[Short Story] The Living Word, Part 2

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Previous parts: 1

She fiddled with the remote, and the slide changed. It now depicted a pyramidic hierarchy, with one man at the top and many below. “He will claim that he is the only one who can save you from this catastrophe. But that you must sell your belongings. This is to render you financially dependent on the group so that you cannot leave it if you begin to experience doubts.”

Again, the slide changed. It now depicted a pair of attractive wide eyed twentysomethings sitting behind a table with strange devices of some sort on it, and a sign reading “free personality test!”

“He will also want you to cut off any family members who try to stop you from joining his group. Family constitutes the biggest barrier to recruitment, and is the most likely to try and extract you from it. He will say that he is your only father, that those who leave their jobs and families to follow him will be richly rewarded.”

The next slide depicted a man on a donkey. He dangled a carrot in front of the animal, while whipping it’s behind with a stick. “To motivate recruits to spread the information content of the virus to new hosts, he is likely to promise some sort of unverifiable reward if you are steadfast in your belief, and spread it to others.

Usually takes the form of a paradise after death where you are reunited with deceased loved ones, and whatever else you desire most. Of course dead men tell no tales, so the claim cannot be falsified.

Likewise, to deter you from ever leaving the group he will claim that doing so earns you a horrible, but also unverifiable punishment. Usually whatever you’re most afraid of. Fire, monsters, being trapped underground. Also after you die, of course.

This will make you afraid to seriously enterain doubts. You will perceive doubts as toxic. Tricks intended to deprive you of being with your deceased loved ones in an eternal paradise.”

The slide changed again. Some sort of wicked looking little horned satyr with a shovel was burying what looked to be a fossilized ammonite. “That brings us to the invisible trickster. This is a character invented to explain away contrary evidence. This leverages conspiratorial thinking to undermine doubt.

For example, how can you trust any evidence you might be shown which conflicts with the viral material? You were already warned that the invisible trickster would try such a ruse on you!

This is a sort of front-loaded countermeasure, to bias you against anything you might see, hear or read that would otherwise undermine belief.”

The pieces began falling into place. Everything about it was designed to make it spread as widely as possible, to persist for as long as possible and to fight removal attempts. The last slide was of a pre-war building I recognized as an implantation center, with some strange diorama in front of it.

A woman and man knelt before a crib, to either side of it. The crib was glowing, electrically illuminated from within. They were surrounded by animals. Other inset photographs showed bizarre paintings of a man with feminine features, clothed in a bathrobe or white sheet with a bright light behind his head. He held a stylized heart, wrapped in thorns, also glowing.

“Imagine what something like this could turn into, if it kept spreading long enough. It would endeavor to refocus as much of the host culture as possible onto itself. Books, movies, holidays, videogames, hospitals, schools, you name it.

It would embed itself as irreversibly as possible into the fabric of civilization, so that if ever it were discovered, removing it would effectively destroy civilization.

Like an inoperable tumor. By that time it would be absolutely everywhere, integrated into every aspect of life. Even the immune would be convinced of its necessity for keeping society running, and would feel compelled to defend it.”

It rang true enough. I began recognizing it as a description of the world before the war. “If you were unwisely open about your immunity you would be targeted. Softly at first. They might tell you that you simply haven’t read enough of their materials.

That nineteen centuries of arguments in defense of it cannot all be wrong. That if the brightest minds of history, generation after generation, devoted themselves to propagating it, there must be some truth to it.

They are likely to insist that you were simply miseducated in the wrong variant of the virus. You see, the different species of it compete for hosts. Some more aggressively than others. But they all see it as authoritative and credible.

It feels absolutely real to them because they are surrounded by it from birth. It is woven into their culture. It is implanted in them from a very young age by their parents and other trusted figures. This makes removal exceedingly difficult, exactly as it’s intended to.”

Suddenly, I felt a tremor. The lights flickered. The slim brunette at the front put a finger to her ear and spoke frantically into what must’ve been a concealed radio.

“Stay calm everyone. There’s been a detonation of some kind. I’m receiving reports of an attempt to penetrate the outer perimeter.” The girl I’d locked eyes with earlier began to scream. Another opposite me curled up into a ball and rocked in place.

“There are several lines of defense. They cannot possibly-” She was cut off by banging on the double doors. Some quick thinking fellow had barricaded them while the rest of us were panicking.

“Help me, you fools! They’ll try the other doors next!” We managed to barricade them, but a moment too late. One of the infected wedged its foot in the door. And then as much of its face as it could force through the gap.

“Hello sir!” it shouted. “Do you have a moment to speak about-” A tall muscular guard launched himself at the door. It shut, crushing the infected’s head in a shower of gore. “Thanks, it nearly got me.”

He was already across the room holding the other door shut as an older man and two women lugged welding equiptment to it. Once set up, the man flipped a tinted visor down over his eyes and began welding the door shut.

It was futile. We’d forgotten the skylights. The sound of glass splintering and a shower of broken shards were followed by a torrent of the infected, throwing themselves down through it and landing in a pile. The inoculation tech was now distributing shotguns and canisters of gasoline.

“Everyone with a shotgun, you’re group A! Everyone with a gas can, you’re group B! Group A shoots, group B piles up the bodies and burns them. Try to develop a rhythm. You cannot change their mind! But you can disrupt it with fast bits of metal!”

With that she slung a bandolier of shells over one shoulder and started shooting. One of the infected threw itself at her.”Jesus has a plan for your life! Jesus has a plan for your life! Jesus has a plan for your li-”

The infected’s head exploded in a cloud of humid red mist, as bits of brain matter and skull fragments rained down around him. The body slumped to the floor. A group B member began dragging it to a pile forming in the corner.

I was paralyzed. I’d never seen so many at once, and we were trapped like rats as they poured in through the broken skylights. Too many, too fast.

“Did you know that the banana is perfectly designed to be held by the human hand? And its color changes to indica-” a hail of shotgun blasts tore it apart, intestines spilling out of its midsection as it collapsed in a heap.

Stay Tuned for Part 3!

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