“There’s an element of theatre to all this, ain’t there?” the sheriff said. Malachai Singh was a gruff man, but a fair sheriff, and Sister Britney took this into account when she spoke to him.
“Jeddeloh is our home. We’re here to assess the damage, get some closure.” She motioned behind her to the hundreds of people bottle-necking through the checkpoint. “For we have sworn we shall return to our homes on this day no matter who or what shall–”
“Save the speeches for the cameras, Sister.” Sheriff Singh pushed the brim of his hat back and squinted in the glare of the twin suns. “I got eyes. More’n two-thirds of these folks have been back here already. This here is grandstanding.”
Sister Britney brought herself up to her full five feet, wimple bristling. “I will not have you belittle our impassioned and brave re-entry into this disaster area that was once our home!”
Sheriff Singh slowly sat down in the dirt, his back toward the two suns and sluggish crowd under them. Directly ahead of him, miles off, lay the massive crater the locals had taken to calling “Judgment.”
“You ever been in dust storm, Sister? Me neither, ’till me and my boys got caught in the one that meteorite kicked up. It’s like a swarm of insects, ‘cept smaller and bigger all at once. And you’re swimming in that, that and ruins from the impact of the blast. Nothing’s solid, you know? Everything falls apart easy in a storm like that.
“I had a boy on my force, shot himself in the head. Right in front of his co-workers, he did. Like the job wasn’t hard enough on them already.
“You left, Sister. You and those who could, you left. I ain’t gonna preach to a woman of the cloth, but you aught to choose your words better next time you open that mouth God gave you. I’ll give you impassioned. But this ain’t bravery. The ground’s too clean.”
Sister Britney placed her hand on Singh’s shoulder. She searched for something to say, half-remembering a sermon she had given for a televised benefit some years back, on the rewards of hardship. But it all vanished from her mind when Sheriff Singh grabbed her hand and held it tight. Sister Britney looked back at what remained of the city she had once called home, and then turned to take in the devastation that small rock from space had caused upon what had once been pristine farmland. The lack of contrast forced her silent.
The suns were still low in the sky, as the two of them stared at the crater, one on the ground and the other seemingly using the first for support. The air had a distinct chill to it, and the shadows ahead of Sister Britney and Sheriff Singh were long and lean.