Plugged In, Chapter Eleven: Professor Pathos

“Can you talk or what?”

     Delaney waved a hand in front of Armin.  She had a face that was made for smiling: high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and sparkling eyes.  Her extremely curly hair was thrown back into a pony tail, and her tan complexion was soft in the moonlight.

     “He could a minute ago.”  Satchel clapped Armin on the back.  “But I think that frizz fest on your head might’ve sent an electric current through the air and shocked him.”

     “Oh, shut-up.”  She held out a hand, and Armin took it awkwardly.  “I’m Delaney Hobbs.”

     “And this is Armin Fisher,” Satchel supplied.  “Hey, listen, is your dad around?  I’ve got a bit of a problem.”  He moved his hand, revealing a blotch of fresh blood. 

     Delaney gasped.  “What happened?  Are you okay?”

     “I’ll be better once I see your dad.  Where’s he at?”

     “Behind you might be a good place to look.”

     Satchel turned around, breathing a deep sigh of relief.  “Hey, Hobbs.  Think you could help me out?”

     Armin, after another long glance at Delaney, turned around, too.

     “YOU!”  Armin shouted, taking several steps backward and glaring at the newcomer with wide eyes.  He had seen that man before–he knew him well.  He had booed him episode after episode, cheered when Hem-V had, again and again, triumphed over his evil powers.

     Professor Pathos was staring right at him.  He looked more relaxed than during any episode, but it was undoubtedly the same person: same curly brown hair and thick glasses.  He wasn’t wearing the usual scientist lab coat, but instead was wrapped in a raggedy bath robe.

     “I see,” Professor Pathos began mildly, “that my fame precedes an introduction.”

     “You tricked me!” Armin shouted, rounding on Satchel.  “You’re part of his plan to create an army of Twickens–recruit, debriefed–how could I have been so stupid!”  He made to run away, but two pairs of strong arms held him back.

     “Calm down, kid!”

     “Yeah, you’ll get lost runnin’ off at this hour!”

     Armin continued to squirm: two men, both probably in their early twenties, were holding him back. 

     “Let me go!”

     “Looks like you’ve brought a live one, Satchel,” another voice supplied, and with a surge of terror, Armin realized there were more of them: they were coming from behind the buildings, staring at him, laughing.  More Twickens–all tan and stronger than him.

     “I’ll never join you, Pathos!”

     A chorus of laughter.

     “Satchel,” one of them, a girl with short, choppy red hair, admonished, “it’s your job to explain everything.”

     “This wasn’t my typical run. I–ouch!”

     “Sorry,” Pathos muttered.  He was examining Satchel’s wound.  “What did you do, use needle and thread?”

     “You can thank my surgeon, after he’s done freaking out,” Satchel muttered. 

     “I would’ve thought Dav could have–wait, where is Dav?”

     All the laughter disappeared as quickly as water sucked down a drain.  Armin, still struggling, was the only person making any sound at all.

     “Dav’s dead,” Satchel said quietly.  “I think they went after his family and he… he got mad at me for it.  So–”  He nodded to where Pathos was now working diligently, using materials from a first aid kit Delaney had fetched for him.  “So he stabbed me.  It was awful.  I think… dammit, I think he wanted me to see him die.  He… he really blamed me for what they did, and he wanted me to suffer by… by watching him–do I have to say any more?”  He gave Pathos a pleading look, and Pathos shook his head. 

     “That’s enough, Satchel.  We all get the picture.  Luckily, you’re okay.”

     “You can thank him.”  Satchel nodded to Armin, whose flailing resembled a fish trying to break free from a net.

     “Then let’s.”  Pathos straightened and approached Armin, who only began to fight harder, grunting and groaning.

     “Thank you for saving our dear friend.”

     “If I’d known what he was a part of, I woulda turned him in!  He tricked me, he–”

     “Come on, kid,” the redhead said with a sneer.  “That’s a TV show.  You don’t honestly think that’s the evil Professor Pathos, do you?”

     “Don’t fault him too harshly, Bly.  The line between reality and fiction is easily blurred, and the Governance knows it.”  He grinned at Armin in a way someone would when talking to a tantrum-throwing toddler.  “Allow me to introduce myself using my preferred name.  I am Milo Hobbs, former scientist for the Governance Research Facility.”

     Armin didn’t stop struggling.

     “I trust you saw my video I made a few years ago?  I also hope you realize that I was right–the Governance has been restricting the populace, using a nonexistent threat to exert their control and force.”

     “Yeah right.  I knew I shouldn’t’ve followed Satchel!  You’re all–”

     “Twickens?  Well, if the logic is that being exposed to chemicals makes you a Twicken–if it doesn’t kill you, that is–then aren’t you also now a Twicken?”

     Armin stopped struggling.  “What?”

     “Aren’t you also a Twicken?  Tell me, do you have a craving for spleen stew?”

     Nervous laughter spread through the group.  The hands on Armin’s shoulders slackened, then let go, and Armin didn’t try to run.  He realized he must have looked very silly, reacting as though a fictional villain was right in front of him… but he was.  That was Professor Pathos.

     “I’m sorry,” Armin said.  “I just–”

     “Reacted the way the Governance programmed you to.  My dear boy, no one can blame you for that.  Believe me, compared to some recruits, you were downright tame!”  The laughter became stronger, and soon everyone was welcoming him, introducing themselves.  Armin had never been around so many people, had never been touched by so many unfamiliar hands.  His eyes, however, sought just one other: Delaney came up to him, slapped him playfully, and said, “That’s for thinking my dad was a crazed super-villain.”

     “Your dad?”

     “Yeah.”  She smiled.  “And this–” She gave him a light peck on the cheek. “–is for helping Satchel.”

     “Not a problem,” Armin wanted to say, but it got caught somewhere in his throat.

     “I didn’t raise my daughter to give out kisses like they were chocolates!” Hobbs shouted from where he had returned to Satchel. 

     “Just a thank you.”

     “At least learn his name first,” Hobbs argued, squirting clear liquid onto a clean rag.

     “I do know his name.  It’s Armin Fisher.”

     Hobbs dropped the rag and the bottle; the strong smelling liquid soaked into the dirt and Hobbs swore loudly, grabbing it and standing bolt upright.

     “Fisher did you say?”

     “Yeah,” Delaney confirmed.

     Hobbs raised an eyebrow at Armin, then turned on Satchel.  “Fisher?”

     “Yeah, so what, Hobbs?”

     Hobbs spun on the spot, staring at all three of them in turn–Delaney, then Satchel, then Armin, then Satchel again.

     “Okay, okay, we can… we can do this.  Come on, Satchel, you need to lie down.” 

     The two of them, Hobbs now whispering fiercely in Satchel’s ear, walked off, leaving Armin feeling alone and confused with his overly-eager welcoming party.

     “Is there a problem?” he asked no one in particular.

     “Don’t worry about it,” Delaney said with a shrug.  “That’s just my dad for you.  Sometimes he gets worked up.  The things he’s seen will do that to a person.”

     “What has he seen?”

     “Oh, he’ll explain all of that.  But first–” Delaney spun around, grabbing his arms and leading him forward, towards the metal monsters, “–a tour!”

     “Yeah,” the redhead–Bly?–agreed.  “Now that you’re here, you’ll need to know your way around.”

     Feeling suddenly warm (a sensation that started at Delaney’s hands and migrated all the way through his body), Armin followed the two of them.  They told him all about the amusement park.  Apparently, this had been a place of fun and entertainment.  People had created these “rides” as a way to get a cheap thrill.  There had been games and food, and sometimes little shows.  It sounded like the kind of story his mother would have told him–except this was real.

     “What’s it like to ride that?” Armin asked, pointing to the giant circle that had first caught his eye.

     “The Ferris Wheel?”  Delaney asked.  “It’s great.  I’ve only been on once though.”

     “Why?  I mean, if you live here–”

     “We don’t run the electric stuff very often.  We have these back-up generators, but Dad’s careful with them.  Only emergencies or special occasions, he says.  He doesn’t want the Governance to know where we’re hiding out.”

     “Hiding out?”

     “Dad will explain.  Come on, he’s probably ready to talk to you now.”

     Delaney (again grabbing both of his hands) led him to the very center of the Park.  Everyone (about ten people, the youngest about fourteen, the oldest in their mid-twenties) was gathered around a comfortable bonfire.  Satchel was seated in a carved out boat, with peeling pink paint and a faded inscription that read T NN L O L VE.  He was stretched out in it, eyes closed. 

     “Come on, Satchel,” Delaney quipped, smacking his shoulder. “I’m not letting you milk that little cut for more than it’s worth.”

     Satchel stuck out his tongue.  “Your Dad said I could have the best seat in the house.”

     “Bet he didn’t say you couldn’t share it.”

     “Didn’t say I had to.”

     Delaney slapped him again, and Satchel moved into a sitting position. 

     Armin stared at them, eyes squinted slightly, and looked around for some vacated spot.

     “Armin, there’s room for three.  Come on.”  Satchel motioned him over, and with a sigh of relief (always better to sit with someone you know), Armin climbed into the boat as well.

     Hobbs came out of one of the buildings, carrying a fold-out chair.

     “Oh–see we’ve got enough, then,” he said, seeing the three huddled into the boat. With a shrug, he took the fold-out chair for himself, placing himself right in the center of attention.  Everyone became very quiet as Hobbs took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts, then:

     “Armin Fisher, if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s truth.  And this kind of strong belief can only come from someone who’s been both lied to and a liar himself.  Only someone who’s played on both sides of the field can truly understand what a glorious and dangerous thing the truth is, so before I say another word, I have to ask you–do you really want to know something as delicate as that?”

     Armin glanced at the pair beside him.  Satchel was staring straight ahead, but Delaney’s encouraging nod was all the encouragement Armin needed to say:

     “Yes.”

     “Okay.”  Hobbs scratched his neck, resituated himself on the chair, then said: “The beginning of a very long story: I wake up every morning wondering if I am a good man.  I figure I must be a better man than I used to be, but here I sit, in an abandoned amusement park, surrounded by people–young people with their whole lives in front of them–who would be safer if they were ignorant and at home.  And yet, I’ve taken them from their little havens and from their families, and I’ve told them the truth.  Does that make me a bad person?  Some days, I think that it does.  Others, I think I’m working for some sort of greater good, but who the hell elected me as the sole person to decide what the greater good was?  It’s a fight I have almost every day, but I keep doing it because, deep-down, I feel that the Governance is worse.  And as long as I think that, I won’t be able to stop educating people.  That’s what we’ve got going on here–an education program.

     “It started about two years ago.  As I’ve already told you, I was a scientist for the Governance.  Our job was to create poisons–”

     “Poisons?” Armin interrupted.  “But the Governance promised that no chemical warfare would ever happen again!”

     “And so they did. The key word being ‘warfare.’  They told us–the scientists that is–that the poisons we were creating were to be used to crush any rebellions.  They said they had created a near-utopia, but human nature being what it is, there was always a threat.  They claimed that they used it against Twickens–feeding our gullible minds with an urban legend.”

     “An urban–?”

     “The Twicken myth has existed since the Great Fissure itself.  The Governance has consistently used it to their advantage.  Something that has never existed outside of the masses’ imaginations and the Governance’s machinations.  But I’ll explain more about that momentarily.”  Hobbs cleared his throat. “Anyways, we scientists thought we were creating something special, something to help everyone.  We thought of ourselves as the world’s first line of defense, a rather testosterone-inducing idea for a bunch of brainiacs.

     “Well, the day came when I decided I wanted to do more.  Why stop with just this poison? I asked myself.  Why not try and do something that would help people expand their very limiting lives?  So, on my own time, I began running experiments on the environment.  What a hero I would be, I thought, if I could discover a way to dissipate the chemicals.  But do you know what I found?”

     Armin thought he knew the answer, but he stayed quiet.  Everyone had adopted disgusted expressions, and he did his best to copy them.

     “I found that the chemical traces were so minute they might as well have not been there at all.  Oxygen levels were stable; water contamination was extremely minimal–possibly even better than before the Great Fissure.  With this new information, I decided to run possibly riskiest experiment of my life.  I took a step outside.”  Hobbs smiled. “Then I took another, and another.  And then I took a whole walk!”  He released a humorless laugh.  “What a discovery!, I thought.  I was going to be the first person to tell everyone that the outside world was safe; we could leave our computers and start rebuilding the old life again.  But there was a bit of a kink in my plan–the Governance already knew.  Had known for years.  And they swore me to secrecy, when I refused…. When I refused, I came home to find a dead wife and a crying daughter.  My own poison, the one I had helped to create, had been used against me.”

     Armin glanced at Delaney; Satchel had placed a comforting hand on hers.  He wanted to do the same, tried, then stopped.  He must’ve looked like he had a nervous tick, because Delaney gave a little smile.

     “They always go after the spouse first.  They send a message.  Then they can use your kids as blackmail.  Except I wasn’t going to take it.  I told Delaney to leave home, to run, and I’d leave to.  We eventually found each other, and we continued on, with only limited rations, until we came upon this Park.  Since then, we have gardened and fished, and lived like right pioneers.  Well–”  He shrugged, “–if pioneers lived in an amusement park.”

     “The Governance killed–” Armin began, but then he realized how insensitive that sounded.  “I’m sorry.”

     “It’s okay, Armin.  Don’t apologize for something you didn’t cause.”  Hobbs looked around at the other faces, sparks from the fire framing his head.  They crackled and popped for a few minutes as Hobbs prepared the next part of his story:

     “Before I made a run for it, though, I managed to send out a video.  Apparently it went viral like that.” He snapped his fingers.  “Unfortunately, the Governance was prepared.  They used my little try at rebellion as an opportunity for propaganda.”

     “Propaganda?” Armin had never heard the word before, but Satchel supplied a definition before Hobbs could even open his mouth:

     “When someone powerful uses the media to make you think a certain way.”

     “Oh.”

     “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Hobbs confirmed.  “They created Hem-V, a hero who’s antics constantly warn about the dangers of going outside and the inter-everything that the Governance relies on.  And, the best of course, warning against Twickens.

     “They designed Professor Pathos after me.  With a look alike and a lot of technical magic, they made me a fugitive without ever having to admit that someone was living outside with no chemical threat.  They made sure that anyone seen walking outside–such as Satchel–would be feared and, if possible, destroyed.  Wasn’t that your first impulse?”

     Armin didn’t answer.  How could he have been so used? 

     “Which brings us back to my little program,” Hobbs continued.  “It is Satchel’s job to do whatever he can to recruit as many new people as possible.  He’s proven himself to be both persuasive and stealthy, so he’s a natural at it.  We have a few other recruiters as well–”  He nodded at a pair, one boy and one girl, both in their late teens. “–but Satchel still holds the record for most recruits.”

     “It’s a title I hold proudly.”

     “The rest of us are runaways,” Bly offered.  “We couldn’t stand being under the Governance like that, so we left and came here.”

     “Sometimes just refusing to belong is the best rebellion there is,” Delaney explained. 

     “The amount of what we can do is limited,” Hobbs agreed with a sigh. “The Governance is many and powerful and we–well, take a look around.”

     Suddenly, the Parkseemed like nothing more than a hunk of twisted metal, tossed away and ignored. 

     “But it’s a start, and–” Hobbs shared a significant look with Satchel.  “–we’ve recently gained a new advantage.

     “But that’s us.  Who we are, what we stand for.  Not really all that dangerous, just a little… rebellious.  Though, of course, the Governance would think otherwise.  Do you have any questions, Armin?”

     All eyes were now on Armin, and he gulped.  He’d never had an audience before (the hundreds of people online suddenly seemed less real than the bodies sitting around him).  “Um… can I ask one?”

     “Please do.”

     “Were the chemicals ever real?”

     Hobbs breathed a long sigh.  “Yes, they must have been.  I said there were minute traces, remember.  And there have been skeletons discovered, mid-activity, many right here in the Park–don’t worry, you won’t find them.  We gave them proper burials.  But yes, there was some sort of warfare.  The Governance must have seen it coming.  I don’t know much about how they did.  Those who like a good conspiracy seem to think that they were a renegade bunch of radicals who slowly infiltrated the biggest governments of the day, initiating and instigating the warfare.  I, myself, think they were either a government that existed and saved a few successful or powerful people–”

     “But there’s compounds supervised by the Governance all over the world!” Armin argued.  “On the other side of the ocean!”

     “Yes.  I said one government was in charge of it.  I didn’t say they didn’t have allies in other countries.”

     “Oh.”

     “Either that, or they could have been a group of people–maybe a cult or something–that predicted a doomsday event like the Great Fissure.  So when it happened, they and their followers throughout the world were ready.  Whatever theory you believe–because I’m sorry to say that the Governance has done a good job in keeping the truth very fuzzy, even for me–but ultimately, they were prepared.  They had created the compounds, stored the food, water and oxygen, and utilized the interweb to its fullest potential.  The Governance, in the beginning, is what saved us, but now, it the very thing imprisoning us.  So is the way with power.” 

     “Satchel told me,” Armin began with a wary look at Satchel, who’s hand was still–(still? Armin thought)–on Delaney’s.  “Well… um… he told me that the Governance wanted to keep us inside.”

     “And so they do,” Hobbs agreed.  “It is much easier to control people who are contained than people who are free.  What’s more interesting is the complete lack of interest to go outside.  That video I sent out–the one that recreated me as the evil Professor Pathos–Satchel is the only one I have found who took that advice, took the risk, and stepped outside.”

     “You’ve been with him for three years?”

     “Not quite,” Satchel clarified.  “It took me a while to find him.  My dad went with me, but the Governance caught up with us.” Satchel swallowed.  “I hid, but the Governance took him… I don’t know where.”

     “How did they find you?”

     “We were clumsy and stupid.  We tried to hide in the compounds, but that didn’t work.  Late at night, Governance officials comb the areas, doing what they have to do to keep people inside.  If you don’t know their schedules–which I have since memorized–then you’re in trouble.”

     “Maybe your dad’s still alive.”

     “Yeah, maybe,” Satchel muttered, though his voice didn’t sound very confident.  He’d removed his hand from Delaney’s, and was staring off in the distance.

     “The interweb is more than just a way to keep people from getting cabin fever, more than entertainment and communication,” Hobbs continued.  “It’s a way for the Governance to watch everyone.  The Governance knows everyone probably better than they know themselves.  And not because they’re spying or invading, but because they’re just reading.  That’s it.  People post pictures and comments, statuses and Quips–have you ever realized how personal they are?  It takes so little to get to know someone when they put everything out there.  The Governance trains people to study those traits, and then learn how to use them against their victims.  Keeping people inside keeps them inter-connected, and that keeps the Governance in control.”

     “Basically,” Satchel supplied, sitting up and looking from Armin to the gathering around them.  “It takes three things to create a Governance: A dollop of fear.  A pinch of imprisonment.  And a liberal cup of spineless choice.  Do you realize how much of this happened just because no one stood up and said no, how much of this is the result of people letting the Governance in?”

     “People are lazy,” Delaney interjected.  She was sitting as straight as Satchel now, wide eyes furious.  “Why would they fight the Governance? They don’t have to work; everything is given to them!  All they have to sacrifice is their freedom for lives of luxury, and let’s face it, for most people that’s a fair trade.”

     “Doesn’t seem fair to me,” Armin muttered.  Only hours outside of the compound, and there was an almost physical reaction to being outside and with people.  It made his heart race and his skin prickle at the very thought that he was doing something real, rather than digital.  It was unbelievable, almost dreamlike.

     But there he was. And, even better, there she was, smiling at him and saying:

     “I knew I liked you.”

     “Thanks,” he said dumbly, smiling around at everyone else, who looked just as happy as Delaney.

     “Excellent,” Hobbs said.  “One more down.”

“Can you talk or what?”

     Delaney waved a hand in front of Armin.  She had a face that was made for smiling: high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and sparkling eyes.  Her extremely curly hair was thrown back into a pony tail, and her tan complexion was soft in the moonlight.

     “He could a minute ago.”  Satchel clapped Armin on the back.  “But I think that frizz fest on your head might’ve sent an electric current through the air and shocked him.”

     “Oh, shut-up.”  She held out a hand, and Armin took it awkwardly.  “I’m Delaney Hobbs.”

     “And this is Armin Fisher,” Satchel supplied.  “Hey, listen, is your dad around?  I’ve got a bit of a problem.”  He moved his hand, revealing a blotch of fresh blood. 

     Delaney gasped.  “What happened?  Are you okay?”

     “I’ll be better once I see your dad.  Where’s he at?”

     “Behind you might be a good place to look.”

     Satchel turned around, breathing a deep sigh of relief.  “Hey, Hobbs.  Think you could help me out?”

     Armin, after another long glance at Delaney, turned around, too.

     “YOU!”  Armin shouted, taking several steps backward and glaring at the newcomer with wide eyes.  He had seen that man before–he knew him well.  He had booed him episode after episode, cheered when Hem-V had, again and again, triumphed over his evil powers.

     Professor Pathos was staring right at him.  He looked more relaxed than during any episode, but it was undoubtedly the same person: same curly brown hair and thick glasses.  He wasn’t wearing the usual scientist lab coat, but instead was wrapped in a raggedy bath robe.

     “I see,” Professor Pathos began mildly, “that my fame precedes an introduction.”

     “You tricked me!” Armin shouted, rounding on Satchel.  “You’re part of his plan to create an army of Twickens–recruit, debriefed–how could I have been so stupid!”  He made to run away, but two pairs of strong arms held him back.

     “Calm down, kid!”

     “Yeah, you’ll get lost runnin’ off at this hour!”

     Armin continued to squirm: two men, both probably in their early twenties, were holding him back. 

     “Let me go!”

     “Looks like you’ve brought a live one, Satchel,” another voice supplied, and with a surge of terror, Armin realized there were more of them: they were coming from behind the buildings, staring at him, laughing.  More Twickens–all tan and stronger than him.

     “I’ll never join you, Pathos!”

     A chorus of laughter.

     “Satchel,” one of them, a girl with short, choppy red hair, admonished, “it’s your job to explain everything.”

     “This wasn’t my typical run. I–ouch!”

     “Sorry,” Pathos muttered.  He was examining Satchel’s wound.  “What did you do, use needle and thread?”

     “You can thank my surgeon, after he’s done freaking out,” Satchel muttered. 

     “I would’ve thought Dav could have–wait, where is Dav?”

     All the laughter disappeared as quickly as water sucked down a drain.  Armin, still struggling, was the only person making any sound at all.

     “Dav’s dead,” Satchel said quietly.  “I think they went after his family and he… he got mad at me for it.  So–”  He nodded to where Pathos was now working diligently, using materials from a first aid kit Delaney had fetched for him.  “So he stabbed me.  It was awful.  I think… dammit, I think he wanted me to see him die.  He… he really blamed me for what they did, and he wanted me to suffer by… by watching him–do I have to say any more?”  He gave Pathos a pleading look, and Pathos shook his head. 

     “That’s enough, Satchel.  We all get the picture.  Luckily, you’re okay.”

     “You can thank him.”  Satchel nodded to Armin, whose flailing resembled a fish trying to break free from a net.

     “Then let’s.”  Pathos straightened and approached Armin, who only began to fight harder, grunting and groaning.

     “Thank you for saving our dear friend.”

     “If I’d known what he was a part of, I woulda turned him in!  He tricked me, he–”

     “Come on, kid,” the redhead said with a sneer.  “That’s a TV show.  You don’t honestly think that’s the evil Professor Pathos, do you?”

     “Don’t fault him too harshly, Bly.  The line between reality and fiction is easily blurred, and the Governance knows it.”  He grinned at Armin in a way someone would when talking to a tantrum-throwing toddler.  “Allow me to introduce myself using my preferred name.  I am Milo Hobbs, former scientist for the Governance Research Facility.”

     Armin didn’t stop struggling.

     “I trust you saw my video I made a few years ago?  I also hope you realize that I was right–the Governance has been restricting the populace, using a nonexistent threat to exert their control and force.”

     “Yeah right.  I knew I shouldn’t’ve followed Satchel!  You’re all–”

     “Twickens?  Well, if the logic is that being exposed to chemicals makes you a Twicken–if it doesn’t kill you, that is–then aren’t you also now a Twicken?”

     Armin stopped struggling.  “What?”

     “Aren’t you also a Twicken?  Tell me, do you have a craving for spleen stew?”

     Nervous laughter spread through the group.  The hands on Armin’s shoulders slackened, then let go, and Armin didn’t try to run.  He realized he must have looked very silly, reacting as though a fictional villain was right in front of him… but he was.  That was Professor Pathos.

     “I’m sorry,” Armin said.  “I just–”

     “Reacted the way the Governance programmed you to.  My dear boy, no one can blame you for that.  Believe me, compared to some recruits, you were downright tame!”  The laughter became stronger, and soon everyone was welcoming him, introducing themselves.  Armin had never been around so many people, had never been touched by so many unfamiliar hands.  His eyes, however, sought just one other: Delaney came up to him, slapped him playfully, and said, “That’s for thinking my dad was a crazed super-villain.”

     “Your dad?”

     “Yeah.”  She smiled.  “And this–” She gave him a light peck on the cheek. “–is for helping Satchel.”

     “Not a problem,” Armin wanted to say, but it got caught somewhere in his throat.

     “I didn’t raise my daughter to give out kisses like they were chocolates!” Hobbs shouted from where he had returned to Satchel. 

     “Just a thank you.”

     “At least learn his name first,” Hobbs argued, squirting clear liquid onto a clean rag.

     “I do know his name.  It’s Armin Fisher.”

     Hobbs dropped the rag and the bottle; the strong smelling liquid soaked into the dirt and Hobbs swore loudly, grabbing it and standing bolt upright.

     “Fisher did you say?”

     “Yeah,” Delaney confirmed.

     Hobbs raised an eyebrow at Armin, then turned on Satchel.  “Fisher?”

     “Yeah, so what, Hobbs?”

     Hobbs spun on the spot, staring at all three of them in turn–Delaney, then Satchel, then Armin, then Satchel again.

     “Okay, okay, we can… we can do this.  Come on, Satchel, you need to lie down.” 

     The two of them, Hobbs now whispering fiercely in Satchel’s ear, walked off, leaving Armin feeling alone and confused with his overly-eager welcoming party.

     “Is there a problem?” he asked no one in particular.

     “Don’t worry about it,” Delaney said with a shrug.  “That’s just my dad for you.  Sometimes he gets worked up.  The things he’s seen will do that to a person.”

     “What has he seen?”

     “Oh, he’ll explain all of that.  But first–” Delaney spun around, grabbing his arms and leading him forward, towards the metal monsters, “–a tour!”

     “Yeah,” the redhead–Bly?–agreed.  “Now that you’re here, you’ll need to know your way around.”

     Feeling suddenly warm (a sensation that started at Delaney’s hands and migrated all the way through his body), Armin followed the two of them.  They told him all about the amusement park.  Apparently, this had been a place of fun and entertainment.  People had created these “rides” as a way to get a cheap thrill.  There had been games and food, and sometimes little shows.  It sounded like the kind of story his mother would have told him–except this was real.

     “What’s it like to ride that?” Armin asked, pointing to the giant circle that had first caught his eye.

     “The Ferris Wheel?”  Delaney asked.  “It’s great.  I’ve only been on once though.”

     “Why?  I mean, if you live here–”

     “We don’t run the electric stuff very often.  We have these back-up generators, but Dad’s careful with them.  Only emergencies or special occasions, he says.  He doesn’t want the Governance to know where we’re hiding out.”

     “Hiding out?”

     “Dad will explain.  Come on, he’s probably ready to talk to you now.”

     Delaney (again grabbing both of his hands) led him to the very center of the Park.  Everyone (about ten people, the youngest about fourteen, the oldest in their mid-twenties) was gathered around a comfortable bonfire.  Satchel was seated in a carved out boat, with peeling pink paint and a faded inscription that read T NN L O L VE.  He was stretched out in it, eyes closed. 

     “Come on, Satchel,” Delaney quipped, smacking his shoulder. “I’m not letting you milk that little cut for more than it’s worth.”

     Satchel stuck out his tongue.  “Your Dad said I could have the best seat in the house.”

     “Bet he didn’t say you couldn’t share it.”

     “Didn’t say I had to.”

     Delaney slapped him again, and Satchel moved into a sitting position. 

     Armin stared at them, eyes squinted slightly, and looked around for some vacated spot.

     “Armin, there’s room for three.  Come on.”  Satchel motioned him over, and with a sigh of relief (always better to sit with someone you know), Armin climbed into the boat as well.

     Hobbs came out of one of the buildings, carrying a fold-out chair.

     “Oh–see we’ve got enough, then,” he said, seeing the three huddled into the boat. With a shrug, he took the fold-out chair for himself, placing himself right in the center of attention.  Everyone became very quiet as Hobbs took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts, then:

     “Armin Fisher, if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s truth.  And this kind of strong belief can only come from someone who’s been both lied to and a liar himself.  Only someone who’s played on both sides of the field can truly understand what a glorious and dangerous thing the truth is, so before I say another word, I have to ask you–do you really want to know something as delicate as that?”

     Armin glanced at the pair beside him.  Satchel was staring straight ahead, but Delaney’s encouraging nod was all the encouragement Armin needed to say:

     “Yes.”

     “Okay.”  Hobbs scratched his neck, resituated himself on the chair, then said: “The beginning of a very long story: I wake up every morning wondering if I am a good man.  I figure I must be a better man than I used to be, but here I sit, in an abandoned amusement park, surrounded by people–young people with their whole lives in front of them–who would be safer if they were ignorant and at home.  And yet, I’ve taken them from their little havens and from their families, and I’ve told them the truth.  Does that make me a bad person?  Some days, I think that it does.  Others, I think I’m working for some sort of greater good, but who the hell elected me as the sole person to decide what the greater good was?  It’s a fight I have almost every day, but I keep doing it because, deep-down, I feel that the Governance is worse.  And as long as I think that, I won’t be able to stop educating people.  That’s what we’ve got going on here–an education program.

     “It started about two years ago.  As I’ve already told you, I was a scientist for the Governance.  Our job was to create poisons–”

     “Poisons?” Armin interrupted.  “But the Governance promised that no chemical warfare would ever happen again!”

     “And so they did. The key word being ‘warfare.’  They told us–the scientists that is–that the poisons we were creating were to be used to crush any rebellions.  They said they had created a near-utopia, but human nature being what it is, there was always a threat.  They claimed that they used it against Twickens–feeding our gullible minds with an urban legend.”

     “An urban–?”

     “The Twicken myth has existed since the Great Fissure itself.  The Governance has consistently used it to their advantage.  Something that has never existed outside of the masses’ imaginations and the Governance’s machinations.  But I’ll explain more about that momentarily.”  Hobbs cleared his throat. “Anyways, we scientists thought we were creating something special, something to help everyone.  We thought of ourselves as the world’s first line of defense, a rather testosterone-inducing idea for a bunch of brainiacs.

     “Well, the day came when I decided I wanted to do more.  Why stop with just this poison? I asked myself.  Why not try and do something that would help people expand their very limiting lives?  So, on my own time, I began running experiments on the environment.  What a hero I would be, I thought, if I could discover a way to dissipate the chemicals.  But do you know what I found?”

     Armin thought he knew the answer, but he stayed quiet.  Everyone had adopted disgusted expressions, and he did his best to copy them.

     “I found that the chemical traces were so minute they might as well have not been there at all.  Oxygen levels were stable; water contamination was extremely minimal–possibly even better than before the Great Fissure.  With this new information, I decided to run possibly riskiest experiment of my life.  I took a step outside.”  Hobbs smiled. “Then I took another, and another.  And then I took a whole walk!”  He released a humorless laugh.  “What a discovery!, I thought.  I was going to be the first person to tell everyone that the outside world was safe; we could leave our computers and start rebuilding the old life again.  But there was a bit of a kink in my plan–the Governance already knew.  Had known for years.  And they swore me to secrecy, when I refused…. When I refused, I came home to find a dead wife and a crying daughter.  My own poison, the one I had helped to create, had been used against me.”

     Armin glanced at Delaney; Satchel had placed a comforting hand on hers.  He wanted to do the same, tried, then stopped.  He must’ve looked like he had a nervous tick, because Delaney gave a little smile.

     “They always go after the spouse first.  They send a message.  Then they can use your kids as blackmail.  Except I wasn’t going to take it.  I told Delaney to leave home, to run, and I’d leave to.  We eventually found each other, and we continued on, with only limited rations, until we came upon this Park.  Since then, we have gardened and fished, and lived like right pioneers.  Well–”  He shrugged, “–if pioneers lived in an amusement park.”

     “The Governance killed–” Armin began, but then he realized how insensitive that sounded.  “I’m sorry.”

     “It’s okay, Armin.  Don’t apologize for something you didn’t cause.”  Hobbs looked around at the other faces, sparks from the fire framing his head.  They crackled and popped for a few minutes as Hobbs prepared the next part of his story:

     “Before I made a run for it, though, I managed to send out a video.  Apparently it went viral like that.” He snapped his fingers.  “Unfortunately, the Governance was prepared.  They used my little try at rebellion as an opportunity for propaganda.”

     “Propaganda?” Armin had never heard the word before, but Satchel supplied a definition before Hobbs could even open his mouth:

     “When someone powerful uses the media to make you think a certain way.”

     “Oh.”

     “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Hobbs confirmed.  “They created Hem-V, a hero who’s antics constantly warn about the dangers of going outside and the inter-everything that the Governance relies on.  And, the best of course, warning against Twickens.

     “They designed Professor Pathos after me.  With a look alike and a lot of technical magic, they made me a fugitive without ever having to admit that someone was living outside with no chemical threat.  They made sure that anyone seen walking outside–such as Satchel–would be feared and, if possible, destroyed.  Wasn’t that your first impulse?”

     Armin didn’t answer.  How could he have been so used? 

     “Which brings us back to my little program,” Hobbs continued.  “It is Satchel’s job to do whatever he can to recruit as many new people as possible.  He’s proven himself to be both persuasive and stealthy, so he’s a natural at it.  We have a few other recruiters as well–”  He nodded at a pair, one boy and one girl, both in their late teens. “–but Satchel still holds the record for most recruits.”

     “It’s a title I hold proudly.”

     “The rest of us are runaways,” Bly offered.  “We couldn’t stand being under the Governance like that, so we left and came here.”

     “Sometimes just refusing to belong is the best rebellion there is,” Delaney explained. 

     “The amount of what we can do is limited,” Hobbs agreed with a sigh. “The Governance is many and powerful and we–well, take a look around.”

     Suddenly, the Parkseemed like nothing more than a hunk of twisted metal, tossed away and ignored. 

     “But it’s a start, and–” Hobbs shared a significant look with Satchel.  “–we’ve recently gained a new advantage.

     “But that’s us.  Who we are, what we stand for.  Not really all that dangerous, just a little… rebellious.  Though, of course, the Governance would think otherwise.  Do you have any questions, Armin?”

     All eyes were now on Armin, and he gulped.  He’d never had an audience before (the hundreds of people online suddenly seemed less real than the bodies sitting around him).  “Um… can I ask one?”

     “Please do.”

     “Were the chemicals ever real?”

     Hobbs breathed a long sigh.  “Yes, they must have been.  I said there were minute traces, remember.  And there have been skeletons discovered, mid-activity, many right here in the Park–don’t worry, you won’t find them.  We gave them proper burials.  But yes, there was some sort of warfare.  The Governance must have seen it coming.  I don’t know much about how they did.  Those who like a good conspiracy seem to think that they were a renegade bunch of radicals who slowly infiltrated the biggest governments of the day, initiating and instigating the warfare.  I, myself, think they were either a government that existed and saved a few successful or powerful people–”

     “But there’s compounds supervised by the Governance all over the world!” Armin argued.  “On the other side of the ocean!”

     “Yes.  I said one government was in charge of it.  I didn’t say they didn’t have allies in other countries.”

     “Oh.”

     “Either that, or they could have been a group of people–maybe a cult or something–that predicted a doomsday event like the Great Fissure.  So when it happened, they and their followers throughout the world were ready.  Whatever theory you believe–because I’m sorry to say that the Governance has done a good job in keeping the truth very fuzzy, even for me–but ultimately, they were prepared.  They had created the compounds, stored the food, water and oxygen, and utilized the interweb to its fullest potential.  The Governance, in the beginning, is what saved us, but now, it the very thing imprisoning us.  So is the way with power.” 

     “Satchel told me,” Armin began with a wary look at Satchel, who’s hand was still–(still? Armin thought)–on Delaney’s.  “Well… um… he told me that the Governance wanted to keep us inside.”

     “And so they do,” Hobbs agreed.  “It is much easier to control people who are contained than people who are free.  What’s more interesting is the complete lack of interest to go outside.  That video I sent out–the one that recreated me as the evil Professor Pathos–Satchel is the only one I have found who took that advice, took the risk, and stepped outside.”

     “You’ve been with him for three years?”

     “Not quite,” Satchel clarified.  “It took me a while to find him.  My dad went with me, but the Governance caught up with us.” Satchel swallowed.  “I hid, but the Governance took him… I don’t know where.”

     “How did they find you?”

     “We were clumsy and stupid.  We tried to hide in the compounds, but that didn’t work.  Late at night, Governance officials comb the areas, doing what they have to do to keep people inside.  If you don’t know their schedules–which I have since memorized–then you’re in trouble.”

     “Maybe your dad’s still alive.”

     “Yeah, maybe,” Satchel muttered, though his voice didn’t sound very confident.  He’d removed his hand from Delaney’s, and was staring off in the distance.

     “The interweb is more than just a way to keep people from getting cabin fever, more than entertainment and communication,” Hobbs continued.  “It’s a way for the Governance to watch everyone.  The Governance knows everyone probably better than they know themselves.  And not because they’re spying or invading, but because they’re just reading.  That’s it.  People post pictures and comments, statuses and Quips–have you ever realized how personal they are?  It takes so little to get to know someone when they put everything out there.  The Governance trains people to study those traits, and then learn how to use them against their victims.  Keeping people inside keeps them inter-connected, and that keeps the Governance in control.”

     “Basically,” Satchel supplied, sitting up and looking from Armin to the gathering around them.  “It takes three things to create a Governance: A dollop of fear.  A pinch of imprisonment.  And a liberal cup of spineless choice.  Do you realize how much of this happened just because no one stood up and said no, how much of this is the result of people letting the Governance in?”

     “People are lazy,” Delaney interjected.  She was sitting as straight as Satchel now, wide eyes furious.  “Why would they fight the Governance? They don’t have to work; everything is given to them!  All they have to sacrifice is their freedom for lives of luxury, and let’s face it, for most people that’s a fair trade.”

     “Doesn’t seem fair to me,” Armin muttered.  Only hours outside of the compound, and there was an almost physical reaction to being outside and with people.  It made his heart race and his skin prickle at the very thought that he was doing something real, rather than digital.  It was unbelievable, almost dreamlike.

     But there he was. And, even better, there she was, smiling at him and saying:

     “I knew I liked you.”

     “Thanks,” he said dumbly, smiling around at everyone else, who looked just as happy as Delaney.

     “Excellent,” Hobbs said.  “One more down.”

To be continued.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

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