Beside Myself
(With Laughter)



Tom Pollux hated liver. No amount of onions or seasonings could hide the disgusting reality that beneath the ooze of garnish lay a thick slab of something's guts. "Some joke," he told the chaplain, shoving his dinner plate toward the thin, well-dressed cleric. "I asked for a steak and baked potato, medium rare with sour cream and chives. I get liver. Nice."

Reverend Paul Didymus crinkled his pointy nose, dabbing at it with a fresh linen handkerchief. "Animal meat is an abomination."

"Yes, well, you should know. So, do I keep talking or what?"

Sniffing, Didymus opened his Bible. "Please, continue. Unburden yourself. You must make confession, seek enlightenment."

Pollux shrugged, lighting up a cigarette. "You know what I am. What I've done. The world believes me to be a freak, unworthy to breathe the same air. But there was a day when my kind were considered to be gods."

"Blasphemy!" the reverend cried. "Such talk is unlawful, as you well know. There is only one God, only one Truth."

"So everyone tells me. I'm sick of seeing it. Television, movies, commercials. It's even plastered on the stinking busses! It used to be different - before your kind took over."

Straightening, the cleric cleared his throat, his smooth skin shimmering with the effort. "My kind as you have so often said, have brought the world to salvation. Could you and yours say that? Have we not destroyed disease? Have we not stopped the senseless waste of life instituted by your kind? Can you honestly say you prefer a world of death to ours? Look out your window, Pollux. Everywhere you look, you see rich greens, deep azures, and sweeps of majestic abundance. Earth's canyons echo with the proud cries of the eagle, her mountains dance with the light of a painted evening sky. Pollution has disappeared, famine vanished. What can your kind - you little gods as you called yourselves - boast of? Your altars have crumbled in the truth of Lord Peacer!"

Pollux blew a whiff of smoke into the other man's eyes, who began to cough a staccato melody that made Tom Pollux smile.

"You bunch don't have long. You're doomed to extinction."

"Praise our Lord Peacer! He will strike you down soon enough. You, the last of the blasphemers!"

Stubbing his cigarette's remains into a clay dish, Pollux shook his head. "Lord Peacer. He's been great to you, hasn't he? Thanks for the pep talk, Reverend. It's been a sparkling conversation."

Didymus stood. "May Lord Peacer grant you a chance to serve," he droned. "May your cells serve the body of us all."

"And may you and your kind find the real truth, buddy. Pax Romana and all that."

The clergyman left Pollux, making room in the small cell for the two guards who had come to escort the prisoner to the temple. Flanked by the burly SSAs, named for Stephen Saul Anthem, the college halfback who had originated the line, Pollux wondered if he really should pray. Twenty-five years ago he'd worked as a student volunteer for the project, then called Genesis II. At the time, Pollux had privately scoffed at the lofty ideas tossed about by the project's lead scientists. Over fifty of the world's wisest men and women had combined their efforts to utilize the human genome map by perfecting mankind. Conducted in secret in underground laboratories, well beneath the unsuspecting suburbs of several Midwestern cities, Genesis II promised an end to all that plagued man: pain, birth defects, imperfect vision, allergies, disease, and hunger. By manipulating and copying the altered genes, the team unlocked the plan of life. The magic of the Polymerase Chain Reaction sped them toward destiny like a freight train without an engineer.

The scientists failed to see how their piecemeal progeny might see THEM. The movement had started in Ohio with a small band of GenTwos setting fire to their parent lab. Within a short ten months, the genetic copies had gained control of every lab in the world, using the facilities to propagate themselves.
Soon the round-ups began.

Unfit, imperfect, GenOnes, as they were labeled, were arrested by the new leaders of each country. Arrests led to convictions without trial until the population of real human beings had dwindled to a frightened handful by the year 2026.

Pollux was the last. The Omega man of his time. Recalling Charlton Heston's sci-fi film of the 20th century, Pollux laughed out loud.

"Silence!" one of the SSAs shouted as they reached the white, sterile temple. Behind clean glass windows, Pollux could see the priests, clad in white cotton from head to foot. He knew the drill. He'd seen enough of these. He glanced at the empty window that led into the gallery, a small room with no chairs where he and many others had stood, forced to watch as their fellow humans were fed to the god.

"Lord Peacer! We bring you a GenOne, unworthy of your thoughts. We pray you will use him, tear him down, and crush him into one who will please your holy presence." The priests bowed and prayed, waiting by their god as the SSAs tied Pollux to the machine.

God in Heaven, he thought as he stared into the maw of the machine the GenTwos called Lord Peacer. Dear God, what have we done?

"Commit this blasphemer to our Lord Peacer!" the head priest cried, and the floor opened up beneath Pollux. He knew the pool he'd fallen into contained enzymes that would render his body into small chains of molecules. Soon, he'd be sorted into usable bits, which would then be fed to the PCR machine that dominated the room.

PCR. Lord Peacer. Pollux would laugh if he had a mouth. Soon he'd be reborn, not as a man, but as a living machine. Above him, GenTwos with his face and his hands would recycle his body without the benefit of a God-breathed soul.

Lord PCR, he thought just before dying. The joke's on us.

The End