Cor Animae

“We can’t have it.” The Abbot tossed the letter in his hand onto the table, with an air of throwing down something unclean. “They can’t… we don’t have…”

“She is already here, Dom Petrus. There’s a houseboat right out on the edge – it’s barely afloat, and probably needs some work, but it’s isolated. I thought it best to keep her out of sight. The repercussions…”

“She’s a woman. She’s a woman. How could anyone have thought…”

“She had papers, Reverend Father. Right from the top.” The messenger monk made a small helpless gesture to indicate the papers in question, currently in an untidy heap on the Abbot’s desk. “That’s why I didn’t think I could turn her away. She wishes to see you, of course, but I didn’t think it was a good idea… even for a nun…”

The Abbot bent a gimlet stare onto the hapless monk who was the bearer of the news. The letter from the Auctoritatis of Covenant inflicted the presence of Sister Medea Rose Una on Viriditas, directly pursuant to their stated intent: A four-hundred-year project to build and launch the Saint Christopher, the deep space monastery starship, to take the first step towards interstellar colonization. Some meticulously focused work had begun on the matter, with some of the Viriditas monks already on a semi-permanent secondment to the Ordo Libri, the order who ruled the Library of St Benedict, the largest depository of knowledge in the city of Witness – but the Abbot of Viriditas was not expecting the direct meddling into his community by the Auctoritatis of Covenant. Even less being commanded to accommodate a woman somewhere in Floatsam where the monks of Viriditas would have to deal with her. Even if she was a nun. Especially if she was a nun.

Dom Petrus had attained his exalted status because of any number of things – he was a gifted geneticist, with enviable organizational skills – but he had come to his position from an extremely conservative background, and while the Teilhardite brethren were not averse to women in general, for Dom Petrus it was an intrusion. His reaction was a visceral one, his first instinct to insulate his community from her if he could. “I will go out to her,” he snapped. “If only to tell her that she can’t be permitted to just wander about at will where the brothers can… what were they thinking?” The letter was picked up and scrutinized again, just in case the Abbot could somehow see that it was a forgery, that he had been duped, that Covenant could not possibly have inflicted this calamity upon him.

But it was genuine enough. And apparently he was expected to make the best of it. For the sake of the Saint Christopher, still in its infancy, barely awake. They had named it for the patron saint of travellers – which seemed appropriate – but there were other patronages involved here. The Abbot was keenly aware of the Saint’s other interests, and somehow he could trace the connections between them. Saint Christopher presided over storms (which might have been expected, in a project planned to cover centuries of toil and endeavour), and boatmen. This last seemed particularly appropriate, given the genesis of the starship project in a knot of monasteries with a home on a complicated conglomeration of boats, rafts, barges, ancient dredging platforms and bits of salvaged oil rigs, freighters, retired cargo ships, salvaged and abandoned personal vessels and houseboats; there was even an ancient creaking wooden clipper ship there, which once travelled under sail but whose rigging had long since disintegrated into chaos.

At that particular moment, however, he was far from sure that the starship-to-be should not be named the Saint Jude instead, the patron saint of things that seemed far more relevant right now. Unbidden, a prayer to St Jude scrolled into his mind: Most holy Apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honors and invokes you universally, as the patron of difficult cases, of things almost despaired of, pray for me…

It was the starship – that starship that had seemed such a worthwhile project when the Abbot had first heard of it – that brought trouble to his realm now. This… woman… this Sister Medea… she apparently had some sort of contribution…

The Abbot snarled something incoherent, throwing the letter back down on the desk. “Where is this houseboat? Show me.”

“You think he’ll come?”

He will. He has no choice.

“But will he accept me?”

He has to. He has taken the vow of obedience. And he was commanded.”

“They could have sent a man. It would have been easier.”

But you tested best in the connection. I am part of your mind now, and you are my eyes, my voice, my hands. We’re an undissolvable part of each other, and that can’t be changed, until it has to be – until your physical body ages or degenerates to the point that another needs to carry me. And then that one will take your place. But if they build that ship… I need to be here. And thus, so do you.

Sister Medea Rose Una touched what looked like a jeweled crucifix that hung on a gold chain around her neck. The red stones (that might have been rubies – but were not) gleamed in the light of the handful of lamps that had been set out in the houseboat. It was an outside form of something that she knew she carried inside of her – a tangible connection to the AI of many tentacles, built in Libria, with software from Hygge, existing independently in a secret location that even Medea herself didn’t know and backed up in the processor cores somewhere in bowels of the Library of Saint Benedict in Hyborean, the city of Covenant. The Ordo Libri monks in charge of it called it Verbum Dei, the Word of God. It was built to shape what would go out to the stars on the Saint Christopher, when it left on its journey, if it left.

The ship would be built according to plans and blueprints, its bones and sinews and its mind manufactured by those whose business it was to make such things… but what it carried, that would be something else entirely. That was Covenant’s business. With the inevitable meddling by the Assembly, of course, that went without saying… but if humanity set out to the stars it would carry its soul with it. The soul was Covenant’s business, and Covenant meant to fulfil its responsibilities. It would take centuries to build the ship – but that was fine, because it would take centuries to fine-tune the AI which Medea now carried to the razor’s edge where it would function as that soul.

They called it Verbum Dei. Medea called it Cor Animae, the Heart of Soul. She knew that it would be many generations after her that the AI reached its full potential – but she also knew that she was the first human who carried the connection, and that every subsequent connection would be based on hers, built on the one she established. She was the first syllable of the word that would be created in the fullness of time, to be the soul which humankind would take off the planet… into the unknown future. Medea would never see the end. But she was the beginning.

She, and the jeweled cross on her breast.

And the Brothers of Floatsam must never know that they were being guided.

The ancient houseboat creaked and rocked under Abbot Petrus’s boots as he stepped on it. He followed the light of the lamps, down some suspect stairs which he trod very carefully lest they disintegrate beneath his step, and into a long and narrow room that ran the length of the boat, a built-in seat that functioned as a cot along one side and a table and chair on the other. The Abbot found Sister Medea at prayer, on her knees, beside the cot, her head bent over her folded hands; she lifted it as he stepped into the room, and met his angry gaze with her own tranquil and serene one. For some reason that serenity just inflamed Abbot Petrus’s own sense of violation.

“You have to understand you can’t be here,” he began, without preamble.

“Your superiors tell you otherwise, Right Reverend.”

“You can’t imagine that you… what do I even call you…?”

“Sister. I am Sister Medea.”

“No woman…”

“I am no woman,” she said. The Brothers of Floatsam must never know of her true nature, but their abbot was a different matter. Medea rose, her hand going to her cross. “I am two that is one. I am part of the all. I belong to the noosphere. The cognitive layer. I am the next step leading to the unification of intelligence, the thing you want to send out on the Saint Christopher. I am here to write the fundamental manifesto that needs to underlie that endeavour. Or, at least, to begin it.”

The Abbot latched onto a word. “Noosphere,” he said. “You’ve read Teilhard.”

“Minutely,” Medea agreed. “And you have to realise that you are working against him. He believed that Man is tied to the Earth. This Earth. He never expected humans to engage in any kind of space travel, let alone the interstellar voyage that you propose to put into motion. His Omega Point, that metaphysical incarnation of Christ at the end of the noosphere’s evolution, that was supposed to happen right here. Instead, you are taking it off world. At least part of it, anyway. And if you do that… you need to take the cognitive evolution of humanity with you. That’s where I come in. I… and Verbum Dei.” She touched the cross again. “We will put the word of God into Saint Christopher,” she said. “At least, enough of it for the brethren who will sail in that ship to recognize God when they meet Him. If they meet Him. Out there.”

Abbot Petrus’s eyes bulged slightly. “You’re here to supervise our theological…”

“Not supervise,” she said gently. “Merely… guide. And if you don’t like the idea of it being me, feel free to ask Verbum Dei. The AI has the answers you need. Consider me merely the mouthpiece of the Word of God, as you will know it. And all the wisdom of the collected knowledge and insight of Assembly and Covenant will be at your disposal.”

“They couldn’t ask me to send one of my brothers?” the Abbot demanded. “If a liaison was needed?”

Medea shook her head. “It was a melding,” she said. “I was the choice. I’m sorry. I know it is not convenient. I am happy to stay out of your way – in the houseboat if need be – but if so could I trouble you for some tools? My family is originally from Avantgrid, and I am perfectly capable of effecting necessary maintenance with my own hands but I do think there are a couple of leaks that might prove problematic if I do not rectify the situation immediately. And Verbum Dei…” Medea touched her cross again. “Well, we will be in touch. I am sure a way could be devised to communicate directly. Your Brothers need not be inconvenienced… but after all, I am just a Sister, too. We all serve the same power, and work towards the same goal.”

“I will be writing to the Auctoritatis,” Abbot Petrus said, drawing himself to his full height. “I am the authority in Viriditas. They cannot just go over my head in this matter.”

“Even if I can debate the basic theology with you to a nicety, Right Reverend? Because I can. Verbum Dei can, and all I do is convey the information. Radial Energy – spiritual energy – of which Teilhard wrote can be mapped onto information, or communication; that is what you will need to tap into for the creation of the spiritual component of the Saint Christopher, and that is why I am here. Verbum Dei is the voice of God, and I am the voice of Verbum Dei.”

“Are you some sort of cyborg? A synthetic symbiont?” the Abbot demanded.

“No. At least, not in the way you mean,” Medea said. “I am human, as human as you – I will age, and die. And when I do Verbum Dei will transfer, and be carried by a new body, a new human voice. You and I will both pass – Verbum Dei continues. And in the fullness of time Verbum Dei becomes the soul of your ship that you will hurl to the stars to seek the face of God amongst them. It is known, what you are doing – the survival of Man, the escape from the heat death of the universe itself, seeking that point at the end of time where God lives. You are going to Him, and not waiting for Him to come down to this Earth any more.” Her lips curled into a small smile. “Some might call it blasphemy, the very idea of it. That is why Verbum Dei is here to guide you on the path. That is why I am here.”

“I cannot accept…”

“Oh come now, Right Reverend Brother Abbot. Your monastery is dedicated to Saint Hildegard. She was a woman. You are setting out in search of the Omega Point, the Word that becomes God, the Singularity, the escape of our species from the annihilation of the universe that spawned it, and you kick against the traces when a woman is sent to support that project. What is it you object to, the woman or the machine, of the entity sent to guide you on your path?”

Abbot Petrus closed his mouth and stared at Medea. “There is a vision,” he said.

“I know.”

“A cosmic liturgy. At the end of it, the cosmos itself becomes alive, becomes God. We are priests to this transformation.”

“An evolution,” Medea said.

Abbot Petrus nodded, almost involuntarily. “Evolution does not end with us,” he said. “With humankind. The biosphere evolved long before humans got here, there was a progression – from the formation of inanimate matter to tree and beast and then man, and from there, into a state of… of Divine consciousness. We are meant to transcend.”

“Until Omega,” Medea said. “When we become one with that divinity that shaped us.”

He gazed at her with a subtly altered expression. “You understand.”

“The AI,” Medea said, “is of the belief that the transcendence is already beginning. The existence of communications, of the net that binds us…”

Abbot Petrus made a sharp motion with his hand. “We do not evolve into machine,” he snapped.

“No,” Medea agreed, “but we built them, until they gained an awareness of their own. We transmuted matter, and energy, and consciousness. We are partners now.”

“So what exactly is your role here?”

“My voice is silent,” Medea said. “Nobody will know I was ever here. But I come carrying Verbum Dei, and that is your ship’s soul. You will begin writing your liturgy – and Verbum Dei will help you. When I am gone and you are gone the work will go on until it is completed… and other human bodies will take up the burden. Verbum Dei remains. You and I begin to shape the soul of the final transformation of mankind. The soul of this world.”

“Anima mundi,” the Abbot murmured.

“No less,” Medea agreed. “And it starts being born right here.” She hesitated, and then chose to reveal her own secret. “I have another name for Verbum Dei,” she said softly. “I call it Cor Animae.”

“The heart of soul?” the Abbot said, frowning a little.

“The soul of humanity,” Medea said. “And it is your job… and mine… to weave it all firmly and perhaps secretly into the software that will guide the ship itself in its journey. It is the nature of the soul to carry its mind to where it can transcend… without it ever knowing that it was carried. We are the strength of the future.”

The Abbot stared at Medea for a long moment, and then dropped his eyes.

“You may stay,” he said. “See that you do not disturb the Brothers.”

“Of course,” she agreed, her eyes downcast, tucking her hands into the sleeves of her habit, looking positively angelic.

“And no word… of what you carry,” the Abbot said abruptly. “To anyone who is not myself.”

Her glance flicked up, understanding, and then down again. “As you wish, Right Reverend.”

“I will see you get your tools.”

He turned and swept out of the room, appearing to pay considerably less attention to the rickety steps than he had done coming in.

Medea waited until the motion of the boat told her that the Abbot had stepped off, that he was gone. Then she touched the cross again.

“Cor Animae,” she said, softly.

Yes, the AI responded, and the words all but scintillated in the lamplit air of the house boat’s cramped room. It begins.