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by Keith Bliss:
Copyright © 2017 by Keith Bliss
Archives of the Holy Church of the Second Coming
New York City, 2075
David Dysonís whole life had been leading up to this moment. He felt a warm glow, remembering the faces of his proud, aging parents ó flown in from England especially for the occasion ó as he was awarded his doctorate diploma by the president of the University of the Holy Church of the Second Coming of the Lamb, New York. He had always been somewhat of a prodigy, never having to actually sit down and learn. He had simply soaked up knowledge and stored it with wide-eyed enthusiasm as his teachers had imparted it to him, excelling at every subject in the Churchís theological schools in his English homeland. Whenever anyone had asked him, even at a very early age, what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would invariably reply, "Serve the Holy Church of the Lamb!" The Church ó his Church ó had educated him, had put him through college studying theology, history, and archaeology, culminating most recently in his doctorate in history.
Yes, he had been a shining example, a high flyer. His parents had eagerly leaped at the opportunity for their precious only child to be educated at the prestigious Church schools after winning a scholarship at the tender age of ten. They had been delighted when letters full of praise for their sonís academic abilities and strength of character arrived at their tiny flat in Liverpool, England; letters signed by an actual cardinal, no less! And when their son had graduated from high school with honors as the student of the year, the pride felt by Mr. and Mrs. Dyson had known no bounds.
Things had turned somewhat sour, however, when David had announced to his parents that he intended to become a priest. Somehow, all three of them had always known deep within their hearts that he was going to take up this career. Given his education, his daily indoctrination by the priests and nuns ó outstandingly well-qualified and highly trained priests and nuns who were even respected in their fields by the academic community outside the Church ó it had seemed inevitable that David would one day choose this path. Nevertheless, his parents had attempted to avert the inevitable. "Youíre so bright," they would say. "Donít throw it all away, son! You can be anything you want to be!"
"But this is what I want to be!" he would invariably reply. And invariably, frustration would rise in his voice as he saw that his parents simply did not understand. "I want to give my life to the Church!"
If young David had been a little older at the time, he might have realized that there were ulterior motives in his parentsí arguments. Despite all the evidence of the Second Coming ó the video footage, the eyewitness reports, etcetera ó his father remained an agnostic. Well, at least this was better than being an atheist, but it was nevertheless a far cry from actual faith. Nothing David or his mother could say or do could convince John Dyson that Jesus Christ had actually returned in the Second Coming promised in the Bible. Mary Dyson had given up attempting to convince him, but David saw it as his duty to continue trying, in order to save his fatherís immortal soul from eternal damnation.
His mother, however, had a completely different agenda for wanting to prevent her only child from joining the priesthood. She wanted a pair of grandchildren: one boy, one girl. Her heart ached at the thought of her wonderful child never falling in love with a beautiful, intelligent young woman and eventually giving her two beautiful, intelligent grandchildren whom she would spoil in a way that only a grandmother can. She silently wept herself to sleep many a night thinking about the loss, not only for herself and the never-to-be-born grandchildren, but also for her beloved son who would never experience the joys of being in love and of fatherhood. He would be missing so much!
Intense pleading, partly accompanied by sobbing, on the part of Dysonís mother, and the usually calm but sometimes heated theological debates with his father had not been as strong an influence on him as his calling. In the end, he had left England to study at the Churchís most prestigious university in New York City, becoming, at the age of twenty-four, what he knew in his heart of hearts he had always wanted to be: a priest of the Church of the Second Coming, humbly serving the Lamb of God. His faith was blind, unquestioning. Even back then, his teachers knew he would go far. David Dyson was indeed a rare breed: an excellent scientist whose faith in the Church was rock-solid.
The Church of the Second Coming had been good to him ó better than he could ever have imagined. He had always been interested in history and archaeology, and the Church had noticed, supporting his interests, financing his studies, deploying him on archaeological digs in the Holy Land. He had continued his studies, receiving masterís degrees in history and archaeology, until it had one day all culminated in this: his doctorate and his subsequent promotion, at the age of twenty-six, to the position of Keeper of the Sacred Archives of the Holy Church of the Second Coming of the Lamb in New York City. This was the home of the Churchís central database for archaeological and historical information gathered over the past two millennia. The Archives contained not only the full contents of the old Vatican library in digital form, but also most books on the subjects of history, theology, ancient languages, and archaeology ever printed in the western world. The Archives building was the workplace of thousands of historical and archaeological researchers responsible for gathering new information and processing it together with all the information that had been gathered in the past.
Although it was Saturday, and he was not officially meant to start work until Monday, Dyson was as impatient as a small child on Christmas Eve, unable to wait to see his new office. If he had any fault at all, it was his all-consuming passion to succeed in everything he did. Standing outside the enormous building that housed his new place of work, the most accurate word to describe what he felt would be awe. He looked up at a tall, rounded skyscraper made of brushed stainless steel and blue-tinted glass. Almost at the top of the north side of the building, a colossal, dark blue holographic crucifix, superimposed with the number two in a circle, hovered about two meters away from the wall. He felt proud to be a part of the Church of the Second Coming. For David Dyson was not merely one of the flock; he was a shepherd, working to advance the knowledge of mankind; thus, as far as he was concerned, he was working for the good of mankind as a whole.
Two grim-looking, extremely muscular, and heavily armed security guards ó Salvation Army, Dyson noticed, judging by their black uniforms and silver Church insignia ó stood before the glass doors leading into the building. The chiseled jaws, steely, emotionless eyes, and menacing machine pistols left no room for doubt: if you were not supposed to enter this place, you wouldnít. One of them regarded Dysonís face, then the silver cross dangling from the chain around his neck. Not knowing the priest personally, the guard addressed him gruffly but nevertheless politely. People were never rude to priests; you never knew how powerful they were or what connections they had.
"How can I help you, Father?"
Dyson held out his left arm, his palm facing up, toward the guard.
"Father David Dyson. Iím the new Keeper of the Archives here," he replied, nodding up at the skyscraper. With a swift, fluid movement, the guard whipped out a laser scanner from a pouch strapped to his belt and scanned the tiny silicon chip embedded in Dysonís arm. He then shot a glance at his partner, who briefly consulted a small, flexible screen built into the left sleeve of his uniform. The second guard looked up and nodded wordlessly to the first black-clad man, who motioned Dyson to enter the building: "Proceed, Father. Have a blessed day."
Dyson traced a number two in the air with his forefinger and middle finger before the two guards and smiled at them.
"Thank you, my son. May the Lamb be with you both."
The guards bowed briefly but politely to the priest and moved aside to allow him to enter the building.
Dyson had thought the exterior of the skyscraper was impressive, but when he saw the interior, his eyes widened involuntarily and he could not keep himself from letting out an audible gasp of surprise. The floors and ceilings were made of white marble infused with light-gray to black veins. Fine, extremely intricate detailing depicting floral patterns and verses from the Bible was picked out in gold on the floor, so that everyone entering the building unconsciously read Bible verses as they followed the marble path to the front desk. The windows, which appeared silvery blue and opaque from the outside, allowed the occupants of the building to look out as if there was no glass at all. This was rather disconcerting at first, but Dyson was sure he would get used to it eventually.
The lobby was vast, reaching up at least four stories. Dyson had not expected to find anyone here on a Saturday, but dozens of priests and even a few bishops, along with some civilian staff, were busily traversing the huge space, circumnavigating the fountain that formed the colossal centerpiece. At the heart of the fountain, which was about two stories high, stood a statue of Christ the Redeemer with arms outstretched at ninety-degree angles to the body. The base upon which the Christ figure stood was adorned with larger-than-life-sized cherubs chiseled out of pink marble. From the stone vases they carried, water poured into the marble circle that formed the base of the fountain. Solidly padded leather sofas and armchairs were grouped around the transparent walls, presumably for visitors to make themselves comfortable while they waited for a member of the staff to fetch them for an appointment. Real palm trees appeared to be growing, somewhat incongruously, out of the marble floor. The walls were adorned with gigantic semi-circular marble vases from which hung all manner of vines, reminiscent of the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This building had clearly been designed by an architect who had no budget restrictions whatsoever.
From the corner of his eye Dyson spotted a black-uniformed guard peering at him suspiciously from beneath the peak of his cap, a machine pistol nestled in the crook of his arm. Uh-oh, thought Dyson. Canít just loiter here! He quickly made his way to the reception desk before the guard had an opportunity to come over and question him.
"First time here, Father?" enquired a middle-aged receptionist, smiling kindly. She was used to the awe when people entered the Archives building for the first time. She was good at her job: the calming tone of her voice and her welcoming smile had been practiced over the years to allay the fears of those summoned here for some kind of dressing down, or of those who were here to begin a career on the Churchís ladder to the top.
"Err, yes, Iím new here," replied Dyson.
"Thatís all right, Father. If you wouldnít mindÖ" The woman waved her hand at a palm-sized rectangle of clear yellow plastic mounted on a miniature tripod on the counter next to her. Dyson knew what she wanted and positioned his face in front of the scanner. A second later the receptionistís face lit up as Dyson was recognized by her computer.
"Oh, good morning, Father Dyson! We werenít expecting you today."
"Well, I hope itís no trouble, but Iíd quite like to see my office."
"No trouble at all, Father. Just a moment, letís organize your key."
Without thinking about it, Dyson stretched out his left forearm and placed it in a molded depression in the desktop. A green laser scanned his chip, then an audible beep told him that the scanning process was over and he lifted his arm from the desk.
"There you go, Father Dyson. Your chip is now programmed to open your office door. Welcome to the Archives."
"Thank you very much," he replied, and enquired as to the whereabouts of his office.
After taking the elevator to the floor of his new workplace, he stood before the heavy wooden doors of the room that had been assigned to him, pensively fingering the symbol of his faith on the silver chain around his neck. Taking a deep breath, he pulled back the left sleeve of his cassock. Glancing up at the security camera, he suppressed an unseemly grin of pure, unadulterated joy, and held the chip embedded in his arm to the small white box on the wall. A discreet beep issued from the box, and a tiny orange light turned green for a second. Almost simultaneously, the double doors swung silently and invitingly open, pointing the way into Dysonís new office.
Despite the air conditioning that maintained the temperature at a constant twenty degrees Celsius, the air in the room seemed somehow stale. This had nothing to do with the contents of the room, but because the room had been sealed for several weeks since the death of his predecessor, the last Keeper, and pending Dysonís own appointment to the coveted position.
There was a definite spring in Dysonís step as he strode happily into his new domain. If all went as planned, this would be his home from home for the rest of his working life. Here he would have assistants, resources, and centuries of digitized knowledge at his fingertips, to aid him in his lifelong passion: unraveling the mysteries of the past. David Dysonís goal was to play a major role in painting a complete historical picture of the development of the human race from its primitive beginnings all the way to the present day; to fill the myriad gaps which, even in the twenty-first century, did not permit a complete understanding of the history of humanity. This would be his lifeís work: finding the truth as proof of his devotion to the Lamb, forsaking all others before his Savior, as was required of him by the Bible.
Enjoying the quiet moment alone in his new domain, Dyson took in his surroundings. Considering this room provided just one workplace, it was large, very large: about fifteen by fifteen meters, with a four-meter ceiling. A glittering, ancient-looking crystal chandelier dangled ostentatiously from the center of the ceiling, more decoration than of practical use, hence the numerous modern wall lamps strategically positioned around the room. The luminescent tubes were concealed within decorative chrome-plated orbs that caused the light to illuminate the walls and ceiling without dazzling the occupants. The invisible glass of the wall to the left of the doors offered a breathtaking 175th-floor view across the city of New York. At the far end of the office stood an enormous solid mahogany desk. A virtual keyboard was projected from inside the bulky piece of furniture onto a thick plate of crystal-clear plastic set into the desktop, ready to call up a 3D virtual monitor cube above the desk. Three half-inch slits set into the desktop next to the keyboard indicated that the computer system could simultaneously process three mem-tabs, a medium for storing vast amounts of data on a seemingly featureless, wafer-thin but exceptionally durable strip of plastic. Behind the desk stood a sumptuously padded, old-fashioned, dark brown leather armchair on five rollers. In front of the desk there were two rather less luxurious leather armchairs on four stainless steel feet. In the center of the room stood a long conference table with solid-looking padded leather chairs for twenty people. Around the three walls that were not the glass outer wall of the building were various shelves and workbenches for storing and examining original documents and artifacts.
After a brief glimpse through the windows, Dyson walked to the leather armchair behind the desk and dropped heavily into its thick, sturdy padding. He was delighted to discover that the chair was equipped with a spring mechanism, allowing him to recline at a satisfyingly relaxing angle. In his exuberance, Dyson irreverently pushed at the desk with his feet and propelled himself gently backward, giving his legs room to stretch out beneath the desk. The last few days had been extremely hectic, what with the doctorate ceremony, his promotion to the Archives, playing the tour guide for his parentsí visit to New York, and finally accompanying them to the airport and saying goodbye.
This was at last a long-awaited moment of peace and tranquility. Placing both hands behind his head and locking his fingers, he closed his eyes and finally allowed the long-suppressed grin to creep across his face. Modesty forbade him from admitting it to a single living soul, but there was one thing he knew for certain: he was born to do this job. He was the only one who could utilize the resources now at his disposal to glean the maximum degree of knowledge from the available data. Hopefully, he would even be able to combine known facts with new knowledge and take one more step toward discovering the ultimate truth from the relatively sparse information other historians had laboriously pieced together in the centuries before him. Consciously inhaling as deep a breath as his lungs would allow, he intended to release a very long sigh that would simultaneously express the satisfaction of his achievement, the relief that the stressful past few days were now over, and the pleasure of having absolutely nothing at all to do until Monday, when his new post officially began.
The sharp tone of the voice, obviously no stranger to issuing commands, shook Dyson from his reveries. His now wide-open green eyes darted to the double doors from where the strong baritone voice had come. As it was Saturday, and this floor of the building had seemed deserted, Dyson had neglected to close the doors.
Oh, Holy Lamb! he thought, sitting bolt upright in the armchair as if electrocuted. For there, in the doorway, stood a cardinal; instantly recognizable by the scarlet piping of his black simar and the scarlet zucchetto on his head ó the color originally chosen by the old Roman Catholic church to denote the cardinalís willingness to shed his blood for the faith. This interpretation of the cardinalís red uniform had been another feature that had been all but forgotten toward the end of the Roman Catholic Church era. The Church of the Second Coming, however, with its dedicated ó some might say fanatical ó clergy, was determined to revive such symbolism. The man appeared to be in his mid-sixties, but nevertheless made a much younger impression with his confident, upright stance. His arms were crossed and there was a smile on his face. Something about the smile, though, seemed insincere. Dyson could not quite put his finger on what it was, but something was definitely not right.
Gathering his decorum, he realized that he, a mere priest, was still sitting in the presence of a cardinal.
"Your Eminence!" The words left his mouth with more energy than he had intended; almost a shout.
In his rush to stand and walk toward his superior, he pushed the heavy leather chair backward with too much force, causing it to crash loudly into the wall behind him. With a burning face and ears now as scarlet as the cardinalís zucchetto, Dyson marched briskly toward the doorway and dutifully went down on one knee before the older man, who stretched out his hand, palm facing down, fingers spread, so that Dyson could kiss his ring. Having performed this centuries-old ritual, Dyson stood uncomfortably before the cardinal, unable to look for long into his cold, steel-gray eyes.
"I do apologize for startling you like that, my son," the cardinal began, his mouth, but not his eyes, still smiling. There was an oily, condescending tone in his voice. "I have merely come to congratulate our new colleague on his doctorate and his appointment to the Archives."
Dyson was still embarrassed about his superior finding him as he had done, but managed to reply, "Thank you, Eminence," in a relatively steady voice.
The silence that followed was exceedingly uncomfortable for Dyson, but the cardinal did nothing to relieve it. In fact, he seemed to be relishing Dysonís discomfort. Finally Dyson felt he had to say something.
"Iím afraid you have the advantage, Eminence," he managed to say.
"Hmm? Oh, I see what you mean! I do apologize, Father!" the cardinal declared in a voice that was anything but apologetic. "I am Cardinal Goodfellowe. I am the administrator of this facility. Your boss, so to speak."
He stressed the word "boss" as if it were distasteful to him. Again Dyson had the impression that the man was insincere, even sneering at him. But why would he want to do that? Dyson put it down to nerves and dismissed the notion.
"It is an honor to meet you, Eminence," he replied.
Once again there was an uncomfortable silence, which Dyson felt obliged to fill. "Of course I will do my best to serve the Holy Church with my work."
"Yes, Iím sure you will," Cardinal Goodfellowe acquiesced, his humorless smile not faltering. "Father, let me say just one thing before I leave you to relax in your comfortable chair."
Ouch! Dyson thought, the blood of embarrassment once again rising to his cheeks.
"One thing I hope you will remember as long as you are serving the Church under my administration is this: there is apparent truth and there is genuine truth. One type of truth is acceptable, the other is not. Your task is to find whatever you might find, and present your findings to me. You, Father Dyson, do not decide on the acceptability or the quality of truth. That is a matter for His Holiness the Arch-Cardinal to decide, once I have presented all the facts to him. If you observe this rule, Father, we shall get along famously. If you do not, however, then I am afraid we shall be looking for a new Keeper of the Archives in the very near future."
Dysonís mind reeled. "Apparent truth" and "genuine truth"? How can there be more than one truth? Surely there is only one God-given truth acceptable to the Lamb! The cardinal gathers facts and presents them to the Holy Father? The Holy Father decides which "truth" is the "genuine truth"? What could that mean? Did he just threaten to fire me?
Dyson had barely finished this train of thought when the cardinal said, "Well, Father Dyson, I hope weíve now clearly established a basis for a good working relationship. All that remains is for me to wish you all the best in your new position, and to say that I look forward to working with you for many years to come. Good day to you. And may the Lamb be with you."
With that the cardinal turned slowly on his heel and, without waiting for a reply, left the room. As he walked away, Dyson noticed that the cardinalís left leg seemed to be somehow lame: the man had a pronounced limp.
Still a little shaken, shocked even, by the encounter, Dyson quietly closed the doors to the office before returning to his leather armchair. Realizing that his brow was covered in sweat, he wiped it unceremoniously with a sleeve of his cassock.
What in the Lambís name was all that about? After he had managed to calm down, two more questions occurred to him: Why was the cardinal here on a Saturday, and how did he know I was here? The first question seemed relatively easy to answer. The lobby had been a hive of activity; and, after all, this was New York City. Presumably most people at Church Headquarters worked on Saturdays. The other question was rather more troubling, though. Were there spies hereÖreporting every little thing directly to the Cardinal? No, he thought after a while. There are thousands of people working in Church Headquarters. Cardinal Goodfellowe couldnít possibly keep tabs on everyone. Could he? Dyson shook his head to clear away such nonsense. He had merely been embarrassed and shaken by the unexpected meeting.
Dyson remained in his office for another two hours, testing the computerís instantaneous access to the vast amount of data stored on the Churchís database, and marveling at his hitherto unprecedented access. It took him some time to put the unpleasant encounter with Cardinal Goodfellowe out of his mind.
ó ęĽ ó
On his first official day of work at the Archives, as Dyson was walking toward the elevators in the magnificent foyer, two priests approached him. The older of the two wore a long black cassock like Dysonís own. He was about fifty, quite short, with stubbly, graying hair. The other man was dressed in a dark gray suit with a white clerical collar, and looked remarkably similar to Dyson: roughly one metre eighty tall, medium build, short brown hair, late twenties. The older man was the first to speak, offering a handshake and smiling warmly.
"Father Dyson, on behalf of the Department of Archives, weíd like to congratulate you on your promotion and welcome you to your new position. My name is Tom OíRourke and Iíll be your personal assistant."
Dyson shook the manís hand firmly and returned the smile.
"This is Simon Evans," OíRourke continued, before Dyson could speak. "As Iím also the liaison officer between this office and several other departments, Iíll be away on missions for the Archives rather a lot, so Father Evans will act as your executive assistant; a kind of liaison between you and me, so to speak."
Evans beamed and also offered Dyson a hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Father," he said, shaking Dysonís hand with a firm, sincere grip. "Weíve heard so much about you."
"Please," said Dyson, smiling at both of them, "just call me David."
OíRourke seemed delighted.
"Tom," he said buoyantly.
"Simon," Father Evans added.
OíRourke pointed at the row of elevators along one wall of the lobby.
"Shall we go up to your office?" he asked.
"Letís go," Dyson replied affably, indicating with an open-palmed gesture that his new colleagues should lead the way.
While they were waiting for the enormous stainless steel doors to open, Dyson realized that although he had a good idea what was expected of him in his new post, and an even better idea of how he was going to fulfill these expectations, he knew practically nothing about the day-to-day running of the Archives Department and what went on behind the scenes. So he asked OíRourke and Evans who was responsible for what, who reported to whom and when, and so on.
"Well, David," OíRourke replied, obviously having been waiting to deliver a prepared speech on the topic, "as you already know, the Archives Department is the heart of the Church information system. Any information on anything to do with history, religion, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, philology, or paleontology from anywhere on the planet and from any period in time is stored here. In fact, we have, on more than one occasion, been compared to the Great Library of Alexandria. From time to time, we receive enquiries from institutions and governments from all over the globe. Sometimes someone is asking for historical information; occasionally some religious dispute has to be settled.
"As the new Keeper of Archives, you will not be troubled with the petty details of it all, however. Such mundane matters are left to the hundreds of clerks working here for that specific purpose. No, David, you and I have, by the grace of God, a much greater purpose. You now have a wide range of unbelievably powerful resources at your disposal and can deploy them as you see fit. There are ongoing archaeological digs around the globe, and there are researchers working on documents, some of which are thousands of years old. Your principal task is to coordinate all of these and put together the information in a coherent form for the cardinals, even for the Arch-Cardinal himself. You are now responsible for collating this information and deploying the staff in this department. You can decide who does what among your staff, and when they should do it. You can even request different staff."
"Whoa, wait a minute!" Dyson interrupted, raising both hands. "Donít get me wrong; I was merely trying to learn the ropes. I donít want to start off by throwing a wrench into the works, and I certainly wouldnít want to change a winning team. For now Iíll be quite happy if you and Simon would help me to find my way around this place. Think of me as the passenger on your guided tour, at least until I get a feel for the job."
"Very wise!" OíRourke answered with a broad smile and a friendly wink. "All right, then, letís bring you up to speed. You have a staff of ten, including Simon and myself. Simon will be at your side most of the time, doing any necessary secretarial work here in the building. You know, organizing your schedule, arranging meetings, press statements, and so on. Simon is also an excellent historian and researcher, by the way. He was even awarded the Arch-Cardinalís Medal of Honor for Service to the Church a couple of years ago."
Evans smiled modestly and looked at the ground.
"And Iím responsible," continued OíRourke, "for the liaison side of things; contacts with other departments, international branches of the Church, universities, etcetera. I will be away on Archives business quite a lot, meeting with external departments and such, but you can deploy the other eight priests to carry out your orders as you see fit. They are all experienced researchers with masterís degrees or doctorates in history or archaeology, so you can set them practically any task in their fields just about anywhere in the world. As far as I remember, one of them, Victor NíKomo, is still on leave in Africa, but heíll be back next week. And two others are on an archaeological dig in Israel. Theyíre due back at the end of this week, if memory serves. The others will be upstairs in their offices."
The elevator arrived and the three men stepped in. Dyson pressed the button for the 175th floor.
"Oh, I see youíve done your homework," Evans said, with a polite smile.
"What? Oh, yes!" Dyson replied, realizing that his new colleagues did not know he had already been to his office. "Actually," he added, "I must confess that I was a little over-eager. I was here the other day, in fact. Had a look at my new office."
"Well, thereís no harm in getting a head start," OíRourke said. "Mustíve been pretty dead on your floor, though. Most of the staff have been taking the weekends off until the new Keeper arrived."
Dysonís mood darkened visibly as he remembered what had happened.
"Hmm. Well I did meet one person," he admitted. "Cardinal Goodfellowe."
The brief but meaningful glance his companions exchanged did not escape Dysonís attention.
"Explain," he said simply.
"I beg your pardon?" OíRourke enquired in a voice dripping with feigned innocence.
Evans merely shrugged, but he looked for all the world like a guilty, overgrown schoolboy who had just been caught cheating on a test.
"Oh, come on! I just saw the way you two looked at each other. Tell me about Cardinal Goodfellowe. I mean, Iím new here. You two have probably been here for years. You know whatís going on. So tell me! I donít want to get caught out again through my ignorance of the way things work around here."
Once again, OíRourke and Evans glanced briefly but meaningfully at each other. Evans suddenly found his shoes so fascinating he seemed unable to tear his eyes away from them. OíRourke fixed his gaze on the ceiling of the elevator for a second, as if seeking divine guidance. He took hold of the cross hanging from a chain around his neck, identical to the one Dyson was wearing, and began concentrating on it, as if he found it uncomfortable to make eye contact with Dyson while discussing the subject. When he spoke, his voice was hushed, as if he were afraid of being overheard, even in the cramped confines of the elevator.
"Well, David, if you insist. I suppose itís only fair to give you a heads up. As much as it shames me to speak badly about another human being, let alone a cardinal of the Holy Church, Iím afraid it must be said that Cardinal Goodfellowe is not the easiest of men to get along with. But Iím sure itís because of the heavy burden of responsibility he bears. He is not only the head of this entire institute, he is the second most powerful representative of the Church in the USA, second only to Cardinal di Galassini, and he takes his job very seriously indeed. One might say he runs a tight ship."
At this point Evans muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like "Captain Bligh," which earned him a severe, tight-lipped, narrow-eyed glare from OíRourke, but Dyson did not press him on the matter.
"Hmm," Dyson said. "Thatís kind of the impression I got," leaving it up to the other two to figure out whether he thought Goodfellowe ran a tight ship or resembled Captain Bligh. When they finally arrived at Dysonís office, the other two men made way for Dyson to hold the chip in his forearm to the box next to the door.
"Canít either of you open this door with your chips?" Dyson wondered aloud.
"Well, not at the moment," Evans answered. "We all have access to this building, of course, but our chips are only coded to open certain doors. When thereís a change of occupant, the codes on our chips are electronically wiped by the administration until the new occupant applies for them to be recoded. That way, you can decide who can open your office door."
"And were you both able to open this door under my predecessor?" Dyson enquired.
"Well, yes," Evans replied hesitantly. "Both Tom and I will need to pick things up from your office from time to time even when youíre not there, so itís really a matter of convenience. But itís up to you, of course. We could always make arrangements to have the departmental assistant open the door for us when we need to get in."
"Oh, no, I wonít hear of it! I donít have a problem with you coming into my office. So how would I go about getting both your chips fixed so they open my office door?"
"Ah, now that would be my job." OíRourke tentatively raised a finger and smiled. "You just make a list of who you want to be able to open which doors in your department and Iíll set the wheels in motion with building administration."
The way OíRourke stressed the word your did not escape Dyson, and for a moment he was both surprised and flattered.
"Hmm, but I donít know anyone here yet. Apart from you two, of course. Err, tell you what, Tom. Is there still a record of who could open which doors under the last Keeper?"
"Of course. We keep records of everything around here."
"Well then, couldnít you just get all the same codes to work on all the same doors for all the same people? Would that be a problem?"
OíRourke smiled warmly. "Not at all, David. I can see itís going to be a great pleasure working with you. And talking of pleasure, there is one duty I am particularly pleased to perform today."
He reached into the brown leather satchel he was carrying and removed a small, black, unmarked box. Opening it, he showed Dyson the contents: an antique-looking silver wristwatch with a metal strap. The black face behind the chrome hands bore an ornate cross with the number two in a circle at its center. It was actually quite beautiful: a real work of art.
"This is not only a beautifully crafted symbol of our faith, David; itís also an extremely accurate timepiece," OíRourke said with a nod of affirmation. "Itís radio-linked to an atomic clock right here in New York, which means the time is corrected to the millisecond every day. And, even if you travel abroad, the watch automatically adjusts itself to the nearest atomic clock in the country youíre in. It should come in very handy when youíre off on a dig somewhere in the world."
Evans smiled. "We all have one," he said, lifting a sleeve to show Dyson his own identical watch.
"Well, thank you very much," Dyson said. The other two were looking at him so eagerly that Dyson somehow felt obliged to take off his old, and admittedly cheap, watch and put on his present.
"Oh, while weíre exchanging pleasantries," he said.
Reaching into a pocket of his cassock he pulled out his comPod, a palm-sized, rectangular device made of a light metal alloy. There were no obvious controls on the device, almost all of its upper surface taking the form of a display screen. "Janet," he said. "Store a number, please."
"Certainly, David," the device replied, its computer voice perfectly imitating that of a young woman. Holding his comPod up to OíRourkeís face, Dyson merely raised his eyebrows. OíRourke knew what was expected and obliged.
"OíRourke, Tom," he said, pronouncing the words clearly. He then dictated his own comPodís identification number. When he had finished, Dyson spoke to his comPod once again, "Thank you, Janet."
"Youíre welcome, David," the womanís voice replied.
The procedure was repeated with Evans, then he and OíRourke stored Dysonís details on their own devices. The ubiquitous electronic personal assistants were the great-grandchildren of the mobile phones that had spread to the four corners of the globe at the end of the previous century. Although the name "comPod" was actually a registered trademark of the JNT Corporation of Japan, similar devices manufactured by other companies were also dubbed, albeit erroneously, comPods by the public at large. When Dyson had bought his device two years earlier, he had diligently read the accompanying Japanese Neural Technologies instruction manual, which referred to the product as "your JNT comPod." For want of a better name, Dyson had taken the acronym "JNT" and added the vowels "a" and "e" to make "JaNeT." Not particularly creative, as Dyson himself would have been the first to admit; but the comPods were equipped with artificial intelligence, and it seemed only natural to address them as if they were human personalities. This also included saying please and thank you, and giving them human names.
They were still standing in the middle of the Keeperís office when it suddenly occurred to Dyson that he knew nothing at all about his predecessor.
"So tell me about the last Keeper."
"Oh, Father Tim Nelson was an excellent Keeper of the Archives," OíRourke offered.
"A very nice man, too," Evans put in.
OíRourke continued: "Actually, Tim Nelsonís background was a lot like your own, David. When he started here, he was also a young prodigy who was supported by the Church from an early age."
Hmm, Dyson thought, youíve done your homework on me, too.
"Tim was the Keeper for over twenty years," OíRourke went on, "and he was very popular with all his staff. Unfortunately, he had a heart condition which he failed to have treated, for some reason. Perhaps he wasnít aware of it himself, who knows? Iím afraid we only found out about it after the autopsy."
"Autopsy?" Dyson asked, surprised.
"Hmm, yes," OíRourke continued in a more subdued, thoughtful voice. "Tim was found dead in this very office. He was actually slumped over the desk there," he said calmly, indicating Dysonís new workstation.
"Holy Lamb!" Dyson exclaimed.
"As you know, the Church runs its own hospitals and has its own medical staff, including medical examiners. Cardinal Goodfellowe had the body removed by the DFP and the autopsy was performed internally."
Dyson was unable to conceal his astonishment. The DFP, the Doctrine of the Faith Police, were supposed to be a supplementary branch assisting the official local police force in all matters in which the Church was involved. The roots of the DFP were founded in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, an organization of the former Roman Catholic Church, which had, in earlier times, been called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. This had been the infamous institution of Roman Catholicism that had, for centuries, terrorized non-conformists in Europe with torture and execution. The modern-day DFP were called in, for example, in cases entailing blasphemy, slander of the Church, libelous statements about the Church, and the like. They were not usually called upon to investigate deaths presumably caused by heart attacks.
"You mean there was a sudden death in this office and you didnít inform the authorities? The state ones, I mean. Like the coroner, for example."
"David, this is New York, the seat of the United States headquarters of the Holy Church of the Second Coming. When youíve been here a little longer, youíll realize that we are the authorities."
Dyson had heard rumors about his Churchís absolute power. Well, actually, they were more than just rumors; he was not that naÔve. Over the last couple of decades, the Church of the Second Coming of the Lamb had become a major influence on governments all over the world. After varying degrees of skepticism, sometimes resulting in civil disobedience, demonstrations, and, in one or two cases, in civil war, most of the predominantly Christian nations had gradually accepted the fact that their Savior had indeed returned and had given mankind a second chance for redemption before the world was destroyed. It had been a violent and troubled couple of decades, but eventually the vast majority of people in these nations had turned their backs on the divisive views of the old Catholic and Protestant churches and joined together in the unified Church of the Second Coming.
So many influential people now had leading positions in the secular wing of the Church that it was run like a business; an extremely large, wealthy, and powerful business. For a man as upright as Dyson, it was difficult to accept the stories of corruption in high places. There were even stories of DFP officers taking people into custody without charge and actually torturing them. That was absurd, though. Such rumors were often spread by malcontents in any society, and because the Church of the Second Coming was constantly pursuing a vigorous campaign against blasphemers and other subversives, it had practically set itself up as target number one for any kind of defamation.