Marci suddenly yanked free of Katherine. She darted away, running straight at the trio of Kalquorians who had accompanied Katherine to the chapel. Without the slightest show of fear, she punched the biggest one, Miv, in the thigh.
Her dark eyes flashing at him, she shouted, “You are bad! Bad, bad men! For taking Sister Katherine away, you will be punished. You are bad and God hates you!”
Katherine raced over to pull Marci away from the staring Kalquorian. Miv and the rest seemed shocked. None of them made a move towards the shaking, furious child as Katherine put herself between her youngest and the aliens.
Katherine wiped the flow of tears flooding from Marci’s eyes. “Darling, no. I am going to go and talk to these men to be sure everyone will be safe. Please, don’t cry. Don’t be scared. Everything is going to be all right.”
Marci burrowed against Katherine, clutching tight. From the voluminous folds of Katherine’s gown, the little girl’s muffled voice begged, “I don’t want you to go. I love you. I want you to stay with me.”
Katherine’s own tears splashed her cheeks. “Please, sweetheart. I swear it will be okay. Trust in me, won’t you?”
She motioned to Darci to collect her sister. The elder girl was now crying, along with most of the aspirants. Sobs rang through the chapel.
As she tugged Marci away, Darci whispered, “Be careful, Sister. We’ll pray hard for you. We love you.”
Katherine smiled through her tears. “Thank you. Be strong, girls. I love you all.”
She turned away before she could completely fall apart in front of them. She rushed past the Kalquorians, barely noting they followed close behind.
Katherine kept the sobs at bay until she was outside the chapel and the door closed behind them. She crumpled on the steps that led down to the sidewalk, unable to walk for the terrible grieving convulsions shaking her body. She was dimly aware of Simdow and Vadef kneeling on either side of her while Miv stood uncertainly over them.