Glance Over The Shoulder

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Doctor Alan Cresswell reached down into his desk drawer, shifted Sven the plush Moose from his secret resting place, and retrieved the bottle of Scotch he kept for occasions such as this. He noted, with little astonishment, that there was very little left. With reverence he carefully unscrewed the cap, and let the slight amber remnant splash over his dry tongue and become creeping fire down his throat. An anticipation of calm helped him to recall where the rest of it had gone.

He remembered when he got this particular bottle of spirits. It was a gift from when the SQUINT was first declared operational. SQUINT was a system of particle quanta-measuring devices strung around the asteroid belt for the purpose of resolving incredibly detailed telescopic images of distant vistas, and represented the pinnacle of Doctor Cresswell's career as a particle physicist. As the primary theoretician that described the various revolutionary theories that made the SQUINT possible, the bottle of Scotch was a personal congratulations from the chief engineer responsible for the design and implementation of SQUINT.

It wasn't until the amazing resolution and clarity of SQUINT was demonstrated later that Alan opened the bottle. Not only did they manage to locate a planet around a star over 3000 light years away, they could actually see details on the surface of the planet with such resolution and clarity that if by some strange coincidence there was a paper copy of the New York Times sitting out in the open they would have been able to make a pretty good guess at the headline. The capability of the telescope far exceeded all hopes, or even vaguely credible dreams, and certainly called for that first spur-of-the-moment celebratory sip.

Then they had discovered the extraterrestrial artifact. A gigantic array of nearly flawless mirrors, millions of kilometres across, that defied any attempts to attribute it to any natural phenomena. Alan remembered how his hands had trembled as he had taken that liberal gulp of Scotch, to help him ease into the realization of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy. How the world had crooned with shock and awe when the images were made public! An odd sense of lament settled over Alan because he understood that the images were actually almost 1200 years old, due to the transit time of the light, and that no communication would be likely in his lifetime.

Still, various ancient philosophical questions were given renewed life. Many of which were frustrated, as extensive attempts to locate any further signs of the beings that had created the artifact were not fruitful. Indeed Alan had taken a couple nips from his emergency supply of fiery nerve tonic during the search, using the calm and acceptance it brought to weather the overly-hopeful false positives. If only they could SQUINT at more specific details about extraterrestrial life, maybe they could have some clues about the answers to fundamental questions about the nature of life and creation.

The most popular explanation among Dr. Cresswell's peers for the mirror artifact itself was that it was some sort of ray defense, it's 90-degree cubic faces arranged to reflect radiation directly back from wherever it was sent. This spawned a new question: could SQUINT peer into the reflection of the Earth and see things transpiring thousands of years ago?

The answer was "yes". And it clearly called for another shot of Scotch. For the timing of the view was timed just about right to watch events unfold in the historical lifetime of one Mr. Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The SQUINT project's law firm, Laura Tortuf & Dyfrig, was inundated with legal questions about the requests to dedicate the SQUINT purely to historical and archaeological research via the artifact. Bureaucrats gnashed their teeth, pointing out the already slipping planned timeline for various research interests. Perhaps it was the benign findings of the lawyers, or perhaps the religious lobby groups had some effect, or maybe she just wanted to annoy the bureaucrats. But the project's enigmatic and reclusive leader, Erin, decided to allow SQUINT to watch the distant reflection of Earth full-time.

Years passed, as thinkers of all stripes conjectured and debated, as believers of all kinds cajoled and disagreed, and the whole world watched raptly. Alan and his team worked diligently to interpret the staggeringly complex output of the SQUINT into meaningful images. The results were meted out generally as best as possible for all concerned, with the obvious accommodations and exceptions made for Earth's rotation and revolution, of days and years and occasional eclipses.

For the primary audience, there was no doubt about who they were watching. When Alan first saw the images of the big-nosed young Jewish man, he felt a gut-clenching certainty that this was Him. It felt undeniably correct: the presence, the simple majesty of bearing, the disciples. That it seemed to be ever slightly more real and possible after a sip of Scotch did nothing to diminish the gravity of the experience.

The experience moved even the staunchest cynics. It was unspeakably poignant; a grand-master in the art of silent cinema couldn't have managed to convey meaning as clearly or eloquently. Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, and Pagans all became quietly transfixed along with their Christian contemporaries. They watched Him live, and preach, and teach, and die.

There were no miracles. There was no resurrection. He was just a man.

The Christian Church, in all its myriad and competing forms, was clearly shown to be a stack of lies. A fantastic fabrication of the wild-eyed disciples, crazed with grief and loss. Thousands of years of tradition and dogma immolated and became ashes in the hearts and minds of all those witnessing the reflections of what truly happened so long ago.

And yet... And yet, there was a lack of recrimination. While people could clearly see the staggering differences between the one man and his simple message and the clumsy colossus that the church had become in the intervening centuries, they could also see that there was no other means for most people of that ancient world to hear anything about that one man or his message. In contrast, by watching the events of His life unfold, the whole world had an opportunity to become a new kind of disciple - one with a kind of perspective previously undreamed of.

And so, Alan savoured the fading warmth of the last swallow of Scotch with a calm smile, his toast to a Second Coming that nobody had predicted.