Bishop Sonje’s stomach gave a lurch when first he saw the unwavering number nine glowing next to the High Sage’s name. On its heels came a mixed sense of both relief and despair. He would not have to endure watching the nine deaths recorded on his flimsy, for the procedure of Severe Unction had obviously failed. His only task now was to prepare the High Sage of Shar-Un for banishment to some unsettled planet where he and thousands of incorrigibles like him would live out their days in obscurity.
“How many times have you awakened here?” he asked, raising his eyes to meet the Sage’s own.
The Sage’s lips parted in what passed for a Shar-Un smile. His pink eyes shone with some inner mirth that might have been madness, but seemed more akin to relief.
“Nine,” he whispered. “Nine times and now my holiday, yes?”
Sonje shook his head.
“I wish for your sake it were a holiday, High Sage. But you, like me, are a creature of modern industry. I’m afraid there will be no conveniences on the world where we’re sending you. Every day of your life will be a trial. You’ll spend the remainder of that life scrounging for food and struggling to maintain shelter. Every invention that has made your life easy heretofore will be gone — there only if you and your fellow travelers can invent it.”
“We are quite an inventive people.”
Sonje smiled, wondering if the Sage could recognize the condescension in his expression, and not caring. The fool thought his people brilliant — thought them advanced — when they had created nothing more elaborate than the steam engine. Did he not wonder how humans had traveled between the stars? Did he think they did it by steam power?
The poor fool.
“How many of my kind will be there?” asked the Sage. He seemed somehow eager to be away.
“I can’t tell you — we won’t know for some hours. But, considering your race’s obstinacy, I doubt it will be a scant.”
“And when shall we depart?”
“So soon? I would have thought the mere logistics would make that impossible.”
“We can move many people quickly.”
“And once you have us all in one place you will ship us off? As fast as possible?”
“Indeed. No need to prolong the inevitable.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said the High Sage, all pretense of a smile gone from his face. “The sooner the better.”