The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Thirty-seven: The Congress of Gods

        The Higher Powers met in the roofless ampitheater of Olympus, a half-circle of stone terraces confronting a wide stage open to the sky. Most pantheons were represented by only one or two gods or goddesses, and some of the minor sects were absent entirely, though there was at least some kind of representation for every religion that ever existed.
        It was quite a crowd, radiantly resplendent in displays of unearthly power and beauty. Zeus/Jove was a towering giant, wreathed in flickering lightnings, and Shiva's massive phallus was prominently priapic. The Great Mother, Ishtar  — the naked globes of her world-nourishing breasts high and proud — was there with her sword and bow, the evening star upon her brow. Beside her was black Olodumare, who was brought from Africa to a new world in the bowels of slave ships. Hawk-headed Ra shone as the sun, and the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl gleamed with vibrant colors.
        They were not all glorious. Sun Wu-Kung, the 'Handsome Monkey King' that even the gods could not keep out, capered and spun — threatening to disrupt the proceedings — and Coyote, the Trickster, changed his shape to fit his mood. A few stone and wooden idols sat impassively, and on one side a bush burned brightly.
        The initial proceedings resembled a cocktail reception, as much as anything else, with the various deities mingling freely, drifting from one impromptu conversational group to another. Odin excused himself to talk to the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, and Sara wound up talking to Karl Marx.
        "I guess it's kind of ironic, you being here, huh?" said Sara, "…considering what you said about religion."
        "The opium of the masses," Marx scowled. "This farcical assemblage proves my point. Those here exist at the sufferance and invention of the masses. Their inevitable overthrow will occur when the people of the world unite to throw off the chains of their ignorance."
        "You don't exactly sound like you're on the side of the gods."
        "Philosophy makes no secret of it. Prometheus' admission, 'In sooth all gods I hate,' is its own admission, its own motto against all gods."
        "Prometheus," Sara said, "That's the Titan that stole the Gift of Fire and gave the knowledge of the gods to mankind. Right?"
        Marx nodded, "Prometheus is the noblest saint and martyr in the calendar of philosophy. The eternal revolutionary, he is fastened to his rock still, until the gods have fallen."
        Sara shuddered. "Eternal torment? For helping mankind?"
        Marx shrugged, "The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain. I wrote a verse when I was a student…

Hah, eternity, our eternal pain,
Indescribable, unmeasurable death!
Disgusting, artificially conceived,
To despise us —
We, who ourselves, as a clock mechanism
Blindly mechanical, created to be
Foolish calendars of time and space,
Without any purpose,
Besides accidental appearance for destruction."

        "That's prettty gloomy," said Sara (…and pretty bad, she thought). "What about the soul? Isn't it…"
        "A soul appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. Devoid of materiality, it lacks both the ability to sense and the ability to reason. Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form. Therefore, materialism is the only basis for  the dialectic of the soul."
        "That's, uh," Sara mumbled uncertainly, "very philosophical, I'm sure. What do these other guys think about all this?"
        Marx snorted contemptuously, "On a level plain, simple mounds look like hills; and the insipid flatness of our present 'divinity' is to be measured by the altitude of its 'great intellects'. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."
        "Well," said Sara "Your philosophy certainly changed the world. Not for the better, either. An awful lot of people suffered from Marxism."
        "I am not a 'Marxist'," he replied, seemingly somewhat offended. "As with any philosophy — whether it be under the auspices of a 'religion' or formally based in scientific reasoning — so it happened with mine. Few people read my work, and fewer still understood it. The masses were swayed by faith in what their 'priests' told them, deluded by opportunists and their own fancies. My theories concerned the 'thesis' of the inevitable collapse of capitalism from its own internal inconsistencies and structural weaknesses, and its 'antithesis', the inevitable rise of the the dictatorship of the proletariat. A new 'synthesis' would eventually emerge as a historical imperative, not as the result of the distortion and misapplication of my work."
        Marx snorted, "Russia — bah! China — bah! Backwards proto-economies peopled by slavish idiots! They never achieved capitalism — how could they be expected to even understand, let alone embrace and implement, communism? Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot — they all used me to excuse their own agendas."
        "But some of your basic premises were just flat-out wrong," Sara insisted. "The bourgoeisie weren't nearly the bastards you figured them to be, and things got better. Freedom made it possible for the workers to become consumers and democracy gave them the power to hold governments accountable for their economic policies. Your slogan, 'From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs,' just doesn't work, 'cause it flies in the face of human nature. Communism turned out to be some kind of totalitarian hell and people suffered and died by the millions."
        "The writer may very well serve a movement of history as its mouthpiece, but he cannot of course create it."
        "I don't care what you say," said Sara stubbornly. "I still think that you're responsible for starting it."
        "I am a bloodstained god?" he mockingly replied. "Show me one here who is not. How many have died enforcing the loving doctrines of their gods? And how many have been slain for righteousness' sake? If there is no other purpose for the gods, then they serve as mankind's excuse for butchery."
        Sara wandered off, confused and maybe even a little bit hurt by his attitude. She recognized that a lot of what he'd said was basically paraphrases of some of his more famous quotations, though the context was somewhat skewed. He wasn't really the original Marx, she realized, but some kind of simulacrum or representation — an 'avatar', Brunhilde had called other humans raised to godhood by their worshippers. He was therefore made to represent their expectations and prejudices. As with all the gods and their minions, he wasn't really 'live' — he was Memorex. And if that was so, then what was she to make of herself?
        She came across the Buddha, serenely meditating at the edge of the crowd in the guise of a fat beggar. She thought, Well, here's a god that doesn't have blood on his hands.
        "Master…" she began humbly.
        There was no response, other than perhaps a deepening of his beatific smile.
        An enormous battle-scarred barbarian god in furs and leather growled, "You'll get nothing from him."
        Sara looked at him and guessed, "Mars…?"
        "That boy! Hah!" he laughed mirthlessly. "Call me Crom — a name that suits me well enough. I heard about your 'duel' with my friend Thor. Ho, that I could have seen it!" He slapped her appreciatively on the back hard enough to fell a redwood and sat beside the Buddha.
        "I was talking with Mr. Marx…"
        "Nobody talks with that asshole," he sneered. "He lectures, if you don't have the sense to get away from him."
        "Well, anyway — he pretty much said that all the gods are just excuses for a lot of bloodshed…"
        "Aye," he nodded. "It is good to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."
        "Maybe for you," she snorted, "Or your followers. But what about the Buddha? From what I've read and what I've heard, his philosophy is very peaceful — there's never been a Buddhist war, has there?"
        Crom laughed uproariously at this. "Mankind can corrupt any teaching. On the plain, you will find warriors infused with the Zen of bushido whose masters embraced the sword not only as a way of cutting through delusion, but as a way of cutting through their Emperor's enemies, as well. Let me tell you what their great Master Shaku Soen preached: 'I wished to inspire our valiant soldiers with the ennobling thoughts of the Buddha, so as to enable them to die on the battlefield with confidence that the task in which they are engaged is great and noble.' The Buddhist leadership of Imperial Japan did not just hop aboard the wartime bandwagon — they were the bandleaders. The Rape of Nanking followed, and other un-Buddha-like atrocities. Thus is such a peaceful philosophy so adaptable."
        She realized that he wasn't as ignorant as he looked. "Alright, so maybe that's the exception that proves the rule."
        "Then there was King Ashoka," he went on, obviously enjoying himself, "who conquered most of India and spread the Buddha's then relatively unknown peaceful philosophy at swordpoint, embracing repentance only when he was finished."
        "OK, I get your point. Still, better Buddha than… Than, uh…"
        "Better than Crom?" He laughed again. "I don't give my followers anything but a hard life and cold steel. They become tough and proud and self-sufficient, taking what they need, yet incorruptible. They are engaged in the experience of life, and live it to the fullest — they are not parasites who dive into their navels, abandoning the world to the uninitiated."
        "And where are they now?" asked the Buddha, ever so politely.
        "Out there on the plain, every one of them!" Crom spread his arms wide. "And tomorrow, they will kick my ass! Hah, hah, hah!"
        The Buddha smiled, and Sara became enlightened.

        Athena called the Congress to order. Of all the gods, she may have had the greatest claim to some kind of intellectual capacity other than Marx and Jehovah (who was, after all, at least a best-selling author).
        When everyone had settled down, she called Sara forth, bringing her up on the stage to confront the audience.
        "Do you know why you are here?" Athena asked her.
        "Not really," Sara replied.
        "You are our link. This all becomes possible because of you. You represent the unification of mankind through technology, the ascendency of information over insularity. Your Earthly arrival deliberately coincides with the potential ability of all mankind to unite in knowledge, to rise above the prejudice of ignorance and control their own fate, to provide for themselves the instrumentality of their own destiny."
        "Me?" said Sara uncertainly. "I don't think I get it."
        Crom bellowed helpfully, "It's a metaphor."
        Athena's haughty gaze affixed him as if he were a naughty schoolboy. The barbarian grinned back at Sara, winking.
        "But," Sara protested, "the Cryptos — I mean, Cryptoaliens — sent me. I don't think I can take any kind of responsibility for…"
        Athena rolled her eyes and patiently explained, "It's a metaphor." Crom elbowed the Buddha and looked pleased with himself.
        The goddess continued, "You were sent at a turning point of human history. Your presence represents a choice for both the quick and the dead."
        "Symbolically," Crom added boisterously.
        "Crom!" Athena swore. The Buddha elbowed him back.
        "OK," said Sara reluctantly. "It's my dream, so — whatever… But I gotta tell you, I'm determined to try to stop this war if I can. Maybe that's my test. And if I can't, then for sure I'm not going to fight anybody, or fight for anybody. Humans or gods."
        "Sara," Athena asked, "How do the gods communicate with humans?"
        "Huh? Well… I guess, dreams and stuff. Visions and prophecies — inspiration? Probably not very well, come to think of it. I suppose that most of the time, some people just claim to have spoken with the gods. It's kinda hard to tell real prophets from false ones, or revelations from hallucinations."
        "And how do humans communicate with their gods?"
        "Hoo-boy. Prayer, I guess. Maybe sacrifices. I dunno… Not too reliable, considering. You guys don't have anything like zip codes."
        "How do humans communicate with each other?"
        "Oh, that's easy. They just talk to each other…"
        "In what language?"
        "That depends… Uh, what are you getting at?"
        Crom hollered, "Tower of Babel, Sara."
        The other gods glared at him.
        "Thank you, Mister Crom," Athena said icily.
        Athena turned back to Sara, "And how do the disparate armies on the plain communicate with each other?"
        "Aha. They've got radios. Not a whole lot, but they've been scavenging some from planes and some of the tanks and ships and stuff, along with batteries and generators. Every single command has at least one, though — even the tribal guys."
        "But they cannot understand one another."
        "No problem — I'm helping. Anyone sends a radio message and I intercept it, translate it and rebroadcast it. No charge. It's all automatic — I don't even have to think about it."
        "Hah!" said Crom. "Instant Internet."
        "Shut," barked Athena, "Up!"
        Zeus/Jove sat down heavily and menacingly beside the unrepentant barbarian, who only grinned.
        Recovering her composure, the goddess said, "And now, we can all communicate."
        "Oh…" said Sara, as the lightbulb over her head finally lit up.
        Soon, all the vast hordes of human warriors were clustered around their commanders' radios, listening intently to their own gods, occasionally firing back questions that Sara relayed as fast as she could. The gods all talked at once, which wasn't really a problem for Sara (who simply separated out the different voices and routed them to the appropriate frequencies), but she could only handle one return query at a time, since the gods didn't have their own radios and she only had one speaking voice.
        The gods revealed, each in their own ways to their own peoples, what the stakes were and what they were up against. Some roared apocalyptically, others harangued. Stentorian pronouncements were handed down, reasoned discourses were expounded. There were invocations and oaths, calls for sacrifice and calm acceptance of the inevitable, intellectual positions and blatant propaganda.
        What astonished Sara was the universal acceptance the listeners accorded to their fate. These were their gods, after all. In many cases, the soldiers had died defending their beliefs. And now that they had unequivocally heard from their gods, it all seemed like such a waste. They understood that the gods proposed their own destruction so that humankind would never be subject to them again. This was a duty they could embrace.
        The sun passed the zenith and was well on its way to the horizon when long-winded Karl Marx, the last speaker, ended his antideical polemic. (Crom's speech was the shortest — he bellowed to his barbarians, "Do you want to live forever?" and they bellowed back that they'd see him in Hell, followed by coarse laughter on both sides.)
        Finally, Sara said, "OK — I've got a question and maybe an idea."
        Athena nodded graciously, "Ask."
        "Who's responsible for all this?"
        "It has been universally ordained in the collective subconscious of mankind since before the dawn of civilization."
        "Crap," said Sara. "Somebody had to whip up this little vacation Paradise and call out the Marines. Who?"
        Athena somewhat reluctantly replied, "The angel of this place."
        "Aha. The angel of Hell told me I'd meet another angel, and I don't think the feathery fellows qualify. I want to talk to him."
        Athena looked out at the gods for a moment. "He's — indisposed."
        "What d'you mean, 'indisposed'?"
        Crom shouted out, "Nailed to a rock."
        Athena ignored him, adding, "Until the issue is decided."
        "Nailed to a rock?" Sara wondered. "You don't mean…"
        "Prometheus, by one name. He has others."
        "Symbolism," Crom yelled.
        "Where is he?" Sara asked.
        "Elsewhere, in an unformed time and place. The door can be neither found nor opened until the issue is decided. Not even by you."
        "Great," said Sara, sounding somewhat irritated. "Then here's my idea. There's a few million formerly dead dudes out there with food for maybe a week or two. There's a huge, empty city all around us where the food never runs out. Or at least the ice cream, anyway. What the heck — it's Heaven, y'know…? By the time everybody gets bored out of their skulls, maybe we can work something out. I mean, you all are gods, right? Who knows? Maybe this is the real test. This could be what'll set old Prometheus free so we can all go home, or to the next level or whatever. So — whattaya think?"
        "Of course," said Athena. "That is why the city is here."
        "It is?" Sara asked uncertainly.
        "Duh…" Crom jeered. "Temptation."
        The goddess glared at him briefly, then replied, "All that would be necessary is for mankind to accept the everlasting dominion of the gods. Is that what you want? Is that what they will accept?"
        "What do you mean?" Sara asked suspiciously.
        "That is the price of acceptance. The humans can enter Heaven only if we agree to it."
        Crom said, "We're the landlords."
        "As it is here," Athena said, "So shall it be for all of humanity. It is a Faustian bargain."
        Sara thought for a moment before replying hesitantly, "Well, it wouldn't necessarily have to be forever."
        "And what happens to humankind while the inevitable is delayed? Shall ignorance and superstition turn back the clock? It can happen — ask the Ayatollahs, the fundamentalists, the commissars."
        Sara crossed her arms stubbornly, but couldn't think of anything to say.
        "And if a million years pass without the heros fulfilling their destinies, will they be too full of ice cream to care? Will they even still be here? Souls are mutable, and between Hell and Nirvana accumulate Karma and experience. We are unchanging. Perhaps mankind never goes forward."
        Crom said, "Ask them, Sara."
        Athena added. "They have heard every word of this, have they not?"
        Sara nodded numbly. She had continued transmitting translations automatically. As the sun sank below the horizon, the humanly host conferred grimly among themselves. In the darkness, she had their answers.
        Armageddon would begin in the morning.

Chapter Thirty-eight: The Final Battle

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© Patrick Hill, 2000