The port was successful. Very successful. In times of peace it was always busy and very profitable. Antoni's reputation for fair dealings and trustworthy technicians was known far and wide. Antoni also went to great lengths to have his port, and the planet it was on remain neutral in conflicts that did not directly involve them.
Then one day, unexpectedly his fortunes turned.
He was on an all to infrequent trip to some mountains down the coast from his port with his wife enjoying a small rather rustic cabin they had on a lake.
A skimmer arrived. "Antoni! Antoni!" The pilot exclaimed. "There has been a terrible accident! An Allurian transport exploded on landing. It started a chain reaction. The entire port wing was destroyed!"
His looked to the horizon. He could make out thick smoke drifting out over the sea. "What of my son?"
"I think he was killed trying to save others when the fuel storage ignited."
Antoni let the words sink in, then he bowed his head.
As he was looking back up toward the smoke his wife called to him. "There is a message for you! Its an Emergency!" She waved for him to hurry.
"Some Fruninain soldiers thought the explosion was an attack." A bleeding clerk said into the visual communicator. She was holding a rag to her cheek as she talked. "They started shooting and screaming about treachery. I think everybody in the hotel division was killed except me before they left."
He stood nearly numb. "Fernia?" He muttered his daughter's name.
The clerk wobbled as she tried to speak. "I'm sorry."
He looked into the monitor. "Go to medical, get healed. Thank you for calling."
Antoni reached for his wife and his God at the same time.
In a minute he turned to the skimmer pilot. "Take us back."
The port was in complete disarray. The injured were being taken to hospitals in the city nearby. Space ships that could be moved were outbound to a smaller port on another continent.
The security chief, Raphon, one of Antoni's younger sons, was trying to control the crowd that was mobbing the land transport facilities. Antoni watched on the console in the control room as the throng of people swamped the door, trying to force it open even though there was no vehicle there.
The noise on the line was horrible. The officers were overwhelmed. Antoni lost sight of his son and felt in the pit of his stomach he had been crushed.
He retired to his quarters to mourn and read damage reports. The financial loss was astounding, even with his protection policies, he was ruined.
His wife was screaming a mourning song for their son and daughter. She had not even heard about Raphon yet. He tried to tell her through her grief, but he did not know if she heard him or not.
He collapsed in his office. Half on his knees, half prostate, he cried to ElShaddai. He prayed for the injured, for the families of the dead, for the soldiers that had gone mad with fear, for his wife. Sometime during his prayers his grief turned into sleep. He awoke to an insistent pounding on his outside door.
"Yes." He answered.
Several people in environment suits came in. One announced himself as a health inspector. They stuck a device on his hand that poked needles into his flesh and tested him.
"He's contaminated. Leave him." The inspector ordered.
"What?" Antoni looked at the shielded faces. "What happened to me?"
"You were exposed to an extreme level of ancarteen. You will have to be quarantined."
"What of my wife?"
The inspector seemed to smile, trying to comfort the man. "She's clear. We're evacuating her to Monstory."
He sighed with gratitude.
"His exposure level is borderline terminal." An aid read off the machine to the inspector, he glanced at Antoni, then back at the inspector, slowly shaking his head.
"Sir. Where did I get exposed?" Antoni asked the inspector.
"In the com center. They had a ruptured transmitter filter." They picked up their stuff, getting ready to leave.
"What about the com center staff?" He asked as hope evaporated.
The aid looked back at him. "Oh, they're all dead. Ancarteen is some nasty stuff."
Antoni was left alone in his rooms. The blue light flashed over his door, a security seal. He couldn't leave. He felt as if they had just drained his life from him.
He looked toward the ceiling. "ElShaddai?"
His God seemed to not hear him, but he didn't give up, "Always have I been faithful to give You, and Your Chosen One the glory of all." He walked to his window and looked out, fires still burned in some of the ruined structure. A hovering fire fighting vehicle pumped dry foam into it. Through the silence of his room he heard shouts for help. "Why? My God?!?! Why?"
His attention turned to a picture over a scale model of the port with various areas highlighted in color. The picture showed his family just last season on vacation on the mountain by the lake. How many of them still lived. He hadn't heard about his youngest. The twins. He should have been overseeing a maintenance detail. She would have been on duty at the incoming passenger reception desk. Were they dead or alive? "My Great God in Heaven. Why?" He implored.
He felt cold. His body was reacting to the toxin coursing through his veins. He became violently ill and totally miserable. Unable to move far from his relief room, he could only listen to the broadcasts from the information center about the damage and injury to his port and his people. "ElShaddai.... help them." He'd weep.
Antoni lost track of the days. Finally he felt strong enough to wash himself and change clothes. In doing so, his hair came out by the handfuls, his fingernails fell off. His teeth were bleeding around the gums.
"ElShaddai. Your Word tells me suffering is life. We should rejoice. Please understand. I will rejoice..." His prayer was interrupted by an urgent call from his physical self. Finally. Gasping. He finished. "Later."
He didn't put on the uniform he wore as Port Master. He found an old cleaning detail jumpsuit. It hung on him like a bag. There was a ragged hat that went with it. He put it on to cover the raw skin of his scalp. Unable to face his desk, unable to concentrate when the fever ran over him, he sat in the alcove, listening to the reports, and took shifts grieving, praying, and flicking clumps of hair and his nails at a waste bin.
A message from his wife came in. Basically giving him permission to give up and die. Antoni's only reply to it was, "ElShaddai is not finished with me yet. When He is, we shall see."
End part I
Continued in Part II
Back to the Desk Religion page. http://themediadesk.com