Father Phai walked the halls of Saint Stephan University, ignoring the tech serfs who scuttled about like brain-damaged insects. The high stone ceilings of the building vaulted over his head as his feet shuffled along smooth marble floors. He paused in the middle of the hall and turned to Father Aristeides.
“You’re saying that God can’t create a rock so big that not even He can lift it?”
“Of course not,” his friend, also a priest, said. “God is all-powerful. He can lift anything.”
Father Phai shook his head and started walking again. A tech serf limped by on two mechanical legs. One was longer than the other; they looked as if they’d been made in different decades for different people.
“If He is all-powerful, He can certainly make a rock He can’t lift. He can just make it so that He can lift it again the next moment.”
“That’s stupid,” his friend said, “and you’re stupid for thinking it.”
Father Phai smiled and started walking again. “People have debated that one for five thousand years.” If it wasn’t for Aristeides, Phai would have been alone ever since he left Frona to join the seminary. The man was more than a friend. He was a personal salvation.
“Just because half of them were stupid,” Aristeides said, the smile clear in his tone even if his face was stern.
They pushed down a side hall and several of the priests smiled and nodded at Father Phai. He didn’t know half of them, but he’d always been good at making friends. Even the tech serfs treated him with a little more familiarity than they did the other priests. They didn’t seem to hold it against him that he was a priest in a religion that damned them with one doctrine while blessing them with another.
“I hear the border problems have heated up again,” Aristeides said.
“Russians,” Father Phai said, because you didn’t need to say anything more on the subject.
“They’re claiming this one isn’t fueled by the Church. They’re saying it’s just straight politics.”
The split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church still drove tensions between the two peoples, even so many centuries after it happened. ”It’s good to know that hatred isn’t just an ecclesiastical trait,” Father Phai said.
They walked down a narrow stone hall now. Up ahead, scaffolding blocked half the passage and two tech serfs, their cyberware suited for heavy labor, braced a wall as they worked on the cracking stone. People walked sideways to pass one another beside the scaffolding.
“They still haven’t admitted to destroying the Daedalus,” Aristeides said.
“The Russians are heathens, and monsters, and rogues, but they wouldn’t destroy a ship,” Father Phai said. Thou shalt not violate the sanctity of a working ship—the most inviolate of the proscriptions. “They’ll violate commandments all day long, but a proscription? Unthinkable.” Except for the violation caused by the tech serfs, of course, but those were only done out of necessity.
“They say that a Greek ship found the remnants of the Catherine the Great,” Aristeides said. “They think it was the one the Daedalus tangled with before the end.”
“A charnel house. Everyone inside dead.”
“It looks like they did it to themselves.
Father Phai stopped just before the scaffolding. “Insanity?”
“Well, maybe they would violate a proscription, then.”
“That’s all I’m saying.”
Father Phai twisted sideways to slide past the scaffolding, the metal tubing of the structure brushing against his back. Aristeides started a moment later. Father Phai was just uncomfortably sliding past a deacon when a loud crack sounded behind him, like a pneumatic piston firing.
Blood sprayed across the wall in front of him. He looked at the deacon in shock. Blood doused the man. Father Phai couldn’t see the wound, but horror dawned on the deacon’s face and he screamed.
Father Phai reached out to help him, his movements wooden. Shock? He’d seen blood before, why would he be going into shock? He couldn’t quite reach the man, and the deacon pulled back in horror, screaming again.
“Phai!?” Aristeides shouted.
Father Phai turned to his friend. He tried to ask what was going on, but his mouth wouldn’t move.
“Phai, you’re going to be all right!” Aristeides shouted.
He was going to be all right? He reached up to his face, numb now, and found it sticky with blood. Confused, he reached farther, his fingers sinking into a hole in his forehead, the edges sharp with shattered bone. A hole. In his head? His fingers slid inside, felt slick blood and pulpy matter and he suddenly smelled apricots.
“Phai!” Aristeides screamed.
He slid to the ground. What was going on? He raised his hand again and it thumped against his face. Something was wrong. Something was wrong. Something was wrong. Something was wrong.
Are you there, My child?
Can you hear Me?
I can see you there.
You do not understand.
But you will.
Come to me and everything will be right again, My son.
Dreams of pain and rage. Dreams of loss and horror. Dreams of loneliness. Father Phai awoke, screaming in a hospital bed.
“Father Hephaistos Ganis?”
He stared up into the face of a doctor, awash in blurry light from the window. The room was too brilliantly white to focus. “Aarrgh,” he said.
“Don’t try to talk. You’ve been in a terrible accident. The damage was severe.”
He reached up for the hole in his head, the urge to stick his fingers inside overwhelming.
Strong hands grabbed his arms, but his vision wasn’t working right and he couldn’t see who they belonged to. He screamed in rage. He was trapped. He started to weep. It was funny. He laughed.
“There has been damage to your frontal lobe. Can you get control of yourself?”
Father Phai spat on the doctor, and his tongue felt weird. He bit it, winced at the pain, but couldn’t stop himself from biting it again.
“Nurse,” the doctor said.
A slight pain burned in his arm, then drowsiness. Then it all went black…
[“The Implant” by Robert J Defendi is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, coming MONDAY!]