The priest sat down in one of the chairs near Tegan’s in the empty, echoing cathedral.
“Can I help you?” he asked softly.
Tegan raised his head from his hands and looked over at the priest, glancing over his black robes and meeting his politely friendly eyes.
It had been a mistake to take refuge in a church.
“I don’t think so,” Tegan said. He stood and pushed his jacket back to reveal the gun on his hip. “Whether you are a true man or not, you do not want to lose your license helping me.”
The priest’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“Perhaps I can help you in a different way,” he said, his tone only slightly patronizing. “Are you one of the rebels the Guard is hunting?”
“Yes,” Tegan said shortly. The man had probably been sent in to delay him. “Excuse me, I have to go.” He stood up.
The priest stood and turned to follow him as Tegan made his way towards the little side door.
“You rebels fight against the cause you claim to fight for,” he said loudly.
Tegan stopped. He hesitated, knowing it was a mistake to allow this man to draw him into conversation. The Guard was probably closing in around the church now as the state-sanctioned priest bought them time.
“Say what you mean by that,” he snapped.
“You claim to be fighting for freedom,” the priest said. “And yet your secret society of outlaws is not free. You run for your lives and fight the government.”
“I have said rebellion brings freedom,” Tegan said. “I never claimed that rebellion is freedom.”
“Look at me,” the priest said. “I have not rebelled. And I am free to have a comfortable house, a family, even to worship God.”
“As long as you think the way they want you to think,” Tegan took a step forward. “You can do what ever you want—as long as it’s what they want.”
“I do not do things that are wrong,” the priest said. “And so I am free.”
“You preach lies and propaganda every week in this church,” Tegan said. “You enslave the people’s souls with sermons of a God that backs the government, and for this service the state lets you live in peace. You speak as if from a God you do not believe in. You set the government above your own conscience. All in payment for comfort and peace.”
“And you kill and steal for an ideal you call freedom,” the priest retorted, quickly, as if stung. “How does your conscience condone that?”
“We do not murder and we do not steal,” said Tegan. “We fight a government that kills the innocent and steals not only homes and livelihoods but lives and freedoms.”
“The government sometimes has to kill rebels like you so that everyone else can have freedom,” the priest said sternly. He glanced down at a device in his hand. Tegan recognized it. It was a linker, a device on which all the man had to do was press a button and call in the Guard.
“Who are they to decide what is right and wrong?” Tegan asked. “Freedom means each man follows his own conscience. Each man is born with a knowledge of right and wrong.”
“Anarchy!” the priest said. His thumb hesitated over the red call button on the linker. “Your ideals would have riots in the streets.”
“Maybe,” said Tegan. “But a free people does not need to riot. They can simply say what they think.”
“The people need government,” the priest said.
“Let them govern themselves,” Tegan said. “It has been done.”
“Never successfully,” the priest said scornfully.
“The tribes that were here before us have been doing it for hundreds of years,” Tegan said.
“We’re getting off the subject,” the priest snapped. The hand holding the linker dropped to his side, momentarily forgotten.“The state government does no harm to law-abiding citizens. You are always free to do what is right.”
“No,” said Tegan. “The right thing to do is to say that oppression is wrong. I am not free to do that. And so I fight for freedom.”
The priest looked down for a moment and Tegan went on.
“You have seen it too,” he said. “You have seen the government murder, steal, and you have been unable to say anything. You hate your own cowardice and you wish you could renounce your comfortable life and make a difference.”
The priest looked up and Tegan saw the truth of his words in the man’s eyes.
“Do not tell me I am wrong for doing what you wish you had the courage to do,” Tegan said gently.
The priest stared at him and the linker dropped from his hand onto the stone floor of the church. The knock of metal on stone echoed in the silence.
“Do not tempt me to do my duty to the state and call the Guard,” the priest said. “Begone from here.”
Tegan turned instantly and walked out, stepping through the little door in the side of the church. Back in the church, the priest slowly picked up the linker and put it back into its place in his pocket.
Tegan slipped away through back streets towards the edge of town, heading for the woods where his little band of outlaws lived, hunted, but free.