Jane Palmer


First published in Great Britain
by Dodo Books 2010

Copyright © Jane Palmer 2008

This is a work of fiction and any
resemblance to persons living or dead is
purely coincidental.

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as
the author of this work.

ISBN 978 1 906442 21 7

All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Other science fiction books by this author





God came to Auroal to smite the
Devil’s creation.

Skirra bounced closer to the viewer. ‘What are they chanting now?’ he asked Ansopha who was lounging on a ceiling buttress, exuding indifference and refusing to translate the droning coming from the artificial planet.
‘This is the chant of cosmic resurrection,’ the voice of Hunder explained in an unusually patient tone.
Ansopha peered down from its precarious perch. ‘Let me know when God arrives.’ Then the communicator stretched like a satiated carnivore and closed its silver eyes.
‘And what will you do if He does?’ demanded Skirra.
‘Emigrate to the furthest reaches of deep space.’
‘Why not, it’s probably where you came from,’ the medical scientist muttered.
The limb of Auroal could be seen rising impressively from the satellite’s view port. Skirra and Orphanus, the engineer, were too immersed in the ceremony taking place on the screen to notice. At the south pole of the artificial world, species who didn’t share an atom of DNA had gathered to indulge in an act of archaic and superstitious time wasting.
Hunder’s quantum processor had once computed the likelihood of so many different species agreeing that they worshipped the same God. Given the immediacy of communication, cosmic dissemination of ideas, and close proximity to each other on the space-port, it was inevitable. Lashing out at each other on such a small world over semantics wouldn’t have been practical. The bio computer’s circuits silently groaned as he realised they were on the threshold of a nonsensical episode generated by the intolerance of consensus while the mysterious Ansopha, who probably came from a corner of the Universe where deities weren’t permitted, radiated contempt for the proceedings below.
Having agreed to share God, the inhabitants of Auroal now faced the problem of what to do when He arrived. Blood sacrifices had gone out of fashion long before Auroal had been a glimmer in the eye of the ambitious engineer who had designed the spaceport. Had she been able see what was going on she would have probably kicked her computer for visualising the concept. Her world was supposed to be a galactic point of convergence for several gravity lines, not the gateway to some mythological heaven.
Over generations Auroal’s inhabitants had become jaded. Supplying, servicing, and organising space traffic from across the Galaxy could be boring if that was all you and your ancestors had been engaged in. So, to break the monotony, why not join hands with your neighbours, resurrect a few cosmic myths and try them on for size?
Hunder was as old as the artificial planet. He had been designed to control all its systems as well as the gravity lines through which traffic travelled. Systematically up-dated by the elite technicians of Space Command, he eventually developed the capacity to program himself. Being a reasoning bio computer and as a consequence irritable, only to be expected in someone with his cosmic intellect, Hunder was allowed to have his own way because the saving on upgrading him was immense. At one time hundreds maintained the bio computer’s satellite. Now it only needed a skeleton crew, mainly to keep a mortal eye on Auroal and Hunder’s tantrums. The atmosphere in the satellite’s cavernous spaces was only intermittently restored to echo to the footfall of Orphanus as she checked welds and connections, matters too humdrum for the mighty Hunder to bother with.
The bio computer liked company to reassure him of his superiority, yet wasn’t so keen on the arguments his existence provoked in lesser intellects, which included most sentient life. Orphanus was no problem. The engineer knew her limitations, although he did have to disarm her when she occasionally threatened to eviscerate an irritating mortal. Skirra was always too busy with medical research and ministering to the needs of the many species on Auroal to be bothered about the bio computer’s ego. Then there was Ansopha, an enigma with no origin, gender, pretence of social conditioning, or noticeable bodily functions.
Though the subject was never broached, the crew suspected that their communicator knew more about deities than was healthy for all of them. Ansopha came from the only species Hunder had been unable to categorise or Skirra make medical sense of. Polarising molecules in any creature were pretty unusual, and when that creature used them to become invisible – the only evidence of its presence a faint, rustling sound - evolution took on a new meaning.
Skirra knew that there was no point in interrogating Ansopha about its origins. The medical scientist had even been denied the tissue sample all crewmembers were obliged to surrender before a term of duty, and chasing invisible entities with laser scalpels was not in his terms of contract.
The ceremonial chanting on Auroal grew more intense and the illumination from the massive arena could be seen rising on the planet’s limb.
‘This is giving me a headache,’ moaned Ansopha.
‘Serves you right for being a telepath,’ snapped Orphanus. She was a Vardel and capable of crushing bones with her thoughts.
Suddenly the chanting congregation below rippled back from the hub of the ceremony as though God had tossed a thunderbolt into his pool of believers. Given the different life support systems and body sizes it was a wonder no one was asphyxiated.
On each narrow layer of the planet the rest of the population sat in their respective ecosystems, fervently anticipating God’s appearance. Ansopha also began to wish He would arrive; emotions this intense played more havoc with its telepathic efficiency than the solar wind could with electromagnetic frequencies.
‘Something is happening,’ Hunder announced.
‘They’re going home?’ a voice from the ceiling asked hopefully.
‘There is an unusual blister of energy forming.’
‘How?’ demanded Orphanus. ‘Artificial planets don’t have volcanoes - at least, this one didn’t the last time I inspected its core.’
‘The anomaly may have used a gravity line - but I never registered it.’ Hunder sounded defensive.
‘Well hadn’t you better find out what it is?’
‘Why?’ The bio computer knew what she meant. ‘No, I’m not going to let you train the satellite’s weapons array on it. The thing hasn’t made any threatening moves and might take it as belligerence if it is a sentient being.’
‘Looks like a proto star to me,’ observed Skirra.
Hunder’s circuits crackled at the inanities they had to contend with. ‘Keep to medicine. If that were a proto star its gravitational field would have torn us apart by now.’
‘Well Ansopha, is it a sentient being? Can you sense anything at all?’
The communicator concentrated. ‘Only the telepathic equivalent of a bad smell.’
The medical scientist wasn’t impressed with the diagnosis. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘There is something unpleasantly, voraciously... hungry, in its aura.’
Skirra visualised the casualties he would have to deal with if there was an explosion in the middle of a congregation containing ten percent of the planet’s population. ‘But what is it for pity’s sake? Hunder, you should send out a probe.’
‘It wouldn’t be politic.’
Orphanus noticed a change in the image on the screen. ‘Closer, Hunder. Zoom in closer.’
The bio computer did as she said. The blister of energy had become a pulsating mound of plasma.
The huge gathering on Auroal milled about uneasily; fear mixed with the adulation, they backed away.
Ansopha peered down with its glinting gaze, unable to believe the thoughts radiating up from the planet’s pole. ‘Well, well, well,’ it announced like a carnivore spying a lunch of poisonous reptile. ‘We’re having a manifestation.’
Orphanus’ approach was more warlike. ‘A what?’
‘Believe it or not, God has arrived.’
Skirra bounced too high in excitement and collided with the communications buttress.
‘Don’t damage the sensors,’ warned Ansopha.
‘Just tell us it’s someone’s idea of a practical joke,’ demanded Orphanus. She didn’t relish the idea of meeting anyone’s maker, especially the one of any species her ancestors had managed to wipe out.
The manifestation on Auroal continued to grow. A rainbow knife of illumination cut through the velvet sky. Believers wailed in ecstasy and waverers were convinced. Even Hunder’s many monitors momentarily blinked. The only creature not impressed by the aura of God’s ego continued to limply straddle the ceiling buttress. It loured down with silver eyes and analysed the bizarre thought rhythms of the apparition taking form on the planet below. Of all the species witnessing this, was Ansopha the only one registering the true nature of the entity? Had they switched off their common sense for fear of offending God’s manifestation? The communicator said nothing and, however curious Skirra may have been, even he would think twice before chasing the Supreme Being for a tissue sample.