Alan Howard believed in this remnant country, and also believed that he was the man most fit to lead it. Although it hadn’t been a close election, he still felt some lingering shreds of worry over the outlook for his second election. That, of course, wouldn’t be for two and a half years, but Alan was never a man to let go of the small details. He planned for problems well in advance.
Which was part of the reason why the System was such a great frustration to Alan. The threats it threw his way were unpredictable. Those strange beings that descended and warned the countries of Earth before the System’s arrival did not stay; they gave their warning, some hints for how to proceed, and then departed.
There was no guidance here. And Alan desperately needed some.
Sighing, he leaned back in his faux leather chair. He wasn’t actually situated in the White House, unfortunately, which also irked him. That part of D.C. hadn’t become a part of Zone 1. They mostly received a lot of the research complexes and military bases around the South of D.C. As such, this was simply a replica.
Alan’s intercom buzzed. “Father Foster is here to see you, Mr. President.”
“Send her in,” Alan grunted, puzzling over the figure of Father Foster. Although she was a woman, she led a rather large, and growing, religious group that insisted on calling her Father Foster. They were an offshoot of Christianity and a strangely extreme one. But, the only way that religious groups survived the Systems arrival was by doubling down, and this group was no exception.
They believed that the System was a construct of the devil and that as much as possible, people should avoid being tainted by it. They at least recognized the necessity of some members being “cursed” by Skills and Classes to defend them, but the religion preached willful ignorance of the System’s ways. The people did their best to ignore the woes facing the wider area of Zone 1 and isolated themselves.
Normally, this group would likely have just been wiped out by a Raid Boss. But this Father Foster was particularly shrewd, and she gathered some very powerful Classers to her side. They bore the weight of humanities sins to protect all, she said. Theirs was a grand sacrifice.
Alan couldn’t help but notice that it kept all power focused solely in a few, influential pairs of hands. But it was too late to do anything about that. An unfortunate coincidence of being one of the only surviving Christian churches and having land to spare for refugees meant that Congress had thought it a good idea to use them as a resource to ease people into the life in the System.
What it ended up doing was giving the cultist group a steady stream of scared and alone people to recruit from. The UHF took the cream of the crop for their own purposes, of course, but a lot of talented people went under the sway of Father Foster. The UHF crew was talented, but they didn’t know how to spot integrity or fighting skill. That wasn’t what they were trained to do.
Six months out from the relocation efforts, Alan realized what a mistake it was to let this petty character control the fates of so many. But like all things, this knowledge came far too late for Alan to do anything about it.
Serenely, Father Foster walked into Alan’s office. She was a woman in her early 40s with long blonde hair and purple bags under her eyes. At first, Alan had assumed that the bags were a holdout from drug addiction, but higher Vitality generally cleared up those symptoms in all people. The longer they persisted, the more perplexed Alan became, but he was ever the politician; he would take his unseemly questions to his grave.
Father Foster smiled at Alan. “Ah, Mr. President, how wonderful to see you well.”
The bags under her eyes were larger and more glaring if anything. ‘The feeling is mutual,” Alan said smoothly, indicating a chair. She sat.
After several long seconds, while the two people sized each other up, Alan spoke with a careful tone. “If I’ve been informed correctly… you have some complaints about the most recent batch of refugees that we have sent to your area?”
An easy expression on her face, Father Foster nodded. “...Yes. I do not mean to criticize your methods, but… you go to great lengths to inform the people you liberate about the devil’s System. Commendable, and in a vacuum valuable, but I feel that it is more harmful than helpful considering they will come into the loving embrace of God's chosen.”
Not even Father Foster’s bland statements were enough to cause Alan to roll his eyes. “You are requesting them sent over more quickly?”
“In a sense.” Father Foster seemed to think about it. In her mind, she was undoubtedly trying to grapple with the ungainly reality of dealing with someone who was effectively a heathen in her eyes. “If that is the optimal way to accomplish it, that is fine. There have been several incidents recently where new arrivals talked overmuch of… the outside world, and the horrors that befall the unenlightened. Ah, Mr. President, don’t think we don’t respect the sacrifices you make to protect us, we are eternally grateful, and venerate you for the sacrifices you have made. But I think your crash course in our modern world… makes them feel that endangering their own souls is a necessary evil when it is not.”
Alan’s eyes flashed. Even though he was growing increasingly annoyed, Alan kept his language as neutral as he could manage. After all, Father Foster was ahead of a growing congregation. Almost 200,000 people attended one of her affiliated churches on a daily basis. She was not a constituent to take lightly. “You mean to say, you wish we would not provide to them the benefits of our accumulated knowledge of the System.”
The room became silent for almost a minute, Alan mulling the information over. And from the expression on Father Foster’s face, she knew she had already won.
Alan wouldn’t go so far as to label the group as a dangerous element, but they were becoming something much more… unpalatable in recent months. Their distaste for the System was shared by many people, and those accumulated emotions created a bond between displaced people. Feeling unsafe, finding solace in god was a historic pastime. But with the looming threat of this new Zone, that appeared eminently capable, Alan was losing his patience.
Finally, he said, “I understand your… religious motivations, but from a secular point of you, can you understand why I think that might be shortsighted? If some new facet of the System causes unexpected danger, your people might be exposed to something they have no knowledge of-”
“We appreciate your concern,” Father Foster interrupted, a small smile on her face. Below her eyes, the bags were like rotting plums. “But I assure you that if not in details, we cover the general idea in our sermons. Besides, what adult does not know the evil of this world? As children, we are born pure, closest to God. Every new vision is another miracle, with God’s hand clear and his grace delightful. But as more and more information is revealed… we learn about jealousy, selfishness, limitations, and rules… we hear about murder and rape, about monsters and demons... Do the details really matter?”
Alan mulled that over for a bit and was about to respond when Father Foster continued.
“Besides… if the scenario you speak of comes to pass, and a calamity befalls our little enclave… would that small amount of information make any difference?”
To that, Alan could think of nothing to say. Father Foster’s smile was smug.
Randidly idly sipped his drink, unsure what he was doing at this “party”.
Well, there was no need to think about it as a party in quotes. This was… an actual party. It reminded Randidly of the parties that you would see in Romantic-Comedy movies before the System arrived. The venue was the penthouse apartment in those expensive condos near the factory. There was a DJ playing out by a pool, and it seemed like three or four attractive people were on every couch and in front of each painting, laughing uproariously at a recent joke.
Overall, Randidly found the whole thing incredibly insufferable. In addition, he had spent several of his first 10 minutes here sneezing repeatedly. Some of the women and men in attendance had easy smiles and soft hands that revealed them as trucked in help and not steelworkers, and the cologne was thick in the air.
Finally, Randidly discovered a buffet table and helped himself to some ribs and mac and cheese. Although the ingredients were somewhat different than his childhood, the whole experience was remarkably nostalgic. It tasted like cafeterias and childhood and was a far cry from the current world of monsters and Skills. For a few minutes, Randidly was at peace, shoveling the food into his mouth, careful to not spill on his nice forest green shirt.
The outdoor pool area was connected to a long hallway that led to a kitchen and a bar, as well as the bathrooms. There were two in this apartment. Randidly was currently in a sunroom that was the nearest room to the pool side of the hallway, with windows to look out at the pool area and the developing town below.
With his extremely high Perception, it was easy to listen in on the conversation. Aside from the absolutely obnoxious flirting from the Tooya and Diego, most of the talk was on the latest rumor that the Zone was slowly expanding, the time freezing barrier creeping backward. Apparently, in the North, a whole suburb was revealed. Just like that, 10,000 new souls were added to Zone 1.
Randidly was making plans to check on whether this was true when someone walked into the room.
“Ah,” Randidly said, standing. “Hello, Sonya.”