Losing My Religion

I write this with the last of my paper, the last of my visible light. I don't have much time left. The disease has started to affect my sight, and a black moss clouds the focus of my vision. Touch-typing has saved me so far. Insert the sheet, fumbling, roll up a margin, fifty-five heavy letters to a line, and bing! push the Return key hard. Thirty-six lines to a page and I extract it, place it onto the pile to my right, start over. So it goes.

You may not believe me when you read this. If you ever read it. Honestly, I can't believe that will ever happen. It makes me laugh just to think about the whole business. Then I have to pull myself together. Not much time left, I tell myself. Get the words down, now, laugh and cry later when you are completely useless for anything else. Life is a botch.

The disease is a brain-eating bacterium. I caught it young, swimming in polluted water off a tropical beach. Shit floats, even under the coconut palms. The microorganism enters the ears, sits dormant in the follicles for decades, then… no-one knows why, but after forty-odd years, it wakes up. The little creatures build colonies slowly, one in each ear, literally eating their way into the center of the brain. There is no cure, but some of the victims find that a quick death is easier than the agony of gradual shutdown. Me? I've taken the hard road. I wanted to get my story down first. The pills and gun are waiting in the cabinet, along with enough alcohol to make a rhino dance like Michael Jackson.

I'm losing track. Wasting time. No, that's a joke. I'm dead already, perhaps mad, and what is time? An endless stream of accidents and illusions, pretending to be reality. The bacteria in my head knows as much about reality as I do. Who is to say it's wrong and I'm right? Only me. And my vote is being canceled by the election committee of life. "Ten billion to one… the votes are in. Will the loser please leave the stage!"

I sometimes wonder if the bacteria is one thing or two, or a billion. Should I address it as "your honor" or "you the people?" Perhaps each colony - for there are at least two - is a being in itself. I'm sure it's a very important point to the little being or beings in question. As organisms go, it's a subtle beast. Simple enough to be incurable by anything except a bullet, complex enough to go through a fifty-year life cycle that is intimately tied to us and our bowels. Surely something this simple and perfect - and I have to admit it, it is a beautifully elegant lifestyle - must be the work of God? Hah! That's a good one. My crowning achievement was to disprove the existence of God, an accomplishment that won me much power, and later banishment to this small room, deep under one of the hulking fortresses of the Reformation. God's scientifically-proven absence from human affairs has not stopped him from taking control, again, after so many years of holiday. Good shot, oh Lord! If, when, they read this, I will already be dead. Let them flog my sad bones. The bacterial colonies and other fauna and flora, the inheritors of my body, and the fleas in this cell, will not notice.

I did not really disprove God. Omnipotent, He has arranged the universe so that He sits behind the protection of an unprovable negative. For all I know, He may even exist. Perhaps the bacteria doing a stereo brunch on my brain is god. It is a question designed to have no answer. What I did do was to prove why we believe. Turns out, it's laughably obvious. The emperor has no clothes, and I was the little boy, shouting to the crowd. The crowd loved me, at first. "More, more," they cried, and I gave them all they asked for. The whole song and dance. No God, no Consciousness, finally, nothing at all. But I was sawing off the branch we were sitting on. Break apart the raft you float on at your peril, the waters are deep and cold, and filled with hungry shadows.

My studies were on terrorism. My group was one of the first to study terrorists from a socio-psychopathic perspective, financed by the Patriot Commission. We tried to understand how groups could turn normal (if any teenager can be called that) girls and boys into suicide agents, packed with microWMDs: bioweapons in the noodles, nerve agents in the nail varnish, explosive threads woven into jeans and packed into sneakers. Our experiments were classified, off the books. The project was code-named "Mystic" and we knew of no other name. If you search the archives, you will find nothing. We experimented on live volunteers. Well, the children of Guantanamo Bay have no legal existence, and in a sense their parents did volunteer their future offspring when they dared to oppose the Coalition forces. At first we did not know who the boys and girls we worked on came from. Our sponsors told us they were poor children (strictly speaking, correct - these kids had nothing, not even a nationality). I have to admit that when we found out the truth, we did not care any longer. Mystic corrupted us. Total power over these young people – especially the girls, the sweet girls – was addictive and we became deeply dependent on that power. More, we asked for. Always more.

I should be penitent. But how can I be? We succeeded in our goals, hard-working little sociopathologists. We developed a formula, a system, that could turn any person into the willing tool for any task. Initially it took about three months, but through much hard work we got it down to two short weeks. We did not invent so much as refine existing knowledge into its purest, most extreme form. "Stockholm Syndrome" is an old name for one of the human reactions to danger and fear that we used. The others are well known by dark institutions around the world: force an empty language, dress, and behavior, and the sense of identity slips away. Hammer what's left with unpredictable brutality, illogical rules and rites, forced intimacy, oh yes, and they lose their souls. Concentrated into two weeks, with the help of the right drugs, and minds fall like pearls into the palm of one's hand. Suicide is not a hard act for a walking, living zombie. We demonstrated that.

I guess we put almost a thousand people – children, teenagers, men and women, even grandparents – through our experiments. Nothing new here, you will say. The Reich's doctors tried the same. But where they failed, we succeeded. We had resources they never dreamed of. Money to buy anything and anyone we needed. On-line genetic maps to de-construct the human mind. Power to experiment on people and groups throughout the Liberated Areas of the globe. And we were the best, the very best. We mapped the locks of the human mind, and created a set of keys that could open these locks in just the wink of an eye. It takes twenty, thirty, forty years for a human mind to mature, and our little package of drugs and techniques could undo those decades of effort in a fortnight. A twist here, a push there, a little kick in that direction, and the walls of the will come tumbling down. We created a weapon, handed it to our government, and suggested that they use it wisely. What works for one person works for ten, a thousand, ten million. At that level our minds are so alike that even the rough mass-volume process we designed gave us a ninety-nine percent success rate. Only a truly psychotic mind can resist our process, and such minds make excellent instruments for other work. Our failures made meat for the penal battalions. What mad genius drives man's hand to such perfection!

Disproving God was a small step after such an achievement. Like all good things, it's not complex, and I'll explain it quickly, time presses urgent on me. Thinking beings, such as we pretend to be, live by solving uncountable small and large problems. Religion is an extreme manifestation of our need to shunt particular concerns – like "why is there a beastie munching into my cortex" – into the domain of "God's work". There is a genetic key for belief. It is a safety fuse, an adaptation that protects us from trying to solve the unsolvable. Without religion, we go mad, become drug addicts, alcoholics, evil scientists. I found, personally, with my expert team, the protein that drives this process. It is a small molecule, unpretentious, but flatly essential. We named it "credopherin", but I always thought of it as the Holy Ghost. Remove it, and the results are literally terrifying.

When you take your car to drive somewhere, do you actually stop and check the engine, oil, brakes, lights, tires? When you take a plane to fly to some far destination, do you first go to the cockpit and check that the pilot is sober, that the plane was maintained recently, that the fuel lines are clean, that the radar is working, and that the weather will be fine?

Even us mad scientists survive normality by assigning the vast bulk of our potential worries to the belief bin, and concerning ourselves only with the vital things that remain. "Is that fish or chicken on my plate this evening?"

Remove the Holy Ghost, and all this stops, dead. Every single footstep becomes a step into a world of terror and worry. Every shadow becomes a fanged phantom, every sound an attack. Some people are born with a slight deficiency in the genes that control production of this protein. We call them "phobics". But we can switch-off credopherin entirely. Try to imagine being phobic not just about open space or dirt or other people, but about everything.

We invented a drug that does exactly this. Tasteless, odorless, stable in heat and stable in solution. We called it "Blue" because in solution or powder, the compound is a beautiful deep blue. Effective even when diluted a million-fold, Blue enters your body and destroys the credopherin-production mechanisms. It takes a little longer than our mind-cracking recipe. But the effects are much more devastating. Introduce Blue into a population's water supply, into a city, or a country, and within three to six weeks, the place is void of human life. You surely already know the symptoms as the "Black Flu". Deep anxiety and depression, inability to move, eat, talk, work. No riots: just deep paralysis of the human social matrix, strangled by its own unfettered intelligence. No cure: entire communities simply sitting around, mysteriously starving to death. The monkeys were right to stay in the trees. The human brain, it turns out after all, is not such a prize.

For my work, which made possible the Cleansing and then the Reformation, I climbed to a position of high power. Somebody had to oversee the re-population of the Middle East and the inner cities, and our teams created the armies of colonists - who would volunteer willingly for anything, after going through our "training camps" – needed to clean-up and rebuild and repopulate.

But things always go wrong, and my outspokenness got the better of me. Denouncing God in what is essentially a theocracy was not perhaps the wisest of moves. Maybe the bacteria made me do it. And as the inventor of the long-distance genocide, I'm a danger to the accepted history of "what happened", which paints the Reformation as the God-blessed power that saved a world gone mad. I am dying anyhow, and I don't care much for my reputation. My connections give me some say. I know things, and I laid traps for my enemies long ago. They have allowed me a few luxuries in my oubliette and promised that my story will, one day, be released to posterity.

So now I have this almost useless lamp, the typewriter and the paper - no Net here! The bottles of whiskey, and the gun with a single bullet.

And the little envelope of unmarked blue pills.

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