Ch3.09 The Pearl

It is an abandoned lot, a plot of land slated for development before the owners sobered up and had second thoughts. There are many such places in this part of the City. This particular location is currently inhabited by a man on a crudely fashioned platform, essentially just an overturned crate, giving an impassioned speech to the crowd that always seems to gather around people on raised platforms.

“Wake up, brothers and sisters, to the truth around you! Stop believing the lies fed to you by the oppressors! You can throw off the shackles and be free!”

He has been called by many names over the years: conspiracy nut, looney toon, space cadet, and even, on one particularly confusing evening, Priscilla. Most people, however, just know him as Atheist Jack. He is, perhaps, a bit taller than average, maybe slightly heavier than normal, with hair a little longer than standard, and a beard that is, more or less, non-existent. His clothing is indistinguishable from the typical working-class outfits except for one glaring difference: the bright hat that has been carefully constructed from the finest aluminum foil and is now perched majestically on his head.

“You must see,” he continues while trying desperately to maintain the crowd’s attention, “there are no ‘gods’! It’s all a fabrication designed to keep the general population as willing slaves of the tyrants!”

“C’mon, Jack,” one of the onlookers says, “How can you not believe in the gods? It would be one thing to not believe in a god you can’t see, but they’re everywhere. You see ‘em all the time doin’ miracles and stuff.”

Jack smiles, genuinely happy to trade the sermon in for an actual conversation. “Those are just tricks, Manny. Technological sleight-of-hand to make us believe they have special powers. Don’t fall for it!”

Another customer joins the discussion, ”If they ain’t gods, what are they?”

“I’m glad you asked that, Moe. They’re aliens from another universe, here to enslave us and use us for their nefarious plan.”

“Nefarious plans?” asks Moe. “What kinda plans?”

“Ah... but that’s just it.The plans are so nefarious and alien that we can’t even see what they might be.”

Manny grunts, “You can’t seriously think that all these gods are really aliens. There’re so many of ‘em out there.”

“Exactly! Why would we need so many ‘gods’? ‘Gods’ of air and water, ‘gods’ of life and death, ‘gods’ of love and war!” Jack gestures grandly towards the crowd, “What’s next? A ‘god’ of beer?”

Moe grins, “Oh they got one of those. I had a drink with him just the other day.”

Manny looks over at his friend, “Big guy? Long hair? Laughs a lot?”

“Yeah, that’s him!”

“I was drinkin’ with him last week! Nice guy! He told me he was a beer god and I laughed and bet him I could drink more than he could. I don’t remember much after that.”

Seeing that the conversation is rapidly getting away from him, Jack jumps in and tries to steer it back on course. “My point is that there are too many ‘gods’ out there. ‘Gods’ for this and ‘gods’ for that, when all we would really need is one all-powerful ‘God’.”

Moe gives him a puzzled look. “Why do you keep doing that thing with yer fingers?”

Jack returns the puzzled look. “What thing?”

“You know, that wagglin’ thing every time you say the word ‘god’.”

“Those are air quotes. They show that even though I’m using the word, I don’t believe that it actually applies.”

“So you waggle yer fingers and that makes the word not mean what it means?”

“Exactly. It’s a well-known sarcastic gesture that allows a speaker to clearly communicate his skepticism to the crowd.”

“Well, I think it just makes you look weird.”

Manny chuckles, “I always thought it was the hat that made him look weird.”

“True enough,” Moe laughs. “What is up with the hat, anyway?”

Jack fixes them with an indignant glare. “I’ll have you know that this hat is keeping the aliens from invading my mind. Without it, I’d be just another sheep like you, following some false ‘god’, never questioning the reason behind it all. They’ll never get me to believe their lies!”

Jack sees that his speech has not had the intended effect of impressing Manny and Moe, but has, instead, made them laugh harder. As the laughter spreads throughout the rest of the crowd, Jack notices a newcomer enter the area. A smile forms on his lips as he recognizes this new arrival as one of the false “gods,” giving Jack another chance at winning over this crowd.

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