Join Unity and discover true contentment. Security. Peace. Purpose.
Tom sees his marriage fraying. Could Unity solve their problems?
Rachele believes that Abigail Mission controls Unity, her mind ruling over everything, and means to prove it.
A story of security, freedom, and possibilities.
Rachele sat on her big denim bean bag with the lapscreen across her knees. Tom couldn’t see her eyes because of her overlays but her head moved blindly towards him. Her hands snatched at things he couldn’t see. It made her look like a demented monkey. She didn’t care. She liked the old tech. Familiar. Reliable. She still didn’t trust sensory implants.
“Hi.” Tom cleared his throat. Tried again. “They came to the door again today. Two of them.”
He still couldn’t tell if she heard him.
“Yeah, right. So? You told them we weren’t interested? Is them even the right word? Hard to say, isn’t it. What gender?”
Rachele cocked her head and snatched at more things he couldn’t see. She reached down and grazed a finger across the lapscreen. “Women, huh? Attractive?”
“You know. Like any of them you’ve seen. Well-dressed. Healthy. Fit.”
“Anything for the health of the unity. Isn’t that what they say?”
“I don’t know.” Tom rubbed his jaw. “Look. I told them to come back. Tonight. After dinner. Said we’d listen.”
Rachele’s hand paused in mid-air. Then she made a shoving gesture. She reached up and pulled the overlays down. “You can’t be serious, Tom.”
“What can it hurt to listen? Besides, I thought it might be nice to have some people over.”
“They aren’t people. It’s just one person. Her. Abigail Mission.” Rachele pressed her hands together in front of her chest. “Those women at the door? Her. That guy in your office, Matt? He’s her too. They’re all just her.”
Tom shook his head. “I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s just what people are saying.”
“Yeah, saying because it’s true. The woman is a neural virus. She’s replicating through hosts all over the place. And she’s not the only one. Look at what’s happening in China.”
“I just said we’d listen.”
Rachele shook her head. “What’s to listen to? Tom, if you’re feeling suicidal or something then we need to get you help. Depression can be treated.”
Tom felt his gut tighten. He needed to get out of here. He didn’t want to listen to any more. “Whatever. Look. I’m going to go for a run.”
“Tom, we should talk.”
He shook his head. “Not right now.”
He didn’t wait for an answer. He went back to the bedroom. Pulled out his running shorts. Changed while his head kept buzzing at him. Why’d he even bother? Rachele stopped listening a long time ago. He sat on the bed to pull on his shoes. Shouldn’t have even bothered.
Tom ate dinner alone again. Rachele left while he was out on his run. Left a note on his system. Chasing a story. Tom carried the dishes to the sink while listening to a radio stream. Classic ought-tens. It made him think of growing up. Home with the folks. They’d been very close. Just the three of them. And the dogs. Chickens. Goats. A regular farm boy. Reading together in the evenings. Eating most meals together. When he married Rachele he thought their life would be like that. He tried, at first. For a while.
A knock at the door. Tom set the dishes in the sink, wiped his hands on a dish towel and went to answer the door.
The same two women stood outside. Well-dressed in matching black dress-suits. Other than that they didn’t look anything alike. The one on his right looked younger, round, soft pretty face. Auburn hair pulled back in a bun. The other woman was a few inches taller, square face, more striking than pretty with blond hair loose down to her shoulders. Both smiled at him.
The blond held out her hand. “Mr. Hanson, we are Unity. May we come in and talk about what we offer?”
Tom took her hand. Her palm felt warm against his. Strong grip. He looked at her green eyes seeking something, some indication of who was looking at him. “Hi, call me Tom. What do I call you?”
Tom let go of her hand. The other woman held her hand out. They shook. “I’m Tiffany.”
Tom stepped back. “Come in. Thank you. I’m sorry, but my wife had to go out for work.”
They all sat in the living room. Both woman asked for water when he offered them something to drink. Tom took the seat across the coffee table from them. He rubbed his hands on his pants.
Sara leaned forward, interlacing her fingers. “Tom, what do you know about Unity?”
He shrugged. “What the feeds say. I’ve done a little research but it’s all a bit confusing. People say all sorts of things.”
Tiffany’s mouth quirked. “Isn’t that true? They’ve all got their own agendas. They’re own beliefs to promote.”
“Or they want to tear down what others build,” Sara said. “It’s hard in that to get any solid, truthful information. That’s why we do this, so that we can meet with people face-to-face.”
“We’re here to answer your questions,” Tiffany said.
“Okay. Well, my wife says that you’re all Abigail Mission. That she’s sort of taken you over.”
Tiffany smiled. “That’s what a lot of people say. We hear that all the time. But Unity doesn’t erase anything. Everything that was before Unity is still there after Unity.”
“But Unity brings peace and ―”
The door opened. Rachele staggered in dripping wet. Blood ran down the side of her face. Her hand rose up holding a black glistening gun which pointed at the two women.
“Out, now,” Rachele said.
Tiffany and Sara rose together, their movements perfectly in sync.
Tiffany pointed at the gun. “That’s not necessary.”
“Like hell it’s not!” Rachele’s hand shook. “Get out.”
Tom hadn’t moved. He couldn’t move. Rachele bleeding, waving a gun, it didn’t make sense. The two Unity women walked slowly forward. Rachele moved back and out of their way but kept the gun pointed at them. They walked out the door which closed behind them. Rachele’s hand fell. The gun slipped from her fingers and thunked to the floor.
At the sound Tom moved. He stood up and rushed to her. He took her arm and guided her towards the couch. “You’re hurt. We need to get help.”
Rachele shook her head. “No. I’m fine. Get the first aid kit.”
Tom retrieved the kit from the bathroom. He kneeled at her feet and opened the lid. A scratch cut across her forehead. He got out swabs. “What happened?”
“Unity happened,” Rachele said.
“I tried to get into their compound. Dogs chased me. A branch hit my head, that’s all.”
“What were you doing going into their compound?”
“Researching the story. What else? I got some great footage. You should see it. When they think no one is watching the masks drop away. There’s no more pretense of individuality.”
Tom shook his head. “I was just talking to two of them before you barged in waving a gun! They seemed like individuals to me.”
“It’s all pretend.” Rachele winced as he pressed a pad over the wound and taped it in place.
“I don’t think so,” Tom said.
“You haven’t seen the footage yet. It’d change your mind.” Rachele rubbed her eyes. “I’m beat. I’ve sent it to your system. Check it out. Let me know what you think.”
Rachele might not use sensory implants but her externals still picked up sight and sound. But it lacked touch. Tom rode along the unedited playback. When the Douglas fir boughs brushed against her arm he couldn’t feel it. Or the cold. The rain on her face. He felt like a ghost with Rachele on her mission. Witnessing without participating or really being a part of the events.
When the recording started she was already over the fence and making her way among the trees that surrounded the property. She didn’t have far to go. She shoved through thick ferns and then green grass spread out ahead of her. The sun hung low in the sky ahead ― the sun on her face didn’t carry any warmth. Rachele didn’t narrate either. She always preferred to shoot her footage raw and add voice-overs later. The green fields spread out around her as she ran forward. The ground rose slightly towards the big house at the center of the property. Rachele didn’t appear to be heading for the house. She angled across the field towards the right side of the house where bright white lights shined on a metallic geodesic structure rising above the surrounding trees.
It looked huge. Two hundred feet tall at least. It dwarfed the house. Tom knew about the structure. Folks talked about it from time to time, speculating about what Unity was building. It sat in a cradle of four concrete and steel arms that cupped the bottom portion of the sphere. The triangular metal panels covering the sphere were flat black and didn’t reflect the lights shining on them. All around the structure people moved like ants. Not ants because of the size of the thing, but the way they moved. In streams of motion carrying parts to the sphere. A line snaked from metal warehouses behind the structure around it and inside through wide hexagonal openings. Other streams of people marched out of openings. All working in perfect unison.
Tom felt a chill. Rachele got closer and closer, using decorative shrubs for concealment. Her externals zoomed in on the people working. All wore the same pale yellow jumpsuits. Their faces lacked expression. They looked intent. Focused. They moved with energy and purpose. But all the same. All had the same expression. The same way of moving.
A loud bark startled him. His heart lurched. He tried to run but of course it was a recording. He couldn’t run. More barks and Rachele rose from her hiding place and turned away from the sphere.
Tom disconnected from the feed.
His name is Arnold Riley. Twenty-something, he doesn’t look like he belongs working in a library. Always dressed in a sharp suit, today blue with a dark purple tie. Tom watched him from the book stacks when Mrs. Jenkins came in with her bag of books. A warm greeting, dimples on his cheeks. Everyone loved Arnold. Tom never asked him about Unity even though Arnold wore the small lapel button with the Unity infinity symbol. Tom waited until Mrs. Jenkins shuffled off to the book stacks and then walked over to where Arnold stood near the door.
“How’s it going?” Tom asked.
“Perfect, Tom. It’s nice to see Mrs. Jenkins today. There’s still a few people like her left that want to hold real books.”
Tom glanced over at Mrs. Jenkins poring over this week’s selection of print materials. “What difference does it make? If she had sensory implants she wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
Arnold shrugged with an easy grin. “I don’t know. Nostalgia.”
“But the national library system provides everyone with access to everything. Isn’t that better?”
“Yes. Of course.” Arnold sorted the books on the shelving cart and pushed the button. The cart sped off to reshelve the books.
Tom cleared his throat. “I met a couple women from Unity last night.”
“I know. Your wife sure made a dramatic entrance.”
“You know about that?”
“Of course, Tom. It’s not called Unity for nothing. You still can’t decide, can you? Does Unity wipe out individuality? Are we all Abigail Mission like your wife says or do we retain our individuality?”
Tom shuffled his feet. “I guess so.”
Arnold smiled and put a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Why does it have to be one or the other? With Unity we have a collective purpose and will. We all belong. There’s no discord. No disagreement. And everything we are, everything that made us unique is still there. Nothing is lost in the process.”
Tom chuckled nervously. “It sounds too good to be true.”
“I remember that fear. I felt it before I joined.”
“So what changed your mind?”
“I wanted to be a part of something more,” Arnold said. “I wanted to do something important with my life.”
Tom looked around the library. Other than Mrs. Jenkins there were only a couple other people in the library, both sitting in chairs reading. “This is it?”
“In a way. I serve a purpose working here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Have you ever felt content, Tom?”
He thought about it. Content? When had he felt that way? Not recently. Then it came to him. On his parent’s farm, twelve years old, lying in a hammock between two trees at the edge of the field with a book and a piece of chocolate. A perfect moment when he didn’t want for anything.
Tom looked at Arnold. “Not for a long time. And it was only for a moment.”
“Unity is contentment,” Arnold said. “We propose the same thing to anyone interested in joining. Join us. If you don’t like it you can leave.”
Tom shivered. “Does anyone ever leave?”
Arnold’s smile widened showing white teeth. “No.”
Tom sat on the couch waiting for Rachele to finish her work. He couldn’t stop shivering. He rubbed his hands on his pants again. Looked up at her. Mumbling, eyes hidden behind her overlays. Grasping and moving things that he couldn’t see. At last she stopped. Her hands lay still on her thighs for several moments then she reached up and pulled the overlays off.
“Tom?” She rubbed her head. “How long have you been there?”
Her forehead wrinkled. “What’s wrong?”
“I want to join Unity.” He took a deep breath. “I’d like you to join with me.”
“We aren’t happy. You haven’t been happy. And we’re drifting apart! I feel if we join Unity we’ll be a part of each other in a way we’re not right now.”
Rachele looked down at her hands. She looked up at him again. “You still don’t believe that it’s suicide?”
Tom shook his head. “I talked to Arnold. He said that if we joined we could still leave if we didn’t like it.”
“And you believed him?”
“Yes!” Tom got up. He walked away from her to the windows. He looked outside, down at the sidewalk with all of the people pushing and shoving their way along. Impatient for a chance to get ahead of the person in front. A thin man in a long black cloak ran a few steps towards a crosswalk and stopped when the light changed. Tom couldn’t hear him, but he saw the man’s head bobbing and fist half-raised towards the light. Tom turned back around, crossing his arms.
“I believe him. He’s Arnold, but more than that. He seems content. When have you ever been content?”
Rachele shook her head. “I can’t remember. I do love you Tom. I’m not going to lose you to Unity. Maybe things have been rough but I couldn’t imagine life without you.”
Tom heard the quaver in her voice. It touched him. He believed her. His throat felt tight.
Rachele stood up. “Here’s my proposal. I’ll join Unity. And I’ll leave. That way we’ll know for sure it’s possible, I can tell you what I experienced and then we can decide together.”
Tom couldn’t think of anything to say. Tears welled up in his eyes.
Rachele reached out to him. He closed the distance between them and took her hands. He tried to speak and the words stuck in his throat. He coughed and tried again.
“I love you―”
“I know. I love you too.”
“―but Arnold said no one leaves.”
She reached up and put her hands on either side of his face. “No matter what happens, no matter how wonderful it might be, I’ll leave. I promise.”
He pressed his lips to her forehead. It was what he wanted. Why did he feel so scared? “You don’t have to do this.”
“You’re worth the risk. I hope I’m wrong about Unity. But if it turns out I’m right you’ve got to do something for me.”
“Fight them. Promise me. If I’m right about them then you’ve got to fight them.”
Tom shook his head. “It won’t be like that. You’ll see.”
He took a deep breath. “Okay. I promise.”
Two days later and no word from Rachele. Tom couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. He wanted to go to the compound and look for her ― but the last time he called they assured him that everything was fine. Tom paced the apartment, waiting. Then the door opened and she walked it.
He almost didn’t recognize her. Rachele usually wore whatever was comfortable but now she wore a stylish forest green suit with the high collars that were so popular at the moment. Her hair had been done up in a complicated fashion with curls framing her face. She smiled brightly at him.
“Tom!” She held out her hands.
Tom didn’t move. “Rachele? What’s ―”
“It’s wonderful.” She walked slowly towards him. “I was so wrong about Unity. You were absolutely right. You have to come with me and join. We’ll be together in a way that we always dreamed.”
His stomach hurt. He sat down on the couch and looked at his hands. He couldn’t stop shivering. “You didn’t leave Unity?”
Rachele sat beside him. She wore a delicate floral perfume. Rachele never wore perfume. “I know I said that. I used to say a lot of things to cover up for my fear. But I understand now. There’s no point. I was wrong. Worse. Paranoid. Depressed. Vindictive. I hated Unity because they always seemed so perfect, so content. I saw deception where none existed. It is what you always thought. And once you join all of your hopes will be realized.”
Tom looked at her. Her eyes searched his face. He saw joy in her eyes. Happiness. It had been a long time since he saw that in her face. But he shook his head.
“You’re not Rachele. You’re Abigail Mission, Unity. You have her memories but she’s gone. Consumed by your collective consciousness. I want you to leave.”
“You’re wrong. I am Rachele. I’m just a part of something else now.”
“Then do what you promised. Leave Unity. Once we confirm that you’ve disconnected then we’ll talk. If what you say is true then we can join together.”
“There’s no need for that,” Rachele said.
Tom sat back and crossed his arms. A sob caught in his throat. “Then you should go. I’m not joining. Not ever.”
Rachele stood up. “And how long will that last? Every day more people join Unity. How long will you be alone?”
Tom looked up at her. Somebody’s idea of how Rachele should look. Dead, but not legally dead. “As long as it takes to find a way to free my wife and the others you’ve taken.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Rachele said.
Tom covered his face. “Just go.”
She left. He heard the door closed. He pushed back the sobs and the black wall of despair that threatened to overwhelm him. He needed to be strong for Rachele. Find others like him, that knew the truth. Convince people of the danger before it was too late.
Tom rose from the couch. He went to the window and looked down. He didn’t see Rachele. Just people going about their business. How many already belonged to Unity? How many had been taken over? There was a lot of work to do.
This story is the 56th weekly short story release, written in June 2010. Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story So Little Time.