Aphelion Issue 257, Volume 24
December 2020 / January 2021
 
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End Times

by David Barber


Another of the Children assassinated. Now Christians have their own murderous fanatics. With Rostov dead by his own hand and Father Rolf retired into silence, I am the sole witness. One day chroniclers of this madness will thank me.

The Vatican’s Office of Antiquities occupied the top floor of a building used to store furniture. Father Rolf sat at a desk with his back to the window.

"You claim Clive Rostov is responsible for this spate of thefts, these desecrations of Holy Relics," he was saying. He had the pale, pinched look of someone left out in the snow.

"The Church wouldn’t have given permission, so he just took them, yes."

I’d explained about our undergraduate years together. How I’d stayed in academia while Clive set up a biotech company. How he’d phoned me out the blue and spent six weeks in my lab learning the tricks of the trade, the details not mentioned in papers.

"I specialise in recovering ancient DNA, you see. That Homo floriensis sequence was mine."

The priest looked dubious. "The Holy Umbilicus, the Holy Prepuce, he took these relics for their DNA?"

"The DNA of Christ, yes. The Y chromosome sequence alone gives the father’s race and place of origin."

"These ideas are not new," Rolf shrugged. "Tertullian voiced them."

This was the weak link in my reasoning. I’d have published the sequence like a shot. Clive Rostov though, had kept silent.

"Look, I was at a conference in Madrid this summer. Visited the Cathedral in Oviedo that has a cloth stained with the blood of Christ. And they keep it in a chest, an unlocked chest."

The priest shook his head impatiently. "This is the nonsense of paparazzi."

"Must have been on Rostov’s list, must have been. I’m guessing he stole it, but they hushed it up. But I’m guessing that you’ve been told."

The window behind Rolf framed Vatican rooftops. Somewhere the Pope was in residence, and though he didn’t know it yet, he was in trouble.

For the first time there was uncertainty in the priest’s face. "The Church will make enquiries. And when Rostov is found, you and I shall visit him."

#

The western suburbs of Paris in the rain. Properties of the wealthy, screened by high walls and dripping foliage.

I told Rolf I’d figured out what Rostov was doing, but he indicated the taxi driver with a shake of his head.

"No, listen. He gets that DNA sequence, but he doesn’t publish. He doesn’t publish."

The taxi stopped by ornate iron gates and the priest told the driver to wait. We trudged up the driveway, rain pattering on Rolf’s umbrella.

Clive Rostov opened the door, ill-shaven and weary.

"I’m glad," he said finally. "I’m glad somebody found out."

He led us through bare rooms, complaining about an agency nurse.

"You got the sequence then, Clive."

"Eventually."

"And the cloning?"

"Surrogate mothers. All the implants took."

I think Rolf had never really believed it. "You are Catholic, why would you commit… there is no name for it."

"How else could I get the backing for my work? It had to be something like this." Rostov gestured towards me. "Ask him. He understands."

He pulled open tall double doors and in the dimness I could make out cribs, six cribs, and the aroma of flowers. And leaning over, was met by an ancient knowing gaze.

Six voices began chanting and I recoiled backwards into Rolf, the hairs on my neck standing up.

"I don’t know what it means," said Rostov dully. "But it frightens nurses away."

"Aramaic," Rolf said. "Perhaps we are being asked what in God’s name you have done."

He crossed himself, though it was too late for all that.


2020 David Barber

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