The Messiah’s sermon was running especially long this Easter.
He’d woken up and come out of the tomb and it had been appropriately sparkly, like always. George knew how lucky he was to have won the Party lottery to attend the Resurrection in person, but brunch wasn’t served until after the speeches and George was starving.
Truth be told, George was still a bit hungover from Friday night. The twin Easter Festivals – Friday’s raucous Euthanization followed by the Resurrection on Sunday morning – brought out the wild side of many citizens, and George was no exception. (Green Party Euthanizations, in particular, tended to get out of hand, as Green’s death-by-stoning encouraged more audience participation than Blue’s burning-at-the-stake or Red’s traditional crucifixion.)
George desperately needed a danish and some coffee, but the Messiah kept droning on. As the shiny guy reiterated how carefully he had considered this year’s decision, George’s thoughts wandered. He worried that he’d forgotten to water his house ficus before he left for the weekend. Just make the announcement and be done with it! George wished he had the guts to yell.
George’s party, Blue Party, hadn’t been in power in almost a decade, and George liked to joke that it would never be again. Some of his partymates complained of conspiracy, of Red and Green exerting influence on the Messiah throughout the year. Stacking the deck, so to speak.
But that was absurd. The Messiah was the son of God, incorruptible and scientifically proven to have the power of resurrection. In the days he was gone each Easter weekend, he spoke to his father and decided what the people needed most in a ruling Party for the next year. (Though, if you looked at the historical data statistically, Party trends resembled random chance an awful lot.)
“…all of which is why I’ve chosen Blue Party to rule for year 31AR!” The Messiah raised his arms as he said it, smiling widely, and suddenly everyone was on their feet. George couldn’t believe his ears. The delighted roar of his Party’s section drowned out the groans of the other two. Change had finally come. Blue Party had been chosen, at long last. What an upset!
George’s seat was on the aisle of Blue section, and he could see across to the Greens, slumping in their seats. There was an old woman desperately trying to look like she was reading a magazine and hadn’t even noticed what just occurred. There was a stiffly-dressed man with his arms around his young daughter, who was bawling and clutching at daddy’s moustache in abject humiliation.
There was a woman who looked about George’s age and level of bookish dishevelment. She was staring at a folio she brought; George watched her sigh and tear the thing in half. She seemed…refreshingly adult in her disappointment. George found himself wishing he could ask her what was in the file, but by then the mob was already stampeding out of the amphitheater and towards the catering tables.
After brunch, George was still thinking about the woman and the torn folio. He wondered if she was a scientist, like him. George knew the disappointment of losing research funding when one’s Party was deposed. It made a career in science a continual gamble, because the corporate-sponsored jobs that scientists turned to when their Party wasn’t in power were rote and uninteresting. In George’s opinion, the system wasted a lot of good brainpower on frivolous things.
George was old enough to remember the time before the Messiah had returned, when it was all silly political gridlock and those messy elections. The government had been bankrupt. There was no research money for anyone, then. Whatever problems existed currently, the Messiah system was almost certainly superior to before.
Things were pretty good overall, George decided, as he started his car and entered the long line of traffic waiting to exit the Festival parking lot. We’re finally in power.
George expected changes at the Azure Labs now that Blue Party was in charge, but he wasn’t prepared for just how rapidly good things started to happen!
After colleagues bragged of how easily they secured government grants, no matter how ambitious their proposals, George dusted off his own research backlog. It was a bit disorganized (George often misfiled things when he was distracted), but eventually he found what he was looking for: his old doctoral research on aeronautical automobiles.
In recent years, the flying car had become a trope of futuristic fancy, an invention that everyone wanted but no one thought could actually work. George, on the other hand, had always believed that a flying car was feasible, and the work he’d done in school had only made him more sure. Try telling this to the average corporate sponsor, however. George’s first years out of university were spent as an assistant on senior researchers’ projects, and by the time George moved up the ranks, Blue had fallen out of power. He was chained to the whims of Blue corporations, who were notoriously short-sighted and profit-focused. Until now, George’s research had consisted of testing for the scientifically optimal color to paint vending machines and toy guns. Expecting the corpos to back research that would be expensive and not turn an immediate profit was a pipe dream. But nothing, not in all these years, had ever convinced George that a flying car wasn’t possible, given the proper resources. And a Blue Party government grant was like infinite corporate funding, except with less oversight.
In other words, the dream could be made real.
Blue’s new Supreme Chancellor phoned George personally to tell him that his grant proposal had been accepted.
“It’s finally our time, Georgie! I couldn’t be more thrilled!” Chancellor Salazar’s voice bubbled with enthusiasm.
“Just George, please, sir.”
“Whatever you say, George. I stand in awe of your vision! Your passion!”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Clearly, the dry spell Blue Party endured has only served to bottle our creativity so that it might now pop forth like, like…champagne!”
“I’ll do my best,” George said. “I just want my flying car, sir.”
The Chancellor laughed so loudly that George had to hold the phone away from his ear. “You and me both, Georgie! Best of luck!”
Azure Aeronautomotives was up and running.
The sensational nature of his project proved popular with the pool of assistants, and George was able to fill his team with the strongest young minds. The grant was ample, as expected, and the lab ordered a baker’s dozen of compact sedans (all blue, of course) that would be retrofitted with jets and gyros.
Time flies when you’re having fun, as they say, and the year began to rush by for George. He and his team spent long hours at the office, sometimes eating and sleeping there, but George barely noticed. It wasn’t as if he had much to go home to, now that his ficus had died from neglect. George’s apartment had only ever been a cramped place where he slept and kept piles of overflow notes. When it became embarrassingly cluttered, George simply pulled the curtains so the neighbors couldn’t see in. He’d never thought much of the view out there, anyway.
Within six months, Azure had prototypes floating in the lab; soon after, there were aeronautomobiles darting through test flights in the air above the Labs campus. The barriers to a functional production vehicle were toppling one by one. One solution, however, eluded George: a fool-proof, automated way for the cars to prevent collisions with each other. (Last week, to celebrate their progress, the team had staged a small race between two of the prototypes. The resultant crash had totaled both cars and gravely injured the drivers.) Without this key safety feature, Azure would never be able to market the aircar as a consumer product.
George pondered as the year continued to fly by. He became frustrated, and frustration curdled to despair. He couldn’t sleep. George would work futilely all day, then mope about his apartment all night, drinking straight from the bottle. In an attempt to cure his insomnia, George cleared a mound of notes off his neglected television and tried to watch – but he found coverage of the Grand Tour had already started.
“Oh, does that mean it’s Christmas already?” George asked himself.
The Messiah’s Grand Tour ran from Christmas morning to Palm Sunday, when he would arrive triumphant back in the capital for Easter Festival. For almost four months, depending on the year, the shiny guy traveled all over, giving speeches, posing for photos. General figurehead grandstanding. Galvanizing the flock, he called it. The assembled crowd was certainly galvanized, but it annoyed George. It’s not like the Messiah had to campaign for re-election. Wouldn’t his divine wisdom be put to better use inside the government, lending perspective to actual policy matters? Instead, he was on TV in an impossibly-white linen suit, riding in the back of his convertible, hoisting a toddler dressed as the Star of Bethlehem on his shoulders.
The big man was off on a journey that would end in mere weeks. It reminded George more strongly than ever – if he didn’t move quickly, the year was going to run out.
George finally hit upon the solution to his safety problem in an unlikely place – his nephew’s birthday party. George’s sister insisted it would do him good to forget about work and relax for an afternoon, and she turned out to be exactly right. As he watched little Thomas play with a new toy train, George thought of his own childhood. As a boy, he used to draw eight-lane freeways in chalk and arrange his extensive toy car collection into miniature traffic jams. Little George would take his favorite toy, a convertible Cadillac that looked just like Grandma’s real one, and fly it above the other cars, giggling at the suckers stuck in traffic below.
The memory brought a smile to George’s face for the first time in a long time.
George noticed that Thomas’s train cars were held together by magnets. When the boy reversed the cars’ orientation and tried to join them incorrectly, the magnets repelled each other. The cars would refuse to touch, as if surrounded by a soft, invisible bumper. Thomas found this delightful, and spent the afternoon using one backwards car to nudge the others around the track, as if by magic.
George found this delightful, too. Like magic, indeed.
Enthusiasm renewed, George crunched numbers and compared ratios and mapped out the optimum materials configuration to build a magnetic auto-repellent system. It was workable…but only with the use of huge quantities of rare earth magnets. And those were, well, rare. George rushed to secure shipments wherever he could.
There were complications. Apparently there had been a nation-wide rush on the things last year, for a mag-lev train initiative that some Green Party lab had started but never finished. It could take years to untie the red tape and reclaim those. Moreover, Red Party held political control over most of the mountainous mining regions of the nation. That would increase bureaucracy and slow down the acquisition process, as it always did.
So Azure Aeronautomobiles had a new big problem. George needed magnets, but he couldn’t get them in time to produce a finished prototype before the Easter Festival. Sure, it was possible that the Messiah would deign to leave Blue Party in power, and Azure’s work could continue. If he didn’t, it was possible that a corporate sponsor would be willing to pick up the tab to continue research even without a marketable product.
But George couldn’t risk his dream to “possible.” Not when he’d come this far and gotten so close. He couldn’t become like the Green lady scientist he’d seen at last year’s Resurrection ceremony.
As George again became heavy with hopelessness, the Messiah’s Grand Tour continued. Coverage was inescapable. George couldn’t shake the feeling that, with every tour stop, the shiny guy was creeping closer and closer to Azure Labs. To pull the plug.
George had an extra scotch before bed.
He dreamed of a periwinkle sunset and the wind in his hair as he piloted his ride through the sky. This wasn’t a small prototype sedan, but a great convertible boat of a thing, rag-top down, sailing above the neighborhood below.
There was a woman who sat next to him, trailing her hand out the window. She was admittedly somewhat plain, but her smile was radiant. She leaned over and planted a kiss on George’s cheek. When her wind-blown hair brushed his face, George noted that she smelled of mint.
George decided he’d like another kiss, but when he turned to inquire, the woman was staring at him with a somber expression. She opened the glove box, pulled out a dark green folio and, holding it up for George to see, promptly tore it in half. The tearing sounded like thunder, and the convertible tumbled from the sky.
George woke with a start. He was covered in sweat, but he knew how to save the aircar.
“Your ID shows you’re calling from Azure Labs, is that correct?” This was the third sub-receptionist to which George had been transferred. Each asked the same questions as the last, except with increasing suspicion.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“And you wish to speak with our researchers?”
“As I said to your colleagues, I’m trying to reach Dr. Hitch in Jet Propulsion.”
“And what’s this concerning?”
George concentrated on keeping the frustration out of his voice. It had been a rough climb up the phone tree at Ruby Industries.
“Let me see if he’s available,” said the voice coldly and put him on hold again.
Just when George thought he must hang up because he couldn’t stand the toy-piano-hymn-ditty hold music any longer, a nasal snuffle came over the line.
“Hitch,” said the snuffler.
“Dr. Hitch, thank goodness,” George began, relieved. “My name is George Blair. I’m a senior researcher at Azure Labs-”
“Yes, yes, Azure. What’s this concerning?”
“Well, Doctor, I have a somewhat outlandish proposition for you. I’m wondering if you would consider continuing my research in the event that Red Party is chosen to rule next year.”
George was a terrible salesman. He figured that a straightforward pitch gave him the best chance of success. It was a risk, but he had chosen Hitch based on careful research of the man’s work record.
There was silence on the other end of the line. “Dr. Hitch?” George asked.
“Yes, I’m here.” The snuffle was back in Hitch’s voice.
“Would you like to hear about my research?”
“I’m certain that’s not a good idea, Mr. Blair,” Hitch said. “Are you trying to get us both arrested?”
All researchers everywhere worked under strict non-disclosure contracts. The laws controlling intellectual property for government-funded research were as strict as those for corporate work. George hoped that appealing to a fellow scientist’s sense of wonder might trump the fear of committing what was, admittedly, felony-grade corporate espionage.
“I understand your hesitance, sir, but I believe that my project is of such importance that to not complete it would be an even greater crime than the one I’m proposing we commit.”
“Mr. Blair, I don’t know what could possibly-”
“It’s an aeronautical automobile.” George knew that Hitch, too, had done research in the field during his university years.
Silence again, so George continued. “It works. It’s almost done. And it will make whoever brings it to market indescribably rich.” If wonder wouldn’t suffice, perhaps greed would.
“If that is true,” replied Hitch, sounding incrementally more intrigued, “then why wouldn’t you just shelve the research and save it for the next time you’ve got funding? Blue Party could be re-chosen for next year, for all you know.”
“I can’t risk it,” George countered, emotion beginning to well up inside him. “It could be years, decades before that happens. This is my dream, and if it must be shared to be realized, then by God I’ll gladly share!”
“And if Red isn’t chosen?” Hitch asked.
“I’ve already shared everything with yet another colleague,” George bluffed. It wasn’t done yet, but it would be soon enough. “A Green. No matter what the choice this Festival, it will be someone’s project to complete. Someone’s fortune to be made.”
In this latest silence, George hoped Hitch was calculating just how much he stood to make.
“As a scientist, I enjoy my work, and value it greatly,” Hitch said finally, “but I would never have considered doing what you are doing. What’s your game, Blair?”
“I just want my flying car, sir.”
Hitch hemmed and hawed for a few more minutes, but by the end of the call the man had agreed.
One down, one to go.
George steeled himself for another slog, this time with Verdant Systems’ bureaucracy, but the second call turned out to be mercifully painless. He’d been connected directly to someone called Rhoda Perkins, PhD, who worked alone and answered her own phone. She wouldn’t even let George finish appealing to her sense of wonder before agreeing to the plan.
“Sounds like great fun!” she said. “I’m so bored. You wouldn’t believe the crap they’ve got me working on right now.”
“Oh, I’m certain I would,” George replied, and they shared a laugh. Something about her voice seemed so familiar, though George knew it was highly unlikely that they had met. Different Party, different schooling, different circles.
“Let’s do it, George. Call me when you have more details.” Rhoda sighed, and suddenly George thought he knew.
“Were you, by chance, at the Resurrection ceremony last spring?” he asked, but she had already hung up.
Outwardly, George maintained his malaise for the benefit of appearances, and the mood at Azure was indeed blue in the weeks leading up to Easter. In the absence of sufficient magnets, forward progress on the prototypes had stalled completely. Instead the days were spent preparing for the worst: mothballing equipment, preparing archives, and praying to God that his son would let Blue stay in power for just one more year.
In private, however, George came to relish the preparation for his great act of espionage. He decided that the most secure means of passing his data was in person. (Postal or electronic transfer was eminently traceable and out of the question.) And what better place to surreptitiously exchange a package than the Euthanization Festival, when the crowd was rowdy and the Parties mingled in the streets? It saved George having to make suspicious trips to strange neighborhoods, which might attract the wrong sort of attention. At the Festival, George could simply brush past Hitch and Rhoda in the throng, the exchange made without a word. Completely secure.
Despite the plan’s straightforwardness, George went over and over every scenario in his mind, sneaking extra calls to his partners to double- and triple-check contingency plans. It may have been a bit excessive; Hitch became annoyed with all the communication and eventually refused to take George’s calls at all. He was right to be cautious, of course. The Messiah Regime had been known to exercise its right to “preventative observation” – but George couldn’t imagine that a few upstanding scientists rated surveillance when there were so many terrorists and pornographers still at large.
Rhoda seemed to agree. She was always available and willing to talk through another detail, or just chat.
“He looks like a snowglobe ornament,” she said, and George chuckled, holding the phone to his ear with a shoulder as he made a sandwich. They were watching the final stop of the Grand Tour on their respective televisions. The Palm Sunday parade through the capital had been stalled by unexpected and unauthorized heavy traffic, and the shiny guy’s motorcade had been at a standstill for minutes. He just kept waving, while an apparently unlimited supply of confetti fell.
“You know what he could use, don’t you?” George asked.
“One of your aircars, of course!” She laughed, and he beamed to himself.
“They’re our aircars, now.”
“Potentially,” she reminded him. She seemed studiously careful not to count her chickens before they hatched, and George had often wondered why.
“Of course. Potentially,” George repeated, trying to keep the fact that he was desperately in love with her out of his voice.
“You don’t like Blue’s chances? Such a pessimist,” she teased.
“Just a realist. I’ve seen it fall through too many times.”
“Oh, I think I’ve got you beat on that front.” She tried to make it sound like a joke, but George could tell it wasn’t. Aha.
“You lost a big project, too, huh?”
“You could say that,” she sighed.
“Please tell me. I’d like to know.”
“As it happens, Dr. Blair, I was desperately close to the cure for cancer.”
“Cancer!” George gasped. Life under the Messiah system was marked by reasonable health and well-being, but mankind had made little progress towards eradicating the most villainous of all diseases. If there was a trope of futuristic fancy more pervasive than the Flying Car, it was the Cure For Cancer.
“We’d tested it and re-tested it,” she said fervently. “It worked. But there wasn’t time to get regulatory clearances to bring it to market, and then Green was ousted, and…it was like a vault door had slammed shut. I thought surely, for this, some cross-party cooperation would be possible. Nope.” George had never heard her this emotional, this openly bitter. She seemed to have forgotten about phone surveillance altogether.
“Oh, Rhoda. That’s awful.” George wished he had something more profoundly comforting to say. He was suddenly embarrassed at his own bellyaching. Here he was, agonizing over an extravagance, an oversized toy, and all this time she’s carrying a torch for the cure for freaking cancer! “Perhaps you could bring your research to the Festival as well, and we’d swap-”
“Oh, I don’t have access to any of that anymore. I didn’t have the foresight you do,” she said with a chuckle. Already back to her cheery, guarded self. “Don’t worry, George – the aircar is a worthy replacement. It’s certainly more fun.”
Rhoda Perkins, PhD, was a better person than George, and it drove him even more wild for her.
Perversely, the days seemed to slow down as Easter approached. To try to distract himself from the approaching mission, George went about sprucing up his apartment. An hour of tidying and heavy dusting and suddenly the place was almost presentable. He opened the drapes and decided that the view was, on second thought, worth looking at. He bought a new ficus. He didn’t have any specific plans to have guests over, but you never knew.
The week of the Festival, George carefully collected copies of his work into two thick, identical folios. On the nights leading up to Good Friday, he practiced walking with the bulky things hidden beneath his jacket.
In one of the folios, the one tucked closer to his skin, George tucked a note. It professed his intense affection for Rhoda Perkins, PhD. It outlined a second plan: one by which, regardless of the fate of the aircar initiative, George would forswear his party affiliation and go Green for the chance of romancing her. (If she assented, of course.)
It was tricky, getting the stride just right, but as George paced back and forth in front of his mirror, he thought he looked pretty good. He felt warm inside. He had the future tucked in his waistband.
George could smell the lighter fluid before he reached the Festival. He had arrived quite early, but the streets already bustled with thousands of revelers. George was careful not to let tipsy pedestrians jostle his precious cargo. The air buzzed with excited chatter. When he turned the corner and entered the square, George couldn’t help but stand and admire. It had been so long since there’d been a burning-at-the-stake.
The pyre was huge, stacked with fruitwood that would add color and fragrance to the blaze. It had a built-in set of stairs for the Messiah to ascend, when the time came. And it was built around a center “stake” of pure platinum that would heat to almost a thousand degrees while the Messiah burned, then glow warmly through the night as the masses celebrated around it.
It was a triumph of Blue Party artisanal carpentry. George felt proud to be a Blue.
The northwest corner of the square was the rendezvous spot for his first handoff, this one to Rhoda, but George took his time. He pretended to busy himself with souvenir stands as he made his way over. The exchange was to happen at the beginning of the first speech, and George didn’t want to arrive early.
He didn’t have to wait long. With a screech of feedback, Supreme Chancellor Salazar took the stage, and George began his preordained search for a woman in a lime windbreaker. In the failing light it was harder than he’d anticipated. George looked around as urgently as he dared, though he would have plenty of time to make the hand-off. The Supreme Chancellor was not known for his brevity.
“Family, friends, citizens! It is my greatest honor to preside over this, the first Blue Euthanization in a decade,” Salazar’s amplified voice declared.
A great cheer erupted from the populace, and suddenly he saw her. She wasn’t quite as plain as he remembered her; perhaps she’d gotten new glasses or cut her hair differently. A new sort of adrenaline surged through George.
The exchange went as smoothly as their planning had, and just as quickly. George sidled up to Rhoda during the next applause moment, when both their arms were raised in the cross-party Easter salute. George nudged her hip with his own and let his jacket fall open. As she brought her arms down out of the salute, Rhoda snatched the folio and slipped it into her own coat. One smooth motion, as if she were a professional spy. George got goosebumps from the thrill of it all.
He lingered a bit, not wanting to appear inattentive to the speech. He shot Rhoda a few subtle, sidelong smiles, but she showed no reaction. Ever the professional, she used the crowd’s next cheer to meld away completely. George wished they could have stayed there next to one another awhile longer. Perhaps there would be time someday soon.
He hoped he had been appropriately passionate in his note.
Salazar droned on about the strong state of things under Blue Party rule; the Good Friday address was really just a last appeal to the Messiah. As he crept towards his second meeting spot, George kept his eyes on the shiny guy. He was seated up on the dais next to the podium, smiling beatifically, waiting for his turn to speak before he died for the weekend. The Messiah’s eyes wandered over the crowd, and when they turned in George’s direction, the bearded one paused.
Fear flooded George’s stomach. The Messiah couldn’t be looking right at him, could he?
No, he must have imagined it. The big man’s gaze continued on, and George exhaled with relief. This was the Messiah, George reminded himself, not some imaginary mind-reading superhero.
George crept up alongside Hitch’s distinctive crimson parka just as the Chancellor finished his speech. When he introduced the next speaker, George made his move.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your Messiah!” Salazar called out, and the crowd went wild. George nudged Hitch, expecting a handoff similar to the first, but the other man didn’t react. For a moment George feared he had the wrong guy, even after all their careful coordination, but when he looked over at the man George was certain it was him.
“Dr. Hitch, please. Take the files,” George said through clenched teeth, reaching to open Hitch’s jacket for him. He would stuff the folio in himself if he had to. The cheering would die down at any moment, and their veil of distraction would be gone.
Hitch started to wiggle away from George. “I can’t,” he whispered, keeping his gaze on the stage, where it belonged. “I’ve…I’ve changed my mind. I can’t help you.”
Fickle, spineless Reds! George forced himself to breathe. He’d persuaded Hitch before, he could do it again now.
“Please,” George begged. “There’s no time for cold feet. You can decide how to proceed later, but for Pete’s sake, take the files now!”
“I can’t!” Hitch hissed. “He’s watching!”
“Who’s watching?” George asked, but he knew the answer before he finished asking the question. In the hushed silence that had overtaken the crowd, George turned to look up at the podium. There was no mistaking it this time.
“Before I begin, there’s an extra bit of business we need to attend to,” the Messiah said in his sonorous voice. “Dr. George Blair, if you would, please.”
The Messiah pointed. The crowd parted.
George was petrified, but what choice did he have? He made his way up to the stage.
The view from the dais was impressive, though the stage lights were blinding. George stepped slowly out to where the Messiah waited patiently. Behind him, Supreme Chancellor Salazar looked livid.
George tried to convince himself that perhaps he had not been caught red-handed. The Messiah did not typically pluck citizens from the crowd and bring them on stage, but perhaps it was a coincidence. Perhaps the Messiah had heard of his research and been impressed enough to hold it up as an exemplar of Blue Party ingenuity!
“It has come to my attention that you came here to commit sin, Dr. Blair,” said the Messiah, directly into the microphone. The accusation echoed through the square.
Not an exemplar, then.
“But…how, sir?” George asked. The Messiah’s powers of resurrection and superior wisdom were well-documented, but those were thought to be it. (Water walking, food multiplication and the other powers had been confirmed as apocryphal by the man himself.) If he was a mind-reader, the Messiah was revealing it for the first time.
Or perhaps Hitch squealed, George realized sourly.
“How I knew is not important, my child,” said the Messiah. “I have brought you up here so that others might learn from your mistake.”
“He says you’re a traitor, Blair,” Salazar blurted. “He says you’re trying to give secrets to the competition!”
“Traitor?” George asked, bristling at the term, clutching his folio to his chest. He thought of Rhoda, tearing her own files in defeat last year. He suddenly felt like a mother bear protecting her cub. “Traitor? I’m sorry if you disapprove of my methods, sirs, but surely there are worse crimes than wanting to see my life’s work completed!”
“These past 31 years, I have mended a hopelessly broken system,” the Messiah said. “I have brought stability and prosperity to the people. Do you fear my judgement? Do you doubt my divine wisdom in matters of who should rule?”
“Sir, I…” George started, but hesitated.
Stability, sure. Prosperity, too, he supposed, for many people. But it wasn’t like war and poverty had been eliminated. There hadn’t been a meaningful scientific discovery in a generation. Instead all the people got were thinner phones and more television channels. What was the Messiah’s plan for the long-term, if not to allow for experimentation and technological advancement?
Wasn’t he worried about being leapfrogged by China?
Salazar took George’s hesitation as heresy. “See? He doesn’t believe in you at all!” the chancellor accused.
“Do you doubt my divinity, my child?” the Messiah asked, calm as always.
“Of course not,” George replied honestly. The Resurrection had been tested and re-tested, published in several peer-reviewed journals. “I just don’t see what it has to do with my science.”
“Why are you really doing this, George?” the Messiah asked patronizingly, as if George was a fibbing child who refused to tell the truth.
Because a scientifically-stagnant utopia is no utopia at all! George wished he had the guts to yell.
“I just want my flying car, sir,” he said instead.
The Messiah took George’s shoulders in his hands. George mustered the courage to look up into the shining face, searching for a clue as to what punishment would befall him. The crowd could feel it, too; the buzz of anticipation was building again.
“I am merciful,” said the Messiah. “And I hereby absolve you of your crimes.”
The crowd erupted in mixed fashion, a cacophony divided along party lines and amplified by intoxication. George hoped that there were at least a few scientists that were cheering for him no matter what their political affiliation. Salazar merely scowled.
“However,” the Messiah continued, “the decision of who rules and why is left to the divine judgement of my Father, and him alone. There can be no circumvention of the rules.” He reached out and took the folio from George’s grasp.
As he let his research go, George noticed an errant corner of colored note paper poking from it. He squinted, hoping he was mistaken, but no…
His note to Rhoda.
In his excitement, George had given her the folio meant for Hitch. He sagged even further.
The Messiah ceremoniously deposited the files atop the fruitwood. “Whenever you’re ready, Chancellor,” he said to Salazar, who went to fetch a large torch from backstage.
The Messiah climbed the pyre stairs. He had decided to forego the rest of his speech, apparently. George waited awkwardly as Salazar returned with the lit torch.
The crowd chanted as was custom, each citizen shouting out his or her party’s name in unison, simultaneously. The rhythm was overwhelmingly powerful; the meaning, incomprehensible.
“GRED! BLEEN! RLUE!”
“Remember, men,” the Messiah called out to them both, but he was looking at George when he said it. “It’s always possible that my Father will choose Blue again on Sunday.” He nodded to the Chancellor, who touched his torch to the base of the pyre. The lighter fluid sped things along nicely. Soon the entire pile was ablaze, with the Messiah in the middle, smiley as ever.
George watched the flames curl around the plastic cover of his folio. He could taste the oily smoke of his life’s work going up in flames. Unless…
He blinked back tears and looked out into the crowd, but there was no locating one plain woman amidst a drunken mass lit by firelight.
The Messiah picked Red Party for 32AR. What an upset.
Out of worry for his research and relief at his exoneration, George resigned himself to solitary drunkenness for the whole weekend. He nursed a Bloody Mary as he watched the Resurrection on TV Sunday morning. The Messiah’s speech, lengthy as always, didn’t even make mention of Friday night’s incident.
The shiny guy had ensured that there would be no legal repercussions for George’s plot; a trial and incarceration would have reflected badly on the Messiah regime’s reputation of forgiveness. No, the real punishment was much subtler and crueler. George had already been fired from Azure. He would never work in a reputable lab again. His career – the only thing he’d ever had, really – was over.
Perhaps one of his assistants would be allowed to complete the aeronautomobile, George thought. Someday, when Blue was back in power. And there was always Rhoda Perkins, PhD, out there somewhere with the other folio. George was dying to call her, but he knew he never could, now. He couldn’t risk implicating her.
Two plans ruined for the price of one. The Messiah sure was efficient, George thought bitterly.
Whenever the flying car happened, if it happened, George hoped he wasn’t too old or too poor to enjoy it.
He drained his drink, shut off the TV, and went back to bed. He would try to sleep. He hoped to dream of fast cars and green women.
by Luke Pebler