by Antonio Bellomi
part 1 of 2
“Bring the heretic in,” ordered the Special Inquisitor of His Sanctity Pope Attila III, as he adjusted a black velvet mask on his stern face. It fully covered his features and only his eyes could be seen through two holes of the mask. They were black, glaring eyes that pierced the souls of people looking at him.
Two armigers wearing the Swiss Guard uniform with a flaming cross enclosed in a white and yellow oval on the breast were standing guard in front of the big portal of the Hearing Hall. They opened the thick oak doors and retreated on the sides to make room for a squad of four guards led by an officer.
Among them there was an enchained, silver-haired prisoner who wore the black cassock of a simple priest. A black hood dangled on his breast. It was the hood that people condemned to death used to wear and that he had till now contemptuously refused to wear.
He was about thirty years old, but he walked with the unsteady pace of an old man. The torments he had suffered at the hands of the torturers of the Holy Inquisition had undermined his body, which had once been lithe and snapping. His face was contorted by the suffering and heavily wrinkled from exhaustion.
“Father Ombuda,” the Inquisitor said. It was not a question, just a statement of the prisoner’s identity. The Inquisitor waved away the guards and the two sentinels at the door. They went out and bolted the heavy portal behind them.
“I am Father Ombuda,” the prisoner answered while boldly raising his head and looking into the eyes of his interlocutor.
The Inquisitor came down the three steps of the dais on which stood the stately golden chair of the Archibishop of Blarion IV. He approached the prisoner, and when he was only a couple of paces from him he walked around him as if he wanted to examine him.
“Do you find a so-called heretic so strange a creature?” Father Ombuda asked him bitterly, following his pacing with his eyes. “Haven’t you seen enough of them in your profession?”
The Inquisitor chuckled and his lips, barely visible under the mask, quivered. “I see that the treatment of the Good Sisters of Nazareth have not softened you yet, Father Ombuda.”
The prisoner shrugged, and that simple movement was enough to make him stagger while a grimace of pain twisted his face. “The suffering is something that can come and go,” Father Ombuda answered. “Now it is my turn, but before your arrival we were the ones who enforced it upon this world of misbelievers.”
The Inquisitor stiffened and his hands twitched. “What you did to the inhabitants of Blarion IV was a nefarious action, Father,” he said and his voice was altered by rage. “Your spaceships from Albiges brought endless bereavement. You killed people and enforced the worship of a false and deceitful God upon those who lived in the sanctity of the True Faith. And now you dare to boast about it?”
The prisoner winced as if a red-hot blade had pierced him, and for an instant he seemed ready to throw himself upon the Special Inquisitor. But the rattle of the irons that chained him called him back to reality. He could not do anything against his adversary.
“My Christ is not a false and deceitful God!” he cried. “My Christ is the true Christ, which all historical and scientific studies have proved to be the only and true Christ. The Albiges devoted all their power to searching for the true Faith!” His voice trembled with rage, and his eyes, clouded by the suffering, seemed to find their former brightness, the same spark they had when he had led the army of Albiges against Blarion IV in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. “We are the true Christians,” he went on, gaining strength. “We, who defend the true Faith and for it are ready to die.”
“And to make others die,” the Special Inquisitor said softly.
“And to make others die, yes!” Father Ombuda cried out. Then, with a trace of irony in his voice, he added: “And what did you do for your part, Inquisitor? You came here with an army from the Earth and fought us. Possibly after destroying Albiges.”
“Albiges was actually destroyed,” the Inquisitor confirmed flatly. In his voice there was an undefined tone which the prisoner did not register. “Rome could not look indifferently upon the massacre of its most faithful believers.”
“The tentacles of Rome do not extend beyond the galaxy, as in the past,” said Father Ombuda. “Its empire is already crumbling, because an Empire built on lies cannot endure forever. You can destroy Albiges, but other religious centers will arise on other worlds hidden far away. And one day the True Faith will spread through the universe from them as an unrestrained wave, sweeping away all of you misbelievers, and it will not stop even in front of the age-old walls of Rome!”
“How great is your illusion, my friend!” the Inquisitor exclaimed. His voice was heavily tinged with compassion and sadness. He approached the prisoner and seized his arm. “Look!” he ordered, pointing at the painted canopy of the huge hall. “Look!” he repeated sharply.
Father Ombuda raised his eyes to follow the finger of the Inquisitor, but the effort made him sway and he would have fallen if the strong arm of the other man had not supported him.
“Falseness, absurdities which have been repudiated both by science and history,” the prisoner stammered as he lifted his chained wrists and rubbed his brow as if he wanted to dispel a nightmarish vision.
The Inquisitor moved a few paces away and grasped one of the many stools lining the wall of the great hall; with a strong motion of his wrist he flung it towards the prisoner. The stool skidded on the mosaic floor portraying a huge cross and stopped just in front of the heretic.
“Sit down, Father Ombuda,” the Inquisitor ordered him.
When the heretic hesitated, the Inquisitor raised his voice harshly. “I told you to sit down, Father! I am not used to repeating my orders twice!”
Father Ombuda sagged onto the stool with a groan. “You remind of me the Venerable Master of Albiges,” ha said. “The same commanding tone. The same harshness...”
The Inquisitor tightened his lips. He appeared deeply wounded by the words of the heretic. “I told you to sit down, Father Ombuda, not to make a foolish and insulting comparison. And I told you to sit down because I wanted to show something to you.”
Father Ombuda shifted slightly on the stool making his chains rattle. “It is true. You were showing something to me.”
“Right. Look up there.”
The Inquisitor pointed at the central rosette of the Hearing Hall of the Bishopric of Mediora, the capital town of Blarion IV. “Look at that Christ,” he said and his voice quivered with excitement. “A bleeding Christ spiked to a cross that was the mark of infamy. The Man-God who suffered as much as it was humanly possible to suffer in order to redeem our sins.
“And what are you offering us? What do you offer us, you men of Albiges? A bionic Christ, a robot created by an alien race coming from an unidentified extragalactic nebula, whose aim was simply to unify the primitive Earth of yore with the strength of an artificial religion. Your belief is not only a heresy, it is blasphemy!”
Father Ombuda sprang to his feet and he glared at the Inquisitor. “But you, did you read our books? Did you study the question in depth? For years and years we have been collecting all available knowledge in the known universe in order to ascertain who the Christ really was that appeared on Earth. Our emissaries were sent to every part of the Galaxy and to the Magellanic Clouds. They sent us books, tapes, discs, light pulses, every kind of evidence of every age, and our computer processed them and came out with a complete and reliable study.”
He paused to take a deep breath, then went on. “No, Inquisitor, there is no doubt. The Christ that came to Earth millennia ago and was crucified on Golgotha was a simple robot. A robot sent by superior extragalactic races that wanted to bring their religion to Earth with great éclat, because the previous ideological and theological endeavors had failed miserably. A catalyst was necessary, and the catalyst was the Robot Christ!”
“Now you will probably say that our faiths are more or less the same,” the Inquisitor scoffed at him. He was pacing to and fro in the hall and his steps resonated behind him. “Actually, except for small details such as a Christ that never was and a Virgin Mary that nobody knows, all the rest is the same!”
The eyes of Father Ombuda glared again. The heretic kicked away the stool upon which he had rested his tortured body till a few instants before. “Your irony is out of place, Inquisitor. And when you are back in Rome, take my message to Pope Attila III. A day will come when the Truth will triumph on the Church of Rome, and then all its great empire will crumble as all the former empires of the Earth and of the Galaxy crumbled before it!”
The Inquisitor had regained his composure and slowly went back to his dais. He ascended the three steps and sat down on the golden chair, the symbol of the Archibishop of Blarion IV, who had been slain by the mob of Albiges.
“Is the interview finished?” the heretic asked ironically, looking at him defiantly.
The Inquisitor did not reply. He pushed a button on the arm of the golden chair and spoke to the invisible microphone that could catch his words. “Come and take the prisoner back to the dungeons of the Bishopric.”
* * *
Copyright © 1983 by Antonio Bellomi