Patrick sat at his desk in the rectory reviewing his sermon for next week. It was far from his greatest work but sermons had never been his strong suit. He was a competent orator, but waxing philosophically about the eternal soul and the Christ’s endless ability to forgive seemed trite when speaking before a room full of those who barely believed in God. If faith in the Lord could be measured by a fuel gauge, the car was running on fumes and there wasn’t a gas station in sight.
He smirked and considered using the analogy as his theme for this sermon, but the members of his small congregation hardly wanted to be lectured like children. The congregants barely tolerated Patrick, but when their Father Cleary passed nearly a year ago, the young priest with direct ties to the Vatican could not be dismissed as his replacement.
Patrick’s progressive ideas and worldly experiences did not mix with the conservative church fathers. After 11 months with the little church, Patrick was finally making inroads with some of the younger members. It was far from a lovers' relationship, but he had to begrudgingly accept it. He had no other choice.
A knock roused Patrick from his thoughts. He was alone in the church tonight and no visitors were expected.
“Come in”, he barked.
The door slowly opened, a tall, thin man strode into his office. Well dressed in an overcoat and dark suit, the man appeared to be in his mid 50's. Rimless glasses adorned his bald head but the eyes behind the glass were keen. Patrick did not know this man, but when the stranger saw the young priest, there was a glimmer of recognition in the older man’s light blue eyes.
“Father Muldoon.” It was a statement, not a question.
“That’s me,” Patrick replied, “but I’m afraid I don’t know you sir.”
The older man smiled amicably and offered his hand. Patrick took it as smile creased his mouth.
“My name is Charles Ferguson, I’ve come a long way to see you.”
Patrick gestured to a chair across the desk and the two men sat.
“Well Mr. Ferguson, I don’t usually take visitors at this hour, but now I’m curious. What brings you to me?”
Ferguson removed his glasses and cleaned them with a soft cloth from his pocket. As he slid them back onto his nose he looked hard at the priest. “I’m not one to beat around the bush, so I’ll get to it as quickly as possible. I know you are a busy man.”
“I appreciate that,” Muldoon said.
“I'm a scientist. I work for Eden Corp.”
Muldoon’s eyebrow rose at the name. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath.
“I figured that would grab your attention,” Ferguson stated flatly. “I worked in their research and development division for many years. I am now director of Sci-Natal programs for the North-East.”
Ferguson allowed his statement to hit home and, as intended, it found its mark like a brick to a windshield. Taking the priest’s silence as permission to proceed, Ferguson continued, “I know about you Father, I’ve followed your career with interest.” Patrick felt a look of shock overtake his face.
“Surprised?” Ferguson asked. “Understandable.”
The priest exhaled loudly and set his eyes on the surprising visitor, “What does one of Eden Corp’s top minds want with me? I think you already won our little quarrel.”
Putting up his hands in feigned surrender, Ferguson grinned broadly, “I come in peace father. I’m here just as a man, not as an envoy of Eden.”
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you, there are few forces on this planet more formidable than your Godforsaken company. Call me Eden-shy,” Patrick explained with a sideways glance.
“Fine, fine, but let me explain,” Ferguson slid forward in his chair leaning towards the priest. “As a priest, you are passable, but as a scientist, your theories and studies have sent shockwaves through the world of genetics. While many scoffed at your attempts to combine the worlds of science and religion, there are a select few of us that saw the brilliance in the concepts you expounded.”
Patrick was never one to revel in praise, pride was a sin after all, but he appreciated that others in the scientific world had discerned the nobility in his theories.
“You spent three straight years researching spiritual implications of sci-birthing,” Ferguson continued. “Your work turned up some fascinating and controversial discoveries, but when you were on the verge of proving your final hypotheses the proverbial rug was pulled out from beneath you.”
“Please excuse me Mr. Ferguson, but my research was classified, no one ever saw it. Even I was denied access to my materials once my project was deemed to be ‘without merit’,” Patrick spat these final words with a scowl.
Ferguson smiled, “And you’re almost correct…almost. The average person would never have gotten their hands on your research, but a global corporation with its fingers in everything is not an ‘average person’.”
“So, you’re telling me that the Vatican simply handed over documents they considered highly sensitive to the very source of the investigation because Eden Corp. flexed its muscles?”
The bald man’s smile broadened, “No, I’m telling you that the Vatican halted your study because Eden Corp. ‘flexed its muscles’ as you say.”
“The VATICAN was influenced by a company? Mr. Ferguson, I, of all people, do not doubt the extent of Eden’s influence, but this is a stretch.”
“Father, even as a man of the cloth you must know that the Church has bent many of its own rules over the years to suit its needs.”
“And what was the church’s needs here?” Patrick asked skeptically.
Ferguson waved his hands and winced, “No, no, this isn’t about the politics of the church or international business. This is about you and your work.”
Patrick remained silent; his heart was always with the Church but as a man of reason he was never able to ignore the gaping holes in Catholic dictum.
“Regardless, now your company has my work and I’m sure it’s been destroyed,” the priest stated plainly.
Ferguson shook his head, “we are men of science - regardless of the repercussions we could not destroy such promising research. Yes, the heads of the business arm of Eden Corp. wanted it incinerated, but we convinced them to lock it away for future study and consideration.”
Patrick sighed impatiently, “How does this all involve me, sir?”
“Father, I want you to pick up where you left off, I want you to continue your research and I will personally foot the bill.”
The priest felt his eyes open wide as he tried futilely to mask his surprise, “Pardon?”
“I want you to prove your theory; I will give you your papers and more. You will have hands-on access to test subjects, the best equipment money can buy, our own competing data, and anything else you deem necessary. I am handing you the keys to the kingdom. Have at it?”
Feeling like the butt of some cruel prank Patrick could only muster, “but, why?”
Ferguson’s eyes grew dark as his brow furrowed deeply, “because I believe you, and you alone may be the only chance I have to save my unborn son.”