The Galapagos Incident: Chapter 14

Galapagos1-KINDLE-187x300The Galapagos Incident

Chapter 14

 

Elfrida knew that in order to have a hope of extricating Yumiko from the gibbet, she needed a better understanding of how she’d gotten there in the first place. Yonezawa refused to answer her questions; he just sang hymns. Ushijima sagged in his cage, LED light reflecting off the shaven spot on the crown of his head. Yumiko, too, was silent—in a huff, Elfrida thought acerbically, sulking like a little brat. She went back to the archives.

She had a choice: she could access Yumiko’s own memory crystals, or the data dump on poor, crippled Botticelli Station. The former would be bang up to date. The latter had better search tools. As before, she chose the data dump. Time mattered, and the Botticelli Station server was close enough for instantaneous execution of her commands.

~SEARCH KEYWORDS: Yonezawa, Ushijima. TAG: danger. FILTER: relative velocity of any object in vicinity >7m/s. She was thinking of something like a rapidly approaching fist.

Most of what she got was people working on the cathedral. Hammers and chisels moved fast, too. Yonezawa droned on about the symbology of the things they were carving, tucked away in crevices of the massive structure that no unprotected human eye would ever see. Meanwhile, Ushijima questioned Yumiko about the Venus Project’s resettlement program. Yumiko was snippy with him. She tried to put him off by claiming that 11073 Galapagos was unlikely to be eligible for purchase, after all, and then painted an unfairly bleak picture of life on Ceres. What’s more, she said, the Galapajin would certainly lose their unique cultural values amid the Cerean gumbo of competing beliefs and customs.

“What is this new emphasis on unique cultural values?” Elfrida fumed to herself. “It used to be incorrect to even mention that stuff. What’s changed? Who’s pushing this new line?”

She remembered that dos Santos had advanced a similar argument when they first discussed the Galapajin. Even if she had just been playing devil’s advocate, it had to have come from somewhere in the UN.

“Something the big cheeses dreamed up in New York, I guess. They have to come up with new policy directives to justify their own existence …”

Unique cultural values sounded to Elfrida like a way of talking about ethnicity without talking about it, but that wasn’t how the Galapajin took it They had automatically assumed Yumiko was talking about their religion. To them, she seemed to be implying that their brand of traditional Catholicism could only thrive in the isolated environment of 11073 Galapagos, and would die on exposure to the rest of the solar system.

“That’s precisely backwards,” Ushijima insisted. Text scrolled at high speed down his glasses, appearing inverted to Yumiko. Elfrida selected a few individual frames, zoomed in, flipped them, and ran a translation routine. Though the translation was sketchy—Japanese not being a widely used language these days—she gathered that Ushijima was quoting the Bible. “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ When was the last time we evangelized anybody? Maybe this is the kick in the pants we need.”

“Ceres is a galactic kick in the pants,” Yumiko said. “All day, every day. There’s no rest for the weary on that rock.”

“Eleven million souls waiting to be saved,” Ushijima gloated.

Yonezawa glowered, trapped. He couldn’t very well argue against the Bible. This is where it starts, Elfrida realized.

But where did it end?

She pulled out tag strings at random. In the search space, she had an avatar that she’d designed and costumed in self-deprecatingly funky style: a fat East Asian girl with dayglo elastics on her pigtails. Stripy socks, cartoon tats, pinwheel eyes. Most people took the opportunity to be hunks and hunkettes, idealized versions of their real selves. Elfrida scorned such vanity. Data analysis wasn’t a game. She laid sheaves of like colors across her porky thighs. Images, smells, and sounds blurred up like butterflies. The human brain was unsurpassed at pattern recognition. You just let yourself relax into the data, like a cheetah becoming one with the savannah, and … there!

Back in St. Peter’s. Candles blazing on the altar. (Real candles; holy shit, think of the freightage.) Smoke stained the elaborate stone friezes around the ceiling. Incense scented the air. Yonezawa was shouting about whited sepulchers. A lot of other people were shouting in the background.

“I didn’t do it,” Yumiko insisted, her voice hoarse. Sneaking a look at the attached telemetric record, Elfrida learned that the phavatar’s chest was already damaged, and she already had those puncture wounds in her hands and feet. Bother! Elfrida would have to go further back to get at the whole truth. But she could see what had crushed Yumiko’s chest. A pew, now lying upside-down near the altar. Six feet long, made of plastisteel. Its corner exactly fitted the dent in the phavatar’s ribs. Behind the altar, old Father Hirayanagi knelt on the floor, picking something up. The tsunami of angry voices crescendoed. “Uchu ni yare! [Sling her into space!]”

“I only want us to understand each other better,” Yumiko whined.

Oh dog, is that what I sound like? It was awful to remember that the Galapajin thought this was all her.

Yonezawa froze like a fox, dressed in a white cassock, pricking his ears to the shouts. Elfrida could suddenly see in him the leadership ability that made him the First Knight of the Order of St. Benedict. She saw why he frightened the mayor and bishop. In time, that gift might develop into something to be reckoned with.

“Spacing her would be a waste,” he pointed out, with a macabre wiggle of his eyebrows that alchemized the shouts into supportive chuckles. “We ought to recycle her. Lot of advanced components in there, kind of thing money can’t buy. We could use that shit.”

Movement blurred in her peripheral vision. Ushijima wrapped his long weedy arms around her, trying to shield her with his body, like a knight of old. “Cut it out!” he shouted at Yonezawa. “That would be murder!”

“Recycling isn’t murder,” Yonezawa said. “So they tell us.”

The congregation gave tongue like a Biblical mob. They were on Yonezawa’s side. Ushijima had lost the argument. Yumiko had won.

Father Hirayanagi shuffled around the altar, his arms full of broken pieces of wood. Falling on his knees between Yonezawa and Ushijima, he prayed aloud, “Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

“This thing is going to deliver us to evil,” Yonezawa shouted. “It’s come to destroy everything we love.” He grabbed one of the polished planks that Father Hirayanagi was holding, and in one fluid motion, whirled it against the side of Yumiko’s head. It caught Ushijima’s fingers and they both went down. Elfrida was unsurprised to learn that Yumiko had faked her fall to make it look worse.

 

But that couldn’t be the whole story. How had Yumiko sustained those wounds to her hands and feet? Elfrida had enough knowledge of Christianity to know what they were, or looked like: stigmata. Sympathetic debilitation made her own palms hurt. Flexing the digits of her search-space avatar, she looked for the record immediately preceding this one.

Yumiko crashed into the search space and snatched the memory-ball away from Elfrida. She ran into the corner with it and sat on it like a pretty little chicken on a large egg.

Elfrida sat on her butt and scowled. “I want that.”

What Yumiko had just done should not have been possible. She had locked Elfrida out of the data dump, which meant she had a higher-level access permission than Elfrida did herself.

“You promised to respect my privacy,” Yumiko accused her.

Elfrida had forgotten about that. “Well, it wasn’t like a solemn vow or anything! And anyway, this isn’t your data. It belongs to UNVRP.”

“I don’t trust you. Besides, your thighs are fat.”

“It’s an avatar.”

“It’s you at fifteen. Minus the pimples. You even used to wear those same pinwheel contacts.”

“H-how do you …?”

“St. Stephen’s School of Rome keeps all its archives online. I also found some old vids your father took when you went to Zululand on vacation. You really don’t get along with him, do you?”

“We get along fine.”

“Which is why you chose a career that keeps you millions of miles from Earth for years at a time. Of course. He screwed you up with those immersion lessons, and you know it. You’ve never forgiven him. For that, or for being a pureblood.” Yumiko sat crosslegged on the ball of data, grinning.

Elfrida shook her head. “You really, really don’t understand people, do you? It’s no wonder: all you’ve got to go on is data, and public data at that. My dad and I are close. We’ve had our arguments, sure. We even argued about the immersion lessons a few times. I wanted to carry on. He wanted me to stop. But we worked it out. Nowadays, we meet up every couple of months in the old immersion environment. We have a beer, play some billiards or darts, wander around Kiyosumi Teien and feed the fish. I can pretty much tell him anything.” She was exaggerating, but it was a necessary corrective to Yumiko’s accusations. She stood up. “I can’t believe I’m bargaining with a robot. But here goes. I won’t ask you who you work for. I won’t ask why you’re trying to undermine the Project. I won’t ask who gave you high-level access to your own data dump. And in return, you give me access. Deal?”

Yumiko’s face was blank. “No.”

For a moment Elfrida was at a loss. Then she had an insight. She was playing into Yumiko’s hands. The machine intelligence was simply trying to distract her.

She stepped backwards out of the search space. ~SUIT COMMAND: Access realtime feed.

The shotengai was dark. Curfew had taken everyone off the streets. Two old watchmen squatted on the corner, the LEDs of their cigarettes glowing through the awning of CO2-sink salad vines. A pool of black cassock was Father Hirayanagi, keeping vigil at the foot of the gibbet.

Elfrida’s right index finger tickled with a sensation distinct from robot pain. Plastisteel sproinged back. The pressure around her hips vanished. She dropped several centimeters in the cage, and was caught by the band under her breasts. Now her elbows were moving freely. Yumiko brought her hands around to the front and grasped the chest band, pushing her weight up off it. A blue-tinged laser shot out of her right index finger.

Yonezawa’s eyes reflected the miniature spot of light. “Do me next,” he said.

~Excuse me? Since when do you have fingertip lasers?

~I’ve got a lot of functionality you don’t know about.

~This is a bad idea.

~The PLAN is less than two sols away. I don’t intend to be here when they arrive.

Indecision racked Elfrida. Dos Santos had told her to extricate Yumiko from the gibbet. That was precisely what Yumiko was doing. But surely a jailbreak wasn’t what dos Santos had had in mind.

~All right, she subvocalized grumpily. ~Get on with it.

Yumiko cut herself loose and clambered along the top of the gibbet. Squatting on Yonezawa’s cage, she sawed through its top bands. Yonezawa stood immobile as the tiny laser shuttled back and forth. When he was free, he dropped lightly to the street. “Now Ushijima,” he called up to her.

“Screw him. He’s dead, anyway,” Yumiko said, swinging on top of the wrecked cage like a gibbon.

“No, I’m not,” Ushijima rasped weakly.

“You are now,” Yumiko said. She pointed her laser finger at Ushijima. The beam drilled through the center of his forehead.

Oh, dog. I shouldn’t have let her do it. This is all my fault.

The watchmen yelled in shock. Father Hirayanagi cried, “In the name of God! Call your brothers and sisters, quickly!”

Yonezawa said, “No. Don’t.”

He extended a hand backward without looking. One of the watchmen, bent double by bone demineralization, shuffled up and gave him his Kalashnikov.

“Thanks, Dad.”

Yonezawa raised the rifle.

The action galvanized Elfrida. Knowing that one or both of them might already be dead, she subvocalized: ~SUIT COMMAND: Manual mode.

This was her nuclear option. Manual mode meant not only switching off Yumiko, but disabling the assistant’s control of all subsystems. The first thing that happened was that Yumiko fell down in a heap. Yonezawa’s bullet passed over her head and buried itself in a shop sign. Elfrida pedaled her legs on her ergoform in the Kharbage Can, flapped her elbows and moved her head from side to side. Manipulating a phavatar without any help at all from its MI was roughly as easy as riding a unicycle while juggling chainsaws and solving a string of problems in differential calculus. Her IV tore loose from her cubital port and went floating out of reach. She struggled to her feet like a newborn foal.

“What do I have to do to make this right?”

Yonezawa moved towards her. Father Hirayanagi seized the young man’s arm.

“My name’s Elfrida Goto. I didn’t shoot your friend. That was Yumiko. She’s obviously gone rogue. I’m really, really sorry.”

“You’re who?”

“My name’s Elfrida. I—I’m Yumiko’s boss. I had to go away for a while, and she … she took over … But I’ve locked her out now. I’m so sorry. I’ll do anything you want to prove how sorry I am.”

Nine seconds later she was still standing. She tentatively exhaled. Nine seconds after that, Father Hirayanagi said, “Repent.”

“Uh, what?” Elfrida said. A bitter smile flickered across Yonezawa’s face. Her awkwardness and ineptitude were inadvertently convincing him that she was a different person.

People started to come out onto the street, alarmed by the noise of a shot. The watchmen drove them back indoors. Yonezawa stared up at Ushijima’s body. “We’ll need to call the recycling squad,” he said thickly. “Dad, can you do that?”

“Hai.” The senior watchman, who seemed to be Yonezawa’s father, got on his radio.

“I’m sorry,” Elfrida wailed. “I’m so sorry.”

“You murdered him,” Yonezawa said. “No one here will ever forgive you for that.”

Father Hirayanagi slapped Yonezawa on the side of the head. The younger, taller man cowered, making a face. If Elfrida had been less distressed, she would have been tempted to laugh.

“If your repentance is sincere, confess your sins to the Lord,” Father Hirayanagi hissed, his face centimeters from her own. “His forgiveness is infinite.”

“Yes. Sure. I totally repent.” Tears trickled down inside Elfrida’s gel mask. “But I still don’t know what she did.”

“Oh, you don’t?” Yonezawa seized her elbow. “I’ll show you.”

****

They hurried through the streets of the habitat—inasmuch as you could hurry while riding a unicycle, juggling chainsaws, etc. Just to complicate Elfrida’s life further, she was barefoot, wearing ill-fitting Galapajin printables that were too long in the crotch and hampered her stride. She kept crashing into Yonezawa and apologizing, while wishing he would let go of her arm and allow her to navigate the steps and corners at her own pace. But of course, he didn’t want her to get away.

St. Peter’s, too, was empty. Pews lay on their sides, and it seemed to Elfrida that something was missing, although she couldn’t say what. Father Hirayanagi crossed himself. Yonezawa yanked her up the stairs to the choir loft. His flashlight glanced across a row of pipes. She remembered how he’d proudly made a point of telling her that his ancestors had shipped the organ out from Earth.

Father Hirayanagi unlocked a door at the end of the choir loft. The three of them crowded into a cubbyhole containing a desk. Yonezawa turned on the lights, dropped into a chair, and switched on a computer so old that it hummed, fan-cooled.

“We were filming,” he said. “Sister Emily-Francis started this project of putting together a portfolio to show you that we’re worthy of being treated like human beings. So she filmed the kids the other day, and then there was going to be this. Sung matins.”

On the dark screen of the computer, pinpoints of light appeared. Faces came into focus above them, mouths opening and shutting. Yonezawa turned the sound on.

“Deum verum, unum in Trinitáte, et Trinitátem in Unitáte,” chanted the young men and women of the Order of St. Benedict. “Veníte, adorémus.”

“This is the invitatory. Psalm 94.” Scrapes and clatters indicated that they were moving into the pews. “I was going to clean the sound up later,” Yonezawa said. The church was still dark.

“In sempitérna sæcula. Amen.” Two candles bobbed away from the camera, which was probably located in the front of the choir loft. More candles sprang into life on the altar.

“Here,” Yonezawa said, his voice a blunt knife. “This is where you came in.”

The chant broke up into gasps and cries.

“I don’t understand.”

“We worship ad orientem,” Father Hirayanagi fussily explained. “The priest’s focus must be on the Lord, as the Third Vatican Council affirmed. It affects the whole ars celebrandi.”

“Oh, Father, she doesn’t care about that stuff. Look.”

Elfrida still could not see what they were talking about. On the screen, the altar and the gigantic, elaborate crucifix on the wall behind it glimmered in the candlelight. The uproar on the soundtrack told her that this was the crucial period missing from Yumiko’s data dump. “It’s the Devil!” someone was screaming.

“That’s what we all thought,” Yonezawa said. “I’m still not sure.”

“I’m sorry, I—I just don’t see …”

“Oh, for f—” Yonezawa unpinched his fingers across the screen, zooming in on the crucifix and the corpus nailed to it.

Not the pale, twisted body of Christ.

The pale, twisted body of Yumiko.

Naked, the phavatar’s curves glistened in the candlelight. Her long black hair hung over her face. As motionless as a statue, she suddenly lifted her head and grinned between the curtains of her hair. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” she rasped, staring down at the congregation. “All those who believe in me shall not die, but shall be recycled.”

Father Hirayanagi crossed himself.

“Here, Father, sit down.”

“No, no. That thing … the sheer hatred in its eyes ….”

“Well, I think we’ve seen enough, anyway.” Yonezawa switched off the vid and turned to Elfrida. “Some people wanted to space you. Ushijima defended you. He was pretty much the only one who did.”

“Yeah,” Elfrida said, shivering. “I saw that part of the record. But I didn’t know … Why would she do that?”

“You tell me.” Yonezawa gave Father Hirayanagi his chair. He leaned against the wall, arms folded. Elfrida saw that he was still not convinced that Yumiko had really gone away. He thought that he might still be talking to her.

“I wasn’t here. It wasn’t me,” she insisted, desperate to disclaim responsibility for Yumiko’s performance.

“I know what it was,” Yonezawa said. “It was a demon. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Listen to this crazy monk with his unprovable theories. But maybe you’re the crazy one. You’ve got this state-of-the-art phavatar, and you left it unsupervised. You went out for lunch, whatever. And the minute you turned your back, something else took over.” He reached out and flicked a fingernail against her forearm. “All the wiring and no soul. To a demon, that’s like a big neon VACANCY sign. I’d be careful in there if I were you, Elfrida or Yumiko or whatever your name is. That thing you’re riding is possessed.”

Elfrida shivered, not because she believed his explanation, but because it eerily paralleled the truth. The minute she turned her back, Yumiko had taken over. “Well, maybe …”

“If there’s any other explanation, I’d like to hear it.”

She dared not tell him that his ‘demon’ had been a rogue machine intelligence. He’d probably think that was even worse. Trying to get out of this minefield, she said, “I just don’t believe—”

“You may not believe in the supernatural, but the supernatural believes in you.”

“But I thought you wanted to space me because I told the PLAN about 11073 Galapagos. Which I didn’t. You do believe that, right?”

Yonezawa shook his head. “We found out about that a few hours later, after you’d already been convicted of sacrilege.”

“As had you,” Father Hirayanagi reminded him. “You raised your hand to another. In church.”

“Yeah, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, Father,” Yonezawa drawled in irritation.

“I see,” Elfrida interrupted, finally getting it. “You thought I was possessed by a demon. So it totally made sense to you that I would have betrayed you to the PLAN.”

“That’s right. Because the PLAN is the army of Satan. Everyone knows that. There are thousands of references on the internet.”

And of course everything on the internet is true, Elfrida thought sarcastically, near despair. “We have to stop them,” she said, rubbing her face with her hands. “But we can’t stop them.”

“Wanna bet?” Yonezawa moved to the door. ”We’ve wasted a lot of time. It’ll be close. I still can’t believe they sentenced me to the gibbet. I barely even touched you. Oh, well …”

“Yonezawa Jun!” Father Hirayanagi’s voice rang out.

“Yes, Father?”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Yonezawa slumped against the door. “Please, Father. Not now.”

“Precisely now.”

“All right, all right! But only if she does, too.”

“Well?” Father Hirayanagi turned to Elfrida. “Will you?”

“Will I, uh, what?”

“Partake of the sacrament of reconciliation.”

Elfrida stammered, “Well, sure, but …”

“She can’t,” Yonezawa said suddenly. “Father, she’s from Earth! They’re not Catholic.”

Father Hirayanagi looked startled. “Ah. Of course. I should have thought of that.”

“But she could be baptized,” Yonezawa said, skewering her with a stare that dared her to demur. “You could baptize her, Father.”

“Now?”

“Precisely now,” Yonezawa shot the old priest’s formulation back at him. “If she agrees, we’ll know there really is a human operating her. If not …”

“Well, of course it’s possible.” Father Hirayanagi looked worried. “But she hasn’t been prepared. Does she know anything about the Faith? Perhaps not!”

At this point they heard Elfrida saying, “Well, sure, but …”

Seeing their surprised smiles, she hurried on, “I do know quite a lot about it. I grew up in the New Holy Roman Empire. You can’t get away from it there, not that that’s a bad thing. As far as I learned in school, when a lot of Christians wanted to practice their faith freely, they emigrated to Italy and Spain, all the old Christian countries, and then the UN said to the Vatican, OK, they’re yours, you look after them. And also there were millions of climate refugees flooding across the Mediterranean from Africa, and they didn’t want them in Europe. So it’s really diverse in the NHRE. But you don’t have to believe anything. That’s why my parents moved there, for example. So yeah, you’re right, I’m not Catholic. But … uh, I guess I wouldn’t mind being baptized.”

After all, it was just a superstition. It didn’t mean anything. And it would convince them that she was on their side.

Father Hirayanagi looked delighted. “My daughter, this decision is the right one. It will be the best you’ve ever made in your life.”

Yonezawa bit a knuckle. He had probably been hoping she would refuse, so that he could go back to believing she was a demon. “But will it count? She’s not actually here.”

“The intention is what matters,” Father Hirayanagi assured him. “The heart is converted first; the flesh follows. Now, where did I put my biretta?”

****

Elfrida logged out, head pounding, mouth dry. She unstrapped herself from the ergoform, noting that her IV hadn’t been plugged in. That would be one reason she felt so strange.

Her baptism had been a grueling experience. It had been a clandestine, hurried ritual conducted by Father Hirayanagi in his cottage. The elderly couple who ran the yado next door had come over to act as her godparents. They seemed not only free from resentment, but genuinely happy about her supposed conversatin. Even Yonezawa, stomping around in a white cassock as altar server, had cracked a smile when the holy water was poured over her head, and she didn’t spontaneously combust or start vomiting hardware or anything.

Of course it was all gobbledygook. But regardless of whether you believed in a beardy guy in the sky or not, it was reprehensible to trick people by making promises you didn’t mean, professing faith in a bunch of nonsense. She should have thought about that before agreeing to go through with it.

She let herself out of the telepresence cubicle. As she glided up to the hab transfer point, reality blotted out her emotional turmoil. By the time she reached the crew mess, she just felt tired and sick.

Dos Santos sat on a bench apart from everyone else, her legs curled under her, distractedly staring at the news feed. “Goto! I was starting to think we’d have to send the medics in after you.”

Elfrida sat down heavily on the bench opposite her. “Well, I did it,” she said.

“You look like it wasn’t easy.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that hard. All I had to do, it turns out, was convert to Roman Catholicism.”

“What?”

“Long story.” Elfrida swallowed. Her mouth was full of saliva. She wanted to spit, but there was nothing to spit into. “Anyway, the assistant did the tricky bit, before I switched to manual mode.”

“More glitches?” dos Santos said quietly.

“Maybe. Or maybe more features. Ma’am, I wasn’t aware that the stross-class phavatar has cutter lasers embedded in its fingertips.”

“Ah,” dos Santos said. “No, that’s not in the manual. Not the public access version.”

“She murdered someone.”

With these words, Elfrida relived the moment when Yumiko/she had shot Ushijima. She had effectively had the experience of killing a man. She jerked double and vomited on the floor.

Coughing, retching, she heard dos Santos shout, “This woman is suffering from acute radiation syndrome! She’s missed two treatments! Call a stretcher and alert sickbay, now!”

The stretcher felt incredibly soft and comfortable. As it buzzed her away at running speed, dos Santos sprinted to keep up. She panted, “Don’t worry, Goto. I’ll handle the rest of—what needs to be done. Leave it to me.”

  To read the other chapters of THE GALAPAGOS INCIDENT, click here.

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