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Fiction Page 3


Lawrence R. Dagstine

     The Ark was like a city.  An enigmatic, multi-hulled vessel shifting silently through the blackness of space, powerful and determined, shining like a well-lit star between the orbit of Phobos and Deimos.  
     The Arkís journey was nearly over.  It had almost been forty days and forty nights since the ship started circling the red planet.  The interior was as impressive as the exterior: enormous high-ceilinged chambers, elaborately decorated cages and walls made of foreign metal; long, echoing corridors and walkways, lifts and stairways, and giant ramps leading between three different levels of animalsí pens.
     There was something very biblical about this ship, and something very strange about to happen on it.  And, seeing that the technology to solve problems was at oneís disposal, it was a shame that the eight human passengers aboard had only a profound knowledge--knowledge ten-thousand years too old--to understand it.
     The control deck was vast, silent and deserted...except for one man.  His name was Noah, and he was an excellent pilot.  His section of the control deck was filled with incredibly sophisticated scientific equipment, red and green and yellow switches, lights flashing on small monitors in neon-lit spirals, instrument panels circling his swivel chair, free-standing computer terminals dotted here and there.  A bewildering vista of elaborate technology, and a high-frequency radio for keeping in touch with the All Mighty Creator of the Universe.  Other than that, the place seemed ultra-quiet.
     But the Ark wasnít empty.  On the contrary, it was more crowded than anyone could have imagined.  And not just people.  Animals too.
     Noah had a wife and three sons.  His sonsí names were Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Shem was the Arkís co-pilot, experienced in the same minute form of space travel like his father.  Ham was the engineer, solely in charge of building and fixing all the power generators and machines aboard the ship.  Japheth, now he was a fine young navigator.  And each of these sons had a wife, who with the aid of Noahís wife, helped tend to the animals and other duties.
     In the center of the control deck came the sound of footsteps on this 39th day.  It broke Noahís train of thought.  A man in a dark blue robe with an ochre-colored sash, wearing pegged sandals appeared out of the shadows.  Japheth wondered if his fatherís tendency to withdraw from reality came from the fact that he had been traveling in the Ark longer than he should have, or if it was because the Creator had not radioed him for over two weeks now.  Still, this was no time to make suggestions of what could have happened or what might have been, not now, as they were about to realize they were probably going to lose their home planet, perhaps forever.
     Noah finally took notice. "Good morning, son," he said, turning his chair around. "And how are things with you?" He flipped a switch on the console beside him and a close-up of Mars appeared on the visual system, a somewhat chaotic region which future generations of navigators would come to know as the Valles Marineris.   Japhethís other two brothers entered at that moment, and all that Shem and Ham did was sit down and watch the screen patterns of the Martian turf in thoughtful silence. "Yesterday I launched a small beacon to see if it could find us a suitable place to land," Noah then said.  He had the attention of his three sons.
     "What happened?" asked Japheth, a little scared to touch on the subject.
     Noah put his head down. "The beacon never returned.  I assume that certain parts of the planet has not dried up yet.  Either that or the Creator has something planned."
     "What about Ascraeus?"  inquired Noahís other child, Shem. "Itís one of the tallest mountains in the valley region.  Surely we can find a dry spot there, maybe make an emergency landing at the top."
     "I told you before, I will not disobey God.  He has ordered me to maintain a slow circular orbit around the planet for at least forty days, maybe even longer.  Thereís 24 hours left, and He will get in touch with us soon, for we have a limited amount of fuel.  Our Creator knows that.  But if worse comes to worse and he doesnít contact me, I can always send out another beacon."
     "But what if there is no dry land, or not like it was?" Ham asked his father diligently. "Donít you notice something strange about the surface features on the visual?"
     "What do you see, my son?" Noah was just as curious of Hamís observation as his brothers were.
     "There seems to be nothing but wasteland, places we couldnít even think about trying to repopulate."
     Noah smiled at him in an admirable fashion.  How cute.  Ham loved coming up with these crackpot theories or trying to prove the ins and outs of scientific rights and wrongs.  But in this case there was no need.  The visual system and computer data told it all; and if it werenít for the All Mighty, there would be no names or knowledge even pertaining to the planet.  Noah wanted his son to elaborate, just so his brothers could hear and share their own opinions.
     At the moment Ham was looking rather solemn, though his normal expression was one of cheerful impudence or curiosity. "Well, father, if you subtract the feedback we received from our database over a month ago, you will see that the reports show that the planetís very much barren, dry and airless--almost uninhabitable.  Donít be fooled by whatís on the screen.  According to the data, the surface weather has disappeared completely.  Even the ice caps look like theyíve disappeared.  Itís almost as if God has not only drained our home world of life, but of the atmosphere as well."
     This observation angered Noah, so much that he actually slammed his hand down on the chairís armrest. "That is an evil way to think, Ham!" he scorned him. "Our God would disapprove.  And that goes for all of you who share Hamís ideas and beliefs.  He did not drain our home world, but instead flooded it.  You should give thanks to God, not repeatedly question his actions.  It was God who saved us, spared us from those torrents of water.  It was God who showed us this technology.  And it was God who taught us how to use it."
     "And use it we did, father," said Shem. "But where has it left us? In a conundrum! We did just as God said.  We spent all of our youth building a space vessel to protect the mammals of Mars and ourselves.  We locked ourselves in, threw away the key, and blasted off just as torrents of rain started pouring down on the graves of our ancestors.  But I ask again, where has it left us? If God wanted to destroy all the bad people, why didnít he just make them all disappear? Why did we have to leave Mars?"
     "Simple enough," Japheth cut in and said. "Our creator probably didnít want us to witness all the death and destruction.  He didnít want to expose us to the things that he had in store for the wicked."
     "Thank goodness one of my seeds are bright," said Noah slight sarcastically; it had been evident in his voice ever since Ham started up with the crackpot theories.
     "All right," said Shem, "letís say that is true...but why hasnít he radioed us, so we can start heading home?"
     "My children, please! The All Mighty will contact us when the time is right, I assure you.  Until then, just stay put.  All this nonsensical talk is giving me a headache.  I will send out another beacon tomorrow if worse comes to worse." The old man started heading for the door that led out of the control area and down the hall to his quarters.  Ham took over his fatherís place and sat in his seat, studying the images on the visual very carefully.  Japheth kept silent.
     Shem, with a slight huff of disgust, added as his father was walking out, "Making more promises you canít keep?"
     For a brief moment Noah clenched his fists and gritted his teeth in anger.  But he did not turn around or lash out.  He calmed himself.  He just looked out of the corner of his eye and grunted, eventually going along his way.

     Many hours passed and the day was far from over, as Noah lay there in his room, thinking.  All he had been doing the past two weeks was "think".  He shivered.  If only he had had the words to explain it all.  There was a sinister undertone to the words of his two eldest sons, but something very odd about the Creatorís last transmission, too.  The fact that, in a way, Godís creation didnít seem to matter and that this whole flood business was more or less a recreational activity for him.  Maybe it was just like when he was a boy, one big test of faith.  It could have been that too.  Or for a more horrifying twist, perhaps Ham was right.  Maybe Mars was no longer habitable.
     Many centuries ago the winged messengers of the galaxy--or as they were better known, the Winged Serpents of Fire--stopped the work that the Creator had for them to do in the cosmic heavens.  They became rebellious, and came to Mars and made human bodies for themselves.  Noah remembered this all too well.  It had been taught to him by his father, Lamech.  But it was also written in the ancient texts as well.  What was also written, but well hidden was that the winged messengers stopped their work because they saw the pretty women on the planet and wanted to live with them.  They came to Mars and made brides out of these women.  
     When the winged messengers and their wives had babies, these offspring grew up to be different.  Noah even suspected himself as being one of these children, because his father often told him stories of how he was more gifted than others were.  But with one exception: these offspring were evil.  And the offspring that were evil kept growing bigger and bigger, and getting stronger and stronger, until finally they became giants.
     One day Noah was informed by the Creator that the time had come to destroy all the abominable people living on Mars.  God was no longer proud of his creation.  It was evident in his voice.  He introduced Noah and his family to advanced technology, and had them build a great big spaceship called an Ark.  The Ark was gigantic, resembling a big long monolith. "Make it three levels high," the Creator said, "and be sure to put metal cages in it.  I will supply you with all the materials you need." It took well over twenty years to build, and Noah knew that any additional rooms would be for his family and the food and stock all of them would need.
     The Creator was very fastidious when it came to the Arkís construction, but Noah used this direction along with his own skills to design the perfect ship.  
     Then, one day, the time had come for the Creator to explain in great detail what was going to happen.  Noah listened with great interest...
     "I am going to send a great flood of water down from the heavens and destroy the entire planet," he said. "Anyone not in the Ark will die." He had put it simply.
     "But why me?" Noah asked him. "Why this old man of all people?"
     "You have been very loyal, Noah.  It is for this reason that you, along with your family, shall be spared.  I know that you have done your best to try and prove to people that evil is wrong.  They laugh at you and mock you for being good.  They try to coerce you into worshipping idols or statues, and tell you that this technology is not real."
     "But it is real, very real! They just donít have faith, My Lord.  They donít appreciate this gift you have given us called life."
     The Creator did not speak his turn at this point.
     "But now that the ship is complete, what shall I do?" Noah asked him. "Where do I go from here?"
     "You are to fill the cages in the Ark with two animals from each species," the All Mighty replied, "both a male and a when you return they can procreate.  But of other species, such as farm animals: sheep, cows, and chickens--you are to bring seven." He also informed Noah to bring in all the different kinds of birds and insects too.
     "And when this is all over? What then, My Lord?"
     "Mars will once again become your home, and it will become your familyís job to repopulate the planet."  The Creatorís voice had sounded different this time, more subdued.  And of course there were certain conditions that went along with being able to return home. "I have provided you with a radio, which you will find inside the control area.  Contact me only if you need me (and Noah had been doing this for the past two weeks, but no answer).  I have given you your skills, let the computers handle the rest.  Now go.  The time draws near."
     So Noah did just as the Creator said.  With the help of his three sons he went into the valley regions and trapped all species of animals, both a male and a female.  Then he led the creatures into the Ark and put them in their cages.  Eventually, Noah and his family packed up all their belongings and locked themselves inside the Ark.  And then they just waited...and waited...and waited some more.
     Outside the Ark, the people of Mars went about their life the same as before.  They still did not believe that a great flood would come.  They laughed at Noah and his family more than ever.  But they soon stopped laughing.
     Suddenly, one day, water began to fall.  It poured down from the sky as when you pour water from a bucket.  It was now too late for anybody else to get into the Ark.  Noah had sealed all the airlocks.  The rain kept falling and soon all the low ground was covered.  The water became like big rivers, and the Martian channels were overflowing.  It pushed over trees and rolled around big stones, and washed away all the people of the lowlands.  The people tried climbing to higher ground, but soon even that was immersed in water.  
     Noah put the Ark into gear.  Without a secondís notice he blasted off with the help of his three sons.  The rocket boosters lifted it up, and it ascended into the Martian atmosphere right into outer space.  From below the clouds, the water kept getting higher and higher.  It rose up the sides of the mountains, and soon even the tallest mountains were covered.  There was just one big ocean everywhere.
     The children of the Winged Serpents of Fire were gone now.  No more would they be around to hurt people, and no more would there be senseless evil.  All of them, supposedly, had died, along with their mothers and the rest of the bad people.  Or at least that is what the computers aboard the ship and the Creator himself suggested.
     It took almost a month, but Noah finally realized that the fathers of the offspring were not really human like himself or his family.  They were winged creatures from a universe parallel to his own, and they had come down to Mars looking like average men so they could live like average men (but with a few minor advantages).  So when the flood came, who was to say they had died with the rest of the people? For all he knew they might have stopped using the human bodies they had made for themselves, and went back to the cosmic heavens or somewhere else within the boundaries of interstellar space.
     He was starting to think like Ham.  But it was all so confusing, how could he not?  And it was exactly how he remembered it: the construction on the Ark, trapping animals, the Creatorís words, the 39 days since the flood.  Exactly as he remembered it.  
     He actually made promises to himself, one of them that tomorrow on the 40th day he would launch another beacon: a strange, birdlike device with a built-in satellite, used for detecting the abundance of life on other planets and taking samples of its surroundings.  He kept reminding himself that the Creator would eventually make contact and produce positive feedback, and, hopefully, enlighten him with the most prosperous news.

     Noah woke up the next day feeling a little more refreshed, but his concerns over Mars had not left him.  Ham was in the mapping room revealing more theories, and in the same placid voice as the day before. "Unless we donít hear from Him, our only other measure would be to leave this planet for another."
     Noah looked surprised. "But I thought Mars was the only body in the universe able to support life."
     "If you ask me that is a lie." Ham broke down laughing. "If you want to know what I think, father, Iíll be glad to share it with you.  It seems that during the course of the Creation and the recent flood, our god exhausted Mars of its minerals, then had his servants pollute it with moral decay, further speeding the deterioration process.  I was up half the night working on what Iím telling you right now.  Eventually, this so-called pollution started destroying the layers of the atmosphere, up until forty or more days ago, and it was slowly sucking up the oxygen without us knowing it.  Also, check this out." Ham led his father to the mapping room table where there was a detailed chart of the solar system, Mars in the center. "Any one of these other bodies might be able to support life.  All you need is water.  Also, our own planet shifted away from the sunís ultra-violet rays over the last twenty-five years, causing that rapid drop in temperature during the time we constructed the Ark."
     "Well, I donít know..." Noah was unsure of all this.  It did sound a bit far-fetched to him.
     Ham paused for a moment, and went on, "Father, listen to me.  All this was done in pursuit of some heavenly cause, something on a grand scale maybe we cannot and will not fully understand.  I believe that God is at work trying out new things, experimenting.  And it has us obsessed with solving the riddle of the origin of our home and this solar system."
     "Then what about the flood?"
     "The flood was just a front," Ham said rather solemnly, "something of epic proportion to throw our minds off, so we would stray away from the truth."
     Noah shook his head. "Please, Ham, enough with the science lessons.  It just shows me how much you disrespect God."
     "I donít disrespect Him, father.  I have been given superior knowledge, so I am just as curious as my brothers, thatís all."
     Noah wondered savagely how many different conjectures he was expected to deal with at once, and still most of his own questions werenít answered. "All right--enough for one day," he said, utterly and totally confused. "What about this pollution?" The only reason he had asked about this was because that very same morning he had sent out a second beacon.
     "Itís not like regular pollution," Ham said, "but more or less pollution caused by spiritual matter, spread out over the course of a few thousand years.  Sort of like sins."
     "But son, everything you say confuses me.  You are highly in doubt when it comes to His methods, and you sound as though there is no proof or authenticity of his handiwork." It was starting to feel like a repeat of yesterdayís conversation.
     "Thatís because itís just another front, father--like the flood."
     Noah went to slap his son in the face; big mistake Ham made saying that. "I will not have you speaking anymore of this incredulous rubbish," he said crazily. "Your wild ideas and theories are the only pollution around here, and itís starting to pollute the minds of your brothers too.  So stop!"
     Both men were suddenly cut off by a strange clicking sound, which seemed to come from one of the rooms on the same level.  Over the monotonous tone of their quarreling, Noah put his hand over Hamís lips and was able to catch an almost inaudible hint of what it was that was making that clicking noise. "Did you hear that?"
     Ham pulled his fatherís hand away. "I think so." He looked around the mapping room. "What is it?"
     Noah looked up at the ceiling vent. "There," he said, finger outstretched and pointing. "The control deck!"
     "It must be the radio."
     Noah smiled. "You see, there are such things as miracles.  Two weeks, but I knew He would contact us.  God has good news for those who have faith in him." Ham on the other hand found it hilarious.  If his faith was so pure then why did he have to depend on an electronic device such as a beacon for information? The All Mighty could have told him what he wanted to know about the condition of Mars just as much as the beacon could have.  All he had to do was be patient.
     But Noah was persistent.  Anyone who knew him as a young man would tell you.  He was a go-getter from the start, and under his fatherís supervision he flourished into a man of dynamic proportion.  Why, physical hazards which would have appalled ordinary men were the daily grist of life to him.  Yet it was surprising how much could be said in only a few minutes time.  Enough to question the authority of a god, enough to rewrite everything that was ever known about a planet and its race of people, and more than enough to forecast the problem which was about to arise without anyone knowing it.
     Noah made his way down the hall and up the stairs into the control area.  Practically out of breath, he stopped before the radio the Creator had given him exhausted, his scruffy white hair and heavily-bearded face soaked in sweat and his teeth bared in a fixed grin.  He thought how wonderful it would be if the Creator told him he could start heading home.  
     When his panting stopped and his body movement stuttered into silence, he looked around as though uncertain what to do next.  Perhaps too much excitement and too much anticipation.  Then his knees sagged and he slid to the ground, saying prayer to the crackling sound on the radio. "Oh Lord, your faithful servant is here to heed your call." He was overanxious, but still spoke forthright. "You have good news about our planet?"
     The radio was silent, except for some static.
     "I have waited long and hard for your words of wisdom," he went on, "that surging ray of light called hope, which you offered me and my family once before.  I assume you have contacted me with the same respective contribution?"
     Then came a awfully disturbing sentence...
     "Yes, it is I," a voice boomed out, "but I bringeth bad news."
     "Almighty?" Noah was confused.  
     "Someone has disobeyed me, and I donít care for it...I donĎt care for it much at all."    
     Noah stood up and backed away from the radio in fear.  Bad vibes. "My Lord, what do you speak of? Do you speak of sin, aboard this Ark?"
     The radio was silent again.
     "Tomorrow the beacon you sent out against my wishes will return showing negative results." There was slight anger in the Creatorís voice, but at the same time a feeling of hurt too. "Because you have been impatient and questioned my existence, and tried to determine the truth of a planet that I created from gaseous dust, you have lost the right to return there.  Mars is no longer your home.  It is no longer habitable.  If you land, you will die."
     Noah fell back to his knees, begging and crying, "Forgive me, My Lord! It is my son Ham, he does not know from the mistakes of his thinking.  His scientific thoughts have warped his mind."
     "There is no blame here," said the Creator softly. "I forgive you.  But sometimes even the older more wiser adult can make mistakes.  Perhaps you should listen to what the young one has to say."
     "But My Lord, what shall we do? Our fuel is limited.  Where shall we live?"
     "Someplace new, someplace different.  I suggest using human intelligence to solve this dilemma.  I made man a freethinker, so the possibilities are open.  You know I would not let any harm come to my animal creations.  And always remember that I am a forgiving god, where forgiveness is deserved."
     "Yes, My Lord." Noah put his head down, not only showing his outward grace but concealing his new worry too.

     Daylight on the 41st day was breaking through at last.  The first long, level rays of sunlight bounced off Marsí moon Phobos and penetrated the windows of the Ark, sort of like holes in the ceiling of a cave, and Noah began to feel a little more optimistic.  It was hard enough explaining it to his wife, now imagine getting the news across to his children.  Just the thought of it made the hair in back of his neck prickle.
     Shem and Japheth were the only two who did not know of this news till late, that they would not be returning home.  Ham knew of the situation.  But then of course he knew from the beginning.  Ham knew how it was no longer habitable, and how the oxygen and water was gone.  Noah had not paid attention to the signs, and at the same time his impatience brought anger upon the Creator.  He knew that with his sonís engineering skills and scientific knowhow, they would surely be successful in finding a suitable, yet new and alternative, place to live.  After all, there had to be another body within the solar system that could possibly give lodge to a zoo of creatures and the human race.  Like the Creator said, the possibilities were open.
     Suddenly, a small bleeping noise sounded on the communicator by Noahís side.  He quickly answered it. "Yes?"
     "Father, itís me," said Ham, his voice overwrought with distress. "I have bad news.  It seems that we have less energy and power than I thought." He was in one of the generator rooms on the lower level. "Also the fuel reserves are diminished."
     Noah did not like this one bit. "Wait--what do you mean? What about the power generators?"
     "Iím here right now." Ham looked at what was left of the machinery.  Something during the night had blown up, and it was more than just a fuse. "All the batteries and wires need to be reattached."
     "No wonder the ship has slowed down," Noah muttered to himself. "That explains the decrease in velocity." He leaned back over the communicator. "Can you fix it?"
     Ham was holding the parts to the generators in his hand. "I can try," he said, "but it wonít be easy.  Without all the conversion cylinders in operation we wonít be able to convert raw materials into fuel if necessary."
     "I donít want excuses," said Noah, "just fix it.  And are your brothers with you?" Ham had sent them up a short while ago.  
     It was up to them now, without the aid of Ham (because he had to do repairs), to pilot the animals to a planet they could call home.  Japhethís job, if it could be done, was to plot a course to another existing body within that solar system, someplace that could harbor life.  Shemís job was to locate the planet and study its resources.  And all of this had to be done on disabled generators and low fuel.  Noah had thought to himself that this part of the trip might be a test of Godís, a test of strength and human spirit.
     Moments later Shem and Japheth stood before the Ark's main computer, thinking to themselves.  With the amount of fuel they had they were left with two choices: Earth or Jupiter.  But which planet would be most suitable for the many different species of animals? And which one would be the most suitable for repopulation and growth? They had to face the fact that with the amount of fuel they had, it was only a one way trip.
     "Well, I donít suggest Jupiter," Japheth said. "We would have a hard time making it through the asteroid belt, and although the planet is immense, itís entirely composed of hydrogen and methane gas."
     Noah looked down at Shem.
     "Heís right, father."
     Noah gave a dispirited huff.  What if Earth was the same way, he thought.
     "Give me a full readout of the blue and white one," he said to Shem. "I want to know the main components of itís atmosphere."
     Shem went to work at the computer keyboard. "Well, according to this, the planet is a good 70% ocean and a good 50% warmer in climate than Mars, depending on what part of its equatorial surface we land.  The carbon dioxide levels are a little higher and the plant life is abundant, due to photosynthesis.  Itís components are 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% water, and 0.93% argon." Shem turned around and looked up at his father. "The air is breathable.  I think this is our best choice."
     "Itís our only choice," said Noah realistically. "Just pray to God Ham is able to fix the generators completely during the course of the trip." He nodded to Japheth to start setting a course. "What other facts are there?"
     "The atmosphere, along with the planetís magnetic field, shields it from nearly all harmful radiation coming from the sun and outer space," Shem said informatively. "At least eight months, maybe more to arrive."
     "Well, we have plenty of time, " Noah said, "for I believe that no matter what disturbances we may run into, God will stand by us every step of the way."
     "And how much of this belief system are you convinced of?" asked Shem.
     Noah smiled. "No system.  Just science and faith."
     And the combination of the two, science and faith, would guide them every step of the way.  Noah and his family came to believe in all the possibilities and wonders this new world had to offer.  From then on Noah felt obligated to use human intelligence to solve even the simplest dilemmas.  So he chucked the radio the Creator had given him, and depended solely on his internal instincts to make it through lifeís impediments.