Behind the Bastards

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

After the Revolution: Chapters Twelve, Thirteen & Fourteen

After the Revolution: Chapters Twelve, Thirteen & Fourteen

Sat, 03 Jul 2021 04:02

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

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Bit about that. See? You can know even more, because stuff you should know has over 1500 immensely interesting episodes for your brain to feast on. So what do you say? I don't want to miss the stuff you should know. Podcast you're learning already listen to stuff you should know on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. It's Meghan King and I am back. The Intimate Knowledge Podcast returns each week. We are going to be. Making sex talking life. So put the kids to bed, because this one y'all this one's for adults only. Intimate knowledge returns with more intimacy, more sex, more laughs, and more love. I'm Meghan King, and trust me, you need intimate knowledge as much as I do. Listen to intimate knowledge on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Make sure to check out drink champs you're #1 music podcast on the Black Effect podcast network host NORE&DJEFN sat down with artists. 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You knew the painting was fake. Umm. Listen to art fraud starting February 1st on the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Executive producer Paris Hilton brings back the hit podcast how men think, and that's good news for anyone that is confused by men, which is basically everyone. It's real talk straight from the source. How men Think podcast is exactly what we need to figure them out. It's going to be fun and formative and probably a bit scary at times because we're literally going inside the minds of men. Listen to how men think on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Chapter 12 Sasha the Lord did not mean for Sasha to be a cleaner. That was her first big lesson as a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom. She was good enough at it, and she had too much self-respect to complain, but the work felt so unrewarding that she knew it must not be what God wanted for her. She'd spent her first night in the Kingdom being pampered and provided for by her fellow sisters in the faith. They'd fed her, cleaned her, found her fresh clothes, and given her all the emotional rewards. Could have ever wanted. And then the next day, Helen had woken her up at 7:00 in the morning to help clean out an old Republic barracks that was being transitioned over to housing for soldiers of the Heavenly Kingdom. She knew it was honorable work. She knew it was necessary work, and she knew from the issues of Revelators she'd read that establishing the Kingdom of Heaven was a job that would not be accomplished easily or without pain. She'd accepted this when she'd made the choice to venture down here, but by the time she'd scrubbed her 12th toilet of the day, Sasha had decided that her mind and her loyalty were better used elsewhere. Oddly enough, something her father had told her about the corporate world stopped her from whining. Never complain, never speak. I'll of your colleagues and always ask if there's more work you can do. It had been as advice to survive and thrive in business, but she took it to heart here, and by the end of her first full day in the Kingdom, she'd scrubbed more toilets than any other girl. She hated the work, but she also took a perverse sort of pride in it that brought a little guilt because she wasn't here to serve her pride. But also, wouldn't the Lord God be happy to see her commitment? I'll ask Helen about that, Sasha told herself. She'll tell me how much of my pride is justified. And how much isn't? She didn't see Helen again until the end of that day when a truck came to gather all the girls up and take them back to the House of Miriam. They all washed up and then sat together around a large oaken table while Helen LED them in prayer. She read a chunk of the Book of Isaiah and then gave a quick lecture on the value of physical labour. Each callus on your hands is a kiss from God before inviting them to tuck in. The dinner wasn't luxurious by Sasha standards, just biscuits, a thin brown gravy, and a palm sized slice of beef for each of them. But they had oranges for dessert, which was a treat, and Sasha felt more comfortable than she'd ever have believed among her new sisters. Caroline had fled from Florida, North America's banana E Republic. She'd been shot in the arm, making her way to the Heavenly Kingdom. She said almost nothing. Sasha wasn't sure she even spoke English. But Caroline worked hard. There was an intensity in her eyes that was a little scary and humbling at the same time. Then there was Susanna from the Blackstone Nation. Sasha couldn't help but notice she was the only black girl there. Susanna had spent most of their work day singing to herself. She had a beautiful singing voice. And then there were the three other amped girls, Emmeline, Rosie, and Anne. They'd all left a few weeks before Sasha had made her own journey. Anne had actually gone to the same middle school as Sasha. She wasn't great with names, so most of the other girls in her group were still more of a collection of smiling faces than real people at this point. But they'd all been so warm to her. There was a real effort from all of them to make regular physical contact. They put hands on each other's shoulders and cheeks. They hugged constantly. Sasha experienced more touching in her first 24 hours here than she'd experienced in her last five years in the American Federation. There was something intoxicating about being touched and feeling so cared for. The only girl she didn't like was may. Like Sasha, May was within spitting distance of age 18. She'd fled from the UCCS, and she had a gift for letting people around her know when they fell short of God's standards. During their work day, she'd spent more time policing the other girl's posture than she'd spent scrubbing toilets when Anne had hitched up her shirt sleeves. It was may who'd scolded her for a modesty. When Susanna took off her shoes and socks during their lunch break, May had yelled that she was an unfair temptation to the young soldiers walking by. On the street. Sasha knew it was unfair and definitely unchristian to feel this way, but may looked like someone who lived to tell other people what to do. She had the pinched features, squinting eyes, and high pitched voice of a born snitch. May kept her hair tied up in a bun so tight and short it looked military. She never smiled and never seemed to relax, and there was something about the frenzied way she'd pray alone quietly in the corner throughout the day that made Sasha Leery. She hated that she'd noticed those things. She knew God didn't want her focusing on what other people were doing wrong. And besides, she told herself, what are you really angry about? That she's too serious about her faith? Isn't that why you left home? Gluttony is a sin too, you know? May said. Sasha realized with a start that May had addressed her. She had been eating her orange and absent minded and tired after a long day of Labor. She hadn't realized how messy she'd been about peeling it. Her hands and sleeves were covered with the sticky juice. We looked around at the table and noticed that the other girls had been much more careful with their dessert. Sorry, Sasha started. I wasn't thinking. May rolled her eyes and started to say something else, but Helen cut her off. It's quite all right, dear. None of us is perfect. She cast her approach for light, may, and we all lose ourselves and thoughts sometimes, especially in the wake of great change. The Lord understands. She looked out to the rest of the table with a gaze that seemed to take in each of the girls, collectively and individually. Then she spoke. We are all here because we recognize the primacy of God's word on earth. But we are no more perfect and no more beloved by our Lord than the enemies we face. Never forget that girls, our foes, are as dear to him as we are. They must be purged when they seek to interfere with God's will. But we should feel sorrow for such losses, and we should never ever her eyes went to may again. Let our fortune in hearing God's word bleed us of compassion or lead us to arrogance. Sasha's heart swelled at this. She'd never admired a woman more. Helen had a way of imparting wisdom without judgment, of shining a light on the truth without seeming like it was her truth alone. Helen wasn't a preacher, but Sasha had never heard anyone speak the word of God with more conviction. After dinner, they had an hour of free time to read their Bibles, share a few stories of their old lives, and drink a single cup of sweet lemon tea by 9:00 o'clock it was bedtime. Sasha was rankled a bit by the fact that she and her fellow young women were being ordered into bed at a set hour, but she was so exhausted by her day of Labor that she couldn't work up much frustration over the mild injustice. Perhaps when she'd had more time to adjust, she'd bring this up to Helen. She collapsed in her bunk bed, certain she'd fall asleep in an instant instead. She lay awake for the better part of an hour, thinking of Alexander. She'd still heard nothing more from him or about him. She'd asked Helen a couple of times today, and the older woman had almost seemed angry. Somehow Sasha knew the anger wasn't towards her, and that was doubly confusing. Sasha? Anna's voice broke her reverie. The other girl was situated just below her on the bunk bed. Sasha was surprised to hear her still awake. Yes. Is something the matter? No, Anne said. I just couldn't sleep. I thought maybe you were awake too. I guess we're both in the same boat, then. Sasha kept her voice low, more to avoid waking any of the others than out of fear of breaking the rules in more ways than one, Anne said. I'm waiting for a man I love, too. Sasha's heart beat a little faster. It was like that, with everything that made her think of Alexander. Her mind didn't need a great deal of prodding to turn towards him. Your love is at the front too? Sasha asked. I think so, Anne said. I was lucky enough to get to see him once I arrived in Capell first back before the Kingdom took Plano. We met once then and once more after the city fell and they moved us into the House of Miriam. Jealousy seized Sasha's heart. She tried to replace it with gratitude. In the Lord. He'd sent her, someone who could understand her pain and frustration. Wasn't that a blessing? That must be hard for you, she said, getting to see him and then being separated. The words came out a bit stilted and cold. She hoped Anne hadn't noticed. It is, Anne said, but it isn't half so rough her place as you're in. I can't imagine how anxious you must be arriving here and not seeing him. He's not the only reason I came, Sasha said. A bit defensively. But yes, it's hard. I'm scared. I I don't know why I feel so silly admitting that. It's certainly not silly and assured her, but I get it. Everyone here is so focused on gratitude and God's wisdom, it almost makes you feel like a traitor for feeling afraid or unhappy. Anna's voice dropped a few decibels, as if she was ashamed of her next words. I almost feel like a liar when I smile. I don't think the Lord wants us to be liars, Sasha said. But I think being happy or trying to seem happy is a sacrifice we make for the Kingdom. It helps keep everyone else around us strong. Hmm, and said, and then yawned. Her voice sounded heavy with sleep. There must have been something contagious in the sound because Sasha felt her own eyelids start to droop. That's a nice way to look at it, Ann said. I like the way you think, Sasha. Helen woke all of them up the next morning. She was gentle with it, a hand on each girl's shoulder and a word in each of their ears, but there was no mistaking that she meant now. So Sasha got up. Her feet hit the floor just as Anne took her first steps forward towards the dining room. They all filed in, silent and groggy, the girls took their breakfasts in the form of a thick, tasteless protein shake. And then they were loaded onto a heavy military looking bus and driven off to a large red brick office building, according to the bullet pocked signs that had once been an administrative. Building for the corporation that had run most of the republic's schools, Sasha swept up bullet casings and shattered glass. She scrubbed toilets and wiped the blood off the walls, and tried not to think too hard about how it had gotten there. Conversation wasn't forbidden, but there was a lot of ground to cover, and May was quick to scold anyone who dawdled. Sasha and Anne both kept moving, but they passed each other in the halls often. Each time, the other girl would favor Sasha with a supportive smile, and Sasha would return it. They broke for lunch a little afternoon. Stale cheese sandwiches and orange juice. But instead of getting back to work after their meal, they were met again by the bus that had taken them there. They were told to file inside. Sasha wound up in between Anne and Susanna, in the middle row of the bus. It was hot, the air circulation was bad, and the smell of sweat was thick on the bus. But the windows were down, and once the bus got going, the air that blew in felt like heaven. Lord God, I've been waiting for this all day, said Susanna. I'd stay on this thing all night if they let me, yeah, Anne said. This is actually a lot more comfortable than the bunk room, even when the power is working and the fans are on. Does the power go out a lot? Sasha asked. She felt dumb for even giving voice to the question, but her seatmates didn't treat it like a stupid question. Not a lot, Ann said. But we'll lose an hour or two most days, and it can be out for quite a while when Austin gets a drone through. That doesn't happen often, Susannah assured her. I've been in the Kingdom 10 days and we've only had to take shelter once. Twice for me, Anne said. But I've been here almost three weeks. I'm not scared, Sasha assured them. I'm just curious. You should be scared, Susanna said. It sucks. It wasn't a long ride, and Sasha was embarrassed at how long it took her to realize the destination. This was the same route they'd taken from the House of Miriam, just in reverse. She and the other girls were being taken downtown. Won't she got a good look at the gallows? She understood why. There were six people lined up in front of the little stairway that led to the platform. They looked like prisoners. Susanna looked just as confused as Sasha, but Anne seemed to understand what was going on. She scrunched her face in disgust. Oh no. She said. I hate it when they make us watch this. The two martyrs who'd guarded them all day opened the doors and told them to form up outside of the bus. Sasha did as she was told while grabbing as many long looks at the gallows as she could manage. None of the people who stood out in front of the platform looked like soldiers or robber barons or much of anything at all. They just seemed young and scared. **** the martyr, standing next to the driver at the bus door, grunted as Sasha stepped past him. He waited until the other girls had all filed off the bus before he stepped around to stand in front of them. Sasha hadn't paid the man too much attention during the day because in truth he scared her. He looked old, over 40 at least, and his face was heavy with scars and tattoos. There were faded blue crosses inked on each of his forearms. There wasn't much skin visible under his armour and helmet, but the skin she could see was tanned, red like leather. His eyes were cold. And seemed fixed into a permanent squint. When he addressed the group, it was with a voice that sounded like it came to them through a filter of gravel and glass. These people, he said, and spat after the word people a gender traitors. There were a few gasps from among the crowd, he continued. It took us a while to crack into the republic's old files, but we finally got a list of all the **** who refused to accept their God-given gender. They thought surgery could hide them, but there is no hiding the truth from the eyes of God or his true servants. And there's only one fair punishment for someone who turns their back on natural law. Sasha's heart started to pound. She'd known, of course, that Pastor Mike didn't approve of transgenderism, of gender change, surgery, of homosexuality, or of anything else that didn't fit into the neat biblical lines of what a man and a woman ought to be. But he'd always phrased his objections with such compassion. Queer and trans people weren't monsters deserving of death. They were victims of the fallen secular world, same as anyone else. Sasha agreed they needed reeducation. But this the crowd. Perhaps 300. Wrong cheered as the prisoners were led up to the gallows. Sasha's heart beat like a bass drum. She couldn't hear anything else. The voices of the crowd of her sisters faded behind the beating sound of the blood that coursed through her head. But her eyes continued to work, and she watched in horror as they fit nooses around each victim's neck. The young people cried and screamed and begged, but the martyrs paid them no mind. Some of them chanted in tongues while they prepared the killing machine. Sasha saw joy in their eyes. She found it revolting before long. They'd finished their preparations and six people were strung up on the gallows before the Brays and cries of the crowd. Sasha didn't think it was possible for her heart to beat any faster, but it kept speeding up. She felt lightheaded and nauseous and a little like she needed to go to the bathroom. Her knees grew weak and she found herself leaning on Anne's. The other woman looked almost as scared as Sasha did, but she weathered it better. She put an arm around Sasha supporting her, and the two of them looked on as the executioner called out and pulled the lever that sent 6 human beings. Dropping down to dangle until they were dead, the snap of their necks was the only thing Sasha heard above the sound of her own pounding heart. She watched them twitch and jerk for a second too, and then her body grew too light and her legs collapsed beneath her. The world went black. She awoke back in the House of Miriam. Her sisters knelt or stood around her. Sasha was gratified to see she wasn't the only one who'd passed out, and laying next to her, clearly disoriented, along with two other women whose name Sasha hadn't quite memorized, Helen set in between them, wet washcloth in her hand, and stroked their faces. There, there, dears, you've had a terrible shock, and there's no shame in your reactions. No shame, may spat the words. There was a glow to her face and a manic glint in her eyes. Sam, with all due respect, I don't know how these girls can call themselves committed to the Heavenly Kingdom if the sight of defying justice hurts them so much. Sasha saw anger in Helen's eyes, but the older woman didn't let it carry over into her voice. Instead, she fixed may with a cool gaze and said in an even tone. Miss may one can believe in our Lord's justice and still regret the pain that comes with it. That does not signal a lack of devotion. It signals compassion, a trait Jesus Christ had an abundance. May frowned and pursed her lips, but she kept them shut for now. Helen turned back to Sasha and the other girls who had fallen. Death is never easy to witness, girls. It should be a horrible thing to witness. She glanced back to May. And we should all be worried if a day ever comes when we can see such violence without pain in our hearts. But these are dire times. The world has fallen too much for pacifism to bring back the rule of God, and so we must use violence. Do you understand? Sasha nodded. She heard the other girls give stuttering, hollow replies. Even the girls who'd managed to stay standing looked shaken. May was the only one who wore a smile. They gave her a wide berth the rest of the day. Whoever was in charge of their schedule paid some deference to the fact that they had been forced to watch and execution. There was no more cleaning that day. They spent the rest of the daylight hours seated around the common area in the House of Miriam, sewing uniforms Sasha had never sown before, but Anne sat next to her and taught her the basics. Her hands were still shaking when they got to work, but Anne helped her and eventually focusing on the meticulous task allowed her to blot out the horror. Once she got a good grip on the basics of what was required of her, she was able to lose her. Health and quiet, productive flow. She was almost disappointed when Helen called them to dinner. They ate the same food as the day before, they prayed, and then they had an hour of relatively free time. They couldn't leave the House of Miriam since it was after 8, but they could talk. Sasha gravitated naturally to Susanna and Anne, the topic of conversation turned at once to the execution. Is that always what it's like? Susanna asked and nodded. Her voice shook a little when she said I passed out last time, too. I thought it'd be easier the second time around, but it really wasn't. It feels wrong, Sasha whispered. She glanced over to May, who was holding court with a few of the other girls at the other end of the common area. I'm not saying it's OK what those people were doing, but surely they deserved a chance to repent. Susanna nodded. I don't think Jesus would want us to murder people just for being wrong. It's one thing to kill an atheist or an apostate who's attacking you. It's another thing to just her voice caught a bit. Hang people. And shook her head. In an absent sort of way, Kyle told me it was necessary. Kyle? Susanna asked my intended and said I watched the first execution with him when I passed out. He was so sweet I came to when he was holding me, petting my head, anzi shone with love and Sasha had to fight hard to keep the jealousy from her own face. He explained that the Heavenly Kingdom couldn't afford to reeducate the fallen. There are too many and we are too surrounded. If someone is capable of changing, God will know and he will ensure they get their just reward in heaven Sasha was not. Entirely convinced. But she also wasn't willing to argue with Anne. It felt a little dicey just admitting her continued discomfort with the executions. So she stayed quiet, and the talk turned to more comfortable matters, what they expected from the next day's work and what sort of lives they lead. When the fighting was over and they were settled down with the gallant warriors they knew they'd marry soon, the girls all filed off to their small, snug beds. After a long day of work and stress, the bed felt so good that it made Sasha feel guilty. Alexander was fighting right now. He'd surely seen more death than she had, and he didn't have the option of fainting or crying about it. As she drifted off to sleep again, Sasha promised herself that she would never faint or cry out in the face of death again. If this was the way God had ordained his Kingdom must come, she owed it to herself and to her Lord to stand and see it. The next day, they all went back to the same battered administrative building as the day before. Sasha scrubbed and swept, ate her lunch, and got right back to work. She forced herself into enthusiasm for the menial labor with the same discipline she'd used when it had been time to study for an exam and a class she hated. The same tactic worked in both high school and the Heavenly Kingdom. About 2 hours before the end of their work day, Sasha's rhythm was interrupted by the sound of a crash and a screen from one of the girls in the bathroom next door to the room she was in. Sasha dropped her scrub brush and darted over. She was the first one into the room. It took her a moment to piece together what must have happened. Susanna had been scrubbing a sink that had been badly damaged by shell fire. The sink had collapsed while she had scrubbed it and a jagged edge of porcelain had torn open the girl's hand. There was already an enormous amount of blood by the time Sasha arrived. Susanna looked pale. She backed up against the wall and was just screaming wordlessly. Sasha had taken 3 semesters of pre Med classes in the last two years. She had a good basic instruction at first aid. She pulled her shirt off over her head and wrapped it around the gash. On the other girl's hand, it was the spare shirt she'd brought from home, and it had an antimicrobial weave that should make it relatively safe as a wound dressing. She pulled it tight, wadded the extra fabric up over the wound, and applied as much pressure as she could. Susanna kept screaming, but the flow of blood from her wounds. Load, breathe with me, Sasha told Susanna as she stared into the other girl's eyes. In she inhaled and out she exhaled. She repeated this several times until Susanna stopped screaming and started breathing in time with her. Several of the girls had crowded around the entrance to the bathroom at this point. When Sasha glanced up, she could see Maya's face in the back of the crowd. She looked disgusted, probably at the fact that Sasha had torn off her shirt. Please call for the martyrs. Sasha asked. No one in particular. Tell them Susanna needs medical. Attention, I don't think she has any clotting agents in her blood. No one moved, so Sasha locked eyes with Anne and told her, please go now. We shouldn't take any chances with a wound like this. And nodded, broke away from the gawking group and stumbled off to find help. Sasha looked back to Susanna. She coaxed the other girl to sit down against the wall and sat down next to her, applying pressure to her hand. The entire time. Sasha's shirt was now soaked through with hot, sticky blood. Her hands were wet too, but she didn't feel squeamish about this. She'd expected to after her reaction to the hangings, but somehow the sight of all this blood actually combed her. She knew what to do here. It felt good to take effective action. The martyrs arrived a minute or so later with a medic close behind. By that point, Susanna's bleeding had stopped entirely. The medic was impressed and he said, so you have some kind of training, ma'am? You handled this very well. 3 semesters of Premed, she had answered. It was only high school premed, but they made us do a lot of first aid drills. The medic gave her a significant look and then asked, what's your name, Miss Sasha? She'd started before correcting herself. Sasha. Susanna was taken off to whatever served as a hospital for the Heavenly Kingdom while Sasha and the rest of the girls finished their work day. It was uneventful after that, but the other girl's attitudes towards her seemed to have shifted. Anne had given her a big hug, of course, but everyone was more respectful. Several of them came to her to ask minor things, advice on how best to clean a room or clear a pile of rubble. At one point, Sasha had divided 4 girls up into two teams to remove a huge amount of shattered glass. While she directed the effort, May had walked by the room and butted her head in. Just because she knows a little first aid doesn't make her a foreman, she sneered. The other girls didn't pay me any mind. They left for the day at the usual time and arrived back at the House of Miriam in the early evening. Helen was waiting for them. At the door behind her stood an older man in a white lab coat. He had a cross pinned to his lapel and a larger Red Cross on his arm band. As the girls all filed into the building, Sasha saw Helen point to her and whispered something to the man. He nodded. Miss Sasha, he called out as she headed to her seat at the dinner table. Sasha peeled off and approached him. Helen stood nearby, distant enough to make it clear that this conversation was between her and the man, but close enough that her presence provided a warm kernel of certainty and support. Yes? Sasha asked. The man had a sharp, narrow jaw and a long nose. There were deep bags under his eyes, and his hair was at the grayest end of Pepper Gray. He wasn't very large, but he used his physicality well. He moved like he was used to, controlling the room. Sasha, I'm doctor Brandt. One of our medics was very impressed with your work earlier today on the injured girl, Sir. All I did was try to staunch the bleeding. Anyone could have handled that. It didn't require any special knowledge. No, he interrupted her. It did not. The knowledge of how to stem bleeding is not rare or special. But the willingness to jump in during an emergency and to get blood on one's own hands is rather rare. I understand you have some form of medical training. Very little, Sir. I took three semesters of pre medical courses. In high school, I was thinking about a medical career before I yes, well, 3 semesters of any kind of training almost makes you a doctor here. We're not exactly flooded with qualified medical experts. Dr Brandt lacked Helen's gift for interrupting without seeming rude, but he was clearly a busy man, and the fact that he'd offered praise made it hard for Sasha to take offense. Miss Helen? He snapped back at the older woman. I'm putting this one on special duty, would that be all right? Of course, Dr Brandt, Helen said. She smiled at Sasha, and there was honest pride in that smile, more pride than she'd ever seen in her mother's eyes. Sasha resisted the urge to tear up and response. Doctor Brandt turned to Sasha next and asked what do you know about the people of the road? She frowned. Posthumans were a popular topic of discussion in her high school. Sasha had seen Wasteland warriors a couple years back and been as enthralled as everyone else, but her school curriculum didn't talk much about them and definitely downplayed their influence in the rest of the continent. Her father had called them a bunch of idiots dancing around the desert doing drugs and robbing people. She decided to use a variant of that for her answer, their drug addled pagans fornicating and spurning the will of God. Doctor Brandt smiled. He had such a serious face and such stern features that Sasha was shocked by the honest kindness of that smile. I'd say that's basically accurate, he chuckled, perhaps even a bit charitable. It turns out one of these groups sent some emissaries into Plano just before the city fell. They were on some trade mission. They wound up getting stuck in a pin with a few other prisoners we didn't even realize we had until their people contacted us and demanded their release. Sasha's eyes widened. All she could think of were the grainy video fragments from one section of wasteland warriors. It was supposedly a recording of an attack on an Aegis Biosystems convoy headed from Milwaukee to Denver. The convoy had been well armed, but it had been taken apart in a matter of seconds. The assailants moved so fast that the documentarians had needed to slow the video to make them visible, as anything but flashes on the screen. How could something that fast and deadly be captured? Dr Brandt answered her question before she could ask it. I'm going to guess you're wondering how we managed to capture three of those Frankenstein abominations. Yes, Sir, Sasha said. Well, Doctor Brandt popped the glasses off his face and buffed the lenses on his shirt while he spoke. Most members of any given group aren't quite like that. Oh, they're all pagans are atheists. Just some kind of heathen. They have a lot of aesthetic modifications, LED tattoos and body lighting, and some sensory upgrades, but few of them have military style implants. I see. As you know, cities and civilized nations tend to ban those implants within their borders. Dr Brandt slid his glasses back into place on his nose, so the people of the road have to send their less modified citizens out to negotiate, etcetera. Which means we've got a bit of a tiger by the tail situation here. What do you mean Sir? Sasha asked. Well, the stories about these types are absolutely true. Some of them have hundreds of warriors packed to the gills with nightmare technology. There are individuals who are capable of taking on entire companies of human war fighters, the tribe these particular captives hail from. Well, their name is quite obscene. The City of Wheels would be the most polite variant. There is lost as it gets when it comes to the word of God, but they've got about 600 post human citizens, Sasha thought. Back to what a dozen of those things had done to that convoy. She tried to imagine the carnage 600 of them could unleash upon the Heavenly Kingdom. A shiver ran down her spine. Exactly. Doctor Brant nodded at her. Like I said, we've got a tiger by the tail. They might not intervene while we have their people. So we've got to make sure our captives are well taken care of. That's where you come in. Me? Two of the captives are women, Sasha. They'll need to be inspected by someone besides me. We do have some qualified female nurses, but an SDF drone hit one of our troop transports about 2 hours ago, and I'm afraid they're both in the thick of that mess. So you're coming with me to handle this job? I'm proud to do it, Sir. She wasn't sure what else to say, and besides, it was true. The first captive sat on a small concrete bench in the back of an 8 by 10 cell. Her hair had been shaved into a Mohawk, but the purple hair was deflated and greasy. Now there was stubble on the sides of her head. Her face was round but lean. There were slight laugh lines at the corners of her cheeks and the edges of her eyes. She wore a sleeveless purple and black dress that was by now filthy. Her arms were covered in a strange series of tattoos, dozens of branching lines that each terminated in a box. They looked almost like circuit diagrams. Sasha quickly realized that each box held a little LED screen. Most of the screens were set to a dull red color, but once she stepped into the women's cell, they flashed bright orange. The woman looked up and snarled at Doctor Brandt. **** do you want shipperd? She looked over to Sasha and then added. Sorry, shitbirds. Sasha, Doctor Brant side needing the bridge of his nose. Meet Marigold Fulton. Jesus ******* Christ, what are you, 6? ******* teen Marigold said to Sasha. Then she looked to Doctor Brandt. That's ****** ** man. Doctor Brant winced at both curses. Sasha glanced down and saw that his right hand was balled up into a fist and clenched tight. Marigold, this is Sasha, he said through gritted lips. She'll be performing your intake exam. We need to make sure you're uninjured, uninfected us, and not hiding any weaponry. I would recommend compliance. You're kind always do, the woman spat back. Sasha, you've got this, doctor Brandt gave her a curt nod, turned on his heels, and headed back out of the cell. There was an armed guard just outside the cell. As Doctor Brandt had instructed. Sasha pulled along privacy screen out from the far end of the wall and clasped it to a set of hooks on the other end. The captives were being held in the old Plano jail, which made this one of the rare buildings in the Heavenly Kingdom being used for its intended purpose. Sasha was grateful for the privacy screen. She was also unbearably nervous about what came next. I'm going to have to ask you. In one smooth motion, Marigold pulled the dress up over her shoulders and off of her body. She wore nothing underneath it. Her pert breasts, her little belly, her pubic mound and its shock of purple hair were suddenly just there. You're gonna do your job or you just gonna stand there and Jill off? Marigold asked. What Jill Marigold gave a harsh laugh. It's a synonym for ************. Lady ************. You don't do that, do you, sugar? I'm going to guess the Heavenly Kingdom frowns on girls having fun without the help of boys. Sasha grimaced. The Heavenly Kingdom doesn't frown on women having fun, but it does encourage self-control. Master, what you're talking about, it's a distraction. It's worldly. Marigold whistled in mock surprise and said. Spoken like a lady who truly needs an orgasm. What I need to do is draw some of your blood and some of your saliva and then perform a cavity search. Marigold's lips curled up into a cat. Like Smile, she opened her legs. Sasha had seen other women's vaginas before, but only in textbooks and movies. This was the first time she'd found herself staring directly down the barrel of 1, so to speak. She gulped. Ah darling, am I your first? Don't be scared. I got some crumb in me, but I never wound up putting defensive teeth in there. Now, my friend Topez. Stop. I know what you're trying to do. Just stop. Sasha hadn't thought the woman smile could get any wider, but it did. And what am I trying to do, child? You're trying to to fluster me, to distract me, or. Marigold rolled her eyes as she replied. I'm bored. You ***** have kept me in one holding area or sell or another for almost a week. I spent three days ******** in the corner of a gym, but at least Rick and Julie were there too. The woman smiled, softened. For a moment she looked troubled, vulnerable. You don't have any idea where my people are, do you? Sasha shook her head. She felt guilty for some reason. That was stupid. She hadn't done anything wrong, but she felt the need to assuage the other woman's fears. I I don't. I'm sure they're all right though. We wouldn't execute them just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Marigold snorted. Maybe you wouldn't love your friends, though. I've seen your gallows. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing someone builds just for show. We have a right to enforce our laws. God's laws. What am I doing? Defending the Kingdom to someone who's clearly blind to the word? Sasha shook her head. She opened the Blood testing kit doctor Brandt had given her and stepped back towards Marigold. Look, I've got to do this. Just hold still and it'll be quick. It was the other woman offered no resistance. When Sasha told her to stand, she stood. When Sasha reached a gloved hand up inside her to search for foreign objects. Marigold said nothing. She didn't even flinch. Instead she kept her eyes locked on Sasha's. The other woman barely blinked and about 2 minutes Sasha had finished her examination and collected her samples. She started to step back but Marigold's hand shot out, whipped fast and grasped her around the wrist. Listen. Sasha stopped and listened. She wasn't sure. Why? It was something about the other woman's tone. She had heard the term command voice before. Sasha hadn't understood what that term meant until now. When Marigold spoke again, it was in a hushed tone, barely more than a whisper. I don't know what brought you here, but you're obviously smart. You don't have those dead zealot eyes. She jerked her head in the direction of the guard outside. When I mentioned the gallows, you looked ******* ill. I'm going to guess you haven't been here long. You're probably having second thoughts. Help me get my people out of here. If we can get back to my city, you'll be safe. We'll take you wherever you need to go. I Sasha wasn't sure what to say. She should have slapped the other woman or spit in her eye, but she didn't. Don't say anything. You'll be back here, I promise. Think about what I've said. Think about where you are. Just ******* think. She let go. Sasha stepped back. The two women locked eyes for a long moment, and then Marigold grabbed her slip dress off the floor and slid it back down her thin frame. Sasha unclipped the Privacy Curtain and headed back out into the hallway. The other woman captive, Tooley was tall and muscular. She had a wide face with cheekbones so sharp they were almost jagged. Her skin was a dusky brown. Her eyes were alert and moved rapidly between Sasha, doctor Brandt, and the guard who led them into the room. Her name is Tooley. Doctor, Brandt said, and she's probably going to threaten you. Pay her no mind. He turned away and left while the guards stayed behind and kept a close eye on the tall woman. Sasha was scared to approach Julie at first. The woman's forearms were corded with muscles, and she had biceps that looked as broad as Sasha's thighs. But the woman didn't move an inch or say a word the entire time. Sasha worked on her. Tully didn't even blink. She complied to every one of Sasha's requests. Without eye contact or any other form of acknowledgement. The woman seemed dead to the world somehow. Tully's quietness and seeming stupefaction were more uncomfortable than marigold's aggressive words. Sasha finished her work in short order, once the last vial was sealed, and her gloves. Moved, she took a final look at the captive. I hope you get back to your home soon. Sasha immediately regretted the words. This woman is the enemy. Why would you try to comfort her? She won't even look at you. Truly let out a dull laugh. She had been so silent earlier that it shocked Sasha. The other woman turned her head and stared at Sasha. I will return home soon and fire and blood will come to this place because you've held me here. You're a dead woman walking. Enjoy the last beats of your heart. Sasha didn't know what to say. What could you say to that? So she took her samples and left. Doctor Brant dropped her off outside the House of Miriam and told her he'd send a Jeep out tomorrow morning to take her to the hospital. Sasha thanked him and headed inside. The other girls were already almost finished with dinner when Sasha sat down and joined the group. She gave a quiet smile to Susanna and nodded at the other girl's bandaged hand. When dessert, a banana this time was over, Miss Helen took Sasha aside while the other girls broke off to read their bibles and drink their nightly tea. I have some news for you. Yes ma'am? Sasha asked. Alexander has been rotated back from the front, and that strange look of mingled frustration and anger crossed Helen's face again. You'll be able to see him tomorrow. After lunch, Sasha's heart pounded, an excitement that made her feel guilty and elated at the same time. I'm afraid it won't be a long visit, Helen continued. But you'll have a bit of time with him. And then Helen sighed again, just a little. Sasha was sure she wasn't supposed to have noticed it, but Miss Helen's eyes looked a bit watery. Sasha was so happy, so excited, that her brain glossed over this fact. Instead, she gave Miss Helen a hug. It wasn't nearly the first one they'd shared, but this was the first time the older woman seemed hesitant in returning it, but she did after a moment and Sasha's joy drunk brain rode over any sense of doubt she ought to have felt. Sasha buzzed with uncontained energy. The rest of the night sleep was near impossible. She tossed until the small hours of the morning, turning over her memories of chat conversation she'd had with Alexander. His face felt so clear and real in her memory that she could almost touch it, and to Morrow, she'd be able to do just that. Asha finally passed out about 2 hours before Helen came round to wake them up. She should have been exhausted. Instead, she found herself out of bed, feet planted firmly on the ground before her mind was even fully awake. Her subconscious was that eager to start the day. She rinsed herself with extra care. That morning may seem to notice the added effort she put into primping and called her out for it. You're not working at the hospital to snag a doctor, she sneered. You know that, right? Sasha tried to ignore the comment. Susanna, whose hand was still bandaged from her injury the other day, spoke up in her defence. There's nothing wrong with being extra clean, may. It's probably important for the work she's doing over there. Sasha's dealing with wounds and stuff. She's not scrubbing toilets like you. Sasha was gratified by how that made Mays face blush. She flashed Susanna a grateful smile and shuffled out of the washroom. As quick as she could manage, she headed outside and took in her first deep gulp of the cool morning air. Cool might have been too strong a word to use, but the fresh air felt good on her skin. It only took her a few seconds to spot the battered and dirt specked Jeep doctor Brandt had sent to pick her up. A young man, maybe as young as her, with a weak chin and an acne pocked face, sat behind the wheel. Sasha waved to him. Ran up and hopped in. It wasn't a quick ride to the hospital. Large sections of the road were destroyed, blocked by rubble, or jammed with traffic from refugees entering the Heavenly Kingdom. Seeing that had gratified Sasha's more souls coming to God, she thought for the most part. She lost herself and thoughts of Alexander until 40 minutes later, the Jeep rolled to a creaky stop in front of the medical city of Plano. The enormous hospital complex looked badly damaged and largely abandoned. Many of the windows had been shot out or shattered by large blasts. Several buildings had chunks of wall and roof that had fallen in, but there were lights on in many of the windows, and the hum of generators filled the air of the front courtyard. Dozens of people milled about, filled with purpose, running wires and Wheeling patients. Sasha was excited at the thought that she might get to do some actual work in a functioning emergency room. When she found Doctor Brandt, he quickly disabused her of those notions. We're doing alright today. What I need you to do is come in here and help me catalog which medicines have spoiled. The power had gone out during the fighting for the city doctor, Brandt explained, and the medical storage room had been without refrigeration for almost 2 days. He showed her how to check medical vials for signs of spoilage, handed her a clipboard to mark her findings, and told her to get to work. It was a menial, painstaking task, and Sasha found herself missing the hell out of cleaning. She hated it, but she devoted herself to the work, and minute by minute, the time passed. Eventually, it was time for her meeting with Alexander. Sasha pulled herself away from the rows of vials and jars. Blister packs and headed outside to where she knew the Jeep would be waiting. Her driver that afternoon was a different martyr. Slightly older but still young. She was so preoccupied with thoughts of Alexander that she almost forgot to greet the man. He didn't seem to be in a talkative mood either, though, and they rode in silence back to the centre of town. Sasha was so focused on the butterflies in her stomach and trying to catch glimpses of her hair and face in the rearview mirror that she didn't notice the crowds thronging downtown until the Jeep rolled to a stop and it was time for her to disembark. A familiar sense of queasy dread gripped Sasha's guts as she exited the vehicle and looked out over the crowd. They were converged around the gallows once again. Sasha craned her neck and she was able to see four men in filthy, tattered rags standing before the killing instrument. It took her a second to recognize two of the men as the porters who'd first unloaded her from the crate. An older, bearded martyr in jet black body armor stood before them. He held a Bible in one hand and a formidable looking handgun in the other. Sasha started to push her way through the crowd for a better look. She hadn't made it far when the bearded martyr addressed the crowd. These four men were all once employees of the secular abomination that calls itself the Republic of Texas, he said in his booming stentorian voice. The Heavenly Kingdom offered them mercy in the form of indentured servitude. All we asked. He scanned his eyes. Across the crowd, the left corner of his lip curled up into a slight growl. All we asked for was their honest, obedient labour, and they repaid this mercy by stealing food and supplies meant for the heavenly. Kingdom's brave soldiers. He lifted his big pistol up into the sky and fired off four shots in quick succession. These men stole from God. There is only one proper punishment for such a sin. He turned back towards the gallows and nodded at a hooded martyr, who stood behind him with a hand on the thick wooden lever that operated the whole grim apparatus. The other man pulled downwards and the four bodies on the scaffold dropped with a sickening chorus of snaps. Sasha felt her stomach turned sour. This time, though, she watched. She didn't take her eyes off the gallows until the last man had ceased his twitching. It's not a pleasant sight, is it? That voice? Sasha recognized it immediately. It was the voice she'd heard 100 different times over her deck, hidden up in her room. Back in the amped. It was the voice of the first man she'd ever really loved. It was Alexander. Sasha turned around, and her heart nearly burst at the sight of him. He was tall, broad, and muscular in a way that somehow seemed comforting and not scary. His mop of curly brown hair, lopsided smile, and round, permanent jawline. Where all exactly as she remembered from their dozens of chat sessions. He wore olive green fatigues that looked stained and burned in a few places. His hair was greasy, and there were great big bags under his eyes, but he was here. He was real. She collapsed into him. Before she realized it, she'd started to ***. I love you. I love you. I love you. I thought you were dead. I love you. He hesitated for several long beats before he returned her embrace, but he returned it with gusto. His hands crept down from her sides to her buttocks. He squeezed her. It was a gesture she'd fantasized about several times in her weaker, more carnal moments. It was not something she'd expected a godly man like Alexander to do. Out in public, surrounded by people in the immediate aftermath of an execution, Sasha pulled back and coughed in surprise. She didn't say anything, though she didn't want to mar their first meeting with that, and she also remembered something Pastor Mike had written and Revelator that the beastly nature of man must be solved by the goodness of women. Alexander had just spent several days up at the front. He must have seen terrible things. It was understandable that his self-control would not be at its peak. Right now, still, she didn't like the way he looked her up and down. There was something of the wolf in his eyes. It was not the look she'd dreamed of seeing. But then he spoke. Sasha, I'm so proud of you. I didn't know if I'd ever get to see you here. I wasn't sure if you'd be willing to truly commit yourself to our Lord, but I prayed that you would. And now, by the grace of God, you're here and you're even more beautiful than you looked online. Sasha blushed. How could she not look? He waved a hand towards the gallows and the bodies. Things are still sort of a mess around here, but I know one cafe nearby is up and running again. I've got enough ration tokens to get us both a cup of coffee. What would you say to that? I'd say yes, she smiled at him. Her earlier reservations dissolved as she took his hand and followed him down the street, past the gallows in the dispersing crowd and towards the cafe. In a minute they were there. It was a small place, one rectangular room with a coffee maker, a half dozen tables, and an outer patio area with another half dozen tables. There was a generator, power and air conditioning inside, so they sat there. Alexander ordered them two large cups of black coffee. He sat down while he waited for their order and stared into her. Guys, she stared back for a while. That was all they did. It's so good to see you, Sasha said. I've been working at the hospital and I've seen so many wounded men I couldn't stop thinking I was going to see you in one of those beds. Broken and bleeding, he smiled at her. Then he reached his left hand out and sat it on top of hers. Sasha shivered. She couldn't help it. Things stirred inside her. She felt a sudden, powerful urge to possess his body, to hold him and squeeze him and be explored in turn. She clamped her mouth tight and focused on trying not to give all her thoughts away through the blush in her cheeks. Sasha, he said. It brings me such joy to see you here. And don't worry, I know the situation at the ladies barracks is rather primitive, but I'm talking to my commanding officers. As soon as we get married, you'll be a part of my household. We'll be able to live together, we'll build a life, and that life will help build the Heavenly Kingdom. She was stunned for a moment. Sasha began to tear up and all she could do was nod at him. This was like a dream. It was, of course, rather different from her actual dreams, which had involved Alexander in a house, but not so many bleeding and dying men, nor a gallows. Their coffee arrived. Alexander took a sip, and she followed suit. He continued. I know you're working at the hospital now. I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry you had to spend so much time scrubbing toilets. As soon as I can get you off those duties, I will. Oh no, she interjected. I love working with Doctor Brandt. It's important, and I want to do my part to help the Kingdom thrive. Something passed across Alexander's face. It looked like irritation, perhaps, at her interruption, but it was gone quickly and his smile returned. That's admirable. Asha, you're a remarkable young woman. If that's what you want. I'm sure you can continue to help out there until you're with child. With child. Sasha felt guilty for the horror in her voice. Of course she wanted children, she just didn't want them now or particularly soon. Alexander nodded. We must be fruitful and multiply so the Heavenly Kingdom can remain and expand. His smile was so warm, so kind. I know you've read more of pasta mikes writing than I have, Sasha. You're a very smart girl, but God made you to bring forth more children. You wouldn't want to delay your purpose, would you? Maybe a little, she thought. No, she lied. Good, he smiled again. And don't worry, you won't have to do it alone. Malia already has a child. An Adelaide's two months pregnant. They'll help you too. The world stopped. At least it did for Sasha. She could tell people were still moving around her, but Sasha's reality had shrunk to the pounding sound of her heart in a twisting in her gut. Adelaide and Malia Alexander gritted his teeth. There was something almost practiced in the way, he said. What came next? Adelaide and Malia are my wives, as you will be. Well Alexander, you didn't say anything about Mint Mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. 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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 That's Get paid to talk about the things you love. Spreaker from iheart. At other wives. You never mentioned them at all. Why are how can you be telling me all this now? Is smile turned sad. Or at least it gave the illusion of sadness. Sasha was still too shocked for anger. She felt like a hole had just been knocked in her heart. She knew she should be angry, but she also felt like there must be something missing, something she didn't understand yet. Alexander was a sweet boy. He wouldn't do this to her. Look, he said. I'm sorry. This is never easy, you understand? How important the Heavenly Kingdom is, Sasha? Nothing in the world could matter more, and the Kingdom will not survive without people like you. One of my jobs here is to push young women like you to take the terrible risk of coming here. And so you lied, she croaked, barely able to believe what was happening. You poor false witness. Alexander I I did not lie. His voice hardened, and so did his eyes. I did not tell you about every aspect of my life here, but I did not lie. He sighed, took a sip from his coffee, and continued. I'm part of a special unit within the Kingdom, formed on the order of the past to himself. He calls us Jacobians. It is our job to seed the next generation of modus we take personal responsibility for the kingdom's. Expansion, finding you and bringing you here was one part of my work in this great cause. If I had told you every detail about life here, every single thing, you wouldn't have come and your soul would have stayed in jeopardy. He took another deep, arrogant sip of his coffee. I'm sorry if this hurts you, but it was for the greater good. We must sometimes do distasteful things to serve God's design. Sasha's vision went red. She stood and without thinking grabbed her now lukewarm mug of coffee and splashed the whole thing in Alexander's face. He yelled at her and sputtered like a goldfish, but she was already up and heading for the door. She flung it open, walked out into the crowded St, and lost herself in the Press of the crowd and the boiling waves of her own. Anger. 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. I'm Tanya Sam, host of the Money Moves podcast. Powered by Greenwood, This Daily Podcast will help give you the keys to the Kingdom of financial stability, wealth and abundance with celebrity guests like Rick Ross, Amanda Seales, Angela Yee, Roland Martin, JB Smooth and Terrell Owens TuneIn to learn how to turn liabilities into assets and make your money move. Subscribe to the Money Moves podcast powered by Greenman on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcast and make sure you leave a review. Adoption of teens from foster care is a topic not enough people know about, and we are here to change that. I'm April Dinwoodie, host of the new podcast navigating adoption presented by adopt US Kids. Each episode brings you compelling, real life adoption stories told by the families that live them with commentary from experts. Visit or subscribe to. Navigating adoption presented by adopt US kids brought to you by the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and the AD Council. Chapter 13 Manny Manny woke up feeling like his mouth was filled with cotton and his head was filled with spiders. It took him a few long seconds to remember where he was and what had happened to bring him here. He activated his deck and was shocked to see that more than a day had passed since he dropped into bed. His first guess was that he was suffering some side effect from skull ****** Mike's blood. He couldn't think of any other times he'd slept that long, although he also couldn't think of any other. Times he'd survived a drone attack and an intentional car crash in the same minute. Mered he cursed and then called out Reggie. He looked over to the cot the journalist had been sleeping on. It was dark in the little room Nana Yazzie had provided. He could see the outline of Reggie's empty cot and not much else. The room was just 110 by 10 section of an old shipping crate. Manny knew the only things in the room besides their cots were a table with a built in coffee maker and a pair of folding chairs. Manny sat up, groaned as every possible thing in his body popped, and then rose to his feet as he stumbled. The door. His deck started to populate with messages from friends and family back in Austin. By the time his hand touched the knob, there were more than 50 translucent messages hovering at the edges of his field of vision. He blinked, selected a mass response template, filled it with the names of everyone who had sent him something, and typed out an update. Not dead. Details later. He almost sent it, but then he noticed one of the names, Aisha Martinez, Oscar's wife. He could only see the first few lines of the message without opening it, but what he saw made it clear she was terrified for her husband. Manny deselected her from the list and sent the mass message off to everyone else, and then scrolled through his messages until he found Oscar's message. Stack, the other fixer, still hadn't said anything, not since the assault had begun. Many opened up Ayesha's message. He tried to read it, he really did, but his brain wouldn't let his eyes focus on the words. His heart started to pound. His gut curdled, and instead of reading it, he typed her a quick response. I'm alive. I'm so sorry, but I don't know where Oscar is or if he's made it out. And then he typed a sentence he knew instantly he'd regret. I will do everything I can to find your husband. Then he sent the message and stepped out of the room into the dying light of the late North Texas afternoon. Rolling **** unspooled around him. It was crowded, or at least more crowded than it had been yesterday. Dozens of people and non human people were packed onto the gantry ways and into the sundry buildings, added around the rollers and up on the Spires. One building that jetted off the rear roller looked like a carousel ride with little rocket ships instead of horses. It appeared to function as a spinning bar. Drunk people rode little ships while bartenders in the middle. Rip them liquored up, someone shoved by him. A heavily chromed person with three tails each, topped by the fully articulated and seemingly sentient head of a cat. One of the cat heads belched a small puff of fire at Manny as their wearer passed. He shook his head and squeezed his way over to the main roller. It helped a little to pretend he was just pushing his way onto the Austin Metro. While he walked, he noticed a message from Reggie. He blinked, clicked it open, and heard Reggie's voice in his ear at the rooftop bar, drinking my way through some research. Find me when you wake up, I'm on to something. Of course, Manny had already been on his way there before he'd seen Reggie's message. That was the simple reality of British journalists. If it was possible for one to be drinking, that's what they'd be doing. The walk took about 10 minutes. He crossed a combination of gantry ways, staircases, and even one webbed net. The bar was packed when he arrived, but it was easy enough to pick out Reggie. Both his holographic screens were up and active on the bar top in front of them. He was seated next to skull ****** Mike, and they were deep in conversation when Manny walked up. Hey brother, Reggie said. You've been out for a long time. Yeah, Manny said. Nothing like that's ever happened to me before. How long were you out? The journalist thought for a moment and then answered. But guess like a day, he said. Mike told me that's not weird. Yeah, the crow man chuckled. All medicines got side effects. My weird *** bloods no different y'all. Cute little humans ain't made for it. Skull ******. Mike and Reggie were both clearly drunk and just as clearly not as drunk as they planned to be by the end of the night. Mike flashed a grin at Manny and offered a hug that the Fixer accepted awkwardly. Guy, it's good to see you, Mike said. I've got to tell you, I'm kinda jealous of your nap. I'm miss sleep like that with all this Chrome in me. You waved a hand vaguely over his head. Or can't get exhausted like that anymore. You miss it when it's gone? I got to drink like 30 of these ******* things. Mike gestured to the half full drink in front of him. It looked like a Pina colada. Strange incense odor wafted up from it just to pass out like a normal person. Reggie was drinking the same thing. He offered his half full glass to Manny. These things at the best man. Vodka and opium coladas. They got a little bit of THC in them too, Mike added in a high singsong voice. Many waved them off. I'm good, thanks. I just woke up a minute ago. I probably shouldn't immediately take three different drugs. Reggie and skull ****** Mike both looked at him like he was an alien. Weird, they said at the exact same time. Mike laughed and Reggie looked back at his screen as a push notification popped up with a cheery ******** ****. He cursed. Manny and skull ****** Mike leaned into the screen. The notification was a newswire update with a journalist who must have been embedded with either the SDF or Austin's forces. The title said it all. As the Heavenly Kingdom prepares for another assault, SDF and Austin abandoned Waco. I'm not surprised they're pulling out, Mike said. Your people are good enough fighters on a normal day, but the SDF's built to dominate a bunch of squabbling militias. They were never going to hold off a sustained assault from a real army. The sleep was fully banished now Manny was awake. And the gravity of what had happened over the last few days sank in again. Hamid and Deshaun were probably dead. So was Mr Perron an Oscar? Ohh holy ****. Holy ****. What am I going to tell Aisha? And then the darker, more selfish thoughts. And am I going to have time to fly out of Austin? How the hell did the martyrs turn into a real ******* army overnight? He asked, with more fear in his voice than he meant to display. Well, Reggie said as he gestured to a series of curated social media posts from people in and around Ciudad de Muerta. The best as we can figure, they sort of stole most of the Republic's army. There are reports of entire units of Republic soldiers, thousands of fighters turning at once. He gestured to a live, updating political map of Texas. It was a map Manny consulted regularly. The Heavenly Kingdom's territory was outlined in red. There was a lot more red on the map today. It seemed impossible that sun charos many breathed Galveston. Yeah. Reggie gave a grim nod feel about 10 hours ago. Heavenly kingdoms pushing into the lake Houston suburbs right now. The holding position in Dallas, though digesting their gains, still ain't going to be long before they hit Austin, Mike said. Maybe a week, maybe two. Many stood there for a moment. He thought about his father, his friends. He thought about the house where he'd grown up, in the view of Austin sprawl. From his roof he imagined Golden cross banners flapping in the breeze above burnt out buildings. He pictured gallows filled with people strung out along 6th St A knot of nausea started to build in his belly. What will you do, Emmanuel? He heard Mr Peroni's voice echo in his conscience. Many shook the dead man's words away. I need to get back home, he insisted. Is there some way you can get me a ride, skull ******. Mike took a long pull from his drink. He squinted at Manny and the chromed man's eyes focused. 1 Iris looked a lot larger than the others. Mike swayed a bit in his seat, but he seemed lucid mostly. And what are you gonna do in Austin? He said. Pick up a gun and die fighting? Unless you're hiding some serious mods under that skin, I don't think your help will make a rat **** worth a difference. I know I'm not going there to fight. I need to what? Fly away? Go to ******* California? Try your luck in Europe? Mike shook his head. You've got a chance to actually do something. Help us get our people out of Dallas and we can **** the Kingdoms advance. Maybe even throw them back. Many thought about it, sighed and said. I think I do need a drink, skull ******. Mike nodded. He pointed over to a table lined with a dozen different beer taps. The normal stuff. Self-service. I recommend the weed haze. Pretty mild, but it's good for stock humans like yourself. Many got up, grabbed a glass from a dispenser at the edge of the bar, and walked over to the beer table. Each keg had a thick strip of white tape across the front. The only details given about each beer were vague, almost illegibly scrawled names. Manny found two labels that both looked like they might say wheat haze. He picked one at random, then headed back to the bar and sat next to Reggie. Mike looked impressed for some reason. Good choice, he said with a nod. Manny took a sip. It was really good, a mild pale ale with just a hint of sour. He leaned in and looked at the maps and scrolling updates on Reggie screen. The journalist finished writing down a couple of notes and shook his head. I'm really sorry, man. Truly. He gestured towards the live map. This is so ******. You gonna stay here to cover the fall? Mike asked. Reggie shook his head. He looked frustrated. Got a message from my editor a bit ago. They're trying to work out an extract for me. Going to send a team out here to drive me West to El Paso. I guess it's not safe to fly out of Austin right now. So he trailed off. Three of them drank in silence for a minute. Skull ******. Mike gulped down the last of his glass and ordered another, along with three shots of bourbon. Manny started to turn down the shot, but it was soon apparent that Mike wanted all three shots for himself. He downed them all in the space of around a second, belched loudly, and then returned to staring at Reggie. Screen. ****. He sighed out again. *******. ****. ****. Manny was halfway through his beer when Donald Ferris approached. The old documentarian wore a burgundy velvet waistcoat underneath a slightly battered but well tailored tweed jacket. He had a glass of probable whiskey in his hand and the soberest eyes Manny had seen that day. Hello there, gentlemen. School ****** Mike getting caught up on the latest catastrophes, are we? Yup, said Mike. How you been? The older man shrugged and took a seat at the table. He gulped his whiskey and looked down the table at Manny. It was strange to see an actual old person this close up. The creases on his forehead and around his lips were so deep they could have been carved with a knife. There were spots on him, a clear sign he'd taken. No juven treatments at all. His face had a deep, craggy richness that lint every word. He said. A certain vague majesty. Donald Farris spoke and many felt compelled to listen. You can help this, you know. We're stuck negotiating with the Kingdom now, and they are most recalcitrant. But the falchions? Wait a second. Reggie interrupted. Falchions. Really? Donald and Mike exchanged a look, then a laugh. Donald replied. The city's not exactly famed for consistency. Almost any collective noun you can think of would be appropriate. He took another sip from his glass and set it down on the bar top with a clack. Donald Ferris leaned in at that and eyed the glass as he rotated it around on the table. He tapped it again, smiled, and looked back up to the group. Now, young man, let me explain why you should go risk your life on a daring and dangerous rescue mission. Many grunted and shook his head, reflexively defensive. I'd rather not talk about it right now, if that's cool, he said. I just woke up. This place is ridiculous and I'm not going to decide to go into terrible danger because some old man guilt trips me at a bar. Suit yourself, Donald smiled. I can't imagine how stressful this has all been for you. I'm a little surprised you'd choose to trip balls at a time like this. What do you mean? Manny asked with growing anxiety. That's a white haze, right? I think Mike said it was a wheat haze, but I couldn't really read the labels. ****. Mike cursed. Well, Donald Ferris fought back a laugh. What? Manny asked. Mike should have warned you. The weed haze is normal alcohol. The white haze packs about two hits of the surgic. Diethyl acid per pint. The anxious not in Manny's gut began to pound and pulse. He looked to skull ****** Mike, furious. What the **** man? Mike winced. He looked genuinely rueful. Ah, I'm really sorry, he said. I'm not used to it. Making a difference. Most people here take two or three hits of acid with their breakfast cigarettes. Oh ****. Manny slumped forward and put his head in his hands. He started to hyperventilate. The edges of his vision blurred, and many couldn't tell if that was from the drugs kicking in or just a consequence of his own panic. He could feel Oscar's face hanging out. Just at the back of his mind, a float on a river of guilt. He didn't want to know what a head full of acid would do with those feelings. I got to get back to the room, he said. I can't handle the Donald. Put a hand on his shoulder. He was stronger than Manny would have guessed. You've got a head full of surprise acid boy. The last thing you need is to sit in a dark room and Stew with your demons. He exchanged another look with skull ****** Mike and said Brain Breakers ought to be kicking off right now. That's the place for a man in your condition. But started Manny? What the hell is that? Reggie asked. Wait, Manny continued. Donald ignored him and replied to Reggie. It's the best damn party in the continent, or at least the best one humans can attend and survive. I don't really want to. Manny started school ******. Mike added his hand to Manny's shoulder. You really do trust us on this? In the end, school ****** Mike and Donald convinced him to go Bridgie surprisingly opted to stay at the bar and continue his work. He said he was close to something. Manny really wished he'd chosen to come along. He didn't know the journalist well, but Mike and Donald were complete strangers. Manny was not looking forward to the drugs kicking in. He also wasn't sure a giant rave room was the best place for him to be when they did. As they approached it, many realized he'd seen the structure when they first arrived at the City of Wheels. Brain Breakers was a three story cube at the top of Rolling Fox's highest gantry. The cube appeared to have been knitted together from long strands of black metal. Multi colored light pulsed inside it and bled out through the gaps in the knitted metal of the sides. School ******. Mike LED them down the gantry towards the cube. There didn't appear to be any kind of entrance. The wall on this side was the same knitted steel as every other side. But once they reached it, Mike simply stepped into the wall. The woven metal writhed like something alive and curled back to admit the big posthuman. The metal tendrils caressed Mike's body as he walked through. Manny flashed a questioning look at Donald. It it feels nice, he explained. Manny sighed, exasperated and furious. Is this whole damned? City built around drugs and fondling, yes, Donald grinned. A spidery old man grinned. Now inside with you. Many sides swallowed and walked up to the wall. The metal, which felt surprisingly soft and warm, slithered around him. In Mother of God, it felt good. That might have had something to do with the acid percolating in the back of his brain. The sensation was a cross between being tickled and being caressed. He was reminded uncomfortably of his mother stroking his forehead when he had a fever as a child. And then he was through. It took him a moment. Realized he was breathing heavily and covered in cold sweat. It was then that Manny got his first view of the interior of brain Breakers. It looked a little like a space station designed by MC Escher with a drunken HR Geiger as the contractor. There were a half dozen different stages protruding at various levels from the walls. Three of the stages were currently occupied. 1 Performer was an enormous, seemingly sentient xylophone that pranced about on stage playing itself with eight knob and at arms. Another stage helped 4 human looking individuals. They were all naked, and they were all fighting. Many watched and slack jawed awe as they punched and bit and kicked and choked each other. Every impact sent a chorus of warbling sounds pouring out from speakers at the base of the stage. The longer he listened, the more hypnotic the music seemed. The third inhabited stage held what looked like a normal DJ booth with a presumptive person behind it. Many guessed that was the source of the bass, heavy, rhythmic pounding that filled the square. The remaining stages were empty for now, but the place was so full of sound. Many couldn't imagine two more acts making things any louder. It was chaotic and confusing and a little uncomfortable, but after a few seconds Manny started to pick up on an overarching rhythm. All three acts were making very different music at very different paces, but somehow it all tied together. The inner walls of the place were covered in projection art. Giant human sized silhouette stalked the walls, floor and roof. At times they moved so fast they looked almost like wisps of smoke, but here and there one would stop long enough for Manny to get a solid look. You saw several different figures. A tall, muscular but androgynous person. A small, live young woman, a broad, squat man with a bald head. They danced around each other, flittering up and down the walls. Their pace and the nature of their motions varied depending on the tempo and pitch of the music nearest to them. It was mesmerizing. Manny stared for what felt like minutes. The sensation of his body faded away from him and his vision tunneled in on the dancing figures. Their dance had looked joyous and sensual at first, but the longer he watched, the more frenetic it seemed, the more danger. Spotted in their jerking limbs the ark of their necks, the uncontrolled way they spun round and into one another. Anxiety started to build in the pit of his stomach. And then there was a person beside him. Mike. Hey buddy, he grinned. The other man's pupils were the size of dinner plates. He clenched and ground his teeth back and forth. Is it OK if I put a hand on your shoulder? Sure, Manny said, surprising himself. Who? Mike smiled and did so. His hand felt supportive. Comforting how you like in the party. Many really wasn't sure it was beautiful here. Now that skull ****** Mike had pulled his attention from the dancing silhouettes, he'd started to focus more on the crowds of people dancing and drinking and *******. Across the assorted dance floors, cuddle spaces, and bar tops of brain Breakers, most of the celebrants were visibly chromed. He saw a woman with six arms, a couple things he could only describe as **** Centaurs, a man with the head of a dolphin, and countless people in bizarre costumes built of light and fur and liquid metal. It was hard to tell how much of this was real and how much of it. As the drugs, the acid was hitting his head pretty damn hard. Skull ******. Mike squeezed his shoulders and brought Manny back again. The Fixer blinked and then finally responded. It's a good. Good, ******* great. Let's get you some whippets and head over to the fireworks table. They're about to open it up. Fireworks inside? Mike laughed. It's hardly a party without explosives, brother. Just go with it in so many did. He and Mike did some whippets which meshed gloriously with the acid. Then they stood up on stumbling feet and headed over to the fireworks table. Things seemed to be just getting started over there. Many inspected a few different brightly colored explosive toys before something burst next to his ear and he looked up to see Skull ****** Mike firing a massive Roman candle. Towards the musical punching people on the stage. The sound of it. Holy hell, the sound. It might have been the most compelling thing his ears had ever heard. The acid is definitely hitting hard now, Manny thought. Holy **** holy **** what is this? The rest of his night faded into a blur of lights and music and strange, indefinable sense memories. It was disorienting and exhilarating in equal measure. Hours went by, the acid faded, and eventually Manny found himself on a bunch of cushions, sitting around a table with skull ****** Mike and other functions. He couldn't remember any of their names, but after a few minutes of relative lucidity, Manny was able to piece together that they were all friends of the people who'd been captured. One of the men, a bearded guy with multi jointed fingers the length and width of rulers, reached over Manny to grab a beer. He pulled it back, took a sip, and settled into his seat. My favorite memory of Marigold, he said, is from back when we were still building this city, right after we stole the bagger. She got a hair up her *** that there ought to be a big purple clubhouse at the top for folks to do cocaine in and watch sunsets. I remember she strapped an armload of wood to her back, grabbed a can of spray paint, took a big rail of meth, and just started climbing up the center spindle like she was going to do the whole damn job herself. She got ******* stuck 2/3 of the way up, just hanging out there with her panties in the breeze, screaming like a scared cat. Mike laughed. I remember that me and Topaz had to climb up and freer and then she climbed the rest of the way up and started laying down boards. Finger man nodded. Yeah, I remember when I climbed up there an hour or so later. She's all frantic and fiddling with nails and bolts and turned to ****. Like making progress too. And I asked her Marigold, why are you doing this? This ain't a one person job. And she said I know, but unless I start building it, it'll never be real. There was quiet for a while. Many could feel the pain in the pause and see it on everyone's face. He didn't want to say anything. He was pretty sure there was nothing worthwhile he could say, but then he spoke anyway. Can you tell me about the others? The other two who were captured? Another of Mike's friends, a tall black woman and a bright blue shark onesie, nodded and replied. Rick's a little dude, great painter, and a pretty good pyrotechnician. He's no kind of fighter, but he's got a real sweet way about him. He puts people at ease, so he goes out on a lot of these delegations to be a good face for the city. Marigold's always the main negotiator, but we sent Julie out too. She's newish to the city, used to be an activist in Albuquerque before the king took over and started boiling people. She's a good talker. We had her study in under Mary so she could pick up some of the load in the future. They're all good people, fingerman added. Marigold saved my life a few times back during the revolution, she helped found this place. It started out as just a big caravan RV's and mobile hydroponics units. She'd find isolated communities, bring them food and such. No government was much use back then. So for a lot of folks, Mary's caravan was the line between life and death OP, said. Skull ****** Mike. She's the one who found Topaz in me after the boss went missing. We were pretty lost doing a lot of freelance. Violence, but not making anything, not building a damn thing, Merrigold told us. Her vision for this big, stupid city got us hooked on the idea. Many noticed tears at the corner of Skull ****** Mike's eyes that felt somehow wronged to him. Someone so powerful and inhuman shouldn't be able to cry and make it look so normal, but there he was, crying. And then, for the first time in the trip, the thing Manny had most feared happened. He thought about Oscar. He remembered a picnic he'd taken with the Stringer, his wife Ayesha, and their two kids. It had been a lovely spring day, one of the dozen ish days a year in Austin where the air felt good on your skin. They drank cheap beer and eating hot dogs and watched the kayakers roll along the Colorado River. I sent him out there and now he's probably dead. You know, there's something else we share, Mike said, his voice low and somber. We've both spent way too much of our lives feeling helpless. Manny cocked a disbelieving eyebrow up at skull ******. Mike. Yeah, the chromed man chuckled. I know what you're thinking, but you Mint Mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one. 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Wireless service from just $15.00 a month and no one expected plot twist at That's Seriously, you'll make your wallet very happy at behind. So by now we imagine that you've seen the theories on Tik T.O.K. You maybe even heard the rumors from 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 there are 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 or wherever you find your favorite books. 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Spreaker from iheart, be surprised how often the fancy hardware doesn't matter. Mike's face twitched and more tears poured down his face. He took a deep breath, fixed Manny with bloodshot, puffy eyes, and spoke again. We all spend a lot of life helpless, so when you have a chance to do something to make a difference for someone. Personally, I recommend you ******* take it. Many woke up the next day feeling out of place and vaguely unstuck. From time he could hear Reggie snoring on the next bed. The room was very dark and it was impossible to tell what time it might be. Many thought about activating his deck, but decided against it. There was something almost nauseating about the thought of being flooded with the outside world right now. He stood up and went outside to wander the spindles and gantries of rolling **** for a while. At one point a man walked by with a plateful of breakfast burritos, and so Manny had breakfast. A little while later he found a self-serve coffee house stationed next to one of the fondle boats and so he had coffee. He was just starting to think about turning on his deck and welcoming in the world when Donald Ferris found him many. My boy, I hope your *** had hangovers. Not too bad. Many shrugged. I actually feel alright. It was a it was good. It helped me sort some things out. The older man smiled. I'm genuinely happy to hear that. There's nothing like a head full of acid to help you see what's important. Now listen, I hate to interrupt your morning, but there have been some developments. Nana Yazzi and I need to talk to you. Many went with him back down into the main roller and that weird conference room where they'd met on his first day in the city. There were more people there now. Nana Yazzi sat in the same spot at the end of the table. Reggie was there, fiddling with one of his screens. Skull ******. Mike sat next to him, and then at the other end of the table was a large black dude Manny had never seen before. He was muscular, but in the lean, wiry way of a construction worker or a particularly swole hobo. He had a long, gaunt face with prominent cheekbones and an OFT broken nose. His hands were big. There was something menacing about them, but his face was the least threatening thing in the world. His eyes were littered, half focused and dreamy. His jaw was just a little slack. He had short hair, stubble, really, and a patchy 6 day beard. He looked stoned. Welcome, Manny, said Nana yazzi. She gestured towards the big man. This is Roland. If you choose to help us rescue your people, he'll be your escort into the Heavenly Kingdom and your escape plan. Donald shut the door behind them, walked around to the other side of the table, and sat down next to Nana Yazzi. We've tried to give you time and space on this, he said. But I'm afraid both of those things are running out. All our intelligence suggests the Heavenly Kingdom is very close to another all out assault. They'll move on Waco in four or five days. It could be outside of Austin in a week's time. You are free to make whatever call you want or offer to fly you to. Austin still stands, Miho, said Nana Yazzie. But I'm afraid we need you to make a decision now. I'll do it, Manny said. Almost everyone looked surprised. Donald coughed. Nanny Yazzie's eyes went wide. Reggie did a double take school. ******. Mike just smiled and nodded at Manny. Roland didn't look as if he'd been affected in any way. In fact, Manny was pretty sure he was drumming along to some music only he could hear. It might have been Ronnie James Dio's holy diver. Give us the option. We need everything you got fast waiting on reparations. We'd be the endless podcast TuneIn every Thursday. Politics and word play. We fight for the people because they got us in the worst way, from the hill to Brazil, Bombay to Kanye from the left enclave to what the Neo con say every Thursday. Cop the heady conversation and you break us off with some bread cause we waiting on reparations. Listen to waiting on reparations on iHeartRadio. Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Raffi is the voice of some of the happiest songs of our generation. So who is the man behind baby beluga? Every human being wants to feel respected. When we start with young children, all good things can grow from there. I'm Chris Garcia, comedian, new dad, and host of finding Raffi, a new podcast from iHeartRadio and fatherly. Listen every Tuesday 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, she played gangster games, you are ultimately rewarded with gangster prizes. Our heart radio is number one for podcast, but don't take our word for it. Find the Gangster Chronicles podcast and. By heart radio app or wherever you get your podcast. Chapter 14, Roland. Once he'd been dismissed, Roland had made it his immediate business to get as high as post humanly possible before he was needed. This was not a difficult task. Rolling **** had been built to keep buzzes going. The main rollers bar stocked in assortment of beers mixed with LSD, laudanum, Dimethyltryptamine, and a half dozen Shogun chemicals. Roland started off by sampling them all. He drank until the fireworks show in his head was indistinguishable from the actual fireworks outside. And those real? Or am I just ******* lit, Roland? Cited that answering that question wouldn't make him happier. He lost himself for a while and drifted from one of the fondle boats to a dance party in a field underneath the main gantry. After hours of that, Roland had his fill of rhythm, so he found his way to a coke binge in a weird purple house atop one of the spindles. The rest of the night he spent testing the limits of his toxin filters and his tolerance for human contact. The latter came first. He abandoned the Koch party and stumbled through rolling **** until he reached a small booth with Baggies of Umm Mulock. A DMT based hallucinogen made from synthetically grown giraffe liver. Things got fuzzy after that. There was a fireworks fight on a spindle that caught a shack on a fire. He downed a **** load of mescaline as the sun breached and then quite suddenly it was afternoon and he was lying on his back across the baking hot metal of one of the spindles. School ****** Mike stood above him, naked as the day he was born and holding some sort of frosty purple beverage in a large tiki cup. Hey, man, Mike said as he took a sip. Nanny Yazzie told me to find you. You straight enough to talk to people? Roland nodded. He wasn't really, but he could sober up fast. Maybe sober wasn't the right word. His brain could flood itself with focusing drugs to offset the hallucinogens, and he had a vial of liquid methamphetamine somewhere in his pack and might do the trick. Roland sat up, grunted, and waved a hand at Mike. Then he dug around in his pack for the vial. He found it and drained. Jeff alright, let's go, he said. Let's go to the place and do the things. Mike helped him down the spindle. Roland's unsteady legs were proof that he'd managed to find himself a worthy drug bench. The satisfaction he felt from that mixed well with the initial meth euphoria. By the time they reached the conference room, he was wired as **** and kind of wishing he'd picked a different drug to spin his mood, Roland sat down and eased into his chair. A short, young Anglo fellow entered next and sat down on the opposite side of the conference table. He looked and smelled nervous. Roland paid him little mind. He was too jittery. From the meth to want to talk, he decided a nice dose of some Downers would help his situation and rooted around for his heroin kit. At that moment, another young man entered the room. He was short, Hispanic and about 21 years old. Nanny Yazzi embraced the kid's school ******. Mike clapped him on the shoulder. They started talking. The kid said something that seemed to surprise most of the people in the room. Roland half paid attention to all that while he loaded up his syringe and tied off his arm. He stopped when he realized everyone else in the room was staring. Hey, something wrong? He asked. Roland's nanny, Yazzie said in a warm voice as she gestured to the Hispanic kid. This is Manny. He's going to be our partner for the mission. He grew up in the Republic and he's a skilled negotiator. He'll help you blend in while you do your work. Cool, Roland grunted and returned to his heroine, Roland. If you wouldn't mind, Reggie was about to speak. Nana Yazzie smile was as indulgent as ever. He's uncovered something important about the Heavenly Kingdom. It might be useful to you, Roland shrugged. Mozzies galis, to which bartenders and Plano make a passable whiskey sour. I can't imagine caring, but if you let me finish this, he jiggled the syringe in the air. I might be able to at least pay attention. Right now, I'm way too methed out to focus. The old man leaned forward and sighed. The kid looked horrified. He started working his mouth, and what Rowland was pretty sure must be the prelude to some sort of expression of shock or offence. Skull ******. Mike preempted him. Lead, roll and shoot up. Trust me, drugs aren't going to make him anymore or less effective here. Roland grinned. Skull ****** might clearly knew him, even if he could only sorta remember skull ****** Mike. He went back to tying off his arm and shooting up while the younger Brits stumbled into the start of his speech. Yes, well, I've been going over the last few days of successful vehicle based bombings on checkpoints from Galveston and Lake Houston and all across the Dallas Fort Worth area. In total, I've identified 321 bombings that appear to have been carried out as part of this overall offensive. 240 of those bombings involve autonomous vehicles hitting dedicated autonomous vehicle checkpoints. Right on cue, a projection map flickered to life. On the wall behind him, hundreds of red dots populated a map of the conflict riddled regions of North Central Texas. It looked like the pattern of attacks you'd want in order to funnel the SDF's limited resources towards the least defensible chunks of their line. What was weird was that so many bomb rigged autonomous vehicles had gotten through the scanners. So Roland asked how the ******* do it. Bunch of 0 days. Reggie shook his head. That's what I thought at first, he said. But these attacks? Actually started more than a month before this offensive if they were relying on exploits, the SDFS IT folks would have caught something by now. The most likely explanation is that the martyrs found some way to make vehicles that aren't autonomous seem that way. Yeah, Manny said. The martyrs have tried to hide drivers in autonomous vehicles before the SDF watches for it, which means the motors have figured out something new, said the journalist. Some new way to hide a human driver that doesn't register on conventional senses, and that way is? Nanny Yazzie asked. Reggie's face reddened. He grunted and swallowed and then spoke. I've got no idea, but I think I know where they're putting these new vehicles together. He snapped his fingers and the projected image changed. A map of a city called McKinney and the Dallas suburbs. It zoomed into an aerial shot of 1 enormous factory building near the outskirts of the city. The BBC pays for access to a few independent satellites that overlook this part of North America. We also pay the SDF for limited access to some of their drone surveillance footage. From all that, I was able to trace out paths for 78 of the vehicles used in these attacks. Every one of them started their journey here. The projection changed again to what looked like a stock photograph of the front of a large white. Factory building. The Tesla logo was displayed prominently by the front door. It's an old Tesla plant. They finished it about a year before the Civil War. It's been in and out of operation since then, as best as I can tell. The last normal vehicle rolled off the line three years ago, before the Heavenly Kingdom started cocking things up. McKinney was one of the first parts of the old Metroplex to fall, so they've had plenty of time to fiddle with ****. Roland raised his arm and realized belatedly that the needle was still dangling out of it. The old man sighed again, but Rowland bravely ignored him. So what does this have to do with your captives? He asked. I didn't sign on to help you guys spy or blow up a factory? Send this data to the SDF or Austin if you think it matters. School ******. Mike, put a hand forward in a placating gesture. We're not asking you to do anything about this, he said. But you and Manny will be our only eyes and ears inside the Kingdom. If you get a hint of how they've accomplished all this, it'll be valuable. To us in the SDF, we'll find a way to make it worth your while. I mean, the drinks are free, right? Roland asked. I don't know what else you got that I might want. Mike smiled and gestured to Roland's backpack of narcotics, which sat next to him on the big Redwood table. By my count, you've gone through about half your stash since coming out here. If you're able to get us any worthwhile info, I'll make sure the bags full before you leave. Roland narrowed his eyes. It would be a giant pain in the *** to find good percocet between here and ***** ***. He sighed. Alright, ******* fine. If we hear something, we'll look into it, but don't hold your breath. After the meeting, school ****** Mike took Roland down to the city's makeshift morgue so he could steal the dead man's face. Rolling Fox militia had found the fresh corpse of some guy Roland's rough height and build. He'd fled Dallas and made it almost as far as Waco before getting hit by a drone attack. The four ****** had been gutted by shrapnel, but his face was intact enough for Roland's chameleon implant. Roland hadn't used the thing in so long he worried it might not work. He stared down at the man's face and took in his features. The fellow was white, but his skin was burnt, a deep reddish brown. He'd clearly spent a lot of time under the Texas Sun. He appeared to be in his early 40s and clearly hadn't taken many juven treatments. His hairline was fine, but the man's eyes and the edges of his lips were creased with wrinkles. His dead, staring eyes were blue. There were deep, dark bags beneath them. Plenty of time to sleep now, buddy, Roland thought. He closed his eyes, focused on the dead man's face, and felt. These facial bones start to tear themselves apart and then reform. He felt the pigments in his skin shift too, which was always strange. The sensation of his pigments opening up and taking in more light felt a little like stripping off a thin layer of clothing. While Roland did this skull ****** Mike ran a scanner over the corpse and located the ID card in its right forearm. Mike used a tool that looked like a long metal straw to suck the ID free and then shoot the tag into Roland's own arm. It took a second for Roland's body to pull the data. His name was Aaron. He worked as a mechanic in Arlington for most of his life. He had a clean criminal record, save for a drunk driving arrest in his early 30s. Roland, now Aaron, left the morgue with skull ****** Mike and headed for the ride that would take him into the Heavenly Kingdom. He used the walk as an opportunity to smoke a couple grams of fine Afghan opium he was still smoking when they reached the battered old pickup truck on the outskirts of Rolling Fox Campground. The kid, Manny, was in the driver seat. Hey, Manny said and stared wide eyed at him. You were. Look different, he added with a forced smile. Yeah, rolling replied and pulled himself into the passenger seat. Mike tapped him on the shoulder. What? Roland asked. I'm going to need your bag, man. He pointed to the still smoking opium pipe in Roland's hand, and that the heavenly kingdoms got a pretty strict policy on intoxicants. You're not going to get a backpack full of narcotics through their checkpoints. Rule and growled at Mike. He couldn't fault the other posthumans logic, but he'd be damned if he was going to spend several days surrounded by a bunch of religious nuts and do it sober. Roland locked eyes with skull ******. Mike opened his bag and grabbed a heavy handful of drugs. He swallowed them all one by one, pill bottles and Baggies of hallucinogens and vials of amphetamines. He ordered his gut to reduce its acidity so he could store the drugs for later regurgitation and consumption. Then he took one last deep hit from his opium pipe and handed it. And the bag to Mike. Manny popped the car into drive and they rolled off into the night. They drove in silence for a while. Roland's Hind brain would have marked the time if he hadn't done such a successful job of pickling it with opium before they left. The quiet got awkward and boring pretty quick, though. He considered putting on music, but of course his headwear was severed from all outside networks. He couldn't connect to the car any more than he could blink. Send an e-mail. He decided to ask Manny to put something on the guy's music. Can you music? Roland realized he was slurring and his words were not coming out the way he'd intended. The kid, Manny. Looked irritated. How ****** ** are you right now? Roland gave a shrug that meant vary. You know, my *** is on the line here too. I'm not made of whatever ****** ** science you've got in your veins. I'd appreciate it if you took this seriously. On an objective level, the kids request was fair. This must be a big moment for him going off on a dangerous mission to enemy territory Etcetera, but to Roland. This was Tuesday or whatever day. It actually was he disabled his clock and calendar years ago because **** that noise **** that noise. He said, without meaning to good God. I'm so high? What Manny sounded confused and perturbed oh ****. Sorry man, Roland rubbed his eyes. A little dazed from the opium. I wasn't talking to you. I am the only other person. In this car, Manny said. Yeah, but you know I'm high as **** words come out sometimes. They are meant for anyone. They just happen. The car slowed and Manny pulled over to the shoulder of the cracked old highway. When the car came to a stop, he put his head in his hands and breathed in and then out very slowly. It took Roland a moment to realize the kid was going through a panic attack. He's never done anything like this before, of course. He's terrified. Roland wondered if he should do something to comfort the kid. You know, he said. I've killed about 12,000 armed people. Many turned to stare at him. He looked shocked, but Roland noted with satisfaction the statement had disrupted his panic. Who, what, what the? I mean, give or take a handful, Roland continued. I burnt my brains. Kill caner out with crocodile and cheap vodka while back. Why would you tell me this? Why would you think this would help? Because Roland said we're about to go into a very dangerous place together. You're scared you're going to die, and I want you to know however many armed nut jobs are in that city, I can murder. All of them. Manny stared at him. He still looked terrified and vaguely ****** but his heart rate was steadier. His breathing had slowed. Roland declared his gambit a success. OK, the kid finally said. That's actually comforting. Thank you. There was silence for a beat, and then Roland spoke again. That all said, I'd prefer not to kill anyone. I'd really prefer that I was on a pretty good no murder streak until a couple days back. I'm trying to stay on the wagon, so talk. Well, be a good face man. This will all be easier if I don't have to commit murder. Manny looked a bit nervous again, but he popped the car into drive and rolled back onto the highway. I'll do my best, he said. They were an hour outside of Dallas when they hit the first checkpoint and the kingdom's guards ordered them out of the truck. Roland stepped out with his hands up. Manny done the same. The guards scanned them, verified their status as Republic citizens, and then the questioning started. What brings you to the Heavenly Kingdom? Their leader, a fat man with a Kalashnikov, asked Manny. We heard about the amnesty, Manny replied, and we thought it sounded good. We we want to live under the rule of God, hmm? The Fat man grunted. So you're both good God fearing men, then? Yes, Sir. Manny nodded. Of course. And praise be to God for all the victories you've won here. The fat man sniffed at the air and looked over to his partner. I'm not wild about another skin here, Hansen. You think we need any more Mexicans? Hansen shrugged. Orders say the faithful are all welcome. Yeah, the fat guy continued. If they're faithful. He looked back to Manny. Why did it take a couple of devout men like yourselves so long to make a break for the Heavenly Kingdom? We've been at this fight for a while, you know. I I I mean, we we were scared. And we didn't. We weren't sure what to believe. What you're supposed to believe is the word of God, the man snarled. And that's as clear as day to everyone who lives inside the Kingdom. He looked back at his men and smiled an evil wolfy grin. Hansen, Malloy, I think we might need to question these two more intensively radio command. And that was the last thing the fat Man said, probably ever. Roland shoved a hand into the martyr's mouth, pulled downwards, and shattered his jaw in four places. Then he leapt into the others. It went quickly he gouged eyes, broke jaws, severed tongues, and then started in on their limbs. By the end of it, all four men were still alive, but none of them were in any shape to report on what they'd seen. Manny vomited several times. What happened to doing your best, Manny? Roland asked, more irritated than angry. Once he'd finished, the kid recoiled. Roland realized Manny had started to shake a little. He also realized there was still a part of a man's ear in his mouth. Ah, hell, you scared him. Sorry, kid, he said, and squatted down next to Manny. Look, the odds were always good that this first try was going to be a scratch. The good news is, they've got other checkpoints. We'll hop on the Access Rd and find the next one. It'll be fine. What did you do to Manny started. I stopped them from talking, he said very quickly. No one's dead. There'll be a. He glanced down at the burbling, bleeding mess of shattered humans. There'll be I, but we need to move now, before someone else comes along and I gotta break them too. Roland popped open the cab so he could change into a clean set of spare clothes. He was grateful that skull ****** Mike had packed their bags to lend their story extra versimilitude many changed too, and once his hands stopped shaking, they rolled off to the next checkpoint. Roland tried not to think too much about the men he just broken. That helped that one of them had been an *******. It helped that none of them had died, but still. They hit the next checkpoint 8 minutes later, and things went much better this time. For one thing, it was busier. There were already a dozen other cars in line when they pulled in. The guy who was questioning them was less of an ******* and he seemed to buy Manny's claim. We weren't brave enough to make the journey until now, but we prayed all night about this. I know it's the right thing to do. Roland had to fight to avoid rolling his eyes. The line worked, though. The man at the checkpoint waved the men and issued them a temporary transit pass. This is good for six hours, the checkpoint officer said. That's plenty of time to find the immigration Center and report in. If you're caught driving around the Kingdom after that, it won't end well for you. They drove on, but it was slow going. After the checkpoint, the roads into Dallas were choked with ruined vehicles and actual traffic. It looked as if hundreds of people had taken the Heavenly Kingdom up on its amnesty offer. Roland couldn't fault them for that. The Kingdom seemed to be winning. As they rolled towards Plano, they were stopped regularly by patrolling martyrs and asked to present their papers. But bit by bit, they made their way onto and through the packed and crumbling highways of old Dallas. At one point, they found themselves in stalled traffic on Hwy. 75, overlooking the cratered ruins of the Lakewood blast. He felt cold October air. He smelled barrel fires and heard the sharp crack of riflery. He saw flashes of a face. It might have been Jims, and he remembered the feeling of a cold metal handle attached to something heavy. Students, he remembered yelling, too, a small, sweaty hand held tight in his own. He remembered guilt. What's up? Manny asked. He looked over at Roland, and his eyes widened. Dude, you're shaking. Don't tell me you're flipping out now? We're way too deep in this thing. Roland shook his head. It's it's it's nothing, he said. Just a piece of an old memory hit me in the face. I think I was in town when that ****** went off. The young man's pupils grew as big as saucers. Navega, he spit. You're full of ****. Roland shrugged. I don't know, maybe it's just a piece of a memory I might be confusing it with something else. Sure got triggered by seeing the blast site, though. Manny was not satisfied by that answer. I refused to believe that someone could watch an atom bomb eviscerate a city and not have a clear memory of it. I had to take anti rad pills my whole childhood because of that bomb. I don't have any clear memories, kid. None from further back than about, I guess, five or eight years ago. I don't have a whole lot of clear memories since then either, but that's from the drugs. What the hell happened to you? Many asked. I thought you post humans all had hard drives running through your blood. Were you too cheap to pay for a photographic memory? Roland scratched his neck. He wasn't itchy. It was a nervous gesture. He was a little fascinated at the fact that this line of questioning made him feel nervous. He really couldn't remember the last time a conversation had made him feel that way. Weird. I got hurt, was all he could honestly say. I don't remember much of anything from before the revolution. Help. I don't really remember the revolution. The line of cars started moving again. Manny popped the car back into drive and they rolled further into the Heavenly Kingdom. Both men were quiet for a minute until Rowland spoke again. That's why I'm doing this. You know, he wasn't sure why he was saying all this, but Roland found he couldn't stop himself. Jim, the guy who brought me on, he knows some ******* East Coast surgeon who specializes in post human brains. They think they can give me back my memory. This rescue mission is a. It's how I pay for that. Are you sure you want those memories back? Manny asked. The **** do you mean? I don't even know who I am or was right now. Wouldn't you want that **** back if you lost it? Many glanced over to him. They locked eyes. I don't know, the kid said. You say you killed at least 12,000 people? I've been working as a fixer for the last two years and I've seen a lot of ****** ** eyes, dead eyes on men who've done too much killing, but none of them hold a candle to what's going on there. He pointed to Roland's face. And I know I got a feeling your past is 1 big ****** ** nightmare. Maybe you're better off without it. Rolando was quiet for a while and Manny didn't say anything else. They crept along and stops and starts and inched closer to Plano as the sun cracked open the horizon. Get out of point, Roland decided. He'd worried about the same thing himself. Since Jim made the offer every hour or so, he still found himself thinking about the driver of that technical the man had reeked of love. And yeah, the guy had been fighting to establish a Christo Fascist nightmare state. Somehow that didn't mitigate his death in Roland's head. Most causes were ****. Most men who fought for anything fought for nightmares. That guy and all his friends had just been doing what felt right based on the **** lives they'd lived. The same thing had to be true for most of the soldiers and insurgents Roland had killed. How many civilians did you kill Roland? How many lives did you in just to keep the battle drugs flowing? When he thought about it that way, he really didn't want his memories back. But then, of course, there was Topaz. He loved her so much, or rather, the pieces of him that remembered her loved her so much. Roland knew he wanted those memories back. He needed them back. Every time he thought about her face, something twisted inside him, as if his guts were being tugged in whatever direction he thought she might be. It was a weird way to feel about a woman he only remembered in fragments. Roland shook his head in a nervous attempt to shake the thoughts from his mind. Then he stared ahead at the line of cars. The immigration center was chaotic, crowded and heavy with the smell of scared humans. It was also a happier place than Rowland would have expected. Martyrs and fresh olive drab uniforms with bright golden crosses emblazoned on the arms, handed out food, water and even cups of instant coffee to the adults. They posed for pictures with children. The whole place almost had the air of a party about it. There was someone filming too, Roland guessed. He must be a propagandist for the Kingdom, putting together some sort of documentary. They stood in line for two full hours before it was their turn in front of the intake. Officer he was an older man with a big bushy mustache, red jowls, and a droopy rooster waddle of a throat. He had a whiny voice that barraged them with questions as soon as they sat down at his desk. How many apostles did Christ have? What was the name of the hill where our Lord was crucified? What is the 5th commandment? Many answered every question while Roland sat there and smiled vacantly like an invalid. They decided in the car that playing dumb was his best option. He'd probably wind up starting a fight if he talked to the man. And besides, Bolan didn't know **** about the Bible. He didn't even have any memory. Fragments of church services. And why is it that you're answering all the questions, young man? The officer finally asked. What about your friend here? And is it? Uh, yeah, Roland replied. I just. I don't. I don't know. I don't test so good. Mom said. I ain't a thinker. But you are a Christian, yes? Oh yes, Sir. He nodded enthusiastically. I love God. I am all about God. The intake officer narrowed his eyes at Roland. Manny flashed him a look of fury and then quickly turned it into a smile directed at the officer. He's a he's slow, Sir. His Mama took care of him, but she died in a drone strike two months back from the SDF. I'm just trying to make sure he's OK. The man grunted, and then looked to Roland. I imagine that must make you angry, losing your mother. Roland nodded and put on his best facsimile of an angry face. They're bad men. I want to hurt them back. The intake officer chuckled. Well, I've got good news for you, then. The Heavenly Kingdom needs soldiers. I'm sending you both to a training platoon. In a few days, you'll be martyrs, and you'll have a chance to get your revenge. But wait, Manny asked. We're we're being drafted. The officer narrowed his piggy eyes. The Heavenly Kingdom is fighting for its life, boys. Every person we let in has a job. There are no shirkers here, no layabouts. If you aren't willing to help build the Kingdom of God on Earth, we have no use for you. And I've decided you boys will best serve God in our infantry. And just like that, Roland found himself inducted into a military for what was at least the second time in his life. The intake officer gave them more papers, signed a mustering order, and sent them off with directions to find the barracks that was apparently their new home. Manny handled the rest of the interaction well. He even managed to act enthusiastic after his first startled outburst. But once they were out of earshot, back in the truck, he started to hyperventilate again. It looked like another panic attack. Herda, he cursed. This was such a ******* bad. Idea? Hey. Roland patted the kid on the shoulder. It's gonna be alright, buddy. Some aspect of his comforting tactic must have gone wrong because the kid just looked ******. Do you not realize how ****** this is? Manny shoved, rolling back. We're supposed to be affecting a rescue here, he yelled. They're going to have us drilling and training day and night. We'll be surrounded by soldiers. I thought we'd just be squatting in an apartment saying some peace be with you. When we went outside, I thought we were going to track down those hostages in like a day. Now. What the **** are we supposed to do? Roland thought about that for a moment. You thought about the martyrs? He'd. Based on the Battlefield 3 days ago and their motley armor and battered rusted weaponry. Look, he said. If this were a real army, we'd be ******. But you've seen how these guys fight. They had numbers and some professionals, but the bulk of their forces are just poor **** ***** with a weeks worth of training and whatever gun was lying around. We're not going to be drilling from dawn till dusk. He gestured at the truck's dashboard. They're letting us drive our own ******* truck up there. This ain't going to be like a real army. I guarantee you we'll have time to do our ****. Stay calm. Stay close to me. Do what I do. I'm real ******* good at soldering. If you follow my lead, they'll love us and our job will be that much easier. And what if something goes wrong? Manny asked. What if they catch us? Roland shrugged. If they catch us, then we'll already be in the middle of their army. That'll save me so much time. Hey, I've written a novel. It's called after the revolution. You can find it as a podcast under after the Revolution, and you can find it at as a free epub if you like it. I am crowdfunding the sequel so that I can keep making my books free. That will be it after the revolution. The sequel on Go Fund Me. That's after the revolution, the sequel on Go Fund Me. Look for your children's eyes and you will discover the true magic of a forest. For you and start exploring at Brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council, Raffi is the voice of some of the happiest songs of our generation. So who is the man behind baby beluga? Every human being wants to feel respected. When we start with young children, all good things can grow from there. I'm Chris Garcia, comedian, new dad, and host of finding Raffi, a new podcast from iHeartRadio and fatherly. Listen every Tuesday on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Mama, what does the chicken say? Giraffe, giraffe, giraffe, giraffe. You're not going to get it all right? Just make sure you nail the big stuff, like making sure your kids are buckled correctly in the right seat for their age and size. 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