Monday, December 25, 2017

'Twas a Night Without Christmas

Last night, I dreamed there was no Christmas.

I was walking along a wide street which seemed all the wider for being so empty. A steady snow had been falling for some time and there was about an inch of snow on everything. The snow gave the scene a strange sense of silence and desolation. There was no footsteps marked in the snow beside my own, and one could almost have believed it was simply the dust which countless ages had allowed to settle unmolested. There was no sound anywhere, the snow dampening whatever little sound might have been there otherwise. So far as I could tell, I might have been the only living being in all that white vastness.

If the sun had been out, the snow would have been blinding with its crystalized glory. But the clouds were so heavy above the city that there was no direct light. I had been walking for hours, it seemed, but the weather had changed at all. It was as if time had gotten stuck at the moment of twilight, as if day and night had been balanced out and reached their eternal equilibrium.

The cold was hard and penetrating, but without wind endurable. I walked on, my feet making no sound in the soft snow, and my mind filled with a strange sadness. It seemed almost obscene that such a scene should be enacted with no one to take an interest in it--that such a rich snowfall should come without anyone to praise it. I felt a pang in my heart to realize that no one would see this wintery magic and begin singing “In the Bleak Midwinter,” or about how old Wenceslas looked out “When the snow lay all about,/Deep and crisp and even” or how “It came, a floweret bright,/Amid the cold of winter,/When half spent was the night.” For, after all, it was Christmas Eve.

At least, it was December 24, though it had been decades since anyone had paid any special attention to that date or any date. As I walked through the endless snow, I couldn't help thinking how in another time and place the whole city might have been aglow with brightly colored lights; how the white wilderness might have been broken by friendly snowmen and boughs of greenery on the lampposts and carols playing over loudspeakers. It would not have been a perfect celebration--very few things in this world are perfect--but it would have been something, something more than the dark twilight and the cold, silent snow, something more than this empty world where in a deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars went by. I glanced up at the tall buildings that surrounded me. Some where dark but from a faint light trickled out, but that only served to make the dusk without seem sharper and more distinct. I knew that in all this vast city, I was the only one who knew or cared that tonight was Christmas Eve or, at any rate, should have been Christmas Eve.

It hadn't always been this way, of course. Once the night would have been broken just as I imagined it, by lights of red and green, by glowing evergreens and people bustling on Christmas errands. But that was all long ago and there was now no more Christmas. If the world had changed by violence, that would have been one thing--if the trees and lights had been turn down by cruel invaders, if Christmas had died in fire and blood it might have been better, for fire and blood are terrible things but at least they are bright and abrupt, as bright and abrupt as Christmas lights and crucifixion and angels singing in the desert. Such things are worth remembering, if only in horror. There might then have been memorials and remembrances, instead of this trackless, snowy wilderness, blanketing the past with forgetfulness and ignorance.

There had always been those who sought to abolish Christmas. Atheists had disapproved of it (for obvious reasons) with an honorable if slightly irritating consistency. But the blank negative of pure atheism is not something that very many people will ever get excited about. When the presidency of Donald Trump was not enough to rouse a popular rebellion against conventional religion, the atheists gave it up as a bad business and went back to writing depressing poetry and TV documentaries, human if not exactly healthy occupations.

The real danger had come more softly, with a sinister silence like the gradual torrent of the falling snow, as rational and obvious as the first step to madness always is. It was urged that certain elements in Christmas celebrations were not suited for all people; and if people did not enjoy a celebration, it could hardly be called a celebration. Some people didn't like the smell of pine, so should we really use Christmas trees? Christmas carols became suspect because some people have no ear for music and some people only like heavy metal music (which could hardly be converted to Christmas Music). Christmas is a time for families, but some people have no families and still others do not like their families. Christmas, so it seemed, would have to change if it were to be celebrated. The  same objections were urged against other holidays. People objected to Thanksgiving (or “Turkey Day” as it had then come to be called) on the grounds that many people did not especially like turkey and those who could were quite capable of cooking a turkey any time of the year if they wanted it. (How the Pilgrim Fathers turned in their graves at that. They were not perfect men but they were never as silly as that. Also, they didn't have turkey at their Thanksgiving, anyway. The charges against Christmas might have caused Christ to turn in His grave as well, except, of course, He wasn't in His grave.)

In another era, the charges would have never been made and never would have survived if they had been made, but two things were clear about this particular era. One was that it was, though not an especially happy time, a very thoroughly comfortable time. People were not necessarily satisfied or content--they might grumble about what they did not have, but they always took what they did have entirely for granted as a simple, foundational thing. Those who were well-fed (not all of them were, but many were, many more than in other times) took being well-fed as the normal state of man and so the word “feast” was quite meaningless to them. The second thing to understand about that era was that it was mad on exceptions; the exception was always treated as something more solid and foundational than the rule; the fact that one leave blew west was always considered far more relevant than the fact that ten thousand blew east. The authority and dignity of all parents were considered suspect because some parents abused their authority. The fact that some people were confused about their sexuality was taken to prove that sexuality did not exist. The obvious truth that a nation sometimes acted foolishly and even wickedly was seen as a clear indication that nationality was an exploded myth. All this, considered philosophically, is the same as saying that if you find one dog who has had two legs cut off this prove that canines are bipedal. But that was an era which had no time for philosophy. They had a quite human (if rather morbid) sense of compassion, and an honest passion for consistency, but without philosophy, they could seek for consistency only in flat terms of black and white, in a system where the abnormal could disprove the normal and the exception had to be taken as typical.

All Christmas trees were swaying dangerously at this, but the attack was too mild and respectable to pull them down completely. Still, it had created a doubt and doubt is like faith in this, that though it be as small as a mustard seed at first yet, at the end, it can cast mountains into the sea. The boughs of greenery had been like dikes, holding back floods of ancient madness, and as they rocked in momentary doubt, the old questions rushed in and reclaimed the world.

But even this seemed, at the beginning, mild and respectable and even rational--especially rational. It was urged that Christmas was, after all, a purely arbitrary and irrational symbol. Some mild-mannered and punctilious souls pointed out that Christmas was celebrated with snow and reindeer, both of which were rather rare in first century Palestine. Others, with no less originality, pointed out that we have no definitive evidence that Jesus was born on the twenty-fifth of December. (A few obdurate people replied that we also have no definitive evidence that He wasn't. But no one paid much attention to them.) However, as the movement grew in momentum, it quickly outgrew such pedantry. The issue became more fundamental. The issue was that there was something arbitrary and irrational about Christmas celebrations in principle--something which would have remained if the celebrants had observed the most careful historical accuracy in their celebration. Why, asked the objectors, should we take such trouble to remember that Christ was born on one particular day of the year? If we really believe in the significance of His life, should we not remember it every day of the year? And if we were going to celebrate it at all, why with things which do not have and do not pretend to have any direct relation to His birth or life?

The objection, as it grew, was not specifically even against Christmas but against all holidays. The same objections were also brought against Thanksgiving--surely we should be thankful all the time, not just on the fourth Thursday of November--against Easter, against Valentine's Day, against Independence Day, but the strongest cases were made against New Years Day and Birthdays. Obviously, these were the most arbitrary and irrational of all. There is no reason in the world why any day of the year should not be considered the beginning of the New Year. What real difference was there between December 31 and January 1 that the change might be celebrated like a change from death to life? In the same way, was a child who was five years and one day old really that much changed from a child who was four years and three hundred and sixty four days old? And if there was a real difference, it would be there with or without birthday cake and presents. Indeed, the movement was, seemingly, unanswerable. If the holidays did not represent something real, there was no point in celebrating them, for they were illusory. If the holidays did represent something real, there was also no point in celebrating them, for the real thing would exist whether it was celebrated or not.

This movement attacking Christmas and all holidays developed into a fairly set pattern. Its proponents were Christians of a rigid, rationalist tendency (nearly all of them American, since Americans are the only people in the world old-fashioned enough to be rigid or rationalist) and a number of atheists who had rechristened themselves as worshippers of the Life-Force (which usually meant worshippers of George Bernard Shaw.) Their arguments seemed unanswerable but also a little repelling, and the world in that era was not a world to be swayed by mere logic. There was something cold and inhuman about the movement which won the respect and support only of cold and inhuman people (of whom there were many in that time.) But it still might not have succeeded if it hadn't received surprising support in the fact of being attacked.

All extremes in social movements created counterextremes, but it is a dark day for the human race when extremes and counterextremes meet in the middle (or anywhere else, for that matter.) The cold rationalism of the anti-Christmas movement caused a new movement to appear--it was a pattern of belief which had existed for some time but which coalesced into a definite movement with the appearance of the anti-Christmas movement.  This movement objected to the attempt to understand the world in terms of strict reason, the refusal to acknowledge feelings or emotions as significant. They said, in fact, that feelings and emotions were the really important things and it was the cold rationalism of their opponents which was insignificant. For the religious members of this movement, the battle cry was the words of E. M. Bounds: “The world by wisdom can never receive nor understand God, because God reveals himself to men's hearts, not to their heads... God is not grasped by thought but by feeling.” Those who were less religious nonetheless agreed that the really important things in life were not the things that could be written down on paper, but the feelings and emotions of human beings. The rationalist were rigid and exact, they said, because they were dead. Their precision was simply rigor mortis. Living things cannot be tied down to neat, careful definitions; livings things cannot (without some struggle) be put into a box--not even a Christmas Box.

For that was the ironic thing about this movement--even though it opposed the inhuman rationalism of the anti-Christmas movement, it was also equally opposed to Christmas. Christmas, they felt, was something too cold and formal. Those of the movement who were historians started ranting about ritualism and the dregs of popery; those who were theologians talked for hours about love abolishing the law. The rest of the movement were content with simpler arguments. The central ideas of Christmas were joy and love. What could be more absurd than trying to tie down joy and love to arbitrary symbols like evergreens and snowmen? If we had joy and love without them they were unnecessary; and if joy and love were caused solely by them, they were illusory. If we had to stop and think in order to rouse an emotion, it couldn't be a very real emotion. If we needed Christmas to make us remember that we loved our family or our God, then we really didn't love them in the first place.

It was this weird collision which brought an end to Christmas. The world was filled with two movements which disagreed on nearly every point except in their opposition to Christmas, to all holidays--in short, to specificity. The fact that they disagreed on everything else seemed to make it all but certain that they must be right about the one thing on which they agreed. One side said that Christmas was too emotional; the other side it was not emotional enough; one side that Christmas trees were too arbitrary; the other side said they were too rigid and formal. Out of this collision came a clear conclusion: everything that was formal and arbitrary should be abolished; Christmas had to go. Whether we were look at every day as special or look away from every day, we could not mark one day as holy. Whether we were to love the world or hate the world, we could not separate one part of the world as sacred.

And so Christmas came to an end. The last Christmas tree was carted away and burned. The last of the wrapping paper found its congenial home in the depths of landfills. The last lights were turned out. (There was some movement to abolish snow, too, but this came to nothing.) December 25 became a day exactly like every other day.

Of course, Christmas was not alone in this destruction. Every other holiday from New Year's Day to Boxing Day was subjected to the same treatment. Hallowe'en and Independence Day outlasted the others by a few years--Hallowe'en, because it was seen to be more of an attack on traditional celebrations than a traditional celebration, and Independence Day because it had political importance--but they obviously could not be saved in the end. (A few people argued that April Fool's Day should remain as the one sacred, national holiday, but those in the anti-holiday movement did not have enough sense of humor even to be angered by the suggestion.) Nor did the movement end there; the days of the week were also abolished, for obviously considering one day as “Monday” and another day as “Thursday” was every whit as arbitrary at Christmas. The week itself was a thing as superstitious and superfluous as New Year's Day. Practical concerns prevented the attempt to do away with the calendar completely, but the destroyers were able to push it to the sidelines.

With this done, they turned their attention to other things. Funerals and weddings were also abolished, since they were also ritual and arbitrary affairs. People were puzzled that the abolition of weddings should cause considerable weakening of the family but then some went on to argue that the family should also be abolished as being too arbitrary and ritualistic. The rationalists said a man should not love his wife and children because we should love everyone. The emotionalists said that if he loved his wife and children because they were his, it was not true love.

Then, of course, there was the religious side of the matter. With the abolition of the holidays, hymnals had to be rewritten to remove all reference to them. One exceptionally clear thinker also pointed out they had better remove Robert Robinson's line: “Here I raise my Ebenezer,/Hither by Thy help I've come” which is, after all, only a religious coloring on the idea of a holiday, a remembrance, an arbitrary stone set up to remind us of something we should know without being reminded. This caused people to think the matter through more seriously and led to the abolition of hymnals all together. The rationalists claimed that nothing could be added to the truth by setting it to poetry and music. The emotionalists claimed that the hymns with their exact words and ideas were far too rationalistic (except for a handful of modern songs which survived in chorus books which were obviously harmless to the most rigid hater of intellectualism.) But, for the matter of that, religious observances themselves decayed almost to nothing. The abolition of “Sunday” had started it--somehow the idea that church services could be held any day led to their not being held very often at all--but it was really the logical conclusion for both the logicians and anti-logicians. If we love God, we shouldn't need to go a particular place and engage in His worship. And if our love for God arose out of going to a particular place and engaging in His worship, it wasn't really love. (The Eucharist and Baptism, I need hardly mention, had been abolished almost at the beginning of the movement, even before Christmas.)

And so it was that I was walking this empty streets this night, this night which should have been Christmas eve, but which was, for all the people in the sleepy city, exactly the same as every other day of the year. It seemed as if with the end of Christmas, the snow should have refused to fall, as if the whole world should have grown brown and dry. But Mother Nature was the only one in the world who seemed to have any sense of humor left--and so the snow came down as rich and pure as Irving Berlin could have wished. Nature, at any rate, refused to treat December as being exactly like July.

I could not escape the weird sense of loneliness and desolation in this snowy wilderness. Perhaps it was all coincidence and sentiment, but I couldn't help but wonder if the destroyers had really fulfilled their promises. Was the world really filled constantly and consistently with an awareness of the reality of Christ's birth? Had every single mental state which had been called up by the old holidays--had they all reigned steadily without diminution through out the mind of every person, every day throughout the entire past year? Somehow, I knew they had not. I didn't fully know why but I knew that they had failed and they had been doomed to fail. I knew it was with good reason that God had  beseeched and commanded men to do things in order to remember, to raise memorials, to stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance. I knew there was a reason why God had given to man a love of specific things and people and not a general love for all good things.

I knew that the destroyers were wrong and the orthodox had been right--I knew that specificity could not be evil. For Christians, of all people in the world, believe that specificity is divine--Christians alone believe that God became a specific man who was born at a specific place and walked specific places. And because it was all specific, all specifics (not in generally, but still in glorious specificity) had been glorified by His presence. Snow could be a sacred thing because, though Jesus probably never saw it, He might have seen it. He saw other conditions of nature, just as natural. He might have been wrapped in a cloak of rabbit's fur as in the Huron Carol. He might have walked “upon England's mountains green”--He walked other places just as natural. The brute facts of life could rise up as something beautiful and riotous because God had walked among them.

And then I knew that Christmas--like Christ--existed to the heal the very schism which had ended Christmas. The only place where pure intellect and pure emotion can meet is in pure volition. The Word and the Glory must become Flesh. In Christ, the reason of God and the depth of divine energy we call emotion because united in a single person (without mixture, without confusion) who learned obedience by the things He suffered. Christ did not tell men to think well of Him or to feel good about Him--but to follow Him. That central act of the will was expressed in the sacrament, the union of intellect and emotion in the simple act of eating. It was also expressed in putting up Christmas trees. It was arbitrary, but then so is everything else man does. It is all expressed in the tradition that Christ was a carpenter, and a carpenter is a thing every bit and mystical and arbitrary as a poet--a carpenter is a man who sends his life turning trees into chairs and tables, which is not different in principle from turning them into Christmas Trees.

I had been walking for hours it seemed and still had seen no sign of another human being in all the vast city. It began to strike me as unnatural. I wondered what the net result of all this would be. The destroyers had been wrong in what they took away, but what had they left? And after I moment, I knew what was left. Take from man volition and specificity and he will not retain intellect or emotion very long. Start with the abolition of holidays and, somehow, in the end, you will come to “the abolition of man.” Only one thing remains, and that is pleasure, the thing which man shares in common with the beasts that perish. There is all the difference in the world between celebration, even revelry, even sinful revelry, and mere pleasure.

Glancing around at the dark buildings in the night, I remembered vividly those words of Auden: “Each in his little bed conceived of islands/Where every day was dancing in the valleys.” In my mind I saw the dark apotheosis to which all this would lead. Man had been cut off from holidays, from specificity--therefore, in the end, from one another and therefore from God, for if we do not recognize existence of the brother we have seen, how shall we acknowledge the existence of God whom we have not seen? The worst part was that it was possible--for whatever else the destroyers had destroyed, they had not destroyed science. The possibility of science producing constant and unceasing pleasure was certainly real. I imagined a future in which the streets would really be as dead and silent as they seemed this night; where in each of these dark buildings would be a lost soul, lying in an endless dream of pleasure without reason, without diminution. Perhaps the human race would come to a point of stagnation, or perhaps the propagation of the rate could be carried on via machine. (Shaw would have liked that.) I imagined babies be born in incubators and reared in VR chambers, only to join the great host of sleeping, dreaming men--the great grace of human animals who knew nothing of holidays.

In that cold, piercing night, I felt as if that dark conclusion had already been reached. And I felt, then, that I was in Hell. For nowhere in Heaven or Earth could there be pleasure without happiness, could there be existence without life. Only in Hell could humans come so close and yet not quite manage to not exist.

But then, just as I thought this, I heard it--I heard it like a sharp cold wind from the other side of the universe, like a shiver of awe across the spine of truth. Somewhere near me, a low treble voice was singing: “Good Christians, fear: for sinners here/The silent Word is pleading.

I rushed forward and around a corner and for the first time that night saw another human being. A young man, hardly more than a boy, was kneeling on one knee in the snow before a very shoddy and makeshift Nativity Scene he had constructed out of the snow and a few pieces of garbage. It looked as rough and and uninviting as St. Francis's had probably looked--as that first stable had probably looked to Mary and Joseph. Without a word, I knelt beside him in the snow with a thrill as of something strange and almost unnatural. That must have been how the disciple felt when for the first time after the Crucifixion they drink the wine and ate the bread and knew they were eating the flesh and blood of God. I knew then that I had been wrong, that my fears were unfounded, that sanity was, in the end, a thing deeper and more fundamental to the universe than madness--I knew that there was a true light shining in the darkness and the darkness cannot understand it.

And then my dream was torn away and I was awake and it was Christmas morning. But as the dream left, my ears were ringing with a sound, with the sound of angels' wings, of the turning of a great wheel, of old things born a new, of man and God walking strong upon the earth.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow.
Christ the Lord is born for you.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Haunted Galaxy: Chapter 13

[White's Journal. Seventh of Epiphany, Anno Domini 3172.] Things were going very badly. I was still trying to deal with the fact that Maxwell had told Gold the truth about our former relationship. Meanwhile, the other members of the Corps had picked up Maxwell's trail and cornered him--only to discover that Maxwell had used a hologram to distract them. Receiving an urgent though garbled distress call, we returned to Altayra Rex, where the two sages gave us the news--that Maxwell had just managed to kidnap Princess Valencia.

For a minute, the Corps just stood there, staring blankly at the two sages. All of them had phased off their armor upon landing except Green who had only removed his helmet. (White knew that his injury was still bothering him.) All of their faces expressed shock and yet somehow not shock. Though this was sudden, unexpected, terrible news--yet, in a way, it was just the sort of thing they had expected from Maxwell. Though even Maxwell had never tried something quite this audacious before.

“Are you sure?” asked Red, taking two steps forward. He seemed the most affected by the news. “Maybe there's some mistake--

Rothmar gave a sound more like an animal's growl than any human noise. “Do you think we would make a mistake about something like this?”

“Rothmar, please control yourself.” Zortan's voice seemed more tense and sharp than usual. “No,” he added, turning towards Red, “there is no mistake. She is gone.”

“This is--this--it just can't be.”

“How in the Cosmos did it happen?” Green spoke almost at the same time, and White couldn't decide from his voice whether he meant the question literally or rhetorically.

“Right.” Gold clenched his fist, as if to punctuate his words. “What kind of details can you give us? When did this happen and how? Did you actually see Maxwell--the Intimidator?”

Rothmar's frowned deepened. “Wait. Maxwell? You mean, you know this criminal?”

“We have clashed with him before.” Gold's voice was hard. “But I think this will be the last time.”

“You have clashed with him?” Rothmar's voice rose as he repeated the words. “You have fought him before? Then why didn't you do something to stop him then? Why would you let him go free so that he could do something like this--”

“Rothmar!” Zortan cut him off with an abrupt motion. “Please, Corps, forgive his agitation. We are both--very concerned--by her highness's danger. However, it is no time to give in to such emotion--there is still too much to be done. At any rate, none of this is your fault.”

Gold nodded. “I understand.” He paused for a moment and then spoke in a slightly lower voice. “However, we must take some responsibility for this fiasco. We've stopped many of Maxwell's attempted crimes, but we have never been able to capture him--even letting him slip through our fingers a few hours ago on Altayra Conaurah.”

Rothmar sprung a few steps forward. “You saw him a few hours ago? That would have been just before the kidnapping. You seem to know this criminal very well and to have seen him very recently. How did we know that you are not working with him yourself? How do we know that you may not have had a hand in the capture of her highness?”

Gold shrugged and spoke nonchalantly, though White noticed that he clenched his fist harder. “You don't. But since you called us here, I take it that you don't have the resources to track down Maxwell on your own. And without any other options, you'll have to trust us to help, won't you?”

“Anyway,” added Black, “we're the experts at fighting Maxwell by this point.”

Zortan spoke quickly. “We have no doubts about you, Corps. And while we have one--slight--err, hope from our side, I agree that you are our main hope for rescuing her highness. We will help you in any way we can.”

“So can you give us the details of her abduction?”

“There are few details to give. About an hour and a half ago, her highness was out here in the courtyard--she spends much of her time out here--when the Intimidator appeared, apparently flying out of the sky.”

“Much as you did,” added Rothmar, darkly. White couldn't decide if he really was suspicious of the Corps or was merely using this as a vent for his emotion.

“He used some kind of weapon to threaten her highness and force her to follow him.”

Gold frowned. “Follow him? You mean they left on foot?”

“Yes. None of the guards or servants dared challenge him for fear of endangering her highness.”

Green was fumbling with his hat. “Maxwell's exoskeleton give him the power of flight, but it seems probable that it would not have the power to carry both him and Valencia, so naturally they left on foot.”

“We sent out searchers, of course,” Zortan continued, “but so far we have picked up no sign of them.”

Gold nodded. “He probably had a ship hidden somewhere and escaped with the princess on that. Or he could have used his mechog, I suppose. Did he say anything to you--anything that would suggest his motive?”

Zortan seemed to hesitate for just a moment before he answered. “Not to us--we were not present at the time and only heard it secondhand from Keisai--but it seems he made some reference to money, so I would imagine he will demand some kind of ransom.”

“That seems like Maxwell's general kind of scheme. In which case, this is probably a side project for him--not connected to the Nadirites' plan.”

“Nadirite?” Zortan looked up sharply and for the first time there seemed to be a crack in his set demeanor. “Do you mean that this Intimidator works for the Nadirites--”


Zortan stopped in the middle of his thought and glanced at the figure who had joined them noiselessly at some point during the conversation without his notice. “What are you doing out here, Keisai? We don't need you.” Zortan spoke quickly and irritably. Clearly, this interruption was the last thing he had expected.

“I thought you had called for me.” The servant bowed and turned away.

White sighed. This made the third palace servant they had seen who was named Keisai. Like the other two, he was barefoot and wore a white tunic. Like them, he was rather remarkable in appearance, but most remarkable for looking absolutely nothing like the other two. He was short and stocky, with a rounded, boyish face (White put his age at about sixteen), and long red hair worn in dreadlocks.

“Anyway--” said Gold, after a slightly awkward pause-- “you have no further information about the abduction?”

“No. As I said, we were not even present when it happened. We can confirm that they not anywhere in the immediate area, but there is nothing more I can tell you. Our planets are sparsely populated, as you have seen, and there are many empty areas where he could hide himself or a ship of some kind and never be spotted.”

“Yeah, I see that it's going to be difficult to track them down.”

Without warning, Blue spoke. “The Intimidator is a tricky enemy. His main strategy is to do exactly the one thing you aren't expecting. So we should consider the possibility that he may have done something--unexpected. Maybe instead of hiding in some desolate, faraway place, he's hiding somewhere close but unsuspected.” She paused as if thinking. Then she motioned towards the pillared entrance set in the white mountain behind the courtyard. “That place--the Temple of Ice, was it?--you told us it was a sacred place to your people--somewhere people wouldn't normally go. So, perhaps--”

Rothmar cut her off. “You would dare to suggest--you would even name that sacred place in the same breath with such treachery?”

“Rothmar, she does have a valid point.” Zortan gave his fellow sage a meaningful look. “Such a criminal would care nothing about committing sacrilege. That is why I had the temple searched earlier. I know it is a breach of decorum--which is why I had not told you--but with her highness in the hands of this criminal, decorum is hardly our largest concern.”

Rothmar bowed his head. “I understand.”

“So there's no possibility that Maxwell hid there?” asked Gold. There was an edge to his voice--White assumed he was irritated by Blue taking such a dominant role in the conversation--but his words were calm and well-ordered.

“None at all. There is no way he could even gain access to the temple in the first place, but I had it searched thoroughly, just to make sure. As I said, I feel certain he is not hiding in the immediate area--but he and the princess could be anywhere within the system.”

Gold nodded. “And if he has a functioning ship--and we can't rule out the possibility that he does--then he might have gone into the Void or headed off towards Draxmore for all we know.” A slight strain of tiredness showed in his voice.

Both Rothmar and Zortan took a step backwards and, in their different ways, showed an expression of alarm and horror. Apparently, this possibility had not occurred to them. “He can't do that!” Rothmar spat out.

“That would be catastrophic--horrible--” Zortan shivered. But the next instant he was collected again. “But our fears will not prevent the reality. And there is nothing we can do. We must leave the matter to you, Corps. You are our only hope--unless that other possibility works out,” he added in a lower voice, which seemed to be more to himself than to the Corps.

“You have to get her back,” added Rothmar. “Or--or everything will be for nothing.”

“We can't forget that considering her highness's--condition--this kind of stress could be extremely dangerous, even aside from everything else.”

“Well, then why are we standing here talking?” Red demanded, suddenly. “We should be out looking for her.”

“Of course.” Zortan bowed. “We appreciate your willingness to help us even though this is, in actuality, not your problem, not part of the reason for which you were sent here. Is there anything we may do to assist you?”

“As a matter of fact, there is,” remarked Blue in an impassive voice. “Would it be possible for us to get some food before we go off searching? This could be a long, intensive process.”

For just a moment, everyone stared at her. White wouldn't have expected that from any of the Corps, not even Red--not when The Crystallair was fully stocked with food. But it was certainly the last thing she would have expected from Blue.

“Blue--” began Gold.

She shrugged. “What? I'm hungry. And since they use prefood here, it should only take a moment.”

Zortan smiled. “I quite understand. I was young once too, after all. We had prepared for this possibility. Alexse!” He took a step or two towards the royal residence and called out in a loud voice. “Bring out some food for the Corps.”

There was a moment or two of waiting, and then a servant appeared, carrying a large tray with seven blocks of prefood. Though he was dressed like the other palace servants, there was nothing remarkable about his appearance--wiry and a little stooped in build, with a slight beard and scraggly hair--probably on the far side of thirty. White assumed that Alexse was his name--she was somehow not the least surprised that his name was not Keisai.

Gold was bristling about the whole situation--White could tell that easily--but he spoke calmly and quietly. “Thank you for assistance. We'll be on our way, now--as soon as we find out anything, we will bring you word. We'll eat on the way,” he added, narrowing his eyes slightly and throwing an angry and somewhat puzzled look at Blue.

“We will be waiting,” answered Zortan, bowing his head.

“All right, what was the deal with that?” Gold exploded the instant the Corps were safely back on board The Crystallair. Since Blue had made a point of asking for it, all of the Corps (except Green) had taken a block of prefood from the tray, though apparently none of the others was especially hungry.

“They asked if they could help us,” answered Blue calmly, sitting down at the table and taking a bite off the end of the block. “And I thought some food would be good. You surely can't have a problem with that, can you?” She looked up with eyes that seemed to contain a challenge.

Gold was so upset that for a second or two, he couldn't even speak, which was a fairly unusual occurrence for him. “That was completely uncalled for--especially considering we have enough food onboard the ship to last us for a year.”

“You don't like the unique taste of the food in this system?”

Gold was at a loss again for a second. White understood why. Blue was talking nonsense--the prefood the Altayrans served them had a fairly basic (though still good) flavoring, which they could easily replicate with the ship's computer.

“And you took two blocks,” added Gold, in exasperation.

“Green doesn't eat, so someone had to. And I have a feeling I'm going to be hungry later.”

Gold opened his mouth to answer, but he never got to speak, because Red interrupted. “How can you two be arguing at a time like this? Maxwell's kidnapped the princess--there's no telling what may be happening--and you're talking about food?”

“I never knew you to complain about that,” remarked Black.

White had noted that Red actually left his food sitting untasted on the side of the cabin. That was something nearly unheard of.

“We should be out looking for him--for her--”

Gold folded his arms. “That's what I would think--that we should be working on our mission, not risking our relationship with the Altayrans by demanding food.” Then he shook his head. “But, you're right--we do need to focus on finding Maxwell. Again. I'm sure this is a solo project of his--if Erybus had wanted to kidnap the princess, he could have done it easily enough at that ambush in Hath'ellah. But, as the Corps, we can't ignore this kind of situation. Anyhow, if anything happens to the princess now, it could compromise the relationship between Ursa Prime and the Altayran system.” His eyes narrowed. “I suppose there's no point in asking if you can track them down, Blue?”

She shrugged and continued eating with placid indifference. “There's no way to know unless you ask.”

Gold clenched his fists and muttered something under his breath which White was just as glad she didn't catch.

“So can you find her or not?” Red pressed. “I know you said you can't pin down Maxwell because of his exoskeleton, but you should be able to find Valencia, shouldn't you?”

Blue continued eating as if she hadn't heard the question.

Red jumped up and slammed his hands down on the table opposite her. “Can you or can't you?” he demanded, his voice rising and almost cracking.

“You didn't say please.”

“Let it go, Red.” Gold's voice was hard. “I think she's given up on cooperating. Or maybe she's just lost the knack of using her power.”

“Since I was unable to lead us to Maxwell's location before? I do remember you deducing that he was on Altayra Conaurah without my help.”

“Well, then where is he now?” Red was still leaning on the table, staring down at Blue.

“I have no idea,” she responded as she finished the last bite of her prefood. “He is apparently using some kind of shielding device to cloak his location--probably utilizing magnetically polarized tachyon particles.”

“That seems like a convenient excuse,” answered Gold.

“It is. Fortunately, Leader, you are skilled enough to locate Maxwell and the princess without my help. You are, aren't you?”

Gold took a step forward so that he was standing directly behind Red. “That sounds dangerously close to insubordination. I am still leader the Corps.”

“I am very much aware of that.”

“Well, then, you might act like it.”

“I will if you will.”

“Sir!” Green tore off his hat and for just a moment White thought he was going to rip it in half. He looked just about that upset. “I don't think this is the time for this kind of argument.”

“After all,” added White in a low, colorless voice, “we're the Corps--we're better than that.”

“If Maxwell has a functioning ship,” Green continued, still twisting his hat in his hands, “we should be able to track him by that, shouldn't we? With or without the specific power of Blue's armor? Even if he is using a tachyon shield, that shouldn't mask the presence of his ship completely.”

Gold took a step back and for just a moment seemed unsure of his next move. Then he nodded and punched his left fist into his right palm for emphasis. “Right. We've been going about this whole thing wrong. We weren't expecting war in the Altayra System. This was supposed to be a routine mission to reactivate the Guidance Beacon. But clearly, the Guidance Beacon is only one small piece of whatever is going on here. Most likely, Erybus destroyed it to keep news from reaching Ursa Prime. It's even possible that it was done intentionally to lure us here."

He paused for a moment, and then went on, "Also, for some time, people from Altayra have been disappearing--probably the Nadirites are behind that, but we don't know exactly how or why. And then in the middle of all this we have Maxwell, who is working with the Nadirites but also working on his own. But here's the thing--the Nadirite motherships are some distance away from Altayra. Though Maxwell had one--maybe more--campsites here in Altayra, we don't have evidence that the Nadirites have a base here, certainly not a large one. In other words, they have to be ferrying their troops in and out with some kind of dropship. And while Maxwell may be be just using his mechog to get around, I'm going to guess he has a ship of some kind too--maybe a borrowed Nadirite ship or something else he fitted up. In any case, what we need to do is get some eyes in the sky to monitor what's going on, so we can pinpoint where and how the Nadirites--and Maxwell--are getting around. Green--”

“Yes, sir?” Green had pushed his hat back into shape and now carefully repositioned it on his head. “You want me to prepare the tech for a monitor system?”

“Exactly. It's going to have to be a patch job, because we don't have the supplies to create a perfect set up, but at this point anything will be better than what we have. I get the impression the Altayrans don't do much travel between their planets, so it's not as if we'll have to sort out a lot of irrelevant data. All we have to do is zero in on any interplanetary travel in this system. Can you do that?”

Green nodded. “If everyone will get out of my way so I can use the holocube--”

“Why, of course.” Blue finished the last of her food and stood up. Red and Gold also stepped back from the table, giving Green the room he needed. He sat down, activated the holocube, and made a few rapid calculations. “We've decided not to worry about the Guidance Beacon until after we've stopped the Nadirites and Maxwell?” he asked, glancing up.

Gold nodded. “That's a battle we can't win--and, so far as I can tell, we don't need to win.”

“Then by cannibalizing a few pieces from the Guidance Beacon, together with the spare tech we have around the ship, we should be able to do it.”

“So what exactly are we doing?” asked Red. As usual, he was a step or two behind everyone else but, not as usual, he seemed seriously interested in what was going on.

Green stood up, adjusting his hat as he did. “We'll create four small drones and release them at four points throughout the Altayra System. They will serve as 'eyes' gathering data from across the system--specifically, looking for the radiation signature produced by a ship's engine. That will allow us to learn where and how Maxwell and the Nadirites are moving around.”

Silver raised his head and asked, “But if something is interfering with Blue's armor, will it not also interfere with your drones?”

For just a moment, Green seemed to loose his composure. “Uh--that--well--” Then he pushed his hat back with an annoyed motion. “We can't know for sure about that until we try. But the drones will be looking for a much larger signature than the small signatures which Blue's armor can detect. It is the difference between listening for a shout and listening for a whisper.”

Silver nodded. “I understand.” He returned to his normal posture.

Gold glanced around and then started firing out orders. “Green and Black--you'll come with me to the Guidance Beacon to get the materials we'll need from there. There's a risk that the Nadirites are still watching it, but that's a chance we'll have to take. Red, you and Silver go to Altayra Conaurah and check on Maxwell's campsite there. I'm fairly certain that Maxwell is smart enough not to have returned there, but we'd better make sure. We'll leave The Crystallair here in orbit around Altayra Rex to serve as a base. This system is small enough we can do all our traveling with the power of our armor. You two,” he added, almost as an after thought, “can stay with the ship in case anything comes up here. That seems just about right.”

White nodded. “Just about right,” she repeated in a low voice.

Gold didn't acknowledge her response. “All right then. Let's go.”

White let out a long sigh. The other members of the Corps had shot off on their various missions, leaving her alone. Well, almost alone. Given Blue's usual reserve, she assumed there would be little disturbance from that quarter. Besides, the instant the others left, Blue had also left the main cabin, carrying her second block of prefood. Events had happened so fast and she was still having trouble coming to grips with everything. She just couldn't sort out all her feelings and it bothered her more than she liked to admit. She was used to keeping her soul like her quarters--neat, tidy, and well-organized with everything in its proper place. She was used to having all her feelings and emotions well under control. After all, wasn't that what she had striven for over the last four years, ever since the fiasco with Maxwell back at the monastery? Everything shouldn't feel so chaotic now, so sloppy. After all, she was part of the Corps... they were better than that...

Once again the words echoed in her mind--haunting her, taunting her. It had always been Gold's catch-phrase, a symbol of his own pride and honor as leader of the Corps. Just when had they become so much a part of her own consciousness? She was in no state of mind to start drawing out the theological difference between honor and pride, but she knew that Gold had a lot of both--just how much of them had she absorbed from him? How much of his anger was right and how much wrong and how much of both had she come to excuse? How truly good was his ideal of the Corps, the only god he worshipped--and just how much had she come to worship it too?

She shook her head, in a vain hope that this might make her thoughts return to their proper places. This was all silly. She was just getting herself get worked up because of that crazy idea of Black's. The very thought that anyone would think that she had fallen in love with Gold--that she would have given her heart to an Unbeliever who worshiped his own Code of honor--after all, she was part of the Corps. They were better...

“So, are you hungry?”

White hadn't even been aware that Blue had re-entered the room. So much for having some quiet and a chance to sort out her thoughts. Still, there was a part of her that suspected it might be just as well. There was a small part of her which whispered a note of gladness for something to distract her from her thoughts, which seemed stuck in one, tight circle of repetition.

“Um--no--” White answered, still a little absorbed. But after she said it, it struck her that she did feel just a little hungry. More so than made sense, considering that she had just eaten. Perhaps it was because she had eaten so absent-mindedly, hardly thinking about the fact that she was eating.

Blue had been standing, but now she sat down at the table, phasing off her armor. “I see you've fallen into disfavor with Our Fearless Leader, too.”

White opened her mouth and then closed it. She couldn't really argue with that. The way Gold had ignored her throughout the day's proceedings--the way he hadn't even said her name when he ordered her to stay with the ship--it was all fairly obvious, especially considering the fact that she usually acted as his second-in-command. Definitely, the revelation that she had known Maxwell and kept it secret--definitely, it had bothered him. But was it really because of jealousy, as Black had said?

“Well, then maybe you'll be willing to listen to a little sense.”

White looked at Blue and then sat down opposite her. There was something in her manner that was different than usual. White couldn't exactly define it, but she felt as if the other girl were being more serious than usual. Though she was still speaking in an off-hand, laconic manner, White knew that she had something thing really wanted to say. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that Gold--and the others--are all taking this situation at face value. And that could be right. But it could be wrong. Take Maxwell kidnapping the princess. He could have done it as a private venture for ransom. It's the kind of thing he would do. And he might have done it for the Nadirites, for some reason we don't know yet. Those are both possibilities. But there is another possibility.”

White nodded, even though she didn't understand where Blue was going. “And that is?”

“Maxwell has never been below doing other people's dirty work. So there's a chance that kidnapping the princess, though a side project and not part of the Nadirite plan, was still done for someone else and not on his own account.”

“I suppose that's possible--but who else would have an interest in having Princess Valencia kidnapped?”

Blue didn't answer her directly. “The Altayran system is a hereditary monarchy. From all we can tell, it's a fairly absolute monarchy--it doesn't look as if Valencia answers to anyone besides the sages--and their role seems more to be advisors and administrators than anything else. They probably wouldn't even have the authority they do now if it weren't for how young Valencia is. So the holder of the throne has a lot of power--within the sphere of this system, anyway. And there's something else--when Zortan was telling us about the princess's illness, did you notice what he said? Valencia is the last of the royal line. If she hadn't been born, there would have been no heir. With her parents dead and with no siblings, she is seemingly the only the one left with royal blood. If she dies or disappears now, who takes over the position of ruler?”

White narrowed her eyes, thinking. “It's hard to say how that would work. But I suppose if there is no one else in direct succession, it would pass to the sages.” And then she glanced up sharply. “But are you really suggesting that Zortan and Rothmar would have hired Maxwell to kidnap the princess so they could take her position?”

Blue shrugged. “Have you really been that impressed by their character?”

White had to admit there were things about the two sages that she couldn't understand, that she couldn't pin down. Certainly they had seemed legitimately concerned over the princess's disappearance, but that could also have been affected. “But that doesn't make any sense. We know now about Valencia's condition. Why would the sages take this kind of risk to eliminate her when she won't live that long anyway?”

“That's assuming that Valencia's condition really is incurable. We have only the Sages word for that. Did you notice that Zortan didn't actually tell us what was wrong with her? Imagine their position for a minute--since Valencia was just a baby, they've known she was dying and that, with her death, one (or both) of them would succeed to her position. And then, after having counted on that for years, they discover that there is a cure for her. Don't you think that could drive them to do something desperate? Especially given that now her highness has met us and established a connection with people from outside her system--they have no way of knowing whether she might not casually mention to us the exact nature of her disease and that we might not know of a cure for it.”

“I guess that makes sense,” agreed White slowly. “But do you really think it's true?”

“I'm just saying it's a possibility. And then there's another possibility, another strange thing that needs explaining. That's Keisai.”

“What about him--or them?”

Blue tapped her fingers on the table. “In the short time we've been in this system, we've seen four different servants who work in the palace, and three of them were named Keisai. That's not intrinsically impossible, but it seems strange. I'm sure it's occurred to you that Keisai might really be a title of some kind rather than an actual name.”

“It did,” White admitted, “but I don't see why the Sages would have lied about it then and told us that it was just a common name.”

“Did you notice two common features of all three Keisais?”

“Well, all three were unusually good looking. But what's the other commonality?”

“What would you guess their ages to be?”

White paused a moment to think. “I would put all three between sixteen and twenty.”

“In other words, they are all generally about the same age as the princess. Do those two facts suggest anything to you? If this helps--as a Believer, I'm sure you're familiar with the story the scriptures tell of Esther.”

“Yes... and how the Emperor gathered the fairest young girls from across the realm to choose one as a new queen.” White leaned forward. “Are you really suggesting something like that here? That the Keisais have been gathered based on their physical appearance and one of them will be chosen to marry the princess?”

“One or all.” Noting White's look, Blue added: “Polyandry is not exactly common, but it's not unheard of.”

“But--that doesn't make sense. Look at the way the Keisais were dressed and how Zortan ordered them around. Clearly they're only servants.”

Blue glanced away. “The line between slave and spouse is a fairly fine one in any society, but especially so when royalty is involved.”

White wasn't sure if that was supposed to be sarcasm or cynicism or some combination of the two.

“In any case,” Blue continued, “if Valencia marries anyone, that would give a successor other than the Sages. I would guess the hope is for her to give birth to an heir before she dies, who would be the true successor, with the father only acting as regent until it comes of age. If the Sages want to hold unto their position, Valencia has to disappear before that happens.”

White sat silent for a moment. There was a strange amount of sense in Blue's theory, but she still wasn't convinced. “That could be true, but we don't have any evidence that it is.”

Blue tugged at a strand of her hair. It was a habit White had never noticed before. Was it possibly a sign that Blue wasn't entirely sure of herself? “All I'm saying is that we shouldn't take everything going on here at face value--which is what Gold seems to be doing.” She paused and for a moment White thought the conversation was over. But then, she spoke again: “There are two things about all of this that really don't make sense. Two things which only I know. I suppose you thought I was just being deliberately idiotic in our conversation with the Sages earlier--but there was a reason for everything I did. Do you understand what prefood really is?”

White wondered what in the Cosmos that had to do with anything. “Of course. While I lived with the Tremonsirs I helped to manufacture prefood for our travels.”

“You manufactured your own prefood?” For just an instant, Blue seemed genuinely surprised.

“Well, the actually 'block' we imported from a monastery of our order in the Ursan Sector--which is where nearly all prefood is manufactured. But we would extract our own nutrients to fill it.”

“Then you realize that the basic 'block' of prefood has no nutrients of itself. The other day Green called it 'solidified nothing' and that's a fairly accurate description of it.”

White nodded. “The nutrients and flavors all are added to it.”

“In theory.” Blue set her block of prefood down on the table and looked across at White. “But there's one thing. This particular block--and therefore we can assume all the food they've served us here in Altayra--has no nutrients, no calories. It's been given flavor but nothing else. You may think you're eating something when you eat this, but so far as your body is concerned, you're not. You could eat all of this you wanted and you'd still starve to death.”

White should have realized where Blue was headed but she still started back in surprise. “Are you sure?”

“As far as the food they gave us today--yes. I just ran a chemical analysis on it. I can't guarantee that the same thing was true of the food they gave us in Hath'ellah, but I'd wager it was. That's what made me suspicious--didn't you notice how we were all so hungry even though we ate?”

Yes, White had definitely noticed that. “But--but why in the Cosmos--”

Once again, Blue tugged slightly at a strand of hair. “It's hard to imagine a reason, isn't it? Maybe it's just some kind of silent insult. But whatever the reason, that's one of the things that make me think there is more to this whole situation than meets the eye. And then there's the other thing.” She paused for a moment and then started drumming her fingers on the table. “You can't hear it, but this makes a sound. If you put your ear against the table you'd hear it, or if you put your ear down close to my fingers. Doing this creates vibrations, which are a form of sound, even if your ears aren't sensitive enough to pick it up.”

White wondered where in the Cosmos Blue was headed now. “Yes...?”

“Well, everything puts off a certain vibratory pattern, something like that. Most people can't detect them--but with the power of my armor, I can. This armor allows me to detect--to 'see' and 'hear' a vast number of things the rest of you can't.” She shrugged. “Not necessarily my idea, but that's what it does.”

“So that's how you're able to track down people and things, even across the vastness of space?”

“It's an oversimplification, but that's the basic idea, yes. But it also allows me to detect other things.”

White didn't bother telling Blue that she already knew most of that.

“Specifically, it allows me to detect patterns of energy, things that you couldn't usually detect without specialized instruments. And this whole system is filled with the strangest pattern I've ever seen.”

“What do you mean?”

Blue's fingers were twisted in her hair again. “It's a little hard to explain, hard to make you see it second-hand. Imagine something like a giant magnet pulling everything towards itself. There's something in this system which creates a pull on energy--energy of every form. It's strong enough that we can almost but not quite detect it without my armor. But it's not a steady force--it seems to pulse. You've seen waves on an ocean, haven't you? It's like that--and with every wave that comes in there's a reaction going back.”

White nodded though she was having a little trouble keeping up with Blue's analogies.

“This--thing--whatever it is--sets up a constant pulse of vibrations drawing in and flowing out, though more is drawn in than flows out. It's a permanent background to this system, like a constant sound nobody can hear. Do you understand what I mean?” She evidently meant the question rhetorically, because she didn't pause for a response. “I'm fairly certain that Maxwell was able to broadcast that hologram all the way from one planet to another by hitching its signal unto this background pattern.”

Now Blue paused, but White wasn't sure what kind of response she was waiting for, so she ventured cautiously: “Is this background pattern--is it what it making your armor's power to function erratically in this system?”

Though Blue's eyes didn't flicker, her hand jerked with a strange emphasis, pulling a strand of hair. Now White was sure that was a nervous habit and meant she was upset or unsure about something. But her tone was emotionless when she answered: “Most likely.”

The pause this time lasted long enough to be awkward. White finally ventured, “So what does this have to do with that conversation with the Sages?”

Blue stood up and turned away. “I don't know what's going on in this system. I don't know whether it has anything to do with the Nadirites or with the strange way the Sages have been acting. But I know one thing. That pattern I told you about--it's epicenter seems to be on Altayra Rex--as nearly as I can pinpoint it, in the Temple of Ice.” And with that she walked away, clearly indicating that the conversation was over.

White shook her head and turned away. Things were getting far too confusing for her. She had always prided herself--had it really been pride?--on her ability to sort through complex information, to find patterns and sanity in the apparent madness of events. But now--now she wasn't so sure of herself. She couldn't make any sense out of Blue's revelations, or exactly why Blue had suddenly chosen to talk seriously to her. At least, she had been serious, hadn't she? Or had she just moved to a more subtle form of sarcasm? White was coming to realize that, for all her supposed skill at understanding people, she really knew very little about her own team mates... or herself.

Her thoughts were suddenly scattered again when the comm unit came to life. "White, have you heard anything from Red or Silver?" Gold's voice was rough, but White thought there was a worried note to it, too.

"No, they haven't reported in."

"They haven't contacted me, either."

"This is Red," White pointed out after a pause.

"Granted. But if nothing's gone wrong, they should have returned to the ship by now."

White nodded, even though Gold couldn't see the motion. It shouldn't have taken that long for Red and Silver to investigate Maxwell's campsite... if nothing went wrong. But if anything had gone wrong, they should have called in.

"Leave Blue with the ship and check it out. We can't ignore the possibility that something happened. If Red contacts me, I'll let you know."

White glanced behind to see that Blue had been listening.

"I'm on my way."


Just a second or two later, White, in her armor, was shooting through the darkness of space towards Altayra Conaurah. She thought that most likely Red had just gotten distracted by something--it wasn't as if this had never happened before--but with everything going on, they couldn't afford to take chances.

As she flew, she couldn't help but admit one thing--that she strangely pleased because Gold had given her this assignment. The way he had talked to her had been just like the old days. That shouldn't have made her as happy as it did.

She clearly remembered the location of Maxwell's campsite and with there being next-to-nothing else on Altayra Conaurah, it was easy enough to find again.

"I'm almost there, Gold," she reported as she came in sight of the wrecked spaceship by which Maxwell had made his campsite. She paused for a moment. "That's not right. That wreck... has been wrecked." When they had seen it before, she had been impressed by how it seemed in perfect condition. Now the entire length of the ship had been split open.

"Roger that. Proceed with caution. If you need back-up, shout. But it'll be a while before we can get there."

White didn't respond. She was moving in carefully which, for her, meant moving quickly. As long as she moved quickly, she wasn't likely to be spotted--assuming there was anyone around in the first place.

And, as it happened there was.

Specifically, there were three Nadirite agents in powersuits, Red, Silver, and a large mechog. One of the Nadirites (an officer, based on the suit) was standing in front of the wreck, holding a weapon on Red who stood opposite. The second was standing over Silver, who was sprawled on the ground--also with a weapon trained. (Both Silver and Red were out of armor.) The third was holding the mechog pinned against the ground, though apparently with some difficulty.

White arced around the site and then came to a stop at a location some distance behind the ship where she felt certain she wouldn't be spotted. “We have a situation,” she said into her comm. “Three Nadirites powersuits. Based on what I saw, I think they surprised Silver and knocked him unconscious and are using him as a hostage to keep Red from using his armor.”

Gold growled under his breath. “Should've known Red would find some way to get himself in trouble. It's going to take a while for any of us to get to your location--we don't have your speed.”

“And we don't have that kind of time. I doubt the Nadirites are going to keep this standoff forever and they have the upper-hand at the moment. I'm going to move in.”

“Check. I'm counting on you.”

For just a moment, White hovered in the air, her face hot and flushed, her heart beating more than usual. She couldn't deny the sense of relief and almost exhilaration she felt to hear Gold talking to her like that. Obviously, Black had been right and his doubt about her had been only superficial and deep down he had never believed she could betray the Corps. But why had he reacted so harshly, then? And why did she feel so happy at his returning trust? One would almost think that there really was something more...

But she had no time to think about that.

She had no idea how long the stand-off had been going on, but she doubted it would last much longer. She had to interfere now. The problem was that the Nadirites had two hostages. If it had been just foot soldiers, she wouldn't have been worried, but the powersuits were strong enough that she couldn't count on taking out both before they realized her presence. If she could have coordinated with Red, things would have been simpler, but apparently the Nadirites were using some kind of powerful local signal to jam his communicator.

Fortunately, there were only three Nadirites, so far as she could tell--there was no sign of any other forces in the area. She dropped to ground-level, floating only an inch or so off the surface of the planet and slowly approached the group, keeping the bulk of the wreckage between her and the others. She could hear them talking now.

“Captain Erybus will be displeased that we failed to find the Intimidator,” said one of the Nadirites. White recognized the voice as the female Syrian officer who had led the powersuits in the battle at the Guidance Beacon. “But capturing two of you will more than make up for that, perhaps rendering everything else irrelevant. Unless, of course, you know where the Intimidator is.”

“I don't know where Maxwell is and I wouldn't tell you even if I did.”

White paused in her approach. Red's voice was petulant and a little sullen--it struck her ironically as sounding more like the defiance of a bullied schoolboy than part of an act of war--and yet, for all that, it had a note of firmness that she had never heard in Red's voice before. She was also interested in the fact that, apparently, the Nadirites were also searching for Maxwell. He had probably betrayed or at least deserted them in favor of his own private schemes. Naturally.

“This talk is a waste of time,” spoke one of the Nadirites. He had a rough, burly voice and a slight speech impediment which made him sound as if he perpetually had something stuck in his throat. Or maybe he did have something perpetually stuck in his throat. “We should be getting back before any of their friends show up.”

“They won't show up. The rest of the Corps don't even know where we are. It was all my idea to bring Silver out here and investigate--I didn't tell Gold.”

White stopped again, partly because she had reached a point where she couldn't go further without revealing herself and partly at shock at what Red had just said. She wasn't used to Red being this cool under pressure. If the Nadirites believed him, it might put them off their guard. (Had she just complimented Red for lying? She shook her head. This was no time for sorting out questions of ethics.)

“This one talks too much,” said the voice which had spoken before. “I know Captain Erybus wants them captive, but do they have to be alive still when we bring them in?”

“Erybus quite specifically insisted that we capture them alive,” answered the officer's voice. “'More or less alive' were his exact words, I think.”

“What does that mean?” asked Red, his voice rising slightly.

The office kept talking, introspectively. “Of course, we really only need one captive. And since the big one is unconscious, he is the more natural choice. It might be simpler if we just took him and disposed of the other.”

“That's what I said in the beginning.”

“Of course, we might be able to come to an agreement...”

“Yeah, right,” interrupted Red. “There's no way I'd ever come to an agreement with you.”

“Whatever we do, let's hurry up with it,” added a third voice; also a man's voice, but higher pitched and younger sounding.

White knew there was no point in waiting to hear more. Red seemed alert which meant he would probably be ready to grasp the opportunity when it came. And she couldn't put it off any longer. The Nadirites seemed about ready to make their move.

She closed her eyes in concentration for a moment and then shot around the side of the wreck, moving like a blur of white light. Before the Nadirites had time to react, she had plowed into the one who was covering Silver, knocking him sideways. White had thrown the Nadirite off for only a couple of seconds, but a couple of seconds were all she needed. Though she hadn't been there, she had heard everything that had happened while Silver and the others were trapped on Altayra Vorphintus. She grasped the metallic sphere which hung from Silver's neck and shouted: “Eo, come.”

There was a slight fuzziness in the air and then Silver vanished, leaving only the sphere in White's hand. She threw it some distance away. That would keep Silver out of danger for the time being.

When White plowed into the Nadirite, the officer had started just slightly at the sound and for one instant had taken her eyes off Red. And that instant was all he needed to phase on his armor.

“Now this is more like it,” he exclaimed, as he teleported to a position behind the officer.

“I said we should have killed him when we had the chance,” said the Nadirite who had been covering Silver, the one with the deep voice.

But he had no time to rub the point in any more because in the next couple of seconds all three Nadirites had their hands full. White and Red were not the strongest members of the Corps, but they were the fastest. Between the inherent speed of White's armor and Red's ability to teleport, the Nadirites had all they could do just to keep track of where their enemy was. And besides that, from the beginning of the fight, they had another factor to worry about.

As soon as he had his armor, Red had teleported to a position behind the officer and fired an energy star at her. It had had no impact on her powersuit and it was hard to say whether Red had meant it to distract her or just as a vent for his feelings. But the next instant, he had teleported away again, this time to a point by the third Nadirite, the one who was holding the mechog. He fired a barrage of stars in every direction and then slammed into the Nadirite. The stars had spooked both the man and the animal and so it didn't take much force to upset their already fragile equilibrium. With a yip and a snarl the mechog broke free. For an instant, it seemed undecided and then it turned in the air and sprung on its erstwhile captor.

Meanwhile, White was sparing with the Nadirite with the deep voice. He could move faster than the bulk of his powersuit might have suggested but still not enough to keep up with White, who kept circling and then darting in for an attack. She had learned something in their previous battle with the Nadirites--the main weak spot in the powersuits was the point where the weapons connected to the main suit. For that reason, she kept her sights on his weapon, a large blaster mounted on his right arm. Arching around him, she shot forward, throwing all her force at the blaster, ripping it from the suit and, in the same action, sending the man stumbling backwards.

The officer moved to intercept White, but White was moving too quickly. Fortunately (without Erybus there to augment their powers), the powersuits couldn't fly well, so by flying skyward, she was able to avoid them easily.

The third Nadirite had his hands full with the mechog and Red. Red, in fact, seemed more interested in the mechog than the Nadirite. White couldn't help wondering where in the Cosmos the mechog had come from and how it was involved in this standoff.

Without his weapon, there was less the big Nadirite could do and the damage to his suit seemed to be causing him some problems too, but he was still on his feet. The officer had moved to the side and now fired off an order of some kind. The big Nadirite whirled on Red and at the same time the officer trained her gun (a small, laser-port mounted to the wrist of her suit) on the mechog.

Red teleported forward, directly into the line of fire. As she fired her laser, he fired a storm of energy stars. (White had never seen him fire so many at one time before.) They caught the concentrated light of the laser and refracted it, scattering it harmlessly in every direction.

But Red's distraction had given the big Nadirite opportunity to throw the mechog aside, pulling the third Nadirite to safety. Red glanced backwards and then teleported to the mechog's side, stopping it before it plowed into the side of the ship.

White wondered why Red seemed so anxious to protect the animal, but she had her own concerns. The instant the third Nadirite was free, he pulled a weapon from a sort of pocket on the side of his suit. White recognized it as the same kind of weapon she had seen on the Nadirite mothership a few days previous, though she had never seen it before and wasn't exactly sure what it did or how it worked.

After a second or two, the Nadirite called out: “Target lock.”

In everything that had happened over the last several days, White had almost forgotten about the way the Nadirites had been able to lock unto her armor during the battle on the mothership. She paused for just a second and then shot backwards. Even as the Nadirite fired, she had reached the point where the wing of the wrecked ship stuck out. Slamming her armor against it, she ripped a piece of metal from the wing and whirled around, holding between her and the Nadirites. The weapon fired something that looked more like a glowing bolo of light than anything else. When it struck White's improvised shield, there was an explosion which annihilated her shield and sent her flying back several feet. For just a second, nothing could be seen because of a blinding strobe of white light. And when it faded, there was no sign of the three Nadirites.


Meanwhile, some distance away, another conversation was going on.

“So, um, how are you, you know, feeling?”

“My feelings are no concern of yours.”

“But I just asked about them which means I was, you know, concerned.”

“Well, you shouldn't be, then.”

Maxwell stood up and turned away for a minute, pacing down the length of the small cabin. This ship was small but it was big enough for him and for his guest. He glanced at the small control panel and then back to his guest. The ship was floating in space just above the surface of one of the planets of Altayra. He was just slightly concerned that either the Corps or the Nadirites might be able to locate it, but so far there was no sign of any search and with his tachyon shield he wasn't especially worried. “I'm just saying that I want you to be, you know, comfortable.”

“I am perfectly well aware of the meaning of the word comfortable. There is no need to add you know.” Princess Valencia sat very primly in one of the chairs in the cabin. She had sat there, in that exact manner, since the moment she had boarded the ship on Altayra Rex. Maxwell could have sworn her attitude was causing the cabin's atmosphere to lose temperature.

Maxwell continued pacing. “I think you should be a little more, you know, cooperative. I mean, this is, um, an unusual distinction. I don't usually go in for this kind of thing and certainly not for someone of your status. It's quite a compliment.”

Valencia folded her hands. “If you wish to do anything, you should return me to Altayra Rex. Otherwise, there is nothing more to say. You have no right to hold anyone, even the lowest servant of my people, let alone a princess.”

“That's got a good ring.” Maxwell walked up to the control panel again, his hands in the pocket of his hoodie. “Maybe I should use that sometime only I'm not a princess or even a, you know, prince, so I suppose I wouldn't work and, anyway, I'm using the one committing crimes not the one telling other people to, you know, not commit them.”

As Maxwell talked, Valencia had begun to show the first real sign of emotion. She tilted her head slightly to one side and looked at him with a curiosity which had a note of horror or disgust: “Are you insane?”

“I'm just a strong man whose in touch his feelings and also happens to be really, you know, intimidating. But, um, I don't really have any, like, reason to try to intimidate you so, yeah...” He turned away to check the panel and continued talking without turning around. “So if you were all like: 'Oh, please, don't hurt me,' then I'd be all like 'I'd never hurt you unless you were trying to hurt me' which obviously you wouldn't if you liked me and also wouldn't if you didn't like me because then you'd be too afraid and so you'd be all like 'I never dreamed of it' and I'd be like...” At this point in his monologue he turned around to pace back down the cabin--but he stopped dead midsentence, for once his eyes nearly starting out his head in amazement at what he saw.

To be continued...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Song of the Magi

I come from the throne of a golden god,
Whose temple is crowded and cold,
And the moans of the poor is a hymn of praise
Where the favor of god is sold.
Gold is the life of the greedy god
Who would hold all things in his paw
And gold is the gift I give tonight
To the baby who lies in the straw.
He lies asleep, one hand outstretched
(This innocent baby boy)
As if all the wealth of heaven and earth
He had thrown away in His joy.

I come from the throne of a sable god,
Whose temple is dark as the night,
Where god is hid from the people and priest,
Where worship is mystery and fright.
Incense is the life of the secret god
The fragrance of terror and awe,
And incense the gift I give tonight
To the baby who lies in the straw.
In a rough wooden manger, by the oxen and sheep
(This baby for Whom the stars shine)
He lies there asleep, with one hand outstretched
As if to clasp with mine.

I come from the throne of a crimson god,
Whose temple is noisy with strife;
Where men must die for their god to live
And where hymns are played with a knife.
Myrrh is the life of the bloody god,
The perfume of tooth and claw
And myrrh is the gift I give tonight
To the baby who lies in the straw.
He lies asleep, in this cold, dark place
(This baby in Bethlehem born)
As quiet and still as the sleep of the dead
And His hand is pierce by a thorn.

All three:
We come from the thrones of the ancient gods
Whose temples are older than song,
Where each generation gives up the same prayers
And awaits the same answers as long.
For hope is the curse of the aged gods,
Whose only strength is the law
And hope is the gift we receive this night
From the baby who lies in the straw.
He was born in the dark, at the change of the year
(This boy in a stable of earth)
And He smiles in His sleep, as if the whole world
Had been born anew with His birth.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

God's Secret Plan: File #3

In the opening verses of Ephesians, Paul gives a psalm of praise, over viewing what God has done and is going to do for his people. This is Paul's grand synopsis of God's secret plan for the church. But this is all very general. Ephesians 1:15-16 bring in the personal note, serving a transition but also making Paul's message a very personal one. “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” Barnes thinks that before writing this epistle, Paul had heard news from Ephesus, the first news he had of the church since last meeting with them (Acts 20:1ff) several  years before. He was glad to hear that they had continued in faith towards God and love towards God's people and so gave thanks for them in his prayers. It is important to note the introductory word--“wherefore”--which ties this verse to those before it. It also important to note that following this verse and the thanks which Paul had given for them, he continues with a prayer for them (Ephesians 1:17-23)--a prayer that they might increase in wisdom and knowledge. In other words, because of the great plan of God--because of all God has done for us and is doing for us and is going to do for us, he was glad that they were staying true, they were “sticking to the plan” and encouraged to pray that they would continue to do so, that they would learn even more about God's plan and come to play their part in it all the better.

First, we should note here to Whom Paul prays: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” (c.p., John 20:17) Why could Paul pray to God? Because he was praying to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, as the mediator between God and man, made it possible for Paul to offer this prayer. This is important to note, because the main idea of this prayer is the role of Jesus Christ, especially as it provides a foundation for God's plan.

The prayer is a prayer for wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is important for the Christian life. The word “know” in verse 18 can also be translated “see;” coupled with the metaphor about the “eyes of your understanding” we can almost make a picture like this: Paul is saying, don't walk through God's kingdom with your eyes half shut--keep them wide open so you don't miss a thing that God is doing, has done, and is going to do.  There is a famous story about five blind men who wanted to learn about an elephant and so, one day, happened to find one. Because they were blind, they couldn't actually see the elephant but they could feel it and so they each came up with a very different interpretation of what an elephant was really like. But their fundamental mistake was this--having once touched an elephant, they felt that was enough for them for the rest of their lives. If they had continued in fellowship and a growing knowledge of the elephant, their faulty knowledge would soon have been corrected. That is what Paul praying for regarding the Ephesians--that they will not be content with their introductory knowledge of God, but come to know and know Him and His plan more fully.

There are three things Paul wants them to know, which correspond to the past, present, and future work of God (NET Bible). In the past, there is God's calling to hope. We have hope in this life, because God has called us and we have answered. In the future, there is the riches of the glory of our inheritance (or our glorious inheritance). (Note the repetition of Paul's favorite phrase “Riches of...”) And in the present there is “The exceeding greatness of [God's] power to us-ward.

The church is like a great factory, filled with massive machines and devices for the production of God's plan. But all that is useless unless someone can flip the master switch and send power flowing into all those machines, bringing them to life. Without that, they will stand still and silent, unproductive and meaningless. Paul was assuring the Ephesians and encouraging them to remember that there was no danger of that. God never forgets to pay the electric bill for the church, because He owns the power company--or, rather, He is the power company. God has given power to the church--not just barely sufficient power, not to the point where we have to be careful not to exceed the capacity of the generator--it is “the exceeding greatness of his power... according to the work of his mighty power.” Robertson points out that two different words are used in Greek for power in this verse, with a third word (translated “wrought”) in verse 20. It seems that Paul had to use all the words he could think of to try to express the sheer greatness of God's power. (Robertson's Word Pictures, Ephesians 1:20)

But Paul uses more than word play to make his point. He gives a brutally concrete example of the power of God, an example which should help us see exactly what is the power at work within the church. Perhaps we can best express it in the form of an algebraic equation:

(John 19:30-34) + X = (Revelation 1:14-16)
Solve for X

Here we have two passages, both from the writings of John the son of Zebedee--two different things he saw. On one hand, we have this passage from his gospel: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” That was one sight which John had of his master, a lifeless, bloody corpse being manhandled by careless Roman soldiers.

And then we have this other sight of his Master which John also had years later in his revelation: “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

There is a vast difference between these two passages, between these two appearances of Jesus. And when we have taken the measure of that difference, we will know what is the extent of the power of God.  And this is the power which is at work within the church, within us as Christians. It was the power which not just imparted old life to a dead body (great as that would be) but which imparted a new and more glorious life, and then exalted it. Though Paul in verse 20 and through the end of the chapter changes his focus to the exaltation of Christ itself, it all based on this--the power of God at work in Christ which is the same power at work in us. Chapter 2 talks about how we are raised from the death of our sins to sit with Christ in heavenly places--but this is possible only because of the power which God “wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.”

The theme of these final verses is the Exaltation of Christ. Paul describes Christ as seated at the right hand of God (a figure used throughout the New Testament)--this has the idea of having honor and authority. Verse 21 states that Jesus is above, and “far above” every kind of being in this age and in the coming age. Paul uses a variety of terms (“these terms describe every order of intelligent beings in heaven and on earth; every creature that bears a name.” Family Bible Notes, Ephesians 1:21) but the bottom line is that Jesus above them all. (Bengel put it: “We know that the emperor goes before all, though we cannot enumerate all the satraps and ministers of his court; so we know that Christ is set above all, although we cannot name them all.") The picture is continued in verse 22 which states that God put all things under Jesus's feet, which again reiterates His supremacy and exaltation.

But at the end of verse 21, Paul changes direction and adds what seems at first a strange addition: God gave Jesus to the church as a head over all things; and as Jesus is the head of the church, so the church is the body of Jesus, “the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” There's a good deal of controversy or just confusion about what some of the phrases in these verses mean, but the point to notice is this: as part of Christ's exaltation, God gave Him to the church as its head. The basis of the church is the exaltation of Christ. We're not going to spend time here because Paul goes into more detail about this later in the book, but we need to grasp this: this is the foundation of the church, the power of God and the exaltation of Christ. The power at work in the church is the omnipotent power which created the world and raised Christ from the dead, and the head of the church is He who is also exalted over all things.

There was a Henry Aldridch program in which Henry's father was trying to lead a bond drive to raise support for the war effort (during WWII). He was have trouble getting people to make the effort to get involved--until an accidental miscommunication started the rumor that the President of the United States had taken a personal interest in the success of this project. Once that rumor got around, suddenly everyone was willing to get involved. And in the work of the church we have, not the president of a country, but one who is exalted over all things in this world and world to come not just involved but as the head of the project. When God set out to create the church, he looked through all reality and then chose Him whom He had exalted over all things and “gave him to be the head over all things to the church.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

God's Secret Plan: File #2

Paul's epistle to the church at Ephesus is one of his more general letters--it is not addressed to particular problems or issues (as are 1 Corinthians or Galatians); rather, Paul seems to have taken this opportunity to lay out for his readers “God's Secret Plan” (NET Bible, Ephesians 3:9), the plan which God had been working out for His people, His church.

After a greeting which is essentially similar to the opening of Paul's other letters, Paul moves into the meat of his letter. Ephesians 1:3-14 can be considered the basic thesis or big idea of Ephesians. In this section, Paul clearly lays out the plan of God for us. Before we examine this further, there are two things we should note: first, that this section, in Greek, is actually one single sentence, though modern versions break it down into three or more. The second thing to notice is that it is actually a doxology, a word of praise--the entire thing is placed in the form of a note of praise to God. The title for this section could aptly be: “To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done.” Verse 3 works as a sort of summary or introduction of all Paul has to say: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” This is the keynote. We are blessed in heavenly places, an anticipation of the later of image of our sitting with Christ. (As I mentioned previously, the first half of Ephesians is dedicated to this idea of our SITTING with Christ, enjoying blessings in His presence.)

This section is rather long and it can be hard to breakdown into individual sections. I think the best way to approach it is like this: the plan of salvation (which is the theme of this section, as the whole book) is something constructed; it is something deliberately made. With everything that is constructed--everything from a Teddy Bear to a fighter jet--there are three questions you can ask about it: Who? How? Why? Everything that is deliberately made or constructed had someone who designed it, who came up with the basic idea--then, in someway, it was taken from being a mere concept to be an actuality--and all this was done in order to fulfill some purpose. All that is true of anything crafted or manufactured--and it is also true of this plan of salvation. This passage, then, can be seen as telling us the who, how, and why of this secret plan.

First, where does this plan come from? What originated it? The answer is God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who... has chosen us... before the foundation of the world.” (Granted, since we are calling this the “Plan of God” this answer should have been obvious from the beginning.) Throughout this passage, we are reminded that this plan is the plan of God, that it is the purpose he made, “his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.” This plan was made by God and God alone, He is the originator and designer.

We may be used to this that we miss how really startling it is. Sometimes if a debtor goes to a creditor, the creditor will be willing to negotiate some kind of settlement or even forgiveness of a debt. How often does a creditor go looking for a debtor, offering to forgive a loan without being asked? How often does the government send police out to catch outstanding criminals in order to give them pardons? In this world, that's just not the way it usually works. But when man sinned, he didn't come up with a plan of salvation and then ask God to enact it. He didn't even go to God and ask if God could find a way of salvation and then God scratched His head and say, “Well, maybe we can work something out.” God was the originator of the plan of salvation, crafting it even before the need for it arose. Like a general preparing his troops even before war has been declared, God prepared a way for man to be saved even before man sinned. This passage speaks of God's choice being “before the foundation of the world.” Revelation 13:8 references Jesus as being the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” This was something God had planned out from the beginning. Man had no part in creating it because it was created even before man. 

It was something God came up with and executed on His own. Verse 11 says it was done “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." There are two ideas here. First, that God originates this plan--all plans--in the counsel of his own will; He makes His decisions in Himself. The word “counsel” originally meant a senate or board, a group of men who made decisions as for a government. (Barnes, Ephesians 1:11) Just as a board or committee may meet and come to a decision: “This is what we're going to do. This is our plan”--just so, God has, in Himself, in His own will, has come to a decision, has come up with a plan. But sometimes a committee or senate may come up with a plan but be unable to put it into practice--but God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. In other words, God comes up with own plans and then He orders everything in accordance to that plan. When we make plans, we always have to leave a margin of error for unseen circumstances, for things beyond our control. But God never has to do that, for to God there are no unforeseen circumstances, there are no things beyond his control. Whatever God sets out to do gets done.

Verse 8 says that God worked “in all wisdom and prudence.” It's not entirely clear, but this seems to refer to the two phases or kinds of thinking involved in making a plan. On one side, you have the abstract side, the coming up with the general idea, the creative vision of what you want to accomplish. On the other side, you have the practical side, the stratagizing, figuring out how to put the plan into effect. Two often, these two phases of thought are separated and the men who know what to do don't know how to do it and those who know who to get things done don't know what needs done.  But God is the source of both kinds of knowledge and so planned out this secret plan with ALL wisdom and prudence, knowing both what needed to be done and how to go about getting it done.

Verse 9 lets us into the secret of God's motive in all this---it was all done “according to his good pleasure.” There are somethings in life we would do only under the threat of violence, under coercion. There are other things we would do, but only grudgingly, under slight pressure and persuasion from other people. But there are some things we do simply because we want to do them--things which we chose, in and of ourselves, to do. And that is the idea behind the Greek word translated “good pleasure.” It is that which we chose to do because we want to. And that was how God originated the plan of salvation. It was something God chose to do, not something He was talked into doing, not something He did reluctantly. God did it because He wanted to.

Verse 7 also has this thought, saying that God worked out of the “riches of his grace.” (Several commentators point out that “riches of ....” is a favorite phrase of Paul's and occurs often in his writings.) God acted out of grace, generosity or favor which is given because of the decision of the giver not the worth of the receiver--but God didn't just have a little bit of grace, He was rich in grace, He had an ample supply of grace. Very seven says that he has “abounded toward us” in His grace. The NET Bible says that “he lavished [the riches of his grace] on us.” Occasionally, when some person forgives you, they give you the feeling that they really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to scrounge up enough forgiveness for you--but God didn't plan out our salvation out of the last poor remnant of his grace, but out of the riches of his grace--the implication being that after God had bestowed all the vast amounts of grace needed to bring about the salvation of mankind, He still had plenty left.

The Bible uses the word pro-or-i-dzo to describe God's planning. KJV and most other translations give this as “predestine” but the words destine and destiny are slippery words in modern English. The literal idea of this word is to determine or mark out before hand. Adam Clarke says the original idea of the word was geographical and had to do with the marking out and determining of boundaries. He believes that Paul is thinking here of the possession of the land of Canaan and how God marked out, even before the Children of Israel entered into the land, where each tribe would dwell and what the boarders of their land would be. The basic idea here is that God planned out in advance the way of salvation. God doesn't make things up as He goes along. Just as an architect plans out all the dimensions of a house before the first nail is pounded, so God had fully laid out the plan for his church before the first sinner had sinned alone been saved. But architects are only human and sometimes have to adjust their plan based on circumstances--hence the expression, “back to the drawing board.” But God never has to take his plan back to the drawing board. It is already settled, it is planned out in advance and never needs to be changed.

We see this at work in the story of Noah. When God told Noah to build an ark, (Genesis 6:14-16) God gave Noah very specific instruction in order for him to escape the Flood. He didn't give him a multiple choice selection--He didn't give him a choice between an ark and a submarine. Godeven specifically told him the dimensions of the ark, the material to use, and the general plan. That was determined in advance. That was pre-determined or, if you prefer, predestined. When Noah (who was a preacher of righteousness) was preaching, no one could say, “I don't want to be saved on an Ark--I want to be saved in some other way.” That option simply wasn't there. The choice was simply between being saved on the Ark or being lost in the Flood. And in this matter of ultimate salvation, this plan of God, we do not get to chose the plan. Because God is the originator of the plan, He gets to set the boundaries of the plan. (And let's be honest, if it were up to us to set up the plan, we would make a dreadful mess of it.) The plan of God, the plan of salvation, is pre-destined, it is marked out ahead of time. We cannot change it. We can only chose either to accept it and be saved or reject it and be lost.

So the “Who” question--who originated or designed this plan?--is answered: the plan was crafted by God the Father, from before the foundation of the world. God didn't have to ask anyone else for advice; He didn't assemble a thinktank of the angels to come up with a plan. He didn't have to be coaxed or begged to come up with this secret plan--He founded it from before the foundation of the world, out of His own good pleasure. But what exactly is this plan which God has chosen? “How” did God accomplish this plan?

The main thing to note is that this plan is centered in Christ. The phrase “in Christ” or “by [Jesus] Christ” is found five times throughout this passage. We are blessed in Christ (v. 3), chosen in Christ (v. 4), brought unto adoption by Christ (v. 5), obtained an inheritance in Christ (v. 11), and sealed with the Holy Spirit in Christ (v. 13). Verse 6 says that we are “accepted in the Beloved.” Most commentators feel that Beloved here is another name for Christ as the Beloved Son of God, and therefore we have another reference that we are accepted in Christ. Jesus Christ is the central factor of this plan. Specifically, this plan involves the death and resurrection of Christ as the dynamic source of our salvation. Verse 7 puts it: “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” This is the basic, central message of the gospel--that there is salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who brings redemption and forgiveness, reconciliation with God. Paul will go into further details about this later on, but the main point to grasp here is Jesus Christ was the active agent in creating our salvation. “The Father planned/The Saviour bled and died.

This was the plan which God made. Verse 4 says that God “hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” From the very beginning, God had this plan and that plan included Jesus. God didn't come up with the general plan and then realize at the last minute that He needed someone to execute the plan and start looking around for volunteers. From the foundation of the world, this was always God's plan. We shouldn't picture it as if God gives us the gift of salvation and if we turn it around, we'll find some small print somewhere on it: “Made by Christ.” Jesus isn't like the mailman, leaving the gift of salvation in our mailbox and then driving on. The plan of salvation is centered in Christ.

We have salvation in Christ. Verse 13 shows how we personally enter into this salvation. By trusting and believing in Christ. Though faith we enter a vital union with Christ. Jesus described it at the union of a branch and a tree. A branch has life in it because it is connected to the tree. Paul elsewhere uses the analogy of a body. My hand has life because it is connected to the rest of my body. Just like that, we have life because we are united to Christ who is the source of life. That is why it is so important to note that we are blessed IN Christ and have an inheritance IN Christ. (In Christ is one of Paul's favorite phrases) In a sense, God has not given us salvation as a separate, independent entity. We have salvation because we are united to Christ. Paul speaks of this elsewhere, especially in Romans--we share in Christ's death and so are free of the wrath of God and we share in Christ's resurrection and so have new life. But all this is possible only in Christ.

So this salvation is provided by and in Christ? But what exactly is this salvation? What does it mean to be saved? There are many images for and aspects of salvation used in the New Testament and even throughout Ephesians. But Paul uses a specific image here: God has given us “the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself... in whom [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance... in whom [Christ] ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” (v 5, 11, 13-14) The word used in verse 5 for adoption is a legal term and seems to mean literally to place as a son. An important component of the concept here is the right of inheritance. If a man had been adopted as a son than he would receive in an inheritance from his adopted father, just as if he had been a natural child. If a man had both a biological son and an adopted son, the estate would be divided between them, just as if they had both been biological sons. One who had received the adoption of sons was, for all legal purposes, the same as a natural son, particularly in respect to the right of inheritance. (See Clarke on Romans 8:15, NET Bible note on Ephesians 1:5, and Strong #5206)

The idea here is that through Christ we become the children of God, with full access to the blessings of God. We are blessed in heavenly places because we have been adopted into the heavenly family. Just as a poor boy, adopted into a rich family, would have access and rights to a rich inheritance, so as Christians, adopted into the family of God, “we have obtained an inheritance.” We have Great Expectations.

It is important to note that this is forward-looking. Though our adoption happened in the past, our inheritance is in the future. Verses 13-14 speak of the Holy Spirit as “the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” The word earnest is a legal term for a down-payment. A down-payment is part of a payment that you get to begin with as a promise that the rest is following. And the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the blessings we now enjoy as Christians, is a down-payment until the time when we come into full possession of our spiritual inheritance.

So that is the answer to the HOW question--salvation was obtained by Jesus Christ, though His death and resurrection and we, by faith in Him, receive the adoption of sons and an inheritance in God. And that brings us to the WHY question. Why did God make this secret plan? What was it he was trying to accomplish in all this? What is the final purpose of it all?

There are two sides to the answer to this question: one is our side, one is God's. On our side, the answer is verse 4. God made the plan of salvation for this purpose: that “we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” The word holy means that which is set apart for God and, by implication, that which is perfect or complete, even, that which is like God. This thought is mirrored in the word “without blame” which means “faultless” “unblameable” “unblemished” (Strong, #299)--to be holy and without blame means to be perfect so that nobody can find anything wrong with you. Specifically, it means to be like God.

We can understand this picture if we go back to the picture of Adoption and Sonship.  A father desires the best for son, whatever he views as best. In fact, you can sometimes gauge what a man thinks is really important by what he desires for his children. If he values money, then his main hope will be that his children are rich. If he values physical strength or good looks, that will be what he hopes for his children. And so the list goes on. And that is also true for God, as our father--He also desires the best for us; His end goal for us is to find the best there is to find. And the best thing there is is to be like God, to share His nature--to be holy and without blame. Before the Fall, in the beginning, that was what God created man to be and even with all that has happened since, this is still God's end goal. Everything He did and is doing and will do for us is directed to this end.

And though this may be a side note, it is important to note who God is doing this to, who He desires to be holy and without blame. “We.” Paul doesn't say “me” or “you”, he says “We.” This is God's plan for all Christians. All those who will be part of His people are headed for this destination. It is for all Christians and for the church as a whole, something Paul will have more to say about later. The church has often been pictured as a boat, and this, then, is the port for which the boat is headed. And if the boat is headed towards a certain port, than so are all the passengers on the boat. God's will is for all of us--all who are willing--to be holy and without blame before Him.

We are, in the end, to be holy and without blame before Him in love. There's debate about how to interpret the phrase “in love”--there's different ways to read it and, really, all of them are true. God desires us to be holy and without blame because of His love for us. God chose us in and by His love to be holy and without blame. And what God chose us to be was holy and without blame in our love--complete and perfect in our love for Him and for one another.

Another, closely connected reason is also given in this passage. Verse 6 speaks of the “praise of the glory of his grace.” Verse 12 says that “we should be to the praise of his glory” and verse 14 has the phrase “unto the praise of his glory.” I'm not sure exactly what this means, but it seems to have two sides. We, as humans, give various awards or tokens to recognize achievement and talent in our fellow-man--ribbons, medals, certificates and so on. They are symbols of what a man has done. But while these are useful and right in their place, there is a better test of man's achievement. If you really want to know the skill of a cook, do not look at their collection of blue ribbons--eat a sample of their food. To find the success of a teacher, don't examine their awards, examine their students. And we, as Christians, are living testimonies, living medals of God's power. Our lives, our very existence should be proof to the world of what God has done, and therefore is a kind of praise and glory to God. That is one side of it. The other side is this--the “glory of God” is the revelation of who God is. The Heavens declare the glory of God, because they show forth the attributes of God, His power and His creativitity. And as we, as Christians, become like God, as become holy and without blame in love, we more and more reflect the glory and the image of God. Just as a sliver of glass or polished metal may reflect the blazing glory of the sun, so finite human beings, redeemed by grace, may in time and in eternity reflect the magnificent wholeness of God, may be to the praise of the glory of His grace.

But there is another reason behind this secret plan of God--a final, ultimate reason. It is found in Ephesians 1:10: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.

The town of Wallace, Idaho bares the somewhat unusual distinction of being the center of the universe (per a mayoral decision in 2004). It may strike us as strange that the whole universe might revolve around one town in Idaho--but what Paul says is nearly as strange. Because of His incarnation, His death and resurrection, Jesus of Nazarus (a man who lived and died like all of us, only without sin) is the center of the universe, the linchpin of all God's plans, the one who will judge all things and to whom all things will ultimately be subject. This seems to be true in some sense beyond the simple fact that as God He is above all things anyway. He has now earned the right of conquest as well as the right of succession and so in a doubly true sense: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) The whole plan of salvation is built around Christ and of him and by him and for him are all things and now nothing in this universe can be fully understood except in reference to Jesus.

This is the final, if-you-will, the cosmic scope of God's plan. Now Jesus is forming his kingdom in this world through his believers, but someday all things will be under his leadership in one kingdom, one church. Today some people bow to him, but one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. An old gospel song asked: “Is this vile world a friend to grace?” Now, we have to admit that it often is not. But there is coming a time when this world will die and be reborn in the image of and under the leadership of Jesus Christ. This is the final end or goal of God's secret plan--this is the thing we have been chosen to enter into. This is the kingdom in which we have an inheritance, being holy and without blame in love as testimony to the glorious grace of God.