Once upon a time, an Empire that stretched across half an arm of our galaxy elected a new leader. The election cycle was a standard two millennia, ten times longer than the average allowed life span, but the leader was the shepherd of history, and was thus afforded this great responsibility.
The citizens of this empire were sad to see the old leader go, but they were excited to get some fresh direction. The newly elected Reagent, let’s call him Tom for the sake of time, was an ambitious soul. He saw homogenization as the only way forward, the only way they’d ever colonize the rest of the galaxy – Nay, the universe! Singular vision was required; society was structured at every level to produce the same types of experiences for every sector of the population. Of course, there would still be differences in the ways that the genetic code was expressed in each individual, but the input would be the same, making the variance much lower. Any difference would be suppressed with nutritional homogeneity and constant media messaging that served as a constant reminder of the ideal citizen.
They had purpose, as individuals and as a whole. And it only took half a dozen generations to get it right.
Everyone dressed the same. Everyone learned the same. Everyone arranged themselves in the optimal dynamic groupings. Everyone was defined and categorized. As soon as the new brand of education was in place and all other opposing traditions were squashed, everything just fell right in line.
Except, maybe it wasn’t everything.
In Tom’s ambition to create the perfect universe, standing outside of time and pulling the strings on this cosmic marionette, he got lonely. Being a God, even an elected, finite one, was extremely isolating.
He chose his mate according to the type suitable to his disposition. He chose based on test results and image albums, and he was not disappointed. His bride, we’ll call her Ann, was the right kind of caring, the right kind of funny, and the right level of curiously accepting. He never once considered that he was bestowing a blessing upon an individual and raising her above the rest. When their children were born, they too were kept apart. An entire family outside and above.
Until the end of his second millennium. His reign was coming to an end, and he couldn’t bear to see his family forced to accept such short, normal existences. His sons and daughters were afraid of death. Until now, they hadn’t realized that what they were experiencing was temporary, however long lasting. They begged and they pleaded.
Tom gave in to their cries. With only one more generation to go, a new propaganda campaign was launched. By that time, his information machine was honed to perfection, and when the young reached their prime, they were nearly convinced that Tom deserved another few centuries of control to keep this good thing going.
Unfortunately, not everyone agreed. And those who disagreed really, really disagreed.
As soon as Tom declared himself the victor of the Grand Election that never was, his empire erupted in war. Rebellion spread across the galaxy.
One generation just wasn’t enough.
“Do you want some water?” Mercer asked.
Kevin had been talking for nearly an hour, but the animal had fallen into a lull. Jack Shelton leaned forward, going in for a close-up with his phone.
Mercer’s ears were filling with that sound again: a sharp hiss, three pops, and then static, like tuning an old analogue radio.
“Ahh!” David yelped in surprise. His eyes were wide, and he was grabbing at his jaw.
“You too?” Jack Shelton asked. “Shit, man,” he said as he dug a finger into his ear.
Sandy balled herself up in her seat.
“I heard it, too,” Mercer confirmed.
“Heard it?” Jack Shelton asked. “No, man. No. Uh-uh. I felt that shit. It felt like someone just punched me in -”
“In the brain!” David finished.
“Meow,” Kevin said.
Everyone stopped. Dead silence. Breath held.
“Heh,” Jack Shelton let slip.
“Ha-heh!” Sandy blurted.
David joined in with a full on guffaw to end all guffaws.
Mercer was confused.
“Holy shit, man,” Jack Shelton said between breaths. “How the hell did you do that!?”
“Yeah!” David agreed. “I think you made me quit tripping!” But then he lost control of his head, and it lolled back and to the side. “Oh, no, wait…”
“No, for real, Mercer,” Jack Shelton insisted. “How did you do it? How’d you do that? You were just talking, but the cat looked like he was talking, and… and…” He was stumped. He’d rarely ever been stumped. His hands just kept rolling along without him.
Mercer had no clue.
“Do what?” he asked.
“Dude, that story was the shit, but –“
“I totally thought the cat was talking that whole time!” David cut in.
“Yeah!” Sandy exclaimed too enthusiastically. She said it like a child in an ‘80s cereal commercial, then eyed everyone. “Did that really happen?”
“Meow,” Kevin answered.
“Dude,” David said at the cat, and then to Mercer. “Dude.”
“Dude,” Jack Shelton demanded in agreement.
“What?” Mercer asked again. To Kevin, he said, “Why’d you stop talking?”
“Haa!” David blurted. “Oh-Kay, Mer-cer.”
Mercer looked at them all. “He was just talking.” Why didn’t they know that already? “You were right here! You saw it!”
“Meow,” Kevin said coyly.
“Aw, sweetie,” Sandy gushed. “Come here, baby. You’re just a big dumb puppet, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know how the hell you did it, but we need to get that shit on YouTube, like, right now. A.S.A.F.P.” Jack Shelton turned his attention back to his phone. “I can upload it. We’ll get all the hits, man. We’ll be – I mean you’ll be – famous!”
“No kidding,” David said. “Was the ex girlfriend thing part of it? You totally had me.”
“Guys, no,” Mercer cut it. “No.” He stood. “The cat was just fucking talking, and you’re acting like it’s just some silly optical illusion. He’s a fucking alien!”
“Yeah, man, we get it. It’s a cool story,” Jack Shelton said. “It’s totally cool. Totally cool. I’m almost…” His fingers flipped too fast for the phone to recognize it.
Mercer was baffled. “Guys, for real, now. You heard it.” They had to be fucking with him.
Sandy and David sat in silent judgment of a prank going too far.
Am I going crazy? Mercer asked himself. “I gotta get out of here,” he said out loud. He stepped quickly to the door.
“Hey, wait, Mercer?” Sandy called dreamily.
“Yeah,” he said and turned back.
“If you need to talk to someone, you know, about your ex or anything…”
“That was all part of the script!” Jack Shelton exclaimed, his task forgotten in his excitement to explain. “Tell her, Mercer. It’s a fuckin’ distraction to get us to stop paying so close attention.” He picked up his phone again. “We gotta get this online, man. It’s so good!”
“Yeah, man – oh,” David said. His head was rolling of its own accord again. “I’m definitely still tripping.”
“Yeah,” Sandy giggled.
Mercer closed the door without another word.