WIP 4: Cyberpunk Detective Story

an ongoing thing

4. VESTIGIAL

The nave had seemed so much larger when I was young, the vaulted ceiling and high stained glass windows made for giants, not humans. Not me. I was always a trespasser.  An ant in God’s room.  

Walking down the aisle in the muffled quiet under that high, deep darkness, I felt that old familiar discomfort. I suppressed an urge to genuflect; another muscle memory triggered by flickering candles and the smell of old upholstery, wood wax, and incense. It was an older one, faded. Easier to ignore.

I slid into a pew and sat instead. I had seven minutes to get to Loi’s shop.  

It had been more than three decades since I’d been here, and my only visits to other churches had been funerals or the ultra-rare traditional wedding – deaths outpacing matrimony more and more lately.

I wasn’t so much lapsed as self-exiled, and part of me would be fine if it was another thirty years before I came back.

Another part was scared shitless for my mortal soul.

Those weren’t the exact words. My grasp on the notion of ‘soul’ was slippery at best these days. The fear was more a pull at the back of my mind, like a diver low on oxygen tugging on a line to be pulled up out of the deep. Wordless, but pretty damn insistent. 

What do you say to God in three minutes after three decades of ignoring Him?   

Hey, I know I walked away and told everyone you’re not up there, but I need to stop a psychopath. So how ‘bout a little help here, eh? In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Not great.

I folded my hands and tried to form better words as a host of unwelcome memories barged in.  

My mother had cried when I told her I’d left the Church. Asked why. Said I would damn myself in unbelief.

I’d just graduated top of my class from the police academy. Successful, cocksure, so certain I knew more about the world than an old lady who refused to get a Chip and still fumbled with her smart phone. I confronted her on the Church’s stand on clones. Demanded she explain what a soul meant in an age of neural fiber cybernetics and artificial intelligence. 

Technology was threaded through society like a kudzu vine. It invaded and reshaped everything. Police were constantly asking what constituted ‘crime’ now – let alone ‘sin’ or ‘damnation’ – in an era of programmable robot companions and stimsense virtual reality. From replicant celebrity androids to murder-fantasy VR apps, a person could screw or slaughter anyone as many times as they wanted. Feel every thrust, every warm splash, all in the privacy of their own home, their own mind. No real world consequences.

God obviously didn’t care, I said; He didn’t stop real murders, let alone fake ones.

I told her religion was an appendix; a vestigial organ from when humans tried to swallow the indigestible. We were defined by science now. Nourished by a universe of data and technology. Life fed itself from the slime of that trinity. Nothing more, nothing less.

“There’s no meaning beyond the meat, ibu. The meat spoils, the spark dies. That’s it.  I’m not wasting any more time on bad, outdated answers to wrong questions.”  

I remembered her silence. A long one, tears on her cheeks, staring out the kitchen window. Finally she dried her eyes and turned to me.  “There’s more than one way to measure the universe, Zeki. Some day you’ll see there are mysteries beyond all your data.”  

After a few years on the force, the notion of a ‘spark of the ineffable’ in each of us only became absurd. The shit people did to each other in the real world made religion seem like just one more hoax for the desperate, the delusional, and the downright stupid.

It had taken thirty years but there I was kneeling in front of Mary and Her Son, teetering on the edge of that mystery cliff between faith and science. Right then felt a hell of a lot like an I-told-you-so moment. 

Fuck.

I looked up at the altar. “Sorry.”  

I closed my eyes. Bowed my head.

“God, this is tough. Here I am and if you’re there, then you already know what’s going on. Know what I’m about to do.” I swallowed. “So… so help me. Help these people. Please. Amen.”

Weak as shit – but it was all I had.

I thought about crossing myself when I was done, but decided that would stretch it too far. It wasn’t much of a prayer but I’d meant it as much as I could; token piety wasn’t going to bump my request to the top of God’s To Do list. 

I stood, brushed my knees as a call came in. Loi.

“Where are you? You’ve got two minutes. I should see you in the Soy Park by now.”

“On my way.”

“What the hell, Zek?”

“I ran into Quan. Had to stop and kiss the ring.” 

“Kiss his ass, you mean. What’d that old bastard want?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there.”

She ground her teeth. “Zek…”

“I’m leaving now. Five more minutes. Promise.”

A sigh. “OK.”

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