Saturday, November 8, 2008

Table of Contents

I'm trying to make these darn things easier to read. As such, here are all the stories arranged in the order in which they were written.

Barack Obama vs. the Pirates of Wichita

Barack Obama and the Thunder Zeppelin

Obama at the Gates of Detroit, Chapter 1

Chapter 2


Chapter 3

The Obamadämmerung:

1st Canticle


2nd Canticle


3rd Canticle

4th Canticle

5th Canticle

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Victory!

All of this started as a tongue-in-cheek response to a group of overzealous Obama supporters. One compared Obama to Jack Kennedy, another to Martin Luther King Jr., and another to Superman. As they spun out more and more outlandish fantasies for an Obama presidency, I couldn't help but try and top them with a suggestion of my own:



"Also, according to rumor, a single tear from Obama's cheek can slay demons and cure vilitigo and impetigo. His stride is as of a titan's, seven leagues at a time, and while he holds a microphone in his hand he canst take no mortal wound wound nor shed a single drop of his own blood. He speaks the native tongue of birds, and converses happily with all beasts of hoof and paw, even to the lowliest vole and marmot. Gracious as the kings of old, Obama carries no money nor answers unkind word with like. Peonies spring up where his feet trod, and were he to lay his weary head upon the ground a mighty cedar, like unto the old father trees of Bsharri and Barouk, would spring forth to shade his noble brow. In the elven tongue he is Lothlornienel, with means "Laughter in the High Places", and the dwarves call him earthfriend, as well as "Khazad ak Manu", which means "He who does not wear patriotic lapel pins." His is the drill that shall pierce the heavens: believe in him believing in you! The Neocons speak of him in hushed tones in their shadowed, dusty halls, and refer to the ancient scrolls of the fallen empire of Mnem, which foretells of the coming of the Dusky Childe, who shall scourge their number from the halls and rotundas and tear down the altars in the high places and bring the three terrible plagues of Health Care and White Guilt and Political Transparency. They say that he will travel to Shibboleth – where the heart of Karl Rove is kept, inanimate, inside a Canopic jar – and break the seals and feast upon the contents therein: and with the power thus consumed he will erect a throne of jade and jasper and lapus lazuli, and rule upon it, and the thunderous gnashing of teeth from the Red States will play Hail to the Chief as he ascends the dais."


It was pure silliness, but it got a few laughs. And the next day, at work, I couldn't help but mentally prod at the idea of Obama as a kind of mythical political superhero: a modern Paul Bunyan or John Henry or Davy Crockett. It was a ludicrous yet compelling thought. Eventually, drawing inspiration from the excellent music of Stan Rogers, I jotted off a short story. It was a caricature of a caricature; the media's overblown take on a political figure blown into something bigger and weirder. It was an odd little story, but it had a certain charm. I liked it well enough to do another, and another, and another. None of them were what you'd call great, and none of them were anywhere near as good as the first one, but they were fun to write. And as long as I kept having fun, I kept writing them. When I felt as if I was getting burnt out on politics, I put my pen down. When I felt a surge of new interest, I picked it up again.

I support Barack Obama because many of his political views coincide with mine, and because he is charismatic and intelligent and even-tempered. I don't think that he's any kind of miraculous superman who has come to save the country; I never bought into my own parody. I think that he is a politician. I think -- I hope -- that he will be a good politician, the kind of leader that we desperately need right now.

I hope that he will be great.

I had originally intended to end the Obamadämmerung with an epilogue, called War Councils, showing how the different factions of beltway lords coalesced around the two candidates, resulting in impending war. I even wrote most of it, and then shelved it. It wasn't very good. There was no action, no drama: it just petered out into nothingness, with no clear winner or loser. It was a lousy ending, because it wasn't an ending. How could it be? The election wasn't over.

Now it is.

Barack Obama is the President-Elect of the United States of America. Whether you voted for him or not, agreed with him or not, you have to admit that this is a once in a lifetime event. Some day, years from now, I'll take out my wallet and pull out a yellowing paper ballot-voucher and show it to my children and tell them how we elected the first African American president. And if I'm lucky, if I'm very lucky, they won't see what the big deal is; they won't understand why his skin color should make any kind of difference.

All in all, today has been a very good day.

Expect new stories sometime soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Obamadämmerung: 1st Canticle

It began in fire.

We gasped when we saw it. First a spark, then a flame, then a roaring blaze. Faster than the eye could follow it roared and leaped and danced. The zeppelin’s outer coating had been fireproof, as only hammered gold could be fireproof, but beneath that there were layers of nylon and oakum, and once this caught fire there was no hope for it. Ten heartbeats after the tail-fin caught fire, the shell of the airship began slowly and inevitably to crash.

We never stopped shooting. Not even as its doom became obvious. Not even when the screaming started. The canons kept up their firing – boom! boom! boom! – as quickly as we could load ball and touch powder, as smooth and regular as an automaton. War will do that to you. We knew it wasn’t over yet: even though the golden blimp was down, there were still dozens of other zeppelins in the fight. Their shadows brought night to the battlefield, and stole the sparkle from the windows of all the buildings in the city nearby. Not that there had ever been a lot of sparkle in Minneapolis.

So we kept shooting. It was bloody work. Our polished, hovering land-ships formed up into ordered lines of battle, relentlessly harrying a chaotic spread of smoking airships. It was probably the only real stand-up fight the Ronpaul’s forces had ever seen, and they weren’t taking it at all well. You could almost feel bad for them.

And then it was. Over, I mean. As the bulk of the blimp was still falling – airships take a damn long time to die – there was an explosion from the aft end. A terrible, terrible screeching shook the air. I saw him drop: at this distance he was a shiny dot the size of a dust mote. A flaming, golden fleck. He struck the ground, and the earth trembled. It kicked up so much dust we feared it would clog the turbines. It left a smoking crater a dozen yards wide in some poor farmer’s field.

The man Obama reached him first. He leapt the gunwale of the Audacity of Hope and sprinted across the frosted Minnesotan soil. The rest of us followed, with a bit more caution. Politicians rush in where regular folk fear to tread. He reached the Ronpaul’s side and hauled the wounded Lord out of the ruins of his golden throne and then they commenced to fighting. We couldn’t believe that that old git was still alive, but there he was, six feet tall, three feet wide, and covered in golden plates. Not armor, you ken, but solid plates of metal seared to his flesh. A few had fallen off in the crash, and you could see the scar tissue beneath. Nasty.

They fought for what seemed like hours, but was probably minutes. War is like that. They fought unarmed, like crazed Greek wrestlers. Their blows rocked the air, and when their arms locked, I heard the sound of shearing metal. They fought with the shadow of Minneapolis at their backs, that godawful, lake-ridden city. They fought like heroes. They fought like Titans. They fought like true Lords of the Beltway. Even the Ronpaul: I give him that. Shriveled and cruel as he was, fallen and burnt as he was, he gave as good as he got. Where mortal flesh would have failed, his golden skin held strong, and every glittering blow seared my eyes with reflected sunlight.

Most of us could only stand and watch, but others went and tried to pry some gold of the twisted wreck of the Ronpaul’s throne. No one begrudged them: gold is gold, and we understood intuitively that our part in the battle was now over.

It was Obama that finished it. He finally took the Ronpaul’s stubborn neck in both his powerful hands and twisted. I’ll never forget that gawdawful crack, but I think I might try. I think both the Twin Cities head it. Then it was over. Obama just stood there, with blood on his hands and that handsome caramel face looking so appalled and bereaved. He shed a tear for the man, a drop of molten gold, and then we knew it really was over.

Our side drew in the cannons. Their lightning guns stopped frying the earth black. With their leader dead, most of the Ronpaul’s forces surrendered; except for the Sturmfrunten, who all took strychnine and died convulsing. Crazy fucks. The rest of the Ronpaul’s people were just confused and bitter and desperate. There were thousands of them, in dozens of airships: the Ronpaul had built a formidable armada in his time as the unquestioned lord of the Midwest’s airspace. They poured out of their airships, a desperate multitude; most of them still had our gunpowder in their hair. We made them park their ships and form up ranks, and then Obama gave them a speech.

He gave it straddling the wreck of the golden throne. He spoke to them with the blood of their general still on his hands. He spoke to them in the shadow of their defeat, and took the bitter sting away. His voice was clarion, but his words were balm. He talked of promises made, and broken, and re-forged in earnest. He talked of America; of what it was, and is, and will be. He talked of freedom, and determination, and hope. Always of hope.

I’ve seen it happen almost a dozen times. At Joliet and Toledo, they wept openly. After the battle of Des Moines, they picked him up on their shoulders and carried him to the bow of his ship. At Terra Haute, even the children tried to join him, and only Obama’s gentlest admonitions managed to prevent the cause from gaining a hundred half-pint privates. And every time – every damn time – I shed tears.

Nine out of ten joined our cause right there and then. They just threw down their banners, cast off their silly hats, and signed up. The other tenth slunk away like whipped dogs.

We embraced them, our newfound brethren: what else could you do? We’d all been in their shoes, once. You heard the man talk, and you had to make a choice. So we hugged them and cheered, because we knew what it meant. The Battle of Minneapolis was over. We’d won. We, the Free-riders of the Outlaw Prince. Men and women, Iowans and Minnesotans, Nebraskans and Wisconsinites, and volunteers from every state in the union: the last free people in America.

We cheered, not because it was over, but because it had finally begun.

The Obamadämmerung: 2nd Canticle

It began in ice.

Lieberman’s footfalls were whispery quiet as he descended the rickety wooden staircase. It was unnerving how the planks, embedded deep in the icy walls, didn’t make a single creak or a groan. He shivered, and drew the feeble torch loser to his body to absorb the fire’s warmth. The walls wept icy tears as he passed.

Downward. Ever downward. Through solid ice. The steps described a descending spiral, a widening gyre a hundred yards across at its broadest and three miles deep. And still sinking.

This deep down, the ice formed strata, telling the history of the world to anyone with a mind to see it. Here, the ice was black and rippling, like frozen obsidian; this bespoke an eon of ash and shadows. A full turn of the staircase below that, the ice was milky and white, as if it had been half-thawed even as it froze. And below that: translucent and clear as glass, so that one could glimpse, in the far off distances, things frozen within the ice. There, at the very edge of vision… had that immense and vaguely formed shape once been a living creature? Was that a single, lidless eye he saw? Lieberman shuddered.

Truly, Alaska was a G-d-forsaken land.

As he descended, the familiar sounds of busy machinery rose to greet them. The drills had been brought in along another, wider tunnel, but the heat they gave off made the ice too slick and treacherous to walk down, and so the staircase had been constructed, by hand, at an enormous expenditure of human effort.

The staircase ended, and he emerged into hell. Red light spilled over his face. The vast, icy cavern was a hundred yards across and half again as tall. The broad, neat hole in the center was unimaginably deep. Terrified men in leather aprons toiled over enormous, belching machinery. Thawed slush ran down the walls and melted, pouring endless rivulets into deep channels incised in the floor. Immediately, all the gooseflesh on Lieberman’s body turned to sweat, and he threw off his thick, woolen cloak.

Only one man in the cavern wasn’t perspiring.

The Mac Cain slumped in a rosewood throne, one sandaled foot resting on the edge of an ice dais. His hauberk of dented bronzed discs gleamed dully in the scarlet light. His ancient helm, with a crest in the shape of a kneeling dragon, was so crusted with verdigris that it was impossible to tell what metal it was. His spear was nine feet of fire-hardened ash. His hoplon lay at the thrones base, four feet wide and several inches thick; far too large to be lifted by a normal man. Beneath a brow like a thunderhead, his eyes glittered like chips of mica. Which they were. The Mac Cain’s thick limbs and veined skin gave the truth to his heritage; he was descended from the last of the Kobolt-kin, the strange, stony folk that burrowed beneath the Rocky Mountains and ate raw gemstones.

When he saw his old friend, saw the determination on his craggy face, Lieberman knew he had only one last chance to end this madness before it got out of hand. He drew close to the throne. “Is this truly wise?” With a gesture, he took in the whole of the cavern; the melting walls, the boiling machinery, and the spinning shaft of the still-descending drill.

The Mac Cain sighed. “No, old friend. But it may yet be necessary.”

“Surely not.” He licked his lips. “The prophecies warn—“

“The Prophecies be damned!” Mac Cain said, but it was a weary exclamation. Everything he did, every motion, every breath, spoke of bone-deep exhaustion. “I am done with your endless quoting from the prophecies. The prophecies say that I will take the Oval Throne, don’t they? Or so you told me, all those years ago, when we were both young and the task before us seemed oh-so-easy. Well, decades have passed, and I’ve grown tired of waiting.”


Lieberman spoke hesitantly. “The prophecies say that in the Time of Portents, in last years of the Ican calendar, the House of Red must hold sway over all fifty states, or doom will fall upon us all. You know this. It is why I came to you, leaving my rightful place in the House of Blue. But they never mention you by name, only by allegory. Perhaps another…”

“What other?” Mac Cain asked, with black joviality. “Who else has the sense and the strength to unite the feudal states? Who else can raise an army fit to match steel with your old friends and this new upstart? Huckabee? A senseless god-botherer who cares more for his pet Wulfgerat than for his people. Giulliani? Perhaps, if he would ever leave off this constant brooding over his fallen towers. Romney? Dangerously insane. Thompson? Is that old Dragon even still alive? No,” he said, with finality. “If it must be done, then I must do it. There is no other.”

“And yet…” Lieberman whispered. “This drilling… Man was not meant to dig so deep—“

There was a shriek as every machine in the cavern began to vent steam. The temperature of the room exploded; workers feinted, or were scaled by steam blasts, or had to be dragged clear of the machines before they were cooked alive. A deep crack ran along the dome of the ceiling. Only then did Lieberman realize that the relentless grinding sound – which he had come to take for granted – had been replaced by the mournful hum of steel under great stress.

“We’ve struck!” Mac Cain shouted. “Stop the drill!”

But some quick-thinking engineer had already done it. The great drill gave one final groan, sighed, and then began to rotate in the other direction. It rose, the joints of its smooth, shining length telescoping into one another. Each section was numbered according to depth, and, as Lieberman watched with bated breath, the numbers began to count backwards.

One hundred feet. Seventy five feet. Fifty feet. Forty. Thirty. Twenty.

There was light coming from the hole; a low, dark, pulsing radiance that mingled with the red emergency lights of stressed machinery to form a searing indigo.

Ten feet.

“It comes,” the Mac Cain said flatly. He could have been talking about the weather.

Five feet.

The head of the drill emerged: it was absurdly small, given its mighty task. Diamonds glittered along its serrated edges, which had been formed from black, fathomless alloys of tungsten and Urü and depleted uranium. And a hand was gripping the end of it. A slender, feminine hand.

She rose, smiling. Her teeth were polished calcite. Her lips and fingernails were the color of rose petals and fresh blood. Her eyes were smoldering gypsum, and smoking anathema. She released the drill and dropped to the ground, and the ice steamed, melted, and fled before her burning touch. Every eye in the room was upon her, from the lowest axel-greaser to the glittering orbs of the Mac Cain himself. Some of the more superstitious machine-smiths fell to their knees and began chanting, praying to a multitude of gods.

“Adonai Eloheinu.” Liberman murmured. Much as he wanted to, he could not draw away. He felt her fully occupying his mind's eye, and the presence tore at his sanity. She was there, fully there, in a way that nothing else in the room could match. She was shining and bronzed and magnificent and terrible.

Mac Cain rose, and the effort of lifting his granite bulk seemed to tire him immensely. “My dear.” He crossed the floor to meet her. She smiled enigmatically, but said nothing. “Palin.” He took her hand, and the light in the cavern flickered and died.

Three miles above them, the arctic wolves began to howl.

The Obamadämmerung: 3rd Canticle

It began in ashes.

Click. Click. Click.

The Scarlet Lady’s heels beat a tattoo that echoed through the stone corridors like a heartbeat. She was furious, and making no effort to conceal it; her rage, far too violent to be contained in a mere skull, discharged itself through her personal aura and into the nearest available object in arcs of fat, purple lightning. She stormed through the hallway with a glittering corona of violet energy trailing close behind her. You could have mapped her progress by following the scorch marks.

There was a cheery little tapestry at the entrance to the lobby: “Welcome to Crawford, the heart and soul of Texas!” it said, and, “Vivat Imperium Deviae Stellae!” Some cunning wag with a paint-pot had added the graffito “You don’t have to be a sadistic plutocrat to work here, but it helps!” The scarlet lady stared at this little addition unto the paint began to bubble and the threads smoldered. She stalked off.

She found the General in the rearmost withdrawing room. She didn’t give him the opportunity to trade pleasantries. “What’s the meaning of this, Petraeus? Why was there no welcoming party to greet me upon my return? Where are my aides? My servants? I snapped two carriage axels and rode three horses to death escaping from darkest Florida, and now that I’m here, I’ll be damned if I’m going to pour my own damn bathwater in my own damn home!”

“Hi, Condoleezza. Pull up a chair.” The General waved a hand airily. “Share a carafe with me, won’t you? Sweet Napa Red, fifteen years old, white-casked oak. Last of the vintage.”

The Scarlet Lady’s eyes narrowed. “Are you drunk?”

“I ain’t sober!” He announced cheerfully.

Dangerous sparkles filled the air around her. The light in the room, cast from a single blazing fireplace, flickered and dimmed. She became, if anything, more beautiful; for anyone that knew her, this was warning enough. The Scarlet Lady was at her most alluring just before she killed. And then, because she was by no means stupid, everything ceased. She pursed her ruby lips and, with an effort, reigned in her crackling aura. The fire in the hearth blazed back to life.

She folded herself into a plush chair, facing the General. “Something has gone badly wrong,” she said. It wasn’t quite a question.

The General licked the last purplish-black drop from the rim of his glass – a brandy snifter, now that she bothered to notice – and grabbed the bottle. “You sure you don’t want a glass? Never see its like again.” She waved it away. “Pity.” He topped up his glass, gazed speculatively at the now empty bottle… and hurled it into the fireplace. It exploded into blue flames and glass shards. “Bottoms up!” he shouted gleefully, and drank away the entire snifter in one long pull.

She stared at him. When this turned up no new information, she used an old trick: she closed her eyes and extended the reach of her aura until it encompassed the entire castle. With vague, indeterminate senses she probed the corridors of Crawford Castle. “So the rumors are true,” she said eventually. “The Emperor is dying.”

The General paused. “You can sense that?”

Her eyes snapped open: for a moment, they were a dull, dead black, and then her pupils shrank back to their accustomed size. “I sense… nothing. There is no one here. The servants and guards have fled. Beyond this room, I can taste only the barest glimmerings of life.”

The General nodded solemnly. He seemed to pull himself together and, with cracked solemnity, he pulled a leather bottle from beneath his chair cushion and uncorked it. This was no fine vintage, and the blue-black liquid that oozed into his glass blurped and burbled like crude oil. He raised his glass high and said, with a kind of frighteningly genuine sincerity, “To his imperial majesty, King George the second, Golden Emperor of Texas, Duke of the greater Crawford area, and ruler of the Allied Southern Territories, the second and last of his line. May he be remembered fondly.” He drank.

The Scarlet Lady was unmoved. “They are all gone then? Even…” She hesitated. Some names were never said. “Even Him? Even his Shadow?”

“Mr. Che—“ The General paused: he wasn’t quite that drunk. “The Grand Vizier is at his imperial majesty’s side, night and day. Only his careful and loving ministrations keep the Emporer alive.” He sipped his awful, awful wine and shuddered.

“What of Rove?”

“The Roving Man has played his last tune in these halls, I fear.” The General sneered into his glass. “That ought to have been our first clue that things were about to turn sour: Rove just disappeared one night. Vanished into thin air. He left with nothing but the clothes on his back, his golden flute, three nubile serving women, and half the treasury.”

“A tidy severance package indeed.” The Scarlet Lady steepled her fingers. “I’m sure that old Rover is already singing sweet lies into the ear of some other Lordling by now. Or perhaps leading children off to drown. It matters not. And all the rest are fled?”

The General belched, but circumspectly: he was highborn, and mannered, after all. “Fled, or dead: some were executed. Por encourage le rabble. We went through a number of Attorney Generals. I stayed, of course, out of loyalty to the Emperor.” And not the least because of several secret inducements: if he survived, he would be one step below a Beltway Lord himself, with an option for promotion if he could survive and play the Great Game well enough. That was the way of politics: anyone could thrive, as long as they were rich or devious or lucky or, preferably, all three. “I have been planning our defenses.” He waved a hand at three low-slung and ornate tables covered in maps and papers.

“Defenses? Why, are we at war?” She paused for a beat, before answering her own question. “Of course we are at war: we have always been at war. But are we more at war now than we were when I was last here?”

“Go look out the window,” he said. “Tell me what you see.”

After a lengthy pause to smooth her skirts and rearrange the intricate silver bells woven into her hair – that had sounded a little too much like an order, and she did not take orders from anything short of a monarch – she went to the window. “I see the setting sun. I see the shadow of the castle as it lies upon the nearby village. And I see… I see… sparkling lights?”

He said, “Campfires. Thousands of them. By noon tomorrow, we will be under siege.”

“Who dares attack us? How can an army have penetrated so far into Texan territory? How dare they approach us here, at the heart of our strength?”

“What strength?” the General muttered. “As to the attackers: they are vultures. Jackals. Eaters of carrion and devourers of offal. Skulking, slinking, stalking cowards who prowl the dark places and lick their chops and wait for their prey to grow sick and weak before they crawl out of their shadowed lairs. They are like cackling hyenas, craven and cruel, who crack the bone to lick up the marrow. They are low men in stained overcoats and horrid women with slattern’s eyes. They are parasites with no compunction about slaying their hosts, they are filthy vermin who abandon one sinking ship only to gnaw holes in another. They are the lowest of the low, the palest, most cowardly, most loathsome things to ever crawl beneath the skin of the world.”

“Who?” she asked.

“They are the Media,” he said. “They have smelled the Emperor’s weakness, and now they crawl in close to jockey for position at the kill. They were our bosom friends so long as we had the Roving Man with us, but now that he is gone, they spit in our faces and sharpen their knives.” With a long, slow gulp he drained the glass. Almost conversationally, he added, “This morning we received a visit from one of the Choosers of the Slain.”

This fact shocked the Scarlet Lady more than all the rest. “A Valkyrie? Which one? Was it Campbell-Brown, or…“

“It was Maddow.” He said. He peered disconsolately into the empty bottle. “In the flesh. Raven’s wings, gleaming spear, blood-besprinkled corsets: the whole ball of wax. She showed up on the battlements this morning, raised a bronze-banded, brindled horn to her lips, and blew thrice-three-times the Call to Doom. Just like something off of a tapestry.” He sighed. “We tried to point a siege-cannon at her, but she flew away.”

The Scarlet Lady tapped her lips. Though her face was smooth, she was considering furiously. “What if we appealed to the people for help? The citizens militias—“

“Don’t like us very much,” the General finished. “Besides: did I just here you suggest that we appeal to Texans for mercy?”

“So we are doomed?”

Wine had made the General gallant. “Not at all, my dear Condoleezza! We are simply in a very… ah… tight corner right now, but all hope is not lost. He still hold the superior position, after all. And I will… I… I am sure I will be able to think of something.” The color left his face, and he murmured, in a whisper that he didn’t think she could hear, “Because if I don’t, Olberman will feast upon our bones and Koppel will drink the sweet tears of our misery.”

The Scarlet Lady shuddered. “I believe I will have that drink after all. Would you like a refill?” She brought him the glass, and he drank it down greedily.

The Breath of Barbitos was odorless, colorless, tasteless, and dissolved instantly in any liquid. It source was an ancient secret, but all knew that the key ingredient was the pulped rheumy eyes of elderly eagles. It had no known antidote, and the only cure for its effects was immediate and voluminous bloodletting of the infected parts. The Scarlet Lady considered all these facts as she stared at the crystal vial in her hands.

The General made a pleased sound as he reached the bottom of the glass. When it took him, it took him quite gently: he fell over with a sigh.

She patted him on the neck. “Sleep well, Patraeus. Dream of victory.” The dose had been non-lethal, of course. She had no use for a corpse at this time. She did actually hope that he succeeded; if the Empire survived, she was reasonably certain she could return to her old post. And if it didn’t… well, there were always other Lords in need of advice, weren’t there?

Once more she strode forcefully through the stony halls of Crawford Castle. To her certain knowledge there was a good horse in the stables, a lively little gelding, and a secret niche behind a stone in the castle’s outer wall containing a change of clothes, a warm woolen cloak, and a wig.

Her future looked bright.

The Obamadämmerung: 4th Canticle

It began in shadow.

And it came to pass that, in the city of New York, in the county of New York, in the state of New York, the news of the dawn of the Great War first came to the vagrants. These were not the merely unhomed, or the low and often insane class of vagabond known as bums, but true-born vagrants: descended from that ancient lineage of unfettered hermits known to themselves as the Concealed Order of the Illustrious Chosen Path, and to the rest of the world as Hobos. And though it has been many years since the last Boxcar War and the most recent death of their Eternal King, the vagrants of New York still possessed many of the forgotten secrets of their hobo ancestors. They remembered the knack of whistling the taxi-men to rest, the three words that will tame a five-toed alley cat, the secret language of rats, and the hidden underground paths to use in avoiding confrontation with the shrieking damned that dwell in the tunnels below the city. By secret sign and ancient cant they remained canny to distant happenings, and when the Word reached their ears, they convened a great Vagrancy, and departed the city by unknown means. But they warned no one, and their passing was not understood, and many remarked how much better the city smelled, and wasn’t there ever so much less urine around these days?

The second to hear the Word were the wind-dancers, who dwelt in the city’s unkept lofts and buckled on wings of canvas and wood and twine to their arms and played in the sleek thermal asphalt-updrafts between Gramercy and Tribeca. The news came to them on the first light of dawn, and they folded their winds and skimmed to earth and scurried to share the Word: that Dame Hilary’s army had disappeared. After a year and a half of relentless siege, she had packed up her forces – immense stone-throwers, armored and barded war-cattle, and the woad-encrusted, axe-bearing barbarian warriors from the Highland clans of North Jersey – and departed in the middle of the night. Only the ashes of their cookfires remained in the stark morning light. Ashes, and one other thing: a great shadow like a wall of hanging darkness on the western horizon.

As the days passed, the shadow grew ever closer.

The people were troubled by these signs. They sought to know whether these events boded good or ill, and if this fate could be avoided by supplication or prayer. In their terror they turned to their liege lord, the Thane-Mac-Ferr, the Ironbranded Giuliani, and they begged him for solace. But the lidless, bloodshot, ever-watchful eye of the vigilant Lord was directed elsewhere, and he heeded not their cries but continued to sit and brood on his rusting throne beneath the shadow of his crumbling towers.

And the people of New York grew fearful, and the rich, and the mighty, and the captains of industry, and the brokers of Wall Street, and the artists of SoHo, and every free man, and every bonded man, hid themselves in the dens and in the basements and in the lobbies and beneath the awnings of their mighty steel towers. And they said to the earth and the towers “Fall on us, and hide us from the coming wrath, for the advent of a great darkness is upon us, and the day of our Doom is at hand.”

And the earth cried out, and the buildings cried out, and the awnings cried out: “No hiding place!”

So the people grew even more fearful, and some fled into the tunnels of shrieking wind beneath their city, and some fled into the choking, noxious sewers: some were taken away by the screaming damned, and many were eaten by vicious wereodiles, and none were seen again. But some among the people kept their heads, and they suggested that the citizens turn to those on whom they had always ultimately depended: the Celebrities. These were the golden caste, those clean-limbed, fluorescent-toothed youth of a thousand dreaming nights, who bided their days reclining on velvet cushions, who were redolent of scented oils and flowery unguents, and whose every wish and craving were catered to in the hope that they might bestow a fleeting smile or passing remark. So the people gathered up their gifts of golden statuettes and ostrich feathers and aromatic palm fronds and entreated their celebrities for help.

In those days the foremost among the golden caste was one called Depp, and he calmed their fears with soft words and mournful smiles. He bid them return to their homes, and to rest easy in their beds, because he vowed that he would consult the Oracles and return with tidings.

Depp’s journey was long and difficult, and many times did he brush with death. With great stealth he slunk through the shadow of the Towers, beneath the fiery eye of the Thane-Mac-Ferr. With a silver tongue did he bargain with the ancient warlocks of Chinatown for a six-demon bag, and with the aid of his demon-bag he distracted the shadow hounds of Chelsea, and so passed beneath the arched gates of Hell’s Kitchen. Depp skirted the smoking piles of rubble that adorned the borough until he stood before the yellowing alabaster tower of the Oracles. He defeated the Oracles’ guardian, a berseker black unicorn with steaming flanks and smoking eyes, in this manner: transfixing the unicorn with his stare, he plucked 12 hairs from his ragged goatee and, making a lasso of them, he threw it over the unicorn’s head, rendering it docile. And ever after the unicorn loved him and served him, and was his eternal companion.

When Depp stood before the Oracles, in the center of their shadowed chamber, he bowed low. “Oh very wise and sapient Oracles,” he said. “I bring you the three traditional gifts: bagels, espresso, and this illuminated, leather-bound book which I have written with my own hands. In return, I ask an answer to my question: What is the meaning of the shadow in the west, and does it bring the Doom of New York?”

These were the three Oracles: one was dressed in a tattered grey robe with faded blue trim, and he was cursed to speak no word that was not truth, but never would his words be heeded. He was known as the Mensch. One was dressed in a red and blue robe of finest samite, embroidered at hem and sleeve and cowl with white stars and pentacles, and he was cursed to speak no word that was not Truthy, and ever would his words be heeded. He was known as the Buffoon. One was dressed in a robe of dull black that seemed to drink the light, and he was cursed to speak no word that was not obscenity, and never would his words be understood. He was known as the Crank.

The Mensch made a strange gesture, as if to tug at an invisible collar, and said, “Yeah, about that…”

The Buffoon said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Good news first: if you’ve recently invested in bomb shelter construction companies or canned soup, you’re about to make fat bank.”

The Crank said, “You’re fucked.”

The Mensch said, “Look, you’ve got strife and conflict in every state in this land. The Ronpaul’s death killed the whole Midwestern economy. All of Texas is burning. Huckabee is fighting zombies on the barricades in Decatur. Romney’s Raiders have been seen taking salt wives as far west as Sacramento, and Edwards’ little Sparrows rule the streets in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro. The shadow you see is just another symbol of the underlying chaos.”

The Buffoon said, “Think of it as the first ant to arrive at a really badass Fourth of July picnic. As soon as you see one, you can bet your baby blue britches that a million more are on their way.”

The Crank said, “You’re really fucked.”

The Mensch said, “But all of those are just cutesy analogies. You probably want to know what the shadow represents. Well: the Shadow is war.”

The Buffoon said, “The Shadow is fear, and all things both liberal and ursine.”

The Crank said, “The Shadow is God’s way of telling you how truly fucked you are.”

The Mensch said, “You see, we’ve had wars in this country before – I’m talking real clusterfuck wars – but nothing like this. The thing you’re about to see in the next few months? It’s going to make Bush/Gore look like two baby kittens on ecstasy.”

The Buffoon said, “What my friend Jon is trying to say here is: cats and dogs, living together, TOTAL ANARCHY!”

The Crank nodded. “Totally fucked.”

And Depp became troubled. “How certain is your grasp of that which has not yet come to pass?”

The Crank said “Fucking certain.”

“How do you know these things?”

The Mensch said, “A crystal ball, an intern, and a pad and pencil.”

The Buffoon said, “I consult my gut. You gut is a lot smarter than your wishy-washy, pansy, elitist brain. Why do you think they call it ‘digesting’ information? The only way to learn from books is to eat them. Or use them as toilet paper. Same difference.”

Depp wept then, in a sensitive, masculine way. “Can nothing be done?” he asked. “Is there no way to save this city from the doom hanging over our heads?”

The Mensch said, “Well, I suppose you could always educate yourself about the issues and make an intelligent decision to—“

The Buffoon interrupted. “Pick a side! Pick it now! Red or Blue! You’re either a virile cleft-chinned paragon of conservative thought or a flip-flopping liberal nancy-boy in wet undershorts.”

The Crank reached up and drew back his midnight-black cowl. Beneath was not a skull, as Depp had feared, but only a jowly-looking man with spiky, graying hair and kind eyes peering out from behind a pair of tiny spectacles. He put a hand on Depp’s stooped shoulder. “It’s fucking simple, son. All you have to do is pick a side. In this war you’re either Red, or Blue, or you’re the battleground in the middle. That’s all there is. Pick a side, and try to ride it out.”

“But which side will win?” Depp asked, but the Oracles had withdrawn from the little circle of light, and the room was empty, and he was surrounded on all sides by shadow.

And when Depp brought this news to the people of New York, they were not pleased.

They were not pleased at all.

The Obamadämmerung: 5th Canticle

It began in Light.

Lord Gore awoke that morning as he awoke every morning: to the tuneful strains of Air Supply. “Lonely rivers flow to the sea,” he murmured. “To the sea.”

He rose. He smoothed the crisp white sheets. He stepped into the sanitary closet and his body was cleaned coolly and efficiently by the vibrating cadences of tubular crystal bells. It was his own design.

He donned his white silk kimono and padded barefoot down the silent white-stone halls of Luna. He would spend this morning, as he had spent every morning for seven years, in the crystal gardens. The tinkling chimes and refracted silver light soothed him, and took his thoughts away, and left his mind a smooth, pleasant, blank place. He listened to Luna’s strange, silver-winged birds, and the agreeable nothings that they sang. He watched the Earth rise, huge and gravid and sapphire above the silver dunes, and was content. This would be a simple day, a good day. Just like every day on Luna.

He broke his fast on vacuum-chilled water and hydroponically grown boiled grains. He used a tiny silver hammer and tongs to prune the zirconium trees in the crystal garden. He rearranged his collection of still-life daguerreotypes. He meditated on the infinitely complex lyrical symmetry of Russell Hitchcock. He conversed with the native Lunar birds in their odd pidgin tongue, and took down meticulous notes on their grammar and slang. He… stopped.

Something was not right. For the first time since he had built his fantastic, perfect, empty city on the Moon, there was a note of discord in the halls of Luna. It was in the soft hissing growth of his quartz bonsai trees. It was in the chirrup and squawk of the argent birds. It was in the very granite and marble of the smooth, featureless halls. It was even curled around the dulcet tones of Unchained Melody, which reverberated from victrolas placed in every room in his palace.

Lord Gore was shaken.

He rushed to the library and spent the remains of the morning in study, but he could not find an answer in any of the silver-bound tomes that contained his wisdom. He consulted with the birds of the garden, but despite the beauty of their moon-song they were all twittering idiots. He listened to the growing of the trees, but despite their ancient wisdom, they had no memories that matched this newly false note. Finally, and in desperation, he donned his breathing apparatus and left his alabaster city to consult with the drakes, the only other native species of the moon. The enormous reptilian moon-drakes were both outrageously arrogant and vain to the point of distraction, but they were widely traveled any new many strange secrets. It took a day and a night to convene a parliament of preening drakes, and another day and a night before they would cease shunning him long enough to listen to his question, but their answer was swift and prompt and eager.

They told him that the source of the discord was on earth, and that it was the clarion cry of war. They told him that not only were prophecies coming to fruition, but that vast oracular apparatuses were slowly grinding into position, and would soon snap shut like a bear trap. They told him what the future held, and what it might hold, and what could be coaxed, with infinite patience and care, to unfold.

Lord Gore returned to Luna a changed man.

He removed his pearl and filigree armor from storage and donned each piece with solemn care. He took down his sword Joyeuse – six feet of razored diamond blade, cultured from the charred hearts of a thousand energy-lobbyists – and tested its edge. Still sharp. He seated his helm firmly on his head and stared at his reflection in the still surface of a garden pool.

Yes, it would do.

When he had fled to the moon all those years ago – his armies routed, Florida in flames around him, the screeching hordes of the Mad King drawing closer by the moment – he had built Luna to be a kind of hermit’s lair; somewhere to go to retreat from the world and heal his wounds and pursue a life of quiet contemplation. It was to be his sanctuary, his private retreat, and possibly his tombstone. But that hadn’t lasted: despite its remote location, other Beltway Lords had found their way to Luna. It eventually became a kind of bolt-hole; somewhere to retreat to in order to lick your wounds, gather your strength, and then leap back into the fray. Most visitors, under Gore’s watchful eye, stayed only long enough to splint their broken limbs and pour on the styptics before moving on again, but a few had opted to stay. These permanent residents were the true casualties of political discourse; the broken, the beaten, and the damned. Every one of them was, in their own way, a pariah or leper; every one of them had been betrayed by the process itself.

He would need their help.

The first room he came to was spartan and unadorned. Bleached wooden floors and pale paneled walls bespoke a life pared down to the bare exigencies. The man inside sat cross-legged on the floor, sharpening his swords by the careful application of mineral oil and three grades of porous river stones. The short blade was called Aequitas, the long blade was Ultio Ultionis, and together they made the daisho Libra: the Scales of Balance. The high will be brought low, and the low will be made high. With every scrape of stone against steel, the man’s hands moved blindly, mechanically; he wasn’t watching his work, he was staring fixedly at the rooms only ornament. A painting: a coronation portrait of King George the Mad, which looked as if someone who owned a switchblade hadn’t liked the man very much.

“Lord Kerry?” Gore whispered.

Kerry whirled. The length of cloth draped over his brow concealed the missing eye, but did nothing to hide the hideous scar climbing down his face. “What do you want?” he snarled.

“Come,” Gore said, “and see.”

The next room was not small, but its owner made it seem so. Books littered the floor, and lined the walls, and occupied every square inch of available furniture. Some attempt had been made to use the books as furniture, and there was an abortive bookshelf made out of the sturdier and less interesting volumes of the Encyclopedia Americana. Maps lined the walls, and every one of them was covered with notations concerning supplies, troop movements, and terrain: all in the same neat, rounded handwriting.

The room’s occupant was so large he seemed to wear the room like a turtle wears its shell. He was bent closely over a leather-bound tome, the huge book dwarfed by his massive hand. The man clearly had entish blood in his veins; wrinkles and whorls had etched themselves into his mahogany face, and coarse, silvery hair clung like moss to his huge skull.

“General Powell?” Lord Gore asked. The General glanced at him, eyes like deep loam peering over rimless spectacles. “Come, and see.”

After due consideration, the General reached underneath his mattress and unearthed a rusty leather scabbard.

Gore’s last visit technically wasn’t to any part of Luna. Years ago, after Lord Gore had finished construction of his alabaster city he had discovered that he was not the first person who, in desperation, had stumbled across the metasubstantive pathways to the Earth’s distant moon. He had run across, on the very edge of his territories, a meager orchard and a small but well-built house that predated any other known human occupation. They had been old before Gore’s own birth.

Lord Gore tentatively knocked on the wooden door. It opened with a creak.

The room was dark, and filled with shadow. In one corner lay a fine lathe, and a sawhorse, and several wood-working tools. The walls were lined with various faming implements, and botanical diagrams of hearty legumes. And over everything, over everything, lay a thick stratum of dust and cobwebs and the papery-thin shells of dead spiders.

“Lord…” Gore trailed off. Something was watching him. Something unutterably complex and intelligent and charged with the weight of eons. He gathered his wits. “Lord Carter?”

A skeletal hand appeared in the gloom, and clawed at the thick fabric of cobwebs. Pale, rheumy eyes regarded the intruder with unfathomable understanding. A voice like a pair of rusty shears asked, “Why do you wake me?”

“Come,” Gore croaked. “and see.”

A figure unfolded in the darkness, shedding an avalanche of dust and dead silk. It reached out and pulled a double-curved weapon off of the wall.

Well why not? Gore thought, inane with terror. He used to be a farmer, didn’t he?

The four of them gathered in the stables, where a surprise awaited them. The lunar drakes had sent their representatives; the four largest, strongest, and most powerful of their kind had chosen to serve as mounts for the Lords. They had all turned out in their finest and spikiest war-barding.

Gore chose a white beast. Its scaly hide gleamed clean and pearlescent as he sat astride it. He strapped Joyeuse to his back and in his hands he held his favored weapon; a recurve bow made of Greensung wood.

General Powell chose the largest: a massive crimson drake with scales like gleaming blood. On his right hip, the General wore a holstered revolver forged to his own size, and on his left a cluster of grenadoes. In his hands he bore a huge two-handed sword; pitted and dented and rusted red, it had all the style and romance of a meat-cleaver.

Lord Kerry selected a slim, black drake with glossy ebony scales. Both swords were thrust through the sash of his loose silk hitatare, and his fingers clenched and unclenched on their hilts. His single eye was filled with murder.

Lord Carter rode a pale, nearly-skeletal drake. Its scales were nearly translucent with age and its eye were dull and leaden. The ancient Lord had donned a black traveling cloak; with one hand he clutched the folds around his thin frame, while the other clung to his reinforced war-scythe.

They faced the earth. With some ceremony, Gore donned his crystalline crown. Then he reached out, found the ancient path, and twisted, until the lanes between the worlds were open once more. They saw the earth laid out before them; saw a land divided into battlegrounds. They gazed at each side with calculation and sadness and fury and joy. Gore wept for the burning of forests and the fouling of streams. Powell made careful note of the areas where vast power was being brought to a point. Lord Kerry chose his targets and ground his teeth. From the depths of his hood, Lord Carter’s pale blue eyes gleamed with reflected earth-light. He gazed at the huge world with the inimical love that the harvester bears for the harvest.

They rode forth. They did not look to see what followed behind them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Incoming Update

Let me give a big hello to all the folks who wandered over from the somethingawful forums.

There is another series of Obama-fic coming. It's nearly done. When it's finished, I'll put it up here and add a table of contents so that all the stories can be read easily in order of publication.

Thanks for all the love and comments.


PS: If you like my stories, tell all your friends. And if you hate my stories: tell all your friends.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Obama at the Gates of Detroit, Chapter 3

“Run!” someone shouted.

“They’re gaining!”

“Don’t look back,” Greenspan said. “Eyes forward. Watch your feet, lest you trip on a cobblestone.”

It was good advice. The embedded copper ingots made the footing treacherous, and errant green sparks singed the feet of the unwary.

I looked back.

Obama could no longer be seen beneath a writhing mass of silver clockwork and oaken claws. Only the occasional gout of emerald radiance testified to the battle that was taking place. The pile of Gardeners had become so thick, though, that many of the arriving automatons were ignoring it in favor of pursuing us.

The heart of Detroit is a mansion, built on and around and overtopped by the stump of the largest tree I had ever seen. Alive, the tree must have been as tall as any feat of human engineering: taller than the topless towers of Chitown. Even felled, the stump made a mighty tower, and Nader’s home had been fashioned to ring the base of it. I saw a spiral of stairs ringing the trunk, rising into the clouds. We reached the manse bare minutes ahead of our pursuit.

“Quick now, “Sharpton commanded. “Through the doors, while they’re still unguarded.” He grabbed one of the huge gate’s ring-bolts, inserted his stave like a lever, and heaved.

“They have guardians,” Greenspan said dryly. “Look again.”
White flakes fell around us, as if the blazing spring day had turned to winter. I looked up. The mansion was ringed by a massive portico, and the base and capital of every pillar was decorated with graceful, willowy limbed stone figures.

No, not stone. Wood. As I watched, a fine web of cracks appeared on the face of the nearest stature, a beautiful dryad with flowers in her cedar hair. A thin layer of plaster crumbled and sheeted off, revealing an angry scowl. A wooden bosom heaved, and wooden muscles flexed, and with a powerful wrench the statue pulled herself free from her mounting. More plaster fell away, and I saw that her eyes were chips of hateful malachite, and the grain of her skin pulsed with verdant energy.

She had friends. We were surrounded.

Brother Sharpton eyed them. He crossed his arms. “I don’t do walking statuary. Golems fall under wizard-work.” He pointed a hefty finger. “Magic ‘em, Alan.”

Grumbling, Greenspan turned away with a flourish of his raggedy green cloak. He grabbed the trundle containing Schwarzkopf – still slumbering peacefully – and kicked it. The bear-sark merely shifted his vast bulk, rolling over and using one of his matted, filthy furs for a pillow.

“Lazy schmuck,” Greenspan grunted. He tipped the wagon over, and Schwarzkopf rolled a good span before coming to rest at my feet in a snoring heap. Greenspan knelt next to him, and begged me to attend. He eyed me slyly. “Want to hear some magic words?” He put his lips to Schwarzkopf’s ear. “Desert,” he said. “Storm and shield.”

The bear-sark grunted: a deep, throaty rumble that made the ground shake. His hands made fists as, without apparent effort, he gouged ten deep furrows in the stone street.

“Instant thunder.”

Schwarzkopf lurched to his feet. Bleary eyes blinked and squinted in the brilliant sun. One hand went to his back and he straightened with a groan and a crack that was heard in Pennsylvania. He gnashed his teeth and scratched at a winter’s worth of mangy stubble. “Ruh?” He asked. “Mur?”

Greenspan pointed at the encroaching wooden men. “Republican Guard.”

“Yur?” Schwarzkopf glared, and I stumbled back. There was no sleep-blindness in his eyes now, only angry red corpuscles and a terrible, smoldering clarity. His hands dipped beneath his cloak of filthy hides and produced a pair of huge, crude axes with cleaver blades. They were ancient, and rusty, and pitted with old blood.

“Get them,” commanded Greenspan the Green, but it was scarcely necessary. Schwarzkopf tugged the upper cowl of his cloak – a huge, shaggy bear’s head – over his eyes and roared. He charged, and his axes carved a path through the ring of statues. They fell before him like cut timber.

“After him,” Brother Sharpton shouted. “Follow close behind!”

Wood chips flew on either side of us like the dusty wake of a prairie-ship. I saw a score of grasping hands hacked off at the wrist. When we reached the gates of Nader’s manse, the bear-sark parted the doors with a single kick.

“Nur?”

“Up!” Greenspan commanded.

We climbed.

And climbed.

The statue-folk tried to follow us, but with our whip-quick quarterstaves we tripped them up and hurled them off the stairs. I saw a dozen tumble and crack on the flagstones far below.

We climbed.

And climbed.

I saw Detroit spread beneath us, shining white and lurid green. My heart lurched. I saw the place where we had left Obama, and the smoking crater that testified to his strength, but, I could no longer see any sign of life. The whole city was as silent as a tomb.

We climbed.

And climbed.

And with the last of our strength, in the dying light of dusk, we heaved ourselves past the final stair. The top of the stump was a broad wooden plateau, a cable-length across. There was a gauzy awning in the very center, and a scattering of furniture, and a great, smoking forge. We approached carefully, for even from the edge of the plateau we could hear a strident voice speaking.

“Spoiler, am I? I’ll show them spoilers. I’ll show them a whole world of spoilers. Why, I have as much right as any Lord, don’t I? The office sits empty. The chair unfilled. Any man could take it, had he the will and the wit. My horse in that race was as good as the next. I am not an unreasonable man, am I?”

I glanced at Greenspan. He only shrugged. The strange voice continued to harangue the empty air.

“Fools! I WILL show them. They mock me, I know, but I’ll not stand it. I’ll not take the blame for Lord Gore’s exile. He brought it on himself. His weakness is at fault, not my strength. Yes. Weakness.” Here the voice changed, becoming low and thoughtful. “There is still a weakness in the vascular cambium, but I have nearly sorted it out. Yes, indeed. The root structure is strong, and the growth of meristematic tissue is quite pleasing. And what wonderful venation. Yes. Soon you will rise, my friend. Your time is almost at hand.”

And with that, the voice began an odd, lilting song, low and atonal, which tugged at my memories. It was the slithering sound of wind rustling an ocean of Kansan maize, the hissing of ten million new roots pushing aside the top soil, the quiet hum of sap flowing up the veins of a California redwood. The Greensong.

We approached carefully. In the gentle glow of a gas lamp, I saw my second Beltway Lord. Nader was a spare man, worn and wan, with caterpillar eyebrows and eyes that glowed with brilliant light: madness or intelligence, I could not say. He walked with a limp, and I saw that one entire leg was fashioned from solid bronze: despite this, it moved and flexed nearly as well as his flesh. He stamped about his little workshop, pausing only occasionally to water a cluster of vines or pour a crucible of molten silver into a clay mold. Everywhere I saw tendrils and vinestems crisscrossing the ground and wandering across the plateau into the encroaching darkness. For, as we grew closer, the last rays of the sun died.

And with them, so did Nader’s song. “I know you’re out there,” he said.

Greenspan and Sharpton shared an appalled glance.

“I’ve known since you crossed the threshold. You might as well come into the light, where I can see you.” When no one moved, he added, “Otherwise I’ll scour this stump clear of every scrap of animal life.”

Shamefaced, we shambled underneath the awning.

“Hmmm… You are not what I expected.” He had an apparatus on his forehead, an array of lenses and rotating arms: he stared at us through first one lens, then another. “Greenspan the Green. Hmph. I heard that you had been dismissed. A pity; you were ever a faithful servant. Friar Sharpton. Yes. Many times have we entered the lists together. And… Ah. General Bjornheônar Shwarzkopf. I see you have awoken… Interesting.” He dismissed the rest of us with a sneer. “To what do I owe this dubious pleasure?”

“We were sent by Obama. We bring an appeal for parley.”

“Parley…” Nader shook his head. “Obama came with you, I hazard? That was his presence I felt in the city? If so, your mission is in vain, for I can sense his presence no longer. My hybrids have seen to then. Nader’s Raiders, I call them. Well, then. I suppose he wished to propose an alliance. No. I’ll not be tricked into joining myself to one of the great parties again. And really there is no need. No need at all, anymore. No, not anymore. For you see –“ He cut himself off with a clap and a grin. “An inspiration occurs to me. Oh, what a capital idea! Yes. Yes! What a fortuitous confluence. A most notable convergence! You have arrived just in time to witness my triumph. Come,” he commanded, and I saw that he had the man Obama’s way of making a word that was not a sound, but a fact. “I will show you my progeny.”

He spoke as he walked. “I had intended to awaken it in a fortnight, on the night of the full moon. No ceremony, no guests. But now it occurs to me that it would be good to have witnesses to my triumph. Eventually everyone will see, of course, and those that ought to will cower before me, but it seems to me that there should be witnesses at the nativity. Someone ought to record it for posterity’s sake. You,” he pointed at me, “are a scribe. Do not bother to deny it: I see things very well. Very well indeed. Well attend, scribe. And behold!”

He wrenched the sheet off of a covered form. To this day I do not know precisely what I saw. Man-shaped, yes, but not a man, and half again as tall. It was covered in green vegetable growth, more like fur than hair. Not a wooden eidolon like the statues below, or even a hybrid like the ones that attacked us in the city, but perhaps in a similar vein. What stands out most in my memories are its eyes, which even dull and half-closed were glowing with a malevolent power I can’t begin to describe. Worse was its age. For it was old, old; it fairly radiated with a palpable sense of history.

“It is a primordial,” Greenspan murmured. “An Old One.”

“It’s a Derew,” Nader corrected irritably. “Nobilis Vir Arborus. One of the fabled – and, indeed, now almost totally extinct – male dryads. I have named him Fingal. And tonight, he will rise with the moon.”

Even as he said it, a wind sprang up in the north, and parted a veil of clouds. Only a sliver of moon showed on the horizon.

“If you will excuse me, I must move quickly.” Humming, Nader set to work with a small bronze scalpel, and a crystal decanter. I could not see what he did, but the tree-man shifted imperceptibly, and even in the near darkness I could see that his foliage was growing greener by the second. “I found him, you see. Deep beneath the bowels of Detroit. He was the Rust Barons’ great shame. They cut down the Great Tree, and used its wood for timbers as they sank mineshafts beneath its roots, and plundered the wealth of the world. But they could not kill the old tree completely – the roots always have a bit of life, if you know how to find it – and so they could not kill its dryad. It took every ounce of my power to revive him: he has slumbered for centuries. But tonight, he wakens… ah. There! Yes, that will do it. Step back, everyone.”

The moon shone upon us, unnaturally bright for its phase. Nader cast the decanter down at the derew’s feet; it shattered, and the smell of corn whiskey filled the air.

“Rise, Fingal. Fey moon above and circle below. Tide and fog, blood and fire. Rise!”

And it did. The tree-shape groaned, and came to its feet. I saw eyes like bare earthen pits take me in, eat me up, and pass me over. They were old, hateful eyes. Fingal rose.

The earth shuddered. Beneath us, in the city, I heard decrepit towers collapse into rubble. Trees shook and shivered as if whipped by a hurricane. I stumbled to my knees.

“Idiot!” Greenspan shouted. “Nader, you fucking moron, don’t you see what he’s doing?” The slim man pulled himself up from the ground. “He’s rousing the stump. The roots are shifting. You didn’t just awaken the dryad, you woke up his tree!”

“Yes,” Nader considered. “I suppose I did. Sympathetic forces and all that. Well, all the better; I had intended to pit Fingal against George’s forces, but with the power of one of the world-tree’s at my fingers… yes! How fortunate. Now, no one will be able to contest my claim to the Oval Throne.”

One of the soldiers had run to the edge of the stump and peered over. “It’s uprooting itself,” he screamed. “It’s tearing the city to pieces.”

Greenspan shouted. “You have to stop it! It’s a world tree; its roots grip the heart of the continent. If it keeps thrashing about like this, it’ll destroy the whole Midwest.”

“Yes, I suppose it will. Well. That was unforeseen,” Nader mused. “Stop it? No, I don’t suppose I will. No. Even if I could, I would not. It is my platform. I shall ride its planks all the way to the Potomac. And once there, its roots will batter down the Wall, and I shall finally gain entrance to the throne, as I was meant to.” His smile was terrible in its mildness. “The Green shall rule America.”

“No!”

We spun, and there he was: tall, fierce, awash in moonshadow, and beautiful. He sat astride an auto-phaeton, bareback, and its silver limbs pranced and reared, but he controlled it easily with a pat of his hand or a motion from his legs. The scales of his hauberk gleamed dully, each one inscribed with a word that, taken together, Declared Independence. Streaks of golden blood ran unchecked down his ebony face. Obama.

Lord Nader made a motion – a command, I think – but before the words left his lips Obama’s arms blurred and he loosed a cobblestone from either hand. They landed at our feet with a blinding flash. When I could see again, I was on my back. We all were. Above us and between us Obama charged, and the sound he made as he crashed into Fingal, the sheer bloody force of impact, nearly deafened me. With a wave of his hand Fingal tore the mount out from underneath Obama, and the silver Gardener burst into metal shards, but it was too late: Obama had wrapped his arms around the derew.

How long they wrestled I cannot say. It was an even contest. They were the same height, both far larger than a normal man, though the derew’s bulk – wood so old and gnarled and dense that it was practically coal – was far greater than Obama’s spare frame. Fingal rent at Obama, tearing at his flesh with oaken claws and crushing him with bone-shattering force. For his part, Obama bore it patiently and silently. His grip was gentle, even loving. He clasped Fingal to his chest like a prodigal son. Fingal beat at him. Fingal charged first one way, then another, all across the wooden plateau. Fingal stamped and gnashed mossy teeth and clawed the air, but he could not break Obama’s hold. The derew’s efforts were echoed below, as the stumps great roots lashed the streets of Detroit and destroyed its beautiful order. I began to think I was back aboard the heaving deck of a land-ship as the tree’s gyrations pitched us about. I saw that Greenspan and Sharpton had taken the initiative to bind and gag as dazed Lord Nader.

And then I saw Fingal, in desperation, fling himself off the edge of the tree. Soon after, the earth ceased to shake and the tree grew still.

It was noon the next morning before we found them: the stairway had collapsed, and the climb was arduous. There fall had carried them nearly to the shores of the Eerie Sea. Obama knelt in a furrowed crater, above the broken, twisted form of Fingal. The giant’s eyes were closed, and it breathed in laborious gasps.

“He will recover, in time. His kind are nearly immortal.” Obama turned to Nader. “Though I would appreciate it if you let him slumber. His time is not yet nigh. The earth is unready.”

“You invade my city, break all my plans, and have the temerity to lecture me?” Nader spat.

“We approached under terms of parley, and were set upon. We only defended ourselves.”

“Then parley, and be gone. It will take me years to undo the damage you have caused.” Nader sneered. “I assume you have demands? You didn’t come here to ask to learn the Greensong, so I suppose you must want me to build something. Weapons? Bombs?”

“Ships. The Ronpaul assails my people from on high. The Texas Empire’s scytheplanes play havoc across the prairielands. The Other Beltway Lords send bounty hunters against me. I need ships to defend my people.”

“Oh, indeed. Land-ships, I presume?” Nader snorted. “I could build you ships. Such wondrous ships as you have never seen. Hmmph. I expect that this is the part of the conversation where you threaten my life if I don’t?”

“We are under a flag of parley. It is treason and goddamning to take a life under parley’s flag. Nay, I did not come to demand, but to ask—“

“The answer is no.”

--and to trade,” Obama finished smoothly. “I have something you desire very much. A schemata.”

Nader was suddenly interested. “What kind of schemata?”

Greenspan produced a roll of parchment, made of paper so soft and supple that it was like cloth.

Obama said, “In the War of Brothers, Lincoln Silvertongue commissioned a great warship to protect against the depredations of Jefferson Landharrow and his thirteen bastard generals. She was carved from a single piece of ferric meteorite, powered by the unstoppable Indifference Engine, and her guns were quenched in the tea-soaked waters of Boston harbor, and enchanted to give no wound that was not mortal. Though she finally foundered at sea, the mighty Monitor could not be defeated while she ploughed the lands between the Missisissipi and the Atlantic. She was a one of a kind ship, and her blue prints are your, if you can give me a dozen from her mold.”

Nader snatched the scroll. “Let me see that! Yes. Astounding. Look at the keel to beam ratio! That bluff bow…” He studied it. “Yes. It may be possible. May be. Of course, the secret of its engine has been lost, but I have my own theories there. I have tendered drawings of a Green engine; after all, cannot the same force that thrusts a tendril of root through five feet of solid limestone be used to drive a flywheel? Force is force, after all.” Nader mused on this point, lost in thought, idly flipping the lenses on his viewing apparatus.

“So you will do it?”

“What? Oh. Perhaps…” Lord Nader considered. “A dozen? I could make you a dozen such ships, if I had the materials. Yes. And, of course, we have access to finer metals than they did in Lincoln’s day. Indeed. Yes.” Nader eyed Obama shrewdly, clutching the roll of parchment to his breast. “You will give me the schemata, and the materials necessary to build thirteen such ships. I will keep one for myself. Yes, that would be fine.”

Obama looked grave. “And will you support my claim to the Oval Throne?”

Nader waved it away. Yes, yes. I know when I am beaten. I’ll not press my own claim. Unless you die, of course. Or are defeated. Or someone else claims the throne.”

“Then we are agreed.” Obama spat on his palm and held it out. Nader clasped it, and I felt the earth shiver. Trees rustled throughout the city. Insects ceased their droning. Birdsong fell silent. As far away as Sacramento and Tallahassee, the other Beltway Lords paused in their warring, and checked their lunars and consulted their oracles and tasted the subtle lines of force that flowed through the earth. They all agreed: the balance had shifted.

The first pebble had fallen. In time, the avalanche might engulf them all.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Obama at the Gates of Detroit, Chapter 2

And thus we came to the gates of Detroit. Five hundred feet tall they were, and wrapped in banded iron, but we passed them easily, for they stood ajar. Beyond them lay the great and ancient city of Detroit, arrayed before us on its seven hills. It lay across the land like an emerald web, with broken fingers of steel and stone thrusting up from between the mighty bows of cedars and conifers, and shining silver avenues of light dividing the forests into regimented sections. Everywhere I looked I saw gaping, eyeless towers, and in the entire city I am certain that not a single pane of glass remained unbroken. Even the buildings that remained intact were clothed in vines and creepers, as if the fauna were attempting to swallow the city whole.

“Once the power of Iron ruled this domain,” Obama said quietly. “From the holy city of Duluth, along the shores of the Gitche Gumee, even unto fabled Toledo, did Iron hold sway. But Detroit was always the heart of it. Here the Rust Barons dwelt, in their forbidding cast-iron fortresses, and they handed down their pronouncements to the people on lacquered black scrolls housed in solid gold wire-baskets every solstice-night. They commissioned great works, to proclaim to the world the glory of Iron: the Topless Tower of Chitown, the great locomotives that devoured the leagues beneath their wheels, and the Colossus of Eerie. In the Great War they fashioned terrifying engines of destruction that strode the world and crushed the enemies of the Constitution at the behest of the Roosevelt the Second. They build the first land-ship, the first air-ship, and the first auto-phaeton. Truly, their power was unmatched within our borders.”

“What happened?”

Instead of answering, Obama bent down and dug up a handful of dust. The fine silt drained through his fingers and scattered on the wind.

“Things change,” Brother Sharpton translated. “Things always change.”

The man Obama mused on his dusty palm. “There were still people dwelling here when Lord Nader arrived. I know not what fate befell them, but they are gone now. Only the Green lives now, and the Green abides alone.”

He clapped his hands together and stood, striding forcefully down the cobblestone street. Each paving stone was inset with a single copper ingot, and occasionally they would vent a fat green spark that crisped the air and made our hair stand up. “Attend to me,” Obama called, “and I will sing to you of Nader the Lame.” We followed him cautiously, choosing our steps so as not to tread on the conducting stones.

“It began with an accident, on the fields of Jahro, during the Great War. It is not known what marvel of the Rust Barons cost Lord Nader his leg – certainly one of their mighty war titans, which were fielded on all sides – but his fury over that loss is graven in every stone of this city. He set himself against the Rust Barons, and even before he had fashioned a new limb for himself he sang vendetta before nine High Justices; he promised to end the reign of Iron forever.”

“And so he did.”

“How?” I asked. “How could one man kill an element?”

“It helps if the man in question is a Beltway Lord,” Greenspan said dryly.

Obama shook his head. “Any person can shake the foundations of the world, if they have the strength of spirit. And Nader’s spirit is strong. As strong as anyone’s. I only wish he had heeded wiser council, in those days when he was willing to heed any council at all. Again and again he sets himself against the mighty, and some enemies do not fall as easily as the Rust Barons did. Lord Nader has made many new enemies, and seen few victories, since last we spoke.”

There followed a pause, a temporary lull, in Obama’s speech, a habit we had grown accustomed too. He was a man of great words and gravid silences. As we waited for him to begin again, our feet carried us along one of the seven main arteries of Detroit, a shining and inexorable path to the huge castle that capped the central hill. The streets were lined haphazardly with huge trees, their boughs neatly trimmed to prevent them from overshading the road, and so the burnished cobblestones gleamed beneath us even as the woods on either side were cloaked in darkest shadow. The air was still and heavy and I heard no animals – not even the shrill call of birds or the buzzing of insects – and the ten warriors and myself soon grew extremely nervous in the foreboding quiet.

I say we heard no animals, and it was true, but nevertheless we felt a presence grow near. Sometimes I would sense movement between the trees, and know that there were dark eyes lodged in fearful visages, all intent upon our band, though I could not explain why I was so certain.

“Lord Nader made all this,” the man Obama finally said. “He sang to the heart of Iron and turned it green. He was always possessed by a love of the earth, and all its generative forces. He sang the Green as well as any many alive; perhaps he was even as good a greensinger as Boone or Roosevelt Lionheart. He—“

His words were cut off as a whirlwind of motion burst out of the forest ahead of us. A silver form alighted upon the cobblestones, poised and erect: later I was put in mind of the way plains caribou, upon being startled out of the high grass, will freeze in place as the sniff the air for hunters, all coiled muscle and power barely held in check. It was as strange a thing I have ever seen: in figure it resembled a centaur, except with silver-rimmed wheels instead of legs and a body made of copper wire and steel bones and whirring clockwork. Clear peridot eyes regarded us stoically for a moment, and then dismissed us. One of its arms snaked out and plucked a bent branch from a tree’s limbs, and only then did I notice that its hands ended in wicked pruning shears. It stowed the branch within some unseen compartment and then, its task complete, it folded in on itself, like a flower opening in reverse, and it was suddenly transformed into a simple auto-phaeton, the likes of which can be seen ferrying men of wealth and substance up and down the streets of New York or Philadelphia or even St. Louis. Soundlessly it departed and sped along the path on gleaming wheels. As it passed over them, each of the cobblestones happily discharged its load of verdant lightning into the wheel rims.

“Gentlemen,” Greenspan said wryly. “I think we’ve just seen the Gardeners of Detroit.”

Obama studied the receding shape critically. “Yes, it must be so. It resembles some of his earlier designs. I had not imagined that he had come so far, I so short a time.”

“How?” someone sputtered. It might have been me.

“Lord Nader studied under many masters, in his youth,” Obama explained. “He mastered the arts of iron-working, as well as greensinging, and was equally adept at both, as well as alchemy, astronomy, statistics and fatebinding, and the studies cryptozoological. Even before his vendetta he earned the enmity of the Rust Barons by forging intricate, if impractical, improvements on their existing designs. The Nader-smith never settled for anything short of perfection; he decried the works of other inventors as crude and unsafe and unsound. He seeks a precision of form that cannot be found in animal, vegetable, or mineral.”

Sharpton grunted. “And I don’t think he likes unannounced guests very much either. Look over there.”

Shapes were speeding towards us along the shining path, from the direction we had come. As I watched, the walls disgorged more speeding figures to fall, their wheels already spinning, onto the road in a clatter of sparks. They soon closed the distance: auto-phaetons were faster than any flesh and bone horse.

“Run!” Obama commanded, and we fled.

As we approached the nearest intersection, two huge shapes stepped out from beneath the trees. They were crude and haphazard, vaguely man-shaped piles of wood and steel. Flecked gray bark and fetid lichen peeked out from beneath pitted iron plating. Steel beams and bones and springs were lashed together with ropy clingers and vine tendrils. Gnarled limbs ended in glittering razor claws. Amber eyes glowed as if backlit by furnace fires.

“Hybrids!” Obama ducked beneath the sweep of one paring-bladed hand. “I never imagined that he would develop Hybrids!” He clapped me on the back and hurled me out of the path of another wooden monster’s attack.

One of the warriors, a skinny kid named Spider, tried to attack the hybrid sentinels with his quarterstave, and was split nearly in two by a grotesque backhanded blow. Another man, Edison Mathers, unloaded the contents of his pepperbox revolver into the eyes of the thing attempting to rip his leg from its socket, with no appreciable result. Obama leaned down with his long arms and sturdy hands and plucked one of the metal ingots from a paving stone and hurled it at that second sentinel. It struck the tree-thing in the face and exploded in emerald light. The monster dropped poor Edison to the ground.
Obama drew up another paving stone, and another, and another. They crackled in his fingers and wrought actinic fire as they struck Nader’s hybrids. “Flee, if you would save your lives. Your weapons are of no use here.”

“But—“

“Go!” he commanded; less an order given than a natural law. “I will guard your backs. Make to the heart of the city, if you can. I will join you,” and, under his breath where no one but I could here, he added, “…if I am able.”

We fled.

Obama at the Gates of Detroit, Chapter 1

Plame abandoned us on the edge of the Asphalt Sea, forty miles south of Detroit. Even the spirits of the air cannot intrude on the dominion of a beltway lord, and Lord Nader casts his wards wide. I recall little of my journey through the corridors of magic, except that it was cold, and windy, and full of the chattering gossip of the unburied dead.

The Asphalt Sea balked us for a time, as it balked all who would encroach upon the domain of Nader the Lame. The vast, featureless plain of bubbling bitumen smoked in the noonday sun, and stretched as far as the eye could see. Beyond it, Detroit – a gaudy emerald in a silver setting – beckoned us onward.

“We travel by night,” the man Obama ordered. “Anyone caught by sunlight on that ebon expanse will be roasted alive. Naught but bone and ash will remain.”

“It will take more than a night to cross that sea,” I observed. “What will we do when the sun rises and we are only halfway across?”

“I have prepared for that eventuality,” Greenspan said, but would reveal no more.

I’ll not recount that night’s difficult journey, nor how the heat came up through our boots til the soles of my feet smoked, nor how my skin crisped even in the night air. Obama lead us single file across the Asphalt Sea, dragging behind us a sleeping Schwarzkopf in a trundle made from two children’s wagons. When the sun threatened to broach the horizon, Obama called a halt, and the Bear-sark was rolled off his cart to reveal a roll of canvas the size of a stout man. Greenspan unfurled it into a magnificent silk pavilion, made from cloth that shone like silver. When I marveled at its construction, Greenspan explained that it was enchanted with the ancient runes of Goretex. We spread it upon the ground and slept in comfort all that day.

The second night’s journey was marred by only one unusual occurrence, around the fourth bell, as a shrieking whine split the desolate silence of that black plain. A heart’s beat after the cry, a pair of broad black shapes that filled the sky for an instant, and then we were bathed in the winds of their passage. Schwarzkopf snorted, and rolled over in his sleep.

“Birds?” someone asked fearfully. “Wyrm-shrikes? Thunderbirds, perhaps? I’ve heard that Colorado Rocs can grow that big.”

“Nay, tis the Texas Air National Guard,” Obama answered. He halted, and stared into the distance, watching their flight: he had the best eyesight of any of us, for, as all well know, he spent his childhood in the wafting kite-city of Moloka’i where he was an apprenticed leper-seer, and spent many a night in vigilance against incursions by the rotting ones. Deep consternation creased his brow, and even a touch of reproach. It is the closest I ever saw him come to anger. “King George sends them to make war on the north.”

“Against Canada?” I blurted. “That’s crazy.”

“They don’t call him the Mad King for nothing,” Brother Sharpton cackled.

The man Obama sighed. “King George has declared Canada to be an abomination, and bids his scythe-planes to harry it away from our border. The land, you ken, not the people. Every month a flight of planes takes wing from Fort Worth and makes the trek across the whole country until they reach the border. Many fall along the way, to the RonPaul's guns or the thunderbird's talons, or simple storms. When they arrive, the few survivor's dive at the ground and carve furrows in the tundra with their wing mounted blades until they exhaust their fuel.”

“And then?”

“Then they crash, and die,” Obama said with disdain. “Until the next month, and a team of brave young fools arrives to try and flagellate the earth itself. And so it will continue, until the world ends, or the northern half of the continent surrenders and sinks beneath the waves. It is a senseless thing, like so much that happens in these last days.”

“What do the people of the north think of this?”

“The Canadians are not like us,” Obama said shortly, and would speak no further on the matter.

That morning we reached the foothills of Detroit, and heaved a sigh of relief as we rested our toes in good loam and soft grass, instead of tar and rock. The bulk of Detroit stretched above us, a towering pyramid of stone, capped in dense foliage. We circled the mount until Obama showed us the single cobblestone road that spirals upwards into the city. “Step not from this path,” he warned, “neither to the left nor the right, for if you do you will be set upon by the guardians.” But of these he would reveal nothing.

We made one circuit of the road that day, and found ourselves staring down upon the place where we had first set foot on the path, over a cliff one hundred paces tall. This is the manner of the road into Detroit’s dark heart: it winds ever upward. We made camp upon the path, not daring to leave it, though fruit trees and sumptuous berry bushes sat invitingly only a few steps away. Eventually the man Obama became restless and foraged ahead while we slept. Soon we were awoken by his joyous laughter. We rushed up the road to find him staring at a copse of trees, within an arm’s span of the path.
“Potomac Cherry Trees,” he cried. “I had not thought to see their like again, after the Sundering. I had thought them all ensconced behind the source wall. Truly this is a blessing to our cause.” He plucked a berry from the tree and held it out to me. “Taste it.”

I did. “Sour,” I opined, and then my eyes widened, and I bent nearly double in shock.

“It takes people that way, sometimes,” Brother Sharpton said. “They are God’s own fruit, but they do contain too much for one man.”

“Once they were a gift, from the Emperor of the East to the Emperor of the West,” Greenspan explained. “Before the sundering, that was. Before even my time. Fruit of the Samurai, they were called. One single cherry is enough to sustain a grown man for a full day, both food and drink. Two cherries grant him the strength of seven men, though at the end of that day he will collapse and sleep for a week. Three cherries is instantly is fatal.”

“There is more to it than that,” Obama said mischievously, and he stroked the supple bark of the tree with his hand. Soon he began to sing in a high, sonorous chant. It contained something of the songs of the prairie larks, and something of Leonard Cohen. After a time, a miraculous thing happened; where he passed his hands over the wood, it changed shape. Soon, without using a blade, he had a branch of the tree shorn of leaves and smoothed into a simple staff, colored the crimson hue of the tree’s heartwood. “Potomac Cherrywood makes the finest weapons known to man or elf. A simple quarterstaff fashioned from it is stronger than steel, and light and supple as thought.”

He made twelve more, one for each of our number except himself, and Schwarzkopf. Obama never wielded a weapon in anger in the entire time that I knew him. “We are well armed now, I judge. As well as we aver shall be. Come, friends. We must make haste to the top of the city, for there we will find Nader, and take our counsel.”

Monday, January 7, 2008

Barack Obama and the Thunder Zeppelin

The sequel to Barack Obama and the Pirates of Wichita, this one is even more poorly edited and spellchecked. Again, these vignettes are meant purely as parody, and not even the good kind of parody. We're talking MAD magazine levels of political discourse here, people.

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Five days the Ronpaul’s zeppelin assailed Obama’s camp, and on the sixth day its guns fell silent.

The first day we stood in his momentous shadow, he let fear be his weapon. We jabbered and quivered as the sun was eclipsed, and many wanted to flee, until the man Obama ordered fires be lit and food prepared and walked among with bowl in hand, offering fellowship. After that we were bolstered, and stood proud.

The second day the Ronpaul loosed his lightning cannons, and arcs of blue fire fell from the sky. This also Obama had foreseen, and the lightning was sheathed harmlessly in tall steel needles ringing the camp, and the bolts passed into the earth along copper wires, and for the first time in months we had power for our electric lamps. And we danced in the light of incandescent tubes, and were again made fearless.

The third day’s dawn saw a rain of black thread, as a thousand Sturmfrunten rappelled down from the zeppelin’s flanks. Dozens fell to our lead balls and arrows as they dropped, but then they were upon us, and we commenced to melee. Obama’s men – and women, for I have never seen so many ladies don mail and take up spear as in Obama’s camp – were armed with little more than meat cleavers, bone-hewn bows, and antique rifles, but each one of us was worth ten stout soldiers when Obama’s voice was in our ears. The Sturmfrunten came with pistol and saber and teeth and worse, and fought like demons. For that day, and the next, and the next, they pushed us back. We fought them at the gates, until the gates fell, and we fell back to the towers. We fought them in the towers until the towers were breached, and the last defenders leapt from the battlements on ziplines, and lit the fuses on our sapping charges, and collapsed the towers rather than let them be seized. We fell back to the tunnels, dragging our wounded, many of whom were delirious and mad: for the Sturmfrunten all took a slow poison before battle, which stripped them of both the capacity to feel pain and eventually their lives, and caused wounds made by their teeth and nails to fester and rot. Many of those so stricken began to rant endlessly about

We fell back to the tunnels, and there we held the line. A thousand of the Ronpaul’s men entered those tunnels every day, and less than half that crawled out as the sun set. We built a new hell for them, underneath the prairie soil. By the fifth day they were mining through piles of their own dead just to reach us. On the sixth day, they did not come.

We emerged from our tunnels to see the zeppelin retreating, and the ground littered with corpses. Less than two hundred of us remained. We stood, blinking, in the light of a sun we had not seen for two days, and wondered aloud why they had given up.

“Because the Ronpaul is a slave to laissez-faire capitalism!” A strident voice shouted, “who would not recognize fiscal responsibility if it bit him in the ass.”
“Praise God!” A second voice agreed.

I turned to see two men riding a weary mule, and dragging a sledge full of furs behind them. One was short, and wizened, and wrapped a tattered green cloak around his thin shoulders. The other was rotund and proud and wore the frock of a traveling street preacher. I was shocked to realize that I recognized them, for they had been described to me once: Brother Sharpton, and Greenspan the Green.

Greenspan kvetched. “Damned fool and his damn-fool blimp. He could have been great, I tell you. He could have been the one to break the Source Wall and seize the Ordained Office. But he’d rather putter around in a giant phallic symbol. Christ! I taught him everything he knows about free market principles and fiat money-minting; I guess I should have taught him everything I know, instead.”

“Amen,” Sharpton added.

“You know why he’s leaving now? I’ll tell you why he’s leaving now: he went over budget. How stupid is that? He could crush you! He has ten times as many jackbooted thugs in reserve as he’s thrown at you so far, but he won’t use them, because he hasn’t allotted for them in his Annual Warmongering Budget. He had the victory in his grasp, and he fumbled it. That’s what comes of being beholden to fidgety stockholders. Moron.”

“Then we have gained a reprieve, though it be temporary.” Obama laid a hand on my shoulder as he unfolded his giant frame from the tunnel’s cramped confines. “For he will not return until he has chaired an emergency stockholder meeting, and amended accounts repayable, and drank from the crystal source of the mighty Mississippi, which will throw him into a great delirium for a fortnight. When he awakens he will need time to divine which visions were oracular, and which were pharmacopoeic, and an additional week until he ceases to speak in tongues.”

Greenspan nodded. “He won’t be back this fiscal year.”

“Then you are indeed the harbinger of hope, mighty wizard.” And Obama bowed to him then, something I had never seen him do for any man. “I welcome the three of you to my camp, and regret that I have little hospitality to offer.”

And I realized that there was a third man; one that I had previously mistaken for a pile of sodden furs. He was huge, and round, and sleeping soundly beneath a cloak made from the pelt of a huge bear, and wore a helm that was a grizzly’s head, and drooled.

Brother Sharpton caught my eye. “He’s fiercer than he looks, lad. That’s Schwarzkopf the Bear-sark. He might be hibernatin’ now, but he fights like the devil himself when roused.”

Greenspan cleared his throat. “We have come…” He hesitated, and pulled an abacus from his cloak, and clicked stones from row to row. The calculations did strange things to my eyes, for some stones seemed to pass through one another, and others appeared, or disappeared. Greenspan stopped, satisfied. “Yes. That will do. As I said, we have –“

“This ain’t easy for us, Obama,” Sharpton interrupted. “We’ve worked for Beltway Lords before, and been ill-treated and ill-used. Our advice has fallen on deaf ears and dull minds. We’ve gone unheeded and unwanted, and in the end, we’ve always been discarded.”

“The last time was for Georgie II, until he came too much under the influence of the Roving Man’s words and the insidious singing of Cheney’s clockwork arachni-tons,” Greenspan complained. “I was the last of his advisors to be cast aside. Now nothing is heard in the Lone Star Chamber except lies and more lies and mad laughter.”

“So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us,” Sharpton said. “And it brought us here.”

Obama took them aside then, and they shared the counsels of the Beltway Lords, which are difficult for mortal men to comprehend. They spoke through the night, while the rest of us went belowground and sank into grateful slumber. The next day Obama called ten of his stoutest warriors, as well as myself, into the tunnels, and conducted us to dank stone chamber I had never seen before, and sealed the door behind us. Greenspan, Sharpton, and Schwarzkopf were there as well. Schwarzkopf was snoring gently on his feet.

“These three,” Obama said, “have agreed to become my generals in the upcoming war. The mighty wizard Greenspan will manage the northern campaign, proud Schwarzkopf the east, and faithful Brother Sharpton the south. As to the west….” Obama looked to the ceiling: his eyes, as I have learned, can pierce mere stone as if it were glass. “The western campaign manager still needs to be found. As well, we have a desperate need for allies, if we are to survive the Ronpaul’s next attack. For he will come again, and again, and again, until you are ground to dust and I lie dissected on a table.”


“So we must undertake a quest. We may not return, I warn you. Any man who finds himself unwilling must speak up now, for after this, there is no going back.” No one objected. It was unthinkable that they would. “Very well. Greenspan?”

The wizard stepped forward, consulted his abacus, and coughed in embarrassment. “Anyone could do this, really. It isn’t even magic. Not proper magic. Hmph. ‘PLAME! Zephyr of the east wind! By thy true name I invoke and bind thee: answer, or be torn asunder.’”

There was a shriek, and a wailing sob, and we were buffeted on all sides by blasts of air. The man Obama stretched an arm out and grasped the air, and the winds coiled and shrank until he held a whirlwind in his hand. A whirlwind with a woman’s voice. “Release me! I will not be chained again!”

Greenspan laughed nastily. “A sylph that values her freedom should be more circumspect with her true name, because there’s no telling who it will end up with, down the line.”

“I know,” she sobbed. “But the wild Rover had such a twinkle in his eye, and played the flute so bittersweet. How was I to know?”

“I will not bind you, though it lies within my power.” Obama’s grip eased. “Instead, I will ask for your help.”

“Help?” Plame screeched. “What Lord would ask for what he could so easily take?”

“Me,” Obama said simply. “I offer you, instead, a bargain. Transport my people and I along the path of the winds, in secrecy, and I will give to you what you most desire: a new name.”

“It can’t be done,” she said.

Brother Sharpton grinned and produced a huge leather tome, bound in the pale, veinous skin of some unknown animal. “It can. This here is the Book of Dead Names. Slave names. Traitor’s names. Names of children never born. Names of fatherless sons and daughters. For everyone whose name was ever lost, or misplaced, or stolen: it ended up in here. And we can let you choose one.”

Plame sighed. “Very well. For that price, I will show you the secret paths. Name your destination, and I will conduct you there, if it is within my power. For as you well know, some places are warded against entry from even creatures of deep magic.”

Obama unclasped his hand, and the whirlwind expanded until it was a gentle breeze rustling our cloaks. “Detroit,” he commanded. “The Hanging Gardens.”

“I would speak with Nader the Lame.”