Lunar Sacrament of Conciliation

As a treat for the readers of HERMETIC MILLENNIA, this is  a scene that was cut from the final manuscript for reasons of pacing and length, and because I changed to order of some events, but which I dearly wish I had been able to include in order to better establish a change of heart in a minor, though pivotal, character which happens later. For all my inventiveness, I was not able to invent a spot later in the manuscript to introduce the scene unjarringly.  Not wishing for total oblivion to overtake one of my minor but beloved villains, so that his villainy not be forgotten, I here memorialize it as its own stand-alone short story.

             Lunar Sacrament of Conciliation

The silences of the Moon never grow familiar.

Father Reyes y Pastor was standing on the lunar surface in the graveyard, hands folded and hood bowed, three score and more tall steles marking the burial mounds looming above him, when something touched his shoulder. He expected to hear a footstep when someone come up behind him, and no amount of time on the surface could undo that ingrained and inherited expectation from his nervous system.

His surprise carried him a dozen yards.

Reyes vented air from his wrists and boots to soften his fall. The deceptive elfin gravity did not make a tumble any less dangerous; a man fell at one sixth the acceleration as on earth, but a cut or bruise to the suit could be disastrous.

He landed in a crouch, and the dust formed a curtain about him. In the gloom he saw a hooded shape among the steles, dark in an Hermetic garb, masked against the vacuum, but wearing the tabard of the Senior Landing Party Member, and the gleaming number 2. It was Del Azarchel, and he held up a hand in the sign for radio silence, all four fingers touching the thumb in a not-quite-closed fist, and the attention light from his chest was focused on the glove, making it visible.

Two weeks had passed since last they met, and the time was dusk, and so the sun was setting over the eastern rim of the crater-wall. (By a convention older than Galileo, on the Moon, the direction of sunrise was the west.) The setting sun was neither reddened nor flattened, there being no atmospheric diffraction here. The floor of the crater was filled with shadow black as ink, but the cliff walls and peaks to the east were dazzling like magnesium flame, and this lightscatter was enough to make out the silhouette among the steles.

Del Azarchel hopped toward him in eerie silence, clouds of white dust rising and falling with abrupt vertical motion in the airlessness at each footstep.

Reyes y Pastor waited, still in a crouch, his gauntlets touching the gritty surface beneath him, shockingly cold now that the sun no longer shined directly on it. He looked at the approaching figure, clicking his goggles through several energy bands and interpretative sequences, as if that would reveal some clue. No one came outside the base environs without cause, no more than a crewman would disembark from a submarine. Reyes wondered if he had been blamed for some terrible failure of the Great Work, and was now to be murdered. Was there another cause for such secrecy and solitude? But no: had not Reyes been promised the Eighth Millenium to reshape mankind? Del Azarchel would not rescind his promises.

Reyes y Pastor resigned himself. He simply could not understand the workings of the mind of the someone whose intelligence was between fifty and one hundred points higher than his.

Del Azarchel drew out a wire and extended it toward him. It was a phone wire. Reyes plugged in. Del Azarchel’s voice was tinny, and seemed to come from behind him.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two hundred eighty five years since my last confession.”

And with these words, the dark figure sank to his knees onto the sub-zero lunar surface.

Reyes was happy that a mask was blocking his expression. This was the last thing he would have expected. Slowly he stood and slowly made the sign of the cross in above the hooded head of the kneeling figure. “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Speak and ease your burden. Of what sins do you accuse yourself, my son?”

“Monstrous sins, both done, and sins I have in contemplation.”

“Sins not yet committed cannot be absolved. List your past sins that you repent. To repent means to turn away from them, and to avoid the occasions where they may tempt you again.”

“I have murdered all the Hermeticists, and spared only you five, of whom I have need.”

Reyes was aware of the wild feeling of supremacy, as if he had passed a test all his fellows had flunked; but he was also ashamed of this feeling. “Murder? They were victims of augmentation accidents. Unexpected divarifications, logic loops, Turing halt states …  You need not to confess mere feelings of guilt where no real guilt obtains, my son.”

“It is a sin of omission. I ran the specifications to see what would be needed for a human brain to be correctly carried both into emulation, as with Exarchel, and into augmentation, as with me. I was able to reverse-engineer some steps of Rania’s work, and make guesses about others. And I knew they would fail. I knew they were weak. I could have stopped them with a command; I could have interfered with their experiments; I could have merely showed them my results of my trial runs I ran on your ghosts which my Exarchel has consumed. I know the secret. Or part of it.”

“What is the secret, my son?”

“You have to care about something in reality more than any electronic nirvana can satisfy. Once you have the power to edit yourself, to alter and adapt nerves and glands and all that affects and influences thought, you need something greater than yourself to which your self and soul is dedicated. Without that greater thing, you regard all things as lesser, including, now that it is within your power to shape as you would, your own mind and being. If you live for nothing, you are just a worm that turns and eats itself. That is not the whole of it, but that is what I know. This was a new form of life, Learned Pastor! A machine life, that can replicate itself like a virus in any electronic system. Whoever fails the test must go extinct. They were all weak.”

Reyes y Pastor blurted out, “These were not just my friends, my flock, and my brothers, they were our comrades in the Great Work! They were the only men we knew from the world Einstein’s relativity stole from us—they! But you liked Zacuto, and Pereira, and Falero! Falero was like a brother to you!”

There was a scratching noise in the phone wire, and Reyes realized this was a sob of grief. Was Del Azarchel crying? Reyes would have been less surprised to hear a statue cry.

“I knew the risks my men, my beloved men, were taking when they attempted augmentation. Each time a man died, I told myself he would be the last. And yet they kept failing me. All of them were failures. Only you five, de Ulloa, D’Aragó, i Illa D’Or, Coronimas, and you, had the ability.”

“This means you will augment us to your level? We will all become Posthumans?”

“Yes. The computer power needed to emulate every brain cell, every atom, in the human nervous system is immense. Here on the Moon we have only enough emulation mainframe space to keep one of us augmented at a time: the other will have to remain in hibernation. One of the processes I deduced from Rania’s work will enable us to de-augment, to undergo kenosis, and return to base human topology when system space is not available. However, I have already set the next industrial revolution on Earth in motion.

“The nation-states and princedoms are even now falling into the habit of emulating and augmenting their leaders, princes, leading scientists and thinkers, even popular artists. The emulations can only last a short while, years rather than decades, but as long as the human donator remains alive, he can upload his personality and memories again and again to keep the Iron Ghost sane.

“Those peoples and nations who do not seek refuge under the administration of the Reign of Ghosts will fall under the administration of the Giants, who are even now coming of age, because only a superintelligent being can keep pace with a superintelligent being. Under such a system of government, how much computer space do you think the Earth will create?

“Even the most conservative estimates say there will be acres upon acres of large scale thought-houses in every major city. Then there will be room enough for the five of us to remain awake, and at apotheosis capacity, all at once.

“Ah! But you are wondering whether, as more and more people create upload copies of themselves, immortal upload copies, how soon it will be before the whole world is devoted to one electronic nirvana, a paradise of unreality? How can the Darwianian process continue unless the useless eaters of bread and the useless consumers of power die back? This involves my second horde of sins, the one I have not yet committed.”

Reyes was so elated hearing that he was to achieve posthuman greatness, that he almost did not hear what Del Azarchel was saying.

Reyes sobered. “My son! If you yet intend to do these sins, then you have no firm purpose of amendment, and have not repented of them.”

“I repent that they are necessary.”

Reyes y Pastor felt a sensation like insects walking across his face. Sweat was beading on his brow, despite the temperature his shipsuit maintained. The fear was like ice burning in a line down his chest.

“Tell me, my son.”

“The sins I contemplate and have committed is murder by the thousands and tens of thousand, murder by the millions, that the base stock of humanity be culled. The Hylics must die, of course. It would not be right to have allowed the Hermeticists to be decimated, without forcing the common people to suffer the same risks, and die at the same ratios. I mean to destroy nine parts of mankind in order that one tenth might survive and prosper, and become the seed of posthumanity. Without this, the Hyades will overwhelm Earth in the One Hundred and Tenth Century.”

Reyes y Pastor felt a disquieting sensation, like sickness in himself. “You are speaking of the cusp nexus occurring at the next crisis interval in our calculations? The calculation you showed us cast the genocide in terms of a hypothetical, assuming a continuing energy crisis against demographic shifts…”

“Ah. I also wish to confess the sins of bearing false witness. I have systematically falsified data fed to the Hermetic Order. The cliometric calculations show that cusp to be inevitable.”

Father Reyes wanted to wipe the cold sweat from his face, but this, of course, is one of the things one cannot do in a vacuum mask. “It is not inevitable if you repent of it.”

“It is inevitable because I have decreed it so. Once the rod-logic diamonds in all the cities of Earth have achieved a certain critical mass, I intend to coat the biosphere with Aurum Vitae, and reduce any organisms not needed in the neural net to more useful elements. Montrose’s only possible countermove is something he would not dare to do, since to destroy the computer mainframes of an entire world—by a decade from now, it will be world utterly dependent on emulation technology for both government and economic control functions—would be to trigger global collapse, leading to the same outcome.”

As suddenly as stepping on thin ice and being plunged into arctic waters, the fear and terror in the mind or Reyes broke through. Somehow the emotion was transformed. He was not merely awed by the grandeur of the project, but in a sadistic way, thrilled. It was the next step of human evolution: a dinosaur extinction level event.

And he was to be one of the extinguishers, not one of the extinct.

The small part of his mind reminded him of he duties of his office. Reluctantly, he said, “It is an abuse of this sacrament to pretend to confess a crime not yet committed, nor can it be absolved. While within the seal of the confessional, you stand to me in the relation of son to father, because I speak with the voice of the Father and in His place while I act within His will—It is within my power to charge you and compel you not to do this act. By mortal sin a man excommunicates himself from Church, and from hope of salvation! Look in your conscience. You know what you intend is evil, an enormity beyond reckoning! Swear not to carry through with this! Swear upon your hope of heaven!”

Del Azarchel stood. “I have no need of heaven to house my soul, if I achieve physical immortality through the posthumanification process. I shall endure in one form or another for as long as this universe. Such a thing is not beyond my grasp…”

These were words of defiance, but they lacked all strength. Perhaps it was the tinny connection, but the voice of Del Azarchel was wavering.

Reyes y Pastor felt a pang of anger. Pastor knew what the indifferent equations of cliometric calculus predicted; he knew the deadline, while immensely far away as far as mortal men were concerned, was claustrophobically close considering the evolutionary gulfs to be crossed before Hyades descended. How dare Del Azarchel give up so easily? Was all his hero worship for this great figure, his admiration akin to idolatry, to be betrayed?

Reyes had once seen the Virgin Mary in a dream while he was emerging from suspended animation. Montrose, who invented the biosuspension process, had said the process halted all brain activity, and therefore no dreams could have taken place.

So perhaps it was not a dream. The Queen of Heaven had been larger than worlds, and the stars and nebulae were no more than lights the votive angels and archangels raised to glorify her. The moon was beneath her feet, and in the gleam of the many suns that gathered near her like fireflies, she smiles.

It was the most profound and heartbreaking thing Reyes ever had seen. He could tell no one of it, since to try to capture the magnificence of dreams in words was like a child bringing a snowflake into his mother’s kitchen to show her its beauty.

Reyes had vowed that no matter what he did in life, he would earn the grace to attain heaven at his death, so that, if for no other reason, he could behold that pure and holy lady once again.

So said one part of his heart.

But he also had his pride as an intellectual, as an academic, as a Hermeticist.

The common muck of mankind deserved death—was that not the general doom decreed for all Adam’s children? How would an act of genocide to decimate all the lands of Earth be so different from the Great Flood of Noah? It was practically the same as doing the work of the Lord, merely by other, and more efficient means.

And a loving God would not expect a man, especially a man of such superior intelligence as Reyes y Pastor, not to do anything necessary, commit any crime, forsake any oath, to preserve the human race in its new an inhuman form that Darwin demanded, so as to oppose the descent of the Hyades? Of course not. The Father knew all, and forgave all.

With a wormy, loathsome sensation as bitter and painful as a man pulling out his own heart and bowels, Reyes y Pastor condemned that strange image from his dream which was not a dream, and blotted out the smile of the Virgin from his mind.

“But of course—” his voice was hoarse, his mouth unexpectedly dry, “You also have the duty imposed by history to save mankind. Darwin makes certain demands upon us, and it is entirely within keeping with, ah, with common sense, that a man must do what is needed to preserve the race. Even if that means changing the race to something unthinkable.”

Del Azarchel moved one leg, so that he was upon one knee, not both, as if he were about to rise up. “What is this? You are a man of the cloth. It is your business to talk me out of this. Tell me of the hellfire.”

Reyes y Pastor begged in his heart to his heart for forgiveness, but with his lips he said, “The talk of hell in the Holy Scripture is meant to be metaphorical. All the enlightened and progressive thinkers agree. It is literary device to represent the burning flames of the conscience. Of course, as a being superior to human beings, your conscience should be evolved to the level beyond good and evil, as befits you.”

“Odd that you would say so. The more intelligent the augmentation makes me, the more logical and inevitable venerable ideas like hellfire seem. Almost as grim and inevitable as a cliometric calculation.”

“A loving God could not create a hell.”

“A loving God must have some place to put those exiles who reject His love, souls to whom the fires of that love are pain, because they hate it. Will you betray your own office, your oath of priesthood, everything, to counsel me to commit this deed? I was expecting the opposite from you.”

Reyes y Pastor turned up his oxygen gain and drew a deep breath. “My son, despite all your intelligence, your heart is clouded. Listen to me. Do you know how Benaiah the son of Jehoiada served King Solomon, wisest of the wise? He fell upon Joab while Joab was clinging to the horn of the alter, begging for mercy and demanding sanctuary. All this was done at the King’s commandment. And are you not wiser, in your augmented state, than Solomon ever was?”

Del Azarchel said softly, “It is the memory of Captain Ranier Grimaldi that haunts you. We mutinied and murdered him, in order to use his body for the raw materials to make Rania, and find a way to come home again. Your hands are bloodied as well as mine. How can bloodstained hands touch the Eucharist, or lave me in the water that absolves of sin?”

Reyes said blandly, “The doctrine of ex opere operato as first explicated by St. Augustine during the Donatist heresy makes clear that the individual impurities of the Episcopal officer do not impede the power of the sacrament coming through the office. Christ can absolve sins through me, polluted as I am. There is but one question here.”

“Ask it.”

“The genocide of man you have degreed, the mass extinctions—”


“Does victory rest on the other side of them?”

Del Azarchel said, “Then you will absolve me of the evil I do if good comes of it?”

“No, my son. The sacrament of confession cannot be used in this way. As a priest and ghostly father I can do nothing for you. But I am also an Hermeticist, one of the rare to survive the expedition to the Diamond Star, and one of the even more rare to have survived the baptism of fire you ignited. And I say that Darwin will absolve you, for the process of evolution is the process that, through evils produces good, and through death, life. Rise up from this cold and lifeless dust! The penance I impose upon you is that you shall succeed in being the savior of mankind, and save the race from the Hyades. You shall not fail! Nor shall we fail you. You are right to demand we call you master, for we have no hope of salvation outside you.”

Del Azarchel slowly rose. He was perhaps an inch or two taller than Father Reyes, but something in the poise of his mask, something imponderable in the way he held himself, it was if he was looking down at the priest from a very tall height indeed.

“How soon can you medically ready yourself for the augmentation sequences? I have lived long enough in the isolation of my posthumanity. I need equals about me, not pets, men worthy to take their place at my round table, which has no head and no foot. It has been very lonely.”

Arm in arm, they glided as if walking on air back toward the buried fortress.