Authors: William Bowden
Self-published by William Bowden in 2015
Text copyright © 2015 William Bowden
All Rights Reserved
The right of William Bowden to be identified as author has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This is a work of fiction. All characters in this work are fictitious and any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover art by Triff/Shutterstock.com
A decade from St Patrick’s and the terrible events in New York, Cardinal Joseph Ansoni finds himself where he’d really rather not be. But they had to put it somewhere.
Vatican City has many hidden-away places, but most were entirely unsuitable—they couldn’t run the heavily shielded petabit cables just anywhere. And besides, if you want something to go unnoticed, hide it in plain sight. So it was that an agitated Joseph had arrived at a rather innocent-looking door, down a marble-floored corridor, somewhere within La Città del Vaticano.
He fishes out a key for the mortise lock. There are just five such keys to this door, and one of them is held by the Commandant of the Swiss Guard. Not that anyone would enquire as to access—this place was far too dull. The lock is new and its mechanism stiff, but the door yields to Joseph, its purpose simply a façade for what lies within.
A small vestibule leads to a plain steel door, complete with digital lock and biometric scanner. Joseph taps in a sixteen-digit code and slaps his palm down on the scanner plate. An almost inaudible click and the steel door pops off its latch.
Motion detectors bring up subdued lighting. A good-sized room, albeit windowless, with four workstations, all empty. No surprise at this small hour. Joseph makes straight for a station whose terminal cannot be seen from the entrance.
Seating himself activates the terminal, an iris scan gaining him access to a menu of options—he taps one labeled
. A schematic of the Earth–Moon system and its Lagrangian points of nulled-out gravity appears, zooming in on the far side of the Earth from the Sun, to reveal a set of markers. Another tap—
The Earth–Moon system is replaced by a schematic of the James Webb Space Telescope. A slew of status data precedes a further set of options.
. An on-screen data entry panel appears, but Joseph chooses
. Two more selections and he sits back. Five seconds for the commands to reach
, some one point five million kilometers from Earth, another five to get the acknowledgment back and then another wait as the
As far as the rest of the world was concerned the James Webb Space Telescope was long dead. It had surpassed all its mission goals decades before, and, inevitably, its primary instruments had failed. There was little interest in it now, which was just as well, given the access the Vatican had surreptitiously acquired.
A beep signals target acquisition—the
can’t have been that far off. Just a moment or two and the first image—
Joseph’s mouth drops right open in utter disbelief.
* * *
Burdened by his cassock, Joseph runs down the nave toward the north transept, his footsteps echoing about the gloom of a deserted St. Peter’s Basilica cleared by the clergy some hours before on the orders of His Holiness.
He arrives somewhat out of breath, his gaze raised and darting about.
“This is not what was agreed!” he shouts angrily.
He whirls around, seeking something unseen.
what was agreed!!”
From high above, reaching down to the floor, a rod of blinding white light splits forth with a violent crack of thunder, widening into a broad pillar of luminescence.
Joseph stands his ground in muted awe.
A female figure steps forward from the pillar of light—she is all of a cold, white flame. A similar male figure joins her to circle Joseph, eyeing him all the while.
“We agreed to remain behind the Veil, and we have done so,” the female figure says.
“This is not behind the Veil,” Joseph blurts out. “This is for all the world to see!”
“Nothing is forever, Joseph,” the male figure says. “The age of innocence is over. The time of the Veil is upon us.”
Joseph staggers back within the circle they have created, his lips aquiver.
“No, it can’t be. We’re not ready.”
“That’s kind of the point, Joseph,” the male figure says.
“The Council must prepare,” the female says. “And play its part in what will come to pass.”
“The culture shock alone,” Joseph manages. “Panic and chaos on a global scale. We must involve the world governments.”
“Merely transient authorities,” the male says.
“And as much the subject of the Veil as everyone else on this planet,” the female adds.
“The manner of it has been decided,” the male says.
“And we have chosen.”
“A most worthy subject indeed.”
Chosen who?” Joseph gulps.
The two figures approach Joseph, their facial features clearly discernable. The female comes close, with a sly grin of flame.
“Why, the dirty little secret you’ve kept hidden in the Nevada desert these ten years past.”
Joseph fails to disguise his disbelief.
“There is nothing there but a long-dead horror.”
“Do not lie to us, Joseph!” the female says. “We see everything,
“All the world’s a stage,” the male says, “the men and women players. The stage is set and the Veil needs its players.”
Senator Julian Blake is seated directly opposite his interviewer, the studio cameras having all the angles they need, the young woman before him earnest in her questioning. He is not in the least bit intimidated.
“This is not the execution of a man,” Blake answers. “It’s best not to think of what remains as even being human. It is an aberration, an abomination, a living horror.”
“But your cause has always been about the subversion of humanity by technology, not the risks posed by it. It’s what got you the popular vote. Now you seem to be sidestepping that argument.”
“My views on the sanctity of the human condition should not exclude me from the broader debate.”
“Some say you are simply jumping on the bandwagon of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Whatever they decide, your approval ratings will benefit.”
Blake scoffs. “The Supreme Court? They have done nothing but drag their heels. On this
the other matter—”
“We’re not here to talk about that. Regarding this—”
this, I have always been quite vocal about the continued existence of Patient Zero—”
“He has a name—”
should have been done a decade ago—”
The image pauses, the interviewer seemingly about to press the matter even further with an increasingly arrogant Blake, and fades away. In its place a ghostly figure steps forth.
“So we are caught in our own lie,” says the three-dimensional projection of Chief Justice Alka Garr.
“And what about the truth the lie was intended to hide?” A seated figure leans forward to reveal the unshaven face of Robert Cantor. Shabby jeans, T-shirt and unkempt hair conceal a lean, healthy man, young for his years, confident in manner, cynical in demeanor.
“The reasons for hiding the truth remain, Bobby,” says Garr. “Blake sees one monster, and we see another.”
“Blake. I’d laugh if it weren’t so tragic.”
“This goes far beyond Senator Blake,” Garr says. “For those burdened with the truth Blake provides a very convenient way of dealing with it.”
Garr’s eyes linger on a despondent Robert.
“I won’t lie to you, Bobby. You are in a perilous position. You should prepare yourself for the worst.”
“To be honest, Alka, I’m not sure I give a damn anymore.”
“Be as it may, that interview was recorded yesterday and will be broadcast tonight—ahead the court’s ruling. You should know that I have excluded myself from the judgment, because of my personal connection with you.”
Robert nods a solemn acceptance. And with that, Garr’s projection steps away and fades.
The room’s lighting brightens to reveal a messy arrangement of furniture, books, and papers. An expensive, contemporary living area that has been neglected in recent years by its sole occupant, a once-celebrated man now hidden from a world believing him to be lost to a nightmare of his own creation.
Robert runs his hands over his head, heaving a deep sigh, rising to leave. His gaze finds something unexpected, drawing him from the living area to push through a pair of French windows into the world outside.
A lush garden, canopied by trees. Beyond an expanse of lawn a wheat field shimmers, dotted with cypress trees. Above, the vast translucent dome of the Trinity facility arcs across it all, and below its apex stands the Thin Man—a slender spire topped by a one kiloton atomic bomb. Robert Cantor’s prison for the past decade, a prison he had built himself for an altogether different purpose, with never a day going by without the irony of it all slapping him the face.
On the far side of the dome from the residence a VTOL has touched down, its engines now silent. It must have come in through the gate—a sliver of dome that opens on tracks. Special access. Very special access. There were only two individuals in the world that would be allowed inside Trinity—because they were both immune to the Messiah virus. And one of them was sitting at the garden table, which meant that the other—
Robert seats himself opposite Special Agent Deborah Landelle, still assigned to him by the British government, despite the fact that he was supposed to be a vegetable on an automated life-support machine. There were those who wanted their interests protected, and there were those few who knew the truth. In reality Landelle was an attaché managing the remnants of Cantor Satori Incorporated. She rarely had access to Robert, let alone Trinity, her presence now presenting Robert with a long-awaited opportunity, and perhaps his only chance to grasp it.
“Things must be bad if they’ve let you in here.”
“Alka pulled a few strings,” Landelle says. “She thought it would be good for your morale.”
“My morale? Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death.”
* * *
Robert and Landelle stroll through the garden, close to the residence. Landelle’s gaze drifts to the wheat fields.
“All these years you’ve never said—why the fields of wheat? They weren’t part of the Trinity program.”
“They’re for me,” Robert says.
“Something like that.”
“I hear you have become quite the farmer,” quips Landelle. It’s a ruse. Robert catches Landelle’s discrete glance at the Thin Man.
“The means of my assured destruction has made Trinity a haven for the biotech industry. One monster’s prison is another’s cradle.”
A flush of desperation from Landelle. “It won’t stop them—”
“The trees are my favorites,” Robert says with a warm smile. He pulls her by the hand to a tall tree nearby, a pile of logs stacked neatly beneath it, picking one up to show her.
“Look—no growth rings. Instant trees. Just add water. Madness. Being locked up in here has shown me just how crazy an idea Trinity was. Monica was right.”
“She could see that Trinity was not the solution. That’s why she and Jerome took a different path… and hijacked Messiah.”
Having now exploited the opportunity afforded him Robert awaits the inevitable realization, the conclusion to his revelation now bubbling up behind the eyes firmly locked on his own.
“Monica wasn’t part of the conspiracy. She was declared a
“The world needed somebody to hate, Debs. To demonize Messiah, so that the genie stayed in the bottle. What better than a monster born of it?”
“I’ve always understood the rationale,” Landelle contends. “And the necessity. Even if I didn’t agree with it.”
“But not the subtleties—not the nuances that allowed the lie to work. These were kept from you. The facts behind Monica’s involvement were…adjusted. To play down her role so as to heighten the focus on me.”
Landelle had experienced the horrors of the Messiah virus firsthand, one of three known to have survived its modus operandi—to destroy so that it may create, promising a fountain of youth for those willing to risk a terrible death. She and another had beaten it and reaped a reward of sorts, but the third had not, the virus prevailing, rendering some pitiful creature from the flesh canvas availed of it.
At first it seemed apt that the myth they peddled to the world was actually based on a half-truth. But as quickly as it had taken him so the Messiah virus made its peace with Robert Cantor, its labors seemingly complete, its presence vanished beyond detection, and something else remaining in its place, something protecting him from the pathogenic soup that is modern life, something that, while not keeping him forever young, ensured his appearance belied his fifth decade.
The lie manifest before Landelle had now revealed another within.
, Bob! Why are you telling me this
“Because it no longer matters. And you deserve to know.”
“How the hell did you…oh, wait—let me guess.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time. And it wasn’t like I was going anywhere.” Robert tosses the log back. “How long have I got?”
Typical Robert Cantor—a thousand miles an hour and then a gear change dropping you into first. Landelle is thankful for it, despite the morbid undertone.
“It’s best not to think in those terms.”
Robert’s gaze fixates on the VTOL. An angry grimace and he makes to head off toward it. Landelle grabs him by the arm to stop him.
“Then why is she here?”
Landelle has no answer, but that serves to calm him. Robert looks back to the Thin Man.
“Will I be told beforehand, or are they just going to—?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know, it could all be so simple,” Robert muses. “A pleasant stroll to the outer perimeter. Trip the sensors, trigger the bomb…”
“If there was any way we could give you that… but we cannot.”
* * *
Landelle climbs aboard the VTOL, making her way forward onto the flight deck. There is only the pilot, and little to betray her appearance, a helmet visor covering her face, her hands gloved.
“Satisfied?” Landelle asks of her.
Landelle straps herself in. Saying nothing, the pilot sets about starting the engines.