In the timeline next door, Earth is occupied by the Amphibite Empire. Winston Carmichael wants to join the higher caste and make life better for humanity, but his hatred of the Empire might be too much. Will he choose the Empire he hates or join the rebels and become a Rough Rider?
Credits and Copyright
Original Copyright©2019 Divided By Zero Books
Second Edition Copyright©2021 Divided By Zero Books
All Rights Reserved.
Written by Derwin Lester Gerald II
Edited by Cassie Poormokhtar
Cover Art by Matt Sweeny
Forward by P.S. Barlow
The character Gregory Ian Low was created by P.S. Barlow. Mr. Barlow generously loaned Gregory Ian Low to Divided By Zero Books for this novel. For more information on Gregory Ian Low, please check out the G.I. Low facebook page.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
“I’m mediocre at best. An overweight, lazy cartoon of a man.”
It’s not every day that another author asks you in they can use one of your characters for their work. It’s not even a normal thought to think that your work is well known enough to even think that they warrant an “Extended Universe” treatment. And yet, that is the situation I found myself in when Derwin Gerald Lester II asked me if he could include the titular character from my comic “G.I. Low” in his latest book, “The Liberation of Earth”. If any author could be trusted with one of my characters it would easily be Derwin. Him, or Stephanie Meyers.
For years, Derwin has been something of a collaborator anyway. As both my publisher and friend, he has been subjected to nearly every stage of every comic I have ever made. If anyone knows Gregory Ian Low more than his creator, it’s the guy who has spent years providing suggestions on too many of his adventures to count. Likewise, Derwin has been bold enough to share his writing with me. We even joined forces on his novel, “The Thin Line of Life”. He wrote the book and I tossed a few comics into the mix. It only made sense that SGT Low would break out of the panels and join in on the fun worlds that Derwin created.
In this, the latest ambitious saga to explode out of Derwin’s mind, we see that there is no easy way to summarize his books. Each one is a densely populated epistolary teaming with its own detailed world, with an alternative past or dystopian future, but featuring characters that are familiar enough that you could mistake them for your own drinking buddies. It says something that Derwin can create characters that remain likeable even after cannibalizing alien children!
Whether you’re a long time reader, or you picked this up at a USO book shelf, “The Liberation of Earth” is unlike anything you are likely to ever read. Nothing is simple, there are no easy answers, and you will never guess what’s on the next page. This is far from “mediocre at best” is what I’m saying.
Author/Illustrator of “G.I. Low”
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
"The Man In The Arena"
Speech at the Sorbonne
April 23, 1910
Diary of Johnathan Hook
1 November, 100 A.L. (After Liberation)
I opened the door to the classroom and walked in. I enjoyed the quiet of the small, empty room. It was only big enough to seat a half dozen people or so. Giant windows took up most of three walls and combated the claustrophobia, which I greatly appreciated. The only complete wall was the white board up front next to the door. Four empty chairs stood in the center, arranged in two columns of three. An instructor’s desk opposed them, the furniture arranged in sharp mimicry of the Socratic process.
My desk was nestled in the corner of windows, at the back right of the room. It was the same desk I’d sat in every day since beginning my time at Indianapolis University four years ago. I sat down, retrieving my Multi-Function Device and replaying the Historical Reenactment that was on the homework. A hologram of human soldiers sprang from the device, dressed in dark green uniforms, showing the decisive battle of The Liberation War as they battled the soldiers of The Amphibite Empire. Noble as the human soldiers were, their primitive chemical rifles did insignificant damage to the armored invaders from distant, far away planets.
It was 7:45, which meant people would be filing in soon. The classroom door opened. Faye Scott walked in and went to the chair in front of me, saying nothing. Her attention was focused onto the Newsfeed that ran constantly from her Multi-Function Device. A few minutes later, Mary Good was in the seat to her right. They shared a brief head nod before going back to their Multi-Function Devices. During Freshman Orientation, they had been selected as a friendship pair. It was an almost professional relationship between the two: sharing of notes, help with laundry, a person to be around when needed. It was friendship in its most textbook sense.
Gregory Ian Low, Headmaster of the University and professor of Imperial History, was the last to join the class. Wearing a tweed jacket with leather patches sewn onto the elbows and tan slacks, Headmaster Low was the model of Higher Caste taste. He carried several paper books. Walking from desk to desk, he deposited them, along with an ink pen.
“This is what was known as a journal before the Liberation of Earth. One hundred years ago, the humans did not possess the Information Network or Multi-Function Devices of any sort. Everything was done on paper with ink. A whole society floating on a sea of dead trees if you can believe it.” Headmaster Gregory Ian Low’s sharp heels clicked against the floor.
“Pre-Liberation humans would write down their own personal histories in these, which would serve as important historical documents for future humans. I want you to write down your thoughts in your new journals, just like your ancestors did. However, no one will read these unless you choose to share them.”
I raised my hand. Headmaster Low, standing at the front of the class, nodded.
“Sir, why would we be able to write communications down and keep them to ourselves?” I asked. “It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t the Amphibites usually forbid such things?” He shrugged his shoulders and asked, “Mr. Hook, you’re going to be a member of the Higher Caste after you graduate in May, right?”
“Then you must learn to think for yourself. Above all things, you must be loyal to the Amphibite Empire. But that does not mean you must be drones. If you cannot learn to think for yourselves, you can’t be of service to the Empire. So, learn everything you can. Think differently because that’s how we improve things for the human race. Not illegally, of course. But there are ways of broaching a subject that will not attract attention from the Empire. These journals will serve to explore unpopular ideas quietly. Don’t worry. I’ve already approved this through the City Council. Councilman Good has assured me that no one will get executed for treason.” Headmaster Low said, chuckling.
No one laughed. Low always had a dark sense of humor. Treason is punishable by a very loud and unpleasant de-gloving of the entire skin from your body and the Amphibites deemed those mandatory viewing on the newsfeed for all Earth residents.
There was a knock at the door. Low’s face brightened with a smile. “Come in!”
A five-foot-three man walked into the room. The muscles he wore showed through his shirt, keeping pace with a life of hardship. He wore his school uniform like it was sacred: the brown leather shoes a model of perfect shine, his white shirt’s collar perfectly starched and crisp, and the lines in his brown slacks a perfect crease along the middle. Lines that matched those across his face, which displayed the years of anger and worry. He walked three paces inside and stopped.
“Sir, I was told to report to your classroom.” He looked straight ahead.
Professor Low waved a hand. “Relax. You’re not in the H.S.E. anymore.”
The former soldier placed his hands behind his back and relaxed his body, slightly, as he faced the class. “Everyone, this is Winston Carmichael. He’s a recent transfer from the Human Soldiers of Earth.”
The classroom clapped exactly five times, but no more. Anything else would have been seen as too aggressive. Outward aggression is a sign of individuality.
“Hook, he’s been assigned to you, since no one wants to be your friend anyway. It’s almost lunchtime, so why don’t you guys get out of here early today? My treat,” Professor Low said, smiling. He was such an asshole sometimes.
There was quiet talking going on as we left for the hallway. As seniors, we were allowed such luxuries. Winston Carmichael walked to my right as we followed the other students out of the General Finskter Building and down to the crosswalk at the corner of Michigan and Liberation Avenue, where we could see the entire campus.
Ground vehicles were stopped at the traffic light, letting us make our way across Liberation Ave. As we got to the other side, Winston followed me into the Campus Center, which was the heart of The Indianapolis University Campus.
I opened the door, and Winston followed me into the first floor of the Campus Center. Immediately to the right, the Imperial Spa and Comfort Office was visible. Seniors were encouraged to visit the spa on a weekly basis, for relaxation. I visited once per month, as was mandated. But I mostly just sat for the minimum forty-five minutes before going back to my studies.
We passed Spa and came to an elevator. “That’ll take you to the Dorms on the second floor,” I said. “The basement is off limits, but you’ll have access to levels one and two.”
Then we passed the elevator and turned a corner to the right. I looked to my newly appointed friend; he was awestruck at the Café.
“There’s so much…everything looks so clean.” He was whispering as if someone would take it all away if they heard him.
I smiled, patted him on the back, and walked to the chow line. We got our electrolyte rehydration protein goop that was served every meal. He looked at me with a question on his face: where would we sit?
“Outside,” I said.
We went out to the courtyard. It was bright, but that was to be expected. Indianapolis has pollution filters set up in the sky to bring the best possible view for the city. Finding an empty table by the apple tree, we sat down.
“So you’re the friendless loser they stuck me with, huh?” Winston Carmichael said with a chuckle. It was good to see him relax a little.
I sighed. “Yep.”
“Well, my friends call me Winston, I guess you should, too.” He ate the goop with interest. “The food’s better here than on the frontier.”
I laughed. “Really? That’s sad.”
“The frontier is like that.” Winston finished the goop. “I just came from the newest planet in the Empire. No name for it yet, just the New Colony. That’s what they keep calling it on the news, even though there were fifty million inhabitants on it when we got there. But Liberation is funny like that.”
I finished my goop as well, excited to have someone to talk to. “The Amphibites say when they first came to Earth, they liberated us from the slavery that the old governments had instituted.”
I placed the spoon in the bowl. Winston was already sipping on his coffee.
“Even though there’s forty-five thousand worlds in the Empire, we’re favored most by the emperor,” Winston said, in a false boast. Chuckling, he said, “I wonder if that’s why only half the planet starves?”
He was right in a way we weren’t supposed to talk about in public. In private areas, when you were all by yourself, locked in your mind, then you could ponder the mystery of imperial propaganda. He reminded me of my father in that way. Unafraid to tackle forbidden topics.
“So how are the barracks here? A clean bed and all that?” Winston suddenly changed the subject.
“Well, I sleep in a twin sized bed in a clean 9 by 10 foot room, all by myself. Endless access to clean water from the sink a foot away from my bed, and a community bathroom that is only for sixteen people, which was also free of disease.” I drank my coffee.
“Sounds fantastic.” Winston looked excited. It was nice talking to someone who came from the outside.
“Most of the other students here are nice enough, but they don’t get how amazing all of this is,” I said. “Many of them are legacies, third or fourth generation Higher Caste. I don’t blame them for having a better life, because my dad always taught me that ‘there’s always someone who has it better, and someone who has it worse.’”
“I take it you’re first generation?” He finished off his coffee.
I nodded. “Before I left for the University, I lived with my dad in Cincinnati. He taught me how to read and write.”
“So, he’s the reason you’re here, huh? I bet he’s proud.” Winston glanced at the clock on his multi-function device.
I nodded. “He would be, if he hadn’t gotten himself killed.”
I stood up. It was time to get back to class.
“Killed how?” Winston asked.
“He joined the Rough Riders.”
Diary of Johnathan Hook
3 November, 100 A.L. (After Liberation)
My dad was big into birthdays. I celebrated my thirteenth while living in Cincinnati. It was a pre-Liberation house, little more than four walls and a roof. Usually, the roof didn’t leak, and we could repair any holes in the walls. We spent my childhood there. The rats and their companions put up a merry fight, but in the end we humans were the master of that old, rotting domain. Which I could never complain about, since I had seen so many people begging for food on the street.
It must have been 90 A.L. when I turned thirteen. I would be expected to join Dad at the Imperial Weapons Factory as his apprentice, putting in a full twelve hours every day. It would be a hard life but better than joining the Human Soldiers of Earth.
It was early on that birthday when I woke up. Not out of the ordinary, of course. The rooster was in his coop, king of his fenced in fiefdom, crowing to signal his demands of food and water.
With a groggy dutifulness, I obliged, sitting up out of bed and stumbling my way to my socks. I had a room all to myself, which was rare for most people in my neighborhood, let alone a child. My father made sure to remind me of my blessings whenever I thought life was unfair, which made much more sense when I got older. Nothing in life was guaranteed, especially four walls, a roof, and a full belly. While we didn’t live like kings, I could tell my father thought himself a prince with the life he’d secured for himself and his family.
Making my way out to the back yard of the house, I saw the flock of chickens swarm my way.
“Get back!” I yelled, with all the authority a newly minted thirteen year old could muster.
The chickens, associating me with their morning meal, clucked at me with an excited anxiety I had only seen matched in the bread lines that wrapped around four city blocks in the winter months.
Once the chickens were fed, and eggs collected, it was time to fix breakfast for my parents. I had a basket of eggs in one hand and a gallon of water in the other. Walking into the kitchen, I turned on the stove and set the two heavy containers down. Dad liked his coffee in the mornings, and Mom said she wanted one egg, instead of two, on toast last night. They would be up soon.
Mom got up sooner than I thought, but I was finished with her egg on toast.
“Hey, honey bear. Did you sleep ok?” I always loved the way her voice lilted ever so slightly when she said honey bear.
“Yeah, Ma,” I said.
“Well, so did I. But you didn’t ask. It’s always polite to ask, Johnnie.” She was always teaching me every step of the way. If she had been born into money instead of a coalmine like my father, she would have fit in with the professors at University.
But Mom believed in making the best with what you’ve got. My father, on the other hand, was a dreamer. An ambitious man, to be sure, he grew up in a coalmine and decided he would find gainful employment somewhere topside. After four years spent in the H.S.E., he scooped my mom from the mines and moved to a nice house in Cincinnati, working his way up to foreman at the weapons plant.
“Good morning, Mr. Foreman!” My mom announced as Dad stumbled his way into the kitchen.
I handed a cup of coffee to him, which he accepted with an appreciative grumble. Two minutes of sizzling later, two eggs on toast appeared like magic in front of him. Finally, Dad opened his eyes and accepted that his day was starting, despite ending only five hours earlier. He was the new foreman after all. More money meant less sleep.
“What’s on the docket for today, Mr. Foreman?” My mom rubbed his back.
He chopped up the bread into bite-sized pieces. “We exceeded our numbers for last month in functional units for the H.S.E., so they’ve upped it by ten percent, just to see how we do.”
“So they want to see just how good your team is?” Mom asked, left eyebrow raised.
He sipped his coffee. “Pretty much. It’s standard procedure for the plant. If a new team is exceeding the standard, then the standard is too low across the board. Which is pissing off the other plants in the city, but fuck ‘em. They should get on our level.” Dad smiled with princely pride.
“Damn straight.” Mom kissed him. Looking at the clock on the wall, she said, “You better get out of here, Mr. Foreman. Or you’ll be late.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He winked at me on his way to the door. “Listen to your mother, Johnnie.”
After cleaning up the kitchen, we made our way out past the chicken coop and to the garden, where we normally spent the day working until Dad came home.
“It’s important to know how to grow your food, Johnnie. No one is goin’ grow it for you.” She picked tomatoes.
“Mom, I heard Higher Caste people have folks who pick their tomatoes for them? And they get sweet bread every day?” I asked.
She frowned at the tomato in her hand. “Who told you that?”
“Timmy,” I said.
“Timmy Dalton is an idiot, and his parents are cousins. Stay away from him.”
“Yes, Mom.” I tilted my head to the left as I picked a small green tomato. “Who taught you to grow your food?”
“Well, your grandfather did.”
“Who’s that?” I asked; I’d never heard that title before.
She shrugged with teary eyes. “He’s my father, just like you and your father.”
“I’ve never heard of a grandfather,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Not a lot of them these days. Most folks ‘round here don’t live that long.”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“He was killed during an uprising when I was a little older than you. He wasn’t on either side, just trying to buy some tomatoes. That’s all. Now…we grow our own tomatoes, just to be safe.”
She put the last red, plump tomato in the basket and started down the path leading away from the garden. I dutifully followed her, silent in our shared time together. When we made it to the house, my dad was standing by the back door with the biggest smile on his face.
“Johnnie!” He shouted, and scooped me up in his arms. There was a sign on the dining room wall that said, “Happy Birthday!” And a cake on the table. I had eaten cake a few times but never the mythological birthday cake.
“See, Johnnie?” Dad asked with the three of us sat around the table. “This is birthday cake. I know what you’re thinking, ‘what’s so different with this than regular cake?”
I nodded with excitement, frosting covering two thirds of my face.
He looked to Mom, smiled, and leaned in close to me. Whispering, he said, “This cake was made special, just for you. It’s a Johnnie Cake, and that makes it the best.”
I collapsed into a hug with him after that. Then we left for the living room.
My mother hugged me, and said, “Honey Bear, why don’t you go read The Wizard of Oz in the other room, ok?”
I took another large piece of cake and complied. That was the happiest day of my life. It was the last good day I would have for a while.
“Where did you get the cake, Bill?” Mom asked.
The sugar ran through my veins, my eyes darting through the words of the forbidden human book.
“I…made some new friends,” Dad said.
“What type of friends, Bill?” Each word dripped with anger and suspicion.
He nodded. “The type that can help us out, Frannie.”
She shook her head. “You just made foreman at the factory, Bill.”
“I know, Frannie…but they said they’ll drop off extra food rations,” he said.
“In exchange for what?” She was furious.
“I just have to give them a little information occasionally. It’s not a big deal, Frannie.”
“Bill, those people are dangerous!” She was shouting now.
“Life is dangerous, Francis. I spent four years in the H.S.E., and that was pretty dangerous!” He yelled back.
“That was twenty years ago, Bill! And it’s not just you anymore. It’s you, and me, and Johnnie that will be involved if this goes bad!”
She sat on a chair in the kitchen and began to sob.
“Frannie, this isn’t going to get back to you and Johnnie. I promise. I’m just telling them a few things about the factory. That’s all.” Dad said, attempting to put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off and stood up.
The look on her face was so painful; I teared up just looking at her. “You’re going to get yourself and your family killed, because you want to play cowboy.”
Then she stormed off into the living room where I was sitting. The sugar had begun to wear off, and a crash was looming as my eyes began to droop.
“Honey Bear…I love you. I’ll be back soon.” She hugged me. I sleepily hugged her back, and mumbled, “I love you, too, Ma.”
Moments later, my dad sat next to me on the couch. I snuggled up to him, and he wrapped his left arm around me; he read the book his father gave him when he was a boy.
I couldn’t tell if it was a few minutes or hours that I slept. The only thing I know is that I woke up to the sounds of his heart breaking as he spoke on his Multi-Function Device from the kitchen.
“…yes, that’s my wife…”
“At the market? What happened?”
“An H.S.E. raid?”
Then I heard him collapse against the wall. I got off the couch and peaked my head into the kitchen. Dad had slid down the wall and was sitting in the corner. A gentle light bulb from the celling flickered into extinction, casting Dad into shadow.
The Multi-Function Device laid on the floor next to him, but the voice was coming through clear as ice.
“Don’t you worry, Bill. We found the H.S.E. bastards that killed Frannie. Those men died screaming. I made sure of it myself,” said the stranger.
“Thank you…I don’t know what I’m going to do…Johnnie needs a mother, and all I know how to do is build weapons.” Dad wiped his eyes.
“Can you read and write? Perform mathematics?” the stranger asked.
“Then teach him.” The voice told my father. “We’ll keep checking in on you guys when we can. You’ve been good to us, and to the cause. If we keep working together, and he’s smart enough to read and write, maybe we can get him into a university.”
My dad chuckled with sad desperation. “There’s no way I can pay for University. That’s ten years I.C. as a foreman.”
“First of all, don’t worry about paying for it. You’re one of us now. Secondly, grow potatoes. I can get one of my people in here to show you how to set up and run a distillery. We need another supplier for vodka, and with your share of the profits, you’ll be able to quit your job and spend all your time teaching Johnnie.”
My dad looked hopeful, if only for a moment. “You don’t need me at the factory?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line for a moment. “You let me worry about the factory, Bill. We’ve got other plans in place for it. You just take care of Johnnie. My people will be by in a few days to check up on you. Broken Chicago, Bill.”
Then I heard a click. My dad sat in the dark corner, staring off into space. I walked up to him. He scooped me into his arms and held me tight.
“Don’t you worry, Johnnie,” he said. I cried into his shoulder and he continued, “We’re going to be ok, just you and me. Us against the whole world. We got this. I’m going to take care of you, and we’re going to live nice lives with lots of food and nothing to worry about. I’m going to protect you from all the bad people.”
But in the end, he couldn’t protect himself.
Widest distribution possible
September 3, 90 A.L.
We lost comms with the London Element yesterday. Someone got scared and sold them out. Before the Queen died, she officially passed on the role of Rough Rider Six to me, and a message.
“The Empire is up to something terrifying, Jim. They’re attempting to travel to other timelines. We don’t know how far along they are yet, but you must stop them. Even if it costs us the war. They mustn’t be allowed to spread to other Earths. Broken Chicago, Jim. Good Luck.”
As of right now, this becomes our main priority. I want a meeting with the leadership in Cincinnati in one month, no exceptions.
Also, stop sending suicide bombers into crowded markets. Yes, we killed one H.S.E. Captain, but we killed twenty innocent civilians, including one Frannie Hook. It doesn’t help anyone if we massacre the people we’re trying to save.
Rough Rider Six
Journal of Winston Carmichael