By Mary Doria Russell
(C) 1996Mary Doria Russell
All rights reserved.
Rome: December 2059
On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz was released from the
isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital in the middle of the night
and transported in a bread van to the Jesuit Residence at Number 5
Borgo Santo Spìrito, a few minutes' walk across St. Peter's Square from
the Vatican. The next day, ignoring shouted questions and howls of journalistic
outrage as he read, a Jesuit spokesman issued a short statement
to the frustrated and angry media mob that had gathered outside Number
5's massive front door.
"To the best of our knowledge, Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor
of the Jesuit mission to Rakhat. Once again, we extend our thanks
to the U.N., to the Contact Consortium and to the Asteroid Mining Division
of Ohbayashi Corporation for making the return of Father Sandoz
possible. We have no additional information regarding the fate of
the Contact Consortium's crew members; they are in our prayers. Father
Sandoz is too ill to question at this time and his recovery is expected to
take months. Until then, there can be no further comment on the Jesuit
mission or on the Contact Consortium's allegations regarding Father
Sandoz's conduct on Rakhat."
This was simply to buy time.
It was true, of course, that Sandoz was ill. The man's whole body was
bruised by the blooms of spontaneous hemorrhages where tiny blood vessel
walls had breached and spilled their contents under his skin. His gums
had stopped bleeding, but it would be a long while before he could eat
normally. Eventually, something would have to be done about his hands.
Now, however, the combined effects of scurvy, anemia and exhaustion
kept him asleep twenty hours out of the day. When awake, he lay
motionless, coiled like a fetus and almost as helpless.
The door to his small room was nearly always left open in those
early weeks. One afternoon, thinking to prevent Father Sandoz from being
disturbed while the hallway floor was polished, Brother Edward
Behr closed it, despite warnings about this from the Salvator Mundi
staff. Sandoz happened to wake up and found himself shut in. Brother
Edward did not repeat the mistake.
Vincenzo Giuliani, the Father General of the Society of Jesus, went
each morning to look in on the man. He had no idea if Sandoz was
aware of being observed; it was a familiar feeling. When very young,
when the Father General was just plain Vince Giuliani, he had been fascinated
by Emilio Sandoz, who was a year ahead of Giuliani during the
decade-long process of priestly formation. A strange boy, Sandoz. A puzzling
man. Vincenzo Giuliani had made a statesman's career of understanding
other men, but he had never understood this one.
Gazing at Emilio, sick now and almost mute, Giuliani knew that
Sandoz was unlikely to give up his secrets any time soon. This did not
distress him. Vincenzo Giuliani was a patient man. One had to be patient
to thrive in Rome, where time is measured not in centuries but in
millennia, where patience and the long view have always distinguished
political life. The city gave its name to the power of patience--Romanità.
Romanità excludes emotion, hurry, doubt. Romanità waits, sees the
moment and moves ruthlessly when the time is right. Romanità rests on
an absolute conviction of ultimate success and arises from a single principle,
Cunctando regitur mundus: Waiting, one conquers all.
So, even after sixty years, Vincenzo Giuliani felt no sense of impatience
with his inability to understand Emilio Sandoz, only a sense of
how satisfying it would be when the wait paid off.
* * *
The Father General's private secretary contacted Father
John Candotti on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, three weeks after
Emilio's arrival at Number 5. "Sandoz is well enough to see you now,"
Johannes Voelker informed Candotti. "Be here by two."
Be here by two! John thought irritably, marching along toward
Vatican City from the retreat house where he'd just been assigned a
stuffy little room with a view of Roman walls--the stone only inches
from his pointless window. Candotti had dealt with Voelker a couple
of times since arriving and had taken a dislike to the Austrian from
the start. In fact, John Candotti disliked everything about his present
For one thing, he didn't understand why he'd been brought into this
business. Neither a lawyer nor an academic, John Candotti was content
to have come out on the less prestigious end of the Jesuit dictum, Publish
or parish, and he was hip-deep in preparations for the grammar school
Christmas program when his superior contacted him and told him to fly
to Rome at the end of the week. "The Father General wishes you to assist
Emilio Sandoz." That was the extent of his briefing. John had heard
of Sandoz, of course. Everyone had heard of Sandoz. But John had no
idea how he could be of any use to the man. When he asked for an explanation,
he couldn't seem to pry a straight answer out of anyone. He
had no practice at this kind of thing; subtlety and indirection were not
indoor sports in Chicago.
And then there was Rome itself. At the impromptu farewell party,
everyone was so excited for him. "Rome, Johnny!" All that history,
those beautiful churches, the art. He'd been excited too, dumb shit.
What did he know?
John Candotti was born to flat land, straight lines, square city
blocks; nothing in Chicago had prepared him for the reality of Rome.
The worst was when he could actually see the building he wanted to get
to but found the street he was on curving away from it, leading him to
yet another lovely piazza with yet another beautiful fountain, dumping
him into another alley going nowhere. Another hour, trapped and frustrated
by the hills, the curves, the rat's nest of streets smelling of cat piss
and tomato sauce. He hated being lost, and he was always lost. He hated
being late, and he was late all the time. The first five minutes of every
conversation was John apologizing for being late and his Roman acquaintances
assuring him it was no problem.
He hated it all the same, so he walked faster and faster, trying to get
to the Jesuit Residence on time for a change, and collected an escort of
small children, noisy with derision and obnoxious with delight at this
bony, big-nosed, half-bald man with his flapping soutane and pumping
* * *
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting." John Candotti had repeated
the apology to each person along the way to Sandoz's room and finally
to Sandoz himself as Brother Edward Behr ushered him in and left him
alone with the man. "The crowd outside is still huge. Do they ever go
away? I'm John Candotti. The Father General asked me to help you at
the hearings. Happy to meet you." He held out his hand without thinking,
withdrawing it awkwardly when he remembered.
Sandoz did not rise from his chair by the window and at first, he either
wouldn't or couldn't look in Candotti's direction. John had seen
archive images of him, naturally, but Sandoz was a lot smaller than he
expected, much thinner; older but not as old as he should have been.
What was the calculation? Seventeen years out, almost four years on
Rakhat, seventeen years back, but then there were the relativity effects
of traveling near light speed. Born a year before the Father General, who
was in his late seventies, Sandoz was estimated by the physicists to be
about forty-five, give or take a little. Hard years, by the look of him, but
not very many of them.
The silence went on a long time. Trying not to stare at the man's
hands, John debated whether he should just go. It's way too soon, he
thought, Voelker must be crazy. Then, finally, he heard Sandoz ask,
"American, Father. Brother Edward is English but I'm American."
"No," Sandoz said after a while. "La lengua. English."
Startled, John realized that he'd misunderstood. "Yes. I speak a little
Spanish, if you'd prefer that."
"It was Italian, creo. Antes--before, I mean. In the hospital.
Sipaj--si yo ..." He stopped, close to tears, but got ahold of
himself and spoke deliberately. "It would help ... if I could hear ... just one
language for a while. English is okay."
"Sure. No problem. We'll stick to English," John said, shaken. Nobody
had told him Sandoz was this far gone. "I'll make this a short visit,
Father. I just wanted to introduce myself and see how you're doing.
There's no rush about preparing for the hearings. I'm sure they can be
postponed until you're well enough to ..."
"To do what?" Sandoz asked, looking directly at Candotti for the
first time. A deeply lined face, Indian ancestry plain in the high-bridged
nose, the wide cheekbones, the stoicism. John Candotti could not imagine
this man laughing.
To defend yourself, John was going to say, but it seemed mean. "To
explain what happened."
The silence inside the Residence was noticeable, especially by the
window, where the endless carnival noise of the city could be heard. A
woman was scolding a child in Greek. Tourists and reporters milled
around, shouting over the constant roar of the usual Vatican crowds and
the taxi traffic. Repairs went on incessantly to keep the Eternal City
from falling to pieces, the construction workers yelling, machinery
"I have nothing to say." Sandoz turned away again. "I shall withdraw
from the Society."
"Father Sandoz--Father, you can't expect the Society to let you
walk away without understanding what happened out there. You may
not want to face a hearing but whatever happens in here is nothing compared
to what they'll put you through outside, the moment you walk out
the door," John told him. "If we understood, we could help you. Make
it easier for you, maybe?" There was no reply, only a slight hardening of
the face profiled at the window. "Okay, look. I'll come back in a few
days. When you're feeling better, right? Is there anything I can bring
you? Someone I could contact for you?"
"No." There was no force behind the voice. "Thank you."
John suppressed a sigh and turned toward the door. His eyes swept
past a sketch, lying on top of the small plain bureau. On something like
paper, drawn in something like ink. A group of VaRakhati. Faces of
great dignity and considerable charm. Extraordinary eyes, frilled with
lashes to guard against the brilliant sunlight. Funny how you could tell
that these were unusually handsome individuals, even when unfamiliar
with their standards of beauty. John Candotti lifted the drawing to
look at it more closely. Sandoz stood and took two swift steps toward
Sandoz was probably half his size and sicker than hell but John
Candotti, veteran of Chicago streets, was startled into retreating. Feeling
the wall against his back, he covered his embarrassment with a smile and
put the drawing back on the bureau. "They're a handsome race, aren't
they," he offered, trying to defuse whatever emotion was working on the
man in front of him. "The ... folks in the picture--friends of yours, I
Sandoz backed away and looked at John for a few moments, as
though calculating the other man's response. The daylight behind his
hair lit it up, and the contrast hid his expression. If the room had been
brighter or if John Candotti had known him better, he might have recognized
a freakish solemnity that preceded any statement Sandoz expected
to induce hilarity, or outrage. Sandoz hesitated and then found
the precise word he wanted.
"Colleagues," he said at last.
* * *
Johannes Voelker closed his notescreen at the end of his
regular morning meeting with the Father General but did not rise to
leave. Instead, he sat and watched Vincenzo Giuliani's face as the old
man appeared to concentrate on the work at hand, logging his own
notes about the day's events and the decisions they'd just discussed.
Thirty-fourth to hold the office of Father General, Giuliani was an
impressive executive. A big man, attractively bald, straight and formidably
strong in old age. Historian by profession, politician by nature, Vincenzo
Giuliani had brought the Society of Jesus through difficult times,
repairing some of the damage Sandoz had caused. Steering men into hydrology
and Islamic studies--that had restored some goodwill. Without
Jesuits in Iran and Egypt, there'd have been no warning at all before the
last attack. Credit where credit is due, Voelker thought, waiting patiently
for Giuliani to notice him.
The Father General sighed and looked up at his secretary, an unappealing
man in his middle thirties, inclined to fatness, sandy hair lying
flat against his skull. Voelker was a silent picture of unfinished business,
sitting back in his chair, arms folded across his thickening waist. "All
right, out with it. Say what you have to say," Giuliani ordered irritably.
"What about him?"
"My point exactly."
Giuliani went back to his notes.
"People were starting to forget," Voelker said. "It might have been
better for everyone if Sandoz had been killed along with the rest of
"Why, Father Voelker," Giuliani said aridly. "What an unworthy
Voelker made a mouth and looked away.
Giuliani stared out the windows of his office for a few moments, elbows
resting on the polished wood of his desk. Voelker was right, of
course. Undoubtedly, life would have been simpler had Emilio been
safely martyred. Now, in the glare of publicity and hindsight, the Society
had to inquire into the reasons for the failure of the mission ... Giuliani
scrubbed his face with his hands and stood. "Emilio and I go back a long
time together, Voelker. He's a good man."
"He is a whore," Voelker said with quiet precision. "He killed a
child. He should be in chains." Voelker watched Giuliani circle the
room, picking things up and putting them down without really looking
at anything. "At least he has the decency to want to leave. Let him
go--before he does more harm to the Society."
Giuliani stopped pacing and looked at Voelker. "We aren't going to
disavow him. Even if that's what he wants, it's wrong. More to the point,
it won't work. He's one of Ours, in the eyes of the world if not in his
own eyes." He walked to the windows and stared out at the crowd of reporters
and seekers and the merely curious. "And if the media continue
to indulge in idle speculation and baseless supposition, we'll simply call
it what it is," said the Father General in the light ironic voice that
generations of graduate students had learned to dread. He turned to gaze
with cool appraisal at his secretary, sitting sullenly all this time. Giuliani's
voice didn't change but Voelker was stung by what came. "I am
not Emilio's judge, Father Voelker, and neither is the press."
And neither wasJohannes Voelker, S.J.
They concluded their meeting with one or two businesslike remarks,
but the younger man left knowing he'd overstepped his bounds,
politically as well as spiritually. Voelker was efficient and intelligent but,
atypically for a Jesuit, he had a polar mind: everything was black or
white, sin or virtue, Us versus Them.
Still, Giuliani thought, such people could be useful.
The Father General sat at his desk and fingered a stylus. Reporters
thought the world had a right to know. Vincenzo Giuliani felt no need
whatsoever to pander to that illusion. On the other hand, there was the
question of what to do next, regarding Rakhat. And he did feel a need to
bring Emilio to some sort of resolution. This wasn't the first time the Jesuits
had encountered an alien culture and it wasn't the first mission to
come to grief and Sandoz wasn't the first priest to disgrace himself. The
whole business was regrettable but not beyond redemption.
He's salvageable, Giuliani thought stubbornly. It's not as though we
have so many priests that we can write one off without an effort. He's
one of Ours, dammit. And what right have we to declare the mission a
failure? Seeds may have been sown. God knows.
Even so, the allegations against Sandoz and the others were very
Privately, Vincenzo Giuliani was inclined to believe that the mission
went wrong at its inception, with the decision to involve the women. A
breakdown in discipline from the beginning, he thought. The times were
* * *
Ruminating over the same problem as he walked back to
his lightless room on the eastern side of the Rome Ring, John Candotti
had his own theory about how things had gone wrong. The mission, he
thought, probably failed because of a series of logical, reasonable, carefully
considered decisions, each of which seemed like a good idea at the
time. Like most colossal disasters.