Drew pulled the hood of his cloak closer about his face, and checked for the fifteenth time that the blinking lights of the wrist-remote were covered by his loose sleeve. He stepped out of the stall and swung the door shut, hiding his time machine inside. He knew that nobody would be by for the next five days. Drew tugged on his cloak one more time, then stepped into the dirt street and joined the stream of people headed for Golgotha in the night air. He walked, shoulder to shoulder with them, enveloped by the strong odor of their mostly unwashed bodies, listening to them talk in a language of which he only understood a handful of words. Even if he were fluent in Aramaic, he’d already decided not to speak, for fear of revealing his different-ness, and his straight, white, modern teeth.
An hour later, he stood in the throng, watching silently as the limp, bearded man was taken down from the cross to which he’d been nailed, and wrapped in linens with aromatic herbs. Drew surreptitiously captured several photos with a small digital camera during the process, then followed as the man was carried down from the mountain and to a cave, the only noise from the crowd being the rustling of clothes and the slap of feet. The man was carried into the cave, and several minutes later the bearers emerged, and rolled a large rock into the mouth of the cave, sealing it.
Rather than jump ahead, Drew hung around town for three days. He interacted with people as little as possible, but watched as much as possible. He purchased food at the bazaar daily – the simple breads and roasted meats were absolutely more flavorful than he’d anticipated, but the smell and lack of hygiene were absolutely more disgusting than he’d thought. He was fully aware of how much he stood out just through being tall, and clean, and unpockmarked, with a mouth full of teeth.
After three days, Drew once again stood by the cave, this time alone, and hidden. He watched a woman go into the cave, and about 15 minutes later she emerged again, hastily, and ran to town. Drew waited, and a few minutes later a man emerged from the cave. He was tall, he was bearded, he bore wounds in his hands and his side.
But he was not the same man who had been carried into the cave, Drew was certain of it. He watched as the man put his hands on the small of his back and stretched, cracking his back. “Oh yeah,” the man said, and Drew’s mouth dropped open. He was astounded even further when the man pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his pocket, lit up and puffed contentedly. Drew was immobilized, as the man strode toward town and out of sight.
When Drew got back to the time machine he immediately climbed in and set it to travel to the prior week. As the machinery spun down he jumped out, still in the same stall, and ran out of the stable. Passers-by looked at him as he ran, but Drew didn’t care. He went straight to the cave, and seeing nobody standing outside, he went straight in. He pulled out a small flashlight as the light from the cave mouth waned, and turned it on. He estimated how long it had taken to bring the body into the cave, and emerge, and walked forward.
At about the point he expected, the cave opened into a large-ish “room” with a raised stone slab that would make a serviceable bed. He shone the flashlight around and saw that the tunnel continued around a corner, so Drew continued, and in less than a minute found another, smaller chamber in the rock, unviewable from the other room. Drew pulled out a small device, turned it on, and set it gently on the floor, then left. He returned to the time machine at a more reasonable pace, then checked that he could find the signal sent by the time-space marker he’d placed in the cave.
Drew filled several skins with water, and purchased three days’ worth of food from the town’s vendors, then programmed the exact location of the marker into the time machine, and programmed the target time to the night he’d recently witnessed. To the outside observer, the time machine’s departure would look like an increasing blurriness of the machine itself, as though looking through water, with an audible turbine-like whine, followed by a small “pop,” a slight breeze and a whiff of ozone. Its arrival was marked by a bit more drama – a quick shockwave that could be felt in the chest, a small “crump” noise and the smell of a struck match, followed by the machine’s whine spooling down. Luckily, there was nobody in the second chamber of the cave to observe it.
By Drew’s estimates he had about ten minutes to find an observation spot before the body was carried in, and he had just clicked off his flashlight when shadows appeared in the cave mouth. Shortly the procession entered, and laid the wrapped body on the stone slab. They said some words over the body, then left. Drew watched the cave mouth close off as the rock was rolled over it…
…and the instant the last bit of tunnel was covered, the chamber filled with blue light, multiple pillars of blue light with vertical striations, that resolved in ten seconds into a large battery-pack, bright lights, a bank of medical instruments and equipment, and a half-dozen people in baby-blue jumpsuits, black boots and headsets. They immediately closed in on the figure on the slab, their voices tumbling over each other.
“Remove the wrapping—“
“Give me the epi—“
“That spear wound’s bad—“
“I’ve still got a pulse—“
Drew watched them work, and it was apparent that the man was gravely wounded – that the Roman spear had pierced several organs and the wound had been left open for too long.
“What kind of barbarians are these?” The question came from a woman monitoring vital signs.
“The best barbarians we could engineer for this kind of system,” was the reply from someone else.
“Why did J.C. have to go and call so much attention to himself?” another person asked. “None of the other site observers went and started a freaking religious movement.”
“Must’ve missed it on the psyche profile,” was the answer. “That, or he was related to someone in HR.”
“We’re losing him,” called the first woman. “Pulse is dropping, ox-sat is dropping…”
“We need a freaking OR and we have a freaking cave.”
“We could get him to the ship – “
“Too late,” the woman called out. “He’d never survive the transit beam.”
“Besides, the real OR’s behind the planet’s moon, two hours away.”
“Download him, quick, called the woman.” There was a scramble to plug a particular cable into a metal port behind the patient’s right ear, hidden in the hairline. The cable was attached to what looked to Drew like a TV remote, which they button-punched furiously…then paused. A green LED winked on the remote, then:
They all stood up straight and stepped back from the form on the stone, and there was a minute’s pause.
“Well, shit.” They all looked at the speaker, who ran his hand through his hair, forehead to the back of his neck. “Let’s get another observer dressed and down here, so we can upload him.” There were nods, and one dissenter.
“Won’t the natives suspect something?”
“Aw, shit. Get someone who looks close, upload J.C.’s chip. These freaking plebe’s won’t know the difference.” There was more nodding.
It had been several hours, and Drew had been in his hiding spot the entire time. He was unable to return to his time machine without being seen, but he was able to duck a bit to nibble some food and sip some water unnoticed. The crew in the cave cleaned up the scene, and all but one of them transited away, carrying the body with them. The one person remained, with all of the equipment, and went about packing up the instruments and materials that had been used in their efforts.
An hour later, the cave lit up with blue light again, and all of the OR equipment faded out, while a chair – which looked like a dentist’s chair – faded in. The power-pack remained, as did one of the pole-mounted work lights.
Two more hours elapsed, and three people transited into the cave. Two of them wore jumpsuits, and the third was the man Drew had watched leave the cave.
“Okay, Kevin. If you’ll have a seat, we’ll get started.” Kevin sat in the dentist’s chair, and they attached the television remote to a metal plug in his hair.
“Ugh,” one of the jumpsuited people said. “Thirty seconds to download, twelve hours to upload.”
“I’m gonna just nap,” Kevin said. “Pulled me here after a 12 hour shift, grabbed a quick snack on the shuttle…I need some shut-eye.” Kevin settled himself in the chair. “I absorb better asleep anyway.”
While Kevin absorbed the experiences and memories of the deceased observer, the jumpsuited staff also settled down and were soon snoring. Drew dislodged himself from his vantage point and retreated to the chamber with the time machine. He relieved himself in a corner – a need that had been building for hours – and ate and drank. He stretched and walked around for a bit, then quietly returned to his spot to wait.
After twelve hours, Kevin’s upload finished, and the staff unhooked him. He looked disoriented.
“My least favorite part,” he said, groggily.
“Usually about ten hours to finish assimilating,” Kevin said. The others nodded.
“That’s not too bad. Let’s recreate the scars.” Kevin winced.
“I hate that part, make that my least favorite part.” He held his arms out to the technician, who applied a paste to Kevin’s wrists, and then touched them with what looked like a soldering iron. “Ow! Fuck!” Kevin rubbed his wrists gingerly afterward. The technician tugged on Kevin’s robe. “Hey!”
“We have to do the spear wound.” Kevin let him rub the paste on his side. “Let the numb-stuff work for a minute on this one,” he said. The technician counted out a minute, then applied the iron.
Six hours later, Drew’s joints were screaming and his bladder was again crying, as were his bowels. Then he sneezed, a surprise sneeze that he couldn’t prepare for.
“Shit! What the freak was that!” The people in the cave jumped up, staring directly at Drew’s spot. Drew stood up and shrugged.
“Fuck, it’s a native!” They looked at each other.
“At least he doesn’t understand,” one of them said. Drew looked at him, then slowly drew back his sleeve to reveal the blinking wrist-controller for the time machine. Their eyes locked.
“Oh. Fuck,” said the jumpsuited man, whose embroidered name badge read “Steve.”
“You’re telling me,” Drew said. The others looked astonished that he spoke their language. “I’ve just watched one of the most important things in this planet’s history turn out to be entirely different.”
“I’m from over two thousand years in the future,” Drew said. “And in about a half-day, one of the – possibly THE most important thing in human history is going to turn out to be a guy named Kevin.”
“That’s impossible,” Steve said.
“Come with me,” Drew said and beckoned them up the tunnel. When they saw the time machine in the next chamber, their shoulders slumped.
“I don’t get it,” Steve said. “We work for Geoforming Orbitals, Dicorporate. G.O.D. is one of the best terraforming companies out there. We don’t cause history, we build planets.”
“Well,” Drew said. “In this case, you’ve just shown me that the basis for half of the future’s religions is utter crap. He handed Steve a small-ish King James Bible.
Their conversation was interrupted by a beep on their headsets. The man Drew was talking to responded, and shortly, the dentist’s chair and the rest of the equipment glowed blue and disappeared. Drew and the others clicked on flashlights.
“And,” Drew said. “When I get back home, I have to figure out how to get people to believe the truth – what really happened here.” From around the corner, they heard a voice and quickly turned off their lights. They stood in blackness and listened.
At first, they heard a woman weeping, then they heard Kevin speak in Aramaic.
“Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Steve translated. Then the woman’s voice, distraught. Again, Steve translated in a whisper.
“Sir, where have you put him? Tell me and I’ll take care of him.” Then Kevin’s voice.
“Mary.” There was a pause. “See, baby? It’s me.”
“Rabboni.” (Master, whispered Steve.)
“Don’t touch me, though,” Kevin said. “I haven’t gone up to the mother ship yet. Tell everyone that I’m going to go up to the G.O.D. mother ship for a bit.” They heard hurried footsteps receding, then Kevin came into the chamber.
“I think that went well,” he said.
An hour later, Drew sat in the time machine, listening to it spin down in the hangar where he’d built it. What am I going to tell people? he thought to himself. It was late Sunday morning and through the window he could see a church across the street, parking lot full of cars, and a barbecue happening under a tent on the church grounds. He thought of the same scene being played out at countless churches, large and small, around the world. He thought of the thousands that had died in the name of the church, and the thousands that had been saved in the name of the church – the church that he knew to be based on a lie.
Drew locked up the hangar and went home, showered twice and fell into bed. He awoke refreshed but still troubled, and transferred the pictures from his camera to his laptop. He paged through them, noticing the earnest, serious expressions on the people’s faces, and the gruesome, earthy reality of a real crucifixion’s aftermath. He had lunch with his partner in building the time machine.
“So, did it work?” Colin asked eagerly. “Did you see…Him?” Drew opened his laptop and turned it around. Colin’s face lit up. “Amazing!” he breathed. “All this time, all of these people, all of their faith.” He peered intently at the next photo, his eyes shining. “And we’ve proved it was all real.” Drew shifted uncomfortably.
“Yeah…real,” Drew said hesitantly. Colin glanced up, then back at the photos.
“Think of all of the people who have been waiting for this,” Colin said, turning the laptop back around. “Literally millions of people who have been looking for signs, and trusting in their faith.” Drew opened the other folder of photos, those he’d taken while hiding in the cave.
“Yeah, lots of people,” Drew said.
“Millions,” Colin replied. “Millions of people who go to church every Sunday, just in this country. Millions who base their entire life on the teachings of the Bible.” Drew stopped before turning the laptop back around. “Thousands more who find strength in Scripture during hard times, like terminal illness. People who have turned their lives around, or stopped before doing something heinous.”
“Okay, I get it,” Drew said, closing the laptop.
“So, what was it like?” Colin asked intently, and leaned forward. “What was it really like?” Drew looked at him; at Colin’s expectant, shining face.
“Well,” he started, then exhaled. “Pretty much just like it says in the Bible, actually. Surprisingly close.” Colin blew out his breath and threw himself back in the chair.
“I knew it!” he exclaimed, and a couple of other diners looked around. “I fu—“ Colin waggled a finger at Drew. “I freaking knew it!”
After lunch, as Drew drove home, he looked at himself in the rearview mirror. “I’m not going to tell them a God-damned thing,” he said out loud. “Not a God-damned thing.”