art by Agata Maciagowska
The Miracle on Tau Prime
by Alex Shvartsman
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."