Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah

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Summary

Genre:
Scifi / Fantasy
Author:
Alex Beyman
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
15
Rating:
n/a
Age Limitation:
16+

Chapter 1

I’ve heard that doing time is like being dead. You’re so isolated from the outside world and thoroughly removed from the lives of your loved ones, you may as well be six feet under. Never more true than it is for me.

Six years gone, in the blink of an eye. I thought I was so clever at the time, inducing that coma. It beat the hell out of actually serving my sentence properly, but the human brain does not cope well with such a drastic violation of continuity.

Prison’s not so bad when you’re fullmetal. Your cellmate can’t add a couple new lanes to your Hershey highway if you haven’t got one, for example. Going fullmetal made me stronger in ways I never anticipated would come in so handy.

It also made me less human though. That’s the classic cliche, what all the pre-metal retro scifi flicks warned us about...but in this case, their prediction was right. When subjected to irresistible force, you must bend or you will break. Which is to say that when life gets too brutal for a human to survive, you either become less human or you perish.

I wasn’t really confronted with the full meaning of this until I walked out the front gates, covered in dents I don’t remember the causes of, belongings in hand...into a world I no longer recognize. It wasn’t raining though. Beautiful sunny day, so I didn’t get to feel like a dramatic badass on my way out.

Six years is a lot longer than it used to be in terms of technological and societal change. To hear Dad tell it, anyway. I don’t recognize any of the brands on these billboards. The autocabs are different, and all the volos have been replaced by these weird teardrop shaped things that don’t look like they should be able to fly.

I ask myself aloud what app I need to get one of those things to land, and fly my ass out of here. It’s downloaded a moment later, and soon one of the baffling streamlined aircraft is setting down before me.

Up close I can see there are air inlets in the top to either side, and I can hear the telltale whine of electric turbofans. Or something similar? Exposed metal channels running from the craft’s nose to its tail suggest some sort of solid state ionic propulsion instead, though I don’t understand how that could even work.

The peppy little mascot confirms my suspicions after I drag the passed out hobo from inside, climb in and consent to the unreadably long EULA for first time riders. He’s this irritating spastic little cartoon caricature of the vehicle I’m in with bulbous eyeballs and arms, telling me all about the features of the cab.

I set my auditory system to filter out his voice. Now all I can hear is the hum of the cryptic propulsion system as the craft takes off. If I still had a stomach, it would be turning over on itself. Instead, I search for anything I can find about Aubrey.

Social media photos pop up depicting her and that fucking douchebag who sold me out to the cops. Married? That’s what her status says. They even popped out a bunch of ugly little blonde children. What a hell of a thing that is.

She’s living in Antarctica now, downtown McMurdo according to her profile. Either way she’s no longer relevant to my housing arrangements. I message the administrative AI of my old apartment building about my bike. Impounded, then sold at auction. I swear so loudly that even the little cartoon mascot looks appalled.

Same with all my shit, sold at auction. They’ve really done it now. Busted me down to nothing. I may as well be tumbling out of the womb! As the skyscrapers pass by below, I feel whatever part of me held so tightly to the life I knew slowly letting go.

This isn’t my city anymore. Not my world, even. Beyond the city, I see the completed cohab gleaming in the afternoon sun. Beyond it, I can faintly make out identical cohabs on the horizon linked to the nearest one by what look like elevated tracks.

I magnify as much as I can, and now spot bulbous little transit pods sliding along those tracks, presumably carrying people between the massive multi-zone living centers. It’s difficult to understand why anybody would go live in one of those things until you endure your first gas storm.

A thin green band of clouds out to sea hint at what I already know is coming. Methane, bubbled up from melting seafloor clathrate deposits and carried to land by the wind. I was never too clear on the specifics, just taught never to stay outside for long unless I carried a scrubber mask with me.

A quick search for weather news reveals it’s worse than I thought. “Atmospheric changes drive demand for implantable lung scrubbers.” Some activist op-ed. “Broken methane cycle impacts world’s poor most severely; subsistence farmers cannot afford the implants they now need simply to breathe.”

It’s a cozy but guilty feeling to read shit like this when you’re a fullmetal. Once you’ve gone this far, most human problems no longer apply to you. It’s so easy to simply decide I’m separate from those people. That it’s their problem to deal with, one which has nothing to do with me.

None of this has anything to do with me, not anymore. This isn’t the world I knew. I have no life here. No business here either, not after getting busted for that heist. Every cop and their extended family will know my face. But then, it’s not the cops I’m most worried about recognizing me.

First stop is Dad’s place. When that clanking pile of parts approached the landing pad, keeping a safe distance until it set down, I didn’t even realize it was him. When he said he had a change of heart about cybernetics, I never thought he’d literally change his heart and every other part of his body he could afford to.

None of the parts even matched. Not that Dad has ever cared to coordinate, aesthetically. The seastead shifted noticeably as a large wave passed under it, but Dad’s an old salt by now, didn’t even miss a step. Either that or he’s got software that handles balancing for him.

“Look at you! Same as the day they locked you up.” He seized me by the shoulders and laughed heartily, insofar as his speech synth could simulate laughter accurately. “And you…?” I replied. “What the hell happened to you?”

He did a goofy little jig, his mismatched parts clinking and clanking against each other in the process. Like a jolly Tin Man from those old story books. He struck a pose. ’It’s the new me! I told you this old dog could learn some new tricks.”

I stammered that I never thought he’d go so far with it, as the two of us headed from the landing pad towards a neatly landscaped public space in the center of the floating platform. “What, you think your old man can’t beat you at your own game?”

He thumped his chest, making another hollow sounding clang on impact. To his credit, the parts all look very high end, just combined in ways the manufacturers would never recommend. It’s all a bit rusted too, but that’s unavoidable when you live on the sea unless you bolt a zinc bar to your ass or something.

He led me to his own villa, as cozy and luxurious as I remembered from when I bought it for him. Not a moment too soon either, as the waves only seemed to be getting larger. Rich green storm clouds could be seen approaching out the large, round East-facing window.

Dad seemed unbothered, so I didn’t pay it any mind either. “You got some looks when you landed.” I believed him, but hadn’t noticed anybody myself. Since a storm was rolling in, the outdoor areas of the stead were deserted.

I checked my body cameras. The facial recognition turned up four rubber neckers peering at me through portholes in the side of a building, just like the old man said. He’s always been sharp, though he’s such an oddball that it’s easy to forget.

“It’s no good to go tromping around in that body. Everybody remotely connected to anything shady recognizes you at a glance now, on account of how widely reported your little stunt was.”

I assumed he meant the heist, and resulting court case. Sure enough, searching back a few years yielded page after page of articles and videos. I didn’t expect such a media circus, just for little old me.

“How was prison, anyways?” he asked. Really? Come on, Dad. “Oh, you know. Taco tuesdays. Gluten free buffet, movie nights, day spa, sometimes pickup baseball games. Usual prison stuff.” He folded his rusty arms and stared expectantly.

“What do you want me to say Dad? It’s prison. You want to know if some big burly dude named Tyrone made me his prison wife, don’t you? I’ll have you know that contrary to what you’ve heard, Tyrone is a gentle lover with a big heart.”

He bust out laughing, reflexively wiping a tear from his eye as if he still had tear ducts. “Well as long as you can say something like that, it couldn’t have been too bad. I mean, at least you didn’t get reamed or something.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Hey now. Plenty of people pay good money to be reamed, yanno. Probably there are starving kids in Africa who have never even been reamed once. Think about that.” I pulled out a chair and sat him down at the opposite end of a big round wooden table with flaking red paint, then told him how I slept through the entire thing.

He brought his fist down with a metallic thud. “That’s the cleverest damn thing I ever heard of, you son of a gun. I guess that makes me the gun, though. You sure nobody caught on?” I explained the features of the domestic robot AI that I had Alejandro put in six years ago.

“Nobody knew me there, so the AI’s basic conversational responses were enough to fool them. They would’ve taken me apart otherwise and forced me to serve my sentence properly.” As I spoke, I checked out Alejandro’s darknet site. Nothing came up. Either went out of business, or nabbed by spooks for operating without a license.

“Is there anybody on this tub that can work on fullmetals?” I asked not expecting much, given how rare fullmetals are on seasteads for obvious reasons. I also figured Dad wouldn’t let himself get so disgustingly rusty if there was anybody local who could do something about it.

To my surprise though, he nodded. “Not up top, but down below.” ...Down...below? He couldn’t mean…? But he did. A faint vapor began drifting down from a nozzle in the ceiling that I’d assumed was for putting out fires.

Instead a trio of laser projectors cast their respective images into the vapor, coming together as I watched to form a volumetric diagram of the seastead. “Vapor projection? You’re collecting antiques now?” He hushed me, and gestured to the lower portion of the diagram.

Below the fuzzy, undulating vector facsimile of the ocean’s surface, there was a facility of some kind on the bottom. An ugly, industrial looking cluster of interlocking metal cylinders with bubble windows at the end, propped up on thick weighted pilings driven deep into the seabed.

“That’s below us? Like, right now?” He nodded. “For saturation diving. The stead we’re on is really the smallest part of this community, and the only part visible from the air. The tip of the proverbial iceberg.” All around the seafloor habitat, there were concentrically larger rings of netted enclosures.

“What do you raise in there?” he zoomed in to clarify the tiny swimming forms within. “Fish, mostly. The stead includes the hardware needed to process the seawater so it’s suitable for mariculture. There’s a membranous barrier about a mile in diameter around us to insulate these conditions from the acidic waters outside it.”

I rubbed my chin. Another one of those habits that never leaves you, even after your biology does. “We get a lot of former miners coming in,” Dad continued, “bunking down there just because it’s comfortable. It’s what they know, and it’s safer from the storms than the stead is.”

It certainly looked large enough for it. Much of it cobbled together, expanded far beyond its original design. “Lots of Chinese down there too. From those nuclear powered mining habitats built in the 2020s.” I asked him why I needed to know that they’re Chinese.

He seemed flustered. “Nothing. It’s fine. Just, you know. Don’t buy anything from them.” I’d have rolled my eyes if I still could. I considered scolding him, but then the restrictions on speech I grew up with on the mainland don’t exist this far out to sea. Dad can be as backwards as he wants. If anything, I’m the relic here.

“So that’s where the body shop is?” He nodded, isolating the module in question. “It’s cramped, but fully equipped. You might take some time to look at what they have on offer, there’s a lot of banned parts you can still get out here.”

Music to my ears. Microphones, whatever. “But how do we get down to it?” Dad began cackling. “Oh, you’ll like this.” Which of course meant I was guaranteed not to. He led me outside, bracing himself on my arm. The winds were violent now, and the methane was increasingly thick. But having been designed for such conditions, all buildings had handrails mounted to their exterior walls.

Working our way along these handrails, ignoring blinking projected warnings to seek refuge against the intensifying storm, we made our way to what looked very much like a subway station entrance. Except at the bottom of the stairs, rather than a train, there was a submarine.

It jostled gently in the moon pool, painted with yellow and black hazard stripes around the rim. “Used to carry tourists! The main pumpjet is busted now, but we really just use it as an elevator to travel between the surface and the subsea platform.”

I assumed he meant the habitat. I eyeballed the dingy looking vessel, lined with eleven huge dome windows along either side. A cable trailing from the sub to a ceiling mounted reel suggested that the sub itself had no internal batteries. Just a big ’ol makeshift diving chamber.

There were two shifty looking dudes presumably also waiting to depart for the ocean floor. Neither were fullmetal, but may as well have been for how severely borged up they were. One couldn’t take his eyes off me, presumably because actual fullmetals are a rare sight at sea.

I abruptly turned to look directly at him. His eyes widened, and he stumbled back a few steps. I’m going to miss this body. Nobody fucks with fullmetals except other fullmetals. The waves in the moon pool, residual storm action buffered by the structure of the stead itself, made boarding the sub somewhat dicey.

Once everybody was inside, the rear hatch swung down on hydraulics and sealed tight against a black rubber O-ring. Just below every window was a faded, peeling plastic guide to identifying tropical fish and a pair of busted headphones which I figured were once used to narrate the tours.

“So, what ever happened to “organic meals in their bellies?” I asked Dad once the two of us were seated and strapped in for the descent. “Oh, you mean the produce import business? Ruined when an aeroponic farm ship included my stead in its route. Stuff shipped in from land can’t compete on freshness with crops grown at sea.”

I offered my condolences. “Not at all! Not at all. What is failure but a free lesson? An invitation to start a new chapter of your life.” I balked at hearing that sort of thing from the same man who spent decades stubbornly refusing to budge from that trailer.

“Living out here really has changed you, hasn’t it?” He proudly thumped his chest with another hollow clang. “Body, mind and spirit!” The sub lurched under us as it began to descend, lowered by a pair of massive, ponderous winches.

I gripped the armrest. If I had knuckles, they’d be white. “Nothin’ to get worked up about” Dad assured me, sensing my apprehension. “I’ve done this more times than I care to recall.” That would’ve put my fears to rest, except that the two locals seated opposite us looked more nervous than me.

Down, down, down. The meager sunlight, already stifled by the stormclouds, did not penetrate far. After a few minutes the water outside was pitch black. Try as I might, I could make out no reference points by which to judge our rate of descent.

That is until the sub lights illuminated a long, thick cable at a steep vertical angle. I pointed it out to Dad. “Oh, that’s the umbilical. Supplies power, hot water and data from the seastead to the subsea platform.” Beyond it, I could faintly make out a massive vertical column with squared off metal fins projecting from it,

“And that?” He craned his neck to peer out the porthole at the structure I’d gestured to. “OTEC. Thermal energy converter. There’s enough of a temperature difference between the top layer of the ocean and the layers just below the thermocline to generate a substantial amount of electricity. Enough for the average stead, anyways.”

He then pointed out a large spherical cage mounted to the lowest point of the column. “Because it emits warm water from the surface at the bottom, we can cultivate lobster and crab down there. Once a month, a buddy of mine dives down there to harvest the critters. It’s a hell of a feast for everybody on the stead that can still eat.”

I realized the sub no longer jostled to any discernible degree. This far down, I could feel no influence whatsoever from the storm raging above us. It began to make sense to me why someone already accustomed to subsea life might come to associate it with comfort and safety, compared to the unpredictable violence of surface weather.

“You know, I got into an argument with this meatloaf in port once. He made some snide little wisecrack about offshore farmers. I says to him, “where do you think your food comes from?” People like that just want somebody to look down on so they can feel sophisticated.”

Another one of his stories. I reflexively began making myself comfortable before remembering I no longer needed to. “Why is it always farmers they pick on? Even when I was a boy, farming was one of the hottest areas in automation. Everybody was in an arms race trying to develop agricultural robots to further automate farms, which were already heavily automated by that point.”

The two hombres opposite us were pretending not to listen, but occasional smirks revealed otherwise. Dad paid them no mind. “Farming was the basis of civilization. It still is, damnit! People got to eat. Most of ’em, anyways. Where does anybody get off looking down on something that fundamental, wholesome and important? That’s what I’d like to know.”

He folded his arms for dramatic effect, as if he’d been giving a speech to a crowd of reporters. One of the strangers stuck out his lower lip and nodded slowly, having seemingly heard something he liked in that meandering mess of a lecture.

Through the window, I could now make out a mass of lights below. Fuzzy at first, like the light pollution of a small town seen from space. But as we descended closer and closer to it, the sources of that light resolved as banks of exterior arc lamps.

Beyond that, there was light coming through the windows inset in the ends of the few cylindrical modules that weren’t mated to another on more than one side. Through those windows, I could just barely make out silhouettes passing back and forth inside.

The sub once again lurched, but more violently. My grip on the arm rest tightened. “Relax. There’s a mechanism that grips the sub, then docks it. No propulsion, remember?” I did, but hadn’t thought about how we’d actually get from the sub to the interior of the habitat.

A dull whine and series of long, low groans signified the slow process by which the sub’s docking collar was aligned with that of the habitat, and pressed tightly against it. I expect the motor whine would’ve been deafening if not for the muffling qualities of seawater.

At last it slowed, then stopped. I heard a series of loud clangs as a series of unseen clamps secured the two vessels firmly to one another. Then a whooshing sound from the other side of the hatch I’d entered the sub through back at the moon pool.

“Purging the water trapped between the two collars, with compressed air” Dad explained. “Only takes a minute”. Once the noise stopped, I heard the motorized locks disengage, and the hatch swung open. I winced, not sure why. I suppose some primal part of me expected to be blasted with a deluge of seawater.

Instead, it was smoke. Wafting in from the hazy interior of the habitat, catching in the most entrancing way the colored light from various nearby neon signs. It immediately reminded me of every dive bar I’ve ever been to, but crammed into a bunch of metal tubes.

The smoke was of course not a problem for either Dad or myself, but to my surprise the crusty looking toughs that we rode down here with also breathed that shit right in. Not the smallest cough from either, they must come down here a lot.

I held Dad back and waited for them to exit the sub, not wanting them behind us. Then we followed, immersing ourselves in the filthy, neon drenched interior of the entry lock. “These are actual neon signs” I muttered. Dad asked why that’s of any interest. “It’s just...who even makes these anymore?”

He answered that the economy of offshore communities finds a use for everything. “There’s no sense in throwing anything away when you live out here. You need all the materials you can get your hands on. Anything that could be a replacement part, anything you can sell.”

The decor bore this out. Tattered posters of bands which haven’t been relevant since before my conviction. Some of them ads for local businesses as well, a few of which we passed on our way to the body shop.

Warm tungsten light poured out of a modest prosthetic shop with a dingy yellow awning over the storefront, as if there was any need to shelter customers from the rain down here. Just for kicks I rummaged through the owner’s wares, laid out in wooden bins on a pair of folding tables, and feigned interest.

“You need scrubber? Still have lungs? I have scrubber. Remove all methane! Remove hydrogen sulfide! Breathe fine during gas storm, no problem.” He thrust an implantable methane scrubber at me, the rubber hoses dangling from the soft, squishy mass jiggling about in the process.

“Fullmetal” I replied, pointing to the air intake on my chest. “Already got scrubber.” That was all I needed to say, took the wind right out of his sails. “You waste my time!” he snapped, cigarette dangling from his lips on the verge of escape. “Keep moving! Make room more customer!” I obliged, taking one last nostalgic look over my shoulder. I wonder what Dinesh is up to now.

We then passed a brothel, red light accentuating the bodies of two exhausted looking whores slowly gyrating behind the front windows. Just inside, a cylindrical transparent acrylic aquarium housed a slender, voluptuous mermaid with a convincing prosthetic tail.

A familiar looking O2 refill port in her sternum, peeking out from between her clamshells, made sense of how she wasn’t drowning. She made eye contact with me and slowly beckoned, her luxurious blue-green curls floating weightlessly about her head.

I inched towards the brothel entrance. Dad seized my arm and hurried me away. “No time for grabass, kiddo. I made an appointment ahead of your arrival, and Alejandro hates to be kept waiting.” Alejandro? What a coincidence that the cybersurgeon here is named that. Unless…

“No fucking way” I stammered, frozen in the doorway of the body shop. It was him alright. He appeared no less shocked. “How you find me!” He peered over my shoulder into the corridor, visibly panicked, as if expecting armed goons.

Dad, for his part, was flabbergasted that we knew each other. “How the hell do you know Alejandro? He’s been down here full time for the past five years.” I filled him in as Alejandro made some hasty calls and reviewed what looked to be CCTV footage from the seastead above us.

“You tell me how you found me!” he demanded. “If it was so easy for you, then others…” I asked who he owed money to. He stared at me for a moment, then slumped back in his seat, dejected. “If only it was that simple. You really not expect me here?”

I swore up and down that I had no idea he was the resident cybersurgeon. He then scolded my Dad. “You still use my real name! How many time I tell you, call me Mako now. Mako!” He threw a rolled up magazine at Dad, who deftly dodged the projectile as if it were any danger to him.

After he finished huffing, puffing and searching topside security footage to make sure nobody from the mainland had followed us to the stead, he asked what I wanted with his services. “You want more domestic robot parts in you? Or no? Nobody find out about that, right?”

I assured him that his little last minute inclusion in my fullmetal body was never identified, and even if it had been, I wouldn’t have told them who installed it for me. That seemed to placate him somewhat. “You good customer. Always such good customer, even if weirdo. What you want now? Don’t waste my time, I have six more to see today.”

Today? It was so easy to forget the passage of time down here. Behind his operating setup was a thick acrylic dome window looking out into the hopeless blackness of the sea. What looked like octopus eggs dangled from the top of the window, dozens of translucent jelly-like pods laid there because of their mother’s attraction to the warmth and light.

So bizarrely, unexpectedly peaceful. Alejandro snapped his fingers. “Now? Quickly? Today?” I apologized, and began explaining my predicament. “I can’t go anywhere on the mainland looking like this. I made a lot of enemies with the heist, some of them with mob connections.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “Say no more, say no more. But that body old. I can’t sell for much, and I don’t have any other fullmetal bodies you can afford with what the one you have now is worth.” Not a problem, I insisted. “I want to go bio.”

Dad slowly turned to stare at me as if I’d announced my plans to open a turnip stand. “Full bio? Just when I thought I’ve seen every damn fool decision you can possibly make…” But when I elaborated on my reasons, he came around.

“They’ll be expecting another fullmetal body. Their weapons and countermeasures will be chosen under the assumption that it’s a fullmetal they’ll have to contend with. None of that’s easy on the human body either, not as it naturally occurs, but it’s much more survivable. Besides which, none of the scum I used to deal with on the reg will believe a gear hound like me is full bio again.”

Alejandro seemed troubled. When I asked why, he spun the monitor around to face me. “This all I have. The one on the right is the most bio I can offer you. Many implants still, but mostly on inside. Recently upgraded optical lobe interface, I throw in for low price.” A stout, muscular Chinese man who looked to be middle aged. Maybe a touch younger. Still has all of his hair, anyways.

His right leg from the knee down was an appallingly old fashioned model. Carbon fiber with a literal pneumatic piston actuating the ankle. No gel muscle, no linear motor. Man alive, actual old timey pneumatics! Stunningly good condition though, for a leg that old.

The left forearm looked to be much newer. The hand was sheathed in a thin layer of transparent silicone. Not remotely pretending to be skin, just a common precaution mechanics use to keep fiddly, sharp little metal bits out of the delicate joints of their wrist and fingers.

“Habitat technician. Worked down here four years. Saved up money, goes fullmetal, then disappears. Leaves old body with me. I was getting ready to chop it honestly, nobody want to buy body like this.”

Except me. “It’s perfect!” I gushed. They both looked perturbed. “Perfect for what?” Alejandro scoffed. “Are you moving to China?” Meant as a joke presumably, because he just about keeled over when I nodded. Dad just sat there perfectly still, processing all of it.

“I’ve got some contacts there, buddies I used to race with and a guy that used to fence for me. I warned him about the heist, so he didn’t lose anything. Last I knew before I was locked up, he’d moved his operation to Shenzen.”

Dad wiped a nonexistent tear from his eye and hunched over. I asked him what the matter was. “It’s just...you only got out of the big house today. I get to see you for all of a few hours, now you’re disappearing from my life again.” I hugged him, metal scraping on metal, and promised it would be different.

“China isn’t prison, Dad. I’ll keep in touch. Haven’t I always kept in touch with you, even when you were living out in the boonies?” He slowly nodded, still mopey. Alejandro interrupted the two of us, tapping his watch. The hell does he need a watch for? Then again it was hardly the only antique I’d seen down here so far. Soon my old body would join them, gathering dust in this rusty old tub.

A droplet of water landed on my shoulder. I glanced up at the ceiling. “Should it be dripping? I feel like that’s bad. It shouldn’t be dripping, should it?” Alejandro hurried me to the operating table, ignoring my questions about the leak.

I eased my considerable weight onto the dentist-style reclining chair. The leather restraints did not escape my notice. Alejandro gestured at the panel mounted to the ceiling, and it flickered to life. Oh rad, just what I need right now. The Bible Network.

“Now I know many of you have been hard hit by the increasingly nasty gas storms lately” the man in the thousand dollar suit with the immaculately groomed hair says. “But that’s no reason to stop sending in as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of the storms, be afraid of God. There is no storm bigger than God!”

The audience cheers. I can feel Alejandro plugging hoses into my waist that will circulate oxygenated blood while my body’s offline. “The secular media wants you to believe the gas storms are because of so-called climate change” the suited preacher sneers.

“But didn’t they predict the storms would start twenty years sooner than they actually did? Their models are always wrong! You know what’s never wrong?” He held up an ostentatious gilded Bible, and the audience cheered louder than before.

“That’s right, my dear friends. The Bible doesn’t say anything about climate change. God would never allow us to unbalance the Earth so severely. You know what the Bible does say though? More times than you can count, there were tribes who defied God’s will.”

The audience booed. Some in the nearest rows of the gargantuan floating megachurch had on foam fingers, but the finger was shaped like a crucifix. “That’s right! They didn’t live the way God demands of us. They were homosexuals! They were prideful women, seeking to feminize the church! They were men who believed themselves wiser than the Bible, or who lusted after the metal!”

More booing. The camera briefly cut away to an elderly hispanic woman, weeping and holding up a sign reading “Repent, you final generation.” It then cut back to the stage, which was designed something like an inside out palace. The walls and part of the ceiling of an opulently decorated room, albeit made from painted fiberglass.

Even through the screen, it made me feel included. It made me feel like the tremendous wealth of the preacher was also my own. Like I’m on the inside with him looking out, rather than on the outside looking in.

Of course the seating for the attendees was considerably more austere. Plenty of it, but made from welded steel with bare rafters overhead, like at a wrestling event. When the preacher finished, they would all go home, many of them to residorms and other forms of subsidized housing.

For all his ranting about the prosperity God would grace them with, proportional to their own generosity when donating to the preacher’s ministry, none of his wealth would go home with them.

Instead the money would only ever flow in one direction, from bottom of the pyramid to the top. It reminded me of something Dad once said: “Sheep spend their whole lives in fear of wolves, only to be eaten by the shepherd.”

He suddenly grew more animated, striking a dramatic pose. “So he sent fire upon them! He sent plagues, and earthquakes, and storms! Does that sound familiar to you? It does to me! Are we not living in times such as those?

These days sin is everywhere you look. Those who have turned their back on God live however they please, disregarding His plan for their lives, and for society! What have been the fruits of their disobedience? The Lord God has sent gas storms upon them!”

I recalled him mentioning not so long ago that his audience was especially badly hit by those storms, but seemingly nobody in the audience remembered or cared. The preacher himself just kept rolling, not missing a beat.

“They want to place the blame on us! They say it’s because we voted down every preventative measure, the Satanic Communism they tried to foist on us under the pretense of environmental stewardship. But we knew better, because we see with spiritual eyes! Eyes which see clearly whose fault the storms actually are!”

The display behind him, comprising the entire wall around which the gaudy stage was built, now depicted a rapid slideshow. A man with his fullmetal girlfriend. A dome covered mosque in Dubai. A gay pride event in some VR lobby I didn’t recognize. That fuckin’ dolphin ambassador to the UN that’s on the news sometimes. A Church of Scientology. A child receiving her first prosthetic. Some children’s cartoon about a monkey, for some reason.

“Do you think God smiles upon this depravity? He is long suffering, but do not mistake patience for approval. Don’t you pay any mind to those mockers and scoffers who say the law of God is “bigoted” either, that men of God like me are “prejudiced” and other Marxist code words. I don’t make the rules, people! It’s all right there in the Bible, plain as day! If you don’t like it, if it’s not “tolerant” enough for you, don’t come crying to me. Take it up with God.”

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