THE GOD MARK • by Brian Toups

We’ve all known each other for a long time, since the beginning, and a little while before that. We’ve worked on this assembly line for all of our corporeal lives, and it pleases us to do so. I stamp another one, a girl child, and hand her off to a cherub to be woken up.

Our floor manager appears behind me. “Azriel, could I see you in my office?”

“Of course,” I say, never ceasing my work.

As each child comes formed, gendered, and alive, I give it a final stamp on its foot, Made by God. Mine is the last station of the assembly line and it has been occupied, with the exception of a single rest day each week, since light was spoken into existence. During my prayer break, I meet Mike in his office.

A soldier in his early years, he gets right to the point. “I’m sorry about this, but you’re getting laid off.” When I say nothing he continues. “You’ve been here longer than anyone so I’m telling you first. I expect your discretion.”

“Me?” I manage at last. “I don’t understand.”

“This decision is from the top. It applies to everyone in the department, even me.”

“You can’t be serious.” I feel my wings twitch. “This has been my life since the garden. I stamped Adam and Eve.”

“We know that, and we appreciate everything you’ve done. But the Boss is taking creation in a new direction. Newborns won’t need stamps any more. They’ll be born through other people.”

“A carnal process? How will they come to know God?”

“He won’t be so obvious anymore.”

“The stamp.” I begin to sweat. “It’s the only way they know where they came from. Think of the questions that will arise in its absence. Existential questions. Confusion on a massive scale! They’ll have to think and reason. Some will doubt.”

“We’ve adjusted for all that. Sure, newborns won’t have the mark of the maker on them anymore. But it’ll turn out good in the long run. There’s a whole reproductive process. We’re going to implement it in animals first, then the rest. We’re running a contest. It goes official tonight. You should see some of the brilliant reproductive ideas the folks in the Creative Department came up with.”

“I don’t want to hear another word,” I say.

“Relax. Maybe you should submit an idea.”

I walk out and shut the door behind me.

Ari, my neighbor on the line, notices my distress. “Peace,” she says in her calming way. “What’s wrong?”

I glance over at her station, the one before mine. She assigns genders, male and female. Unlike angels, who choose their own gender upon manifestation, humans receive gender seals on the tongue. “What would you do if you weren’t here?” I ask. “If humans didn’t need gender seals anymore?”

She shrugs her lithe shoulders. “I’d go where the Boss sends me.”

“What if you could go anywhere, do anything you want?”

She seals a child male and hands him to me. “I think I’d open an insurance company. It would be for the humans, of course, protection in return for prayers. I’d call it Guardian Insurance.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” I stamp the boy. “You should do it. Heaven knows they need all the help they can get, even more so after…”

“After what?” she asks perceptively.

“Nothing,” I mutter.

I finish my work as best I can. These will be the last humans I stamp. These infants, male and female, conceived and fashioned and loved into existence. What will the new form of conception consist of? I remember what Mike said about the contest. It’ll go public soon, and everyone will want a piece of the creative process.

I take certain pleasure in seeing these lives go by. I know it’s selfish, but I’ll miss each of them. I worry more for the new creations, the ones without the stamp, the ones who will guess and wonder at the stars and spend their lives searching for purpose. I feel for them, for the terrible mystery of it all, a mystery so easily solved by my mark on the sole of the foot.

The day ends and my workstation shuts down. Above, the fiery threads of the multiverse brighten and expand like blood vessels as millions of angels knock off and clog the lightways. I stare up at the gridlock feeling lost, not wanting to go home.

“Azriel,” Ari steps out of Mike’s office with tears in her nebula eyes.

“He told you,” I say, sounding as miserable as she looks. “What will we do, Ari?”

“We’ll be fine,” she says, composing herself. “It’s the children we should pray for.”

“I don’t know how to help them, not after this,” I say. “Why would someone who’s omniscient need to crowdsource ideas anyway?”

“Why create a world?” Ari counters. “Some things are beyond us. Remember how you learned to fly?”

I nod. “The Boss came up behind me like a deep breath—and pushed me out of heaven.”

“And it worked,” Ari says. “I think that’s his way of teaching. If it made sense, it wouldn’t be love.”

“Love,” I repeat, a spark of genius lighting my eyes. I clutch her by the arm. “That’s what I’ll give them, Ari. I’ll give them love!”

She looks at me, not understanding. I kiss her once on each cheek and take flight, passing recklessly close to a comet’s ion tail.

I want to get back at the Boss, at Mike, at everyone responsible, beat them at their own game. I’ll submit an idea for the new conception—an idea so screwed up, so wild and uncivilized they’ll have to take it. It will be a form of reproduction suitable for beings such as these. Beings born into yearning and loneliness, crying out for a maker who has left them stranded. It will be tragic and comic. It will be savage and tender. I know just the thing.

Brian Toups lives part time on Earth, part time in the multiverse of fantasy. When not telling stories, he enjoys touring National Parks where he finds inspiration in the scenery and in the people he meets. His favorite sport is Ultimate Frisbee, which he plays with as much enthusiasm and slightly less aptitude than a Labrador Retriever.

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