(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.
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August 14, 2217
“I was getting worried, Ben,” the woman’s voice emerged from the rock. “What’s going on?”
“You won’t believe it. They’re smashing anything that even smacks of technology. I thought they’d stop with the food processors and entertainment systems, but they’re destroying everything, even the overhead lighting. Although, without electricity, it’s all rather useless.”
“Any idea what their agenda is?”
“Mrs. Smith, I haven’t a clue. Maybe they really believe that religious crap they keep spouting, I don’t know. Nothing else makes sense. Smashing the tech just makes it harder for us to survive. If they wanted us all dead, there are easier ways! I can see them wanting to destroy the Readoc crystals, though, particularly if their goal’s to replace our culture with theirs. The written word would be their biggest threat, after all.”
“How’s everyone holding up?”
“Well enough, I suppose, under the circumstances. Right after they arrived, they separated the men, women, and children. The men they put to work clearing the wilderness for new farms and the children were put into makeshift schools where they could be indoctrinated around the clock.”
“What about the women?”
“I don’t know, but I fear the worst. Jacob Miller told me he heard screams and sobbing in the middle of the night. Smith, you’ve got to do something. Please!”
“Ben, I’m working on it, but it takes time. Transportation’s not what it used to be, you know.”
“Transportation? What …?”
“I’m coming there.”
“Just me, that’s all there is, Ben. I still don’t know what I’m going to do once I get there, but I’ll try my best.”
“Look, Smith. Even if you manage to get rid of these … these … Monochrome Monks, we’ve lost everything: power, food processors, waste recycling … even climate control. What are we going to do when Winter sets in? Hell, forget Winter. Do you have any idea what Autumn’s like in these parts? The storms? If we’re forced to live on the surface like animals, there won’t be many left by Spring.”
“I can’t make any promises, Ben.”
“I know. I know. It’s just that … before these people came to town, we had hope that, eventually, things would get better. But now …”
“Hope’s the first thing an oppressor tries to take away. Don’t lose yours, Ben. You’re not dead yet, remember that. Try and hold on a little longer. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Yeah, well don’t take too long. I don’t know how much longer I can keep the rest of the guys from trying something stupid.”
“They’ll be killed!” the woman warned, needlessly.
“I know that, and so do they. But unless you can give us some alternative, we might not have a choice.”
The problem, Ben Stewart reflected as he returned the rock-like comm device to its hiding place, was the dichotomy between the Leader’s words (Ben refused to call him “the Lord” as his men did) and the actions of his men — brutalities that were clearly being sanctioned by the man in the flowing grey robes.
So this wasn’t about God or Religion. If it were, then the man in charge wouldn’t condone such actions. That just made it worse, of course. As a God-fearing man himself, Ben believed in a clear dividing line between right and wrong, and for these newcomers to cross that line while espousing a belief in a just and merciful God was just too much.
Ben came to a full stop as he approached the town square. Maybe he should have told the mysterious Mrs. Smith about this latest atrocity, but there wasn’t anything she’d be able to do about that, either.
The circular area that had once held flowers and a small tree now held the ugly wooden “cross” of the Monks. On that “X”-shaped device was now secured the spread-eagled body of the town’s mayor. Larry Bernhardt was a heavyset balding man in his early fifties. What infraction he was guilty of no one knew (and no one dared ask). The man had been there a full day now, an imprisonment that must have seemed longer given the beatings he’d been given. His chest moved, so he was still alive and breathing, but beyond that he hung motionless from the wooden arms.
Something has to be done, Ben thought to himself, but anything he might do fell into the category of “something stupid”, which Mrs. Smith had disapproved.
Still, a quick glance around him showed nobody nearby. He was alone, so perhaps a touch of humanity was called for instead of violence.
“Larry?” Ben called in a low voice as he approached the mayor. “Larry, it’s Ben. Are you all right? Why did they do this?”
At first, the mayor didn’t seem to hear the other man, but at length he stirred and slowly lifted his head.
“Ben,” the mayor said. “Get away from here, please. Don’t get involved.”
“Why are they doing this?”
“I saw him.”
“Saw who, Larry?”
“The boss man. The guy in the robes. Ever notice that you never see his feet? That robe of his goes right to the ground.”
“I walked in on him last night and he wasn’t wearing it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ben, he isn’t human! He’s some kind of monster. He … he doesn’t have legs — he’s got a second pair of arms! That’s why he walks funny. He’s walking on his hands.”
Ben wanted to continue the conversation, but at that point one of the soldiers appeared from behind one of the pillbox-shaped buildings. Acting as casual as possible, Ben walked away from the mayor.
Between exposure and the incessant beatings, it was clear that the mayor had lost his mind, was hallucinating, or both. He couldn’t possibly have seen the thing he described, not in a million years.
To be continued…