The Lion of Judah
prequel to The Abyssinian Mission
Never shake a pope violently awake.
It is regarded by the Christian and non-Christian alike as a
grave social error. But if you must do it, it is better not to do
it, as I was to learn, on Easter Eve.
"What is it, for Christ's sake?"
"Something that requires your immediate attention."
"What? Who ... who is that? Thomas?"
"Yes, Holy Father."
Now I had his complete attention since I had spoken this last
with none of the usual sarcasm. Rumor hath a thousand tongues and
all, but I was sure that I was his youngest son — although,
of course, he was in no position to acknowledge any of us.
"What's happening?" asked Katrina who lay beside Christ's vicar.
She was ten years my junior, and certainly the only human being I
have ever loved. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I could
make out through the whisky fumes and peyote haze the most
exquisite female form in history lying next to dear old,
jaundiced Dad — as though an angel had tired of her
celestial sheets and preyed upon garbage.
"It's only Tom," explained Pope Leo XIV.
"Oh" said Katrina losing interest, rolling back over —
making no effort at all to cover herself up, as though I were
some annoying pet.
But Papa Leo was now wide awake
"And what is so important?"
"You better come see for yourself."
"How did you get by the Swiss Guard?"
"They have fled."
"I don't know — maybe the catacombs."
"Is this a joke?"
"Better come along."
"Give me a minute."
The leader Christendom, always troubled by wind, staggered toward
the lavatory. After an interval there was heard a truly
toe-curling, loosening of bowels.
I spoke to Katrina.
"Few women can resist a real physical specimen."
"Do you have to wait in here?"
"It's my nature to observe."
"Oh, right. There might be twenty people in the world
who even know the Vatican has an observatory."
"Still it's still nice to run one, even one centuries old."
"What a joke. You might just be able to make out a full moon what
with the light pollution from Rome."
"The computer subtracts it."
"A pity it can't subtract an astronomer or two."
"I've never treated you with anything but respect, Katrina;
whereas Big Daddy there would cheerfully sell you out for a pizza
The Pontiff, blanched and drawn, emerged from the bath. He
steadied himself against one priceless medieval painting after
another until he reached the magnificent Chinese headboard.
Katrina held out her hand to him, but he ignored her.
"All right, Tom. Let's go."
"I'm coming to," said Katrina reaching for a wrap.
I led them down the colonnade and out through the exterior
walkway, into the courtyard. Above us, hovering in perfect
silence in the moonlight, some fifty meters in the air, was a
saucer shaped craft.
"Mother of God," murmured Pope Leo as he took it in. He began to
tremble, tremble wildly before collecting himself just enough to
beat a minimal energy path to the chapel. It took some time for
Katrina and me to locate the great man — he was hiding in a
confessional booth sobbing harshly and bathing his face with holy
water. I literally had to drag the old bugger out.
After five full minutes, an eternity under the circumstances,
Leo, Leo the Lion, found his voice.
"What ... what ... in the name of ... what ...."
Katrina sat down beside him and held him like a child, gently
kissing each cherished liver spot. Even as a scientist, I have
striven in vain to believe in sexual selection — at least
within my specie. Women seem to go for bad musicians, corrupt
politicians and really stupid athletes. And the Bishop of Rome
there, whimpering like a dog, was indeed bad, corrupt and stupid
without being the least musical, political or athletic.
"What ... what?" The old man pointed vaguely toward the sky. He
was completely white.
"My professional opinion is that it's a flying saucer, a ship
from outer space."
Katrina spat back furiously.
"He's knows that, you idiot. What's it doing up there? Where did
it come from? Who saw it first?"
"I don't know. I don't know. And a member of the Swiss Guard just
before he ran for his life."
"And you, the head of the observatory. What else have you
The only thing that has ever puzzled me even more than Katrina's
love for the cowardly lion there was my unstinting love for her.
Nothing seemed to weaken either.
"Jesus, Jesus, what is that ... what ... what is that?" Pope Leo
kept repeating through the tears and still pointing at the
"I don't know what it is, as I believed I've mentioned."
"What ... what ... what?" He was fighting for breath.
"What it is, Pop, is something everyone here was rather
hoping you had some idea about. After all, the bloody thing isn't
hovering over the Dalai Lama."
"Me? They've come for me?"
"Glad you've found you're voice, big guy. Yes, I would think that
it reasonable to conclude that they have come for you."
"But I won't go! They want the pope? Well, I resign! Go tell
them, Thomas. Tell them I'm no longer pope."
"What a good idea, Dad. But better still, why don't you
go tell them? That would be much more convincing, I would think.
Yes, that would be just the thing."
I didn't see it coming — and I'm always on guard around
her, since Katrina trained with a new militant sect of nuns
— but she hit me so hard I went down. Moreover, she stepped
it with the punch; so there was plenty on it. I felt like I'd
been hit by a club. Lightening exploded in my brain. As
consciousness struggled to return, I could hear the loving pair
"Don't kill him, for Christ's sake. We might need him."
"You don't need him, and neither does anyone else."
I sat up, pulled myself into a chair, and looked dully around.
"He's in fear for his life," shrieked Katrina as I came to. Her
anger was not in the least abated. "And all you can do is make a
joke out of it? Can't you see the state he's in? They might
actually have come here for him."
"But perhaps they are not they," said Pope Leo vaguely.
I only barely heard this since I was still blinking stupidly with
"Perhaps not, my darling," Katrina tried to reassure him.
"I've been thinking though. Perhaps they really aren't."
"And what's your idea, Holy Reverend Father?" I asked sitting up,
waiting for my head to clear.
Katrina didn't still like my tone and moved toward me.
"You come at me again, sugar butt, and I'll lay you flat." She
knew I had been raised in a Florentine slum.
"You probably would. You're the type."
"You bet I'm the type."
"I mean what's more likely?" Pope Leo XIV spoke as though no one
else were in the room. "An alien intelligence traveling light
years across space, or a more terrestrial intelligence closer to
"Who could build such a craft today?" asked Katrina.
"For once in his infallible life, Papa Leo here might just be
right," I said. "Military innovation sometimes outpaces civilian
— the Manhattan project, stealth technology, the internet."
"But why?" asked Leo. "And who?"
"The UN would be my guess." said Katrina.
"They may be trying to force us to abandon our nuclear program."
"This is a possibility," I said.
"It could even be a plot from within the church," said
Katrina. "Some reactionary faction that opposed your divorce. It
was a papal first."
"Yes," I said. "As was your marriage and your elopement."
"There was never a divorce, not legally," Leo protested
emotionally. "It was withdrawn by the city Las Vegas."
"Only after you granted your own annulment, Your Holiness. Face
the truth for once in your life. The church was three billion
strong when you took office in 2020. And in just ten years
membership is not a third of that."
My swollen right eye had almost closed.
Katrina, ignoring me as usual, said, "I think it's the
"Are you mad?" wondered the Pope. "Can you believe that
priests built that thing out there? If priests
ran this world, do you even think the wheel would have been
"Actually a priest probably invented the wheel," I explained
patiently. "Certainly they invented writing just as they designed
and supervised the construction of the wonders of the ancient
"So the hell what, Thomas? What had they done lately?"
"Rather a lot, Dad. The first modern invention was a fully
mechanical wind up clock. Some monk needed to know when to pray.
And the prototypes of many modern inventions — including
the analog computer — were the brainchildren of the
"Oh, shut up!" suggested Katrina.
I found her reaction puzzling since I, a devout and practicing
atheist, had spoken in support of her more positive position. And
yet I had been rudely cut off even before I could begin to
mention the contributions of modern clergy.
"He needs help — not some idiot lecture."
"He's in need of something neither one of us can provide."
"And what's that?"
I took a step back in case my beloved made another charge.
She didn't even bother denying it.
"And why is that more necessary right now than a real explanation
of what this could mean?"
"Because regardless of whether it's Martians, politicians,
priests or an outraged God and Satan, they're still here for
These words even penetrated the Pope's paralyzing terror. After a
lengthy string of obscenities and angry denials, he at long last
slumped back in defeat. How little things change, I thought. The
first Pope was a fool, a coward, a snob — a man — a
cursing, frightened, stupid man who nevertheless somehow died
like a philosopher. But why not an intellect like Saint Paul or a
mystic like John? Why Peter of all men? Because he could be two
things at once? Revered and reviled? Like a cat both
worshipped and despised? Like all cats, small and great.
"The Lion of Judah," I whispered out loud.
"What?" asked Katrina?
"A Biblical name used sometimes for Satan and sometimes Christ."
Leo heard none of this. He was still completely overcome by the
mind-clearing bombshell I had thrown a moment before. And he
began to weep again, weep with tears that I could have sworn were
tinged with blood. When he recovered, he spoke very slowly, even
"Yes, you're quite right, son."
That was a first.
"And you were right before as well. That thing out there
looks like a craft from another world because it
is a craft from another world. And it
has come to the pope's kingdom because it is the kingdom of the
Katrina was silent for once in her life.
"The press is not here," said Leo. "Somehow that thing is up
there, and no one except us even knows that it is. So no one even
knows that I know that it is."
"No, Holy Father. No one will bear witness to what you do or do
not do this morning. I swear to that. And don't worry about the
Guard. When it comes to UFO's, no one has credibility."
For the first time in my life Katrina looked at me with something
less than enriched hatred.
Pope Leo XIV sat very still for a long time, searching for
something within him. Then he rose and without a word returned to
his chambers. A moment passed, and he emerged in a plain white
cassock and strode out into the courtyard and stopped beneath the
ship. He was speaking very softly — butchering the
23rd Psalm — he had never learned scripture
properly. A gangplank from the craft slowly lowered before him.
He hesitated long enough for us to doubt him. Then he brushed a
tear impatiently aside and walked steadily up the incline. When
he was aloft, the machine closed behind him. A minute later it
took off at a million miles an hour, like a searchlight sweeping
off a low lying cloud.
Then I remembered another pope, who went out on his own over 1500
hundred years ago to meet Attila in the field — armed with
nothing, nothing at all with which to defend civilization but
moral authority. It was Pope Leo I who saved Rome. And, for all I
know, it was Pope Leo XIV who saved earth.
I said my first prayer then, a prayer for his loathsome, spotted
soul, because I knew then what Katrina must have known all along.
He would have been a fine pope — even a great one —
if only aliens had come to abduct him each holy day of his reign.
by David Choate
... who is a professor of mathematics with no combat experience
outside of the classroom or beyond the halls of academe. His
poetry ("Easter Island", "Ode to an Academic", "Song of Sums")
has been published in Amelia and
Defenestration; his science fiction ("The Kid
Catcher", "There Came Forth She Bears") in
Starwind and Space & Time;
and his "Christianity and Cannibalism", a philosophical essay, in
Sophia. His fine work has previously appeared in
this literary magazine.