Gathering of Mendicants

A Short Story

Gathering of Mendicants

That does me good, yes that does me good”, Father Ignatius exhaled while Father Francis, the mission’s medical robot applied the local anaesthetic and tended to his badly lacerated shin.

“I feel like Jesus in Capernaum. Just don’t push your luck next time because I’m definitely not equipped for a Lazarus situation on my hands.” Francis finished sealing the wound with the cauterizer that jutted out of one of his titanium fingers and applied clinging bandage wraps around his leg.

“Ahh Francis, what luck do I have left that’s enough to be pushed? Besides, the consensus seems to be that we’re bound to lose. Hey maybe you can persuade the other Brothers to lend me some.” His gaunt face suddenly reddened and lit like a muzzle flash. He continued, now firing sentences like an Uzi in the night;

“Of course that would require of them to shake the dust off their robes since all they do is sit around on the Mount of I Give Up and preach the Gospel of Who Gives a Shit! Tell me how long can we survive like this? How long till the Rubiconians carry out the exodus? What resistance do we think we are carrying out by waiting for doom to find us? From their cities they see a bunch of stickmen cloistered in a cocoon, which, by the way, is fast breaking down and I can’t be the only one who’s concerned about it, or can I? Francis how can they take us seriously when all they see is one wayward firebrand stepping out and parading himself towards their towers with a pocketful of conviction but no one to back him up!” While delivering his oration he was sitting up on the side of the bed, and slowly sliding to the edge given the amount of frantic bouncing taking place, until he fell off and landed with his hands on the medbay floor.

“Arghh! Hellfire!” his voice was now a muffled trumpet, the side of his face planted on the floor with childlike resignation;

“We’re Jesuits and Xenoanthroplogists damn it…We signed up knowing the risks…” Father Ignatius turned on his side and breathed a few deep breaths, then lay on his back and looked up at Francis. His pallor had returned to its natural dormant state. The dormancy of a sleeping volcano.

“But we didn’t know the extent and scope those dangers could reach either,” Francis intoned solemnly with a nihilistic bent to his voice. Trying to lighten the mood, Ignatius called;

“Well are you going to pick me up or do I have to attain the miracle of swimming through solid concrete? I can see it already – Saint Ignatius of Rubicon. Hailing from Wyoming and canonized in the Centaurus constellation on the year of our Lord 2420. Blessed be his name, for he taught us the virtue of putting up with ineptitude.” Smiles cracked on both of their faces; Ignatius’s smile was broad and long, like a bearded autobahn; Francis’s was dipped in kindness and dabbed in mischief.

He extended two arms gently scooping up Ignatius from his sides and then draped him on his back like a mother swaddling her baby. With Ignatius in place they made their way out of the room, towards the communal bedroom. In jest, Francis whispered,

“How could you forget Saint Francis, First of the Robot Martyrs, Caretaker of the bumbling ones?”

The burst of laughter wasn’t enough to wake up the resting missionaries from their deep, amnesiac sleep.

He delicately placed Ignatius on his bed and popped open a compartment embedded within the centre of his wireframe skeleton, exposing a pill box. Ignatius looked wearily at the looming batch of pills.

“Take two of the ones from the compartment marked 1 every morning, one from compartment 2 after eating lunch, and one from compartment 3 before you go to sleep. Finish them all. Don’t forget or we might have bacteria mutating and you know that means I’ll be left alone pretty quickly and, well I’m not keen on losing you guys just yet.”

“Alright doc; don’t worry I’ll do as you say.” With a mellow softness and underpinning apology Ignatius shifted above the covers and leaned with his back set against the bedrest;

“Look, I love our Brothers too. You know it as much as I do but…” he scratched his lion’s mane of hair in exasperation, “it’s because of my love for them and above all our love for the Lord and his Word that I get so incensed. But I’ll be damned if we give up this early. We have to find a way to stop them, we will…” His head was lowered and thick bags of exhaustion hung under his eyes. After a few moments of silence, Francis spread his rod-like fingers and patted his shoulder reassuringly.

“I know brother, I know… Rest now, let your thoughts simmer and your bones lay still. We’ll talk tomorrow after breakfast. God Bless you Ignatius.”

“The lord be with you, Francis.”

Mornings on Rubicon were a beautiful sight; a planet different from the Earth yet somehow so nostalgic to walk upon. The skies were an energizing cyan, beaming with the energy of bright plasma. Clouds were almost identical to Earth with the only difference being that they seemed wispier and light, moving in synch like ballet dancers coordinating en masse. Situated in the centre of the tapestry was Proxima Centauri, dimmer than the Sun and with a sweeter, more forgiving type of light. Where the mission was based multicolour vegetation grew in kaleidoscopic shapes.

The trees stood tall, much taller than even the wisest sequoia. Their branches and leaves covered massive distances, forming a canopy that overshadowed the sky even if you stood kilometres away. What was most impressive was how the branches could move like a propeller, and the roots dislodge themselves from the ground, allowing this mighty organism to transport itself when necessary.

First the branches would extend to their whole length and slowly start moving clockwise, gaining speed very quickly until the canopy turned into a buzzing rainbow. The air around the tree would blow tremendously and the ground would rumble and roar, laughing together in concert with the tree and sending it off to its new home. Then great pieces of soil and rock would be ejected across long distances, often posing considerable danger for anyone unfortunate to find themselves in their path. Free from their symbiosis with the ground, the roots would emerge like upside down crowns, flexing and stretching about the fresh air. With that, a violent gash spanning hundreds of metres would be left on the ground, and the tree would make the journey to a more fertile area to spend the rest of its days.

Beneath these apex behemoths of the flora lay bushes and flowers, most of them a deep violet, unfolding like seductive perfume. Around the mission’s base the area was populated by symmetrically green and black moving clumps that hopped around like the offspring of sea urchins and Mediterranean bushes. They were elusive and never stayed close when the priests moved towards them, although they always came back at night close to the periphery of the base. The priests often wondered if they were afraid, curious, or if it was some sort of game for them?

The base itself was within a valley, at a very poor vantage point, but that is where the 51st fleet decided to send them. It went to show the importance or lack thereof that the governments now placed on these types of missions. From hillsides long inquiring necks craned above the violet sea like periscopes and watched the mission’s flag wave on its mast. Orange hued, octagonal turtles joined them in their foraging. Up above flew packs of creatures resembling sharpened pikes, pilfering and pillaging the skies of anyone foolish enough to risk the trek.

Phalanx-wrought, they were the mission’s first encounter upon entering the atmosphere. The damage their spearhead beaks caused to the transportation craft was discernible to this day. Often they would be seen flying sorties in groups of twos or threes, jetting treacherously close to the base with intent to taunt. But then again, Ignatius and Francis could be labeled as the instigators since the timing of the sorties was always curiously coordinated with when they were on lookout duty on the sentry post above. The whooshing and breezing of the diving pikes was intermingled with the raspberries being blown by Ignatius and Francis.

“Good morning Brother Ignatius,” they chanted together like students wearily greeting an unpredictable school master.

Ignatius took his seat next to Brother Ezekiel, an emaciated figure pecking at the porridge with calculated movements. He was one of the older, more experienced Brothers; a distinguished Xenoanthropologist but one who had grown tired of facing constant obstacles. Ignatius squeezed his shoulder and gave him a warm smile, settling down to eat his meagre porridge. They were all very thin, by choice through their vows of poverty but also by necessity since there was little food on Rubicon that humans could digest. All except Ignatius and Francis wore their base attire, such that it appeared as if there were only two priests.

Months ago, back when the Brothers still went together on expeditions, a fateful series of events took place. Enoch had broken off with six others, among them Brother Michael, Ezekiel’s younger brother. Enoch was a headstrong fellow with a gridlike face and shrewd mind suited for entrepreneurial ventures rather than missionary work. The truth was that Enoch had the temperament suited to an Asteroid Hedge Fund Manager.

It revealed a lot about the present sad state of affairs of the Church, which caved in like melted butter to the governments’ pressure in ordaining him as a priest because of his clout. It all stemmed from his family’s ceaseless pumping of iridium asteroid dollars to the multi planetary military industrial complex. Gone were the days of Gutiérrez’ Liberation Theology which Ignatius immersed himself in during his seminary years; Gone was Dorothy Days’ and Peter Maurins’ Catholic Worker Movement; Gone were the contributions of luminaries like Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, who did so much to push theology and the natural sciences in new waters. What hurt the most though was the dishonour shown for the struggles led by the Martyrs of the Pioneer Generation as they took the plunge into the stars. Only because of the efforts of these valiant hearts had the Church risen to its peak in the 23rd century. That was the era all the clergy harkened back to with awe – the era that broke the enmity between the Church and Science. Both merged to produce the greatest minds the universe had seen and paved the way for the missionaries to which Ignatius belonged.

Now only a shell remained of that second renaissance; the missions continued solely in the most trifle of ways, as humanity’s ideals once again began to divide and drop to the shrill tune of internecine war. But the government’s lack of oversight and adverse conditions partnered with carelessness landed them on quaint and forgotten Rubicon, which they surely had deemed to be a generic exoplanet with an unremarkable civilization. They would be proven wrong.

Following a trail that led away from the city that they had agreed to make contact with, Enoch and his group made their way towards an unchartered area. Meanwhile, Ignatius and his group, along with Ezekiel, had established contact with the city. Ignatius still vividly recalled the exchange between himself and their leader.

From the parapets of cyclopean city walls they crouched like metallic machines forged by foundry lasers. The Rubiconians formed in a line parted to the sides to allow the Leader to pass through. With a clinking movement it jumped from the ten metre high walls to land on the dusty plane. From the cloud of sand, it emerged like a gleaming assemblage of ivory swords, immaculate in their fanning edges. They had a seductive beauty to them; a predatory sheen reserved for tigers and other apex predators that tempted one’s eyes to apprehend their inherent danger. Its twin scimitar legs skied against the sand, sailing towards Ignatius with methodical ease. Proceeding forward, its head was moving 360 degrees, almost identical to a satellite dish.

It halted abruptly and threw some sand to Ignatius’ eyes with its feet. He put up his hand and blocked most of it but some inevitably struck his eyes and mouth. The glee with which it grinded the mechanical cogs at the centre of its concave face when Ignatius spat the sand, betrayed the possibility that it seemed to take satisfaction with his misery.

“Hello to you too. We’ve come to establish friendly relations with you and your people. We mean no harm, we’re here to exchange information and ideas about…” he paused, “The world, life, the universe, and anything that you have to contribute.” He spread his hands to the sky.

Somehow they had understood English. At first contact in the past with the previous Rubiconian city there was no such indication, as well as no indication of aggression. They actually seemed fearful and in a sense, meek, but soon they acquainted themselves with the missionaries. During those heady months upon arrival the monks would spend days in cities sitting with and talking to them. The Rubiconians only response was to show them around some of the main areas of their cities, with a substantial part cordoned off. But really what they wanted to spend most of their time doing was listening. They folded their legs backward and reclined the front half of their body forward, transfixed on every word. Their thirst for language was insatiable, most of which was quenched listening to preaching and Biblical verses. They would push the missionaries to leave Bibles every time they visited, pointing at the Holy books with genuine desire. Of course the missionaries obliged, enthused over their apparent love for the Word of God.

Every missionary had a theory over the motives behind their persistent insistence. The theorizing came to a stop when Brother Jared, one of the younger missionaries, decided to inspect one of the numerous floating rods that levitated in each district of their cities. The very moment that Jared amiably asked for permission to touch it, one of the three minders assigned to him surged from behind and snatched it from him. The other minder simply grabbed Jared’s hand and crushed it into a pulp. Only bone fragments were later retrieved. As the heroic dose of adrenaline pumped through his veins, the final thing he saw before blacking out was the Rubiconian raising a blood drenched finger and making the “no” sign, as if scolding a misbehaving child. As the darkness pushed in, he heard the grinding of gears and their satellite dish heads circling manically in debilitating laughter.

Brother Jared was there on that day, too. Francis had done all he could to patch it up but the bone fragments were not enough to make an organic substitute. Looking at Ignatius being insulted in this way made Jared squeeze his synthetic hand with anger.

However, Ignatius believed that each city held different Rubiconians with different belief systems and sensitivities and so he persuaded them to try again, but evidently things were not going as envisaged.

“What do you say?" Ignatius smiled as amiably as he could.

After a five second pause, the Leader pointed with meat cleaver fingers towards the gears on his face with pride, trying to showcase something specific. Ignatius focused and saw that under the gears was a new addition, one he had not seen with the Rubiconians of the previous city—it was a small rectangular speaker.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” It was quoting Revelations.

Ignatius heard everyone gasp, including himself, and saw several cross themselves while others were immobilized by it all. The Leader laughed, a proper hearty laugh and flicked its right hand upwards, the blades swishing against the air, and crossed itself like the missionaries just had.

“Come in, we’ve much to discuss, and...” it glanced at Jared, “...Misunderstandings to clarify.”

Brother Jared outright refused along with another ten of them. The rest were persuaded by Ignatius who felt a burst of zeal come over him. As they followed the leader into the city the sound of sprinting boots striking against compressed undergrowth drove the missionaries out of bewilderment and into despair.

“We lost Michael! Something took him in the woods!”

It was Enoch, heavily winded and gasping to catch his breath. On his trail were the rest of his splintered crew following suite and fighting for air.

Upon hearing his brother’s name, Ezekiel sprung out of the tangle of huddling priests behind Ignatius like a tiger through curtained bushes.

“Michael! Where? Where did you go? You fools! Where is he, damn you!”

“We followed the trail leading to sector 4, to the uncharted region. It was a collective decision” with that last sentence his group shifted their robes uncomfortably, kneading their hands over wounds of conscience, ripples of disgust, contempt and guilt pouring over them. But they remained silent, their mouths shut tight like sepulchers sculpted to restrain a dying truth.”

“I’ve no time for your excuses, Enoch! Any answer you give is eclipsed by your capacity for deceit! Take us to Michael now!”

The leader looked back at Enoch and gave him an imperceptible nod, acknowledging and appreciating something in him.

“There’s no need to be alarmed. As we speak I have allocated a search party numbering 30 of our finest personnel to find your Brother. Even if you all set out to find him it would take you days to barely search the area where he was lost. My people can scour the globe in a matter of hours.”

With that, 30 missiles appeared launching from within the city in every direction, disappearing in the horizon before anyone could take note of their appearance.

“Now come and let us host you until he is securely found. Let us assuage your fears.”

Its voice was not robotic at all. It spoke in a baritone, Transatlantic accent akin to Orson Welles. The way it enunciated each word emphasised the pitch perfect precision that reflected and reinforced its immaculate design.

Brother Ezekiel felt weary and wrestled with his choices, but decided to follow Ignatius and the others inside the city, Enoch included. Brother Jared and the others who objected returned back to base after arranging to keep in contact with Ignatius and the rest. As they entered the silver gates the Rubiconians exchanged disparaging and demeaning glances towards Francis, as if he failed to meet their expectations.

“It is a pity Brother Jared will not be joining us. You must know that we adhere to a strict code of organisation. Order is the pinnacle of our society and its disruption is not taken lightly. We share a worldwide network with the others of our kind and that is how we learned about your arrival and your language, about what happened to Brother Jared, and most crucial of all—to believe in God. Force is a necessity and a small price to pay to keep this civilization abreast and dedicated to serving God.”

“You would use force against a guest, and one who taught you the tenets which you now hold dear?”

Its response was rapid fire—and deeply worrying.

“Tame your hubris, brother. Do you not recall Proverbs 2:6?

For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

You have not taught us the tenets. Neither do you have the privilege to call yourselves the repositories of God’s knowledge. That knowledge is ever present and all encompassing—the omnipresent Word cannot be subjugated and shared like fire. You are but a trigger. Self-aggrandizement will only cast you down to Hell.

As far as Brother Jared’s transgression is concerned I have this to say, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” Revelation 7:1. They had a preference for eschatology.

After a short pause to let Ignatius float the concept in his mind, it continued.

“My people are those four angels, our four cities on the four corners of this planet are living testament to the power and eternal truth of scripture. We must protect these lands which God has given us custody over. We must be the bulwark against the Beast and its spies’ efforts to undermine the Lord’s mission.”

“Are you saying that you consider Brother Jared a spy?”

“Insofar as chaos and the profane encroach on the bastion of holiness, it follows that anyone could fall, temporarily or permanently under the bile and brimstone of the devil, even myself. We choose to hate the sin, not the sinner. This is what matters to the Lord.” Inhaling for effect, it added;

“This is how God spoke to us through Exodus 19:5, 'He said: You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice.' The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the LORD your God, as He has spoken.” He took the penultimate breath of a preacher delivering the final words of his sermon to the congregation.

“You see, my people are God’s chosen, we are the Logos made flesh. Know that any hindrance towards its actualisation will stand as an affront to God. We are but the toolshed for His Work to be carried out. Therefore, lay your guard down, unless you conspire with sin.”

Ignatius was awestruck and terrified. What manner of Pandora’s box had they unleashed? He feared and knew in his soul that it was too late to pick up the pieces, but he would not give up.

“The Bible also said: But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Listening to Ignatius’ retort had no effect on the leader; his response was swift and terse. The product of stringent studies in this distorted vision of theology.

“We love our enemies more than ourselves—that is why we strive to mould them in God’s image.”

“And what if they refuse?”

“Then they do not exist. They are errors that clog the universe—aberrant figments in a cosmos populated by God’s love. Their existence is therefore the transubstantiation of evil. They are the scourge that has been allowed to subsist for too long. By God’s will we shall deny them so.”

“So you reject anyone who deviates from your norm of being?”

“There is an order, a harmony that resides within our mode of existence that most mirrors Gods’. We did not choose this. We were bestowed this by His grace. As harbingers of this mode, it is our duty and Soul’s purpose to conform reality to its vision, and by extension God’s vision.”

All its answers were spoken with an engaging inflection; the rigorous intellectual diction of a philosopher being interviewed on TV for an audience of laypeople.

Ignatius chose not to pursue further questions, trying to find some way to enable them to leave, but realizing that any action that went against the Rubiconians plans would surely get them killed.

They had reached a massive tower in the middle of a silver lined plaza. From the towers’ top to the bottom of its cathedral doors was emblazoned a cross, resplendent in gold. This was their church. At the top, standing on a platform was a choir of Rubiconians, their scythe hands interlocked and singing hymns. Some of the lyrics could be heard:

“Lord I pray from Rubicon

Miles below the heavens

That one day I may join you there

In Your fertile crescent

Lord do you see us running

We’re scrambling to prepare

Our ships they fly their masts up high

To spread your Holy Word”

The Brothers looked about in abject horror, interrupted by the leader’s prompting;

“Our Church will provide refuge until your Brother is found. Please enter and leave your troubles outside. This is the House of God.”

Its mechanical cogs buzzed with emphasis when it said the word “this”, aimed to shame the Brothers. They were ushered in the relatively small circular hall of the church. It was made out of that austere silver of which the whole city seemed to be constructed out of. There were no icons or any religious imagery – only a golden cross hanging in the end of the hall, glowing like smelting ore. One could imagine Jesus screaming from within its amber walls. Screaming at the desolation to be carried out in His name. They were left alone, the sliding seal barring them from the outside. Barred in this Church where God was held hostage.

“What should we do now?” a rasping voice spat in the candlelight. That was the tinder that lit the fire and led all the missionaries to whisper loudly over each other, in panic and desperation.

“Quiet! Quiet! Francis, have you scanned the area for any ways to get out of here?”

“I’m on it from the second we stepped foot in this place. Give me a few moments.”

“Shouldn’t we wait? What about Michael? They sent out search parties. We can’t just leave him out there!”

“Dear Ezekiel, we’ve been lied to. I don’t know where Brother Michael is, but I’m certain they are behind it, with the help of a snake in our midst.” He breathed out and faced Enoch, standing far in the sidelines.

“Enoch, now is the time for answers. I vow to cast you down to the ground with my bare hands and bury you there if need be to stop you from spouting more of your lies. And the rest of you who went with him, have you no shame? What God do you serve that tells you to betray the trust of your Brothers? How will you look at yourselves in the mirror and claim Ad maiorem Dei gloriam? If there’s any goodness in you, and I pray that goodness dwells in all of you, tell us the truth.”

Brother William, one of Enoch’s group, and an old friend of Ignatius’ who studied together with him at the seminary, stepped forward with a solemn and downcast demeanour and said clearly but sorrowfully;

“God forgive us… We reached the uncharted area, it was just a forest clearing, there was nothing remarkable about it… The Rubiconians, they surrounded us from every direction. We came together and tried to speak to them, but they only listened to Enoch. One of them grabbed him by the arm and Enoch nodded. He told them that it would happen as they agreed, but requested that they keep their side of the bargain. They demanded of him to choose and make it quick. He didn’t even flinch. He pointed out Brother Michael and they seized him, took him away… They threatened to kill us all if we even mentioned a word of it…”

Ezekiel swung his very being at Enoch. His body was an armoured battering ram and his fists became talons that sliced at his face. He pummeled him to the ground incessantly, spitting at his soul, gnashing his teeth with the tears of retribution. The Brothers were almost too late to intervene; the malice made palpable that coursed through his veins made detaching Ezekiel a task fit for a Saint. Finally, Ignatius, with a net of ten others pried him loose from the juice filled stump that was once Enoch’s face.

Ezekiel’s screams were harrowing, amplified by the church’s cursed acoustics as Francis subdued him with tranquilizers fit for an army of giants.

Many were crying as the tranquilizer knocked Ezekiel out, and Enoch’s corpse pulsated in its death throes. Francis jumped to Enoch’s side and transformed himself into a flurry of moving syringes, razors, IV bags and reams of gauze.

As Ignatius paced up and down the church aisle, his mind caught in the prevailing frenzy, his head held up in fervent prayer, he heard and felt the vibration of a distant thunderstorm creeping towards the city. As the sound grew, what little natural daylight remained, dimmed leaving only candlelight and the beams of Francis’ surgical unit. The vibrations kept increasing in strength and vigour, descending with a vengeance against this silver city of sin. It was only when the shadow of a massive trunk landed, enveloping the stained glass windows, that Ignatius had realized what was going on.

The trees were migrating on the city, but not just one; there must have been five of them, dominating the horizon with nature’s directive to reassert its domains and quash this abomination. The blast sent Ignatius against the golden cross, staining it with blood from his head. Shockwaves trampled hundreds of Rubiconians, whole districts swept away and discarded from the planet’s records. The church door lay flat, with clouds of dust entering like tendrils of a force sent to rouse them from their death knell.

They shook off the layers of powder and regrouped at the doorway. Enoch remained unaffected by the blast, shielded by the titanium bars of his guardian angel, which worked diligently on him, unfazed by the chaos that evolved. The shadow that seemed so close from the window was actually kilometres away at another, faraway part of the city. Even so, the damage here was extensive.

Other buildings had collapsed; many were sprawled under boulders and parts of broken structures. Those who survived paid no attention to the missionaries; the Rubiconians were trying to shield their order—bifurcated between the theology of love and the application of hate, from the planet’s order—an order respiring under the laws of a universe still set to follow the doctrine of balance. Ignatius saw them hurrying and repairing fallen domes, soldering back missing appendages, and piecing together the rods that once cost Brother Jared his hand.

Amid the rubble of what was once a star shaped building stood a chair, with two feet jutting out, and a body covered with a white sheet. They ran en masse to reach the chair, dodging projectiles being hurled by the winds which still blew violently. Ignatius pulled the sheet and saw Brother Michael’s familiar face. It was like a thread of innocence that tied them into a knot that would become indivisible. With no time to waste, they untied him from his bonds and made their way to the gate. Behind them clouds of dust issued from craters bordered by the behemoth trees. The five titans stood on strategic parts of the city, like strongholds of reconquest.

At the brink of exiting and leaving back this blasted land the Leader appeared behind them, its body a charred black, with severed circuits and parts of its left arm missing. Its legs slalomed against the obstacles in its way and it went straight for Francis, who carried Enoch on his shoulder, now stabilized but in need of more medical care. Even with the amount of damage it had sustained, and using one badly burnt arm it deflected Francis’ swooping fists and pushed him out the gate like a ragdoll. Grabbing Enoch by bloodstained tufts of hair it dragged him back inside the city and shouted to the Brothers these words;

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea! Revelation 21:1. Yes, dear Michael told us all about Earth, but he merely confirmed what we had already known. What did God foresee in your pathetic squandering of His gifts to privilege you with such a planet for you to destroy? Nevertheless, you are blessed and cannot even see it. You are blessed to witness the exodus of God’s Chosen and our return to the Promised Land that you took away from us.”

It disappeared into the throng of rushing Rubiconians with Enoch in tow.

Those were the events that revealed what the Rubiconians really were. Shifting back to the present, after eating his breakfast and limping towards the kitchen, Ignatius felt eyes on his newest leg wound, from the previous night, when Rubiconian troops hurled swords at him as he howled words of love and truth under their city walls in vain to show them the error of their ways.

“Don’t look at my scars with pity—I carry them with pride as you once did. I wear them together with my robe as signs of our vocation and symbols of the Light that still shines. We came here as priests but we return as dead men. The question is, do we die for ourselves, with crippled consciences and pulverized souls, cooped up in a collapsing capsule, or do we die treading the steps of saints and martyrs—in sacrifice for mankind’s salvation? What Brothers are you when you remain locked in your cobweb minds, unable to harness the strength that God has given us, unwilling to listen to the shedding of His tears with every nut and bolt that they screw in their ships, geared to demolish the universe?”

Like blossoming flowers lifted out of drought they rose up from the benches, one after another, starting with Ezekiel. The ringing of their church bell words resurrected a part of Ignatius that was slowly fading away;

“I’m with you Brother…”

“By God’s will it shall be so…”

“We’re with you Ignatius…”

“It’s time to stand together again…”

Ignatius turned away from the kitchen sink where he had been about to wash his dish, dropped everything and fell to his knees, praying with the others with tears in their eyes. The first thing they did was to go and wear their robes. Ignatius then called them to the meeting room table and laid out his plan. He proposed that they investigate an area to the north, quadrant 7, where the satellite images had come up with grainy imagery, usually indicating magnetic interference of some kind.

Quadrant 7 was where all the answers lay. Where the ones they were waiting for, were waiting for them.

Ignatius locked eyes with him and moved closer. He stood three times the size of an average human, both his head and body were onion shaped and coloured; plump and bulbous. He moved like a great gourd filled with wine; his legs were miniature compared to the rest of him. When he saw Ignatius blue spikes flashed out of the top of his head like icicles. Ignatius motioned to the rest of the Brothers to stay back and he lay down submissively on the floor, on his back. He crossed himself and prayed. Out of forest thickets others emerged, all bouncing about the Being.

A pitter patter of soggy steps was heard and Ignatius saw the Being’s face staring down at him, against the backdrop of torchlight and nocturnal birdsong. As he regarded him, thick dewdrops fell on Ignatius’ face from a tree, causing him to squint heavily. With a melting, plopping sound the Being disintegrated before his eyes and turned into a large gelatinous ball, rolling all over the place. The others joined him in what was a chorus of snorting, frenzied spinning and jolly hopping like tumbleweeds on the forest floor. They did this for a while and Ignatius caught glimpses of the gaping eyes and floored jaws of the Brothers crouching ten metres behind this unbridled circus troupe.

It dawned on him that this must be some sort of expression of joy or just laughter; if they wanted to harm him they surely could have and be done with it by now. Taking this into account he chanced to stand up and make some sense of the situation. As he got to his feet the Being bashed himself on a large rock with the gel inside him spraying in the outline of his previous, gourd shaped form. It was as if their molecules could disassemble and transmute themselves. A fizzling, crackling and popping filled the air and just as easily as he had become into a ball, he returned to his previous state. This time he bounced with gusto towards Ignatius and his scarecrow face curled up in what could be interpreted as a smile.

Ignatius mustered a meek smile back, his forehead slathered with sweat and his eyes pinned on the floor. He stood resolutely in front of Ignatius and with a rather direct gesture stooped down to his level and tugged on Ignatius’ beard. Ignatius remained incredulous and first his smile grew to that familiar autobahn level, then his eyes shifted to meet the Being’s. The Being responded in kind, with lips spread wide like straw strewn in a barn. Ignatius ventured to raise his hand and tugged at his purple chin. With no beard to tug on he ended up moving the Being’s head back and forth, in the manner of a child pestering their parent.

To say that they all bellowed would be an understatement. Rivers of laughter spilled from their heads like corks being popped open. Next they splashed on the rocks once again, only to come forth like spring water and emerge from shimmering puddles in the guise of flying squids. They swam across the skies, between besotted clouds, performing blessed sonnets for an audience, light years away from home. This was a surreal land, a world where matter lay bare to the will of the soul. There was a Celtic tradition of old that called such places where the veil between heaven and earth was so brittle as to be whisked away—the “thin places.” This was Rubicon’s thin place.

Their writings among the clouds continued and sent the Brothers into a hypnotic state, paralyzed by their grandiose circuits in the sky. They began to feel a vibration course through them, expanding from chest to envelop the whole body. The interior drone continued and gained greater force, shaking them with an energy that was not oppressive, but cleansing, unraveling the impurities from their souls and casting them away. As it reached its crescendo, it sent them tumbling backwards and falling on the hallowed ground.

They regained consciousness in a temple hallway adorned in characteristic Rubiconian violet. The walls bore a cyan symbol similar to the Christian Ichtys. It bulged out of the wall giving it a three-dimensional look. The smell of soil and burning incense wafted through the brazier lit path. Ignatius followed it and reached a hall; it was a golden dome with honeycomb patterned holes on the roof. Through the holes he saw the deep blue of the ocean depths, punctuated by patrolling fish.

At the dome’s centre was a dais and on it a pedestal carrying the Being’s onion shaped head. Concentric circles of fine powder made five rings around the dais; the outer circle was violet, followed by green, grey, silver, and black at the core just before the first step of the dais. Ignatius stepped forward silently, making sure he did not disturb the circles. He felt baptized and reborn into a lucid dream; his steps echoed against the golden marble, breathing new life into the consciousness of this sunken temple. The dais and pedestal themselves were oil coloured and seemed deliberately uncouth and Spartan compared to the intensity of the powders which stood as the hallmarks of the place.

Ignatius reached the pedestal and heard a voice inside his head which came from the Being;

“Final are the days for those who have discarded hope and let the army of the misguided ravenous devour it. Ignatius, these days are truly our last.”

It was Ignatius’ voice, spoken in his mind like a monologue that did not belong to him.

“We nurtured and gave succor to what we saw as trampled, injured creatures. We saw into their past and witnessed the horrors that had been done to them. We sought to provide a sanctuary for them and all the persecuted throughout the worlds. They turned and sapped this land of much of its joy and life, striking us down. What you see before you is all that remains of this heartland. Follow me and I will show you our story and theirs.”

The Being floated from the pedestal and beckoned to Ignatius with a nod towards the outer, violet ring of the concentric circles. He dipped and took a mouthful of the powder, blowing it on Ignatius’ face.

Through Ignatius all the Brothers were seeing the same vision; they had a bird’s eye view of Rubicon in its splendor. The violet flora was even deeper in its vibrant shade, and there were many more of the massive trees spaced between the dipping valleys and sloping hillsides. In the all-encompassing canopy of the trees they saw the Beings emerge and go about their lives, crafting amulets and pendants, tending to their young, floating down the trees to gather food. The surroundings dissolved and changed into an underwater view; Great tornado shaped spires showered in gold moved around the sea floor, and about them were dotted honeycomb domes, identical to the temple they had awoken in. The vision faded out and the voice entered their minds;

“This was the sanctuary before they came escaping the persecution of their masters. This is not our world; we have none now. We are the helpers of the cosmos. Like you we offer aid to the downtrodden and tormented; a chance to stand on their own. We have no control over life, we merely support it.”

He floated towards the next ring, the green powder spread like grass trimmings. He blew it on Ignatius’ face.

Cubes descended from the skies, blacking out the sun like a plague of Egypt. As they landed on Rubicon they unfolded from within to reveal the glow of chrome; the polished tongues of silver spilling out. Monoliths and boulevards walked out from the inside and creatures given life through sword and spear and laser honed edges – what they came to know as the Rubiconians. They were welcomed by a banner of green flowers and a parade of gratitude; the Beings greeting them like long lost brothers. The vision ended with the Being Ignatius had contact with, placing his hands around the satellite dish head of one of the creatures like a mother receiving her son safely back from the travails of war.

“We shed tears of joy that day; blessed to welcome this broken down people on this outpost of convalescence.”

Floating to the next circle, the Being took a mouthful of the grey dust and blew it on Ignatius; it was coarser and made him cough violently.

It was a grey planet populated by concrete bunkers that covered the whole surface, bordered by spaceports and the Cubes that they saw landing on Rubicon. The theme was mammoth sounds of growling underground foundries; rigs equipped with monstrous hands that appropriated resources from diamond sealed vaults, wailing deep under the planet’s crust.

They saw images of shadowy figures prodding what Ignatius knew as the Rubiconians with electrical batons; saw them beheaded by shadows wielding lasers; heard their grinding gears twitch and tremble in pain; followed them in vast networks of forgotten mines lit by musty wicks and drawing boards filled with plans and hopes. The vision returned to the bunkers inhabited by the planet’s shadowy figures. The shade was cleared away revealing humans, just like Ignatius. This was the Earth. A military operations room took centre stage and floating above they saw Generals and other personnel looking at a map of the world. One of the Generals, the one adorned with the most insignia could be heard saying,

“North America sector is rebelling, Africa sector is lost, and Europe will be next. They’ve built up whole countries underground, right under our noses. We’ve let them fight our enemies long enough, the enemy of our enemy has now become our enemy, too. It’s time to issue the kill command.” He nodded.

Tunnels and underground homes were liquidated by a river of fire, millions perishing under the unstoppable flow. The weak were weeded out, only the few who were strong and ruthless remained, the ones who had refused to break off from their kind and who remained disguised under the leash of the humans. They bided their time and when the rest of their kind was eradicated and they had regained human trust after their pretended reprogramming, they struck. They had been granted added privileges since they were deemed to be totally docile and under the strict rhyme and measure of the dictated computer programming.

They split in groups of five thousand to each cube, seizing control, and slaughtering the skeleton crew appointed to each one. The humans had no time for starships, they had degenerated back to tribal warfare between their nations, the ultimate regression writ large—a fall from the stars, the winter of mankind. Walls of guided missiles flung themselves from bunkers of paranoia; nuclear warheads spat their salvoes; plasma cannons licked the Cubes exteriors with forked tongues. There was no effect, just a slight disruption of the outer shield.

This was human technology from a past epoch when the stars trumpeted with the music of creative discovery and balance, respect above all things—before humans became divided and became a species which forgot its past. Averting their gaze from their masters, the Rubiconians ascended into the stars with starships now powered by the perpetual struggle of their occupants deep rooted malice and newfound freedom. The vision ended with the General back on Earth ordering the production of another set of surface to air missiles, aimed at another meaningless war.

“Ignatius have you realized what we are? We are one and the same. We are humans, seven thousand years in the future. The ones who broke off from the other humans who wished to stay behind, physically and mentally, staying behind on Earth and forgetting the legacy we had built as one. When we came back to invite them with us they rejected us – we urged them to unite and we felt so much pain to see our own people reject us, looking at us as demons wielding magic, cowering in their bunkers and firing missiles at whatever approached.

Our forefathers created the Cubes; our Brothers who refused and remained on Earth created what you call the Rubiconians; these creatures that had so much potential but became corrupt beyond measure. Using these Cubes, we can travel across time but so can they, and so we chose this planet, knowing that you would come and would understand. Only together can we put an end to this.”

Ignatius and the Brothers found that they could not speak, unable to properly thread sentences, and urged by a force within them to listen to the whole story before doing anything.

They drifted to the final ring, the black one. Pitch black and the thickest, the texture of crushed volcanic rock. He took this powder and smeared it on Ignatius’ face.

Swords and lasers cut down trees while underwater temples were desecrated. The Being was seen communicating telepathically with what Ignatius recognized as the Leader, the one who had taken them captive and had seized Enoch. They heard the Being questioning the Leader.

“Why are you doing this? Your hate will lead to nothing constructive. We anticipated your movements coming to this planet to help you rise up from this malice, not to trap yourselves once more in this circle of destruction.”

“Hate is love, escape is truth, self-perpetuation is paramount. All words from outside are tools to be manipulated by us to achieve further freedom. Hate is love and subjugation of other is freedom.”

The Being turned into water and retreated deep into the ocean with a select few, cloaking their last remaining temple, the one where Ignatius and the Brothers stood. The vision ended with pangs of pain throughout their bodies.

“This is what happened, my dear estranged Brothers. They now build up their forces to take back the Earth and any living force that they encounter in their way. They have used theology and the divine as an instrument of revival, an impetus to provide added substance behind their hate. As we speak they work on creating a hybrid of the worst characteristics found in humans of your age, and their own robotic design. This is why they chose to deal with Enoch; so dazzled was he with the allure of false transcendence, that he accepted this poisoned chalice.”

He took Ignatius’ head and held it against his. Ignatius saw a silver factory assembly next to it a team of five Rubiconians working on the figure of Enoch. Where his face was left a stump after Ezekiel’s beating, there was now a golden mask with his face engraved on it, gazing up emotionless like Agamemnon’s death mask. Halfway along his arms and along his back silver spikes extended like lances set to impale anything deemed a threat. His hands were made into balls containing holes that shot red plasma energy, melting any alloy they put before him. He lay as a receptacle for the input of their technologies, a body and will undergoing Kenosis to the forces of hate. With his clear diction, standing above the operating table on a platform with glass underneath it, the Leader said:

“2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!”

The vision abruptly stopped and they were back with the Being in the temple. He knew that they would have to make the choice now, that the moment they all knew was coming in their lives, that moment that you cannot place within your soul, but when it comes to pass, you know that you have lived it, came.

“The way is now open for us to end this. We must remotely engage the self-destruct mechanism on all the Cubes. Rubicon will be destroyed, they will be destroyed, and the remaining Cubes on Earth will be destroyed, taking the planet with them. By doing this we will alter the timeline to prevent mankind from splitting and becoming divided. We will use the ripples created by the destruction as encoded warnings and messages for our people to find in another timeline. Our forefathers implemented a failsafe in which the self-destruction mechanism fails unless humans from two different epochs come together and agree in Soul and Mind to go forward with this. My brothers, the universe has thrust this upon us – the time has come…”

The Brothers now in spirit and flesh, knew and decided in their souls that this had to be done. They followed Ignatius and Francis on the dais, circling the pedestal in the middle. Their Brothers from the future joined with them and they all held hands together. The dais lowered to an underground level of the temple beneath the sea bed.

It was adorned with illustrations of harmony from every age humanity had been through; cave paintings from Lascaux; Fertility goddesses; Egyptian temple art; Byzantine church paintings; depictions of a future Ignatius would not know, but would rest assured that it would come to pass – Cubes spreading golden light to civilizations hampered by war; humans decoding the playful riddles of energy and matter and using the answers to alter themselves at will.

From the pedestal a display with two hand prints emerged. Ignatius and his Brother from the future went and placed their hands in the prints. Behind them all the others gathered together and lay their hands on each other’s back. Born from the selfsame Womb, of the selfsame Soul, serving the selfsame Light. A gathering of mendicants. With a flash of light, they came into this world, and with a flash of light they now exit.

———–

Inside Cube codename “Skies of Harmony”, at the outer reaches of the Milky Way the Operator of transdimensional disturbances saw a massive spike unlike anything ever recorded in the disturbance receptor. They had succeeded.

———–

A little boy and girl are playing tag in Rubicon park

Orchids sing their pollen song and the orange turtles smile

Their joy springs from a central plaque

Bearing the names of heroes

The forty Saints of Rubicon

Who gave their lives for what is Good

science fiction
Jason Nikolaidis
Jason Nikolaidis
Read next: Best Netflix Sci-Fi