“Let me start off by saying we’re the bad guys.”
Local committee meetings weren’t supposed to be this direct, nor this effective. If you’re not a patient reader, I’ll tell you I do show up in this story, not just as a narrator. I’m an average, 30 year old, straight, white, male, who had just moved to the calm, level-headed Midwest. Apparently so had this conqueror.
“Again, let me repeat, we are the bad guys. Think of me as a Loki or a Killgrave or a Hitler if you’re not up on your pop culture.”
A rustle of laughter from the crowd. Surely this proposal wouldn’t pass? People couldn’t actually like this guy while he admits to being evil?
“Now, to reiterate the plan, it’s nothing quite so insidious as Kingsman or The World’s End. No one has to die. In fact, no one has to suffer at all anymore. How many of you have read Larry Niven’s Known Space?”
I’m a huge fan of scifi, but even I hadn’t read this. I looked around the room at the varying plump faces of this quiet town. Minutes ago I had intended to simply lurk at committee meetings and introduce myself to the citizenry and learn the lay of the local political landscape until I saw an opportunity to contribute, eventually push the political discourse forwards into initiatives as radical as marriage equality, legalized marijuana, basic income. This… thing… seemed to be proposing quite a few levels beyond my plan.
“We’ll provide everything. For everyone. Forever. You just need to be happy. Well, happy and complacent. We are, after all, the bad guys.”
The man reminded me of a kindly high school English teacher. Not just because of his reference to The World’s End and a similar speech from that high school teacher, but because he actually looked a bit like a healthy, young version of my ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Knutsen.
“We’ve had the great pleasure of meeting with many of you individually, but we can’t proceed without a thorough discussion and vote. It doesn’t need to be unanimous, but the decision will be binding on the naysayers and the abstainers.
“Again, all we ask of you is your happiness and complacency. In the interest of full disclosure, what we’ll really be taking away is your self-determination. We will prevent you from expanding to the stars, or defeating death itself, or being… un-entertaining.
“You also will have no further contact with us. Do we intend to keep you as a wildlife preserve? A zoo? An ant farm? A test lab? A quarantine? A massive computer to determine what relevance the number 42 has? That does not and will not concern you.
“Now then, my precious, beautiful primates. I come offering infinite bananas. I leave it to your social traditions to discuss and vote. Once your decision is made, our work will begin. So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
In a final show of his mystery and power, the man simply turned around, mimed opening a door, and then actually walked through it. Invisible TARDIS, invisibility cloak, or maybe he was a projection the whole time? That didn’t matter now. The mayor stepped confidently to the podium.
“Well, I think I can speak for all of our sleepy little town when I say we are not too proud to turn down a free lunch. I appreciate the kind gentleman’s understanding of Teddy Roosevelt’s vision, and our own happiness.”
“Teddy Roosevelt?” A voice spoke up from the crowd. “That woman clearly spoke directly with my family. All she wants is for us to be happy.” The woman was near tears. I hoped they were of horror, but they seemed to be of joy.
“Fishing and drinking and having my family provided for is all I ever wanted anyway.” Another citizen, conspicuously dressed in camouflage, added.
“All right, all right, let’s try to keep some order.” God bless the mayor for having some common sense. “If we’re all agreed we can skip the discussion and move directly into the vote-”
All eyes turned to me. The new guy. Coming in to ruin a good thing.
“Mr. Mayor, I’m sorry I don’t remember your name. And I don’t know any of you. I know I’m as much a stranger to you as … that thing.”
“That thing is offering salvation!” shouted a priest from the front row. Spittle distance from the mayor, but dozens of humans away from me.
“That thing appeared differently to all of us. And seems to have promised different things. Can we be sure of what we’re agreeing to before we agree to it?” I came here to learn what night I have to take out the garbage, but I wasn’t leaving without arguing for the sovereignty of humanity.
“You sir… Are you some kind of devil, sent to trick us out of our Godly rewards? Question Him in His glory?” The crowd seemed very willing to let the priest speak on their behalf, likely because most of them were in his congregation. I also wasn’t entirely sure he was wrong.
“Did that thing tell the rest of you it was evil? It pretty explicitly explained that to me.”
“AND it offered us all of our earthly desires! While you come in to besmirch him and offer nothing in return!”
“All right, I’d like to bring order back” the mayor again gets a secular god blessing from me, in disagreement with the priest. “Let’s simply discuss and vote, so that those of us who wish to enjoy our new lives may begin them post-haste.”
Their children’s safety. Their lake house. Their lack of ability to reach the stars, regardless. They all made very good, very selfish points, voted yay, and disappeared. Nothing as dramatic as the thing’s invisible door, but their personal reasons served as convenient agreements and excuses to leave the discussion.
The ad hoc discussion seemed to favor those who had lived in town the longest. Not a single person dissented, and I watched the numbers of remaining folks and possible votes diminish. Honestly, I started not to mind. I wasn’t particularly against a nice, quiet, Earth-bound life, but I thought we owed it to ourselves to at least discuss it seriously. Yet the crowd was so unwilling to hear it, so set in their own desires for their earthly desires, that some people even filibustered the point. The night dragged on as people furiously nodded their heads and shook their righteous indignation in my general direction.
It was hopeless. We were condemned to a happy, profitable, loving life. We would be cared for by some supreme being we could never contact or understand. We would live and die here, and we’d love every minute of it.
Eventually, my head began to nod in exhaustion, then assent, then both.
I awoke in my king size, extra soft sheets atop my memory foam, cheaply delivered, American made mattress/bed super saver combo, next to my beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring Midwestern wife who slept calmly. A slight noise reminded me of our dog, also peacefully asleep and gently snoring on her own comfortable, cheap, responsibly sourced bed. I stared at the ceiling of our vintage, affordable house in an up-and-coming neighborhood near my wife’s loving family. I was happy.
It couldn’t have been more then a dream, right? If it was, and you disobeyed, what could these all-powerful beings do? I was terrified, wondering if I could even begin to wonder how I might break their rules. Was that against the rules?
I was happy.