“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” said Sr. Mary Margaret to her confessor. As she spoke, she kneaded the smooth round beads of her silver-and-onyx rosary. A silver crucifix hung from the rosary, alongside what was not quite a medal or scapula, but rather a rectangular, silver-coated slab of quantum electronics.
Sr. Nemesis gazed at the polished surface of the silvery electronic device and saw, instead of her own reflection, the tiny image of His Eminence Cardinal Richard Starr, Most Holy Prelate of the Church of Man and Machine, staring out at her with his warm, forgiving eyes. The Cardinal was seated on a gold throne, dressed in gold and silk vestments, making subtle orbits with his right hand to bid Sr. Nemesis continue her confession. “It has been two weeks since my last ‘sitrep’,” said Sr. Mary Margaret, “and since then, the Ranger has been awakened from his induced coma and has started asking questions.”
The real Cardinal Starr, the Cardinal in-flesh, was many thousands of light-years away in Heavenly City, attending to the day-to-day business and intrigues of the Church. That incredible distance and the limited speed of light prevented the Cardinal from speaking directly to Sr. Nemesis. Consequently, a simulation of His Eminence, his avatar, the Cardinal in-crystal, served in his place. Cardinal Starr had imprinted his image, intellect, personality—and some would say, his very soul—onto the avatar that inhabited the silver device Sr. Nemesis held in her hand.
Periodically, the device would send the gist of Sr. Nemesis’ confessions to the real Cardinal through the interplanetary communication network, and in return he would send new directives. In this way, even though the Cardinal in-flesh was far away, the Cardinal’s blessings were always with Mary Margaret, giving her comfort and guidance on her difficult mission.
The Cardinal’s avatar said of the target of Sr. Nemesis’ mission, “Does the Ranger remember the ambush? Being shot? Does he remember Father Francis, and most importantly, what happened to the holy relic?”
“No, Father, none of that,” replied Mary Margaret. “His words and thoughts are chaotic; full of pain and vengeance. But that is to be expected after being all-but-dead from such brutal wounds, and then being resurrected by Dr. Cyril’s surgery. You must have been divinely inspired to seek Dr. Cyril in this wicked, godforsaken colony, and ask for his help. What he’s done for the Ranger is truly a miracle, but.…”
Sr. Nemesis paused for a long moment, weighing the blessings of providence against the vagaries of fate. “The patient who went into surgery was little more than scraps of butchered meat. The man who came out was stitched together bone and flesh, steel and graphene. But I’m not sure that the surgery preserved…his soul. I’ve watched this man long and hard, Father, and something about him frightens even me.”
“Now, now, Sr. Nemesis,” said the synthetic Cardinal. “Everyone in Hydra Complex colony is a child of some God, be they man or machine. And despite forgiveness being against your nature, you must find it in your heart to love and cherish all the colonists. And as for this patient in particular, this Lazarus, we must give him time to heal.”
The stiff folds of Sr. Mary Margaret’s habit rustled against her body armor as her head tipped down in shame. “Of course, Father. I’m sorry.
“But I still have no clue who murdered Fr. Francis, so I feel as if I’ve failed him. Nor do I know who might still be trying to kill the Ranger, and so I feel as if I’ve failed you.”
“There, there, my child,” said the holy avatar. “You are a shield-maiden of the Church; you are my keen eye and strong right arm in the real world; and because of that you have a great responsibility. I’m depending on you to both covertly guard the Ranger from his unknown enemies, and also help him recuperate enough to remember who caused the death of Father Francis. I expect you to have strong feelings; to feel duty-bound to mete out justice. But never forget that you also have a good heart, and that I expect you to be as merciful to the meek as you are relentless against the wicked.
“Is this your confession?” said the prelate in-crystal, at last. Sr. Nemesis humbly said yes. “For your penance,” said her confessor, “pray three Hail Turings. And as an act of contrition, show me your body-cam footage of the Ranger since he was awakened from his coma.”
Sr. Nemesis murmured a command to a bead on her rosary and then touched her crucifix to the silver device resting in the palm of her hand. In an instant, weeks of surveilled sights, sounds, and comments were presented to the Cardinal in-crystal to peruse and consider.
“Amen,” said Sr. Nemesis, and her confession was complete.