Authors: Frank Herbert
The Jesus Incident
Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom
The Jesus Incident
by Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom
The Jesus Incident
: A sentient Ship with godlike powers (and aspirations) delivers the last survivors of humanity to a horrific, poisonous planet, Pandora—rife with deadly Nerve-Runners, Hooded Dashers, airborne jellyfish, and intelligent kelp. Chaplain/Psychiatrist Raja Lon Flattery is brought back out of hybernation to witness Ship’s machinations as well as the schemes of human scientists manipulating the genetic structure of humanity. Sequel to Frank Herbert’s
, the first book in Herbert & Ransom’s Pandora Sequence.
Copyright 2011 Herbert Properties, LLC & Bill Ransom
Originally published in 1979 by Berkley Medallion
Smashwords edition 2011
eBook ISBN 978-161475-006-2
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Electronic version by Baen Books
There is a gateway to the imagination you must enter before you are conscious and the keys to the gate are symbols. You can carry ideas through the gate . . . but you must carry the ideas in symbols.
—Raja Flattery, Chaplain/Psychiatrist
SOMETHING WENT “Tick.”
He heard it quite distinctly—a metallic sound. There it went again: “Tick.”
He opened his eyes and was rewarded with darkness, an absolute lack of radiant energy . . . or of receptors to detect energy.
Am I blind?
He could not place the source, but it was out there—wherever
was. The air felt cold in his throat and lungs. But his body was warm. He realized that he lay very lightly on a soft surface. He was breathing. Something tickled his nose, a faint odor of . . . pepper?
He cleared his throat. “Anybody there?”
No answer. Speaking hurt his throat.
What am I doing here?
The soft surface beneath him curved up around his shoulders to support his neck and head. It encased hips and legs. This was familiar. It ignited distant associations. It was . . . what? He felt that he should know about such a surface.
After all, I . . .
Panic seized him. Who am I?
The answer came slowly, thawed from a block of ice which contained everything he should know.
I am Raja Flattery.
Ice melted in a cascade of memories.
I’m Chaplain/Psychiatrist on the Voidship
. We . . . we . . .
Some of the memories remained frozen.
He tried to sit up but; was restrained by softly cupping bands over his chest and wrists. Now, he felt connectors withdraw from the veins at his wrists.
I’m in a hyb tank!
He had no memory of going into hybernation. Perhaps memory thawed more slowly than flesh. Interesting. But there were a few memories now, frigid in their flow, and deeply disturbing.
Moonbase directed me to blow up our ship rather than let it roam space as a threat to humankind. I was to send the message capsule back to Moonbase . . . and blow up our ship.
Something had prevented him from . . . something . . .
But he remembered the project now.
And he, Raja Flattery, had held a key role in that project. Chaplain/Psychiatrist. He had been one of the crew.
He did not dwell on the birth symbology in that label. Clones had more important tasks. They were clones on the crew, all with Lon for a middle name. Lon meant clone as Mac meant son of. All the crew—clones. They were doppelgangers sent far into insulating space, there to solve the problem of creating an artificial consciousness.
Dangerous work. Very dangerous. Artificial consciousness had a long history of turning against its creators. It went rogue with ferocious violence. Even many of the uncloned had perished in agony.
Nobody could say why.
But the project’s directors at Moonbase were persistent. Again and again, they sent the same cloned crew into space. Features flashed into Flattery’s mind as he thought the names: a Gerrill Timberlake, a John Bickel, a Prue Weygand. . . .
Raja Flattery . . . Raja Lon Flattery.
He glimpsed his own face in a long-gone mirror: fair hair, narrow features . . . disdainful . . .
And the Voidships carried others, many others. They carried cloned Colonists, gene banks in hyb tanks. Cheap flesh to be sacrificed in distant explosions where the uncloned would not be harmed. Cheap flesh to gather data for the uncloned. Each new venture into the void went out with a bit more information for the wakeful umbilicus crew and those encased in hyb . . .
As I am encased now.
Colonists, livestock, plants—each Voidship carried what it needed to create another Earth. That was the carrot luring them onward. And the ship—certain death if they failed to create an artificial consciousness. Moonbase knew that ships and clones were cheap where materials and inexpensive energy were abundant . . . as they were on the moon.
Who is bringing me out of hybernation?
Flattery thought about that while he tried to extend his globe of awareness into the unresponsive darkness.
He knew that he had failed to blow up his ship after it had exhibited consciousness . . . using Bickel as an imprint on the computer they had built. . . .
I did not blow up the ship. Something prevented me from . . .
More memories flooded into his mind. They had achieved the artificial consciousness to direct their ship . . . and it had whisked them far across space to the Tau Ceti system.
Where there were no inhabitable planets.
Moonbase probes had made certain of that much earlier. No inhabitable planets. It was part of the frustration built into the project. No Voidship could be allowed to choose the long way to Tau Ceti sanctuary. Moonbase could not allow that. It would be too tempting for the cloned crew—breed our own replacements, let our descendants find Tau Ceti. And to hell with Project Consciousness! If they voted that course, the Chaplain/Psychiatrist was charged to expose the empty goal and stand ready with the destruct button.
Win, lose or draw—we were supposed to die.
And only the Chaplain/Psychiatrist had been allowed to suspect this. The serial Voidships and their cloned cargo had one mission: gather information and send it back to Moonbase.
That was it, of course. They had created much more than consciousness in their computer and its companion system which Bickel had called “the Ox.” They had made Ship. And Ship had whisked them across space in an impossible eyeblink.
Destination Tau Ceti.
That was, after all, the built-in command, the target programmed into their computer. But where there had been no inhabitable planet, Ship had created one: a paradise planet, an earth idealized out of every human dream. Ship had done this thing, but then had come Ship’s terrible demand: “You must decide how you will WorShip Me!”
Ship had assumed attributes of God or Satan. Flattery was never sure which. But he had sensed that awesome power even before the repeated demand.
“How will you WorShip? You must decide!”
They never could satisfy Ship’s demand. But they could fear. They learned a full measure of fear.
He recognized that sound now: the dehyb timer/monitor counting off the restoration of life to his flesh.
But who had set this process into motion?
Silence and the impenetrable darkness answered.
Flattery felt alone and now there was a painful chill around his flesh, a signal that skin sensation was returning to normal.
One of the crew had warned them before they had thrown the switch to ignite the artificial consciousness. Flattery could not recall who had voiced the warning but he remembered it.
“There must be a threshold of consciousness beyond which a conscious being takes on attributes of God.”
Whoever said it had seen a truth.
Who is bringing me out of hyb and why?
“Somebody’s there! Who is it?”
Speaking still hurt his throat and his mind was not working properly—that icy core of untouchable memories.
“Come on! Who’s there?”
He knew somebody was there. He could feel the familiar presence of . . .
“Okay, Ship. I’m awake.”
“So you assume.”
That chiding voice could never sound human. It was too impossibly controlled. Every slightest nuance, every inflection, every modulated resonance conveyed a perfection which put it beyond the reach of humans. But that voice told him that he once more was a pawn of Ship. He was a small cog in the workings of this Infinite Power which he had helped to release upon an unsuspecting universe. This realization filled him with remembered terrors and an immediate awesome fear of the agonies which Ship might visit upon him for his failures. He was tormented by visions of Hell . . .
I failed . . . I failed . . . I failed . . .
St Augustine asked the right question: “Does freedom come from chance or choice?” And you must remember that quantum mechanics guarantees chance.
The Book of Ship
USUALLY MORGAN Oakes took out his nightside angers and frustrations in long strides down any corridor of the ship where his feet led him.
Not this time!
he told himself.
He sat in shadows and sipped a glass of astringent wine. Bitter, but it washed the taste of the ship’s foul joke from his tongue. The wine had come at his demand, a demonstration of his power in these times of food shortages. The first bottle from the first batch. How would they take it groundside when he ordered the wine improved?
Oakes raised the glass in an ancient gesture:
Confusion to You, Ship!
The wine was too raw. He put it aside.
Oakes knew the figure he cut, sitting here trembling in his cubby while he stared at the silent com-console beside his favorite couch. He increased the light slightly.
Once more the ship had convinced him that its program was running down. The ship was getting senile. He was the Chaplain/Psychiatrist and the ship tried to poison him! Others were fed from shiptits—not frequently and not much, but it happened. Even he had been favored once, before he became Ceepee, and he still remembered the taste—richly satisfying. It was a little like the stuff called “burst” which Lewis had developed groundside. An attempt to duplicate elixir. Costly stuff, burst. Wasteful. And not elixir-—no, not elixir.
He stared at the curved screen of the console beside him. It returned a dwarfed reflection of himself: an overweight, heavy-shouldered man in a one-piece suit of shipcloth which appeared vaguely gray in this light. His features were strong: a thick chin, wide mouth, beaked nose and bushy eyebrows over dark eyes, a bit of silver at the temples. He touched his temples. The reduced reflection exaggerated his feeling that he had been made small by Ship’s treatment of him. His reflection showed him his own fear.
I will not be tricked by a damned machine!
The memory brought on another fit of trembling. Ship had refused him at the shiptits often enough that he understood this new message. He had stopped with Jesus Lewis at a bank of corridor shiptits.
Lewis had been amused. “Don’t waste time with these things. The ship won’t feed us.”
This had angered Oakes. “It’s my privilege to waste time! Don’t you ever forget that!”
He had rolled up his sleeve and thrust his bare arm into the receptacle. The sensor scratched as it adjusted to his arm. He felt the stainless-steel nose sniff out a suitable vein. There was the tingling prick of the test probe, then the release of the sensor.
Some of the shiptits extruded plaz tubes to suck on, but this one was programmed to fill a container behind a locked panel—elixir, measured and mixed to his exact needs.
The panel opened!
Oakes grinned at an astounded Lewis.
“Well,” Oakes remembered saying. “The ship finally realizes who’s the boss here.” With that, he drained the container.
His body was wracked with vomiting. His breath came in shallow gasps and sweat soaked his singlesuit.
It was over as quickly as it began. Lewis stood beside him in dumb amazement, looking at the mess Oakes had made of the corridor and his boots.
“You see,” Oakes gasped. “You see how the ship tried to kill me?”
“Relax, Morgan,” Lewis said. “It’s probably just a malfunction. I’ll call a med-tech for you and a repair robox for this . . . this thing.”
“I’m a doctor, dammit! I don’t need a med-tech poking around me.” Oakes held the fabric of his suit away from his body.
“Then let’s get you back to your cubby. We should check you out and . . .” Lewis broke off, looking suddenly over Oakes’ shoulder. “Morgan, did you summon a repair unit?”
Oakes turned to see what had caught Lewis’ attention, saw one of the ship’s robox units, a one-meter oval of bronze turtle with wicked-looking tools clutched in its extensors. It was weaving drunkenly down the corridor toward them.
“What do you suppose is wrong with that thing?” Lewis muttered.
“I think it’s here to attack us,” Oakes said. He grabbed Lewis’ arm. “Let’s back out of here . . . slow, now.”
They retreated from the shiptit station, watching the scanner eye of the robox and the waving appendages full of tools.
“It’s not stopping.” Oakes’ voice was low but cold with fear as the robox passed the shiptit station.
“We’d better run for it,” Lewis said. He spun Oakes ahead of him into a main passageway to Medical. Neither man looked back until they were safely battened inside Oakes’ cubby.
Oakes thought, remembering. That had frightened even Lewis. He had gone back groundside fast enough—to speed up construction of their Redoubt, the place which would insulate them groundside and make them independent of this damned machine.
The ship’s controlled our lives too long!
Oakes still tasted bitterness at the back of his throat. Now, Lewis was incommunicado . . . sending notes by courier. Always something frustrating.
Oakes glanced around his shadowed quarters. It was nightside on the orbiting ship and most of the crew drifted on the sea of sleep. An occasional click and buzz of servos modulating the environment were the only intrusions.
How long before Ship’s servos go mad?
he reminded himself.
Ship was a concept, a fabricated theology, a fairy tale imbedded in a manufactured history which only a fool could believe.
It is a lie by which we control and are controlled.
He tried to relax into the thick cushions and once more took up the note which one of Lewis’ minions had thrust upon him. The message was simple, direct and threatening.
“The ship informs us that it is sending groundside one (1) Chaplain/Psychiatrist competent in communications. Reason: the unidentified Ceepee will mount a project to communicate with the electrokelp. I can find no additional information about this Ceepee but he has to be someone new from hyb.”
Oakes crumpled the note in his fist.
One Ceepee was all this society could tolerate. The ship was sending another message to him. “You can he replaced.”
He had never doubted that there were other Chaplain/Psychiatrists somewhere in the ship’s hyb reserves. No telling where those reserves might be hidden. The damned ship was a convoluted mess with secret sections and random extrusions and concealed passages which led nowhere.
Colony had measured the ship’s size by the occlusion shadow when it had eclipsed one of the two suns on a low passage. The ship was almost fifty-eight kilometers long, room to hide almost anything.
But now we have a planet under us: Pandora.
He looked at the crumpled note in his hand. Why a note? He and Lewis were supposed to have an infallible means of secret communication—the only two Shipmen so gifted. It was why they trusted each other.
Do I really trust Lewis?
For the fifth time since receiving the note, Oakes triggered the alpha-blink which activated the tiny pellet imbedded in the flesh of his neck. No doubt the thing was working. He sensed the carrier wave which linked the capsule computer to his aural nerves, and there was that eerie feeling of a blank screen in his imagination, the knowledge that he was poised to experience a waking dream. Somewhere groundside the tight-band transmission should be alerting Lewis to this communication. But Lewis was not responding.
Oakes knew that was not the problem. He personally had implanted the counterpart of this pellet in Lewis’ neck, had made the nerve hookups himself.
And I supervised Lewis while he made my implant.
Was the damned ship interfering?
Oakes peered around at the elaborate changes he had introduced into his cubby. The ship was everywhere, of course. All of them shipside were in the ship. This cubby, though, had always been different . . . even before he had made his personal alterations. This was the cubby of a Chaplain/Psychiatrist.
The rest of the crew lived simply. They slept suspended in hammocks which translated the gentle swayings of the ship into sleep. Many incorporated padded pallets or cushions for those occasions that arose between men and women. That was for love, for relaxation, for relief from the long corridors of plasteel which sometimes wound tightly around the psyche and squeezed out your breath.
Breeding, though . . . that came under strictest Ship controls. Every Natural Natal had to be born shipside and under the supervision of a trained obstetrics crew—the damned Natali with their air of superior abilities. Did the ship talk to them? Feed them? They never said.
Oakes thought about the shipside breeding rooms. Although plush by usual cubby standards, they never seemed as stimulating as his own cubby. Even the perimeter treedomes were preferred by some—under dark bushes . . . on open grass. Oakes smiled. His cubby, though—this was opulent. Women had been known to gasp when first entering the vastness of it. From the core of the Ceepee’s cubby, this one had been expanded into the space of five cubbies.
And the damned ship never once interfered.
This place was a symbol of power. It was an aphrodisiac which seldom failed. It also exposed the lie of Ship.
Those of us who see the lie, control. Those who don’t see it . . . don’t.
He felt a little giddy.
Effect of the Pandoran wine
, he thought. It snaked through his veins and wormed into his consciousness. But even the wine could not make him sleep. At first, its peculiar sweetness and the thick warmth had promised to dull the edge of doubts that kept him pacing the nightside passages. He had lived on three or four hours’ sleep each period for . . . how long now? Annos . . . annos . . .
Oakes shook his head to clear it and felt the ripple of his jowls against his neck. Fat. He had never been supple, never selected for breeding.
Edmond Kingston chose me to succeed him, though. First Ceepee in history not selected by the damned ship.
Was he going to be replaced by this new Ceepee the ship had chosen to send groundside?
Lately, he knew he had turned sallow and heavy.
Too much demand on my head and not enough on my body.
Never a lack of couch partners, though. He patted the cushions at his side, remembering.
I’m fifty, fat and fermented,
. Where do I go from here?