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Infinite Space, Infinite God
cover artwork by Damon Shackelford.

 

 

An anthology of fifteen stories about how the future Catholic Church uses--or fails to use--its faith, wisdom and imagination to grow with the changes of the future.

 

 

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Infinite Space, Infinite God
Christian SF

Karina and Robert Fabian, Editors

 

 

A list of contents.

"A Cruel and Unusual Punishment" by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
"Brother John" by Colleen Drippé
"Brother Jubal in the Womb of Silence" by Tim Myers
"Canticle of the Wolf" by Alan Loewen
"Far Traveler" by Colleen Drippé
"Hopkin's Well" by Adrienne Ray
"Interstellar Calling" by Karina L. Fabian
"Little Madeleine" by Simon Morden
"Mask of the Ferret" by Ken Pick and Alan Loewen
"Our Daily Bread" by Robert and Karina Fabian
"Stabat Mater" by Rose Dimond
"The Harvest" by Lori Z. Scott
"The Hosts of the Envoy" by Alex Lobdell
"These Three" by Karina and Robert Fabian
"Understanding" by J Sherer

 

Introduction

 

Humanity has before it two modes of development. The first involves culture, scientific research and technology.... The second mode involves what is deepest in the human being, when, transcending the world and transcending himself, man turns to the One who is Creator of all.... The scientist who is conscious of this two-fold development and takes it into account contributes to the restoration of harmony.

--Pope John Paul II

Catholic Science Fiction. Not exactly a household phrase. Some might even call it an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence. It's a common misperception that the Church is anti-science, even archaic, and that Catholics would rather look backward than forward. Nonetheless, the Church is active in promoting science and research and, according to one survey, more science fiction writers are Catholic than follow any other religion.

Some of the Church's reputation can be laid at the feet of its infamous trial of Galileo, though a deeper study of the events surrounding the trial, as well as the trial itself, show that the outcome had more to do with scientific rivalries among scholars within the Church and Galileo's own acerbic personality than it did with Galileo's scientific pronouncements. After all, it was Nikolai Copernicus, a Catholic priest, who first proposed the heliocentric theory of the solar system. (If you want to learn more, we recommend "Galileo and the Catholic Church" by Robert P. Lockwood at http://www.catholicleague.org.) Ironically, Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Protestant leaders of the time, rejected heliocentric theory out of hand because they believed it contradicted Scripture.

In many ways, it was the Church that supported and actively encouraged scientific advancement through the centuries. Look in the Catholic Encyclopedia or check out 1000 Years of Catholic Scientists by Jane Meyerhofer and you'll find hundreds of scientists who were not only Catholic, but often priests, monks, and even saints. Writer Stanli Jaki, a Benedictine priest, physicist and author of The Savior of Science, asserted that the only culture where science truly progressed beyond the Classical Era knowledge was that of the Christian West, where it received "permission" and support through Catholic thinkers and the Church of the Middle Ages.

Many popes have been interested in science, even Pope Urban VIII, who disagreed with Galileo. Pope Pius IX established the Pontifical Academy in 1847, which consists of scientists around the world chosen for their contributions to science without regard to their particular religious beliefs--or lack thereof. Although independent of the Church, the Holy See supports its research financially, and its academicians research and publish papers on a variety of topics from theoretical mathematics to molecular biology.

For two millennia, the Church has shown its ability to adapt and change as science and society have grown, from the understanding that Scripture does not explain the scientific workings of our universe to the evolving roles of its clergy. It continues to support science while exercising its duty as Christ's earthly authority to provide moral guidance on its application. "The Church's Magisterium does not intervene on the basis of a particular competence in the area of the experimental sciences; but having taken account of the data of research and technology, it intends to put forward, by virtue of its evangelical mission and apostolic duty, the moral teaching corresponding to the dignity of the person and to his or her integral vocation," says the Instruction on Respect for Human Life.

It's certainly true that in the last millennium, western culture has seen an explosion of scientific inquiry and understanding without peer anytime else in the history of the world. Many of the centers of inquiry were in Catholic nations, and many of the scientists involved were Catholic.

It's equally true that in the last century or so, scientific discovery has often been preceded by science fiction. Jules Verne, a Catholic writer way ahead of his time, suggested space travel in 1865; we made it reality a century later. In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov postulated intelligent robots, with positronic brains and the ability to interact with people and their environment. Robot maids aren't here yet, but Kevin Ashton, vice president of ThingMagic.com, told Popular Science that they're only a decade or two away. ("Where's My Robot Maid?" Popular Science, March 2006). Meanwhile, today's children are growing up with interactive toys that teach songs, react to movement, and laugh, cry, or growl according to input. Even Star Trek's warp drive has spurred serious study by mathematicians and physicists like Chris Van Den Broeck of the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. The Planetary Society and the Russian Babakin Space Center and Space Research Institute (IKI) are working on the first solar sail spacecraft, which started appearing in science fiction as early as the 1950s. Want to know more? Check out Science Fiction and Space Futures, edited by Eugene Emme (Univelt, 1982). It's been said that what the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve, and in no other genre do we see that as clearly as in science fiction.

Unlike many other genres, however, science fiction has often been a way to make a statement or project the outcome of a political, moral, or even technological issue. Star Trek was well known for using the future to bring up issues of the day. George Orwell's 1984 warns what would happen when people willingly give up their independence for comfort and security. Larry Nevin's books are littered with societal and ethics questions, particularly the question of where society's needs outweigh individual rights, and vice versa. Heinlein's Starship Troopers brings up serious issues on the role of the military in society. Science fiction provides an excellent forum for examining the ethical questions arising from new technologies. In fact, Rosalyne Berne of the University of Virginia and Joachim Shummer of the Technical University of Darmstadt and the University of South Carolina have suggested using science fiction to teach the societal and ethical implications of nanotechnology ("Teaching Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology to Engineering Students Through Science Fiction," Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, Vol 25, No. 6 (2005)).

Little wonder, then, that the Catholic Church has often been a player in science fiction. For one, it's an easily identifiable icon: whether you need a pro-life morality, a place receive sanctuary, or a scene of religious peace and grandeur, or (unfortunately) someone to balk against scientific progress, the Catholic Church comes to mind for many, regardless of religious affiliation. It's been played in every conceivable way. Ben Bova used the Catholic Church as the ideal place for the storing of bodies held in stasis for his story "In Trust" (included in Twice Seven by Ben Bova, Avon, 1998). In Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (Spectra, 2000), computer programmer Juanita Marquez studied under the Jesuits as a way of inoculating her mind against a linguistic virus that re-writes the brain. James White wrote an award-winning novelette, "Sanctuary," (Analog, December 1998), in which an Irish nun protects an alien from secular powers, including the press. Star Sapphire by Joan Fong has strong Catholic characters and deals with the sacrament of marriage and adapting to the absence of the temporal Church in a faraway world. Some are just fun, like Poul Anderson's High Crusade (I Books, 2003), in which crusaders balk an alien invasion and start an intergalactic Catholic empire; or Robert Frezza's SF comedy VMR Theory (Del Rey, 1996), which has an alien priest for the dual purposes of housing the heroes and getting in a few Notre Dame jokes. In many SF stories or novels, the Catholic religion is there in the background for contrast against secular progress, to stand as a moral compass with others of different faiths, or to cover the fullness of human experience--spiritual as well as physical. For a truly complete list of SF that deals with the Catholic Church, check out "Speculative Catholic" at http://www.idlefellows.com/speculativecatholic/2005/09/catholicism-in-science-fiction.html

Very few books deal with the Catholic Church itself and its future role, however. Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller (Spectra, 1997) is, of course, unsurpassed in its depiction of the role of the Church in preserving information and wisdom in a post-nuclear world as well as fighting for the higher values of life in a world where once again, expediency and comfort become supreme. Robert Hugh Benson's 1911 novel Dawn of All (Once and Future Books, 2005) projects a future Church that has brought most Protestants back to the fold but which faces the challenge of Socialism. James Blish's Case of Conscience (Del Ray, 2000) is another classic for its depiction of the Church seeking to understand the salvation status of aliens. Lynden' Rodriguez's Drumwall (available from her http://www.geocities.com/lynden_us/) also deals with extra-terrestrial evangelization.

And now, Infinite Space, Infinite God.

The fifteen stories included here not only project Catholics living and working in the future, but depict a Church still alive and influential. They also bring up hard questions, the kind that keep catechists dreaming and theologians debating.

But after all, that's what good SF does.


 



 

These Three

by Karina and Robert Fabian

 

"Peter, wake up!" Sister Mary Elizabeth, of the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue, cried out in her sleep. "Wake up, Peter! Run! Run!" She shook wildly, nearly overturning her simple cot. In her dream, she was a specter beside her twin brother, watching him rise to wakefulness with agonizing slowness. "Get out! Run!!"

Suddenly, klaxons sounded and his ship lurched one way, then another. He came suddenly awake and thrashed his way out of his sleeping bag even as the ship's thrashing threatened to yank it off the Velcro attachments that held it to the wall of his sleep locker. She called again for him to hurry as he used his arms to shove his way backward out of the room and into the cargo bay just as the emergency door closed. His momentum sent him careening into a group of large storage containers just as another jolt from the ship yanked some free from their moorings--

Watching helplessly, Sister Mary screamed.

She sat bolt upright in her bed, calling her twin's name. It was dark in the convent dorm on the L5 space station she now called home. One of her sisters murmured sleepily and rolled over, but otherwise, no one stirred. How could they not have noticed? She began to sob into her knees.

"Shhh. Is this how easily you give up hope?" a gentle voice chided her.

She did not look up. "But I saw it--Peter's ship--the explosions-- They're all dead! Oh, Peter!" she wailed softly, despite everything, trying not to wake the others.

"Hush, now. Peter will be fine," the voice reassured.

"But--"

"I said, Peter will be fine," the voice repeated sternly. "Where is your faith, Sister Emmie?"

"'Emmie?'" "Sister M.E." was Peter's nickname for her, but no one knew that here. Slowly, she raised her head. Through teary eyes, she made out a vague figure with an otherworldly glow. She started to scramble to her knees.

"Not now," the voice said, amused. "Not for me. Go to the chapel. Pray for your brother, and for your brothers and sisters on this station. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. As you love him, pray for him."

Suddenly, she was gone.

Sister Mary Elizabeth rose from her bed and, still in her pajamas, ran to the chapel.

* * *

Peter had awakened twice since he'd heard his sister shouting at him to run, but both times pain had driven him back to unconsciousness. Before the last time, though, he'd heard a voice, like his drill sergeant's from when he failed basic training, yelling at him not to be a dirtsider wuss, to ignore the pain, and to keep his head down and crawl. It'd kept at him, pounding him with alternating bouts of abuse and encouragement until he'd passed out again, his last thought being that his drill sergeant had never called him "dirtsider"...

Nonetheless, he must have obeyed her, because when he inched his neck to look behind, he found that the containers that had crushed his legs were now just past the bottoms of his bare feet.

Then the pain hit, and things blurred around him.

"You're not going to pass out again, are you? Listen to me, snap out of it--we don't have time!"

He blinked, shook his head--oh, that hurt!--and saw a glowing figure beside him. "You an angel?" he slurred.

"Not quite," the voice answered with a chuckle.

His vision cleared and he saw her, a middle-aged red-haired woman in an outdated spacer "uniform" of a black t-shirt and simple elastic-banded pants over a black skinsuit. Over her right breast was a silkscreen of the Virgin Mary gazing lovingly at the universe that she held in her hands. The redhead was still glowing and slightly transparent. "A hallucination, then."

"Somewhere in between, I'd say."

"I prefer blonds." Even as he said it, he knew he wasn't quite making sense. He felt confused, but a little more alert.

"You know, my late husband used to say the same thing. Said redheads were too driven. Like he could talk! So, you with me now? Good, because we don't have a lot of time to banter. You have to get to the engineering station on deck three and activate the attitude control."

He laughed, though it was thin, breathy and humorless. "Are you spaced? My legs are shattered."

She shrugged. "You won't need them. In fact, you should probably grab a hold of that cable to your right so you can haul yourself across the bay. Wrap it around your wrist each time, though, so that if you pass out, there's a chance you won't let go. Now try."

"What the--?" But there was something in her voice that brooked no argument. For a moment, he was back in 4th grade at St. Joseph's Catholic School, in Sister Linda's gym. She'd made him come in after school to climb the rope.

"It's too hard!" he'd wailed. He was small for his age, and thin, without the wiry strength skinny Jason Tomlinson had. He hadn't even been able to hang on in class, and the kids had laughed until Sister Linda stopped them with a look. She'd passed the rope to the next kid and had said nothing, but had sent a note to his next class instructing him to come to the gym after school. She had handed him the rope, and when he protested, had given him the same look she'd given the class. Like the class, he had fallen silent under it.

"You say you want to be a spacer," she'd reminded him. "Arm strength is essential, even in zero g. Now try."

He had, that day and every day afterward for three months. By Christmas, he climbed to the ceiling.

Don't know why I'm thinking of Sister Linda now, he thought as he twined the cable around his arm and reached out for the next handhold. Distract me from the pain, maybe. Helps, a little.

The ship jerked and a cargo container bumped his leg. Agony, then darkness overtook him.

* * *

Sister Magdalena, Mother Superior of Our Lady of the Rescue, hovered at the entranceway of the chapel, watching the young nun in pajamas kneeling in fervent prayer. "How long did you say she's been there?" she asked Father Angelo, the station priest.

"Since before morning services. She won't move--literally. Sister Josephine and I had to shift her bodily to where she is now so we could have morning services. We missed you, by the way."

"Small emergency on the repair arm. Newbie on his first solo didn't QC his gear and the tether broke. Just gave him a scare, fortunately."

Father Angelo smiled. "As you did, no?"

Her return smile was humorless. "The scare I gave was to StatSupe Corrin. Those lines are too old. I told him to replace them months ago, but they meet minimum standards, and I'm just a cautious old woman."

Father Angelo smiled despite himself. The arguments between the L5 Station Supervisor and the leader of the "Rescue Sisters" were local legend. "Maybe he'll listen to you this time."

She snorted. "Maybe you could suggest that the next time he comes to Confession." She turned back to the chapel. "Has she said anything?"

Father Angelo shrugged. "Just 'Amen' when I offered her Communion."

Sister Magdalena nodded, considering her options. She was a sensible, practical woman, one of the first recruits to the order, which had been founded by the late Gillian Hawkins, who had gone to space to care for her husband and remained there after his death. She, too, had been a practical woman. Though a nurse by trade, she'd learned shuttle piloting, basic engineering, and business. She saw the exorbitant prices professional search and rescue units commanded and knew if she offered the same services for "air, equipment, and the love of God," her Order could undercut the competition and carve a place for Catholic religious in outer space.

Her plan had worked. L5 was one of the three convents of Our Lady of the Rescue, and they were working with LunaDisney to secure a contract that would fund a fourth on the Moon. When Sister Magdalena had joined, almost forty years ago, there was only L5. Most of the first "Rescue Sisters" had lived or worked in space, but Sister Magdalena, 22, out of college and as hungry to be closer to the stars as she was to be closer to Jesus, was the only one from Earth. She'd been shocked and elated when Sister Gillian had accepted her application. She hadn't even minded that she was to sleep in the storeroom. (L5 was complaining about the amount of room they were "giving" to the order, particularly in the docking bays for the rescue ships.) Sister Gillian had called on her in the storeroom while she was unpacking and had stood at the door, chuckling ruefully.

"You wasted your volume on that? Oh, we're going to need some kind of dirtsider orientation. Put that away, sister. You won't need it here."

"But, Mother Superior!" "That" was her habit, a gift from her parents on the day she took vows. She loved it, not only for its beauty but for everything it stood for. She was currently wearing the approved habit of the order--a well fitting but not scandalously tight black skinsuit under simple black pants and a black t-shirt with the emblem of their order, and softshoes. "Won't I at least need it for services? There's gravity--"

"Space stations are crowded places with plenty of things a flowing robe can get caught on. Besides, if there's an emergency, you don't want to waste time struggling out of a habit. Oh, don't look so crestfallen, sister. You can still wear it dirtside. And in the meantime, it brings up a good point. I want you to make a note of this and any other lessons you learn about space life so we can better prepare the next batch of novices that come to join us."

In fact, Sister Magdalena had created the orientation program, much of it from her own mistakes. But she never wore the habit again, not even planetside, though occasionally, she took it out to caress its soft folds and remember. It was not the uniform of a sister of Our Lady of the Rescue, so it was no longer a part of the spacer she had become.

"And a fine spacer you've become, too," Sister Gillian had said as Sister Magdalena sat beside her bed. Could it have been a decade ago already? Gillian had been nearly 50 when she had started the order, and Magdalena had just met with her parents who had come for her own 50th birthday when the Mother Superior had called her to her beside, where pneumonia had driven her over two weeks ago.

"I've tried to model myself after you," she'd demurred.

The older nun's lips had twitched, but her gaze had remained serious. "Nonsense. You have skills and talents I never had. Faith, hope, and love. Your faith has made you strong. When we were ready to give up on opening a mission on Phobos, you clung to hope and made it happen. And your love, for us, for God..." A coughing fit broke her thoughts. When she could speak, she said, "You are still young, if not so idealistic." She had paused then, catching her breath. Her eyelids had fluttered. Sister Magdalena had fought the urge to call for a medical team; they had all known there was nothing to be done. Instead, she'd reached out to take her pulse, but Gillian grabbed her hand with an uncommonly strong grip. "It's arranged. You will take this order into the future."

"I don't understand, Mother Superior."

"Faith, hope and love, but the greatest--"

"Of these is love," Sister Magdalena's lips trembled. She blinked tears from her eyes.

"My love will always be with you." There were shadows under the old nun's eyes, yet the eyes sparkled with joy. "You are Mother Superior now. Go fetch Father Gianni. I want Reconciliation and Communion, then I go to be with God, and God willing, my Charles."

Now, Mother Superior Magdalena strode down the aisle of pews where Sister Mary Elizabeth knelt. She wondered if Sister Gillian had ever had such a situation, and what she would have done. She thought to scold the young novice that there was a time for prayer and a time to get up and do one's duty, but the words froze in her mouth when she saw her face. This was no simple adoration; there was something urgent about the way she recited the prayer of their order. Sister Magdalena knelt beside her and joined her in the words: Protect our air and give us the Breath of Your Spirit. Protect our food and give us the Bread of Life. Guide our ships as You guide our lives--

Sister Mary's voice trembled over the line.

When they had finished, Sister Magdalena crossed herself. Sister Mary followed and before she could return her hands to their prayerful position, the elder nun caught them in her own. "Sister Mary Elizabeth, what are we praying for?" she asked.

"She said to pray for Peter. And for the Poubelle. And us, here." Suddenly, she blinked and looked at the elder nun for the first time. "Mother Superior, I think we're in danger."

* * *

"Wake up, Peter! There are about 375 blonds who need your big strong arms right now!"

"What?" Peter's eyes fluttered open. The strange vision was rolling her eyes at him.

"Well, at least that woke you up. Come on, it's time to put those arms to work. You've got half a deck to cross before we go up, and there's a lot you'll have to be careful of."

"Right..." Peter licked his lips and glanced around. Captain Armand had dreamed of having a ship of his own, but he wasn't a rich man, and his less-than-personable nature had ensured he'd alienated most potential backers. In the end, he'd bought the aging freighter Intrepid and renamed it Poubelle. He'd spent his last euro bringing it to minimum standards and it had stayed at minimum ever since. Armand himself had been an engineering genius, but most of the crew, Peter included, were "minimum standards," and it showed. Over the decade, repairs and work-arounds had meant a lot of amenities, like plate coverings and brackets, had been sacrificed or lost. Some of the more unreliable equipment was simply left exposed to make frequent repairs easier, and duct tape was a common sight. Now, the results of that just-enough workmanship showed. Debris was floating everywhere, and while anything not connected to the ship was relatively stationary, the ship itself was still tilting and spinning randomly. Anything connected to it--like his rope--was pulled along, and if it bumped into another object, the transfer of momentum sent that object tumbling away.

"Can't I just wait here?" he murmured thickly. "Rescue--"

"Poubelle's rescue beacon's malfunctioned. Big surprise. Sometimes, the minimum isn't good enough--didn't they teach you that at St. Joe's? Poubelle is just a blip on L5's radar and it's too far out for anyone to notice it's in trouble yet."

"Can't you?"

She passed an arm through a nearby container. "I'm not really here. I've been sent to help you, but my abilities are limited."

He knew what she was saying was important, but he was having trouble focusing. "Thirsty..."

Her voice grew gentler. "I know. We'll try to find water on the way. But right now, you have to focus!"

But focusing seemed too hard. "Three hundred and seventy-five blonds?"

"Give or take, and another 700 or so brunettes, and the occasional redhead. That's what you'll find on L5."

"L5?!" Panic brought clarity. "We're off course?"

"Good! You're thinking. Yes, we're off course, heading straight at L5 and tumbling erratically. If traffic control at L5 realizes it in time, they can probably pull Poubelle back into trajectory--"

"Probably?"

"Leave that part to the 'Rescue Sisters.' Faith, hope and love--we will hold to hope that they will get here in time. What you have to concentrate on is activating the attitude control. If you don't stop this ship from gyrating, they'll never be able to attach the towlines. Peter? Are you still with me?"

He was and he wasn't. In fact, he wasn't sure he should be with her, if she was something between a hallucination and an angel. Shock had deadened the pain in his legs to a kind of faraway ache, but he knew the slightest nudge would set them on fire again. "Why me? The Captain--"

"--is dead, Peter. Everyone's dead but you. And over a thousand more people will die unless you do what I tell you. C'mon now! Think about Sister Linda and the rope. Hand over hand."

"My legs--"

"Think about your hands. First the right, then the left... That's it."

Gritting his teeth and thinking as much about his sister on L5 as about Sister Linda at St. Joe's, Peter inched his way across the cargo bay.

* * *

"Hey, Sister Magdalena, what's floatin'?"

"Wish I were," the nun sighed as she entered the traffic control room of L5 Station. "These old bones could do without all this gravity."

"Thought gravity was something special to your order," Tom Grison teased. "After all, Sister Gillian was the widow of R. Charles Hawkins who invented the gravity generator."

"It's true, but like R. Charles Hawkins, I find it's more of a burden than a blessing at times."

Tom's co-worker, Claire Petit, gave the nun a puzzled look.

"One of Hawkins' early prototypes exploded, causing an accident that shattered most of his bones and caused severe internal injuries," Sister Magdalena explained. "It was a miracle, both of God and modern medical technology, that he even lived, but he was always in pain and never able to handle full gravity again. In fact, they say it was only the encouragement of the Blessed Gillian that enabled him to continue his work to perfect the device."

"'Encouragement,'" Tom snorted. He was an avid fan of Hawkins and read everything he could about the famous engineer. He loved to hear stories about his marriage to Gillian, and Sister Magdalena enjoyed obliging him. "He had other words for it. He used to say she was too driven for her own good, so it must have been for his."

Sister Magdalena chuckled. "The Blessed Gillian once told me he threatened to throw a Bible at her if she ever said, 'Faith, hope and love' to him again." She sighed. "Still, her drive led to his perfecting the generator--and to the creation of our order. I'm thankful, but as I get older, I'm more and more in sympathy with him."

"Aw, Sister, you're not old, and you're in better shape than anybody on this station." Tom's smile was warm and a little flirtatious as he looked up from his console at her.

"Save it for the unattached ladies on the station," Sister Magdalena chided jokingly as she leaned against the back of his chair. She looked over his shoulder at the screen, but it showed only the near-space around L5--an economy tour cruiser and a LunaDisney supply ship were docked, while a long-haul shuttle was attached to the swing arm for external repairs.

"Oh, it doesn't work any better on us, though he insists on trying," Claire teased from her station, where she had a close-up view of the repair work. "Merci, by the way, for going out after Miguel. That was...terrifying. Anything we can do--"

Sister Magdalena saw her opening. "Actually, I was wondering if you could tell me the status of Poubelle?"

"La Poubelle?" Claire's French accent came out thickly with amusement. "Someone has seriously named their ship, Trash Can?"

"Don't laugh. It's pretty accurate," Tom grumbled as he tapped the keyboard to call up long-range radar. "Most of us call it 'Junk Heap.' They should junk it--it's not even worth spare parts. But as long as it meets minimum standards of space-worthiness..." His voice trailed off into a sigh.

"Like tether lines?" Claire growled softly. Her brother was also a trainee on the repair team, and she was taking Miguel's accident very personally. Sister Magdalena reached out and squeezed her shoulder sympathetically, but her eyes remained on Tom's screen. It now showed ships five days out, each with a tracking number and each glowing green, meaning they were within tolerances of their expected path and no problems had been detected. Tom moved the cursor to Poubelle, clicked and scanned the readout that appeared on the screen. "Still on course for L5. ETA: 65 hours, give or take--it's always give or take with Junk Heap. Its angle's off, but not enough to trip any alarms. Besides, Junk Heap usually has to do a correction or two once it's in close where we can direct it. It met its last status call on time. That's unusual. The captain's been written up a couple of times for 'forgetting' and at least once on my shift their equipment was broken, or so they claimed. But all things considered, Poubelle's doing fine--for Poubelle."

"Would you keep an eye on it for me--and ask the other shifts to do the same?"

"For you, Sister, anything." Tom typed a note, flagged Poubelle, and returned to the close-in screen before turning to look at the Mother Superior. "Why the sudden interest? You're not having a premonition or something?"

"No," she replied, thinking of the young nun still kneeling in the chapel. "Not me. One of my novice's brother is on the crew."

Tom made a face. "Couldn't he do better?"

* * *

"As a matter of fact, no," Peter snarled at the vision hovering just in front of him. "It was Poubelle or give up my dreams of being in space. Satisfied?"

"Just asking," the hallucination replied mildly as she moved back again, making him inch forward. She always stayed just close enough that he could see her without moving his head too much, and without realizing it, he would move forward each time she backed up so he could keep her in view. She'd also kept him talking, though sometimes, she seemed to say things just to make him angry--like her comment about his being on Poubelle. A part of him realized that she did this to keep his focus away from the pain, and he probably wouldn't have made it across the bay, much less down the first long corridor, if it hadn't been for that. Still, he couldn't help his resentment.

"Yeah, 'just asking.'" He remembered his mom "just asking," in that tense, worried voice that said she expected to hear another harebrained scheme he'd fail at. He'd drunk his way out of college, couldn't handle the Marines... Private companies wanted a degree, yet the tech school he finally managed to graduate from didn't come through on their promises of placement. "It's not the grades," the counselor had told him. "It's your motivation, your focus. You have to stay keen in space or people die. You just don't have what it takes to be a spacer." He'd gone to a bar to drink away his troubles and was loudly proclaiming the unfairness of it all when Capt. Armand approached him and offered him a job on the spot. He'd told him that he had one last run with Poubelle to make that would earn enough for a new ship, but he was short a hand in supply. "You put the boxes where I tell you. You learn emergency procedures, you make yourself useful... You do well by me now, I take you on my new ship and you become the envy of space traders everywhere."

"At least Capt. Armand was willing to take a chance on me," he grumbled, trying hard not to think of the disaster that had happened on this, his first voyage. It was too unfair.

"Capt. Armand isn't the only one to have faith in you."

"Yeah, I know. Emmie." He reached out for a handhold in the "ceiling"--it was actually a door handle--but his hand slipped. He swore as momentum carried him past.

"Don't reach back!" she chided before he could translate thought into action. "That equipment's safe. Grab it and push on. We're almost to the hatch. Careful, though. Poubelle's going to jerk clockwise. Good. Tell me about Emmie. Mad as you to get into space, was she?"

"No," he said as he floated to the hatch. "Not really. She was the good one. Went to Mass gladly, got all A's. While I was sneaking out to go to Spaceland, she was reciting extra rosaries. We always knew she'd be a nun, but to come out into space? My parents were vackin' shocked when she told us she'd joined Our Lady of the Rescue. She said she felt she had to be out here." He swallowed hard. She'd looked straight at him when she'd said that. And he'd stormed out of the house, sure she'd done it to show him up, or worse, that she felt she needed to be out there to protect him. They'd hardly talked since then, though he had sent her a spe-mail to tell her about his hiring on with Poubelle. Her response, At last! Now you can show them your true worth! I pray for you and give thanks to God!, had gotten him a lot of teasing from his bunkmates, but had healed the anger in his heart. "I was really looking forward to visiting her," he gasped.

"Well, you'll certainly have a lot to talk about. That's your hatch."

Peter grabbed it, steeling himself for the pain he was sure would come, but miraculously, his feet swung to a stop without brushing against anything. He clung to the hatch handle, leaning his forehead against the cool metal. His hands and arms were trembling with effort. He looked back the way he'd come--the corridor, though free of debris, seemed to stretch forever. Yet he was only halfway there at most. "Oh, God," he moaned.

"Peter."

He didn't turn his head toward her, but he made an effort to listen.

"Peter. Faith, hope, and love. Captain Armand had faith in you. Emmie has faith in you. I have faith in you. You need to have faith in yourself."

"What about God?" Peter's voice was full of tears.

"God has faith in you, too, or I wouldn't be here. Can you trust His judgment?"

He felt so weary and cold. He just wanted to lie back, close his eyes, and die. Instead, he reached out with a trembling hand and punched the code to release the hatch. Thankfully, it worked, and he was able to slip inside and grab hold of the ladder just as Poubelle went into another wild twist, thrashing him about and sending him into darkness once again.

* * *

In the dark of her small stateroom, Sister Magdalena was dreaming.

It was as much memory as dream: her first real rescue, a decompression on an outer arm of the station. It was to have been decommissioned and destroyed but someone had the brilliant idea of letting tourists visit it as a piece of L5 history. Forty visitors, including an L5 class of children, were in the arm when one of the seals broke.

It was the first time Sister Magdalena had seen a dead body.

She'd clung to the door, frozen, despairing, and sure she would vomit in her suit. None of the sisters could get her to move. Then, Sister Gillian moved up close, putting her helmet against hers so they could talk without using the radio.

"Sister, we need you," she said simply.

"They're all dead! We're too late!"

"Faith, hope, and love, sister. There are lots of little hidey-holes that may still hold air. We will cling to that hope and look."

"And if we're wrong? If the children are..." She began crying in earnest. "I can't!"

"This is the class you help with?" Sister Gillian sighed, but then her voice hardened. "If you love these children, you will get in there and search with all your love. The longer we delay here, the slimmer the chance anyone who is alive now will be alive when we find them. Do you understand, Rescue Sister?"

Shakily, Sister Magdalene nodded. The action sent her bobbing.

The Mother Superior steadied her. "Faith, hope, and love. God has faith in you, and I know you have faith in Him. Have faith in yourself."

She'd found the group of schoolchildren that had brilliantly holed themselves up in an airtight supply closet, but the others hadn't been so lucky. Afterwards, she'd huddled in her bed, shuddering, when Mother Superior Gillian squatted down beside her. "Good work, dirtsider. Today, you are spacer born."

She awoke then, and glanced at her clock: 2:15. For a moment, she wasn't sure why she'd awakened, but something drove her to dress quickly and head next door to the convent control room. Her compulsion was rewarded when Sister Rafael looked up at her with surprise.

"Mother Superior! I was just about to call you. L5 Control just called. Poubelle has missed its call-in and isn't answering our calls. They're still on course, though on a different vector than before. Still, L5 is lining up the Old COOT to look at it now."

Old COOT, the CoOperative Optical Telescope, was one of two telescopes jointly shared by several Earth universities for deep space research, but L5 had authority to use it in emergency situations. It was linked to the computers at L5 and the Order's control stations, so they could manipulate it and view images real-time. As the two nuns watched the stars wheeling about on the screen, growing smaller or disappearing as the focus narrowed, Sister Rafael called the stand-by teams to get ready for launch, just in case. "Have them ready Sister Mary Elizabeth's suit, too," Sister Magdalena directed, and the younger nun nodded as she complied.

The movement stopped, focused on a small star that pulsed in the center of the screen. The magnification increased. Again. The "star" became a ship. Again.

"By the saints," Sister Rafael breathed, and Sister Magdalena crossed herself.

Poubelle was tumbling wildly, scattered tears visible on its hull. As they watched, a new explosion ripped another hole in its side, the outrushing air changing its vector and adding new violence to its already wild gyrations.

Sister Rafael was already speaking into her comm. set. "Teams Michael and Jude are at the launch pad--and they say Sister Mary was suited up and waiting."

The Mother Superior nodded, unsurprised. "She can pilot the St. Jude. I think she, above us all, needs his intercession today."

* * *

While telemetry downloaded into St. Jude's navigational computers and her sisters strapped themselves in, Emmie's hands flew over the control panel, finishing the pre-flight procedures in record time. She did not know how long she had been on her knees in the chapel when the lady had told her, "There is a time for prayer and a time for doing one's duty. You must go to your brother now," but she thanked God that her muscles worked without any stiffness or protests as she flew through the corridors, threw on her suit, and began readying the ships for take-off. She had been halfway through preflight on Michael the Archangel when Sister Andrea relieved her and sent her to St. Jude. Her mind had only been on getting to Peter as quickly as possible; now, however, she pushed such thoughts away and concentrated solely on the job at hand. Through her comm set, she heard each of the sisters on the rescue teams call in their readiness and then begin the traditional prayer and litany of saints: "Mary, Our Lady of the Rescue, pray for us. Michael the Archangel, pray for us. St. Jude, pray for us..."

"Blessed Gillian, founder of our order, pray for us," Sister Emmie echoed as the launch bay doors opened and she coaxed her ship forward. "Hang on, Peter. We're coming."

 

 

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Author Bio

Karina L. Fabian

Karina L. Fabian is a homeschooling mother of four who writes articles and craft books to bring in extra money and fiction to placate the many characters in her head who insist on having their stories told. Her short stories have appeared in magazines like Eternal Night and in the award-winning Christian SF anthology, Leaps of Faith.

A cradle Catholic and SF geek, she's had a great time thinking about the future of the Catholic Church for Infinite Space, Infinite God, which she edited with her husband, Rob. She finds collaborating with her husband, whether about children, stories, or anthologies, extremely romantic.

TTB title: Infinite Space, Infinite God

Author web site.
 



Robert A. Fabian

Rob is a Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF whose training is in military space operations, but whose career has ranged from ICBM maintenance to speechwriting for the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. He has written several articles on the military and commercial use of space, the most recent of which appeared in Astropolitics: The International Journal of Space Power and Policy. Rob handles the technical/detail side of the Fabian writing team.

TTB title: Infinite Space, Infinite God

 

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Infinite Space, Infinite God Copyright © 2006. Karina and Robert Fabian, Editors. All rights reserved by the authors. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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  Author News

Author chats

FabChat is a weekly live chat for writers and readers of all interests and persuasions.
FabChat meets Thursday evenings at 9 PM Eastern (US) Time.
September 6, 2007: Meet Lida Quillen, publisher of Twilight Times Books.
Go to http://www.fabianspace.com and click on FabChat.

Conference October 8-14, 2007: Karina will be a panelist at the MuseOnline Writers' Conference.

 

  Reviews

"What a great book! Infinite Space, Infinite God does for future Catholics what "Wandering Stars" did for Jewish science fiction: it presents our culture and our faith in new settings, illuminated by the lights of new suns. And it does it all in stories that are well crafted, compelling, and fun!"
Br. Guy Consolmagno SJ, astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and author of God's Mechanics.
 



"Infinite Space, Infinite God is a feast for the Catholic spirit and mind candy for the serious science-fiction reader. The stories are at once poignant, unabashedly Roman Catholic, and totally addictive. I found myself returning again and again to relive the epiphanies and miracles, the agonies and enlightenments of the very real characters who populate them. Even the few story premises with which I personally disagreed were well-crafted, intriguing, and well worth the read. All in all, Karina and Robert Fabian have given us a most satisfying and enjoyable experience. Someone please let me know when their next book comes out! I’ll be first in line."
Reviewed by Simon Lang, author of the "Einai" series."
 



These stories are awesome!

The Harvest by Lori Z. Scott
HN#17 prepares her dead roommate, HN#18, for transport to the lab. Eighteen's death is no great hardship because they will harvest her organs and place in another sub-human form – rebirthing they call it. Also an ordained priest, Dr. Barry Martinez's only three weeks on the Moon Project Base and regrets wearing his collar; it felt confining like the housing he lived in. He believed they would administer medical care to real humans, not sub-humans.

Clever and thought provoking, The Harvest tells of an oppressed woman longing for freedom from the people who governed her. Then one man's awakening to his true life purpose; minister healing to the body and soul of ALL people. Ms. Scott writes an enthralling read that combines a great story line brought to life by dynamic characters.

Hopkins Well by Adrienne Ray
Private Oscar Talbot teleported to the Martian post, Fort Acidalia, to deal with the "illegal element" called Hopkins Well. He sees first hand that the people are not hostile, so why does the government wish to annihilate them?

Seeking religious freedom, a group of Earth people successfully colonize Mars, where their government failed. Hopkins Well possesses strong characters that bring to life and engaging story. Father Augustine is a breath of fresh air with his reasonable demeanor and honesty; compared to Sergeant Bethesda's suspicious and high-handed attitude.

Brother John by Colleen Drippé
The Star Brothers visit outlying star systems bringing God's word to the colonists. A guardsman long ago, John left Earth when joining the Star Brothers on their quest, but his desertion initiates a warrant for his arrest. Graf of the Third Blades lives in a colony just as uncivilized as the planet, Rythar, they habitate. A Net Central envoy, from Earth, threatens Graf's colony. They claim it's illegal for the Star Brothers to visit outlying colonies without a permit.

Brother John is a complex but riveting story surrounding the Starship Xavier's evangelical crusade in distant star systems. Ms. Drippé pens a skillful sci-fi, immersing me in a rich story foundation, while fueled by compelling characters.

Interstellar Calling by Karina L. Fabian
Leaving her boyfriend's house, Frankie encounters alien beings wanting to learn more about the Bible and the catechism. How can she teach someone about the Bible when her own faith-filled walk waivers? The alien questions her further on the Bible's teachings, sparking Frankie to reflect on her own questions about faith.

An adorable short story, Interstellar Calling addresses the suffering questions of all God-fearing people and their struggle in finding the answers. The pivotal point in this story is when Frankie states that she too is lost and cannot help them. The alien then responds, "But you have directions?" The innocent beauty of those four simple words sends tingles through my body. It's glorious!

Our Daily Bread by Karina L. and Robert A. Fabian
Sustaining minimal damage after four meteorites hit the station, Deacon Ray McHenry is contrite when finding out his extra box of Hosts' are now communing with the stars. Before three important communions the ciborium is depleted of Hosts, but the person opening the vessel finds it refilled. Rumor spreads as each event raises talk of a miracle.

Conceived beautifully, Our Daily Bread details how a calamity triggers an event outside of human intervention. The Fabians masterfully orchestrate this miracle which I felt believable and wholly spiritual. The characters, genuine and endearing, only helped make this story a provoking read.

Brother Jubal in the Womb of Silence by Tim Myers
Brother Jubal's a monk on the Moon. A solitary man who prefers the quiet of Aristarchus Plateau over the bustle of base life. When Brother Jubal visits Drake Lunar, his only friend, Ronnie enjoys a good talk, but listens just as well too. Besides, the young man seems lonely, and Brother Jubal is only too happy to befriend the young man.

Mr. Myers writes a profound tale with a strong plot, and corporeal characters. Not a light read, but an absorbing one for sure. Brother Jubal in the Womb of Silence describes a monk's reverent isolation on the Moon. Many times he perches upon boulders thinking soul wrenching thoughts and quoting scriptures or other written spiritual works. His friend Ronnie, from Drake Lunar, adds some liveliness to the story, which is refreshing.

Mask of the Ferret by Alan Loewen and Ken Pick
Chief Engineer, Nuyann felt the presence that hunted him - like a predator. From fear, Nuyann wet his pants. The interstellar craft, Coventry, transports cargo and people to various interstellar systems. The passengers keep Captain Carroll's vessel in business and today one of them brings aboard a killer. Jill Noir is an Artificial who abhors her animal qualities, even more so she despises the creators who own her. The item housed in the cargo bay is her path to freedom. Father Eric Heidler is looking for the Carcosa artifact, stolen by its courier. Although detesting violence, Father Heidler will exercise whatever means necessary to reclaim the artifact, including death.

Quite an imaginative universe, Mask of the Ferret boasts para-humans - humans with animal characteristics, and then there are Artificials - animals re-engineered into humans. Mr. Loewen and Mr. Pick obviously make a splendid team, for their combined imaginations make this an absorbing and clever read. Together with a distinct animal-like cast, including wholly human characters, support the suspenseful plot. This is a fascinating tale!

Little Madeleine by Dr. Simon Morden
The London Metro Zone housing project places Madeleine dead center with troublesome punks and gangs. Madeleine is attacked while walking home from school, but rescued by a woman encased in body armor, while packing an automatic hand gun and a crucifix around her neck. The Joan suggests Madeleine join the order as a way out of her poverty.

The story's plot is tangible as the stark desolation of her world is made real through strong, almost earthy, characters. Dr. Morden composes an inviting spin on Patron Saint, St. Joan of Arc as Little Madeleine unfurls a dark story of a young teenager's survival in a run-down London Metro Zone. Feeling hopeless, Madeleine grapples with the decision to join the Order of Saint Joan the Protector. I sense her struggle, while Madeleine believes herself unworthy of the Order, but most importantly, to God.

The Hosts of the Envoy by Alex Lobdell
The Envoy vanished on its maiden voyage 120 years ago. The ship's Council allows him to dock, but quickly learn Luke cannot aid them in their return to Earth. After they imprison him, Luke escapes only to wander into the ship's chapel room; where he meets Alpenglow and Equinox, twins. After the parents' execution, they live with Father van Aert who eventually dies. However, the twins keep the chapel going, but with few members in attendance. Many of the ship's inhabitants prefer the cultish worship of Earth.

The Hosts of the Envoy is an amusing, but endearing story that focuses on the fragility of one's faith in moments of despair; especially a hopelessness that flows over a century. As characters go, Luke is lively and the children enchanting, but all build upon the solid foundation of the plot. A spiritual story that I enjoyed immensely.

Understanding by J. Sherer
Who gives craftsmen their skills? God, so they may build temples and worship Him. Who gives man the gift of life? God, and if man remains faithful he is given the gift of eternal life in Heaven too. So, why did Errius kill the priests? Genetically altered, the Church excommunicated Tack's father. Six months later his father dies during a rally against the Church's objection toward genetic engineering. From that moment, Tack never steps inside a Church.

Mr. Sherer writes an engrossing story about a cop who loses his faith when a child, only to regain it in adulthood. The plot is strong as a serial killer targets Catholic priests and leaves few clues behind regarding his motive. A break in the case shows the priests genetically engineered one way or another. This piece of evidence brings up a past Tack's not ready to face again. Understanding is a stimulating read with strong and captivating characters.

Stabat Mater by Rose Diamond
The Virgin Mary visits Teresa and Pia when they are thirteen. She instructs them to take care of Her children when the time arises. Present day, the nation's crumbling under the harsh attacks and Teresa's called early for her Christian Mission to the Stars flight. With Father Hugh and Pope Gregory XVII in tow, the trio head to Texas.

Stabat Mater tells of Father Hugh, Teresa and the Pope trekking across the country to make flight to the planet Sanctuary; a mission that will colonize a planet with many religious orders and people. During the journey, Father Hugh and Teresa's faith falters as they question their worthiness, but strengthens as they seek and find answers. Ms. Dimond writes a delightful story line together with enchanting and real characters that make the read captivating. I found the Pope's humor refreshing in light of the seriousness of their quest.

Canticle of the Wolf by Alan Loewen
Italy in twelve thousand and ten experiences the worst snow fall, and the terror of one lone wolf.

Their livestock slaughtered even when confined behind walls and locked gates. The townsmen feel defeated as their efforts prove futile. Approaching the gathered townsmen, Brother Francis of Assisi scans the carnage before him and avows to go find the wolf.

A pleasing tale that is imaginative and feeling. Canticle of the Wolf is about how God wanted a village to witness Brother Francis' godliness. I am charmed by this endearing story when Brother Francis attends to the wolf's wounds without hesitation but with care. The alluring characters create an enchanting read as the wolf and Brother Francis share their tales of man's betrayal, but how good may come from the experience.

These Three by Karina L. and Robert A. Fabian
The L5 space station houses the Order of the Lady of the Rescue. Sister Mary Elizabeth dreams of her brother's pending death, but the woman's voice tells her to pray. With his legs crushed, Peter fights to stay awake. Then a voice shouts at him to not pass out and then grumbles about getting to the engineering station so he can trigger the ship's attitude control. Grabbing on to a cable Peter begins his hand-over-hand journey to the engineering station.

Another well composed piece from the Fabian writing team. A fantastic and entertaining story that holds me captive with its superb plot and natural characters; though sprinkled with humor. These Three describes an idealistic, yet unskilled young man wanting to be a spacer. I think the most obvious point in the story is with Peter. Although everyone rejoices in him, Peter's lesson concludes he lacks faith in himself. With the guiding spiritual support of The Blessed Gillian, Peter begins a journey in saving space station L5 and the Poubelle, along with renewing his beliefs.

Far Traveler by Colleen Drippé
Federal Agent, Mark Kendall works in the Time Corps; a covert department within the federal agency. They send agents back in time to gather information that they can use today. To Mark Kendall the job meant he finally became... a spy.

I am captivated as Ms. Drippé writes a brisk and clever adventure for Federal Agent Kendall. To actually witness the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is humbling to me. In the Far Traveler, Mark is so caught up in the scene, acting out before him, that he keeps forgetting to take the pictures. While he watches Jesus' struggle in carrying the cross, Mark is overcome with disbelief that this actually occurred. Then once he affirms the reality playing out before him, Mark succumbs to grief at his turning away from his faith. But Mark returns home with a message – read the story to get that message.

A Cruel and Unusual Punishment by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
The Light, or Zargorsky's Wave as it's called professionally, is an alternative to a prisoner's execution. Those who have chosen The Light return as demented and tortured souls, but the prison assures there is no infliction of physical pain. Liam Connor, terrorist and murder of little children, chooses The Light, because he believes himself already redeemed.

Ms. Bohnhoff composes a beautiful, but wholly spiritual story that incorporates redemption and forgiveness through enlightenment. In A Cruel and Unusual Punishment she shows me how Liam slowly comes to terms with his crimes and how his redemption, forgiveness and finally atonement are what will free him. I found this story the most moving and spiritually provoking.

In closing...
Catholic Science Fiction is not a genre widely recognized. Although when Googled, using "Catholic Science Fiction", I received well over a million hits, so maybe not widely familiar by many readers, but a well used/referenced genre nonetheless. In their introduction, the authors' point out that according to one survey science fiction writers are predominately Catholic. Well, after reading this anthology, I will not dispute this claim. The introduction also lists renowned scientists who have initiated much of our science history today, who are Catholic. Hmmmmm... I do see a pattern here.

For those not familiar with Catholicism, the Fabians provide valuable insight into the religion's beliefs and purpose with short excerpts that aided my understanding of the Catholic religion. Regardless, this review is about the science fiction writers presented above. I can drown you in adjectives and other descriptive words, but these few words have stayed with me throughout my reading: These stories are awesome!

Infinite Space, Infinite God is an excellent collection of science fiction short stories. These authors' imaginations are astounding, pulling me into each and every story from the first paragraph, and then masterfully entwining their writings with Catholicism. The characters come alive in vivid detail making each story's uniqueness stand on their own merit. Highly recommended, not only to devoted sci-fi readers, but to those who have never read the genre before.

Reviewed by PJ for Scottieluvr's "Chewing the Bone" reviews
 



 

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