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Death of the Jesusmaton, Part II

Press One for Parables... and Detective Cain has a difficult nightmare. Science Fiction 
Cain looked over Elaine, who stared back at him dispassionately from the screen. With the rainwater sliding down her transparent polymer, it was hard to read her expression.

“What?” he asked.

“Is there any place we can get a drink?” she asked. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Cain looked up again at the bearded android nailed to the cross. Saw his beaten, swollen face that looked like deformed plastic. Come to think of it, he thought, maybe it was deformed plastic. Special stuff like they used for the Transparent People that lived mostly on the outer edge. Cain had never seen one of them up close. He didn’t really want to, though. Something about their lack of eyes made them hard to look at. It was hard, too, to look at the crucified man. Murder was one thing . He got how that was possible, but pounding the Jesusmaton to giant wooden crossbars was just plain insane. He got the whole reenacting thing, but it was still sick.

“Hey, are you listening to me?” snapped Elaine.

He ignored her for the moment.

“If you want to get that thing on the cross out of here, commissioner,” said Cain, “take it to a storage pod or a hanger and then seal it off. I want guards patrolling the perimeter, and nobody goes inside after they put it there except the three of us. You got that?”

The wind complained so loudly that Cain had to shout out his instructions to the commissioner three times.

“Thank you,” said the relieved commissioner, who was then so stressed out he didn’t even notice that his static umbrella had shorted.

He still held it over his head. Rain pelted his blue hair and slid down beneath his collar, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“The only reason I’m okay with that is because, like Elaine here says, you didn’t immediately pop an evidence dome over this area, so any clues have already washed away. And Elaine?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re dead, baby, so you can’t drink—but I’ll cover you on that one.”

As he walked away, cold water squished beneath his toes.



********


Cain crashed into the nightmare like a high-speed train without brakes. He saw the diamond sharp light burn a cauterized hole between her eyes, and heard the death scream as the impossible stench of burned flesh, bone, and brains invaded the night air. Rage clamped its hard, calloused hands over his ears and blocked the sounds of his own screams. In the unnatural silence, as garish green death flashed by him, he looked down at the metal weapon and later would be unable to account for the bodies spread out around him in a gruesome display around Elaine’s body.

“You remember nothing?” the doctors had asked him.

“One of them killed Elaine,” he answered.

The sound of one thousand flies buzzed in his brain. No matter how hard he’d slammed his head on his knees, it didn’t stop the sound.

“Which one?”

“What?”

“Which one?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Then,” said the yellow-haired doctor, “how do you know one of them was responsible?”

“I had to be sure,” he’d said.

He thought they’d understand what he meant, but they didn’t. He was locked away again and treated until the Algorithm put a stop to that.

“You lost your hearing, Mr. Cain,” said another, “for three weeks. There was no physical cause that we could identify. Can you tell us your thoughts at the moment that happened?”

I could hear the death scream in her eyes, he thought, the blind are already dead.

“You killed—” the doctor began again, but Cain screamed so loud and long that they sedated him more aggressively than before.

A week later, they brought Elaine back to him. The tallest doctor, the one with the fire scarred cheek, gave her to him, wrapped in an elegant black box ringed with pink roses.

Sometime after this, when he didn’t feel the cameras watching him, he quietly untied the bow and nervously opened the lid. She was waiting inside.

“My head hurts,” she said. “You got a Norco?”



********​



Halo globes pressed against the enclosure like desperate spirits pressing against the membranous divide between the worlds for living and the dead. The hangar was large enough that Cain felt like an ant in an interstel crate. The place was the size of a small asteroid. At its center, lying flat on the soft grass, was the wooden cross with the android-man stretched out on it, a spike through each wrist and one through the crossed ankles. There was a puncture wound in his side that would never heal, but would be easy enough to reseal with a high end polymorphic solder.

“I don’t think we’re alone,” said Cain.

“We’re never alone,” said Elaine. “The Algorithm is everywhere we go.”

Cain looked over at his shoulder, where she was still perched, then nodded slowly. He liked the thought. He hated the thought. Never alone. What would it be like not to have a connective neuron chip in your head? Would you be free or lost?

“Yeah,” he said, “there’s that, but I meant more like prying eyes.”

“What I want to know,” said Elaine, “is where they got the wood.”

“Who cares where they got the wood?” grumbled Cain.

“Did you bother to read the report? There aren’t exactly a lot of trees on this lifesphere, if you know what I mean. As in none. Simulated wood, that’s easy. But real wood? That’s from somewhere else and you know it. I’d like to leave this world alive if it’s all the same to you.”

Her voice was so low, Cain had to lean his head toward her screen to hear what she was saying.

“You should be so lucky. You’re technically already dead, so you’d be hard to kill. So, what do you mean, somewhere else?”

“One of the resistance groups,” she said with a fierce edge to her voice.

“So why would they bring in actual wood for this? Why bother? That stuff costs a fortune, so it doesn’t make sense to nail this piece of rubbish to it.”

They were standing near the motionless nonhuman nailed to the cross. If it wasn’t for the jellified android blood, it could have passed for a lifelike mannequin. Scraggly beard. Bruised face with one eye set deep into purple-black swollen skin. But there was the smell, the chemical smell. Cain had seen a lot of bodies in his life, but this one was set to maximum disturbing. It was like something dragged from an amino acid broth vat, off-gassing the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide gas.

The face, it was a lot like one saw in the old paintings. In Cain’s line of work, he got to actually see some of the old pictures. But not too many. It was dangerous to see too many. He and Elaine had the clearance, but access to the old things was carefully monitored. The Algorithm still rearranged the past every three years or so, to suit whatever it had on its mind, and changing out the images people saw was a big part of that process. Images of Jesus, for example, hadn’t been let out to see the sun for centuries, but that all changed with the construction of the Jesusmaton.

Cain stepped closer and stared harder still.

“What?” asked Elaine.

“The eyes,” said Cain, “don’t they look…awake?”

“You mean the eye? That other one is kind of buried under swollen skin.”

“OK, the eye, doesn’t it look—”

The eye snapped suddenly open.

“Whoa,” said Cain, and step back so quickly he almost fell on his backside.

The Jesusmaton’s mouth opened, and it said in a hesitant, rasping voice, “Press one for parables.”
 
Author notes
Detective Cain has a difficult nightmare.
Story length
short story

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I'd still like to see this one play out. The algorithm sounds similar to the one in the Jesus Road, could it be? Perhaps a hundred years or so after????
 
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