The Hand of God
a science fiction re-imagining of the gospel
Rajesh Khanna here from the 67th Department of Astral Histories. I don’t know if there’s anyone listening on this vector tonight, but I figured I’d pass the time talking since I missed the fast temporal current back home due to my own negligence. The Admiral is gonna be so mad, this could mean my license revoked. That’s the third time this quarter I’ve missed it. I do good work, but I am a little slow, and when I come back late, it throws off the rest of the shifts. People used to think time ships could go anywhere anytime, but of course now we know otherwise. We have to follow the temporal currents. And they have been particularly slow this season. Sorry… rambling. I’m sure you know all that from Basic Temporal Physics 101.
I still remember the first time I walked into that class. I was so excited. I thought being a time pilot would be one adventure after another. I don’t know about you but I always knew I was going to work for Astral Histories. I dreamt of seeing the historical birth and death of stars first hand. Little did I know I’d be buried in paper work and that most of the time our assistants would be doing the field work. If I had known that, I probably would’ve stopped at undergrad, and never gone on to get either of my doctorates. Of course my parents would not have approved; I come from a long line of doctors.
My dad is a medical doctor and his dad was a doctor of ethnomusicology. I used to travel with my grandfather to Australia when he was sent to holo-record the didgeridoo ceremonies of the Anindilyakwa out in the bush of Groote Eylandt. They always performed outside to honor their forefathers’ connection to the land. I remember one night I was lying on my back listening to the wonderful, strange hum of didgeridoos. When I looked at the stars they almost seemed to pulse in rhythm to the music. Then I saw a huge falling star, and when it hit the atmosphere it exploded and I could see the pieces fly off like burning embers. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever experienced, and I knew then, whatever it took, I was going to see that first hand and close up. Whenever I’m up late in the lab, extrapolating data and pulling my hair out, I try to remember that night, and I try to feel the wonder again. I have to hold on to the real reason I do what I do.
I think that was the most important thing Dr. Gabriel taught me. I don’t know if any of you had him as your temporal mathematics professor, but he was amazing. I used to think of him as the wise guru of our school. He looked the part too. He had a commanding presence, a long white beard, and deep set eyes under majestic bushy eyebrows. He actually used to scare me at first. When he looked at you, it always seemed like he was looking inside of you. Anyway, I was like most students, just trying to pass the class, get my degree, and get my job, but Dr. Gabriel would always challenge us to shoot for more. I remember one day in particular Dr. Gabriel stopped in the middle of his lecture on temporal variations, closed his book, looked strait at me (at least it felt like he did), and said, “I can tell you don’t care, so I’m going to talk about something more important.” I thought, “What could be more important than this.” All our other lectures had led up to this, and if we didn’t calculate our variations correctly, we could loose our time all together and end up who knows where, or worse, drift into a back ground radiation storm. Of course, not many people live to tell about those. Dr. Gabriel leaned up against his desk and asked, “What is the purpose of being a time pilot?” Several people raised their hands and gave text book answers and he listened patiently. When they had exhausted their responses, he just stood there for a while and silence fell on the classroom. Then he said, “What is the purpose of navigating the temporal seas, of seeing the birth of stars and planets, of exploring the ins and outs of the cosmos. The purpose is to see the hand of God!”
I don’t know if I really thought much about it at the time, but, through the years, his words have stayed with me. I am by no means a religious man. I have never considered the concept of God to be anything more than a personification of the forces in nature. But for some reason, I have often thought of the romantic notion that I am seeing the hand of God when I’ve seen The Great Supernova of ‘22, tracked Halley’s comet, or focused my instruments into the photonic maelstrom of Goethe’s Portico. Somehow, it makes all of the late nights worth it. Tonight, though, I am beginning to think that I should take Dr. Gabriel more literally. Ironically, it’s not some astral phenomenon that changed my mind, though a star did lead me there.
Two days ago, the Admiral assigned me the field work, since both of my assistants were gone. Evangel Perez was on vacation and Julie Shepherd was sick with influenza. (Take notes everybody: stay out of the mess hall. Seems like everyone that goes there lately gets sick, geometrically perfect grilled synth-cheese sandwiches were Shepherd’s downfall). As you could guess, I was ecstatic about the chance to get out on the temporal currents once again. It’s been too long. I’m even willing to put in the extra time to compile the data after the time-run. There were two missions, one peculiarly resonant star anomaly and one eclipse. Sounded pretty routine, ‘til I looked at the initial readings. I thought the paper for the star must be a misprint. I’ve never seen measurements like that. The energy readings were off the chart. The photonic particles also seemed to be magnetically aligned so that they proceeded in a discrete linear fashion (in accordance with the Lorentz transformation). Admiral Tran wanted me to gather first hand data from a closer proximity and then explore the gamma-pathways of these photons to see how far they proceeded.
Well, it turned out those papers were not an exaggeration. If anything the astral historian underestimated the brightness and electromagnetic emissions of the star. I was flabbergasted. Even with my shield on 99%, I still had to squint, and I could feel the heat under two layers of carbon nano-silk. One of my instruments fried almost instantly-filling my luminescent cabin with the odor of ozone, and the others were straining at full capacity. I have gone over and over these numbers and I can’t make heads or tails of it. I’ve never seen any star generate this much power, and I’ve definitely never encountered directional astro-magnetism this focused.
When I finally pried myself away from the spectacle, I followed the photonic trail, traveling for many light-leagues, until the trail was finally broken by an all too familiar planet. When I checked the star charts, I confirmed I was on earth. Despite the distance, the trail had not dispersed and it was still following a very narrow path. It led me to a specific hovel outside a tiny insignificant town close to what was once the Mediterranean Sea. My panels were so well charged, I could cloak practically indefinitely, so I decided to get close and observe the levels of energy hitting the ground. I attached some cloaking modules to my carbon suit, grabbed a couple light-recording capsules and went to work. I was trying my best to do my job and leave, but in all honestly, my curiosity about the ancients overtook wisdom. Most of the villagers were already inside but, as I was transfixed with my last calculation, tracking the epicenter of the astral resonance to this one diminutive dwelling, I looked up just in time to see the most extraordinary people coming straight for me, and fast. I literally had to grab my instruments and run. Thankfully my ship was not in their path. I stood on the other side of the little street, panting and taking in the surreal scene. There were probably 10 camels all loaded down with supplies, and probably three times as many men dressed in beautiful robes interwoven with gold thread and intricate designs. Jewels hung around their necks and bright turbans crowned their heads. They walked a few more feet and then stopped at the house haloed both in visible starlight and more intangible interference patterns detectable only by my sophisticated equipment..
They came to the door, and the one in the front stuttered something in a language I didn’t recognize, but his hesitation indicated it wasn’t his first language either. A very unassuming girl hesitantly met them at the threshold holding a child. She looked a little startled, but also a somewhat amused, like she was accustomed to unexpected visitors. When they saw the baby, they all fell down before him. Some bowed over and over, some spread their whole body on the ground, and some began to weep. I had tried to keep a professional distance, but something drew me closer. As I inched my way forward I felt my stomach turn, and this powerful, burning sensation crept up in me, the notion that I was unworthy to approach. Not because of the decadent visitors but because of the little kid. Part of me wanted to see him so desperately that everything else in the world seemed to fade away, but part of me wanted to run screaming. I realized I was breathing heavily, so I stopped for a moment and tried to regain my composure so I could proceed without being detected.
When I looked up, one of the men was lowering huge chests from the camels’ backs. He moved three on the ground and opened them to present the contents. As I came closer I realized one was completely full of gold. It reminded me of that old pirate holo, Ship of Treasure. I used to play that thing over and over again when I was a kid. I’m sure some of you were just as hooked. No exaggeration, the chest was huge and it was filled to the brim with gold nuggets and coins. The next two chests he opened were full of what looked like resin of some sort and they smelled like an exotic perfume. By that time I had risked coming dangerously close. I could actually feel the humid expiration of one of the camels. I took a deep breath, turned to my right, and looked strait into the child’s face. I don’t know what I was expecting, but he looked perfectly normal. He was just sleeping quietly in his perfectly normal looking mother’s arms. Nevertheless, that same strange, strong feeling welled up in me again. But when I looked at him, the thoughts were replaced with an incredible peace.
Suddenly, I came to, my porta-link vibrating quietly in my hand as if to remind me of my professional intentions here. As I tracked the device across the proceedings I could see, clear as day, the magnetic resonance pattern of the star flowing fully onto that unearthly child as if the fluid starlight itself was drawn to him- being absorbed by him. Part of my brain was perplexed and enthralled by this hitherto unknown phenomenon, but the more responsible half was asking what in the world was I doing. I was acting unprofessionally. I had a job to do, and I was putting the time line at risk, getting close to the ancients and getting swept away by my emotions and this seemingly mystical astral anomaly quite outside my experience and training to study. Let the egg heads back at the department take this thing apart after my report, safely, and with all the expertise the 67th can muster. I slinked away as quickly and quietly as I could, climbed aboard, gathered my thoughts and began entering my next vector. There was enough data in my light capsules to work with, so I felt like I could, in good conscience, move on to my second assignment. As the engine chattered through its boot up sequence, I thought of the boy’s face. Once again, I felt the terror and the peace and wondered why he affected me so profoundly. Who was this mysterious child? But there was work to be done, and no reason to ponder something without answers. Unbeknownst to me, in my preoccupation I had neglected to change the mysterious star’s magnetic resonance frequency as my targeting subluminary trajectory. A simple mistake, something any third year undergrad might have missed, but I should have known better, this is elementary astro-temporal-dynamics, but I was so flustered it merely slipped my mind. And with the flick of my boosters, I was off.
The ship started its flight smoothly enough, but I ran into some turbulence when I got caught in the skirling bow wave of the star’s photon trail. I should’ve known something was wrong as energy of this magnitude wouldn’t account for as rough a ride, so I tried to brake free through conventional solutions. I thought the surge would fizzle out, but the spectral harmonics were creating a reflection loop and the instability was increasing exponentially. I had no choice but to disable my sails immediately if I wanted to stay in one piece. My ship managed to make a fairly graceful landing, considering the circumstances, seemingly distanced from any concentrated areas of civilization. It looked like I had ended up fairly close to my previous location but a few decades in the future. Hopefully this would be enough of a time variance to avoid encountering the bow wave a second time. Once the spectral harmonics had dissipated I would be on my way. If I had been smart, I would’ve stayed in the ship, but according to the readout on the core she wouldn’t be ready to depart for another hour, so I left common sense behind, donned my cloaking modules again, and took a stroll.
After a few meters, I came upon a group weeping loudly in front of what seemed to be a rough-hewn cave with a huge stone sealing the entrance. Close to the front of the group there was a young man sobbing so vigorously that his shoulders shook with every breath. Beside him were two women clinging to him desperately, as if they expected him to help them in their distress. As I scanned the scene, taking rudimentary readings with my instruments, I was amazed to discover an all too familiar astral resonance streaming towards the man from the depths of the cosmos. Incredulously, I cross referenced the data with the recordings I had taken earlier, overlaid the two images, and stammered in astonishment. Sure enough, this youth was the same little boy I had seen surrounded by the camel-leading travelers earlier, just some 20 years older! Somehow my time-ship had merely slid along the same groove in the spatio-temporal array as solidly as an archaic needle followed its inextricable path through an ancient gramophone recording.
When I regained my composure, I noticed him whispering something to one of the women. She stepped back in disgust, but when he spoke to her again, she indicated to two men to roll away the stone in front of the tomb to the gasps of the crowd. The man in the front looked up to the sky and began speaking loudly. Then he extended a hand toward the cave and shouted something. And, no joke! A dude looking just like a mummy came out. There were screams of delight and everybody started going nuts. I know this is gonna sound crazy, but from what I could make out, it looked like this guy had just made a dead man come back to life again. I probably sound like I’m off my rocker, I know, but I have had one insane week, people. And the story just gets more outrageous.
I was trying to stay at a safe distance this time, and I kept an eye on the ship’s porta-link to observe the harmonic readings. I was not going to get emotionally involved this time. As soon as the dissipation was complete, I walked back to the ship. Tracking an eclipse is easy, so I was expecting to knock out my next mission in a matter of hours, catch the first temporal current home and be back in time for dinner. The ship booted up without a hitch, seemingly none the worse for wear from my earlier mis-calculations, and shot strait into its (correctly programmed this time, thank you professor Gabriel and strict training!) pathway, no stellar bow waves to be found. I poured myself a drink, put my feet up on the console, and enjoyed the show. I’ve never gotten tired of those streaks of color on the shield. It always looks like I’m falling between atomic jewels, or swimming through tiny bubbles gleaming in the starlight. After a while, I realized my sails were not extending, blast it!. They must’ve sustained some damage before I retracted them. This was not going to be a quick run, after all. I would have to do the work from earth instead of the moon. Coincidentally, the eclipse could be seen perfectly from the outskirts of a nearby city, so I didn’t have to travel much distance. Actually, I had already made most of the time too- there was less than a year left to travel. When I landed, I set the ship to auto-record so I could repair the sails. I could do the calculations when I got back home. Looks like it’s going to be another long night at the lab.
I set her down quietly in a place I considered to be a safe distance from the city walls. There was nothing around except a barren boulder-strewn expanse surrounding an ancient sun-bleached hillock which seamed to gleam dully like pallid bone in the light. When I had just laid all my tools out, I heard a crowd coming my way, and they sounded angry. I panicked. Had I forgotten to turn on the cloak? No, it was definitely running. What in the world was going on? When the clangorous mob cleared the city gate, I could see there were three men in the front holding long rough-hewn stakes of wood. They were prodded along by what looked like soldiers in gleaming breastplates and cloaks of scarlet. Every once in a while the captors would crack the whip and shout something. Following behind them were hysterical people, some crying, and some laughing. Just my luck. It looked like they were coming straight for me. I packed up my tools and switched to manual. I wouldn’t have time to boot up the flight mechanism, so I decided to just jump my ship away from the danger. To be safe, I switched on power save, once I parked. I couldn’t risk being detected. I would just have to collect the data manually.
Equipped with the remaining empty light capsules, in curiosity I walked back to the site. There was no use changing location if I didn’t have to, and I was interested in watching the action myself as the other capsules were already set up and running. I reached the destination, and shuddered at what surrounded me. The three prisoners’ hands had been nailed onto the very wood they had carried, and those beams, in turn, had been erected onto even larger stakes in the ground. Two of the men were screaming what I can only imagine were curses, but the other one was speaking comparatively calmly, even as his voice swelled in the pain he must have felt. When I looked at his face, I was taken aback. Was this the same young man I had seen outside the tomb? I was sure of it. But there was something else familiar about him. What was that expression I saw on his face? Behind the pain, there was something steady. Then I remembered. Welling up in me was that same intense peace I had experienced when I looked at the child bathed in the light of the pulsing star-anomaly. Lifting my instruments I confirmed what I already knew, this was the same individual I had followed from childhood to death, as if the very universe itself was playing out some horrendous three act play for an audience of one. His astral resonance patterns were as unmistakable as the unusually familiar lines of his face. People were shouting at him and laughing, but he kept speaking calmly, even lovingly. Suddenly the maximum eclipse fell, the solar disk reduced to a slender, rapidly dwindling crimson crescent and I tried to busy myself with the data. I had less than one hour left when I had run out of calculations I could do before the data was complete. I thought about leaving for the ship to work on the sails while I waited out the rest of the eclipse, but I knew I needed to stay with the capsules, so I was forced to remain close to the chaos. There were people dying around me and I was just trying to do business as usual. Was I that consumed with my profession, or was I just trying to avoid what was staring me in the face? The man in the middle was no ordinary man. Was it fate that had led me through the path of his life? Certainly, it was more than coincidence that brought me to him. Suddenly, he looked up to the sky and shouted. Then he went limp and the ground started shaking. I stood there staring at him for a long while, until someone came and took him down. By that time my capsules were almost full, so I finished the calculations and packed everything up.
To my horror, when I arrived at the ship there were boulders scattered around it. I could tell it had sustained some damage. I guess that’s what I get parking it near a rocky hill, but how could I have known there would be an earthquake. The temporal drive was dislodged and the sails were tattered beyond simple repair. This could take days to fix. I decided to call it a night. I would tackle the restoration in the morning with a clear mind. It seemed like my brain was on overload trying to process what I had seen throughout the day. I was definitely experiencing an adventure, but I don’t think I ever expected anything quite like this.
I started my work early the next morning. I had to extrude totally fresh sails from the luminal nano-material I had in the emergency stores. In retrospect, I’m glad I hadn’t repaired them earlier. The work would’ve been in vain. (I need to make a note to replenish my sail supplies when I return. I had to use every last bit. If I run into anymore trouble, I’m toast.) By late afternoon, I had finished prepping the computer to weave fresh sails and decided to take a break whilst the mechanism spun automatically for several hours. I knew it wouldn’t take nearly as long to reattach the temporal drive. I took my porta-link and a couple of empty light capsules and went to survey my surroundings. Carefully I walked along the outskirts of the habitations, skirting around the walls of the city at such distance as would render me just another sojourner out for a stroll. On the far side of the town I stumbled upon a well tended garden of flowering plants, adorned with frescoes and reliefs carved into the living rock. There were numerous caves with stones, just like the one I had seen the day before, which I took to be tombs. One in particular was sealed shut and guarded by soldiers of the same martial type as I had seen the day before. They looked grim and were wearing such over-the-top armored uniforms that I couldn’t resist taking a few holos. If this was a grave, like the cave I’d seen before, why were soldiers needed? Maybe a government official had died. Who knew? I set about placing my recording gear around in a semicircle as quietly as I could so as not to attract any undue attention, and spent some time getting excellent footage.
Afterwards, I made my way back to the ship and gathered the debris. It only took a few hours to connect the temporal drive, as I had suspected, and I finished just in time to watch the sunset aloft one of the boulders. Well, tomorrow it was back to the grind. When I was behind my desk again, I’d be longing for this place and time, so I decided to soak up as much as I could while I was here. When darkness fell, I was still on my back looking at the sky. The crickets started singing, and it reminded me of the didgeridoos I heard so long ago. I could see the falling star again in my mind’s eye, and suddenly something in my subconscious awoke. It wasn’t just the beauty of the moment that inspired me. The image represented a bigger concept. I realized something that night, though it wasn’t until now that I was conscious of it. When the meteor exploded on the atmosphere, I knew there was something, dare I say “someone,” bigger than me. I felt like I had been given a message, a trail of crumbs, and if I followed it, I would meet this… whatever it was. I guess that’s why Dr. Gabriel’s words had stayed with me all those years. Maybe that night in Australia I had seen the hand of God. And now, maybe, just maybe I had seen the face of God too.
The next morning I double and triple checked everything, really just for an excuse to stay longer, but I knew I needed to jump soon if I was going to catch the fast current. Buckling myself into the webbed restraints I began final countdown, and scanned my collection of light recording capsules bolted securely to the wall. My heart skipped a beat, one of the units was missing from its alcove, and I remembered suddenly that I must have left it recording the soldiers at the tomb all night. In terror I paused the humming engines, and ripped myself from the seat. Leaving anachronistic technology behind was a definite transgression of the most basic laws of temporal travel, and I had to retrieve it at all costs before I could leave. About half way around the hill, there was another earthquake, more powerful than the previous one. My heart sank; I feared the worse for my ship, yet I ran on into the dawn on my desperate errand. After some minutes I approached the garden, and saw a bright light coming from just around the bend. The soldiers were on the ground, unconscious, and the stone was rolled away. Two women were standing at the opening of the tomb and there were two men as bright as stars sitting there talking to them. Ok, I’m sure you all think I’m totally loopy now, but I’m telling the truth, and you can believe it if you want. Yea, and it gets better. As I walked closer I could understand what the men were saying. Don’t ask me how; I just could.
They said,” “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Yeshua, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” I followed the women into the tomb. There were only strips of cloth, no corpse. I walked back out, collected my equipment, and shambled back to the ship in a daze. I didn’t see who had been laid in that tomb, but somehow I knew it must be the same man I had seen before. Fate had brought me to his childhood, his miracle, his death, and now his resurrection. I didn’t know who he was or where to he was now, but I was going to follow the trail of crumbs until I came to him again. I was gonna search for him and find him. Or had he really been searching for me all this time?
So now you know, why I had to tell somebody. I just decided to open the channel and start rambling…even if there’s no one on my vector at all. I’m anxious to review the holorecording I inadvertently left running at the site of the tomb overnight, what amazing scenes will I see? I’m sure I’ll have even more to share after I watch the footage. Well if no one heard me this time, I’ll consider it practice ‘cause everyone’s gonna hear it when I get home. When the Admiral asks why I’m late this time, he’s in for a long story!