tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 23

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 23

bybradley_stoke©

Chapter Twenty Three
Intrepid - 3754 C.E.


"Isaac, isn't it?" the Special Operations Officer asked the naked man sitting on a chair opposite him and who was gently restrained by a low intensity force field. "And where do you come from exactly?"

The Holy Crusader might have been defeated but he retained his pride and dignity, despite the humiliation of his continued nudity. "Why should I tell you that?" he responded defiantly.

"A fair question," said Emmanuel reasonably. "There's no penalty for non-cooperation. We shan't reduce your rations, deprive you of sleep or interrogate you further if you don't wish to answer my questions. And what we most certainly won't do, as some of you rebels believe, is torture you. That's been outlawed by the Interplanetary Union from its inception." He paused to study Isaac's face for his reaction. Religious fanatics like him had some very strange ideas about what practices were legal or permitted. "We know a great deal about why you are here and what you tried to achieve. We probably know better than you do the names of those who were responsible for your foolhardy mission and the clandestine means by which your masters managed to acquire the technology that enabled your space ships to remain hidden from the Intrepid's sensors. But we have a duty to return prisoners of war—even one undeclared and totally unprovoked—to their colonies or planets of origin. For us to do this, we first need to know where you came from."

"Don't you know that?" wondered Isaac who reasoned that if the atheists knew so much already they must surely know the answer to such a simple question.

"Alas, no," said the officer. "We can narrow it down to a couple of dozen of colonies who practise a similar variant of the Christian faith, but we don't maintain a registry of citizens from nations that are unwilling to provide us with the data. Rogue states such as yours are extraordinarily reluctant to allow independent observers within their borders and the Interplanetary Union assiduously observes a policy of non-interference. We know your governments practise methods of indoctrination that are illegal elsewhere. We know that there is a total lack of freedom and normal human rights. But we have no jurisdiction whatsoever over any state that wishes to remain outside the Interplanetary Union. Unless your state should interfere with our affairs, as of course yours has just done, we respect the right of every state to do pretty much whatever they like, notwithstanding how unpalatable it might be."

Isaac objected to the dark skinned officer's characterisation of his home colony. "The Gospel is practised on Holy Trinity with absolute fidelity," he retorted. "There can be nothing unethical, let alone 'unpalatable', in adhering to Holy Writ. As the Lord commands so we obey."

"Holy Trinity," mused the special officer. "That's Mercury orbit, isn't it? You are a very long way from home."

"I am never far from home when I am in the light of the Lord's charity," said Isaac. "That's something you atheists could never understand."

"Interesting," said Emmanuel. "I imagine it that you believe that I'm an atheist. No doubt your reasoning is that a secular body such as the Interplanetary Union must therefore be home only to atheists. The truth, Isaac, is that I am not an atheist. In fact, I am a Christian. It would be nice to say that I was a Christian like you, but that isn't true. The Christianity I practise is so very different to yours that it's very unlikely that you would even recognise it as such."

"Are you a heretic or a Roman Catholic?" asked Isaac who was stirred to curiosity despite himself. "Surely, no true Christian could live amongst the damned and accursed."

"Jesus Christ and His Disciples lived in the company of unbelievers," Emmanuel remarked. "And they preached to those who were sceptical and often hostile. However, my faith is such that although I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the tradition of his faith in the manner of most Christians in the Interplanetary Union you'd almost certainly characterise my faith as heresy. I don't, for instance, believe in the Resurrection. I don't believe that Christ was any more the Son of God than any other prophet. I don't believe in Judgment Day. I don't believe in an after-life: let alone one that damns the vast majority of Creation to an eternity of torment. And I don't even believe in what you might call a God."

"Then how can you call yourself a Christian?" asked Isaac incredulously. "You deny all the truths revealed in the Gospels and yet profess to the worst heresies of all."

"Faith is not just creed or dogma, Isaac," said Emmanuel. "I find great comfort in prayer and I regularly attend Church services. My belief in the Christian faith sustains my spiritual needs and provides me with an ethical framework. But my Christian faith is more like the practise of most Muslims, Buddhists, Jews or Hindus in the Interplanetary Union—who also no longer profess a mystical belief in eternal life or an anthropomorphic God—than it is to the faith practised in Holy Trinity, or indeed to any of the other hundreds of rogue states that profess to one of the many extreme, supposedly Christian, theologies."

"How can you call a Christian society a rogue state?" asked Isaac. "It is the heretics, atheists and pagans who are the rogues in the Solar System."

"Well, according to the doctrine of your state, only one colony is not heretical or otherwise damned. And that is Holy Trinity. That's an insular prejudice you have in common with all the fanatical states that participated in your foolish endeavour. They can't all be right, can they? Why should the colony of Holy Trinity be in any way better appraised of the truth than any other?"

"Because it is only Holy Trinity that truly follows the word of the Lord as revealed in His Holy Scriptures."

"Or the English language version that dates back to the early Seventeenth Century," said the special officer. "Much as I enjoy discussing religion, however, my area of professional expertise is in the peculiar practises of rogue states. Less than a quarter of them are of the religious variety. Just as many practise one variation or other of the various political ideologies, such as Bolshevik Communism, Fascism or Illiberal Socialism. The great majority of rogue states are simply dictatorships, usually of just one individual, but sometimes of a clique united by kinship, military rank or ideological purity. These rogue states may be called kingdoms, republics or theocracies, but as long as they deny political representation by the people and the full range of basic human rights, they are not welcome to membership of the Interplanetary Union. Those rogue states that have petitioned for membership, which is very nearly half of them, will never be permitted to join until they are governed in an acceptable manner."

"Acceptable!" exclaimed Isaac. "What could be less acceptable in the eyes of the Lord than letting Satan run wild?"

"Perhaps the unquestioning and ruthless way by which a highly partisan interpretation of the mishmash of texts gathered together over the centuries and ascribed to the Lord is used for the vicious oppression of its citizens?" suggested Emmanuel. "What rogue states most have in common is not shared ideology or ethics, but the suppression of its people. It is only a sign of insecurity when no disagreement is permitted. Were you also a policeman? One of those called Soldiers of Christ on Holy Trinity? Most of the rebels who attempt to invade this ship were active not so much in the defence of their state from external enemies, but in the terrorisation and oppression of the state's own people."

"I am proud of my service in the Greater Good," said Isaac defiantly. "Not one person I killed was innocent of a capital crime."

"Well," said Emmanuel, unable to disguise his distaste at the implications of Isaac's statement, "I don't expect to change your opinion or views. I have a duty to perform. And that duty is not to persuade you to see the error of your ways, but to determine where you come from so that you can be returned there. However I must inform you that there is no treaty between the Interplanetary Union and Holy Trinity—or any one of the rogue states—that binds us to return citizens to their colony or planet of origin. If you so wish, we can allow you to remain in the Interplanetary Union as a free citizen when we return to the ecliptic plane."

"And why would I wish that?" asked Isaac. "I have a wife and children waiting for me. I would much prefer to live amongst True Believers than amongst atheists or, indeed, heretics such as you."

The Special Officer blew out his cheeks and lowered his gaze towards his hands which he clasped together on his lap, not so much in prayer as to disguise the agitation that could so easily excite them as he reflected on the appalling acts of cruelty and violence Isaac had undoubtedly committed as a police officer in his colony.

"I am not intimate with Holy Trinity," he said at last. "Nor am I any more so with the rogue states of the other rebels I have interviewed. As a Christian, I have been assigned the duty of interviewing only those who profess to Christianity as their faith. In truth, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist or Calvinist, none of your home states seem especially different from each other. None practise what I believe to be the teachings of Jesus Christ, who bade us to love our neighbour and forgive those who trespass. I would advise you that another characteristic almost all rogue states have in common is a suspicion of anyone in their midst who has ever come into contact with someone from another community."

"I have served the Lord God with forbearance and dedication," said Isaac. "I pray to the Lord five times each day and have resisted all temptation. Why shouldn't I be welcome amongst those whose shared faith I serve?"

"Even had your misguided crusade been successful..." replied Emmanuel. "Even if you had prevailed over a space ship designed to counter a rather greater invasion force than what the Holy Trinity and the other rogue states managed to put together at huge risk and even greater compromise... Even if you had succeeded in reaching your objective and destroying what you call the Apostasy, which is not even remotely feasible given our analysis of this strange phenomenon... Even if all these unlikely things had happened, do you truly believe the Archdeacon and his ministers would welcome you back?"

"Why ever not?"

"Think about it, Isaac," continued Emmanuel. "You have been tested and there is the risk that you have been found wanting by the absurdly high standards of conformity your state demands. The mere fact that you've been in the polluting presence of people of faiths and religions other than your own would condemn you. Indeed, I know from our observations that you have befriended others whose faiths may be approximate to your own but different enough that they would be considered heretical by your clergy. Could you withstand the interrogation that you would doubtless undergo? Can you be sure that those you love would continue to be safe and secure if you returned?"

"I don't understand."

"The evidence suggests that rogue states such as yours who prize intolerance and compliance are no more tolerant of those tainted by association, even of an innocent kind, than they are to those who are actively heretical. Your family, and especially your wife and children, are unlikely to be permitted to see you again for fear that you may corrupt them. And if they should, then they would be executed by whatever barbaric rites, such as crucifixion, electrocution or stoning, that your society practises."

"You are using idle threats," said Isaac, who nevertheless felt rather uneasy after having been presented with this all too plausible scenario. "I have been blameless. Even though our mission has not so far been blessed by success, no brave Crusader could expect anything less than the honour he deserves when he returns home."

"The choice is yours, Isaac," said Emmanuel. "In my role as Special Operations Officer for the Interplanetary Union, it is not my duty to prevent you from returning to what I believe would be not so much a hero's welcome as torture and painful death and, possibly, not just for you but also for your family and friends. But it is my duty as a Christian to open your eyes to the reality of your situation and make you aware of the real choices available to you. Only my conscience would be appeased if you should decide to accept the sanctuary offered you by the Interplanetary Union which benefits in no material way at all from extending you the offer of asylum. If you wish to return to Holy Trinity, I will pray for you but I expect my prayers will be in vain. A murderous regime such as yours will not so much reward you as attempt to persuade you that the slow and unpleasant death you will almost certainly suffer is in some peculiar way exactly what the Lord God intends. Perhaps you will echo Christ's words on the cross: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" If you truly believe in the message of Jesus Christ, reflect that the martyrdoms of the Apostles and of Jesus Christ Himself were sacrifices of the highest order but were not actively chosen by those who died so painfully."

"A heretic like you cannot tell a true believer what he should believe!" snorted Isaac in disdain. "I shall return to Holy Trinity and be welcomed. I have served the Lord Jesus Christ with honour and this will be recognised. You are lying and your contemptuous deceit damns you to an eternity of torment."

Emmanuel sighed.

"I shall pray for you, Isaac," he said at last. "I hope you shall remember my words of caution."

"Your sophistry doesn't fool me," said Isaac bitterly. "A Christian who doesn't believe in God or the resurrection...? That is no Christian at all. Recall Verses Thirty to Thirty-two of Chapter Two of the Acts of the Apostles: "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses." There is no text clearer than that?"

The Special Operations Officer chose not to reply. He contemplated his clasped hands and let a decent period of time pass while Isaac revelled in his mastery of Holy Scripture.

At last, he said: "Well, Isaac, I have no more questions of you. Do you have any of me?"

The crusader was taken aback. No one had ever asked him such a question before. Questions weren't expected in Holy Trinity. Rather, orders were given to be obeyed.

"What possible advice or information could a heretic give me?" he said. "Anyone who denies the truth of the Gospels can be nothing more than a dissembler and a miscreant."

"Well, I could remind you of the reality of your situation," said Emmanuel. "You are on a space ship whose destination is beyond the Heliosphere and is already more than two light weeks from the nearest space observatory. There is no possibility that you could escape from the Intrepid and be able to survive. You are under constant surveillance. You are kept naked so that you can't conceal any weapons. Given your mutual antipathy, there is no real likelihood that your community of rebels will band together again and resume your foolhardy mission. The only hope you have is that when we encounter the Anomaly it might bring about a situation that in some way changes your fortunes. None of us know what we are in for and I only hope that the spiritual guidance of my Christian faith prepares me for what will come."

"The Apostasy is the Manifestation of Satan," said Isaac, "and your Christian faith, as you call it, will only comfort you in the illusion that you may be spared from the Final Judgment. As is said in Verses Eleven and Twelve of Chapter Two of the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians: "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Prepare to meet thy Maker and quake in His presence."

Emmanuel made a discreet gesture that signalled a Saturnian soldier to enter the interrogation chamber accompanied by two robots. Isaac was escorted away while the Special Operations Officer sat silently in his chair. He bent his head forward and pressed his hands together.

It was only several minutes later after Emmanuel had finished praying for Isaac and the other deluded souls in the outermost level that the Special Officer at last said "Amen" and raised his head. Although he didn't believe that a God as such was listening to his prayers or that there was any mystical significance to his act of faith, he hoped that in some way his sincere desire that Isaac should recognise the futility of his situation and act in a more responsible and sane way might actually happen. There might not be a God as such, but perhaps there was a way in which a sincerely held wish might influence the workings of fate.

Emmanuel stood up and left the interrogation room where he inspected the holographic recording of his interview. This would be analysed less for operational intelligence than as a psychological and sociological study. A much more complete picture of Isaac's role in the abortive mission had already been pieced together elsewhere. There was much else that Emmanuel could have told Isaac about the futility of his crusade and the fate that was likely to meet him if he should ever return to Holy Trinity. He could, for instance, have informed him of the criminal hypocrisy of the Archdeacon and his close circle of ministers. The Interplanetary Union might not know the exact nature of the atrocities and injustices suffered by the citizens of Holy Trinity, but they were well aware of the sale of pornographic material to the colony. This material was of a kind that could appeal only to murderous paedophiles who in this case had the resources to translate their fantasies into reality.

Emmanuel could have given details of the political chicanery that accompanied the formation of an alliance of otherwise warring religious states that benefited only the elites and not at all the people they were meant to serve. And most certainly didn't further any religious cause. Very little of the huge amount of wealth collected for the crusade was actually dedicated towards its successful completion, which was most notable for its incredible meanness. A far greater proportion of the proceeds gathered from the wealthy and religiously disposed citizens of the Interplanetary Union ended up in the off-shore bank accounts of the religious leaders, such as the Archdeacon of Holy Trinity, rather than in the purchase of space ships and military hardware. Indeed, the Archdeacon's initial reluctance to contribute resources to the endeavour was far better understood as a bargaining ploy to maximise his profit than as a sign of indecision. Not one of the hundreds of colonies that contributed to the crusade had done so without substantial material benefit accruing to the elites that governed them.

Emmanuel wondered, as he so often did in his prayers, how so many millions of people could be deceived so often and so profoundly. How could so much evil in the Solar System justify itself so sanctimoniously?

Maxwell appeared at the door to the interrogation chamber and smiled at him both simperingly and sympathetically.

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