by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 9

Lance Returns.

Lance considered he had used his time well in the years since Greg's transfer. He'd made no enemies but many useful contacts with both inmates and guardians. He'd been generous, but not foolish in the dispensation of largess, and thus was admired—even loved by both his fellow prisoners and the guards who let him have a private room whenever he demanded it.

The reality was somewhat different from the febrile imaginings of the unpleasant young man.

All guards considered him a total nut case, possibly dangerous, who would explode if he realised the other inmates reckoned he was a slimy fag, and only tugged their metaphorical forelocks in order to get cash and other handouts.

Several official requests to have the unstable prisoner transferred to a psychiatric ward had been rejected, despite reports from the prison psychiatrist who described Lance as dangerously unstable and of inferior intelligence. His suggestion that the lad be given a single room, fitted well with the common practice of torturing prisoners with solitary confinement at the slightest hint of recalcitrance. Lance's frequent stays in a dark, windowless cell, deprived of human contact, stimulation and exercise, successfully turned an unpleasant bigot into a raving, homicidal, deluded lunatic.

In the final weeks of his incarceration, however, Lance was given every privilege possible including unrestricted visitor access, to ensure he did nothing stupid that might interfere with his release.

Two days before that long-awaited liberation, Lance's father was discovered dead at the bottom of the stairs of his Real Estate office. Slight bruising and a knock to the back of his head would not have been enough to kill him, but in the absence of any other indication of violence—no forced entry, nothing stolen, it was assumed he had suffered a heart attack and simply stopped breathing. Had he been alive the following morning, however, he would have bewailed the loss of a secret cache of sixty thousand dollars in used notes, kept in case of emergency. But as the safe hadn't been tampered with and no one apart from Lance knew the money was there, or the combination, no one missed it.

The elaborate church memorial service on the day of Lance's release was well attended by men and women of similar financial status and values, who, like their host, had not seen the inside of a church since baptism. None had time to attend a wake, which was fortunate as none had been arranged because Lance wanted to spend the afternoon with the lawyer signing documents. By nightfall he was not only owner of Osbairne Enterprises, Osbairne's Real Estate, and Oz Cleaners, but his signature was sufficient identification for him to access every bank account, share portfolio, security box and other financial asset accumulated by his father.

Immediately after Greg's transfer to another prison, Lance had been alarmed to discover that the magnificent orgasms engendered by his cellmate's firm embrace during daily buggery sessions, could not be replaced by a mere hand job, so as it was getting on for four years since he'd achieved satisfactory sexual release, his first recreational foray on receipt of his fortune was to the brothel where he had pleasurably shared a pretty little whore with his father, in the halcyon days before his unjust imprisonment.

The visit was a disaster. Without the visual stimulation of his father's thrusting manhood, or Greg's strong arms wrapped around his chest and hard rod up his bum, his own soft tube of pale flesh refused to respond, causing him to deliver several solid punches to the prostitute's head and belly. They cost him dearly in hush money, but salved his masculine pride.

Then he remembered that at high school he'd had no erectile problems when his sycophantic acolytes, Earnest and Nigel used to watch him screw Mandy and Raylene, whose complaints that he was much too big and hurt them had been an added stimulation. So then he thought of Desmond, the weight and mentally challenged underling who had been released from prison three weeks before Lance, to whom he had entrusted the whereabouts of the keys to his father's office, and safe combination. A generous handful of dollars easily persuaded Desmond to act as bodyguard while Lance was screwing a young woman he'd booked on the Internet.

She agreed to an observer if she was paid double, but then Desmond decided he wouldn't do it unless he could fuck her after Lance. A considerable sum, therefore, changed hands before Desmond got a hard on watching Lance dip his ginormous wick, then Lance managed a second erection and satisfactory manual orgasm watching Desmond plough his furrow.

Meanwhile, the pretty young tart acted her part with commendable zeal, and only Desmond was disappointed, when Lance refused to let him demonstrate how he'd stopped Lance's father's heart from beating before tossing him down the stairs.

'Why not?'

'Her pimp knows where she is and I can't think of a way to dispose of the body. Next time, ok?'

'Ok, but you owe me.'

Within two weeks Lance had assembled a willing band of four henchmen prepared to do anything for money. They staked out Robert 's flat, recorded his schedule, discussed plans, prepared their tools of trade, and on the same day that in the previous week Robert had arrived home alone for lunch, and remained alone for a full hour, they lay in wait.

What they didn't know was that the previous week had been unusual. A 3V client had requested emergency counselling, so Bart had remained at the Gym while Robert had cycled home to lunch alone. And what they could never have guessed, was that this week it was Robert and Bart's turn to host the 'family' luncheon, when all five friends shared a meal. Thus no alarm bells rang when Robert again cycled home alone—a little earlier than the previous week, to prepare the meal for his four friends, while they prepared the Gym for the evening sessions.

Robert whistled happily as he took his feet off the pedals and drifted down the ramp into the car park under the block of flats. He put his bicycle in the rack, shouldered his pack, gazed happily up through three stories of encircling balconies to where Hazel's parting gift, a potted cactus in full flower caught a ray of sunlight, then ran swiftly up the stairs, fitted his key in the lock and breezed into the flat. The place smelled unusually sweaty and stuffy, so he opened the sliders onto the balcony to create a draught, returned to the kitchen, and was bending to look for a pot in the cupboard under the sink when a light cough made him straighten up and swing round.

'Tidy house you keep,' Lance sneered. 'Quite the little housewife, aren't you?'

Robert's eyes popped, his mouth dropped open and he stared in gormless surprise at four men dressed in army fatigues, preventing his retreat.

'Lance,' he managed to whisper, wishing he felt braver. 'You've changed.'


'You look stronger, healthier, much more…'

'Attractive? Is that what you were going to say? Don't tell me the queer black boy fancies me. I always knew you were a whore.'

Robert decided it would be sensible to ignore that and pretend unconcern. But all he could come up with was a nervous, 'Why are you here?'

'I owe you something.'

Robert remained silent. It was midday so all the other flats would be empty. Hazel had been the last of the permanent residents. Now she was in a retirement home the entire block was rented to students or young couples working several jobs to make ends meet.

'Want to know what it is?'

Not trusting himself to speak, Robert shook his head.

Lance nodded and his three companions grabbed their prey, slammed him into a dining chair and lashed his arms and ankles to the back and legs with Velcro ties while their leader pulled a polished skinning knife from a sheath on his belt. 'I went to prison because you murdered that old fuckwit Nikelseer.'

'No, you went to prison because you murdered Murray Corso, tried to murder me by setting fire to a shed after locking me in, tried to murder Bart by tossing him over the rails outside this door, and tried to murder us both by interfering with the brakes on his car. Nikelseer's death had nothing to do with me.'

'You lying black turd-pusher. I know bloody well you're the killer, and the cops reckon you set me up at Nikelseer's. Corso suicided, everyone agrees on that. But this time your lies will get you nowhere. Justice is at hand.' He stopped and adopted what he imagined was a statesmanlike pose. 'Remember when we studied Merchant of Venice? Well I'm Shylock, come to claim my pound of flesh. For every lie, for every little thing I suffered in prison, you are going to lose a piece of that black meat.'

He laughed unpleasantly as Robert gave an involuntary squirm. 'Don't worry, I won't kill you—I'm not a murderer despite your accusations, but you won't be able to walk, or talk, or see, or hear afterwards, so no one will ever find out how it happened. But I'm not totally without pity; I will leave you your sense of touch. You will feel everything. You will feel pain forever until you wish I had killed you. But it's probably best if people out on the street don't hear you.'

A gag was thrust into Robert's mouth and tied behind. He watched in utter, paralysing fear as Lance tested the knife on the hairs on one of Robert's arms. They shaved off easily, taking with them a sliver of skin, leaving a small gash that began to weep blood.

'Now, where will I start?' He stood back and smiled. 'At the bottom, I think.' Bending, he separated his victim's little toe on the left foot, inserted the blade between that and the next, grasped the toe and suddenly sliced. He must have been lucky because the blade found the joint and he stood in surprise, holding aloft a twitching thing, which he dangled in front of Robert's face.

The action had been so swift Robert had felt nothing, but when he saw his toe and a few drops of blood, a red-hot wave of pain engulfed his foot and he arched in agony.

His persecutors were laughing.

'Fuck, if he reacts like that to a little toe, imagine what he'll be like when his nose and lips come off. Who's got the plasters?'

That set off another round of laughter as a pot of liquid tar was produced. 'This stuff stops bleeding, so they reckon. Might sting a bit, but what's a bit of pain among friends?'

A few minutes earlier, Bart had drifted silently down into the car park on his bike, but instead of parking it, something made him look up. A shadowy figure was lounging against the handrail on the second floor. Silently, Bart walked the bike back out and stopped the others when they arrived.

'There's a stranger who seems to be waiting halfway up. I don't like it so we'll take the fire escape.'

Quietly placing their cycles against a wall, they went round the back where a locked door guarded a rear staircase.

'Luckily, Robert made a secret catch.' He reached into a hole, pressed something, the door opened, they ran softly up the stairs and a minute later were creeping towards the open door of Bart's apartment. At the sound of voices Bart signalled to the others to wait, then peered into the opening. Backing away, he explained the situation.

'It'll be four against four. I'll take the guy with the knife and leave the others to you. Last one in, slam the door to keep the guard out in case he comes up.'

'What'll we do with them? We've nothing to tie them up with.'

'Drop them over there,' Bart pointed to the railing. 'That's where Lance tried to throw me over.'

'Are you sure?'

'Yes! There's no one around to see. Ready? Go!'

It should have been easy, but although none of Lance's henchmen would ever be considered the sharpest knife in the drawer, their reflexes were good. They'd all learned to fight and didn't care if they hurt. But neither did Bart. His mind emptied of all thoughts except the desire to destroy the person who was hurting his lover. Nothing else mattered; certainly not his own safety. He raced into the room screaming like a banshee, grabbed the knife from Lance and slashed wildly at his hands, arms, face and chest when he tried to regain it, soon backing him into a corner, drawing blood at every swipe until Lance collapsed, whimpering, begging for mercy. Bart slammed his shoe into the side of his head then picked the pathetic creature up, carried him out and draped him over the rail above the three-storey drop to the concrete floor of the garages beneath, head well out over the gap, his waist pressed against the rail to prevent him breathing properly.

Lance coughed, gasped and whimpered when Bart tossed the knife into space where it spun lazily before clanging onto the concrete below.

'You're next.'

'No! No! Please don't let me fall. Please….'

'You tried to push me over once, but I was saved by an old woman. If I spare you, you'll only come after us again, so it's good bye and good riddance.' Grasping Lance's belt, Bart lifted him slightly and sent him on his way to fall soundlessly before landing with a squishy thud that Bart didn't hear because he was back inside assisting Hylas, who was on the point of having his neck broken by a large hairy brute. A powerful set of sharply bent knuckles smashing into the brute's tattooed temple triggered a high-pitched scream. He dropped, groaning slightly. Before he could recover Hylas's boot stomped several times on his face, crushing nose, lips and eyes. Together, he and Bart dragged him out and rolled him, still moaning, under the rails to join his leader.

There was no sign of the lookout, who had apparently decided not to get involved after seeing his boss so casually tossed overboard. Inside, Arnold was enduring a battering from another hefty hulk who was too engrossed to notice Hylas's solid kick to the testicles and Bart's sharp knuckles between the eyes. Weeping, kicking and screaming foul abuse he was kicked, dragged and squeezed under the bottom rail to join his mates.

Fidel's target had decided discretion was the better part of valour, and was standing in the open window that led onto the balcony, nervously watching the solid brass lamp stand Fidel was wielding.

Suddenly he drew something from his pocket, brandished it aloft and shouted, 'This is a grenade! If you come any closer I'll use it!'

'Then you'll die too.'

He laughed wildly, backed out onto the balcony and drew the pin, but held the lever closed. 'I might survive a leap from here, but you won't have time to escape.'

'You won't survive a three storey drop,' Fidel said urgently, 'but we don't want to die, nor do you. We stopped Lance, so we're finished. Let's call a truce.' He turned to his friends. 'You guys go. He's not going to kill himself,'

Arnold and Hylas backed away, watching carefully while Bart released Robert from his bindings, then all except Hylas left the flat.

'We're going, Ok?' Fidel retreated a couple of steps towards his brother who was beginning to panic.

'Come on, Fidel. Leave him!'

The guy with the grenade risked a quick look back and down to the ground below, then shuddered and moved back into the doorway, distracting himself for exactly the time it took Fidel to race forward and shove him backwards. His foot caught on a heavy metal doorstop causing him to tumble backwards, head slamming against the concrete balustrade. He dropped the grenade, slumped to the floor on top of it and lay still, eyes flickering, mouth opening and closing as if in silent speech.

In the few remaining seconds before the explosion, Fidel and Hylas raced out to join the others who were already halfway down the stairs. With one flight still to go they felt rather than heard a boom that seemed to shake the entire structure. Stucco fell off walls and broken windows sent tinkling shards of glass to join the three bodies.

Robert insisted he was Ok and they shouldn't fuss as they half carried him down and out to the open air. While Hylas bandaged the bleeding foot with his handkerchief, the others went round the outside to see the damage. Bits of human were draped over what was left of a balcony hanging by reinforcing rods.

As it seemed safe enough, Bart and Arnold ran back upstairs, returning with a fireproof case containing every important document they owned—kept ready in case of emergencies, and two paintings.

'What'll we do with the bodies?' Hylas asked, indicating the heap of dead flesh in the centre of the well.

'It's not our day to take out the trash,' Robert quipped sourly.

Twelve and a half minutes after the blast they were cycling through Spring Hill on the way to Arnold's apartment, discussing whether to buy fish and chips, or scratch up a meal from whatever was in the cupboards.

That afternoon, after having installed themselves in Arnold's luxurious spare room, where he insisted they were to remain permanently as he was sick of living alone, Bart and Robert were visited at the gymnasium by two policemen who informed them that their flat had been bombed. They expressed suitably horrified surprise and asked if anyone had been hurt. When told the names of the victims, Robert appeared devastated.

'But that's terrible. I had a call from Lance saying he was coming to see me to see if we could forget the past and I'd help him adjust to life on the outside. But I wasn't expecting him till tomorrow.'

Bart asked who could have done the bombing, and was told, in confidence, that they feared JECHIS was again on the move, and as Bart and Robert were gay, they'd been targeted.

His conjecture proved prophetic.

Robert limped for a week, and sporadic terrorist acts resumed.

Due to inexplicable malfunctioning of police communications from landlines to wireless and global positioning devices, officers never managed to arrive at the correct spot until long after the damage had been done.

Atrocities were always followed by warning notices on radio, TV and in print; usually a religious quotation signed JECHIS.

Individuals who were dressed inappropriately or behaving badly in public were roughed up by small groups of vigilantes and threatened with the wrath of god if they ignored the warnings posted everywhere. Sometimes a house or business would be bombed, usually when empty and doing little physical damage, a reminder of what was in store for those who ignored god's commandments.

Everyone was talking about JECHIS, but no one knew who or what it was.

Official news bulletins in the corporate press and on Internet sites tended to play down the incidents, telling people not to become alarmed; the police had it under control; arrests were imminent; it was only a few isolated individuals, not organised terrorists.

Internet searches by concerned individuals failed to discover any useful reference to JECHIS. The emails received by every citizen were untraceable, as were social media posts. Alternative news and opinion websites reckoned JECHIS was distributing a virus that blocked and then deleted all references to themselves on every computer or Internet site.

Sensible people became alarmed that control of the digital system on which the civilized world depended, had been taken over. Every human service required computers linked to the Internet in order to function: from water supplies to transport of food and goods, sewage treatment to energy distribution and education. It was far too late to return to what some people were already referring to as the good old days, so what were the intentions of this JECHIS?

Not only was there no verifiable information about anything to do with them, but there were never any witnesses of attacks and bombings, and the police had so far been unable to trace the source of the explosives.

When rumours began circulating that all the incidents were acts of an angry god, millions shuddered and decided they had better learn to pray, because what else could explain the mystery? But whose god should they pray to? To the disgust of Fidel and friends, hundreds of thousands of otherwise rational citizens began wondering aloud if there might be a smidgin of truth in those rumours, and perhaps in the interests of a long life it would be sensible to join the invisible dispensers of god's mercy, love and judgement. The problem was, no one knew where to find JECHIS, let alone how to become a member.

The desire to join the winning team is both natural and rational, and in this case was reinforced by the daily dissemination of simplified religious texts in all electronic media, as well as leaflets left in public places and notices pasted on fences and walls. It was a very clever campaign; enough annoyance to make people worry, not enough to cause open revolt—especially as there was no shortage of food or any other essentials. In fact, apart from the bombings nothing much had changed.


As the attacks had been widely spaced throughout the suburbs of Brisbane and regional centres, no one felt especially singled out. It was a softening up. But what for? What did they want?

What they wanted was a frightened populace that would gratefully accept its rule in order to stop the constant fear that next time it might be them.

As tension mounted, that was exactly what was happening. The voices demanding resolution grew louder and louder. But the masterminds of the take-over were not in a hurry. Their intended subjects had first to be taught not to complain, through fear of possible consequences. The 'Free Press' rapidly learned that lesson, and published nothing that might cause a bomb to explode near their premises. Thus, when 'Adult' night clubs and other venues that featured strippers were raided by masked marauders who laid waste to the interiors and as many patrons as possible, the stories appeared a few days later as mere footnotes buried deep in turgid prose. Editorials even made approving noises when all nudity, sex, porn and suggestive photographs and articles disappeared from the Internet.

Perhaps JECHIS was right, the citizenry began to whisper. Perhaps people who wanted sex outside marriage, or to be entertained by naked women and copulating couples were degenerate humans, offensive to their creator, and even… perhaps… deserved to die?

Bloggers rapidly learned to toe the line when they discovered that JECHIS knew exactly who they were, where they lived, who with, and how to hurt them. The possibility of anonymity that had already been disappearing thanks to global state and corporate Internet surveillance, vanished completely, to be replaced by an unbearable awareness of an invisible omniscient force that knows and sees all and is powerful enough to do as it pleases. Organised religion's depictions of their god no longer seemed quite so preposterous.

Humans cope remarkably well and rationally with even catastrophic physical events, but they aren't well equipped to cope with impotence conferred by constant, irrational fear that eats away integrity, judgement, honesty, values and morality, fuelled by messages that appear as if by magic on walls throughout the city, one on top of the other, adding to uncertainty—an uncertainty aggravated by an announcement that simply repeated the last lines of the first proclamation all those weeks ago.

JECHIS is the invisible instrument of our creator who has decided it is time to sift goodness from evil in preparation for the End Times, which are upon us. Do not waste energy seeking us out; instead seek out the evil in your hearts and repent and mortify yourselves in the hope of mercy on the day of judgement.

Hylas finished his school year with relief and a certificate that assured any future employer that he had completed Year Twelve at St. Tightwad's College. He always enjoyed the monthly dinners with Monique and Sanjay, and soon became Sanjay's favourite when he discovered they shared the same dry, oddball humour that left the others shaking their heads. The sole topic of conversation expressly forbidden during these relaxing and enjoyable get-togethers was JECHIS.

The attacks stopped; but this time no one relaxed. Everyone kept looking over their shoulders expecting to be blown up, mugged, attacked, abducted…

Then one evening every radio station and screen attached to the Internet, mobile phone and TV suddenly broadcast the same message: "The State Governor has accepted the resignation of all elected representatives in the Queensland Parliament, and on the advice of JECHIS, has appointed a triumvirate of three moral and spiritual men; Caleb Saloman, Augustan Calvin and Muhammad Zurca." The screen darkened for exactly fifteen seconds, followed by a blast of trumpets announcing the arrival of a dot of golden light in the centre of the screen, that gradually enlarged until it revealed a tall, well-fed man in long black robes and a skullcap, sitting behind a large and ornate desk.

'Good evening. I am Caleb Saloman.' The voice was nasal and intense. Irritating. 'I am here to assure you that in the interests of fiscal stability, all the banks, building societies and other financial institutions have been taken over by JECHIS. Interest will be pegged at three percent for borrowing and two point five for lending. All deposits by individuals are safe and all transactions will continue as usual unless there is civil unrest, when changes may have to be made. Share market trading is suspended and all corporate assets are frozen pending investigation into the true state of their finances. Twenty-seven executives who objected to these essential measures were executed this afternoon in front of their staff.' He nodded and the screens went blank for a few seconds before everything returned to normal.

Everyone, including Robert and the others, was relieved to know their money was safe—at least for a while, but wondered what it would do to the value of the dollar internationally.

In vain did rabbis, mullahs, priests and ministers of the three biggest corporate religions exhort their dwindling flocks to reject the blandishments of JECHIS and trust in their version of god, telling them to pray and refrain from heeding the call of self-serving charlatan terrorists.

However, belief in their god's power to protect his servants was severely diminished when JECHIS officers of truth and justice strangled every publicly rebellious religious leader in front of their congregations, inside their temples.

By the end of the following month, all places of worship that refused to preach the JECHIS doctrines were blasted off their foundations and bulldozed into flat spaces for future tennis courts and other useful social activities.

All of their erstwhile adherents then wisely discovered that god was on the side of JECHIS, and being only human, joined him.

Homeowners began receiving visitors dressed in black accompanied by guards with powerful assault rifles, knives and handguns, presenting search warrants that they used to remove computers and take people away. Sometimes they returned, sometimes they didn't. The police, when informed, shrugged and told the complainants to let sleeping dogs lie.

All mainstream media hailed the Triumvirate as a triumph of good government, bringing peace and stability.

Time passed.

Hylas became an assistant trainer as well as handyman. He turned eighteen.

Bart's mother, who had withdrawn from all social activity and become virtually catatonic from long term anti-depressant addiction, finally took the plunge off the observation platform at Picnic Point in front of about fifty people, whose determination to get a better view of the body splashed onto rocks fifty metres below nearly shoved a few more people over.

Bart was simultaneously relieved and guilt struck. It had been two years since he had visited her, finding it too distressing to sit with a woman he still loved, who would do nothing except sit silently and refuse to speak or move or listen or react. He knew it was his father's bullying and violence that had made her life unbearable, but couldn't throw off the notion that her strict Catholic upbringing and consequent inability to cope with having a gay son, had contributed perhaps even more. She had never visited him since Robert moved in; refused to see Robert under any circumstances.'

The patrons of Arnold's gymnasium, while not unaffected by the on again, off again violence, managed to forget the horrors for a while at Natural Fitness, blanking out problems while burning off their fat on the equipment. To most, the gym had become an island of sanity in a sea of hysteria, run by trainers whose innocent decency set them apart from lesser mortals. When asked to explain how they felt about the staff they fumbled for words.

'It's as if they are pure,' someone said.

'Yeah. When Fidel comes and adjusts an apparatus, or asks me in that deep soft voice how I'm going, or explains the use of equipment, I get a strange tickling in my gut, as if I'm in the presence of someone special who genuinely cares and is interested in me, not in the impression he's creating.'

'You sound almost religious.'

'I almost am. I believe in angels.'

'I don't have a religious bone in my body, but I agree with you. I think it's because they hide nothing we feel as if we know them. Being naked, they look vulnerable and honest and… and good.' The speaker looked around at smiling faces. 'Yeah, I know it sounds soft, but it's how I feel and I wish I was like them.'

'They certainly aren't bloated capitalists; what they charge must be only the bare running costs.'

'My wife doesn't understand, she thinks I've turned queer and only come to perve. But there's nothing to perve at. You just see a whole man for what he is. If that's not the sign of an upright, honourable and decent person, I don't know what is.'

A week later, the citizens of Queensland were offered a glimpse into the nature of their triumphant Triumvirate overlords on prime time TV. An elderly man who looked like everyone's sweet old grandfather made the following announcement.

People are wondering who or what JECHIS is. It is a benevolent host of Jews, Christians and Islamists who value the fundamental values of their faiths and have watched with aching hearts as humanity disintegrates into warring tribes devoid of morals, ethics or values, intent only on securing wealth and power. This offence to the expressed desires of the one true Lord and Master of the universe, must be stopped. To this end the holy men of JECHIS have put aside two thousand years of differences and acknowledged the single root from which their religions blossomed. Strengthened by this, they have accepted the burden of returning mankind to the original beliefs and dogma of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that dictate the correct thoughts and actions for all humankind. To achieve this holy aim, all impure thoughts and actions will be punished according to ancient law. Foolish people have complained that innocent bystanders are being caught up in our cleansing. Be assured there are no innocent bystanders. Let your Lord and Master decide who is guilty, and remember that you all are guilty of impure thoughts.

A few days later, the client who believed in angels took Arnold aside and said softly, 'Please show no reaction to what I'm about to say or I will get into trouble.'


'You will be inspected during the evening session in two days time. Put locked doors between the men's and women's gyms, and agree to everything, then you will be safe.'

Arnold remained impassive and in a conversational tone thanked him and continued with the session.

At the after work conference, he shared the information and advice.

'He is probably correct,' Bart said thoughtfully. 'We aren't the only people to be inspected. It's happening everywhere. The business premises of one of the men in the 3V group was visited by black clad members of JECHIS. He reckoned they were constantly trying to trap him by making outrageous suggestions to see if he would argue, because in Deuteronomy 17:12 it states that people who don't listen to, or reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents their god, must be put to death. He survived, but knows someone who was taken out and shot for arguing with the inspector, so he's a nervous wreck. If he's right, and I think he is, it's essential we remain calm and impassive no matter what they say. Never argue. We're especially susceptible because we're naked, although Arnold's man suggests we shouldn't worry about that.'

In order to impress on their own minds the seriousness, they stood and one at a time solemnly promised that whatever the inspectors might say or suggest, they would agree with. There would be no arguing, no attempt to offer a different point of view, no matter how evil.

'But even if we do agree with everything, they won't believe us.'

'That doesn't matter. I'm pretty sure they aren't trying to convince us they're right; they simply demand we accept their absolute authority. It's normal. It's how humans are still ruled in most countries, and have been ruled since they stopped being hunter-gatherers. The people who head Religious organisations aren't stupid, they know that humans can never agree on anything, so the only way to make them conform is to put the fear of god and his messengers into them.'

'Our society isn't—wasn't like that.'

'What happens if you drive on the wrong side of the road, don't pay tax, steal your neighbour's car, shit in the street?'

'You're right. Now I feel stupid.'

'You aren't—like most people you've been brainwashed to think your country's perfect. All we have to do is keep our wits about us and agree with them. But not like creepy sycophants. They're only impressed by what they call 'real' men. Our beards will help.'

The other trainers were apprised of the inspection and told to stay completely away from the gym on full pay until they heard from Arnold. All six were fiercely independent men, and for that reason unlikely to remain calm in the face of absurdity dressed as reason.

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