The Headquarters of the Unity Church was in the Northwest quarter of Zone 1, which was by far the least populated location in the Zone. Or at least, it had been. Over the past several months, thousands of people had been moved into the multiple refugee shelters the Unity Church had sponsored in the areas, which had been a boom to the population numbers. If they had wanted to, they could likely successfully petition Congress to increase the amount of Senators that area received.
“But they didn’t want that,” Randidly whispered to himself as he looked up at the relatively imposing cathedral that rose above him. “They would prefer to experiment.”
With clenched fists, Randidly walked into the cathedral. They were waiting for him in the pews, faces towards the altar, as he entered. Calmly, he waited as they finished their prayer.
“Lord, give us the strength to resist the temptation of the flesh and the System, of choosing fickle pursuits in this life, so we might taste eternity in the next,” The priest at the head of the congregation noticed Randidly, but said nothing. The individual leading the prayer contniued with his prayer for some time, decrying the villains that embraced the System. At the end, the priest bowed his head. “Amen.”
“Amen,” Rumbled the response.
Then people began to stand and slowly file out. The cathedral was large and had multiple tiered sets of pews that enabled more people to see the stage. Randidly estimated almost a thousand people could all fit inside the cathedral. It wasn’t filled to bursting, but Randidly hadn’t seen very many open spaces either. So he stood and waited calmly by the door as the people left. Waiting a bit wasn’t an issue.
But his calm reflection was interrupted before it even started.
“Ah, Rand. You also attend services here? Excellent.” Kulwort Shaw, his grandfather, appeared at Randidly’s side with a warm smile. “I had worried, due to your father’s godlessness… and well, your mother was also not ideal. In addition, some of the comments you have made on the television…”
As Randidly blinked at him, Kulwort shook his head. “Well, anyways. Use your platform to promote Unity Church people need it.”
“Actually,” Randidly said. “I’m here… because I’m starting to believe that this church is more trouble than it’s worth.”
Kulwort just gave Randidly a quizzical look. “Do you think so? If we didn’t believe in this, people would just believe in something else. Probably something worse. Sure, only the dullest of individuals would miss the signs that the Unity Church was poaching some of the weirdos from the crowd and doing… things that the rest of us would rather not know about. But isn’t that the way of things?”
Randidly made to reply, then paused. He… had known…? “People are dying, Mr. Shaw. I believe someone here is at fault. I will see those who caused death brought to justice.”
“Oh, that’s fine. The people don’t matter, the ideas do.” Kulwort spread his arms wide at the people casting curious glances at Randidly and Kulwort as they shuffled past. “Recycle as many as possible. Sacrifice as many as possible. Their deaths have meaning because they equip us with the knowledge and power to face the future. There is no such thing as a free lunch. To progress, there must be sacrifices. Is it so strange that people have traded away the knowledge and responsibility of these occurrences in order to possess peace of mind and be buoyed forward by the flow of progress?”
“If this is an organization that thinks sacrifice on the scale they have committed is necessary… I will crush the Unity Church.” Randidly said. The conversation was slipping away from him somewhat, but that was his grandfather. He was a man that could only be described as peculiar in a dangerous way. But he was redeemed somewhat by his frankness, despite his seeming acceptance of people dying.
“Ha, then you are a fool. To destroy a place where ideas settle is to spread them all to the winds; the bad ones might gather up a head of steam in a small corner of the world and destroy the more delicate, well-meaning ones. It’s much safer to pool them all together like this.” Kulwort’s gaze was intense. But Randidly held his gaze, pressuring the older man into flinching and looking away.
Then Randidly blinked and sighed. He had been waiting for more information out of Kulwort. But his grandfather was just… strange. His ideas were entrenched and he would go off into a meaningless lecture at the drop of a hat. He would leave a child alone at a mall to prove a point to a third party. Nothing was valued more than principle to Kulwort.
As Randidly left the fidgeting man, Kulwort called after him.
“If I know anything, Rand, it’s that people are beings who believe. Faith is the ultimate defense of the fearful; something more capable is watching out for me. If you take away that thing people worship… well, you don’t want to find out what humans are capable of doing when left to their own devices in the face of fear.”
The phrase ‘beings who believe’ stuck with Randidly as he walked back to the front of the now deserted church. Standing there, as if waiting for him, were four people sitting in the front pew, and three standing before the altar with their eyes on him. All four of the kneeling individuals in the pews were male, but two of the three standers were female. The woman in the middle cleared her throat.
“Mr. Ghosthound. A pleasure. Should I take this as a sign that you have decided to throw your support behind our modest parish?”
Randidly raised an eyebrow as he looked around. “...no, that is not the case. Ma’am, what is your name?”
“Artemis Llewyllan. A bishop in the service of God. I am… slightly surprised that a political figure such as yourself would come here so privately… it has me wondering about your motives. Your… accomplishments have proceeded you. I do hope you can forgive me for taking precautions.”
Randidly spared a dismissive glance for the four kneeling men, but as he looked at them, he realized with a pang that their common appearance belied their Level. When he focused on them, he could feel their thick air of violence. These were not normal guards; they were the few in the church that took advantage of the System. Fighting them would be… troublesome, if only because Randidly wouldn’t be able to neutralize them without making a permanent enemy of the Unity Church. Likely, a portion of this fine cathedral would be destroyed.
Randidly had resolved himself to moving publicly, but the publicity that would result from such a destruction would likely be a headache. If convenient, he would avoid it.
“I hadn’t even noticed,” Randidly said drily, turning back to Bishop Artemis. “Let’s get right to business then. As you might have noticed, Father Foster… is no more. I would like a lot of her policies and programs to die with her. The Unity Church is splicing monster parts into human bodies and vice versa. I will no longer accept this.”
The bishop considered him. “We have had… our suspicions on the wellbeing of Father Foster. As for her programs… some of them were extreme and it shouldn’t be difficult to let them fall by the wayside. I personally found her to be rather insufferable… but she originally was a leader of some of our… darker branches.”
“You knew and yet you did nothing? You knew what she was up to?” Randidly said, his voice dangerously low.
The bishop snorted. “Would you prefer that I act the fool? Of course, I knew, I have even benefited from her work. It was one thing to hate the act, it was another to say no to the benefits she offered.”
Randidly’s hands clenched into fists. Perhaps Kulwort Shaw was wrong then. If people were beings who believed, all those he encountered were those that believed in power. That was not a beneath he minded destroying, and even if it grew like a mold in the dark places of the Zone, he would find it and eradicate it again and again. “So you supported it.”
“I did the best I could, and I didn’t refuse the benefits,” Artemis said softly, a frown on her face as she looked at Randidly. “What could I have done? If you know Father Foster is dead, then you likely would know about the strange army she was developing. Before that, what could I do?”
“You could have left the church-” Randidly began, but Artemis was already shaking her head.
“To Father Foster, the human life was a fungible commodity; any was as good as another. Perhaps I could have initiated a schism in the church. I would have saved those who followed me, but she would have simply taken those lives from other places. Believe me, I did as much as I could.”
Randidly knew she was lying. But he had no way of forcing her to acknowledge that fact. And it wasn’t worth his time.
“Fine then,” Randidly said while breathing out through his teeth. “Then tell me; where are the monster spawn points?”
Artemis blinked. “You truly know everything, don’t you? Perhaps even we underestimated you. I suppose that is why Father Foster is no longer with us. Of course, we have them, but…”
After a pause, she said. “I hesitate to hand them over to someone who is so… familiar with violence. We are moderating the number of monsters loosed into the Zone, providing just enough to push the Level of the populace upwards. Even though we choose to encourage our people to abstain from Leveling, we understand- well, in addition, you grew up in a different Zone. A wilder one. You wouldn’t understand-”
“Ma’am, that question was a courtesy,” Randidly said slowly. The priest who gave the service was glaring at him, so he turned his gaze to the man until he was sweating. “I will leave here with the information that I want. No matter what I have to do.”
“You seem confident. Are we truly a clam so easily pried open?” Artemis said with a wry smile.
“Yes. And you know it too, or you wouldn’t have that… thing waiting in the basement. What is it by the way? The way its gathering energy…. Ah, you made a Heretic, didn’t you?”
Artemis froze. Then, slowly, she deflated. Finally, she sighed. “Fine, you win.”