Biblical Literalism in the New Jerusalem [a short story]

Bill Larsson double-checked the co-ordinates again. This was his first visit to the New Jerusalem space station, and as the deadline for his story was the beginning of next week, he didn’t want anything to go wrong. Bill still hadn’t quite worked out why the space station followed such an irregular course. No, he thought to himself, irregular is not the right word. Complicated. In fact, the course was regular – it repeated every solar year. But it was nothing like any of the courses followed by other space stations. Every other station Bill had visited either orbited a particular planet or object, or maintained a constant distance from a particular planet or object. But not the New Jerusalem space station – it followed a complicated course relative to both the Earth and the sun, the logic of which (despite its annual regularity) escaped him. “Is it for the sake of secrecy or privacy?” Bill asked himself. “Surely there were other simpler ways of achieving those goals,” he thought. “And of course, being regular it is hardly conducive to seclusion. I must remember to ask the station director about it”.

The station came into view, first as a faint glimmer of the sun’s reflected light, then as an object whose human-made origins became clearer and clearer as one approached. Its shape was that of a perfect cube, and on every side there were slightly protruding segments with windows that formed a cross – a clear symbol of the station’s Evangelical Christian ethos and raison d’être. Its style was otherwise quite obviously that of the 2070′s, with its old-style plasma-thrusters and glowing purple lighting highlighting the outline of the ship. As Bill began to try to think of ways to describe it that would be appropriate and witty without being directly insulting, the station’s director, Morris Roberts, appeared on the ship’s communication screen.

“Mr Larsson? We’ve been expecting you,” came the deep orator’s voice that had made Roberts famous as a preacher, just as his father and grandfather had been. “We hope that you will find your stay with us a real blessing. Now before you dock, I’d like to familiarize you with the station rules. Under no circumstances are any alcoholic beverages, tobacco, drugs, pornography or non-Christian music to be brought onto the station. We hope that you understand…”

“Reverend Roberts,” Bill interjected. “I received your message and have familiarized myself with your station and its rules and way of life. I assure you that I have no intention of doing anything or bringing anything on board that you would find in any way offensive.”

“We appreciate your co-operation,” came Roberts’ reply, his warm preachers’ voice disarming any annoyance Bill might have felt about being lectured to. “I will be waiting for you in docking bay 2. It should take you another 5 minutes and 13 seconds from your present position if you maintain your current speed. If you like, feel free to set your controls to automatic and our computer will direct your ship in the rest of the way.”

“Thank you,” Bill managed to say before Rev. Roberts’ face disappeared and the New Jerusalem logo came onto the screen. The logo was a simple cross with a star revolving in a diagonally-slanted circular orbit around it. Bill switched the controls to automatic and set about checking his portable computer to make sure he had everything ready for the interview. It wasn’t a story to make or break his career, but he still didn’t want to blow it.

* * *

Inside, the station’s décor was much more that of the mid-2080′s. Still a bit old-fashioned, but Bill nonetheless liked the inside better than the outside. Otherwise, the crew and residents were dressed in a conservative but contemporary style. As he looked past a small crowd of residents who were heading for docking bay 1, and who were quite obviously were getting ready to leave for a visit to Earth, he caught a glimpse of Reverend Roberts’ familiar face through the crowd, heading his way. Not that he had ever met him before, but his evangelistic broadcasts on the New Jerusalem station’s own channel were received everywhere in the solar system, and he doubted whether even the miners working on Pluto would not immediately recognize him.

“Welcome, Mr. Larsson,” said Roberts, as he extended his hand through the parting crowd.

“Please, do call me Bill,” came the reply as the two shook hands.

“OK, Bill,” Roberts said, making no effort to allow himself to be addressed on a first-name basis. “Let me show you around a bit. Then you can come with me to my office and I’ll give you that interview you asked for.”

“Sounds great,” Bill replied. “In fact, as I know you’re a very busy man, we can probably discuss a lot of things while you show me around, if that’s OK with you.”

“Sure,” said Roberts, turning to give instructions to a few members of the station staff who had accompanied him to the docking bay. “Just follow me – but only inasmuch as I follow the Lord,” he said, followed by a laugh that Bill tried desperately to join in on out of politeness. And with that, they set off around the ship.

* * *

The preliminaries were fairly straightforward and were over with quickly. Rev. Roberts then began to summarize the history and current statistics about the station. Much of the information was common knowledge and had already become familiar to Bill in his preparations for his visit. There were well over 10,000 inhabitants on the New Jerusalem space station, and the number was constantly growing. In addition, thousands more flew in for Bible studies or Sunday church services, and an additional 4,397 children were flown in from around the solar system to attend school on the station. The station contained all the facilities one could desire – work opportunities, shopping, recreation – but without the crime that one inevitably found in pretty much any other city or space settlement. Numbers were constantly growing, and there were plans to open a new station, New Jerusalem II, which would house a seminary. The new station would travel alongside the old following the same trajectory, and this would allow seminarians seclusion and at the same time proximity to ‘city life’ and to a large community of worshipping believers, in a manner that it was nearly impossible to accomplish at a terrestrial seminary without having a large number of expensive hypersonic transports always on call. “Our community is happy and blessed, and is growing all the time,” Roberts added to the statistics and other details he had been providing.

Not everyone is happy here, Bill thought to himself. There had been several outspoken critics of the New Jerusalem station, its beliefs and its ethos, most notably by disillusioned former residents. Their criticisms focused mostly on intolerance of anyone who held slightly different views on what they considered peripheral matters. However, most of those who came to live here clearly were happy here, and the numbers genuinely were constantly on the increase.

“So, Rev. Roberts,” Bill said, seizing an opportunity afforded by a pause in Roberts’ tour guide style monologue about the station. “I suppose what our audience will want to know is whether the recent agreement will in any way affect the station’s goals and objectives, or perhaps even render it unnecessary.”

“Not in the slightest,” Roberts replied with a smile.

“Perhaps you could explain a bit more about this,” Bill said. “As far as what I’ve heard and read, the station was founded when several outer-world settlements outlawed religious proselytizing. I was under the impression that one of the station’s initial purposes was to provide a base for broadcasting to and refuge from such settlements. Now that the U.N. and Commonwealth of Independent Settlements have published their joint declaration on the free market of religious beliefs, ensuring everyone’s right not only to practice but also to share and change their beliefs, won’t this lead your station and its community to move in a new direction?”

“No, not at all,” Roberts quickly replied. “It is true that intolerance and restrictions in the outer-world settlements were the initial factors that led to the setting up of our station. However, Christians have from the beginning been persecuted for sharing their beliefs, and so there was never really the expectation that such suffering for the faith would be stopped by the establishment of the New Jerusalem. No, the main reason for our station’s existence has to do with the fact that we provide a setting in which believers can take the Bible literally, in a way they cannot anywhere else in the solar system, even on Earth.”

“A space station allows you to take the Bible literally?” Bill’s bemusement was not completely hidden by his journalistic professionalism at this point, and he hoped he would not end up regretting the slip.

“Why, yes,” replied Roberts, either not noticing the tone of Bill’s question or willing to let it slide. “I thought surely you must be aware of this aspect. After all, you couldn’t have got here without being aware of our station’s unique trajectory.”

“Yes, I did want to ask you about that,” Bill replied, this time genuinely interested.

“Why, surely the purpose of our trajectory would be plain even to a schoolchild with even only a rudimentary knowledge of space navigation.”

Bill felt slightly insulted, but his curiosity overrode any offence he might have otherwise taken. He turned to look at a nearby computer console, and called up the station’s annual trajectory on screen. There was a logic to it, but he hadn’t quite grasped it. The station seemed to remain essentially equidistant from the Earth throughout, but there were much easier and more straightforward ways of maintaining a constant distance from the Earth. There was also a cyclical pattern in the distance from the sun. What did it all mean? Bill continued to stare at the screen. A few moments later, the screensaver appeared, the New Jerusalem logo of a cross with a star in a circular orbit around it.

“Oh, of course!” Bill exclaimed, staring at the screen, wondering how he could have missed it. He looked towards the window, at the Earth and sun, both specks to the naked eye. Now at last he understood.

From the vantage point offered by the New Jerusalem space station, any observer could clearly see, or work out for his or her self, how the sun orbits around the Earth.

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  • terri

    No one commented on this yet?I'm just wondering why you haven't mentioned any streets of gold or space gates made of pearl?!;-)