Instead of remaining true to our destiny, humanity is becoming the sorcerer’s apprentice, creating a robot force that may sweep us aside.
First Minister Adam Jordan, the Church of Natural Humans, 2016
Although it seems far in the past, it was barely a decade ago that the world was devastated by PeaceMaker, the terrible virus that shut down the Internet. Everything depended on the Internet at that time—the power for homes and factories went out and many froze to death; massive accidents occurred as traffic systems failed; netphones fell silent and television went dark, making communication virtually impossible; food couldn’t be shipped to the supermarkets; all the looting and killing—it is almost too horrible to think about.
Daphne Hayden, DNS news anchor, 2022
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Waiting on the front steps, Claire gazed through the immense front entrance of the church. The view was familiar and yet unsettling. Although she had been a member of the Church of Natural Humans for more than two years, she had never seen so many people attend a service. All around her, orderly groups of the faithful entered and took their seats. A network camera crew was setting up in the narthex, surrounded by several church security officers keeping the crowd away. The pressure of the crowd forced her through the entrance and past a ten-foot statue of Jesus on the cross. As she left the narthex and stepped into the nave, her eyes gazed upward; all five levels of balconies were packed.
The Church of Natural Humans had grown from a small sect with fewer than twenty thousand followers, mostly in the South, to a thriving, growing organization with forty million members in the US and thirty million more worldwide. The Church’s founder, Adam Jordan, claimed that God commanded him to stop the advance of unholy technology. In the aftermath of PeaceMaker, the Church’s core message—that advanced technology was dangerous to humanity’s physical and moral survival—had touched the souls of decent folk everywhere and shown them the path to salvation. She was blessed to be one of them.
Today would be unique, the first televised service permitted by the Church. Adam Jordan, their Founder and First Minister, would speak during the service. There were rumors the Church had captured one of the Technos, those horrible scientists that worshipped the Devil, and would execute him in front of the congregation. She shivered. That could never happen; it must be just a rumor.
She made the sign of the cross. Thank the Lord she had found the Church.
Her eyes swept over the interior of the vast building. Its rounded arches and dark interior resembled a Romanesque Catholic cathedral, but with a more functional, severely simple appearance. A plain wooden stage, holding a single row of straight-backed chairs in front of a low wooden altar, rose at the far end of the nave. No statues, candles or traditional decorative objects intruded on the stage’s stark appearance. A huge stone fireplace covered the entire back wall of the stage, and a row of smaller fireplaces linedeach side of the nave, providing heat and flickering light. A Winchester bolt-action rifle, its barrel polished to gleam in the light of the flames, was mounted above each fireplace.
I remember what that means.
In the Church’s doctrines, the fireplace and rifle symbolized a man’s home and the power to defend it. One of the ministers had taught her that.
With a shiver, she realized it was almost as cold in the building as it was outside. The fireplaces were impressive, but they didn’t provide sufficient heat for so huge a building.
Broad skylights dwarfed a line of fourteen stained-glass windows built high in the clerestory above each balcony, depicting the Stations of the Cross. The skylights provided adequate lighting during the day; at night, however, the dark sky dominated.
A soft hand on her upper arm intruded in her thoughts. A familiar, heart-faced woman smiled kindly at her and gently guided her along the stone floor of the nave.
This Sister is so nice. What is her name?
From a hidden organ, somber music filled the air. The faithful continued to pour in and take their assigned seats. The Sister guided her to an empty pew not far from the entrance, and they shuffled in about halfway.
Sister Patricia, Claire recalled, that’s her name.
Claire breathed hard, and her hand clutched at the bronze amulet dangling from her neck. She was to be called today, even though she had sinned. She looked down at the coin-shaped charm pressed with the image of a bolt-action rifle above a jagged flame, then lifted the cold metal to her mouth and kissed it. She had never spoken to the congregation before, and she was nervous.
Gradually the pews filled. As a familiar organ melody echoed through the cavernous building, Claire pulled out her prayer book, read briefly from it then stuffed it back in her purse. She squeezed shut her eyes, and the beautiful music washed over her.
She was disappointed when the last notes drifted away. Minutes stretched by, and she began to fidget, until the faithful stood up in unison. Twelve ministers, stern-faced men and women, entered in pairs from a door at the side of the giant fireplace. Wearing dark blue cassocks that brushed the tops of their shoes, the ministers fanned out across the stage and stood in front of their seats. The top buttons of each cassock were open, revealing a shoulder holster and pistol. A large silver amulet sparkled from each minister’s neck. When all the ministers were in place, they sat in unison, leaving the center chair empty.
The church retained its eerie quiet as the congregation anticipated the arrival of the Holy Prophet, First Minister Adam Jordan. Claire leaned to the side, peering around the man seated in the pew in front of her, making sure she had a clear view.
The seconds stretched to minutes.
Suddenly a small, wiry man seemed to come out of nowhere and strode to the front of the stage, gleaming in a bright spotlight, and accompanied by the energetic blare of organ music. Claire was one of the first to rise and stand at attention.
The First Minister wore a white cassock, open at the top with his shoulder holster and gun exposed. Although middle-aged, he walked with the quickness of an athlete. His gold amulet swayed across his chest in rhythm with his long, confident strides. Stopping at the front of the stage, his stern presence dominated the crowd. The music played to a crescendo and abruptly ended.
Claire pressed the amulet against her chest.
“Welcome to the Church of Natural Humans,” he said in a gravelly voice. “I am First Minister Adam Jordan.”
What a handsome man!
High cheekbones, a thin, straight nose and a shock of long, gray hair falling over his shoulders. Piercing brown eyes. A lined but chillingly beautiful face. A long, jagged scar on his right cheek.
After gazing over the crowd, he threw his head back, stretched his arms to the sky and bellowed, “I am a Natural Human.”
“I am a Natural Human,” the congregation roared back. The rumble of voices cascaded across the church, twelve thousand souls, united in belief, reciting the Prayer for the Lord’s Creations.
Claire closed her eyes and joined in the recitation:
“My mind and my body are human.
My soul has not been altered by Technology.
We will destroy the Devil and protect the Earth.”
Claire opened her eyes and stared at her leader. Jordan’s wiry body swayed lightly, responding to the crowd in a slow, sensuous dance. His eyes unfocused, Jordan stretched his arms again and thundered, “Glory be to the Lord and His Creations.”
A spiritual bliss danced across the faces of his followers, and the church reverberated with their joyous response.
“Glory be to the Lord and His Creations.”
Once again, the church grew quiet. Jordan walked to the edge of the stage and down the wooden stairs, his heels clacking on each step. Claire lost sight of him, but his steps echoed through the church as he strode down the stone floor of the center aisle. The faithful knelt, bowed their heads and kissed their amulets as he passed, like a summer storm blowing through the trees. At the center of the church under a huge skylight, he came to a halt, gazing over his followers. Claire felt his eyes briefly rest upon her, cleansing her with his faith.
She didn’t deserve to be called. She couldn’t face all these good people. They should have given her something … helped her. A vague recollection of a silver chalice, filled to the brim with a bitter red liquid, passed through her mind. Maybe they had given her something—she couldn’t remember.
The flickering light of the fireplaces played across Jordan’s face, highlighting the jagged scar. Then he abruptly tilted his head back, stretched his arms to the sky and cried out, “I am a Natural Human.”
A wall of sound thundered as the faithful responded, “I am a Natural Human.”
Jordan again led the faithful in prayer:
“I condemn artificial intelligence and non-human beings.
These are abominations in the sight of God.
They will be flushed to the bowels of the Earth.”
Jordan stretched his arms and shouted, “Glory be to the Lord and His Creations.”
With one unified and unyielding voice, the faithful responded, “Glory be to the Lord and His Creations.”
Rising from their knees, the chosen broke into a torrent of applause. Many screamed their devotion to God, promising to kill Technos and defeat Lucifer.
Suddenly lightheaded, Claire grasped the front of the pew. What was wrong with her? She tried to think, but her mind had grown fuzzy. Sister Patricia was intently watching her, so she joined in the applause.
Jordan basked in the adulation and then lifted one hand to stop the tumultuous roar. Suddenly, it was quiet. The breathing of the crowd was palpable now, like that of soldiers before battle.
The First Minister strode back to the stage, his amulet swinging with each step. As he passed, believers dropped to their knees and recited the Prayer for the Lord’s Creations. The organ played in the background.
When Jordan reached the stage, he turned and began to speak. His voice sounded much older than his years. Rumbling from deep in his throat, gravelly and sometimes indistinct, it could quickly turn from comfort to threat. His voice surprised her the first time she met him; it seemed to have taken residence in the wrong body.
“This is a special moment for all of us,” Jordan said. “For the first time, we welcome non-believers to behold a service of the Church of Natural Humans. I am filled with happiness I can invite my fellow humans across the net to experience the joy and brotherhood of our Church.”
Sadness and a hint of anger played across his face. “Today marks the tenth anniversary of the attack by PeaceMaker, the Devil’s software virus. On that horrendous day, the world learned of the danger the Technos had brought forth. Dominated by Lucifer, the Techno Raymond Brown, PeaceMaker’s creator, attempted to crush our civilization.”
Claire shrank into her seat. Sister Patricia patted her hand. Startled, Claire turned to look into the Sister’s forgiving eyes.
“That danger is still with us,” Jordan said, “growing with every passing day. Humanity is at great risk, and that is why you must hear me on this specific day.”
Jordan paced again, with long, powerful strides carrying him across the stage. He stopped and faced the crowd. “Lucifer has unleashed a great Depression to weaken us. Poverty and disease are everywhere. Honest people scratch out a living while Technos and their allies live well. Crime has exploded, and it is no longer safe to step outside our homes.” His voice boomed. “Anyone with eyes can see our world is being torn apart. Lucifer laughs at us while his disciples, the Technos, tempt us to take another bite of the accursed apple.
“Do not think the danger is lessened because Ray Brown has been slain. His spawn David Brown still walks the earth. Lucifer has given him the power to create abominations just like his father. David Brown must be stopped before he builds an entity even more monstrous than PeaceMaker.”
As Jordan walked back and forth, Claire followed his every movement. “Lucifer’s evil power is great, but he cannot rule Earth while the Lord’s children remain. He has been waiting in hell for all eternity—waiting for humanity to meddle with powers we cannot control. The time has arrived; Lucifer has unleashed technology to destroy all Natural Humans.”
Jordan’s gaze swept across the church. “We have entered the Apocalypse,” he roared.
Many of the faithful blessed themselves, others dropped to their knees.
“I must tell you this; Lucifer’s plan is working.”
Jordan’s dark eyes skewered the faithful.
“Every day we take another bite of the sweet fruit of technology. Every day we discover another way to change our genes. Every day we learn another way to increase the intelligence of our computers. Every day we chip away at our claim to humanity.
“THIS … MUST … STOP … NOW!”
“The Lord formed the Church of Natural Humans to block Lucifer’s evil design. He revealed to me the power of a human untouched by artificial enhancements. He unveiled the power that will save us—the military wing of our Church.
“The Army of God!
“The Army of God is the fist that will smash the Technos and cleanse the Earth. Humanity will have a beautiful world inhabited only by natural creatures, living as God planned. A world designed by the Creator for the salvation of the human race.”
He strode back to center stage, footsteps echoing across the great church.
“Today we celebrate the war against technology. This crusade is dangerous, and it is with great sadness I ask you to take up arms.” Jordan’s eyes glistened. “From this day forward, all Natural Humans will seek out and destroy technology wherever it is unearthed. Computers must be smashed, software wiped clean. Anything that simulates human thinking must be eradicated.
“We must also stop the corruption of our bodies and minds. Natural Humans must stop those who would alter our genes and create abominations not part of the Creator’s design. Natural Humans must smash all the research labs that tamper with our genes, replace our organs with mechanical parts or integrate our minds with those of machines. Natural Humans must obliterate the hospitals and clinics that do not respect God’s will.”
Jordan gazed over his followers. His eyes paused again on Claire. “And most important,” he said, “we must find the Antichrist and burn the life from her in the great fireplace of this church.
“The choice is simple: defeat the Technos and claim this Earth for the Lord.” Jordan swept his eyes over his transfixed congregation. “Or burn in hell for all eternity as Devil-spawned abominations rule our world.”
The crowd began to howl. It began as a low growl and swelled to a frightening roar. Hatred for the Technos swept through the church.
Two burly Natural Men appeared at the back of the stage. They dragged forward a struggling little girl. She was dressed in a plain maroon dress and a white lab coat. A black cowl covered her eyes.
The girl begged the men to set her free, but they dragged her to the front of the stage. The congregation buzzed, but quieted at a gesture from the First Minister.
The girl’s head turned from side to side. Claire wondered what crime against God this poor soul must have committed.
“Who’s out there?” the girl shouted. “Why have you taken me?”
Jordan took a few steps and stopped in front of her. The church was silent, except for the voice of the terrified girl, “Someone is out there. Please talk to me!”
Jordan slowly drew his revolver and pointed it at her chest. Claire gasped, riveted to the scene.
A young man burst out of a middle pew and ran toward Jordan screaming, “No more killing!” He was tackled from behind. Several guards pummeled him then dragged his limp body out a side door.
Jordon shouted, “What shall we do with the Technos?”
The congregation answered, “Kill them all.”
“No, please!” the girl begged.
The first gunshot brought the crowd to a roar, drowning out the thud of the bullet smashing into the girl’s chest. Her body jerked back, but the two men held her upright.
Claire found herself screaming out of control, terrified for the girl, but the Technos had violated God’s will. She looked around—the church was a sea of angry, clean-cut faces.
Jordan shot the girl repeatedly, even though it appeared the first bullet had taken her life. Each gunshot echoed with the previous one until the whole building vibrated with murderous intensity.
Claire gasped for breath, lightheaded. Jordan, the faithful, the church and the revolver fused into a single, seething entity. Her legs felt weak, she held on to the pew.
Jordan tried to speak, but stopped as the crescendo continued out of control. The roar gradually evolved into a chant, “Death to the Technos … Death to the Technos …”
Arms folded, Jordan waited calmly. Finally, the mob’s passion ebbed and the chant faded.
“Remove the clothes,” Jordan shouted.
The men stripped off her coat and pulled down her dress, revealing half a dozen holes in the girl’s torso.
“Does this thing bleed?” Jordan asked.
There wasn’t a drop of blood. The congregation buzzed in confusion.
Jordan stuck his fingers through the holes and pulled hard. The front of the girl’s chest flipped open, revealing a dense organization of electronics. The faithful cursed, but quieted when Jordan raised his hand.
“This is what the Technos are releasing into the world. This robot—this abomination—is Lucifer’s replacement for natural humans, assembled from chemicals, electricity and inorganic materials.” Jordan’s voice boomed out, “How many of these Frankenstein walk among us?”
The robot’s heels scraped across the wooden floor as the two men dragged it to the rear of the stage and out of sight, a sound Claire felt to her bones.
Sister Patricia suddenly pulled her into a firm embrace. With her head buried in the Sister’s neck, an overwhelming scent rushed up her nostrils and invaded her mind. Sister Patricia pressed a wet pad against her nose.Claire gasped and tried to pull away, but the Sister was too strong.
“You will feel wonderful in a moment,” Sister Patricia whispered.
Fog lifted from her mind, revealing the words that had been planted there, and Claire stopped struggling.
“The Apocalypse is here,” Jordan said in a quiet voice. “The Antichrist seeks to eradicate humanity. Join us now. The ranks of Natural Humans are growing to meet this unholy threat. Many outsiders have seen the light, sometimes from the most unexpected source.”
Sister Patricia released her grip, and Claire straightened in her seat. She felt alert, all her senses working in harmony, as if she had woken from a deep slumber. Sister Patricia smiled at her then turned to listen to the First Minister.
Jordan walked to the front of the stage. “For those not familiar with our ways, our custom is to have a member of the Church give witness at our services. Today the Lord has blessed us with a most unusual woman.” Jordan lifted his head, peering toward the rear of the building. “Claire, please come here and stand by me.”
Her contentment ebbed. She had known she would be called, but she wasn’t worthy. Her legs were stone. Deep down, to her core, she was a sinner. These good people would never accept someone so worthless. Turning to Sister Patricia, Claire wanted to explain she couldn’t give witness, but the words were there, placed in her mind, burning to be spoken. Patricia’s eyes glowed with happiness, and she stood and offered Claire her hand.
Claire rose to her feet and shuffled to the center aisle. Head down, she tottered toward the stage, her eyes focused on the amulet dangling like a shield in front of her chest.
Jordan took her hand as she climbed the steps. She was surprised when he hugged her and then guided her to the proper spot on the stage.
Jordan turned to the crowd. “This is Claire Brown, sister of the Techno Raymond Brown.”
A buzz of whispers rippled through the church. After gazing over the crowd, Jordan walked away to sit with the Ministers.
Claire kept her eyes down and remained silent. She tried to speak, but only mumbled words came out. The crowd began to whisper again. She knew what to say, the words glowed in her mind; she just had to find the courage.
A female voice shouted, “We don’t want the sister of the Devil-maker in our church.”
Other voices cried out; she felt anger spread among the faithful.
She just had to say the words in her mind and everything would be all right.
“I am a Natural Human.”
The crowd grew quiet as she recited the prayer.
“My mind and my body are human. My soul has not been altered by Technology.”
A woman in the second row kneeled; others followed.
“We will destroy the Devil and protect the Earth. Glory be to the Lord and His Creations.”
A soft rustle came from the pews as thousands of believers kneeled.
Claire shuffled her feet and cleared her throat. She coughed up phlegm and then swallowed it, leaving a vile taste. The chalice … the bitter liquid. She cleared her throat again and allowed the words to be spoken.
“For many years, I was a lonely woman without hope or purpose.” She looked across the faithful. “Then I found salvation through the First Minister and the Church of Natural Humans. I now have a purpose in life. I would like to share my story with my fellow humans here and with those of you in the wilderness still searching for an answer. I pray my story will help you find salvation among your fellow humans.”
She looked down, ashamed. “If he had survived, my brother would have been fifty-two, just two years older than me. We were born into a troubled home. Our parents were not evil, but I now understand they were lost souls.” The faithful murmured sympathetically. “My father, God save his soul, was a Techno and an atheist.”
The words were there, in her mind. They were her words—they had to be— but she had never spoken so well. She concentrated on the words. It was all so clear.
Claire raised her eyes and gazed across the church, finding sympathetic faces. “My mother was a cold shell of a woman, without love of God or man. Was there any doubt my brother would become Lucifer’s tool? Or that I would become a weak copy of my mother … a useless collection of bone and tissue imitating a human? Looking back, I can see Lucifer’s hand crushing the humanity out of our family, so he could corrupt Ray’s genius.”
Taking a deep breath, Claire continued. “My brother and I fought for our humanity, but we did not understand the power of the Enemy. We knew our lives held no meaning, but we didn’t realize the Lord was missing. My brother tried to fill his life with technology, and Lucifer drove him without mercy. Technology became addictive, but it did not provide him with the happiness he craved. Then he became an alcoholic. His life swung back and forth between alcohol and technology, each cycle worse than the previous one. He tried to break free—to become human—but Lucifer had him in a death grip.” She lifted her chin and stared over the crowd. “I’ll tell you this about my brother; he fought long and hard, but in the end, he succumbed to Lucifer and brought forth the beast, PeaceMaker.
“I was not so valiant. I quickly fell prey to drugs and alcohol. I would do anything to fill my body with chemicals. I lied, cheated, and whored— anything to get chemicals, anything to keep me from thinking about the emptiness of my existence. I hated being sober. Whenever the drugs cleared from what remained of my mind, I was forced to confront my sins.” Tears clouded her vision. “I even tried suicide once, but I failed at that, too.”
Coughing racked her body, and she struggled to recover her breath.
Such a wasted life.
“Finally, a miracle happened. One day a Sister found me and brought me to the Church. They provided food for my body and, more importantly, my soul. The good people of the Church helped me to understand what had happened to my brother and to me.” Pointing to Adam Jordan, she said, “That good man helped me to find salvation. He has given me the chance to do something decent with my life.”
She stared defiantly into the camera. “We must stop the advance of technology! I will do everything I can, but the Enemy is strong and merciless. We need your strength. Please join us. I beg you; help us defeat the Technos.”
The church exploded with applause. Smiling, Adam Jordan hurried to Claire and hugged her. As she tottered down the aisle toward her seat, the crowd continued to applaud. Recollection seeped into her mind.
The silver chalice … the First Minister … he’d been the one who taught her the words … such a bitter liquid, but it had washed away her sins. She felt contentment, just as the First Minister had promised. The confession had completed her transformation to a state of grace. The guilt had been cleansed from her soul. She was a Natural Human.
The First Minister’s voice boomed over her shoulder. “Bless you, Claire. Bless you for your courage and your compassion. You have traveled from the gateway of hell and we admire you.”
Turning to glare into the camera, he thundered, “If Claire Brown can find her way to us, so can you! If Claire Brown can stand up to the Devil, so can you. If Claire Brown can find salvation, you, too, can give your life grace and meaning.
“I ask you, join your fellow humans in the war against Lucifer. Join Claire … join me … in the great crusade against the Technos. Dedicate your life to humanity. Find your destiny in the Church of Natural Humans.”
The organ blared as Jordan turned, walked to the back of the stage, and disappeared. As he walked, the faithful chanted the Prayer for the Lord’s Creations.
When Adam Jordan’s war had run its bloody course, human history would forever be changed