Illustration by Matt Morrow

 

John
by Mark Bonica

 

But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD. -- Job 2:11-12

 

June 14, 2753

I am the patient one. That is why I was chosen to be the ferry-master of this precious cargo. A trip that will last ten generations -- 500 years of flight, almost a millennia of real time -- to the new home of humanity. Sometimes I wonder how the world accepted the idea of a Jesuit shepherding the flock, but this trip will take discipline. A man close to God has a better chance of surviving.

It has been a year and I can still see the sun with the naked eye from the observation deck. I listen to old news broadcasts sometimes, just to hear human voices. Voices other than my own as I wander through the bowels of this ship, left hand moving through the Rosary.

 

June 14, 2768

Sometimes I wonder if Christ would have made a greater tragic figure if he had been caught in this cavernous craft for half a millennia, rather than simply drag a cross across Jerusalem. Then I realize that I am speaking spitefully to myself, and I must remember that redemption awaits me as I will rise from the dead not once, but nine more times, and I too will make an ascension from this metal hell to free my children in a new promised land.

 

June 14, 2780

I am eighty years old. I have spent the last 28 years of my life in solitude, and I wonder if I am still sane. I run through a battery of psych exams every year, just to be sure. The ship's computer tells me that my reactions to solitude are normal.

I remain a patient man.

Sometimes I wonder what life might have been like, is like, will be like back home. Back on Earth. I become wistful as I remember growing up in West Texas. The hot, dry days, the baking sun in the summer -- the bitter cold winds of winter cutting across the desert. There is no wind on this ship. Oh -- I can turn up the ventilation system -- but that is just a substitute. I am a Jesuit -- a soldier of God. I give my life to God.

Today I have decided to make my final addition to the memory reservoir. Whatever I awaken with in my next life, I will remember nothing beyond today. I grow weary.

When I left the Earth, the Pope himself gave me special dispensation -- a man's soul is in his memories as much as in his body. What I do is new under the eyes of God, and is not heretical. I will wake up, not a monster, but a man. A young man with 80 years of memories.

By the time I arrive at my destination, West Texas may no longer be a desert. Perhaps they will have found a way to irrigate it. Perhaps it will be a tropical paradise. Perhaps the desert will be fields of grain and fruit. Or perhaps there will be no humanity left. Perhaps this colony will be the only vestige of humanity left in the universe.

 

June 14, 2886

I remember being old. That is perhaps the strangest thing about this reincarnation, this repeated carry-over, this transition to a new body. I remember the stiffness of the joints when I wake in the morning. When I walk up the stairs, I hold the handrails tightly to keep my balance, and am still surprised when I spring lightly up through the artificial gravity.

I had some hesitation about sitting down to take over my/his work. I am young again. Twenty-six Earth years. I remember nothing past the last entry into the memory reservoir, but I have a few scattered notes he made before he died. And I have the ship's medical records. Massive stroke. A quick, painful death. He died on deck seven, the observation room. I believe he was looking back home. I go there and pray for his soul -- for my soul. I do not know if I am a man or a monster. I imagine Frankenstein's child, running from the angry mob, not understanding their hatred. He was alive, was he not? Hadn't he the same rights to life? The same clinging, the same drive to eat, to be sheltered, to find love?

Our work, watching over the ship -- ensuring that all the systems continue to function. Cataloguing the observations of the probes that continue to function even as I sleep. Sending that information to scientists back on Earth. And of course noting and observing the man to see if he is not becoming a monster, unfit for raising the children of God.

 

June 14, 2897

There was a short, and I was killed by the sudden discharge. Once again, I lost about six months of memory, as he had not updated his memory reservoir.

I've begun noting the passing lives as "he" when I refer to the time after the last download of memory patterns. They really are not me, if I can't remember what they said, what they felt. Luckily I update every year -- what would be the point of doing much more? The computer keeps a record of everything I do -- what I eat, when I go to the bathroom, when I sleep, what my body temperature was, how fast my heart beat, when I die.

Am I becoming hardened to death? Am I becoming somehow megalomaniacal?

I want to see the end of this trip. It has been too long.

I want to see the end of this trip. I. This I. This body. This soul. My God, what have I done? What did he/we do/done to these innocent boys? Am I him? I don't want to be here anymore. I can't bear another three-hundred years alone.

If only the whole ship would simply blow up. Perhaps it would steer into a star. We could burn with the fires of angels, and I would be home.

If I am not the man whose memories were not stored in the reservoir, is he truly dead? Is there some piece of my soul that is disappearing every time I die, that piece that is not stored by the machines? Or am I some unholy thing created by machines, a doppelganger that does not know he is but a shadow of a man who died many years ago?

I pray for wisdom, but not as often as I once did.

 

June 14, 2999

The last summer of the third millennium of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

She was born from an incubation sack -- designed to function like an artificial womb. I overrode the computer's commands not to activate any further personages during the flight. But I haven't truly done this. There will be no memory transfer. I am not "activating" an existing person. She came into the world as most of humanity did before me -- crying, drenched in amniotic fluid, exhausted, and hungry -- and so beautiful that she made me cry. With a few modifications the food replicators were able to create formula. Not a complicated process.

She is so beautiful. I spend my days listening to her breathe, waiting for her to move her tiny hands across her face -- she hasn't yet discovered that she has hands, or a face for that matter. I am just a cluster of sensory impressions on her. I do everything with her now. I eat with her nestled in the crook of one arm. I have fashioned a sling to carry her about the ship with me. Sometimes I wake at night and run to her crib to make sure that her tiny chest is still rising and falling. She is so beautiful.

I think of God's words: "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him."

 

June 14, 3000

Athena, my daughter, is now a few weeks past a year old. She is a miracle, the only thing I live for now. She learned to walk in the observation room. I've moved our quarters there. It's makeshift -- but it is comfortable. Her crib is near the port window -- and she can wake at night and look at the stars.

 

June 14, 3004

I point in the direction that we are heading, and tell her that will be her home someday.

She asks me: "Will I have my own observation deck when we get there?"

 

June 14, 3010

Athena is ten. She is becoming a young girl, and I am becoming an old man. She doesn't understand the idea of a community larger than two. It is humorous and sad. She watches holos of shows and stories from Earth. She doesn't care for the news broadcasts as I do.

"Daddy", she says, "those have already happened. You know what came before and after them."

I say, "But what you like never happened, nor will it ever happen."

"What's the difference?" she asks.

 

June 14, 3014

Athena has become so melancholy. She broods. She watches TV alone, chooses to take her meals alone sometimes. We have always had our meal time together.

I say mass and she partakes, though. At least we have that.

Have I created another, only to suffer with me?

 

June 14, 3015

Her comments sometimes startle me.

"I don't know if I believe in God anymore, Father."

I don't know what bothers me most in that comment. I don't ask why she chose to call me "Father". The possibility hurts to much.

She partakes of mass, but her heart is not there. I think she goes through the motions because she is still too young to refuse to participate in something that she knows to be such an important part of my life. This is difficult for me to accept, but I know that she will come to see and believe as I have once again.

As for me, I feel closer to God with her than I have ever been before. He has given me a gift more precious than my own life.

 

June 14, 3016

Sweet sixteen. She wants to understand sexuality. She has no one to experiment with, to explore, except in holos. But it is not just that, it is the emptiness of this flight. From what she reads, she knows that I can never give her the fullness of her life. She needs a husband, not a father. This saddens me, and makes me realize what a selfish man I have been, because though I would give her my life, I can give her nothing more than myself. And this is not enough.

 

April 10, 3017

Today is Good Friday. Athena slit her wrists during the night. I found her body by the memory reservoir. She had deleted herself.

 

June 14, 3017

I am a monster. I am the heretic. God has brought punishment on me as no man should have to stand, but I am evil, as no man has been before me, to bring the beautiful, the innocent into a life surrounded by darkness. My self-righteousness, my greed, all my emptiness of soul. I have killed the one beautiful thing in my life, as surely as if I had slid the razor across her delicate little wrists. My baby, oh my baby! Come back to me my dear Athena!

I tried to retrieve any remnants of her memories that the computer might not have deleted, but the patterns were hopelessly entangled, destroyed, gone. Gone into the emptiness of death.

 

June 14, 3019

Two years without Athena. Longer than I have thought a man could live with this sin.

Easter has ceased to be a holiday for me. There is no resurrection, only death.

 

June 14, 3020

I awoke today. I am puzzled about the distances we have traveled in so short a time, and I realized that it had not been a short time. Somehow, the memories of the last three-hundred years have been deleted.

 

June 16, 3019

I am a monster. I have read some of the daily journal I have kept over the centuries, seen the pictures of the girl. What did he do that would have destroyed her? Him? He kept a picture of her and a locket of her hair tucked in a box by his bed.

Apparently he overrode the airlock controls and stepped into the void. I believe he thought this was a symbolic act.

How will I escape fate?

 

June 14, 3022

The loneliness is unbearable sometimes. I have closed the observation deck, and never go in. Her things are still there. Young girl things, as much as one could create on a ship on a hellish journey across the void of space.

I reflect on Genesis: "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

I have eaten of the tree. This is my penance.

 

June 14, 3100

My eighth life.

I am twenty-six again. One-hundred-fifty more years of imprisonment. When we arrive in the system, it is a likely that there will be a habitable planet -- actually a moon. If not, I intend to fly this craft into the sun. The human race will have to find another savior. I am not Christ. I do not have the voice of God to comfort me. I have the emptiness between the stars.

I find I don't pray anymore, except in my dreams. I can't acknowledge God. In the emptiness of my life, there was a time, in this body's memory, when I tried to make myself believe that there was no God. No God would make a man suffer the way we have. We, I, them -- all of me through these centuries. No God would make man suffer, no just God, no god who loves man, as Christ claims he did.

But regardless of what I say, I know there is a God. But what kind of God? What does he offer his humble servants? Where is he? Have I left him behind on Earth? Is he still perched on Mt. Olympus, overlooking the Aegean sea? Is she with him? Athena? Are you out there? Are you in Heaven? Or are you burning in the pits of Hell, where the suicides go?

 

June 14, 3252

We are approaching the system, finally. This body is that of a fifty-year-old man.

For the last hundred years, I have been able to watch the approach of the new sun from the bridge. This is where I make my home now. I never go to deck seven anymore. Not even to light candles in her memory.

I portrayed myself as the humble one, but I secretly dreamed of being called a saint for my sacrifices. Now I know I will be known as John the Heretic, who could not love God, and who betrayed a child.

The woman who Athena was, whose genes were used to make Athena, will be awakened soon. Of course she will be resurrected as an adult. Her bio says she is an agricultural engineer. I don't know if I can bear to see what my beautiful one would have looked like as a woman.

I think I am done with life. I have wasted the wisdom of half a millennium.

God will take me, or God will punish me. I will not be resurrected again. I have deleted all of my memories from the reservoir. Only this flesh instrument holds my soul, now.

 


* * *

June 14, 3396

"A reading from St. John the Traveler, to the Voyagers."

The congregation murmured as they made the sign of the Cross on their foreheads, lips, and heart. Outside the planet Athena was rising in the sky. Somewhere in high orbit was the husk of a transport ship.

"In the emptiness of space, one can fail to see the hands of God," read the priest. "Man was made to be with Woman, and Woman was made to be with Man. Be together, and be good to one another. For in the empty space between a Man and a Woman is God, who binds you together with love, as he binds the universe together with his strength.

"This is the word of the Lord."

"Amen."

 

 

Story © 2003 by Mark Bonica mbonica@yahoo.com


Illustration © 2003 by Matt Morrow
mz9000@tconl.com

 

 

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