Issue XII -- Spiritual Science Fiction

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Read about the contributors to our twelfth issue and see excerpts from each article or story.  

Issue XII Contents

Evangel -- K.D. Wentworth

A Bad Day All Around -- Mike Moscoe

Zen and the Art of Computer Programming -- Philip J. Lees

In the Aftermath of Something Happening -- Laura Anne Gilman

Gathering Shards -- Julia West

Ganymede -- Sarah A. Hoyt

Engines of Creation -- Isaac Szpindel

Evangel ©2004 - K. D. Wentworth

Leigh hovered across the street from the Krisht mission, which rose, tall and iridescent, in place of a former discount department store. Ten months earlier, the Krisht had purchased the lot, leveled the site in one soundless, incandescent burst of light, parking lot and all, then built an immense white compound without right angles or corners. Locals had protested the area's rezoning, complained about the loss of prime Dallas real estate in the heart of the commercial district. The Krisht, however, insisted their motives were backed by the purest of altruisms and converted enough gold and diamonds, as well as exotic red-gold gems without terrestrial analogue, to cash upon their arrival to fund Switzerland through the next millennium, and so had their way sooner, rather than later.

 

No one came to the mission while Leigh watched. No one left. From the outside, it resembled a bewildering maze of roofless walls, exposed to the wind and rain and blazing sun like the atrium of an ancient Roman villa. The threshold was wide and unguarded, seemingly vulnerable to criminals and the hundred degree-plus temperatures Dallas suffered in the summer, but the Krisht seemed unconcerned. Perhaps the stumpy aliens came from a hotter planet, scientists speculated, or a brighter sun. Perhaps this sweltering combination of heat and humidity was no more than a balmy breeze to them. No one knew. They never revealed anything about themselves, speaking instead of what they considered to be more important; the redemption of Man’s soul.

 

She watched through the day, drinking tepid water from a plastic bottle, munching a dry handful of trail mix, but her husband, Ben, never emerged, nor did anyone else. She fanned herself with one hand, perspiring, struggling to breathe the overheated air while cars drove by, often slowing to gape at the shimmering alien artifact across from the Galleria Mall. Tour buses paused. A tabloid photographer arrived to snap pictures, but through it all, the mission seemed unaware of any outward attention, drifting through the sultry day like a matron presiding over her court, much admired by the masses, but remote and untouchable.

 

Ben was never coming out, not on his own, she told herself.

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A Bad Day All Around ©2004 - Mike Moscoe

“I stand relieved,” Brigadier General Vicky Patterson said, dimples flanking her smile. In the new Air Force, generals had dimples and you just better get used to it. “How’s the temperature outside?”

“Cold as a witch’s tit,” I answered. She’d had to get used to a few things herself.

“I’ll wrap up very warmly,” she said, those dimples reappearing. “You might want to keep an eye on those northern lights. They’re amazingly bright when you aren’t under ten-ten cloud cover and the radar seems to be getting scatter off them.”

“They were doing that last watch,” I answered as I settled into the Command Chair, 1st Air Defense Group. For the next eight hours I would defend the United States against all incoming hostile missiles, should any fool try something stupid. With a comfortable sigh I took in air laden with oil and ozone, new plastic and fresh concrete. Rushed to completion to meet the President’s deadline, the center was hardly six months old ... and hardly working.

Not that it mattered. Once the hoopla was done and we were officially in business, there was not much business. Tomorrow, the Chinese were due for another ‘friendly’ talk with the North Koreans ... whose latest missile test had failed and whose border was leaking starving people. Iran, Pakistan and India were all working on longer ranging birds, but none could reach Alaska, much less mainland US.

I had the watch ... and blessed little to watch.

Below my elevated station, Vicky’s targeteers were deep in a bridge game that, from the score, must have been going on for several watches. As my targeteers relieved hers, they took over their hands. The one who had the bid looked at the half hand of cards she got and groaned. “I’m gonna burn in hell!”

“Better you than me,” the relieved lieutenant grinned.

Then every alarm in the Command Center went off. Red lights flashed, hooters hooted. All eyes turned to the main threat board that had never been anything but empty as a large blob appeared over the lower tip of Siberia.

“Sweet Jesus,” Vicky breathed.

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Zen and the Art of Computer Programming ©2004 - Philip J. Lees

A solar storm was raging and from space the cosmic particles came screaming in, rattling through the Van Allen belt, careening around the stratosphere, ruining radio and TV reception all over the world. Most died in the upper atmosphere, but a few penetrated deeper, some even as far as ground level.

One single particle survived long enough to pass through the shell of a computer and invade a microchip, where there occurred an event with a probability so tiny that the computer itself would have had difficulty distinguishing it from zero. For no more than a nanosecond, the particle displaced an electron, boosting it to a higher energy level, with the result that one logical AND gate within the machine’s microprocessor was momentarily converted to a XOR, its function reversed. For that fragment of time checksums no longer balanced, but found a new beauty in asymmetry; safety checks were bypassed, ignored, because nothing must interfere with the accomplishment of the task at hand. To put it simply, the computer had a Zen moment.

 

A lot can happen in a nanosecond.

 

 

Obi McDermott,  Shogun of Tasmania, nodded and smiled to his guests as he strolled around the hall. The day was going well. After a decade of bickering the twelve provinces of New Australasia had finally managed to form an alliance that had a chance of lasting more than a few months. Today's assembly was to celebrate that pact. It had not been easy, because concessions had been needed on all sides, and these had to be negotiated in a way that would not compromise the honor of any of the parties involved.

 

The hall was huge, but the high oak rafters that supported the tiled roof were so intricately designed that the impression was of a structure grown by nature, rather than built by man. Shafts of afternoon sunlight reflected off the polished pine floor, illuminating motes of dust that danced in the draught of people passing. There was a faint smell of beeswax in the air.

 

Obi’s wife, Sharon, was suddenly at his side. She bowed deferentially before speaking and Obi smiled inwardly at the contrast between the public show and the private reality that only his family and a few close friends ever saw.

 

“Is there anything you require, my lord?”

 

“Nothing, my dear, thank you,” Obi murmured. “Everything is going well, thanks to your excellent organization.”

 

Sharon bowed again in appreciation of the compliment, then glided away to greet some late arrivals, so gracefully that the fall of her robe was barely disturbed by the movement. Obi wandered towards the back of the hall, where his own last concession was being played out.

 

On a low platform two figures sat cross-legged facing each other. Their silk kimonos competed for splendor, one with dragons in red and gold, the other with swirls of dark blue and silver like the full moon shining through thunderclouds. Between them was a low table on which rested a square, lacquered board, half covered with small black and white ‘stones’, in a pattern that would seem random to anybody who didn’t know better.

 

The game of Go was not really taking place in this hall, but in cyberspace; the players were cybernetic, not human. What Obi and other interested guests were watching was nothing more than a holographic representation, yet the programmers had outdone themselves in creating these magnificent costumes. The players even appeared to be breathing and when one tapped a stone on the board before making a play the sound could be heard three rows back.

 

Obi’s player was the one in red and gold and it was going to lose. That had been agreed and everyone here – or at least, everyone of any importance – was aware of that, without, of course, knowing it officially. Unofficially, Obi’s player had been given a time penalty, so small as to be imperceptible to those watching, but large enough to ensure the outcome, given that the two programs were otherwise so evenly matched. The victory of the other player would confer prestige on Jojo-Ichi Hagiwara, lord of Brisbane, to compensate him for the small amount of autonomy he had ceded in order to make the alliance work.

 

The blue and silver player placed a new stone on the board. The red and gold kimono shifted realistically in response and there was a rustle in the crowd as the spectators began to analyze the changed position. For those too far away to see, the image of the board was repeated on a vertical screen behind and above the dais and Obi scrutinized it. He was far from being a novice at the game, but had never found the time or the inclination for the study necessary to become an adept. The position was evenly balanced, but Obi thought that this last move had perhaps shifted the advantage slightly towards the Hagiwara player – or perhaps it was his own inside knowledge that was deceiving him.

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In The Aftermath of Something Happening ©2004 - Laura Ann Gilman

It’s a question without an answer, I suppose. Something to meditate on when you have everything else to do. Does the moment of change come in the instant of event, or when you realize it?


“We’re out of peanut butter.”

Jody was muttering in the kitchen again. I folded the paper back and finished reading the local news, keeping half an ear on her in case the muttering turned into something worse. The usual chaos in the cities, with the High Holies screaming about the willful and evil mutation of the species as they picket in front of labs that have nothing at all to do with gene splicing, and firebomb the ones that do. The Oregon legislature is trying to pass a Pure Gene law; California’s right behind them.

“Who keeps eating the peanut butter?” It’s an exasperated yell, not expecting an answer.

I looked down at my feet, and Dolt looked back at me innocently. “Nice try, pal. But I don’t think the cats have been scooping it out by the pawful.”

Dolt put his head down on his forelegs and let out a miffed whumfing sigh. It’s probably just as well so many people put up a fight about modifying felines: give our cats hands – worse yet, opposable thumbs – and they wouldn’t have been content to simply eat our food, they would have kicked us out of our homes and changed the locks. Dolt just eats all the crunchy Jiff.

But I’m not going to squeal on him. Loyalty goes both ways. Hearing nothing further from the kitchen except the slamming and opening of cupboards, I return to my newspaper. It’s not all bad news in the world, though. Little girl, barely seven, saved her brother from drowning, untangled him from an old fishing lure and pulled him to the surface. She was underwater for almost fifteen minutes. Her brother, who didn’t have gills, was shown hugging her from his hospital bed.

“See, Toto? There is kindness in this world.”

Dolt ignored me this time, not even twitching an ear. He hates it when I call him names.

The photo of the kids was cute; you could barely see the gill-marks on the girl’s neck. I wondered if the discoloration around them was normal, or if her parents had tried surgery. I wondered if Jody and I would, when our daughter was born.

Jody came out into the living room, a spoon in her hand. She looked at both of us accusingly. I blinked, secure in my innocence. Dolt’s ears went limp, and his tail thumped once. He never could lie worth a damn. “I swear; we should have gotten a purebred. Something cuddly. And dumb.”

“You were the one who wanted a partnerbreed,” I reminded her, ignoring the fact that I had been the one to bring home the brochures in the first place.

“Next time I come up with a stupid idea, tell me it’s a stupid idea, okay?”

Not a chance in hell. I loved Jodes more than life, but let’s have a reality break, okay? She’s five foot nothing of short fuse held back by enforced Buddhism-trained calm. And Budda has nothing on an empty peanut butter jar when you’ve got a fetus in your gut craving something crunchy and salty and creamy all at once.

That was why we had gotten a partnerbreed, really. There had been another marked increase of kid snatchings the year before we conceived, and modified dogs were touted as the best possible security for your child. Canine loyalty, amplified intelligence, and the ability to literally hold your kid’s hand when they crossed the street.

Dolt, unfortunately, had decided during his trial run with us that he was mine, not some unborn baby’s. We were already down on the waiting list for another one; when a partnerdog decides they’d rather be a cop than a babysitter, nobody argues. The publicity is astonishing for the breeders – ‘trusted with public safety; how much more secure can your child be?’

“You want us to go get you some more?”

“That would be nice.”

I kicked Dolt gently in the ribs. He looked at me with his mournful brown eyes and stood, stretching his hind legs out. If you didn’t know, he’d look like your basic mutt; a lot of bloodhound, some German shepherd, a smidge of maybe-terrier around the ears and muzzle. That’s if you didn’t look at his front paws, with their elongated, jointed finger-toes, and didn’t notice the bright orange tag in his left ear.

“Come on, pal. Mommy’s grumpy.”

He sneezed, walked over to Jody and put his cold muzzle into her free hand. As much of an apology as she was going to get.

“Yeah, I love you too, you overgrown lab experiment. Go get me my peanut butter.”

Shoes, jacket, pistol for me, webbing and shock-harness for Dolt. There’s no such thing as off-duty any more, not with the crazies who call themselves good citizens. Especially not if you’re walking with a Created, what the extremists call anyone that doesn’t have the original genetic blueprint. Doesn’t seem to matter to them if it was lab work, bred to order, or random swing of the mutation wheel. Different was bad. Different was scary. Different seemed to be anything that wasn’t in the large print edition of A Child’s First Bible. They’re the same people who are snatching kids, we think. We, being the law enforcement arm. Taking babies and young children who’re born old-style, without the Change. Replacing the children within their own community who’re marked, or just saving ‘human’ children from sinful families, I don’t know.

One thing I do know, they’d rather Dolt never existed, him and all the other Createds, if they could manage it. Send science back to the abacus age, forget everything we’ve learned, and the planet will be a garden of something again.

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Gathering Shards ©2004 - Julia West

Lasai leaned against the trunk of a tipil tree, his legs folded beneath him, his hands loose on his thighs. A breeze fluttered the leaves, and the tiny brass cymbals Lasai had hung in branches throughout the grove rang in a constant ting-a-tingting. These movements, varied but constant, trembled at the edges of his vision.

The barest translucent flicker of white, different from the silvery shiver of the leaves, brought Lasai back to himself. He shook the red silk cord tied to the tree branch above him, and the cymbals ting-tinged in rhythm. The white grew, solidified, became a young female Ebchian clutching a tiny one to her bony breast. Her lips drew back from her fangs in agony, and she limped badly as she followed the cymbals' seductive music--food and ease for her soul--into the grove. By the time she reached the tree next to Lasai's, the translucent white had given way to golden tan, and he could hear the chuff, chuff of her labored breath. So she'd died quickly, and didn't know she was dead.

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Ganymede ©2004 - Sarah A. Hoyt

“Sister, please let me in.” He pressed against the black dimatough wall of the shelter. His chest rose and fell in short breaths of panic. The eyes he turned to me were all pupil.

Behind him, the ice warehouses rose, shiny black and towering against the pale gray sky of Ganymede.

“My Order doesn’t have legal rights of sanctuary,” I told him. We didn’t have legal rights of anything. No one did. Ganymede was a Free Anarchy, which meant if you had the gun you had the rights. All my order did was operate an unofficial shelter for the down-and-out supported by a private philanthropist. If my mother superior knew about this bio even seeking asylum, she would wonder what I’d done to encourage it and she would –

I shook my head.

He mistook my gesture for a negative and made a sound not quite a whimper. His already pale face turned a transparent gray, like congealed oil. “They’re tearing us apart, Sister,” he said. “Limb from limb, they’re tearing bios apart.” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. “In Marius Regius three hundred were killed. A couple of hours ago.”

A tear had frozen to his beardless cheek. Whether he cried for his congeners or in fear for his own safety, I couldn’t tell.

His large feet, in their spiked ice-miner boots, did a – seemingly unconscious – shuffle against the wall, as though if he pushed hard enough, if he shoved hard enough, he could melt his solid, muscular body into the smooth black dimatough.

“You’re not one of us, child. I’m supposed to help God’s children, not – ” My voice echoed the smooth, patronizing tones of my mother superior’s speech. In my mind, the voice went on to talk of throwing pearls before swine. My lips moved soundlessly as I stared at his perfect features, the black-blue curls escaping from beneath his miner’s hat, the abject fear in his blue-gray eyes. 

I hissed out breath, half in anger at myself. 

I had made my peace with the whole bio matter ten years ago, in 2254, when the multitudes of Earth had turned on bios and massacred all of them that couldn’t leave the planet in time – when I’d seen my own creations destroyed in their creches and hunted on the streets. 

I’d left my bio-engineering behind, then, and, when the howling mobs of Earth had started seeking out bio-designers, I’d sought refuge in the faith of my childhood and the convent of the Lucias.

There, I’d come to realize I’d sinned. My sin of pride had made me try to go the Creator one better, made me try to improve on His work. In expiation, I’d taken the veil of the Sisters of Saint Lucia of the Spaceways. I’d accepted my assignment to Ganymede as part of that expiation.

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Engines of Creation ©2004 - Isaac Spzindel

“Loewy, Loewy please, you must answer the door.” Jonathan Koven’s shrill pleading did little to hide his desperation.

“You disturb the Sabbath, Koven,” answered a thin reedy voice that penetrated the whitewashed door of the flat.

“They’re taking the automaton, Loewy. Do you understand?” Koven pounded sweaty fist stains onto the door. “They mean to use it to harm our people. We are in danger, we are all in danger.”

The door opened a slim crack to reveal a narrow gray eye hovering over a hawk-like nose, thin lips, and wisps of immature beard that belonged to Judah Ben Bezalel Loew. At sixteen years of age, Loewy was already an accomplished Talmudic scholar and, under Koven’s tutelage, an apt student of the sciences. Yet, the growth of a full beard eluded him.

Koven pushed through the doorway and past his young student into the flat: a tiny and Spartan apartment that provided an ample view of the slender gothic spire of Krakow’s Corpus Christi Church. The century that had passed since the spire’s completion in the early 1400s had highlighted it in sharp and menacing shadows, like some grim spine that threatened to bleed the very heavens.

Panting heavily, Koven halted at the center of the single room and ran a trembling hand through his thinning dark hair and over his slim leather jacket. At a height of nearly two meters, Koven loomed a lanky head over the more compact Loewy. At twice Loewy’s age, he cut a fashionable figure in the suit of a modern Polish gentleman szlachcic in contrast to Loewy’s worn costume of traditional black-and-white woolens.

“A good Sabbath to you, Koven,” offered Loewy, in a Polish accented by hints of Bohemian Yiddish. “I see that in your distress you have forgotten also your hat.”

Koven replied in his perfect Polish. “My apologies, Loewy. A good Sabbath to you, of course.” Although the two shared a common faith, each observed it in a different fashion. Still, it was unusual for a mature man of science such as Koven to associate with such a backward rabbinical student from far-off Bohemia. But then there was little usual about the young Judah Ben Bezalel Loew, who had left the safety and comfort of his religious pursuits and observant home in Prague to study sciences with Koven. A common arrangement for Koven, who, like most Jagiellonian University professors, paid for his researches through the donations of wealthy patrons supplemented by earnings from the tutoring of young Gymnasium students like Loewy. And while Loewy’s lack of a secular education was an initial area of concern to Koven, it soon became evident that Loewy possessed a keen and scientific mind. So much so, that before long their roles had reversed with respect to the traditional disciplines of religion and ancient philosophy.

“Forgive my disturbance and rudeness, Loewy, I have discovered that my patron, Thaddeus, intends to put my mechanical macranthropos to terrible use.” A respected and wealthy nobleman, Thaddeus’ interests extended across Europe even to Loewy’s home city of Prague. Gossip held that he was ruthless in method and motivation. Until now, and blinded by the outward generosity of the man’s support, Koven had naively deemed such talk, jealous rumor.

“Your sponsor is a powerful man, Koven, yes. But your automaton is a failure, too wasteful of energy to animate, no? No engine of this world would have strength enough to move it.” Loewy motioned Koven to a seat at a plain wooden table in the far corner of the apartment. A single volume of Talmudic commentary rested on the table’s surface; the only book displaced from a small yet eclectic library of scientific and religious texts on makeshift shelves that comprised the flat’s meager furnishings.

Koven looked to the chair, distracted for a moment, but he did not move. Loewy’s words had been both astute and intuitive. Perhaps he had an inkling of Koven’s plan.

“So you see, Koven, your fears are groundless,” Loewy continued. “The recent violences against our people, both here and in my home town, disturb me, also. And there has been talk of your Patron’s involvement, but this does not involve your automaton.” Loewy indicated the chair to Koven once more. “Sit, please, and let us discuss other matters.”

Koven did not comply. “You are wrong in your estimation of the automaton,” he stated in a careful and controlled tone. Loewy’s error was understandable. Koven had shaped the automaton after a human form from metals, woods, and natural pastes such as the gums of exotic trees. A great, and separate, steam-driven engine was planned to drive the automaton, through the exploitation of the properties of expanding gases and incompressible fluids. When distributed appropriately throughout the mechanical body, it would impart movement to the automaton’s massive limbs coordinated by way of a complex clockwork of internal wheels and gears.

But this was where the experiment had failed.

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