Prose Header

Requiem for an Android

by Bertil Falk

Table of Contents
Chapter 1, part 2
Chapter 2
part 1; part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 1: And Peace on Earth

part 1 of 2

A research android poses a simple question to Mother Saulcerite of the planet Bavaria: does an android have a soul that can be redeemed? Is it enough to be pious and law-abiding and to have free will, or is the non-human excluded by definition?

The question involves Mother Saulcerite’s research into the history of Gregoria I, the first official female Pope. The quest for an answer leads her to the discovery of a secret monastic order and takes her on a mission of espionage in the Roman catacombs.

When the time for secrecy, disguise and subterfuge is past, the answers to many questions will become clear, as they always were.

Requiem cover The moons spun a cocoon of orbits around the planet Bavaria. As the brilliant double suns of this solar system worked their way along the vault of heaven, their rays refracted through the different diamond moons and spread an incessantly changing spectrum of daylight on the sunny side of the planet. And when the rain came, the rainbows threw their zigzag spans in all directions across the heavens.

Mother Saulcerite hurried up to her lunch at the bar opposite the revolving meeting house of the Christian sect of the Eastercostals. Standing in line, she mixed with beings from the other systems of the Federation.

Saulcerite — a local priest of the Catholic Church — was at work upon her doctoral dissertation about the second female Pope, Gregoria I. As far back as the 9th century Anno Domini, the Catholic Church, according to doubtful legends, had had its first female Pope. Pope Joan was said to have followed Leo IV in the year 855 and to have died in that same year. She called herself Johannes Angelicus and passed as a man, but during a procession in Rome her identity was discovered when she gave birth to a child. According to tradition, the furious Romans forgot a certain commandment and stoned their exposed Pope to death.

In that sense, the female Pope Joan would have signified a premonition of the black century of the papacy, the saeculum obscurum, which occurred twenty years later when the papacy fell into decay with a series of unworthy Popes.

Long ago, the legend about the female Pope had been published in handwriting, beginning in the 13th century and later, inter alia, according to a book by von Döllinger in A.D. 1890, Die Papst-Fabeln des Mittelalters.

But Mother Saulcerite, who had her parochial work to deal with, was not interested in the apocryphal Pope Joan. She was interested in Gregoria I and the circumstances under which this delicate being became the first official female Pope.

For the day, the sky was unusually clear of moons. As a rule, the moons moved across the vault of heaven around the clock, so that it was next to impossible on the planet of Bavaria to transmit enormous hologram projections at the height of twenty kilometers or so up in space. But now and then, as on this day, the sky was as good as clear of moons. It was possible to turn on the vision-system day and night, so that the sky became just one big 5D screen and people could do without the small receivers, which had totally gone out of fashion in most parts of the space Federation.

As Mother Saulcerite sat in the meeting house, an android approached her. It was dressed in a T-shirt with an H2O-emblem on its breast, which proclaimed the wearer’s status as an android. She recognized this Gestalt: it often sat in her church, attending mass. It worried her. There was something weird about an artificial being who went to church and piously clasped its hands during prayers.

Now it sat down by her side and ordered a glass of android lemonade. “Excuse me for disturbing you,” it said, “but are you still working on your thesis about the first female Pope?”

“Rather the second,” said Mother Saulcerite.

“Nobody seems to have paid much attention to her.”

“That’s right,” Saulcerite replied. “For some strange reason Gregoria I has not tempted scholars very much.”

“Maybe not very much happened during her short pontificate?”

“Ten months.”

“I’m a research android,” the android explained. “My name is Paxinterra.”

“Peaceonearth,” Saulcerite translated from the Latin, and for a moment her thoughts went to the theological controversy as to the right interpretation of this expression. Some considered that peace on earth concerned only the mother planet, Earth, the celestial body where Rome and the papacy were situated. Others suggested that the concept should be understood in a broader sense as referring to any celestial body.

“Peaceonearth,” the android repeated. “Yes, that’s right.”

Saulcerite snorted.

“My specialty: one thousand years of Scandinavian languages,” the android said unexpectedly.

Saulcerite wrinkled her face. “Scandinavian...? Let me see. Where did I hear that peculiar word?”

“Well, the Scandinavians were only an insignificant footnote in cosmic history,” the android observed, “but by all means an interesting one. You see, there was once a legend on Earth in those countries about someone called Necken. The name means ‘naked’. This Necken was a mythological being who sat on a cliff in the water and played an old-fashioned instrument. He drew a bow across animal intestines — a violin or a fiddle. Have you heard of the violin?”

“Of course. It’s still used at times.”

“Yes. Anyhow, there was a Scandinavian poet called Stagnelius.”

“A Latin ending,” Saulcerite noted.

“He wrote about Necken.”

A long silence.

Saulcerite got a feeling that they were beginning to approach the essence of the conversation. “Well?” she asked.

“In this poem it is stated that Necken can never find salvation.”

Nervously, Saulcerite fumbled at her rosary. What was the android driving at?

Paxinterra broke the silence. “Let me take another example. There was a storyteller in Scandinavia. His name was H.C. Andersen.”

“The ugly duckling,” Saulcerite murmured. “So, he was a Scandinavian.”

“He wrote a tale about a little mermaid.”

“So what?” Saulcerite said tartly. Now that she knew the connection with Necken, she wanted to know where the conversation would lead.

“Neither could this mermaid be redeemed.”

“She neither?”

“Neither the Necken of Stagnelius nor the mermaid of Andersen. But she sacrificed herself, and an opportunity opened up for her. It was a painful way, a long and difficult journey of suffering, a via dolorosa. But it would lead her to salvation.”

“To the point, please!” Saulcerite said desperately.

“An android cannot be redeemed.”

She looked at him in surprise and panic, although deep down she had sensed that Paxinterra would put that impossible question to her.

“An android can never find salvation,” the android repeated. “But an android can be profoundly religious.”

“What is all this supposed to mean?”

Suddenly Saulcerite stood up and accidentally poked a red-checkered reptile from Galtrism.

“No worries,” the reptile transmitted. It had perceived the apology originating from the mind of Saulcerite. The reptile crawled on toward its evening meal and the upcoming negotiations at the chamber of commerce.

“It means that I — the android Paxinterra, who was manufactured seven months ago at the android factory of Deimos — that I believe in God the the Father, the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and the planets. That I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, Our Lord, as well as in the Holy Ghost, a holy Catholic Church.

“But there is no salvation outside the church. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. An android is forever condemned to be outside the church, and still — you must understand me, Mother Saulcerite — I am alive in God’s wonderful Creation, and I believe.”

“Good God.” Saulcerite stared at him.

They meditated in silence, but their thoughts were interrupted by loud color signals on the western, moonfree part of the sky. An important message was expected. Faster than light it would reach them through hyperspace within a few seconds.

All colors were erased from the sky and only two of the three moons appeared dimly in the brownish yellow daylight in the East. The papal tiara was shown and the popular Father Noster of the Vatican became visible. He looked down with a grave smile on the inhabitants of the capital of Bavaria, just as he — while the message was spread to other inhabited worlds — would look down on inhabitants on other planets in other systems.

“We bring to you a great sorrow. Il Papa, Pope Paul LX, has passed away. We bring to you a recording of his last minutes in life.”

The death struggle of the deceased Pope was shown on the sky. One could see his forced smile pierce his physical pain. With the assistance of a Brigittine, he raised his hand and made the sign of blessing. His head collapsed on the invisible pillow of pasemite. A few wheezes. It was over.

A doctor in a soutane bent down over the dead Pope and opened the cloth at the breast. Saulcerite discerned a symbol there, but only for a second. It was a moment of recognition for her, but the doctor blocked her view. Some kind of device was lowered over the chest of the dead Pope, and the symbol was not seen again.

Saulcerite went down on her knees and prayed for the soul of her spiritual leader. She prayed for a long time and, when she at last stood up, she found that Paxinterra, too, was praying. She did not know if he prayed for the soul of the Pope or for his own salvation.

“I make a fool of myself,” Paxinterra said finally, “but nobody can prevent me from being a fool.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Saulcerite replied slowly. “Even though you’re right when you say that an android has no soul and cannot be redeemed, God is omnipresent; He hears us. Why should He not hear you? Human beings on Earth created the androids. You’re the handiwork of humans.”

Proceed to Chapter 1, part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk

Home Page