Chapter Seven – Faith Questioned

2375 A.C.E

The room was quiet.  Well no, that wasn’t true.  It was quiet of the sounds of humanity, but the roaring of technology was nearly deafening; buzzing hums of various computer consoles, lights, even the floor.  There was a strong hissing sound, probably the air regulators.  And sometimes, upon concentrating one could hear clicking sounds, like the cogs of a wheel.  She didn’t know what that was.  But the room was quiet, at least of humanity.

She turned over on the hard thin mattress attached to the bunk.  It was a rarity that new arrivals had single rooms, but Benjamin had ensured it would so for her.  The low light coming from the door panel, the computer console across the room, cast enough illumination that she could make out the details of the room.  She cast her glance around the space, a wrinkle appearing above her brow.  The space was small, not much bigger than eight meters square.  A small chair snuggled against the wall below the main computer monitor built into the wall.  There was a small table that folded from the wall near the chair, to be used for eating or work.  Her relief facilities were a small metal toilet that pulled out of the wall, then retracted.  A small sink sat opposite the toilet, metal, dull, brushed metal of some sort.  She had tried the sink almost immediately, but water was rationed and only flowed for an hour in the mornings, she’d have to wait to drink from there.  A small chest sat beneath the sink, to hold personal objects.  She immediately placed in it her meager possessions, a scripture book, her robe, her head wrap and a faded, yellow picture of a priest.  The corners of the picture were white lined where they had folded.  Usually all imagery was contained in digital content – few, if any actual pictures were produced anymore on Earth with the tree shortage.  This one had been in an archive of priests, Benjamin had it; he gave it to her nearly three years prior, when they met on Earth while he recovered from zero gravity at Vesta.

She turned from her side onto her back, looking up at the ceiling.  She had been working as a volunteer at the medical unit that offered free recovery services to miners returning from the asteroid mining camps.  Most men never came back, the cost for the return trip was too great, often many of them died there or came to Mars to continue working as miners.  Benjamin, though, he had been to the asteroids and back; and now, he was here, on Mars. He told her it was God’s will he was able to travel so freely in the solar system, that he was a messenger of change.  She believed him; perhaps it was his dark eyes, deeper than their depths first revealed.  It was his soft voice, so soothing.  It was his past, a righteous man thrown from his ministry by a politically correct and politically corrupt church.  Inspired by greed, not by god.  The war had ended but with so many wars, its effects lingered.  Rebels, insurgents, criminals, opportunists all came bubbling up around the world.  The Church, rising in power flexed her muscles, and her troops became her priests.  Warriors as much as clerics, and then finally, just warriors.  Benjamin was a warrior, not just to fight; he was a warrior of his faith, of her faith.  She sighed deeply, yes, Benjamin, he was her warrior, her knight.

She sat up on the bed, the sheet falling off of her, and immediately she felt elated. She knew it was the effect of the weaker gravity, but she found it invigorating.  Strange, so many people struggled with adapting to the weak Mars gravity, she felt like she was floating.  She had chosen to wear only the foot forming sandals designed to interact with the electromagnetic floors.  It made walking feel like she was wading in a shallow stream, pulling her legs up and out of the water.  She loved it, her body felt light, her arms floated at her side.  She smiled a crooked smile and slide off the bed and into the sandals.

“Computer, illumination.”  The room flickered into light.  It was quiet and the humming lights helped build the cocoon of quiet.  She pulled her loose forming robe onto her shoulders.  She then put on her head wrap, tucked her hair under it.  She glanced around the room, it was liberating to be here she realized. She didn’t need anything other than what Benjamin gave her.  This was freedom she sought her whole life, liberation from fear, worry, darkness.  She knew she was steadfast in her faith and this was the place that her faith could be as free as her body, not weighed down by any burdens, natural or otherwise.  She snapped the top bottom of her robe closed, grabbed her prayer beads from the top of the small folding table and went to the door.

“Computer, open the door.” The flashing green lights startled her; she smiled at her own silliness. The hissing sound of air moving in and out of the room lifted her robe around her, she imagined for a moment she was a dervish, and for a moment she was tempted to twirl in the cold stale air.  The door sucked its way open and she slide past it in motion.  The lights on the floor blinked on as she stepped on it.  This too made her smile.  Back on Earth she had lived in a small village on the coast in Uruguay.  The fallout from the radiation had caused much of North America to inhabitable and her family, her adopted mother and father, had wandered South America looking for a home that offered refuge and safety.  Finally escaping the chaos of Brazil they settled in Uruguay.  It was there that Meruna found her faith at a young age of only 18, she had a job working at a hotel that catered to Church troops and then met her first priests.  Of course in their uniforms they were striking, but it was the order that they were bringing to the region following the upheavals and war.  One young priest, Father Phillip, had been a guide and saint to her.  He encouraged her to join the missionaries who supported the Church’s working people, mostly miners, some space explorers, the working class left to manage tasks and operations that were deemed too important to leave to the robots.

As she wandered down the long, narrow and cold hallway of the habitat unit, she wondered how, in the 10 years or so following her first meeting of priests, she came to know Benjamin.  He was so thin when she first met him.  His muscles had nearly wilted away from his body after he had worked on Vesta.  She first saw him lying in a bed so alone; it was like he was the only person in the entire universe.  His body seemed to radiate light, even in the hospital bed.  She had only just volunteered at the miner’s hospice.  Most of the miners here had come from Vesta, though a few were the last miners to work on the moon. Those men, very old most of them, quite often were blind as they weren’t given proper visors when working on the moon’s surface.  But Benjamin – his eyes, his dark, piercing eyes glowed with a fire that illuminated the room, his illness seems a minor inconvenience, like a piece of gum on a shoe.  When she came to his bed, a small glass of invaluable water shaking in her hand he had looked at her. No, he had looked in her, to her soul.

“Come close girl,” he had grumbled at her.  His gravelly voice still sounded fresh to her, in her memory.  She remembered she had the water held out in front of her, like a shield that some sort of knight would have held to battle a dragon.  She remembered his wry smile. She remembered his rough, calloused hands closing over hers holding the glass.  She remembered his words, “Girl, for I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”  She remembered the smile in the dark eyes. She remembered the rolling, fierce power in those smiling eyes.

The lights on the floor flickered a bit and when stepped on the next panel they stopped.  For a moment she felt the weakness of Mar’s gravity, weaker in darkness.  She looked back and realized she was on the hallway leading to the head priest’s chamber.  What was his name?  Father Dean…… no, that wasn’t it.  Ah, yes, Don.  Father Don.  She almost laughed as she stood peering ahead into the cold darkness.  She looked down at the panels not functioning on the floor.  Behind her she could only see a few meters from the light of the panel immediately behind her, still on.  She stepped forward and it ended its light.  For a moment her breath escaped her lips and she was afraid.  She could still hear the hum of the air movers, the electric hum of systems that seemed to be always running. She starred ahead, down the long hallway.  She stepped forward into the darkness.

At first nothing happened and she stood still, locked in the darkness, frozen.  The as her eyes adjusted she thought she could make out a faint light ahead.  She moved forward cautiously, slowly, anxious to see the light, to be in the light.  She almost laughed the story of her life.  For a moment she cursed herself, how weak she was, fearing the darkness. She knew that her lord would protect her.  She had faith she had been sent to complete a mission with Benjamin. Together they would proclaim truth on Mars.  They would destroy the lies.  As she slowly moved forward, she knew she definitely could see light, a square of it, spilling out of a door frame.  She was curious, as late as it was she had fully expected to be the only one awake.  She crept slowly, not out of fear of the darkness, only out of fear of running into something whilst walking in near darkness.

Finally she arrived at the light spilling from a doorway.  She could make out the name on the panel to the left of the door, “FATHER DON W.” She gasped.  She peered into the lighted room, “Father?” she whispered.  There was nothing.  She stepped into the small room.  She noticed his hat laying on the table by the door.  The bed in the corner was unmade.  She bit her lip as she peered around.

“Father?” she called again, this time more loudly.  There was no answer.  Looking back over her shoulder at the door she wondered where he was. She wondered why the lights on the floor panels weren’t working as they had down by her room in the adjoined habitat.  She didn’t want to snoop, but she spied on the table a folder, actual paper.  Her eye brows went up in exclamation.  Paper? Could it be?  Why she’d hadn’t actually seen paper since she was little girl, and then she saw it at the orphanage after being released as an adult.

She couldn’t help herself.  She picked up the folder and it immediately opened. A small piece of paper, no, a photo, slipped out, sailing back and forth slowly to the floor in the light gravity of Mars.  She swept down and picked up the photo, absentmindedly placing the folder onto table.  The image in the photo held her gaze and she felt weak, a stillness overcame her breathing to the point she gasped as her lungs ached for breathe.  For a moment she thought she would faint, but she held her ground.  “Stop Meruna” she heard herself saying out-loud.  “Stop.” The breathing resumed and she felt a fool for a moment.  “A test.”  Again out-loud.  She starred at the picture, “this has to be a test.”  She shook her head and opened the folder that she returned to the table.  She flipped through.  Nervously she bit her lip as she read.  She didn’t realize she was reading out-loud.”

“…..this report summarizes that the craft found at the southern pole is at least 500,000 metric tons.  It measures nearly 350 meters long by what would appear 170 meters wide.  Its height, from all apparent measurements is 95 approximate meters.  This appears to be a craft of ancient design, apparently devised for interstellar travel.  Radiocarbon dating gives us estimate of age at approximately twelve million years.  Composition of hull of craft is apparently an alloy of unknown origin. It does not appear in the current periodic table.  There does seem to be some mix of familiar elements, titanium, carbon steel, aluminum, and several other unknown compounds.  Radionuclides seem stable and below 16 millisievert.”  She trembled; she wasn’t sure what she was reading.  “We have accessed the interior of the vessel, but have thus only allowed robotic and drone craft to explore.  Power cells become drained within 60-70 seconds of exploration…..” she skimmed the rest of the papers.  “Alien origin, extraterrestrial design, advanced technology” were all words leaping out at her.  She didn’t realize that she had folded down upon herself, sitting on the cold metal floor of the priest’s room.  She noticed exterior sketches, done in the familiar fashion of robotics.  The last page was a hand written note.  She knew she should stop, but she could not.  It was dated a month prior to her arrival:

My Blessed Don,

I am certain you’ve read the reports attached herein. I have elected to include a photo.  This is of course classified until we better understand what we have found.  yet my dear son, it seems we have answered the ever elusive question, is there intelligent life beyond our star?  The microbes of Enceladus, the worms of Europa, the cave mold of this world Mars, all did not prepare us fully for the discovery here.  This craft, its origins of now unknown, indicate to us that intelligent life is not exclusive.  What is perhaps most troubling, the ancient nature of the craft.  It would appear to be at least twelve millions years ancient, maybe more or maybe less.  The depth at which it was buried is surprising.  Not just this, but found alongside this great machine, robots, not so unlike our own.  They appear to be nonfunctional, several fused into the very stone of the rock around the craft.  We have found the main hatch, which appears to lead into the heart of the craft.  Thus far attempts to explore have been unsuccessful. Our devices, powered as they are by power cells seem to drain within moments of being inside the craft.  Earth council has determined until they can send a full scientific team to research we should cease and desist any further attempts to explore.

I needn’t tell you, Father, this must remain a revelation between church clergy for now.  As you are aware, the holy council only last year released the encyclical “Solum Humana Intelligentia Est” reminding us that intelligent life, intelligent human life, was a sign of our natural and unique selection as divine children of the most high and is ours alone in the universe.  Perhaps a mistake in announcing this discovery to the clergy has been made.  Perhaps this discovery is merely an error, a non-recorded early space craft of human origins from years ago.  It is my belief, my deepest conviction, that this craft is an illusion of solar radiation, fooling our instruments and perhaps even is a natural formation, a fluke of physics perhaps.  All told dear Father, it does not matter.  Your mission, colonization of Mars and the further mining endeavor of rhenium mines is still your focus and your mission.  The arrival of the new settlers will continue so as to support the infrastructure of the colony, produce higher yielding miners and their families.

You shall hear from me soon on next actions. It is with faith I bid you adieu.  

Blessings,

His Excellency,

Bishop West”

For a moment Meruna could not see. Her eyes closed and she felt her hand involuntarily grasping the letter the paper, the valuable rare paper, crumbling beneath her grip.  This COULD NOT be.  No…. a lie, planted by the priest Don…… her chin fell upon her collar bone.  No, not a lie.  A test.  A test of faith, of her faith.  She looked up, her eyes bright again in the dim white light of the room.  She found herself smiling.  Benjamin, in his last communication had indicated that things were happening on Mars, things that would change the universe, her life; things that would set the faith free to be sole.  The one, true faith finally he had indicated would be vindicated and true for all time.  All other faiths would be left to fade into human memory.  This was the test for her, left perhaps by Benjamin. Left perhaps even by the priest, Don.  She stood, placed the papers and photo back in order, and set the folder on the table where she had found it.

She quickly stepped to the door, preparing to exit, then suddenly she spun back around and rushed to the table; she opened the folder and took out the picture.  The picture of the craft, apparently blue, seemed alive to her, at least the craft shown there upon.  She tucked the photo into her dress pocket and quickly ran from the room into the darkness, back into the light of the hall from which she had come.  She felt tears drip onto her cheek.  This was her moment, her test. This was her chance to show Benjamin just how ready she was to love her faith.  Just how ready she was to love him.

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