After the Fall of Love
by Oscar Deadwood
“Do you remember God?” Ben suddenly blurted out while standing next to a fellow green-clad agricultural worker in one of the deep subterranean farms underneath their domed city.
“God? No... I don’t,” replied the worker whose name Ben didn’t yet know, despite having worked with the man for over a decade. “But I saw a program as I fell asleep last night, I couldn’t help but keep my eyes closed.”
The co-worker was referring to the latest technology, now already twenty years old, of television screens sewn beneath the eyelids, giving one the ability to choose from a number of programs by merely blinking hard, the signal turned on and off by a tiny, hand-held switch.
“It was about the Age of Oppression,” continued the co-worker, “fascinating... I didn’t realize that people then were so... so, weak. Attending churches and bowing to gods and handing over their hard-earned money and needing rules to live by. It was all based on fear, it seems, fear of the unknown, fear of what happened after death. Thank goodness for this Age of Light. I thank The One that the problem of death is behind us. What did you say your name was again?”
“Ben. Ben Franklin,” Ben stuck out his hand, waiting to see if his companion would smirk upon hearing that name as schoolchildren did so many centuries ago.
“That is an old name indeed. You had parents?”
Ben nodded. “Yes.”
“How awful,” the man replied, with a shudder, removing his hand from Ben’s. “My name is Cyrus. Just Cyrus. How old are you anyway?”
Ben stood and calculated the years quickly in his head. “Three hundred and seventy-five.”
Cyrus gave a low whistle. “Wow... I haven’t met anyone that old before, I don’t think. I’m just seventy-five and all I know is this,” he said, indicating their city of Greater Detroit in the region of New Atlantis. They worked eight hours a day in this subterranean farm responsible for feeding the city. The genetically modified crops were able to grow without soil and just a token amount of water and light.
The country and the world had long been divided among cities under gigantic domes. The rest of the world was left empty except for the barbarians that, rumor had it, still existed among the abandoned villages and lesser cities, reproducing and dying like animals away from the watchful eye of The One.
Ben’s native Detroit now stretched as far north to what used to be Flint, as far west as Ann Arbor and as far south as Toledo, all of it underneath a transparent dome. The climate was controlled by The One. If it was eighty degrees in Detroit, then Greater London, or Bombay, or Buenos Aires, or Tokyo, would share the same temperature.
The planet was nearly homogenous, save subtle differences in language and skin color. Culture was reduced to one’s given role. Ben was a man of agriculture, and he spent every waking moment among those clad in green. Those dressed in white were among the scientific and medical elite; those in red were engineers; those in blue worked in media; those in gray worked in sanitation; and, ominously, those in black were the security wing of the Army of The One.
The domes had come just after the beginning of the end. Ben remembered those days vividly, even though several centuries had passed. He remembered standing before his congregation: he was a pastor of a Lutheran church.
Pastor Franklin, a name that he longed to hear again.
* * *
It was just like Revelation: there were wars and rumors of wars and pestilences and diseases running rampant throughout the planet. It was 2033 and Africa was laid barren by AIDS, famine, civil war and a persistent drought so pervasive that Ben thought God must have been angered by some continent-wide moral discretion.
And just as Africa was laid to waste, India attacked Pakistan, and Pakistan retaliated with nuclear weapons, leaving Kashmir a ruin and displacing or killing nearly 40 million people. The western markets crashed, and China, while the world was distracted, invaded Taiwan. The United States, in defense of capitalism, nearly became drawn into a war with China.
And then The One came. He came in the form of a not-so-distant relative of the Spanish royal family. He came in the form of a professional diplomat, someone who despite being only in his late thirties had already enjoyed a long career in the United Nations, going from one troubled spot in the world to the next, brokering treaties and cease-fires and delivering aid. Miraculously, he also came in the form of medical doctor, someone successful in research. He was also famous for developing a cure for certain forms of cancer.
In short, he was a living legend, a man universally respected and revered when he brokered the treaty between China and the United States, averting a war that would have undoubtedly annihilated most of the planet.
Shortly after the treaty, when the media started referring to him as “The One” because he was “the one who saved the world.” He announced his most recent scientific breakthrough, — discovered by him and his team — at his medieval, fortress-like compound in northern Spain. He had found a cure for all diseases as well as a preventive measure for aging and ultimately, dying.
He found the key to immortality.
It was done by placing a small chip in the right wrist of an individual. This chip would then send currents of electricity through the bloodstream, and these currents would then destroy any cells in the body that were irregular either by age or decay. The body then would create another cell to take its place. A person would always appear to be in the prime of life, having the physique and health of someone in their late teens or early twenties, just before the body would begin its slow decline.
As a result of the constant regeneration of cells, everyone given the chip — everyone given this gift of immortality — developed a very high metabolism. Regardless of how they looked before, all bodies quickly took on the form of near perfection: lean, muscular, chiseled.
At first, Ben warned his congregation against accepting the chip. He likened it to the Mark of the Beast, the mark of the Antichrist talked about in Revelation. He told them to have faith in God, and to accept whatever fate He has to offer. That fate would be in the form of a camp in northern Michigan. Those who refused to take the chip were sent there to keep those who took the gift of immortality free from distraction.
Ben himself, however, changed his mind at the last moment. Already 65, childless, and a widower, he was too afraid to leave his life behind, too afraid to face the hardships of a prison-like camp. He turned his back on his faith and, with a sort of morbid and melancholy resignation, accepted the chip.
But his melancholy soon disappeared. In less than a month he lost the look of a pudgy and white-haired man late in middle age. His hair came back full and dark and his body felt the way it did just after he completed basic training during his youthful Army days.
He forgot about God, as did those who took the chip.
The churches became empty. There was no need for God any more or any other god for that matter. The One and his gift of a concrete ever-lasting life took care of that. All who took the chip were told they were god-like, immortal and indestructible. And they felt that way. A mortal wound, even a gunshot, was summarily repaired by the pulsing currents of the chip.
Ben, displaced by this new economy where faith was no longer a business, was given a job digging underneath the city, in preparation for the subterranean farms. Detroit was quickly domed and Ben found his place in the Age of Light.
Since God quickly became a memory, nothing was forbidden. Ben too, took on hedonistic ways just like the rest of the population that lived beneath the dome. He gave in to his old temptations that he had long suppressed: casual sex (which was encouraged in any form, with any number of partners), drinking, eating and other forms of gluttonous pleasure.
Any family that remained was soon destroyed by indifference, and children were no longer conceived the old-fashioned way. The chip prevented pregnancy. Instead, children were hatched via test-tubes, raised in institutions by yellow-clad workers and then sent to domed cities in remote parts of the world, and later, to colonize the newly constructed domed cities on Mars. Space travel had become The One’s favorite project over the last fifty years.
No one had any use for love anymore. Lust became the prevailing emotion, and it was never denied.
The barbarians had been freed from their camps two centuries ago as the prison-keepers retreated back to the domed cities. There were few barbarians, and their existence became somewhat of a legend: a barbarian hadn’t been seen in over a century and they were characterized in television programs as ignorant, ugly and crippled by diseases and age.
* * *
But the day before Ben recalled God, a barbarian broke into Greater Detroit, and his capture by the Army of The One was immediately broadcast underneath every eyelid across the world.
Ben was reaping grain via a small laptop computer when his eyes were forced closed and the image of the barbarian was splashed across his eyes.
He didn’t look as Ben would have expected. Barbarians were always depicted in films with long hair, bent over at the waist and carrying clubs and wearing animal skins and furs, kind of like cavemen in the movies of Ben’s youth.
This barbarian, a man, was distinct. He had obviously aged. Ben guessed him to be in his sixties. He looked clean-cut and was wearing a suit, the kind Ben had worn on Sundays so many years ago. And in his right hand, Ben saw something that the man held dearly in his hand, a book that he had long forgotten.
He carried a bible, a gold cross shining on the red and leathery cover.
As the world saw the barbarian being escorted to the Greater Detroit security headquarters, he let out a scream, and raised his bible in the air.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is now at hand!”
And upon that statement, the screens behind every eyelid across the planet went blank and news of the barbarian was quickly forgotten and ignored. The Department of the Media quickly came up with other news to grasp the world’s attention.
But Ben couldn’t forget.
He saw something in the barbarian’s eyes that he hadn’t seen in centuries, something that he hadn’t seen once among his fellow green-clad workers in the farms or in the blocks and blocks of apartment buildings they all shared.
He saw a twinkle in the barbarian’s eyes that he used to know, a twinkle in the eye that used to stare back at him from his own mirror.
It was the look of conviction; it was how one looked if one had a soul. And Ben was sure the barbarian broke into their city on a mission, the kind he went on in his early twenties, just after his stint in the army.
The rest of Ben’s day was wrought with the emotion of guilt, an emotion long suppressed in this Age of Light as nothing was considered immoral.
He remembered the man he used to be, one who made a living serving God, and he felt disgusted with the man he had become, a man searching out guilty pleasures in the apartment buildings and streets of those dressed in green.
He had managed to keep a bible all these centuries. It was in a plastic box under his bed. He hadn’t touched it in such a long time.
That night, after witnessing the arrival of the barbarian, Ben chose to remain in his apartment instead of making his usual foray to the Green Club, where he would drink himself silly and go home with god-knows-who.
He pulled his bible out from under his bed. It did not look as he remembered. The book had a musty smell and the pages were yellowed and brittle from age. It was indeed, an ancient text.
Gingerly, Ben read it with a furious pace, his eyes dancing across the pages of the New Testament. He read past the point of exhaustion, and fell asleep with dreams of his past.
He realized, when he woke up, that life might have been harder in the previous age, but he had been happier. He had his struggles, to be sure. A pastor’s salary was never a generous one, and it was hard sometimes making ends meet. There were days when bills were paid late and food ignored. But there was also intense joy, joy in the small triumphs of everyday life.
This Age of Light brought no hardships. Money was no longer used, no one went without anything and no one lived more prosperously than anyone else. But there was a distinct absence of joy.
These thoughts stayed with Ben the next day while he was at work, prompting him to think out loud and ask his co-worker if he remembered God.
Ben already knew man’s answer, and the rest of the day was spent in rumination, as he absently tended to a swath of corn. By the time his work was done, he had reached a decision. And instantly his heart felt lighter. He could feel his soul starting to creep back into his body.
His chip was one of the first implanted, and in those days they were crudely placed, pulsating visibly underneath the skin. The later chips were much smaller and invisible once installed.
Ben went home that night and took a paring knife from one of his kitchen drawers. He cut a hole in his wrist, and painfully removed the chip. The sight of blood was disconcerting, but it quickly stopped. There was enough residual current in his body to heal his wound instantly.
He held the chip between his index finger and thumb and raised it to his eye and studied it as if it was something disgusting, like a dead mouse removed from a trap. He dropped it and stomped on it mercilessly, smearing the remains of the chip across his white-tiled floor .
A sense of euphoria quickly swept over him as he stopped, and he knew his soul was coming back in full.
Later, under the cover of night, he hopped in his electric car, and found his way to the edge of the city, driving past the guards in black who had no weapons to stop him. He drove right through them and over them and he knew their injuries wouldn’t last.
He soon found himself in a dark, cold, empty field shadowed by the dome of Greater Detroit, the smoke of barbarian chimney fires visible on the distant horizon.
With a sigh of relief, he drove into the land of blessed mortality.
Copyright © 2006 by Oscar Deadwood