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 The Only Thing That Counts

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Only Thing That Counts   Fri Oct 06, 2017 4:29 pm

Chapter four - Reality

            It had not been a restful sleep. His mind had traversed a maze of possibilities, of courses of action to respond to this strange threat. Was it real? Who in authority was involved? What was the nature of the research in the first place? All these unknowns invaded his thinking as he tossed and turned, before he eventually succumbed to disturbed bouts of sleep. And then finally, after a harrowing night, he awoke on Sunday morning tired, with no clear plan. When the radio alarm began Steve was halfway to getting out his ‘comfy’ house clothes. It was then he recalled the arrangement to attend church and promptly changed tack. He was barely ready when a car horn sounded. In the driveway was Jodie in her not new, but well kept, sporty looking blue Volkswagen, and Jimmy was sitting next to her. ‘Jodie had obviously been working overtime this week in the proselytising department,’ thought Steve as Jimmy vacated the front seat and held the backrest forward to enable him to fold himself into the back seat. He was a little put out that he wasn’t allocated a front seat, but then begrudgingly admired the fact that Jodie had succeeded in inviting Jimmy along.

 

            She seemed to exercise her faith as a natural part of her life. He, on the other hand, had packaged it as one part of his life. When he was younger it was something to do on weekends, people to hang out with. On occasions he’d tried the devotional route, but it was empty ritual, and his struggles through ‘holy writ’ were only so he could say he had. Now, however, he felt safely ensconced in the ‘Christian environment’.

            They were all fairly casually dressed since that’s the sort of relaxed church it was. The laid back atmosphere had been set by David, the Pastor. He often emphasised the need to be the person you are, at church as well as work, so there was a variety of outfits and characters in the congregation.

            Jodie seemed quite pleased with herself in an unpretentious sort of way and he was about to comment that she might need a bus soon when Jimmy spoke.

“So, Jodie tells me that you’ve been going to this church for years.”

“Yes, though probably not as regularly as I could lately. I thought you knew,” Steve replied.

“Well, it sort of makes sense now, what with not opening Sundays and stuff.” He then added, “I wasn’t going to come, but Jodes said you were coming so I thought, what the heck, I might learn something.”

            Jimmy’s remarks made Steve a little uncomfortable. He had known him for a little while now and yet Jimmy didn’t know about something that, supposedly, should be very important to Steve. Also, whether he liked it or not his life affected the lives of others, and he realised that could be for good or ill. So, for the first time in a while he wondered about purpose and direction for his life. “...It’s good to be reminded about what’s important.” was how Paul put it, and he squirmed a little at his troubling introspection.

Jodie glanced in the mirror and caught a glimpse of Steve in his unusually subdued mood.

            The service was discomforting as well. The text in Romans about ‘living sacrifices’ and ‘proving the will of God’ was reiterated a number of times, contrasting the meaninglessness of secular achievements with the purposeful life guided by the ‘Divine Will’. Steve reflected on his self-absorption with his studies, with his misguided interest in Angela and more recently with the business and his plant-culture research. Jimmy sat next to him and was totally absorbed in what David was saying. For a while Steve was tuned in and mentally assented to the message. At some point when the message seemed to be speaking directly to him he pulled his thoughts away. The last words he half heard were “...be transformed by the renewing of your mind...” but his mind was going somewhere else. Steve was now preoccupied, rehashing a flow chart of ideas. ‘Someone had developed a highly contagious virus. The notes Paul had sent said the virus (or the toxin it produced) was considered extremely dangerous, probably leading to almost instant death. There was also the information that the virus expired with the loss of body heat due to the decease of the victim.’

            The conclusion that Steve was reaching was ominous. It was not going to be used for just a terrorist attack but as a weapon where locations and territory can be claimed and occupied at the demise of the victims and the virus. Maybe it was to take over military establishments, ships or communication facilities. If it were true, the possibilities were horrible. But it may be nothing. Paul might be mistaken. He hoped there was some benign story behind it all.

            Steve’s contemplations were abruptly broken as everyone stood to sing. The service was soon ended and there was a general murmur and movement. Gradually it progressed to lively conversation and discussion, with a bit of banter among some of the younger members.

            He met a number of old acquaintances after the service and Caz and John were there too. Caz had a strange smirk as she greeted them and after some small talk she and Jodie walked off and had a bit of a giggle. Steve imagined their interaction may have included a congratulatory comment or two. Jodie went over and greeted her family and there were hugs all around and some teasing from her sister Jamie about something. He spoke to Jeff and felt that the more he got to know him the more likely it was that they could become good friends. He introduced Jimmy and the three talked about plants and Jeff thanked him for the hole-digger. The pastor came over as Jodie joined them again. He chatted cordially for a while and left inviting them over for tea later in the week. Steve awkwardly expressed his uncertainty saying he would get back to him. Jodie gave him a quizzical look as though she was trying to read his thoughts.

 

            On the way back to Steve’s place they decided to pull into a fast food outlet and have lunch. They bought their meals, which for Steve was his usual burger and fries, while Jodie and Jimmy were a little more imaginative, and healthy. Sitting out in the sun it seemed to Steve that all was well with the world, maybe Paul’s information really was just a big misunderstanding. Maybe it was a piece of speculative research, an exercise in dealing with a threat scenario.

“You seem a bit distant today,” Jodie observed when Jimmy was picking up a second course. “Is everything all right?”

For some reason he couldn’t just deny his unease to Jodie so he side stepped the question by being ambiguous. “I’m just sorting through a few issues.”

“Anything I can help you with?” she looked at him over her juice. He became aware of the blueness of her eyes staring at him.

“No, no thanks. I need to do some thinking and maybe things will fall into place.”

“Okay,” she said softly, seeming a little deflated. After an awkward wait Steve tried to rescue the situation.

“So tell me, are you available to come to work a bit more now, studies finished and all, and what with this new order.”

“I guess so. Why don’t you ring if you don’t need me, since it’s so busy?”

“That’s a good idea. And we can start on the cell cultures tomorrow.”

“Uh uh,” she nodded, “Although you could take tomorrow off. It’s usually pretty quiet Mondays and you did work on the weekend. Besides, I can handle the cultures. I’m a qualified scientist now,” she added with a hint of smugness.

                                                __________________________

 

            That was yesterday. Jodie’s grinning face faded from his memory. Now things were different. He rubbed his face to clear his foggy delirium. Now he was confronted with the terrible twist of events that had him thrown to the forefront of a crisis. How could he ascertain the facts for himself? Would he have to take Paul at his word? If it was untrue what reason could Paul have to fabricate such a horrendous tale? He took a sip of his cold coffee and grimaced. It was very dark now and he flicked on the desk lamp. He grabbed a notepad and determined to read the whole email again before taking down the instructions.
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