After the thopter landed on the cruciform-shaped pad behind the Abot Voix cathedral, Captain Warwick Equinox walked down the metal ramp to find a pair of Kanyist guardians waiting for him in their striped red and yellow livery.
Bessler followed her captain down the ramp, ready to accompany him to the reckoning, but one of the guards intercepted the scout and stood silently in her path.
“Concern yourself here, Bessler,” Equinox said. He forced a smile, adding: “If this goes poorly, know that I have long respected the care and creativity you bring to your role aboard the Medici.”
Disappointed, Bessler scowled at the somber, silent Kanyist guard. She raised no protest, however, and resigned herself to walking back up the ramp to the cockpit of the thopter to await the outcome.
Equinox looked southwest, saw the orbiting statue’s hazy form disappearing behind the brass, concrete, and steel structures of the city skyline. With each passing minute, the massive projectile’s orbit continued to decay. It could plunge through the atmosphere and render the planet Da Vinci uninhabitable within the next 24 hours. The crisis could be resolved in a matter of minutes using modern technology – if not for the prickly matter of Kanyist religious dogma. He felt a chill, which he might’ve attributed to the stress over his impending inquisition if not for the fact that it was late fall in the southern hemisphere. He wished he had worn his wool-lined uniform coat.
Five minutes later, the guards accompanied Equinox into the Enclave antechamber.
“Good of you to come, Captain,” said a gray-haired man in the blue and gold robes that marked him as a cardinal. He extended a hand, knuckles up, showing five golden rings embossed with the letter “K” – one ring for each decade of service to the church. “Cardinal Louis Pontifax. Riviera Archdiocese.”
“How nice to meet you, Your Eminence,” the captain replied, taking Pontifax’s hand and kissing each ring in succession. He straightened, then said, “Regrettably, I haven’t been to Riviera in several years. My first honeymoon.” Three wives ago, Equinox recalled.
“I’ll show you in,” Pontifax said, gesturing toward the double doors. Two guards – not the captain’s escorts from the landing pad – pulled open the doors for Equinox and the cardinal.
Just inside the flat-ceilinged chamber, with rows of pews on either side of an aisle leading to the Enclave dais, they were stopped by another guard who announced: “Captain Equinox of the Da Vinci Exploration Service in answer to a formal summons of the Enclave.”
Kneeling before the dais with the twelve cardinals and bishops – six on either side of an empty chair meant to be filled someday with the return of Saint Kanye – Equinox crossed himself and said, “For the lyrics, the rhythm, and the melody.”
“Leave us,” Pontifax told the guard, who did as he was ordered, closing the double doors as he departed. The cardinal then left Equinox to take his place on the dais, at the right hand of the absent Father.
“Matters are grave, Captain Equinox,” intoned a dark-skinned female bishop with glacial eyes. “A dangerous time to expect the church to countenance heresy in any form.”
“No heresy was intended, Eminence,” Equinox said. He remained on one knee, but looked directly at the woman who addressed him. The nameplate before her read: CARDINAL AMETHYN XEBEC.
“Of course not,” Pontifax interjected. He steepled his fingers. “However, you *did* recommend that the DES obliterate the figurehead of the religious order that represents millions of people in this solar system. Certainly, given your past affiliation with the church, you had some inkling of how such a suggestion might be received.”
“Please,” the captain said. “Your Eminence. When Saint Kanye falls, the resulting explosion very likely will *kill* everyone on this planet.”
Quiet fell over the room for a moment. The cardinals and bishops whispered to each other. Except for Xebec. She kept her icy gaze fixed on Equinox. In that look, Equinox thought he saw contempt so virulent that it would be sated by nothing short of his drawing-and-quartering in Escalade Plaza.
“Remember, Captain,” Xebec said at last. “It is prophesied that Saint Kanye will take his place at this table once again.”
“Somehow, I doubt they meant *this way*, Eminence,” Equinox said.
“That is not for any of us to decide,” she said. “Certainly not a lapsed Kanyist who can act the part without truly showing faith.” Xebec turned to regard Pontifax on the opposite side of the empty chair. “First, I move that we formally excommunicate this infidel from the church. Should that pass, I move that we remove his tongue as penance for his transgression.”
Underwhelmed, Pontifax regarded his counterpart with a disapproving frown. “I think that may be premature. Further, it may be utterly pointless if we’re all dead by sundown tomorrow.”
“Very well,” she said, returning her attention to Captain Equinox. “I withdraw my previous motion and substitute with a moratorium against any action that would damage the statue.”
Warwick Equinox sighed and looked at the floor, studying the brown and gold lines in the carpet, saying nary a word as the Enclave voted 7 to 5 in favor of essentially sentencing the planet Da Vinci to death. He felt some relief that the defeat wasn’t more lopsided.
Xebec thanked her companions for their consideration.
“You are dismissed, Captain,” Pontifax said. “But before you depart, could you tell the Enclave what chances are that Saint Kanye won’t fall? What’s the possibility a miracle might save us all?”
“Zero,” Equinox said, rising to his feet. He crossed himself again: “For the lyrics, the rhythm, and the melody.” He bowed to the Enclave and said, “Thank you for the audience.” With that, he made his way back to the thopter and left the surface of Da Vinci – possibly for the last time.
Continued in Da Vinci Colony Installment 3.