Johnny Babcock hunkered down behind a rock and watched anxiously as Sergeant Ledbetter heaved a grenade to at the advancing aliens. He was deep into chapter two; Jack Sperling, a grunt like Johnny, ran past, leapfrogging toward Ledbetter, his M4 waving wildly as he ran. Reaching Ledbetter, Sperling dropped a grenade into the launcher under his rifle barrel and looked at Ledbetter. Ledbetter cautiously raised his head and signaled Sperling to drop the grenade behind a pile of debris and wreckage about thirty yards away.
As Sperling fired off the grenade, Babcock dropped flat behind the rock and grabbed his helmet to hold it in place; gravel and sand grinding into his hands and clothing. Ka-boom! The report from the grenade reached him a fraction of a second before the pelting gravel, rock fragments, broken glass and pulverized pavement rained down on him. One more thing rained down on him; an alien’s severed appendage; blown off in the obliteration of the grenade blast.
“Crap!” he muttered. That indescribable piece of meat would grow into a replacement alien in minutes. Time to go! He looked up toward Ledbetter in time to see him and Sperling rise and sprint for the cover of a pile of wreckage half a block away. No way was he going to let them leave him here to watch an alien regenerate in front of his eyes! He jumped to his feet and sprinted after them.
Chapter three. Ledbetter caught movement in the left corner rear view screen of his helmet. He knew Sperling was to his right and behind him; a flick of his eyes low and right confirmed the other soldier to his right. “Watch the left rear!” he said anxiously.
“I see him,” Sperling answered. “Who is he?”
“Hell if I know…a civilian looking to get eaten, I guess. Let’s keep an eye on him.”
“Hey…you…Sergeant Ledbetter!” The voice cut through the sudden silence in the echo of warfare when the action lulls and provides a precious moment of quiet. It was the follower; he was running weaving around debris and wreckage as he went.
“Hey, Sarge…you know that thing’s going to regenerate, right?”
“Who the hell are you and where did you come from?” demanded Ledbetter as the runner caught up with them.
“From…back there,” Johnny gestured vaguely behind him, “You know…out there…in the world.”
Ledbetter and Sperling shared knowing glances that said “lunatic…watch him closely!”
Seeing their looks, Johnny said, “No! No…I’m not crazy. I’ve just read this before. If you keep advancing, the alien behind you will regenerate and take you from behind when you least expect it. You’ve got a few minutes…maybe until the end of chapter 4.”
“What the hell are you talking about, boy? You may not be crazy, but you’re sure talking crazy! What’s chapter 4?”
“The book!” Johnny swept his hands in an arc around them. “The story…you’re a character in a story. You see, the aliens surround you and you can’t fight your way out. They’re too strong. But, if you turn around and finish off the one regenerating behind you, you can escape to the rear, live to fight another day and win this war!”
“We’ve destroyed all the alien flesh behind us. Where did this fresh flesh come from?” Ledbetter asked.
“His grenade,” Johnny answered pointing at Sperling, “blew a limb off and it landed near me.”
“Did any get on you?” asked Sperling.
“No, I don’t think so. You need to go back and destroy it,” said Johnny, “You don’t have much time.”
Looking over Johnny’s shoulder, Ledbetter said, “We don’t have any time!” The now regenerated alien had followed Johnny’s trail straight to them.
“This is my exit,” said Johnny reaching for the button on his electronic virtual book reader. “I’ll come back later and try to save you guys another day. “So long!”
“Night’s falling. We aren’t going to make it back before the Big Chill sets in. We have to find shelter.”
Nick contemplated his companion for a moment. Walker was new. Arriving on the last supply ship, he was still filled to saturation with the company’s training indoctrinations and warnings. Nick gave him credit for that; a lot of the information was valid, but Nick was a veteran by now and had learned, sometimes the hard way, how far issues could be stretched. The issue facing them now was how to survive an unforgiving taskmaster after dark when the weather often changed abruptly like an uncaged malevolent beast bent on destruction.
Without answering, Nick assessed his suit’s remaining capacity; power, seventy-five percent, rebreather capacity, thirty-percent. Seventy-five percent power would never hold him twelve hours; checking the atmospheric temperature, he saw it was already 0 degrees C and the sun was not fully down. At this latitude, they were headed toward -70 degrees C in the next few hours. The good news was thirty percent rebreather capacity promised death by asphyxiation long before death by freezing. Nick had heard death by rebreather failure was painless; he hoped that was accurate.
“Check your suit, Walker, we need to know what we’re facing,” he finally answered.
“Already have…I’m new, but I’m not stupid. I might make it ‘til midnight, not beyond,” Walker replied.
“How far do you think we are from base?”
“Maybe three klicks; do you have a fix on it?” answered Walker.
“Yeah, maybe three hours to get there. The colder it gets the slower we get.”
“The body heat in the suit should help if we keep moving and generating it.”
“Did they tell you that in the briefing?” asked Nick.
“Yes…it was one of the things they told us,” Walker replied.
“Did they tell you your sweat would freeze to the inside of the suit, and they would literally pull your skin off with the suit?” Nick began walking steadily in the direction of base. Rocks and boulders forced a serpentine course ensuring there would be no line-of-sight navigation. “Doesn’t matter," he continued, "you’d be dead anyway. Come on…we may be able to see the base lights from that ridge ahead.”
From the ridge, they paused a moment to watch the base lights before starting down again. The lights seemed to shiver and dance in the gathering darkness. “Shit!” Nick exclaimed.
Before Nick could answer, both he and Walker were blown face-first off the ridge rolling down-slope until they were caught by a rocky outcrop where they slowly tested their limbs, searched for injuries, giving thanks that their suits had not been torn, or their face plates cracked.
Recovering his senses, Walker looked around. He could hear the sound of wind howling, something he’d never heard on Mars. “Nick…Nick! Are you ok? What the hell is happening?” In his suit lights he could see a fine mist swirling in the…wind? Wind? On Mars? With little atmosphere?
“Nick! Wake your ass up! What’s happening?” he screamed; a scream that bordered on panic.
Nick slowly rolled, painfully, toward Walker. “I’m still alive…it’s a snowstorm. They didn’t tell you about these did they? That mist you see…snow…or at least ice crystals.”
“I can hear the wind…on Mars, why?”
Nick huddled close to Walker to be heard. “Because It’s probably 120 km/hr. That’s why it knocked you on your ass. It’s will be hard to stand upright and walk, but it’s blowing toward base; we need to use its energy to push us. The snow’s going to coat the suits with ice; in minutes, we’ll be too stiff and too heavy to walk. We have to keep moving or freeze stiff. The good news is, the ice is extra insulation against cold…move downwind and don’t stop!”
Walker looked up as Nick set a cup of fresh coffee in front of him.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“About the storm? I didn’t. I was caught in one before. It was good luck it was blowing toward base; otherwise we’d just be frozen rocks. I knew if the force of the wind was with us and we could keep going instead of slowing and freezing up, we’d make it before we froze. They don’t tell you that in the briefings because unless conditions are exactly right, it won’t work ninety-nine percent of the time.”
Taking a sip of his coffee and feeling the warmth trickle down his throat, Walker grinned, “But, it did work...this time!”
“Wow, I’m here at last,” exclaimed Rich as he flung his bag onto the lower bed. It took long enough to get through high school and get here! I wonder who they’ll give me as a roommate?
“Hey, another freshman! Fresh meat to pick off the bones! What’s your name?” demanded a big, solid but overweight student as he pushed his way into the room and dropped into a chair. He wore a baseball cap in schools colors with the logo and bill turned backwards. He was older than rich, but his face sported colorless fuzz as he stared at Rich through unwavering blue eyes.
He was followed by a skinny young man in jeans and a school tee-shirt with coal black hair, black cold-looking eyes and thick glasses with black frames. Strategically wrapped tape at the left frame hinge betrayed frame damage. He collapsed on the futon.
“So, give, all ready!” demanded the big dude. “What’s your name?”
“Lighten up, Brandon,” said the skinny dude, “It’s his first day. Let him take breath.”
“He’ll need a breath; a few of them when he finds out about this place.”
Rich looked questioningly at the skinny dude. What did he mean?
“Sam Amed”, said the skinny did holding out his hand toward Rich. “I’m a junior and this lunk”, he said gesturing toward the big guy in the chair, “is Billy Hardison. Billy and I hang out three doors down the hall.”
Taking his hand and shaking it, Rich replied, “Rich Langley.”
“Welcome aboard, Rich. Tie down your possessions and if I were you I’d find a way to block the locks in this room.”
“Block the locks? What are you talking about?”
“They have a life of their own.” said Hardison, “Just tape them up or something so they don’t start doing weird things.”
“What kinds of weird things?” asked Rich. “Why would the locks do weird things?”
“Oh, it’s not just the locks, my man,” said Billy, “it’s the heat, the air conditioning, the windows, the lights, your books and papers, even your computer; you’ll probably have to go to the library to get on the internet!”
“Without a doubt,” said Sam, “especially in this room.”
“Yeah, right!” said Rich. “What’s so special about this room?”
“She died here; in this very room forty years ago,” replied Sam, “Mae Belle Williams…right before she graduated!”
“Don’t give he that crap!” said Rich. “I’m not some freshman that walked in here from the pumpkin patch! You’re not going to scare me with ghost stories.”
“Oh, we’re not trying to scare you, Mr. Fresh Meat! We’re just telling you how things are. No, we wouldn’t try to scare you, would we, Billy?” He stood up to go. “Let’s go, Billy. Mr. Fresh Meat can figure it out for himself.”
“Do you think I’m going to get a roommate?” asked Rich.
“Doubtful,” said Sam, his hand on the handle to close the room door behind him. “the way I see it, you already have one.” Saying that, he closed the door and walked down the hall toward his own room.
Rich lay back on the bed and relaxed. There would be no time to do that after school started tomorrow. Where do you suppose my roommate is? Drifting off to sleep, he dreamed fitfully; of dying.
He woke with a cold clammy feeling pressing down on him. It was hard to breathe. Gasping for breath, he rolled out of the bed onto the floor and felt something kick him hard in the back. Breath knocked out and unable to breathe, he grasped desperately for the door knob. It was locked. He rattled it a moment, then passed out.
Had he been awake, he may have seen a pale misty form in the room with him, bending over him, looking longingly into his eyes.
His roommate had arrived.
They named me Allison Conroy LeBeaux at birth; my mother and father, being of serious and somewhat melancholy spirit and possessing no sense of humor whatever, called me ‘Allie’ as a baby and continued the practice throughout their lives. Alice, or Allison, were my preferences, but my preferences didn’t count for much. I’m sure that I spent much of my childhood railing against my name…at least the name by which my parents chose to call me.
My railing had no effect on my parents or on my maternal Grandmother who was, in many ways, my childhood’s emotional and spiritual salvation. My Grandmother was old school; a woman with roots deep in the swamps and bayous. While my parents were spending their lives at work and at the local church drowned in perpetual fund-raising and mission activities, my Grandmother took care of me, their neglected child, and secretly taught me the ways of the swamp women…none of which involved church socials or fundraising and the only missions ever mentioned were the immediate tasks at hand.
One such task she undertook was to teach me about my name.
“What’s in a name, Allison?” she would say.
I would answer, “A name is just a name!”
She would respond, “No, Allison, a name is a number…your number…a number as unique as you are.”
“How can a name be a number?”
“Not just a number…many numbers…the numbers of your life.”
And then she would explain to me how I did not receive my name by accident. According to her, I was fated from before conception to receive the name Allison Conroy LaBeaux and that the numbers of the letters of my name and the letters and numbers of birth date determined my course in life. Repeatedly, from an age so young I could barely understand her, she told me I would be proud and independent, and determined to always be concerned about others, even to thinking of new ways to be of service. She would say the numbers foretold that I would be a business woman, a queen of a financial enterprises always working despite a beautiful home and a committed family with many artistic and philanthropic activities.
When she told me these things, I would laugh with delight and move on to my next activity. By the time I was in college, I owned my own business. By the time I graduated, my business had expanded to multiple cities. I was already a major player in the Chamber of Commerce in several areas, and a major contributor to charities. My success grew, but I always looked for ways to give back. Later, looking back over my life, I realized that my Grandmother had predicted it all from the numbers in my name.
My Grandmother called me Allison until the day she died, locking the independence of the name Allison, a seven vibration, into my destiny of business success as surely as mortar locks brick into place. Had my parent’s use of Allie prevailed the independent spirit of Allison may well have been replaced with the three vibration of the name Allie and resulted in complacency and locked self-centeredness instead of success and philanthropy. I am truly thankful my Grandmother refused to call me Allie instead of Allison. I believe it to be the difference in a destiny of success and a destiny of dissipation.
She watched me do everything, mimicking me in her monkey-see monkey-do manner until I was ready to scream. When I got out of bed, she would get out of bed on the opposite side of the room and faced me as though challenging me.
What new things would we did discover today? Would we play soccer, chase old lady Leary’s cat up a tree…what? She faced me squarely and raised her arms in a shrug as though to say “I’m up for any mischief you can dream up…so you decide!” Then, she would turn, sit on her bed and put on her sneakers. We’d walk through the door together. She would turn left, I would turn right, and I would not see her again until bedtime.
What about the mischief? What about chasing old lady Leary’s cat? What about the baseball? It’s for sure that I did all those things and that she was with me in spirit every step of the way. We laughed and joked and played day in and day out. We sat together at lunch, even ate the same things. Afterward, we would sit under a tree and talk with some other friends until someone produced a soccer ball and the game was on.
As a soccer player, she was as good as I was. She could run as fast, jump as high, and do all the other moves as well as I. She liked baseball and swimming; I liked baseball and swimming. She liked to play tricks on other kids; I liked to play tricks on other kids. Come to think of it, we were as well matched as two girls could be. When we talked about our thoughts and feelings, we found them to be the same. When we wondered about the world, we wondered about the same mysteries. We were afraid of the same things; excited about the same things. We talked about books. She read the same books as I did, did the same homework as I did, missed the same math problems as I did, and misspelled the same words as I did. And, oh, did I mention that she hates liver as much as I do!
My thoughts; she knew them before I did; and had answers for my questions even before I had questions. She didn’t have answers for all of my questions though, because we were usually stumped by the same questions. Our mutual experience pool was identical, you see.
My sister; we’re the same age, have the same birthday, but are not twins even though we look alike. Even when she’s not in sight, I know when I wave with my right hand; she waves with her right hand as well. When she steps off on her left foot, I step off on my left foot as well. We are so close, and yet so far from each other! When she steps off on her left foot, she goes in the opposite direction! No matter how much we talk, compare notes, thoughts and feelings, everything she does is exactly opposite the things that I do and yet, we never disagree; are never in conflict. My sister. We look the same but we’re not the same!
We have the same bedtime. We enter the bedroom at exactly the same time and lay down on our beds on opposite sides of the room at exactly the same time. We can’t wait to tell each other about our day. We go to sleep at exactly the same time and snore in perfect synchronization; our dreams perfectly synchronized as well.
One night among the perfect synchronization of our lives, my sister disappeared and I never saw her again. I don’t know where she went. All I did when we entered the bedroom was say “catch!” and throw the soccer ball to her. I saw her move toward it as though to catch it, but the glass shattered and she disappeared. I’ll never know why she didn’t catch it.
Daddy whipped me good with his belt for throwing the soccer ball in the house. He said something to my mother about seven years of bad luck. I guess the bad luck was all mine because I never saw my sister again.
Where do you suppose my sister went?
Back in the years following the thaw in the Cold War and the days spent watching the Great Bear slip and founder into the icy waters of political and economic uncertainty many Russians came to the United States seeking more stable futures. To a greater or lesser extent the new arrivals were helped by their fellow countrymen who had come before them; but others were victimized and manipulated in the same old ways they were fleeing. One of those, adrift with little English, lived with our family for a time.
He sat sadly on the doorstep of the small garage apartment smoking cigarette after cigarette; a small dark man with sad eyes. The demands of my profession and other responsibilities forbade spending much time with him and his loneliness sat heavily on him in the times he was not working. So without his wife and children, friends and far from all he knew, he sat and smoked.
My wife and I smiled and wished him a good morning on our way out. He smiled back and said, “Christmas! My wife is coming at Christmas! I haven’t seen her in…uh, uh…long time…uh, yes…a long time.”
“That’s wonderful!” my wife said. “When is she coming?”
“I think…Christmas Eve. Yes…yes…on Christmas Eve!”
“That’s wonderful,” my wife said, “Please…you must bring her to dinner when she gets here!”
On Christmas Eve, the doorbell announced his arrival with a lovely dark-haired woman of a similar age with a ready smile and dancing blue eyes. The grin on his face said it all; he had been gone a long time and a long ways from his home in Russia. Her smile echoed his; older now, but still childhood sweethearts separated by half a world. She knew less English than he, yet, strangely, there was no language barrier to good food and the Christmas spirit at the table that night.
Bright and early on the day after Christmas, she knocked on the door carrying a family photo album and a small, green Russian-English translation book. My wife smiled and invited her in. For hours, the two women browsed family albums, first hers, then ours, laughing and smiling as though they were old friends. When laughs, smiles, gestures and phonetics were not enough, they resorted to the little green translation book. That was when my wife learned that Russian women preferred tea to coffee, and high heels to sneakers, and that was only the beginning! Soon, they graduated to cooking and were learning each other’s favorite recipes; then alternated cooking dinners. Before many weeks passed, they were, indeed, old friends, even if they hadn’t known each other many weeks; even if one still had difficulty with English, and the other still did not know any Russian, yet, they understood each other.
And that is the meaning of communication; they did not allow a language barrier to interfere with their friendship. When the wheel of life brought them to greener pastures, we hosted their party and remain friends forever.
Summary of the Emperor’s address:
For centuries, we have watched with curiosity as these beings have developed. We have learned from them as they have learned from us. Granted, we had a head start of thousands of years of developmental experience, and yet we have learned from these beings that we have been observing, and, yes, sometimes helping, all of these centuries.
We have learned, for example, the utter futility of war. Through watching groups these beings systematically and periodically kill each other over territory, resources and influence we are reminded of the futility of the wars that have occurred in our own past. If those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it, then surely these beings have reminded us that we cannot keep repeating our same mistakes and hope to survive.
Watching them has reinforced our belief that leaders must be honest, straightforward beings of integrity who have the interest of all beings at heart, not just a small number of wealthy beings who are politically active. They have, once again, reinforced our experience from our own past when we also embraced an unworkable political system in an unworkable way. Their experience, and ours, has been no different on any of the worlds we have watched. Rather than using power appropriately to rule wisely and fairly, they chose to rule selfishly and without regard, respect or moral character.
And so, we chose to intervene. Disease ravaged their land from time to time, so inside a few we influenced a heart for medicine. Then we spurred their search across their world for things that could be made into effective medicines. At the appropriate times, we planted ideas about the basics of some of our technologies useful to healing; ideas about x-rays, lasers, and the biological basis for immunization. Slowly, we watched diseases eradicated from among them, but we also watched those who eradicated the diseases demand more and more compensation for the eradication of disease. It appeared to us that some of these beings were actually extorting others through their desire for good health.
When we had had enough, we developed advanced medicines which cured and ever increasing list of diseases, but which also had extraordinary side-effects. IN some cases, immediate death of the organism was averted, but extended in time; no avoided, but postponed. Other side effects were not so subtle. In some case, one organ system recovered while another was damaged. In some cases, the medication was effective, but resulted in genetic damage or cancers. The point we were trying to get them to see was that everything…every medical break-through, every technological breakthrough, every other budding convenience has a price…a consequence. And, then, we gave them cell phones…and the seeding was complete.
As a theoretical physicist, I was completely unprepared for my coffee pot to overflow. I know! I know…you can say that anyone can overfill a coffee pot….everyone, even theoretical physicists make errors. Except that I didn’t make an error, the coffee pot just overflowed and continued to overflow…even after there was no more coffee!
I could see a shimmer; an unsteadiness, perhaps, in the air inside the coffee pot resembling heat waves dancing over hot pavement in the summer.. I could see dust particles suspended in the air moving up and out of the pot. Then, items on the counter began to move slowly but steadily away from the coffee pot. The first item to fall on the floor was a pencil; the second, a package for coffee filters that I managed to catch on its way to the floor. Within minutes, there was nothing on the counter top.
The phone rang. The phone was across the lab in my office and I didn’t move to answer it. I was watching the progression of items separating themselves from the area of the coffee pot and moving with singleness of purpose away…not to anything in particular, but just away from the coffee pot. Interesting, I thought, no direction…just way. Something struck me then. The universe is expanding outward at an ever increasing rate. No particular direction, just away from the theoretical center of the Big Bang.
Now, larger things began to move. A laptop computer fell off a table and began sliding along the floor. An office chair wheeled itself across the room and crashed into the door as though pushed. My cell phone rang. I answered it. I wish I hadn’t.
A colleague told me odd things were happening all over town…objects moving away from centers in concentric rings, the rings consolidating into larger rings and continuing to expand. Each had started in something as mundane as a coffee pot, a microwave oven, in one case, in a hair dryer…in each case the appliance was on and operating. My mind always works over time and while I talked to him was no exception. “Have you watched the news broadcasts?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Let’s turn them on,” I said thumbing the remote control for my television. Immediately the screen was filled with a newsman’s anxious face.
“…and according to NASA the Moon has suddenly moved almost twenty-five thousand miles further from the Earth. According to a NASA spokesman nothing like this has happened before in the geologic record of Earth. Furthermore, while the Moon is moving away from Earth at an accelerated pace, the Ear itself is moving away from the Sun also at an accelerating pace. Ecologists and meteorologists are predicting impending disaster from weather extremes. The President is scheduled to speak to the nation at noon.”
“Dark energy,” I said.
“What? You’re nuts! A theoretical physicist, should, of all people be able to analyze phenomena objectively!”
“I am, “I said. “Dark energy is postulated to be driving the universe in its ever increasing expansion, but there has never been a satisfactory theory as to where the dark energy comes from, or flows to, or whether there is a ever increasing amount of it in our universe or not. IT has been suggested that there is a “valley” or “fold” in our universe where it is stored…or more plausibly, a parallel universe where dark energy is the normal energy. In that hypothesis, energy as we know it can flow in limited amounts to the parallel university while dark energy flows in reverse into ours.”
“I’ve heard the hypothesis…so?”
“I think we have a dam break between the universes. The small points with concentric circles of impact were cracks between universes…my coffee pot was a crack…a leak, if you will.”
“Nonsense! The Moon and the Earth would have never been influenced by a mere crack between universes!”
“Perhaps not. But, I think they were influenced by the dam break. They’re now flowing downstream on the flood of dark energy. Somewhere, there is a flood of energy as we know it into the other universe. Eventually, both valleys will be full and maximum entropy will, for want of a better term, be satisfied.”
“And, that will mean the end of both universes?”
“Maybe…probably…we will probably never know. I think Earth will get very cold, very soon.
“That about wraps it up,” said Morgan Withers as he closed his note pad and turned off his recorder. He had just finished interviewing me for next month’s edition of his magazine. “Thank you for seeing me and being patient,” he added.
“No problem! I’m always glad to cooperate with the press,” I told him.
“Just one more question, then…” he said as he stood to leave, “…is your ‘gift’ of prayer one that has practical value?”
“Actually, it’s very practical,” I answered, “I would call it more of a discipline than a ‘gift”.”
“Yes, a mental discipline. As I said, it’s a way of training your mind. It’s a very personal experience as well.”
“Yes, I’m sure it is. Being able to experience things that no one else can observe and verify would qualify as a personal experience.”
“I detect sarcasm.” I said, “Have you ever seen a Blue-ringed Octopus?”
“Pictures…never the animal.”
“Yet you believe they exist? What evidence do you have that they exist?”
“Yes of course I believe they exist. I have the evidence of pictures and the statements and descriptions of others.”
“And yet, when I am in an altered state and I describe what I am seeing, feeling and experiencing you question whether I’m lying…even if I can draw what I see for you.”
“Yes, the Blue-ring Octopus has been described by more than one person. The photos are photos, not sketches that could be figments of someone’s imagination.”
“I see, so if I enter a state of prayer…and through that state I enter the presence of God, you would say I had merely imagined the Divine experience, no matter how detailed my description, no matter how vivid I was able to render my experience on canvas?”
“Of course, there are no others with the same experience to verify your experience.”
“But thousands upon thousands of people though the centuries have described their experiences in God’s presence…many more than have ever described the Blue-ring Octopus…could it be that you, and those like you, are simply not listening…because they don’t want to hear?
“Nonsense! Why would we not want to hear?”
“Maybe you don’t want to believe that there is a master plan for your life…perhaps you’re happier muddling through day to day and believing that you’re in control.”
“Yeah, that must be it. I want to be in control. It’s my great obsession!”
“Yes, you’re being facetious, but it probably is your great obsession. Most people rebel unless they feel they have choices.”
“Fortunately we do have choices.”
“Yes, we do have some choices. We can obey or not.”
“Fortunately, I don’t believe, so that’s not a choice I have to make.”
“And you don’t believe because you haven’t directly observed, measured and photographed God?”
“That’s about the size of it! I believe in things I can experience for myself.”
“But you believe in the Blue-ringed Octopus and you’ve never experienced it. You’ve never experienced the Moon, but you probably believe that it’s dusty, pocked with craters and has no atmosphere. You’ve never experienced being mauled by a tiger, but you believe from the accounts of others that it’s painful and potentially fatal. Fortunately, you do not have to believe in anything at all for all of those things to exist. Just because you haven’t experienced them personally doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. It only means that you haven’t experienced them. Believe me, their existence does not depend upon your belief…they exist in spite of your skepticism.”
“You can’t convince me that God exists. There is no evidence you can show me that would convince me!”
“God is unaffected by your lack of belief. His dominion is not affected at all by your denial. His influence and control over your life is not affected either…He’s still in control…whether you believe it or not. So, by all means, deny…you’re fooling nobody but yourself!”
I am afraid of the dark. My brain says there is no reason for my fear; yet, the fear is neither logical nor wavering. It’s as solid as a nickel-iron asteroid.
My imagination running wild you could say; only it’s not. Dark implies an absence: of light, of knowledge, of understanding of warmth, of human kindness, an absence that the imagination fills like air fills a vacuum. But, it’s not my imagination. I imagine no monsters or strange and ugly beings waiting in the shadows to devour my essence. I imagine no tortures or pain, no travail, no suffering, nothing to give root to my fear. And yet, I’m afraid of the dark.
You may say it’s a lack of sensation; only it’s not. True enough dark denies the ability to see. Without the ability to see, one’s hearing changes and one’s directions are confused. Without the ability to see, one’s touch is tentative fearing undetected danger. I imagine no difficulty hearing, no difficulty of movement, no undetected danger awaiting my unsuspecting touch. And yet, I’m afraid of the dark.
Dark is relative; defined as lack. Colors are ‘dark’ implying they lack brightness. Dark moods are synonymous with bad moods or melancholy. Dark motives connote nefarious purposes. Dark rooms are spaces without illumination or energy. Dark matter is a form of matter (and, therefore, energy) we neither see nor detect. Dark (or black) holes deny the escape of matter or energy, even light. Dark is the color of emptiness; of void, of nothing at all, of the total and complete lack of everything. Dark is the color of interstellar space; the color of isolation.
I was a careful astronaut, always checking, double checking and cross-checking, rarely wrong, but always able to repair mistakes and so I was invited to be part of the first interstellar expedition to Gliese 832 c sixteen light years from Earth. Gliese 832 c was the closest Goldilocks Zone potentially inhabitable planet known as of the time we left Earth.
It would take us many years to make the passage to Gliese 832 c and twice as long to return. Conditions on Earth would have changed radically by the time our expedition returned, but then, so would we. We were a self-contained colonial ship in a sense, containing the essentials for a stable population of one hundred people, evenly divided by sex, to maintain themselves for several generations. An excellent plan, and like most good plans, it did not survive reality.
Rather than a Captain and a paramilitary system of officers, we had an elected Governor who was up for re-election periodically. A court with an elected judge enforced laws made by an elected legislative council. By the time the expedition left the solar system and entered interstellar space, people tired of penny-ante poker and videogames and the movies and music had grown stale. Time began to hang heavy and boredom set in. The expedition’s medical staff issued birth control pills to all of the women, but eventually, the drugs’ shelf-life expired, a serious glitch in planning. An attempt to manufacture additional condoms failed when the limited supply of rubber was exhausted. An attempt to manufacture IUDs also failed when they caused an inordinate number of potentially fatal infections. If women survived the infections, they were almost invariably rendered infertile. Infertile women who held unique job skills were allowed by the Legislative Council to live until they died naturally. Those who shared job skills with others were considered duplicative to the expedition were indicted by the court for the crime of infertility, condemned to spacesuits and ejected from the airlock.
Births increased the population beyond sustainability. The Legislative Council then placed an age-cap on the population, so that those beyond forty years of age became subject to being ejected into space. The age-cap changed periodically based on population dynamics and job skill requirements, but the requirement was that the population be maintained at approximately one hundred individuals.
Suddenly, men were becoming sterile; from radiation, gravitational fluctuations, diet deficiency, or, perhaps, crowding…but no one really knew why. Ironically, the elected Governor was the first discovered to be sterile. He quickly destroyed his own records. Nevertheless, he brought the matter to the Legislative Council and who quickly adopted the same measures they adopted for infertile women…death by ejection into space…after exempting themselves from testing at least as long as they were in office.
Now, only ten men and women remain aboard, including the council members, along with thirty children…ninety people have died as a result of their rules. Since the council exempted its members and the ten that remain are all council members no one knows whether all ten, or none of the ten, that remain are sterile or fertile. What I do know is that none of the remaining women are pregnant.
As the last remaining non-council member, they handed me my indictment forty-eight hours ago in the form of a medical lab report. The sentence was carried out just a moment ago…They confined me in a pressure suit so the remaining members would not have to witness the effects of the vacuum of space on my body or clean my remains from the surfaces inside the airlock…and pushed me strongly and firmly out of the airlock. I have twenty-fours of oxygen to contemplate my fate, and a sharp knife they gave me to end it quickly if I wish.
So, here I am, alone in interstellar space. Ironically, the bodies of the others form a loose debris field around me as they drift in loose formation with the ship, testimony to the effects of momentum and the lack of gravity in interstellar space. Mute, they join me in haunting the remains of our dwindling expedition. They, too, wonder whether any of the remaining council members are fertile…but they will never know anymore than I will.
But of them, I alone am alive…for a time…utterly isolated…and afraid of the dark.
Copyright 2015 © by Clabe R. Polk, Powder Springs, Georgia. All rights reserved. No document posted here may be copied in part or in whole by any means without written permission of the author.
Copyright 2014 ©
by Clabe Polk
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