Father Thomas Welland sighed, tapped his pen, and looked down at his book. The fancy paper diary was a bit of an affectation, he supposed, in an age where handheld computers were often cheaper and more disposable than books, but the habits of sixty years don't change easily. Marshalling his thoughts, he began to write.

"Each day, this Mission caters to those who have fallen through the cracks. And each year, there seem to be more of them. Most come for the soup and food, working to stretch the limited amount of money one can earn by doing odd jobs and moving crates; few stay for the teachings anymore, unless they have nowhere else to go. I've heard that the Japanese term for a man without a master, ronin, means 'wave man'; certainly I see enough people adrift on the seas of life here.

"Yesterday, Kristen McGuire left us, saying she felt continuing to use our hospitality was likely to bring her trouble down upon us. She may be right, though I've never turned down someone in true need before. But she insisted, and is now gone to try and live her own life.

"I've been running this Mission and the soup kitchen for over fifteen years now, after taking it over from the previous priest who had been here since before the Second Civil War. I have a grand total of two permanent staff, both laymen, and both seriously wondering whether or not they want to continue in the Church. Finding people willing to do the Lord's work has never been harder.

"The people of this city, and what I can see of the world, seem more divided than ever into two groups: those of the rich and powerful who believe in nothing aside from their own power; and those of the flock, seemingly content to do nothing but graze like sheep. And the grass is getting awfully thin these days.

"Far too many of the modern clergy come from the first category themselves, joining the Church, like nobles of old, because they were the third sons and unlikely to actually inherit much. And so they come here expecting their orders to be obeyed, and trying to run the Church like a business. Doesn't work, of course, but it doesn't stop them from trying. And there are enough people with that attitude who have managed to get into the higher ranks of the Church that there's no way to stop the younger ones.

"And then there are our regulars here. I've heard it said that mankind is only twenty-four hours and two or three missed meals away from barbarism. Certainly, for some of the people here, that's true, at least if you consider the Zero Zone as barbarism. It wouldn't do to have the nice rich people have to deal with seeing the reality of poor and homeless people out on the streets, after all, and the jails are already full, so a lot of the homeless picked up just get put in a bus and run across the border into the Zero Zone. Out of sight, out of mind.

"I'm getting old, and may not be around much longer, but as long as I'm here, this place will continue to act as a bulwark against the encroaching barbarism."

Father Welland looked up at the sound of a shout outside, and started to stand up. One of his younger assistants opened the door, a nervous smile on his face. "Don't worry, just a minor scuffle. Old Jack was complaining about getting the heel of the loaf of bread again. We got someone to swap with him."

The priest chuckled, rolling his eyes. If only all problems were so easily solved. "Everything's ready?"

"Yes, Father. It's time to say grace."

Father Welland closed his diary, brushed off his robes, then started to work his way to the door. "Well, let's not keep them waiting any longer, then."

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