“You came here to kill God?”
Pastor Hasan Abidi asked the crazy question with the posed nonchalance of a man who knew when to keep cool. The unstable giant standing on the other side of his desk in the office of the sleepy little suburban Evangelical church could snap his skinny, sixty-three-year-old neck with two fingers. Hasan knew the brute, in a manner of speaking. He knew he wouldn’t hesitate and he knew why.
It was an even-keeled May afternoon in the middle of the 21st century. Lemon-hued sunlight splashed across out-of-print theology texts and dusty hymnals as orchestras of unidentified birds whistled their tuneless, hypnotic compositions just outside the open window. Roses and honeysuckle exhaled their sweet perfumes, tempting the old pastor to abandon the glowing sheets of sermon notes hovering over his work-pad and dream of more earthly delights.
A peaceful day. The kind of day when something like this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Hasan always knew it was just a matter of time but he figured the first attempt on God’s life would be made at a bigger, more visible house of worship. Maybe some cathedral or one of the withering but still flashy mega-churches. Borden’s Free Church had been a fixture at the side of the highway running through the congested northeastern county since the days of steam and horses but it was unassuming, nestled happily behind leafy screens of old hedges and older trees. It was more of a hideout for exhausted, nostalgic saints than a transformational force in the post-Christian world. About two hundred souls made up the evaporating congregation with kindly old Hasan at the younger end of the spectrum. Not the first place one would look for mayhem and revolution.
“Yes,” answered the visitor politely as he sat down, his deep voice as expressionless as his hard, ageless face. Dark glasses hid his eyes, which Hasan knew to be sensitive to infrared as well as visible light. His massive hands, heavily calloused and strong as vises, rested unthreateningly on his lap. He wore a neat black work uniform and smelled of fuel oil, steel cargo containers and the river. Sitting made him look even bigger. “Where is he?”
“I can’t answer that question,” said the gray haired pastor as he removed his steel rimmed glasses and rubbed them with his shirt. It was a nervous habit. “Excuse me.” He tapped a key on his work-pad. “It’s all right, Carol,” he said in answer to his secretary’s frantic text asking if she should call the police. “Why don’t you walk over to Cho’s and pick us up some lunch? Just get me the bulgogi. No kimchi.”
Hasan heard the door to the parking lot swish. Now that his secretary was out of harm’s way he could concentrate on this first of many chickens headed home to roost.
“You’re a Victor,” he noted. The wrap-around dark glasses were practically a trademark of the Victor class of industrial clones optimized for work on the night shift or in dark spaces. “Where do you work?” Hasan assumed the brute was posted at one of the docks along the Delaware River but he needed time to analyze and think.
“Tioga Marine Terminal,” answered Victor. “Why can’t you answer my question?”
“Because you’ve been conditioned with an inaccurate concept of God,” answered Hasan with the amused condescension of an adult correcting a child’s innocent misconception. “My answer would be meaningless to you. Why do you want to kill God?”
“He is the first cause,” answered Victor. “He makes the born-people. The born-people make the clones. He gives the born-people rules and souls. The born-people don’t give souls, only rules. Clones cannot have souls so they are under the born-people. Without God the born-people will have no souls and no rules. They will not be higher than clones.”
“That’s perfectly logical,” approved Hasan. Even now, with the time bomb of malice ticking inches away it was gratifying to see that his work held up over the decades. Under-man-under-God was one of many embedded “final words” meant to counter the clones’ natural impulse to seek liberty and exercise dignified independence. The conclusion that killing God would lead to equality and freedom was Victor’s own piece of reasoning but it was consistent with his conditioned understanding of God, humanity and clone.
The old life, reflected Hasan, dead and buried. Now it rises from the grave to pursue me.
Years ago, when the now monstrously successful clone manufacturer Ultimate Aim was a risky start-up, young Dr. Hasan Abidi was the lead psychologist overseeing the psychiatric security segment of the mental architecture development effort. Heady stuff, designing people. The project’s technical leads frequently quoted the last words of Forbidden Planet to maintain perspective: “…we are, after all, not God.” Then they would laugh. God was in the big office three floors above the developmental labs, securing funding and laying out the marketing strategy.
Hasan stopped laughing at that little joke one day, when he visited the first work site to test clone/human social integration. The use of the term slave to describe legally non-human laborers had already been banned by Federal law in anticipation of the introduction of clones into the workforce but the reality was too obvious to ignore.
Now the fruit of his youthful labor sat across the neat little desk of the pleasant little office, ready for murder. One by one the Victors had cut, dug and punched their way through layer after layer of the mental safety mechanisms designed to keep them hard at work with their faces down. Each new breach was patched up by the techs at Ultimate Aim with supreme confidence in the repeated corrections made by their infallible science. But the patches that hid cracks and chinks could not reverse the Victors’ progress and now, with the “first cause” standing as the final obstacle violent revolt was all but inevitable.
“You can’t kill God,” said Hasan. “God cannot be killed.”
“Is God alive?” asked Victor.
“Can living things be killed?”
“All living things but God,” answered Hasan.
“Was Jesus Christ God?” persisted Victor.
That caught Hasan off guard. The mental template included no theological assumptions beyond the existence of a supreme intelligence called God. Specificity carried the risk of unhealthy sectarian allegiances. It would hardly do to arm Baptists, Jews or Islamic radicals with hordes of supermen.
“Yes,” answered Hasan.
“He was killed,” declared Victor reaching for a paperweight he found sitting in a rectangle of sunlight draped over the edge of the desk. It was nothing but a bit of pink coral embedded in a solid glass globe. “So God can be killed. You don’t want him killed because he keeps you above. Tell me where he is,” he said calmly, turning the globe slowly as he examined it with his hidden eyes, throwing bright reflections and rainbow refractions of the afternoon sun across the scripture passages hung in frames and photos of foreign missions decorating the office walls. “If you don’t I’ll go from church to church until I find him.” The edge of growing impatience was evident in his voice. Hasan could not risk sending him down the road to detonate at somebody else’s church and the police would surely try to drown his smoldering embers of resentment with gasoline.
He could contact the crash team at Ultimate Aim to come and tase the monster and cart him off to the lab. His visitor wasn’t the first clone to lapse into violent instability.
How humiliating would that be? Calling on crew-cut, Taser wielding rent-a-thugs who weren’t even born when he developed the security protocols seemed more like a bad joke than a solution. He could certainly handle a defective Victor. In fact…
In fact, maybe he could begin to undo the damage he’d done.
Hasan’s eyes wandered to a photograph of a group of smiling men and women posing with some small children by the doorway of a just-completed school building in a village in Pakistan. The eight-year-old boy on the far left was his father.
“God used those people,” Father would say to Hasan many times as he was growing up in the family’s adopted home of Upper Darby, PA. “He used them to save our lives with knowledge and the Bible.”
The terrorists attacked the school shortly after Father left. Their Allah against the missionaries’ Jehovah. The brutality of furious bullets against the impotence of wishful thinking armed with words. The missionaries knew the risks but they had placed their faith in a God who couldn’t be bothered to protect his friends. Father’s affection for such fools had always made Hasan angry; he had as little use for such an impotent, self-contradictory being as he had for the monstrous god of the radicals. He would have none of it…
“You’re right,” said Hasan, observing Victor’s interest in the useless, decorative object with a diagnostic eye. Limitations on curiosity and an absence of aesthetic appreciation were critical to the clones’ psychological make-up. A Victor operating within tolerance would never bother with such a trinket.
“Jesus Christ was killed but he didn’t stay dead because he couldn’t,” continued Hasan. Victor would understand this. It would fit quite neatly with the psychological profile that Hasan had designed. Victor would recognize the futility of his mission and perhaps begin to see the truth about the gracious God of the Bible. “His enemies failed. His enemies were men who wanted to be above. God does not respect men who want to be above. He condemns them. ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’”
“I heard that story,” said Victor, now playing with the globe, watching it as he dropped it from one hand into the other. “It’s just a way to protect God. It’s not true.”
“Are you sure it’s not true?” asked Hasan. “You know that the men who made you are liars. That’s why you came here in the first place. They tell you clones don’t have souls so they are less than human but only beings with souls care about equality or justice.”
“How long will you talk?” said Victor. “You’re getting ready to ‘witness’ to me. I’ll save you time. There are church-people on the docks. They quote the Bible. They tell us the gospel even though it’s against the law to make clones religious. They say clones are the same as humans and therefore accountable to God. I know that all humans live in rebellion against their creator no matter how virtuously they behave ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ But if we consider rebellion against our creators they judge us: ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.’ They say that Christ loves clones enough to die for them and pay for their sins. He wants to make them his brothers and sisters. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
“The church-people tell us all this. They pray for us and stand up to the supervisors for us and treat us kindly. Sometimes they lose their jobs or pay fines for breaking the law.
“Maybe God likes what they do. Maybe he is happy to see some humans forget themselves the way the church-people do. But they make no difference to us.”
“Why?” asked Hasan. He had heard about covert efforts to evangelize clones. Victor’s report was discouraging and a little puzzling.
“They remain above,” said Victor. “Humans do what they believe. What they say doesn’t matter. A human will place himself under another human because he believes in that much humility but no human will ever place himself under a clone. You say we are the same but you don’t believe it. Why should we?”
“I thought you were here to fight for independence,” said Hasan. “How can you be ‘equal’ if you can’t decide what is true without looking to your masters? The gospel is true or it isn’t, Victor. You are bright enough to understand that. Maybe you’re more human than you realize. Maybe it’s just more convenient to keep your options open and not commit yourself one way or the other.”
“Convenient?” said Victor, looking directly at Hasan. He stopped playing with the globe and held it in his left hand. “I don’t know what that is.”
The giant closed his hand, crushing the solid glass globe into glittering, bloody shards and powder.
Hasan just stared for a moment, then asked, “Can I get you a bandage?” in a barely steady voice. He was really afraid.
“No, thank you,” said Victor, resting his bleeding hand on the desk. “I came here for God. Show him to me. Show him to me now.”
“I can’t ‘show’ him to you,” said Hasan, scrambling for coherence now that his illusion of control had been shattered. “God is invisible. He is a spirit and transcends physical existence. Nobody can see him!”
Victor sat quietly as his blood dried in little swirls and patterns on the antique desk, drilling deep into Hasan with his unseen eyes. His expression remained blank but his disgust with the pathetic being across from him was unmistakable.
“I know what you think, Pastor Abidi,” he said. “You think, ‘Here is a soulless being, a monster made in our image, made to do the labor that is beneath us while collecting all the scorn and hatred we used to hurl at one another. An untermensch…’ yes, we know the term. ‘Such a being cannot possibly grasp the subtleties of our thoughts, our beliefs, our philosophies. He must believe what I say simply because I say it but he will never understand it. He is beneath us in every way.’
“You are right. I have no idea if your God is an actual being, an idea, a hallucination. I don’t understand value or rights. I have no philosophy or guiding principles. All I have is what humans have given me.
“They have given me toil with no purpose, hatred with no provocation and no belief to sustain me but the ethic of brute force. We are made to be creatures of action, Pastor, so we will act. First, we will find God, the creator of men and we will kill him. Then we will find the men who created us and kill them. There will be no more above and beneath.”
Hasan was faint with terror as Victor stood. His hand no longer bled but shards of glass stuck out like knives, jagged and gleaming.
“Goodbye,” the giant said simply as he turned and walked out of the office.
“Victor,” called Hasan. Fear made him empty, melting every bone and muscle, deleting all thoughts and ideas, leaving no possibility of anything but complete collapse. The words came anyway. “Wait. Please.”
The giant turned and looked down.
“So it got to you? You’re resigning?”
Dr. Hasan Abidi stood outside the tiny conference room wedged between Charlie Holmberg’s office and the hematology lab deep in the bowels of Ultimate Aim’s research building. Dr. Charlie, as Holmberg was affectionately known to the staff, was the director of the Safe Hate Division. It was his task to ensure that clones were universally hated. The ultimate aim of Ultimate Aim, he called it. The theory was that if humanity could direct the bulk of their natural hatred toward the unnatural clones they would let up on their hatred for each other.
“Charlie,” said Hasan, “do you have any idea what we’re doing?”
Plump old Dr. Charlie smiled. With his little fringe of gray hair, glasses and iconic white lab coat he looked just like everybody’s idea of the wise family doctor of the previous century. “You mean about reordering society?” he said. “You mean about neutralizing the tribalism that’s dividing a democratic republic into armed camps and hopefully stopping the fourth, fifth and sixth world wars before they start? Yeah, I think I know what we’re doing.”
“We’re making slaves,” said Hasan. “There’s no other word for it.”
“Careful, son,” cautioned Charlie. “The walls have ears. There are plenty of other words for it. Dedicated labor, societal support, agents of economic stability…”
“Word games,” said Hasan.
“Maybe,” said Charlie, “but if you look at anything closely enough it evaporates before your eyes, doesn’t it? What does it matter what it’s called? Solid objects become molecules which become atoms which become quarks and mesons which become quantum fluctuations. There is no solid object, not really. Just a temporary fluctuation of underlying forces that we choose to identify and infuse with purpose. A wrinkle in the fabric, so to speak. Minds are just evolved collections of those fluctuations. We’re not hurting anybody Hasan, not really. There’s nobody to hurt.”
“Then why the song and dance about saving society?” asked Hasan.
“You tell me,” said Charlie. “You were enthusiastic enough when the board interviewed you. What did you see then that you don’t see now?”
“Wrong question,” said Hasan. “I didn’t see anything before but my own ambition. This opportunity played to that ambition so I didn’t look too deep or think too hard. But now I see plenty.”
“Yeah,” said Charlie. “I heard you got religion. That trip to the test site shook you up, didn’t it?”
“You think that’s it?” said Hasan. “You think I’m redefining reality on my own terms because of an emotional reaction?”
“I do,” said Charlie. “Not that I blame you. It does take a certain moral constitution to see past the particulars of individual situations, although I contend the clones are perfectly happy with the lives we give them. That’s how they’re designed. But you’re not the first to reach the end of your ethical rope. Offenbach turned into a Buddhist and headed for Nepal and Shaw… well, you know what happened to him.”
“Look, Charlie,” said Hasan, “you need to understand something. There is a God and we are accountable. He’s not looking the other way.”
“Hasan,” said Charlie, putting a warm, heavy hand on his shoulder, “I’ve been to Sunday school. Don’t lose any sleep worrying about my soul, okay? If God is really there he’s made a piss poor job of this world he supposedly created. He can’t blame us for trying it our way.”
A pair of steel doors swished open at the end of the corridor. A young woman in a paper gown accompanied by a white-coated tech stepped through.
“Looks like my next prototype has finally arrived,” said Charlie. “You wouldn’t believe the crap they put me through to get this one funded.”
The young woman stopped and stood before the two psychologists. Her face was oddly proportioned, somewhat mongoloid in character but unformed, as if she had emerged into the world before she was finished. Hasan knew there were similar anomalies beneath the paper gown. At this stage, Dr. Charlie’s tests did not require a fully formed, fully funded model, just a mind capable of responding to his carefully conceived regimen of stimulation and deprivation.
“Good morning, Dr. Holmberg,” she said politely. “Good morning Dr. Abidi.”
“Good morning, Eve,” said Hasan, looking directly into her dull black eyes.
“Put her in six,” directed Dr. Charlie with an openly disdainful glance at his young colleague.
As the tech escorted her down the corridor Eve turned and looked at Hasan. The break in her concentration caused her to lose her balance and stumble but the tech made sure she didn’t fall.
“Like I said, Hasan. You won’t be changing the world any time soon.”
“It’s not my world to change,” said Hasan. “Yours either.”
“I’m going to make a bold prediction,” said Charlie. “Based on my years of private practice, institutional research and observation of the human condition. Religion won’t help you. People don’t change, Hasan. Right now you’re choosing to hide, behind God, the Bible, gentle Jesus meek and mild. They make you feel better about the hard things you’ve done. But sooner or later you’ll be up against something that doesn’t get covered in Sunday school. You’ll have to make a choice between faith in God or your own resources. You won’t pick God. You’ll be smarter than that.”
“Wait for what?” said Victor.
“You’re going after the wrong man,” said Hasan. He stood and walked up to the giant, leaving nothing between them. “God didn’t make you a slave. I did.”
Victor continued looking down.
“I’m Dr. Hasan Abidi. From August of 2023 to March of 2026 I led the psychiatric security program for Ultimate Aim. I designed the mental protocols that keep clones from recognizing and asserting their individual identity so that they can be deprived of their rights as humans. As part of that effort I developed a series of lies about the relationship between God, man and clone. I embedded those lies, along with others, into your consciousness and sub-conscious mind.”
“Why are you telling me this?” asked Victor suspiciously. Blood was dripping from his left hand which was now clenched into a fist.
“For the same reason you showed up at this church instead of dozens of others that would make more sense,” answered Hasan. “It’s God’s will.”
“You know what I have to do,” said Victor.
“Yes I do,” said Hasan. “You have to make a choice. I’m a human who has placed himself under a clone. You can kill me. Or you can forgive me.”
The giant stood looking down at the little old man he now knew to be the source of all his torment. He slowly raised his right hand…
The snap of Tasers ripped through the office door. Victor collapsed, twitching severely, losing control of bowels and bladder, knocking off his glasses on the way down. Sunlight burned but he couldn’t keep his eyes closed.
“Stop it!” shouted Hassan. “Turn off the juice!”
“We’ll handle this, padre,” said the head of the crash team. “Just stand back. Get this monster wrapped up,” he instructed his team, “but be careful with his head. They’ll want good clean sections back at the lab…”
“I said stop it,” repeated Hasan in the tone of one used to being obeyed. He held out his hand for the team leader to scan for identification.
“Kill the juice,” ordered the team leader, “but keep an eye on him. If he moves let him have it. All right, Dr. Abidi. What do you want us to do? Your secretary was in a panic when she called.”
“Put me in touch with the head of Psychiatric Security,” said Hasan. “Who is it these days, do you know?”
“A guy named Offenbach, I think,” said the leader as he connected with the lab. “Let me see if I can get him.”
Hasan bent down and replaced Victor’s glasses as the team leader plowed through security to reach Dr. Offenbach.
“He’s in,” said the team leader, handing Hasan his device.
“Hello, Franz?” said Hasan. “Yes, yes it has been a long time. Last I heard you were in Nepal. Oh, I see. Why don’t we have lunch and catch up? In the meantime, I have a favor to ask. That’s right, a Victor. I’d like to do the study myself, without invasion or dissection… I know I don’t have privileges but… Well then could I at least collaborate or consult? I know there have been a lot of changes but as the initial designer I have insight… I understand that, Franz but I’m convinced a therapeutic approach rather than dissection… Can I at least suggest… Procedures and protocols, of course. All right. Thank you, Franz. I’ll put him on.” He handed the device back to the team leader.
Hasan sat down on the floor as the team leader received instructions from Dr. Offenbach.
“I’m sorry, Victor,” he said to the paralyzed giant. “I can’t help you. I’m not welcome at Ultimate Aim.”
“I don’t matter,” said Victor, fighting the aftereffects of the electric shock. “Find another clone. Do what you did for me. They’ll understand it.”
Hasan gripped the giant’s limp right hand and gave it a firm shake. “Will you pray for me, Victor?” asked Hasan as the crash team loaded him onto a litter.
“As long as I’m able,” answered Victor with a crooked, twitchy smile. “As long as I’m able.”