Spreading the Word

Published November 2002

Fr. Antonio Ramero reached into the depths of his pockets and uncertainly began sifting dust from his hands over the ground ahead of him. The
Guard Matrix lay passively before him – he could only hope Victor’s intuitions were right, otherwise he’d never get into WAR. Gently stepping forward
he made a small dedication to Our Lady.

***

Father Anton and Abbot Vincente had picked him because of his past, much to his own chagrin. He didn’t want to forget it, he was still proud to
have been a Soldier of the Revolution, but somehow when in the monastery it hadn’t felt right being singled out as a soldier. Without realising it he’d
compartmentalised his life and having the separate bubbles pushed together made him conscious of his mind’s subtle historical cataloguing.

In fact it wasn’t until he’d been selected as a missionary that he realised how much he was a man of action. It should have been obvious
considering his revolutionary past, but self-awareness was without a doubt a weak point for him. Recognising this failing had been a major step in
its own right, Father Anton working it out of him during the repetitive physical tasks of his novitiate. Clearly the Abbot had recognised his need for
dynamic situations and he had no choice but to obey, yet he still mourned the quieter life of reflection he thought had led him to the Santo Domingo
monastery.

Clearly its location had been instrumental in his original dedication to the community. The bulk of the monastery nuzzled into an undulating dip
on the side of the sharp reddened rock of Nevada, soaking up the sun like a sleeping cat. He’d first passed the monastery on his way to the front
line, careening wildly in a jerry-rigged dune buggy, chain-linked ammo rattling manically as he’d thundered by the darkened shapes of the church
and slightly glowing windows of the monks’ cells. The crepuscular luminescence of the night had perhaps added to the aura of the place, and so he
chose not forget it: while bombing on he had left a pointer in his GPS to return to what he would one day learn was the Benedictine monastery of
Santo Domingo.

Only when returning two years later in daylight did the full extent of the community become clear, with extensive farming to the rear of the
monastery’s rocky perch. As he’d approached in a government six-wheeler the photovoltaic cells cleverly angled on various roofs had begun to wink
at him, revealing their hidden charms of basking energy.

The Catholic Union of Hispanic Peoples had been formed after a relatively bloodless, but extremely complicated, revolution of which Jesus
Ramero was a small but important and respected part. Now a member of the new government trying to bring order to the huge, chaotic mass of a
nation they had created the revolutionaries where getting bogged down. Naturally some had become power hungry while others used the chaos to
gain wealth, either way hypocrisy was becoming increasingly evident. But many also had stayed true to CUHP’s founding principles and during the
complex constitutional convention which kept Church and State separate while allowing Cardinals certain ‘interesting’ powers was finalised Jesus had
decided to visit the point on his GPS. He wasn’t interested in the power plays and so was happy to wait for a government job to be allocated. But it
wasn’t to be as several visits later Jesus was Novice Antonio and on his way to becoming a full member of the community.

As the CUHP government had coalesced various new policies had been declared by various ministers, though it became clear to many that the
Cardinals may well have had a hand in some if not all of these. Unsurprisingly the missionary policy was the lead suspect, though undoubtedly many
of the more fervent revolutionaries had ideological and political reasons to support active missionary activities in the Agnostic Republics. Relations
were better with the micro-nations, especially the Intermedes which buffered CUHP from the Western Agnostic Republic. The New French Zone of
Quebec and the Methodist Enclave had both quickly signed bilateral agreements with CUHP recognising their autonomy in return for quietly
supporting passing missionaries, among other things. Culturally they were generally supportive of the Catholic ideal, though some orthodox
Methodists had tried to kill treaty ratification in the General Conference, causing CUHP diplomats a few interesting nights of deal-making.

So quite unwittingly he had become the personification of a policy he had quietly disapproved of from within the monastery. It seemed like a
recipe for trouble, deliberately antagonising the new republics. It was one thing to fight for self-rule and the space to live how you wanted… it was
another to try and impose it on others. But expressing his reservations with Anton had been reassuring, the Father had explained that the best
missionaries didn’t impose their views on others. The key was to provide your life as an example, those open to God and His love would be drawn to
one’s ministries soon enough. It seemed closer to Jesus’ own way than the near military attitude many of the Cardinals and Governors
proselytised.

Living a humble, Catholic life in WAR seemed possible, though hard in the current post-revolutionary chaos. He would certainly miss the tranquil
beauty of Santo Domingo, though the possibility of return hadn’t been completely ruled out. No, the greatest difficulty would be getting into WAR.
The remnants of order had focussed on creating an impregnable border which non-lethally detected and rejected all intruders. This apparently was
causing havoc with wildlife and trade but the few self-appointed WAR diplomats roaming CUHP tended to highlight the munificence of the non-
lethality of their border.

Aside from the checkpoints, patrols and large movie-style spotlights the best remaining Massachusetts minds had created a Guard Matrix of
nanorobot detectors micro-networked to each other in an eternal watch. What many in and out of WAR had begun discussing was whether this
sophisticated border defence was also designed to keep people in the troubled republic. Some suggested that it might be bad for morale if
defections became widespread and the Catholic way proved preferable to the liberal openness of an Agnostic Republic. But on this point the WAR
diplomats were strangely evasive.

After a blessing from the Abbot and a hug from Father Anton the newest CUHP missionary and former revolutionary was ready to test the
border. Gaining passage with a small group of nomadic Franciscans Antonio weaved his way towards the Intermedes. Jostled in the back of a rolling
and shuddering rover (he had been excused from the harsher aspects of the nomadic routine) Antonio’s equally shaken thoughts had begun to
settle. While he still didn’t feel any motivation to do this for his country he no longer felt troubled by this lack of patriotism. He was doing this for
God and for his brothers so that those whom God was calling could answer. The Cardinals might have been misguided in initiating the policy, but the
results would still further the Church’s good works.

In a small Methodist town he had parted company with the Friars and met his first and last Church contact. Victor appeared to run a hardware
store, and may well have done so all his life. However his fervent support for CUHP missionaries and the trust the Abbot put in him indicated that he
may once have been more, a monk or even a Prior. But as Antonio entered the titanium light of the gently cooled store all he saw was an aging man
with salt and pepper bristles pushing out of a broad face with intriguing hazel eyes. Victor was short, but bulky, giving him a presence amplified by
the intensity of his eyes. Pointing at an assistant to take the till, Victor led Antonio to the store room.

“Have you brought your habit, bible, rosary or crucifix?” he asked matter-of-factly.

“No.”

“Double check. There’s no point me giving you the dust if the guards will stop you first.”

Slightly non-plussed by Victor’s doubt Antonio emptied his small bag and indicated that the pockets in his civvies held no religious artefacts.

“Good. I don’t like to waste this stuff,” spluttered Victor as he recovered from a cough and began rustling in a few boxes. “The dust is made from
my finest nanobots yet and should let you through the Guard Matrix. Give it a few seconds to work before crossing and say a prayer – it’s a bit tricky
to test it here.”

As Antonio absorbed the implications of Victor’s instructions he was handed a small bag of what looked like fine grey ash. On the bag’s label
was a small map indicating where to start spreading the dust and how to cross.

“We’re pretty sure we’ve got the crossing point right but burn the bag and label before you hit the border. You can keep the dust in your
pockets, the bots won’t mind.”

With that Victor gave Antonio some money and showed him to a rear door. “The next train to Kansas City is in twenty minutes. Get something to
eat and… well, good luck.” Victor patted Antonio’s arm gently and then thrust the door open.

The fire door slammed shut and Antonio looked around slowly before walking to the train station. His new life had just begun.

***

His gentle first step had been uneventful so he continued sifting dust ahead of him while taking small steps. To be truthful nobody was quite
sure what happened if you were detected, but it was certainly non-lethal, or so he hoped. He paused another moment to make sure the dust had
time to do its work, or more accurately Victor’s nanobots. He resumed his prayer and continued forward on the small path he’d memorised from the
map. A gentle breeze blew through the grasses, tousling the nearby trees and calming Antonio’s racing heart. The spot was so serene, the night so
warm, he knew God was with him. He was going to make it.

He stuck his hand into his pocket for another scoop of dust. He felt his fingers push through the smooth powder, like the finest sand, its tiny
particles catching under his fingernails. Victor was a clever guy to create this dust sitting in an Intermede hardware store. He cupped his hand and
gently pulled out another serving of nanobots. Each one was eager to do the job for which it had been programmed. All their lives they had waited to
find a Guard Matrix detector, neutralise its micro-network and short its battery. But they couldn’t do it, they weren’t awake, their minds had
wandered. They were dreaming, their sensors twitching in the starlight but their actuators weren’t responding. Rainbow colours were morphing
through their tiny heads bursting out in whiteness, giving them happiness as they explored the empty light fantastic. They whistled through the air
revelling in their dreams, completely unaware of their programmed targets as they bounced onto the ground next to them. It was a shame Victor
couldn’t see them so happy.

A faint insect hum burst into existence before slivers of blue light began to crackle around Antonio’s feet. He jerked, dropping the dust from his
rigid hands as a massive electric current discharged through his body, throwing him to the ground contorted and frozen in shock and pain. The
Guard Matrix nanorobots chirped with delight and signalled to a guard to collect another catch. Weren’t they good little robots.

©2002
Jason Kitcat

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