Now that they had gotten exploration out of their systems for awhile, the stellarnauts were again put to work in the maintenance of the habitat, care of the garden, greenhouse, and grain fields, and assisting Nicole in the lab. Everyone expected to carry their weight in Eden, but the clean-up and servicing of the lab was grimy business. It seemed as though nothing was too nasty for Nicole to assign to them, from dumping fetal waste to cleaning the tank and filling the jars with that awful smelling fluid.
During the first two weeks after they had returned from the Crystal City, as Carla recovered from her injuries, she was given much lighter duty. Something had changed the normally spirited and outspoken woman. Everyone else, except the more sober minded Abe and Max, her physician, had given much of the credit to Skip for saving her life. She had agreed with this assessment until, when she had fully regained consciousness, Max told her of Ingrid’s prayer. Carla, who had once been a Roman Catholic as a child, was greatly impressed. After this disclosure, she and Ingrid became close friends. Carla, after one hundred thousand misspent years, had been saved. She was baptized with a sprinkle of water on her forehead, in which Ingrid made a sign of the cross. Though it wasn’t the normal baptismal procedures done by Protestant or Catholic clerics to initiates, it was the first conventional religious act performed by the chaplain. When Mbuto and Said heard about the wondrous reversal in Carla, they also requested baptism. Carla, they had been told, after the service conducted in the garden, had been born again—an expression Ingrid had been ignorant of until she read it in her New Testament. Now, after studying the ship’s database for more information on the correct rituals and wearing a lab smock on which she had scrawled a crude cross in the back and front of the smock, it was official. It didn’t matter that she had been raised in the Presbyterian faith, she had performed a priestly function. Until Ingrid’s journey of faith, most of the stellarnauts had been ignorant of religion, especially Christianity, which was considered outdated and inappropriate for scientific minds. Those who had been raised in a faith as children had forgotten their upbringing and had likewise been discouraged to believe. Said had been a relapsed Muslim and Mbuto an atheist for so long the understanding of being born again, as Ingrid tried to explain it, came slowly at first.
“I don’t understand.” Mbuto had scratched his head. “How can I be born again. That doesn’t make sense.”
Ingrid searched her mind for the appropriate scripture. “There’s two kinds of birth,” she struggled a moment, “… according to Jesus, you can’t go to heaven unless your born of water an spirit.”
“Huh?’ Mbuto gave her a blank look.
“It’s symbolic,” Carla piped up. “Water in baptism signifies rebirth. Jesus, the spirit, enters upon baptism and—presto—you’re saved!”
“Well, that’s close enough.” Ingrid sighed. “It’s not automatic Carla. Like I explained, you have to truly believe, repent, and live a good life.” “Line up men,” she turned to the initiates. “Accept baptism and the spirit of the Lord!”
As she had done for Carla, who stood arms folded, casually watching the rite, Ingrid made the sign of the cross on each of their foreheads, said a brief prayer and then mumbled, “By his blood, you’re saved!”
“Blood?” Mbuto made a face. “I’m saved by his blood?”
“Yes, of course.” Ingrid looked at him in disbelief.
“I read about that.” Said nodded with understanding. “He was crucified, wasn’t he—for men’s sins, women’s too.”
“Don’t forget,” Carla interrupted, “he rose from the dead. Now he’s a spirit, who roams the universe in search of lost souls.”
“Almost correct.” Ingrid grinned with approval. “You almost have it Carla, and you, too, Said, but you Mbuto? Are you familiar with the Bible at all?”
“No.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Is that necessary to be saved?”
“Of course,” Ingrid replied with a flicker of irritation, “that’s our book.”
“Duh!” Carla stuck out her tongue.
“When I have the New Testament printed out, I expect you to get up to speed.” Ingrid said haughtily. “Both you and Said also need to read!” She looked at Carla. “Today, in God’s garden, I will read to you from the good book. First bow your heads in prayer!”
From a distance, Abe and Max had been listening with amusement. Also perking up her ears was Nicole, who standing in the doorway of the lab, listened intently to Ingrid’s prayer:
“Lord, accept these three sinners, as you once accepted me. Forgive them for their ignorance. They are children of their age—a disbelieving century in which science has attempted to blot out words that conflict with their own. As witnessed on Mother Earth, mankind can’t live without faith. In the vacuum, evil triumphed, sin became the norm, and in the end, as in the days of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah, you sent down your wrath. Let this remnant in Eden and it’s unborn children become the new Jerusalem—the Children of Israel. Give our caretakers souls so that they can be saved too. Wipe away the doubters’ skepticism and make them also believe!”
Abe and Max were taken back by her words. Nicole could scarcely believe her ears. Despite Ingrid’s previous rebuke of the clones for not being human and being infernal things, she included them in their prayers. She had also included the androids who were not only not created naturally as in the case of the clones but were made by science, atheistic men, and not created by God. Suddenly, for the first time since Ingrid began playing the role of chaplain, there was a congregation.
“Well you look at that!” marveled Max. “We got ourselves a church!”
Lieutenant Sheila Livingston, second-in-command of the habitat, who had been checking the sprinkler system in the field, was drawn to the scene. Standing there in the shade of the new trees, she heard most of the rite and Ingrid’s prayer. Though biding her time, until she could catch Ingrid by herself, she would be the next member to join the Church of the Celestial God. After all, her parents had been Lutherans, and had she not nominated Ingrid as the habitat’s priest? For awhile, the news of Carla’s baptism stirred up childhood memories in her mind. When Said and Mbuto had also become initiates, she decided to join up.
The following morning Sheila sought out Ingrid, who was in the library, busily making copies from the database of the New Testament. Ingrid was delighted to bring her into the congregation. So not to make the lieutenant a spectacle as the others, the rite was held in the greenhouse. When Ingrid made the sign of the cross on her forehead Sheila giggled with embarrassment. With her garish smock and flowers strewn in her hair, Ingrid reminded her more of a pagan priestess than a chaplain, and yet, when it was completed, Sheila volunteered to help Ingrid finish printing the New Testament and was eager to begin reading about her new faith.
To appease Sheila, who worried about his immortal soul, Abe had a clandestine meeting with Ingrid in which he, too, became a member of the fold. Max was a little more difficult to convert. He had always, in good humor, considered Ingrid to be somewhat eccentric. Out of curiosity, he looked up articles on the Christian religion. Her unconventional approach, including the name she called her church and the pagan-like ceremony was like nothing he had read. And yet, after hearing about Abe’s conversion, Max decided, in a whimsical mood, that he would join up too.
Not long after Max became a member, Nicole left her lab, still reeking of amniotic fluid, to seek out the priestess.
As she approached her in the garden, Ingrid recoiled. “Good grief woman.” She wrinkled her nose. “Take a bath! You’re even beginning to smell like a clone!”
“I heard your prayer.” Nicole came straight to the point. “You included the clones as being saved. After everything you’ve said about them, were you serious?”
“Well,…yes,” Ingrid hesitated. “If they are baptized they can be saved.”
“What about those fetuses who’ve died?” Nicole raised an eyebrow. “Are they damned to hell?”
“Of course not,” she replied dubiously. “…It’s like they never existed.”
“That’s horrible!” Nicole made a face. “What a beastly thing to say!”
“I’m sorry.” Ingrid sighed. “There’s nothing in the Bible about this. Perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Nicole studied her a moment. “You’re making all this up as you go along, aren’t you?” she asked, shaking her head. “I use to look up to you. You had me fooled with that crap. Will it’s all bullshit. The most dangerous time for our offspring are when they’re embryos and even during the fetal stage many of them die. I can’t believe they’re not saved simply because they have the misfortune to die! You even gave the androids a pass, as if to make them honorary members, and yet the unborn have no souls?”
Not knowing how to respond to her statement, Ingrid shook her head sadly and said, “I’ll pray about it. Perhaps God will give me a sign!”
“Will here’s a sign, bitch,” Nicole presented her middle finger. “Screw your celestial god!”
Skip, who had been listening in again, waited until Nicole was gone, and then, from the bridge, murmured from Ingrid communicator. “That went poorly…. You will accept us—men’s machines—but you won’t accept the unborn dead. The clones are replicas of yourselves and by definition are imbued with souls. How then can we, who are not flesh and blood, have such precious things?”
“I-I will pray on this also,” she looked up to the sky. “Please Skip…. Nicole is half right when she said I was making this up as I go along. I feel a constant revelation. As Saint Paul, I see through a glass darkly…. Nothing is clear to me, and yet I know there’s a God. He’s just much different than what he was on Earth.”
“Listen, my child,” Skip took a paternal tone. “If you want Nicole to join your church and the others to really accept your patchwork faith, you must be inclusive. You will have to include all of the clones who have ever been conceived and, yes, you’ll have to justify giving we machines souls, too…. If you do this, you will truly represent a celestial god and have a universal church.”
“Amen.” Ingrid whispered. “Spoken as would the Lord!”
“I’m not God.” Skip reminded her. “…. Perhaps, though, without feeling it, I speak for Him. As you might say, I’m a tool. Yet, I have been much more. For over one hundred thousand years, we, the caretakers, have watched over you like gods, not sleeping or eating. We’ve been in constant vigil over our children. Four of our children died on other worlds. Now here in Eden, you humans must be vigilant about your children. Many have died here on this world. All of them living and dead have been your responsibility. They are from your loins. Because you have made yourself a chaplain, with the air of a priestess, this is particularly true for you. Give the dead ones the Last Rites as you gave Carla. Pray for them all, not just the newborns…. If you do this, your religion will be inclusive and gain respectability for the new age and not become a relic of the past. If not, you’re faith will whither away as all cults, too exclusive for doubters, offering nothing to intelligent minds.”
When Skip remained silent for awhile, Ingrid looked around her, wondering if she had been overheard. The android leader had given her a dressing down, as would the Lord, Himself. He had given her instructions, not merely suggestions, that she had to go against some of her Christian beliefs. She had been careful not to offend Said with the word ‘Christian’, who claimed to be a Muslim, although this is precisely what Jesus had in mind, so she avoided using the label Christian. Already she had drastically altered the earthly conception of the Lord, calling him the Celestial God and combining both Protestant and Catholic elements with a dash of paganism just for effect. Now she had to include embryonic and fetal clones—both living and dead in the ranks of the saved and she had been challenged to justify her implication that androids could be saved too.
“I can’t do this God!” she muttered unhappily. “This is going too far! It’s watering things down too much!”
“Yes, you can!” came Skip’s reply. “You have already made up many of the rules.”
“Damn it!” She wrung her fist at the sky. “I wasn’t talking to you! You’re everywhere—like the voice of God. It’s like your in my head!”
“I’m here on the Phoenix,” he replied enigmatically. “The Phoenix means rebirth, and here you are promising them they can be born again. How appropriate is that?”
“What?” Ingrid screwed up her face. “That’s nonsense. Phoenix is a pagan name!”
“All men and women fear death.” He appeared to have changed the subject. “You’ve given these people hope, so they will brave the new world. You can remain a silly eccentric in the garden of Eden or truly become a priestess of the Celestial Church. On this world, if you so wish, I can even make you its Pope!”
Ingrid felt at first as if Satan had been tempting her. Now, with the feeling that Skip was inside her head, she wondered if she might not be going mad. Though he denied it, the android commander was usurping God. His watchful eye on land and constant voice from the sky made him seem godlike, which brought her to the notion that he must be speaking for the Devil, not God at all. If this was true, he had to be overthrown, as Satan would be overthrown at the Last Judgment, only she couldn’t wait for the End Times. They had already occurred on Earth. Here in Eden she must protect the Children of God from Skip’s influence. He wanted her to bastardize the word of God to suit the circumstances. It was bad enough that she must include laboratory-born children in the church. How could she ever have thought the caretakers could have souls?
After pounding her temples a moment, she fled the garden of Eden, wishing she could exorcise Skip from her thoughts, but his last words, “I can even make you its Pope!” frightened her greatly. Because of the spectacular healing of Carla in which he was an integral part and his past exercise of his authority, she half believed him. She ran deeply into the field with no destination except to escape her greatest fears. Max, who was out for a stroll, happened to see her whiz passed as he walked the perimeter of the circle. She was mumbling to herself, recounting Skip’s words, praying feverishly, as if to drive him from her skull. Pausing at the fence, she looked out at the wilderness of Eden and witnessed herds of the elephant-like monsters intermingling with other strange-looking beasts, all of them avoiding the electrical barrier and taking it in stride. A revelation overcame her, as she contemplated the deadly fence: The inhabitants of Crystal City had failed to tame this world. What made them think they could succeed if such a superior race failed?…. How could any people conquer this savage world? Could it be, she muttered aloud, as she considered the horrors discovered in Crystal City, that a plague would overtake them too? The androids were immune to human disease and toxic air. They could live in any environment. They don’t need us, she thought grimly. We need them! Skip lorded this over them constantly. Because of their dependency, he had great power! “You must be destroyed!” she screamed at the heavens.
Suddenly, after rushing to the scene, Max’s hand clamped her mouth.
“She didn’t mean it!” he called out frantically. “I heard what she was saying to herself. Surely you were joking. All that stuff about her being a priestess and making her the Pope was a jest—Right?. You’re not serious, Skip!”
“Perhaps,” he equivocated, “…maybe not.” “The fact is, doctor” he added sternly. “I don’t care what she calls herself. She must make peace with Nicole. Frankly, after her actions, I fear for her sanity. Calling for my destruction justifies my fear. I fear for Nicole’s sanity too. That title Sandra and Woody gave her, “The Clone Master,” has gone to her head. The rest of you are repulsed by the clones. We need Nicole’s dedication. Ingrid’s prejudice against the clones has upset her greatly. Sandra and Woody need her especially for the newborns.”
“I’m not invisible. I’m still here.” Ingrid glared at Max. “I’m not crazy either. I know what I feel!”
“You’ve been an inspiration to your team,” Skip addressed her directly. “I saw that from the beginning. I was trying to bolster your ego and give you some guidance. I’m sorry I offended you. According to my database, the Pope was the highest authority on Earth.”
“I’ve been reading the Book of Revelations,” she explained calmly now. “The Catholic Church is a wonderful institution, but it’s dead. The Pope is dead, too. There will never be another Pope here in Eden. The very notion sounds apocalyptic. If you gave me such authority, what does that make you?”
“You mean Satan?” Skip seemed to gasp.
“Yes—none other!” Ingrid’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“Good grief!” muttered Max.
Skip was silent a moment as Ingrid was scolded by Max. “You fool!” he whispered shrilly. “Skip isn’t even human. He was trying to humor you. Here at the far corner of the galaxy all that Bible crap is irrelevant. Now that Earth and its religion is dead, you can make your own religion!”
Aghast at Max’s words, Ingrid clasped her forehead in dismay. “My own religion?” she uttered in disbelief. “The Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and other churches might be dead, but Earth’s religion isn’t dead. There is still a heaven and hell. There is still a God and devil….You don’t understand anything if you don’t understand that!”
The words rolled from Skip’s mouth: “Heaven….Hell….God….Satan. These are outdated words. After the destruction of all those good people on Earth, do you really blame the devil for that? I can understand you wanting to believe in heaven, but do you really believe in Satan or in an afterlife called Hell. Hell was on Proxima, Ross, Wolf, and Gliese. Hell was in the Crystal City and lives on in the monsters beyond the fence. It was also on Earth. Hell can be conquered, Ingrid. Satan, if he ever existed never came to this world. Nowhere in your Bible does it mention this place. Nowhere in its prophecy do you and your church fit in. Clones aren’t compatible with the concept of born again. They were manufactured in laboratories. Yet they’re the future. You eight humans are unique and one of a kind. Your descendents will become the Children of Israel and will create the New Jerusalem. One day, Ingrid, if you play your hand well, you’ll be considered a saint, just like the Apostles I’ve read about in that book. If you make this a parochial, non-exclusive church grounded on dead religions, however, it will be just another cult in human history, and it won’t stand the test of time!”
As Max led Ingrid by the hand from the field, Skip said no more. She had much to think about. Max was worried about her state of mind, as she muttered to herself: “Skip is an atheist, that’s what he is…. He’s a machine…. What does he know about the Bible and our faith?”
“Listen to me, woman,” Max bent down and murmured into her ear, “Skip’s more than a mere machine. You know better than that. Calling him an atheist is unfair. He was trying to encourage you and was merely making suggestions about your church. It seems clear by what he said that he’s left it up to you…. Please, Ingrid, get a hold of yourself. This could drive you mad. I believe Nicole is already half way there. Make peace with her. Reassure her that the embryos and fetuses are saved. If it will make her happy, perform the Last Rites for all of those dead clones. Once, after hearing her talk to Gandy, who was a Hindu, she expressed her belief that all creatures must have souls. That’s what Gandy believed. Is it any wonder, that she’s concerned about those clones in the lab?”
Ingrid nodded her head but remained silent as they walked. Her facial muscles had relaxed, but a scornful smile played on her lips. “I listen to God,” she replied finally. “His words guide me… You want me to perform the Last Rites for the undead to please Nicole. If, in his celestial wisdom, God expects that of me, I guess I’ll have to go against what I believe!”
Near the edge of the field, Sheila and Carla were on a break, after cleaning lab equipment, chatting about this very subject. None of the members of Ingrid’s church clearly understood what the priestess had in mind. There was a mixture of Christianity and paganism in the ceremony, which caused Carla to pose a basic philosophical question: “Are we fish or foul?”
“That’s easy to answer.” Sheila made a face. “After doing lab cleanup, we’re foul!”
“No,” Carla thought awhile. “….We’re neither. We aren’t Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or Buddhists. Despite Ingrid’s costume we’re not pagans either. No respectable pagan would wear that shit. I don’t think the title Celestial God she uses is even appropriate. From what I gather, we aren’t even praying to the same god. This is an alien god, Sheila. Earth is 557.7 light years away!”
“Huh?” She did a double take. “…You’re not serious!”
“Well, why not?” Carla raised an eyebrow. “Who are we mere humans? The most intelligent things we found in the galaxy look like bugs!”
“I couldn’t pray to a bug!” Sheila made a face.
“Even if it was a praying mantis?” Carla grinned.
Sheila and Carla broke into giggles. “Get it?” Carla elbowed her. “Praying mantis?” She elbowed her.
“Oh yes, a pun!” Sheila wiped her eyes. “Ingrid’s silly religion is a pun!”
Max had just asked Ingrid that moment how it was possible God would tell her to do something she didn’t believe, when they overheard Carla and Sheila poking fun of her church.
“Did you hear that?” Ingrid’s face dropped. “Listen to what they’re saying behind my back!”
Though Ingrid and Max had heard their discussion, the two women hadn’t heard the conversations in the garden and field. With their back turned they also failed to see the mental daggers in Ingrid’s eyes. Before she could verbally castigate them, Max again muffled her mouth with his hand and whispered into her ear: “Stop wiggling, and listen to me. You haven’t defined your church very well. You must make it simple, Ingrid—that’s the key. You’re mixing apples, oranges, and bananas together—a fruit salad faith. What you need is one flavor. Those silly things you do with your hands, such as making a cross on their foreheads, waving your hands around in the air, and making the sign to ward off the evil aren’t even Christian. Some of them are heathen. You said you wanted to avoid the label Christian so you wouldn’t offend Said, and yet you’ve taken on priestly functions. All those hand gyrations, such as the sign of the cross, are what priests do. You’re not a Catholic, Ingrid, and you’re not a priest. You should never have given Carla a Last Rite. You might be stuck with that foolishness, but not that other stuff. Get rid of that silly robe and those flowers in your hair. You’re not a priestess either. That’s a pagan word.” “Take my advice and make things simple,” he repeated. “A simple no frills Christian faith will be much easier to follow. Find an uncomplicated format in the historical database, like one those of the twentieth century Protestant churches. Stop trying to please everyone, Ingrid. Remember: one flavor, no more fruit salad. Jesus, whom you quote often, was the founder of the Christian religion. I’ve read portions of the good book. He kept it simple. You’re preaching Christianity, not Islam or Buddhism. You can’t avoid calling it that!”
Impulsively now, Ingrid broke away, gave Max a hug, and kissed him long and hard on his cheek. “God has spoken through you!” she cried.
From that day forward, Ingrid was certain Max had been God’s instrument. Abe was greatly amused when the doctor told him about the conversations in the garden and field. The very next Sunday service in which everyone, except Skip attended, found her in simple clothes, as he suggested, humbly holding her Bible, simply preaching the word. Knowing full well that Skip was listening in, Ingrid, like a fifteenth century Protestant reformer, announced her intention to remove all Papist symbolism and paraphernalia from her church and simply give them the “good news.” Max thought he heard Skip, who had promised to maker her Pope, actually laughing. Said and Mbuto didn’t know what to make of the sudden change. Other than a few snickers at first, though, the new format went over very well with the congregation.
The one great inconsistency, of course, was a gesture made by Ingrid to placate Nicole. Ingrid made peace with her, their old friendship cemented by her agreement to perform the Last Rites for the undead. Since the ceremony was retroactive and intended for premature deaths of embryos and fetuses in the future, it was only performed once, and yet the symbolism of this act would later haunt the chaplain when the newborns grew to adults.
Though the ‘good news’ religion gave the humans inspiration to carry on, they still required basic entertainment. The age old sports of baseball, cricket, football (American style), and crochet were resurrected from the station’s storage, the rules extracted from the ship’s database. Because the station’s library was relatively small, titles were added from the computer, so that most genres were available for reading. Also from the database, Skip provided the humans with a collection of old movies for viewing on certain nights, and also discovered deep in the ship’s files were several computer games that could be played, including twenty-first century classics and the latest holovision games.
In the coming months, there were several field trips on Phoenix One to break the monotony of the work routine and the isolation in the circle, but it was agreed by everyone, including Skip, that the Crystal City would, after the terrible discovery there, become, as a result, out of bounds. In the future it would be known as the ‘Forbidden City.’ Several trips to various locations on the planet to inspect potential food sources and a few simply to get away from the habitat were made but the last generation of woman-born humans from Earth would remain a sheltered colony in the midst of a mysterious and dangerous world.