Here we go.
The room smelled like a hospital, and of disinfectant, as if the cleanup crew had needed to use all their resources to purge the results of a particularly difficult conversion. Harry Murphy sat across from the last Believer. He knew the importance of this last convert, so he tried to prepare himself for anything. For the sixth time that day, Murphy hoped things went smoothly.
All had been silent since Murphy entered. Neither man wanting to be the first one to speak. Deciding waiting would only make things worse, Murphy coughed, as he always did, and started his well-rehearsed speech. "Says here you went to Yale." Murphy fixed the Believer with a hard stare, daring him to respond. And to his credit, Pascal did not back down.
"After I left public school, yeah. When I was thirteen, they discovered my uncontrollable intelligence, and decided sending me to college was the best thing to do. That way, I wouldn't upset the balance of the class. After graduating two years later, I started work at PAHRC.
Murphy squinted at the man across from him. "You went to the Philip Austin Hermetic Research Center at age fifteen?"
Pascal leaned back in his chair, his arms crossing defiantly. "You have my file. You tell me."
Murphy started to slip into InfoNet, and then decided against it. Even though retrieving any piece of data took only seconds, it was easy for someone to detect when you went inline, due to your eyes unfocusing and the fact that you start to drool. Relying too much on computers might make the Believer lose even more respect for Murphy than he already had. "Ok, Mr. Pascal. I know you left your parents at age fifteen, after your graduation. You were then approached by Philip Austin, and asked to join his team of nutcases at PAHRC, where you met your wife, Judy."
The man across from him glared for a fraction of a second, and then his face went expressionless once more. "Impressive. But tell me this: Do I like milk or cream in my coffee?"
"Neither," Harry said. "Black; two sugars."
Pascal said nothing. And then, "Ah yes, the public food dispensers. The government WOULD keep records on what people ordered for breakfast."
"Yeah," Murphy said, a bit frustrated that Pascal had seen through his intimidation technique so fast. "Anyway, after leaving PAHRC with your wife, you moved to Boulder, and started your church at the outskirts, out in the woods. There you stayed until jihad was declared, and troops were sent in to destroy the enemy."
"You mean my Church, mister Murphy. Not the enemy."
"A place of worship IS the enemy. Churches teach people to hate those of a different religion than them. Now stop interrupting me."
"You know," Pascal interrupted. "This really isn't necessary. You aren't about to convert me using these mundane mind games. I don't care how much you know, so there's no reason to go over my life's story. Besides, according to you people, God is the enemy. Therefore a church would not be the enemy, it would be a place of propaganda. That's what they called the Vatican, isn't it?"
Murphy felt a dull ache in his back. He had been practicing for this conversion for weeks, trying to make sure things would go smoothly, and in doing so he must have sat in a hard metal chair like the one he was sitting in now for a few too many hours. Ignoring Pascal's question, he pulled a pack of simcigs from his knee side-pocket and said, "You mind if I smoke?" More out of habit than politeness. After all, until Pascal resigned God, he had no legal rights.
"It's a free country," Pascal said.
Lighting the simcig, Murphy couldn't help but smile at hearing that phrase. "Been a long time since I heard that one," he said, taking a short drag on the cig before it ran out. After a moment, he felt better, more confidant. "Lets get down to business. After the RTEF confiscated and disassembled your place of worship, you refused to give up religion. Even after years of jail, and separation from your wife, you refuse."
"Yeah," Pascal said.
"Why?" Murphy demanded. "If you just say it, and sign the paperwork declaring you an official atheist, you'll be free to go."
"Because," Pascal said. "I am the last."
He knew. The bastard knew. "Don't be silly." Murphy growled. "There are still thousands of people. Even your wife, Pascal."
"I don't know what's going on with Judy, as I haven't seen her in years. But I do know one thing. She's not in the reformment center anymore. She's in a small apartment, located in North California."
"God damnit," Murphy shouted, not caring that he was being watched by his superiors, and would be graded on his performance later. "How the hell do you know all this?"
"Tisk tisk," Pascal grinned. "You said 'God', mister Murphy. That word has been on the banned phonetics list for ten years. Why, saying that could get you thrown in jail for years, just like 'nigger', or 'Catholic', or even 'fag'. Did you know that in England, they used to call cigarettes 'fags'? Now they all call them simcigs like everyone else. They have to."
Gritting his teeth, Murphy knew he would have to try and change tactics. This guy was obviously a fanatic, a genius, and grossly well informed. "So tell me, why do you insist on believing in a higher power?"
"Don't look at me like I'm some sort of bible thumping freak, Murphy. We learned a lot of things at PAHRC before Austin was killed, and the center was closed for 'brainwashing' its members. We uncovered texts older than man. And for the first time in history, humans learned the rules to our little game. I believe in God because I have to. I am the last, and should I stop believing, the world will end."
Forcing a laugh, Murphy leaned back in his chair, and fell into patterns once again. He felt better. 'This jackass really does believe that he controls the fate of the world,' he thought. "Surely you don't really believe that the Earth will end if you give up your arcane beliefs in God, do you?"
Pascal glared at him. "As it was told. 'Should the last of the believers forsake God, then the life force will drain from the creations of man. And the sky will turn as black as man's dwellings, devoid of power. At last, the life will drain from man, animal, and plant alike. Then and only then will the universe be dark, and the galactic resynchronization will begin.' The translation is a bit shoddy, but you get the point."
Murphy snorted. "And just where was that written?"
"No where you could have read it. I'm not your textbook preacher. Austin taught us the old ways. Rules far older than anything that could have been found in a hotel end table twenty years ago. Besides, I have proof. Go on, Murphy. Try and force me to give up my faith. The first phase will begin."
Both men sat in silence for several minutes.
"Fine," Murphy said. "If you want it that way." Reaching into his middle shirt pocket, he retrieved a small black box with chrome siding and a large, almost comical red button in the middle. Pointing it at Pascal, he pushed the button. "But you asked for it." A dart of blue light flashed out towards Pascal in the blink of an eye, hungrily seeking a target for it to torture. But before the laser could do anything, the blue light disappeared, followed by the room's overhead lights.
"Shit," Murphy said. "Must be a fuse. Stay there, Pascal. Don't even try and think about moving one inch, or I'll break you in two. I'm going to go and see if I can't get someone to fix this." Murphy felt around in the dark for the doorpannel, and found it.
"Oh, and Murph?" Pascal called from across the room.
"The name's Murphy. What do ya want?"
"Well, Murph, since I can make your carrier, or break it, depending on how today goes... mind grabbing me a cup of coffee? I believe you know how I like it."
Murphy slammed the door shut behind him. In the darkness, despite himself, Pascal smiled.
Harry Murphy walked outside and was greeted by a blast of light. The hallway ceilings were, of course, sky lights. It was the latest thing in government design. He grumbled and started down the hallway.
Fifteen minutes later Murphy returned to the Conversion room. Upon entering, he noticed two things: First, his DataPad wasn't where he left it. Second, Pascal was visibly shaken, his skin shades lighter than when he had last seen him. "Enjoyed yourself while I was gone?" Murphy asked.
"Sure thing. Fix the, uh, lighting problem?"
"Yeah.." Murphy said. "The guys said the power was cut for a few minutes, then came back on. Apparently, an entire panel blew, causing the little blackout until the droids could get down there to fix it. Must have been the wiring."
"Yes," Pascal said. "Must have."
"Now lets continue. According to your file, it says that you backed the pope during the jihad, and went so far as to shelter several Christians in your own home, after the government finally repossessed your church, and land."
Pascal frowned. "When the Anti Defamation League, the Center for Abolishment of Hate and the government merged, people thought nothing of it. Until the newly formed metagovernment ordered the pope to pay over $20,000,000 because of what happened during world war two."
"Hey, it wasn't like that," Murphy said. "It was the right thing to do after what had happened. The American people were fed up with hate. Besides, the pope was no holy man. He was such a greedy jackass, that after he heard news of the ultimatum, he told all loyal to him to act violently against 'non believers'. We had to do something."
Pascal sneered. "I don't care about the pope. Everyone was in it for the money at that point. The jihad and religion were excuses for the pope to save his money. The so called outraged government was an excuse used by organizations who didn't give a damn about the holocaust, just about personal gain. It was one big power play, and God was the casualty." Thinking it best to remain silent, Murphy stared at Pascal with a well trained look of skepticism on his face.
"And after the whole incident was resolved," Pascal continued, "with the assassination of the pope, and subsequent bombing of the Vatican, the world was so disgusted with everyone involved, they began to wonder if their own religious figures were as money hungry as he was. Religion started to weaken."
"True," Murphy said. "People realized it was pointless. They realized God probably didn't exist, and religion was most likely started by some Neanderthal; used to convince fellow cavemen he controlled the storms, so he could scare the tribe into making him leader.. and going downhill from there. But humanity can finally can break the bonds of its old ways! With the newest technology, we don't need faith in a heaven that doesn't exist. After we die, we can transfer our minds to InfoLink's retirement banks. A heaven proven to exist, mister Pascal. Those are better odds than your little religion."
"You're half right. Religion is a tool of man to both cope with his fears, and gain power. Heaven is something people would hope for, a weapon to thwart despair on particularly bleak days. But God is very, very real."
Murphy forced himself to keep his voice calm. "Mister Pascal. I'm growing weary of this endless debate. If you don't sign the form and declare your faith dissolved, I can, and will order your wife terminated."
Pascal snorted and sat up from his chair quickly, a move that made Murphy jump in his seat. Until now, the strange, wiry man hadn't made one aggressive move.
"That won't be necessary," Pascal said. "While you were bumbling around with your technicians, I was on InfoLink talking to my.. wife. This has been my first chance to actually talk with her, you see. I may have a lot of resources, but not even I can place an InfoLink call without access to a DataPad."
Pascal took a deep breath, then sat back down. "She informed me that she is happily remarried, and living with a lawyer."
"And...?" Murphy said, after a moment.
"And that was enough to convince me to forsake God. This world and its people don't deserve to exist..." Pascal sank even further into his chair, no longer focusing on Murphy. "We were the last, damnit. Me and her, going to fight off the darkness prophesied long ago. And she just..."
Murphy didn't jump from his chair and shout job well done for two reasons. One was years of hard work, work which taught him acting too happy might get the Believer to change his mind out of spite. The second, honest pity.
"A lawyer, huh? Damn. We didn't know. We don't track ex Believers. Hell, we could have used that against you."
Pascal glared up at Murphy. Murphy could feel his face redden under Pascal's gaze.
"Uh, sorry kid. Lets just go down to the official resignation room and you can sign those papers."
Both men walked out of the room. They were greeted by a tall, thin lady who identified herself as Megan McPhearson. "You know," Pascal said to her as they walked down the hall.
"There really isn't need for this. I've already done what you want. I've given up my faith. I've cut the silver cord."
"I know, but there's some paperwork," she said apologetically.
Murphy groaned inwardly as the joy of converting Pascal left him, replaced with memories of the mountain of paperwork that followed any successful, or unsuccessful conversion. The lights went out.
"Man," Murphy said, "If I can track down a technician about these lights, I'm gonna kill him. This is the second time the power's gone out in one day."
"But sir," Megan said, a hint of fear already touching her voice. "We're in the hallway. We're under the skylights."
No one spoke for several long moments.
"God damnit," Murphy said.
© 1998 Thor Antrim
Taken from http://thor.mirtna.org/stories/index.html