The God Equation

“The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard?” — Pope John Paul II (Feast of Saint Francis de Sales, January 24, 2002)

Mikhail and I meet inside the Basilica, beside the tomb of Pope Alexander VII, under whose reign the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square were built. The figure of the pope is flanked by Charity, Prudence, Justice, and Truth. Below them, Death raises a marble drape brandishing an hourglass.

Mikhail, in the guise of an elderly chap, had just returned from St. Petersburg, and he wanted a full report. Raffy had told him the result, but he wanted details from me.

“Lily’s fuming,” he says. “She claims that you violated the Law by failing to release the soul of Diego Merced to her. You’ve been subpoenaed to appear at a hearing regarding this matter.”

“I’ll deal with her,” I say.

“So tell me,” he says, “how could you have missed your mark at point blank range?”

“I had aligned the bullet with the firing pin,” I began, “forgetting that with double-action revolvers, the cylinder rotates with each trigger pull. When I squeezed the trigger, all I got was an empty chamber.”

Mikhail scratches his cheek, rubs his eyes. “Go on.”

“That click was the noisiest sound in the room. Matthew spun around and slapped the gun from my hand. Then he tackled me to the ground. We struggled but he had the advantage because the room was cramped and I couldn’t maneuver well. Raffy should’ve mentioned that the guy knew jiu jitsu. He was very skilled. Reminded me of the time I wrestled Jacob.”

Mikhail smirked.

“Hey, my physical form wasn’t exactly in tip-top shape. So there I was, flat on my back, with his forearm on my throat. He planted his fist into my mouth, knocking loose my lower incisor. I tasted blood.

“‘Who sent you?’ he demanded. He hit me again, and my nose began to bleed.

“‘His Holiness,’ I said, struggling to regain some leverage.

“‘The Pope?’ he cried in disbelief.

“‘No,’ I said. I grabbed his wrists. ‘I work for God.’

“I spat my tooth into his eye, and this distracted him enough for me to flip him over. Blinded by the blood in his eye, he landed on his shoulder and groaned in pain, but managed to scramble up the stairs to the top deck. I spent a few seconds looking for the gun since I knew he’d be going nowhere. When I found it, I checked the cylinder to make sure that the gun would fire with the next attempt. I only had one round so I tucked the gun into my vest pocket where I can reach it quickly. I had to get close enough, and that meant getting his guard down.

“By that time, it was raining hard. I walked along the side-deck toward the bow. It was slippery, and there was no sign of Matthew. I cautiously head back to the stern and I call him out, thinking that he had returned to the cabin. My nose kept bleeding.

“I found him standing against the mast, between the mainsail and jib. He looked like an angel, with massive fractal wings. An angel with a laptop. ‘Fool!’ he taunted. ‘I have faced death before! You cannot hurt me!’

“‘I am not death,’ I clarified, in a calm voice. ‘Death is just my office. I am Azrael, an Angel of the Lord. And I promise you, it won’t hurt a bit.’ I approached him, arms up to show that I was unarmed.

“That’s when the boom of the mainsail swung against me, throwing me overboard. I struck the water head first. Rather embarrassing, really.

“Raffy found me floating unconscious. When I came to, there was no sign of the yacht.”

“So he lives,” Mikhail says.

“Diego’s body was HIV positive. I spat blood into Matthew’s eye. He won’t live long enough to complete his work. My section confirms he now has an expiration date. He’s not an anomaly anymore.”

“A sloppy job,” he says.

I concede. “I know, but at least we’ve controlled the damage.”

“Something bothers me,” he says, looking toward the ceiling of the Basilica. “You don’t usually make mistakes this sloppy. Even with guns.”

I remain silent.

“A pity,” he says, “Matthew was such a good chess player.” He walks to the altar, leaving me alone, invisible, without praise or thanks. I make my way out.

I made a choice.

And Gabby, Raffy, or Mikhail can’t complain. They’re too attached to their human disguises, living among the flock. But I don’t like disguises.

One of the perks of my job is that I don’t usually have to do any actual work. People come and go, and it’s all predetermined by a mysterious formula that even angels don’t understand. But every time there’s an anomaly, someone who’s simply not in my list, I have to do things myself, and make things right, and I get to choose the method. I get to choose the weapon.

I wanted to give Matthew more time. So I chose the plague.

There are limits, of course. I still have a job to do, and I still need to follow orders. I know that we are all part of the Divine Plan, fractal whorls in a complex design. But what if things really were simple? Like the area of a circle, the dimensions of a line, or the coordinates of a point. I don’t know what’s worse: finding out that things are more complicated than we’ve expected, or that all things are elementary and dull.

I think about Matthew. Why didn’t he have a death date? What role did I play in his fate?

And I think about the Equation. It was released into the Internet minutes before I got to the yacht. The mission was doomed from the beginning. I was too late.

That’s when it occurred to me.

At first, as Matthew described his ideas, it was clear to me that he would never be able to prove the existence of God in mathematical terms. His Holiness is too vast to be contained. But that was before I saw the Equation.

Then I remembered.

More than two thousand years ago, the Word was made flesh.

He was persecuted, crucified, but promised to return again, like a thief in the night or a stranger knocking at the door.

He may return as a brilliant radiance, touch everyone, and know everything, a Divine Being who will encompass the world. Alpha and Omega. Unity and Null. One and Zero.

I imagine a day when the world will receive a new message — in an email, online forum, or blog — from someone they do not know. Many will ignore the message, dismissing it as a prank, while some will respond. Those who reply to the message will receive a prize. Those who don’t will pay the price.

In this way, the Second Coming would be most unexpected.

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