Authors: James F. David
December 24, twenty years later
ithout her bodyguards Christy felt vulnerable. People on the street were huddled in clumps, sharing bottles of Christmas cheer, many of them drunk. City power had been cut at nine even though it was Christmas Eve, federal law preventing special accommodation for religious holidays. Most of those on the street were men and they looked her over as she passed. Even at her age, and in the red robes that marked her as a licensed religionist, she was vulnerable. Walking steadily, but with forced confidence, Christy ignored the looks and comments of the men.
Christ's Home bore little resemblance to the town she had visited with Simon Ash so many years ago. She passed the Eternal Rest and Sandman Motels, both run down and now renting rooms by the hour. The Pig and Pancake had been burned to the ground when the military first took the town, but pink paint could still be seen on some of the concrete blocks in the rubble. Christy paused, remembering her breakfast with Mark the day he had given her a tour of the launch facility. There were so many possibilities then. They could have made different choices, lived different lives, but the choices were made, their lives lived.
She left the restaurant and walked past boarded-up houses toward the hill where the church still stood. Up ahead there was a fire in a barrel and a knot of soldiers around it, warming their hands. Christy was particularly wary of soldiers and police who hid their crimes behind uniforms and badges.
Approaching the group, she put on a show of confidence. As she came into the light of the fire they looked her over just as the men on the street had. She carried no purse but there were pockets in her scarlet robe designed for her identity papers. She handed them to a young lieutenant in a dirty uniform. He studied her papers long and hard.
"Where are you going at this time of night, Reverend Maitland?" he demanded finally.
"To the church on the hill," she said.
The lieutenant leafed through her internal passport, studying the pages of stamps recording her movements around the country, never having seen anyone who had traveled as much as she. The other men were ignoring her now, passing a bottle around—except one, who was staring. He looked vaguely familiar but Christy was unable to place his face.
"Why do you want to go to the church?" the lieutenant asked. "There's no one there but an old traitor."
"It's Christmas Eve. I'm going to celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ."
The lieutenant looked disgusted, rolled his eyes for the amusement of his men, then handed her papers back.
"Tell that old man if he rings the bell at midnight, I'll arrest him."
Nodding, Christy tucked her papers away and continued up the hill. The eyes of one soldier followed her into the dark.
Christy had never walked up the hill to the church before, only driven, and it was steeper and longer than she remembered. She was out of breath when she reached the top. The church stood as she remembered it, although the Fellowship hall was nothing but a skeleton, the siding torn off and burned for fuel by neighbors. The rest of the hill had never been developed and she could see the town below and the valley on the other side. The only lights were scattered fires. She knew that somewhere out there was where the
Rising Savior had
A dim light shone from the church and she stepped inside, pausing in the back, looking around. A sputtering lantern lit the interior. He was there, moving chairs into rows, the pews ripped out years ago. He didn't hear her come in and continued working, moving slowly, slightly bent over, dragging one leg. Prison had been hard on him, aging him beyond her. Hair gray, he was balding on his crown. He was thin to the point of looking sickly, and he moved with pained difficulty. His Roman nose still stood out in profile, but it was crooked now. He had changed much over the years, but he was still alive.
"Hello, Mark," she said.
He turned, looking for her. Uncertain of how he would treat her, she hung back, letting him find her. When he did he smiled.
"Hello, Christy," Mark said.
An awkward silence followed, neither willing to say the wrong thing.
"Have you come for the service?" he asked. "It's going to be a candlelight service, there's no electricity."
"It's a conservation measure," she explained. "Christmas Eve services should be by candlelight anyway, don't you think?"
He moved another chair into place.
"Did you get me out of prison, Christy?"
"I negotiated your release," she said.
Moving another chair he said, "How did you do it? Crow hates me. After the asteroids fell he blamed me for the disaster. I became the number one enemy of the state. That's why I'm the fine figure of a man you see today."
"I'm sorry it was bad for you. I tried every year to get you released."
"What did you give Crow, Christy? What was the price of my release?"
"Oil. George Proctor agreed to renew sales to the U.S. if you were released."
"George Proctor? He's still alive?"
"He's president of the Alaskan Republic, Mark."
Mark shook his head, moving another chair.
"Alaska is a separate country now?"
"When Crow suspended the Constitution, George led a revolt. It was a bloody war but in the end Alaska seceded from the union."
Mark shook his head as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"I got no news in prison. Nothing to read at all for the first three years.
I never did get a Bible."
"I have something for you," Christy said, coming forward.
Fishing in her robes she pulled out a Bible, handing it to Mark.
"Thank you," he said.
"Look here," she said, opening the Bible to Revelation and then flipping to the end of the book. Turning the next page Mark saw there was another book there titled
"What's this?" Mark asked, puzzled.
"It's an account of what happened to you and your people."
"My name's here," he said, reading the first paragraph.
"You're all in there. George Proctor wrote it. There's another version of your story after George's version. I don't know who wrote it, but it has intimate details only someone close to you could know."
"It's blasphemy to put this in a Bible."
"Is it? The Bible is a record of God's dealing with humankind. Your story is a part of that history.
"I'm writing my own version of the events, Mark. I'd like you to help me."
The door opened, a family coming in, each parent carrying a small child. They hesitated when they saw Christy's scarlet robes, fearing arrest. Mark's church was unlicensed and the Christmas Eve service illegal. Normally, no one would care enough to bust the service, but her presence made it look like a raid.
"Please come in," she said. "Join us for worship. Reverend Mark and I are old friends."
Relieved, the couple took seats toward the back, holding their children in their laps.
"Will many come?" Christy asked.
"A dozen, maybe as many as twenty. Being public enemy number one makes it difficult to build a congregation."
The door opened and more people came in; two more families and a young couple. All of them eyed Christy but were reassured by the first family.
Christy knew her official robe was the problem and took it off, even though it was illegal for her to be in public without it. Helping Mark with the last of the chairs, she then sat in the front, waiting for the service to begin. Mark passed out candles, which they lit, then the service began, the flickering candles splashing shadows around the walls. There were no hymnals, so they sang from memory—"The First Noel," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Halfway through the last carol Christy's skin prickled, and dust bunnies danced around the room.
Mark opened a Bible—not the one Christy had given him—and began to read the story of the birth of Jesus. The wise men had just arrived to present their gifts when the door opened and a group came in. The worshipers turned in fear, expecting soldiers. Christy gasped when she recognized them—Micah was there, and Shelly, both well into middle age. There were younger ones too, she didn't know. Then pushing through the group came an old man with an eye patch—Ira Breitling.
Mark and Ira rushed each other, embracing and laughing. Shelly came to Christy, holding out a hand.
"Christy, is that you?" she said. "We never expected Mark, let alone you."
"Where did you come from?" Christy asked. "What are you doing here? You're in danger. You must go."
"We have a shuttle outside," Micah said. "We have a few minutes before the soldiers get here." To Mark he said, "We came for you, Mark. You're welcome to come too, Christy." Then to those seated in the church he said, "You're all welcome to come with us. It's a hard life on planet Promise, but it's a good life. You can worship God openly and you'll live in a community that shares your beliefs."
The tiny congregation whispered excitedly. They all knew the story of the Fellowship and of how God had led them to a new world.
Christy stepped back, letting the joyful reunion go on without her. She had never really been a part of the Fellowship, and the old feeling of being marginalized came back. Soon it was clear the entire congregation would be leaving for Promise. Shelly saw Christy hanging back and left Mark to join her.
"Please come, Christy," she said.
"I have a ministry here," Christy said. "You don't need me. Take George Proctor."
"He turned us down and sent us here. He's a warrior, and there are no wars to fight on Promise."
"You have no problems?"
"We've had disease, famine, natural disaster, and come through each stronger in community."
"I don't know, Shelly," Christy said.
"We have to leave, Christy," Shelly said. "They'll be here soon and we can't come back anymore. It's too dangerous, they're building orbital defenses."
Mark joined them, holding her hands.
"Please, Christy," he begged.
Then the door burst open, the soldiers that had checked Christy's papers rushed in. The six men fanned out, aiming their rifles.
"You're all under arrest," the lieutenant said. Then turning to a sergeant, he said, "Take two men and see if you can find their ship."
Before the sergeant could follow his orders, one soldier swung his rifle and shot the sergeant in the chest. The sergeant's last breath exploded from his lungs, his body collapsing in a heap. Then pointing his rifle at the head of the lieutenant he ordered the others to drop their weapons.
Christy and the others stood dumbly, unsure of what was happening.
"Pick up their weapons," the soldier ordered.
Still no one moved until Ira shouted a command.
"Get the guns, Luke," Ira ordered.
Christy watched Ira's son—Crow's seed—gather the weapons.
"On the floor," the soldier with the rifle ordered.
When the soldiers were down, Shelly walked over to the man, studying him. The face was weathered and scarred, the eyes pale blue.
"Daniel Remple!" Shelly announced. "It's Evelyn's boy."
Luke and the other man kept guns on the soldiers, while the rest gathered around Daniel, hugging him, shaking his hand. Tears began to drip from Daniel's eyes.
"What about my mother and father?" Daniel asked.
"Floyd died when they raided the Mexican compound," Shelly said. "Your mother's still alive and so is your sister. You're an uncle, Daniel."
"I'm happy for Faith," Daniel said. Then sadly, "I have things I wanted to say to my father—to apologize."
"He never stopped loving you, Daniel," Shelly said.
"We go now, or we don't go at all," Micah cut in.
"He's right," Daniel said. "We reported in when we spotted the shuttle landing. There are more troops and gunships on the way."
"Everyone, get to the shuttle, now!" Micah shouted.
Pushing those nearest him, Micah soon had them moving through the door, into the night.
"Can you forgive me for what I did?" Daniel asked Shelly. "I said terrible things. The way I treated my mom and dad—"
"God will forgive you, Daniel. All you have to do is ask," Shelly said.
"You don't know what I've done—terrible things."
"God will forgive you, Daniel. Now can you forgive yourself?"
"I want to see my mother. I want to go home."
Taking his arm, Shelly pulled Daniel through the door. Now Mark faced Christy.
"Please come to the new world with me," Mark said.
"It was never meant to be," she said. "That's what you told me the last time I saw you."
"I was wrong, Christy. I've had twenty years to think about what happened and I know you never betrayed me. You wouldn't. I still love you. Come with me."
Christy's eyes welled with tears.
"I can't, Mark. I've had time to think too. I don't believe what you believe, Mark. I don't see the world the way you and your people do. You see black and white where I see shades of gray. I look for middle ground; you see nothing but clear dividing lines. I seek compromise while for you your way is the only way."
"We were good together," Mark said. "It could be that way again."
"Mark, I believe your colony is doomed. The people who left Earth with you are too homogeneous,- there's almost no diversity. For an ecosystem to survive it takes diversity, and human civilizations are the same. You are trying to create a new world order built on social inbreeding. Without diversity each new generation will be weaker than the last."
"But God called us, Christy. God made it possible."
"We're going now," Micah said, coming back in the church, dragging Mark toward the door.
"Please, Christy," Mark begged.
"If you stick your heads out this door we'll blow them off," Luke said to the soldiers on the floor, then backed toward the door.
"Good-bye, Mark," Christy said, pushing him through the door and closing it. Her heart broke as she saw the pain on Mark's face.
The soldiers were up immediately, looking for another exit, disappearing through a back door. A few minutes later the dust bunnies danced again, and she heard the whoosh of a spaceship flying to the stars.