by Walt Staples -
In the silence of the chapel, the muted roar of the blowers was noticeable as they ran on “high” to handle the smoke and soot from the unusually large number of candles burning to either side of the altar. The Rite of Publication was one of the few times Brother Marius, the abbey’s life support engineer, allowed such abuse of his air-handlers.
Bede and the other Manuscripts stood shoulder to shoulder as they faced the main celebrant, Bishop Guash. The usually dyspeptic prelate actually seemed to be in fine fettle and to be greatly enjoying himself, as the occasional smile escaped his Excellency’s bulldog-jowled continence. As an acolyte on his right handed him a lit candle, he sobered. “My sons, you have been called to one of the highest callings in Mother Church—that of Bible. Know you that you carry God’s Word to and among his children—all of his children. You may not force yourself on others, but you must be ever ready to open yourself to any who wish to hear God’s Word. It is not an easy calling that you follow. The evil one has used fire in the past to try the destruction of God’s Word. This flame is to remind you of what you may be called upon to face…and what you may save souls from by your efforts.”
Each Manuscript held out his left hand. From left to right, the bishop passed the flame under the outstretched palm. Bede sucked in a breath as the flame reached Antonio, the Ignatius Manuscript on his left. His stomach muscles tightened as readied himself. He would not show a sign! Not before his parents, up from Eclectia. Not before Brother Charles Maria, his second teacher. Nor before Brother Eustis, his first teacher, who, Bede was convinced, watched from a higher plane. There was an instant of burning pain, and the flame passed on to Tommy, the James Manuscript, to his right.
Bishop Guash handed the candle to the acolyte on his left. His face broke into a huge smile. “My sons, today you are no longer Manuscripts, but are Published Bibles. From this point on, you will be known to all by your personal name, and that of your version.” He made the sign of the Cross in blessing over each of them in turn. “Go you hence and serve all.”
In the infirmary, Brother Kadfell, the abbey’s medico, asked, “With or without, Douay Bede?”
The Bible smiled at him. “Without, Brother.”
The other nodded. “As you wish.” He set the hypo to dispense the first-aid spray without its anesthetic component and sprayed Bede’s blistered palm. The choice of each newly Published Bible was a secret Brother Kadfell would keep. It was a choice that by tradition was not discussed with anyone.
Outside the infirmary, Brother Charles waited for Bede with a frown. Bede took in his erstwhile teacher’s expression and his heart sank. His assignment had been decided. He had hoped to be assigned to a mission among spacers with the priest he would be paired with. From Brother Charles’ face, he knew it was bad. Probably a mining settlement on either Sheba or Quatermain. He consoled himself with the thought that if it did turn out to be Sheba, at least he could visit the abbey on occasion. He took a deep breath. “I take it that my assignment has been decided?”
Brother Charles nodded grimly. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”
Bede braced himself. “Where?”
Brother Charles answered in a voice of doom, “Thou art assigned to the Spacers’ Mission.”
Bede blinked. Had he heard right?
Brother Charles leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “You know, you might want to close your mouth before Hubert or one of the other cats decides to go rat hunting in there.”
It took Bede a couple of tries to get enough air to ask, “Why didn’t you just say so?”
His teacher grinned at him. “Because I was afraid you’d try to swarm up me and slobber all over me.” Putting the lie to his fears, Brother Charles threw his arms around the Bible in a bear-hug. “Congratulations, boy. You worked hard for it and you’ve earned it.” He held Bede at arms’ length. “You’ll do us proud.” He raised an admonishing finger. “But only in a proper non-Seven Deadly Sins meaning of the word. Understand?”
Bede beamed back at the big man. “Yes, Brother. I’ll remember. When and where do I go?”
Brother Charles dropped his hands and folded them within his sleeves. “The where is the Spacers’ Mission Mother House on Avenir, sort of neutral ground, as it were. The when is a couple of days from now; after all, it would be a bit rude to skip dinner with his Excellency and the rest of the abbey tonight.” He cocked his head and squinted one eye. “Besides, you left off the most important part of the question as far as your future success goes.”
The Bible raised his eyebrows. “What’s that, Brother?”
“The who. You’ve been matched with Father Oaku Mary, T.O.R.”
“What’s he like?”
His teacher shook his head. “Don’t know, really. His records look okay and he’s fresh-caught like you. His Ordination was day before yesterday. I guess you’re going to find out first-hand in a few days.” He changed the subject. “Let’s go find your folks. I suspect your mother probably wants to maul you some. I hear their parish priest sprung for their fare?”
“Yes, bugherds don’t make a lot, so Father Mack came up with it. Said only that it had to do with a penance.” They turned the corner.