Toynbee's Gate: Free Short Story

Toynbee’s Gate

I would not give up. I refused to allow Cardinal Giacomo to intimidate me with his piercing stare and deep, booming voice. To help me focus, I had declined a chair and knelt before the Cardinal’s desk on the marble floor, clenching my rosary beads in my folded hands. The metal crucifix, jabbed into my palm, heightened my discomfort, but I would not break. For my brother’s sake, I couldn’t.

Cardinal Giacomo didn’t even try to make eye contact with me. Instead, he stared out the Vatican’s windows, observing the air cars buzzing around a docking station. “During the questioning, if you tell us the truth you will not be harmed.”

His voice frightened me, reminding me of the times my father would yell at my brother when we were growing up. I adjusted my habit, tucking a few stray hairs back into hiding, and prayed for strength. “Yes, your Eminence.”

Cardinal Giacomo reached out to his BlueBoard and touched a spot on the screen. Data flowed in the top right-hand corner and a video feed pulsed into activity. The video profile took on the shape of another clergy member. “Buòn giorno.” The American butchered the greeting.

Ignoring me for a moment, Cardinal Giacomo tilted his head in salutation. His double chin wobbled from the sudden motion. “Greetings, Father Wolsey. Our Savior’s peace be with you.” Tapping the board’s security firewall settings with his thick fingers, Cardinal Giacomo approved the outward transmission of data to flow to his colleague’s BlueBoard.

“And His peace be with you.” The video feed’s size increased to a third of the screen. “It’s good to see you, my friend.” Father Wolsey paused, taking in my personal information that had been streamed to his BlueBoard. “Have you transmitted all of her records?”

“Everything is there.” Cardinal Giacomo glanced down at me with such contempt that I found it difficult to remain quiet. He adjusted the cameras trained on me and returned his attention to the BlueBoard. “She has agreed to cooperate.”

Father Wolsey scratched at his grey beard and leaned forward so that his beady eyes filled the BlueBoard’s screen. “Greetings, Sister Jeanne.”

I looked up at the BlueBoard and bowed my head. “Good morning, Father.”

He held my gaze and asked, “Do you know who I am?”

“No.” I remained kneeling and struggled not to fidget. My knees hurt, but I ignored the discomfort.
“I am one of the Holy Father’s closest advisors. Your story has earned his interest.” Father Wolsey sat back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap. An intense look of concentration furrowed his brow. “It is our task to learn if you’re telling the truth, lying, or, possibly insane. If you cooperate, this will be painless for you. Are you ready?”

His calmness frightened me but I replied quickly by nodding.

Cardinal Giacomo punched in a code for the controls on his desk. A soft white light shined down on me. The bright light didn’t hurt, but I needed to cover my eyes from the glare until they adjusted. Cardinal Giacomo shifted his weight in his seat and said, “Don’t be afraid. The light will tell us if you’re lying. If you try to deceive us, you will be excommunicated and punished. Do you understand?”

Thoughts of rebelling against the Church flew from my head. A bead of sweat dripped down the side of my forehead and nearly went into my eye. In a low voice, I gathered the courage to reply. “Yes, I understand.”

Cardinal Giacomo glanced over at the BlueBoard and saw Father Wolsey’s signal that he was ready for the questioning to begin.

“How old are you?”

I stared up at the light, afraid to make a mistake. “Twenty.”

The consistency of the light remained the same. Cardinal Giacomo read his colleague’s question off the BlueBoard and asked, “When was the first time you heard the voices?”

“The day after my older brother disappeared.” Jacob’s accident in space was still hard for me to take. Alone and in a convent, I remember the exact moment when I was told. At first, I couldn’t believe he was gone. Now, two months later the dull ache in my chest refused to go away. It was the only physical remembrance I had left of him.

“What did the voices tell you?” Cardinal Giacomo bellowed out his question, bringing me back to the present.

I had been asked this question often since my secret came out so I knew better to tell too much up front. “They promised to guide me to the truth.”

Cardinal Giacomo observed the readings on his BlueBoard and nodded in agreement to Father Wolsey. I could only guess what Father Wolsey had written to him. “When was the last time the voices spoke to you, and what did they say?”

Closing my eyes, I willed the words to come out and prayed they’d appear to be the truth. “I heard the voices four days ago. They told me to remain faithful and God would reward me.”

The white light changed to a deep, ruby color, and a warning alarm went off. Cardinal Giacomo looked me in the eye. “I will repeat the question. What did the voices tell you?”

Up to this point, I had found ways to circumvent the truth. I was ashamed to tell the full story. The voices had just started coming to me in dreams and, more recently when I was awake. My Mother Superior had noticed my strange behaviors, like talking back to an empty chair, and decided to report me. Three days later I wound up kneeling before a Cardinal at the Vatican. Fear spread through me. If I lied, they would know. I closed my eyes but still could envision Cardinal Giacomo’s pudgy face. “Sister Jeanne, we don’t have all day. Do you not understand that your future is at risk?”
My strength faded and I just wanted to run away, curl up in a corner and disappear, but somehow I remained strong. “Yes, I understand what’s at stake, but I’m afraid to answer.”

Cardinal Giacomo raised an eyebrow. “Afraid? You have the Church’s protection. You’ll not be harmed for speaking the truth.”

I hadn’t been mistreated over the last three days, but an unspoken threat of punishment loomed over all I did. I needed to make a decision and I knew that only the truth would allow me to leave this room. I trusted myself and answered, “The voices told me that they were messengers from God. They told me I would go to the fifth planet and seek union with God through their doorway. There, I’d find someone I’d lost and uncover God’s truth.” I was afraid what they should say, but it was the truth.

The light turned back to pure white and did not change in shade. Cardinal Giacomo rubbed his forehead and sighed. In Father Wolsey’s office, I saw his staff in the background, scrambling to examine all the data streaming through the BlueBoard. I wondered how someone so insignificant as myself had become enmeshed in such a great mess. Father Wolsey took a softer approach and asked, “Tell me, were you close to your brother before he disappeared?”

Startled by the question, I answered, “Yes, I was.” My heart beat faster and I tried to hide my concern.

“In whose semblance have the voices spoken to you recently?” Father Wolsey’s calm voice soothed me.

Yet I hadn’t expected that question. I looked away from the BlueBoard, knowing that I had to tell the truth. The streaming light from above covered me. There was no way for me to hide. I stared at Father Wolsey and replied, “The voices sound like my brother’s at different ages.”

The light remained pure in color and did not change. I could see Father Wolsey’s staff scurrying to analyze the data from my response. Momentarily distracted by my answer, the Father handed over the questioning to Cardinal Giacomo. Taking in every movement I made with such intensity, the Cardinal smiled warmly at me as he punched a code into his control panel. A hologram materialized beside his desk, hovering there without a sound. Adjusting the settings, he enlarged the three dimensional display to fill up a large portion of the room. The hologram depicted a still picture of a busy pedestrian walkway. Birds, cars, and people appeared frozen in time. The Cardinal changed the angle, and zoomed in on the walkway.

For the first time since being brought to the Vatican, I became frightened. The Cardinal magnified a portion of the walkway that had an artificial marking glued to it. I exhaled in shock and covered my mouth with my hand. “How did you find this?” The long arm of the Church and its knowledge frightened me. I had never spoken of the markings to anyone.

Cardinal Giacomo zoomed back out and I spotted a familiar building near the Vatican. “What can you tell us of these markings?” The picture changed and underneath the Eiffel Tower another strangely marked message appeared hastily branded into the ground. Cardinal Giacomo increased the speed and the display cycled through dozens of similar images found throughout the world. He froze the last hologram and zeroed in on the tile’s wording. In large, broken type, haphazardly put together, the rectangular tile read:


I started to sway and had to use my hand to retain balance. The holographic image floated in front of me, accusingly, and could not be ignored. A lump formed in my throat and I clenched my teeth tightly together to remain in control.

Cardinal Giacomo leaned forward and repeated his question. “What can you tell us about who made these tiles?”

The white light intensified and the hologram moved closer to my face. The words, now a meter high, filled my vision with their bold and severe lettering. If the Cardinals had discovered the markings, then they would know that I had read Toynbee’s heretical writings. I crossed my arms and replied, “I don’t know who made them. I first noticed one of these markings in the middle of a street about a month ago near a bakery by the convent. Two weeks later I discovered another near the church.”
The light shining on me remained pure white.

Cardinal Giacomo ignored my answer by saying, “We see that you have researched the life of the twentieth century religious historian Arnold Toynbee. According to the records, he thought that the Baha’i faith,” he tilted his head down to read word by word the data on his BlueBoard, “a heretical sect that believed God could appear to people in different forms of Godhood as was needed at that particular time—would be the next great religion.” The Cardinal glanced up and I sensed he knew I was trapped. “Have you had contact with the Baha’i rebels in—?”

Father Wolsey interrupted his colleague and asked, “Did the voices ever tell you anything about these markings?” Startled, I couldn’t believe that Father Wolsey had wanted to skip over my heretical research and possible connection with rebels. Cardinal Giacomo sneered and coughed into his pudgy hand. His thick neck turned red from embarrassment. How much power did Father Wolsey have to be able to interrupt a Cardinal?

If I answered correctly, Father Wolsey was giving me a way out. I chose my words carefully and replied, “The voices told me that they were messages placed by the faithful to the cause and that I was being called to go to Jupiter to find the Savior. Only through the opening of the doorway could we resurrect our dead, free ourselves, and find salvation.”

I leaned forward and let the white light beam down on me, surround me with its intensity. My hands shook as I clenched them in prayer. A wave of anxiety washed over me and I began to sway from fatigue. I needed rest.

Cardinal Giacomo increased the light’s power and bellowed, “Did the voices tell you anything else?”
I ignored the question, refusing to look up out of fear. Cardinal Giacomo wanted me branded a heretic and eliminated while Father Wolsey had his own agenda. Somehow I needed to find a way to walk a thin line.

Father Wolsey interrupted my thinking with his calming tone. “We need to know the full truth in order to help you. What did the voices tell you?”

A streak of rebellion surged through me. If I said too much now, then I would have no chance. The Church would excommunicate and imprison me or even make me vanish without a trace. I needed to stall for time. Preparing myself for the pain, I replied, “I can’t answer that.” The white light turned violet and my skin absorbed the color. The light picked away at my mind like tiny needles of light that bore into me, releasing the truth in flashes of insight. My memories flashed before me and I lost control, screaming in pain as the cold, marble floor seemingly rose up to meet me.

Cardinal Giacomo gazed down on me from his chair. No sign of pity or compassion crossed his face. “You must tell us all you know. If you have knowledge that threatens Mother Church, we must prepare. Tell us!”

The pain ate at me. I writhed in agony, but still tried to hold back. The light streamed down on me, incessant, and would not ease until I answered. Losing track of time, I could not fight any longer. I reached up at the holographic tile and croaked, “The voices told me that I’m to go to Jupiter and bear the child of God.” My hand fell back to the hard marble floor. Tears rolled off my cheek and I broke. Crying through sobs, I whimpered, “But I don’t want to go. I’m afraid.”

The violet light blinked to pure whiteness and both clergymen covered their eyes. Father Wolsey overrode the interrogation light and commanded, “Help her up immediately. She’s the one we want.”
Flustered at being ordered around, Cardinal Giacomo walked over to help me to my feet. I tried to push him away, but he dragged me over to a chair. Still in shock, I collapsed, and focused on Father Wolsey’s face on the BlueBoard.

“My child, you have no reason to fear because God has called you. The Church will support you if you let us.”

I heard Cardinal Giacomo clear his throat in obvious disagreement as he let go of me. A look of doubt crossed my face and I slipped forward, smacking my head onto the Cardinal’s desk. The pain overwhelmed me. Father Wolsey’s voice came through the BlueBoard. “I’ll call up Father Guadagno. Do not harm her.” I heard Cardinal Giacomo say something in reply, but consciousness faded and I fell into darkness.


A low beeping sound awakened me. I squinted and tried to move, but my body ached everywhere. I attempted to talk, but my throat was dry and scratchy. The light from the ceiling hurt with its pureness and warmth. After several attempts, a gurgling sound escaped my throat and I covered my eyes with my hand to block the light. The small movement took an enormous amount of effort. Trying to fight off returning to sleep, I winced from my stiff muscles.

“Sister Jeanne, can you hear me?” I did not recognize the deep, masculine voice, and the surroundings were not familiar.

A blur moved in front of the light and I attempted to concentrate on the movement. Calloused hands touched my eyelids and my vision began to clear.

“Hold still.”

I recoiled in shock as liquid drops fell into my eyes. My attendant sat me up and the room swayed as I concentrated on not getting sick. Closing my eyes and inhaling deeply, I filled my lungs with air. I held the breath for a moment, ignoring the ache in my chest, and slowly exhaled. When I opened my eyes and blinked, my blurry vision cleared. Reaching out, my hand brushed against the plastic encasement of a sleep chamber.

“You’ve been asleep for almost six months. Relax.” The man handed me a packet. He closed my hands around the container and pulled out its straw. “Drink from here. It’s water with electrolytes. It’ll help you.”

I sucked on the straw and a cool liquid, sweet in flavor, filled my mouth. I swallowed and for the first time noticed an unfamiliar sensation. Wiping my eyes again, I realized that restraining ropes held me to the sleep chamber. I levitated in place, above the chamber, and saw a middle-aged man, sporting a beard and moustache, also floating beside me.

I let go of the drink container and watched it drift away. “Where am I?”

“You’re on a space vessel.” The man pointed to a view port. “It’s a military ship headed to Jupiter.”
The lights from inside the room negated any chance I had of seeing outside. A low hiss of air coming in through vents and the background hum from various electronic devices distracted me. “I don’t understand.”

Pulling closer to me, the man rubbed at his bushy beard, unsure of how to explain what had happened. After his indecision passed, he said, “I’m Father Guadagno.” He put out his hand and I accepted it. His hands were rough and weathered. “The Vatican decided to send you on the mission and thought it best for you to go immediately so no one could delay your departure.”

“But I never gave my approval to go.” I tried to hide my panic. “I’ve never been in space before.”

Father Guadagno folded his hands in his lap. He floated away from me and said, “Sister Jeanne, you’re on a mission from God. The Holy Mother Virgin Mary didn’t have time to prepare when she was asked to carry our Savior. The angel called and she accepted.”

He looked into my questioning face. “I understand your concern, but for your safety the Church had to ensure that no one knew of your departure. Your mission is of the utmost importance. You have been called to meet God.”

My stomach nearly gave out on me. “I still think that I should have been asked.” The realization that I was hundreds of millions of kilometers from Earth came to me. I couldn’t simply leave the ship.
“You didn’t have a choice. Cardinal Giacomo wanted to imprison you and extract the information you have by force.” Father Guadagno floated closer to me. “His methods would have been painful and you would not have survived. Father Wolsey petitioned His Holiness to allow you to come on this trip. Make no mistake, the choice made for you was the better one.”

Still in shock, I just stared at his grizzled, bearded face. “But I don’t know what I need to do.” My voice quivered in fear.

Father Guadagno took hold of my hand. “First, I need you to trust me. We’re only a few days away from Jupiter and we’re on a Confederacy ship. The Church has no authority here. If you want to survive, then I need you to trust me. Do you think you can do that?”

I looked into his rugged face and wondered. No matter how much I shouted and argued, I still couldn’t get home. The reality of my situation began to sink in. If I didn’t cooperate, I would not survive. The Church could easily find an excuse to be rid of me. And yet I also wondered if what the voices had told me were true. Was I meant to find God out here and be reunited with my brother? With no way to return to Earth, my options were limited. I reached out to him and said, “Yes, I’ll trust you.”

A smile lit up his weathered face. “Good. Before we arrive at Jupiter, we’ll need to build your strength back up and help you become acclimated to zero gravity. You might feel nauseous for the next few days. If you need anything, tell me and I’ll help you. We are the only two Church representatives on the ship. The crew has treated me with respect but given me plenty of distance. I expect they’ll do the same with you.”

I unfastened the restraining ties and floated away from the sleep chamber. I touched my matted hair and missed my habit. Father Guadagno noticed me touching my hair and said, “We’re not allowed to wear any religious apparel while on this vessel. The agreement was part of the Church’s concessions.”

“I feel lost without it.” I smoothed my hair back and looked around. “Is there a place for me to clean up?”

“Yes, I’ll show you to your quarters and then give you directions on how to get to the conference room. Once you’re finished, meet me there. I’ll be with the Captain of the ship.”

I followed Father Guadagno out of the room and floated down the hall. I had the strangest sensation that up and down were relative terms. Without having been in space before, I didn’t know how to deal with the absence of gravity or in being brought to Jupiter against my will. If I wished to survive, I had to follow Father Guadagno’s lead. Yet my faith remained strong in that the voices could bring me to my brother. No matter how preposterous the thought, I had to keep that faith alive, praying that God would give me strength. I didn’t really know what I would discover out by Jupiter, but I would do everything within my power to help bring my brother back. Neither the Confederacy nor the Church would stop me.


After I had washed up, I followed Father Guadagno’s directions to the conference room. I still felt grungy after my birdbath of a shower, but it would have to do. I glided, head first, down the corridor and did my best to navigate the corridors. The walls were padded and handrails lined everywhere I looked. But I had yet to run into another person. The steady hum of equipment and the recycling of air through the vents distracted me, drowning out my concentration. Up ahead, I recognized Father Guadagno in a room. He had his feet locked into the ceiling’s footholds and a tall woman, with short blonde hair, wearing a military uniform floated upside down next to him. The two of them were conversing quietly as several uniformed crew members, who were also upside down, floated out past me.

Then it dawned on me that everyone else had oriented themselves differently than me—I was upside down and not everyone else. I reached out to a handhold and stopped myself from floating through the doorway. Father Guadagno noticed my predicament and came to my aid. Embarrassed at my simple mistake, I accepted his help. He pulled me into the room and pushed the control to shut the door. Taking a moment to reorient myself, I grabbed at a handhold on the wall to stop from drifting.
The woman on the far side of the room floated closer to me. “I’m Captain Sapov.” She folded her arms across her chest and frowned. “Let me come right to the point. My crew isn’t happy that we’ve been ordered to take on two untrained clergy members. And I’m not thrilled about it either. So if you follow instructions, there won’t be any problems. Understand?”

I suppressed my initial reaction to become defensive and replied, “Perfectly.”

Captain Sapov floated over to a BlueBoard, and touched the screen. External sensors went online and zeroed in on Jupiter. “We’re still a few days out from Jupiter so we’ll have time to train you on the basics and make certain you get your space legs. In the meantime, why don’t you head back to your quarters and get some food so Father and I can talk?”

Captain Sapov’s condescending tone angered me. I could feel my neck getting red and blotchy as I replied, “No, I’d like to stay here. I haven’t traveled all this way to be shunted into a corner.”
“Well, on my ship you do what I tell you.” Captain Sapov used the handrails to pull herself closer to me. “Do you have a problem with that?”

I ignored her and addressed Father Guadagno, “You’ve asked me to trust you, but I need you to do the same. I’ve been dragged out here against my will. At least let me be involved.” I reached out to him imploringly. “Please?”

Father Guadagno turned to the Captain and said, “I think it’s a good idea that she stays. She might be able to help us.”

The Captain started to say something but stopped. She forced a smile on her face and replied, “If the Church hadn’t paid us up front, there’s no way that I would put up with this.” She floated back to her BlueBoard, ignoring my angered look, and adjusted the controls. Taking a deep breath, she addressed Father Guadagno, and said, “Just don’t let her interfere, or I might change my mind.”
“Fine, that’s not a problem.” Father Guadagno changed the topic to smooth the mood. “Now, tell me more about the discovery your crew has made.”

I glanced over at Father Guadagno and wondered what they had found. Following Father Guadagno’s lead, I pulled myself closer to the Captain’s BlueBoard. She adjusted the screen’s size and projected a larger viewing area. A real-time image of Jupiter appeared on the screen and became magnified. Captain Sapov marked a spot above the Northern Pole of Jupiter with her finger and said, “Within the last three hours, we’ve picked up a signal which is not from one of our survey ships. My crew has analyzed the signal and we’ve relayed it back to Earth, but we cannot decrypt the message.”

Father Guadagno came closer and stared at the markings Captain Sapov had drawn several million kilometers from Jupiter’s pole. “Can you play the message for us?”

The Captain keyed in her access code and spoke to the BlueBoard, “Startup voice activation. Recognize me.”

The BlueBoard responded in a calm, feminine voice, “Voice path confirmed. How may I assist you Captain Sapov?”

“Initiate sound proofing of this room and play the entire message of file Jup1a.” The Captain glanced up from the screen. “The message lasts for only twenty seconds but it’s continually being repeated.”

The BlueBoard announced, “Message playing now….”

For the first three seconds, I heard nothing and then a faint, deep bell tone filled the room. Slowly the tone increased in pitch until the sound faded off into the higher ranges of human hearing. Disappointment set in. I shrugged my shoulders and asked, “That’s the entire message?”

“Blue, pause playback.” Captain Sapov turned on me. “Yes, that’s it. But I’d like for us to hear it a few times to help us make some sense out of its meaning.” She adjusted the volume and said, “BlueBoard, continue playback.”

The BlueBoard played the remainder of the message and this time I covered my ears at the end. I waited for the low tones to come within my range of hearing and experienced an unlocking in my mind. The voices suddenly came back to me, hiding my brother’s voice in their melodic whisperings of secrets unknown. I tried to filter out the noise to hear my brother Jacob, but I couldn’t bring him to the forefront. Instead, the deep bass of the message’s pulse reverberate through me. The ship’s conference room vanished, allowing me to see two large metallic orbs in orbit high above Jupiter’s pole. With my new vision, I could see the magnetic sphere storming around Jupiter and an opening appeared in the top portion, clear of distortion, and interference. From far away, I heard myself shouting, repeating words I didn’t understand until the vision faded and the voices whispered soft lullabies in my ear. And then I understood their message—Jacob was safe and waiting for me. I needed only to go to them. I blinked several times and realized I was staring into Father Guadagno’s questioning face.

Captain Sapov held my legs and Father Guadagno had restrained me to the side conference room wall. He rested his hand on my forehead and asked, “Are you okay?”

“I think so. What happened?”

He eyed me up as though I had been possessed. “You covered your hands over your ears and then started convulsing while shouting about resurrecting the dead on the fifth planet.” He ignored my fearful look and continued. “And then lapsed into a language we didn’t understand. Do you remember any of this?”

I rubbed my temples and tried to recall the vision. “I saw two orbs floating above Jupiter, but I didn’t recognize what I was saying.” I chose to withhold the messages the voices had given me.
Captain Sapov unclipped a device from her uniform and clipped it around my wrist. “Blue, activate medkit procedure.”

“Medkit procedure in process.” The computer’s voice filled the conference room.

The wristband changed its size and tightened slightly. I glanced over at Father Guadagno. “I feel fine. Is this really necessary?”

He nodded. “It’s better that we examine you right after the episode and ensure that you’re not ill.”
Data streamed across the BlueBoard’s screen and Captain Sapov floated back to review the results. She read the report and shook her head. “There’s no sign of any trauma. Your blood pressure is slightly elevated, but not above the normal range.” She crossed her arms and said, “I don’t like this at all. I’m going to leave the monitor on and we’ll keep an eye on you to make certain you’re okay. We’re still a few days out from Jupiter and we need you to make contact. So why don’t you go rest up and let us handle this?”

Father Guadagno saw me about to protest and held his finger up. “Before you start to argue, listen to me. The bracelet won’t cause you any harm and it’s better to be safe. You’ll have plenty of time to review the message later.”

I touched the wristband and hid my disappointment. I bottled up my bitterness and kicked back off the wall floating away. “I understand. But before I go rest, I’d like you to say mass so I can take Holy Communion.” I had to send one barb toward the Captain.

Father Guadagno glanced over his shoulder to Captain Sapov and turned back. “I’ve agreed not to say mass while onboard. When we pray, we must be silent and do so only in our quarters.” He scratched at the back of his head, looking uncomfortable.

“And if I choose not to leave?” I needed to test him and find where he stood.

His eyes narrowed and his anger rose to the surface. “Then you will be forcibly dragged back to your quarters.” He paused a moment and added, “Sister Jeanne, we are not playing a game here. The Church cannot afford to fail. You will do as you’re told.”

“I see.” My response left much unsaid. I headed out of the conference room and said, “I guess I’ll see you later.”

I grabbed at the handholds on the ceiling and floated down the corridor, leaving Father Guadagno alone with the Captain. Now I knew the sides. The Captain and her crew were in it for the money, but Father Guadagno played a much more secretive game. He knew more than he let on and I would need to be wary of him. He could not be trusted. When I returned to my quarters, I strapped myself into the sleeping berth and plotted. I knew that the Captain and Father Guadagno had a plan, but now I needed my own. Rest was the last thing on my mind, but after several minutes my eyes closed and I fell into a deep sleep.


For the next three days, I became the model trainee once I learned that Father Guadagno and I would be performing a spacewalk to visit the mysterious orbs floating above Jupiter.

I studied the instructions to the EVAC suit and practiced emergency procedures for hours. Now both Father Guadagno and I were securely stuffed inside our EVAC suits, awaiting the launch. The few days had passed quickly with each night ending with dinner with Captain Sapov. Partaking in a small rebellion before eating, I would pray silently, rejoicing in the act. My prayers had been simple and direct. I had prayed for strength, courage, and for my brother.

I listened to the chatter on the comm channel and continued to wait. The voices had remained silent and I had had time to focus and gather myself. I would not be beaten. As I looked around the shuttle’s small airlock, unmarked with any windows, it reminded me of a confessional. The comm chatter faded and an eerie silence filled the room along with the faint vibration from my suit’s compression unit. In a few minutes, I’d be in space, above Jupiter, free floating. No inkling of what would happen reached out to me, only a sense of pending excitement filled me inside.

“Shuttle, go for launch.” Captain Sapov’s stern voice came through clear over the channel.

I imagined the craft floating out of the shuttle bay, heading toward our destination point. Father Guadagno remained quiet and I sensed a deep meditation wash over him. I had lived around fellow clergy long enough to know when someone was praying. Bottling my excitement inside, I opened myself to the experience and thanked God. The enormity of the moment overwhelmed me and a deep longing for my older brother came over me. Since my brother disappeared, I hadn’t had time to truly grieve. Instead I had thrown myself into teaching at the convent and then became enmeshed in the trip to Jupiter. A thick, feeling of anxiety overcame me.

“You both ready back there?” Our pilot broke my train of thought.

Father Guadagno replied, “Yes, we’re ready. Open the main airlock door.” He reached out and took my gloved hand. Without speaking outloud, he mouthed, “I bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” He held me firmly in place and then made the sign of the cross over my chest. Outstretched palm over my helmet, he closed his eyes and prayed. The airlock door slid slowly upward and the ship’s exterior lights lit up the gray hull.

“Jeanne,” Father Guadagno called to me and I pulled myself away from the magnificent view outside, “whatever happens out there, you must follow my lead. Do you understand?”
I detected a subtle threat, understanding more than he had said. I nodded at him. “Yes, I understand.”

Turning back toward the door, Father Guadagno moved outside. He nodded his head at me and then spoke to Captain Sapov. “I’m headed outside now. Sister Jeanne is following.”

“Once outside, initiate your suit’s engines and you’ll be there in approximately forty seconds.” The Captain’s voice sounded distant.

I left the safety of the airlock and floated after Father Guadagno. Tethered together by a flexible length of cord, I powered my engine and the slight burst of power pushed me away from the ship. For a moment, I felt disoriented and ill at ease. The ship’s lights still blinded me, but by my feet I could see a glow and when I glanced downward, the pole of Jupiter spread out below me. I was amazed at how pale the clouds were and how little light existed.

“We’re almost there. Be careful and let’s examine the orb with some instruments before we begin contact.” Father Guadagno breathed steadily and remained calm.

My suit began to beep and I glanced at my control panel that drifted beside me. “What’s that?”
Our pilot answered, “The radiation level around you has dissipated. It’s as though you entered a bubble that’s protecting you.”

I glanced at the back of Father Guadagno’s head and initiated my suit’s engines. If ever there was a time to act, it was now. I unlocked myself from Father Guadagno and surged past him. I could now see the orb pulsing in a soft white metallic glow. I increased my thrust and aimed directly for the orb. In a matter of seconds, I’d reach my destination and would give myself over to God. My brother and I would be reunited and I would fulfill God’s plan.

“We have a problem.” Father Guadagno announced over the channel to Captain Sapov. He quickly changed the tone of his voice and tried to sound soothing. “Sister Jeanne, please stop.”

I ignored him and counted away the remaining seconds. My engine shut off and I flew toward one of the orbs—a perfect sphere over a hundred meters in circumference. The orb pulsed and rippled like a bead of mercury rolling around in a beaker. I opened my arms and braced for impact. Father Guadagno and the Captain called to me but I no longer heard them. Their voices sounded muffled and distant. When I hit the orb, I plunged in it like I were diving into a refreshing pool, and a white light seeped into my suit. The light changed to a honey-like substance and I became enveloped in a sugary, sticky mass. The fluid dripped through my vacuum tight suit and as my momentum carried me through, the liquid passed out of me as light and the voices returned.

Red, purple, blue, yellow, and gold. Lights fired in my optical nerves and the colors spoke to me. Welcome. Journeyed far. Consummate with us. Sister. Images dripped into my conscious mind and the fire there broke me apart. Some outside presence touched me and the floodgates opened. Around me the orb elongated and grew, stretching forth. Its twin, another orb several meters from the first metamorphosed. No longer spherical, the two orbs had changed into enormous triangles. Touching together, the two objects formed a perfect square hundreds of meters on a side. At the center point, I floated, protected in a viscous substance. Inside me a presence grew. So soft and light. Open and accept. Vibrant colors flashed around me and my womb answered. A gateway inside awakened and I allowed the portal to open. Light streamed out from the small circle, originating in my womb, bursting forth to light the area.

I thought I heard cries of shock and alarm from those on the ship, but couldn’t answer them. Then space folded and the square’s protective restraints held me as the light shifted. A gateway to the beyond opened around me. I became aware as a pinpoint of light in my womb became alive. Answers came through to me and I saw my unborn child. God had come to me! My child would resemble my brother Jacob and even have his memories and more. The child was God’s gift to me. The colors faded and I saw into another place beyond the gateway. A sun, similar to Earth’s, and a planet. The light went out from around me, but the new life inside me grew.

I opened my eyes and recognized Father Guadagno coming toward me. I concentrated and then heard him ask, “Are you okay?”

I reached out to him and replied, “It happened. The voices were right. God has blessed me with child and he will grow up to be like my brother.”

“What’s happening out there?” Captain Sapov spoke on the encoded channel.

Father Guadagno ignored her question and switched off his external comm. Only I could hear him now. “Sister Jeanne, look at me. Take it slow. What happened? What did you see?”

“Father, a great light came to me and impregnated me. And now God has allowed me to be the key to open the gate. Do you see the other sun? They want us to join them.”

“Who wants us to join them?” Father Guadagno pulled me close. Together we floated in front of the Jovian gate.

“God and his angels.” I looked up and tried to clasp my hands in prayer in the bulky spacesuit.

Even to me, the action appeared comical. “I am going to have God’s child. I’ve been blessed.”

A concerned look crossed Father Guadagno’s face. “Sister Jeanne, I need you to listen to me. You are not pregnant with God’s child. An alien race has opened up a gateway to their planetary system and want us to make contact with them. God did not do this. They’ve only used you.”

I pushed him away and floated back. “No, that’s not true. God has spoken to the aliens. They are to be our messengers to His will. The voices have told me this.”

He pointed a medical instrument at me and began taking readings. “Sister Jeanne, as a representative of the Church, I implore you to listen to me. You are not carrying God’s child. An alien race is all you encountered.”

I was still disoriented from my experience, but I knew I needed to make him see. “Why are you trying to tell me this? Can’t you see? God has come back to us in our need! He is coming and wants us to prepare for Him.”

Father Guadagno finished examining me and turned off the device.

I grabbed hold of his suited arm and shook it. “I’m telling the truth, aren’t I? That’s what the instrument told you. I’m pregnant.”

Father Guadagno reached behind his suit’s jetpack, pulling out a weapon that he pointed at me. “Yes, you are.”

I took in the weapon and, for the first time, understood how much the Church feared me. I drifted alone hundreds of millions of kilometers from my home and the man who I had thought would be my protector was threatening me.

He continued to train the device on me. “Prepare yourself to meet Our Savior.”

I had so many questions, but had run out of time. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because aliens aren’t the messengers of God. We’ll make our own destiny and find God without their help.” He pushed my arm off of him. “God gave us his only Son! Don’t you understand that? God made us in his image and not theirs!”

I had to think fast. “Please, don’t kill me. Let my baby and I live.” My argument was weak, but I needed to stall for time.

A look of murderous rage crossed his face and then a beam of light streamed at me. An immense surge of heat passed through me and then extreme cold followed. Warning lights flashed on my suit’s control panel and I saw crystallized red droplets and a mist float before my field of vision. My suit attempted to perform an emergency rescue, but I knew it was too late.

I glanced down and saw a hole in my stomach. Looking back up, I saw that Father Guadagno had put away the weapon. I shook my head and tried to fight the cold creeping in. Already the suit could not keep me warm. I put my hands over my womb, trying to save the new life fleeting from me. I held Father Guadagno’s gaze and cried out to him, “Don’t you understand? I was bringing God back into the world.” I shuddered as my eyes began to flutter. Father Guadagno redirected me toward the gate, and initiated the countdown for my suit’s emergency backup engines. In seconds, I would cross the gate’s barrier into another star system.

He pulled my head close until our helmets knocked together. “Thank you for helping us open the gateway.” All trace of his pretending to care for my well being had vanished. I had been used. “In a few seconds, you’ll be dead. But before you leave us, I want you to know that your brother isn’t dead. He’s safe back in Earth orbit.” He glanced down at the few seconds remaining to my suit’s countdown and said, “So you wasted your time and did exactly what the aliens wanted. If you see them in the afterlife, tell them that humans will find God on our own. We don’t need them.”

I let my anger seep out of me. It would not serve me to be petty in my last moments. Hundreds of replies filled my mind, but only one seemed appropriate. I took in Father Guadagno’s face, lit by the backlight of Jupiter’s glow, rolled my eyes up to the heavens and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”

Father Guadagno’s rage at my words ripped out across his face. He started to sputter an angry curse at me, but my suit’s engines had ignited and pushed me far out of his reach. I flew forward toward the gate, feeling the cold sucking my life from me. When I crossed the gateway’s barrier, warmth flooded through my body and my vision clouded. The angels’ voices sang to me and from afar I imagined that I could see my brother Jacob waiting to embrace me. If this was all I would ever know, then I would find peace and it would be enough.

Want to read other stories in the Jovian Gate Chronicles series? Be sure to check out the short story collection and the full-length novel Faith.