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bradley birzer

The Shield of Aeneas

“When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes of old, warriors of renown.” —Genesis 6:1-4

“For in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.”—St. Paul, Letter to the Colossians (1:16)

He gathered his books and notes and stepped back from the podium as he finished his lecture. Talking about Venus’s descent to the grove always inspired him, and this lecture had gone particularly well.

While putting the last book in his bag, he looked up to see that his friend Neil had opened the classroom door and was walking hurriedly toward him. Stepping through and around the mass of students preparing to depart after the fifty minute lecture, Neil quickened his pace. He looked as though he’d been waiting awhile.

“Hi, Neil,” he said to his colleague and best friend.

“They’re here, Sven” Neil’s words rushed out so quickly, it sounded more like “th’ere.” Pale, Neil looked as though he might collapse at any moment.

In one smooth gesture, Sven collected his long blond hair behind his head into a ponytail.

“It’s ok, Neil,” he said quietly, as some of the students looked back at him wondering what the two men were talking about. He lowered his voice, hoping Neil would do the same. The last thing Sven needed was for his students to get wind of what was about to happen. He needed them as far away as possible. If he’d known it would be tonight, he would have cancelled class. “You know what to do. Get the files and get them to the spot. After that, you’ll need to go into hiding. Just as we’d talked. Head to Canada.”

“I just didn’t think it would come to this.”

“I know, Neil. But, it always does. It always ends this way. It has to. It’s simply the way things are and always will be.”

Neil stepped back and gave his friend some space. Sven, having packed everything, held out his hand, and Neil took it. “Thanks, Neil. You’ve been a true friend, and I will think of you often. I treasure our times together.”

Neil merely nodded, no words coming out of his mouth.

Sven turned to walk away, and Neil grabbed his arm out of desperation. “Neil, I’m telling you—it’s ok. Now, remember everything we talked about. You need to go before you’re spotted. We’ve gone over all of this for months now.”

“I’m worried, Sven. I’m really worried. It’s really serious this time.” The words were barely above a whisper. Neil wasn’t being discrete, just breathless from anxiety.

Sven gently pulled his arm away and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. He forced Neil to look him straight in the eyes. “Neil, look at me. It was always meant to come to this. It has to. You know that. Or, you will know it. I’ll never see you again, but you’ll see me. Now, I need you to go as quickly as possible. I’ll lead them back to the office, and I’ll delay them. I’m sure they know nothing about you, but their resources seem to have become unlimited. I don’t want to take any chances.” With a firm squeeze of John’s shoulder, he commanded, “Now. Go.”

As soon as Sven had left the lecture hall, Neil grabbed the black computer bag his friend had left behind, walked to his car, and drove long into the night, tears streaming down his face. He would ditch his car near the border and cross into Canada on foot.

***


Sven smiled and waved to a few students as he calmly walked back to his office. Our of character, he avoided meeting their eyes and engaging in conversation. He needed them away from him, and he needed to keep his mind clear.

Students got the hint from their professor’s body language. They moved away from him, assuming he was merely exhausted from his lecture and not in the mood to talk.

His evening classes always ran late, and almost all of the faculty and staff had long departed campus for the day. Cool autumn winds soothed his face and hair, and the falling, decaying leaves left a faint dust smell in the air. Despite the inevitable sleep and death that winter brought to so many things, the fall air seemed alive and fresh, the leaf dust only adding to its mystery, Sven thought. It was the kind of night and breeze that made Sven remember why do many in the ancient world had thought of wind and air as one of the four primal elements. Some images from Eliot’s Little Gidding ran through his mind. “Dust in the air suspended/Makes the place where a story ended.”

Oh Thomas, Sven thought, you are at times too profound for your own good.

As Sven opened his fourth floor office door, the mess of his books and papers reminded him of what a slob he could be. He regretted letting the students and faculty see that side of him.

It was too late now. Too late by far.

“Hello, Professor Rotskegg,” said a flatly masculine voice from behind him.

Sven turned to the door to find two men, dressed in the way only federal police could conform, wearing dark, bland 1960s bureaucratic standards suits. Each pointed a Glock 19 at his face. One had his badge out, clearly showing the letters in a crimson red: FBI. Behind the two men stood three others, each heavily armed, faces obscured and shielded by masked helmets. Each of these men held some kind of automatic weapons. In a glance, Sven saw they were M16s, modified with grenade launchers. A lot of firepower for one history professor, unarmed and alone, late at night at a nearly deserted campus.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” Sven asked as he put Virgil’s Aeneid back on his shelf in its proper place.

“You can turn yourself in quietly. Submit without a problem.”

Sven froze for a brief moment, perceptible only to the man who had spoken. He knew this man, though he’d never seen this face.

“What kind of problems could I make?” Sven asked, fully facing the five government men as they stood in and behind the office door’s threshold. “I’m not even armed.” This wasn’t quite true. While he didn’t have any weapons on his person, he had several swords, all razor sharp, resting as “decorations” on his office walls. Considering his abilities, he might also be considered by some to be a living weapon. He had honed his mind and his body to the limits of human abilities. Despite that, he was a man, and, at the moment, he wore no body armor. Aside from his long blond hair, youthful looks, and proportioned build, he appeared like almost every other academic—dressed in loafers, khakis, and a tweed sport coat.

“I think we all know the answer to that, Professor,” said the man with the voice Sven recognized. “You’ve earned quite a reputation, as I’m sure you know. Some in the Bureau claim that you can’t even be hurt. Personally, I think that’s a lot of hogwash and superstition.” The others with him might have sniggered had this been junior high. In their early twenties, though, they were deadly professional, trained to take out those deemed unworthy by their federal masters. They performed their jobs admirably, from a certain point of view, and they had perfected their skills on four separate continents. Any celebration and sniggering would come after they’d taken down Rotskegg.

They’d all studied his profile carefully. Brilliant, agile, and strong to the point of absurdity. He had also caused them no end of damage with his lectures and his numerous books, all of which outright questioned their authority. Over a ten-year propaganda campaign against him led by various agencies of the U.S. Government—some open and some clandestine—most Americans now saw him as a dangerous radical, perhaps even a domestic terrorist, though, the FBI knew well, he still had a small, fierce following. They also knew he had never committed an actual crime or done damage to any person physically or personally. Indeed, the professor was as legally innocent as one could possibly be. Still, he was one of the greatest threats to the continued strength of the ever-expansive government. Sven Rotskegg was very tall, broad, and unkempt, and he had eyes that some thought attractive while most thought icy, especially now that his popularity with the public had waned. The government portrayed him as a roguish ideologue, and most had bought into this lie. Regardless, the government wanted to take him in quietly and make him disappear just as quietly after the public forgot about him. Maybe after a decade in some underground FEMA facility, they could eliminate him. But, not yet. And, they certainly did not want to make a martyr of him.

“Professor Sven Holger Rotskegg, you are under arrest by the United States Government for conspiracy, treason, and crimes against the state,” the head agent said officially.

“Yes, and what it is exactly that I’ve supposedly done? Does your warrant specify that?

For the benefit of the four other men, he answered, “Yes, of course, the charges are quite specific.”

Sven chuckled. “Can you at least be specific before you kill me?”

As the head agent began to drone on about the necessity of law and the desire to take Rotskegg alive, the past twenty years of the United States of America ran this his mind. Had it all fallen quickly or had it fallen slowly? The years leading up to 9-11 had allowed all kinds of things to be put into place. Wars in the Baltics, the middle-east, and Africa had become common place, as had American intervention in each of those places. After 9-11, though, it all cascaded. Permanent “wars” (none legally declared by Congress, of course) begun by the U.S. President for seemingly noble reasons, new security agencies to protect a country permanently at war, new abuses against citizens. The TSA had offered a case study of what a government out of control could do. First, in the name of security, they destroyed the fourth amendment at airports. Soon, that became train and bus stations. After, it came to the interstate highways, federal highways, state highways, and county highways. Almost all malls now had federal agents, as did all shopping and travel plazas. For a long while, only Washington, D.C., had looked like a militarized zone. Now, every medium-sized city had a strong federal presence. The federal government couldn’t be everywhere at once, but its cameras, its scanners, and the random searches by federal officers kept most Americans quiet. Resistance to the new laws brought only delay, discomfort, and, possibly, jail time. It was so much easier to get along. A few militia and gun crazies had violently released their pent up energy on federal officers, only to have the public turn against them as quickly as possible, allowing the government to pass even more restrictive laws. Texas, to no one’s surprise, had talked momentarily about secession, but federal forces within the state quickly subdued any real support for the movement.

The American of 1776 had long ago disappeared. America, if it could even be called that, resembled Rome of 70AD, not Rome of 400BC.

That these agents still used the pretense of law and justice indicated just how strong some traditions could be, even if ultimately unprotective of human dignity.

“Well, I’m sorry. But, I won’t let you take me without a struggle.” At that, Sven slowly reached into his inner tweed jacket pocket. As he did, the two men in suits opened fire, eight bullets pounding against the professor’s chest within two seconds. The first three bullets threw him against his office window. The last five pushed him through the window. He fell four stories down, landing on his back and neck. Even with the sound of the gunshots still in the air, the agents could not fail to recognize the sound of a body breaking on the bricks below.

The pain had been nearly unbearable, Sven thought as the agents opened fire. Knowing he would die, Sven stared at his murderers as they shot him. As the bullets threw him back toward the window, his many books comforted him. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Dante . . . his many friends wishing him well on his next journey as he flew past their works, western civilization disappearing from sight.

The head agent walked to the window and looked out. There, sprawled in the shape of a cross, lay Rotskegg’s broken body, blood leaking out the back of his head. He lay near a dogwood tree, just losing its last leaves for the year. A plaque commemorating Rotskegg’s service to one of the student groups adorned the dogwood tree.

In the professor’s hand lay the thing he had taken out of his breast pocket, a wooden rosary, made by nuns in Africa shortly before martyred by Islamic terrorists.

The head agent walked over to the professor’s desk, threw a small plastic bag with a white substance in an open drawer.

“Look at that,” he said, shaking his head. “I bet if we test this, we’ll find it was ‘Made in Columbia,’ probably transported through a Mexican Cartel. What a sad way for the professor to end a distinguished teaching career. Selling drugs to his own students? No wonder he was so popular.”

He walked to the bookshelf and picked out a book. He opened it, saw the embossed stamp of Sven Holger Rotskegg and the many marginalia notes. “Take pictures of everything, and then box up the whole office. Take it to our safehouse in Detroit. In a week, destroy it all.”

The head agent took the elevator down to the main floor, exited the building, and placed Sven’s copy of Plato’s Phaedo on the dead man’s chest.

He took out his cell and speed dialed. “It’s done.”

[Dear TIC Reader, please forgive this weird interruption in TIC’s normal output.  Uprooted Gods is a piece of fiction I’ve been working on for a while.  I’m not at all experienced in fiction writing, so it might be utter bunk. Twenty years ago, I wrote a Western set in an alternate history (one in which there was no Civil War but there was secession), and it was pretty bad.  This is my second attempt.  Feel free to move along to something more substantial. . . . Yours, respectfully, Brad] 

Books by Bradley Birzer may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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