by Max Barry

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The Isolationist Republic of
Libertarian Police State

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11

Ross.

"The characters in this picture are all fictitious. Anyone resembling them is better off dead."
- The Three Stooges

"Half of this story is true and the other half might very well have happened."
- The Twenty-One Balloons

Aleph. How doth the city sit so solitary that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me." He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will." When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
(Matthew 26:36-41)

Ross's shoes crunched through the layer of snow on the surface of the grass. It never snowed in Socialist Macronesia, and he had always wanted to know what it felt like. Such childlike wonder came over him, as it always does when one sees something new in the world.

He trudged his way to a nearby tree; a nearby pine. Sitting up against it, he lit one of his 24 white cigarettes and began to puff away. He began to feel a simple euphoria, one only achieves by a calming smoke or a drink.

The grey-haired middle aged man next to him seemed to appear from thin air.

"John Adam Ross?" Then in a scoffing, sarcastic tone, "Supreme Leader John Adam Ross, the greatest man to ever exist?"

"You can be such an ass sometimes."

"I don't know what you expected."

"I assume you know why I called you?"

"That's not how normal people call. But yes, I do. And to answer your question, I want you to tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"Everything. Why you chose to kill, steal and lie, even though you knew it was wrong."

Ross lit him a cigarette. 22 remained.

"Thanks."

"Now, let me begin. You ever heard of Che Guevara?"

“Don't f*cking shoot anybody. You don't wanna be the son of a bitch who started a war. They need an hour to burn the classified. I need you to hold. If you shoot one person, they're gonna kill every single one of us in here.”
- ARGO


When you believe in things
That you don't understand
And you suffer
Superstition ain't the way
- Superstition, Stevie Wonder
Beth. She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers, she hath none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.

Then, while [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, "the man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely." He came and immediately went over to him and said, "Rabbi." And he kissed him. At this they laid hands on him and arrested him.
(Mark 14: 43-46)

Where had he been that day? Seemed like ages ago.

He was off school grounds at the time, he remembered that much. Most of the fine details of the location had since been lost, but he remembered the words they had, ultimately, exchanged for the last time.

"Che Guevara was a shining beacon of communist success around the world, Ross. Even your ass has to know that."

"Che was a murderous communist dictator. He murdered LGBT individuals, you should at least feel bad about that."

"Are you assuming I'm LGBT?"

"Yes. Yes I f*cking am."

Ross, at this point in his life, had no saving grace wisdom. He hadn't learned to keep his mouth shut yet. And if he had learned to keep quiet sooner, none of this would have ever happened. But I like to think that he knew, and was just saying this in spite of everything else he hated about these commies. After all, they were some of the richest students around. They knew nothing of real work. They just assumed there was enough stuff to go around for everyone.

"Face it: Guevara was a murderer. Any man who kills to make a point is a sadistic man. I should care not to see how he treats those around him."

And that's how it all began. A roundhouse kick to the face--or rather an attempt--from a communist.

Now, in John Ross's eyes, this was the weakest he'd ever seen someone try to fight somebody. But it hurt like hell nonetheless. A low move.

They paid the price.

Ross tackled the student to the ground, being sure to drive his thumb into his cold, green eye, and savored a punch on his jaw.

Ah, that felt like heaven.

Why not do it again?

Ross began to take out all his frustrations, all his worries, all out on the poor student who chose to cross him this time. That's one for saying Communism hasn't been tried, that's one for--

Of course, by the time Ross knew what he had done, the kid's face, head, chest, and arms were battered and bleeding; a bone sticking out here, internal bleeding there. It took the rest of the class to pull Ross off of him.

Ross's first instinct?

I am covered in blood.

And indeed he was, his crisp IZOD polo and slacks, half drenched in viscera.

He tasted it, and it tasted good.

Love is required, whenever he's hired
It comes just before the kill
No one can catch him, no hitman can match him
For his million dollar skill
One golden shot means another poor victim
Has come to a glittering end
If you want to get rid of someone
The man with the golden gun
Will get it done
- The Man With the Golden Gun

Here I give you my phone number, when you worry, call me, I make you happy
- Don't Worry, Be Happy

Ghimel. Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude : she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest : all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.

When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us," but he replied to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth."
(Luke 22: 66-71)

Oh, they'd need a cigarette for this one.
18.

The scene shifted in Ross's brain. That bar. He since cursed the name of the bar; he hated it with a passion.

He remembered it all too well.

He was on his sixth drink at the time.

Ross had finished his sixth when the man--no, that god-damn traitor--slid next to him.

"Hello, John."

Ross put down his drink.

"What?"

"John Adam Ross. College student, brought in on assault and battery charges, currently out on bail, currently expelled from college."

"What the f*ck?"

"Ross. I know about you. I've been told many things about you. And I'd like to give you the offer of a lifetime."

Ah, how naive he had been.

"What could you possibly want from me?"

"Ross, you are a good kid. One of the greatest orators in your class, charismatic, smart, you certainly have the mindset we're looking for."

"Who the hell is we?"

"I can't say."

"So, what do you do for a living at this job?"

"First, I need to know if you are in. Right now."

A tingle shot down Ross's spine. I see what he's saying here.

"Yeah. I suppose. So what do I need to do?"

"Your charges should be dropped within three days."

"How?"

The man handed him a cell phone, and left without saying another word.

I think we all know how, don't we?

The Board of Inquiry finds that
Lt. Pete Mitchell was not at fault
in the accident of twenty-nine July.

Lt. Mitchell's record will be
cleared of this incident.

Lt. Mitchell is restored to flight
status without further delay. These
proceedings are closed.
- Top Gun

Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. With disdain I reject your verdict!

I have just drunk poison.

- Slobodan Praljak, shortly before dying

Daleth. The ways of Zion do mourn because none come to the solemn feasts : All her gates are desolate : her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.


Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about!" As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazorean." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man!" A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away." At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly.
(Matthew 26: 69-75)

16.

This was not how Ross wanted to spend his weekend.

He'd been awoken by a knocks at the door. He seemed to hear a dull roar outside his window.

He opened the door to reveal half a tactical team, FBI plastered across the front. The rough chop of helicopter roters filled the air, and he was pretty sure he saw some guys in fatigues.

"John Adam Ross? You need to come with us. That's an order."

Ross wasn't exactly in a position to resist.

He remembered being pushed into the back of a car and driven for a solid hour. He was led into a building of a town he didn't know, and brought to the basement.

They asked him questions.

"Do you know an Alexander Lewis?"

"No?"

"Okay then. Have you any ties to organizations in opposition to the US government?"

"What the hell is going on here?"

"Please calm down, sir. We just need to get through this."

He was poked and prodded like an animal with questions for the next hour. Every time he tried to leave, they told him that he had to answer just a few more.

Just a few more my ass.

Some he didn't answer, some were answered for him. At the end, he stood up.

"I need to leave."

"Okay then. You are free to leave whenever you wish."

He made his way to the door, but stopped short of leaving.

"Say, why am I here again?"

The man tossed him a sealed packet.

Ah, what Ross would have paid to not see the contents of that packet.


He got back to his house at six in the morning, exhausted. He collapsed onto his bed. They hadn't been able to search his house yet.

Ross shuddered as he told the story.

He remembered that the phone the man at the bar had given him began to ring. He quickly picked it up.

"This isn't f*cking funny."

"The charges were dropped, were they not?"

"Along with the whole kid's family. What the f*ck?!"

The voice laughed.

"Ah, you have such a good sense of humor."

"What the hell did I sign up for?!"

"Surprises, my friend. Surprises. Now, get rid of this phone as well as you can, and we'll find you next time you are needed."

The cutoff tone rang.

[spoiler=he]

"They say there's a hundred different kinds of snake there. Ninety-nine are poisonous."
"And the other one?"
Kelly handed a carton over to the doctor.

"That one eats your ass whole."
- Without Remorse


WHITE
Who had the gun?

PLUM
I did.

PEACOCK
Then you shot him!

PLUM
I didn't!

PEACOCK
Well, you had the gun. If you didn't shoot him, who did?
- Clue

He. Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions : her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return unto the Lord thy God.

The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He said to him in reply, "You say so." The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, "Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of." Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barrabas, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.
(Mark 15: 1-5, 15)

He was waiting outside the bar when Alex slid next to him.

"You got a lot of balls to pull something like that."

"Lives do not matter in my line of work."

"I never--"

"Ross, I know you want this. You want an exciting life, not some boring job as a politician, am I wrong or right?"

"That's... not how it works."

"Ross, follow me."

They crept out the back door into a waiting car in the alley.

A man handed Ross what he could only hope was a warm winter vest, and not a flak jacket.

The doors opened, and he was now outside of a seedy looking hotel on the bad side of town. Around five people total were walking with him.

Something is about to go down, but what?

That was answered all too quickly when he found himself kicking in a door alongside five other heavily armed operatives.

Ross didn't even have a gun.

The door fell, and he stood to the side for an instant. He was so deep in a trance at the time he hardly felt the cold steel being pressured firmly into his hand. Things were moving faster than he could contemplate. In his mind, he was still processing walking in. But a tiny section of his brain had caught up.

At this point John Ross split.

Do not shoot that person, Ross. You still have morals, use them. You can walk right now, and you'll never be judged again. What would God say? Do the right thing.

But it was useless things were moving fast and

kill Ross feel the last reminder of your morality leave your body raise the gun Ross and drop that animal he's not human no one will stop you feel the blood on your face it's your craving Ross blood blood drip drip drip drip dr

It had happened all too fast and Ross didn't even know what he had chosen to do until after he was in the van heading back. He had done it. Who it was, he didn't know, or why, but he had shot an innocent man. John Ross was now a murderer. And he felt nothing. He closed his eyes and rested for a minute.

Even Alex seemed pleasantly surprised.


(handing out guns to rescued prisoners)
"C'mon! We're all gonna die, die standing up!"
- Red Dawn


I'm a educated fool with money on my mind
Got my ten in my hand and a gleam in my eye
- Gangsta's Paradise

Vau. From the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed : her princes are like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck him repeatedly.
(John 19: 1-3)

He'd risen up the ranks quickly. His eagerness to please and general willingness to do whatever was necessary certainly helped, and he was soon up on the same level as Alex. He found it interesting; the student having become the master. He wasn't really a master, but it made the murder feel okay, so he was fine with it.

He was now leading a combination of recruitment missions and operations. At any given point in time he was working on five different things ops he was planning. And ops are hard to plan.

Ross didn't know it, but he was under heavy stress. Worse yet, he had no coping mechanisms. His mental health deteriorated swiftly. People didn't notice.

Until...

It was his birthday. Rather the day before his birthday. August 27th, 2010.

That day, he'd decided he'd had enough.

He took an entire box of Benadryl, and laid down, expecting to not wake up.

That night he had the worst nightmares of his life. He awoke screaming. But instead of going back to sleep, he wrote, and wrote, and wro

Alex calmly walked in, twelve hours later, his eyes widening at the sight of the empty pill packets on the floor. The room looked like it had been ransacked.

"Ross?"

But Ross was curled up in a blanket in the corner of the room. All Alex could see was Ross's cold blue eyes staring at him.

"You ever wanted to be an astronaut when you were a kid?"

"What?" Alex motioned outside for a medic to come.

"Nate, I am destined for greatness."

He laid down and fell asleep on the floor. The medics came in, and his unconscious body was carried out.

The room was searched for anything that Ross could use to harm himself.

Instead, they found a full 100 page paper detailing an invasion of a Micronesian island, with current statistics. The conclusion was that it was feasible, and beneficial.

"Get me a meeting with the Board NOW."


"Russ, do you remember what we said back when we first got into this business. We said we were gonna play the game..."

"Like we had nothing to lose."

"Well, I lost something... I lost someone. That's why I'm here."

"Okay, here's the problem. We're stealing two things. And when push comes to shove, and you can't have both, which are you gonna choose? And remember - Tess does not split eleven ways!"
- Ocean's Eleven


"Do you expect me to talk?"

"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

- Goldfinger


Zain. Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries, all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hands of the enemy, and none did help her : the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.


When the chief priests and the guards saw Jesus they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him." They cried out, "Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.
(John 19: 6, 15-17)

The board had gone insane.

The general consensus was that the plan was a combination of too expensive and too risky, but some believed that a scaled-down version could potentially work, like a single outpost or so.

But some did not. And pretty soon, the company was in shambles, its assets almost completely liquidated, operatives killing one another for control.

The last meeting. The final meet of the Board.

"Look, we gotta do something guys. We got operatives defecting, money has gone missing, and we need to get to the bottom of this all before we fall to pieces."

The door opened, and several Galil wielding soldiers entered.

"Thank God, we got some operatives back. What the hell is--"

Ross walked in, hand behind back. The Chairman knew what that meant.

"Eloi Eloi, lama sabachthani!"

Probably more well known as the Aramaic translation of

"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!"

None of the board members knew what that meant.

Ross raised his pistol.

They ducked. They hid. They tried to escape.

None could escape the gaze of Ross's nine millimeter pistol.

All sleeping, all dying.
- The Book Thief

The Board was dissolved.

"And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple."

"It was simple."

"Then why did it go wrong?"

- Jurassic Park

[box]
I've got my spine, I've got my orange crush
Collar me, don't collar me
I've got my spine, I've got my orange crush
We are agents of the free
I've had my fun and now it's time
To serve your conscience overseas
(over me, not over me)
Coming in fast, over me
- Orange Crush, R.E.M.

[Box]
Heth. Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed; all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness : yea, she sigheth and turneth backward.


They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
(Mark 15: 21)

Things were quiet about the Simon Hason. Minimal trouble was spotted on the horizon, and their transportation to Japan had been secured. Now it was just a couple stops at harbors along the way, and-- oh look, the resupply was here.

The helicopter landed on the deck. It was a CH-46 Sea Sprite.

And it was loaded with Ross's mercenaries.

Gunfire erupted onboard. You see, the confused soldiers had been told this was a resupply helo, and trusted its contents. What they assumed was food turned out to be a high explosive M203 round. Five down.

Ross lowered his HK21. He raised the radio to his lips.

"It's time. Bring em in."

The sixteen men onboard dismounted, most of whom had been armed with chopped-down LMGs for maximum firepower.

Speedboats began to arrive off port and starboard. The mercs roped over the sides and onto the deck. Two were carrying an M2 Browning, several were carrying rocket launchers, and the ship was swarmed from all sides by units counting about 200 men total. The security detail was eliminated quickly, by over 2,700 rounds of ammunition all in ten minutes.

Half the crew took control of the ship. The other half began to crack open the containers on board.

Ross found himself staring at several crates in a shipping container.

"What are they?" Alex.

He poured it out. The sound of brass hitting steel rang.

"Live ammunition."

He turned to Alex with a grave look on his face.

"This is a military transport?"

The next container. Anti tank missile cases. Javelins, no doubt.

The next?

A box with a trefoil.

"We are dead."


"We can't let him die in front of a live audience!"

"He was born in front of a live audience."
- The Truman Show


Wipe yourself off, man. You dead.
- Rush Hour
Teth. Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully; she had no comforter. O Lord, behold my affliction : for the enemy hath magnified himself. Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return unto the Lord thy God!

A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time, people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?"
(Luke 23: 27-31)

There was no real way for them to keep the ship from moving once they got to the coast. Luckily, they did have a couple civil engineers, who set up a makeshift dock with some concrete, asphalt, and sand. But it wouldn't be finished in time, so they had resorted to unloading containers one-by-one, putting the contents in the helicopter, and sending it to the island.

The loss of ten nuclear weapons would not go unnoticed. But it was too late. They could have been anywhere in the country by the time the US found out.

They wisely stood down. The missing nukes never went public.

On September 21st, 2010, the rogue state of Socialist Macronesia was declared the newest independent nation.

This was, of course, met with backlash. The UN declared "hell no you ain't." Ross's parents were arrested. That is, arrested fourty one times in a 48 hour period. Eventually they just stayed home. But all those socialist college students that John Ross hated so much were now eyeing the new nation intently. They were hoping it to be the paradise they wanted, a place of neverending happiness, where you could always see the sun; day, or night.

So when you call up that-- sorry, off track again.

What did John Ross think of it?

Simple. It was like a goddamn sandbox.

An example to be ruled. To be ruled by example. He could do whatever he wanted with no pushback.

It was perfect.


Walked out this morning, I don't believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone in being alone
A hundred billion castaways looking for a home
- Message In A Bottle

If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don't care, but they're massively outnumbered by the people who do.
- The Martian

Jod. The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things : for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."
(Luke 23: 33-34)

The cigarettes had almost been finished. Ross took two without looking into the pack. It was Schrodinger's cat: if he didn't look it could be full or empty at the same time. Interesting, he thought.

But back to the story.

The cabin of the vehicle stunk of acrid cigarettes, cheap liquor, and gunpowder.

There were two individuals who were not smoking or drinking in the entire convoy. I will let you guess who they were.

A flash. A streak of light. An explosion.

The lead had gone up in smoke.

They took fire from both sides of the road. The gunners fought back, firing everything they had.

The gates of hell, otherwise known as the door to the vehicle, opened, and three of Ross's crewmates were killed instantly.

"Ambush. We have to get out."

They pushed their way to the exit.

Ross wasn't good enough. Took three rounds to the chest, left leg, and left arm. Shrapnel pierced his face.

He fell over, bleeding out.

This is the end.

But no, it was not the end, for someone had thrown Ross over his shoulder and was carrying him along.

It's interesting to think: if the man had known that Ross would eventually become a dictator, would he have still saved him?

But it didn't matter, because Nate Barton saved John Ross's life. And he'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Let's be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven't got the power to destroy the planet - or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.
- Jurassic Park
When she's walking by the river
Or the railway line
She can still hear him whisper
"Let's go down to the waterline."
- Down to the Waterline, Dire Straits

Caph. All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul : see, O Lord, and consider, for I am become vile.

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
(Luke 23: 39-43)

Let us stop.

I have a feeling something bad is going to happen. You know what is about to happen. I've pointed to it in length.

So here's my suggestion.

Leave.

I want you to go to the nearest window and take a look out.

That is the real world.

We play NS to escape our problems. We play to forget that the real world exists. That is why all games are played. But answer me this: why do we really play? Couldn't we be doing something so much more valuable and precious with our time?

You may think we just use our worlds as a crutch. For most of our lives, that we have just failed to do anything meaningful. And even if that were true, I wouldn't give you guys up for anything.

We are a close knit family. Hell, I think I like NS more than my own family. And dare I say it, without NS, I doubt I could have possibly made it through this pandemic or probably even this year without the pandemic. And sure, I could have gone out into the world and made friends, but even with my Ross level charisma, I doubt I'd meet anyone meaningful enough to me to call a friend.

I would like to thank you all for being the friends I never had.


Hall said, "How much time was left?
"When you turned the key? About thirty-four seconds."
Hall smiled. "Plenty of time. Hardly even exciting."
"Perhaps from where you were," Stone said. "But down on Level V it was very good exciting indeed. I neglected to tell you that in order to improve the subterranean detonation characteristics of the atomic device, all air is evacuated from Level V, beginning thirty seconds before explosion."
- The Andromeda Strain

The grenade fuze burns for approximately 4-6 seconds.
- The SoMac Infantryman's Guide
Lamed. Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.


Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
(John 19: 25-27)

That day.

Ross seemed to spit the words forth like they were vile, toxic, fuming words. Like that day was a poisonous cloud.

It was the 9th anniversary of SoMac being recognized as an official nation. As a result, Ross was taking a walk through the Capitol, talking to people, handing out prizes, and generally had a good time.

Two hours before, one of his guards had downed a shot of vodka. He was dissatisfied with John Ross's presidency.

And he wanted everyone to know.

Ross was at the corner of an intersection, and began to cross. One of his guards removed a small, metallic cylinder from his pocket.

The grenade skidded to John Ross's feet.

There was no time to run. No time to escape. No time to think. He had seen this all play out in his mind several weeks ago at the Chairwoman's gala. And yet he was powerless to stop it. And even if he could, would he really want to stop it from happening?

Ross wasn't scared. He just felt relieved.

He closed his eyes, and felt himself lift into the air.

It is interesting to think what would have occurred had Nate not jumped onto the grenade at the last second. You may think that it would save Ross. You'd be mistaken. It may have saved him for a minute, but that wasn't enough. But in the end it may have saved them both.

But for the time being, it actually killed them both.

Nate dove to the ground. He knocked Ross to the floor, and used his body to cover the grenade.

The two locked eyes.



Mem. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them : he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back : he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.


Ross looked into Nate's cold, grey eyes.

They stared into his soul. Saying, "I told you everything and you didn't listen."

For an instant, Ross thought he'd be lucky enough for Nate to survive. That everything would be fine.

Alas, he was mistaken. The man who had saved Ross's life once before, saved his life again. At a cost of his own.

Ross could do naught but watch as his last friend was torn from his grasp.


It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.


Ross straightened his tie.

The realization had hit him like a brick, five hours ago. Nate was officially long dead. But not from five hours ago, but a bit longer. Back when he "died" before joining Delta.

There would be no funeral, could be no funeral. He would have to continue as normal, like he had lost nobody at all. There was no dignity in his death, no final dying words, no closure on it.

Ross wouldn't take that.

He dry swallowed two of the pills on his desk. He felt a little bit calmer. He put a cigarette to his mouth. The last of it began to burn out. He downed his chalice of wine.

The whole place was a game. This was a game. Ross was going to win the game, or die trying. He had a meeting with someone. And if that meeting failed...

Nothing would matter.

He was gonna win the game or die trying
He was gonna win the game or die trying.
He was gonna win the game or die trying.
He was gonna win


A crash emerged from John Ross's office.

One of the interns shook her head. Goddamn Ross. Always something new. Never a dull moment.

"Are you okay, sir?"

No answer.

She knew what was going to happen long before she opened the door.

A cresendo. A flash of light.

A cigarette lay smoldering in the ashtray. An empty wine chalice on the table. Empty pill packets. And John Ross was suspended in midair, his chair toppled.


Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? See thou to that." And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.



Nun. The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand : they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck : he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up. Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return unto the Lord thy God.

"And that's how I got here."

The King of Creation lit another cigarette.

"I see."

He let a little bit burn out in the cold air.

"So, Ross, I assume you want Nate back?"

"No, I wanted to die on purpose. What do you think I'm here to do?"

"Why should I do anything for you, Ross? You killed thousands. You let your friends vanish. Why should--"

And Ross yelled at God.

"How dare you!"

Even the King of Kings seemed taken aback.

"Don't you ever--"

"No, God, I can't. You know why? Because this is all your fault!"

"I--"

"You never gave me the knowledge of right and wrong. I had to learn it myself. You know how hard it is to be friends with someone when you can't say if you are crossing lines? How hard it is to get over loss when you've already lost most of it all? How it feels when you know at any given point in time your only friend could leave you? No, because you never have. And you never will. And it wasn't I who did this, it was you who allowed it."

"If you had stepped in, God, none of this would have ever even happened."

Ross heard ringing.

He felt stunned. Like something had... exploded nearby.

Oh, Crusified Christ, Nate...

For a second he couldn't breathe. He was stunned. Then, he saw.

A very much alive Nate.

Ross sighed.

The man who had thrown the grenade went down in a hail of gunshots. But Ross wasn't paying attention.

He was running.

Nate stood up, brushed the dust off of his suit, and went after him.

Ross jumped over the cemetery fence and ran up the hill.

He stopped atop it.

Nate stood back.

Silence.

"Ross."

Silence.

"It wasn't your fault."

"But it was."

"Ross--"

"Nate, my parents were murdered. There was no car accident, they probably had a pound of explosives put in the trunk. And why? So the government could intimidate me? Make me scared? Why them and not me? They could have killed me, why would they kill the innocent people?"

"I don't know."

"Was I just destined to lose them?"

Silence.

And John Ross asked the question.

"Nate, do you believe in fate?"

Jack and Nancy Ross never had the answer. And if they did, they certainly didn't have it anymore.

But John did. Because John had been saved long enough to think things through. And in the end, Nate's decision, or fate, or whatever he had done, to sacrifice himself may have saved the world from the enaction of the Delta Protocol.

And Ross walked.

The leader of Socialist Macronesia went to church for the first time in nine years. And took Communion.

At the end of the service, Ross stood.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!
O my soul praise him, for he is thy health and salvation!
Join the great throng; psaltery, organ and song;
Sounding in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord, over all things he gloriously reigneth!
Borne as on eagle-wings, safely his saints he sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen; how all the needest hath been; granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy way and defend thee!
Surely his goodness and mercy shall ever attend thee!
Ponder anew; what the Almighty can do; who with his love doth befriend thee!

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath come now with praises before him!
Let the amen; sound from his people again; gladly forever adore him!

And John Ross closed his eyes.

It was finished.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.

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