Mission debriefings were had and it was time for the ship to move out and get things started. The crew was more than a little excited. There were a lot of unhappy betters who lost money on the wager of if Booker or Aurealia would win in their little sortie. For the Lieutenant Commander, she was proud. Her and Booker were talking about it like old friends at the mess hall. Like everything else on this ship, it was quite the establishment. With a panoramic view of the outside, it felt something like a ballroom with a bar and a lot of tables. Still, the two were like old friends, ragging on each other’s tactics and squadron. Harris and Seera were with the rest of the squadron, doing much the same. Camaraderie was born in an instant between the group. The rest of the Devils were enjoying the food. The cooks on the ship were excellent. They were regaling the crew with stories of previous missions, with pilots and other crewmembers eager to hear. They all felt good.
However, just as they were getting into the spirit of things, there was a bell that went off on the ship. The crew all took notice and got up, heading out of the mess hall. The bulk of the Devils were very confused.
“I miss something?” Belle asked.
“For real,” Herschel agreed. “What does that bell signify?”
Booker and Emily were more serious now. “It is a call to prayer. Delenheim is a theocracy, and there is a rule about daily prayers. Unless one is engaged in combat, all crew members are required to attend prayers to the Goddess. Those who helm and control the ship can remain at their posts, but they still have to pray. The rest go to the Sanctuary and have the more formal ritual.”
Page saw the rest of them hanging back, a little confused. “Aren’t you all coming?”
They all shook their heads.
“You don’t pray to the Goddess?”
Emily shrugged. “I didn’t come here to pray. I came here to fight.”
The girl decided not to push it, heading off to the join the others. She met up with Aurealia and leaned over to her.
“Why do the Devils not pray?”
The woman was quiet for a second, trying to come up with the right words. “They don’t believe in the Goddess. At least, Booker doesn’t. With Emily, I don’t think she does either. As for the rest, if they do, they don’t show it. It’s their prerogative, given that they aren’t formally with the military.”
Something about how she said it got the young pilot’s attention. “Do you believe in the Goddess, ma’am?”
She gave her a very blank looked, shaking her head. “What I’ve seen in battle, if there is a Goddess, I owe her an ass-whoopin’.”
Page seemed disturbed. “That’s heresy!” she whispered.
“Perhaps, but it’s true all the same.”
The Sanctuary was a large room, with a symbol at the front, etched in the glass. It was of a woman, clothed in shimmering blue that was almost the color of the sky. She had a Crystal in her hand. It glowed white. The room was full of pews. The crew took their seats, after washing their hands in a basin at the door.
An older woman was at the front of the room. She was dressed in beautiful blue and white robes, dark in color, in their way. Her face was behind a mask.
As the crew got to their seats, Belle came in the back of the room, staying in the shadows. She wanted to see what the affair was like.
“We gathered here, on this day, bathed in the glory of the Goddess’ light. Her light comes down upon us, cleansing us all of our sins. We go today, to battle and glory! We fight for our homeland, against a powerful foe. Let us pray for our victory, along with the foe we face. Pray that if we or they should pass, that they shall bear us no hatred. Pray for the safety of our comrades and the safety of those back home. We pray for Her Eminence, that she may guide us, with the glory of the Goddess smiling upon her. Our light and our glory. Pray for our nation’s victory in the war that is upon us. Let the Goddess hear our prayers and given glory unto us! Amen!”
They all sat there, heads bowed and eyes closed. Aurealia was not as pious, choosing to look at the beautiful stained glass and have a cold gaze. She looked over and saw Booker and Emily in the shadows, looking at it as well.
Booker had a very cold look on his face, glaring at the Goddess’ likeness.
“In a world like this, there is no Goddess. I don’t buy it for one second,” he whispered softly.
Emily leaned in close to him. “Her Eminence is a con artist! Fake fucking prophet who makes the people give her loyalty and money because she can fake having a connection to the Goddess. I don’t get how these people are so easily duped.”
“It’s all they know. They’ve worshiped her like this for so long that the Goddess is their entire world. It’s all they have.”
A memory came back to her. “Maybe not. Remember that group we used to run with? What were they called?”
“The Union of Souls, yeah. Hell of a group. They were growing in membership. With the revolutions of science, we are explaining away the Goddess’ miracles. She isn’t quite the all-powerful entity we believed. The more we learn about the world and what’s inside of it, the more we strip away the need for her. In 100 years, Delenheim will be a very different place.”
That thought gave Emily shivers. “What will happen to the Theological Sanctum?”
“Now that is an interesting question.” He started to walk away, leaving Emily with more questions than answers. From a pew, next to Aurealia, Page was looking at her. Her expression, it was one of confusion. Who is she? Why do I want to know?
Griffin was in his room at that point, with a rug that had a tribal-looking design of circles and shapes was spread out. He was wearing a white outfit that had designs like those of animals stitched into them. Sunlight was pouring in through his quarters window. He got onto the rug, gently going down on his knees and lowering his head to the floor. He started to sing a gentle song that was more of a hum. He didn’t rise until it was finished, rolling the rug up and putting it under his cot.
Herschel had passed by and looked inside, seeing him do it. He was about to knock when Duke grabbed his hand.
“Let him be, honey. He has his own rituals to follow.”
“He looked to be worshiping. Who was he offering prayers to?”
“His people don’t worship the Goddess. They don’t believe in her. They believe in Spirits. To their people, the Spirits are all around us, watching us and looking after us. His prayers are for their guidance and wisdom and protection. They are a very humble people.”
“I see. That’s quite something. I never knew that he had a spiritual side to him. It’s never come up.” They continued down the hall.
“Unlike those on the ship, his people keep their beliefs very private. They don’t have a formal prayer. They sing in the ancient tongue of their society, with a song whose words change, depending on the prayer. Some groups of their people will have prayers together, but overall, it is a very solitary event. Hence why we best not disturb.”
“Of course, my dear. You’re right. Once the prayers are done, we should find someone who can play cards.”
Duke’s face lit up. “Now you’re talking!”
The bridge of the ship came alive as the Captain and her staff came back, after prayers.
She cued up the intercom. “All hands, this is the captain! We are commencing our mission! We should be at the Oerban border in two days! May the Goddess be with us!” She shut off the intercom, looking to the navigator. “Alright, I want a confirmation from the rest of the fleet!”
After a moment, the communications officer looked up. “Yes ma’am, all ships are reporting ready!”
“Excellent! Have them remain information as we move. All ahead full!”
“All ahead full!”
The engines came to life as the glowing rings started to emit large streams of light downward. There were large glowing orbs on the back that were powering them forward. The smaller ships had massive rotors on the sides, with the glowing rings on the bottom. They all moved in perfect synchronization, headed toward future unknown.
Aurealia was just coming down to dinner when she noticed a large crowd gathered around a couple of tables that were put together. The evening sun was shining in, making the entire room have a golden glow. The crowd was pretty thick, with a lot of noise coming from it. She looked to the bartender, who just smiled and shrugged. After walking over, she pushed her way through to see two people sitting, with a large amount of coins and bills in the center. On one side, there was Duke. On the other, there was Harris. The two were staring each other down, each one playing the other. They seemed to have even amounts of money between them. It was clear that other players had come and gone. They both had five six in their hands, looking each other right in the eye. Aurealia could see it, there was a battle being fought here. One that was as fierce as a dog-fight.
“Your move, pretty-boy!” Duke said, venomously.
He looked at the coins and bills in his hand. He looked down at his cards, taking the coin stacks first and putting them all in. He then took the bills and put them all in the pile.
“All-in! Let’s end this!”
Duke couldn’t help but smile. She was going to win, she could feel it. There were four cards already on the table. One was a woman with a crown, the other was a bird in the sky, the third was a blade with jewels and the last was a blue gem.
“I’m game!” She put all her money in as well.
The dealer looked over. “Alright, let’s see what cards you got!”
Duke went first. “I’ve got Five Honors Rich, Field of Beauty and Jewels of Power. That’s all she wrote, kid!” The crowd was ecstatic, waiting to see what Harris would do. His smile grew.
“Not bad. Not bad at all.”
Duke was reveling in this.
“But not good enough!”
Her expression changed immediately.
He put down his cards and her heart sank. “I’ve got Three Birds of Beauty, Jewels of Power and, as my last play, The Goddess Queen!”
Everybody went nuts. The crowd of people were changing money as bets were cashed in. Duke looked shocked. Herschel was as well. She had never lost in cards. Ever. Chief was the only true rival she’d had, but this young Delenheim pilot had just taken her for everything. As he counted up his winnings, the crowd started to disperse.
Finally, Duke looked up. “Not bad, kid. Not to bad at all. I was so sure I had it. You nailed me good!”
He chuckled. “I was a little worried, for a second there. You were seven points away from a tie! That was close!”
“Indeed. We must do this again sometime! I mean to take my winnings back!”
He nodded, shaking her hand. “I’d like that. Good game, Devil.”
“Nice to meet ya.”
Aurealia grabbed one of the bills from the table. “The house gets a cut, naturally.”
Since they were off-duty, he didn’t salute, but he did shrug a bit. “It was a good game, ma’am! Though I think that you wouldn’t do well against this opponent.”
The lot of them got a laugh, ordering some drinks from the bar.
Far away, there was a fleet of airships. They were like dirigibles, except they had glowing rings on the bottom and large open platforms around the center, lined with guns. On one of them, the silver plane with the black rose. They were gathering, knowing that a foe was going to be meeting them, soon enough.
Until next time, a quote,
“Words are the means to meaning and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?” -V, V for Vendetta