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American Atheist: #7

by  Nelly

Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2005
Word Count: 4292

I personally find it amusing, the greatest war ever waged, started because of a tax dodge.” Angelo regarded her coolly. “You have read about Washington’s first steps to independence?”

Unita nodded. It was compulsory reading. “Sickened by the Missionaries converting the tribes to Catholicism, the President had announced his Atheism.” She gave a sickly grin. “Strictly first grade. You’ll have to do better than that”

Angelo chuckled and smoothed out the folds of his robe. “However, the truth of the matter is quite different. He didn’t want to pay all that gold to the Church, he was sick of sharing the wealth of the New World. Washington wanted it all for himself, so declared war on religion.”

“Good for him, why should all the fat priests of Rome get it. The gold from France and a newly conquered Britain should have been more than enough. Somebody had to make a stand.”

Angelo laughed, but the humour never touched his eyes, they remained fixed on Unita, cold and calculating. “It only lasted fifty years,” he said, ending with a sneer, one in which Unita was instantly reminded of Bobby. Angelo wore the same look of cruelty as the Nonfather’s son.

She repressed a shudder.

“By that time Abraham Lincoln was in the Whitehouse,” Angelo said, enjoying her discomfort. “A different man from Washington, one might say smarter, even visionary. When his presidency began, he had a nation united in the face of the enemy, cowed by the invisible fear of the Church. His workforce was at one hundred percent. Everyone who could work, did work, the economy was booming, America was advancing faster than its contemporaries, only Rome could keep pace. This state of affairs was perfect, but had to be maintained. In one of the few true acts of genius, Lincoln called for a secret truce to the hostilities. A clandestine meeting was arranged and the Pope, Pius IX agreed.”

“I’ve heard of Pius, he ran the secret police, had a thing against Jews, was known for arresting them for all manners of alleged crimes.”

Angelo’s smile faltered. “Surely we can agree on the concept of the Jews. After all, your nation has none, an outright ban on the race, and we tolerate them, cheap labour would be difficult to find, if they were not in such abundance.”

It was true, any religion, or anyone professing to believe in God, whatever form, was banned and punishable by death. Unita knew it was for the betterment of her people, but still, when Angelo laid it before her in such an open, straightforward way, she felt uncomfortable.

“After months of negotiating the Act of 1859 was passed,” Angelo continued, “and written in that act, an agreement by both sides, to maintain the illusion of war. Our armies would circle each other across the globe, following pre-set plans, which months before commanders from both sides had worked out. Now and then, a small battle would be allowed, what is called acceptable losses to help maintain the duplicity. Even myself and the Vatican Nightime Flyers are given clearance by the America air command before we start bombing. Last night it was New York, next Wednesday it will be San Francisco. Then two weeks after, it will be America’s turn, normally on a Thursday, they will bomb the ghettos of Valencia, clearing out our trash in way of a favour.”

Angelo’s face had paled as he spoke, like all the colour and vitality was slowly seeping out from him, leeched away by an invisible presence. “The great deceit of the world,” he coughed, “the people in fear, the rich getting richer and technology advancing even beyond our wildest dreams.” Blood stained his teeth and he spat into his robes, leaving a viscous trail of red dripping from his mouth.

“That’s insane, war for the sake of war, it just wouldn’t happen.” Her words tumbled out before she could stop them.

“Is it? In periods of peace, we turn upon ourselves, like animals bickering over land and territory, no more able, no more better than the caveman we had supposedly evolved from. In times of peace we are lost, cattle waiting for the slaughter. Man was never designed like that, we need war, we need an enemy, with conflict comes strength and through strength, society, mine, yours, the whole world profits.”

“Our strength is not in war, it is in our compassion, in our understanding, in our ability to explore.” Unita couldn’t help herself; every time she spoke, each word was filled with spite.

“Yes, strong qualities, but they lack motivation, nothing has inured the world of man more than fear for its own survival.” He pointed a finger towards her and asked. “If we had not been at war, if our great nations were combined as one, as equals, would we have the benefits we have today, would their be such a tolerance as you see among your people.”

The words of the American Atheist floated back across the ether. “We must embrace our diversity.”

“With an enemy, common among men, former fights are forgotten, hate is redirected, bigotry and prejudice are forgotten. Truly we unite to face the common foe. And what better foe than one which doesn’t really exist, at least in any sense that matters.”

“But you do exist and we are at war.” Unita stopped, as suddenly, she remembered the events of last night. “And I can prove it.” She tried to hide her feelings of excitement, tried to remain calm, not give anything away of what she felt. She would savour this moment, draw in his expression and hurt him with the only weapons she had. “Last night there was a live documentary from Attention America, it was the first of its type to be tried. In it, the American Atheist spoke live to the nation. Do you know what it was he said and do you know what he did?”

Now it was Anglo’s turn to look doubtful, “Go on,” he said.

“The American Atheist flew a specialised Superfort plane over the Vatican City and dropped a Neutron bomb. The gamma rays and neutron rays killed everyone inside,” she smiled, “your people, your friends, your family, even your leader the Pope, are all dead. He sacrificed his life, for this ideal and for us. You see Angelo, we’re flying back to a dead city.”

Angelo watched her intently for a moment, then placed his hands over his face and began to shudder. Unita felt a supreme rush of pleasure at what she thought of as the Cardinal crying, but that feeling soon faded, when the shuddering turned to laughter, a great raucous of sound, made even stronger by the small confines of the cockpit.

“Don’t you get it,” she spat. “Rome is over, everything you care about is gone!” Infuriated by his response she screamed the last words at him.

Tears rolled across his face and he only stopped when a new coughing fit brought speckles of blood to his lips.

“And that,” he said, wiping away the tears, “brings us to the second great lie.”


“The American Atheist doesn’t exist.” Angelo had stopped laughing, his face returned to a serious expression, his tone grave. “He is propaganda, used by your government to enhance the sense of patriotism and service to your country. He is a brainwashing tool, for the children, for you. Nothing more real than an ideal, cooked up by the men at Capital Hill.”

Unita struggled for words. “That’s…that’s …not true…”

“You watch the programme Attention America, it is government sponsored. It is the only television network, which broadcasts to America, is it not?”

Unita nodded.

“Attention America is a mouthpiece for your nation. The American Atheist is an actor; his bombing of Rome was played out upon a stage, with other actors. They had a director, a editor, a script writer, all they needed to make it seem like he was really out there, in the thick of it all.”

“You’re a liar.” He had to be a liar, he was trying to keep her off balance, and it wouldn’t work.

“Do you know who the man beneath the mask is?” He asked, his voice floating across the cockpit like silk.

“No-one knows who the Atheist was,” Unita corrected.

“Was?” He paused, and then understanding flashed into his eyes. “Ah of course, you still think he’s dead.”

“He died so the war could end.”

“How noble, how perfect, how…American. Wake up Unita; see the world as it truly is for the first time. The American Atheist isn’t dead; he never truly lived, at least in the sense you think. His real name is Bud Allwin, the presenter of Attention America.”

That bombshell left Unita stunned as if he had reached across and slapped her in the face. Bud Allwin, the bold presenter with glasses, he couldn’t be the American Atheist, he looked so…so…normal.

“It can’t be him, he presented the show the Atheist died on,” she said feebly.

“It’s all a stage, filmed months before, none of it is real,” Angelo replied quietly. “I’m sorry you have to learn all this and I’m sorry it comes from me, but you have come too far now to be returned for what passed as your normal life. If you are to survive in Rome then you must know the truth.”

Unita conjured up the image of Bud Allwin sat behind his desk, his thick glasses distorted his eyes, eyes the steel grey of the American Atheist. He always wore a dark suit, but now she thought about it, he was the same size as the Atheist. Attention America would always start with the rising of curtains upon a stage. They even played a drum roll. She thought then on the troopers and Mrs Joneson’s son Ernie. He had left to join the army, over five years ago, but hadn’t he always wanted to be an actor before hand. Did that mean the Iron Maiden was also made up, an figment of a corrupt governments dreams of wealth and power.

“What about Iron Maiden?” She asked, her eyes found his, but reluctantly he shook his head. “A fantasy, a perfect child’s dream, to snare the young and innocent of heart.”

Unita lowered her head and felt her face flush, her world teetered on the edge of the precipice, one more nudge and she would fall. She struggled to keep a grip in the conversation. But his words rang with a sense of logic, a gut feeling of truth. Her mind screamed that he spoke lies, but her heart said otherwise.

“Prove it,” she said at last, hoping with all she had left to give, that he could not.

Angelo nodded, “Of course.” He reached across to a dial and turned a small switch to one side. Instantly, static filled the aircraft, Angelo lowered the volume and said. “ You remember I need permission to fly into American airspace?”

“Yes,” Unita said with dread.

“Listen then.” He picked up a small black mike and spoke into it. “ Air traffic tower five, this is VNTF on restricted channel gold, requesting permission to pass into militarised zone Aqua.”

There was a brief period of static and Unita dared to hope, but then a voice cut back through the static.

“VNTF, this is control, we have you on our radar, you’re a day late.”

“I had engine problem, control, I had to set down in woodlands to effect repairs. But she’s flying high now. Fuel’s low though so I’ll be coming back on fumes, also I’m dragging slightly, I think there might be a problem with my landing gear.”

“Okay VNTF, stay at your present heading and we will transmit course co-ordinates to a transit ship for your safety. Good flying.”

“Thank you control.” He doubled clicked the microphone and placed it back into its holder. “Now do you begin to understand?”

Unita’s heart thudded in her chest like it might burst free, she broke out into a sweat and her mouth became dry. “No…it’s not true,” she moaned.

“What more do you need,” Angelo said reaching out for her.

Get away!” She shouted, struggling out of her seat and falling into the back of the plane. Her stomach heaved and she gagged.

Angelo also stood up, although he had to remain hunched over in the cockpit. “Try to remain calm, remember to breathe.”

“It’s a lie…all of it…none of it is true.” She fell onto her knees and felt the inside of her stomach rise up and rush out through her mouth and nose. She vomited on the floor and curled up into a ball, her stomach on fire, tears rolling unchecked down her face.

Nothing was true, nothing.


Twenty minutes passed in silence. Unita remained where she was, and Angelo after watching her for a while, returned to the pilot’s chair. The pains in her stomach finally faded and the sweat dried upon her brow. She remained curled up, watching the back of Angelo’s head. Her mind still raced, but now a hundred possibilities presented themselves, she went through different scenarios of how Angelo might be lying, how this was all a elaborate ruse, to make her believe, to cause her to convert to his archaic religion, to live in Rome as what…his slave? But she knew that wasn’t true, she was never meant to be here, it should have been Bobby. The voice on the radio had been American, but that could have been faked, but how?

There was so much she didn’t understand, the armour he wore; it was different from what she read about with Iron Maiden’s, the ability to heal, who knows what else it was capable of doing. When she thought about his battle with Nonfather Fletcher, she was reminded at his speed and the amazing strength he seemed to possess, was that all part of the armour’s abilities as well. She wasn’t sure. What else then, he had the power to control; to …what did he call it, to suggest. Like hypnosis, but only stronger, as if his will would dominate over hers. Was that what he was trying to do now?

But he said he couldn’t do it twice, was that a lie or was it the truth? These thoughts ran over in Unita’s mind, an endless cycle of questions. Nothing she knew seemed real, she couldn’t even trust her own senses.

Through all the confusion, Unita longed for her mother, Ashanti, she needed to be held, to be put back into bed and told it was all just a dream, a nightmare and come morning everything would be back to normal. She longed for that, and wished it would come true. Closing her eyes and desperately willing it to be so, but when her eyes opened, the dark interior of the plane was exactly as it had been before.

She was really here and this was really happening to her. Unita reached out and placed her hand upon the metal floor; it hummed with vibrations of the engines.

That was real.

She sat up and coughed, feeling the dry pain of her throat.

That was real.

Her need to see Ashanti?

That was real.

Whatever the Cardinal said, or however he tried to corrupt her, that wouldn’t change. She was going to go home or die trying.

Unita got back up, and pressed down her clothes, she rolled her hair back into a bun and then calmly returned to the cockpit, sitting down without saying a word or even glancing in Angelo’s direction.

When she felt ready she said. “I have a couple of questions, I need you to answer.”

Angelo glanced over, “Anything,” he said.

“Why the mask?”

He smiled, “It’s not really a mask, it’s part of the environmental suit, it protects me from any harmful effects of war, biological warfare, that type of thing. It also provides me with the ability to see in the dark.”

“I see,” Unita thought this over. ”When I first saw you, it seemed like you could fly and when I ran from you, you managed to get ahead of me twice, how was that possible?”

“I cant fly, but the robes help to shroud my body, makes it difficult for people to get proper shots off and I didn’t really get ahead of you, I used the armour to fool you into thinking I was ahead.”


“Without going into specifics, I can present an image of myself, sometimes two, depending on how much power I have, and I can project these images over short distances.”

“So when I saw you coming out of the swamps, it was really just …a reflection?”

“Yes, it served its purpose by making you back towards me.”

“What else can you do?” she asked, but Angelo smiled and waved a finger in her direction.

“Ah, I think I will still keep some cards close to my chest for now.” He coughed and Unita realised, he was still in pain.

“And my last question, the important one, is why are you telling me all this.”

Angelo leant back, grimacing. “Save the important one for last.” He tapped the side of his nose, “Very wise.” He shook his head as if to clear his vision. “I tell you all this, because you could not at first be allowed to walk through the streets of Rome as you are. You are an American and it would mean, and have no doubt of this, it would mean your death.” He swayed slightly and brought his hand to his shoulder. Unita realised he was sweating, it rolled across his head and down his cheeks. “I want you to attend the academies, I want you to discover God and ultimately I want you to become a Cardinal.”

“I will never become a Cardinal, my faith in Atheism is too strong. It may be social conditioning, to keep me in place, it may have its roots in greed, but ultimately, it’s a philosophy, a view that makes sense, more sense than your ordered world and divine intelligence behind the workings of man.”

“That will change,” Angelo said, his face now completely drained of colour and his eyes became unfocused.

“I would die first.”

“That can be done too Unita, you will accept your new life or it will consume you.” A dark trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth.

“What’s wrong?”

“The armour, it cant sustain the healing process and block my nerve endings, it opted to concentrate on healing and pain be dammed.” Angelo grunted and leant forward. “God have mercy, the pain.”

Unita realised she felt a bitter pleasure at seeing him like this. “God doesn’t exist.” she whispered.

“Stupid child, be quiet, I still have strength enough to deal with…” His words cut short, Angelo pitched forward into the controls. The plane shook, but kept its current course.

Unita watched wordlessly, listening to Angelo’s breathing become more regular and deep. She reached over and touched him upon the arm; there was no response. “Angelo,” she called, but there was still nothing. She pulled him in his chair and he fell loosely back, his head resting upon his chest. He was unconscious; the pain had become too much for him.


At first Unita was not sure what to do. She sat in her seat and watched the Cardinal. The lights of the display screens flashed in random patterns across his face and his breathing remained deep. He looked far more peaceful in sleep than when he was awake she concluded, but then had to snap herself out of it.

What was she doing?

This was a chance, an opportunity, she had to make the most of, and she might not get another chance.

But how?

A parachute? Unita dismissed the idea, she had never tried on a parachute, and she barely knew what one looked like, let alone be able to operate it. Maybe she could turn the plane around, fly back to America. Unita looked down at the controls, a half moon wheel seemed obvious, that was the way to turn it, like a car, but that was where the similarity ended. It looked extremely complex; she glanced from screen to screen, readout to readout, but nothing made any sense. It was pointless to try and fly the plane, she wasn’t sure in which direction America was anyway and might end up flying it into the Atlantic or worse. There seemed to be no way out, she would be forced to remain here until he woke up.

Then Unita saw the small black microphone Angelo had been talking into. She studied it closer and noticed a switch by its side. Unita flicked the switch and the soft sound of static filled the aeroplane. Unita glance hurriedly over to Angelo, fearing the sound might awaken him, but he slept on, oblivious to the new noise. She picked up the microphone and after a moment’s hesitation, pressed down on the side, as she had seen him do, and talked into it.

“Hello”, she said, but there was no response. “Hello,” she repeated louder, but still nothing. This was pointless; whom would she be able to get in contact with. The American airforce? If Angelo was right they were all in on this strange game together.

She forced herself to calm down. She didn’t know what the truth was? It was far more likely Angelo had been playing with her head, twisting the truth so she would believe, using the armour to subtly convince her of his way of thinking. She had nothing else to believe in. America wasn’t corrupt, he was, it was that simple.

She turned her attention back to the microphone and then followed the wire back to where it rested on the wall. For the first time she noticed it was attached to a small box, it had a dial on one side and three letters, glowing faintly green, set on its face. They read XIII. She touched the dial and more on impulse, ran her fingers to one side, instantly the letters on the screen changed to XXV and for a brief second she caught fragmented voices coming across the speakers and even music.

Hello,” she shouted, “hello, can anyone hear me.” But there was still nothing.

She waited impatiently to see if the voices came again, but the steady hum of static filled her ears and nothing more. Maybe, she concluded, she had to tune in to the right frequency. She ran her hand back up the dial and the voices; all jumbled and mismatched surged across the cockpit. The dial now read V. More cautiously than before she inched the dial back down and a voice, clear as if he had been sat in the plane next to her came out across the speakers.

“…Because your set is only for forty two amps of power and mine is eighty four…” The voice was American, he sounded young, child like.

“Every time it’s the same old thing, your set hasn’t got the range, because your set is slower and older and looks worse to…” Another voice cut in, although this one was mixed with static and faded in and out. It was also American.

“Well your set is older, so what do you expect.” The first voice chimed back.

Unita had heard enough; she clicked down on the receiver and said. “Hello, hello can you hear me. Please can you hear me, can you hear what I’m saying.” She clicked off and static resumed. Unita’s heart sank, it hadn’t worked. She was about to try the dial afresh, when the first voice spoke.

“You’re coming in loud and clear sister, wow girl, what kind of set are you using, you must be broadcasting to half the eastern seaboard.”

“Listen. Please, I’ve been kidnapped. I’m on board a Vatican Nightime flyer, he’s trying to take me back to Rome.”

A moment of silence before, “ Um…who is? Hold on, Phil, is this a joke?”

“It’s nothing to do with me, pal, I’m getting her as well,” the second, fainter voice said.

“It’s not a joke, I’m not joking,” Unita tried to explain. “I’m on board the Cardinal’s plane, he kidnapped me instead of Bobby, Bobby’s dead, so he chose me instead. They fought, the Nonfather and Angelo, but the Nonfather lost, he was tricked into killing his son and…”

“Whoa, whoa, there sister. To much information, I’m not getting you at all, let’s start with your name.”

Unita was dumbstruck, what importance could her name be? Nevertheless she clicked on the receiver and said. “Unita, its Unita and I have been abducted by a Cardinal. He claims to have had permission to bomb the state of New York. He claims we are not at war and haven’t been for one hundred years. He says it’s all a big lie and Attention America is…” A strange whine split through the speakers, Unita winced in pain from the sharp sound.

“Say over Unita, you’re breaking up, I can’t catch what you saying.”

Unita felt the tension begin to build. “The Cardinal says America is built on a lie, the Atheist isn’t really dead, but he was never really alive.” Her words were drowned out by the strange noise. She was losing them.

“Hello, hello,” she shouted back into the receiver, “can you hear me, over.” Just the whine, oddly mechanical, cutting through the static. “Please,” Unita began to turn the dial, “can anyone hear me, can anyone help me?”

Thick leather gloved hands closed over her own. “I can hear you perfectly well,” Angelo snarled.