Revenants in Warfare, by Matt Mitrovich

An excerpt from the Introduction of Revenants in Warfare by Jorge Roman, Professor of History at Bradford College, Haverhill, Massachusetts, Commonwealth of New England

They work in our factories. They repair our roads. They mow our lawns. They do the work we avoid. They were friends, neighbors, grandparents, parents, siblings and spouses.

They are the dead.

Our society depends on their ceaseless toil and they are a common part of life, but we have forgotten their violent birth. We ignore what is underneath our feet. Deep underground an army of cryogenically preserved nightmares silently awaits the last argument of kings.

I have always been fascinated by the revenants among us. Knowing there is an afterlife, even if it is not what the mythologists predicted, is something we accept, but fail to understand. While there are volumes of material behind the science of death, little has been written on its history. The darker aspects are rarely covered and realizing this I took it upon myself to shed some light on a past most would like to forget.

This book begins at the dawn of human civilization. The original spell of reanimation, anachronistically referred to as the “Ishtar Incantation”, was first written down in ancient Mesopotamia. The myth of the original copies being made with human skin has been dispelled by modern historians by pointing out more readily available, and cheaper, materials.

For millennia the secrets of reanimation remained isolated in the dark corners of humanity. Occasionally some inept conjuror would perform the incantation without the proper precautions and unleash a minor outbreak. Some Norse gothi experimented with the incantation creating a draugr, a creature with increased strength, intelligence and could turn humans into them through bites.

Humanity realized the true nature of death when Toussaint Louverture, the first Lich King of Haiti, performed a revised version of the incantation. In 1802, with an army from Napoleon Bonaparte coming to restore French authority in Haiti, the then governor-for-life allied himself with a rogue houngan who experimented with the incantation in an unprecedented manner. With his help Louverture created an army of the dead which drove the French into the sea.

Europe reeled from this onslaught of “black magic”. Copies of the Ishtar Incantation found their way into the hands of those resisting European domination. Emperor Simon I of Gran Colombia used his hordes of undead to drive the Spanish out of the Americas. Lakota medicine men prevented further American expansion into the west with their “ghost dance”. The slave revolts which destroyed southern American society would not have been successful without the angry dead who carried out their master’s revenge for centuries of bondage.

Thanatology spread across the world. Governments fell, scapegoats were persecuted (Jews and witches mostly) and the mythologists preached a coming apocalypse. Nevertheless, even at the height of the Age of Terror, the brightest minds of 19th century Europe labored to discover the secret of the Ishtar Incantation.

These early thanatologist believed “magic” did not exist and a rational explanation could be found for “revenants”, the animated corpse from British folklore. They refused to use the popular name for the creatures, zonbi, since those who had torn their great empires asunder used the name. Not held to the rules and traditions of the mystics and mages, they pushed human understanding of death to its limits. Byproducts of their research helped advance our understanding of medicine and create life-extending procedures, but their true goal was to discover a scientific substitute to replace the incantation. Research into the draugr myth birthed a new type of revenant.

These “artificial” revenants were more violent than their more docile cousins. Once they solved the issues of control, a new generation of solider entered the battlefield, modified to make them better suited for battle against the shambling, decayed zonbis. Bayonet fingers ripped through flesh, hammer arms pulverized bones and walking cannons tore down walls of the rebels and usurpers. The short-lived golden age of magic came crashing down as the native empires crumbled underneath the boot heels of steel plated revenants. With the coronation of King Victor I of Britain in 1839, the Gothic Age had begun.

Nations continued to push revenant warfare to new heights in the late 19th century. Steel struts replaced fragile human bones to create frames to support larger guns. Sensor packages featuring wireless communications and miniature cameras replaced eyes. A thanatologist’s imagination was limited only by the raw material available.

Even with strict criminal codes, the supply of condemned criminals could not adequately feed demand. Previously dead were too decayed to be useful, except for suicidal drones packed with explosives. At the height of the Gothic Age, nations passed the “Final Breath” laws, giving the government ownership of the recently deceased. Although unpopular when introduced, even with exceptions for mythologists or those wealthy enough to afford the tax, any riot could easily be quelled with a battalion of war revenants.

As a new century dawned, a radical movement challenged the ruling aristocrats. Known as “cosmicism” and founded by Howard Lovecraft, it holds that humans are insignificant creatures in the greater scheme of the universe. Though denying the existence of a divine being, cosmicists believed unimaginably powerful forces existed, neither benign nor malevolent, and could wipe humanity out without remorse. Cosmicists felt the old morality of good vs. evil prevented individuals back from their full potential. Cosmicism found favor among the poor who lost work to surplus revenants who could work longer hours without pay, food and rest.

The Gothic Age ended in 1936 with the Great War. Popular unrest led to cosmicist governments coming to power in the United States and Prussia. The old order, fearful the blight of cosmicism would spread to their people, went to war to stop the spread of cosmicism. The Philadelphia-Berlin Axis, however, had prepared for the coming conflict with new, unforeseen weapons.

Rejecting the earlier divorce from magic, thanatologists in both nations combined the old mysticism with modern science. In the dark New England woods, scientists developed a new breed of revenant known as “corpse gods”. Newly dead bodies became as malleable as clay and shaped into giant forms and armed with claws, tentacles, wings and talons. In the ancient abodes belonging to the junker ruling elite, the Prussians developed an even more hideous weapon. They discovered how to take the energy needed to raise a revenant and store it for later use. Manufactured deities trampled armies of war revenants, while the most ancient cities of Europe disappeared in a blinding flash of light.

Though the Grand Alliance emerged victorious, the devastation wrought by these new weapons of mass destruction scarred the globe and humanity’s conscience. Meanwhile, some cosmisicists survived and remained a threat to civilization. The Sibiu Accords of 1946 halted thanatological research and weapons and required nations across the world to liquidate their armies. Empires crumbled without the war revenants necessary to keep the native population in check. The global community created sovereign havens for the decimated cultures harvested by the cosmicists to feed their creations.

The Technocratic Revolution of the 1960s ensured a well-ordered society led by those with the knowledge, expertise and skills to govern humanity. They rose to their rank based on merit and not by birth or ideology. Thanatologists diverted their attention to civilian uses of revenants, ranging from household servant and industrial workers, to deep sea miners and outer space probes. The United Technates, however, remained on the lookout for the hidden cosmicists.

To aid them in this quest, a new strain of revenant came into being known as “hounds”. The most intelligent and life-like revenant ever created, they would relentlessly hunt their target across the world and would not stop until it neutralized their target. Sadly these fearsome predators could not stop one cosmicist from uttering the Ishtar Incantation in 1968 near Pittsburg. Failure to contain the outbreak led to the collapse of the United States in 1978 and forced the United Technates to order the use of war revenants to contain the threat.

Even with the threat of zonbi outbreaks, most humans live in a near state of utopia. A peaceful army of revenants is tasked with making our lives as easy as possible, giving us the chance to pursue more noble quests. Yet we all must surrender to the inevitable. Rich or poor, strong or weak, genius or dunce, we all will serve in the pale legions. Meanwhile, snug securely in their vaults, the ultimate back-up plan waits if things fall apart. These beings are the parents of modern society and their contributions should not be forgotten.

~~

Matt Mitrovich is a long-time fan of alternate history, founder and editor ofAlternate History Weekly Update and a volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake’s MonthlyThe Masquerade Crew and his own writing blog. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@MattMitrovich).

Posted on October 29, 2012, in Issue 5: The Historical Undead and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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