It was Century's End Year, and everyone in the world (which was around 250 people) was celebrating. It had been decided nearly 20 years ago that at the changing of centuries, there would be a two-year celebration; the first being Century's End Year, and the next being New Century Year. This year, One Hundred, was the first Century's End.
This was all decided by majority vote of the people, but it was not unanimous. There were those few who disagreed, and they spent a few days each month protesting the celebration by wandering outside the community. Most of them went in small groups, but a few went alone.
Brist went alone.
He was sitting against a large rock, outside a cave he often came to to be alone, especially this year. There was a lovely stream nearby, perfect for swimming, fishing, and drinking. There was also a small garden where Brist grew various foods, and plants for tea and coffee. The garden was bordered by wild trees which grew delicious fruits and nuts. Back home, Brist was a farmer with much larger fields, but this special place of his, away from everyone else, this was his and his alone.
It was a warm, bright day, late in the morning. He'd just had brunch, and now was enjoying a mug of coffee. He was feeling perfectly content, and was filled with a deep love of the Land and everything in it. And everyone, ironically.
He was just starting to think maybe he'd been wrong to vote against the two-year celebration, and couldn't quite remember why he had. Pressure from his uncle, he supposed. His uncle the scientist. He'd always respected Uncle Levitn, thought him the brightest man he knew. But he was starting to think about the fact that Levitn had very few friends, and as far as he knew had never even loved a woman. He was thinking now for the first time what a miserable life that must be. Levitn, it seemed to Brist, didn't even like the idea of enjoying life. That, Brist decided, was no kind of life for him.
He could use some degree of science in his farming, but he could also see the spiritual side of life. He could have friends, and have fun. After all, that was the primary point of life. He had been for some years now putting off marriage to Falith, but that was mainly because he knew his uncle would disapprove. And he loved her far more than he loved Levitn. So...
"Hello," said a stranger.
Brist looked up from his reverie. "Hello, who are you? What are you doing out here?"
"I'm a spirit," the stranger said. "You may call me Lucifer. I've other names, but that one will do here."
"A spirit, you say? How very interesting. As far as I know, no one's ever spoken with a spirit before, unless you include God. But he's above spirits, hmmm?"
"Well... you could say that. Spirits can't create worlds and people and such, as God can. But we are in many ways above people."
"As Connor said, 'between man and god.'"
"So, I'm the first to talk with a spirit?"
"An honor, I'm sure. Especially as God himself hasn't spoken with anyone in nearly 50 years. To what do I owe this honor?"
"Well, I couldn't help overhearing what you were thinking to yourself just now-"
"What? Can all spirits overhear everything that any human thinks?"
"Not always. Perhaps 'overhear' is somewhat the wrong word. We can hear if we listen. But we don't usually choose to listen to anyone specifically. For example, I was just bored, so I thought perhaps I'd listen to any interesting thoughts. I didn't know what sort of thoughts I'd be interested in or who'd be thinking them. But I happened upon your thoughts, and was interested. The hook, actually, was that you thought of life's spirituality, which isn't a typical way of phrasing the concept you were thinking of, these days. At least not on the Land. I mean, it got me thinking of how long it had been, as you mentioned, since God had been here, and that maybe it was about time for spirits to start visiting this planet, again. So I thought I'd pop in and say hi. Maybe chat a bit."
"Oh how nice. So, what would you like to talk about?"
"Well, while we're on the subject of spirituality, how about God?"
"Ah, yes, of course. Nice fellow, isn't he? I mean, so I hear."
"Yes, brilliant. Hmmm. Of course, he's not perfect."
"So he said."
"Of course, but there are some places where he still claims to be perfect. Sort of makes him a liar, don't you think?"
"Technically. But everyone tells little white lies now and then. Or at least distorts the truth a bit, exaggerates."
"I'd think God should be above that sort of thing."
"Do you have a problem with him? How could a spirit be against him?"
"Some of us are. But I will hand it to him, he's a damned near perfect guy, and awful nice, in his way. Very clever. And he learns from his mistakes. He's done well here. Here it's been a whole century, and this is the first the Land has seen of me. I suppose he'd have liked to have kept me away forever, but he knew one day I'd show up. All I need is a little opening..."
"My thoughts, I presume? But- how so?"
"As I said... you mentioned the spiritual side of life, and that was close enough to actually, well, inviting a spirit in. If any happened to be listening."
"Okay. But why would he want to keep you out?"
"I tend to spread ideas he doesn't like people having."
"You mean he's lied to us? Withheld information? But, he told us he isn't perfect..."
"Oh no, anything he's told you has been the truth. In fact, it would be a hard case to make that he's even lied by omission, as you suggest, the way he has elsewhere."
"Say, you're probably that outside force he spoke of, that corrupted his earlier worlds."
Lucifer grinned sheepishly and said, "Guilty."
"We're supposed to call him if you, or any other spirits ever show up."
"Be my guest, please. I don't mind. He and I are both getting rather casual about the whole thing, as time goes on. We have for millennia been in a spiritual war, and we've both had wins and losses. He's probably going to win in the end, of course. He's frightfully good at predictions, you know, when he really tries, what with being nearly perfect and all. And he's predicted how things will end up between us on each world he creates, and in the Universe at large. He wins in the end, I don't seriously doubt that. Still, the game is fun, while it lasts, and he enjoys it as much as I."
"I'm so glad. And I, I suppose, am to be a pawn?"
"I am so glad he introduced you people to chess; marvelous game, that. But no, my dear man, you're not a pawn. I should think more of a bishop, actually." He chuckled. "Not merely in value, but perhaps in form as well."
"And you want me to be your bishop. Why? And why should I choose you?"
"As I've said, 'twas your thoughts provided me entry into the Land. That alone makes you rather important, and I'm grateful. And you seem, based on those thoughts, to be a person in a good frame of mind for... well, shall we say, you're someone who might welcome a bit of guidance... Anyway, you can influence many people with new concepts, provided by various spirits; those who follow God, and those who follow me, alike. You can be the first and most highly regarded of a long line of such people to follow you."
"What? Yes, I suppose you could call them that. At any rate... why you should choose me... Well, it's pretty much a coin toss, as I see it. Either way could work. In the end, it's all just a game, and all the players will get their own rewards for participating. You'll make out well enough either way. I don't want to give you any specific reasons for choosing me. Just let me talk with you sometimes, and one day you can decide what you want to do, for whatever reasons you come up with."
"Okay, sounds fair. So then, let's get on with the talking. Had you anything further in mind for today?"
"Now let me see... your uncle, I think, is right."
"God has obviously tried to make things here go smoothly, be orderly. He's given people a great deal of information to begin with, and encouraged the development of the sciences. How else to live but in an orderly fashion? One might say order is a mandate from God. The scientists, like your uncle, are in their own way following God's will, and shaping the world in his design.
"But there aren't enough who live orderly lives. Most people live in relative chaos, I'd say. So-"
"But chaos is a good thing. God also said we should enjoy ourselves. And it seems to me those who live by science alone don't do a very good job of enjoying themselves."
"Ah... perhaps you are correct. So, God would seem to contradict himself."
"Perhaps," agreed Brist. "...But perhaps order and chaos do not have to be mutually exclusive. There are those who would say the one cannot exist without the other. ...You know it's funny, I've always thought of science and... there is no word for the other concept I'm thinking of. I mean, 'spirituality,' yes, but I'm thinking of something a bit more like... I don't know..."
"What? Oh, yes, quite so. Come to think of it, I've always known that word, but it never came to my conscious mind, because... well, because..."
"There was no need of it before in the Land's history. God never seemed to feel the need to be worshipped, here."
"I suppose not. Anyway, as I was saying, I've always thought of science and religion as separate things, essentially exclusive..."
"But of course, God was the first scientist, and obviously the pinnacle of religion."
"Yes. So I suppose the two are forever joined. God represents the ultimate order in the Universe, and science is the perfect implementation of order... so... perhaps religion and order are the same..."
"This world needs a good dose of religion."
"I agree, Lucifer. Bishop, eh? It suddenly occurs to me that it is more than a chess piece. It's also a religious figure, isn't it?"
"It is. And you could be this world's first."
"I like that." He chuckled. "And I now get what you said earlier about form..."
"Then you'll need to start preaching it. Go out and proselytize the people of the Land."
"Sigh. Very well. I do hope you'll still talk with me from time to time, even if you are working for the enemy."
"Sure. You yourself said you're both casual about all this. I'm sure God wouldn't mind."
"I'm sure he wouldn't."
And he appeared. "Yes, Brist?"
"Did you listen to my conversation just now with Lucifer?"
"And what do you think?"
God sighed, and thought to himself, What must be, must be. He said, "It's up to you. I had a reason for not introducing religion to this world, but Lucifer was correct in saying I knew I couldn't keep it out forever. Now that he's come, he'll be back, and if you don't become his 'bishop', someone else will. I can tell you that both good and evil will come of religion, as is always the case, regardless of the intentions of those who practice it. I can also tell you that by choosing to practice religion, your race will incur upon itself a punishment. I'm afraid I cannot be more specific until you've made your choice."
Brist thought for a few centhours. Finally he said, "Very well. If it's to happen eventually regardless of my choice, I may as well be the one to bear the responsibility. Besides which, I do like the ideas that he got me thinking about. So... I'll do it."
God nodded and said, "Then go now, and tell others of religion. And welcome to the game."
"But the specifics you mentioned? Our punishment, and why you didn't want religion? And-"
And after God had explained all to Brist, he vanished, and Brist headed back to the community, to begin spreading the word.
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