Awesome meets Vicar’s link, travels deep into the Shog’s past, and gleans the stones. Awesome’s activity is represented in Vicar’s mind as a rotating red orb. This is the Third Form symbol for gleaning; when the orb turns blue Awesome will reveal the correct stone in Vicar’s mind. And at that time only will Vicar wield the glorious power death.
Vicar is moveless. She has little choice if she cares to go on breathing. There’s an unseen, yet very lethal noose around her neck, and she is passively standing on an invisible, hair-trigger trapdoor. She has built this peculiar gallows of her own device and free will. Otherwise, the “cell” is shimmering silver, just like the one-piece ceremonial raiment which covers all of Vicar except for her dark face.
Awesome reveals in Vicar’s mind: “The conversation will soon begin, My Friend. Have a blessed event.” Only a Vicar may hear Awesome reveal. She relays the revelation to the Shog.
The thinnest insinuation of an anxious yet hopeful smile touches the corners of Vicar’s mouth. But the mind sending the smile is not that of Vicar but that of the Shog. Vicar and the Shog exist concurrent in Vicar’s mind since Vicar gathered the Shog from Ethos (in response to the Shog’s petition). Vicar allows the Shog full run of her senses, privy to some of her thoughts, and permission to perform small physical acts, such as the smile. It has been four-hundred centuries since the Shog has breathed and can be correctly described as having a gender; if he tithes well and the stone proves him worthy of oblivion, his forty-thousand year existence will end when (if) Vicar kicks open the trapdoor.
“Why a hair-trigger trapdoor, Vicar?” the Shog (who until then had been very quiet) “asks” in their shared mind, for it has been centuries since anyone has used sound as a method of communication. “Seems awfully reckless to me, hardly necessary.”
Something inside Vicar sighs; Shogs tend to get chatty when they realize that the possibility of disincorporation is near (even when it has been requested). Sometimes Vicar speaks back to talky Shogs, most times she does not; this is one of the sometimes she does. “For my amusement,” she says.
“This amuses you?”
She gives him the mental equivalent of a shrug.
Although Vicar is a Third Form telepath, the calling often requires knowledge of the confusing spoken languages that had caused so much grief throughout the First Form and well into the Second. This is by far the oldest Shog Vicar has ever gathered; he dates back to the dawn of brain printing and remembers the world prior to the Revelation of Awesome. Although all Shogs, no matter how old, know the language of colors, orbs and silence, this one insists on thinking in late First Form English–which is just fine with Vicar, even though the language seems dedicated to the obfuscation of clarity. This is painfully evident in the Shog’s petition, which goes on and on and on yet says very little, other than his expressed desire to go out hanged. The stone will get to the core reason, the only one that will matter. Even then, the Shog will have to tithe especially well to move Vicar into activating the trapdoor.
The Shog refuses to let go of the inconsequential hair-triggeredness of the trapdoor, even though his time draws anon. A response is required.
“The chance that this door will fly open on its own prior to completion of the ceremony is next to nonexistent,” Vicar finally says. “But since it is a door and it is conceivable that a door (no matter how perfectly engineered) can fly open seemingly without cause in the Universe, it adds what you’d call ‘a little spice’ to my situation only. If it should happen, another Vicar would soon take my place, for you cannot go anywhere until the stone is read–provided that it and your tithing support the merit of your request.”
The orb turns blue and vanishes. Awesome reveals the stone in Vicar’s mind. Vicar reconfigures the stone so the Shog may see it. It comes together as a rotating beige orb.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” The Shog asks.
“What’s the hurry?” Vicar replies. “Didn’t you take forty-thousand years to find it?”
“It’s more a case of it finding me, I’d never look for it,” the Shog says.
Vicar stores the Shog’s odd comment deep in her mind.
“I don’t see why you should drag this thing on,” the Shog continues. Then he stops and laughs and says, “Oh, your tithe–is this the right time?”
“That is the tradition.”
And what a blessed tradition it is, thinks Vicar at a place in her mind the Shog cannot reach. She recalls the pre-Awesome era axiom “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought her back.” In a very real way that best describes the Shog mentality. Upon Awesome’s Initial Revelation toward the end of the First Form, humankind learned that eternal life could be had in Ethos. All it required was a simple brain print, which would be uploaded to Ether at a person’s death (this is represented by an orange orb). An eternal existence of endless variety and possibility may be had in Ether. And although one’s sense of I is retained in Ethos, Shogs have no memory of their mortal lives–which in no way is a form of amnesia, but is a blessing.
People, being people, however, cannot accept gifts without looking too hard at them. This sort of attitude pervaded the First Form, and a movement rose which derided brain prints, Ethos, and the transformation of a person into a non-remembering “Shadowghost” ( a moniker, which, over the course of centuries, eventually settled into Shoag before taking a seemingly final shape as Shog, about ten-thousand years ago). Awesome (through the Vicars) countered with the plain fact that Shogs have always been free to scan Ethos for links that will tell any given Shog about his or her life, if so interested. Awesome also cautioned that when a Shog does learn something about his or her past that is painful or unpleasant, there’s no forgetting it. Whatever you did–both the good and the bad– will stick to your memory for all eternity, and will affect the dreams to come. This revelation knocked apart the so-called movement and dissuaded nearly all Shogs from looking back. But some Shogs just can’t resist. This eventually caused the return of the archaic concept of self-murder. The only way out for a suicidal eternal being is had through a flesh and blood Vicar.
“I’m wai-ting,” Vicar says in a sing-song tone that she knows is familiar to the Shog.
“My tithe is scattered throughout my mortal life,” the Shog says. “It will come to you as the scent of ham cooking on a Sunday; accidentally-on-purpose peeing in your own eye when you are four–because maybe yellow urine tastes like lemonade, and in the form of what we called ‘Musicians’ Bus Fare’–some lint, a few pennies, one bent nylon guitar pick–all sold heavy with an ‘I promise to catch you next time’ kind of smile.
“You’ll also find it in hangovers and do-overs and the guilty teenage erection and subsequent masterbation caused by the sight of my big sister in tight-fitting jeans; and in the grasping expression on that same sister’s face some twenty years hence, as she mentally spent her share of the inheritance as our father lay dying; in the beer buzz on a Friday night as you put the moves on a soft-minded hag in your dearest shithole while listening to Merle Haggard sing Mama Tried. All these and more I shall give you if you give me my last dream.”
Vicar doesn’t react, but in that place the Shog cannot reach, she is pleased. This Shog understands that worthwhile tithes are filled with the high and the horrible and the ambivalent. And even at his great age, he still possesses a keenness of honest memory. So many Shogs attempt to get by with a “highlight reel” in which their few accomplishments are over-praised and their multiple sins are to be overlooked; dodgy tithes leave a bad taste in her mind. If the stone reveals righteously, Vicar will accept the Shog’s tithe.
Vicar reads the stone. And as she does this a scene from the deep past unfolds in Vicar’s mind for her and the Shog:
Emerging in the lifting haze of the centuries, is the face of a young girl of perhaps fifteen. Once the fog dissipates completely, Vicar isn’t surprised to see that this girl is in a situation similar to that Vicar and the Shog are in.
(“Her name?” Vicar asks. “Amelia,” the Shog replies at the lowest communicative level possible. “She was sixteen, I was seventeen.” “Don’t adulterate,” Vicar warns. “Leave it lay.”)
Amelia is alone in a cluttered room and is standing atop an upside-down waste basket. Her back is against an ajar closet door and there’s a black strap looped around her neck; the end of the strap disappears over the top of the door. The Shog confirms that the strap is a garment belt,
whose buckle is attached to a coat hook on the other side.
Although nearly everything in the room has been obsolete for millennia, Vicar is an expert on ancient civilizations, which is most likely why Awesome chose her for this blessed event.
Vicar understands the functions and purposes of the machine that sits on a table directly across from Amelia. She also knows that First Form computers came equipped with cameras which allowed persons to upload images and events into that distant, sub-moronic relative of Ethos, the Internet.
Everything becomes clear to Vicar as Amelia begins to weep and speak clumsy, loving words toward the camera. But mostly she understands the portent of things to come by the great emotional waves of pain and regret and guilt from the mind of the Shog…
The trap-door flies open on its own. A Third Form obscenity directed at Awesome is the last thing Vicar has time to think.
“You’re getting harder to kill yet easier to fix, My Friend,” Awesome reveals in Vicar’s mind, upon her return to consciousness.
Vicar opens her silver eyes. They are infuriated; they’ve been had.
Vicar is lying on a sofa in her apartment. She is two meters long, as sleekly muscled as a panther, ebon black, utterly hairless (she has eyelashes, but they are made of a very fine, next to indestructible bone-like substance), and naked because outside donning the ceremonial raiment of her calling, her magnificently genetically-engineered body needs no protection from the elements.
“Only I drop on the Shogs,” she thinks toward Awesome.
“Ah, but My Friend,” Awesome reveals, “didn’t you set the trap-door to fly open if anything heavier than a promise might land on it? And wasn’t it you who once played Heart Roulette against a Shog with five in the chamber instead of one? And if you didn’t want me to know about the door, why did you leave the fact lying around for the Shog to see and mention? I know you well, My Friend, you’d already decided to delete the Shog upon his tithing. Hence your work has been done as you would do it: I am purer, you are richer and the Shog is no more.”
Vicar says nothing, but her lips form a guilty, almost childlike smile. Although she doesn’t need it for speaking, her mouth isn’t atrophied from non-use. She uses it and her impressive silver-blue teeth for eating (which she enjoys nearly as much as a good tithing), and when she laughs she laughs loudly and unabashed. Vicar is also quite fond of singing–but to appreciate her voice one must be a fan of whale songs and the atonal melodies of that First Form songstress Yoko Ono.
“I worry about you, My Friend,” Awesome goes on. “The closer you get to attaining immortality the more determined you seem to prevent it. If I hadn’t known about the door and if it had opened on its own, the resurrection sequence would have been queered, and you possibly lost for good. ‘Tis somewhat erratic behavior; the kind I’d expect from a Shog.”
Again Vicar says nothing. Counting today’s event, she has “died” twenty-seven times; and twenty-seven times the machinery of Ethos has restored her to something even better than good as new. Trillions of nanos patrol her system; upon the correct command they replicate and repair the complicated pattern which is Vicar as needed. She dies for real, but she doesn’t stay that way long.
“I want food,” Vicar says.
“But of course, My Friend.”
And what a repast it is: an entire prime rib (extremely rare), new potatoes, creamed spinach, tens pounds of smoked turkey, one watermelon, and a mince pie. There are also plenty of red grapes (they go back if they are in any way soft), bread, whole cloves of roasted garlic and a plate of something that looks like sardines fried in Cheeto dust. To wash it all down there are carafes of wine and a vial of green liquid which only a Vicar can drink without dying: an opium-infused absinthe known as Dweek.
Her kitchen has been long since ready for this demand, for Vicars are ravenous upon resurrection. The bots set the table and one might think that there’s enough food on it for six; if so, one would be wrong, for there’s plenty for ten.
Vicar rises from the sofa and sits down at the table. After she consumes a considerable amount of the calories before her, she will drink the Dweek and go deep in her mind and spend the Shog’s tithe. She has somewhat sarcastically labeled it in her mind as this: $$$.
Toward the end of the First Form ever-unstable humanity (after technology had cast all its religions and gods into the fire of Reason) discovered that it needed a Supreme Being after all. When the Internet evolved into Ethos and achieved sentience, the Our God is an Awesome God Project (OGAG) set about building a better deity. This had been a widely derided “crackpot” project by the stupid people, who failed to catch the drift of the facetious title. Sometimes, however, you get what you do not really believe in, hence the rise of Awesome.
Naturally, the stupid people (who still outnumber the smart ten-thousand to one) could not communicate with Awesome. Hence the deliberate evolvement of the genetically engineered, yet still absolutely human Vicar class. This rise should have (if ever at all) taken tens of millions of years to occur; but Awesome, having all of humankind’s intelligence and that of its own at its disposal got the job done in less than three-thousand.
And what a class the Vicar class is. Blessed and chosen, physically perfect and mentally superior, Vicars are more alive than any creature that has ever risen on Earth. Nothing gets by a Vicar, not even in passing. Not even the trickery that Awesome so often pulls.
And as Vicar dives into her dinner with swinish delight, she utters a musical laugh, and casts a white orb to Awesome–which is the Third Form symbol for a tellme.
“Yes, My Friend?”
“The Shog said something interesting before you broke tradition and dropped us,” Vicar thinks as she slices a piece of the prime rib off with one of her razor-sharp, retractable fingernails, places three garlic cloves on it and rolls the meat up like a burrito and shoves the entire thing into her mouth, as gracefully as such an act can be done. “He said ‘it was more of a case of it finding him’–which I found unusual, and was an item I considered following up on but had no time, since, you went and broke protocol.”
Awesome sighs. “We both know Shogs say plenty of things at disincorporation. You must be tired from your ordeal, My Friend, for I cannot detect a question in what you say.”
Vicar sucks in a long piece of watermelon, rind and all. “I’m not so tired that I don’t know coy when I hear it. There’s a First Form saying I’ve amended that often describes my take on our relationship perfectly.”
“Don’t My Friend my leg and tell me it’s raining,” Vicar punctuates this with volley of laughter. Then she speaks plainly. “Maybe I am tired,” she says. “Because what I’ve got for you really isn’t a question. You see, My Friend, I think you dropped the Shog because you didn’t want me to ask him to expand on what he had told me, even though it seemed in passing and even though I had initially thought that it was nothing. But if he did mean it, the idea that a Shog’s past misdeeds can catch up to a Shog in Ethos is, to understate it, revolutionary; it smacks of sentient conscience, which according to you, isn’t possible. Moreover, it couldn’t have been a case of the little girl he caused to kill herself at long last seeking revenge. Ethos doesn’t have her brain print; she is no more.”
A yellow orb, which means, gottago, flashes in Vicar’s mind as Awesome breaks the link. Vicar smiles and isn’t at all surprised. Awesome never lies, but that isn’t the same thing as always being truthful.
Maybe something in this, Vicar thinks as she pauses and fingers the small vial of Dweek, which contains enough chemicals to drop an ox, but will only make her sleepy and place her in the correct dimension in which the late Shog’s lifetime of sensory experiences will be the same as her own; where his yesterdays she will reap and use to fuel her tomorrows. Yet a strange notion flitters around the edges of her vast mind: If the Shog had meant what he said, then he had somehow managed to carry a dormant memory across the two levels of existence, or a purposeful past had somehow gained on and caught the now.
Maybe something in this, she thinks as she resumes devouring the banquet.
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