THE TENTH DEATH
David Alan Jones
The High Sage of Shar-Un looked like a rabbit. Bishop Sonje liked rabbits. He hoped he wouldn’t have to kill this one.
“Do you know who I am?” asked Sonje.
The High Sage lifted his pink eyes, his sensitive nose twitching.
“You are the bishop down from the ship. You head the point church,” he said in a voice leavened with calm.
“Church of the All-Point.”
“As you say.”
Bishop Sonje fought the urge to fold his hands before him on the high, white table, instead clasping them tightly in his lap. He had been awake from hibernation just ten hours — not long enough for the body tremors to cease — yet he refused to let the High Sage see him shaking, not while the rabbit-faced creature sat there, perfectly calm, as if he weren’t strapped to a confessional chair.
“Do you know why I came here?” asked Sonje.
“From the way I’ve been treated these last three days I’d say it isn’t to be my friend.”
“Your attempts at levity do you a disservice, High Sage. Refusing Reunification is a serious matter.”
“Nothing is serious until we make it so.”
Sonje shared a look with his top Surrogate, Tock. Tock was genetically Shar-Un like the Sage, but his loyalty lay with the Church.
“I did warn you in the briefing, Bishop. We are a stubborn bunch,” said Tock.
“Indeed,” said Sonje. Turning his eyes back to the Sage, he said, “Our Surrogates revealed themselves more than six years ago, but not one of your people has joined the Church in that time. Why do you think that is?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“We are happy as we are. We don’t need your medicines, your extended life. Those things are meaningless to a Shar-Un of the Way.”
“You’re refusal forces my hand in this matter. You will receive Severe Unction if this continues.”
The Sage stared at Sonje, his two large front teeth gleaming white.
“What is that?”
“An anointing and investiture of the All-Point. You shall be made a member of the order.”
“It is already done. You were and are a part of the All-Point for all time as are all things living and inert. But the unction gives us certain doctrinal rights and responsibilities.”
“Nothing you do will make me a member of your church, Bishop. You should let me go now. My people will be looking to me during this time of uncertainty. As Tock said, we are a stubborn people. They will not long stand for my abduction.”
Sonje ignored the Sage. He made a go ahead gesture and Dr. Dent, the Church’s senior bioengineer at Shar-Un, advanced on the Sage with a small white instrument shaped like a handgun.
“Tilt your head, please,” said the balding doctor.
The Sage did so and Dr. Dent pressed his gun against the rabbit man’s throat. Something clicked and the Sage jerked, but said nothing.
“Is that it? I felt nothing,” said the Sage, “though the click gave me a fright.”
“What you did not feel is called a Time-Tag. It is a kind of non-spatial marker. It bonded with your consciousness in the instant it was attached. It has no length or width; it exists only in that instant when it was applied.”
“And just what does it do?” asked the Sage.
For the first time Sonje thought he might have heard a ring of anxiety in that cool voice, but he wasn’t certain. The Shar-Uns, who had achieved a steam-driven society before Sonje’s missionary ship arrived, seemed at once fascinated and yet dubious about human technology.
“Two things: first, it marks you as a member of the Church of the All-Point. Second, it allows your consciousness to be sent back to the point at which it was applied from any moment in the future.”
The High Sage blinked.
“I do not understand.”
“I believe an example will be the best possible explanation.”
Bishop Sonje motioned to the two human guards standing behind the High Sage of Shar-Un. One grabbed the Sage by both ears near the top of his skull — a dire insult according to what Sonje had learned in his short time on this planet — while the other shook out a clear plastic bag.
“What are you doing? Stop that,” said the High Sage, though he sounded more affronted than frightened.
The guard with the bag glanced at Bishop Sonje who, despite a sudden current of nausea clenching his stomach, nodded.