“Burn it down.” The Boss stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at the Trees in front of him. “It’s in the way. It’s gotta go.”
“But sir!” The Foreman gasped. “There are people living in there! Whole families. We can’t just burn it down.”
The Boss turned to stare at The Foreman, who quailed under the dead eyed look. “We can. And we will. If Jesus didn’t want these people to die, then they would have been born into CityDweller families like we were.”
The Foreman swallowed, nervously. How much was his job worth? His life?
“Sir …. I just don’t think …. surely we could warn them?”
The Boss spat. “So they could flood into our towns, hoping for a handout? No. Burn it down. The problem with our country..” He paused, sweeping his arms out in front of him “… is there are too many Trees. Sacrifices have to be made.”
The Boss turned on his heels and walked away, sliding into the backseat of his car, before calling out to The Foreman. “If I find my city flooded with Tree People, it’ll be your head that rolls.”
The Foreman watched him leave, wondering how he was going to sell this to the workers. Some of them had family in the Trees. Hell, most of them had come from the Trees originally.
But that wasn’t the point. Not anymore.
The last round of politicking had cemented the divide within this great country. There were CityDwellers, and Tree People. No middle ground. The fear and loathing of Tree People had started small. A headline here, a subtweet there. But it gained traction. Humans, as a whole, were only ever a few tiny steps away from complete xenophobia and The Boss had played on this since his rise to power.
The headlines grew, as headlines were wont to do. “No more trees!” “STOP THE TREES”. Anything to make the Tree People seem less human. Whatever it took.
Tree People stole my job! screamed one paper. I tried to escape, but couldn’t find my way out: A horror story of loss in amongst the Trees slashed across a tabloid.
Fear and loathing, carefully manipulated for greater political power. No one knew quite where it started, but The Foreman knew where it was going to end. Bloodshed and violence, refugees and poverty.
It was sheer luck whether you were born in the City or in a Tree, but who cared anymore? God decided where people were born, not men. It was by his grace that you lived or died.
The Foreman shook his head sadly and went back to his trailer to get ready. His people had been Tree People, long ago. They’d moved to the City in search of a better life when drought was killing everything. They’d made a go of it, and no one had thrown it back in their faces. Why was it suddenly so different?
Making a few phone calls, he assembled the men, and mounted the small podium that he used for giving work orders each morning. The men looked up at him, fear on their faces. They knew what was coming. Progress had to continue, and they’d been moving towards the Trees for weeks now.
The Foreman cleared his throat. “Men. It’s time. You know what The Boss wants. We have to decide now whether we’ll do as we’re told, or die doing the right thing.”
One man called out: “He ordered it then?”
The Foreman nodded. “He gave the order this morning. Burn the trees.”
At the words, the crowd in front of him collectively began to mumble, a sound that soon turned into a dull roar. The Foreman held his hands up to ask for quiet. Slowly, they quietened.
“I know you’ve got family in those Trees. I know that you don’t want to do this. But whatever we do, we need to act as a group. We can’t be divided, not now, not ever. They’ll jail us for not following orders.”
A shout, in the back. “I don’t care what we’ve gotta do. Tree people ain’t nothin ta me.” The sound of fists silenced his yelling. The foreman coughed. Silence returned, waiting for the order.
It’s now or never the Foreman thought. Are we men, or animals?
He called out. “I want runners sent to every corner. Let the Tree People know what’s going on. Tell them the truth.”
They’d been preparing for this he realised, as the men broke off without looking back, heading for their vehicles, running for their extended families. The Foreman stood there on his podium, the space in front of him empty now save for the one man who’d disagreed, lying bound and bleeding in the dust.
This was it. He’d just started a revolution. Men were going to die on his words. But better than thousands dying because of his actions.
A shot sang out, loud in the silence. It took a moment for him to realise what had happened, his hand over his chest. Blood blossomed through his shirt, as his mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
Slowly he fell, hitting the ground with a dull thud. The Boss filled his vision, as everything narrowed to a point.
A boot in his ribs. A gush of blood. His dying breath.
“Dammit all to hell. If you’d followed orders, I wouldn’t have had to kill you.” The Boss kicked him again, viciously. “It’s not a Democracy anymore. You’ve got no say.”
The Boss put away a small gun, and nodded to his goons.
“Fire kits are over there. Sort it out.”
He stood there for a moment, looking at the dead man in a puddle of blood without remorse. Stepping over the corpse, he walked towards the bound man in the dirt. Eyes big, the man, his mouth filled with sandy grit, blubbered softly. The Boss cut his bound arms with a small knife and pulled him to his feet.
“Can you walk?”
The beaten man nodded.
“Good.” The Boss pointed him towards the City. “Walk that way. Don’t look back. Tell everyone what happened here today.”
A good evangelist was worth a hundred headlines bought and paid for.
The beaten man walked.
The Boss turned around, surveying the work site, before turning and getting back into his car, the driver smoothly taking him back towards the City without asking questions.
Behind him, the country burned.