The amethyst-veined leaves sheltered the soldiers who huddled into the black pumice soil. Their hands torn and bloody from the effort it had taken to excavate a hole deep enough to keep their bodies warm in the Lantarian landscape. Five moons at night shone brighter than the dim light of the distant sun in the solar system. It was a dying planet. The only vegetation left—the inedible plant they used to blanket themselves.
Jerek hugged numb hands in his armpits and clenched his chattering teeth tightly. The day had been long, the battle ending badly on both sides. Some soldiers had perished from the cold. All supplies were at an end. Not a freeze-dried crumb could be found. Water had been the last thing to go after rationing.
He reached a stiff hand to pull the leaves onto him-- feeling the volcanic matter cave-in around his body, insulating his limbs. He gave in to a fitful slumber, waiting for the weakness of the human mind that many had fallen prey to. The unknown… Madness would soon gather them all and take them to the outer reaches of space—like their brethren who had already departed with the enemy. His brother Zac had been among those taken. A tear made a muddy track down his raw, bloody cheek while he dreamed of his brother’s broken body being thrown in the belly of the bio-craft. Zac’s haunting screams chilled his bones.
After a time there was nothing. The familiar nightmare had been swept away with exhaustion.
A noise penetrated the deepest furrow of his mind. He woke peering through the giant spade-shaped leaves of his entombment. He saw a man. He shook himself fully awake. It was his commander.
Soon heroes like Commander Mahonri would perish from hunger and thirst. What would their people do when they lost these leaders? Most had given what supplies they had to their men. This man had been no different. The chill of the day had frozen men better and stronger than he. Mahonri was a stalwart man and still held an air of confidence about him—though the battle seemed all but lost.
The brilliance of Jerek’s leader’s white hair against the black of his cape was striking. The soldier’s enlistments were up in the span of two moons time. The conveyance ship was to arrive by then—if they survived that long. Jerek sighed, wondering why his commander had stopped to kneel on the cold black ground…
Why would Commander Mahonri do such a thing? Wasn’t he wary of the perception of weakness the men would have? It had been a hundred years or more since anyone had dared do such a thing in public. It was an egregious unlawful position. The governments of two worlds had forbidden humans to pray to any deity save the rulers of Danariam. Lantarian’s had fought to keep their right to pray and to have places of worship unfettered by governments and principalities—only to have their world poisoned and diminished in the wars that followed. Fear had driven Jerek and Zac to cast away their own beliefs in public. They secreted it away, having kept the faith deep down where no ruler could steal it. Jerek felt bereft from the effort. To see a man he admired and revered kneeling in the volcanic earth of this horrid planet made him remember what it meant to believe.
He found himself crawling out of his warm crevice, casting away the foliage. His flesh quivered from the cold but he crawled on…Finally he reached his commander and knelt by his side. Others followed who sought comfort of spirit, heedless of unbelievers who hissed warnings of impending doom.
Jerek bowed his head and heard a simple prayer uttered from the memory of the human lips of an uncommon man….
“Dear Father Who Art in Heaven, hear our prayers….”
The rest of the words became a blur as a feeling of warmth spread throughout his being. Comfort and hope were emotions he felt in those moments. Soon a pillar of light began to illuminate the faithful people who huddled together in prayer. An audible “AMEN!” was spoken in unison. Then they were no more.
To those unbelievers entombed in their shallow graves, the ones who had dwindled away in disbelief—it was as if all comrades had been carried away by what they feared most…God Himself.
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