“Mark. Your beef isn’t with Hugh. It’s with me, isn’t it?” Mark flinched, but said nothing. “Look, I don’t know anything. I was just running my mouth. But you already knew that, right? There’s so much beauty and wisdom to the scriptures, I’m sure there’s got to be something to it all.” He looked confused, then suddenly angry. “Do you really think that’s going to cut it? That you could come here, sweet talk me and I’d join your herd of obedient statist drones?”
It was unclear what he meant by that. Andrew realized Mark hadn’t yet seen them vote, and in his mind there was no other possible structure than the one he’d forced on the second group. Anything seemingly different was, to him, some sort of ruse. “Look, we’re scared. You’ve got us where you want. Just tell me what you’re after.”
He subtly straightened his posture and puffed out his chest, then began listing demands. “You’ve built some nice shelters. We’ll be moving into those. Your people can even stay if they build their own additional shelters, but not you. You’ll be banished like I was.” Of course he’d actually banished himself, but it was hardly the time to say so. “Why not let us help you build your own?”
This didn’t satisfy him. “Yours are next to the only bathrooms.” For the first time Andrew noticed the various buckets lined up along one of the shelving units and surmised what they were for. That made sense of the stench, at least. Andrew sighed. “We can’t just give you our homes. Isn’t there something else I could do to make things right with you?”
Mark mulled it over. Then narrowed his eyes and smiled. “Kneel before me, and confess.” Andrew puzzled over that until he clarified his meaning. “Confess what you already know to be true, deep down. That Christ is Lord, and all man made governments are corrupt.”
With a new avenue now open to him, Andrew didn’t hesitate, falling to his knees and saying what he desperately hoped would do the trick. “Truly, I renounce my allegiance to Earthly government, and affirm from the bottom of my heart that Jesus died for our sins and was the son of God.” Mark appeared profoundly satisfied
Then, the woman in the hijab called out from behind: “…And Muhammad was his final prophet!” Mark abruptly pivoted and shouted at her. “NO! Muhammad was a fraud and a pervert, misled by demons!” Khayrah steeled herself and set to arguing. “If you mean because he married Aisha when she was young, where in the Bible are such unions forbidden? Did not God come unto Mary and make her heavy with child when she was but fifteen?”
Mark sputtered indignantly, creating an opening for Khayrah to press on. “And it is written in the holy Qur’an that when Muhammad pointed to the Moon, it split in half! How can you explain that unless he was a true prophet of God?”
Mark now found room to get a word in. “Of course it says that in a book written by followers of Muhammad for the purpose of convincing people to become Muslims! None of that ever actually happened!”
Khayrah looked wounded and increasingly angry. “Oh, but Jesus walked on water? And multiplied bread and fishes, and healed the sick?” Mark snapped back that of course he did those things, as it says so right in the Bible.
“What, then, of the fulfilled prophecies?” Mark laughed. “Simple tricks! Most were recorded long after the fact as having been fulfilled. I can do that too! Say I were to tell you that ten years ago I predicted we’d wind up in this PriceCo. Am I a prophet? The rest are all stuff that’s vague enough to be true in any era.” Khayra asked if that was not also true of the prophecies in the Bible. Mark scowled, then insisted that was completely different.
While they were distracted, Andrew snuck up to Hugh and untied his bonds, gesturing to the second group not to alert Mark of it. He soon noticed they were all staring at something and turned to see a freed Hugh standing among Andrew and the rest. “As ever!” he cried, rage boiling over. “The God hater and the raghead conspire against me! How fucking surprising!”
There’d been no such collusion, but again, it wasn’t the time to say so. Mark seemed ready to throw himself at Andrew for a moment, but after sizing up the first group he instead ran off into the vast maze of shelving towers leaving the second group frightened and bewildered. “We had nothing to do with it! He took your man on his own!”
Khayrah pleaded for forgiveness but was quickly assured by Sarah that they knew full well who was to blame. “He must’ve told you all sorts of terrible things about us.” She nodded, relating that he’d claimed they were cannibals. Sarah joked that veganism precludes cannibalism. Andrew then chimed in. “If it ever comes down to that, I know who I’m eating first.”
With the ice broken, the second group rapidly integrated with the first. Aside from Khayra, there was Ernesto, Wanda, Natasha, Jordyn, Ralph and Domingo. With tensions now defused, they were all welcomed to come join the settlement and begin constructing their own shelters. “What about Mark?” Khayra inquired. “Fuck him, let him go stew on his own” Sarah said. “We have more than enough people now, it’s no great loss.”
With everyone assembled, Andrew presented the folders he’d found. Stunned silence followed his recitation of the research log. “So it wasn’t demons after all. Some kind of twisted science experiment.” Fran objected that it could still be demons, just ones who perform experiments on people. “No, not demons I think” offered Khayra. “Perhaps Jinn. They are known tricksters.”
Fran laughed. “Jinn? Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no such thing. It was obviously demons.” Just as the two seemed on the verge of fighting, Andrew stepped in. “Could be both. Demons and Jinn! Betting on what happens to us. Or neither! Is that really important? We just barely avoided being pit against each other. Let’s not do it to ourselves.”
It proved effective. Andrew felt pleased with himself. Ever since the stairwell he’d been trying to work out how things went sour with Mark, and how to prevent reoccurrence. It seemed like everybody’s got some sort of personal indulgence that they want validated. Something they know is a trespass, either against rationality, social norms, or some other establishment. Some aspect of the world intimidates, injures or humiliates them, so they seek refuge in denial of it.
If you submit to their desire for validation, you become a wonderful person in their eyes. One of the good ones. Somebody who “gets it”. If you don’t, you’re just another one of the ‘sheeple’. Monsters, kuffar, muggles, heretics, statists, shitlords or whatever else.
That small concession, to step into their fantasy and live it with them if only for a moment, is how you signal to them that you’re on their side. That you mean them no harm and unreservedly accept them, idiosyncracies included. A principle Andrew suspected must be intuitively obvious to everyone else, but which he was only now discovering.
“The way I see it”, he continued, “We could give up and try to make a go of it in here. But now we know how that turns out. I dunno about you but that’s not how I want to spend the rest of my life. Gorging on processed foods, living in a shelving tower, growing fat and disaffected. They’ve given us too much, knowing it will destroy us. That we’ll destroy ourselves.”
The rest nodded in silent agreement. “Or, we could focus all our resources on breaking through the barrier. There’s enough of us now that if we really got serious about it, we could be through in a year, maybe less. That’s what I vote for. I’m not a rat in a maze, for some sicko playing God to gawk at. Alone or with help, I’m getting the fuck out of here!”
Ernesto, Hugh, Ralph and Domingo shouted excitedly, some thumping their chests. Jordyn, Khayra and the rest cheered. There was a vote anyway, as many in the original group had grown accustomed to it. At first, it was proposed that everyone take a shift hammering at the wall. “That’s problematic” Melissa griped. “The men are more muscular and can keep at it longer without tiring out.”
Andrew asked if this meant that some people perform more or less effectively at certain tasks than others. She scowled and said something about socially constructed expectations causing men to exercise more. “I don’t want more work just because I stay in shape” Ernesto complained. “How can you call that fair? Fairness is when everybody gets treated the same.”
Melissa disagreed, defining fairness as everyone being assigned as much work as they can handle, and receiving as much as they need. Domingo pointed out that there’s a difference between fairness and justice.
“It doesn’t sound just to me either though. That would be everybody doing as much as they can, and receiving a proportional reward. If we all get the same reward but some of us have to work much harder, why should we?”
Stay Tuned for Part 7!