“So what’s the big meeting all about?” Peter asked.
The two men stood in the office’s small third-floor kitchenette, Gabe at the counter, pouring the last half-cup of decaf from a badly-stained pot into an only slightly less stained mug, its “Earth 2.0” logo emblazoned in navy blue on the side. He set the empty carafe back on the heater with a hiss, and reached up to one of the overhead cupboards, searching for sugar packets. He found, instead, nothing but an empty bowl where the packets should have been. Fuming, he poured the half-filled cup into the sink.
“Who in the hell can drink this stuff without sugar?” he said, annoyed. “We made dozens of countries down on earth that can grow sugar, but can we get one goddam…one freakin packet of the stuff here? Sheesh…”
He rinsed the mug perfunctorily under the faucet and set it in the dish rack.
“And I have no idea what the big meeting is about,” Gabe said. “No one knows. We all got the same memo, so what I know is what you know. Anyway, it’s the big man’s meeting—all-hands-on-deck-no-matter-what-else-you-might-have-had-scheduled-for-nine-o’clock. That’s what I know. Just so long as it doesn’t turn into more work for me is all I care about.”
“Whoa, man. Calm down,” said Peter. “I only asked you a question. What’s got you so hacked off anyway?”
“Besides not being able to get a decent cup of coffee, what’s got me so hacked off is that I got put in charge of creating and maintaining the begetting org chart.”
“What the hell are you talking about, org chart?” Peter responded. “And what’s begetting got to do with anything?”
“C’mon, you know. Enos begat Cainan. Cainan begat Mahalaleel. And on and fucking on, ad nauseum. So, of course, some poor schmuck gets to document all that nonsense, and take a guess what lucky stiff drew the short straw. And I’m thinking I can get away with a spreadsheet, but NO, it’s got to be in a PowerPoint deck because you-know-who likes things to be more visual. So now I’ve got forty-three pages of boxes and lines just on the off-chance somebody needs to know who Methuselah’s freakin great grandmother was. I got begets coming out of my ass, let me tell you.”
“Yeah, well you shouldn’t bitch so much about it,” Peter said. “At least you didn’t get stuck doing interviews for the bouncer job at Eden. Like writing the job description wasn’t bad enough—‘Must have experience wielding flaming swords in all directions.’ You know how many resumes I got for that position? And the stupidest damned interviews you ever heard in your life. Do you have experience standing for long periods and denying access to gardens whilst employing a commanding tone of voice? Honestly, some of the people who posted for that job wouldn’t frighten a fly.”
As they stepped from the kitchenette into the hallway, they were passed by a large bald man in a black suit with white shirt and black tie. The man grimaced and said nothing by way of greeting, only tightened his grip on the black leather portfolio that was tucked purposefully beneath his right arm. He did not step aside, and Gabe and Peter were obliged to squeeze past him single file. Peter made a mocking face at Gabe once the pair was safely past the large man.
“God Almighty himself calling a meeting…that can’t be good, right?” Peter said. “I mean, seems to me he’s always been more of a one-on-one type of guy. Jesus is the organizational one.”
At which precise moment, Jesus himself rounded the corner and approached the two men.
“Well, well,” said Gabe. “Speak of the dev…I mean, uh, great to see you again, Jesus.” He offered a hand in greeting and Jesus shook it with a feigned grimace.
“You boys headed for the big pow-wow too?”
“You bet,” offered Peter. “Any sneak previews on what it’s all about? Lots of rumors, but everyone seems to be pretty much in the dark.”
“Sorry to say, gents, I’m out of the loop on this one too,” Jesus replied. “All I know is the parental unit’s been looking pretty gloomy lately. I hear him mumbling under his breath about the humans this and the humans that. Makes me wonder if he isn’t having second thoughts about the whole earth thing.”
“Well, I’m not one to say ‘I told you so’,” Gabe replied, “but as I recall there were plenty of people on the original creation team who recommended sticking with plants and animals. But no, he had to have a creature made in his own image. Ask me, they’re all more aggravation than they’re worth. And free will? Whose brainstorm was that? Course, no one bothered to ask me at the time. I was just the animal guy. Well, thank goodness those days are behind me. If I never see another animal again, it’ll be too soon.”
“Yeah, the image thing,” Jesus said in a low voice, shaking his head ruefully. “Not that I can tell him anything these days, but this whole human business has been handled pretty badly if you ask me. I mean, c’mon, a tree of knowledge that’s got the best tasting fruit in the garden. Oh, and then you tell them—tell them about it, mind you—and then practically dare them to touch it. What numbskull didn’t see that one coming? So now, instead of living it up in the garden, they’re out wandering around in the wilderness someplace trying to learn how to grow wheat or whatever on their own. Good freakin luck with that.”
“Yeah,” added Peter, “And here I am stuck interviewing cherubims to be bouncers at the garden entrance. Have you seen a friggin cherubim? Not exactly bouncer material, if you know what I’m saying.”
“Oh, hey. I meant to ask you about this,” Jesus said, changing the subject, extracting a single sheet of paper from his folder. “Any idea what the story is on this?” he handed the page to Gabe, who looked at it uncomprehendingly.
“What do you mean? It’s the memo for the meeting,” Gabe said. “Same one everybody got.”
“Yeah, but look at the distribution list. Look at my name.”
“So, ‘J. H. Christ.” What’s the problem?”
“The problem is that my middle name is…well, it’s a little embarrassing, but for damned sure it doesn’t start with an H. This gets out, I’m gonna be ‘Jesus H. Christ’ for the rest of eternity.”
“Yeah, well, talk to your dad’s executive assistant, I guess.”
“Don’t think I haven’t tried, gents. And it’s not just the email distribution list. It’s on the company directory, my voicemail…everything. I tell you, I’m never going to shake this. I just pray that I never get sent down to earth for anything. Word of this gets out down there, and I’ll never live it down.”
Jesus took the memo back from Gabe and replaced it in his folder. “Well look, I’ll see you guys at the meeting. I’ve gotta go check my email first.” Still shaking his head, Jesus left Gabe and Peter in the hallway and walked toward the elevator bank.
“So what do you suppose is his middle name?” Peter asked as the two men resumed their walk to the conference room.
“You didn’t hear it from me,” Gabe said, “but word on the street is it’s Lester.”
“Get the fuck out of here!” Peter replied. “Lester? Jesus L. Christ? Ain’t that a hoot!? No wonder he’s so hacked about the ‘H’.”
Gabe shushed Peter with a subtle hand gesture as the two entered the conference room. They were surprised at the large crowd that had assembled to hear whatever it was God had to say. The chairs around the large oblong table were already taken and so Peter and Gabe reluctantly found seats along the side wall.
“Great,” said Gabe, looking across the room to the counter along the opposite wall. “No coffee. No donuts. Creator of heaven and earth, and the guy can’t order donuts for a staff meeting? Gimme a break. You know all those humans down on earth just champing at the bit to get into heaven? Well, somebody better send out an email and let ‘em know there aren’t any donuts up here in paradise.”
No sooner had the two taken their seats when God himself entered the conference room, wearing, to everyone’s amazement, a custom-tailored Armani suit, small Euro-look glasses, and sporting a chic new haircut and goatee. There was a murmur from the assembled staffers until God raised his hand and quieted them.
“Wow,” Peter whispered to Gabe, “looks like someone’s having a midlife crisis.”
A hush fell over the packed room as God began to speak. He had unbuttoned the front of his double-breasted jacket and the gray silk fabric swayed gracefully with his movements, almost seeming to glow in the light of the room’s overhead halogens. His glasses had slid down slightly on the bridge of his nose, giving him a knowing, almost academic look. As the lights dimmed, a slide appeared on the screen. It was a simple bar graph, the ten or so columns descending steeply from left to right. The bottom of the chart was labeled “Time.” The vertical axis said simply “Human Morality.”
“Many of you here today were key contributors to the creation of earth and mankind some years back. Indeed, some of you remain, to this day, closely involved with that project. Let me start by acknowledging your contributions. It was a mammoth undertaking, and one that had more than a few fits and starts along the way. But, in the end, we were able to realize the difficult six-day schedule and turned out what was, at the time, a high quality product, on-time and on-budget. ”
The audience was having some difficulty relating God’s laudatory opening to the chart they were seeing behind him on the wall. And there was a subtle but palpable tension in the room as some of the old timers began to realize that God was employing the tried and true axiom of sharing a bit of good news before dropping a bomb.
“There is, however, an extremely serious problem that has developed, and it’s the reason I asked you all here this morning. It saddens me to have to report to you that humanity has sunk to a level of evil and depravity that is, frankly, unsustainable.”
He stepped to one side so that everyone could clearly see the displayed bar chart.
“You’re all familiar with the Adam and Eve debacle by now. It was my fervent hope that making an example of them would set a precedent for the humans that followed. Unfortunately it looks increasingly like giving man free will was an epic mistake, and one for which I take full responsibility.”
God clicked his remote and the image switched to a pie chart, one oddly configured in that nearly all of it was colored a vibrant red, while only the tiniest sliver of green was visible.
“As I said, an epic miscalculation…and one that requires an equally epic solution.” He paused, apparently for dramatic effect, an entirely unnecessary tactic, as he, by now, had the room’s complete attention.
“After a detailed search and a great deal of interviewing,” he said, turning to face the pie chart, “it turns out there’s only one family on earth that’s worth a tinker’s damn.”
With another click of the remote control, the pie chart slowly enlarged to focus upon the thin green sliver, in the center of which appeared an image comprising several faces—some male, some female, a couple clearly older than the rest. As the image continued to grow, God stood silently watching with the rest, smiling with contentment derived not from having discovered the one worthy family among all of humanity, but, rather, the satisfaction that comes from finally having gotten the PowerPoint animation to work just right. It would, he thought, have been even more impressive if he had been able to figure out how to insert a piece of dramatic music at this juncture, but it had taken him until nine the previous night just to get the animation right. He raised his hand to the screen and intoned, in the most deific voice he could conjure…
A sudden murmur went up from the audience in response to the family image staring down at them from the screen.
“Which raises the obvious question,” God continued, raising his voice slightly to calm the group, “of what to do with the remainder of mankind and all of his iniquity.”
Peter leaned toward Gabe and whispered. “I don’t like where this is headed, man. Please don’t whack everybody and make us start this shit all over again.”
“Not good…” Gabe responded quietly. “This is not good. I just deleted all my animal files last week.”
“After much consideration,” God continued, “I have decided that we must cut our losses and start with a clean slate.”
The crowd had maintained its composure as long as it could and hands started going up around the room.
“Uh, sir,” said an angel near the front of the room. “What exactly do you have in mind when you say ‘cut our losses’?”
“What I mean,” replied God, “is a deluge…”
“A deluge?” said the angel uncertainly.
“Yeah…deluge…You know. A flood…A really big one.”
“And where would this flood come from?”
“Come from?” God replied, looking slightly confused. “From us. From this team. Same as every other project.”
“Shit,” said Gabe to Peter, raising his voice somewhat to be heard above the increasing din of the group. “I just spent two weeks of late nights, plus a weekend, putting forty-three-pages of Power Point together with every freakin begat since Adam, and now he wants to kill them all. Out-fucking-standing.”
But Peter scarcely heard his friend’s diatribe, so busy was he waving his hand and trying to make eye contact with God. Finally, after thirty fruitless seconds, he gave up on protocol and simply blurted out his question.
“Sir…all due respect and all, but do you mean to suggest that every man, woman, and child on earth…”
“Except Noah’s family,” God interjected with a smile and a gesture toward the screen.
“Right, right, except Noah…Every person on earth is so irredeemably evil that they must all be killed? Which, setting aside for a moment the issue of justice and all, in purely pragmatic terms, would waste all of the work this team has spent the past couple of hundred years working on? I mean, surely there must be some alternative approach that gets the message across without just shit-canning…pardon the expression, sir…wasting all of our work.”
A look of chagrin mixed with a slightly condescending smile appeared on God’s face, but Peter’s question went unanswered as others joined in the growing melee.
“So what happens after this flood is over?” shouted out a manager from the back. “What’s to stop the next round of humans from being just as big a bunch of assholes as this one?”
“And how are the Noahs supposed to survive this little pool party?” asked another voice.
By this point, the meeting had devolved into a sea of waving hands and shouted comments and questions. God stood quietly at the front, judiciously allowing his managers to vent a bit before calling the group back to order.
“Believe me, I can understand all of your concerns,” he said. “Trust me, I’ve given this a great deal of thought and you should know that I didn’t come to this decision lightly. Yes, we’ve all got a lot invested in this project. But I’ve gotta tell you, this has been brewing for a long time. And to tell you the honest truth, the principal reason I bring it up now is that, as you all know, our annual budgeting exercise starts in about a month and I wanted to make sure that the effects of this strategy change are incorporated into that work. I don’t want you to end up having to do everything over again in two or three months.
“But, sir,” came the disturbed question from the back of the room. “Why everybody? How can all those thousands of people be so completely, hopelessly vile?”
“Well, to be fair,” said God, “we did not examine every person on earth. Hell, that would have taken eons. We hired a consultant who did some statistical sampling for us,” he said, nodding in the direction of the big man dressed in black who Peter and Gabe had passed earlier in the hallway, and who was now sitting quietly against the wall near the front of the room. The man offered a perfunctory, slightly sheepish wave to the audience.
“And based on that work, I have been assured that, to within a ninety-five percent confidence limit, everyone on earth should be included in the deluge. Plus we agreed that not only would picking and choosing which humans to… uh … discipline … have been very taxing logistically, not to mention slower, we felt that doing something really high profile would be the best way to send a serious message—a message that such iniquitous behavior will simply not be tolerated.”
“Well, I can certainly understand that,” said Gabe from the back, “but what’s the point of sending a message if all the recipients are dead?”
“Well … there’ll still be Noah, and…and his family,” God replied, starting to show some genuine annoyance and a little uncertainty at the reception his strategy announcement was receiving. “Oh, and plus, don’t forget, this is all going to be written about someday, so the story will have a good deal of long-term impact, let me tell you,” he added, gesturing indignantly with his finger.
Gabe turned back to Peter and whispered, “That consultant guy looks familiar, right?”
Peter leaned forward and glanced furtively at the consultant for a moment. “I think that’s Death,” he whispered back.
Now Gabe leaned forward and stared again. “Death? With the black robe and scythe? That Death?…Are you sure?”
“You’ve never actually seen his face, right? And he’s a tall dude. I’m telling you, man. I think that’s him. He just got a makeover, like God did.”
“Son of a bitch,” Gabe responded quietly, shaking his head. “Don’t that figure…”
Meanwhile, God was still attempting to keep up with the barrage of questions. “And to answer your other concern about how Noah and his family are going to get through this thing. Easy enough. We’ll just give him a couple of weeks advance notice and a consignment of lumber so he can build a boat for the family. Doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Just enough space for his wife and the kids and, you know, a few days’ food.”
“So you’re killing off all the animals then.”
“The what?” God replied, looking up from his meeting notes.
“Animals,” came the question again. “We’ve got something like seventeen thousand species down there. None of them are backed-up anywhere. They’d all have to be re-created afterward…from scratch.”
“Except the fish, of course,” God replied.
“Well, yeah, I guess. Salt water, fresh water. Who knows? Anyway, it’s still an awful waste. I mean, it’s not as though the animals did anything wrong. They just went forth and were fruitful and multiplied, pretty much like we told them to.”
“Look,” said God, clearly frustrated by now, “we’re obviously not going to sort out all of these little logistical details here. I just wanted to give you the big picture of what’s coming so you can get started on planning, assembling teams, that sort of thing. Jesus here will be in charge of project managing this.”
He gestured toward Jesus, who looked up with a surprised look on his face. “He’ll be getting with each of you in the next day or two about roles and timetables and what-not. Look, I know it’s a difficult time right now for everybody, and I appreciate everyone’s buy-in and cooperation on this. Thank you. Thank you all for coming on such short notice.”
With which unceremonious wrap-up, God picked up his portfolio and hastily exited the conference room, leaving everyone else in stunned silence. Jesus sat at the end of the table, looking more dumbfounded than anyone else. The news of his leadership on the flood project had clearly not been provided to him in advance. Several of the meeting attendees had fled the room immediately after God’s departure, either in an attempt to ask him follow-up questions, or simply to minimize the likelihood of being drafted to work on the project. Peter and Gabe also made a bee-line for the back door, hoping to escape the draft. Jesus looked up just in time.
“Gentlemen!” he shouted, without needing to clarify which ones he meant. Peter and Gabe froze in their tracks. “Please join me up front here if you would.
The two men walked unenthusiastically to the front of the room and took seats on either side of Jesus.
Peter smiled as he approached. “So, Jesus… This Noah…the one who’s going to build this boat. Is he the same Noah who tried to build a barn a couple of years ago that collapsed and killed half his cow herd?”
“Gabe,” Jesus said, ignoring Peter. “Please tell me you saved all of your animal files from the creation project.”