Apotheosis of the Rat
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There were three things Ronald Wilson Reagan had never been able to explain.

One: When Reagan had been called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, there was a brief moment during his extensive testimony where, along a far wall of cameramen, he spotted a bluish-grey figure stumbling along the wall, drenched in what appeared to be solid gold. It was gone almost as soon as he noticed it.

Two: On his way to sign the Mulford Act of 1967, Reagan swore he'd bumped into Phyllis Schlafly in the capitol halls. It was only later, when he related this story to his aids, that he realized that no one had seen Mrs. Schlafly but him.

Three: After Reagan sent the California Highway Patrol to deal with those uppity student protestors, he'd returned to his home to find a letter slipped under his door. The text was so tightly packed as to be utterly illegible, and it came with no return address, so Reagan assumed it must have been some sort of mistake, and threw it away.

All three of these memories would play through his head as, shortly after his inauguration, President Reagan was lead down an inconspicuous trapdoor in the Oval Office, into the tunnels that crisscrossed the Washington Underneath.

He'd heard tell of the Underneath, from somewhere. Quigley? Something about a system of tunnels to ensure the safety of government officials during a disaster. His inauguration certainly didn't seem like a disaster, and well, he had some deregulation he'd rather be handing to the oil and gas industries.

Thing is, nobody was telling him anything. Reagan was the most important man in America, and whatever was pulling him down the Underneath, it didn't care.

Finally, after what felt like years, the nondescript agent who'd led Reagan through the Underneath stopped at an inconspicuous door near the far end of a concrete tunnel. The agent, if that's what he was, inserted his finger into the lock, twitching once, before pulling a now-bloody finger back as the door unlocked and…

… well, Reagan couldn't quite understand what he was seeing.

Before them was a room with a semicircular conference table, about as rounded as the black-flecked grey walls that loomed around it. While Reagan couldn't quite explain the Bible, bull statue, fountain pen, tray, and what looked like a large piece of calamari that sat on the table, they were ultimately less important than the figures sitting around it.

To Reagan's right was a wizened old man with gangrenous facial flesh, which might have been the least notable thing about him. For one thing, he was practically plated in gold and precious gems, decorated in the finery of… well, he knew it wasn't the Catholic Church, but it didn't look protestant, either. For another? Through all that rot and bloat, the man looked suspiciously like those images of Tsar Nicholas II.

"Well, excuse my rudeness, but…" but Reagan's attention was now drawn to the figure on his left. It was… well, she looked like Phyllis Schlafly, but Reagan had never seen Mrs. Schlafly with as much blood around her mouth as right now. Neither had he ever noticed a jagged edge or uncanny cleanliness in her teeth, or bluish-purple gills in her neck, or the way her fingernails seemed to retract and protract at random intervals. Beneath her cowered a young boy, Jewish-looking, with bite marks all over his neck; surely, Mrs. Schlafly would never do that to a child, right?

Reagan looked to the man in the center for explanation, and nearly recoiled. He wouldn't have been able to say why; nothing stood out about the man on the level of the figures beside him. Even so, there was something dreadfully off about the bearded old man before him. It was as if he was an actor, portraying with body language alone a villain of the utmost depravity. Worst of all: Reagan swore he recognized him from somewhere.

"You might want to take a seat, Mr. President." The man in the middle had the smooth voice of a preacher, if a little higher than he would've expected. "We have a great deal to explain."

Instinct pulled Reagan's facial muscles into his movie star smile. "Well, I don't want to—"

"Sit. Down."

Reagan blinked, swallowed, nodded, and took his seat. "Well, gentleman, it's… it's been a pleasure meetin' ya. Would it be, uh, too forward to get some names?"

The Schlafly look-alike cackled.

"You'll have to forgive Mrs. Schlafly." The man in the middle threw her a disproving glare, and Reagan hoped he never directed it his way. "God made Woman in the image of imperfect Man. She can't help herself."

"Well, at least Woman behaves herelf around canines, Mr. Rushdoony."

Right, Rushdoony. Reagan remembered that name; something about an important theologian?

"Regardless," Rushdoony turned back to Reagan. "I do want to apologize, Mr. President. Mr. Bundy and Mr. Pilate are off on business."

Reagan felt his brow furrowing. "'Pilate?' Quite the name. Wouldn't happen to be related to ol' Pontius, eheh?"

Mrs. Schlafly laughed again, but it didn't sound like she was laughing with Reagan.

The man-thing that looked like Nicholas II cleared its throat, and spoke in perfect English: "You might have noticed, Mr. Reagan, that we are not quite… 'bound', to the strictures of humanity." Other than its mouth, it was deathly still. "It might help if we introduced ourselves, who we represent, and our various… 'contributions', shall we say.

"You may know me," it struggled under the weight of its riches to lift a hand to its chest. "As the Once and Future Tsar, Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, the II."

"That don't make sense. He's dead, ain't he?"

"I assure you, Mr. Reagan: I haven't been dead since 987." It smiled, and a worm slithered through a gap in its teeth.

Mrs. Schlafly rolled her eyes, a hand going down to the inexplicable boy's neck. "You'll have to forgive Vlad, Ronny. Bolshevik cock through the head and his brain's as splintered as his church."

Reagan felt like he'd just swallowed a bug. "Mrs. Schlafly, that seems mighty… rude, don't you think?"

Mrs. Schlafly looked back to Reagan, expression stuck between wild bemusement and utter contempt. "Come on, he doesn't even believe in Filioque! As the woman who actually killed Jesus, I'd say I'm a little more credible on Christianity than discount Koschei."

"… I, uh, I must've misheard that."

"You didn't." She settled on a smirk. "I crucified that stupid hippie in 1962, and John XXIII called Vatican 2 to hide it." Another cackle. "You know they used to measure popes by the balls? Give me Pius XII any day."

"Off-topic, Mrs. Schlafly." Reagan's attention was turned back to Rushdoony. "Mr. President, I'd love to talk about my time as a lawyer in France, or a general in Britain, but such matters are secondary to the imperative."

Reagan smiled. This was a joke, a little prank the Secret Service put together to rattle the new president. Well you know what? Reagan loved jokes. This was all very funny, the two biggest names in Christian culture teaming up with a Nicholas II impersonator to play a joke on little ol' him. Reagan laughed, and felt his blood chilling as nobody joined him.

He swallowed. "Well, gentlemen, I've got some, uh, important business to attend to. If that'll be all—"

"It will not."

Reagan nodded. "Right, right, uh… thank you, Mr. Rushdoony. Eheh, do you prefer Rushdoony or, uh, King Charles?"

A sudden look of immense fury passed over Rushdoony's face… and then it was gone. "I do warn you against wasting our time, Mr. President. There's work to be done, work that can be passed off to Mr. Bush if you're not up to the task."

We don't need you.

Reagan scratched at his head. "Right, apologies, Mr. Rushdoony. Well…" His lips were dry. "How can I help y'all?"

"In 1865," spoke Mrs. Schlafly, still feeling around her boy's neck, "President Johnson made a deal with a… powerful benefactor, to hand the presidency over to something that'd use it for good. Of course, the Presidency isn't as powerful on as granular a level as we'd like, but we've always owned a share of the Arc of History." She paused, stopping at an artery and furrowing her brow. "… I apologize, I've got a lot on my mind right now. Nick?"

"What Mrs. Schlafly means, Mr. President," continued 'Nicholai'. "Is that the Presidency holds… more than a few expectations, one could say. Of course, you are accountable to," he sneered, "your constituents. You are also, however, accountable to a higher power."

"Do you, uh, mean the Judeo-Christian—"

Rushdoony slammed his hands on the table. "We do not serve a Jewish God, Mr. President." From his mouth now seemed to come his every previous iteration. "The Jewish God would let an eight-and-a-half month pregnancy be terminated by its mother as it forces our farmers to let the unwashed monkeys of the third world eat of their fruits. That God would release every reprobate in Hell from its justly-deserved eternal torment after only a year. That God propped up sodomites, unitarians, socialists, usurers, and nigger-lovers as its chosen! We do not serve a Jewish God!"

The air in the conference room grew colder still, and not even Mrs. Schlafly or Nikolai dared break the silence. Finally, Mr. Rushdoony cleared his throat. "God as you know him is… dissimilar, to God as he is. The totalizing mission of Christ is not fought through feel-good sermons or some "social gospel", but through crushing dominion over the secular humanist establishment. Only when the reprobate Children of Mud and Clay know their place can we consider our work over."

Reagan glanced one last time around the conference room, looking for cameras, hidden panels, smiles, anything that might reveal all this to be a dark prank of sorts. It almost seemed to come as Mrs. Schlafly reared back and made to look as if she sunk her teeth into the child, except it felt far too real.

Steadying his smile, Reagan nodded. "Right. Well, what's the nature of the work?"

"Simple, Mr. President."

Mr. Rushdoony leaned in.

"To birth the Neoliberal Egregore."

They wheeled it into the Oval Office on the twenty-eighth. Some kind of bull statue. Good for the stock market, they said.

President Reagan didn't think he'd ever get used to it, looming over the office like a big bronze shadow. It was always too hot to the touch, the few times he was comfortable enough to do that, and the stink of sulfur hung so heavy he'd pass out just to stand by it. Worst of all, though, it felt like there was something behind its eyes, something old, something mean, something bigger than he could imagine. Not even the false wall they put in for photos seemed to block its presence.

A little after 4:00, it spoke in a voice like President Reagan's. "Executive Order 12287: decontrol of crude oil and refined petroleum products." When Reagan looked down, the fine print was already on his desk, ready to be signed. Very agreeable.

Reagan did his presidential duty.

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