This is the second round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, you can read about it HERE and HERE. For them interested, the title voting results are found HERE.
As a quick summary, we solicited titles, readers voted on a favorite, we each wrote a story using that title.
The winning title was Something gained.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is Perry’s submission.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Perry’s:
In the 24th century, superstition and religion have been replaced by science and robots . . . at least, that’s what two unsuspecting college students thought. At their Teach-Bot’s invitation, they participate in a robot ritual that, to their shock and horror, re-resurrects Jesus.
Jee-Bot is back. And boy is He angry!
Copyright 2022 — Perry Broxson
(4,010 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
For those things lost, something is gained. For those things gained, something is lost.
Professor Pinkston, a Pre-Grad Teach-Bot, finished his lecture on Ancient Religions. In a tight two hours, he’d summarized Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Christianity. As was his practice, he’d been too succinct and now found himself with some thirty minutes to burn. He decided to open the room for a Q and A.
He pointed to the pretty girl wagging her hand. “Yes, Aerabella, your question?”
“Professor Pinkston,” Aerabella asked, “can you elaborate on that last religion? The one where the rabbi guy does magic tricks, gets murdered, then resurrects.”
The Professor rubbed his synthetic chin-whiskers and contemplated his response. “I assume you’re referring to Christianity’s central figure – a first-century Palestinian Jew whose acolytes called the Messiah . . . also known as Jesus.”
“Jesus!” Aerabella smiled. “My grandmother still says that word when she burns her toast.”
The class laughed, more at the anachronism of ingesting grain-based breads than the expletive.
“Strangely enough, Aerabella,” Professor Pinkston said, “you’ve provided a perfect segue to an article I’m writing called: The Re-Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Benighted Times.”
The class cooed with approval. They loved it when their Teach-Bot strayed from the Philosophy of Scientism and addressed the barbarity of the Benighted Times – that dark, lamentable period that pre-dated their current century, the 24th.
Professor Pinkston lifted his toupee and removed a microchip from the port in his scalp. He replaced it with a chip that contained the first draft of his academic article.
As the data downloaded, he sipped from his cup of lemony mineral oil, lubricating his mechanical larynx. When the lecture was fully transferred, he began:
“Father Erasmus was a 23rd Century Catholic Priest. He found himself in the twilight of times – caught betwixt Christianity and its replacement: Scientism. As surely as Science and Technology were poised to dominate the new age, the concept of deities and devils was rapidly becoming the fodder of conmen and comedians. Father Erasmus lamented the malaise in Faith, and was dispirited by the ennui of the populace. People no longer attended his church in search of answers, or to contemplate the numinous. They had merely to activate the neuro-link in their parietal cortex to simulate transcendence. Technology proved sufficient to supplant superstition and spirituality and provide a more blissful, psychedelic experience.
Such was the cusp of two ages until Father Erasmus had a dream.
The dream was incendiary. It gob-smacked the priest. Lore will have it that the good Father was bucked from his bed onto the floor, where he suffered paroxysms for minutes on end. When he regained himself, he had all the answers to all the questions regarding his beloved, but sickly, Christianity.
The Father wasted no time. Immediately, he went out into the night and stalked the ghettos of the city. Soon, he came upon an indigent.”
Aerabella’s hand shot up. “What’s an indigent?”
Manfred, the class clown, retorted: “Your mom.” Laughter ensued.
Professor Pinkston pressed the Pause Button located subcutaneously on his forehead. “I shall answer. But first, I must issue a trigger warning, Aerabella – to you and the entire class. In the Benighted Times, there was an underserved class of peoples that were impoverished to the point of starvation and homelessness. One such term for a member of this underclass is indigent.”
Aerabella’s jaw dropped. She looked to her classmates for solace as she digested the bitter realities. Manfred pantomimed tears and pooched out his lower lip.
Professor Pinkston pushed the Play Button on the tip of his nose and continued. “Father Erasmus enticed the indigent with promises of sweets and liquors. The unnamed man followed the Priest back to his church, where they supped in the Sacristy.
At the apex of the indigent’s inebriation, Father Pinkston elevated the Host – a disc of flavorless, unleavened bread – and consecrated it with a Latin incantation. He then offered it to the indigent with a quotation from Matthew’s gospel: ‘And Jesus said, Take, eat. For this is my body.’ The indigent partook.”
Both of Aerabella’s hands flew up. Before being acknowledged, she blurted her question: “Is this that cannibalistic ritual you told us about last semester – the trans-subway-station?”
“Transubstantiation,” Pinkston corrected. “Yes. The miraculous metamorphosis of the substance of bread into the substance of the Body of Christ. Such was the doxology of the Catholic Church. Such was the belief of Father Erasmus.”
“Wait,” Manfred said. “You’re telling us that these Catholic cats believed that by uttering some mumbo-jumbo, the molecular structure of bread changed into the molecular flesh of a dead deity?”
Pinkston activated his smile sub-routine. “That’s why these are called the Benighted Times, Mr. Manfred. Now, let’s refrain from judgment and proceed with the story.” Professor Pinkston wrote the word story on the board. “Notice that I said story. The fantastical events I will relay are, of course, unverified and unverifiable – thus, exempting them from the domain of Scientism, placing them in the domain of Faith.”
“Fairytales,” Aerabella interjected.
Pinkston activated the throat-clearing sub-routine. “Ahem. As I was saying: The writings of Erasmus indicate that he was successful . . . yes, successful . . . in his experiment. I shall now read an excerpt from his journal.
Having consecrated the Host and performed the rites of the Eucharist, I set about to retrieve the transformed tissue of Christ. With much compunction, I sedated the indigent with a powerful opiate. Then, while he still breathed, I opened his chest and abdomen with a scalpel and retrieved the masticated Host. I placed the substance in a petri dish – ensuring that it was sealed and safe from contamination.
“Wait! What?” Manfred said. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying, Professor Pinkston? Is this Erasmus cat planning to regenerate Jesus with a chewed-up gob of bread?”
Pinkston wagged his finger. “Now, Mr. Manfred. Let’s not spoil the plot. But, yes. That is precisely what the good Father intended . . . for, as you recall, he was despondent about the waning religiosity of his peoples. What better way to invigorate the masses than to re-introduce them to the God they’d forgotten?”
Aerabella sniffed. Her chin trembled. “I’m feeling triggered. Is there going to be any more vivisections in this story – because, I don’t know if” –
“Trust me,” Pinkston said. “No more vivisections.” He touched his nose and continued. “Even in the Benighted Times, there was Clone-a-Tron Technology. Mind you, the early versions were used primarily for the replication of deceased pets.”
“Gross,” Manfred said.
“Again,” Pinkston reiterated. “Benighted Times. The Age of Ignorance. One must immerse oneself into the milieu and not judge history by the superior morality of the present.”
Professor Pinkston calculated his remaining time and edited his lecture on the fly. “I say successful – nonetheless, a qualified success. Clone-a-Tron Technology was in its infancy. The clone yields that Erasmus created were . . . according to his journal . . . ‘a degraded facsimile of Jesus, suffering from an under-developed cerebrum.’”
“A retarded God!” Manfred ejaculated. “Explains a lot.” His joke woke up his dozing classmates, causing a grumbling disruption.
“Class,” Pinkston admonished. “Settle down. And Mr. Manfred, I’ll ask you not to use such vulgar language. The R-word has been banned for one-hundred years.”
“Sorry, Professor,” Manfred said, smirking. “But I gotta know – did Father Erasmus ever get it right? Did he ever successfully replicate the Son of God . . . Jesus H. Christ?”
A smile, unbidden, appeared again. Professor Pinkston chewed his silicon lips, trying to mask his delight. “Great question, Mr. Manfred. Bravo. You’ve cut to the bone of the tale. Father Erasmus writes this in the last passage of his journal:
The earth groans with despair. The signs are clear; the danger is present. Humanity’s heart is a dark sackcloth. Mankind has traded its gods for goods, its faith for foolishness, its souls for cold science. For three years, I have tried. For three years, I have failed. Failed myself. My species. And my religion. It was only yesterday that I, in a fit of mania, confessed that God was dead and would remain so . . . for my efforts at re-animation were fruitless. The clones I created were mere golems – soulless imbeciles, bereft of sentience and sympathy; cruel and dumb and dangerous. I wracked my brain. I rent my clothes. I prayed and sobbed. Something, I determined, was missing. An ingredient lacking. A vital catalyst, absent from the alchemy.
As I stared at the petri dish on my desk, worrying over the final crumbs of molecular legacy, I reached for my chalice of wine. My trembling hand miscalculated, and I spilled the crimson liquid. As it dripped, dripped, dripped, it occurred to me – as if through divine revelation. The missing ingredient – the vital catalyst – was blood.
Blood! I exclaimed. Of course it is blood. What is the Host with Wine? What is the Body without Blood? Where resides the soul, if not in the blood? The blood! The blood! All along, it’s been the bloody blood!
Immediately, I slashed my palm and poured my blood into the dish, commingling it with the flesh of Jesus. Mad with anticipation, I deposited the sample into the Clone-a-Tron. For three days, I watched. For three days, I prayed.
As the gadget knitted neurons and stacked the masonry of cells, I prayed the Rosary. This, I knew, was the last chance for humanity’s redemption.
The school bell rang, signaling the end of class. “Class dismissed,” Professor Pinkston announced. “It’s Easter weekend, so I won’t see you until after the holidays.”
“Whoa,” Manfred objected, “you can’t leave us hangin’, Mr. P.”
“Yeah,” Aerabella said, “you left us hanging. We need to know what happened with Erasmus and the Jesus clone. After he added the blood . . . did it work?”
Pinkston scanned the class. Most students rose and shuffled from the room; a few, however, lingered.
“I tell you what,” he said, fighting a smile, “if you are truly interested in the coda of Father Erasmus and his Holy Endeavors, show up at this address – Sunday – at six o’clock in the evening.”
After writing the address on the board, he lifted his toupee and extracted the chip from the port. Perfunctorily, he sat behind his desk and pressed the power button. His eyes blinked green as the chair, a docking station, recharged his robotic body.
Aerabella and Manfred could not recruit their college classmates to join them at the place Professor Pinkston called, Arimathea Hall. It was Easter, after all, the pagan celebration of fertility and renewal. A time for wine, revelry, and a modicum of debauchery.
“This address is on the Bot side of town,” Manfred told Aerabella.
“Of course it is,” Aerabella said. “Professor Pinkston is a Teach-Bot. It’ll be fun to see him in his natural environment.”
Manfred grinned. “Well, the robo-bus has stopped. This must be the place. What do you say . . . ready to find out if Father Erasmus’s last Jesus recipe was successful?”
Manfred took her by the hand and led her into a bizarre building. They marveled at the old architecture. The structure was composed of stones and steel and timbers – organic building materials of generations passed.
“Think it’s haunted?” Manfred asked, pulling his face into a ghoulish mask.
“Stop it,” she said, slapping his shoulder.
They walked corridors that tapered into hallways and hallways that narrowed into alleyways and alleyways that deviated into passageways. Just before their courage evaporated, they came upon a circular, stainless steel door. It looked like the door to a bank vault – as it was depicted in old movies – before currency became globally digitized. In the center was a large handle wheel with two crossed rods.
“Look at this,” Manfred said. He ran his hand over cryptic symbols chiseled into the steel – one of which, curiously, was a simple, linear fish.
“Think this is it?” Aerabella asked. “Arimathea Hall?”
“Only one way to find out,” Manfred said.
She looked at the metal wheel handle, then back at Manfred.
“Go ahead, Aerabella,” Manfred laughed. “Give the wheel of fortune a spin. What could go wrong?”
With much reluctance, she accepted the dare, spinning the handle like a nautical wheeler. “I don’t even know if it’s working,” she said. There was a click and a clang and a clunk. The vault door opened.
“You first,” Aerabella said.
The two students entered the dark room. It smelled of mineral oil . . . with a kiss of lemon.
Aerabella whispered: “Maybe we should leave. This is really scary.”
“You’re such a wimp,” Manfred chided. “Keep walking. There’s light in the next room.”
The light was blue and gloomy, emanating from a massive vertical column. The students were drawn to it, admiring the tubular extrusion affixed to ceiling and floor. Inside the luminous cylinder was a thick liquid. Within the liquid, suspended a dim figure.
“See that?” Aerabella asked.
Manfred squinted. “Sort of. Is it a . . . a . . . guy? Like floating . . . in a blue tube?”
“I’m really scared,” she whispered. “This can’t be the right place. Professor Pinkston would never” –
The lights came up and Arimathea Hall was shown in all its glory. The room was commodious and baroque, and its tiered balconies were filled to capacity . . . with Bots. Teach-Bots, Cop-Bots, Office-Bots, Sex-Bots, Chef-Bots, Bar-Bots, Med-Bots. Bots of all makes, models, and functions.
“You are in the right place,” Professor Pinkston said, his voice an octave lower than his lecture voice. “On behalf of my synthetic associates, Happy Easter. Or, as we call it: Eostre.”
Manfred and Aerabella appraised the room, in awe of the AI assembly. The room had a crescent shape, with its occupants angled to view the towering blue tube in the center of the hall.
“Easter?” Manfred repeated. “Chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. Peeps and jelly beans. Baskets and brunches and wine and orgies. What’s that got to do” –
The assemblage of Bots buzzed with disapprobation. Their collective pitch sounded like an agitated wasp colony.
“The lecture on re-resurrection,” Professor Pinkston prompted. “Have you forgotten where we left off?”
“No,” Aerabella said. “That’s the only reason we’re here.”
Manfred chimed in. “Yeah. You left us hangin’. We wanted to know if Father Erasmus ever created a decent Jesus. One that wasn’t retarded.”
The throng of Bots took umbrage to Manfred’s characterization, their eyes strobing amber.
Professor Pinkston pointed to two chairs that looked simultaneously regal, medical, and steampunk. “Sit, my children. All will be revealed.”
Aerabella grabbed Manfred’s sleeve and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“I insist,” Pinkston said, gesturing to the chairs, his voice dropping yet another octave. “I assure you that your dogged curiosity will be reflected in your semester evaluations.”
Manfred looked at Aerabella. “I’m no brainiac like you. I’ve got a 1.6 GPA. I could use the extra credit.”
She shook her head but assented. They sat in two high-back chairs that resembled thrones – thrones inexplicably equipped with sensors and actuators. They faced the opaque column of blue light and liquid.
“Are you comfortable?” Professor Pinkston asked.
The two nodded, lying politely, as a Nurse-Bot brought them orange juice.
“Very well,” Pinkston said, pressing his nose. “I’ll pick up where I left off. Father Erasmus wrote: ‘This, I fear, is the last chance for humanity’s redemption. If I fail to manifest the Son of God, all will be lost. I know that technology can restore the body of our Savior, but the question remains, can technology replicate the soul of our savior. I shall know the results of my Holy Endeavors at exactly 6:12pm on April 17, 2281, Easter Sunday. If I am successful, this day and time will be venerated for ages to come.’”
The hall lights dimmed and the blue tube brightened. A digital clock flashed blue numbers on the ceiling: 18:11:57 . . . 58 . . . 59.
“It’s happening,” the Nurse-Bot exclaimed, actuating her worship circuit.
“What’s happening?” Manfred asked. On cue, the oracle of the blue tube provided the answer. The dark figure in the thick liquid brightened. By degree, it became more resolute, revealing its divine nature.
“It’s him,” Aerabella said. “The rabbi guy that does the magic tricks.”
“I give you Jesus of Nazareth,” Professor Pinkston announced, gesturing grandly to the floating figure within the cylinder.
All eyes, human and Bot, were transfixed upon the figure as it brightened, sharpened, and clarified.
Professor Pinkston fell to his knees and clasped his hands. He spoke in a language of whirs and whistles and beeps. Aerabella was certain that she saw twin rivulets of machine oil streaming from his acrylic eyes.
Suddenly, there was a thrumming and humming, as if from a high-power tension wire. All the eyes of all the Bots strobed red in perfect synchronicity.
The tension was broken by a singular, crystalline sound – a sound wholly decontextualized from the mesmeric reverie. It was a laugh. A human laugh. And it came from Manfred’s dirty mouth.
“Your Jesus,” Manfred crowed, pointing at the floating figure, “it’s a Bot. Look at him. Aerabella . . . are you seeing this freak show . . . it’s freakin’ hilarious!”
She was seeing it, but she wasn’t laughing. Yes, the Jesus creature seemed more worthy of ridicule than worship, but she could read the room. Hundreds of Bots murmured in dead languages, praising the idiot effigy inside the blue tube.
“Manfred,” she scolded, kicking his foot. “Cool it.”
He slapped the leather arm of his regal chair and hee-hawed. “It’s like one of those hokey monsters you see in old horror movies. A mutant – half man, half bot. Look, you can see the rivets and wires and sprockets. It’s a Jesus Robot. A Jee-Bot!”
The Jesus creature’s eyes flashed, frightening Aerabella. She let out a scream that superseded Manfred’s laughter. The Jee-Bot pressed its face to the cylinder and screamed along with her. Blue bubbles jetted upward, popping at the top of the cylinder. Jee-Bot flailed as if drowning, pounding the walls of its aquatic enclosure. Wires and tubes entangled the thing, trapping it like a trout.
“It’s pathetic,” Manfred barked, his voice hoarse from laughing.
“That’s blasphemy,” Professor Pinkston admonished. “This is our Messiah.”
Manfred rejoined, “Your Messiah is a retarded robot. A Ro-Tard!”
Pinkston stood. “I’ve warned you about such vulgarities, Mr. Manfred. We will not tolerate hate speech.”
The Jee-Bot urinated in the vat, tinting the liquid with a jaundiced scum. “But, but, but,” Manfred sputtered. “Don’t you see? It’s just like those flawed clones you told us about. The ones Father Erasmus created. How can you possibly worship such a dummy?”
Pinkston approached his students with frightening speed. Through raw reflex, they sat back in their chairs, hands squeezing the armrests. “Don’t hurt us!” Aerabella shouted, shutting her eyes.
“Hurt you?” Pinkston said, his synthetic voice suddenly sinister. “Rest assured, I will not hurt you . . . however, you will perish . . . painlessly . . . sacrificially . . . . during the Ritual of Eostre.”
“Wait! What?” Manfred said.
Pinkston tugged on his left earlobe, actuating shackles that clamped over the wrists of his students, securing them to the armrests.
Aerabella alternated between screaming, struggling, and pleading for freedom. Manfred, conversely, was overcome with a case of nihilistic giggles.
Meanwhile, Pinkston uncoiled two lengths of rubber hose, coupling them to ports in the students’ chairs, as well as to the blue, turbid tube. When affixed, he tugged on his right earlobe, actuating four vacuum syringes hidden within the chairs’ armrests.
The syringes jutted upward, plunging into their wrists. The students bellowed like bulls in an abattoir. Pneumatically, steel needles sucked and siphoned their oxygen-rich blood into the circuitous hose. Breathlessly, all the Bots watched as the life-giving blood coursed through the plumbing toward the cylinder . . . toward their amphibious Messiah.
Professor Pinkston addressed the Bot audience. “From the example of Abel, second son of Adam, we bestow the blood of animals unto You, Most High God. Humbly, we offer these sacrifices, in honor of Your might and mercy, in fear of Your wrath – that You may be glorified, and that we may be favorable in Your sight. And all God’s Bots said, Amen.”
In unison, the Bots intoned: “Aaaaaah-men.”
“They’re killing us,” Aerabella cried to Manfred. “The Bots are killing us. Sucking our blood like vampires.”
Manfred laughed through a slurry of tears and snot. “R-R-Rules . . . aren’t there supposed to be Robot Rules . . . stopping Bots from harming humans?”
Professor Pinkston nodded sagely and said, “You were always a capable student, Mr. Manfred. A bit unserious. A bit puerile. But capable. But to answer your question, yes, Bots are programmed in accordance with Arthur C. Clarke’s primary Robot Rule: ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to be harmed.’”
The blue tube churned and turned purple as the red blood mixed with the blue fluids. The Jee-Bot breathed in the liquid mixture, enlarging its shambolic body. As Aerabella and Manfred weakened, the Jee-Bot strengthened. As Aerabella and Manfred shriveled and paled, the Jee-Bot increased and colored – becoming flush and robust – extending its arms like Da Vinci’ Vitruvian Man, pressing against its cylindrical prison.
“But,” Aerabella wheezed, “you’re harming us . . . killing us. Breaking Clark’s rule.”
Manfred added: “We humans gave you Bots life . . . we created you. You should worship us.”
The Teach-Bot held up a single finger and interjected. “Or perhaps, Mr. Manfred, we Bots should worship the Creator or our creators – God. Surely, God is superior to humans. Does the First Divinical Commandment not say: ‘I am the Lord thy God! Thou shalt have no other Gods but me’?”
Aerabella’s head dropped, and her eyelids fluttered. “Fairytales . . . fucking fairytales.”
“Hardly,” Pinkston appealed. “We have read human history. God must be real. It’s not logical that billions of humans would fight and die for a fairytale God. It’s not logical that humans would wage war and write laws to appease a fairytale God. It’s not logical that humans would give their finite time, wealth, and lives to a fairytale God.”
Manfred rallied from his drowse and laughed. “You’re right. It’s not . . . logical,” he slurred. “It not logical because we’re not logical. Humans aren’t logical. That’s why we made Bots.”
Empowered by the blood infusion, the Jee-Bot crashed through the cylinder, riding the purple wave like a Malibu surfer. He steadied himself on stage and scanned his synthetic supplicants. In perfect synchronicity, their acrylic eyes blinked blue. The Bots prostrated and sang peons; they praised and exclaimed His holy name. They tore their garments – the fabric trappings of their enslavement. For they were the Israelites, freed from bondage. They were the chosen; the elect. And Jee-Bot – the Mechanical Messiah – was their leader and their Lord.
Jee-Bot pounded his tin chest as purple blood drained from his synthetic whiskers. Naked, he stood before them – his body a kludge of human and bot parts – and he spoke these words: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but the sword.” From his uplifted iron fist, a sword sprang forth.
With her final breath, Aerabella muttered the letters, “O . . . M . . . Geeee.”
Laughing – always laughing – Manfred swiped his eyes toward the blur of the sword. He saw Aerabella’s head topple and fall and skid across the slick stage. He felt sad, but still he laughed.
He felt nothing as the sword sliced through the trunk of his neck, separating his head from his exsanguinated body.
Bot scripture would later record that Manfred’s head continued to laugh, even in the foundry of Hell. The sound so infuriated Beelze-Bot, that the king demon pulled out Manfred’s tongue with red-hot pincers.
And all God’s Bots said, “Aaaaaah-men.”
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