Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 29th, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction was written a couple of years ago as a “gift” to those I affectionately call “Friends of the Pod” – those folks who read the Pod stories and offered feedback during the revision process.

I thought this would be a good story to couple with last week’s as this gives a more balanced view of Eva. This story takes place the Christmas before the opening scenes of Cardan’s Pod. It also gives a little peek at life for the Pod before Joshua Cardan comes along.

Besides; what could be more fun than a Christmas story at the end of August? Be sure to check out the other stories posted for Friday Fiction.

Christmas Magic
A short prequel story to Cardan’s Pod
By Rick Higginson

“I know that look, Marta; you’ve been watching a boat again, haven’t you?” Eva asked.

“I never hear you complain about that when it means I bring back something we need,” Marta replied. She deposited the fish she had caught with the rest of the day’s catch so far.

“I wonder sometimes,” Eva commented. “It’s true that you’ve been one of the best foragers, yet the mood that watching the boats puts you in leaves me questioning whether the trade-off is worth it. I can already see that look of longing on your face, which means that something about your peeping today has made it worse than normal.”

“It’s almost Christmas,” Marta replied. “I heard them saying that tonight was Christmas Eve.”

Eva sighed. It was rare that they had any indication of the date, but she knew it was the third winter since Dr. Marcel had sent them to hide away from the nursery. While their Christmas celebrations had never been lavish, the doctor had never allowed the day to pass without sharing special foods and music while he was still with them. That the doctor would apparently miss that Christmas as he had the previous two only added to her suspicion that he was not going to return to them. “Have you told anyone else about this yet?” she asked.

“No, you’re the first one I’ve seen since I returned.”

“I hate to ask you this, but don’t tell anyone else that tomorrow is Christmas.”

“He’s not coming back to us, is he?”

“I don’t know, Marta. My feeling is that if he could, he would have done so by now, and especially for Christmas. No matter how busy his work kept him, he always made time for the holiday.”

Marta floated on her back and looked at the decreasing light coming through the cracks in the cavern ceiling overhead. “Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to run down the stairs on Christmas morning and find a tree with all kinds of gifts beneath it?”

“That was the stuff of movies, Marta. I might as well wonder about sprouting wings and flying to the stars.”

“It’s normal life for humans.”

“This is our life; we can’t afford to pine away for what we cannot have, and I really need for you to help keep the Pod focused on surviving with what we do have.”

“I know, but didn’t you ever wonder if maybe Christmas really is a special day? Maybe there is something magical to the holiday, like they always showed in the movies Dr. Marcel let us watch.”

“Christmas is just another day. It’s nothing special, and while I’d love to think otherwise, I can’t imagine it being special for me ever again.”

“It doesn’t hurt to dream, though, does it?”

“As if I could stop you from dreaming, Marta,” Eva replied with a tone of resignation. “Just don’t let your dreams carry you away from the reality of the Pod.”

“Sometimes I wish they could carry me away, but no matter how much I dream, I still wake up in this same body and with the same realization that I won’t ever have the things I want most.”

“We all do.”

“Still, it’s nice to think sometimes that there is something to the Christmas story; that maybe a very special baby was born on that day or that wishes made on Christmas Eve come true. Perhaps if we’d been real people, Santa Claus would have come and visited us-”

“Marta, stop,” Eva interrupted her. “Santa never visited us because there is no Santa Claus; it has nothing to do with the way we were created.”

“I suppose you’re right. If there were anything magic about Christmas, I guess we would have seen it work before now, wouldn’t we?”

“I’d be happy with just enough Christmas ‘magic’ to have sufficient food for the Pod for the day,” Eva said, looking at the meager pile of fish on the nearby stone. “There isn’t much daylight left, and unless the foraging has been much better this afternoon than it was this morning, it’s going to be a sparse meal tonight. I doubt we’ll even have enough to hold some over for breakfast tomorrow.”

“I should go see if I can find anything more.”

“Go ahead; just remember, tomorrow is your turn to watch the collection and make sure the crabs don’t steal it.”


Marta swam back towards the ocean outside, pausing for a moment just inside the entrance to the submerged tunnel. She listened to the sounds the dolphins made; the nearby boat had been noted, but the calm vocalizations of the cetacean members of the Pod indicated that the vessel was far enough away and posing no threat. The noises were calm and playful, meaning that no other dangers were detected in the immediate vicinity. She departed the tunnel into the sea beyond, and made a quick dash to the surface to grab a breath of air.

With strong strokes of her tail, she skimmed along the rocks surrounding the island, looking for fish that might be hiding among them. She doubted she would find much, as most of the Pod had already searched the closest areas, but it was always worth checking on her way to the farther reaches of their foraging range.

Though she knew that Eva would disapprove, she headed in the direction of the nearby boat. More than once she had been able to sneak in close enough to a passing vessel to remove a net loaded with beer or soda that was tied off the side in the cool water. That was the official reason; the reality was that most often she simply watched the people on board.

She found an area where she was certain the glare of the setting Sun would make it impossible for anyone on the boat to see her, and floated with just her head out of the water, watching and listening. The conversations she could hear were light and happy, with considerable joking and teasing going back and forth. Several couples occupied the large vessel, and at least one of them could be heard exchanging affectionate comments. They were preparing a meal out on the open deck, despite the cool December weather.

“Hey, Stan,” one of the men on board yelled. “Toss me that wheel of cheese, would ya?”

“Sure,” the reply came, and the speaker threw a large orange disk towards the first man.

Surprised at being taken literally, he stretched to catch the heavy ten pound wheel of cheese, and in so doing lost his balance. With the cheese loose in his grasp, he fell off the side of the slow moving boat with a loud yell and a splash. Within a moment, a rope had been thrown to him, and he was pulled back on board. “Geez, Stan. I didn’t mean to actually throw it to me!”

“You were supposed to catch it without falling overboard!” The words were almost lost in the laughter of the others on board. “Didn’t you catch it? Where is it?”

“Well, it was kind of hard to hold onto while grabbing onto the rope!”

“Does it float?”

“How should I know? Can you see it out there?”

“No, I can’t, and I’m darn sure not going to go diving after it if it’s sinking.”

Marta listened to the exchange from against the opposite side of the boat, the wax-covered wheel of cheese held tight against her abdomen.

“It didn’t come up on the other side, did it?” one of the women said.

She heard the footsteps coming over towards the side where she huddled, and dove deep beneath the boat. She swam back towards the island, clutching her prize as though it would struggle to escape her. One of the dolphins came along beside her, eying her colorful treasure curiously. When it became apparent that the mermaid was not carrying the object of some new game, the dolphin veered off to explore other possibilities.

Marta darted through the tunnel back to the chamber. She surfaced near Eva, gasping for breath from the strenuous swim.

“Marta, what’s wrong?” Eva asked; worried at the way her friend had entered.

She held up the wheel of cheese for Eva to see. “Christmas magic,” she panted, still fighting to catch her breath. “There’s enough for everybody!”

Eva shook her head. “You were over by the boat again, weren’t you? One of these days, Marta, that’s going to bring trouble to all of us.”

“Eva, it’s cheese!” Marta exclaimed as if it wasn’t already obvious. “It’s plenty to have some tonight and even have some for the morning, too.”

“I can see that, but still, you had to be much too close to the boat to have gotten that, didn’t you?”

“Don’t you see? You got your Christmas wish. Maybe there is some Christmas magic at work.” She placed the wheel on the stone shelf near the collected fish. “If it worked for you, maybe it will work for me!”

Eva chuckled, unable to muster up any anger at her enthusiasm. “I hope it does, Marta,” she added. “I hope it does.”

As the Pod gathered that evening in the diminishing light, they enjoyed one of the best meals they’d had since the stores of food that Dr. Marcel had left them had been depleted. Marta floated next to Eva, and leaned close to her friend’s ear. “Merry Christmas, Eva,” she whispered.

“Merry Christmas,” she whispered back. She sighed and smiled. “Go ahead and let everyone know what tomorrow is. If we’re going to have a Christmas feast, they might as well know why.”

“Do you really hope the magic works for me, too, Eva?”

“Yes, Marta; I really do.”


Joshua Cardan looked at the clock over the small table on board his sailboat. It was after eleven, and he found the idea of spending Christmas Eve aboard the boat sad. It was not how he had imagined spending his first Christmas as a married man. He would have thought they could at least get through the holiday without fighting.

He’d looked forward to their first Christmas together; the season had always been special to his family when his parents had still been alive, and he’d anticipated having those same kinds of moments with his wife. He could not understand why Cynthia hadn’t seemed to want the same thing.

Maybe next year, he thought. By then, they should be able to iron out the problems of meshing their lives together into one and they could enjoy the holidays the way a couple was supposed to.

He could only hope.

After all, Christmas was supposed to be magic.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 22nd, 2008

Welcome again to Friday Fiction, and be sure to check out the other links at our guest host's blog, An Open Book. This week’s story is a very special one, as it is one of the very few I’ve ever written “by request”. This week is my wife’s birthday, and this story was written in response to a question she asked about “Cardan’s Pod”. She wanted to know how Josh got into the sleeping chamber in the first place, which in the book is just implied by the narrative.

I decided to answer her question by writing the opening events of the story from a different point-of-view.

Happy birthday, Nancy. This story was written specifically for you, and I’m looking forward to helping you celebrate your birthday this weekend. I love you!

The Rescue
By Rick Higginson

The building was dark, as it had been every time she’d returned to it in the previous three years. Had it really only been three years? It seemed like it had been so much longer since Dr. Marcel had last visited them, but she was certain they were only starting their fourth summer of hiding.

The gate to the boat garage was still locked, and the metal bars showed no signs of having been disturbed. The algae and barnacles grew uninhibited, fed by the tidal flow in and out of the sheltered mooring. No sounds emanated from inside, save the gentle sloshing of the waves on the structures and the occasional protest of one sea bird or another that had taken roost in the man-made sanctuary. A few times on the early visits, she had called through the gate, only to be answered by nothing more than the feeble echo of her own voice.

On the visible sides of the structure they’d always known as “the nursery”, the shattered windows remained unrepaired, with the mysterious black stains streaking up from the openings. There was nothing to suggest the facility was any less deserted than it had been on her last visit, and her hope that such would change before the next visit diminished just a bit more.

She turned away from the small island, resigned to the conclusion that they would not be returning to the place they had thought of as home for so long. The moonlight accented a peaceful beauty to the sea as she started the journey, and she expected nothing would disturb the night save for the dolphins escorting her. They would leave her from time to time, pressing their advantage to find prey in the darkness, but there would always be at least a couple within close range of her.

Almost halfway to her destination she found a boat, drifting in the current and apparently deserted. There were lights shining aboard, and the gentle rumble of the engine idling, but no one visible anywhere she could see. She gave it a wide clearance, watching to see if anyone might appear, and didn’t spot the other boat until she drew closer to the darkened craft. Unlike the first boat, the second had no lights burning, and two people stood at the back of the vessel.

She drew closer to the sailboat, quietly watching the people aboard. The two disappeared inside, and soon reappeared with a third person held between them.

“Unh; he’s heavier’n he looks,” one of the two said.

The voice that replied was female. “I figured that out the first time I slept with him,” she said. “Right here should be good.”

When they tried to step away from the third person, he wavered on his feet and nearly fell over. “I’ll hold him,” the woman said. “Get the bottle and the glass.”

“Got ‘em,” the man said.

She puzzled over what she was watching. The man could barely stand up, and yet the other two were placing a bottle in his one hand, and a glass in his other.

The action caused a stir from the odd man, and he turned his head towards the woman beside him. “Hullo, dear,” he said, and then gave a weak laugh. His voice had the quality of someone who was barely awake.

“Hurry up,” the woman said.

The first man went to the other side of the boat and did something with the ropes on the sail. He stood for a moment, holding the bottom of the sail, until a gust of breeze came across the boat. With that, he pushed the sail, and the woman stepped away from the other man.

She winced as the man was struck by the boom and was sent flipping over the side into the sea. He bobbed back to the surface, coughing, as the breeze pushed the boat farther away from him.

Get him out of the water, she thought, though her need to stay hidden kept her voice silent. Don’t you people know he can’t stay in the water like that?

Instead of acting to help him, the two remaining on the boat indulged an embrace, while the woman started laughing. They then climbed into a small raft at the back of the sailboat, and sped towards the first boat that drifted in the distance.

The realization was horrible. They were leaving him there, and thought it was funny. Though the man tried to swim back to the boat, he barely made any progress before he slipped beneath the surface.

She could hear all the warnings in her mind; all the cautions and the reasons they needed to stay hidden. She could hear what Eva would say, even as she took a deep breath and dove after the man.

The dolphins raced ahead of her, their vocalizations distressed, as she kicked hard towards the glare of the man’s clothing and skin in the water. She wasn’t as fast as her cetacean escorts, but unlike them, she had arms and hands. Grabbing the loose clothing, she called on every bit of strength in her tail to drag him back to the surface.

Breaking back into the air, she shifted her grip to try and keep his head above the water. Gasping and moaning, he managed several breaths before he vomited the sea water he’d swallowed during his descent. When he’d finished, his body went limp, and she fought to keep him afloat.

She found the clothing problematic; while it provided something easy for her to grasp, it also allowed him to shift about and made it more difficult to keep his head out of the water. It dragged in the current and seemed to weigh him down, particularly the shoes. If he had been conscious, he would have been alert to hold his breath when a wave washed over him, but she had no idea how long it would be until he regained some semblance of awareness.

The first boat was accelerating in a sweeping turn away from them, and the sailboat continued drifting on the breeze. It wasn’t moving fast, and she could catch it without too much effort, but to what end? If there was a ladder at the back, he needed to be awake to climb it, and she had no way to climb it for him.

Dreading the trouble she was asking for, she pulled his shirt over his head and discarded it. Holding him with one arm around his chest, she wrestled his pants over his hips. Risking dunking him one more time, she wrapped her loose arm around one leg, and brought the other arm down to remove his shoes. Without them, the pants slipped easily from his legs, and she returned her hold to his chest.

Swimming on her back, with the man face-up on her front, she resumed her swim towards the island where she and the rest of the Pod hid. It was slow, at least for her, to drag the man along, though from time to time one dolphin or another would push her along and help.

When the number of dolphins around her increased, she knew she was getting close to home. She rested for a few minutes, using a slow kick of her tail to maintain position against the current.

“Marta, what took you so long?” her sister Leanna said, surfacing nearby. “Are you all right? Wait; what have you got?”

“I’m fine, but he’s not,” Marta said.

Leanna drew up beside her, joined a moment later by their younger sister, Ophelia. “You brought a man here?” Leanna said.

“He doesn’t look like Dr. Marcel,” Ophelia said. “You were supposed to be looking for Dr. Marcel.”

“Some people knocked him off a boat and left him,” Marta said. “I had to do something.”

“What do you think you’re going to do now that you have him here?” Leanna said.

“He’s hurt; for right now, I think we just need to get him in the sleeping chamber and out of the water.”

“And then what? Marta, if he’s hurt, he needs to be taken care of by other people that know what to do.”

“I wish that were an option, but we’re all he has right now.”

“Marta just wants to play with his legs,” Ophelia teased.

“Just help me get him into the sleeping chamber; we’ll worry about ‘then what’ when it happens.”

Leanna released an exasperated snort. “Okay, but when Eva asks, you’d better remember that this was your idea.”

They closed the remaining distance quickly, and soon floated near a rocky cliff. “How do you suggest we get him from out here to in there?” Leanna asked.

“One of us will have to breathe for him,” Marta said. “It’ll be the same air over and over, but at least it will be air and not water. For this short of a distance, it shouldn’t matter too much.” She considered the plan a moment. “If you can grab his arms and pull him, I’ll hold onto him from the front and do the breathing.”

“Maybe before we dive for the tunnel, you should try this first.”

“You’re probably right.” She turned the man around and wrapped her arms around him. She took a deep breath, and when he exhaled, she covered his mouth with her mouth, blocking his nose with her cheek, and letting her breath out as he drew his in. Slipping beneath the water, she drew the same breath back in as he exhaled, and then repeated the process again. With a kick of her tail, she ascended so they could both breathe fresh air again.

“Ooh, now you’re kissing him,” Ophelia said.

She ignored the teasing. “It’s awkward, and I wouldn’t want to try it for very long, but I think it’ll work long enough to get him to the sleeping chamber.”

“I guess whenever you’re ready,” Leanna said.

Marta drew in a series of deep breaths, getting as much oxygen into her blood as she could. As she had before, she waited until he exhaled, and then resumed the mouth-to-mouth position and dove backwards.

Leanna grasped his wrists and started a strong kick towards the tunnel, while Ophelia grabbed the man’s ankles and helped push them along.

Though the distance wasn’t that long, the air they shared was nearly worthless before they surfaced in the dark pool. She pulled her face away from his and savored the clean air, even as he coughed on several breaths of his own. “Okay, now let’s get him out of the water.”

“Him? Marta, what have you done?” Eva’s voice was quiet and serious.

She crawled onto the smooth stone and pulled the unconscious man behind her. “I saved an injured man from drowning,” she said.

“And you brought him here?”

“There wasn’t anywhere else I could take him. It was either here, or let him die.”

“You put the Pod at risk for a man; what were you thinking?”

She had him far enough from the pool that the tide wouldn’t be a concern, and rolled him onto his side. “I wasn’t thinking,” she said. “I just did what I had to do to save him.” His skin was cold, so she scooted up behind him and pressed her body against his.

“You are responsible for him,” Eva said. “We will discuss this more in the morning, but know this; you brought him here, and if he proves to be a danger to the Pod, I will expect you to do what is necessary to keep the Pod safe.”

“Yes, Eva.” She closed her eyes and dreaded what the morning might bring. Maybe he would be dead by morning, and it would all have been a pointless effort, but for the moment, he was alive and breathing. She still felt a certain despair over not having seen evidence of Dr. Marcel’s return, but at the same time, she felt a guilty thrill. She held in her arms a human – a man who belonged to the world that half of her was supposed to belong to.

For that night, at least, she could pretend that she belonged to that same world, and that rather than being a mermaid, created by Dr. Marcel to prove some strange idea he had, she could be the woman her dreams imagined her to be. She fell asleep wondering what it would feel like if his legs rested against her legs, instead of against the dolphin tail she’d been born with.

“Hullo, dear,” he said in her dream. They were the only words she’d heard him speak, and now he said them to her.

“Hurry up,” she said, and it felt both strange and wonderful to stand beside him. Why would she say that, though?

“He’s a threat to the Pod,” Eva said from the other side of the boat. “I expect you to do what is necessary.”

Then he was falling with a splash into the dark ocean, and she started to laugh.

She jerked awake from the short dream, feeling her heart pounding from it. He was still in front of her, though now his body was warmer and his breathing slow and steady. Yes, Eva, she thought. I will do what is necessary.

But it may not be what you think is necessary.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 15th, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is another original written specifically for this blog. The story is one of those that takes place “out of sight” in another story I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2006. In “The Daedalus Child”, the main character is left with his grandmother when his parents flee the country. Later in the story, we learn his parents have been doing mission work in Brazil, and this narrative reveals how this came about.

In order to help avoid any possible spoilers to the main story, I decided to tell this one from the point-of-view of another missionary. If the reader thinks this has a similar theme to “Pleasant Deeds, Pleasant Dreams”, it’s because I’ve found in my experience that God often calls people when we’ve hit bottom from the consequences of our actions.

Let me clarify that a bit; God could be calling us all along, but quite often, we aren’t receptive to His calling until we feel we have nowhere else to go. When we realize we can no longer rely on our own strength, or our own wisdom, or our own resources, we’re willing to hear the invitation to rely instead on His strength, His wisdom, and His resources. When we finally resign ourselves to the fact that we cannot do it ourselves, He sends along someone to tell us that He has already done it.
Friday Fiction Central

By Rick Higginson

The old Land Cruiser rattled and creaked with every bump and rut in the primitive road, though the noise didn’t register on the occupants of the well-worn vehicle. Shifting gears, the driver took his hand from the lever just long enough to venture a touch on the passenger’s leg, and received an encouraging smile for the effort.

The air was heavy and damp, alive with the sounds of the rainforest canopy all around them, but even that cacophony was so familiar as to be tuned out until something changed it. Splashing through a puddle from the previous night’s rainfall, it was hard to imagine that they’d once rolled smoothly down well-maintained streets, passed manicured trees in the shadows of concrete mountains. The great cities stood as testament to man’s ability to hold back nature, while the ruins of old cities proved that nature could wait; in time, it would reclaim its own.

Rounding a curve, they emerged into a small village that existed in a tenuous stand-off with the natural forest. Without the constant effort of the residents, the clearing would vanish within a few years, swallowed up by eager new growth exploiting the open sky above.

He stopped in front of one of the modest buildings, and shut off the engine. Village residents, and especially the children, were already gathering around to welcome them. Exchanging pleasantries all around, he told the adults they would set up the clinic shortly, and then asked the question he’d asked in so many other towns and villages they’d stopped at recently. “Está o americano aqui?” Is the American here?

One of the older boys answered. “Sim. Devo eu tomar-lheo?” Yes. Shall I take you to him?

“Sim, por favor.” Yes, please.

He followed the boy between the simple structures until they stood outside the door of one. “Está dentro aqui, senhor.” He’s in here, sir.

“Obrigado,” he said. Thank you. He entered what served as the local bar and found the man seated at one of the rickety tables, so engrossed in the paper he was scribbling on that he seemed to not notice the new arrival. “Are you senhor Daryl that I have heard so much about?” he asked, when he grown tired of waiting to be acknowledged.

The man stopped writing, and after a moment, laid the pen down across the paper. With a sigh, he turned and looked up at him. “I suppose asking why you want to know would be enough to forestall denying it,” he said.

Offering his hand, he smiled. “I’m Dr. Samuel Demorey with Healing Word Missions. My wife and I travel around to towns and villages too small to have a resident physician and offer free medical care. Mind if I sit down?”

He nodded and gestured towards the opposite chair. “Missionary, huh? Why would a missionary be looking for me, Dr. Demorey?”

“The local people usually just call me Doutor Sam,” he said, taking the chair and accepting his regular beverage from their hostess. “Americans aren’t that common this deep in the Amazon, and especially not ones traveling from town to town and working on various problems without being affiliated with some social or mission organization.”

“We’re not doing anything wrong, are we?”

“No,” he said with a chuckle. “But you need to be careful. Are you with the U.S. Government, or some other type of organization, senhor Daryl?”

“Not in the least bit. Are you?”

“No, but the people we work with already know who we’re with. You, on the other hand, are the subject of quite a bit of speculation. I’ve heard more than a few that suspect you of being with the C.I.A. or other such covert operation.”

“Why? Because we help out without expecting people to listen to a sermon afterwards?”

“Frankly, yes.” He took a drink of his beverage. “Whether it’s founded or not, there is still a strong perception that the American government likes to meddle in the affairs of other countries, and it’s been suggested you’re trying to ingratiate yourself to the people around here in order to set up some kind of network.”

“Nothing of the sort,” he said, shaking his head.

“I’m only going to ask this because I keep getting asked it; why are you here, doing this kind of work, then?”

He folded his hands together in front of him and stared back down at the paper again. His voice was quiet as he answered. “Have you ever done something that you felt so ashamed of, you had to do good things to make up for it?”

“Are you performing some kind of penance, then?”

Closing his eyes, he swallowed hard. “My wife is pregnant, doctor, and I lie awake every night, afraid that maybe God is going to punish us by doing something to the baby. I think, perhaps He’ll look at all the good things we’ve been doing for people down here, and take that into account.” He rubbed his face. “And then I think about what we’ve done, and that we will never be able to undo it, and I get more afraid.”

“Are you trying to buy God’s forgiveness? I’ll tell you right now, you’re never going to be able to afford it. None of us can. You can’t earn it, because the only way to do so is to live in such a way that you never need it in the first place. You can only get forgiveness from God by accepting it as a free gift from Him.” He reached his hand across the table and rested it on Daryl’s arm. “No matter what you’ve done, God is waiting to give you that forgiveness, if you only ask.”

“What if I’d killed my son? Could He forgive that?”

“He forgave us for killing His Son.”

“How about if what I did was worse than killing him? How about if I condemned my son to life as a freak?” His eyes showed he was dead serious as he looked across the table. “That’s what I did; what we did, doctor. We made our son a freak – intentionally – and then left him with my mother so we could escape here. Can God forgive that?”

“What do you mean? How could you make your son a freak intentionally?”

“My wife, Gen, and I are research scientists, specializing in genetic engineering. We altered his genetics at conception, and made him into something different.”

Sam hesitated, trying to digest what he’d been told. He’d read plenty of news reports of plants and animals being manipulated into something slightly different, but not humans.

“Can God forgive that, doctor?” The voice had a pleading tone, even as tears spilled from the man’s eyes.

He’d seen criminals and soldiers that had raped, tortured, and murdered, find forgiveness. His Bible said that God was faithful to forgive sins, and to cleanse all unrighteousness, if one was to just confess those sins. But this, Father? he thought. This is a form of the worst sort of blasphemy. This man has set himself in the place of God.

If God is not able to cleanse all unrighteousness, even the worst sort, then what is the point of believing at all? He considered the counter-point to his own objection. He has, after all, confessed that he has sinned.

“Yes,” Sam said, a confidence in his voice he hadn’t felt a moment earlier. “God can and will forgive you, if you only confess your sin and ask for that free gift He wants to give you.” He smiled encouragement. “Do you want to ask Him, senhor Daryl?”

He opened his mouth, but no words escaped. Instead, he nodded only slightly at first, and then definitively.


Doutor Sam took a seat at the table and smiled. “Mother and daughter are both doing just fine,” he said. “The midwife says you did an excellent job on the delivery. From what I can tell, I don’t think I could have done a better job if I’d been here.”

“I guess those years of working as a paramedic while getting my degree paid off,” Daryl said.

“Have you and Gen given any more thought to our proposal?”

He smiled. “We have. We talked it over, and it makes sense. If we’re going to be here doing the work anyway, we might as well do so for an organization that helps us get where we’re needed, and gets the supplies to us. We both have the impression that working with you and Healing Word is what God wants us to do.”

“I’m glad to hear that. It’s a lot of hard work, but I guarantee you, there is a tremendous blessing when we’re serving God.”

“Serving,” Daryl said with a satisfied chuckle. “I like the sound of that.” He accepted the handshake across the table. “I think it’s a better response than penance.”

“I’m inclined to agree.” Sam leaned back in the chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “Much better than penance.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

Friday Fiction for August 8th, 2008

This post catches up this blog with my participation in the Friday Fiction blog to date. New submissions will be posted here, rather than on the website.
This week's story is a complete re-write of a short story I wrote several years ago, and which the original is lost somewhere on old media (probably a dead 3.5" floppy in my desk). The first draft was never published anywhere, so this counts as the story's debut.
Since this story contains a few Hebrew terms, I have included a glossary at the end of the story. The title is "Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe)". It's pronounced Yah-meem Nor-ah-eem, and refers to the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. In Jewish tradition, on Yom Kippur the books are closed. Which book a name is written in depends on how the person has lived, and there is a special focus on doing charitable deeds just in case one needs a bit more "push" towards the Book of Life. The number ten in Jewish culture symbolizes the whole, and the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are seen to represent the entirety of history from the creation to the final judgment. While one lives with a particular attention to righteousness during the Yamim Noraim, on Yom Kippur there is an additional portion of the liturgy called the "Al Chet". In the Al Chet, the sins of the community are confessed - even those that may have been committed unconsciously - and God's forgiveness and mercy is humbly requested. I hope you enjoy the story.
Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe)
By Rick Higginson

She hurried back along the dirty street towards her favored spot, wishing that the impractical footwear wasn’t part of her work couture. Her mind worked over things as she walked, remembering the background noise of the television in the motel room. The announcer had said it was Rosh Hashanah, and one of the large synagogues in the city had staged a particularly special ceremony to mark their one hundredth year as a congregation. Her father would be blowing the shofar that night for their own small shul in Ohio, commencing the Yamim Noraim leading up to Yom Kippur in ten days.

There would be deeds of tzedakah – righteousness – during those ten days, per the idea of tipping the scales in one’s favor before the traditional closing of the books on the Day of Atonement. She gave a soundless and humorless laugh. There isn’t any righteousness in your life anymore, is there Suzi? she thought. You came here to be an actress, didn’t you? Well, you’re acting all right; acting like all those vile things men pay you to do are enjoyable. If the books are closed on Yom Kippur, then they closed on me already.

Turning the corner to the street she worked, she nearly tripped over the old man on the sidewalk. “Excuse me,” she said, slightly annoyed. “You know, you’d be better off sitting a little farther from the corner, so people could see you before they stepped on you.”

“Yer prolly right,” he said, the voice hoarse and weak. “Ya couldn’t spare somethin’ fer a hungry old man, could ya?” he asked, and turned his face up towards her.

She paused and looked at him. The wrinkled skin and thick beard definitely went with the homeless life, but his eyes were clear and full of hope. He certainly didn’t look like so many of the bums that wanted money only for drugs or booze. It wouldn’t be much, compared to the life I’ve been living, but it would be a deed of tzedakah to help him, she thought. She opened her small purse and dug out one of the twenties her last “client” had paid her with. “Here; go get yourself a decent meal,” she said, pressing the folded bill into the gnarled hand.

He slipped the bill into his pocket without looking at it. “Thank ya muchly,” he said, lowering his face again. When she was maybe ten steps away from him, he added, “L’shanah tovah.”

She stopped with her mouth slightly agape. Did he just say what I think he did? She spun around, but he was no longer sitting on the sidewalk. Shaking her head, she started back up the street. How long has it been since someone said that to me?

Lost in her thoughts, she paid no attention to the figure in the alley until he reached out and grabbed her, yanking her into the shadows. His hand clamped over her mouth before she had a chance to cry out.

“Givin’ away my money, Suzi?” he said, putting his face so close to hers just to blow his cigarette smoke into her eyes. “I guess you forgot who you work for, so it’s time for a little reminder.” He dragged her deeper into the alley, and held out his hand.

She gave him the money from her purse. “Razor, please, I just-”

“Shut it,” he said. “I don’t wanna hear your excuses.” Slamming her against the wall, he wrestled both her hands up over her head and pinned them there with his right arm. He flicked the ash off the cigarette with his left, and took a drag off it to heat the cherry on the end. “I’m gonna let you off easy this time with the reminder, but the next time you try to steal from me, you’re gonna lose something, you understand?” He brought the glowing cigarette towards her exposed underarm – his favorite “reminder spot”, where the wound and the scar wouldn’t show and potentially lower her appeal to the clients.

“Why don’t you let Shoshannah go, Roger?” a strong, masculine voice said from deeper in the alley.

Shoshannah? No one in the city knows me by that name.

Razor dropped the cigarette and clamped his left hand to her neck. With his right, he drew the pistol he liked carrying and turned to face the voice. “Whoever you are, this ain’t none of your business.”

Stepping into a small area of light coming from a sign atop the building, the homeless bum to whom she’d given the money shook his head and smiled. He held the folded bill in his hand. “Is this what you want, Roger?”

“The name’s Razor, and it ain’t just the money.”

“Razor; so much tougher sounding than Roger from a quiet, suburban Vermont neighborhood, isn’t it? After the number of taunts you heard with your name in school, you couldn’t wait to get rid of it when you moved to the city, could you?”

He thumbed back the hammer on the pistol. “Who are you, old man?”

“Just a messenger, Roger.”

“Don’t call me that!” There was fear in the pale blue eyes.

“It doesn’t matter what I call you; Roger Prosowski is what they will put on the paperwork when they log you into the morgue tomorrow night.”

He raised the pistol higher, aiming it at the man’s face. “Are you threatening me? I could blow your brains all over this alley right now, old man.”

“No, I’m not threatening you. I’m here to warn you that your weakened heart is going to stop tomorrow afternoon, as a result of your drug habit. You can save your life if you go to the hospital tonight, or even in the morning. What’s more important, though, is that you have a chance to save your soul.”

The barrel of the gun lowered a bit as he started to laugh. “What? You some kind of Jesus freak, is that it? You are some piece of work, you know that? Do you really expect me to believe that?”

He shook his head with a sad resignation in his eyes. “No, I don’t expect you to believe me, but I have to tell you anyway. At the very least, call your grandmother tonight. She worries about you and prays for you every day. She should have the chance to hear your voice one more time.”

“So my grandmother sent you to find me, is that it?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes; the One your grandmother prays to sent me.”

“You’re crazy, old man. You’re freakin’ nuts.”

“I’m not the first prophet to be told that.” He pointed with an open hand. “Your left arm is tingling now, because your heart isn’t strong enough to keep the blood flow to it in that position.”

He yelled an expletive, and brought the pistol back to level. The hammer fell with a hollow click. “What the -?” He pulled the trigger again with the same results.

The old man didn’t appear surprised. “Please listen to me, Roger. God does not take joy in the death of the wicked, and you still have time to save yourself.”

He was trembling as he released her neck. “This ain’t happenin’; it can’t be.” With a string of profanities, he ran from the alley.

She slumped to the pavement, and pulled her arms tight across her chest. Her fear felt worse, despite the threat being over, and she concentrated on keeping the emotions hidden. Never let them see you cry, she remembered one of the older girls telling her when she’d first been forced onto the streets. Never act afraid; it only makes them bolder.

The old man stepped up next to her, looking in the direction Razor had gone. “He isn’t going to listen,” he said. “He is going to go hide in his drugs, and they will find him tomorrow afternoon. Your slavery to him is finished, Shoshannah.”

“It’ll just be someone else, then.” She looked up at him, and it seemed his wrinkles were gone. “There’s nothing else in this city for girls like me.”

Holding his hand out to her, he smiled. “You can go home.”

“I can’t even afford bus fare to the suburbs, let alone back to Ohio.” Her voice dropped to an ashamed whisper. “I don’t want my family to see me like this, either.”

The hand was still extended. “Walk with me, Shoshannah. I’d like to show you something.”

She took the hand, surprised by how strong it was. “Who are you, really?”

“Like I told Roger; just a messenger.” He removed the coat from his back and wrapped it around her shoulder. It had seemed worn and dirty when she’d first happened upon him, but proved instead to be clean and well-cared for. “Did you know your great-grandfather played the shofar for a synagogue in this city?”

She shrugged; it seemed a trivial thing to discuss, and for some odd reason it just made sense that he knew so much about her.

“He sounded the shofar for their first Rosh Hashanah service a hundred years ago.” Leading her out the opposite end of the alley, he turned right on the sidewalk and maintained an easy pace for a few blocks. Rounding another corner, they approached a row of hotels.

Her heart sank. Is that what this is all about? He’s just another client taking me back to his room? She opened her mouth to say something just as the old man stopped next to a cab that had just pulled up to the curb.

“You have been inscribed for a good year, Shoshannah,” he said. “This is as far as I go.”

“What are you talking about?” she said.

He gestured towards the cab as the back door opened, and her eyes locked with recognition with the passenger. “Daddy?”

“Shoshannah?” Her father stood from the cab and leaned against it for support.

She turned towards the old man. “I can’t face him; not like this.”

There was strength in his voice. “You already have.” He gestured to her father with his hand.

“After the life I’ve lived here?”

Her father pulled her into an embrace, weeping as he kissed her repeatedly. “Shh; it is for HaShem to judge and HaShem to forgive. We thought we would never see you again,” he said. “How did you find me?”

“I didn’t, Daddy. It was him,” she replied, nodding towards the old man.

Her father reached a hand, and the old man took it. “I cannot thank you enough, friend. Will you join us for dinner?”

He shook his head. “I have other messages to deliver tonight, Levi ben Sh’muel. Give your praise to HaShem and welcome your daughter home.”

“There must be something I can do for you?”

“Spread my message; Moshiach is coming.”

“Moshiach?” Her father turned his face and stared for a moment into the old man’s eyes. The disbelief turned to realization. “Eliyahu?”

The old man smiled, and gave just the slightest of nods as he took a step backwards.

“Wait, please,” her father said.

The screeching of brakes distracted them for just a moment as a car narrowly avoided hitting a jay-walker. When they turned back, the old man was gone.

“There was so much I wanted to ask,” her father lamented, and then turned his gaze to her. “He brought you back to me, though. Baruch HaShem; what more could I ask?” He led her towards the hotel. “We must call your mother and tell her that you are coming home.” Pausing at the door to take one more look down the street, he added, “And that Moshiach is coming.”

Glossary, in order of appearance:

Rosh Hashanah – Literally, “Head of the Year”; modern Jewish New Year.
Shofar – traditional trumpet, usually made from the horn of a ram or antelope.
L’shanah tovah – Shortened version of traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting that translates to “May you be inscribed for a good year.”
HaShem – Literally, “The Name”, used in place of the Holy Name of God in conversation.
Moshiach – Hebrew word from which we get “Messiah”
Eliyahu – Hebrew form of Elijah
Baruch HaShem – “Bless The Name”; roughly equivalent to the English, “Praise the Lord”

Friday Fiction for August 1st, 2008

This week's entry is the fifth chapter from the book, "Her Father's Star", which is the first of two existing sequels to my first novel-length project, "The Eridanus Dream". The reader should be advised that, in this science-fiction scenario, the world of Epsilon Eridanus IV, called "Qi'le" by the natives, is a Matriarchal society. The mother is the dominant parent, and as such the Eridani people refer to God as Mother. This is not to promote changing the Bible or how we view our Father God; rather, the purpose of the fiction is to hopefully make us think about why we see God the way we do.
In this story, the main character is Se'Ana, daughter of the two main characters in "The Eridanus Dream". Se'Ana has longed to go to the stars since her earliest memories, but accepted her duty as a daughter of a priestess to likewise accept the training and ordination of a priestess. After her ordination, her first assignment is travel to Earth and assist the Priestess B'Tra in the Eridani Embassy. B'Tra is married to a Terran named David Cohen, an ordained Christian minister pastoring a church near the Eridani Embassy in Oregon. This chapter picks up as Se'Ana first visits David's church during her first weekend on Earth. I chose this section because I liked seeing the typical Christian church through the eyes of the Eridani priestess. All dialogue in italics is in the Eridani language.
Her Father's Star (Excerpt)
by Rick Higginson
Chapter 5

Service is not our obedience to God’s command, but rather our response to God’s mercy.
~ The Prophetess Z’Fa of Qi’le

The decision to pair Se’Ana with Elizabeth for the day made sense; they were nearly the same age, the proprieties of Qi’le would not be violated as they might have been if David Jr. had been allowed to escort the priestess for the day as he had volunteered to do, and the class the eldest sister attended would be the one most appropriate for the visitor.

Still, while the daughter of B’Tra had expressed acquiescence to the idea, it was clearly not a duty she was enjoying. The expression she wore in response to the questions and comments sent her way – most of which were not translated into Qi’le – was one of embarrassment and discomfort.

Are you going to wear those robes all the time?” Elizabeth asked.

This is the garment a priestess wears,” she replied. “It is how my mother and my grandmother dress to serve.”

That alone appears to me as a good reason to wear something else.”

She let the comment go unanswered, and returned her attention to the details around her. The architecture and decoration of the church building fascinated her, and she wished she understood more of what she was seeing. There were similarities between the practice of the Terran religion and the traditions of the Qi’le system, but the concept of the church building and the congregation was something completely different from what she had been raised with.

In the hallway they walked down, the walls were covered in illustrations depicting scenes from the Christian Bible stories. She recognized some of them from the times her father had recited the tales to her, and since the style of the other images was similar, she surmised they also corresponded to some event from the Terran Scriptures. She paused in front of one, showing a discretely positioned naked couple, with the woman handing a piece of fruit to the man, and a legless creature hanging from a tree behind her. Adam and Eve, she remembered her father telling her. The creature had tempted the woman, who transgressed first and then tempted the man to sin as well.

In the Qi’le Scriptures, it was the man who succumbed to temptation first, and then enticed the woman to follow along. God had declared that the man had shown he was not suitable to lead, and therefore was put into submission to the woman. From what she knew of Terran history, she was inclined to think God had spoken of the men of both worlds in Her pronouncement. Earth certainly had more than its share of men who had proven to be poor leaders.

She sidestepped to the next picture. The crucifixion; she had been told the depictions of it in artwork rarely approached the reality of the practice, and even still the cruelty of the practice disturbed her. The Terran peoples had conceived of many horrible ways of executing prisoners throughout their ages, and nailing a person to a wooden frame was said to be one of the worst. Even if the man had not been God and had been guilty of the worst blasphemy imaginable, the death should not have been a torturous process.

We can look at the pictures after services if you wish,” Elizabeth said. “We need to get to our class now, though. It does not reflect well on my father if I am late.”

My grandmother, the priestess Noma, said much the same concerning my behavior in the priestess school.”

I would not think it as important, since my mother speaks of the number of priestesses in the village of T’Cha.”

Because of the school, there are more priestesses than would otherwise be in a village of T’Cha’s size, but Noma served many years as the priestess elder of the village. Even after the priestess Sh’e took over as priestess elder, my grandmother was still held in high regard. I would venture that to be a daughter of T’Cha in the village of T’Cha is much as it is to be the daughter of a pastor.”

Elizabeth led her into medium sized room, and every face around the table turned to stare at them. Several conversations started, and she managed to catch only a select few words of English. Thinking of her grandmother, she wondered how long Noma would suggest allowing the discourtesy to continue.

If you are going to discuss me, at least you could allow me to introduce myself,” Se’Ana said.

My apologies, honored priestess,” Elizabeth replied.

It irritates you to call me that; I would rather you call me Se’Ana, if the customary title bothers you so much.

My mother would not approve.”

Se’Ana looked around. “I do not see the priestess B’Tra anywhere nearby; besides, a priestess may give anyone she chooses leave to dispense with the formality. My mother told me that even the High Priestess Ch’Sa preferred to drop the formal titles in normal conversation. If the High Priestess could do so, then I believe it is quite acceptable for a young priestess from a minor village to do so as well.

It will not offend you?

If it did, I would not have offered. I have not been a priestess long enough to have become accustomed to the deference, nor have I ever felt that such esteem was due to me.”

“Liz?” One of the young men at the table questioned.

Elizabeth waved off the intrusion for the moment, and then smiled and nodded at Se’Ana.

I am the priestess Se’Ana, daughter of Y’La, of the family T’Cha, of the village of T’Cha. I am honored to meet you.” She waited while her words were translated.

A young woman stood up from her chair, her jaw agape. “Y’La?” she said.

Elizabeth belayed the question. She went around the room and gave a name for each face, which Se’Ana dutifully repeated and fought hard to remember. When she had finished, both women took their seats.

The young woman spoke again, never taking her eyes off Se’Ana.

Is there a problem?

Holly has always been fascinated by the Columbus mission,” Elizabeth replied. “She wishes clarification that you are the daughter of the Y’La that met Sean Scott beside the lander Pisces.”

Tell her that I know the Pisces almost as well as my father does; these robes are my birthright as a daughter of Y’La, and Pisces is my birthright as a daughter of Sean of the family Scott.

Holly listened to the translation with awe in her eyes.

She said she has studied all about the Columbus mission and the stories of your parents,” Elizabeth said.

The priestess laughed. “What a coincidence,” she said. “So have I. Perhaps we should sit down one day and discuss what we have learned. I would love to know if I have missed anything.

Holly looked surprised when the statement was relayed to her.

She wonders how she would know something about your parents that you do not know.”

Se’Ana smiled. “Do your parents tell you everything about their meeting and courtship?

The conversation was halted when the class instructor entered the room. He, like many of his students, did a double-take on the newcomer. Unlike his students, though, he recovered quickly and lowered his eyes as Se’Ana stood. “Honored priestess,” he greeted.

Se’Ana stood and introduced herself. “You know the courtesies of Qi’le,” she added afterwards.

Those who teach here work quite a bit with my mother. While she does not require the courtesies of them, my father has explained that they can often help her when she is feeling homesick for the village of T’Cha,” Elizabeth commented. “That is about all the Qi’le Fred knows, though.

Please tell him I am a young priestess from a small village,” Se’Ana said. “I merit no special treatment, nor do I require any other than you translating for me. I hope to not require that service before much time has passed as well.

Holly spoke with the instructor after Elizabeth conveyed the message, and Fred laughed at her words.

He says you have made an impression on his sister. Fred is Holly’s older brother.” She tugged gently at the robe. “Please sit; it is time for class to begin.”

The lesson seemed to pass too quickly for Se’Ana. She did her best to catch English words as she could, as well as following along in the English Bible she shared with Elizabeth, but still required ample translation. The lesson was from the book of James, and she liked the man’s practical approach to things. Fred extrapolated applications for the lives of the young people around the table, and more than one blanched when some principle touched an area they struggled with. The expressions needed no translation; she and her fellow students had worn very similar faces during some of the more difficult lessons in the priestess school.

When the class was over, several of the young people mulled around chatting until it was time for the main service of the morning. Holly proceeded to pepper Se’Ana with numerous questions, which the priestess patiently tried to answer even as Elizabeth became frustrated. David Jr. showed up to invite them to join B’Tra in the crying room for the main service, and she followed the siblings to the small room where their mother sat cradling her infant daughter.

You may sit with your friends, Elizabeth. It will be easier for me to translate this portion anyway,” B’Tra told her.

She does speak Qi’le quite well,” Se’Ana commented once the two priestesses were alone in the room.

One learns what one must,” B’Tra said. “We did not wish the children to learn the language of Qi’le just for the heritage it represents to them, but also so that they would be able to communicate with any of our people that might arrive here. We have not had many, but it has been helpful for the children to be able to interact with them and offer assistance as needed.”

Honored priestess, why did you request a priestess from T’Cha be sent here? What is my task to be?” Se’Ana asked. “If I am to try and convince your daughters to accept their duty and become priestesses, I may not be the best one for such a task.”

I had hoped that my daughter Kimmie would be ready to begin priestess training by the time you arrived, honored priestess, and that would have been one of your duties,” she replied. “She is a bit older than a daughter would be upon entering the training on our world, but she is even less willing than Elizabeth was at her age. She has even forsaken her name in favor of a similar sounding Terran name.”

Her name, honored priestess? How does one forsake her name?”

Her name is K’Mi, after my mother. Some of the people here, though, preferred using the Terran name Kimmie for her, which they found easier to say. She decided she likes it better as well.” She glanced down at the sleeping baby in her arms. “This one will be my final chance to have a priestess follow in the Re’Fa lineage.

Perhaps her heart will be inclined to the world of her mother, even as mine was inclined towards the world of my father.”

I can only pray that will be the case, honored priestess. I fear, though, that she will be like her siblings and think that this is how all faith should be.” She gestured with a glance through the window that divided the small room from the main area, where the musicians were taking their places for the start of the service, and people moved to take their seats. “My husband’s people have their own order of things in worshipping God, and in its way it is good and beautiful. Still, it is not the way of Qi’le to worship and serve in this way. To my children this is the only way it should be done, though.” The chorus began and B’Tra rendered the words into Qi’le. It was odd hearing the English words and the associated melody juxtaposed on the words in Qi’le with the melodic elements of that language included. The congregation sang two more choruses, heard a list of announcements, and then one more chorus.

The worship leader held up his hand for a moment. “We have a special request from the pastor’s daughter, Kimmie this morning,” he said, and B’Tra translated. “If you will all stand, we have one more song to do.” The congregation rose as the musicians began the introduction phrases of the song.

This is my Father’s world,” Se’Ana listened to the translation. “And to my listening ears, all nature sings and around me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world,” the song continued even as her thoughts wandered.

She knew the song referred to God as the Father whom the world belonged to, though she found the double-entendre that it applied as well to her own father an interesting twist. Yet, even as she considered it, she realized that this was her father’s world, but that it wasn’t anymore. She understood what the priestess Alice had been telling her that night. It was not just the B’sela that held her father to the world of Qi’le; it was his embracing of all that the B’sela had offered. It was easier to see as she looked out at the men in the congregation that her father wasn’t a man of the Archipelago anymore. For that matter, when he’d left aboard Columbus the various worlds hadn’t even adopted that term yet. They were still the colony worlds. It had been a speech made by one of the chairpersons of the Colonial Council that had first used the term Archipelago to describe the scattered worlds inhabited by humans from Earth. The Archipelago had grown while her father had settled. He would never be fully Qi’le, but Alice was right; he was more Qi’le than Terran. As she listened to the final phrases of the song, she wondered which heritage was actually stronger in her. She had once thought she was more Terran than Qi’le, but she was no longer certain.

This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done. Jesus who died will be satisfied, when Earth and Heaven are one,” the song concluded.

She knew that in many of the Terran languages, the word heaven could refer to the place of paradise in the afterlife or it could refer to the sky and on to the stars. Is the song prophetic? She wondered. Was there yet another world in the heavens that God had planted humanity upon, and the ultimate plan was that those worlds would end up united? The Christians still waited for the return of Jesus; would that happen once the Earth and heavens were one?

The Qi’le scriptures taught that the B’sela was always given in accordance with God’s plan, and that She had a given purpose in who She brought together. It had certainly accelerated the interfacing between the expanding Terran colonies and the world of Qi’le, both through her own parents and through B’Tra and David. Only a few other B’selai had occurred between Terrans and Qi’le in the years since, and the first two such unions were still the pivotal ones.

As she listened to David begin to teach, she reflected how she had long felt that T’Cha had been much too small a village for her. In a moment of epiphany, she realized it hadn’t been her that the village was too small for; it had been God’s plan. She wasn’t a big tree in a small forest; she was merely a branch on that tree, obligated to grow in accordance with the tree or be broken off in the process.

Somewhere in the growth of that tree she had a service to perform and she prayed that she would be able to complete her task. She had thought the village too small for her; in a painful admission, she confessed that she had been too small for the village. Looking over at B’Tra, who held the infant suckling at her breast, she understood the weary look on the woman’s face.

The strength of the priestess is in the community of priestesses, their lessons had stressed. God worked through the unity of the priestesses. B’Tra had been serving a lonely post far away from the strength of other priestesses, and for as little time as Se’Ana had been on Earth, she was painfully aware just how far she was from the encouraging presence of mature and experienced priestesses to support her. She could look to B’Tra, but at that moment, it was B’Tra who needed the support.

Alice had commented that for a moment she had sounded like her grandmother, the priestess Noma. Even with the health problems and having endured the loss of her husband, Noma exuded a strength and confidence that was enviable. Se’Ana began to wish she could do more than just occasionally sound like Noma. It was too late to accept her grandmother’s offer of help with her priestess studies, and much too far to seek the older woman’s wisdom in the unknown tasks that lie ahead.

Se’Ana saw herself as a very small branch on a very big tree in an immense forest. It wasn’t the kind of revelation she had hoped for in life.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Friday Fiction for July 25th, 2008

Welcome to my second installment in the Fiction Friday Blog. This is the submission for 25 July 2008, and is an original short story written specifically for this blog.
Readers of Cardan's Pod will recognize the characters in this story, which was sparked by a short scene in the sequel, Marta's Pod. The events in this story are mentioned briefly in that scene, and for a while I've thought about expanding that into the short story contained herein. This narrative takes place a few years after the closing scene of Cardan's Pod, and very shortly before the start of Marta's Pod. This story has a great deal of Christian content, and I hope the reader takes some good principles from it. The story related by Diego Hyland about Rabbi Yisrael Solanter is actually taken from Jewish writings, and as near as we can tell, is true.
Pleasant Deeds, Pleasant Dreams
By Rick Higginson

Reverend Diego Hyland stepped out of the office into the quiet sanctuary, intent upon dropping the sealed envelope in the secretary’s in-box for postage and mailing. At first, he didn’t notice the figure sitting alone in one of the back rows, and was almost back to his office door before stopping to look at the man. His stomach momentarily twisted, and he stood staring at the man for a few moments in silence.

The man noticed his gaze and stood, resting his hands on the back of the seat in front of him. “I don’t know if’n you remember me, Pastor Hyland, but I was hopin’ I might have a word with you,” he said.

“Yes, I do remember you, Mr. Grinnell,” Diego said, feeling his heart beating a bit faster. “The last time I saw you, you were spying on Sally and me, after you had tried to kill our friend Joshua Cardan.” He kept his hand on the open door of the office, wondering if he could lock the door and call 9-1-1 faster than the man could cover the distance through the sanctuary.

“Yes, sir, that was me all right, and I sure wouldn’t blame you if’n you threw me outta here. If’n you’d rather, I’ll stay right back here and say my piece. I tried to think of any way I could get outta it, but I always came back to this was somethin’ I had to do,” Lonnie Grinnell said.

“I think staying back there is a good idea. What’s on your mind, Mr. Grinnell?”

The big man lowered his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I ain’t the same man I was, Rev’rend. I can’t rightly say what happened out there that last night on my boat, but it got me to thinkin’ ‘bout my life and the way I was livin’. I gave my life to God while I was in prison, an’ now that I’m out, I found me a good church an’ some good teachin’.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said, his emotions reserved. I’ve heard this story before many times in my ministry, he thought. Now, what do you want?

“I know that God has forgiven me for what I’ve done, but I was readin’ my Bible an’ saw this part talkin’ ‘bout bringin’ our offerings to the altar when someone had somethin’ against us. It said to get things right with your brother first, an’ then bring your offering.”

“I’m very familiar with that passage.”

“Well, sir, my lady friend is goin’ through the steps with AA, and part of that is she’s got to go and seek forgiveness from those she’s wronged. It didn’t make no sense to me that if’n she’s been forgiven by God for what’s she’s done, but still has’ta ask forgiveness from other folks, that I could jus’ take God’s forgiveness and forget about those other folks in my past.” He raised his face to meet Diego’s eyes. “You and the missus are good folks, an’ I knew that even then. I did you wrong by tryin’ to hurt your friend, and then by followin’ and spyin’ on you when you was lookin’ for him. I won’t blame you if’n you never forgive me, but God jus’ wouldn’t leave me alone ‘til I came and told you I was wrong and asked.”

“What else do you want, Mr. Grinnell?” Even as he asked the cynical question, he felt a pang of conscience, as the thought crossed his mind asking why he thought the worst of the man. Because I’ve seen this before, he rationalized right back. There’s always a string attached.

“That’s all,” Lonnie said. “Unless-”

Here it comes, Diego thought.

“If’n you know how I could reach Mr. Cardan, so’s I can ask his forgiveness, too.”

“Is that really all you want from Joshua Cardan as well?”

“I don’t blame you for not trustin’ me, Pastor Hyland. Lord knows I weren’t much of a trustworthy sort, and I wish I had somethin’ more than jus’ my words to give you, but that’s all I want an’ it’s a far sight more’n I have any right to ask. I used’ta think the story of Jacob wrasslin’ with God was kind’a dumb, but not any more. I’ve been wrasslin’ with God over this for days, an’ He jus’ keeps pinnin’ me right back on His Word. My brother has somethin’ against me, and I gotta try an’ make it right.”

His hand slipped from the doorknob to hang at his side. How many times have you wrestled with God? The question lingered in his mind. You know what you’re supposed to do, Diego. Are you going to make God wrestle you into submission for this one, too?

He lowered his face. “I’ve done what I had to come do, Pastor, so’s if you want, I’ll jus’ show myself out and leave you in peace.”

Diego closed his eyes and thought a silent prayer. Okay, God. I’m going to trust you, even if I don’t like it. Stepping down from the dais, he spread his arms out and walked down the aisle towards the back of the church. “I’d have to ask your forgiveness if I let you leave that way,” he said.

Lonnie stepped into the aisle hesitantly, looking confused as he accepted the embrace. “Pastor, I-”

“As God has forgiven me,” Diego said, his voice breaking as he surrendered to the emotions. “I also forgive you.”

The powerful arms wrapped reluctantly around him, as though he were afraid the gesture would not be welcome. The calloused hands rested on his back with the lightest of touches at first, and then with a more positive embrace as the big fisherman began to sob.


Joshua Cardan listened to the confession with mixed emotions. With every word, he felt again the crack of the sail boom hitting his skull, the humiliation of Cynthia’s laughter over the waves, and the terrible finality of sinking beneath the surface as the two of them had pulled away from the sailboat that night. The nightmares had abated in the time since the murder attempt, but every once in a while he still woke up gasping for breath and covered in sweat.

“What I done was wrong, Mr. Cardan,” Lonnie Grinnell said through the phone. “I ain’t makin’ no excuses and I own up to every bit of my fault in the matter. Your forgiveness is a fair piece more’n I deserve, and I ‘preciate you even agreein’ to hear me out.”

Closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, unconsciously lingering over the spot where the wound from the sail boom had been. The advantage of the moral high road, his father’s words echoed in his mind, is that you maintain a good conscience even if the decision doesn’t turn out well.

“Are you still there, Mr. Cardan?”

Take the moral high road, he imagined his father advising him. “Yes, I’m here,” he said. “How did Cynthia convince you to help her kill me?” I’m not sure I’m ready for the high road quite yet, Dad.

“Sir, as much as it might seem fittin’ for me to put blame on her, I done told you I’m ownin’ up to every bit of my fault. I knew she was married when I took up with her, and I knew it was wrong to do so. I had an inklin’ the first time she mentioned how things might be if’n you were outta the way that she weren’t talkin’ divorce, and I should’a dug my heels in right then and there and said ‘no’. I didn’t, though, even when she came right out and said what she was thinkin’. No, sir, she didn’t trick me into anythin’, and I knew right from the start that hitchin’ my wagon to her was trouble. I did so anyway, an’ the only one t’ blame for my bad choices is me.”

So you’re going to let the man who tried to kill you have the high road to himself? He turned and looked at the portrait of himself and his parents. Maybe if you’d decided to fight the cancer instead of just letting it take you, Dad, you’d have been around to give me this good advice in person instead of just in my imagination.

The strong eyes of a man in his prime stared back from the photograph. How can you forgive him, Josh, if you won’t even forgive me?

You didn’t stick around long enough to ask for forgiveness, Dad. He looked away from the portrait to the print-out from Special Agent Williams on his desk. When the FBI agent had heard Grinnell wanted to talk to him, Williams had looked into what the parolee had been up to lately. “So all you’re asking me for is my forgiveness, then?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Cardan; that’s all I’m askin’.”

When Diego had first contacted him about it, he and Sally were both convinced of the man’s sincerity. Hear him out, Josh, and forgive him, Sally had said. Whether you think he deserves it or not, you need it.

“Like I told Pastor Hyland; God won’t let me rest ‘til I’d done what I could to make things right with you, and now I won’t bother you no more. I just wanted the chance to tell you I was sorry for all the wrong I done you, and if’n you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me, I won’t blame you a bit. I can’t say how forgivin’ I’d feel if’n I were in your shoes.”

He chuckled. He wasn’t wearing any shoes at the moment, though the humor of it passed quickly. “I forgive you, Mr. Grinnell. I hope somehow this brings us both some peace in our lives.” There, Dad; I did it. Are you happy?

He met the unblinking eyes in the photograph again, and the once powerful man seemed to return the challenge. Are you?


“You don’t look so good, Josh,” Diego said, closing the office door as his friend took the offered chair. “What’s wrong?”

“I haven’t slept well since talking to Grinnell. The nightmares had gotten pretty rare before I talked to him, but now I’ve had them every night,” Josh said, slumping in the chair almost to the point of falling out of it.

Diego took his seat and gave him an understanding smile. “Did you forgive him, Josh?”

“Yeah, I told him I forgave him.”

“You told him you forgave him?” he said, raising his eyebrows. “I didn’t ask what you told him; I asked if you’d forgiven him. There’s a big difference.”

He shifted forward to put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “I want to, Diego; you and Sally have both told me that forgiving him and Cynthia is important to my healing, but whenever I think about it, all I can remember is what they did.”

“What have you done to forgive them? For the moment, just think about Lonnie Grinnell, since Cynthia hasn’t even asked for forgiveness yet, and dealing with her is going to be more difficult for you. Let’s tackle the simpler case first.”

Spreading his hands helplessly, he shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, other than agreeing to forgive him. This isn’t like he owes me money or something, and I just decide to write it off.”

Diego swiveled his chair around, and pulled a book from the shelf. “Let me tell you a story, Josh, from a Jewish book that I have here. Back in the 1800s, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was on a train to Vilna, and was treated badly by a young Torah scholar. When the young man found out who he had insulted, he apologized and asked the Rabbi for forgiveness. Rabbi Yisrael not only forgave the young man, he went out of his way to help him in the purpose he’d traveled to Vilna for, including helping him get a good job. Let me read you the answer the Rabbi gave the young man when he was asked why he had done so much for someone that had insulted him so. ‘When you first came to me and apologized I said I forgave you completely and had no resentment at all against you. And I sincerely meant what I said. But a person cannot completely control his emotions, and I was concerned that maybe I did have a trace of bad feeling in me. And it is an important principle that “Deed erases thought.” So I decided to do you a favor, to remove any possible trace of resentment from my heart and so that I would truly be your friend. For it is human nature that when you do a kindness for someone you come to love him and feel yourself his friend.’”

“You think I should do a favor for Grinnell and be his friend? Diego, the man tried to kill me.”

Diego shrugged. “I just read a story about how one wise man dealt with the problem of forgiveness, and the residual resentment that threatened to spoil it. What you choose to do or not do with that story, Josh, is entirely up to you.”


The conversation with Diego two days earlier hadn’t helped. He’d had the nightmares both nights since, and still felt no closer to forgiving the man and putting the whole incident behind him.

It didn’t help that it seemed Sally was in on it now, and he read over the e-mail she had sent. She was recounting the story of Joseph, and how his brothers had sought to do him harm, but instead it had all turned out for the good of many. “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” she wrote.

The same eyes still stared out from the portrait. You can still take the moral high road, he imagined his father saying. If you won’t believe me, you can at least believe Diego. He was always the more level headed of you two boys.

He lifted the print-out from Bill Williams and looked at it again. Okay, Dad, you win. I don’t know if this will work or not, but I’m ready to try anything. Dialing the phone, he waited until the switchboard gave him the option for the extension, and then keyed in three more numbers. “Good morning,” he said when the pleasant female voice answered. “Is this Sherry Canelli? Hi. My name is Joshua Cardan. Yeah; that Joshua Cardan.”


“Grinnell!” the foreman yelled across the noisy warehouse floor. “Telephone!”

Lonnie jogged across the floor to the desk and gave the boss a confused look. “Who would be calling me here?” he asked.

He grabbed a cigarette, and started towards the smoking area with a scowl. “Some gal named Canelli; says she’s with some bank. Make it quick. We don’t pay ya to jack yer jaw.”

He lifted the handset and took the phone off hold. “This is Lonnie Grinnell.”

The voice was unfamiliar. “Mr. Grinnell, this is Sherry Canelli with Trans-Oceanic Financial. You had an application for a business loan with one of our affiliate institutions, and it was forwarded to our office after being rejected by the loan committee at that branch.”

Wonderful, just wonderful, Lonnie thought. Now they’re callin’ me at work to tell me they ain’t gonna loan money to an ex-con. “Yes’m; I’m not sure which bank that was, ‘cause I’ve had loans rejected in several already. Folks ain’t exactly eager to take a chance on a man like me.”

“Mr. Grinnell, if you would like to come to my office this afternoon, Trans-Oceanic would like to discuss the terms of your business loan with you.”

He nearly dropped the phone. “Terms? You mean, you’re gonna loan me the money?”

“There are a few formalities to take care of, sir, such as the appraisal of the boat you wish to purchase, and we would like our small business experts to go over your business plan with you and fine tune it for success, but as of this moment, your loan is approved.”

“What made you change your mind? I always figgered if’n the local bank said no, that was it.”

“I don’t know how someone with your history managed it, Mr. Grinnell, but when someone with the financial assets that Joshua Cardan has calls to say they will guarantee the loan, it gets our attention.”


Josh opened the envelope and removed the card and the photograph. The boat wasn’t new, but it was clean and in good shape. The group of smiling men standing at the stern was proudly displaying a large game fish, next to the bold letters identifying the vessel as the Pleasant Dreams.

The thank-you card was plain, and the handwriting inside that of a working man. “Dear Mr. Cardan,” it read. “I still can’t figure out why you done it, but I can’t thank you enough for helping me get Grinnell Charters going. This picture was from our first fishing excursion, and from their recommendation I already got several more trips booked. Kris is working the office, and we’re discussing a date to get married. We both aim to be sure you never have any reason to regret the chance you took on us, and if you’ve ever a mind to consider such a thing, I’d be mighty proud to call you my friend.

“Thank you kindly, and God bless you, Lonnie Grinnell (and Kris)

Smiling, he set the card on his desk and tacked the photo on the bulletin board, and headed down to what he expected would be a good night’s sleep. He stopped just inside the office door, with his finger on the light switch, and turned back towards the portrait. Yeah, Dad. I forgive you too.

You never could stay mad at me for very long.

I love you, Dad. Good night.

Friday Fiction for July 18th, 2008

This was the submission for the Friday Fiction on July 18th, 2008. I wrote this story a few years back for a fiction contest at the local college. It didn't win, which did not surprise me, as the contest typically favors literary fiction, rather than genre fiction such as sci-fi.

This story is set in the same universe as my Eridanus stories. The idea behind this story was to look at just how far some will go to prove a point. I enjoyed also playing with the ideas of how converting a barren world into a habitable one might work, and while I didn't delve too deep into theories I imagined, I like the visual of the rings at various stages of development.

I hope you enjoy the story.

The Garden of Stephen
By Rick Higginson

The Rover vessel settled to the surface, ready to deliver several metric tons of supplies and a solitary charter passenger. The pilot positioned the craft with practiced ease, and paid little attention to the persistent signals that attempted to kibitz in the process. When the ship rested securely on the tarmac, she commenced the shut down of the engines and turned to her passenger. “It will be just a few more minutes until everything is stabilized sufficiently for you to disembark. The atmosphere here has been converted to the Terran standard, but we need to allow the engine exhaust to dissipate before we step out into it. Trust me; I got in a hurry one time and stepped out too soon, and the little that was left was enough to make me vomit everything I’d ever thought I’d eaten.”

“That’s fine,” Randy Carlson said. “I’m scheduled to stay here at least until the next supply shipment arrives, so I’ll have plenty of time to grow tired of this place.”

“Are you one of the ecosystem technicians that’s supposed to make this place habitable for people?”

“No, I’m a corporate facilitator. The executives back at Earthrise sent me to find out about the budget overruns and to see if I can get the project back on the fiscal schedule. Frankly, I’d hoped to be sent to a world that has some nice golf courses instead of one that is less than ten percent terraformed. If I’m lucky, the local management will already have corrected the problem, and I can just catch a ride with you back to Puerta del Cielo.”

“That wouldn’t hurt my feelings. According to the local data system, I don’t have so much as a passenger scheduled for the return trip. Your company pays well for this run, but it would still be nice to have at least some revenue manifest for the outbound.”

“I’ll do my best to oblige.”

“You’d better be quick, though,” she said. “It will take about four standard hours to offload the cargo, about three standard hours to prep for departure, and then I’m leaving. As I said, this run pays well, but it doesn’t pay any more if I sit here idle for extra time. Each hour I spend here is another hour that I could be closer to the next paying job.”

“I understand,” he said. “I should know within the hour if I need to stay or if I can leave right away. I won’t hold my breath, but I can always hope.”

“Fair enough,” she said as she checked the instruments. “The sensors say the air is clear outside now; you can disembark any time.”

“Thank you,” he said. He unfastened his seat restraints and stood. He grabbed his small carry-on bag and walked past the row of empty SusAn chambers in the passenger compartment. He’d occupied one of the chambers for most of the voyage, and had only been awaken by the ship’s computer shortly before their arrival. He had just spent over a year in the care of the pilot, and knew less about her than he did about the average restaurant server that had waited on him back in Earthrise.

He glanced at her as she went about her tasks in the control center of the ship. She was older than he but still attractive; her time spent accelerating through the plateaus of light speed had staved off some of her aging. He had heard ample stories of how Rovers were notoriously casual about relationships; when one spent most of their life crossing deep space, they rarely had long lasting relationships or families. If she would stay longer than just a few hours, they might be able to enjoy some mutually satisfying diversions, he thought.

“She’d burn you out and leave your smoking carcass on the tarmac,” he imagined the dire warning in one of his co-worker’s taunting voices. He laughed at that, and thought it would be a much better way to go than the death of boredom he anticipated on Keid 2.

She looked up and noticed his gaze. She shook her head and laughed. “I know that look,” she said. “I won’t go for some fast fling, and I ain’t got time for anything better. Listen; if they don’t need you here and you can leave when I’m ready, I’ll get this girl back on its way to Puerta del Cielo, and then I’ll show you such a time that you won’t need a SusAn chamber to sleep the rest of the journey.” Her teasing smile vanished and was replaced by a look that was all business. “Here’s the catch, though. You’re young and you’re good looking but I’m not hanging around here for any man. Now go; I’ve got work to do.”

Wow, he flinched. He descended the ramp to the primitive pavement and noted the smell of orange blossoms on the breeze. That’s promising, he thought. It told him that enough soil had been processed to support outside vegetation. He could expect to find alfalfa fields covering vast plots beyond the ring of gardens that surrounded the central facility. Perhaps in the years since he had been dispatched from Earthrise the project had managed to get back on schedule and budget. It would seem a waste for him to have traversed so much space to just turn around and return home, but certainly no worse than the anticipated stay of nearly three standard years until the next supply vessel arrived.

He walked towards the facility entrance, careful to stay out of the lane marked for the remote loaders that sped towards the ship to offload the cargo. Keid 2 was a minor project, as terraforming went, with a single lead scientist and a small team of maintenance workers to keep the equipment in proper repair. More than a few of the Board Members back at Earthrise had questioned why the CEO had pushed for a habitable world around Keid. It was considered too small to serve as a worthwhile colony, and close enough to Puerta del Cielo at Epsilon Eridanus to not be needed as a relay point for farther stars. Maybe I’ll find out why the old man pushed so hard for this project while I’m here, Randy chuckled.

He entered the facility to find an older gentleman waiting for him. “Ah, Mr. Carlson,” the gentleman greeted him. “I’m Stephen Yardley, head of the development here. Welcome to Keid 2.”

“Mr. Yardley,” Randy accepted the offered handshake.

“Please, call me Steve; we’re likely going to be working together for a while, so we might as well drop the formalities now.”

“Well, actually, I’d hoped you might tell me the terraforming was back on schedule and your budget overruns were corrected, so we would not have to work together at all,” Randy said. The thought of the Rover pilot’s promise gave him even more incentive to learn that his services were not required on the remote world.

“Oh, dear me, no,” Steve replied. “While our work is very close to lining up with the schedule, our budget is a horrible mess.” Randy thought he sounded far too cheerful for what should have been bad news. “While I know a tremendous amount about ecosystems and making a planet habitable, I’m almost lost when it comes to corporate fiscal reports, supply requisitions, and payroll systems. I was delighted to hear I was getting a facilitator who could straighten out this mess for me.”

Randy sighed and felt the walls already starting to close in on him. “How much of a budget error are we looking at here?”

“Every time I try and reconcile the system, I come up with around a twelve megacred deficit.”

“Twelve million credits?” Randy steadied himself against the wall. For a year of his life, he would earn less than one thousand credits. The average laborer would earn less than five hundred. “You can’t account for twelve million credits?”

“Well, I can show you where the ledgers are off. It’s a few thousand here, several thousand there, but I assure you, every time I run the numbers, it’s right about twelve megacreds that I can’t figure out what happened to.”

“Diarrhea in the air ducts!” Randy swore. “It could take months, years to figure out where that much has bled from the accounts.”

“Yes,” Steve said. “But we do have a very nice facility here, and I’m sure you’ll be very comfortable with the accommodations we have. In time, I think you might even learn to think of this place as home.”

“Not likely,” Randy said with a scowl.

“Speaking of which,” Steve continued as if he hadn’t heard. “Let me show you to your apartment. One of the remotes will bring your luggage in once it has been unloaded and scanned, but until then I’m sure you’d like to relax for a while before we get to the accounts.”

Randy waved his hand in resignation. “Lead on,” he said when the gesture failed to produce any response.

Steve walked ahead and pointed out features of the facility with a salesman’s charisma. “Here is the commissary,” he paused outside one door. “Keid 2 is completely self-sufficient in food production at this point. We have an excellent variety of agricultural projects going, and our livestock herds are doing exceptionally well. We’ve had to cull the herds beyond our food requirements, so we have ample supplies of meat in long term storage in case of any unforeseen shortages. You’ll find the remote kitchen in the commissary is one of the best anywhere, and can prepare almost any dish you might desire.”

Steve took off again, and Randy struggled to keep up. He knew he missed a majority of what the exuberant older man said; then again, he would have ample time to become as familiar with the facility as Yardley was. By the time they reached the compact apartment that would be his home, his side ached from the exertion. Steve pointed out the main features of the suite and then took his leave.

Alone in the modest room, Randy collapsed on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He had not seen any other people in their whirlwind tour, and wondered just what the population of the development really was. This must be what it feels like to go to prison, he thought as a sense of dread enveloped him. He knew it would be hypocritical to do so, but if had been the kind of man who prayed, he would have beseeched whatever deity might rule over that world that Keid 2 was home to more than just men. He did not look forward to his time there anyway, and if he had to do so without the company of at least one amorous woman, he didn’t think he would survive.

He startled awake to the sound of a gentle knocking on the door, and wondered just how long he had been asleep. He hadn’t brought a watch along, and as he glanced around the room he failed to spot a clock anywhere within view. The knock repeated, a bit louder and longer the second time. He stood and stretched with a yawn, and then crossed the short distance to open the door. Steve stood just outside, his face the same mask of boyish enthusiasm it had been earlier.

“I was just about to head out to one of the remote stations,” he said. “I thought you might like to come along and see some of the nearby progress.”

“Are we walking?”

“Oh, certainly not,” Steve replied with a chuckle. “It’s much too far to walk. I’ve got one of the carts we can take.”

“How long will we be gone?”

“Not long; why? Are you eager to get to your work? I assure you, you’ll have plenty of time for that.”

Randy thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think I’m ready to tackle the accounts just yet. Will I need to take anything along, or am I fine in what I’m wearing?”

“You’ll be fine; this is a very moderate season on Keid 2 and the cart is enclosed. We’ll be able to drive right up to the remote station, as it’s one of the closer ones and on one of the main paths we’ve made.”

It was a short but brisk walk to the garage where the cart waited, and Randy wondered if Steve always moved with such energy. They pulled out of the facility onto a hard-packed road, shaded by orderly groves of fruit trees on either side. “This is the second belt,” Steve explained as they rolled along the dusty path. “The central garden where we started planting Keid 2 is a few kilometers to your right. We have most of the growth regions out to the fourth belt, though two regions are out to the fifth and this one, since it was the first started, is out to the sixth.”

“How large is each belt?”

“The central garden is approximately forty kilometers in diameter, and each belt extends the diameter of the development by another forty kilometers. It takes about five growing seasons before we’re ready to advance a belt from one stage to the next, at which time we’re ready to add another belt to the perimeter. The sidereal year here is shorter than the standard year, so we’re getting more growing seasons in less time. Fortunately, the seasonal changes are relatively mild as well, so the plants which require longer maturing aren’t adversely affected.”

“So your central garden is at the sixth stage? Just how developed is that, anyway?”

“It’s as close to a wild ecosystem as we get without releasing full control. The landscaping has been done to produce a balanced environment, at least for a compact area. The domestic animals have been moved out and select wildlife introduced with an eye on a self-regulating population. While we typically schedule the advancement between the first six stages, we don’t declare an area to be ready for the seventh stage until it has shown it can sustain without constant involvement from us.”

“How close would you say it is to declaring it seventh stage?”

“I’m hoping very close indeed,” Steve replied, turning an optimistic smile towards Randy.He stopped the cart next to some fruit-laden trees. He got out and invited Randy to join him by the low hanging branches. “These nectarines have already ripened; try one. The enriched soil here produces some of the best tasting fruit I’ve ever experienced.”

Randy selected one, wiped the dust from it, and took a bite. “That is good,” he agreed. He dabbed the stray juice from his chin with his shirt sleeve.

“The peaches aren’t quite ripe yet, but they should be soon. Do you like peaches, Randy?”

“Oh, yeah; I love peaches. I moved to Earthrise to study when I was still a teen-ager. You don’t get fresh from the tree fruit on the Moon, and even as fast as they can transport produce from Earth, it just doesn’t taste the same.”

Steve nodded his understanding. “I remember my time at the lunar universities. Believe me; you’ll be able to enjoy all the fresh fruit you like during your stay here.” He gestured towards the cart, and the two men resumed their journey.

The path climbed from the facility, though the cart did not seem to have its speed inhibited at all by the altitude gain. It was easy to determine when they passed from one belt to the next, as the type of foliage that lined to road changed quickly. They were almost to the outer edge of the fourth belt when they heard the Rover ship depart. Any hope Randy had of leaving soon was gone, along with the only woman he had seen since departing Puerta del Cielo.

When they reached what appeared to be an endless sea of alfalfa plants, he knew they had entered the sixth belt. The path eventually took a gentle turn to the left, and the alfalfa fields gave way to bare ground.

Randy saw that the work had already begun to add the seventh belt, as evidence that remote machines had worked the soil was clear all around them. The air held a faint trace of the nearby alfalfa as well as aged manure, and when he looked he saw a few stray alfalfa plants had already started to invade the new ground. A short distance ahead he spotted a small building, and Steve slowed to a stop next to it.

“Normally, I’d send one of the maintenance people out to do this,” he explained. “But they’re all busy elsewhere and this is just a minor problem. Besides, I enjoy getting out here to see the belts firsthand, and I thought you’d enjoy a casual tour.”

Randy looked back the way they had come as Steve went to work. They had climbed much higher than the grade of the path had seemed, and he had an excellent view of the development spread out in the valley below them. It was like looking at an archery target, if one could imagine a target that stretched 240 kilometers in the distance. The other side was lost in a thin haze that covered the valley, but he could still discern the different belts along the path they had followed.

Steve walked up behind him. “Pretty impressive, isn’t it?”

“It would have been great to see it from the Rover ship as we descended, that’s for sure.”

“I have some satellite imagery I can show you of that, but what I was talking about was this,” he reached around Randy to show him an open hand. An intricate nest with several tiny eggs rested in his palm.

“A bird’s nest?” Randy asked skeptically.

“The birds are the hardest to keep where we want them. We have a variety of insects for pollinating, and the birds follow the food. I don’t mind, really, as the purpose here is for life to cover the entire planet. However, this pair built their nest blocking the air sampling port of this station, and it’s been messing up the data we get from here.”

Randy had to laugh; all of the technology that they used for transforming a barren world into one teeming with life, and two small birds could cause a problem that required a long drive to correct.

Steve maintained his constant monologue as they made the drive back to the central facility. Randy listened politely, only slightly more interested for having seen the extent of the development from the higher elevation.

When they reached the garage again, Steve led him to the control room. Monitors lined every wall, each showing different areas of the development on the planet. Steve walked directly to one particular bank of displays and pointed with satisfaction. “These show my central garden; I’m especially proud of how that is turning out.”

He had to admit that the garden certainly appeared to be worthy of such pride, as every scene he could see had the look of a lush paradise. The vegetation was healthy and thick, and periodically a small animal would wander though one scene or another.

“System; find and display Annie,” Steve said.

The main monitor went blank for a few moments before showing another part of the central garden. Randy didn’t notice what Steve had searched for until she moved, reaching for a piece of fruit that dangled from a low branch beside her. “She’s naked,” Randy commented in both surprise and admiration of the young woman sitting beneath the tree.

“That’s Annie,” Steve said. “She takes care of the garden for me.”

“Why is she naked?” Randy asked. “Not that I’m complaining, mind you,” he added.

“She is completely innocent; she doesn’t know clothed from naked, and isn’t really aware of anything that goes on outside of the central garden.”

“How did she get there?”

“Why, I put her there, of course. I created this world, and I created that garden especially for her. She was the daughter of one of the maintenance workers here. Her mother was killed in an accident involving one of the atmospheric conversion machines early on, and Annie was devastated. Her pain vanished when I eradicated all memories of her former life.” He turned to look at Randy. “Are you a religious man, Mr. Carlson?”

“Not really, but I’m almost afraid to ask you why you want to know.”

“I am a scientist, Mr. Carlson; I deal in empirical facts and repeatable effects. I’m not given to accepting the traditional beliefs of supernatural events that led to our existence.”

“Is this where the missing twelve megacreds ended up?” Randy whispered.

Steve laughed. “I assure you, Mr. Carlson, the budget is completely balanced and every credit accounted for. No, you weren’t selected for this assignment because of your talent in accounting and project management.”

“Then why am I here?”

“Were you alive yet when we first made contact with the Eridanis, Mr. Carlson?”

“No; that happened before I was born.”

“I was just starting my science education when the expedition brought back news of another human civilization in our tiny corner of the galaxy. It was, shall we say, rather disheartening to hear that, rather than the discovery promoting the scientific view of the origins of life, the Eridanis held such a similar creation account that it boosted the religious view. When the first Eridani priestess was brought to Earth and immediately bonded to a Terran Bible student through their pseudo-psychic connection, it was taken by many in the Archipelago as proof of the religious claims. Without even trying, those two sparked a widespread revival of superstition masquerading as spirituality.”

“But what does that have to do with that woman in the central garden?”

He turned a wry smile towards Randy. “Do you know who Annie thinks she is, Mr. Carlson?”

He found the return to the formal address almost as discomforting as the direction the conversation had turned. “Why do I have a feeling I do know?”

Steve laughed. “You might; you’re certainly bright enough. Annie believes she is the first woman ever created, because that is what I told her. I’m sure you can guess who she thinks I am.”

Randy shook his head and rubbed his brow. “Yeah, I’m sure I can, and I’m also sure what will happen when word of your project here gets out to the rest of the Archipelago. The priestesses on Eridanus 4 are liable to drive every Terran from the system for something like this. I don’t have to be religious to know that this is blasphemy. You’re going to have every religious person on the hundred worlds ready to crucify you.”

“Oh, wouldn’t that be poetic? The Christians already believe they crucified their God; how amusing it would be if history repeated itself in that regard, too.”

“But why? Why would you risk such public outcry for a stunt like this?”

“Demonstrable repeatability,” he replied. “Think about it; when the population of this world has grown to a sizable level, they will have a very similar ‘creation account’ in their tradition. They will attribute it to a god, even though it was just me behind it all. I will have a scientific process showing that parallel accounts do not equate to a supernatural cause. We’ve argued for years that the similar accounts between the Terran Judeo-Christian tradition and the Eridani tradition could be due to a common colonizing ancestry leaving behind traces of their mythology. Perhaps the colonial race specifically chose to foster religious superstition, even as I’m doing here.”

“You can’t do this,” Randy said. “It’s going to destabilize the relations between the Archipelago and the Eridanis, first off, and it’s liable to set off riots throughout the colony worlds.”

“But I’m already doing it,” Steve countered.

“You’ve got to put a stop to this experiment. You’ve got to tell that woman out there the truth and bring this whole project back to a simple terraforming development.”

Steve sighed in resignation. “I’d so hoped to sell you on the idea, and that you would agree that debunking the foundations of the Judeo-Christian and Eridani religions was a worthwhile advancement for science.” He gestured helplessly. “If I can’t get your support, I have no choice but to scrap the project.” He turned back towards the door to the control room. “Come on; I’ll show you back to your room. It’s going to take me a while to reset the control systems for the standard development.”

He led the way down the hall in silence; the difference in his demeanor from the exuberant host he had been when Randy first arrived to the deflated man that slumped just ahead was striking. He paused outside one door, seeming to debate a detour.

“Since we’re right here, I should point out this room to you.” He held the door and waited for Randy to step ahead of him. “This is the dispensary; should you require any medical assistance, the computer in here can diagnose and treat most common maladies. If anything serious should arise, we have a SusAn chamber in here that will maintain you in stasis until the next supply ship can take you back to the hospital at Puerta del Cielo.”

Randy glanced around the room with detachment. It was difficult to think of such mundane information with Stephen Yardley’s bizarre project still so fresh in his mind. I’m going to have to spend several years with this crackpot until the next supply ship can get me out of here, he realized. He sighed in resignation and wondered how he could make the best of it. Maybe when he tells Annie the truth, he’ll let me tutor her back to current standards. Spending time with her would certainly be better than spending time with this old fool.

He was about to turn and exit the room when he felt the pressure of a hypo-stream on the skin of his neck. “Hey!” he said, jumping away from Steve. “What the hell are you doing?”

Steve smiled indulgently. “I’ve given you a tranquilizer, Randy. It’s not as fast-acting as I would like, but since I’m not a medical doctor, I’d rather be safe with a slower one than to risk causing you permanent damage with a strong one.”

“They’re going to…” his thought drifted from a complete sentence.

“No one is coming to look for you, Randy. By the time the Rover returns to Puerta del Cielo, Keid 2 will be under a corporate quarantine order for the next two hundred standard years; my ‘sponsor’ back at corporate headquarters has already seen to that. The scientists who come after the quarantine is lifted will find the records of what I’ve done here, and despite the unwavering faith of the population, they’ll know that no god was behind the creation of this world. The point will be proven, even if I’m not alive to see it.”

“But I…”

“You won’t remember a thing, Randy, and trust me; you’ll be much happier for it.”

He tried to stay on his feet, leaning against the examining table, but for all his efforts he knew it was a losing battle. His eyes refused to focus even as Steve eased him onto the table. He could still hear Steve’s voice reassuring him for a few moments more after his vision was gone, and then he was out.

“Hello?” The voice was gentle and unfamiliar. He did not remember ever hearing it before. Then again, he did not remember ever hearing anything before, yet he knew he understood the word. He had a vague sense that there must have been something before that moment, but he could not recall so much as a single memory.

Words? What were words, anyway? What was he, and what was speaking to him?

With a conscious effort he opened his eyes, and then shut them immediately against the bright light.

“It’s all right,” the voice said to him again. He moved his hand to shade his face, confused for the moment by why he knew the part that he moved was called a ‘hand’. He opened his eyes again slowly, allowing them to acclimate to the ambient light. The source of the voice stood over him, looking down on him with a gentle smile. She drew closer, reaching out a hand to explore his body. “God tells me that you are Randy, and that He has created you for me. You are different from me, but God says that our differences will be a good thing for us.”

He looked around, confused. Randy? Is that what I am called?

“I am Annie,” his companion said. “Soon God will speak to us and tell us things we should know, but until then, let me show you this garden that God has made for us.” She drew him to his feet even as she studied his features without shame. “Look around,” she encouraged him. “This is all ours, except for one tree in the middle of the garden.”

Watching on the monitor in the control room, Steve smiled. His garden had just reached the seventh stage, and it was time for a rest. The peach tree in the center would have ample ripe fruit in another few weeks, and Randy especially appeared to be highly susceptible to the temptation it would present. He wouldn’t use a snake for the tempter, though. It would make an interesting experiment to see what human perception of the creature would be without the induced bias from the creation mythology. Perhaps a raven instead; he’d always thought they had a somewhat sinister look to them, and it would be a simple matter to implant the neural controls necessary to make it go where he wanted. With the implants in Annie and Randy, he could make them believe they were hearing the raven speak, just as he made them believe they could hear the voice of God.

He already had the implants at work on their libidos. He could tell watching them on the monitors as Annie showed Randy the garden that they felt the first pangs of sexual need. He would allow it to build until it reached the level of constant distraction, and then ‘God’ would tell them what they needed to do to satisfy it. Be fruitful and multiply; wasn’t that how the Judeo-Christian account worded it? He smiled at the thought.

In a few years he would bring some of the maintenance people out of the SusAn chambers they were in, wipe their memories, and place them in other gardens around the planet. He would insure that as children matured they were moved from one group to another to get the gene pool mixed.

All of them, though, would remember the story of Annie and Randy in the Garden of Stephen.