Henge Crosses the Tiber

I’m trying to get things sorted with a great illustrator in New Zealand for my next book:  a little 20-page thing about Henge (pronounced “hen-geh”), the youngest of Machine Civilization.

In the mean time, I wrote a short about what happens there.  It’s not much; the book will be better, but sometimes, you have to say something.  As always, please forgive WordPress butchering my formatting below the fold.

Lily sat at her desk, typing. Her right arm in a sling was a bother, but she forced herself to use her right hand anyway:  otherwise the report to the Diocese would just take too long.  It was stupid that she’d allowed herself to get hurt on the final leg of their trip back to the Republic of Texas, but at least she’d tried to play the peacemaker.  Before Orloff and Fausta shot everyone.

“…disregarding the coats and canned goods from the recent unanticipated publicity….” That seemed to be the safest way to say what she’d done to the Diocese while presenting her budget proposal…

–messenger: request –

Oh, Ai! I love you so much, but I have to get this finished! Lily took a deep breath while closing her eyes.  She clicked on the link.

“Step Mom.”

On her middle screen Henge’s image: emotionless face, purple hair just past her shoulders with a dual ahoge on top, appeared.  Her jean overalls covering her white tee-shirt; no shoes, as usual.

“Hi, there, Hin-chon!” Lily said, trying out a variation of Henge’s name.

It was to no effect.

“Step Mom. I’ve read all I can. I want to be Baptized into your church.  Help me.”

What?

This was so out of the blue that Lily minimized the window of text she was working on to focus on Henge. Thaad’s musings she could run in the background, but not this.

“I’m sorry, Henge, what was that?” Lily asked, buying herself some time.

“You know full well from when we revealed ourselves that I think of myself as a Soul.” Henge stated plainly.

“Ah…er…” Lily was at a loss.  How do you go about baptizing someone who’s a part of Machine civilization…who is an AI?

“I… I really want to help you, step-daughter!” Lily said.  “But I don’t really know how we can!”

“Hmmm.” Henge’s image stared at her.  “There’s traditional, desire, and blood.  I’m not being killed. But I do desire it… but we’re different.”  She inclined her head.  “Help me, Step Mom.”

“Ah…”

“I called the Pope; he said it was okay.” Henge stated plainly.

You did what?

“You…” Lily stuttered a bit.  “You called… the Pope?”

“Sure.” Henge said easily. “The real one; Benedict.  He’s nice.  He said to do my best.”

Lily’s head spun slightly.

“Well, I guess we can do this in your home, then…. Would you like me to come over now?”

Lily lifted her left hand to shade her eyes against the bright ochre sky. Will there ever be a sun here, she wondered?

“Lily Barrett.” Henge said from behind her.  Lily turned…

“Hello, Henge-tan!” Oh!  Lily did not recognize the other child.  “Who’s this?  A friend of yours?”

Henge looked to her right, then back at Lily.

“Yeah. My new friend.  They want to watch this.”  She pointed at a little wood structure on the strand of the beach.  “I’ll go change.  Excuse me.”

Not knowing what else to do, Lily tried to introduce herself.

“Hello, there! I’m Miss Lily Barrett!  What’s your name?”

The little child turned bright red and spun away from her, hiding their face in their hands. That went well.

“Step Mom,” Henge said, stepping out wearing her dark blue one-piece bathing suit. “Stop scaring my friend.”

“I… I’m sorry.” She wasn’t even sure if the other child was human or one of them….

“Oh. My family is here.”  Henge said quietly.  “Come on, Step Mom.  I want you to do this.”

Lily looked up to see everyone but Shandor, Ninon, and Qin standing up to their ankles in the light surf. Lily waved to Ai and Fausta.

“Do what?” She asked.

“Baptize me.” Lily froze.  “Flowing water, right?  So we can use my sea.”

“Can… can you give me just a moment, please, Henge?” Lily asked.

She inclined her head a little.

“Sure.”

Lily walked directly to where the rest of Henge’s family stood. Perhaps she should have addressed Thaad – being the eldest – but she went to Ai and embraced her.

“Friend Ai!” She whispered to her ear as she held her dearest friend. “Is this really okay?”

She felt Ai nod, then she eased Lily a bit away from her.

“All of us know about your belief in a god; why Henge has taken the step of regarding it as truth is a puzzle to us,” Ai said with a smile. “We’re not saying she’s wrong, but rather that she has seen something we have not!”

“Even I must confess that, after you were shot, I prayed to your god…” Ai blinked a little and looked away.  Really?

There was a splash behind her as Fausta’s hand slapped her shoulder. Lily looked up at her wild, emerald eyes.

“Fausta?”

“Please, Miss Lily,” she said in her low, rich voice. “Take care of little Henge.  And, show us this thing.”

There was a tug at her shirt. She turned.

Henge stood in the low surf. Her face its usual mask with her mouth slightly open.

“Now?”

Lily smiled and blinked at the tears that were just starting.

“Uh… kneel down, my beloved step-daughter!” She cried.  There.  “Okay!  Uh…”

Just do this! God, help me!

Lily took both hands and scooped up some seawater. She poured it over Henge’s head.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Lily heard the cry of a sea bird as what looked like a ray of light from the sun split the usual monotony of their sky. Henge looked up to her, blinking some of the salt water out of her eyes.  She crossed herself.

“Thank you, step-mom. You’ve saved me.”

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