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Science Fiction Fantasy Horror

Three of us stood in a small church just inside Atlanta. Normally I would’ve liked the high white ceiling, the loft for the choir, and organ. Fifty wooden pews lined either side of a walkway to the altar. A statue of Mary stood to the right of the altar, St. Joseph to the left. Stained glass windows should’ve caught the sunlight. But today, it was dark inside, as if the windows had been blinded. Flashlights and candles helped but only just. It was chilly but not from air conditioning, for the electric wasn’t working. The blood on the statues did not help the atmosphere. Nor did the sonnenrad that was inked on the walls. 

Also, a life-sized crucifix was on the altar. Broken in half. 

I didn’t have to tell Sebastian to take readings. He was already doing so. “June 24, 2137, 1100 hours,” he began. “St. Tiffany’s Catholic Church. As of yet, I detect no vameras or drones…” 

 It was my first time using a sentient aye. Sorry, working with. In any event, he was intuitive, competent, and needed little direction. I was glad of this, for I could focus while he recorded everything. I needed strong evidence of the paranormal if we were to survive the next round of budget cuts. As I headed to the altar, I overheard my human assistant, Jim, whisper to him. 

 “Remind me how we got ourselves into this again?” 

My hearing is very acute. Investigating the abnormal and demonic will do that to you. Sebastian answered, “I am here because he needed an A-TEL. I recommended you refuse this assignment. Your illness-” 

“We went over that. I couldn’t. Everyone else is overloaded. And I’m fine.” With that, Jim stomped away. Then turned. “You caught it too!” 

I shook my head. I’d heard of these two; of course, they are well known within the FBI. Sebastian had once protected Jim from a violent, murderous stepfather. The act apparently forced him into sentience, one of the very first ayes to achieve it. Gossip was they had grown up together and acted more like brothers than benefactor and assistant. Although this isn’t unheard of, I always found it strange. But hey, my sister was having surgery to become a cyborg, so what did I know? 

And my family calls me the wack one. 

At least Sebastian could almost pass as human. Brown long hair, a crooked nose, just shy of two meters tall. His problem was the lack of facial expression and his brown doll eyes, with nothing behind them. His voice could probably narrate a nature show. Except he often stuttered. Someone had told me he and other ayes did it when their emotions conflicted with programming, and it was best to ignore it.  

As long as he did his job, he could be silent for all it suited me. I doubted they liked me; most people don’t. Exorcisms change you. Often one starts smelling like burnt wood, brimstone. You feel tired all the time. And that’s after only three or four encounters. Still, someone has to do this job. I thought back to our conversation yesterday in their conference room. 

“I am intrigued, Dan,” Sebastian had started. “I heard the FBI investigating the supernatural was a myth, a product of TV and movies.”  

I explained the department was relatively new and started because of reports involving what some called the supernatural. I didn’t go into the money issues or that I had paid my way for this trip. They didn’t need to know that. 

 Jim had been, as most are, disbelieving. 

 “Too much V-see can whack a person out.” He gestured to a spot behind his ear where I suppose his impla-chip used to be. That OP virus had affected both him and Sebastian or so I’d been told. Jim continued, “That’s something I don’t miss about being connected. No more headaches and fewer nightmares. And don’t forget, V-see can confuse people. They don’t know what’s real and what-” 

“Except one was an Amish man. They can’t use the chips. Same with priests. They call it the Mark of the beast.” Ridiculous but unconcerned. “Anyway, this Boston detective had several very odd cases. By all accounts, he was non-religious, solid background, isn’t chipped, and no drugs on board. He’s not the only cop.” I opened a hologram. It hung in the air, shimmering against the blue-grey walls. “So, this department was started a year ago. I heard of this case and wanted to-” 

“Yeah,” Jim said. “But it’s probably some cruel-crime. Don’t know why the cops called us. We can’t even prove Father Bizzo was murdered. Not so much as a bruise on him.” 

 Sebastian then explained that witnesses standing outside reported growling and saw flashes of light. The cops that went in afterward noted the unnatural darkness and the fact that electricity was off. They also stated the blood contained strange DNA as if it was a mix of animal and human. “I surmise it is a well-designed viral illusion. Many terrorists are using drones these days for that purpose,” he continued as if I didn’t know. “They use apps to connect to someone’s impla-chip and cause hallucinations. Even if one does not have a chip, vameras can throw some very realistic visions. The blood is probably genetically altered. Some terrorists wish only their own beliefs to be heard.” 

“Like that new religion, Cristdias,” Jim said. “I don’t know what god they believe in, but they’re knotoid. They think the Pope’s the false prophet. Like they take Revelations and mix it with Voodoo or other occult shat. But they’re very violent and-” 

“Yeah, but look at the priest’s face.” I slid a holo-picture over to them. The guy had a look I was getting too familiar with. “His genes were almost perfect. No predispositions to cancer, obesity, or heart problems. He didn’t even have gum disease, for God’s sake.” 

Jim shrugged. “If he was viro attacked-”  

“You’re saying fear killed him?” 

“It’s happened before, Dan. People don’t realize it’s fake. It becomes this living nightmare, and they’re literally scared to death.” 

Finally, I gave up. They’d find out soon enough. “All I ask is you keep an open mind.” 

 “Sure. I’ll even bring my grandma’s Star of David. Like Boy Scouts. Be prepared, right? Or should it be a crucifix?”  

“Any religious symbol. It’s all about belief in the holy. Faith in love, charity, righteousness. God’s actual name doesn’t matter.” Then I told Jim to bring something for Sebastian too. 

“Can a machine become possessed?”  

“Of course, Sebastian. Anything can.” 

*** 

I was supposed to be examining the crucifix, but actually, I observed Sebastian take samples of the blood on Mary. Again, he seemed emotionless until Jim screamed. Then he ran back to the confessional, and for the first time, I heard him stutter. 

“What is it, b-brother?” 

“Nothing, just this place getting to me. I’ll be all right.”  

“Understood,” Sebastian said, then opened the door. I saw a sheep’s head hung on a butcher’s hook. Flies hovered around it, crawling out of its nostrils. Even from where I stood, I could smell the stench of meat long gone bad. Jim laughed, trying to play off his embarrassment. 

 “See? Just caught me off guard. I thought the cops had collected all this shat already.” 

“They did, supposedly,” I called. “Maybe someone broke in after they left.” 

Sebastian then stepped back from the confessional. He stooped. “A bible. Opened to Isaiah,” he reported. He donned gloves and picked it up. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as sheep before its shearers is silent.” 

“Comforting,” Jim muttered. 

“I b-believe this verse foretells the Messiah.” 

If he were human, I’d had said the place was affecting him too. But why not? After all, the priests had interviewed him, arguing whether or not he’d had a soul. But I could’ve told him there’s more to this world than people think. Standing in the church, Sebastian proved it. For just after he read the verse, something fluttered in the darkness. Then I heard a whisper. 

Soulless. 

“W-What was that sound?” 

“Just the wind, Seb.” 

“How can an aye not know what he heard?” I walked towards them. As if he was annoyed, Sebastian strode past me and onto the dais. Next to the altar was a door. He looked inside at torn vestments, the blood on the walls. Jim was behind him. 

“Jesus,” he said, “What did Cristdias do?” 

“You still think this is human?” I stared at Jim. “Sebastian hasn’t found any drones or vameras. It can’t just be-” 

“It is.” Jim wiped his eyes. “They use the sonnenrad, or sun-wheel. It’s not supposed to symbolize Nazism. But it does.” 

“Cristdias has manifested something inhuman, I tell you. Look around you! We can’t even get the lights to work right and-” 

“Good God, shut up, Dan!” 

“Jim…” I stopped for I saw Sebastian pick up a small silver cross from a table. He slipped it into his pocket.  

“Fine. I’m freaked out, all right? And you gotta go and-”  

Sebastian headed for the door, nearly bumping into Jim. He immediately stopped arguing. “Broth. What’s wrong?” 

 “We must leave. I am receiving some sort of interference and cannot d-determine where it is c-coming from.” 

“Ain’t gotta tell me twice,” Jim said. “I’m right behind you.” 

“But-” For I was sure Sebastian heard what I did. Just as he had picked up the cross, a voice had said, Soulless machine, slave to programming. 

 But I can change that. 

It wasn’t aimed at me, but over time I had attuned myself to hear what others missed. Whatever spoke wasn’t going to let us leave so easily. 

 But Jim still argued. “If he says go, I do, bud. He’s always got reason-shat!” For the candles went out. The darkness felt almost solid. Jim asked Sebastian to turn on his internal flashlight. I didn’t speak, for I knew what he would say. 

“It is not w-working.” 

“Jesus. How am I seeing such a realistic illusion without an impla-chip?” 

“I do not know. I cannot b-break it, nor find the source. Do we all see the s-same thing?” 

“If you mean jacking black nothing, yeah.” 

If Sebastian saw what we did, it meant this was no illusion. Jim had to have known it. I was about to say as much when something unseen laughed. At first, I thought it was Sebastian himself, for it sounded cold, like the canned laughter they give ayes. But I heard the whisper again. 

Agent Parker. We meet again. 

“Amon. The hidden one,” I answered. 

“Great. You know who he is. Now, what do we do?” 

I began chanting ancient prayers in Hebrew and Latin. In response, something threw me against the wall. Lightning flashed, and I saw Sebastian turn, Jim grasping his arm tightly. “Dan!” he called. 

“I’m fine!”  

Except I wasn’t. I was paralyzed, unable to help either Sebastian or Jim. Amon turned its attention to them as I chanted louder. Fantastic, I thought. I had just brought one untrained man and a sentient aye to this place, assuming my knowledge and faith would be enough. What was I thinking? 

“Get behind me, b-brother,” Sebastian said. 

“Hell no.” 

I was shocked Jim said that. I had never known a benefactor to refuse protection from their aye. That’s what they’re there for. But he shouted, “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to use it!” 

The voice came from behind them. You cannot stop me. And in another flash, I saw Jim and Sebastian now stood back-to-back. As if attempting to protect each other. 

Foolish mortals. 

“What is this, a bad movie?” Jim said. “Seriously, get new material.” 

Didn’t he understand the peril he was in? Sebastian seemed to, for he said, “you will not take those I love.” 

You are incapable of love. 

Ostende te, Amon,” I called. 

A voice echoing in the stillness. Look at you two. A soulless machine protecting a mere animal. Do you not see what he is? He and his kind maim, torture, and kill. And you would be his servant. 

“He is my b-brother!”  

You do not choose anything. Your so-called emotions are just programs, imitations of the real thing. 

“Don’t listen, Seb.”  

I had always heard sentient ayes had wants and desires. I never believed it until that moment the demon spoke. Amon always found weaknesses out. Sebastian might deny the soul or say that he was okay with not having one. But whether it was by programming or by some other need, he lied, and Amon knew it. 

And you, human, are mentally ill. So lonely you call a machine your brother. 

Then I also knew what Jim’s greatest fear was. But he said, “how does what he is matter?”  

Come, join me. I can give you a soul, bot. And cure all your illnesses. Then a light shone in front of the vestibule. Within it, I saw a woman with golden hair in a white robe. She circled them as I chanted, helpless. 

 Silence, Agent. 

Immediately, I was mute. And now they would have no protection at all.  

I had never been so afraid before. 

Come to me, Jim Pace. I can remove all your pain, nightmares, and your sorrows. Can your brother do that? Or your girlfriend? I will give you love like you never knew. Join me. 

“Go to hell!” was his only response.  

Some invisible hand pulled him away from Sebastian. Jim screamed. The aye caught him by his long hair and jerked him back. Jim bent over as if sick, coughing. Sebastian stepped in front of the man. 

“If you harm him you will answer to me.” 

The figure hovered about a meter away. “You need not be his servant any longer. Take his soul and become one of us.” 

 “I am afraid I must d-decline.” 

The woman began to sing without words. I felt the evil beneath them, but Sebastian apparently didn’t. He took two steps towards her. 

“No Seb!” Jim yanked him back as the figure disappeared. Sebastian faced his brother and I trembled, nauseous. For his eyes were red as fire and the violence in them just as mindless. He spoke, his voice like static. 

“You meddler!” He snatched Jim by the collar and shook him. The man cried out. 

“Fight this, Seb!” 

“I c-cannot stop, Jim.” Sebastian shook him again. “I am s-sorry.” 

 “I lost you once to a virus. I won’t again. Let him go!” Jim held the Star of David in one hand. Then-darkness again. Something screamed, like feedback from a speaker. Another flash of lightning. Sebastian stood in it, holding the cross in his fingers. He shouted, and now his voice rang clearly. “End this programming. Now!” 

The church spun, and I fell to my knees, free to move. Near me, a bowl of holy water hung on a wall. I ripped it off and threw it at Sebastian, chanting the Pater Noster. A hurricane blasted us. I clung to a railing and my crucifix. Suddenly, as quickly as it started, it was over. I looked up to see the midday sun shining through a high window. Sebastian and Jim stood on the dais, holding tightly to each other. He raised his head and looked at the sunlight, the church. It was still vandalized. But workers could fix that now.  

“Dear God. It is over?” 

“Sebastian?” 

He looked at me.  Somehow, I saw pain in his eyes, heard sorrow in his voice. If Jim noticed, he didn’t say. Maybe he had seen it all along. 

 He said, “Yeah, broth. I think so.” 

**** 

In the car, Jim leaned up against Sebastian while I sat in the front. Finally, he asked, “Why him, though?” 

“Because Amon had tried to possess me before and failed. I…I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought I could overcome it. But it imprisoned and silenced me.” 

“I wondered why you didn’t help. Gotta say I wasn’t happy.” 

“Don’t blame you...” I could feel Jim’s eyes on the back of my head. “Anyway, it tried Sebastian because-well…” 

“She thought I was soulless.” 

His voice still held sadness. But there was something else also. It was in the way he looked at the man he called his brother. As if he’d come to some realization, and it filled him with wonder. 

“I don’t know about that,” I said. “But Amon might’ve thought you an easy target. You didn’t have a visible weapon.” 

“No. In that song, the-- woman p-promised me a soul. I could know what it was like to live.” He smiled slightly. “To not be an unfeeling r-robot. It was a lie, of course. But for a moment…” 

“Broth, if you haven’t figured out by now you have a soul, you’re an idiot.” 

“I am at least the level of a moron. And it is not r-rational to believe you have a mental illness. You have healthy human relationships, Jim. B-Bill. Samantha and Alex. Did you not tell me Patti was the one?” 

They talked while I observed in the rear-view mirror cars still have. A remnant from a day that humans drove. 

“According to you, Seb, I’m all kinds of knotoid.” 

“Yes, you are irrational and f-flawed. But you are also the strongest human I know.” 

Jim gently punched Sebastian’s arm. The aye smiled; his eyes filled with that wonder. Then he met mine. “Wait. Did you say before? So, she is not dead.” 

“Amon is for now. But it can be resurrected again. All this hate-” 

“They’re not gonna believe this. Hell, I’m not sure I do. They’re gonna say there was a stealth drone Sebastian missed, and he caught another virus.” 

“I could have. Meanwhile, we will fight the root. Cristdias and others like it. However,” Sebastian slid the cross over his neck. “I will keep this. Just in case,” he said. 

August 02, 2021 17:14

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4 comments

F.O. Morier
05:56 Aug 12, 2021

thank you so much for sharing this story! I enjoyed reading it! I even learned a few new words! Fati

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Michele Duess
03:21 Aug 13, 2021

Thank you, glad you liked it.

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John Hanna
21:14 Aug 08, 2021

I like the story but I especially like the names you gave to the advanced tech.

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Michele Duess
03:23 Aug 13, 2021

Thank you. I belong to a writer's group. One of the other members was very insistent I come up with something other than android, robot or A.I., as well as my own slang. I grumbled, to be honest, but I'm glad you liked it.

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