The holographic sign read: "Access Restricted to the Technology Priests. Trespassers will be prosecuted." But Aerius didnít care. A reckless, mischievous boy of 10, heíd never much cared for the rules his parents or the Technocrati imposed. He opened the access console and began hacking his way through the meager security barricades, somehow sensing and manipulating the code without effort, subconsciously, naturally. You heard about it everywhere now, kids being born with a transcendent affinity with technology, code, electronic realities; almost akin to our inborn predisposition to language, they said. Of course this only strengthened the view that the ruling Technocrati, and everyone else for that matter, already held: that the universe was, in some form or another, a technological, engineered construction, conveyed to its myriad, self-conscious parts through electronic codes. It was the way the Engineer had designed things, so it was only natural that the children would begin to relate to this reality innately, from birth, as society became ever more technology-driven, moving increasingly close to the Engineerís true design, recreating their world after his mechanistic, meticulous blueprint.
In seconds Aerius had broken through the fragile security blocks, and the door hissed open. Behind it lay the old, crumbling stone walls and rotting wood doors of an authentic Anglican church, buried here under the peopleís new church (the Center for Information Dissemination, or CID), the ancient soul of an age long ago crushed under the magnificent weight of the pistons and gears and metal of this era of technology.
Teklus was a more than a little distraught. His son had slipped away while heíd been occupied for just a moment, and was now running amok somewhere in the CID. Heíd thought this "Take Your Organic, Mechanical or Synthetic-Organic Child To Work Day" (the Technocrati were very sensitive to all the modern definitions of Ďchildí) was a great idea. Aerius was a rambunctious boy, uncontrollable it seemed, and Teklus had hoped that showing him the perfect order and efficiency of the CID might instill some discipline and sense of place. Teklusís procreation partner and his other children were all perfect; his familyís development and expansion were as clockwork, but for the one faulty cog that was Aerius.
He paced to and fro in his small office, agitated. Suddenly a voicestream was heard in his mind, relayed by his cerebral implant. "Sir, weíve just detected a security breach. Could be your son." "Where?" he thought, his implant relaying the question to the operator. "Down on B-37, sir. The ruins." No one had ever been down there; no one even knew those ruins, and thousands like them, were buried under the foundations of the megalithic arcologies of now. Too afraid to behold them, too in awe to destroy them, the Technocrati had simply built their majestic creations around and above the ancient temples and cathedrals, concealing them and allowing time to erode that which they despised but were too afraid to confront. The War of Faith was long past, its stories and heroes decayed to myths and legends, the stuff of folklore, but a personal battle of Faith was about to begin.
ē ē ē
Aerius dug his feet into the filthy ground and pushed with all his might on the great rotten doors. Finally, after hearing various creaking and snapping sounds, he managed to push one of the doors open just enough to squeeze his slender body through.
What he beheld, faintly illumined by the bloody stream of red utility light that forced its way through the crack in the doorway, shocked him. He seemed to be staring at an ancient, miniature version of the main hall of the CID that he had passed through only minutes before. The ceiling was arched and high, beautiful stained glass lined the walls, and rows of benches filled the place from end to end, room for several hundred people at least. The thing that struck him the most--besides the fact that that the entire structure was built from stone and wood, inefficient, unreliable and fast-decaying materials--was the strange icon at the far end of the building, shaped like a letter Ďtí. He walked fearfully toward it, his every footstep a thunderclap in the hollow darkness of the church, and saw that a man hung from the Ďtí, a look of agony on his face, a ring thorns around his head. In the CID hall, the hallowed emblem of the double-helix, key to life (on Earth, at any rate) hung in this foremost place of honor, front and center.
He gazed into the painted, sculpted eyes of the man on the Ďtí, designed, he noted, to appear forlorn and forsaken. He did not understand what the image meant, why it must have been revered and loved, why there had been a War over such a silly-looking thing. And then something compelled him to look and down and to his left, and he saw that small blue books (something he had only ever heard about in his Educational Institute), all alike, were lined up neatly, prophets awaiting the return of their followers, in thin racks along the back of the benches. He took one and walked briskly back to the doorway to read in the rubicund light.
What he read truly astounded him. The Engineer was given a name... and even a gender. And ĎHeí favored some over others, interfering directly in the affairs of homo sapiens. A few minutes later, after having used his genetically enhanced speed reading to assimilate and memorize the book, he sat in awe, running it over and over in his mind. And suddenly his father appeared with two CID security guards outside the moldy wooden doors.
He had only enough time to glance for a moment at the distant figure hanging sleepily on the Ďtí before the men had crashed through the door and dragged him out of the church. The image would not leave him, even as his father beat him, the way the figure appeared only to be sleeping, waiting patiently and passively to be reawakened.
ē ē ē ē
Aerius sat immobile, apprehensive in a chair in the CID Managerís office, as did his father. The Manager paced angrily around the spacious chamber, frustrated, at a loss.
"Security breaches," he began, halting suddenly and clasping his hands together tightly, so that his bony old knuckles became white, "are regular, with children these days.
"We couldnít stop this new... talent," he spat, obviously not the word he would have liked to have used, "from developing, even if we tried. The Coordinators even insist that we encourage it... I suppose in the long run that makes sense, but itís creating chaos in our Order at the moment. Breaches in the stock market, the banks, Coordinator databases, are all commonplace. But this... inexcusable. Religion was very nearly the downfall of mankind. No one ever enters the churches. It is our most rigid rule. The prohibition of Religion is what holds our society together, what allows progress and expansion to continue. If it were up to the priests of Faith weíd all still be down here pretending the stars didnít move, instead of colonizing them."
"The Bible seems pretty harmless to me," Aerius said, finally speaking up, interrupting the old manís rhetoric.
The Manager strode over to him, towering above, and demanded sternly: "You read the book?"
"Yes," Aerius replied, a little less self-assured, rubbing one of his feet with the other, his hands hanging awkwardly at his sides.
The Manager knelt down, putting his hands on Aeriusís knees. "That was a very bad idea, my boy. Let me tell you something about the Bible. It is a meme, and a dangerous one at that. You know what a meme is, donít you?"
"The psychological equivalent of a gene: a self-replicating idea, thought or ideology," Aerius said, regurgitating his classroom definition.
"Thatís right," The Manager said, patting Aeriusís knee gently. "And that book is a particularly nasty kind of meme. You see, itís like... well, you know what a computer virus is like, donít you?" Aerius nodded, knowing well. Heíd coded a few himself. "Thatís what religion is like, my boy." Aeriusís father nodded in agreement. "Itís a parasitic, self-replicating code and it exploits the presence of machinery designed to recognize and obey codes and patterns. This machinery," he said, smiling and tapping his temple with his index finger. "And once they get going in there, they poison the whole system. It takes over your body, my boy. You begin to feel that everything the meme says is true, that everything contradicting its declarations must surely be false, no matter how logical or how much evidence there is to support it." Aeriusís eyes were growing wide now at the thought of losing his logic and rationalism. He felt fear; but also another force, comforting him, assuaging his angst.
"Oh, it gets much worse my boy," The Manager continued. "Once youíre under its control, you start trying to convince others of it... it wants to propagate itself, you see. And if others donít agree with you, youíre prepared even to kill them to further the memeís growth. All over totally irrational, backward ideas, my boy! Thatís the power of the Religious memes. Thatís how the War of Faith began, how mankind almost came to an end. You understand, donít you Aerius? You know that Iím correct?"
Aeriusís father was glaring sternly at him, compelling him to say "Yes" and end this humiliating affair. And Aerius wanted to say yes, wanted to agree and accept what he always had, but something in him was different now. Something, he felt, had been sleeping, and was now awake.
"Youíre wrong," he said, staring The Manager straight in the eyes. "Itís true, there is some kind of pattern in it, something I canít quite make out, but thereís more to it than just that code. Thereís something... truly divine about it all..." His fatherís face sank visibly, started to blanch at the pure insanity, utter blasphemy his son was uttering so defiantly. "There is heart in those beliefs... purpose above and beyond the logic we have always been taught," he concluded, somewhat distant. He was speaking as if automatically, without thought, The Manager perceived, as if... from the heart.
The Manager shook his head sadly, gravely, and turned to Aeriusís father. "Iím sorry, but itís too late for him... it has already taken hold. Regrettably, weíll have to follow the standard procedure for meme infection." Aerius, registering the look of horror on his fatherís face, became paralyzed with fear.
"What are you going to do?" he wailed. Two CID security officers entered suddenly, restraining him, and escorting him out of the office.
"Complete erasure of the episodic memory," The Manager began explaining to Aeriusís father as they led his son away. "Iím afraid itís the only way to be sure!
"But donít worry," he said, patting the man on the shoulder warmly, "all basic motor skills and autonomic conditioning will be retained. Just the memories of childhood, emotional encounters, family members and such will be lost. Heíll still be able to become a functioning, productive member of our Order."
"Well, thank The Engineer for that!" Aeriusís father exclaimed, greatly relieved. "Thank The Engineer for that..."
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