This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.
From "Meta on Earth."
Earth, June 20, 2051
"This is quite a remarkable view, wouldn't you agree, Rebecca?" Meta asked.
"Yes. It is rather spectacular, Dr. Parker," Rebecca answered, turning around to look into Josephina's eyes but not seeing Meta looking out through them.
They were on top of the school building looking over the chaotic city of New Delhi. Though Josephina's chiseled face and dark skin weren't unlike those of Meta's own body, that didn't make controlling her facial muscles feel any more natural, and Meta wondered if his expressions looked as awkward on her face as they felt.
"Feel the years catching up yet?" Meta asked.
Rebecca smiled, suspiciously. "Actually, it feels lovely not having those tiny artificial machines defiling my body."
Rebecca had been the star of the Committee's messaging training for humans on Earth, and when the movement's communications director was assassinated suddenly, she was thrust into the role of leading global communications. Meta had found her to be skeptical at first, but he held the ultimate tool for manipulating her -- his firsthand knowledge of her beloved Charles' afterlife and continued devotion to her, even decades later.
"So, the crazy old fool was right all along," she had tearfully declared when Meta recounted some of Charles' favorite and familiar musings on life and religion back to her just weeks earlier.
It was a revelation that inspired Rebecca Danish to do whatever she could to spread the truth she had been skeptical of for so long -- that the technological fountain of youth was actually keeping humanity from a better life in a better place. And when her work was done, she would finally go to join Charles on an eternal beach to sip infinite margaritas.
"None of us have unlimited time around here anymore," Rebecca was often heard saying to groups of recruits. "It's time to make every moment count, there's no time to be soft!"
Her propaganda campaigns launched vicious slurs against the Transhumanist leaders and shamed nanobiotics corporations and consumers relentlessly. Meta initially feared she might scare off potential converts on the fence with her bold messages, but the numbers spoke for themselves. Recruitment to the cause was up tenfold. The Underground had gone above ground and often with shocking and brutal viciousness. Together, Meta in Josephina's body and Rebecca's propaganda had built a fearsome, unforgiving fighting force.
Meta felt himself changing. He was thirsty, hungry, insatiable. He became aware of the blood pulsing through his veins. He was dying, aging, seeking. Something else was happening, something inconceivable. He was connecting. He felt attached to his followers. He cared for them. He even loved them. He was relieved when word finally reached him, carried by an odd Sasquatch-like creature, that the Committee was ordering him to abort the mission.
Over the past few weeks, he had begun slowly spreading word to pull back the movement's attacks against corporate nanobiotech offices and other centers of Transhumanist power. The directive was for all cells to cease activities, assume a holding pattern and wait for a new, more grandiose strategy to arrive. He knew this stalling tactic wouldn't work with Rebecca and had put off this meeting with her as he considered the best approach to prevent her leading a mutiny or breaking off with her cadre of other hard-core believers in the cause.
"Rebecca," Meta said, "you have become my closest confidant on this mission. Since the day I met you, I knew you would be my most loyal follower. You have heart and you believe in the cause. That's why I have decided to tell you first, before I let the whole world know."
"What is it?" Rebecca recoiled at the edge in his voice.
"God wants the fighting to stop. He wants people to choose what is best for them. He said it is OK to be Transhuman if that is what you want. He will accept into Heaven anyone who believes and chooses to uninstall or never install. The rest are doomed to live out their days on Earth."
Rebecca was clearly shocked. She stared silently into Josephina's eyes, looking for evidence of someone else behind the controls. She slowly and silently mouthed the words "Are... they... listening?" as she pointed a finger at the sky.
"No, this is real. This is the word of God. You know I am only a messenger."
"Don't bullshit me, Parker!" Rebecca was shouting. "What's really going on?"
"This is real. Look, look at my hands," Meta extended both of his empty palms toward her, turning them over to show both sides. "See, the wrinkles, they're smoothed, the calluses are gone. I had the nanobots installed. I need you to start a new campaign. We can't win the way this is going. God wants this movement to be about life, but so far it's filled with nothing but death. It's no longer just. We must change it. Let people know that I've installed, that there is a middle road. I won't keep the nanobots in forever, but we need to bridge this gap. The fighting needs to stop."
Rebecca's face was flushing with rage, tempered only by a tinge of disbelief.
"I'm giving you my life for this. There's not much left, but I'm giving you all of it. I always knew you were too weak. This isn't God's word. This is the word of a weak, elitist fool who's never seen the way it really is to live. I mean really live! God doesn't change its mind, Josey! Weak-willed cowards do."
Meta watched her strangely. The muscles in her neck and jaw were pulled taut. She was not taking this well. He continued, "What is important is that we need to end this conflict. At the rate we're going, both uni...uh, the whole world will be thrown into chaos!"
"Exactly, chaos!" Rebecca exclaimed. "We need to end this conflict?! No, oh no no no no, I know what it is -- it's the nanobots, HA! That's it, isn't it! They've commandeered your brain and..."
"Rebecca! Stop! Don't be such a fool. Listen." Meta paused to take a deep breath. "OK, OK, I can tell you the truth. The whole truth."
"Talk," she grunted, retreating a step.
"OK, first, just relax. This is going to be a lot to take in." He took a breath. He'd never felt such panic before. "I come from a different universe. I come from a world called Terra Superioris and I was sent here to start a revolution."
Meta paused to allow Rebecca a chance to take it all in and calm down. She didn't.
Laughing, Rebecca replied, "Oh, right, ah, well, yeah, that...that explains everything! You're an alien from another universe and you've come here to take over our planet, eh? Just a moment, let me contact our leader and set you up with a meeting posthaste!" She pulled out an imaginary phone and pretended to dial.
"Rebecca, please, you must understand that at the rate we're going the consequences of this conflict might end up wiping out the existence of humans here on Earth in this universe."
"You honestly think that we can wipe out the human race?" Rebecca asked with a remarkably collected, serious tone.
"At the rate we're going, we will."
"So we're to do away with our fight for noble death? To protect the vain cowards who hide from the light? I'd shoot them, Meta, if it came--"
"Look, we don't have to stop completely. But perhaps just -- just soften our rhetoric a bit," Meta pleaded.
"Nothing ever changed softly!" Rebecca hissed. The wind, which up until this point had been waxing and waning, started blowing in stronger gusts. The sky was also increasingly cloudier.
He was getting fed up with her irrational nonsense. When he first met her, she was the smartest one of the bunch. She was the first real scientific mind that had come from her group of recruits. Perhaps that was why he had taken to her so quickly. But when he learned that she was Charles' wife, well, then he knew he had to have her by his side. If not for him, then for Charles who wanted nothing more than to see his wife again. Now he realized he had gone too far to convince her. He could not shake her from her conviction.
A bolt of lightning shot across the sky, finally striking a tall antenna in the distance.
"This is a decree direct from Heaven," Meta said coldly over the rumbling boom of thunder.
"Lies! Traitor!" Rebecca screamed, as she lunged at Meta, tackling him to the roof of the building. Strapped to her thigh was a modified taser that not only provided enough power to stop someone's heart, but would also send a kill signal to every last nanobot, preventing the victim from recovering.
Caught by surprise, Meta struggled to counter Rebecca's attack. As he saw her brandish the weapon he recognized it right away but was too caught off guard to block her lunge for his neck.
Meta's eyes closed as he managed a weak "no..." and with that he died his first Earthly death as Josephina Parker's body gave way for a second time.
Next up: While Rebecca Danish fights to spread the truth on Earth, her husband's faith in Heaven gets shaken to the core.