Author : Rick Tobin

Ventilation fan rumblings echoed over huddled mourners chilled in multi-colored, insulated, puffy arctic suits. Their drifting breath mists bellowed over a gaunt figure, attired in a jumpsuit dyed red on the left—solid white on the right, draping over a black, plastic coffin revealing embalmed features of Jonathon Rigby, renowned author and humanitarian patron aboard space station Lin Toller 10.

“Dear soul of Jonathon Rigby, I give easement and rest to you, dear passenger. Drift not down shipboard hallways, lost and searching. Be at peace, one with this ship, now and forever, in accordance with your wishes. For everlasting serenity, I pawn my soul for your clearing. Amen.” With that, the sin-eater collapsed on the aft cargo bay’s cold steel, groaning and frothing in pantomimes of sexual paroxysms.

Gathered parishioners turned away while covering their noses from aromatic surrounding cargoes of odd spices, along with spew and spoor of countless caged species. Still prone, he spoke slowly to Rigby’s relatives. “This man shall not be ejected, but shall be resurrected and recycled as part of his once spinning home, pure and clean of all indiscretions.”

Attendees drifted to comforts of cleaner air on heated decks, leaving the sin-eater horizontal and shivering. A robust sky marine remained, in full uniform, without assisting the practitioner up to face him: Rigby’s brother.

“Jonathon was damn near a saint, without discretions or sin. If I could prove you were defrauding my family I would hunt you down.” Controlled rage rippled on his face.

The sin-eater gently stroked his assailant’s right cheek. “Sergeant, my calling assists all souls to absolution, even those, like your brother, living clean, glorious existences. Sin is not evil. It means missing the target…falling short from choices. Everyone makes such choices. Everyone.”

Rigby slapped the hand away. “My great-great-grandfather wrote about you squibs in his journals. They used to call you Sky Pilots, full of hidden agendas. Well out here, padre, heaven is freezing vacuum above hell’s heat of reentry. No sin here…only survival…the guy with the meanest weapon and greatest hunger wins. There is no soul.”

The thin, aged face of the sin-eater grew taut. “You can’t deny your soul. No atheists in a foxhole, remember?”

“If the Corps wanted me to have a soul, they would have issued one. Strange how people outside foxholes think they know. I served at Xanthia. That’s where I learned there is no God, no hope…no soul. Flying spiders ate my buddies. People like you sent us onto that forsaken rock where even dirt ate marines. Then, when we’d lost thousands, deal makers blew it up. You’ll choke cleaning those bastards. I wonder what my family idiots paid you for this charade.”

“I take no funds. They donated a year’s supply of food credits”

“You bastard! That’s a small fortune out here.” Rigby moved forward, fists clenched.

“I sense you don’t fear death, but the not knowing. The soul exists outside our time-space continuum. Everything for the departed is unity. That’s what the Majorana fermion particle discovery was about: eternal existence.” He backed away from the Marine’s reach.

“Who cares? I need to get out of here before I wipe this deck with your skin.”

“I prefer anodyne language, Sergeant…not this personality assassination during anguish. Everyone grieves uniquely. If yours is aggression, I’ll disengage. We will part now, Sergeant, as I await your return. Eventually, I will purge your darkness before the long journey. I’ve met your kind a hundred times. We will conjoin. Until our final meeting, I’ll simply remain, drifting in the stars, with hope and hunger.”