Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
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In Deep Cover

by Mark Dykeman

Sander T. Anderson departed the set in triumph and the enthusiastic cheers from the audience gradually diminished as he descended into a featureless hallway, while cries of “We love you, Sandy!” continued to erupt. Various crew members slapped him on the back of his screaming white blazer, shook his hands and one middle-aged lady from wardrobe seized him in a quick, but mighty embrace. They chattered about the success of the telethon and cries of “Way to go, Sandy!” filled the hallway.

Anderson bumped, hopped, skipped and sauntered his way towards his destination, his flaming red hair contrasting against pale features. He held a gleaming white briefcase, with golden light escaping from its seams, which he swung back and forth in a stiff, but almost purposeless manner – if not for the pale intensity of his knucklebones, which hinted that the only way he’d surrender the briefcase was to sever his hand from the rest of his body.

With a final grin and wave, he closed the door to his dressing room and sighed with a milder smile as he sat down on the couch. He hugged the briefcase to his chest and then grinned at the man who was waiting for him.

“You don’t seem to be surprised to have a visitor,” remarked the slim, bearded man seated on the other end of the couch. His darker skin contrasted with Anderson’s ivory brilliance.

“Most of my guests complain about the heat in here,” chuckled Anderson, “Doesn’t it bother you in that two-piece travesty you’re wearing? Given your past, I’d be shying away from buying off the rack. It would bring back painful memories of wood and spikes, and..” He smirked, then wedged the briefcase between himself and an armrest, crossed his legs and settled back into the corner of the couch. “Most of my guests ask for permission before they come in here, but I’ll overlook that for an old… friend. I figured you – one of you, anyway – would be here. Well, how can I possibly help you on this glorious day?”

“Answers,” said his visitor. He had a look of kindness and quiet strength about him, but he was currently giving Anderson a stern frown of disapproval. “We want to hear the explanation coming directly from you.”

“Simple,” said Anderson. “You’re losing and my team is kicking your butts. Your great experiment is failing because your test subjects aren’t worthy. And you and your … committee of three… are going to be out of commission, like ages of broken and forgotten idols, because you won’t change the faulty premises of your experiment. Somebody’s got to do something!”

The visitor frowned. “And you plan to profit from this?”

Anderson smiled and spread his arms open wide. “No. And yes.”

His visitor said nothing, appearing to wait from a response from Anderson. After a few moments, he spoke again. “Well?”

“Yes, Boy Wonder?” There was a hint of scorn in Anderson’s voice.

The other man continued without acknowledging Anderson’s comment. “Would you please explain yourself?”

Anderson whistled for a moment and stared at his fingernails. Satisfied with their appearance, he turned back toward the other man and turned up his famous smile. “Simple, dear boy. I’m saving your collective asses.”

The dark-skinned man raised an eyebrow. “This should be interesting. Please continue.”

“You don’t get it, do you?” His hand found the briefcase and he shook it at the other man. “You honestly think that I intended to take all of these prayers, hopes and expressions of love for the Trinity and somehow pervert them towards some nefarious end? You expect me to corrupt all of this goodwill at the expense of the loving and faithful of the world?”

“If you were standing my sandals, wouldn’t you think that was your plan?” asked his visitor.

Anderson sighed. “Yes, I suppose. But damn it, Jesus...”

The visitor’s frown cut deep crevices in his otherwise youthful skin.

“You know what’s going on,” Anderson continued, leaning forward. “You know that each one of them is legitimate. Surely you’ve noticed some differences in your target market...” He looked expectantly at the Son, youngest member of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus relaxed. “Yes, we have. Your ‘Telethon For The Almighty’” he grimaced, “has stirred up the faith once again and we feel the difference. For how long... who can say?” he shrugged. “All of these miracles...” The Son continued, shaking his head in apparent wonder, “were worthy, albeit extremely theatrical. In a way, I’m almost surprised that you didn’t show them a resurrection...”

Anderson guffawed. “Boy, those went out of style a couple of millennia ago. Remember? Curing AIDS patients and rebuilding devastated cities, now that impresses the masses today.”

The Son sighed. “True. But you really haven’t explained how you would profit from this event. Why are you taking these soul-essences? They really aren’t what you want. You can’t claim the owners based on these trinkets.”

In anger, Anderson banged his fists against his temples. “I told you! This experiment isn’t going to work! These people, they are too weak, too easily swayed by their impulses and frailties. I’m converting them away from you more easily that any of us thought. You are losing! Eventually, they are all going to abandon you and this planet really is going to end up in the proverbial flaming handbasket!”

“Isn’t that your goal?” Jesus asked, looking calmly at Anderson.

Anderson snorted in disgust. “Don’t you get it? If I win like this, the game’s over. And...” He paused before continuing. “It can’t be. The humans are too easily controlled by their appetites, but they are the only feasible candidates. No other life-form has the necessary potential to evolve and grow and you know it. If you let them fall like this, all of these millennia of work will be for naught. And...” Anderson paused again. “I won’t like it. There’s no challenge, there’s not fun. So I’m saving this batch – I’ve got a few more stashed away – for when we’re at our darkest hour, and then I’ll pull them out, keep your heads above water, and save the day.”

Jesus looked surprised. “’Our darkest hour’?”

“Oh, you know what I meant to say!” snapped Anderson.

Jesus relaxed. “Now look, everyone has a role to play in this. In modern terms, we are competing brands.”

Anderson swallowed. “Do you three really want to risk being alone, without any peers, for the rest of eternity? No, unless drastic steps are taken, there will be no “brands” to choose between. From then on, it will all be... pointless.”

Jesus nodded. “Yes.”

Anderson looked at his visitor. “So why did you need me to go through all of this with you? Obviously, you already knew and didn’t try to stop me.”

Jesus looked upon Anderson with a gentle smile. “All is happening as it must. We do realize the risk in our project, but we could not make it succeed without maintaining choice. We could not directly involve ourselves.”

Anderson snorted again. “Well, if you’re not going to help yourselves, then I’ve got to do things like this telethon to keep the race interesting. You guys are folding like a stack of cards and you don’t do a thing about it. You’re not providing a challenge.”

“However,” his visitor continued, “there are more subtle ways to guide events. Unseen tools to help us. And one that was uniquely suited to maintain the framework of the experiment.”

“Do tell,” said Anderson. He looked at his fingernails again, feigning disinterest.

Jesus leaned toward Anderson, riveting him with a stare. “The humans love spy stories, don’t they? One side, trying to learn the secrets of the other. Undercover agents, deep cover agents… many different methods to get information, disseminate information, even influence events.”

Anderson said nothing.

“In some of their stories, these 'agents' sometimes change their loyalties and end up working against their employers.” Jesus appeared to be staring at a crack in the ceiling of the dressing room.

“Yes, that happens in the best of organizations,” said Anderson, a hint of irony entering his voice.

“And other times,” continued Jesus, “agents become so immersed in their environment that they begin to forget who they really are.”

Anderson twitched, but said nothing.

“Of course, the best agent just might be the one who has been programmed so effectively, he doesn’t realize who he really is and why he does the things he does.”

Anderson shifted uneasily in his seat. “Will you get to the point, please? I’ve got a party to go to.”

“The biggest problem, though, was the state of affairs between our two organizations. Specifically, the 'chairman' of your organization – that being you, of course…” Jesus paused, “could not stand the thought of being directed, or subordinated by the rival organization that you…” he opened his arms wide, “let’s face it, you were fired for trying to orchestrate a board room revolt. There’s a great deal of face-saving that accompanies a termination like yours.”

Anderson snarled. “Being nailed to a tree is peanuts compared to that kind of humiliation.”

“Like any good organization, we dislike losing talent. And despite the questionable ends that you pursued, there was no denying the strength of your talents. Besides, we love you and wanted you to rejoin us. But the only enticement you would be interested in was off-limits – that job is filled, permanently. And if you suddenly were to disappear without filling your current role, the experiment’s equilibrium would be lost. So, if we wanted you back, at least in some fashion, we couldn’t appear to take you out of your role.”

Anderson looked at his watch. “How long is this history lesson going to take?”

Jesus grinned and raised a finger. “Not much longer now. So, what were we to do within all of these restrictions? The answer became obvious. We needed a deep cover agent, but someone we could ultimately trust. Our agent would need great strength to follow through with the plan.”

Anderson rolled his eyes. “Why didn’t they send you, then?"

Jesus smiled a crooked smile. “Fortunately, the humans provided us with a means to accomplish our goals two millennia ago. They arranged a sensational event, a public execution of sorts, which gave us the opportunity to seed our agent, just when no one expected it. Our agent appeared to die, but we instead put him into a new role while removing the original office bearer. In turn, we took the original office bearer into our care.”

Anderson shuddered and rubbed his palms together.

Suddenly, the Son stared directly into Anderson’s eyes and pointed a finger toward him. “Who are you, Anderson?”

“Who do you want me to be?” Anderson mocked. “I have more names that I can remember.”

“The name you remember most vividly is ‘Lucifer’, isn’t it?”

Anderson glared.

“But”, continued the Son, “that’s not your real name, is it? You’ve forgotten your real name, haven’t you?”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were crazier than a bag of hammers. Or maybe you are, carpenter?” Anderson grinned at his own joke.

“I see,” said Jesus. “Obviously you fear this question, so you’re making weak jokes to change the subject. That won’t work. Who are you?”

“What the hell are you…” began Anderson, but suddenly he stopped. He stared at the Son, eyebrows raising in surprise. “I just remembered… you and I were standing side by side and the Father was talking to us. But… I was wearing your clothes and you were wearing mine…”

Jesus nodded.

Anderson’s eyes widened and his hands came to his shocked face. “No, wait, this is… awful! Oh mercy, how could you – could I – could we…” He turned quickly away from the Son and covered his eyes with his hands.

The Son continued on. “You are no more Lucifer than I am Jesus of Nazareth. This was merely a role for you to play.”

Anderson began to sob and moan. His shoulders shook. “It can’t be,” he gasped, unwilling to face his visitor.

“It’s time,” said the Son quietly. “You’ve done your job well. You’ve kept the experiment running. And I’ve done my part.” He paused for a moment. “When I first figured out what happened, I was very, very, very angry. You know, ‘better to reign in Hell’ and all that? It took me a long, long time to accept this… deception. And to return Home this way, even covertly, oh it rankled.” He clenched his fists, then relaxed. “But in the end, I understood the wisdom behind the decision.”

Anderson sniffed. “How could I have done all of these terrible things during these two millennia? They were against everything I ever preached… So many lives bruised, battered, and destroyed. How could I have done that? How could I forget who I am?” he screamed.

The Son nodded. “You were playing your role to the best of your ability, but to do that properly, you had to believe you were someone else. No one else would have had the strength to do these things so contrary to your nature, but so necessary to the grand design. The agony of the crucifixion was just another preparatory step. And in the end, even this distasteful telethon was the final stage of resetting the experiment so it could continue onward. And my time here with the Trinity...” He paused as Anderson’s body shuddered with sobs. After a few minutes, Anderson brought himself back under control

“They tried to rehabilitate you, put you back on the program,” said Anderson. He spoke quietly but firmly. “You are right. I was the only one who could fill your role. And removing me from Earth was the necessary stimulus to the experiment.”

His visitor nodded.

“So,” Anderson hesitated, “is it time to drop the disguises and get back to our old jobs?”

“Yes,” replied the Son, rising and walking over to Anderson. They embraced for a long moment, then parted. Although nothing visible had changed, they both regarded each other carefully, as if some unseen exchange had occurred.

“Go back, Lucifer, the experiment must continue.” The Son’s voice was hoarse, as if it had not been used in a very long time.

Fallen Lucifer, the golden one, grinned. “You know, I’m almost looking forward to going back. Don’t get me wrong. It was ... uplifting to be home again after all of these ages, but I’m ready to go back. It’s better for me to be there. It’s what I’m meant to do.”

Jesus, restored to his former role and memories, smiled. “And I am content to rejoin the Trinity. It will be good to finally go home.”

Lucifer looked grave for a moment. “I can’t make it easy for you, Jesus.”

Jesus spread his arms wide. “True, but it’s part of the grand design.”

Lucifer laughed.

“Remember, Lucifer, you are loved,” said Jesus.

Lucifer couldn’t resist a smirk. “How... Christian of you. Well, Son, be seeing you. Oh, and don’t forget the goodies, they were meant to go with you the whole time. Remember?” He formed a circle using his thumb and index finger, waved, then vanished.

The Son sighed with relief as he grabbed the forgotten, gleaming briefcase. He smiled as he disappeared. The briefcase’s gleaming glory lingered briefly before it, too, was gone.


© 2007 Mark Dykeman

Bio: Mark Dykeman is an information systems professional based in New Brunswick, Canada. When his job and duties as a husband and father of two children allow, he reads, writes, plays music and games, and practices the esoteric art of public speaking. While he has published work in amateur press association 'zines and in newsgroups, this is his first appearance in a 'webzine' as such.

E-mail: Mark Dykeman

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