The ongoing weekly serial continues. Click here for the introduction,  here for Part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3, and here for part 4.


Chapter Eight


Seconds after I walked into my house, I heard a knock on the door.

It was 2030, and I had just finished a twelve-hour shift at Headquarters. I was physically and mentally exhausted even though I’d spent almost all of that time sitting on my ass. I wanted to ignore the knock and go straight to bed, but it came too quickly after I’d closed the door. Whoever it was knew I was home.

I opened the door to find a balding man, around the corner from retirement age, looking down at me.

“Daniel Lyon.” It was a statement, not a question.


“Mr. Gomez would like a word with you. Please, follow me, sir.”

“I don’t know a Mr. Gomez,” I said, stepping back to close the door.

“I work for Mr. Gabriel Gomez. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.”

I knew the name. Everyone on Earth knew the name. Bacteria had heard of him. You’d know him, too, if that was, in fact, his name.

It wasn’t.

He wanted to remain anonymous, and I will honor his request. After everything he’s done for me, it’s the least I can do.

When the bald bellhop said his name, I was stunned into silence for a few seconds before concluding it had to be a joke.

“Ok, dementia guy, nice try. I’m exhausted. I’m going to go to bed.”

The old man reached into his pocket, pulled out an envelope, and held it in front of me.

“Compensation,” he said. “For an hour of your time. Mr. Gomez has a proposition for you.”

I took the envelope and opened it. It contained $25,000. A pittance to a multi-trillionaire, but to me, it was two weeks’ salary. How could I say no?

“Can I shower and change my clothes first?”

“There is no time. Mr. Gomez leaves at precisely 2200.”

“Then I hope he doesn’t mind the smell.”

Fifteen minutes later, we pulled onto the tarmac beside a gorgeous, sleek silver B277, the same kind politicians use. I’ve heard it goes straight up into low-earth orbit and can go from LA to Beijing in just over an hour, but I’ve never flown in one.

We took the elevator up, and when the doors opened, I found myself stepping into an opulent landscape of gold and red. I didn’t ask if the gold was real. I assumed it was. The cabin contained two sitting areas filled with couches and chairs — they looked like plush hands with two thumbs, one on either side — bisected by a bar standing sentinel over a parquet dance floor. I flash-fantasized about the parties this room had hosted. The celebrities. The escapades. The glamour.

“Make yourself comfortable,” the old man told me. “Mr. Gomez will be with you shortly.” He weaved through the chairs and disappeared into a doorway at the far side of the cabin.

What’s the protocol while you’re waiting to meet one of the wealthiest people in the world? Do you stand? Sit? Lean casually against a cool-looking piece of furniture and appear nonchalant? My instinct was to stand, but I just had to try one of the chairs.

Convincing myself I’d only stay a second, I hopped up and leaned back. It felt like sitting on air while tiny pleasure tentacles caressed my body, draining away all the stress and strain. I didn’t know the rich lived this way. I could have set up camp in that chair for days.

“Mr. Lyon,” A voice suddenly boomed from behind me.

I struggled to my feet, and when they finally hit the floor, I was staring up at Gabriel Gomez.

“Daniel, please,” I said, extending my hand.

“Daniel it is,” he replied and gave me a quick, firm handshake. “I’m Gabriel. I didn’t mean for you to get up. I couldn’t tell where you were.” He waved me back into my chair and sat down opposite me on the couch.

“A disadvantage of my size,” I said.

“Your size has many more important advantages, let me assure you. Thank you for meeting with me. I apologize for the hour. I rarely make it to Winnipeg but did want to chat with you while I’m here.”

“Why?” I asked, still not believing all of this was real.

“I understand your contract with the Defense Force is up in a couple of weeks. I want to offer you a job.”

“A job? Doing what?”

“Give me a few moments to lay out my proposal, and you can be on your way. I don’t need an answer tonight. In fact, I don’t want an answer tonight. I’d prefer it if you took a few days to think before saying yes or no. Is that acceptable?”

“Sure.” I could not have been more curious. None of this made any sense.

“I spoke with your Grandfather not too long ago. Did he tell you?” He spread his arms out across the back of the couch and crossed his legs.

I shook my head.

“I get calls every so often from people I know wondering if I can help their sons or daughters or cousins or friends, but your story caught my attention. Your Grandfather told me about your parents. He said you joined the DF shortly after they died, but two years with them didn’t quite scratch your itch. And then he said he was worried you might get yourself into trouble.”

“He worries too much.”

“By the time he finished the story, I was convinced you would be perfect for something I’m planning on Geb.”

“On Geb?” A bolt of anxiety shot through me.

“Tell me, Daniel, do you know how many Prosledite religious attacks there have been on Earth in the last two years?”

“I don’t know,” I said, wondering why he changed the subject. “A dozen?”

“Four hundred and seventy-eight. Do you know how many people they killed or wounded?”

“Four hundred attacks?”

“Almost five thousand people. News reports only publicize large-scale attacks like the one in which your parents were murdered. Hundreds more fly under the radar. Now, tell me the truth Daniel, doesn’t that sound like we’re at war?”

“I had no idea there were that many attacks. It doesn’t feel like war, but something is going on.”

“Something is going on, and I don’t blame you for not knowing. Has a reporter ever written an article about you?”

I shook my head.

“There are dozens featuring me every day, almost none of which are accurate. The media has a fundamental problem. Each outlet has a bias. It’s perfectly normal. All humans have biases, but reporters refuse to divulge their biases. I’d know what to make of a news story if I knew the reporter had voted for Chekhov in the last election or was in favor of passing the GRA.”


“Gebian Resettlement Act. The point is, the purpose of their reporting isn’t to inform. It’s to further a narrative. It’s propaganda, pure and simple. The overwhelming majority of reporters believe earthlings are racist. They also believe this racism leads to disparate outcomes for Gebian immigrants and refugees. It’s an unproven hypothesis, but they treat it as gospel truth. They also believe that if they were to report on every attack committed by Prosledite religious fundamentalists, it would lead to a backlash against immigrants and refugees here on Earth. They have to report on the large-scale attacks. No one can ignore a plane crash. But they can, and do, deliberately ignore smaller attacks, keeping people like you, good people who aren’t racist or afraid of immigrants or anything like that, in the dark. The truth is the Gebians are at war with the people of Earth, but we refuse to acknowledge it.”

“Have they declared war?” I shifted in my seat. The tentacles were starting to make me feel uncomfortable. “Have I missed something?

“No, you haven’t. President Munin hasn’t signed an executive order, and their legislature hasn’t passed a war resolution. There are no warships in orbit overhead and no troops threatening to drop out of the sky. What they have done is harder to combat. They’ve educated their populace to despise the people of Earth, thus ensuring perpetual conflict between us. And they also fund, support, and encourage — in secret, of course — the fighters who travel to Earth, like the ones who killed your parents.”

“You’re saying the government was behind the attack that killed my parents?” I asked. “The Gebian government?”

“How familiar are you with the Heka?”

“I read it a few months ago, in Cairo. I was — well, I can’t tell you everything, but I think I can say I became quite familiar with a group called The Veritas Alliance.”

His eyebrows arched. “Really? Why is the Defense Force interested in Cynthia Boyd? She’s wonderful. I’ve written her a few checks over the years.”

“I think it’s safe to say I didn’t find what we were looking for.”

“Typical. The DF refuses to see that which is politically uncomfortable. The Gebian government’s interpretation of the Heka is the impetus for their attacks on Earth, and until they address that fact head-on, they’re powerless to stop them.”

The awe I felt being summoned to a meeting with him was fading. I felt like I was back in the TVA boardroom. I’d never fantasized about meeting someone rich and famous like Gabriel, but if I had, it would not have played out like this.

“I don’t understand how the Gebian government is involved,” I pushed back. “I’ve always heard these attacks are carried out by loose groups of nuts who only see what they want to see when they read that book. You can’t get from that to war.”

He looked to his left and raised his hand. The bald old man arrived almost instantly with two water bottles atop a silver tray, offering them to me first.

“Thank you,” I said, taking one.

Gabriel grabbed the other bottle, opened it, and took a long drink.

“While you were in school, Daniel, how much did you learn about religion?”

“Nothing,” I replied, disoriented once again by the abrupt subject change.

“Precisely. Religious institutions on Earth have faded, and rightly so. But on Geb, the Prosledite religion is the foundation of their society, going back to when their colony was failing. Supplies weren’t reaching the planet. Crops were dying. People hadn’t yet adapted to the gravity. In those saturnine years, they rallied around Augur. He had charisma and a genius-level intellect and was probably a sociopath. When Geb turned around, he got the credit. A cult of worship grew up around him that only congealed when he mysteriously disappeared. He wanted to be a god, and they made him one. Now, religion permeates every facet of their society. As impossible as it is for you to conceive of a government involved with religion at all, it’s equally impossible for a Gebian to conceive of a government that’s not inextricably intertwined with the Prosledite religion. You’ve heard of the Pope?”

“Of course.”

“President Munin is the Prosledite Pope. He’s the head of their religion. They are one and the same.”

“Alright,” I took a deep breath and tried to think through the conversation thus far, still unsure where it was headed. “So, there are a whole lot of Prosledite attacks, and according to you, the government is ultimately responsible for them all. What am I supposed to do about this?”

“Just as a man injures his neighbor, so shall it be done to him. Leviticus. Chapter twenty-four.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Daniel, I want you to help me take an eye for an eye. I want you to go to Geb and conduct terrorist attacks there.”

“What?!” The conversation had just taken a turn for the surreal. “I am not a terrorist. No, you’ve got the wrong guy.”

“You’d be there as part of a team with the sole purpose of reflecting Prosledite religious doctrine unto itself and forcing it to change as a result. Here are the rules under which you and the team will operate. They are non-negotiable and final. One,” he held up one finger, “for every person murdered on Earth in a Prosledite religious attack, one member of the Gebian government or military dies. Two — and this is where you come in — you will advertise your mission and explain to the people of both planets exactly what you are doing and why. Three, if they quit, you quit. You will make no further demands of them. I don’t care how they organize their society. I want the violence to end.”

I laughed and took a drink. This was absurd. He couldn’t be serious. “Won’t killing Gebians just make them angrier?”

“Not if we advertise,” he replied with a straight face. “The Prosledites kill civilians. Occasionally they’ll target military forces, but they create more terror going after soft targets. The news media isn’t telling the truth about the Prosledites or their attacks, so this responsibility falls to us. We will expose the truth by mirroring their tactics. The media will be forced to report on our activities. It will be so extraordinary they can’t possibly ignore us, and in doing so, they expose their own hypocrisy.”

He sounded a bit unhinged, but this was still Gabriel Gomez, one of the richest, most famous, and — I thought — most intelligent people on the planet. I had to be missing something, so I kept asking questions.

“Let’s say we do that, and expose their own hypocrisy, then what? Do the Prosledites just stop?”

“Of course not. This is the beginning of a very long game. Every successful grand strategy of the last few centuries has focused on influencing a population’s leadership using multiple levers of power. You will help me challenge their military power and their dominance in the information and media space. I’ll use education initiatives to challenge the legitimacy of their government. I own a network of shelters there to take in atheists or those who have converted to another religion. These people face persecution and unimaginable abuse at the hands of the Prosledite faithful. I’m beginning a campaign, with these shelters as the centerpiece, to create meaningful change in the education system on Geb, beginning with the principle of separation of church and state, much like we have here on Earth.”

Gabriel’s driver arrived halfway through this answer and stood patiently waiting for him to finish. When he did, the old man bent down and said something into his ear. I was happy for the respite. My brain was shutting down. It seemed like we’d been talking for hours, and I felt like I’d been up for days.

“Daniel, I’m sorry. I have to leave you, but there is so much more you need to hear before you have a full picture of my intentions. May I ask another favor of you?”

“Sure,” I said, wriggling out of the chair.

“Can a colleague of mine call on you this weekend? I’ll pay for your time again, of course. Will you listen to what she has to say as patiently as you have listened to me this evening?”

“Sure. Twenty-five thousand happens to be the going rate for my patience.”

That made him chuckle, and he stood. “Thank you again, Daniel. It’s been a pleasure.” He held out his hand, and I shook it.

“Sir, can I ask one question before I go?”

“Gabriel, please. And yes.”

“Gabriel, at the beginning of our conversation, you said there are advantages to my size. What did you mean?”

“Augur was a dwarf.” He paused, studying the look of disbelief on my face. “People of your stature are revered on Geb. Did you not know?”

“I had no idea.”

“Well, when we’re done up there, perhaps we can do something about the education system here. Goodnight, Daniel.”

I spent the ride home thinking maybe Geb wouldn’t be such a bad place after all.


Chapter Nine


Sister Hillary Dalal did not arrive at the house when Gabriel’s assistant said she would.

She was fifteen minutes early. 

I was not in the best of moods. The night before, I’d left work at 2000, but the guys convinced me to go out for one drink that turned into five. I was barely awake and had just stepped into the shower when I heard the bell ring. 

I opened the front door to find a woman dressed in a full black tunic confined at the waist by a strip of white cloth. A white wimple covered her head, and a brown, wooden cross emerged from beneath it to lay between her breasts. In her mid-sixties, she stood slightly hunched, making her appear not much taller than me. 

She marched past me into the house.

“Where is your VR room?” She demanded.

“Down the hall to the left,” I said, my hand still on the open door.

“Get dressed and meet me—”She looked at me for the first time and stopped dead. “My God,” she whispered.


She crept forward and dropped to her knees, her hands reaching out to touch my face. “Gabriel told me there was a resemblance, but this….”

“Listen,” I stepped back and swatted her hands away, “can you please tell me what’s going on?”

“Get some clothes on,” she rose and marched down the hall again, turning left at the corner. “We have much work to do.” 

It would be that kind of day.

Once I had dressed and poured myself a cup of coffee, I stepped into the VR room. She’d already loaded up a stream — without asking — and stood facing the door with her hands clasped in front of her.

“Would you like some coffee or tea?” I asked, holding out my mug.

“I am Sister Hillary Dalal. You may call me Sister or Sister Hillary. Have a seat.” Whatever had happened to her in the hall was gone. Her voice betrayed no empathy or kindness. On the contrary, it was jagged and harsh.

“Oh, may I?” I rolled my eyes and sat on the couch.

“I am not here for my health, and neither are you.” She reached inside her tunic, pulled out a bulging envelope, and threw it at me. “Mr. Gomez expects your full attention, and so do I.”

“How about three-quarters of my attention, Sister? I’m not quite awake yet.” I smiled and took a sip of coffee.

“Let me tell you about myself, Mr. Lyon. I was born on Geb and educated in the Prosledite religion. I was forced to marry a man nearly three times my age when I was sixteen. He was a pious man who beat me mercilessly because I could not conceive a child. This went on for years until one day, without warning, he divorced me and kicked me out into the streets alone. He called me an unbeliever and a whore. My family turned their back on me. My friends pretended not to know me. I wandered the city, homeless, until I stumbled into one of Mr. Gomez’s shelters. He eventually arranged for me to come here, to Earth, where I converted to Christianity and joined the Benedictine Order. Now I work with Gebian refugees, helping them assimilate and, if they choose, to find the love of Christ. I owe Gabriel everything I have. He asked me to rip open the wounds of my former life this morning to show to you. If you wish to make light of this, I ask only that you wait until after I have gone.”

Chastened, I hung my head and said, “I’m sorry, Sister. Please accept my apologies.”

“Accepted. Now, before my husband threw me out of the house, I worked as a schoolteacher in New Jerusalem. I want you to watch one of my students reciting a poem I taught her.”

A little girl appeared in the room in front of us. Maybe eight years old, she had long brown hair and wore a black long-sleeved shirt underneath a brown jumper. She nervously waited for someone off-stream to give her permission to begin. When she finally spoke, she did so in calm, even Gebian, which the system translated to English.

“God created me and formed me. He made me proud and made me a Prosledite. God’s enemies on Earth destroyed and uprooted the Retusa Tree. They raped women in the city squares. They defiled Augur’s book in front of millions. Where is the Prosledite empire? Where are the Prosledite fighters? Where is the fear of Augur on Earth, which has been defiled by the unbelievers?”

The girl beamed as applause broke out around her. Hillary paused the playback on this image of a proud, excited child. 

“It sounds beautiful in Gebian,” Hillary said.

I said nothing. My mind couldn’t reconcile the image of the harmless child in front of me with the words that came out of her mouth.

A second later, the girl dissolved and was replaced with another, even younger girl.

“This is Sam,” Hillary said. “Another of my students. Our principal has just asked her what she learned during the school year. This is her response.”

Sam spoke. “I was taught that my religion is my honor. I was taught that our lands extend from one end of the universe to the other. And I was taught that our enemy, Earth, is Satan with a tail. The unbelievers are inferior and cowardly and despised. Awaken! You have slept too long. Our fathers and sons must fight until there is nothing but God.”

Another unseen crowd cheered, and Hillary stopped the stream once again. Sam grinned from ear to ear. She was missing a tooth.

“Ten years after this was recorded,” Hillary intoned, “Sam traveled to Earth and murdered fifteen people in New Delhi before the police killed her.”

“What the hell kind of school is this?” I felt nauseated.

“The only kind that exists on Geb. A government-run religious school.”

“You’re telling me every kid on the planet grows up learning this?”

“That’s exactly what I am saying. Not long ago, this school, where I used to teach, changed its name to The Emily Wadget School for Girls. Do you recognize the name?”

Emily Wadget. It did sound familiar. I was positive I’d heard it before but couldn’t place it.

“She was one of the four Gebians who hijacked your parents’ plane.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “That can’t be true.”

“I do not need to lie to you, Daniel. The truth is sufficiently repugnant.”

With a wave, she brought up an image of a single-story school with a dozen girls playing out front. Emblazoned on an arch at the entrance were words in Gebian script. An English translation floated underneath: The Emily Wadget School for Girls.

“So why aren’t you a terrorist? Didn’t you learn this stuff growing up? How did you end up here?”

“Belief exists on a spectrum. On one end, some people believe every word uttered by Augur to be the immutable word of God. On the other end, people treat those same words as mystical suggestions with no binding force in this world or the next. When I lived on Geb, I fell somewhere in the middle. I believed in God. I still do. But I never believed that he commanded his followers to pass judgment on sinners or unbelievers. I had no choice but to say I believed this. The government mandated my obedience. I couldn’t dissent. There were no competing voices. I was alone with my doubts. But when I arrived here, I discovered debate and dissent and exploration. I learned about Jesus and found I could love the sinner while hating the sin. I also learned only God can pass judgment on my mortal soul.”

“How many people on Geb thought as you did?”

“I don’t know. Maybe tens of thousands. But there is no outlet for them to share their doubts with others. The political is religious, and the religious is political on Geb. Government scholars have interpreted and re-interpreted Augur’s text, and they say the same things you heard from my students. The Prosledite religion must inherit the universe, and if that can’t be accomplished through surrender, it must be accomplished through violence.”

I stood and stretched my legs. “So, what? We start killing people on Geb, and they all magically change their minds about earthlings being Satan with a tail? I didn’t understand this when Gabriel talked about it the other day, and I still don’t buy it.”

“Even a journey of a thousand kilometers—”

“Begins with a single step. It’s a fucking cliche for a reason, Sister. It doesn’t work in the real world.”

“Daniel, do you know why I was shocked when I walked in this morning?”


“Gabriel told me you were a dwarf who bore some resemblance to Augur. But that’s not true.”

“I’m not a dwarf?”

“You, my son,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “are Augur reincarnated.”

With a flourish, she waved her hand a new image appeared in front of me. 


The clothes were different. I was certain I’d never worn anything of the sort. And the hair was a little off. I looked like I hadn’t seen a barber in months, but this made no sense. I’d always kept my hair short. 

“Where did you get this?” I asked finally.

“This was taken two hundred years ago. This is Augur.”

I jumped off the sofa and approached the image. The moment was surreal. Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself without realizing it was you? The feeling goes away after a few seconds once you put the pieces together. But these pieces didn’t fit. I was standing in front of an image of me, except the image wasn’t me. 

Hillary let me stew for a minute or two before continuing.

“You will be our face, Daniel. You will be our voice. When you speak, people will listen. And when you tell them our plans, when you tell them what we’re doing and why, they will change. They’ll stop teaching religion in school. They’ll stop preparing children to be soldiers. And all those who think as I did, all those who question their beliefs, will finally have a voice. You, Daniel, will be responsible for removing religion from its place of prestige in Gebian society. And if you’ll let me, I want to explain exactly how you can do it.” 

Two hours later, when she was done, I waved goodbye to Sister Hillary Dalal and shut the front door behind her.

I was going to Geb.

But nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — went the way she said it would. By the time I left Earth, I was forced to improvise something entirely new.



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