In Naples in 2060, Emilio is woken from a nap on the beach by a boy who summons him to meet with someone.
Emilio finds Felipe Reyes, an old friend from La Perla who is now a middle-aged priest. After the two share memories of the past, Felipe asks to see Emilio’s hands and explains his own injury caused by a letter bomb. Emilio becomes angry and suspicious of why the Father General summoned Reyes.
Vincenzo Giuliani is disappointed to learn that Reyes’s interaction with Emilio had not gone as he had hoped. He contemplates the history and motivation of Jesuit martyrs, deciding that in some cases death is easier than survival.
John Candotti joins Emilio on the beach, and they discuss Emilio’s options. Candotti begins to tell Emilio that people know more of his story than he realizes and encourages Emilio to share it, but Emilio refuses.
In 2021, Anne picks George up from the airport; on the drive, he excitedly describes the Stella Maris, the spaceship prepared for the mission.
As the months pass, even Anne is amazed at how various obstacles that arise for the mission are resolved. She is “increasingly drawn in by the beauty of belief.” Despite the intense motion sickness she experiences, as they enter space, Anne has a moment of certainty about God’s existence. Watching D.W. and Sofia work together, Anne notices their budding friendship.
The narrator describes the seven crew members and the various ways they have prepared for the mission. Sofia Mendes and D.W. Yarbrough understand each other, are evenly matched in their pursuit of perfection, and have spent intense hours working together to prepare for the mission. Marc Robichaux and Alan Pace, both members of the Society of Jesus, are introduced. Marc is a naturalist, and Alan is a musicologist. The other crew members are George Edwards, Anne Edwards, and Emilio Sandoz.
In the months before the mission, transmissions from Alpha Centauri are detected in fifteen- and twenty-seven-day cycles. The crew members study these “regularly scheduled concerts” and begin to recognize specific singers. The narrator explains that one of these singers, Hlavin Kitheri, “would one day destroy Emilio Sandoz.”
The flight continues to go smoothly. The crew becomes accustomed to zero gravity, and there is even a comical attempt by the Edwardses to have sex. After leaving the solar system, gravity is regained, and a routine is established.
During one dinner, there is a brief moment of tension between Pace, Emilio, and Sofia. All three apologize, but after sharing a moment of connection, Emilio and Sofia seem to make a point of avoiding close contact with each other in the following months.
Aboard the Stella Maris,Jimmy approaches Emilio privately to ask for advice about living without sex. Emilio, to Jimmy’s surprise, suggests masturbation. Emilio talks with Jimmy about the reality of celibacy but refuses to entirely disclose his “private life.”
Jimmy recalls a conversation he had with Anne months earlier, before the mission. He had felt angry and judgmental toward Emilio, suspecting some kind of romantic relationship between Sofia and the priest. Anne had explained that vows made in youth are hard to keep, comparing them to marriage vows, and cautioned Jimmy against judging Emilio.
Jimmy realizes that Sofia and Emilio would be good for each other, but he also notices that since the first real dinner on board the Stella Maris,Emilio and Sofia have kept physical distance from each other, as well as emotional distance by calling each other by their last names.
Emilio contemplates his vows of...
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chastity, something that he realizes intrigues other people. He believes he is called to the path, but it is something so meaningful to him that he cannot articulate it.
In June 2060, Giuliani, Voelker, Behr, Candotti, and Emilio Sandoz meet in the Father General’s office in Naples to begin the hearings. Giuliani makes it clear that it is not an inquisition, but an attempt to understand what happened on Rakhat.
Giuliani explains to Emilio that a year after the Stella Maris left, Sofia’s contact who had supplied the asteroid for the Stella Maris publicized suspicions of the Jesuit mission. The UN authorized the Contact Consortium crew, aboard the Magellan, to follow the Stella Maris and make contact with the Singers. This crew found the Stella Maris and, eventually, found Emilio himself, putting him back on the Stella Maris and returning him to Earth. Although contact with the Magellan was lost, the Contact Consortium crew did report back to Earth various allegations against Emilio.
Emilio reads through the document of allegations. Deeply distressed, he responds in dark humor, which infuriates Voelker. Emilio claims that the report is both “all true” and “all wrong,” and is overtaken by a powerful migraine.
According to the document shown to Emilio, when the Magellan crew landed in the Runa village of Kashan, they encountered Askama, who led them to Emilio in the city of Gayjur. There, Supaari Gayjur hosted the crew for weeks before Askama finally led them to Emilio, whom they found employed as a prostitute. Emilio killed Askama and became hysterical, and the Magellan crew decided to send him back to Earth. Noticing increasing unrest among the Runa and Jana’ata, the ruling class, the crew then decided to return to the Magellan. They were never heard from again.
Watching Emilio recover from his episode, Behr is moved by compassion for him. Behr tells Giuliani that the physical effect of the rape Emilio experienced “was brutal” and that he believes Emilio is simply a soul looking for God. In the night, Emilio wakes to see Giuliani by his bed. Giuliani apologizes to him.
Aboard the Stella Maris,the crew’s card game is interrupted by the news that a planet has been discovered. A second planet, with moons, is located shortly after. Emilio faints at the news, and Anne notices D.W.’s strong emotional reaction.
When Anne examines Emilio, Emilio confides to her that he was surprised by the discovery of the planet because he was not truly at the place of belief that everyone else assumed. He tells her that he is falling in love with God and feels vulnerable and terrified.
As the Stella Maris drops closer to the planet, tensions mount. Marc presents his observations of the terrain of the planet and a city he has located. After an hours-long discussion about whether or not to land in the city itself, D.W. decides to land in an uninhabited area to allow the crew time to become accustomed to the planet.
Tensions mount as the crew prepares to land, selecting the equipment and materials they believe will be most needed to bring with them.
The night before landing, Anne privately asks D.W. to allow Emilio to step onto the planet first; D.W. agrees.
During the landing process, each crew member feels their own private calm and gratitude, giving themselves up to the will of God. The experience of landing on the new planet is a deeply spiritual one for the crew, and for Emilio in particular. In the days that follow the landing, they joyfully explore their new environment.
In a private moment with Emilio, Sofia recognizes her tender feelings toward him and tries to fight them.
The crew begins to experiment with eating food from the planet, keeping a careful record. In the midst of their peaceful time on Rakhat, Alan is found inexplicably dead one morning. Anne performs an autopsy, but no cause of death can be found. After the autopsy, Anne is exhausted and lashes out at D.W.
Relationships between the crew are repaired. Marc leads a funeral service for Alan, and Alan’s body is buried.