December 22, 2015
December 04, 2015
I think as a child, a catholic child specifically, is when my fascination with life really took a hold. I should clarify, my fascination with what happens to life after death. I have to remember all these years (like almost 40 years) have passed between when I was a little boy and today. In that time my curiosity about life and death have evolved, thinking back now as an adult trying to remember my thoughts, my experience of life and death as child, well they are very different. All the same though, my curiosity on the topic remains.
All this aside, I have always wondered that question, which I suspect many of us do, does life truly end at death, or does this strange phenomenon of awareness of self continue beyond the experience of death? I don't know the answer, but in growing up in the Catholic Church I was given many answers to this question, most of which said resoundingly, yes life goes on. Not only does life go beyond death, but it's better than life here! It is perfect living, especially if you are not a "sinner" (whoa such a qualifier) and even more especially if Jesus Christ is your lord and savior. Now as it was I was indoctrinated into that faith, I never was given the option to choose it so while as a child, and even as a young man I would have said if asked, "Yes, Jesus is my lord and savior." This answer though was meaningless because I had no idea what the alternative was, and in fact did not know that there was an alternative.
Funny stuff this immortality given as a gift only after one dies. Heaven is described as perfection. It was there that we were taught that in heave there existed: no suffering; no fear; no loneliness; total union with the divine; perfect knowledge. And as a young boy I wanted this. I wanted all those things, they sounded so amazing. Yet a caveat existed, you couldn't go to heaven if you committed a mortal sin, and self harm to the point of death (suicide) disqualified you. The act was anathema. And so we had to wait for the gift of heaven until we got old and died, got cancer and died, hit by a car or shot by a bullet and died. No way that was coming to us in the state of knowing that we were (or are) currently in.
But there were those times, evenings often, when I wasn't playing anymore. I would sit alone in my room, surrounded always by my hundreds and hundreds of stuffed animals and wonder then what was heaven really like. My wonder actually was more along the lines of, what is death? So often I would think of this, and wonder that I began to imagine that it might be okay if I died. I began to tell myself that death, in all it's scary "unknowingness" was so tempting, so much a desire, that I was less afraid of it than I was of living. Play into death was as tempting for me as play in life.
But I didn't want to risk it. Not at first anyway.
Now please know, I was in no way neglected or unloved by my family. My mother was a very caring person (still is). She fretted over us, kept us fed, loved us, sang to us. I did have joy in my life, and I wasn't exactly depressed. I did brood (I still do), I did like reading about dark things like dragons, evil wizards, devils and demons, but I also loved bright happy things too. I played for hours with my legos, hot wheels, swords and things. But many times, I would imagine myself dead. Gone, wandering into the next life whatever that life may be.
One memory, so clear for me, is of an evening when I was alone in my room, maybe around 1979. I had a small Swiss army knife, the old kind that had only a few tools and blades. It had one larger blade, and this one was pretty dull. I pulled myself under the blankets in my bed and took out that little knife. I remember holding it in my hand. The sensation of the red plastic case at first cold, then warming to the touch of my skin. I remember flipping open the largest blade, gleaming under the flash light and snapping it shut, time and time again. Then I remember taking this blade and pressing it against my stomach, point into my flesh. I remember pressing it, hard enough to push the skin in deep without cutting, and thinking to myself "press harder, you're so close."
I didn't come so close to death again for a long time after that. Whatever held me back in that moment kept the thoughts of dying at bay for many years. The thought occasionally came into my mind, flittering from time to time, sweeping in like a little humming bird, buzzing around my brain tempting me with, "death just like sleeping, don't you like to dream?"
But there somewhere in my mind are whispers of a darker desire, hints back to my childhood begging me to explore life and it's natural end. Now that I've studied death myths, legends, theories of heaven and afterlife I do not believe there is any type of continuance of existence beyond what we know. I believe that at death I simply cease to exist. Our lives, our consciousness are like light switches, once flicked off, we simply cease to shine. So the fascination with death for me has lost the appeal of escaping into a better existence. But funny, this thought of dying, death has become such a close friend of mine, it's hard to let it go.
There was a time in 1993, January, when I stood on the edge of a rooftop on a building in Rome, some ten stories tall and looked down at the paving stones below and nearly leapt. Now this was a time when I was depressed. I had been living in Rome then, studying to be a priest, struggling with my sexuality, struggling with being an atheist, struggling with a realization that the Catholic Church, which had become my home, my lover, hated me. So standing there on the roof of the Pontifical North American College, looking down in the darkness at the road below, I stood; toes dipped over the edge of the building, the wind buffeting my back, encouraging me, daring me to fly - for a moment - to kiss our earth - to stop being me.
There have been other dark moments in my life and those random thoughts have popped up for me thinking how much easier it could be for me if I just allowed myself to slip into the great sleep. In all these years, with therapy, the right friends, and maintaining a more firm grasp on reality, I've not stepped off the edge, but what my ever present struggle with thoughts of death and suicide have brought me, are an absolute lack of fear. I've known pain, physically with surgeries, a bout with cancer, broken bones. I've known pain in loss of loved ones, death of friends, end of relationships, heart break. I've known pain in feeling insignificant, unimportant, unable to affect change in the world. So yes, those dark thoughts have crept up in my mind, and the faint whispers of my old friend death hisses in my ear, ".....you're so close." And because my old friend death is an ever present part of my personal darkness, I've come to not fear him at all.
I'm happy to discuss this topic and post with you or anyone - leave a comment or send me a message. I've lost friends to suicide. I've lost friends and loved ones to early death, and to death after a long life. And that loss is real. That loss is painful. That loss is hard to bear. I know my life will one day end, hopefully not for a long time, I'm learning there's lots more living to do and I'm only getting started. So in the meantime I'm going to keep growing, keep learning, allowing myself to fail, but always allowing myself to get back up after a failure and try again. I know that death is always close, lurking around the corner but my movie has only just started and I don't want to miss the ending.
I wrote in my "Thoughts Along the Way" journal about this a few months ago. Here are those musings, "I am, for this rather insignificant moment in space and time, aware. Based on the incredible rarity of life, especially life aware of itself, this is the importance of being. Our existence itself seems to point to the meaning of life itself."
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1 (800) 273-8255www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
December 03, 2015
December 02, 2015
November 29, 2015
November 27, 2015
It occurs to me that I have much for which to be grateful.
I saw a young man sitting the other day at Grand Central on the subway platform with a cat on his lap. The man was asleep and the cat quite calmly and peacefully was cleaning herself, ignoring the screeching trains and people.
And we were ignoring them.
Date 6,253,101 B.C.E.
Neomis looked out the window on the world swirling below. He loved the view they had from the station spinning around Kieaa. How many times since he had been had he seen the sun rise and set? Hundreds, an effect afforded only because of their unique place in the atmosphere.
It had been two days since they had disengaged the space elevator, a precaution taken in case the world below had a catastrophic event from a passing asteroid, but that fear had been misplaced, and the asteroid it seemed would strike, but in the depths of the ocean, washing the shores in the water, floods, tsunamis. Their new little family of apes would be safe, as they were so far inland. They disengaged the elevator because they could not risk any damage to the this, the station. However, now it was disengaged, without the Mothership, they would not be able to re-engage the elevator. They were going to be forced to use the small shuttle to take them from the station to the surface, and to take the last of the apes, now encoded with genetic modifications so as to evolve more fully into the same species as Neomis and his people.
He pulled his gaze away from the world below and looked at his communication station. Still no word from Gugulaania, the silence had Neomis worried, of course Galela reminded Neomis that if Mothership had started the final journey to the south pole, communication could be spotty or cut off entirely. They still received the locator beacon feedback from Mothership, so whatever had happened to their family, it had not yet terminated all communications on the surface.
Neomis had been raised on Gugulaania, it had been the only home he had ever known. He knew that this father, Neomin, also had been raised there, but when Neomin was a child, Mothership and her power reserves were strong. By the time Neomis was old enough to be aware, he and his people were confined to the inner colony, near the equator of Gugulaania. The out laying colonies were being abandoned, and transportation to those habitats eliminated. The Mothership continued to provide everything they needed, shelter, air to breathe, warmth, everything. But for those of their people located around the solar system, it was a different story. Many explorers were working on stations around the great gas planets, the largest of which, the fifth planet out from the center star, had provided a wealth of learning and discovery. There was a small icy moon that had some of the earliest signs of life and the scientists in orbit there had reported that perhaps they could colonize that small system in a space station. Those explorers died hoping that someday they would be rescued, that their research could be used to recover the decline in Mothership. This hope slipped away and they waited for a rescue that never came. No doubt by now their ship, being unattended and not powered, had slipped into the atmosphere of the gas giant.
All this, the exploration, the space stations, occurred before the actual decline of the Mothership was well known. Once it was discovered Mothership's power supply was expiring, and it was learned that they could not support stations on other planetary bodies besides Kieaa and Gugulaania, those explorers were abandoned. Most of them had anticipated Mothership would retrieve them, and likely that had been the original plan from her A.I. program, but it seems a flaw in the programming was that Mothership failed to communicate her demise to her children. Once they discovered Mothership's cascading power failures, and in communicating with her, they found she had known of this catastrophic event nearly two centuries earlier.
Neomis sighed, his hand resting on the computer console. Each device on the station was interconnected, powered by the same source as Mothership herself. The power, a fusion technology that they had not been able to replicate, because they hadn't needed to in centuries, could almost be felt, humming around them. Neomis and most scientists knew that technology was a combination of biomechanical and quantum mechanical integration of energy packets and fields. The use of gravity waves to manipulate matter, both its form and function, was the heart of the technology. A heart that only Mothership knew how to care for. The hundreds of centuries his people had spent in space, traveling to this solar system, then the hundreds of years settling on Gugulaania, well no one thought to learn the inner workings of Mothership. Likely no one could have. As the technology advanced, thousands of years ago, the science and calculations needed to use and comprehend Mothership was no longer something his people had the capacity to do. Only Mothership and her computers had the computing power to know herself and her own workings; this removal from needing to know or work with Mothership's computers resulted in freeing his people to become writers, artists, philosophers, lovers. They explored more the meaning of life from their libraries and lectures. They did not need to build, grow, construct. Those things were all done for them.
He moved his hand away from the computer and looked over his shoulder at the lab door leading to his little family of apes. Most of the apes had been brought back to the surface, this last group of 50 of the original 200 individuals who had been genetically modified, imprinted with the key genetic codes of his own people. Neomis smiled. This was a last desperate act of species preservation. One hundred years prior when the idea had been suggested, and finally approved by Mothership as viable, they had set on working with the apes. Neomis' own grandfather had lead the first group to Kieaa, and they had found the apes that they wished to work with, the ones who were the closest match to their people's genetic codes. It was most fortunate that this solar systems origins of life were shared in common with his own people's some billions of years prior. The earliest microbes which evolved into life must originated in the same region of space as their home world, many solar systems apart, because genetically speaking they shared an ancient common ancestor. He smiled at the thought of the apes. The wonder of it all, here they were millions of light years apart from his people's home world, and sitting in the room next to him were his cousins, not so different than he. Perhaps if he and Mothership hadn't intervened these apes might have eventually evolved into a species perhaps not so different than his own. Now though, they had accelerated that process, and what would have taken perhaps many tens of millions of years, would now take only a few million. The original plan of course had been to even further accelerate the evolutionary process, that plan was the one being initiated by Neomis' grandfather, but once Mothership had revealed that she would fail, nearly completely, before that could to pass, they simply wanted to accelerate the process as much as possible. They knew that they would not live to see these apes evolve much, but in terms of the age of the universe, it would a relatively short amount of time indeed.
Neomis stood, he lifted his arms above his head and stretched. He felt the fibers in his body pull and tighten. He was delaying what he had to do next, which was prep himself and the apes for the journey back to the surface. The effects of the asteroid strike had been much less severe than anticipated and the flooding and damage to the surface was minimal. They had more time than the surface of Gugulaania, Mothership had divested greater power reserves to them than the surface of Gugulaania. He frowned at that thought, the inevitability of the loss of life, the loss of his parents, friends, his people was overwhelming. Sighing he walked over to the lab door and entered the sequence for entry. The room had to be under pressurized for him; the thick duplicative Kieaa atmosphere, so heavy with nitrogen and oxygen was nearly impossible for him to breath. While he could breath in it for a few minutes, he would rather not. His own lungs were designed by Mothership to better breath on the nearly non-existent atmosphere of Gugulaania, which was mostly composed of carbon dioxide. Though his people in their home world had evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago to breath a nitrogen/oxygen mix, not unlike that of Kieaa, his people arriving in this solar system knew they had to modify their genetics, their bodies to adapt to Gugulaania. Once it was clear several hundred years ago that they would never be able to settle on Kieaa, and that Gugulaania would be their home, Mothership began the process in working with the geneticists and biologists to adapt their lungs and bodies. Gugulaania did not have a sustainable atmosphere, but with the modifications and with Mothership's ability to create oxygen from the Gugulaania atmosphere. This essential technology was another mystery to most of the scientists, knowledge lost to complacency. He reached into a small wall compartment and slipped on a breathing apparatus. The door to the lap slipped open and the lights came alive.
Simbia was already at the door to her habitat, a smile on her lips. She cooed at him, making hooting noises to him indicating her pleasure at seeing him, and no doubt expecting food. He smiled at her, "Ah dear Simbia, I know, I know." He unlatched the door and she jumped out at him. The artificial gravity was much less here than on Kieaa, and so her powerful muscles launched her at him. He grunted as she hit him, though she was quite large, Neomis still had greater mass than she. He swung her around his body in a spinning motion, much like one would spin a child in a circle. He laughed as she held onto him. "I missed you too!" He allowed her to nuzzle his neck. He looked at the other apes, now all attentive and watching closely. While they all had some sort of bond, Neomis was especially close to Simbia. He had known her only for a few years, she was a young ape, and her mother, Sulki, had been a very good mother. Sadly though she had disappeared some time ago on the surface, taken no doubt by a predator, which had left Simbia an orphan, and thus Neomis had adopted her. She was one of the first apes he had modified, using his own codes in her genetic sequence. The modified sequences focused on higher cognitive functions, speech and bipedal walking. Other more subtle modifications would affect the apes' development of self awareness, conceptualization of time and abstract thinking.
"Come Simbia," he pulled off him and lowered her to floor so she could walk. "Go, release Membia." Membia was a young male, a close friend to Simbia and a very gentle ape. He would in normal circumstances, if left to develop on the world unmodified, likely have been the lowest order of ape in the group, maybe even an out cast. As it was here though, he was showered with affection from Neomis and Simbia, his status raised amongst the other apes. Simbia darted to Membia's habitat, his bright eyes were shining through the glass front, glittering in the lab's bright lights. He hooted at her as she opened the door. He was more cautious than she, and he didn't immediately leap down to the floor. Instead he looked to Neomis, his hand extended out to him, palm up.
Neomis smiled and walked over to Membia, he brushed the palm of Membia's hand, "Yes young man, you may come out." Membia carefully lowered himself to the floor, immediately Simbia was hugging him and they rolled onto the floor together, excitedly hooting. The other apes joined in the ruckus, and for a moment Neomis thought he would go deaf. He clapped his hands sharply once, and immediately the apes grew silent. "Simbia, Membia come with me." The two apes joined their hands and followed Neomis to the far door of the lab, using their free hands to support themselves as the lumbered along just behind Neomis. Neomis opened the door and immediately felt the dissipation of the gravity, a relief for him, he looked over his shoulder at the two apes following him. They had paused at the door entry. The artificial gravity here was much closer to the levels found on Gugulaania, but the apes had done just fine walking in the lighter gravity previously. Neomis smiled, he knew they were curious and that the promise of some fruit would entice them. "Darlings," he said to them, "come and I'll give you a treat."
That was all it took and the two apes jumped into the hall following Neomis. He smiled at them, the brushed past his legs, running towards the end of the corridor It wasn't a long hallway, but it lead to the main station hanger, where the spacecraft rested that would be used to transport them all back to the surface below in a few days. The apes loved the adventure, and Neomis tried to let them roam around the station as much as possible. Of course they could get into trouble, and without Mothership directly monitoring the station and servicing for immediate repairs, he had to be cautious. But he couldn't bear the thought of them in their little habitats for much longer. They were already showing greater signs of intelligence, communicating very differently since the modifications. They hadn't yet formed the cognitive ability to form words, after all they didn't have a voice box, but their abilities to grasp more complex phrases and words was astounding. He sighed as he walked behind them, oh how he wished he had more time, that he would see them grow into the intelligent beings that he knew they would. He just wished that he would be the grandfather to their children.
They got to the end of the corridor and the apes were waiting for him, hooting and calling, almost running circles around him. "Settle down, you'll be able to go in an play." He activated the artificial gravity for the hanger, waiting a few moments while the air pressure changed as well. This space, because it was so large, was easier to allow the apes to play and run. They would be able to hang off the shuttle craft in the hanger, and they would have access to enough space to really release energy. Not only this, but the gravity was approximately 60% of that on Kieaa, so this would really give them a workout compared to the lesser gravity of the lab and the station in general. Not only this, but it was a very oxygen rich room. The apes now pulled at his hand hanging by his side. He smiled down at them, lifting his hand to stroke Simbia's head. "Dear, just a moment longer." He smiled when the indicator light blinked, "see, there is now the right air to breath and more gravity to make you feel normal." He felt his own face to make sure his breathing apparatus was properly affixed. Since they had taken the apes in a more permanent fashion, he wore it nearly all the time. Really only his own personal lab had the mixture of air that didn't require the mask.
"Neomis!" he heard a voice at the other end of the corridor. "There you are!" It was Galela. The apes heard her too - and recognized her and began immediately to hoot and call out to her in greeting, but so great was their desire to go into the hanger they did not run to greet her.
"Galela, you've come just in time, I'm going to exercise these two and do a bit more work on the shuttle." He reached down again to stroke Simbia's head.
"And the others aren't worthy?" She asked jokingly as she approached him. She got close to him and kissed his head, ignoring the apes pawing at her as she did so. She looked down at them, "you little beasts," her tone was playful, "you only like me because you know I have fruit." She reached into a pouch at her side and pulled out fruits from the planet below, small skinned fruit that grew in vines as bunches. They were very sweet, and the apes loved them. She gave each ape a bunch of them. She looked at Neomis, "You'd better let them in there or they'll tear down the walls.
Neomis nodded with a smile, "Okay my darlings, in you go." He activated the door, and the air whooshed around their feet, chilled, but not stale. The apes immediately darted into the room, carefully carrying their precious fruit, each going to opposite corners to eat the treat. Neomis looked up Galela. "Are you well my dear?"
Her eyes gleamed in the bright lights of the hanger, now blinking on in succession from the entrance to the back, where the large space doors stood closed. "I'm very well. I've monitored the asteroid strikes, little catastrophic damage, well at least for our troops of apes. There will be rain and wind, but we survived with no loss of life." She stepped into the hanger, expecting Neomis to follow, which he did. "There is no hope though for the elevator. I was working with Ramudu, he had been in contact with Mothership the longest, but as you know, she's not contacted us in nearly two days."
Neomis nodded, "He told me though the location beacon was still active."
She nodded, "It is, and that's a good thing, it means that whatever is happening on Gugulaania hasn't destroyed everything. She turned back to him, "but it also means that we're more alone than ever." She looked at the shuttle craft in front of them, ignoring the apes running around the room, "Can you fly this thing without Mothership?" She looked back at him.
Neomis looked at the shuttle, just behind her. He saw the apes there, running under the machine, playing near hoists holding it in place. "I do not see that we will have any choice other than to do so. I've run the simulations that Mothership provided last week, and I've memorized the manual controls. Acting like flying and actually doing it are two entirely different scenarios, but I have to do it. They," he motioned at the two apes, "Cannot live here." He lowered his arm. "Nor can we."
She looked down at his face, her head turned sharply to his eyes. "Don't Neomis, don't think about it."
He smiled at her, he knew she hated to hear him speak thusly. "Galela, it is simply the reality, the truth of our situation. Our priority now must be to reconnect with Mothership, hopefully with Neomin and Normia, and to get these creatures home. They are already changing." He started to walk towards the shuttle in front of them. Galela followed him. "Did you read the results from their intelligence test?"
"Yes, it was remarkable. Their progress is unprecedented. Now if only we had time to place them in the gene sequencer longer, advance their individual evolution, rather than relying on nature to take it's course."
"Even if we could, without the power from Mothership, there is nothing to be done." He stood just below the front nose cone of the craft, he reached up and touched the cool metal. "Just think, we'll be the first to fly one of these machines alone in nearly five hundred years." He looked at her. "How did we arrive at this place Galela, how as a people did we forget everything we ever knew. When did we stop doing, and just became learners?"
She stood next to him, and placed her hand over his, "When you have everything you need, how do you know what you are missing?"
He looked at the two apes, rolling around wrestling with each other, having found a long cloth to drape over themselves like a blanket. "Our future in these creatures will be very different than our past." He smiled, "I've made sure to include the marker for curiosity. I want them as they evolve to long to search, to find, to discover."
She smiled at him. "Careful dear, don't give them too much." She looked at the apes and smiled. "Funny, they seem less beastly to me today."
He was almost offended, but knew her humor well enough to know she wasn't entirely serious. "I think Galela, we might actually have become the beasts. Beasts of complacency. We forgot the discovery and wonder of self reliance and became too much children of science and technology."
She frowned. "Were we?" She shook her head, "I mean are we? This world below us, so full of life, of wonder. I can't help but wonder if this entire journey of our people all these centuries was our destiny, meant to be perhaps." She looked around. "We all wonder why Mothership didn't teach us to care for her. She could have. Perhaps some part of her wanted us to be at this place, so as to force us to figure it out. Maybe even she wanted us to be the parents of this new world, give life and meaning to new children. Our world, where our lives are so old and mundane had stopped living a long time ago; Mothership knew that perhaps it was time we fade away. It could be, in all her great power she knew that the lives we have been living for centuries was empty because we were not truly living any more, we were only existing. It wasn't until we arrived in this solar system that our scientists started to learn, observe, discover. So then, I believe that on some level our extermination is the beginning of new wonder for the future children of this world. Our time has run its course, time to let it go."
He sighed, removing his hand from the craft, he reached up to her shoulders and turned him towards him. "Speak not of these things my dear Galela. Our lives, our past, it exists in our future too. These creatures, these apes, Simbia and Membia and all the others are not the result of complacency. They are the result of a great and ancient people, a people who were lost but have found hope not in their own present, not in the offspring of their loins, but found hope in the future of these adopted children." He pulled her close to him. "We are not lost my dear. We've simply come home."
The two apes had come over to them and had sat at their feet, grooming each other. Neomis felt the hand of Simbia on his leg. He knew that this was meant to be. Galela trembling in his arms. She was crying.
November 19, 2015
November 18, 2015
November 17, 2015
November 16, 2015
“Ben I’m telling you, we have to go to the South Pole!” Meruna stamped her left foot in emphasis of her words. Her hands clasped a crumpled piece of paper, a photo. In her eyes shone a righteous indignation, a fervor that was intoxicating.
Benjamin smiled at her, coyly. “Meruna, Meruna,” he cooed at her, stepping up to her, grabbing her by the shoulders, fingers lightly massaging her, “calm child, be calm.” He smiled down at her, the frown around her mouth was adorable, like the smile of a child who knows it is absolutely right, no matter the consequences or reality. He allowed his hands to drop down to hers, still clutching the photo, “here, now, let’s look at that again.” He pulled her hands open and lift the photo out of them. He stepped back from her and sat lightly down in the small chair at her desk.
The reality was she shouldn’t have been in his room. Not really, as only other men should have come in here alone, a rule established to protect women who were members of her particular sect in the Church. He nearly smiled up at her. He had justified allowing her entry on her own on the first day she arrived on Mars telling her, “I am no man to you Meruna. I am the voice of the holiest spirit, wind hissing from the very mouth of God.” She nearly had fainted at these words. Trust in him had been built from the first time he had captured her all those years ago at the hospital when he had returned from Vesta. He had chosen that medical center because he knew that she was there, he knew Samuel’s daughter, an orphan, had found work at that miner’s hospice. That first time he had seen her enter his room, he on the bed, nearly dead from the wasting sickness of zero gravity work, and she, a nineteen year old at the beginning of the prime of her sexuality. He had been careful to leave at his bedside his old bible, his leather bound daily prayer book, his rosary hanging on the corner of the bed behind his head. He had been careful to ensure that his hospital garments were bleached as white as possible. He had ensured that the lights near his bed table reflected off the sheets around him, because he knew, he knew that this girl who had never had a father, a strong male in her life, would want him. She would want him to be that father figure, that male presence. Oh he had planned it for weeks while still on Vesta.
He knew that it was unusual to work so frequently on mining missions in the asteroid belt, but he had been able to do it. The days after he had been laicized and fired from the Church his rage was great and his thought was to get off world, lick his wounds, and find a way to take revenge on Samuel. Finding work as a miner had been an easy matter, he had made several friends in the capital of Brazil, in Brasília. His work leading up to expulsion from the Church had gained him many admirers, especially because his focus as a military priest had been to support the power and infrastructure of the Church herself. So many men had become wealthy and because they knew that Ben had focused on preservation of the power of the powerful, well they remembered him. His first work as a miner had been on the Moon. A long established mining operation, pilfering the last remnants of Helium-3, used so frequently in the fusion rockets of the inner solar system transportation systems and ships. The consumption of this element meant the ever growing search for it, and the rocky inner solar system seemed to be prime for it. Thus his career as a Helium-3 miner was born. The mining foremen loved Ben; his military background meant he wasn’t afraid to take orders, but nor was he afraid to give them. He always pushed the limits of his gear, breathing apparatus, space suits, fuel limits. He was always on the envelope’s edge, and was always producing the highest results. Thus when he finished a project on the Moon and applied for Vesta, they made an exception to the 1 year on as a miner, two years off. Vesta had been especially a desirable asteroid to mine, so rich in gold and platinum that it was a number one miners request. On his downtime when working at Vesta Ben had been researching everything he could about Samuel. He knew that following the last battles in Paraguay Samuel had met a local woman, that they had fallen in love. That Samuel, even though attempting to cover up this illicit affair was careless. Ben learned that after the woman contracted cancer from the radiation sickness, Samuel had arranged for his daughter to go to one of the many orphanages created by the Church. Ben knew that Samuel fled South America, back to Europe, and eventually to here, Mars.
Ben smiled and looked up at Meruna, drawn back from his thoughts, “So you believe this,” he motioned at the picture, “is real?” His dark eyes flashed and his brows came down upon them.
Meruna hesitated, “I know I found it in that priest’s room with a letter from Bishop West himself.” She sat down quickly, “Ben tell me, what does this mean? How could something like this be here?” She leaned forward, “I know I am called to be here for these poor lost souls, I mean looking at that priest, what’s his name, Wayne” her frowned deepened, “he looks so ridiculous with all the cosmetic work he’s had done. Is not vanity a great sin?” She shook her head. “this thing,” motioning at the picture, “must be a test for us. I have no doubt that what ever it may be, it is an opportunity for us to share the true power of the church. No longer must we fight, for if those who doubt us, doubt our faith resist, they shall be cast aside, set afire and destroyed in their own ignorance!” She leaned up on her elbows to stare into Ben’s eyes, “Benjamin, there in all these hundreds of years has been no evidence of other life out there except microbes and bacteria. Nothing else has been found because we are it, we are the reason for creation and this place, Mars,” she swept her hand around the room, “is the final testament to our ownership of the universe. It’s endlessness is only the hem of God’s cloak and we are fortunate to be swept into existence upon it.”
Ben sat back in the chair and smiled. Ah this was a familiar story from her. Passion for the universe and it’s expanse. Once space exploration had begun again after the war, many scientists were certain extra terrestrial life would be found. And they had been right, life was found all around the solar system, just none of it complex. At first as they were able to peer further and further into the universe, many believed other intelligent life would surely be found, yet as they searched, as they listened, nothing came up, nothing was found. The Church, because she offered hope after the war spun space as a place not to ignore, but to plunder. Life on Earth was forever changed, nearly extinct were most sea creatures, most large animals and so she taught that God had provided the rich vastness of space as the place to refill what was lost. That everything they ever needed would be replenished. People in their own limited sight and suffering began to see and hear what they wanted; they were able to finally have a place to take from again, to grow rich, have resources, have power. And the solar system began to provide this and more.
Ben stood and walked behind Meruna, gently placing his hands on her shoulders. “Meruna, my dear, you needn’t worry about the find at the South Pole, I agree with you, it’s a test, but it’s not a test for the likes of or I, it is a test for these “priests” on Mars.” The word priests came out sounding like it was poison on his lips. “No doubt our beloved Bishop West is simply putting out there that this world, Mars, our home, is going to under go a trial. The war on Earth may be over, but the war here is not.” He leaned down, his cheek near to hers, “Meruna, I will send someone to the south pole, but you my dear have a mission here.”
She looked up at him over her shoulder, “I do?” Her eyes curious.
“I need you to meet with the Bishop.”
She gasped, “really?” A smile came across her lips, “He never meets with anyone anymore, not after the last attempt on his life!” She stood, pushing through his arms over her shoulders as if they hadn’t even been there. She spun around, “Do you think he’ll remember me?”
Ben nodded, remembering himself. It had been 2366, only a year after he had met Meruna in Brazil. The hospital he had recovered in was still his home, but he had already worked out a plan to leave it, to head to Mars in the next year or so. He had heard that the colonization for permanent habitation had been started in earnest, and he had heard that the priest Samuel, now called, Don had applied to transfer there. Don would have been in the second wave of permanent settlers, giving him the authority of seniority on the planet. A position he had long relished. Benjamin knew that Bishop West had employed Samuel, Don, to him as his first aide and as an emissary to the Mars colony Mercy. At first the only miner going to Mars were hand selected by Bishop West, or his emissaries and so to get an assignment there was near impossible. Generally once a miner went to Mars, he didn’t come back. It was too far, it was too expensive and Mars was becoming a permanent job. The Church knew this and saw it in the rosters of the returning workers. It also knew that these men stayed longer and longer, they wouldn’t do so without some semblance of normalcy, and so they began creating that normalcy in the types of settlers going. Trade not only of the minerals and resources of Mars was being conducted, but trade of the cultures of Earth. The planet couldn’t be treated just as if it were an outpost on the edge of habitable space, it had to be treated like it was the center. So when Bishop West came to Brazil he was there not to recruit for new miners, he was to recruit for women, children, bakers, bankers, doctors and entertainers to go to Mars. The day the Bishop had come to the hospital was the day that Meruna had embraced the life of a holy woman.
Ben had been watching the Bishop’s entry to the hospital from an upper window down on the plaza leading into the main entrance. He didn’t think the Bishop would know him, and even if he did, he doubted he would recognize him. Space changes a man, ages him, hardens him, freezes him, boils his blood. But Ben wasn’t sure that the attendants with the Bishop would be so blind. Instead, he watched. Telescopic binoculars give him the closeness of view he needed and the audio device planted in his ear, feeding off of Meruna’s own bible transmitter gave him the sound. With Ben’s coaching and influence, Meruna had been selected as one of the young woman to present a gift to the Bishop, the rare manakin feathers laced into the chain of a rosary whose beads had been made of polished ivory. Ben remembered the exchange of the two Meruna first to the bishop. “Your excellency, I present to you this simple gift of prayer, the words of your lips to recite and echo the trials and tribulations of the Blessed Virgin.” She passed the rosary into his hands. The Bishop, a fat man, grotesque and know by most priests to be obsessed with young girls leaned in close to her, drawn by her innocence, her beauty, “Daughter, such a gift.” his fat fingers caressing her cheek, “Tell me child, is it of your construction?” Meruna, always looking for a father figure practically purred, “yes my lord, I found the feathers in the jungle, and the ivory rescued from an abandoned home.” The Bishop grabbed her shoulders, “The jungle! Such bravery!” he leaned to kiss her forehead, “My child, you must pray with me tonight, on this very rosary.” The bishop looked over at his aide with him, “Make arrangements, tonight, at the hotel.” Meruna stood in shock, in awe at his power, his authority. And thus it had begun, Meruna became a favorite of the Bishop then and Ben knew from that moment he could call her back to him, wherever he may go, and always have an in, a way, to be near the bishop.
Ben pulled out of his musings and looked at Meruna, standing before him, nearly floating in the gravity of Mars, “He’ll remember you, in fact I believe he knows you arrived here.” Ben sat back down. “Meruna,” he said softly, “sit down.”
She looked puzzled, “What is it Benjamin?” She sat down.
“I’ve not been entirely honest with you about this priest, Father Don.” He narrowed his eyes carefully but lowered his head so she couldn’t see them.
“What do you mean? Father Don? isn’t he the head priest here?” Her voice's timbre climbed.
“Yes, yes he is, this is true.” Ben played off as if what he was saying was painful, and perhaps some part of it was. “Meruna, this is the priest who falsely accused me all those years ago, back in Paraguay.” He heard her gasp but did not look up. Silence. Finally he looked up and saw she was crying. “Child, why do you weep?”
Meruna was looking over Ben’s head, perhaps at a light above him, “I so wanted to like this priest Benjamin. There’s something about him, something familiar.”
Ah of course, that was it. “Hmm, perhaps there is Meruna. Did you meet him with the Bishop?” Ben knew she hadn’t, by the time Bishop West was in Paraguay, Samuel, Don, had already been prepping for the trip to Mars.
She shook her head, “No, I don’t think so.” She wiped her eyes, clearing the tears. “I just know your faith Ben, and cannot imagine that any other person would not see it.” She looked at the crumpled picture now laying on the table in front of her. “I mean your faith sees through the deception of these things,” motioning at the picture. “I saw it and immediately thought it was true, you see it and immediately take it as an opportunity to be more faithful. This priest, Father Don, he must have been blind like I am, all those years ago in South America, to not know the truth about you, just like I don’t know the truth about this thing at the south pole.”
Benjamin, for a moment was taken back by her earnestness, her fervor in believing in him. He felt his teeth grind in his mouth. Swallowing he leaned closer to her. “My child, daughter.” Words chosen because of their power, “your wisdom is like the brightness of the sun. Father Don indeed is mislead, but we shall guide him to the truth, but first Meruna, we have to guide the Bishop.”
She looked startled, “The Bishop? But he’s so wise, so holy.”
Ben repressed his chuckle, and instead cleared his throat before continuing, “Indeed, he is child, but even he needs guidance. For I believe he does not see this object found at the south pole as a test but rather as the truth. We must guide him, show him that the find on the south pole is no more an object of alien design than the very stones and sand of Mars herself.” He leaned back, “Meruna, do you remember the rosary you gave him, back in Brazil?”
Meruna paused, “The Ivory one?” Ben nodded, “Yes, I suppose so.”
Benjamin, reached into his front shirt pocket, pulling the rosary out, the feathers nearly bald, but the ivory shining brightly in the LED lights of the room. He slid it on the table towards her, over the photo of the object at the south pole. “you must return it to him.”
Her eyes widened, “But how?” She stopped speaking for a moment, lifting the rosary, “Will he even remember this?”
Benjamin nodded, “yes, according to my sources, he had lost it some years ago, it had been his favorite thing from Brazil.” He didn’t tell her that she had been his favorite thing. “There’s more.” Benjamin stood and went to a drawer in the wall, opening it he pulled a long bag out. He carefully laid it on the table. “In this are the feathers needed to recreate the rosary.”
Meruna’s eyes widened even further, “but, but, how?” she sputtered.
Ben smiled as he sat back down. “Museum find.” he shrugged. “It is not important, what is important is that you must give this to the Bishop tomorrow, after the mass, before dinner.” He reached over the table and took her hand, pulling it away from the rosary beads. “Meruna, we have the chance to restore the Bishop’s faith. We have the chance to light a fire in all the faithful here on Mars, and from Mars, we have a chance to renew the faith of the galaxy.”
She stared at him, her eyes bright. “And what of that priest Don?”
Ben smiled a crooked smile, “Oh his faith shall be tested. He will either survive the test.” Ben stood up to go behind her again, pressing his hands on her shoulders, “or he’ll die.”
She froze beneath him, becoming nearly solid for a moment. “Die?”
Ben pulled her out of the chair, gathering the feather bag and picture, pressing them into her arms. “If he has no faith, then he is already dead.” He kissed her forehead and guided her to the door. “Go Meruna, rest, pray. Create that rosary. Tomorrow shall be your day.” She nodded, stumped as to what else to say. She started out the door, then spun around to him.
“Benjamin?” she asked.
“Will you pray for me?” she shook her head, “no not for me.” She stepped close to him, “will you pray for Father Don tonight?”
His eyes flashed and he fought to control himself. “I’ll pray tonight, don’t you worry.” He kissed her forehead again, “Go child.” He pushed her out the door. “Computer, seal the door.” the lights flashed and the doors sucked itself closed.
He looked around the now empty room, her scent still filling it. He shook his head, “damn that girl,” he thought. He sat down at the desk and opened his computer monitor. He pressed the screen. “Computer,” he said, “call Father Wayne.”
After a few moments Wayne appeared on the screen. “Are you insane, this can be traced!”
Ben didn’t smile or respond back. “What does Samuel know?”
Ben glared, “Don.”
Wayne looked as relieved as he could, “Oh him. I don’t know, he seems to know a lot about the South Pole. He knows a lot about you…..”
Ben snarled, “knew!”
Wayne was taken back, “what?”
“He knew a lot about me, past tense. he knows nothing about me for twenty years!”
Wayne nodded, “yes, I suppose so. Anyway, he seems to think you’re someone’s puppet he called you a hydria.”
Ben smiled, “Mythical creature, hard to kill. Appropriate.” He leaned close to the screen, “What else?”
“He knows something is up with Bishop West.”
Ben’s eyes widened, “Like what?”
Wayne leaned away from the screen, as if trying to get away, “He didn’t say, just that this was all related to the find at the south pole. I told him I didn’t know anything.”
Ben nodded, “You don’t know anything fool.”
Wayne tried to look annoyed, “Look, I’m trying to play this cool, Don may not be the brightest bulb but he’s no dummy.”
Ben glared, “Don’t underestimate him, he’s smarter than he pretends to be.”
Wayne looked over his shoulder, as if someone were coming in his room, “Look we shouldn’t talk on these things, you don’t know if they’re being monitored.”
Ben didn’t react, “Look Father Wayne,” he hissed the word father, “You have to get Meruna in to see the Bishop tomorrow, make sure he’s ready.”
“What do you mean?” Wayne looked puzzled.
“Just make sure he’s ready for a beautiful girl, that he has time alone tomorrow night.”
Wayne nodded, “I’ll make sure.” Wayne looked again over his shoulder then leaned in close to the monitor, “Is what they found at the south pole real?”
Ben glared and without answering disconnected the communication. “Idiot” he said out loud. He noticed a piece of paper on the floor, the picture, it must have dropped when Meruna left. he swooped down and picked it up. He looked at it again, frowning. He brought it beneath a light, and then noticed something he had missed before. In the lower left hand corner he noticed an image, carved into the stone, the face of chimpanzee or some other similar ape. He gasped, “What the hell?”