The vaulted ceiling loomed over the congregation like a stone cloud. Concealed lights threw shadows across the stone. The giant pillars rose from the floor into the heights of the building. Centuries old, the Cathedral had stood there and been witness to many of the great events of history. It had seen the industrial revolution, it had seen the secular uprising, it had stood and watched the Great Harmonisation as religion and science had fought a long and bloody war, finally collapsing together into a religious and philosophical quasi holy-alliance. Bishops had come and worshipped and gone again. Capitalists had been born, baptised, made fortunes and died. Scientists had proclaimed their complete understanding of the universe, been shamefaced, and then stuck around without the good grace to admit defeat. Religious Physics had been born, condemned, fought over, dismissed, risen, triumphed and finally shone new light into previously dark corners.
Joresh stood and marvelled at the place. He’d been a reporter for many years. He’d written so many words about the growth of Religious Physics, he’d covered so many of the great events, many of them here in this place, in what was now the Central Research Cathedral. He’d been here when they announced the discovery that the Higgs Boson really was God’s particle, when they’d demonstrated the divine nature of gravity, when they’d first accurately measured the speed of life. But now, today, he buzzed with excitement at what he might be about to report. Physical scientists had poured scorn on Religious Physics for so long. Joresh almost felt sorry for them, their world view had been pushed and twisted by the new discoveries, but many refused to believe. What they might witness today would shake their faith, he thought. The piece he would write for Theology Today would be his best, he had faith.
There were so many people here. He recognised many of the faces, he even knew some of them. Political figures were here to stand and catch some reflected glory, some very senior figures from the Church and the divine sciences disciplines. The press of course were everywhere. Reporters, camera crews, attractive figures with microphones wanting to talk to anyone with an opinion, which meant almost everyone present. All were dressed in their finest, no-one wanted to turn up under-dressed to an event like this. Everyone was engaged in conversation (or interview) or watched the animated explanations on the monitor screens bolted to the stone columns.
As he squeezed through the crowd, Joresh was jostled from behind. He turned to mutter an apology and found a familiar and almost friendly face smiling back at him. ‘Joresh,’ said the face.
Joresh knew the man, and wasn’t at all surprised he was there.
‘Bartack,’ he said. ‘Nice to see the Existential Times has sent its finest.’
‘They were going to, but he couldn’t make it, so they sent me instead.’ They both laughed politely, an old journalist joke.
‘I wasn’t sure if the ET would cover an event like this,’ said Joresh. He knew only too well that his old sparring partner’s employer would always cover an event like this, but would prefer to cover it in scorn and derision.
‘I wouldn’t pass up a chance to see you lot get your cassocks in a twist again,’ said Bartack. ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world.’
‘A little harsh,’ said Joresh, keeping the annoyance out of his voice. ‘What happened last time was a little embarrassing, but only a hiccup, not a setback.’
A condescending look passed over Bartack’s face, which he followed with a friendly but ever so patronising smile. ‘Oh Joresh, come on, last time was a right cock up. You promised you’d be able to contact the afterlife and all we got were messages about “is Doris there?”’
‘Yes I know, it was embarrassing, but as I reported there really was a ghost in the machine.’
‘There was, it turned out a spirit had got caught in the Communion Generator and was redirecting the messages to his friends in the spirit world.’
Bartack fixed Joresh with his best “you don’t expect me to believe that, do you?” stare. ‘I’m just waiting to report their next gaff, their next demonstration that this Religious Physics nonsense is, well, nonsense.’
‘Religious Physics is the only true way to know the nature of universe,’ said Joresh in his most serious voice. He always tried to avoid getting dragged into discussions like this. He always told himself he was a serious journalist, he reported the facts, his personal opinions didn’t matter. But in the end they did matter, to him. He’d seen too much, he’d been witness to too many of the great discoveries not to be convinced. Religion and science were almost combined, but if there was a divide between them he knew which side he would stand on.
The noise of conversation was rising as more and more of the great and the good filed in, squeezing in and trying to find a space. This was turning out to be a popular event.
Bartack had to talk louder to make himself be heard. ‘So you really think they’re going to do it this time?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Joresh, without a hint of doubt. ‘This time we will get an email to the afterlife.’
Bartack smiled. All his life he’d covered the greatest events in the physical sciences. Like Joresh he was an objective reporter, but objective from his side of the divide. Religious Physics was a nonsense, and one more spectacular failure would a pleasure to report.
‘And what makes you think it will work this time?’ Bartack asked.
Bartack’s eyes widened. ‘One of Them is going to do it?’ This was different. This time the Research Cathedral were rolling out the big guns. If this failed (no, ‘when’ it failed) it would be headline news.
‘Oh yes. They decided that only one of Them was sufficiently qualified to carry out the experiment. And when He succeeds it will answer the question once and for all.’
Bartack’s smiled faded a little. ‘Religion is a circus side show, always has been. When the experiment fails again it will be another nail in the coffin of the whole idea of Religious Physics and of religion as a whole. Physical science is the only science.’
‘When it succeeds,’ said Joresh, ‘it will show that science is and always has been playing second fiddle to the Divine Creator. God looks after the universe.’
‘No, we waste time inventing God instead of looking after the universe.’
Amidst the noise and bustle of the congregation there was a silence between them. The question had always stood between them, but now it seemed much bigger. Whatever happened, someone was going to celebrate and write a career making piece, and the other was going to have to write a small item to be buried on an inside page.
Their silence was interrupted by a flickering on the monitors. Something was happening. The sound of conversation dropped to a near silence. The scientists closest to the Central Programming Alter began operating their controls, and the assembled congregation could feel the power rising in the machinery around them.
Joresh leaned to Bartack, and said in a hushed tone, ‘this is it.’
Bartack leaned closer to whisper. ‘So they’re actually going to get one of the Quantum Theologists to do the experiment?’
‘Yes.’ Joresh was beaming, a little of his objectivity had slipped.
‘So you’ll have to remind me, what exactly is a Quantum Theologist?’
‘He’s a mystic whose understanding of spirituality has combined at the sub atomic level with his understanding of quantum mechanics,’ said Joresh. ‘He not only understands the nature of the universe he has actually started to cross over between planes of reality.’
There was movement from behind them, and assembled scientists, philosophers, clergy and dignitaries parted like the proverbial Red Sea as He entered the room. It was rare for a Quantum Theologist to be seen in public, not because they didn’t go out in public but because their physical presence was bordering on leaving the mortal plane of existence. When they did go out, mortals usually just didn’t see them. Joresh and Bartack watched, sort of, as He glided past them and was swallowed by the crowd. They looked up at the monitors, now covering the experiment from various cameras set around the Programming Alter. He had sat down in front of the computer workstation.
One of the scientists picked up a microphone, the loudspeakers relaying his words to the congregation. The scientist spoke in hushed tones, the loudspeakers amplifying his words.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Central Research Cathedral.’
The few lucky enough to be at the front watched Him, everyone else looked up at the nearest monitor.
‘We are gathered here today, in the sight of God and of this congregation, to bear witness to an experiment of Divine importance.’
Bartack rolled his eyes, barely suppressing a muttered “Oh God”. Joresh ignored him.
The scientist continued. ‘Our advances in Religious Science and divine engineering have allowed us to create a system that He can use to communicate with the Hereafter. He will enter the email address and type the email. His existence on the border between this spiritual plane and the next will allow his email to transit through the Holy server and ascend to its destination.’
‘So he’s going to email Heaven?’ asked Bartack.
‘Yes,’ said Joresh, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
There was a hush as He laid His fingers on the keyboard. The monitors flickered and broadcast the workstation’s display to the audience. He typed in the email address, its spiritual form shimmered on the screen in a way that mortals couldn’t quite see. The message was a mortal message, and they all watched as He typed.
“Is anybody there?”
‘It’s a bit minimalist, isn’t it?’ Bartack whispered.
Joresh shrugged. ‘What else do you say when you’re trying to reach Heaven?’
‘How long before we get a reply?’ asked Bartack.
It was Joresh’s turn to wear a hint of sarcasm. ‘I don’t think Heaven works to an earthly timetable, we’ll wait as long as it takes for a reply.’
There was a beep from the workstation, a reply had arrived. There was a collective intake of breath from the room.
The reply came up on the screen, and as one they all read the message. “We regret that customer support for your universe is now closed while we work on Universe 2.0. Thank you for your enquiry.”
‘Well,’ said Bartack, ‘that’s going to make for an interesting headline.’
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