Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 18

He took a deep breath so he could calm his stage fright. Normally, he didn’t get nerves before speaking to the public, but these weren’t normal times! Even addressing the nation after his predecessor’s shameful scandal didn’t compare to what he anticipated to go through that night! He tried to shake it off, he had to do it if he wanted to win this thing! He wouldn’t have made it this far if he gave in to his insecurities like that! If he went into any football game against a tough team with the same kind of attitude, he never would have gotten any kind of victory! He faced even tougher enemies than this during World War Two, and he thought surely this guy couldn’t be worse than Hitler… right? That thought sent shivers down his spine, and he knew he really had to get it together now! He figured that he was acting foolish, so he forced himself to ignore that negative noise in his head and collected himself, and then he entered into the arena with the same swagger that he usually did.

He saw Carter already situated at his podium, and when Ford took his place on the set, Carter glanced over at him. Ford could tell Carter was studying him to assess his mood, and he hoped that he didn’t display any of the trembling that he felt inside! If Carter did sense any insecurities, he certainly didn’t let it be known! He gave Ford a friendly nod, and Ford returned the gesture. Ford noticed that Carter had caught a quick glimpse of the empty podium between them before he turned his attention back to the crowd, and right then, it occurred to Ford that Rialowe hadn’t entered yet. A small glimmer of hope arose inside of him- perhaps Rialowe wouldn’t show up after all!

The lights over the audience dimmed, and the cameras all focused on the moderator located in the apron of the stage. Once the audience had finished clapping politely, the moderator very tactfully announced, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this very historic presidential debate! One of the three men speaking today will become the thirty-ninth president of the United States! You heard me right, three! For the first time, a candidate from a third party qualified to contend with the two main ones, and regardless of whether you vote Republican, Democratic, or Independent, you can find out how all of the contenders feel about the important issues and make an informed decision.

“Let’s meet the guests of honor now! First, say hello to the Republican candidate- our incumbent president, Gerald R. Ford!” Ford gave the audience a smile, and he tired to wave at them too, but he couldn’t hardly move. The moderator mentioned all three candidates would speak, but Rialowe still hadn’t shown up at this point! Obviously, the moderator could see the empty podium, and he felt sure that he would have talked about it if Rialowe had canceled, so he wondered why Rialowe’s absence hadn’t alluded to! “Next, please say hello to the Democratic candidate- Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter!” As the crowd politely clapped for Carter, Ford’s anticipation over Rialowe’s lack of presence heightened. He hoped that the moderator had been following the script that had been written well before this event and that he would suddenly become confused as to why Rialowe hadn’t come yet. He also would have accepted Rialowe running in at the last minute, which would lose him major points! If the moderator knew he still planned on participating, then his absence on stage at this second could only mean one thing…

The moderator clearly tried to stay neutral, but Ford could see hints of annoyance on his face as he said, “Now, please welcome the Independent candidate- former Ad Man, Don John Rialowe!”

The lights on the stage went out, sparking much confusion between Carter and Ford. A spotlight shined downstage, and when Carter turned around, he lost a bit of his composure as he exclaimed, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Ford was hesitant to look; he knew what he was likely to see, and staring at it would only give it validity! When the regal music sounded, his curiosity got the better of him, and he had to see this!

Rialowe walked as though he was a king in a royal procession as he made his way to the stage, he even waved to his fans, who went wild as he acknowledged them. When he reached his podium, the lights came back on, and he gave a bow as the roaring crowd saluted him. He smirked widely as he savored the moment, and when he had enough, he signaled for the audience to desist their adoration. Ford and Carter froze, totally stunned from this display, and Rialowe grinned amicably at the two of them as if he didn’t catch on to their bafflement over his stunt. Carter couldn’t help but to shake his head in disapproval, and Ford took another deep breath to regain his focus. If Rialowe aimed to addle him enough to distract him from giving out good answers, then he was sorely mistaken!

“Okay…” The moderator had temporarily lost his footing, but when he cleared his throat, he remembered where he left off and moved on, “Okay! Onto our first topic of the night: Venenatus Sanguis. The Public Health Center first reported cases ten years ago, and slowly it spread throughout the planet. Recently, cases started surging, and no one has been able to find a cure for this virus that has already killed millions of people worldwide. So, my question for you gentlemen is this: What do you plan on doing to curb this pandemic? President Ford, you go first.”

“The virus hadn’t become a widespread problem until President Nixon took office, but he swiftly put an excellent plan into action! To best combat it, he-.” Ford began to say.

“Wrong!” Rialowe interrupted him.

Ford had to blink a couple of times just for his brain to register what just happened. He had never been interrupted like that during a serious debate! “Excuse me?”

Rialowe repeated, “Wrong!”

“What do you mean, wrong?” Ford had to ask, but he had a hunch that he wouldn’t enjoy hearing his explanation for it!

“Nixon never developed a plan for Venenatus Sanguis,” Rialowe answered slyly. “He just continued the narrative that someone else concocted. Venenatus Sanguis is false information!”

Ford had expected criticism for his choices in office, it came with the territory of the job, but never in his wildest dreams did he think that he would get accused of making up a major event like that! It boggled his mind that anyone would believe that nonsense, and he didn’t want to know what crackpot theory Rialowe had for their reason to invent a human catastrophe as big as this! He couldn’t let Rialowe have the last word and have the American public consider that notion for an instance, so he corrected him, “No, no, he did! And it was so successful that I continued it when I took over. We identify the afflicted individuals through contact tracing, and once they are found, we set up a way to isolate these-.”

Rialowe cut him off, “Yeah, you ‘isolate’ them! Did Nixon tell you the entire truth about his plan? Do you know what happens after you imprison these innocent people? Do they get enslaved? Are they just getting tortured? What’s happening with them all?”

“We’re treating them!” His insinuation infuriated Ford! Nixon didn’t make the finest choices sometimes, but he never would have made a plan to kidnap people for insidious reasons like that! If Nixon had come close to doing what Rialowe accused him of, Ford would have invoked the twenty fifth amendment and kicked him out of the Oval Office himself! He certainly wouldn’t adopt acts of cruelty for his own administration! His opponents were welcome to point out the flaws of his ideas, but he got deeply insulted that anyone would dare to question the existence of his moral backbone!

“How can you treat people without a cure?” Rialowe challenged him, causing his supporters to hoot and holler. Feeding on this energy, he spoke directly to his devotees, “Ten years later, and they still don’t have a cure! Can you believe that?”

When the lackeys simmered down enough for him to talk, Ford refuted, “Curing a disease isn’t the same as treating someone who has it! These things take time sometimes!” He wanted to say more, but Rialowe got his fans going again, so he appealed to the moderator, “Can you do something?”

The moderator, who had followed this conversation with great astonishment, snapped out of his torpor and decried, “Alright, that’s enough! May I remind the audience that this isn’t a rally and to please be more respectful of our guests!” Rialowe’s avid sycophants reluctantly became silent, but Ford spotted Rialowe giving them a wink. Ford became thoroughly vexed now, and he wondered if the moderator would start enforcing the rules like he was supposed to from then on! The moderator queried to Ford, “Do you want to finish your answer?” Ford indicated that he didn’t, but he didn’t say a word. He felt as though if he were to open his mouth at this point, he would say something he would regret! The moderator then turned to Carter and told him, “Your turn.”

“My plan is simply this: humanity first!” Carter stated firmly. Rialowe muttered an objection, but Carter just ignored him as he went on, “We’re all in this together, and we need to work as a team!” Rialowe tried to talk over him, but Carter simply grew louder. “If we all act under the assumption that we’re all carriers of this highly contagious virus, we can help minimize the spread.” Rialowe opined his counterargument to this while Carter spoke, which clearly irritated Carter but did not stop him. “All we have to do is wear gloves and socially distance ourselves for a little while, and once Venenatus Sanguis stops finding new carriers, we can focus all of our medical resources on treating and curing the existing cases instead of depleting…” Finally having enough of Rialowe’s antics, Carter snapped, “Will you shut up man?”

Ford relished Rialowe’s reaction to Carter standing up to him, it looked like he had gotten smacked in the face! Ford really liked Carter in that moment, which felt really strange. Carter was supposed to be his main rival, and he dearly wished that this had been a debate just between the two of them, but now it almost felt like they both had to work together to defeat Rialowe! He didn’t like the idea of collaborating with someone who wanted his job, but he hated the idea of Rialowe taking over the country that Ford loved more than anything else!

The moderator reminded Rialowe, “Interruptions aren’t allowed.”

“Oh, now he decides to enforce that rule!” Riley quietly complained to his fellow Rebels in the back row. “He didn’t say a word when he did it to Ford! I mean, I don’t want him to win, but he is still our president, so he should show him some respect!” Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette nodded vigorously.

“Our next topic is the economy: How do you plan to… Yes?” The moderator observed Rialowe raising his hand, so he humored him in the hopes that he would say something important and relevant.”

Rialowe brought up, “You didn’t ask me what my answer was for the first topic!”

The moderator argued, “I think you made your viewpoints on the subject pretty clear!”

Rialowe griped, “That’s not how the rules work! Or are you treating me different because I’m not one of the mainstream candidates?”

“Very well…” The moderator reluctantly relented. “What do you plan to do about Venenatus Sanguis?”

“Nothing!” Rialowe gave a very toothy grin to his followers, who feverishly celebrated his quip.

Gwynivara cringed when she saw that brazenness. “This is ridiculous! He’s turning the debates into a joke!”

Kierram agreed with her, and then he remarked, “Most of the room hates this, but that’s not what people will hear when they watch this on TV! His supporters aren’t the majority, but they’re certainly the loudest! Making it sound like he has control of the room just gives him validity that he doesn’t deserve!”

“Hopefully when people see this, they’ll realize what a jackass he is and vote against him!” As the words came out of her mouth, Gwynivara doubted that her premonition had any likelihood of ever occurring! As she watched his fanatics fawning over him, she realized that his misbehavior didn’t have an affect on them at all! She could only hope that the rest of the nation didn’t find this charming! “At least people heard Carter’s plan for Venenatus Sanguis! It was smart and logical, hopefully that gets him some more support!”

Bernadette let them know, “You guys missed what Rialowe said about the economy.”

Kierram asked, “Did he say anything meaningful?”

“Of course not!” Bernadette answered. “He made a lot of vague promises, but he didn’t actually say anything specific on what he plans to do with it!”

“I could not be prouder of my team!” Rialowe beamed at the cameras. “We’ve come so far in such a short time…”

Gwynivara inquired, “What was the question?”

Riley replied, “Foreign policy.”

As the Rebels shook their heads judgmentally, Rialowe expressed vehemently, “And I can’t forget about the amazing support of your future first lady! Stand up, baby! Take a bow!”

His supporters gladly clapped as a woman with a posh hat that covered her face stood up and briefly acknowledged the crowd. While most of the audience seemed nonplussed by this appearance, it overtly caught the attention of the Rebels! “When did Rialowe get married?” Bernadette pondered.

Riley reported, “Last I checked, he was still a swinging bachelor!”

Gwynivara voiced the question that now burned on everyone’s minds, “Is that Rafeneita?” Everyone’s eyes grew wide in horror at the possibility, and Gwynivara knew if that notion proved true, then they had to stop her immediately! Rialowe definitely had to be stopped, but the more urgent mission now became to identify that woman immediately!

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