We sat in silence while the stars shone around us. Their light flickered through glass and tree fronds, and between the hexagonal metal grids that formed the dome of the Arboretum Pod. Over the years it had become our de facto place for meetings for worship. As the space station spun in a galaxy far from the one where our religion was born, we waited to be moved by the Holy Spirit.
It was that very faith that had carved out our place in the world. As the universe grew and the human race spread out among the stars, we Quakers found ourselves valued and trusted custodians.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,” I said, “whenever you face trials of many kinds.” My voice threatened to break as the line of scripture found a home deep inside me.
“Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance,” Tobias said. The old man smiled gently at me. “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Around us, others who had joined for the meeting rose and shook hands.
“God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, Commander,” Tobias said.
“That’s not scripture.”
He clapped me on the shoulder grinning. “But it’s true all the same.”
Image by Zacarias da Mata
Over Tobias’s shoulder a sliver of light slashed the air making a glowing opening. Tobias caught my change in posture and followed my gaze. With a nod he acknowledged our soon-approaching guests and exited, leaving me alone with our visitors.
A figure, human-shaped, but made of fog, stepped through the door, followed by another, smaller in stature, maintaining its usual demeanour: hands clasped, head bowed, gaze directed at the floor they both hovered above. Whether it was their true form or a simulacrum in an attempt to make us comfortable, I had yet to determine.
The Ambassador, as he introduced himself, had many questions. Few answers. They had even demurred from giving us a name or title for the smaller visitor, saying that it was too complicated to translate and in fact it would be best if they were ignored completely. We referred to them as the Aid.
“James, chapter 1, verses 2 to 4,” the Ambassador said. “And are we the trials that you make mention?”
“We all have trials.”
I included his reserved shadow in my statement, but the Ambassador drifted to block my view. “You pray to not lack anything. Even your ancient wisdom recognizes a universal truth. We all want something.”
“That’s not quite the interpretation of the scripture.”
“We have observed your meetings. Of course, how can we understand, if you are silent?”
I gestured, inviting him to accompany me, leaving the space free for other worshipers. It had been several months since a fissure had opened on the space station atrium and the Ambassador and Aid had stepped through. With that level of technology, I had assumed they could open doorways all over the entire space station. Our visitors however remained polite if taciturn. One thing became evident; we Quakers had become of significant interest to them.
“Is it these spices that give you power?” the Ambassador asked, as we exited the arboretum pod.
I stumbled at the statement, out onto one of our main thoroughfares through the central atrium. This was the first time they have mentioned our beliefs specifically. Mind, it was only a simple acronym: SPICES. We used it to help instruct those unfamiliar with our beliefs, but it proved a deeper probe into our faith.
“I suppose one could say our faith empowers us.”
“And if we demanded these spices from you?” the Ambassador said, his voice more excited than I had heard it.
I feel myself frowning in frustration. Before I took the stairs to the administration and operations center of the space station, I turned to face them. “They are there for all.”
I had explained our worship many times, and it was as if they expected a different answer each time they asked. Now however I sensed a different tack. I breathed in and out slowly. Perseverance.
“Surely there are those more worthy.”
“We make ourselves worthy through our actions. You shall know them by their works,” I said, quoting Matthew.
At this the Aid’s head shot up, their gaze fixed on mine. I had become used to their lack of facial expressions, trusting more in tone and body language, but the Aid’s expression somehow shone through the vagueness of their features. The Aid was awed. With a creeping fear, I realized the Ambassador stared at them just as intently. Then they slowly turned to face me, their anger palpable.
A fissure doorway opened beside him, this time a dark, jagged tear. The ground beneath me tilted. As I struggled to find my balance, alarms erupted all over the space station. Beyond the atrium dome, the stars shuddered.
“Station shifting off axis. Unknown gravitational pull. Integrity compromised.”
Without another word, the ambassador exited leaving a black scar hanging in the air.
”Redirect all power to the shields and stabilizers,” I said.
The atrium went dark except for the emergency lights. The Ambassador’s tear shimmered and throbbed. Around me the space station grated and groaned. Emergency crew instructions hammered through the com, and footsteps echoed through the atrium.
It wasn’t until I saw the outline of their form against the black hole that I realized the Aid was still here. They spread themselves along the rupture and in a flash of light—strong enough to hurt—sealed it. The grinding stopped. The alarms dwindled and announcements rang louder through the station. Emergency crews rushed to and from other areas as the station lights glowed to life.
“Commander, orbital control regained. Correcting station’s star position.”
“Negative. Stabilize and hold position,” I said, staring at the Aid. “Request supervisor status reports. Maintain shields, but redirect power where needed. Make sure everyone is safe.”
The Aid drifted toward me, a soft pulsing glow infusing their form. They spread their arms apart as if in prayer: beatific, serene behaviour, more alien than any other I had seen from them. The Aid bowed to me and faded away. I stood there stunned.
“Commander, reports coming in.”
“On my way.”
Image by jakkaje8082
I increased security. After analyzing the electromagnetic signature of the last doorway, we adjusted the frequency of the shield waves to limit the effect of any inter-dimensional openings, making allowances for the new readings. We regained orbital position and after a thorough inspection and some repairs, I deemed us operational.
The station however lived on tenterhooks. After the initial shock a lingering curiosity took hold of me. Had the disruption been an accident or threat? If a threat, why did they think it necessary? Had I insulted them? Stranger still, why had the Aid intervened?
Weeks later, Tobias pulled me aside. “There are more of them. But they are not like the Ambassador. They are like the Aid.”
I nodded. “We are monitoring their fields. None of them have come close to exerting the same disruption to the space station.”
“You did say the smaller one saved us.”
“I believe they did.”
“If they are not against us,” Tobias said, “they are with us.”
Despite Tobias’s comforting words, I was shocked when I entered the Arboretum Pod. Dozens of Aids stood scattered throughout the space, more than I had ever seen, heads bowed and hands clasped as they always did. Now, however, iridescent particles seemed suspended in their form, giving them an inner light.
Suddenly, they began to wink out. A fissure opened as the last disappeared. The Ambassador stepped through. Unaccompanied.
“Commander,” ops said, over the com. “Entry in the Arboretum deck. Same signature as before.”
“Yellow alert. All stations on standby and shields up. Monitor frequency.”
I moved to greet our visitor, my heart beating so hard I thought surely they could hear it. “Ambassador,” I said. “You’ve returned.”
“We return to receive your offer.”
“You are welcome to participate in our worship as before.” I nodded as some of the other worshipers chose to evacuate the space. I was grateful when Tobias joined me but worried that perhaps he too should leave. “Perhaps the Holy Spirit will move you.”
I took a seat, inhaling the air of the vegetation and trying to exhale my anxiety. Doubt plagued me. I prayed for a message: some sign that my faith was not misplaced in these alien beings, in my beliefs. I had barely taken a half dozen calming breaths when the words began to flow from my lips.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might,” I said. “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
I slumped in my chair, spent, but when I lifted my head, I shot to my feet. The Aids had returned in even greater numbers. They stood, arms spread, heads tilted upward, pillars of golden light, iridescent, shining in exaltation. Then alarms rang out.
“Commander,” ops said over my com, “Fissures appearing all over the station.”
“Red alert,” I said, moving toward the exit. Holes appeared above me and within each a dark miasma seethed. “Activate disruption shields.”
The Ambassador darted across the room toward one Aid. One arm extended tentacle-like and stabbed their iridescent form. A burst of light illuminated the arboretum and the Aid was gone.
“You will release the power to me, Commander,” the Ambassador said as they advanced on me. “The same that you have done for these.”
“Their power is their own, Ambassador. Your actions have violated our peace. You will leave. Now. Or I will be forced to take action.”
“These are ours.”
“On my station, I serve all.”
I felt a chill as the darkness within the doorways seemed to fill the form before me. The Ambassador’s arm coiled, a serpent about to strike.
“Defence sequence alpha,” I yelled into the com. The newly programmed random fluctuations of frequency rates in the shield made the visitor’s doorways writhe and twist.
The Ambassador’s attack slowed as if hindered but still they advanced on me, arm raised. From my left Tobias moved to intercept, but I was quicker still and brought him down, twisting to shield him with my body. I braced myself for the blow. It did not come.
A light blazed blindingly bright. I turned to find the Aid there, its form stretched as it had done before to cover the opening. This time it reached out to the Ambassador, embracing their dim form until only the light of the Aid remained. They bore them back, floating toward the nearest opening.
Around me the other Aids stepped into the doorways, their glow eradicating the darkness within. They stretched and spread, coalescing. I felt their presence, a shield that shimmered and pulsed brighter and brighter until culminating in, what I could only name, an exaltation of light.
Tobais climbed to his feet. “Your defence sequence worked.”
I shook my head as I rested my hand on Tobias’s shoulder, tears springing to my eyes. I realized the words I had spoken during worship had not been for me. They had been for the Aids. The Holy Spirit had taken root in the souls of those strange beings, where its presence would not be denied.
“He who has eyes to see let him see,” I said, “And he who has ears to hear let him hear.”