tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 11

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 11

bybradley_stoke©

Chapter Eleven
Paradise - 3751 C.E.



The space station may have been christened Paradise, although it hadn't always been known by that name, but even Isaac knew that the real paradise to which he expected to ascend would never be like this. This eight hundred year old space colony in the war-torn Meteorite Belt could never deserve such a name. But for Isaac and the several thousand other would-be martyrs from all corners of the Solar System it would be home for the year or so it would take them to prepare for their mission.

Isaac hadn't realised that so many different types of people would be called upon to serve God. Many of those united in the Crusade against the threat posed by the Apostasy belonged to Christian faiths other than those of the One True Faith. There were many who didn't even acknowledge the absolute truth of the Holy Scriptures but whose faith was in the venal falsehoods promulgated in the pages of the Koran, the Torah or the Vedas. As a good Soldier of Christ, Isaac was determined that he would never be corrupted by other idolatrous faiths for was it not written in the Second Book of Moses: Called Exodus Chapter Twenty: "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;" Isaac had no wish to bring such divine retribution upon his children, nor even upon his great grandchildren.

However, his curiosity couldn't help but be piqued by the strange practices of his heathen companions. For instance, there were those who didn't treat the Sabbath as the most special day of the week. Unlike the godly and, of course, the heretics who professed a Christian faith but were wholly misled, these pagans saw no sin in labouring on this most sacred of days. In fact, it was a Friday or even a Saturday that these heathens observed as the Sabbath. Isaac was sure that these sinners' misguided observation would result in their Eternal Damnation, but in the meantime it was a nuisance that these two days of the week were so disrupted for the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The non-believers, whose company he shared and with whom he exchanged as few words as possible, behaved and dressed in ways that also shocked Isaac's sensibilities. Most of them would have been condemned to death on Holy Trinity and he'd have had no compunction in carrying out his duty as a Soldier of Christ. Just being a non-believer was crime enough, but these pagans had customs beyond all bounds of propriety. Many dressed immodestly. Indeed, one sect of the Hindu faith even foreswore the vanity of dress of any kind. There were Muslims, Jews and even Christians who sported beards when Isaac knew that facial hair was anathema to the Lord. Even long hair was a sin amongst men and many of his fellow martyrs had hair long enough to warrant the most severe penalty. For it was written in Chapter Eleven Verse Fourteen of the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians: "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" Comfortingly the gospels said in Verse Fifteen: "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." Isaac wasn't sure of course whether the wives of these heretics and pagans kept their hair long or even shaved it off altogether, for he would never meet them. Nevertheless, it troubled him to discover that although the sexes were kept strictly segregated there were women in Paradise who were also prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of the Apostasy on the Solar System's perimeter. Clearly some faiths didn't understand the wisdom of the words in Chapter Two Verse Four of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Titus that the holy were duty-bound "That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."

When Isaac began his journey on the crowded ancient space cruiser from Holy Trinity, he'd hoped that for the first time in his life he might glimpse the Sun or, at least, the stars. This was a privilege denied most citizens of Holy Trinity throughout their lives and was no more availed to him when he and the other volunteers made the journey to Paradise. This three months journey was probably the most uncomfortable and tedious of his life. For most of the time he was confined in a seat elbow-to-elbow with the same two other Soldiers of Christ. It was here that he sat for most of his waking life (distracted only by the Holy Bible) and where he slept under an unrelenting bright glare. The only opportunity for exercise was during his excursions to the lavatory where he might have to queue for hours to relieve his bowels. There were no windows or portals on the space ship. From the inside all that could be seen was the curved arch of the walls and ceiling. Without the luxury of artificial gravity, it was only the magnetic grip of his shoes that prevented him and the others from floating towards the ducts and tubes that crowded the ceiling mere yards above his head.

He was told that the Sanctified Space Ship St Luke was powered by a massive unfurled sail. This supplemented the antimatter engine that was mostly left idle after the initial thrust had been established. Isaac saw nothing of the exterior of this four hundred year old craft beyond the door through which he had entered. And through which, with immeasurable relief, he eventually disembarked.

Isaac reflected that his discomfort was as nothing compared to the suffering of Christ. Isaac was mindful of the Gospel According to Saint Mark Chapter Nine Verse Twelve that "it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought." Nevertheless, Isaac's three months of purgatory were still less than naught in comparison to the Lord's humiliation and torment on the Cross at Calvary? And having many times administered crucifixion to sinners, Isaac had a very good idea of the ordeal that was suffered by a person nailed to such a holy instrument of capital punishment.

At first Isaac relished the comfort of his bunk bed in the huge dormitory in Paradise he shared with his co-believers. But this was compromised by the frustration caused by the low gravity regime that was imposed to save energy. The walk between the Chapel, his dormitory and the Training Centre was not easy. He had never before experienced less than standard gravity, but the strange bounce to his every step in the low gravity soon lost its novelty. However, this was almost welcome as a contrast to the double standard gravity in which he and the others exercised. This might have been an ideal condition in which to strengthen his muscles but it was also very challenging. Just lifting himself up a rope while carrying double his normal bodyweight, plus several kilos of baggage, exhausted him more than any exercise in the police gym would ever do.

Every seventh day was spent in religious contemplation and prayer in the Chapel. It was a respite from his strenuous training that from the moment he awoke on Monday morning he was already looking forward to.

There was also compensation in comradeship with his fellow believers from Holy Trinity who, like him, were all Soldiers of Christ and all fervent in their religious devotion. These fellow Christians were equally appalled by the practises of the heathens and heretics with whom they trained for a full ten hours each day in the crippling artificially enhanced gravity. His comrades could be relied on to give him a hand in any crisis. However, Isaac also knew that he needed to be careful in what he said as scattered amongst the faithful were members of the Holy Inquisition. They pretended to be mere Soldiers of Christ but they were sure to take note of anyone whose observance of the one true faith at all waivered.

Isaac never got to know which of those in his company were Holy Inquisitors. They could well have been Jude or Abraham, his closest comrades. But it was clear that these officials were very busy. Within a week of their arrival aboard Paradise, a Soldier of Christ had strayed into one of the women's dormitories: one where the chador-covered Muslims slept. The women were outraged by his presence and he was summarily punished as an example to all. It took him nearly a week to die from the stoning and impalement that was his sentence. Every day, together with the other True Believers, Isaac would throw another stone at the sinner's blood-strewn face: his teeth mostly shattered and his nose a cartilaginous wreck. The sinner had professed that it was an accident that he'd stumbled into such a forbidden zone, but that could never be an excuse for a crime of such magnitude.

There were other serious breaches of protocol in the close proximity of other religions, some of which could not be punished. The most serious was the conversion to another faith. There was a Shiite who converted to Sunni Islam. A Baptist who converted to Catholicism. And even a Jew who converted to Buddhism. But none was as serious as the conversion of one of the Soldiers of Christ who shared the same dormitory as Isaac. He converted to the faith of the Baptist Colony of the Divine Revelation.

This haunted Isaac as it did the other Soldiers of Christ. How could anyone be so weak? But this, the most serious of all sins, was the one that was to remain unpunished. The convert now enjoyed sanctuary with his new companions. The law that prevailed most strongly in Paradise was that no faith or religion had any sway over the practices or interests of another. Nonetheless, this didn't prevent the Soldiers of Christ punishing the reprobate as best they could when their actions could be disguised in the midst of the harsh exercises they practised together. The traitor was soon so badly injured that he spent the majority of his stay in Paradise not in double gravity, but in the more weightless surroundings of the space station's infirmary.

Paradise was an old colony and it showed. Normally, it would have been decommissioned by now, but the need to combat the Apostasy took precedence over the usual considerations of safety and comfort. There were several fatalities every day as one or other of the life-support systems failed, but fortunately not to the extent that the entire space station had to be evacuated. Several chambers suffered from the sudden loss of air pressure that reduced the oxygen to below breathable level. On another occasion, the temperature in a section fell low enough to cause the death of a dozen of the less hardy Holy Crusaders. There were also electrical faults that caused sudden death; a breach in the hull that resulted in the loss of several martyrs to the cause of poor management rather than the greater good of the Solar System; a release of sewerage in a dormitory that suffocated several good souls in gigantic volumes of excrement; and the unfortunate emission of noxious radioactive elements that confined a hundred souls to the infirmary for a few days until they all died.

Isaac was not immune from the defects that beset the station. Oxygen levels were variable: sometimes he had a boost of rather more than was good for him and sometimes he was suffocated by the lack of it. Some days the temperature was so low that Isaac's fingers were blue and numb. On other days he sweltered in temperatures that due to his observance of modesty he had to suffer in a blanket of sweat.

One day, he was stranded in a section of the exercise chamber with just one other would-be martyr when the temperature dropped well beyond his comfort level, while the oxygen level was raised. Furthermore, the lights had gone out and he was unable to grope to the exit as the gravity level had risen to well above its normal double standard gravity.

Isaac was certain that very soon he would be dead.

Although he was sure that the life of virtue in which he'd observed with such zeal the prosecution of sinners and heretics would earn him a place by the Lord's side in a place that was truly Paradise (after, of course, a due period in Purgatory until the Second Coming), Isaac was alarmed. How would his wife and children manage without him? Had he led a truly blameless life? And what if (and this was a thought he should have banished immediately) his choice of faith was mistaken and it was another faith or religion he should have observed? Would his righteous persecution of the Sinful earn him not Eternal Reward but the Eternal Damnation that he was so certain was the fate of all heretics and unbelievers?

He was in a chamber where only moments before he had been practising the necessary procedures to manoeuvre an entry craft. He shared his potential tomb with an unbeliever who was equally as certain as Isaac that he would be rewarded for his faith with Life Everlasting. But Isaac knew that only one of them would be so fortunate (though it troubled him that it was also possible that neither of them would be). His companion had the beard and shaven head of a Muslim, though whether Sunni or Shiite (or other complexion) Isaac didn't know.

"You speak English, don't you?" the infidel asked in a heavily accented and slightly choked version of Isaac's tongue and that of the Holy Scriptures.

Isaac hesitated. He'd avoided having to talk to non-believers throughout his sojourn on Paradise, but these might well be his last few moments alive. Furthermore, Isaac was reminded of Christ's sympathy towards the Good Samaritan, an infidel who showed Christian virtue.

"Yes," he answered in a similarly choked voice.

"I don't often get the opportunity to speak English with native speakers," continued the heathen in the utter darkness. "There are none on Jihad, my colony. The only spoken language is Arabic: the sacred language of the Prophet."

"Then why speak English at all?" asked Isaac facing the direction from which the infidel's voice came.

"It is my duty and honour to be a translator in Jihad," said the infidel. "It is a charge so privileged in our colony that no one but I can speak or understand your language."

"It is the language of the One True Faith," affirmed Isaac.

"If by that you mean Christianity," said the hidden figure, "then so too is Latin, Greek, Russian, Armenian and Spanish."

"That is blasphemy and heresy," asserted Isaac with certainty.

The infidel made no comment but Isaac was sure that he was properly chastised by his words.

"What do you think it is we are united against?" the Muslim finally asked after a long pause whose interruption Isaac both dreaded and looked forward to. "What is it that has brought so many different faiths together in common cause? How can a jihad also be what you Christians call a crusade?"

Isaac pondered this. He had no inkling what a jihad was, but it was a fair question. What possible congruence of interest in the suppression of the Apostasy could there be between a good Christian soul and a damnable pagan? Surely all it demonstrated was that the Apostasy was not an invention of the defilers of Christ or the other heathens who shared the space station.

"I don't know," Isaac admitted, "but if the men of the cloth say that it is an evil then an evil it must be."

"The men of cloth in my community are very different men from those in yours," said the Muslim. "However, they have also seen fit to join forces with those like you with whom we would most naturally be at war, as we have been many times in the past. What godless monstrosity must this evil be that the followers of the True Prophet should be as one with those who deny the truth of his words?"

Isaac restrained his tongue from quoting those passages from the Holy Bible that demonstrated all too clearly that there was only one true God and all other claims to Divinity were to be contested with the utmost fortitude. This was probably not the time to chastise a heathen with evidence of the folly of his ways. Perhaps now was rather the time to ask questions of the Muslim as to what he might know of the mysterious Apostasy.

"I don't know," admitted the pagan. "When I was assigned to this mission I was told no more than the barest details. But it is enough for me to know that the Prophet Himself recognises it as an abomination to be persuaded that this is a cause for which it is worth surrendering my life. And although it has meant that I have abandoned a wife who is expecting my first-born, it is a mission for which I am happy to give my life. However, it seems that I shall die not in the execution of my mission but because of the vagaries of this ancient space station."

Isaac shivered. It must have been well below freezing and whatever multiple of normal gravity he was enduring hadn't lessened at all.

"However," continued the Muslim after a pause, "I have used my knowledge of your language to discover what I can. There is more written in English on the Apostasy than there is in Arabic. The non-believers and atheists who predominate in the Solar System also express incomprehension as to what this evil might be, although most know only of its effects rather than of its cause."

"And what effects are these?" wondered Isaac who was ignorant even that.

"If you don't know then you are as blessed in your innocence as the people of Jihad!" exclaimed the Muslim. "I had wondered whether those of other faiths, especially those who speak English, might know what those of the Islamic nation have been kept ignorant. And rightly so!"

"And of what have we been kept ignorant?" asked an impatient Isaac. If he must die from extreme cold and high gravity, surely he had a right to know something about the cause for which his wife would soon be a widow.

"For many decades, perhaps even a century, there have been reports, many of them captured on holovideo, of events that were originally described as miracles," the Muslim replied. "Many of the more foolish, of many different faiths, acclaimed them to be proof of the existence of God. They are often of a nature that the more credulous might believe could only come from an all-powerful being. Indeed, despite the best efforts of atheists, no natural cause has been assigned to them. Consequently the cause can only be supernatural. Nevertheless, it has become apparent that the apparitions are so random and meaningless that they cannot originate from an all-wise being such as Allah, but instead from elsewhere. And what could that be but Satan himself who has returned to unleash Evil on the universe and herald the Final Judgement?"

"And what are these miracles?" wondered Isaac.

"They are truly strange but seemingly without purpose," said the Muslim. "A Blue Whale appeared in the hulk of a space ship. It was aboard for less than a minute and then vanished leaving behind only its displacement in volume. A being appeared on one of the satellites of Saturn that resembled an angel of Christian fable with huge avian wings, only to die in the inhospitable atmosphere before its corpse also vanished. There was a report of hot plasma raging for several minutes in the Jovian Asteroid Belt that severely singed a neighbouring colony before it too evaporated without trace. An asteroid of several kilometres diameter passed through the orbit of Mercury and caused a major gravitational imbalance to several colonies before it too disappeared. There have also been instances of burning bushes, seas parting and people turning to salt. All of which is either evidence that Allah has foresworn His senses or, the only rational explanation, that Satan has reawoken in the Solar System."

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