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 The Only Thing That counts

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Anthony Van

The Only Thing That counts Empty
PostSubject: The Only Thing That counts   The Only Thing That counts EmptyWed Oct 25, 2017 2:40 pm

Chapter 23- The Base  


The narrow flare of thrusting plasma continued to push in the opposite direction to the rapidly approaching lunar orb. Kelly and Jimmy were sharing life stories and remarking on how the current situation made them reflect on their own mortality.

“I want to talk to that Pastor David if we ever get out of this,” Kelly shared solemnly.

“If it’s not too late,” observed Jimmy. “I’m thinking I might have a chat with Jodie soon... she seems to know where she’s going,” whispered Jimmy as he peered across to Jodie who seemed to be resting her eyes.

“Yeah, or Steve... he was telling me a bit about his faith the other day.”

“Yeah...” Jimmy was pensive, “He never used to talk about it.”

             Shuddering gently from the long burn, the crafts negative acceleration created an artificial gravity that caused Steve to squirm a little uncomfortably in his seat. Either that or it was the conversation he overheard while pretending to snooze. He leaned across to Jodie. “You asleep?” he said softly, and then smirked a little painfully at the unnecessary quality of the question. Jodie shook her head, responding with the only possible correct answer to the question.

“I was getting used to weightlessness,” he murmured in Jodie’s ear.

“Meanwhile your muscles were going to jelly,” she replied, flicking her gaze up at him.

“How are you coping with the flight?”

“Oh, okay. I think I’m getting used to it.”

            Steve was suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to clasp her hand and look into her bright blue eyes and share his heart ache for her. The realisation that his friendship and affection for her over the years had somehow, just recently, developed into an ‘evermore love’ tore at him. How could he complicate their desperate plight by declaring his feelings? Would it just be soppy sentimentality compared to the violence and life and death struggle embroiling them? Jodie had always, in the past, come across as sober and even tempered... one of the guys, but lately she was unpredictable, moody and even a little testy at times. Whatever it was that was upsetting her, she probably didn’t need his emotional confessions to add to her malaise.

            “What?” Jodie’s blunt query interrupted his distracted stare into her face.

“Er, nothing, just thinking... I guess I got lost in my thoughts.”

Her hand tenderly went to his swollen face, “You look a little worse for the wear.” Warmth spread though him at her touch. ‘What difference would it make if she knew,’ Steve reasoned, but an abrupt silence as the propulsion unit shut down, caused him to hesitate divulging his inner yearnings.

            “Cute.” Jodie removed her hand quickly as Colonel Klein drew near. “I trust your metabolism has settled, Mr James?” there was a sneer in his voice as if he detested this weak civilian. “Don’t get too cosy though, we’ll be making a landing approach soon, and then we’ll get you all to work. We’ll have a nice little community in no time.” He moved off and everyone unstrapped themselves and floated toward the many viewing ports to catch their first close up views of the moon.

            The four of them were no different. They were soon drinking in the stark beauty of the lunar terrain. The creamy greys contrasted with the intense coal blackness of shadows, bright, light, dusty stretches pockmarked with craters, strewn with boulders and streaked with white and darker streaks of ejecta. As the orbit around the Moon continued they entered the night side; at first faintly illuminated by a fat crescent Earth, then crossing into the black void of a world without an atmosphere.

            Almost reverently the observers took in the sights. Sighs and occasional gasps of delight broke the sense of wonder. Before they had a chance to share their awe, the digitised voice instructed all to resume their seats for the landing. A brief burst from the rockets dropped the craft out of orbit into a steady, controlled descent. Minor whines and trembles were further evidence that they were being nudged into trim. Seeing the horizon drop from view out a side view port was clear indication to Steve that Transit 1 was moving into a position perpendicular to the Moon’s surface. With no warning the whine of the plasma beam was initiated, and the final approach of propulsion induced weight was accompanied by strengthening strands of gravity tugging at their bodies.

            Before it fully registered that they had landed, Transit 1 had settled smoothly on the surface, the engines shut down and the short quiet was overcome by an announcement: ‘Please remain seated until Transit 1 is in a prone position’. After a cradle clunked against the ship it slowly and quietly tilted and finally settled into a horizontal position.

            There was another brief silence, finally broken by the rustling, rattling and chatter of stretching bodies and those on board collecting themselves in anticipation for an extra-terrestrial jaunt. Movements were exaggerated by the weak gravity of the Moon, and a number of ‘excuse-mes’ were exchanged before the novice astronauts adapted to their lunar buoyancy. 

            Instructions were issued that two crew were suiting up. Corporal O’Grady informed them that it may be up to an hour before the transit tube could be attached and tested, and they could disembark safely. Instead of allowing the four detainees to start watching the docking process, the corporal intervened in their movement to the heavy glass windows.

            “I’m sorry you’ve got some work to do,” he said flatly and herded Steve, Jimmy, Jodie and Kelly into the cargo-storage area. “You need to ready all the trays for transfer, and then stack the supplies near the side portal. Some electric carriers will use a larger connection annex to haul stores and then your plants, once we’re ready.”

“Why don’t we move the stores first, then we wouldn’t have to work around the trays?” It was Kelly seemingly making a valid suggestion.

“Some stores are perishable; out last, stored away first... the plants don’t matter.” O’Grady was almost expressionless, but it was obvious that he knew what he was doing; even if what he said wasn’t immediately apparent to them. Private Vaughn joined them and happily worked with them as they laboured at a testing pace.

            Sizeable piles of plants formed small canyons in the module and they were just taking a breather when they heard a short signal and then a message that it was safe to exit. A number of crew were then diverted to assist in the offloading of Transit 1 from the lunar station side. They heard Shelley’s voice giving commands. Some were sent to organise the decanting of water and the removal of pressurised gas cylinders. Others were ordered to prepare the greenhouses and solar farms for the deliveries which were soon to follow. A job which had taken hours on Earth, that of loading the craft, was being undone in far less time because the trays were now only a sixth of the weight. When all the plants had been moved inside for later transfer, the refrigerated containers themselves were unlatched and placed near the exit panel—that is, all except one.

            Colonel Klein appeared in the connecting passageway with a small cohort of guards and ordered authoritatively, “Miss Roberts come with me.” His voice was bullying, the tone carried an inferred threat.

“Time you earned your keep,” he leered as Kelly moved past. It was very clear that she had been taken into custody as the soldiers surrounded her and moved off.

“Why are they taking her?” Steve sounded out O’Grady.

“You don’t want to know... she’ll be okay if she cooperates.” His expression revealed the distaste he felt for Klein and his methods.

“Why do you go along with Klein? You know he’s a renegade... He’s killed people!” Steve appealed.

“You don’t know that. He’s my superior officer. He’s trying to control a dangerous situation by removing germ warfare agents produced by some crazies.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“No?... I should believe you—someone who broke into a secure base; left a body on a stolen sub and then snuck into the base again.”

            Steve was about to refute the corporal’s story sensing a lack of conviction, when the PA sounded a warning, then an announcement followed: ‘Storage pod access being tested. Please seal the compartment to prepare for opening.

Vaughn moved to the hatch and closed it. O’Grady then lifted a handset and spoke. “Storage module ready for opening

            A slight hum of servo motors preceded the large lateral oval hatch popping, as synthetic air tight seals separated. A small crowd of servicemen awaited inside the large expandable loading tube. With the supply of plenty of hands, the spacecraft soon disgorged its cargo and the stores were distributed to a number of locations.

Steve, Jimmy and Jodie were escorted by O’Grady and Vaughn; who now seemed to be permanently assigned to supervise them. O’Grady explained that they were heading to the greenhouses where they were required to set up the plants and cultures in their various stages of growth.

            Their journey was mostly through enclosed passages. The temptation to bounce along in the depleted gravity was soon stemmed by the tendency to bump their heads on the ceiling. The three emerged into the first of several huge domes covered with tough, transparent, but heavily tinted plastic panels. Looking through the panels placed in geodesic patterns, they were intimidated by the vault of black space above. Steve adjusted his strange elongated stride to a more natural but bouncy gait. Moving to each subsequent dome they had to pass through pressurised doors, an obvious concession to the possibility that some sector or other may be perforated or lose pressure.

            The first two greenhouse domes were ready but empty of plants. The third and fourth domes housed large vegetable plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes, as well as corn and small fruit trees. These looked like they had been established for several months. The fifth and sixth domes had the beginnings of a variety of trees and tropical plants with well-equipped propagation and agricultural labs along the back and sides.

            Adjacent to these were water treatment domes and storage facilities. And still further along, though the corporal told them rather than showed them, there were fish ponds which were designed to provide some protein for the inhabitants. All these domes were connected to one side of a large central hemispherical enclosure that had the beginnings of a grassed parkland area and a lake. Small trees dotted the miniature park landscape. They wended their way back along a path, passing connections to the various domes. Eventually they reached the first dome and then entered. Numerous trays had already arrived and they were given the task of organising all these and planting the first rows of mature bean, pea, carrot and lettuce seedlings.

            The plants were placed in long enclosed containers filled with growing medium. It wasn’t long before they developed a system with Jimmy filling the containers with the ‘soil’, rebuffing any claims by the other two that he was still too injured to do the work. Steve carried the trays of plants and he and Jodie planted. O’Grady and Vaughn spent their time putting the cultures in storage and clearing away trays. They had worked about three hours when Corporal O’Grady told them to finish up.

            Exhausted, sleep deprived and hungry the three were led through the central park dome into the dining areas. Immediately apparent was the cooler, drier, climate controlled air of this section of the base. All along the way they encountered members of the skeleton maintenance crew that had kept the most fundamental aspects of the fledgling lunar facility operating.

            While they sat to eat, O’Grady softened his demeanour.

“I’ll show you your quarters in a bit. You guys can have a good rest after you have a bite to eat. Order whatever you want.” He smiled, “but you’ll find there are usually only two choices.”

“Thankyou corporal,” said Jodie, and gave him half a smile.

“Name’s Sean and this is Phil,” he said indicating Private Vaughn. “We may as well drop the formalities since we’ll be ... er looking after you for a while.”

            After collecting their food at the counter they sat at some windows that overlooked the park area.

“Will you say grace Steve?” Jodie glanced up and her eyes seemed to twinkle. Steve felt unworthy to say a prayer as he recognised his fixation with his own circumstances, his focus on what he would do, and his lack of appreciation of God’s presence.

“Sure.” He dropped his eyes. “Father, for this food we give you thanks. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

Jimmy grinned across at him thinking again of the message he’d heard from Pastor David and aware that Steve was grappling with where he was. Sean stared at them briefly before starting on his hamburger. “You guys Christians?” he managed after completing his first mouthful.

“Uh huh,” assented Jodie as she worked on her salad, “You?”

The corporal stared ahead. He shook his head slightly, “My parents are... I guess I never took it very seriously.” He stopped, suddenly aware that he’d let his guard down. “Listen I’ve gotta go. Phil will show you your digs. I’m afraid you’ll be locked in till you’re needed for a work cycle.” He rose and walked away still munching on his hamburger.

“Don’t worry about the corporal. He thinks too much sometimes.” Phil observed

“What about you?” it was Jodie again.

“Na, I just follow orders.”

“No, I mean are you a Christian?”

“Me? Nuh, no way. I don’t go in for that stuff. I mean, there might be a God, I don’t know, but I don’t go in for that church stuff.” After stuffing his mouth with more fried rice he mumbled, “And don’t try to convince me. I don’t like being preached at.”

            Unable to eat much of a plate of vegetables and fish, Steve drank a large milkshake tentatively through a straw, favouring the less tender side of his mouth while looking distractedly at Jodie. Phil kept masticating, eyes averted and Jodie glanced across at Steve who had just lowered his gaze from studying her and seemed to be totally preoccupied with his thoughts.

“I wouldn’t mind hearing a bit,” said Jimmy quietly.

“Not here,” interjected Vaughn hurriedly, “Over there where I can keep an eye on you, but I don’t have to listen.” He motioned toward a table further along the window line and then kept on eating.

            Jodie and Jimmy moved to the suggested table and began talking. Steve sat awkwardly in his seat, wishing to be included, but knowing Jodie was eminently capable of sensitively explaining her faith and listening to Jimmy. He breathed a prayer and confessed his self-absorption that seemed to preclude his being ready to share his faith, shallow as it was. Then he confessed wryly that the thought itself was egocentric and instead prayed for Jimmy, that his understanding and belief in Jesus might be established.
            It was later in the utilitarian sleeping quarters of ‘late metallic’ décor that Jimmy shared with Steve the important decision he’d made.

“I prayed the prayer,” was his opening statement. Steve stood and gave him a hug. Jimmy’s wide-eyed surprise caused Steve to explain with a grin.

“It’s customary. It sort of makes us brothers.” And then Jimmy went into some detail explaining how he felt, ‘sort of directionless’ in his life. He’d been mulling over what Pastor David had talked about and realised that after examining the claims of Jesus it clearly put Him into a category of His own. As the Pastor said; He was not just a good man, a wise teacher or even a prophet. He was either the greatest deceiver / trickster the world had ever known, or he was the Son of God.

            After settling into their bunks they reflected over the amazing events they had experienced. Jimmy had innumerable questions for Steve and Steve was delighted to talk about Christian living and struggles in his own life journey for the first hour, less delighted to discuss ideas about doctrines and theology in the second hour and he fell asleep while Jimmy had progressed to asking about prophecies and predictions.

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