© Theo Von Cezar
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The year 157, Nebula Era
It was the beginning of a chilly Zedober—the third month of the year, according to the new Nebula calendar. Making use of a thick power cord, which they had found in a shallow gutter in downtown Nebula, and which they had vigorously tied around their waists, Ahma and Jovian kept walking in zigzag on Resurrection Boulevard through what appeared to be a never-ending blizzard. They had been wandering the streets of Nebula City for hours, trying to take refuge from the vitriolic wind that cut savagely through their clothes, when they found themselves in front of an obscure dapple-grey building which they thought was the right place to spend the night in.
CHURCH OF ALL NONBELIEVERS, stood out on the relatively small silver plate pinned to the timeworn frontispiece; and beneath, WE SHALL FIGHT FOR KNOWLEDGE AND AGAINST THE DECAY OF OUR MINDS
Jovian barely touched the bronze lion head knocker and the ramshackle wooden door yielded with a grating sound, a profound aroma of burnt incense greeting him and friend Ahma.
As the door closed grudgingly behind them, and they walked further inside the sanctuary, an endless feeling of space dilation overwhelmed them. The interior of the church looked monstrously big in comparison with the Lilliputian outer surface of the modest building. At the same time, they felt as if someone, or something, were watching them from the deepest darkness of the building, which their sharp eyes could not penetrate. Sometimes in the past, they might have visited this sanctuary of death with the halo of a secular kind of place, it all looked too familiar to them, the two friends thought, trying to adjust their vision to the cobwebby atmosphere imbued with colorless flames that burst forth from scores of lion-shaped high torches. This looked like a place for giants, not ordinary sized human beings.
Ahma and Jovian's eyes lingered on a legion of divine-like huge stone chairs neatly disposed along the endless curved walls for a while, and then on the large lectern covered in white satin, situated about ten feet in front of them, before moving to a series of mind-boggling slogans scribbled on the musty walls:
OUR MINDS SHALL GO BACK TO THE UNIVERSE
AN END OF OUR LIVES DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN AN END FOR OUR MINDS.
TIME IS INDEBTED TO ALLOW US ETERNAL FREEDOM OF THE MIND
WE SHALL FIGHT AGAINST THE INCARCERATION OF OUR MINDS, a distinct slogan said, standing out bravely, in black bold lettering, on a three-foot-tall and five-foot-wide white marble plate which seemed untouched by time. The plate was located just two feet away from the other slogans, near a statue that embodied a bulky, almost round, naked individual with a pair of enormous female saggy breasts. In spite of the hazy air inside the church, Ahma and Jovian could see the statue crystal clear, in its own light, as if it were not part of the rest of the scenery surrounding it. Its eyes—deep dark human eyes—the color of bitumen, seemed perfectly alive, watching Ahma and Jovian in a paternal way, again in contrast to what the statue itself represented on the outside: an individual caught in the act of praying, more likely a symbol for a ritualistic place.
“God almighty! What kind of place is this?” said Jovian, pointing to the gibbous statue that looked like begging for something impossible to attain. He rarely pronounced the word ‘god’ and it sounded even spookier uttered in the supposedly secular place.
“These people crave for knowledge, I can sense it,” said Ahma, and started to untie the cord around his waist, while enshrouded in the cloak of the secular-monastic atmosphere.
After he and Jovian removed their damp greatcoats, they went and put them on the white satin lectern they had spotted earlier. Then they sat on the first two upholstered armchairs (from a row of about ten) to the right of the lectern, thinking of how to elude the difficult situation in which life had thrown them. They had been given the sack from Windmill Plant—the only electricity generating company in Nebula City. They were not the only ones who had lost their jobs—half the personnel, among them people with masters and doctorates, who used to work as factotums, had been given the sack on the very same day. However, what worried Ahma and Jovian the most was the prospect of not being able to get a job again, and that's because once fired from their jobs, there were very little chances for someone to find work quickly enough in order to avoid beggary. In fact, the chances were only one in a hundred thousand of finding work after an individual got the sack. It was because the economy could not sustain such a population anymore: Fifty billion people!—that was the official number of those who inhabited the Earth, and Ahma and Jovian were among the last ones to join those who had already started marching towards the infamous beggary.
With these thoughts in their minds, they succeeded in dozing off in their armchairs.
When the morning came, a daring light having crawled inside through the dusty pointed windows aligned on the upper side of the edifice, Ahma and Jovian learned that the slogans they had read overnight had been replaced with different ones, and the eyes of the statue had been shut. The feeling of time dilation vanished, the interior of the church had regained a rather ordinary size, but the gruesome statue looked more bent now, the large fleshy breasts (the sole portion of the statue not made of stone) resting on the dump stone floor of the church, apparently drained of life.
Ahma and Jovian approached the bent figure. White gold scribbling filled each stone lid that kept the eyes of the statue captive. On one lid was written 'Abstract Infinite' and on the other 'Infinite Abstract'. Some sort of squeaking came from inside the statue, similar to the sound made by a pack of ratocats.
There were no traces that the other slogans had been wiped off; it looked as if the new slogans had been there long before their entering the church.
OUR LITTLE MINDS SHALL GO BACK TO OUR MIGHTY GOD
AN END OF OUR BODIES MEANS A NEW BEGINNING FOR OUR MINDS
GOD WILL ALLOW CONTINUITY FOR OUR LIVES, IN HEREAFTER ONE
GOD IS NOT INDEBTED TO THE UNIVERSE AND TIME! WE ARE INDEBTED TO OUR GOD!
The new slogans had been inscribed in huge golden letters on the now all-shining walls.
Ahma and Jovian thought it was their minds playing tricks on them when they heard a man’s whispery, almost surreal voice making its subtle presence inside the church: “Can one call this alteration of the mind, thus it perfectly suits the decadence of our times? Or we can call it alteration of measurable time, therefore it best suits the decadence of our minds?” the same voice added in a lower tone.
There was no one to be seen around. Even more confusion piled up in Ahma and Jovian's minds.
It smelled like Madonna lily inside the church now.
“Ding-Dong! Ding-Dong! Ding-Dong! Ding!” No sooner had Ahma and Jovian heard the last seventh muffled chime of the Big Bang Horologe of the city than a woman's voice announced: “I am here to ultimately help you, boys.”
She sat on a wooden chair in the first row opposite the lectern. They had not taken notice of her elusive presence until the violent and doomful voice resonated inside the sanctuary. As she spoke, she remained immobile; a different kind of pale, almost shy light, which had sneaked inside the church through a cracked stained-glass window, fell athwart on her ecclesiastical black garb and the black grenadine gossamer covering her face except the eyes.
“DEATH or BEGGARY! These are your options, boys,” she said, the words floating ominously in the air, the cryptic echo of her voice having reached them first. “How many people do you think have got this privilege, to choose their present therefore past? I am here to offer you a deal, boys, and I suggest you should immediately take it; for if you don’t, there will always be others waiting in line to seize any opportunity so they can prolong their shattered lives.”
“Who are you?” Jovian timorously asked.
“Let’s just say I'm an intermediary between you and our God, and I know your future, present, therefore past. I know that you’ve recently lost your jobs at Windmill Plant; I also know that you left the House of Orphans at the age of six, and have been living on your own since then. We are going through the most decaying times, boys, but I'm here to offer you new lives!
“Three days without food and the integrity of your minds remained unchanged! That’s really remarkable, considering you’re just sixteen years old! That’s why I think you’re perfectly suited for the jobs I’m about to offer you. Your records are clean; you’ve committed no thefts, no crimes, and no sins so far… Well, maybe there is one sin, and that is the greatest sin alive: YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD! But even that can be ‘fixed’. All can be fixed with the right ‘tools’. And I assure you that God has all the necessary tools to bring even apostasies into reverse, to bring you all to even ground. You just have to believe that there is no life before and after death without God...
“Anyway, do you know what’s going to happen if you do not accept my offer? Do you want to know what happened to the others—those who have recently lost their jobs at Windmill Plant? They have been sucked into beggary even before they could have pawned their dreams. Just like that!” She raised her right hand and poked two fingers. “All of them! It happened in less than two hours. Can you imagine how fast that was and what deep torment the poor souls have gone through? No one can save them now! Not even God! They are lost! For all eternity, they are completely lost! And it won’t be too long before greedy time eats them all while they are still alive...”
The woman’s voice had an embalming effect on Ahma and Jovian's minds. When she resumed her speaking, the words flew gracefully and melodiously out of her hidden mouth; the sinister echo changed, delivering a sweet-sounding resonance. “Beggary is like bone cancer; it eats you while you’re still alive. First comes the cancer of the mind, and then the rottenness of your body. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a beggar? Lucidity can still reside in there. Why?—you may wonder. Because the beggar knows there is no lower level other than beggary in life! Still, there is one lower level—THE HEREAFTER TWO, the purgatory on which the Devil dwells. There is Hereafter Two on Earth, and Hereafter Two above, if you haven’t known that by now...”
‘There is Hereafter Two also in our minds,’ a usurping voice called out into Ahma and Jovian’s minds.
“However,” the woman said, continuing her rant, “this is not what you want, am I right? You’re afraid of death! Admit it! You’re afraid of the black cloaked Grand Mademoiselle. You tremble at the thought of her getting closer to your shades. Do you want to know what happened to that fellow over there?” The woman was pointing to the gibbous statue whose eyes again stood largely open; the individual looked quite frightened now. “He suffers the torments of Hereafter Two; that is, he suffers the torments of his own mind. He was a very troubled individual while he was still alive. He tried to think too much, surpass the others with his infatuated intelligence. He's now rotting from outside first, under the weight of his own mind. His mind is still alive; it has even gained some sort of mass, but alas, the burden is impossible to carry.
“Although you cannot change your past, you do have a chance: to change you present and thus future; not only your future, but also the future of others, to save them from their imminent collapse. We have authorization from God Himself to sell tickets to hereafter, boys! This is not a sham! I presume you’re smart enough to know what’s best for you, and what is not.”
Jovian and Ahma listened with open mouths. They had no doubt now that the woman could read their minds. She, most likely was in the possession of a high-class thought-reader, activated.
“Now approach, so I can give you some instructions,” she said, even more assurance added to her voice.
Ahma and Jovian looked at each other not knowing how to react.
“Don’t be afraid... No one's going to bite you; at least not now.” There was a trace of irony in the woman’s voice.
Ahma and Jovian left their seats and hesitantly walked towards her. There were only three feet in between now. They were able to look into her deep emerald-like eyes.
“Closer, please,” she gently said.
Just two feet separated Ahma and Jovian from the enchanting figure.
“That’s better. Now, we can do business... a different kind of business, I would say.”
The influence she had on them increased, an unearthly energy emanating from beneath her ecclesiastic black garb. Ahma and Jovian each took a seat beside her.
“Your job is quite simple, boys,” the woman self-assuredly said. “All you have to do is deliver redemptive tickets to people. For every ticket sold, you’ll receive fifty thousand golden bucklers. No one will interfere with your jobs. That’s a guarantee. I give you my word, which is the word of our God.”
As the woman delivered her last words, the inflections of her voice acquired a new tone—a medium one. She seemed just a ghostly apparition now. It felt as if she were pulling away from them.
Finally, she asked, “So, do you accept the jobs?”
Ahma and Jovian remained silent.
“Okay, I will let you think about it. Five minutes! No more than five minutes,” the woman said, stood up and started for the wooden door hidden in the small recess in the eastern wall of the church.
The door opened with a childlike laughing and then closed in a beldam’s whimper. After the woman disappeared behind the door, the sound of her steps on the stone floor could still be heard. Another door opened and then closed with an identical childlike laughing followed by the same beldam's whimper.
Ahma and Jovian had been given time to choose but they felt as if their future had been already written.
“What should we do?” Jovian inquired in a very low voice.
“Selling redemptive tickets... That's the last thing I thought we’d ever do.”
“I have a queer feeling 'bout this, but all I know is that I’m hungry and thirsty. I think we should accept the offer...”
Time passed extremely quickly; it felt as if all the clocks in the world had been melted into just one, conspiring against them, forcing them towards panic. Ahma and Jovian again felt their minds possessed by a sensation of space dilation; not only that, but they also had a feeling of time contraction and dilation. They started to perceive time differently. Time frames and bits of space alternatively appeared before their eyes under the forms of golden and silver framed photographs in a huge shining album whose pages started turning on their own accord. From time to time, they were allowed to turn one of the many colossal pages, but not because they wanted to, but because someone else was ordering them to do so. Dumbfounded, they were looking at an infinity of pictures containing glimpses of shattered lives and black and white portraits of people whose faces they had never seen before. The turning of the pages in the colossal album seemed a never-ending process, yet no one could put a stop to it. They were being absorbed into the Infinite. Or was it Time that pulled them in?
At last, they were able to hear the woman’s steps returning. The interval between the hearing of the footsteps and the opening of the squeaky door had changed—it seemed shorter this time, and sounded as if more feet had been added to the woman’s gait, as if she walked on six or eight legs, the sound of her footsteps accompanied by a sinister echo. Ahma and Jovian again heard the childlike ‘laughing’ and the beldam’s ‘whimper’—this time keener. They could also hear untamed neohorses tramping with their heavy, deformed shoes on wet cobblestones, fiercely neighing.
They quickly stood up, alerted by a vision. A large mortuary procession, composed of millions of mourners and led by scores of neohorses, clothed birds with human faces skimming beside them, was following its ominous course towards Nebula Cemetery’s gates. An orchestra made of about one thousand meretricious buffoons—they from time to time would stop their gait and perform a chaotic song on their perforated guitars, broken drums, twisted violins and golden spoilt trumpets—escorted the vast cortege, the mixture of chaotically played achromatic scales sounding as if the players were tone-deaf.
The wantonness coming from a larger group of individuals would occasionally interrupt the buffoons' instrumental performance. These 'performers' shouted strange obscenities at a man with a fancily painted face, clad entirely in black, a very tall top hat on his head. Apparently, this man, besides being in charge of the buffoons' instrumental band, was also the bandmaster of the queer factious group that now seemed eager to perform a vocal death song. While the verbosity of the boisterous people exceeded all the boundaries of decency, the buffoon drummers tried to keep the rhythm with their indecency, somehow trying to cover it up. Seeing that the buffoons' efforts were in vain, the conductor, having adopted a contemptuous mien, intervened and shouted: “SILENCE! Silence, you foolish people! You’re just FOOL! You’re all a bunch of IDIOTS! You are the only species in the entire Universe that have acquired the power to examine thoughts yet you are very close to mass extinction. SHUT UP FOR ONCE! You’ve always been in disagreement with yourselves and other people. The majority is not always right! There is, and there will always be chaos in our supposedly organized world.”
No one seemed to pay attention to this man however, each mourner hearing something different, each acting differently, in total disagreement with what the ‘mad’ conductor had to say.
“This will inevitably lead to the implosion of our species,” the bandmaster added, out of respect for a few remaining decent people.
Ahma and Jovian were wondering who were they going to entomb, since there wasn't any casket on the enormous golden and silver hearses drawn by about a dozen wooden neohorses, the latter robotically trotting ahead of the largely disorganized procession, when the vision suddenly stopped, leaving Ahma and Jovian in awe of a young woman who stood silent in front of them, like a statue, on a silver throne studded with tiny emeralds, her beautifully sculpted legs widely pulled apart. She was entirely naked except the small resplendent diamonds studded on her skin, and the rose diamond diadem encircling her high forehead. They had never seen anything like that before; her long straight silver hair with a parted fringe, silky milky-colored skin, the long violet eyelashes, the voluptuous red lips, the streak of silver pubic hair, the firm breasts with rose translucent diamonds instead of nipples, pointing upwards, the slender arms resting on the twisted silver arms of the throne. It all looked surreal to Ahma and Jovian. They were getting goose bumps just looking at her.
“Hey guys, can you hear me? HEY!” said the woman who had asked them to accept working as sellers of redemptive tickets. She stood in the same spot as the naked girl who had appeared before their eyes just a second before, and whose unique beauty still prevailed in the quiescent air. Ahma and Jovian felt as if they had just been awoken from a very pleasant dream.
“You should sit,” the woman calmly said and again took a seat in the first row of wooden chairs opposite the lectern.
Ahma and Jovian obeyed her.
She kept a small silver-edged box coated with dark brown leather on her lap. After a moment of silence, she slowly raised the convex lid and reached inside the small box lined with iridescent mauve satin.
Ahma looked intently at her artistic fingers. An engagement silver ring with an ‘A’ made of blue sapphires encircled the fourth finger of her left hand; on her middle finger she had a golden signet ring with the symbol ‘G’. He had always dreamed of touching a hand like this.
“Not all the tickets serve the same purpose,” the woman said, holding in her hands two rectangular palm-sized packs (one was black and the other immaculate white) which resembled decks of playing cards. She spoke confidently, as if she was sure their answer would be 'Yes.'
“As you can see, there are two different types of tickets. This pocket (she held a white pocket with a big ‘O’ representing the unification of all faiths printed in black on its front side) contains the tickets to Hereafter One.” As she spoke, she kept her veiled face aimed at Ahma. “And this,” she continued, while pointing to a black pack whose margins were bordered with tiny gold flambeaux, “this pack contains tickets to Hereafter Two. Quite simple, isn’t it?” she said, her covered face aimed at Jovian.
“As starters, each of you will be provided with one set of tickets to Hereafter One and one to Hereafter Two. I think this will suffice for you to carry on with your duties for as long as seven days. If you do your job well, you’ll be given more tickets to deliver. Remember, you are dealing with tickets to Hereafter, boys!” the woman said, a grave tone added to her voice. “As I've said before, fifty thousand golden bucklers will find their place inside your pockets for every ticket sold, plus a recompense of five hundred thousand bucklers at ten tickets to Hereafter Two sold. This is the best-paid job in Nebula City! You should be very proud that you’ve been chosen to do it.
“And now, the prices: five hundred thousand silver bucklers is the price for a place in Hereafter One. Exactly the same sum goes for a place in Hereafter Two, only that it should be golden bucklers. Remember, golden bucklers, boys! You needn't worry, for there will be cravers for these tickets, too. No matter how large their sins are, they have their right to be redeemed.
“Is this fair enough for you, boys? Mind you, any deviation from these rules will bring the immediate annulment of the contract, plus severe penalties. No discrimination among the sinners, ever! We are all equal in life, but we are not equal in death.”
False! Completely false! stood on Ahma's tongue to say. Equality brings misshapen thoughts to the minds of those who create art. We are all different.
“Excuse me,” the enchanting figure said, clearing her throat intently, “perhaps I might have put it differently, that is, we are not equal in life, but we are all equal in death. Does that satisfy your craving mind, young man?” she said, catching Ahma by surprise. Now he was 100% sure: she had a very powerful thought-reader implanted under her skull.
As she went on, it seemed that she had become more certain of their acceptance, yet this only made Ahma’s reluctance grow bigger.
Should he trust this woman? Who was this woman?
“Now, before going into more details… can I have your answer, boys? Do you accept my offer?” the woman said, her voice returning to a medium tone.
“Come on, boys! Make up your minds! This is not a time for contemplation! Why does it take so long for you to decide on a matter of life and death? God, you’re not Emos, are you? Just think of all the fresh water you could buy with this amount of money, not mentioning the kind of food you could afford. I bet you haven’t even tasted it yet since it’s only for the wealthy nowadays. I’m not talking about that crap... How do they call it? Veggie pies, which is full of synthetic garbage, no wonder no one is ever allowed inside their factories except their workers, who are forced to keep the secret otherwise they get the sack. Those people are entirely tamed! And where do you think that rotten smell and brownish clouds that often hover above the city come from? It’s their disposable garbage! It was said they used pure spinach in the past, but that happened a very long time ago; now it’s a mixture of ‘grass’ grown inside their labs. You thought that that was real spinach, real veggie food, didn’t you? HUH! Thank God at least they put salt in it. Only 1% of it it’s real food, boys; the rest is plastic. All synthesized. You eat synthetic food. In fact, you don’t eat food at all. Only the big bosses, and the State—the rich ones—have access to the real food. They are the real ‘herbivores’ and ‘carnivores’ alive today, not you!
“I’m waiting for an answer, boys... What will be your answer?” the woman said, aiming the question at Ahma first.
“I don’t know... I need more time, to think...” Ahma said scowling at the female presence in front of him.
The woman started to show signs of impatience.
“TIME! Even if I allowed you more time, it would be the same. The more time I give you, the more you’ll dig into your mind. You should make up your mind, before it’s too late, boy!”
The woman rose to her feet, her face directed towards the ceiling, her arms held perpendicular to her body. “The world is collapsing, and he needs more time!” she said, in a trance like state, the tone in her voice highly dramatized. “What is this? Should we call it a theatrics of the mind? Since when has the world become a stage play? Who’s gonna have more fun in the end: the clown or the philosopher? Perhaps I haven’t made myself clearly understood, boy! You should remember that you are not in the position of pondering on your own life right now.” She stood very close to Ahma. Her eyes looked like throwing poisonous darts at him.
“Maybe your friend's a bit cleverer than you. What is your answer, boy?” she said, her face aiming at Jovian.
“I’ll do it,” Jovian delivered his answer quickly, his eyes nailed to the floor. He was ashamed by his decision. Hunger and thirst had spoken up for him. He felt as if he were betraying Ahma.
“Very good... You’re a smart boy, as I thought. Now, Ahma, can I have your answer, please, or you’re eager to see your life come to an end too soon? To understand that you accept death without a fight?” the woman said, seemingly exasperated by Ahma’s incertitude and stubbornness.
Whose fight is that? Ahma thought. Selling hope to people! Although he had a bad premonition, he needed to embark on the same boat as Jovian. Maybe if he had more time... NO! She was right, for it would make no difference. He needed to decide. Now! He would wait for her to ask him again if he accepted the job before he delivered his final answer.
“May I have your answer, boy?” the woman said impatiently.
“Yes! The answer is yes. I will accept the job.” Ahma was almost sure that behind that veil, a satisfying smile crossed the woman’s face; the deep green in her eyes had switched to a light hue of gray.
“Good boy,” said the woman, her voice returned to its normal pitch. “You’ve taken the right decision. We should proceed with more details now. This is the place where we will always meet, on each Hailday, always at sundown. You’ll have to bring back all the unsold tickets, and I'll provide you with brand-new ones...”
As the woman spoke, a shadow of regret already crossed Ahma’s mind, but it was too late for him to pull away from it. He was hearing her as if she were part of a distant world.
“…You don’t have the right to choose to whom you sell the tickets and to whom not. You don’t have the right to judge! You should always remember that you're just two servants! Any breach of contract will result in your dismissal and meet with other penalties as well. Trust me, any deviation from the plan will make you regret that you’re still alive! I advise you not to be together when you advertise or sell the tickets; it could lead to spontaneous conflicts between the cravers!
“Now, you're probably wondering how these tickets come into effect! It’s very simple! It’s enough for the subject to place the tickets on their foreheads and keep them there until they feel enlightened. Activation will usually occur within a minute, that if the sins of the craver are not too serious. In that case, the activation will take longer. I’m talking about grave offenses here, such as murder, rape, gluttony, yet even these can be forgiven and erased. After the activation occurs, the redemptive ticket will become a non-valid ticket, but the sinner—when the time has come—will be granted eternal life in Hereafter. You must give these instructions to everyone who buys a ticket. Any questions, boys?”
“Where do these tickets come from?” Jovian asked.
“Had I told you these tickets came directly from God, you would've certainly asked why God would’ve had any reason to put a price on them. I'm going to tell you a secret, boys: Why do we sell these tickets? Because everything, with a few exceptions, that has a price on it becomes more craved. You know that our world has been suffering from a lack of faith lately, and that’s because of the massive secularization of our world. Not even the Great Purge put an end to it! We need a revival of the spirit, especially now when the time of enlightenment is about to explode again.
“And now, to express my gratitude... There’s a gallon of fresh water, two loaves of bread and some salami—real bread and real meat—over there behind that thing,” the woman said, pointing to the lectern. “And through the generosity of our Master... Here… one million bucklers for each of you.”
Ahma and Jovian took hold of the money. There was a moment of silence.
“You should know that I’m not your benefactor, boys. Do not ask why I’m helping you, for it is not me who wants to help you. I’m only a servant, like all the others. Everything you get does not come from me—it comes from our Master!
The woman handed the packs containing the redemptive tickets to Ahma and Jovian, and stood up. “Oh, something else before I go,” the woman said, standing perfectly upright. “Do not try to make contact with me before the settled time. That is, you should never try to find me, for I will always find you. And don’t forget to be here on every Hailday, at sundown... Au revoir, dear citizens! WE FOLLOW!” the woman raved and repeatedly made the sign of ‘O’.
It was impossible to say what kind of face stood behind that veil. In vain, they had tried to guess her age by her voice, eyes and by her way of walking. As she passed by, the elegance of her movements mesmerized them. And the deep fabulous scent of lilac...
Their minds needed more time so they could process the event they had just been part of. Even after she was gone, Ahma and Jovian remained spellbound. They waited until the woman slipped out of the church and fell upon the food and water like two birds of prey.
'The only true fight is that which one has with himself,' a soothing voice whispered in the air.
Two years later—the year 159, Nebula Era.
From the 107th floor apartment in the pyramidal structure, Ahma had a fantastic view over half of Nebula City, overlooking the most grandiose architecture of the new Nebula Era—the Godocortex, with the Corpus Callosum rising 1,700 feet towards the sky, in between the two brain-like hemispheres; the Godocortex still shined, changing its vivid colors according to the weather, on the greyest days resembling quicksilver, which gave it a rather somber, yet very powerful air.
Ahma looked at the elephantine letters that waved like flaming torches at the top of the brain-shaped stately building. He read:
And above, in gold lettering:
For some reason, the eighteen-year-old boy visualized the words in reverse order: that is TIME, UNIVERSE, MIND, and without GOD at the top.
In more recent years, that meaning at least one hundred years into the new era, a multitude of multicolored buildings, standing at only 500 feet in height and looking like rectangular giant wafers, had been annexed to the powerful Godocortex—the place where the rulers of the once theo-technocratic system had had their headquarters. Furthermore, other similar structures of the same importance had arisen throughout the entire world, big immaculate white ‘O’s wavering atop of each of them. Thousands and thousands of Thought Factories (this was their official name) still awaited completion, a completion that would never come though. If, in the past, the Thought Factories had served as Enlightenment Houses, and at some point had been bailed out from imminent collapse by the mighty State itself, presently they served as bailouts for those who were simply in need of cash or owned large amounts of money to MondoCash.
There had been rumors in the past, saying that the Godocortex connected with all the Thought Factories through a vast network of tunnels, stretching almost endlessly under plain ground, seas, oceans, mountains and deserts, but no one knew for sure if these connections really existed and, if they did, how vast they really were.
He was one of the less ill-fated dwellers of Nebula City, Ahma contemplated, still looking at the stately building. The Godocortex stood in complete darkness except the upper part of it; there, one could discern a few flickering lights that bore the appearance of distant fading stars.
He should be glad that he was not indebted for life to MondoCash—the half-state, half-private bank—and thus forced to pawn his thoughts at a Thought Factory, he thought; or even worse, at a pawn machine, in exchange for a quick buck. He had a good place to live, and, fortunately, he was still able to hold a job: he was selling hope to people—redemptive tickets they were called.
Two years had passed since he and Jovian met their contractor, the one whom they would afterwards dub Black Petal, and he still felt ashamed that he had to rely on instincts rather than his judgment. He would find his own excuse though: he was obliged to make this compromise as a pretext to survive. For, he thought, it was impossible for an individual to find an honest way to break through these callous times, too much hatred having gushed, and still gushing, from the minds and chests of the human race, afterwards disseminating into space, ultimately to awaken the antipathy of an entire Universe.
Suddenly, a lightning bolt came from between two merging thunderclouds. Even the sky seemed to copy and obey the doctrine of the presently defunct State. Three seconds later a thunder cracked, the infernal noise shaking the window glass. It sounded as if an explosion had taken place somewhere within the city.
There might be another revolt growing roots out there, Ahma thought and looked at the greenish droplets of rain that started maliciously tapping the panoramic window.
Bits of the profound dream he had had overnight were still fresh in his mind. In this dream, there were obsolete cell phones everywhere, soldered together with a translucent resin, which kept his legs trapped like in a vise-grip. He was in a yawning depth, a factitious light coming from above. The air was damp and heavy, full of particles of zinc and copper, but strangely, he did not seem to be in need of air, as if his thorax were devoid of lungs; as if he were a robotic creature perfectly adapted to the lack of oxygen.
In an almost suffocated voice, Ahma started screaming: “Help! Help!” his desperate cries greeted only by his own despair. A variety of voices—they all called out, ‘Ahma, Ahma'—poured forth into the gray atmosphere; at the same time, thousands of electronic circuits started glowing inside the translucent cell phones.