“They call themselves the Kingdom of Heaven,” said Cam, reading from the screen.
I was nonplussed. “As in like ‘castle in the sky’?”
Cam shrugged. “I really don’t know that much more than you do. I’ve known about the existence of people outside the Settlement for a few years now- DYNTEC has been keeping an eye on them for a while. But we only have a couple… sources of information. Our satellite imagery gave us a rough estimate of their population, somewhere between 200 and 300 people. But we couldn’t get closer images. We weren’t able to fly a drone anywhere within a mile of their location.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well… I’m not sure, to be honest.” Cam scratched the back of his head. “They just disappear, from what I’m told. They all end up crashed and wrecked. If you can find out what type of anti-drone technology they’re using, that’s another big item.”
“Okay.” I made a mental note.
“They also refer to each other as the Children of God.”
“The Children of God,” I echoed. “They believe they’re descended from a god?”
Cam shifted in his seat. “Well, presumably. I think they believe they were created by this god.”
I took interest. “Like, a god created them specifically? Or their ancestors?”
“Well, their ancestors. And everybody else. And the whole world, I think.”
“The whole world? That’s weird.” I smiled bemusedly and shook my head. “I’ve never seen anything that tempted me to believe it was created by a god. I mean, everything in the Settlement was created by humans, that’s a fact.”
Cam raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
“What kind of god?” I asked, now very curious.
Unfortunately, it was not until this moment that I picked up on Cam’s signals of obvious discomfort. He huffed. “What kind of god? What does it matter what kind of god? You say the darndest things, Alex.”
I couldn’t understand what had bothered him so much. It couldn’t be anything I had said. “Well, I am supposed to be learning more about their culture, right?”
“I said, I don’t know much more than you do. Ask them what kind of god when you get there.”
I decided to leave well enough alone. “All right. How am I going to blend in, though?”
“You’re not,” he said, and smirked— back on comfortable footing, clearly. “You’re posing as someone who’s on the run from the Settlement. You’re supposed to know next to nothing about these people.”
“Oh.” I puckered up my face. “Well then, what’s the point of the briefing? Can’t I act ignorant better if I’m really ignorant?”
Cam’s smirk became even more dry. “Well, actually. Now that you mention it, I might as well tell you. The briefing is less about getting information and more about making sure you have some necessary skills before you go in there.”
I nodded slowly. Yes, this was serious business… I was wishing again that I could have stayed at a desk job. They should have kept me as a Level One.
No! I slapped myself mentally. You agreed to this. The children. Just go in there, get information, and get extracted. You can do it.
“You need to be able to resist brainwashing,” said Cam.
“Oh.” I became more afraid.
“There’s going to be a seminar,” he said, and my fear morphed into boredom.
The lights were dim, and the screen behind Administrator Jamison gave an occasional flicker, backlighting him in pinks and purples from a visually uninspired lecture slide. We were in DYNTEC headquarters, only half a block from the Central Tower, located in upper South Central.
The room had about twenty of us in it. Everybody had looked over their shoulder when I came in. I was the face of the mission, as the one infiltrating the cult. And I was a sight different from most of them—young, female, allegedly pretty according to Cam, green eyes, red hair. Seeing the difference, it was less of a wonder to me that I’d been chosen, or that my physical regimen was less rigorous than theirs. I didn’t look like a DYNTEC agent was supposed to look.
“When a person is in a cult,” said Jamison, “They don’t know they’re in a cult. They’re simply conditioned to believe that all of the backwards things that happen in the cult are normal.”
The slide changed to a picture of an animal—a cat, I recognized this one.
“Take, for example: killing animals. These people kill animals regularly, and not only do they kill them, they also eat their flesh.”
They have animals?
I leaned forward, riveted despite the disgusting topic. Would I have to eat animals in order to blend in with the cult?
“Cults have what are called, ‘dogmas’,” said Jamison, pointing at the word on the screen. “A dogma is a rigid belief that cannot be questioned. Manipulative tactics and threats are used to keep people following the rules, and to make them feel bad about themselves if they even think the wrong way.”
He looked over the room. “Dogmas are one of the great evils of religion. Of course, we have no problem with religion here in the Settlement, provided that it is a private matter kept purely to the self. The public discussion of religion gives rise to groups, subcultures, and ultimately the social evils endemic in cults, such as dogmas.”
He changed the slide to a color-enhanced photograph of fire. The red and orange light rippled over his face. “One example of a dogma is the religious belief in ‘hell’. Cults such as the Kingdom of Heaven will threaten their adherents with being sent to a place called ‘hell’, an archaic notion of a place where people are tortured with fire for eternity.”
Eternity? For eternity? My skin crawled. Who would wish that on anyone? Surely he was right, these people were evil.
But yet, I reminded myself, even Jamison had said that maybe their children stood a chance of being rehabilitated.
After the seminar, Jamison came to me. This was what I’d been worried about.
“Walk with me,” he said, and I followed him down one of the hallways. “We have some more work to do. You will be the only person actually having face-to-face contact with the cult members. We need to know you can resist their brainwashing.”
“I am loyal,” I said. “What do they do to brainwash people?”
“Talk, mostly,” said Jamison. “But talk is subtle and insidious, especially when you’re not used to it. They’ll use words like “freedom”, and “privacy”. But what they really mean is the freedom to do evil, the privacy to keep that evil secret.”
“You do understand?”
“They’ll also talk about something called rights. I want you to understand something very well, Alex: when they talk about rights, they mean the right to do things that harm the world as a whole, and those rights don’t exist. Nobody has those rights.”
“In fact, they may and almost certainly will attempt to level accusations at the Settlement, and even at us, the Administrators. You must understand that everything we do is for the good of the Settlement. The Settlement is the last hope of humanity—”
I could almost recite this part.
“We saved mankind from extinction caused by their own greed and selfishness. The Settlement has both the right and need to exercise total control over everyone, because we won’t be able to save humanity unless every single person is working together as hard as possible in every possible way. People have no right to anything that detracts from this goal.”
“I understand,” I said.
“Good,” said Jamison.
We had walked so far in the halls we had nearly come back around the full circuit to the conference room.
“So to return to the question at hand: How do you resist their brainwashing? And the answer is simple. Just don’t listen to them. Why should you give evil people a hearing? They don’t deserve it. You already know everything they’re going to say is wrong. Why should you let their ideas into your head?” He tapped his head. “What’s the point in that?”
Somehow, I needed help rationalizing this. “But,” I said. “How are we going to convince them? That they’re wrong, I mean. You said we were going to try and rehabilitate them. How can I do that if I don’t listen?”
“Look,” said Jamison, seeming a little put out, “If they’re not convinced when they see our superior technology, morals, and mode of living, they’re probably hopeless. That’s just how it is. But if you can convey any ideas to them, great. Just don’t let them radicalize you. Detractors are full of talk, but if you don’t let it get into your head, it’s only noise. Simply remember what you’ve been taught.”
With that he looked around to make sure the conference room was empty, turned off the light, and closed and locked the door. We stood outside.
“That is not by any means all you have to learn about resistance,” he said. “Go back to Cam and Jesse. I have instructed them to provide you with a program on deception and noncompliance.”