Monday, October 16, 2017

God's Secret Plan: File #1

I enjoy reading mystery stories, stories about secret plots and plans. You're reading through them and all kind of things are happening, but nothing really seems to make sense--it's like you have all these pieces and they don't seem to fit together. And then in the last chapter you find out secrets that you didn't know before--that the person you thought was the murderer was really a detective and the person you thought was the detective is actually the murderer and everyone else was someone else entirely in disguise--and suddenly everything else makes sense. All those things that you noticed in the earlier chapters but couldn't understand--now, all at once, they seem plain and comprehensible. Once the hidden secrets are revealed, everything else falls into place. It's like trying to solve a puzzle without the box and with several pieces missing. You may be able to get a lot of it together, but it simply won't make sense until you get all the pieces.

This world is much like a mystery story or a puzzle. There are parts of it that make sense, there are piece of it that we can fit together. But as a whole, it is hard to make head or tail of it. We can't really understand this world and our place in it, until we know the secret--the secret plan which is going on in the background which provides the explanation for what's going on. And it is against this backdrop that we can read these words in Ephesians 3:8-9: “To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things.” (NET Bible, First Edition)

God has a secret plan, a plan He has been working out since the beginning of time and even from whatever you call the time before the beginning of time. There are many things about God and His work which we don't know and, very likely, will never know. But this secret plan of God's is different. It is like the mystery in a detective story, in that, when the right times comes, the secret will be revealed and then everything will make sense. And, according to Paul, the right time has come. The KJV refers to it as the “fellowship of the mystery.” Whately thinks this is a reference to the mystery religions which were common in Greek culture. They were like cults or secret societies with secret teachings and rituals which could only be known by those who had been initiated into the society. (Barnes' NT Commentary, Ephesians 3:9) There have been many such societies throughout time who try to keep things secret--but invariably someone ends up spilling the beans, revealing the secret to the world. God also has a secret, but now He Himself is spilling the beans, revealing His secret to the world--revealing His secret plan for the world, for His people. This is the main theme of the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians was one of several letters written while Paul was imprisoned, most likely in Rome. At the end of Acts we find Paul in Rome, imprisoned but with a good deal of freedom and this seems to be when he wrote several of his letters, including Ephesians and Colossians which seem to have been written around the same time, most likely around AD 60. Both seem to have been delivered by a man name Tychicus, who was most likely a resident of Ephesus.

Many of Paul's letters either explicitly or implicitly refer to an occasion for their writing. For instance, both Colossians and Galatians were written to combat false teachers in the church and 1 Corinthians was written because, well, there were a LOT of different problems in the church at Corinth. Ephesians does not have that. Ephesians is also more general and less personal than most of Paul's other letters and contains no personal greetings, despite the fact that Paul had spent several years in Ephesus. In a certain sense, this does not seem to be a letter in the traditional sense at all. Rather, Paul seems to have taken this opportunity to write a treaties or article, outlining the general shape of God's secret plan for His people. Very possibly, though he wrote it for Ephesus, he purposely left a general tone so that it could be copied and sent to other churches and be of use to them. We know from Colossians 4:16 that this was common in the early church--for apostolic letters to be copied and read in different churches. If this were Paul's main purpose, it would explain the lack of personal greetings and references. It also might explain why some ancient manuscripts lack the word Ephesus in the first verse, though they retain the title Ephesians. So, then, this is Paul's treaties, his explanation or revelation of God's secret plan which he had been commissioned to reveal to the world. Because of the general nature of the epistle, it has a particular important for us today--for though this was written specifically to the church at Ephesus, it is also for other churches and ultimately for all churches for in it Paul reveals God's secret plan for the church.

We will get into a more detailed analysis of the letter later, but let's start by pointing out a few main themes. Some writers point to Ephesians 1:9-10 as the key verse of the book: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 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 main thing to understand about Ephesians--and about the New Testament in general--is that it is all about Jesus. The coming of Jesus Christ is the mystery of God, though it had been hinted out throughout the Old Testament but it has finally been revealed now. The final book of the New Testament is called The Revelation of Jesus Christ, but really that title could be given to the entire New Testament. The gospels reveal the life of Christ, Acts reveals how the church testified to the life of Christ, and the epistles show how the life of Christ impacts us. Nothing in the New Testament, and especially, nothing in Ephesians can be understood except in reference to Christ. If you go to Paul's closing section of Ephesians you'll see that Paul can't even talk about simple things like the relations of a husband and wife or a child and parent without connecting it to Jesus. And I don't think Paul was merely dragging two concepts together for the sake of making a point--it seems that he believed that nothing in this world could be understood apart from Jesus.

Some people have pointed out that the epistle seems to be built around three key words, three verbs, three things that we do--but all of which are related to and connected to Christ. (Kostenberger, Kellum, Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, 589)

In Ephesians 2:6 we are pictured SITTING with Christ, like honored guests at a banquet or seated rulers in a court--we have the privilege in Christ of sitting in heavenly places, in the presence of God. The first three or four chapters of Ephesians detail the many blessings we enjoy, because we are seated in heavenly places.

Ephesians 5:8 speaks of us WALKING as children of light. We are to walk with Christ, walk as children of light, walk worthy our calling in Christ. This is the thrust of the last three chapters of Ephesians. Granted we have received all these blessings in Christ and are seated as members of his family, his kingdom--how should we then live?

The final challenge of Ephesians is found in 6:10 and following, a challenge to STAND for Christ. In light of the blessings we have been given in Christ and the walk we have been called to walk with Christ, we must be prepared to stand and be strong, to have an unflinching loyalty to Christ.

But the bottom line is that all these things have meaning only in relationship to Christ. Paul doesn't call us to walk a righteous life just for its own sake. Paul doesn't call us to take a stand just because taking a stand is a good thing. There are many people in the world who recognize the importance of living a moral life. There are many people who would recognize and condemn some of the sins Paul warns against in this epistle. And that's good in so far as it goes. Paul would have recognized all that while as a Pharisee. But now, as a Christian, Paul sees all this directly in relationship to Christ. Because we are seated with Christ, we must walk with Christ and stand for Christ.

And it is important to note the word “WE.” It is we are who are seated with Christ. I said the one central idea of Ephesians is Jesus Christ, but the other central idea is the Church. God's secret plan is mainly about Jesus but it is also mainly about the Church.  Paul has much to say about unity in the church (the problem of disunity within the church seems to have been just as great in the early church as it is today)--there is unity in the church precisely because we are all seated together with Christ, sharing in the blessings He has purchased for us--and therefore, we must all walk together with Christ in a manner worthy of our calling and together take a stand for Christ. But this unity is not merely a forced unity, many people coming together for a common cause--that can be found among men, even among wicked men. This is an organic unity rooted in Christ, because Christ is the head of His body, which is the church.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Haunted Galaxy: Chapter Twelve


[White's Journal. Seventh of Epiphany, Anno Domini 3172.] We had escaped Erybus's traps, though not without some injury, and had returned Princess Valencia to her palace, there learning the tragic fact of her fatal illness. Gold was determined to track down Maxwell and so we followed him to the planet of Altayra Conaurah where Gold and I managed to corner him. But in the last moment, Maxwell revealed the truth about his former relationship to me. Gold was shocked (allowing Maxwell to escape), and then he accused me of being the traitor and threatened to expel me from the Corps.

White felt paralyzed by emotion. “Gold--Gold you can't mean that.”

“That's what you think.” Suddenly, Gold seemed strangely cool again, though no less angry. “We can't continue this mission with a traitor in our midst. And as leader of the Corps, I have the authority to conduct an emergency court-martial--given the circumstances.”

“But I would never--never betray the Corps.”

“You already have. You were the one letting Maxwell know our movements--our powers--everything about us. And obviously you stole that Nth Dimensional HoloCube. I should have realized at the time--you're the only one of us besides Green who would really understand the worth of something like that. And then you deliberately tried to pin the blame on one of the others, planting the idea of one of us being a traitor.”

“But--you can't really believe I would do any of that.”

Gold shrugged. “If you weren't betraying us to Maxwell, then why didn't you tell us from the beginning that you knew him?”

“Um, Chief, aren't you forgetting? None of us have to tell about our past if we don't want to. That was your rule--remember?”

Gold and White both started at this unexpected addition to the conversation. They had been so occupied that neither one had seen Black standing a short distance away, twirling a knife casually.

“What are you doing here, Black?”

“In case you didn't notice, you're practically on top of the ship now. From inside, I saw you and Maxwell land and so I came out to watch the show. I was expecting a fight scene and not this soap opera stuff, but whatevs.” She secreted the knife inside her sleeve and walked forward to join them.

“How much did you hear?”

“Enough.”

“Then there's nothing more to say. You know what I have to do and why.”

Black shook her head. “First of all, even as leader, you don't have the authority to expel a member of the Corps--only Prefect Alkyte can do that. And even to put one of us on a forced leave would require an actual court-martial, not an arbitrary, unilateralial decision on your part. Of all of us, you know the most about protocol, so I really shouldn't have to be telling you that.”

Gold made a fist with his left hand, but his voice was calm. “Technicalities.”

“Chief, I thought you lived and breathed protocol. And now you're just going to dismiss it all as a technicality?” Black pulled her knife out and started twirling it again. “And, anyhow, you know you don't have enough evidence to kick White out of the group, even if you had the authority.”

Gold shook his head. “All the evidence points to the fact that someone in this group is betraying us. And obviously it's White.”

“Just because she knew Maxwell, once?”

“She knew him, and she kept it a secret.”

“Yeah--and again--that was your rule.” Black put her hands on her hips. “Look--Chief--White may have been friends with a criminal once, but I was a criminal once. You know that. There are things I did back in the old days that I've never told you and I don't intend to because, though you may not believe it, I have enough decency to be ashamed of them. If we ended up fighting one of my old cronies from my gang days, I probably wouldn't tell you, especially if they were connected to some of the darker parts of my past. What good would it do? How would you have changed your strategy in fighting Maxwell if you had known that White knew him once?”

“I don't see what you're trying to do, Black, but you can't change the facts.” Gold was pacing now. “We know that White has close, personal ties to one of our enemies. It's obvious that she must be the one betraying us.”

“Uh-uh.” Black shook her head. “That won't fly.”

Gold spun to face her. “What's you're point? Don't you see--”

“I see, all right. White likes to smooch Maxwell in her spare time. I don't have a problem with that--he is kinda cute in an evil dweeb sort of way. Sure, that kind of personal connection does make her suspect. But that's all--suspect. If you're going to accuse her on that kind of evidence, you could just as well accuse any of us.” Black began tolling off the points on her finger. “Silver was born as a slave. If that wouldn't turn you into an anarchist, I don't know what would. It would make perfect sense for him to ally with the Nadirites. Blue comes from the upper classes in Ursa Prime--and you know that Nadirite propaganda has made quite a dent in those circles. And Blue has been acting a little edgy lately. Maybe there's more to that then we thought. I have a criminal past so, really, I'm the most likely suspect--and I come from Centauri City, which is a hotbed of Nadirite activity. Red--well--I don't think I have to convince you that Red would betray us all in a heartbeat--all they'd have to do is flatter him or threaten him and he'd serve us up to them on a silver platter. Green is a mystery--we don't know anything about his past, so he might have all kinds of ties to the Nadirites that we simply don't know about.” She glanced up and there was a strange glint in her eyes. “And even you, Chief--we all saw exactly how you feel about your dad, who is an officer in the Patrol. Coming from that kind of background, with those kind of feelings--turning to the Nadirites would make perfect sense.”

Gold had stopped pacing and was staring at her, with a strange look that was half amazement and half annoyance. “What's you're point? Are you really accusing any of us?”

“No--that's my point. We don't have enough evidence to accuse anyone yet. Even if there is a traitor, there's no way to pinpoint who it is. Sure, it might be White, given her connection to Maxwell. She might have betrayed us for his sake. And you might just as well have betrayed us out of hatred for your dad and Red might have out of sheer cowardice and I might have for money. The bottom line is that you don't know--and without rock-solid evidence, you can't get away with expelling one of our members. That's serious, you know? The Corps is a body--and cutting off part of your body isn't something I advise doing without a really good reason.”

For just a moment, Gold stood, tensed. Then he smashed his fist backwards, as if punching an invisible wall behind him. “Whatever. I'm not in the mood to argue about protocol.” He phased on his armor and rose off the ground. “Maxwell's most likely still on this planet--I'm going to find him. And when I do...” He left the threat unfinished as he flew off.

For a moment, there was silence. White had risen to her feet during Gold and Black's conversation, but that was about all she could manage. She still felt strangely light-headed--she had always known there was a possibility of this happening, but she had come to the point where she had been convinced that it wouldn't. And even at her worst imagining, she had never thought Gold would react as he had. She had known he would be upset--but not this-- She was glad that Black had interfered if, for no other reason, it had meant she didn't have to talk for several minutes--because she wasn't sure she could have.

“I just saved your skin. You can thank me later.” Black spoke nonchalantly, but she shot White a look that was keen and penetrating, though White was too perturbed to try to figure out what it meant.

“Thank-you,” White answered absently but not insincerely. “But--Why? Why did you step in like that?”

Black shrugged and turned away. “I don't understand you, sister,” she threw over her shoulder. “I don't think I even like you, especially. But there's one thing I'm sure of without a doubt--that you aren't--haven't--wouldn't betray us to Maxwell or anyone else. If there really is a traitor, I'd lay my money on Red, though Blue and Silver would be live options, too. But I'd suspect Green or Gold--or even myself--before I suspected you. You don't have it in you. I know that--and deep down, Gold does too. I was just worried what he might do in the anger of the moment.” She turned around, still carelessly playing with her knife. “Don't take me wrong, sister. I'm just looking out for myself in this. I want to survive this mission, and if Gold had kicked you out of the team, our chances of survival would have gone down like a comet. Especially since there might still be a traitor in the group.”

White wasn't sure if Black was being serious or not and was in no state of mind to try to figure it out.

“Besides, as I said, Gold really doesn't have that authority. But he was mad enough to do something crazy.”

“I've never seen Gold that angry.” White had the strange feeling she had said or thought that several times over the last several days and each time it had been true.

Black cocked her head and looked at White with a curious expression. “For being the psychological expert of this team, you seem pretty clueless sometimes. You don't really get it, do you? You don't understand how a guy--especially a guy like the chief--really thinks, do you? I mean, I expected him to be angrier than he was, actually--considering. You made him feel betrayed, hurt his ego, and at the same time roused his jealousy--”

“Jealousy!” White repeated the word, half because she had didn't understand why Black had said it and half because she had a horrible suspicion that she did understand.

Black looked away again. “Please. The entire team knows how you and Gold feel about each other--even Red, who isn't exactly the most observant guy out there. It's just that you two will never admit it, even to yourselves--Gold, because having feelings for one of the team would compromise his position as leader and you, because he's not a Believer, and that's kind of a no-no for you, isn't it?”

White just stared at Black as if hypnotized.

“Anyway, given that, it's no wonder he reacted like he did. And I'm sure Maxwell knew he would. I just think it may have been a double-edged tactic, since now Gold is going to be even more determined than ever to catch Maxwell.” She paused and glanced back at White. “I haven't heard back from any of the others. Why don't you stay with the ship and I'll do a little reconnaissance?” She didn't wait for an answer.

Almost in a stupor, White turned and entered The Crystallair. She made a few adjustments to the comm systems and then went to her cabin. If any of the others contacted the ship, the call would be rerouted to the terminal in her cabin. But she needed to be alone for a few minutes.

She felt her hands shaking as she locked the forcefield on her door. Everything had happened so fast. She had been so certain Maxwell was never going to tell the truth. She had begun to believe that he had completely forgotten or that somehow he had never put together who she really was. And now it had all come out, at about the worst possible time.

She couldn't help thinking back to how it had all happened, all those years before, back when she had been a member of the Tremonsirs. Maxwell had about a year older than she was, but, perhaps because Maxwell always looked younger than he was, he had always spent more time around her than those his own age--she had been glad of that, because there weren't many others her own age in the monastery. She had been attracted to him largely out of sympathy--like her, he had been an orphan whom the Tremonsirs rescued and adopted, but his past had been much darker than hers. At least, that was what he had said. Now she knew that he might have embellished his stories somewhat, but he had had scars to prove that there was some basis of truth. Under the circumstances, it wasn't that surprising that she had developed a crush on him as she grew older. She grimaced. At the time, she had even thought his habit of saying you know was cute.

They had both been sincere--at least, she thought so. But they were too young. She had let herself get too emotionally invested. She shuddered to think of what might have happened if the leaders of the monastery hadn't figured out what was going on and put a stop to it when they did.

In the aftermath, she had come to grips with the reality. She had allowed her emotions to become her guide. She had known it was wrong--known she was getting into dangerous territory. But it had seemed so right, so natural. She had followed her heart--and it had almost led to disaster. That was why she had sworn to God and to herself that she would never make that mistake again, that she would never allow her emotions to control her actions, that she would never let herself get carried away by her heart like that.

Maxwell, on the other hand, had not reacted so well. It was only a few days later when he ran away from the monastery, somehow smuggled himself on board a supply ship leaving Coulair and had disappeared. White hadn't known what happened to him and even now she didn't know where he had been or what he had done for several years. But now she had pieced together part of the story. A couple of years after leaving the monastery, he had been on Serioc Y where he was involved in some kind of barroom brawl in which his arm had been injured. A buddy--clearly high on something more than usually illegal--had tried to treat the injury with a cocktail of metallic chemicals from the factory where he worked and had ended up giving Maxwell his bizarre prosthetic.

When they had met again for the first time--when the Corps had stopped Maxwell's racket on Crenshaw's World--she had barely recognized him. But she had recognized him. But that was a part of her past she had wanted to forget altogether. And so she hadn't wanted to admit her past knowledge to the other members of the Corps. If that had been the only time the Corps had clashed with Maxwell, it wouldn't have mattered. And she had no idea then that they would clash again--that Maxwell would become the most persistent enemy they had. But by then, it was too late. To keep a secret isn't a lie, but it is like a lie--for just as one lie will breed more lies, so one silence breeds more silence.

This was all because once--once, when she was still just a girl--she had allowed her emotions to override her judgment, because she had given away her heart when she knew good and well she shouldn't have given it away. And now--now for Black to accuse her of doing the same thing all over again--for her to assume so glibly that she might have been so blind as to allow herself to have feelings for Gold--who, though a good soldier and a good leader, was not a Believer--to think that she might made that mistake again. It was too much.

After all. She was part of the Corps. She was better than that...

*

Meanwhile, the other members of the Corps were have a much less interesting time, though also (for that reason) less traumatic.

The area through which Red and Green searched was considerably smoother than the area White and Gold had explored. A few dunes of rock rose up, but for the most part this part of the planet was smooth and featureless. There also seemed to be fewer of the light-veins, causing the area to be very dim as if in a permanent dusk. The search was largely perfunctory, as there was no where where Maxwell might be hiding.

In fact, it was largely a boring assignment, even more so than a search mission was generally. Red was in a largely taciturn mood (for him), but with nothing around him to interest him, he had fallen back into talking with Green. Well, trying to talk with Green. Trying to start a conversation with Green was never an easy task--and not one Red had ever seriously attempted before--but today Green seemed more withdrawn than usual, barely giving a token response to most of Red's attempts.

Finally, Red stopped in mid air and glanced over at him. “Look,” he began, in a voice that had both chagrin and annoyance in it, “are you still mad about what I said earlier? I said I was sorry.”

“There is no logical reason for you to apologize.” Green spoke in a cold, emotionless voice. “You told the truth. You said I had green skin--which I do--and that I'm a freak--which I am.”

“Look--I didn't mean it that way--I was just mad--”

“What you meant is irrelevant.” Green's voice rose slightly in irritation. “Don't you understand? The universe isn't bothered by your opinions and intentions or anger. Reality can't be changed like that.” He phased off his helmet so that he could adjust his hat and then phased it back on again. When he spoke, it was with his usual calm. “I was born as a Mod. That's a simple fact. It sets me apart from other people, both by appearance, and by my ability to metabolize any form of photonic energy.”

Red glanced over at Green. He hadn't expected this long speech from him.

“I'm not like other people.” Green almost seemed to be talking to himself. “I'm something that wouldn't exist naturally--arguably, something that would be better if it didn't exist--but I do exist. That is reality; that's the unchangeable fact. It's a blessing and a curse. Which are two different words for the same thing.”

As usual, Red had no idea what Green was talking about. “That sounds like something the Nadirites would say.”

“Well, they're not wrong about everything.” He paused and after a moment added: “Just nearly everything.”

Red wasn't sure how he was going to respond to that and was saved from making the attempt when something shot across the sky directly in front of them. It was some distance ahead, but not so far that he couldn't identify it. “That's Maxwell!”

Green's thoughtful frown could be heard in his voice. “The odds of there being two people on this planet with metallic exoskeletons like that are small, but we can't get a full visual on him from this distance.”

Red wasn't worried about the odds. “Black, this is Red,” he called into his communicator. “We've found Maxwell.”

“These are our coordinates,” added Green.

“Got it,” came Black's voice. “I've already left the ship--I'm contacting Blue and Gold now.”

Red vaguely wondered why Black had left the ship, but he wasn't in a mood to worry about it.

“Red, this is Gold.” Gold's voice sounded more rough than usual. “You have visual on Maxwell?”

“Check.” Red was flying rapidly forward while he talked. “I should be able to catch up to him--his speed can't match ours.”

“Red! Do not engage. Keep him in sight but wait for me to rendezvous. This is my fight.”

Red didn't answer for two reasons. One was that he was busy following Maxwell. Somehow he seemed to be flying far faster than (given the nature of his exoskeleton so far as they understood it) he should be able to. Red was only able to match his speed by using his armor's ability to teleport short distances. By teleporting while remaining at a constant speed he was able to shorten the distance and so effectively increase his speed. (He knew Green would have a formula to explain it, but he didn't care so long as it worked.) However, teleporting while moving at top speed required concentration and so he couldn't engage in much conversation. But the other reason he didn't answer was because he couldn't--because he couldn't tell Gold he would follow his orders. Because he knew perfectly well he wasn't going to.

Behind his helmet, his face was set in a look of stubbornness and concentration which though not entirely unusual was more intense than usual. Maxwell was right in front of him and even if they were matched in speed, Red's armor gave him an edge. There was no one else on the planet and seemingly very little metal. There was no reason in the Cosmos why he shouldn't be able to catch up with Maxwell and capture him. He was one of the stronger members of the Corps--even Gold had to admit that--and even with all Maxwell's powers and tricks, he should be able to take him down in an even contest. And he was going to do it. Gold couldn't be upset if he accomplished something like this, and he had a reason of his own for his determination. He was going to get Maxwell this time--once and for all.

“I believe I have a fix on your position.” Blue's voice spoke unexpectedly through the comms. “Silver and I are on our way.”

Red didn't bother answering her either. With any luck, he would have Maxwell cornered before the others showed up. Besides, he was beginning to get a headache from teleporting so much so quickly.

Maxwell didn't seem to be trying to avoid him, exactly. He was flying on a straight line, not zigzagging as one would have expected if he were trying to shake Red off his tail. And though Red still didn't understand how Maxwell had suddenly become so fast, he still was no match for Red's armor. It was only a matter of time before the distance between them had shortened and shortened and Red was only seconds away from him--

And that was when, without warning, Maxwell dropped to the ground. Red shot over him but caught himself just in time. Without even looking, he fired a couple of energy stars downward and then arced around and dropped himself. Apparently, the stars hadn't found their mark, since Maxwell was standing their calmly. Or maybe they just hadn't hurt him. They were more for distraction than anything else and while they could be a useful weapon against ordinary people, Maxwell's exoskeleton did resist them--though Red would have thought a direct hit would have bothered him just a little.

Maxwell was standing calmly and watched without much change of expression as Red landed a few feet away. There was something bizarre about the scene. This part of the planet was almost entirely flat and empty so that it seemed to really be the exact middle of nowhere. Part of Red's mind was wondering why in the Cosmos Maxwell had chosen to land since there was nothing here. Maybe he had just thought he would have a better chance on the ground than in the sky. Anyway, Red was not used to trying to think on multiple levels simultaneously and right now he was focused on other things.

“Are you going to surrender?” he demanded, phasing off his helmet. He knew Maxwell wouldn't and he didn't exactly want him to, but it still seemed the right thing to say.

Maxwell shook his head. “Um, I really don't think that would, you know, be a good idea.”

“Well, then I'm going to have to make you surrender.”

“No, no, I don't think it works like that. I mean that's just, you know, rude. Um, and I'm not, like, you know, a big fan of rude people.” Maxwell smoothed his hair back and then, without warning, did the last thing Red expected him to do. He moved forward and slapped the side of Red's face with his right hand. Red stumbled back, in shock not in pain (it really didn't hurt that much) and in his momentary imbalance, Maxwell was back in the sky and shooting off again.

*

“We're down to seven ships. They've cut our fleet in half and we don't have any way of stopping them.” The black-uniformed Nadirite motioned to a series of charts and images on the screen in front of him. “At this rate, in another three or four days, they'll have wiped us out. Do you have a plan, Erybus?”

Erybus placed his hands together and stared at the monitors. One of them was showing a video of one of the Nadirite ships under attack. Five huge Mobile Battle Units had surrounded it and were attacking it from various angles.

The Nadirite commander frowned briefly. If everything had gone according to plan, the ships would have been safe here on the boarder of the Void, and he could have concentrated all his attention on the really important thing--what was going on in the Altayra System. Of course, they had known all along that this was a possibility. They had known that General Kenton and the Arrns were in the area and that they might be sent to accompany them and attack the Nadirite fleet while the Corps dealt with matters in Altayra. It was not optimal, but they had known of the possibility. However, they had not suspected that the two mercenaries would join the battle. That had heavily tipped things in favor of the MBUs. All the best Nadirite defenses could not withstand the hammer of the giant white mecha, and all their gauges and sensors were helpless to detect the whereabouts of the chameleon mecha which always seemed to appear at the worst place at the worst time.

“We are going to have to sacrifice the fleet, of course,” responded Erybus calmly, though not without a slight flicker of annoyance. “We were prepared for this eventuality, though it is certainly unfortunate.”

His subordinate tapped his fingers against the table for a moment and then pointed out: “We could outdistance them. Especially if we retreated deeper into the Void. They have no way to follow us.”

“That is exactly the problem.” Erybus clasped his hands behind his back. “We cannot risk the possibility that with their target gone they would turn their attention to other things. Considering Colonel Arrn's connection to the Corps, it is possible that he would take the MBUs to Altayra.”

“But, sir--”

“We cannot take that risk.” For a moment, a flicker of anger passed through Erybus's calm demeanor. “If the plan in Altayra succeeds, the loss of a few ships will be worth it. But it is already a risky venture--the introduction of the MBUs into the equation would mean nothing but more risk. We can't afford to take those kind of chances. I must return there shortly myself to make sure matters are still progressing as planned.”

The subbordinate nodded and then began cautiously-- “Where is the Intimidator? I thought perhaps he might possibly be able to help us. His powers--”

“Are not great enough to take on these MBUs on his own,” finished Erybus, rather shortly. He was annoyed. Annoyed because he actually didn't know where the Intimidator was. Employing him had probably been a mistake. But they needed weapons and he had access to a black market supply of them. And since he seemed to have some kind of personal ax grind with the Corps, he had seemed like a logical ally. But Erybus disliked putting his trust in anyone who did not share the ideals of the Nadirites--which Maxwell Million certainly did not. And his insistence on playing a lone hand most of the time could prove troublesome. Of course, Erybus had taken precautions so that, whether Maxwell liked it or not, he could keep an eye on him. But somehow the young man had found a way to circumvent his precautions and at that exact moment he had no idea where he was or what he was doing. And considering the delicate balance of his plan, a wrong move on Maxwell's part might be detrimental to everything.

Erybus tensed his body and forced his mind to calm itself. He pictured his irritation and concern slowly defusing itself through his skin and dissipating in the air of the ship. What difference did it make? He was worried and angry. But what did it matter? What were worry and anger? They were just emotions and emotions were just chemical imbalances in the body of an unusually large carbon-based organism. It wasn't as if they meant anything, as if they could change anything.

Erybus thought back to his childhood, growing up on the planet whose name he had taken for his own. It was one of many worlds ruined by the shockwave which passed through the universe when the homeworld fell. For hundreds of years, the survivors of that disaster had some how eked out a living on the ravaged surface of a planet which never should have supported life. Lost in the Void, incapable of supporting even the most elementary forms of technology, it seemingly was only dumb luck which had ever allowed man to survive there. As it was, the people who lived there lived as little better than animals--gouging out a meager existence day by day only so long as brute strength enabled them. And yet in some way for some strange reason they had continued to do it.

Why had they done it? Why had the people of his planet continued to live? What caused them to fight a hopeless fight with extinction which they were doomed to lose in the end? Blind instinct and the torturing insanity of their own emotions.

It was in this background that Erybus had begun to understand the nature of the universe. Obviously, the universe itself was not a place where people were supposed to exist. Their very nature was inconsistent with the world in which they existed. People were driven by their thought and their feelings and could barely escape the idea that those thoughts and feelings had some meaning in the world. But of course they didn't--they couldn't have, any more than a ghost could operate a machine. He remembered among the people of his home planet--some of them had been sad by their lot in life, others had been angry. But their sadness didn't alter anything and neither did their anger. And why should they? Their world had been ruined by scientific processes, processes that had no connection to the feelings some people might have about result. He remembered still the strange, irrational happiness his mother had had when his little brother had been born. But that birth would still have happened whether she was happy or not. The feeling didn't create the event. And her happiness hadn't prevented him from being killed in a rockslide seven years later. She had been sad then--but her sadness hadn't made him any more dead than he would have been otherwise.

That was when Erybus had begun to understand the nature of Oblivion--though it would still be several years before Nadirite agents had come to the planet and transformed it into their base, taking a few youths like Erybus into their service and exterminating everyone else. The only real thing that existed was existence itself, the brute fact of actuality which transcended all our feelings about it. From an infinite distance away, all the ebb and flow of existence, all the twisting and turnings of reality, would seem a single, simple solid thing--that thing was Oblivion, the ultimate, undifferentiated reality, mere existence as such. Which was also, logically, nonexistence--at any rate, it was an existence so much unlike human thought of existence that it might as well be nonexistence. It was not that and not this. Its existence could only be expressed in negatives, but the main thing about it was a complete absence of all human passions, emotions, and thoughts. It was apathy, the loss of all desire and individual consciousness and therefore of all happiness and unhappiness. All human feelings and intelligence were but weak scribbles on the walls of this reality, scribbles which would fade quickly away.

That was why he was particularly pleased to have been given this assignment of challenging the Corps in the Altayra system. It seemed right on so many different levels, even aside from the advantage the Nadirites would gain for their warfare if they succeeded in the plan. But almost more than the actual tactical advantage success would bring, Erybus wanted to make the Corps see reality. He knew the little Code which ruled their actions, an artificial code of honor, an empty pride and dignity based on supposed moral principles. It was all so childish, so superficial. Could they really believe that ultimate reality cared about their little Code, their honor, their sense of justice? What was the concept of justice, anyway, but a contrived attempt of human beings to force their own futile will unto a universe which had no part in it? Both for the sake of their plan and for his own satisfaction, it would be best if he could force the Corps to convert to the Nadirite cause. He didn't have much hope of that. But if he could at least force them to come face to face with the reality of their own helplessness, their utter irrelevance and smallness before the face of Oblivion--that would be enough for him.

“Sir--” began his subordinate, interrupting his internal monologue.

“Play for time as much as you can,” answered Erybus turning away. “Matters on Altayra must progress quickly if we are to succeed at all. Make the MBUs pay for every inch they gain. Now, I must return to the Altayra System. Really,” he added, more to himself, “I had better check up on Maxwell and find out what he's doing.”

*

Red had been shocked and humiliated when Maxwell has slapped him and then escaped--but not so much that he lost much time getting back on Maxwell's trail. Still, his momentary confusion had given Maxwell a significant lead again.

“There's no way in the Cosmos he should be this fast,” he commented out loud to no one in particular. “He's never been able to move like this before.”

“Certainly, there is something peculiar about this,” agreed Green, who had nearly caught up by now. “I can only assume that he has increased the power of his exoskeleton in some manner. Given that no one--including Maxwell--fully understands its nature and limitations, it is not inconceivable that something has increased its functionality.”

“Whatever. He's not going to escape again.”

“Red! Stand down!” Gold's voice shot through the communicator. Red glanced up and saw Gold's armor shooting forward from the opposite direction, with Black coming up at a tangent behind him. With Gold and Black on one side and Red and Green on the other, Maxwell veered to one side.

“Be aware that he is moving a significantly accelerated speed,” Green warned.

“He won't be moving at all in a minute or two.”

“Well, that sounds fun,” added Black.

“We have already clashed with him once but he escaped,” Green explained. “He attacked Red and was able to get away.”

“He attacked you?” asked Black, with a note of surprise. “I thought Maxwell was too much of coward to try that much--even on Red.”

“It's fine.” Red's voice rose slightly. He wouldn't necessarily have chosen to bring up the attack. “It didn't hurt at all. He hits like a girl.”

“And getting hit by girls is something that Red has a lot of experience with for some reason or another.”

“We can stop him if we surround him.” Blue's voice spoke unexpectedly as she and Silver appeared, cutting off Maxwell's line of retreat.

Gold growled something under his breath and then fired off an order, seeming just a tad reluctant. “Right. The six of us can form a cordon around him and keep him from escaping. You know your places.”

The six members of the Corps spread out slightly, forming a six-point circle with Maxwell at the center. For a moment, Maxwell moved one way or another, but as the six closed in, he seemed to give up and dropped to the ground.

The Corps dropped also but retained a small degree of altitude. They realized by now that giving Maxwell any chance to escape was a mistake.

“OK, guys, can't we just, you know, talk about this?” asked Maxwell, as the Corps closed in on him.

“I'm not sure that's really your best option at this point,” responded Black.

Red had paused for a moment, expecting Gold to make some kind of speech or formal accusation, like he usually did. But he didn't. Instead, he broke rank suddenly, and shot forward at Maxwell, and, landing briefly directly in front of him, sent his fist straight at his face.

And his fist went straight through Maxwell body. There was a flicker of light and Maxwell vanished and the six members of the Corps found themselves surrounding an empty spot of ground.

“I can't believe you actually fell for that.” From somewhere, Maxwell's nervous chuckle sounded clearly, though somewhat less nervous than usual. “It's like, you know, the oldest trick in the book. Sorry--but I really didn't think it would work. Ah-hem, anyway--this appearance of the Intimidator has been brought to you curtesy of Liquid Fusion Holograms. If you want to know what the real Intimidator has been doing, you might head back to Altayra Rex. Over and, you know, out.” His voice died away and there was silence on the bleak surface of Altayra Vorphintus.

When Maxwell vanished, all the Corps froze for a second, even Gold who stood awkwardly in the middle of his punch.

“Well, Maxwell has more brains than I gave him credit for,” said Black, with her usual indifference, after a moment.

“That was certainly an unexpected maneuver,” remarked Blue at almost the same moment.

“How is that even possible?” Red was gaping at the empty space where Maxwell should have been. “We saw him so clearly--and he--he slapped me.”

Blue nodded. “That's the distinctive feature of Liquid Fusion Holograms; by utilizing atmosphere moisture, they become temporarily solid. It wouldn't be enough to do much, but you said yourself it didn't hurt when he hit you.” She frowned. She seemed to have become a different person--her manner was completely free of her normal sarcasm. “There's probably just enough atmosphere moisture here for that to work, even as dry as it is--but I don't understand where he was projecting from. Holograms usually have a far more limited range. Green, do you have any data?”

Green seemed the most upset. He had torn his hat off and now was standing there (still in armor though without his helmet) twisting it in his hands as if in agony. “I can't conceptualize any way in which any of this is possibly happening,” he said, his voice higher and more irritated than any of them had ever heard it before. For a moment, even with all his problems, Red remembered the fact that Green was the youngest of them.

“So he was never here at all?” asked Red, still trying to get straight in his mind what had happened.

“He was here.” Gold had remained frozen for almost a moment, but now slowly, almost painfully, he drew himself together. “No hologram could have stood up to that kind of punishment. A Liquid Fusion Hologram can only become solid for a second or two--especially in atmosphere this dry. We fought for almost twenty minutes.”

Blue's eye gleamed for a second and she turned towards him. “You fought with him?”

Gold didn't answer so Black did. “He and White ran into him earlier, but Maxwell was able to escape. But I saw enough of the fight to testify that it had to be the real Maxwell Gold was fighting then. He must have headed off planet immediately.”

Green was still twisting his hat in his hands, but he commented with relative calm, “The planets of Altayra are close together and exist within a single inertia frame so Maxwell could easily travel to one of the others under the power of his exoskeleton.”

Gold turned suddenly on Blue. “If Maxwell had gone off planet, you should have known about it, shouldn't you?”

Blue stared at him without blinking. “I know you don't tend to listen to what anyone else says, but I told you back on the ship that my powers aren't functionally normally in this system and, anyway, since I am unable to locate Maxwell exactly with my powers even under good conditions I was making no attempt to monitor him.”

“That all sounds like an excuse. We had one chance to capture Maxwell and you let him slip off the planet--”

“I let him slip off the planet?” Blue's eyes seemed to become darker and colder. “Silver and I never came within sight off him until three minutes ago--and by that time, as it turns out, the real Maxwell was already off planet. You, on the other hand, are the only one of us who actually came within physical distance of him. If anyone let him slip out of their fingers, it was you.”

Gold drew himself up, floating an inch or two off the ground, his face hard and angry. “You're not going to throw this back on me. Your job in the Corps is locating things--if you can't do a simple thing like that--”

“I certainly cannot fail at my job any more fully than you are at this precise moment,” returned Blue, still cold and calm. “You're supposed to be our leader and yet you fell right into Maxwell's trap--after letting the real Maxwell escape.”

“I'm the leader. But I don't have a power like yours. If it comes to that, why couldn't you detect that Maxwell was only a hologram?”

“I do not recall your ordering me to do that, Leader." There was a cold, almost poisonous emphasis to the word. "And, anyway, this system is causing my--”

“Yeah, I know all about that. And I can't help wondering if it's all a big, fat lie. After all, none of us can actually prove whether your powers are working or not.”

Blue and Gold were standing directly across from each other, both levitating a couple of inches above the surface. Both had their helmets off and both, in their different ways, looked incensed.

And then, without warning, Red moved forward and teleported so that he stood directly in front of them. “We don't have time for this. Didn't you hear what Maxwell said? He went to Altayra Rex---Valencia could be in danger. The whole planet could be in danger.”

Red always jumped into things and spoke before he thought. But in this case, he had thought (though briefly) before he acted. He knew that Gold would probably be angry at him for interfering--Gold usually was angry at him at any given point in time. But he couldn't help it. He couldn't bare this thought of them standing there arguing when Maxwell might already be on Altayra Rex doing--well--who knew what.

Gold phased on his helmet and then spoke, his voice seeming strangely calm after his anger of a moment before. “Tracking down Maxwell is definitely our number one priority at this point in time.”

Green shoved his hat back on with an abrupt motion. “Maxwell being lose in this system is certainly to be avoided, sir. He is--he is proving to be a more dangerous opponent than we had previously supposed.”

“But we don't have anyway of guaranteeing that he really went to Altayra Rex. He could have been lying to us.”

At that moment, White finally put in an appearance. Red hadn't really noticed her absence until she dropped to the ground beside them. She had her helmet phased on so it was hard to gauge her expression, but her voice sounded strangely tight and constrained. Red assumed she must have heard the whole argument over the comms and it had upset her. Or maybe it was the news she brought that had upset her.

“I was in the ship when I received a call from Altayra Rex. It was garbled--they have very outdated communication equipment--but it seemed to be urgent. I think Zortan and Rothmar were calling for us to come back there immediately, as if something bad had happened.”

Gold's fist tightened, and then he barked out: “Corps, return to the ship. We'll leave for Altayra Rex immediately.”

*

Given the urgent nature of the situation, the Corps didn't even bother landing The Crystallair. Instead, they left it in orbit and using their armor came down through the atmosphere, landing at the palace.

Zortan and Rothmar stood in the courtyard as if waiting for them, although they couldn't have known the exact time they would arrive or if they would come at all. Zortan seemed stolid as usual, though his hands were clasped nervously. But Rothmar's face was so dark with anger that he looked inhuman, and he stood with a slight crouch as if he was with difficulty constraining the strength of his emotion.

“What's happened?” asked Gold as they landed. There was no question that something had happened.

Zortan stared at him with cold, empty eyes. “Her highness--Princess Valencia--she has--has been kidnapped. By someone who calls himself the Intimidator.”

To be continued...

An Open Letter on Emotion


I doubt that you will ever read this and I don't suppose it would change your stance even if you did, but a personal letter (even unread by its recipient) seems the best form to address such a personal issue. Perhaps I should have entered into controversy at the time you first expressed your opinions, but even if time and decorum had not prevented it, I was so shocked and perplexed by your position that I don't think I could have answered it coherently. For a man of your standing and sanity to say, with all apparent seriousness, that we in the Conservative Wesleyan/Holiness tradition view emotions as something obscene, that we are far too intellectual and downplay feelings too much--when someone says that, I really am at a loss to know how to respond. If I were standing in the middle of a lush, steamy jungle, and man tells me there is too much water in the scene, I might disagree with him, but at least I could see his point and argue it out. But when the same man says the same thing to me while standing in the middle of the Sahara Desert, I do not see how the conversation can go anywhere. I will not say that we, as Conservative Wesleyan/Holiness people, are too emotional, but I do think you would have a much easier time convincing me of that than of your position.

However, I do not wish to argue that here. After all, you do have wider experience with the church than I do, and there may be vast pockets of arid, emotion-hating churchgoers out there which I have simply never met.  Whether or not there is a problem does not here concern me--because, even if there is a problem, I disagree with your solution. However, before we start thinking in terms of problems and solutions, we need to have a grasp of the nature of the issue itself. You have to know what health is before you can either diagnose or treat a disease.

The first thing to say is that there is no balance between emotion and intellect. You implied as much as do many people when speaking on this subject. There are some things in life which must be balanced. If your body becomes too hot or too cold, you will die, and so you have to find the perfect point which is neither too hot nor too cold in order to survive. I quite understand that. What I deny is that any such tension exists between emotion and intellect. What is there to prevent a man from thinking and feeling at the same time? How does having an intellectual awareness of a thing destroy your feelings for it? How do having emotions about something prevent you from having accurate knowledge of it? A college text book is intellectual and not emotional. A country love song is emotional and not intellectual. Many of the great poets are both and many newspaper articles are neither. And when you have said that, what else is there to say? Indeed, we as Wesleyans should know this better than anyone. Read the great hymns of Charles Wesley--read “Arise, My Soul, Arise” or “And Can It Be?”--and tell me whether they should be classified as intellectual or emotional. Some people tend more to one thing than to the other--just as some people prefer peanut butter to jelly, but there is nothing stopping someone from liking both peanut butter and jelly and putting them with joy into the same sandwich.

I do not think there is any necessary tension between the intellect and the emotions, and one piece of evidence tends to support this position--that those forces in the world which really do threaten emotionalism also equally threaten intellectualism. There is a kind of brute animalism--the ignoble side of the noble savage--which objects to emotion. There is a kind of man who says that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. (It usually is a man and not a woman and I think that it has more to do with a false ideal of masculinity than any deeper philosophy). But the man of the world who thinks emotion is a weakness also thinks that careful, thorough, abstract thought is a weakness. The man in the street who mocks the emotionalist would mock the intellectual with equal scorn. The more studied cynic who decries emotion may make some lipservice to intellectualism, but cynicism cannot support intellect in the end any more than emotion. The rising tide of Nihilism will destroy both emotion and intellect, because both are part of our humanity and cannot be supported by inhumanity.

And even in the church, I agree that there are those who oppose emotion--not in the context of religion (have you ever read any of the choruses we sing in church?), but in a broader context. I will grant you that we, as Holiness People, do have some coldness to ordinary human emotions, especially the more “negative” emotions. So you will find some Holiness people who will condemn someone for even feeling such emotions as anger or fear or depression (unless they are directly caused by sociological or political causes in which case they are seen as a sign of great depth of perception.) There are people in our church to whom ordinary human emotions are an embarrassment--but to these, human intellect is also an embarrassment, because humanity is an embarrassment. The neo-orthodox and postmodernist members among us can make nothing of the concept of the whole of man being fully redeemed in this life.

That is my first objection, then, to your position--that we have some kind of careful balance to maintain between the emotion and the intellect. I see no reason why both might not go forward together, strengthening one another and feeding upon the same foods.

My second objection is that you cannot praise or idealize emotions as a thing in themselves, because emotions are not things in and of themselves.  If you have a good, hot cup of coffee on a frosty morning, then you will have steam rising from the coffee. It can be considered a part of the total package of the experience--it may even be a very important part of the experience. I do not deny that. I only say this--that if you try to get coffee, you may get steam. But if you try to get steam, you will get nothing. Idealizing emotion is exactly like saying you want more steam and don't care whether coffee comes with it. I agree with C. S. Lewis that our emotions are intentional, “They are about something.” (“The Language of Religion” in Christian Reflections) He uses the example of a parent, anxious and worried for a child in a dangerous situation. They do not want freedom from their negative emotions--they want the safety of their child. If they child makes it home safely, they would be happy, but being happy is not primarily what they want--they want the safety of their child. You cannot make emotions an end in and off themselves, because they intrinsically point to something outside of themselves.

But with that being said, emotions are like steam in another way--unquestionably real but impossible to hold in your hand. Emotions are fleeting things, caused or suppressed by all kinds of other circumstances. If we were purely rational creatures, we would also be purely emotional and always have exact and precise emotional correspondence to the causes of our emotions. But we are not. People in happy circumstances do not always feel happy and people in sad circumstances do not always feel sad and people in dangerous circumstances do not always feel scared. We are changing creatures and cannot feel one thing consistently for very long. I'm sure you have seen this in sick rooms and funeral homes--people in the saddest situations do not usually feel constantly and consistently sad (which may be a sign of the mercy of God). Sometimes the very strength of the cause of our emotion makes emotion impossible--at least, I am told that people who experience very sudden tragedies or very sudden good fortune cannot at the moment emotionally process the event and feel a simple dullness at first. That is precisely why we should seek the thing that causes an emotion and let the emotion worry about itself.

The whole thing is summed up in the phrase from the Declaration of Independence--that one of the rights of man in “the pursuit of happiness.” The Founders were not such fools as to think you could pursue an emotion or that the government could prevent anyone from having certain feelings. Rather what we can do (unless a tyrant government stops us) is seek for a life which we believe will cause us happiness. When we say that a man has a happy marriage, we do not mean that he feels positive emotions at every conscious moment of his married life or even that he never has negative emotions even about his marriage. We mean that he does have, as a whole, a marriage that is productive of positive emotions. The word “happy” comes from the same root as “happen,” “perhaps,” and “mayhap”--and seems to have the idea of good luck or good fortune. A rich man may not always feel rich, but he is rich because he has good fortune. A child whose parents care enough about him to correct him when needed may not like it (“no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous”), but we know (and he will someday know) that he is fortunate to have it. He may look back and say he had a happy childhood precisely because there were moments in it in which he did not feel happy. That is why Jesus could utter a paradox like “Happy, blessed, and/or fortunate are they who mourn”--because the kind of mourning in question is ultimately good fortune even if it is not pleasant at the moment.

Very briefly, then, I do not think we can idealize our emotions--instead, we once we have idealized other things, emotions will follow naturally, just like steam comes from coffee. But there is another reason why we can't idealize our emotions is that we can't quantify them--any more than you can quantify steam. I take one of the main thoughts of your positions to be that in order to be a Christian one must have certain emotions at certain times in certain degrees--which is like trying set the rule for exactly how much steam has to come off your cup of coffee for it count as a valid cup of coffee. Even if your coffee always steams (does it always?), you cannot even measure let alone dictate how much steam it has. Does a given man in a given service feel happy enough to count himself as a happy Christian? Who knows? And (with all due reverence) who cares? To rank emotion as essential part of religion is simply nonsense. A man may have twenty emotions in the space of an hour, many of them caused in part by the weather and last night's dinner--he cannot stop and consider what all of them were let alone whether they fit within someone's schemes of what emotions he ought to have had during that time. But if emotion is an essential part of religion, that is exactly what he must do. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” is  a difficult thing, but it is a meaningful command. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the emotions” is not.

I do not deny that in an ideal world our emotions would work differently--probably they did for Adam and most certainly they will in the Resurrection. Our emotions are divine things, they are the only contact we get with a certain part of ultimate reality. If you cannot touch the coffee, you can only know its heat by the steam. There are certain awe-full energies of the God that we can only know now through the fleeting medium of emotions, for we feel now through a glass darkly. But because the body is (at least, in part) the sacramental wafer through which partake of these things, they are limited by the limitations of the body. There are measures of the fulness of God which we cannot experience now because they would kill us, like pouring new wine in old wineskins. For the matter of that, I do not doubt that there are truths which God cannot yet teach us because our minds (which are also limited by the physical limitations of our brain) could not receive them. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, but one can only fit so much treasure in an earthen vessel without breaking it.

I cannot claim to be dispassionate in my analysis. I have a personal stake in this particular controversy. Your position seems to come down to this: that I am damned simply because I have a different emotional make up than other people. In many ways, I am not like most people (fortunately for them). I tend to feel things that other people do not feel and not to feel things that other people do feel. I almost never in emotional sync with everyone around me. And this, you seem to say, is exactly what God requires of us--to feel justly and feel merciful and feel as if we are walking with our God--that, say, during a church service we must have a certain pitch of reverent excitement during “To God be the Glory” which then immediately gives way to a certain pitch of soulful earnestness during “Rescue the Perishing” which then gives way to--well--whatever emotion one is supposed to feel during a Contemporary Praise Chorus. And all I can say is I don't usually feel exactly that way at exactly those times. I do not say I could not by brute willpower force myself to feel in the right way (though I am not sanguine about the enterprise), but according to you, that is exactly the experience which is worthless to God. Emotion cannot be forced. But how does one create the uncreated? How does one goes about prearranging the unpremeditated? How can one orchestrate spontaneity? It seems to amount to this: that if you do not already feel the right emotions at the right time, you are a terrible human being. But in that case, there is no point in having a philosophy of emotion in the first place. If you are a good person, you will have the right emotions and if you don't have the right emotions you are not a good person. And what are the right emotions? The ones had by good people. Et cetera.

But there is a greater objection to your doctrine, and it is not specifically mine. I think this kind of religion is cruel and if it is an accurate picture of God, I cannot see how it would be a god worthy of worship. The emotionalist doctrine deprives a man of God at the exact moment when he most needs him. When a man is happy, God is pleased with Him for having the correct emotion. But when he is not happy--when he has come to the end of himself--when the world is cold and gray and lifeless and soul cries out for God--that is the time when God will not answer. It is as if God said He would pour water only on those who are not thirsty and give food to those who are already full. Have you ever read Commissioner Brengle's description of a time of discouragement? “God seemed nonexistent. The grave seemed my endless goal. Life lost all of its glory, charm, and meaning... Feeling, except that of utter depression and gloom, was gone.” Such a state has been experienced by some people. And according to your doctrine, not only will God not help a man in such a state, but God is angry with him, for feeling or not feeling the proper emotions at the proper time. The only thing such a man can do is what Brengle did do--“give thanks and to praise God, though I felt no spirit of praise and thanksgiving.” But as I understand your point of view, that is exactly what he cannot do--because religious activity which arises solely from the intellect and volition without the emotions are meaningless. I suppose you could say that if a person feels in such a way, that proves they have sinned and are no longer in a right relationship with God. That is possible (though hardly likely), but grant that it is true. If they have sinned, what are they supposed to do? Repent. But what if they do not feel like repenting? If religious actions performed by the volition without the emotions are worthless to God, then such a repentance would accomplish nothing. But what else is a man to do? And for what it is is worth, we have Scriptural examples which seem to argue against your position. Following Elijah's victory on Mt. Carmel, he entered into a time of depression and despair so much that he asked God to let him die. But God did not speak to Elijah through his emotions, through the fire and earthquake. Rather, God spoke to Elijah through his intellect (a still small voice) and, even more, through his volition (“Go, return on thy way”).

You used the example of marriage--you said (and I agree) that a marriage which a man feels no love for his wife but acts on intellect or pure volition is not ideal. But what about arranged marriages, which have been and perhaps still are common in other cultures? What about marriages in which one partner deceives or betrays the other? In short, what is a man to do if he finds himself (for one reason or another, perhaps even beyond his control) in a marriage relationship (bound by the laws of God and man) where he has no emotions of love for his wife? What on earth is he supposed to do? What, on your philosophy, can he do? The only moral course, seemingly, would be for him to act out of bare, naked volition to perform the part of a loving husband even though he felt no such emotions. But if actions which arise solely out of the volition without the emotion are valueless, then there is really nothing he can do.

Having said all that, I should make one qualification. I do not believe we can directly control our emotions, but I do not mean to say that we have no part to play in the matter. I do not believe that we (or most of us) can will our emotions any more than most of us can will ourselves to fall asleep or wake up. But you can train your body to follow certain sleep patterns and you can also train your emotions. Shelley (I think it was) said that this was the distinctive thing about humans, that they could regulate their emotions to correspond to reality. This training of the emotions is done partly by the volition but mostly by the imagination which is to the emotions what exercise is to the body. James said to count it as a joy or consider it a joy when we fall into great trouble. I do not find troubles to cause joy and if most people did, James wouldn't have bothered to say it. That is why we must “count it”, consider it, train ourselves to see it. Some of the early Christians were happy to be martyrs; Nathan Hale was happy to give his life for his country; and you told me once about how you were happy when your child were born. I know people who not find happiness in any of those situations--since religion, patriotism, and the family are not things the modern world encourages. Sir Walter Scott wrote a fine poem in which he asked if there could be anyone with “soul so dead” that they did not feel a swell of emotion and pride in their homeland. Well, many people in the world today do not feel that emotion--and probably at least in part because our modern culture is not formed by Sir Watler Scott. It is the imaginative and poetical part of man (more than either his volition and intellect, though these are involved) which have the power to channel the emotions so that they flow in proper channels or improper ones as the case may be. And I should point out, by-the-by, that it is precisely this imaginative side of man which the Holiness Church does not especially encourage. We do not consider emotion as something obscene, but we do sometimes treat the imagination in that way. We have dismissed the imagination, because we want emotions to rise spontaneous and miraculously, not to grow naturally out of the natural soil God ordained.

In conclusion, I will offer one final thought, perhaps with a hope of synthesis. You said that emotion is an essential part of religion. If you mean that in order to be a Christian we must feel certain things at certain times and at certain degrees--that we should aim for and judge ourselves by certain emotions--then I think you are wrong. But the statement that emotion is “essential” to Christianity could be taken another way. You said (and thus far we agree) that having emotions is part of our human nature just like having a body. There may be some people who do not have emotions just like there are some people with physical paralysis, but it is still broadly true that to be a human is to be emotional. We cannot (most of us) stop having emotions any more than we can stop breathing. It could be that what God requires of us is not to have specific emotions at specific times, but rather to offer all our emotions to him. The widow gave a mite because that was all she had and God accepted it. Perhaps if, at a given moment, sadness is all we have, God will accept that if we give it to him. The Bible pictures our relationship with God as friendship, but friendship is not an emotion--rather, it is a relationship in which one shares many emotions with someone else. I'm not a parent, but I can't help thinking of it this way: if I had a son, I would want him to be happy. (What parent doesn't?) But if he was sad, I would still want him to feel that he could come and talk to me about his sadness. Even, for the matter of that, if he was angry and upset--angry and upset with me--I would rather have him be able to come and honestly talk it out than sulk in the corner. Isn't that the lesson of the book of Job? Job was confused and so sought God--and was accepted (though also rebuked). Job's friends were quite content and did not seek God--and so did not find Him. I remember a poem (though I have forgotten the author) which began: “I lift my heart, as spring lifts up/A yellow daisy to the rain/My heart shall be a lovely cup/Although it hold but pain.” Perhaps this is the essential part of religion--lifting up our heart to God, regardless of what emotion we are feeling at the time. And if, because of physical or mental exhaustion, we have no emotions, we should lift up our hearts all the same. When the sun shines, we can praise God in the sun and when it rains, we can praise God in the rain. When all is bright, we will rejoice in the light. And when the light is gone, we may give what Chesterton called “the strange, strong cry in the darkness/Of one man praising God.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Dives' Brother

A blessing on you, Brother Dives! May your
Beard be ever longer and your pockets full.
But say! What means a face like that? You'd think
Your wine had all turned sour in the vat.
Is the market down Caesarea once again?
Or has your favorite donkey sprained its hoof?
Come, now--the eldest of our family
Can't face the world with hangdog face like that.
We'd lose all credit in the market.

What?
That beggar at your gate just passed away?
Old--Lazarus--was it?--he's finally gone?
For that you give me eyes so hard and cold?
I would rejoice if I were you. And say:
“Good riddance of bad rubbish.” So he's gone
(May Heaven now have mercy on his soul)
And we are free of him at last. I've said
You never should have let him beg right there--
A wreck, a wretch, with scarce a ragged right
To cling to life--sore stricken with those sores
(The curse of God, no doubt). If he had tried
That game at my gate, I'd have given alms
Which he'd not like and other sores than those.

I'm sure I've told you twenty times, at least--
It was a shame to let him linger there.
It's bad for business to have an eyesore here.
Remember last month, at your Sabbath dinner? Why,
You had all the best men from Jerusalem
And there that dirty beggar moaning at the gate--
They saw him as they came, I know. Recall
How they all looked disgusted at the sight?
I passed it all off as a joke: “He is
A son of Abraham--he has possessed
The gate (saith Moses) of his enemy.”
How Annas laughed at that. And even dour
Gamaliel almost cracked a smile.

No.
Dives, I beg you, do not look so blue.
(Come, send your slave--we need some wine) I'd say
We should rejoice he's gone from us for good.
He nearly ruined us by begging there.

Perhaps--perhaps there's truth to what they say.
Is that why you are sulking like a boy?
Because they say he simply starved away?
Because, mayhaps, a few more crumbs of yours
Could, say?, have let him live another day?
Brother, this simply isn't like you. Why,
The six of us would all be poor as him
If we allowed ourselves to pine and grieve
For every beggar in Judea. Come--
So he was poor? And helpless by disease?
Was that your fault? Did you create the plague
That plagued him?--steal the wealth he didn't have?
Was he your son, your brother? Then why care
That he was poor and ill? I don't deny
You could have given him some comfort--but
To what an end? The poor are not like us.
Men like him are used to hunger, so much
That they can scarcely feel its pang--too low
To fall, too shamed to know the string of shame.
What do you think you could have done? Brought him
Into your house and given him a home?
No, Dives, crumbs and alms are fine--but more
Would only (trust me) have confused the wretch
Like sudden sunlight striking startled eyes.
Why, like as not his head it would have swelled
And burst like rotten fruit. As Agur saith:
“Nor poverty nor riches give me, Lord,
But feed me with convenient food.” (Where is
That servant with the wine?) No, Dives, no--
No good can come of thoughts like these.

You what!?
You must be joking, brother. Or the sun
Has struck your brain. Repent? A man like you?
A man respected by Jerusalem?
A man of business, with the trust of men
His only asset? You would ruin yourself
And all of us, as well. Repent of what?
Because one beggar died outside your gate?
Because, perhaps, you could have saved his life?
This is sheer madness. No one could blame you--
Were you his keeper? No? Then why feel guilt?
An extra gold piece to the beggar at
The temple gate would be all right--or, say,
A sacrifice (call it a thanks' offering).
Nobody would object to that if it
Would make you feel at ease. (It's quite “the thing.”)
But any more than that... Repent? Confess? 
The thought alone just makes my stomach turn.
A public penance from a man like you?
Have you turned radical? A little faith--
“Morality tinged emotion”--fine--
It's good for business and the company's
Standing in Jerusalem. But this--
No, this is something else. We'd be the jest
Of every mouth in town--the temple too--
Repent? It simply isn't done. You'll bring
Yourself to ruin--and the five of us
Would be all ruined with you. Begging for
Our bread like Lazarus.

Ah! here's the wine!
We'll talk no more of this, my brother. No,
Repentance might have done all right for him--
A beggar ruins no one by his sins,
And no one more by his repentance--but
It will not do for men like me and you.
Religion is made for the world to come,
But we have first to live in this. Come, now--
A toast! A toast to Lazarus--why not?
May angels carry him to Abraham's side
Or anywhere that is far from your gate.
The poor must look to God to be their help.
But Dives and his brothers take care of
Themselves. May Heaven receive his soul. Amen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Haunted Galaxy: Chapter 11



[White's Journal. Seventh of Epiphany, Anno Domini 3172.] In our quest to reactivate the Guidance Beacon in the Altayra System, we had been joined by Altayra's ruler, the young and lovely Princess Valencia--and had twice clashed with Maxwell and Erybus's Nadirite army. In the last battle, we had been divided, and several of the others were trapped. Gold and I left to get the tools necessary to free them. Returning to The Crystallair, I was shocked to see Green's armor lying in a heap in front of the ship.

“Wait! Gold!” White shouted the warning as Gold started to speed forward. “Be careful. I think--”

“It's a trap?” he finished. “It definitely was a trap.” His voice was cold and hard. “But I think it's already been sprung.”

They flew together to the spot. After a moment, Gold nodded and dropped almost to the ground, hovering just a few degrees above it. “Low-grade corban,” he commented, looking at the ground--it was hard to see against the black rock of the planet, but the ground was covered with coarse black powder. “Old-fashioned, but effective. It's an unstable enough of an explosive that it doesn't take much concussive force to set it off. Just sprinkle some around on the ground in front of our ship--”

White could understand all too clearly. “If we had been out of armor when we came back to the ship, we could have all been killed.”

Gold shook his head. “I'm going to take Green inside. Can you make sure that there's no more danger?”

White nodded. “On it.” Neither one had said anything, but they both knew that something was wrong. Green hadn't moved and was laying at an awkward, unnatural angle. He also hadn't responded over the comms. Whatever he was, he was not all right.

It was a few minutes later when White entered The Crystallair, having disposed of all the explosives. She found Gold in the Medical Chamber. He had performed an emergency override to force Green out of his armor and now Green was lying on the bed-part of the medical equipment.

White felt a pang when she saw him lying there. He looked so young--really, just a child, too young to be running these kinds of risks. His pale green skin was paler than usual--almost yellow--and his hair was pasted to his forehead by sweat. His right leg was twisted at a weird, impossible angle and was barely recognizable as a limb. But at least he was still alive.

“Is it broken?” she asked.

“Broken would be putting it mildly. We'll have to fire up the diagnostic computer to find out for sure, but his whole leg seems to be--well, mashed is the only term I can think of.” Gold's voice was still hard, but White could tell from its tone that he was relieved that the damage was no more serious than it was. “I don't see any mark on his head, so I'm thinking it was the pain of his injury which made him pass out--he seems to be feverish, which I take to be caused by the pain, but since he's a mod, I guess I don't know exactly how all his physical processes works.” He glanced at her. “But there's one thing I don't get. Green came back to the ship, though we don't know why--maybe to get some tool or weapon or maybe to fly the ship back to the battle--I can imagine him working out some plan in his mind and since I'd ordered comm silence, he couldn't ask or tell us about it. Anyway, he came back to the ship. He walked up to the door and stumbled right into a trap someone--probably Maxwell--left for us. He stepped on that corban and the force of his footsteps detonated it. That all makes sense, more or less. But if he wasn't in his armor when the explosion happened, he should be hurt worse than this. And if he was in his armor, he shouldn't be hurt at all--the explosion couldn't have been that powerful and his armor isn't injured.”

White shook her head. “The only thing I can think of is that he phased on his armor at the exact moment the corban detonated, though I didn't think Green's reflexes were that good. But there's no point in speculating till we run a diagnostic. This computer can dig up all sorts of info, so it may be able to tell us what happened.”

Gold took a seat beside Green, while White sat down at the computer. Gold pressed a button and a curtain shot out between the bed and the chair where White sat. “He's burning up--I'm going get him out of his jacket and shirt and see if that helps any.”

White nodded absently, but she was already absorbed in her work. Generally, Blue was the one delegated to running the medical equipment--she had been trained on similar equipment back at Ursa Prime before she joined the Corps--but White knew how to do most things with it. In fact, the basic programing was simple enough that any of them could use it if they needed to.

After a few clicks, she was viewing an image on the screen. It was something like an x-ray (which legends said had been used by doctors a millennium before) but it showed her a cross-section of Green's leg--flesh, bones, and all.

And what she saw made no sense at all.

“White?” She couldn't see Gold because of the curtain, but she could tell from his voice that he was worried.

“Well, we can fix it up, so there's no worry there. But there's no way that an explosion of corban or anything else could have caused an injury this extensive.”

“Then what did?”

She tapped her fingers against the controls for a moment, thoughtfully. “The only thing I can think of which could cause this kind of injury would be a photon disrupter.”

“What?”

White went on, talking more to herself than Gold. “Disrupted photons cause this kind of damage to an organic system when they pass through it. But--” She frowned and went back to the controls. The diagnostic computer was a very advanced piece of equipment. The basic principle on which the equipment work came from the healing machines used on the planet Bellas--but that basic principle had been wedded to some of the most advanced computer tech known in Ursa Prime. With this equipment, one could find out all kinds of things about a patient with a click or two--even pulling up data from the past which had left an imprint of some kind on the body. Most of that kind of info didn't interest White at the moment, but by focusing on certain parameters, she could probably pin down exactly what she needed to know.

“Got it. I still don't know why, but I do know what.”

Gold walked around the curtain to stand behind her. “What did you find?”

“Yesterday--after our battle with Maxwell--when we came back to the ship, Green went straight to the Medical Bay. I wondered about that--usually he goes to the Viewing Chamber when he wants to be alone--but I didn't think much about it. But he had good reason.”

“This happened then--during that battle?” Gold stared at her in amazement. “I do remember Maxwell firing his disrupter and then Green started acting strange for a second. But do you mean that he actually was hit?”

“That's what it looks like. Fortunately, the hit was only on his leg and can't have been too serious--compared to what it could have been, anyway. Green knows how to use this thing well enough to treat his own injuries, so when we got back to the ship, he locked himself in here and did what he needed to. But even as good as this equipment is, an injury of that level is going to take time to heal completely. The force of that explosion--even while he was in his armor--was enough to undo the treatment, to do all the harm over again, basically--that would probably hurt more than the initial injury, which would explain why he passed out.” White glanced up. “I don't know if you noticed or not, but Green never took off his armor--not while we were on Altayra Rex, not while we were in the Guidance Beacon, not when we went to that village--I haven't seen him without his armor since before that battle with Maxwell. And this was why--it was because of his injury. The armor would work almost like a cast to protect his leg until the healing completed.”

“I really didn't notice that.”

White had definitely noticed. Not that it was especially strange, but she had noticed. And it had weighed on her mind--because of the Nth Dimensional Holocube that went missing on the Wanderer and then reappeared in +(1)d and then disappeared again. The fact that Green had kept her armor on had made her suspicious--could he have had something to do with its disappearance? He was the only one of the Corps beside her that would really know the value and function of an NDHC. And she had considered that he was hiding it inside his armor. But she had discarded the idea--it would be difficult to fit the bulky piece of equipment inside their armor. And now she knew the real reason why Green had kept his armor on. Except-- “But I don't understand why Green would do any of this. He's an introvert--he doesn't talk about himself much--or like to call attention to himself--but why in the Cosmos didn't he just tell us he'd been injured when it happened?”

“I think I know.” Gold stood staring down at her with a strange expression. White couldn't place that look--it wasn't one she had seen Gold use very often. But his voice was about the same as usual when he spoke, maybe just a little softer. “I know a good bit about all of you, maybe more than the rest of you know about each other. But I never knew anything about Green's past, except that he came from some out-of-the-way place in Draxmore, that he was born as a mod, and that he was really smart--because of his intelligence levels, he came to Ursa Prime where the Prefect discovered him and chose him to be part of the Corps. I know he's an orphan, but I don't know anything about his parents or what happened to them. Beyond that--I really don't know anything about Green's past at all. But just now I saw something that I'm afraid may tell us something about his past--that may explain why he didn't want to take the chance of any of us being involved in a medical diagnostic of him. You were just analyzing his leg, weren't you?”

“Yes.” That injury had been so obvious, she hadn't even thought to look elsewhere.

“Well, run a diagnostic of his torso--and please tell me that that's some kind of weird side affect of the photon injury.”

White didn't understand what Gold was getting at, but she tapped a few controls on the computer. And then she understood.

“What is it?”

“It's what it looks like. Multiple levels of scar tissue formed by repeated surface lacerations of the skin over a roughly... ten year period.”

“Green is only thirteen.”

“I know.”

For a moment, the two of them just looked at each other in silence. Then White stood up and turned away, saying something she had no idea she was going to say until after she'd said it: “You may not like your father, but some children have had more reason to hate their father or guardian than you do.”

Gold didn't answer her.

A lot of things made sense now. She guessed this might have some relationship to why Green was such a perfectionist and why he tended to be so introverted--and almost certainly this was why he hadn't wanted any of the others to be involved in the treatment of his photon injury. White had trouble stomaching the truth, though she thought she was more used to these kinds of thing than Gold was--she had had a broader experience of the world. Besides, like Green, she was an orphan--and though she had never been unkindly treated, she had had heard stories from some of the other orphans which the Tremonsirs rescued. Some of them, terrible stories. Especially from that one boy--though, in retrospect, she supposed she should take his stories with more skepticism than she had at the time. Still, this was not the first time in her life she had confronted scars like these.

“Here's what we're going to do.” Gold's voice interrupted her thoughts. Once again, he seemed cool and collected. “He'll be out as long as the medical equipment is working. Once it's finished up, I'll take him back and put him on his bunk. When he wakes up, we'll just tell him we found him outside the ship and brought him in. He doesn't have to know we ran a diagnostic at all.”

White shrugged. The plan was understandable, but it wouldn't fool Green for a minute. Still, it would spare them all some awkward conversations. “I've started the healing program--there's nothing more to do for a few minutes. I'll go start gathering together the tools we'll need to break that force field.”


A few minutes later, Gold walked into the main cabin and found White in the middle of eating a block of prefood.

He laughed. “That's unusual for you. I'm used to seeing Black and Red heading for the rations as soon as they can, but not you.”

White smiled, a little self-consciously. “I don't know why, but I was hungry tonight. I know we ate a few hours ago in Hath'ellah, but I feel as if I haven't eaten for a day or so. I decided it wouldn't hurt to get a bite now while I can.” She tapped a box on the table. “I've got everything together to free Blue's group, so there's nothing I can do until you're ready to leave--or are we going to take the whole ship over to Hath'ellah?” And though she said nothing, she noted with amusement that Gold also went straight to the rations' cupboard and pulled out a couple blocks of prefood.

“We'd better. After what nearly happened here, I don't like the idea of leaving the ship alone.” His face darkened. “We'll collect the princess and take her back Altayra Rex--and then we're going to go after Maxwell and bring him to task once and for all. He's gone too far this time--he could have killed Green with that photon disrupter--and he could have killed us all with that little trap outside. We can't let him get away with it.”

White frowned. “You said that before. What makes you think Maxwell was behind that trap? It might have been Erybus--or the Altayrans, for all we know.”

“Oh, Erybus may have had a hand in it, too--it fits his style; distracting us with one trap so we'll be preoccupied and walk right into another trap. But the fact that they used a cheap, low-grade explosive like corban makes me think of Maxwell. Erybus has more class--he'd have used something more complex and expensive.”

White wasn't entirely sure of his logic, but she didn't push the point. Having finished up her food, she walked over to the ship's main computer and pushed a few controls. “That's strange, really. Someone came up outside the ship and planted that explosive, but they didn't come close enough to set off The Crystallair's security system--so we can't verify who put it there.” She frowned. “It's almost--almost as if they knew exactly what to do and how far to go to avoid activating it--almost as if they knew the ship's security protocols.” Her frown deepened. Thoughts from yesterday which had been pushed aside by recent events were now resurfacing. She glanced at Gold and could tell that he was thinking the same thing.

“They might have a way of finding out those protocols,” he said, but he wouldn't meet her eyes.

“Gold, we programmed those protocols--Prefect Alkyte himself wouldn't know them. Only those of us in the Corps know--and--”

Gold stood up. “There's just no way. There's no way any of us would be involved in this--there's no way one of the Corps could betray us.”

White turned in her chair to face him. “Is that what you really believe or just what you want to believe?”

For just a second, Gold didn't answer. When he did, his voice was deeper and rougher than usual and had a note she had never heard--at least, not when he was talking to her. “Look, White, save your mind games from the rest of the Corps--don't try them on me. Now, take the ship up and fly to Hath'ellah. You should have the coordinates now. I'm going to check on Green.”

White bit her lip and watched motionless as Gold stalked out of the room. She wasn't used to his talking to her like that, but maybe he was right. She felt uncomfortable entertaining a suspicion about the others--but there were just too many things that didn't make sense. Maxwell and Erybus had known things about the Corps' movements and powers that they shouldn't have known. An Nth Dimensional Holocube had vanished from the Wanderer and reappeared briefly in +(1)d, meaning that one of the Corps had put it there. And now someone had set a trap by the ship without activating the ship's security monitors, as if they had known the security protocols themselves. Any one of those things might be a coincidence, might have some kind of legitimate explanation. But put all together, they seemed to point to one reality--that one member of the Corps was a traitor. She hated to think it, but she didn't see that she had any choice but to entertain the suspicion at this point. But who? And why?

She shook her head, forcing herself to push all those thoughts to the sidelines. After all, her suspicion was nothing more than a suspicion. Maybe Gold was right to treat it so cavalierly. In any case, there was nothing she could do about it for the time being. And it was time to get the ship moving.

*

The morning glow was just beginning to show from the subterranean veins of Altayra Vorphintus by the time the Corps was back together and all the explanations were made--all the ones that were going to be made, anyway. White and Gold had flown back to Hath'ellah and, reunited with Black, had begun the work of breaking the force field which held the others. At some point, Green rejoined them, but he hadn't mentioned anything about what had happened and neither Gold nor White asked him (though White was still curious as to why he had gone back to the ship in the first place.)

But now the seven members of the Corps--along with Princess Valencia--were standing in the ruins of Hath'ellah and they all had a fairly clear idea of what had transpired over the last several hours.

Gold shook his head. “So the people in the village disappeared before the beam struck. That's strangely--compassionate. I would've sworn the Nadirites didn't even know what compassion was.”

Valencia pressed her lips together. “I fear that--given what you have told me of these Nadirites--if they saved my people, they saved them for some more dreadful fate.”

“It's hard to say. But there's nothing more to be accomplished here. Your highness, we're going to fly you back to Altayra Rex--given that the landing field and any ships were destroyed. I'm sure the sages will be worried about you.”

“No doubt.” There was a slight note of cynicism in the princess's tone. “But I am still concerned--with these Nadirites lose in the system, none of my people are safe.”

“Don't worry about it, Valencia,” Red interjected. “Dealing with bad guys like them is our specialty.”

White noted that Red had fallen into the habit of calling the princess by her first name. She also noted that the princess didn't seem to mind or, at least, wasn't making a point of rebuking him.

“Crimson kid does have a point,” agreed Black. “Fighting bad guys is pretty much what we do for a living.”

Gold turned to Valencia. “We have been entrusted with the responsibility of reactivating the Guidance Beacon--in order to do that, we have to defeat the Nadirites and find out what their objective is in your system. I ask that you trust us to do that and return to your palace. We can defeat the Nadirites.”

“And you can work better without having to worry about me?” she finished, with a smile.

Gold flushed slightly. He had apparently been thinking that exact thing.

“Well, I accept your decision. I do not see what good I can do against such an enemy--though I do wish I could do something.”

Gold's face darkened slightly. “You might be able to do something--we need information. Do you have any idea why the Nadirites are here, what they might be after in your system?”

For just a second, the princess's face seemed to go completely blank. White couldn't decide if she was trying to hide something or just trying to think. Then she shook her head. “As you are no doubt aware by now, we are not a rich or powerful people here in Altayra. What do we have that such enemies could want? We have made a few scientific advances--but that was hundreds of years ago and those discoveries can be easily freely found throughout Ursa Prime and Draxmore now. From all we know, it seems as if the Nadirites are not targeting us--but you. It you--the Corps--that they are interested in. And here in Altayra, you are alone--it is just you against them, for Ursa Prime cannot send reinforcements without the Guidance Beacon, and we have no forces powerful enough to help you. Draxmore might help, but the nearest military base of theirs is far away, for we are near only to the remotest boarder of the empire.”

“You do have a point,” Gold admitted. White thought he sounded impressed. “But if Erybus just wanted to fight and defeat us, I still think he could have found a better place.”

White wanted to point out that Valencia wasn't quite right--they weren't quite alone, as the MBUs were somewhere on the Altayra side of the void--but she didn't think Gold would appreciate being reminded of that. Besides, the princess's theory still might be true--Erybus might not have expected the MBUs being sent and, besides, with them being busy tracking down the Nadirite launch ships, the Corps was essentially alone.

“In any case,” Gold continued, turning away, “our first order of business is to return to Altayra Rex, and from there we'll map out our plan of attack.”

Valencia seemed impressed and a little awed by The Crystallair. White didn't know exactly what kind of ships the Altayrans used, but clearly nothing as advanced as this. And The Crystallair wasn't even that remarkably advanced of a ship. She seemed nervous and kept to herself, though Red kept hovering around her.

White noticed something else--and that was that all of the others (except Green) were hungry and grabbed some food the instant they were back on the ship. She expected that from Red and Black, but not from Blue and especially not from Silver. (Red did offer a block of prefood to Valencia before he started chowing down, but she waved it away. White suspected it would be a breach of protocol for her to eat with commoners like themselves.) It was a little thing, but it lodged in her mind. They had eaten the evening before--of course, a long time had passed and a lot had happened, but everyone still seemed strangely hungry. It passed through her mind that Erybus might have used some kind of hunger ray on them. It was silly, but at this point she wasn't exactly ready to say anything was impossible. With God all things are possible, but man is limited--one of his greatest limitations being that he does not know what is possible. It was something the Tremonsirs had taught her, and she had learned for herself it was true. Some things were impossible and some things were possible, but when it came to deciding which were which... well... all she knew was that there were things they did every day which even a thousand years before would have been thought impossible--and that in her travels up and down the fourth-dimensional axis, she had seen things which even her fellow Corps-members would have thought impossible if she told them. What was it Green had said last evening? Whatever is actual is, by definition, possible--and sometimes the only way to find out if something was possible was to do it.

Blue had taken charge of flying the ship for the short trip back to Altayra Rex. It was such a comparatively short trip that the group had not dispersed but all sat around the main chamber of the ship. Silver had given up his accustomed place at the side of the cabin to Valencia, who sat there as quiet and immovable as Silver usually did. He sat crosslegged on the floor beside the door to the Medical Chamber. Red was standing, awkwardly, a short distance away from Valencia. Green, White, and Black were sitting at the table, and Gold was leaning against the wall just back of the control panel.

“All right, let's just get a few things clear,” commented Gold, breaking the relative silence. “Once we get her highness back to the safety of Altayra Rex--”

“If she is really safe there--” thought White. With the Nadirites loose in the system, nowhere was really safe--and from all appearances the Altayrans had nothing to fight or even defend against the Nadirites and their weapons.

“--we have one primary goal--we are going to track down and capture Maxwell.”

Black glanced up and there was for an instant just a glint of surprise in her usually casual expression. “Why Maxwell?”

“It our one major piece of unfinished business. We've let Maxwell slip through our fingers too many times.”

“And stopping the Nadirites and reactivating the Guidance Beacon is obviously of secondary concern compared to maintaining our reputation,” added Blue without turning around.

Gold shook his head. “There's no point in trying to reactivate the Guidance Beacon without dealing with Maxwell and Erybus. The Nadirites outnumber us and know the territory better--they can keep us from reactivating it or destroy it again. We've got to go directly to the source of the problem.”

“But why Maxwell?” pressed Black. “I thought he was the evil comic sidekick in this equation.”

“Exactly. On his own, Maxwell really isn't a threat--but combined with Erybus, who is already a powerful enemy, he does pose a problem. If we can capture him, that will leave us with just Erybus--and his troops--to deal with. Besides, if we capture him, we should be able to get information out of him--we may be able to find out what in the Cosmos Erybus is really after.”

Black shook her head and tossed a knife casually into the air, catching it behind her back. “Once again: Evil comic sidekick. Obviously, Erybus isn't letting Maxwell in on his secrets. You saw how surprised he was when Erybus revealed his secret weapon in that last battle.”

“It's a chance. But Maxwell isn't as stupid as he looks. I'd be willing to bet that he knows more about Erybus's schemes than Erybus intended him to know. Anyway, we've got to take Maxwell down--once and for all.” Gold smacked his left fist into his right palm for emphasis--and there was a strange, hard look to his eyes.

White knew what Gold wasn't saying. All that was true, but it wasn't the main reason he wanted to go after Maxwell. It was because of what happened to Green. Gold really did take danger or injury to a member of the team very seriously.

How seriously?

For just an instant, she wondered exactly what Gold would do when and if they finally managed to capture Maxwell. She couldn't escape that hard look in his eyes. But she pushed the thought aside. After all, they were the Corps. They had a Code. They weren't just a gang of kids. They were better than that.

Blue interrupted her thoughts. “I know you're busy with important things, but just F.Y.I., we're landing in Altayra Rex. We'll touch down in about twenty seconds.”

“Right. Corps, prepare to disembark.”


It was “morning” in Altayra Rex (apparently all the planets in the system ran on essentially the same time pattern), but the city was already crowded. But, as before, once they landed, a guard--the same guard--emerged from the crowd and conducted them through it, to the outskirts of the town, and to the courtyard between the governmental buildings and the Temple of Ice. The guard seemed stolid enough and took the whole thing--including the presence of Princess Valencia--as a matter of course.

The Sages did not take the same attitude.

The instant they entered the courtyard, Zortan and Rothmar rushed up to them, their black robes rustling--both, in their different ways, looking very upset.

“Your highness! Are you all right?” Zortan demanded

At almost the same moment, Rothmar accosted Gold with, “How could you have done such a thing?”

“Whoa, someone seems a little overprotective,” Black commented.

“You do not understand the gravity--” Zortan began.

Valencia stopped him with a cold stare and then stepped forward. “If you insist on shouting at any one, you should shout at me. The Corps did nothing but protect me and assist me to return--the choice to travel to Altayra Vorphintus in the first place was mine and mine alone. And, to answer your question, I am quite well. Perhaps a little tired, but that is all.”

Zortan was only slightly mollified. He pressed the bridge of his nose for a moment and then began again, “Your highness, do you realize what you have done? What could have happened?”

“Do you realize what did happen?” she returned quietly. “The entire village of Hath'ellah was obliterated. And, prior to that, all its inhabitants simply disappeared. I gather,” she added in an tone that was polite but cold as ice, “that this is not the first case of this kind. Is that correct?”

Rothmar turned towards the Corps. For just an instant, his face seemed almost bestial in its look of anger and annoyance. “You told her?”

Red moved forward. “Yeah, we did. Is that a problem? You're just a Sage--is it really your job to decide what Valencia does or does not know?”

“You dare to address me like that, you--”

For just a second, White thought that there was going to be a fight--both Red and Rothmar looked angry enough.

But the instant was broken by the princess. “Red, I appreciate your support, but this is my battle.” She turned back to Zortan. “The Corps did tell me of what you had told them--but reluctantly and only when it was more or less inevitable. In any case, I was a first-hand witness to what happened in Hath'ellah--in a sense, at least.” She frowned. “Why did you not tell me?”

Rothmar still looked angry, but Zortan had folded his arms and looked as calm though not as cool as the princess. “Is it not obvious why we didn't? You yourself have proved the wisdom of our silence. If we had told you, you would have done precisely what you did--gone off and tried to solve the mystery on your own.”

Valencia seemed to admit the truth of that. “But with the safety of my people in jeopardy--”

Zortan made a sound like a snort. “And what good can you do for your people if you are dead? Under any circumstances, such actions would be imprudent. But you know your condition, your highness. You are in no state to be playing the role of heroine.”

“What better state is there in which to play the role?” asked Valencia simply. “There is little risk in it for me, after all.”

“You know you do not mean that.”

“But--”

Zortan unfolded his arms and turned towards the building to their right. “Keisai!” he called out. A figure appeared from the palace and came towards the group. “Keisai, if you would escort the princess inside--she is very tired and worn from her trip.”

“Of course, m'lord,” answered the figure.

“Of course,” repeated Valencia and took his arm--and they turned away towards the palace.

It was weirdly familiar. White clearly remembered the scene from the previous day. Zortan had called Keisai and had him escort the princess inside, to prevent her from hearing the rest of their conversation. As before, Valencia seemed a little unwilling but acquiesced. As before, White couldn't help looking at Keisai and remarking on his physical appearance--thinking that, so far as looks, he was fitting to be the consort of the princess, even though (considering the way Zortan addressed him and the fact that he was barefoot and wore a simple white tunic) he was obviously a servant. It was a weird sense of repetition, everything being exactly the same.

Except for one thing. This wasn't the same man they had seen before.

The man they had seen the previous day had been tall, lean, with fair skin and long golden hair. This man could hardly have been more dissimilar. He was average height, perhaps a little on the short side, with a broad, husky build, rounded shoulders, dark skin, and nearly non-existent black hair.

“Wait a minute!” Red exclaimed. At first, White thought he was thinking the same thing she was, but it soon became apparent that his mind was utterly elsewhere. He took a step forward and glared at Zortan. “Who runs this system, anyway? You or the princess? If she is worried enough about her people to go out and check on things, why do you have such a big problem with it? Is there something you're hiding?”

“You do not understand.” Zortan seemed to be talking between clenched teeth.

“I know something about royalty, and I know no two-bit advisors should be bossing around their king--or princess--like this.”

“Why you little--” Rothmar began, but Zortan shut him down with a look. Then he sighed and called after the retreating figures. “Keisai! Wait.”

The servant and the princess stopped and both turned to look back.

“Your highness, do I have your permission to tell them the truth?”

Valencia nodded. “If you believe that is best, then yes, tell them.”

“I understand.” He lowered his eyes and waited until the two figures had vanished into the palace. Then he glanced up and seemed to note the strange look several of the Corps were giving him. Even if Red was too preoccupied to notice, the others had. “What is it?”

“That servant--” Gold began. “He--”

Zortan smiled, a little blandly. “Oh, you are thinking of the man you saw yesterday? That was a different Keisai.”

“What?”

“It is a very common name in our system. I think we have half a dozen different servants around the palace with the name Keisai.”

“Oh. Right.” Gold seemed strangely nonplussed by that answer. “Anyway, what was it that the princess said you could tell us?”

Zortan gazed at him with a cold, clear look and then pinched the bridge of his nose again. (White wondered how many times he did that in an average day.) “Perhaps we should have told you all this to begin with. I imagined your time in our system would be brief--that you would not meet with her highness again and so there would be no reason for you to know this. It is not a subject on which I like to speak--not a subject which I would casually broach to any stranger who walks unto our planet. Still, now, with all you have done--you have the right to know. And if I do not tell you, you will imagine something more terrible--if anything could be more terrible.”

“I understand your reluctance,” said Gold, with a stiff bow. He was uncomfortable in these kinds of settings, but he seemed to sense the importance and seriousness of what Zortan was saying.

“Are you sure--” began Rothmar.

“Yes, they should know. It is not merely some personal quirk of ours to worry about her highness, you see. It is not merely out of morbid fear that we wish for her to conserve her strength and remain here. There is a good reason for our concern.” He paused and seemed to take a breath. “You see, Princess Valencia is dying.”

“What!” All of the Corps started--none of them had expected that. But Red's reaction was the most pronounced. He jerked forward and spoke in a quick, almost scratchy voice. “What kind of sick joke is that?”

Zortan nodded stolidly. “It is quite true, I am afraid.”

“It's--it's not possible. It's some kind of mistake--”

“Do you think we would make a mistake about this?”

“Red, stand down,” ordered Gold, but his voice was not as hard as usual when giving a command.

“I do not blame you for being surprised--upset.”

“You don't seem all that broken-up about it,” Red accused, his voice almost cracking.

Zortan bowed his head. “We have known so long that perhaps we have come to terms with the reality--as her highness most certainly has.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “We are a small, simple system. Our people are not rich nor our dominion extensive. But we have been happy. The royal line, since her highness's royal ancestor first brought our people here to the system, has ruled us well. Our people generally have loved their king, looked at him almost as father rather than a master. Her highness's late royal father and his queen were especially well-loved, because of their just and generous rule over us. But for many years, we believed the dynasty might be at an end. They were the last of royal blood, and they had no heir. And then--then when Altayra had given up hope of it happening, the queen gave birth. All of Altayra was overjoyed to see her birth--so glad that some child was born that they did not care that it was a girl, though she would be the first female heir to take the throne in Altayra's history. Everyone in the system loved her, though none more than her parents. As they celebrated her birth, they prepared and planned out everything for their child, determined that she would have everything they could give her, that they would do everything they could to give her a good life. And then, hardly a month after she was born, we learned that she was dying.”

Zortan spoke in a quiet, almost emotionless voice, but for an instant he turned away, as if to hide his feelings. When he continued, he spoke in the same, even tone. “She was born with a disease or, perhaps more accurately, an imperfection, a flaw--the exact name and nature does not matter--I will not trouble you with doctor's details--all that matters is that we knew then, knew that her highness would never live out the long and happy life her late royal parents and all of Altayra wished for her--that she would most likely not even reach adulthood.”

“I-I am sorry,” said Gold in a low voice, bowing his head. “We did not know.”

“No. But she has grown up knowing--knowing that her time is short. That is why, I think, she is so concerned for her people--she wants to do everything she can while she still has time. But that is also why we do not want her running around on her own, exerting herself in this way. Even though her constitution is still strong--considering her circumstances--we do not wish her to exert herself unnecessarily. Her time is short enough as it is.”

“But--but, c'mon--this is the 32nd century,” Red objected. “There's got to be some way to cure her.”

“No. As far as medical science has advanced, there are still diseases and physical problems for which there is no cure, no treatment. Do you think her highness's late royal parents--and we Sages, since their death--have not done all possible research on the subject? There is no medical technique in all of Ursa Prime or Draxmore which can do more than lengthen her life slightly and make her end easier when it comes. That is our secret--though it is a secret only to outsiders, such as yourself. The truth is generally known throughout our system, even to the common people. I believe it has made them love her highness all the more. There is not man or woman in this system, I think, but would willingly lay down their life in an instant if it would save her.”

There was a long pause after Zortan had finished his story. Everyone stood motionless, except Rothmar who paced silently while the other sage spoke.

Then Gold raised his head. “Well, there is nothing that we can do about this.”

“Oh, yes there is.” Red threw back his shoulders, and there was a strange note to his voice. “Valencia wants to leave things in a good state for her people--well, if the Nadirites have their way, there aren't going to be any people left for her to leave. That's what we can do--stop them from doing whatever it is they're doing and get back the people they've kidnapped. Valencia would say that was the first priority, anyway.”

“Yes--right.” Gold seemed a little surprised by Red's outburst. “Defeating the Nadirites--and reactivating the guidance beacon--that is our mission here. With your permission, we will continue with our work.”

“Of course.” Zortan bowed deeply. “If we may be of any assistance, do not hesitate to ask.”


The Corps was in a strangely subdued mood as they flew back to The Crystallair. None of them had been expecting this revelation. And even though they had only met Princess Valencia for the first time the preceding day, it was a sobering thing to know that someone who had walked and talked among them was linked with so dark a destiny.

But that kind of mood couldn't last very long--especially not with Black around. They had reached the ship and were preparing for take off, when she abruptly broke the silence. “There's just one thing I want to know. When they yell for Keisai, how do they know that the right one will answer?”

“Perhaps they think one servant will serve them as well any other, and so their names do not matter,” answered Silver heavily but without hesitation. He seemed to be joining more and more freely in conversation as time passed.

The revelation about Princess Valencia had almost pushed the problem of Keisai from White's mind.

Gold seemed to think this was a good time to divert everyone's mind to lighter topics. “I was wondering about that. Does it really make sense that they would have multiple servants with the same name?”

“It's possible,” answered White thoughtfully. “Especially if Keisai were the name of some famous person in their history.” She had lost track of how many men she had met among the Tremonsirs named John, all named after St. John of Patmos who had founded their order.

Red had been sitting in a strange attitude but now he roused himself for a moment. “Well, last night when Blue asked something about Keisai, Valencia seemed confused--which would make sense if they had more than one Keisai around.”

“I still think it sounds farfetched--but I can't imagine any reason why they would lie about it.” Gold shook his head. “I mean, we don't care what they call their servants.”

“Unless it's a code word of some kind.” White couldn't shake the feeling that there was something strange about Keisai. One little thing bothered her especially. Keisai and the princess had been walking back to the palace when Zortan called for them to stop so that he could ask Valencia for permission to tell the Corps about her illness. But when he called, he didn't call to Valencia but to Keisai. It was as if, even though she was the princess, yet this servant was somehow the superior. And both times, when the two different Keisais had escorted the princess away, she had seemed at first almost unwilling and yet had quickly acquiesced. That was why White wondered if the name might be really a code word of some kind--some way for the Sages to pass secret commands, even secret warnings to the princess. But she couldn't work out the thought any further than that.

“Anyway,” said Red, “what difference does it make how many servants they have or what their names are? All that matters is what they told us about Valencia.”

“Yes,” agreed Gold--for once not squashing Red for talking. “I'm beginning to wonder if those Sages might not be hiding something, but at least they told us the truth about that finally--and I don't blame them for not telling us before.”

The truth. It was the truth, wasn't it? White wondered if she was becoming a cynic. She couldn't help thinking that Zortan hadn't told them the story until after Valencia was safely inside the building. No, she was becoming far too suspicious. After all, it did make perfect sense--looking back over things Valencia had said, White realized they fit in perfectly with Zortan's story. And given Valencia's character, there was a high possibility that they would meet again, even if the Sages tried to prevent it--and if they had lied, it would be sure to come out.

“Sir!” Green spoke abruptly--speaking for almost the first time since they had found him unconscious outside the ship. He had his helmet phased off, but he still wore the rest of his armor--which, White knew, was acting as a cast to protect his injured leg while it healed. “Sir, our mission here does not concern the domestic details of Altayra's governing family. We have neither the authority nor power to involve ourselves in these things.”

“Hey, how can you be so cold-hearted?” Red demanded, looking at him in anger and honest amazement. “Didn't you hear that story?”

Green pulled his hat down. “I am fully aware of what the Sages told us. But that does not change the fact that our emotions concerning the princess do not defeat the Nadirites or reactivate the Guidance Beacon--which is what the Prefect sent us here to do.”

“You're not really human, are you--you green-skinned freak--do you even have a heart?”

“Red! That's enough!” Gold's voice was sharp and rough. “That was completely uncalled for--especially as Green is right. We are the Corps and we do have a mission. You yourself said it--the only thing we can do for the princess is to defeat the Nadirites.”

There was a pause, and then something happened that had never happened before in the cabin of The Crystallair--something White would have said would never happened.

Red apologized.

“Sorry--sorry, Green. I just--just got carried away for a minute.”

There was a pause and then Gold glanced at Green. “Green?”

Green pulled his hat lower with a strange jerk. “This is all irrelevant. Your feelings--your sympathy--your apologies--none of it changes reality. Life--death--the universe--none of it cares what you think. All that matters is what you can do, and only that you can do it right.”

“Well, that was strangely profound,” remarked Black.

White wouldn't have called it profound, but it also certainly wasn't what she was expecting from Green.

Gold made an abrupt movement with hands. “Regardless--our job is to stop the Nadirites and to do that, we're going after Maxwell. Blue, can you track him down?”

“Maybe.” Blue had been sitting, checking the ship's controls, but now she turned around to face them. “There are two things--one which you should already know and the other which I'm going to tell you. First, that weird metal Maxwell's arm is made of gives him a really bizarre energy signature which makes it both easier and harder to track him down than other people. Second, there's something about this system--I don't know exactly what it is--but somehow the powers of my armor don't seem to be working naturally.”

“What!” Gold stared at her incredulously.

Blue continued in an even, almost disinterested tone. “I don't know what it is--maybe even its some result from our battles--maybe whatever happened to the Matrix is spreading now to our armors--or maybe it's something to do with the system itself--but ever since we landed on Altayra Rex, my powers have been... unpredictable.”

Gold frowned deeply. “Are you sure it's not an operator failure?”

Blue shot Gold a look which would have been considered an act of war on some planets, and then answered in a voice that was slightly colder than usual: “Well, as leader of the team, I guess you should be smart enough to figure that out for yourself.”

There was an answering flash of anger in Gold's face, but when he spoke it was calmly and not in response to Blue. “White--Green--is she right--is it possible that the failure of the Matrix could cause our armor's specific abilities to malfunction?”

White glanced at Green who was staring at the floor. “I wouldn't think so--” she began.

Green jerked his hat so hard that it fell off, though he kept hold of it with one hand. “Sir, at this point we do not have sufficient data to make any kind of judgment on such a matter. Given that we have no idea what is causing the disfunction of the Matrix, we cannot possibly know what affect it would or would not have on our armor, especially as the specific relation between our armor and the Matrix is not fully known in the first place--we cannot know what affect a given unknown thing will have on the relation of two other unknown things.” Green always got upset and annoyed when things weren't going as he planned--and White certainly wasn't surprised that the continued disfunction of the Matrix was worrying him, even though the others had almost forgotten it in light of other things--but still, Green's tone and attitude seemed overly agitated for these factors. White imagined his injury was responsible.

Gold looked thoughtful and turned back to Blue. “I do remember that your powers have a unique reaction to Maxwell--it makes it easier to find the general area where he is, but harder to pinpoint where he is exactly?”

“That's a more or less accurate picture, yes. I can't guarantee to do even that much now, but I'm willing to try.”

“Then do it. Without that, we don't have any way even to begin to track him down.”

Blue made no response but phased on her armor. At the same time, she activated the take-off sequence, and The Crystallair rose from the surface of Altayra Rex and shot out into space.

White knew it would be ticklish business trying to track down Maxwell. Even with Blue's powers functioning properly, it was a difficult thing to track down a single person in the vastness of space--though she assumed that Maxwell was probably on one of the planets of the Altayra System. Based on what the Sages said, the Nadirites' motherships had emerged from the Void but hadn't come close to their system. By now, the MBUs had properly found and engaged them. It didn't make sense for Erybus and his troops to travel back and forth, so they must have a base or a smaller dropship somewhere inside the Altayra System itself. (Of course, Erybus could teleport, but she didn't think he could teleport his men and, anyway, she wasn't sure how far his teleportation powers could take him.) But knowing Maxwell as well as she did, she guessed he would be camping out on his own somewhere--not with the Nadirites, wherever they were based. Maxwell might be working for them, but he always played a lone hand.

She thought back to the first time the Corps fought Maxwell. It was early on in their time together--they had been on a routine assignment on Crenshaw's World when they stumbled unto Maxwell who was running a smalltime protection racket among the mining communities on the planet's sparsely settled moons. It had been a simple matter for them to break up his racket, though he himself escaped. At the time, she had never guessed they would ever encounter him again, let alone that he would become one of their most persistent enemies. He seemed to take his self-appointed role of arch-enemy very seriously. She couldn't help wondering if he had joined up with the Nadirites primarily because it gave him a chance to fight the Corps. Though he was probably being well-paid for his work, too--and money seemed to mean a great deal to Maxwell Million, given that he had turned to crime to maximize his chance at millions. She certainly found it next to impossible to believe that he had actually converted to the Nadirites' cause. He loved playing the system too much to desire the destruction of the system.

“He's here.”

Blue's words brought her attention back to the present. She glanced up at the monitors and saw they were in orbit around another planet. At least, she assumed it was another planet, though all the planets of the Altayra System seemed essentially identical.

“Are you sure?” asked Gold, who was standing directly behind her.

“Reasonably.”

Gold glanced at the monitor. “So this is Altayra Conaurah? Green, do you have any data about this place?

Green seemed more himself by now. “No, sir, except that this is the most sparsely populated of any of the planets in the Altayra System. Also, according to Princess Valencia, this is the home of the cold reactor which produces all energy for the system. I assume only the workers involved in the reactor would be present on the planet and it will be otherwise deserted.”

White had forgotten that the princess had said their energy could only be produced at cold temperatures, using the principle of the cold energy cell. She wondered if this fact--the fact that it was in a cold environment that the essential element of life was produced--had caused the people of Altayra to hold coldness itself in some kind of esteem or even veneration. She remembered the Sages saying that the building behind the palace was called the Temple of Ice and was a sacred place to the people of Altayra. She hadn't thought much about it at the time, but now she was beginning to wonder if there might be a logical reason behind it.

“We're going to land if we can.” Gold was frowning. “On the ground, we're in some danger, but the ship is a bigger target here in space--and we can't afford to have anything happen to the ship.”

In a few minutes, the ship had landed on the surface of the planet, and the Corps had disembarked and were standing around outside the ship.

“All right, we've got a lot of territory to cover,” said Gold, standing with his hands clasped behind him. “Since Blue can't pinpoint Maxwell's location, we're just going to spread out and search for him. We'll use our regular search protocols. We'll split into three groups--Blue and Silver in the first, Red and Green in the second, and me and White in the third. Black, I want you to stay with the ship--both to protect it in case of attack and to act as a command center. If any of you finds Maxwell, contact me--and if that's not possible, contact Black. Got it?”

“I was hoping for something more complicated, but I guess this will have to do,” said Blue.

Red clenched his fist. “We're going to track down Maxwell, don't worry. He won't be able to hurt any one else in Altayra.”

Black tossed a knife and caught it behind her back. “Well, at least we won't have to worry about the ship being attacked--not with me here.”

Gold nodded and then phased on his helmet. “Corps--action!”

At the command, the six members rose into the air and flew off in three different directions, leaving Black standing beside The Crystallair.

This was a simple search maneuver, and they had used it many times before. They weren't usually doing something as extensive as searching an entire planet, but this was an unusually small planet and there wasn't much on it to search. If Maxwell were alone and in hiding, they might not find him. But White suspected he probably had an actual base here, and he might not have bothered to try to conceal it, since there were so few people on the planet.

Altayra Conaurah looked about the same as the other two planets of the system they had visited. It had the same glossy black rock forming the entirety of the planet, veined by translucent stone and occasionally broken by patches of moss. The only real difference was that the rock seemed twisted into stranger formations, as if an ocean in the midst of storm had been suddenly frozen in its wild wind-churned contortions. White wasn't surprised that this planet hadn't been populated. Though the fact that there was giant energy reactor beneath its surface might have had something to do with it too.

“This would be simpler if we could just pinpoint Maxwell's location,” remarked Gold.

“At least we have a general idea where he is--and aren't searching the entire void for him.”

“If Blue's even right that he's here.”

“I don't think she would have lead us here unless she was sure of herself.”

Gold grunted. “I'm just not sure what to make of her claim that her powers aren't working properly here. It just sounds like a convenient excuse.”

White glanced at him. “What are you saying?”

He shrugged. “I've just been thinking. About a lot of things.” He paused and asked suddenly, “You're the science expert on the team--beside Green, anyway. How well do you understand how the Matrix works?”

White was puzzled by the question. It wasn't what she had expected based on the context. But the continued failure of the Matrix would certainly be weighing on his mind. “Nobody really understands how it works--maybe when our armor was first crafted they did, but certainly nobody knows now. But at a basic level, I suppose it's simple enough. In each of our armor is a shard of crystal.” She touched a spot on the chest of her armor. Almost invisible against the white metal was a glistening of something that was not metal, something translucent like glass but colored white like the heart of burning stars. “Those seven shards form the basis of the Matrix--or rather, they are the catalyst in creating the Matrix. The Matrix itself is formed out of our emotions--our feelings, desires, and passions, which are converted into energy to create the Matrix.”

“It seems weird when you say it that way.”

White shrugged. She thought they should all be immune to feeling anything as weird by this point. But all this talk about the Matrix brought her mind back to something that she had thought during the battle in the Guidance Beacon the day before. The basis of the Matrix was the emotions of those who wielded it. That made sense to her. The Tremonsirs had always warned her about the power of emotions. The emotions of sentient beings are in principle infinite because they are reflections of the infinite, unchanging attitudes of God. Joy, love, hope, and even anger are only human distillations of the pure energy of God. But we have this treasure in fragile canisters. She had seen in her own life the danger emotion could cause if not properly channeled and controlled. She had promised herself and God that she would never let emotion control her again after what had happened then.

But emotions were tricky things. She had forced herself to keep control of her emotions, but what about the others? Red's emotions ran fast and quick but not very deep. Blue and Silver were still a mystery to her. But she knew now that Green, Black, and Gold all had emotional turmoil that she hadn't suspected before. At least some of Black's attitude was for show and masked a fear of death--and who knew what else. Gold had his anger and bitterness towards his father because of his role in the last war, an anger which seemed in part to be the driving force behind his own actions in leadership of the Corps. And while she didn't know all of Green's story, she knew now that he was keeping many things hidden from all of them. Was it possible that their own emotional instability was causing the Matrix to malfunction?

At first she thought Gold was thinking along the same lines, and she wasn't ready for what he said next.

“I guess that leaves one question. Any of us can activate the Matrix, since it is connected to all of our armors. And if one of us is absent, the Matrix can't activate. But what if one of us were deliberately trying to prevent the Matrix from activating?”

White took a quick intake of breath. “I-I never thought of that. I'm not exactly sure what would happen. But I suppose--yes--any of us could prevent the Matrix from activating if we were consciously and actively attempting to prevent it. But you're not seriously suggesting--”

Gold shook his head. “I'm not suggesting anything--yet. I'm just trying to get everything straight in my mind.” Then he grunted. “But you're the one who said there might be a traitor among us.”

And based on the flow of the conversation, White guessed he suspected Blue. Certainly, it did make sense out of a lot of things, but was it really possible? She didn't like to think of the possibility. And she didn't like the idea that Gold suspected Blue--there was no direct evidence that pointed towards Blue more than any of them, and she felt it was more a personal friction between them then actual evidence which was pointing Gold's suspicion in that direction.

In any event, she was just as glad for the distraction which appeared at that moment. “There's something dead ahead, Gold.”

“I see it. Looks like a wreck--but it could be a good hiding place. Approach with caution.”

White and Gold came up low beside the object, hovering a few inches above the ground. What they saw was a large space ship, half buried in the ground.

“Based on the design, I'm thinking this is almost five hundred years old,” remarked Gold. “Probably it was on a ship like this that the people of Altayra first came to this system.”

“Do you really think it's that old? It's so well-preserved.”

Gold nodded. “Have you noticed how dry the air is here? I'm thinking that things wouldn't decay very quickly in this atmosphere.”

She hadn't really thought about that before, but it was true. The entire system seemed dry. The only water she had seen was a fountain in Altayra Rex. Of course, with the strange set-up of the system, it might not have an ordinary water cycle. Maybe all water had to be distributed artificially.

Gold landed and walked closer to the ship. “This would make a perfect hide out for Maxwell.”

“It does seem like his style--” White began when Gold silenced her with a motion.

They both listened for a moment. In the dead silence of the planet they could clearly hear the sound when it came again after a moment--the short, happy bark of a mechog.

Without speaking, White and Gold split up and flew around the hulk, converging on the source of the sound--where they found the object of their search.

Underneath the far wing of the old space ship, a hammock had been stretched from the side of the ship to a column of rock. Maxwell was lying in the hammock, his flesh arm hanging over the side and resting on the head of his mechog which was lying on the ground underneath.

Clearly, the last thing Maxwell was expecting at that moment was an attack. If both White and Gold had converged on him, they might have been able to overcome him before he could react.

But White hesitated. She was afraid. The Intimidator always unnerved her, because she was never sure what he might do. He was so good at manipulating people that she couldn't be sure that this perfect opportunity might not really be a trap. And there was something else, a fear so long forgotten that she could hardly call it a fear any more, since she felt sure it would never actualized. And yet it was there. All this held her back for just an instant, but that instant was enough.

Gold usually disliked surprise attacks, but he was beyond caring about that where Maxwell was concerned. He shot forward and was almost to Maxwell's hammock when the mechog suddenly sprang to its feet with a growl and lunged at him. At the same moment, Maxwell rolled out of the other side of the hammock. Before his feet touched the ground, the gray metal of his prosthetic had activated, covering his entire body in its unique exoskeleton.

“Whoa, hey, guys, this a private camping spot. Visitors aren't, you know, allowed here.”

White's momentary paralysis had passed and she shot forward as fast as she could, striking Maxwell's back with as much force as she could muster in a short space. The speed of her armor increased the force of her attack and it would have been enough to floor an ordinary opponent, but Maxwell's exoskeleton was almost as strong as the Corps' armor. It knocked him forward but didn't seem to do him any permanent damage.

He rolled with the blow and landed in a crouching position a few feet away. “Look, if you want a campsite of your own, there are, you know, plenty to chose from around here. I'll even let you into the secret of keeping it nice and toasty.”

While in their armor, the Corps was unaffected by changes in temperature and could brave even the cold of space. But White noted from one of the sensors in her armor that Maxwell wasn't talking nonsense when he spoke of his campsite being toasty. For some reason, this particular segment of the planet was significantly warmer than the general portion of the planet. She didn't have time to think of it then, but she guessed that the particles in the air which magnified the light for the Altayran system also magnified heat and one could probably manipulate that easily enough.

Gold had had just a second or two of difficulty with the mechog, but now he threw it to one side and turned on Maxwell. “White, we have to keep him away from this wreck.”

White understood the logic of the command. Maxwell might have some kind of weapons stash inside--and, even if not, the wreck was made of metal so it was possible that he could turn it into some kind of weapon using mnemic symbiosis.

White flew alongside Gold, forcing Maxwell to move backwards, away from his campsite and the old spaceship. He rose into the air and his two adversaries moved with him.

White couldn't help thinking it was time for them to contact the others. If all seven could converge on him now, he wouldn't have a chance. But that was Gold's call to make--she knew how annoyed he had been by Blue's calling for help in the battle with Maxwell on the Wanderer. And they might not need it. Without any weapons or hostages, it shouldn't be that hard to defeat Maxwell.

“OK, guys, I just want to go on record that I'm the, you know, victim in this scenario, given that you attacked me. I mean, you definitely shot first.”

“You're a criminal,” answered Gold. His voice was rough and hard but controlled. “You've broken just about every law there is--and now you've even added treason to your record, given that you've sold out to the Nadirites.”

“I wouldn't really, like, say it like that. I'm just an independent consultant--who also happens to be really, you know, intimidating.”

White thought she could detect just a slight hint of nervousness coming from Maxwell. It seemed that he had been caught completely by surprise--and therefore he had good reason to be nervous. He was at a severe disadvantage. Having no weapon and being alone on the desolate wastes of Altayra Conaurah, he had to depend on the strength of his exoskeleton alone. And though it was powerful, it was not as strong as the armor of the Corps. Maxwell was also skilled at reading people--much of his success depended on that--and he probably realized that Gold was much more serious now than he had been in any of their battles previously. Gold had always treated Maxwell as a minor annoyance--now it was different.

White and Gold had fallen automatically into a simple battle plan. White left the actual fighting to Gold, who was the stronger of the two, while she ran interference, primarily working to keep Maxwell from fleeing the battle. Gold at first had tried to simply capture Maxwell bodily, but even though his armor was stronger, the nature of Maxwell's exoskeleton made it very difficult to keep hold of him. It seemed to continually shift and rearrange itself, leaving the captor with nothing in his hands.

It didn't seem to bother Gold much. White couldn't help feeling he preferred a different tactic, anyway--his tactic being to punch Maxwell repeatedly. It wasn't that much different than an ordinary fist-fight, except for the fact that they were both flying, making the physics different than they would have been on the ground. And White could tell from Maxwell's expression that Gold wasn't actually hurting him, but it was just a matter of time until his exoskeleton gave out.

Even though Gold still hadn't called for back-up (and it didn't look like he was going to need it), they might get it anyway. The fight was moving through the air in the general direction of The Crystallair, and White guessed before long Black would spot it and come out to join, possibly calling the others back as well.

“You can't run forever, Maxwell.”

“Um, I'm not running. I'm, you know, flying. Or maybe levitating, if you want to be technical.”

“Don't think your nonsense is going to save you.”

White frowned behind her helmet. She could tell that Gold was becoming more and more angry or, maybe, was letting it show more. She hoped it wouldn't cloud his judgment.

Gold bodyslammed Maxwell so hard that he practically collided with White, flying behind him. “I know you don't actually feel any of this, but your exoskeleton can't hold out forever, and then you'll really feel something.”

“Hey, um, that was almost good. Ever think of going into the intimidating business? With a little training, you might do really, you know, well with it.” Maxwell just barely twisted out of the way of another attack. Was he slowing down? Unlike the Corps' armor which existed as a separate entity, Maxwell's exoskeleton was at least partly connected to his body (via his prosthetic) and seemed to have some kind of symbiotic relationship to him. That meant he would probably tire out in the fight much quicker than Gold, even if they had equal physical stamina to begin with (which she doubted). “It's mostly in the attitude. Your dialog could use some, you know, work, but you've got the whole angry-bad-guy mojo down. If I didn't, you know, know better I'd think you really were angry.”

“Just a few more minutes, and you'll find out how angry I am.” Gold actually managed to get a hold of Maxwell's arm for a minute and slammed him down towards the surface of the planet, though Maxwell broke his fall inches from the surface.

“Yeah, um, you've definitely got the tone down. Now just--”

“SHUT UP!”

White paused for a moment to take stock of the situation. It was only a matter of time. No matter what trick he played, Maxwell couldn't escape. He was definitely slowing down and his exoskeleton was probably weakening. But more than that, she was fairly certain he was getting nervous. In all their previous interactions, he had never seen Gold this angry. White hadn't seen this side of Gold very often--though it seemed to be coming our more and more often since the beginning of this mission.

Gold was able to grab Maxwell again. When he spoke, he seemed more controlled than an instant before, but there was still rough fire in his voice. “Shut up--you're going to need all your breath for crying for mercy once I get you out of that suit.”

“That's, you know, it. Definitely got the, you know, right note there. But it doesn't really, you know, work when everyone knows that you follow your, you know, Code.”

That might be a useful fact, White thought. Maxwell said you know more often when he nervous. It would come in handy next time if there was a, you know, next time. And now she was doing it.

“Don't worry about that.” For just a second, Gold's helmet phased off and then back on. Either he was so occupied that he did it by accident or he intentionally wanted Maxwell to see the expression in his eyes. “Even without our Code, I wouldn't miss the chance of turning you over alive to the Patrol to be tried and executed for treason. But we could still do that even if you were missing a few limbs at the time--what's two or three more prosthetics to you? Our Code forbids killing--it doesn't say anything about maiming.”

White thought she could see Maxwell becoming more nervous. Gold's bluff was working. At least, White hoped Gold was bluffing.

“You're going to pay for what you did--first on the Wanderer and then with that corban stunt.”

“Hey, that was totally Erybus's idea. I told him it wouldn't, you know, work. Did one of you actually get hurt in it?”

“Not as badly hurt as you're going to be.”

“Oh, come on.” Without warning, Maxwell landed on the ground and, at the same moment, his exoskeleton receded back to his prosthetic. “This is just, like, you know, wrong. This isn't the way this is supposed to work.”

Gold dropped to the ground directly in front of him, phasing off his armor. White landed behind him, but kept her armor on, though she phased her helmet off. Maxwell's exoskeleton might have given out--but it could also be a trick of some kind. She wasn't sure why Gold had chosen to shed his armor. Was he really just wanting to defeat Maxwell personally, man-to-man--for some kind of personal satisfaction or sense of personal honor? She would have thought he was above that kind of thing--after all, they were the Corps--they were better than that--

“You've got one last chance to talk while you still have teeth.”

Maxwell pushed his hair back from his forehead. “No, no, this is all wrong. And by wrong, I mean, you know, immoral. This is just egoism and wrath, a desire for revenge to satisfy personal pride. It's, you know, a sin. 'My dear friends, do not get revenge for yourselves, but rather open room for God's anger, as the writings say: The right of revenge is mine; I will bring retribution. This says Jehovah.'”

“What?” Gold's mouth fell open and for an instant all his emotions seemed to give away to sheer amazement. He was used to hearing Maxwell talk nonsense--but not this. And behind him, White staggered and fell to one knee. She knew. She thought Maxwell had played his last trick, but of course he had one left. He always had one trick left. He had it from the beginning and she had been a fool to think he wouldn't play it. The one thing she had hoped, had prayed, had believed, had been certain would never happen--was happening. After making an entire career out of lying, Maxwell was going to tell the truth.

“That's, you know, scripture. And what you're doing--what you're feeling right now--it's just, you know, a sin.” Maxwell shook his head. “Oh, you explain it to him, would you? You always were good at theology, Deborah.”

Gold took a step backwards, out of sheer puzzlement. “Who are you talking to?”

“Deborah. You know, White. What? Didn't she ever tell you her real name?”

Gold was staring at Maxwell with a dumbfounded expression. “How would--what in the Cosmos are you talking about?”

Maxwell smoothed his hair back again. “Um, oh. Sorry. This is awkward. I guess there are a lot of things she never told you--you know, about the old days. When the two of us were both members of the Tremonsirs. Funny how, you know, time goes by so fast. That seems forever ago now. But I guess she never told you about any of that. Then, I suppose she also never told you who her first kiss was?”

Gold's hand fell to his side and he just gaped at Maxwell for a moment.

And in that moment, Maxwell's mechog (forgotten at his campsite) sped out of nowhere. Maxwell jumped on its back and was out of sight in a matter of seconds. Neither White nor Gold made a move to follow him. Both remained in their positions as if frozen.

Then Gold spoke without turning around. “That was a bluff, wasn't it? He was just talking nonsense again to distract us so he could escape. Right?”

White didn't speak for a moment. She felt as if there was something in her throat, some large, impossible obstacle. “No. It wasn't a bluff. He was telling the truth.”

“The truth.” For a moment longer, Gold stood immovable. Then without a warning, he spun around and faced her, his eyes burning. “You knew him? All this time--all this time we've been fighting Maxwell--and you never told me that you knew him once? You just lied to us all?”

“I never lied--I never said I didn't know him--” White faltered-- “and besides, that was all so long ago. He ran away from the monastery almost four years ago.” It didn't seem that long when she said it out loud, but to her it seemed like ages. “It was--was part of a different life--a different world--I never thought--”

Gold took a step forward. His fists were clenched, but by his expression it was a toss-up whether it was in anger or in pain. “So was all he said true? The kiss--was it--were you two--”

White couldn't meet his eyes. “Gold, we were just children then. It was just--I mean--we didn't know what we were--”

“How far did it go?” Gold's face was almost white with the strength of his emotion.

“That was as far as it went. Don't even think--it wasn't like that--and anyway, the leaders of the monastery found out about it and put a stop to it. That's when Maxwell ran away.”

For another moment, Gold remained like that--his eyes burning, his fists clenched, but otherwise unmovable. Then he released his fist as if releasing his tension, though his face still looked tense enough. “So that's it. That explains everything. That's why you were so sure one of us was a traitor. It was you--you've been betraying us to Maxwell this whole time. We had a traitor in the Corps, but not any more--because you're not part of the Corps now.”

To be continued...