Friday, June 26, 2015

Truth in Space, Parts 6 and 7

*drum roll* I present to you not one, but two installments in my short story, Truth in Space. If you’d like to catch up, click the links:

Parts 1 and 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

And here are Parts 6 and 7. Enjoy!

Truth in Space Parts 6 and 7

Laos blanketed in lightning storms. Air low oxygen.

T/////// filter.

October 15, 3021

Like the telegrams of two and a half centuries ago, warpagrams are transferred one character at a time. But they’re a lot more complicated and have something to do with star energy. I don’t really know how they work. Anyway, because each character travels separately, interference of any kind can create gaps in the message. In this case, the storm sparking overhead probably caused the problem, though anything could be happening between here and Earth. Who knows what they actually got of my message? As for theirs, I’m assuming they’re talking about the air filter. I’m supposed to see if it can purify the neon out so the oxygen is useable.

I haven’t tried yet, because, honestly, I’m terrified of lightning. Always have been. And we’ve had some bright flashes pretty near the ship. Still, science says that if I stay away from the ship, I should be all right, since it’s taller than me. But what if it’s different here? What if the atmosphere acts strangely? What if – okay, I’m psyching myself out. So, I’m going to breathe. I’ll be fine. Besides, I have to go out there. They’ll be expecting results in the morning, and this test will take several hours.

Okay, I did it. And I didn’t get struck by lightning, though the hairs on my neck are still standing up. A tremendous blast electrified the air just as I reached the ship again. Oddly enough, when I dove for the ground, the baton-shaped instrument on my belt started beeping. Apparently the ground here, at least by the ship, is slightly radioactive. The fact just added to an already strong out-of-this-world feeling. Seriously, it was creepy. My chest is actually beginning to hurt from how fast my heart is beating. I refuse to go back out there until the storm’s over.

Fergus said something last night that I haven’t been able to push from my mind. When he was explaining how he survived five years on Vortega, he told me, “Funny that I never understood the point of my life until I had everything stripped away.” I can’t make it stop rolling through my thoughts. What point could he have discovered for his life while freezing, starving, and forgetting the sound of a human voice? When I asked him, he said, of all things, worship. I discovered his frostbite today. He’s missing fingers, toes, patches of skin. Part of his neck is a deathlike gray. And he says he learned to worship? I don’t know how to make sense of that. I didn’t ask him to explain. Yet I wish I understood.

Well, that was freaky. I had no sooner written that then Fergus wandered in here. He was just hungry, but his appearance startled me. He’s digging around in the cabinets now, and my gaze keeps shifting to his neck. How do you worship some god who supposedly allowed something like that to happen? How do you worship someone who lets evil men dominate the government? Who lets promising students be trapped into roles they don’t want? Who let Trevor leave?!

Obviously I wasn’t just talking about Fergus there. I got a little carried away, but I guess I’m angrier about the whole situation than I thought I was. I wish I could go back and change so many things. I wish I could have seen past the stars in my eyes when I got a dream project. Then maybe I would have noticed that I was losing someone I had a potential future with. Someone I didn’t want to lose. If I could tell myself one thing a year ago, it would be this: Pay attention to the good you’ve got. Don’t push it aside in pursuit of some fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Too bad my past self can’t take that advice.


Air filter stripped 90% of neon. Running test again.

October 16, 3021

As promised, I didn’t venture outside until the storm abated. Which meant I was stuck inside for just under thirteen hours, which in turn means the sun has gone down not once, but twice since I last wrote. Days here are weird and I’ve darkened the windows because the daylight changes are messing my system up. Though, I admit, my lack of sleep probably isn’t helping. Still, ten-hour days don’t do anything to stabilize my internal clock. Not that I can actually see the sun, since dark clouds remain though the lightning stopped.

Whatever. The point is that the lightning stopped. So I was able to check the air filter. The results weren’t perfect. Ten percent neon is still pretty high. So, I decided to run the test again, since I am a scientist, and scientists are thorough. Could I sabotage the readings? Sure, but people could die. Yes, they could die either way, but at least this way it’s not because of my lie.

Anyway, the test had only been running for about an hour when the clouds descended toward us and monsoon-like winds began sweeping across the planet. I haven’t been able to see if the equipment’s all right, but, considering that it’s pitch black out there and that the ship has been shuddering for an hour and a half, I wouldn’t last more than a couple of seconds out there. So now I wait. Maybe the filter will come unsecured from the ground and blow away, leaving me with no concrete data to share.

I only slept for about three hours yesterday at some crazy time that reflected neither this planet’s day nor Earth’s. Fergus sleeps every four hours for about ninety minutes. I have no idea why, since Vortega, his home for the past few years, has about eight hours of light and six of dark. Maybe I’ll ask him when he wakes up.

The ship is still shaking. It’s scaring me. Honestly, I’m terrified that the wind might rip it to shreds, sending us into oblivion. Fergus and the crew of the Wanderer may have had the courage to give up their chance at survival, but I don’t want to die. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. I don’t know. I don’t know what the right path is. And I’m not sure where my path is taking me. Somehow I started this with Fergus’ story, yet I keep indulging my own. It’s comforting, in a way. But there’s a chill deep in my bones that the wind just drives deeper. Maybe I’m just going to freeze to death.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Truth in Space, Part 5

Today I bring you Part 5 of my short story, Truth in Space. You can catch up with Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Enjoy!

Truth in Space Part 5

Landed on Laos in midst of storm. Instruments acting strange.

October 14, 3021

I’m attributing the lack of a return warpagram to the magnetic interference. Yes, magnetic. Just what they’re looking for. If my foray onto the surface tomorrow proves that it has manageable conditions, then I will have found the site of General Hader’s new base.

I didn’t specifically mention high magnetic levels in my warpagram, but they’ll read between the lines. Why else would my instruments be having trouble? The question now is this: if Laos is the spot, then what will that mean for us? Will I be ordered to continue on to the other stops? Or will I be directed home? I’m not sure that I prefer that option.

But, right now, this isn’t about me. I’m in a bad situation, yes, but Fergus is in a much worse one. I almost didn’t take him with me when I left Vortega. For that brief moment, I truly considered leaving him to his fate. I’ve been miserable ever since at the thought of it. If for no other reason than that moment of selfishness, I have to tell his story.

How much have I already told? I wish this wasn’t so scattered, but I haven’t tried to string these entries together like this before. Okay, there it is. I explained where Fergus learned the tru-

Well, that was the second exhausting conversation I’ve had with this man. Keeping me up late is just part of it. He walked in as I was writing earlier and finally wrung my topic from me. I didn’t tell him why I’m so desperate to tell his story, but I think he knows. He didn’t look as haunted as I feel, though. Anyway, he said his story is a lot broader than what he told me the other night. That was just the mission.

When Fergus went to work for NCSP in the Spring of 3006, he was dating a girl from college. They were going to get married, even though they weren’t formally engaged yet. Within six months, she was gone. According to Fergus, it wasn’t her fault. He was assigned to a very interesting project immediately after being hired, and in his eagerness to start he didn’t read his contract very closely. NCSP demanded more and more of his time, and he saw less and less of his girlfriend. She said she had called him, but he never received those calls. About four months into his employment, Fergus asked for a week’s leave so he could fix things. They refused. After that, tensions grew even more. Looking back now, he’s convinced NCSP intimidated his girlfriend and deliberately drove her away.

He never married.

I was nearly crying while he told me that, because it felt like he was telling me my own story. My boyfriend, Trevor, and I broke up two months after I started working for NCSP. We met in our senior year of college in my last physics class. He was studying to be a pilot. I remember never getting his calls while on the grounds, which was almost constantly once I was ordered to move into housing on the premises of the launch complex. And the look on his face that last day… I’ve never forgotten what he said: “Get out, Cass. Get out while you can.” I wish I had.

After Fergus lost his true love, he got pulled farther into his work. By the time he’d been working for a year, he literally had no life outside of NCSP. The easiest thing to do was just keep working. And he liked his projects. Six years after being employed there, he was assigned to Project Wanderer, which would result in his fateful space mission. He helped program the original ship, which went through several prototypes as tests failed or passed. The project hit plenty of slumps, especially when they couldn’t develop a communication method fast enough to travel thousands of lightyears. Then they invented the warpagram. It could only handle five words at a time back then, Fergus says, and, as they would discover, it wasn’t as reliable as expected. But eventually everything was ready. Fergus was the natural choice for navigator, having worked on the ship for so long.

Four months’ travel brought the trio of pilot Adam Hausler, engineer Katherine Dallas, and navigator Fergus Darby to the edge of the Zako Sector and the dwarf planet Veritas, where Adam finally told them what was going on. Adam had been pensive more most of the trip, not saying a lot. He wasn’t supposed to share the objective with Fergus and Katherine, but four months was as long as he could take the weight. Western Earth was seeking a tactical advantage in an all-out war, and they were the only ones who could stop it. As they launched toward Vortega, they had a long discussion and decided that this mission would end on their terms. If they went back to Earth, NCSP could potentially still use their knowledge – there are methods I’ve only heard whispers about – so they decided to destroy the ship. With no ability to do that on the ground, their only option was a crash landing.

Adam asked if their souls were ready. Uncomfortable, Fergus moved away from them. He remembers the pilot and engineer praying together before the three sent one final warpagram, not knowing if it would get through: SPEAK THE TRUTH. When Adam tried to talk to Fergus again, he told the pilot he was ready. But he was terrified. And as the ship hurtled toward the surface of Vortega, he gripped the nearest thing to him: the solarium.

His face went deathly pale when he told me about the crash: horrifying screams from the crew, an ear-splitting screech of metal, a deep rumble, and a wall of searing heat. When Fergus came to, the ship was a smoking heap, and his crewmates were dead. Tucked against his chest was the solarium, somehow untouched.

He nearly froze that first day, but by pulling the ship apart, he managed to make himself a ground-hugging shelter. He buried his friends near the spot. Turns out the ground contains a lot more than sodium deeper down. His solarium contained several green plants that he carefully nurtured. And that’s how he survived: dirt, plants, and, most surprisingly, ice. Nearly every other day, he said, clouds would form and drop ice crystals. For five years.

My neck has a horrible cramp in it, and the sun is just peeking over the horizon. It’s washed the whole planet in an almost dangerous fluorescence that reflects how I feel: numb. How can I keep going after hearing a story like that? I’m wrung-out. I almost feel broken. I need to sleep.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Shield of Faith: Use it Like Cap Does

Our pastor recently started a series on the armor of God, and, though we haven’t actually gotten to the shield of faith yet, that’s the particular piece that’s captured my attention.

Shield of Faith

In Christian circles, talking about the armor of God too easily becomes relegated to Sunday School, something that’s easily made into cute graphics and object lessons. Yet it’s a powerful picture of spiritual battles. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) Having established that, Paul continues in that chapter to lay out the armor a Christian needs in this fight. Among these pieces of armor is the shield of faith. Now, what soldier can we think of who’s known for a shield?

Oh, perhaps…Captain America?Cap's Shield Wallpaper 2

Ah, yes, my favorite superhero is indeed known for his mighty shield. As I thought about the shield of faith, I realized that there are many parallels between it and Cap’s shield. So, how does he use his?

  • To Defend Himself – Cap’s shield is his greatest defense. Made from the one of the most powerful metals on Earth, the fictional vibranium, this shield repels all attackers and all weapons. Even Thor’s hammer can’t break it. The Internet is quite fond of Cap’s so-called “turtle-mode,” where he tucks his whole body behind his shield. Why wouldn’t he, though, when it’s so incredibly successful as a defense? Our shields are composed of faith, something far more powerful than vibranium. 1 Peter 1:5 talks about us being protected through our faith (this version even uses the word “shielded.”) Just as Cap repels all weapons with his shield, we can repel all attacks of Satan.
  • To Defend Others – Have you ever noticed how often Cap uses his shield for the benefit of other people? He covers teammates and civilians with it. He deflects attacks away from people with it. In addition, teammates often pick up the shield and use it themselves. Bucky in The First Avenger and Natasha in Age of Ultron, to name a couple of instances. Captain America’s shield is not just for him. It defends many more than just the superhero it belongs with. In the same way, faith is a refuge. The faith of one is mighty in defense of another. We’re called to stand in the gap (Ezekiel 22:30), to lift each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and to defend the weak (Psalm 82:3-4). Life is not a solitary adventure; we need each other. And, sometimes, we need someone else’s faith.
  • To Inspire People – In many ways, this is more of a byproduct than a deliberate use of the shield. However, byproduct or not, it is powerful. Captain America’s shield is incredibly inspiring. You see that shield and you know everything’s going to be okay. With that shield, Cap freed allied prisoners from Hydra, fought Chitauri in New York, defeated Hydra again close to home, and fought and won countless other battles. Can you imagine how inspiring it would be to stand by that shield? Knowing that Captain America was on my side would take a lot of fear away. And it would inspire me to greatness. Faith can be inspirational, too. Think of some of the true-life stories we love best, stories where one person believed in something bigger than him- or herself. Stories of beating great odds, of standing firm and having faith. These are the stories that stay with us. Knowing Cap fought for me would be comforting; how much more so is knowing God Himself fights for us. Sometimes all it takes is one person’s faith to draw people, like a candle in the darkness. Sometimes all it takes is one man or woman standing firm and believing to inspire faith in others. 
  • To Attack Enemies – This was the most interesting point to me as I sat in church thinking about the shield of faith. It’s easy to think of a shield as defensive, which is how it’s typically portrayed. However, a shield can also be offensive. Especially in the hands of Captain America, a shield is a weapon. Though he does use guns, Cap seems to prefer his shield for breaking windows and locks, knocking people out, and deflecting enemies’ own weapons against them. Of course, he’s also got some awesome hand-to-hand skills… The integration of the two is flawless, though. I can see a correlation to using the shield of faith with the rest of your armor. I don’t think we usually consider faith to be a weapon, but it is. Faith can move mountains (Matthew 17:20) and break down walls (Hebrews 11:30). Faith is supposed to be active. Use it to take thoughts captive and to pray peace into people’s lives. We are not meant to stand still in this spiritual war, cowering behind our shields. Instead, remember Who you’re putting your faith in: The King of the Universe, Who sets up rulers, demolishes strongholds, and brings victory. You serve a God of awesome power. That shield in your hand? It’s a weapon. Use it for His glory.

I think faith too easily becomes a platitude: “Have faith; everything’s going to be better soon.” “Just keep the faith.” Yeah, thanks. That’s basically meaningless without a solid knowledge of real faith. However, faith in God Almighty can accomplish great things. It’s a shield for believers, defending, inspiring, and attacking. We’re not fighting this battle on our own. We’re fighting on the side of the Lord God, Who has already won. Know that your shield is powerful, and use it for its designed purpose.