Excerpt of Steve McEllistrem’s THE DEVEREAUX DEITY

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Chapter 6

BY STEVE MCELLISTREM

Jeremiah studied Curtik. The boy had grown so much in the past year, and yet he still seemed prone to fits of immaturity. Did he really believe in God now? Or was he playing some sort of game with Hannah? Curtik had never really gotten along with her. And yet Jeremiah knew that Curtik had been searching for answers ever since his return to Earth so, unlikely as it seemed, he might have chosen to find meaning in God.

“I just think it’s possible,” Curtik said, “that there’s a God. Like Hannah, I don’t believe it’s the God from the Bible or any of those religious texts, but it might be some sort of fantastically intelligent creature and, if it chose to contact us, why wouldn’t it reach out to our most intelligent person?” Curtik gestured to the holo-projection of Devereaux.

Jeremiah looked at Devereaux. “What do you think, Professor?”

Devereaux shrugged. If Jeremiah didn’t know better, he’d have sworn the great man was still occupying his own body rather than a Wong-Tech robotic one. Still, there was something slightly off about the way he carried himself now.

“I haven’t believed in God for a long time,” said Devereaux. “But this. . .well, it doesn’t seem possible that someone could hack into my mind and plant a message there. I’m running diagnostics as we speak but I’m finding no indicators of an outside attack.”

“So, could there be a God?” Zora asked.

Devereaux shrugged. “It depends on how you define God. But yes, I suppose it’s possible.”

Lendra said, “I still don’t believe it is. It’s probably a gifted hacker or a group of sophisticated hackers, who. . . .”

Her voice trailed off.

“What is it?” Dr. Poole asked.

“I just got a message from God too,” Lendra said, tapping her interface.

“What does it say?” Hannah asked.

“It says, ‘Turn to the light and you shall see.’ I’m not sure what that means.”

“Out there?” Zora suggested as she pointed to the windows.

Jeremiah got to his feet. He found it extremely frustrating that even simple movements like rising from a sofa caused him agony. He almost wished he could take Devereaux up on his offer to eliminate the pain but if he did, the magnates and despots who ran the world would find ways to use him again, to turn him into their weapon. No matter how determined Jeremiah was to avoid their call, all they’d have to do would be to threaten Sophie or Curtik or Zora and he’d be bound to answer. That was partly why he kept away from them. He didn’t want anyone to know how much they meant to him.

Devereaux, smart as he was, should have known better. After all, Jeremiah had been sent after him several years ago and a great many people had died. If Jeremiah were to regain the powers he once possessed, or increase them like he had on the Moon for that brief, terrifying moment, he could scarcely imagine the lengths they would go to in order to manipulate him.

No one had said anything to him. No one had to. He knew if he were to become the physical specimen he once was, they would want to control his mind too. He’d seen just such a proposal from one of CINTEP’s analysts, buried in one of Eli’s old files. So he knew Lendra had seen it and probably President Hope as well.

He hadn’t appreciated before just how systemic the problem was, just how sophisticated the efforts at controlling the population had become. He walked to the windows and looked out. The others — all except Jay-Edgar and Hannah, who remained behind as Jay-Edgar’s guard — joined him.

For a moment all he saw was the city at night: the White House (finally restored after the Las-cannon attacks by the cadets) and the Capitol lit up, the Lincoln and Washington Monuments standing out, while the Jefferson Monument sat in semi-darkness, still in the process of being rebuilt. Then he looked up.

Clouds covered the sky, making it difficult to be certain, but as Jeremiah watched he thought he detected strange movements, as if he were watching a time-lapse vid that had been manipulated by computer. “Up there,” he said.

The clouds gave off an eerie light, as though lit from within, and began to thin in spots, letters gradually taking shape in the form of holes in the clouds, exposing the night sky behind them — black letters inside white clouds, forming the words:

STOP MAKING WAR – GOD

“Can you see this?” Jeremiah asked Devereaux.

“I see the vid,” Devereaux replied.

“How could someone do that?” Jay-Edgar asked.

“I don’t know how any person or group of hackers could do such a thing,” Dr. Poole replied.

“I confess I’m at a loss as well,” said Lendra.

“The President is calling me,” Devereaux said. “I can conference her in via holo-projection if you wish and if she’s amenable.”

“Go ahead,” said Lendra. She returned to the area in front of her desk, as did Dr. Poole. Zora and Curtik stayed by Jeremiah’s side.

The lettering continued to hold its shape. Jeremiah couldn’t conceive of a way to accomplish what had just been done without drones or some sort of sophisticated laser system, but either of those methods would certainly be detected by the security measures in place.

“Hello, all,” President Hope said. “We have a problem, as you’re no doubt aware.”

“The message from God,” said Lendra.

“Messages,” President Hope said. “There have been at least 47 that we know of around the world, some of them in the clouds like the one above the White House, some of them suddenly appearing on the walls of buildings facing various capitals, and one a message sent from the government of Qatar to all its citizens — although the government of Qatar insists it sent no message.”

Jeremiah turned from the window to face the President. “Have you spoken with the Vatican?”

“Hello, Jeremiah,” President Hope said. “It’s good to see you again. I hope the pain isn’t too bad tonight. Why the Vatican?”

“I’m curious what the world’s religious leaders say. Do they believe it’s God or do they think it’s an elaborate hoax? And have they received messages from God as well?”

“I’ll contact them shortly,” President Hope said.

“They received a message,” said Devereaux. “Accessing it now — ‘The time for different faiths is over. All are equal in my eyes.’”

President Hope said, “There are a few other things. First, the Department of Defense received a message from God on one of its encrypted computers, which means that these hackers have somehow gotten inside a supposedly secure system. Second, I also received a message on my private PlusPhone from this God, which also should not have been possible.”

“What did your message say?” Lendra asked.

“‘Accept the truth. I am coming.’ It was also signed by God,” President Hope said. “Vice President Rodriguez thinks we’ve reached the end times. I suppose that’s possible, but if it isn’t actually God, we need to figure out who it is and how they’re doing it before these attacks escalate.”

“And if it is God?” Curtik said. “Some sort of supreme being? What then?”

“I don’t know,” President Hope replied. “It would depend on what he, or it, wants.”

“Well, is there some way to contact this God?” Dr. Poole asked. “Some way to ask what it wants?”

“There doesn’t appear to be,” said Devereaux. “How about your message, Ms. Riley?”

“It came in without an ID tag,” Lendra replied. “No way to reply or even track it that I can see.”

President Hope cleared her throat. “Finally, Professor, I wanted to speak with you about the Susquehanna Virus. We’ve picked up several more threats, not directed at us for the moment. One originated in Beijing and was addressed to the Chinese President. Apparently a group known as Nexus 8 is threatening to release a new version of the virus if the Chinese Government doesn’t free all its members. We’re not certain what Nexus 8 is. Do you have any idea?”

Devereaux went still for a moment. This was why he didn’t seem completely human anymore — his ability to stand like a statue. Jeremiah didn’t recall him doing that before his consciousness entered a robotic body.

“Nothing certain,” Devereaux finally said. “I have suspicions. The Chinese experiment with free-will robots was named the Nexus Project, and the robots who took over the Chinese ship that was headed for Mars were robots with free will. But I can’t say for sure that the two are connected.”

“What about the other threats?” Dr. Poole asked.

“The second one originated in Germany and the third in Spain,” President Hope replied. “They both came from relatively unknown terrorist cells seeking to overthrow their respective governments. All three came within the last hour. That’s too great a coincidence to be ignored.”

“So they’re probably connected to each other,” said Lendra.

“And possibly to this group of God hackers,” Zora added.

“What makes you say that?” Curtik asked.

“The timing. Someone is planning a major disruption to the world’s governments.”

“Interesting idea,” Jeremiah said. “What do you think of that, Professor?”

They all turned to Devereaux, who had gone still again. For a few seconds, he said nothing. Then he shook his head. “It’s possible. I’m sorry. This message I received is bothering me. I can’t trace it at all. I need to shut down all external communications for a while to see if I can ascertain how my security was breached.”

“Hold on a minute,” Jeremiah said as the holo-projection of Devereaux vanished.

“Damn,” Jeremiah said. “There’s something else we need to consider and that’s the possibility that whoever is behind this wants to get Devereaux out of the game.”

“Distract him by making him concentrate on this God message?” Lendra said.

“If so, it’s working.”

Lendra said, “What do you want us to do, Madam President?”

“We’re sending your tech analysts the metadata from the DOD intrusion. I need you and Jay-Edgar to use your hacking skills. Find out what you can. If these hackers can infiltrate our Defense computers, they can hack into anything — power plants, hospitals, practically every car on the road. They can create chaos. They have to be stopped.”

“And the virus?” Dr. Poole asked.

“I’ve asked the Germans, Spanish and Chinese to turn over whatever information they have,” President Hope replied. “I don’t know how forthcoming they will be, but do whatever you can.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Dr. Poole said.

“There’s one other thing,” President Hope said. “Some of my advisors believe Devereaux is behind these hacks. They say he is the only one who might possess the ability to do all this and they want him shut down immediately.”

“That’s crazy,” Dr. Poole replied. “He’s never shown any inclination to power or violence.”

“I happen to agree with you, but now that he’s signed off, do you think it’s possible he could be behind it? What I mean is, does he have the skill to create all this chaos?”

Jeremiah felt sick. He wondered how much of this suspicion was directed at Devereaux by people who disagreed with and were threatened by his ideas.

“It seems unlikely,” Lendra said. “I don’t see how one person, even someone as talented as Devereaux encased in an organic computer, could do so much at the same time.”

“Very well. I’ll accept that for now. Good night.” President Hope’s image vanished too.

“What was that all about?” Zora asked.

“I think it was a warning to Devereaux,” Jeremiah said. “He’s made lots of enemies over the years.”

“And Devereaux, even though he isn’t connected right now, will surely access the conversation and become aware of it.”

“He’s probably already aware of it,” Jeremiah said. “He probably knew as soon as President Hope’s advisors informed her.”

“So what’s our first move?” Curtik asked. “Who do I attack?”

“There’s no one to fight just yet,” Lendra replied.

“Well, I have to fight somebody. Who is Fowler connected to? Perhaps I can go after him a little harder. Scare him with an attack on his home. What do you think?”

“That’s premature,” Jeremiah said. “And it might force him to retrench. We don’t want him to feel personally threatened yet.”

“Well, we have to do something. What media companies is he in cahoots with? Lendra?”

They all looked at Lendra. She in turn looked at Jeremiah. He shook his head. “That’s as much as we can do at the moment,” said Lendra. “We need to do some more research.”

Jeremiah started for the door. He tried to move smoothly, as if he weren’t in agony. “I’ll go see Devereaux in person. He may be able to enlighten us on the next step to take.”

“What about getting rid of the pain?” Zora asked. “Are you going to talk to him about that?”

“I will.”

“If it can make your life better,” Lendra said, “you should consider it.”

If. All benefits come with a cost. And Jeremiah wasn’t sure how expensive this fix would be. But based on past experience, the cost would be enormous. Why couldn’t they just let him walk away?


Steve McEllistrem has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. His novels include The Devereaux Dilemma, which was a finalist for a 2014 International Book Award, its  sequel The Devereaux Disaster, a finalist for a 2015 International Book Award in Science Fiction, The Devereaux Decision, named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the Midwest Book Award and the International Book Award, and The Devereaux Deity, recently named a finalist for a 2017 Midwest Book Award.
In addition, he is one of the editors of — and a contributor to — Boundaries Without: The Calumet Editions 2017 Anthology of Speculative Fiction.
He has also written numerous nonfiction books, including Higher Education Law in America and Deskbook Encyclopedia of Employment Law. He has been a producer and host of Write On! Radio in Minneapolis, where he has interviewed local, national and international authors, for many years. He tweets with the handle @SteveMcEllis.

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