Esrik was unfamiliar with the customs of Capella II, and none more so than the religions. But, he thought as he stood at the steps of the Onyx Temple of Connectedness, they’re all generally the same. He could get what he needed here.
He climbed the steps and the grand doors parted for him. The Pyramidion—or the Connectedness’ equivalent, a priest perhaps—would be in the back. Though the sky was rich with orange light, that’s what served as the night hour here. He would find no other company.
“What begs you to seek Connection at such an hour?” The raspy, but not unwelcome voice came from an old man swaddled in a simple black robe. Onyx, he supposed.
“I’m looking to atone. Do you do that here? I’m sorry; I’m not a member.” He held up his hands apologetically.
The Pyramidion shuffled about, fussing with candles. “We do all things here. Atonement is a sharing of one’s burdens among many, and to share is to Connect. Come and sit. Let us be Connected.” The old man sat on a sturdy wooden chair. Esrik only now noticed that the room was exclusively arranged with pairs of chairs, each facing another. He crossed the space, which darkened as the large doors swung shut in his wake, passing between hundreds of votives hanging on invisible strings from the rafters, and sat across from the old man. The man took his hands and bowed his head.
Esrik waited, but the man said nothing. Apparently it was time to atone. “I’ve done a terrible thing.”
“Yes, we all have. Externalize your troubles and be free of their weight.”
Esrik took in a cold breath. He detested this part, but he had to do it. “I’ve killed people—many people; innocent ones. But I still feel it’s a worthy cause.”
The old man didn’t look up, but he grimaced in abject pain. “If you truly felt that, you would not be here. Tell me, how many people?”
“Today? None yet. But it might be a hundred. Or, a hundred and one, rather.” Just then, the Onyx Temple shook with such a violence that they were both thrown from their chairs, and the votives broke against the floor all at once. Outside, there was a pregnant silence, and then screaming, followed soon by sirens. Esrik was quick to his feet, while the Pyramidion—priest? He still wasn’t sure—dabbed blood from his ear.
“I fear,” he said, “the weight of this trespass will be too much for me alone to share. Whatever you’ve done, you must turn yourself in.”
“That’s not true. I feel atoned; my heart is clear. There’s just one other thing…”
The first hundred or so were faceless to him, victims of circumstance. Crushed in the gears of the larger political machinations that comprise the engine of history. But the old man… Out of gratitude for the atonement—and respect, really—Esrik killed him with his hands.
And then moved on to the next planet.