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Senator Lakum stared at his phone an email open that he was supposed to be reading. He marked it as unread and then closed the application. Bare trees moved lazily by. Winter had stripped all but the pines, of their green splendor, and all that was left, was the scaffolding and the deep green needles. Branches and bark the living skeletons of unwavering giants. He had not been like them, unwavering. A wave of guilt prickled his scalp. He reached for the flask he kept on him. The whiskey inside should have warmed him. The unsureness of the age had turned even the boldest of virtues into liabilities and he was no different. He took another draw off the flask and put it away.
The cement building sat as silent as it could, being as inconspicuous as a building could be. A single gray metal door with a plain gray metal doorknob was the only thing on the door and even it tried to stay as still as possible. The flowerbeds around the building were made bare by an East Texas winter. Cold moist air crept into every single crevice and rarely gave the visual blessing of snowfall. Gray, brown tender filled the beds with the promise of a green spring but for now, the garden slept. “Longview, Texas, of all the places for a secret organization.” Lakum mused to himself.
“I won’t belong.” The Senator said to the driver. He pulled his collar up as a defense against the cold. The gravel beneath his feet were river stones smooth and nearly silent as he approached the building. Inside there was nothing, just cinder block walls as sparse and unassuming as the outside.
“Shut the door Senator.” A voice said causing the Senator to startle. “The elevator will not work with the door open.” He reached for the door and hesitated. Danger tingled across his mind he shook it off and closed the door. A much more aggressive sounding internal locking system whirred and then with a heavy thunk secured the door. To the Senator, it appeared for a few brief moments that the ceiling was getting taller. The illusion was quickly dispelled by the change of wall texture. Rich wood paneling rose from the floor edges around him. Once the paneled walls reached a few feet above him recessed lighting flickered on and a new panel slid overhead. More lighting cast its warm glow over the senator and the elevator picked up speed and headed down.
The elevator doors opened to a room filled with deep orange light. The walls, floors, and ceiling were all cast in this late evening color. The far wall was a curtain of light. Silhouetted against it a man sat atop a short pedestal legs crossed. It was impossible to tell which direction he was facing. Then like blinking your eyes, the room was white modern and the man now clearly visible, wearing a black suit and tie of a similar orange was quickly walking towards the Senator. A jubilant smile on his face. “Come in come in Senator Lakum, I am so sorry about that. I was meditating and security was remiss to interrupt me. I hope your trip went well. Can I offer you any refreshment? Water, Coffee, Hot Tea, A nice Cognac?” The man said as he led the Senator into a room adjacent to the one they were currently in.
Rich reds and browns accented with brass and copper made the room feel like the inside of the nicest humidor the world had ever seen. The smells of fresh tobacco and cedar caressed the Senator with comforting memories of his childhood. “No No that won't be necessary. I don't want to take up too much time here. I am due back for another committee meeting and I have several hours of travel ahead of me.” Senator Lakum said smiling and shaking the man’s hand.
The man motioned for the Senator to sit while another man presumably an assistant stealthily removed the Senators cote and took it hanging it on a nearby coat rack. “I completely understand. Then if you are in a hurry let's get right down to business.” The man continued, “What can God Maker Incorporated do for you?” the man said flashing another smile. A smile who’s appearance was juxtaposed. The man's clear sophistication was made dangerous by teeth that had been sharpened to points.
The Senator shifted cautiously in the very comfortable chair. He swallowed and found his mouth suddenly dry. “I don't know what you can do for me. I mentioned I had a bit of a problem brewing with some questionable decisions I had made” The Senator shrunk in the chair, “and a friend who asked to stay anonymous said you guys were the ultimate political fixers.”
“First off I want to tell you that I am truly offended that you would assume our gender!” The man said straightening to his full height. “We are extremely dangerous people as you have probably guessed and you would do very well show some respect!.” The Senator's eyes grew wide. The teeth seemed to be sharper.
“HA! You should have seen the look on your face!” The man said slapping the top of his desk. A red glass paperweight rolled to the edge of the desk. Without looking the man caught it. He raised it and looked at the Senator through it. “Miss gendering is just part of some of our best work!” He set down the paperweight. “Loosen up. We are aware of your's and General Weissler's conversation. We helped distract from a little business deal he had with the Mexican Cartel. We are also aware of your indiscretions. I bet you are here to have us help you with your recent and truly inept vote harvesting scheme?”
The Senator felt an uneasy yet comforting wave of relief sweep over him. This secret had weighed on him for many months now. This strange fellow in front of him knowing about it and being willing to help seemed to inject some of his old confidence back into him.
“Better to play it close to the vest.”, he thought. No one was supposed to know about the voter fraud outside of the few that had helped him and some Chinese hackers. Not even the General had been told of a crime needs covering just that the Senator needed help. “How did you find out about that? Just who are you?”
“Who are we? We are God Makers Incorporated!” the man said handing him a business card. With just a red Celtic spiral knot on it. “You knew that when you walked in. I bet what you want to ask is what is it we do? What is the service we provide? What is our purpose? Go ahead ask.”
“What is it you do?” Lakum asked leaning forward.
“I am so glad you asked! We make gods!” The man said nearly singing it while raising his arms as if the embodiment of the concept was right there in front of them.
The Senator scoffed. “Gods! Really? I am sure the recipe is pretty simple. A little bit of extra-dimensional reality, a dash of sugar, some bedtime fairy tales. Please don’t waste my time. You have a very interesting place here but I am afraid that your branding is a little questionable.” The Senator shifted again in the chair and wondered if it was getting bigger.
“I suppose it would be better to tell you our philosophy, our business model, our mission statement. Are you sure you don't want anything to drink?”
“No.” said the Senator denying his dry throat.
“Ah well too bad perhaps after I am done? Hey, are you a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu…”
“I am an atheist.” The Senator interrupted.
Oh, well maybe not for long.” The man replied through a tight smirk. “Me? I would not call myself Christian or any of those labels. I hate God but I defiantly believe in it, him, her?. I mean even with evolution things just mesh too well. Like teeth in gears. Stuff like that doesn't happen without some kind of direction. I do wonder which religion has it right? Do you ever wonder that?
The Senator’s brow furrowed involuntarily. “What are you trying to say Mr…”
“HA! I have not told you my name! I am Agapios Maready Prime Architect here. In the simplest terms, God Makers Incorporated distracts from what is really going on, with other things, that are also going on. We take these zeitgeists and build proverbial cults around them or actual ones. Then they take on a life of their own. Like setting off a nuclear meltdown in a reactor powered by belief and worship. We used to be a much smaller, lesser utilized service. Only presidents, kings and queens, or the occasional Russian oligarch could employ us. Man will worship Senator. He will, it is inevitable. From the moment humans exit the womb they search for an alter. An altar to sacrifice on. An altar to bend the knee to and bleed veins, burn cattle, and crush the skull of your dearest friend if need be. Those altars of man are hungry and they will take the form of anything to drink of our worship. Nowadays every possible ism, philosophy, theory, critical theory, and hashtag is a potential alter, a potential god ready for followers. You, Senator, worship something. Despite your atheism. Man has this little sacred spot inside of him and there he places whatever it is that he wants his very being to orbit. We are reasonably sure this tendency was placed there for the actual God, to be the thing man worships but when an opportunity presents itself you take it. So what we do is create something for a man to worship. We create a god for man to put as the center of their universe. We build the alters and seed them with sacred texts. We lie, we hire prostitutes as pretests, and we ply the craft of marketing and propaganda better than anyone ever has in the entire history of the world.” Maready was nearly panting from the climax of his speech. The light of excitement flashed across the sky of his eyes. His mouth full of pearl white sharpened teeth lay splayed in the open smile of a true believer.
The fervor of the moment was broken by a slow clap. Senator Lakum waited for Maready to turn his gaze back to him. Then he checked his watch. “I have seen some passionate speeches in my time. Never one that was so far fetched and yet so zealous. I am sure today's Christians don’t believe as strongly as you do about what they preach. So let me get this straight. You somehow convince everyone…” He said standing and waving his hands across an imaginary crowd. “to just not pay attention to something that is of national importance or affecting their everyday lives. You convince them to simply obsess over something else? And I am supposed to just buy this idea that some well-dressed freak who sharpened his teeth for who knows what is the person that can help me cover up a national story of voter fraud. I am supposed to put my fate in your hands!”
Maready straightened his tie and walked over to the small bar. He pulled the stopper from a decanter. He began to pour the dark brown liquid into a glass. He turned and stared at the Senator while he drank. Once he had drained the glass, “Senator, did you think normal people would work at a company called God Makers? And yes we distract but as you can see it is not nearly that simple. We are the best distractors in the business. We don't hide evidence, we don’t need to, we don't cover up or sneak into government buildings, we don’t need to.” He said slamming the glass down a little harder than the expression on his face implied he would. “We leave all that stuff alone. We make gods. We give people something to worship, or at times fear, and they get so caught up in it that it seems to take a life of its own. Well, that may be downplaying a bit.” He said with a slight smile.
Senator Lakum stared at Maready. Maready stood there a mouth full of animals' teeth wrapped in sophistication. A beckoning gaze in his eyes with a threatening posture. The contradictions curdled in Lakum’s mind. “I’m sorry, I was under the impression that you fixed problems, not just distracted from them.”
“There was a time when you would be right in questioning our methods. It was hard work we did. It was also very localized. We found it was very difficult to raise up acolytes and cultists across a whole nation without major events either forced or serendipitous.” Maready said turning his attention to a wiry succulent that adorned his desk. “Then something wonderful happened. The internet took shape. A neural network of digital synapses grown and laid on top of not only civilizations but the entire world.” He said waving his hands across the net like a plant. “Suddenly you could know what the president had for lunch from your cozy shack in the mountains. That is when our work began to be truly effective.”
Senator Lakum fiddled with the commemorative coin in his pocket. Its' smooth warn edges reminded him of his wife, the day she gave it to him. She told him how proud she was of the man he had become. He choked back the memory and broadened his shoulders. He would hold onto the man she thought he was. “I am still not convinced Mr. Maready.”
“Perhaps some of our results will convince you,” Maready replied. Maready grabbed a book from his desk and tossed it to Senator Lakum. Lakum fumbled with it but managed to catch it. The title read The History of the future. “Do you see this? It is a book about virtual reality and the Occulus Rift a device that helped usher in a more realistic virtual reality experience.” Maready continued. “Inside of this book, that an actual journalist wrote, not one of todays ideological fanatics, a story about how Mark Zuckerberg broke the law by writing an email and later forcing Palmer Lucky to send it out denouncing his support for Trump. Then later fired him for what seems to be his political point of view. That is illegal is it not?” Senator Lakum shifted uncomfortably. Maready continued. “An employer requiring another employee to espouse a political view or else? Yet Mark Zuckerberg has gone in front of the senate a couple of times now and only one senator mentioned it and allowed it to be easily dismissed. Since then no one has brought it up. The book is out there. The author has the evidence, the emails exist. You could go on Amazon right now and buy it. Yet only a few do. Why is that?”
Maready smiled a predatory smile. “It is because of us. Some of our greatest work has been to proliferate the worship of data and instant gratification. And I do mean worship. Once we saw that the infrastructure for our work had simply manifested itself as a beacon of communication and commerce we knew within our marrow that it was our hunting grounds. Within this context, we are the apex predator those with not only the knowledge but the discipline, and ability to wield power.”
“So that is what we did. We saw Mr. Zuckerberg and his Facebook. We saw the small but important trove of voyeuristic information that it represented. So we manufactured the god of data for Mark to worship and you know what his first act of devotion was?” Senator Lakum shrugged a worried look in his eyes. Maready laughed. “He created FaceMash. He took pictures and images that felt entitled to. The pictures that women had posted on Facebook and he posted them on FaceMash so that people could vote on whether or not they were hot. The groundwork was set the first acolyte was created and we waited.”
“I thought Mark Zuckerberg started the Facebook site to give a voice to the individual after the Iraq war?” Senator Lakum asked.
“Well yes, that is what he wants you to believe. We even approached him to help him propagate this belief, but he resisted. He trusts too much in his god. Though if you think even a moment that a god is greater than its maker, you are wrong. It is only greater than its worshipers.”
Maready continued, “Our greatest work has enabled our best work. So I ask you are you convinced? Do you need more?”
“Mr. Maready, you had me going. I listened to you I was convinced for a second that you were telling the truth. That you were the shadowy figures manipulating the world powers. The Russia scandal was that you?”
“Really what were you covering up?”
Maready smiled “Well I can't tell you that. We are being paid as you see. Even Hillary's emails were a distraction she just did us a favor by destroying the actual evidence of what we were distracting from.”
Senator Lakum scoffed. “Do you really, truly believe that I am going to buy this? That somehow this is all possible. It's too easy. You can simply claim that you had something to do with anything that is divisive and somehow that is to your credit. You say you make gods yet you tell me you believe in an actual God and you are his enemy. Does that make you a Satan worshiper or something?”
“No Senator it makes us the ten plagues. In the same way that nature rallied against the Egyptians at the behest of Moses on the behalf of God it was truly bad for the Egyptians but the frogs, flys, locusts all these found themselves in great numbers, plenty of food and mates. It was a heyday for them. Additionally, someone had to help the Egyptians rebuild their livestock. Someone in history looks back on those plagues as the best thing that ever happened to them. They were made rich and powerful in the fallout. I am unsure if God will strike us down. I suspect that before he does we will only have more business and power added to us.” As Maready finished he pressed a small yellow button on the underside of his desk. The ornate wooden wall began to slide away revealing a brightly lit hanger-style facility.
In the center of the room suspended on what appeared to be some of the largest meat hooks ever crafted by man, hung the body of a humanoid giant. The giant had no skin to speak of even from this distance its musculature appeared to be tentacles stretched tight. It was burned in places, other chunks had been removed. It hung limply with the lower half in a vat. Presumably to catch any fluids from it as it decayed. Its head was gray flesh like someone had attempted to fashion a face from a lump of clay and had only made deep impressions where eyes and a mouth should be. Lakum stared into those gray sockets. His mind prickled and then his thoughts kaleidoscoped in an attempt to make sense of what he was looking at.
“Senator!” Maready said clapping to bring the Senator back. “We have attempted in the past to create gods of light that do good yet all our gods tend towards wrathful darkness. This was not a problem until recently when one of them manifested on the border of Ukraine and Russia. You may remember that little dust up recently around Crimea. Well, we have made a few gods for Russia and Putin over the years this one seemed to have a little more oomph behind it. We were working at distracting from some money exchanges and political deals that were being made with some wealthier Americans and Russia, with some of the actual proxy work being done in Ukraine itself when suddenly; There it was. Standing there in Crimea beckoning worshipers to it. The most interesting thing is that they came. From all around the area they came and bowed to it while it turned its head to the sky and sang a most terrible song.”
The fragments of thought in the Senator's mind clicked back into their original configuration. “It! What is this? Surely what I am looking at is not real!”
“Oh it is very real it drove an entire city mad. Russia and Ukraine managed to take it down. We had the body delivered to us.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you showing me this?”
Maready turned to the Senator and for the first time, there was no contradiction in him, only serious purpose. “You Senator have powerful friends in the military and you also manage the military's black budget. As payment for helping you with your little problem we expect you to take down and bring to us any of these gods that manifest. So far this is the only one but I can only assume there will be more.“
“How do you know your organization caused it?” The Senator asked.
Maready reached underneath his desk and produced a gold platter with a very large spinal bone. Maready turned it around to face the Senator. Not engraved, but grown in the bone was the God Makers Incorporated logo and a case file number.
“Dear Lord…” The Senator exhaled
“AH! There it is. You do believe in God!” Maready said cheerfully.
“Why not stop? You should stop. Do you even know how this is happening? How do I know this isn’t a prop of some kind? What is your game, Maready? How does this even happen!” Senator Lakum felt flush. He could not decide whether to remove his jacket or tighten it up. The edges of his vision grew brighter and the colors began to wash. He tried to look away from the giant hanging in the other room. He looked at the bone. That damed bone with its logo so mockingly impressed into the surface of real bone. He knew there were no tricks here. Then his thoughts kaleidoscoped again. The landscape of his thoughts began to unfold and intersect with one another as if it was something they could have done all along. They wove and multiplied repeating and growing more complex and deeper. No not a kaleidoscope a fractal of thoughts with new information begin introduced. The world got brighter and his body threatened unconsciousness. Then the shutters were closed and the bone quickly put away. Maready came into view.
Maready grimaced at the Senator and leaned in close. “Senator we will never stop. We are the plague, remember? We may even be the sacrificial enemy but our work is not done. The madness, the anxiety, the fear, the oh so delicious misguided good intentions. The branding! The marketing! The propaganda!” Emotion danced on his face. “Oh, how our gods dance and whip their zealots into a frenzy. Imagine it actual fascists, labeled as anti-fascists, white supremacists labeling their pride as guilt. The press the seekers of Truth are now the grave tenders of truth! The politicians, the servants of the people are now mini tyrants. Companies built to distribute cat videos spill out a delouse of chaos and confusion. Fear is now virtue, bravery is vice, mental-illness flows through the streets and spills into homes through dark mirrors. The people are deceived and when they do happen upon truth they dare not speak it. Look at this world we are making! No Senator, we will not stop because we, our work, is not done and we must finish it, to find out what it is. We must complete it to know who we are. And you will help us.”
Maready’s words peppered the undulating landscape of Lakum’s mind. He could feel them slip between the splintered thoughts and disappear into the inky blackness between. A bright spot on his consciousness pulsated a warm pleasant glow of comfort and truth. He could see it an old truth told him a long time ago back when truth had meaning. Before truth was skinned and that husk draped overpower. He reached out for it. He could almost remember. Maready was waving in several people. A table was set up and a place setting. The smell of food filled the room.
“What was it? I can’t remember.”
“Senator!” Maready called. Senator Lakum blinked the world was stable again he felt his pockets looking for something. He could not remember where he had put it or what it was. “Senator! Come let’s have a meal together and discuss our plans.” Maready motioned for the table.
Few people knew this about him but Senator Lakum loved octopus. Ever since his honeymoon in Japan, the mollusk had been a go to comfort food, especially grilled or barbecued, and tossed with fresh herby greens. He wandered towards the table and found himself in front of this very dish. It smelled wonderful. He was quiet on the inside. His thoughts were a lazy river exhausted by revelations and madness caused by the otherworldly giant. Without much fanfare, he stabbed a rather plump chunk of octopus. Octopus is a funny meat. It does taste good but to be able to taste it you have to do a bit of chewing first. The flavor that came through set something deep inside of him on alarm. An ancient evolutionary warning went off in his mind and body. His thoughts picked back up to normal speed and he turned to Maready's furrowed brow and panicked.
“Senator it is too late. All it takes is the smallest molecule of the giant to uncover that which was very happy to stay hidden.” Maready lifted a bit of his own meal to his mouth. Those sharpened teeth plucked the cube of reddish-purple flesh from the fork. He closed his eyes and chewed.
The Senator chewed and swallowed even though he had every intention of resisting. “You fed me some of it?” He asked. “Oh yes! I do apologize I should have told you. Except in just the little amount of time we have known each other do you think I would have? Yes, you have eaten of the giant. You have tasted of something from somewhere we can not reach. You sir will begin to see; see. If you can hold two sights at the same time and not succumb to the seduction of the new and still hold on to the old then you will have an advantage over those around you. Don’t lose yourself.” Maready leaned in close. “Though I can tell you it is not easy it is downright impossible.” Maready’s eyes danced with light, the strands of his iris vibrated as if being plucked by an unseen harpist.
“Good, good let's get to business.”