The rest of the colonists were clustered haphazardly in the center of the hall, some of them in small groups while a few of them jumped or whirled in a strange, ecstatic dance.
The lift doors opened to the sound of music—not recorded music, but living voices. Lamont stepped into the open space of the colonist’s deck and saw it to be devoid of the usual bustle of activity. Not a single person could be seen on the expanse grass-like carpet that was the common area, near the livestock pens, nor among the windows of the tightly-packed cabins. The music was drifting from the hall at the center of the deck, so Lamont made his way in that direction. He checked his wristwatch; it was 8:00 in the evening on a Wednesday.
As the newspaperman approached, the music took on more definition, reverberating from the glass of the enclosed space. The structure of the song being sung was one of call and response. A single stringy, wavering female voice rose piercingly to the surface, not entirely on-key, but also not unpleasant in its earnest simplicity:
When lifting weary head to see
A Fir’y pillar over me
It beckons onward heavy feet
Where does it lead?
Then, dozens of voices rose to answer in a sort of haphazard harmony as men, women and children all found their way into the tune, apparently by intuition:
To the shores of Jordan, follow on
‘Till we call the Promised Land our home
Arriving at the hall, Lamont observed that its double doors were propped open, and inside there was a commotion. Recognizing that he had arrived during a religious service, he had expected to see the colonists seated in rows as they had been during the meeting he had attended a week before. But no, the chairs had been removed from the center of the hall, folded away or moved to the periphery where a few of the younger children sat, swinging their legs and watching the adults with a bored sort of curiosity. The rest of the colonists were clustered haphazardly in the center of the hall, some of them in small groups while a few of them jumped or whirled in a strange, ecstatic dance. There was a subtle wave of heat that brushed Lamont’s skin, and the pungent tang of sweat met his nostrils, sweat that glistened beneath loosened collars and rolled-up sleeves. In the center of it all was the woman called Miss Anna, wearing a white dress with a shawl over her head, her arms spread wide as she belted out another call, almost tuneless in its urgency:
A land of giants I behold
A wilderness of dangers untold
Where shall I go?
Once again, the voices of the colonists rose in response:
To the walls of Jericho
‘Till we call the Promised Land our own
Lamont started as, nearby, a young man in one of the small groups suddenly slumped to the ground. The men and women who had been gathered around him stepped back to give him space as he lay stretched on his back, hands uplifted and trembling, his lips quivering with babbled words that sounded like no language Lamont had ever heard. The others looked around for other groups to join, one of them launching into a jerky, frenzied dance with a whoop of exaltation. Lamont recognized him as Walter Ames, a veterinarian whom he had always seen as sober and reserved.
Unsettled, Lamont stepped back through the doors and into the larger deck, his hands fumbling for his cigarette case. He had come at the wrong time, he supposed. As he hovered indecisively in the doorway, he saw that Miss Anna had lowered her gaze from the ceiling and was looking fixedly at him through the small crowd, though her song continued with undiminished intensity.