Chapter One

A Very Intriguing And Mysterious Beginning

General Patton gave his order, and it was followed down to the last detail. Three eggs sunny side up, three pieces of raisin toast (warm but not crunchy), and a tall glass of orange juice. As the waitress returned from the kitchen with his meal, she felt so emboldened by his presence that she feared no grisly death by the bullet of a sniper or the bayonet of a flanking infantryman. Patton had that effect on people, as he had only recently come to realize.

It began with a phone call Patton received one month earlier as he sat down to alphabetize his extensive list of failures, missed opportunities and dashed dreams. The call came from a telemarketer who barely waited until the phone had been picked up before launching into her scripted explanation of how Patton could save money by buying magazine subscriptions, long distance phone service, cable television, and ham all in one package from the company she represented. Patton's meek "erm"s and "excuse me"s didn't slow the woman's diatribe for even a fraction of a second, so he did the unthinkable.

"I'm not interested," Patton had said around a considerable lump in his throat, "please don't call this number again."

After a moment's pause, the woman had replied, "I'm sorry to have bothered you sir. We won't call your household anymore."

At that moment Patton realized that he possessed a dark and limitless power.

By simply asking, he could make anyone do what he wanted without question or regret. In the days that followed he was given a house, car, and more cash than he could spend by total strangers who were all too happy to oblige. He supposed the power had been there all along, not presenting itself because he had simply been too timid to ask other people for anything, much less tell them what to do. Perhaps it was some sort of cosmic gift, an apology for being brought into this universe with a horrible first name like "General".

Patton pushed the remains of his egg and toast breakfast to the side, then flicked the cap off his trusty marker with his thumb, revealing a fat tip dripping with blood-red ink. He then opened the Sports section of his morning paper and laid it on the table before him, carefully drawing an ominous circle around a photograph of a smiling Ben Roethlisberger.

He knew what had to be done.

Something else on the page caught his eye. Patton drew a second ominous circle, this one around an advertisement for Bed, Bath & Beyond. Half-off sale. Everything in the store. Sweet.

He knew what had to be done after he did the other thing.

______

Our Lady Of The Immaculate Reception was the first quad-religion church established in Pittsburgh. Followers of the only religions that were 100% correct in their teachings (Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Wicca) came together in harmony each week, attending dueling services performed by four separate holy men at the exact same time.

Each service began with the four men delivering their sermons in clear but respectably soft tones. As the minutes ticked by, however, one of them would inevitably attempt to gain an advantage by speaking louder than his rivals, spurring the others to glance at one another sideways and raise their own volumes. This escalated until the final half hour of each service became a jumble of unintelligible screams that might have been about forgiveness, Mohammed, or how to check the oil in your car.

The entire experience was unique and wonderful, and it lasted nearly three whole weeks before a Wiccan priest beat an Islamic cleric to death with a communion goblet halfway through a service. In the moments following that horrible act, a silence fell over the church. With no competition to drown out his message, the Rabbi saw his chance to win over the audience with words of wisdom. He took one nervous step toward the sea of shocked faces looking for guidance, cleared his throat, then blurted out, "Be excellent to each other."

One day later, the church was boarded up and abandoned.

Three years later, a very mysterious man with no memory woke up in one of the church's pews. His head swimming, he slowly sat up and surveyed his surroundings. Moonlight illuminated the entire church, revealing a thick layer of dust that blanketed the entire building. It appeared as though no one had been here for years. The mysterious man peered downward and was surprised to find no footprints in the dust surrounding his pew, or anywhere for that matter. How had he gotten there?

The building's four entrances were topped by elaborate stained-glass windows. Each of these windows featured a figure with a jigsaw puzzle piece for a head. Was it some sort of puzzle? The mysterious man noticed a bronze key affixed to the hand of one of the figures. Was it some sort of key? Man, this place was mysterious.

The mysterious man didn't know who he was, but as he rubbed his forehead he felt a rather large and mysterious scar. Perhaps it was a clue. Perhaps the briefcase in his lap was a clue. Inside he found $50,000 in cash and a handgun. What was it for? Where had it come from?

Just then a second mysterious man rose from beneath one of the church's four altars, where he had also been laying unconscious. His scar was much larger than the first mysterious man's scar. It ran from the corner of his eye all the way down to his shin, which was way more mysterious. Not only did he not know who he was, but he had no idea what year it was. His suitcase contained three million dollars and a bazooka.

The two mysterious men eyed one another cautiously before the more mysterious man broke the silence.

"I don't know what's going on here, but I feel as if this has all happened once before. Long ago. Only... on Mars."

He looked up thoughtfully at Mars through the church's expansive sunroof (which had been installed as part of an ages old Catholic tradition), and at that very moment the red planet exploded. Was it somehow related?

A beautiful woman with red hair staggered into the room from some unseen doorway, a knife buried in her back. The mysterious men rushed to help her, but she was beyond aid. With her final breath, she whispered "It's hidden... beneath the church. In the catacombs..."

"Look", said the less mysterious man. "Pinned to her back by the blade, there's a note."

The note read:

:edoc noitavitcaed eht dnif ot elddir siht evloS
? = 2 + 2

"What does it mean?", asked the more mysterious man. "It looks like it's Japanese or something."

""I don't know," replied the less mysterious man, "but something tells me we'd better hurry up and find out!"

A very large bomb which had been resting on one of the altars began to tick, an lcd panel on its front flashing "PLEASE ENTER DEACTIVATION CODE" in bright red letters. What sort of cryptic message was that? A second lcd displayed "0:05" then "0:04" one second later. What did those numbers mean? Was there some sort of hidden pattern?

– Dennis "Corin Tucker's Stalker" Farrell

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