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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Interlude 2

The High Priest tottered precariously as he climbed the three steps to the Tabernacle. After removing the Holy Chalice, he turned and faced the acolytes, holding the box high above his head. “After much prayer and contemplation, I have chosen my successor.”

All twelve of the acolytes leaned forward.

“Those not chosen will continue to protect the Holy Chalice and will cater to the needs of the High Priest. You may have to move to a new location after my passing, as this shop will pass to my sons, who are unaware of what we do here.”

He paused, took a deep breath and said, “I have chosen Brother Immanuel to be the new High Priest.”

A stocky, dark-skinned, black-haired man in his thirties rose smiling and approached the stairs. As he climbed, another acolyte rose, this one taller, younger, but equally dark-complexioned.

“This will not stand!” he shouted. “I will take the Holy Chalice. I will be High Priest!”

He ran to the stairs and, as he did so, all of the other acolytes stood and rushed in the same direction. Within seconds the room descended into an all-out brawl. The Holy Chalice clattered down the steps, and blood flowed from them also amid shouts and curses.

Twenty meters away, in the front of the butcher shop, Andy Schultz stopped giving his order mid-sentence. He had discovered the little shop shortly after he first arrived at Joliet Enclave twenty years before. While most enclave butchers sold sausage that could best be described as frightening, the Rodriquez family had always sold an unadulterated product, and Andy had come to trust them totally.

“Mrs. Rodriquez, what’s all that noise back there?” he asked.

“My husband has meetings,” she replied, “but they’re never like that.”

Andy raised the hinged counter and took a step toward the back.

“Oh, no, Mr. Schultz! No one is allowed back there except the acolytes.”

“The acolytes?” said Andy. He gently pushed her aside and walked to the back. At least a dozen young men and one very old one, whom he immediately recognized as Mr. Rodriquez, were in the midst of what looked like an old-time barroom brawl, the likes of which Andy had only seen on the Clavenet Oldies Channel.

Then he noticed the strange box on the floor and the open refrigerated safe. The box had been kicked all the way to the narrow hallway that connected the back and front rooms. Andy bent down and picked it up.

Mr. Rodriquez shouted, “No! No infidel may touch the Holy Chalice.”

“What’s in here?” asked Andy. “Can I open it?”

“It must never be opened without approval of the Authority!”

Now Andy was very interested. This was obviously some cult that UES had no idea existed, a cult that was well-organized, that had a central authority.

“I’m taking this with me,” Andy said.

The acolytes’ fighting abruptly stopped. They all turned to face Andy. Brother Immanuel shouted, “Oh, no, you’re not!”

Andy had three steps on them, and he took full advantage of the lead. He ran out of the shop and used his intimate knowledge of the narrow twisting lanes to quickly lose his pursuers. When he was sure he was safe, he pulled out his comm and called Kendrick Drake. The District Commander needed to know about a strange cult reporting to a central authority operating in his territory.

Proceed to Chapter 27...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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