The preacher man’s hands shook fiercely as he held the tool deftly over the nano sensor, as he had done hundreds of times over the last several years. He strained to keep them steady, knowing that all these years of work, of sacrifice, could be blown with one wrong twitch. The man emptied his mind of the boy so he could focus on the task at hand. While he imagined the scenario over and over, knowing that some day, somewhere, this would all be over and he could return home — nothing had truly prepared him for seeing Ryder. He was so much a man and still so much the infant boy he had remembered.
While he had not anticipated the strange turn of events that had transpired these last few weeks, the preacher’s soul trembled with joy that universe had conspired to bring these series of events about. He looked at the nano sensor resting so benignly under the high powered microscope. This. This could change everything. This was power in the right hands. Wasn’t that what all this had been about? He knew as a preacher that sometimes words must be followed by actions. And as a man of God he knew such action would require sacrifice. He didn’t see any other way. His faith convinced him that forgiveness was also possible. Would Ryder and Kelly forgive him for his deception? They had to. Only his wife and English knew of his whereabouts. To tell anyone else would compromise the project, not to mention their very physical safety. Ryder, being a child, would not have understood. He would have defied any rules to go and find his father. The man laughed under his breath, still steadying his hands at work. Well, he wound up here anyway, on his own accord. Ironic maybe. Destiny? Didn’t matter. What mattered was that now he knew what was possible. The moment he saw Ryder posing as a food server across that large ballroom standing dutifully besides English, he knew that something transformative was going to happen.
His fondest memory of Kelly was as they stood as young adolescent brothers atop the data pods, together rallying the people toward certain victory all those decades ago. Kelly and the Black Hatters leading the charge. It was finally over, and they cheered to one another. Hope, like a rare gem, shone bright that day. But Preacher had studied the ways of power, domination, and human nature in seminary. The lingering possibility that in fact, even though they decolonized themselves, it wasn’t over, gnawed at his consciousness.
He had tried to talk it out with his community parish on the 10 year anniversary of their liberation. The room was packed because finally had people begun to believe again that change was possible. Things were going so well. He argued, “The colonizers have a playbook. They’ve had it for centuries. They force those that are not them, into a state of weakened dependency. And then they castigate those peoples for the same dependency they created. The colonizers lie, saying what they want is to free themselves of the ‘burden’ we seem to be upon them. They say that: We… cost them money. We….cause problems. We… are cause of our own demise …. For our poverty, for our lack of education, for our lack of ….well, you name it. Lack induced by their colonizing ways. But that story is powerful and it worked for a long time. But here we stand today, liberated from that never-ending sick pattern of domination. We remain vigilant over the data pods, protecting them from the grips of those that wish to reclaim us.”
People cried and cheered, clapping their hands. When the roar died down he continued. “Today we remember our freedom. We have finally extracted ourselves from their yoke. We are self-sustaining. We chart our own way. We no longer depend on the colonizers and their corporations for their education, for their jobs, their food, their housing. We own our future.” He looked at the face of his infant son and wife, and imagined their future.
There were more cheers. His face then became overcast. “However, I have come to believe something else about those that have dominated us for long. For centuries we were taught to need them, to live in forced reliance upon them for our existence. And we proved them wrong…yes, we did. But here’s the twist. I fear that it is they– that need us. They need us in a subservient position of domination. They never wanted us to be free of their control even despite their snake oil promises for policies that would somehow “lift us up” from the very conditions they created. Now that we are free of them, they will do everything in their power to get us back. Why? Why can’t they live free themselves and leave us alone? We are no longer a so-called burden. Why? Because the opposite of what we have been conditioned to believe is true. It is this. They will come back for us because they need our dependency for their existence. They cannot survive without us under their boot.”
The room fell silent. He could hear shoes scuffing the wooden floor and the cry of a small baby echoing in the rafters of the high ceiling. No more cheers. This wasn’t the rallying cry they had expected. His heart sank. Even Kelly had a strange look that suggested, “What are you saying, man?” What they wanted to hear and what he knew to be true fell out of alignment. So he redirected his sermon back to the soaring poetry of hope and promise. Hadn’t they created a new life for 10 years already? A community on their own terms. In their own image. Yeah. It would be great.
It was the preacher’s job to make sure they succeeded. So he sacrificed his life in order to create an insurance policy against future attacks. He knew in his gut that RO wouldn’t give up. Their dependency on the dependency of others was a sick addiction to power and control. And addicts don’t simply walk away from the tongs they need the most. RO simply had to rethink their strategy for scoring their dope; the people. Atop the data pods, groaning in defeat, Kelley was on patrol of the data pods that evening. The preacher took one last look at his brother, and quietly slipped behind the machines into the back side streets and up toward his home, for one last goodbye. English was waiting for him at the edge of the fields beyond the community gardens. They had to move quickly. Ryder was still a baby. In despairing whispers under the soft lamp light, he and his wife agreed this must be done. She would keep his secret. They would stay in touch. English would send messages routinely between them. It won’t be forever, they promised each other. “Stick to the story” he said. Yes she nodded, “You went out, off grid, to do mission work with a bourgeoning decolonizing zone. They were attacked. You never returned. MIA.” Her words tightened around the airway in her throat. He kissed his infant son gently on the forehead, slung his knapsack over his shoulder and winnowed his way like a shadow through the streets.
It felt like a lifetime ago, when he was young and fearless. Now at 42, he was feeling is age. And ten years away from his wife and child, who was now a young man of fourteen, felt like an eternity of absence.
What he hadn’t planned on was the brilliance and organizing capacity of the young people of Interregnum City, notably among them his own son. They had figured out, without his aid, what RO’s next steps would be. And they came here to stop it, not really sure how they would, but knowing they had to find a way. English had filled the preacher in on how Ryder and Keesha had hacked Susan’s computer and discovered the evidence to confirm their theory: that the data pods were a distraction. Attempts by RO to reclaim dominance over them would be acquired not through obvious force, but through a manufactured crisis — through the very resources that make life itself possible: food and water. Once Interregnum City’s self-sustaining supply of food and water were destroyed they would have no choice but to rely on RO for their survival. But food and water dependency weren’t enough. They weren’t merely trying to profit from sales of goods. RO had learned their lesson—that people will claw their way to freedom eventually and with new technologies being developed in Arizona and elsewhere for cities to hope for decolonization, RO knew the city and its people would never stop trying, and possibly succeeding. What they needed was a permanent, invisible, indelible source of surveillance and control to develop indefinite dependency.
For ten years the preacher had found a way to infiltrate the RO laboratory; working his way up from lab technician now to project leader with access to every top secret project. He had paid close attention in his youth as his brother Kelly moved up the ranks of the Black Hatters. He knew enough just from listening and watching Kelly to make himself a believable “tech guy” and with a recommendation from English to Mr. Parks, he was in.
Then all he had to do was continue to prove himself, and to keep his subterfuge under wraps. It was a close call, when he infected the fetus tracking project with a virus that left the embryos successfully tagged with genetic modifications yet impossible to track. He had been successful but one slip up and he would have been exposed. But the risks had been worth it. From that trail experiment Preacher was able to accomplish what he called Phase Two, which he was now perfecting. He kept his hands steady under the microscope. Seeing Ryder with English at the ballroom where RO announced to its investors that they had the “next big thing” in data surveillance, he knew that this Phase two was possible.
As he had explained to English, the evening after he had passed out and recovered without notice thanks to Ryder, they could make a real plan — one that, if it worked would end this battle for freedom from corporate control once and for all. While he had successfully altered the genetically modified microscopic nano sensors without RO knowing, he still had not figured out what to do with this secretly modified material. Now he knew. Thanks to the plan crafted by Ryder. English had told him everything. Preacher knew about RO grand plan, about the use of machine to destroy the water and land of all decolonized zones. But it was Ryder, with Keesha and Deacon who had imagined how to use this as a strategy of their own. Like an incomplete puzzle, each had a missing piece (the kids had a plan but no weapon and Preacher had a weapon but no plan). Fate had bought them together one not knowing what the other had, or knew…and now they could come together and end this once and for all.
But even as much as Preacher worried about the logistics of the execution of this plan which would require the entire community, he worried about the reaction Ryder would have when he was reunited with the father he thought he had lost.