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  1. It seems that the little procession down the aisle is not, in fact, the end of ceremony around this wedding. When Tashi reemerges in the square, following Ately by a good safe 7 paces, the drummers are still drumming on their plysteel-barreled drums, and the choir has formed up once again and is singing, something swooping and high-pitched, with a rhythm fit for dancing. Nobody's actually dancing – that Tashi can see – but the men seem to walk with a little extra bounce in their steps, and the women glide a little bit and bob their heads from side to side. The pared down combo of voice and drumming – the instruments that people play when they have no instruments – is surprisingly effective, with the voices fanning out to fill the whole range of sound that would have, in Tashi's music, been filled by string and brass and electronic instruments.
  2. Clearly, they have mastered the instruments that they do own.
  3. It reminds Tashi of Ames, scraping away at garbage until it reveals its soul. That same highly-tuned ethos of milking every last possible drop of beauty from the things at hand, because your soul is so parched for beauty, for color, for joy, for *life* that it is unwilling to leave anything around you in less than its most-refined state.
  4. There's some love there, Tashi thinks. There has to be some love. And then she thinks of Ately, and feels bad for ever doubting that there was love. Of *course* there is. Of *course* it isn't black and white. The skintis are still a group of human beings, so of course the full range is going to be represented, the good as well as the bad.
  5. That doesn't change the fact that all of them have grown up within a violent system, though, and that their culture has bent and turned them like the roots of trees, forced up between concrete.
  6. And Tashi doesn't know what to do. Can these trees survive replanting? Is it worth the time and effort? And if they do, will they turn out to be invasive, and wreck the host ecosystem?
  7. She's not a gardener. She never trained for this.
  8. The drums all drop out, suddenly, and the voices all take over, trembling and then resolving their own song to a close. People turn toward the little house, and Tashi has not prepared herself for this, it's unexpected, so she is stuck in the back and unable to see what's really going on. All she knows is that there's a hush, and then a cheer, and then applause. And then the audience quiets down again, and Tashi can hear a man begin to speak.
  9. Standing on her tiptoes and leaning far over to one side, Tashi can just barely see that it's the Mayor who's speaking. To the left of him, she can make out the bright costume of Ahriman Vancoeur. It seems that the newly partnered couple have emerged from the little room, where they must have... oh.
  10. Yes. They were probably doing that.
  11. Tashi shudders and pushes the thought away, unwilling to let it distract her. She strains her ears, hoping to get the Mayor's words recorded.
  12. He seems to be giving some kind of literary invocation. "I will recite for you," he says, "the Litany of Life." His voice sounds stronger, fuller, more resonant than she has heard it sound before. "Hear, now, the teachings of the Lord on the subject of a marriage, like the one that we have gathered here to witness on this day."
  13. "The Lord is our mayor;
  14. following Him, we shall not want.
  15. He led us here, to this safe place, in the times of war and flame;
  16. He showed us how to make our houses and our roads, so they would hold us.
  17. He is thicker and more solid than the walls that wrap around us;
  18. He keeps us close by his side, just as a husband keeps his wife.
  19. When death is around us, and above us, and below us, we still do not despair,
  20. for He is with us;
  21. He wraps His arms around us and carries us safely home.
  22. He prepares a table for us, in the presence of our enemies,
  23. and he compels even the wickedest of men to send us tribute.
  24. Surely we will continue on the paths of righteousness, every one of us,
  25. and always may we call ourselves the People of the Lord."
  26. "Amen."
  27. "Amen!" Everybody calls out around Tashi, and she jumps.
  28. "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it," the Mayor continues.
  29. "the world, and all who live in it.
  30. The Lord created the earth; across a molten sea of lava,
  31. He stretched the land, and made it solid.
  32. Who may rise up into the sky, and meet the Lord?
  33. Who is worthy to stand in His holy place?
  34. The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
  35. who honors first the Lord, and second Life,
  36. and above himself, the People.
  37. The worthy man and woman will receive blessings from the Lord;
  38. they will be blessed with Life a thousandfold, Life returning.
  39. And he will be honored as foremost among the People;
  40. and she will be praised for the virtue of her womb.
  41. In this way do we continue. In this way do we increase,
  42. in the path of Life, following the Lord forever, until the end of time."
  43. "Amen."
  44. "Amen!"
  45. Tashi is ready this time, says it only a few steps out of sync with those around her. As the word crosses her lips, she wonders what it means.
  46. Listening to the Mayor give his homily, Tashi can see exactly how this religion happened, as surely as if she's looking from the branches of a tree down to its roots. It obviously draws from the Abrahamic religions, which had their origins here in the Middle before, as so many Middlish ideas have done, spreading all around the world. It's like those sects, but changed, subtly tweaked in its emphasis and message to fit the unique circumstances of the Dome.
  47. Unfortunately, it seems to have evolved into a form that, while it might serve to ease the skintis hearts and minds, also propagates ideas that only lead to further suffering.
  48. This seems to be the end of the spoken-word segment, since the Mayor falls silent and the choir begins to hum. The song they launch into seems to be a well-known favorite, since many of those around Tashi lift their own voices and begin to sing along. The lyrics are simple, just a repetitive chorus; even with the impediment of the Domer accent, Tashi picks up on them quickly.
  49. They seem to be speaking to the Domer god directly, instead of speaking on his behalf, as the Mayor did. (Perhaps only certain people have the ability to speak on behalf of the god? That's a common feature of Abrahamic religion, Tashi knows.) The words to this devotional song go:
  50. "Lord, make me an instrument,
  51. take me, take my heart,
  52. my hands, my mind, my voice, my soul,
  53. take over every part.
  54. Oh Lord, make me an instrument,
  55. let Life flow through my veins;
  56. send it through me, choose me,
  57. ease my sufferings and pains.
  58. Lord, make me an instrument;
  59. Oh Lord, make me an instrument."
  60. It's a very personal statement, and Tashi feels uncomfortable mouthing the words along with her neighbors. Of course, she knows that there's no Lord, not really; at least, not one that's anything like what the skintis worship. But there's still something tremendously powerful in the words, something seductive about the promise that they offer.
  61. The relinquishing of responsibility. Just giving all of the weight of it over to someone else; setting it down and walking away. Setting down your worries; setting down the fear of making the wrong choice; setting down even physical suffering, and just letting the Lord take it. So you don't have to anymore.
  62. There's something about the idea of being hollow, like a reed. Of emptying herself out – not permanently, no, she'll put the rest of herself in a little baggie and store it away somewhere but temporarily emptying, and allowing someone else to fill her. To direct her, just as she directs the eyes and mind of her riders.
  63. She's no gardener. She feels like she's at an end, like she needs help. Needs something beyond herself, here in this strange place with no friends.
  64. "Lord, make me an instrument,
  65. oh Lord, make me an instrument."
  66. The crowd sings the chorus over and over again, building in volume both physical and emotional. It crashes down over Tashi, a great big wave of sound. The part of her that always watches knows that this is something like a protest, a powerful psychological phenomenon of fellow-feeling; that part is difficult to hear, over the song.
  67. "Lord, make me an instrument," Tashi sings, and she thinks, not the Lord, though. No, not any Lord.
  68. Then what?
  69. The answer comes to her like a lightning bolt. The Truth.
  70. An instrument, letting the Truth fill her and then spill out, without any of the weaknesses or vanities or frailties of her self getting in the way. Pure Truth, unfiltered and then amplified, Truth spread far and wide throughout the world.
  71. Her voice, speaking Truth. Her cameras and sensors, recording Truth. Every decision that she makes, every interview, every exploration, all of it. Make me an instrument of Truth.
  72. She allows herself to breathe into this thought for a moment, filled by it to the brim, singing "make me an instrument" over and over again. Because that's what it is, for her; that's what it's always been.
  73. Make me an instrument of Truth.
  74. She allows herself to feel it, deep and ringing in her bones, before she squeezes her eyes shut and firmly dismisses the sensation. She reminds herself sternly that there is no such thing as the Truth, of course there isn't; there are only patterns of probabilities, and areas where the common viewpoints most maximally overlap.
  75. Of course there isn't.
  76. She knows this.
  77. But she can still feel what it feels like to be a conduit for Truth, to filled with it, when she slips up and allows herself to try.
  78. That's what makes this all so dangerous.