They regarded each other across the lacquered wood, the red glow of the overhead lamp throwing off facets from the bottle, the glasses.
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"What is it about my work that bothers you so much?" Midian said.
"We've had this conversation before."
"Indulge me, then, while I answer your question with a question. Why have the Temple at all? What are you trying to do? Ultimately, I mean."
Midian smiled. "Well. Think of humans-"
"Of whom you are one."
"Right. Think of them- us- as having two souls. The earthly soul and the heavenly soul. Mostly the earthly soul is in charge. While we're filing our taxes or eating breakfast or whatever, that's the earthly soul. Many people never make conscious contact with the other, the numinous. Ancient Greeks called it the Genius, the divine nature in all of us. Or potentially in all of us." He sipped from his glass. "But like I said, most people never make contact with the heavenly soul. Those who do, often don't understand what's happening. They become shamans, mystics, madmen. It is the responsibility of those who have made this contact, and recognize it for what it is, to lead those of the earthly soul into this bond. We can no longer afford for this to happen haphazardly. It's our responsibility to bring humanity into contact with the divine." Midian put down his glass and steepled his fingers. "Does that answer your question?"
"It's a better-sounding explanation than you gave last time," Christopher said. "Certainly sounds more self-sacrificing and noble. No mention of blowjobs this time, I note."
"Also," Christopher said. "It was the Romans who believed in the Genius. Good try, though."
"Fuck! I need to keep notes or something."
Midian turned on him. "You don't think people need guidance to reach enlightenment, then? That's what you're all about all the time, right? Yoga and meditation and magic."
"I don't do magic."
"Sure, yeah. So answer the question. You think the average dude can expand his consciousness without someone to hold his hand- or give him a swift kick in the ass- along the way? I heard a joke once about that."
"You know how dumb the average guy is? Well, statistically speaking, by definition. half of them are even dumber than that."
"Charming." Christopher set down his glass. "I heard one like that myself. Want to hear it?"
"Go for it."
"You have disciples, right?"
"You know what a disciple is?"
"A disciple is an asshole looking for someone to attach itself to." Christopher picked up his glass and downed the remaining champagne. He set it down again and met Midian's gaze. "You can't make people more self-actualized. By definition, in fact. Self actualized. You can't tell someone 'be enlightened'. Nor can you make them enlightened just by wanting it. If compelling speeches could do it, the Sermon on the Mount would be the sine qua non of illumination. If manipulation and hypnosis could do it, fucking Rasputin could illuminate the masses. I can tell you to be a better person a thousand, ten thousand times, but it will never mean the same as your internal realization that you could be a better person."
"I know that," Midian said. "That's just my point. We're trying to lead people to their own self-awakening."
"By instructing them as to what they should think, feel, believe, et cetera?"
"The earthly soul is a robot soul," Midian said. "Want more champagne?"
"Christ yes. Go on."
"The earthly soul must receive the right programming- whether from itself or another- before it can activate the heavenly soul. Therefore, until the heavenly soul is contacted, you can never be completely free. You are not really an individual until you are illuminated, and so we of the Temple will give you the fastest, easiest, and most effective map to bring you to illumination. Once there, you are free to do as you see fit, since you are now a king amongst other kings, rather than a slave amongst slaves."
"And, of course, the kings get to decide what happens to the slaves."
"What, are you looking for this sinister shit everywhere? Of course they do. You want to see what happens when you let the inmates run the asylum, just turn on the news. Maybe you've been getting off on being enlightened for too long. This is one seriously fucked-up world, and gazing at my navel and jerking off to the Tao Teh King doesn't work for me. Either there are smart people- enlightened people, whatever- and fucking idiots, or there aren't. And there are. I'm not gonna wait for people to fix themselves. Fuck that."
"More or less what you said last time," Christopher said. "With a few new coats of lacquer. You have a right to control people. Anton LaVey with make-up and drums."
"Oh, because you've never-"
"What is that?"
They paused. A toneless ringing sound was coming from the other room.
"Uh. Phone." Midian stood up. "Hold on." He got up and left the room. A moment later, the ringing cut off. Midian appeared head and shoulders in the doorway. "It's for you."
Christopher got up and joined him in the other room. He took the antique receiver out of Midian's hand and put it to his ear. "Hello?"
"You'd better be all right," Ella's voice came through the wire. "Because I'm freaking out over here."
"I'm fine," Christopher said. "How did you get this number?"
"He called you originally, remember? You've really got to start dealing with technology, you know."
"I use e-mail."
"It's a start. But you're okay, though? He's not hypnotizing your brain with evil fuckery?"
"No more so than usual. Manuel told you who I was visiting?"
"Yes, and it's not his fault. I made sad eyes at him...and bugged the hell out of him...until he told me."
"A weakness of his."
"Yeah, and by the way, when you get back, we're going to have a talk about telling your friends where you're going. Jerk."
"Yeah. Well. Try it again, and we'll throw down. For serious. And I'll smoke all your grass."
"Point taken. See you soon, then?"
"Better be. Worry about you."
"Worry not," Christopher said. "Goodbye, Ella."
He hung up the phone. "Midian? This thing may be older than I am."
"I hope so." Midian appeared, holding the mostly-empty champagne bottle by the neck. "I paid enough for it."
Christopher took the bottle from him and drank directly from the neck. He lowered it and wiped his mouth. "What was it you wanted to see me about again?"
"Someone called Cat is looking for you."
"She came by here the other night with a few dis- a few followers. I don't know how she found us. She was looking for you."
"For fuck's sake-"
"Didn't want to just spill it first thing. No one respects you if you put out without coaxing."
Christopher pinched the bridge of his nose. "Is there any more champagne?"
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.