Under God

Posted: July 16, 2007 in Atheism, Dark, Religion, Sci-Fi

The shabbiness of the jail area, normally offset by the glow of the plasma bars of the old man’s jailroom, was revealed by the rise of the sun, which flooded natural light into the tiny area outside of the cell. Inside the old one’s living space, however, little could be seen.
“Tell me.” The man’s voice floated out from his darkened room. “What is your name?”
The guard standing watch on the prisoner did not reply.
“I suppose you’re wearing a name tag, but my eyes aren’t working well these days.”
No answer.
Sensing that this would be a one-sided conversation, the prisoner decided on a sure-fire way to evoke a response.
“Do you know why I’m in prison?”
“You are a heretic. You shall stay in this correctional facility until you have reconciled your erroneous beliefs and expressed total devotion to the one true God.” The guard’s tone was monotonous, brainwashed. The bastards did well with this one, thought the old man.
“I asked if you know why I’m in prison. Not the Church.”
The guard hesitated. He hadn’t been trained to respond to that. “You are a heretic. You shall-”
“Never mind,” the prisoner snapped. “First off, I’d prefer it if you called it atheism. And you can’t possibly believe that I would change my thoughts just to get out of a cell. I’ve been in worse. The concentration camps of Santiago would break even your iron-cast shell of a mind.”
Silence.
The old man spoke again. “No, the church would rather me kill myself. Then I could be an example, a heretic who would rather burn in Hell than accept the rule of God. If you could see into the cell, you would see the thousands of jagged pieces of glass, all waiting for me to rip into my skin and release my life. And the bars. Normal steel bars would cost less and still contain me. With plasma keeping me in, there’s always a chance that I’ll slip and cut a limb off.”
The guard was appearing visibly uncomfortable by now, but he still said nothing.
The old one considered the guard. “You look young. How old are you? Seventeen? Nineteen?”
“Nineteen, yes.”
He speaks. A small smile flitted acoss the old man’s cracked lips, causing some blood to well up and flavor his mouth.
“…And your name is?”
The guard paused for such a long time that the old one thought he had gone mute again. “My name is… John.”
“I’m Demosthenes, John. Pleased to meet you.”
The young guard looked uncertain. “That… is not your real name. No one has a name like Demosthenes.”
“And your name isn’t John. The Church taught you that. What name do you really remember?”
More silence. “Fair enough. I’m Demosthenes, you are John. How about letting me out?”
“You have been deemed too hazardous for the safety of the Lord’s public. You are suspected of various terrorist attacks and other heretical activi-”
Demosthenes was caught in a fit of hysterical laughter which devolved into a hacking cough. John obviously did not expect this.
“Why are you laughing, old man?”
Another cough and a giggle escaped the dark depth of the cell. There was movement, and Demosthenes came into the glowing light of the plasma bars. “Do I really look like I could participate in a terrorist attack? Use your mind! Don’t let them take that from you!”
“I… I…” The old man’s body was little more than a corpse. Covered in slim cuts from the glass littered around the cell, he was also thickly bruised and deformed. His arms were little more than sticks, one three inches shorter than the other, and he was missing a foot.
“Do I look like I have that power?! I can hardly walk because of your holy Church. God has not saved me, he has crippled me beyond repair. All I have are my ideas. No one can take them from me, and the only threat I pose is the spread of knowledge!”
“I…” John was completely at a loss for words. Never had he seen someone so utterly destroyed and so cursed to still live. The beautiful, technologically advanced cities of the Church meant nothing, their flawless society was ripping at the seams in John’s mind. A thought suddenly erupted through his brain, and before he could stop himself, he cried out.
“Kill yourself, then!”
Utter silence. Demosthenes drew back from the bars, disappearing into the dark cell again. It was a while before he spoke again. John had calmed himself and slumped to the floor, staring at the wall.
The old voice came out again. “That’s what everyone wants, one way or another. They say, ‘Get out of here, so I can pretend you don’t exist,’ or, ‘You are dangerous, so we will provide you with the means to end your life and leave you to rot.’ It’s not any way to live.”
“Then why do you do this?” John’s voice was hoarse.
“Because there is hope. As long as I live, I can pass on my knowledge and eventually bring down the Church. As such, I wait for the day when people like me will be free men.”
The silence that followed lasted hours. Demosthenes was dozing when he heard John’s voice again.
“How did the Church do… whatever it is you said they did?”
Ahhh. The mental inhibitors placed in the boy’s brain were starting to break down. Seeing a body abused beyond endurance could do that to even the most hardened zealot. Any sentence that might even possibly go against the will of the Church was edited out by microchips implanted into every citizen’s brain. The fact that John had even thought of that sentence made him a heretic if anyone found out.
“Do you really wish to know? It will subvert every belief you’ve ever had forced upon you. It may be too much.” Demosthenes’ voice was grim.
“I just want to know.”
A pause. “The Church you know now is just one of many sects of the original Christianity. This was worship of the Son of God, known as Jesus Christ. I have no doubt he was real, but his power was blown out of proportion until he was considered to be divine. Today, people know next to nothing about him, except for those old enough to remember. All you know is that the will of the Church, but beyond that it gets blurry and unclear.”
“But how did they gain so much power?”
“Wait. I must explain. Like I said, the Church today was merely a sect in those times, a seperate group sharing some beliefs with others. The Church- I forget their original name- arose from a disgruntled Christian who believed that the other beliefs had gone soft, conforming to the culture of television and technology. He started an order practicing original techniques from the second and third centuries, such as flagellism, which you now know as the Holy Beating.”
“Yes,” John murmured to himself. He had performed the penance that very morning. His back still smarted from the long, ropy scars he had whipped over and over again, opening old wounds and creating fresh ones.
“This man knew that few would join his faith with such restrictions, so he set out incorporating levels into his belief, something one could achieve to gain further spirituality. He was very wealthy, so recruiting via television and the Internet was quite easy for him. Though he was a traditionalist, he recognized the immense power of technology and used these to influence followers and to gain more to the ranks of the sect. Thus the group rose to large proportions, and the Church became one of the most popular religions worldwide. It added nearly a billion people to the Christian community. However, this story quickly turned sour.”
John heard Demosthenes shifting, crawling towards the cell door to make himself more visible. The sound of crackling glass revealed more cuts were being etched into the old man’s body.
Demosthenes was breathing hard now; each word was an effort.
“His religion had spread so far that most of the United States, French and Spanish governments had converted. It was no real surprise when he decided to take over as much as he could. Drunk with power, he seized control of many countries without much effort, crushing different faiths and sects, particularily polytheism and atheism.”
“Twenty years after this man had established his sect, he was essentially the ruler of the world. Today it has been fifty years since that date. I was fifteen at the time of the takeover, and my family and I fled the government in California to escape the onslaught of the Church. Atheists and others met in abandoned houses, restaurants, anywhere we could go. We eventually rose to a sizable enough force that we were able to drive out the meager group of Church military that had been established on the West Coast.”
“The real power of the Church at that time was focused on the conquest of South America and Africa. Eventually, they came back, rounding up most of our group from California, and sent us to re-education camps, as they were called. I was sent to a camp in Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. They tried to break me, by carving crosses into my skin, cutting off my foot, beating me till I would have admitted anything. And then….”
There was a long silence. John shifted uncomfortably, waiting for the story to go on. After a few minutes he peered into the cell.
Demosthenes had collapsed, regardless of the glass that was everywhere all around him. Even his head was being pierced, with a long shard that stuck diagonally into his head.
“Demosthenes?”
Nothing.
The speech that this man had delivered sent such powerful ideas into his brain that it took a while for John to realize that he had better help the old man or he would die. John hurried to a small switch on the wall and quickly flicked it down. The plasma bars holding Demosthenes in flickered and faded out.
The young guard lifted the man and carried him to a table. He began to pick the numerous glass shards out of the withered skin. As he did so, Demosthenes stirred.
“Don’t bother. I’m dying soon anyway.”
The mental inhibitors in John’s head were, by now, hunks of useless metal unable to process the onslaught of forbidden information. His mind was free to make his own choices and he did not know what to do. An old man, dying and refusing help? Where was the logic? John was frozen.
Demosthenes spoke again. “Do me one last thing, John.”
“What?” John was frantic now. He did not know how to even consider this freedom.
The old man was coughing now, blood coming up with phlegm. Before he died, he uttered his last words.
“Spread the truth, boy. The world is not at ease these days. Stop the terror, John.”
“Will,” the guard said, teeth clenched and ready for the days of trial to come, the days of a heretic, a fugitive and a vigilante fighting for what he thought was right. “My name is Will.”

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