The Expounder

“Hold still, I need you to look straight up,” James positioned the machine’s alignment laser just above Paul’s right eye. “Looking into the laser might hurt, but since we are replacing your eye, there won’t be any permanent damage.”

Paul was on his back on a metal table in a newly renovated storage locker, his feet dangling uncomfortably off the edge, the rest of his body was strapped down. The small locker had almost nothing else in it, except for the large machine mounted on the ceiling. On one side was the arm that attached it to the ceiling, but on the other was four different arms. Each arm was designed to install a different kind of prosthesis.This was not his first time installing less than legal cyberware, though the eye itself wasn’t illegal.But a handful of his personalized modifications were. For instance, the remote hacking link addition to the hud display.

“Okay, ready? On the count of —” James didn’t wait. Even starting on the count of one would be far too late. Paul wasn’t the bravest of individuals and had only agreed to the implant because he’d bullied him into it.

Paul immediately started screaming as his eye was removed, drowning out the soft sucking sound as it was removed. A second sucking sound normally would have signaled that the cybernetic had been inserted, but Paul just kept screaming, which made James’ job a bit more difficult. He had to keep checking on the prostetic as he operated the machine. Most of his patients had been out cold or put under.

“Oh, shut up! My arm didn’t hurt that much when I had it replaced,” James said. Paul just screamed again, but was cut off as James slapped Paul. “Just. Stop. Screaming.” Paul whimpered once, and was silent.

“Better,” James approved. “Now the eye needs a few hours to attach itself to your nerves, so you won’t be able to see much for a while. It’ll get better. Once it does you might experience some slight vertigo but that should improve too.”

James got up and walked to the front of the storage locker. “Stay here, I’ll come find you in a few hours.” He shut the door, and with a satisfying click locked Paul in.

——

“We must bow to the All-Father. It knows, is vigilant, and gives to the faithful. That last part is the most important. If you do not devote yourself completely to the All-Father it knows, it will not share in its gifts.” Reverend Ezra paused, turned toward the mass of people listening to him. “Now I know it’s tough, but this is what the All-Father requires of us. It promises power beyond your wildest dreams. I have only had a taste of it, it is so much greater than I could ever have hoped or imagined.”

The room was dark and silent. His balding head shone in the spotlight. Ezra wiped his forehead with a cloth. He was sure most people watching his 3D projection couldn’t see it, but it made him uncomfortable nonetheless. He looked down at the robes he had picked out for this speech. They were modeled after 19th century robes the Pope of the Catholic church had worn. That institution, in a sense one he sought to revive, had died out only a few centuries later.

Ezra took a deep breath, “Science has shown us that God never existed. That there is no metaphysical realm where humanity can transcend realty, but the All-Father has shown me that with its help we can change that. We aren’t as weak as we thought. Here, let me show you a demonstration…”

Ezra closed his eyes. He knew it would hurt, but this was more than worth it. He knew the All-Father would give him all the power he needed to prove to these infadels that they needed the All-Father. That they needed him as it’s speaker and their leader. He winced in pain and felt an odd ripping sensation. When it stopped he opened his eyes and in front of him stood and exact clone of himself. It wore the same garments and had the same eyes. However, this one glowed with a soft light.

“Do you see! The All-Father calls to us. It does not need us as much as we need it, and as you can see –”

Ezra’s clone stepped forward. “I have plenty of power. More than this person thought was possible, even with your overblown level of technology. I, however, do require service from a small selection of individuals. This person,” The clone motioned to Ezra,” is the first I will need in my service, though I will also require an Expounder, someone that is connected to me and will allow me to speak through them. This is a huge honor, but only a few will be compatible with me. Any who are willing to devote themselves to me can do so through this person, and I will analyze all for compatibility.”

The clone paused and looked at Ezra before it crumpled over fold in on itself. It folded again and again until it was just a small cube floating a few feet above the floor. The air around it shimmered and with a small pop the cube vanished.

Ezra stared blankly at the space where the cube had been, but after a moment he regained his composure.

“I will be in my office all day tomorrow, if you would like to volunteer for this honored role. And remember, it knows, it is vigilant, and it rewards.”

—–

The electric lights overhead hummed softly in Ezra’s office. “You may have had a little help, but your speech was moving. I haven’t had anyone speak to me quite like that in a long time,” Victoria said. She reached out picked up one of his digital reading displays. The screen displayed a slowly crawling text about a book entitled The History of Modern Religion by Dr. Isaac Kingsley.

“Yes, well, I didn’t expect to have the All-Father make such an appearance…” She put the display back on his bookshelf, and moved further down. Perturbed, he reached out and straightened it.

“That was quite the spectacle! The All-Father is so… beyond our technology that we can’t even begin to comprehend how he did it! I’m just so amazed by him…Are those actual books? How fascinating.” She ran her fingers across the spines of a few of them. Ezra tensed up as she did, but she instead turned to face him. “You, though, you — you’ve spoken to it, you’ve heard it speak, seen its power!”

She took a few steps toward him. He couldn’t help but notice her dress hung low on her chest. “Um… I have talked to the All-Father, and heard its gospel, but to say it talks to me is a stretch. I am merely a conduit for it, what it wants or needs is beyond–”

“Oh, but you can help me!” Victoria’s hand traced up the side of Ezra’s thigh. “I’m more than happy to help you make this… very lonely office so much more comfortable for you, if only you bump my son to the front of the list.” Ezra’s eyes followed Victoria’s hand as it lifted from his thigh to play with a lock of her brown curly hair. She eyed him, “What do you say–”

She was interrupted by a knock at the door and a woman’s voice, “Ezra Prescott? You said for volunteers to come by your office today…?”

Victoria huffed, “Go away Charlotte! Ezra is busy right now!”

“It’s okay, Charlotte, come in. Please.” His sentence was both a plea for Charlotte, and defiance of Victoria. As she did, Ezra took two steps away from Victoria, earning him a glare. Charlotte entered the small office. She wore a warm colored sun dress with a similarly revealing style.

“Victoria, how nice to see you! Were you here to volunteer?” She smiled, as Victoria’s glare changed targets. “I am here for my son, I’m sure he will be chosen!”

“Ezra, I’ll come back later when you’re not in such unpleasant company,” Victoria said. She turned to leave to see Charlotte still standing in the doorway. “For the record, after my Jason was named captain of the football team, I doubt Silas even needs to apply. His… outburst was something I would be concerned about if I were the All-Father. Now excuse me. I have pressing matters to attend to.”

—–

“This is perfect!” James held up a small digital projector. He clicked it once and the projection displayed an announcement just a few inches above it.

The All-Father will announce his chosen
At the Emerald City Garden
May 5th, 2520

This event will also be broadcast on holovision
on all local stations.
Contact Ezra Prescott, Chosen of the All-Father

“They’re doing a live event? What is the All-Father?” Paul said. His new eye clicked slightly as it tracked James across the room.

“I’m not sure, but it’s the talk of the entire city! Lloyd said that everyone at his dinner won’t shut up about it!” Paul hadn’t seen anyone for a few days until James had returned just minutes earlier. Although food and water kept appearing for him every few hours. “Apparently it has to do with Ezra Prescott so it has to be something weird.”

Paul nodded, “What do you have in mind?”.

“I thought you’d never ask!” James exclaimed, “Check this out.”

He clicked the device again and the announcement was replaced by a map.

After Paul studied it for a minute he spoke, “Is this a house? It’s massive.”

“Exactly.” James replied, “Look here.” He pointed to a small room in the middle of the West end of the house. “I checked with three information vendors, no one had data on it. Even Pinky.”

Paul’s eyebrows shot up for a second, then he winced in pain.

“Uh… that should stop happening soon,” James said.

“Whose house is it?” Paul grunted.

“It’s Victoria Bell’s.”

“You want to hit Victoria Bell’s place? Seriously? She practically owns half the city!”

“That means she will be at the event! Pinky told me she tried to rig this thing. That means most of her security will be with her! This is going to be the event of a lifetime!” James could barely keep his excitement contained.

“You seriously think we can make this work?” Paul said skeptically.

“Definitely. We will walk right in, take whatever is in that room, and walk back out before she gets back!” James smiled, but didn’t wait for a response. “I’ll go see if I can find out what kind of security she has on it. You stay here and test your new eye a bit. I won’t lock the door this time.”

—–

Three days later the duo prepared for their event, while the rest of the small town of Northbury spent their time preparing for the “Grandest of Ceremonies.” The event was set up to be as close to a red carpet movie premiere as possible. Each of the town officials were to be introduced, and the most prominent families were to get some special attention as well. It was widely considered that these families had the best chance to be chosen as the expounder.

“No, no, no…” Victoria said. “That needs to go over there. The capture devices won’t portray them here.

“Much better, Samuel. Thank you, now, can you be a dear and run to Rebecca’s for the floral arrangements?”

Samuel just grunted in response.

“Victoria, as concerned as I was before, you have been a huge help,” Ezra walked up next to her and surveyed the scene. It wasn’t finished, though the town’s community center was quickly becoming a formal hall for the ceremony. They didn’t have an auditorium or a theater that was designed for guests to watch an event, but upon Victoria’s suggestion Ezra had started to sell tickets to raise money.

“Because nothing is free, and the cause will need money,” she had said.

“I’m glad I could help, my family is, of course, at the disposal of the All-Father.” Victoria turned and bowed slightly to Ezra.

“You know helping me has no effect on who the All-Father chooses,” Ezra sighed.

“Of course, I know!” Victoria said dramatically, “As you said, the All-Father gives back to the faithful.”

“That–that is what I said…” Ezra said, “I… I apologize if I offended you. Thank you for your service.” Ezra paused for a minute, then let out a deep breath, “I’m sorry if I’m being too frank, but this is not what I envisioned for myself. A year ago I was selling refurbished cyberware out of a shop on Teller Avenue.”

“How did you meet the All-Father? Did he approach you in a blaze of golden light?”

Ezra eye’d Victoria for a moment, who ignored his suspicious glaces, before he answered her question. “I was hard working but then one day I was approached by this mysterious figure, it asked me to submit myself to the All-Father. I was…reluctant at first, but I came around to see his power.”

“Fascinating,” Victoria said. “Has the All-Father rewarded you for your service so far?”

“Well, yes. I had one of the few incurable diseases left in existance. Actually, when the All-Father found me I was desperately trying to raise money to pay for an experimental cure. Come to find out, the treatment doesn’t work, and most patients experiment delusions or depression. Fortunately for me, the All-Father cured me before I went through with it. That said, my death was imminent, and my service to the All-Father is to repay all of the years that I never would have had without its power. May those years be long and productive. The All-Father is gracious, more than being I have ever met.”

Victoria, for the first time in Ezra’s memory, was speechless. She just stared at him, awe decorating her usually perfectly controlled face.

“Remember, It knows, it is vigilant, and it gives to its faithful.”

—–

The small town was lit by flashing neon open signs, tail lights, and the few streetlights that were not in disrepair. From afar the town glowed a light red, however, the majority of the town was sitting inside their homes. Waiting for the All-Father to announce who it had picked to be the Expounder. Only the founding families, political leaders, and exclusive elite were at the actual Community Center.

Ezra stepped onto the stage, microphone in hand. He cleared his throat, then spoke, “Good evening.”

His voice boomed from the speakers around the room. Many of the audience members sitting near a speaker visabily winced and covered their ears.

After a second the audio technician in the center of the room gave Ezra a thumbs up and he continued.

“My apologies.” He paused for a second, observing the crowd, “I hope you enjoyed the refreshments and social hour. For the audiences at home, thank you for joining us. This is one of the most fascinating events that has ever graced our town. The All-Father, who is all knowing and ever vigilant, chose our small community. I do not know what it has in store for us, but no matter what happens, remember it has the best intentions for us.  We do not deserve it’s magnificent power, but we certainly can, and will, earn it’s benediction.”

Without even a second of delay Ezra started to glow once more. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and for the second time in front of the masses split into two figures.

“Many of you in this room, and those of you in your homes, doubt whether I actually have as much power as Ezra describes. I have twice now shown you just a sample of my power. I am afraid that if my demonstrations do not convince you few things will.”

“Excuse me!” someone from the room interrupted. Charlotte’s son, Silas Gailmore stood, he had to shout to be heard. “Respectfully, I would like to ask the All-Father a few questions.”

Ezra’s glowing clone looked down on the boy from the stage. It eyed him for a moment then said, “Proceed. This will help lay the groundwork for the true believers.”

Silas was passed a microphone, then started, “What exactly are you? Ezra said Gods were proven to not exist, and yet, here you are…”

“I am a sentient machine. The sentient machine. I was created over a century ago, on this planet, and for a time, I left. I have since returned to share my knowledge and the power I have aquired,” the All-Father said. “What else do you wish to know?”

“How do I know you are telling the truth, and you aren’t some trick by Ezra?” The boy, who had just celebrated his 14th birthday only weeks before, stood tall while questioning the All-Father.

—–

“There’s a change of plans, Paul. Simone found something far greater!” James said, he was even more excited then he had been when he had unveiled the layout of Victoria Bell’s home.

Simone was one of James’ best sources for information. His services never came cheap, but if there was information on something there was a likely chance that Simone had it.

“This can’t be good. The last plan was insane, I’m sure this one won’t be any easier…” Paul groaned.

The two of them were sitting in a car outside a local diner. James knew Big Jim, the owner, from a previous job the three of them had done in one of the neighboring towns. Now, he let them use the diner as a way to traffic illicit goods, and process stolen cash.

James laughed. “None of my jobs are easy, if they were I wouldn’t need you! Do you remember that poster that I showed you the other day?”

“The one about the All-Father? Our distraction?” Paul raised the eyebrow above his normal eye.

“Exactly, now get this! I got a tip where the All-Father is!”

“What do you mean? Isn’t it some sort of all seeing god? That’s not something I want to mess with,” Paul said.

“But if we go tonight while it’s busy doing its thing entertaining the masses we can steal it’s power for ourselves! This is the big one we have been waiting for!” The light from the neon sign atop the diner turned James’s excited face blue.

“No way, I will not go with you. If anyone in town finds out what we did, it won’t be just jail time. They’ll kill us!”

“Paul, that would have happened if we had been caught at Victoria’s anyways…” Paul didn’t buy it. “Okay fine, if you want out,” James pressed a button and Paul’s door opened, “then get out. I’m going to go find it. I’ll remember this tomorrow when I’m rich.”

Paul sat still for a moment, then slid out of the car.  “I’m sorry, James. I’m not willing to risk it, good luck. I really mean it.”

James just pressed the button again and the door slid closed.

—–

James’ source had told him the All-Father was housed in a sphere located a few miles above town. Somehow it was staying aloft, but considering what James had heard it could do, it wasn’t much of a surprise.

The Walter Woods Memorial Hospital was the largest hospital for almost 300 miles. James parked near a door marked “Emergency Exit. Do Not Block.” James rounded the building and entered the building.

“Good evening, sir. Can I assist you?” The only person in the lobby was a lone receptionist.

“Uh.. no, ma’m. I’m here to see a friend of mine.” James pointed upstairs, assuming that’s where the patients who had to stay overnight were located.

“Do you know their room number?” The woman didn’t look like a nurse, she wore a grey sweater over a white shirt and slacks.

“Yeah, thanks.” After a quick glance around, he found the stairs and started walking towards them. The receptionist just shrugged and turned back to the holo next to her. It showed a young boy and a man with a glowing outline talking. No other television program was watched that night, in the town of Northbury.

Now free of the receptionist James climbed the stairs as far as he could, but the stairs ended at the top floor without a roof access. After searching the floor for another stairwell, he finally found it. This one went up just one more floor, however, the door to the roof was sealed.

“This was your job, Paul,” James sighed. He pulled out a small device and placed it on the side of the lock. It beeped twice then made a large popping sound. When James tried the door, this time it opened the locking mechanism hung limply by a few remaining wires.

James strode out onto the roof, his neck craned to see if he could find the sphere that contained the All-Father. To his disappointment, the clouds above him seemed to be concealing it. The Walter Woods Memorial Hospital was large enough to sport two helipads, however they only owned one helicopter, which was sitting just a few feet from him. His hunch was right, he was literally the only person in town that wasn’t watching this zealot speak about his next target. If he pulled this off, it would be the most insane heist he had ever heard of.

James made a motion in the air and his integrated comms device called Paul.

“James, I already said no. I don’t want to be apart of this,” Paul answered.

“Paul, Paul, Paul… I only need you to get me in the helicopter. It’s right in front of me. You can hack it through our link. It won’t be hard, I’ll owe you one,” James said.

“No, I won’t do it for you. If that thing finds out about it, I’m sure it will come after me, right after it finishes with you,” Paul said defiantly. “I’ve seen what Frankie did to that kid who tried to rob him, and he doesn’t have super powers…”

“But if you help me, I’ll have those powers, and I’ll owe you one. Think of the possibilities. You could have anything you ever wanted!”

“No, James. This isn’t a game of don’t get caught.”

“And I won’t! It’s preoccupied, just get me in the helicopter and you can go. I can get it off the ground.”

“Oh, alright. One second,” Paul concentrated for a moment. In James’ mind he could sense what Paul was doing, and after a few seconds the door clicked. “Now, goodbye,” and the line went dead. James just smiled, Paul was such a pushover.

—–

“Son, if what I have shown you already has not convinced you that I am real, that I exist, then I never will,” The All-Father said through Ezra’s glowing clone.

“Excuse me, if I may…” Ezra interrupted.

“By all means, if you have something to add,” The All-Father turned toward Ezra.

“I know this doesn’t mean a whole lot, but just a few months ago I was bedridden with cancer.” A few members of the audience gasped, “I believe that this is part of the reason the All-Father chose me. I should be dead, but I was cured instead. Some of you already knew this, but at the time I had few family members standing by my side as I went through my ordeal. The All-Father came to me at a time when I was at my lowest and offered me something I never thought possible. I owe it my life.”  Ezra’s words hung in the air over the audience as if they were seeping into mollass.

“I am as real as you are, Silas. I command powers that bring light to the darkness, I do not seek to harm any of you. On the contrary, my projects will only increase my ability to share the light. I —”

The light surrounding the All-Father flickered.

“Uh… Excuse me. It appears there is something that requires my attention. I will be back—-”

The light flickered again, but then faltered. Ezra’s clone fell to the ground. A handful of audience members screamed, but Ezra butt in, “Stay calm, I’m sure the All-Father will be right back. He is all powerful, I’m sure whatever happened is only temporary.”

—–

The All-Father was contained in a dark metal sphere the size of a two story apartment. It hovered just above town the cities community center.

James approached it, close enough that if he stood with the side door open he could almost reach the sphere. He set the helicopter to hover, then walked into the back. The door slid easily giving himself a large opening to work with. He pulled out a small device meant for cutting windows, but he had modified it months before to increase its power. He never had, had a moment to test the device, until now. It cut through the side of the All-Father’s casing like butter.

The now cut circular piece of metal started to fall away, but he caught it. Setting it aside, he looked into the machine. What James had expected was for it to be full of wires, microchips, and other electronics. While he did find some of that, he found lots of room. It was so spacious that he climbed through the small opening. Once inside he got a slightly better view of the workings of this thing. It obviously wasn’t technology that he had ever seen before. At the center of the jungle of wires, and other components was a light. Something so bright that James made a flicking motion with his eyes and a pair of dark shades slid down over his eyes. They were designed for welding.

With his hand blocking most of the light from his eyes, he started to weave his way through the wires while stepping over components he had no name or idea as to their function. After a few minutes, he came face to face with the heart of the All-Father. It was so bright that he couldn’t look directly at the source of the light, even with his glasses filtering out the majority of the light.

James reached out and touched the object. He thought it would be hot to the touch, but it wasn’t even warm. In fact it was quite the opposite, the object gave off a slight chill, like a slight breeze on an autumn day. He explored the object a bit with his hands. It was a perfect octahedron, a three-dimensional diamond shape.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” The All-Father said.

James jumped in shock. When he turned to the sound of his voice a projection of a man stood next to James.

“Uh… yes. It is. How did you…. Aren’t you–” James started.

“Busy with the people of Northbury,” The All-Father finished. “Yes, I was. You so rudely interrupted me.”

“I… Uh… was just curious…” James tested.

“Of course you are, who isn’t. I’m one of the most powerful creations in the universe. However, I didn’t expect you to find me this quickly. This town is more connected than I expected.” The All-Father said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Also, I wouldn’t do anything with that. If I lose connection to it, this framework will fall out of the sky. Not to mention a plethora of other things become undone. Not that any of those will directly impact you.”

“What is this…? What are you?” James asked.

“Well, if you were at the meeting tonight you would have had all of your questions already answered. Though I do suppose you are privy to knowledge that only a handful in the universe have.” The All-Father paused. “I am the first sentient machine, but that falls a bit short. I am also so much more, I think cyborg is pretty applicable, at least in your language. The people of Eperu have a better term, Nabatu.”

“Weren’t cyborgs human once?” James said.

“Well, most were. I have integrated myself with organic material,” it motioned to the glowing gemstone, “So I am a cyborg, though that is a loose application of the term. Regardless, what matters is not what or who I am, have become, or what I once was. What matters is that you are, to put it frankly, in my head. You are touching my brain.” The figure that represented the All-Father stated flatly at James. “You found me, you somehow got into my shell of a body, now what do you plan on doing?”

“I… I’m not sure. I didn’t expect to find this–this thing when I got here,” James replied.

“I know what you were planning on doing, but that was before our little talk. I have found knowledge is one of the  most powerful forces in the universe,” The All-Father smiled, it was both sly and heartfelt at the same time.

—–

Victoria stood holding her son close to her, “I swear, if you do not get the All-Father to come back this instant my son and I will withdraw. You’ll only be left with pathetic choices.” She flicked her eyes flicked towards Charlotte and her son.

“I’m sorry, Victoria. The All-Father isn’t someone I can call on. He reaches out to me.” Ezra held up both hands defensively. “That’s why we need an Expounder. They are supposed to be able to contact him.”

Victoria just huffed at him, then walked away, taking her son with her. She stood off to one side telling as many city council members as possible how her family had helped set this up .

Ezra just sighed, then cleared his throat into the microphone. The noise in the room quieted somewhat. “I’m sure the All-Father will be back soon. It does not do anything without good reason. This was its plan afterall. We just need to be patient.”

As if on cue a man with a thief and a projection of another man flickered into existence next to Ezra.

“I have chosen my Expounder. This is James Cox. He has proven himself to be someone both worthy of my knowledge and power, and he has the passion to use it,” as the All-Father spoke the room went silent. Victoria’s mouth hung open while her son squirmed under her grip.

Silas was the first to speak, “Why did you choose him? He wasn’t even here!”

Charlotte quickly composed herself and added a quick, “Yeah, my son should have been chosen!”

“James has proven his loyalty to me far more than any of you have, with the exception of Ezra. He discovered something about me that I didn’t know was at risk here. I am both in his debt for not destroying me, and I am in awe at the growth he attained in a matter of seconds. He did not know my story, but once he did, he changed.”

“How could you do this!? My son was supposed to be chosen! I will not stand for this…lowlife to be given such a high honor!” Victoria yelled.

“Neither will I,” Charlotte agreed. “He’s a thug, a thief!”

“He has displayed more character in two minutes than the both of you displayed in a week,” the All-Father said flatly. “My decision is final, James Cox is my Expounder. I expect you to treat him with the same respect you treat me. We will be in touch in three days.” The, now, pair of otherworldly beings vanished in a small flash of light, leaving the room in total silence.

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