The story so far:
“The Harbingers have lied to us!” Norman Kindle's face shifted to an expression of righteous fury. Renni watched from the shadows, noting the nodding heads and the furious faces mingling in the crowd. Two weeks and the camp had divided into nearly two neat halves.
“I called you all here to discuss this travesty,” Norman Kindle continued. Renni sidled along the wall, keeping out of site of her nemesis. “They warned us of the Mongerers. What they should have warned us about were themselves. Where is this planet destroying weapon they talked about? Where are the Mongerers? Has anyone seen a single one since winter? No! I tell you the Harbingers are in cahoots with the Mongerers.”
A great roar rose up from the crowd as many stood in protest at Norman’s charged words. Renni growled under her breath, but stayed in the shadows still.
“Think about it,” he said after the cries of injustice died down. He pointed towards Phys and Marshal, standing near the door. “Think about how they came just in the nick of time. They came to save us? I tell you they came to enslave us! How many people wear those so called medical units? They aren’t medical units, oh no. Soon, all of us will be wearing them, for one medical reason or another. And then what? One push of a button and poof, we’re under their control. Look at that boy!” He pointed to Thomas. “He’s already under their control. I tell you, he is a Mongerer spy!”
The crowd rose up in protestation once more, their anger shaking the very walls of the mess hall. Some glared daggers at Thomas while others stood beside him and shook his hand. Half of her friend’s face glowered at the speaker, the other half remained frozen in glimmering pale gray.
“Now, now.” Norman tried to regain control. He backed into the serving tables behind him, his hands up as several people advanced. Renni scooted a little closer. “Hear me out, my good people. Was he not under the Mongerer’s control before these Harbingers seemingly saved him?” The people quieted down a little. Norman smiled, feeling he’d won the moment. “He did terrible things, my friends. Terrible things. And to his fellow man. How do we know he isn’t spying for our enemies right now? How do we know he was truly saved? We don’t. We have his word and the word of aliens. I tell you, we cannot trust them!” He thrust his finger towards Thomas as the group of survivors erupted again. Norman scooted away from Carter and the others who advanced angrily towards him. He scooted right into Renni.
“Quite a stirring speech,” she said to him, her face controlled, her eyes steady. Norman cocked his head to the side and glared down at her.
“And then there is you,” he hissed. “You who willingly side with our enemies. You who would enslave our people. A shepherd? I think not. More like slave driver.”
Renni smiled, her eyes bright fire. “Listen to me,” she said turning to the arguing crowd, her voice barely audible over the din.
“They can’t hear you, little girl.” Norman placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. Renni shrugged him off and motioned towards the crowd. All eyes were upon them.
“Listen to me,” Renni said again. Silence followed, filled only by the shuffling of feet and the squeak of a hanging lantern swaying above the door. Norman stood near her, aghast that she could calm the people so quickly. She walked away from him to the center of the hall, surrounded on all sides by her peers, by the people she’d visited every day, by the people she’d come to love and learned to protect.
“My friends,” she began. Some coughed uncomfortably while others scoffed at her opening words. “Yes, you are my friends. Have I done anything to prove otherwise to you?” As she spoke she turned slowly, making eye contact with each person present.
“What our campmate, Mr. Kindle, says has some logic to it.” She turned to him and saw the smile spread across his face. “There are many unanswered questions regarding our gracious hosts.” This time she turned to Phys and Marshal. They nodded towards her. “Allow me to answer a few.”
Renni walked towards the food tables, still laden with simple, nourishing fare. “I am Shepherd to the Harbingers and I have trained to protect you. Thomas has been trained to heal you by Phys. In our efforts to help our fellow men, we have become close to the Harbingers, and in the end learned to call them friends. In that closeness, we have learned a great many things. These things I will tell you now.
“The food we eat so readily, and with no regard towards its origins, does in fact come from the Harbingers. On board Marshal’s ship is a device. It uses energy and from that it produces food. We have all eaten it. We have all partaken in their gift to us. They have nurtured our bodies, without asking for repayment. They have given freely and we have received freely. All of us.” She faced Norman a moment before turning back to her friends.
“The Mongerers never had a world ender for our world. The Harbingers were wrong.” Renni went on to explain to the people what she had learned months ago recovering in Marshal’s ship.
“As for the units.” Renni grabbed a chair and sat upon it. Lifting her pant leg, she motioned to her own unit. “I lost much in a fight against a Mongerer monster. Marshal, Phys, and Thomas saved me, and much of what would have otherwise been lost.” She pulled a few levers, tapped a few hidden buttons near her thigh. With the snap of wires, she slid the unit down and away revealing a short ragged stump. She set the unit aside and using the chair for leverage, she stood on her one good leg.
“I can assure you, the units are medical. I no longer wear one, and yet I still speak for the Harbingers. How then do they control me?”
Murmurs passed amongst the people as they stared in macabre awe at the remains of Renni’s leg. Reaching towards Carter, she leaned her weight upon his shoulder. He wrapped his arm about her and helped her as she hobbled through the crowd between the rows of tables until she once more stood in the center of the group.
“How many here wear a unit of one kind or another?” She raised her hand, followed by nearly half the camp. “How many here were saved from frost bite by Thomas and Phys?” More hands rose up, some in a flash and some reluctant. “How many were rescued from certain death by Marshal?” Nearly all the hands were now raised.
Renni faced Norman Kindle. “I do not see your hand raised, Mr. Kindle,” she said, noting how he avoided looking at her leg. “But you most certainly would have perished in your flooded valley had Marshal not use up precious energy flying his ship to your rescue.” Norman still held his ground, keeping his hand at his side. With every hand raised, or nearly so, Renni knew her nemesis had just hung himself.
“Marshal can no longer raise his ship from the ground. It will never fly again. The energy we have used thus far for our food and our shelters and even the windows of this very building, is nearly gone.” A gasp went up from the people as they lowered their hands. “In a matter of months, we will be forced to rely upon our own devices to feed this camp and to care for our neighbors. Already, this is happening.” She spread her arms wide, her face all smiles and pride. “We are planting our own crops. We are hunting our own meat. We are building our homes using the trees around us. We are more than surviving. We are thriving!”
This time, Renni received the roars and cheers from the crowd. Many who had supported Norman that night turned towards him now, distain written across their faces. Carter returned Renni to the chair. She stared at the unit lying on the floor, part her own flesh, part Harbinger technology. She remained thus until the crowd quieted again. Norman opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again as Renni’s sweet and gentle voice rang out once more.
“Mrs. Shoes read something to me the other day from one of her books. She read, ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’”
Norman again motioned to speak. No words came out, his eyes transfixed by Renni’s, her eyes staring into his very soul. He turned away, shame written across his face.
“We are divided.” She said, her voice very soft now. “How can we hope to survive if we fight amongst ourselves? Why plant seeds of mistrust and hatred? There is no gain there, only death.”
Whispers and nods followed. Renni reached down and grasped her unit. Thomas joined her and helped her replace it upon the stump. She cringed as the metal and technology reattached itself to her flesh. Yet, tears of pain were soon replaced by tears of pride as many of her campmates walked up to her and shook her hand. Apologies and words of friendship wafted through the hall. Many surrounded Phys and Marshal, freely asking questions and receiving answers freely. The Harbingers had no secrets from their fellow survivors.
Renni looked around the room, feeling the rift heal in small measures. But the seeds had already been planted in the minds of her campmates. Doubt would grow like weeds and it would take much work to abolish it. She watched the back of Norman’s coat disappear through the door, followed by two or three of his still loyal followers.
The battle was over. She felt the war just beginning.
Time would tell.