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Jesus and the Robot
A short story from Cheeseburger Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3
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Jesus and the Robot, a short story by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 3

They came from far and wide, and they made haste. Their dust coloured the horizon for an hour before the people themselves appeared. They arrived throughout the night and continued to amass in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of old Capernaum as the new day's sun bloomed.

Called by a platoon of the fastest runners crying out the news in every Hebrew hamlet around the Gennesaret, those who knew of Yeshua rode forth to raise their hands to the effort. They did not know what work they would do, but they knew Yeshua had asked them -- and that was enough.

The need has been for sixty; over two hundred answered.

Yakob and Yeshua stood on the roof of the house, sandals wedged between the gutter tiles for purchase. "Do you see, Yeshua?" prompted Yakob, shielding his eyes with his hand. "Did I not tell what you what numbers would be drawn? Do you still doubt?"

"No," agreed Yeshua quietly. "I no longer doubt, brother."

"We must go to Jerusalem. It is time. Galilee is too small, and our people roil. We must grow. We must bring the word and the way to the city."

Yeshua sighed. "I love Capernaum."

Yakob put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "And Capernaum loves you. But Jerusalem...Jerusalem, brother. In Jerusalem we shall find our true momentum."

After a pause Yeshua nodded. "You are right, Yakob. I cannot deny we now have the support we sought. I never thought so many would answer, but it is clearly so. There is nothing to be gained in delay. We will go to Jerusalem in time for Sukkot."

Yakob nodded in turn. "I will inform the households."

Yeshua shook his head. "No, brother. Instead, go now with the golem. Take the willing into the desert so that this work might be done."

"They'll be expecting you to accompany them."

"Tell them we will banquet together in Capernaum when the task is done. Tell them I will speak then, brother, and tend to their miseries."

Yakob unhitched his sandal from the tile's edge but did not climb down. He hovered fretfully. "I'm afraid of him, Yeshua. I'm afraid of that thing -- the golem. There's nothing behind his eyes, you said so yourself. He's...unnatural."

"I believe he is good."

This phrase hung between the men for a moment, pupils fixed on pupils. At last Yakob gave a slow, tentative nod. "Your assessment is all I need," he claimed. "I will go to him."

Yakob carefully clambered down the roof and let himself over the side, dropping into the courtyard with a grunt. Yeshua, for his part, sat down on a run of thatch and then propelled himself with his arms, sliding down the roof and flying free over its edge. He tumbled awkwardly to the dirt and rolled into the chicken coop.

"Being so careless you'll find your death," chided Yakob.

Yeshua stood up and brushed the dust from his robes. "You worry too much."

Yakob pursed his lips as he filled his flask at the fountain. He called for his two eldest sons and had them fetch him an ass from the stable, then furrowed his brow in private thought as he clucked and kicked the beast into reluctant motion. He had not experienced the same uncomfortable mixture of disquiet and elation since he had first heard the fantastic account of Simeon Qyn, who himself had fled in terror at the sight of the golem.

He tried to focus on Jerusalem. The thought gave him solace, now that he had reason to believe his brother's word would live forever.

While Yakob rode out of Capernaum to join Jeremiah, Yeshua walked back to the pilgrim's courtyard which was uncharacteristically empty, drained by volunteers to the golem's effort. The golem's fat companion, Tim, was semi-reclined in a bed of hay engaged in a lazy, interrogative conversation with a chicken. He asked his questions in a language neither Yeshua nor the chicken could fathom.

The chicken paused to peck at the ground. Yeshua cleared his throat. "You cannot walk," he said.

Tim looked up briefly, his face slack. "No," he agreed.

"Were you born afflicted?"

"I got hurt."

"How did it happen?"

"I don't really want to talk about it."

Tim's eyes roamed the dirt at Yeshua's feet. Yeshua sighed. "Tim, will you come to my house to be bathed and anointed?"

Tim's eyes flickered. "I don't want to impose or anything. I'm fine."

"Our ministrations may soothe your injury."

He looked up. "What, like physiotherapy?"

Yeshua blinked. "Yes," he decided.

Tim looked down again. "I couldn't ask you to lift me, um, sir."

Yeshua smiled as he cracked his knuckles. "If the golem can do it, so can I."

"You'll put your back out. History'll be all ruined." Tim scowled. "And it'll be all my fault...again." He sniffed. "Leave me alone, please. Like I said, I'm fine. Everybody should just leave me alone. I'm poison."

Yeshua bent down and scooped his arms under Tim's heavy body. Tim quivered and his eyes went wild but he didn't strike out. Yeshua took a deep breath, squinched his eyes closed, then hauled. His sandaled feet skittered further apart as he fought for balance. Finally, with a jerk of his arms he cradled the giant young man against his chest and began to stagger off toward the bath house.

Miriam filled the tub with steaming water fresh from the hearth whose manure bricks gave the place an earthy, mammalian smell. Tim's face was pinched tight, his eyes locked away at infinity. He did not resist as Miriam and Yeshua pulled his robes over his head and then heaved him as gracefully as they could into the hot bath.

He cringed as his testicles hit the surface, muttering "Christ!"

Then he started to cry.

They scrubbed his skin pink and the water turned grey. Tim shuddered as he tried to muffle his sobs, the rolls of his torso quaking. No one spoke. The water splashed and dripped. Yeshua and Miriam washed his head, and after that he wept openly and without shame, like a child.

In a nest of towels he was rubbed and oiled. When Yeshua returned with fresh clothing Tim was able to look him in the eye. "I am Vishnu," he whispered.

"Wait, Tim," said Yeshua softly. He nodded at Miriam, who left the bath house with Tim's old robes and closed the wooden doors behind her. Sunlight streamed in through a row of high windows, illuminating the steam in slices. Yeshua sat down on the bench opposite Tim and folded his hands in his lap. "We will not be disturbed," he said. "Tell me about your injury."

"I can't walk."

"Are you in pain?"

"Not really."

"Do your legs have sensation?" asked Yeshua.

"Yeah, I can feel them fine."

"Please don't be embarrassed by this, but I must ask whether you are incontinent."

"No, no -- I'm good there, too. Um, both ways."

"What happens when you try to walk?"

"I fall down."

"Do you feel unbalanced?"

"No, my legs are too weak to hold me up. My muscles are like pudding. I can barely twitch my foot."

"Show me."

Yeshua appraised Tim's feeble twitch expressionlessly, then flicked his eyes in warning before he reached out and gently palpitated Tim's calf. Tim steeled against the touch initially but relaxed after a moment, his shoulders dropping. Yeshua probed around the knee and at the top of Tim's right thigh.

While still examining the leg he said, "Tell me about the day this happened to you, Tim."

"I'm not supposed to screw up time by telling you things."

"You sound like Simeon."

Tim ignored him, his tongue working in his mouth as he thought. "But Jeremiah already told you we're from the-days-yet-to-come, right? I mean, I can be vague, can't I?"

"Tell me what you can," prompted Yeshua. "I won't press you to break any vows."

Tim pressed his lips together in thought, eyes wandering. Finally he said, "What would you say if I told you there was a way -- a language, kind of -- to describe the world so precisely that its words were indistinguishable from reality?"

Yeshua saw that Tim had offered this as a kind of barricade, a challenge to credulity. He was surprised when Yeshua smiled. "Naturally, Tim."

Tim blinked. "You know about the Secret Mathematic?"

"It is the tongue of the father of the world, the tongue that called forth time and matter from unbeing. It is The Word. Yes, Tim, with that I am acquainted."

Tim processed this slowly, nodding. He closed his eyes and began to speak quickly. "Mr. Lord sir, in my time people know some of that language, and they use it. We use it, that is. I mean I'm one of them. We used it to try to make a weapon to keep our enemies at bay, and I was one of the builders. And I made a mistake. I changed some of the code. And as a result we lost control."

Yeshua accepted this uncritically. "Were people killed?"

Tim gulped, then nodded. "Tens of thousands. Neptune exploded. We cast the weapon into the Sun, hoping it would burn."

"Did it?"

"It didn't. It kept on churning away inside the Sun's belly for a thousand years and then the Sun went new."

"New?"

"I'm sorry, that probably doesn't make any sense through the translator. When people from my time say a star goes new we mean it's exploding."

"And so too with the Sun?"

"Sure. The Sun is a star, just like any other."

This time Yeshua gulped. "That is what Simeon says."

"Yeah, it's kind of mind-blowing. Sorry to ambush you with it like that. I forgot you guys don't know that. I mean, you still think the Earth is flat, right?"

Yeshua shook his head. "My schooling was Hellenic, Tim. The natural philosophers make a persuasive case for a spherical Earth."

"No kidding? That's slightly cold."

"Pardon me?"

Tim frowned. "Bad translation. Forget it. The point is that the Sun went new because of me."

"What happened to Earth?"

"First the seas boiled and the sky turned to fire. Then things got ugly."

Yeshua paled. "The end of days," he breathed. It seemed suddenly colder in the bath house. Yeshua shivered. "And mankind is lost?" he asked, his voice tight.

"Oh no," Tim said hurriedly. "No, no, no. The only people left on Earth were...barbarians, really. Does that word mean anything to you? They were people that lived like animals. They were the descendants of everyone too stupid or too crazy to save themselves. They thought the...natural philosophers were trying to trick everyone for some reason, that the Sun wasn't actually sick."

"But those who heeded the warning -- they were saved?"

"So far as I know. They built big arks, loaded them up with life, and trucked out for a different star. We don't really know which one. It's all well after my time, you understand."

"I don't," confessed Yeshua.

Tim shifted in his swaddling and considered the matter, chewing on his lip. "Okay, the first thing you have to know is that time is really weird. I mean, really weird. Half the stuff we do know we know because Jeremiah and I met ourselves once, and we were able to give ourselves a lot of good tips on being lost in time."

Yeshua rubbed his temples and sat back. "How can one meet oneself?"

"Like I said, time is really weird. It's homeostatic -- it resists change. It's like a thick fluid. It runs according to the rules of the world, but you can nudge it. If you're stubborn enough about nudging it you can trick it into flowing another way for a spell. So you see Jeremiah and I have already done all this once -- saved the world, I mean -- and now we're doing it again to reinforce the nudge, to make our having solved it all more likely, because the more likely something is the better chance that it turns real real. Um, like for keeps."

"You've done all this before? The end of this day is in your memory?"

"No, no -- it wasn't us us...it was -- a variation of us. They got to the end, they managed to stop them and get control of the apparatus, and then they came back to tell us what to do so we could go and make it so what they stopped never even started. Do you follow me?"

"No."

"Imagine somebody's going to be murdered. So a time traveling guy goes forward in time and tries to stop it, but he can't stop it all the way -- he fixes it so that the victim's injured instead of killed. So now we're taking our turn: we're going to fix it so that the victim doesn't even get hurt."

"And who is that victim?"

Tim raised his brow helplessly. "Uh, I guess that would be the temporal helices carved into the world by frame-dragging from the Sun. The grand attractors were loused up by the Bane of Zoran, but we're setting things right again."

Yeshua rubbed the tip of his nose thoughtfully. "I wish Simeon hadn't run away. He would have been able to make sense of this. He also speaks of this Zoran. Tell me, Tim: what is the bane?"

Tim leaned forward and inclined his head toward Yeshua's conspiratorily. "The Bane of Zoran is two people. We think one of them is a human woman, and we're pretty sure the other one is a -- what did you call it? -- a golem. They wanted to use the language to re-write history, which Zoran forbids. We don't really understand what happened, but Jeremiah says the Bane of Zoran exploited the weapon we made to puncture time. But it didn't work. It just made a big mess."

Yeshua nodded. "A mess you and Jeremiah are on a quest to clean up?"

"Yeah, pretty much. See, you are following along."

"You assume this burden because you view the weapon as your responsibility?"

"Well, I do, yeah. Jeremiah's just doing it because he's good."

A silence came upon them next. The steam had blown clean and the bath house felt emptier, but no longer cold. Yeshua's eyes were far away. Tim did not fidget. He felt as if time had stopped.

Yeshua said, "Tim, I believe you. And when causes and effects are so commingled as to allow men to meet themselves and give advice, I furthermore believe you are wrong to blame yourself for the calamity. If this bane who would act against history and risk every life around the Sun found entry to exploit the world from your mistake, without your mistake they surely would have sought to unleash their evil through other avenues."

"Maybe," admitted Tim.

"Furthermore," pressed Yeshua, "you said it yourself that another version of yourself has already succeeded. You have dedicated not only yourself but yourselves to undoing what has been done, and I can only imagine the courage you have had to call along the way."

Tim said nothing.

Yeshua said, "You say Jeremiah is good. I believe you are right. And I believe you, too, are good. I can see it in your eyes when you let me look, Tim. You can't hide your soul from me."

He stood up slowly, then reached out his hand toward Tim. "Rise, child."

"I can't," said Tim.

"You can," insisted Yeshua. "The father of the world has a plan for you, Tim. You feel it when life is quiet. Feel it now. Rise."

Those eyes brokered no refusal: Tim rose.

He stood on shaking legs with his hands poised to catch his fall, expression moving from fear to surprise to joy in a smooth melt. He straightened his back, then took a fumbling step and pinwheeled his arms to regain balance. He put his hand into Yeshua's. "Oh my God," squeaked Tim.

Yeshua laughed. "How do you feel?"

"I feel light."

"I do not doubt that you could fly."

"Maybe I could," agreed Tim, his cheeks dimpling. Infused with a sudden energy he gushed, "I saw this kind of thing happen once before! Have you ever seen this show called The Revengineers? Aw, forget it -- of course you haven't." Tim paused, then scratched his head and looked sheepishly over at Yeshua. "Thank you," he pronounced solemnly.

Yeshua grinned. "We have in each of us the power to heal ourselves, and in turn to heal others. Go forth, Tim, and sin no more."

Tim mosied around the bath house in a tight circuit, giddy with each more certain step. He pulled the fresh robe over his head, tied on his sandals and then performed a humble jig. "I feel incredible!" he crooned.

"Will you stay for my supper sermon?" asked Yeshua, smiling toothily through his bramble of beard. "I want you to meet my friend Yudah. He is very interested in the stories Simeon tells, and I'm sure he'll be equally insatiable for your own descriptions of the-days-to-come."

Tim shook his head, suddenly serious. "I'd love to, but I can't. I just can't. I have to get back to the apparatus. I don't want Jeremiah to have to walk back for me. We don't have the time to waste."

"You know he would do this?"

"Totally. He's...he's Jeremiah. Of course he'd come back for me."

"Why?"

"Because he loves people. Even me. He'd do anything for me. He wouldn't think twice about dying if he thought it would help -- I mean, in the long run."

Yeshua nodded pensively. "The father of the world works through him."

Tim shrugged. "I guess that's as likely as anything else. Which way do I go?"

Yeshua joined him at the threshold and pointed the way through the courtyard to Capernaum's broad central avenue. "The trail is fresh. You won't get lost."

Tim hesitated, then surged forward and embraced Yeshua. "Thanks for everything, Jesus. You're awesome. Keep on doing your thing, okay? Don't get discouraged. I'm probably not supposed to say so, but lots of people in the-days-to-come look up to you."

"I will not waiver," promised Yeshua.

"Attaboy," said Tim, who then gave the teacher a friendly punch in the arm. "Wow!" he whistled. "I feel like a million coins."

Yeshua crossed his arms and leaned against the bath house as he watched Tim jog purposefully out into the avenue and then turn smartly to follow the others into the desert, his chins bouncing with purpose. Miriam wandered over and touched Yeshua's arm. "Did you help him?" she asked.

"He helped himself," said Yeshua. "And perhaps me, as well."

"Teacher?"

"Tell your sisters, Miriam: we go to Jerusalem. History awaits."

Miriam's smooth brow furrowed. "History, teacher? Is not history that which has already happened?"

Yeshua put his arm around her shoulders and sighed. "Time is really weird," he explained, a faint smile on his lips.


Fin.

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CONNECTED STORIES
Plight of the Transformer | Tim, Destroyer of Worlds | The Taste of Blue | The Secret Mathematic | Simon of Space

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