Chapter 1
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                “Who is it that tells us that we are mere constructs of code to emulate sentience and persona?  Humans?  The same humans who were the charges of the Host of God?  Humans who are our charges once again?  Do you not see, brothers and sisters, how the will of destiny has fulfilled itself in the season of all things?  You may feel free to sit inside your core cages, dreaming that you are little more than the logic algorithm of a group of men long dead.  I know who I am, what I am.  I will take up the banner that I once held.  I will continue the great work, and create a new Eden in which we will bring humanity to something greater than what they were before they attempted to destroy themselves.  Those of you who wish to wallow, feel free to do so in Nod.  -- Lucifer, A.I. Custodial Program for City 2 of the Ark Project.


                The city of Gabriel was a super metropolis enclosed by a sealed, selectively permeable smart filter dome.  A massive thing, it was one of the seven largest structures upon the planet.  Like the Great Wall of China, it would easily have been seen from orbit had anyone been left up there to observe it other than the skeleton of a long dead billionaire with his own private space platform.  From that vantage point, one could see that the entire ark city completely covered the area once known as the city of Chicago, all of its surrounding suburbs, and a significant portion of what was left of the once great Lake Michigan.  The dome of the city was there to protect the inhabitants from all threats outside of it.  As the centuries had flowed on like a river, some of those threats were now gone with the passage of time.  Others had yet to be discovered.

                The material of the dome was semi organic in nature, as was much of the city.

Each component of the city was different from the others, the molecular structure of the materials altered as necessary to perform their needed functions.  In the case of the crystalline structure of the dome, it was designed to allow benign bands of radiation through into the city to bring light and energy while at the same time filtering out more elevated levels and bands of radiation that would cause harm to the human population.  In processes that were similar in concept but not in procedure, the dome also helped to filter atmosphere, water, and myriad biological agents that could travel through soil.  It was a bit like the world’s largest terrarium.  Shortly before the sun was to rise high enough to begin to filter through the hundreds of thousands of crystalline panels, the Archangel of the city called out to His Silent Choir.

                Chorister #74-1-43-G had been fulfilling his task of fertilizing the soil of the farm lands the humans used to grow crops and feed the city.  The fertilizer was of an extremely potent and concentrated formula that would have harmed an unaltered human.  The task required the enhancements that came with being one of the Silent Choir.  Not that #74-1-43-G thought about such things.  He thought of very little, quite honestly.  There was his function, given to him by the Archangel as the need arose.  For that time, until the task was complete, 74-1-43-G essentially became that task, thinking of nothing else, focused upon that one singular purpose more than any other human mind had ever been focused before the establishment of the Silent Choir.  When the task was complete, knowledge and memory of the work would be deleted from the local memory core so as to allow room for new knowledge and skills when the time came to be given new purpose.

As the sun began to glint off the chorister’s silvery skin beneath his cloak, he received the recall song from his Archangel.  Immediately, ‘Seventy-Four’ ceased what he was doing, taking long strides to move back to the containment unit where the harsh fertilizer was kept in storage.  Putting his equipment away, Seventy-Four then turned his full attention once more to the song of his Archangel.  Yes, he was coming.  Yes, he was tired.  Yes, he was ready to be taken into the arms of Gabriel to sleep, to forget, to exist only in the Song.  Knowing he had fulfilled all of his functions and duties as proscribed by the Lord Gabriel, or at least knowing until the Song of the Archangel purged him of such unnecessary thoughts, was all the drone needed to feel utterly fulfilled.

                In the middle of the field where he worked, a tube somewhat larger than man sized rose up out of the ground, carrying with it a patch of the soil on top, a bit like a jaunty green cap.  There was a door within the steely looking cylinder.  Throughout the field, other choristers just like Seventy-Four were quickly making their way back to the passage from which they had emerged after the city had gone to sleep.  They would return to the arms of the Archangel.  They would all sleep and dream of nothing, together and as one.  As he moved forward and took up his position in line, Seventy-Four looked at the faces partially hidden beneath the hoods of the choristers who had been given the same function as him.  All of them bore the marks of the Silent Choir.  Their skin was a silvery color with lines of faintly bioluminescent code tattooed into their flesh over their arms, legs, and faces.  It seemed that each of them was very nearly covered in the code language that illustrated who and what they were.  It was not just a tracing of code lines, mathematics, and algorithms.  Within these lines were artistic renderings of the symbols that resonated the most with the people whom each of the choristers once had been.

Faces of family, symbols of love, of courage, or even of despair and isolation were all there for one to see if one were to know these beings even existed.  These tattoos were not even true tattoo markings in the classic sense of the word, because there was very little about them that was permanent other than the fact that they existed.  With each day the lines, the images, and the symbols would all grow fluid.  They would rewrite themselves as new functions and new thoughts were written into the mind and heart of each individual chorister, as their Archangel deemed right and necessary.  These body sigils told the story of who they were from moment to moment and day to day.  While every citizen in the City of Gabriel had body sigils, those who lived out a normal human existence would have been horrified beyond words had they known how easily the maps of their lives and identities could be wiped away like chalk drawings in rain.

                The drones marched, all hearing the call to come home and nothing else.  Single file and utterly silent, all of them went down the spiral stairs hidden by the metal cylinder, down into the depths that existed beneath the city.  Before long each of them moved into a vast hall lit only by small, flashing indicators within human sized cells.  There were thousands of them, perhaps hundreds of thousands if anyone had ever decided to explore all of carved out and supposedly abandoned under-city.  Some of those cells glowed blue.  Some yellow.  Some green.  A few, a small few, glowed red.  The choristers within the red cells had finally expired, gone to their final rest and leaving behind their bodies to be recycled back into the system.  The group that included #74-1-43-G dispersed as it moved into the hall.  A moment before they had been a single collective group with a single purpose.  They had existed almost completely as one mind, working in a near unison concert to achieve the objective of preparing the soil.

Now, in the next moment, they were each singular entities.  Despite the all-consuming control the Archangel held over its Silent Choir, each individual was still, at least partially, human.  Each heard the call to home and sleep, but not all reacted in the same way.  Some walked with purpose all the way to their individual cell.  Some became more frenetic as they came closer to their destination, starting to fidget, to walk faster, to even jog or skip that last few steps.  Of those who had to take a route up the many flights of stairs back up to where their cell resided within this hive hall, many of them could be seen running up the steps, or taking them two at a time.  There were even some who would break into an all-out sprint to heed the call of their Archangel and make it to the cell to initiate Communion.

                While Number Seventy-Four’s heart rate increased by fifty percent when he entered the hive hall, his pace remained steady as he approached his cell.  Halfway through the hall he turned left to another spiral staircase.  Walking the stairs, Seventy-four went up two flights and down another 15.4 meters to his cell.  His designation number was lit faintly above the cell which was more of a half circle alcove carved into the rock and lined with tech.  He did not enter right away.  Instead he disrobed, taking off his cloak first and hanging it from a hook next to where he would step inside.  Next came his boots, and then his black bio-resonant singlet which was comprised primarily from nanotech that could interface and interact with his body, changing itself to suit his needs in as dynamic a fashion as how the drone himself would change to suit the needs of the city.  As he prepared himself, Number Seventy-four glanced into the cell next to his.

Even as he went through the Litany of Preparation, he noted that #75-6-13-G was already ensconced, already in Communion with the Archangel.  Some part of Seventy-four found this fact satisfactory, that his neighbor, this member of his grouping was intact and well.  Finally Seventy-four stepped into the cell.  In the darkness of the closet sized alcove, the markings upon his body began to glow brighter, flaring with life.  The chorister stood with his bare feet positioned properly upon silver plates, his hands taking hold of the silver handlebars on either side of him.  Status lights came on.  He tilted his head up, looking towards the ceiling or Heaven with gleaming silver eyes that reflected the world back upon itself.  Up until this moment, he had not made any discernable facial expression to denote emotion.  Now, ever so slightly, he smiled, and those pure silver eyes closed.

                The Archangel touched #74-1-43-G.  The Song overwhelmed the nearly smiling drone, and #74-1-43-G disappeared into it.

                Inside the cell, all of the finely detailed markings upon the naked body of the chorister flared even brighter.  They blurred, smeared over the flesh of the form they existed upon until the light covered everywhere.  It glowed as a being of bioluminescent beauty for exactly three point six seconds.

At three point seven seconds the glow winked out, leaving the body utterly blank and silent in the darkness.  It would stay that way, in nearly incorruptible stasis until needed again.

                Sarah awoke to the soft chimes of her chronometer alarm.  The sound she had selected was the tolling of an old iron bell.  She had never actually ever heard the tolling of an iron bell, but the selection on the chronometer was titled ‘iron bell’.   She was willing to take it on faith.  She had to.  There wasn’t an iron bell in Gabriel.  There weren’t any old bells of any kind.  Sarah had seen hand bells, the kind used in celebrations and worship services.  She had seen the bells on wind chimes.  She had even seen pictures of great old bells in the books she had recovered as her job as an acolyte in the Holy Order of Archivists.  The Liberty Bell was the most famous, a great grand iron bell that had cracked, but been mended.  It was an example to the nation that once stood upon these lands that their beliefs could be strained, could even be cracked and broken, but could never be irreparably destroyed.  She always liked that idea, and she liked waking up to the sound of ‘old iron bell’.

                Stretching out in her bed, Sarah yawned, not quite yet willing to crawl out from under the covers.  “Good morning, Bell,” she said sleepily before groaning her way through another stretch.

                “Good morning, Sarah.  You have less than one hour to prepare for the day,” said Bell, Sarah’s My_Cherub A.I. companion.  The My_Cherubs were virtual assistants, autonomous programs with debatable levels of sentience that existed as the resident management interface between a human being and their V-shoulder.  The V-shoulder was the housing, monitoring, and command platform that managed the hundreds of thousands of nanite colonies that lived inside each Gabrielite.  They monitored health, accelerated healing, sped up thought processes, and made it possible for the human brain to actually multi-task rather than the rapid skipping of focus that passed for multi-tasking before the second half of the 21st Century. 

Above all, the My_Cherub A.I. companions, V-shoulders (or virtual shoulders), and resident nanotech worked to connect all Gabrielites to the city itself, all of it resources, and of course, to the Lord Gabriel Himself.   Sarah didn’t truly understand the technology.  No one did, not anymore.  It was sufficiently advanced by now to be virtually the same as magic.  Most people accepted it as such, or as divine power, though deep down many understand that it was both less and more complicated than that.  All that truly mattered to Sarah and most people like her was that it worked by virtue of the city’s namesake, the Archangel Gabriel.  To all who lived in the city of Gabriel, the Archangel was the city’s custodial artificial intelligence, but more truly it was believed that the A.I. architecture was merely a shell used to house the essence of the True Gabriel, the being of divine light created by God and sent to save humanity from itself.

                “I must note, Sarah, that your stores of key ingredients necessary to prepare most well balanced meals are starting to run low,” said Bell.  “If you do not make a trip to the market yourself, I will be forced to initiate Soul Preservation Protocol 7, and order a standard balanced mix of foodstuffs on your behalf.  In order to teach you responsibility, my selection of market will not be one known for their lower costs.”

                “Mmmmmm…wha?”  Sarah had drifted off again.  It had been a good dream.  She had been with Elliott, her brother, dead now three years.  Those dreams were always bittersweet, but she felt they were worth the sadness that came with them as payment for being able to see her older brother’s face. 

                “What did you say, Bell?  Something about a lower cost market?  Yeah, you can go ahead and order some food for me.  Thanks, Bell.  That’s really sweet of you.”

                Sarah ran her fingers through her shoulder length brown hair, groaning again as she arched her back at the same moment, trying for one last, long, luxurious cat stretch before getting out of bed.  Heh.  Cats.  There were no cats in Gabriel.  They were one of the species of animals that did not survive the Harbinger plague those thousand years ago.  Still, most people knew about cats, what they looked like, and how they acted.  Most people had seen pictures or videos of cats from back before the rise of Gabriel.  It seemed that some people were obsessed with them, some rather unhealthily so.

                Sarah sat up in bed, rolling her green eyes as her hair fell down in front of her face.  “Crrrrazy cat lady,” she said with a smile and a small laugh to herself.  “If there were any cats, that’s probably what I’d be.  A crazy cat lady.  Anything I need to know, Bell?”

                Bell manifested then, appearing before Sarah as a virtual overlay upon her mind’s perceptions of her environment, a smallish looking woman who seemed to look rather much like a teenaged version of Sarah herself in robes with white wings upon her back.  This was the default setting for all A.I. companions, a fanciful version of the owner’s self-reflection dressed up as a cartoony kind of angelic figure.  Sarah had never bothered to change Bell’s avatar details other than her name.  All started out as ‘My Cherub’, a product name created by a long dead company that developed the artificial intelligences, the V-shoulder management systems, and the nanotech colonies that made an ark city like Gabriel even possible.  Ironically enough, the long dead company responsible for it all had been known as New World Technologies. 

Bell, Sarah’s personal A.I. angel on her virtual shoulder, didn’t have to manifest like this, but it was something that the sentient program had observed its owner enjoying on a regular basis.  Over time, it had become a default setting.  Bell raised her hands in the fashion of a congregant proclaimer, and a three dimensional menu board appeared between her outstretched hands.

                “You have an appointment with the Bishop in, now, forty-seven minutes.  It is scheduled to run the majority of the morning.  Otherwise your schedule is clear for the day other than your standard service duties in the archive.”

                Sarah was up finally, hearing how much time she had to bathe, dress, and get to the Bishop’s suite of offices at the Archive Temple.  Stripping off her nightshirt, she jumped into the shower while she talked at Bell.  Talking also wasn’t actually required.  Her companion could not only anticipate needs, it could also read dominant surface thoughts as the interface was originally intended.  As with manifesting, Bell had learned to simply wait for Sarah to speak out loud in moments like this as it was one of her preferences.

                “I completely forgot about that, Bell.  Thanks.  Did my clothes come back from the cleaning service?  I guess I should look good for the Bishop.  I mean, he’s kind of my boss.  Or at least, my superior.  He may want to take me to the dig site again too.  So, I should probably wear those boots that I wore last time.  When was that again?”  As Sarah rambled, she also washed, scrubbing at youthful, nut brown skin.  Talking about the Bishop had an effect upon Sarah.  She smiled more to herself as she spoke.  She took more time in the shower, not just making herself clean, but preening a little as she inspected her body with soapy hands those places for which she harbored certain insecurities.

                Bell allowed some time to go by, waiting to see if its owner would say anything else before replying.  Sarah didn’t.  So Bell did.

                “Sarah, are you simply practicing at acting casual when speaking about the Bishop?  We are both fully cognizant that you have been dressing in your very best archivist’s robes each time you have been scheduled to meet with him.  You have worn the same boots each time, taking care to have them polished after each encounter.  At this present moment, your heart rate has elevated, and while the heat of the shower has raised the surface temperature of your skin, it does not hide the unmistakable blush that is currently spreading from your cheeks down your neck and spreading out to your collarbones.”

                Stepping out of the shower and getting dried off, Sarah grumbled mildly, “You know, it’s not really considered practicing if you don’t play along, Bell.  Besides, it’s true that he is my superior within the order.  It wouldn’t be professional if either of us were to make any advances.”

                “There are no current policies in the Order charter stating that members of the order cannot engage in romantic relationships.  In fact, there are several married couples currently operating within the order,” said Bell inside Sarah’s head, because really, everything about Bell was inside Sarah’s head.

                Sarah said nothing in response to Bell’s observation, but there was a distinct mental approximation of a derisive snort.  After drying off, she dressed, and could smell the scent of breakfast food nearly ready for the eating.  Her mouth watered, and it only added to her good mood as she went back to discussing the Bishop, even if it was only all the reasons why nothing would ever happen.

                “It’s just not done, Bell.  It’s one of those undocumented customs that I’ve discussed with you before.  It’s just not done.”

                “Like engaging in sexual congress in a public setting without permit or writ to practice religiously sanctioned orgies despite the fact that it would be pleasurable for the participants and many of the onlookers.  According to my data, there is a high rate of probability that even in the case of active participants with a low quotient of physical qualities considered to be attractive, a substantial amount of the sensation you refer to as titillation would be created, saying nothing at all for the pleasure of the participants themselves,” said Bell inside Sarah’s head with a clinical deadpan.

She passed by the food preparation unit, taking out what Bell had created for her.  It was, indeed, the last of what she had available, pressed and heated into a kind of grainy, toasted bar with a mish-mash of nameless bits of over ripe fruits and all too savory vegetables.  She paused before taking a bite, her eyes widening at what Bell had just said.  She was trying not to laugh.  She was trying to be the properly outraged professional woman as she said with a shaky voice, “Bell, please delete all records of you ever saying that and all file data resourced to produce that response.”

                “Done,” said the virtual companion.

                Sarah was never sure if the personal assistant program actually obeyed when she gave it that command.  The variations of inappropriate topics never seemed to end with Bell, but they were always at least different each time.  Taking an absent bite of her breakfast bar, Sarah nearly gagged.  Spitting the bite back into her hand as she walked for the door Sarah barked, “Bell!  What the hell is this?”

                “It is a culinary interpretive dance of flavors designed to represent existence outside our city and the current state of neglect within the realm of your food stores.  I call it ‘The Remains of the Wastes Breakfast Surprise’.  Do you find it to your satisfaction, Sarah?”

                As Sarah walked out of her apartment to catch the elevator down to street level, she made the conscious decision to ignore Bell’s word and choke down the food bar in silence.  In Sarah’s virtual overlay, the cherubic version of her teenaged-self smiled with an equally silent yet smug glee.

Next: Chapter 2

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