With the fall of the Valois monarchy, the privileged position of the Roman Church was, for the first time since the Wars of Religion, in peril. The Revolutionary Assembly attempted to provide an alternative for Valoise that would emphasize the new revolutionary virtues of reason, humanism, and empiricism.

However, there was a strong reaction from the more conservative members of the Assembly, who thought that there ought to be a reform of the Roman Church rather than its outright replacement. This debate occurred at a key point during the Constitutional Convention of the First Valoise Republic during which there was fierce debate on what, if any, mention of religion there would be in the constitution itself.

This resulted in the Cult of the Empty Throne, a compromise written into the First Valoise Constitution that, in the true tradition of all great compromises, pleased no one. The Cult encouraged the veneration of an ornate, unoccupied, throne, both as a symbol and an actual throne retrofitted into Roman churches. The churches themselves were declared to be Empty Throne Rooms.

Adherents were encouraged to “fill the throne” with whatever suited them–the traditional god of the Roman Church, a deistic being, the concept of reason, or quite literally nothing. By allowing worshippers to choose whatever was sat upon that throne it was hoped that both the proponents of a new ‘Religion of Reason’ and the old Roman Church would be able to coexist in the same space.

Instead, both extremes stayed away in droves. Despite lavish spending on Empty Throne processions and a three day Festival of the Throne in the capital, the converted churches were almost empty on the designated days. Worse, the idea quickly became a laughingstock among enemies of the new regime both domestic and foreign. The Czar of Poccnr famously declared that he was flattered by the Valoise Republic providing him with so many fine thrones for his victory tour.

The fall of the First Republic put an end to any official support for the Cult, and the ascension of the Emperor resulted in its total proscription. The few remaining priests and devout adherents were rounded up and imprisoned, with the Imperial Chancellor noting wryly that a year later there were only fifteen dedicated Thronists in Valoise prisons who had refused to recant. “Were I so inclined,” he said, “I could end the Throne in Valois with a single cannonade.”

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The protective equipment was onerous, to say the least. Polarized glasses that turned everything a mealy shade of monotone. Dull beige plastic that zipped up over everything. The face mask that made most emotions invisible. And of course the noise-canceling headphones, which enabled flawless communication but also broadcast a dulcet, neutral tone that would have been sleep-inducing if not for the caffeine pills.

Thus protected, the GFA agents penetrated the site in twos. As the squad rookie, swept up in the mad dash for more agents even before his program was complete, Mayaguez was paired with Rogette.

“Look at these poor fellas,” Rogette said as he led the two-man recon through what had been an office building. He gestured to the forms of white-collar workers slumped at their desks and in the hallways.

“But they’re not dead,” Mayaguez said, pushing one of them with a gloved mitt. The man grunted and pushed back, his half-lidded eyes fluttering.

“They might as well be,” Rogette grumbled. “Completely lost to the real world, enmeshed in a fantasy so compelling there’s no awakening from it.”

“The Plague of Fantasy,” Mayaguez whispered.

“That’s right. And once we get them quarantined we’re going to make this place so dull, so depressing, that not even a single spark of imagination can gutter to life. It’s the only way.”

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Another survey from the bosses
Slides into overstuffed inbox
‘What can we do to make things better’
‘How can we be more diverse’
‘Why aren’t you happy’
‘Who, if anyone, harassed you’
‘When can we expect your response’
I pull up the org chart
Ten smiling white men in buzz cuts
Beholden to ten more of the same
The answer I give them at the end
In the free response field
Is probably not the one they want

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Q: Do I need to report money from major criminal enterprises? I am the head of a major crime family trying to file as head of household.

A: Yes! On Form 1040, you will find a line for “embezzled or other illegal income.” Please put the full cash value of any and all illegal income on this line, rounded to the nearest whole dollar.

Q: I made a major contribution to the prior presidential administration in exchange for a tax break. Is that offer still valid under the current administration?

A: It depends. If you are referring to a handwritten Form 7R1-1Mp, those promissory notes are no longer legal or valid. However, if you were a direct beneficiary of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, that tax relief is still valid and you need take no further action.

Q: I am an alchemist transmuting less than 1 troy ounce of lead into gold per year. Do I need to claim this as income?

A: While the official reporting threshold for alchemical taxes is indeed 1 troy ounce and under, remember that the value of the ingredients and equipment are included–if you are able to procure genuine Philosopher’s Lead and have an alembic that is attuned well enough to transmute, those are converted to gold-equivalent via Table 79a and may put you over the 1-oz limit for recreational “exempt alchemy.”

Q: I returned from my abduction from the Sargons of the Andromeda Galaxy with knowledge of advanced technology I used to start a home business, but also several health ailments requiring daily care. Can I claim these as business expenses?

A: Extraterrestrial-related technologies (“ET income”) are taxable but only directly-related expenses may be deducted. The sutures used to implant alien tissue into a living host would, for example, be deductible but an alien embryo requiring outpatient care would not.

Q: I died this past year, but rose as the living dead, fearsome in life but unstoppable in crypt’s embrace. Do I need to report any income I make?

A. You’ll need to file a form 1099-Z assuming that you fall into the relevent categories for Post-Necrotic Income (see the filing instructions for a complete list). If you have assumed an undead form that is not on that list, you will need to file an amended 1040-RIP along with a full description of your current state. Keep in mind that if you can demonstrate hardship from post-necrotic decay, you may be eligible for deductions based on your category (EG zombies would qualify, but liches would not).

Q: I have been laid low by a new and virulent illness. Do I still need to file?

A: Yes, but you may qualify for an extension. Refer to table CDC-1 for a list of categories that apply. Do keep in mind that the illness must be naturally occurring; Ouagadougou Fever would qualify, but The Bloodsin would not. In the case of naturally-occurring illnesses which have been weaponized, like Marburg hemorrhagic fever, you must have contracted a natural variant rather than being exposed to a biological weapon.

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“Let me make one thing very clear. It’s Mick-Fayhg, not Mick-Fag.” Dr. McFeague said.

Seamus raised a hand. “Why does it matter?” he said.

“Because Mick-Fag implies that I like cigarettes and I like women,” Dr. McFeague said. “And I don’t care for you to be making any assumptions about me.”

“Is it true?” Nigel said.

“Is what true?”

“That you like cigarettes?” Nigel piped. “Or women.”

“Remember what I said about making assumptions?” Dr. McFeague said. “If you find out anything about what I like to put in my mouth, it’ll be because I told you so, yeah? Now let’s get to chemistry.”

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A file folder dropped on the table. “Are you familiar with Rivet Amber?”

Sonya made no move to open the file; her hands remained folded demurely in her lap. “Her real name is Lisa Ann, daughter of Howard Hughes. Big family, 32 sisters, but she was unique. Heavy girl, 35,000 pounds, and she cost her daddy a thousand dollars a pound. Disappeared, along with nineteen suitors, while between engagements.”

“You trying to be cute?” Reynolds said.

“It amuses me to assign a somewhat literary, fantastical character to these things,” Sonya said. “Aids in memory. But if you insist on being prosaic, I am well aware that the six-engine RC-135E Rivet Amber aircraft contained a 7 megawatt phased-array radar system from Hughes Aircraft. They say it could track a basketball at 500 kilometers, and the Air Force used it to monitor Soviet ballistic missile tests.”

“It had four engines,” Reynolds groused. “The other two pods were a turboshaft to run the radar and a heat exchanger to cool it.”

“How silly of me.” Sonya reclined back in her seat, letting the cigarette smoke momentarily obscure her features. “The Rivet Amber aircraft was lost at sea between Shemya to Eielson, with no trace of the aircraft or crew despite intensive searches.”

“Correct.”

“You can probably tell, Major, that I am intensely interested in aircraft and technology, as a hobby, but I doubt that you brought me in to trade airplane cards,” Sonya continued. “So what does this magnificent lost lady have to do with the sort of wet work I can do for you?”

Reynolds opened the file folder to an interior tab. Grainy photos spilled out of it, depicting a gangly aircraft photographed from a satellite at a resolution that showed all but its individual bolts, and a second, much grainier one of an aircraft in flight with the unmistakable red star of the Soviet Air Force emblazoned on its side.

“These were taken last month and last week, respectively,” Reynolds said. “Some attempts to disguise the aircraft as a Tupolev Tu-95 Bear have been made, such as fake propellers. But it is unmistakably our aircraft. We need to know what happened to the aircrew, and we need to know the condition of the phased-array radar system. If the Soviets are able to reverse-engineer it-”

“Yes, yes, it will mean the end of life on Earth as we know it, I’m sure,” Sonya said, sounding bored. “Very well. I will surveil this aircraft for you, and destroy it if possible. But what of Lisa Ann’s suitors, if they yet live?”

A moment of icy silence. “Those men knew the risks when they volunteered,” Reynolds said. “If the unit is damaged, they can be made to repair it. It would be…preferable…if the loss was total. With all hands.”

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Waiting for the applause to subside, Mayor Rhuddlan held aloft a piece of paper. “Of course, even though King Edward threatened to have him drawn and quartered, Phrys Anwir remained loyal to the Welsh cause and never surrendered. In fact, he disappeared after the Siege of Caernarfon, still officially an outlaw. But no more! I have here, in writing, an official pardon from the Queen herself.”

The crowd at the Heddwyn Maddox Eisteddfod erupted in cheers at the news, with Rhuddlan beaming all the while.

“That’s right,” he said. “The most famous son of Heddwyn Maddox village is now free.”

“Good!” A booming voice echoed from the back of the crowd.

Shocked onlookers parted in front of the speaker, who rode slowly forward on a courser, clad in the raiment of a 13th-century man-at-arms with a red Welsh dragon emblazoned on his tabard.

“I will admit, it took longer than I thought it might,” the man continued, speaking in thickly accented but understandable English. “But it’s good to be home. And what’s seven hundred-odd years between a man and his village, mm?”

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“Drench, quench, soak, and spray! Rain-clouds roll and thunder bays! Sparks up above us, puddles down below, whip up a storm and blow, blow, BLOW!”

A peal of thunder roared as the final line of the spell was delivered, and dark clouds were rolling in within moments. Raindrops fell in the distance, moving toward the carnival with all due speed and preceded with the unmistakable tangy scent of petrichor and geosmin.

“Was that really necessary?” Mayor Guenwald said, already soaked, after the cloudburst engulfed the reviewing stands.

“Maybe next time you’ll think twice about letting me run a dunk tank,” Madame Xenovia said, miraculously dry amid the storm.

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Banned for use in ordered space by the Fifth Accords, Firebird Torpedoes are nevertheless known to be stockpiled and used by several signatories. The Firebird is so named because of its perceived relation to the mythical phoenix, because matter affected by it is not rearranged in any meaningful way, but rather moved through a temporary rift into another alternate reality.

Given the random and unpredictable nature of such rifts, as well as the violence with which they open and close, it is doubtful that the effect upon targets is any different than standard high-energy weapons. It is also probable that any alternate reality so entered would not be conducive to life from ordered space.

The major impetus for this ban was the so-called Ra’Irb Incident, in which the use of a similar weapon in an alternate skein caused a battlecruiser-like vessel to slip through into ordered space. This vessel, originally but inaccurately believed to have been dubbed the Ra’Irb, destroyed a combined fleet of 117 ships sent against it before it crashed. Thorough examination of the wreckage was impossible due to exotic extra-dimensional radiation, but it is now believed that the ship was adrift and derelict, with its “weapons systems” being reactions to a new and exotic environment.

Nevertheless, Firebird Torpedoes were rapidly banned thereafter and, aside from one possible but unproven case on Vela XII, have not been used in ordered space since.

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Nurse Smith looked at the patient. Gerry looked rather pallid, with two full cotton balls stuffed up his nose, each of which was soaked, rust-red, to near its edges. Dry and brown blood caked his upper lip, which cracked like the floor of Death Valley as he smiled, apologetically.

“What is it this time?” Smith said.

“Well, let’s call it a cautionary tale of flying too close to the sun. Only in this case, it was less Icarus flying to high than his cousin Picarus delving too greedily and too d-”

“Stop! Stop. That’s enough,” Smith said. “I’m admitting you for anemia and clotting problems, and the next time I see you, you’d better be dead or dying without another gross self-inflicted malady, you hear me?”

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