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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   Mon Oct 23, 2017 4:56 pm

Chapter 21- Space                            

            About fifteen minutes after settling into orbit a corporal came over.

“The name’s O’Grady...” he said smiling at the girls. “The Lieutenant said I can release you if you promise to behave yourselves. I doubt there’s much you can do now that we’re in space,” he smiled again obviously taken by Jodie and Kelly, and feeling guilty about shackling them in their seats.

            “Thank you soldier...” Kelly reciprocated with a practised saccharine smile, aware of the advantages of fostering sympathies. Realising also, from her training, that nurturing trust was a key to luring your adversary into complacency. “We appreciate it.” Her attractive smile brought a coy bluster from the serviceman as he leaned across and unlocked each catch.

            When finally free of the chafing cuffs, all four rose and tested their weightless condition with a variety of manoeuvres. Drifting to one side of the cabin, Steve examined the night of space through one of the thick glass panes. Foggy smears and glittering light pinpricks patterned the charcoal background. Space was a mixture of dark and light; in parts like a cloudy haze bespattered with iridescent jewels. In other parts the swirl of bright stars towards the centre of the Milky Way provided such a conglomeration of colours and light that he exhaled with wonderment.

“Wow...” he breathed.

“It is beautiful isn’t it?” Kelly effused, sidling up next to him and peering out the same window.

“The designer knew what He was doing,” Steve asserted and reminisced about an old song his Dad use to listen to: ‘In the Stars His Handiwork I See...” he couldn’t think of the rest.

“Mm, it makes you think... everything is so pristine, so perfect, and then we come along...” Kelly was losing herself in her thoughts; she was fearful of her life, but even more fearful of death. She trembled about the possibility that there was a God and she had never acceded to the idea consciously. What could it be like to know of a purpose beyond your own self?

“To you, God did all this?” she made the question sound like a proposition.

            Kelly felt drawn to Steve, maybe because of his faith, his purpose... and certainly because she found him attractive. She looked up at him and noticed that he was already studying her.

“I was going to say it’s not such a big step to trust in Him, but in some ways it’s the biggest step anyone can take.”

“I’m still thinking about it.”

Steve thought about saying it was also easy to do but the hardest thing at the same time, but he resisted. The last thing Kelly needed was to be confused by his inspirational riddles. He knew in himself that to provide the will... the desire to turn to God was sufficient to be empowered to take that step. He likened it to switching on a light. Everything was set up—the power was there—all you had to do was make that contact.

            Warming to his deep blue eyes Kelly wanted to snuggle closer, but suddenly thought of Jodie and her conversation. Jodie had seemed so disturbed with Steve during the flight.

“Is everything okay between you and Jodie?”

“Jodie?” he looked questioningly at Kelly.

“Yes, she seemed angry or upset with you before.”

Steve looked across and saw Jimmy and Jodie looking out the other side.

“She seems okay now.” Steve felt reluctant to share information about Jodie’s panic attack.

“Let’s go and join them.” Kelly gave a slight nudge to the wall and glided to the other side. A similar push sent Steve in generally the same direction and they contacted at almost the same time in a clumsy collision right next to Jodie.

“Sorry, sorry,” Steve apologised defensively as he bundled into both girls. Jodie’s eyes were suddenly dewy again and Steve felt that ache return.

            Seriously, with a direct gaze into her eyes he asked, “How are you feeling now?”

“Much better, thanks,” was her passive reply as if she were reporting to a doctor’s clinical query.

“Aversion therapy works well, does it?” he continued, trying to lighten the moment. The comment meant different things to Steve and Jodie than it did to Kelly, who thought he referred to some personal conflict they were having. In fact that interpretation also occurred to Steve after he had said it, and he wasn’t sure whether he should clarify his comment.

            “Just look at that!” Jimmy exclaimed. Their heads all turned to gorge on the sights of the glowing arc of a new day on Earth rapidly approaching. Gasps and oohs and ahs emanated from a number of others when the rays of pink light emerged through the atmosphere and quickly became a diamond of sparkling white light, and then the growing disk of the raging nuclear inferno which was our Sun. Automatically the windows tinted to reduce the glare as special constituents in the glass filtered out other harmful radiations.

            Below them the vast continent of Africa passed. Dun and earthy arid regions and grasslands ever so gradually morphed as they watched, engrossed. The plains of the south central continent were left behind and soon they were crossing portions of equatorial jungle. They progressed north east and then the incredible lakes of the upper rift valley and the highlands passed beneath. The verdant coastal regions and some population centres drew their attention before the intense liquid blue of the Indian Ocean invaded their sight. Snowy white clouds in clusters and streams and one discernable spiral, meted out their pathway as the orbiting ship effortlessly sped along at about twenty eight thousand kilometres an hour.

            Enthralled by the spectacle, they toured over the sub-continent, the Himalaya and on across Northern China. By the time the orbit had carried them back south into the Pacific (by virtue of the Earth’s tilted axis) the rushing penumbra of the approaching night enveloped them. They had gawked away forty five minutes without being aware of the passing time. The darkness of the Earth’s shadow almost instantly immersed them. Steve and Jimmy floated off to the front of the compartment.

            “What should we do?” Jimmy was looking back at Kelly and Jodie but his question was directed at Steve.

“Somehow we have to locate where the virus is stored.”

“Then what?”

Steve looked sombre, “At some stage we’ll have to destroy it all. But ...” his face tautened.

“...But what?”

“It’d be nice if we didn’t kill everyone,” he said darkly. He had no death wish but in his mind’s eye he saw himself smashing phials, or, maybe as a last resort, trying to crash the Transit 1. Jimmy was also deep in thought. ‘How?’ That was the word spinning around his head. ‘How, how, how?’ The puzzlement of his thoughts reflected in the furrow of his brows and the squint of his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Steve reacted to Jimmy’s expression.

“How is this Colonel going to spread a virus from space?”

“I have no idea.” Steve’s shaking head and extended bottom lip making his words superfluous.

“I mean he can’t just drop them, they’d burn up wouldn’t they? And you said they have to keep them warm. How are they going to do that?” Jimmy was beginning to raise his voice and become animated. Eyes turned inquisitively to them.

“Shhh,” Steve gesticulated for Jimmy to keep it down. “You have a point though,” he said under his breath.

“What?”

“We need to look for a climate controlled container... something that keeps the virus viable.”

             Shelley came through the forward hatch and immediately took charge. “Secure our guests in their seats.” He pointed to the back seats as he ‘flew’ through. “You two come with me.” He motioned to two soldiers near the hatch at the rear, and they waited as the mechanism was disengaged before tugging themselves along some handholds behind him. ‘Somewhere back there...’ thought Steve, ‘there was a temperature controlled container holding the deadly cargo.’

            With fading spirits the four were reattached to their restraints and sat talking softly about their unbelievable situation, speculating on what might await them. Every now and then Steve would glance enviously at those still at the viewing ports being delighted by fresh vistas of the incredible blue green planet below.

            It was after the third orbit that all aboard were summoned to their seats. Shelley had returned from his errand and groped his way to the flight deck.

We will be firing thrusters for lunar trajectory in two minutes.” said a staccato, monotone voice over the intercom.

            Again the pervasive humming infiltrated the whole of the complex workings of Transit 1. Steve looked at Jodie. Her head was bowed. He touched her hand and when she looked up at him he mouthed, “You all right?” Jodie gave a nervous grin and then shut her eyes and tensed herself for the noise and shaking that she expected would come. But this time there was only a weak whining vibration like an old elevator, and a steady, but moderate pressure pushing them back into their seats. The ‘burn’ went on for some time and if they could see it they would have been surprised by the narrowness and intense brightness of the tight beam of energised particles being vented.

            Steve concluded that the traverse to the moon would be much shorter than the early Apollo missions because of the duration of the firing and the efficiency of the plasma drive. He again marvelled when he considered the million degree temperature of the magnetically contained stream of charged particles and the incredible ejection velocity attained.

            As he glanced at the glimmer of refracted light in the rim of one viewing port the glow ceased and so did the quiet whine. Unexpectedly Steve sensed a minor impulse from the side and then realised the ship was reorienting the direction it faced using small gas thrusters. His initial assumption was that the craft would about-face in preparation for its deceleration burn, but this was not the case. It stopped its rotation perpendicular to its course and was facing away from the sun. This was a boon to the sightseers who could monitor their progress by watching the decreasing size of the abundant Earth globe, or the increasing prominence of a stark, but highly spattered Moon globe.

 

            Six hours had passed since they had left Earth orbit and Steve had just returned from his first experience of a space vacuum toilet. It had sufficient instructions for novices such as him, but he still found the experience unnerving. Having been released from their fetters for enough time to have checked out all the views and endured all the small talk the close scrutiny of their guard would allow, Kelly asked if they had somewhere to sleep.

            The same O’Grady who had released them the first time overheard and offered to show them around. Unfortunately for him he was called to the flight deck so he delegated the task to a soldier who had been hovering on the periphery.

“This soldier will help you out.” The young man nodded in response.

“Why thank you er...?” Kelly again used her charming smile to effect.

“Private Vaughn Ma’am...” he smiled back.

            The private provided a short tour for the four of them.

“Where do those floor hatches lead?” asked Steve as they passed a third one.

“Most of the vital systems are located down there: the power units, atmospherics, and fuel and oxygen storage. It’s a no-go zone.”

They were shown the dining facilities and the sleeping areas. The cots were more like shelves from bottom to top. An opaque pull down blind provide some privacy for the occupant and also prevented an active sleeper from floating away. Alternatively, some Velcro straps would also perform the function of restraint.

            In the dining area they drank passible hot coffee through a straw and ate a doughnut each. While they ate Vaughn was summoned to Colonel Klein who was passing through with Shelley. They talked briefly before the young soldier returned to them.

            “I told the Colonel that you wanted a sleep. He said you could have four hours and then he wanted you to check the plants. He said you’ll know what to do.”

“Yeah,” said Jimmy, “we’ll need to check the moisture content of the mature plants and mist them in the tubs if necessary. Those tubs had a little plug in the top didn’t they?”

Steve nodded but only half listened. A plan was taking shape in his mind.

            In his sleeping rack Steve tried to organise his scheme into discrete steps. A simulated emergency, a secret observation post, a diversion to prevent his detection... it all made sense in his half sleep.

 

As far as dreams went the one he drifted into was arguably just as confusing as some of his previous nocturnal adventures.

 

He was at the airport with his wife. He couldn’t picture her face. They were ready to go on their journey. There was a call for them to report to the departure lounge. Then there was another call for them to report to a different departure lounge. With no real desire to rush they made their way to one desk and explained that they were booked to two different destinations. Strangely this didn’t surprise anyone and the man at the desk was most helpful. He took out a map book and explained that if they took a certain flight it would take them to ‘........’ the name sounded real enough, but when Steve awoke he knew it was some generic place with its only existence being in some synapse of his brain that equated with a well-known destination. Even stranger was the idea that this destination bore no relation to the other two.

Now he was swimming. It was like he was swimming underwater and breathing the water. He tried to kick and felt a thump against the wall.

 

It was enough to wake him.

“You okay?” It was Jodie in the space above him.

“Yeah, I’m just dreaming again.”

“I know what you mean.” Jodie had dreamt as well. She couldn’t remember it, which annoyed her a little, but she felt calm, even buoyed. Why? What had changed? It dawned on her. She would never be afraid of flying again. She wanted to share her news. Raising the blind and beaming, she peered down on Steve who only had the straps attached. But he had his eyes closed so she lay back and grinned to herself, “Thanks Lord anyway,” she breathed.  

             Steve went over the dream in his head. It fascinated him. Who was this phantom wife? Would it have helped him if Kelly’s or Jodie’s face had appeared in his dream? What did it mean? Or were dreams just meaningless products of confused conscious thoughts trying to be ‘resolved’ by the sub conscious?
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