Once we got to Old Jerusalem, I thought my master looked dumbfounded. He seemed out of place. Everywhere we went people were smiling and happy. Even the Taxi drivers were smiling and courteous. Even my AI knew that was something new. Old Jerusalem was normally a very rude city. Everywhere you walked there would be Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons. The Jews hated and barely tolerated the Muslims and treated the Palestinians like dirt. In the Muslim section the small storeowners tried to cheat the tourists no matter what God they worshipped. The Christians acted smug because they knew they were the chosen. For all the tens of millions of dollars that were spent the Old City looked rude and poor. In the past Frank said it reminded him of Tijuana in Mexico as he had stated in more earthy terms.
All those mean memories of the Holiest City on Earth seemed to melt away with the endless smiles and greetings people offered freely as you passed them on the narrow streets. All the holy places of the faith were still open. No one was charging any entrance fees and the security areas were unmanned. Jews were visiting the Dome for the first time admiring the space and the party mood. The same free flow of Muslims into the Holy Churches and the Western Wall was evident. Even a few forward boys and girls allowed mutual attraction to bring them together to flirt and even hold hands, an action that would have brought out knives or guns by their peers and elders just a few days ago. It was all so unnatural to Frank’s eyes and yet so natural in so many places around the world. And no where did anyone bring up the subject of God’s law.
Frank talked to a wide range of ages and backgrounds and it was always the same. They all felt happy to be alive and enjoying their new sense of freedom. By the second day some who were not there when this miracle happened started to come and look for themselves. It was easy to spot them. They did not look you in the eye. They whispered to each other and shook their heads in disbelieve at the interchange of those who had been relieved of religious feelings. That afternoon at the hotel Frank asked me to email the Monsignor and ask him if he was coming down to see this.
It took about forty-five minutes for a response from the Monsignor. He told Frank he was already in Jerusalem and invited Frank over toStudium Biblicum Franciscanum for dinner at 7:00. Frank decided not to bring his six foot tall robot, but instead wore his JAIC ButtonPort. Sometimes he did that because people did not think they were being recorded and would spill their beans and then tell Frank they would deny everything if he printed anything they said. I ordered him a taxi and he arrived at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Like many building in Old Jerusalem it looked older than it really was. The Studium Biblicum Franciscanum had been founded in 1929 and that is when the building was built. Frank was welcomed by a nun and then escorted to what looked like a reading room where the Monsignor was sitting reading at a computer. He heard the door open and looked up and greeted Frank.
“It is good to see you again, Mr. Huntington. Thank you, Sister. Let’s walk to the dining room.”
“Frank had scoped the room and was impressed with the beautiful furniture. It was very old and very elegant. The walls had those classic built-in book cases with glass doors. Many of the books looked like they were from the Twentieth Century. The windows were heavily draped, but he could still see the heavy bars on the outside. Most buildings had bars in Old Jerusalem. Not since the Romans ruled was there any degree of stability and open safety. Only after he had glanced at the room’s accoutrements did he bother to look at the Monsignor’s face. The Monsignor’s left eye revealed a ‘shiner’. On his chin there was a small scab.
“Wow, Monsignor, what happened to you?”
Pietro lifted his hand up to his jaw and Frank saw his hand was bandaged.
“I was attacked.”
“Here – in Jerusalem – by whom?” asked Frank.
“No, actually, I was still in Roma. This way.” He lead them to the next room where there were no more than seven large tables. The Monsignor spoke to a young monk in Italian to serve the meal.
“Have a seat, Mr. Huntington. I really don’t know who they were. There were two of them and they came up to me while I was walking back to the Vatican from a restaurant I sometimes go to that is only seven blocks away. I thought they were just street punks trying to get my wallet. Sadly, wearing religious grab doesn’t protect you in Roma anymore. After grabbing me and striking me in the stomach and rearranging my face one of them told me to stop looking snooping like Frank Huntington.”
“Snooping like me?” I had three goons tell me to stop seeing the Princess.”
“At least they left your face alone,” the Monsignor said looking at Frank.
“Actually, I had a fat lip, but an ice pack took care of most of it. Were your goons English?”
“No, they spoke perfect Italian.”
“Must be different goons, but I bet their pay checks looked the same.”
The Monsignor looked confused and asked Frank, “Their message seems dissimilar.”
“Yes, it does.” Frank took a sip of the wine that had just been poured and then said, “In a way we are both working on this religious mystery.”
“Yes, we are. Why didn’t they just say lay off investigating. Why so indirect?”
“Maybe they weren’t told the real reason. This is not the type of thing that whoever is causing this spread of atheism to be public knowledge. The Pope was right in saying these events are just beta testing.”
“Hard to call unconverting Old Jerusalem a beta test. Last time I heard Old Jerusalem had about 50,000 people living there. How can you do that to 50,000 people without anyone noticing it?” the Monsignor said while shaking his head in disbelief.
“Have you had a chance to talk to any of these hippie zombies?” asked Frank.
“Only some of our staff who were assigned here. We are in the process of replacing them all.”
“I heard all the religions are having to re-staff.”
“Yes, this has alarmed everyone. And now what you and I have been aware of is now front page news. What are your thoughts, Mr. Huntington?”
“Whoever is doing this has changed their approach. Not one suicide or any violence.”
“I noticed that too. I thank God for that, but world-wide conversion from religion would still be a disaster.”
“Maybe for supporting your boss, but I don’t see that anymore. All of Old Jerusalem is happy. The animosity of the religions has disappeared. No more hate crimes, bombings or fighting.”
“On the surface that looks all good and peachy. Peace on Earth, finally, you think. But I wonder how long this glow of love will continue? And the truth is someone has changed all these people’s way of thinking without their permission. This could be a slippery slope to slavery. Slaves that would all be happy. Slaves that would not spend a second thinking about alternative ideas. Is this the kind of world you want, Mr. Huntington?”
“I see what you mean,” Frank said as he put down a piece of bread he was going to butter. Suddenly, Frank had a look on his face that showed alarm. “Whoever has developed this capability to make people nonreligious without emotional consequences can remold any ideals or behaviors we have. They could just as well turn everyone gay and the world population would crash. They could make an army into crazed killers that would not question what they were doing. It would mean absolute power and we wouldn’t even be aware we had changed.”
“Not exactly the atheist paradise you thought it could be.”
“Does his Holiness realize this?”
“Yes, even before Old Jerusalem. He may be a lecher, but he is not stupid.”
“It is one thing to take out a nunnery or a small city, but do you think they could do the whole fucking world?”
“This is the Twenty-first Century, Mr. Huntington, why not?”
“God, you’re right. I mean in the United States some punk employee fucks up and before you know it 20,000,000 pounds of hamburger has to be recalled because of the possibility of some metal fragments or bacterial contamination. Everything is large scale these days. But how is this attack being done?”
“I still don’t know. We have looked at the security tapes from the Christian Quarter for the last twenty-four hours and see nothing suspicious. It can’t be the water supply because most of modern Jerusalem is on the same water distribution system. There was a little spillover beyond the walls of Old Jerusalem, but by and large this latest attack was confined to the four quarters.”
“You realize,” Frank said not touching any of his food, “time is running out. I mean, if they were concerned about the violence problem they have solved that. Now it is just a matter of manufacturing enough of this magic to take out religion all over the world. I wonder if they already have more ideas for changing human nature?”
“I just had a thought, if this technology was in the wrong hands they could program those whom they hated to kill themselves. Thankfully, it seems they are not intent on killing people, only of robbing them of their religion. But I could see some Middle Eastern Country trying to kill everyone in Israel or America. It is the perfect stealth weapon – no smoke, no radiation, no property damage.”
“Thanks Monsignor, you know how to kill someone’s appetite. I need to get back to London.”
“What do you think you can do there?”
“What I was going to do the last time I was there – talk to Sir Terrance. He might be the only one who can give us an idea how this is being done.”
Monsignor Angelo Pietro picked up his wine glass and said “I know you don’t believe, but Godspeed, Frank Huntington.” He took a small sip and put it down gently, “I shall continue my investigation as well.”
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