The very idea of saying prayers for so many dead is ludicrous, and yet we do; the god we serve is a demanding master.
Of course, we also don't have anything else to do with ourselves but pray. The handful of remaining dedicates of Aphrodite
are keeping a schedule that would make their wanton Lady blush, but the specter of Lord Hades hovers so palpably over this
fleet that few seek the counsel of His mortal agents.
Eight prayers every day. We rotate the Colonies through six of them, asking our Lord to safeguard the souls of entire planets
en masse. The other two sessions are reserved for individuals, names sent to us from throughout the fleet by wireless, or
in person if the survivor is fortunate enough to have access to a shuttle. Few are, and fewer of those wish to visit a house
of the dead.
But this young man did. He arrived on a shuttle from Galactica itself, though I would have guessed his origin in any case.
Military service was written all over him, from the lines around his eyes to the cut of his hair to the way he held his head
as he entered the sanctuary. Soldiers are among those Hades holds beloved; he had no need to look so ill at ease here.
"Welcome, brother," I said, bowing in greeting, biting my tongue to keep from smiling at the startled flare in his eyes, the
quickly-arrested drop of his jaw. This one was very young.
"Brother?" he asked, one eyebrow arching in question. "I'm not-"
"Death is the constant in every life," I told him; a fact that mortals spent each day trying to forget, particularly the young,
but one that a soldier might do well to remember. "We are all kindred in Lord Hades' eyes."
He blinked rapidly and nodded, and with long practice I suppressed a sigh. Virtually the same dance with every visitor, these
dark days. Ours was not a popular order even before the holocaust, but now, with even fewer of the general priesthood to
serve as intermediaries between the public and the Orders, that mad charlatan Elosha in charge of the ones left, and her more
interested in politics than souls...
Well. Suffice to say that I was gaining much practice in soothing the troubled minds of wanderers, but such practice does
not bring with it pleasure or even ease.
"What brings you to us, brother?" I prompted gently. He licked his lips and glanced around the bare little antechamber, eventually
settling his gaze on the door to the altar-room. Impatient as well. He'd learn.
"I'd like to purchase a prayer," he said, still staring at the sealed portal, his fingers rubbing across his palms as if he
was trying to brush his hands clean. He'd do as well to try to wipe the shadows from his eyes, or the memories from his mind.
I would not ask what they were, and it did not matter; a priest of the dead learns quickly to recognize a haunted man.
"In whose name?" I asked after a moment, in which he stared at the door and communed with visions I couldn't see. A single
prayer would not lay this boy's ghosts to rest, but perhaps it would ease them enough for his heart to find a moment's peace.
He glanced at my face, then down at the floor, flexing his hands slowly, as if they were new to him. "The Olympic Carrier."
"A ship has no soul," I prodded him, watching his eyes. The sharp pain of truth and clarity must come before forgiveness.
It's right there in the scriptures.
His jaw clenched, and for a moment I thought he would not say it, that he'd leave without his prayer. Very well; my Order
already prayed for all of the souls lost in this conflict. His request was for himself, not for the lost, and if he wasn't
ready to truly face it, it would do him no good. The ways of the gods remain a mystery even to Their servants, but the ways
of the human heart and mind are easily unravelled if one observes with patience.
Minding the dead teaches nothing if not patience.
"In whose name do you pray?" I asked again, when he didn't move for the exit. His hands were in fists now, I noted, but the
flash of anger in his eyes was replaced by guilt and confusion. I might have known that a good soldier could face down even
the enemies within him.
"The names of all of the people who died on the Olympic Carrier," he said, letting out a shaky breath and finally meeting
my eyes. "All of the people I killed."
So. He was that pilot. The names of the living are not spoken in Lord Hades' house; they are of little interest to
Him. I kept all recognition from my face, although his eyes searched for it. I simply turned to the small box beside the
altar-room door and removed a stick of incense. "We must take care with our supplies," I said, by way of explanation for
why so many souls would be remembered in a single tiny flame.
"Of course," he said, and began fumbling through his pockets for the tributary coins. I waved him off.
"What use would that be now?" I pointed out gently, rolling the stick between my fingers. "After such a banquet of souls
as the Cylons have given Him, I assure you that Hades does not begrudge you your coin."
"Doesn't do me much good either," he said, a slight smile tugging at his lips. It didn't touch his eyes. Such terrible weariness
and sorrow in those eyes.
It is the burden and the gift of a god's servant to offer what is needed, even if that need is unrecognized. "Would you like
the say the prayer yourself?" I asked quietly, holding the incense out to him.
Again he looked stunned, and for a moment was speechless. I held it steady, staring into his eyes, willing his acceptance.
He'd already insisted on taking responsibility for the dead. Asking their forgiveness and safe passage aloud would only ease
the weight on him.
He nodded, finally, and closed his fingers around the stick, below mine. I did not release it, or take my gaze from his eyes.
"And are there any other names you wish to add to your prayer?" I asked him, wishing not for the first time that I had dedicated
my service to a god who wouldn't demand I be able to tell the grief-lines from the others in a man's face. They were older
than the marks of stress and exhaustion, familiar, ingrained.
"The shortage of supplies," I clarified in a murmur, finally breaking my gaze as he blinked away his discomfort. "I'll consecrate
them to the same stick. But you may say as many prayers as you like, of course."
His lips moved without sound before he cleared his throat enough to speak. "Zak and Caroline Adama."
I tilted my head in acknowledgement and pressed the button to open the door. In the dim light of the altar-room, we both
pretended that his hands didn't shake as he fitted the incense into the holder. I held the holy flame to the stick and looked
up at the faceless idol. "In honor of Zak Adama," I said. "Caroline Adama. The dead of the Olympic Carrier." I stepped
back, glanced at him, and nodded. He moved closer to the altar and sank slowly to his knees.
I returned to the antechamber and closed the door behind me- such prayers are only between the petitioner and the god. I
arranged my hands and bowed my head in a semblance of meditation, but my thoughts were on the sorrowful young soldier and
his haunted eyes. I would not be surprised in the slightest, should we survive this mad flight and find a place to abandon
war, if he discarded his name and chose to serve in Hades' shadow. The god knew him well.