"She sings Kore's descent into the darkness, but cannot find the hope of spring." For the Common People challenge (Spoilers through KLG1.)
Disclaimer: Battlestar Galactica and all associated characters belong to people who are not me. I'm just borrowing.
Notes: Written for butterflykiki's Common People challenge. Shameless abuse of Greek mythology and invention of Colonial religion. Sequential vignettes. Opening definition lines from dictionary.com and Wikipedia.
A downward incline or passage; a slope. A sudden visit or attack; an onslaught.
The ship is called /Tyche's Blessing/, for reasons the captain has not yet explained. She's a passenger liner out of Arilon, small, but certainly adequate transport, especially for a novice priestess making the Pilgrimage of the Twelve. The captain, a generally quiet man by the name of Ned, warms up to Ellie after the first few legs (Arilon to Picon, Picon to Virgon, Virgon to Geminon), and since she's staying with the ship until her pilgrimage is over, she's glad. It's nice to have a friendly face around.
The journey is almost over (Tauron to Caprica, and then home to Arilon) when she wanders up to the cockpit and finds Ned, deathly pale, staring at the board in front of him. His copilot, an earnest youngster whose name Ellie can never remember, is sobbing quietly.
"What is it?" she asks, low enough that her voice should carry no further, and after a moment, Ned tells her. His words are slow, carefully chosen, as though he is testing his ability to make this unpleasant announcement with her; he speaks of the end of the world, and she wonders briefly how he can be so calm, until she realises it's shock..
"I have to tell everyone," he says, when the cockpit grows silent except for muffled sobs, and she nods numbly, unable to formulate a response.
She walks back to the passenger cabin with him, and watches as he delivers the news into a room quiet except for breathing. When he finishes, the noise is an explosion of questions and demands and horrified incoherence, until someone points out that all they can do now is wait and hope. The thought chills her almost as much as the news itself; she hugs herself, pulling the shawl more tightly and fighting a shiver. How could this have happened?
"Sister?" It's a man's voice, a man holding his daughter in his arms, and the girl's eyes are huge and uncomprehending as she stares at Ellie. "Sister, will you lead us in prayer?"
He's trying to keep people calm; she understands that. She knows her duty, too, and as she straightens and steps forward, people circle her, clasp hands, press close, and it doesn't matter that they don't know each other, because everyone is angry and terrified. Ellie tips her head back and looks, for a long moment, at the ceiling of the cabin before she closes her eyes and lifts her voice. All she can think is that surely the gods would never have let this happen. Where are they now? She feels hollow.
She sings Kore's descent into the darkness, but cannot find the hope of spring.
Part of Hades, the underworld. It was where the dead had to pass immediately after dying
They sleep in shifts; someone must be awake at all times to attend to the injured. In the snatches of sleep, she does not dream, too exhausted to do more than collapse. Waking hours are a blur, just to be gotten through; she is no more alive awake than asleep.
Sometimes, when she has a moment to breathe, Ellie realises it's probably good that she hasn't had time to think. If she stopped to do that, she'd fall back to wondering how the powers she's believed in her whole life, the guardians and protectors who were always somehow real, could let this occur. She still prays, over the sick or when others ask her to, but more often she just runs the beads through her fingers, trying to remember the once-familiar chants and litanies.
She hasn't forgotten them; it's just that she doesn't remember what they mean anymore.
The sick and injured are not doing well, but there is little they can do for them. An elderly woman collapsed when they heard Caprica had been nuked; there was a girl with a bad cold, and a little boy with the flu, and that's spread thanks to the close quarters. Sometimes Ellie thinks she should be worried, but right now, all that matters is surviving.
Surviving's not living. They slog through, hour by hour, snatching minutes and -- when possible -- hours as they run. It is cramped and dark, with the lights dimmed and all nonessential systems cut to make the jump engines work as long as possible, and no one speaks of the fear they all feel, that this time -- or the next, or the next -- the engines will fail, and the Cylons will win.
Tyche, she remembers, is a fickle goddess. She wonders if Ned is regretting the name he gave his ship.
"Sister," a voice at her elbow -- they all call her that, and it feels wrong somehow, when they have more faith than she, "here; eat." And there is a bowl in her hands, some sort of gummy paste that passes for porridge, which she forces herself to eat. In the land of the dead, the stories say, the food has no taste.
Perhaps they are already dead, and they simply haven't figured it out.
Forgetfulness, concealment, or oblivion.
At one point, in a moment of blind arrogance, she wondered if her faith is what saved her, but that was before she stopped believing.
Her hands still drift to the familiar bundle in the corner of her shawl; her fingers still clench white-knuckled around the little statues. Ares and Athena for victory, Hades and Persephone for the passing of lost souls, a little pantheon, all tucked up nice and neat amid the fabric. Sometimes, she holds them so tightly she thinks she will break them in two, and that it would be fitting, but she always lets them go.
She's not sure why she still hangs on to them, when the last thing she wants is to remember.
Late one night, when there is a lull amid the madness and almost everyone is asleep, she and Ned sit in his tiny bunk and he brings out a bottle. She has not indulged since the misspent days of her youth (when, she wonders, did she get old?), and it doesn't take much for her to become tipsy.
"D'you think it's true?" she asks. "Earth, I mean."
Ned's eyes focus on her a little blearily; he needs this oblivion even more than she, when he's been working for so long without respite. "Doesn't matter," he admits. "I mean -- long as we find somewhere the Cylons haven't gotten to yet, I don't really care. You do, though, right? It's part of scripture."
"Right," says Ellie, but what she's really conceding is that it's in the scriptures. She wonders if there's anywhere out there the Cylons haven't touched, and the thought makes her reach for her drink and gulp it down. Ned refills both their glasses; she absently notes that his hands are steady, despite the fact they are both rapidly heading towards drunk.
"I used to love space, y'know. It was freedom and all the chances I never had."
He's a maudlin sort of drunk, but she is, too.
"And now it's just a cage. How much longer can we go on like this? Something's gonna break, Ellie; I know it. You can't stay out here with this many people in this small a space for this long without going crazy -- or worse."
"I know," she replies, thinking that maybe if she drinks enough, she can pretend she doesn't, just for a little while. The stories all lie. There are no happy endings.
She is most definitely drunk.
At the trivium sacred to Hecate, souls are judged.
She thinks that by now, she should be used to tragedy, but nothing prepares her for the first death. To her surprise, it is not the old woman, but the little boy, whose fever spikes dreadfully. The medicines do not work -- perhaps they have passed usefulness, or something else has gone wrong -- and in the span of hours, he is gone. His mother, the only family he had left, is shattered; Ellie, who has no comfort left to offer, forsakes the duty of priestess to press damp cloths to the boy's forehead, while others try to help the mother. When his skin stops to burn sometime in the early hours of the day, she knows it is too much to hope the fever has broken, and the lack of heartbeat beneath her fingers confirms what she already knew.
None of them could do anything. That's not something she has trouble accepting; what's hard is that it was a /child/, and what's harder yet is the funeral she must lead. It is the first time in weeks that she goes into her bag and finds her vestments, and when she puts them on, it is not only the passage of time which makes them feel strange and stiff and heavy. When she lays her hand over his eyes, when she gives his mother the ceremonial obolus to put under his tongue, she knows she's lying in pretending at faith, but there's no one else there to perform the ceremony.
She sings the prayer, pleads Kore-Persephone's intercession with Hades for the child's soul, pleads the mercy of the judges, pleads leniency for a child who had not the time to become either good or evil. The words mock her as she sings them, but she knows that the mother believes. It's going to have to be enough.
'Those whom the gods love die young.' The proverb rings in her head, but the gods are cruel and silent, and she does not know if they exist to hear her.
The Fields of Asphodel are the first region of Hades, where the shades of heroes wander despondently among lesser spirits, who twitter around them like bats.
Someone's trying to do things properly, and so the packet of nomination forms arrives, delivered by courier shuttle. As she receives her ballot, Ellie briefly thinks that this is a farce. It's very pretty for people to try to bring back the government, but she's more worried about the day to day. There's been another death, and she's sick of funerals and people and crowding and the endless recycled tang of air, and the monotony of the food, and the artificial lighting, and a thousand other small, petty things that make her angry, because it's less frightening to be angry than to dwell on how things are changing.
But she takes the ballot anyway. Where it says 'Home Colony' she writes in 'Arilon', and it does not stab at her heart like it usually does. Time has worn the pain away to numbness, and she's not sure if she's glad or not.
It's a write-in election. No one knows who's alive anymore, so how else are you supposed to vote? She knows Tom Zarek has been campaigning -- saw him when his crew came by to fix one of the water recyclers -- but she doesn't really care. All the politicians will do is talk, and maybe once in a while sort something out. She doesn't see what difference a Quorum will make.
It's tradition, and here in the bleakness of space, traditions have grown old and stale to her. She's seen others cling to them, but perhaps her fall has been greater: it is not just the Faith she has lost, but faith-with-a-small-f, faith in things small and large alike. What's the point of tradition when you're just trying to get to tomorrow?
It's a waste, really, this election. She knows the paper's going to be recycled (one hundred percent efficiency, someone said), but it's not the paper she's thinking about. It's a waste of time. Even if the Quorum does change things, who knows whether the votes will even be dealt with properly? Under the circumstances, fixing an election would be deplorably simple.
She misses not being a cynic. She wants to rip up the ballot out of spite, but she writes a name down anyway -- one of the women from the ship, sensible and forward-thinking. It won't matter, but when the courier comes back with a locked box to take their slips, she puts it inside anyway. When the election results come, she is not surprised when she does not recognise the name of the Arilon representative. Since the world ended, nobody really touches anyone else anymore.
A coming into being; birth.
The word comes in whispers, rumour spreading from ship to ship quietly among the Initiates. One day, on a shuttle along with foodstuffs, a priest stops in to deliver a message: Mother Elosha tells that the prophet is found, and the way will be made clear. His eyes gleam and his voice is low and intense as he relates the story to her. Ellie says nothing.
After he has gone, she pulls the statues out from the bottom of her bag and lines them up on the floor. The ivory is old, time-scarred, but the carved features are still there, visible despite the damage. For the first time in days and weeks, she does not hate them on sight, and eventually she kneels. The beads click through her fingers, but she does not recite the litanies; the memory is still blurred.
The next few days, she watches her shipmates closely. They have become family here, unwillingly perhaps, in the holds of /Tyche's Blessing/, and there is something vaguely heartening in the small gestures of support. She wonders how she missed it. Though she's not sentimental, never has been, she smiles.
The statues find their way back into her shawl. She had a calling once, and though it isn't easy, she struggles to find it again. The rhythm of the beads becomes familiar, the shape of the statues beneath her fingers, and eventually the prayers come back. The words still feel hollow at first, but with each subsequent recitation, the small spark within her grows brighter.
It is not, she realises, the rumours and possibilities and the Pythian Scrolls that affected this change. When she sits down with the children one afternoon (she has started counting the days again; soon it will be spring, on the world they have left behind and on some world they may never know), Ellie is forced to admit she may never know just what it was that changed things, but all that she had forgotten is coming back, and faith is part of that. Maybe she found faith in people, and that let her believe again in the gods. She knows better than to question it. The whole point of faith is that it /is/.
Day bleeds to night, night gives way to day, and before she knows it, spring has come. It doesn't matter in space, but whether they will ever find a new home -- Earth, somewhere else, does it really matter? -- or not, she knows that people have a need to remember. The rumour that Kobol has been found is an afterthought; what matters to her is the here and now.
She gathers them all in the passenger cabin, which has long since been converted to living space, and just as they did almost two months ago, they come together. In the midst of them all, Ellie lifts her face up and sings Kore's ascent from the darkness.
She can feel the sunlight on her face.
- finis -