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art by Agata Maciagowska

The Miracle on Tau Prime

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. His short fiction has been published in Nature, Penumbra, Buzzy Magazine and many other magazines and anthologies. This is his third story at Daily Science Fiction. Alex's fiction is linked at alexshvartsman.com.
The investigators arrived in the morning. Father Laughlin and Father Sauer trudged through the dense, chilly fog from their shuttle to the spaceport terminal just as the twin suns of the Tau system began to paint the eastern horizon in yellow hues.
"Thank Christ you're finally here," said Abbot Fierni, who was waiting for them in the relative warmth of the terminal. "I've been bombarding the Vatican with messages for weeks. He's on to The First Epistle of John by now and should be finished within days. I fervently prayed that you would arrive in time to witness the miracle firsthand."
Both priests shook his hand and made no comment on the timing of their arrival. The Abbot was outrageously lucky; the Vatican's typical response to a miracle claim this far out on the edge of occupied space was measured in years rather than weeks. The fact that they were nearby, looking into a stigmata report on a planet only ten light years away, was a minor miracle in its own right. But informing the Abbot, so certain of the urgency of his case, would've been unkind.
"Here he is." The Abbot made a show of opening the thin wooden door into one of the monastery's living spaces. Inside the small room was a bipedal insectoid alien, its five foot tall chitinous frame hunched over a workbench. It was writing in an enormous book.
The alien's pincer held a thin bone stick that looked like a featherless quill. With rapid, fluid motions it dipped the stick into a glass inkwell and applied it to a half-empty page. It wrote neat lines of symbols so precise they could be mistaken for having been printed. There was not an ink stain or a careless mark in sight.
"That's Koine Greek, all right," Father Laughlin whispered, not wanting to distract the alien.
"It is," nodded the Abbot. "He started with Genesis and made his way through all of the Old Testament in a month or so, as best as I can tell. Wrote down the whole blessed thing in Hebrew and Aramaic, he did. I can't read those languages but I've been comparing the symbols to an original and it looks to be an exact match. Then he moved right along to the Gospels and switched to Greek."
Sauer cringed at the Abbot's loud voice reverberating through the room, and the man's insistence on calling the alien a "he."
"You can speak at full volume," Fierni added. "Xitzl has been in some sort of a trance since he began transcribing the holy texts."
Abbot Fierni riffled through a thick stack of completed pages, lifting them only a few inches off the left side of the tome so as not to disturb the page Xitzl was currently writing on.
Father Laughlin took a step forward and leaned in for a better look. Unperturbed, the alien continued to fill the page with line after line of Greek script. Laughlin crossed himself and retreated toward the door.
"This isn't a miracle," Father Sauer raged in the privacy of a study the two investigators commandeered at the monastery. "It's a travesty. Or maybe some sort of a scam. Or some alien idea of a joke. Who knows what this critter is capable of--perhaps its species can memorize pages of text at a single glance."
"Don't rush to judgment," cautioned Father Laughlin. "According to the Abbot, this Xitzl creature expressed interest in our faith long before the miracle business. That in itself is extremely rare."
"Little good would it do it," grumbled Sauer. "The oversized cockroach has no soul, and so it can't be saved."
"It's archaic attitudes like this that prevent more of our intergalactic brothers from joining in Christ's love. Why should they, if they're told that his love is reserved only for the descendants of Adam?"
"Careful," said Sauer. "Last I checked this 'archaic attitude' is still the official position of the Vatican."
"I pray that His Holiness may one day reconsider," said Laughlin. "Anyway, I anticipated the eidetic memory argument. So I sent a recording of the completed pages to the experts at the Holy See. Their findings were surprising, to say the least."
"Oh?" Sauer looked up sharply. "What have they discovered?"
"The Bible our alien friend is writing down isn't just accurate--it's overly complete. In addition to the standard texts, Xitzl appears to have added in all the apocrypha. And I mean all of it--including texts not available outside of the Vatican vaults for over two millennia."
Sauer stared at his fellow investigator, head tilted.
"There are passages in there so obscure it took the labor of some of our best scholars just to verify their authenticity. But verify it they did. Xitzl didn't simply copy a Bible he found in some hotel room. We may have finally discovered a genuine miracle. This is the real deal."
"So what are we supposed to do with that?" Sauer got up and began to pace across the study. "Invite this alien into the College of Cardinals? Beatify it after it dies? Make it Saint Bug of Who-Knows-Where? I'm not comfortable with this."
"For now, we do what we always do. Observe and wait. Xitzl's made it to the middle of Revelation already. Perhaps it can shed some light on the mystery directly, when the book is finished."
Father Laughlin burst into the study. He was disheveled, his clothes cut in several places, stains of fetid orange discharge covering the front of his shirt. He clutched the large handwritten volume to his side.
"Come," he told Sauer. "There's no time to explain. I must leave this place now. Please," he pleaded, "hurry."
Reluctantly, Father Sauer joined his associate. Laughlin revealed nothing on the ride to the spaceport. He shivered, clutched the book to his chest, and prayed intently, his lips voicelessly sounding out the supplications. It wasn't until their shuttle was racing away from Tau Prime that Sauer coaxed a few words from the perturbed priest.
"I didn't mean to do it," Laughlin kept saying. "I didn't know it was so fragile, so brittle. All I wanted to do was to make it stop writing."
"Calm yourself, Father," said Sauer sternly, "and explain."
"I watched the alien finish writing down the Book of Revelation," said Laughlin. "I stood there and watched, eager to know what would happen next, after it ceased writing." Laughlin stared past Sauer at the shuttle wall as he recounted the event. "Only it didn't stop, didn't even pause. It kept going. It just kept going...."
Laughlin focused on Sauer now, his eyes full of pain.
"I didn't mean to hurt it. I tried to take away the book, or the writing tool; anything to make it stop, but it wouldn't comply. We fought." Laughlin pointed at the stains on his clothes. "I... broke it. Crushed its body with a few careless blows. Killed it." Laughlin's last sentence was barely audible.
"What did..." Sauer began to ask but stopped himself and reached out a hand instead. Wordlessly, Laughlin handed over the book.
Sauer flipped through the pages to find the last one filled with text. There were twenty verses in the last chapter of Revelation, just as there should have been. But it didn't end there. The next book of the Bible was started on the following page, a text written in a language Sauer had never seen before, a language not of Earth.
The two priests sat in silence for a long time. Finally Sauer took hold of the last page and tore it from the tome. He methodically ripped at it, shredding it into smaller and smaller pieces, until nothing discernible remained.
"Even the Holy See isn't prepared for certain truths," he told Laughlin. The other priest nodded slowly.
Sauer disposed of the destroyed page and began preparing a eulogy. He decided that someone should pray for Xitzl's soul after all.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 27th, 2012

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