The meeting that Ritch attended with one of his co-workers, Alma Salina, was better attended for a late-night, Wednesday than he thought it would be. Something like twenty people! The gathering was not far from downtown; a few minutes’ drive from the towering buildings and close to the lake that was buttressing the downtown area.
The guest speaker was Black Sheep; an up and coming leader within the movement amongst humans that were against the Shepherd system that had been a shadow governing entity over humans since the Great Pandemic of 2020, a few decades ago…
Ritch, of course, had met Black Sheep at one of the city’s super-stores on that same day. As cliché as it seemed to Ritch, later, the two meeting one another was not a coincidence of the Universe! Alma, one of the young Human Resources office workers at Ritch’s factory job, had been a long-time member of that particular group. He, being in the factory’s ombudsman’s department, was a professional friend of hers and occasionally they talked politics. It must have been Alma that suggested to Black Sheep that the group needed someone like Ritch, whom had a position of authority at their factory. From what Ritch gathered after asking Alma, Alma had told Black Sheep about some of their conversations at work. And how Ritch potentially could be recruited into the movement. Black Sheep suggested that she should ‘shepherd’ the conversations she had with Ritch at the factory more toward the politics of the Shepherd Kiosk network that was, now, the shadow governing system of humans, in terms of day-to-day living.
It was well after 1:00 AM and the meeting had just dispersed! The local leader of the group had reminded everyone to don their masks, since there was a new epidemic that was brewing, in an adjoining state. There were the standards jokes about it from some in the group, but, in the end, all members and guest speaker-Black Sheep all slipped on facemasks before leaving the meeting hall.
On Earth, it was these kinds of epidemics that humans had learned to live with since the Great Pandemic: as if the viral, global spread of some diseases were storms for society to endure over and over again…
There were a few others that milled about after the meeting, carrying tributary discussions on how to fight against the meddling, ubiquitous Kiosks implanted strategically throughout every major city in the world. Black Sheep was just finishing up his one-on-one conversation with Ritch, while Alma stood by; more for moral support than anything else, especially since she was the one whom invited Ritch to the meeting. Black Sheep and the young office worker could both tell that Ritch was definitely not a radical warrior, by his guarded questions during the meeting earlier, and his seemingly reserved disposition. But the group and the movement needed all the support they could get…
“Well, now it’s off to Fargo,” Black Sheep said with a slight triumphant singing to it, though muffled through his facemask. The few stragglers in the mid-sized meeting hall applauded and whistled. Several thanked the sixty-ish man as he waved them all goodbye.
“Mind if we walk you out,” Alma asked; Ritch standing by, smiling, after having a good time at the late meeting.
“Of course, you can, Alma!”
The three slowly walked over to Black Sheep’s car in the deep, early-morning. That part of town, at that time of night, only the blaring of trains and sirens of emergency vehicles were usually what one heard the most.
“So…what is it about our dear Shepherd that you can’t quite let go of, son,” Paulo asked Ritch without even looking at him as the three approached the older man’s car.
Ritch looked over at Alma with surprise, but she would give him no support. In fact, her brows were raised over her eyes and mask as she looked at Ritch. As if her very expression was asking the same question to Ritch as Black Sheep just had done so!
“I hope none of you, here, mistake my questions as a translation that I’m ok with the Shepherd system!”
“Then I don’t understand why you seem reluctant to join our cause, Ritch,” Black Sheep put to him; by that time, he was fully facing Ritch and Alma. His personal device and sheets of paper that he had taken notes on during the meeting were all tucked underneath one of Paulo’s arms. “It’s not like we’re one of those violent organizations we hear about on the news—going around and lobbing bombs at the Kiosks as if they were bowling pins!”
“This group is about regaining human independence from the Shepherd, Richie,” Alma threw in, “not starting a war with them.”
There is that Them, again, Ritch thought to himself, not completely satisfied with Black Sheep’s nor the group’s speculation as to who was constructing the Kiosks that dotted every main city on the planet! Going to war with the Kiosks or with whomever is building the damned things, he also wondered.
Feeling a bit ganged up on, Ritch held up both hands. “Yeah, I get all that. I’m just…I don’t know, guys; just look at us, now, with all our masks and city-wide alerts for these so-called virus storms we get in modern times!
“I’m old enough to remember, Paulo, when it was rare for most of the richer nations to even have epidemics, much less pandemics. These days now, we get epidemic warnings like we get tornado warnings in this country! You want to know part of the reason why that is? Because in every society there are idiots who think science doesn’t apply to them and they can do whatever they want!”
Perhaps they were wrong about Ritch being so reserved, both, Black Sheep and Alma silently thought as they glanced at each other while Ritch ranted on.
“Look, if I disappoint either of you, I’m sorry. But I just don’t see life on Earth being any better without the Shepherd…you may not like what they represent, or you may feel that your personal agency is being restrained by the Shepherd, but at the very least, Paulo and Alma, the Network is keeping some of the diseases and crimes down in every society, according to several government agencies…”
Ritch seemed to have, literally, exhausted himself in just that short time of letting them know how he really felt about Earth’s “savior.” Indeed, that word, savior, was one of the reasons why some within the restorative sovereign movement, or the RSM, worked so hard against the Shepherd system. From their view, there was only one savior for humanity. Though, interestingly enough, it depended on which religion those types within the resistance belonged to!
“I’m sorry,” Ritch finally said after a long silence between the three of them. Ritch gave the universal half-head bow, plus with his clasped hands partially going up toward his forehead—a new gesture of bidding goodbye adopted throughout the world as a result of the Great Pandemic. That way, humans did not touch one another, should any of them carry one of the prevalent diseases of the day! “I can’t do this…I listened to what you and this group had to say, Paulo, and –“
“Ritch,” Black Sheep intervened; shaking his head with sympathy, “it’s ok…if we couldn’t peacefully disagree with you and the, literally, billions of others that see the Shepherd as you do, then what kind of movement would we be, right?”
Ritch glanced at Alma, his work-friend; making sure he did not offend her. He was relieved to see—via her eyes and brow above her facemask, that she seemed content with Ritch not joining the RSM.
Within a couple of minutes, Ritch was back in his own vehicle on the meeting hall’s parking lot and drove off toward his apartment complex on the other side of town in the deep night.