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Chapter Twenty-Eight

"Reverend Sullivan." Robert Telmachi, Archbishop of Manticore, walked across his spacious, sunlit office to shake hands as the bald, fierce-nosed visitor was ushered into it.

"This is an honor," Telmachi continued. "And, if I may say so, a meeting I've hoped for for quite some time."

"Thank you, Archbishop." The head of the Church of Humanity Unchained shook the offered hand firmly. "I, too, have looked forward to meeting you. Monsignor Davidson has been most satisfactory as your representative on Grayson, but given the intimacy of our two star nations' political relationship . . ."

He smiled, and Telmachi nodded with a smile of his own.

"Precisely," he said, escorting his guest towards an inviting conversational nook arranged in the office's huge, floor-to-ceiling bay window. "Of course," he continued, his smile broadening as they sat, "I don't have quite as much authority in the Star Kingdom's spiritual matters as you do in the Protectorate's."

"You might be surprised," Sullivan said wryly. "Our doctrine of the Test makes for a certain spiritual obstreperousness."

"But obstreperousness can be a good thing, as long as you learn to pay attention to its causes," Telmachi replied. "We found that out the hard way in my own Church. In fact, I believe we'd begun discovering it well before your own ancestors departed for Grayson."

"As did we, with those lunatics on Masada," Sullivan said more grimly.

"Every Faith has its moments of lunacy, Reverend." Telmachi shook his head sadly. "The Inquisition, the Islamic terrorist movement, the New Athens Jihad, your own Faithful. . . . Extremism is no one's monopoly when faith turns to fanaticism."

"But no one faith has a monopoly on resisting fanaticism, either," Sullivan replied. "A point certain of my own predecessors have had difficulty remembering on Grayson, given Father Church's monopoly—" he reused the word deliberately "—on spiritual authority there."

"Perhaps," Telmachi said. "Yet I think no one could accuse you or Reverend Hanks of that. I've deeply admired the way both of you have grappled with the huge changes your society has faced in the wake of your alliance with the Star Kingdom."

"You mean, in the wake of our having been exposed to an entire galaxy of dangerous, if not downright heretical, notions about radical things like women's rights," Sullivan corrected with an easy chuckle.

"Well, of course I did. But I'm far too diplomatic to ever say so."

Both men laughed, but then Telmachi sat back in his chair, crossed his legs, and looked at his visitor thoughtfully.

"Your Grace, I'm truly delighted to meet you, and I see you're just as engaging in person as Monsignor Davidson's reports indicated. But I'm also aware this is the first time in the history of Grayson any Reverend has ever left the planet for any reason. I've issued all the expected press statements and news releases, and I've arranged to attend the meetings with representatives of all of our major religions and denominations which you requested. But I must confess I wasn't very surprised when your staff contacted mine to suggest a private preliminary meeting between the two of us."

"You weren't?" Sullivan asked, leaning back in his own chair.

"No. Monsignor Davidson is, as I'm sure you've discovered, as intelligent as he is charming. From certain questions which you'd asked him, he concluded you were particularly interested in establishing direct contact with me. He did not, however, suggest a reason for your interest, although I may have drawn a few conclusions of my own."

Sullivan looked out the window, at the sky-piercing towers of the City of Landing. It was a fascinatingly alien sight for any Grayson. Landing had been built by a counter-gravity civilization, on a planet whose environment had welcomed mankind, rather than attempting to repel the audacious invader. Its buildings towered far higher than any Grayson structure, and there wasn't a single environmental dome in sight. All that unobstructed sky was enough to make any Grayson nervous, especially when he watched the branches of the city greenbelts' trees dance in the brisk morning breeze. The Reverend felt almost undressed, and his hand twitched as he suppressed the reflex to reach for the breath mask normally cased on the right side of his belt. The fact that airborne dust on Manticore didn't represent a dangerous toxic threat was something his intellect had accepted more readily than his emotions. And yet, as he looked at the moving air cars, the pedestrians, the sidewalk cafes he could see from where he sat, he saw much the same people, however bizarrely some of them were dressed, as he might have seen at home.

He turned to gaze at the Archbishop once more, and there, too, he found the alien mingled with the utterly familiar. He recognized Telmachi's personal faith, and his genuine welcome, and Sullivan had deliberately immersed himself in studies of comparative theology since Grayson had been wrenched into the galactic mainstream. He saw in Telmachi the current heir to an apostolic succession stretching clear back to the dawn—the source—of their shared faith in God. And yet, Telmachi's spiritual authority was far less than his own. His Church had seen its uncontested primacy broken long before Man ever left Old Earth, and it had come to terms with that. It had evolved, survived, reached out to the stars along with a multiplicity of other religious beliefs and ways of thought which would have been totally bewildering to any Grayson. In many ways, he knew, Telmachi was far more . . . cosmopolitan than he himself was, but was that strength, or was it weakness? And in Telmachi, did Sullivan see the Reverends of Grayson's future?

That lay in God's hands, the Reverend told himself. One of the cardinal elements of the New Way, perhaps the cardinal element, was the belief that the book was never closed, never ended. God was infinite; Man's understanding was not. And so, there would always be more for Man to learn, more for God to teach him, and as the doctrine of the Test taught, it was best to pay attention to one's lessons, whatever the form in which they might come.

Like his visit here, today.

"Actually, Archbishop," he said, "you're right. I see Monsignor Davidson's description of your own intelligence was accurate. I do have many pressing and completely valid reasons, as Father Church's spiritual head, for meeting with as many Manticoran religious leaders as possible. For almost a thousand years, Grayson has been effectively a theocracy—a closed theocracy. Given our doctrines, our people have tended, by and large, to see the opening of the doors of our temple, as it were, as yet another of God's Tests. There's been some friction, but less, I suspect, than there would have been on almost any other planet under similar circumstances.

"Still, as we've become more and more integrally involved with the Star Kingdom on a secular level, the influx of foreigners with their very foreign belief structures has swelled steadily. I see no reason to believe that tendency will reverse itself, and so I think it's probably past time Father Church reached out his hand to the Star Kingdom's religious leadership. There will undoubtedly be misunderstandings, or at least points of difference, but we must embrace the religious toleration which has always been a part of the Manticoran tradition. To that end, my visit to Manticore will have great significance for Father Church's members back home on Grayson.

"Yet, while all of that is true, the reason I specifically asked to meet with you had less to do with the fact that you are, whether you choose to admit it or not, what I suppose I might think of as the senior member of the Manticoran religious establishment, than it did with a pastoral concern."

"Pastoral." Telmachi smiled. "Let me see," he murmured. "Now, what could it possibly be about? Hmmm. . . . Could it be something to do with Steadholder Harrington and certain members of my own flock?"

"Monsignor Davidson didn't do you justice, Your Grace," Sullivan said with an answering smile.

"It wasn't very difficult to guess, Your Grace," Telmachi replied. "Especially not in light of Dame Honor's stature on Grayson and the rather poisonous commentary of one of our less than scintillating examples of journalistic professionalism. Of course, the fact that she's neither Catholic nor a member of the Church of Humanity Unchained does leave both of us in rather a gray area where she's concerned."

"She may not be a daughter of Father Church," Sullivan said quietly, his eyes level, "but of my own experience, I can tell you she is most certainly a daughter of God. I'll be honest with you and admit that nothing would give me greater joy than to have her embrace Father Church, but this is one woman for whose soul I feel no concern at all."

"That accords well with my own impression of her," Telmachi said seriously. "I believe she's a Third Stellar?"

"She is. Which presents me with something of a problem, since the Third Stellars appear to have no organized hierarchy in the sense your Church or mine does."

"The Third Stellars are actually rather like I suppose the Church of Humanity might have turned out without a firmly established hierarchy," Telmachi said. "When the representatives of all their congregations meet for their General Convocation every three T-years, they elect a leadership for the Convocation, and also the membership of a Coordinating Committee to function between Convocations, but each congregation—and each individual member of each congregation—is personally responsible for his or her relationship with God. I'm on quite good terms with several of their clergy, and one of them compared their General Convocation to an exercise in herding treecats."

Sullivan chuckled at the image, and Telmachi nodded.

"They agree about a great many core doctrines and issues, but beyond those central areas of agreement, there's room for an enormous diversity."

"I'd gathered that impression from my own conversations with Lady Harrington and her parents," Sullivan agreed. "And I believe you're probably correct—the . . . individualism the Third Stellars encourage does have many resonances with our own doctrine. Indeed, I've often thought that was one of the reasons Lady Harrington's been so comfortable with Father Church, despite our inevitable differences.

"However, the problem to which I referred was my inability to identify some one individual member of the Third Stellar clergy with whom to discuss my concerns. My impression of their doctrine is that it is extremely . . . inclusive, but I must confess I'm less familiar with it than I could wish."

"If your concerns are what I suspect they are, Your Grace," Telmachi said, "I think you don't need to worry. However, I'd be very happy to suggest two or three of their theologians with whom you might discuss your thoughts."

"I would deeply appreciate that," Sullivan said, bending his head in an abbreviated bow of thanks. "But that, of course, brings me to the reason I specifically needed to meet with you."

"Reverend," Telmachi said with another chuckle, "Mother Church has learned a few lessons of her own over the millennia. I don't believe there will be any problems."

* * *

"So, here you are," Dr. Allison Harrington said severely. "And just what made you think you were going to be allowed to stay at a hotel, if I may ask?"

"The Royal Arms Hilton is scarcely a mere 'hotel,' My Lady," Jeremiah Sullivan replied mildly as he stepped past a solemn Harrington armsman into the foyer of Honor's Jason Bay mansion. He smiled, then bent over her hand and kissed it in approved Grayson style.

"Piffle!" she shot back. "I'll bet it was really just that you planned on stealing the towels. Or one of those cute little bathrobes of theirs."

The armsman seemed to cringe slightly, obviously awaiting the thunderbolt, but Sullivan only smiled more broadly as her eyes twinkled at him.

"It was the soap, actually, My Lady," he said solemnly.

"I knew it!"

She gurgled a laugh and tucked her arm through his as she escorted him into the house.

"It's good to see you," she said more seriously. "And while I'm sure you really would have been perfectly comfortable at the Royal Arms, Honor and Benjamin would both have wanted my scalp if I'd let you stay there. Besides, I wouldn't have been that happy about it myself."

"Thank you," he said.

"Nonsense." She squeezed his arm tighter, and the laughter in her eyes was momentarily quenched. "I still remember how comforting you were when we all thought Honor was dead."

"As I remember the day you explained to me why our birthrate has always been so skewed," he replied. "And the day you and your team made your nanites available."

"Yes. Well, now that we've both congratulated one another on what splendid people we are," Allison said, "what really brings you to Manticore?"

"Why, what makes you think I might have any sort of ulterior motivation?" Sullivan fenced, accepting the change of subject with a smile.

"The fact that I have a functional brain," she replied tartly. He looked at her, and she snorted. "In a thousand years, not one Reverend has ever left the planet. Not one. Now, three weeks after that poisonous toad Hayes' articles must have reached Grayson, here you are. Allowing a week or so for travel time, you must have set some sort of galactic record for arranging this 'state visit' of yours!"

"I do hope," Sullivan said a bit plaintively, "that my Machiavellian schemes aren't going to be this transparent to every Manticoran I meet."

"Most Manticorans don't know you as well as I've come to," Allison assured him comfortably. "And most other Manticorans wouldn't begin to understand how damaging something like this could be to a political figure like Honor on Grayson. Or," she smiled warmly at him again, "how deeply you care about my daughter."

He inclined his head slightly, and she nodded.

"I thought so. You've come to straighten out the children's problems, haven't you?"

He burst out laughing, and she paused, turning to smile up at him until he shook his head.

"My Lady, all of the 'children' involved, including your daughter, are quite a few T-years older than I am!"

"Chronologically, perhaps. In other ways?" She shrugged. "And whatever your comparative ages may be, they definitely need straightening out. Which is why you're here, isn't it?"

"Yes, Allison," he admitted, surrendering at last. "I do intend to accomplish a few other things while I'm here, but, yes. Mostly, I came to straighten out the children's problems."


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