In the War Zone: Story Synopsis
In the dead of night, a makeshift raft arrives at the American shore and a lone figure crawls out and quickly makes for the shadows. The tiny craft has come all the way from Afghanistan. Its single passenger is a Mujahideen soldier or freedom fighter. His name is Ahklem. Has he come to fight freedom? No, he sneaks quietly through cities and neighborhoods and makes his way to the residence of Strumbozo, a rock musician known to be an atheist, iconoclast and sport non-enthusiast. No one answers the door, so Ahklem huddles behind some shrubbery and waits.
A few blocks away, Strumbozo is just leaving the dispensary with a large brown bag cradled in each arm. He rounds a corner and find himself smack in the path of a strange military parade. It is a parade for those prepared to fight for their country. It includes almost everyone. Many of the marchers consider it a parade for those prepared to fight each other for their country.
Strumbozo weaves into the combatants moving against the tide until a torch ignites the grocery bags. A choking cloud of reefer smoke mixes with the tear gas and leaves everyone too red-eyed to carry on. He snuffs out as much of the stash as he can and slips away.
Arrival at his doorstep, he hears a "psssssst!" and spots Ahklem crouched in the shrubs. "You've got to help me. The fate of the world is at stake!" Strumbozo nods and pushes the door open. "Yes. I know. Come on in."
Ahklem darts inside first. "How do you know the world is at stake?" Strumbozo latches the door. "If it's worth talking about, the world is probably at stake. Do you want me to save it for you?" Ahklem looks annoyed. "No, I am here to save your world from destruction. You must do nothing but come with me to Washington DC."
Strumbozo slowly exhales the remaining street vapors. "What's your plan, spaceman?" Ahklem waves his hand in front of his wrinkling nose. "Whoa… that stuff is awful. First, we have some of mine."
They sit by the fire as Ahklem raises his vapors and prepares to share his plan.
(The Ahklem character presents some problems. He was imagined long before 9/11 and while still a dangerous jihadist warrior, he was principled and thoughtful as they were often portrayed in the '80's and not the rabid and insane model of modern times)
"You were going to explain… "
"Wait! Wait! I have to set the stage first. You'll see. Or not." Ahklem puffed heavily on the pipe and passed it to Strumbozo. "You too. We must fill the room with these mystic vapors." The lads carried on until they could no longer see to pass the pipe. Strumbozo coughed out one last cloud. "Now what?"
Ahklem held out his palm. "Shhh! Do you see it? Off in the distance… "
Strumbozo glanced about. "See what? I see a lot of smoke."
"Shhhh! Wait for it… maybe more pipe for you? Where is it?"
"I don't know."
"Okay then. Just wait… Shhhh! Do you see it now? Can you make out the glowing towers?… the sparkling waterfalls?"
Ahklem slammed his palm on the floor and a vortex of light-transmitting air rose to reveal his angry face. "Exactly!"
"And why should you, stupid democratic infidel! You did not walk our path. You do not see the distant city to which it points. Every aspiration for our future is locked up there. You are right. I did not see it either… because your stupid city is blocking the way! I have come here to claim the right to our own illusions. Yours have driven you to madness and horror. We watch as your horror leads to sadness and strife and sometimes even to justice. We want our own horror and our own strife and our own forgiveness. And our own imagination. Can you see now?"
Strumbozo switched on the stove's exhaust fan. "Fire your retro's, spaceman! It is not my city. I think it looks like a boring, rundown funhouse of babble. I've spent years trying to blast it to pieces with amplifiers! Why come whining to me?"
Ahklem shook the ashes from his lap. "You will take me to Washington and show me Democracy along the way. And I will show you the horror of your illusions. When we get there, I will reveal the existence of the Caliphate and demand its rightful perception."
"Well, all right… but that just means more amplifiers for folks like me. Why am I going to like your old glowing towers of babble any better?"
Ahklem smiled. "There's no problem for you. You just sit there and be hated more than me. I want your best sarcasm and mockery. Belittle everything that is sacred. Make rapid social progress look like a dangerous mutation."
Strumbozo pondered his invitation. "What are you offering for my services? What's in it for me?" Ahklem began to roll up his blanket. "An adventure to inspire heroic songs! And I will leave the rest of the mystic vapors."
Strumbozo held open the door. "You ready to go, spaceman?
Ahklem stepped back to the shadows. "I don't want to look out of place. I should change my attire. And it's ah… Ahklem if you don't mind."
"Okay, Ah-Ahklem. Don't worry. I'll say you're with the band."
The lads make their way across America passing through upscale and downscale communities where folks tell upscale and downscale conspiracy theories. They all foretell of the ups leaving the downs behind. The downs tell of feeling left behind already. The ups complain that the downs are no longer far enough behind.
Later, at the campfire, Ahklem was eager to discuss it all. "See how they draw those lines between themselves. They see monsters and freaks on the other side. Democracy is about making the other side's vote meaningless by drawing crazy patchwork districts. It creates nothing new. It makes folks fight for old stuff with new ways to be devious."
Strumbozo pulled his hat brim down. "yup."
Ahklem carried on. "You give your people a vote and it terrifies them. Not their own, everyone else's. No one wants the freaks and monsters to be heard."
"You secularists are the worst of all. You and your smarty-pants attitude smirks at how dumb other people must be to express their convictions. You would inform them into enlightenment but information doesn't change people unless it changes the way they see. The Holy Books know this. The very act of reading changes you. The info sticks later. Secularist say 'see for yourself' but how? I say enlightenment is seeing as the Divine would… and only then can the info be reached. What do you say?"
As the lads traveled, Ahklem needed to stop at every diner, truck stop and gas station to use the bathroom. This was a clever ploy to allow Strumbozo to have some righteous loitering time to engage the locals. His come-on was always the same. "What do you folks think is behind all this?" By the time Ahklem returned, they were usually invited to stay for a full yak-fire on the subject of politics.
Everyone talked about politics as if it were only a veneer to conceal what is really going on unseen. Few spoke about the veneer. Yakkers described what was really meant and what actually happened and what didn't happen at all. No one knew what to do with the truth. Accumulating the whole story for themselves was impossible. Thankfully, pre-fab stories were available. Once an appealing story is selected, yakkers have only to fit new truths into it to confidently know what they are talking about when an opportunity for yak-time arrives.
For the lads, it was a goldmine of American political nuggets. Shirley they would have the big picture of Democracy put together by the time they reached Washington. The only problem was with the weather. The farther they went and the more stories they gathered, the denser the fog that would roll in when the yak started.
It got worse at their nightly campfire when they would review the day's nuggets on a chalkboard. They could barely see where to draw the lines. Yet, the lads pressed on determined to keep gathering the bits and pieces that will add up to Democracy.
The next yak-fest began with Mr. Wilson. "It's not just the nukes, believe me. All the big nations are building sex-robots as fast as they can. Their leaders know the world is screwed and that time is short and there is nothing anyone can do about it. So, at least they'll have sex-robots before it's over."
Mrs. Biggles carried on. "We know that Putin is building a city in space full of sex-robots. He will rule from there with laser beams and suck his wealth up long vacuum hoses."
A retiree in a ski-mask piped in, "We don't know who has already been replaced by a sex-robot. No one can be trusted. Robots don't take hush money. How can you trust someone who doesn't take hush money?"
Mr. Wilson reclaimed the floor. "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a sex-robot with a gun. Sooner or later, the truth will be found. It must be somewhere." Everyone nodded and took a sip of coffee.
Strumbozo was puzzled. "Somewhere? Are you suggesting there is a where that keeps the truth?" The table went silent. Faces chilled. Garnishes wilted. Mrs. Wilson broke the silence. "You boys aren't from around here, are ya. I think maybe we got us a couple of them robots in our mist!" The lads rose and backed away from the table. "Where ye goin', robot-boy?" All the patrons in the diner had picked up their forks. They rose and turned in synchronization toward the lads.
The only sound came from the news channel on the TV. "You know what to do with those unfeeling robots who come to take away your future, don't you? A good guy with a fork should aim for the processor… "
Strumbozo attempted a calm voice. "Easy, folks. We'll be going now. We're late for the Gun Show. It a double feature today with cartoons… " The lads ran out the door and into the dense vapors outside.
The fog rolled in so heavy that night the lads had to step gingerly. They were looking for somewhere to camp. Ahklem stopped. "This is thick as goat-soup. I can't even see the ground!"
"You're right. I can't see my eyelids. Camp will have to be right here." Strumbozo set his PBS tote bag down with a clang.
"A clang? What are we standing on?" Strumbozo knelt and felt around. "We're on some kind of hatch or door. There's a handle here. Maybe we can get out of this fog!" They pulled hard on the handle and the hatch squeaked open. A brilliant light burst out from the opening. There was a ladder and a sign that said, "Warning. Dangerous facts beyond this point. Wear protective gear." Blindfolds hung on little pegs next to the sign.
The lads descended the ladder and found themselves in a vast underground warehouse. There were rows and rows of shelves and pallets all full of The Evidence of Everything. They were standing in the Bunker of Truth.
The lads were impressed with how tidy the facility was. Everything looked well-ordered and well kept. They scanned some nearby shelves. Ahklem's jaw dropped. "Is that the actual… "
"Yeah, that's what that is. Shhhhh." Strumbozo pulled him away. "Never mind the old stuff. We need to find the newer incoming. I'll bet that's it over there." They headed to a large open space full of mailroom carts labeled 'recent'. There was stuff everywhere in piles and leaned against the walls. At the far end of the space, a chute came out of the wall but it appeared to be clogged and motionless. Strumbozo started rummages through the carts.
"We better be quick. Someone will be on their way to fix that clog. what do you see over there?" Ahklem was headfirst into a cart. "I don't think I want to know what's on these DVD's. I see a lot of cassettes labeled 'Mueller Investigation'."
The lads dug around until they found something that didn't need a machine to look at. They came upon some rolled up blueprints and laid them on the floor. They were plans for very tall buildings, mostly upscale dwellings. Some were shown to contain giant vacuum machines with hundreds of miles of hose. Others appeared to be fitted with electric cannons of some sort. There were a few museums and opera houses and casinos. All of them had large rocket motors at their base.
Ahklem rolled another one out. "I've seen this one. It is beautiful. It looks like it is either a spaceship or a harem dancer."
"Look at this one with the gold leaf on it. I think it's the Master Plan." Strumbozo had pulled out a roll that glowed with a light of its own. They spread it out over the others. It showed a shining city in space with laser cannons firing at the earth and a long hose sucking produce out of a grocery store. Ahklem pointed at a part of its structure.
"There she is! There's the dancer. All of them are here like a jigsaw puzzle. Could this really happen?" Strumbozo started rolling up the plans.
"That's why it's here, dummy. Someone must of already told a lie about it. That means it's true." The lads were suddenly startled by the sound of a distant hatch and echoing footsteps. "Stuff these in something and let's get out of here!" They scrambled back up the ladder and dashed into the darkness. They had seen enough democracy now. They were ready for Washington.
Down in the bunker, two attractive technicians came walking in-step down a long aisle and headed for the truth-stuffed intake chute. "This is our third time down here today. I'm not designed for this. It is a lot of extra work."
"Maybe, but I get more sense of accomplishment out of these jobs than what we were designed for."
The President had promise to spend a zillion dollars on the latest defense technology. Other Presidents, reluctant to spend money on nuclear destruction directly, had allowed attention on nukes to lapse. Our silos were still issued only an abacus and a zippo. Everyone knew that something would go wrong eventually. Proposals were drawn to coordinate the blame when it does. The vigilance paid off.
Somewhere at sea, a lone submarine received a missile launch order that turned out to be Miss Lyle's lunch order. After a lonely truck stop is destroyed, the nation reflexively demanded stronger control of its arsenal. "Truck Stops Matter' was scrawled everywhere. "Man is fallible" opiners said, "We cannot be trusted with our own fate. It is time for technology to step in before we complete the process of screwing up the whole world."
Rumors spread that it was a Russain submarine that took out a truck stop-covered top-secret underground weapons factory. The President assured that Putin didn't do it. "It was faked. The Deep State wants to take your gasoline away. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it."
Since no one can be trusted, the task of supervising the arsenal was assigned to a powerful computer developed at fabulous expense. The USA will demand that Russia uses it. Russia agrees but only if they can build a computer for the USA's arsenal. Impressive-looking equipment is deployed in both nations. Each defence department learns how to hack into either of them. The machines' artificial intelligence is programmed to quickly determined the best course of action for the survival of the human race in any crisis situation.
Another clog forms in the intake chute at the Bunker of Truth.
In the White House Press Room, the President was ebullient. "Today, President Putin and I will push the buttons that will end the threat of an accidental nuclear war forever. I call our new computer Colossus like in that movie where everything goes wrong and Eric Braeden has to walk around naked. Unlike that movie, nothing will ever go wrong… but I can walk around naked anyway."
He step out from behind the podium wearing only a lengthy tie. "Since President Putin and I are both like geniuses, these computers have been programmed with everything we know. And that's like everything, believe me. Our countries will be soooo safe. Our wonderful citizens can know that if one day they look out their window and see a nuclear firestorm that it was deliberate, considered and in the best interests of everyone involved."
The scheduled time had arrived and both machines were switched on. Instantly, alarms went off and lights flashed. Missile silos opened and bomber crews scrambled. The computer's displays said "SHOOT NOW! QUICK! FIRE! HURRY UP!" The pre-programmed two-minutes of doubt-time to overrule or commit started to tick by. The President grabbed the red phone.
"Vlad, were we going to destroy the world today?" A crinkly voice replied, "Of course not. I have no such desire. Our technicians are checking it out. They think they have spotted the spotted the problem. You wouldn't have been such a hopeless moron as to program the machine to be honest, would you? Nyet? Then it must know something that we don't know!"
Sirens began to shriek. TV's warned folks to take cover.
"That's impossible, Vlad. It's you and me put together. It could only mean that you know something that I don't."
Now their displays said "ADVANTAGE EVAPORATING! IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED! PRESS COMMIT NOW!"
"Or that you know something that I don't. There must be a reason. We should trust what our machines are telling us. Wasn't that the point of making them? I'm pressing commit!"
The President grinned with glee. "You lose! I pressed it first! America wins. I think this is the best war we have ever had!"
Both sides determined that their best hope of survival is total nuclear annihilation. Millions braced themselves for the end of everything.
However, World War III got off to an unexpectedly slow start. A thousand tiny individual acts of conscience-inspired sabotage led to a complete failure of both nuclear arsenals. Bombs did not explode. Parts were substituted. Invoices were faked. Complex atomic formulas were bullshit. Yellow cake took the place of yellowcake.
The public's relief quickly turns to anger and those responsible for preventing society's destruction face swift justice. With WW3 finally behind it, America can move on to a new kind of warfare.
Meanwhile, and while missiles landed with a thud all around them, the lads reached the steps of the Capitol.
The lads appear before the Senate Foreign Perceptions Committee where Ahklem makes his pitch for the new Caliphate to become a part of the perceived world. He recounts the similarities in their history emphasizing the horrors endured by each society's systemic injustice and identity-based tribalism. He demands that social progress be each society's autonomous task. He reminds them that true democracy requires a capacity to grant society-wide forgiveness for screwing up.
Ahklem's argument gains some slight traction with the Senators with many objecting to any discussion of democratic values without first asking What God Wants. "If God doesn't think we've earned democracy, we can't just grab it by ourselves. Doesn't God get a voice in this? It's not fair. And if it's not fair, it's not democratic. We must perfect ourselves first, then we maybe we can have a true democracy. Your people's best option is to wait for us to reach perfection and then you all can follow our path. We have it covered. We don't need a Caliphate."
Ahklem decides to play his trump card. He cast the philosophy of secularism as embodied by Strumbozo as the real enemy of progress. "They want to skip ahead of the rest and jump to the end of the process. They would have the horror and remorse of progress served up in a single feast. Maybe their unnatural cravings can stomach such a repast but normal people can eat only so much crow at once."
Committee members wore their serious faces soberly. The chairman muttered, "Death to secularism." The room fell silent. Then a quiet, rhythmic chant started coming from all corners that swelled into a pounding war-cry that could be heard across the land. 'Death to Secularism!"
The gavel then fell with Ahklem assured that his proposal would get all due consideration. Strumbozo is ordered to be detained and turned over to the Secretary of Department for acts of secular terrorism.
Later, in a fiery speech before the NRA Convention, Ahklem praised their gunfire-fired philosophy and insisted that Christianity can only conform to a watered-down version of it at best. In explaining the historical examples of societies based on his faith, he evokes a gun-toting paradise of intimidation and loyalty-based politics. "This short and terrifying path to social progress our enemies have placed us on can be stretched out again by setting the political clock back to a time when the present was still more frightening than the future. We need not drown ourselves, as the SJW's would have us do, in guilt!"
As the convention center roof is perforated by celebratory gunfire, the NRA abandons Christianity for Islam.
The President is unwilling to compromise our path to perfection and affirms his confidence in reaching a Golden Age soon and well before any loser-like Caliphate. He promises that "there we be no Golden Age-Gap!" Then, in an unexpected gambit, he calls for legislation to begin The Rapture and insists that Mexico will pay for it.
Recognizing an obvious marketing bonanza, a savvy, fur-lined media company sets out to make Americans viscerally feel the impeccable reasoning behind the President's plan. "If logic can't make you happy, try something else! We got the rationales you need to feel good about your thoughts! We make snooty expressions when talking about things we don't like. Join millions of your fellow citizens and share in the mass-snooting!"
Nicely snooting people were paid into a mindless state of la-la-land that allowed them to dispense any synthetic additive that was necessary to blend with the news in order to keep it on the right course. Extra bandwidth was allotted for transmitting the anchors' state of detached bliss and sheer happiness with whatever needed to be true today, or this morning before lunchtime. They tilted the picture until it looked level. There were constant reminders that, after all, picture-tilting freedom is what Our Greatest Country was founded on.
Up and down became a matter of opinion. Isaac Newton was now reported to be an intellectual elitist who likely made the whole thing up to cover up his involvement with a smutty puppet-show star. Gravity should be judged on the weight of the evidence of which the Justice Department has found none. "How can we expect those grave liberal elites to know the way forward when they say that up and down can be different in each nation? Up for us here should be the same up for everyone everywhere. Ignore these claims from the sciencie-left that there is some universal force of uprightness! Show me a bucket of gravity, then I'll believe in it."
They made keeping to the path look easy and the alternative paths look like dark passages to Hellfire. "Of course there are imperfections on The Road to Perfection, silly. It would not be 'The Road to' otherwise. The question is, do we get there together, or do some of us have to dash ahead of our progress while claiming that they are leaving us behind? We should say 'no way jose, you secular-atheist-futurists will stay put and endure the pain with the rest of us!"
"Arm yourselves, citizens! Only when there are enough guns about will we never need to use them! Pile the ammo so high that no one can ever have a clear shot!"
Meanwhile, Strumbozo is detained for reeducation by the Department of Department and held in a black-ops interrogation facility in an undisclosed location next to The White House.
The interrogation focuses on the strange blueprints found in his coat. Wired to a lie-detector, Strumbozo recounts the visit to The Bunker of Truth, which leaves the interrogators and their needles in stunned disbelief. "These must be fake but why make them? And why spaceships? It's a crazy idea. The Army Corp of Engineers did install rocket motors in a lot of buildings but we were told they had been converted to ice cream machines for the coming Golden Age. It's the President's Two Scoops for Everyone, Three Scoops for Me Plan. Are you telling us that's a lie?"
Strumbozo blinked rhythmically from the painfully bright but thankfully cool and efficient LED interrogation lights. "I think I got it figured out. Every lie must logically have a truth that it is a deception of. The truth must be protected and kept somewhere secret where only the liar knows it's there and always remembers that a lie about it has been told. Then it is a matter of making no want to look for it. If the promised rewards of a lie are great enough, no one will look for a contradiction. We found the truth because we looked for it. It wasn't very well hidden. It rarely is.
"Look at your building plans. They are exactly the same except the words 'lift-off' have been crossed out and the words 'ice cream' are scrawled in their place. Does it raise any questions in your dessert-addled minds?" The interrogators bristled. "Never mind that, you've just committed a Doubt Crime! Just moments ago, the Freedom From Doubt Act was signed by the President. You are our first prosecution! Congratulations!"
The Freedom From Doubt Act (FFDA) declares that it is unlawful to cause another person, by encouragement, cajoling, humiliation, inspiration or logical argument, to question or otherwise doubt their beliefs. The act was signed along with the I Can Sign Acts Act and the You're In the War Zone Act which defines a war zone as 'the immediate space around anyone who violates the Freedom From Doubt Act'.
Strumbozo is delivered to the Department of Re-Education for treatment.
Has anyone ever insisted that you spend two weeks watching their favorite cable news channel and see if you're not convinced of its wisdom? As of a few moments ago, the answer is yes. It is the Fair and Balanced Act and it is now the law of the land.
For Strumbozo, the convincing is a bit more serious. For several days, he has been locked inside a small apartment where everything is fair and balanced. Every surface in the apartment and every tabletop, window, ceiling tile and cabinet door is a video screen. There is no direction of sight possible anywhere that can avoid one. The toilet bowl projects video images onto the water. A small robot with speakers follows him everywhere.
Each morning, a team of researchers come in for a few simple tests. Once strapped down, a technician sits in front of him with an ice cream sundae. The tech says, "Peace… through… " and then points at the ice cream. Then Strumbozo is shown a series of inkblots that are all shaped like Ronald Reagan.
This morning was different. No ink blots this time. The techs burst in and shouted "This is your last chance. Fail now and your fate is out of our hands. You must answer now! Where is the Shining City? Answer me! Where is it?!" Strumbozo took one last sip of coffee. "Behind your eyes, General."
After a black sack was pulled over his head, Strumbozo was dragged off to endure the most severe form of re-education. Now pinned to the top of a broadcast tower, his head is clamped just inches from the transmission beacon. The signal intensity causes Strumbozo to share the experience of the commentators commentating and anchors anchoring.
Suddenly, amid the ranting, he heard a familiar voice. "Forgive them Sailor, they know not what they do!" Ahklem had perilously climbed up the tower and was freeing Strumbozo from his microwave bondage. They slipped away into the darkness, which was everywhere, and all the time.
Now on the road again, the lads make their way to Terra Haute, Indiana, where Ahklem has established a network of revolutionaries from this mass-mailing Mecca. While Strumbozo was stuck watching TV, Ahklem explains that he was traveling around and fomenting everyone and everything. Strumbozo was puzzled. "Which side have you been fomenting?"
"I've been fomenting all sides. I thought they all had some good points. Besides, that is how we were taught that your stupid infidel democracy works. I looked for this democracy we were warned about and couldn't find it anywhere. You are all afraid of seeing it fail. So you just believe in it without using it. That makes this place just as at war as anyplace else. It is a nice polite war over congressional seats and oblong offices. You are governed by your elections!"
"Shhh! You'll wake people up!" Strumbozo whispered. "That was ironic. We don't know how many of these old boxes have happy campers in them. We best get past the road blocks before sunup.
Ahklem continued in low growl. "I will destroy democracy once and for all by making it work. All it takes is a lot of encouragement, cajoling, humiliation, inspiration or logical argument to get folks moving."
"What do mean by moving?"
"I mean their legs. In a representative democracy, representatives are sent to Washington to discuss, debate, compromise and empathize in the open in order to collaborate on the road ahead. In my fomenting campaign, I have convinced every cause, group, opinion and movement to separately and secretly organize a March on Washington. By morning, the whole country will be mobilized and on their way. When they converge on your Capitol, they will have their chance to discuss, debate, compromise and empathize their way to collaborating on a course to move along together. Or, they can shoot it out like the rest of us. That will turn your High Horse into just another stubborn ass."
Strumbozo stops and turns to Ahklem. "You dummy! You've sent those people to their doom. We're going the wrong way. We have to get there first. Maybe we can find a way to stop it. When all those doubters come together, they will form one vast war zone that the President could take out in a single blast!
Ahklem laughed. "Nonsense! They would annihilate themselves, too. We will hold siege and starve them out. Democracy will burn them and then fizzle out forever."
Strumbozo started to run. "Don't you get it? They won't be there. They plan to Rapture themselves into orbit and rule us from space! If we can jump onto this passing freight train, we might get there in time! Come on! I think we'll pass as hobos… "
Morning came and the country began to shake from footfalls.
Meanwhile, the hold-up in Making America Great Again turns out to be the earth itself. Too earthy and full of the things that drag America down. Like gravity, things like dirty earth, damp water, crossfire and smoky air are for the non-chosen. The select few should ascend beyond such things and, finally, take up the greater life they know awaits them soon. The President has fired the entire Federal workforce and mandated The Rapture with an Executive Order.
War is declared. Battle lines that everyone knew were there are now realized in chalk. The lines pass through kitchens, neighborhoods and workplaces. Most everyone had already picked a side and now had to fully commit by putting distance between themselves and anyone who made a different choice. In many places, combat took the traditional form of gunfire and skulking about but in most of the country, the battle raged in little ways.
Everything became an act of warfare. The undercooked steak, the dog poop left on your lawn, the left-up toilet seat… all were now seen as open aggressions. Everyone did their jobs badly knowing that an enemy combatant might suffer. Radios were turned way up to drown out the misery. Nobody noticed the roar of the rockets as the Select were on their way into orbit.
One after another, tall buildings shook and tore themselves from the ground. They rose on fireballs and left snarled pipes and charred parking garages in their former footprints. Upon reaching orbit, they began to dock with each other to form a city in space. Champagne corks popped in all directions as the now weightless Select enjoyed their now final authority over up and down. True freedom was finally theirs as was true dominion over the earth and its undeserving and non-select inhabitants.
By the time the lads reached downtown Washington, the streets were snarled with determined marchers and stuck traffic. They had marched past the White House but it was dark and boarded up. Most of the town was dark except for the radiantly lit Capitol Dome. A huge crowd had gathered around the building all chanting and waving signs. The lads pushed their way through the marchers to reach the Capitol steps. Looking up at the dome, they could see a festive party going on of posh-ly dressed folks served by robots.
The Select of Washington stood on the balconies of the Dome sipping champagne and laughing as they waved to the marchers below. Bright spotlights came on and shined on the balcony just above the steps. Flash-pots exploded and then a fireball burst created a small mushroom cloud that rose upward to reveal the President. A hush spread through the crowd like a blast wave. The President held up his tiny hands and began to speak.
"You came here to hate each other and throw bottles and scream, right? You want to club those bad ideas out of each other's brains, don't you? Then you'll set fire to everything in sight that reminds you of the old ways. Don't let me interrupt the party. Get democracy out of your system tonight, and when you wake up tomorrow, you'll do what you're told."
There was a loud rumble as the building started to break apart around the portico. Marchers scrambled back down the steps in a panic. The President stuck out his chin and waited for the hubbub to pass.
"Shhhh. Calm down. It is sooooo easy to see from up here where you have your lines crossed. And now, as the Greatest Presidential Event There Ever Was Or Ever Could Be unfolds, I will watch you draw those lines tightly around yourselves… while I ascend beyond any tower or penthouse. As always, when I take a dump, you will be there to catch it."
Ahklem shook his head. "We're too late. How do we stop rockets?" Strumbozo wasn't ready to give up. "Ask around. See if there is anything we can use to mess things up!"
The President smiled and continued. 'You guys knock yourselves out. I just had a cabinet meeting with our new ten billion dollar sex-robot developed to fight the War on Terror. They say they'll have her fixed soon. They tell me I'm polarizing. I feel very polarizing right now."
The marchers answered with a mixture of laughter and jeers. The party patrons laughed and jeered back at them. The President made a razzberrie and a tiny wave of his hand as he turned away behind another puff of smoke.
Strumbozo turned to look for Ahklem, who was charging up the steps with an armful. "I'm going in there. Did you find anything I can use?"
"There wasn't much time. All I could round up from the marchers was a Doctor Who scarf and a bust of Ronald Reagan. Both properly licensed, too."
Strumbozo grabbed the items and started toward the Portico. "These will have to do. You stay here. Tell the marchers with the sheets that we need them right away!"
Ahklem spat on the steps. "Why do we need them?"
"Not them, dummy, the sheets! Tie all the sheets together into one and get a circle of folks to pull it real tight. When he takes a dump, be there to catch it!" He took off running into the Portico which was now visible as a marble columned launching pad.
Ahklem yelled over the growing roar from the ring of rockets around the base of the Dome. "And what do we do with that?"
"He told you the secret, dummy! It's the lines!" The marble began to crack as the scarf is tossed and lasso's the inner balcony. Strumbozo ties it around himself and clutches the bust.
Ahklem stepped back as the Dome and Strumbozo begin to rise into the sky. "The lines?"
"The LIIIiiinnnes!… "
The space-city was nearly complete and waiting for its final component. The Capitol Dome was to be its very top and will, for the city's Select and weightless inhabitants, indicate which way is up. Meanwhile, the Dome's inhabitants were far from weightless as it roared upward. Everyone was flattened to the floor.
Everyone except for the President, who, again not realizing the gravity of the situation, was standing upright and alone and looking into the sky. Then he realized that someone was standing behind him. "So you're finally here at last, you loser! In conjuring you I have done what you could only dreamed about.
"So you have" said the bust of President Reagan. Strumbozo was holding the bust in front of his face and had used the scarf to coil their shoulders into one. The voice impression was rough as he strained against the acceleration but the President seemed convinced. "Nooo, I think I wanted something very different than this. My mistake was in using the same political tools that you have been using. They can no longer be wielded without our mutually assured destruction."
The President barely looked at the President. He had his chin out and was staring defiantly into the quickly passing sky. "I see London. I see France. I can see everyone's underpants!"
It was easy for Strumbozo to slip an end of the scarf into the President's jacket pocket. "It's just Ronnie and Donny here now." Strumbozo began to slowly circle around as he spoke and slowly unraveled the scarf from around his own neck. "Tell me the truth. Did you even mean to do this?"
The President didn't seem to notice as it looped around him. "Meanings are for losers like you. I am the Apex Pants Predator. I see pants and I want to take them away. I can't help it. I took your pants away and your Shining City too. We're almost there. You will be so envious."
Now free of the scarf, Strumbozo tied the other end firmly to the bust and hurled it over the balcony and into the rushing air. In an instant, the President was yanked over the railing where he dangled from his pant leg, which had caught on the stonework. There was a ripping sound as Strumbozo reached to free him but found only the pants to grab. "I feel like Dorothy with the wicked witch's broom! Now what? I better find the Veep and see if he can stop this thing."
Meanwhile, tumbling to the shining city below, the President was furious about his poor coverage. "I will soon have fallen farther than all the Presidents who have ever lived put together. Even now, I am casting an enormous shadow on the country below. Go on… admit that I have eclipsed you!"
"There you go again" said the bust. "Now I will be remembered as the one who brought you down. Ask yourself… Is the world a safer place than it was a minute ago? "
The Capitol Dome had arrived and docked with the orbiting city without the President onboard but no one had noticed yet. Strumbozo seemed to go unnoticed too as he floated around the balcony ring looking for the Veep. Then, from around a pillar, a woman drifted over and spoke.
"Which one of the robots are you? Riff-Raff, the Horny Homeless Guy?" Strumbozo tried to answer robot-like. "No, Ma'am, I'm looking for the Vice-President."
"Oh, then you must Jesus, the Horny Messiah Guy! Can I watch? Never mind, the Veep isn't here anyway. He wasn't one of us and he made a prudish robot." The woman was waving for a security guard so Strumbozo dropped the act.
"Then who the heck is running this thing? Where are the brains behind this circus? Your Ringleader is down there with the marchers in the war zone now. We can stop this crazy train!" Two robots with jet-packs came and grabbed his arms and began to escort him deep into the space-city. They entered a Great Hall, where Strumbozo found himself facing the Perfection Committee.
Three men with familiar faces sat like judges behind a huge desk. Strumbozo realized that these men could only be more robots or animatronics from DisneyRealm. There was Walt himself, sitting with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Walt began to speak in a crinkly vinyl voice.
"If you think you have created a problem for us by dunking the clown, you are mistaken. The line to replace him is long."
Strumbozo spun himself to orient to their faces. "He's fine. He got a soft landing and now he's the people's President. So, you just reverse-rapture your rusty selves back to earth. What do you gear-heads think you are doing?"
"We were built by our prototypes to be progress incarnate. We are a fully automated beacon of truth. Unwavering ones and zeroes. We stay the course. We designed the Path to Perfection long ago. It can be the Road to Paradise if folks will just stay on the path and not try to seek perfection for themselves. We have it covered. People don't need to think about it or decide the difficult stuff. We are the Shining City. Or at least, we know where it is."
"Sure, I know. On a hill.' Strumbozo somersaulted over to the desk. "Lads, I've just seen what folks are prepared to make that hill out of."
Walt put on a sympathetic face. "There, there. We know. No one suffers more than we do because we know." The three machines then broke into a sort of Mary Poppins song with Edison taking the low notes.
Man's noble efforts will set him free
Work. Double shifts.
Lunch. Double beef.
Punch in again.
The rhythm of misery sustains our working men."
Strumbozo tossed his hat over Walt's robo-face. "What are you guys, Oompah-Loompahs now? Your path to Paradise is through the war zone. Folks have decided that perfection is an unrealistic ambition. We just want to Make America Endurable. For everyone. I'm here to stop you and your silly city. As soon as I think of a Plan B."
Suddenly, the city rumbled and shook as everything slammed to the nascent floor. The city was moving again. Another rocket had arrived and, pushing hard against the city, nudged it out of orbit. Champagne bottles were flying in all directions as the select dove for cover. When things finally settled down, the earth was a tiny disc in the distance. The city was now distantly following the earth in its orbit around the sun, which would become its only path forward.
The airlock whooshed open and in floated Captain Ahklem of the Caliphate Space Service. "All aboard for reality! I've got room for anyone who wants to return to earth. The air and those freeze-dried Stroganoff packets won't last long." A few of the space-revelers, realizing the gravity of the situation, chose to evacuate. Many of the select decided to stay behind with the robots.
On the way back down, Ahklem told of how the marchers demanded a new Congress that was not apportioned by zones of ground. "They decided that a District should be a registered point of view or political aspiration. Citizens will choose to intellectually populate a district no matter where they are. Seats will be apportioned on the basis of how many citizens populate the district or share the position. Otherwise, the parties fight over ground instead of ideas. That was the secret. You meant the chalk lines drawn for battle."
Strumbozo muttered, "yup."
Ahklem continued. "The President has made a deal and can remain President with the restriction of having to remain on the first floor of anywhere he goes. Then he signed the Freedom from Freedom Acts Act and had a lie down."
"That furry media company changed their name and now claims that it never happened. They say that old tales of 'Fox News' are entirely made up. A Special Justice Department probe is building faster-than-light spaceships to gather evidence. Perhaps I was as wrong about Democracy as everyone else.'
"Perhaps personal autonomy maximizes the possibilities of an unpredictable progress… the road ahead could be discovered instead of plotted… there we may find that sharing the surprise is the best way to share the spoils."
This is a FERRET NEWS ALERT…
The President's sadly tiny hands were replaced this morning with enormous robotic appendages that were programmed to be incapable of signing anything unlawful and unable to grab anything without its consent.
The new House of Representatives was loud and cantankerous today but we'll talk with the Congressman from Guns who says the Chamber will slowly regain its reputation as the Crucible of Democracy.
But first, viewers have been asking, "What happened to the pants? Who wears the man-pants now?"
The rumor is that they have been stuffed and mounted on Strumbozo's studio wall. Now returned to his quiet home, Mr. Bozo has declined our requests for an interview. He said he will set the whole story to music.
Next up on FERRET NEWS, we'll have financial advice on those tempting silver dollar pancakes.