Fortis was surprised the tea was so hot, when the cup was simply warm. It looked and felt like ceramic, but was hardly thick enough to explain the insulating effect on his hands. Another question he would ask later.
Taking a sip, George gazed into his cup, then his gaze drifted to the open tent door. “We would like to claim our religion has been around as long as mankind, but they all claim that, and none can prove it.” He turned back to Fortis, who was thoughtfully sipping from his own cup.
“What we can document is a group of families separated themselves somewhat from the established organized religions of their day shortly before the first serious attempt to bring all humanity under a single government. You may recall that attempt unraveled before it was even fully engaged. Had it succeeded, that might be the end of the story. One element in that first Terran world government was the plan to force all religions to unify under a single institutional authority. The government policies clearly rejected the very thing which distinguished our religion, which was the insistence mankind was not merely body and soul, but there was a distinct third element, a separate faculty we called the spirit. Our religion was largely an attempt to cultivate that other faculty as a means for determining how men should live.
“We managed to establish an existence which did not withdraw us from all human contact, but limited it some while we built a different life. The degree of separation was the major source of conflict with any government we faced. Because our community was so small, we initially escaped much notice. But whenever things grew unsettled, our numbers surged. At that, entry was never easy. Our covenant of community was quite demanding compared to the world around us in those days. At some point, tensions with secular governments grew along with our numbers.
“During that first Imperium, things went well for us because His Majesty was too busy worrying about the mere mechanics of asserting control over basic resources. Humans had already begun interstellar exploration, with many colonies across the galaxy. Life on Terra had become almost unbearable as the result of pollution and social breakdown, so we began acquiring ships. They were, of course, the most primitive sort. Still functional, they made spartan accommodations, indeed. When we were almost ready to leave was about the time imperial policy began implementing all sorts of bureaucratic controls on colonization. We were caught in a bind, not quite enough ships for all to leave, but a strong sense we could not wait any longer.
“We held a council. You have to understand, a critical element in our religion is self-denial. In this case, it meant we did not have to struggle to find volunteers who would sacrifice and stay behind. Rather, it was a struggle to convince our strongest leaders to go, among other things. The logic of our choices would probably escape you, but the process of choosing very nearly took too long before someone had to take the reins and make it happen. A very strong leader rose up and gave orders, which is not something easily done under our religion. But it did save the day. The group left behind was small enough to hide in one of the few places left on Terra which was fairly safe.
“We took some risk packing them temporarily into standing room on the ships, slipping them up into the Artic zone, then departing the planet as quickly as possible. The Imperium was not happy, naturally. They rescinded our negotiated plan, and placed troops on our destination, one of the few remaining colonies as yet uninhabited. We found out later the troops all nearly died as the place was marginally livable, at best. The group we left in the Terran Arctic was better off than those troops, by far. Given this situation, we simply stopped for a time near the edge of the galaxy quite a ways from any star system, and held another council.
“To avoid easy detection, we resorted to primitive means. We linked the ships physically and exchanged personnel until enough elders could gather for a quorum in the largest ship, speaking face to face. I suppose it was altogether fortuitous one of our engineers, a convert who had served in the military, insisted we then unlink the ships — ‘just in case.’ That case arose when imperial targeting drones popped out of hyperspace. Those ships weren’t armed, of course. We knew they wouldn’t simply destroy our ships and kill us all; they wanted our military aged members for the war they had just declared. This would have been unconscionable for us, and we would have willingly died to a man to prevent it. No soldier fights so hard as a genuine pacifist avoiding war, even if he seeks to avoid killing.
“The only escape was immediately entering hyperspace, but we had to turn off our navigational instruments. On those primitive ships, the instruments would, in effect, broadcast our intended destination. Each ship simply grabbed space and fled. That was the last they saw of each other.”
George was quiet, and mood was decidedly somber. He sipped his tea a moment.
“The ship with the elders ended up in this star system. Prior to the attempted council, we had balanced the ship assignments so each could have formed its own miniature colony, if necessary. In the bargain, the ship which arrived at Dalorius was short a few engineering specialties, most of our former military converts, and a few scholars. While the last group we could replace for the most part, the first two made all the difference in the world.
“Supplies were short because no one expected to be in those ships that long. The beacon was not directly line of sight, but the presence of its signal bouncing off the planets made everyone nervous. Since it said the fourth planet was habitable, but offered no details, it was decided to blindly land. Even if we did turn on our scanning equipment, a risk of broadcasting our location to the beacon at least, we would have gotten nothing back, as you know. So the pilot simply estimated the surface depth below the clouds and brought the ship down. He barely had the means to maneuver once inside the atmosphere and they bumped the ground rather hard. No one was hurt severely, and we disembarked.
“That was several hundred years ago.”