Star Chosen: a Science Fiction Space Opera for the Whole FamilySpace robots are standing by to take your order!
Paperback, 126 pages
Available in paperback or eBook
Silly Daddy dares to write apocalyptic science fiction for the whole family! Think "Star Trek" meets the Bible.
Deleting history was just the beginning. Blast off with STAR CHOSEN, a family-friendly space opera of post-biblical proportions! After war, heartbreak, attacks to your faith, and the erasure of all history and culture, whose side will you fight on: the Proud... or the Chosen?
Xeric Award winner and Ignatz Award nominee Joe Chiappetta crafts "Star Chosen," a science fiction epic for all ages. In a time yet to come, the high-tech Faith War threatens to destroy all religions across the universe. The term "Christian" has been completely eradicated from all culture in a war-torn galaxy.
One small yet bold group, known as "the Chosen," survives due to a miraculous favor from a mysterious military man. In intergalactic combat and matters of destruction, this military man knows no equal. Yet on the home front, his family is falling apart. Unlike most families of the future, torn to bits by addiction to virtual reality game products, this man's family crumbles under his terrible involvement with weapons of experimental technology.
As the man continues to cross paths with the kind-hearted Chosen people, he dreams for a chance at redemption with his wife and daughter, who have disappeared to an unknown planet. He's all too aware that his journey may be shattered by a futuristic conspiracy full of intrigue and high-tech secrecy.
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2010903400
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This is the most action packed and thought provoking semi-autobiographical science fiction adventure ever. Be prepared to read this Christian science fiction novel cover to cover, as readers say they can't put it down. As biblical speculative fiction goes, Star Chosen will take you on a space flight that will challenge your faith and entertain at the same time.
Looking to read a free science fiction novel online? You can now read the first 12 (out of 71) chapters of Star Chosen for free online:
Star Chosen, PART 1: PRETTY SPARKLES--BUT IT'S WAR
Chapter 1: A Robotic Artist Is BornOn a medical space station far from Earth, a young soldier named Joe woke up from a nightmare. He was in a recovery room lying down while a nurse ran diagnostics on his left arm.
"What happened? Where am I?" asked Joe while looking out the window to try and get a bearing on where he was. Surrounded by many stars, a planet he didn't recognize dominated the view out into space.
"You're a patient on the Mozart Military Medical Station," replied the nurse. "Your ship was caught in an ambush. Apparently, some religious terrorists caught your military unit by surprise. Your craft suffered the worst damage. Speaking of damage, how do you feel?"
"Well, my back hurts a little," said Joe, "but that always gives me trouble. Why does my left arm feel... different?"
"I'm sorry to inform you," said the nurse, "but your left forearm took on heavy laser fire. I'm afraid we had to amputate it. However, you are a rare find! You're one of the very few people whose biological system does not reject robotic limbs."
"Are you saying that my left arm is now a robot arm?" Joe asked in amazement. "It looks just the same."
"That's the point," said the nurse. "But it's not the same. You'll find that your new arm can do everything that the old arm could do, and then some. In fact, if you choose to stay in the military, your new arm will also be loaded with a number of the latest weapons implants, including..."
"That's quite alright," interrupted Joe. "I'm getting out! Amputation makes me eligible for an honorable military discharge with pay, and that's exactly what I'm doing."
"Of course," the nurse replied. "So where do you want to be discharged to? Back to Earth?"
"What's the nearest planet?" asked Joe, who was sick of space travel and just wanted to settle down on any solid ground--maybe even start a family.
"That would be Pizon. It used to be well known for its artistic culture, and in fact the planet is uniquely beautiful--the only place where you'll find a plethora of purple landscapes. Of course, it's not overdeveloped and over-paved like Earth is. I mean, Pizon has its fair share of big cities, but much of it is still underdeveloped. Some areas even resemble Earth before the age of space colonization."
"However, I should warn you," the nurse continued as she monitored her patient's vital signs, "that Pizon is becoming somewhat notorious as a base for thieves and swindlers."
"That sounds great!" Joe exclaimed. "I don't have much for them to steal. Now tell me more about the artistic side of their culture."
"Well," said the nurse, "Pizon was colonized centuries ago by Italian artists--all sorts of creative types. Pleasure, philosophy, expression, and self-exploration were its founding principles."
"Count me in!" said Joe. "One of my ancestors was an Italian artist too--a cartoonist in fact. That was before space colonization though."
"Oh, that reminds me," added the nurse, "since you're not loading any weapons into your arm, you've got the option to load some additional features here."
"Like what?" asked Joe. "Are you talking about super strength?"
"You already have that," replied the nurse. "That comes standard with all robotic arms. What I'm talking about is that you can choose between three skill sets to load into your arm. Pick one of these precision skills: drawing/painting, or building, or music."
"Let me get this straight," Joe stated, "I get to select one of these abilities, and then when you load it, I'd have that skill?"
"That's correct," replied the nurse, "but only in your left arm."
"Which option do most people pick?" asked Joe.
"I don't know," answered the nurse. "Like I mentioned, so few patients are actually a biological match to receive robotic arms that you're the first person that this station has ever operated on for this procedure. But if it was me, I'd pick the building option. That seems to be the most useful."
"That would be practical," agreed Joe, "but all we do in the military is supposed to be practical and measurable. I'm tired of it! Load me up with the drawing implant. I'm going to be a cartoonist."
Chapter 2: A Soldier No MoreIn the middle of Joe's arm loading procedure, the nurse had a realization and said, "You know, if you just want to be a cartoonist, you really don't need all the complex painting features that come standard with the drawing implant."
Joe, who was able to stay awake for this painless robotic modification, asked, "So are you saying that we can also fit the music or building program into my arm if we don't add the painting options?"
"Oh, not at all," replied the nurse. "The music and building implants are much too big. But (not that I've ever done this before), since you want to be a cartoonist, it might be useful to load a library option in your arm, instead of the painting features."
Joe made a puzzled face and asked, "What would that do?"
The nurse explained, "The library program I could implant into your arm would contain all the classics of literature. I would imagine that they might come in handy for when you make your cartoon stories."
"How would I access this library?" asked Joe.
"I don't know," replied the nurse. "You'd have to read the instructions."
"Go ahead then. Load it," declared Joe. "What harm could it do?"
"No harm at all, I'm sure," answered the nurse as she loaded the library arm implant. "It certainly wouldn't make you any worse of a cartoonist. Until you get out of here and actually start making cartoons, you're no cartoonist at all."
"Right," said Joe. "So when can I be released?"
"Well, I'll submit the release authorization form," said the nurse, "and as soon as you go through a few days of grief counseling, then you're free to go."
"Grief counseling?" wondered Joe. "Who died?"
"Oh, no one died in the ambush," replied the nurse. "I'm talking about your arm. We typically operate quickly in all amputee procedures. In your case, it helps the body adjust more successfully to a new limb. However, your emotions may not react that fast. Your mind needs time to grieve and express your feelings over the loss of a limb. That arm had been with you your entire life. We have trained professionals who can help you deal with..."
"No thanks, nurse," interrupted Joe. "If I need to express anything about that, from now on, I'll just draw a cartoon about it."
The nurse shook her head and said, "You do realize that drawing comics is no substitute for therapy, don't you?"
Joe was quick to reply; "Nurse, you've got to look at the big picture. Earth is at war... with its own citizens! We're killing each other over disagreements about who God is, or isn't. It's ridiculous. It's awful."
The nurse declared, "Joe, I advise you to end this train of thought immediately! You could be arrested for such a line of thinking--you know that. The military's official stance is that there is no God."
"That's exactly why I don't need any counseling from the military," replied Joe. "I know there's a God. And maybe I haven't met him yet. But I certainly won't get any closer to him by remaining a pawn in this mindless war. I'm getting out today!"
Joe was speaking rather illustriously about the War Against All Faiths. That was the official name of the military operation, but increasingly, most people referred to it simply as the Faith War.
"I should report you for talking like that," warned the nurse, "but I won't. Patients in your condition often suffer bouts of irrational thought."
"Nurse," said Joe, struggling to be polite, "please just finish up with the implant procedure. Then I'll take my irrational thoughts, and my cartoon arm, and say good riddance to the military."
Chapter 3: Good Night BabyKa-boom! In the middle of a loud and flashing nighttime storm, another young military man heard his child making excited baby noises. As he got up and rushed into his daughter's room, she was lying down in her crib, but awake and tracking her daddy with one eye. The other eye rested against the bed.
"Angie has a keen sense of covert observation," thought the proud father, "and at such an early age!"
Their apartment pod sat high atop a colossal city skyscraper in Chicago. The father had always programmed his building walls to "opaque mode" at night. However, intense storms were known to cause malfunctions in object opacity technology, more commonly known as "OO Tech." The glitch was physically harmless, but alarming, nonetheless.
Tonight the storm switched all their building's outer walls to "transparent mode." This made for a panoramic view of the storm and a very excitable baby. With the rounded corners of all the walls suddenly appearing to disappear, the skyscraper residents had the sensation of being thrust into a storm in midair.
Lightning and thunder quickly livened the atmosphere again with another ka-boom. The child sprang up and was fervently trying to tell her dad something about the storm. Yet there is only so much that can be done with a limited vocabulary of "ball," "baby-o," "mine," "more," "mommy," "daddy," and "I love you."
However, in the middle of an unpredictable storm, the only meaningful communication needed was a big hug from daddy. Picking up his daughter, the two of them snuggled on the floor of their apartment pod for a few moments. As he touched her soft hair, the father had some sort of parental revelation. He said gently to his daughter, "You're my baby. You're getting so big, Angie; you won't be a baby much longer. Pretty soon you'll be talking in complete sentences! I'm sorry sometimes that I have to be gone for a few months on military operations, but I'll always come home to you. You're in good hands with Mommy, even though it amazes me that she can sleep through all this commotion. And someday, I hope you do something inspiring--something no one will ever forget. That's my sweet baby."
Then he said "good night" to his girl and put her back in her bed. Surely that is what it was... a good night.
Chapter 4: A Fiery Circle for the NullifierA few months later, a covert operation took place that brought staggering consequences on not just the citizens of Chicago, but also upon the entire known universe. A small, unassuming spacecraft landed in the middle of a cornfield in Illinois. Known for its genetically-altered caramel corn crops, downstate Illinois was one of the sweetest regions on the planet. The young military father from Chicago, plus two other military officers, one female and another male, came out of the craft and stepped into the sugary aroma of fresh caramel cornfields. The female officer carried a pyramid-shaped device about the size of a large pumpkin.
"You know, the original idea for this device came to me in my sleep," said the woman. "It's true. In my first week as a cadet, when I was deployed at Jupiter Station, I fell asleep at my post. My commanding officer caught me and woke me up. I told him the same thing; 'Some of my best ideas come to me while I'm sleeping.' But that didn't seem to impress him. In fact, he made me do laps around the space station wearing gravity boots set on high. That's what they call heavy duty. Anyway, where do you want me to put down the Nullifier?"
The young father pulled out a gun, adjusted the settings, and fired it in a spiral pattern on the ground. This only amplified the honey-like scent in the air. Dense corn stalks in that area incinerated to form a fiery circle, leaving a small open area of smoldering dirt. "Put the Nullifier right there," replied the shooter, pointing to the center. Away from his family, he was a soft spoken, yet blunt and intimidating sort of fellow: the kind of man that anyone would want on their side in a fight.
The three officers entered the circle and the woman placed the pyramid device on the ground at the center of the circle. A case of nerves suddenly made it impossible for the female officer to contain her fears any longer. "Let me go on the record here," she exclaimed in a louder-than-needed voice, "and state that even though I designed this device, I still am not convinced that using it is the best course of action. I cannot stress enough how dangerous it can be if this thing malfunctions. It's so powerful that we can't even test it. I had to use unstable particles to make the Nullifier work, and naturally, these particles break down quickly. Because of this instability, we now either have to use it or lose it."
The older and senior male officer responded without hesitation, "First of all, you know that none of this can ever be 'on the record.' However, your reservations are noted. My apologies to you in advance if this ends up destroying the universe, and us along with it. But I have complete confidence in your ability to deliver. I always have."
"Beside that," continued the tall man, "this is war. The enemy doesn't even think twice when they launch their attacks on us. They don't doubt whether or not they should launch their physical or mental weapons against us; they just do it. Now it's our turn to attack. Activate the Nullifier, darling, now."
The young woman opened an access panel in the little pyramid device, typed a few commands, and said, "Nullifier program countdown begin: x minus three, x minus two, x minus one, launch Nullifier."
The farmland's dark of night transformed into a sky saturated with tiny sparkles that emanated outward from the strange device. If not for the destructive nature of the Nullifier, the sweet smelling and sparkling atmosphere would almost be considered as attractive.
"Hah!" the senior officer exclaimed as he put his hand on the woman's shoulder. "I'm so proud of you. Contact with the genetically-altered corn is accelerating the expanding force of the Nullifier even faster than your computer models predicted. At this rate, the momentum will be unstoppable long before the sparkles even reach the Indiana border."
The younger male asked, "Are you sure we don't need to take cover, or at least close our eyes? My wife would never forgive me if I came home dead."
"Taking cover won't change anything," the woman replied. "I told you that already in the final briefing. The Nullifier will either work exactly as planned with no casualties, or things could get ugly in a matter of minutes. If the Nullifier doesn't work, well... the released components will destabilize and multiply in a deadly, uncontrollable fashion. The universe will most likely dissolve quickly, like salt in water. A helmet or a bunker won't protect anyone from universal destabilization."
As the sparkles expanded everywhere, and seemed to pass harmlessly through the officers, the young man said, "I'm closing my eyes anyway, just in case. Tap me when it's over."
Chapter 5: Wipeout Like Never BeforeTharquinn Thane, an aspiring teenage scientist, sat typing by the window of his mother's high-rise condo. He was an average looking youth of medium height with big, wavy hair, "but not too wavy," his mother would add.
The wall adjacent to the Thane's kitchen had a number of Tharquinn's school science awards and also a hologram displaying promotional images from some of his most widely distributed theories and hypotheses. His "Virtual Reality without a Hangover" poster holographically faded into "Object Opacity Technology for Living Organisms," then "Magnetic Implants for Life," and so on, in a continuous loop of self-promotional scientific wall decoration.
The condo unit, currently overlooking the Chicago River, was set at "shuffle." This made the whole living unit physically rotate, albeit slowly, upwards and then downwards, along with a trail of other condo units. Such buildings looked somewhat like square Ferris wheels. For those who could afford this living luxury, it was promoted as a room with an ever-changing view, ideal for creative types, the adventurous, and those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Combined with object opacity technology (OO Tech), which Tharquinn always set at transparent for his outer walls, this made for a spectacular living experience.
"Tharquinn, dinner is almost ready," his mother Jane called to him from the hallway. "Are you slouching again? That's bad for your back, you know. Anyway, this afternoon I met some of those 'Advocate' folks. I accidentally dropped my 3D camera down a sewer, and while I was all in a flutter, a family came up to me. The man, who was rather tall, said, 'I'm Shamus. This is my wife Sarah and our daughter Reyna. You go on and enjoy some girl talk while I go and fish out that gizmo for you, young lady. I don't believe in luck, but if I did, I would tell you that you are very lucky because I am a fisherman of sorts.'"
Jane suspected that her son wasn't listening, so she spoke louder; "Can you believe that, Tharquinn? The fisherman called me 'young lady.' Isn't that nice? So, Shamus pops open an old sewer grid and jumps in. He reaches around in the muck, bare hands mind you, and finds my camera. Now all the while his wife and daughter are talking to me about some sort of book club or something. They weren't even watching Shamus splashing around in the underbelly of Chicago. Their focus was on me. They were trying to invite me to attend their book club. The daughter, Reyna, was very cute. I think you'd like her: just your type, with long brown hair and thick eyebrows. Next term, she'll be enrolling in the science academy. You may even have a class together."
As Tharquinn's mother poured her son some soy milk, she continued talking, "Anyway, Reyna gave me an invitation to that book club. It's a handwritten note on a leaf. Can you believe it, a leaf? I kind of felt sorry for them. They can't even afford electronic paper. The girl does have nice handwriting, though. Penmanship--now that's a lost art."
"Moreover, the funny thing about this book club is that, apparently, they only talk about one book: something called the 1F8thFile. The wife even beamed me a copy over to my wrist computer and said that I had to read it and then study it with her for some sort of life-changing experience. Those people were so nice, honey. A little odd, but maybe I should read their book sometime. Tharquinn, are you even listening? Anyway, dinner is ready."
"Okay, Mom, I'll be right there," said Tharquinn, "but just give me one more minute. As soon as I finish this closing sentence, my latest hypothesis will be totally finished."
"You didn't even hear my story," replied Jane with a whine, "but I'll cut you some slack because it's not every day that my son finishes his next great masterpiece. It's about time. You've been working on that thing for, what, the whole year?"
Just as Tharquinn finished saying "not quite," an unexpected wave of sparkles crackled its way through the entire building. The air outdoors was infiltrated with sparkles as well. In every direction, the world looked to be suddenly decorated with wireless holiday lights. The sparkles lingered for a few moments and then moved onward, expanding out with ever-increasing radius from their humble beginnings at the fiery circle in central Illinois.
"What was that? Did you see that?" whispered Jane. "It's outside too. Wait. Why am I whispering?"
"Because this is freaky," mumbled Tharquinn. "It was... everywhere, but now the sea of sparkles seems to have passed through us and left us behind, like a giant wave of migrating fireflies."
"Hey," Jane added, "your hologram stopped working. And where's the hypothesis you were finishing on screen?"
Tharquinn's eyes glared at his computer monitor with extreme concern. He tapped away at his keyboard, but with undesirable results. "It's gone? No! That can't be. Computer, retrieve most recent hypothesis file. Computer, acknowledge. Computer?"
The computer gave no response at first, but then made a most dreadful sound. The generic factory default start-up jingle played, followed by the familiar default introduction: "Hello, I'm your new computer. Give me a name, followed by a few commands of your choice and let MycroMak, the universal leader in software, do the rest because we do data best."
Tharquinn hadn't named his computer when he first got it, and he certainly wasn't about to name it now. Consistent with the surveys, the majority of males tended not to name their computers, while most women tended to name their computers.
Tharquinn frantically typed away at the keys to do a manual search on his unnamed computer, this time looking for any scientific files, next for any narrative files. "No. This can't be happening. This doesn't happen anymore! Mom, everything I've ever written since... well, since I was a little kid, and every book I've ever collected, they're all gone! Our whole library, and my life's work... it's all gone. Computer, open hypothesis file 'Virtual Magnetic Skates.'"
"I'm sorry," said the computer calmly, "but that file does not exist. You can create it if you'd like. But as your new computer, don't you want to give me a name first? MycroMak computers are fully customizable for all your..."
"No. No! Computer, your name is just 'Computer!'" shouted Tharquinn. "Now search backups and sub-backups. Search remote locations as well. Search other computers and the Internet. Display all narrative files, book files, and any other text files written by Tharquinn Thane."
"No Tharquinn Thane narrative files, book files, or any other text files are found," said the computer.
Tharquinn's mind was racing. "How could this be?" he thought. "Why would anyone wipe out only my work and my collection, and how is that even possible?"
His mother responded, "Maybe it wasn't just your work. Maybe everybody's work was wiped out by those little sparkle things."
Tharquinn followed up with another command: "Computer, search for any narrative files written by anyone, anywhere in any media, on any hardware."
The computer replied, after a few moments of bleeping: "I'm sorry: none found."
Tharquinn slumped deeper in his chair during dinner while Jane pondered aloud, "Can you have a book club without any books? I guess I won't be reading that 1F8thFile after all." As Jane said this, she tossed the handwritten invitation to the Advocates' book club toward the recycling bin. However, she missed the bin and the leaf landed on Tharquinn's foot.
Tharquinn picked up the invitation and said, "I think I'm going to check out this book club, Mom. If a whole group is devoted to one book, maybe they'll figure out a way to restore their lost data, and then mine."
"Besides," thought Tharquinn, "in the company of a very cute girl who is just my type, what have I got to lose?"
Chapter 6: Goodbye Silly DaddyThe younger of the two male military officers from the fiery circle arrived home just before sunrise. Assuming that his wife and toddler-age daughter were still sleeping, the officer sat quietly in the kitchen, trying not to wake anyone. Staring blankly at the glass of grape juice he had just poured himself, the man clenched one fist with restrained anger, and clutched the glass tensely with his other hand.
"Welcome home, honey," said his wife as she joined him in the kitchen. "What's wrong?" she added. "I've never seen you so upset!"
Dragging a pink stuffed animal in one hand, their little daughter Angie also entered the room. She had a super-cute baby face, with chubby cheeks that were usually irresistible to her daddy. He almost always greeted her with a kiss and a squeeze on the cheek, saying "That's my sweet baby!" However, no such greetings were given out on this occasion.
"I'll be fine, Edenisia. Don't worry about it," the husband replied to his wife, trying not to appear upset. "I'm surprised you're both up at this hour."
"With all the activity, we couldn't help it," replied Edenisia. "You should have seen this place earlier. The most bizarre army of little sparkles spread throughout our entire home, and apparently all over the universe! On the news they're saying it's some sort of deliberate attack and that historical records, literature, and most culture has been irrevocably wiped out. What kind of sick people would do such a thing? How could they even live with themselves?"
At that, the man's grip on the glass tightened uncontrollably, and the glass broke into hundreds of tiny pieces, spraying the dark juice all over the room. The cup was smart-glass though. So the fragments quickly began to draw back together and reshape itself into its original cup form.
The juice, however, was another matter. It splashed all over the stuffed animal, and sent their daughter into a loud bout of over-tired crying.
"You wrecked my Zoo Zoo doll!" Angie exclaimed in dramatic anguish.
While picking up Angie to console her, Edenisia came to a stunning conclusion as she watched her husband's odd behavior. In a flash of intuition, she declared to him, "You had something to do with the attack, didn't you?"
The absence of a quick reply from her husband confirmed it for Edenisia. "You did! What were you thinking? I don't think I even know you! What kind of madman are you?"
She didn't wait for an answer. Instead Edenisia handed the baby to her husband and said, "Hold your daughter while I find something to clean up this mess."
In an attempt to get his daughter to stop crying, the man said to his child, "Watch this; Zoo Zoo doll knows I'm thirsty."
The man proceeded to take the soaked stuffed animal and hold it above his head. Then he squeezed it, opened his mouth and a stream of juice poured into his mouth and all over his face.
Utterly surprised, Angie paused for a moment and started laughing. "Silly Daddy!" said Angie as she gave him a big hug. "You're my silly Daddy."
This high point of conversation came to an abrupt end after they put their toddler back to bed. Edenisia demanded answers from her husband, "I know you're stressed out. I know you've been up all night, and I know the military expects you to keep your mouth shut, especially in war time. But honey, I need to know the truth, and I need it now; what exactly has you're involvement been with these destructive sparkles? And why would you want to destroy all of society?"
"You know I can't discuss my work," the man stated firmly, but with a heavy heart. "My hands are tied."
"I was afraid you'd say that," replied his wife.
Edenisia really did look afraid--afraid of what she felt she had to do. Later that morning, while her husband was in the shower, Edenisia packed up some bare essentials, took Angie, and left. His wife and daughter's face would fade from the family man's memory as an endless flow of painful and lonely years came and went. He wondered if he would ever see them again. His dear daughter's last words that day would never leave him; "Silly Daddy. You're my silly Daddy."
Chapter 7: The Wife Who Stole Her Husband's SpaceshipDespite the fact that her own spacecraft was more comfortable and kid-friendly, Edenisia took off at top speed in her husband's personal spacecraft. This was very strategic. Over the years, her spouse and his military buddies had modified his ship off the record for extra stealth. The vehicle was completely untraceable. It was this ship that Edenisia and Angie made their secret and sad exit within.
"Where are we going, Mommy?" asked Angie as the ship left Earth's airspace.
"I don't know," replied her mother. "I'll tell you when we get there."
"Mommy, where's my Zoo Zoo doll?" asked Angie.
Edenisia looked around quickly and then huffed in realization as she said, "I forgot it, Angie. I'm sorry."
In between bouts of crying, Angie whimpered repeatedly, "I want my Zoo Zoo doll. Go get it."
"We can't go back. I'll get you a new doll," said her mother. "But we can never go back."
Angie asked in confusion, "What about Daddy, Mom? This is Daddy's ship. He never lets you drive it. Let's get Daddy."
"We can't do that," replied Edenisia.
"Why not, Mommy?" asked Angie as she stopped crying.
"This is Mommy's ship now," replied Edenisia, somewhat distracted. "Now Angie, I really need you to keep quiet for a little while. Mommy needs to figure out exactly where we're going, and to do that, I can't be talking."
From the blackness of space, Angie asked in surprise, "You don't know where we're going? Are we lost?"
"If you keep quiet," replied her mother, trying to stay patient, "then we won't be lost."
"Okay, Mommy," replied Angie. "Look at me now. I'm being quiet!" Then Angie added, "But if we do get lost, I'm sure Daddy will find us."
"No he won't!" thought Edenisia with silent determination. "As long as I can help it, that man will never find us again."
Chapter 8: Last Days of the Faith WarThose old enough to remember have a saying; "the Faith War started in secrecy, expanded with a sparkle, and ended with a bang." This short but unconventional war was nearing its ghastly end. In every major city around the universe, all the registered non-religious citizens received free packages in the mail on the same day. About the size of bowling balls, these unassuming packages came with simple instructions...
"Put the enclosed gas mask on immediately. This is not a drill. Do not remove gas mask until the all-clear signal is given. If you have received this package, then your city is on the target list. Though it is not advisable to remove your mask, if you do remove your mask in order to eat or drink during this period, watch for the coming of a red gas and put on your mask without delay. Boing-Zoing Corporation's mask-manufacturing division shall not be held responsible for any deaths or side effects resulting from misuse of its products."
It was within this chaos that two men from very different religions stood atop the world famous Telephomic Tower in Chicago. They had managed to escape the gas attack by retreating too high for the ground-deployed poison vapors to reach them. However, a military hovercraft spotted them and swooped over to entrap them. Against their will, these two men were now backed up to the edge of the roof of the Telephomic Tower.
The wind at this height was relentless, and it was a long way down. Due to an oppressive campaign against all religions, the two men were unknowingly the only remaining religious leaders left alive in the known universe.
Shamus Radd, that same man who fished out the 3D camera from the sewer before the sparkle attack, was one of these men. He was a tall and respectable looking fellow with short hair, except for the top of his head, which had a long section of wavy locks in the front. The other man was his religious rival, Baala: short, skinny, and serious looking. Before this moment, the pair would agree with deep conviction that they had nothing at all in common. Yet with their heels both at the edge of a building once the tallest in the world, the two men suddenly had too much in common.
With waning confidence, Shamus wished he had stayed with the rest of his people, known at the time as the "Advocates." Minus Shamus, the Advocates were hiding out in the deep, secret tunnels of the outlying forest preserve, far beyond Chicago city limits. Shamus' friend Chuck Zeller had gone to great lengths to construct those unregistered tunnels, and right now, they seemed to be the only thing protecting his people from extinction.
With some regret, Shamus recalled what Chuck Zeller warned him of the last time they spoke in the forest. Just before Shamus left for Chicago, Chuck cautioned, "I built these tunnels so that our people could live together in times of trouble. Surely, below a sky filled with hostile warships, this is one of those times. All our other leaders have been killed. You are the only one left. Why give your life away when you know you can save it?"
"Salvation is from the Advocate," replied Shamus. "You know that. I believe that going out there to represent the Advocate is his will."
"I believe the first part of what you said," Chuck stated, "but that doesn't mean you have to walk into a trap."
"Times come," said Shamus, "when what a man believes to be right becomes the most unpopular course of action. This too you know. When you first invested in building these tunnels, everyone thought you were a fool. Even your new bride was against it at the very beginning. Yet look at all of us now, surviving in what was once called 'Chuck Zeller's Silly Cellar.'"
"I know... and no one calls me 'Silly Cellar Zeller' anymore. That very point is all the more reason to trust my instincts," replied Chuck. "I believe that if you go into Chicago now, you will be attacked and our world will radically change."
"I believe the same thing," said Shamus, "but I have faith that great things will come from my stepping out there."
Chapter 9: Chicago ShowdownThat conversation between dear friends only deepened Shamus' desire to enter the windy city. Inevitably, he was lured to downtown Chicago by the false hope of a military-offered peace treaty. The military generals claimed that this treaty could end the war for good. In reality, it was a cunning tactic to draw the remaining religious leaders out into the open, force them to renounce their god or gods, and integrate with the rest of society. It was either that or death, as the religious leaders of the world, including Shamus, soon found out.
On the streets of Chicago, the electronic billboards were synchronized to announce, in unison, an ultimatum. With soft techno music pumping in the background, the billboards declared, "Attention, people of faith, act now. The cities of the world are obligated to present you with two free choices:
Option 1) Death by poison gas, or...
Option 2) Renounce your religion immediately at the nearest Public Opinion Kiosk, and you will receive a complimentary gas mask, courtesy of Boing-Zoing Corporation, while supplies last."
It was an eerie sight to see most people going about their usual activities with gas masks on, while an unwavering few walked the streets in defiance, breathing in the windy city air. The registered non-religious were shopping, socializing, and doing their jobs from behind the filtered screen of a gas mask. The sidewalks became deserted when the red gas was finally released; but right up until that point, people went about their business. Shamus and Baala, who knew of each other, but had never met, had the same idea when they heard the announcement: get to high ground and pray for deliverance. Only one of them would achieve both goals that day atop the Telephomic Tower.
The military hovercraft that faced these two cornered men wasn't just any hovercraft. It carried some of the top leaders in the military: General Don Besto, his beautiful young daughter/inventor, Lieutenant Darla Besto, and their chief pilot, known only as Archilli.
"Stay in the hovercraft, Darla," General Besto ordered his bronze-skinned daughter. "Use facial recognition to run off a list of known associates for these men, including recent converts." As Darla started pressing buttons, Don Besto and Archilli hopped down to the roof of the Telephomic Tower and menacingly approached their prey. Archilli cornered Shamus, while Don Besto cornered the other religious leader, Baala.
Don Besto had to yell to be heard above the wind at this height. "I'm sure we gave both of your people plenty of chances to renounce your various religious practices and integrate with the general population. Yet still you refuse. How has such defiance helped you? Where is your god now?"
"You will see," said Baala, "and you will hear the thunder of his wonderful voice."
From his many years trying to convert all sorts of misguided people to the truth, Shamus recognized Baala's cryptic statement. It was a diabolical threat!
Chapter 10: Dealt a Deadly HandFrom the military men's distance, it looked like Baala had his hands above his head, clasped together in some fanatical prayer. But to Shamus, who was a little nearer to Baala, one of Baala's hands looked unusually stiff. Baala suddenly yanked on this stiff hand, proving it to be a phony. Detaching it quickly, Baala threw it toward Don Besto.
"Get down!" yelled Shamus as he instinctively dove into Archilli, knocking him to the ground as Baala's fake hand exploded in midair.
The blast sent one of the tower's two giant antennae ripping down the side of the building and then crashing to the ground below. Since the streets became mostly deserted when the poison gas was released, no one was around to have a large building appendage fall on them from on high.
Atop the Telephomic Tower was a different story. General Don Besto was killed instantly by the blast. Darla leapt out of the hovercraft screaming and shooting repeatedly at Baala until he lay motionless. Standing over Baala's smoldering body, she then turned her gun to Shamus. He was laying on the roof next to Archilli. Both men were still stunned by the explosion.
"And to think I've even read some of your precious verses looking for answers," Darla Besto said bitterly to Shamus from the barrel of her laser pistol. Like her father, Darla taunted, "Where are all your answers now?"
Shamus didn't make a move, but cautioned Darla in his southern accent, "Young woman, move away from that fanatic's body! With his kind, usually where there's one bomb, there's always a back-up bomb too."
Shamus only knew this because he and Chuck Zeller had recently helped to convert someone from Baala's fanatical group over to the way of the Advocate. The new convert had confessed this back-up bomb practice as Shamus went through the Advocate study series "Primo Principles" with him. The Advocates were big on confession.
As Darla was three steps into heeding Shamus' warning, sure enough, another concealed bomb went off from Baala's body. The blast brought Darla to her knees, but not to pray. It crippled her for life and left Shamus and Archilli unconscious.
Chapter 11: The RiddleShamus regained consciousness first and stumbled over to Darla. He did his best to put what was left of her legs in tourniquets. Scrambling over to the military hovercraft, Shamus considered making his escape with the hope of not being shot down by other military vehicles. Then he closed his eyes and stood still for a moment. "Remember your training," Shamus said to himself, "you are the light of the world." Finding a sedative in the hovercraft's glove box, he rushed back to give it to Darla, who was half conscious. As Shamus was about to inject the pain killer, he heard a faint voice.
"Wait," said Darla. "Just give me half a dose for now. I have something to show you."
Shamus did so, and then Darla, despite great pain, pulled out a long, sharp instrument from inside her jacket. At first Shamus winced, thinking the sharp instrument was some sort of weapon. But it was just an old souvenir writing pen. Darla continued, "Impressive... your actions were impressive today. Read this. Do you recognize it?" To Shamus' amazement, Darla's shaking hands showed him what could only be one of the lost scriptures of the Advocate, rewritten in the form of a riddle on the side of a plastic souvenir pen.
Shamus began reading out loud; "Whose eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns? Who has names written and a name written which no one knows but he himself?" Shamus read the rest of it to himself quickly and silently, like a starving man being finally fed. Reading out loud took too much time. He consumed the words in his mind with great joy and amazement. Then Shamus asked Darla in eagerness, "Are you giving this to me?"
"No, not yet," groaned Darla, "but take the time right now to memorize what's written on the side of the pen. My sources have reason to believe the riddle is adapted from a verse describing your god."
Darla was interrupted by the wind blowing her long, straight hair into her face. Previously, her black hair was neatly tied back, but the two explosions had loosened it. Being too weak to remove the hair from her own eyes and mouth, Shamus gently pulled her hair out of her face, as a father might care for a daughter.
Up close, Shamus noted that Darla appeared to be just a little older than his own daughter, Reyna. However, the two young women looked nothing alike. Shamus' daughter Reyna had light skin and an oval-shaped face; whereas Darla had dark skin and a square jawline, almost sculpted-looking. Moreover, Reyna's yellow-green eyes were quite different from Darla's eyes. Darla's were "rainbowed," an expensive procedure that most people could not afford. Every few breaths, her eyes would shift from one color of the rainbow to another. Shamus noted that Darla's eyes had just shifted from orange to red.
Meanwhile, Darla noted the irony of the situation; the military, herself included, came to this rooftop fully prepared to end Shamus' life. Yet this man Shamus had shown the military nothing but kindness and mercy.
Darla continued with an uneasy gasp. "Now listen carefully. I will allow you to tell only one other person about this riddle. Make them memorize it as well, but do not tell them that I told you the riddle. Never publicize this to anyone else. Let this be a test of trust between me and you, and between you and your people. It is no stretch to see that you yourself have honor. But as for the rest of your people, only this test will show me. If this riddle gets publicized, I will know that your people cannot be trusted.
"That's not a problem," replied Shamus. "I know exactly who to tell--Chuck Zeller. He's a committed and trustworthy member of our group."
"Actually, that's not what I'm looking for--too easy," said Darla. "I am thinking that this should be a very recent convert. Someone untested. If that person you tell forgets the riddle, then it will be a sign to me that your religion cannot be trusted to build faithful and reliable members."
Shamus asked, "Then how will you know which one person I will tell the riddle to?"
"I will select him for you," said Darla. "Our database has just compiled a list of your most recent converts. Here is the list. Read me the last name on the list."
Shamus read the name aloud and added, "Oh, you'd like this one. I know him personally."
"Very well," said Darla faintly. "When the time comes, he shall be tested."
"Why is this so important to you?" asked Shamus.
As Darla briefly closed her eyes and jerked uncomfortably on the cold rooftop, she answered, "My father committed his life, and now his death, to eradicating people of faith. Many of them claim things that are nothing more than lies, foolish traditions, and manipulation techniques. Yet there are times when a few of you actually make sense to me, if only for a moment. Now my father is gone, and so I must know; has his life and mine been in vain?"
Shamus gave Darla the rest of the sedative, and just before she dozed off, Shamus spoke. "Your life can matter. It can matter for eternity. But if you don't mind my saying so, young woman, you have to follow the Advocate. As long as you're still in the land of the living, there's time to change, but don't take too long. No one knows the hour in which the Advocate will return to judge the world, so you must be ready." Shamus then started to walk back over to check on Archilli. But Archilli had been awake and crept over to listen to their entire conversation.
Even though he was startled, Shamus looked into Archilli's green eyes and said, "God has spared your life too."
Archilli ignored the statement and grabbed an item from his belt. Despite being a short man, Archilli was well built, compact, and strong looking, like an Italian lifeguard. Shamus took a few steps back in fear before he realized what Archilli had in his hand--a radio. "Lieutenant is down. Medical assistance needed immediately at Telephomic Tower rooftop," said Archilli. Then he turned to Shamus and said, "For a religious guy, you're pretty brave."
"It's not me who gets the credit for bravery," explained Shamus. "It's the Advocate. By his power all things are possible. And we're not an exclusive group. You too can be part of God's chosen people."
"Chosen?" mocked Archilli as he checked the vital signs of Darla, still unconscious. "What are you, something special?"
"Not by my own efforts," said Shamus, "but I have been chosen, and I extend the invitation to you."
As they braced themselves against the high winds that swooped down to blow the red gas away from the lower city and out into Lake Michigan, Shamus continued, "My name is Shamus. Perhaps the Advocate has great things planned for you. Is it too much to ask that you spare what's left of my people? Your intelligence reports can confirm that my people have not taken any military actions against anyone in the entire history of this war. This is my one request: peace for my people, the Advocates."
"Your people?" asked Archilli, surprised by Shamus' attitude. "Aren't you worried about your own life first? We didn't come up here to have a tea party."
Shamus replied, "No. You came up here thinking two people were going to die, and what do you know? Two people did die. It's not exactly the two that were intended, but surely from this height you have learned something about the people who follow the Advocate."
"I don't understand you!" said Archilli in a most puzzled tone. "The fanatic with his threats and his fake hand and the bomb... him I understand. But you... why did you help us?"
Shamus answered with a question of his own, "What do you know about trees?" Archilli gave Shamus an impatient look, so Shamus added, "Bear with me. This will answer your question."
"I know which trees are good for making weapons," said Archilli with a huff, "and which trees you can get food out of. Every good soldier knows that."
"Aha! So you would agree that the tree is known by its fruit," replied Shamus. "Make the tree good, and its fruit will be good. Make a tree bad, and its fruit will be bad. Moreover, the same can be said about people. Take the fanatic... the fruit of his life... what was it? Destruction. And we are surrounded by the bad fruit of those dreadful actions even now. Then there's me. I'm not saying that I'm perfect, but the fruit of my life, at least since I have been following the Advocate, is about helping people, and you know that firsthand. There is no denying it. You are alive right now because of the fruit of my life. Then there's you. What kind of a tree are you? What is the fruit of your life?"
Archilli didn't answer, but he took a deep breath. Clearly, he was listening.
Chapter 12: The All-ClearArchilli reached for his belt once again. He switched his radio to the universal channel and said, "Attention all units, this is Archilli with General Don Besto. Under general's orders, effective immediately, the war is over. I repeat. The war is over. Victory is ours. Sound the all-clear. Treaty is in place only with group formerly known as the Advocates, now called the 'Chosen.' I repeat. Safe passage and reintegration shall be granted to all Chosen people who follow the Advocate, by general's orders. Archilli, out."
Shamus thanked the Advocate in a silent prayer and then turned to Archilli as the medical hovercraft took Darla away. "Thank you, sir," said Shamus. "On behalf of Advocates everywhere, we are very grateful. But I should clarify; our name is the 'Advocates,' not the 'Chosen.'"
"Look, pal," said Archilli, "I just did you a favor. You said you were 'chosen,' so live by it. I changed your name for your benefit."
"How is that?" asked Shamus.
Archilli answered, "Your people will have a better chance of surviving the post-war reconstruction period if you change your name. Don't worry. I'm not saying to change your values. But I'll tell you this, since my order went out, no one will be looking to kill the Chosen. They're not on any hit lists or black operations since I just now came up with that name."
"Well, how can I argue with that?" Shamus replied. "I can't think of any doctrinal reason that would restrict us from being called 'the Chosen,' so, okay. It actually wouldn't be the first time that we've been renamed by nonbelievers. Therefore, I'll get the word out that we have a new name. But I must admit that I'm a little confused by something else you said on the radio. When did your general give you that order of treaty with us?"
Archilli replied, "My general didn't, but I imagine that yours did."
"But, good soldier," said Shamus, "I have no idea what you're talking about!"
"Don't call me 'good soldier,'" replied the military man. "My name is Archilli."
"Nice to meet you," said Shamus with a curious smile. "I am Shamus Radd. Now then, as I was getting at earlier, we are not a warring people. We have no generals among us to give such an order."
"Perhaps not," replied Archilli. "But I'm talking about the guy that you're always talking about."
Shamus declared, "My goodness! You must mean the Advocate himself. After such a short time, Archilli, have you now come to believe?"
Archilli answered, "Listen, Shamus, you seem like a nice guy, so I'm going to pretend that you're not trying to convert me right now."
Shamus fearlessly replied, "Don't pretend. You need to follow the Advocate. Surely you know that belief is not enough to be..."
Archilli interrupted, "Quit while you're ahead, understand? And as for my beliefs, I don't know enough to believe much of anything right now, Shamus. Guys like me, we've seen too much and done too much."
Shamus closed his eyes for a moment to gather his thoughts, and then turned to respond to Archilli, but it was too late. Archilli had silently made his way to his vehicle and was taking off to follow Darla in the medical hovercraft. As Archilli rode away, he might be surprised to know that this was the first time a person of faith prayed specifically for his own well-being. It wouldn't be the last either. Moreover, it would not be without effect.
Just then the all-clear signal was given. In an instant, the Faith War, which had uprooted the entire human race, was finally over. The Advocates came out of hiding to find themselves with a new name, and in a new world where no other religions were left. It was just them, and the non-believers.
End of Star Chosen part 1. To order the full 71 chapter sci-fi novel, click here.