Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

Ultimate Divinity

by George Schaade




This was an important day for the All Powerful Being. It marked the four thousandth year of his reign and a turning point in the deity’s Grand Design. For over a decade his subjects had prepared for a celebration that would last the whole year. Lifetimes of faithful devotion, dedicated worship, and selfless giving would culminate in a millennial festival commemorating the rule of the Absolute Master.

“All is ready, Lord,” said Mateo, “I’ve personally inspected the stage, the lights, and the broadcast system. The entire planet awaits your message, Holiness.”

The Divine Leader looked down on his High Priest who was clad in the green and gold robes that denoted not only his position but also the millennial celebration. His white headdress was studded with diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires that formed the circular symbol of His Greatness.

“You’ve done well, Mateo.” The Almighty God had taken the shape of a gigantic, white wildebeest with coal-black eyes. “Is the security in place?”

“Yes, Holiness,” Mateo lowered his eyes and spoke with hesitation. Though he had served his Lord for many years, he was always afraid of provoking God’s ire. “Will the heretics protest?”

The All Knowing paused which caused Mateo to tremble, but God was only structuring his answer. “The resisters will sew their discontent, but they will fail to subvert my message or change the path of the Grand Design.”

“A blessing to all,” chimed Mateo.

“It’s time. Prepare the assembly and begin the ritual.”

The high priest bowed deeply and backed out of the immense dome facility that served as home for the Almighty. As he emerged Mateo was immediately surrounded by his deputies who anxiously awaited the commands of His Holiness. Mateo quickly reviewed their duties then sent them to their stations.

After a short walk he found himself standing alone high on the edge of a giant stage. Mateo took a long breath and gazed on the sea of people that stretched across the valley. To his left was an expansive tent city that had been erected by the million-plus pilgrims that had travelled long distances to receive the blessing from the Almighty. On his far right Mateo could see various carnival rides and a number of vendor booths. In front of him was a multitude of followers. Many of them had devoted their entire lives to this event. Mateo was overcome by joy. A tear ran down his cheek as he signaled for the children’s choir to begin the Chant of Providence.

The crowd quieted when the children moved to the center stage. Many in the congregation that were far from the stage turned to the jumbo screens to see the faces of the singing children. Most could not hold back their tears when the solo singer hit the final, soulful note. After the children finished, a deputy priest led the crowd in a ritual liturgy in which everyone professed their devotion to the Divine Lord and his Grand Design.

This grand gathering wasn’t happening in just this one location. There were celebratory events around the planet. A second priest introduced video broadcasts from these locations. As each new site was announced and shown on the screens, the crowd would launch a cheer which was soon returned by the distant assemblage. The broadcasts didn’t end with the Earthly locations. Congratulations from the space station and the moon bases were followed by pre-taped transmissions from the Mars colony of New Bismarck and the Chronos IV spacecraft headed to Titan. With the videos finished it was time for Mateo to speak to the crowd.

“Blessings to all!” Mateo waited for the applause to die down and said, “Four thousand years ago the Almighty Being, the Ultimate Divinity, the Infinite Truth, our World Spirit came to us with his Grand Design. He offered us peace, stability, security, and a future. We thereby committed ourselves to faithfulness, service, and unwavering trust in the Lord. By following His path mankind has advanced from the Earth to the stars. Give praise to the Lord and His Grand Plan!”

Mateo raised his hands to the sky and the crowd fell silent. Everyone looked into the clear, blue heavens and saw a small white cloud appear that then began to grow. Suddenly bursting from the billowy cloud was a colossal translucent hawk. The impossibly majestic bird circled twice then landed on the stage. The hawk looked from left to right, carefully eyeing the crowd and its surroundings. The stage’s audio system was turned off as a deep, bass voice boomed from the sky.

“Lo, the walls have fallen and the firmament has opened. The Grand Design has taken us from the shadows to the stars. Mankind moves forward. Listen to the word and obey. I am pleased.”

The hawk-like God again spread his wings, leaped into the air, and soared just above the crowd that whooped and cheered, but just as they turned to follow his flight the Almighty Deity vanished. The cheers quickly changed to gasps of astonishment and at that very moment thousands of acolytes emerged from the sides of the multitude and began handing out booklets proclaiming the vast accomplishments sponsored by His Holiness and projecting his goals for the future. For a short time the people milled about as they scanned the booklet, then they began making their way back to their tents or toward the carnival area. As Mateo watched the crowd file out, he was approached by Archpriest Turtek.

“A flawless ceremony,” said Turtek, “but I expected the Almighty to say more.”

Mateo smiled at the Archpriest. “It’s important to maintain the mystique of his Holiness. The more that is said, the less mystery there is.”

“How will you celebrate this great day?”

“I want to change into a commoner’s clothes,” said Mateo, “and walk through the crowd at the carnival. I want to feel their excitement and hear their words of praise for the Lord.”

Turtek was surprised. “You won’t have any guards with you? What about the heretics? They could attack you.”

“I doubt that anyone will recognize the Lord’s High Priest strolling amid them. As for the dissenters, they’re too involved with their petty schemes of revolt to concern themselves with a priest of the Almighty.”

In his private dressing room Mateo changed into plain khaki pants, a white peasant shirt, and a floppy, gray-brown, felt hat. He checked his attire in the mirror before slipping out a side door and making his way behind the stage to the carnival area. As he neared the entrance the crowd began to grow, so he pulled at the brim of his hat.

At first Mateo was fearful he would be recognized but he began to relax when he fell into a rhythm moving with the flow of the crowd. Soon he was enjoying himself as he walked past shops and stalls selling candles, ceramics, books, and clothing. He paused occasionally to watch fire-eaters, rope walkers, jugglers, and magicians. He was having fun.

After passing several food vendors, Mateo was drawn to a small side stage where actors were performing a comedy skit. It took him a minute, but soon he understood that the play was about a town priest who had fallen in love with a local girl. The dialogue between the players centered on innuendos and double entendre that evoked loud laughter from the audience. Mateo was annoyed by some of the crude jokes, but he was deeply offended when a garishly dressed character blundered awkwardly onto the stage. The actor was obviously meant to represent High Priest Mateo. After more risqué conversation between the actors, Mateo felt like storming off, getting the Almighty’s guards, and shutting down the performance, but while he was watching the show the crowd had packed in tightly around him.

Suddenly Mateo felt a sharp pain in his left arm. His body jerked and he quickly turned to look face to face with a large scruffy man. Mateo tried to speak but nothing came out of his mouth. A couple of black dots floated into his vision and soon spread across his entire field of vision. The man on his right grabbed Mateo’s arm just as he collapsed into unconsciousness.

 

******

 

Mateo was swimming in darkness, but when he finally opened his eyes he was punished by a harsh, bright light. He immediately squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head away. When he ventured a peek through squinting eyes, he could see that the darkness surrounded him, and the dazzling light was hanging above him. He was sitting in a large wooden chair but when he tried to stand he discovered that he was tied down. As his head cleared, Mateo realized he had been drugged and kidnapped, but why and by whom?

A distant scrapping sound caught his attention. The echo of the sound told Mateo that he was in a large building, possibly a warehouse because the floor was concrete. He tried to look in the direction of the sound, but the darkness gave no clues. The scrapping was slowly getting closer and closer. Mateo knew the gradual nearing of the sound was meant to heighten his anxiety, but knowing that didn’t diminish his fear.

The scrapping stopped just outside the circle of light. Now the silence and the anticipation added to his fear. A moment later a small, dark woman dragging a metal folding chair entered the light. She opened the chair, sat, crossed her legs, and stared at Mateo, who simply stared back.

“He’s crazy, you know,” said the woman.

Mateo was confused. “What?”

The woman was silent for a long time then said, “There was a time when he had the greatest mind in the universe, possibly in all the universes.”

“I don’t understand,” Mateo replied. “Who are you talking about?”

She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “Your God, Mateo, the ultimate divinity, the all-powerful being, his holiness, your Lord, he’s insane.”

“You’re a heretic.”

“I’m chaos, I’m freedom, I’m humanity, I’m entropy, I’m possibilities,” she leaned back in the chair, “but you can call me Bella.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I don’t expect anything from you,” said Bella. “You’re not going to believe anything I tell you. I’m a heretic, right? But you were brought here and tied to that chair because I want you to hear what I have to say. I want you to hear the truth and maybe, just maybe, it’ll make you think.”

Mateo slumped back in the chair as Bella began.

“Your god arrived four thousand years ago, but did you ever wonder where he came from, or even if he existed before then? You refer to him as omniscient and omnipotent, yet he doesn’t know your thoughts or he would have squashed you like a bug for the blasphemous things that have passed through your mind. And if he was omnipotent he could eliminate the heretics with a snap of his fingers. No, Mateo, your Lord is not a God and in the back of your head you know it. Oh, sure, he can change his body size and shape; he can fly through the air and explode in radiant colors, but that doesn’t make him a God. Now I will say he’s smart, really, really smart, but he’s not an almighty deity.”

“Four thousand years of history answers all of those questions,” said Mateo, “I could quote you…”

“You’d be quoting canonical gospel and inspirational stories,” interrupted Bella, “all of which were written by your Lord. That’s not history.”

Mateo was angry and strained against his bindings. “That’s blasphemy! How dare you deny the magnificence of the Grand Design! It’s shaped the destiny of humanity for millennia.”

Bella was surprised by the fire shown by Mateo. She stood up, crossed her arms, and began pacing near the edge of the light. “I’m glad you brought up the Grand Design, and, no, I don’t deny its importance. In the beginning I was totally behind the plan. It seemed like a great idea.” Bella spread her arms above her head. “Take mankind to the stars! Humans exploring the galaxy! Settling planets everywhere! It all sounds wonderful, but what’s the purpose? Is it because we better leave before the sun explodes and humans become extinct? Maybe there are other civilizations that we need to make contact with?”

“There’s nothing wrong with those things.”

Bella walked up to Mateo and looked him in the eye. “There is one thing wrong with it. Four thousand years of humans on this planet and not a single one was asked what they wanted to do.”

Mateo’s face went blank. He immediately grasped the direction of the woman’s argument. It was an approach he hadn’t considered before.

“Ah, I can see you’ve never thought of that,” said Bella, “It’s not surprising to me. You and your kind have been bred and groomed to ignore it.” She straightened up and again began to pace. “Yet this isn’t the reason I say your God is crazy. Think about it, Mateo. He’s suspicious and even paranoid, not only of heretics, but people in general. He thinks there’s some kind of conspiracy against him. I’m sure you’ve noticed his erratic behavior, like today when he was suppose to give a long, detailed sermon but cut it short and flew away.”

Bella returned to her chair and said, “The best evidence of his insanity is right there in your own heart. You’re afraid of him. You’re deathly afraid of him. That’s because you can sense his anger, and his depression.”

As he listened, Mateo hung his head. “He didn’t used to be like that,” said the High Priest, “The Lord used to be talkative, energetic, and social. Most of all he was focused on the Grand Design. But lately… I don’t know… You’re right, I’m afraid.”

“He’s changed because we’re near the end.”

“What do you mean?”

Bella stood and raised one hand. Suddenly all the lights in the building flashed on. Again, Mateo was momentarily blinded and turned away, but as his eyes adjusted he could see that he was indeed in a huge warehouse. Behind him were the two men who had abducted him from the fair. They must have been standing in the shadows all this time. Then he realized that he had raised his hand to shade his eyes from the light. The bindings were gone, completely gone. He looked beside the chair but nothing was there. He quickly stood up for fear the ropes would somehow magically return.

“What did you do?” exclaimed Mateo.

Bella smiled as her body slowly changed from solid to translucent. Soon Mateo could barely make out her image at all because the light was so diffuse. This effect lasted only a moment as she returned to solid, now in the form of a black and white tiger. Then the tiger began to grow until she was five times larger than a normal tiger.

Mateo was shocked and speechless. He just stared at the tiger that had once been a small, dark woman. Bella looked down at him and understood his confusion.

“No, Mateo, I’m no more a God than your Lord,” said Bella, “He and I can do these things because we come from the same place.”

“Where?” whispered Mateo.

“We’re from the future.” Bella sat with her paws perfectly placed in front of her.

“How can that be?” asked Mateo.

“Please sit down,” Bella said. The two shadow men put their hands on Mateo and steered him to the chair. “Very, very far in the future humans will evolve to a point where they can leave their physical bodies and become virtually immortal entities with powers that you’ve seen demonstrated by your God and me. It was believed that a physical body is subject to injury and dies too young, while discorporation gives us an endless amount of time to look inward and discover what it really means to be human. Your God was a leader in this scholarship, and I was his disciple. In time his research led him to recant this belief. And he saw discorporation and immortality as unrewarding and intellectually a dead end for mankind. He then set his great mind to find a solution.”

Mateo quickly grasped where her story was leading. “And the solution involved the two of you returning to the past, or more precisely, four thousand years ago, so you could change the course of mankind’s future.”

The giant tiger that was Bella leaned forward until she was so close to Mateo that he could feel the warmth of her breath. “Very good, I’m impressed! I can see why he picked you for his High Priest. Yes, you’re right. The solution became the Grand Design. He led you to the technological innovations that have taken you to the moon, Mars, and now Titan. Soon you will expand beyond the solar system.”

Bella paused as her tiger form became translucent and soon reversed the transformation back to a woman. “Your Lord served as the instrument of order by being the religious leader, while I took the role of chaos and rebel. Order and chaos must always balance each other.”

“So from the beginning it appeared the two of you were opposed to each other but in reality you were working together.”

“Yes, but our goal was always the Grand Design.”

Mateo began to stand, then stopped and looked at the two men.

“It’s okay,” assured Bella as she motioned to him, “Come along. Let’s go for a walk.”

They headed across the warehouse toward a large, metal door while Bella explained, “A couple of decades ago, we discovered that we didn’t have eternity to direct the Grand Design. We learned that one of the effects of going back in time is that you can only spend a limited amount of time there, then you must return to when you started.”

Bella stopped and looked Mateo in the eye. “Our time here is running out. Your Almighty Lord and I are about to disappear and never return.”

Mateo turned pale. No one had ever lived without the Ultimate Divinity to guide them. He gave them purpose, consistency, and inspiration. What would mankind do?

“Once he realized the problem,” continued Bella, “your God began to distance himself from me, and his actions became stranger and stranger until he went crazy. He began believing he really was a God. Right now he won’t even let me talk to him. He’s even set up a resistance barrier that keeps me away. I know that if I could just talk to him for a few minutes I could get him to think clearly again. That’s where I need your help.”

One of the shadow men stepped forward and opened the metal door. As they moved outside a cool breeze brushed Mateo’s face and he saw the sun setting. He wasn’t sure where they were but he could hear the faint chants of distant believers reciting the evening prayers, so he knew they weren’t far from the Lord’s dome.

“What do you want me to do?” asked Mateo.

“If you let me hide inside your body, I can get past his resistance field,” said Bella, “I know it sounds creepy, but you wouldn’t even know I was there and I’d only stay inside you long enough to get near him.”

“Now it sounds sinister,” said Mateo, “You’re not going to do something to him, are you?”

Bella lowered her head. “Please, Mateo, the end is very close for us. I want to be with him when it happens and I want him thinking in a rational way, like he used to. Will you help?”

It was a difficult decision for Mateo. He had worshiped and served the Almighty for his entire life and he had only just met this woman. Yet her arguments rang true. He had noticed the changes in his God, the mood swings, the anger in his voice, and the illogical decisions. Then it dawned on Mateo. He was no longer thinking in terms of the Ultimate Divinity, but instead his thoughts were about a God.

“Okay, what do I have to do?” he said.

Bella took one step toward Mateo then vanished. Mateo spun around but the woman was gone along with the shadow men. The High Priest put his hand on his chest and wondered if Bella was now inside of him. He felt no different. He headed off to the Almighty’s dome, confident that he had made the right decision.

As he entered the dome he saw the All Powerful in the shape of a giant, white cobra. The old fears returned but he found the courage to move past them.

“Mateo, there you are,” said the Lord, who paused and moved a bit closer. “Wait, I sense something different. What is it?”

Before Mateo could speak, Bella appeared and stepped in front of him. At first the Lord was confused and his cobra image began to strike Bella, but he stopped just short of her.

He puzzled over her for a moment then cautiously said, “I know you.”

Bella smiled. “Yes, my love, we’ve known each other for a very long time. Look inside my heart and mind. You can remember all that we’ve been to each other. You’ll remember our mission and our fate. Look deep inside me and remember.”

The white snake twisted and spun on itself then shrank and changed into the form of a man. The man moved closer to Bella and stared into her eyes.

“Oh, no,” he said, “what have I done? What have I done?”

“It’s going to be okay,” said Bella.

“But the Grand Design… the future? What will we do?”

Bella took his hands and smiled. “We don’t have to do anything. Now it’s up to Mateo and the others.”

A sparkling aura surrounded Bella and the man. Their images turned white and then transparent. A few seconds later they disappeared. And in that moment there were no gods and mankind was free to seek its own future.

THE END


© 2022 George Schaade

Bio: George Schaade is a former teacher that has been writing science fiction, fantasy, and humor most of his life. He loves exploring the quirks of human nature and pushing the boundaries of his own imagination. His stories often have an unexpected twist or a shocking ending.

E-mail: George Schaade

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.