The Gene Priest

    Excerpt from the introduction to the educational text "Universal Law and History" by Supreme Gene Priest Father Matthias IV.
    "The Universe, in all of its vastness, is God--immaculate and inviolate.  People were created by the Universe and in accordance with its laws.  The process of natural selection bred a version of humanity that was able to become one with the Universe.  We learned its secrets and its realities.  We dreamed of anthropomorphic Gods, but ultimately our rationality steered us back to the path of reason.  We realized, almost too late, that in order to keep pace with and control over the power of our knowledge that we had to extend our life spans.
    Genetics became our most important science.  We soon understood how to enhance ourselves in order to increase our power.  But we did not ignore the lessons of our history.  We recognized the potential for brutal race wars between different branches of our newly evolved evolutionary tree.
    The Gene Priests became the agents of God, and they now control the very nature of our existence.  They are the only persons with the authority to conduct genetic research.  They govern the DNA of the generations, ensuring that each one shares a comparable genetic makeup.  Each successive generation is further enhanced, yet each family also remains comprised of prior, inferior genetic generations.  Therefore, there is no 'us' and 'them'--there is only 'we'.
    Through the sacred work of the Gene Priests, humanity has progressed from enduring a fragile and short-lived existence to enjoying many centuries of life in bodies with bones as hard as steel and skin as impermeable as Kevlar.
    Our great work to build our bright future must continue, yet we must always remember our creed:  The Universe is supreme, the Gene Priests are its eyes and its hands, genetics is its law, and genetic parity is every human's right."

    Father Herman stood at his office window and watched the graceful ascent of an orbital lift craft through the early evening sky. Its powerful jets of fiery exhaust propelled it high into the heavens, until it was only visible as a point of light—a receding ember blending into a panoply of stars that were just emerging into view in the absence of the retreating daylight.
    He was just about to return to his desk when the sudden appearance of a green dot at the edges of his vision startled him.  It was an incoming video call, and his computer identified a colleague named Father Masterson as the caller. Father Herman accepted the communication, and soon the porcine features of the younger priest were visible.
    "Father Herman.  I need to ask you a favor.  There's a couple coming in now for a consultation about their embryo.  It's going to be an E97.  I'm way behind on my gene therapy pass for the latest wave.  I need you to take this consultation for me," said Masterson.
    Father Herman hated consultations and Father Masterson knew it.  But the latter always seemed to find reasons to pass off his consultations—and Father Herman was usually his first target as a replacement.
    "I'm also behind on my reviews.  I afraid I can't do it this time.  Can you get someone else?"
    "I've tried.  You're the only one who's available."
    "But I've just told you that I'm not available."
    "I simply can't do this one, Father Herman.  If you don't agree to do it I'll be forced to give a letter to the reception desk and have the bad news delivered like that.  Is that what you want to happen?"
    Father Herman knew that these consultations were often traumatic events for future parents—especially in cases with negative genetic outcomes like this one.  And he knew that Masterson was just cold enough to make that couple receive hard news via an impersonal letter received in a public area.
    It would be shameful!
    "You always do this to me Masterson!  I'll do it for the couple’s sake—but I'm just as busy as you are," said Father Herman angrily.
    "Bless you, Father Herman.  You're much better at these things than I am anyway," said Masterson, cutting the video feed abruptly.
    Not even a thank you!
    Father Herman turned back toward the window, and he began to feel anxious about the impending consultation.  He was normally self-conscious in social situations.  And he knew that this feeling would be magnified by the stress of the consultation.  He felt himself beginning to perspire.
    He soon received a message that the couple had arrived on time.  He instructed reception to keep them waiting in the lobby for ten minutes and then send them up.  He hoped that the couple would pass the time by perusing the information kiosk on the history of Father Matthias IV, founder of the Gene Priests, and Father Herman’s personal hero.  He liked his appointments to be properly grounded in Gene Priest history before they reached him.
    In order to pass a few moments, he played an audio clip of the great man's speech, which had been delivered just prior to the passage of the laws that had sanctioned the supremacy of the Gene Priests.
    "Mankind needs a framework for the extension of life through bio-engineering.  This legislation provides that framework.  Our very survival as a species hangs in the balance.  Every man and woman on this great Earth must have the courage to stand up today and demand that this amendment be passed.  And when you stand and raise your voices, you will do so as free-thinking, self-aware, sentient beings that are alive in the truth of the moment, and keenly aware of the pivotal context of that moment."
    Father Herman felt a feeling of calm take the edge off of his anxiety, although a small audio glitch in the recording threatened to disrupt his newfound clarity.
    I'll have to edit that out of the source recording and update the kiosk in the lobby.
    Soon he saw the couple that he was waiting for approaching through the window of an aerial corridor that bridged his building with an adjacent one.  They both wore well-tailored gray suits adorned with fashionably ornate red piping.  These were the kind of clothes that people wore to business meetings, weddings and other formal occasions.  He could tell from this distance that the woman’s eyes were red and puffy.  The man looked composed.
    He met them at the door, and showed them to two luxurious leather chairs that rested in front of his desk.
    As he walked around to his desk chair, he heard the woman sniffle softly.
    I hate this.
    "We've checked and re-checked all of the developmental markers: embryonic length, heart rate, etc.  I know that you have disputed the official date of conception, but our review confirms that this is an E97 embryo."
    The couple now both looked on with teary eyes.  Their son had been conceived one day too soon.  As a result of this he would be born into the E97 genetic series instead of the newer E98 generation—which embryos conceived just one day later would be a part of.
    The mother looked at Father Herman intently, and her eyes pleaded with him in wordless, tearful supplication.
     He wondered what she saw when she looked at him.  She waited for his response like she was expecting an utterance from the Supreme Gene Priest himself.  Herman knew that he appeared non-descript and middle-aged.  He imagined that the dark robes worn by his order had an ennobling effect on him, but he still secretly yearned for more trappings of office, especially when he was forced to deliver these important decisions.  He felt like these decisions were too wrapped up in his own persona; he wanted people to understand that it was not Father Herman that rendered the decision, but the laws of the Gene Priests as a whole.
     He found comfort in the knowledge that a bust of the great Father Matthias loomed over him on the wall to his rear.  He had studied that commanding face for hours upon hours.  Father Herman could only hope that some of the majesty of that man’s presence was being felt by the expectant couple sitting before him.  But, as he watched the woman break into sobs and fall into the man’s arms, he felt like he was the sole source of their despair.
     He caught himself sinking lower into his chair. 
    Empathize, damn you!
    “I’m terribly sorry,” he managed.
    The husband gathered his wife out of her chair, seeming like he was picking up the pieces of a broken object that he hastily fastened into something fragile, but functional.
    As he showed them out, Father Herman couldn’t escape from their parting glances—now tearful, bloodshot and defeated.
    He returned to his desk and opened a drawer, reaching for a small flask.  He hesitated, and then gently closed the drawer again.
     I can’t afford another morning like this morning.
    Even in the aftermath of the preceding, trying event, Father Herman was feeling inspired.  On some days he felt close to God, and on others he felt more like he was merely going through the motions of ritual.  His notion of God was as an abstract force—a perfect force of compassion and creation.
     Despite the power of his position, Father Herman was a humble man.  Some of his ilk tended to let their power go to their head, but he believed that true spirituality was inherently self-effacing.  By his reckoning, becoming aware of the vast scale of the Universe through meditation made one almost painfully conscious of one's insignificance.
     He uttered a brief prayer to God for the couple’s boy being born as an E97.  Those born at the end of genetic generations often had trouble accepting the fact that they were the youngest of an inferior breed.  They had to suffer through seeing those of a similar age enjoying the benefits of improved genetic traits, and they typically had an increased risk of depression and suicide.
     Father Herman decided to divert his attention from the boy, and he activated his computer.  His neural interface sparkled to life, stimulating his visual cortex with an expanse of computer windows that were intelligently overlaid onto the image produced by his natural sight.  He could still see the outlines of regular objects, and motion made the computer imagery become transparent; but data readouts were suddenly visible throughout his office like a set of virtual billboards that were strategically placed to allow him to retain maximum awareness of his real surroundings.
    Using his thoughts to direct his computer, he opened a file that was waiting for his routine inspection, and began to inspect the data held within it.  His task was to review the latest embryonic engineering data from the local genetic treatment facility.
    He activated a special data review function that mapped to the haptic sections of his brain.  The sensations that he experienced as he reviewed the data were unique.  They could only be compared to the sensation of passing a hand over a dense array of raised, stippled dots on a flat surface.  Each data point felt like one of these raised dots; and though each point was slightly different, any significant irregularity in the data matrix would be evident.
     The uniformity of the sensations produced by the data that he was reviewing lulled him into a state of pleasant distraction.
     But then he felt it.
     The sensation was fleeting, but intense, reminding him of the way it felt to prick ones index finger with a pin.  He returned to a DNA sample that was very different.  It exhibited an elevated level of mutation relative to the rest of the generational samples.  This indicated that there was an irregularity that had to be investigated.
     He considered the possible consequences of this anomaly: everyone knew that to tamper with genetic material was a capital offense. There was always the risk that a person of wealth and power might attempt to introduce superior genes into their offspring.  That was why the genetic parity laws existed.  These laws were the very cornerstone of the Gene Priest order.
    Father Herman experienced a thrill of excitement that he had never felt during a routine file review. But he was also concerned by the gravity of the discovery.
    He focused his attention on his computer again, and returned to the location of the anomaly.
     It was gone.
    He re-focused his data sense and circled the area, fanning out gradually.  There were no anomalies.  He returned to the exact data point again, and selected the DNA for the embryo that had been aberrant.
    The name of the embryo was Giles Culliver.
     Culliver…
     That that was a powerful name.  The Culliver family owned several dominant computer firms.   He pictured the name that was etched onto the surface of the bioelectric chip that was embedded into the base of his skull, and which drove his computer augmentation.  Every living person was a customer of Culliver Computer Systems.
     Father Herman deactivated his tactile data review and accessed a computer window to pull up information on the embryo’s parents.  He verified their association to Culliver Systems via a simple search.
     Father Herman was an E95, and therefore had some difficulty understanding the latest advances in data retrieval technologies.  In his early years, however, he had been at the forefront of computer research for the Gene Priests.
    He activated his favorite old data analysis program, which he called Pleiades since it had seven core sub-constructs, and initiated a review of the data for the Culliver sample.  Pleiades began to scan and display status updates immediately.
      A green dot appeared again and signaled another incoming call.  Father Herman sighed as he saw that it was Masterson again.
     “Father Masterson, please tell me you don’t have another consultation to force on me.”
     Masterson’s face wore an uncharacteristic smile as he responded: “Father Herman, are you playing with your archaic programs again?”
    “You are aware of my opinion on the matter of my programs and their considerable capabilities.”
     “Why are you still looking at the wave 19 data?  I show that you should have completed that review thirty minutes ago.”
     Father Herman tried to mask his surprise.  
    “I find it odd that you should question my time management considering what you’ve done to my schedule this evening.”
     “Did you find something in that review?”
     “I’m not sure.  That’s why I’m looking over the data with my program.  The new software isn’t picking up anything now.  But I’m certain that I saw something unusual.”
     “Look Herman, just forget about it.  Put your old program back in dry-dock where it belongs.  You’re getting old—seeing things.  People will think you’re losing your edge.  You are an E95, after all.”
     Father Herman nodded and said, “As you are always quick to point out.”  He noted that Pleiades had stopped scanning.  Its results were displayed in its window.  The image of a double helix rotated slowly, each gene marked in a series of light blue and dark blue rectangles.  He overlaid a double helix from the E97 control sample.
    Where is the variance?
    He expected to see the tell-tale red color that Pleiades used to marked a genetic enhancement; but, as he looked over the expanse of the DNA, there was no red to be seen.
    Wait.
    “Herman?” bellowed Masterson.
    Father Herman ignored the other priest as he spotted a variance.  But instead of being marked in a bright red, it was rendered as a series of black squares.
    Black?  That's an inferior gene compared to the control sample--in the cognitive region of the genome.
     Father Herman said only one word before he remembered that he was still broadcasting over the open comms: “Why?”
    “What are you seeing Herman?  What did that antique program report?  Certainly you can’t rely on that for anything, right?  What did it say?” replied Masterson with detectable anxiety.
    “It says that you changed the Culliver genome.”  Father Herman’s tone became accusatory then: “What are you, on the take?  Has Culliver got you in their pocket?”
    Father Masterson responded forcefully: “No!  That’s nonsense!  I didn’t change anything!  That old program of yours is malfunctioning!”
    “Far from it, Masterson!  This is a very serious breach of protocol!  I will have to report it to the Bishop.”
    “Herman!  Wait!  You don’t understand!”
    Father Herman’s indignation overshadowed his lingering uncertainty about what he had seen in the data: “It’s clear as day to me.  They pay you, then you pump up their genome.  Probably gave them E98 capability somehow.  Well it’s not going to happen any longer!”
    “Herman, hear me out!  I didn’t improve their genome—I degraded it!”
    Father Herman was surprised into silence as he realized that the inferior gene he had just discovered was consistent with Masterson’s claim.
    Father Masterson continued, “I degraded the Culliver embryo.  My scans indicated that their genome was superior to the rest of the generation in several key areas.  So I leveled the playing field.  Genetic parity, right?”
    But why?
    “Masterson, why did you do that?  You know that our mandate to control genetics only extends to regulating the improvement of the genome through genetic engineering!”
    “Our mandate is genetic parity.  Goes way back to the time of Father Matthias.  Why should these Culliver people be allowed to have superior genes?”
    “Maybe their superior genes are why they are so successful.”
    “Precisely my point, Herman.  That’s inequity!”
    “But Masterson, our mandate is natural selection.  We allow environment to do what we can’t—to determine what the best genetic makeup will be.  If we alter people’s genes to make them all the same, then we’re going to stop evolving!”
    “Herman, that’s outdated thinking.  We can replace natural selection with the justice of parity.  We can determine how to advance the genome through our research programs.  We don’t need the clumsy mechanism of natural selection as a crutch.”
    “This is madness!  Do you realize that you could be preventing the next titan of industry from being born?  What if that embryo that you damaged was going to be someone of the caliber of Father Matthias himself?  You would be preventing that!”
    “We don’t want a society with titans and underlings.  That’s precisely what we’re against.  That’s not parity!”
    “I’m done discussing this, Masterson!  Our laws are clear on this matter.  I’m going to have to file a report!”
    Father Herman cut the connection as Masterson was shouting a response.
     Turning in his chair, he gazed upward at the bust of Father Matthias.
    There must be titans in the world.
    Another incoming communication request from Father Masterson flashed up in his neural computer.  Father Herman ignored it.
    He calmly dictated a memorandum to the Bishop in charge of the local chapter of the Priests.  He implicated Father Masterson and presented all of the evidence, including a copy of his Pleiades software construct’s report.
     He paused only a moment before he sent the memorandum.
     Masterson, you poor soul.  You lost your mind.  I’m sorry it had to be me that discovered your secret.
    He sat back in his chair, the silence of his office contrasting with the inner turmoil that he was experiencing in reaction to what had just transpired.  He opened his drawer again and picked up the flask.  This time he did not second guess himself, and took a long draw from it.
     He sat for several more minutes, as the whiskey settled him.
     Then he got up, donned his coat, and exited his office.
     As he walked toward the lobby, his footsteps echoed through the high corridors of the building.  For some reason he became conscious of being alone—a small figure moving conspicuously through a large space.
     He reached a people mover that conveyed him across the long corridor more quickly.    Soon the corridor left the interior of his office building, and extended over a busy street in a plasteel tube that was transparent, and allowed him to experience the full impact of the surrounding darkness of the evening.
    He reflected for a moment, but then the incessant motion of the transgrav cells on the road below caught his eye.  Their uniform motion, which Father Hermann had often observed, was different tonight.  The forty lanes of traffic moved at great speed, but they were slower than normal, and he could see that many cells were shifting lanes.  Looking down the length of the road, he saw the tell-tale emergency lights that signaled a rare transgrav accident.
    Uncomfortable thoughts sprung into his head, unbidden: Do the people in those cells even know that something has happened?  And what of those who crashed: did the engineering of the great mechanism fail, or was it some event of pure chance?
    Soon he reached the rectory building, which was close to where his apartment was located.  The people mover ended, and deposited him into the tall, multi-story atrium that served as the public entrance of the rectory, and which was dominated by a three story statue of Father Matthias IV.  The statue faced outward toward the revolving front door of the facility.
    A small dot of red blazed at the periphery of his vision, placed there by his neural computer. It indicated an incoming priority communication request. He knew that Father Masterson didn't have the authority to initiate a priority request, so he accepted the call without screening the caller. The face of the Bishop appeared in a floating window. The Bishop's features were angular, and his skin was creased like a well-worn jacket. But his lustrous brown beard softened his jaw line, and the net result was a warm and likable face.
    "Father, come see me before you leave," said the Bishop.
    "Of course, your Grace. I'll be there in a minute," replied Father Herman.
    Well, that was quick.
    Father Herman stood at the balcony railing for a moment to contemplate the statue of Father Matthias. In the presence of the huge rendering of his revered hero he felt a renewed sense of confident certainty about his report to the Bishop, which he knew that he would soon be asked to explain.
    He turned away from the railing and walked around the circular causeway that ringed the atrium, glancing periodically at the statue as he proceeded.  Soon he reached the door of the Bishop's office.  He knocked, and the mechanical hum of a lock disengaging signaled him to enter.
    The Bishop was seated at an expansive desk in the large, shadowy office.  Several plaques hung on the walls, and a closet door was open, revealing several earth toned vestments hanging neatly within. There was a strong odor of coffee and pipe tobacco in the air. The Bishop motioned for Father Herman to sit.
    "Father Herman, I have reviewed the report that you just sent me on Father Masterson."
    "Yes. Thank you. It's a terrible situation."
    "Yes, it is terrible," said the Bishop, pausing as if to allow the final word to achieve maximum effect. "It's terrible when a man strays from his path—especially if he is a good man—a man who's fallen victim to an excess of passion and fervor—a man like Father Masterson."
    Father Herman shifted in his chair uncomfortably as it became clear that the Bishop was waiting for him to respond. "I must confess that I never cared much for Father Masterson, your Grace.  But this hasn't influenced my report. It is totally unbiased."
    "Yes, I'm sure that it is. I'm not questioning that, Father Herman. I do want to present a concept to you, though. In situations such as this, it is not unheard of for a resolution to be reached without the filing of a formal report."
    "Pardon me, your Grace—without a report?  I'm not sure I understand."
    "Father Herman, you are a bit of an anomaly: you've never had an issue with your faith or your conduct or come to me to talk about any sort of problem. But your brothers and sisters are not so blessed. Many of them struggle to live the ascetic life that we have pledged to live. We must have compassion for their struggles and for their indiscretions, even if we ourselves are not subject to them. Does this make sense?"
    "Your Grace, with all due respect, the actions of Father Masterson go well beyond the level of an indiscretion. We are talking about an act that contravenes the laws at the very foundation of our order!"
    The Bishop did not respond. Instead he opened a desk drawer and withdrew a tobacco pipe and a bag of tobacco. He packed the tobacco into the pipe, and then struck a match and held it over the tobacco as he inhaled from the pipe with several short breaths.
    Am I mistaken, or does his hand tremble slightly as it holds the pipe?
    With the pipe lit, the Bishop reclined in his chair and spoke: "I'll take you into my confidence now. You must not repeat any of this. Do you understand me, Father Herman?”
    Father Herman put his hand over his mouth and cleared his throat, blinking his eyes rapidly as he did so.
    “Yes, your Grace.”
    “There are certain elements within our order that speak of the need for a new force of evolution. Something beyond natural selection: ideological selection. What have all of mankind's wars been caused by?  You might say competition for resources—but there's usually something more fundamental at work. It's usually a conflict of ideology that causes the greatest strife. Some members of our order wonder why mankind should be subjected to that type of threat when it could be controlled—weeded out.
    There is a rumor that Culliver Systems is working on a micro fusion technology that would enable their cybernetic implants to supplant living tissue.  These implants would never have to be charged like our neural computer implants do, and might, in effect, supersede genetics as the dominant force of human evolution."
    Father Herman felt like the axis of the world was shifting underneath him.
    The Bishop continued: "I can see that this discussion disturbs you. I assure you that that is not my intent. I am merely trying to point out that there may be certain parties within our order that might be sympathetic to what Masterson has done—might even be aligned with what he has done. If we keep this matter within my authority, then I can handle it quietly, and we all might be better off for it. Masterson will be reprimanded but not ruined, and we will be sure not to attract the attention of these radical elements. Do you understand, Father Herman?"
    Father Herman again cleared his throat, which now felt like it was tightening up. "This entire situation seems highly irregular, your Grace. I'm...well, I'm very uncomfortable with all of this speculation. My preference is to submit the report and handle this through the official channels."
    The Bishop took a few more puffs from his pipe and then replied: "Sleep on it, Father Herman. We'll meet first thing in the morning and you can give me your final answer then.  I will take Father Masterson into custody tonight."
    Father Herman nodded, rose from his chair, and accidentally dropped his briefcase. He bent and picked it up, aware that the Bishop's eyes were on him the entire time.
    "Good night, your Grace," said Father Herman, struggling to keep the tension out of his voice.
    He exited the office and shut the door behind him, averting his eyes as they adjusted to the comparative brightness of the atrium.
    What the hell just happened?  Is the Bishop involved in this business with Culliver Systems?  But he did say that he would apprehend Masterson.  Surely he wouldn’t do that if he were in league with him?
    For some reason he couldn't bring himself to retire to his apartment, so he returned to his office.    He paced back and forth across the office and then paused to stare out the window.  He then stormed over to a chair and slumped into it.  Then he sat up and lowered his head to his lap with his fingers interlocked behind it.
    He sat for an hour in deep contemplation, and drained all of the whiskey from his flask in the process.  Finally, he rose from his chair and felt like he had reached a firm conclusion.
    If Culliver Systems threatens our control over human evolution then we should approach the people like Father Matthias did.  Why have these radicals chosen a path that is shrouded in secrecy and laden with deceit?  Their actions represent nothing less than heresy!  I have to expose them!  God, please give me strength!
    In the morning, he would tell the Bishop that he wanted the report on Father Masterson submitted through official channels.  After that, he planned to try to gather information on who Masterson might have been working with.
    He was suspicious of the Bishop and he felt that he needed to take precautions against him.  Father Herman prepared a copy of his report so that he could instantly distribute it if the Bishop betrayed him.
    Feeling both determined and scared by his decision to openly confront the heretics, he retraced his steps from earlier in the evening, and proceeded toward the Rectory’s atrium again.  Reaching it, he walked across the expansive marble floor to the front of the statue of Father Matthias.  He looked up at the statue and its inspiring visage high above him.
    Father Matthias, I may have to release information to the public that could destroy everything that you built.  But a corruption has grown within our order.  If I can't root it out then I will expose it to the world.  I simply can't live with the knowledge that your great vision has been defiled by heresy.  I hope and pray that you would condone my actions.   
    The sound of the atrium door opening behind him startled him.  Turning, he was transfixed by what he saw: the Bishop was leading a group of security guards toward him.  And Father Masterson was walking confidently beside the Bishop.
     My God, they’re coming for me!
    The Bishop motioned to the security guards, and his firm and commanding voice echoed through the atrium: “Father Herman, you are being detained for a gene crime!”
    The security guards ran toward Father Herman, their black trench coats flowing behind them as they brandished their stun batons.
    This isn’t happening!
    But his mind sprang into action.  He invoked his neural computer and activated the function to distribute his report.  But instead of receiving the confirmation message that he was expecting, he was shown an error message: “Unable to access network.”
    They’ve locked me out!
    He experienced an odd feeling of detachment from the next sequence of events.
    He saw the threatening darkness of the guards approaching him quickly, and he ran around the base of the statue to the service door that housed the electronics for the statue’s information kiosk.  He heard a click as the door’s proximity lock opened for him, and the heavy granite door cracked open along barely discernable seams in the stone.  Using his genetically enhanced strength, he flung the door open wide, jumped in, and pulled it closed just as he saw the faces of the guards rounding the corner of the statue’s base.
    As he crouched in the darkness, he heard the gentle hum of the kiosk’s electronics and over that the angry shouts of the guards as they struggled in vain to open the heavy, concealed door.  Moments later he heard the Bishop scream: “Get tools and gauss pistols!  Quickly!”
    He knew that he had at most a few minutes before they would be able to get to him.
    The windows of his neural computer looked strange in the confined surroundings.  He tried to connect to the network cloud through the kiosk’s computer, but blasphemed as he saw that that connection was already blocked.
    But he knew another way.  He accessed the old Gene Priest disaster recovery network, which had been around since his early days in computer research.  He established a connection, but this network was not directly connected to the more modern network cloud.  To make that connection, he would have to travel through the main Gene Priest network, which he feared would now be saturated with security programs looking for any communication bearing his identity.
    Pleaides!
    Outside he heard the muted whirring sound of power tools struggling against the granite door.
    He turned his attention inward toward the copy of his Pleaides program that he had placed on his local neural computer.  In addition to forensic analysis, the program also had been created with security analysis features.  It could search for network vulnerabilities and replicate itself by exploiting them—like a malicious program would.  He knew that his program might be able to evade the detection of the Gene Priest’s newer security programs and get out onto the public network cloud.  Once there, he directed it to seek out the popular, illegal “dark cloud” networks, which were the only place where the Gene Priest’s influence would not be able to contain the distribution of his report.
    He released the seven modules of Pleaides into the Gene Priest network, each bearing a copy of his report.  Then he was startled by a series of staccato blasts from outside of the granite door.  Curious slivers of light invaded the near total darkness, and shone in the dusty air of the closet, as Father Herman focused his attention back to his physical surroundings.
    He struggled to breathe, and each breath triggered an accompanying sucking sound from his chest.  Reaching down, he felt a sticky warmth covering his jacket.  His arm and his leg were also numb and he began to feel an icy panic gripping him.
    He heard the Bishop’s voice calling to him: “Father Herman?  Open the door!  You are hurt and need medical attention.  Open the door!”
    The Bishop!  Pleaides!
    Father Herman felt disoriented and scared.  But the memory of the Bishop, his treachery, and curiosity about the fate of his Pleaides program modules re-focused him.  He managed to invoke his neural interface, which still appeared with a clarity that contrasted with the fuzziness that had overcome his other senses.
    His computer showed him a representation of the Gene Priest network that looked like a great, blue lattice of lines and points.  He now only saw three of the Pleaides modules, each of which was marked with the image of a small star field travelling in the great void of the network.  The other modules had apparently been compromised.
    Father Herman was distantly aware that the Bishop was still calling out to him, and then he thought that he heard the report of more gunfire.  He wasn’t aware of anything except the computer display, which showed that another two of the Pleaides modules had been lost.
    Soon the motion of that final module consumed his awareness.  Thought itself had deconstructed, but Father Herman still soared along the network—jumping effortlessly from node to node, and finally sailing past the border of the Gene Priest network into the expanse of the public network cloud, and beyond that to the dark, free place where his report burst into thousands of copies of itself just as his consciousness extinguished.

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