Monday, July 8, 2013

Word Carrier 9: Thou Hast Prepared a Table

by Heidi Kortman -

Douay Bede took two deep breaths, as Pangur Ban stretched. When the quarr turned its head and flicked its ears, Bede swallowed hard then followed the bishop and Brother Charles. He trailed three strides behind, which did nothing to avert his being the center of attention when he reached the refectory doorway. “Pangur Ban,” he whispered, as the bishop spoke the first syllables of the blessing, “do not hunt here.”

The table and its benches never seemed so long. Pangur Ban paced beside him, tail twitching. The scaled length struck Bede’s calf through his robe, as he walked behind the brothers, the manuscripts, and the other Bibles all seated beside their newly-assigned priests. Murmuring and indrawn breaths, audible beneath the bishop’s prayer, followed his steps.

Bede passed his parents, seated on the opposite side of the great table. After another eight paces, he reached the only open place. Bede hiked up his robe before stepping over the bench. When he settled on the seat, he felt the pressure of Pangur Ban’s weight on the backs of his ankles.

“Stay there,” Bede whispered. That earned him a bump from the elbow of the priest on his right.

The man to his left, his partner for this life’s mission, was shorter than Bede. The man kept his head bowed until the blessing concluded. When he reached out with his chopsticks for a curried seraph nymph, he handled them deftly despite the missing first joint of his right index finger.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and wrought salvation for his people.” Douay Bede said, as he reached for some wolner-grain bread.

The priest swallowed his mouthful. “To shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace,” he said.

“Douay Bede.”

“Father Oaku. The cook here is good.”

Bede ladled himself a serving of the chowder, and poured aniila oil into the communal plate between them. Wolner-grain bread was tasteless without it. He dipped his bread in the oil.

“When the banquet is finished, I’ll begin work on my first homily for the mission. Be ready with Acts 13, verses four through twelve.”

About to take his first bite of the meal, Bede was forced to pause. “Yes, Father Oaku. But—” A large chunk of the oil-soaked bread fell from the slice and plopped into the thick chowder. The splash spattered the sleeve of the priest at Bede’s right, earning him another poke with the man’s sharp elbow.

“What? You are Published, are you not?” Father Oaku glared at Bede.

“Yes, Father. This morning. I know the passage you need, but Bishop Guash has ordered me to speak with him after the banquet.”

The priest with sharp elbows snorted. “They’ve saddled you with a trouble maker, Oaku.”

Father Oaku Mary, his lips contracted like the top of a closed drawstring pouch, leaned away from the table. His back made a crackling sound. He sighed. “I’ll keep him too busy for much.”

Under the bench, Pangur Ban shifted his weight. Bede ducked his head. He didn’t dare whisper to the quarr again. Instead, he poked his spoon at the oil slick in his chowder. Across the table, the other priests and Bibles were enjoying their food. Bede dredged the sodden bread from the soup, and ate it.

Maybe, if he focused on the food, the others would ignore him. The clack of serving spoons and utensils echoed in the ceiling vault. Bede took another spoonful. Lukewarm now, the chowder lacked appeal. “Father Oaku,” he whispered.

The priest crunched another mouthful of curried seraph nymphs. “What is it?”

“After the bishop has finished, may I please take a few minutes to speak with my parents?” Bede glanced down the table, and caught sight of his father doubling over. The explosive coughing fit made other diners lean away. Brother Reita, the assistant infirmarian, rose from his place to help Silas leave the table.

Father Oaku laid his chopsticks across the dish. “Douay Bede, speak St. Matthew 8:22, the Word of the Lord.”

Bede closed his eyes and took a shaky breath. “‘But Jesus said to him,’” he quoted, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’” When he opened his eyes again, his lashes were wet, and he needed to blink. His mother was still at the table, and she was dabbing her eyes with the coarsely woven napkin.

Had she heard his voice through all the other sounds in the room? Did she think him cold-hearted? Bede prepared to stand, but Pangur Ban leaned more heavily against his calves, then wrapped his tail around Bede’s ankles.

Bede subsided on the bench. The quarr’s tail weighed heavier across his insteps than such a thing should do. Brother Reita returned, pausing for a moment beside Bede’s mother before continuing around the table to his former place. “Please, Father Oaku—how else will I get word about my father?”

The priest shook his head. “The man has ash lung. You know there’s no cure.” He laid aside his chopsticks again. “You have word from the Lord, Douay Bede. Speak St. John 10:28. That’s the only thing you need to know about your father.”

Bede stared down into the bowl of chowder. It had reached the stage where it coated the spoon. “And I give them everlasting life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.”  It was true, but to spend the rest of his days with a man who could cast a chill on such a promise? Bede shuddered.

Monday, July 1, 2013


by Edward M. Erdelac - 

Considine had to smile when he thought about how impressive Gorsh’s office had seemed to him only this morning.

It was a bug hunter’s bait shop compared to Aloysius Morgenstar’s plush, cathedral-like office, which was dominated by a smooth-lined desk in front of a dazzling viewport that looked down on Eclectia below.

He sat in a comfortable chair with two security officers standing over him for a half hour before a side door hissed open and Morgenstar himself entered in no great hurry.

He was younger and fitter looking than Considine had expected. His hair was the color of sandstone, not a strand out of place, and his sea-blue suit fit him better than Considine’s skin fit his skeleton. He was refined and assured in the extreme, but there was a hint of something in his eyes that was familiar, that twinge of madness Considine would know anywhere.

“Inspector Considine,” said Morgenstar, unbuttoning his jacket and easing into his chair. “I hope you weren’t waiting too long. I had an important meeting concerning what to do with you.”

“A meeting with Gorsh and the Peacekeepers’ Council?”

“Oh no no no,” Morgenstar chuckled. “I wouldn’t trust such an important decision to them. They were supposed to chaperone you and look how that turned out. No, it’s been decided that you’ll suffer a mental breakdown – shock, from having witnessed the death of one of your enforcers. You were apprehended by my staff after having wandered into a cafeteria and attacked and murdered one of my employees. You’ll be remanded to the care of the staff at St. Christina’s Clinic for the Neuro-Atypical. Not a top of the line facility, but the PKC insurance won’t cover anything better I’m afraid.”

Considine smiled.

“What’s so amusing?”

“I was wondering if any of your employees will be able to get the taste of Orin Bantry out of their lunches. You can scour that autochef with a fleet of de-con bots for a year and they’ll still probably never eat there again. Office gossip travels so fast. They’ll be saying Bantry’s nose turned up in a bowl of soup a week after the kitchens reopen.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re able to amuse yourself. You’ll have a very long time to do so,” Morgenstar said.

“You won’t be able to keep me there, Morgenstar. You must know that.”

“I know you’re resourceful, yes. I’ve read up on your career. That’s why I’d like to make you another offer.”


“No, you’ve lived so long without it you’re accustomed,” said Morgenstar. “I was thinking more along the lines of salvation.”

“Here it comes at last,” said Considine.

“Why don’t you tell me what you think you know, Inspector? To amuse me.”

“I know you allowed Orin Bantry to provide Almer Croix with a substantial amount of detonite from your company’s stores, and that he intended to use it to destroy the angel colony on the lip of the Boatic Trench. I know there’s something down there. Something even the jelly rollers don’t know about. Something that wants out. It’s an organism, kept in check by the angels. Probably their opposite number. It got to Croix via some sort of parasite, and convinced him it was god.”

He leaned forward in his chair, studying Morgenstar.

“What I couldn’t figure out was what your angle is. But now that I’ve seen you, I think I know.”

“What do you know?”

“You’re not infected by one of these parasites. These pilot organisms, they extend the psychic influence of whatever’s in the trench, influence human minds, but they’re detrimental to the physiology of the host. And you don’t look sick, so you must be insane.”

Morgenstar stiffened, but quickly regained his look of arrogant indulgence.

“How did they convince you to help them, Morgenstar?” Considine asked.

“Let me tell you what you don’t know, Inspector,” said Morgenstar. “You believe you have evidence of the existence of an unknown submarinal species held under a false quarantine in the ZMB facility planetside. Perhaps it was your intent to deliver it to the council once you had amassed more evidence of a conspiracy.”

Considine’s face fell and his eyes narrowed.

“Your Dr. Kes has relinquished your evidence in exchange for more gainful employment.”

“With you?” Considine sighed.

“Now, a similar choice lies before you.”

“Is salvation more gainful employment?”

“Oh yes, much more. God has need of a vehicle, to complete the work you and your enforcers interfered with.”

He raised his hand, and the side door opened once more.

A woman in a sharp suit emerged, bearing an opaque, water-filled container, in which an eel-like shape, about the size of a kitten, undulated.

Considine started to rise from his chair and the guards shoved him back down.

“But you must accept the will of God yourself,” Morgenstar frowned. “Resistance can damage the pilot organism and the host both. Irrevocably.”

“What’s the alternative to salvation?” Considine hissed, gripping the arms of the chair.

“Lobotomy,” Morgenstar smiled. “St. Catherine’s may not be the most reputable institution, but they still have their admission standards. It wouldn’t be right to commit a mentally healthy man.”

“Maybe you should get a room, Morgenstar. You’re the one praying to a tapeworm.”

“This is not God, but a servant of God. A finger….”

“I’ve a finger for you,” Considine quipped.

Morgenstar waved the woman with the jar off. She backed out of the room, the door hissing shut behind her.

“I can see you’ve made your choice, Inspector. You disappoint me.” He rose from his chair and buttoned his jacket, shaking his head as though he truly were saddened. “Inspector Considine isn’t feeling well, gentlemen,” he said to his security guards. “Take him to see a doctor.”

The security guards hoisted him to his feet.

“Gorsh will be looking for me.”

“No, he won’t,” said Morgenstar over his shoulder, as he went to the side door.

They dragged him from the office.