Nobody Likes Palarma
Chapter 3: Big Bang and The Day of Swords
CopyrightÂ© 2014 by Lazlo Zalezac
Looking downcast, Anpu Tahan shuffled out of the temple. It was the sixth largest temple in the largest city of Romal. The followers of Jarjan were a growing minority in Romal. There had been a huge increase in migration out of countries that were predominately Jarjan over the past three decades. At first they had been welcomed, but now tensions were growing between those who were native and the immigrants.
There was a growing movement among the followers of Jarjan to have the local laws replaced with their religious laws. It was a movement that had led to violence. Those whose families had founded the country had no desire to give up their traditions, their culture, or their laws. Romal wasn’t going to change just because the followers of Jarjan wanted it to change.
Anpu Tahan could understand that. Romal was Romal and had been for a thousand years. It wasn’t a province of Rasbi. The only way Romal would change was if it were conquered. He was a man of peace and didn’t want to see the kind of violence that would be involved in conquering Romal.
The clash of cultures had prompted even greater radicalism among the followers of Jarjan. Not only did they demand that the followers of Jarjan live by his laws, but so should everyone else. Intolerance was becoming a fact of life. It seemed to him that peaceful coexistence seemed to be a fantasy of the past.
Maybe he was becoming an old man. Old men were too tired to fight. They accepted the dark looks from locals without complaint and listened to the young radicals without comment. It was just too difficult getting out of bed, to even think about running around fighting.
It was the young men who rebelled, protested in the streets, and fought what they viewed as an unjust suppression of their culture. Too often it was their strongest and brightest young men who rebelled the most. Their actions were becoming increasingly violent, which only increased the tensions. He knew that if things didn’t change that one day soon the streets would run with blood.
This particular evening, Anpu Tahan was depressed about having lost another bright young man to the radical temple across town. In the past five years, he had lost more than a quarter of his followers to the radical temple. He felt powerless to stop the slow migration. It was always the young and healthy young men who left. He was now preaching to the old and lame.
It wasn’t even two nights ago that he learned one of his former followers had died in Palarma in a shoot out between the Enforcers of God and the Amran Army. It was just another young life lost to a perverted cause. Too many lives had been thrown away by using a gun to force people to God. That never worked. The mouth would say whatever was necessary to keep the head attached to the body, but Jarjan knew what was in the heart of a man. Having a gun put to their heads only hardened their hearts against God.
Just thinking about the Enforcers of God made him sick to his stomach. He watched the news and knew what kinds of things they did. Several years ago he had given a sermon condemning what the fanatics were doing and received a beating for having spoken against them. They left with the threat that he should never criticize them again.
He was roused out of his thoughts by a growing awareness of two men walking beside him, one on each side of him. Nervous, he glanced left and right taking in the well tailored suits. They didn’t seem to be from the other temple, but one couldn’t be too careful.
“Mr. Tahan, would you mind stepping in our van over there,” one of the men said gesturing to a van parked by the side of the road.
“I’m late for an appointment.”
“No, you’re not. You’re headed home for dinner. If I’m not mistaken, you’re going to reheat last night’s leftovers. A nice leg of lamb with mint sauce, if I’m not mistaken.”
Anpu Tahan felt his heart drop to his stomach. These men knew all about him, and he knew nothing about them. He believed that he was about to become another Voice of Jarjan who disappeared without a trace. Such evil should not be allowed to exist, but he was just one man alone. There was nothing he could do.
“I have said nothing about your temple. There’s no need to kill me.”
“We aren’t with the temple. We have no intention of killing you. If we had such an intention, you’d be dead by now.”
“You must be with the government, then.”
Having the government after him was just as bad as having the radicals angry at him. They’d try to box him into being some kind of informant despite the fact that he had nothing to inform them about. Of course, word would get out and his life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickle. If he didn’t play ball with them, they’d force him out of the country as an undesirable.
“We’re not with the government.”
“Then who are you?”
“Would you mind getting in the van where we can talk?”
Convinced that he was putting his head in a noose, Anpu Tahan entered the van. He was surprised to discover that the back of the van had pairs of seats with a small table between them. There was a man in a nicely tailored suit seated in the seat at the back of the van. The two men who had escorted him to the van got into the front of the van.
“Have a seat, Mr. Tahan.”
He took a seat across the table from the man who was seated there. He didn’t know what to make of this. There was no clue about who these people were.
“Who are you?”
“It is probably best that you do not know who we are.”
“Who are you? What do you want from me?”
“Like I said, it is probably best that you don’t know who we are. Our purpose is simple. We are here to sign a contract with you.”
“You want to sign a contract with me and you won’t tell me who you are?” Anpu asked incredulous at the audacity of the man.
“No. We’re exceptionally careful. You should be very careful, as well.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No. We don’t make threats. Others have already made threats to you, and they are the ones you should fear. Not us.”
“I think I should leave,” Anpu said rising from his seat.
“It is a shame that good men do nothing when evil runs rampant in the streets. Leave if you wish, but know that you will regret it for the rest of your life.”
“All five minutes of it, or do I have that much time?”
“I don’t know. That’s not our province. You appear to be healthy. You should probably live a long time. You might want to lose a little weight, and get more exercise.”
Anpu sat down and said, “What do you want?”
“We want you to sign a contract for us to eliminate a great evil in this world.”
“The Enforcers of God.”
“They are too strong,” he said pushing himself into the back of his seat.
“Are you saying that they are stronger than Jarjan?”
“Don’t blaspheme!” he said insulted by the very suggestion.
“I don’t think that questioning your strength of belief is blasphemy. You are a Voice of Jarjan, or at least you claim to be. You get one threat from evil men not to speak against evil, and you stop calling for good men to resist evil. It is as if you don’t believe that Jarjan would protect you from evil. It seems to me that you don’t have much faith in Him.”
Anpu Tahan was shocked at the charge made against him. It embarrassed and angered him, because deep down inside he knew that it was true. He was afraid of the evil men. He didn’t expect Jarjan to protect a foolish old man like himself.
“What about a dollar?”
“For one dollar we will end the evil that is the Enforcers of God.”
“Are you the devil?”
“No. At least, we don’t think so. There are others who might disagree.”
“Are you followers of Jarjan?”
“Then I will not sign your contract,” Anpu said firmly.
“You are free not to sign. I have one question for you before you leave. Do you truly believe that Jarjan must pick his tools only from those who follow him?”
Anpu stared at the man seated across from him. That was exactly the question that, in his understanding, separated the true followers of Jarjan from the evil men who were perverting the religion. Jarjan was all powerful. It was his will that people do as they did. Even non-believers acted according to Jarjan’s will. It even said that in the holy texts of Jarjan left by past prophets.
Those who perverted that faith, spoke as if Jarjan had no power over non-believers. They denied that the non-believers acted even as Jarjan willed them to act. They claimed that it was up to true believers to eliminate all those who fell short of proper beliefs. It was a claim that had no support in any of the holy writings left by the prophets.
Yet it was a troubling question. Why wouldn’t Jarjan pick believers to be his tools? Why would he direct his will to non-believers? He couldn’t answer questions like that. He wondered if the followers of Jarjan had become so weak or corrupt that they weren’t fit to be proper tools of Jarjan. The idea of that sent shivers of fear through his body.
“Why are you asking me to be the one who signs the contract?”
“Because, deep down in your heart, you want the evil to end.”
“Jarjan help me,” Anpu Tahan said under his breath.
“If you wish, go to your temple and pray for divine guidance. We will wait. We are patient.”
“All you want from me is one dollar?”
“There is one other thing you must do.”
“What?” he asked suspiciously.
“Your sermon tomorrow will be to denounce those who would pervert the teachings of Jarjan for personal gain and power. You must call upon Jarjan to smite those who do evil in his name. You do not have to name names or point at a specific temple. Let all know that Jarjan knows who is evil and that it is not up to man to judge.”
“They will kill me,” Anpu said flatly.
“Have you so little faith in Jarjan?”
Two hours later, they drove away with a signed contract. It was one of more than a hundred such contracts that were signed that day.
With the characteristic squeal of air brakes, the bus pulled up to a stop at the check point manned by eleven Enforcers of God. The beaten up and worn out old bus had Saturnian Circus written on the side. There were pictures of a big top, elephants, and clowns. If anything was going to provoke the ire of the Enforcers of God, it was a circus. Everyone knew that frivolous entertainment was an insult to Jarjan. Free time was to be spent in prayer to Jarjan, not laughing at the antics of clowns.
The checkpoint was little more than a makeshift blockade of the road. Across the road from where the Enforcers of God stood, there were a number of pikes with severed heads impaled upon them. Several luxury cars were parked off to the side, the former property of those whose heads now decorated the pikes. There was a dark red stain in the middle of the road marking the location where the heads and bodies had become separated. A pit a short distance from the road held the bodies. There was a pail of lime near the pit. Even Enforcers of God didn’t like the smell of decaying bodies.
The Enforcers of God were all men. Each man had a beard. Some of the beards were weak and scraggly, advertising the youth of the man. A few of the men had full dark beards that came down to the middle of their chest. All of them were wearing green camouflage uniforms, a few of which had blood stains on them. There was a blue bandana around each man’s neck. Each man carried a rifle and a large knife. There were no ranks on their uniforms, but it was obvious which man was in charge.
The Enforcers of God at the checkpoint quickly surrounded the bus ordering everyone out. Much to their surprise, the first few men off of the bus wore uniforms exactly like theirs. They even had blue bandanas around their necks. The men staffing the checkpoint relaxed their guard. It was the last thing any of them did outside of becoming new decorations for pikes.
Several hundred yards away from the check point was a camp with more Enforcers of God. It was a fairly large camp with nearly a hundred men in it. They were engaged in a variety of activities including training, praying, and eating. There weren’t any card games or playing of any kind. It was a rather austere place, with tents and small stools for the men to sit upon. None of them had been watching the checkpoint.
A few minutes later, the bus pulled away from the checkpoint and moved down the road to the camp. It kicked up dust while moving down the dirt road. It came to a stop in the center of the camp.
The arrival of the bus generated some attention, most of which was negative as a result of the dust it raised. Interest in the bus quickly disappeared when men climbed out wearing the uniforms of the Enforcers of God. The new arrivals to the camp stretched as though tired of a long trip.
The head of the camp walked over to find out more about the visitors. He was irritated at not having been warned to expect them. They were going to have to take more food from the market to feed this many people. He didn’t make it to the bus.
Twenty minutes later, the bus pulled away from the camp. A new set of pikes, complete with severed heads, was the only sign of its passing. A message, unsigned, had been sent to the Enforcers of God. There was a new player in town and they didn’t play by the rules.
With a low growl, the five trucks pulled into the open field joining the two buses, marked up with advertisements to a circus, that were already parked there. They were not military trucks, but civilian eighteen-wheelers. One truck pulled a heavily modified box trailer. There were all kinds of electrical connections hidden behind a plastic banner announcing the arrival of a circus. Three of the trucks carried a large 900KW generator on the flatbed it was pulling. The generators were hidden underneath large blue tarps. The fifth truck was a flatbed loaded with the parts for a large antenna. The parts were hidden underneath several tarps.
The open field was surrounded by sparse woods. It looked empty until men and women, dressed like locals, came out of the woods. Spoiling the appearance of being local were the rifles they carried. All but a handful walked over to where the trucks were parked. The rest spread out to cover the area.
“There’s no one around. We have a few people who live along the road, but they are being visited by Enforcers of God.”
“Are they Swords or the real thing?”
“Hearths. They’re all we have available at the moment. They’re papering rooms with aluminum foil.”
“Let’s set up,” Hammer Marcin said unaware that other events were happening around the world.