Craig stands in front of the Gumgeeville saloon, squinting into the afternoon sun. He's considerably thinner than he was a few weeks ago. Two weeks of near fasting while he figured out how to cook for himself have given him a lean, ascetic look. They have also given him time for introspection.
Craig spots an empty beer keg just outside the saloon door. He rolls it out a few feet and then steps up onto it. He has ruled many corporate meetings with his powerful speaking voice. He uses it now.
Craig: Brothers and sisters, hear the word of God!
Craig looks around at the poorly dressed farmers and townsfolk. They seem to be too intent on their menial tasks to notice him. Or maybe they just don't understand the significance of his presence, or the importance of his task. He tries again, louder. His message is too important to let people ignore. Even ignorant louts like these deserve to hear God's message.
Craig: Brothers and sisters, I bring you the word of God!
Henree opens the front door of his saloon, in order to sweep the detritus of the previous evening out onto the street.
Craig looks around again. God has given him a startling revelation, and it's important to spread the word. He spots a shabby man with a broom in the nearest doorway.
Craig: Brother, hear the word of God!
Craig is filled with compassion for the poor lout.
Henree looks at the latest visitor to Gumgeeville: no tentacles, which is a plus, but slickly dressed, which often means trouble.
Henree: Hello, Stranger. What brings you to Gumgeeville?
Craig: Out of the depths of my suffering, God has spoken to me. I bring you His word, and a new revelation.
Henree thinks, "Not another one."
Henree: We're pretty well set for religion, here.
Craig: But God has given me a new understanding. This is something you have never heard before.
Henree: I run a saloon. I hear all sorts of things.
Craig: You have not heard this, my brother.
Craig raises his voice again.
Craig: Brothers and sisters, gather round.
Henree debates the relative satisfaction of leaving this city boy in the street to preach to the disinterested mule tied up at the saddlery next door, and the possible satisfaction of at least making the guy buy beer if he wants to tell his story.
Craig sees a few of the ignorant townsfolk turn and glance at him curiously before returning to what they were doing.
Jed approaches the saloon on his way to the general store, and sees a stranger standing on one of Henree's beer barrels, talking to Henree.
Henree sees Jed approaching.
Henree: Afternoon, Jed.
Craig: Good afternoon, brother Jed.
Craig has learned in corporate negotiations to always call the customer by name.
Jed examines Craig. He looks like a man who's lost a lot of weight lately, and could use a haircut.
Craig: Brother Jed, I bring you God's word. To you and to all the folk of this fine town.
Jed: We've already got a preacher here, and I don't have any use for him either.
Craig: You will find that my message is different, brother.
Henree is ~~ skeptical ~~.
Henree: The religion we've got is fine with most of us.
Henree doesn't see any point in explaining that his own daughter has become one of the dissenters.
Craig: It's good as far as it goes, sir. But God has shown me a part of His plan that has never been clear to humankind before.
Jed decides to listen, just for the entertainment value.
Jed: Yeah? You're the only one has figured it out, eh?
Craig: (louder) Brothers and sisters, hear me now!
Craig: No, brother Jed. I didn't figure it out. God struck me down in my pride, and showed it to me.
Craig sees a few more people gathering to see what the commotion is.
Henree thinks that this story is starting to have possibilities: he always likes to hear of city slickers getting cut down to size.
Henree: What happened, Mr....what did you say your name was?
Craig: I am Brother Andrew. I once had another name. Once I was one of the corporate rulers who shape the flow of commerce for all this territory. But I have left all that behind, and now I am simply Brother Andrew.
Craig: And your name, sir, is...?
Craig: Brother Henree, I am pleased to meet you.
Craig reaches down from his precarious perch on the beer keg to offer Henree a handshake. He almost falls.
Henree reaches up to steady Craig.
Craig: Thank you, brother.
Henree: Careful there, that barrel isn't all that steady.
Craig: So I see.
Craig figures he has two serious listeners, and that will have to do for now.
Craig: Brothers, I have a story to tell you, a story of sin and of God's grace.
Henree waits patiently through this obligatory opening.
Craig keeps his voice raised, hoping to gather more people as he goes along.
Jed wonders if the show is worth his time.
Craig: I was born into one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of this Territory, and learned to do what wealthy businessmen do. I worked for the bottom line, never caring who I hurt, or what I must do to reach my goals. I ignored God, except when His presence seemed convenient.
Henree thinks this sounds pretty typical, so far.
Jed thinks this guy could do a better job of embellishing his delivery.
Craig: Then my family's company began working with Simes. I knew enough of God's word to object to working with demons, but I couldn't convince the others in my family to agree with me.
Henree: So you left?
Jed thinks about whether he should liven things up with a bit of heckling.
Craig: I tried to convince them of the rightness of my cause. When that failed, I tried to force them, with threats and with blackmail.
Henree: I take it that they didn't listen?
Jed: Ever think that they might be right?
Craig: They didn't. And I didn't, friend Jed. So in my arrogance, I went into Sime Territory searching for the evidence I needed to prove we must not deal with Simes. I even donated to a channel, in order to continue this self-appointed task.
Jed: Donating's no big deal. I do it every month. My sons, too.
Henree: He's right, they do.
Craig: You sound like one of my kinsfolk, brother. Perhaps your heart is so pure that you see nothing to fear in a Sime.
Craig thinks privately that this poor lout is probably too simple a soul to sin much.
Jed: Nothing to do with pure hearts. A Sime would be a fool to kill anybody out here. Berserkers are the only dangerous ones.
Craig: I'm not talking about the danger of the kill, my friend. I'm talking about the far subtler spiritual risks of associating with the Sime demon, that I had learned of since childhood. But the words weren't real for me until I found myself face to face with Simes.
Jed snorts, but waits for the story to continue.
Henree: Didn't like what you saw, did you?
Craig: I was full of lies and deception as I went before that demon Sime, and with one glance she stripped away all my lies, all my careful circumlocutions, and told me the truths I was trying to hide. I collapsed in terror, and was sent home in disgrace.
Henree: So this Sime saw through your act?
Jed: They can tell when you're lying, usually, y'know.
Craig: Indeed she did. She zlinned my very soul, and exposed the rot within me.
Jed: Just what kind of rot was it?
Jed is willing to listen to a racy tale of former sin.
Craig: The business world runs on lies and deception, on trickery, on bluffing your opponent and on hiding your weaknesses.
Henree: Well, I'm sure selling an actual useful product comes in there somewhere, doesn't it?
Jed thinks this so-called business world must be full of idiots. A crooked dealer isn't going to get much repeat business, nor the business of anyone the cheated customer talks to.
Craig: Nothing matters except the bottom line. It took disgrace, and being stripped of all my influence and power, to realize how full of rot all corporate dealings are.
Jed: No personal rot to confess to us, eh? No booze or fast women?
Henree recognizes sour grapes when he sees it.
Craig: The occasional glass of fine brandy, but nothing in excess. I rarely had time for women.
Craig was terrified of women, but sees no need to go into that.
Craig: No, my friend, it was the corruption of power games and money, not the simple pleasures of the wine bottle, that had infected me.
Jed: What does your wife think of this big revelation of yours?
Jed tries to imagine how Ma would react if he suddenly claimed that God had spoken to him, and has to suppress a surge of hilarity.
Craig: I never had a wife. What family I had sees me as an embarrassment now. That's why I've left my family name behind, because they would not thank me to bring more negative publicity upon them.
Jed thinks that's a likely story. More likely he got the fine but ill-fitting clothes second hand, perhaps as charity.
Henree can understand this guy's family not being keen on letting him run around unsupervised.
Craig: But illness and isolation give a man time to think, and time to listen to God. When I was younger, and still had time for such things, I often wondered why an omnipotent and loving God would allow the demon Sime to continue to plague humankind.
Henree: And in particular, whether He would make you Sime, as well?
Jed: For your sins, like lying about the dog eating your homework?
Craig: That's why the young are open to question, because they see directly that their lives are at stake. As we grow older, it's easy to lose sight of such questions.
Jed: Not if you have children it isn't.
Henree: Or grandchildren, for that matter.
Craig: You're blessed by children. I never was. It took disgrace and isolation to open my mind and heart to God's plan. But now God has allowed me a glimpse of the glory and magnificence of His work.
Craig's face glows for a minute, as if he has truly been touched by God's radiance. Or maybe it's just a stray sunbeam, as the sun sinks towards the west.
Jed: Look, God is supposed to help them who help themselves. If you don't have any time for women, you'll never be blessed with children, right?
Jed is often annoyed by the inability of most people to use basic logic.
Craig: God found a different way to reach me. Now I'm glad I have no children. I can speak freely of His word, without fearing for my children's embarrassment.
Henree: You think what God's told you is an embarrassment?
Jed thinks this guy has a long way to go to develop an effective presentation.
Craig: Failure is always an embarrassment. Now God has used my own failure to show me why he allows the Sime demon to continue. It's because the Sime's demonic powers can strip away all falsehood. As long as we continue to lie and deceive, God will allow the Sime to continue among us. To be rid of the Sime, we must learn to speak truth. Always and only the truth.
Henree rubs his chin thoughtfully.
Henree: You're right, I haven't heard that one before.
Jed: Well, since Simes can tell when somebody's lying, Simes themselves already speak the truth to each other. So they're better than we are, according to your reasoning then, eh?
Craig: They are subject to their own demonic powers, and so they speak truth. But they are still demons. Their power is from the Devil. God has found a way to use them in His plan, that's all.
Jed: Wait a minute now. The Devil made people who always tell the truth and God made the rest of us liars? Isn't there something backward there? Besides, I thought the Devil couldn't create anything, just corrupt it.
Jed has unwillingly absorbed most local strains of theology over the years.
Craig: The Devil's weakness is that he can do nothing perfectly, not even create perfect evil.
Henree: Jed, what about those Gens who live with Simes? Don't they get out of the habit of lying, too, since they'd be found out, and all that?
Jed: They'd be pretty stupid to lie to a Sime, wouldn't they?
Henree: Yeah. But didn't that guy who's staying in Gegg's barn with the Sime say he had a kid who was Sime?
Jed: Dunno. He said that his mother's a Sime.
Jed: Poor guy never would've got away with lying to his mother. Nor did most of us, either.
Craig glances out across the small knot of listeners who've gathered, ignoring Jed and Henree for the moment while he searches for the example he wants. He points to a middle-aged woman, wearing a towering confection of fake fruit and flowers that pretends to be a hat, and might have been the height of fashion somewhere for a week, a couple of decades ago
Craig: Friend Jed, what do you think of that lady's hat?
Craig asks the question loudly enough that he knows the woman must surely hear the question and the answer.
Jed: It's her hat. I got no problems with it.
Craig struggles to hide his frustration. How can these ignorant farm louts dodge his point like this?
Craig: But do you think it's pretty?
Craig: Friend Henree, would you choose such a hat for your wife?
Henree: Of course not. My wife would have made me sleep on the couch for a month, if I deprived her of the fun of picking out her own hat.
Craig frowns. This isn't going the way he had hoped.
Craig: Perhaps my example was ill-chosen. But I'm sure you understand the point I was trying to make, that even the best of us fill our lives with little white lies, when there's no one around to call us on them.
Jed seldom finds the need to lie, when he's so skillful at artistic presentation of the truth.
Craig has begun to despair of making these simpletons understand anything.
Craig: Perhaps God's grace has granted you an understanding beyond that of power-hungry city folk.
Jed figures it's more that when you live among the same people all your life, it's hard to get away with much, and stupid to get anyone pissed off at you without good reason. Did this preacher expect him to insult Miz Dork about her favorite hat?
Henree: It's true enough that Gumgeeville breeds folks with a good share of common sense. At least, most of the time.
Craig looks out across the tiny sea of faces and sees a man in a Tecton uniform. The man pauses, glances at the crowd, then hurries on by.
Craig: And I see that God has also granted you the demon's blessing of truth already.
Craig figures that where there's a Tecton Gen, there must be a Sime nearby as well.
Henree: We've had more than our share of tentacled visitors lately, it's true.
Jed: As well as the odd tentacled resident or two.
Jed has Magit and Ukoh and Mik in mind, although only one of them developed the tentacles within the village boundaries.
Craig: Then it seems my message is not needed here. God's ways are numerous.
Craig thinks that more likely, these folks are just too simple to get it. He's going to have to work on his delivery if he wants to reach his next rural audience.
Henree has to agree: he doubts that Gumgeeville needs this city slicker's preaching, being well equipped with religious authorities of its own, ordained and self-appointed.
Henree: Well, if you're finished spreading your message, how about coming in for a beer?
Jed: See if you can talk Henree into giving you a bowl of his stew, too. It's good stuff, even Simes eat it. You look like you could use a meal.
Henree figures he might as well get some of the money this fellow obviously has, as payment for the trouble of listening to his story.
Craig: Indeed I could, my friend. I've been eating my own cooking for much too long.
Craig raises his voice again.
Craig: Brothers and sisters, I wish you God's blessing. Good afternoon to you all.
Jed applauds the performance. It was mildly amusing, and beginners benefit from encouragement.
Craig gets down stiffly from his perch on the beer keg, and follows Henree indoors.
Henree waves Craig towards a table, and goes to fetch beer and stew, mentally doubling his prices.