"You knew I was coming," Phelps finally said.
Deacon Mariah smiled, the tiny creases between the thin plates of her face stretching apart. "A dream," she said, her wispy voice purring over the "r" sound. "Yeshua's angel."
On the transport had been a congregation of New Lunar Baptists. After listening to their ravings over the long trip, he had almost gotten used to hearing the Christ called Jesus, rather than Yeshua. Mariah spoke the name carefully, with reverence. A far cry, as it were, from the proselytizers on the ship.
Phelps could already tell that Mariah spoke English only with great effort. But a half-N'aaa priestess in this city... "Wrri, ihhi tchaun'eh an hal," he said in Nrru. She told me to come to you.
Mariah drew her head back in a serpentine motion, again expressing her surprise. "And she told me to baptize you," she said simply, in unaccented Nrru. Even as she spoke, she knelt down and took a handful of green-blue sand.
Phelps froze. "I... wait..."
The deaconess fixed her blank gaze on him, her hand held high, gently trickling sand. "It is unbefitting a prophet to be unbaptized. Will you submit to it?" She drew herself up, facing him directly.
"I'm not... look, the last time..."
Her hand was suddenly on his chest. For a moment, he forgot that it was a common N'aaa gesture of friendship. "Yeshua knows your fears," she was saying. Gently. "And he says to you this: you did not leave me there. I went after you from that place."
The chapel, back in Phoenix. The guilt. He was there again. But now, with her words - with his words - the weight of the memory evaporated. All at once. Gone.
Oh, Lord... "I will submit to it," Phelps breathed.
Mariah did not hesitate for even a moment. Phelps' chest tightened as her hand drifted over his shoulders and head, pouring a trail of sand. "You have one Lord," she said. "What is his name?"
"Yeshua." The sand settled on him, and with it, a strange calm. He held still.
Silence. In the quiet, the noise of the city far distant, he lost track of time. Only three seconds passed, but Phelps felt every moment before she spoke again. "And as he died, so have you," Mariah intoned. "And..." She stopped, took a gasp of air. He could have sworn he heard her giggle. "And as he lives...."
In response, Phelps tilted his head and leaned back, spilling the sand down his back. He had barely enough time to register his suprise at how easy the ceremony was after all before the sensation hit.
It was a voice, but not audible. A compulsion, but not irresistable. A certainty. A call. A command.
Phelps hesitated for only an instant. "Which way is north?" he demanded in Nrru.
Deacon Mariah pointed, and he ran.