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Excerpt for Star Song by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Star Song



by


Thomas Macy


See http://www.StarSongBalm.com for fun stuff, photos, links, etc.






Had there been no creation there could have been no fall and no redemption. In the mind of God, all things occurred at once; but, in the sequence of time, creation comes first.


From Of God and Men by A. W. Tozer, copyright 1960 by Christian Publications, page 119. Used with permission.


Copyright © 2018

Thomas B. Macy

P.O. Box 927

Windsor, Colorado 8005


All rights reserved.



ISBN: 1721286632

ISBN-13: 978-1721286638


Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB),

Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,

1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Used by permission. www.Lockman.org




DEDICATION


This book is dedicated to my father who instilled in me a love of science fiction. The cafeteria cleanup scene came from a story idea he shared with me long ago. He’s been gone since 1997, but what is time anyway?



CONTENTS


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Traveling with the Dead

Stowaway

Playing God

Frames of Reference

Miscalculation

The Stars Sing

Cold

A New Home

An Unexpected End

The Balm of Gilead

The Growing Storm

Life and Death

Demon

Leaving

Rebellion




ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Many thanks to Kathleen A. Goering (Goering & Associates Editing Services, 1260 Honeysuckle Ct., Windsor, CO 80550) for her expert proofreading and insights into the English language. My friend Dr. Lowell Miller helped me understand the complexity of the human enzyme key-lock structures of our bodies. In one of our Bible studies he touched on how this complexity argues for a Designer. Numerous friends let me bounce my thoughts off them. My wife, Sandy, and my children and grandchildren put up with some of my weird ideas and were always willing critics.








Traveling with the Dead


Love. Simon shook his head. What am I doing? Traipsing out into the prairie! His phone showed 5:30 in the morning. No question about it now. Nora was in trouble. Obviously, she wasn’t herself. But as weird as she was about some things, he still loved her—his ginger.

He started the car, pressed on the gas till his tires squealed, and roared out onto the street. Pushing past the speed limit, he drove east out of Fort Collins on Highway 14, heading for the Pawnee Buttes and Dr. Paul Stearn’s Encampment. How could Nora be so foolish! Traffic was light, and, in ten minutes, he was past Ault.

His car topped a sharp hill and his stomach lurched. He had eaten too much of his Mom’s cooking and had nibbled on dessert while the three of them played the usual after-dinner games of cribbage. Right now that seemed almost a lifetime away. They of course questioned him about Nora; usually she came with him. He didn’t go into all the details, just said she needed to work—at that Encampment. A little dish with cake rested on the seat next to him. His mother had told him to make sure she got it; it wasn’t for him! He gasped at the thought: she might never get it.

Both his Mom and Dad thought the world of Nora. They assumed from the start that she and he would tie the knot. If his parents had their way, their only child would have married years ago, and grandchildren would be coming to these evening dinners. He gripped the steering wheel. That’s what he wanted. And, until tonight, that’s what he thought Nora wanted. Yeah, they both liked the country life, but he didn’t want to move too far away. Grandchildren should know their grandparents. And his parents would no doubt spoil the young-uns. But, unless he got to her before those religious nuts did something stupid, all of that was just a dream anyway.

Just a couple of hours ago, all this changed. After dinner with his folks, he had driven the five blocks to Boardwalk Park at Windsor Lake where he and Nora often came to talk about their plans. He should have gone home from there; sometimes ignorance is bliss. Instead, when she still wouldn’t answer her phone, he went to her apartment. She wasn’t there, and neither were most of her prized possessions. Again, he could have just gone home. But, no, hoping to find some kind of clue as to what was happening, he had gone to Stearn’s CSU office in Fort Collins. Campus security wouldn’t like the way he left it, but he came away with what he needed.

Over the past month, his relationship with Nora had changed, and he didn’t know why. A nasty feeling of betrayal slithered into his chest, and he tried to push that thought aside. Impossible! No, Nora was in some kind of trouble. That video he’d found when he ransacked Stearn’s office, looking for some clue as to what happened to her, told it all. He remembered hearing about religious fanatics in the 1990’s, Davidians or something, who committed mass suicide. And another group that killed themselves to reach an extraterrestrial spaceship following some comet. It wasn’t betrayal; some religious cult had its grip on her.

For the last year he and Nora had talked about marriage, the things they wanted in life, a plan for the future. But the couple of times he brought that up this past week, a dour mood had shadowed her face. In fact, she’d gradually grown more sullen over the last month. He frowned. He had told himself that was just her being a woman. Still, why in the world would she have lately been questioning his salvation—unless she was involved with some weird religious group? Yeah, she and her friends tended to go overboard with this religious stuff.

Between long flat stretches, shallow rolling hills periodically hid the sun as it rose just north of where the highway disappeared over a distant bluff—nothing but brown grass and a few tufts of trees as far as he could see. He had often wondered why Stearn developed his project was in such a desolate area. Now, after seeing that video file, he had the answer.

With no other cars ahead, Simon again pushed the speed a bit faster. The Encampment was close now, and every minute might make a difference. Craning his head up, Simon let the car’s visor block the sun just enough so the road was still visible. At the same time, he stretched left and right to relieve the tension that continued to draw his neck tighter than a guitar string ready to snap.

Just this past Monday she had gone so far as to say he needed to turn his life over to Jesus; she couldn’t be unequally yoked. Who talks like that anyway? Why not just say he had to become a Christian. Besides, he attended church and prayer meetings with her. What more did she expect? She was the one involved in some cult. No way did he want to get into something like that. He’d do whatever it took to save her from Stearn’s grip.

Grumbling, he finally passed the Pawnee Grasslands sign. After a few more miles, he turned north on a gravel road and gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter. Behind him a dust cloud rose up where he had passed. When a car topped the hill ahead of him, they each eased to the side to make room for the other. Slowing down even more, he let the dust settle until the road was visible again. Then another car. And, in a few minutes, another. He tasted the dust and cursed under his breath. Usually, these byways wouldn’t see this much traffic in a month!

Reaching the top of a small hill, he slowed. The lane to the Encampment was just ahead, with a van parked on the edge of the road waiting while someone closed and chained the entrance gate. The lady hopped back in the vehicle, and it headed his way. As it passed, the faces of those inside stared at him. Six men and women. According to Nora, never more than a handful of folks worked out here. That would have been everyone. Obviously, she had lied about that!

He’d visited Nora at this Colorado State University extension campus, and it was always just like she said, a few scientists doing genetic research with farm animals. But those visits had always been planned, purportedly because the small staff and the nature of the studies required limiting access. For five years she had spent more time in the Pawnee Grasslands than on the main campus in Fort Collins.

And what about all those other cars? The only thing in this part of the Grasslands was the Encampment. But he hadn’t seen her car.

He slowed to a stop in front of the sign that read Pawnee Grasslands Breed Development and Test Center. This was what Nora and her friends called Dr. Paul Stearn’s Encampment. Supposedly, they did genetic research here. That was Nora’s field of expertise and why Stearn had recruited her from the CSU School of Veterinary Medicine. She’d written a paper on Genetic Diversity Requirements. He tried to read it once—tried being the key word. He shook his head. How could someone as smart as Nora be gullible enough to get involved in a cult!

A chain and lock secured the gate. An attached placard read Closed for the Weekend. That didn’t sound good. About a mile off in the direction of the lane, the top of an old two-story house was just visible. Pulling ahead, he veered into the shallow barrow ditch, and turned off the car.

Squeezing the steering wheel in his fists, he pushed himself back into the seat. His knuckles turned white as he tightened his grip. He should have told Nora his concerns. Maybe she would have tempered her extremism. The way she talked about her boss, it was like she idolized him. She’d worked for Dr. Stearn for as long as Simon had known her. Five years was plenty of time to develop influence over someone. But the prof didn’t seem like that kind of person. Simon had listened to the man’s talks. In real life, none of Nora’s friends seemed like radical zealots. But that only made this all the more sinister.

He took a few deep, slow breaths before opening the glove box to retrieve his tablet. Reaching into his shirt pocket, he pulled out the thumb drive he had found by chance in Stearn’s office. Inserting the little disk, he pressed the start button. What he had seen seemed surreal. He needed to watch it again, as if this time it would be different and he could just go home.

When it booted up, it still displayed one ominous file—a video named ProjectConfirm.MP4. Perhaps subconsciously he had hoped it would not be there. He double clicked it, and a younger image of Nora’s friend Angela appeared on the screen.

I’ve given your proposal some thought and like the possibilities. I’ll take a few minutes and respond to your questions. As you requested, I have not mentioned your project to anyone. First, my ties are limited; a little family in New York but we’re not close. Nothing romantic. Nothing to—prohibit me from—relocating. Second, obviously I don’t have a prototype yet, but the math is sound. Just like before, she talked about the status of some kind of energy conversion.

I have no reason to doubt that the dead will be able to take us anywhere.

Though he had heard it before, it still felt like a slap across the face.

Sixth, as far as speed, the dead will not be limited by our normal boundaries. However, the speed of light will remain a limit even for my dead. To complete testing AND provide real transportation by the dead, I will need at least four years and possibly five. Seventh, you ask about my view of demons. I don’t place importance on the subject one way or the other. As far as I am concerned, their existence or lack thereof has nothing to do with my work. However, what my colleagues believe on the subject, will NOT affect my work with them. Eighth, I hope you are serious about the funding. This won’t be cheap! I will plan to meet you on Wednesday, as requested, at your Encampment. If you have more questions, bring them. I’ll go over as much of the math as you want at that time.

Angela talked a bit longer about relativity and her dead before ending the video.

Gasping, he realized he’d been holding his breath. Simon smacked the steering wheel with his palms and crawled out of the car. He shook his head trying to grasp the fact that this video probably dates to near the start of the Stearn’s Project. And, now, these people had somehow been duped into joining a cult. Dr. Paul Stearn—CSU math professor; Angela—a physicist and engineer; Nora—an expert in genetics. And how many other intelligent people were involved? How could this happen? And over something so ridiculous! Traveling with the dead! And Nora is concerned about my salvation?!

Somehow she justified the idea of interacting with the spirits of the dead. No way! If she saw this video, she’d be out of Stearn’s project in a second.

Wondering what kind of trouble he might get into, he climbed over the gate and headed toward the Encampment. Suddenly, a kind of calmness settled on him like a blanket on a cold night, his anxiety subsiding, kind of like he had crossed a line—a feeling boundary. He still wondered what Nora might say. But he didn’t worry. He would just talk it out with the woman he loved. He knew the feeling was mutual. She would see the foolishness of this involvement with the dead and come home with him. If she didn’t…No! She would; she had to.

When the Encampment came into full view, he stopped. Animals were queued up in loading chutes being herded into one of the Quonset huts. Other workers transferred hay. Still others moved machinery. A group of children played in the shade of the old house. This was definitely not the four or five person operation Nora had told him about. But why should that surprise him? This was a cult after all. They even involved their kids. Simon’s gut churned. If this ended in some kind of mass suicide… He shook his head; he didn’t want to consider that possibility, not yet anyway. His anxiety began to rise again.

“Sir.” One of the workers wearing greasy coveralls walked up the lane toward him carrying a large wrench. “You can’t be here. Did you read the sign?”

“Uh, yeah. I saw it. But I need to talk with Nora Wyndham.”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave. She’s busy just now.”

He glanced around. “Look,” he said, “I just need to see her for a few minutes. Tell me what building she’s in and I’ll go to her. Won’t interrupt her at all.”

“Can’t do that.” The worker moved toward Simon reaching for his arm. “Now, if you’ll just head back out, I’ll tell her you need to talk with her, and she can contact you.”

Simon moved to the side avoiding the other’s hand. “When?”

“When she has time.”

Pulling his phone from his pocket he held it out toward the fellow. “For some reason there’s no cell reception here. Just how is she supposed to contact me?”

The worker shrugged.

Simon refused to budge. Staring past him at what must have been the office, he yelled, “Nora!” A few close faces turned his way. But the shout was mostly buried in the cacophony of sounds rising up from all around the Encampment.

A lady with a snug pair of well-worn jeans that accentuated her figure in a comfortable kind of way, started toward him—Angela, Nora’s friend. Braided black hair hung down from under a wide-brimmed hat. With her brow furrowed and her mouth turned down into a frown, her dark eyes focused irritably on him. She was quite the eyeful.

“Simon,” she said in a tone that left no doubt he was an interruption, “what are you doing here?”

“I need to see Nora.”

“You’ll have to wait till she goes back to Windsor.”

“Why not now? What’s going on here that you won’t let me see her?”

“Nothing’s going on. She’s just deep into some animal studies and can’t be disturbed. You know her genetic tests need to be done in a clean room.”

Three other men joined the one with the wrench, blocking Simon’s way to the buildings.

“You’ve got to leave! Now!” said the man in the greasy coveralls.

Simon glanced from face to face. They weren’t about to let him pass.

Angela smiled condescendingly. “I’ll tell Nora you were here; I promise.”

He frowned. This woman traveling with the dead was making excuses for Nora?! Confronting Angela was out of the question. He couldn’t force his way past these people. With a hesitant look over his shoulder, he headed back toward the gate. Like a wave smashing into the shore and then receding and pulling things with it, leaving the grounds sucked the life from Simon. His whole body felt empty as he topped the hill. The Encampment—and Nora—disappeared behind him.

All kinds of possibilities wrestled about in his head, none of them good. If they’d told her he was here, she would have come out—he grumbled—unless she was a prisoner. But, in all probability, she was a willing participant. He would have to sneak in and bring her out.

As he sat in his car on the side of the road, his mind played again what had just happened. With all these people, this wasn’t the little operation Nora had described to him. And all the animals being herded into one little Quonset hut? What was that all about?

But, then, nothing concerning a cult would make sense. He squirmed uncomfortably and gripped the steering wheel. Going back, after being warned, would probably be dangerous. He didn’t know most of these people and what they might do.

“Lots of fish in the sea,” he grumbled. He could easily catch another. But he wanted Nora; being with her, well, it just seemed natural.

Shaking his head, he tried unsuccessfully to erase thoughts of ghosts, dead people, and energy to travel with spirits. Whatever hold this place had on her, he needed to get Nora someplace safe. He wasn’t about to return to Windsor and leave her here in whatever this was.


§


Nora sat at the desk, staring at her computer, fingers on the keyboard, attempting to analyze the genetic profiles. For the last five years she had concentrated on assuring that the Chosen was a genetically diverse set of individuals able to guarantee long term viability. Configuring such a gene pool wasn’t an exact science. So she calculated and re-calculated the probabilities even though it was too late to correct any deficiencies. And now she couldn’t even fret in peace!

She wasn’t seeing the screen. Angela said Simon had come looking for her. He shouldn’t have! Until he appeared, thoughts of him had finally been pushed to the back of her mind as she prepared for what was to happen today. She had even been able to work with Sylvia, the one sitting where Si should be. Now, that’s all she saw—his face. She glared sideways at the lady across the table from her.

Only three days earlier, Sylvia had become part of the Project. With a concerned look, she stared at Nora. “What’s wrong?”

Forcing her face to relax, Nora interlaced her fingers, inverted her palms, and pushed out, stretching the muscles in her arms. She took a deep breath and released it slowly.

“I’m leaving someone who I thought would be coming with us. He showed up.” She glanced upward. “Wanted me to leave with him and talk about our-our relationship. He expects me to”—her voice broke—“to spend Monday with him.” What would he think? She hadn’t even left him a text or a letter explaining what was about to happen. Not only was she giving up the future she had wanted, but she was breaking the heart of the man she loved. No! She was ripping it out, stomping on it, and grinding it into the dirt.

Sylvia leaned toward her across the table. “So, why isn’t he coming?”

Nora took a deep trembling breath trying to control her voice. “The…the Elders say he’s still tagged.”

With a questioning look, Sylvia’s head tilted a bit to the side.

“That’s the term we’ve used for someone who is not a Christian. The idea is that demons can attach themselves to him.”

“Do you all really believe there are demons and angels—here?” Sylvia waved her arms around.

Nora’s mouth curled into a wry smile and she nodded. She understood the woman’s doubts. “Well, we hope not here. But, yes. Once you come to grips with the existence of a spiritual world, you can take literally what the Bible says about a physical and a spiritual realm…”

“Yeah. Paul mentioned that,” interrupted Sylvia. “Said the Devil and the fallen angels were cast from God’s presence to the Earth.”

Nora nodded.

“But I thought that was only figurative.”

“No. It’s reality. That’s one of the reasons for the Project’s secrecy, why we have a War Room where prayers are made twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We are asking God to keep demons away from the Encampment so they won’t know what we’re doing. We want to make a home without demons. And that’s why the guy I planned on being here…isn’t.”

Furrows formed on Sylvia’s brow. “When Paul explained the need for a relationship with Christ, I decided I wanted that. Obviously, there’s a lot I need to learn.” She looked around. “When finally he told me about the Project, I had a hard time believing him. Even if it was real, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of it, until he brought me here.” She slowly shook her head as if at a loss for words. “I’m just glad I’m here.”

Those were the same words Simon would have said if he had been permitted to come. Her eyes began to tear up again.

Sylvia’s face blanched. Clearing her throat, she stood up. “I think I’ll go to the lab and work on your in-transit plan.”

Sitting at her table, Nora stared off into space and was alone. Muffled voices sounded outside. The Chosen were there—happy people, most having someone special in the Project. Here she was, shut away, encased within four shiny walls.

Her eyes began to well up. Stop it! She slapped the table. You’ve got work to do. She balled her fingers into fists and squeezed her eyes tight; but all it did was wring out the tears and make room for more. She looked around for a box of tissues. There wasn’t any.

This is what she’d become: a woman alone in a small office shut off from everyone, her eyes and nose running and not even a tissue.







Stowaway


From his vantage point behind the oil field tanks about a mile north, Simon watched the entrance to the Encampment. The only sign of activity had been the arrival of two vans shortly after 8:30. They bounced along the lane and disappeared over the hill on the way to the ranch.

Inch by inch, the sun rose higher, closer to the top of the tanks. It took forever for the tanks’ shadows to slide off his car and stretch on to the east. No one else came or left.

His stomach growled. He glanced at the cake his Mom had packed for Nora; a fork was in the container with the slice. His folks doted on her as much as on him. One day he and Nora would have the same kind of relationship his parents had, at least that had been his plan. Grumbling, he picked up the container. In this heat, the cake wouldn’t make it till he got her out. He nibbled on it as he watched for activity on the lane. Carrot cake, his and his Dad’s favorite.

The sun beat down on him through a cloudless sky. Periodically, a breeze blew in the window cooling the perspiration on his neck. Finally, a dust cloud appeared as those same two vans rounded the top of the hill and headed toward the gate. A passenger unlocked it; the vans exited. The gate was relocked, and the vehicles proceeded on out toward Highway 14.

He set the empty container on the seat. He had waited long enough. Running across the gravel road, Simon carefully stepped over the barbed wire fence and trotted in the direction of the main yard. When the top of the house came into view, he hunched down and moved slowly to the crest of the rise not more than a hundred yards from the closest Quonset hut. His shirt felt like the sun was melting it to his back, and the Encampment shimmered in the heat.

The pens were empty and only two workers walked about the yard. As they both left a Quonset hut, one of them walked to the next hut while the other went to the house as if involved in some kind of inspection. The one looking at the Quonset hut came out first and waited for his partner. Then they proceeded to the barn, paused, and looked back around the empty grounds. They walked in and closed the door. The Encampment had transformed into an abandoned farm.

Sprinting to the back of the Quonset hut, Simon pulled himself up against its side listening. Silence. No animal noises. No talking. Nothing! Peaking around the corner, he sprinted to the barn. Putting his ear against the door he concentrated on sounds. Again, nothing.

He pushed the door and it moved silently. The inside was dark, the only light coming from two windows that had cloth curtains drawn. The walls were empty. It had been stripped clean. And there was no sign of the two people or where they might have gone, like they just vanished. Simon stood alone, ready to rescue the woman he loved. But how could he rescue someone who wasn’t there from something that didn’t exist?

He ran to the other hut, the one to which the animals had been herded. Empty. The only light shone dimly in the open doorway revealing a single room in the far corner, just visible in the shadows. He walked over and pulled on the door. He should have brought a flashlight. Grumbling, he stepped over the threshold. His stomach lurched to his throat stifling a scream when his foot found only air. His right knee buckled as his left hand caught the doorjamb keeping him from falling headlong into blackness. Dragging himself back onto the threshold, he moaned and rubbed the throbbing shoulder. Must have torn every one of its muscles! Wincing at the pain, he squinted into the darkness. Cables of some kind hung down. He tossed a pebble, and a plunk sounded after a couple seconds.

An elevator?...To where—or what? Wherever it led, it would no doubt take him to Nora. At least that was his hope. But he didn’t know how deep the hole was. Sure, he heard the sound of the rock hitting something. He remembered a math problem about falling things accelerating at 32 feet per second squared. But even if he had a stop watch and paper and pencil, he was in no mood to focus on solving a math problem.

Lying face down and peering into the black abys, he inched his hand along the edge. There! One hand rail. He snaked his fingers a bit further. And the second. Between them was a crossbar. The top of a ladder? Scooting around, he hesitantly slid his legs over the edge while gripping the threshold with quivering arms; he hated heights. Stiff, and fighting his mind’s fear, he hugged the floor as he stretched his legs into the pit until his foot rested firmly on a rung of the ladder. Ever so cautiously, he extended the other reaching for the next rung. With his cheek and right arm embracing the ground, he slid his left arm down, inch by inch, until his sweaty palm gripped the top cross bar. Quickly he moved his right hand next to the left, stepped down one rung, and hugged the ladder. Gasping for a breath, he held himself there and glanced down into complete blackness. Above him, the cables might have been visible as gray lines in the dark beckoning him to return from this pit. He took two deep trembling breaths and lowered himself one rung.

Hand under hand, foot under foot, he moved deeper into the earth counting the rungs to take his mind off of what he was doing. But, when he got to seventy-five, he paused; in all probability, he would need to climb back up to get out. How much further should he go? The dead were buried; he certainly didn’t want to wind up that way. He took a deep breath, let it out, and proceeded. If Nora needed his help, how could he even consider stopping! At ninety-seven, his foot touched something flat and solid. He let go.

Standing and trembling from the inside out, he tried to move but his feet stayed put. With a starless, empty void pressing in, vertigo made him reach out for the hand rails. He was in a pit, in total darkness, with a shoulder that barely moved, and a body that ached all over. Something could fall on him, or he might tumble over a ledge—he could die here! He closed his eyes; didn’t know why; it was still dark. He surely hadn’t thought this through!

Elevators usually had some kind of hatch on the ceiling for emergencies. At least in the movies they did. Getting down on his hands and knees, he began feeling for something that might be an opening.

Yeah! At least it felt like it might be an access of sorts. His fingers followed the edge till they touched small cylindrical objects—hinges. On the end opposite from the hinges, he used his fingernails to get leverage. But it didn’t budge. He was about to curse out loud when he realized he was kneeling on the hatch. Scooting around, he tried again and it rose easily, revealing a soft light that chased away the closest darkness.

Licking his lips, his mouth turned into a restless grin. He made it—at least he was out of that vertical tomb. This had to be better than where he had just been. The elevator was empty. Wood paneled, with an old fashioned calendar on the wall, it resembled an office in a barn. He swung down and landed on the floor.

Outside the elevator, the lights were subdued, and the sounds of livestock echoed off metal walls. Barely audible, the sounds of people weaved in and out of these animal noises.

Simon did a quick peek out the door. The room was huge and filled with pens containing more animals than some farms. They were lined up in restraints that reminded him of milk cows in a dairy. Along one wall, all kinds of feed were stored including a huge haystack. Everything was tied down. Probably for air flow, the stack was about a foot and a half from the wall, room enough for a man. When another glance around this manmade cave revealed no one to attach to the voices, he ran, hunched over, to the hay and crawled behind the stack. Sitting with his right side against the wall and his left against the bales, he stared out the opening.

Alfalfa leaves clung to his pants and shirt, its sweet smell overpowering all other scents. Gradually, the animals quieted just as they would have on the outside. Simon’s forehead wrinkled and his mouth puckered. The outside of what? Where was he? Why stable and restrain the animals underground? The feed he’d seen in his dash to this hiding place was enough to last a long time. Whatever this all had to do with energy and dealing with the dead made no sense at all.

A buzzer sounded loudly above him evoking a startled jerk of every muscle, reminding him how much his body hurt. A man’s voice then came over the speaker. “Clear the hatches. Lockdown in two minutes.”

On the other side of the hay stack, the conversation of two women got louder as they talked about securing the livestock.

“Hey!” said one. “Look at this. Why would the elevator escape door be open?”

“No idea. Maybe someone needed access. Who knows?”

“Think we should report it?”

“What are they going to do, call everything off? We’ve waited too long for today. Besides, they’ve taken every precaution to keep this secret. You think someone’s going to sneak in?”

“Probably not. But I’m going to report it anyway.”

Simon held his breath.

“This is team three. Hatch clear. But we want to report that the elevator roof door is open.”

A pause as if listening.

“Let us know if you want us to do anything.”

Then from the overhead speaker: “Hatches shutting in 5-4-3-2-1.”

A reverberating sound of metal against metal echoed loudly in the room raising a ruckus from the livestock. As the women receded, Simon crawled to the edge of the haystack and glanced toward the elevator. The opening was sealed by a shiny metal door. If he didn’t know there was an elevator behind it, the wall would look as if it were one solid piece. This better not be some kind of mass suicide pact!

Simon’s eyes widened; his breathing became rapid and shallow as he rocked back and forth. Wherever this was, he was locked in, at least till they opened the doors again. Until then, he would have to find some way to locate Nora, and, if…no, when the doors opened, get her out.

Shaking his arms to relieve the tension in his shoulders, he quickly settled on the only course of action that seemed workable. An operation like this must have some kind of computer network in place. Nora always teased him about how computers were his family. He smirked at the thought, turned onto his hands and knees, and crawled toward the opposite end of the haystack.

He peeked out at the stables, now basking in the low level of light resembling a night with a full moon. The animals had quieted again. And, like a farm house in the evening, light shone invitingly from a window of what was, most likely, an office. That’s where the computer would be. Interface panels might be anywhere, but they would only have applications running. He needed a computer connected to the network and with access to the operating system’s programs. But, whoever was in that office was probably there for the rest of the day. The phone in his back pocket was pulled tight in his pants. He smiled.

Crawling back to the center of the stack, he pulled out his cellphone. While he had no service to the outside world, there was some kind of local phone connectivity, and he had a great Wi-Fi connection. After a few clicks, he was logged on to a local router. A minute later, he had given himself access to the network. Then, responding to the logon request, he entered Nora.Wyndham with the password 2Helix08. They had met in August. Yep! She IS consistent. He was in.

By early evening he had identified the project’s software repository as well as key networked application. Simon scratched his head. This underground structure, called the Chapman, was a big rectangular box containing multiple levels. With all the spaces laid out, it could be a kind of hotel—or maybe some kind of mausoleum with crypts for the dead.

Shaking his head in disgust, he turned back to the screen. The map of The Chapman was a series of layered images. Hurriedly leafing through the layers, he looked for something that might relate to Nora. A quick perusal suggested that people-related levels were centered, with animals below that, and storage at the top and bottom and on each side. He was two floors up from the bottom. Two thirds of this level was for feed, stables, stalls, and coops. On the left side, all the floors indicated storage of 3D printer supplies including gypsum, ceramic, titanium, stainless steel, resin, and nylon. What in the world would they do with all of that? Scratching his head, he moved on to other levels.

This was like some kind of extravagant bomb shelter! Depending on how many people lived down here, they could survive for months, maybe years. Or, it could be like the hidden tombs in pyramids, concealing the dead.

Simon blinked, staring at the layout. This place was huge, nearly one hundred feet in height and width and two hundred and fifty feet long, with eight floors. Below the top two levels was a promenade with enclosed spaces along the side, each labeled according to what was apparently available in that room. About one third of that level was for Engineering. The next level down looked like offices identified by profession: information systems, numerical analysis, psychology, medical, dental, genetics…! That would be Nora’s, but this was late in the day. Saving the image to his phone, he continued through the diagrams. Opening the map of the dormitory level, he searched for and found a room with the name Wyndham. That’s where he would start. He saved the image.

Now, how to get from here to there? He couldn’t just walk down the halls and take the internal lifts. Surely, something this big would have some kind of services tunnel. Such an access might even provide a way back to the surface. He clicked through the floorplans until he came to one titled utilities. Leaning over in anticipation, he panned along the conduit. His forehead began to wrinkle as the expectation of an easy solution turned into more questions. He had found the corridor, but it was contained within the underground structure. Everything was internal. He could get to Nora, but getting out still required waiting till they re-opened the doors.

One of the layers had shown a cafeteria. The time on his phone read six o’clock. And he had neither seen nor heard the women workers for about half an hour. While the people were eating would be the safest time to move. According to the diagram, an access to the utility chase was located inside the office. Crawling to the end of the stack he peeked out. Now, no light showed from the window. Standing, Simon stretched his sore muscles and limped to the room.

Looking around the empty office, he focused on the walls. That would be the most logical location for access to any services conduit. Even in the low light, the handle was obvious, attached to a three foot square panel next to the floor. Turning the latch, the door swung open, and he peered inside.

A tight fit, the tunnel was only five feet high and filled with large water or sewer pipes, electrical cables, network wiring, air duct, and other conduits the use of which he had no idea. On his hands and knees, he looked up and down the passageway. This would be slow going; it required crawling through some tight spots. And he didn’t want to make any noise.



After three hours of crawling, climbing, and waiting, Simon finally reached the dormitory level. He rested in the tunnel at the end of the hall. Sweat rolled down his head, along his neck, and onto an already wet shirt. His legs hurt; pain throbbed along his arms; his whole body ached. A few muffled announcements sounded weakly through the walls as he had worked his way here. He didn’t pay attention to what they said; he couldn’t understand the muted words. At the moment, he just wished he had stayed on the surface.

Somewhere far off, a deep growl started and grew louder. When the walls began to vibrate and the pipes above him rattled, he pushed his hands to the sides to steady himself. But, if this was an earthquake, he didn’t want to die stuck in some wall. Prying open the latch, he tumbled out onto the floor. He couldn’t tell how much of the trembling in his chest was from the quake or from his own legs. With eyes wide, he stared down an empty hall; the doors to the rooms remained shut. Where was everyone? Did they leave already? Had he missed Nora?

No, the earlier countdown meant people were still here. And, this shaking was most likely NOT a quake, but planned…What!? Was he going up? Then the motion steadied. Now the floor tilted ever so slowly this way and that, like some giant amusement park funhouse, as if the ground around them had liquefied and no longer steadied this underground village. Something not normal was happening. Then, he cursed under his breath. Nothing about this place was NORMAL!

He ran five rooms down and tried the door on the left, Nora’s room, not locked. “Nora?” he called softly.

Silence.

Running to the lift at the end of the hall, he pressed the up button, no longer concerned that someone might see him. When the door opened, he jumped into the empty elevator and pressed the button for the next floor up, the offices. Move, move! He rocked back and forth. Finally, the door opened. He heard voices but the hall was empty. The doors to most of the workplaces were open. The genetics department was only three rooms down. As he quick-walked past the first cubicle, two men and a woman were focused on a computer screen and deep in a discussion about something. The next office was the same, but with a small crowd, some tied into chairs—maybe kept against their wills—others standing but secured to rails at the waist. The rest of the rooms looked the same; everyone was focused on screens or intense dialogue. The vibrating of the floor continued to shake its way up into his chest.

He ran into the next office. “Nora?”

Two women looked up at him. Nora, with mouth open and eyebrows raised, blinked a couple times. “You can’t be here.” Her voice was weak.

“Well, I am. And I have a video you have to see.” His eyes locked wide; the shaking of the floor could have been from the trembling in his chest. “What’s happening?”

Nora stared with a look of confusion.

Love, fear, uncertainty. He felt them all rumbling around inside him. “I came for you, to get you out of here. You’re involved in something really bad.”

The other lady—he had seen her somewhere—looked at Nora. “This is your Simon?”

Nora nodded.

“Oh, my Lord!” she said. “Can you take him back?”

“No.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I…”

Simon ran to the other side of the table, grabbed Nora’s arm, and pulled. The strap around her waist held her down. “So she’s keeping you a prisoner!” He turned angrily toward the other woman. “Let her go, now!” Both women stared at him with shock on their faces.

“What are you talking about?” asked Nora. “I’m no prisoner.”

“I know this is some sort of cult dealing with the dead, hoping they can take you someplace else. You’ve got to come with me. Now!”

“What!?” Both women exclaimed together.

“Don’t play dumb.” He fought Nora’s hands as he tried to unbuckle her. “I went to Stearn’s office and found this thumb drive with a video from Angela.” He held it out toward her. “She talked about the dead and how they would take you to a new home.” He loosed her from the chair and pulled her up. “You’re coming with me.”

Nora shook herself free. “Any other time this would be funny. But not now!”

As if supporting what she said, the floor tilted and Simon stumbled against the table.

Nora buckled herself back into her chair. “That video wasn’t talking about dead people. Angela was describing her Dark Energy Drive. D-E-D, DED!”

The floor tilted the other way, and Simon gripped the edge of the table to keep from falling. Their arguments didn’t matter. He had to get Nora away.

“Look!” The other woman pointed at the screen, eyes widening.

Then he remembered what she had said. “Wait! What do you mean take me back?”

“Not now!” Nora commanded, gazing at the monitor. Both women gripped the table. “Angela better get this bucket moving.”

The eyes of Nora’s friend got bigger. “Are those…”

“Yeah, jets from Buckley’s Space Command. No telling what they’ll do.”

Simon stared at the two women. Whatever tension they felt didn’t come close to his. “Jets? Buckley? Do?” He moved behind them and stared over their shoulders. Six separate panels split the computer screen, each displaying a different image. In one, a large rectangular metal structure hung unsteady, suspended in the air with a crater beneath it. It looked an awful lot like the image he had found of the Chapman. Another displayed the Pawnee Grasslands, as if from the top of the box, with his truck partially visible behind the oil tanks in the moonlight. A third panel pointed southwest, toward Denver, with the Rocky Mountains silhouetted against the stars on the right side of the screen. The lights of five airplanes headed toward the camera. The jets took only seconds to reach them and, breaking formation, began to circle that floating box.

The rocking of the floor died away, and Simon’s gut lurched as if he were in an elevator that climbed a hundred floors. In the screen, the box darted up, stopped, and slowly settled lower. The planes veered further away but still circled.

A strong deep voice came through the speaker in the ceiling. “Unidentified craft. You must land.”

“If we don’t comply, we’ll probably be considered hostile.” Nora sounded surprisingly calm. “Fortunately, they’re more concerned about incoming projectiles, rather than space ships leaving Earth.”

This overload of information began to come together, and Simon’s legs weakened. “We’re that…that thing?” He pointed to the panel where the metal box floated on its side about five hundred feet from the ground.

Nora nodded. “We’ve got to move before the military gets serious.”

“Yeah. Land and then you and I can go out and talk.” Even as he said it, he realized how it sounded. He was in a UFO, a big UFO. How was anyone going to let them just walk out to talk? But they had to land somewhere.

He suddenly felt heavy, too heavy to stand, and collapsed into a vacant chair just behind him. The panels on the screen changed, growing darker; and the jets disappeared. “What’s happening?” Simon wheezed. A bright patch of lights shrunk to a small line in the center of the screen while a wide string of them slid in from the left gradually getting smaller. Some merged, while others, like dim areas, blinked out. Gradually, a few other spots of luminescence moved into the screen from the edges of the terminal. “What am I looking at?”

The lady glanced at Nora and then back. “That’s the western states. In a bit it will be North America.”

The right side began to show spotty lights, and then a huge bright patch appeared on the left—Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego. Just like when he was a kid and was caught doing something he was not supposed to do, he wanted to be someplace else, anywhere else. The sun appeared and lit up the right edge of Earth’s image. He felt sick.

When Simon’s stomach abruptly rose in his gut as if he was being turned inside out, he reached for the edge of the table. The motion lifted him from his chair.

“We should have told you to buckle yourself into the seat.” The woman reached up and tugged on his shirt.

Still gripping the desk, he floated downward toward the chair. But he was more concerned about the butterflies fluttering in his gut and rising higher. Fortunately, he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for about five hours, and the vomiting response was merely dry heaves.

Not so for Nora. She grabbed a bag from a drawer and threw up into it. With a grimace, she wiped her lips. “We need to get Paul.”

Pulling out her cellphone, the woman placed a call and waited. “Paul, this is Sylvia.” She glanced nervously up and down. “No, we’ve got a problem.” She looked at Simon. “Well, we have a stowaway.” Grimacing, she continued, “Just what I said, stowaway. Simon, that friend of Nora’s.” She closed the call. “He’s on his way here.”

Still fighting the heaving of his stomach, Simon fastened his seatbelt. He had been on rides in amusement parks that raised butterflies like this, but only for a few seconds at a time. This was going on, forever.

Grumbling came from the hallway along with sounds of someone careening off walls. Two hands grabbed the doorjamb. The body curved into the shape of a banana as the momentum carried the legs and torso a bit further. Bending himself straight, Dr. Stearn stretched his legs down and pulled himself into the room floating to the table. He had dark hair with streaks of gray, a well-tanned face and arms, and clear brown piercing eyes. His shirt was partly untucked and his normally clean shaven cheeks and chin were covered in stubble. Hooking his feet under a bar, two inches off the floor, that followed the outline of the desk, he stared down at Simon.

Simon shifted uncomfortably against the seatbelt. Nora gagged and a bag rustled from her direction.

Breaking the silence, an announcement came from somewhere overhead. “Proceeding with satellite recovery.”

As if the room were turning around him, Simon sensed movement and then a motion that pushed him sideways in his chair.

Dr. Stearn’s eyebrows scrunched toward each other in thought, and he shook his head. “I’ve got lots of questions, but none of them will affect our situation.” He took a deep breath and his face relaxed just a little. “After we told you to leave, you came back and somehow found your way on board.”

Simon nodded; Nora was here. But, right now, he wanted an end to these perpetual butterflies trying to fly up from his gut and out his mouth. “Just get me back on the ground. I’m really sorry I disobeyed your rules.”

Dr. Stearn’s body drooped a bit and he looked hesitatingly at Nora and Sylvia. “I’m sure you are.” He shook his head and sighed. “We can’t get you back to Earth. By being here, right now, you’ve committed yourself to our Project. There is no going back.”

As if someone had physically knocked the air from him, Simon struggled to catch his breath. “But…” His voice was weak. His mind was numb. “But,” he stammered, “I have people depending on me. No one knows I’m here.” He gasped. “My-my parents!” His eyes widened. “What will they think if I just disappear?” The belt across his lap suddenly felt like a prisoner’s restraint. “No! That’s unacceptable. You’ve got to get me back to Earth.”

With a sincerely sad countenance, Dr. Stearn slowly shook his head. “Come with me.”

Floating through the hallway after him felt kind of like swimming underwater and jumping off a bridge with a bungee cord at the same time. As if he were consciously dreaming, Simon moved in a daze; this was so far from reality! Had this been a séance and Dr. Stearn were talking to the dead, the situation would feel normal compared to where he was right then. He had found Nora; but what now?

Laughter echoed around the corner followed by four young boys with flailing arms and legs, spinning and turning in a chaotic pursuit. “You boys stop that, right now!” A woman careened around the corner fighting to control her flight. “Gravity might turn on any time. Get back here!”

Simon pulled himself into a ball to avoid the children. One of them, with eyes wide, floated into him anyway. “Sorry!”

“Children!” grumbled the woman as she passed Simon. Floating away, she yelled, “Your father is going to hear about this!”

Stunned and numb, Simon followed Dr. Stearn into another room near the end of the hall.







Playing God


As Simon disappeared down the hall with Paul, a weird mix of excitement and concern retreated and surged in Nora’s gut. She had never expected to see Si again. Now she was glad he was here.

Grabbing her bag, she gagged into it.

Sylvia stared at her with big concerned eyes. “Maybe you should see if the medical staff has something you can take.”

Nora looked at her sideways. How can Sylvia not be sick? This lack of gravity is like riding an endless downhill side of a rollercoaster. “Nah.” She gagged. “Angela”—She swallowed back what was trying to come up—“should have some kind of gravity online soon.” She convulsed, fighting the urge to retch. “I hope.”

On the screen, the Chapman maneuvered close to a satellite.

“So, your Simon made it,” said Sylvia after a few minutes.

“But he shouldn’t be here.”

Sylvia looked away thoughtfully. “From what I’ve gathered in conversations, you all base a lot of your belief on the sovereignty of God, that nothing surprises Him or happens outside of His will. Now, don’t misunderstand me; that’s still kind of foreign to my way of thinking. But, if everything happens according to His will, then Simon should be here.”

“You sound like”—Nora gagged again, envious of her friend’s iron gut—“an Elder.” She smiled as best she could with her stomach grumbling. “Sometimes things don’t happen the way we would like. You know, when our plans don’t mesh with God’s.”

“It seems to me, if the Bible describes the character of God, we should be able to identify the independent variables related to a situation and determine the optimum values to mesh with God’s will.”

Nora didn’t feel like an extended discussion. She closed her eyes and gulped air. “One would think so.”

Leaning forward, Sylvia laid a concerned hand on her shoulder. “In any case, we’ll need to run a multi-gene panel on him and add him to your pool.”

They’d been reviewing the Project’s chromosomal makeup. Nobody wanted their genetic markers made public; so keeping them confidential meant only she had access to test results associated with names. Now, having someone with Sylvia’s credentials on the team, she could share that responsibility.

Pushing her fist into her stomach for relief, Nora nodded.

“You look like you could use some time alone,” said Sylvia.


§


Now this is what a prof’s office should look like. Aside from a few pictures, the walls were mostly white boards covered with equations.

Dr. Stearn motioned for Simon to take a seat. “Strap yourself in. No telling what might happen. We’re still in a test mode.”

Pulling the seat belt tight, Simon glanced around the office. One picture caught his attention; it hung on the wall next to the door where Stearn would see it whenever he looked up. It portrayed the Pillars of Life with a fulcrum and a lever in the foreground. On the right side of the fulcrum was the Earth lifted up. Within the fulcrum was the reference Matthew 17:20 and, to the left, the verse: ...if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. Below that was the quote by Archimedes, Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

The room bounced; Simon’s chair pushed up against him and then pulled away before weightlessness returned. Fighting back the urge to throw up, he said, as strongly as he could, “You’ve got to get me back to Earth. I can’t just disappear. My folks will think I died or something.”

Dr. Stearn took a deep breath. His eyes actually welled up just a bit, but he controlled his voice. “I really am sorry you find yourself here, Simon. If there were any way to get you back, we would.”

Through a long roundabout way, the professor apologetically explained that they were on a spaceship named the Chapman and were headed toward another star and another planet.

Continually shaking his head, Simon heard the words but blocked them. Unacceptable!

“We have a few spare rooms on the dormitory level; one will no doubt work for you. I’ll get someone on that now.”

“I don’t want a room. I want to go home!”

Slowly, sadly, Dr. Stearn stood, holding onto the desk to steady himself. “On Earth, secrecy was critical. Now? Not at all. I know you will have questions for me. I’ll answer them as best I can. For now, maybe Nora can do a better job than I in acclimating you,” he said in a frustrated voice.

As they floated back along the hall, Simon looked down. He moved his hands to his waist. They were gone—the love handles! In fact, his gut was sucked in. This weightlessness had its plus side. With a wild mix of sensations, he pulled himself back into Nora’s office.


§


While Nora still kept a bag close at hand, at least the heaves had subsided. Far from feeling lovey, she wanted to be alone, in her room, in the dark. But Si was seated on the opposite side of the desk from her, and sitting here with him was a good thing. A good tension, an excitement fizzed up inside her based on her own desires. It didn’t completely eliminate the nausea, but it helped.

With both of them strapped to chairs attached to the floor, the ashen look on Simon’s face could have been from retching, or perhaps being on the Chapman was the cause. It didn’t really matter. “Let me start by telling you what I couldn’t tell you before.”

Simon stared at the floor as if she were someone he wanted to ignore.

This mushy feeling urged her to embrace him. After all, this is what she wanted. At the same time, another feeling feared for the project she had worked on for over five years of her life. She wanted to reach out and slap him for not doing what she had said. Like two repelling magnetic poles that would not come together, these urges thundered inside her.

She took a deep breath. “The Chapman is a spaceship. We’re headed to another planet. Our intention was to take only Christians. The secrecy was for a couple of reasons. We didn’t want outsiders fiddling with our plans. And—more importantly—we wanted this project to remain unseen by demons in the spiritual world.”

Looking up, Simon’s mouth transformed into a scoffing sneer. “Demons?” He shook his head.

“Well, yes,” she said hesitantly. “The Bible clearly says our real battle is against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. It also says that the fallen angels were confined to Earth. That’s why only Christians could know about the Project. Demons are not omniscient. They can’t read our thoughts, and the Holy Spirit can keep them from getting into our minds.”


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