The Theology Council Tribunal Station
Two-hundred and fifty-seven students stood in a protective huddle, staring wide-eyed at the interior of the first space station any of them had ever seen. They were standing just outside of the station’s major Concourse, and it looked as if it went on forever. It seemed impossible that anything “indoors” could be so immense. Most of the students were clinging to their small carry bags as if they were hiding behind them. Every one of them suddenly felt very small.
Just as the students seemed about to break and run, Master Khorash, one of the student’s favorite teachers, stood in front of them and stood in a pose that the students immediately recognized. With his arms raised above his head, standing with his eyes closed, he was calling them to assembly.
The familiarity once again brought the young adults back to themselves, and everyone rushed to their places. In almost no time at all, the students stood in a formation divided into 4 cohorts, three of which were female and the last of which was male. The students dropped their carrying bags at their feet and mimicked Master Khorash’s pose.
With his voice slightly amplified, their teacher started the assembly’s Call to Worship, a liturgy that every one of the students knew by heart. He prayed a ritual prayer of thanksgiving for their safe arrival, followed by a ritual prayer of praise. The students were whispering his prayers along with him, and the sound, to any Amarr, would have been familiar and beautiful.
As the students began to sing the Morning Hymn, small groups of bystanders sang it with them. At the song’s end, when all the students opened their eyes, they found themselves surrounded by a small throng of people who had their arms raised with them. This affected a calm sense of welcome in the students, whose fear of so large and unfamiliar a place was displaced by the strength of unity.
“Who are you?” asked Master Korash.
“We are Children of Amarr,” answered the students in unison.
“What do you fear?” asked Master Korash.
“Pure thought,” they answered. “We do not want to think alone.”
“Then stand with your Amarr family, fulfill your destiny, and do not be afraid,” he proclaimed.
“We will not be afraid,” they answered with enough force to make everyone who heard them think they meant it.
After that, everyone lowered their arms. Student leaders took their places at the head of every cohort, and the students began an orderly march behind Master Khorash. Bystanders along the way waved at them, but the students did not wave back. They had not been given that permission. The bystanders were not offended. Instead, they appreciated the students’ demonstration of obedience.
Given the advanced transportation system in the station, the long walk through the Concourse was unnecessary, but the students were being given a chance to stretch their legs and to see the sights of the station up close and with their own eyes. Eventually, the students turned into a wide, ornate entrance to a section of the station that bore the sign Theology Council Visitor’s Chapel. Ahead of them was an exceptionally large and beautiful place of worship. To the right and the left were large, open doorways that led to male and female dormitories.
Representatives of the chapel attached themselves to each cohort of students and led them to a dormitory. The dormitory room was a long bay with rows of bunk beds with lockers for belongings. As instructed, the students opened their lockers and donned the clothing they found inside. It included everything they would need to wear for their entire trip.
Meara was pleased. She found in her locker a simple but soft set of underclothes to be worn under a long tunic that clearly indicated that she was on a pilgrimage. There were soft low boots that were much better than what she was used to wearing. Finally, there was a brooch that served as a tracking locator that had a call function she could use if she ever found herself in trouble.
“Do not ever use that call button unless you are lost or in danger,” they were told. “Hold the button for nine seconds and station security will find you. When they find you, they had better find you in need,” came a stern warning.
Once everyone was changed, the students were all led to a reception area where they were fed a simple meal and briefed about the plans for the next two days. Meara did some quick mental math and was stunned to realize how far they would be traveling over the next two days. It was surreal. They would be so far from home in terms of distance, yet so close in terms of time. It was like living in two dimensions at the same time.
Once the meal was over, the students were led into the Sanctuary for an evening service. The sanctuary itself was far larger and more beautiful than that to which the students were accustomed, but it was familiar enough to convey its intended message:
Yes, they were from their own colony, but they were all connected through their beliefs and their traditions to something far greater.
Once the service was over, the students were dismissed for what was called “free time,” which meant that they had a few minutes to themselves before “lights out,” or the time at which they would all be required to go to bed. Most of the students ran off with their friends, either to grab a quick snack or to just chatter away about all that they were experiencing. Meara, however, who had few friends, stayed in the Sanctuary, content with the silence and the chance to think about all that had happened on this eventful day.
“And who might you be?” came a voice that interrupted her thoughts.
Startled, Meara looked up to see a priest standing over her, or, at least, someone who looked like a priest. When she realized who – or what – the man was, her gaze immediately fell away from him. For just a second, she felt trapped, and the resulting anxiety slipped into her expression.
“Excuse me, Child,” the man spoke with gentleness. “I did not mean to startle you.”
Meara composed herself and reconstructed her Imperial Face. She had been trained on the proper way to address a priest.
“Oh, no, Father,” she said, bowing politely but holding his gaze. “Please excuse me. I should have noticed you.”
The priest bowed back, and then to Meara’s surprise, he sat in the pew next to her.
“Now,” he said, “what is your name? Who is it that I am addressing?”
Meara felt a touch of embarrassment or shame – she could never really tell the difference – and replied, “I am Meara Natinde, Father, and am on a pilgrimage to Amarr.”
“Well, that is a start, Meara, but who are you?”
Meara was surprised by the question and her mouth moved as quickly as the answer came to her, before her training could tell it to stop. “Well, I am nobody, Father. I hardly matter at all.”
The priest did not like her answer, though Meara did not know why exactly. He did not seem angry at her, precisely, but was certainly displeased.
“But Meara,” he said, looking her right in the eyes, “are you not a Child of Amarr?”
For all her life, Meara had heard the teachings, participated in worship, and learned the rituals of her religion. This, however, was the first time anyone had hinted that the wonderful things she had learned honestly applied to her. Her Imperial Face cracked so that the priest was seeing the real Meara now. There was no mask, at least for now.
“I hope that I am,” she said. She wanted to look away, but his gaze was holding hers.
“Meara Natinde,” he said, continuing to look her directly in the eyes. “In this matter there is no hope required.” His eyebrows raised to encourage her to give him a different answer.
“I… am… a Child of Amarr,” she said, but it almost sounded like a question. This was not her morning assembly or her evening vespers. It was difficult to use the words from those liturgies in such a personal way.
“You are, Meara Natinde. You are a Child of Amarr.” He put a hand on her shoulder and held it firmly. “And no child of Amarr ‘hardly matters at all.’ This pilgrimage is not designed to put you in your place, though I fear that is what others have been doing to you. This pilgrimage is designed to show you your place.”
Meara looked at him, her confusion made clear by her expression. “Is there a difference?” she asked, and it was obvious that she was not intending any offense.
The priest stood and gently moved a little bit away to give Meara her space. “Oh, yes, Meara, there is, and I hope the difference becomes clear by the time this pilgrimage is over.”
Smiling gently, he bowed politely and walked away.
Meara considered his words, and it was several seconds later that she realized that she had not bowed back.