_____Heresy in Albi, France_____
"Kill them all, and let God sort them out." ~ Attributed to Simon De Monfort, as he embarked on the Albigensian Crusade in 1229.
History: The First Time Around
In 12th century France arose a religious doctrine which posed a direct challenge (and threat) to the hierarchy of Rome. The religion was known to its practitioners as Cathari, derived from the Greek word for pure. However, the rest of Europe referred to them as Albigensians, as the Cathari had a stronghold in the French town of Albi.
The Cathari beliefs were strongly dualistic, declaring the world to be sharply divided between good and evil. They believed that the material world was created by an evil god, and that the savior was sent down by the good god to free the divine spark of man from its fleshly prison. The physical world was evil, the world of good was a world filled with spiritual light. While these thoughts were heretical enough for the medieval Church of Rome, the death struggle was initiated over another belief; the Albigensians believed that the Church and its clergy were designed by Satan to trick Christians into thinking that they could be saved through the offices of the church. This sparked a series of crusades which led to the destruction of the final Cathari communities in 1229.
The Cathari established their own hierarchy, ritual and doctrine. Within the hierarchy two basic levels existed, the believers and the perfect. The believers led ascetic lives. They practiced and were taught Cathari doctrine until they were ready to move up the ranks of the perfect. To become perfect, a believer had to undergo the sacrament of consolation, a ritual which removed all sin from a believer. The sacrament of consolation could be taken only once during the believer’s lifetime. If one of the perfect sinned after taking the sacrament, upon death he would be reborn into the body of another, to begin the long spiritual journey once again.
History: Scan Ahead, Play Back
The Possibility Wars have led to a new heresy in Albi. Perhaps the heresy is a reaction to the the grip of Jean Malraux and the fears of his intentions. Perhaps the possibility energy of Core Earth has struck back, attempting to reactivate an old pattern of beliefs to reconnect with those living around Albi. The events surrounding the growth of resistance in Albi are filled with exaggeration and wonder, but there is no doubt that they all begin with Victor Berigard.
Victor grew up in the town of Realmont, near Albi. A strong religious upbringing (and a large dose of clumsiness) separated him from most of his peers; he later attended seminary for one year, before deciding the priesthood was not for him. He drifted for two years, until he discovered his aptitude for computers. Working for a small design firm in Albi, Victor immersed himself in the world of computers, a world which Victor thought of as pure. When the axiom wash rolled over France, Victor fell quickly to the promise of new technology.
Jacking into the GodNet for the first time was a spiritual experience. Here was Victor’s ideal world, a world of thought and light, a world shaped by belief, hardware, and the speed of the mind. But Victor could not help but notice some of the evils which came with it; the invasive loss of privacy as the Cyberpriests could monitor every computer in France, the rigid hierarchy being established which would limit citizens access to information and regions of the GodNet. Worst was the miracle of Net Damnation, which routed believers to Purgatory within the GodNet. Victor strongly believed in the good of the GodNet; therefore Jean Malraux and his church must be the source of evil.
Victor began the conspiracy of the Cathari Circuit, a group comprised of old-fashioned hackers and engineers, disgruntled clergy and a few deckers. In secret meetings held almost nightly, theological reasoning and technical evidence merged to form the Cathari doctrine. If God had created the GodNet, then its spiritual power is not derived from its physical housing. The physical housing (the optic cables, CompPlexes and telephone exchanges) are merely ways of accessing the GodNet. If true, one should be able to sever the connections with the exchanges controlled by the Cyberpapacy, reroute the signals to maintain telephone and cable connections within the region (but isolated from the rest of France), and still access the GodNet. This conclusion was literally a leap of faith on the part of Victor Berigard, but he managed to convince enough of the others to begin his plan.
On the night of July 14, engineers bolstered by teams of Jaz fighters sabotaged the trunk lines connecting the Albi exchange to the exchanges in Montauban, Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Rodez, cutting Albi off from the rest of France. Software engineers slipped their version 1.0 chipware into deckers, chipware that theoretically would help a decker navigate ill-defined, possibly even random, cyberspace. Victor Berigard and others prayed for the deckers. Six deckers jacked in.
The two who did not die were not capable of speaking for several days. In that time Cyberpapal technicians had reconnected Albi to Toulouse and Rodez. Church police and the Inquisition went house to house, trying to find the heretics. Some of the software engineers were discovered, and burned as witches. Cardinal Fourier declared order to be restored.
But jackpriests and babel monitors knew better. Athwart the VX lines into Albi were entities which did not come from Avignon. These watchdogs appeared as huge, shadowy behemoths, with loose, folded shapes. As they moved, the folds shifted revealing glimpses of neon-bright bones and dimmer connective tissues. Called “Bright Bones” by the jackpriests, these entities searched for and caught the signals of Malraux’s agents as they tried to enter the data vaults at Albi.
Bright Bones seek out any jackpriests or other deckers not aligned with the neo-Cathari. Bright bones will accept the password miracle (see below). They communicate through loud noises accompanied by jumbled messages flashing along their bones. If a decker makes a successful charm action (Bright Bones are hostile to all they meet, except for agents of the Cyberpapacy, who are enemies) a Bright Bones will communicate with her. It is possible for a decker to persuade a Bright Bones to allow her to pass, but not very likely given its Mind and disposition.
The Bright Bones were a hot topic in the open vaults and data huts which dot the GodNet. Soon it became apparent that Cyberpapal agents were not welcome in the net in the region of Albi. Albi became a magnet for cyberleggers, freelance technicians and deckers; quite a few were destroyed by the Bright Bones when they tried to enter the net. This slowed the immigration and the enthusiasm.
Vision and New Hope
Victor Berigard and a few remaining heretics were hiding in the basement of a church in the outlying town of Gaillac. Days of meditation, prayer and fasting preceded a miracle; Victor Berigard had a vision in which he received three seeds from an angel. In the vision, he planted the seeds. Two beautiful broad-leafed plants grew from the ground. The third was small, slender, and streaks of sickly yellow shot through its leaves. Prostrating himself before the angel, Victor asked what was wrong with the third plant.
“The third needs the tending of the faithful. Without their hope and willful belief, it shall wither. Yet it is the greatest of the three; the other two are the power within you and your belief in the power of another. Use those two to start your garden of faith. Invite others to join you. Then shall the third seed grow and flourish.”
As the vision faded, Victor caught an image of the third plant as a withered husk. The skeletal collection of vines and leaves formed a startlingly familiar pattern to Victor; it was nearly identical to the data structure schematic of an area of the net around Albi.
The vision left Victor Berigard with the focus skill and the Core Earth miracles of bless, healing, ritual of hope, and ritual of purification, as well as two new miracles, Cathari consolation and password. Victor healed the two deckers who had jacked into the datanet at Albi. They told him of a changing wasteland, dull deserts, and gray blasted wilderness, landforms which were indistinct and metamorphosing as they traveled through them. Then they each arrived a different gate leading to a radiant garden, a garden of thriving iridescent-fractal plants, with paths, bridges, and streams. One of them spotted VX wildlife, sparrows, finches and cardinals. There was a soft presence calling them to the center of the garden. But, as they entered they each experienced a searing pain, and then a white-blindness. They remember nothing more. Victor decided to re-enter Albi and explore this heretical portion of the net. He felt the power of God by his side; how could he lose?
: Removes sin from the faithful
Consolation can only be performed on those of neo-Cathari faith, and it may only be performed once in their lives. A successful miracle removes all the blemishes and effects of sin from the believer. While the primary use of the miracle is to prepare a believer for the afterlife, there are several effects in the here-and-now.
The miracle of Cathari consolation removes all curses placed upon the believer. The miracle increases the believers resistance to charm, persuasion, and trick by an amount equal to the quality the result (i.e. a good result grants a believer a +3 against charm, persuasion and trick.) The believer may jack in to the net near Albi unhindered by Bright Bones or other neo-Cathari entities.
If the believer ever sins (accepts work from the Cyberpapacy or its agents, indulges in pleasures of the flesh or the gain of material things, or ever denies his faith), then miraculous effects cease.
: safe passage in neo-Cathari net
The password miracle grants the believer safe passage into neo-Cathari net around Albi. The duration is a number of hours equal to the result points of the miracle.
The neo-Cathari claim (only to the faithful, of course) that they have access to the true spiritual core of the GodNet. The data structures at Albi have undergone a change, and Cyberpapal agents have been consumed with frequency which has finally caught the attention of Pope Jean Malraux.
The password miracle has proven a bonanza for the heresy. Its sale has given deckers and technicians something they have ached for since the axiom wash first flowed down the maelstrom bridge: a portion of the GodNet in which they have the advantage. Research may be pursued, data exchanged, communications kept confidential from the Cyberpope and his agents.
Cyberware shops are being set up in the vicinity of Albi, and much of the black market in cyber technology is relocating to the area. Unlike the initial rush to Albi just scant weeks ago, this influx is quieter, more orderly. Many techs and the deckers sense that Albi could be the key to a free France. They do not want to alarm the officers of Avignon any more than is absolutely necessary. They know it is only a matter of time before Pope Jean Malraux declares a crusade against the heresy within his borders. Albi is not nearly strong enough to withstand a full military action against them.
To keep the Cyberpope off of them, the black marketeers have adopted an extremely cynical strategy. They know the Cyberpapacy monitors all media, eavesdrops on thousands of homes, and has monasteries dedicated to ferreting out useful facts and trends from this social data. They wish to make Albi match Avignon’s preconceptions of a recently heretical area which has been cleansed. This means senseless violence as a residue of rebellion, decreasing attacks on the Avignon clergy, an increasing number of “heretics” turned in to the Inquisition (often “heretics” whose only crime is being a stranger to the area), and violence directed against suspected believers of other faiths. The black marketeers are eagerly instigating or providing all of the above, while strengthening their hold in Albi. In buying time, they hope to become strong enough to withstand Malraux’s eventual military campaign.