"...and so these kids just walk into the elementary school and start shooting." Paul made a gun out of his thumb and index finger and pointed it at Chris, who sat across from him at the small table. "Pow." he said as he dropped his thumb and jerked his index finger upwards. "Next thing ya know... seven kids dead. And NONE of them is the kid they went in there to get!"
"Would it have made a difference if they GOT the right kid?" said Chris. He picked up his coffee and took a sip, then glanced over at Robert who was still reading his paper and letting his tea cool to a disgusting, lukewarm temperature.
"You're right." said Paul. "Damn shame, though. I mean... what's gotten into people these days?"
"It's Satan." replied Chris.
"Uhh.... you mean horns and pitchfork Satan? THAT Satan?"
"You can laugh if you want, but these are the end times. Satan's shadow is moving across the earth like-"
"Waitwaitwait. What are you talking about."
"The End Times."
"Uh-huh. And that mean's what, exactly?"
"The glorious second-coming of our lord and saviour. Read your Bible."
"Okay, Chris. Now we've been sticking by you with this whole born-again thing-"
"...leave me out of this..." Robert grunted from behind his newspaper.
"-but if you're going to start spouting that second-coming-end-of-the-world stuff then you're on your own."
"First of all, I'm never on my own because Jesus is always with me. Second of all, everything the Bible says about the end of the world is TRUE. Just look around you. Watch CNN for a couple of hours. You'll see Satan's influence everywhere."
"I don't have cable," said Paul. "And if I did I'd wouldn't waste my time channel-surfing, looking for Satan."
"But you read the newspaper. And even if you didn't, this is not some far-away thing. It's all around us. Satan tempts us all, every day. All the trials and tribulations that we all go through. Large and small."
"Uh-huh. You hear this, Rob?"
"...leave me out of this..." said Robert.
"But Chris is over here saying that Satan... well, what ARE you saying? That Satan's screwing with us because it's the end of the world."
"If that's the way you want to put it."
"Like when my truck got stolen last month... that was Satan?"
"What the hell would Satan want with a Ford Explorer?"
"Satan didn't take your truck, but he was responsible. He works through other people-"
"Responsible? I'll tell you who was responsible... ME. I left the freaking enging running for God's sake! Now you mean to tell me that Satan saw my truck sitting there, wanted it, and then just hopped in and drove off. I don't think so. Maybe some drug addict with 'Satan' tatooed on his bicep, but it certainly wasn't a mythological figure with horns and a pitchfork. "
"Satan didn't take your truck. He didn't want your truck. He wants your soul. He want's everyone's soul. He tries to drive wedges between us and God by tempting us into greed and anger. He works through his minions, who carry out his work without even knowing it."
"Do you know what you sound like?"
"I sound like a Christian who's read the Bible and taken it seriously."
"Okay... the devil's chauffer stole my Explorer. And I guess it was the devil who ran over that guy in front
of the cafe the other week."
"No it wasn't. One idiot was driving too fast and another idiot didn't look both ways before crossing the street. They met... and we all know the result. See... that's the problem with you Christian types."
"Christ teaches repons-"
"Bullshit. Everytime something bad happens in your life it's the devil. You loose your car keys... it's the devil. Your boss fires you... it's the devil. Somebody steals your car and it's the damn devil! What about individual accountability! You lost your keys because you're too stupid to remember where you put them. You got fired because you're freaking incompetant! My car got stolen because I was stupid enough to leave it with the engine runnning. Satan doesn't have JACK to do with ANY of that!"
"Not everything that happens is because of incompetance."
"Damn right. Some things JUST HAPPEN. Luck of the draw...there's no way around that. You don't need some fairy tale about demons and souls to explain luck. Things just happen."
"Okay, okay," said Paul, "bad examples. But just take a look around you, man. Listen to the news... hundreds are dying in earthquakes and storms and drought. Just like the Bible predic-"
"Excuse me, but people have been dying for as long as there have BEEN people. There were earthquakes and disasters for a LONG time before the Bible was ever written. Doesn't take any special 'Word-of'-God' to predict things that have already been happening for hundreds of thousands of years."
"But what about the PEOPLE. You can't explain that. Just a few minutes ago you said you didn't know what had gotten people lately. It's Satan-"
"That was a hypothetical-freaking-question! People are just nuts nowadays, that's why."
"Why? Why are people just going crazy?"
"You're saying Satan is making people crazy?"
"It's evil, Paul. The devil is poisoning our minds through the media, the television, the movies, books..."
"Poisoned minds...yes. Devil...no. Sex and violence is a downward spiral. Like a drug...The more you give people, the more it takes to keep them entertained. That's just plain ole human nature... nothing demonic about that."
"But who is responsible? Who started the spiral?"
"The first big-chested blond who flashed her tits in front of a camera, that's who. No... even before that... Ancient Emporers had harems...The romans had gladiator pits where people paid money to see other people get ripped apart by animals. This has been going on for centuries. Human nature, Chris. Human nature."
"But why the proliferation of it now? Why the sudden increase in senseless violence? THAT hadn't happened before. There's no precident for it."
"Okay... let's just pretend that Jack the Ripper and Vlad the Impaler never existed."
"Vlad the Impaler."
"Dracula..." added Robert from behind his paper.
"Oh, NOW who's being ridiculous." said Chris.
"He was a real person. Yank your head out of that Bible for a few minutes and look it up. Anyway... my point is that there have been psychos for as long as there have been people. I guess it's safe to say that out of every thousand babies born, a certain percentage of them are gonna be a few cans short of a sixpack. Look at the population explosion in the last few decades... More babies born... more psychos. Simple math. Add to that the availability of firearms and a media that feeds on sensationlism, and BINGO! Instant epidemic! Senseless violence every hour on the hour. Psychos on every street corner! Film at eleven!"
"You've got it all figured out, don't you, Paul"
"No. I just use my brain for something other than keeping my head from deflating. The world's a hellhole, yes, but WE'RE the ones who did it. WE overpopulated the planet... put enough rats in a cage and eventually they start to eat each other. WE put guns and drugs on every corner, and then have the nerve to cry and wail when somebody we know gets addicted or killed. It's all US...The devil has nothing to do with it. If the devil exists, then he's just sitting back somewhere enjoying the show, because WE'RE doing all the work for him."
"I feel sorry for you, Paul."
"I said I feel sorry for you. There's no God in your world."
"I never said that."
"Not directly, yes. But your words say it for you. You've taken God out of your life and replaced Him with 'luck' and 'human nature'. To you, we're nothing more than 'rats in a cage.'"
"You're taking me out of context. All I'm saying is that if you go around blaming everything on the devil, then the end result is a general lack of responsibility."
"I place blame where it belongs."
"It belongs on the idiots who do stupid things and act surprised when life turns their stupidity back on them. Hell... we ALL do that, and bad things happen to all of us. But it's just cause and effect, not some mythological devil."
"The devil is real."
"If the devil WAS real, he'd be fat and lazy from lack of work. He wouldn't have anything to do except sit around and watch us dumb humans screw everything up for ourselves. Then he'd just take all the credit for stuff he had nothing to do with."
"Not everything that happens is the result of our own failings."
"Sure it is. Maybe not as individuals, but certainly as a society. We build social and econonic systems that drive people insane. We breed a sense of apathy so deep that no one knows or cares about their neighbors anymore. We created a media that glorifies violence. The only way people can get attention is by killing other people. Shoot up a few schools, and the media rewards you with your fifteen minutes of fame. We literally build towns and cities on earthquake fault lines and blame the devil when our houses sink into the ground."
"But some things just happen without explanation. Like that plane that blew up over New York."
"That was equipment failure. Some human didn't tighten the right bolt."
"...Actually, It was a rocket..." interrupted Robert. "Saw it on the internet. Rocket."
"Either way... the hand that didn't tighten the bolt or the finger that pushed the button belonged to a human being. The devil is NOT flying around swatting planes out of the air."
"Okay. Bad example..."
"AGAIN with the Bad Example? That's because there are no GOOD examples!" said Chris.
"What about demonic possession..."
"It still happens to this day. Documented cases, no other way to explain it."
"Those people have some serious mental illnesses, Paul."
"But the Bible says that Christ cast out demons-"
"Maybe Jesus was walking around with a cure for schizophrenia, but he CERTAINLY wasn't smacking little red guys with pitchforks out of people's skulls."
"You're making light of a serious threat to your soul."
"Just stop, Paul, okay. Just. Stop. If you wanna believe in UFO's, Bigfoot, and the devil, then go right ahead. I would rather think that, as an individual and a race, man has more control over his fate than just side-stepping traps that the devil set for him. What about you, Bob?"
"...leave me out of this..."
"No. Honestly, what do YOU think about all this devil bullshit?"
Robert lowered his newspaper and peered over his glasses at his two tablemates.
"I think you're BOTH full of it," he said after a moment.
"Huh?" Paul and Chris said simultaneously.
"Both of you. I'm sitting here trying to read the paper and all I hear is the two of you going on about things you know absolutely nothing about. Neither of you knows whether the devil, or anything else, is real or not. Paul, you accept things on faith based on some old book that contradicts itself so many times that if you took out all the nonsense you'd have a three-page leaflet. Chris, you accept things based on your own closed mind and very limited powers of reasoning. The truth is that neither of you REALLY knows anything about ANYTHING! You should both shut up and drink your coffee."
Paul and Chris stared at each other.
"And on that note," continued Robert, "I have to get back to work."
Robert folded his newspaper neatly and left it on the table.
"Agnostics," Paul muttered as Robert walked away. "...which they'd just pick a side."
Paul made his way out to his car, got in and drove home to his large, split-level house. He parked in the garage, entered the house and immediately headed upstairs.
The home office took up nearly the entire upper level. Robert's desk sat near the center of the large room, facing a bank of twenty-five television sets that were built into the far wall. Only one set was currently on, and it was tuned to CNN.
The desk itself was red oak, and completely immaculate. Five telepones and a central answering system were neatly arranged on the left side, and the right was taken up by an array of identical computer monitors. Directly in front of the chair were two keyboards, a trackball, a microphone and numerous other computer accessories. All of the wires were tied together, forming a thick cable that ran down the far side of the desk and through a small hole in the carpeted floor.
Robert tapped on the microphone as he sat down behind the desk. The monitors blinked on, each showed a login screen. Robert leaned forward and spoke one word into the microphone:
There was a slight hum as the voice-recognition software idenitifed him and logged him on to the 900THz Superion Agency Tracking And Notification mainframe that took up the basement level of his house. The mainframe was connected via high-speed data undergound lines to identical mainframes scattered throughout the world. Robert picked up a universal remote control and pushed a few buttons. The television bank lit up, one screen at a time. CSPAN. CourtTV. Headline News. CNBC. Raw newsfeeds and satellite broadcasts from around the world. After a few moments, each set began to cycle through it's own list of channels at regular intervals.
The phone rang.
Robert picked it up.
"Hello?" he said.
"Hi Bob," said a low voice. "I saw you just log on, wanted to catch you before you got busy."
"Hello Lucien," Robert said, smiling. "What can I do for you?"
"How'd it go at the café?"
"Interesting. Paul's spouting his usual nonsense, but Chris had an refreshing viewpoint on things. Wrong, but refreshing."
"Paul gonna be a problem?"
"Well, he's YOUR client, not mine. But I think if we keep him busy enough he won't get into much. How's the affair with his wife going?"
"Fine. Give her and the gardener a few minutes and they're rutting like rabbits. Thanks for keeping Paul busy for a few hours."
"It was nothing. They kept themselves busy, all I had to do was bring up current events. When's Paul gonna find out?"
"Next week. After I have him fired."
"Hey... I might have something here you can add to that..." Robert tapped on one of the keyboards and accessed the reservations database for Delta Airlines. He peered over his glasses at the list of names, then shook his head.
"No. Not them." he said. "Sorry."
"What's that?" asked Lucien.
"I got a request just before I left for the cafe. I'm gonna take down a commuter plane next week. Thought Paul's parents were on it, but it wasn't them. They're on an earlier flight."
"Ohhhh... that would have been SWEET! Can you bump 'em?"
Robert tapped a few more keys.
"Look, I gotta go."
"Yeah, me too. Got about 200 car accidents to arrange, and I'm WAAAY behind. Might have to do 'em all at once... MAJOR pile-up!"
"I'll watch out for it..." Robert clicked one of the television displays so that it stayed on the local news channel. "Talk to you later, Luce."
"Same here, Bob."
The phone disconnected. There was no dialtone, as the entire conversation had taken place over the Company's private encrypted data lines. Robert smiled to himself as he started typing on the nearest computer keyboard. Even though the pay wasn't all that great, Robert honestly LOVED his job.
Copyright 2001 by Dark Icon (Marc Washington)