3,127.3 years after the Holy Nuclear War.
On the green campus of the Great Scientific University in Heaven, bowl-shaped glass structures squat like half-buried pearls in the grass. A spider web of clear plexisteel beams supports these translucent canopies that let through only sunlight and air. Three school towers made from jet-black marble and granite, one hundred stories tall, pierce through the round glass canopies toward the royal-blue sky.
One quarter the height of the marble school towers, the crystalline canopies host luminous streams, broadleaf plants, and fruit trees with white and pink blooms that scent the warm, dry air inside with a hint of orange and cherry. Tiny organo-robotic insects, tailored for optimum nutrition for birds and other small predators, fly from blossom to blossom. But they don’t pester the students and professors who stroll between buildings or just lounge in the gardens to breathe the sweet flora and pick deep red apples or juicy mangos.
Several ten-story-high laboratory buildings sit within the manicured gardens of each glasshouse estate. New ideas grow like weeds within the white walls, sculpted columns, and stone arches of these scientific hothouses, which look more like steeple-less cathedrals than research labs.
On the seventh floor of one laboratory building, Professor Yahweh Tabbris peers into a 3D holographic image. He twists the soft curls of his brown hair tightly around his finger. Wavy images of static electricity dance in a column of air above the holographic platform. They merge together and form a bright blue blob of electromagnetic energy.
Yahweh smiles as he eases the controller forward.
The blue blob begins to move toward the left side of the view platform. Spiny threads of light, deep blue in color, arc from the ball’s surface as it slides over to a holographic image of a black box and disappears inside.
A voice booms over his right shoulder. “What is that?”
Yahweh knocks his thumb against the controller. The disturbance nearly ruins the computer simulation.
Miffed at the intrusion, Yahweh refuses to turn his head toward the nuisance, but his eyes strain against the edges of their sockets to take in the tall intruder cloaked in a vestment that folds smartly across broad shoulders.
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” the intruder begins. “I am Professor Lucifer Deville, the new under dean of the Quantum Thermodynamics Department and the new vice chair of the Ancient Religion Department.”
Yahweh eyes the shiny red lining inside the tall man’s black cape. The getup seems theatrical—this is a university, not a bullfighting arena.
Lucifer returns the scrutiny with dark, pupil-less eyes that quickly dismiss Yahweh to study the replayed holographic images of the black box as it swallows the magnetic blue lightning ball. He motions to the experiment and rumbles his question again. “What is that?”
Yahweh leans away to escape the blast of hot air from the tall man. He takes a breath to fortify himself. “It’s a device that can hold migrating electromagnetic fields generated by humans.”
“Hmm . . . I have heard of this work of yours. You think those magnetic fields have something to do with a human’s essence. Is that true?”
“That’s right,” Yahweh says.
“It is called a soul,” chides Lucifer.
“Well, at least you believe in the soul that Korbibtor gave us all.”
Yahweh had heard rumors about this Lucifer and his religious cult. No wonder his arrival on campus has raised such a ruckus. Yahweh muses about how the founders of the Great Scientific University included ancient religion in the school curriculum long ago—a controversial move for a society that has sworn off such practices. But as Yahweh’s father always said, “Forget your history and you’re bound to repeat it.” Everyone on campus seems to have an opinion. Most think religion has no place in Heaven anymore. Still there are some, Yahweh notes as he eyes Lucifer, who seem drawn to a know-it-all god.
Tired and hungry from a full night’s work, Yahweh had hoped to be left alone. But it was only a matter of time before Lucifer discovered his corner of the campus. His stomach growls. Maybe he’ll leave to try and convert somebody else.
But it slowly dawns on Yahweh that Lucifer intends to stick around. So he reluctantly faces the tall man. As he turns, Yahweh recalls the many scientific accomplishments attributed to Lucifer. Things like optical path-rerouting technology that makes objects invisible and rapid heat dissipation methods that allow spacecraft to travel close to stars. But Lucifer throws this all away with pious pronouncements about how his Korbibtor has saved everyone and how everyone should follow his god’s word.
The abnormality tempts Yahweh to no end. So he asks, “how can you be a scientist and a preacher at the same time?”
Lucifer heaves a heavy sigh. “My interest in your science is purely coincidental. It helps me to understand our society. Besides, it is expected of everyone to love this, this art of magic.”
“Science is not magic. It offers a rational explanation for the world around us.”
“Yes, the world around us. Korbibtor gave us these things, you know.”
“You trying to convert me?”
“Just want to save you, brother.”
“Don’t bother. This religion of yours—it’s just a way to explain things people don’t understand.”
“The same can be said about your science. But I know the truth. Korbibtor, not science, created everything around us: the trees, the birds, the planets, the stars—”
“And bigotry and a regimented way of thinking. Oh yeah, let’s not forget sacrificing nonbelievers and—”
“Those things happened to people who could not see the wonder that Korbibtor is. He has given us order from randomness. He protects us from our enemies. He offers us a way of life that is peaceful and fulfilling. Sure, you can see his works in those holographic images of magnetic fields over there, but can you feel his essence and love around you?”
Lucifer’s syrupy-sweet gospel talk is enough to give Yahweh a toothache, right down to the nerve. “Religion is nothing but a hierarchy of shamans, priests, bishops, kings and politicians who convinced everyone that only they can see or hear Korbibtor, that the people should confess their sins to these holy men and do as they say because Korbibtor doesn’t speak to commoners.”
“Korbibtor gave us that rule to ensure that his commandments and intentions are properly interpreted. Surely, you can understand that.”
“Yeah, I understand that that gives them tremendous power over others. How convenient. Korbibtor help you if you didn’t do as his holy men commanded. Korbibtor help you if you didn’t follow the religious customs they prescribed. And there were plenty of zealots who were only too happy to kill you if you didn’t follow their rules, even if they died in the process.”
“They were commanded by Korbibtor.”
Yahweh rolls his eyes. “Why would someone kill themselves like that?”
“They know that the faithful serve as Korbibtor’s tools. That is the only way they can ascend to sit at his right side in paradise, a land filled with milk and honey.”
“So that excuses the suicide bombers who would walk up to you and—boom!—blow you away? Or what about that long-haired man who claimed your god gave him great strength? He used that strength to destroy himself and three thousand people in a pagan temple, just because they offended your god. That was a good thing?”
The tall professor furrows his eyebrows. “That was a sad time, when there were many nonbelievers. They threatened our way of life. Sometimes we have to take drastic steps for the greater good of the human race.”
“So pain, suffering, and death are preferable to the Loving Free Will Gene—for the greater good of the human race, of course.”
Lucifer’s eyes darken. “Loving Free Will Gene! That is a fallacy—something scientists whipped up in the lab.”
“No, it’s not. We have indisputable proof that cobalt-thorium X radiation from the Holy Nuclear War produced the Loving Free Will Gene. And we found that proof when we discovered super dominate genes that didn’t exist in humans prior to the war.”
“So science has discovered special genes. So what?”
“So you know those genes have changed us significantly. And we all have that same feature. Everyone is now the same color in Heaven. Wasn’t that way before the war.”
Lucifer glances down at the back of his hand and then studies Yahweh with disappointed eyes. “All right, so where is your proof that this mutant gene of yours has given peace and common fellowship to everyone?”
Yahweh drops his gaze to the floor. The thin white streaks in the black marble beneath his open-toed sandals look like the tiny cracks in his reasoning. It’s well known that many theories about the Loving Free Will Gene remain unproven.
“Well,” he tries to explain anyway, “it helps humans make free will decisions driven by an understanding of what it means to suffer not only our own pain but also the pain of others.”
Lucifer rolls his eyes. “You mean it makes people more docile, with tails wagging, to please some phantom master gene.”
“Better than trying to please some phantom god!”
“Since you do not have all the answers, perhaps you should study the good things that have happened over the eons since Korbibtor announced his presence. You are a scientist, are you not? So this is your chance to make a fair and balanced investigation of an alternative to your idea.”
The point silences Yahweh. A true scientist has no bias and follows the facts wherever they lead.
With his arms slightly opened, Lucifer says, “As you know, Korbibtor tells us that he is us and we are he, that he is all around us. You also know there were many different religions. And three of the great religions came together and discovered the true meaning of our lives: Korbibtor. However, all of this was not easy for everyone to accept. It is like the challenges you face when you discover new science. Not everyone believes all at once. Similarly, it took the sacrifice of three men just to begin to spread Korbibtor’s word and blessings. One man was nailed to a wooden cross, another poisoned, and the third stoned. They gave their lives to bring our attention to the one, true god of peace.”
Lucifer’s sermon reminds Yahweh of his college days, when he studied those three great martyrs who spoke about a single deity. Nevertheless, conflicts continued for thousands of years before their religions finally merged.
Yahweh lifts his eyes from the floor and meets Lucifer’s gaze. “Okay, those martyrs united three religions. But the Korbibtorians continued to kill and sacrifice people who practiced other religions. You remember that little skirmish called the Holy Nuclear War three thousand years ago?”
Lucifer stares back with a hardened smile. “That was a long time ago. But look around. We have had peace ever since. We are free from hunger and disease with our matter-antimatter power plants, zap QUEST travel, and nanobots.”
Yahweh gestures to the lab around them. “Those things came from our science, not your god.”
Lucifer ignores Yahweh’s protest. “Eternal peace will not come until we are all one with Korbibtor. Those who do not believe are the real cause of war. Now it is the nonbeliever who will bring the wrath of Korbibtor down on all of us. So the sooner you see the light, the sooner my work is done.”
“So final peace will not come until we all think like you?”
“You twist my words, my friend. Korbibtor commands us to protect our traditions until all have taken him into their hearts. We might have to do things we do not want to in order to get to where we need to be.”
“So the end justifies the means?”
“And by any means necessary,” Lucifer says with satisfaction in his voice.
“Does that include Korbibtor’s Grand Inquisitions? Are you saying that torturing people to convert is more humane than helping them feel empathy for the pain of others?”
“Yes. We all must endure our own personal suffering—some more than others. Believe me, I know. But this is all in accordance with his wishes so that we might all come to know, love, and exist with him who is Korbibtor, our one, true god.”
“But who created Korbibtor?”
“He always existed, so there was no need for his creation.”
“But how do you know that Korbibtor exists in the first place? Have you two had tea and crumpets recently?”
Lucifer furrows his manicured brow. “I know because our holy books say so.”
“But how do you know your holy books are correct?”
“Because our holy books were inspired by Korbibtor.”
“Don’t give me that circular logic crap. You have no evidence that Korbibtor is peaceful or even exists, just your personal faith. And it seems you want to force your beliefs on me ‘by any means necessary.’”
Lucifer’s eyes narrow. “God will wipe out the nonbelievers with his armies. It happened once before, and it will happen again if you do not follow his teachings, my brother.”
“That will never happen again. There are no religious armies here anymore, and . . . and I’m not your brother!”
Then the tall professor leans in close and whispers, “Your time is running short.”
Lucifer’s cape flaps behind him as he storms out of the laboratory.
Finally, Yahweh thinks as he walks over to another black marble table, church services are over. Now he can continue his work in peace as he fusses over a small black box designed to actually capture waves of human electromagnetic energy.
He rearranges the crow’s nest of spindly light and power cables laced within the device. As Yahweh works, a music box plays in a nearby room. He lets the faint tones focus his thoughts, relieved that Lucifer didn’t realize he has actually built a device that can capture a person’s soul. But perhaps it wouldn’t be wise to say that this device captures souls, he muses. Maybe the word store is more appropriate. Yes, soul storage sounds better.
Suddenly, something crashes loudly behind him.
Yahweh ducks for cover, ready to spring away from what sounds like Lucifer’s return. But no one has entered the lab.
An acrid odor from the adjacent room grabs his attention. Now what?
Yahweh rushes toward the back room, but his long legs and quick stride can’t get him there fast enough. In his haste to see what’s up ahead, he trips. As he stumbles, his head pitches around. This time no one witnesses the embarrassment, but his face flushes anyway.
Once in the adjacent room and assured that no one is around, he checks the power supply. No problem here. Then his gaze follows a steamy residual trail to its source, an exploded specimen bottle he used earlier to boil water for his tea.
Gwendolyn, his wife, grows chamomile in their garden. The leaves make a better tea than the food assemblers, although, as she once told him, “There’s more work involved than just watching it magically appear in a box.” Yahweh decided to experiment with the idea, but the test only produced lukewarm results. “You should first boil the water,” Gwendolyn later told him, “then place the leaves in after you turn off the heat.”
His lips tighten as he eyes the jagged glass bottle with the black rubber stopper—still inside! It’s an obvious result that any five-year-old science student could predict. Yahweh looks around to be sure no one saw the shameful flub.