PreApocalyptic – Chapter 3 (a shouting match)

Aaaaaand I’m back! It seems that, last fall, school killed my creativity. Unfortunately, Christmas break didn’t really revive it… until now… three days before spring classes begin… eh, here it is:


Jim placed the kerosene lantern on the table, filling in the void left by the sudden departure of computer screen’s pale blue glow with a warm orange. He then returned to his office, reclined in his chair, and closed his eyes. Out in the bar, the company took a moment to quietly consider what they had just seen.

“It’s preposterous,” Kate declared.

The rest of the company stared at her a moment before Mike vocalized the question they all were thinking: “Is it?”

“He did have some documented evidence,” Mark added.

“I don’t think we should take any chances!” Sam meekly suggested, attempting to assert some authority.

Ed made another one of his trademark noises.

Kate stammered. “That video could be counterfeit! They can make anything with computers — the room was dark, we couldn’t see much detail. Or maybe they had look-a-likes. I don’t know, I just don’t buy it.”

“Why would someone possibly fake this? What would he have to gain?” Mark countered. Kate raised her voice to speak over him.

“I don’t have all the answers,” she defended, “but he’s surely playing some sort of angle.”

“You don’t have any answers — but we’ve got one on that computer!”

“Listen, Mark, we don’t all take things blindly, some of us use our heads!”

“And what do you mean by that?!”

“Ok you two,” Mike matched Kate’s voice level, then topped it, “I don’t know what this is about, but I’m armed and beginning to get irritated, so if you’d cut the bickering, I think everyone in here might appreciate it.”

“Guys,” Sam said, at a level somewhere nearing Kate’s but slightly lower (and with more trembling), “we have a dead man in the freezer. Did you forget? A dead man. With a hole in his stomach. This is serious!”

“Exactly!” Mark exclaimed, “how is he playing an angle if he’s dead?!”

Kate continued, unfazed: “I’m not taking any rash action without thoroughly considering the situation; I’ve got a reputation to uphold!”

“Well I have an obligation to the well-being of my brothers and sisters, I don’t think this should be ignored!”

“I don’t give a damn about your reputation,” Mike, in a move which neared upon super-human abilities, raised his voice to yet another level, “or your obligation. Everyone just calm down so we can figure this thing out!”

“There’s a dead man in the freezer!” Sam reiterated.

“You’re fools… every one uh ya!” Ed managed to say, in his most coherent and sound sentence of the night so far.

The voices raised higher and higher in what seemed like no more than a contest of wills. Sound vibrations bounced back and forth in a microscopic ping-pong match between the four players, filling the bar with sweat, exaggerated arm flailing, and highly unfiltered declarations of feelings between the company. More so than usual, that is, but without even the excessive consumption of alcohol to lower inhibitions. The company was so caught up in their own viewpoints that nothing could hope to pull them from their voice-raising competition.

Nothing, aside from the gunshot.

All five heads, now noticeably silent, turned to see Jim standing just outside the doorway to his office, handgun pointed upwards. Dust and chips from the old wooden ceiling floated down around him, followed by a thin, but steady, stream of water.

“I think you hit a pipe,” Mike observed.

Jim nodded. “The handgun may have not been the best decision, considering the other buildings above us. You gave me no choice.”

The company pointed fingers at each other with their eyes. Jim continued:

“That was a plural ‘you.’ You all have been shouting back and forth about whether this is real or a hoax, what we should do, and whether any of this really matters to the six of us here. The way I see it is this: I’m not getting any sleep tonight. I’d like to. There’s nothing I’d like more than to sleep all night with the sound of rain outside my window, but I know that the moment I step back into that office you all will be at it before I can slam the door behind me.

“So,” he continued, “in the interest of my getting some shut-eye tonight, I suggest we resolve this issue. As I said, we’ve three main issues to sort through — whether this is real, whether it concerns us, and what, if anything, we should do. Now, the second and third questions rely upon the first. Unfortunately, we can’t get to the document evidence on the drive, so we’ll have to base out debates solely around the video. Or, more precisely, our memory of it. So, let’s discuss —” Jim paused, “and please, one at a time.”

Kate wasted no time. “That video could easily be faked. It was very dark and shaky.”

“She makes a decent point,” Mike conceded, “why are the conspiracy tapes always so shaky?”

“It was a hidden camera,” Mark suggested, “and he was running for his life. You expect him to have a steadicam on hand? But we got clear enough shots to make out recognizable faces.”

Jim interjected himself back into the conversation. “Ok. So it was very shaky, either due to our visiter fearing for his life or hiding some shoddy special effects. Both are serviceable explanations. We’ll call that one a draw. Kate: if it was a fake, how did they get all those foreign dignitaries?”

“Could be look-a-likes.” When this suggestion fell flat with her audience, she reached for a backup. “Or maybe some clever video editing. Green-screens and the like.”

“Video editing will only take you so far,” Mark countered, “we saw enough quick pans and changing angles to make me think that splicing footage of each one together is an unlikely option. In particular, the getaway at the end is good evidence against most of the people being digitally inserted.”

Kate sat silent, hoping someone else would come up with a point to counter Mark. No one did.

“Ok,” Jim said as he struck a tally mark on the right side of a napkin, “we’ll give that one to ‘real.’ The score is now 1-0, ‘real’ leading. Kate?”

“How about the absurdity of the whole thing?” she offered.

“Now hold on,” Jim said, “we’re still discussing whether or not the video appears genuine on its own merits. Once that’s settled, we can move on to motives, plausibility, and other abstractions. Does anyone have any other objections or supports for the genuineness of this video?”

No one did.

Jim continued mediating. “Well, in that case, let’s go on to plausibility, what —”

Kate jumped in. “It’s highly implausible. Do any of you guys know how difficult it would be to control the world? As someone involved in politics, let me tell you that it’s not so simple as being an evil overlord. Governments — actual, legitimate, democratic governments — are shockingly unorganized. There are innumerable forces and influence behind every decision made, both from the public sphere and the political. And those are just the ones done transparently! Take all the ‘behind-closed-doors’ decision and you’ve got way too much to keep track of. And that’s just in our country. Consider all the third-world countries who are less organized than ours, then put them together and you get international politics and trade. That adds a whole new level of complexity to the problem. No, no ring of power could help anyone keep track of, much less control, all of that. To do that, you would need —”

Mike interjected, “foreign dignitaries, hands in every government, secret service, mega-corporation, and more?” He took her silence to mean ‘yes, thank you, that’s exactly what I was going to say,’ and continued, “so basically, exactly what the video showed us? By your own admission, there are things at work, shaping decisions, that we don’t know about.”

“Yes,” she conceded, “but even then, it’s a long-shot. So many forces influencing the world, and one group attempting to hold it together? That building would be a very shaky foundation, and it would be only a matter of time before it topples.”

“Just like the tower of Babel…” Mark mused. When he caught the blank stares coming from four of his companions (though, to be fair, one of those four was Ed, and blank stares were the default for him), he explained. “Genesis. People, wanting to be like God, try to build a tower to the heavens, and God, not greatly appreciating this gesture, topples it. You might say these people were trying to do the same thing — be like God. Only, instead of building a tower, they try to shape the world the way they want it, to suit their own desires.”

After a moment of silence, Mike spoke up. “In all due respect, preacher, I hope you’re wrong on this one. If someone up on high decided to topple this particular tower, then we’re probably all going down with it.”

“Well,” Mark replied, “now it’s beginning to sound more like the flood.”

Sam appeared to be genuinely frightened by this point. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!”

“Ok,” Jim interjected, “fascinating metaphors and allusions all around, but let’s get back on topic — any responses to Kate’s claim of absurdity?”

“I’ve got one!” Mark offered.

Before he could voice his opinion, Jim asked “and you’re sure it’s an argument, not a sermon?”

“No sir, putting my lawyer hat back on.” Jim nodded, and Mark continued, “Kate, you really invalidated your own argument. Your point was that such an organization could never last — to move away from the tower metaphor, the ropes tying this thing together were to thin. No matter how much they try, this nameless organization can’t keep tabs on everyone — including themselves. Sooner or later, something would snap.”

“Exactly,” Kate exclaimed, seemingly satisfied.

“But that’s exactly what we’re told happened!” Mark slammed his fist on the table. “The video made it clear that this fell apart for exactly the reason you suggested it wouldn’t hold! The organization reached that tipping point, and it snapped!”

There was a long silence as the implications of their discussions set in with each person at the table. Finally, Jim spoke:

“Well, it’s seems plausibility has become a non-issue. That, along with the added credibility that comes from the dead man on our hands, means that from this point forward we need to approach the issue as if it’s real. As if the world’s about to end.” He stood up, looked at their faces and heard the storm continue outside. “The question now is… what do we do about it?”

No one, not even Kate, was quick to answer this one.

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