Aphelion Issue 227, Volume 22
April 2018
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The Game Show

by Brendan Walsh

"Ms. Eop, your time is running out." The host was a placidly enthusiastic man. The kind the network recycled.

Ms. Ragde Eop looked around at the other contestants. Besides her, there were three others. One woman and two men. Their faces were perspiring, and one of the men was even crying. That's why the cameras only ever focused on either the contestant answering the question or the host whose smile was like a wooden stag with a rifle.

"Do you have an answer, Ms. Eop?"

She leaned forward into the microphone. Eop didn't know the answer, but considering how far ahead of the other three she was, she could sacrifice some points.

"The answer is the eighth quadrant of the Milky Way, otherwise known as the fifth Roman Empire, 5000-7345 A.D."

The host threw his head back to the main camera with a spontaneous jerk. "That is correct!"

A raucous applause filled the ears of everyone on the stage. Eop allowed herself a few safe breaths, but she could barely hear them because of the sobbing from the young man next to her.

"And with that correct answer Ragde Eop of Earth has propelled herself higher to the top!" The host really didn't have to specify 'of Earth' because all the contestants always came from the pale blue planet. The specificity was only a marketing tactic.

"Now, we're more than halfway through the game," the host continued. His glossy eyes watched two of the contestants like a goldfish in a bowl. "So those of you who are regular viewers will know that two contestant must now go home. Mr. Snekcid," upon the mention of his name the young human's sobs became audible, "and Mrs. Etnorb. I'm sorry to say to you that you will be returning to nothing but your families now, instead of your chosen 'lost' one. Mr. Snekcid, just to remind the audience and our fans elsewhere, can you remind us who you planned to free if you won the game?"

"My mother." he said, barely fitting each syllable between his blubbering. It was nothing the editing crew couldn't fix even on live television.

"Aw . . . well that would have been sweet. But since you lost, her cold, dusty remains will be returned to Xalis Gardens, meaning she will not be placed in the jelly pool."

At the end of his line, the host gestured to a coffin-sized tub that looked like a fish tank. This tub was the reason almost 300 billion sentient creatures from across the universe tuned in to the show. It's outside was translucent, giving everyone windows into the gurgling, glomping slush that poured in when a contestant had won. A tube connected from the lateral side would funnel clear jelly that looked like dried water. It sounded like the tube was digesting something, but it was actually doing just the opposite.

The contestant who won would get to choose someone to "free", meaning that they would restore life to someone they lost. Their bones and ashes would filter into the tub and the dry mucky sludge would fill it. What at first looked like hydrochloric dissolution turned into regurgitation as the dead human's body was restored, bringing them from the dead and turning them once again into a tax payer and a law abider.

And this wasn't going to be Mr. Snekcid's mother.

"And Mrs. Etnorb, who were you going to bring back?"

She was calm and had her hands at her waist. "I was thinking about Shakespeare."

"Ah! The great playwright! I see someone here was going for someone less personal, but more about the influence."

Choosing a non-loved one for freedom was not out of the ordinary. Many people who won chose figures like Oscar Wilde, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Vonnegut, and other prolific minds that lashed at their own contemporaneous societies. Why were they chosen so often by winners if they had already been brought back to life? Because they killed themselves. Multiple times. The lot of them would try everything in the book. Defenestration from a space ship, shot by a radiation gun, a hyper-microwave "accident", and just classic asphyxiation.

The last time someone revived Kurt Vonnegut, which was the fifth time, was two years ago, in the show's one hundred eighty-eighth season. His prior deaths, aside from his natural death millennia ago in 2007, were self-inflicted. The first four were a combination of intentional deaths from flying his private ship to conquered planets that were now bins for nuclear waste and an argon laser to head. The first was drawn out, but efficient. The other was like falling asleep, then waking up millennia later to realize his suicide was a failure again.

And every time someone brought back a philosopher or a writer back from the dead everyone expected them to idolize what humanity had become. They had done away with all that was pointless. Religion gone, moral duties shrunk until the only thing that was real was the human alone, and its infinite capacity. When Vonnegut learned of the brutal conquests through the galaxy that ended the peaceful powers of innumerable alien races, he just looked back at the man who revived him with the magic sludge and said, "For God's sake someone take me back to Dresden!" He killed himself later that day. After the first time, he still assumed he would stay dead.

But the disgruntled reactions from the historic icons never stopped people from bringing them back. Why? Because in the year 13978 idealism and nostalgia remained constant. Just like those in the French Revolution fancied themselves as sons of Rome and the Victorians rediscovered their more ancient greatness with Camelot stories, for years and years humans propagated the ideas of Bradbury, Vonnegut, Camus, and countless others to serve their needs, leaving them in earnest shock when those revived men and women were horrified at what mankind went on to do.

Eop knew all of this. That's why she didn't read. She knew she was reading what the state and its sponsors wanted her to read. There was nothing authentic in it anymore. It was what was left when imagination was flogged to enough of a juicy pulp that its original form could either have been a prince or a toad.

And it's certainly why Eop was playing in the game show.

"Now, we're stopping for a quick word from our favorite sponsors!" the host beamed. "But before we go, let's all say it together. Let's . . . Play . . . "

"FREE THAT CITIZEN!" the crowd erupted as the cameras paned to the two women on the opposite side of the contestants, waving shamelessly at the gliding camera.

Their job was to pick question categories at random for the host to read, and to look pretty of course. One was a human woman. She wore nothing but a low-cut outfit that cut less than halfway down her thighs. It was pinched into position by a breast that was impossibly organic.

The other was an alien from the planet Huile. It wasn't called that by the natives, but that what the first Earth merchants to set shop there referred to it as. Lots of blood spilled later, everyone calls it that. She had red skin and was completely naked. There was no policy of decency for aliens because they weren't considered human by any standard. Like people have no reservations of dogs and horses not wearing anything of TV, residents of planet Huile didn't need to clothe themselves.

They both smiled and winked at the camera, equally unaware of options for better lives.

After a couple minutes of paid pause FREE THAT CITIZEN returned.

"Oh, it's good to be back!" The host fondled his mustache. "As we stand, we have two contests left. There's the young Ms. Eop." The crowed clapped and she bowed her head. "And Mr. Namiag." Clapping again.

Namiag was an older man who might have been a grandfather. He had a receding hairline, but what was left was thick and hid the arches of his bifocals nicely. Eop didn't see any reason to detest him.

Their scores were Eop at 4490 and Namiag at 4349. "Considering that this game is this close," the host continued. "We will settle this with one last question, as our sponsor messages did last longer than usual. What can we say? We love money!" Again, there was applause and laughter.

On their cue the two women shuffled the categories. The Huilean picked out the card but handed it to the human. She didn't know how to read.

The Earthling smiled at the camera like she was a toothpaste model. "The category is . . . Botany!"

"Ah, always a rush of a category that is!" the host clicked a button on his podium and a codex of questions twirled on the big television screen on center stage. After the shuffling sound of the machine died a single question was left on the monitor. "The question is . . . 'In what year did the first group of earth plants develop enough sentience to be considered for state elections'?"

Namiag clicked the buzzer first.

"Mr. Namiag, do you have an answer?"

"No." he stuttered. "My . . . my hand jitters when I'm nervous."

"I'm sorry, but the rules don't account for accidents. You must give an answer."

"9 . . . 9880 A.D?" Everyone knew he was wrong.

"Ooohh, I'm sorry. That is incorrect. Ms. Eop, since Mr. Namiag got the answer wrong the question turns to you. When did earth plants first gain that level of sentience?"

Eop was mouthing options to herself. Her eyes moved in her skull as if she had just been exposed to another dimension of space. Questions in earth botany were never easy, as no part of it was still common knowledge. There were no more plants on earth.

"It's a trick question." she said at last.

The host raised a hand to his ear. "I kindly beg your pardon?"

"It's a trick question. It doesn't make sense." An awkward silence filled the studio. Eop found her thoughts were only half complete, but she was already halfway through her explanation before she even knew it. "Around the year 6000 seaweeds in what was left of the ocean first showed through measured chemical tests that they could understand and reply to human speech through a mega-psychological exam, but they were never legally considered for election in office, despite their capacity to memorized our law books, because people feared it would be a slippery slope to give them other occupations, and no one trusted a plant with money."

A dead, pale quietness was in the studio. The sound of the host's mustache twitching was louder than Eop's own breathing.

"That is correct!"

Whistles and the pounding of clammy palms reached their highest volume yet. A smile crept along Ragde Eop's face. It was over. She won tonight's episode of FREE THAT CITIZEN.

"What a show, tonight!" the host turned to face the jubilant crowd. "In 188 seasons, we have never had a trick question, and the first time ever it was effectively called out! Mr. Naimag, I'm sorry, but all your deceased citizens will remain that way. With a final score of 6033, Ms. Eop is the big winner!"

She gave a humble wave to the people behind her, keeping her hands tight across her breast in an unsuspecting manner.

"The moment has come! Ms. Eop, you brought with you the remains of a citizen you'd like to revive?"

"Indeed, I have. I signed the waiver, right?" The people laughed again.

"Would you like to tell everyone who they're about to see breathe again?"

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"Come again?"

"Jesus of Nazareth. You know Christianity?"

The host paused. He scratched his chin. Once again this was a first in the history of FREE THAT CITIZEN.

"Uh . . . Ms. Eop. You seem to not understand the rules of winning."

She moved her arms until they were clasped tight around her lower back. She was not about to have her hard work go to waste. "I've seen the show many times before. I know how it works."

"Then you should know that the citizen you revive must be a real person."

"Jesus was real. There's plenty of evidence for it. I'm a religion historian and an archaeologist. I know what I'm talking about."

"Okay." the host began to visibly sweat. He lightly giggled a few times, not wanting to lose his robotic persona. "Ms. Eop, are you a Christian?"

"I've been one my whole life." Some booing came from the crowd behind her.

"Then shouldn't you believe that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, meaning that there aren't any dead remains that we can revive?"

"Not necessarily. That assumption is rooted in the powerful influence of the Catholic church, one that fortified its power after dualist ideas of divinity were made commonplace."

She spoke without a stutter or pause. If everyone wasn't already rabidly rooting against her, they would have been impressed by her composure.

If the host had any once of a philosopher in him, he would have grabbed a chair and plopped himself down at Eop's side. Instead he still faced the crowd, pulling hair out of his mustache in frustration. The script never planned for something like this.

"But surely you don't mean to say that one can be a Christian while denying the divinity of the supposed son of God?"

"That's what I'm saying. Some early branches of Christianity denied Jesus was fully divine and a part of the Trinity. This is called Monism. We believe that the essence of the creator exists in the souls of everything. Human, alien, canine, fish, and stone alike."

"Yes. Amusing. So, who would be an example for a Gospel inspiration for this thinking?" The host was making a mistake. The network didn't pay him to think as originally as he was now on live television. They were probably signing his severance check right now.

"I would have to do a lot of reading, but I think that Tolstoy and Milton would be large inspirations."

The host had no reply, and the crowd had grown tired of booing, so Eop continued her explanation. "In his epic, Paradise Lost, Milton's monist views of Christianity can be found in a number of ways. Arguably in the way Satan is the poem's hero and how he portrays the holy angels as having intercourse just like people do."

"Isn't that heresy?"

"It depends on who is in power." she said. "Angels might don't exist in any spiritual realm. They are special and temporal beings just like us."

"And this nonsense you actually believe?"

"I've got in my possession what me and my colleagues believe to be the actual bones of Jesus, so I'm thinking I may have some evidence for that."

There was nothing more he could do. If they didn't get on with putting the ancient remains in the clear jelly pool, the next program would be delayed and everyone would be unhappy. Even the woman and the Huilean now didn't look like paid mannequins.

"Well, I guess that's all I have to say. Go ahead, Ms. Eop. The machine is all yours."

The metal airlock container that she held contained her and her scholarly associate's greatest findings wasn't heavy. The bones looked like what was left at the bottom of a box of cereal. Dry, crumbling bits of matter that were once a living breathing being were no different than a dust bunny. But somehow the machine with the clear goop knew the difference.

She poured the lifeless matter in the lateral cap, where the jelly was already pouring like a chemical river. She backed away after shaking the last crumb of it into the mouth, and the magic was already starting to unfold in the box.

Everything was going as always. No abnormalities. The water-colored muck gulped and surrounded the dust like a growth of bacteria, swallowing it and keeping it tight like a fruit pit in its center. After a series of grumbling, digesting sounds, things started going more of script.

The bone dust expanded in the goop. The water jelly's density would make a flinging mace look like a ping pong ball, so seeing tiny bits of aged calcium break through to all corners of the tub was impossible.

"Dear God!" a crowd member shouted.

"What is happening?" another.

"I want my money back!" more than one of them.

"Shut the machine off!" the host bellowed.

But no matter how hard the attendant flicked the switch on and off, the chemical change was happening. In another moment, the bone bits were dissolved into the jelly, like a solar fusion process, and in their place was pure energy. Energy existed long before matter. When the universe still had millennia of cooling to accomplish after the Big Bang particles were moving too quickly to become gas, liquid or solid. Energy was the original status of the universe. But in a universe that had so much solidity, a molecule of matter, with the right amount of power, could become energy once again.

Eop knew that this is what was happening. Whether Jesus was the son of God or if there even was a god was not of wholly strict importance to her. But Jesus, to her, was a man of enlightenment. Someone who's teaching could help guide the fallen man back to his original state of paradise prior to evil sin. She believed matter becoming energy was the best way to achieve enlightenment. It was something material becoming as least material as possible. It was a return to the archaic. Is was to truly become one with the universe.

She wasted no more time. She dashed over to the gurgling tank and jammed her arm into the mouth where the remains had been deposited. This was her dream. Real knowledge.

"Ms. Eop!" the host rushed over and started tugging at her free arm, but she wouldn't budge. "Ms. Eop you can't do that! Something's gone wrong with the jelly!"

"I know!" she shouted. Pain enveloped her, but only for a moment. Her arm dissolved quickly in the tank from the incredible heat contained in the goop. Just like the bone dust, the machine began swallowing her. She allowed it. "I can see it all now! I can see everything about where we all went wrong. My dreams. The truth is in me. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all about it!"

Even if she wanted to, she couldn't tell them without having their own bodies end up as hers was. Bit by bit the machine sucked her whole body in until there was nothing left of her. The program went on hiatus until the cleaning crew was sure that the device was spotless and there was not an atom of Jesus or Eop left in there. But no matter how hard they tried they could never get all of it. And the show went on as always, with a new host, and people got brought back to life and paid taxes and obeyed laws and all that. But every time a dead citizen was given another chance at life, their body contained a little bit of the atoms of Eop and her Jesus.


2017 Brendan Walsh

Bio: Brendan Walsh lives in Glendale, California when he is not at college in Ohio. His first novel, The Raven Gang, is soon to be published with Ramesses Publishing.

E-mail: Brendan Walsh

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