‘It was on Pacem that humanity made our final stand,’ said the Preacher. ‘After Earth and Ariel and a thousand worlds had fallen to the Great Beast and its alien servants, who would have reduced us to something even lower than themselves, to be raped and butchered for sport – after women and men had died in their millions, heroically falling in battle or starving to nothing – after all that, only Pacem stood.’
The Preacher looked down at the children in the front rows, wide-eyed in terror at the story; and at the teenagers sat behind them, wearing practised masks of boredom. The adults were at work, of course, maintaining the habitation.
‘They fought well, the people of Pacem, in the skies and on the ground. They fought with warpods, they burned the alien vermin with civilian transports, they fought with guns and rocks and their fingers and teeth. They fought for a year and a day, and all their cities were burned to ash and nothing.’
The Preacher caught sight of the confusion on the faces of some of the younger ones at that word. He softened his expression.
‘A city is like a habitation, but on the surface of the world rather than below it. There were cities on Paradise, before the Great Treason, but that was a long time after the events I’m describing. Our ancestors, I’m proud to say, were amongst the survivors of Pacem. They were amongst those who bore witness to the emergence of the Patrons, who are as far above us as we are above the inhuman filth that they burned away.’
The Preacher smiled widely, then, and breathed in through his nose.
‘We are nothing before the Patrons,’ whispered the Preacher. ‘We are little more than excrement on the sole of their shoes. And yet, children, they spared us – they saved us – out of their unending patience and generosity. Our manifold crimes – ungratefulness, laziness, greed, unrighteous anger, and more – would be enough to justify any punishment that they saw fit to inflict upon us. And yet they saved us. We, who are little more than beasts ourselves – they spared us. For this, we give praise.’