Martian Mission


Lusisti satis, edisti satis, atque bibisti; tempus abire tibi est.


On September 30, 2303, the Martian Missionary Team left Earth. They were a week late. What with attempts to sabotage the mission on the parts of bishops, overseers, other clergy and laity, the late departure was no surprise. Furthermore, they had to wait until after the funeral of Francis Jethro McCartney, who had been slain by a conspirator, Major Drood. The last week was full of press conferences, speaking engagements, official statements to the police, and meetings with bishops uninvolved in the conspiracy…


September 26, 2303 (Three days past departure date)

Sid Darnell sat about on the floor in his parents' abode. They hadn't had any furniture for the past several days. They didn't believe him when he said he could miss a few days of class. He assured that them that neither his GPA nor his marks would suffer. They warned him against his course of action, despite the fact that he spend large portions of every day reading or on his computer reading e-mails containing lecture notes e-mailed to him. He hadn't been able to get the vidlecture program to work, but he could get one lecture through his speakers. He ultimately despised the machines, but he knew they were a necessity if he was going to survive at least university. Perhaps after that he could make an anti-technological statement or something.

He was watching another newscast about the unexpected turn the MMT had taken. Before, it had been rarely noticed by the secular media. Now, they were eating it up. A bishop had been defrocked, apparently. The Religion was trying to convert him. He appeared on the screen.

"I have no intention of leaving the Church. I am not excommunicated, despite what some newspapers have claimed. Due to my alleged involvement in the conspiracy, the Church has used its lawful powers under God and man to strip me of all titles and official capacities until I 'see fit' to give them a formal apology. I do not agree with their ruling, but I will abide by it and respect it as one ought to respect authority."

The Religion hadn't succeeded. Sid sighed in relief.

He watched the rest of the news musing. He had a paper on The Once and Future King to write. It was going to be about the role played by King Pellinore, the elderly knight whose main purpose in life was the Questing Beast-fewmets* and all. His reverie was disturbed by the unexpected presence of Alexander Rufus. The red-haired man looked down at Sid.

"Good afternoon, Sidney," he said.

"Hello," replied Sidney. He clicked off the news.

"Anything special going on in the world today?" asked Rufus.

"Bishop Brown-of St. John-was on the news declaring his continuing faith despite his defrocking. The Religion has not poisoned his mind."

"Ah, I see. You think the Religion 'poisons' people's minds?"

Sid paused. "Uh…not necessarily. What I meant was, um, that the Religion-for all its claims to universal truth, I s'pose-isn't."

"Isn't what?"

"Universal. Therefore, Religionists are not deceiving, for they themselves are deceived. They are blind to the Gospel, and I guess…I guess the Devil uses them to attack the Church of Christ. In a way, they are just an instrument of the lies of the evil one, ultimately, seeking to destroy all the good things God has ever done. And in that way…yes, the Religion poisons people's minds."

"Couldn't there be a…margin of error?"

"Margin of error? This isn't some sort of chemical experiment where there is room for error. Either God is who he says he is or he's not. If he is, then the Religion is working against his purposes. If not, then…" Sid shrugged. "It's life and death, I guess. Not whether or not the Canadian Journal of Random Scientific Facts publishes us."

"Indeed, indeed. You are a bright young man. We leave in a couple of days. I hope to see more of you," Rufus disappeared.

What was that all about? wondered Sid. Rufus was a missionary. How could he have misgivings about the essentials of Christianity? Obviously there is one God and the Bible is his eternal, unerring word, are in that list of essentials. Sid opened up his word processor and began to type.


Hagia Sophia stood as it had for over 1500 years in Byzantium. It had spent seven hundred years as a mosque for Muslims, members of a religion it predated. With the reestablishment of the Eastern Empire in 2200, a recently Hellenised Istanbul reverted (and changed its name a third time) to Byzantium and became the seat of the Eastern Empire, uniting much of Eastern Europe under a new imperial flag. The Empire was part of a peace plan devised by John, Archbishop of Greece, Jerome Paulos, who became the first Basileus of the new Empire, and the United Nations. Eastern Europe had grown to know peace. Somehow, racial and ethnic tensions were lessened when everyone was united under the authority of one man who spoke all their languages and seemed to not be of any race. Members of the European Union sought to ally themselves with the Eastern Empire-"New Rome"-so that they might benefit from its strong economy against a weakening Euro. And with the return of European rule and an influx of Christians, Hagia Sophia became a basilica once more.

On warm September day in 2303, its four minarets-now hosting the four Gospel-writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John-cast their shadows onto the great dome and Byzantium, John's head touching the simple brown wooden cross, proportioned as the Christ's would have been, which adorned the top of the great basilica. Aerocars flitted by, their routes never passing over the basilica, but always around. It was the same with the blue mosque, which seemed some days to glare across Byzantium at Hagia Sophia. But Hagia Sophia smiled back always, very strong, very beautiful, very ancient. The sunlight shone through the windows in the dome, illuminating the brightly-lit interior, reflecting off the shining gold for all gathered there.

The congregation was small. There was to be no celebration of the Eucharist at this occasion. Indeed, the worthiness of one of those present to receive said sacrament was at stake. Assembled just within the knave and before the apse were several bishops. All of them were men of dignity, piety, virtue, and charity. The Archbishop of Byzantium sat in the centre, presiding. To his right was the Archbishop of Rome, to his left the Archbishop of Alexandria. The Archbishop of Canterbury was beside the Archbishop of Rome, and next to him sat the Archbishop of Brazil. Beside the Archbishop of Alexandria were the Archbishops of Calcutta and Nigeria. Beneath mosaics of the Christ they sat on simple wooden chairs. The Archbishop of Byzantium wore a simple alb. Rome wore none of the finery the popes had been criticised for, but simply a black cassock. Alexandria wore a brown robe, Canterbury a purple suit denoting his office, Brazil a blue cassock, Calcutta an alb, and Nigeria a simple brown suit. Every bishop, whether clothed plainly or simply, liturgically or not, wore a golden cross as a symbol of his office as well as a large ring on the ring finger of his right hand. None wore a mitre.

At the foot of the altar were seven shepherds crooks, placed there by each archbishop as a reminder of their submission and sacrifice to the Good Shepherd whom they served in leading his people. Four acolytes stood in the wings in cassocks with surpluses, a small contingent of monks with them. Standing with the robed clerics was a man in a simple grey suit and wire-rimmed glasses. He was the General Canadian Overseer for the other Holy Church. Just within the knave stood a man in green pants (because it was the season after Pentecost?) and a purple shirt, his thinning, grey hair shining in the sunlight, his head raised high. He wore a white collar that ringed his neck in the old style. A large gilt cross hung around his neck also. He nervously rubbed his own large ring. He looked up at the pillars, capped by Justinian's seal. His crook lay between him and the seven bishops. He was there for judgement. He was there before a small council. He was there also before Christ.

"Christe eleison," he said quietly.

Byzantium addressed him in Latin. "Christe, miserate omnibus. In nomine patris, filii, et spiritus sancti. On this, the 27th day of September, the Year of the Lord 2303, we give you greeting, Lord Archbishop Calgary. You, Most Reverend Michael John David Williams, Archbishop of Calgary, and Metropolitan of Alberta, have been summoned before this Emergency Council as the result of charges brought against your person. I, Lord Archbishop Byzantium, Metropolitan of Greece, speak on behalf of said Council. I speak in the names of the Lords Archbishop Rome, Alexandria, Canterbury, Brazil, Calcutta, and Nigeria.

"We find you, Michael Williams, in the sight of the Christ who forgives all sin, not guilty of counts of murder or manslaughter in the City of Greater Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on the night of September 21, 2303. Nor are you found guilty of the murder of Francis Jethro McCartney in said city on September 22, 2303. The charges of heresy brought against you by certain of our brothers in the Holy Apostolic Church, namely those of Pelagianism and Polyspiritism** have been found both unfounded and laughable. The charges of sabotaging the SS Paul have been found untrue, although someone did try and destroy its engine."

At this point, aged Alexandria's eyes narrowed to slits. Byzantium continued, unaware. "Of all other charges brought against you, we find you guilty in the eyes of God. You are guilty of fomenting rebellion against Christ's Holy Church in actions taken against the so-called Martian Missionary Team. You are found guilty of direct defiance of the authority of the Primate of Canada and the will of the Consilium Universum Catholicum of 2301, as well as the General Synod of the Holy Church in Canada of 2302 and the Diocesan Synods of Calgary of 2301, 2302, and 2303. This defiance illustrated itself in your leadership in the conspiracy that had as its objective the destruction of the Martian Missionary Team and the dissolution of the Christian Unity Talks to be held in this very room following the upcoming Eastertide. We find you guilty of directly or indirectly breaking the laws of the government on four occasions: the kidnapping of Francis McCartney, the cessation of power in the City of Greater Edmonton, the bribing of judges, and the breakage of communication lines between the members of the Martian Missionary Team. You are guilty of rejecting your vows of service and duty, taken upon ordination and consecration. We find you also guilty of shaming your name as Bishop and neglecting your duties to your Diocese and Province because of your role in the conspiracy.

"Due to your great transgressions against both your office and Christ's Church, it is the decision of this Council before the sight of Almighty God to hereby defrock and excommunicate you. You shall never again hold office with either Holy Church. Your excommunication will last a minimum of one year, at the end of which you may be reinstated into the Church upon a public and official apology and renunciation of your past folly. You are excommunicated by the words of the Holy Apostle Paul, who declares that if any man eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ unworthily, he eats and drinks death and judgement unto himself. Therefore, until you have repented of your sins against God and his Church, you are excommunicate by the historic, traditional, biblical, and canonical practices of Christ’s Holy Church."

The Archbishop of Nigeria, a large man by any standard, rose. He approached the Archbishop of Alberta and took the staff. He handed it to a monk who took it off to the right. He then removed Alberta's golden cross and passed it to an acolyte. Then he took -a-a-aMiserate me, o domini! Dominus Byzantii non breviter Wrrrate me, o domini! Dominus Byzantii non breviter W-aZNZN-a-aanada ten years later. The left side of his head was largely covered by a bronze-coloured plate, his left eye a green light that gave him impeccable aim. His left arm could be replaced by a number of different attachments, but usually it looked like any other robotic arm. His left leg had compartments within to store things-originally for weapons. He was seven feet tall. His flight suit was black, and he always wore a flight helmet on board the ship to reduce any people being weirded out by the implants.

Al ran up to Chan. Chan looked down at the Inuk. Al was dressed in simple blue coveralls with various engineering devices, including screwdrivers, wrenches and doohickeys.

"Captain," Al said, "someone has sabotaged the intergalatronic reverbimagator! If we try to lift off in this state the whole engine will overload, from the filibustronimeter to the pilot light. I'll have to recalibrate the phase variance of the intergalatronic reverbimagator and set it to the proper specifications as well as replace its button."

"How long will this take?" asked Captain Chan.

"Until tomorrow at least," replied Al.

"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Chan, clenching his right fist. "Are you sure?"

"I might be able to get it fixed by the end of today," suggested Al.

"Make it so," answered Chan.

Al had run off and made it so. No connection with the conspiracy was found, although everyone was sure some clergyman or overzealous layman had had a hand in it. Andy smiled as he recalled Al's efficiency-he was an amazing resource.

"Hello, Al," he said.

"Hi, Rev," answered Al. "What have you got there?"

"A bunch of Hindi Bibles," replied Andy.

"Yeah? Wow. Man, I'm not so sure about all that stuff. I mean, how do we even know the Greek is what those guys wrote? I wouldn't trust a translation, dude."

"Not everyone has the luxury or time to learn ancient Greek. When it all comes down, though, it's better to read the Bible in translation than not at all."

"That's perfectly fine for you. Me, I've got it all figured out. I don't dig this absolutism. All that's absolute is engineering a space ship. Get that stuff exact to the micrometre, all of the pressures set to the millinewton, all the temps set to the right degrees. That's exact. That's absolute. Otherwise-boom! We're all dead. My grandfather grew up on Baffin Island. That place is mostly winter. In Inuktituk, we have seventeen different words for snow. He moved south for the climate, to give his family a future. I'm sure a lot of people love the Arctic. I don't. Take me somewhere warm or to the engine room of a space ship and I'm set. But metaphysics? I don't trust the religious beliefs of my ancestors-nothing made up by people living in the Barrens is quite…with it. And Christianity was made up by some Judaean Jew 2300 years ago. It's not relevant. I believe what I want. I'll do the best I can here, and hope for the best when I die."

Andy looked at Al. "That's it? You'll just leave it all up to chance. You have no assurance that way."

"What assurance does any of us have, man?" Al said, walking towards a storage cupboard. He pushed a green button and the contents came from above. He pulled out a grey tube and turned back to the engine room.

"My assurance is in Jesus," stated Andy.

"And a Buddhist's assurance is in the teachings of Buddha. A Muslim trusts Allah, a Jew Yahweh, a polytheist Vishnu or whatever. My uncle trusts in some sort of Great Spirit. They have assurance, Rev," replied Al going down the brief staircase to the engine room.

"My assurance is more than an intellectual exercise, more than a feeling," Andy crouched at the top of the stairs. "I trust that when I die, I will be before the Eternal Throne of God. I'll be up for judgement. And when God looks at me, instead of seeing all the bad stuff I've done, he'll see my advocate. My advocate is Jesus Christ the Righteous, Al."

"Look, man," Al said, fiddling with the grey tube and a doohickey, "you're not gonna convert me so quickly. Crap! Damned doohickey's not working." Al tapped it on the metal floor, the sound resounding through the floor and hull plating. "Spend sixty-eight bucks on a doohickey and the thing stops working…"

"Well, I've got more things to bring. Bye," Andy rose and left the ship. He thought grimly to himself that if something happened, it wouldn't be just the doohickey that was damned.


September 29, 2303

Joe sat on the floor. He was in the sort of mood that made him think thoughts such as, "I'm gonna pound my dad." The cause of this mood were his studies in Latin, which he was most certainly going to give up as soon as he could. He would much rather have been spending time with Elizabeth, whom Sid had dubbed "Amica Maxima". And, of course, Elizabeth was dying to learn Latin herself. She tended to have more than her share of academic prowess.

"I'll 'Amica Maxima' you," muttered Joe.

Elizabeth looked over at him from where she sat, Joe's copy of Lingua Latina pro Adulescentes in her hands. She raised an eyebrow. Joe pretended to not notice.

Ipse ipsa ipsum; ipsius ipsius ipsius; ipsi ipsi ipsi; ipsum ipsam ipsum; ipso ipsa ipso; ipsi ipsae ipsa; ipsorum ipsarum ipsorum; ipsis ipsis ipsis; ipsos ipsas ipsa; ipsis ipsis ipsis… Joe had pretty much had his fill of intensive pronouns. He had no intention of ever becoming a priest in any Holy Church whatsoever, and after this he was certainly not going to become a Classicist or Latinist. He stood up and ran into Sid.

"Salve!"*** said Sid.

"Howdy," uttered Joe.

"Esne dominus Latinus?" asked Sid.

"Sum…non…" replied Joe. "More like its enemy. 'Scuse me. I'm quitting as soon as I possibly can." Joe passed Sid. Sid walked out onto the lawn. Elizabeth followed Joe. They were hardly seen apart.

"Hi, Joe, Elizabeth" McGillicutty said as Joe entered the domicile.

"Hello, Dr. McGillicutty. How are you?" Joe asked.

"I'm doing well. That friend of mine, Ed, finally made his testimony regarding the tragic events of the other night. I'm glad it's over."

"Yeah, me too," said Joe.

"So, are you two excited about leaving?" asked McGillicutty.

"I would be, but Latin is starting to rule my life. Dad has a big thing about it," sighed Joe.

"I like Latin," chipped in Elizabeth.

"Ah, I see. Latin, my good man, is an ancient and noble language. It would behoove you to became quite adept at it. Many of the roots of English are found therein. Indeed, our culture still owes much to the Romans. And now, it's the international language of the Holy Catholic Church. Any clergyman who wants to go international or become a bishop has to know it."

"Do you know Latin?" asked Elizabeth.

"Not beyond the genus and species of plants and animals, regretfully," replied McGillicutty.

"My father knows Latin. He knows a lot of languages. He was a linguist and…is the word polyglot?"

"You mean someone who can use a lot of languages? Yes."

"Yeah. That's it. He was that before he joined UNPKAF and has had many translation jobs since he and Mother got married and moved to Canada," stated Elizabeth.

Teddy Underhill, Elizabeth's younger brother, randomly ran through the entryway at that moment and vanished outside. He was immediately followed by her sister, Alice, who was carrying some sort of slime thing.

"Alice…what is that?" asked Elizabeth.

"Fun!" she replied, slipping outside. Elizabeth took no chances and went out as well.

"The last gear was loaded up today," noted McGillicutty. "Your father and Mr. Santos should be back from the spacepad soon."

"I'm glad," replied Joe. "Anything good on?"

"There's always Star Trek," replied McGillicutty.

Scientist and preacher's kid bonded over and laughed at an episode of original Star Trek. A recurring theme in the jokes was, "Ooooo-transporters in the 23rd century! We were just beginning to colonise Mars!"


September 30, 2303

Chan removed his left arm and plugged a cable into it. Everyone else buckled up. In the co-pilot seat was Mr. Zebedee Thunder, the required member of UNSA. Al sat at the back of the ship. In the mid-cabin of the SS Paul were the missionaries in rows of three. Andy, Felicity, and Joe sat in one row. Behind them were Bill Underhill, Teddy Underhill, and Alixana Underhill. The third row contained Elizabeth and Alice, punching each other, and a very excited Juan Santos. The back row had API-15, Dr. McGillicutty, and Dr. Rufus. The Paul had two other living-space cabins, besides the cockpit, engine-room, and cargo-hold.

Sid had bid them good-bye before they entered the decontamination chamber. He assured his mother he would be fine, stating that he'd e-mailed his essay, "Spectacles, Beasts, and Fewmets", to his professor on time. He also assured her that he would go back to Calgary once the ship had taken off. Now he sat in the front row of people watching the launch. Space launches were still expensive, so they were still rare and still events. The Paul was a shining silver rocket, modelled on the dreams of Flash Gordon's creators. The words "SS PAUL" were painted red in a sleek modern font across the rocket's side. Beneath was its registration number.

There was no massive smoke as there had been with the first rockets. There was a rumbling and a blast, and then the SS Paul was off. Sid waved, knowing his folly but not feeling the least bit foolish.

Everyone on the ship felt it shuddering. Teddy was frightened. API sat back and looked around the cabin. Soon they were weightless. Al was checking the engines himself, although he'd been distantly monitoring them throughout takeoff. He was never sure until he was in the room with them himself. Computers could err. All was well. Joe looked at the stars and watched in horror as a Latin primer floated past his face. Everyone looked at the blueness of the Earth. It was a true globe, majestic in beauty and slowly shrinking.

They reached Martio Statio in eight weeks. If this were a Stanley Kubrick film, you would be seeing a lot of shots of the ship drifting through space. Then you'd seen the people floating in the ship (artificial grav?? right…). Then the ship. Then Joe weeping over a Latin textbook, his tears never hitting the page. Then Elizabeth rejoicing over a Latin textbook. Then them eating strange-looking food no one in the 20th century can properly describe. Then watching a newsfeed about the mission. Then talking to the computer. Then the ship drifting through space, then…

Dave…what are you doing, Dave? I'm scared, Dave…Dave? … Dave?

*fewmets-droppings of an animal one is tracking.

**polyspiritism-a 23rd-century heresy rejecting Judaeo-Christian monotheism and claiming a monopolytheism, in which the Holy Spirit was the unification of the pagan gods after Yahweh's defeat of them through the cross.

***Classical Latin for "hello." Pronounced sal-way.

Copyright, Matthew Hoskin, 2004