On the Sabbath, the folk of Hegeltown gathered in the temple in the manner of their religious custom. As the good people claimed their parcels of pew and reviewed the order of service printed on recycled paper, many whispering conversations could be overheard discussing the town’s new Overman visitor, Mr. Lever. Many wondered what he was up to going around house to house and asking questions about the missing spacemen. It was very strange— terrifying even— and provided much fodder for gossip. Rumors circulated that he slept hanging by his ankles and bore no reflection in mirrors and floated from rooftop to rooftop in the dead of night.
You can imagine their surprise when Mr. Lever himself showed up for the Sabbath services! He appeared before the congregation at the entry end of the nave, derby in hand, scalp and eyebrows freshly shoven, resplendent in his finely embroidered oxblood coat. He stood so very tall and lean, his shoulders were so broad, and his posture was so well-framed compared to the paunchy, slumping undermen of the village. He exuded pure, symmetrical, hairless, elite Overmanity. The twisted, stunted, shaggy undermen of the village were in total awe.
Mr. Lever made his way down the aisle with purposeful strides. The hand-shielded gossiping immediately ceased as he passed each pew. All heads affixed his direction but no eyes dared lock upon his as no one wanted to be remembered by a Sunstein Agent or have their spirit sucked out. Anonymity was always in a serf’s best interest around any high officials.
Mr. Lever stopped about half way, looked down at the proles sitting on the edge of their pew, un-staring back at him with their averted eyes. He beckoned the serf at the end to allow him entry with the most subtlest of gestures and faintest of grins. Ample enough for Overman, the subtlety was entirely lost on the serf blocking his way into the pew as he was mesmerized by something of a mixture of shock and awe. The spell was broken when Lever cleared his throat with a growl followed by another faintly pleasant grin. The undermen parishioner reluctantly let him in to take a seat, praying he didn’t sit next to him, but to his dismay, Lever did, taking the spot adjacent to him on the aisle.
The palpable tension brought on by Mr. Lever’s presence was broken by the entrance of the children of the village crèche who were led down the center aisle by their patron. What good, cute, little obedient fetuses they each made— children were considered to be fetuses only and not humans until obtaining the age of four. It was proven to mathematical certainty by Gaian bio-ethicists that the quantitative threshold of humanity, defined as self-awareness, was not achieved until that exact age. Three years and 364 days = fetus. Three years and 365 days = human being. No one ever dared question high-minded, scientistic conclusions, especially those drawn by official State scientists.
The cute little proto-humans, with their compressed facial features and disproportionately sized child-heads, remained perfectly disciplined as they marched in file, interconnected by a tether that fastened to each one’s fuzzy, teddy bear, taser bracelet. They took seats in a reserved row, little legs dangling above the floor in the aisle opposite of where Mr. Lever sat.
The acolytes emerged from behind the dais and lit the ceremonial candles. Then the priest emerged. Turning to kneel before the eye tapestry, he gave a silent prayer and marked the air with the ‘V’ and then an upside down ‘V’. He stood before the altar and began the opening prayers. The congregation rose and joined in.
Lever didn’t know the prayers as he was unfamiliar with undermen superstitions. He stood silent but respectful. Lever had no spirituality, in any traditional sense, unless you count his spiritual affinity for shaving and his sense of duty to the State which, unlike undermen theology, was very real and also eternal.
The townsfolk assumed Mr. Lever to be, like all other Overman, a Secular Gaianist which was a source of suspicion to them. But their inherent suspicion towards the hairless, atheist Sunstein Agent began to thaw with his presence at the service. Most knew that he was just pandering for their good will so as to lubricate their confessions which were so necessary to his investigation, but their amenability towards him was greatly enhanced by his deference. The undermen wanted to believe in the possibility that he could somehow be converted and become a born again Gaiastolic. However absurd that likelihood was, its possibility engendered their goodwill toward him. Mr. Lever played on this. He knew undermen were simpleton fools.
The service lumbered on towards its pinnacle— the Rite of Communal Sacrifice— and the eunuch priest finally disrobed and opened up his veins, sacrificing his blood on the behalf of his sinful flock so that their pollutions might be forgiven.
That’s when a most unexpected event ever to occur in the village of Hegeltown happened…
In the doorway, at the entry of the nave, silhouetted by the late morning sun, stood the shadow of a man heavily adorned. Slowly, one by one, the congregation sensed him and turned to see him. As they spotted him, they alerted their neighbors who turned their eyes back from the blood-letting to investigate the oddity as well. Mr. Lever’s appearance was quite remarkable and cause for gossip and terror but this appearance was somehow of a different magnitude altogether.
The service stopped and the shadow man stepped forth from the blinding backlight of the doorway, out of the shadows and into the aisle. The light of the day was blotted out by the slamming shut of the church doors behind him. He was finally revealed to them all.
It was the spaceman.
He wore his complete astronaut’s suit including the helmet with the flash visor pulled down. He took long, slow strides, almost as if he were walking in low gravity. Step. Step. Step. The eyes of the undermen followed him as he plodded down the aisle. Step. Step. Step.
Even Mr. Lever’s eyebrowless eyes latched on. Lever didn’t like the looks of things— and liked to be upstaged even less— but he was not exactly sure what to do about it. The disrobed, eunuch priest watched too, bewildered, mouth agape, still squeezing his hands into fists and pumping his Blood of Sacrifice out into the Chalice of Life.
Drip… drip… drip.
Step… Step… Step.
Drip… drip… drip.
Step… Step… Step.
The spaceman continued towards the altar, past the first row of pews and to the foot of the dais and its low pyramid of three steps. The spaceman did not say any prayers to the embroidered eye or kneel or gesture in a ‘V’.
“Heresy!” someone shouted.
The spaceman took one step up and the eyes of the bleeding priest widened.
“Blasphemer!” shrieked another.
Then another step.
A two year old fetus let out a cry which was quickly muffled by her patron’s taser blast which sent the proto-human into silent seizure.
Then a third step.
Mr. Lever’s hand found its way down into his embroidered, oxblood coat to the stock of his pearl handled revolver.
The spaceman reached out to the eunuch gently, so as not to startle him, and placed the priest’s thumbs over both his pulsating veins. The spaceman carefully removed the needles from the priest’s arms. He bent the priest’s arms up at the elbows, applying pressure to seal up the wounds.
“I have been waiting for you,” the priest whispered as his eyes filled with tears.
The spaceman turned him around to face away from the congregation. He reached down and picked up the priest’s robes and covered him with them. The priest began to weep and the spaceman comforted him.
“Your work is done,” the spaceman said. He placed his hand upon the priest’s shoulder, and with a gentle nudge, he sent him away, back into the chamber behind the dais. The chamber door closed and the spaceman was at last alone at the altar. He was in total command of the congregation.
The crowd, save for the prior outbursts, was utterly silent, anticipating the spaceman’s next move.
Mr. Lever’s index finger slid into position on the trigger.
The spaceman turned to the flock which was still frozen, fearing whatever was to come next, which was, in all likelihood, death by neutron burst or poison gas or something equally and horribly spectacular.
Lever’s thumb found the hammer on his pearl handled revolver.
The spaceman raised his gloved hands to his head and twisted off the latches securing his helmet. He lifted it up off his head and placed the dome on the altar next to the Chalice of Life which was nearly-filled with the priest’s Blood of Sacrifice.
What the crowd saw was, at first, an unrecognized man, a man with a long, bearded face and wavy hair. His skin was tanned and his locks were bleached by the autumn sun. His pupils were black voids that popped against their brilliant iris like sunspots.
Then they recognized him. It was the lunatic spaceman who had disappeared from Hegeltown. It was Staley, raised from the dead and standing before them now. Staley, who was devoured by cannibals, had returned as a ghost to terrorize them with poison gas! Several screams ripped through the nave upon this realization. Some started to rouse and make their way out.
“Be still!” Staley commanded in a booming voice that sent each and every one back into silent, fixated paralysis before the echoes of his order had even diminished.
Lever watched, contemplating… calculating…. anticipating…
“You know who I am,” Staley continued. “I have come to you to bring you a message. The message is from the new world. Not a world a billion kilometers from Gaia, but a world right here, around you… and within you. I have come from this new world.
“I went into the wilderness to lose my life but instead I found it. It has been said that it is necessary to lose one’s life in order to find it. I died and I was born again on that very same day. I was reborn into this new world… a world of the living.
“Look around you. What do you see? I’ll tell you what you see. You see an old world… a decaying world… a world built by and for the dead. You see stone hearts and blind eyes and deaf ears and sewn mouths. You see shackles and mausoleums and men in purple dress. You can look and look but you won’t see the living because you will not let your eyes see. Well I say to those who see this old world as a corpse that you are truly blessed. For if you see this world as a corpse, then this world is not worthy of you. And I say to those who have ears, let them hear! For if you seek life then there is life! There is life in the new world of which I speak.
“This new world is a world where no man is less or more than another… no man is another’s slave. It is a world of one law, one rule, one virtue: do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you. Nothing more than that. And from this simple virtue springs the fountain of life. I come to you to tell you of this world. It is near you. It is even within you. Open your eyes and let yourself see it.”
Staley stopped his sermon and stared directly into Mr. Lever’s eyes which caught the Sunstein Agent off guard. His hairless eyebrows rose in response, showing disbelief and confusion, while he slowly, covertly removed his pistol from its holster, keeping it hidden under his coat.
Staley continued. “I tell you this, no man escapes judgment. No man may take another as a slave without the judgment of the spirit. I promise you that. I tell you that no man may turn over his brother who is blameless to the Agents without judgment. And no man may steal from his neighbor without judgment. And I tell you that no man may erase another man’s mind without judgment. And no man may take another man’s life without judgment.
“I promise you that Judgment Day is coming. It is coming for us all. We all shall see the Judgment Day as our ends are inevitable. Your end is your Judgment Day and my end is my Judgment Day. And I tell those who will hear it that these warnings are true and judgment will be visited upon the master and the minion and the slave all the same. Repent and make good with your neighbor before judgment is reaches you.
“But I did not come here today to judge for I am not The Judge. I came here only to give you this message. I came here to warn the vicious ones that vengeance will be poured out upon those who have sent their neighbors to the slaughterhouse.
“Judgment is coming for all, but those who repent shall be forgiven. And to those who seek shelter in the new world it shall be given. And to those who remain in the old world but resist the demands of the vicious shall be shown mercy. But to those who aid the devil in his works and do not change their ways… they will not be forgiven. They will be erased… denied their immortality. And this goes for all classes of men: Overman and undermen, and savage, too; for, as I said, your caste will not protect you from judgment.
“This is my message to you. It is a warning. Hear it, for life is fleeting and your end is nigh.”
And with that, Staley picked up his space helmet, kneeled, and lowered it down onto his head as if he were Napoleon crowning himself emperor. Then he stood up again and turned to the Chalice of Life and lifted it from the altar and raised it high above his head with both gloved hands.
Mr. Lever rose up from his pew and made his way toward Staley.
Staley turned to the parish.
Mr. Lever removed his pistol and aimed it at Staley’s heart.
Staley remained, unflinching, unafraid, holding the Blood of Sacrifice aloft.
And when Mr. Lever was at point blank range, three steps below while Staley held up the Chalice of Life, Lever pulled the trigger of his pearl handled revolver…
…but the bullet did not slay him.
Lever pulled back the hammer and pulled the trigger again and again but the spaceman did not fall. Lever backed away, helplessly, cautiously, but in complete shock and awe. The elite Overman suddenly looked frail and terrified and mortal to the undermen in the congregation.
Staley continued, unaffected by the bullets. “Lift up your hearts and release your minds from bondage. Do this, I say, and you shall be saved!”
Then Staley turned over the Chalice of Life, spilling out a fountain of blood which poured forth down the three steps and into the aisle and expanded as a crimson floodwater beneath the pews.
Nine of ten of the congregation fled in terror, making their way in a screaming panic down the center aisle and out the doors and into the dusty street.
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