THE PRETENDER by Shel De Rond

"We are over-reliant on organisms whose populations decline. Soon there won’t be enough left to sustain life. You call for a miracle, but we don’t need that. We need to evolve. Imagine a society where we rely only on ourselves. This time is approaching. My people, we are becoming post-human.
"Welcome to our next step in evolution."
I heard those words spoken by my professor – a man I had thought sensible. Then his lecture was watched all over the globe, rapidly turning from a crazy man's theory, to popular opinion, to the Truth: a joke I was left out of. My professor turned from teacher to Prophet. And those of us who heard it first were bestowed the honour of being his Disciples. We were to spread the word... and then enforce it.
I can do that, but I cannot believe it: I am a Pretender, hiding in the shadow of Truth.

"I have a theory."
That's my best friend and fellow Disciple, Meredith. Unlike me, she is a Believer.
"I think we’re like the tide, swallowing the earth until there is nothing left but the sea. Nothing left but us." She smiles. "Wouldn’t that be wonderful?"
She's the only believer who knows I can’t accept Truth. She still expects an answer. "We're not like the sea," I scoff. "How can we conquer everything if the sea conquers all?"
Meredith frowns. "We've already humbled the sea. We ride its back on waves!"
"And drown in it too!" I shoot back.
Meredith huffs, clearly annoyed. She wants to be the second Prophet. "Just wait. People will believe it."
I don’t reply. I know what will happen. Her idea will spread like so many have already, and on the eve of the new age, the Prophet will choose his second to help lead us into the post-human era.
But I know she won't be chosen, not when she's friends with me. Not when she has a secret; that’s the first thing they get rid of.
Becoming post-human is the ultimate goal. If you cannot conform to culture, you are a dying breed: survival of the fittest taken to a new level. As always, with the death of a society and the birth of a new age, everything must be broken down. As always, this includes people.
They just haven't found me yet.

Now it's my turn for a theory – a question. Evolution is a staircase. Each step moves upwards. But what happens when we reach the top – the cliff edge?
What happens when we fall?
My life revolves around a game: two truths and a lie.
The lie: I am a complacent citizen awaiting eagerly our post-humanity.
The truth: we have already left humanity behind.
The second truth: I am the leader of a secret organisation aiming to overthrow the Prophet and his post-human society.
If I hadn't told you which the lie was, would you have known? They are all true in some way, but only one is my truth. This is the one I hide:
Our organisation was born from those deaf to the Prophet’s silver tongue. We do not honey-coat our words, nor delude ourselves with illusions of angelic purpose. Instead we fight to save the taste of truth, however faint on our tongues.
We fight to end the reign of the Prophet, for he has forgotten what prophets stand for. They speak for the people, not command them.
And if my deceit makes me a traitor, so be it. But I am no Judas. I fight for a cause greater than he once did.
I am the serpent whose shadow haunts the Garden of Eden. I am the harbinger of truth. And so it is that I ask: why was the snake kicked out of heaven?
The Bible claims the snake deceived, that it shared the truth with those forbidden from hearing it.
But what it is that this God wants to hide?
I don’t claim to be a prophet myself. Yet Prophets and traitors are treated the same in the end…

I am dragged out of the Disciples' barracks at dawn. Shadow-Guards bind my hands before I can react and yank my head backwards.
The truth: I know I will die.
The lie: I don't know why they caught me.
The hope: this will lead to revolution.
A bag is shoved over my head as they kick the back of my knees. It takes just one moment to fall. They slam their metal rods against my back, and I whimper. For such a post-human society, we have failed to leave rage behind. It is the most human emotion of all.
A guard spits on me. "Disbeliever!"
I slump in pain – and relief. They only know I don’t believe. They have no idea of the rest.
Then one of them kicks my head.
Then I know only darkness.

I wake as pain sears across my frame, reminding me I am not dead yet. They have left the bag on my head, dark cloth obscuring my vision. I hear the thunder of masses, howling for the Prophet. There is only one place I can be: on stage, and ready for execution. It’s the eve of our new era, and I am the dancing monkey.
"Thank you all." His voice rings out, amplified by speakers and insistent delusion. "We are here to celebrate the birth of the post-human. After tonight, all will be granted that right." The crowd cheer, puppets to power.
"Tonight, I choose my second – the Prophet who will bless our new beginning." The second Truth.
Someone comes up behind me and yanks back the cloth. Artificial light sears my retinas, and I blink, searching for the source of that voice.
There he is, standing in front of a crowd several million strong. Large screens display his face, like they are saying: Look at our God.
"No, that's not her!" The God points at me and the crowd jeer. So easy it seems to debase one of your own.
"This Judas," he spits on the ground, "is a Pretender! She failed to rise above her base human nature and so she must die!" The crowd boo, commanding bloodshed. To hear my fate yearned for by millions sets blood lashing through my veins. I shiver in the August heat.
The Prophet's voice rises above the baying crowds, "Can you guess who the second Prophet is?"
The crowd hushes, inquisitive, as a new sound comes from the back. It grows louder as a million voices join in: a choir to betrayal. There is no denying who kissed my cheeks with twisted lips.
They repeat one phrase, screaming. "We are the sea!"
I shoot my head back to the Prophet and watch desperately as someone joins him on stage.
"I present to you, my dear post-humans, our second Prophet... Meredith Fawkes!"
The crowd scream so loud that they bleed with noise. 
A voice, as familiar as my own, rings out. "What shall we do about the human?" She speaks the word as if I were a rat carrying the plague.
For them, perhaps I am. The crowd roars.
"Drown it?" She asks, smirk in her voice. "As you command!"
The Shadow-Guards drag me to where Meredith stands waiting. I stare at her, trying to understand. She doesn’t look at me, drugged on the mania of the people. I don’t struggle as my ankles are chained to a weight; I will die with dignity: a martyr.
Meredith nods, and the floor opens up to a pool of water and... cameras. They want to catch my punishment from every angle.
The Prophet looks up at the large clock on the stage. "Our new age is coming!"
The crowd resume their chant. "We are the sea!"
Five seconds left.
"We are the sea!"
Four.
"We are the sea!"
Three.
I look desperately around me, and spot something in the distance.
Two.
A large flag stands proud: a symbol of a stairway with a black hole to the right crowning the sky. My people are here. It will be alright. We will triumph. We will–
One.
The guards push me into the water, and cold punches through my veins. The chain drags me down, a screen of water separating me from those above. I can't see anything clearly, the final truth already calling my name, but I hear screaming... of fear. I thrash about, trying to fight the weight against my ankles, trying to see if they succeeded.
Then the tank turns red and I know.
Two Prophets and a Pretender in the water. Dead, dying.
I don’t need to see their floating bodies, arms outstretched as if they could fight the water, to know that we have won. I know my people will salvage what is left of the world.
I – I choke, water finally filling my lungs. And it hurts – it hurts so much.
Here’s one last lie for you: drowning is like dreaming.
And the truth?
The truth will set you free.