Requiem for an Android
by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 1, part 1; part 2
Chapter 2, part 1; part 2
appeared in issue 248.
Chapter 3: The Extreme Abyss
part 1 of 2
A research android poses a simple question to Mother Saulcerite of the planet Bavaria: does an android have a soul that can be redeemed? Is it enough to be pious and law-abiding and to have free will, or is the non-human excluded by definition?
The question involves Mother Saulcerite’s research into the history of Gregoria I, the first official female Pope. The quest for an answer leads her to the discovery of a secret monastic order and takes her on a mission of espionage in the Roman catacombs.
When the time for secrecy, disguise and subterfuge is past, the answers to many questions will become clear, as they always were.
The Roman slum was a consequence of the great social blunders made during the planned economy two thousand years before. At a time of reactionary hardness, the lowest so-called IQ-beings had been referred to — actually banished to — certain parts of the big cities.
Loving couples had been brutally separated by the IQ-boundary lines. The policy of “intelligence segregation” — or, as it was also called, “genius apartheid” or “idiot distinction” — created districts and townships that rapidly turned into slums.
Nevertheless, it became evident that the grotesque policy could not cope with Nature. The fools persisted in breeding a few geniuses at the same rate as the super-intelligent couples begat idiots. Soon the average intelligence was the same as before the introduction of the policy.
A change of regime was inevitable, and the whole project was abolished and replaced with other crazy things. The IQ-cities were left standing — the new slum.
During the last five hundred years, slum clearance had been taking place on both Earth and other planets to get rid of the ghettos. Those left were the Roman slum and some smaller pockets of urban blight on a few other planets. The Roman slum was more compact and almost impassable. Bureaucracy, a loathing for the prevailing sanitary and social conditions, and political bickering between those accountable delayed the ultimate reconstruction of the area.
Mergovit Jem and her husband Toklas Jem belonged to the slum. It was Mergovit’s cradle. Her childhood had been spent at dilapidated motorways and airfields. She had lived her childhood and youth with her maternal grandfather, who had an antique shop. He dealt in robots and androids of older models.
The tattered shape floated, spread on an invisible sheet of pasemite. Mergovit’s husband had found the being near the wine cellar. Mergovit had done her best for the poor Gestalt. She shivered when she thought of the deep shafts of the wine cellars in the catacombs. The Gestalt was covered with wounds; it had stayed among the enormous accumulations of cinerary urns, mummies, bones, memorials, charred bodies, and blood bottles.
The thought crossed Mergovit’s mind again and again that this human being was a specter who had walked in the ice-cold dominion of the cryonists between the mighty capsules of the deep-frozen bodies. But the feverish body heat was not that of a dead person, nor was the faint breathing.
* * *
Salucerite was nursed for two weeks by Toklas and his wife Mergovit Jem before she recovered enough to get to her feet and walk.
The Jems were religious. In a niche on the wall, there was a statue of Lord Buddha. And one night Saulcerite told them everything. Thoughtfully, they nodded when they heard her story and they looked at each other as if they shared a secret, which they were to share with her. Mergovit said, “They must not find you. We want to help you. And we will show you something.”
They took her up to the attic. There were androids from all times past. Parts of robots with primitive electronic components from the beginning of the third millenium, when people just had learned to cultivate flesh and body parts.
“These are probably some of the oldest robots that still exist,” Toklas Jem said.
One of the robots was dressed in a toga. Toklas raised the toga. Saulcerite stared speechless at its breast. The emblem: a crucifix emerging from a test tube labeled H2O. She seemed to see the glimpse of a smile in the dead eyes.
* * *
To crown it all, Cardinal Mobades had disappeared from the Moon. Leonida Brown could establish only that the cardinal had said he would go into retreat as a hermit — something he had obviously done successfully.
The disappearance made everything even more complicated. No other human or non-human in the universe was opposing the Personites’ efforts to have the Pope and synod neglect the question about the salvation of androids.
Mobades was the one to consult about the disappearance of Saulcerite. But now it seemed as if he, himself, had disappeared even before Saulcerite came to loggerheads with the Personites. Leonida Brown wondered for a moment why Mobades had chosen the Moon, of all places, to lead the life of an anchorite. Personit himself had once been a hermit there, as had many others, for that matter.
* * *
Federal Chief Forestry Officer Carolus Brainflower arrived one year later at the residence of Leonida Brown. He entered the garden and, to his surprise, found an arctic tern. He observed the monks, who were walking in the garden and paying him no attention.
“I’m looking for the bishop,” Brainflower said.
The monks did not react. Carolus shrugged his shoulders.
Leonida Brown received him. She was sitting by a table of invisible pasemite.
“Bishop Brown,” Brainflower said. “I guess that you’re not going to tell everyone the things I’m going to tell you, even though I’m an atheist.”
Leonida smiled. “You want to confess?”
Brainflower made a deprecatory gesture.
“What is it about?”
“How do I know?” Brainflower said.
”I have only professional secrecy unless you confess.”
“Okay,” Brainflower groaned, “let me confess then. Do you know Mother Saulcerite?”
“Is it about her...?”
“I know Mother Saulcerite,” Leonida admitted in a low voice. She spoke slowly and distinctly.
She was also thinking very quickly: could this be a trap set for her by Mervil Tojas or that horrible Order he belonged to? It would be typical of them to use an atheist, she thought. But she said nothing. She only smiled.
“Less than one year ago, a bird came to Nightingale island. I’m the Federal forestry chief there.”
“An arctic tern.”
“An arctic tern. And here in this garden the foremost specialists in the world on arctic terns walk around in their unbelievable unworldliness.”
“I’ve realized that. But there was a little case in this arctic tern,” Carolus Brainflower continued. “In it was a message from Mother Saulcerite. It says that if she disappears and does not return, then it will mean that the Order of the Personites has deceived her. Or it will mean something else. The important thing is that she states her intention to seek out the Order of the Personites in its own lair, as she puts it.”
“Good God,” Bishop Leonida Brown exclaimed, terrified.
“She asks the receiver of this message to remain silent about all this and inform only Bishop Leonida Brown. As you see, I’m the receiver. I seldom leave my islands. That’s why I’ve not arrived until now.”
“And I... I can’t do anything.”
“You know what all this is about?”
“Don’t ask me. I’m tied hand and foot and brain. I’m forced to do nothing, I’m neither for nor against, even though you should know that all my sympathy is for Mother Saulcerite.”
“You religious people are really shady.”
“It’s worse than that!” Leonida Brown burst out.
“The message is written like a cry of distress.”
“I said my hands are tied.”
“Did Mother Saulcerite disappear?”
“I’m not even permitted to answer that question,” Leonida Brown whimpered. “But she is wanted.”
“It’s been announced on the universal commercial network. So it cannot possibly be a secret.”
“But without her name actually being named. As far as I can remember.”
“Yes. It’s very simple. You know that there is a catalogue of all the priests in the universe.”
The bishop nodded.
“There is a hint in Mother Saulcerite’s message that it’s dangerous to search for the Order of the Personites as well as things connected with it. Therefore, I went to the local library in Cape Town and looked up the name of a priest with a similar name, father Saulceritenius. He’s a real person; I know him. He was the Catholic pater on Tristan da Cunha five years ago. I got last year’s list of names. Mother Saulcerite was there too. Well, what do you say?”
“I cannot say anything.”
“Maybe you must even report my visit to some shadowy person?”
“No, that’s the only positive thing. But I cannot do anything. I’m not even permitted to...”
“... ask anyone for help.” She looked him straight in the eye.
“Aha!” said Carolus Brainflower. “I think I’ve gotten the message even though it was somewhat subliminal. You must not ask anyone for help, Bishop Brown, not at all. But there are people who are free and independent.”
* * *
A stale scent rose from the hole of the catacomb, an eternal rhapsody of silent silence. She bent over the hole, and no shudder at all fell through her body. She listened to the darkness of the catacombs. She listened expectantly, intensely, and she heard a silence to be glad of.
Yet, one year before she had experienced the blindness of not seeing. She had groped her way where galleries ended and vacant places and spaces sprang up. She walked in an existence of eternal October.
She had tried to go downwards, deeper and desperately deeper, with one single goal in view: to find the monastery of the Personites in the uttermost depths somewhere — to find the secret of the symbols, the crucifix implanted in the test tube labeled H2O.
The sloping gallery had rapidly narrowed into tight ravines. Floor and ceiling drew near each other and squeezed her together where she wriggled ahead through the secret land. Then she had seen the rosy light ahead of her. The gallery she was crawling through ended in a hall, an enormous subterranean depression. She had landed in a hollow on the other side of a cliff face hundreds of meters above the valley of the graves of the dead.
The rosy shimmer was like an eternally burning fire far away in the profound and remote distance. Perhaps a flash from the bowels of the earth — the process of fusion in its intestines, boiling metals kilometers upon kilometers far away in the yawning gulf of a bottomless abyss.
And now — one year later she was again at the very same place. She saw the steps leading down to the valley. Mad, shapeless stairs, ingeniously carved. She saw the decorative units, the yawning space-sharks, the bleeding fire stones wedged into the plastered walls between distorted stucco works executed by a perverted artist, maybe Nature itself? And the statues, petrified art forms from... she assessed that everything was a relic from the 26th century or so.
* * *
The vegetation in the valley was devoid of chlorophyll. Immobile yellow forms arose. Undisturbed by winds — they were mentioned in some gloomy textbook, as she well remembered — but she had never before seen anything like it.
She had been wandering for many days. Now she stood in a landscape of plants, where all life wore the pale color of death. Gigantic, they rose with a yellow paleness like deformed wax beans, stalks pruned of life.
She had followed meandering galleries, passed by solid sarcophagi, looked at exposed papal corpses. They were wrapped in cellophane, lying like Snow Whites under comforters of glass in oak coffins. She had seen their holy deathness — white like limestone, brown like red-leaded wall panels, or yellow like pale oranges — their mitres, their silence.
And now she had a presentiment that the goal for her expedition lay ahead. Where else, if not in this the valley of the living dead under the holy city, would the Personites have their somber life?
The outline of the valley emerged out of the rosy glimmer, with more and more marked graves, sarcophagi, beds garlanded with urns.
And there! Out of the silence a vague wreath of smoke meandered up from a meager shelter. She drew a deep breath. It was a romantic cottage out of old movies — for real. A residence from times long gone.
She heard something splashing nearby. She slid around a cliff. There the water gushed forth in a narrow streak. She reached out her hand. The water was ice-cold. She drank for a long while, and it was delicious.
Then the steps ended in the valley. A stony pathway led by a cross and omega symbols towards an abode, which seemed to loom out of the veils of the past. IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator) was written on a plate by the side of the door. IHS. She saw the monk who walked there, fertilizing yellow plants. He heard her and turned around. A pale face brightened up with a silent smile. His voice spoke even though he did not move his mouth: “The peace that passes all understanding!”
Were these welcoming words from a Jesuit?
“Have you been waiting for me?”
He shook his head.
“The Vatican is looking for me,” Saulcerite said.
“I’m alone here. Should I — we — be so foolish that we have searched for all those who have been wanted over the years, all those people, who for thousands of years have been chased down to this labyrinth? No, not I. Not we. We are no police commissioners. Cardinal Personit...”
He cut himself short and scanned her face.
“He obtained independence for us. All the same, we are — I am — the humble servant of the Church.”
“I want you to show me the way to the monastery of the Personites.”
“There are hundreds of kilometers of galleries and steps. I do not know where their mysterious monastery is situated. But I know where the many thousand-years old sarcophagus of Cardinal Personit stands, the big and happy sarcophagus.”
“Please, show me.”
He smiled. “Well, let us go,” he said.
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk