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Message from the Underground · Original Short Story ·
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The Americas and the Second Sun
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Dear Charlotte,

It’s ridiculous how this may ever reach you, but know that you are not alone, not counting your friends-in-arms. Seems things are worse than what the papers say. There’s already rumors of torture going on there.

All I know is that, one way or another, the American Union of Free States will liberate the city and save you in time. It’ll be a sweet bonus if I’d be the one to save you, but that’s just a daydream. We’re all on your side, and I mean it when I say that: the other guys in the squad has read your open letter too. Got them more pumped to save the world.

Also, since you sent a picture to our side, here’s my picture. Looks a bit generic but at least the Feddies can’t single me out.

[Image description: Private William Martin smiling in standard American Union uniform.]

To the war’s swift end,


New York City Occupied!

The Union’s unsubstantiated claims to supremacy and freedom over the continent have been proven false once again thanks to the downfall of the Big Apple. Federated troops have re-established travel and business across the boroughs, and shall valiantly face whatever the Union shall throw at them.

Federation President Lawrence has declared concerning the takeover, “It is embarrassing that our enemies to the north have left their crown jewel so woefully undefended. How do you think they shall uphold freedom when they do not have the spine to carry it for ten seconds?….”

[This clipping is from The Everyday Trumpet, a tabloid in the Federated States of America.]

To William,

It amazes me that not only do I have a response but that you have delivered this to me unscathed. It is true that the underground resistance in the subway is extensive, but I am surprised everyday how far our reach is.

As much as Feddie propaganda says things are under control, they are having great difficulty flushing us out. They’ve got us pinned down here, but we’ve pinned them there on the surface.

You might have applauded me for coming from the south, fleeing for dear life (and I must apologize for sounding panicked: I’ve overestimated the strength of the FSA military when they came over). However, I know what I flee and help others escape from. Do not pity me too much; you can consider me married to the Union.

It seems that you are a soldier through-and-through. A private. Maybe your first time seeing action. I trust that training erased whatever stupidity people get from action movies these days.

I will send this letter out through Andrew, one of our couriers. He’ll send intel about enemy movements topside.


Dear Charlotte,

It is good to hear from you! Yes, I am a private and this is my first tour of duty (hopefully not my last!). I also don’t think this will be an easy fight: I’ve never been a movie buff anyway. Actually grew up in a flyover town in flyover Kansas. Was a small-time family farmer until the draft.

As for myself right now, I can see Manhattan from where I’m standing. First time visiting NYC too. Sad that I’m coming as a soldier. Should go there someday when it’s all over and back to normal. They say the hotdogs there are legendary.



To William,

Farming is something noble, no matter what the white-collar scholars say in the college campus. It is a life of hard work and duty, something any soldier can benefit from, that their life and their freedom does not come to them on a silver plate. Growing up in Philadelphia just to see the Federated savages take it away from me when I was just a child made me realize that I have not truly valued my freedom. I’ve shouldered too many close calls to slack off or take it easy.

Enough about me. Among other news, we have word of another underground group even we did not know of until today. They call themselves Estate Zero: hyper-radical doomsday preppers who are well-armed and prepared for anything from a war to a zombie apocalypse. We have co-operated as they say they’re on our side, though they are nutty and trigger-happy. I fear we may get friendly fire if Federated soldiers finally take it down to the subway. (Andrew has more info about them in a separate note.)

I wish you and the army well.


New York City Massacre on the Rise?

The Federated States have rounded several citizens trapped in Manhattan Island and begun executing those who disobey occupying forces, several insider sources report. No such activity has been recorded in the other boroughs, but sources say that executions could spread there within the next few days….

[This newspaper clipping is from AUFS Now, an American Union government-sponsored publication.]

Dear Charlotte,

Great that you are still doing well! I apologize for not writing the past few days. Your stories about secretly getting New York citizenship and other papers is inspiring—and, yes, I’ve promised to keep it to myself. Still, my buddies here keep teasing me to tell all, but they’re convinced it’s just romantic fluff. Better they think I’m a sweetheart than to let them know about sensitive information, although I do enjoy the reputation.

It seems that this Estate Zero seems very prepared. You say they have dozens of assault rifles, a box of grenades to boot, and have a disassembled jeep? Next thing you’ll tell me they actually got a nuke inside there just to get kids off their lawns. This is a riot! Good thing they’re on our side.

As for me, we seem to be attacking very soon. Can’t tell because someone might get this letter (I am no gambler but better safe than sorry). I’ll tell you that this will finally come to an end. Maybe this is the turning point we’re all waiting for—kick them out and chase them all the way to their fake White House in Austin. It would be nice to fight by your side and to get all of you to safer places.

Stay safe out there.


[Irrelevant letters skipped.]


Found some intel. Mostly bog standard stuff. Please send over to Captain Underton.

Important: Check page four. Seems like FSA already knows about our Estate friend. They’re trying to figure them out, though. Bad news: someone is leaking info or an Estate guy wasn’t careful enough. Good news: the Estate is not a Feddie plant.

Also, looks like one of the demolished apartments wasn’t FSA doing too. They’re just as confused as us. I’d say it’s a misfire from our official boys in camo, but since when did we have missiles that can level a whole building without collateral damage?


[Attached to the note are twelve pages of stolen FSA intelligence.]

To William,

I shall keep this brief since you may be on the way.

I must confess that it is good to hear word from any of you. I figured that I could just wait it out to talk to you soldiers when you come over here. But, it warms my soul to have someone to talk to other than fellow tunnel rats.

You may be having your first tour here, but it is good for you to keep fighting. I myself did not start out so faithful to freedom when it all started. More than a few times have I made rash decisions and left behind towns and people to save my own skin when I shouldn’t have. But, what’s done is done. I will not make the same mistake

Looking forward to your arrival. God bless the Union.


Little Queen, got into scuffle with Est. 0 boys last night, all boozed. Asked them how they got their guns ‘cause they just got new ones. They got defensive. Fists got everywhere.

Sent someone to check on them. One of the guns they dropped seems like a Colt pistol but it’s not any model I know of. Checked assault rifle too. Managed to get the name: FN P90. Looks like sci-fi junk, but if it shoots bullets, fine.

Already asked Jorge to check gun catalogs topside, see if we’ve missed some new gun release or if they’re just gun salesmen stealing R&D stuff. Doesn’t look American, that’s for sure.

[Written by unknown resistance member. Little Queen is most likely Charlotte’s codename.]

Cpt. SMITH: … aside from the rotting food supply and how we’re trying to handle the metro tunnel diggers without sounding like war criminals ten years down the line thanks to those nosy journalists—aside from that, we have some surprising news about the apartment complex they’ve bombarded on the north side, and—

Col. ADDISON: Secret weapon?

Cpt. SMITH: We’re still not sure—

Col. ADDISON: So you came here to spit hot air.

Cpt. SMITH: No!… there is… we tried to see whether we can rule out simple structural failure—that it’s just too old or poorly constructed. We got access to the city plans on it as well as building plans—

Col. ADDISON: And then...?

Cpt. SMITH: Sir, you won’t believe it.

Col. ADDISON: I’ve got nothing to believe in if you don’t open your stupid little mouth.

Cpt. SMITH: No, no, don’t hang up! You see, it says there’s no such thing as an apartment there.

Col. ADDISON: What?

Cpt. SMITH: We… we cross-referenced here and there. Citizens swore there used to be an apartment there for the past fifty years or so, but it just doesn’t show up in the records at all.

Col. ADDISON: Then the city’s incompetent with its own records. Captain, I suggest you forget about that apartment; it’s driving you insane. I’d rather we actually fight partisans and soldiers than worry about some stupid apartment that slipped through some historian’s fingers.

Cpt. SMITH: But sir—

Col. ADDISON: Do you understand?

Cpt. SMITH: Understood, Colonel.

[A transcripted excerpt from an intercepted telephone call between two Federated officers.]

Dearest Charlotte,

I love you.

There, I said it. I am not much of a poet, but I also know when I have butterflies in my stomach. To tell you the truth, I’ve had this feeling for you since I’ve encountered your face. True, I was allured by your beautiful looks, but while I arrived for your beauty, I stayed for the strong and courageous personality you ooze off which I am sure inspires everyone around you to keep fighting for freedom.

I know you talked about being married to the Union, but many soldiers from the previous world wars were married to the Union and their wives afterwards. Marrying you would be like marrying the Union itself.

I would not be surprised if you are Lady Liberty personified. It’s fitting she’s at the other end of the borough. Once we beat the Feddie schmucks and push them to the end of the island, we’d see her.

I’ve had dreams of you ever since I saw the first letter dying for anyone to hear your plight. Dreams where we stood at the top of the green lady herself and had hotdogs, coffee, donuts—we kissed while firing our pistols at the Federated States and their illegitimate leader. Dreams of introducing you to my family back in Kansas, dreams of us farming our days away, you and me in the golden white-hot sunset harvesting apples and oranges.

Perhaps you might think it’s unwise to write this now, especially since we’ll be invading by the time you see it, but I could not hold it off any longer. I long to see you in person.

From your great admirer,


[The letter was intercepted by Federated forces during the initial Union offensive on New York. It is unknown whether it reached Charlotte.]

[From this point on, covert operatives have intensified intelligence-gathering efforts in the area.]

The Union Strikes Back: Reconquest of New York Begins

Twenty days after the Federated States of America took over New York City on May 5, the Union has staged an invasion to take back the city. Early reports put Union forces as south as Highbridge, Bronx….

[This is an excerpt from The Printed Crier, a British Empire publication.]

To William,

I hope you are doing well. I have not been able to receive any of your letters; whether because you are busy or because our correspondence has been compromised by Federeated forces, it does not matter.

I must tell you that Estate Zero has organized itself even more and are providing us with many of their weapons. They keep saying they’re on low supply, but they never seem to run out. They’re also crazier than I thought: sometimes, they keep referring to the old United States of America. Won’t be surprised if they keep portraits of George Washington in their pockets for good luck.

Their leader has been okay, if somewhat a rambling mess when drunk. That seems to be a running theme: perhaps we should abolish alcohol while they are here, though war is stressful enough that I need to down a couple glasses of whiskey. He is a nice man to be with otherwise and quite dutiful as well, but he also thinks that an asteroid might hit us by 1990 or that aliens are getting rid of the buildings because they’re looking for me. At least he’s very competent.

That’s all I can write for now. This doesn’t have much that the FSA already knows. Let them catch this letter for all I care.


[This letter was intercepted by Federated forces. It is unknown whether it reached William.]

From: Estate Zero

Charlotte (Little Queen), you have been chosen to take part in a secret operation that we have devised over the past few week due to your duty and loyalty to the Union. Follow our head, Keith Piper, into our quarters and he will fill you in on your responsibilities.

Keep this secret from the rest of the resistance. We want to keep this under wraps until further notice.

[Copy of summons reproduced from eyewitness accounts.]


We have received reports of Federated soldiers intercepting New York resistance couriers. Henceforth, all correspondence to the subway resistance shall cease until the situation eases up. Failure to comply will result in disciplinary measures.

—First Lieutenant Dennis Moss

[Copy of notice reproduced from covert operations.]

For the record, there’s something weird going on in the sub. Reports about Estate Zero’s premises are few and far between, but what we do know is that they either have a secret passage to the surface they have not informed us of—which they should inform us of immediately because the enemy might discover that—or they have self-sufficient workshops and farms down there. The number of weapons and supplies they’re giving us without topside sightings is staggering. They’ve also discussed the destroyed apartment from weeks ago, although they’ve frowned upon further inquiry.

[This note was found in the possession of First Lieutenant Dennis Moss. Handwriting suggests the aforementioned Andrew as the writer.]

This is Sergeant Major Adam Montgomery. High Command implores you to stop asking the paranormal freaks about the whereabouts of Charlotte. Just keep fighting and hope you get directed to the subway stations soon.

Seriously, Private, you’re embarrassing us over here. It’s a miracle we still have perfect PR with so many citizens watching you interrogate a crystal ball reader at gunpoint.

[Notable: This notice (presumably a copy) has been found on Sergeant Major Adam Montgomery’s corpse moments before surviving covert operatives pulled out of the area.]

I know you won’t take it kindly, but I have refused to send any more letters to William. I was against the whole idea of you keeping touch with this random stranger from the start, but this is too far. I cannot have your letter come over there and give decrypters more material to work from. Remember when they managed to arrest Mick Knoll without ever meeting the guy because of fingerprints and such?

- Andrew

From: First Lieutenant Adam Montgomery

To: Captain James Valdez

Subject: Missing Buildings in Harlem

Any update on the destroyed buildings over at Harlem? Recon reveals no debris. It’s as if they just up and disappeared. Might be a conspiracy at this point thanks to how it’s all in plain sight and yet no one remembers who made it disappear or how it happened in the first place. The accounts we do have are in conflict with each other, but they all agree that it disappeared.

Please respond.

[Intercepted by FSA special forces before covert operatives counter-intercepted.]

Notice to the Fifty-Seventh Battalion

Due to continued sabotage of military operations in Manhattan, raiding the subway without discrimination and express permission from immediate superiors is now authorized. This is to ensure the strategic flexibility necessary in combating guerrilla tactics. In addition, the following must be taken into consideration when dealing with the underground partisans:...

7. If you are in a collapsing or otherwise failing building, exit immediately….

[(Abridged) copy obtained from FSA soldiers before being officially detained by AUFS forces.]

Chrysler Building Gone; Reasons Unknown

The Chrysler Building, one of New York City’s iconic skyscrapers, has disappeared at 6:07 AM today according to various sources from the Union and the Federated States, military and civilian. Both sides deny causing the building’s disappearance, also stating that they have not ascertained the disappearance’s cause.…

[The clipping is from Freedom News, a government-sponsored AUF publication.]

From: Edward Horngren

To: Jeremiah Valentine

I have checked every registry I have access to while licking the FSA’s boots so I don’t get killed doing your favors, though I am not sure whether they are your favors since everyone’s asking the same question these days.

Chrysler is just like the other buildings now: its records scrubbed off the shelves, the archives, even my encyclopedia. The last one is alarming: where the Chrysler Building would have had its own entry, it instead is replaced with more general information about the city.

The Fed States may be Draconian on information control, but this Chrysler censorship is beyond belief. Disappearing buildings and now disappearing mentions of them? Why? Perhaps it is a clean way of instilling fear compared to bombing the skyscraper, but that does not explain exactly how they got it down. It also aggravates New Yorkers because Chrysler’s part of their pride and glory; taking it out to get a rise out of the Union is a foolish move.

If you have an encyclopedia, I suggest you burn it. Might be a Fed plant with audio bugs and all.

[Found in the abandoned New York Public Library. Crisp condition indicates it has never been sent.]


[Gunshots fired. Incoherent orders are interpreted: split up to check resistance hideouts for survivors.]

Pvt. DAVID: Hey, you better get your mind off of her. Gotta accept she might be dead, ‘kay?

Pvt. WILLIAM: Hey, why don’t you keep it shut and get some hope?!

Pvt. DAVID: Choked on your coffee, eh? I got hope—hope we get out of here alive. If they’re dead, they’re dead. Feds are coming any moment and I don’t want to be left, you know….

[Footsteps. Doors opening in succession.]

Pvt. DAVID: Huh. This looks pretty bad. Makeshift bed, ransacked wardrobe—

Pvt. WILLIAM: It’s her room.

Pvt. DAVID: You’re crazy. I barely see this Charlotte woman here. You... barely know this place, man! How do you even know that she’s—?

[Footsteps. Crumpling noises.]

Pvt. WILLIAM: This one. I… I sent her these photos. She… she remembers me.

Pvt. DAVID: Of course, she does, ya’ dope! What next? You’ll be surprised I remember you even though I’ve been by your side for—

[Gunshots fired, muffled.]

Pvt. DAVID: Feds! Drop that pic and lob a grenade over there!


[A recorded (intercepted) conversation over radio frequencies.]

Resistance Area Section F: Standard residences just like the rest. Appears food and water is supplied via couriers despite considerable distance from the safer subway stations.

There is a door hidden down one of the carved-out tunnels. Tried opening it with standard explosives but it doesn’t bud

[Last few letters are jagged, indicating capture by FSA forces.]


The Union has lost ground and retreated back to the border of the Bronx. Reports indicate that this is due to indiscriminate execution towards civilians and resistance members on the part of the Federated States, up to and including usage of flamethrowers and air-borne chemical weapons.

In addition, more buildings have disappeared via unknown means. Confusion rocks the city for both soldiers and civilians as the cause remains a mystery….

[This newspaper clipping is from Next American Dawn Weekly, an AUFS publication.]


If you can find this, don’t let anyone else know. I can still communicate but I must not be seen. Last I heard, the Feddies are tightening their grip here. Can’t take any chances of being discovered where I am. If you must burn this letter, burn it.

All I can tell you is that Estate Zero have managed to tunnel deeper than the subway. They say that it would take multiple tank cannons to make a dent on the gates through here, so I am safe for now.


[This letter and other related correspondence have been found on William’s person intact and not burned.]

Dear Charlotte,

This is good news! You are alive, then? Yes, you are. Stupid of me to write that.

I am holding out here. Got one of the gas masks and managed to evade FSA notice spraying tear gas everywhere. Just regular patrol through the tunnels, though. Thought their slash-and-burn weapons eliminated all of you, huh? Hey, some of the resistance’s still up and at it too: I overheard FSA is mysteriously losing ammunition and weapons. Maybe that’s where your Estate guys get it from.

Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to your letters. I’ll be your extra eyes and ears on the surface, if you want. Stay chilly.

Hoping to see you soon,



I am alive and fine. It is refreshing to know a kindred soul up there. It is disappointing, however, how the Feddies use their weapons without any thought. That only shows their tyranny, their evil one-track minds.

I cannot divulge to you many details about what’s going on down here. I trust that you would burn this letter the moment you are done with it, but I have the duty to tell another soul the truth of the matter, especially since they trust me enough to not check my letters.

I don’t know what is Estate Zero. They are not preppers, but are from the Union government, they say. It explains their abundance of fresh weapons: I can tell that some of these are prototypes or fresh-hot models. They could be government agents, or they could be bad actors posing as government agents. The weapons might be smuggled, after all.

They’ve also enlisted me for a secret operation. What they’re grooming me for is a mystery, however: all I know is that they’ve burrowed more into this deep tunnel, and once I step in, I’ll go much deeper than anyone else has ever gone and right under the FSA’s nose. They’ve given me explosives to trust, to plant there—but why me? Why enlist one of us if they’re so competent that they can do it themselves? Is it because the enemy won’t tell I’m their enemy if they just looked at me in my civilian clothes? But they haven’t seen the Estate guys too, so the FSA wouldn’t recognize them as well.

All Keith Piper tells me—he is the leader of Estate Zero I mentioned before—is he’s chosen me for the job because I am the perfect candidate to uphold the Union. Somehow.

That is as far as I can tell. I hope that your ordeal is not as mysterious as mine. Maybe you already know what’s going on with the buildings in the city.


Dear Charlotte,

Fort Lee is gone. The FSA didn’t capture it. They’re as stunned as I am.

I looked out there while going behind enemy lines, across the river, trying to scout out some way to escape to friendly territory. George Washington Bridge just leads to nothing now. All of Fort Lee is gone. They’ve tried contacting the people there, but it’s all dead ends. Far as I know, they just disappeared too. I didn’t realize it then—what if there were people hiding in the buildings over here? Surely some soldiers must have been occupying Chrysler as a stakeout point or something.

Oveheard some Feddies talking. Said something about records not showing any Fort Lee in the archives or even the maps. I don’t think it’s an inside job from our side, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Psychological warfare is a thing, surely.

Also, isn’t Keith the guy who got drunk? Seems like trouble if you ask me. Maybe the Estate is not that good. You already have suspicions.

Truly yours,


Cnl. ADDISON: I don’t care what you think about Mr. Martin. He’s pretty much a dead man. Forget about him.

Pvt. DAVID: Look, he could still be out there—

Cnl. ADDISON: Now you’re just acting up like him too. And—why do people waste my time? We… are pulling out and waiting for further word from High Command, and… hold on, let me take this call.

[Fifteen seconds of silence. Sounds of a telephone being clunked down.]

Cnl. ADDISON: Well, we’re definitely not getting him out of there.

Pvt. DAVID: What?

Cnl. ADDISON: Heh. You get an advance word from me son: We are retreating. High Command thinks FS is about to pull something nasty.

Pvt. DAVID: But what about—?

Cnl. ADDISON: We are not risking a recon force and a potential WMD on Manhattan just to look for your friend! We are taking this to the diplomats and hope we don’t have millions of people dead by an artificial sun weapon! Do you understand?!

Pvt. DAVID: … y-yes, Colonel.

[Transcription of an intercepted phone call.]

From: Metanormal Division, Department of Defense

To: Keith Piper, Head of Estate Zero

Re: Breach of Security and Good Faith

The Division has discovered that you have kept a certain Charlotte under your possession for a long stretch of time. We advise you to make up your mind: either return her back to the upper levels of the subway (with the proper memory wiping procedures) or bring her under our home locale immediately. Confidential reports from unknown Estate Zero members reveal that you have been an unruly and unreasonable leader (with illiberal and unsustainable usage of standard-issue weapons) and that your judgment may be blinded by your alleged affection for Charlotte, legitimate or illegitimate.

Your actions are upsetting the balance in locale Cut House since said members report of buildings and surrounding areas vanishing. If the Division does not see this remedied, drastic action will be taken.

New York City Cut in Half! Southern Half Gone!

Photographic evidence from our journalists can’t lie! Half of Manhattan has disappeared into places unknown! This puts half of the FSA soldiers there as MIA, a status coveted by so many according to the people surviving the trek from the south to the north….

[This clipping is from The Populi, an AUFS tabloid.]

To those who may see this.

I will find Charlotte.

[Notice attached to the door leading to Estate Zero operation area, found by covert operatives.]

To Great Ma,

I hope you and little Peggie are doing alright back there. My apologies for not writing when I should have. Things were getting hectic down here. A bullet grazed my arm, but the medics patched it back up—should be gone in a few weeks.

Despite what the newspapers may say, the city’s somewhat okay and I’m doing fine. Got lucky, in hindsight: I was at Chrysler minutes before it disappeared. It is a miracle from God.

However, I’m afraid that whatever is causing the city to disappear might reach us. We are pulling out as I write. Consider this my last letter for a few weeks if you do not hear from me.

Remember William Martin from high school? The lovey-dovey guy? He’s effectively gone. I’ll write you more when I’m somewhere safer, but he’s trapped in Manhattan. Hope he gets out somehow. I know how much you remember him, coming to our house for homework and flirting sweet Azalea before she died.

One last thing: If you see nuclear news, get the neighbors to help you move all our belongings in the subterrestrial shelter pronto. Will see you there if that's the case.

With all my love,

David Foley.

From: Bill Huttle, (new) Head of Estate Zero

To: Metanormal Divison, Department of Defense

Re: Inter-locale Custody & Incident Disclosure (Cut House)

Attached herein is a detailed report of the fight from three hours ago along with context on the persons involved. In summary, the altercation has left William Martin in our custody, Charlotte remaining in custody until further notice, and Keith Piper ceremoniously stripped of his leadership and also in custody.

We request your direction concerning these persons. Any information we have not yet provided will be disclosed upon the Division’s request.

From: Metanormal Division, Department of Defense

To: Bill Huttle, Head of Estate Zero

Re: Inter-locale Custody & Incident Disclosure (Cut House)

Bring William and Charlotte together and let them meet in a controlled environment. Do not allow Keith Piper into the proceedings as it will cloud William’s emotional state.

If violence is threatened by any party, react with as much force as possible. Extreme force is authorized.

From: Bill Huttle, Head of Estate Zero

To: Metanormal Division, Department of Division

Re: Inter-locale Custody & Incident Disclosure (Cut House)

Keith Piper has escaped with Charlotte.

The proceedings went according to plan for the first five minutes. However, William kept insisting on seeing the “wife-stealer” Keith Piper. A fight broke out between William and Charlotte who insists that she has kept her fidelity and is appalled that he assumes she loves him to the point of death. Keith breached the interview room, took Charlotte, and evaded Estate forces through unknown means. Teleportation is not off limits as an escape method considering that some equipment is missing as well.

The Estate has sent William Martin out to be re-arranged and sent back (with a memory wipe) to the Union Army. According to our initial analyses, baseline reality in this locale would have the nuclear attack within the next seven days so most Estate Zero operatives would return by then.

Casualties from the incident: four injured, one dead.


A nuclear strike on New York City will commence on 0100, June 6. Evacuate the area immediately. Uncompliance is grounds for punitive operations….

[Copy of notice reproduced from covert operation reports.]

From: Metanormal Division, Department of Defense

To: All subdivisions related to Estate Zero

Effective immediately, Estate Zero—along with further forays into inter-universal intervention—have been forbidden by the Department of Defense due to the immense damage and escalation caused in the geopolitics of the recipient world (codenamed Cut House). Such inter-universal incursions have become a massive money sink, and Internal Affairs investigations reveal severe corruption and nepotism among Estate Zero staff, endangering the government’s budget on black projects.

Further investigations into Estate Zero’s operations will be conducted by a multi-department committee. All inquiries on the subject shall be redirected to said committee whose membership shall have been determined by and shall be revealed in the next notice.

End of appendix reached.

Where would you like to go?

> [Operation Second Sun: Premise]

> Operation Second Sun: Complete Appendix (Requires Presidential Clearance)

> Return to List of Metanormal Division Operations Under Category: Code White

Premise: Operation Second Sun is a covert operation which occurred from April 4 to June 6, 2057. It involved the United States’ first and so far only intervention into foreign parallel universes. The results were disastrous: escalated tensions in the target universe and potential nuclear holocaust along with the folding of Estate Zero—a provisional subdivision of the Metanormal Divison—created with the intent to expand into a CIA-esque organization handling intelligence and, if necessary, regulated interventions into alternate universes as well as diplomacy with political entities involving multiple such universes.

The universe chosen—intervened in their local dates from April 4 to June 6, 1988—was designated Cut House because of the most notable divergence from our universe (referred to as Locale Omega): The United States of America descended into a second Civil War during the events of World War I, splitting into a communist Federate States of America in the south and a reactionary American Union of Free States in the north which—according to timeline scanners and in the event of no intervention—would become a fascist dictatorship in 1995. Other notable divergences as of local time 1988 include:

- a third Civil War ongoing as of said date

- four World Wars instead of two

- returns to monarchy for France and Russia

- a communist Japanese confederation covering far-eastern Siberia

- an Inter-Africa Alliance with federal powers not unlike that of Locale Omega’s European Union.

What would you like to access?

> Further information on Operation Second Sun

> Further information on Timeline Cut House

> Operation Second Sun: Appendix (accessed once in this visit)

> [Exit]

To whom it may concern,

My name is Charlotte Porters, daughter of Roswell Porters and Mary Bremer. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, American Union of Free States. Survivor of the Vast War, which you may know as the Third Civil War in the universe you call Locale Cut House.

If you are reading this, you already know who I am: the girl who’s out of this world, the one you’ve always treated kindly with my false identity as Thea Daisies. It has been more than a decade since I’ve entered this world although I did not know that at first. Your memory wipers were effective until they weren’t, although I spent the better part of eleven years figuring out what to do, getting used to this new world before acting on higher matters.

After I expressed knowledge of my true self, my custodians have told me that, as far as they know and can reasonably assume, the America I remember is long gone, dead in nuclear war. That may be true. That may be not.

Nevertheless, living here with nothing to fight for, effectively leaving my homeland behind, does not sit well with my soul. It is good to know that your America is very free, the fulfillment of my ambitions and dreams.

Still, it is not the America I fought for. It is a slap to my face: to suffer for a glorious victory, only to be yanked into a peace I do not deserve. You may call me ungrateful or a fanatic ideologue, but I have contributed nothing to the peace of your fair and prosperous nation. Even though you have assigned me to uphold democratic efforts and movements in other less fortunate countries (and I am proud of such efforts), I fulfilled my duties to this America with a sense of hollowness.

I have secured the trust of several researchers and agents to discover an entry point back into my universe and send me home. Will I be sent back to a nuclear wasteland? Most likely. Would it otherwise be a deadly dystopia? Most probably. But there is always the off-chance it is not a nuclear wasteland nor a dystopia, and I would rather take that chance than to stay here with infinite regrets and what-if’s.

You may believe that this is a stupid idea, to reveal all things right now. However, by the time you see this message and send the National Guard or whoever after me, I’ll be long gone and the machine that we have invented will self-destruct minutes after my leave. Besides, it’s easier to fuel one-ways than round trips, something true for both worlds.

Yes, you may remain confused as to why I do this.

I do this because I have a duty to the American Union. It saddens me that the America I know and love was either in a communist dumpster fire or secretly descending into a nightmarish terror state not unlike that of Joseph Goebbels or Oswald Mosley.

In spite of these failings, I am married to the Union, the Union I envision in my idealistic dreams. To divorce merely because the going is becoming tough or the unmarried suitor I am chained to, the unmarried America I was brought into unwillingly, promises me fulfillment of all my carnal desires—to divorce is blasphemy. That is why, though I’ve had fleeting feelings and indeed a genuine love for dear William Martin, I could not commit to him because I set my sights toward a higher purpose. (And before you ask, I have disposed of Keith Piper. Needless to say, you will not find him in any decent place anymore.)

With the above considered, I will not let the United States prevent me from fulfilling my duty.

God bless America, both mine and yours.


Send following message to ALL selected modified terminals? Warning: Misuse of the terminal messaging system is in violation of the Metanormal Division’s Code of Conduct and will result in disciplinary measures.

> [Y]

> N
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#1 ·
In which foreign relations reach the next level.

There are quite a few errors here and there, notably the periods at the end of the letters and then resurrecting Sergeant Major Adam Montgomery into a First Lieutenant on the other side of the war—which makes the whole official/professional format of the story being discovered in some terminal computer (Fallout style?) somewhat unbelievable.

William also comes off as too jerkish for Charlotte to love. It was alright when he was a clueless lover, but his final appearance with him in the room with Charlotte gives off creepy vibes. Or maybe I'm reading too much into this, but still.

Also, the payoff seems muddied. We get the reveal on what's actually going on (the reveal of Operation Second Sun), but it makes the other threads going on in the story seem irrelevant and useless. A mystery fic where it baits and switches here and there is good if the red herrings are few and far between, but I think the story borders on having one red herring too many.

All that aside, this is a good fic in terms of ideas and I can't fault the writer for being creative by restricting himself into just writing through discovered media. The ability to tackle the sheer variety of voices in this fic (especially when you contrast the dry Metanormal Divison correspondence with that sappy love letter from William) is no easy feat and I think you've managed to hit the mark almost all the time. Worldbuilding-wise, it's good enough: didn't flood us with too many incessant details; just gave the reader enough details to know this isn't exactly Earth and to be immersed in some of the flavor. And the moral(?) of duty as well with that final letter from Charlotte... yes, that too.

Overall, a great story about being out of this world!
#2 · 1
· · >>Comma Typer
So I think the key issue with the story here is that the two narratives don't really play nice with each other within the context of the story. The character story ends up going underdeveloped because our view is so far removed from the characters (and served out between a lot of metastory) and the metastory doesn't end up functioning because we are kept in a little too close to every get a solid enough understanding of what's going on to really invest in the stakes.

I think both story ideas are solid in and of themselves, but I think together, in this format, they actively detract from each other. A really solid example of this is the entire ending. We don't really understand Charlotte's emotional stakes (we're told she's a patriot, but we don't really have an opportunity to understand why), so her decision at the end feels somewhat hollow - especially because we understand very little of what she's gone through. What we do understand of what she's gone through actually paints a picture of a woman who has been abused substantially and should, by all rights, be very, very angry.

I think the main thing you really want to change here is you want to focus in on the story you actually want to tell: is this a story about a parallel world interfering in a war or is it a story about one woman's personal journey through that? You can have both elements (although in a more unusual narrative like this it is going to be a bit harder), but you need to understand what your real goal is so that you can provide a satisfying resolution to that narrative.

I want to really hammer it home with the conclusion of the story. It really doesn't at all follow with the narrative we are provided. The first character we actually get a view from is William (which sets up the expectation that he is actually the primary character), and, in fact, perspective (as it is) is pretty heavily channeled through him given Charlotte disappears part way through the narrative. And (I'll double check this when I get more to the in-line reading stuff) it feels like the majority of notes are not directly about their personal journeys, but are more about building the meta narrative. So it is very jarring to suddenly have this deeply personal resolution.

I haven’t chatted about the ever popular MICE quotient, so let’s do it here. Obviously writing rules can be broken, but I generally approve of the MICE idea and I think it effectively demonstrates here. Basically, there are 4 main types of story: milieu (a story about a world), idea (a story about an idea), character (a story about… well you get the idea), and event (a story about a thing happening). It’s basically “what is the focus of the story that is being told.”

Now obviously stories can be composed of all these things. Most larger narratives are gonna feature more than one. And that is where nesting MICE comes in. See, you want to have you story resolve in a roughly first in, last out order. Like, this is a sloppy example, but Disney’s Hercules (my child has watched this a lot recently) I’d say, in quick fashion, is a character and event story. The character is about Hercules, the event is Hades trying to do evil shit.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get a bit more specific. The story opens by presenting us Hercules and his life, establishing that this story is primarily about him. It then proceeds to move us into Hades’ plot, establishing the villainous plot. Now, we fast forward and the climax of the villainous plot is then the one to occur with Hercules stopping the Titans, and then the character plot resolves with Hercules becoming a true hero. And it feels good because the primary plot we established was “this is a story about a person” as the biggest idea. Imagine if we resolved Hercules’ internal character conflict earlier in the plot, then dealt with the hades plot. It would feel a bit… limp. Because we were communicated that the main focus of the story was Hercules himself, with a secondary focus on the villain plot, because that’s the order information was presented to us.

So the point I wanted to make with all that rambling was this story sort of trips itself up in three big ways. One, it ostensibly opens as a milieu story (what little we can derive from the actual opening lings positions it as sorta being about the world because that is the only info we have) but ends as a character story, two, it ends as a character story but doesn’t really take us on a journey to get there (not only does Charlotte not change, develop, or really do anything within the context of the story, but we also don’t really see it happen even if you want to argue it does), and three, it unexpectedly swaps characters on us for no real gain by setting us up to believe that William is the protagonist but concluding with Charlotte.

Whew. Anyway. Onto a more detailed look at individual scenes.

Your opening lines are actually a bit of an anti-hook. They do establish some minor things, but the fact that they are basically just me looking at a computer screen in a white room that is providing me with some fairly generic stuff immediately sets me into skimming mode. Ideally we should actually frame Charlotte here, properly establishing her as a primary character. We don’t need to name her, detail her, or anything, we just need to frame it so that she exists, is clearly our primary protagonist, and present some sort of emotional stake that we can key into with that ending. We can let the letters provide the context that leads from opening to ending, making her identity a reveal in that way.

This also cleans up the issue a bit with leading with William’s letter, since now we’ve established our true protagonist, and this instead lets you set up for the subversion to be clearer where you present it as a war romance but instead it is about her lover of her country.

That said, it might still be worth leading with like, the New York City Occupied article with some slight expansions (or just rolling more of that info into William’s letter). There really isn’t much to be gained from obscuring a lot of the basic facts here (who the war is between, what the time period is, etc). It’s clear that it is an alternate timeline (or at least unlikely to be near future) and I don’t think the doling out of those facts adds much.

Like, initially the language provided, the style of letter, ane “North” stuff, etc, instead makes me think this is like, closer to the Civil War or somewhere between. And I just don’t see what the slow roll out of that adds aside from forcing me to reevaluate my mental images.

Oh. And how the hell William and Charlotte come into contact is something that just… never really makes sense to me? Like I sorta get the gist that his unit gets a letter from her, he responds, etc, but all in all it kinda ends up feeling weird because how casually and easily these letters seem to reach each other kinda creates a much less urgent air? I suppose this helps ramp the stakes later, but it does feel weird.

Language is kinda wild in this. The diction puts me in mind of WW2 letters, but the language is often pretty modern. Maybe too modern for the actual timeframe of the story? But I might be wrong there. It just feels like some of the slang and color is more at home in 2020 than 1980.

Sending letters with information like “we’ve joined with a bunch of preppers” feels a bit like a bad idea. To a similar degree, her mentioning that the courier has more info in a separate note also feels a bit weird, sine our private doesn’t really need to know that, does he? This kinda gets acknowledged in a letter or two, but I don’t think it solves the concern.

The introduction of the mysterious building levelling is a problem because, as this subplot grows, it kinda gets more confusing and I feel there is never a satisfactory answer for it? We’ll see when I get back to it, but the combination of the increasing mysteriousness (half of New York gone!) is kinda undercut by the fact that I’m never really sure what it actually means. Like, it’s too mysterious in that I don’t even understand what’s happening in the broadest terms, let alone the secret background explanation.

That said, at this point you’ve pretty reasonably established the overall stakes and players, filled out some motivations, etc. That’s a really good thing! Despite the more unusual formatting, you’ve gotten us to the key information with solid speed and each letter has been important for forwarding the plot. It’s a great use of your format.

It occurs to me that the timeframe for this story is a bit odd. Like, the nature of letters means these are probably getting spaced out, but William seems to take forever to do anything.

The letter about the scuffle works fine in the moment, but it actually feels a bit like a cheat in retrospect? Like, is Estate Zero really so bad at their job that they managed to start a brawl because they didn’t think someone would be curious about the newer tech they were bringing out?

The pronouncement of love is a bit… awkward. Even in terms of it being an immature and brash declaration, the skipped irrelevant letters feel really important here to better establish where this comes from – even if it is just a crush. I dunno. This might just be personal though.

Also, some of the notes are odd. Is this the computer informing that intel gathering efforts in the area increased? Seriously though, personal letters being sent this way seems really iffy. Like, you’re really risking courier lives and getting followed to hidden areas for this stuff?

The old USA reference is actually a pretty clever hint. Though it muddies the timeline further in that I was under the impression the split was somewhat recent, so referring to the old USA wouldn’t be that weird?

I also feel like I must say that I stand corrected and the early half is waaaaay more letter heavy than I remembered.

The Sergeant Major Adam Montgomery note is a weird one and I’m not sure what to make of it aside from portraying William’s obsession as escalating dangerously? Because I’m seriously not sure why he is interrogating a crystal ball reader at gunpoint. Like, it doesn’t feel like we have the build up to this, especially since Andrew refusing to send messages (which might be an additional trigger instead of just one intercepted letter) is the next scene.

Andrew’s response here feels really late here, but I mentioned that above.

It looks like this is why I misremembered the letter ratio: this is where they kinda disappear. And not just the letters either. William and Charlotte kinda disappear from the narrative for a while, which doesn’t work when, at its heart, this is a character story.

This was something that bugged me a lot. The initial implication with the apartment building was that it was destroyed, but now we are talking “vanished” buildings. And what that actually means is important. Like, is it just an empty plot of land? Ruins? Etc? This problem gets way worse later with the more extreme disappearances because I, the reader, don’t understand what I’m supposed to be confused about, if that makes sense.

The intercepted conversation feels a bit forced, largely because David kinda oscillates between being sick of William’s shit and humoring him.

I stand corrected again. We are back to letters. My memory sucks. Though how these letters are happening is a bit of a question mark.

So travelling down, the reveal of Keith’s stuff here is a little awkward, because we get no real view of him. The fact that he is essentially as important as William (arguably moreso to the metaplot) but we get this kinda out of nowhere “stop crushing on Charlotte, dude” letter kinda jarrs the shape of information. In a way that I don’t think works.

And I think this is really emblematic of why this format doesn’t work with the character story here. We have essentially skipped a lot of character information in reaching the delivery of this information: why William is so obsessed, why he goes AWOL to find Charlotte when it doesn’t seem like he needs to, how he finds her, etc, plus anything about Keith, what Charlotte has been doing, etc. And the issue just sort of expands as it continues. Why the hell is Estate Zero letting them see each other. How has Keith so easily evaded the estate. Why Charlotte is saying anything about keeping fidelity when she hasn’t expressed anything back. Etc. basically it gets TOO involved in the character minutiae for the format to keep up with.

So the full reveal occurs and… it sorta leave a lot of questions to be answered? Like we can write a lot off by “the organization is incompetent,” but even then, there are questions like: why? How did they break things so badly? Etc. I also feel like the timeline scanner statement kinda breaks things, because wouldn’t they be better able to predict outcomes with that? It also kinda removes a lot of meaning from the actions of the characters because, essentially, they have been robbed of agency by a larger and more powerful force that they have no impact on. Hell, William doesn’t get any real resolution to anything, getting memory wiped, shoved out, and… ??? I mean, presumably dead by nuke, but for a character who was sorta set as our protagonist, it is a real non answer.

Oh, and the missing buildings are never explained. I assume it is timey wimey, but you really can’t present that as a real mystery and then not provide some sort of definitive answer.

And then we hit the end and… it is kind of a messy in terms of Charlotte. Like, honestly, the entire plot represents a pretty severe violation of her personhood. She is manipulated, kidnapped, brainwashed, etc and she comes off as very… casual about it? Even kind of positive. Yet at the same time she so badly wants to go back to… what is probably a nuclear hellscape? And she romanticizes this in a way that just doesn’t feel like it connects. She is more a symbol than a character in a lot of ways, and it is no more apparent here where nothing about her choices really feels like it adds up. And maybe you could get there, but we lack the character work to do it.

So, returning to the beginning, my opinion remains largely unchanged. I think you’ve got two excellent story ideas here, but you really need to focus in on one of them.
#3 · 1
· · >>Comma Typer
I wish to string along with Andrew here; the leaping back and forth seemed to sap the energy from the fic rather than enhance it. I haven't anything else to add. Good luck, Author, and see you next time!
#4 ·

I agree with pretty much everything said in the reviews (or, rather, the one long review and the one short one here).

I think clutching onto a gimmick for too long did it in for this story. I was inspired with the clinical form and discovered media that the SCP Foundation uses a lot in their fiction, and I tried to replicate that here—except, having never even attempted writing an SCP article before, I think I got Dunning-Krugered a lot here. That, coupled with having a Turtledove book in my collection and wanting to worldbuild, made me get sidetracked by a lot of things that I ended up losing focus on what the theme of the story should be—or wo or what I'm even supposed to be writing about in the first place.

Needless to say, this is definitely not my best piece of work: but at least I did it and can lean from it.

Thank you for the feedback you've given and for giving this story a shot. I'll learn from it and hope to do better!