THE BISHOP'S TALE
An enormous stone cathedral - acres of marble plaza dwarfed by a white robed throng. Thousands of rapt pilgrims listen intently to the Maestra, clothed in black feathered vestments. Her eyes are piercing, her voice is trained and lyrical. The feathers drift in the wind as she recites a prayer:
…and the sinful lure of thinking machines - the regret of our fathers, and their fathers before them. We pray for wisdom against hubris-
The mass responds as one:
-and deliverance from Gehenna. Amen.
The throng drops to their knees, the ivory congregation falling prostrate as one being. Their heads touch the marbled floor. It rattles. Shudders. Then roars as an airship crests the ridge, venting heat from fins and pores. The pilgrims raise their head, squinting into the setting sun.
The Maestra’s feathers bristle as she walks through the crowd to meet the ship. She is irate. Dust and grit coat her vestments as the ferry’s landing jets scorch the earth. The messenger is young, with wild hair and wrinkled flight vest.
You’re disturbing my flock, she says.
They found an angel in the desert, he responds.
With this, her eyes go wide. Darkly, she asks,
How many survivors?
It is a blur as she is ferried her to the Citadel. Brought to the containment chamber by soldiers and priests. Informed of the danger in restraining the Nephilim.
She enters the chamber with shaking hands clasped behind her back, and is surprised at the formlessness of it. The Nephilim is like a great black egg, held fast by the suspension fields – it shifts as if breathing, but is silent. She knows it was alive when Wormwood fell, alive on the ark before the first men walked the surface of this world. Does it hate us? Is that why they always the kill the miners who awaken them?
When she asks it to help her find the ark in exchange for its freedom, it speaks in a tongue as ancient as all mankind. She will have scribes translate its speech day and night – she cannot understand the language, but she feels they are on the path of transcendence.
It is so unlike the thinking machines that walk the wastes today, she thinks, this mass of nanites we call ‘angel’.