“You’re saying some people compete less effectively. That’s fucking problematic and gross as shit. Everybody performs identically if the playing field is level, so if there’s a difference in outcome, it can only be due to white men interfering somewhere. You racist motherfuckers are sneaky as shit. Don’t come at me saying anybody can be racist either, guys like you invented the practice.”
There was so much wrong with it that untangling the mess seemed Sisyphean to Andrew. So he just quietly nodded, then asked what words he was meant to say. Something about how he was born guilty due to ancestral transgressions, but could be redeemed by acknowledging his fallen state. Aspects of it felt eerily familiar.
But as their numbers were few and every pair of hands was sorely needed, he went along with it in the interest of securing Melissa’s cooperation. In the process, he realized he should’ve done the same with Mark earlier. Avoiding his “trigger”, as Melissa put it. The ordeal proved educational at least, leaving Andrew with fresh ideas for how to achieve a bloodless resolution.
Sarah and Jeffrey arrived as the lookout posts were just being completed. Andrew and Melissa met them at ground level. “We found some weird shit while collecting the axes.” Sarah produced a ring of keys. “These were in what I think was a janitorial closet. One of them says office. This place has offices in it?” It seems to have damn near everything else, Andrew thought.
He asked Jeffrey to go looking for the office with him, but was rebuffed. “I’ve done enough today. My ass is sore from the scooter seat. I’m gonna go up to my bunk and spent some quality time with mai waifu if you don’t mind. You’re a normalfag so I don’t expect you to understand”. Andrew raised his eyebrows. Normality was not a familiar accusation for him.
Hugh was eager to help and hadn’t found the chance yet, so Andrew brought him. He was loathe to place any burden on the old man but also saw that he was desperate to be useful. So he had Hugh drive the cart while he piled lamps into it. Questions about what they were meant for met with no response.
Finally they arrived at a utilitarian looking stairwell bearing a sign above the doorway which read “Employees only”. High above, a row of one-way mirrored windows punctuated the wall at two foot intervals.
After a short climb they found themselves before a locked door and set about working the rusty key carefully into the lock. “Would’ve been helpful if they’d taken better care of these” Andrew muttered, before wondering who “they” were in the first place.
The door swung open with a metallic creak, dust blown up from the floor now swirling about. The only light came from the windows. Flipping the switch by the door was no help, the bulbs were apparently burnt out. Rummaging around, he found only paperwork. All of it exactly as you’d expect from a bulk food store. Almost didn’t seem worth it to check the filing cabinets.
When he did, it took several readings to convince himself of what he’d found. Nothing about invoices, stocking schedules or employee benefits. Nothing remotely related to business. Instead, research records of some sort. Hidden in plain sight! What could it mean? He carried an armload of the manilla folders into the stairwell with him where there was more light to read by.
Log for attempt 4,093:
Provisions at 100%. Initial group of seven introduced to the habitat without incident. Socialization occurs, followed by frantic but fruitless searching for an exit. Group then organizes to procure survival necessities. Hierarchy begins to manifest.
One month in, provisions at 99%. Second group introduced. Now eight females and six males in total. Groups merge but later self-segregate by age, race, gender and ideology. Consistent enough with past attempts, the abundance removes most cause for conflict and thus smooths over their disputes. First childbirth occurs one year, three months in.
Two years in, the population is now 23. Provisions at 97%. Group cooperates to rear the children. Provisions are still ample. Group has given up on penetrating the barrier. Clear leadership established following a number of unsuccessful attempts to topple it.
Five years in, population is now 40. Provisions at 89%. Older children assist in tending to the younger ones. Section of the habitat now set aside for education, all available reading materials concentrated there. Another section set aside for medical treatment.
Ten years in, population is now 71. Provisions at 76%, mostly canned goods. Agriculture has begun as a means of replenishing the food supply but cannot support even the existing group.
Fifteen years in, population is now 126. Provisions at 54%. Baby boom resulted from second generation undergoing puberty. Some degree of social instability resulted. Nonetheless, provisions are still ample at 58%.
Twenty years in, population is 284. Provisions at 23%. In-fighting increasing as awareness of the accelerating rate of resource depletion grows. Only dried goods remain edible, along with agricultural products. Social aberrations such as increased general irritability, uncooperative behavior, sexual infidelity and crime have manifested.
Twenty five years in, population is 590, provisions at 8%. Aberrations have sharply increased. Females have become dominant, exhibiting remarkable aggression. Many have been observed terminating their own pregnancies in a bid to slow population growth. The males not able to successfully compete for females or defend territory have grown reclusive, focusing their energy on solitary pursuits such as hobbies, exercise and sexual self-gratification.
Thirty years in, population is now 44 having collapsed to only what agriculture will support. Provisions at 0%. Mass starvation and in-fighting has killed the rest. Population peak occurred at 612. Remaining specimens are psychologically and sexually maladjusted, indulging in elaborate delusions as a probable coping mechanism. Malnourishment has largely been remedied by the population decrease, but there have been no new births since then.
Thirty five years in, population is now 12. Provisions at 0%. Most common cause of death at this stage is suicide. Efforts to understand why this outcome always occurs are ongoing. Most simply stop eating, sleep most of the time and show no interest whatsoever in the opposite sex. Several have self-mutilated or tried to mutilate others. A non-trivial number of deaths were due to infection following the consumption of feces or sex with the deceased.
Forty years in, population is now 0. Provisions at 0%. Final two survivors leapt together from a shelving tower, fracturing their necks on impact. Speculation as to why a stable microcosm continues to elude us continues, this latest failure reinforcing the popular view that success is impossible. My own opinion is that this conclusion is premature. Work on resetting and restocking the habitat has begun.
Andrew flipped through the rest of the pages, but there was nothing more revealing. Just detailed accounts of individual behavior, descriptions of the process for resupplying the “habitat” with “provisions” and so on. He stared at the pages, mind racing, trying to make sense of it all. Who would do this to people?
The other group should know about it. Soon after that realization struck him, he heard Hugh cry out. Andrew descended the stairs in a flash, finding only the mobility scooter loaded up with lamps. No. No, no no no. FUCK! Had to be Mark. Who else? Rather than go alone, he first returned to the shelters to alert the others.
“They took Hugh? We have to go after them!” Sarah’s impassioned directive was met with agreement from Andrew, but caution and anxiety from the rest. “If we just charge in there, they might kill him. They took a hostage, so they must want something from us.”
After an informal vote, it was decided they’d go as a group after all. Mark’s group had already turned away Fran, everyone agreed Andrew would only piss off Mark if he went alone, and nobody else wanted to go unaccompanied. When they arrived, only Mark looked happy about it. Hugh sat before him bound and gagged.
“Let him go, Mark.” Sarah advanced on him resolutely. He blocked her way, brandishing a spear he’d fashioned by sharpening a mop handle. The second group cowered behind him, looking unsure of what to do. Andrew’s thoughts about all of this, having percolated until now, finally coalesced into a plan.
Stay Tuned for Part 6!