by Jeff Baker

Knowledgeable in what lay on the other side in that great undiscovered country, a dying man closes his eyes for the last time then opens them for the first.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



"Two CCs of adrenaline now!"

The needle found its way through his chest and into the failing heart. A nurse snatched the curtain around the stretcher. Nests of colored wires, oxygen tubes, and humming machinery surrounded the figure. White coated men and women worked frantically in the confined area.

The mechanical tone of his pulse in the air went deadly flat.

"We're losing him!"

The old man's eyes popped open with the sharp smell of antiseptic and frantic sounds around him. His gnarled left hand still clenched a small, worn silver cross as paralyzing pain shot down his arm.

"How the hell can he be awake? Mr. Horn, can you hear me?"

His eyes rolled back in their sockets, eyelids fluttering like leaves caught in a spring storm. With a final convulsive spasm, his body lay still on the table.

Gabe felt the crushing grip surrounding his heart slowly retreat. The pain no longer burned fiercely; only a spreading cold remained. Lord, he thought, I'm on my way home, for you have promised that whosoever believeth in your son should not perish, but have eternal life.

An uneasy calm came over him in those last few moments, interrupted by a strange tightness in his thinking. A single thought flared across his mind: his wife. My sweet Sarah, 'til death do us reunite.

Between the moment his eyes closed for the last time and opened for the first, the universe changed. Billions of galaxies rose from the vast darkness of space, completed their endless dance, and quietly died. The universe began its slow, inevitable collapse, completing the circle; but sentient life resisted, as it always had, and stubbornly triumphed.

* * *

Gabe slowly opened his eyes as if he'd just awoken from a deep, refreshing sleep, surprised, but alert. He found himself lounging in a long forgotten easy chair. Gentle spring sunlight spilled through a half open window across his face. The smell of freshly baked bread and newly cut hay assaulted his nose as forgotten hints of the family farm surfaced. Before he could gather his thoughts, a voice jerked him around.

"Welcome home, son."

"Oh my God," whispered Gabe.

"Been a long time, boy." The man before him was the father he remembered from childhood, a man whose features hadn't been weathered down by living yet.

"Father? Is that really you?"

"Still unsure of yerself, boy, even dead? And you the church goer."

"Dead?" said Gabe.

He started trembling as his father's voice faded. Where are the Pearly Gates? Could this be Hell? Gabe straightened up in the chair, shifting his gaze towards his father.

He rubbed his worn, faithful cross out of habit while looking around the house. "This looks like the farm I grew up on. It's not exactly my idea of Heaven. Where are we?"

His father's eyes narrowed as he looked back at his son. "I don't seem to remember God askin' yer opinion."

Before his father could say any more, a wave of emotions overwhelmed Gabe. He rose from his chair and moved to embrace his father, but his father's eyes darkened, and the man stepped back.

"You haven't changed. We're dead and you haven't changed," said Gabe.

An easy grin appeared on the older man's face. "How 'bout a cup of coffee?" his father said, turning towards the stove. "Nothin' like a good cup of coffee on a fine spring mornin'. At least that's one thing we can agree on."

Gabe watched as his father walked over to the stove and poured two cups of black coffee from an ancient blue coffee pot. Handing a cup to his son, Gabe's father said, "To answer where we are, we're in the afterlife."

"But this is not what I expected. Scripture clearly shows—"

His father slammed down his coffee cup on the table and moved to within inches of his son's face. "Don't quote me scripture, boy."

Gabe glanced down, avoiding his father's penetrating eyes.

"I had a lifetime of learnin' scripture for yer mother's sake, and what did it get me? Nothin'! It didn't bring in the crops. It didn't put clothes on yer back, and it sure didn't save yer mother's life, did it?" He picked up his cup and took a sip, his smoldering eyes still locked on his son. "And what about Sarah? It didn't do her no good either."

Gabe's head snapped up with a jerk, his eyes widening. The slow burn in his father's eyes couldn't match the bonfire in his. "How dare you bring Sarah up. She loved me more than you ever did or showed. You have no right to talk about her!"

He father's eyes softened slightly. "You always found the courage to fight back when you cared about something. I can see there'll be no right time to tell ya this, Gabe. Yer mother couldn't accept the truth, but you might.

"You were so obsessed yer damn religion after Sarah died that you never considered other possibilities. What gives you or anyone else a direct line to universal truth? A book? A book written by men for men? How many changes has it gone through? How many alterations have men made to match their own views? And that's only yer Christianity. You've ignored thousands of other religions based upon the same flimsy evidence, books written by man to control man." He finished the last of his coffee and walked over to the open window.

His father turned to face him and sat against the window ledge. "The only thing yer Christianity was right about was life after death. The only problem is, there ain't no Christian god and there ain't no Jesus. You see, this is the only afterlife, the universal afterlife. All forms of life throughout the universe exist here." As he spoke, light from the early morning spilled through the window surrounding the older man with a soft, golden halo.

"If this is some kind of joke…"

His father's eyes darkened. "Boy, when have I ever joked?"

Gabe stared defiantly back. "It doesn't matter if He has other Children in other shapes, we're all His children. If we're dead, then God exists by the fact we're alive again through his perfection and grace." Gabe expected his father's rage to crash upon him like the fall of night, inevitable and absolute.

His father only smiled. "Yer on the right track, boy, but ya got a long way to go yet. Perfect God, perfect book, huh? II Samuel 24:1-2 and I Chronicles 21:1-2 might change yer mind about that. But yer close, real close. I think it's time for a little journey. Now."

Between one thought and the next, Gabe's world changed.

A cool, gentle breeze had drifted through the farm window a moment ago; now a hot, arid wind caressed Gabe's body as he stood at the outskirts of an ancient city, sand shifting uneasily under his feet while the desert sun beat down upon his head.

"Where are we?"

"Where the truth begins," Gabe's father replied.

"What truth?"

"Christianity, boy, what else?"

Gabe became a shadow, a passive observer alongside another, his Saviour, living Christ's life with him.

He was a young boy, growing and exploring as boys do. The years quickly melted away while unrest grew in the young man. His fellow man was too cruel, too unjust. Jesus began preaching love and tolerance, an unheard of concept at the time. Surviving was too difficult for such thoughts in the desert, yet he persevered. Ultimately, he paid for his beliefs with his life but not before touching many other lives with his ideas. Knowledge backed by truth is far stronger and more powerful than swords.

Gabe snapped back to the farm house with a jolt that rocked him on his feet. Everything was exactly as they'd left it, but for Gabe, thirty-three years had passed in an instant.

"He was a man," Gabe's father said, "flesh and blood like us. The only difference was that his words and deeds lived long after he was gone. I wanted you to see how he actually lived and died so you'd know the truth."

"The truth? What the hell do you know about truth? I'm not sure I know what the truth is anymore. What's next—turning Sarah's love and memory against me? Thoughts of being with her again were the only thing that kept me sane."

His father smiled again. "Yer ready for the last step."

Gabe's universe changed again.

In the beginning there was darkness, a darkness so absolute that neither time nor space existed. A critical potential was reached on the outside and the inside unfolded.

At 10-43 seconds, gravity separated from the other three forces: electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak interaction.

At 10-10 seconds, electromagnetic and weak interaction separated.

At 10-6 seconds, quarks combined to form particles.

At three minutes, light nuclei started forming.

700,000 years passed before true complex atoms formed.

Hundreds of millions of years later gaseous clouds of hydrogen and helium began to condense into proto-galaxies and stars. Another billion years passed before rudimentary life appeared.

Life blossomed and evolved over the next one hundred billion years. Civilizations rose and fell by the millions as some destroyed each other or themselves while others fell to natural disasters. Wherever it was found, life clung to existence with stubborn persistence.

But the end was near as the universe started its slow collapse. Beings all over the universe strove to avoid the heat death. Sentience struggled to find answers to questions that have plagued intelligent life throughout the ages. In the end they created their own answers.

Emulated life guided the universal collapse in one direction, cheated the heat death, and the Omega Point was reached.

"My God," Gabe whispered.

"No, our God," said Gabe's father.

"I don't understand."

"Dammit boy, open yer eyes! You needed answers and you were given answers. Yer body died billions of years ago. Man and other life continually looked for their gods but failed. The Omega Point or god or whatever you want to call it was created."

All the blood ran out of Gabe's face. "That can't be. I'm alive again, we're alive because we have immortal souls. We must…" Gabe sat down heavily. He gazed off aimlessly, his eyes unfocused.

"We are now immortal but not because we have souls. There is only one criterion that defines a man, a being: experience. Experience is the tool by which a man's soul is forged.

"The Omega Point encompasses all, the entire universe. It permeates everything and is everything. It was created by sentient beings and continually evolved until all life both past and present exists within it now. We are both sustained and protected from the universal heat death by it, but not physically.

"We are emulated Turing subsets of the Omega Point."

Gabe closed his eyes as a slow sigh escaped between his lips. "Are you trying to tell me I'm a computer program within some giant computer god?" He shuddered slightly. Oh Sarah.

"That's too simplistic, boy," his father replied. "The substrate upon which life exists and continues is unimportant. Physical existence or emulated, it doesn't matter. The Omega Point is the pinnacle of life's continued struggle to survive. We exist now because the Omega Point was reached before the final collapse of the universe, but paradoxically it was the very collapse which allows us to survive. And not only survive, but experience infinite personal time in finite objective time.

"Life cannot survive in any other form within the collapse. Emulation is an exact reproduction. Once you emulate something, the difference between the emulation and the actual object becomes meaningless. The emulation is the object. Because we exist as emulations, we cannot die again and we can forever experience and grow."

Gabe's father moved around the chair to stand in front of his son. Gabe's head was still lowered and eyes closed, his fingers rubbing at the small, worn cross. "The choice is yours, Gabriel. You've seen the truth. Now you must choose between truth or what you believe is true.

"Sarah's already made her choice."

Gabe's eyes snapped open. He stared up at his father as tears welled up. A drop escaped and rolled slowly down his cheek.

"Sarah," Gabe said in a ragged whisper. The silver cross dropped to the wooden floor with small, bouncing clicks. His breathing came in tattered spurts. Sarah?

There was only one choice to make.

The tsunami broke.

The door at the far end of the room began to open as both men turned to look. Bright gold light streamed out from around the frame. Gabe couldn't make out the figure in the doorway walking towards him, but he knew who it was, who it must be.

A light breeze brushed across his face, bringing memories of a lazy, cool autumn afternoon of days long past. His heart beat fiercely in his chest. A beat strong with the prospect of a long journey ending, or maybe just beginning.

Slowly, he could make out a familiar smile surrounded by soft, cascading, auburn hair. It was the smile of old promises kept and those yet to come.




Copyright © 2008 Jeff Baker

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Jeff Baker: I've previously had technical articles published in FoxTalk magazine, FoxPro Advisor magazine, SQL Server magazine, and in an article collection book "Exploring Foxpro Volume II".

I live in Arlington, Texas and by day I'm a web developer. My other hobbies include making chain mail jewelry, learning to fly RC planes, and building models through casting.

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