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Late July: Addis Ababa
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"You did the right thing." Emebet Hoy Eleni told her son. Sahle said nothing. It was bright cloudless day, but he felt hung over, his head throbbing with his heartbeat, his entire body sapped of energy. He stood in front of the Gebi Iyasu, his courtiers and guards all in formal clothing creating a solid line of royal formality, immaculate gold and beige.

"The Americans did a bad thing letting your sister be hurt." his mother added, goading him to speak.

"That's not what Desta says." Sahle replied. He looked straight ahead, across the eucalyptus shaded lawn. Beyond that was the stone-anchored iron fence protecting the palatial grounds from the road. Past the road, the hill declined toward downtown Addis Ababa, its hodge-podge of modern buildings bathed in equatorial sunlight.

"Desta is the serpent." Eleni said. She spoke in a hushed voice so Desta, standing ten feet in front of them, could not hear. "He sent your brother and your sister away."

"I sent them away." Sahle said. "To improve themselves."

"Desta put those false ideas in your head. What Emperor in history has sent his family so far away? What is in China and America that is not here? Besides assassins it would seem." his mother spoke in the tone a person uses when trying to restrain their emotions for the sake of tact. She seemed stuck between despair and conversational calmness, which sounded to Sahle like cruel sarcasm.

"It's a new era. The world has changed." he said. Every word felt like work and he resented each one she forced from him.

"Let the world change. We do not have to change with it. Don't let the world poison you and make you forget who you are."

The arrival of a caravan of staff cars cut off their conversation. The royal party came to attention, greeting the procession with the solemnity expected of Sahle's station, everybody taking a position like soldiers on parade. A warm breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and the tufts of lions-mane topping the Mehal Sefari's pith helmets. The cars crawled, matching the speed of the khaki-clad retainers marching alongside. Three slim banners, green yellow and red, hung above the fenders of every vehicle.

The first car stopped. A soldier opened the door and announced its prime occupant. "Ras Wolde Petros Mikael!" he shouted. The old Ras crawled out, dressed in a white robe and silk cape. His beard was trimmed. He held his hand out for his wife, helping her out of the car.

"Woizero Hiruteslale Giyorgis." The soldier announced.

She was the age of Sahle's own mother, wearing a conservative white dress with a silk shawl, and her hair was an impressive afro. A slender girl followed dressed in similar fashion.

"Woizerit Fetlewerk Wolde Petros." Her hair was pulled in tight cornrows to the back of her head where it exploded out in a thicket.

"He brought his entire family." Sahle whispered to his mother. Wasn't this supposed to be a political meeting? Another car cycled.

"Ras Giyorgis Temare Mengesha" the glum old man stepped out dressed in plain conservative robes. He was alone. The next car pulled up.

"Mesfin Issayas Seme." Sahle knew the man as the angry official who'd crashed his birthday party earlier in the month. The thin, boyish looking Mesfin scanned his fellow statesmen, his lips drawn tight and his eyes narrow and unwelcoming.

More men came. Meridazmach Zekiros Argaw, commander of the Army. Hector Santareál, the young Cuban who commanded the Air Force. They bowed as they processed past the Emperor and his mother. Desta spent a moment in hushed conversation with each one of them, allowing the Emperor to preserve his majestic distance. This was fine with him. His head was throbbing more than before, and the sun was making it worse. He did not look forward to the meeting.

"Make way for his Imperial Majesty." a page shouted. The guards escorted Sahle through the colonnade into the courtyard garden where dinner was served. The tables were set up in the grass next to the fountains, the menu offering a choice between filet mingnon or redfish, to be served with a lemon-asparagus vinaigrette and poached eggs. The menu wasn't particularly Ethiopian, but it reflected something common enough for the Imperial household: an intent to appear worldly, cosmopolitan. Ethiopia was a conservative country, its traditions rooted in the stone of its mountain hold-fasts and ancient churches, but they were aware they needed to communicate with the world around them. Time would inevitably wear down the mythology of the Kebra Nagast, and after that, the Imperial government would be left to trade on its merits alone, merits including its ability to act as the translator, a bridge between Ethiopia and the rest of the world. Imperial grandeur surrounded these political signals like the yoke around an egg. Perfume was mixed in with the fountain's water so the courtyard garden took on a pleasant feminine scent. The Emperor sat on a Dais overlooking his subjects, the lion Muse panting at his feet. A page came by and offered the Emperor and his mother canapés. She took one. He declined. "Wine." he asked. The page looked confused. Sahle snapped angrily in the page's face, saying nothing, and the page went off in a hurry.

"What is wrong with you?" his mother asked. Her mouth dropped and she looked at him with that matronly expression of alarm. "I don't feel like this." he said, motioning discreetly at the tables set in front of them "Any of this."

"You have your duty."

He said nothing. The page brought the wine and poured. Sahle grabbed the stem of his glass and drank deep. It filled him with its intimate warmth. When he put the glass down, he caught Desta looking at him like a schoolmaster who'd caught his pupil preparing a prank.

They plates were brought out all at once. They ate dinner, keeping to their own circles. Sahle fed half his filet mignon to the lion at his feet. The beast inhaled it, only taking a single bite. Down below, Sahle caught the eyes of several guests watching the lion carefully, and he puffed up as if the big cat's majesty was his own. He noticed Woizerit Fetlewerk watching it with rapt attention, her mouth hanging slightly open. She was a bony creature, not Sahle's type, but he saw a kindness in her eyes that warmed his heart, more akin to the type of affection he had for his mother rather than the kind he associated with his conquests.

When the meal was done, Ras Wolde Petros brought his family up to the dais, each one bowing in turn. "I am pleased to see you in good health, your Imperial majesty." He said, voice strong and confident.

"We are pleased to see our servant Ras Wolde Petros." Sahle said blandly.

"If it pleases you, this is my wife Woizero Hiruteslale, and my daughter your cousin Woizerit Fetlewerk."

"Your Imperial Majesty." the two ladies bowed. Fetlewerk smiled maybe a little too broadly. Her thin lips peeled back and presented more of her teeth than Sahle wanted to see. It made her seem young and awkward, like another little sister.

There was an awkward pause. Sahle took a drink. What was he supposed to do here? The whole day was turning out to be tedious. "We are happy to entertain the ladies." he replied politely. The answer didn't seem to please anybody except maybe young Woizerit Fetlewerk, who seemed taken away with the pageantry. They went away. Desta, who'd chose to eat with Issayas Seme, moved to the the table of Ras Giyorgis Temare Mengesha. Why couldn't Desta conduct this whole affair on his own? He had the ability.

"How do you like your cousin, eh?" his mother asked.

Sahle looked at her, the pieces coming together in his mind. "What is the meaning of that question?" he replied.

"Nothing. Well. You know what I mean. It is not wrong for a mother to want her children to be married! You are responsible for your bloodline! Why are my children carrying themselves like American reprobates? My daughter gets herself shot, my younger son is playing the tourist, and my eldest son will not be married. It is your duty to marry, and to marry somebody worthy of your greatness, which I can say your jezebels are not." She'd melted seamlessly into the rant, though keeping her voice low enough that nobody else could hear.

"This is a discussion for another day." Sahle waved his hand.

"You put your whole life off for another day." his mother got in the last word. Satisfied, she looked out in front, making herself as regal as ever.

Desta rose up and went to the dais, moving like water. He made a quick unthinking bow. "The guests are ready, and we have business to discuss. Shall we?"

Sahle stood up. "It is hard for us to send away the pleasant company of the ladies." he said, "But us who are men have business to discuss. Emebet Hoy Eleni wishes to entertain the royal women. We men shall retire to the throne room." The Queen Mother went down and joined the two ladies, leading them into the building, a retinue of servants following. Sahle led the men, guards flanking him, and they went into the door opposite from the one the women had entered. He was divided from the rest, and he rubbed his head as he walked, wondering if their council would be finished early enough that he might get away and make a visit to the Vin Rouge. They entered into the throne room with its dark colored walls and velvet draped furniture. The crimson throne and room below soaked up so much of the light that it gave off an almost dark-aged vibe. Inside were Minister of Foreign Affairs Benyam Felege, the moon-faced Treasurer Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, and the Minister of Justice Afe Negus Telaye Haylu, the latter looking like he could be Sahle's bearded older brother. Traditionally the Minister of Justice served as mouth of the King, but the force of Desta's personality had relocated that duty to the office of Minister of the Pen. Everybody sat down as if along an imaginary table with Sahle at its head.

"Bitwoded Desta, what business do you bring before my council?" Sahle said.

"Your Imperial majesty is to be congratulated." Desta started, standing up and delivering his speech like an actor giving a monologue, "I have spoken with his excellency Mr Bacon of the United States, and he has assured me the administration of President Norman is willing to meet some of our demands." the room didn't react with the much excitement, the mood drowned by the bigger issue hanging over all of them like a sword strung up by twine, but there were sounds of mild approval. Sahle himself smiled, but he didn't know what he was smiling for. It was at this moment that he realized something about the American scandal: what exactly had been his demands? His heart knew, but his mind wouldn't accept the answer, and so he nodded his approval if only to appear in control.

Desta went on. "There is a matter of the honor of the government that must be rectified." he said, "Mesfin Issayas Seme makes an accusation against your uncle and the commander of your armies, and it is a serious accusation."

"Speak, Mesfin Issayas Seme." Sahle said, shifting to a comfortable position in his seat. Sahle was never one for sitting up. Desta often admonished him for his slothful way of carrying himself, like a sack of grain that'd been thrown into place. When he was feeling up to his job, he did his best to sit up straight. Today was not one of those days. He slouched like syrup running out of the seat as the Mesfin took the center of the room.

"Ras Wolde Petros, Ras Giyorgis Temare Mengesha, Meridazmach Zekiros Argaw, and the ferengi Hector Santareál conspired to enter my territory and make violence against my people!" the Mesfin complained.

"Violence against criminals." Wolde Petros said, "I admit to that. Issayas harbors shifta bandits who do not recognize their Emperor as sovereign!"

"You lie through your teeth!"

"Behave like gentlemen!" Desta pleaded. His voice cut between the two statesmen like lightning, and they both quieted. "These are serious accusations to bring before his Imperial majesty."

"I bring evidence!" Issayas said, his voice high pitched and triumphant. "I have presented reports of the battlefield from my people, and images from journalists. It is bloodshed in my borders. And you have heard Wolde Petros admit to this violence! It is in the hands of Afe Negus Telaye Haylu."

"I have received it and can confirm, your Imperial Majesty. A number of shiftas were killed in a skirmish near the border of Begmeder and Wollo." Telaye said.

Issayas looked smug, smiling for the first time Sahle had ever seen

"I have evidence too." Wolde Petros stated. The room went silent. Wolde Petros took out a rolled up piece of paper and handed it to Desta. The Minister's face twisted as he read it, and it looked for a moment as if he couldn't read it at all. "What is this?"

"The Declarations of the Rights of Man. A French document from history. It has been distributed among the people of Begmeder, under the nose of the Mesfin." Wolde Petros explained, "The people who published it two hundred years ago went on to murder their King. The shiftas of Begmeder want revolution against you, your Imperial Majesty. We extinguished this rebellion. I am proud to say I did it."

"You have the evidence of this?" Desta asked the Afe Negus.

"I went to Begmeder to interview the Neftanya. They verify this information." Telaye said.

"I proudly fought with Wolde Petros." Ras Giyorgis stood up.

Meridazmach Zekiros stood up next. "I sanctioned the action against the shiftas."

Then went up Hector Santareál. "I flew against the shee-stahs." he said in heavily accented Amharic.

The four men seemed ready to pounce on Issayas, who looked like a mouse that'd been cornered. "This man is a harborer and friend to traitors!" Wolde Petros accused.

"Then arrest him." Sahle commanded. The four men grabbed the scrawny Mesfin. "Mercy!" he cried out, "They are the criminals! Mercy for me!"

"Wait." Desta ordered. Wolde Petros looked at the Minister of the Pen, then up at Sahle, uncertain what to do. "Have the revolutionary leaders been caught yet?" Desta asked.

"No." Wolde Petros said.

"So if we arrest the Mesfin of Begmeder, we risk the entire province going into revolt. If his government is so corrupt, wouldn't the guilty parties join this revolution? Might we not have a fully realized rebellion?"

"If we arrest this man the issue becomes clear, and his Imperial majesty can officialize an intervention."

"So we become a country that, having just closed our borders to America, then enters a civil war? Is this good for the return of commerce?"

"Commerce will return on its own time!" Wolde Petros said, "Are you so greedy you will miss a few weeks payments?"

"Your majesty," Desta turned to Sahle, speaking in a smooth tone, sounding as if his advice was so natural that it should be obvious to everybody in the room. "Return the Mesfin to Begmeder on probation, require him to root out this shifta menace. This is a quieter way of fixing the same error."

"Then that's how it will be done." Sahle said.

There was a moment like at the beginning of an explosion, where the air seemed to be sucked out of the room, everybody bracing for the impact. Wolde Petros became like a man on fire. "You cannot arrest a man and undo his arrest! This is foolish!" Ras Giyorgis, his hand tight on the Mesfin's shoulder, wore the expression of the angel of death. Meridazmach Zekiros looked disappointed. Santareál uncertain.

"The Emperor can do as he pleases." Desta said.

"This cannot be justice!" Ras Giyorgis added indignantly. "We demand the right thing be done for the men we lost in the field!"

"The field you shouldn't have fought on." Desta reminded, "Why did you not go through the structure of command?"

"To do so would be to involve the Emperor in scandals he does not want!"

"This is true." Sahle said, "I do not want these scandals. You have all made many headaches for me today. But I agree with Desta. We should keep it quiet, and allow the Mesfin to do his duty."

"So his Imperial majesty was wrong on his first decree?" Wolde Petros challenged.

"You are out of line." Desta said, his voice strangely quiet, like a pin drop breaking the tension of the room.

Wolde Petros bowed. "Your majesty." he said tight lipped, storming out. His faction followed with him.

"Thank you for your mercy, your Imperial Majesty." Issayas said, smiling warmly. When he left, the only men in the room were members of the Crown Council.

"That went badly." Sahle rubbed his head.

Benyam Felege, who hadn't talked throughout the entire meeting, spoke up. "I think your majesty did the best that you can do."

"Your uncle is too aggressive." Desta said, watching the door as if he could see through it. "He does not think of the consequences of his actions."

"He might have been right, in the end." Telaye Haylu spoke up, "I suspect Issayas will cause more trouble before this is over with."

"That is a future problem." Desta looked sharply at Telaye, "We don't need to compound our present problems. The Rases will be a handful after the way your majesty handled them tonight." Desta's eyes met Sahle's, and the Emperor felt himself withering under his minister's gaze.

"How I handled myself?" Sahle said, raising his voice higher than he had intended, "What could I have possibly done?"

"Not arrest the man, and then free him."

"You asked me too."

"You shouldn't have ordered his arrest so quickly."

"Well if you think you have this all down, I'll leave right now." Sahle said standing up. "You can do the work of government from now on."

Desta's lips tightened, and his renewed stare seemed to hold the Emperor in place. "Do not be foolish, your majesty. I need you here, and I need you to stay here for the Americans. Whether you like it or not you have the duties of a monarch that nobody else can do them."

"Anybody can do it. All I have is the pedigree" Sahle sat down, "Let in the Americans then. Let's get this over with."

"I cannot conjure them from thin air, your majesty. We will wait until they arrive."

Desta went to Benyam, and the two old men talked quietly to each other. The Afe Negus looked at the wall as if his mind were focused on something on the other side. Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, who had been quiet, pulled out a yellow paper-back book and read. Sahle didn't want to talk to any of them. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and listened to Desta and Benyam's whispering until it faded away.

Sahle didn't know he'd taken a nap until the harsh call of a page woke him up. "His excellency Jefferson Davis Bacon. Mr Bradford Carnahan. Ms Livy Carnahan." Sahle sat up, cleared the sleep from his eyes, and watched the three Americans march in. Bacon came first, wearing a smart white suit, his face tomato red. Bradford wore a blue suit and looked stony-faced at nothing in particular. When Livy came in, Sahle smiled unconsciously. She wore a yellow dress and matching shoes, and looked meek behind the two men. Sahle saw her steal a glance at him. They all made their bows, Bacon struggling, Bradford stiff and formal.

"What news do you bring, your excellency Mr Bacon." Sahle said.

"The American government apologizes for what happened to Le'elt Taytu Yohannes." Bacon said stiffly.

Sahle waved for him to go on.

"We want no conflict with Ethiopia, and President Norman has agreed to compensate you for your pains, so long as our citizens are allowed to move freely from your Empire."

"What is this compensation?" Sahle was aware of Desta's eyes on him.

"The American government has agreed to partially subsidize Ethiopia's agricultural imports through Boston's port. Their uncle Milford Carnahan has introduced this decision as part of a spending package that is fully expected to pass Congress. This offer has two conditions; first, you lift the restriction on free travel. Second, that it cannot be discussed in public. If the Ethiopian government brags about this, our government will be forced to withdraw the offer."

Sahle nodded. Is this what he wanted. Should he speak?

"We thank the American government for its reasonable response." Desta replied. The eyes that had been on Sahle looked to the Minister, and Sahle felt the pressure let off his shoulders.

"So are we allowed to leave, your majesty?" Bradford asked, his tone icy. Desta and Bacon's heads snapped back to look at the youth.

"Yes." Sahle said. "This is all I wanted." Even as he said this, he felt bad, defeated. By what? About what?

"Ms Livy Carnahan has agreed to work in the embassy for a time." Bacon said, "As a representative of her family. I am hoping the two of us will repair whatever damage might've happened between our two great nations."

Sahle looked at Livy, her pale skin and uncertain blue eyes, her red hair falling in waves upon her shoulders. She would stay. He sat up straight and smiled broadly. "We look forward to working with you both." he said, "I hope Ms Carnahan finds Addis Ababa to be a new home."

"I hope so too, your majesty." she said.

The Americans were dismissed, and filtered out of the room like a defeated army. Sahle pushed himself violently up from his throne.

"You did well, your majesty." Desta said. "The American crisis will not be a memorable thing."

"I think I did well too." Sahle said. He approached Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, an aging bureaucrat with a moon-shaped face, his features drooping as if he'd suffered a mild stroke for breakfast, though Sahle knew the man well enough to know that was just how he looked. "Your majesty." Medebew greeted. He'd been there for the entire meeting, and like so many meetings before, he wasn't used to being addressed directly by his Emperor.

"There is a purchase I want to make." Sahle said, "How much money do I have for property?"

"We may have to borrow."

"That is fine." Sahle wrapped his arm around the man's shoulder, "Let me tell you what I want."
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Late July: Sidamo
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The wet season was over, and Sidamo bloomed green. Humid forests clung to the rolling mountains of southern Ethiopia, table-top ambas partially obscured by haze in the distance, appearing like apparitions from a fairy tale land. Floyd Switzer thought it was damned foolish to build highways in this landscape. Damned expensive at least. Perhaps he was just feeling a smidgen guilty about bringing modernity to a place like this. And perhaps, somewhere deeper in his mind, he thought highways were the darkest form of modernity.

"Here." Floyd said, looking down from the tailgate at Betty Lou. She wasn't the begging type, but she always made sure to be there when food was on offer. Floyd threw a cube of stewed goat to her and she inhaled it. "You've had enough" he reproved her, but she looked up at him with sad eyes and guilted him into throwing her another.

"Schweinhund! Hosenscheisser!" August Ibel shouted in his native German. His face went plum red, but Floyd had known the man long enough to know he enjoyed rage. He was the Foreman, and an Ostafrikan, a heavily tanned white man with buzz-cut grey hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He yelled at a pair of native African workers who'd stopped their work to stare into the wall of forest clinging to the hillside. The men went back to work. August went to Floyd's truck, wiping the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his threadbare white long-sleeve shirt.

"They say they hear growling." August said, "Growling! Imagine that! In Africa! You think they would know this is nature since they live so close to it." Floyd said nothing. After a pause, August continued. "You have the shell shock, jah?"

"I've heard it called that."

"Well then you'll want to put your petticoats in your ears, those rocks are going to blow." August said, grinning sourly, looking up to where the African workers were fleeing the blast site. Floyd pulled a pair of rubber ear-plugs from the front pocket of his overalls and put them in. Several seconds went by he heard his own heartbeat echoing inside his skull. The explosion came to him as shaking and a dull punching sound. He flinched, paused as the sound faded to memory, and slowly unplugged his ears, breathing heavily.

"...that's why I have this." Floyd was surprised to see August had produced a long double-barreled shotgun.

"What is that for?"

"Whatever beasts are in these woods! These guns are brutal in the killing, but they are quite good. I know your Americans, you used them in your war, jah? Very brutal." he shook his head like he were reproving Floyd for it, "But animals? They don't have souls. No dishonor in using such an uncivilized weapon. I'd recommend it! Hah!"

Floyd got up, grabbing a bundle of small flags from the truck bed. These flags were essentially just sticks with pieces of colored canvas dangling from them. He walked up to where a pair of Africans were standing with surveying equipment and went to work. Betty Lou followed, eyeing the Africans suspiciously, growling in the back of her throat as she passed them. Together, they studied the hillside changed slightly by the day's efforts, using the flags to mark what would be done the next day. The road was coming together, albeit slowly, located in the middle of nowhere. They'd started the highway project in Sidamo, connected to Addis Ababa by only the old gravel War Road, slowing the process down. The rainy season had been especially brutal in this regard. Rain washed out parts of the war road on a regular basis, delaying the flow of supplies, the laying of fresh blacktop slowing down to an inch-by-inch crawl.

August watched the native workers clear the blast site, standing alone of a bare tuft of ground besieged by the highland wind. He paced back and forth, moving slowly toward where Floyd worked as if he was being pulled so slightly in his motions by gravity, if gravitational pull was given out by his fellow white men.

"You are American, jah?" August asked. Floyd knew he knew the answer, it'd came up only minutes ago, but he resigned himself to the plea for conversation. "Yes." he said.

"You hear about the Imperial decree about Americans?"

"Yep." Floyd had heard it. He wasn't disturbed. After all, he had no interest in leaving.

"You know the story of Theodore the Second?"

Floyd sniffed. He drove a flag into the ground where he'd been gestured to do so. "Maybe? I haven't paid attention to history."

August's face lit up. "Well, you see, two hundred years ago Muslim warlords overran the old Abyssinian Empire, and they entered a tribal period... a sort of warring states era. All the Rases were at war with the Muslim warlords, and they at war with each other. Then, a hundred years ago or so, a Christian warlord named Theodore came to power and united all the tribes and brought Abyssinia back together. He brought in European advisors and teachers to improve Ethiopia. So the Europeans brought new guns and ideas, but Theodore wanted more guns then they gave him. He wanted cannons. So he started writing letters to the monarchs of Europe, worried what would happen if his enemies received better weapons than him. He became paranoid, starting locking up the families of anybody he thought may be his enemy. Soon the entire country hated him, so he became more desperate for European weapons. He asked his European advisors to build him cannons. When they said they could not, he locked them in prison along with the Ethiopian nobles, and he tried to ransom them to the European monarchies in exchange for better weapons. You can see now how this is like the boy Emperor Sahle, jah?"

"I guess."

"Queen Victoria wouldn't have that. She sent an expedition to save their imprisoned countrymen. They came thinking it would be like a war, that they would have to fight their way into the interior, but when the British arrived they found the entire country hated Theodore, so the Abyssinians just guided the British to the mountain castle where the mad Emperor was hold up, helped carry their baggage and everything. And..." August tittered, "They brought the guns. Only, not to give over of course."

"Don't think it'll be like all that." Floyd replied. He watched worried as Betty Lou went up the hill, nose to the ground.

"I hope not. The British won of course. Theodore had to commit suicide."

Floyd was no longer paying attention to German. He put his hands to his mouth and yelled. "Betty Lou! Get down here!" His voice was harsh, causing some of the Ethiopians to stare at him, watching him for his intentions.

"There are things in those woods." the German laughed. "But do not worry. I have this." He patted his gun.

The sun went below the wood-line and the air cooled down. Worked came to an end. Women from the village brought fresh bread and vegetables for their men. Floyd watched the women, wearing homespun dresses, feet bare and caked in mud, hair wrapped in turbans and scarfs. There had been a time when Floyd though of finding a woman and settling down, living like a normal man. Seeing the simple relationships play out between the Ethiopians, the men smiling as they saw their wives or sister or whoever it was who brought food for them, reminded Floyd of what he was missing. His heart felt the pang of that loss. But nothing could be done. He was detached now, an observer in this world, not a participant. This fact, something he accepted as simply as he accepted gravity or Newton's laws, soothed the feeling of loss. He reached down and rubbed behind Betty Lou's ear.

Most of the men went home with their women, but some of the younger men stayed behind, camping near the freshly laid black top in spite of, or maybe because of, its acrid stink of tar and modernity. August and Floyd had their own tents away from the Africans, where they sat on folding canvas chairs with crates for tables. The two men opened cans of tinned meat, eating it with some of the bread given to them by the Africans. August shared a bottle of wine. The insect song of late afternoon serenaded them as they ate. August took an unmarked glass jar of white liquid. It looked like pus, and Floyd watched as August took some and spread it on his bread. It was strange, like watching a man spread jam on a steak.

"You want some?" August asked.

"What is it?"

"Hippopotami lard." he said, "It's sweet. A bush delicacy. I lived on it when I was in the Schutztruppe."

"No thanks." Floyd replied, looking to his own meal. The two men enjoyed a few moments of quiet. The silence seemed to itch at the German, because he soon again broke it.

"The Abyssinians are too friendly to the Communists, nein? The Commandant would have cleared BEA of their communists if the Abyssinians were not protecting them."

"I don't know much about the politics." Floyd gave a piece of gelatin covered beef to Betty Lou, who's wide eyes followed his every move as sharply as a sniper following his victim.

"They are children. I think that is the problem. They are men of course too, these negroes I mean. Real men. If you pit a single negro against a single white man, especially a European white man, in any game of manly skill, I will bet on the success of the negro. Every time. But as a society? Huh. They don't have that quite yet. There isn't the chivalric tradition. They didn't go through the history. That is how they are children."

"Abyssinia?"

"Abysinnia has the tradition. This is true. This is a real country I think. But the other negro countries are not advanced enough yet. They are still foolish. That's why they like communism."

"I've never been to Europe, I cannot make the comparison." Floyd wasn't looking up at the German anymore. He scratched behind Betty-Lou's ears.

"Europe is shit. The countries are too advanced, no longer make men. You go to Europe and the manliest men you'll meet are old soldiers who think hunting partridges in the forest park is a sport. In a few decades, they'll say reading a newspaper is sport! They have no country any more. Look at this. In front of us. You can't get this in Europe so easy! There, this would be polluted by many perfect little roads and manicured little inns, and industrial parks, and railroads crisscrossing and shit and shit and shit!. No, there is no real country in Europe. It's all in Africa, and the Americas. I know your people still have country. They still have men, no? Men like your Theodore Roosevelt? The white men of Europe are wasted. The true white man lives in Africa and America now. And... uh, the name of that place... Australia. There too."

"So America and Australia are the only civilizations?"

"And Ostafrika of course. And Rhodesia." The German raised his wooden cup. "To America."

"To Ostafrika." Floyd mimicked. He felt out of place toasting, but when in Rome...

They went into their canvas tents to sleep. Floyd slept with Betty Lou, while August brought in his shotgun, promising that he would be ready for whatever had been scaring the natives. It took a long time for Floyd to sleep. That was normal for him since the war. There was something unnatural about the darkness anymore, a feeling that it hid enemy operatives, or that any unfamiliar sound was the bombers coming back to repeat the massacre in Denver. How strange it was he dreamt evil dreams of things his own side did during the war. That was the way of the thing. What kept him up wasn't the politics after all. It was the creative bloodshed, the horrible industrial efficiency of it all. Sometimes he didn't feel like a man, but like a single stalk of grain, standing alone, open for anything to mow him down.

When he did sleep, it wasn't satisfying. His dreams were red and filled with bad memories. He relived the death of comrades over and over again every night. He knew they would only truly die when he did, and he resigned himself to that truth. But it was when the sound of bombs returned, when his head echoed with explosions that'd went silent decades earlier, that was when he woke up. He repeated this process several times a night. Every night. And he would do this forever. When the dreams were too much, he shot up, clothes soaked, the air around him humid and stifling except for the breeze through the open tent flap. He didn't weep. This was normal. Beside breathing heavy, Floyd did nothing but stare into the darkness, feeling alone, and feeling like this was the way it was supposed to be.

It took him a moment to realize Betty Lou was gone. He crawled out of the tent and into night-time Africa.

The wilderness was dark. There was no electricity for dozens of miles, and the only thing to light the night were the stars and the moon. He put on his boots, wearing only them and his long underwear. "Betty Lou!" he yelled. His voice was hoarse from sleep. He stumbled to the back of the truck and felt for a flashlight. The light flickered on. In the wild dark, the beam was strong and well defined, a thin strip of daylight in the middle of an endless nowhere.

"Betty Lou!"

He marched toward the forest, the light hitting the wall of deep green and stopping dead, hiding who knows what. Enemy patrols? He put that ridiculous thought of his mind.

He heard barking. His uncertain march became a gallop. Plants slapped him as he pushed his way past.

"Betty Lou!"

He heard her again, barking, growling, then a blood-curdling whine. She was crying. He heard something else. It was a monster sound, the slobbering growl associated with any man-eating creature in the dark. He held tight to his flash-light and ran forward.

"Betty Lou!"

He crashed through the underbrush into a clearing. His bare arms and face stung, and he was breathing heavy. Something out of sight growled, and the sound made all his hairs stand on end. The beam of light hit where red blood stained the muddy ground. Floyd's heart jumped into his throat, then sank down like the sun. Betty Lou lay motionless in that puddle, her fur caked in blood. He started to run to her, but the growl became a violent feline roar. His light shot upward, where he saw a leopard posed in a tree, mouth wide open, pink tongue and bloody fangs bared for him to see. He froze in spot and watched in horror as the cat hopped down, standing over Betty Lou's body, moving slowly toward the unarmed man. Its spotted fur was vivid, almost bright in the beam of the flashlight.

The natives had known something was here. He hadn't seen them camping when he came out to look for Betty Lou. They'd sensed the danger and went home, because they knew better. Floyd held his flashlight like a club. The big cat sounded like an idling motorcycle as it stalked toward him.

The forest exploded all at once. Floyd didn't have time to see what had happened. He fell to his belly instinctively, his ears ringing, images of fire and blood flashing through his mind like a slideshow project possessed by death. His hands crawled over the back of his head, checking for blood, pushing his face into the mud.

"Scheizkerl!" he heard a familiar voice. The cat growled again, but their was a second explosion. A shot! The old German was laughing.

Floyd pushed himself up and plucked his flashlight from the mud. The first thing he saw was the corpse of the leopard, its face blown apart as if it'd been caught by an airplane's propeller. He swept the light to where Betty Lou was, and saw the shirtless German crouching over the dog.

"Your hound's alive." he pronounced, "And a hunting hound too! Look what a prize I just bagged!"

"Alive!" Floyd said. He was aware of his heart beating again.

"It took a beating, but I've seen dogs be dealt worse by badgers and live to howl about it. We'll have to be careful moving her."

Floyd was over her. Her wounds were ugly bleeding gashes, hard to tell how deep they were. But she was breathing. She was breathing, and she was softly whimpering. "It did a number on you, girl." he said to her, running his fingers through the fur between her ears. "But you got it. Look over. You got it."
----------------------------------------------------
Late July: Swahili People's Republic
----------------------------------------------------

"The world complains at what happened in Mombasa! Where was this clamor when the legions of Europe ravaged Africa? Where were the shrieks of the moralists, the condemnations of the Ostkaiser? Why is it we who have been handled with injustice must walk meekly like children when enemies of the revolution resist? If there is not justice for all, there is no justice at all, and no wrong can be done by the warriors of a better world!"


The voice came wrapped in static through the cockpit radio. Murungaru grinned. It was a familiar voice, the deep dramatic roar of Chairman Lutalo, coming over the airwaves from Revolution-Town's own tower. Finally, after a long time in Kisumu, Africa's red army was coming home.

Lake Victoria spread out forever under the three big-bellied seaplanes, Chinese made Féi é. These were the largest prop planes Murungaru had ever seen, more like airships in size. They produced a deep-throated bumblebee hum that pervaded their steel fuselages. The outsides were scrappy and dented, save for the massive red stars on their sides, and the communist graffiti covering their easy to reach underbellies like barnacles do on ships. They were so large that the cockpits could fit several dozen people. Murungaru stood next to Li Huan, behind Agricola and his co-pilot, watching with arms crossed. The radio was completely swallowed by some unintelligible message, a static stew.

"Look!" Li Huan shouted. Her stiff Houist uniform made her appear younger by contrast, and her voice was high pitched and bubbly. "Land!"

"That's the city." Agricola agreed. Murungaru saw it, a pearl on the horizon guarded by swampy islands. Agricola grabbed the radio's microphone. "Revolution Town, this is Red Leader, code 1917, are we clear to land?"

There was a pause. "Yes Bwana. Welcome home!"

Agricola nodded as if the man on the other side could see him. "Reds, we are coming in. Let's bring these fat birds down one at a time, comrades. One at a time."

A pause.

"Red 1 copy that, comrade."

"Red 2 copy."

The propaganda radio came back, now playing music. Murungaru smiled when he heard an American song, one he recognized from a record collection they'd taken in Mombasa. He'd sent it ahead on a small plane loaded with special loot, a first taste of conquest for Revolution-Town. It was played now as if Communism had liberated it, made this music its own, another thing saved from those coastal ruins of capitalist decadence.

"Come on over baby
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


"We're bring her down. Sit down, hold on." Agricola's German-accented English sounded thicker than usual. Everyone obeyed.

"Yes I said come on over baby
Baby you can't go wrong"


"Here we go." the vessel rattled as it descended, steel chattering. Murungaru doubted whether it was safe. Everyone looked quietly at one another, hands wrapped tight around whatever they could grab.

"We ain't faking
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


The craft shuttered as they powered down and came closer to the water. Agricola guffawed. "Landing on smooth water is dangerous. But good thing for us, these things won't let the water be smooth."

"Well I said come on over baby
We got kickin' in the barn"


"Why is smooth water dangerous? I thought that was good." Li Huan yelled. Her small voice barely overcame the engines.

"Come over baby
Baby got the bull by the horn"


"When the water is like a mirror you can't see where it is, just the reflection of the sky. But look." They all looked out and saw how the plane's massive propellers disturbed the lake below them, sending white sheets rippling toward the shore. Tan Egyptian geese took flight in every direction escaping this new monster bird.

"We ain't fakin'
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


They came closer, and closer, the engines slowing down more. They seemed to hover over the water for a good long while. Then, all at once, the craft shuddered worse than before, skipping over the water, helping to slow it down. They felt as if they were being jerked forward. Steel whined.

"Well I said shake it baby shake
I said shake it, baby shake
I said shake it, baby shake it
Said shake, baby shake
Come on over
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


They came to a stop in front of the marble walls of Revolution-Town. It was a strange sight, like a theme-park version of ancient Rome, a manic cluster of gleaming white buildings crammed into a square mile or so on a peninsula guarding the bay into Kampala. It'd been rushed together in that sweet grace period when the revolution was at its zenith, before the Anarchists and Reactionaries rended everything apart and brought civil war to the People's Republic. On some of the marble was painted the faces of great revolutionary leaders: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Hou Sai Tang, James Lutalo. These faces were tarnished by the spray from the lake, and from the hot African sun, but even though they were pale and chipped in some places, they still looked on, watching the southern horizon with determination, perhaps looking out for lake-born reactionaries. There were opening in the walls that led to the beach, places where floating docks jutted out. Those places were crawling with people, pushing out trawlers and boats and make-shift rafts, ready to receive what the pregnant-bellied seaplanes birthed.

They were drifting now as the plane turned around, facing the direction it came, it's comrade planes circling above.

"We must thank Comrade Hou for the seaplanes." Murungaru said dispassionately, turning to Li Huan, her wide eyes and wider smile warming his heart.

"What is the first thing I should see?" she asked.

"What?"

She blushed. "I'm sorry. You think I'm silly, but... this is just so magical! A city in the jungle!"

"Let's go see it. I'll tell you what to look for." he said. She went in front of him, following the pilots.

They walked out onto the wing, stepping carefully on the slick steel surface. A seaplane circled above while another lowered for a landing, creating two conflicting droning roars that drowned out all other sounds. The lake gave off a wet, fishy scent. Below, boats and rafts took to the water, piloted by casually uniformed soldiers and men in civilian dress, moving like sharks in the direction of the hatches. A rope ladder was thrown down, hovering over a small boat. They descended.

Work began immediately. Soldiers hiding in the hold of the craft joined their lake-born comrades in unloading the loot. There were crates, and piles, and bundles, and boxes. The larger items, mostly furniture or vehicles, were carried out one at a time. A Handwerker Familienwagen was pushed onto a log raft by a half dozen people, the raft bobbing back and forth, nearly tipping and taking the car with it.. Murungaru saw that the ocean spray had power-washed away the graffiti from the fat gut of the plane, leaving only smears of paint and the dripping communist star.

"Look!" he heard Li Huan call out. He looked up and saw who had captured her eye. Standing at the edge of the docks was the figure of Chairman James Lutalo, the sun gleaming off his polished breastplate. Murungaru felt about this reunion the same way the working man in the trap of capitalism must feel when coming back to their exploitative boss. It was the price he had to pay. The price of revolution.

Lutalo saluted as the second plane slowed to a stop further down the coast. With a megaphone, he accompanied the salute with a familiar hymn.

"Arise you people from your slumbers
Arise you prisoners of want."

Lutalo didn't really sing, more like barked, but the soldiers drilled to this song did sing it, belting it out in manly voices like a warcry.

"Humanity in revolt now thunders!
Now ends the age of cant!
Away with all your superstitions!
Enslaved masses arise, arise!
We’ll change all the bad traditions!
And fight the dust to win the prize!"


At the refrain, everybody joined in, and the entire lake rang with voices louder than the third plane touching down behind them.

"So comrades, come rally!
And the last fight let us face!
The Internationale unites the human race!"


There was a cry, shouts and ululations, celebrating the song as if by merely singing it caused everything it it's lyrics to have already happened. The singing stopped just as they reached the mossy edge of the dock.

"General Secretary Murungaru! The people welcome you!" Lutalo bellowed.

"They honor me." Murungaru replied. They were brought up onto the dock, Lutalo helping them personally, big hands pulling them up one at a time.

"I am humble to meet you, great Chairman Lutalo." Li Huan bowed. Lutalo, standing nearly twice as tall as the slender Asian, seemed to inflate at this greeting.

"Revolution-town welcomes you, little prize." The Chairman said. They walked into the compound, along a path of stone.

"There is not a thing like this in China." Li Huan complimented.

"You like it? It is the vision I had for the people, and the people have made it so."

Murungaru felt burning jealousy in that moment, and that jealousy chipped away at the edifice of Revolution-Town Lutalo was so busy praising. He saw how the buildings seemed compact, sort of squeezed together and stunted in side as if they were miniatures of real monuments. He saw the Parthenon-style structure called the Temple of the People's Will, which Lutalo had ordered constructed out of limestone and white dalati marble, but when it turned out not white enough to his liking, he had the beautiful stone whitewashed, the paint now chipping on the humiliated edifice.

"These are the homes of our most important party members." Lutalo pointed to a row of six colonial style homes.

"Mine is the second from us." Murungaru interrupted, placing his hand on her shoulder. "If you go there, I will be with you soon."

"I want to see more!"

"Soon, little prize." Lutalo interrupted, "But there is important business for us to conduct."

"I'll take her." Agricola said. Murungaru nodded and watched as the aging German led the beauty away.

"Murungaru, I sensed you were worried I would take your girl?" Lutalo teased.

"You have sensed the wrong thing, Mister Chairman. I am only wondering now what business you are talking about."

Lutalo went from playful to somber. "Come then and follow me, Mister Secretary. We have bad news. I don't want to tell it, but you have to hear." They went inside Senate of the People's will, a compact and rather bland romanasque building who's only outstanding features were its dome and a number of inexplicably placed carvings of laurel sprigs.

Inside was no bigger than a classroom, designed as a stepwell of stone benches leading down to a likewise stone podium. It all was the same color, an image harsh on the eyes broken only by the red ceiling with its Houist star, and broken by the solid figure of Paulo Madada, party treasurer, standing near a bench.

"We are all here together!" Lutalo announced, "The great brains of revolution, eh? This is good. We have a problem to work out." Lutalo pulled a charred piece of wood from a holster Murungaru had assumed to hold a pistol. "This is a gift our enemy left for us." he slammed it on the bench, leaving a black charcoal smear.

"You carried that thing with you?" Murungaru asked, "What kind of joker do you think you are? We did not need a show!"

"Shush, mister Secretary." Lutalo said. "This was left behind by the Freedom Army of God. They burned the village of Nabiswara, and they crucified all of the Muslims they could capture and sent everybody else fleeing. Three revolutionary soldiers were murdered."

Murungaru said nothing. He felt like he'd been shot in the gut.

"This is the second raid the Freedom Army of God has conducted south of the Victoria Nile." Madada added.

"Why would they be so aggressive?" Murungaru finally said. He felt himself going hot. He wanted to march out now, to bring war to the religious freaks. Lutalo seemed to catch Murungaru's flaring temper, as the Chairman's eyes lit up too. "Our enemies are becoming one thing. If we wait too long to destroy them, they will overpower us." Lutalo said.

Murungaru slammed a fist onto the nearby stone bench. It made no sound. "This is what comrade Marx warned us about the anarchists. They have no theory. They will fight everything we do and destroy the revolution!"

"Are we so certain Hondo-Demissie has anything to do with this? It could be a coincidence." Madada warned.

"Perhaps it is a coincidence, though I doubt it is..." Murungaru said, "But what does it matter? Either our enemies are working together and Hondo-Demissie has betrayed the revolution, or they are not working together but Hondo-Demissie is looking the other way as reactionaries do great murders. In both situations the answer is the same. Our enemies must be destroyed! We marched on the white people in Mombasa, though they had many friends and the world was against us, and we wiped their fortress from the face of the earth..."

"Fine work." Madada said "The world hates us for that. They point and say 'look, they are communist and black so they are savage, and this proves it!'"

"You do not have the balls for revolution!" Murungaru shouted. His voiced echoed through the small marble room.

"Let us not fight each other." Lutalo said, "We do not need this sort of thing, no? I agree with Murungaru. We need to destroy our enemies. But our enemies are crafty. It will not be an easy war."

"The problem is at the source." Murungaru said. "The Freedom Army is evil, but it will crumble. The real evil is the anarchists. We must focus on Marcel Hondo-Demissie. We must destroy him and unite the left! Then the reactionaries will fall."

"I would like revenge for what they did to me at the Nabakazi river." Lutalo smiled, slapping Murungaru on the back, "I was hoping that was what I would hear! Come then. Madada, do we have a unanimous agreement?"

Madada shrugged. "I have a feeling this is an incomplete plane. But you are the warriors, so I bow to your decision."

"Let's wipe that little booger out of the jungle then, eh?" Lutalo laughed.

Murungaru said nothing. His blood was hot. He wanted to go back to his home, to find Li Huan, and to have her like he'd never had a woman before. He wanted this so bad he was nearly shaking. After that, it would be time to plan a war. Then something came to mind.

"Yes." he said, "I know the tools to do it. There is a friend to the revolution..." he paused for a second, "There are medicines that make warriors fight like supernatural things. I know how to get them."
((Collab with Wyrm))

What is it you call the dead when they come alive? They were ghosts, or ghosts of corpses, bloodied, bloated, and grey, dressed in tattered leathers, boots rotting off their feet, pus oozing through the holes in their broken bodies. Blood poured like water from a crater in the stomach of the big bearded one, and his eyes were white and clouded. A smaller man with a torso peppered in bloody spots walked beside him. But their leader, that... that thing, he was the worse of all. The top of his head had been blown off entirely, shot away as if by a howitzer shell, stringy gore and broken skull like eggshells in the pulp where his brain had once been. There were no eyes anymore, and blood poured from his goblet-like top as he walked. These ghouls, night-visions of a horrific unknown dream, the fevered imaginations a wrinkled debtera might tell children to warn them away from cemeteries, they walked together alone in a desolate desert landscape. They were Highway Rangers. She knew it. Whats worse, she felt like she recognized them. The world around them, rock and dust and the bricks and planks of forgotten homesteads, seemed to fracture and break like pieces of glass as they walked, rearranging all around them, a landscape uncertain what it wanted to be. The creature with half a head still had lips, and they seemed to babble something, random cracking sounds interspersed with the sick gurgling of a drowning man. The sounds came together into words which she wasn't sure about. The words became ideas, and formed into something familiar in her mind until it became a song. It was as if the creature had grabbed hold of something in her subconscious and yanked it out of her.

Yes, I'm gonna walk on that milky white way
Oh Lord, some of these days


It started as a cracked sentence, but soon it picked up a melody, and a band, and the ghouls walked in harmony with the song.

Well, I'm gonna walk that milky white way
Some of these days, well, well, well, well


The landscape broke below them, and their walk turned seamlessly into a descent. Fire lapped from below them. They were walking down a staircase like a basalt formation, and it led straight into the pit.

I'm gonna walk up and take my stand
Gonna join that Christian band
I'm gonna walk on that milky white way
Oh Lord, some of these days


The fires burst forth and blackened the dead things. Blood boiled over the half-head of the singer, pouring over the top like Victoria Falls. The creature smiled, seemingly at her, though she didn't think she was there for it to see. It licked its lips, face basking in rising hell-light, and a grin curled across its peeling face.

She woke up.

----------------------------------
Mid July: Madrid, Spain
----------------------------------

Taytu was recovering in America before politics happened to her. Her brother chose to overreact, and she'd been sent out of the country to Rome where one of the best doctors in Europe was prepared to help her, but fever overtook her over the Atlantic. Instead they landed in Spain, a country she knew little about, as infection ravaged her and made it difficult to think, or to remember.

How silly would it be to die over this? A bullet wound from some commoner in the American desert?

Her ribs felt like gelatin. She stayed still, afraid to move, afraid to cause the pain, though the entire back of her body felt as if ten thousand little pins and needles were trying to push her up and force her to move. She fell in and out of consciousness, aware only of the odor in the room, a mix of her own sweat, of soap, and a sickly dank scent like rotting paper in an old library. The walls were the yellow of old parchment, the mattress thin on a harsh metal frame. Her nurses were nuns, women dressed in thick white cotton, their habits hiding their hair, their pale faces having the pudgy softness of sexless creatures who'd given up on themselves long ago.

Her dreams were horrible. They were shifting deserts and plagues of the dead. She dreamed of the death of family members, of the disease that ate her father, of forlorn battlefields littered with brutalized remains left behind the angels of war to rot in the open air. She was aware of Noh Mareko, appearing occasionally, talking to her, saying nothing she could remember. What she mostly remembered was that rotten paper stench. It seemed to grow, become mixed with a putrid smell like rotting flesh. How much time had went on like this? It seemed like months, though she'd lost track somewhere in Nevada. She was relieved when a nun helped her into a squeaky wheelchair and pushed her out onto the balcony. The pain was fading by then, but the medicine dripping into her veins from a glass bottle hung on a pole kept her numb and only half conscious. How long had that medicine been there? It was in this state she saw the sun for the first time in what seemed like a year. Her face felt flush in the intense heat, and the light hurt her eyes and made her squint.

There it was all in front of her. Madrid, that antithesis of American ambition and futurism. Europe had deflected the alteration of their culture coming from across the Atlantic, swallowing the modern world and regurgitating it into something more fitting to old dignities. The high rises and flashing commercial wonder of New York City was narrowly reflected in a different light, replaced with somber neo-gothic architecture, a city of high rises like cathedrals and basilicas to material need, the streets neat and orderly. It was, essentially, a good catholic city, the church spires hardly distinguishable from towers of industry and finance. This gave it a dignity, but also an Imperial harshness.

She came back slowly over the course of the week. She learned she was at Hospital de San Sebastián el Mártir, not far from the city center. Sleep was the only thing she had to do most of the time, but twice a day the kindly nuns helped her outside, and she spent a moment watching the city. Airships came and went slowly, the native transport of a culture that saw leisurely slowness as a natural part of dignity. She noticed the soldiers in the street, and noticed how nobody else seemed to notice them. Madrid was crawling with uniformed military men, guarding crossroads, checking papers in front of government buildings, stationed on busy roads just... watching. She knew something was happening, a slight impression, something she'd heard in her sickness, or perhaps just intuition. But what was it? Spain didn't seem to mind. It went by casually, the people perhaps slightly slower and more venerable in their way then Americans, but casual all the same.

Noh came back to her in her room. When she saw him, the airiness of her situation went away. She felt grounded to the world again. Vulnerable.

"What am I doing here?" she demanded of him. Her voice was weak. She could feel it, and it bothered her.

"You had an infection." he said. She'd already knew that, but she looked thoughtful as if this was new information.

"I didn't make it to Rome." she stated.

"No."

"Where were you?"

"It's hard for me to get through."

"Through?"

"The blockades. Soldier blockades. I'm a foreigner, so they deny me entry most of the time. They are real tough around here since... well, you don't know about it."

"What?"

"There was..." Noh bent down, his expression pensive, maybe a tinge afraid. "The King has replaced his government. The military has helped him."

"There was a coup." Taytu said blandly.

"Shh! We are guests."

"We are dignitaries." she said, "And I've just been shot. Do you suppose everybody wants to put a bullet in me? It's a coup. They won't want to cause an international incident."

"I do not know. I wouldn't want to know. There is a rumor a German nobleman was murdered."

This piece of information made her pause. A smart revolutionary, one who had the competence to be a true statesman, will leave a foreign dignitary alone. No reason in raising international ire. But the problem with revolution is that they don't guarantee deserving leaders. What sort of creature might be lifted out of the gutter, their idea of government based on fairy tales and things they read about in books, to be made King until Darwinian nature intervened and plucked them from the throne? She might be caught in a burp of history, unlucky enough to be put to death by a someone forgettable.

"Have you informed the embassy?"

"They know you are here and are doing what they can, but I get it they are confused."

Confused. Naturally. It was a revolution. Who could you trust?

"Tell them I'm awake." she said, "I want to speak with the Ambassador. Whats his name?"

"Dejazmach Wendem Cherkos."

The name was familiar. She could put a face to him. A nobleman, not a man she knew well, but still a man she knew. "Get him. I don't want to be stuck in this country much longer." Noh left her in the company of the taciturn nuns.

Silence has a sound. Its like hushed air, and the long echoes of every little thing nobody pays attention to in a normal setting. She was awake now, anxious, uncomfortable with this strange atmosphere. With no radios in the building, she could hear whispering old nuns from the other side of the hall. She heard moans from fellow patients. Sometimes, when the silence grew so loud the air could be heard like static, she swore she could hear screaming. Tortured souls? No wonder these people were Catholic. Or was she dreaming this too?

Still, she was feeling better. Healing was no longer a problem. She was left in a strange despair that seemed ridiculous to her. Bored, not five minutes after Noh had left her, she struggled to hike her gown up her side so she could see the wound that had cost her so much pain and time. It was there, just above the jut of her hip bone, looking like some strange formation on the moon. Her entire side was discolored and bruised black around the webbing formation of scar tissue, at the center a brutal scab. Seeing it made it sting.

"No no!" a nun rushed in. "No no no!" The camel-faced woman grabbed her hard by the bottom of her gown and tugged down with some force, and Taytu realized she'd exposed more than just her hip. But what did it matter? She glared at the nun until the unhappy woman retreated, leaving her alone again, in the quiet with her wheeling thoughts.

An image appeared real quick and unformed in her mind of cracked lips and blood. Her heart twinged with fear. Was she going insane?

She couldn't just stay here. Noticing the wheelchair in the corner, she made a hasty decision. She pulled herself out of bed, her limbs feeling suddenly weak as if she were old and invalid, he side bursting in artillery shells of pain. When her bare feet felt the cold linoleum floor, her legs seemed to beg her to put them back in bed, but she persisted, and rose like Lazarus from the dead. The pain followed her march to the chair, feeling as if she were being folded sideways. She imagined herself to look like a leper, haggard, skeletal, an entirely broken woman, but none of that mattered so long as she could reach the shining excellence that was that ancient wheelchair. She sat in it, propping her good side against the bar, letting her spiking pain subside.

When she was comfortable, she started to roll. It was work, especially dragging the awkward pole and bottle with her so it didn't tug at her arm. The wheels whined with every turn, and her arms were shaking, but she kept it moving until she was in the hall.

It was a well kept hospital for all its depressing faults. The walls and floor were clean and maintained, decorated with the occasional crucifix or muted painting of a praying saint. She wheeled herself past nuns and white-coat doctors. They didn't seem to mind. She passed a young soldier standing guard, brown uniform and cap, in front of a closed door. What was that about? The coup? It didn't matter. She was looking for outside, for a world beyond the smell of old paper and ether. Her blood seemed to know where it was. She followed it and the memory of sunlight on her skin.

When she found the door to the balcony, it gave her energy, and she turned the wheels with more vigor. A kindly old nun opened the door and she was out. The Spanish sun struck her immediately, and it made her feel well again. She was outside! On the street below she could see soldiers. Someone somewhere was strumming a guitar. It reached her like a sound she wasn't supposed to hear, overcoming the car noises in the busy street, hitting her ear as if it were just around the corner. A yellow and black checkered airship hovered lazily over the hills to the north. She closed her eyes, let the sun shine its cozy orange light through her eyelids, and smothered the anxiety inside herself.

Somewhere, at some time, a church bell started, and a dozen more answered all at once. She was vaguely aware that she was cold. The world faded away.

She was in a small sort of airship at night, standing on an outdoor platform made of steel surrounding the balloon, a number of soldiers with her, floating just above the treeline. She knew she was an American, but how that had happened she didn't know. They were all holding heavy rifles. A grizzled veteran standing next to her was singing to himself.

I feel so bad I got a worried mind
I'm so lonesome all the time
Since I left my baby behind
On Blue Bayou


The moon was gone, and the darkness was nearly total. The landscape was dark blotches and shadows against a deep dark blue.

"Wake up." a gruff voice whispered, "When we start, we'll be sitting ducks. Toast or be toasted."

Saving nickles, saving dimes
Working til the sun don't shine
Looking forward to happier times
On Blue Bayou


"Is that? That's them! Toast them!"

They all started shooting at shadows below. She could vaguely make out the reflection of their fusillade against the sides of trucks.

"Cajun chickens!" one man screamed manically, "Bok bok bok bok!"

The singers voice became something of a shout.

I'm going back someday!
Come what may!
To Blue Bayou!
Where the folks are fun!
And the world is mine!
On Blue Bayou!


She became aware that some of the dark figures scrambling beneath them were Highway Rangers. Her finger pulled hard against the trigger. So hard that it hurt.

Enemy gunfire pinged against the armored gut of their airship. But something heavier belched further ahead, flashing like a red star in the black swamp, and moments later the air behind them burst into flame.

She woke up, breathing heavy, the night completely silent around her, sweat on her brow. It took her several seconds to realize it was another nightmare. She was in Spain, in bed, safe, but she knew there would be no sleeping again tonight. She stared at the shadowed ceiling and listened to the drip of liquid from the bottle hooked up next to her. The drip had a rhythm, like a metronome keeping time for a silent orchestra. It seemed to go on forever until she disappeared from it.

The next morning, she was wakened by a worried looking nun. "There is someone here to see you." she said, "Are you well?"

Noh. She didn't see him, but he must have got the ambassador through. "Yes." she croaked, pulling herself up. The nun grabbed the sheet and pulled it up to Taytu's neck, then scurried off. There wasn't a wait, the person was just outside the door, and it wasn't somebody she recognized.

The woman who stepped through the door and in that sterile white room was as out of place in Spanish Madrid as Taytu herself. There was an air of confidence to the woman that Taytu almost envied as a hovering nurse was shooed out of the room with a stern word or two in broken Spanish. Her visitor was, almost unbelievably, a black woman. Even beneath the politely ankle length dress and high collar Taytu could still see that this woman was incredibly fit and found herself returning the broad smile.

As she swept into the room the faint smell of roses came with her, cutting through the sterile smell of disinfectant. She was pretty, well dressed, but in a way that Taytu recognized as being entirely forgettable. It was no accident, of that Taytu was sure, and in her experience only one group of people dressed like that, intelligence agents and spies.

"Your Majesty, I am Sara Reicker. I bring you the warmest regards of Viceroy Delgado and be apologizes for not being able to attend to you personally." The woman spoke flawless Amharic, though her dialect was slightly off, she was clearly from somewhere south of Ethiopia, Rhodesia maybe. She bowed her head slightly, enough to be polite. "How are you?"

"Miserable." Taytu complained. "This isn't the quality lodgings I'm used to."

“It is a shame then that your companion didn’t disclose your true identity to us sooner.” Sara smiled broadly, a smile that failed to reach her eyes. “The Viceroy has placed a small palace at your disposal if you wish.”

"Am I free to leave this country if I choose?" Taytu said wearily.

Sara looked confused for a moment. "Of course. Why would you not be?"

"I'd like to meet with the Ambassador from my country. Can that be arranged?"

"Your majesty is not a prisoner. You have but to ask the nurses to use a phone. Since you seem intent on ignoring my generous offer, think about it, and call me when you have made up your mind." Sara stood and then placed a stamped card on the table. It bore only a phone number and the words Foreign Office. "Until then, your majesty."

"Wait." Taytu said, throat dry. "I didn't deny anything. I want to meet with my ambassador. Here is fine. So is this palace."

"Then I will send word for him to meet us there." Sara had paused in the doorway but now turned back again and barked something in angry Spanish. The nuns appeared quickly and Taytu could not miss the hint of fear on their faces. They conferred for a moment Sara, their strangely pale faces in stark contrast to her black one, then they nodded and hurried into the room to help Taytu dress.

He ran, feet conforming to the red earth they knew so well, that he'd known since his birth. He no longer felt pain in that quarter, the ancient jigsaw rocks that littered to roots of the ambas and mountains having long ago cured his soles of their more delicate senses. It was normal for him to cover the rugged distances between the old monasteries of Wag province on a daily basis.

The rainy season was passing, farmers returning to their crops over washed out trails, struggling with ornery pack mules in the dense summer air. Wet dirt from the pockets and gullies not yet dried by the sun caked his feet and the fringes of his cotton tunic as he ran. The green scrub land smelled of vegetation and life, and sounded of birds.

In a cloth sack hanging from his shoulder was, a letter, addressed from the Abba of one monastery to another. Telegraphs didn't connect the small villages or the old places, being a miracle reserved for the budding cities as they grew into something unfamiliar to the older ways of life. Out here, a runner was the fastest form of communication, and young athletic monks the replacement for the phone line.

If the distance was too long, he couldn't complete it in one day. To run at night was foolish. There were lions on the prowl after sunset, and bandits, and far worse things. As a boy, he and his brother had seen an ugly thing swim a river near their village at dusk. He hadn't known how to describe it, but his brother had. "It was a buda" the older boy told their friends self-importantly, as if the experience had turned him into a wizened storyteller. "A man-hyena, searching for a child's skin to make into a shield." The wild places of the world held dangers like this after dark. There were budas, and witches, and falasha, and the ghosts of cursed men who'd fought in ancient wars during the times of Yodit. He would not run at night. When the sky went yellow and the sun crowned the mountains, he made sure he was near his home village, on those familiar trails, safe from the truly evil.

The hut he'd grown up in still stood, now the home of his elder brother and his family. His nephew and niece were playing with the goats in the pen, teasing them through the fence. When they saw him, they ran to catch up with him, mimicking his wide gait in their clumsy childish way, shouting his name as if it were a childhood game of its own.

His brother came out at the commotion, wearing a threadbare tunic and trousers, looking every bit the respectable farmer. That boyish face was still there, covered in a thin mask of wear it was true, but his eyes were unchanged. The two grown men smiled and embraced. Even though they had spent their youth together, any time he saw his older brother, the same memory always appeared. It was the night before he went to the priesthood, his brother leading him through the frightening twilight like a scout ahead of an army. It was a memory of darkness and fear, the appearance of the old witches hut on the edge of the river, the smell of her when he went inside and saw her undressed, the only time he'd saw the secret place between a woman's legs. She bragged to the village she was barren, that no man could put a baby in her, an invitation that might have made her an outcast if the people of the village didn't also believe deeply in her knowledge of magic. She was an eccentric, and a filthy person. She liked to argue with priests and elders in public. As he'd grown older, he'd became a member to the secret everybody knew, that every man in the village had lain with her, and that everyone pretended they hadn't. And so he took his turn before he joined a life of celibacy, that strange night in his youth at a time when he still felt much too young for such things. It was a living memory, or one that came alive when he recalled it, the fear mixed with animal like pleasure, the feeling of having slipped into some unnatural netherworld, the fear of being cursed. It was why, when he saw his brother, he felt joy and guilt and discomfort all in one odd emotional sensation.

"Have the old men made you into one of them yet?" His brother said, repeating the same line he said whenever they met, still making himself grin like the clever man he knew himself to be. Both men laughed the laugh of old friends just glad to be in one another's company.

His brothers wife watched them, smiling a soft empathetic smile, standing over a hot pan cooking over a fire. Smoke billowed dark and heavy from the wet kindling, making her eyes water. A thin pancake on injera cooked below, filling the air with its tangy sourdough scent, mixing together with the smell of the earth and the grassy scent of goat shit that wouldn't be appetizing to an outsider, but reminded him of home. The brother ordered the children to help their mother with the food, and the two men went inside. "I have something for your eyes" his brother said just as they left the red light of sunset behind and entered the musty hut.

The floor was made of the same red dirt outside, the simple handmade furniture peppered with dust and thatching. The walls were stone, and littered with small openings. A mosquito bit the runners neck. He swatted it and inspected his palm.

"Mosquitoes rule a great empire." his brother said, paraphrasing a Scottish missionary who'd visited their village when they were children. This quip about mosquitoes was all the elder brother had retained from those early theological lessons. He reached down and grabbed a piece of parchment from the table, handing it to the runner. "It is from our brother. I know his mark, I compared to the others. But I can't read the rest." The young monk looked down, scanning over the scribbled Amharic script.

"Brother." The young monk started to read out loud, his voice filling the small room, "I am in the Ogaden. My leader tells me that I cannot tell you where because it is an army secret. I eat well. The Somali women bring us food, and it is like what we eat at home, though just like all things in the Ogaden there is more sand in it than there should be. The wind blows sand everywhere, sometimes in big clouds, and we must cover our eyes. The other men are surprised I can write. I write for them sometimes. I wish I could write for the men from the city because their stories are so wonderful, but they already know how to write, so I only hear some. The country men pay me with parts of their rations. They say I will grow fat like a city writer! I do not grow fat though, because there is always work to do and patrols to walk on. I know our brother is reading this. He should come out here to be a priest. There are many Muslims who do not understand god, and he could teach them. I hope to see you when I am put on leave for Meskel. I pray for you."

The children came in with a stack of injera. Their mother followed holding aloft a pot of stew, bubbling and sticking to the container. The bread was served like plates and the stew piled in the center, a mess of greens and chili peppers with eggs poking up like lumps of marble. The brothers tore pieces of bread and used them to pinch the stew.

"What do you think? Is he useful in the Ogaden?" His brother asked, his wife slipping a wooden cup full of Tej, home brewed honey wine, next to him.

"I think his imperial majesty's service will make a man out of him." He said, a cup slipped next to him at well. It smelled heavy and dangerous, but he could vaguely smell that small nugget of sweet too, a mustard seed size of golden honey in a hive of bees, inviting him to drink despite the warnings.

"Maybe so, but what is there for him to do?"

"Fight shiftas? Or desert bandits?"

"There are big hairy wild men out there too, who used to fight naked for the mad mullah." His brother turned to the kids now and spoke in the mysterious voice of a traveling storyteller, "They tie knives to their manhoods and swing them at Christian soldiers, and grunt like monkeys like this." He puffed up his cheeks and made an apeish hooting noise.

The children laughed, but their mother did not. "This is not a story for children" she scolded. The runner smiled. "It is not a story for my ears either" he said. The others laughed. "Besides, the mad mullah has been dead for so long, his hairy wild men must be old now. Ras Hassan rules Adal now."

"The Mad Mullah's son! Just as mad!"

"I do not think so." The young monk said, unsure. "He is a subject of his imperial majesty".

"Impossible! Impossible! True subjects of the King Of Kings must be Christian. That is the law."

"These laws are too big for me." the runner surrendered.

"That is why you still have a brother! I am here to tell you these things!"

Their mirth carried into the night, when the darkness closed in and their village became a fortress against the dangers. The runner went to bed content, well fed, and happy to be alive.

--

He left when light first peaked. His sister in law was just waking. She handed him bread as he went out the door, into the fresh morning air, the smell of dew and goat shit strong. He inhaled deep, taking pleasure in the songs of birds and the solemn dignity of the red mountains rising up like monuments. And then he ran.

He ran non stop, past the forest where the old witch used to live, past a herd of cattle grazing along the road, past a babbling creek, and the smell of the village with all its pungent humanity. Fields went by, and rocky crags inhabited by goats. A troop of baboons sunned on the rocks and lazily watched him go by.

This felt more natural than walking sometimes. Stones and farms and trees went by. Fat baobabs acted like familiar markers. His breath reached a steady pace and stayed there. In the way a mariner might navigate by the stars, he navigated by the shapes of ambas he's passed hundreds of times before.

His arrival came mid afternoon, at the foot of a scrawny amba split by the flow of two small rivers. A dusty station seemed to lean against the incline. Further above, nestled in the rocky peak of the amba, was a serious of scrappy stone churches and houses. Here was Debre Melekot, his destination.

"You're going to have to wait your turn, young man." an elderly bent over debtera warned, shaking a weathered prayer stick. The old man was being helped into a basket by two young acolytes. Once inside, the old man looked absolutely ridiculous, like a baby goat stuffed into a satchel belly up. A long rope ran up the side of the cliff, which would be pulled by acolytes at the top once they got the signal, helping the old holy man up the sheer cliff. The runner made sure his satchel was secure. "I think I can make it on my own." he said. The debtera grinned like a devil, but said nothing.

So they went up together, a crazy pair, the old man in his basket, the young runner grasping for rocks as he climbed barefoot up the sheer face of the amba.

"I used to be able to do that too." the old man said.

"Yes, abba." the runner huffed, reaching for a rock.

"Old age is not kind to the body. It is a lesson we all must learn. You will learn it to."

"Yes, abba."

"Careful now, you'll fall. Now. When I was young, I climbed everything I could see. Ambas, mountains, trees. I don't know. It was easy."

"Yes..."

"Are you the young man the priests have been looking for?"

"What?" The runner stopped, hanging onto the vertical climb, watching the old man be jerked up in the swinging basket. The old man got above him and looked down at him like an ornery monkey from a tree.

"The government came looking. The King of Kings. You have an important summons."

"It's probably not me."

"You might be needed. Perhaps there is a princess in it for you. You will have to renounce your vow..."

"It's probably not me."

"Oh, we'll see." The old man looked up at the approaching faces of the acolytes looking down. He snapped at them as if they were machines that could speed up on command.

The runner was breathing heavy when he reached the top. Instead of running, he walked. Debre Melekot was a thin pathway along the edge of the amba, stone house dangling off the precipice, monks in cotton robes sitting folded up under rock-hangs watching him go by. The old debtera didn't seem to notice him any more, detained by an old friend he met among the monks, their creaking greetings falling behind the runner as he made his way to the church. It was a two-story building of stone and plaster, colorful crosses painted on the side. The runner pulled out his sealed message and went in.

Inside, a number of priests in black robes stood near the alter, talking to an ugly hunchback in military uniform. A new acolyte, unable to fit into army life?

"Ah!" the head priest said, "Ashenafi Werku". The runner smiled at being recognized and held out his message. The priest continued. "Let me introduce you to Tekwashi Girima, the great army hero! He is making his Imperial Majesty's Olympic team, and he heard about you!"

Ashenafi froze.

"You are a good runner?" the ugly creature said. For a second, the runner was reminded of that thing he'd seen so long ago when he was a child, that thing his brother had announced was a buda. A were-hyena.

"I run all the time." he said, surprised.

"Good. That is what his Imperial Majesty wants. You will come with me?"

"He will come with you." the priest beamed, "It is the will of God that brought you so far!"
Okay, so after some discussion amongst the old-timers, we've made a decision about how we are going to do PoW Future State
1: From now on, new players will be limited to being a Russian break off state until its been determined they can handle anything else
2: Everybody who wants to gets one free chance to move to Russia if they wish. If they take this, they're previous history will be wiped clean and they won't be able to move out unless its determined they are top level
3: European players are encouraged, but not required, to make that move. Excepting Wyrm, who really really shouldn't move
4: Aaron's gonna try to recruit talent to fill in some spaces.
5: If we fail to get a viable Europe by September, we're going to start the process of wiping some of Europe from the map
He snuck between the marble columns, his bare feet quiet against stone. Moonlight filled the garden. He was Negus Negast and the city was his, every inch of it, and he could move anywhere he wanted. That feeling of ownership was familiar to the dreamer. But there was this one thing, this single thing, that he didn't own. For the King of everything, the forbidden fruit was a strange thrill, and he couldn't help but be drawn by it.

There, behind the fronds and flowers, in the blue of the moon, he spied a pool. A familiar woman let down her robe. Her red hair fell down over her body and concealed her secrets. Secrets! Such a thing could not be had from the Emperor of the world. He watched as she walked slowly into the glittering water, its dancing light playing on her milky skin. Though he could not see all of her, what he could see overtook him. He felt like a boy, watching with rapt fascination the movement of her hips and suggestion of breasts beneath the blanket of crimson. She sang a sweet song. His heart felt like it might tighten up and stop.

Well I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah


She looked up at where he stood, her blue eyes piercing deep, and for a moment he felt terrified.

------------------------------------------
July 10th, 1960: Addis Ababa
------------------------------------------

The Emperor woke up, naked, covered in sweat, a woman he'd forgot curled around him. The room was heavy with that familiar scent, the mix of the pungent earthiness and rancid rot, reminding him he'd smoked the night before though the memory was hazy. His dream left him aroused, his manhood thrusting into his velour sheets. Her breasts were pressed against his hip, soft and warm, inviting. He woke her up, cautious not to speak in sentences that would require him to use her name, and she let him relieve his urge inside of her. It wasn't truly satisfying to him. Why couldn't she be Livy? The sweet American girl that tasted like strawberries in his imagination. He finished and jumped out his bed.

The room was tall, its ceiling twelve or so feet above, gilded in gold woodwork like the top of a cake. Thick blue and gold curtains blocked out the sun and protected the musty air. On a day like this where his head was foggy from the night before, the room felt oppressively large, like he could feel the weight of the air above him. He sniffed and went to his dresser, his limbs heavy, his flaccid manhood slick and cold.

"Do you have some more of those cigarettes?" the whore asked.

He plucked a joint wedged in the mouth of a pure-gold lion statuette, tossing it to her before putting on a robe. She produced a match, and that familiar pungent scent rejuvenated itself. He thought of joining her, of sharing her smoke, but that thought went out of his mind when he looked down at the envelope at the feet of the conquering lion. It had put him in a dark mood the night before, and looking down at it, those black feelings returned. He knew the essence of the contents, though he'd tried to put the exact words out of his mind. Livy was going back with her brother. They had family running in their American elections. Whatever else it meant, it meant she was going from his life. Probably forever. All the courtly whispers of the day before, about the collapse of the Spanish monarchy, the questionable fate of his fellow monarch, was eclipsed by the loss of the one simple girl

He went in the bathroom to clean up. The room felt like a marble tomb, the sink's gold handles deathly cold in his hands. He plunged his face in the water and looked up at the fogged mirror. His face stared back at him for a long while, the water running, the walls growing slick with condensation. It was like he'd fallen asleep. He was stirred from his trance by a gentle rap on the door. When he went to answer, he remembered what was happening in Spain, and his hand paused at the wet handle for a moment before he opened it. To his surprise, Desta was waiting for him on the other side, his small mustache pulled in by his tightened expression. "Something has happened." Desta said, curt and professional. "It's about your sister. Get dressed."

--

Sahle spared few thoughts for his little sister. Taytu had existed in his periphery for most of his life, part of another world in a sense, brought up for the female duties of nobility. He knew her as an introverted type, mannerly. Boring. Memories of her floated past his minds eye as Desta explained what had happened in some dusty part of America on the other side of the world. They were not good memories, or bad memories. They were just... there, accompanying him as he walked the lonely halls with his Minister.

"It would be best for the Emebet Hoy to remain distant." Desta said. "She needs time to work out her feelings."

"That's fine." Sahle waved, "I don't bring my mother to all my meetings."

"Very good." Desta said, "The situation is not so dire as the lady would have it. Taytu is recovering comfortably enough, so I am told. Circumstances like this are... delicate."

"So they should be." Sahle stopped in his tracks and grabbed the bridge of his nose. "God be merciful." he exclaimed, "I need a drink."

"Stay sober." Desta said curtly.

The palace went for ever and ever, footfalls echoing, passing men of the Mehal Sefari in dress uniform and pith helmets topped with plumes of lions-mane.

"Where are we going?" Sahle asked, suddenly taken by the pointlessness of what was happening. He longed for that stuffy room, to be swallowed by his blankets with his pleasures.

"The American Ambassador..." Desta started. Sahle stopped paying attention at some point. He'd heard this and forgot it when he was still processing the events of the morning.

They stopped at the oversized doors to some throne room or another. Desta turned to the Emperor and looked at him sympathetically. "This is a delicate matter." he said, "Take the Ambassador's apologies. Be courteous. Wait, and I will retrieve you." Sahle stopped like a dog that'd been told to heel. The doors opened and shut. Two Mehal Sefari stood stoicly at the the Emperor's flanks like statues.

"Your family has sins." a familiar voice startled the Emperor. He turned around and saw Blattengeta Sisay Makari. The old man was leaning on his prayer stick like it was a cane.

"I understand. We all sin." Sahle repeated childhood teachings as if they were a magical spell that would end this conversation.

"There are specific sins in your blood though." the old man said, "And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"

"I know I sin with women, and I pray to god for forgiveness..."

The door opened, interrupting him. He turned and abandoned the old man, who started to say something. "Don't..." was the last word before the door closed Sahle away from him.

"His Imperial Majesty, the Conquering Lion of Judah, Sahle the First." a page announced. The room was empty save for a sad looking Jefferson Davis Bacon. The Emperor walked to his throne, the room a velvet and ebony nightmare of royal finery. A few unrecognized American attaches stood next to the fat ambassador like suit and tie wearing royal retainers.

"We are pleased to see our friend Jefferson Davis Bacon." Sahle said. The words came out naturally, but he did not have the peace of mind to praise himself for them.

"I deeply regret what has occurred" Bacon started, "I have heard nothing but praises for your sister in the State Department. I hope your majesty doesn't see the actions of a couple a' peckerwoods as representative of the whole United States of America."

"We understand Le'elt Taytu is recovering. This pleases us." Sahle started. He felt frozen for a moment, vaguely aware of Desta's approval right below his feet. Then the shadow of a thought crossed into his mind. Was it wrong? Surely not. It felt like destiny. Now he was a loose palm frond swept up by the wind, pushed on by fate, excited about what he didn't seem to control. "We cannot accept an apology. We demand satisfaction! Ethiopia demands the criminals who did this thing to our sister! We demand them sent here, alive if you can, so we can punish them!"

"That's... well, I apologize your majesty, but that dog won't hunt! We can't deliver American citizens to any other form of justice but our own."

"We demand it! And to prove this, we close our borders to you! No American can enter! No American can leave! This is my demand."

Desta pulled at the Emperor's robe as he marched out. It didn't matter. This was the way things had to be. It was the only way he could get what he wanted.
---------------------------------
July 8th: Beijing, China
---------------------------------

Yaqob woke up cold. The Ethiopian Embassy had once been the mansion of a Kuomintang general. It was built of stone and wood, decorated with complex patterns, and topped with a blue slanting roof. It was majestic, and certainly expensive, but it wasn't well insulated and let in a draft, something the young Prince hadn't experienced in his African homeland. His room had a dresser and a handful of empty bookshelves. That latter detail depressed him. Despite being so far from home, he was starting to feel like a royal prisoner again, the man in the iron mask, kept in a stone cage until he was needed for some official purpose.

Sometimes he met Akale Tebebe drinking coffee in the sweet smelling garden, going through paperwork. Akale was a busy man. He'd been tasked with working out trade agreements, particularly for coffee, the prime obsession of the Minister of Pen. Today he wasn't there, and Yaqob took his coffee alone while watching the sparrows flit on blue tiles atop the stone wall surrounding the property. He found himself counting the flowers painted on the wall when he realized he needed to take action. He needed books, right? Every other day he'd been meeting with a tutor to teach him Chinese. Wouldn't a book written in the language be study material of a sort?

He went inside, catching to musky scent of incense as he passed from room to room. In his bedroom he got dressed in a Zhongshan suit and boots, both a gift from the mayor of Beijing. He found Yuan, Chinese currency, and went to the garage outside, startling the Chinese driver and his mechanic, who were both smoking when the prince came in. In awkward Chinese he asked for a ride to the market. The uncertain driver obliged.

They went down the wooded road where sleepy mansions stood. The city became denser and the road straightened. Grey hutongs crowded under slender jujube trees as the people of the city went on by, barely noticing the car as it passed. They met the main street, crowded with cars and buses. Yaqob loved the feel of the city, how it was lively and bright. He was dropped off in front of an open-air market while the driver went to find what to do with the car.

The market was made of so many stalls lined up neatly under canopies. Yaqob, taller than anybody else in the market, had no problem seeing what was for sale. There were buddhas and other religious items, porcelain bowls and vases, incense wrapped in large bundles. He saw one large vase with the angelic image of Hou feeding some ducks, a serene smile on his face.

"Farmers are pouring into the cities celebrating this season's bounty!" a woman's voice stated in a joyous airy tone over radio speakers on wire-choked poles, "The Ministry of Agriculture reports that rice supplies have doubled within the previous two months! Good weather in Hubei, Zhegiang, Shanghai, and Anhui have brought forth a plentiful harvest over this year! More is yet to come as the provinces of Hunan, Guizhou, and Guangxi have yet to report in. It is Friday, July 8th. The temperature is 30 degrees. " It went on to play music, bombastic and optimistic, a singing choir proclaiming "The east is red, the sun is rising."

An old man with coke-bottle glasses sold books stacked in shipping crates. Yaqob entered his stall. The old man looked up and did a double take, not used to men of the prince's complexion. Yaqob perused as happily as if he were a housewife shopping for her friends.

"Are you looking for something in particular?" the old man asked politely.

"I don't know." Yaqob said awkwardly. He was self-conscious of his slow, bumbling way of speaking the language, sounding like a mental retard escaped from the asylum. The old man gave him an off look and left him alone.

The titles of the books were hard to read. He'd never heard of most of it, but he picked up three; a collection of Hou's later essays, a book he'd never heard of called Ziye, and a strangely out of place one called Miss Sophia's Diary. The book dealer wasn't communicative when Yaqob paid him, looking up and nodding at who he must have saw as a foolish near-mute dark skinned giant.

With books in hand, Yaqob continued his walk. He entered a part of the street where food was being sold. Amongst the fruits and spices wafted the smells of snacks being cooked on the street. Yaqob wanted to feel like a real authentic Chinese communist. With a set of Houist essays on top of his stack, he walked up to a cart and bought a pork bun. It tasted strangely sweet compared to what he was used to.

"Enjoying the town, your highness?" an unfamiliar voice, professional and polite, came from behind. He processed instantly that the voice was speaking Amharic. He turned around and saw an unassuming young Chinese man dressed in overalls like a mechanic.

"Who are you?" Yaqob asked.

The man pulled out a badge as nonchalantly as if he was showing a photograph of his family. Intelligence Bureau. "I am glad to see you enjoying our city. But, If you don't mind me saying, I could have been somebody dangerous. But you are lucky. I am your friend."

"Why would I be in danger?"

"The world is a dangerous place. Do you know what kind of strange people loiter the markets this time of day? And you are not exactly conspicuous."

"I am done anyway." Yaqob said.

The agent shrugged. "Well, no harm no foul, eh? I'll follow you until you are home. Make sure you are safe."

The agent walked him to his car, where the nervous looking driver who'd brought him there was waiting. The agent got in with them, and they started back toward the embassy.

"So I can't go outside?" Yaqob asked, almost pouting.

"You can go wherever you like, but please go with an escort." the agent pulled a cigarette from his pocket and offered it to the prince. Yaqob shook his head. The agent shrugged and lit it up himself. "And make sure your people get in contact with us. We want to know any place you visit is safe for you."

Yaqob's day out ended in the garage where it'd started. The mechanic was still there, leaning against the corner, smoking. Yaqob started to leave the car, but the agent grabbed him gently by the shoulder. "You remember what we talked about?"

"I'll do as you say." Yaqob said. They both got out. The agent walked down the street from which they'd just came, whistling 'The East is Red.'

-------------------------------------
1939: Salt Lake City, Utah
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Pvt Saul Allred forgot how to pray after the fall of Salina. He wasn't sure why he was still alive anymore. As Federal armor plowed into the city of saints, he just went through the motions, taking his place in the barricade with his fellow survivors of the LDSA, their powder-blue uniforms tainted with ash and blood, pouring the last of their ammunition at an enemy they could not defeat. The road was cut off by a milk truck and a car pushed onto their sides, scrap filling the holes in the defense, in front of a small plaza around an obelisk. The Federal attack was slow but constant. The mechanical whine and rumble of motorized armor echoed ominously through the canyon of shops and manufacturers.

"The angels are coming!" Pvt Romney promised out loud for the third time that day. He was losing his mind. Saul sensed that everyone knew this, but nobody was willing to be the one that said it. It would be an admission of lapsed faith.

"Get down!" Lt Carson shouted as two screaming Jackrabbits flew low, strafing the tops of buildings behind the falling Mormon defenses, working to break machine gun nests. They braced for the big attack, but it never came. Night arrived. The fighting didn't stop, but slowed down, the roar of combat seeming to be muffled rather than silenced. The burning city cast dancing fire on the clouds above. Saul didn't sleep. He hadn't eaten in two days. Hadn't he already died? He wondered if men always go through this stage before death, fate's way of preparing the soul for departure, turning the body into a fading memory so that the victim met their end numb.

No food came for them that morning. They didn't expect it. Saul didn't care. Lt Carson led a morning prayer as bombs burst overhead.

"Father in Heaven. We thank thee for thy victories, for the truth thy church has proffered unto us, and thy temple which stands as a sign unto us to continue thy works on earth. Thou shalt triumph over the army of sinners before our gates, and deliver the saints to victory. Give us the courage to go on, and bless our families so they might take comfort in these trying times. Bless the walls of the Temple, so that the precious souls who take shelter in thy presence may be as safe as infants in their mother's womb. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

"Amen" the gathered soldiers replied.

Each time a bomb blast nearby, Pvt Romney muttered "The angels are coming"

The attack came at mid-day. Federal troops laid down a field of fire. The Mormons shot back, but they were pinned. The triumphant obelisk between their two armies was chipped away piece by piece, stone flaking onto the ground. The sickly grumble of tank engines came closer and closer until they came around the corner, looking like large brown machines rolling off a factory floor, alive and possessing their own will.

"The angels are coming!" Pvt Romney stood up. The sergeant yelled for him to come down. Romney climbed onto the milk truck and planted himself there, waving his hands at the sky. The first shell took him squarely, blowing him apart, raining his gore onto his comrades. The second shot hit the car and threw it out of the way. Saul took a shot, but didn't see where it went. He felt like he was watching it all in a moving picture theater, himself a background character, not a real person.

Machine gun fire tore into the LDSA position. Two men went down, blood pouring for wounds. This place was no longer defensible. They started running. Saul fell back with them. He didn't know why he went. His legs fled and took him with them.

There hadn't really been a defensive line in Salt Lake City for several days. They'd been whittled down to a small number of stubborn pockets, those last few lumps as the masher came down, resisting the inevitable, hoping for angels.

They stood in the foothills to the west, overlooking Parley's canyon and the Lincoln Highway, among the sagebrush where they could catch their breath. The smoke rising from the defeated city blotted out the tops of the Wasatch mountains. To the east was a city wreathed in destruction, an image of Sodom and Gomorrah, abhorrent to the true believer who couldn't help but think of the lake of fire. The Temple rose almost triumphantly midst the calamity, a flower in hell.

An ashen air blew up from the city when the echo of the big guns reached the survivors. Shells burst on that holy temple, and its Gothic spires tumbled to the ground. Lt Carson dropped to his knees weeping like a child. Saul Allred had been raised a Mormon, had lived and breathed the lives of the saints, but seeing it all crushed into the dust by the secular armies of man... it didn't seem to matter. He turned, abandoned his comrades, and walked into the Wasatch mountains alone.

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July 5th, 1960: Masindi Port, Swahili People's Republic
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Marcel paced onto the ferry dock, looking at the mirror-like river, the clouds reflecting from its surface. A flock of brown-orange ducks bobbed on the water. It was peaceful. So many other places in the country were burning right now, but not here. The fires in Mombasa and Kampala, the blood spilled in the Nabakazi river, none of it seemed to affect this place.

Behind him, his Force Socialiste stood patiently in their faded blue uniforms. The small village behind them didn't come out to attend them. Marcel received warm smiles and gifted food from his many admirers here when he arrived, but they remained solemn and reserved. Worried, he knew. The arrival of armed men is a bad omen. But also, they knew who he'd came to meet, and the mad preacher of the Freedom Army of God struck fear in more Ugandans than anything else.

"Do you think we should have met him here?" one of his Force Socialiste said, pointing to the mosque in a copse of nearby trees. It was a small building, white plaster, its Islamic roots only made visible by the spindly minaret.

"Do you think he will burn it, Laurent? With us here? No, he is practical, he will not do this thing."

The first sign of their visitors was a thin column of steam to the north. A beat-up old steamboat came chugging down the river, a makeshift wooden platform built above the deck acting as a simple second level. As it came closer, the layer of vague humanity that caked its two decks become distinguishable. They were a ragged crew, hardly discernible from pirates. Half of them looked like children, grown hard-faced by the trials of combat, boys who'd killed men before they had hair under their arms. Their leader, standing like Washington crossing the Delaware, was a middle aged man in Askari fatigues and a pith-helmet, a big pair of sunglasses hiding his eyes. It was unnerving, like watching a supernatural beast swim slowly up to shore, but Marcel kept his resolve and stood up straight. From the dock they heard the low moan of the steam engine, the slosh of disturbed water, and the manly battle cry of the men on deck. Marcel's men prepared to fight, but Marcel held his hand out for them to pause.

At the sign of triumph
Satan's host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers,
on to victory!

Hell's foundations quiver
at the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices,
loud your anthems raise!


The grimy crusaders roared like Zulu warriors when the hymn was over. The boat slowed down, and the hard-faced preacher looked straight at Marcel.

"Why should we talk?" he said monotoned.

Marcel smiled. "You came so far, bwana. Tie your boat to our shore, so we can learn to be friends."

"We will not be friends."

"The Communist armies have reunited. They will murder both of us."

"God will protect us." the preacher replied. His eyes completely hidden behind his dark glasses, and his face as placid as the still waters, he didn't seem to react to anything Marcel said. He felt like he was talking with a stone statue. Then something came to him.

"Do you know the story of the old man who broke his leg while working his field, bwana?" Marcel asked innocently enough.

"I am a weapon of the lord. I did not come for gossip." the preacher replied.

"His son came to him, looking really worried, and said 'Pa pa, I will pick you up and take you to the doctor so you will be better', and the farmer said 'I trust the lord to bring me salvation. I do not need you to carry me' And so the son ran off to find help. He brought back a local healer, who said 'Let me set your leg and administer herbs so you do not get an infection', and the farmer said 'I trust the lord to bring me salvation. I do not need you to heal me'. The wound became infected, so the village elders came, and they offered to have the farmer transported to a big town where there was a hospital. But the farmer said 'I trust the lord to bring me salvation. I do not need you to save me'. And then the farmer died."

"Do not mock..."

"The farmer met God, and he asked him 'My lord, you saw my suffering, why did you do nothing?' and God said 'I sent your son, and you sent him away. I sent the healer, and you sent him away. Then I sent the village elders, and you sent them away. If you would not accept your neighbors, why would you accept a miracle?'. Don't you see this, bwana? If the Communists wanted to, they could walk into your lands and lock your entire flock in prison until you all starve and die. And they will do this thing too. We should not be friends, you are right, but I offer you my friendship anyway. If you take it, there will be many of us, and we will be strong."

"You know how to preach a sermon, Comrade Marcel." the preacher said, "You almost make us forget that you are a communist too. But my flock hasn't forgotten." Behind them, the glaring rabble whooped and shouted. The preacher held out his hand up and silenced them. "You don't let my true believers practice their work in your territory."

"Your arsonists." Marcel said.

"They have their work, given to them by the lord. You hunt them down like rats."

"Like criminals."

"Do not persecute my saints. That is our conditions. Let righteousness follow its natural God-given course, and we will fight our common enemy together."

Marcel bit his tongue. It crossed his mind he could draw his gun now and get rid of this monster.

"You don't have to say anything. I will bring the Freedom Army of God south, into the land of the Philistines, and we will fight with you until we hear of you abusing the believers. Do you understand, brother Hondo-Demissie?"

"I understand, brother Allred" replied Marcel.

"We will fight together then." the preacher snatched a sack out of the bottom of the boat and took something out. It was black and organic looking. Allred threw it onto the deck. "Remember the promise you made. The lord certainly will."

Marcel bent down to pick up the object. It was black and wet, a mess of char and ruined flesh. It looked like the head of a small dog, but it was too disfigured by fire to properly make out. Marcel held onto it as the preacher's boat left the shore.
@EveryMemeAKing

Okay, so about "New Ninevah". I figured that name is bland as dollar store oatmeal, so I did some digging. Assyrian is a harder language to dig info on, so I stole from Aramaic, which actually has a few mostly biblical translations you can piece together. What comes out of this scanty research isn't grammatical, and I wouldn't swear by it, but it feels better than "New Ninevah"

So first what I got is that the Aramaic rendering of Ninevah is "Ninawa". Starting there, we have...

Dakia Ninawa "Pure Ninevah"

Nihga Ninawa "Dawn Ninevah"

Zhara Ninawa "Glory Ninevah"

I used this shoddy dictionaryto come up with this shit, and wiki's info on the name Ninevah itself. If you can dig up something better, go for it. I just suggest a change like this to create the right ambience. English renderings for place names can get boring. Lord help us if I called my capital "New Flower"
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