Pontifax paced a circuit around the holotable in the strategic observatory dome of the Abat Voix, hands clasped behind his back, as the symbol representing the Chevalier grew closer to Follett Station. “Is this really the answer, Amethyn?” He finally came to a stop, facing Cardinal Xebec on the opposite side of the display.
“They forget their place,” she said. “Honestly, Louis, this has been a long time coming.” For too long, she thought, General Nucci had operated with relative autonomy. It had given her an overconfidence that served to undermine the authority of the Church.
Pontifax tilted his head to the left. “Perhaps. But is *now* the moment for retribution? If the DES calculations are correct and we launch an attack, the viznets are likely to draw unsavory conclusions about our motivations.”
If the calculations were correct, angry rants by viznet hosts would be the least of Xebec’s worries. It occurred to her then that it seemed an odd matter for her fellow cardinal to bring up. She stiffened as she narrowed her eyes at him and asked: “What have you done?”
He raised his eyebrows, but offered no spoken response. Just a thin, sad smile.
“Our deliberations are secret, Louis,” she hissed. If Xebec had a sidearm, she thought she might have shot him on the spot for treason against the Church. She looked left at one of the temple guards and wondered if they would comply with an order to open fire on a heretic. That’s when new symbols appeared in the holographic map, emerging from the planet’s atmosphere and approaching Follett Station. Media crews, no doubt, en route to capture live footage of the Kanyists using their military to crush any chance of stopping an apocalyptic disaster on Da Vinci. “What have you done?” she asked again.
Pontifax drew a deep breath. Then he said, “I’m sorry, Amethyn. If our world is doomed because of that forsaken statue falling out of the sky, I will not idly allow bloodshed by our own hands. That statue, if necessary, could be rebuilt. What if, by some miracle, the Saint Kanye did not fall tomorrow? What if he drifted out among the stars? How would we then justify the slaughter at Follett Station? And if, as predicted, he does crash into our world – well, what difference does this show of force make? We all die in the end.”
Not all, Xebec thought. And then, with a growing ember of shame, it struck her that at least some of her motivation had been recognition of the fact that the DES, safe in orbit and clear of the impending cataclysm, would survive while she died – along with much of her beloved Church.
“It’s a test,” she said, placing a slender hand over her heart. “We are tested. *I* am tested.”
“Indeed,” Pontifax replied, relief in his voice.
“I am tested for my devotion to the will of His Glory versus my desire for self-preservation and the survival of my world,” Xebec said. “There is no room for vengeance in this. All that matters is that His Glory comes to fruition.” She looked across the table at Pontifax and said: “The Chevalier will not seize Follett Station. Instead, she will be redirected to lead a blockade against the Medici and any other DES vessels that attempt to approach the statue and prevent atmospheric penetration.” Pontifax looked now as if he had been punched in the stomach, confirming Xebec’s suspicion that he sympathized far too much with Equinox and Nucci. “For the lyrics, the rhythm, and the melody,” she concluded.
Continued in Installment Six.