It was February 2002, and America tottered above a precipice.
The Comet King was dead. The Other King was busy mopping up the shreds of resistance in the American West. Singer riots had several cities aflame. BOOJUM’s reign of terror continued unabated. And President Bush had been assassinated by his own teleprompter.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Rumors swirled around newly-sworn-in president Dick Cheney. They said that he was literally heartless, that his blood was pumped by a strange contraption connected to a battery pack strapped around his chest. They said that he carried the Sword of Chang, a Bush family heirloom that made its wielder invincible in political battles at the cost of a portion of his soul. They said he had a ranch down in Texas where he hunted the most dangerous game of all: man. They said that one day when he sat for Sunday services at St. John’s Church, the pastor had read from the Gospel of Matthew -“Who among you, if a child asks for bread, would give him a stone?” – and Cheney had stood up immediately and raised his hand until they informed him it was a rhetorical question.
Cheney declared martial law. He smoked out the various nests of Singers and terrorists one by one the same methodical way he hunted quail. When people started protesting his heavy-handed tactics, he smoked them out too. He threw Colorado to the wolves for the sake of peace with the Other King, and peace with the Other King he got. His armies marched against the bandits haunting the Midwest – Paulus the Lawless, the Witch-King of Wichita – until one by one they lay down their arms in abject surrender to spend the rest of their lives in Guantanamo Bay.
In 2004, he informed the country that there would be no need to trouble themselves with an election. When he was sworn in for a second term, he was observed to very carefully hold his hand hovering just above the Bible without touching it. The traditional medical examination was done, and he was declared fully human, apart from the thing with his heart. As far as anyone knew, he avoided touching Bibles just in case.
Some accused him of desecrating the Constitution. President Cheney would have none of it. Nobody, he declared, respected the Constitution more than he did, and he would prove it. He decreed that out of respect for the Constitution, all copies of the document must henceforth be covered with a silken shroud and removed from human gaze, lest its sanctity be polluted by human sight, human touch, or human interpretation. Old pieces of parchment and modern civics textbooks alike were sealed away in places of honor, where they might be viewed only by those who had performed the necessary purification rituals. The image of Cheney reverently placing a pure white drape over the original Constitution in the National Archives became such a symbol of national unity that people started calling the federal government “Shroudies” by association.
There were a lot of people who thought that America would never go for martial law. They were wrong. It was the mid-2000s, and America was exhausted. The libertarians had made freedom unbearable, the evangelicals had made faith unbearable, the social justice movement had made equality unbearable, the lawyers had made justice unbearable, loud people in Uncle Sam hats had made patriotism unbearable, and the entirety of capitalism over the last two centuries had made industry unbearable. Americans were sick of all the virtues and ready for a straightforward, no-nonsense villain. Cheney and all the other servants of the Shrouded Constitution were only too happy to provide.