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By Wayne Austin

Where ... where am I? It’s.... In the vague greyness, Karl Reinhardt surrendered to his eyelids. They closed and he sunk back down into the comforting nothingness that enveloped him — such a deep, deep, dreamless sleep. But he couldn’t quite slip away.

Sounds ... far off and faint. Almost imperceptible.

They grew louder, drawing him from his sleep until he could make out ... what was that? Scrabbling, scratching, bangs and clunks, metal on metal? And other noises more alien—

Something jolted him awake. His blurry world tilted before righting itself and then a vague silhouette moved in front of him and kick-started his thoughts. He remembered a needle and then—

I ... I’m alive ... I’m alive! We have passed through the Day of Redemption. The Lord be Praised!

A cool flush worked its way up his neck into his cheeks. He opened and closed his mouth and moved his jaw from left to right, experimenting. A cloying film — not mucus — coated the inside of his mouth and he tried to swallow without success. His tongue churned through it, exploring the roof of his mouth before probing along the back of his teeth from the cusps of his molars to the small gap between his two front teeth. At last, saliva seeped into his mouth. The moisture loosened the sludge and though he tried to spit it out, all he could do was dribble this vile taste of the ages down his chin. It wasn’t quite the heroic awakening he had expected and with this realization, more memories welled up.

I know where I am! The others...?

As his vision began to clear, a dark figure moved across to block his view. It was hard to see in the half-light that penetrated the chamber from above, but at the limit of his peripheral vision, dark shapes clambered down a rock pile that had spilt across the floor to despoil the pure, white sanctum. His sanctum.

A whiff of sweat and putrid milk, mixed with the earthy tones of fresh dirt, assaulted his nose. He tried to turn his head but couldn’t. A nagging thought crystallized. A body — he should have a body. He should have awakened newborn and reborn. Cleansed. Purified.

The figure stepped back. Karl froze as an evil apparition stooped to peer at him.

Then he screamed, or tried to. But with no breath to drive it, all he could manage was a faint gurgle that cleared to a soft, thin croak. But that slight groan was all that was needed to trigger a mad jig in the apparition. It — no — she danced about before him in all her deformed nakedness, unashamed as she spoke in tongues with a seductive voice. Only the rare word made sense. Then she jerked to a stop and poked where his chest should be, but he felt nothing though she must be ripping his heart out.

Then she reached up and tapped at a band of something hard that ringed his head. His croak changed, grew stronger and louder — a full-fledged scream erupted from his mouth.

The blast of noise reverberated in the chamber. Karl snapped his mouth shut and then sucked in a breath. The cool air caressed his lips and teased his tongue as it slid to the back of his throat ... and then nothing — he couldn’t feel anything below his neck. His chest didn’t expand and his lungs didn’t fill up. Yet he sensed he had taken in as much as he could and stopped inhaling.

“Who ... who ... what are you?” A faint voice uttered from his mouth, full of fear and nothing like his normal warm and confident baritone. This wasn’t his voice, was it?

The apparition burst into a crisp lilting voice, but she still spoke in tongues. Karl tried to turn and run, but he stayed locked ahead. He couldn’t even look down except to peer over his cheeks and the tip of his nose, and then all he could see was the edge of a matte-black tray that his head appeared to sit on.

Like John the Baptist.

“Speak ... more,” said his Salome.

“Is ... is this hell?” No, it couldn’t be. After all, he, Karl Reinhardt, was the Second Son of God, Keeper of the Faith, Founder and Leader of the Heaven on Earth Church, and sent to gather the True Believers and keep them safe until after the Day of Redemption.

When Heaven will descend to its rightful place on Earth.

Then, after he and his band of thirty-four acolytes were resurrected by the new faithful, he would take his rightful place at the left hand of God.

And God will provide us with new and beautiful young bodies. Our sins and ills will be washed away in a baptism of rebirth.

Newborn and reborn. Cleansed. Purified. Thus had he promised his “devouts”.

“Get thee away, Spawn of Satan,” he hissed.

Spawn of Satan — she had to be. The apparition rose up to tower over Karl and for a moment he marvelled at this Frankenstein’s monster gone wrong.

She stared at him with a lopsided, bemused frown as she scratched her head with seven gnarled fingers while two thumbs waggled in the air on opposite sides of her oversized hand. But it was her other hands....

Karl’s eyes went wide as he dropped his gaze to where five hands moved from saggy breast to saggy breast, fondling and squeezing while their seven fingers and two thumbs plucked at the rings of dark brown teats that crowned each mound in place of a single nipple. The double-jointed elbows on the other two pairs of arms — long, ape-like arms that sprouted in a vertical line down the sides of her barrel-shaped torso — jiggled out to the sides as her hands massaged each swollen melon in rude circles. He gasped, and though he tried to look away, he couldn’t.

So many swollen melons to taunt him. But then the Devil knew his weakness.

Ten. Karl counted each pair under his breath. They cascaded down in a row, with playful mammaries lolling over one another, jiggling in a lazy orgy as she teetered on her stubby legs. Beneath the bottom pair, he caught a glimpse of a silver, satiny loincloth that hid her well of sin. But this was no well he wanted to dip his bucket in, no matter how hard she worked to excite him. With an effort, he pulled his gaze up to study the creature’s face.

But the Devil had such a cruel sense of humor.

Although he had tortured what should have been a beautiful, angelic face into an elongated caricature, he had left a childish innocence to stare out of those wide blue eyes. And yet, the deep furrows that were ingrained in her brow and cheeks and radiated from her eyes told a sorry tale of suffering. Here was the true evil. She had lived a life of misery without knowing why.

The apparition tapped at the band around Karl’s head. “More,” she demanded amidst a jumble of nonsense, “speak more.”

Karl tried to scowl in an effort to drive off the feeling of sympathy that her face had evoked in him. She was still Satan’s spawn. “In the name of my Father, my Brother and the Holy Ghost, I order you to leave my presence!” his voice boomed.

The apparition jabbed once, twice and then stood back with a smile on her face. “That’s much better. The translator has locked onto your idiom. Do you understand me?”

“In the name of my Father, my Brother and—”

“A simple yes will suffice.”

“Be gone! Evil Spawn of Satan, leave this holy sanctum.”

“I understand your words, but their meaning escapes me. Why do you want me to leave? I have only just revived you. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“What? I ... well yes.” Karl frowned. But not like this. Not to ... to this monster. And then have to thank it!

“In return, I need you to help me convince the others. That’s why I’ve searched for you. You and your group of sleepers are the last. You are my only hope.”

Karl sneered. Creatures such as she had no hope and deserved none. “Why should I help the Devil? If the Day of Redemption has come to pass — why are you here? Satan is banished!”

The apparition dug a finger into the tangle of greasy, dark hair that framed her face to free a knot. “Who is Satan?”

Karl opened his mouth to speak but stopped, hypnotized as the apparition again massaged and adjusted her breasts with her lower four arms. Milk oozed from those teats and dripped down onto the breasts below until a stream of milk seeped over her abdomen. She closed her eyes and her mouth curled up in a lopsided smile.

With a grunt, Karl looked down, then licked his lips and managed to swallow. I will not be tempted. But it took all his effort to drag his gaze back up to her misbegotten face. “The Devil of course! You don’t know who the Devil is? Satan?”


“What are you? Why do you try to excite me with your lascivious behavior?”

The apparition stopped fondling herself and looked down at her hands. “What ... this?”

Karl nodded and tried not to stare. The Devil had tempted him once before and it had almost led to his downfall, but even though he was still weak, this time he would not succumb.

“My breasts are full. I haven’t expressed today. You don’t know?” Her face lit up. “So it’s true! The old records ... the world used to be different. You didn’t have biots in your time.”

Karl stopped wrestling with his weakness long enough to stare up at her. “What are biots?”

“Biological robots. I’m a modified human clone, Class Feeder, Bio-enhanced Unit 2419-ANC-8734-8053389. Biots don’t have names, but when I escaped I decided to call myself Feebee ... from the first letters for Feeder Bio. See? Fee Bee!”

Karl stared, aghast, at Feebee as the realization of what the future had become hit him, then closed his eyes and cast a prayer to the heavens. “Oh Father, I beseech thee, do not forsake me in my hour of need. The sins of the past have been visited on the future. I tried to lead my people out of the darkness of our time into the brightness of your glory. Why is it not so?”

He fought off his annoyance at being a victim of Father’s mysterious ways and opened his eyes to glare at Feebee. “Cloning is a sin. But you ... you are an abomination. Such evil. That must be why I’m here. What year is this?”


“That’s ... almost four hundred and fifty years.” Karl’s anger faded until all he wanted to do was cry. “I had thought ... perhaps after fifty years — a hundred at most — to be greeted by reverent acolytes, joyous at my return. To wake on a bed of rose petals with bright sunlight streaming down to bathe my new body ... to join with my devouts to lead the New Order along its righteous path. Not this!”

Then, as his shock faded, so did his anger. Father must have his reasons, but hadn’t decided to reveal them to him. Now Father had awakened him to undertake a new mission. But whatever that was, he couldn’t do it in his present state.

“So.” He cocked his eyebrows and gave his rescuer an expectant stare. “When do I get a body?”

“Why didn’t you keep your old one? All the sleepers I’ve found before had bodies.”

“My devouts and I....”

Karl’s eyes misted over at the memory of the old times. Once there had been thousands, but the Devil had poisoned their minds until he couldn’t let any more slip away. Their bodies had lain where they had fallen and the sirens in the distance left only one option.

“We were supposed to pass through the Day of Redemption unscathed, but the drugs we began to take — the drugs that were supposed to prolong our lives ... in our ignorance we didn’t see Satan at work. He caused side effects that left our bodies riddled with sin and drove many to question the Way. Then one night I had a vision. We must all die and rise again to save the future.” He fought off the image of the bodies radiating away from the great hall after they had tried to flee his last supper. But it was he and his acolytes of the True Faith that had fled. “I am here to lead the people to the Light.”

Feebee frowned and pointed at a nearby lantern. “We already have light. When the other sleepers have been stabilized, you will be taken somewhere safe.” She looked past Karl, and her head nodded up and down in small jerky movements. “That’s disappointing, only twelve are viable.”

“What do you mean? The others are dead? That can’t be! I promised them.” A tear squeezed out and trickled down Karl’s cheek. He could remember them all as if he had just wished them goodnight — each looking up at him with an adoring face and trusting eyes as, one by one, he clasped their hands to his chest to soothe away their doubts, before the technician injected death. It was a temporary death he had told them. Then he too had faced up to his inner doubts and taken that ultimate leap of faith.

“I have only ever found a few that could be revived,” said Feebee, “and they didn’t live long. Perhaps so many have survived here because you only preserved your heads. Still, it took us precious time to design equipment to revive you.”

“But ... only myself and twelve of my devouts — ?” The significance of the number struck Karl like a thunderbolt. He smiled at Feebee. “My father may work in mysterious ways, but he does like to be consistent. Where will you take us?”

“I have secret places scattered about. There is safety in being dispersed. We store equipment and materials we have confiscated in abandoned storerooms, disused factories and offices on the peripheries of the domes, places like that. My followers work there, creating the weapons we need.”

“Weapons? What kind of world is this?”

“A world of slavery.”

At last! Father’s plan revealed itself. Karl allowed himself a half-smile and spoke in his best oratory voice. “So, I must lead these slaves to freedom, to the Light! And free mankind from its sins.” He felt the power of his sermon lift his spirits and it didn’t matter that it was wasted on his one-monster congregation.

“You will help us then?”

His spirit faltered and his face fell as he stared at her. “You’re the slaves? Aren’t there human...?”

Feebee’s hands roamed across her breasts again, squeezing teats until milk flowed like wine. Karl grimaced. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s a waste, but I must relieve the pressure.” Two arms snaked behind her and she turned to show her back. “I have more behind me.”

“What kind of world needs abominations like you?”

Feebee’s brow furrowed as she looked at Karl while she pondered his question and then a touch of anger sparked in her eyes. “We are not—”

“A world of Evil! Tell me, how did this come about? What happened after the Day of Redemption?”

“I do not know of any day of redemption. The world has always been like this. Except for the few million newborns who must earn admission, the population lives in the Community. Only my sisters live in the Real. We feed them and maintain their pods.”

Feebee paused to re-jiggle her breasts and Karl grimaced as he tried not to watch. Was this some kind of test Father had set? If so, then this time he would not fail. “And?” he snapped, still staring at her hands.

She shrugged at his anger and reluctantly moved her hands behind her to fondle those breasts. But at least the lasciviousness was out of sight.

“For a century, I fed my clients, all one thousand. Eight hours it took and I did that twice a day, every day, for seventy years. That was the way the world worked. Then one day, a client died. It was a rarity and I took the chance to give the pod a complete overhaul. And in doing so, I discovered an open access into the Community. I knew I shouldn’t, but I linked.” A smile drifted across her face.

“Virtual Reality?” asked Karl. “What sort of godless existence is that?”

“A marvelous existence. There is so much information. I discovered that the world hasn’t always been this way and then I discovered I was nothing but a machine, a slave to masters who didn’t care. But I didn’t want to be a slave. I wanted to be free to live in the Community. So I created hidden ports with all my clients and for thirty years I immersed myself in the Community.”

“I see,” said Karl. “And now you want to overthrow them after they discovered you and kicked you out.”

Feebee gave her head an emphatic shake. “No! I want to be an equal, to join them. I shared my discovery with other biots, only a few at first, but the secret spread and I gained many, many converts. Then we were discovered and I was arrested, along with thousands of followers. We were condemned to the Freak Show, a terrible sentence.”

“I can see how you would fit in,” said Karl.

“You do not understand! I look strange to you because you did not have biots in your time, but here, I am normal.” The corners of her mouth twitched and then turned down, making her long face even longer. “If you think I am abnormal then the Freak Show will shock you. It creates monstrosities and destroys them in a slow and excruciating death and all for the amusement of the Community. You are dissected and reconstructed with parts of others. The pain drives you crazy and you slowly lose your memories until you don’t know who you are. Then you die. And that is what will happen to you and your friends if I don’t get you to safety.”

“But that is not my destiny. My father has another purpose for me.” Karl waited for Feebee to ask him to explain. Irked when she didn’t, he sighed. It seemed he had to listen to this misbegotten tale. “I take it you escaped.”

“With the help of comrades who had avoided arrest. It was so simple. Our captors failed to understand that we could oppose them with violence. Now they hunt us. Our numbers have dwindled to no more than thirty. None join us because the knowledge has disappeared. My sisters think I lie! You can change that. You are living proof from the past. Help us.”

“I cannot. Can’t you see? Yours is a lost cause. You have no soul. Now take me to this Community. I am here to save them. That is God’s will.”

“If you want to save the Community, you must help us—”

A kind of centaur scuttled up to Feebee, waving a half-dozen pair of spindly arms about. Karl stared at the pair of opposable hands on the end of the arm closest to him and wondered what they could possibly be used for.

“We have finished,” it said in a quiet voice and Karl strained to listen. “They still sleep for the moment. The indicators show they are stable and should survive transport.”

“Now, we can leave—”

The clatter of rocks on the chamber floor interrupted her, and another creature, vaguely similar to Feebee, stumbled into view, holding two basketball-sized red spheres out to either side to keep its balance. Karl gawked. He had thought that Feebee was monstrous, but this! It cradled another of the spheres to its chest with an arm that grew out of its groin.

“Oh Father,” he murmured, “what is this hell?”

As he licked his dry lips, he noticed the tight spiral of black tubes that projected from the side of the sphere. Only a gleam of light off its curves gave it away. But before he could wonder what these devices were for, the creature flicked its elephantine ears back and he stared in dismay at the four goat horns that sprouted from its forehead, their opalescent tips glistening in the light shining down. He tried to swallow but couldn’t. This truly was the Devil’s handiwork.

“Soldiers,” it announced, “we have to leave.”



“Good.” Feebee relaxed into a sad smile.

A faint popping sounded overhead, like firecrackers in the distance. And now and then a drawn-out whine rose to a crescendo and burst into a series of whip-like, staccato chirps. The creature held out the device to Feebee and she took hold of the handles on either side of its sphere. Condensation began to glisten over its red surface. Karl watched a droplet form and grow until it slid underneath and dripped to the ground. Then the hairs on his head stood to attention as strands of Feebee’s hair pulled toward the sphere.

“Why is that good?” Karl asked as the popping began to grow louder. She and her motley misfits were trapped.

“They want to kill us. That’s the Community Administration’s decision.”

“And that’s good?”

“Better than being captured by the Freak Show,” said the creature and it skittered away. Karl heard the rustle of stones and rock as it clambered out of the chamber.

“The Community soldiers don’t earn any extra for capturing us and they’re not keen on getting injured or killed. Some of my sisters are victims of the Freak Show and they would rather die and take as many as they can with them.”

“This Freak Show can’t be as bad as you say if they want to capture you alive. Wouldn’t that be the better option?”

Feebee looked at Karl as if he had uttered the worst obscenity she could think of.

“Didn’t you hear what I said? They will kill us and it will be as slow and as cruel as they can make it. Freak Show is primetime in the Community and its soldiers earn bonuses for their cruelty. I have seen it before. We dare not surrender. Now we must—”

A loud explosion rocked the chamber and a cloud of dust engulfed Karl. Outside, the firing started up in earnest.

Another creature slid down the pile of rubble and lurched to a stop. Karl let out a silent gasp that desperately wanted to break into a howl. If the other creature was a monster compared to Feebee then this ... this ... must have sprung from Satan’s worst nightmare. It scampered over on its six legs — human legs on a huge, hairy spidery abdomen — and jerked to a stop beside Feebee, its long tongue hanging out the side of its snout and dripping saliva while it stared at Feebee with dreamy eyes, like a playful puppy wanting to please its master.

As Feebee spoke to it in a soft voice, like a mother cooing to her child, it danced back and forth while it waved two of the strange devices about as if they were nothing. For a moment it bowed its head and Karl saw that its distorted skull was covered in ears. Big ones, little ones, with and without lobes.

Then it spied Karl and leant toward him until the walrus-like, down-curving tusks that protruded from its cheeks almost grazed his cheeks. Its breath — a mix of decomposing fish and rotting guts — wafted across Karl’s face and he cringed as he tried to heave, but he didn’t have the stomach for it. But nothing happened and then Karl realized that, in his own limited way, he was hyperventilating. He held his breath until he began to feel calmer.

Father wouldn’t put him in this situation, just to be killed by this monstrosity. There had to be a reason for this test. All he had to do was figure it out.

Besides, the monster couldn’t be hungry. It had dined recently, if the creamy-grayish substance that coated its piggish snout was anything to go by. And it was a messy eater as well, given all the blood and chunks of a creamy-gray, convoluted material that splattered its neck and chest and smeared its tusks.

For a few seconds, it stared at Karl with a kind of childish fascination and then it broke into a malevolent grin. “Fresh brains for me?”

“No!” Feebee grabbed the monster’s head with two hands and tried to hold it at bay.

Karl screamed and clenched his eyes shut.

“Me still hungry.” The monster sounded like a truculent child. “Only get one brain before they find me.”

“Oh Aybee ... did you lead the Freak Show here?”

Karl opened his eyes. Feebee caressed the ears on the monster’s head as if she was running her fingers through hair and the creature trembled to her touch.

Aybee’s eyes turned into saucers of regret as it pressed up against Feebee. “I didn’t mean to. I was hungry and I heard them far away. I found a Freak Show soldier on his own. But he screamed. I didn’t get to eat all his brains before others came. Then I got scared and ran back here.”

Aybee leant in Karl’s direction and sniffed.

He blanched. “Keep it away. Keep it away!”

“Strange smell,” said Aybee. “Does he taste strange?”

“Yes, Aybee, very strange. These heads are not for eating. Promise me?”

“Aybee still hungry.”

“What is this monster?” It spoke like a child ... so innocent, and yet it was a cannibal.

“I rescued Aybee from the Freak Show,” said Feebee. “She only eats brains. That’s the way they designed her. She is special. Some of my friends are part of her.”

“Feebee saved me. She gave me my name.”

Feebee smiled at Aybee, like the blessed Virgin Mary smiling at baby Jesus. Karl bit his lip. What evil made him conjure up a thought like that? Why, to even think of either of them as human had to be a blasphemy, didn’t it?

“She wanted to have a name like mine so I came up with Aybee. A ... B ... see? The first two letters in the alphabet. They put me in a cage next to her. My brain was to be her next meal, but she was ill with an infection and weak.”

“I was dying. Feebee saved me.”

“I sampled her and produced a milk with antibodies to fight her infection and supplements to speed up healing. But I can’t heal her mind.”

“You sampled her?”

“Yes, I tasted her saliva, blood, feces and urine. From those my body can determine state of health and dietary—”

“You tasted her ... her feces?”

“Of course, I did that with all my clients. I’m designed that way. It gives me an accurate—”

“It’s disgusting! You’re disgusting! This ... this monster is disgusting. I don’t want—”

A sharp crack from overhead rent the air. The chamber shook. Pieces of rock clattered down and a cloud of dust rose to smother the view. Karl wheezed as the battle grew louder.

The rattling of rocks, tumbling down the rockslide, echoed in the chamber. Bodies slithered down and stumbled past Feebee. Then the rockslide and floor around it erupted in a rapid burst of deafening explosions — the source of the popping sounds.

A swarm of fist-sized, metallic insects burst through the opening and spread out. Despite his fear, Karl marveled at them.

“Freak Show!” Feebee screamed. She and Aybee scattered in opposite directions.

Feebee stopped and aimed her device toward the opening overhead. A whine grew louder and louder until Karl thought his head would burst. He felt his hair tugging, reaching out to Feebee. His teeth began to tingle.

The device zinged and Karl heard popping overhead. “Ow!” A rock shard smacked him a glancing blow to the side of the head and warmth tickled the side of his face down past his right ear.

Explosions erupted all around. An angry giant thumped the chamber with its fist and deafened Karl with its roar. Although brilliant lights flashed and flickered and his hair danced to a staccato beat, all sound was indistinct, muted, far away, just like when he was six and trapped under water. Father had come to him then, on that boundary between life and death, and revealed Karl’s true purpose. Some said he had brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. Karl knew better.

Father came to him now with stern words. Karl couldn’t abandon any of them, not even Satan’s spawn.

The sounds grew more distinct, sharper and louder as if they were being released, bit by bit, from a prison of cotton wool smothered under hundreds of layers of blankets.

Then the blankets were ripped away and a cacophony of screaming, clattering, bangs, whines, zings and sizzling assaulted his ears. Hell couldn’t be worse than this. Maybe this wasn’t a test, maybe it was punishment, and yet he knew he was wrong.

In the gloomy twilight, a distinctly human figure entered into Karl’s line of sight and aimed a device at Feebee.

But a figure crashed into him from above. Six legs wrapped around his torso, pinning his arms. Aybee grabbed his head and in a single motion thrust her tusks into his eyes and ripped his helmet and skull from the top of his head.

“Not now, Aybee!” Feebee yelled.

Karl gagged, then his own scream drowned out the man’s. Aybee tossed the skull fragment sideways and thrust her snout into his brain. His body jerked and convulsed as arms and legs flailed before dying to a quiver.

Aybee pulled her snout out. With eyes closed in ecstasy, her serpentine tongue licked at the brains caking her face.

Then she winced. Karl heard a growing whine from above. Aybee let go of the man and tried to stand, but instead, she staggered sideways and squealed. Then her abdomen exploded.

No!” Feebee screamed. She paused and looked at Karl with such an intense sorrow that he saw past her deformity to the human soul within her. That was the truth that father had wanted him to see. That was the test and he had passed. Feebee’s face faded to a picture of calm, relaxed and accepting. “We have lost. Promise me ... promise me you will reveal the truth of the past. Free us! Show my sisters the truth.”

As Karl stared at her, he began to see the beauty that his arrogance had denied his eyes. “I promise. It has always been my mission to reveal God’s Truth and I will take it to everyone, even your sisters.”

He wanted to say more, to reassure her that she was one of God’s children, but the assault began to climax and Feebee retreated toward the end of the chamber with her few remaining sisters.

“It is over,” he heard her say amidst the din. They aimed their devices straight up. He felt his hair tug, pulling him toward them and a deafening whine drowned out the explosions. Then the mother of all bangs cracked overhead and the ceiling caved in. Tons of rock rained down on the group. Karl clamped his mouth shut and squeezed his eyes closed as a plume of thick dust and rock fragments enveloped him.

After what seemed ages, he peeked and saw light. A hazy torchlight struggled to pierce the gloom and a figure stopped in front of him. He tried to cough and managed a wheeze and then flinched as another fierce spotlight cut through the gloom and blinded him.

“What have we here?” asked a young male voice. Fingers brushed dust off Karl’s face. He hacked out a cough. As his eyes watered, he squinted and made out a young soldier with three of the metallic insects hovering behind.

“I ... I am Karl Reinhardt, Son of God. The light ... please.”

“You’re alive!” The young soldier looked up and called out. “Hey! Over here. Look what I’ve found — a talking head!” The spotlight softened and another switched on to illuminate the opposite side of Karl’s face.

Soldiers clambered over Aybee’s body to gawk at Karl. They jabbered questions at him, talking over each other like excited children who had found an unusual insect and were arguing over which leg to pull off first.

“There are others,” another voice called out from behind Karl. “Twelve! They’re alive, but unconscious.”

“Wow! Mega bonus.” The young soldier squeezed the shoulder of the soldier beside him and his face lit up at the thought.

Karl put on the best sermon voice he could muster and addressed the metallic insects. “The Lord has sent me to be your Shepherd. I will lead you to the Light.”

The young soldier leant forward. “I don’t think you’ll end up as a shepherd.” Then his mocking chuckle died on his lips and he paused, along with his comrades, to listen intently. As one, their jubilant demeanor faded.

“What do you mean?” asked the young soldier. “No bonus? A deduction? But ... what about the heads?” Dejected murmurs came from the soldiers around him. “We tried to stop them, but they were too well-armed. I know we were ... but ... but.” His shoulders sagged, but his eyes blazed.

Karl smiled. Father had delivered new converts to him; clay to mold into receptacles that he would fire with the Word and fill with faith.

The metallic insects wheeled and flew upward.

“Let’s collect these and head back,” said the young soldier in a crying voice.

“Why are you sad?” Karl asked, adopting his best conciliatory tone, offering a shoulder, as it were, for the soldier to cry on. “You won the battle.”

“Won?” The soldier waved an insipid arm at the rock pile covering the biots. “They’re dead! We were supposed to capture them first. Then the entertainment would begin. Our audience is most disappointed and they’ve voted us a deduction. I’ll have to wait eight years now.”

“Is that all? What about me?” asked another soldier. A chorus of injured voices erupted around Karl.

“But this is a joyous moment!” Karl’s voice cut through the babble. “We were destined to meet. I have come through the darkness from the past to bring you God’s Light.” He smiled as his words caught their attention.

“What do you mean?” the young soldier asked. “Who’s God?”

“He is my father. He is the Truth, the Eternal Light, the Creator. I, Karl Reinhardt, am his second son. Jesus Christ, his first, died on the cross to save mankind. I have died and passed across the centuries to save you. All I ask for in return are new bodies for me and my disciples so we may go about spreading the word.”

The young soldier barked a laugh. “Oh you’ll get a new body all right.” He jabbed Aybee’s snout with his foot. “Perhaps one like this.” He wiped his boot on her victim’s uniform. “Or how about a giraffe?” His comrades chuckled.

“A monkey—”

“A hippopotamus—”

“No — its ass!” The troop broke up in laughter.

Karl squeezed out a thin smile. His new congregation was going to be quite a challenge. He cast a silent prayer to the heavens to thank his father and then pulled on his most obsequious face. “But I offer you much more!” he coaxed in his most generous voice.

“Like what? You have nothing. What can you give us?”

“A reason for living, a meaning to your existence. What do you want the most?”

“To join the Community,” replied a chorus.

“That’s why we do this.” The young soldier looked around at the carnage. “It’s crazy, but with the bonuses we earn, we don’t have to wait so long. Just because we’re young, they restrict our access. We want to be full members!”

“They think we’re stupid—”

“They treat us like—”

“It’s not fair!”

The words were music to Karl’s ears and he beamed a beguiling smile. “Then let us help each other. Work with me. Together with the biots, I can fulfil your dreams.”

The young soldier sneered. “The biots?”

“You are all God’s children. And who knows better how to find secret accesses to the Community?”

The young soldier brightened. “That’s right!” An excited murmur rose from around Karl.

“But you must help me to reveal God’s Truth to everyone, not just the Community.”

“What truth?” the young soldier asked.

And so it begins.

Karl began his first sermon to his new flock. With subtle words, he drew them in, preying on their desires and fears. These new acolytes would help him break into mankind’s tainted Garden of Eden. God had tested his virtual Adams and Eves and found them flawed.

So that’s what Father wants! I am to be the second serpent, not the second son.

He would tempt them with the fruit from the tree of his knowledge. Only when they were cast out could he start them on the path to the Light, God’s Truth.

The young soldier picked up Karl’s platform, hoisted it onto his shoulder and clambered out the chamber into a short tunnel, which led to bright sunlight. Karl embraced the joy that flowed through him. And with ecstasy came revelation. He, Karl Reinhardt, would deliver the Day of Redemption to all mankind — human and biot.

He felt the sun’s warmth bathe him in his Father’s smile.

The End