A novel I've been picking away at. This is essentially a prologue.
1. The Boy
When the boy was only five weeks old, he spoke his first words, clearly and with the voice of a man. "I couldn't save them," he said. He grew to be strong, with intelligent eyes, and although he could speak well, and those around him would stop to hear what he had to say, he preferred not to speak. When asked about this, the boy would often say that the time was not yet right for him to speak. He would sometimes, when he thought no one was listening, simply say, "I couldn't save them." But his people listened. The boy could wander for a hundred miles out into the desert, but his people would still listen to him. He was only ten years old, but his legend had grown in the way that only legends can.
It was said that the boy was a messiah, intended to lead his people to freedom from tyranny. The boy's name was sung in the streets, and spoken of by the usual people in the usual way. Old women wept as he passed, and merchants offered him money to endorse their services. He would never accept their money, and simply continued to wander, lost in an unknowable world of his own. To every town he visited, he brought hope. Who his father was, no man could say, but his mother had been diseased, and was now cured, so it was said, by the healing touch of the boy she knew as her son, but who to the world could be a new father.
"I couldn't save them," said the boy, as his head was split open by automatic gunfire. His little body fell uselessly to the ground, and the soldiers left him for his family to bury.
Command Sergeant Brush spat a mouthful of black weed onto the ground, and stared out at the vast expanse of sand and nothing in front of him. If you looked at him from the right side only, he actually looked human, apart from his eyes. Corporal Hook stepped out from the metal trailer, dripping sweat. The heat was punishing, and it was equally hot inside and out. Sergeant Brush looked down at the soldier's tattered sneakers.
"There's blood on your shoes, Corporal Hook."
Hook looked down, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Sergeant. It's a bit of a mess in there."
"Would you say the little boy had a man's supply of blood in him?"
Hook winced at the thought. "I'd say that's one way of putting it, sir."
"It's a funny world we live in." Producing a tin of Black Stripe weed from his pocket, he bit off a dehydrated hunk of the stuff and chewed it, sloppily.
"Suppose it's not every day you get to kill the Messiah," said Hook, and immediately regretted it.
Sergeant Brush turned to look at Hook, and Brush's pale, pink eyes put the fear of the Lord into him. "Corporal, I'm old enough to have seen more than one messiah in my lifetime, and to have personally overseen the execution of nineteen of the little bastards." Fourteen years ago, the Sergeant had lost half of his face, and half of most of the rest of him. He was held together only by steel and glue, and a steadfast refusal to die. Since then the Sergeant hadn't lost a battle, nor an argument.
Hook nodded, and said "Yes, sir," for absolutely no reason except that he wasn't sure what else to say. "I'm just wondering if we should be worried about the local folk. Can't figure they'll be happy."
"You'll be amazed at how fast they'll forget the boy. It's embarrassing to remember a messiah who doesn't deliver. Six months or so from now, the superstitious old women of this overcooked sunhole will crown themselves another child to worship as a king." Corporal Hook realized with a little fear that Brush was looking directly at the sun. "And why not? If they have nothing better to do than generate a coping mechanism, it's not our place to stop them."
Yet it is our place to kill the child before he becomes a threat. Hook thought this to himself, but said nothing.
"It's only human," said Brush as he stared out into the heart of the sun. For Hook, the word "human" seemed to suddenly have no meaning. If Brush were human, he would have blinded himself already, staring into the sun. "To believe that someone will come along who cares about your problems. Who will explain every unknowable mystery to you, and tell you your life had some meaning, and was more than a brief and brutal march to death." Brush turned to Hook.
Hook nodded. In the darkness, the Sergeant's eyes were black. In the sunlight, they turned a bright, pale pink. Exposed to light this harsh, the Sergeant's eyes were blank and empty - pink and pupilless. The right side of the Sergeant's face was a hodgepodge of metal, bone and plastic, and after four years under Brush's command, Hook had never quite gotten used to the sight of him.
"We haven't cleaned up," said Hook.
"Don't. I'd like to have a look at the boy." The Sergeant entered the tiny dwelling. This had once been the trail end of a large, park-type velo, but the owner had let it go to rust. It was now a dark, overly hot metal box, on six useless wheels. There was a tubwash and a spritzpad. There was padbar and acclime. It smelled of dirty children, and there was more blood on the floor than Corporal Hook would have thought possible. The Sergeant, however, wasn't especially surprised. Somehow he had smelt that this boy would have blood in him.
The Sergeant kept a personal journal, which no one but him was allowed to read. Eighteen years from now, the Sergeant will die, having ingested a poisoned dinner of tigermeat intended for the High Corollary himself. For his accidental sacrifice, he will be awarded a posthumous Medallissue of Braverdice, the Western Block's highest honor. As stipulated in his Living Program, all his belongings will be burned upon his death, including this personal journal.
I note this only to explain that eleven years ago, Sergeant Brush wrote the following in his personal journal, and no one but himself ever read it.
There have always been messiahs. In any better hall of learning, the superstitious belief in a savior, a God incarnated in the body of a mortal man, is known to be the crowning belief of every primitive society. If that is true, then all our societies must be labelled primitive. Assuming there is intelligent life out there in the blackness (as we must assume, if only to ignore our loneliness), I have no doubt that there is not one society among the endless stars that does not believe in a messiah ....
As long as there is space and time, societies will continue to believe that a messiah will come to them, returned from the unknowable beyond, in spite of all evidence that their messiah never existed in the first place. Our eyes and ears tell us that there is no loving God-father, but our minds ignore that incoming information, equipped, we must assume, with an efficient filter to prevent us going mad through the realization of our own unimportance.
We look at the scurrying beasts and think their lives brutal and meaningless, but refuse to believe the same about ourselves. Were we to speak to the rat, we would discover he believes in a rat messiah, and that when his short and miserable life is mercifully ended, he will be taken from his filthy dung-heap to a vague, perfect concept of afterlife. We, being intelligent humans, know that this is ridiculous. A rat is a filthy little mammal scurrying about unloved on a harsh and unforgiving earth. It is ridiculous to think that a rat will go to a better place after death. For a rat, death is simply the end, and good riddance to him.
It is easy for a human to realize this simple truth about a rat, but even the wisest of us will never realize this about ourselves. We are larger than the rat, and therefore too important not to live on after death. Our lives are meaningful, and important. We are the largest and most important creatures on the planet earth, indeed in the entire universe.
An elephant is larger than several men. Yet we would also find it absurd that the elephant should live on after death. The reasoning being that the elephant is a stupid little animal, and we are far larger and more important than the elephant. We believe this even though our own eyes tell us that the elephant could crush us under its toes without expending any effort. If size and strength are the ticket to a vaguely defined afterlife, then we have no such ticket, and must count ourselves with the tiny rat.
Instead we must believe that being intelligent, worthy and "good" is the key to heaven, and that we of course possess that key, for we are the worthiest of all species. We alone of all species possess the power to destroy the planet earth, and to destroy our own people without any particular effort. We alone can poison the earth. Other species are filthy beasts, because they commit the sin of thinking only of their own survival. They live to find food and survive, and propagate their species. We have better priorities. We obsess over frivolous trivia, and find terribly clever ways to kill those we believe to be in any way different from us. We have killed more of our own than the animals could ever conceive of. Therefore they are the savage beasts, and we are peaceful and civilized. Show me a nation that has achieved peace and leisure, and you'll find a nation that has murdered millions of children to get there.
It is ridiculous that man should believe in an afterlife, in a messiah.
In my life I have met a dozen little boys who were said to be the second coming of God. A dozen little boys - I shot them in the head, or my soldiers did it for me. None of them were true messiahs, for all of them bled like children.
The boy today, his name was Abraham. If you were to tell me that this boy was a true messiah, I would believe you. We shot a boy, but he bled in the manner of a man. The difference was obvious from a hundred yards away, to anyone with any experience in killing both. But I knew even before we shot him that I wasn't looking at an ordinary boy. Three years ago they replaced half my face with metal. Now bacon doesn't taste like bacon anymore, and I'm cursed to be able to smell the difference between people. He looked like a child, but I smelled God on him. I consider it a tribute to my fortitude as a soldier that I didn't hesitate to pull the trigger.
If God comes to Earth in the form of a man, we will shoot him in the head. Chances are, we already have. Because we, as humans, are bigger, better and more civilized than God.
Therefore it's ridiculous to believe in a messiah. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.
It was now eleven years since he had written that, and Sergeant Brush was looking at the crumpled body of a boy who had far too much blood inside him. The smell was overpowering, and achingly familiar. Brush was glad that he hadn't come in to visit the boy. He had left his soldiers to handle the job. He had never been an emotional man, even when he could still feel human emotions. And he knew that a God that he didn't believe in was expecting him to feel an emotion right now. He was strong enough to ignore that. He had earned his place in hell a long time ago, and thankfully he knew hell didn't exist. If he were to get emotional now, the only emotion he could feel would be madness ... a madness that would start and never stop. So he stayed calm. He could ignore the blood, the smell of the boy, now that the boy was dead. But he wasn't sure he had the strength to look God in the face.
He didn't age anymore. He'd lost the right to grow older and die. Yet on days like this he felt he was getting too old for this sort of work. At the very least, he was no longer very proud to be so good at it.
"Suppose it's not every day you get to kill the Messiah," he said to himself. As he turned to walk away, he realized with some disgust that there was blood all over his boots, and that the boy's smell would linger. But blood was blood, even on a day like today. Blood is always a mark of victory, something to make you proud.
But that smell ...
"I'll say one thing about you," he muttered as he walked out the door. "You're a persistent bastard."