The Shepherd

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Chapter 2

A Couple of Hours Later, Ritch Falls’ residence; within a towering apartment complex…

Ritch had his lunch after finishing up his errands before going into his second shift job. He had his personal device on the news while he was washing up his plate from his meal. He lived alone so dishes were easy to stay on top of, as a chore.

While he was grabbing his clothes, appropriate for his office job, the news from his pd’s screen flashed and the scene on the communicator went to news coverage of the aftermath of a bombing! But this was not the international or national section of the news block, it was local! The news was being carried Live, so the situation was still developing. But with modern society’s use of private and governmental videos being so ubiquitous, there were visuals on three suspects—two men and one woman. The trio were covered in black clothing as they fled the scene of the terroristic act: several Kiosks from the downtown district of the Shepherd network were demolished!

The mysterious trio were bold about their criminal acts: two of the three were videoed from various angles getting out of their getaway car and lobbing grenades--or some kind of homemade bombs—at the towering pieces of technology that were scattered about on that particular block of downtown. The two figures were seen hopping back into the non-descript car and ultimately fleeing the scene. Of course, no license plates or other identifiable features were seen on the car. All this had occurred just minutes prior of the news broadcast.

It occurred to Ritch that, though, it was the local timeslot of the news, he had read and watched news footage that showed similar bombings happening in various parts of the world! He thought about his conversation with that customer, Paulo, earlier in the day at the super-store. No, Ritch thought to himself while getting dressed, Paulo was not one of the three criminals in the footage: by the video one could see they were of a much younger demographic than Paulo, whom was around sixty; from what Ritch could judge. But it was an epiphany for Ritch to see that average citizens in the world could feel so uncomfortable and suspicious of a system that was put into place in order to protect them, that they were willing to risk killing other human beings while destroying some of the Kiosks!

11PM; Ritch Falls’ worksite…

Ritch’s shift ended and he was shutting down his computer system, via voice command. He was a mid-level manager in the ombudsman department of a factory that he worked for. His artificial intelligence device helped him sift through electronic reams of items—from car parts to financial electronic files. His boss was out of the office for a few days; Ritch was not sure if it was work-related or personal. All the same, he had to watch the department while she was gone.

He placed his facemask on after gathering his personal things and let the AI shut off the lights behind him after closing the door to the office. While Ritch was walking through the plant while on his way to his vehicle, he could see the shift-change amongst the workers. Those leaving for the night had a happy disposition about them—joking around and laughter while those clocking on were far more reserved.

“Hey, Richie,” called out one of the workers through her mask as she stood in a line of workers, as they waited to walk past one of the Kiosks in the factory; tasked with clocking the employees in and out while scanning for anyone who may have been sick and watching for tardiness, “you see that bombing downtown today?”

“Yeah…must be part of some kind of political movement against the Shepherd!” Ritch said this loudly, talking over the plant’s whir of machines and people talking.

“It’s the revolution, baby!”

Ritch was surprised by not only her response, but several other workers in the line agreed with her as they clapped and made celebratory sounds! Ritch was not a fan of the Shepherd network, but nor did he agree with any of the bombing campaigns against them. He may have been mid-level management, but Ritch did not have—nor wanted—the authority to discipline the workers for expressing their First Amendment rights; even while at the jobsite.

Between customer Paulo and the workers’ reaction to the local Kiosk-bombing, for the first time in his life Ritch was paying close attention to just how many of the slender, towering machines there were!

They were, generally, strategically placed depending on what jurisdiction the Kiosks were. In the case of Ritch’s plant, the owners and the CEO of the facility decided to encamp the Kiosks at the perimeter of the factory’s sprawling swath of real estate, with scores of them in the parking lots and within the plant itself.

And that was just one factory…

Some of the other second shift workers and supervisors were, also, walking to their respective vehicles. Ritch saw Alma Salina, from Human Resources, walking just a couple of parking rows from where he was walking. He quickly went over to catch her before she got into her car. The two were work-buddies and often discussed all things personal to political. Ritch wanted to get her opinion about what he saw with the factory workers a few minutes prior and his conversation with customer Paulo…

“So, am I just an aging guy who’s out of touch with the younger generation? But I don’t think so –“

“Yeah, you said your super-store friend was like, what, sixty years old,” Alma asked as she leaned against her car. She adjusted her facemask—apparently, like everyone else, getting tired of it cupping her mouth and nose. She was professionally dressed and in her twenties. Alma being so young was one of the reasons he wanted to get her perspective. Ritch did not socialize often, and when he did, it was usually with older people.

“From what I could guess, yeah…but I don’t get it. It’s not like the Shepherd network is rounding citizens up and marching them to work or to force them to go to hospitals if they’re sick. This is not a 1984 situation where Big Brother is controlling our lives!”

She tsked sarcastically. “Yeah, Richie, it’s worse!”

Not expecting her answer, Ritch froze and crossed his arms and remained quiet. Alma took the clue and continued. “Richie…don’t you think it’s odd that none of the world’s most premier academicians, government agencies, and others in high places have no idea who constructed these things? Yeah, I know, you’re probably thinking I’m going down the alien lane with this one; but I’m not!

“I’ve heard not just on the social net but in some gatherings I’ve attended that some people are starting to think it’s some secret society or a deep state organization that’s been building the damn things for decades under the world’s noses without the rest of us even knowing about it…just sitting back, waiting for the right opportunity to unleash their Frankenstein Kiosks all over the world!”

“To what end, Alma? What would a cabal get out of spending—what would have to be—literally trillions of dollars, just to control people like us when they could’ve used that money to spend on themselves? No offense, my friend, but it seems self-defeating if you ask me.”

“But that’s just it, Richie; the Shepherd system does work on their behalf…what do farmers do with the animals they raise? Besides slaughter them, in the more traditional operations, of course…”

The young woman remained leaning against her vehicle while she waited for the middle-aged man to think things through. She waved at a couple of workers that bid her, Good night!

“Well, obviously farmers raise the animals for slaughtering them for the market, ultimately. But—”

“Richie, they feed the animals…they house the animals…they also protect them from wild predators—with guns, no less—yet, when it’s all said and done, those same farmers will kill those same animals to sell to market..”

Another person with a good point against the Shepherd system, Ritch had to admit to himself. He pensively looked down at the asphalt of the parking lot until a thought came his way.

“Ok, let’s play it your way for now…so, who’s this They everyone keeps talking about? For the sake of our friendship, Alma, I hope you don’t start going down the classic and bigoted usual suspects-road!”

“Ritch, you know me better than that!” Alma got up from leaning on her vehicle. Even she had a bit of uncertainty in her demeanor. “For sure, not aliens, ok? At least, not with me and the groups I hang out with…I’d say the most intelligent speculation on who the Builders are came from this guy I met online last week. Actually, Richie, I’m meeting him here! He’s supposed to follow me to attend one of the late night meetings one of my groups is having tonight!”

Ritch gave a wondering look.

“Don’t worry, Richie; the Shepherd won’t have to crackdown on us…we’re meeting outdoors, and we have our own system to make sure everyone who attends is not sick with anything major—”

“Nor bombers, I hope,” Ritch said, giving a friendly, warning look!

“Come on, Richie…”

They both turned to look as a vehicle drove up and parked nearby the entryway to the factory’s gates.

“That’s him,” Alma said. “Come on…I think you two should meet.”

Ritch nodded as he placidly followed.

They weaved between a couple of parked cars and moving vehicles. Alma leaned toward Ritch a little and said with a lowered tone, “He goes by Black Sheep…get it?”

Ritch was already snickering. “The black sheep bucking against the shepherd…Ok!”

They passed about three Kiosks on the way to the gate; they were half-way surprised they weren’t told to stop by any of them. The duo walked through the opened, re-enforced steel gate as cars slowly paraded into and out of the plant’s grounds…

And Ritch stopped dead in his tracks…

Alma almost didn’t notice until Black Sheep pointed out that Ritch was behind her! “Ritch…come on, man! What’s wrong?”

Ritch’s eyes stayed on the man leaning against his own car; waiting for Alma and Ritch. “Paulo…?”

The older man gave a salute; a wide smile shone through his facemask via his eyes. “Good work, my sister…I’ve been expecting you, Ritch.”


Image: itl . com

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