yeah, he said. It's OK. He felt her warm hand on his forehead. Don't talk. You've been shot, but you're probably not going to die. Probably. He had to admire her fundamental honesty. I'm going to try to drag you out of here. If you can walk, that would be really helpful. She grabbed Manny under the armpits and tried to pull him up. He let out a coughing cry at the pain of being moved again, but he also realized late in the game that he still had some control over his legs. He pushed up, and with Sasha's help, fought gravity well enough that he soon stood under mostly his own power. Sasha wrapped one of his arms around her shoulder and took some of the weight off his weakened limbs, and then together they hobbled free if the charnel factory that had almost been his tomb. An hour later, Manny sat with Roland and Sasha on the roof of an old Bank of America and watched as the Tesla factory burned in the distance. Manny had passed out almost as soon as Sasha had got him out the door, he recalled waking up a few times during the run away from the factory. At some point, Roland had met up with them and started carrying him. He'd come to on the roof of the old bank building just in time to see Roland dribble a trail of weird *** blood into his gunshot wound. He'd felt a little revulsion at the act, but it had passed once his pain dissolved. I should really find a way to bottle that stuff, he thought. What happened? Manny asked once reality had solidified a little more. Roland found me, Sasha said, just after they took you. I told him that Alexander had mentioned a factory, and then, well, he seemed to know this must be the factory they'd been talking about. Thanks for that, Reggie, he told me he was going to uh. She coughed a little, and her cheeks reddened and embarrassment. Feed them their own ***** and that I should wait until they were engaged to run in and drag you out. A large explosion echoed across the cityscape, and the trio watched a small orange mushroom cloud light up the sky where the Tesla factory had been. It's about damn time, Roland grumbled. The detonators those ******* stole from their Republic were garbage. Hey, he looked over to Manny. The hell was that place, anyway? Yes, Sasha added. And how exactly did you end up getting shot there? Many related the whole story as best he could. Sasha's face went pale white with outrage and disgust when he explained exactly how the Heavenly Kingdom had managed to get its suicide vehicles past the SDFS checkpoints. Oh God, she moaned. Oh God above. No, no, no. Roland just laughed. That's as clever as a 2 headed crow. I'll give him that. He claps Sasha on the shoulder. Come on lady, you can't still be surprised by how ****** the Kingdom is. How many people did you watch them hang? Sasha didn't respond, she just sat there, eyes red and watery and stared out at the burning factory. Manny felt like he should have said something, but his mind was still catching up to his body after the events of the last couple of hours. Staring straight ahead represented the extent of his abilities right now. Sorry, Roland said in response to the silence. Don't forget, you kids aren't used to this sort of ****. I'll tell you, it gets easier. What, almost dying? Asked Manny. Or being betrayed by the only thing you ever believed in? Asked Sasha. Roland shrugged. Both, I guess. I mean, neither is much fun, but hey, y'all pop some cherries today so it's got to be nothing but downhill from here on out. Neither of them responded, but Roland plowed right along. I meant downhill in like the positive sense of the word. You know, sledding like that or something. More silence. Roland sighed and took a loud gulp from a piece of sheet metal he'd bent into a makeshift cup. The beverage inside smelled like another batch of his gut licker. It burned Manny's nose from 3 feet away. A minute went by, and then another. Without a word, they listened as emergency siren sounded and drew closer to the sight of the blast. So what the **** do we do now? Manny asked. Roland grunted and then belched. Well, we probably gotta roll back into town, break those ladies out of jail and then I don't know, we should probably leave, right? Many rolled his eyes. The casual recklessness of Roland's confidence had been fun and reassuring when he wasn't recovering from a gunshot wound. The events at the Tesla plant had proved to Manny that the Posthumans protection wasn't enough to guarantee his safety or Sasha's. He was the deadliest thing Manny had ever seen, but he couldn't be everywhere at once. Wait, who are you breaking out of jail? Sasha asked. Those 3 negotiators? Manny said from the City of Wheels, the woman you examined and their male companion. Sasha gave Manny a look. He couldn't quite parse out what he asked. Is that why you started talking to me? She asked. Because, you know, I was working with those women and you thought I might be able to get you into the jail? No, started Manny. I mean, sort of, right? Finished rolling. That was sure as **** a big plus. Many glared at the posthuman. Roland had all the tact and diplomacy of a chainsaw. That's why I'm here in the 1st place, he reminded himself. Look, Roland continued. There's no point in dressing any of this up, Sasha. You fled your home to join a militant terrorist organization that butcher civilians. Manny, you kind of manipulated her in the hope of getting information. I just beat like 20 people to death. Plus, I fed martyr Ditmar his own hand, and I feel genuinely bad about that. Roland shook his head. I'm really trying not to fall completely off the murder. They can hear guys, but when I get angry and the battle drugs start flowing, he shivered. I get ugly. Once again, Rowland's words were met with stunned silence, and once again he plowed forward nonetheless. What I'm saying is this whole situation is ugly as **** and none of us is a hero, but we're probably the least ****** people in the city with any kind of power. So let's all forgive each other's trespasses and use that power to try to save a couple of nice people from being crucified, or whatever it is Christians do to the people who **** them off. Is it just hanging? I Sasha started to respond, then shook her head in exasperation. Probably not. She said instead. Alright. Roland clapped and put on a bright smile. So how do we get in there? I mean, I can just sort of balls my way through the front door or the ceiling, but since this is an actual jail, it's probably reinforced. There's a good chance they'll kill the hostages before I punch my way into the cells. Many could almost hear the wheels turn and Sasha's head as she caught her thoughts up with what was now apparently her reality. To her credit, she responded in short order. That's probably the case. She nodded. There are armed guards outside of each cell, and there's a real disgust for those captives among the martyrs. They probably would shoot those women rather than let them escape. And what about the guy? I never saw him. I dealt with the women, Marigold and Ohh. What was her name? Toolie. But I assume he was in the same jail he is, Roland confirmed. Or at least he was last time I sniffed around there. Manny's mind finally spun up to full speed. The pain in his guts had subsided, as had the Mint mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. 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You can turn back now or read the stuff they don't want you to know. Available for pre-order now, it's stuff you should read or wherever you find your favorite books. Lightheaded, bloodless, feeling he'd woken up with, he felt comforted by the mere fact of having a simple problem to solve. At the core, this question was a logistical one, just like the problems he faced every day as a fixer, he needed to deliver his team to a certain location, the jail, in a limited time frame. So Manny's first job was to figure out what connections he'd need to make in order for that to be possible. Sasha? He asked. Who can help us get inside that jail? Do you know anyone who has the authority to come and go from there with impunity, Dr Brandt? She replied. He's a good man, I I think. But he's committed. He's not going to work with us to betray the Kingdom. He doesn't need to, Manny assured her. I'm going to guess. He's a smart guy, right? He has to be somewhat worldly to be an actual doctor. Sasha nodded. He's not a mindless elite, if that's what you're asking. Most of us aren't. You know, there was a reasonable case for supporting the Heavenly Kingdom. It just. She trailed off. And many put his hands out in a placating gesture. No, no, that's not not what I'm getting at. I want to make sure this guy has a sober, realistic understanding of what someone like Roland can do. Sasha's eyes went cloudy, but she nodded. He talked about them with me a little, she said. I would say he has a healthy respect for posthumans. Good, Manny said. So we find him and we make him an offer. Either Roland tears the heart out of the Kingdom, or doctor Brandt helps us get those captives out of the jail. If he's a sensible man, he'll have to see the reason in that. Sasha didn't look so sure about that, but after some consideration, she nodded and agreed that it was at least possible. OK, so we find this doctor, Brandt. We used him to get inside the jail. Roland does Roland things, and then we beat feet to get out of Ciudad de Muerta. Roland shrugged and took another deep pole from his gut beverage. He seemed on board. Sasha raised another question, though. OK, so who are you 2 supposed to be then? Every time Doctor Brandt and I visited the jail, we had a driver and an armed guard. But you two don't exactly look like you fit the bill right now. You. She pointed to Manny clearly, just took a bullet, and you she jabbed a finger at Roland. Looked like you just murdered dozens of people. Which I guess you did. Right, Manny clapped his hands. That's easy enough to fix. It's what, 5:00 AM? Now the city is starting to wake up. Do you know what shift Doctor Brandt's expected to work today, Sasha? Lately, he's been doing 7 to 7 and Roland, Manny continued. Do you know where the vehicle pool is? The big man nodded. Oh yeah, I dragged that down during my first Recon day. It's about 30 minutes away on foot for you guys. 5 minutes for me. We'll go slow, said Manny. Sasha, you let us know when you recognize Doctor Brandt, Jeep and driver. We'll stop them, relieve them with their uniforms, and drive on to the doctor's house. Roland, you think you can take out two men without bloodying up their uniforms? He gave another shrug. 5050. Alright, Manny nodded. That's plan A then, and what's Plan B? Sasha asked. close your eyes and hide behind Roland. Hi, I'm Robert Sex Reese, host of the Doctor Sex Reese show. And every episode I listen to people talk about their sex and intimacy issues. And yes, I despise every minute of it. I mean, she she made mistakes too, right? And she killed everyone at her wedding. But hell is real. We're all trapped here and there's nothing any of us can do about it. So join me. Won't you listen to the doctor sex Reshow every Tuesday? On the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast, I'm Colleen Witt. Join me, the host of eating Wall broke podcast while I eat a meal created by self-made entrepreneurs, influencers, and celebrities over a meal they once ate when they were broke. Today I have the lovely AJ Crimson, the official Princess of Compton, Asia kidding and Asia. This is the professor. We're here on 80 wild broke and today I'm going to break down my meal that got me through a time when I was broke. Listen to eating while broke on the iHeartRadio app, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, the art world. It is essentially a money laundering business. The best fakes are still hanging on people's walls. You know, they don't even know or suspect that they're fakes. I'm Alec Baldwin and this is a podcast about deception, greed, and forgery in the art world. You knew the painting was fake. Ohh. Listen to art fraud starting February 1st on the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Chapter 20. Roland, that looks like them, Sasha whispered into his ear. The three of them were stationed on the third floor of an old office building that overlooked the kingdom's vehicle pool. Based on the posters and decorations and side, the people in this office had once helped coordinate for a string of restaurant supply stores. Roland suspected the coming of the war might have been a relief to the people who'd been stuck working here. He was positioned by the window sitting down South. Only the edge of his face would have been visible to anyone looking in from the outside. Manny had elected to take a nap out of view behind one of the desks. His ability to fall asleep any time anywhere marked him out as a true expert in war zone survival. Sasha had situated herself on the other side of the window frame. Rowland had warned her to keep her head out of view until he saw new arrivals to the vehicle depot. He'd called for her eyes six times already and gotten 6 negatives. Now, it seemed, their target. They arrived. Are you sure? He asked. Pretty sure, she said, and nodded. The driver walks with a limp. One of his legs is shorter than the other. I think it's a birth defect. He must have come from some part of the continent where those still happen. Good eye. Roland was genuinely impressed the girl had potential. So what do we do now? She asked. You roused Manny. I'll keep an eye on things. When they depart. I'll carjack them into unconsciousness and bring back the uniforms. And that's more or less how it went. The garden driver departed in a Jeep 5 minutes later. Rolland bounded down from one of the rear windows and landed on the hood as they took a right hand turn out of view of the vehicle depot. The guard did not do his job title proud. Roland slammed his face into the dashboard and knocked him out. He also knocked out most of the man's teeth, but his hind brain told him the guy's odds of a fatal brain hemorrhage were only about 6% acceptable. He broke the driver's job with a right cross, took the wheel, and steered the vehicle. Would stop while he was still hanging outside it. Roland tossed both men in the back of the Jeep and pulled into the office buildings underground parking lot. He stripped them both and cursed when he realized that the guards bleeding face had stained the neck of his uniform shirt. He found some bottled water in the trunk and managed to wash out the worst of it, but the stain would still be visible to anyone who really took the time to look. Still, it'd probably be enough to get them through the door of the jail. He stashed both men in a janitorial closet and dragged an old metal dumpster in front of it to wedge the door shut. Someone would probably find them before they starve to death. He felt a pang of guilt for how little he cared about what happened to those men. I should feel worse about this. Roland knew the battle drugs had suppressed his conscience. He knew that the longer they stayed in this dangerous place, and the more fighting he did, the more tempted he'd be to kill outright. Roland leaned against the dumpster and closed his eyes. He tried to force himself to take long, slow breaths and meditate on the flow of air in and out of his lungs. He helped. Taking a breather would prompt his system to reduce the drip. Instead, he found himself flashing back to more violence. Red siren lights screeched and blinked on walls of institutional white men and women in lab coats. Ran and screamed and died. Died, died. As he squeezed the trigger of his SIG Sauer, Rowland kicked at a locked door and the metal buckled inwards, revealing a room with giant glass organ filled vials. He shook his head and tried to banish the memories. He'd started flashing back to this place when they'd rescued Manny, but the memories had kept coming, even once the violence subsided. Please, Roland, the old woman begged through blood stained teeth. He looked down at the hole in her gut, the red blood on her white lab coat. She slid backwards on the tile floor until her shoulders hit one of the racks of that grown organs. Please don't do this. Roland shook his head. He didn't know why this was happening exactly. It was likely just a glitch, some unforeseen interaction between the wetware of his hind brain, the procedural memory stored in his DNA, and the battle drugs that flowed through his system. He questioned again whether he really wanted his memories back. This wasn't the time to ponder that question, though. Roland headed back upstairs to grab Manny and Sasha. He led them down to the garage and handed Manny the Unbloodied uniform. Dude, that's really obvious. Many pointed to the blood stains on Roland's own uniform. They're going to notice that. You think so? Roland was so used to normal humans not noticing much of anything. He sometimes underestimated their senses. I've got an idea, Sasha said. Pop the hood. Roland and Manny were both a little surprised, but he popped it for her. The girl stared at the engine, reached for the dipstick, and pulled it free from its slot. She rubbed her hand down the shaft and it came away covered in sticky black grease. She rubbed the grease onto Roland's collar, coated the dipstick again, and repeated the process two more times. When she was done, he looked like he'd been working on an engine rather than beating a man. After death, ******* brilliant, Roland said. Manny nodded his agreement. Then he said. Alright, let's go abduct a doctor. The abduction itself was easy. Doctor Brandt lived in an undamaged mansion about 2 miles away from downtown. As one of the kingdom's few medical professionals, Dr Brandt had apparently earned himself some luxury. Sasha hid in the trunk so the doctor wouldn't notice anything was off until he entered the vehicle, whereas Jerry and Samuel, doctor Brandt asked as he opened the door and sat down inside the Jeep. Many gunned the engine and peeled away. Roland put a hand on Doctor Brandt's thigh and squeezed just hard enough for the man to feel like his thigh bone might shatter. I stuffed them in a closet somewhere, he explained with a smile. My name is Manny, the Fixer said. The guy who's about to break your leg is named Roland. We're kidnapping you. Ah, said Doctor Brandt. Roland had to give credit where credit was due. The doctor endured the pain with a Stony face and without any signs of panic. We need you to help us get into the jail, Manny continued. Where those negotiators from rolling **** are being held. Doctor, Brant grimaced, either from the obscenity or just due to the continued pain of Roland's iron grip. And what makes you think I'll give you any aid? There was a bit of strain in his voice now, but the doctor's features stayed decidedly neutral. I may be a doctor, but I'm no less prepared to die for my Kingdom than anyone else here. You might as well just go ahead and kill me. Rowland relaxed his grip. The doctor sighed in relief. Yeah, we thought you might say something like that, said Manny. That's why Roland and I prepared an alternate proposal. Rowland drew the guards, stolen sidearm from its holster. He gripped the pistol in one hand and then crushed it in his grip like he was balling up a piece of paper. The doctor's eyes widened in shock and horror. So Manny said, my friends, just full of Chrome. High grade stuff. He could walk right through a tank if he wanted. You're an educated man. You know what people like him can do. The doctor nodded, but didn't say anything. Our offer is simple. You help us out and we'll leave with our people. You refuse to help, and we'll get our people anyway. Only Roland here will take a little detour to burn half the city to the ground. I see Roland can smell the fear wafting off Doctor Brandt now, but the man's expression didn't change. You wouldn't be a doctor if you didn't see value in human lives. Manny's voice was soft. His reasonable tone wouldn't have been out of place in a boardroom if you refused to help us. We won't hurt you won't harm a hair on your head. But my friend here will break this city and a few thousand of the people in it. You'll be hail and healthy so you can pick up the pieces, and you'll know that every ounce of that suffering could have been prevented if you just helped us out. It's true, Sir. Sasha spoke up. Doctor Brandt stiffened. She sat up from her hidden position in the back. The doctor was a smart man. He put together that she was not being held as a prisoner. His eyes narrowed in contempt. Sasha? Doctor Brandt's voice was cold. I'm sorry to see you in such poor company, Sir. I'm really sorry. But but nothing. He snapped, and now the anger showed on his face. Have you been a traitor this whole time, or did your will simply fail? Sasha, Manny spoke up. We really don't have time for this. Rowan disagreed. His hind brain estimated Sasha and the doctor could afford a solid 8 minutes of emotional closure before they got too close to the jail. Zayt minutes. A lot of time for you people. Everyone stared at him, their individual disagreements forgotten for a moment. Roland realized late that he'd spoken out loud. Sorry, he said. I was just supposed to be in my head. They still stared. Well, now you only have like 7 minutes and 40 seconds. Ignore that, said Manny. He's a maniac. That's why you don't want us to let him loose in your city, doctor Brandt, Sasha added. I know you're a good man. The Lord put you on this earth to save lives. This is your chance to do that. The doctor needed the bridge of his nose with his hand. He did an admirable job of not giving too much away with his body language. But Roland could smell the truth. The scent of stress wafting off the doctor faded. It was a sign the man had made a decision. There was something about choosing that calmed the human soul. You are correct, of course, Sasha. I never approved of us holding those women in the 1st place. It was foolish to antagonize things like him. He nodded towards Roland. If I can avert a massacre, I will. But I sincerely hope you plan to escape with them. Sasha. I won't hide or protect a traitor. I'll leave, Sasha said. The doctor gave a somber nod. I won't be able to get you out of the jail with those prisoners, you know, he said to Roland. I can get you inside, and I can probably get them to send the prisoners into an examination room, but the guards won't let them leave the building. I'll take care of that part, Roland promised. I'm real good at making doors. Roland was aware of the old saying. No plan survives contact with the enemy. For some reason. His hind brain remembered the original version of the quote from an old Prussian general named Molka. No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond first contact with the main hostile force. People who observed Roland and battle tended to think he just sort of winged it and ballsed his way through one violent potential alone. But Roland was, at his core, a planner. Having a plan was essential to take maximum advantage of the way his hind brain worked. A plan was nothing more than a clear set of tactics. To accomplish a concrete goal. In this case, the goal was free the prisoners and take his new friends to safety. The plan he constructed to achieve that goal was based mainly on Sasha's recollections and his own espionage on the jail. He knew it would change once the shooting started, but the fact that he had a rubric would give his hind brain something to focus on while it zeroed in on the best tactics for the evolving situation. At any rate, the planned Manny and Sasha had cooked up actually did survive first contact with the enemy. Roland and Manny had posed as guards and followed Dr Brandt and Sasha right through the door. The martyrs inside were all used to seeing the doctor in his assistant, and they didn't pay a different set of armed guards any mind when Doctor Brant requested they send all the prisoners into the examination room, the officer in charge didn't even blink at the request. The only thing that had seemed off to Roland was an odd scent of anxiety in the air. It wafted off the guards and hung in a thick cloud above the entrance room. The odor reminded Roland of countless hours spent sitting with nervous men in the cramped belly of an A PC or a drop aircraft. He assumed this had something to do with the giant explosion he'd caused earlier, or his escape from the training facility. Of course, these guys are on high alert, he thought. Some nut **** monster man blew up a factory this morning. Doctor Brant LED them into a large waiting room and closed the door. He let out a long, nervous sigh and slumped back against the wall. OK, you'll have your prisoner soon enough and no one else will need to die, right? He looked straight at Roland. Right? Roland said, and then added. Until you ***** invaded Dallas. I've gotten years without killing anyone. I'm actually pretty good at it. The doctor did not seem comforted by this fact. Roland opened his mouth again. But Manny put a hand on his shoulder. No, he said, and Roland nodded. I could have avoided so many violent misunderstandings with this kid's help. Roll it mold this over and wondered if Manny might be interested in an adjoining mountaintop shack. Just then, the door opened. A guard entered. He was followed by the three prisoners and then two more guards. Rolling Fox negotiators were all handcuffed to each other. Roland had been shown pictures of all three captives before they departed the City of Wheels, so it wasn't hard to recognize Marigold, Julie, and Rick, but they all looked different. Marigold's bright purple hair was limp and greasy. The sockets on her augmented arm had been filled in with some sort of resinous substance. Tooly, bald in her pictures, now had a head full of Peach fuzz. Her necklaces and amulets and rings were all gone, of course. She looked pale and deflated. Roland could see the ghost of an old black eye, likely earned during the initial capture. She walked with a limp, but otherwise looked healthy enough. And then there was Rick. His wounds were fresh and extensive. He was covered in bruises, and it looked like his guards had cut into him, riding over several of his scarified tattoos with a combat knife. His left eye was broken and looked dead. Roland could tell the man's orbital bone had been shattered, and with the slow, juttering way his good eye looked around the room, it was likely he'd suffered at least one concussion. Dr Brandt sighed and went right to the injured young man of the other. Sit down, he told the guards. He started to examine Rick, his jaw clenched. His eyes narrowed. Roland felt the doctor's heart rate accelerated. Anger. You've been at him again, haven't you, doctor? Brandt sounded angry. I told you all this had to stop. He's clearly concussed. You could have killed him. The lead guard shrugged and rolled his eyes. One of the other guards snickered. Roland could tell by the look of fury on the doctor's face that he was not used to being treated this way. Soja, I am the senior medical doctor of this entire Kingdom. I will bring your superior into this and I will roll and herd. And then smelled. 6 new men entered the jail. His mind rocketed. Downstairs, away from the petty argument, and started to analyze the new arrivals. There were soldiers, he could tell by the sound of their footfalls and the strong smell of gun oil and powder that wafted off of them. One of them smelled familiar. He'd been present when Manny had been abducted to the factory. Roland guessed this was the guy Sasha had told him about during their impromptu rescue mission. Huh, Roland said out loud. Many was the only one who seemed to notice. What? Manny asked in a voice low enough that the guards wouldn't hear it over the sound of Doctor Brandt dressing them down. That guy Alexander? He just entered the building with a squad of armed men. What does that mean? No? Roland shrugged. Probably an ambush. Roland was a bit embarrassed that it had taken him this long to piece it together. That's why the guards had been so accommodating of Doctor Branse unusual request. It's why they'd smelled so nervous. Somehow the rescue attempt had been. Spotted before it had gone down, the soldiers of the Heavenly Kingdom must have assumed the doctor was a traitor too. Roland stood up. He knew that violence would need to happen here. There were too many decent people's lives at stake for anything else. The instant his forebrain made that decision, his hind brain started pouring adrenaline and battle drugs into his synapses. He felt the electric crackle of chemical Glee start deep in the back of his neck. It spread out to his shoulders, down his arms, to the tip of his fingers. Roland fought back against the building euphoria while he analyzed the situation. The world slowed down around him. He had plenty of time to watch as the guards started to reach for their sidearms. The word ambush had keyed them in. But it didn't matter. They still moved too slow to affect anything. His hindbrain calculated that Manny and Sasha were relatively safe. No one had a gun on them just now. The prisoners were his priority. Then they were exposed both to the door that enemy reinforcements would soon rush through and to the guards already in the room. Doctor Brandt was a tertiary responsibility. He seemed like a decent enough guy. In spite of it all, Alexander and his men are 2.04 seconds from the door, maybe faster if they dropped into a dead Sprint. Roland stepped forward into the lead guard. He grabbed the man by the hair, lifted him into the air, and slammed his skull hard into the second guard's face bone, cracked 16.3 and 28.7% chances of fatal hemorrhage, respectively. Roland dropped the first man and plunged his fingers into the third guard's eyes. He gouged deep, stopped just short of the man's brain, and then pulled his hand free. The man staggered back, opened his mouth, and started to scream. A surge of battle drugs hit Roland synapses at just that moment and in a fit of gleeful. Week. He grabbed the man by the jaw and pulled. His intent had been to yank the man's head into his knee, but he pulled a little too hard and ripped the whole jaw free. The man fell back. Gurgled. Blood. Huh? My bad, Roland said to no one in particular. He shoved the jaw into his front pocket, figuring it might make a useful weapon when the reinforcement showed up. In the meantime, he's set to work ripping the prisoners manicle chains apart. It'd have taken too long to remove the manacles, but at least with the chains free, they'd all be able to move with. What are you? Oh my God. Roland what? Doctor Brandt, Manny, and Sasha finally reacted. Roland had to remind himself that their brains wouldn't have been able to properly process what he'd done while it was happening. The whole altercation had lasted barely a quarter second. To Manny, Sasha, and Doctor Brandt, the violence had been disorienting and almost unintelligible. The three negotiators from rolling **** were not stock sapian. They'd reacted faster and gone to ground almost as soon as he'd rushed the first man. At least the women had. The young man was too dazed and battered. React much at all, so his friends pulled him down and shielded him with their bodies. Of the other three, Manny was the first to react. He grabbed Sasha by the shoulder and shoved her down below the window line. Roland was proud. He would have said something about that, but everything went disastrously wrong a fraction of a second later. Roland had known Alexander and his men were rushing the door. He'd estimated a solid 1.4 seconds before they breached the entryway. That's why he'd occupied himself by checking on everyone. He'd trusted his senses and trusted that the heavenly. Kingdom didn't have any gear he hadn't already seen. That proved to be a mistake, because unbeknownst to Roland, two men in powered armour hung off the outside wall of the building, directly underneath the window. Their suits were bleeding edge stealth technology utterly absent from Roland's petabytes of memory. His passive sensors had missed them entirely. Roland first realized they were there, and that he'd erred terribly when they opened fire. Close to 130 caliber slugs tore through the wall of the jail at roughly 4200 feet per second. There were fired at such close range and with such total surprise that Roland was unable to dodge or prep his subdermal armour for impact. 19 rounds hit him, 15 in his center of mass, one in his left thigh and three in his right shoulder. Two had Manny ripping a hole through his left hand and another through his kidney. Doctor Brandt, who had only half turned to face Roland at this point, was torn apart in a fuselage of steel. Roland also registered hits on their not yet rescued captives, one in Tully's left **** Cheek, one that severed Rick's index finger, and another in the young man's shoulder. Rowland staggered back from the impact of the rounds just as Alexander's point man burst through the door. The coordination between the two teams was impressive, as was the fact that the suited man hadn't hit their allies on the other side of the door. On a normal day, Roland would have ripped the shotgun out of the point man's hands and castrated him with it, but this was not a normal day, and Roland's brain was occupied with the damage. His body, the point man fired twice and sent one ounce tungsten slugs through both of Roland's knees. He dropped, rolled, moaned, and then the rest of the team was in the room. They moved well, not like vets, but like men who'd trained a lot for entries like this. They all wore heavy body armor. It wasn't powered, but it provided solid protection against small arms fire. They mostly packed auto shotguns. Smart choice, Roland thought. When fighting Posthumans, go for tissue damage. He was hurt. Nothing fatal yet, but the loss of momentum and control had cost him dearly. Now six men had a beat on him with weaponry powerful enough to do some real damage. Roland listened as one of the stealth suits smashed the remainder of the window in and crawled inside the room. This armor was much more subtle than the standard Aries pattern power armour. Aside from plating at the chest and shins, it didn't look like it added a substantial amount of protection, but the suit was covered in high definition display panels. The man was hard for Roland to see. He would have been nigh invisible to a normal human. ****. Rolling spat blood and looked up just as a very satisfied looking young man stepped into the room. He was tall, handsome, and well built. He wore the same armor as his men, but lacked a helmet. Instead he had a red beret with a lacquered gold cross pinned to the front. Roland took one look at the boy's prominent jaw line and well tanned skin. He grudgingly agreed that it would have been a crime to cover up that face. How were those ******* suits? He asked the fancy man. The Republic had some very choice gear in its Armory. The youth replied. My superiors will be happy to hear how well it worked against you. He sauntered into the room like a conquering king, waving his pistol lazily at the captives. Hello, Sasha, he said with a smile and a cheery wave of his free hand. Alexander, she replied in a tone as cold as ice. The young man Alexander stopped in front of Rowland, peered down and grinned. The **** eating best grin in the history of eating **** you know, he said. It was rather easy drawing you into this trap. Once you played your hand at the training camp, we knew you'd come here sooner or later. I was rather surprised to see you involved, Sasha. He looked up at her. I wonder, was this your plan all along, or are you merely an opportunist clutching to these men because my proposition? 100 your ego, he laughed, prickishly. Roland wanted to hit him, but the situation merited further analysis before action. Much of the damage done to him in the ambush had already healed, and none of it was substantial enough to impede his deadliness, but his position was rather tenuous. The second armored soldier crouched at the window, adhered to the outside wall. The first stealth suited soldier had one gun trained on Manny and another aimed at Roland. Alexander's men all had him dead to rights, shotguns levelled and fingers on triggers. He could perhaps move fast enough. Take out one or two of them, but the others would do a significant amount of damage in the meantime. And more to the point, Roland could do nothing to ensure Sasha and Manny safety. He considered their deaths unacceptable. I really am a bit disappointed in how easy this all was. The young **** continued. I thought we'd be in for more of a fight here. I guess the stories about your kind were exaggerated after all. I suspected so. No amount of scientific tinkering can replace the blessings of God behind righteous men. Roland sensed movement. Not from Manny. He was frozen still next to Sasha under the gun of one of the power armoured troopers. It didn't come from any of Alexander's men either. It was merigold. The woman had gritted her teeth and inched her hand towards the body of the guard. Roll into DD jawed. He watched. She wrapped her hand around the grip of his sidearm. Alexander stepped around him and headed towards Sasha. The other soldier still had their weapons trained on Roland. They didn't seem to have noticed. Marigold, I warned. You didn't ask Sasha. Alexander asked as a smile played across his lips. I won't you what came of defiant God's will? And then you allied yourself with a beast whose very existence is a sin against our Heavenly Father. If Christ had intended. Roland never got to hear the rest of that sentence because Alexander never got to say it. He was interrupted by Marigold pulling the pistol free of its holster and swinging it up towards the groin of the squads point man. She fired twice, switched targets, and pumped 2 more rounds into the unarmored belly of a second man. Roland was up and off the ground between the second and third shot. He swung his fist hard into the faceplate of the nearest soldier's helmet. The plexiglass shattered and Roland's knuckles pushed Shards into the man's cheeks and eyes. The martyrs screamed and fired a shot that went wide because Roland Doved the left as he retracted his fist and pivoted to rush the power Armored man holding a gun on Manny and Sasha. There were no good options here. Marigold's intervention had given them all the chance, but Roland had been forced to make a choice between going after the armoured men and saving his friends, or taking out the entry team and saving Marigold and her friends. He heard her fire two more shots and heard them impact. But then his attention was consumed by the two men in powered armour. They'd recovered first, and both men opened up on Roland as he charged. There was no dodging. At this distance, it was barely possible to mitigate the damage in any way. Roland took 30 high velocity rounds. The face, neck, shoulders, and upper chest. Some of them were stopped by his subdermal armor. Most weren't. He felt holy **** real pain. For the first time in what felt like years, Roland's wired nervous system rewarded this with a flood of chemical bliss. As he charged, he smiled and whooped like a 16 year old railing. His first line of blow. He dove into the first man hands first, grabbed his enemy by the neck, and then Bum rushed him into the man hanging outside the window. This knocked the top of the second man's body free from the wall and sent him reeling half back into open air. The man's feet were still attached to the building, but his body flailed free. Roland kept his grip and focus on the 1st Armored Man. The Martyrs neck armor had hardened to resist the crushing strength of Roland's grip, so he shook the man's head back and forth and slammed it into the frame of the building as hard as possible. The soldier pumped another dozen rounds point blank into Roland's body. He saw red. He felt red. He was numbly aware of the tremendous amount of damage being done to him, but none of it had yet rendered him unable to throttle this ************. So he continued to squeeze until the armors. Axials failed. Cracked and Rollins fingernails bit deep into the meat of the man's throat and crushed his windpipe. Roland tossed the body aside and went for the 2nd man, still flailing outside the window. He was interrupted when Alexander fired a slug into his temple. The round impacted his reinforced skull and ricocheted off, but the impact, the force of the blow itself, made him see stars. It hurt. Roland staggered back into the side. Then several things happened in very quick succession. Merrigold fired another round, her last. It was followed by the sound of the two remaining guards opening up with their shotguns. Roland heard as she was torn apart. Just as his eyes started to focus again, Alexander fired two more shots directly into his head. The man on the wall finally found his grip again, and Roland felt the power armoured soldier steady himself to open fire. Roland, shaken hindbrain, advised him that going for the armored man was probably his best decision. So he surged forward, less steady than before, and hunched his shoulders in anticipation of taking another Slugger 4 to the brain pan. But that didn't happen. For the second time today, Roland was surprised by the actions of a normal human. This time it was Sasha. She'd gotten up from where she and Manny had taken shelter from the gunfight and crawled over to the body of the first guard Roland had disabled. He'd been dimly aware of this, and the semi conscious way he was aware of the traffic passing outside. His brain had opted to not focus on it since the heavily armed men were a more pressing concern. But then Sasha had removed the unconscious guards helmet and rushed towards Alexander. She swung first for his gun hand. Rowland heard her knock, the pistol free of his grip. Then she hit him in the face, over and over and over again. Roland felt the urge to thank her. But just then the power armored man became a concern again. The ****** managed to get off three more shots before Roland ripped the weapon free from its forearm mount and used it to cave in the armoured faceplate. Blood spurted out and the man fell limp back out the window. His feet continued to adhere to the outside wall while his jerking, bleeding body dangled in the breeze. Roll in turn, just in time to take another two slugs from another two shotguns. But then the men were empty. They'd pumped most of their rounds into Marigold's body. They humbled to reload, panicked, and clearly unused to carrying out the task in a combat situation, Roland could smell the terror as it wafted off their bodies. Their fear hit his nervous system like an ounce of crystal meth. He loomed towards them, and for a second, the only sounds in the room were his footsteps and the dole twap of Sasha pounding her helmet into Alexander's now shattered skull. Roland. Dipped his left arm out. A massive blade, not unlike a straight razor tore through the flesh of his inner forearm and locked into place. The men screamed. One dropped his shotgun and tried to run. Roland tore into him first, using the blade to sever the ******** arms battle. Drugs and pure liquid satisfaction flowed into Roland synapses. *** **** went hard, and he screamed in wordless joy as he slashed downwards and sliced off the man's face. The poor ******* fell away, burbling, and Roland turned towards the last soldier he died an equally. Terrible death. And then it was done. The battle was over. Quiet reigned. The only sounds audible to a normal human would have been the blood spurting from dead and dying bodies and the sound of sobbing. Tooly sobbed for Marigold. Sasha sobbed for Roland, guessed her lost innocence. And then, out in the city beyond, came the sound of 100 sirens. The martyrs were coming for them. Hey, I've written a novel. It's called after the revolution. You can find it as a podcast under after the Revolution, and you can find it at as a free epub if you like it. I am crowdfunding the sequel so that I can keep making my books free. That will be it after the revolution. The sequel on Go Fund Me. That's after the revolution, the sequel on Go Fund Me. We've all felt left out, and for people who moved to this country, that feeling lasts more than a moment. We can change that, learn how it belonging begins with, brought to you by the ad council. Adoption of teens from foster care is a topic not enough people know about, and we are here to change that. I'm April Dinwoodie, host of the new podcast navigating adoption presented by adopt US Kids. 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