Bren watched the priest light some candles, fill two small glasses with wine, and pray silently before a traditional portrait of the Lord and Lady. It was like what he had seen at home, except that the candles were electric. You can’t have real fire candles on a starship!
“Are you a real priest?” asked Bren. “You don’t look like a real priest.”
She turned to him and smiled. Instead of the vestments of a high priest of Tarkel, or a proper monk’s robe, she wore a simple spacer’s overall suit and a simple prayer shawl embroidered with stylized wolf paw prints.
“I guess that depends on whom you ask. I have studied the scriptures in school and at the Wester Wolf monastery. I feel the calling to be come a priest, but I have to travel the galaxy first to learn all I can about people.”
Bren shrugged. “I guess that works.”
“In my tradition, anyone who has studied the scriptures enough and hears the calling can call herself a priest.”
“Hm. That’s different from what our priest says.”
“Yes, it is. There are other differences as well. One thing we disagree with from the Tarkel tradition is predestination.”
Bren looked at her quizzically.
“You have heard people say that whether someone is destined to be an Alpha or Beta after they cross the Rainbow Bridge is determined by their station in this life.”
“Yes, of course,” said Bren. “It only makes sense. The strong are rewarded. And the Afterlife Pack is very strict, so you have to get as far as you can.”
The priest nodded.
“Our beliefs are a little more relaxed than that. Your station in the afterlife depends on your behavior here. How you treat members of your pack is hugely important. You don’t get away with being aggressive toward the Omega.”
“Why not? Didn’t they deserve being omega?”
“That depends on how you look at it. On this ship, we follow the Wester Wood tradition: we honor our Omegas as we honor every member of the pack. Everyone has their place. No pack can function without its Omega, right?”
Bren thought about this.
“Hmmm. I suppose so. I guess that explains why the Quartermaster and the Omega got mad at me.”
Bren furrowed his brow. Was this priest trustworthy?
“Well,” Bren said. “We were on the station, and the Omega said something. I got annoyed and ignored him. Then the Quartermaster kinda chewed me out.”
“Yeah. We all have lessons to learn. But it all worked out?”
Bren thought about it.
“Yeah. I guess so. Omega and I went shopping for stuff and he helped me pick out good clothes.”
“He’s good at that.”
“So what’s my status in the command pack?”
“Hmmm. You’re a pup. An older pup, but still a pup. Everyone will take care of you.”
“Hm. Okay. Will you … can you bless me?”
“Sure. Do you want to tell me about your week?”
“Well. I already told you about one sin, when I hurt the Omega’s feelings.”
“That’s another difference. Why don’t you tell me about something good you did. Did you help someone? Did you grow? Did you learn something? That’s what I think is important to the Lord and Lady.”
Bren looked at her with a mixture of confusion and wonder.
She asked, “You’re used to having to confess to your sins, aren’t you?”
“You’re on your way to being a big wolf. There’s no point in making you feel guilty about things. So tell me a worthwhile thing you did.”
“Hm. I helped with training the passengers in the safety drills.”
“Good. That’s the kind of pack loyalty the Lord and Lady like in a young wolf.”
“But they’re not in my pack. They’re in their own packs. Some of them weren’t even in packs; they were Rasafac. And there was one Cratif.”
“In the day-to-day scheme of things, yes. We’re all in different packs. But in the grand scheme, the way the Lord and Lady look at it, we’re all in the same pack.”
“Even the cats?”
“Even the cats. They have their own ways of behaving in packs, but at the core, they’re just like us: alive, thoughtful, curious, intelligent. They raise little ones. Everyone helps.”
“Huh. So even though they sound funny and look funny … “
The priest nodded.
“ … They’re really like us,” said Bren.
“Can I ask a question?”
“Sure, just promise me you’ll always just ask, and never ask about asking.”
It would certainly save time!
“Okay. How come there aren’t any Rasafac in the crew?”
She furrowed her brow.
“That’s actually a good question. The one who owns the ship is not a Wolf. He is a Cibosan, I think. He set up this shipping company on Wolfheim, and that’s where the crew all got hired.”
Bren nodded, the frowned.
“He’s a Cibosan but not a wolf? I thought we were Cibosans.”
“We are Cibosans. But it’s not just wolves. It’s also the big bears and the Racons.”
“So how come it’s just wolves on this ship?”
“I suppose than when you run a ship, you have to know everybody, how they think, how they will react in an emergency. So my guess is, Timby wanted to keep things simple to start with.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
The priest smiled.
“Thank you, Bren. Go in peace, with the blessing of the Lord and Lady.”