The Right Honorable Galchorus Melan met us at the door himself. That was a surprise. Religious leaders don’t become said leaders without picking up a retinue, and everybody in that gig wants to keep their bread and butter from being toast. Still, here he was, welcoming us to his inner sanctum, where only one other human had ever been. Since neither Julian nor I was the present Pontiff, it was a new experience.
“Thank you for seeing me here,” Melan said, waving us toward a pair of SkyThrones before his desk with a pale green lower arm. Each chair would cost me a year’s salary, and I’m not poor. “Security prefers I meet others in a controlled environment.”
“I understand you’ve had some issues with separatists?” I said, nodding to my assistant. Julian had started taking notes as we stepped inside, but he was visibly writing now. Many people find Julian being quiet somewhat disturbing—he looks predatory and hungry at the best of times—so giving him a task helps keep people at ease. Melan wasn’t people, but it worked with him, too.
“Not everyone in the Church feels comfortable with the direction we’re heading,” Melan said. “Too much dissent to handle internally, and my Council believes a schism is approaching.”
I thought about what I could tell the Galchorus, the figurehead and sole authority of this planet’s largest church. He had millions, maybe billions, of followers of various levels of loyalty, but that only buys you so much: God speaks to many. This was actually one of our mottos, something the marketing drones whipped up during my last bout under. One of the perks of working for Perception: state-of-the-art hibernation chambers, capable of putting a guy under for 150 years without damage. For those of us who like to see our work blossom, it’s a godsend.
“Here’s a preliminary analysis we’ve run,” I said. “I’ve forwarded the full report, but I’d like to go over the gist of it. Julian, high points?”
Julian brought up a holographic display so the Galchorus could see the highlights, expanding a few bullet points for easy reading. “The Church mainstream still scores high in foundational scores and relative conceptual bias, but much of the recent scholarship indicates a shift in certain teleological underpinnings. Your school of thought is considered conservative and somewhat reactionary, especially given your stance on off-worlders. Of the disparate groups you indicated were worrisome in your initial contact, we’ve identified two that represent serious philosophical challenges, and one that presents a small but statistically significant chance of factioning.”
Melan slumped in his seat. He didn’t look surprised, but I’d only studied his species for a year so I could have missed it. “Perhaps I will need your services, then. There’s too much chance for violence if I do nothing.”
“Fortunately, we have a couple of options to choose from,” I said, motioning Julian to shut down the summary and bring up the service brochures. Time to talk the talk. “Are you looking for a reformation or a controlled schism? Or are you thinking inquisition? Given your history and current cultural norms, we have several options.”
For the next 30 minutes, I laid out the options Perception offered, the timelines our initial analyses indicated and the payment plans available for the discerning theocrat in training. Building a socially and psychologically consistent belief system is an exhausting task and takes decades to plan, implement and monitor. None of those services are cheap; planets are and have been sold for less. Still, the Galchorus had the coin, or indirectly controlled enough of it to make buying our services feasible.
After the initial credit confirmation and discussion of the Galchorus’ overall vision for the faithful, Melan decided to go for a reformation. Not the showiest or simplest choice, but well within Perception’s purview. I presented him with the updated contract, rewritten as we spoke by the finest contract app Perception could engineer, and we closed the deal. Melan’s people never developed the handshake, so Julian and I bowed as we stood, arms folded as Melan’s were, except for having two less apiece. The Galchorus escorted us to the door, we thanked him for his business and left. We didn’t speak until we’d reached an environment we could control for surveillance, i.e., our company quarters in the outskirts of the planetary capital.
“They never read the fine print,” Julian said as he keyed in the contract and his notes to a q-ghost database. “Taking things on faith is par for the course, but come on.”
“Nobody expects God on somebody else’s schedule,” I said. Various statistical packages were chewing on the original report, the notes we entered and the contract info. I knew what the number crunching would reveal, but decided to read the plan before saying anything. Always leave room to be wrong.
Minutes passed, enough that I was starting to get hungry, before the report was compiled and ready. I skimmed the abstract, Julian reading over my shoulder, and focused on the methodology. Most of the bullet points we’d discussed with the Galchorus were there, but the first point was new. Neither of us was surprised. Try and find a faith that isn’t built on at least one dead guy. Martyr or saint, doesn’t often matter which.
“How are we going to do this?” Julian asked. Best researcher I’ve worked with in years, but he’s got a face like an open blade, so it’s always easy to forget he has no background or training in wetwork.
“Already done,” I said. “I was prepared before we left. Inert virus with a nanotech trigger; once the signal is given, a protein gets switched around, and what was harmless turns deadly. Nice thing is, the killer is pretty common. Nobody will have reason to think it was intentional.”
“Jesus,” Julian said.
“Not one of ours,” I told him. I made a mental note to confirm that with Betsy in the Archive later. Wouldn’t want to lie.
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