Requiem for an Android
by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 1, part 1
part 1; part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 1: And Peace on Earth
part 2 of 2
Saulcerite did not do any research that evening. She hastened back to her parish church and posted the schedule for the requiems. The death struggle of the deceased Pope was repeatedly shown on the evening sky. Once again she noticed the symbol on his chest. She had seen it somewhere but could not remember where.
What order did Paul LX belong to before he became Pope? The Society of Jesus? Or was he a Franciscan? But what if the symbol did not stand for one of the famous orders? Maybe it represented one of the orders that had been created during the revival of the system of monastic orders.
Mother Saulcerite took the departure of the Pope as an excuse to get away for a few days from Bavaria and its irritating diamond moons. She felt a sweet relief as she got into the teleportation basket, which took her and tens of thousands of other beings by way of hundreds of star systems to the receiving station in Rome, on Earth.
But the influx of travelers in Rome was so enormous on the eve of the papal funeral that she was shown to a less utilized receiving station. Since she was in no hurry, she put up at the guest home of a convent of Brigittines. The simple, purple-colored room pleased her. A green, luminous crucifix adorned with a Christ figure, which all through the night writhed in pain, reminded her of the martyrdom of Our Saviour on the cross. Next morning she met the prioress in the rose garden.
“Has Mother Saulcerite been to a Brigittine nunnery before?” the prioress inquired.
“No,” Saulcerite admitted apologetically, and she thought of the thousands of monastic orders that the servants of the Church had given rise to.
“We disappear in the crowd,” the prioress sighed. “Nevertheless, our order is one of the oldest. We would very much like to spread knowledge about it. Long ago our order was founded by a Scandinavian saint. Her name was Birgitta.”
“Scandinavian,” Saulcerite repeated. “Funny. I heard that odd name mentioned not long ago.”
“The fact is,” the prioress said proudly and whisked her tail, “that this is the part of Earth where the so-called Scandinavians once lived. Today the territory is called Skandios. But most of the Scandinavians are gone and forgotten of course. Only a few experts and research androids know their history.
“Through the visions and revelations of our founder we know, however, quite a bit about those ancient times. The president of the country — they called him king — was detailed for penance by the Holy Mother through our Birgitta.”
* * *
Ten minutes before the great funeral ceremony, the local teleportation system broke down under the accumulation of passengers to Rome from all places on Earth. A few million people were dissolved into their constituent parts and suspended between transmitters and receivers. Feverishly, the engineers worked to prevent these people from drowning in the ether.
They had five minutes in which to work, and most people were saved. Only a few travelers from Petropavlovsk were drowned, because the connection between the transmitter in Petropavlovsk and the receiver in Rome was established only after seven minutes.
The teleportation network was equipped with restoration circuits, but the passengers from Petropavlovsk were only a bloated pulp of misjoined human bodies in one big blob of flesh and blood and bone and hair. Immediately after the papal funeral, the victims were burned at a gigantic pyre on the shores of the Ganges.
Saulcerite had to wait for fifteen minutes before she could be transmitted. She eventually decided to watch the ceremonies in a bar instead of crowding with other travelers. She had a cup of coffee while the magnificent funeral service commenced. On another screen, a news channel churned out the latest information about the breakdown of the teleport communications. Horrifying footage was shown. A reporter supplied a very businesslike voice-over commentary.
While the procession of clerical dignitaries paraded into the church of Saint Peter towards the body of the Pope on display, the anchorman of the Vatican Channel narrated the proceedings and showed rapid flashbacks: the coronation of Paul LX; his canonization of Perry Cartwright; stock pictures of the Pope as a cardinal leading deliberations at the latest ecumenical council.
Mother Saulcerite opened wide all her ten senses.
The reporter was saying, “Among the peculiar details during the ten-year long conference, one might recall the question of the mental and intellectual faculties of robots and androids and the question of salvation of artificial beings. The issue is said to have been raised behind locked doors by Cardinal Mobades, who was of the opinion that the problem, owing to certain circumstances, ought to be discussed.
“He asserted that the Pope should establish ex cathedra and once and for all the opinion of the Catholic Church on this matter. Obviously, the problem immediately became the subject of controversy, although nothing appeared in public to confirm such a conclusion.
“The discussion of the matter turned chaotic, and it is hard to say whether the question was postponed till the next ecumenical council or if it even reached the point of postponement. It is no secret that the meeting was concluded in a great hurry and that only a tenth of the agenda was discussed.”
Once again a fragment of the death struggle of the deceased Pope was shown. Saulcerite perceived that the symbol on his chest was a simple crucifix, but it was submerged in a test tube. She recalled that it must be the symbol of the Order of the Personites. A cardinal of the Order of the Personites had been the foremost advocate for the election of Gregoria I — at least according to some sources. It was not exactly known what happened that day when Gregoria I was elected the first official female Pope.
In Rome, the transmitters were up to speed at hundreds of places. Pictures were mixed rapidly and effectively. Cameras hovered over the dead Pope. They zoomed in on faces on the Plaza of Saint Peter, caught the beards of the Orthodox, the gold crosses of the Lutherans, the red and the white togas of the Buddhists, the hats of the Jews and Muslims, cross-marked tentacle-clothes of the Venusian Christians, and the old-fashioned clothes of the Eastercostals.
There were also Hindu gurus, naked except for white loin cloths; Jainist monks, totally naked, which befitted the sky-clad ones; there were the Occultists, the scientologists, the moon-worshippers, the Exorcists, the Baptists, the Theosophists and the Anthroposophists.
Saulcerite sensed a slight feeling of discomfort when Paxinterra appeared on the screen. He was standing there — the camera stayed on him for a long while — sandwiched between a nun and a prefix worker, who was still in work clothes. Paxinterra was not wearing his T-shirt with the H2O symbol.
* * *
The next day Saulcerite asked the prioress if she knew anything about the Order of the Personites.
“Of course I do. My brother belongs to that order,” the prioress croaked and brightened up.
“So your brother is a monk?”
“He's a cardinal.” The eyes of the prioress beamed with pride.
“He is? Is it a big order?”
“Not big, but it has produced many great popes and cardinals,” the prioress said. “No, it's not big at all. On the contrary, I would guess that it's the smallest order in the universe. There is — and now the prioress whispered, as though disclosing a secret— only one Personite monastery in the cosmos nowadays.”
“And where is it located?” Saulcerite wondered.
“In Rome. Where else would it be?”
“Where in Rome?”
The prioress seemed to become scared. Rapidly she looked around as though to make sure that nobody would be listening to her answer. “Deep under the Vatican, somewhere among the sarcophagi of the popes.”
“I must say I've never heard of that,” Saulcerite replied.
“The Order of the Personites is not publicity-minded. It has always worked in silence. I'm sure it has done a lot of good. And it has always been represented in the Curia.”
“Are not all the orders represented there?”
Now the one-eyed prioress looked angry. “Our order is not represented there and has not been for many hundreds of years.”
That day the college of cardinals was locked in conclave, and Saulcerite went to Rome to pray in the Holy City and witness the results of the papal election. After ten minutes the thin, light smoke went up through the chimney and everyone knew that a new Pope had been elected.
Out onto the balcony walked the chairman of the college of cardinals: “Lo, I bring you a great joy. Papam habemus. We have a new Pope.”
And there he was. John XXXIV, Cardinal Petroni, the representative of the Personites among the cardinals. Saulcerite sensed a certain unpleasantness. Too many things were fitting together in a way she could not determine. She dismissed the improper feeling when Il Papa blessed them.
It was not until she was to depart for Bavaria and was saying goodbye to the prioress that she was reminded of one of the connections and sensed something resembling fear.
“Oh, what a joy, Mother Saulcerite,” the prioress sometimes rumbled and sometimes hissed. “My brother, my own brother has been elected Pope.” And the prioress merrily and loudly knocked her long tail on the floor.
Back on Bavaria, Saulcerite could not rid herself of the sensation of an approaching danger of cosmic proportions. Again she performed her duties as a servant of the church. Again she worked on her thesis. Again Paxinterra sat and listened to the Mass. Again he was wearing his T-shirt with the H2O symbol.
She saw the coronation of the Pope in the sky on another moon-free day. “Tu es Petrus,” the choir sang and the camera zoomed in on the hands of the Pope in a close-up. There was the ring of Peter, worn by all the kissing it received, but there was something else on another extremity. A ring with the symbol of a crucifix immersed in a test tube. She could easily read “H2O.” And the choir sang, “Glory be to God on high and peace on earth...”
Before the tiara was lowered down over the new Pope, Saulcerite saw that he removed the ring with the remarkable symbol.
And Paxinterra, who came walking on the avenue, smiled at her and asked to be allowed to sit down with her while the picture on the sky-screen was obliterated by the rainbows, which formed their spans in all directions over the scenery in a sudden torrential rain.
Copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk