March 28, 2005

A Canticle for Lieberman (pt 1)

Pacific Views theater presents a short work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is purely in the interests of parable, satire, and entertainment. See the fiction archive for additional installments.

Robin stroked the cigarette lasciviously and winked at the guy behind the bar. His name was Chet, or at least, he would answer to that. What did she care?

"Another martini, Chet. Better gin this time, I have a meeting to go to." The only thing left of the last one was the olive.

The bar set was turned to cable news, and soon enough, she was rewarded with an eyeful of the Big Man. He'd been preceded by a shrill, trumpet-tinged grating of music.

He was announcing a great military victory in the war in the Middle East. They'd surprised a whole division of Chalabi's army, rolling through the Arabian (after the revolution, the country had stripped all references to the House of Saud) reinforcements, and had killed or captured most of the troops. The rest were pinned down by heavy fire, and American forces were quickly advancing past the Quwaiti border. On the Iranian front, the successful liberators of Iran's Khuzestan province had pushed the Iranian army back to the Zagros mountains, and minesweepers were swiftly clearing the Persian Gulf of enemy explosives.

Until that moment, there'd still been a question in her mind about what the news would be, but of course it was good. The Permanent Secretary of Defense rolled out the triumphant report: "Visionary co-ordination ... speedy rout ... valuable refineries protected ... fuel prices to decrease to $11 a gallon ... a victory striking right at the hearts of rogue governments in Tehran, Baghdad, Riyadh, Damascus ... a great victory for the forces of democracy!"

They didn't watch her anymore, and she could have reacted anyway she liked. She could have cursed his name, shouted out old Democratic slogans, or pined loudly for the welfare state in the hearing of every media whore in the room. She could have started an underground railroad for the last of the union organizers. It didn't matter.

She loved Him, and they knew it. They could trust that to guide her actions.

There had maybe been a choice once, when she first started hiring out to the debate gangs in Southfield, but that was an illusion. Everyone's service was His, whether they knew it or not.

The second martini went down without a hitch. Her nerves reached a steady purr, and now it was time. She abandoned the cigarette butt for the olive and headed out for a cab.

"Dirksen." But could it have all come out differently? Could the public have risen up and stopped it if one of them had talked before it was too late? No. Think who you'll be meeting. You never would have known what was going on while there was a possibility that you would talk. There was never any other way for the country to turn out; only that she wouldn't have known, probably would have ended up like her parents.

Honest living. Good friends. Bills. Debt. In terror of losing their jobs, or house, or whatever was about to fall through the cracks at the moment. They hadn't been able to get any compensation when the doctors botched mom's operation, and in His America, they couldn't even afford to go bankrupt. They were completely in the dark about everything important and losing ground every year.

No, better not to have gone down that road. They'd sacrificed to get her here, even if it wasn't what they had in mind, to let her escape. But to think, it all started with losing that Pell Grant. At the time, just the latest in a series of small disasters. She still remembered the greasy face of the first Fixer she hired out to.

"You're a scrub, you're a Hitchens in the making, and you'll lose this debate like I told you to. Get in there after the break and earn your keep." It had been her first paid appearance, and she'd dutifully lost to a guy with prematurely white hair whose skin bore the stretched, unhealthy sheen of a hard drug habit.

Not that it was easy. Her opponent had only told the truth when he could use it to imply something that was false, and for someone who understood the issue, he hadn't said a single meaningful thing. His argument should have been incoherent, but for the typical listener, it created the distinct impression that they'd just learned something important. It had been hard to let him talk over her, repeat her talking points by rote without tying them together, to avoid making any of the obvious defenses. But that was back when they were still using the ridiculous 'trickle-down' arguments instead of the new war playbook.

First there had been 9-11. After the Iraq war spilled over into Syria and Iran, there had been 4-15. Then the House of Saud fell and the Wahabbist government had sent reinforcements that drove US troops to fallback positions in Quwait. When serial failed coups in Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay led the three countries to enter a mutual defense pact with China and India, 1-23 followed. By the time Iran had their first successful detonation, everything had become a national security matter.

Her handlers had her wait until 1-23 to pull her switch. She was well primed to be among the loudest and most bloodthirsty of voices advocating for the invasion of Iran when they went nuclear, carrying extra weight because of her years of ineffectual liberalism. The air bombardment had destroyed the primary missile sites, but geography and a militant populace was slowing the ground invasion.

The suitcase nukes used in subsequent guerrilla attacks on US forces in Iraq were suspected to have been Iranian. The Iraqi 'government' was a rabble that was loosely holding half the country, and there was no way they could produce such a thing. The Kurds had created a fortress republic and were too busy fighting Turkey to meddle in what was left of southern Iraq. Iran was the only party to the conflict that had the industrial capacity and technical skill left to manufacture suitcase nukes, but all parties insisted they were independent Al-Qaida attacks using Russian materials stolen from former Soviet republics.

There was no proof either way, but then there hadn't been reliable intelligence for years. Even being a suspected US collaborator was a death sentence in most of Asia. The possible consequences of nuclear retaliation without proof of guilt wasn't lost even on members of the inner circle, they weren't the only superpower anymore.

But the public outcry had to be silenced, so the Air Force firebombed Tehran and Qom. Perversely, the bombing had missed the Iranian leadership, who'd stayed true to their word of years ago and gone to the front.

For a moment, she felt guilty about the loss of life, having been so gleeful in supporting the war. But it was just a false emotion; she still had them sometimes, but her Confessor advised that this was normal and said she shouldn't worry about it.

And here she was. Dirksen was her section's pick up point, and from there the van would take them to the hotel. It would have to pass through D.C.'s police free-fire zone, but the XMT plates would get them through the checkpoints after curfew. The route was designed to reinforce their conditioning, remind them how easy it would be to fall. Mostly, it worked.

No one talked on the way. They put the masks and capes on before getting out. It was ridiculous, but in the middle of D.C., with a grateful hotel staff and a terrified populace, it just ensured there wouldn't be rumors. Bunch of lunatics want to have a costume party in the middle of a de facto warzone, no one's looking too closely.

It had been harder before, they'd had to meet in smaller groups and more often. She tried not to indulge nostalgia too often, but it had been more fun, or at least seemed less forced.

They were at the door. She'd nursed the olive all this time; discipline and practice ensured that there was plenty of salt left. It lasted through Grover and Newt leading the assembled in prayer and bible study. She avoided talking to anyone during the exchanges of business cards and talking points that most of the attendees treated like the main event, and so the olive survived that, too. It lasted through the dismissal of the outer circle, and as those left filed through security to the meeting.

The strip search was no more unpleasant than usual, and soon she was in. When everyone was there, He led the liturgy of call and response for the inner circle. Holy Joe. To think she'd once believed it was an affectionate nickname. But then, she'd also believed that he and all the members of the inner circle were followers of the Abrahamic faiths they extolled in public.

"Sexual guilt is the opiate of the masses. We beg Lord Baphomet to bless our rituals and bring us clarity." The sonorous whining of His voice was oddly appropriate.

All together, now: "We cannot sin in his sight."

"We swear not to lie, nor to tell the truth, lest it serve the higher purpose. In the name of Choronzon, lord of three, three, and three, we declare it."

"Before him, we bear our witness."

"Lord Moloch of Topheth, give us the power to work your will."

"Our blood is yours on the day of our death." The olive had lasted just long enough, its oil and salt sharpness was still on her palate, overwhelming. "Accept our sacrifice!"

Madam Madeleine and Little Ricky cast the barely struggling bundle into the fire and a great cheer went up. The company fell on each other indiscriminately, and only the salt taste kept her from retching. Lucianne and Jonah at the same time -- goddam. It was both endless and quick.

Then they were headed back to drop off points where they could catch cabs wherever they liked. She was sore, sweaty, and thanked the lords that her sense of smell was almost vestigial. The van ride back was even worse than the ride there, and everyone smoked.

She took her notebook out and began preparing for her interview tomorrow. A former administration official was talking all over the news circuit about faulty intelligence handling in the Venezuela incident and the embarassing espionage debacle with the EU Galileo project.

As usual in such cases, she prepared two sets of questions. Lost in her work all the way back home, she quickly forgot the events of the evening.

To be continued.

Part 2

Fiction Archive

Posted by natasha at March 28, 2005 01:50 AM | Fiction | Technorati links |

Nice work, but who is "she"?

Posted by: Joe Taylor at March 28, 2005 01:55 AM

Thanks much.

Yeah, I noticed that right after I posted. She's got a name now, but is an entirely made up character, rather than a caricature.

Posted by: natasha at March 28, 2005 02:05 AM

Very interesting.
A little chilling also!
Looking forward to the follow up.

Posted by: Yves at March 28, 2005 10:53 AM

Hey! Better be careful, you'll ruin your reputation for being reckelss, dull, preachy, and hostile. We're not used to seeing anything here that suggests intelligence or humor. Ya'll feelin' okay? Bravo:)

Posted by: michael at March 28, 2005 03:07 PM

Nice job, and great play on "A Canticle for Liebowitz."

could you include a Monty Python-esque group of "Stepford Republican Wingnuts" chanting the original canticle:
"Six bagles"
"one can kraut"
"Half a pound of Pastrami."

Again, great job!

Posted by: boilerman10 at March 28, 2005 09:12 PM

Wow! I love the style.

Reminds me a bit of "Life During Wartime". I would so love to read this as a novel. Do you have time to write a novel?

It would be my favorite.

Thank you for this tidbit and I hope there will be many, many more.



Posted by: Hanna at March 29, 2005 05:44 AM

A terrific reminder of one of the great cautionary tales of all time. "A Canticle for Liebowitz" reminds us that we cannot place our destiny in the hands of the "true believers".

Posted by: Collin at March 29, 2005 11:45 AM