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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 30, 2017 5:10 pm

Chapter 28 - Desperation

 

            Steve headed off in his chosen direction and the other two went at approximately one hundred and twenty degrees either side of his course, loping off across the dust covered crater floor, Steve was half way across the five hundred metre span when the voice interrupted his growing exhilaration.

‘You have two hours air supply left.’ 

In little more than ten minutes he had expended or, more likely, lost an hour’s worth of air. The transition to the lunar vacuum had increased his loss rate at least three fold.

“I’ve got about twenty minutes.” he blurted... regretting immediately that he had added to Jodie and Kelly’s mental burdens. But it was already too late. Jodie was on the radio.

“Steve, just stop and conserve your air. We’ll check out the rim.”

“She’s right Steve, don’t move,” Kelly insisted.

“I’m almost there,” he argued, “Besides, I can’t just sit here. I have to get to safety.” Steve bounced up the increasing slope as he spoke.

“But we don’t know which direction safety is,” was Jodie’s terse reply. It masked her aching concern that she and Kelly would helplessly watch Steve die.

            Steve was first to the summit, having to scrabble over the steep lip. A wave of panic made him feel nauseous. There were no domes. At ten metres high Steve could see the horizon to his left. He estimated he could see about five kilometres or so. To the front and right of him there was another large crater similar to the one on which he stood. The far rim of that crater was only six hundred metres away.

He looked back to see Jodie and Kelly still climbing.

“I can’t see anything here, but there could be something behind some craters here.”

Puffing and panting, both Jodie and Kelly reported nothing from their vantage points.

            “I’ve got to go this way,” Steve stated and then jogged down the far side of the crater. Both girls jogged down across the inside of the crater toward where Steve had disappeared from sight and started following his footprints. Steve had ascended the next rise and was just into the next crater, stuttering his steps to prevent a freefall, when the warning voice sounded:

            ‘You have only one hour air supply left. Please return to a pressurised environment’ 

             “Where are you heading? We’re right behind you,” Jodie’s voice rang in his ears. He explained his course, aware that every minute was counting down his vital supply of oxygen. The reserves seemed to be draining exponentially. Striding with elongated arcing steps, puffs of dust squirted away with each footfall. Steve tried to steady his breathing. But every effort to restrain his intake made him more aware of his body’s demand for oxygen. Relenting, he tried to relax and breathe normally.

            With effort he mounted the steep rim, climbing the last two metres on hands and knees. A flutter of dust near his leg drew his attention. It seemed a pinhole stream of air was blowing on the fine dust. He pinched the tough material on his knee with his gloved hand, stemming the flow. He swung the leg ponderously over the edge and pulled himself up, all the time clutching the offending perforated material. The relief he felt at locating the seepage evaporated with another digitised audio warning.

‘Warning! You have half an hour air supply left. Please return to a pressurised environment. Prepare to turn your reserve supply on.’ 

 

            Steve looked up. About half way to the horizon rose the domes of the moon base. Next to them, closer to Steve, were large flat sections of blue/black panels—the solar arrays. Steve headed off in a bounding kind of shuffle, trying to maintain his grip on his leg. He was gasping. The effort to make up as much ground as he could, taxed his strength. For minutes the domes and surrounding modules appeared no closer. Amidst the sweat and heat inside the suit, Steve became aware of a sounding alarm accompanied by the command:

            ‘Switch to oxygen reserves... Switch to oxygen reserves...’

            The message kept repeating. He was heaving great breaths and his head was spinning. Black space, dazzling sun, light grey dust; all passed his vision as he tipped like a drunk, sideways, clumsily, disoriented. Suffering the initial symptoms of oxygen deprivation, he was slow to react. As the meaning infiltrated his brain, Steve engaged the reserve supply. He sat for a few minutes wondering how he had ended sitting in the dust. Gaining some clarity, he again focussed on getting up and getting to the still distant moon base.

            “You okay?” Steve heard Jodie’s query as he bounded off in the direction of the base. “Steve, are you okay? We saw you sitting.” Jodie cried out.

“Yeah,” Steve rasped. His throat was dry. “I’m on reserve air.”

“We’re about one kilometre behind you. Will you make it?” anxiety caused her voice to quiver.”

“I dunno, I don’t have long,” Steve’s mind wandered. Where had he heard that before?

“You can do it Steve. You’re only about eight hundred metres from the base. ” Kelly’s voice sounded in his ears, but it was obliterated by a harsh alarm sounding.

            ‘You have five minutes of oxygen left. You must enter pressurised atmosphere.’ The message kept repeating. Steve turned it off. He looked down at his knee. He’d forgotten to keep his hold on the tiny leak and he had no time to try and locate it now.

            ‘I don’t have long...’ His mind cleared... it was Paul. So much had happened since then. They had succeeded though, hadn’t they? Steve’s body kept moving but breathing became more difficult.

            Steve’s thoughts became erratic. ‘People had died. Why had he taken the virus phial out? What else could he do? Pete had died. It should have been me. It’s going to be me now!’ Gasping at the last remnants of air he staggered several steps, then several more. ‘Just keep going. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Who said that? He had faith. Did he express it though? He didn’t express it like Jodie. He could hear her voice now. He thought he could see her face... maybe not. Everything was dark. Blackness! Was this death?’

                                    -------------------------------------------

            Hands, or cloth, or mask? Something covered his mouth. Cool gas drenched his throat, his lungs... it seemed to percolate through his entire body. There was a bright light. Steve blinked. Was he on the other side? Was this heaven?

“You okay?”

Softly spoken, almost a whisper, he knew that voice.

“Jodie?”

“I’m just here.”

He turned and, now not looking directly at the light, his eyes adjusted. Jodie was in her spacesuit still. Kelly was next to her and Kelly’s father, the general, who was also in a spacesuit.

“What happened?” he managed through his parched throat.

            General Roberts explained: “We heard your voices over the radio. The suits and station are all tuned to the same frequency. Anyway we got the rover out to you... you were only a few hundred metres from the airlock... and brought you here.”

“We?” Steve grinned.

            “It was a team effort,” countered the General. “It was all I could do to stop Jim here from hobbling out in a suit to drag you in. Kelly and Miss Brandon were carrying you when I reached you. Anyway, once we got you in the airlock and pressured up, the two of them tore off your suit and resuscitated you. I mean, you were gone. You sure are a lucky man.”

‘I don’t believe in luck,’ he thought to himself... “Mmmm...” he nodded, “I think I know what you mean.”

            Steve looked past General Roberts and Kelly to see Jimmy looking tired and strained, but also smiling with relief. Next to him was Jodie. He needed to talk to her. Her blue eyes danced and she smirked at some private joke. Steve lost sight of her as Jimmy stepped forward and looked at his blood soaked arm.

“How’s the arm?”

“How’s the leg?”

“Sore.”

            Before he had a chance to say anymore Doc Rose announced, “How about I clean up that arm and we give Mr James a chance to have a bit of rest. Maybe we can meet tonight and share stories around dinner. What do you think General?”

General Roberts nodded and went to the door.

            They went out in single file and Penny and Doctor Rose treated his flesh wound, making it sting as they disinfected it and dressed it. When they were finished, Steve had a thirst quenching drink of water then followed it up with some fruit juice. And then he slept.

            Several hours later he was awoken by some muttering.

“I think we should let him sleep.”

He opened his eyes. It was Sean and Phil. “Hi guys. Good to see you.”

“How are you Steve? We thought we’d just drop in and see how you are,” Sean said hesitantly, “And just to say thanks. We heard what you did.”

Steve didn’t know what to say. He sort of nodded.

Phil backed away excusing them, “Anyway, we should let you rest. We might see you at dinner. The General’s organising a big celebration for everyone.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Steve replied as the two soldiers ducked out.

Penny came in and Steve asked if he could shower with the bandage on. She put some plastic wrap on it to waterproof it and told him to be careful with it.

            Dressing after a short, hot, reinvigorating shower, Steve went to find the Doc to tell him he was ‘checking out’. On his way to Rob Rose’s office he glanced in the open door of the treatment room and saw him with Kelly. The Doc glanced up.

“Come in Steve. I’m just redoing that cast you butchered,” he said with a mock frown. “What can I do for you?”

“Hi Kelly,” he began, noticing that she looked particularly refreshed and attractive, but he now had no ambiguity as to where his affections were. He turned to Doc, “Ah, just letting you know I’m going to my quarters to find some clean clothes.”

“You know how to use the laundry?”

“No, I’ve got quite a pile by now so I’ll have to learn.”

“I’ll show you,” proposed Kelly. “I want to have a chat with you anyway.”

“I’m finished now. You can go in a minute,” said the young physician after attaching the covering bandage. Turning to Kelly he explained, “You’ll have to wait a few minutes just to give it a chance to harden a bit.” And then he put her hand in a sling.

 

            The doc headed off with a comment about seeing them both in the dining area. Steve looked expectantly at Kelly, suspecting but unsure what she wanted to say, and even more unsure how he might reply.

She was sitting on a bed and he was standing ill at ease in front of her.

“Sit on the chair and I’ll let you know what’s on my mind.”

Steve sat.

“I don’t mind telling you that a couple of times today, or yesterday and today?” she shook her head as if she was unclear exactly what she meant, “It doesn’t matter. Anyway, a couple of times I thought I was going to die. And today, when I thought about that, I didn’t know where I’d end up. It seems that you and Jodie do know. I want to know that for myself.”

            “Wow! That’s great,” Steve said. He took some think time and then quietly added, “I guess the best thing I can do is say what my dad used to say to me and then I’ll explain what you need to do. Dad used to tell me ‘It’s all about a relationship with Jesus. It’s not about being religious.’ He said it so often I thought at first that religion was bad. He explained later that religion was how you lived out what you believed, so if you believe the right thing, the truth, the way you lived that out would be good. In fact he said the Bible said religion like that was pure.”

“You loved your dad didn’t you?” Kelly interrupted.

Steve nodded, “It was hard getting used to not having him around.” His voice broke a little.

            Steve went on to explain how we all had a self-centred nature that fell short of God’s perfect standard. But that God had made provision in the sacrifice of his Son, to enable those who believed to have a spiritual relationship with Him, and become part of His family. He went through the steps as he remembered them from youth. He started talking about the ‘Four Spiritual Laws’: God loves you and has a plan for your life. Your sin and selfish nature have separated you from a relationship with God, Jesus came and died and rose again ... He is the way to God. Then, receive God’s provision of Jesus Christ by confessing your sin and need and inviting Jesus into your life—accept Him by faith.

            Steve talked a little about his own faith journey, confessing he hadn’t been a very good model for others. They had been sitting there for almost half an hour and then Kelly stood up.

“We have to get moving. I’ll show you the laundry and you can tell me what happens next.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, how do I receive Jesus... it sounds so strange, and what happens when I do?”

            So they walked, heading off to pick up his clothes on the way. Steve talked about praying simply to God telling Him basically, personally ‘You’re sorry, you believe what He did and you receive Him.’ He tried to explain that some people felt different, some didn’t. It wasn’t about feelings, but about the fact that God was true to His promise. If you accepted Jesus then God has included you in His family.

            Kelly was quiet for a minute or two, looking pensive as they walked, “I’ll have to think about it,” she concluded when they reached the laundry.

“Let me know what you decide.” He wanted to say he would pray for her, but for some reason it sounded wrong coming from him. He resolved that he would pray though.

            Then Steve asked where everyone else was. She told him that the jobs to keep the Moon base going had to be done, especially since they now had an indefinite stay and had to ensure sufficient food and supplies were available.

“Oh yeah,” said Steve, “someone crashed the family car.”

“You’re weird,” Kelly clucked, grinning up at him.

When they had done the laundry Kelly rushed off, realising she had little time to get ready.
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