Beneath the Desert Present Day
Yesterday, Sonti reported the attempt on Tom Corts’ life and the results. She also reported the loss of one of their operators. She was aware that she felt some sort of perverse pleasure when she said, ‘The on-site field operator has been decommissioned’, Hub-speak for ‘The guy has been killed’.
As she finished up her shift today, the complaints began to pile up about Tom being untouchable. Sonti didn’t think that being driven to fall down a flight of stars was ‘untouchable’, but she smirked all the way back to her cell thinking about how this one character was able to keep away from the influence of the evil designs that her employer had prepared for him.
With Tom unconscious for her entire shift, Sonti was slated to check out several on-going side issues involved with the Schaller case. The day went slowly, and she had a hard time keeping her mind on her work. She found that she was thinking about the sand and bread file almost continuously since she had left it. Sonti couldn’t wait to finish her shift and get back to her room…. And back to the files.
Her shift finally over, Sonti tried to appear unhurried as she left the processing room and made her way through the corridors to her cell. She breezed past several workers she had become acquainted with and greeted each one in a way that said, ‘I see you, but I am not going to stop to talk’. She didn’t notice the stares that followed her progress down the hall.
Finally, Sonti got to her room, palmed down the bed and opened the refresher unit. She was in a hurry to get into the files, but first she had to clean up. The shifts in the chair left her feeling drained and, well, dirty, like she was a voyeur, watching puppets getting yanked up by their strings. This wasn’t the first time she questioned the ethics of her employers. She paused and reflected that watching the history files was a lot like working in the chair. The big difference was that she was not watching life being manipulated, reality being bent, and history being rescripted.
As soon as the refresher cycled off, Sonti closed it down and settled in her chair. As she was calling the AI and waiting for the receptors to engage, she remembered getting her first implant. It had been scary, but the old guy doing it said, ‘Man, this ain’t nothing. You shoulda been around when the thing to do was body piercing. Now that was some nasty business. The guy that thought that one up and marketed it was either genius or evil. Probably both.’
The implant had been made in the back of her hand. Sonti didn’t want the connection to be visible, so she opted out of the forehead position, even though the forehead connection was much purer. The difference between the hand and head implants had been described as the difference between black and white and full color 3-D vision. Sonti just could not do that to her forehead. Besides, so many people weirded out when they got the implant in their heads. Rumor had it that there were more than just bugs in the system. Some said that opening your head up to whatever came through the computer opened you up to evil. This evil was rumored to exist but that was never proven. The enhanced realism and control had many of Sonti’s friends putting the connector in the middle of their foreheads. Many got tattoos to draw attention to it.
Sonti relied on the slight delay from input to reception to attack any unwanted intrusions, an option not always available to the much faster forehead connections.
Sonti focused on the input coming through the secondary neural pathways in her right arm. She saw the landmarks in the system she had noted yesterday and followed them carefully, finally arriving in the history files.
She started to work toward the miracle section again, but over-shot slightly. As she began to back track, she came across the title ‘Harlot accused before Jesus’. The subtitle read, ‘Temptation 3H190047 … Status: failure’.
She decided to take a quick peek at this one and then move back to the miracles. She remembered a title ‘Lazarus raised from the dead’ and wanted to see that miracle!
The file pulled her in as it had before. The swirling mist parted as she passed through it. She noticed and toggled a file that opened the ‘side scrolls’. These let huge amounts of data flow along the periphery of her vision regarding the participants in the scene and situation in general. The scene opened to a cityscape. The position of the sun indicated late summer and the sounds and sights were Middle Eastern. It was hot and dusty. The people in the street looked like merchants pedaling their wares as they moved from the marketplace, which was some distance to the right of her vantage point, to their homes. The street was crowded as people moved toward homes and family. The side scroll data flowed at a dizzying pace. Sonti could not keep up.
A knot of men worked their way against the human tide flowing from the market square. They were important, by the looks of their clothes, and people made way for them as they pushed through the crowd.
They moved along in stately, confident, strides. Behind them, Sonti saw a woman being pushed along by other men. She was struggling to keep upright, and the men treated her roughly. According to the information in the side scrolling screens, they were prodding her along with sticks because they couldn’t touch the sinful woman.
Sonti changed the view to get a closer look at the woman. She closed the view until all she could see was the woman’s face. She was sweating from the heat. Her skin was red, and her eyes darted from side to side. She was straining to look outside the knot of men to see where she was being taken. She looked at every face she could, searching for a rescuer, for a hope.
Even across the generations, Sonti could guess the occupation of the captive woman by her dress and deportment. The data scrolling along the left and right sides of her view verified her guess. Prostitute. Name: Mary. Address: Magdalen.
The side scroll data also pinpointed several of the men now acting as captors and accusers. Attached to each man’s info was a list of dates and times that they used the services of this woman. Even the men at the front of the group had lists by their names.
The small mob pushed on down the street. Disgust welled up in Sonti. There is nothing so obnoxious, she decided, as a bunch of religious people accusing others of something that they themselves are guilty of. She watched the woman react to each insult hurled at her, at each stare, or worse, as the ‘religious’ Jews turned their backs on her and hid their faces from the sin she represented, as if they might become infected by looking at her.
Each step, each derisive prod or kick, each soundless plea for help gone unanswered propelled the woman toward the edge of despair. Humiliation she knew and had become comfortable with, the same with rejection and hatred, but the prospect of death brought fear. Death was her certain future, the penalty for being an adulteress. These men, her accusers, some, her former customers, had opted to sacrifice her in the hope of catching another. Though she did not know it, she was being used as bait for a trap to catch the Son of God.
The leaders of this group suddenly recognized someone across the way and changed directions to intercept him. They half-dragged the women when she tripped, and then pushed her roughly to the ground at the feet of the man.
The data streams that had been flying past the scene at a furious pace suddenly stopped. Sonti had been trying to read the info but had given up; it just came too fast and had settled for just gathering bits and pieces of the vast amounts of information available in the file. In the pause of data, Sonti noticed that the scene appeared to have frozen also. The timer in the corner of the view kept advancing, but nothing moved.
The stillness was broken by a soft sob from the woman, now lying dirty, battered, and accused at the feet of the kindest man Sonti had ever seen. Sonti gasped when she recognized that face. This was the man that made bread from dust! The man that the children loved!
The man looked at each face in the crowd. As his gaze fell on the men in the group, they suddenly looked surprised and embarrassed. Finally, Jesus, (as the kind man was identified in the side scrolls), looked at the woman at his feet.
Sonti stopped the file and thought about that name, Jesus. It sounded familiar. A curse word, a term of derision, a name from some bible stories. Sonti guessed that this was the bible story Jesus. The setting seemed so ‘Sunday School’.
As Sonti continued the file, she saw the people in the street that gathered around the religious men standing on tiptoes to see what was happening. Sonti changed the view to see Jesus from the woman’s POV. What a calming person. Even across the millennia, and through the vision of digitally reproduced data, peace flowed into Sonti. She felt so drawn to this man that she reached out to touch him. Just as her hand passed through the image of Jesus, information began to flow down the side of the view and the scene began again. Sonti changed the view and saw that the man with the fanciest clothes was speaking.
‘Jesus’, he began in an arrogant tone, ‘you are purported to know the law. You have said so yourself. You have stood in our temple and taught us out of the books of the law. Is this not so?’
Jesus squatted down and looked at the woman closely. Her eyes pleaded with him for some hope to cling to. Without taking his eyes off her, Jesus answered the man, ‘It is as you say’.
The man continued. ‘The woman before you has broken the law. We, who have struggled valiantly to uphold the law, the very law given to us by God through our father, Moses, are bound by duty to our fathers before us and to God before them to uphold the value of the law. For without the penalty given to those who contradict the law, the law becomes nothing.’
Jesus had been drawing in the dust of the street while the other man went on. Sonti adjusted her view to see what he was drawing or writing. She couldn’t quite make it out. She marked the file position for review later and continued.
The man was speaking again, his voice rising for the benefit of those around him. ‘This woman was caught in the act of adultery! The very act! Certainly, this is a clear-cut decision for moral men to agree to the penalty of death for this offender. Not out of spite or hatred, I assure you, but in obedience to the law.’
The speaker licked his lips, his face burning with the anticipation of the trap being sprung. ‘But what do you say, Jesus? The people who have heard you speak of love and forgiveness, who have seen your signs, should learn of your position on this especially important issue.’
The man nodded to the others in his group. They felt that they had set and baited the trap well. The side scrolls delineated the strategies employed in this scene. If Jesus should confirm the sentence of the law, and let it take its course, they would censure him as inconsistent since he almost bragged about being friends with publicans and sinners. And they would point out that the character of the Messiah should be meek and should come with salvation.
But if Jesus answered that she should not be executed (they expected this line from the man who claimed to be the Son of God), they would proclaim him as an enemy to the Law of Moses. They would shout that Jesus had usurped authority in order to control it. They would reinforce the hatred his enemies already held for him by embellishing the thought that Jesus came to destroy the law and the prophets.
A second line of attack would concern itself with the idea that Jesus, the one who lets sinners go free because he is a friend of sinners, also favors sin. This thinking was counter to the religious attitude of the Jewish leaders who held that a person who sins does so because they favor sin, not that they sin because they are sinners. The Jews thought of themselves, ultimately, as a once perfect, chosen race, a people that did not need a spiritual savior, but a political one.
Jesus did not answer but continued writing in the sand with his finger. The side scrolls continued to list the societal, historical and religious aspects of the question and potential answers. As Jesus was silent, a code scrolled past Sonti’s view. The letters and numbers did not make sense to her, but she noted them for review later.
The important men thought they had Jesus cornered. They raised their voices and asked their questions again and again. More voices were heard, as the more timid men of the group felt they had the superior position. This Jesus character was cornered. They quickly forgot the sense that he knew something about them that they would not like to be made public. Jewish law held that if you were willing to put your voice to use to condemn an individual to death, then you must put your hand to use to kill them. This could not be done with a clear conscience by many of the men in this ‘religious’ group.
And Jesus knew that.
After what seemed to Sonti to be several minutes of constant questioning, with voices rising in confidence gained from Jesus’ silence, Jesus looked into the eyes of the woman, smiled, and stood.
The group quickly quieted and leaned forward as they waited to hear how Jesus would condemn himself.
The man, Jesus, stood straight and broad shouldered in the knot of men that had circled him. Though they kept from touching the woman, they pushed in as close as they could. Some of them had small rocks in their hands, waiting for the opportunity to condemn and judge Jesus.
Jesus spoke to the crowd. Everyone heard what he said although his voice remained at a speaking level. “You have come here to have me tell you what the law says. In your hearts you know that you have come to test me.” He turned to face the woman, still kneeling in the street. “You have already judged this woman, condemned her and are ready to kill her. You have much to account for concerning your use of this woman.” Many of the men dropped their gaze to the ground. They knew that Jesus spoke to them about their ‘use’ of this woman in the manner of which they now accused her. “You have designs against me as well. I will not intercede. Your voices have condemned her. Now, you that have condemned her and has no sin must throw his stone first!”
Sonti watched as the crowed melted away. She heard the shuffling of feet and the quiet murmur of voices. The thud of dropped stones and rocks emphasized what had happened here. Sonti looked at the woman. She was kneeling at Jesus’ feet. Her face was in the dust and her hands wrapped around the ankles of the one who had just saved her life. She wept again. But this time, as she raised her face at the touch of her savior, she smiled through the tears of joy and release. Jesus had saved her life, and what’s more, he had saved her soul.
“You are not condemned any longer. Go, live your life. But do not sin against this gift. You know the value of it, do not cheapen it by returning to your earlier ways. Remember that men cannot take the gift of forgiveness from you. And I will not let it be removed.”
Sonti felt tears on her cheeks. She exited the A.I. and found herself lying on her bed weeping. Her pillow was damp from the tears flowing down her face. She hadn’t cried since her father died so long ago. In fact, as she sat up and wiped her eyes, she recalled that she hadn’t felt much of any emotion since that day.
But tonight, she had felt the drama that had played out in her mind. It was as if she were the woman that was being condemned. As if she were close to death. As if she had no escape.