Chapter 18 - Flight of the Demagogue
Cheryl Martin held the blood drenched knife high in the air so that all could bear witness to her total victory. She had spent months building upon Olvera’s infamy within her group, even though she had never expected to see the self-righteous bastard again. The story of her defiance against the Butcher of the Mines had become a favorite among her people and she had done everything in her power to encourage its retelling and continued embellishment. When the Captain miraculously fell into her lap, it was just one more confirmation that fortune was firmly on her side in this wonderful, new world. It was as if she had been born for this exact moment in history. She was the right person, at the correct time, in the perfect situation. Cheryl could feel an irresistible pull towards the greatness that she had always felt was her due. She had no idea what had created this world, but she would not squander the great gift that had been mysteriously placed at her feet.
She took a few moments to soak in the radiating adulation of the cheering crowd before triumphantly making her way back to her canvas throne room. Her body guards automatically encircled her in a protective ring as she made her way, blocking her view of the cavorting mob that she so expertly controlled. Cheryl could feel the power emanating from that mass of people and it gave her a thrill to realize that it was hers to use as she wished. So much had changed in just a few short months.
Cheryl Martin had discovered early in her life that she enjoyed and thrived in chaotic atmospheres. The more confused, dangerous, or even violent the situation, the calmer her thoughts and higher her personal pleasure. In addition to this unusual predilection, Cheryl was a brilliant child, far more intelligent than most of the adults around her, including her parents. By the time she was nine, Cheryl could manipulate people better than most children her age could use a remote control, and she mercilessly applied this skill to create the chaotic environments that she so enjoyed while masterfully attempting to avoid any of the consequences of her mayhem.
This behavior naturally led to an extremely difficult relationship with her parents despite their desperate efforts to seek help for their “emotionally troubled” only child. A long parade of children’s mental health professionals bandied about terms like “extremely gifted” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. They all attempted to rechannel Cheryl’s natural tendencies into more productive pursuits, but these efforts only succeeded in teaching Cheryl new ways to conceal her true motives and to better function within the bounds of society when it suited her. In the end, they merely improved the sheep’s clothing that hid the wolf beneath.
As she physically matured into her late teens, Cheryl discovered more interesting ways to use her developing body to manipulate men. While no one would have considered her classically beautiful, her young, slim figure and ample breasts made Cheryl more than attractive enough to capture a long string of boyfriends. Unfortunately, despite her intelligence, her taste in men left much to be desired. Her preference led her to become romantically involved with some of the most abhorrent examples of men available in the area. The more cruel and violent the man, the more attracted she was to them. Predictably, Cheryl became a frequent guest in many of the local hospitals where earnest councilors, along with her parents, pleaded with her to press charges and leave the abusive relationship. She ignored them all. In her brilliant, yet warped, mind, these brutal acts of violence were merely expressions of love. For only something that you loved could inspire such passion and energy. To her, it wasn’t abuse, but attention.
Despite these repeated assaults, Cheryl was far from a broken woman. In fact, her many bruises and broken bones only motivated her to improve her natural talents for controlling people. To that end, and much to the delight of her worried parents, Cheryl accepted an academic scholarship to Columbia University in New York to study psychology.
Her original intention for attending college had been the mastery of the art of manipulation. She had even planned to publish several academic papers on the subject, even though they would have surely made her a social pariah. But early into her sophomore year, Cheryl’s roommate introduced her to an activity that would quickly become an addiction and consume the remainder of her life.
Cheryl’s rather boring dormmate was an ardent supporter of animal rights. While Cheryl could have cared less about the plight of animals herself, she reluctantly allowed her roommate to drag her to a P.E.T.A. protest march downtown. The experience turned out to be nothing like Cheryl had imagined. Instead of the peaceful, boring walk down the center of Wall Street that she had envisioned, the protest quickly devolved into a violent clash between demonstrators and police barricades. Bottles and rocks were thrown, while canisters of tear gas erupted into the middle of panicked crowds. Cars were overturned and set ablaze as the police responded by savagely beating anyone who they managed to rundown while burdened within their bulky riot gear. The chaotic, nightmarish scene would have horrified most people, but Cheryl saw only a thing of pure beauty, pure majesty, a sublime orchestra of mayhem.
She had never imagined that there was an acceptable place in society where she could fully explore her darker nature and even be accepted and praised for her talents. Almost instantly, her interest in any academic pursuits evaporated. The very next day, Cheryl Martin official dropped out of college and, thanks to her family’s wealth and overindulgence, became what some would consider a “professional protester”. Of course, she could have cared less about the actual causes for which she so vehemently demonstrated. The cause was always irrelevant as long as she could use it to stir up people’s passions enough to become violent and destructive. She quickly discovered that racial and class struggles were the most fertile grounds for her needs. Within less than a year, twenty-year-old Cheryl Martin had become one of the most successful social justice protest organizers in the country, even though many of her events quickly devolved into violence. While most social activist espoused nonviolence and were repulsed by Cheryl’s results, none could argue with the massive amounts of free publicity that her marches always generated.
It was during these maelstroms of barely controlled chaos that Cheryl perfected her skill at mob manipulation. The only weapon she required was a bullhorn and a few choice impassioned words to get the ball rolling. When she was done, the frothing crowds would have done anything she asked, however, Cheryl was always smart enough to never directly incite violence, at least publicly. She merely expertly implanted the implied ideas of violence then allowed the already agitated mob to follow its natural tendencies. At the time, she had no idea how much her life would eventually depend upon these talents. She merely enjoyed the scenes of human conflict that she created. But when she awoke, confused and disoriented deep within a mine shaft thirty years later, her abilities immediately took on a whole new importance.
The massacre at the mine perpetrated by Captain Carlo Olvera had taken Cheryl Martin by surprise. She never would have thought that the prude, authoritarian asshole would have had the guts to mow down two hundred people in cold blood, but she had obviously miscalculated the situation despite the fact that she had thought he and all his cronies were dead. She promised herself to never underestimate an adversary again, and as she rushed away from the mine under the cover of darkness with the screams and sounds of high caliber bullets still clattering behind her, she knew it was a lesson that she would never forget.
4 Days After the Awakening
Cheryl plucked the seemingly infinite number of burs from her filthy green coveralls. She and two other survivors had managed to run almost continually throughout the night in their flight from the mine and the slaughter that had surprised them all. Finally, exhaustion had overtaken their older bodies and they were forced to rest in a shadowy thicket of trees with a soft, spongy moss bed covering the ground.
Cheryl examined her only two remaining disciples as they snored in their contorted, fitful slumber upon the wet moss. Sleep had stubbornly eluded Cheryl as her calculating mind raced to figure out her next move. She had fortunately had the foresight to pick up her hidden cache of horded supplies during her rushed escape from the mine, however she knew that they wouldn’t last three people very long while trapped in the wilderness. The only time she had ever spent outdoors was while camping on the streets of Boston during an extended occupation of the courthouse steps in protest of some racially charged verdict, but that experience would hardly do her any good here. Her only chance was to find some form of civilization because she was certainly no survivalist and apparently neither were her two clueless companions. She knew that they had been roughly moving south during their escape and she intended to continue in that direction for a long as she could, but without some form of resupply, they wouldn’t make it very far. They didn’t even have the skill to build a fire between the three of them, but luckily the weather was warm enough to keep that from being a survival issue for the moment.
After another day of southerly travel, the small group of refugees finally stumbled upon an overgrown road and were able to pinpoint their location thanks to a badly corroded street sign. They turned out to be in southern Michigan, which allowed Cheryl to finally settle on a destination. They would head toward her hometown of Ballwin, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. She had no particular reason for heading back to her childhood home. She had never been terribly happy there and if she really thought about it, she didn’t even care about the fate of her parents. Ballwin just seemed like a familiar destination in a world suddenly lacking any direction.
Of course, settling on a destination did not solve their supply problem. Cheryl knew that something would have to change within the next day or she would have to start changing their circumstances more directly herself. Specifically, she was working on a plan to eliminate her dedicated followers, thus extending her own food supply. Unfortunately, she was just not certain how she could do that reliably. Sure, she could bludgeon one of them in their sleep with a big rock, but Cheryl wasn’t quite confident enough that she could dispatch both before one woke up and resisted. Despite her love of it, Cheryl wasn’t particularly adept at physical violence and she had serious doubts that she could hold her own in a fair fight with either of her companions. No, she would have to use her intellect to solve this problem. What she needed to do was to separate them and kill one while the other was away. Of course, she’d have to make the first murder look like some tragic accident, perhaps a fall would work. Then, that night, after an award-winning grief stricken performance, Cheryl would just whack the poor slob in the head with a rock while they mournfully slept. No one would be the wiser and she would be rid of her resource consuming dead weight.
The next day Cheryl woke early to scout the surrounding area while her two companions slept in. She was looking for a good place to stage an accidental death and after about thirty minutes of searching, she found the perfect location. She almost stepped off the cliff herself, thanks to the darkness of the predawn woods. The gentle hill she had been climbing had abruptly turned into a jagged cliff with a crumbling edge. Cheryl gingerly approached the brink to gauge the lethality of the fall, but the bottom of the gorge was swallowed in the shadowy blackness of the early morning hour. However, she decided that what she could see of the drop was certainly far enough to do the job. She had found her accident waiting to happen.
She gleefully made her way back to the small camp and almost gingerly woke her sleeping followers. She quickly convinced the larger of the two, a fifty-year-old loser who insisted on being called Flash, to accompany her to get some water, while the other stayed behind to pack up the camp. The hike back to the cliff seemed much shorter to Cheryl now that the sun had begun to rise. Long slender shadows dappled with rays of brilliant, orange, morning light danced along their path like tiger stripes, but Cheryl’s mind was only focused on her upcoming grim task and ignored the natural beauty surrounding her. Uncharacteristically, she considered whether what she was about to do made her a bad person. She had never thought of herself that way before, despite how some in society might have judged her. Everyone is the hero of their own story after all, but for the first time in her life, she started to wonder if that were true for her.
“How much further to this lake?” Flash asked, breaking Cheryl’s dark train of thought.
“Just up the hill over there,” she encouraged, forcing a smile, “It’s an old quarry with nice clean water.”
Flash approached the edge of the cliff cautiously as Cheryl deftly maneuvered behind the larger man and prepared herself for the shove that would end his life. Again, the thought unexpectedly weighed on her mind like an anchor. Should she do this? She had already killed a man back at the mine and had attempted to kill many others, but those were all in self-defense, weren’t they? Is pushing this innocent, lumbering idiot off a cliff really justified? If she didn’t thin their numbers, then she was going to starve to death. Surely, self-preservation and self-defense were the same thing. She had a right to survive and would do whatever it took to ensure that goal. If others couldn’t or wouldn’t put in the same effort, then perhaps they forfeited their right to live in a world like this. Satisfied with her own cold logic, Cheryl steeled herself then closed the short distance to the oblivious man who was standing so precariously on the edge of the abyss with his back toward her. Slowly, Cheryl’s palms opened and her arms tense in preparation for the final, fatal push.
“Holy crap! What is that thing?” Flash shouted at the last second while violently pointing down into the gorge.
Flash’s sudden exclamation and arm movement caused Cheryl to abruptly abort her attack and nonchalantly step up beside her target instead of pushing him to his death. She had expected to see him gaping at some large, dumb animal, but what she saw caused even her impressive intellect to flinch.
On the floor of the ravine, sat an extremely tall, gleaming, black building. While the structure would have seemed right at home in the skyline of any modern city, the skyscraper looked impossibly out of place surrounded by the thick foliage of the green valley. Cheryl couldn’t believe that she had overlooked the gigantic building just a few hours before, but given its black surface and the darkness of the predawn morning, she could be forgiven for not having noticed the now obvious, massive structure.
Just as the strangeness of the scene was beginning to wane, it suddenly took on a whole new level of impossibility. Cheryl’s jaw literally dropped open as the monstrous building began emitting a high pitch whine then slowly started to lift into the air. Her brain refused to believe what it was seeing, as if it were an overworked computer rejecting a bad command.
“Do you see…,” started Flash in a quivering voice.
“Yes,” Cheryl cut him off. “I see it.”
The giant black building continued to float up as if it were a hot air balloon and, for a second, Cheryl considered that possibility but instantly rejected it. Almost as quickly as the structure had risen, it settled itself back onto the ground and the whine of what Cheryl assumed were engines began to fade.
Cheryl Martin’s mind raced as she considered all the implications of the incredible technology she had just witnessed. Obviously, this building was some sort of bizarre and powerful transportation and she instinctively knew that she had to control it. A new plan quickly took shape within her dark psyche. Her traveling companions would get to live and would never know just how close they had come to death.
“Go back to the camp. Get Lilly, collect all our shit and get back here as fast as you can,” coldly ordered Cheryl without removing her crystal blue eyes from the ominous black tower.
Once the three had reassembled, Cheryl quickly led them along a narrow rocky path that wound its way down the cliff and onto the valley floor, which they soon realized was actually a well-tended apple orchard. At the very least, they had solved their food problem and Cheryl inwardly smiled at the irony that she had almost killed Flash for lack of food by pushing him down into an almost endless supply of it. She quickly recovered from the amusing thought and pushed on like a woman possessed. Cheryl fearlessly approached the looming tower as if she already owned it.
“Stop right there!” shouted a disembodied voice.
Flash and Lilly instantly stopped in their tracks, but Cheryl ignored the presumptuous command and continued marching forward at her rapid pace. Nothing was going to stand in her way.
“I’m warning you! Stop, or I’ll shoot!” repeated the voice.
Cheryl was undeterred. She could hear the distinct quiver in the attempted command that betrayed the true, weak intentions of its creator. She had heard that impotent tone used to throw hollow threats of consequences most of her life and it held no power over her now. In fact, the slightly wavering voice only strengthened Cheryl’s determination and purpose. This was her tower now, and how dare anyone try to stop her from taking it.
When she finally, defiantly arrived in the shadow of the tall, black building, a frail, hunched man who appeared to be in his late eighties blocked her path. He was wearing tattered brown coveralls and cradled the same strange type of rifle that the blue uniforms carried at the mine. Unfazed, Cheryl step right up to the stranger and pointed up at the intimidating tower.
“Who flew this thing?” she demanded.
The elderly man looked taken aback by Cheryl’s unchecked, brash nature, but slowly pointed his own finger at another man wearing an orange jumpsuit who was cowering behind a nearby tree.
“Greg figured it out,” the man answered. “Now who the hell are…”
“Is that true, Greg?” Cheryl asked the short, bald, tattooed man behind the tree, completely interrupting and ignoring the first man carrying the gun. “Can you fly that tower?”
The stocky man named Greg seemed to gain a little confidence and stepped out from his hiding place, “Yes, Ma’am,” he finally answered. “Somehow, I just knew how to do it.”
“Good,” Cheryl Martin said simply before quickly lurching forward and ripping the rifle out of the completely surprised older man’s weak grip. In one smooth motion, Cheryl swung the butt of the weapon with all her might and landed it with a satisfying crack against the now defenseless stranger’s head. The frail, brown clad man instantly crumpled onto the ground, unconscious and bleeding. Without missing a beat, Cheryl then reversed her grip on the rifle so that she was now holding it properly and quickly scanned the area for any threats. There were only stunned, horrified expressions staring back at her from a dozen frightened people. She had read the situation perfectly. There was no fight in this group. They were sheep and sheep were always unhappy with a weak shepherd. She had eliminated her only opposition and she was certain that the others would fall in line or quickly be left behind.
“My dear Greg,” she said in a sickeningly sweet voice, as if she hadn’t just brutally beaten a man down. “My name’s Cheryl and I need you to show me how this wonderful contraption works.”
It took less than a day before Cheryl Martin’s new followers were appropriately indoctrinated into her cult of personality. It always surprised her how quickly most people surrendered their free will when faced with even the slightest challenge and this group seemed to be a particularly weak minded bunch. Anyone with any backbone had left the area several days ago, leaving only the most fainthearted behind to wait for help in the shadow of the mysterious black tower. Cheryl, however, had no intention of waiting for anyone else to arrive. Once she felt firmly in control of the group, she immediately had Greg resume his test flights until she was reasonably comfortable with his piloting skills.
Her original destination had not changed. She would head back to her hometown near St. Louis as a starting point and then work her way out from there. Her possession of this insane, hovering tower, with its impressive armaments, had dramatically boosted her once meager plans. She still had no idea what was happening with the world, but Cheryl knew that she was now prepared to face whatever came her way.
“Let’s make our way to St. Louis, Greg.”, Cheryl Martin ordered from behind the pilot as the monstrous transport lumbered into the air.
The short, tattooed man nodded, happy to be appreciated for something for the first time in his sad life. “You got it, Boss,” he said as he locked in the destination and began throttling up the engines.
A grin slowly spread across Cheryl’s thin lips. “Boss,” she repeated softly. “I like the sound of that.”