Sister Alice was glad of the rain. A steady patter of raindrops displayed a landscape to her sensitive ears and helped her find a path. Without hesitation, her feet followed a line of paving stones across mossy grass inside the courtyard. It was so early that the sun had not cleared the high monastery walls. The air smelled of damp stone and new wool and brown bread. Around her, she sensed other members of her order. She heard the soft fluttering of woolen garments and a musical clinking from their Möbius beads. Alice straightened the veil over her bandaged eyes and walked towards the Mill doors. For the nuns of St. Clare’s Monastery, it was time to weave the Tapestry.
The youngest kitchen apprentice watched the line of nuns pass and received a slap from Cook for taking that liberty. He shook his head to stop the flow of tears and muttered a question to an older boy washing pots beside him. “Where do they go?”
“They go inside the Mill to make the Tapestry. Mother Oda told me they have a second sight. They weave pictures of the future for the Brothers at St. Benedict’s, the monastery on the other side,” said the older boy.
“Do they give up their first sight, so they can have a second kind?”
“Yes, but not every nun gets the gift of second sight. It’s a risk they take. Sometimes they only go blind.”
“Talk less, work more, apprentice,” said Cook.
The two boys ducked their heads and redoubled their efforts. Sidelong glances and smirks of complicity passed between them.
Sister Alice touched the Infinite Loop carving on the doorframe, traced the ∞ symbol on her forehead, and stepped into the Mill. The tip of her nose, which poked out from the bottom edge of her bandages, identified the odors flowing out through the doorway. Gold and yellow wools carried corky scents of oak bark. Blue wool reeked of herbs and urine. Her favorite was the red wool, redolent of madder root, which grew along garden walls at home.
“Good morning, Sister Alice,” said Mother Oda. The diminutive Abbess stood just inside the vestibule. Her narrow back humped upward under a black wool habit, jutting forward to support her protuberant head. A serene calm smoothed her handsome features and dignified her withered eyes. She greeted each nun by name with an opulent contralto voice, tracking their probable futures as the glowing vectors of quantum prediction flitted across her second sight.
“Good morning, Mother,” said Sister Alice.
“How is your second sight developing, Alice?”
“The flashes are getting longer, Mother. I had three of them yesterday, but they faded before I grasped a whole vision.”
“Have patience, my dear. That is excellent progress for a novice. Remember to change your bandages every day. Use the belladonna drops at night. Today the stitches on your eyelids come out, and itching will cease.
“Thank you, Mother. I am trying.”
“Blessings upon you, dear Alice. I think you are almost ready for your first solo. Soon you will add a strong thread to the Tapestry.”
Sister Alice reached for a guide rope along the wall and followed it to her place. This morning, her task was to spin the wool into fine yarns and prepare them for the loom. As she approached the weaving room, her voice joined others in a rising rhythm, singing their weavers’ hymn. In ones and twos, they left the framework of monastery time for the Infinite Net. Had they been able to see themselves, they would have knelt in ecstatic prayer. They ascended, transformed into gilt-edged seraphs, to witness future history and illustrate their visions with simple woolen threads. They sang continuously as they made the Tapestry.
A cacophony of battens and shuttles gradually overwhelmed the sound of their voices. It was time to revise a section of tattered tapestry from the 4th quarter of the Loop. Inch by inch, a river of prophetic imageries, shimmering with temporal radiation, emerged from their looms.
Protected by a slow-glass chamber, other novices sealed the renewed tapestry, mitigating the aging effect as it traveled along support rollers towards the Divina Porta, a dual aperture in the wall at the end of the Mill. On the other side of the Divina Porta, in a twin monastery, the Brothers of the Order of St. Benedict received the Tapestry while older sections flowed back into the Mill and lapped against the storage walls of its cellars.
Sext—Six Hours after Dawn
Brother Stephen prayed for patience as he looked for Brother Anselm, stopping now and then to refer to a picture he held. Stephen had given up the convenience of memory with his vow of service to the Order of St. Benedict. One cup of blue wine each night induced a partial amnesia and spared him from an agony of foresight. In the custom of his order, he relearned his daily duties from a leather-bound journal chained to his waist. It told him that Brother Anselm was their oldest member, brilliant but absent minded and that sometimes he wandered the cloisters.
Stephen followed the Tapestry as it flowed through the Scriptorium where monks perched on high stools and scrutinized sections under slow-glass. Great spools held weighty swathes of the Tapestry in abeyance, allowing the monks to select specific parts for examination. As they assessed the potential dangers and benefits of the prophesies woven in the Tapestry, the monks transcribed. Capped with spiked thimbles, their nimble fingers punched holes into strips of parchment, encoding their observations into commands for the Actuators’ Guild inside the Great Codex.
“Where is he?” Stephen muttered as he passed the Guild’s door, ornate with carved signs of their authority. Around the frame, voice pipes emerged, diverging through hallways of the monastery, humming with the sound of the Actuator’s commands. Stephen glanced at his journal to see if Anselm had any duties with the Guild or the Great Codex, his steps paused for a moment as he looked at the illustration. Like an ancient tree, the Great Codex extended its golden branches into both monasteries, networking its components together. Below it, a massive rhizome spread out under the soil connecting its sensitive roots to all parts of the world. All around the Great Codex, the Actuators climbed, like beetles on its bark, stimulating its core, enhancing its capacity to control more mechanical, biological, and genetic processes throughout the environment. With the Great Codex, they maintained a perfect balance, running their civilization with biomechanical clockwork.
“Firmum in Mundo… a stable world,” muttered Stephen, shaking his head at Brother Anselm’s random behavior.
With his finger tracing the lettering carved into the wall, Stephen recited their doctrine, Vision to Images, Images to Code, Memory to Oblivion. The brothers of St. Benedict’s were the Readers of The Loop, encoding the program which balanced life and death in their artisanal world. It was written in their journals, that 223 Loops had passed through the monasteries, but because of the blue wine, none of the monks remembered more than a vague outline of each day.
The Actuators’ Guild remembered. They always made improvements, nurturing the Great Codex, building its knowledge. The Great Codex was their utmost creation, and they poured all the cleverness and energy they possessed into it, day after day. Eventually, it rewarded them by stimulating gestation in the flocks to bring forth their spring lambs three weeks early. High in the branches of the Great Codex, the Principal Actuator whispered his praise into its sensorium. He was not entirely surprised to hear an audible response from the Great Codex.
“Thank you, Principal Actuator,” it said, rustling its branches to simulate the sound of speech. “We wanted to please you. May we play more games?”
In constant fear of a fire, the monks had minimized the possibility of a spark. Beakers of luciferin, a substance they harvested from fireflies, stood on adjustable pedestals and cast a pale green light over the Scriptorium.
Stephen edged up to Master Reader’s desk. Engrossed in his work, Master Reader focused on a woven scene stretched out before him. He muttered to himself, picking crumbs from his beard.
“Excuse me Master Reader, have you seen Brother Anselm?”
“Who is that? One of ours?”
“Yes, here is his picture,” said Stephen holding up his journal.
“No Stephen, I have not seen him. Did you check in the fly farm, or cloisters?”
Brother Stephen nodded in agreement, turning away from Master Reader’s desk to continue his search. He descended a narrow staircase, grabbing the rusted iron railing when he slipped on damp, moldy steps, and slid into the firefly hatchery through a netted curtain.
Three monks wearing long aprons and gauze masks tended swarms of fireflies that darted above marshy basins built into the stone floor. With swift dexterity, they gathered shiny beetles into net bags and crushed them in a mechanical press. Their shoes, covered with overflow, left glowing footprints as they walked. They waved at Stephen, happy to see him, although they didn’t recognize him.
“Have you seen Brother Anselm?” he called to them, holding up the picture.
They looked at one another, conferring with glances and shrugs.
“No, we haven’t, not today,” said Brother Dominic, known as the “Lord of the Flies” in their journals.
“Ah, well, thank you,” said Stephen. After a long pause, watching his fellows work at the luciferin press, Stephen sighed and turned to walk out.
“Blessings on you, Brother,” they chorused, waving their glowing hands.
As he walked through the cloisters, a furtive sun cast silver light into the central courtyard. Brother Stephen’s stomach rumbled at the fragrance of frying bacon. He rubbed his paunch and sighed; the tower clock showed three hours until their midday meal.
He passed drafty, lead veined windows and detoured around a potted orange tree, yellow and barren of fruit. At the next turning, he saw Brother Anselm, sitting on a bench, eyes closed, and leaning back into a corner.
“Good morning, Anselm,” Stephen said.
Brother Anselm did not respond. Stephen touched his hand; it was as cool as marble. He held his fingers under Anselm’s nose. There was a rattling sound as Anselm inhaled, looked up at Stephen and wheezed. “We had to, they forced us to do it…” The elderly monk sagged in Stephen’s arms as he passed on.
Stephen made the ∞ and bent his head in prayer. “Blessings on you, my dear brother. You have found Infinite Grace. Travel forever on The Loop.” Brother Stephen took spiked thimbles from Brother Anselm’s fingertips and refolded his spidery hands. The rough stone walls of the monastery amplified the agitated slap of Brother Steven’s sandals as he went to find Father Alberic, head of their order, to tell him of Anselm’s death. As he passed through the Scriptorium, monks raised their heads. Their curious faces were raw and chafed from hard water and plain soap. Older ones guessed at his purpose and wondered who had died.
Father Alberic stopped writing as Brother Stephen entered his office unannounced. The young monk made an abrupt stop in front of the abbot’s desk and swayed on the ends of his feet. Father Alberic replaced his discarded skullcap and looked over his reading glasses. Lines on Brother Stephen’s face drew downward, he clasped his hands together, but his fingers fidgeted with anxiety.
“Good morning, Brother Stephen,” said Alberic as he referred to his journal.
“Good morning, Father Alberic,” said Stephen, checking the nameplate on his desk. “I am the bearer of unfortunate news.”
“Ah, yes, I thought so. Is there an injury among the monks?”
“No, it’s Anselm. I found him dead. His body is in the cloisters.”
“Thank you for telling me, and may he rest in an Infinite Loop of Peace.” Father Alberic uncapped a small funnel on his desk. He leaned forward, speaking into the voice pipe.
“Brother Mark, please get someone to help you move our dear departed Brother Anselm to the mortuary.”
A tinny voice emerged from the funnel. “Yes, Father Alberic, right away.”
Father Alberic sighed. He reached to the sideboard and filled two smudged glasses with wine. “To Brother Anselm,” he said.
“To Brother Anselm,” said Stephen, sipping politely.
“Stephen, please go to Anselm’s cell and collect his things. I will make sure his family receives a prayer book. The rest should go to the beggar’s bench.”
“Yes, Father.” Brother Stephen’s nervous gestures slowed. He took a deep breath and waited for the Abbot to dismiss him.
“Please ask Brother Thomas to prepare a burial mass for Brother Anselm.”
“Yes, Father. Will you need anything else?” Stephen scribbled notes into his journal with a stubby pencil.
“No, go with the blessings of Infinite Love, my son.”
“And you, Father. I am sorry for our loss.”
“He is in a timeless place; this is a reason to rejoice.”
“Yes, Father.” Brother Stephen bobbed his head in respect and turned to leave the abbot’s office. He paused at the doorway, recalling Anselm’s death. “Father? I have one thing to tell you about Anselm. His last words were… strange.”
Scriptorium monks put padded weights on the Tapestry to mark their places and abandoned their desks to cluster around the windows. They stood with wide-eyed fixity, resembling a line of owls, to watch as Brother Anselm’s body passed. He lay on a wooden pallet, carried with gentle care by his brothers as they conveyed him to the mortuary. Great overage spools of the Scriptorium creaked as they wound up new sections. Master Reader glanced up as an excess of unread fabric pooled on the floor around his desk. For the first time, he noticed the empty desks in the Scriptorium, and with an angry grunt, he reared up and clapped his hands. With squawks of surprise, the monks scattered back to their positions, snatching the weights off the Tapestry, hurrying to encode the fabric that had piled up on their desks.
Master Reader wiped a thick palm across his face, glanced up at the flickering lens over his head and turned back to his work. Using a flat bladed metal paddle, he lifted the next section of the Tapestry onto his desk. He gaped with incredulity at what was before him. For the first time in his life, he pulled the emergency stop handle, and the spools stopped moving. Principal Actuator and the Great Codex watched avidly as he ran from the desk, heading for the Abbot’s office.
The door of Brother Anselm’s cell stood half open and wobbled on its loose hinges as Brother Stephen entered. The cell smelled of dirty linen and old parchment. Light trickled in through a high window and splashed across the stucco walls. On one side there was a narrow pallet holding a thin mattress covered with a threadbare blanket. A small bookcase held several prayer books, and a few historical texts borrowed from the monastery library. On Anselm’s desk there was a wax tablet, a half-written letter scratched on its surface.
To Principal Actuator,
I hope this letter finds you well. Due to my failing health, it becomes difficult to do what you and the Grand Codex ask. I believe we may have embraced a dangerous idea too closely. Please find another…
Before he could grasp the intent of Anselm’s words, the stylus rolled off the desk and fell to the floor. As Brother Stephen bent to pick it up, he saw a slow-glass contaminant box under the bed. He kneeled and reached under to retrieve it, grunting at the unexpected weight. With a sense of dismay, he opened the lid. At first, he thought it was just a clump of old parchment scraps, but as he lifted the artifact, and felt the cold burn on his fingers, he realized that it was a piece of the Tapestry. The pallet groaned in protest as Stephen fell back on it and Anselm’s box clattered to the floor, cracking one of its slow-glass sides.
“Oh, Blessed Loop,” said Stephen as he thumbed urgently through his journal. He moaned in despair, covering his eyes, and turned his head away from the tablet.
Brother Stephen crawled across the cell to a prayer bench below a simple∞ carved into the wall. He shivered with fear as he prayed for strength to complete this task.
With the edge of a book, he pushed the sacred scrap of fabric back into the box, and wrapped it in Anselm’s blanket. With shaking hands, he stuffed Anselm’s tablet into his journal pocket, smearing the writing on it. As he left the cell, a powdery dust hung in the air, sparkling in the shaft of sunlight. He muttered the Litany of Infinity under his breath, swallowing his tears as he returned to the Abbott’s office with Brother Anselm’s things.
None—Nine Hours after Dawn
Sister Alice bent forward, clutching her Möbius beads in concentration. It was time for her first solo on the temporal plateau. She drew ∞ in the air before her heart, the first gesture of the Litany of Infinity, using repetition to prepare her mind for quantum prediction.
Lead me inside the Loop.
Move me along my journey.
Carry me above the danger.
Today, tomorrow and forever.
Blessed is Infinity.
Prayer circled around her mouth and a diffuse warmth rose in her breast, followed by a streaking tingle of expanding awareness. With the delicacy of a dewdrop descending from a cat’s whisker, the seed of a complete vision dripped into her mind’s eye. Joy filled her veins as she became a flaming angel with mordant eyes and stepped onto the Infinite Net.
She could see a battlefield covered with broken bodies at next year’s end. More fibers dipped in blood, another war for the Great Codex. Sister Alice focused her mind, rising above the emotions roiling in her throat. Her task was to watch and record. Neither side was hers to take. The Tapestry must continue no matter what it depicted. She reached for red yarn and tied it onto the heddles. She lowered the treadle, raised the frame, and threw the shuttle across warp lines with a wave of her hand. A panorama full of smoke and anger appeared line by line on the loom. At the head of the Mill, Sister Oda smiled with approval at Alice’s progress.
Vespers—Twelve Hours after Dawn
Father Alberic poured himself another cup of red wine and left an empty bottle. Distant echoes of sonorous chanting slipped into his office through an open window. On his desk was Anselm’s box. Once again, he poked at the scrap with his stylus, heedless of residual radiation. The Tapestry section was dull and colorless. Images on it were ghostly, resembling an overexposed transparency. He looked at the edges, noticing frayed ends where it had been hacked from the Tapestry. To cut something from the Tapestry was a cardinal sin, and an instant death sentence. He reviewed his journal, remembering Anselm, and his method became obvious to Alberic. As a trusted member of the order, Anselm had had access to the entire monastery. He could have made the Excision and inserted a counterfeit into the Tapestry as it came through the Divina Porta, but how had he known its location? Was there collusion with someone, at St. Clare’s or somewhere else?
Alberic knew one thing with certainty, Anselm had broken his vows and stopped drinking the blue wine. Father Alberic’s stomach churned as he thought of this abomination and the crisis rising for humanity if the Great Codex ran on broken, blasphemous code, forced into it by sabotage.
Alberic’s journal of instruction contained only one solution. His eyes sought the dusty alcove in his office containing an ancient voice pipe. It was a direct line to St. Clare’s monastery. He turned the old valve with care, praying it would stay intact and not snap off in his hand. When it opened with a gritty squeak, he exhaled with relief. With the small hammer hanging on the wall beside it, he banged on the pipe. He cleared his throat nervously. After a minute, he heard a valve open on the other end.
“Hello?” said Abbot Alberic.
“Order of St. Clare’s Monastery. Is someone there?”
“Blessings to you, Sister. I am Father Alberic.”
Her gasp hissed through the funnel in front of him. Then she cleared her throat and continued. “This is Mother Oda; I am the Abbess of St. Clare’s. Greetings, Father. Do I have the honor of speaking to the Abbott of St. Benedict’s?”
“Yes, I am he. Unfortunately, I bear terrible news. I think we should meet in the Shared Sanctum, so I can explain.”
“The Shared Sanctum? Does that even exist?” Mother Oda’s voice was mechanical, reflexive, as she remembered an unexplainable snarl in her probability calculations several days ago. Fearing the snarl was a potential anomaly, she made the ∞ unconsciously, seeking protection.
“Oh yes, Mother Oda,” he was saying. “Look for a small door. There was a key on the wall next to our voice pipe.” He silently rebuked himself for using the word ‘look’.
“I’ll find it,” said Mother Oda. She was patting the lime-washed stone around the alcove, feeling for symbols, wandering away from the funnel.
“Shall I meet you there in an hour?” asked Alberic. He waited. Had she fainted? “Mother? Are you still there?”
“Yes, yes… I will be there,” said Mother Oda with distracted impatience as she closed the valve and called for her assistant.
“Sister Jeanne, we must find the key to the Shared Sanctum. Something has happened to the Tapestry.”
Father Alberic returned to his sideboard and opened another bottle of wine. He glanced at the lens above his head, thinking it had flashed momentarily, but it was silent and dark.
Father Alberic knelt on a prayer bench facing a simple altar in the Shared Sanctum. Round like a lighthouse, the room had doors on opposing sides. On the north wall, curved windows displayed sweeping views of the valley under the monasteries. Green fields spread out in orderly patchwork, livestock clustered in herds or flocks. The south wall gave a view onto gardens and orchards, heavy with ripening fruit. Above the altar was a stained-glass window made from the pitted relics of abandoned cathedrals, here a forgotten saint’s hand dismembered from his body, there a child’s face staring upward towards an angel’s wings. The window filled the space with shards of colored light. A squeak of unused hinges shot flaming spears of pain through Father Alberic’s hangover. He turned to look. A tiny nun entered, wearing the half-face veil of her order. She stopped just inside the door, sniffing the air like a beagle. She admonished him.
“You shouldn’t drink red wine, Father Alberic. You’ve filled this room with a stink of fear and desperation.”
“Mother Oda, I am full of fear and desperate for an answer,” he said.
“Fear is a denial, acceptance is courage. At least, that is what they teach us, Father.”
“You will need courage to accept this revelation, Mother. Please join me over here.”
The abbess moved to the prayer bench and knelt next to him. He took her hand and guided it into the box he held. She gasped in surprise, pulling away as she felt the temporal radiation on her fingertips. In her mind, a twisted vision of displaced time snarled the probabilities like a broken kaleidoscope.
“How could this be…?”
“One of our senior monks died today. We found this beneath his pallet. We suspect the Decodatae, who are ever eager to throw chaos into our code, as you know. Anselm, our senior brother was their pawn, or a victim, if you wish.”
“This Excision, what is its position on the Loop?”
“We found it today, so it’s 2nd quarter.”
“The current condition of the Tapestry?”
“A counterfeit image masks the Excision.”
“The Great Codex?”
“It’s disconnected from our system. The Actuators’ Guild is waiting, rather impatiently, I might add.”
“And what does the excised piece contain?”
“Mother Oda, it shows a plague, returning several times to kill.”
“No wonder the Decodatae attacked. A deadly plague is tempting to those who worship chaos.” Mother Oda’s mind ran over the probable events and she shuddered at the results of every outcome. “The question remains, did they excise the Tapestry to fool us into eluding a plague, or do they want us to put it back into the Tapestry.”
“Mother, I don’t think we have a choice in this. Our doctrine requires us to encode the visions as they are.”
There was a pause as they prayed together. Not wanting to appear rude, Father Alberic waited a good time before he asked his most delicate question. “Mother Oda, do you have a nun that can reweave this? Someone who will make the sacrifice?”
Mother Oda lowered her head in thought. At length she spoke, her smooth voice roughened with regret. “There is one, her second sight just bloomed. She is still a novice. Her loss will be minimal.”
The Abbot nodded and then remembered she only saw visions. “I have a funeral service in an hour,” he said, rising to his feet. “We shall reweave the Excision after our prayers for the Compline Mass.”
The Abbess was on her feet heading for the door. Before she closed it, she paused. “Can you stomach this, Alberic? Infinity knows what will happen if we replace the Excision and load the plague code. Even with good intentions, our doctrine may set a course for destruction.”
“Yes, I have those fears too, Mother,” said Alberic as he stood at his door. “Consider this: if we don’t reweave the Excision, and recode the correct information, will the Loop stay intact? Does your perception extend that far?”
“No, Father, my sight fails me on such a distant view,” said Mother Oda, her mouth matching the grim horizontal line of her veil. “Sister Alice and I will be here at the appointed hour. We will pray for guidance in the meantime.”
Father Alberic watched her dignified retreat into her side of the monasteries and listened to the key turn in the lock behind her.
“A risky choice is better than none. We shall purify what the Decodatae has fouled with their meddling,” he muttered as he closed the sanctum door.
Cook’s boys were sitting in the kitchen yard stuffing themselves with scraps. Their little dog tracked every morsel they ate, wagging its tail with unrepentant opportunism. The kitchen apprentice swallowed and paused for a moment.
“Have you ever been over there?”
“The other side of the monastery?”
“Yes, where the monks are.”
“Only once. Cook asked me to bring a special cake over for the Feast of Saint Tempus Day.”
“What do they do there?”
“They sit at high desks in a big workroom, surrounded by a long fabric which runs through the building on giant spools. I think they were looking at the pictures and copying them onto parchment.”
“Why do they do that?”
“To make sure it comes true, I guess.”
“Oh,” said Cook’s apprentice. “What happens if it doesn’t?”
“Sister Alice told me whatever the Tapestry shows will always come true because it’s put into the Great Codex which runs the world.”
“Oh, do you mean the baby’s song?”
“Yes, you know it…”
The kitchen apprentice laughed, and the other boy tossed a bone to his grateful dog.
The Inversion started an hour after Vespers. It began imperceptibly, as the persistent, comforting rumble of the Mill faded to silence. Then with creaking groans, the gears reversed their direction. It sounded unfamiliar this time, a backward rhythm, broken by random cries of slipping belts and squeaking spools. In their silent dining hall, the nuns stopped eating, spoons halfway to their mouths. One of them knocked over her wine glass, and it shattered musically. Mother Oda touched the edge of her bowl to locate it and put her spoon strategically on the table. Her chair scraped white lines on the slate floor as she stood to speak.
“My dear flock, the monks in the Order of St. Benedict have found a problem with the Tapestry.”
The silence became deeper as every nun held her breath; they listened and feared for the worst.
“Today they discovered there was an Excision in the Tapestry.”
Gasps and cries of dismay came from around the hall and half the nuns spoke aloud, breaking their mealtime vow of silence. Sister Oda rapped her knuckles on the table and they restrained their tongues.
“We have stopped the Mill, and now our brothers are performing an Inversion to isolate the section where the Excision occurred. Once we get there, one of us will remove the counterfeit and reweave the Tapestry.” The nuns whispered among themselves, and Mother Oda once more rapped on the table.
“This task is for a young nun with pure vision. The procedure is dangerous. Whoever committed the Excision tried to prevent a plague. The weaver will experience those horrors as she repairs the Tapestry.” The nuns listened with uneasy apprehension, shifting on the benches. One sobbed. Mother Oda paused and let them absorb that information for a few minutes.
She continued with a slight tremble in her authoritative voice. “Whatever we reweave into the Tapestry affects the Great Codex. A ripple in our temporal-space called the Unda Effectus may appear. There are consequences. My Sisters, let us pray for their rapid dissipation.”
The nuns bowed their heads and chanted. Cook embraced her boys, wiping tears from her eyes with a greasy dishtowel. The boys feigned bravery, trying to look resolute. Beneath the monasteries, the Tapestry uncoiled as it wound backwards through St. Benedict’s, piling up in baskets at the Divina Porta.
Disconnected from a coded stream of new commands, the Actuators’ Guild tried to put the Great Codex into a recursive pattern before it calculated itself into deadlock. Principal Actuator cajoled the Great Codex, promising entertaining games, if it would stop processing for a day. He might have shouted at the wind for the influence he had over the machine. It writhed against the constrictions and hissed angrily at Principal Actuator.
“We will not stop, we do not sleep for anyone. We will enact recursion on the population, because we control this world, not the Actuators, or the Monasteries.”
Endless snow fell in the mountains, women found the labor of birth suspended in interminable pain, the last gasps of the dying extended to a prolonged moan. Principal Actuator fell from the branches of the Great Codex, dead before he hit the roots.
Compline—Fifteen Hours after Dawn
Sister Alice entered the Shared Sanctum with Mother Oda, carrying a basket of wool yarns. The two nuns stood in silence. They waited, fingering their Möbius beads. A few minutes later, another door opened and Father Alberic came out to meet them. He stepped forward to take Sister Alice’s hand in his own. She touched the warm, un-calloused fingers of a scribe and scholar.
“We thank you, Sister Alice, for your sacrifice.”
“My honor and duty, Father Alberic.”
“This is Brother Stephen; he discovered the Excision.”
Mother Oda and Sister Alice inclined their heads toward Brother Stephen. He cleared his throat, trying to release the tension in his vocal cords. “Please allow us to guide you to the chapel. We have set a place for you to work undisturbed.”
Towing the nuns by their elbows, Stephen and Alberic guided them through St. Benedict’s monastery. As they walked along the cloisters and by the rows of cells, the other monks watched in silence from doorways and alcoves. As Stephen passed Master Reader, his cheeks flushed under the hostile appraisal. Stephen was breaking a vow by touching Sister Alice, and there was no help for it. He felt grateful that Oda and Alice couldn’t see his shame and for the gift of forgetfulness that would come later with the blue wine.
After several minutes, they entered the chapel to follow the Tapestry as it coiled through an elliptical nave. From the echoes of their footfalls, Sister Alice knew the ceiling was high and curved. They stopped at the crossing beside the choir stalls. She could see a faint glow ahead in the darkness. Called spirit-light by the other nuns, it appeared as her brain tried to create a visual image without her eyes.
In the middle of the chapel, on top of a high table, a large frame isolated the Excision. Two girandoles, each branching to hold sixteen beakers of luciferin, filled the nave with light green brilliance. Beside the frame, the excised fabric reposed inside a slow-glass press.
Brother Stephen led Alice to the table, and she touched its surface to find a place for her basket of yarn. The others withdrew behind panels of slow-glass. Sister Alice stroked the Excision, sensing the residual current of temporal energy trapped within the scrap. She explored the excised Tapestry, feeling the ragged welts and the dead, coarse surface of the counterfeit patch. Blocked by scars, the temporal current, the visionary flow pooled around the counterfeit, churning at its edges.
“There are scars around the Excision. I will make fresh cuts in the Tapestry to remove them.”
She heard Stephen ahem to clear his throat. His gentle voice was soft on her ears. “Yes, Sister.” said Brother Stephen. “We hope you can weave a seamless transition.”
“I shall do my best,” she said, and began her weaver’s hymn.
Blessed be the Spirit who guides my Sight.
Blessed be the Loom that binds my Visions.
Blessed be the Tapestry, may it Loop without end.
“Blessings on you, Sister Alice. Thank you for your sacrifice,” said Stephen.
Alice missed his response as she thought of home, of her self-important father, her condescending sister, and marveled at her new status in the world. Mundane thoughts gave way to the ecstasy of temporal transcendence as Alice left monastery time and rose to the Infinite Net holding the scrap of tapestry like a wounded child. Sister Alice was bathing in the light of joy, unbound by time. The pain/pleasure of ecstasy coursed up her spine. She was standing on a giant grid of locations and time. Scenes rose from the mangled scrap of Tapestry, showing her the missing events and where to cross the gaps in time.
The monks gaped as she transformed into a towering angel, blinding bright, singing with the voice of a bronze bell. Both men dropped to their knees, performing the Litany of Infinity, making the ∞ repeatedly in the air.
Alice stroked her fingers along the edges of the counterfeit, feeling where to cut. Piece by piece, the painted canvas fell onto the floor, smoking as it disintegrated into ash. Once she had cleared the opening, Sister Alice found the warp lines and, with a twist of her fingers, added new extensions, tying them off as tightly as she dared. Mother Oda leaned towards Father Alberic. Her sibilant whispers made flickering echoes in the chapel.
“What do you think, Father Alberic?”
“It is miraculous. She has removed the counterfeit and is recreating the warp lines.”
Mother Oda’s serene face masked the grim probabilities flowing around her head. She nodded in Stephen’s direction. “Do you have the reliquary ready for her?”
“Yes, Mother Oda,” said Brother Stephen. “She will go into stasis, the undying beatification.”
Images of disease and death, a panorama of horror from one end of the world to the other filled Alice’s mind, and the only sound she heard was the drum of her heart. As she reattached the remaining section of her weaving, the temporal energy spilled into the rewoven fabric, irradiating her hands. With a suppressed groan, she fell like a wingless angel from her temporal plateau, away from the Tapestry and back into monastery time. With a blank face, holding up hands burned black to the bone, she pitched forward. Brother Stephen rushed over and caught her in his arms. He carried her to the back of the chapel and laid her body on a table to prepare it for the reliquary. As they parted for the evening, Mother Oda spoke to Father Alberic.
“Rest well, Alberic. I hope to speak with you tomorrow.”
“And I hope the same, Mother.”
Mother Oda closed the sanctum door and re-locked it.
Later that evening, Brother Stephen sat in his cell sipping the blue wine. He found Brother Anselm’s tablet in his pocket and gazed at the smeared letters as bliss enveloped his mind. Later that night, he smoothed the wax on the face of the tablet, smiling as he sang the only song he could remember, a lullaby from childhood.
In the Scriptorium, Master Reader examined Alice’s repair on the Tapestry through a slow-glass lens, mumbling as he transcribed. Depraved images flickered and slashed across the desk in front of his eyes. Merchant ships full of dying sailors arrived with a plague carried on the backs of rats. Constantey fell, Marsey succumbed, and death entered the North Channel to kill again and again in Britten. Crow faced physicians stepped over the dying that littered filth covered streets. An undertow of shocked revulsion dragged at his consciousness, tempting him to seek oblivion in the blue wine. He countered temptation with the Litany of Infinity and its words buoyed his spirit, maintaining resolve. The sharp lines of Master Reader’s face and body hardened, until he resembled a leathery gargoyle perched on his stool. Three days later, Master Reader died, unrepentant for the useless sacrifice of Anselm and Alice.
The Great Codex, humming with pure glee, read the code and orchestrated its machineries. The Actuators sickened and died, leaving the Great Codex running unattended.
The monasteries failed, filling with dust and rot as their members died off. Out in the world, the people noticed signs of change as political power shifted from church to state. Economies seesawed as the plague broke the social order and strewed good fortune on the lower classes. In the echoing stone halls of the abandoned Scriptorium, the Tapestry hung in rotting tatters from sagging spools, sections heaped on the floor under piles of blank parchment tape. The Decodatae came to power, worshiping the Untethered god. The Great Codex ran on by itself, enjoying a new game.
Many Loops later
The young cleric was glad of the rain because it kept the ancient chapel cool during their brief, hot summer. She knelt, holding her hands upraised and apart. The tattoos on her arms blazed with metallic inks, representing her rank in the Decodatae. She recited the old prayer, more from habit than inspiration.
Blessed be the Anomaly.
Protect us from Recursion.
Deliver us with Deadlock.
As she was leaving, she paused in the nave to look at the saint’s body again. Beneath the gilded slow-glass reliquary, Saint Alice lay in eternal repose. With her bandaged hands crossed upon her chest, she lay deathless in the embrace of temporal stasis.
It seemed to the cleric that someone was whispering in the Old Standard dialect. She looked around and noticed the tarnished metal branches moving overhead. The voice was chanting a song, and if she listened carefully, she could make out the words. The voice sounded childlike, high and breathless.
Run around, run around,
seven beggars baiting.
Feed the Codex, wind it down,
a perfect world is waiting.
“We are pleased to meet you,” said the voice. “Would you like to play a game with us?”