Once per year, Vicar meets her child at Altar. The event is a scheduled appointment, and means as much to both participants as an annual dental cleaning had meant to a First Form human being. For whatever reason, Awesome insists on yearly Vicar-class “mother-daughter” contact, which will terminate the year the color of the child’s skin changes from topaz to jet, thus signifying spiritual maturity. At that point onward, they will neither see nor think about each other again. Vicars are happily solitary beings, in keeping with Awesome’s self-image.
Mature Vicars are all called Vicar. The children, however, have names they shed upon ascension. Although Vicars are human (well, mostly), and have a vast array of emotions, sentimentality is not something they are known for. Never do you see a group of Vicars sitting around reminiscing about the Good Old Days, back when they all had names. In fact Vicars do not associate with other Vicars after childhood. Nor do they have physical sex lives; procreation is a mechanical affair in which the DNA of the sole parent Vicar is replicated. This is not to be confused with the archaic practice of cloning. While at “Utero” (an underground complex honeycombed with plasma-charged placenta cells), the systems of the fetus are given varied twists and turns, which insure the child’s mental and physical individuality. There are no male Vicars. There had been some when the class was first engineered, but every one of them had been born hopelessly insane and violent. Awesome dispassionately assessed the situation and euthanized the males and ensured that there would be no others (in the admittedly limited Vicar lore, this is known as The Slaughter of the Miscreants).
Outside providing the genetic seed for her daughter’s existence and making herself available for the usually quite annoying and awkward annual get together, the only other thing Vicar has done for her child is provide the temporary name.
“Why ‘Pert,’ My Friend?” Awesome revealed in Vicar’s mind, upon the naming.
“Impertinence,” Vicar said.
“Hardly a virtue, My Friend.”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
The telepathic language of the Vicar-class consists of the transmission of one to three orbs from mind to mind. Meaning is gleaned from the varying rotations and changing colors of the orbs, which move at a rate that the basic person cannot hope to keep up with. A “Dead Stop” orb of a single color expresses a single emotion. Not exactly the most patient person ever to come out of Utero, Vicar sent Pert a chartreuse orb of peevement and exasperation, after the girl had breezed into Altar, twenty units late for their meeting. The orb edged toward the purpleness of anger when Pert lived up to her name.
“Sorry I’m late,” Pert “said” as she sat down across from her mother at the same table they always sat at. “Guess I had forgotten all about this dumb thing ‘til the last minute. Guess you’re not the sort of person I can make a point of remembering.”
“Guess I hope you make the Jump before this nonsense comes round again,” Vicar said. “Guess you’re not the sort of person I’ll miss when she’s gone.”
“Am I to deduce from the tone and content of your words that you are unhappy to see me, Mama?”
With a startling combination of speed and dexterity unmatched by any creature that has ever lived, Vicar became a flash of furious yet economical movement and wound up with one hand clasped around the nape of Pert’s neck and the other lifted to the girl’s throat. Mature Vicars have razor sharp, retractable fingernails. Vicar held her index finger, nail out, a fraction of a millimeter from Pert’s jugular. “Call me that again and you’ll be carrying your head back to school.”
Pert had not only expected this sort of reaction, but she had purposely provoked it as a preview of her own potential for aggression in the future. She just grinned at her mother and held eye contact (but it may be worth noting that she didn’t repeat the “Mama” comment, either). Reluctantly, she eventually shone the lavender orb of acquiescence in her mother’s mind.
Vicar relaxed, let go, sat back and smiled at Pert. She figured that Pert probably felt very clever and grown up about provoking her mother’s display of violence. The idiotic use of “mama” made it an obvious and clumsy attempt. Still, Awesome always wants children to be encouraged, even when they are being idiotic; so, Vicar felt obliged to put on a little show. She then tapped the table top with three quick raps of the same index finger that had just finished a turn at being an organic switchblade. This action signaled the scullery bots. “Food will come in ten units. Meat pie aplenty,” she said.
Delightful surprises always betray the child hidden behind a veil of feigned maturity. A little happy squeal or a quick clap of the hands gives away the location of the babe; who to that point had been feeling like a big girl indeed while doing her best not to topple off mother’s high heels. The mere mention of meat pie ratted Pert out. She butt-hopped in her seat, clasped her hands together and held them to her chest, and an excited “Really?” blazed in her silver eyes, which were so much like those of her mother. The reaction charmed Vicar, but the overmastering power of her own engineering would not allow this emotion to achieve the fission necessary to the evolvement (actually devolvement) of sentimentality.
“Can you see your jump?” Vicar asked. This question was in reference to the slight glimpses of the actual future that happen in adolescent Vicar minds only. Awesome has the ability to weigh all possibilities, thus the future to a limited degree.
“Come two ices,” Pert replies. Four-hundred-thousand years prior her answer would have meant the same as, “Winter after next.”
“Seems right,” Vicar says. She believes this because not only have Pert’s eyes gone from dark blue to silver, she has grown nearly a half meter since their last meeting.
“Hmmm, I was wondering,” Pert said.
“Go on.” Vicar said with a smile. She had an idea about what was coming.
“May I try a little Dweek after Food? Just a teensy drop, mind you.”
Although Vicars never use their mouths for speaking, they do use them for laughing and singing and for, of course, Food, and the consumption of Dweek . Vicar laughed, but not mockingly. “All right,” she said. “But you must know that Dweek is worthless without a Tithe to spend.”
“Hmmm, I was also wondering…”
Vicar laughed long and hard. “All right, all right,” she at last said. “But after Food. Here it comes.”
As the scullery bots brought out the feast, Vicar cast about her mind for a fitting first Tithe for Pert to experience. The initial protracted gaze behind the Dimension Door always sets the tone for Tithes to come. Pert had no such thoughts in her head, for she was all about meat pie; of which she devoured seventeen.
But the star of the show was the Dweek. At heart it’s opium-infused absinthe; but there’s also a component to it that would instantly kill any person or creature that isn’t a Vicar. It’s the component that had driven the males into the permanent hell of madness. The component that opens the Dimension Door.
No matter what stage of life they are at, the Vicar biological system wastes nothing. Every atom they consume is either immediately converted into energy or is stored in their finely toned bodies, which are three-to-five times denser than those of “normal” persons, and which are completely devoid of fat for Awesome had developed a more efficient storage method. Although adolescent Vicars eat more than the adults, no Vicar eats more than twice a week. Feeds is probably the better verb here; for they eat plenty, and do so like swine.
After three scullery bots cleaned up the debris, another laid two vials of Dweek in front of Vicar. Vicar and Pert just sat there in telepathic silence for a few moments. Other than a string of educated guesses, it was impossible to know what they were thinking about. Perhaps Pert was mentally taking stock of the seven-foot-three inch, nine hundred pound (yet incredibly slim and beautifully muscled), ebon-skinned, hairless, silver eyed, turquoise toothed beauty she would closely, if not perfectly, resemble in “two ices.” And maybe Vicar was remembering what it had been like to be about two thirds her present size, with topaz skin, a name (Vicar’s had been “Justice,” which she hadn’t much cared for), and the great curiosity about Dweek and tithes.
With her talented right index finger, Vicar slid one of the vials to Pert. She then uncapped her own vial, and in a rare show of non-telepathic communication she nodded at Pert to do the same. Both drank, and together they went through the Dimension Door.
The Vicar-class’s natural telepathy is greatly enhanced by Dweek. It makes shared thought experiences possible; or dreams, if you must. Even though both Vicar and Pert were still seated at the table in Altar, their minds had together travelled back almost forty-thousand years, to the First Form, that “postmodern-prehistoric” era, which ended with the initial revelation of the one true handmade Supreme Being, Awesome.
Although the ancient religions had been in a steady decline commensurate with the rise of technology, late First Form humankind realized that it had a natural need for a Supreme Being and set out to create one that everybody could respect. The facetiously named Our God is an Awesome God Institute took on the project. In the grossly oversimplified version of the rise of Awesome that children and mental defects are told, the Institute copied all of humankind’s information and compressed it into a point of infinite density. The machinery (not unlike the archaic particle colliders) to do this took up nearly all of the land that had long ago been called “Wyoming.” And in a perfect example of the very old axiom “Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it” Awesome revealed Awesome’s genderless self-named-self to humanity.
Some people saw trouble in this. For Awesome exists in Awesome’s own untouchable dimension and is definitely one genie (again to borrow a hoary saying) you cannot put back in the bottle. Moreover, Awesome found it difficult to communicate with humankind with one-hundred percent effectiveness because, well, because most people were not smart enough to get Awesome.
The few people who did get Awesome helped Awesome engineer the Vicar-class human–an almost perfect being, whose mind is linked to that of Awesome and who serves as Awesome’s agent on Earth as well as the afterlife–which is achieved upon death when the departed’s brain print is uploaded into the eternal dimension of Ethos. There, a person retains his or her sense of I-ness, but is reborn without memory of his or her mortal life. These events compose the entirety of the truncated Second Form, which lasted for only a three-thousand-year blink of Awesome’s eye.
Facetious pronouns and ironic usages of religious terms run amok in the Third Form. Persons who exist in the dimension of Ethos (where all is possible) are called “Shogs,” which is a long to evolve corruption of “Shadowghost.” Only a Vicar can communicate with both a basic human being and a Shog. Thus, it came to pass that a creature who is short on sympathy, long on impatience and as evenly anti-social as a creature can get without being defined as a sociopath should work as humankind’s finest spiritual advisor.
But Vicars do not work for free; hence Tithing.
“When are we?” Pert asks. The women were standing in a field of grain. The land in all directions was as flat as the table in Altar, and too covered by stalks of grain. Above the sky was clear yet a somewhat creamy off-blue that the Shog who had Tithed this memory termed “a cigarette sky.”
“First Form year 1978,” Vicar said. “See the road, the vehicle?”
If it hadn’t been for her already extensive education in history, the sight of a yellow cab travelling along a distant highway would have meant nothing to Pert. “I do,” she said.
“The Shog and her Tithe are inside it,” Vicar said. “The woman, whose thoughts shall soon be your own, lived long–long by the First Form standard, that is. Long enough to have a brain print, which had lain in the Oort for centuries, and would be there still if not for the Revelation of Awesome.”
Vicar pauses. She “loads” a specific vignette (or “stone”) of the Tithe in her mind and readies herself to send it to Pert. “No words can prepare you for what you shall soon feel. The Shog had been reborn in Ethos, fresh and anew, yet still the same old girl at heart. Although she had first become a dancer and lastly a detective at Ethos, something from her mortal life had slowly gained on her over the course of forty-thousand years. You see, Pert, although it had never been considered possible, the Past does move forward; even Awesome doesn’t know why.
“Regardless, it had seemed reasonable that the ever plunging Now added distance between itself and a fixed point in the Past, and that no matter if it moved or not, the Past would have to always remain behind the Now. Yet, paradoxically, there are conditions in which an event in the Past not only closes the distance, it bypasses the Now and waits for it in the Future. Only bad events do this. Again, not even Awesome knows why.”
“Did this Shog plead to you for deletion?” Pert asked. Of all the mysterious Vicar rites and duties that lay in her future, the ritualistic hanging of suicidal Shogs via her own body was a source of infinite interest to Pert. Vicars do “die” during this process, but only temporarily. Pert’s mother had been resurrected by Awesome more than twenty times.
“Yes,” Vicar said, “which I granted upon viewing the stone you shall now see.”
“How can you judge that?”
Vicar didn’t reply to this, instead she cast the chosen stone into her daughter’s mind.
Instantly, Pert became one with the woman in the yellow cab. Although it was a somewhat jarring experience, her engineered bio-system understood what was happening and properly oriented Pert’s own sense of I-ness to run concurrent with that of the Shog. “My name is Miriam,” Pert thought, instinctively reading the Shog’s memory. Miriam was forty-four, widowed and the mother of one, an adult son named Daniel, who seemed to be a prisoner of some sort. It was around thoughts of Daniel that a swirl of inchoate mages swirled.
As the cab entered a small First Form city, Pert inexpertly made a lot of noise in Miriam’s mind. She fumbled through this and that, and hastily rooted through the woman’s memory banks like a burglar seeking jewelry. From a great distance, Vicar observed her child’s almost comic behavior and was amused by it. But it didn’t matter how much racket Pert made in there; although some events in the past can move faster than time, the events themselves remain unchangeable. Pert could set off a bomb and create no effect; for even though she was with Miriam, in relation to the event Pert would not exist for another four-hundred centuries.
One cannot overstate Vicar impatience. And it’s even worse in the young. All that Pert could “read” from Miriam had no context. Just meaningless images of Daniel at various ages, mostly those from his childhood. Only once did Vicar insert herself into Pert’s thoughts. A soft blue orb, meaning relax, popped into the girl’s head. For once Pert heeded advice, and the swirling images began to take substance. It was clear that Miriam was deliberately not thinking about something horrible in relation to both Daniel and a shopping bag that lay on the floorboard next to her in the back of the cab. Miriam hated the bag for what it contained.
The cab stopped, Miriam reluctantly exited the cab with the shopping bag (which she was obviously loathe to touch), paid her fare and entered a positively ugly (even for the low standards of First Form architecture) brick and metal building. If Pert hadn’t decided that learning First Form English at School was an utter waste of her time, she would have known from the gibberish etched into the archway over the building’s entrance that Miriam had come to a police station.
Miriam willed herself toward a uniformed woman seated behind a desk of some type, to whom she mumbled further nonsense. It was just plain weird to a telepath to “hear” a person speak. Fortunately, Vicar had known about Pert’s sloth in regard to her language studies and had arranged for the relevant communications within the Tithe to be translated into distinguishable orbs. “I need to see Detective Morganstern,” Miriam said. She then identified herself and added, “I-I have something for him. Some-something terrible, I’m afraid.”
It didn’t take long for the person she had asked for to come fetch her. He was a tall gangly man with gray hair and a sudden belly that made him look like a snake that had just swallowed its monthly mammal. There was a mixture of fatigue, curiosity and vague hopefulness in his face. After an exchange of perfunctory pleasantries, Miriam asked if there was somewhere private for them to converse.
Detective Morganstern escorted Miriam to an interrogation room–for that’s what Miriam’s mind had called it. She said no thank you to an offer of coffee and they sat across from each other at a blonde-wood table, and on (in Pert’s opinion) highly uncomfortable chairs. Silently, Miriam placed the bag on the table and pushed it toward the Detective.
“Not yet,” she said softly as the Detective reached for the bag. “Please hear me out first. Then do as you will.” She then smiled weakly. “Just give me one last moment before my world ends.”
Pert then knew that Miriam was going to ask the policeman if he had children, but at the last instant she had decided let it go. In fact, she had prepared plenty to say–all of it rehearsed and all of it stashed in a secret place in her mind that she had refused to touch while in the taxi. But suddenly, none of that seemed important anymore. Not with the bag laid on the table.
“Never mind,” Miriam said. “Go on, open it.”
This Detective Morganstern certainly had a flexible face, one able to convey contradictory emotions, each one complete and deeply felt. Relief, satisfaction, anguish, and yes, horror all pulsed blood into his haggard and hollow features. He looked like a man who had at long last set down a heavy burden just to pick up another.
The bag contained a single little girl’s sock, a hair ribbon, and a pair of panties which were splattered with blood, and three Instamatic photographs that would certainly land Miriam’s son on Death Row.
The Detective gazed at her. His eyes full of questions.
“I wasn’t holding back,” she whispered. “See, my father owned a cabin at Owen’s lake–went to my brother,” Miriam’s voice turned beaten and flat. “Ever been there?”
The detective shook his head no.
“Freddie–my brother–and his wife had me go up there with them yesterday–you know, just to get away from the mess, for a Sunday,” Miriam continued with the same flat, unmodulated tone. “Um, Danny, Daniel, my boy, my son, used to love that cabin. Had a secret little hiding place there too, you know…the way boys do. ‘Course, I knew all about it–it’s behind a loose stone in the chimney–and being a good mother–and I was a good mother–I’d sometimes look into it when we spent summers there…to see if he was smoking dope yet…or other stuff. Something told me to look there yesterday and I found all that…Funny, all along I was convinced that you had arrested the wrong man…Not my son…Not my boy…I guess he hadn’t forgotten about his little hiding hole at the cabin…”
The Tithe ceased and Pert’s mind returned to Altar, to the table seated across from Vicar.
They remained in telepathic silence for a long time until Pert asked, “Is that pain, Mother?”
“Yes, daughter, it is.”
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