Content Warning: Violence, and a bit of darkness.
“Loyal comrades, join me in the fight to destroy the American dogs!”
With those words, Prime Minister Drabbhu stepped off the stage to thunderous applause. The people of Oslokh, a small town just south of the Northern border, had been marched to the stage in the center of the town, and promised food if they cheered and booed in the right places of Drabbhu’s speech. So far, no one had actually received any bread, but several rumors had been started that those families who did not appreciate the government as much had received triple rations. They would be robbed that evening.
Maria Santiago was nineteen, and a widowed mother of two. She held two jobs and volunteered at the local state-run religious institution. She hoped desperately for a few slices of bread to feed her children, but was confident that the bread was a lie. “Let them eat cake” had been said by some dictator millennia before, and the saying had been adopted into the Oslokhian language several years before. The cake was a lie too, and more often than not, the Santiago children went to bed with empty stomachs. Maria had no idea how long she would need to applaud for, so she had begun a few seconds after everyone else. She also intended to clap slower, and with less power than everyone else. This was because who ever stopped clapping first died.
The soldiers in their crimson-stained white jackets and black boots stood above everyone else, holding fully automatic rifles and scanning the crowd. They were not worried about accuracy, and if your neighbor stopped clapping, chances were you would face the consequences as well. The soldiers had the remorse trained out of them.
Neil Blunterfeld was a veteran of the rebel army. He had fought for freedom, and in the process had lost his own, as well as both legs. The government had given many rebels “plea bargains,” and so he was allowed to live. They had taken his house through several legal loopholes two months ago, and he had lived in a culvert since, only coming out to beg. He had heard of the possibility of soup, and had come out to the rally, praying that he would get some.
He clapped loudly. He managed to cup his hands in such a way that everyone within fifty meters of him could hear the thundering BOOM BOOM BOOM. He wanted everyone to think that he was loyal to Drabbhu, for if anyone thought otherwise, he would die.
The soldier walked along narrow catwalks constructed above the Oslokhian crowd, their boots whispering on the heavily padded, orange platforms. On a platform erected in the middle of the crowd, ten soldiers sat, monitoring sound throughout the crowd. A computer connected to a hundred and four microphones was running calculations to determine whether or not anyone had stopped clapping. So far, everyone was still applauding, and eight minutes had elapsed.
Tomas was nine years old, and wasn’t sure why he was clapping. His grandmother had told him not to stop, as though his life depended on it. He hadn’t cared much for the balding man who had just given a speech on the enemy. Tomas hated America, but he hated speeches more. How long would the adults keep clapping? If he wasn’t home before supper, his grandfather would ground him. Tomas clapped, and thought about his dad. His dad had gone to go earn food at one of these rallies one day, and had never left. The soldiers told his grandparents that he had defected to America, but Tomas refused to believe this. His dad wasn’t evil.
Drabbhu smiled as he watched his soldiers patrol over the applauding crowd. Video of this applause would surface on Youtube the next day, and would plant seeds of wonderment in the hearts of all. Somewhere, an angsty American high school student would see that video, and wonder if Drabbhu might have it right. Splinter the enemy from the inside out, that’s what Drabbhu wanted to do.
Hardock Honrae stood in the middle of the crowd, clapping in a steady, mindless rhythm, doing his best not to think about what would happen if one of the people near him stopped clapping. He wouldn’t stop clapping, but they were weak. A teenaged girl in front of him started to shake, and he could hear her whimpering. He stepped forward, keeping his eyes fixed on the stage.
“If you stop clapping,” he said, “I’ll kill you faster than they can.”
The girl began to sob louder, but began clapping with renewed vigor. Hardock was not what people call a moral person, and had been tried for sexual assault and armed robbery two and three times respectively. He had never been convicted, but only because he knew where the judge’s children went to school. Hardock looked again at the girl in front of him, who was still shaking. She was pretty. He decided no one would miss her, and resolved to follow her after the shooting.
Jennifer Colder was a black-market doctor who treated families fairly. She had just received a notice under her door that morning which simply read “We know.” She had ripped the note in half and had burned it, wishing that she could erase its existence. Now she was at this rally, and realized that she didn’t care anymore. She was the first to stop clapping, after a mere twenty-three minutes. The bullets ripped through her after a five second break, where the soldiers double-checked their computers to make sure they had the right person. She fell to the ground, her leg bones shattered. She would bleed out in a minute, and could do nothing to save herself, as excellent of a doctor as she was.
The crowd erupted at the sound of gunfire, and scrambled to get out of the square. Tomas could not get out of the way fast enough, and was trampled by the crowd. He died of head trauma.
Neil Blunterfeld was shot, as he was standing only three people to Jennifer’s left. He remembered the pain, and its familiarity made him shiver. His lungs collapsed, and he died of asphyxiation a few minuted later.
Maria Santiago and Hardock Honrae both made it out of the crowd, alive and well. Both of them entered the 7th avenue tunnel, but only Hardock emerged, fifteen minutes later, covered in sweat. Maria stayed in the tunnel for three days before being discovered by a pack of feral dogs. Hardock made it home safely, and lived out the rest of his days, continuing his lifestyle of cruelty until he died.