Requiem for an Android
by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
part 1; part 2
Chapter 2, part 1
appear in this issue.
Chapter 2: Being Chased
part 2 of 2
Like many other prelates of the Catholic Church, Leonida Brown received a message that surprised her, because its touch of panic was out of character with the elevated peacefulness and stillness that was the usual stamp old, restrained church demeanor.
* * *
Saulcerite broke off a twig from a lilac bush in Leonida’s garden and contemplated the breeding of Arctic terns, which was fostered by some seemingly insignificant monks. In reality, they were the Ornithologists, the foremost specialists in the world on migratory birds. Their enormous knowledge about the peculiar migration patterns of Charadrius dominicus was overwhelming in the eyes of any layman.
The wise monks were being visited by a young woman dressed in the glaring attire of a rocketflame. In their greenhouse-like labeling office she was listening to the account of researchers who had begun the orderly mapping of the flight of migratory birds as early as in the 20th century.
A monk showed her a tiny box surgically inserted under the skin of the birds. “These birds are prepared,” the monk said. “The other will be prepared, too.”
Saulcerite smiled with interest. She lifted up a small box, held it up to the light, weighed it in her hand and, when no one was watching, she put in the tiny message she had written in the teleportation basket during her journey to Earth. Carefully she put the box among the others the monks had prepared.
The monk did not notice. He told her about the birds, about the enormous distances they covered in spite of their small size. Seemingly absent-minded, Saulcerite fiddled with another unprepared box and put another copy of her message into it. Through the glass walls, she glimpsed her woman-friend picking lilacs. She thanked the monk and hastened out.
* * *
Leonida Brown smiled a faint smile, when she saw Saulcerite. “You’re in demand,” she said. “What a state you’re in.”
Saulcerite asked, “Do you have any clothes for me?”
“Of the church?”
Eyes shrunk to a couple of irritated triangles. “Of the church! What else?”
Leonida Brown scrutinized her lady friend from tip to toe and let slip an ironical comment, “Well, who knows? Nowadays anything seems to be possible.”
“Excuse me, Leonida, but I have had a strenuous time.”
“What are you going to do?”
Saulcerite’s answer was crisp: “Get in touch with Mervil Tojas in the Vatican.”
Half an hour later, dressed as it befits a Catholic mater, Saulcerite sat down in the artificial field of pasemite and turned on the transmitter. A young man looked at her from the screen. He smiled and carefully bowed his head, his clerical collar tight like an ancient ring of iron around his neck. He was Librarian Mervil Tojas of the Vatican Library.
“Excuse my late arrival,” said Saulcerite, “but I’m on my way. I’m staying with my friend, Bishop Leonida Brown.”
Mervil Tojas nodded. “I know Leonida. But, Mother Saulcerite, this is urgent. I’m impatient.”
“Why do they want you?” Leonida Brown wondered, as soon as the clammy face of Mervil Tojas had disappeared from the screen. “They have been issuing a description of you, and the message seemed to be almost shaking with stress.”
“Dare I tell you?” Saulcerite asked. “I barely know, myself. What order do you belong to? Are you a female Franciscan, a Brigittine, a Personite, a Methodist, a Jesuit?”
“At any event, certainly not a Personite!” Leonida hissed and her voice was angry. “You know very well that I belong to the Gray Ones.”
“So...” Saulcerite broke off and then asked, “why are you so upset by my rhetorical question?”
“Because my experience of the Personites in general and of Mervil Tojas in particular has been disappointing,” Leonida Brown explained.
“I don’t understand. Disappointing? In what way? Tell me.”
Leonida Brown shook her head. “I can’t.”
“You can’t?” Saulcerite was astounded. Her eyes widened.
“I’m ordered to secrecy,” said Leonida Brown.
* * *
“Welcome,” the librarian said, his voice silky. “I’m Mervil Tojas. My status is obvious. I’m a Personite.”
“Oh, that order,” Saulcerite said lightly. “Just imagine.” It irritated her that he looked down at his desk.
“You’ve heard about it?”
“Certainly. I’ve every reason to know about it. My thesis about Gregoria I is closely linked to the Order of the Personites.”
“It is? In what way?”
“Cardinal Janis Latviensis...”
“I see, of course. It is... therefore that you...” he now looked up at her, “that lately you have repeatedly tried to obtain information about the order? I understand.”
“It’s not easy to get information about the exact particulars concerning the Personite Janis Latviensis, who devoted himself to the papal election of Gregoria I.”
“Well, well.” Mervil Tojas twiddled his thumbs. “That could be an explanation,” he said as though trying to convince himself.
But Mervil Tojas was not yet through with Saulcerite. “A few oddities have occurred on Bavaria, and I should like to inform you that this conversation between us two demands professional secrecy as binding as if it were a matter of confession. Excommunication is the consequence if secrecy is broken. And you don’t want to be put under a ban, do you?
“Well, I dare say... well... things have happened on Bavaria. We wonder whether or not you know anything about — let me see — android XM anthro 95G?”
“Never heard of it,” Saulcerite said.
Mervil Tojas could observe on his lie detector that she was telling the truth. “I’m sincerely glad.” He smiled at her and spoke more familiarly. “Just one more thing. We have a piece of information that you have teleported not to Earth from Bavaria but out to Semiramis.”
“Excuse me? What is Semiramis? A planet?”
Mervil Tojas had taken his eyes off the lie detector and did not perceive the vague deflection.
“It’s a distant star system. Forget it. So you came straight to Earth?” The question was put with lightning rapidity.
“No, I got ready. Then I journeyed to Earth and went straight to the home of my old fellow student, Bishop Leonida Brown.”
“Obviously mere chance,” Mervil Tojas muttered. “I’m sorry I had to accost you, but according to an old agreement between the Holy See and, well, the order I belong to...”
Saulcerite cut him short. “I must say that I’m very surprised at all this. I’m suddenly summoned here, to all appearances for the purpose of being made responsible to you, who serve as some kind of illegal court of law, and only because I happen to be interested in things that have points in common with your obscure little order.”
The librarian turned crimson and jumped to his feet. “Hold your tongue!” His voice rose to falsetto.
“Never!” Saulcerite roared back. “Should 99 bullies have the right to treat me like this!? It’s impudent and silly!”
Mervil Tojas managed to control his anger and regain his calm. He sat down and said drily, “Your outburst confirms my observation that you have shown interest in the Order of the Personites but without hidden malice. We have enemies. We must be on our guard.”
“No other order of the church needs as much protection and mystery-making as the Personites,” Saulcerite spat.
“Perhaps not,” said Tojas. “The fact of the matter is that there are those who want to do us ill. You will be given all the information you need for your thesis. You are permitted to return to Bavaria. Your engagement there has been renewed.
“But wait a moment...”
Saulcerite could not see the screen that Mervil Tojas was looking at now, but she understood that he had received news.
He made a sign to her to sit down. “Something has happened,” he said.
Rapidly, Saulcerite grasped the seriousness of the situation and reacted accordingly. “Androids!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me that it’s about a religious android?”
Mervil Tojas stiffened, his face twitching. “What does Mother Saulcerite actually know?”
“I know that a strange android in my church tried to... confess. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I sent him to a good friend, Leonard Priff at the Department of Android Technology in Bavaria City, but he ran away from Priff.”
“Yes, he ran away from Priff,” Mervil Tojas acknowledged. “And he traveled disguised as a certain Mother Saulcerite away from Bavaria and out to Semiramis.
“Your interest in us Personites has taken on quite a new significance. Our enemies have cunningly searched out a person who has a legitimate reason to study the Personites. That individual is you. In one way or another they attempted to make you understand the connection between your thesis and the Personites. They tried but did not succeed. You may return to Baravia.”
It was a trap! Wide open! It was so obvious that Saulcerite could not avoid seeing it. For if Mervil Tojas knew that Paxinterra had traveled in her name and her dress, then he also must know that she herself had dressed up as a rocketflame popular-music singer and traveled to Earth.
“Maybe that was why I did that strange thing!” she exclaimed.
“Maybe? What strange thing did Mother Saulcerite do?” he asked. “Out with it!”
“It was like I was sleepwalking. I put on the dress of a rocketflame and came to Earth,” she said. “I wondered why, but I could not resist the impulse.”
She felt her lie was so blatant that it creaked at all the joints in the universe. If Mervil Tojas took a glance at the detector now, he should know.
But Tojas did not look at the detector. He was totally thrilled. He looked at her. “Cerebral hypnosis,” he whispered. “Of course. That’s what they used. That’s the way it must have been done. I should have understood it and not suspected a servant of the church. Go now, go!”
Sweat was dripping from his neck.
She left him, but she knew that it would not be long before he saw through her story.
As tourists were passing by on their way down to the papal crypts in the basilica of Saint Peter, Saulcerite attached herself to them. For the day, three popes of the 20th century were uncovered. They were lying there, more or less well preserved. Pius X, the saint with his brown parchment complexion. Pius XII, badly embalmed by a dabbler, who appropriated to himself the confidence of the frail Pacelli. And John XXIII, the pope of interregnum, from whom the Catholic revival is reckoned. They walked from sarcophagus to sarcophagus, from crypt to crypt.
In the cafeteria between two crypts she bought three fast-food dishes to take out, a small bag with compressed nourishment and a rubberstamp emitting light. At the entrance to the silent crypts of the black catacombs, she lingered by the simple barrier.
When the tourists were gone, she took a step across the rope and into the darkness. She affixed the rubberstamp on the middle of her forehead, as though it were a caste mark. Ahead of her, the endless crypts of the sarcophagi spread down into the depths.
In the library of the Vatican, a furious librarian was raving that the Order of the Personites had been duped.
* * *
Bishop Leonida Brown had felt humiliated when Saulcerite contacted Mervil Tojas. Leonida recalled the agreement made seven years earlier. At that time, the Personites had demonstrated their disproportionately great power. To the participants of the ecumenical conference it all seemed like a compromise in a question of procedure. In reality, it had been a defeat for the group around Cardinal Mobades, the group she herself had been a member of.
The Personites had managed to postpone the question of the salvation of androids. Mervil Tojas had called her in the same way as he now summoned Saulcerite. Leonida Brown was convinced that now as then he would have his own way, showing the unreasonable power and unbending will of the Personites and — with the wording of the papal decree in view — he would establish professional secrecy stronger even than that of the confession.
But the painful humiliation that Leonida Brown felt turned to keen attention when the Wanted message was issued not over the clerical network but over the commercial network, and not only locally but to the whole universe. Mervil Tojas described the disappeared person and showed a picture of Saulcerite.
Saulcerite had been too çlever for the Personites. It was a thought that pleased Leonida Brown. However, she understood that Saulcerite’s prospects of fighting this powerful force were non-existent. But one week later she was not as sure of that any more. Mervil Tojas came to pay her a visit.
“You’re under supervision,” he said, and she was amused at that. “Mater Saulcerite has disappeared, as you know. You might be more involved in this than the facts currently show.”
“You’re wrong,” Leonida retorted flatly.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Mervil Tojas said.
“I would be glad if your horrible fellowship ceased to exist,” Leonida replied. “It is a plant of Satan in the herb garden of the Holy Catholic Church. A weed, a selfish lie.”
“My faith is sincere,” Tojas protested.
“But your means are satanic, unsound, mysterious. Your purposes are hidden. You’re torn between two solidarities, which are heading for a collision. You always fail in your duty to the Church. That is the status of the Personites, and why? Only because two egocentric characters at one time in the past compromised and made an agreement that the Catholic Church has to pay the cost of.”
“Don’t you accept it?”
“I accept it as a temporary fact, but no Pope has as yet spoken ex cathedra in this matter. And I’m delighted that the popes who have been of the Personites have not lifted a finger to strengthen your position.”
“Why should they have been lifting fingers for us?” Tojas asked. “But I admit that in a way we have been unsuccessful with our Popes.”
He was startled. To his alarm, he had said something against his will. He had said something he was not permitted to utter.
“I don’t know anything about Saulcerite,” he heard Leonida Brown saying.
* * *
On the volcanic island of Nightingale outside Tristan da Cunha, the director of the national park strolled about together with the chief forest officer Carolus Brainflower.
“An injured tern,” Brainflower noted. He lifted up the dead bird, ripped out the case, which he knew would be there, and pocketed it.
* * *
Paxinterra — dressed in the attire of the space dreamers — boarded the exploration cruiser Jules Verne and set out on its expedition towards undiscovered worlds. The Order of the Personites had lost track of Paxinterra or, as he was designated by his serial number, XM anthro 95G.
It happened on Celsius Street in the city of Siesta on the planet Semiramis IV, in the outermost teleportation stations that had been established by mankind on that planet.
* * *
Exhausted, the dazzled woman crawled out through a hole she had been able to make amongst the ramshackle houses of a Roman slum. She stood in a nauseating cellar dating to the third millenium. She was bleeding. Her dress was torn to pieces, her mind dazed, her thirst boundless. Greedily, her fingers grasped at the primitive wine bottles lined in a row in their moorings on the floor. Covetously she sucked up the tepid liquid of a forgotten vintage before she crept on and collapsed on the other side of a threshold.
* * *
“The case of Saulcerite is closed,” Mervil Tojas maintained coldly and stared hard into the eyes of Leonida Brown.
“And how long will the information be classified?”
“I can tell you that no information about the Personites has ever been declassified. There is no classification, only professional secrecy. The truth dies with those who know.”
“So, we must wait for the answers until the Last Judgment?”
“If you want, you might put it like that,” Mervil Tojas smiled.
“And what about the salvation of androids at the Last Judgement?”
“How do I know?” said Mervil Tojas and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not God. And neither you nor I will probably be alive the day when God makes himself known and permits the Pope to speak out.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk