Pop Bottle Empty
By Jennifer Diane Reitz, 2008

The hologhost that came by last year made a big impression on me I guess, and I shouldn't have spent so much talking to it I suppose, but I was mad at the Elder for some reason at the time and it was pretty nice for a demon and I figured nothing could touch my faith so where's the harm?

She had talked about visiting this planet - it had talked about that planet, because demons can't be men or women because they aren't real people - it had talked about visiting another planet, another planet with actual life on it, and that was just too much for me. I guess I was seduced by the devil right there, because I did love reading all those old rockets and ray-guns stories out of the crumbling books in the back part of the library in the old city. It wasn't the best to go there, the city being run-down and abandoned and all, but there were books you couldn't get back in our village, and of course there was the thrill of courting danger and all. That's another sin of mine.

Anyway it sort of grew in me, like a little hell-fire, that it shouldn't just be the AIs and the hologhosts that get to see the stars, and that real people should be able to go into space too, and some had, and there should be at least one person from our village who everyone could say had gone there, and I wanted to be that someone. That's a sin of pride on top of everything else, I guess.

So when I left with the AI and the ghosts for the beanstalk momma cried and cried and papa was just silent and wouldn't look at me and my little sister wouldn't let go and kept screaming don't go, don't go, please don't go, and none of the Elders would have anything to do with seeing me off but I was adamant that faith means more than just going to church, and that there was Work to be done up there as well as down here. I really think that - having faith doesn't mean we have to be backward. I like our village plenty, but there is no reason we should be denied the stars.

The trip was really long, because the beanstalk was out in the ocean, and that was way past the abandoned cities and we had to use a hover to actually get there being as I was made of real flesh and blood like god intended. Maybe it would do the demons some good to see what actual travel was like, instead of just uploading or downloading or whatever it is that they do instead of bothering with seeing the countryside from one place to the next.

I'd been to the coast once before, when I was little, papa and the whole family, and part of the village too, had all taken the broken roads all the way out there to look on the remaining works of Man. We were supposed to see the fallen cities, and how the trees and animals were taking them back, and understand what we had lost when the Singularity happened, but all I could think of was how many books I hadn't ever read must be in those old libraries, and how much I wished I could get out of the bus and just explore.

The trip this time was really different. I think most of the cities were gone now, and the nice hologhost sitting next to me said that was the case because they and the AIs were gradually turning things back to nature to make the world a garden, just like the garden of Eden. I think it was trying to humor me in saying that - they'll do that you know - but however hard they try, the hologhosts still have this air of smug superiority to them, like they are talking down to a child. They think they are uploaded or downloaded or sideloaded humans or whatever, but they don't have souls, they lost those when they gave up their god-given bodies for earthly immortality, so they don't have any reason to sound so big.

I spent the whole beanstalk trip just looking out the window. It took hours but I wasn't the least bit bored - the earth just kept getting farther away, and the blue and white of the sea and clouds getting smaller was just mesmerizing. I couldn't hope to see the village, it was just all too complicated and unfamiliar from up high, but it was beautiful as can be, and I said prayers thanking god for such a beautiful planet because it was a beautiful planet. I was really grateful just to see it like that, from on high, the way the lord sees it, even for just a bit. Then we were in the spacedock up top.

They had to process all the meatbags - That's us of course - to cope with the rigors of travel in space. We had to wear special undergarments against the rays, and take medicine for the rays, and have injections against the rays and all I could think about was that there were a lot of rays in space. And we had to watch holos and listen to hologhosts give lectures and one time an AI even came in and directly addressed us in real language and everything. I'd never known that they could even speak like people before.

We were going to visit a world just beyond the first Gate, a planet with a simple race of creatures - they didn't look like anything I'd describe as people - that lived a tribal life on their tan-and-brown world. We were just there as tourists, we could take pictures, and collect things to take back, but we weren't supposed to get anywhere near the natives, and we were going to be watched really carefully about that. It wasn't for the sake of the creatures - instead it was because we might get hurt, since the tribals could get a little violent when they got scared and supposedly we didn't look like people to them!

Imagine that! They were so far gone that they couldn't even recognize the form of god himself, which Man was made in the image of. That was why I wanted to go out there, to help these poor things to realize the truth, to do God's work. I didn't suppose things like that had souls, but maybe they did, and someone should help them. That's only kindly.

Anyway, there was one last thing we had to do before we could board the ships, and some of the real people in our group wouldn't do it, and they had to leave and do the trip of shame back down the beanstalk, because it was mandatory and they refused. It was questionable in my faith, I admit, but I also knew it didn't matter because there was no way that any of this could touch my soul. Papa had taught me that much.

They had to make a 'backup' of everyone, it was their law or something. Before any dangerous thing they do that, they make a backup of themselves and everyone involved. For real people - meatbags - you sit in this chair with all the weird things that go to your head and spine, and they do a recording and you get up and that's it. I didn't care, they could record all they wanted, it certainly doesn't touch me at all. Record anything you want, my soul is secure, and so is my faith, so let's go and I hopped on the chair just to show them that being from a village doesn't mean we're a bunch of backward cowards.

I didn't feel a thing, because it's just a recording. I just sat in the chair, and they put all these things all over me, especially on my head, they come out of the chair and are kind of like little insect legs, and they felt good on my scalp, because it was a little ichy in the dry air up there. They even had a nice big window I could look out of and see the earth turning down below, and that was entertainment enough just by itself. The other real people and our hologhost guides were standing around in the distance, talking, while the ghost doctor - I guess he was a doctor - kept me company for the half-hour it takes to do a backup on someone who doesn't have plugs or anything unnatural in their heads.

"Almost done" the ghost said and smiled at me, and thats when something odd happened. I was looking at the earth, mostly, but occasionally I was looking over at the rest of the group of real people that had stayed, who were in the lounge just beyond the backup room. I had met some of them, and there was one I particularly liked, I figured we could be friends on the trip. She had come from a village not unlike mine, and we had a lot in common. Her village was up in some mountains, and I thought that was pretty interesting, since I had always wondered what it would be like to live on a mountain.

I was looking at her and suddenly, like changing a channel, they were all gone. Just like that. It was the darndest thing, they just blinked out of existence. I didn't know what to make of it. I looked back at the window, and it was in a different place, and the earth was funny - it wasn't blue and white anymore, it was yellow and brown, and that didn't make sense either. I got scared and lept out of the chair - only it wasn't a chair anymore, it was this weird tank-thing, and I was naked and covered with this slimy stuff that felt like oil or pond scum or something. I backed into a corner near the door, I was afraid because I didn't understand what was going on.

The room was completely different. The hologhost doctor wasn't there by my side, instead there were three or four of them, and an AI was there too. One or two of the group of real people were there as well, including the girl I was starting to be friends with. She looked very strange, her face was some emotion I couldn't figure out. I tried to speak, but my throat was full of that slime so I spent some time coughing it up all over the floor, but nobody seemed to mind the mess I was making.

I looked again at that girl. She was dressed in something very different than I remembered, and she started to cry and she turned away and the other members of the real people there were looking down or unable to meet my gaze. I finally croaked out that I wanted to know what was going on, was this a trick, what had happened? Had I passed out, was there a problem with the chair - I was worried that the backup chair had shorted out or something and I'd had to be rushed to the medical ward.

The girl I liked looked at me, and the look was pity and horror, and she ran out of the room crying, and I looked again out the window at the brown and yellow earth only it wasn't the earth, I saw that now, and it hit me that this wasn't the same room, and this wasn't the spaceport, this was the starship, and that was the alien world, and a lot of time must have passed, and that I wasn't there. I was down on that alien world, my body was down on that alien world, and my soul was in heaven with Jesus and the angels, and I was a demon who only thought that I was me, and that was when I knew I had no soul.



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