“They tell me you’re an investigator,” said the priest, hands folded behind his back.
“They tell me you’re a crook,” I said. Thin rope bound my wrists behind my back. Next to me, Beck sat slumped in her chair, her hands similarly bound. I was starting to not like priests very much.
A wry grin crossed the priest’s swollen lip. He was a tall man with heavy rings on his long fingers. Beck’s idea of a conversation had resembled my own, and by the look of it had ended us up in the same place. The fiberstone walls had a medieval feel, complete with a fibersteel barred window in the door.
The priest paced, and it grated on my nerves. “You come into Saint Lucy of the Light with intention to steal information, you assault my acolytes, and now you wish to libel my good name? I think you might consider your situation, Mr. Demarco.”
I wasn’t sure how he knew my name, but there were several things that concerned me more. “Is stolen art something that concerns you? Sounds to me like you’re awfully agnostic about the subject.”
“The church collects artifacts of art and the relics of its saints in order to preserve our culture. We have always done this.”
“Really? How do you know that? You’ve disposed of your archives.”
“We’ve digitized our archives, preserved for all time.” He stopped pacing, which made me even more nervous. “Paper decays and can be easily corrupted.”
“And digital files can’t? You’re entrusting everything to Trinity?”
Beck snorted and sputtered in her sleep. When she shifted, I saw a red welt on her neck.
“What did you do to her?” I asked.
“Nothing that was not absolutely necessary for the continuation of the church and its mission.”
“A fella could justify a lot that way.”
The priest resumed his pacing. His hard-soled shoes were a steady drumbeat on the rock-solid floor. “Why do you think you’re in this room?”
At first his words made little sense to me, then I looked around the room. “No Trinity sensors.”
“Not a single one.”
No Trinity meant no law. The church had built its own little bubble where it could get away with anything. Trinity might know that people came into this room and bodies came out, but the strange idiosyncrasies of the AI meant nobody could be held accountable for what happened in here. Not that it was needed if all the priest wanted to do was kill me. Beck, on the other hand, was in serious danger.
“What do you want?” I said.
“If I understand the situation correctly, I want you to do your job.” The smile on his face would have been frightening if not for the asymmetry of his swollen lip. “We’ll pay, of course.”
I tested my strength against the rope binding my wrists. “Why doesn’t anyone ever ask nicely?”
“We’re not going to kill you, Mr. Demarco. In fact, we’re not interested in harming you in any way. Might I remind you that you are the one found sneaking around our catacombs?”
“What about her?” I said, nodding to Beck. “Is she just sleepy from listening to your elaborate theological justifications?”
The priest absently touched his swollen lip. “Mr. Demarco, we know that you’re interested in August Savior.”
He knew about August. I wondered how much more he knew.
The priest continued, “It occurs to the church that a man of your talents might finally get to the bottom of a mystery we’ve been facing.”
“You want leverage on Savior so you can get a better deal on his art?”
The priest blinked quickly. “Not at all.” Definitely at all. “Over the several years since Mr. Savior has been in business, we’ve seen a marked decline in art originating from Earth finding its way into the colony. In that same period, there has been increased interest in such art.”
“You think he’s cutting you out of the illegal deals.”
“Render unto Caesar, Mr. Demarco. I care not of the legality of the trade. What’s made for God ought to be given to him.”
“To you, you mean.”
“To the church. The church safeguards the most precious artifacts of Christian history, including statues, paintings, and even the bones of the saints.”
“You must be very proud.”
His swollen lip turned white when he clenched his jaw.
“Cut me loose, priest. You’re looking for missing art. I’m looking for missing art and the guy who stole it. There’s no reason to tie me up for this.”
“My acolytes think otherwise.”
“We exchanged some harsh words.”
The priest untied the bindings. Blood rushed to my hands, flooding them with pins and needles. When he had finished unbindng Beck, he said, “I trust you understand your situation.”
“Sure.” My gaze went to the pistol on the table, but the priest shook his head. “You won’t be needing that.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to need it.”
His expression flattened and he spoke with no emotion. “Mr. Demarco. I will absolutely not send you into the world armed with a gun and unaccountable for your actions. There is nothing Trinity will do to keep you from killing, and from what I have heard a swath of death and destruction has followed you all the way up from the slums.”
“And it’ll follow me back down again if I can’t stop it.”
He gave a slight shake of his head. “Figure out where the art is going and learn for me how they’re stealing it from this church. Then I’ll give back your weapon.”
“So, once you have what you want, the swath of destruction can continue?”
“There is an auction tonight,” he said. “You will want to start there.”
With that, I nudged Beck until she groggily woke. Together, with everything but that gun, we made our way out of the church and into the harsh flaming light of the Hallow Nicodemia day.


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About the author


Bio: Anthony W. Eichenlaub's short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Little Blue Marble, On Spec Magazine, and the anthology A Punk Rock Future. His novels range from pulse-pounding technothrillers to the adventures of irresponsible scientists on a colony planet. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, video games, and working in his garden. Support him at:

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