Friday, May 16, 2008

Entry #8: Keywords - Dolphin Link

by Jim Cook

“Fifteen hundred solars.” The old man rubbed his hands together, skinny wrists thrusting out of colorful robes, and flashed a toothless grin. His shouted words were almost lost in the unremitting clamor of the bazaar.

Behind the merchant, a thinly-veiled woman danced and whirled to inaudible music that was lost in the cacophony, a distraction, Elijah knew, intended to break the concentration of the wealthy tourist.

Not that distraction was needed. Even though light years removed from the primitive planetary souk, the sensitive probes of the holographic monitor brought the market to him, complete with a full realization of the pressure and excitement of the shouting, frenzied crowd. He felt even the stifling warmth of the narrow rug-covered corridor, the pressing bodies on all sides.

And the smells. Chief among them was the scent of the decaying goat’s head in the meat corridor behind the bauble merchants, a delicacy he was glad to avoid. Holographic flies swirled around his head, validating the facsimile. The scent of the female tourist’s perfume, no doubt a defense against the stink of the market, made him want to sneeze.

Leaning forward, he focused on the object in the woman’s hands. The merchant’s eyes flickered as the movement caught his attention, then resumed his quick patter. The intruder was of no concern to him.

The remote projection of the holographic unit was camouflaged as a burqa-wearing female, and was thus practically invisible in the androgynous third-planet culture.

Fifteen hundred solars seemed to Elijah a reasonable price, perhaps even low, as he peered over the woman’s shoulder and examined the 14-carat gold dolphin link bracelet she held. The beautiful craftsmanship seemed to bring the tiny sea creatures to life. He wondered, as on other occasions when similar jewelry had been sold, why the old man had not begun the haggling at a higher level.

They settled at a mere one thousand solars, the woman arrogantly jubilant with her victory over an ignorant hawker. As she moved away clutching her prize, the elderly merchant snapped his fingers. Two young men quickly rolled up the intricately woven tapestry that formed the booth, disappearing quickly along with the owner and the dancer in the opposite direction from that the departing customer had taken.

“Disconnect.” The bazaar disappeared at Elijah’s command to be replaced by blank walls. As used to it as he was, the sudden change was still disconcerting. Automatically, he reached for a tube of synthstim laced with pain blocker. The total submergence in the holoprojection always left him with the mother—no, the grandmother—of all headaches for up to an hour afterward.
He dimmed the lights and leaned back against the command couch, eyes closed, as he let the drugs do their work. Time to consider what he had seen. Time to use the little gray cells, as his favorite armchair detective would say, to put resolution to the Pisces project.

On more than thirty planets across the galaxy, he had witnessed the same transaction take place again and again. The setting changed, sometimes a bazaar, sometimes a shopping mall, a private solon, even a beach, but always it was the same. An exquisitely crafted dolphin link bracelet was sold at a fraction of its value by a trader who was never seen again. One per planet. No more, no less.

And in each case, within six months time the planet had disintegrated into social chaos. Religious institutions had emptied by the score. Governments had fallen and millions had died in the aftermath.

Elijah had arranged to have one of the bracelets examined discreetly by technicians, whose reports had been indeterminate.

A few things he knew. A micro-needle hidden in the sculpture was triggered by body heat to inject the wearer with a stream of nannites. All attempts to analyze their function had failed. It was assumed, but not proven, that the self-replicating micro devices were somehow transferred from person to person until an entire population was infected, perhaps through bodily contact such as handshaking.

All of the technicians were agreed that the structures bore the mechanical design signature of the ProtoGnosis cult whose evangelical zeal was sweeping the galaxy despite all reason. This was consistent with the appearance of a large ProtoGnosis following on each of the thirty target planets shortly before the descent into chaos.

Members of ProtoGnosis had become commonly known by the nickname “the Antis” because of their doctrines of existential and empirical rationalism, ultimately characterized by disavowal of the concepts of God, creation, supernatural influence and absolute morality. Inevitably, some wit had immediately attached the moniker “the Uncles” to Christian communities whose interplanetary growth had stagnated.

A gentle buzzing sound terminated his brief vacation from unpleasant reality. With a sigh, he waved at a hidden proximity switch and the room became a tropical beach. Water fell from a high cataract to a pool in the white sand below, and plumes of cooling mist rose into a brilliant diamond-blue sky.

“About time, Uncle Elijah.” The young woman standing before the waterfall grinned teasingly, hair moving slightly at the touch of a gentle zephyr.

“What’s up, Elli?” Elijah was in no mood for verbal jousting. Uncle was a title, not a relationship. Elli always seemed to want to push it. Part of him tried to focus attention on the pulse of the ocean and the scent of seaweed as a distraction. Elli was more than appealing, and therefore more than dangerous.

“Jonah picked up a rumor.”

“We need more than rumors.” Distraction wasn’t working. It never did. One minute alone with Elli, even in a hologram, and he began to think how well she would fit the description of the woman of Proverbs 31. He wondered if the probes were sensitive enough to pick up pheremones.

Elli ignored the interruption. “Jonah followed up. He was able to hack one of Antis’ mainframes and got a full download of something code-named ‘Evangel’. It appears to be a project chart for spreading the ProtoGnostic gospel to the rim worlds using technology.”

“The nannites.”

“Exactly.” Elli cocked an eyebrow. “There were also some diagrams, specs and even code for the nannites. Apparently, they attack certain specific areas of cognitive function and plant false information. Anyone they touch becomes a believer.”

“Or a disbeliever.” The whole point of the ProtoGnostic cult seemed to be to produce a godless society. Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? It made no sense to him. Who would challenge the Almighty? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

“We suspected something like that.” Elijah felt anti-climax at the confirmation.

“There’s more. Jonah found a report. Long-term exposure to the nannites causes insanity.”

“How long?”

“Six months.” Elli looked at him significantly.

“Just long enough to destroy a planet.” Elijah pictured the chaos on the planets he had observed, the mindless descent into anarchy. The pain. The suffering. At the present moment, six planets were on that path. Plus, of course, the one about to begin its slide after today’s transaction at the souk. “Is there no cure?”

“None.” There were tears in Elli’s eyes now. “Why do they continue? Why let all those people die?”

Elijah shrugged. Why indeed? “Because Satan is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. He kills believers to prevent them from serving God. He kills unbelievers to prevent them from becoming believers. He always has. The Antis are just his latest surrogates.”

“But whole planets at a time!” Her face was pregnant with pain, and he knew he had nothing to counter the awfulness of it.

“Has Jonah any recommendation?”

“He suggests a virus.”

“Have him do it.” A virus would buy time. Time meant lives saved. Time to reach people for Christ.

Elli shuffled her feet in the sand. “Have you ever wondered?” she asked wistfully. “If there’s an easier way? Evangelism is so slow. People think they don’t need God. Maybe Jonah could alter the code to make people listen to the Gospel.”

She didn’t mean it of course. He could see it in her face.

“Does God need mechanical help? We’re to teach. He prepares hearts. No media, no cleverness can change that.”

“I know.” Elli said quietly. “Salvation is personal or it isn’t real.” She quoted softly, “It is the gift of God.”

The compassion on her face broke through his barriers. As though by themselves, his hands and arms which had been unemployed until now, moved to embrace her. She might be parsecs away, but in his arms she felt real. And right. Who can find a virtuous woman?

“Take the next transport,” he said. “I need you here.”

The battle with the Antis would continue. But suddenly he knew what he had almost forgotten. Priorities. God is in His heaven. The command was preach the Gospel, not fight the Antis. Let God be sovereign.

He wondered how long it would take for Elli to arrive home.

Submitted by
Jim Cook

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