He came into the world as all men do; naked, screaming and fearful. A surgeon’s blade detached him from his mother, yet before he could receive her loving embrace he was gathered up in swaddling cloth by the priest. His head was anointed with holy oil and words were whispered into his ear. “Welcome, son of Lydia, child of the Methuselah, servant of Jericho.”
Those same words greeted him ten years later when he returned to the room of his birth. He lay upon the surgeon’s table, naked and terrified, his modesty protected by a durable black material that served to both shield his body and immobilise him. In the dim light he could half-see surgical devices of unfathomable purpose being brought forward, all of which it seemed would be equally at home in a torturer’s dungeon.
He felt a firm hand grip his forearm through the surgical binds, and the priest spoke to him in fatherly tones. "You are here to be transformed, Jeremiah. Bartle, blessed be his name, envisioned a new form for his chosen people; a divine convergence of the material and spiritual; of flesh and machine. Let your fear be cast away, Jeremiah. Today, you begin your first step towards true divinity.”
Despite the priest’s words fear took hold of him that day. It never let him go.
At the age of fourteen, Jeremiah found himself in the reflectory at the aft end of the ship. It was an unfamiliar place, one that he had not visited in years. It was meant to be a spiritual place, a place where men went to find peace and look inward, to become closer to the divine will of Bartle. Jeremiah found the place to be unsettling, though he had always struggled to explain exactly why.
The priest greeted him and bade him enter. He was guided to a cold metal chamber where a red-robed surgeon awaited them. The garments offered nothing of the man, if it was a man, to empathise with. Not even his eyes were visible.
There was a surgeon’s table in the centre of the room, one that Jeremiah saw in his dreams sometimes on nights where sleep gave him no rest. He was ordered to bare himself and was inspected. They began by testing the neuro-connector ports embedded in his spine from the base of his skull to the coccyx. It was a deeply unpleasant sensation, one that lasted far longer than Jeremiah was comfortable with. After that the fresh scarring on his face, thighs and torsos were inspected. There was more prodding, more pain, and an ever growing desire to be anywhere but here.
“He is healing well,” the surgeon announced. “Exceptional neural response, no sign of rejection. Category… Beta-I, leaning to Alpha.”
“I see your fear, Jeremiah,” said the priest. Perhaps it was the same priest as all those years ago; it was so hard to tell. They all looked the same behind their black robes and grill-fronted masks. They all spoke in that same calm, fatherly tone of voice.
“Forgive me, Father, for I know I should not fear these glorious gifts.”
“It is not the gift you fear. It is the pain of transition. Your old, imperfect self is dying piece by piece, and that is painful. Be thankful for that pain, Jeremiah, for through this suffering you know this work has meaning. Meditations III : VI.”
The words came out automatically, drilled into his mind from the moment he was old enough to speak. “Let no man shirk from pain and suffering brought by duty, for pain is the price of victory; nothing that came without suffering and sacrifice was ever anything but worthless.”
The priest gave the slightest of nods. “Be brave, my child; with this last offering, you shall at last stand upon the brink of manhood.”
In his fifteenth year, Jeremiah realised, much to his immense distaste, that almost every pivotal moment of his life seemed to take place in a cold, sterile chamber filled with machinery designed to dismantle the human body in a variety of inventive ways. Today was no exception, although this time he was assured by his peers and the priesthood that no medical procedures would take place.
There was a mirror in the antechamber where Jeremiah awaited his summons. He didn’t like mirrors much; they showed him unfamiliar faces. Gone was the rosy-cheeked boy; what age had left untouched, major cranial surgery had utterly erased. His flesh was corpse grey and still bore faint scarring from where his skin had been removed to allow access to the frontal lobes. Gone were the shining blue eyes, replaced by cybernetics with blood red irises that glowed ever so faintly. Gone was the corn blonde hair; he’d been bald for almost a year. His body shape was defined by synthetic bones, artificial muscular fibre-bundles and a vat-grown stomach that allowed him to live off of ration gel. As a youth he’d often wondered why all the adults wore those silly, stuffy robes and clunky bodysuits. Now he knew; he couldn’t stand the sight of his own flesh any more.
The summons came and he entered the chamber, where he as greeted with a fold-out metal table and a pair of basic travelling stools. The priest occupied one, and he was told to occupy the other with a simple gesture.
“This is the final step to becoming a man,” the priest told him. “Here, we shall explore your inner soul and find your destiny. Speak only truth; hold nothing back. Do you understand, Jeremiah?”
“I do,” he said.
The questioning took hours. It began with simple things, seemingly trivial things; his favourite food, his best friend, his favourite toy and so on. He was tested on holy scripture, and to his knowledge he passed with flying colours. The questions on other topics became more difficult, but he had prepared well by filling his neural hard drive with information on a variety of subjects.
Then came the more complex questions. He was given a passage of holy writ he was unfamiliar with and asked to analyse it and deduce its meaning. Every response he gave was questioned and he was pressed for more information, more clarity, more meaning. The priest tested him on history, technology and social etiquette, yet some of the things he said seemed at best misinformed or poorly worded; he wondered, traitorously, whether the priest was deliberately lying to him.
There were embarrassing questions regarding his personal life. He was commanded to list anyone and everyone to whom he had felt an emotional connection, and to go into detail regarding those connections. In particular, the priest seemed interested, perhaps even obsessed, with his views towards women. He wanted very, very precise details about the women who caught Jeremiah’s eye, and the prolonged fixation on this subject made the young man squirm. When his physical purity was challenged, his face turned beetroot red.
For untold hours it carried on, until after a final interrogation on a subject that seemed utterly unrelated to anything before it, the priest had heard enough. Jeremiah was told to go home and reflect, and that he should return tomorrow to receive judgement.
It was the longest night of his life.
Jeremiah stood before a council of three priests, three representatives of the Families, and three officials of the Clans. He wore his finest ceremonial robes, gunmetal grey with vivid amber trimming; the colours of his birth ship on which he had spent his entire life to date.
“Jeremiah,” the central priest said by way of greeting. The tone was wrong; disheartened, perhaps even mournful. Jeremiah felt the fear response rising, and mentally activated a neural-suppressor to quell the unwanted emotion.
“You have been judged, weighed, measured… and found wanting. It pains me to say this to a boy of such promise, but it is my holy duty to mark you as deviant.”
No neural-suppressor could contain his reaction to that remark. “What do you mean? You cannot be serious! I am a loyal son of Jericho! I have always been true to the teachings!”
“Outwardly, perhaps, but inside you harbour thoughts and feelings that are entirely against the ideals of Bartle and his chosen people. Your mind swims with heresy; blasphemous words linger ever on the tip of your tongue. To embrace you as our own would only serve to damn us all. I have loved you as a father, Jeremiah, but that love commands I cast you out.”
“You cannot do this!” Jeremiah screamed. Had he still possessed tear ducts he would have been crying freely by now.
“It is already done,” the priest replied. “I name thee ‘Apostate’. Be gone from our sight.”
A gold-robed figure took him by the arm and steered him away. He offered no resistance.
“I know this hurts,” the figure said as they walked through the unwelcoming gloom of the ship’s holy decks. “I too have been branded Apostate by some. It hurts, especially when I know in my heart I serve Bartle and his people.”
“What did I do wrong?” Jeremiah asked, not truly listening. “I did all that was asked. I gave all that was demanded. I sacrificed so much. I-”
They halted. The stranger took Jeremiah firmly by the shoulders and stared hard into his eyes. “Listen to me!” the man hissed. “There are those of us who do not think as the Priesthood thinks. There are those of us who know that we must face the future with eyes open, that we must follow the threads of knowledge wherever they lead. Apostasy is meant to damn us; instead, it liberates us. We may read the forbidden texts, experiment in forbidden fields and walk in forbidden places. The others will condemn us and call us traitors, yet they will gladly take the fruits of our labour and laud them as holy works. This hypocrisy is what men such as I dream to expose one day. For now, we settle for labouring in the dark.”
“What are you saying?” Jeremiah asked.
The figure smiled. “You are brilliant, my boy. You possess an innate understanding of energy and matter and how they interact. I have seen your work; you’ve provided solutions to problems that stump men twice your age! Jericho needs you, whether they admit it or not. I am asking you to come with me, to leave this ship and to work beside me for the good of the people.”
“Even though they cast me out?” The words came unbidden, and their heresy burned in Jeremiah’s mouth.
“Precisely. Do not curse the ignorant for their mistakes; instead, illuminate them with your holy lore and welcome them into your embrace. Forgive them their past folly, and your due gifts shall come forth.”
“Lessions I : IX,” Jeremiah said instinctively.
He was rewarded with a second smile. “My name is Seukonnen. I am a member of the Clan Technologis.”
“Y-you want me to become a Tech?”
Seukonnen nodded. “You were taught that men must sacrifice to succeed, yes? Consider today such a sacrifice. From now on your life will be more difficult and more dangerous than you ever imagined. You will curse me for making you this offer some days, and you will hate yourself for accepting. But you will also see things more wondrous than you can ever dream; discover things more awe inspiring than you can ever imagine. You will live, Jeremiah, and you will know that this was truly Bartle’s will. I will guide you as best I can, for you will walk a dangerous line between divinity and damnation. Such is the burden fate has given you, but never forget that it is an honour to carry this burden. Few are ever chosen, for only a special few could ever hope to succeed.”
“Then let us go quickly. I do so hate to linger where we are not welcome…”