Phases

2106

Ray Nothnagel

Gavita waited for the sentries to acknowledge ris presence before stepping over the threshold. Re open ris crimson-lined robe in the front, demonstrating that re was unarmed. It had been centuries since anyone save House Korzof-Moti had made even an attempt to carry weapons within the wall of a Martoki temple, but tradition was always strong with House Martoki. All Houses were welcome, so long as they followed the tradition. When the sentries gave the expected half-wave, re closed ris cloak and looked down at the knee-high wall that demarcated the territory of the temple. Re gingerly stepped over it. The two sentries watched rim for a moment, then turned and continued on their rounds.

Gavita looked across the field and took in the beauty of the temple. House Martoki was as ancient and proud as ris own House Barohti, but Barohti's temples never reached this level of opulence, with its beautifully painted walls fading gracefully into stunningly tall spires, tilted of course towards Martok. The gas giant around which House Martoki's religion revolved figuratively, and which the Bactaran homeworld itself revolved literally, hung in the sky, a constant presence in this entire hemisphere. From House Barohti's ancestral homeland, Martok appeared almost as a perfectly round hill, a hemisphere on the horizon, but here in the nation of House Martoki, it dominated the sky from above—almost, but not quite, directly overhead.

At the moment, Martok was a crescent, just a quarter of its full size. Gavita would have preferred to wait until nearer to full Martok to make ris pilgrimage, but re needed guidance, and re didn't have the whole revolution to wait. Ris transport would launch in half that time, and re wasn't sure re wanted to be on it. At least at this time, there wouldn't be as many Bactarans making the pilgrimage re was.

Re took in every inch of the beauty of the structure as re walked towards it. The designs on the walls, mostly consisting of concentric patterns of circles, were as mesmerizing as they were regal. The grass that formed the field through which re walked was soft and springy, returning to its original pose within seconds of ris foot leaving the ground, wiping away any trace of a path or footprints. Even the grass here was blessed by Martok.

Re arrived at the towering gateway, its door standing open, welcoming visitors. Re could see a handful of the faithful milling around inside the temple. Rows of benches formed a concentric pattern facing the center of the building, where the central portion of the ceiling receded upwards, out of view. As ris eyes adjusted to the dimmer interior of the temple, re could see a hint of Martok's pale blue light falling in the center, illuminating the dais which the benches surrounded. A number of Bactarans sat scattered on the dais, looking upward at Martok, contemplating.

"Have you ever seen the Prime Temple at Martakis?"

Gavita was startled to hear the voice behind rim, yet the calming tone caused rim not to jump too visibly. Re turned to see one of the temple's priests. The priest's traditional blue robes matched the hue of Martoki's reflected light, and the elevated detached collar that wound around the back of the priest's head displayed a deep green tint.

"I have not," Gavita admitted. "This is my first time to the blessed lands."

"Come now, only the stuffiest of stuffy old priests call it that," the priest said. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lunado of House Martoki." At the same time, the priest lightly touched the robe's green collar, a greeting custom indicating that Lunado used pronouns associated with that color.

"House Martoki," Gavita repeated. "I thought so. You are one of the priests here?"

"What gave it away?" Lunado smoothed gris robe, still smiling. "I do not try and hide it."

"I am Gavita of House Barohti," re said, touching the red lining of ris own robe.

"And you seek guidance?"

Gavita hesitated before finally responding, "I do not try and hide it, I suppose."

"Let me begin by guiding you to the dais," gre said, gesturing towards the center. "Many find that simply seeing the great sphere in a different context is helpful."

"I think my failures may be more than what a little glimpse of Martok can set right."

"Martok's light is not meant to set things right for you, merely to help you set them right for yourself."

"How does it do that?"

"It is different for every seeker. For some, it provides clarity. For others, perhaps a helpful metaphor. For our ancestors, it provided light and warmth during the long night, which is why we celebrate its light every cycle."

"I wish I could be here for one of the celebrations at Full Martok. I've heard they are incredible in the Land of Martoki."

"They truly are," gre confirmed. "Yet you chose to come during First Crescent. Do you not intend to stay here for a full cycle?"

"The decision I need guidance for cannot wait. My transport craft launches at the eclipse."

"That scarcely leaves you enough time to get back to your land, much less make a calm decision."

"Then a rushed decision will have to do," Gavita said. Re nearly tripped over the ankle-high wall that surrounded the dais, marking a higher echelon of permission. Re looked to Lunado for permission, and gre nodded gently.

They stepped over the threshold together, suddenly bathed in the blue light of Martok's crescent. Re looked up and gaped. Martok was perfectly framed in the opening of the cylindrical tower, higher than any hollow tower Gavita had ever seen. The inner wall of the tower was blue to reflect the light of the planet, except for a pair of white stripes that descended on both sides of the tower, echoing the white cloud latitudes that streaked across Martok. The emblem of House Martoki shared those same stripes, purposefully connecting the House to the planet which it was so famed for worshipping.

Re wasn't certain how long re had stood there, just looking, when Lundao pulled rim from ris reverie. "This transport that is leaving soon, you have a decision to make before you board it?"

"The decision is whether to board it or not," re said.

"And what awaits you at this transport's destination? Something you fear?"

"No, not exactly," re said. "It's more like, something I am not certain I deserve."

"And why don't you deserve it?"

"The transport is taking me to my new argosy assignment."

"Deployment to the war, then. Yet that is not something you fear?"

"I am not afraid to die. My House has never feared death."

"House Barohti are famed for bravery, it is true," Lunado said. "What is it about this deployment that you do not deserve?"

Gavita paused. "In my last tour, I had assumed command of the Temukin, after the Captain and bis first mate were killed. We'd taken significant damage, so I retreated through the warp bridge."

Lunado nodded. "And now?"

"And now, I've been given command of a new ship."

"Congratulations on your promotion."

Gavita fidgeted uncomfortably. "The congratulations I am certain I don't deserve."

"And why is that?"

"My standing orders on the Temukin were to defend the Sirius shipyards, and I failed. I should have stayed and fought."

"And yet, despite this apparent failure, the argosy admirals have decided to promote you," Lunado said.

"There are others, even others on the Temukin, who carried out their orders better than I did. One of them should be given command, not me."

Lunado mulled this over. "I don't expect that the officer in charge of the Temukin's galley had any particularly difficult orders to carry out. Should they deserve a command because they followed those orders?"

"I suppose not."

"Just the same, every officer below you was given their own orders, and I suspect that none of those orders were as difficult to follow as yours. Your standing orders, if I'm not mistaken, were to die and to kill your entire crew in the process. That's a tall order."

Gavita stood in silence for a moment, pondering the priest's words. "But if I'm given command, and I fail again—"

"You may well fail again. But so what? It is our nature to fail sometimes." Gre looked up at Martok with Gavita. "You came here, to the Land of Martoki, even though Martok is only in First Crescent. And here we stand, bathed in its light." Lunado turned back towards Gavita. "Even as a crescent, its guidance shines upon us. You need not be full in order to shine bright. The admirals have chosen to place you in command knowing your conduct on the Temukin. Perhaps they believe you will have learned a lesson from that battle, or perhaps they expect you to do the same thing in the next one and save your crew rather than send them to certain death. Or, perhaps, they may expect you to use your best judgment, to know when it is right to stay and fight, and when it is best to fight another day. All you can do is to trust the faith that your superiors have placed in you."

Gavita looked back up at the planet. "Just as you have faith that Martok will shine again."

"That's not quite the metaphor I was trying to make there, but if it helps you out, sure, why not?" Lunado smiled kindly. "By the way, you lied before."

"When?"

"You said it was not something you fear at your transport's destination. That isn't true. You fear disappointing those around you."

Gavita paused. "You are right." Re stepped over the threshold, out of Martok's light. Re didn't need it anymore; re shined on ris own.

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