Requiem of the
True Believer
by Stephen Tsai
(with characters by Scott Bennie)


"Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriations."
-- Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels; Manifesto of the Communist Party


"How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."
-- Ronald Reagan; Arlington, VA; September 25, 1987




October 27, 1962.
Clifton Park.
Albany, NY.

"...and in defiance of American and hemispheric policy -- this sudden, clandestine decision to station strategic weapons for the first time outside of Soviet soil -- is a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be accepted by this country..."

Michael Richards stared at the tiny black and white screen with a mixture of fear and rapt attention. Although he was only ten, his father had made it clear what the man on the screen was saying; Armageddon was only an eye-blink away, and any second now, the skies would burn with fire and radiation. Outside, his father and some of his friends were building a bomb shelter. If the missiles flew, they would have to move in for safety and live there until the radiation died down. His young mind just couldn't understand it all. Why? Why were these two big bullies fighting like this? Didn't his father tell him that fighting in school was a bad thing? It wasn't like this old guy -- what was his name, Krusty-something -- really wanted to shoot us, did he? If he did, we'd shoot him back, his father had assured him. And surely he knew that.

Why, if he were in charge, he'd just turn and walk away. Just like his father told him; a smart man knew when to walk away. So young Michael resolved to be a smart man, so he would make his father proud. And one day, when he was running the government, things would be better. He would see to it that everyone got their fair share. And no one would go hungry or be homeless like those poor people who lived in the alleys and bridges. Turning off the television, he went to bed, but couldn't sleep. Peering outside his window, he could see the silhouettes of men digging a hole to live in against the moonlight, racing against a clock they couldn't possibly see. One day, he promised.

******

Present Day.
LAPD.
Los Angeles, CA.

Los Angeles was a dichotomy in action. Called the "City of Angels," it was known for movie stars, Hollywood, and the land where dreams could come true. It was also known for gang warfare, Rodney King, and the dubious title of "bank robbery capital of the world". Mindshadow took the time to look over the skyline as she reached the city limits. She had heard that these were Omega's stomping grounds, and while she was confident that she could mind wipe that brainless buffoon if she had to, she didn't want to deal with the hassle right now. Maybe later, she would make him grovel before her, but right now, she needed someone who had more subtle capabilities.

Mindshadow had heard of The Dictator while she was in school. According to the newspapers, he was supposed to be a crazy Marxist fanatic, who just happened to possess the ability to manipulate people's minds by means of paper propaganda. He also was known to be something of a mad engineer who used giant robots and powered armor suits to confront his enemies. At the time, her social studies teachers had openly scoffed at The Dictator's beliefs as ridiculous, especially given the collapse of the USSR on December 1st, 1991. But his beliefs didn't concern her. His scientific skills did. Properly harnessed, she was pretty sure he would be useful to her plans.

******

September 4, 1974.
Columbia University.
New York City, NY.

"...budget cuts, unemployment, economic crisis, and racism are the best we can expect from capitalism." Professor Rosen paused to let his students in the lecture hall finish their notes. "The system of corporate rule is based on the drive for maximum profits. So long as capitalism exists, that's our future."

Michael Richards listened intently as he took his notes. Although he was engineering major, he really looked forward to Professor Rosen's lecture in political studies everyday. When he was still an undergraduate student a few years ago, he marched and chanted along with thousands of his fellow students. When he stood in front of all those protestors, he felt truly alive. "One! Two! Three! Four! We don't want your fucking war!" The puerile words spoon-fed to the mass-media, but they had accomplished their purpose. For those true believers such as himself, he reserved his more intelligent dialog. "America could no longer dictate the way of the world," he explained. "We live in the shadow of mutual assured annihilation. We have to give something to resolve our differences." He still remembered the words he spoke from the heart. When the last of the US troops finally pulled out of Southeast Asia, he had celebrated into the night along with other members of the peace movement. When Michael applied for graduate work, he had been encouraged to take Professor Rosen's class and he hadn't regretted it since. Doctor Rosen put Michael's own feelings into historical and intelligent perspective.

"Professor, what you're describing sounds suspiciously like Communism."

Michael's lips tightened with annoyance. It wasn't the first time Robert McNamara interrupted Rosen's lectures with his radical right-wing nonsense. So what if he actually went to Vietnam? All that meant was he wasn't smart or important enough to get out the draft.

"And what if it does, Mr. McNamara?" Rosen defended. "Step back a little from the concepts of Democracy and Communism for a moment. Just what is the fundamental purpose of government and society in general?" He paused to give his students a chance to respond, but none would pick up the gauntlet. "Since the beginning of time, ever since mankind has progressed past the stage of barter and primitive barbarism, all forms of authority have broken down their societies into two classes: the Bourgeois and the Proletarians. Yes, the details vary; some have used the terms freeman and slave. Other terms include patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, or guild-master and journeyman. All of them can be summed up in a word, oppressor and oppressed. These classes have stood in constant opposition to one another, and are the fundamental basis of wars, conflicts, and struggles throughout history. In our modern society, we no longer resort to war to oppress the less fortunate. Now, we use economic means of keeping the oppressed under control."

"But everyone is going to have different amounts of money Professor," McNamara protested.

"And why is that, Mr. McNamara? Why is that such a universal truth? Or is it simply an assumption that the ones in power would have you believe? Try and understand; I don't necessary say that the Soviet Union has all the answers. That country's interpretation of a truly progressive society has its flaws. But our country's emphasis on capitalism has left so many of our people behind in misery and poverty, a truly enlightened person cannot help but ask if there is a better way?"

"There has to be!"

Heads turned to face Michael who stood up to address the class. "We are the wealthiest nation on Earth, yet we still have people who live in abject poverty. We send people to the moon; yet still suffer from the most basic of diseases and ailments. All of these are because of one fundamental problem -- an unfair distribution of wealth. Is it fair that 1% of the populous controls 95% of the wealth? Is it right for our so-called democracy to have its fundamental decisions made by an elite few? If we ask the man on the street what matters more, what do you think he's going to say? Landing on the moon, or feeding his family? Building the atom bomb, or curing the common cold?"

"That's rhetorical nonsense," McNamara shot back. "The decision to develop atomic sciences in no way precludes the ability to perform medical research! And what exactly is your definition of a fair distribution of wealth? In our society, anyone can earn wealth and make someone of himself if he's got the guts to try."

"Oh, yes, the 'American Dream,'" Michael replied sarcastically. "Wake up to the modern world! Solutions that worked in the 40's and 50's won't work today! We have to get past the old-styled thinking of social classes and individual greed. People need to feel that society is fair or strife and jealousy will tear them apart. Our nation's just finished wasting ten years and thousands of lives because we weren't smart enough to admit when we were wrong!"

McNamara's face darkened at the accusation, and for a moment of silence, physical confrontation seemed inevitable, before the class bell broke the tension.

"Ah, next time, chapters five, six and seven will be discussed and we'll have our next quiz on Monday," Rosen announced as students filed out of the lecture hall. "Mr. Richards, would you please come see me in my office?"

Michael followed Professor Rosen into a small, cluttered office. Stacked on every desk and shelf were political reference books discussing matters dating back to Hannibal's scrolls and the Magna Carta to the works of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. He lit up a pipe and puffed with satisfaction. The building codes disallowed smoking, but Dr. Rosen wasn't one to follow the rules. "You came down a little hard on Mr. McNamara, didn't you?"

"He's a fool and a jarhead!" Michael spat. "An uneducated drone of the system!"

Rosen nodded. "I think his views are pretty radical, yes. But remember, you must be able to convince people like him to sway them to your side."

"Me?" Michael's anger drained away and replaced with surprise.

Rosen smiled and nodded. "I've been watching you debate and I think there's a real future for you in politics. You're passionate, persuasive and one of the brightest students I've known. If you'd learn a little more about how to sway the opposition, I think you'll become a real star."

"Th-thank you, Professor," Michael managed, his pride interfering with his concentration.

"And the truth is, this country is going to need young people like you to lead the way," Rosen sighed with concern. "The world's not a Pax Americana like it might have been during the '40s. We've just come out of ten years of misery and pain because we've tried to enforce our ideologies where they weren't welcome."

"I know that sir. I did my best to contribute to the cause of world peace."

"And I'm sure you did your part. But the truth is, you have to have power to back up convictions in our world. If someone like you were to present our views to the public, in a persuasive and convincing way, you could go far on making a real difference. Maybe become a Governor or Senator. Be able to establish an agenda based on fairness and compassion, instead of the constant money-grubbing we see today."

Michael straightened. "You can count on it, sir."

"If you'd like, there are a few names I'd like to recommend you look for in the library. Some of the most learned political thinkers have written and published their thoughts."

"I'd be happy to learn anything they have to offer."

******

Present Day.
LAPD.
Los Angeles, CA.

Mindshadow floated into the LAPD building where the Dictator was last held. It had taken her less than an hour to find the right precinct by mind scanning the nearest police officer. Apparently The Dictator had threatened to blow up several police cars several months ago and the memory and anger was still fresh on many of their minds. Inside, it was controlled chaos, with people screaming obscenities, police officers doing their best to maintain order, and occasionally resorting to a little brutality when diplomacy failed.

As she entered, her mind reached out to everyone around her, willing their minds to ignore her presence. As far as they were concerned, she was invisible and silent. Of course, she would still have to avoid the surveillance system since cameras didn't have minds for her to control. But they usually did have human minds behind them. She narrowed her eyes and focused her mental senses, feeling the thoughts of people all throughout the building. She then mentally sifted through the chatter, discarding those with strong emotions, as guard duty was one of the most boring jobs in existence. Once she found a group of minds that perceived multiple monitors, she homed in and verified that they were seated in the surveillance nest. A quick mental nudge paralyzed the group and rendered them susceptible to her hypnotic suggestions, which ensured they wouldn't see nor remember her.

In the basement of the precinct, Mindshadow phased through the walls of the cells and levitated through the holding cells. About half of them were holding suspects awaiting trial or arraignment. The remaining few held some violent or drunk offenders who were getting a free night's stay courtesy of the LAPD. But no Dictator. She double-checked a photo she brought with her and scanned the cells again. Well, there had to be an explanation. She looked into the minds of the men who stood guard at the end of the cellblock and found that The Dictator had been moved due to recent riot and bomb threats made by neo-Marxist zealots.

Upstairs, Mindshadow scanned the minds of the officers in the building and found the clerical staff in charge of logging and recording prisoner transfers. Picking the senior clerk in charge, she reached into his mind and placed him under her control. "Pull up the information about the Dictator," she willed. The clerk complied without a sound like an obedient machine. Mindshadow looked over his shoulder as the information pulled up on the screen.
 
Los Angeles Police Department
Prisoner Transfer Records
Inmate Number: 32523-AB-325
Name: Michael Richards
Known Aliases: The Dictator
Known Allies: Agents, American Communist Party
Medical Records: Human variant
Classification: Metahuman
Methodology: Powered Armor, Secondary Drones, Visual-based Mind Control
Physical Threat Level: Class 4 - low
Special Confinement Classification: Class 5 - none
Date of Birth: July 18th, 1952
Place of Birth: Albany, New York
Incarceration Date: 09-14-2000
Transfer Date: 01-21-2001
Transfer Location: Purgatory Prime

Well, fudge, Mindshadow thought. Anywhere else, she could have easily spirited the Dictator away by now. But breaking into and out of Purgatory Prime wouldn't be the cakewalk like the LAPD. It was a heavily protected facility, and the rumors on its exact security grid were astounding. It has been speculated that a telepath recently broke into the heart of the building and actually managed to free some metas, particularly the psycho-killer Abattoir. Mindshadow didn't know who it was as the Feds were keeping things quiet, but common sense told her it had to be a heavy-hitter; probably someone like Brainchild, Harbringer or Psi-clops, the most powerful mentalists known to the world.

What bothered Mindshadow was the obvious fact that Purgatory Prime would certainly have improved security since that jailbreak. If it had been done by a telepath, then there would most likely be certain contingents installed especially for mentalists. She had never had a reason to think that any place or person was beyond the reach of her powers. But Purgatory Prime had a reputation she couldn't ignore. She phased up through the ceiling and out of the building. She willed the clerk to continue working and living as before until she called upon him again. She didn't want this trip to be a complete waste, and having an inside contact with the LAPD might prove useful in the event Omega or Blur tried to stir up trouble.

******

June 12, 1987.
Queens.
New York City, NY.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Michael snapped the television off with disgust as the mindless sheep applauded that old fool's fanaticism. The past several years hadn't been kind to him. When he first left Columbia, things seemed to clear and the future was bright. The American people had been growing discontent as the social inequities of the so-called democratic system were becoming increasingly clear. Capitalism had run its course; inflation was shooting through the room along with interest rates and the little man was getting squeezed into poverty while the fat-cat bourgeois continued to prosper on the backs of their labors.

He had joined the American Communist party right after graduation and almost immediately he made a difference. When he spoke to the crowds, people began to nod their heads. Flyers were made and distributed to voters and almost immediately made a difference. He had a way with words; a gift many in the party agreed in presenting their message in a way that struck a chord with the common man. Somehow, when Michael Richards took the podium, people would listen and nod in agreement. Even skeptics were forced to reevaluate their beliefs and more than a few of them ended up coming to their side. By 1979, the Communist Party was already talking about nominating Michael Richards to be their party's candidate for President of the United States. If anyone could steer this country back to sanity, it would be President Richards.

The dream then turned nightmarish as an unexpectedly powerful Ronald Reagan took power instead and suddenly overnight, it became fashionable to hate Communism again. Memberships dried up and funds along with them and what had started as a growing movement quickly found itself regulated to the subject of ridicule on late-night television.

To their credit, Michael grunted, the Communist Party did their best to promote their message in the early years, but money was limited and there was no way they could compete with the propaganda machine at the White House. The party made another half-hearted attempt to run again in 1984, only to be steamrolled by one of the worst shellacking in electoral history.

Even Fate conspired against him; by sheer coincidence, the economy abruptly turned around and interest rates and inflation actually lowered, despite all expectations to the contrary. He began to pin his hopes that the Soviet Union would lead the way by example, only to watch with dismay as the once-mighty superpower crumble to its knees in the face of internal corruption and a meaningless war in Afghanistan.

Michael scratched his growing beard and emptied his last beer. He was thirty-five years old. Many politicians his age were beginning to hit their stride and establish their fiefdoms, but somehow things didn't happen for him anymore. People just didn't understand, he groused. They were so clearly being used and manipulated! Didn't they realize that Communism was the only true path for their country's prosperity? No, they swallowed the propaganda - hook, line and sinker. Meanwhile, the rich got richer and the poor grew poorer, supporting the fundamental truth that capitalism just didn't work.

He stood up and walked down the aisle of empty chairs in a once-crowded auditorium. The party leadership had scattered to the four winds and apathy had disintegrated what few members groups that were left. It had seemed that the movement was dead, but Michael refused to give in. Communism was the right way for the future. Only corruption and greed had undermined the Soviet Union, because those in power did not truly believe that Communism would work. They fell back on the old model of materialism and continued to rob from the working class. What was needed was a leader -- someone who truly believed.

With that resolved, he walked to the end of the hall, and pulled aside a curtain that concealed a hidden door. Inside, there was a bare concrete room with several pieces of electronic and scientific equipment. Although he felt himself a political visionary, he never forgot that he was also an engineer. He pulled the sheets off a large mechanical drone and pulled out a microphone. "Imperious Maximus!" he ordered, causing the metal drone to come to electronic life.

Michael watched with resolve as the drone finished its system and weapon checks. He had hoped it wouldn't come to this. He knew his way was right. He wanted to lead the country and eventually the world to a better society. Yes, he had expected occasional setbacks; every meaningful accomplishment in history was usually accompanied by a little pain. That's all this was, a setback. He just had to resolve to be strong enough to do the right thing. People would be shown the corruption of this decadent society. The enlightened ones would come on their own accord after hearing him speak. The rest would come in the only way they understood -- by force.

******

Present Day.
Purgatory Prime.
Anchorage, AK.

Robert McNamara walked down the corridors of the facility with the usual caution, his eyes looking for anything amiss. To his sides, force fields gave off a slight hum as they reinforced steel bars. It was quiet here; most of the prisoners rarely gave him any serious notice besides the occasional empty threat. Despite their imprisonment, one could never drop one's guard. Every morning, he was reminded who was being housed here: men who could bend steel bars with their bare hands, ladies who could ignite plasma from their bodies, and creatures who could rend flesh to bone in the blink of an eye.

McNamara had volunteered for duty here after serving his twenty in the Corp. He had left a Major; he didn't quite have the evaluations or political connections to make full-bird, but that was okay. He had his honorable discharge, his twenty-year pension and a new career working among the elite in law enforcement. Unlike most prisons, where the guards were barely high school graduates who couldn't cut it with the regular police, the members of the Warders were selected from the best America had to offer. Most of his fellow Warders were ex-Force Recon Marines, a few Squids (they preferred to be called SEALs, but McNamara couldn't resist a good rivalry any more than the next jarhead), and some Army Rangers and Green Berets. All the men here had signed their hostage waivers, and for good reason. If the worst were to happen, they were all prepared to give their lives rather than surrender this facility to the scum imprisoned here.

He got off the elevator on the top floor and headed to the command center. This floor was dubbed "minimum security", but that was actually deceiving. The security here was roughly on par with the maximum-security cells found all around the world. On this floor, low-level metahumans, whose powers could be controlled via localized measures, were held. At the third cell, McNamara paused to check in on an old friend.

"Hey Mike, how's it hanging?"

The Dictator looked up from his cell and glared at his former classmate. "Again, you come to boast to me about your perfect system? Poor, pathetic fool...!"

"Well, I don't know about being the poor pathetic one," McNamara replied smugly. "You're the one sitting in the cell, not me."

"At least I'm free in my heart and beliefs! I'm not a slave to the system! I'm willing to do whatever it takes to achieve Utopia!"

"Oh really? So that's why you tried to assassinate President Reagan ten years ago? So you could build some wacky fantasy?"

"He's no president of mine! He's a pawn of the Bourgeois and deserved to die for his crimes against the Proletarians!"

McNamara shook his head. "You know something? I think I liked you better when you were just a left-wing radical. You were a really great debater, and if you had just kept your head on, maybe you might have made a difference within the system. Achieved some real influence and power for your beliefs. But now, you're just a terrorist. And terrorists don't get squat except a one-way ticket to hell."

"Bah!" the Dictator dismissed. "You prattle on about power and influence while you haven't the slightest clue about true power! My beliefs will be vindicated! Mark my words! Somewhere out there, there is a true believer who will free me! And on that day, I will see you bow before me!"

McNamara snorted. "Oh yeah? I've got news for you. Communism's dead. It died almost ten years ago when the USSR gave up on it and took the entire Warsaw Pact with it. Hell, they're even talking about inviting Russia to NATO to counter the PRC. No one wants your working class nonsense. Even the Labor Unions buy political candidates now. You're a loser and you'll always be a loser. No one gives a shit you're in here, so quit kidding yourself. No one's coming for you, so you better just get comfortable on that bench, cause you're going to be here for a long time."

******

Present Day.
Ferryboat dock near the Gulf of Alaska.
Anchorage, AK.

He's in there, Mindshadow thought, as her eyes scanned the horizon of the Gulf of Alaska. Obscured by the night and perpetual fog, she could sense the thoughts of the incarcerated within Purgatory Prime. Indeed, the sheer concentration of malevolence was like an ugly festering wound against a background of mundane normality. But the sensation was far weaker than it should have been. Electronically powered psi shielding, she knew. No doubt a response to that recent break-in if indeed it was done by a telepath.

She frowned with annoyance at the development of advanced counter-meta technology; had it been a few years ago, she probably could have walked through Purgatory Prime with only a minimal expenditure of effort. But now, they probably had the best electronic psi shields government money could buy. And while she might still be able to overcome them by finding the psi shield nodal points and applying a little mental brute force, that would take effort and valuable time and it wouldn't help her against the robotic guardians that were no doubt augmenting the members of the Warders. She'd have to plan this out very carefully and there wasn't time. The political fundraiser at the New York Athletic Club was in a couple days and she needed to get ready for that.

Mindshadow finished the hot tea served to her by a hypnotized waiter and dismissed him with a thought. She was hovering twenty feet up in the air above a dockside cafe. The owner's thoughts told her that this place was a popular stop for the incoming and outgoing staff of Purgatory Prime as they waited for the ferryboat. During the summertime, several people liked to sit outdoors on the dock facing the sea, but right now she was the only one outside the cafe. Unlike everyone else, she was warm and comfortable as her telekinetic powers gently accelerated the molecules around her to maintain warmth. Despite the mid-afternoon hour, the sun had already set almost an hour ago; seasons tended to be a little funny this far north, she recalled.

She sighed and willed herself ten miles into the night sky, passing over Purgatory Prime on her way south out of Alaska. Just sit tight, Dictator, she thought. I'll be seeing you soon.
 

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