After the widely-covered Martyrdom of Saint Tampala (PBUH), MI’s online readership soared, requiring a massive expansion of their meager temporary servers’ capacity. Asher happily purchased the required components and set up shop in an abandoned coffin factory in Bethesda. With dramatic images of Saint Tampala’s (PBUH) protest shared with the furthest corners of social media, accompanied by instructions to “like, share, or comment on this picture if you want to be a good person,” there was a tectonic shift popular views. Opinions embraced righteous outrage towards egregious violations of SVB civil rights.
The loudest voices calling for retribution were individuals who’d discreetly or indirectly assisted anti-SVC activities. The majority of the population had stood by and done nothing while their friends and neighbors were burned out of their own homes by anti-SVC forces. The desire to validate their collective goodness and soothe guilty consciences was palpable. In this atmosphere, every article Modern Issue published was heralded as a hallowed truth told by haunted survivors of non-violent Pogroms.
Asher and Raymond spent these happy weeks in a storm of idea crafting, policy writing, and important-meeting attending as their influence spread across D.C. They found themselves on frequent trips to Capitol Hill, the White House, and Embassy Row so that eager government officials of every stripe could make sure there was no question as to where they stood on this recent SVB-related unpleasantness.
The main anti-SVC culprits, of whom Senator Stovall (R-OK) was the unrepentant figurehead, were summarily drubbed out of office in early-November after a dramatic swing in the polls, attributed primarily to the “October-Immolation-Surprise.” Rather than stay in Washington for the lame-duck session, many of the losing candidates who persisted in SVC-bigotry, joined by now-ostracized members of the military and economic elite, chose to retreat to a secret mansion refuge in what was left of Martha’s Vineyard, and form a new party with the unwieldy-but-highly-descriptive name Americans Fighting To Keep America The America We Have Known And Loved For Our Entire Lives, With Great Respect And Admiration For Our Esteemed Founders Who Knew What They Were Doing And Shouldn’t Be Questioned, which was shortened by the headline-constrained media to Americans Fighting For America (AFFA).
Asher and Raymond, following these events closely, began publishing articles calling for a détente with the anti-SVC holdouts. Their position stated that it was for the greater good of society to begin the healing process, which required forgiveness for all parties. Safely-elected politicians who’d recently been eager to meet with the Modern Issue team became increasingly unavailable. They viewed the “peacenik concessionism” of recent MI articles a liability for their credibility on national defense and viewed talking with AFFA as an insufferable case of negotiating with terrorists.
As the reprisal-driven government began to draft new security laws, seize AFFA-related bank accounts, and suggest citizens would be wise to report suspicious members of their community as there may or may not be a financial reward involved, Modern Issue churned out articles advocating against the encroaching police state and in support of a peace summit. Familiar faces began to show up in-and-around their much-less-secret safe-house.
“Asher, I think I just saw one of the thugs from the Red Roof Inn parked across the street. Are we being watched again? I don’t understand, aren’t we the good guys now?” Raymond asked Asher one evening after returning home from a meeting at the Danish Embassy.
Nico looked annoyed, “Can’t we stay off a government watch list for a few months? I was just getting my insurance claims in order.”
“It’s not our fault. And you’re the one who wanted as little violence as possible, right?” Asher vented, his frustration with Modern Issue’s too-brief taste of legitimate influence adding a bitter edge.
“Even when this government is for us they do not seem to be for us,” Chandra quipped.
It was December and nearly six weeks into a new project that demanded a great deal of time from both Chandra and Asher. The couple had drifted slightly but steadily away from their everyday conversations with Nico and Raymond.
“What else can we do?” Raymond asked, “We’ve got higher readership numbers now than at any time in our history, so even if some people aren’t listening, others are.”
“Oh yes, and we all know how much respect you have for the opinion of ‘the people.’” Asher joked, “I don’t understand how you don’t see how our only option is…”
“As always, no, and we aren’t talking about that.” Nico growled at him.
A moment of silence followed during which Raymond looked at each member in turn and seemed to be gathering his thoughts for a question before Chandra intercepted him with a startling pronouncement, “Asher and I have decided to construct a child.”
“What? Construct?” Nico convincingly pretended to gasp next to an equally shocked Raymond. Her excellent impression of surprise was significantly aided by Chandra’s choice of verb.
Asher continued, “Yes, we’ve decided one of our priorities is to increase our genetic footprint in an attempt to expand the population of individuals capable of understanding this group’s ideas.”
“You’re having a child to create a person who agrees with us?” Nico asked.
“No, not at all. Or at least not exactly as you put it. But Chandra’s better at explaining it than I am. She came up with the whole thing,” Asher insisted, turning to Chandra for assistance.
Chandra glanced at Nico for a moment of understand, “We will imbue our offspring with the capability to think in a way that prepares them to comprehend and wrestle with the notions our collective regularly debates. As we are all agreed that the process of synthesizing data between brains is essential, we are confident bringing a thinking human into the world is a maximally beneficial action.”
“Well, I see your point,” Nico allowed, “So you’re pregnant? Or still just in the planning phase?”
“Oh no, no, we do not believe in pregnancy. Or not anymore. I initially desired to give birth organically, however Raymond made a strong case against the idea while I was running tests on his neural pathways.”
“I had no idea we were talking about your own pregnancy! I thought we were just talking about pregnancy as an abstract! Still, I’m glad you’ve decided against it. Pregnancy is sexist because biology is sexist. If we have the ability we should rid ourselves of that anachronistic practice.”
“Asher and I both agreed when I mentioned that interesting opinion. I extracted the best genetic combination and now we’re equally enjoying the experience of watching our child grow external to our bodies.” Chandra paused, “Nico, would you and Raymond care to participate with a child of your own? Perhaps it would be beneficial to create these children together so they have companionship as they develop.”
“Oh…a child? I…well…I don’t know about that right now…” Nico blushed and stuttered, turning to a mutually unsure Raymond.
“Maybe…well I’m a little worried about this Spirit of Violence situation,” Raymond replied, “I’m not sure how I feel about creating a child who might be able to commit acts of violence.”
“I do not believe your lack of a condition is genetic. NFVS has never been a genetic issue, as I have explained many times.” Chandra corrected.
“Honestly, you guys might want to think about it. I was a little hesitant at first myself. But now I think there’s little I could do of greater value. If you think…” Asher began before pausing and pulling out his vibrating phone. Addressing the assemblage he apologized before he answered the call, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who this is so…Hello? Hello? This is, oh. What? What are you talking about? Who are you and…no…They wouldn’t do that. I have sources on the…no, where did you get your…hey, wait, Hello?”
Standing still with his phone to his ear, Asher turned back to the group, “I’ve…I’ve just received some…some news.”
Raymond, startled to see Asher unnerved, demanded, “What? What did you hear?”
“The AFFA compound on Martha’s Vineyard…tonight they’re going to destroy it.”
“Who’s going to do what!?” Nico insisted.
“The military…and CIA…and…and everyone. They’re going to take them out.”
Following a moment of shocked analysis, Nico gave voice to the alarm felt by the room, “What do you mean ‘Take them out?’ Have they found a way to use violence again?”
“I don’t know. That’s what it sounded like…And…and they are also coming here…”
“What?! But we cannot move our child! He is too fragile! There is no way we can…” Chandra was cut off by an approaching, rhythmic thrum.
“Is that…” Raymond began before the sight of ten incoming helicopters made his question irrelevant.
“What are we going to do?” Chandra shouted, panicking, “Our child is in the lab downstairs!”
“We must, we don’t know if they can use violence…maybe…maybe they’re just here to burn the house…” Asher looked lost in thought, in a dazed state unable to comprehend the current situation.
“Even if they only burn the house we still lose the child! A fetus is not a human being and is still subject to violence!” Chandra yelled.
“Really? Is that true? That settles that debate!” Raymond smiled absurdly, completely forgetting the desperate situation.
“Shut up you fucking asshole!” Asher roared at him, breaking away from his trance, “You have to stop them! You can stop them Raymond!”
“I…what do you mean? How?” Raymond attempted to look puzzled, unwilling to accept what Asher was asking.
“You know, you idiot! You’ve got to stop them!” Asher yelled again, moving to push Raymond towards the door.
“Stop! No…Raymond…but…what if they can use violence?” Nico stuttered as she attempted to grab Asher.
“Nico! It is my child! We cannot let them destroy us!” Chandra cried as she attempted to grab Nico.
No one successfully grabbed anyone and after a moment of impotence, the group regained control.
Raymond turned and spoke solemnly, “I won’t commit an act of real violence, but I will give a violent demonstration. If that doesn’t persuade them, I can’t do anything else. Let’s go.”
The force of Raymond’s words and the commanding tone of his voice as he spoke to Asher in a way he‘d never spoken to Asher before left the group speechless. With the helicopters now hovering overhead and black-garbed assault forces sliding down a reverse-gravity forest of ropes, there was no time to do anything but obey.
As the two men went outside, Raymond spoke to the trailing Asher, “Hopefully they’ve figured out how to use violence and I won’t have to do this.”
“Why hopefully? Where’s your obligation to humanity?”
“I’m starting to begrudge that obligation. I guess we’ll see.”
They came to a stop in the middle of their small yard as the road, rooftops, and sidewalks filled with gun-toting figures.
“RAYMOND CLOCK AND ASHER ROSE, LAY DOWN ON THE GROUND AND DO NOT MOVE. WE WILL NOT HURT YOU IF YOU COMPLY!” A tinny voice blared from above.
“Is it ‘lay’ or ‘lie’? Isn’t it ‘lie’ because they’re talking to animate objects?” Raymond asked Asher.
“I…what? Yes, I think so,” Asher laughed, “But look, I don’t think they can commit violence. I think they’re bluffing. I THINK YOU’RE BLUFFING!”
Bullets answered. The fire teams shot everything; cars, fire hydrants, trees, bushes, flowers, other houses, garbage cans, garden figurines like those gaudy gnomes and flamingoes that, when Raymond drove by, he couldn’t really believe anyone owned anymore but then thought maybe they might be there ironically and he wasn’t getting the joke; anything but the two men standing in the yard. After a full two minutes of incessant gunfire the assailants ceased their barrage to assess their bloody work. Other than some horribly dinged-up vehicles and a now non-existent garden, which had so recently been the pride and joy of old Ms. Fazartalingbragg, their uncomfortably-nice in an I’m-sorry-you’re-lonely-but-I-have-my-own-life-to-live-right-now neighbor, everyone remained whole and entirely vital.
“DID WE HIT YOU?” the sky-voice queried.
“NO! What did you think would happen?” Asher demanded as he stalked up to the nearest heavily-armed invader.
“Well…this was supposed to be a new technique with these new weapons, see, and well…I guess they don’t work…” the man Asher had confronted confessed as he looked down bashfully and kicked at the pile of shell-casings at his feet.
“How was firing willy-nilly all over the neighborhood flowers and shrubs supposed to make violence work?” Nico yelled as she ran to Raymond and held onto him as if he were about to slip away from her forever.
“Well, it’s in the ricochets…the guns have increased power so the bullets will bounce off objects and hopefully hit the target without coming directly from a human…” continued the man, looking more and more embarrassed as he tried to explain.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” Raymond laughed, “That was your big plan?”
“SURRENDER AND WE WILL NOT HURT YOU,” called the tin-coated voice hovering over them.
“SHUT IT PHIL! IT DIDN’T WORK! ANOTHER DoD BOONDOGGLE” the man yelled back, “Well, sorry for the disturbance, folks. I guess we can’t kill you, but we still have to burn your house.”
“NO!” Chandra pleaded, “We are growing a child in the basement! You will kill it!”
“Growing? I don’t know what you folks’re about, but I’ve got my orders.” The man said as he removed the projectile-flame-spewing device hooked to his back. He ordered the awkward gathering of impotently violent men to follow suit and began priming the machine to commence with the incineration.
“Wait!” Raymond shouted, “Watch this!”
Running up to Asher, Raymond grabbed his friend’s shoulder and punched him in the nose.
“AH! What the hell, Raymond! I think you broke my nose!” Asher howled as he doubled over, blood streaming down his face.
“I’m so sorry, Asher!” Raymond begged for forgiveness while Chandra, who’d come outside with Nico during the gun battle, ran over to comfort her lover and collect samples. Leaving Asher’s care in Chandra’s capable hands, Raymond looked up and shouted at the flabbergasted ranks of elite shock troops, “I CAN commit violence! Stop! I can commit violence!”
“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? BURN THAT SHIT!” Phil ordered from above.
“How…how did you?” the soldier stammered as he backed away. Others came closer to see what was going on. As the men saw Asher’s bloody nose, some ran for their lives in fear, others wretched, sickened by the sight of the first functional violence they’d seen in nearly ten months. Still others sank to their knees in rapture, looking at Raymond as if they‘d seen an angel strolling down K Street.
“You have to get me to Martha’s Vineyard!” Raymond shouted.
“M-m-martha’s? Why?” one of the awestruck questioned.
“It’ll only continue the cycle of hate! It has to stop!”
Raymond wound up for another swing.
The man winced and relented, “There’s no need for violence. PHIL! LADDER!”
After ensuring the soldiers had entirely abandoned their plans to put the safe-house to the torch, Raymond bid adieu to his friends before they could question or dissuade him. He boarded one of the helicopters, argued with a sorely put-out Phil, and was eventually whisked away to a nearby military base where he performed a second demonstration of violence on Phil’s nose for disbelieving troops attempting to take him into custody. After his abilities were clear to all parties, a new helicopter was fueled and prepared for Raymond’s transportation to Martha’s Vineyard.
When he reached his destination, Raymond was exhausted and running low on the adrenaline that’d allowed him to steamroll his usual neurosis. His mind raced to catch up and filter his actions. Anticipating this, he’d erected a barrier of justifications to prevent the threatening forces of doubt from gathering strength outside the fortress of his resolve. This barricade was composed of a simple idea; that he, Raymond Clock, was the only person with the power to prevent this disaster from occurring, which meant, as Asher had stated earlier, he had an obligation to act. His personal prohibitions against violence meant little when measured against this solemn duty.
If the Spirit of Violence business was real, though he didn’t believe it was; but if, maybe, perhaps if the Spirit of Violence was real, he alone had been chosen to use violence. And so his choices and actions had the added benefit of feeling spiritually blessed, even though he didn’t actually believe in any of that spirit nonsense. Even without all the SoV stuff, Raymond, as the only uniquely normally functioning human left on the planet, still felt reasonably justified in using his abilities to pursue the best possible course. After all, after stripping away all the false humility and lattices of entangled theories he used to pretend his mind didn’t believe so, he’d always known that he knew what was best for humanity,
Landing just outside Senator Stovall’s looming estate as evening turned to night, Raymond hopped out, told the crew to wait for him, and, feeling all the world an international spy or secret agent like in those movies he never admitted to liking but secretly rather enjoyed when he just wanted to pretend the world was a simple black and white place where a guy running around a city with a gun blowing things up was actually doing more good than harm, stealthily made his way to the front-entrance. He wasn’t sure what else to do, so he rang the doorbell.
A very narrow trombone emerged from inside. This was held by short, squat man in a hunting jacket and cowboy boots. The man pointed the trombone at Raymond’s chest and grumbled, “Whadyawant?”
“Hi, umm, sir. My name is Raymond Clock, and you’re all in danger.”
“Danger? Raymond Clock…” The hunting jacket wearing gentleman turn around and yelled back into the house, “Lieutenant Colonel Crowley, Sir! We have a visitor! He says his name is Raymond Clock and he says we’re in danger! What should I do with him?”
“Let him in. Let him in and bring him to me.” A high-pitched voice answered from within.
The man, clutching what Raymond now saw was an antique elephant gun, prodded him down a musty hallway lined with old pictures of Senator Stovall (R – OK) shaking hands with celebrities and corporate sponsors.
The hallway emptied into the main dining room where an equally musty group of elderly white gentlemen were sitting around a candle bedecked solid wood table debating.
“I’ll not have it, not here, not in my home,” a man Raymond recognized as Senator Stovall (R-OK) proclaimed as he pounded his fist on the table.
A lumpy-faced mustachioed man in a tweed suit, who spoke with a southern drawl and a wad of chewing tobacco under his lip, responded in a voice laced with helium, “When you kindly allowed us to use your home as our headquarters, you were agreeing to put the needs of AFTKATAWHKALFOEL,WGRAAFOEFWKWTWDASBQ first. This man can help us. He has connections and explosives expertise. We need him.”
“I will not be the first Stovall to host a Chinese in the family estate, no sir,” the former Senator (R-OK) continued before noting Raymond’s entrance, “Well, I don’t believe my eyes. You’re not amongst friends Mr. Clock, as you must well know. Why’re you here? And choose your words well, son.”
Raymond punched the elephant-gun toting man in the nose and addressed a silent room, “I’m not here as your friend and I don’t know why you would even pretend to threaten anyone. You’re all part of a cadre of pathetic, sad, bitter old relics this nation has the extremely unpleasant task of re-socializing. I was looking forward to the great cull of time to naturally reduce your herd, but now with NFVS, it seems we have to deal with one another indefinitely. I’m the only human being on Earth who can use violence and I’m going to use it to put a stop to the cycles you represent.”
Helium dude responded first, “Mr. Clock, my name is Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Crowley and I can assure you as the leader of AFTKATAWHKALFOEL,WGRAAFOEFWKWTWDASBQ, we’re listening. I don’t know how you can do what you can do, but we will give you our time. ”
“Oh. Well…in that case…” Raymond paused to think. He’d assumed they would attack him after his diatribe, but after a moment of recalibration, his brain snapped back into action, “Good. First, you’re in danger. The government is coming to capture or trap you. They tried to kill me and burn my home earlier this evening.”
“How? How do they plan to do that?” Crowley responded, his voice rising to new octaves.
“I don’t know. They tried some stupid bullet bouncing thing with us so whatever they have planned will probably be equally moronic, but it‘s also likely be highly destructive, as always. I suggest you make preparations to leave immediately.”
Crowley made a motion and two middle-aged gentlemen in dusters and bowlers, who’d been standing behind him during the meeting, sprinted out of the room.
“Second, and I assure you I follow up on my threats,” Raymond said as he motioned to his third broken nose of the night, which was currently still bleeding on the fuming hunting-jacketed individual seated nearby while his gun rested peacefully in his lap, “I demand you stop all anti-SVB activities at once and live a regular and happy life free from violence and hate.”
The elderly gentlemen around the table looked to one another in silent agreement, “Mr. Clock, we would rather die than see this great nation fall into the hands of you Crazy bastards.” At those words each of the gentlemen grabbed one or two of the pistols they always carried on their person and fired every round they had at Raymond, who sighed and waited for them to stop.
“Conservatives are so annoying. Now let’s try this again, children. I need you to…”
He was interrupted by shattering glass and a sudden flash of yellow fur and brown feathers zipping around the room.
“What the hell?” Raymond goggled.
“Mr. and Mrs. X, Agent Jackrabbit! Capture Lieutenant Colonel Crowley!” A voice shouted from an unknown location.
Raymond could make out what looked like two predatory cats darting towards the table carrying a net between them with…yes that looked like a bird of prey, maybe a hawk? He didn’t know specific species of birds as well as he would have liked at that precise moment. Whatever was happening, the fur and feathers had tangled Lieutenant Colonel Crowley in their net before anyone else moved.
“Agent Steel! Agent Sparkles! Acquire the package!” another voice called from a different unknown direction.
Now a hulking animal, unmistakably a gorilla, a highland Silverback if Raymond’s memory served him correctly, careened across the room, terrifying the un-netted guests and motivating the ensnared Crowley to struggle with his bonds a bit harder. Behind the gorilla came a…what was that? A chimp, right? Yeah, it had to be a chimp. Raymond didn’t know if there were different types of chimpanzees, he just remembered that he’d thought for the majority of his life that chimps were the closest animal in terms of genetics to humans and had been embarrassingly disabused of that notion by a casual acquaintance at a party. But he was sure this was a chimpanzee, whatever type of chimpanzee it might be. It was moving in behind the big gorilla towards the trapped Crowley.
As the apes approached the large cats, who Raymond recognized now as cheetahs, the felines noticed the chimp, lost their professional bearing, slipped out of their harnesses, and pounced on poor, poor Agent Sparkles, ending her life and resulting in the third case of carnivorous fratricide in the Agency’s long and storied history.
“AGENT SPARKLES!” a third voice called from nowhere.
A deafening roar cowed the bedlam of the room. The roar was followed by a groan of earth and building material as the ground began to sink into itself.
“JOHNSON! Didn’t you deconflict operations with NSA?”
“What? No that was Johnson! I was in charge of briefing Agent Jackrabbit and…and…the late Agent Sparkles…”
“Don’t blame me! I wasn’t supposed to coordinate with those fuckers! That was you, Johnson! Deputy Johnson tasked you himself!”
“Don’t tell me how to do my job, Johnson! If this was Beirut…”
Before Johnson could tell the congregation of Johnsons what he’d do if he was in Beirut, the structure collapsed and into sank into a hole.
The hole had been created by the subterranean nuclear blast of the twelve-kiloton atomic device the NSA had requested to sink the Stovall estate. Rather than merely sink the estate, however, the blast was sufficient to sink the entirety of Martha’s Vineyard. Within minutes the guests, house, grounds, and body of poor, poor Agent Sparkles were all dragged underneath the freezing December waters of the North Atlantic.
Hours later, Coast Guard rescue ships trolled the uncharted stretch of sea littered with the finest in modern furniture, clothing, and accessories old-money could buy. The crews eventually came across a man impressively balanced in a yoga position on a broken section of what appeared to be a long dining room table. As they hauled in the bedraggled, shivering soul, the crack rescue squad’s human resource representative asked the man for his name so they could check if he was on their list of currently missing persons.
Raymond responded calmly and deliberately despite his spasmodic trembling and the relentless clattering together of his teeth inside his frozen mouth, “M-m-my n-n-name is R-r-raymond C-c-clock, and I n-n-need you to t-t-take me to W-w-washington D-d-d. C-c-c. R-r-right n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-now.”
 The incident/man’s official designation mandated by the flourishing Church/Temple/Synagogue/Mosque/Shrine of Violence® (C/T/S/M/SoV®) after an intense debate by the newly self-appointed CTSMSoV® Elders/CEOs. Out of the ten proposed holy trademarks presented to focus groups by the CTSMSoV® Deacons/Marketing Team, “The Martyrdom of Saint Tampala (PBUH)” tested most positive across every demographic except agnostics, who responded neither positively nor negatively.
 The first building the organization bombed was owned by the media company in responsible for the name shortening slight.
 And really the only reason she got up in the morning anymore ever since her husband passed two years ago and her children moved away and stopped writing. Her children had an underdeveloped ability to deal with the pity they felt for others suffering from grief, a cycle they’d learned from their parents. Therefore they avoided anyone in the throes of extreme sorrow. Whenever they tried to help, their nagging guilt transformed into resentment faster than they liked to admit, which made them feel ashamed. Other’s pain felt like their own personal punishment; like they’re the real victim.
 A demonstration he was much less sorry to perform by the time the disagreeable and bloodthirsty Phil delivered an impatient Raymond to the base.
 The acquaintance had informed Raymond that it was actually bonobos who shared the most DNA with humans. After the conversation, so it wouldn’t look like he was upset about being corrected because only a horribly immature ass with a fragile ego would be upset by such a thing, he’d stayed at the party for a respectable length of time before excusing himself from the event with a fake emergency he made sure to tell everyone was political in nature, returned home, and moved away from the city as quickly as possible.