Christopher Galt Novels




(Paperback – 23 Apr 2015)

 

BIBLICAL

(Hardback BIBLICAL – 15th Sep 2014)



EXTRACT

THE THIRD TESTAMENT / BIBLICAL
by Craig Russell
writing under the name Christopher Galt.



WHETHER it was in the name of God or Science that you devoted yourself to seeking out the Truth, the danger always was that you would find it.
I am so very, very sorry. You have just found it.
That which waited to be known.

From Phantoms of Our Own Making by John Astor

“What if I’m just in your head?” She looked at him earnestly, for the first time something breaking through into her expression. “Haven’t you ever wondered that? Haven’t you ever considered that all this – everything and everybody around you – is all just in your head? How do you know I was here before you walked into the room?”

PROLOGUE
The air in the Mainframe Hall felt artificial: cleanroom-filtered, its temperature constant within the smallest fraction of a degree; seemingly immobile, breezeless. Everyone gathered in front of the Project Director gazed up at the virtual displays.

"What you are seeing is a representation of neural activity. It is identical to that of a normal human brain. Your brain, my brain. Except this, for the first time, is a complete computer- generated simulation. Capable of thoughts, maybe even dreams, exactly like any of us experience."

"But it has no body to feel," said one of the journalists. "Eyes to see. Won't it go mad without sensory input?"

The Project Director smiled. "We have restricted neural activity to specific clusters. Nothing here is a complete mind. But, if it were, there has been a lot of research into the psychotomimetic effects of sensory deprivation-"

"Psychotomimetic?"

"Mimicking psychoses . . . causing hallucinations," explained the Project Director. "This research suggests that in such cases where subjects are deprived of genuine sensory stimuli, they hallucinate false ones. See people and environments that aren't there."

"So if there isn't a world around us, we invent one?" asked another of the journalists.

"Effectively, yes. But this won't happen with these simulations - they're restricted to specific functions and neural clusters, allowing us to simulate specific psychiatric disorders and see, for the very first time, exactly how they tick. It will have a massive benefit for mankind."

"And beyond that . . . how far could a synthetic mind - an artificial intelligence like this - go?"

"Theoretically, it would allow us to understand the human condition like never before. It could even be turned onto answering questions about the universe and give us insights into the true nature of reality."

"Aren't there dangers?" asked another journalist.

"What kind of dangers?" Still no impatience in the Project Director's tone.

"People talk about the Singularity - about artificial intelligences overwhelming our own."

"Trust me," said the Project Director, "we are a long way from that. There is no whole mind here. No danger."

PRELUDES
Marie Thoulouze felt the air cool suddenly, a seasonal change seeming to take place in the space of a second, but something more than the sudden drop in temperature caused her skin to prickle into gooseflesh. The sun was still bright, perhaps now even brighter, but the air had changed: not just temperature but pressure, humidity, consistency. She had an oddly intense feeling of déjà vu, that she had been here before and that she had felt exactly the same then, and countless times before that. Maybe it was the occasion: maybe you are aware of history being made.

Marie stood at the back of the crowd that had gathered in the Vieux-Marché and the smell of so much humanity crowded together for such an inhuman purpose filled her nostrils. Pungent. Sour. Rank. The mob gathered in front of her jostled for a better view as a cart trundled over the dried mud of the square. Cheers and chants in a French that Marie found difficult to understand, a French very different from her own. She cast an eye across at the ranks of English and Burgundian soldiers, their glaives and halberds gleaming in the cold sun, who seemed to tense, to prepare, as the cart entered the square.

Marie edged round the crowd, keeping back from the increasingly dense, increasingly agitated throng. There was another, more intense explosion of jeers and catcalls from the Rouennais mob, loyal to the Duke of Burgundy, as a slender, pale girl - clothed in a simple dress of rough cloth, her hair bible-black and unevenly cut to expose a slender white neck, her hands bound behind her - was lifted down from the cart by two English soldiers.

Marie gasped. Her heart pounded. She knew what was about to happen and she muttered a prayer for the girl, her hand reaching up and grasping the crucifix at her neck.

Like a path scythed through wind-writhed corn, the way to the stone pillar at the center of the square was cleared through the crowd by two parallel ranks of breastplated and helmeted soldiers. An old bent-backed woman lunged forward between two of the restraining guards and thrust a wooden cross into the bound girl's dress, lodging it in the neckline before being pushed roughly back into the rabble. The girl's eyes were wild, confused, and she seemed not to have noticed the old woman's act of pity and piety.

A circle had been cleared around the stone pillar, against which a wooden scaffold had been erected and heaped with tar-dipped faggots, logs and barrels of pitch. The only part left exposed of the scaffold was the rough-hewn timber steps that led to the platform at the top. Marie found her way to the cleared path and followed the sad procession to the empty space around the pyre, amazed that none of the English soldiers tried to stop her and afraid that she might be seized at any moment. The mob seemed too hysterical and frenzied even to notice her presence. She watched as the girl was brought to the clearing and made to stand before a seated group of silk-clad clerics. There was an exchange of words, the girl saying something and the clerics replying, nodding. Marie could not catch what was being said, but she knew. She knew exactly.

She watched as the girl was guided up to the platform by the hooded man Marie knew to be Geoffroy Therage. As a chain was fastened around the girl's waist and further rope bonds fixed her to the pillar, two of the clergy stepped forward and raised a cross on a long pole so that it came up to the girl's eye level and she locked her gaze upon it. They held it there while the executioner stabbed repeatedly into the pyre with a lit torch, while the kindling caught into crackling life and the flames began to spit and surge with an intensity that seemed to increase in parallel to the hysteria of the crowd.

Marie heard high-pitched screaming from the fire and thought for a moment it was the desperate sounds of the girl's agony, but there was a chorus of other screeches and percussive snaps and pops, and she realized they were the sounds of combustion: the fire now a single, writhing, surging entity consuming everything in the execution pyre. But then Marie heard other screaming, and realized it was her own voice as she sank to her knees, the heat of the blaze almost unbearable even at this distance.

A Burgundian soldier stepped forward and Marie saw some- thing dark writhing furiously in his gauntleted fist. He swung it with full force and she saw the black cat follow a twisting arc through the air and into the flames.

"She is not a witch!" Marie screamed, pleadingly, at the soldier who did not even turn in her direction. "She is NOT a witch!"

Marie sobbed. Great, wracking sobs as she gazed up at the burning girl. Marie, whose faith had always been deep and pure and complete, could not believe she was witnessing the death of her heroine. How had she come to be here, Rouen, on the thirtieth day of May, 1431, to witness this horror unfold? How could anyone ever believe she had seen this great evil with her own eyes? She needed proof. Positive proof.

Still sobbing, she reached into her pocket for something and held it at shaking arm's length, pointing it at the girl who now burned like a torch atop the pyre.

Marie used her thumb to select the camera function of the cellphone she had taken from her jeans and pressed the button, in an attempt to capture the image that seared into her brain, the image that filled her universe.

The image of Jeanne d'Arc as she passed from one world to the next.


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all material © Craig Russell