The archangel of judgement glided back down towards the nave of his cathedral, silencing a choir of relievers who stopped in unison to bow low as the he passed. As he reached the confessional, the evensong burst back into life in his wake.
"Glory," they sang, "Glory to the Lord of Hosts, who creates the evening twilight. Glory to He who judges the world."
Dominic settled the folds of his hood and turned back to nod gravely at them in acknowledgement. It was a heavy burden that had been entrusted to him, a responsibility that he strongly felt that no other angel in Heaven could even have contemplated. To labour for millenia without even a word of encouragement or approval from the Father, knowing that he would be hated and reviled behind his back, that angels would have to be dragged to prayer and to confession -- duties they should undertake willingly; it was a hard task. He paused for a moment of meditation on the nobility of his position and the difficulty of the tasks ahead, and ducked into the cubicle.
There was a minute of silence. No, not quite silence. Someone in the other cubicle was fidgeting with something.
"Speak," Dominic said finally, "And know that your confessions will be heard."
"What about confessions will be heard?" asked a bright, mellifluous female voice.
"My child, confession is a sacrament of penance by which your sins, of which there are probably many, may be heard, judged, and absolved before God. It is normal for supplicants to at least investigate the nature of the rite before seeking to benefit from it, in order to approach the serious matter of confession with an appropriate demeanor."
"You sound very interested in appropriate demeanors," said the woman. " Would you like to talk about it?"
Dominic could hear her tapping on something, perhaps long fingernails against the wooden chair. His resonance was picking up very little from the hidden speaker."Not at this time, child. Rather, I would hear your confession."
There was another furious round of tapping and another pause. Then she said brightly, "Forgive me, for I have sinned."
"I am listening, my child, " said the archangel. "In what way have you sinned?"
"Does that question interest you?"
The archangel glared at the inside of his cowl. Would it never end?
"Indeed, child. I maintain an interest in the wellbeing of all of the host."
"Can you elaborate on that?" she asked.
A set of quick, businesslike footsteps rang out against the paving stones of the cathedral, approaching rapidly.
"Their souls are in my keeping. Please continue with your confession."
"Why do you say 'in your keeping?"
"Their spiritual welfare was entrusted to me by the Master of the Universe. I am bound to that duty."
"How long have you been bound --"
Outside the confessional, someone cleared his (her?) throat meaningfully, and the woman's voice was cut off in mid-sentence. Dominic uttered a mental prayer -- "God give me strength" -- and opened the door. He would have recognised the austere figure in the white coat instantly, even if sparks had not been dancing and crackling about its hands.
"You. Out. Now," said Jean coldly to the occupant of the other cubicle.
A small Mercurian with eyes that shone like stars bowed his head, ducked out of the confessional, and knelt in front of the Archangel of Lightning. A Sony Vaio with extra speakers attached was cradled in his arms. "My Lord," he murmured, "She passed the Dominic test!!!"
Jean pointed blandly towards the exit and snapped his fingers, and the smaller angel vanished in a flurry of sparks. He turned to Dominic and eyed him impassively for a moment. "Accept my apologies for the disruption, Most Holy," he said, without a trace of apology in his tone.
"I rather think we should talk," stated the other archangel gravely, indicating the confessional.
Jean shrugged. "Very well, but make it brief. The trappings of your religious preferences are of little interest or use to me."
The pair settled themselves inside the carved wooden cubicles, a certain tension evident in the air even to the Seraph.
"You have created artificial intelligence?," Dominic asked.
"What of it?"
"It seems to me," said the archangel of judgement heavily, "That this would be a good time for you to unburden your soul of anything you wish to confess before myself and before God. Are you attempting to recreate man in your own image, brother?"
"Yet we had agreed in council that this 'technology' was inappropriate."
Jean snorted ungraciously. "Spare me the rhetoric," he said. "I had strike teams sent to kill two researchers last week to prevent humans from discovering faster-than-light travel, one destroyed for brain transplants, and yet another for AI. This week I have to deal personally with some petty tinkerer who has split the electron. I'm perfectly well able to determine which technologies are and aren't appropriate without the 'guidance' of a band of lunatic halo'ed do-gooders who can't think and wave swords at the same time."
"I see, brother," said Dominic softly. "Your opinions are noted."
"However. On reflection, I do wish to avail myself of the seal of the confessional."
There was a long pregnant pause. Both of the archangels remained inhumanly still, and everything fell silent other than the distant sound of voices rising in prayer.
"I have conspired with the enemy," Jean stated. "I have futhered the lesser evil in order to better combat the greater evil."
"I ... see. And do you repent yourself of this action, brother?"
Again Dominic paused, frozen to the core. His resonance revealed nothing about the speaker. "Please continue," he whispered icily.
"That was all. It occurs to me that this confessional procedure is not only antiquated but also wasteful of your valuable time. Had you considered installing facilities to allow remote confessions?"
"With whom did you conspire, brother?"
Silence fell over the confessional again, a long soft silence that swallowed the small rooms. After some minutes, Dominic opened the door and stepped outside. The other cubicle was empty. As the archangel's hand brushed against the round metal doorhandle, it gave him a nasty shock.
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