More Excerpts from the Novel Run

From the chapter in which Al Taylor, NASA engineer, and Father Tim Monaghan, the young priest who is the first Bishop of Earth space colony, traveling incognito, have successfully gotten Tim past security of the shuttle carrying passengers to the colony:

The Shuttle Swiftsail

Al didn’t wake for twenty-four hours, which he gleaned from the cabin countdown clock when he finally opened his eyes. Six and a half to go, he noted. He didn’t feel it yet, harnessed, but they were weightless. Al could tell from the black ball-point pen floating near the wall. He quickly checked the priest. Tim still slept and appeared none the worse for wear. His color was good, his breathing even and relaxed. So far, so good.

Suddenly, Al was aware of movement below him. Someone was climbing the access ladder, hand over hand, weightless but not soundless. Seemed like two people. They came nearer, and Al glanced at the priest, who was stirring and muttering—sounded like Latin—in his sleep.

A flashlight suddenly flickered across them, and a woman’s voice said, “Are you awake?” She played the light first over sleeping Tim, and then over Al. “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir.”

Al could make out her NASA shuttle crew uniform and glimpse a uniformed man standing on the ladder below her.

“We are looking for a Catholic minister. Are you, or—” she consulted a list on her handheld device. “Or your seatmate here, or anyone on this flight, to your knowledge, a Catholic minister?”

“Why would you want to know that?” Al asked. Tim’s fantastic predictions in the bar suddenly looked a lot more plausible.

Later in the chapter, claustrophobic Father Tim prepares to give a dying man the Last Rites, after he passes over to the damaged space station in a space suit:

Al and Tim followed Hank and Julie into the bay lock. It was empty; the mechs had already gone out with the gridway. The big overhead arc lamps were off, and the lock was shadowy. The suit was in the meeting area, tethered to the wall in the corner. It was white and glowed against all the plastic and metal.

The suit looked enough like a cross to be creepy, floating there, arms outspread, Tim thought. But he didn’t dwell on it, the creepy part. He was trying to psyche himself into being braver than he was, reciting his credo. Putting on the helmet was his own true cross for today, he believed that, and every day had one; this day was no different than any other. That was his faith, and this was his mission. He was going to accept the fact that today’s cross involved putting on that suit, putting on that helmet clipped to it, and then going through that door into an airless void. So what? Had not priests always done that? Define your airless voids. He was going to accept it and then he was going to do it. Sure he was.

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From the chapter The Pilots’ Lounge on the Bernina Harrison, two space pilots talk about a forbidden subject. One is Catholic Tomás Monaghan, the other Muslim Laiq Amanpour. Laiq is in possession of the coordinates of an asteroid he discovered accidentally on his shift, when an auto-pilot went offline. He knows the government will be after him very shortly and probably will kill him to obtain those coordinates. Tomás wants them, too.

Tomás plunged ahead. “I was with  Krishnamurthy this afternoon, before the accident.”

“Oh? What did you two talk about?” Laiq answered.

“We didn’t talk about a rainbow and a pot of gold,” Tomás said. He glanced at Laiq and was almost happy to see that nothing registered, not a flicker of an eyelash or the twitch of a finger. Hard to read; good. Or  Krishnamurthy was full of it, and the guy didn’t find anything. “Krishnamurthy can’t afford to say much, in his situation.”

“‘In his situation.’ Right,” Laiq said.

“Me, on the other hand, I’m very interested in rainbows.” Tomás paused to see whether Laiq would take the hint. But Laiq sat quietly, his arms folded in front of him on the table. “I don’t want a pot of gold, though. I want a village.”

“You want a village. You already have a village,” Laiq said, though he figured Tomás wasn’t referring to that one.

“Yeah. But our well is poisoned. That—uh—that new law. We’re Catholic. That doesn’t work for us.”

It didn’t work for Muslims, either! Laiq thought, but hesitated to respond.

“Us, either,” he finally said. “But I don’t know another solution. I mean, his argument, the president’s, it makes sense. We’re in a mixed-up mess. We can hardly talk to each other anymore. It’s like we’re drowning. Know what I mean?”

Tomás nodded but remained silent.

“Maybe they’ve got it right this time: Pick one god and stick to it,” Laiq continued. “Maybe that’s the only solution to this mess.” But, as he said this, his voice trailed off and his head hung.

“To my mind, that is no solution,” Tomás replied. “One god, one state-designated religion, is not a solution. It’s oppression.”

Laiq gazed into the distance, a light flickering in his eyes, for a moment. Then, he turned his attention back to Tomás. “We used to have a different solution—I mean, it wasn’t something we had; it was a condition we enjoyed. For a time. It’s gone now,” he said. “My dad called it the ‘dear distance.’”

“The ‘dear distance’?”

“We were far enough apart. Just far enough, time-wise, to worship, and raise our children, and bury our dead the way we wanted, under Allah’s sky, but we could also trade, too, when we wanted,” Laiq explained as Tomás listened intently. “My dad thought the prophet taught this, but I’ve never found a reference to it anywhere. But I certainly understand it.”

“The dear distance. Just far enough apart, huh?”

“Yes,” Laiq said. “But we lost it.”

“What if we got it back?”

They looked at each other. They were each thinking the same thing.

It was like an ache in Laiq’s chest! To be distant from the new law, to be distant from Halliburton’s. To be free of them and their suicidal tendencies, free of their ugly and stupid interpretation of human sexuality, and work, and government, free of their obtuse denial of the supernatural and their boring pride. They built such lovely rooms, and then all they ever talked about in them was … shit. You see, it rubbed off. He was even talking like them now.

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