Chapter 5: Priestly Confessions
Copyright© 2017 by Hunter Johnson
“Who commanded you last, Cherie?” asked Jason.
“Patriarch Zora has used this ship extensively at the discretion of the Empress for the last one thousand years,” said Ship. It’s part of her family fleet. The Empress is regarded as the Matriarch and is responsible for investigating ascendancy, while Papa Zora is the Patriarch responsible for day to day religious observance. The Empress and the Patriarch loathe each other. The fact that the Empress has charge of the project of ascension is greatly resented by the patriarch. She loaned him the ship when she was trying to get on with him in the first thousand years after he took over the priesthood. I’m pleased she has taken the ship back now. It belongs to her and her family as part of their extensive fleet. She’s responsible for the protection of Nirvana not the Patriarch,” said Ship.
Jason went back to Robert and asked his opinion about Papa Zora.
“I transferred off the ship when it was under the control of the Patriarch. He preferred his own staff and I loathe the slimy hypocrite and his no-good priests. I transferred back to the ship at the request of the Empress for this trip. If you want to find out more about him you will find a history in the learning machines, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s quite a lot of information stored in this ship as he used it for so long. In the chef mailbox, I’ve seen several communications from him that extend back many centuries.”
Jason decided to practice some of his skills and began to search through the databases and archives of the ship. He first read the available historical information on the learning system about the Patriarch and then began to delve into the ship systems. The data was surprisingly poorly protected and was readily amenable to penetration by his amended hacker tool set, modified by his new knowledge and Empire programming languages.
Jason easily found a series of repositories of useful information. He surprisingly found a series of passwords poorly concealed, including one belonging to Papa Zora.
Jason was very surprised when he found on the third day an incomplete draft report apparently written by an Empire intelligence officer about the Patriarch, hidden in an encrypted directory. The intelligence officer explained that he successfully infiltrated himself into Papa Zora’s inner circle. The report was brief and unfortunately truncated but provided notable detail about the origins of Papa Zora, his upbringing, and his rise within the priesthood. The report went through the false public relations history created by Papa Zora and the real history found by the investigator. The report painted Papa Zora as a ruthless, driven, conscienceless individual who kidnapped and tortured people to achieve his purposes. Papa Zora rose through the ranks of the priesthood to become the deputy of the Patriarch. The report ended prematurely. Jason assumed Papa Zora captured the agent before he could complete his job.
Jason found thousands of emails from Papa Zora directing priests to undertake, kidnapping, extortion and espionage in the Empire. He also found emails that showed his involvement in human trafficking and extensive involvement with organized crime. He found a plan that was more than thousand years old which explained how Papa Zora intended to use the children of prominent families as hostages. He found many bitter communications that showed Papa Zora’s distaste for the Empire and how the Empire had treated him and his family. He had much sympathy for The Mob.
Jason decided that he needed to understand more history to try to understand the issues. He discovered from the learning machines, the former Patriarch; Patriarch Dan Jones was an IT genius ensured the victory of the Empire in the first war against The Mob. This had led to many benefits for the priests. In the second war against The Mob he developed methods to help defeat the Mob by developing IT systems to automate and coordinate ship weaponry to most effectively defeat Mob ships. Mysteriously he had died in an accident while traveling in the Empire, leading to Papa Zora becoming his successor.
Jason found himself profoundly shocked by the nature of the Patriarch and his reprehensible behavior.
He then began to wonder about the implications of the Empress taking back her ship from Papa Zora and wondered why she had done so; as her family was extraordinarily wealthy and her family had an extensive fleet. He asked Robert about her in more detail.
“In answer to your question Jason, the empress is a well-regarded academic and is considered to be a formidable intellect. She’s one scary woman, Jason. She can be all friendliness and light and the then if someone says something that’s not to her liking she will bite their head off. Her family is large and powerful. She controls the family resources with an iron fist. She has built a powerful intelligence apparatus of her own and has an excellent commercial brain as well. She was a top athlete in her time as well. She can read people well and I would never chance even the smallest untruth to her.
“No one would question for an instant her decision to send this ship to get you, Papa Zora included. He would resent it, as the mean-spirited man he is, but he couldn’t say no,” said Robert.
“If we assume she deliberately provoked the patriarch, it would be to get him to take some action. It means she’s aware of his behavior but doesn’t have the ammunition she needs,” speculated Jason.
“What is the Emperor like?” Jason asked Robert as they sat in the canteen with Marie after Jason enjoyed an excellent lamb roast, apple pie, and cream.
“I really like him. He’s an easy-going man, at least on the surface. He’s never stuffy or pretentious. He’s very bright and has a good mind. He chats to everyone and remembers names over years. He’s fit and is quite a fighter as well. He and the Empress began as an arranged marriage between the two most powerful families in the Empire, but they’re very close and support each other. Many think she’s the norbinium in the spine of the Emperor,” Robert remarked.
“He’s much easier going than the Empress, but I’d not underestimate him for a second either,” said Marie thoughtfully, “I saw his leadership during The Mob War, and recall one of the Admirals saying how impressed he was with some of the Emperor’s ideas. He said how much they appreciated that he didn’t direct them, but if he had an idea he would tentatively bring it up for their consideration, and always respected their ideas and never overruled them. That same person much later said that the Empress was also an impressive woman, but her skills were more in the area of intelligence. He said she scared him with what she knew. He reinforced what Robert told you; she had her own extensive intelligence network, originally based in commercial intelligence but used now for her wider purposes.”
They sat together sipping their drinks convivially, thinking.
Jason was sleeping very deeply when he heard Rosie barking furiously. He heard a scream then the familiar sound of the crunching of bone. Jason groggily sat up and the lights switched on. He heard Lilly growling. He heard dragging sounds. He saw Lilly’s tail as she pulled a shrieking and crying man into his wardroom.
Rosie followed her quickly pulling a large heavy briefcase behind her. She dragged the case to Jason. He absentmindedly patted her head as he tried to orientate himself to what was going on. She then returned to help Lilly pull a robed man into the wardroom clamping her jaw on his other shoulder. Both dogs growled ferociously as they pulled the bedraggled man to Jason’s feet. Jason shook his head to help him wake up and noted it was just three-thirty in the morning.
Jason looked carefully at the man’s narrow face, weak chin, and thin tight lips, but didn’t recognize him. The man was dressed in brown robes with a red sash around his waist. Jason didn’t like the look of him. From the pictures, he had seen the man was a priest, and Jason was sure he was up to no good.
Jason was in no mood to be gentle. He felt a rage building up. This incursion was no coincidence. He decided to interrogate the man while he was in pain and in shock, without the benefit of any doubt as to his guilt. If he was outside Jason’s room at that ungodly hour his purpose couldn’t conceivably be benign.
“State your name and your occupation,” said Jason loudly and in the face of the man.
“François Bechtold is my name. I’m a priest. I’ve done nothing, get your beasts to let go of me or you will get into trouble,” he asked and then threatened.
Jason felt the rage grow. He knew this was one of those bastard priests perpetrating some kind of heinous act. He wouldn’t get any presumption of innocence.
“You will tell me exactly what I want to know. Lilly, bite.”
Lilly had released the priest after she pulled him inside. She was standing over him, and then at Jason’s command leaned down, and sank her teeth into his other shoulder. She adjusted her powerful Rottweiler jaw and crunched her teeth harder. There was again a crunch of bone. He screamed and passed out. Jason walked to his water dispenser threw half a cup of water on his face.
“You will tell me exactly what I wish to know.”
“Yes, I’ll tell you everything, stop the animal.”
“Lilly, hold!” Lilly kept her jaw clamped on his shoulder. “Speak and tell the truth or you will suffer with both of your legs broken by the other animal.”
Rosie was standing over him with her mouth close to his groin.
“I’ve come to put supplies into your replicator, that’s all.”
Jason quickly opened the briefcase to see multiple corked test tubes with the same brownish liquid in all of them.
“You lie. Rosie, bite.”
Rosie sank her teeth into his thigh. He screamed shrilly.
“No, stop! The animal is biting me! Stop it, and I’ll tell you,” he pleaded.
“That’s a mixture that the priests put into replicators and it affects the functioning of males.”
“It’s a poison? Answer or the dog will bite again!”
“Yes, it is. We’ll have our revenge on the Empire, no one will stop us. We’ll get you soon. You will be in our hands and we’ll make you suffer, you ... primitive animal.”
“How many of you priests are on this ship, and where are you hidden?”
“You will never find us. Soon we’ll have our ship back and you will be in our hands.”
Jason could see him manipulating his mouth and smacked his face.
“Ship, transport us to medical, him into a pod and sedate him and remove all poison from his mouth.”
Jason found himself and the two dogs in medical. The priest was in the pod in front of them. They waited for some minutes before one of the doctors tapped Jason on his shoulder.
“The priest can’t be saved. The poison is rapid acting and virulent and is of a type unknown to the Empire. The action is extraordinary, it’s destroying him cell by cell. Soon he will be a pool of chemicals and the remains of the non-organic components of his bones. The pod has removed all traces of the poison from his body but it has already done its damage. He’s dead and decomposing. The poison was contained in a tooth at the back of his mouth.
The poison is definitely not of Empire origin and isn’t known in any of the directories of poisons of any other species that we know.”
Jason patted both dogs and praised them. They stood wagging their tails very pleased with themselves.
This priest had died rather than be interrogated further, leaving Jason with a sense of unease and disquiet. Finding a group hidden on the ship was more a mission for a thousand people than a task for one. He had walked around the ship many times over the months and it was huge. There were very few people on the ship. Most of the tasks were undertaken by AI driven robots of various types. They did the repair work, the cleaning and assumed most of the responsibility for the operation of the starship.
Even in the horticultural and farming areas of the ship farming AIs tended to the plants night and day requiring very little routine human help.
Jason didn’t even know how to begin to find the priests who were no doubt hidden in a space or many spaces within the bowels of the ship. Many of these areas were closed with the doors locked. On his own it would take many years to search the ship and if they knew he was searching they could move to an area where he had already searched.
He pulled his thoughts back to what had happened, rather than embark on a fruitless search.
The dogs had been great. He was very proud of them and patted and praised them.