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.
Sat, 10 Jul 2021 04:02
This week's chapters from Robert's fiction podcast, "After the Revolution."
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Hello, I'm Erica Kelly from the podcast Southern Fried True crime, and if you want to go from podcast fan to podcast host, do what I did and check out spreaker from iheart. I was working in accounting and hating it. Then after just 18 months of podcasting with Spreaker, I was able to quit my day job. Follow your podcasting dreams. Let's break your handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to spreaker.com. That's spreaker.com. 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. La monster. Listen for free on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Want to say I don't know less? Listen to stuff you should know more. Join host Josh and Chuck on the podcast packed with fascinating discussions about science, history, pop culture, and more episodes. Dive into topics like was the lost city of Atlantis Real? And how does pizza work? Say goodbye to I don't know, because after listening to stuff, you should know you will. Listen to stuff you should know on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Conquer your New Year's resolutions with the Before Breakfast podcast and each bite size daily episode. You'll learn how to make the most of your time with practical tools to help you feel less busy and get more done. Listen to before breakfast on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. The Gangster Chronicles Podcast is a weekly conversation that revolves around underworld criminals and entertainers to victims of crime and law enforcement. We cover all facets of the game. Gangster Chronicles podcast doesn't glorify promoting listed activities. We just discussed the ramifications and repercussions of these activities because after all, if you play gangster games, you are ultimately rewarded with gangster prizes. iHeartRadio is number one for podcast, but don't take our word for it. Find the Gangster Chronicles podcast on. By heart radio app or wherever you get your podcast. What grows in the forest? Our imagination and our family bonds. The forest is closer than you think. Find a forest near you at discovertheforest.org, brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council. Chapter 15, Sasha. The man on the Gurney was the most comprehensively broken human Sasha had ever seen. His jaw had been ripped completely out of its socket and shattered in four places. His eyes had been gouged into horrible smashed grape looking things. His hands and fingers were all broken, as were his feet and shins. His ears appeared to have been bitten off, his tongue had been severed and the wound cauterized with something that had charred the flesh black. Sasha hadn't known a person could take such punishment and survive the chart at the end of the bed. Identified him as Sergeant Lufkin, A2 year veteran martyr who'd been guarding a checkpoint outside of Dallas. He was conscious. Every now and then. He'd thrash about and let out a burbling moan. But the man didn't appear capable of any sort of intelligible communication. Well, these aren't combat injuries, Dr Brandt said. These men look almost like they've been in a car wreck, only the damage is too precise and too deliberately targeted. I've never seen anything like it. It was Sasha's duty to administer the men's painkillers. Just a tiny drop of morphine each. It wasn't enough by any proper hospital standards. The soldiers were all in clear agony. But the Heavenly Kingdom was short on painkillers, and this was the most they could afford to spare for invalids, as Doctor Brandt had called them. This frustrated Sasha. Her mother's hospital could have restored all four men to full health and vigour with perhaps a month of treatment and physical therapy. But the Heavenly Kingdom forbade that grown organs and limbs cloning contravened the Lord's will. Sasha agreed with that. In theory. She'd fled to the Heavenly Kingdom partly because she believed Juven treatments had robbed the amphet of its humanity. But still, it seemed so wrong that these men would go the rest of their lives as twitching and sensate lumps of flesh. The number of things that felt wrong about this place grew every day. The executions had been the first big shock to her system, but she'd accepted Helen's justification. The Bible was filled with decent men doing awful things in times of war. The gallows weren't pretty, but they were hardly without biblical precedent. She'd been unable to justify Alexander's actions in the same way. Oh yes, she knew polygamy was condoned by the word of God. She'd read about Lamech and Abraham and Solomon and David, and of course Jacob, the patriarch of the 12 Tribes of Israel and apparent namesake for Alexander's order. She still hated what he'd done to her. Sasha couldn't bring herself to believe that a man is truly good, as Pastor Mike would condone their actions. Polygamy is a biblically sound strategy for a people on the edge of destruction. He'd written in one of his Revelator columns, but it is not the human ideal, and our Lord's eye is the most perfect. Union is one man, one woman, and as many children as they can bear. Had he decided since that the Heavenly Kingdom was a people on the edge of destruction? After the disastrous meeting with Alexander, Sasha had made her way back to the House of Miriam. Helen was seated at her desk when Sasha barged in. The older woman looked tired, resigned, and almost depressed. It seemed as if she'd been waiting for Sasha. Hello, dear, she said with a sad smile. I assume you just met Alexander? Yes, Sasha couldn't help but shout. What they're doing is vile. Helen. He wanted me as his third wife. He lied to convince me to come down here, he says. There's a whole group of martyrs. They call themselves Jacobians, and they're just catfishing girls down here. We have to tell someone this isn't OK. This is so wrong. I just. I can't. Sasha started to ***. She'd been too angry to cry in front of Alexander, but the House of Miriam was a safe place. Helen was a safe person. Sasha's grief caught up with her anger, and she found herself doubled over on the floor. Racked by sobs, she lost herself in sorrow for a few long. Heartbeats and then Helen was there beside her. She felt the older woman strong arms around her felt a hand running through her hair. They're their child. It's all right. It's going to be OK. We have to do something, Sasha choked out. Pester Mike needs to know what's being done in his name. She looked up into Helen's eyes. She saw pain and anger there. Sasha, Helen said. This will be hard for you to understand, but the pastor is well aware of what those men are doing. I've spoken to him about it myself. Sasha stiffened. She pulled away from Helen, and Helen let her go. They sat next to each other on the floor in silence until Sasha spoke again. Authenticity is the strongest arrow in our quiver, she quoted. When did that stop being true? When did it become OK to lie in the name of the Lord? Helen sighed and shook her head. It's not OK, but so much about this world we live in is not OK. They still murder 40,000 babies per year in the American Federation, 100,000 and the California Republic. ****** and cloning are rampant across the world. We, the faithful, are surrounded on all sides. Sasha recognised that last line. It was the opening sentence of Pastor Mike's infamous sinful continent in the hands of an angry God column. Sasha couldn't deny the truth of those words. Everything Helen said was accurate. But but how are we any better than them if we stoop to dishonesty to fill the Heavenly Kingdom? Helen stiffened and straightened her back. We are better than them, dear, because our goals are godly. There was a hint of pride in her voice. We are fighting for the one singular truth. You must never forget that. Men and women fighting for that truth are flawed. We are all valuable. We will all fall short of God's standards. But we are also the only ones trying to meet God's standards. And that makes what Alexander did OK. Helen shook her head. Sasha saw tears in the corner of the older woman's eyes. No, child, nothing makes it OK you were wronged. That boy played with your heart. He lied to you about his love, and that's an unforgivable thing. But you're here now, aren't you? And that's what matters. Most. Helen held her and talked with her for the next few hours. By the time the other girls came back, she felt better. Not good, exactly, but better. Stable enough to not burst into tears during dinner. She kept quiet at meal time, and was glad that the others seemed too exhausted from their day of Labor to say much either. After dinner they had another hour of personal time, and and Susannah zeroed in on her with military precision. Sasha's vaunted poker face hadn't been enough to hide her sorrow. Her new friends had guided her to a corner of the room where they'd have relative. Privacy? What's wrong? Anne asked in a low voice. She and Susanna both laid their hands on Sasha's shoulders. Sasha reached up to grasp both their hands. It happened automatically, as if by reflex, but it brought her great comfort. She closed her eyes and stood quiet for a moment as her mind and heart calmed down. I met Alexander today, she said. Anne looked confused. Susanna frowned, then laughed and asked what did have bad breath? Where his eyes? All. She blew out her cheeks and crossed her eyes and laughed, but Sasha stayed quiet. Susanna smiled. Faded sash, she said in a quiet voice. What happened? Sasha looked from Susanna to Anne. She felt a surge of gratitude in her new friends for being there at all. She took a deep breath in and then told them what had happened. She went quickly in the hope that her clipped recitation of events would make it all seem less devastating. Ohh Sasha, Anne said. I am so sorry, this has to be some sort of mistake. Helen didn't seem to think so, Sasha said. I don't think Alexander lied about the sons of Jacob being powerful here. It's chaos right now, sash, Susannah assured her. Maybe a few guys can get away with acting like this now during the war, but once it's over, Pastor Mike won't let them treat us like this. And nodded. Kyle gets rotated back from the front to Morrow, she said. I'll ask him about the sons of Jacob. Maybe he'll know something we can do. Sasha knew from the look she'd seen in Helen's eyes that further protest against the Jacobians would be useless. And besides, she thought the most painful thing was Alexander's dishonesty. He's already hurt me. As much as he can, she tried to convince herself of that, just as she tried to enjoy the company of her friends without dwelling on the face of the boy who'd betrayed her. She was less than successful. Bedtime came. The girls washed up, said their good nights, and snuggled up in their beds. As usual, Sasha's mind stayed awake and active. She wasn't having second thoughts exactly, of course not never. But so much about today felt wrong. Alexander and the sons of Jacob, of course, but also that the brave men she'd worked on that afternoon would never walk or see or talk again. This is war, she reminded herself. A great deal of it is going to seem wrong. The next morning and afternoon went by in a haze of industrious activity, breakfast and bandages and preparing medications for doctors and nurses. Sasha lost herself in the work and for a few hours wasn't happy or sad. Her shift at the hospital ended at five. She took her nightly Jeep ride back to the House of Miriam, but rather than going right inside, she decided to take a walk around the downtown strip. She had a few rationed scripts in her pocket, enough that she could have bought coffee or even a meal in the one functioning restaurant still in town. But she wasn't hungry. She just wanted to walk. This part of the Heavenly Kingdom looked less like a war zone and more like a functional polis. With every passing day, most of the piles of rubble and spent shell casings were gone. Now. There was still quite a lot of damage to all the buildings and very few intact windows to be found, but that strange, spoiled milk smell was gone. Some shops were open again, along with a small farmers market about 10 minutes down from the House of Miriam. There were people out too. Not many families yet, but she saw a lot of sweaty, tired looking soldiers. They wandered in small groups and clustered around the strips only functional cafe. There were refugees too, and new immigrants to the Kingdom, greeters in blue and white uniforms. The foot soldiers of the Kingdoms Immigration Department led columns of them down the main drag and into old government buildings that had been repurposed into housing collectives. Sasha felt herself filled with a strange pride, at odds with all the doubt that still roiled in her gut. From right here, the Heavenly Kingdom looked exactly like what had been promised to her. It was still rough, raw and unfinished. But it overflowed with the good intentions of godly men and women. Helen had been right. Sasha could see that now. As ugly as Alexander's lies were as detestable as she found the whole idea of the Jacobians. The Heavenly Kingdom was still a thing of beauty. It was still worth fighting for. She just had to accept that it would never be perfect. And hello, Sasha. She stopped, the hair prickled up on the back of her neck. Sasha turned around to face Alexander. Sasha had been lost in thought, so it was hard to say for how long they'd been following her. Three other men were with him. They all wore clean, pressed new uniforms. And sidearms at their waists. She didn't recognize the rank insignias on their shoulders, but she did notice that each of them wore a large gold badge in the shape of a lion's head on their lapel. She'd seen a lot of uniformed martyrs during her short time with the Heavenly Kingdom. She'd never seen a badge like that before. Hello Alexander. She tried to keep her voice cool but respectful. Hello Brothers, peace be with you and also with you, the other young men mumbled by habit. Are you walking alone right now, Madea? Alexander asked, his lips curled up into an unctuous smile that worries me. These streets still on a safe, as they should be. Let us walk with you a while. Sasha stiffened. There was something dark in Alexander's eyes. She wondered if it had always been there and she just ignored it before her heart began to race. Sweat beat it on the back of her neck. There were a lot of people around stove, but she was away from the most crowded part of the main drag. It wouldn't be hard for three strong young men to move her somewhere less visible. I'd prefer to walk alone. She tried to keep her tone. Even Sasha felt like they must still have heard the trembling in her voice. That's nonsense, Sasha Alexander. No woman wants to be alone when they can enjoy the company of their protectors. He stepped towards her, reached a hand out, and brushed the hair away from her eyes. Alexander stroked her cheek. His hand drifted down to her shoulder, where he applied firm pressure. Sasha wanted to pull away, but Alexander was much stronger than she was. He had a gun and two friends with guns and apparently the personal support of Pastor Mike. So she stood still and tried to stop her heart from beating quite so fast. Sasha. He said in the gentle, sweet voice that had helped to carry her here. You deserve to be cared for. I know the full truth was a shock to you, and I'm not angry at your reaction, really. But you're still holding on to fragments of the secular world. You need to drop that veil from your eyes and accept that God wants this. He wants men like us. Alexander gestured to his friends, men with superior talents to breed and fill the world with more holy warriors. Sasha closed her eyes. She took a deep breath in and out and then another. Just go with it, a part of her said. He won't hurt you if you just tell him what he wants to hear. She knew that wasn't right, though. She hadn't risked her life to cross into the Heavenly Kingdom just to compromise her morals now. I am doing good and valuable work here, she replied in the calmest voice she could muster. I don't want to be your third wife. I know God has another purpose for me and I intend to seek it out. His hand clenched tight on her shoulder, Sasha's eyes widened in fear. There was something dull, black and hungry in his eyes. The two men behind him straightened their backs and started glancing around, scoping out the area. Sasha, Alexander said. I brought you here. You are my responsibility. I don't believe you're thinking. Clearly we should take a walk and find somewhere private to talk about all this. I've commandeered a home nearby. Come on, walk with me. He pushed at her the whole time he spoke and grew angrier with each passing word so that by the time he said walk with me, his voice had grown tight and cold. Sasha steadied her heart, met his eyes with a steady gaze as she could manage, and said I don't want to walk with you. Her heart was pounding so loud she was sure Alexander and his friends could hear it, but Sasha didn't move. She was sure at any minute now he would grab her full on and force her forward, but before he had the chance a familiar voice called out to her. Sasha, is that you? It was Doctor Brandt and all her focus on Alexander and his posse. She hadn't even noticed the electric hum of the doctor's Jeep as it pulled up behind them on the Main Street. Yes, Sir, she cried, her voice a bit higher and more frantic than she'd meant it to sound. What do you need? Get in the back, girl. You can flirt with soldiers later. The Heavenly Kingdom needs your skills. We've got a bit of an issue. Alexander's face went purple. The two men behind him seemed confused. One put a hand on his gun, but Alexander waved him back. He shot Sasha a vicious look and then turned to doctor. Brandt suddenly composed. Any idea how long you'll need her? What are you, a Lieutenant? Dr Brandt scoffed. She'll be gone as long as the Kingdom needs her. I don't see a ring on either of your fingers, so I'm fairly certain it's not your place to care how long this takes. Sasha. He beckoned to her with his index finger. Come on now, girl. Gladly, she said with a genuine smile. Sasha darted past Alexander and his men and hopped up into the back seat of the Jeep. She tried to keep her head and eyes down while the doctor's driver gunned the engine and speed off down the Main Street. Once they were underway, Dr Brandt turned back to her. Sasha? He asked. Was anything going on with those young men? Anything untoward? I ask because you seem positively elated. I've picked you up to deal with the problem. Do I tell them the truth? Sasha wondered. Do I admit I was lured to the Kingdom by a catfisher? You'll never take me seriously, then. This job was her favorite part of serving the Kingdom. Sasha didn't want to do or say anything that might disrupt it. And besides, Doctor Brandt was a busy man. Lives were in his hands every day. I can't distract him with this. No, no, everything's fine. I'm fine. Doctor Brandt gave her a stern look. Sasha smiled, a tense smile in response. He shrugged and turned his head back to the road. All right, he said. And then there was a problem with one of your patients blood tests. Oh, Sasha frowned. I'm so sorry. What did I do wrong? Nothing at all, Doctor Brant assured her. But that vile woman merrigold? She's pregnant. Pregnant? Sasha was shocked. Most adult women in the American Federation had Aphrodite rings installed. Sasha had refused hers, but the government offered them for free. They provided complete control over reproduction and allowed women to select whether or not they wanted to be fertile. She'd assumed anyone with as many bio modifications as Marigold would have a ring as well. Maybe she just wants a baby. For some reason, Sasha hadn't initially considered that a possibility. It was hard to imagine someone has fallen as Marigold choosing to raise children. Yes, Sasha, Doctor Brandt said. Or at least that first Test indicated. So false positives do still happen. That's why we're headed back. We need you to administer another test so we can be certain. Well, **** merrigold grunted. I didn't expect to see you back this soon. You need a friend, darling. The heathen woman looked the same as she had on their last interaction. Her hair was less greasy, so they must have let her wash, but she wore the same slip dress and sat in the same corner of the same cell. Sorry, no, Sasha said. I'm here to administer a pregnancy test. Miracle's eyes widened for a few seconds. The woman was speechless. Her mouth opened and closed. She nodded and clutched her left knee with her left hand. OK, the captive said. Right. Where do you want me to do it? Do Sasha look down with the stick in her hand and then realized how these things worked. I'm sure Doctor Brandt doesn't expect me to watch her pee. You can go over to your normal space. I'll just turn around. She handed Marigold the test and spun around on her heels so the other woman wouldn't see how much she'd already started to blush. Damn, girl, are you that squeaked out by the human body? What? Sasha asked without turning around. Her face is as red as a damn. Eat. I'm sorry. Why? I don't know. Marigold laughed. You can turn around now. I'm decent and done. Sasha turned around. Marigold smirked at her. You know, she said that instinct to apologize might actually come in handy around here. I'm sure the sort of men who jump in on this ******** will appreciate it. Sasha recovered her senses and felt a bit of anger at Marigold's words. I don't appreciate you saying those things, she said. The men here are good and brave, and Sasha's voice caught it broke just a little. Marigold saw and heard her doubt. The other woman didn't laugh like Sasha expected. In fact, her smile fell away. Marigold looked at her with something like pity. I know you don't believe that, she said. Sasha closed her eyes and took a deep breath in. Then she replied. No matter. Perfect, just as no women are perfect. But everyone here in the Kingdom tries every day to abide by the Lord's will. That's what elevates us above Marigold, interrupted. Does your Lord say women don't get last names? We don't use last names in the Kingdom because they distract us. We can't afford connect. The men keep their surnames, don't they? That was true. Sasha hadn't thought about it much, what with everything else that was going on. But Doctor Brandt went by his last name, didn't he? And Alexander had a surname too. She's trying to weaken your faith in the Kingdom. Don't give in to the doubts of the serpent. It doesn't matter, Sasha said, and immediately regretted it. Any response would surely just egg Marigold on. And sure enough, oh, it doesn't. Then why is that the rule? Well, it's obviously because we need some way to tell families apart from one another. Marigold smirked now. And the only lineage that matters is the man's, isn't it? Women are just appendages in your belief system. I am not an appendage. Sasha shouted. Surprised at her own anger, she heard shuffling feet, and a second later the guard had one hand on the door and another on his rifle. They were then all right, miss? He asked. Yes? Sasha called back to him over her shoulder. I'm fine. Sorry. She's just Sasha, fixed Marigold with a withering gaze. She's very frustrating. Mirror. Gold smirked at that. Then she held out the test. Sasha hesitated for Justice a second before taking the strip from the other woman. Marigold smiled at that, too. You're pregnant, Sasha said. Yep, merrigold modded. Congratulations, Sasha tried to sound genuine. Marigold's eye roll didn't help that cause. Ohh yeah, the other woman said. This is a real joyous moment for me. I hope your people let me live long enough to know whether or not my kid will deserve a last name. You know, Sasha said in growing anger. This place isn't perfect, but if you got to know the people here, you'd understand they are the best people I've ever met. I wish you could have seen the welcome I received. I've never felt so loved. Marigold asked. Like all you needed to do was show up to earn their acceptance. Yes, Sasha admitted, suspicious. Did they sort of swarm you, but in a nice way, everyone hugging you and holding you and offering you safe physical affection? Yes, Marigold nodded, as if she just gotten the answer to a long standing question. They love bombed you what? It's a tactic Colts use. Marigold explained. You sort of overwhelm someone with love and acceptance and camaraderie and all that. It nurtures loyalty and dependence. She shrugged. It's a smart way to manipulate young people in your position. You've just fled your home and family for a strange and dangerous land. You're scared and alone and isolated and then, like magic, you've got a family and a support network. You are so cynical. Sasha had the fight back, the urge to say damned cynical. This woman was making her forget herself. She opened her mouth as if to deliver a tongue lashing, but the words wouldn't come. Instead, she just narrowed her eyes at Marigold and stared for a few seconds. I'm leaving now, she said. I'm going to go enjoy the companionship of my new family. You enjoy this cell. Then Sasha turned on her heels and walked out. She returned late to the House of Miriam. The other girls had already finished dinner. Helen had left out Sasha's plate, a ham sandwich, carrot sticks and apple, and a small block of cheese, and she took it into the common room, where the other girls were talking and winding down from their day. The couple finally showed up. May sneered when she walked in. I guess you're too important to eat with the rest of us now, I, Sasha started to reply. Then she saw Anne and Susanna huddled in the same corner where they all sat last night. There were tears in Anna's face, and her eyes looked swollen and red. She made no noise but her back and shoulders shook as she sat there, half shielded from view in Susanna's embrace. Sasha gave may a withering glare, but turned and moved past her, towards her friends. She heard the other girl scoff and say something to her coterie of friends. Sasha couldn't hear what though, and she didn't much care. She squatted down next to Anne and put a hand on the back of her neck. Hey, she said, not sure of what else to say. Susanna met Sasha's eyes and offered up a sad smile and continued to *** for a few minutes. They just held her. Sasha burned with morbid curiosity over what exactly had happened. She knew it must have something to do with Kyle and had been set to meet with him today. Had he revealed himself to be a son of Jacob 2? He's dead and whispered in a cracked, broken voice. I went to meet him at the cafe Clement and there were two martyrs there waiting for me. They both. She stifled a ***. They both smiled when they told me he'd been killed. They said I should thank God for the blessing of a death and battle. I'm so sorry, Anne, Sasha said. Susanna and I are here, though. We'll take care of you. She hoped that might comfort in a little, but the other girl lost herself in another fit of tears. Sasha's heart broke for her. The pain over her own comparatively minor tragedy flowed into the empathy she felt for Anne, and soon Sasha was crying too. She was sure some of the other girls were whispering about them, egged on. By May. She didn't care after a few more minutes of tears, and managed to clear her throat and speak again. The men, the martyrs I met told me the same thing, she said. They told me I'd be taken care of, that they'd find. Odd choice for me among the martyrs. I tried to tell them I don't want anyone else, not now. I need to mourn. But they said they said. Anna's voice caught in her throat, and she fought to throttle another *** before she continued. He said the Heavenly Kingdom might not be able to wait for my grief to pass. What's that supposed to mean? Suzanna asked. Sasha didn't say anything because the only answer that occurred to her was surely unhelpful. She had a strong suspicion that the sons of Jacob had turned their eyes on Anne. Sasha stared into marigold's vagina. She'd seen it before, of course, the first time they'd met, but it hadn't been her focus then, and she tried very hard not to look at it too much. Now, though, the point was to look. Doctor Brandt had picked her up halfway through her shift at the hospital to conduct a Pap smear on the captured woman. She'd only had about an hour to practice. It's a procedure I've done myself 100 times, Doctor Brandt had told her. But that was back in the amped. It's a sinful thing for a man to touch a woman other than his wife. That's why the Israelites used. Midwives. That's why we use midwives. And I think this kind of work might be why God drew you here. His words made her proud. She liked Doctor Brandt for all his prickliness. She also liked learning and feeling like she had a useful skill that made her special. So she'd paid close attention as Doctor Brandt had walked her through the procedure. It had been fun, and the act of learning had distracted her from her worries about Anne and her own grief over Alexander. Marigold shuddered as Sasha slid the speculum in past her labia. You could stand to be a little gentler, and would it kill you to, I don't know, warm it up first or something? Doctor Brandt didn't say to do that, Sasha. After voice firm. This is for the baby's good. I'm sorry if it's uncomfortable. This is my first time, the woman snorted. Oh well, in that case, you're doing a great job now. Maybe a little less hard. And mine slopes down. You're going against the grain. The grain. Marigold rolled her eyes in disdain, but didn't dignify Sasha with a response. You're pushing the wrong way. Sasha readjusted, and Marigold gave a sigh of relief. That sucks less, at least. Thanks. Sasha busied herself with the swabbing and rubbing that came next. She worked slow, methodical, with as much care and gentleness as the instruction she'd received from Doctor Brandt would allow. She did her best to focus, but the other woman kept talking. You don't look old enough to have graduated high school, I'm going to guess they don't train teenagers to do Pap smears in the amped, Marigold added. Do they? With surprising earnestness. No, Sasha grunted. I'm going to guess, Doctor, what's his name taught you then? Because why? He's too scared of my demon ****** to come in here and do the job himself. Sasha's face reddened. She did not like the word ****** or marigold's casual mention of demons, but she kept her eyes straight and stared into the other woman's vagina. I have one too. It's not that big a deal, she told herself. It's impressive you were able to learn that. I'm serious. Real props, lady. You're the only woman I've seen do a damn thing around here. How do you trick them into treating you sort of like a person? Sasha's ire. Rose and rose. Lord, calm my heart, she prayed. I know she's just trying to set me off. It's just desperation, she told herself. How long do you think they'll let you keep playing? Like you've got a real life? I'm gonna guess it won't be too long before somebody puts a baby in you, you know that will be the end of all this, right? Like your life using your brain, all that. You're going to be a broodmare before two stop. Sasha didn't yell, but she used her firmest voice, and she was quite loud about it. Despite herself. She looked up from her work, and at Marigold's face the other woman didn't look surprised, or she grinned. 1 edge of her lips curled up into a wry grin. Her eyes twinkled. Sasha had never actually seen someone's eyes twinkled. 24. There we go. I wondered where the edge was. The edge of what? Sasha asked, without thinking. Idiot. This is exactly what she wants you to do. The edge of your patience, the point where meekness ends. I was worried they'd beaten it out of you. No one beat me, Sasha insisted. And there's nothing wrong with being meek. The Lord asks us to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Maybe you wouldn't be in a cell if you'd accepted that for yourself. I'm in a cell because I came here to trade. We were waging any kind of war. They weren't harming anyone. We wanted freaking Cheetos. In exchange for our latest coffee crop, your people killed the old government and captured us. Sasha closed her eyes, breathed in and out, and tried to calm herself. For some reason Marigold's words made her feel anxious and angry. She wanted to say the anger was towards the other woman, but that wasn't quite right. Marigold had been sarcastic in Caddy, but she'd also been complimentary, thoughtful, and far from cruel. I'm sure you'll be sent back to your people soon. The Heavenly Kingdom doesn't want any kind of fight with with your city yet. Sasha finished her work. She withdrew the speculum and started gathering up her kit. I do hope you're not laboring under the impression that this war will ever end, Marigold said. Because it won't. Not while your Kingdom exists. You're wrong. Will take Austin soon, and then there will be peace. And what about San Antonio? Sasha shrugged. A heathen nation. But they haven't launched any strikes against us. If they'll let us be, we'll let them be. Remain and expand. Marigold quoted one of the slogans pastor Mike had coined during the early days of the Kingdom. The other woman had a surprisingly deep understanding of their movement. Marigold continued. The Kingdom of God will remain and expand until it reunites this broken land from sea to shining sea. That's your profit, right? Your mighty Pastor sure sounds like a recipe for eternal War. Mexico. The Navajo. The California? The public and the King of *** **** Albuquerque don't seem likely to sign up for a theocracy, and those are just the big powers in the southwest. Pastor Mike would have had an answer to that, of course. He'd said that as the Heavenly Kingdom grew, it would draw in 1,000,000 from around the world and become a shining beacon to the fallen peoples of the world. Fighting would be replaced by peaceful annexation. She'd believe that once before she'd left the American Federation it had seemed sensible with Alexander's romantic words in her ear and the fiery prose from Revelator. Her mind. How could she not believe? But now she'd spent time in the reality of the Heavenly Kingdom. She'd met beautiful people and seen wondrous things, but she'd also help treat a seemingly endless train of broken men whose bodies had been shattered by war. She'd watched a dozen people be executed by hanging. Sasha was anxious, and Marigold must have picked up on it. The other woman's eyes changed. There was something almost predatory in them. She leaned forward. I know I'm hitting nerve, Sasha. That's because you're too smart for this ****. You got suckered into a ******* nightmare. It's time to wake up. Sasha kept merigold's words in her mind as she headed back to the hospital. A fresh wave of wounded men had been sent over from the Lake Houston Front, and she wound up working 3 hours later than normal just to help handle the load. It was a whirlwind of bloody bandages, screaming martyrs and irate exhausted doctors trying to do too much with far too little. By the time she got off shift it was dark outside and downtown was almost deserted. Her driver dropped her off in a weird spot at the other end of Main Street. It was a good two blocks away from the normal location. But she chalked that up to the fact that this wasn't her normal driver. She didn't really mind the extra walk. In fact, after a long day under the hospital's fluorescent lights, a dark walk and some fresh air seemed relaxing. So she strolled and she tried to forget the faces of the men she'd seen that day. For a few blissful minutes, Marigold's words fled from her head, and she lost herself in the piece that came at the end of a good day's labour. The streets of the Heavenly Kingdom felt safe. She'd done meaningful work. The Lord must be hey, hey, no, please. I really don't want to. Sasha heard a familiar female voice cry out in distress. A man yelled something, but she couldn't tell what. The woman let out a brief scream that was muffled by something. Her voice sounded familiar. Very familiar. Was that Anne? Sasha rounded a corner and saw them. It was Anne, all right. The girl had a bag over her head, but Sasha clearly recognized her friend. Two men in black uniforms held her by either arm and forced her to walk forward with them. Two other men walked beside them. They all wore red berets. The man who seemed to be their leader. Block ties with her. It was Alexander, Sasha, he said in a clipped tone. Yoram. Late she stopped, stared, and continued to thrash between the men. Her cries were muffled by the bag, but far from inaudible. She seemed terrified. You you all need to let her go, Sasha insisted. She belongs at the House of Miriam. Alexander laughed. Where do you think we got a from? Silly girl? Two of the other men laughed at that. They seemed nervous, though. She could see both hunger and a strange sort of anxiety in their eyes. Alexander was all hunker. Alexander. Please, please what? He asked with a wry smirk. Deny this girl the bliss of serving God. Why would you want that for her? Do you even believe anymore, Sasha? His lips. The lips she dreamed about for months. The lips she'd watched say such lovely things to her, curled up in disgust. Look at you. You're wearing surgical scrubs. You look like a man. You've lost your proper place in the world. It disgusts me that they let you do that. Work. Have you forgotten what God himself calls on you to be? Titus 25? Sasha, our Lord, wants you to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands. That the word of God may not be blasphemed. Remember that, Sasha, none of you are her husband. Alexander laughed. That's not true at all. He put a hand on the shoulder of one of the men restraining and Tamassia married her today would just help in the happy couple to their marital bed. Then why is there a bag over her head? Why is she fighting? Because it was a rather abrupt marriage. Alexander frowned and her mind is still polluted with ungodly ideas about how her marriage should look. Tomas chose her. The spirit of the Lord spoke to him when he saw her from afar. It is right and good that they should be wed. And he moves up to the front tomorrow. Tonight we'll be his first and maybe last chance to help the Kingdom remain and expand. He held out a seal, a golden badge in the shape of a shield, with a heavenly cross emblazoned on the front. This comes from the pasta. I have the authority to grant marriages to any worthy men who wish them. He smiled again. Sasha's heart fluttered. She felt nausea rise up inside her. So back away. Let us pass and I'd suggest you dedicate some more time to thinking about why God brought you here when your time comes. I think you'd prefer doing this without the bag, but I'm fine. The way really. It was past dinner and past bedtime when she entered the House of Miriam. Helen was seated at her desk. She looked up as Sasha entered, and in an instant Sasha knew there was no use in reporting what had happened to Anne. Helen's eyes were bloodshot and puffy with tears. She knew. Sasha, the older woman said. I have some bad news. I saw them, Sasha said. Is that what's going to happen to all of us? Is this place just at the holding area until we get married off this place is your home, Helen said in a voice that was almost pleading. It's here and I'm here to shepherd you to the next phase of your life. Don't you believe I want the best for you? I do, Sasha said. Her voice softened. But Anne didn't want this, she told me so. Didn't she deserve time to grieve? She did, Helen said. But the Lord demands sacrifices from all of us. Sometimes more sacrifices than seem fair, and is in a dark place now, but the Lord will send his light to guide her. Helen seemed to straighten up. As she spoke, Sasha saw resolve settled into the older woman's Flint grey eyes. So may it be, she said, May the peace of the Lord be with you. Sasha started to walk off. She didn't trust herself to stay and talk. She was sure more of her anger would bleed out into the conversation, and she wasn't sure what Helen would do if she got the impression that Sasha's loyalty had started to waver. Sasha Deer, she said, and Sasha looked back. Mint Mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one meant mobile just has premium wireless from 15 bucks a month. There's no trapping you into a two year contract. You're opening the bill to find all these nuts fees. There's no luring you in with free subscriptions or streaming services that you'll forget to cancel and then be charged full price for. None of that. For anyone who hates their phone Bill, Mint Mobile offers premium wireless for just $15.00 a month, Mint mobile will give you the best rate. 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For more than a decade we here at stuff they don't want you to know have been seeking answers to these questions, sometimes their answers that people would rather us not explore. Now we're sharing this research with you for the first time ever in a book format, you can pre-order stuff they don't want you to know now. It's the new book from us, the creators of the podcast and video series. 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 books.com or wherever you find your favorite books. My name is Erica Kelly and I am the host and creator of Southern Freight true crime. There are so many people that just have no idea about some injustices in the world, and if you can give a voice to them, you can create change. To be able to do it within podcasting is just such a gift. I believe it was 18 months after I got on with Spreaker that I was making enough that I could quit my day job. It was incredible. I always felt like an ambassador for speaker. But that's because I'm passionate about podcasting. It's really easy to use. I always tell people I am so not tech. Took me 5 minutes to get comfortable with spreaker, and when I find a new friend that has an incredible show, I want them to make money. I want them to be able to do what I did. Follow your podcasting dreams. Let's break your handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to spreaker.com. That's spreaker.com. Get paid to talk about the things you love. Spreaker from iheart, you forgot your dinner. It's in a bag on the table. Sasha took it in Aiden's silence, as fast as decorum would allow. Then she cleaned up for bed and headed back into the dormitories. As soon as she saw the light glinting off of Susanna's open eyes, she knew the other girl was awake. Sasha knelt down at her bed and the two shared a long look. Susanna held out her hand and Sasha took it. What happened? She asked. They let us out early and dropped us off downtown. Susanna's eyes were wet with tears and and I had a coffee and we visited the market it was. Nice. Normal, almost. We headed for the House of Miriam once it started to get dark, and she gulped. They were just there waiting with Miss Helen. Susanna swallowed loudly and her eyes grew watery, but she didn't cry. Sasha was proud of her friend. That was them, wasn't it? Susanna asked. Those men with the sons of Jacob. Sasha just nodded. How long until they take me too? 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 discovertheforest.org brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the ad Council. The Gangster Chronicles Podcast is a weekly conversation that revolves around underworld criminals and entertainers to victims of crime and law enforcement. We cover all facets of the game. Gangster Chronicles podcast doesn't glorify promoting mission activities. We just discussed the ramifications and repercussions of these activities because after all, if you play gangster games, you are ultimately rewarded with gangster prizes. iHeartRadio is number one for podcast, but don't take our word for it. Find against The Chronicles podcast on. By heart radio app or wherever you get your podcast. From cavalry audio comes the new True crime podcast, The Shadow Girls. Wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody, and he started laughing. Prosecutors described him as a serial killer servant, picking up his girls, getting him in a position of vulnerability. When he got ahold of their neck. That was it. I'm Carolyn Ossorio, a journalist and lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up near the banks of the Green River and in the shadow of the killer that bears its name. How many times did you bring the camera to? One time. Fantasizing about having sex with his mother, and he fantasized about killing her. But this podcast isn't only about tracking down the killer. It's about the victims. We stayed in the woods. He always liked to go into the woods. Kind of strange. You know how he feels about prostitutes. Listen to the shadow girls on the iHeartRadio app, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Chapter 16, Manny the barracks had been a high school once built to serve several thousand of the Plano area's wealthiest students. The dozen huge Gray buildings were centered around an enormous courtyard that included a practice football field, several tennis courts, and a running track. The compound was boxed in by a high concrete wall topped in razor wire. What had been built to defend the scions of wealth and privilege from their jealous peers also made the former school an ideal. Training ground for the Kingdom soldiers. Many could see hundreds of young men just within the courtyard. They ran laps or charged through a makeshift obstacle course that had been assembled over the old football field. Manny's head throbbed just watching them. I hope we don't have to do too much of that **** he thought as he scratched the bandage over his severed deck. At least not today. Dozens of men sat in small groups around the courtyard, reading together from books or cooling down from workouts and sweat drenched underclothes. Many could hear the sharp crack of rifle fire from a shooting range nearby. The whole placed buzzed with a sort of busy nervous energy that might have been contagious if not for the ugly stares Manny attracted. You picked the wrong skin to wear, Roland muttered at him as a troop of pale young infantrymen clomped past them. Many couldn't help but notice that he seemed to be the only person on the training field who wasn't Lily white. This might be a problem, he said. Roland nodded in response. He spat at the ground and muttered. Should I ask skull ****** Mike to sew you into some new skin before we left? Many frowned. I'm almost certain that's not how martyrs. A rough voice cried out from behind them. Turn around, boys, let me see your eyes. Manny stopped on instinct. He stiffened his back and turned around. Roland did the same thing, but with a heavy sigh and A roll of his eyes. The shout had come from a tall, square jawed man with hair. Had gone a majestic shade of silver grey. He wore a black uniform shirt with brass cross pins in the epaulettes, black cargo pants, and a big black handgun slung low on his left hip. His name tag identified him as Ditmar. Manny didn't know enough about the martyrs brigades to tell the man's rank. Roland turned as Dittmar closed the distance between them. He stopped about a foot in from them, looked Roland up and down, and then turned to Manny. The Fixer forced himself to meet the grizzled martyrs gaze. Manny wasn't sure how to look like a fanatical. Christian soldier. There was no way to fake the manic glint of true commitment, so he chose a different tack. He thought about Major Clark, the defiant set of his jaw and the promise of violence frozen into the ice of his blue eyes. Deshawn Clark was not a fanatic, but he was a warrior. Many knew he might be able to fake that, so he screwed up his face into his best imitation and hoped it would pass muster. Well. The silver haired old soldier growled and narrowed his eyes, but then his face broke out into a grin. His tone lifted up an octave. By God, he said. It's good to have you boys here. He clapped a hand on both Manny and Roland shoulders and pulled them into an embrace. Your souls are safe now, my boys. Thank God for your warrior hearts now. He pulled back and straightened up. I'm martyr ditmar. Where are you? Bound for intake? Manny said with more confidence than he felt. We just arrived today. He glanced down at his papers for a moment and then said this. Says we're infantry reserve division martyr. Ditmar seemed surprised. Really? He asked. I'd have expected them to put you at least. He nodded at Manny in the storming battalion. The storming battalion? Yes. The elder martyr nodded. You've got the right complexion for it. That's gotta be a bad sign, Manny thought. Don't press the question too much now. You may not want the answer. Instead, he put a hand on rolling shoulder. Wherever we go, I gotta stay with Aaron. He's strong, but he took a few hits to the head. Too many. I help him get around. The martyr gave a smile that seemed genuine. Well, then he said you'll want to get your butts down to cadet processing. It's 100 meters down. That away? He clapped them both on the shoulders. It's good to see you here. Smile, boys, your heroes. Now, warriors in Christ, go forth. God bless you martyr, Manny said. Roland followed up with his best attempt at honest enthusiasm. Yay God, he said in A2 wide smile. We should go, Manny said quickly. I don't wanna Terry on the Lord's time, that's the spirit martyred, Dittmar replied. I'll see you both on the training field. They stomped off towards the cadet processing building, which until recently had been the high school's administrative building. There were posters for school dances and after school clubs on the walls, it looked like a student body election had been underway when the heavenly. In them captured this place. Manny and Roland queued up behind a half dozen other confused looking young men and waited for their turn at the processing desk. The intake process lasted around an hour. They took his name, his date of birth, and his measurements, and then Manny helped Aaron answer the same questions. It would have been terrifyingly easy for anyone with a deck and a good connection to find evidence of Manny's career as a war zone fixer, but the martyr, handling their information wrote things down on actual paper. Manny got the distinct impression that many of the martyrs. Disabled their decks. He also knew from experience that data speeds tended to be pretty **** this close to the fighting. Someone will check eventually, he warned himself. You'd better be fast about this whole business. Roland stayed on his best behavior through the whole process, although he grew twitcher and twitchy ear as the Minutes war on. Many wasn't sure if the chromed man was allergic to bureaucracy or just frustrated at having sobered up. Once they were done with the first stage of the intake process, they were ushered over to another room filled with folded stacks of clothing and dense with the scent of mothballs. They were issued uniforms and then bundled off to a locker room to change. Manny was somewhat nervous about stripping down and changing in front of Roland, a dude he barely knew if the posthuman felt the same. Nervousness. He didn't show it. Roland pulled off his clothes in a couple of seconds, revealing a body that was tight, with wiry muscle and covered in thick surgical scars. Roland started to pull on his BDU pants and noticed Manny hadn't yet started to strip. Was up? Roland asked. You smell a nervous? Manny shrugged. I guess I'm a little prude still. Must be the Catholic in me, so let them hear that Roland knifed those ******* will hang you with your rosary beads. He pulled the pants up and buttoned them. Then he paused again and looked back at Manny. You are you still Catholic? He asked. Manny shook his head. No, I don't believe, but my family does. Ah, Roland nodded. You fake belief. Well, that's a talent. It's not a talent, Manny said. It's a survival skill. Grow up in Texas and you either learn to fake what you need to fake. Where you learn to fight, someone knocked on the door. You ready yet? A voice called out to them. Almost. Manny responded, and then he started to strip his clothing off. A few minutes and a change of clothes later, they arrived on the field where their training unit 24 sweat drenched young men were doing push-ups. Manny was surprised to see that these martyrs, at least, weren't all white. There was one black man right in the middle of the group. It took Manny a second to recognize that the instructor drilling them was Ditmar the man they'd met on their way to the base. He broke into a broad smile when he saw them. God's will is truly magnificent, is it not? And then he nodded down to the ground Violet and join us, lads. Let's see what you've got. Manny and Roland dropped down and joined the unit in another set of push-ups. If Roland had any trouble at all with the workout regimen, he didn't show it. The chromed man barely sweated, and Manny had a feeling that his sweat was more for show than the result of an actual biological process. Even with the show, it was obvious to everyone that Roland was not having any trouble with the exercises. God's blessed us with a new Samson, Dittmar said. 100 or so push-ups in the rest of the men, Manny included, had collapsed from the exertion, but Roland just kept going. For a while. They all sat there. Puffing and exhausted and watching him go, Ditmar smiled and shook his head, a little odd at the sight. Finally, he waved for Roland to stop. You made your point, son, and we're all blessed to have you here with us. Now get up, all of you, and sit around me. Manny stood, shook the soreness from his arms, and moved to take a seat in the semicircle of young martyrs. Once they were all properly positioned, Ditmar squatted down and cast his eyes around the group, settling on each of them in turn. I don't know how you all got here, he said in a quiet, somber voice. But I know what brought each of you here. The spirit of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He cleared his throat. Now, he said. Very soon you'll all be going into battle. Sooner than I'd prefer. We don't have time for the kind of training you boys deserve. You'll be fighting against men with more experience, better weaponry. It's a scary thought, but I'll tell you all right now, if you go into that battle with the same blind faith that brought you here. You'll do just fine. God won't let any other end come to pass. It was dark by the time Dittmar LED them all into the dining facility. The site of the high school cafeteria set off a surprising pang of nostalgia in Manny's heart. He hadn't enjoyed school, but something about the Gray fabric coloured walls, the colorful posters, and the dozens of identical faux wood tables made him long for a simpler time. For a second, he was almost able to forget where he was, what he was doing, and pretend this was just another day in school. That illusion was broken when he looked at his fellow martyrs. Hundreds of them had filed into the cafeteria. Dressed in a motley assortment of battle dress uniforms from the old U.S. Army, the Republic of Texas, and even the Mexican Army, most of them were young, not even into their 20s. Around 1/4 of them, though, were old for soldiers and their 40s or 50s. There was no military discipline in their appearance. Many of the men had beards or long, unruly hair. These ***** aren't soldiers, Roland whispered to him as they took their seats at one of the fake wooden tables on the left side of the room. This is what cannon fodder looks like, kid. The Heavenly Kingdom just expects these people to die. Many felt a surge of anxiety. He was sure someone else must have heard Roland, but when he glanced around he saw their tablemats world deep in conversation with each other, most of them, at least. Jonathan, the only other non white person in their training unit, seemed to have been excluded. The other soldiers leaned away from him. The focus of the table seemed to be a tall, square jawed young man with a Georgian twang to his accent. Martyrs, a loud voice cried from a podium at the center of the cafeteria, the sound of hundreds of bodies on hundreds of chairs turning to face the noise. Filled the room. The speaker was a tall, painfully thin man clad in a long, black robe. An enormous wooden cross hung from his neck. His hair was greasy, unruly, and shock white. He had a patchy beard and the overall look of an unkempt madman. But then he spoke. My brother said, is a blessed thing to have you all here today, he began in a voice that was little more than a whisper. There was a raw rasp to his voice. He sounded almost hoarse. Something about that quality drew Manny's attention. In the coming days, your instructors will prepare you for the great. Battles that lie ahead you will be given the best arms and armor our Kingdom can provide, but just by being here, each of you has shown you already have a weapon more powerful than any tool in our Armory. faith in God almighty. His voice raised in pitch now. It was still raspian horse, but it picked up a sharp, booming quality. He spoke faster, his cheeks grew red. Put on the armor of God, he cried, and you will stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Be strong and courageous. Do not panic before the enemy, for in every battle the Lord your God will go ahead of you. He will never fail you, nor abandon you. At this, several of the men around the room pounded their fists on the tables. One man in the back let out a whoop. These outbursts inspired other men to cry out praise God. Many glanced around, trying to gauge if more or less than half of the room was joining in. He didn't want to stay quiet if that was going to look weird. But then the pastor went quiet. A sense of anticipation filled the room. There were about 400 cadets all dining together in this shift, and of course the officer in charge, a tall, gangly redhead with no chin but a strangely beautiful baritone voice, LED them in prayer before the meal. Many repeated the words after him, but he didn't hear them. He did have to elbow Roland once, when he saw the big post, human wasn't chanting along with the other soldiers. Just then, a pair of big doors to the left of the stage swung open. Dittmar walked out with a hefty brown canvas bag over his shoulder. He was followed by an armed guard, and then two men in shackles. The captives wore striped white prison pajamas, and they both looked the worse for wear. One of them, a middle-aged black man, looked familiar. Many thought he must be a captured SDF fighter. His lip looked as if it had recently been split, and there was a nasty gash on his forehead. He kept his head down and his shoulders slumped. His posture was one of complete resignation. The other man was Manny's heart, skipped a beat. Oscar. He'd been beaten too, although not as badly as the soldier. He looked not so much frightened as bewildered, starving. And probably reeling from one or more head injuries, dude, Roland nudged Manny's rib cage and whispered to him the **** Manny realized his mask had slipped. He'd let himself stare in horror rather than the excitement evident in everyone else's face. No one else seemed to have noticed yet. They were all focused on the prisoners, but many forced a grim smile onto his face and tried to look at least like he was deeply satisfied. An armed martyr prodded Oscar in the SDF man in their backs with his rifle and ushered them up onto the stage. Dead silence. Rained over the cafeteria, no one spoke. It took many a few seconds to realize he was actually holding his breath. Once the captives were up on stage, the armed martyrs pulled them down to their knees. Dittmar set his bag down, unzipped it, and pulled out a wooden rod about 2 feet in length and a stick around as Manny's forearm. Warriors of God, the priest intoned in a low whisper. Many felt himself lean into the man's words, even as dread pickled the pit of his stomach. These men appointed themselves enemies of our Heavenly Kingdom, foes of God. He raised a hand up to Ditmar. His hand shook, but not out of fear. He positively vibrated with excitement. Who among you will take up the rod and punish these men? The chair scraping floor. Sound of someone standing up very quickly rose behind him. Many glanced back and saw that one of the men from his cadet group had been the first to stand. He was tall, with broad, thick shoulders and chest muscles that spoke of a youth spent laboring in the field. He had thin, dirty blonde hair, a thick jaw, and blue eyes that shone with excitement. What's your name, martyr? The priest. Asked Eric Friedman. Sir, the young man cried back. Murder, Friedman, Ditmar cried out as he held the rod up. Come forward and do the Lord's work. The young man walked forward, stepped up onto the stage, and took the rod from Ditmar's hand. He glanced down at the captives. His eyes passed over Oscar and lingered on the battered black soldier. Strike a blow for the Lord, the priest whispered, and martyr. Friedman obliged. His first swing was weak and share and poorly aimed. It struck the soldier on his shoulder. He didn't cry out. Martha Friedman second strike was harder. Sure. He hit the soldier right in the gash on his forehead, and the man dropped with a muffled cry. Eric hit him again, and again and again. Ditmar grabbed another rod from the bag and held it out. Stand up, men of God. The priest's voice rose again to a pitch so high it was almost a shriek. Step up and be the hands of justice. Just for a moment, Oscar saw him surprise, then confusion, and then anger passed over the Stringer's face. In the space of about a second, Manny didn't want to think about what Oscars saw in his face. And then men rushed the stage and Oscar disappeared in the swarm of martyrs to be rushing to share in the beatings. Roland took the opportunity provided by the chaos to lean back and Whisper a question to Manny. What's going on, guy? I know that guy. The one on the left, many whispered back. He's one of my stringers. He works for me. He's my friend. Roland nodded and then stood up and rushed up to the stage. By the time he reached it, a dozen other martyrs had joined Eric in beating the two captives. There was blood on the floor, blood on the sticks, and blood splattering the martyrs new uniforms. Oscar cried out from each blow. It sounded like his mouth was full of blood. And then Roland took a rod from Ditmar's hand and in the space of a second brought it down on both men's skulls with Dole. 80 thuds the soldiers went. Still. The screaming stopped, and every eye in the room turned to Roland. The chromed man looked out at the crowd. There was an agonizing moment of silence, and then many knew what he had to do. Praise God, he screamed out. The room joined in, and soon a chorus of cheers filled the cafeteria. After that, Roland was everyone's favorite martyr. Once the men's bodies were dragged off the stage and dinner began, the martyrs could barely contain their admiration for his strength. That was incredible. Eric said. I can't wait to go into battle with you. What did you do before? A young man with a thick Oklahoma twang asked. From the way you cracked those skulls out. I guess you've been doing that for years. Roland gave short, noncommittal responses. His taciturn attitude didn't stop the other martyrs from talking about him with supreme Glee. Their words sickened Manny, but their focus on Roland gave him a chance to breathe and mourn and avoid looking over at the stage, while Ditmars men dragged Oscar's body away by the time the excitement had subsided and dinner had ended. Many felt like he could just barely make it to his bunk without breaking down. He lagged behind Roland and the others as they all filed into the barracks. Manny was grateful for Rowland's ability to draw attention until, during the walk, that young black martyr sidled up to Manny and introduced himself. I'm Jonathan, he said, and I'm honored to meet you. Why? Manny asked. I think you and I were the only ones who weren't cheering during that. Ah, Manny said with a nod. He took a careful look at Jonathan's face. The other man's chubby cheeks and soft smiles seemed almost calculated to make him look guileless. Whatever he says, he's one of them. Be careful. I understand why it was necessary, Manny said. But I don't have to like it. Neither do I, Jonathan said. We have to fight them. We're fighting for God here, after all, but we don't have to become monsters. Manny nodded. He didn't say anything. Jonathan took that as an invitation to say more. I think we're going to have a harder time here than the others, he said, and gestured to the very Caucasian crowd ahead of them. We've got a lot to overcome here, but I think that just means God will shower more glory on us for the effort. Manny was proud that in his sorrowful and half panicked state he managed to avoid shouting what the **** at Jonathan. Instead he matched the martyr smile and just said praise God. Their next morning started with an hour of calisthenics. The workout was strenuous, but Manny actually enjoyed it. The speed with which they were dragged outside and forced into motion kept him from picturing Oscar's face for a while. After the workout, they dove into the real meat of the day, a trip to the gun range. It had been set up on what had once been a marching band's practice field. Dozens of vaguely human shaped targets had been cut out of sheet metal and set up at varying intervals behind a crude sandbag line. Their group of about two dozen new recruits were each issued weapons of varying. Quality many received a janky old Kalashnikov that, rattled like a maraca Roland was given an almost new G36 assault rifle. The range instructor was a 1 legged old martyr with a prodigious belly and an equally overgrown white beard. He walked them through the basics of how to operate a variety of different assault rifles. You can't know what weapon you'll end up needing to use and then set them up on the sandbag line and told them to start firing. Manny took aim at a target around 100 feet in front of him. It was hard to tell if he hit it or not. Several other men had aimed at the same target. Again, many got the feeling that the purpose of this training was not to make the marksman. Basic familiarity was all the Heavenly Kingdom had time to provide. Roland, of course, proved a fabulous shot. He stitched a :) and bullet holes across four of the metal targets and earned genuine praise from the instructor. By God, son, you've got a gift. This only increased Roland's social cachet with the martyrs. They crowded around him during the walk to the next activity of the day, lunch, and a lecture on assault tactics. This was held in a little concrete amphitheater, something that had presumably once served the school's drama department. Manny tried to sit down next to Roland, but Eric and a gaggle of his friends settled around the posthuman. First. They babbled excitedly to him. Manny wasn't sure what they were saying, but every time he glanced back, Roland looked absolutely miserable. Manny wound up in the back, seated next to Jonathan. The young miner patted his leg. Don't worry, brother, he said. It's going to be tough for us to earn their respect. But once we're all out in the field together, they'll stop caring about your skin. You are sure about that? Manny asked, happy he was never going to wind up in the field with any of these people. Of course I am, Jonathan said. I grew up in Atlanta. You know, I knew it was going to be rough coming out here, but that's the sacrifice we make for God. I know he's going to bring this nation back together. Tell you the truth, I'm honored to be a part of that. Jonathan's eyes shone when he spoke. He's a true believer, man. He realized there's not a doubt in his mind that he's doing the right thing. That was scary, and things got scarier still when their next instructor stepped into the amphitheater. The man was old and grizzled, too. He had both his legs, but his right arm was missing below the elbow and a jagged scar ran up the left side of his face. The skin on most of his forehead was bald and modeled as if he'd been badly burned. Afternoon, boys, and God bless you. I'm Mara Carruthers. Today you're going to learn how to assault a fortified position. Most of the strategies he walked them through began and ended with the application of shoulder fired rockets and incendiary grenades. Manny couldn't help but notice that no time was spent talking about how to avoid civilian casualties. He wasn't even sure specialist Carruthers knew how to pronounce the word civilian. Remember what it says in the book of Samuel Boys, the older man Drawled. Now go and strike and devote to destruction all that you have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman's child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey, he laughed, which made a few of the young martyrs comfortable enough to laugh, too. I don't expect you'll run into any camels or donkeys out in Austin, but there will be men, women, children and infants. If they stand in your way, they all equally deserve to be purged. Many didn't like the eagerness he saw in the faces of his fellow students. The pit in his stomach grew throughout the day while martyr Carruthers explained how to use the various heavy munitions they might be called upon to deploy. There weren't enough rockets or mortars for them to actually train on any of those things. Manny wasn't sure how good a gist anyone really got. He wondered how much that would matter when these men took to the field. He ate ravenously at dinner. Thankfully, there were no executions that day, but martyr Ditmar did take the stage again and announced that the buses were ready to take any interested recruits down to the main drag for a couple of hours of what passed for R&R. One of the older martyrs handed everyone ration cards and explained they were good for either a cup of coffee or tea, or a small amount of food from one of the few stores that had opened back up. ******* tea, Roland grumbled into Manny's ear as they headed out for the buses. That's what these jumped up. Puritans consider her recreational beverage. This ******* country. Manny had noticed the posthuman growing increasingly jittery and irritable throughout the day. He'd seen Rowland cautiously cough up another small bag of pills right before lunch that had sated him for a while. But considering his post human metabolism, many thought he had to be pretty close to sober. I am so ******* lucid I can't stand it, Roland muttered. What is it with you people and being high all the time? Manny whispered back. Can you stand being sober for a few days? Not. Am I gonna help it? Bolin said. He pointed to his head. There's too much going on in there, man. Too much input. It's like my whole body itches, but I can't scratch. Ah man, he said, since he wasn't sure what else to say. The bus hit downtown Plano after 20 minutes or so. It wasn't an impressive sight. There were maybe a dozen little shops in one cafe open, plus a pretty sad looking farmers market you could see no signs of any bars, any clubs, anything that even vaguely resembled nightlife. The main drag was crowded with people, throngs of soldiers and young women in long dresses, and new immigrants into the Heavenly Kingdom. Where should we go first? Manny asked as soon as they'd filed off the bus. Well, Roland grunted. Unless you're in the mood for ****** coffee, some root vegetables, let's say we check out that gallows. Manny had avoided looking too long at the gallows. It was empty now, but just staring at it made him feel sick. There was something sinister and unsettling about the ground beneath it. It was as if he could feel the death radiating outwards. What could we possibly learn there? The big man shrugged. Not much, but if they wind up hanging anyone tonight, I might be able to sniff out where they're keeping the prisoners. That'd be useful data. Well, I'm going to be useless for that, Manny said. What should I do? I don't know, man. Grab some coffee. What? Roland locked eyes with him. He didn't do that often. His gaze was normally as shifty and jittery as the rest of him. Look, kid, you done a great job above and beyond the call. I don't know, duty or whatever, and you're good company too. But I got half a dozen satellites worth of sensory equipment in my brain and hundreds of wee bitty microscopic robots floating around the air, feeding me news. There's really not much for you to do here. Chill out. Find whatever passes for relaxation here and do it. I'll get you when it's time to go. Many started to protest, but then he thought, what the hell? He's right, I'm useless. I've earned a cup of flavourless gringo coffee. So we thanked Roland and headed off in the direction of the strips functioning coffeehouse, the cafe Clement. It looked like it was less crowded than the others. As he reached for the door, someone slammed into him. She was a young blonde, younger than Manny, at any rate. She wore baggy surgical scrubs. Her jaw was tight and clenched. Her brown eyes were wide with fear, and there were deep bags under them. Oh, Oh my, she said. I'm so sorry, Sir. Please let me. It's OK, Manny said. No damage done. Are you alright? You look terrified. I'm just just trying to avoid someone. It's nothing serious. Many wasn't sure why, but he pulled the ration cards he'd been given out of his pocket and offered one to the stranger here. If you want, we can grab a table together and I'll sit with my back to the door. You're not big. I can block you. She looked surprised and a little hesitant, but after a few blinks, she nodded and said I'd actually appreciate that a lot. Thank God for you, Sir. Yeah, Manny agreed. Praise him. They sat and ordered coffee. The young woman kept craning her neck around Manny to peek at the door behind them. Look, I'm not gonna ask what's up with you, but can I get your name at least? That might make this less awkward. I mean, Emmanuel Manny for short. Sasha, she said. Aya just got here a few days ago. You? This is my second day. She looked surprised. I wouldn't have guessed what with the uniform. He laughed. It turns out they just hand these to anyone who hold a gun. I didn't even really have a choice. Well, if that's where you wound up, I'm sure it's where the Lord wants you. Praise God for that. She didn't seem like she was joking, but there was something about her tone and Mint mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one. Mint Mobile just has premium wireless from 15 bucks a month. 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Dash behind seriously, you'll make your wallet very happy at mintmobile.com/behind. So by now we imagine that you've seen the theories on tick tock. You maybe even heard the rumors, your friends and loved ones. But are any of the stories about government conspiracies and cover ups actually true? The answer is surprisingly or unsurprisingly, yes. For more than a decade, we here at stuff they don't want you to know have been seeking answers to these questions, sometimes their answers that people would rather us not explore. Now we're sharing this research. With you for the first time ever in a book format, you can pre-order stuff they don't want you to know now. It's the new book from us, the creators of the podcast and video series. 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 books.com or wherever you find your favorite books. My name is Erica Kelly and I am the host and creator of Southern Freight true crime. There are so many people that just have no idea about some injustices in the world and if you can give a voice to them you can create change. To be able to do it within podcasting is just such a gift. I believe it was 18 months after I got on with speaker that I was making enough that I could quit my day job. It was incredible. Always felt like an ambassador for speaker, but that's because. Passionate about podcasting? It's really easy to use. I always tell people I am so not tech. Took me 5 minutes to get comfortable with spreaker, and when I find a new friend that has an incredible show, I want them to make money. I want them to be able to do what I did. Follow your podcasting dreams. Let's break your handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to spreaker.com. That's spreaker.com. Get paid to talk about the things you love. Spreaker from iheart, the way her jaw never unclenched that made Manny suspect she was a little less than convinced about her own words. For the next few minutes they talked in between sips of mediocre coffee, he learned she was from the American Federation, and enough of a true believer that she'd smuggled herself into the Heavenly Kingdom. She didn't seem like a zealot, though. More than anything, she seemed scared. How do you like it here? He finally asked. Is it what you'd expected? She didn't respond for quite a while. Instead, she stared into his eyes. Manny stared back. It was a strange feeling. She must have been trying to search out whether he was trustworthy or trying to trick her into revealing her disloyalty. He maintained eye contact and tried not to seem like a member of whatever the Heavenly Kingdom called their secret police. Apparently it worked. Of course I'm happy here in God's Kingdom, she smiled an empty smile. I've been blessed to meet so many dedicated people. But I'm I've also met some people who I am. Well, she coughed. Not everyone here seems to have the Lord in their heart. Manny almost laughed at the irony in her admitting that to him, but he kept his mouth shut and just nodded. Sasha took a long sip of her coffee. He felt a little bad for staring. She was very pretty, but she was also pretty young. And of course she'd volunteered to join a theocratic murder state. That was probably another reason he shouldn't get too attached. So anyway, Sasha explained. I've run into some men I don't like very much, and they keep finding me when I get off from my shift at the hospital. I'm sure they're waiting outside the House of where I'm staying right now. I just don't want to deal with that again. Well, Manny smiled his most charming smile. I'm happy to help you wait them out. I've got another hour at least before the buses take us back to the barracks. And so for a while, they just talked. She told him about her work in the hospital, and he tried to say as little as possible about his two ****** days as a martyr. Sasha didn't seem to mind that he didn't have much to say about himself. Manny got the feeling she was just happy to have someone to talk with. Most of her words passed over him until she mentioned something about a prisoner. She's from one of the road people from some moving city with an obscene name, and she's pregnant, so I'll be seeing her again tomorrow, probably to do a more thorough examination. I feel weird about it. She was so strange. How different from anyone I've met, but I really don't like wait, a prisoner? Is this at the hospital? Sasha seemed confused by that question, and many worried he might have overplayed his hand. Why do you? The rest of her question was cut off by the sound of a bullhorn outside. Manny couldn't make out most of what was being said until he heard prisoners and SDF in an electronically distorted Southern drawl. Oh no, Sasha moaned. What are they talking about? It's another execution. Manny stood up and stepped towards the door. He had to see who it was. Even before he got there, a terrible feeling had started to boil up in the pit of his gut. He pushed the door open, jogged towards the gallows, and pushed his way back through the crowd. He could see Roland standing 20 feet off to the left from the wooden platform, but Manny's eyes were focused on the four men and two women in shackles at the foot of the gallows. Five of them were strangers. The 6th was Mr Peron. The black effect presents features, honest conversations, and exclusive interviews, a space for artists, everyday people, and listeners to amplify, elevate, and empower black voices with great conversations. Make sure to listen to the black Effect Presents podcast on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast. Hey, lethal listeners. Tig. Here. Last season on Lethal lit, you might remember I came to Hollow falls on a mission, clearing my Aunt Beth's name and making sure justice was finally served. But I hadn't counted on a rash of new murderers tearing apart the town. My mission put myself and my friends in danger, though it wasn't all bad. I'm going to be real with you, tig. I like you, but now all signs point to a new serial killer in Hollow Falls. If this game is just starting, you better believe I'm going to win. I'm Tig Torres and this is lethal lit. Catch up on season one of the hit Murder Mystery podcast. Lethal lit A tag Torres mystery out now and then TuneIn for all new thrills in Season 2, dropping weekly starting February 9th. Subscribe now to never miss an episode. Listen to lethal lit on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. 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. 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? Chapter 17, Roland. Roland smelled the execution before it started. There had been a lot of strong smells in downtown Plano when he arrived. Gunpowder and sour fear, sweat, the acrid stink of anxiety, and the warm, wet odors of grief and confusion. He'd smelled the stale reek of military rations, the sharp pang of anemia, and the boiling hot testosterone that wafted off the martyrs like a jet stream. But 1/2 hour into his time downtown, something else had drifted over the packed masses of refugees and pilgrims and militiamen. It was hard to define a bit of tension. Bit of anticipation. The odor was faint enough to suggest something unconscious, a collective emotion. The aggregate scent of a crowd, of people who weren't consciously aware of how they felt. There was no neurotransmitter, no pheromone he could identify. In particular, this scent was more elusive. He was only able to lock it down through the memory fragments that triggered cold Gray sky, a biting chill in the air. Hundreds of men and women bundled up, clustered around barrel fires, everyone talking excitement in their voices. Anxiety on the air mingled with the gun. Well, in anticipation, something was about to happen. A few seconds later, the scent of anxious anticipation started to rise. Rowland heard the deep, bouncing thrum of heavy rubber wheels on pavement. His hind brain tied the sound to a particular species of obsolete armored personnel carrier, originally manufactured in Bulgaria. After following its route for several seconds, his hindbrain guessed the A PC was bound for the main square. Roland spent the next few minutes jockeying for a good position close to the gallows. He wasn't sure that's where the convoy was headed. It seemed like a good guess, though, and he was quickly proven. Right when the APC pulled up to a stop just 100 feet away, the crowd stopped and gawked as the heavy doors slid open. Soldiers in full body armor stepped out, dragging 6 men and women and honest to God manacles and chains out into the dying light. The captives were all esdf. Roland didn't even have to make an educated guess on that one. The Heavenly Kingdom had made sure to addressed them in their tattered and bloodstained uniforms. They were, all of them, emaciated and broken looking. The evidence of torture was so clear that Roland's enhanced eyes weren't even necessary. The captives had broken, bleeding fingernails, black eyes, painful limps and feet that looked like they could barely stand to touch the ground. One of the martyrs, a tall man wearing a red beret instead of a combat helmet, strode ahead of the group. He had a voice amp in one hand. He raised the other up in the air in a prayerful gesture that was matched by most of the crowd. Brothers and sisters, the martyrs voice boomed. Today the Lord and his loyal soldiers have delivered unto you a blessing. The crowd tightened around Roland. He could see here, feel as people rushed out from the cafes and shops. Watch. The fear and excitement was so thick in the air. Roland was sure even unmodified humans could have sensed it. Here we have 6 prisoners from the SDF, the martyr began. These men and women were all captured in the last week. Rather than accept their defeat, they chose to fight as insurgents against the Heavenly Kingdom. God and his martyrs are merciful, but these sinners have spat on that mercy. Now it is our privilege to execute upon them the judgment written. This honor have all his Saints praise ye the Lord. A ragged cheer went up from the crowd. Many of the assembled sounded less than enthusiastic, at least to Roland's ears, but there were still dozens and dozens of voices, full of reckless hate. The prisoners marched forward with their escort ever nearer to the gallows. Roland's ear tingled, and he sensed Manny's presence out in the street now. The kid smelled afraid, with a faint, fading tinge of pheromonal arousal. Hmm. Roland backed away and escaped the main Press of the crowd, and a few seconds he was behind Manny, and he put a hand on the Fixer's back. The young man jumped and then shot Rolando, furious. Look, the hell. Manny caught himself and instead pointed up to the line of doomed men and women. Roland, I know that. Hey, a girl ran up to them. She smelled scared too, but the scent was much deeper on her, sunken into her skin. She'd been scared for quite some time. She seemed to know Manny, and he definitely knew her. Sasha, Manny said. I'm sorry, I just needed to. He paused, shook his head, and then put a hand on rolling shoulder. This is my comrade martyr Aaron. We fled here together once the SDF retreated. From Farmers Branch. Aaron, this is Sasha. It's good to meet you, martyr Aaron, she said and flashed him an anxious smile. I'm so glad God's grace has brought us all together. Ohh yeah, Roland said in his most convincing voice. God, so uh, so good. I'm really just uh. He gestured toward the gallows. I'm a psych to see this. Oh, look crossed over her face, disgust mixed with building anxiety. She was dressed to play the part of the Good Christian woman, her hair done up in a tasteful bun, her face unadorned by make up, her sleeves long and her clothing baggy. But her scent didn't lie. It suggested she was pretty far from all in on this whole Heavenly Kingdom thing. You're not excited to see God's justice? Roland asked. The young woman frowned and shook her head. I understand the necessity of such brute, of such extreme measures, but I don't have to like it, Manny, do you? She started to ask Manny something, but the young man broke off from their little group and darted forward towards the gallows. Oh, Sasha finished in surprise. I'll, uh, I'll go check on him, Roland said. It's probably best if you wait here, huh? She looked confused, but she nodded. Roland followed behind Manny and caught up to him about four people deep into the growing crowd around the scaffold. The fixers eyes were locked on one of the SDF prisoners, a middle-aged man with a prominent black mustache and a look of courageous resignation. In his brown eyes he stood in the middle of the gallows, calm as a stone in the ocean, while one of the martyrs fitted a noose around his neck. Manny Roland said. That's Mr Parone, Manny said. Someone you know then? Manny swallowed and nodded his head. Tears threatened at the corners of his watery eyes. Roland felt like it would probably be a good idea to get the kid away from the gallows before he did something stupid. Roland hindbrain helpfully informed him that there were only around 60 armed men in the whole square, but he also knew there were 183 armed men within a mile of their current position. If shift started now, it wouldn't end for a while. Roland put a hand on many shoulder. We have to do something, Manny said. What do you want me to do? Roland asked. Rush up there, beat that red braid, ******* get with their own sidearm and then **** punch the rest of them into submission. You can beat them, Manny said. Yeah, Roland nodded. But if I do, that's the end of the mission, and probably the end of those hostages. I can't save your buddy and you probably even that girl if she wants to come. But the kingdom's going to assume some monster man from rolling ******. Just terrorism them. They'll bury those captives too deep for us to find. And then Austens is ****** as a blind ***** and * ****. Forest. A man in the crowd turned and stared at Roland. Fall. Human volume. Roland guessed he'd heard just the tail end of his last sentence. The word ***** had probably peaked his ears before the man could say anything. Roland pointed towards the gallows and let out a loud whoop, followed by a praise God. Praise God. The inadvertent eavesdropper started cheering along with him and turned back to the impending execution. Roland turned back to Manny. The boy was quiet, his face controlled, but fat tears ran down his cheeks and his shoulders shook. With silent sobs, Roland directed him back away from the worst of the crowd. Mr Peron baked the cake for my 12th birthday. Manny whispered. He showed us Monty Python. He dropped us off at soccer practice. Manny had started to Babble. He smelled on the edge of an outright panic attack. Roland Hindbrain started to identify potential improvised weaponry options among the crowd. He settled on a small, thick set. Man, he's got a real dense cranium. Good weight distribution. He'll make a great club. Roland shook himself out of it. Then he tried to shake Manny out of it by literally shaking him by the shoulders. Hey, listen, your friend up there, it's going to die. Or a lot of other people are going to die. Those are the two options. I know it sucks. I know it's ****. But we cannot fix this. If you stay calm, though, we can fix something worse. Do you understand me? Manny's eyes came unglazed. The flow of tears slowed, then stopped. It was an impressive feat of willpower. Most people didn't have that kind of control over their emotions. Roland had to guess. Manny's work as a fixer had at least prepared him to function in the middle of a waking nightmare. OK, the kid said, but I have to watch. Roland wanted to argue, but one look at Manny's eyes made it clear that arguing wouldn't do any good. So instead, he stood there next to Manny and kept his hand on the boy's shoulder until the terrible thing was done. It was his, ghastly as these things always were. Most of the crowd cheered every snap neck, every jerk of a dying soldier's legs. Shockwaves of memory racked Roland's mind at the site. He felt warm spring air blow across his cold chest. He saw a small sea of familiar strangers, men and women he'd known. Once Upon a bloodier day, he felt a big gun kick in his hands. He felt a warm splash of blood across his chest and face. He heard the heavy final thump of a tiny body hitting the ground. He saw Topaz. She looked ill. He saw Skull **** her, Mike with a hand on her shoulder. He heard Jim's voice. Make sure the cameras catch this next one, Jim cried. We've got an honest to God Chaney with us today. Back in the present. Roland watched as Manny's friend's turn came round. Manny swallowed his face went pale, tears streamed down the boy's face, and Roland felt a sudden peculiar urge to bury him in a hug. He did not do that, though. Roland just stood still with a firm hand on many shoulder while they tightened the noose around Mr Peroni's neck and dropped him down to hang until he was dead. Dead. Dead. Roland was proud of how straight Manny stood, how the boy held back from sobbing, and how once the sad spectacle was over, Manny turned back around and headed towards the Christian girl, Sasha. She still stood where they left her. Roland could tell she'd been crying too, although she'd taken some pains to describe it. She was hard to get a read on that one. She struck him as one of the faithful, but she didn't strike him as a nut. Maybe she just gotten suckered into this awful place. Roland could surely understand that he was pretty sure he'd been suckered into Dumber things. Praise God, she said with hesitation. Praise God, Manny responded. Roland didn't say much. She gave him a look, but not an angry one. That was. She locked eyes with Manny. Roland was pretty sure she'd blocked the rest of the world out. She must have seen the signs of his tears too. She coughed a little and continued. That was awful. I know it's necessary, but I'll never stop hating that. It's a good thing to hate, Manny said. And then, look, we have to get back to base curfews coming up soon, but if you want to hide from those, uh, undesirables tomorrow, I'll be waiting outside the cafe. They kept talking, but what they said was beyond Roland's interest. He was busy listening as the prison convoy drove off. Now that he knew the sound of the prisoner transport APC orally tracing it back to its origin point was child's play. Aaron Manni's voice jerked his attention back to the conversation happening in front of him. We should probably go, Manny said. The buses will leave soon. Oh **** surely, surely. Right, right, surely right. We should go. Roland smiled at Sasha. It was a lovely to meet you. Good evening. You put a hand on many shoulder and together they headed off to the buses. Manny only stopped twice to cry. Manny didn't say much the rest of the night. Roland was proud of him for holding back his tears during the bus ride and the walk to the barracks. The kid broke down as soon as he got into bed, of course, but he kept his sobs silent, and Roland was pretty sure none of the other recruits noticed. It helped that they were all exhausted at the end of the day. Roland puked up, then popped a handful of Ambien and Percocets and washed them down with a tall glass of the beer he'd brewed in his own guts. He offered Manny some, but the boy declined, so Roland had a second glass, and then a third. It wasn't enough to get him wasted. That the cocktail of drugs did it tolerable job of leading him into unconsciousness, he drifted off to sleep an hour or so after the rest of the men in the barracks. The next day was more army style ******** push-ups and wind sprints and a big dumb obstacle course. Roland had to be real careful to act challenged as the day went on. He instructed his body to elevate his blood pressure and temperature, to flush his face red with blood, and to send enough sweat from his pores to make a passable imitation of exertion. It was tedious and he hated it, but the first half of the day went by pretty fast. Then it was time for a close quarters firefight drill. The men were given actual rifles sans ammunition, and divided up into assault teams they spent the next five hours taking turns to. Ending or attacking different rooms in an old apartment complex that had been commandeered by the Heavenly Kingdom. There was a lot of shouting from instructors who, sure as **** wanted the recruits to think they knew more about urban warfare than they did. At the end of 1 particularly long set of door breaching drills, one of the instructors dropped to his knees and started chanting in tongues. He seemed to be celebrating that one of his slowest squads had finally nailed a textbook entry. Roland wasn't sure what the hell to make of it. The man almost smelled like he was having a schizophrenic break, the heady wash of neurotransmitters wafting. Often made it clear the source isn't just some gesture for show. He seemed legitimately overcome with joy. Other soldiers and even a couple of instructors started kneeling around him. They were all chanting in some strange language. The first instructor kept repeating what sounded like hum nashta hum nushka. Roland's hidden Brain knew a lot of languages, but this sounded like nonsense to him. He noticed the speech patterns of each chanting man were pretty consistent with American English. The actual words were gibberish, though, and many grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed gently down. Roland took the hint and then took a knee. The kids started to chant in a low voice and the taskila Josepha Timchula. It was more gibberish, but Roland followed suit and he started to spit out nonsense of his own and atone low enough that it didn't rise above the din of chanting maniacs. Manny's strategy, he realized, was to make big, exaggerated mouth motions without actually speaking at a high volume. It made him look right without drawing any attention. The whole weird scene went on for a little over 2 minutes. Eventually, the instructor stopped chanting and lay on his back, sweating and spent. The other soldiers seemed to have ended their fits in the same way. Roland could tell from their heart rates and body temperature that about half of the men had been faking it, just like he and Manny, the humid stink of guilt was heavy in the air. Roland's heart went out for them. It must be agony to believe so hard and something so dumb that you'd castigate yourself for not buying into it enough. After that, they filed into the mess hall. They said their prayers, ate their dinners, and then queued up for the buses downtown. The ride was uneventful, and the instant their feet hit the square, Manny went off to find Sasha. Roland shook his head in appreciation for the all consuming power of human desire, and then bounded off to check out the presumed location of the jail. It was about a three mile jog at full speed. Roland could have cleared the distance in a few minutes, but a low profile was the name of the game. He stuck to a fast walk and kept to the shadows and alleys as best he could. Plano hadn't been a very dense city. For the miners had taken over, so there were a lot of times where he was basically out in the open. He had to trust that his uniform in the general state of chaos and the newly founded Kingdom would obscure him. This was the first look he'd gotten of the Kingdom on foot, Woland decided. He didn't care much for it. There was a great deal of foot and vehicle traffic, but most of the people seemed to be either soldiers or refugees. Without anywhere else to go, he passed 2 checkpoints where twitchy looking martyrs performed data scans on decks and personal hard drives. He even saw one soldier sorting through paperback books in the trunk of some poor. Bockscar Roland noticed several white fans with black crosses painted on the side. They cruised the streets, clearly on patrol for something. He watched one stop in front of a family of refugees, heavy with backpacks and carrying intake papers in their hands. Men in white jumpsuits with Gold cross badges piled out and surrounded the family. Rowland concealed himself behind a dumpster and watched as the patriarch of the family handed them his papers and spoke in a frantic, animated tone. One of the men pointed at his daughter, who wore a stained T-shirt and a ragged pair of denim shorts. They were baggy and hardly stylish, but the men in the jumpsuit seemed furious. They pointed and shouted. The man put his hands in the air and tried to say something, but one of the jump suited men smashed his head with a cane. Cold rage bubbled up inside Roland. **** this place. He simmered to himself. **** these janky *** throwback fundamentalists in their fastest ********. He wanted to charge out from behind the dumpster and tear into these low rent Hisbah *************. He wanted to shove those thick wooden rods so far up their ***** they'd be ******** splinters for weeks. The mission, he reminded himself. That ******* mission. And so he watched as the men in White beat the old guy. He watched as they pulled the poor ********* daughter into a van and forced a hideous Gray woolen dress over her head. It didn't fit, and it looked liable to give her heat stroke in the late Texas summer. She didn't fight them, though. Roland moved on reluctantly and found what his hind brain suspected was the old jail. The Apcs he'd seen last night were parked out front. The compound was guarded and busy. Roland counted 14 guards just outside. Mind you, there were human guards. No powered armor, no heavy artillery, nothing at hand that could do much more than tickle him. They wouldn't present a danger, but they would cause a hell of a lot of noise if he attempted a daylight prison break. He scrambled up onto 1/2 collapsed condo building that had been abandoned after a heavy mortar shell gutted the inside. It provided a good view of the jail. For the next hour, Roland just watched his hind brain, mapped the pattern of the guard rotations, and noted the security protocols they followed. When each new vehicle arrived. He took a lot of deep breaths and gradually pulled enough scents from inside the jail to have a decent idea of how many people were in there. He'd never smelled Marigold or the other rolling **** negotiators before, but his nose picked up on three people with a handful of aftermarket modifications. Most of the martyrs he'd met had been limited to civilian grade healing sweets and sensory upgrades. It was a safe bet that these were their targets. Then, when you've got the message, put down the phone. Roland wasn't sure where or when he'd heard that aphorism, but it came into his head, and a moment later he realized the sun was pretty low in the sky. It'd be bus time soon. He headed back through the high shadows and across the cracked and bullets Guard boulevards until he was able to merge back into the evening crowd at the square. Manny and the Christian girl had moved on from the cafe by that point. He actually ran into them in front of some building with a sign that identified it as the House of Miriam. They were saying weird, chaste religiously goodbyes. Oh hello, Aaron. Sasha smiled when she saw him. Manny turned around and flashed him a weary smile, too. Roland could see pain in the kid's eyes, but it was at least cut with a bit of arousal. He decided. That was a good thing. Ever since Oscar's death, Manny had been riding the line between function and complete emotional collapse. He decided to encourage the Fixer's weird little friendship with the Christian girl. Hey, Roland said. How is the coffee smelled like? It was mostly chicory and food dye when I walked by. Earlier. But maybe they sold you all the good stuff. They did not. Manny said. You must be blessed with an exceptional nose. Sasha said and gave him an odd look. Then she asked, what did you get up to? I had checked out the farmers market. Roland lied. I'll tell you what. Some some good freaking cucumbers up in there. That's where I was. Cucumbers. Sasha's odd look deepened. Manny brought a hand up to the bridge of his nose and needed his brow and frustration. We should head back to the buses. Allah. I'll see you tomorrow, Sasha. Yeah, yes, of course, Sasha replied with a genuine smile. If this was a sane world, Roland thought, the two of them would have had a real date by now. But this was the Heavenly Kingdom. They were surrounded by extremist militants, and Sasha probably wasn't even allowed to look at condoms also. She's one of those militants, Roland reminded himself. He let the kids say their goodbyes and then walked back to the bus with Manny. The kid seemed unsettled. I feel like I'm making a real dumb decision, he said. What? Roland asked, talking with that girl. Manny shrugged. She's told me all she knows about those prisoners already, but we're supposed to meet at the one ****** cafe in this town tomorrow. I know it's stupid, but I kind of want to make that meeting. Why is it stupid? Roland asked. They had to drop their voices a little as they drew closer to the line for the buses. Because Manny said we're not going to be here long, Sasha confirmed. Our people are in the jail. And you scouted it out today, right? Yep. So we're confirmed twice over. It's time to do this thing and get out. I don't have time to eat ****** food with a pretty girl. Roland turned and fixed his eyes on Mannies. He leaned in until their noses were almost touching, and then he poked the boy's chest with his index finger for emphasis while he spoke. Emmanuel Sanchez listen to me. There is always time to eat ****** food with a pretty girl. **** the war. **** what's a good idea? Go eat some garbage and stare into her eyes. Do something human in this inhuman place. Late night will be a better time for the rescue anyway. Manny was silent for several long seconds. Then he said. OK. The next day started with more PT as usual. Then it rolled right into an extra long trip to the firing range and three more hours of close assault drills. Roland found himself disgusted by the kingdom's tactics. Their go to was to dump heavy artillery on any embedded resistance. No heed was paid to the civilian cost. They were fine having untrained kids lob mortars into crowded neighbourhoods, the Lord will recognize his own martyr, Carruthers had said over and over again that evening before the dinner prayer, the raspy voiced priest. The raspy, voiced priest came by to speak to all the recruits in the Chow Hall Rowland, missed martyr Ditmars, introduction of the priest. He was too busy puking up and surreptitiously eating his last bag of drugs, but his ears perked up when the wild haired old nut ****** launched into his speech. The burdens placed upon the Warriors of God are great. You men have sworn yourselves to a ponderous duty, but that duty does not end on the battlefield. If the Heavenly Kingdom is to remain and expand, we will need you to fight in the field and with your other God-given attributes. This elicited a dim chorus of chuckles from the audience. It took Roland an embarrassing amount of time to realize what the preacher was talking about. Ah jeez, this speech is about *******. The Lord commands us to be fruitful and multiply, the priest wheezed. But he also calls us to respect the sacred bonds of holy matrimony in times of war, the times we all live in. Now, this might seem to create some difficulty, but that's only because most of us are trained to think of marriage in the secular context. The average married couple in the American Federation. Dates for eight years before being wed in California. It's closer to 10, of course. In both those places, dating is more or less a form of cashless prostitution. Roland had to strain to avoid rolling his eyes next to him. Many listened dutifully. His face was almost unreadable. Perhaps people who don't trust their creator need years of time to decide if another person is a suitable partner. Happily, we have the will of God to guide us. You young men are strong and virile and faithful. Your Lord wants you to find love. He wants you to bring more children into this world. This is why, as the hour of action draws closer, we still encourage each of you to spend time every day going out into the city and mingling with the other sheep. Are great flock? Uh-huh. Suddenly, Roland understood. It had seemed odd to him that the Heavenly Kingdom, a state still so unformed and tumultuous, would devote time and resources to busing their military recruits downtown. It made sense now. They wanted all these young men to find women and fill them up with babies before they went off to die. It was grim as hell, but it was also quite logical. The truth of it is, the pastor Rasped marriage is a simple process. When you find the right person, the right arrangements can be made in an hour or two. That is why I'm here. Along with Pastor Sandor, Ellsworth and Biggins. You can find us at any hour of the day or night to bless your unions. Once God shows you to your wives and there are more pastors at the House of Jacob near the square, I urge you to go out into the Kingdom in search of love and make use of us. Our chief job and our chief joy is to help our noble martyrs find the love and bliss God promises. Every faithful man's wives are his blessing to us. Children are our duty to him now. The man said with a rakish grin. Go forth and multiply the flock. The line for the buses was extra long that day. By the time Roland and Manny actually made it to the square, they were nearly an hour later than usual. Many rushed right off to find Sasha. Roland found his way to an alley and then darted across town and towards the jail once again. They'd already confirmed the location of their targets, so Roland's last job was to mark out a good exit route from the city. He didn't expect it be a quiet prison break that would draw attention and fighters. The good news was that nothing within the Heavenly Kingdom looked particularly well organized. A ton of fighters patrolled the streets, but most of Plano was still pretty war-torn. Their camera grid was far from comprehensive. If they had a sizable drone force, it was kept nearer to the front than here. The quickest route seemed to be to head straight N from the jail, up Kay Ave, and passed an old housing development filled with crumbling mansions. That route would take them past two fortified bases. There'd be a couple 100 infantry to deal with, along with their attendant APC's and a handful of drones. Roland felt confident he could have punched a hole through all that on his own, but he expected to have. Were five civilians in tow. The odds of one of them taking a stray round were just too high. Another possible route took him up and to the left towards an old tollway that seemed to mark the end of the Heavenly Kingdom static defenses. They controlled a lot of the territory beyond, but the patrols there looked random. There were no fortifications or checkpoints. It was a much longer route than the other, but potentially one that required a lot less fighting. The last option was to veer right and take Park Ave to Richardson. The Heavenly Kingdom had controlled that territory for even less time than they'd held Plano. And the fighting there had been heavier. They'd pass a lot of checkpoints, but not much in the way of troop concentration. As long as they kept S and away from Dallas proper, the scouting work itself was exhilarating. Roland had a lot of ground to cover, so he spent most of his time sprinting and scaling buildings, leaping from roof to roof and in between shattered windows. His senses were in full use. There were always passing convoys of civilians, or patrols of mitres, or those odd white police fans somewhere nearby. He was close to caught a dozen times, and he loved every minute of the work by the time he got back to the main square. It was quite late and almost time for the buses to leave. He did a quick loop of the square to see if he could find Manny and Sasha. He caught traces of their scents, but neither of them seemed to be out and about. He eventually tracked Sasha's pheromone trail back to the House of Miriam, but Manny seemed to be gone. That was strange. Roland headed back to the buses in the hope of finding him there, but Manny wasn't in line or on any of the buses, so Roland headed back to the base and tried to ignore the unease as it blossomed in his belly. Maybe he headed back early. Maybe the date went bad. That made sense. Sasha seemed nice for religious extremists, but you couldn't predict zealots. It was so damn easy to set them off. Manny might have just said the wrong thing and decided it'd be safest to head back to base and chill in the barracks. The bus pulled into the school come training facilities, little vehicle depot. Roland noticed at once that martyr Ditmar and a small bodyguard of armed men were waiting. That was unusual. Rolande hindbrain warned him that this was probably related to Manny's disappearance. He felt a thin drip of adrenaline start tapping on the back of his amygdala. It was the feeling he associated with ****** about to happen. Roland tried to enjoy it without letting it push him into action before he knew what was really going on. Martyr Aaron Dittmar said as he approached Roland. The instructor's bodyguard stayed close behind. Would you come with me? We've got some news for you. Where's a manual? Roland asked. We'll explain everything, the older martyr said. Just come with me. Roland followed him into the maze of buildings and towards a small office occupied by a white haired man and what looked like the Heavenly Kingdom's equivalent of a dress uniform. It was blue, bedecked with metals, and had a shining silver cross on each epaulette. The fancy man looked very tired. Roland could smell cheap caffeine wafting from his pores. This is Commandant Dawkins murdered, Ditmar explained. He's in charge of this facility. We've been telling him about you murdered Dittmar is hard to impress, the Commandant said. But to his eyes you're some sort of latter day Sampson, the strongest man I've ever seen, said martyr Ditmar. He's a darn fine shot too. Something of a marvel. Where's my friend? Roland asked. Where's Emmanuel? The Commandant gave an indulgent smile. It didn't meet his tired eyes. Listen, martyr, I know you can appreciate how important unit cohesion is during a situation as stressful as combat. We've had to make some changes in order to ensure unity. Emanuel is one of a number of soldiers we've transferred to special duty. Roland could read between the lines. He was sure if he checked in the barracks that Manny, Jonathan and the other handful of non white recruits would all be absent. What kind of special duty? Ditmar growled. Behind him. Now listen, son, just because the Commandant called you a Sampson doesn't mean you're in charge. Around here, we're prosecuting a war. You won't be Privy to every decision made above you, and you're just going to have to get used to that. The Commandant was a bit calmer. He put his hands forward in a placating gesture and tried again. Your friend is fine. He's better than fine. He's going to get a chance to serve his Lord and the Heavenly Kingdom in glorious martyrdom. You should be happy. For him. Dittmar stepped forward and squatted down next to him. He put a hand on Roland's thigh. 1/3 of a second later, Roland had calculated the best way to rip that arm free of its socket and beat the other men in the room to death with it. But he held still. For now, Manny would have been proud. Listen, boy, Dittmar said. I know you got used to having that brown kid help you talk with people, and I'm sure he did a fine job. I get that you're not much for social graces, but we're going to take care of you now, all right? You've got a whole army of brothers here. Just do what you do best and we'll handle the rest. OK, Roland said. He put a hand on martyr dittmar's wrist and clinched it hard enough that everyone in the room heard the bones snap. The look of dawning terror on the other man's face was the best high Roland had gotten in days. He savored it for a quarter second before finishing his sentence. I'll do what I do best, then. 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 atrbook.com 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. 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. I just walked in and saw this bright red painting presuming to be a Rothko. Of course, art forgeries only happen because there's money to be made. A lot of money. I'm listening to how what they're paying for these things. It was incredible amounts of money. You knew the painting was fake. Ohm. Listen to art fraud starting February 1st on the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. 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