This is the third section of the fourth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
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“And the church never said that those on the Habitat were evil, that was a misinterpretation by those who would separate you from the cloth, it’s a gross misrepresentation by those who want to drive a wedge between the god fearing community and besides” he continued.
Iz sat at the back of the room listening to the man going through his speech about the history of the conflict and why reparations were not necessary by the church but were required of the congregation. At least that was how she saw it. From her perspective the story of how the clergy had reacted to the Habitat was not exactly consistent. While she expected this from any large group of diverse people the outcome for their followers had been a mess. The initial reaction to the discovery of a massive artificial object sharing the Earth orbit was a shock. That it proved the existence of intelligent life outside of Earth caused a schism that wouldn’t be even partially resolved until the Habitat was visited by the first human expedition. There had been a gross fracture along the lines of faith that whatever life had created the Habitat must have been part of God’s creation and to be welcomed, others declared that by definition because they were not on God’s Earth they were devils work and to be opposed. Some argued back that by definition since they lived in heaven they must be holy, and the arguments raged in as many arguments as there were voices. There were even those who declared that presence of the high technology was a sign of the atheist and heretic and so again they were to be opposed.
The visit to the Habitat might have come back with more scientific questions than it answered but at least it did resolve the schism about how to treat the life on the Habitat. It was all artificial life and to all reasonable definitions subservient to human requests. It was therefore safe to treat as one would a domesticated animal. At least the majority seemed to agree on that enough to debate the next question: should humans relocate to the Habitat as it so clearly wanted them to.
From Iz’s perspective the public argument was raged as to ‘did the Habitat class as heaven and therefore something to strive for’ or ‘is the Habitat temptation incarnate and therefore to be shunned’. Each religion and group came to their own conclusion but the word at least from the Vatican was that it was a test from God and that the faithful should not go to this evil place where temptation and vice were rife. The sceptic’s take on this proclamation was that it was more motivated by the desire to keep the flocks on Earth under control. However the proclamation was made and one billion Catholics over the world listened.
Many ignored this proclamation and went anyway. This left the church in an uncomfortable situation. Left on a planet where the infrastructure was degrading because of the mass exodus to the Habitat and the population was falling rapidly the choice was made to send a number of missionaries to the Habitat to ‘watch over those who have given in to temptation’.
The popularity of this astonished many in the clergy, freed of material needs and constrained in a world where the individual had all the freedom an individual could be given - provided they impacted no other individual against their will - morals and past traditions were tested strained and broken. Many saw the problems of such freedom and wanted guidance from others particularly with their copious time and near unlimited opportunity. A new age dawned for the church, but the past proclamation had tied their hands, this place was evil and the only hope for salvation was back on Earth, however those most in need were here and had no desire to return home to the hardships of Earth.
This was the cause of the current strife, some clergy had decided to set up local churches and consecrate the ground. The idea or at least reason given that it was people and acts that made a place holy so with the right intentions and deeds then a place for God could be carved in this unholy creation. This was the event she was attending, the consecration of the first church on the Habitat. Trouble was expected and this was in evidence by a large number of drones she had spotted around the room. Some were stationed very prominently near the doors, some were trying to blend into the crowd, however this was proving less than fully effective since they kept their silvered faces in keeping with the Habitat’s promise that it would not disguise itself or its servants around humans.
Iz relaxed back and tried to watch not the main speaker, but the group, particularly the way that they reacted to the heavy security presence. Well the Habitat would never be so crass as to call it security, often claiming that the drones themselves had decided themselves to attend interesting events. The issue of if the drones actually had free will or if they were merely puppets had never been satisfactorily resolved. Besides whether the drones had decided themselves or were there as security didn’t really matter because although the Habitat was known for its strict rule of not lying it had been known to mislead or at least stack the deck in the past.
Given the crowd of people was mostly those predisposed to a mistrust of technology the drones were being given a wide berth, Iz considered going up to speak to one to compare notes on their view of the event but in her experience it was so hard to tell the difference between those who were their own person and those that were slaved to the Habitat itself that for now she thought it best to just watch and learn. Besides, her getting friendly with the drones would separate her from any future chance to talk to those listening apltly in the audience, better to get their view first then the drones’.
The crowd seemed to be getting used to ignoring the drones and listening to the speaker, he was currently talking about the priorities of faith and its place within a structure of a worldview based upon reason, evidence, scripture and tradition. Latecomers were still arriving but the crowd stirred when one arrived with a drone hovering very close to him. Hovering drones were rare and new, that meant this one was new and that meant powerful. The drones that were around when people first moved to the Habitat appeared to be crude analogues of robots almost misshaped intentionally. Overtime new drones appeared that were more human form with the most common now being human shaped but with a liquid metallic skin that made them stand out. These drones were well known to be capable of shape shifting and some had been seen to be able to mimic surfaces around them and underneath their liquid skin contained propulsion engines giving some of them the ability to fly. The latest drones were a new hovering type that didn’t need visible engines to fly, breaking laws of physics as understood and therefore unnerving most who came across them for one reason or another. They were normally spherical but rumor persisted that that shape was maintained only to distinguish them from the older drones and that they possessed the same capabilities as their larger cousins. The Habitat claimed that these later drones were the product of its latest factories that were more subtle than the coarse factories it had built when it first arrived.
The drone itself carried the markings of a personal guard and this caused a stir. It was well known that such a drone existed for one of two reasons, first if the person in question was a public figure who was likely to be disturbed or hassled by the public – which wasn’t the case because this person was not familiar to anyone and the drone was hovering too close. This left the second case of a drone there to protect others from the person. While such things were rare these days in the early days of the Habitat they had been more common. The story went that those on the Habitat had infinite personal liberty with no laws as such – in fact the Habitat had stated in the past that it saw laws as “chains around the right of every sentient” and that “it was the responsibility of civilised society to help abhorrent individuals not imprison them” – the Habitat viewed the right of every individual to be equal to that of all others and so the price for impinging on another was to be followed for the rest of your life by such a drone. Such a drone would intervene and prevent any contact with that person with any other without a very carefully prescribed protocol to ensure that no personal liberties were being violated. In cases where the infringement was believed to be unlikely to happen again or of the kind that could be detected sufficiently in advance that a surveillance drone in private places combined with the public surveillance would be enough that should the person be detected doing something similar again a drone could be dispatched to intervene. Such a situation was for example commonly used in cases of accused or convicted rape where intervention could be dispatched in time to intervene and the knowledge that they were under constant surveillance and could therefore not complete the crime had always been enough to prevent a recurrence. For more severe crimes such as murder the person was always accompanied by a drone that could intervene at any time.
This placed this newcomer as someone who had committed a severe crime in the past or at least had done something severe while under surveillance to warrant this treatment. The crowd were therefore giving the newcomer a wide berth especially as their pads had no information on this person other than he was known to carry guns and explosives in public. While the lack of background detail was not a surprise given that in cases of punishment such as this the criminal would be given a new background so that they could start a new life if they chose without the past coming back to haunt them, some chose not to and the tattoos he had on his shoulder implied that he had had them reapplied to match those that he had under his previous identity.
Iz tried searching for any information on the newcomer but even with the tattoos as reference there was nothing to go by, it appeared the system was blocking her; which given the situation was not surprising, but still disappointing. She tried to narrow it down by searching through the criminal records from all those that had been shipped here. It didn’t do any good, with the majority of earth’s prison population having been sent here by cost cutting governments over a period of less than a year the records were highly confused. For the moment it seemed all that there was to do with this newcomer was to watch and wait.