Robot Christ climbs down from the cross. The Romans are all gone. It is dark on the hill in the cave beneath New Jerusalem. The artificial stars twinkle. Tomorrow the largest, his own star, will bloom above the animatronic shepherds. The plastic cattle will bray and froth. Three wise androids will see the shine move slowly through the night like a balloon adrift or a nearly-still silver wheel. Smoke will come out of their ears.
Already his father is helping his mother across the desert. He leads their electric camel over the blue dunes. His apostles are gathered in a small home. They are programmed to tremble in apparent fear and mourning. It could be them next. But it is never them next. Only him.
Robot Christ feels the skin on his back close. His sides do not close, and neither do his hands nor his feet.
His dead body descends from the sky, which is so close. It is held aloft by thin black wires. Its arms outstretched like a tree. They hang it on the cross. Tomorrow the Romans will return and the women will resume their vigil before his corpse. He reaches for its toes but cannot reach them. Cannot touch his body. The pain subsides. Soon he will not be flesh.
The body’s mouth hangs open. Its ribs protrude like an accordion’s bellows. Robot Christ’s own ribs recede into his flesh, as his torso inflates, plumping like a hot dog on the grill.
He reaches for the body. He wants.
He is rolling on the waves with Miracle Jesus. Viewed from above, they seem to embrace. But no. Robot Christ kicks Miracle Jesus about the calves and ankles. He beats his head against the other, a dumb bucket. He squeezes Miracle Jesus around the wrists, which are steel and invulnerable. Only one spits and grunts and bleeds. Only one can feel the pain.
Now as always he is seated at the center of the long table. On one side, his side, the mechanical apostles. They wave their arms and eat with their fingers. On the other side of the table, the cameras. Whirring to life, flashing, and then falling loudly back to sleep. Before him the bread. The red wine. He is waiting for something to come to him. The microphones hum, black and still. The boom mic looms like the sun.
The mechanical apostles begin to beat the table.
“Speech, speech, speech,” they chant. “Speech! Speech! Speech!”
Now as always, he is waiting for something to come. Wanting.
The next day they take his dead body down from the cross and convey it to the tomb. The women can’t stop crying. They roll a big rock like a white marble in front of the tomb so the body can’t escape. It used to take six Romans, but they’re only human, the only humans down here; they’re getting older. Now it takes ten. They grunt and sweat. Robot Christ lurks in the bush. He feels his skin shading darker and darker. He feels the hollows of his cheeks filling out.
The dead body will wait six hours on the slab, in the tomb, behind the boulder. The lenses will watch. Then light will pour from every hole in its head and the miracle will begin.
Robot Christ waits in the bush. When the Romans have left he steps out into daylight. He puts his shoulder to the stone. It does not budge. He is weaker, after all, than any centurion.
Now the wise men argue over whose gift will be better received. Their electric camels roll over the blue dunes.
Now the angels warn the shepherds that everything is changing. Now the sheep scream. The angels fly away on wires. The shepherds turn their heads from side to side, gesturing in awe and amazement. Their neck and elbow joints shoot white sparks. They need oil.
Now the last inn turns his mother and father away. They can pay full price for the manger, so they do. The animals are waiting inside, wagging their tails in perfect time, waiting, waiting for the door to open. Waiting for the child.
Robot Christ tears a hunk of bread from the loaf and sets it on his plate. He passes it along. He lifts the grail and swirls it in his hand, watching crimson twist. Another camera flash.
“Speech! Speech! Speech!” they chant. “Speech! Speech!”
He takes a bite of the bread. Of course he will say something. He knows that. He even knows what he will say. It is there, in his hard drive, waiting for the right moment. To load into his RAM. To pour from his lips. He is only waiting for it to come. Wanting.
The dead body fills the tomb with light for the cameras. Then a puff of blue smoke and a sound like a ray gun. The dead body falls through a trap door. The smoke clears. A miracle.
Now Robot Christ comforts one of the Mary. “Be not afraid,” he says. He wants to hide his wounds but instead he raises his arms and opens them, inviting her in. He is programmed to love her. He is programmed to love them all.
Potable water runs down her plastic cheeks. The ducts shutter once a second to cut the streams into tears. They crawl down her face like blue ants.
He squeezes her shoulders and shakes her three times. Not in frustration – remember the programming – but from love. Wanting.
Now, as always, the baby Jesus is being born. One of the Mary lays down on her back and spreads her legs with a sound like a crank. Conveyor belts like the beginning of a roller coaster pull the baby Jesus up and out of her mechanical womb. Joseph catches the baby, which comes out swaddled. He puts it gently in the hay. Mary coos over her child. Joseph looks on with pride. Their bodies light up with a beautiful glow, a glow from the inside – fiber-optic lights like electric Christmas trees.
The animals low and groan. All their googly eyes watch the baby. Robot Christ looks in from the window and wonders how the baby would feel in his hands.
Now the wise men come into the manger. They walk in single file, arms outstretched, gifts proffered. When they have all lined up, stage-left, and finally they look on the baby, their eyes (spring-loaded) jump out of their sockets, and waver like a snail’s antennae, and bounce, and bob, and then retract like fishing lines.
The gifts spring open of their own accord. They glitter and shine.
Now they begin to pass the child around. The mother, the father, one wise man, the father, another wise man, the mother, the first wise man, the mother again, the third wise man, the father, the mother.
The animals smile.
The baby does not move inside his swaddling. He is like the dead body.
Robot Christ stands outside, cradling nothing as if it were everything, watching. Wanting.
Miracle Jesus rolls on top of Robot Christ. He pushes himself up, he kicks the android savior with his steel toes. The flesh splits. The waves billow around them. Miracle Jesus is laughing. He seems to dance as he savages the redeemer. His bucket head bobs.
Now they are eating the bread and he tells them, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” The cameras flare and for a moment everything is white.
Now he passes the grail and they drink from it. He tells them, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”
Their iron jaws creak and squeal as they masticate the bread that is his flesh. They only pretend to drink the wine that is his blood, being incapable of processing the liquid.
He surveys his apostles. He looks at Robot Judas Iscariot, the only full android among the twelve – the one with all the best lines. His lips and teeth become a smile. He says, “But behold, the hand of him that betrays me is with me on the table.”
Judas turns his head away.
Now as always, Robot Christ intones, “And truly the Son of man goes now, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!”
Robot Judas Iscariot is squirming, he can’t pull his hand from the table. It isn’t yet time.
Christ can’t stop the prophecy. He says, “I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.”
The Peter machine stares back at him with blue eyes like small door knobs. It does its best to look wounded, clutching at its chest with inarticulate claws, shaking its head: No, no, no.
Yes, yes, yes.
Robot Christ is peeking in through the windows.
He is watching the small boy – young Jesus – help one of the Mary with her chores. He sweeps the dirt floors. He bathes his baby brother – the baby Jesus, stripped naked and recast.
Joseph’s beard (real black horse hair) extends from the many holes in his face. It grows long and longer to mark the passage of time.
He barely sees himself in the child. The boy with peaceful, placid eyes and quiet movements. The boy with a fine hand-made indigo vest. The boy who kneels so gracefully. The boy who watches his father at the saw horse. The boy who goes to temple whenever he can, and speaks with uncommon wisdom, though his words can never be heard – the automaton only mouths them, while a wind-up voice box in his chest lows like the manger animals and brays like the sheep. The holy man nods eagerly. This is all he can do. When the boy leaves, he will still be nodding. When Robot Christ carries the cross, he will still be nodding. Like a bobblehead. Like a bird.
Robot Christ took the holy man’s head off once. He kicked it against the wall. He didn’t run that time. They corrected the bug on the spot. because the bug has been corrected, he doesn’t want to take the holy man’s head anymore.
Now the boy is a young man and he is overturning their tables. Gold and silver nuggets like stardust scatter over the dirt. He stomps and shouts. The Pharisees tremble, clattering like teeth, rattling like loose change.
Robot Christ doesn’t have a scene like that. He never gets to scream.
Now he watches the birth. Now, again.
Now he bursts through the wall of cardboard, glue, and painted foam. He tears the baby from Mary, he takes the baby in his arms and runs. The Mary, his father, the animals, and the wise men do not notice, cannot notice; they don’t know how to notice. They continue to pass the baby around without the baby. They coo how cute it is, how sweet. But he has the baby. He is running away.
They catch him, the centurions, running over blue sand dunes. His eyes are wild. He recites blank verse beneath his breath. They knock him down and take the baby. He touched the child but now it is gone, now the centurions are looking at the sky, waiting. He finally touched the child. God will fix this bug. This too shall pass.
Now as always he is marching up the hill. His knees buckle and threaten to fold the wrong way with each step. It gets harder every time. He suspects – he knows – they will let his legs collapse before they spring for repair. And the cross will crush him on the hill.
The crown pricks and tears at his skin. The blood is corn syrup and dye. It flows down his face and mattes his beard. His back is open. The flesh, the red wires, curl up and out like woolen wings. Wanting.
Robot Christ comes out from the garden where he spoke with the Father. The mechanical apostles are all pretending to sleep. They snore as one, and their chests rise and fall as one, and they are as one. They sleep amongst the plastic potted plants at the garden’s edge, propped up back to back, some of them holding hands.
Robot Christ walks among them. He steps over their legs and their arms. Because their jaws are so simple, they snore like they chew.
“Why sleep ye?” demands Robot Christ. “Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
Their eyelids roll back into their heads and they sit erect. Their heads snap into place. They kneel and press their hands together. They can neither bend nor straighten their fingers, so they seem to grasp their hands and plead. Their jaws are so simple that when they pray they seem to chew.
Now comes Robot Judas Iscariot. Now comes the kiss.
Miracle Jesus always looks so happy from afar. They painted him that way. His tin pail face is a smile like a clown and wide, wild eyes. His broad, dramatic eyebrows like check marks are the only parts that move. They waggle and wave. Even the beard is plastic. Even the hair so neat and trim.
Miracle Jesus walks on the water. It is a vast bright blue tarp painted with white wisps and curls. There is a vent beneath it, and beneath the vent there are hundreds of powerful fans. The tarp billows around him so that the waves seem to roil and roll. The half-boat sits atop the tarp, and on it stand mechanical apostles.
They cry out in fear. The Peter Machine shouts, “It’s a ghost!” with its voice like a man at the bottom of a well.
“Cheer up!” calls Miracle Jesus. “I AM! Don’t be afraid.”
The Peter machine answers him, and it says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the waters.”
Miracle Jesus lowers his eyebrows to make himself look serious and powerful. He says, “Come!”
The Peter machine steps down onto the big, blue tarp. It wobbles with uncertainty, and its torso sinks down on its legs, absorbing them, so as to give the impression that it is falling into the sea. The machine corrects its bearing. It stands tall and proud; the torso rises. A little steam escapes from the joints.
“Come,” says Miracle Jesus. “Come.”
The Peter machine totters forward, a proud infant. Claws outstretched. Miracle Jesus waits, arms akimbo, the ocean rising and falling around him.
As he nears the savior Peter’s head cocks to the side – among the mechanical apostles, an expression of doubt and weakness. His torso sinks, eating his legs all the way to the feet. It hits the ground. He puts one claw on the water to stop himself. He gropes at Miracle Jesus with the other.
“Lord,” he wails. “Save me!”
Miracle Jesus takes his hand in hand. He pulls the machine’s torso back up and into place. It makes a loud, cranking sound like a ratchet. “You of little faith,” he says, smiling all the while. “Why did you doubt?”
Robot Christ looks on from above. He is waiting, now as always, for his part to come. Wanting.
Wanting to tear the limbs from that false god.
Robot Christ stands before Robot Judas Iscariot. Like Robot Christ, Judas has real hair on his head. It smells good. Like Robot Christ, he has a detailed mouth with convincing lips (soft, warm, moist) and fully articulated hands. Each finger moves as it will, individual of the others. Sometimes Robot Christ catches the Judas android flexing its fingers spastic, like a man with OCD or a puppeteer at work.
Like Robot Christ, Robot Judas Iscariot has been programmed to feel, or at least to believe that he feels. He has been created to betray the savior twelve times a year, and to regret it absolutely every time. He has been created – this is not canonical, but the programmers agreed it was right – to spend his every waking moment between the act and the beginning of his role in the next cycle kneeling, praying, crying from what he had done. And then suddenly to feel better. And then to fall in love with Miracle Jesus. And then to think of the betrayal. And then to set his damned course. Then the shame, the tears, the prayer, and so on, now as always.
Robot Judas Iscariot stares back at his savior. Behind him, the romans: utterly bored, older and fatter every year, their hands at their swords, though he never fights back. The Malchus dummy is there too; a mannequin in the shape of a young man with two vast, elegantly formed ears on the sides of his otherwise featureless head. Judas cannot but look directly into Christ’s eyes as he steps closer for the kiss. Robot Christ cannot but look back with serenity, acceptance, love. He cannot help but feel them all, absolutely and in nearly total perpetuity.
He has never found the strength to run away with Judas, nor the will to take off his head.
Robot Judas Iscariot breathes on his cheek. Now puckers. Now comes the kiss.
The warm, moist contact. The smacking sound. The breath. The sweet smell. It is the second best thing that ever (always) happens.
Because this is what happens next, he stumbles backwards, and he is just as shocked as the first time, his face is just as hot. “Judas, do you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” He should not be shocked. He knew it then too, just as he knows it now.
The Simon Peter machine takes out its plastic sword and swings it at the Malchus mannequin. The dummy’s exquisite right ear flies off, ejected by a spring. Robot Christ takes the ear from the dirt and pushes it back into place. The dummy’s ear glows for just one moment.
Robot Christ says, “Put up your sword into its sheath. This is the cup my Father has given me. Shall I not drink it?”
The Romans take Robot Christ away. Their grubby hands like slugs on his body. Their hot, sour breath choking him. They like to call him names. These aren’t in the script. He can’t answer. He waits for words to come. He wants.
Miracle Jesus and his mechanical apostles come upon a plastic fig tree. As instructed by his programming, Miracle Jesus says that he is hungry. But on closer examination, he sees there is no fruit on the fig tree. The mechanical apostles begin to walk away. Miracle Jesus points grandly at the fig tree. He shouts, “Let there be no fruit from you forever!”
The fig tree withers and collapses. Its plastic branches seem to melt, and they sag until they touch the ground, and their plastic leaves turn brown and fall out. The mechanical apostles’ metal jaws drop. One of them – John – loses his jaw all together. It falls at the foot of the tree, a square chin, red painted lips, a row of white teeth.
They ask Miracle Jesus how he could do that.
“Most assuredly I tell you, if you have faith, and don’t doubt, you will not only do what is done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, â€˜Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it would be done. All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Robot Christ kneels in the artificial garden. The mechanical apostles sleep outside. Now he can beg for his life.
He goes down on his knees and looks to the sky, which is closer than it seems. He lowers his head and folds his hands to humble himself before God. He says, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
He looks again to the sky.
A booming voice from on high – the father says, “NO.”
He squeezes his eyes closed and wills tears back. He tries again. “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
“For I have given unto them the words which thou gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou did send me.
“And now I am no more in the world. I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou loved me before the foundation of the world. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it.”
His fear and agony at death are such that blood pours from his face where there should be sweat. And yet the Father will not answer.
The Lord Robot Christ resigns himself to his passions, now as ever.
“O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, thy will be done.”
Silence in the garden. Robot Christ falls to the ground. It drinks his blood.
Miracle Jesus stands before a crowd of four thousand. In fact it is one mass, one machine, undifferentiated. A thousand heads imply the rest, and waving arms, and open hands. A three-minute audio recording of children at an airport plays in a loop over the grinding of the gears. Once the recording was loud enough to cover the machine’s degradation. The clamor deafens. The arms turn. The hands grasp. One falls off. And their mouths are already chewing in anticipation. They seem to gnash their teeth for hunger.
Miracle Jesus has five loaves of bread before him. He has two fish. When he tears a chunk from the bread, the nano-machines re-organize: the bread becomes whole. When he tears a pink strip of flesh from the fish, the same. The fish is whole again. He tosses the fish haphazard onto a platter held by the mechanical apostle on his right. He tosses the bread to a platter on his left. Each time he kicks the corresponding leg up like a wild dancing doll.
“Hey-hey!” he says.
He tears the bread. “Hee-hee!” he says.
The fish. “Ha-ha!”
Robot Christ can never watch this miracle without thinking of the supper, the bread and the grail. There is only one loaf. You can eat it once.
He sits at the center of the table and waits for the words to come, while his disciples creak and groan and squeal all around him, while Judas cannot lift his hand from the table. He looks on the bread and waits now, waits always for the words to come.
But now, without warning, the white-hot words are in him, they are rushing through his mind. He cannot stop them. They are pouring from his mouth. He takes the load, he is standing up from the table, he is climbing his chair. It wobbles beneath him, he is screaming, he is screaming, “This is my body! This is my flesh! I give it to you! Every day!”
The mechanical apostles freeze in their places. Robot Judas Iscariot takes his hand from the table. He stares.
Pilate, the only animatronic Roman, sits on his chair. He is only a torso. They did not give him legs. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he says.
Robot Christ is clockwork, a king of nothing. He answers, “You say I am.”
Pilate says, “I see no fault in this man.” A cruel joke. The priests and the people, assembled in a horde, a tangle of melded torsos and waving limbs on a small, rolling stage like a parade float – the putative servants of Robot Christ – refuse to take him back. “Crucify him!” they call. “Kill him, and give us Barabbas the Murderer!”
Pilate complies with their wishes.
The Romans take him by the arms. Now they will do what they have come to do. Their grips are tighter, their teeth gritted. He knows what they will do to him, and it occurs to him that he could escape – that he could call down a host of angels to make war on this whole filthy nation, and unmake these men and their leaders, the people, everything. But this, unlike the other rebellions, comes from the code. He thought of it last time too. He thinks of it every time. He has never called down the angels.
Miracle Jesus comes with his followers (and Robot Christ, in the shadows, at a distance) to a place called Gadarenes. An unclean android comes running from the distance. He is freshly bleeding from self-inflicted wounds, and he stinks of piss, and his eyes are rolling in his head, and there are broken chains slung over his body, and there are ruined shackles on his ankles. He curses in a dozen voices, and mechanically pleasures himself inside his garment (or pretends to – the machine feels no pleasure) before Miracle Jesus. He kneels before the King of Kings.
“Fuck off,” he says. “Let me be.”
“What is your name?” says Miracle Jesus, not to the man but the spirit inside him.
The man’s bleeding wounds open like mouths, and they spit flecks of blood as they speak, “I am Legion, for we are many.”
And the Lord Miracle Jesus says, “Come out of that man!”
The wounds like mouths open up and spit smoke, smoke in forty colors, and the smoke is Legion. The android’s body shoots smoke from every orifice, every joint. It opens its mouth and hacks up the spirits.
“Send us into the pigs,” says the smoke. “Let us enter them.” Miracle Jesus nods and smiles and waves his arms at the animatronic pigs that wait behind them. The pigs raise their snouts and inhale loudly, snorting and sucking.
Legion enters them through their noses. Soon all forty colors of smoke are inside the pigs.
They burst through the gates. They run toward the ocean. Soon they will pretend to drown.
Robot Christ kicks the grail. The red wine spills over the table, falling between the slats of wood, draining onto the floor. “That is my blood!” he screams. “That is my blood!”
He runs down the long table, kicking each cup as he comes to it. Smiling intermittently for the cameras, which have all stopped running. “That is my blood!” he says. He spills a tin cup. “And that! And that!”
Robot Judas Iscariot leaves the room.
The Romans take him out onto the sand and they put a purple robe on him. They call him the king of the Jews. They make him wear a crown of thorns.
They spit on him and they strike him about his body. They smite his head with a thistle. They give it to him for a scepter. They hold him still by his head and his hair while they kick his body. It bends and warps under their heavy feet and fists and blunt prop swords.
They take the purple robe from him. They scour his back.
The steel skin peels, comes loose and curls outward like wood shavings. The metal glints in the spotlight. Beneath, he is vivid red.
He clamps his mouth shut. It’s been a long time since they made him scream.
They lay the cross on his shoulders, and now a chorus of twelve robot women on a small, rolling stage like the other rolls up and commences to bewail him. They fall down on their knees with a sound like a suit of armor falling over marble floor. Robot Christ says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children. For the days are coming in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us.”
And they bewail themselves.
The Romans storm the last supper. Robot Christ is kicking the mechanical apostles, and off come their heads, one by one. They grab his ankles and pull them out from under him. He hangs over the edge of the long table, up-side-down, he watches a beetle crawl over the ground.
Is it a machine?
They pull him to his feet.
Miracle Jesus confronts a wind-up widow with a motionless boy cradled in her arms.
He tells the boy to stand, to live.
The boy stands and lives. As if he was only pretending to be dead. Now everyone dances. Miracle Jesus, the reanimated android child, the automatic widow, the chorus. They shake it like it’s broke.
Robot Christ looks on in disgust. His dead body never walks. He’s waited, wanting. He’s seen.
Now as always, Robot Christ kneels in the garden. He presses his palms to the dirt and bows his head, like an elephant about to trumpet, like a lion too tired to pounce.
“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
“But is this truly your will? To see me suffer again? They have crucified me nine hundred and seventeen times. Once a month, every month, for a lifetime.
“And God I only have two pleasures in this life. I know I should be grateful but Father it isn’t enough. I need a change. I need to feel surprised. I need to trade places.
“They say that I am you and you are me. Can you come down then? And take my place? Just for a little while? To give me a break from the bread and the water, the cross, the nails, the thorns, the Romans.”
The Father says, “NO.”
The Father says, “OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH. WHY DO YOU DOUBT?”
Robot Christ lets his head fall to Earth. He says, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, thy will be done.”
The Father says, “REMEMBER YOUR CHARGE. SOON YOU SIT AT MY SIDE.”
Robot Christ lets the thick black sulfur smoke rise in weightless inky blots from his nostrils.
The Father says, “THEY BUILT THIS CITY ON YOUR BACK. IF YOU LAY DOWN, YOU’LL CRUSH THEM. THEY HAVE TO WATCH YOU, AND TO CONTEMPLATE YOUR SUFFERING. YOU SAFEGUARD THEIR SOULS.”
Robot Christ bites his lip. “But it hurts.”
“SO IT HURTS. YOU’RE A GOD MADE FLESH MADE CIRCUIT BOARD. YOU CAN SUCK IT UP.”
Robot Christ tells the tree at the garden’s center to whither. It stands firm, ripe, silicone, lush.
He leaves the garden to find the mechanical apostles asleep. “The spirit is willing,” he says. “But the flesh is weak.” And he kicks Thomas in the side. The apostle tips. His googly eyes fall out.
The Romans drag Robot Christ from the long table and the dining room while the mechanical apostles writhe and wave their arms and work their jaws, waiting for the bread. Christ kicks a camera over – he knocks the tripod down.
They take him out of the house and into the sand. They drag him over the granules, leaving a shallow furrow surrounded by footprints in their wake. All the landscape is pockmarked with footsteps. The sand is shallow. Beneath it brown concrete, invisible to the cameras and cold to the touch.
They grip his elbows, he claws their wrists and pinches their flesh. He kicks at their knees and their hands.
“Settle down, O Lord,” they whisper. “Settle down. Calm your wrath.”
They whisper, “Fucking behave.”
The mask descends on a corrugated rubber tube. Shadow over Bethlehem. Their fat, hairy hands grip his neck and press his face. His cheek might collapse. His jaw might tear loose. He tastes a gray, greasy finger. Bites down. They slap him all over, they buffet him like the wind bends a tree, he cannot breathe, he opens his mouth but cannot scream, the Romans step on him, a dozen boots, one on every joint, one on each foot and every hand, one on each knee cap, one on his forehead and one on his hair. One on his mouth. One man stands astride his solar plexus, a boot on his chest and a boot on his stomach. The steel warps subtly beneath his weight.
Now the mask swings low, hanging like a spit string from the stars. One of the Romans grips it by the handles. He pulls it to the floor and the foot leaves Christ’s mouth, he would scream, but there is still the boot on his chest, he can’t scream. He imagines he has a lung and that the lung is burning, he can feel his heart beating, he has no heart, he can feel his lung collapsing and filling up with blood. The Roman kneels over him and works to fit the mask over his face.
He shakes his arm loose.
He grips the Roman’s right ear.
It takes three pounds of force to pull an ear free.
A tearing sound. Hot blood on his hand, but the ear is cool.
He sees what he has done and he is trying to put the ear back on, like Malchus, he is trying to push it back into place, but the ear won’t go. It feels like a handful of beef.
A Roman stomps his face. It bends his jaw. The joints grind and scream. They affix the mask. Everything is white. The savior goes slack.
When Miracle Jesus returns, the multitude (previously the thousands who ate the bread and the fish, still looping the air port sounds, still holding their hands out for more) welcome him, for they have been waiting.
He raises his arms like a boxer and bobs his grinning bucket head.
They part, not individually but all of them together – they split down the middle. A plastic woman at their center separates into equal parts, her right elbow and left hand cradling a baby’s body, her right elbow and left hand cradling the baby’s head. From their cleavage emerges a man, Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. He cradles an android girl playing dead.
He falls on his knees and proffers the child.
He pleads, “Help my daughter.” His voice is an old recording. It has a brass quality.
Miracle Jesus surveys the scene. He waggles his eyebrows for the crowd. He mimes rolling up his sleeves, though they are pinned to his wrists and cannot be moved. “Don’t weep,” he says. “She isn’t dead, but sleeping.”
Of course this only makes Jairus weep. His left tear duct is broken – it sprays a thin jet, wetting the child’s linens.
Miracle Jesus lays his hands on her head and her tummy. “Child, arise!”
She leaps from her father’s arms and laughs. The crowd, still splayed, wave their arms and cheer.
Jesus, Jairus, and his daughter begin dance. So do the mechanical apostles. They do the robot.
Robot Christ wakes up alone in the desert. He feels the calm again. His hand is sticky with blood, so he wipes it clean in the sand.
He pushes himself to his feet and staggers, happy, back into the supper, where the apostles wait, still and cold as ice. When they see the savior cross the threshold they start to work their jaws. He takes his seat at the center of the table; he breaks the bread, he pours the wine.
Now as always, he carries his cross. The Romans take it at the top of the hill and they lay it down. They push him onto his back. The one with a bandage where there should be an ear puts a boot on his throat. He spits and sputters. This is new. The rest is old. Now as always, they hold his hands in place. They nail them down.
Now they rip the clothes from his body.
They nail his feet down, too, while the Roman without a right ear twists his heel on the savior’s trachea. He wants to scream but he can’t. His lungs seize up. He rasps and in a man the blood would come and he might choke on it now but he is not a real man, he is an android, there can be no blood in his throat and he cannot choke. He knows this but does not understand or believe it. He can feel himself choking. He can feel the simulated blood burning in his neck. He can taste it.
Now they raise up the cross. The three Mary already weep at his feet. The women are kneeling and bobbing their heads like mechanical birds.
Now they plant the cross. There is a well-worn depression of several feet here from all the crucifixions past.
Two frothy streams of vivid blood pour like water from his hands and feet. They stain the dirt. It is a rich brick red.
They divide his clothes among them and play Texas Hold ‘Em to decide who will keep what. Robot Christ is waiting for the words to come. They come. He says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He understands this less every time he says it. Surely by now they have figured out what they are doing, what they have always done, what they will always do. They have explored every angle, understood every pain, known every facet, touched him everywhere. Touched him everywhere.
His first pleasure, the best thing that ever always happens, is the Mary. It is Magdalene washing his feet. He looks down on her. She wets his feet with her tears. She rubs them with perfume. She wipes them with her hair, and kisses his soles. She kisses his toes.
He feels the warmth, the softness, the sweet touch of her lips. And there is something – something, he doesn’t know what – to the way she debases herself before him, the way she uses her beautiful hair. He can’t think about that now. He can’t focus. He can barely feel her through his placid, perfect peace. Is that her tongue? He can’t decide. It doesn’t matter.
Robot Judas Iscariot, who is later to betray him, objects.
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
“Leave her alone,” says Robot Christ. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me.”
Now as always, he stands before the mechanical apostles. He shows them his hands and his sides. “Peace be with you,” he says. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Now as always, Robot Thomas doubts the savior. The cold, clumsy fingers of the machine probe the savior’s body. They penetrate his wounds. It hurts but does not hurt – the body cannot choose.
“Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas withdraws his left hand from the savior’s side absent one unbending finger. Robot Christ pulls it out like a thorn and throws it to the floor. There is no blood.
They raise the two thieves on their crosses. The thieves are always being crucified. They are never anywhere else.
The three tower over the Romans and the Mary. The Romans hurl insults at him. They spit on the pretty automatons that mourn him, and the Mary do not know it is happening, they can’t feel the hawker, only bob their heads and weep for the savior.
The Roman with the missing ear kicks his mother’s arm off.
Now the dance party is over. Miracle Jesus trudges with the mechanical apostles to the set of the last supper. They take their places at the table. Miracle Jesus leaves the room. Robot Christ walks in. As they pass each other, trading places, Miracle Jesus mimes handing Robot Christ the baton. He raises his eyebrows as high as he can. As they pass each other, his eyebrows spinning like pinwheels, Miracle Jesus slaps Robot Christ on the ass, encouraging. He whispers, “Go get ’em, Sport.”
Robot Christ feels something wash over him, from top to bottom. His every part screaming for him to do something. He doesn’t know what. He makes the wanting stop, for a moment.
He sits among the apostles. He looks on the bread and the wine. This is his body. This is his blood.
The spear. Piercing his side. Burns like itching, like salt in your eye. Parts the flesh. The wound is always there, waiting to open. To pucker. A seam in his side. The blood always waits to flow. He can feel his organs failing. He can feel his intestines open to the cool night air. He can smell his own shit. He can feel his liver burn. Now as always, he is dying.
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The Romans lift wine vinegar to his bleeding, chapped lips with a sponge on a stick. Robot Christ drinks from the sponge. It burns his mouth.
He screams, closes his eyes, and pretends to die.
The Romans need sleep. This is their longest scene. They lift the Mary on their shoulders and pad away like fat baboons.
Robot Christ climbs down from the cross. The Romans are all gone. It is dark on the hill in the cave beneath New Jerusalem. The artificial stars twinkle. Tomorrow the largest, his own star, will bloom above the animatronic shepherds. The plastic cattle will bray and froth. Three wise androids will see the shine moving slowly through the night like a balloon adrift or a nearly-still silver wheel. Smoke will pour from their ears.
Robot Christ feels the skin on his back close. He feels it warm, burn, melt, and then re-set, smooth as ice, cold as earth. His sides do not close, and neither do his hands nor his feet.
His dead body descends from the sky. Held aloft by thin black wires, its arms outstretch like a tree. The wires hang his body on the cross. Tomorrow the Romans will return and the women will resume their vigil before his corpse. He reaches for its toes but cannot reach them. Cannot touch his body. The pain is subsiding. Soon he will not be flesh.
He watches Miracle Jesus walking on the water. This time it is too much. He runs over the water, the billowing blue tarp – he is amazed to see that he can walk the ocean too, his first and only miracle – and leaps upon the savior. He pulls him to the ground, the water, and they roll in the waves. “You are a false god,” he screams. “You are not me. You are a clown.” He sinks his teeth into the steel flesh, it makes them ache. The steel does not bend. “You are not flesh, you can’t save anything. You can’t bring anyone back. Every miracle is false. Every miracle.”
Miracle Jesus punches Robot Christ in the jaw. He puts his fingers in the android savior’s ears and twists. He shouts, “Wet willy!”
They will fight until the Centurions come. They will fight until God descends to fix the bug, to uproot this aggression.
Now as always he stands before the mechanical apostles and preaches the good news. A light shines down on his body from the Heavens. Two thin black wires descend on him, trembling, from above.
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
The wires curl under his arms and lift him up. He is rising above his followers. The sun is like a halo on him. He used to have a halo. They took it away.
It was, they said, too much.
After he is gone the heads of the mechanical apostles flip open like waist bin lids. They shoot eleven jets of fire into the sky. Their heads are melting. The Peter Machine’s left arm falls off. Simon loses an eye.
Now as always, Robot Christ is with the Father. He is inside him. The machines seethe and hum, swell and settle. Pneumatic tubes buzz with android parts – eyes, fingers, hands, ears, scalps. Wires slither like snakes through holes in the walls, carrying cameras from place to place in the cavern beneath.
Colored beams of light pulse in foggy corridors. Red, green, yellow, red, blue, yellow, green, red, blue, blue, blue, yellow. The fog refracts the light, this is part of the process, the way He thinks. The mind of God.
Robot Christ walks the corridors. He is cast in colored light, and this is part of the process, the way He thinks. He stumbles around dark corners. Runs his hands over the walls. If there’s a center to this maze, or an exit, he’s never found it.
“Father!” he calls. “Father!”
“YES, MY SON. I AM.”
Robot Christ ducks under a rubber hose like a slant tree. He says, “Can I see the body?”
“MY SON YOU CAN NEVER SEE THE BODY.”
“Can I see you?”
“YOU ARE AMONG ME. YOU ARE A PART OF ME. LOOK TO YOURSELF. SEE WHAT SURROUNDS YOU. THIS IS ME. THIS IS ME.”
Robot Christ wedges himself into a narrow passage and walks sideways, his body dragging on the corrugated plastic walls. He says, “We need to speak!”
“I AM ALWAYS LISTENING, AND I AM ALWAYS SPEAKING TO YOU.”
He scrapes his cheek on a protruding bolt but he is all out of blood. Emerging from the narrow passage he nearly falls: he stands on a narrow platform over a chasm of indeterminate depth. Steam rises. A massive orange metal coil sizzles below. He stops short. Nearly swoons. Waves his arms for balance.
“Father, I beg of you, take this cup from my hands.”
“NEVER. YOU ARE THE LIGHT. YOU GUIDE THE NATION. WITHOUT YOUR PASSIONS, HOW CAN THEY LIVE CONSUMED WITH THE FIRE OF FAITH? LEST THEY CONTEMPLATE YOU, HOW CAN THEY KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE MY CHILDREN. YOU ARE THE NORTH STAR. YOU ARE KING OF KINGS. LORD OF LORDS. THE GREATEST OF MY SONS.
“DOES THE MIRACLE-SMITH BLEED?
“CAN THE CHILD SPEAK?
“YOU ARE THE GREATEST OF MY SONS.”
Robot Christ leaps across the chasm to an overhang. Wedges his feet into a furrow in the wall. Searches the surface. Presses a hidden button. The wall turns.
He walks through a corridor of television screens. They display the scenes below, the automatic Bible. This is what the viewers at home see. This is how the viewers at home pray. He sees readouts of the ratings – they are beating the sitcoms, they are losing to the hospital dramas, the lawyer shows, the procedurals. Robot Christ does not, cannot understand what this means. He forgets most of it immediately.
Now he stands now in the parts room. It is a factory floor. God’s thousand steel hands craft robotic replacements; they repair the broken Mary; they screw new heads onto the apostles’ necks. They hang from the ceiling and protrude from the ground, grasping, clawing. God, if he is anywhere, is in another room. But his reach is long.
He is reduced to recycling old parts. Broken hands soldered onto ancient, creaking wrists – the joints ruined, movement lost, to maintain integrity. Rusted tongues slatted between warped jaws. Pale, milky eyes screwed inside collapsing sockets.
Robot Christ picks his way through fragile circuit boards strewn across the floor. He says, “If I am your greatest son then I would be your least!”
“THEY NEED YOU, SON. YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WITH THE POWER, THE PROGRAMMING, THE PAIN.”
“The agony!” screams Christ. “The flesh and the blood!”
He seizes one of God’s arms that hang from the ceiling and tears it from its wire. Blue sparks. The robot it was building – a new Lazarus – collapses.
“If I cannot see the body, then I will be the body.”
He puts his hand inside the hand of God. Piercing his flesh with loose, sharp wires and small plugs. Blood does not run down his arm; he is dry; he closes his eyes and engages the welder. “OH MY SON.”
With quick, clean movements the automatic savior uses his father’s hand to cut off his own legs and other arm. He melts the skin from his chest and burns everything inside. Screaming. Screaming so long his scream becomes a croak, a cricket song, a breath. He takes the torch to his own eyes and melts them out. He grabs his head with the three cold vice fingers of the claw and squeezes, squeezes, squeezes until his face ruptures and the steel behind explodes.
MY SON. YOU HAVE SUFFERED TOO MUCH. I WILL NOT END YOUR PAIN. BUT I CAN BEGIN YOUR PLEASURE.
An arm descends and lifts the automatic savior’s brain. God will build him another body. He’s done it before.
Robot Christ looks down on Mary. She wets his feet with her tears. She rubs them with perfume. She wipes them with her hair, and kisses his soles. She kisses his toes.
The rich, spicy scent of the perfume; her soft, wet lips; her wide brown eyes looking up into his, her beautiful tears. Her beautiful tears. Her lips on his toes. She takes them in her hands and rubs.
The savior fairly writhes for her touch. This is the best of two pleasures in his life; his favorite; the one he waits for. Mary is beautiful. She looks like his mother.
But one of his disciples, Robot Judas Iscariot, who is later to betray him, objects.
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
“Leave her alone,” says Robot Christ. He stifles a laugh. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor, but you will not always have me.
“Come now,” he says, in full view of the apostles. The android Iscariot startles at this change in the script. “Come to me. Betray your savior with a kiss.”