Evening shadows marched up the gangway at the prisoners’ feet, matching them stride for stride. The last of the Shar-Uns to board the pulser ship, Tychron, moved slowly as if trying to fight the inevitable, but armed humans and surrogates kept them from ambling to a complete stop.
The High Sage of Shar-Un came last. Though many of his comrades wore wrist or ankle cuffs, the Sage was not so encumbered. He had never given any sign that he might attack his keepers or even run away. In fact, over the last several hours the little rabbit-faced man had been nothing but cooperative. Even now he walked faster than his brothers on the ramp.
Bishop Sonje, who stood beside Tock on an observation deck overlooking the loading area, watched the scene with a rising current of melancholy in his chest. Yet that feeling was somehow tempered with an odd sense of pride in the little Sage who had conquered death over and over again, remaining not only sane through the ordeal, but somehow seeming to thrive.
“Even now he looks proud, doesn’t he?” said the bishop.
“That he does,” said Tock, his voice almost too low to be heard.
Sonje’s hibernation sickness had worn off the day before so that now he gripped the deck’s safety fence in a firm hand. Unfortunately, that firmness was nothing but a façade.
Some part of him, some niggling little seed of doubt, felt that sending the great Sage from his own home planet was wrong — worse than wrong; a sacrilege, a violation so great it bordered on the unforgivable. How could this be right?
And yet the Church said it was right — made protocols to secure its rightness. Who was he, a mere bishop in service to the All-Point, to question the Church fathers? And yet he did just that.
Tock, unaware of the bitter turmoil seizing his master’s mind, said, “I’m sad that this should be the last time I ever see him. I know we didn’t harm him — not our true selves — but I can’t help thinking he must hate us; hate what our alter-selves were forced to do to him.”
“Perhaps,” said Sonje, concentrating all of his efforts on keeping his voice low and level, “but it matters little now. We’ll never see him again in this life. And when we all join the Point we shall be reconciled. He and his 12,000 fellows on that ship will see that what we did was right.”
Tock turned to the bishop then, perhaps sensing the stress behind Sonje’s words. His overlarge eyes seemed bore into Sonje’s flesh, exposing the lies beneath.
Tock said, “What would you say if you ever did see him again in this life, Bishop?”
“I’d say, ‘I’m sorry.’”