I’m really not sure how much time has passed since my arrest. The holographic calendar in my cell blinked its final rollover long ago. I can’t even derive an estimate by counting the lines on the back of my hands. But that’s the price you pay for reclamation. You grow up, you go through the chaos of puberty to reach young adulthood, but then you stop—never aging, never dying, until that which was lost is found. The men who put me in here have long gone, passed on to embrace the paradise I’ve solidly denounced. Like a lost religion I’ve been forgotten, swept under the ruins, waiting for the ecstasy of rediscovery. I have every confidence that day will come.

Someone, somewhere is seeking me as restlessly I’ve been seeking him. And one day—one day soon—together we shall reclaim our paradise.

I could just leave. The pneumatic lock on the cell door must have given up the ghost about the same time as the calendar. All I have to do is push it open and step out with my head held high…no fear, no second glance. After all, who’s going to stop me?

But I don’t leave. From the very inception of my incarceration I’ve dreamed about escape, schemed and prayed for a way to emancipate myself from my prison of passion. No matter how bold, how basic, how brilliant a plan I come up with, I never act upon it. I think I sort of like the foolish idea that the outside world regards me as a martyr—despite the worldwide elimination of self-sacrifice as a noble aspiration. Someone, somewhere must be holding me in deep esteem for standing firm for what I believe in.

What I believe in… it’s changed so much throughout my life I’m not really sure what I believe in anymore. I thought I’d finally settled on a firm conviction when I became ordained through the Rebel Emancipation Arbitration Ministry. But with the state of the world today (several todays ago?), the faith of even the staunchest radical can be pushed to its sacrificial limit. The tide of Christianity has spread across the world like a vicious cancer, devouring humanity’s vitality and leeching its individuality. Self-pride has become the bane of ambition; free will the nail in its cross. My Ministry preached love and tolerance and the deification of the self, causes that the Christians have spent centuries eradicating. If God made man in his image, shouldn’t every man regard himself as a God?

My Ministry…built on an immaculate urge to reunite souls that have been lost. Not just with other souls but also with themselves. But as it is, every last one of the seven billion souls that comprise this planet’s congregation has been claimed as state property by the Foundation of the Universal Christ’s Kingdom. Most of them have given themselves over freely, either out of acceptance of the Foundation’s deception or from fear of eternal damnation. Either way you look at it, the Christians have managed to FUCK up the entire world.

I first heard rumors of the Rebel Ministry through my brief tenure with the Foundation’s Seminary Academy. I became close with a fellow Deacon who’d enrolled at the same time as I did, and together we went through all the training, the praying, all the flagellation that led to graduation. It seemed only natural that we fell in love. At least I did. He frequently convinced me of his eternal devotion, but only in grunted whispers at the climax of our middle-of-the-night encounters in the Seminary bishop’s rectory.

We did a good job of keeping our affair secret at first, but we grew careless. We got caught. By the bishop himself, who had had a religious epiphany that couldn’t wait until morning to be ravaged. Suffice to say, my soulmate-in-sheep’s-clothing and I found ourselves ex-Deacons…and, to my dismay (yet not to my surprise) ex-lovers. He willfully gave himself up to the Foundation’s Science Council for reconditioning, allowing himself through technological and psychological modification to eschew everything that made him who he truly was.

I, however, was not so easily frightened into submission. I had been given a taste of eternity during my tenure with the Academy, and my determination to sate that taste tingled on my tongue, leading me to insurrection. I fled underground, far away to the liberation of the European Union, to the Rebel Ministry’s secret sanctum in the Swedish hills. My instructors at the Academy had relegated the existence of the resistance to myth, but I was beginning to see just how much sociology had been reshaped throughout the ages to satisfy the whims of blind conservatism, and that made me all the more determined to prove them wrong.

As is most often the case with the Christian faith, myth gave way to fact. I’m not quite sure what convinced the Rebel Abbots to accept me into their ranks; I’d like to think my sincerity spoke loudly for my integrity. Whatever the case, they sensed the passion that burned inside me, and they knew they’d be doing their cause a disservice by not accepting me.

For the next several weeks my mind, my body, and my spirit endured a rigorous reawakening into the Gospel of Truth. Instead of allowing my new training to supplant my Academy conditioning, I used it as fuel to fan the fire. In order to fight your enemy, you need to learn everything you can about him—and I had learned far more about my enemy than my enemy knew about himself.

By the time my training ended, the Abbots had already made preparations to grant me my own ministry. Like I said, they knew a good thing when they saw one. My ministry grew rapidly, and soon my congregation had outgrown the Swedish hills. In a bold move, I moved them to the lowlands, to the green pastures and meadows where my flock could roam free in prosperity.
I should’ve known better.

We live in an age when human prosperity is regarded as holy transgression, and it wasn’t long before the Foundation found us out. They descended upon us in the way that a door-to-door missionary forces his way into the haven of your home. We had nowhere to run, but neither did we have any inclination to run. To run would give the Foundation the impression that we feared them, that our faith was weaker than theirs. Fear was what they expected, for it would offer them reassurance that those of us who stood against their omnipotence secretly desired to become one with it.

I stood in the middle of my flock that day, my arms raised above me, my head raised to the Heavens. My only regret was that I didn’t get to finish the ceremony I’d begun. A bond of love and fidelity between two immortal souls who found mortality within each other. Two young men who had the courage to seek each other out and reclaim the wholeness that had been torn from them. They hardly needed my humble ordination to sanctify their union, but the ritual gave it tangibility, validation to a world denied to them that their soul would never again be separated. It’s a ritual I’ve long yearned for myself, a moment when I can rejoice in the finality brought to me by my own reclamation.

I stood in the meadow, arms and head held high, as my former fellow Deacons confined my freedom and took me back to the Seminary that had rejected me. This time, though, things would be different. This time I knew how to laugh. I would pity their ignorant piety and question their clouded authority with my indomitable sense of self. I allowed the Foundation to take me, but I refused to let them break me.
Not that they didn’t try. They tried damn hard to reshape my sense of self and warp it to the uniform conditions befitting a true Lamb of God. That’s why I’ve been here so long, inside this pneumatically sealed room, with no sense of fraternity other than the unconditional tolerance of my internal God. He is with me alway, consoling me, comforting me, assuring me that I am never, ever truly alone. My soul has been halved, but I’ve been given an eternity to make it whole once more.

For every theological credo they threw at me, I retaliated with an arsenal of my own calculated beliefs. They quoted tired scripture: “man shalt not lie with man as he does with woman”… words that have long been twisted from their original meaning to appease the prejudices of self-important figureheads.

Man does not lie with man as he does with woman, I argued. The physicality is different, the emotions are different, the passion is different…if you would just un-blind your eyes and look, you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities whatsoever.

The focus of this holy passage is on generalities, they said, not specifics. Man shalt not lie with man as he does with woman. No question.

Fine. Man shalt not lie with man. I narrowed my eyes at the voice coming from the two-way mirror on the wall opposite my bed. Lie meaning just that. Man shalt not lie. He shalt be true to himself. His life shalt reflect honesty, which he shall give freely to his fellow man. I held back a smile. Isn’t lying one of the major sins?

Sin is a matter of God’s perspective. With that, they segued right where I knew they would: the origin of peccadillo and the tired old slogan, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” God made man, and god gave man woman to share paradise.

Only because one man asked for woman.

A man made in god’s image—and who begat all other men in god’s image.

Image, yes. Not constitution.

Are you saying you believe god is…?

I released my smile. What if he is?

Your blasphemy is bordering on executable.

Fine. Then execute me. That’s what you really want, isn’t it?

The Foundation does not claim the lives of God’s children. We strive only to reclaim what has been lost.

Then the Foundation and I have something in common.

That last comment really got to them. I know it did because they took a moment to change tactics. They brought in a new brainwasher, one with whom I’d had a prior familiarity. A close familiarity…in the middle of the night…in the Bishop’s rectory…

Regarding god’s initial conception of male/female relationships… he began, his voice cold, unfeeling, unrecognizing.

Yes, back to that. I matched his frigidness but underscored it with the taunt of recognition.
You believe man does not owe allegiance to the God who created him?

I believe man should look to his creator as an example, not an authority.

Man has already paid a heavy price for questioning his creator’s authority.

If I remember correctly, it wasn’t exactly man who paid the price. It was the woman whom he begged his creator for who seduced him into rebellion.

Man would have found his own way, eventually. God had planned for this.

Maybe so. But what if god had made woman first? Would the roles have been reversed? I took a step toward the wall. What if man had asked for a male companion instead of a female? Would we even be here having this discussion?

It might have been the rush of righteous battle blurring my vision, but I could have sworn the holographic mirror shimmered. Are you saying you shun the affection of woman simply because she was the catalyst for original sin?

Of course not! I sighed with more exasperation than I’d intended. I’m just saying that even though paradise was built on the foundation of man and woman, man and woman still managed to ruin it for the rest of us.
They may have deprived themselves of paradise, but it was their children who corrupted Sodom.

There wouldn’t have been any deprivation if woman hadn’t given in to the corruption of temptation in the first place. Aren’t you listening to anything I’m saying?

We’re recording every word. We’ve just documented that you’re projecting the blame for your life of sin on the weakness of woman.

I’m not projecting anything! It was woman who couldn’t resist a final glance at the temptation of Sodom… after her husband offered his daughters over two strangers as fodder for lust.

Like any devoted lamb, he was affirming his faith by defending the sanctity of his savior.

By sacrificing his own flesh and blood? I shook my head. And you’re telling me I need to change? Look, I don’t shun the affection of woman for any other reason than the simple fact I’m just not programmed for it.
That’s why we’ve brought you here—to reprogram you to the satisfaction of our holy father.

But I don’t want to be reprogrammed, you idiot! I didn’t say that out loud. I really wanted to, but I knew it would only incite further aggravation for both of us. And it would’ve made what happened next a sadder joke than it actually was.

She looked like she stepped out of one of those early holo-vid programs, the type where Mom, Dad, Biff, and Beaver all come off squeaky-clean and pure in monochrome black and white. She was pushed through the pneumatic door by unseen hands, carrying before her a loaf of warm bread, the tempting aroma of banana wafting in silky wisps above the crust.

I made this expressly for you. With a smile whose forced nature she tried to conceal, she offered me the loaf.

I sniffed. Does it have nuts?

No, it doesn’t.

I shook my head. Sorry. I only like it with nuts.

I see… She set the loaf on the nightstand and set herself on the edge of my bed. I’ll just leave it here, then. She swept the skirt of her gingham dress over her lap. Maybe later you’ll get the urge to eat it.

I smiled at her charmingly rote optimism and said nothing.

Her eyes flicked to the side. You’re a very handsome man. Any woman would be lucky to have a man like you to share the light of God’s love.

The laughter I tried so hard to suppress since arriving in that room escaped in a rampant flood of tear-stinging guffaws. She looked at me, hurt but with a hint of relief. Sorry, I told her. It’s just so funny to hear you people talk about the ‘light’ of God’s love when so many of you are lost in the dark.

But that’s why we seek comfort in each other. To help guide us back to the light.

I agree. I took a step closer to her to show her I wasn’t completely repulsed by her presence. But I honestly don’t believe you and I can help each other.

How do you know unless you try? In time you may grow to desire my company.

We both know that’s not what either of us wants. I placed my hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. A condescending act, I know, but unavoidably necessary. Thank you… for the bread.

You’re welcome. She nodded twice and stood up. With her head hung over the bodice of her dress, she walked to the door. You’ll let me know if you like it?

I shrugged one shoulder. If I ever decide to try it.

The door opened. She raised her head for one final forced smile as the unseen hands pulled her away from me.

The man behind the mirror cleared his throat. All right, that one didn’t work. Bring in the raven-haired. She achieved great success in bringing me back to the light.

I turned sharply to the mirror, the last gasps of laughter quivering on my lips. You don’t get it, do you? This isn’t about the morality of companionship! My soul knows its passion, and nothing you can say or do will force me to deny it!

True passion can only be achieved by following the path of righteousness.

How the hell can you claim authority over anyone’s passion but your own? I kicked the nightstand. The bread loaf slid off and rolled across the floor. Passion has nothing to do with your bastardized concept of an almighty god! The only path I follow is the one that leads to divinity within myself!

Divinity is a gift from the savior, the familiar voice seemed to waver a bit, not a privilege to be—
That’s enough for today. Another voice, the bishop’s voice, overrode the argument of my one-time paradise. Our usual tactics aren’t going to work with this one. The Science Council will reconvene to discuss alternative forms of reconditioning. We’ll try again tomorrow.

Yet for all their intolerant confidence, tomorrow never came.

None of them ever returned. Not the Bishop, not the duplicitous Deacons. No more voices debating behind the mirror, no unseen hands reaching out of the darkness. I’m alone, and like a lost religion I’ve been forgotten, relegated to the legacy of failed martyr, coiling in my solitary eternity with the mocking flames of paradise licking at my heels. I’ve survived with my internal God intact. Hope churns inside me. Hope that one day my eternity will come to an end. Faith that what has been halved will be made whole again. The finality of reclamation will surely come to me, or else I would’ve embraced shallow death a lifetime ago…
I’m really not sure how much time has passed since my arrest. The holographic calendar on my wall quit working long ago. But I’m no longer a prisoner. I can escape, if I just let myself…if I believe in myself. That’s all this is really about, isn’t it? Believing in myself. Taking responsibility for myself. Lording over myself. It’s time I stopped being a slave to my passion and instead become its master.

I push the pneumatic door; it opens easily. I take a step. My foot brushes against the loaf of banana bread suctioned to the wall. I bend down and break off a piece. It’s moldy and hard and seeped with the mustiness of my tiny cell. I take a bite.

I step out into the hallway, into the blinding light of emancipation. The journey ahead of me is pocked with the crags of struggle, but to fully embrace the destination I have no choice but to wade through the abyss. I stumble to the end of the hallway, past the sanctuary long abandoned by transience. For the very first time the soulless, lifeless Seminary seems to me a comfort, a shelter of sympathy beckoning me with unconditional love. At the end of the hall, the white light gives way to the gold of dawn. Instantly I feel blessed with a renewed vision of purpose.

“It’s about time you decided to leave.” A familiar voice emanates from the dawn. “Did you like my bread?”

My eyes readjust to the vibrancy of natural illumination. I see her clearly, backed by shadow. The discomfort of the loose gingham dress has been abandoned for the relief of skintight velvet pants.

“It…wasn’t bad…” my tempered whisper elevates with each syllable “…although I still like it with nuts.”

She shakes her head, her untamed face belying the last shreds of a wholesome front. “Can’t stand ’em, myself. You ready?”

“I always have been.”

She turns to face the light. “You have any idea what’s out there?”

“If I did, I doubt I would’ve left my room.” I smile and extend my hand. “I’m Adam.”

“Stephanie.” She shakes it. “But most people call me Stevie.” With an unforced smile she steps aside and allows me to take the lead. I guide her through the garden, through the overgrown branches and leaves splattered with berries and buds that tickle us with the temptation of undying eternity.

“Do you think you’ll ever find her?” I ask.

“Of course.” Her confidence burns the back of my neck. “If not, my soul wouldn’t still be in mourning.”
Together we step through the barricade of invisible lasers restricting admittance to the garden. Newly liberated, we separate, each of us following our own path as we seek comfort in the soulful death that only comes with reclamation. What was lost shall be found, what we have been denied shall be given freely. We are each our own Gods, masters of our own passion, and no one—no one—can ever lay claim to our Kingdom.

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