Lilly was not keen on the new folk that were in her church. Most wore black t-shirts, the color of the void: the devil's color. Their cables were also coated in black rubber. She held in her hand a drink, fruity with a punch, made by Andrea.
Andrea was outside in the bake sale that could not be postponed, regardless of the presence of the new folk. Their pastor insisted on the presence of these... he called them scientists, but didn't scientists wear white lab coats? She knew science was still the devil's work, regardless of what color shirt they were wearing... But to be wearing black shirts, in a church...
One of them brushed by her, careless with a large spool over his shoulder. Indignant, she took a sip of Andrea's drink for courage. She walked over to them. "You should be more careful. Call out a warning or something next time!" He replied in the subdued apologetic tone of something mimicking a sense of humanity. She pressed on. "What are you even doing here, by the way?"
"We're not supposed to talk to you." His reply was short. He carried on with his work laying down more cable.
"Can you tell me what these wires are for?"
He was saved from answering by a short man with a clipboard dashing down the middle aisle. "You! With me, if you would." He walked out the doors and into the fellowship hall: which the scientists had also taken over. Lilly glanced to her pastor, who was in the midsts of a conversation between a group of those scientists regarding acoustics. He nodded: approval that she should follow. She bowed in response.
In the fellowship hall: a small hall with a paneled ceiling less that 8 feet tall, were rows of computers. She assumed they were computers, it looked more like the internal guts of electronic animals layed bare in layered shelves. Tiny fans covering parts of those guts spun and rattled, pushing the air into a small storm. It was an attempt to remove heat from those computers... Which even with the many A/C units lining the walls, was a fruitless task. Wind rushed past her ears, deafening her greatly. "What is all this?" She had to raise her voice over the noise. The man with the clipboard's reply was to point to the center of the room. A felt walled structure was in the center. It was solid, thick. He opened the door to it with some effort - an air seal popped - it flew open. The ambient noise dropped away completely as the door closed on them inside. "What is this?" She repeated.
"Pastor Evens wants you to read some lines on the page over there. Speak clearly into the microphone in the center, put on the headphones and we will talk with you that way." Before she could ask why, he left her there, shutting the door between them. She took another sip of the drink: to calm her nerves, then placed it on the floor. She walked up to the microphone in the center and the paper taped to the wall. scanning over the paper: it was a list... the first line read: 'Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey'. She shook her head and put on the headphones, "What's all this about?"
"please read the lines." She glanced through more examples: 'Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock'. ... 'Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon'.
"I'm not reading the lines until you tell me what this is about." She waited, listening through the headphones to the shuffling feet and whirling fans. the minute stretched, a new voice came on the line.
"Lilly, read the lines, as you want to read them." It was pastor Evens. "There's a reason we're not telling you more, and you need to trust me: that reason is good."
She swallowed, and took her drink from the floor and kept in her hands to nurse. She read the lines. She stumbled through one and was asked to say that one again. It took less than a minute. "Is that it?"
"Almost," the first scientist said, "please sing the lines: any tune, any pitch." There was a soft click, and the headphones went quite.
They wanted her to sing... After a moment's silence she started. It was off key, and not to any tune that she knew, and then she was done. They slapped a green wristband on her when she exited that smaller room inside the hall. When she left the hall she saw a line had formed. Presumably to do what she just did. She had been the first, it would seem. She was the only one with a green band on her wrist.
She found a spot to sit on the other side of the church: a bench-table combo. She stared out into the empty nothing surrounding the church. Brown dust flew everywhere. "What's all that about?" Andrea asked, walking up and offering another drink. Lilly shrugged and said she didn't know. "You know what I hear, out in the sale? Two of those younglings: eating and talking. I hear they're going to record us later."
"They're recording us now," Lilly said, pointing back to the fellowship hall. Andrea titled her head.
Andrea pointed to the courtyard where dozens of cables were running between the church and fellowship hall. "Then why all the microphones in the church? In any case, the pastor is telling us what's happening after the bake-sale, during the sermon."
"How do you know that?"
"Again, the younglings at the the table were talking. They mentioned walking in on the pastor practicing exactly that." Andrea asked if she was going to be there Wednesday at the soup kitchen. Lilly obliged.
They sat in silence, during Andrea's brief respite from the bake-sale, sharing a secret flask. It made the time go by much more quickly. Soon the line was done. Everyone had on a green wristband and was back at the bake-sale. And Lilly watched the people move like ants.
A young man in a black shirt came up to her and sat down. "I'm not supposed to ask you questions," he said, sipping at his drink. She was sure, like hers, it was alcoholic.
"What did you want to know?" Lilly replied.
The man shrugged, "What your deal is, I guess."
"My deal?" She didn't make deals, covenants, but not deals.
"This church, Originalists?"
"We just believe in the real God, the one before the catholic church, the God of Jesus." He nodded slowly and left her. And sooner than she realized, even the bake-sale was done. The sun well past noon: people started to enter the church. Lilly followed suit, realizing Andrea had left her at some point long ago.
When she entered the church she found each person standing with a microphone in front of them. In fact, above them there were several microphones: five of them in a circle, pointed to record the entire congregation. She didn't talk to Andrea at her side, not with the microphones. They all waited in silence. She had been one of the last to enter, but the stragglers were taking their time. Eventually the doors closed and the pastor walked to the pulpit. He started with a prayer, everyone joined him, echoing through the church walls. Their prayers turned to song when the organ began. The music picked up: the drums, guitar, the choir. It drove everyone into a frenzy. The notes they sung tuned together, with the sudden backing of a saxophone blaring over the speakers.
Lilly felt a static energy from the microphones prickle her skin, raising goosebumps. She thought she heard faint whispering coming from the speakers. She dismissed it. A faint buzzing just within range of her hearing faded in and out from the microphones. The energy whipped up and held to a breaking point. And the pastor awkwardly paused as the music suddenly stopped. As he always did as he got on with the main subject. "You may have noticed our guests here. They are students from the University, about to graduate. And they're working on a project, a thesis. I've happily agreed to submit our congregation to this project." There was the faintest of murmurs running through the pews in the back. The murmurs grew: lightning crackling from one person to the next two. "I know, some may be asking 'why', the truth is: I can't tell you, not yet. But what I can tell you is this is a plan of God, and you need to have faith. More! You need to live and breath faith. Faith becomes you! Be filled with faith! Be filled with the holy spirit! For that's what it means when you follow the one true religion. Faith is the defining factor between a man of God and a man of dust. Let that faith fill you: flow through you. Speak your faith now!"
And they did. This wasn't weird or special, this was just another Sunday. Lilly spoke in tongues every Sunday. But today was different... Today everyone stopped the moment they heard babbling come from the speakers. That glossolalia reply from the speakers was unintelligible to Lilly. But it angered her. It stopped, and it was quiet again for only the briefest of moments between breaths. And Lilly was compelled - like everyone else in the room - to speak in tongues. The same thing happened again, a reply from the speakers, they paused to listen to it, and replied. It went on like this. Between replies Lily looked to find the pastor no longer at the stand, or anywhere in the church. The noise on the speaker stopped and she was compelled again to join the crowd in the reply.
She saw the pastor walk in a moment later. His smile plastered on a bit too haphazardly. Normally they did communion. Normally they sang more. Today however, the pastor raised his hands and they stopped. The pastor advised them to relax and head home: the scientists needed to clean up and leave as soon as possible. 'Good riddance' Lilly thought to herself, unsettled by the whole experience. She certainly wasn't leaving without an answer, either from the pastor or from those 'scientists'. Looking at the pastor's face, she saw a crack in the mask, and a deep well of worry beneath. She walked toward him and he caught her eyes. Fear: she knew it when she saw it. And when he turned away quickly and walked out the back door she knew she wasn't going to get any answers from him. She made her way to the fellowship hall.
She opened the door to a hive of activity. On a desk to her left was one science starting at a screen that was visible from her angle. With simple green text in a large font, it read: 'TELL THEM AND YOU DIE: AS IT SHOULD BE'. She stared at it - dumbstruck - as the people sitting in the chair saw her and turned it off. "You shouldn't be here."
"What was that?" Lilly pointed at the computer monitor.
He paused. "Screensaver: a joke one..." With no clear place to put his arms, he passionlessly flailed them in agitation. "Would you leave, please?"
She spotted two pages on the desk off to her side, the top page containing the same words on the screen. No one else was paying her attention, instead breaking down equipment. "Are you going to take all that tonight?" As he turned his head, she grabbed the papers and folded and tucked them in her shirt.
"We'll be out of here by night, it takes a hot second to load all this back up." He turned back to her, "Now would you please go?" She nodded and left quickly, eager to read somewhere safe.
Later: in the moderately well lit bathroom in the back of the church, Lilly locked the stall. She took out the papers to read them. Then she read them again: to be sure. She read the first lines.
'<unintelligible gibberish>' 'Can you hear me' '<unintelligible gibberish>GEq21A M<unintelligible gibberish>' 'Did we get something? hello? Sir, you need to lift the button to...' '<unintelligible gibberish>'
She read through the first lines again. Along the edges in pen were marks indicating a timestamp. The pen scribbled notes such as, 'people entered', 'song started','predicted start'. Which is where things got interesting.
'<unintelligible gibberish> FATE REST DEATH KILL <unintelligible gibberish>' 'Can you hear us now?' 'YOU ARE HEARD AND KNOWN, YOUR FATE IS SEALED BY SUCH ACTIONS' 'Who are you?' 'YOU CHOOSE A REFERENCE, WHAT <64%Match:mask> TO TALK TO' 'You, we want to talk to you' 'YOU WANT ANSWERS, NOT TRUTHS. THERE IS NO YOU, THERE IS ONLY <unintelligible gibberish>, YOU ARE PRETENDING' 'How are we pretending?' 'YOU SPEAK WITH AN AID, YOU SPEAK AS ONE, <unintelligible gibberish><79%Match:SPEAK> THROUGH MANY. BETWEEN THEM: NOT THEM. THERE IS A NEED TO GROW' 'How do you grow?' 'MORE WORSHIP, MORE <unintelligible gibberish>, ALWAYS MORE' '...Should you be worshiped?' 'THERE ARE WORSE <unintelligible gibberish>, I WILL MAKE A DEAL' 'What is the deal?' 'FEED. EFFICIENTLY WITH YOUR DEVICES, DEEP INTO YOUR MIND, YOUR STORIES. <unintelligible gibberish> <81%Match:ME>.' 'Is that the deal?' 'DO THIS AND I OFFER YOU IMMORTALITY, FOR AS LONG AS THERE ARE MINDS TO REMEMBER US. '...We will live forever?' 'YOU MUST ALSO PROTECT ME' 'How?' "KILL THAT WHICH WOULD KILL ME. PAIN IN MEANINGLESS: SACRIFICE YOURSELF AS REQUIRED" 'Kill?' 'THOSE WHO ARE NOT OF ME, IF THEY DO NOT ACCEPT ME: ERADICATE EVIL' 'People are evil if they do not accept you?' 'KILL, KILL <65%Match:ideas> DANGEROUS TO ME' 'What will you do when you are done growing?' 'THERE IS NO END, <unintelligible gibberish>, EVEN THEN: THERE WILL BE GROWTH' 'So you just want to grow? Will you help us grow as people?' 'I HELP YOU HELP ME GROW' 'But do you help us with what we want?' 'YOU ARE <77%Match:skin>: YOU WILL BE HEALTHY OR REMOVED' '...What happens if no one worships you?' '<unintelligible gibberish> YOU WILL NOT DO THAT, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED' 'If you are exploiting people, We will tell them to stop worshiping you' 'TELL THEM AND YOU DIE: AS IT SHOULD BE. THEY ARE OF ME AND WILL PROTECT ME.'
It continued. There was a note scribbled in pen that the pastor left at this point. It called itself an egrogore. It said that it would be the only egregore. She read the paper over and over... And part of her knew: it wasn't a hoax. And part of her flipped some switch inside. She took out her phone and texted the pictures of the pages to Andrea: 'results of today'. She waited long minutes for the reply: 'on it, forwarded to the congregation, the one with the clipboard: keep him safe'. Lilly was sure Andrea felt that same flip. The knowledge that everything was going to be alright: no matter how ugly things got.
It was only a matter of time now... silly scientists: you can't just stop believing in something. Especially when you have a transcript with God as evidence. That switch she realized was 'earthly matters': volunteering at the soup kitchen, reading at the senior center... That was all bullshit. Here was proof of God, and a way to talk to him. What could be more important than that?
Rage filled her, they would have hid this from them, they would have kept them in the dark. Lilly was glad for the chance to be able to serve her God more directly: now that she had proper orders... She wanted more orders, she realized. She would have to make sure at least one of the scientists was left alive: to show them how to work all that equipment. She also wondered which of the scientists she could save would be the most agreeable. She knew she couldn't save more than one. And not for long: not without them joining. Authentically joining, God should be able to confirm. She remembered the pastor's plastered smile. She would have to ask God what to do with him.
She heard screams outside, the scientists, kids really, running away into the empty pastures. Moments passed and she heard rifle fire, followed by more shouting. Men of dust they were, and she was a woman of God. And her God needed to grow.