Monday, August 22, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 20: “Faith and Good Works” • by Pete Wood


Father Francis climbed into the transport back to Odin III. He smiled and greeted the young woman in the pilot’s chair.

“Just the two of us today, Father,” Mazaa, the pilot, said. “Kinda weird. Usually miners are lining up to get off this rock.”

“They don’t switch out the crews until midweek, I think,” Father Francis said. Odin II was so grueling with its higher gravity and temperature extremes that Galactic Mining couldn’t entice workers off of Odin III to man the mines for longer than thirty days, even at triple pay.

The Odin II base gave them authorization to blast off. Seconds later the ship lifted into the air. The two-hundred-meter settlement dome disappeared. In seconds all Francis could see through the porthole was a vast expanse of monotonous rock and sand.

He had been on so many transports that he stopped looking out the window. Not even the massive view screen in front of Mazaa got his attention. He turned on his tablet and settled down to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

“Some great theological text?” the pilot asked.

“Shirley Jackson,” Francis said. Seeing the blank look from Mazaa he added. “Old Earth horror writer.”

“Ah.” She grinned. “Speaking of horror stories, I used to be a Catholic,” she said.

This woman didn’t exactly mince words. “Really?”

“Altar girl and everything. Haven’t been to mass in years.”

Francis switched off the tablet. He wouldn’t be getting any reading done on this trip. “Uh huh.”

“Does that bother you, Father?”

“No. I don’t care what you believe.” He paused. “That didn’t sound right. I do care, but I feel comfortable with whatever beliefs you have.”

“I’m an atheist.”

“That’s great. I think that’s great. Seriously.”

“You don’t see that as a problem?” she asked.

“God doesn’t see that as a problem.”

“The Bible says that?”

Francis sighed. “I don’t know what God thinks, but I doubt God cares.”

Mazaa blinked. “Doesn’t that go against the whole organized religion thing?”

“The Bible goes against the whole organized religion thing. Jesus spends half the Gospels butting heads with the Church.”

“Then why—”

“Why am I a priest? I believe in God and I believe in the Church. We do more than just mass. Charity. Education. We’re not just about the mumbo jumbo.”

“I dunno, Father. Back on Earth my priest was a, excuse me, real asshole. Arrogant. Sexist. She—”

The ship lurched. A whining noise came out of the engine. Then the noise stopped.

Mazaa pressed buttons. No response. Nothing on the radio.

“We’re leaking fuel,” she said. “We’re going down.”

Ten minutes later the ship slammed into the desert.

* * *

 “Mazaa!” Francis called out.

No response.

Pitch dark. He used his tablet’s pale light to look around. A dead view screen. Sand covered half of the starboard porthole.

He unbuckled himself and leaned over the pilot. Blood streamed down her face. Still breathing. She opened her eyes.

“You okay, Father?”

“I’m fine.”

She undid her seat belt. She lifted herself up a couple of inches and then collapsed into the chair. Her eyes welled in tears. “I need to go outside.”

Father Francis was no doctor, but he knew a serious injury when he saw one. “You shouldn’t move. Wait for help.”

She lifted herself off the chair a little higher and let out a scream of pain. “I have to get outside!” she yelled, as if the intensity of her speech would somehow will her off the chair.

“You can’t.”

“Francis, listen to me,” Mazaa gasped. “You’ve got to go outside.” She panted and continued. “No fuel. No power.” She closed her eyes and winced.

“How do I get the power back on?” he asked. He knew they’d be dead in hours when the suns came up. Maybe rescue would come first. Maybe not. Thank God they’d landed on the night side of Odin II. They had a chance before temperatures soared above two hundred degrees.

Her eyes had a vacant faraway look. Then she focused on Francis. “Something must have cut the line from the solar panels. Gotta—” She coughed. “Reconnect.”

“They’ll rescue us, right?”

“The emergency beacon needs power. Nothing but desert outside.”

* * *

Oxygen mask sealed tight, Francis stepped into the frigid night. The good thing about a planet that routinely had highs about the boiling point of water was that there, unlike Odin III, had been no micro-organisms to speak of. The bad news, besides the highs above the boiling point of water thing, was the lows at night were pretty damned miserable too.

They seemed to be on some sort of plain. Distant peaks. Well, God at least had given them that. They hadn’t crashed into the mountains.

He shivered and wondered which of the thousands of stars was Earth’s sun. He suspected a bright steady star low in the horizon was Odin III.

He tripped in the deep divot in the sand caused by the ship. The trail stretched past the flashlight’s beam.

No noise out here but the wind. Thank God he wasn’t in one of the planet’s legendary sandstorms.

He switched the flashlight to his right hand and shoved his left in his pocket where it warmed up. Thank the Lord the ship had enough oxygen for the trip outside. The two tanks strapped to his back would get him past sunrise. After that it wouldn’t matter.

He wasn’t sure what to look for, even with the jumbled directions Mazaa had managed to give before passing out. God wasn’t going to magically point out the breach. He was on his own. Francis stood in one spot and moved the beam down the length of the ship, took a step to the right, and started over again. He hopped up and down from time to time to stay warm.

Then he spotted a series of gashes on starboard. Something had hit them in the upper atmosphere. Space junk? A meteor? They’d never know. He could see faint purple streaks, probably from gushing fuel.

He shone the light in each hole. The fifth one had a cable with two shredded ends. No purple tint. This was not the fuel line.

It couldn’t be this simple. He reached inside and pushed the two ends together with some effort.

Lights flickered through the porthole, then went steady.

He stepped back to go inside, but the lights went out. He’d have to stand out here and hold the ends together if there were any chance of rescue.

Forty years as a priest, first on Earth, then twenty years on Odin III. He never imagined dying this way. Death didn’t scare him. He knew what awaited him. But Mazaa’s death was another matter. If he lessened his grip, the emergency beacon would go out and the pilot would surely perish.

Not on his watch.

He tried to stay focused. He searched for the unofficial constellations Odinians had named. Snoopy. The Beer Mug. Even a few risqué ones he wasn’t supposed to know about.

He tried to recite prayers, but his mind wandered back to the plots of old movies and books. He struggled with the Sermon on the Mount but knocked out half an hour by remembering all the differences in the adaptions of The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s perfect ghost story.

The first sun rose over the horizon. Then the second minutes later. He wondered how much time he had.

Then the third.

The third?

The rescue ship landed.

* * *

Francis woke up on a hospital cot. One cot over, Mazaa, with all manner of tubes stuck into her, rested.

A nurse rushed over. “You’re in the infirmary on Odin II. You’re going to be fine. You had some internal bleeding. Nothing like Mazaa.”

“Is she going to be okay?”

“It’ll take her a few weeks to recover, but yeah.”

His right hand felt numb. Careful not to pull too hard on the IV, he stared at it.

“You had pretty bad frostbite, Father,” the nurse said. “Quite an accomplishment out here. You have two new positronic fingers on your right hand and six positronic toes. You’ll get used to them in a few months.”

“I need to get—”

“You need to rest.” The nurse paused. “Mazaa had a message for you.”

He reached for a cup of water. “What did Mazaa say?”

“She said she knew she’d make it. When you went outside, she had faith in you.”


Pete Wood
is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past year or so Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that will be running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Coming Wednesday: Episode 21 of The Odin Chronicles, “Hunt,” by Jonathan Sherwood.



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Pete Wood said...

It is undoubtedly in poor taste to comment on one's own fiction, but this story is special to me. I think, or more accurately I hope, it walks a fine line and explores the religious faith of a character in a respectful way without being preachy.

Olive McKrell said...

The story grabbed me immediately. Great double-take at the end, gently bringing us back around to the pilot's faith in the priest.

Olive McKrell said...

I left my comment above. Good story.