Would you like to read more?
I’ll be posting the first few pages of some stories. If you’d like to read more, tell me!
Here’s the first:
The Church of the Three Commandments: Audit File 1771, Church of the Thinking Hedonist
File Entry #1: I arrived on the site of the planetary headquarters of the Church of the Thinking Hedonist (hereinafter the “Subject Church”) at 5:00 p.m. Brunch City time.
Sometimes I wonder whether my boss at Agnostics, Inc. isn’t some virtual Jiminy Cricket they saddled me with in therapy. I swear I hear Buddy in my head, debating the Three Commandments, even when I’m out on independent assignment.
Especially on assignments where I can only pretend to “Respect” the Church sect I’m auditing.
Sometimes, in the corner of my eye, I even see a cartoon of my boss. Like today, when a tall, simpering odalisque blocked me from entering the nave of the stone cathedral of the Church of the Thinking Hedonist. As I swished my long skirts in frustration, Buddy appeared as a stork dressed in a saffron, off-the-shoulder bed-sheet, nattering full-steam about Respect. And Kindness. And Waste.
“My pleasure to pleasure you,” said the odalisque. Delight widened her big eyes as she purred the sect’s creepy standard salutation. “We are honored to…”
I didn’t care to hear what she was honored to do, so I peered past her shoulder and tried to listen to the afternoon service, instead. The one Thinking Hedonist contribution to culture I actually did Respect was their liturgy:
“The pleasure of teaching,” intoned the impossibly handsome soon-to-be-ex High Priest. He stood high above the congregation in his pulpit, bare chest and arms muscled like dreams I’d never admit.
“And the pleasure of learning,” responded the congregation.
“The pleasure of company,”
“And the pleasure of solitude.”
“The pleasure of sweet,”
“And the pleasure of salt.”
“The pleasure of teasing,”
“And the pleasure of being teased.”
The odalisque blocking me was tailor-made for the last couplet. Slim except where men liked poufy, the impossibly radiant woman looked just old enough to know all the tricks.
Like my older sister looked when she took off her apron. But the odalisque’s full-length robe of color-shifting strings, playing peek-a-boo with all the nude mysteries a lover might plumb, would have scandalized Sister Dinah more than Cousin Joshua’s sin with the Enhanced® heifer.
“Ah, please just show me to your administration office,” I said as the vision rustled a step closer. I smelled the ocean on her skin, roses in her flowing gold hair. Retreating a step, I raised my hands between us: “Ah, no offense, I’m not here for, uh, pleasure. I’m Auditor Sarah Newell.”
I don’t know why the priestess rattled me. I mean, the Thinking Hedonists complied with the Three Commandments, so she wouldn’t dream of forcing herself on me. Or even touching so much as my hand without permission.
Plus, while I was surer than a good agnostic should be that the theology of the Thinking Hedonists was wrong, at least it made efforts to avoid inconsistency and hypocrisy. Unlike the Omnipotent, Omniscient Prick of my birth Church.
Thinking Hedonists believed that a non-omnipotent, non-omniscient Creator devised this universe, distinguished by its capacity to evolve life-forms, to generate pleasure. Life-forms expressed the Creator’s will by creating and sharing the greatest variety and intensity of pleasures of which they were capable.
The odalisque half-curtsied. “Of course you are Auditor Sarah Newell. The High Priest charged me to welcome you.”
The High Priest charged an odalisque to welcome me? At most, I was expecting a notary.
From the nave, the back and forth liturgy swelled:
“The pleasure of dreaming,”
“And the pleasure of awaking from a dream.”
“The pleasure of the chase,”
“And the pleasure of the catch.”
“The pleasure of an old lover’s touch,”
“And the pleasure of a new lover’s touch.”
Something was making me sweat. Maybe the liturgy? It was a lot more disconcerting coming from a room full of live, panting parishioners than from a downloaded bead.
The odalisque’s smile overflowed into a gentle laugh. I stood up straighter. You never laugh at an Auditor. “And you are?”
“My name is Therese. I am one of the Candidates for the Election.”
She was one of the Candidates for High Priest? In the competition I was here to audit? And her name was—
Not “The Therese?” I blurted.
Her open smile twisted to wry, confiding. “Indeed.”
Involuntarily, I flinched, forcing myself to stop after one step back. I wasn’t Amish Reborn anymore.
“Please don’t be uncomfortable,” said the infamous succubus.
I didn’t believe in the Church of the Amish Reborn, or any other sect since my Ecclesiastical Court-ordered therapy. But practicing the First of the Three Commandments, Respect, was a condition of working for Agnostics, Inc.
But, Respect this whore? The whore who won the Ecclesiastical Court case approving child prostitution on Brunch? The depth of cynicism and depravity required to nominate this creature to lead a Church left me speechless.
“The pleasure of fasting,”
“And the pleasure of feasting.”
“And the pleasure of excreting!” yelled some giggling young voices.
“The pleasure of applauding,”
“And the pleasure of booing.”
“Ms. Newell? If it would make you more comfortable, I’d be happy to tell you the whole story,” said the succubus. “It is so easy for even professionals to be influenced by uninformed gossip.”
“No, no, not necessary,” I almost squealed. Embarrassed, I lowered my voice and added, “Besides, why would your ‘story’ have anything to do with my job?”
For a moment we just stared at each other.
“The pleasure speeding down highways,”
“And the pleasure of ambling along byways.”
“The pleasure of adoring,”
“And the pleasure of being adored.”
“The pleasure of mastering,”
“And the pleasure of being mastered.”
“The pleasure of trusting,”
“And the pleasure of being trusted.”
“Don’t you know?” the succubus asked. “You are responsible to choose the new High Priest.”
File Entry #2: Before proceeding with the Audit, I clarified the parameters of my assignment with Priestess Therese and the retiring High Priest of the Subject Church, as well as with the Director of Agnostics, Inc.
“What the farce is this?” I spat on my comm to Buddy after “The Therese” politely disappeared into the cathedral.
“An audit,” said Buddy.
“Bull-hockey,” I said. “Isn’t my probation over? Is this another test? How is picking a new High Priest for these lightweights supposed to prove I’ve overcome my prejudices? All three Candidates are gonna push my buttons!”
“You are over-thinking, Sarah. The CLIENT asked for you. You arrived. You do your job.”
My video was off, but I could imagine Buddy in his outdoor office under his banyan tree, the image of calm and reason in lotus position. When Buddy said “CLIENT” in capitals, it meant the Church of the Three Commandments herself, the owner and governor of the ecclesiastical planet Brunch.
All the sects co-existing on the planet submitted themselves to the CLIENT’s authority and complied with her Three Commandments. At least in the sense that the English barons submitted themselves to the authority of the King in Earth’s middle ages, and complied with his edicts.
The firms the CLIENT chose as Auditors, like Agnostics, Inc., provided the information on which the CLIENT determined sufficiency of compliance. More than half our business came from the CLIENT. So, yeah, when the CLIENT asked for something, we jumped.
But, “My job is to gather and analyze information. Not to make choices based on that information.”
Buddy sighed. “Sarah, choice is inherent in information analysis. The distinction you make is a fallacy.”
“Yeah, yeah, All Is One. For you as a lapsed Buddhist, and a lapsed quantum physicist. But you have to Respect my view of the—“
“No,” said Buddy in Command voice. And that quickly, he changed from debating partner to Boss. “We represent the CLIENT. We must Respect the CLIENT’s view.”
So we pinged off and I sat sulking on the moss-cushioned ledge surrounding one of the fantastical waterfalls irrigating the overdone garden outside the narthex. I Wasted half an hour sniffing more perfumes than an aromatherapist, until a great roar thundered from the cathedral:
“The pleasure of completing an old work;
“And the pleasure of beginning a new work!”
And thus the afternoon service and the reign of the current High Priest ended together.
Moments later, the newly-Ex High Priest strode toward me in all his bare-chested glory.
Which was breathtaking. And just the right bit hairy. I bit my tongue when he sat down next to me.
“My pleasure to pleasure you,” he smiled. It didn’t sound so creepy coming from him. “So, did Therese explain the competition to your satisfaction?”
Farce! “Uh, I didn’t give her the chance, sir. Professional rules require I obtain information from the authoritative source, not a secondary source.” Well, they did.
His chest expanded and contracted with a sigh, muscles rippling in fascinating ridges. Light-years from Buddy’s sighs. “I had hoped to leave immediately, but I can spare you half an hour. We can share ‘the pleasure of watching the sun set’.”
But not “the pleasure of watching the sun rise,” I found myself completing the couplet automatically. And blushed harder.
No, I was a professional. I had to say something. “Um, is it usual for a High Priest to retire so young?”
His burst of laughter was hearty and warm and sexy enough to convert anybody. “Thank you, my dear, but no one wants to learn pleasure from a middle-aged grandfather, no matter how well-preserved. And it’s beyond time for me to focus on the pleasures of family instead of congregation.”
Grandfather? But I was missing what he was saying…
“…and with your Amish Reborn background, I thought you might be more comfortable learning the competition details from another woman, rather than from me. Therese is the only female Candidate this turn. But truly, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You do us great honor, and I trust the competition will bring you great pleasure.”
The High Hunk frowned. “The selection process is quite straightforward. And duly registered with the Church of the Three Commandments. Each candidate is given an equal chance at providing you pleasure. The one you say did the best job, wins.”