Note: Through this chapter and in future chapters, when scripture is used it will come from "The Message". I have chosen not to not the chapter and verse's in the context of the story, but today's scripture does come from Matthew 5 if you are curious.
Sunday dawned for the first time on The Nina as she traversed the stars. John had watched the crew as they learned their ship, managed their time attached to the String, and waited for what tomorrow would hold as they jumped into the Kranos system.
Captain Dawn had informed the senior staff that they would be doing an inter-system insertion thanks to the work on herself and their Navigator, Ensign James’s long sleep-less night their first day of travel. It was risky, but coming off the String in the system, hear Kranos Delta would put them in the best position to help the most people at quickly as possible and would give them the element of surprise over whatever was waiting for them on the other side.
As John pull his ancient body out of bed, he couldn’t help but think how much simpler it was to stand up to an enemy he knew and how very much he hated not knowing all the details.
When Jesus was alive, he never had the worry of not knowing what was coming. Jesus had been very generous in preparing John not only for the events that would lead to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but of many trials John would go through in the years that followed.
It was those years that were not known to John that were the hardest. In his days he had lived on ever corner of Earth, even spent a few years on Mars and Europa before the Great Exodus. He had been living witness to history unfolding in ways he’d never have imagined. He’d known human kindness and he had seen the horrors they were capable of which left such vivid memories that his nightmares had become the worst thing about living so long.
And today he knew he was about to witness both something of the past coming full circle into the story of humanity as well as scenes that would make even his time-hardened stomach turn. He knew he’d been directed here to help guide the crew and humanity itself through the coming days, what he didn’t know for sure was how he was going to do it.
Ensign Ziess stepped into the ship’s holo-chapel and was immediately assaulted by the extreme environment chosen for today’s service. He had heard rumors that John used the holo-chapel to its fullest extent, but he wasn’t expecting to step through a door into such a different climate than that of the sterile ship.
He also didn’t expect to be alone. He had watched several crew-mates step through just before him, but the chapel had evidently been set to give each person a unique experience without the distraction of friends and crew-mates around them. Ziess had heard of this type of service, something relatively new to the Church’s service plans thanks to some of the more recent advancements in holo-tech, but he’d never experienced one himself.
He couldn’t shake how alone he felt. Looking around he found himself to be on the side of a mountain, somewhere, on the border where the mountains and the desert dance. Sand and snow were but a few hundred feet from one another and depending on the wind’s whim, he was either cooled by the air coming down off the glacier or warmed by the breeze rising from the desert floor.
All he could see was barren land. No roads, no houses, no people. A few sheep wandered here and there, the occasional bird singing in the trees, but otherwise, nothing but a lonely mountain.
He stepped over to a nearby tree and examined it’s fruit, hoping for a sweet treat at the very least to calm his rising nerves at this peculiar setting for a church service. He plucked one of the Green orbs from the tree and carefully extracted the put from its flesh. Well, olives aren’t the sweet treat I was looking for, but at least it’s something! He thought to himself as he popped the fruit into his mouth.
Just as he swallowed his snack, he heard a voice talking in the distance.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
Hearing the voice, he turned to walk toward where it had been carried by the breeze. As he walked though, the wind’s shifted and he couldn’t hear anything more as he approached.
Rounding a bend, he spotted the speaker, talking to a crowd of countless people all dressed in ancient clothing. Up near the speaker was John, sitting and listening to the man speaking. He looked so attentive, so hungry for the word. If Ziess had put more thought to it, he might’ve also seen how much younger John looked here than he had on the bridge two days ago.
That fact was lost to Ziess’ focus going fully on the man speaking. His voice, his demeanor, even his eyes seemed made to capture a piece of the soul and make it take notice.
Ziess slowly wandered ever closer to the speaker, shuffling up through the crowd until he could finally clearly hear the speaker, the teacher talking.
“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”
The words cut through Ziess. After such atrocities as he had witnessed during the distress call from Kranos how could he even begin to “take it?” He wasn’t able to think beyond that initial thought before the scene around him faded and he suddenly found himself hovering over a planet.
And not just any planet, but the very planet his wife and children had just moved to not four weeks before. Kranos Delta. The planet was once such a beautiful place. Lush gardens, ancient forests, flowers in every shape and color. Fifty-eight percent of the surface was water, on a planet full of islands, leaving beaches within walking distance for more than eighty-five percent of the land masses.
Ziess and his wife had spent most of their savings to buy one of the smaller islands, two acres in total, for their home and his wife had worked so carefully to make sure everything was just right.
Looking down, he could see the island’s outline below him as he drifted high above. He imagined, if he only had a pair of binoculars, he would be able to look down and watch h his children playing on such a beautiful fall day.
Until the shadow moved across his face and the sea below.
Ziess turned himself in the computer-generated space and the sight before him too the breath out of him. Not one, but several creatures were approaching the planet, their bodies eclipsing the sun’s light the only indication of their arrival. As they swept in an S-curve path down to the planet, one of them used a talon to grab a satellite from its orbit and fling it toward the planet. As it hit the atmosphere, the satellite ignited into flames and streaked across the sky. Likely the planet’s only warning of what was to come.
For an hour, Ziess watched the creatures knock satellites from the sky, disable small ships with either a bat of their massive tails or a burst of plasma from their mouths. They dipped into the atmosphere and belched fire across the many settlements. What was a beautiful pristine sight of blue, green and purple before was now red, orange and black with fire and smoke.
Glitches in the program told Ziess that he was watching compiled senor data from that fateful day but witnessing so much death and destruction only angered him more. How could that preacher do this to him? How could these creatures be so relentless?
Then he noticed the creatures gathering at one of the mountain ranges near where the capital city was burning. These mountains had been tapped for power due to some seemingly natural phenomenon that had only been discovered on Kranos Delta. A power that had helped the colonists not only build a civilization but terraform three moons and Kranos Gamma as well.
The creatures landed for a moment as one of them dug up something from the mountain. Pulling it from the soil, the creature was obviously distraught. The images zoomed in and Ziess could not believe what he was seeing.
The creatures were examining an egg. Watching, it did not take long to realize that the egg they had pulled up from the soil had spoiled. After a few moments of obvious mourning, the creatures looked towards the burning city then at each other and let out an ear-piercing screech.
Taking flight, Ziess now saw a new determination in the eyes of the creature coming at him. There was anger, pain, revenge in that creatures’ eyes.
As the creature opened its mouth and let loose a torrant of plasma directly at Ziess’s position, which he now realized must have been a sensor-platform above the planet, John’s voice came into his ears.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”
Ziess was surrounded by an eerie darkness as John continued, feeling nothing touching him anywhere, it was as if he simple floated in a forgotten expanse.
“We have two choices as we enter the unknown. We can hate these creatures for all the death and destruction we see, or we can step up and own up to our own failures. We can realize that this incident might’ve been avoided with a little more time, a little more study of the unknown, and a little less rushing in. A failure that has scarred our history since the beginning. A failure that must not continue in how we respond once we arrive in system.
With that, Ziess felt his feet find ground. Around him, light came from everywhere as if dawn were rising around him. He found himself in the Garden of Hope, one of the most beautiful places mankind had created coming out of the Great Exodus.
“I pray you find hope today so that tomorrow you, our fellow crewmates, and our people can find a way to peacefully coexist with the unknown again.”
The others who had been in the service came into view now too, but none of them felt the need to speak. Some wandered the garden, deep in thought, others shuffled out to the corridor choosing to process what they had just experienced elsewhere.
No matter, the energy of the people around him had changed. Where many had held such hate, such anger in their eyes just a few moments before, now had compassion, sorrow in its place.
Ziess had expected to be doing battle and possibly dying tomorrow, but as he left the chapel and headed to his quarters, he wasn’t sure what to expect anymore.