Eyes for the Inquisitor’s Children
by Jedd Cole
Part 1 appears in this issue.
The Inquisitor watched through the eye of the drone hidden in the ship’s air vent as Hassan walked out of the El Jerez.
“Let him seek me,” he said to himself.
Hassan, the pilot. Hassan, the father of Pleiade, and the Inquisitor’s way out. The annals were never wrong. Hassan would make the right choice with the right pressures. He could not let an opportunity pass that the gods had opened.
For a moment, he thought about hypocrisy. A human notion. Some of their customs were easier to reject than others. Some were more difficult. Their love for their children — this he could understand.
* * *
It was clear to Hassan that the Inquisitor was known among the locals. He had shown up a while back, mostly kept to himself. Didn’t say much. There had been talk of murders since the last trade flotilla had come in, the blizzard having grounded them. One woman, old, gray, possessing a knowing look, suggested that the Inquisitor arrived in anticipation of the flotilla.
He was clearly alien. This was what bothered Hassan so much. Lightyears of traveling between the trade ports in Sol and beyond, and what had he learned? He was a hired hand who always seemed to be running.
Hassan found himself with his hands in his pockets in a largely empty street, the wind whipping at the corners of his coat. The path meandered downtown where he could see the place broaden, the glows of coil heaters, lamps glinting off smooth cybernetic prostitutes and tapsters and the frozen surfaces of fountains and signs.
His gut told him that Ibrahim was down there, wrapped in the half-paid arms of an anonymous body who worked part-time in her mother’s cabbage stand during the warmer months. But Hassan didn’t want to go down there. He didn’t want to go back, either.
His eyes came into focus, and there he was. The Inquisitor.
The snow gathered around the alien as if by some magnetism, some trick of the eye. The Inquisitor moved with slow steps toward him, growing tall, his body slender. A long sort of trench coat trailed downward from his head; a white mask covered his face. Vapor came through holes where his mouth would be, and the milky reflections of eyes sparkled through two slits near the top. “You are Hassan Al-Kuz.”
“I know whom you seek. You will come with me.”
The Inquisitor turned aside down a narrow alley. Hassan waited until he watched him enter through a side door. His own feet moved through the snow without command. All he could think of was Yusuf, and he wanted to run back to the El Jerez and fly far away with him — back to Granada, perhaps. Or Alcatraz. Or heaven. Start over fresh without Ibrahim — let him rot here in the snow and in between legs where he likes it.
He couldn’t feel his fingers.
The room was spartan, dark, roughly hewn from the sparse local wood, metal beams, cornerstones. A table and chairs were its only furniture. One window, facing the street, lit a small arc around it with pale white-green light. The Inquisitor stood with a tiny book open in his hands, scaly white flesh, ivory fingernails. Some sort of computer was erected upon the tabletop, projecting blue and green and red data in lines of curly script onto a floating display.
The Inquisitor did not look up, did not even look at the book, abiding somewhere in between words and worlds unfurling behind an invisible screen, the foam of snow through frosted glass. The cold. Both their breaths became clouds when they exhaled — the Inquisitor’s was a thin and steady stream.
“Where’s Ibrahim?” said Hassan. It came out much less forcefully than he had wanted.
The Inquisitor shut the book and put it down on the table. “You cannot speak that name,” he said. The pale mask turned to face Hassan.
Hassan took it as a confirmation. “Where is he then?” he said.
“He rests with his body, awaiting the fading of the suns.”
“I said you cannot speak that name.”
“His sins were irredeemable. The rite is completed and the Altar has passed him over. His name cannot be uttered without sin.” He took a breath. “Fortunately, you are ignorant of the law.”
Hassan’s fingers tightened into fists. “You killed him,” he said.
“The rite is completed,” said the inquisitor.
There was silence. Hassan tried to wrap his head around this moment. He was embarrassed that he felt relief at the news — doors opening, wheels turning.
“What did he do?” said Hassan.
“It matters not to you. You have not received the doctrines, so your sins will be redeemed by your natural death. All suns fade.”
The Inquisitor made a gesture of the hand with this last word, a sort of Q shape with his little finger.
The words sounded familiar to Hassan, but he wasn’t sure why. Something from the carnival world.
The Inquisitor continued: “When all suns fade, the gods may look kindly on them who forsook the doctrines, provided the Inquisitors recite their sins. For now, there is only one matter left to which I must attend. The son. Yusuf.”
Hassan felt his body peel apart, a tingle down his spine. “What about him?” he said.
“Yusuf’s father was a servant of the Myth long ago. He descended into dissipation. Yusuf is the offspring of his sin, his blood. The law requires his death.”
“He’s innocent,” said Hassan. “You can’t do this.”
“It does not matter. I am the only Inquisitor left in this galaxy and the Altar has passed it over. The gods have forsaken it, and I must return. But I need your help.”
The Inquisitor took a breath, a hissing, guttural sound from behind the mask. “You are the father of Pleiade, are you not?”
Something clicked. Arielle. Hassan tried to speak, tried make his body move, throw a punch. Silence only.
The Inquisitor clasped his hands. “I have been too long among these bright worlds. I have grown soft among you — hypocritical, as your kind puts it. It has led me to evil, and there is but one recourse.”
“I’ll kill you,” said Hassan. He couldn’t think of why he said it.
“You’ve never killed before,” said the inquisitor.
“You’ll never get off Oslo II with the port closed,” said Hassan.
“I don’t need their permission.”
Snow buffeted the window above the table. The Inquisitor unclasped his hands. “As I said, there is one recourse. One way the boy survives. I bear a sin of my own. As the last Inquisitor, I have no one to perform my recitation that I may fade with the suns in peace when my time comes.”
“One sin?” Hassan said. He wanted to smirk, spit on the alien’s feet, but did not.
The Inquisitor spoke impatiently. “Your race conceives of it very differently from ours. Yours are irrelevant, venial, harmless. All suns fade.” He performed the Q shape again.
“But you need something from me,” said Hassan. The air felt hot even though it was cold.
“You, Hassan, are in a unique position. In cases such as these, redemption requires a compassion act. The writ of the gods allows for this.”
“A compassion act?”
“My eyes?” Hassan’s hands moved upward of their own accord.
“Yes,” said the inquisitor, “the eyes are the suns of the body. With their fading, you will receive my sin; but your ignorance of the doctrines will not impute it to you.”
Hassan shook his head. “What did you do to Arielle?”
“She was a heretic, having received the Myth and later rejecting it, but — I did not finish the rite. Her seed...”
“Her seed — Pleiade? She’s alive? Where?”
The Inquisitor stepped forward and hissed. “My redemption means Yusuf’s freedom. Only your compassion can do this. I know you love the boy. I, myself, know such love.”
The Inquisitor shook his head, an eerily human gesture. “Don’t run as you did from Pleiade.”
Hassan summoned enough strength to take a step forward, draw back his arm for a punch, but in a blink the Inquisitor had moved forward and kicked his legs out from under him. He fell with a loud clacking sound on the boarded floor. The Inquisitor was on top of him, one hand bearing down on Hassan’s chest and the other raised with fingers outspread, the long ivory nails brandished for violence. The mask looked squarely into his face. It was beautiful, a white tabula like marble with its precious curves and sharp angles, shadowed slits with life behind them. Suns of the body. He was too afraid to move.
“Arielle,” he heard himself say.
The inquisitor’s upraised hand trembled in the air. “Pleiade was with her when I came to Granada,” he said. “When I saw the child, I saw my own, far away beyond this galaxy where the suns have already faded and my people dwell in ships, forever wandering, forever passing over.
“For six hundred years I have done the work, and I am almost finished, Hassan Al-Kuz. You are my absolution. Without you I cannot return. I cannot finish the work!”
Hassan felt tears making his face wet and unmanly, disheveled.
The Inquisitor lowered his hand. “I know you, Hassan. The writ of the gods lays open your heart, the annals expose your past. Think of Pleiade. Think of Yusuf. Choose.”
Hassan could not see through his tears. “And Yusuf will be safe?” he said.
Before he could think, Hassan felt himself nodding. He saw Yusuf playing on the platform with his toy schooner, and he saw his own arms holding Pleiade looking out at the world with her eyes like blue stars in the night, and he looked up and saw Arielle beside him, looking the same direction — away, beyond. He felt a sharp sting against his neck, his body become limp. Then Hassan ceased to see, and he felt his eyes leaving his body without pain.
* * *
The Inquisitor stood beside Yusuf, who was sleeping soundly under sedative on the bunk. His chest rose up and down with a rhythm the Inquisitor had come to appreciate. The boy would sleep soundly for another day yet.
The blizzard was dispersing. It was time to leave. He removed his mask, placing it in the chest beside the cot. Beside it he put the eyes of Hassan wrapped in gauze. He caught himself thinking again of hypocrisy.
If for Yusuf’s sake alone, there would have been need of only one eye. But the boy was his second sin of incompletion. Only Hassan’s compassion could have paid for both the first and the second at once. The Inquisitor knew because he shared it. Strange it was, he thought, that such beautiful creatures as these children could drive one to sin. At least in regards to love, the humans had perhaps the better way.
He looked up at the top bunk. Pleiade stirred and turned over. “Father?” she said, her blue eyes half-open.
“Yes. Go back to sleep, Pleiade. When you wake up, you can meet your new brother.”
“Really? Just like you said?”
“Yes.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Now, back to sleep with you.”
“Okay.” She rolled back over.
In an hour they were passing through the outermost limits of the planet’s gravity, escaping its reach forever. Distant suns stared brightly above and below and beside them. The Inquisitor plotted a course for home and then walked back through the central corridor to the children’s room.
He settled into a seat in the dark, opening the writ in his lap. As usual, he did not read it, but stared somewhere in between.
Copyright © 2014 by Jedd Cole