(Christian Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy Adventure)
My name is Johna (Joe-na) WesHolden. And I have a story to tell.
The volunteer chaplain service received a call that several prisons were needing resident spiritual advisors at sites scattered across a half dozen systems.
I had signed up with the program and had served in various capacities including tours with the armed forces and coming under hostile fire on a couple of occasions and had now made rank with the organization and wore lieutenant's bars on my service uniform. The order for me to report for duty at a small prison mining colony on a mountainous planet in a nearby system didn't bother me at first. Then I started reading up on the 'clientele' that was incarcerated on Ulinticore.
These were people that had given up on the system. They did not want to be rehabilitated, treated, or medicated. They worked in the mines, and lived in the cells, and that was it. Some of them would never return to their homes.
The center had a population of roughly 500 full time, live in, convicts and about that number of support staff, most of whom were sentenced criminals themselves working through the system at various jobs. I would be chaplain, counselor, father confessor, and so on, to all of them.
Being with troops on a planet's surface while being bombarded from orbit by thermophasic blasts upset me, but I could deal with it. It was war. On long range reconnaissance ships, being out of touch with everybody else in the universe, never even seeing a planet we could set down on, for months on end. That was OK too. But somehow, this got to me. I was going to be basically stranded inside some mountain on an out of the way rock with people that by definition didn't want to be there, and the majority of whom had opted out of the system that would help them modify their behavior to fit in with the civilized worlds.
The more I thought about it, the less I liked it.
Then my orders came. I looked at the security sealed package and didn't even open it, I just dropped it in my small travel bag of personals and tried to thank God for the opportunity to serve.
But I didn't mean it.
On the day of my departure. I was at the SpacePort in plenty of time, and checked through a box of donated supplies at the desk. Then I went to the waiting area to kill time before the transport arrived.
Then bad news was announced over the Public Address, my transport was delayed for what could easily be several hours. I sat through some of the port's meager entertainment and then walked out to see what there was to see in the area. With my bag over my shoulder I wandered past various ships of all descriptions in staging areas.
Local aircraft came and went. I watched an ocean going pleasure cruiser sail out of the bay.
At an informational kiosk I checked my transport. It's ETA was now three hours.
I bought a snack and wandered out among the huge merchant transports wondering if maybe this was a sign from Above that I wasn't supposed to go to the prison mining colony. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should call the service and see if there was a way to reassign my tour someplace else.
Then I saw a 'Help Wanted' sign, and another thought occurred.
Universal Tour Spaceways wanted a tour guides with extensive knowledge of several systems. I had served in a couple of the areas they mentioned. I had a printout of the ad in hand and was walking toward a communications center when I realized what I was doing.
Then the conflict started within me.
I did not want to work a year tour in a prison. I could serve as both guide and missionary on a tour cruiser. Both jobs kind of overlapped. I began putting together a very complicated fantasy about starting a whole new branch of the volunteer chaplains service on cruise ships based on that idea.
"See this Universe and the Next!" I said aloud as a motto.
I felt cold rain on the back of my neck. Dark clouds were blowing over the Spaceport.
In just a few minutes the rain was pouring down and a gusty wind was whipping between the buildings and ships. I covered my head with my bag and ran into an open shipping container to get out of the storm. I had to climb up on some boxes and cases to get out of the splatter of the huge raindrops.
Outside the storm grew worse. Thunder rattled the container, forcing me to close my eyes and hum church camp songs. It seemed to last forever, in the meantime I forgot all about my transport, and to be honest, it wouldn't have landed in what amounted to a minimal hurricane.
Sometime along the way I fell asleep to drone of the storm.
I woke up to a jostling of the container. The sounds of the storm were gone. I looked around disoriented in about half normal gravity. Where the door had been was a blank wall. Only the faint glow of the container's work lights above the manifest and loading panel showed me where they had been. Slowly it dawned on me.
They had sealed me in.
I scrambled down and looked at the panel. Then I sighed.
The container had plant seedlings and other perishables in it. So it would stay pressurized and above freezing with at least a minimal gravity field inside. But then I tried to find out where it was going. All the machine would give me was a destination code that was of no help to me at all. There was also no way to get a message out on the control panel until they plugged into it at the terminal to unload it.
All I could do was sit on the boxes and think.
There were safeguards in place to prevent something like this from occurring. Many space-going containers were not supplied with life support, a stow-away would wind up dead in short order in the cold vacuum of space. The inside of the container had built-in scanners to check for unauthorized presence in the container, like myself. There was emergency strobes and a siren inside the unit to announce it was closing, which I either slept through or it had malfunctioned. And the last safeguard was the loading foreman who was supposed to do at least a visual check for intruders before sealing the box.
Somehow they had all failed, and now I was in the container, bound for parts unknown.
After about three hours of banging on the heavily reinforced wall of the container with my shoe, I gave up on that.
I picked through the boxes and found some packaged food that was incredibly lousy cold and dry. To drink, I got to experience what the manifest called `A Fine Assortment of Exotic Fruit Nectars- ready to enjoy', to me they tasted like sweetened tree sap. The only relief facility I could muster was an empty plastic bag.
I had to finally put my watch in my bag. I would look at it, then sit and sing to myself or re-read the manifest again and then look back at my watch, ten minutes had passed.
It was a long few days.
I started singing out loud hymns to myself. New ones, old ones, children's, every song I could think of, even making up some new words to some old tunes.
On a few of them I managed to really get some good acoustics in the container,
"... The clouds be rolled back as a scroll, The trump shall sound and the Lord shall descend, 'even so,' It is well with my soul... it is well ... with my soul..."
I had never been a natural bass, but right then, I could have almost passed as one as the echo of my voice bounced around in the box.
It was about the fourth day, I noticed the air getting a little stale. Suddenly I began to worry about how foolish I had been bellowing at the top of my lungs, burning good air. Panic ensued. I tried to breathe slower.
Finally in desperation I began punching buttons on the manifest panel.
Praying silently, I lay on the floor between some boxes and begged God to forgive me for even thinking about ducking my responsibility.
I woke up to a flashing light. The panel was blinking.
I went to it wondering what was going on.
"Environmental Control Sensor Alarm. Air Recirculation Procedure in Progress." I read outloud. "Thank you Lord. And blessings to Morgan Interplanetary Containers Inc."
"And I believe, and I will always sing, this little child, He is the King of Kings." I sang softly as I went back and sat down.
I was now tired of the packaged food, and the fruit juices that claimed to be the planet Aeorus's leading export product, were making me physically ill. But nothing else in the box was even remotely eatable. Although picking my teeth with the lid of the food container was more satisfying taste wise than the food itself, I was grateful I wasn't in a container full of spare parts or dry goods. Besides, most ministers I knew could stand to loose a few pounds. Including myself.
"Don't ask me why, because I can't tell you, I just believe." I sang as I winced away the taste of the drink.
I had lost track of the days when I felt the familiar vibration of the container, and by extension, the transport ship it was on change. Then the gravity began to change. I was knocked from one wall to the other as I felt the unmistakable pull of a planet and the ship's landing sequence begin. As self-preservation I wedged myself between a huge case that was strapped in and the wall.
For some reason I thought I would be released almost as soon as the ship sat down.
But it didn't work that way.
It was another day before the container stopped moving for keeps and I heard noises on the outside.
The interior lights came on and the air pressure began to be adjusted to match wherever we were.
I packed up my things and made myself as presentable as I could. I would more than likely be arrested as a stowaway and not having proper papers for wherever I was now. But at least I would be out of my box. And in a holding cell, I would have a shower and a toilet. That was even something to look forward to.
As the hatch was opened I glanced in my bag. There I saw my original transport papers. I took them in hand as it had my ID in it. The authorities would want that.
Finally the door was open and bright artificial light streamed in.
"Mark-Captain! Somebody is in here!!!" I heard a voice shout in more or less clear English. Which was astonishing to say the least.
I saw two uniformed guards aim all-to-familiar proximity blasters my way. I raised my hands and squinted at the lights, trying to make out the ranking officer, announced as a Mark-Captain, who would be the deck officer of the loading facility.
"Who are you and what are you doing in there?" A lower ranking officer asked from nearby.
"My name is Lieutenant Johna WesHolden. I am a chaplain. I ended up in here by mistake on Mitong'cha." I said as clearly as I could.
He nodded and waved me to come out of the container. I saw the decorated officer approaching, he wasn't human, but in my position, it didn't much matter.
"He claims to be a Lieutenant." The door warden told his superior.
"The uniform is right." He looked me over. "Bring his identity disk to my office. Hold him here."
The officer took the disk from my envelope and walked up the gangway.
I stood in the same spot for several very long minutes. The guards never moving their weapons one centimeter from pointing at the center of my chest. I prayed with my eyes wide open, staring at them with what I hoped was a friendly smile.
"Are you Johna WesHolden? Number 8170093-CH? Rank Volunteer Chaplain Lieutenant?" The Mark-Captain asked me with a commanding voice from across the loading area.
"Yes sir." I blinked sweat out of my eyes.
The other officer walked up to me gruffly and ran the light bar over me a couple of times. Once would have confirmed my ID, but he seemed to be in doubt.
"Yes Mark-Captain. He is who he says he is."
"Well Chaplain. You have a rather unusual way of arriving at your new assignment. But welcome all the same. I am sure you would like to see your quarters immediately."
"I'm on Ulinticore?" I asked incredulously.
Laughter erupted from the guards as they lowered their weapons and relaxed.
"Hardly." The other officer said with a strange grin.
"Welcome to Mactrinoss." The Mark-Captain announced grandly.
I had heard the name, read it rather, doing my research on the prison system. "That's the maximum security colony, the camp for life."
"The death camp you mean." One of the guards muttered.
"I was supposed to go to Ulinticore, until I fell asleep in here." I jerked my thumb at the container.
"Your orders read Mactrinoss." The commander said gesturing me to come up to his office.
I shuffled through my envelope. There was a print out in there with my assignment on it.
Tears clouded my eyes as I read the paper.
ASSIGNMENT: Mactrinoss Total Security Facility.
It took me awhile to put myself back together. An aid walked me to my quarters in a few minutes.
"Lord. I know You are the mystery of life itself. But this." I looked out my armored window at the compound. The place was half fortress, half prison. Just looking at it made my blood run cold. "Please. Some sign that this is where I belong and the work I am to do with those without hope in this life."
Later the aid showed me to the small chapel.
I had never seen a sanctuary with a blast rated force field between the congregation and the pulpit and alter. That is, until today. But there it was.
Finally in my office I sat and looked out the small thick window at the courtyard outside the main facility. I was seriously thinking of that job on cruise ships again.
My communications panel beeped.
"An inmate trustee would like to see you chaplain." The aid said.
"Sure." I stood and adjusted my uniform.
And incredibly old being of unidentifiable species tottered in. "Thank you sir. I just wanted to share a miracle with you, being this is your first day." He said through my translator.
I didn't believe him of course. "What miracle?"
The translator paused then it replied for him. "A flower sir. From your Earth."
"I've never been there, but my parents are from Earth." I looked at the flower in his hands. "What is that?"
"The new flower sir. I've had the plant for ages, it was here when I got here, and it has never bloomed before. This is its first flower." He held it out to me.
"It's beautiful. Thank you. What's it called."
"It's the Rose of Sharon."
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