Last Reviewed on May 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1258
The prologue reviews the history of Jesuit priests as being "the vanguard of exploration" and how this history is continued by a new mission beyond Earth. While the United Nations debates for years about making human contact with the newly discovered world known as Rakhat, the Society of Jesus quickly and privately decides to send out a mission. The goal of the Jesuit scientists is "to know and love God's other children."
On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz is released from the hospital and secretly transported to the Jesuit Residence in the Vatican. The next day, a Jesuit spokesman explains to the media that Emilio is the only known survivor of the mission to Rakhat, and his return was made possible with help from the UN and a mining corporation. The spokesman refuses to comment on the "allegations regarding Father Sandoz's conduct on Rakhat."
Emilio is observed by Vincenzo Giuliani, the Father General of the Society of Jesus. Giuliani and Emilio have known each other for sixty years, but Giuliani still does not understand him.
Three weeks later, Johannes Voelker, Giuliani's private secretary, calls Father John Candotti and tells him to come see Emilio. Candotti is a priest from Chicago who has been brought to Rome to help Emilio prepare for the hearings.
During their first meeting, Emilio tells Candotti that he wants to withdraw from the Society; Candotti explains to him that the Jesuit hearings will be "nothing compared to what they'll put you through outside." Before leaving, Candotti notices a drawing of a group of VaRakhati, whom Emilio calls his colleagues.
Voelker and Giuliani meet. Giuliani defends Emilio as a good man; Voelker calls Emilio a whore who "killed a child," telling Giuliani that they should let him leave the Society. Giuliani resists this, reminding Voelker that he is not Emilio’s judge.
At the Arecibo Radio Telescope cafeteria in Puerto Rico, in February 2019, Peggy Soong talks with Jimmy Quinn. She has heard that Jimmy has been "assigned a vulture," and she urges him to refuse to cooperate. Jimmy tells Peggy that he wants to find a way to meet the interests of Arecibo's Japanese owners and its employees.
That evening, Jimmy meets Emilio Sandoz, a Puerto Rican priest he met through George and Anne Edwards. Jimmy asks Emilio his opinion about whether or not he should cooperate with a vulture. Emilio advises him to "hold out for a while" and to ask for "someone good." Emilio admits that he has been “done” by a vulture and mysteriously describes it as "an interesting experience."
The next section of the chapter reviews Emilio Sandoz's career with the Jesuits. As a young priest, Emilio demonstrates an amazing ability to learn languages. Jesuit leadership send Emilio around the world on various assignments, none of which he is able to complete before abruptly being moved somewhere else. As a result, Emilio learns five different languages in a span of three years.
While on assignment in Sudan, Emilio receives a transmission from the Society instructing him to report to Cleveland to allow artificial intelligence experts to codify his method of learning languages.
Years later, on Rakhat, Emilio recalls that moment in Sudan and wonders if it was not "the punchline to a three-year joke," as he had initially called it, but part of the punchline of a joke set up over a lifetime.
In Rome, January 2060, Father John Candotti is going to see Emilio after their first meeting several weeks before. He plans to help Emilio understand what a difficult situation he is in. The Contact Consortium crew, which had sent Emilio back to earth, has already publicized his story. When they found Emilio and reported scandalous details about the mission to Rakhat, public opinion had turned sharply against the Jesuits.
Emilio is frail and disoriented; he confuses languages, struggles to eat, and succumbs to overwhelming fatigue. Voelker and Candotti enter Emilio's room. Voelker is brisk and rude with Emilio; after he leaves, Candotti calls him "a jerk."
Candotti is moved by Emilio's helplessness. Instead of giving him the speech he had planned, he helps fit gloves over Emilio's badly mutilated hands. Emilio weeps and thanks him.
In March 2019, Jimmy comes up with a plan that he believes will allow him to keep his job longer, satisfy his superiors, and help his coworkers.
Jimmy meets with Masao Yanoguchi, the manager of Arecibo, to propose his plan: a pilot project comparing an AI (artificial intelligence) astronomy program with the human subject it was based on. Using a top AI analyst to develop the program, Arecibo could compare the AI program to its human counterpart. Jimmy suggests Sofia Mendes to do the analysis.
Yanoguchi agrees to consider it. Jimmy knows that if he eventually beats the program, he will be able to keep his job; if, in the future, other employees were also tested against their programs, more of them would also have a chance of keeping their jobs.
In August 2014, Emilio Sandoz and Sofia Mendes meet at a coffee shop in Cleveland, Ohio. Emilio, fresh from a Sudanese refugee station, is jet-lagged and culture-shocked.
Emilio is struck by Sofia Mendes from the moment he meets her. She is beautiful and has a serious, commanding presence. During their meetings, she avoids any small talk and focuses on her work—interrogating Emilio about how he learns languages.
Meanwhile, Emilio befriends Anne Edwards, one of his Latin 101 students. Anne invites Emilio to her home to have dinner and meet her husband, George. Emilio, Anne, and George enjoy their dinner, and Emilio becomes a frequent guest at the Edwards’s home.
Eventually, Emilio tells Anne about Sofia Mendes. Anne suggests that Sofia may be Sephardic, a Jewish person of Spanish ancestry. Emilio realizes that Sofia’s discomfort with him may be related to the history of her Jewish ancestors being expelled from Spain.
Emilio takes his attraction to Sofia “to God,” directing his energy toward running and teaching. Sofia becomes more relaxed around him, and in their final meeting, he sees her smile.
Before she leaves, Emilio asks Sofia what she will do after the project. Sofia explains that all of her fees belong to her broker, who contracted her at the age of fifteen and whose investment she must repay. Emilio is shocked, calling it “intellectual prostitution,” and before leaving, Sofia startles him again by saying she prefers it to physical prostitution.
In Rome, in March 2060, a reporter breaks into Emilio Sandoz’s room at the Jesuit residence, and the intrusion sets back Emilio’s recovery. Emilio is given braces for his mutilated hands; although he has daily sessions to try to learn how to use them, he makes little progress.
Giuliani, Voelker, Candotti, and Behr meet to discuss moving Emilio to another location to aid his recovery and ensure security. They agree to move Emilio to a retreat home. After the meeting, John Candotti considers how Giuliani might be manipulating Candotti and Voelker against each other and wonders why the Father General gave permission to leave Rome.
Candotti and Behr secretly transport Emilio to the retreat home in Naples. Although the journey is exhausting for Emilio, he still insists on practicing with his braces upon arriving to his new room. Emilio doesn’t complain, but Brother Edward finds the painful exercises difficult to witness.
That evening, Emilio asks Candotti if he has ever experienced God. Upon returning to his room, Emilio finds a note mysteriously signed “V.” After reading the note, he vomits repeatedly, smashes the ROM tablet, and leaves.