0200: The Hour of Our Death
“That ain’t snow, mate,” Lamont muttered darkly. He felt his fist clench and looked down at it. It was speckled with crimson, the knuckles cracked.
Santana’s dark eyes flashed around the bustling observation deck as if she was afraid that she was the only one missing a joke. But everyone continued their tasks normally, except for Phobos, who was looking down at her and Lamont with an inscrutable expression. “The Rosary?” She repeated, uncertainly.
“Yeah, the prayer,” Lamont prodded her. “I must’ve heard it somewhere, because it’s been nagging at me all week when I try to sleep. For some reason I’m trying to remember it.”
The demeanor of the Chief of Operations shifted palpably as she tried to orient herself for the unexpected line of questioning. She touched Lamont’s arm and turned with him toward the large observation window, so that their entire field of view was occupied by their own reflections against the slowly rotating field of stars. “I’d be glad to help with that, Lamont, but I don’t think we have time right now.” Her voice was lowered to a self-conscious whisper.
“How long does it take?” Lamont asked, surprised.
“Well, there’s a process,” Amila began slowly, looking at his reflection. “You start with the sign of the cross…” Here, her hand traced a subtle but precise gesture across her torso. “And you say, ‘In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.’”
Lamont’s eyes flashed with recognition. The Holy Ghost is on the move tonight! Abner Wade had said to him a few days earlier. He nodded. “Right, brilliant. Is the Rosary after that?”
“I’m trying to explain it,” Amila replied quickly. “After the Sign of the Cross is the Apostle’s Creed. Then you say the Lord’s Prayer. Then three Hail Marys…”
“Hail Mary!” Lamont exclaimed, loudly enough that he saw several pairs of eyes glance up at him in the reflection of the busy room behind them. He leaned down closer to the petite Santana and whispered, “That’s the bit I’m trying to remember!”
The flash of brilliant white faded as quickly as it had come, followed by a sullen red glow that settled like a shroud over the jagged edges of the horizon. Moments later, a sudden wind carried an oven-like heat over his face. Incongruously, soft-edged white particles began to drift downward, sparsely at first, and then thickly enough that it began to obscure the glowering vista.
“It is snowing!” A voice said behind him.
“That ain’t snow, mate,” Lamont muttered darkly. He felt his fist clench and looked down at it. It was speckled with crimson, the knuckles cracked. He turned to find the source of the other voice, but it felt as if the particles were carrying him away, swirling so close about him now that he felt he might choke.
“Ashes! Ashes!” He began to laugh. “We all…fall…”
Then, through the dust, he saw her face. It drew him out of his panic, her dark eyes fixed on him with sorrow and hope. He was standing in the rubble of the old cathedral again, looking up at the window, and the visage of haunting beauty. One eye was chipped, the colored glass absent so that the ruddy light outside shown through unveiled, like the point of a star. Do you remember? It seemed to ask.
Lamont stepped closer. “Hail Mary,” he said, hesitantly at first. He coughed, cleared his throat. “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
The face looked down, unchanged and yet expectant.
Lamont raised his voice. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”