Tuesday, 9 September 2014

METAMORPHOSIS (PART TWO)





Welcome to the second part of a science fiction story inspired by Elizabeth Scarborough’s anthology, Past Lives, Present Tense. My story is part homage, part fan-fiction, except instead of using characters, my version has taken just the premise – that a scientific process has been developed whereby, as long as some DNA is obtained, the personality/memories of a dead person can be downloaded and assimilated by the living.

So far, Miriam Duplesange’s download of St. Veronica, the warrior saint, and the wandering mendicant, St. Anna Maria of the High Alps, has not been as smooth as expected. Miriam has just left the private clinic where the procedure took place, and is attempting to board her private helijet, and looking forward to catching up with her business affairs.

METAMORPHOSIS (continued)

‘Never!’ insisted St. Veronica in a strident voice while Miriam attempted to explain that the smooth metal ovoid nestling in its landing pod was her private helijet – and a completely safe means of transport. ‘You want us to enter a metal egg that flies?’
St. Anna Maria was equally adamant in her refusal.
‘Sister Miriam, we shall not enter what has been created through the influence of Ahriman. I remember my father talking of a puffing devil machine. He said it was contrary to what God intended for Man.’
Miriam simply ignored them and continued walking.
Abruptly her body stood still, refusing to obey her will; her arms and legs began jerking this way and that as the saints grappled for control.
‘Let go,’ she growled, but to her horror neither the saints nor her body complied with her demand. Instead, she found herself turning around and performing a stiff legged walk towards a small dilapidated church crouched among the huddle of buildings at the edge of the heliport.
Okay! Okay!’ Her heart was thumping fit to burst, her breath wheezed in and out of her chest, and her brain slowed to syrup. Her personal brain-psyche would order a mind wipe if he saw her in this state. God damn you two stubborn saints,’ she cursed. 
The shock of a sudden hard slap across her face outraged her even more when she realized she’d smacked herself. She gritted her teeth, swallowed hard and tried another tack.
‘What do you want, sisters?’ She didn’t think they’d be fooled by fake humility, but to her surprise she regained control.
St. Anna Maria and St. Veronica spoke in unison.
‘Let us pray in that church.’
Miriam knew how to play this game.
‘Alright,’ she glanced at the rundown structure, ‘but afterwards we’ll get into my helijet, and I promise you’ll be pleased. I have a surprise for you. Okay?’
Their acquiescence was sweet, and she resigned herself to a few more minutes of separation from her real business in life.
Judging by the number of half-burnt yellowed stubs on the black metal candle stand dripping with wax stalactites by the door, the church appeared to still be in use.  Rainbow light filtered through the stained glass windows giving the space an ethereal glow, and dust motes drifted in the still air. The pews were dark wood, pitted and cracked with age, and one old woman knelt with her head bowed in supplication.
Look, Sister Veronica!
A fair degree of mediation had been required while the saints figured out how to refer to each other. St. Anna Maria had learned the hard way that if she wanted to keep the fiery war leader happy, this was the way to address her. The last time St. Veronica had been called a saint, she’d plunged into a massive sulk that sat like the cloak of Satan over the three of them. Relations stayed more or less civil as long as everyone took great care not to mention anyone’s canonization. Nonetheless, Miriam detected a certain something in the saint's voice.
‘Isn’t that you, there in that window up to the right?’ St. Anna Maria asked. 
A warning bell went off in Miriam’s head at the saccharine dripping from each word. She spotted the stained glass panel to which St. Anna Maria referred, where, depicted in armour and seated on a horse, the haloed St. Veronica led a charge towards the enemy. Miriam's heart plummeted.
 ‘Notre Père, qui est aux cieux, Que ton nom soit sanctifie’ cried St. Veronica. ‘Why am I always tested? Why me, O Lord?  Why me? You know I’d suffer anything for you,' she wailed.
A momentary blankness then Miriam’s body plunged downwards and, as she connected with the paved slab beneath her, a crushing pain shot through her knees, followed by more excruciating agony as her head repeatedly pounded itself against the flagstone floor.
Unbelievably, in the midst of the mind-numbing pain, Miriam could swear – on the lives of every saint she knew and of those she’d never heard of – that St. Anna Maria sniggered!
After a few stunned minutes, Miriam managed to stand. Neither saint uttered even a peep as she negotiated her way towards the exit, using the backs of the pews for support to prevent a return to the horizontal. The old woman shot her a terrified glance, before burying herself in her prayers once more.
As Miriam emerged from the church, blinded by the bright sunlight, everything felt surreal. Where was her control? She was too stubborn to capitulate, but Dr. Simmons had never mentioned even the tiniest possibility of scenarios such as the one which had just taken place. She attempted to ignore the throbbing in her knees and head, focussing on the glinting metal of her helijet.
Once inside and seated, with anagel patches from the medkit easing her throbbing areas, Miriam opened the viewing panels and put the helijet on autopilot for take-off
‘T’is the work of Lucifer!’ whispered St. Veronica, cowed for the first time as the machine rose into the air, and buildings, roads and people were reduced to toy proportions beneath them. Miriam’s body shuddered as the saints’ combined terror flooded through her.
‘Blessed Father in Heaven,’ began St. Veronica.
‘Hail Mary, Mother of God,’ St. Anna Maria prayed.
‘Shut up!’ Miriam hissed. The bruising she’d received had somehow firmed her resolution. She’d asked for saints not delinquents.  Their offended silence, as she fought to steady her nerves, was clearly discernible.
Miriam activated the helijet’s comlink, her concerns fading as she busied herself with rates of performance and profit on her new companies. She’d have to avoid the aggregate levies due on them, but figuring out how to turn the maximum profit always gave her a pleasure that was almost sexual.
The helijet sped south leaving the urban sprawl, flying over manicured countryside until they approached the glinting Mediterranean. At a certain point, Miriam noticed her comrades’ unusual silence.
St. Anna Maria? St. Veronica?
Miriam felt a tinge of guilt at her earlier outburst. Was exclusion a new game they were playing? Their absence was complete, as if they’d never been with her. She refused to panic, reasoning they couldn’t have left as they didn’t have that option. The list of points the good doctor needed to address was growing. She stifled a groan.
‘I apologize for my outburst. I find it easier if you speak to me one at a time.’ She waited, slumping in her seat with relief as a mellow silence accompanied their return. ‘I’ve a treat for you,’ she informed them. ‘We’re going to Rome for an audience with the Pope.’  
All was forgiven as she bathed in the warmth of their pleasure, and before long Italy’s land mass, then Rome’s skyline appeared on the horizon.
‘That’s the Vatican,’ St. Anna Maria instructed St. Veronica, pointing at the dome of St Peter’s as they began their descent to the eternal city, ‘where we’ll meet His Holiness.’
Gratitude engulfed Miriam. She felt humbled before their saintliness, their goodness.  Her world would be theirs; and they would open the gates of Heaven for her. Her business empire would continue to expand, as planned, but she now had two soul mates with whom to commune and share this earthly life. Two who could never leave.
The waft of disapproval emanating from the two saints as they entered their hotel suite, and noted the sumptuousness of their surroundings, was immediate. Did nothing ever satisfy them? As far as she could see the blue silk damask wallpaper, with its hand painted doves, matching silk curtains and king sized bed with matching coverlet was nothing out of the ordinary.  But, despite the urge to inform them how fed up she was with the pair of them, she merely mumbled,
‘I was only trying to please you.’
‘T’is the soul, not the body, which is important, sister,’ chided St. Anna Maria.
Miriam pinched her lips together and stalked into the luxurious turquoise and silver tiled bathroom. The sight of her thick honey coloured hair, soft waves highlighted with gold as it fell round her shoulders soothed her, and she smiled. This natural abundance was far more satisfying than the innumerable unsuccessful treatments she’d previously had for her thinning mousy hair.
‘The decision has been made, sister.’ St. Veronica’s tone was curt.
St. Anna Maria’s deceptively mild voice added,
‘Yes, it must go.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Miriam demanded, anxiety nibbling at her pleasure as she found herself rooting through the bathroom cabinets and tossing items onto the floor.
‘Stop!’ she ordered. Her two associates ignored her. Fear expanded. Not this again. She, Miriam, the dominant personality, had to have control.
‘Shush, Sister Miriam, do you think we want to hurt this vessel? Rest easy,’ St. Anna Maria appeased.
Before Miriam could blink, a sharp shiny scissors appeared in her hands, and the cutting and chopping began with a vengeance till nothing was left but an inch of stubble on her head. Minutes later, they’d figured out how to use the micro laser and finished the job.
Miriam half-collapsed into the wash basin as they released control. She stared aghast at her baby-smooth, bald egg of a head as tears rolled down her cheeks.
St. Anna Maria, who had taken on the role of chief mentor, spoke. Her tone brooked no argument.
‘The first step in spiritual life is to overcome attachment to the bodily platform.’
Miriam simmered with resentment, but they were adamant she pick up and flush every single golden hair. She chose to obey rather than lose control. Truth be told, she thought, another personality had arrived with the other two. God.
The following morning Miriam woke stiff and sore from her night on the damask blue carpet.  Her companions had rejected the bed, praying in a constant mumble, until, unable to silence them, she’d given in to their demand. Her dreams had been filled with ecstasy as a chorus of angels wove a seraphic song through the night.
The next morning before leaving, Miriam covered her head with a green silk headscarf tying it under her chin, deciding once the papal audience was over she’d return to the clinic. Dr. Simmons had to do whatever was needed to manage the saints’ aberrant behaviour and establish her dominion over the wayward sisters. Or else.
She pondered the upcoming audience. Over the years, due to her wealth, Miriam had contributed charitably to many church causes. However, this time, and calculated to impress the saints, she’d decided to make a gesture so grand that her new partners would be in no doubt as to her generosity to the less fortunate. To this end she’d spent hours in consultation with her accountants calculating exactly how much of her wealth she could give away – as she hadn’t the slightest intention of giving away even one iota more than necessary.
As far as the saints went, she experienced a little trepidation. The Pope would be aware of these forbidden procedures, but he’d know nothing of her revival of St. Veronica and St. Anna Maria. And discussing the question of more than one soul inhabiting a single body would certainly bring the interview to a quick end.
The rigours of yesterday receded, and Miriam felt great pride in showing the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica to the silent and awe-struck saints as they walked towards their destination. Inside the papal offices, a cleric led her into a private audience room.  The three of them quivered in anticipation, with Miriam occasionally twitching the headscarf forward making sure her head stayed covered.
A door opened and the Papal Prefect announced the Pope.  Miriam stood to attention as the Pope entered.
‘Your Holiness.’ Miriam genuflected before him.
‘We must find our mission, sisters,’ muttered St. Veronica.
‘God will show us the way,’ intoned St. Anna Maria.
‘Sit down, my child,’ the Pope said. His smile was kind, his voice deep and resonant. Miriam gazed at the man whom she regarded as God’s intermediary on earth: God’s voice.
‘He seems a pious man,’ St. Anna Maria commented.
‘If a little mousy,’ St Veronica interjected. ‘In my day, a Pope truly had to command. This one appears goodly, but how long before he’s removed and another takes his place?  He doesn’t look worldly enough to stay in power.’
‘How many times have I told you that today it’s different,’ an exasperated Miriam interrupted.
A wave of dizziness swept through her, and she closed her eyes. Opening them, she saw ripened wheat rippling in the light breeze of a glorious summer’s day with birds wheeling above in a faultless blue sky.  Hadn’t she been somewhere else a minute ago?
And then she heard them; the knowledge of who they were flowing into her along with their holy hymn. St. Michael, the glorious archangel, St. Alberta of the Circle and St. Marjorie, one of the Forty Four Holy Weepers. She swooned in ecstasy.
Then she remembered.
‘St. Veronica! St. Anna Maria!’ Miriam pleaded, ‘This is my body.  Give it back.’  But no-one was listening as a grey mist enveloped her.
The Pope made the sign of the cross.
‘How can I assist you, my child?’ he said.
The haze thinned and Miriam saw the Pope sitting in front of her, a benevolent expression on his face. His eyes regarded her dispassionately.
‘Holy Father,’ Miriam began, but the celestial sounds from her dreams stunned her into silence. Led led by the Immaculate Conception personified, supported by the harmonies of St. Michael, St. Alberta and St. Marjorie, and with the angelic voices of St. Anna Maria and St. Veronica swelling the refrain, Miriam found herself overwhelmed by this inner choir whose melodies were in such a different key to her own.
‘My child, are you alright?’
Miriam saw the Pope was as concerned about her as he was about everyone in the world - it was his vocation to care. Miriam was elated. A love of mankind flooded her soul. The chorale within sang louder. This was the ecstasy she craved.
‘Allow us to talk for you.’ St. Anna Maria spoke with such dedication and sweetness that Miriam surrendered without question.
‘Our thanks to you, sister,’ St. Veronica added with quiet devotion. Miriam sighed with happiness. She’d always known that together, they’d be irresistible.
‘Holy Father, I have a gift for the Church.’
‘Well, my child, you are certainly in a position to help others.’ Naturally, the Pope already knew how much she intended to donate.
‘My deepest wish is, with your blessing, to start a new order to aid those whose needs are greatest in today‘s world. With this in mind, I wish to donate my wealth, my property, and businesses, except what is needed for the new order, to the Church.’
The Pope’s eyes widened a fraction.
‘No, no, no. That wrong. I don’t want to give you everything,’ Miriam yelled, but she felt weakened, insubstantial, and the Pope couldn’t hear her.
‘Shush, little one, trust us. Everything will be according to God’s Will,’ St. Anna Maria advised, her iron grip clothed in tenderness.
‘I don’t care. I want it according to my will,’ Miriam screamed, but no matter how she struggled, she was powerless, incapable of breaking through the thickening wall of fog.
The Pope rose and placed his hand on her head.
‘Doing God’s work in this life gives the deepest satisfaction, and your true reward awaits you in Heaven.’
‘Get your hands off my head and off my money,’ Miriam raged.
Miriam’s body genuflected to the Pope.
‘We, I’m sorry Holy Father, I will make the necessary arrangements.’
The Pope made the sign of the cross over her. The audience was over.
‘Nothing can be achieved without faith. Soon you will understand what is to come,’ St.  Veronica informed Miriam.
‘And you will rejoice,’ St. Anna Maria added.
Miriam sobbed in despair as the darkening banks of cloud solidified around her.
Sometime later a woman wearing a green silk headscarf stepped out from the shaded columns of the Basilica into the sunshine. She walked with light, sweet grace across St. Peter’s Square.
‘Are you ready for our new mission, Sister Veronica?’ St. Anna Maria inquired innocently.
‘Oh, yes, indeed!’ came the blissful reply.

                                                                   THE END

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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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