The S. S. Oublient rocks and weaves in space.
Candace’s fingers dance over the controls. “It’s the comet, Captain,” she says. “It’s spamming our navigation servers with a denial of service attack!”
“Damn it!” snaps Captain Bart. “Throw up a firewall and take course alpha!”
Candace hesitates, then slams her fist down on the red glowing FIREWALL button. There is a clunk and a clank deep in the ship.
“It’s jammed! We’re losing web presence!”
Candace spins the ship. It rolls in a great arc through space. Bart and Candace are slammed back and forth. Sparks jump from the control panels.
“We’re almost out of its gravitational well,” Candace says.
Bart grips the arms of his chair.
The ship wobbles away from the comet and towards a great blue-and-orange world.
Slowly, Bart and Candace relax.
“Damage report,” Bart says.
“It’s bad, Captain. We’re going to need to put down on the planet for repairs.”
“Impossible,” says Bart. “The Prime Directive—”
Candace looks wry. “Captain, I use the word ‘need’ advisedly.”
“Ah,” Bart says. “Landing inevitable?”
“Landing inevitable,” Candace agrees. “Power cells are rapidly approaching deprecation.”
“Right,” Bart says.
“Dress uniforms, then. Let’s look sharp for the natives.”
“I’ve got the planet on the line, sir.”
Bart stands. His shiny blue carapace-like uniform gleams.
“Citizens of Cebulai,” he says. “I am Captain Bart of the starship Oublient. Requesting permission to land.”
There is static.
“Working on visual,” Candace mutters.
A mellifluous female voice answers. “Oublient, Oublient, permission denied. This is a class-A restricted planet. Unbelievers are forbidden diplomatic and other contact.”
“This is an emergency situation,” says Bart.
“Permission denied, Oublient.”
“If you will not grant us permission to land,” says Bart, “we will be forced into landing without it. If diplomatic contact is forbidden, surely diplomatic incidents are even less desirable?”
The static on the viewscreen momentarily resolves into the image of a breathtaking woman in one of the demure, modest outfits prevalent in the distant future. Raven hair hangs down her back, and her eyes are green.
“Captain Bart, we cannot comply.”
Bart gives her his best Captain’s smile. “Surely—”
The woman bites her lip. He can hear her indecision in the static as the image flickers out.
In a soft, low whisper, she says, “Coordinates beta-alpha-78-odango. Tell no one of this.” Then, louder, she says, “Oublient, Oublient, permission denied.”
“Well,” says Bart, smoothing his uniform. “Let’s go—landing!”
The ship plummets through the sky onto a landing pad. It burns red, then white, then red, then ceases to burn; and its landing is almost gentle, though the whole ship shudders.
“What’s the web like out there?”
“Primitive, Captain,” Candace says. “Spam subintelligent, micropayments inactive, and an extremely high signal to noise ratio. It is not yet September.”
“Local adware contained?”
“We’re not going to leak, Captain. No worries.”
“Then let’s go—diplomacy!”
The e-ramp descends from the ship. The lights of the landing field flick on. Captain Bart descends, with Lieutenant Candace behind him.
There are military and diplomatic personnel gathered in the launch area to greet them. Bart scans the group. The woman he saw earlier stands among them, but has shrunk back in silence.
One man steps forward. He is clothed in formal black.
“I am Spaceport Reverend Price,” he says.
“Captain Bart,” says Bart. “I apologize for this intrusion upon your world. If you give us an opportunity to make repairs and download updates to our power cells—”
S.R. Price holds up his hand.
“It is of no matter,” he says. “I see that you are unenlightened folk. Be welcome to our world. Perhaps you shall be the vehicle by which the Good News spreads to your people.”
“Pardon?” Bart asks.
“In our Utopian society,” S.R. Price explains, “we long ago realized that accepting the basic premises of fundamentalist evangelical religion was best for believer, nonbeliever, and agnostic alike. We are a futuristic planet in this regard.”
“Oh!” says Bart, surprised. “I see.”
“It is our highest mission to bring all peoples into alignment with the love and mercy of God.”
There is a burst of static from S.R. Price’s lapel. There is a silver button there. Price presses the button and listens.
The button is a transceiver. Someone on the far end says, “I believe that God has spoken to me. I believe that He knows, as I know, as you know, that it is time for the wickedness of New Babel to end. Please, if you are a good and just man, you know that you must launch the spaceport missiles at once.”
“Of course,” S.R. Price says.
He gestures to one of the waiting crowd, who scurries off.
“It has led to a creation of an enlightened moral culture where all people come together under the blessed love of the Almighty,” S.R. Price says.
“We are eager to know more of this culture,” says Bart. “On Earth, there have been many attempts to realize a practical fundamentalist evangelical government, but they have so far proven unsuccessful.”
“Excellent,” says S.R. Price.
Bart looks at him. He looks at Bart. There is a silence.
S.R. Price says, “One of the principal moral tenets of our religion is the understanding that first contact is only acceptable for purposes of reproduction.”
“Ah,” says Bart.
Music begins to play.
“May we, um, I mean, do we, um, who?” Bart ventures.
But two of the crowd are already advancing towards them. One is the raven-haired woman, smiling softly, and even now taking Bart’s hand. The other is a rugged square-jawed military hero. He smiles at Candace.
Candace, fiddling with her iCorder, does not notice the advancing man. She mumbles, “I’m not picking up any missile launch, Captain—”
Then she looks up.
Candace’s eyes are round, and not displeased.
“Let’s go—smoochies,” suaves Captain Bart.
The woman leads Bart into the spaceport seraglio. She closes the door behind them, in a room filled with sparkly silver pillows and gossamer curtains.
“Do you need me to introduce you to the Earth-concept called love?” Bart asks. “Or is your culture . . . advanced?”
“Shh,” the woman says, flatly.
She takes out a small device. It has antennae. It beeps twice.
“All right,” she says. “We’re safe here.”
Bart’s voice is profoundly disappointed.
“My name is Jasmine,” the woman says. “I am part of the space rebellion. I stood up for you. I guided you in. I will be punished for it in due course, no doubt—but what is done is done. You are here. Therefore, I must beg your help.”
“You’re . . . not a fundamentalist evangelical?”
There is the edge of a growl in her voice. “I’m Baptist,” she says. “I’m one of the real fundamentalist evangelicals. I believe in the real Bible that our civilization has so totally abandoned. The so-called Christians running this planet have begun reading their own beliefs into the Bible, completely forgetting its true meaning. That’s why they think Satan lives in the heart of this planet, when in fact he lives in the hearts of those who have forsaken God!”
“Oh,” says Bart.
“There are not many of us,” Jasmine says. “We are oppressed and must practice the art of Baptist ninjutsu to survive. For our holy war against evil, they curse us as enemies of the state. We need you, Bart. We need your technology. We need your space empire. Let us be frank. We need your nuclear robots.”
Bart looks sad.
Bart sits down amidst the shiny silver cushions.
“I knew this civilization was too utopian to be true,” he says. “But . . . I can’t help you. The Prime Directive insists on a strict separation of Church and Fleet.”
“No robots. No technology. I can only give you smoochies,” Bart says.
Jasmine looks down.
“I do not smooch those who are so mired in secular ways that they will not fight for Christ,” she says. “Though I wish . . .”
Jasmine shakes it off. “We must pray that this first contact miraculously results in a child without our actually having sex,” she decides. Then she walks out into the dark.
“But I like sex with alien women,” sulks Bart. He sighs. He waits a while, then stands up, and goes back to the ship.
“Hi, Bart!” carols Candace.
“Don’t rub it in,” he says.
“These are the sexiest fundamentalists ever,” Candace purrs. “So . . . confident of the will of . . . God.”
She looks at him. “Aww,” she says. “No blessed event?”
“We totally sexed up the first contact for reproductive purposes and without sensual pleasure,” says Bart. “She’ll probably have octuplets. Babies everywhere. They’ll call me Great Father Bart. What’s the patch status?”
Candace points. Bart turns.
Jasmine is out on the landing field. There are other ninjas with her, most likely ninjas that accepted baptism as an adult and joined the priesthood of believers in accordance with Biblical law. And striding towards them is a man clad in the robes of the federal judiciary.
“It’s always this way,” sighs Candace. “We’re a flashpoint for cultural tension.”
“I am Judge Simeon!” declares the judge. “For your erroneous teachings God has delivered you into my hands!”
“We have never deviated from the law of God!” shouts Jasmine defiantly.
The judge falls into stance. He channels his Chi through his lifetime tenure—an impeccable defensive power! “I will show you my judicial activism fist!”
“Status?” Bart snaps.
“92% complete,” says Candace. “And frozen.”
“Hurry it up,” Bart says. “Hit the side of the ship or something.”
Candace thumps the console. “Download accelerating! 93%! 94%! 95%!”
Three ninjas circle the judge. (They are not here referred to as Baptist ninjas, because, while they consider themselves Baptists, Jasmine’s ninjas are hardened assassins who do not believe in justification by faith. That disqualifies them!) The ninjas employ their ninja magic without success. They attempt a united attack; Simeon, contemptuously, casts them stumbling back.
“She’s going to die,” Bart says.
A cold wind blows.
One ninja leaps. Judge Simeon puts his fist through the ninja’s brain.
“Damn it,” Bart swears. “The federal judiciary is completely out of control!”
“96%. 97% . . . 96%. 97 . . . 96%.”
Another ninja dies. Bart has a look of agony. Then he steps forward. He takes the blaster from his side. He concentrates. He takes aim.
“Captain,” Candace says. “The Prime Directive . . .”
Sweating and trembling, Bart fires. The weapon disrupts Judge Simeon’s Chi aura, stunning him for almost a second.
“Run, Jasmine!” Bart shouts. “Run!”
Judge Simeon’s war cry shakes the spaceport. Several ninja freeze in fear.
“97%. 98% . . . There!”
“It just skipped over the last two percent?”
“Come on! Let’s go!”
The S.S. Oublient lurches upwards into the air. Judge Simeon leaps after it, jumping onto a wall, then a girder, then the roof of a building, and finally leaping with one fist extended before him towards the ship itself.
“Engage hyperdrive!” snaps Bart.
Candace presses a button. The ship zooms away.
“What the hell kind of name is Oublient?” shouts Judge Simeon, as he falls back towards the planet.
Bart sits, limply.
They fly in space.
“It tested well against focus groups,” Bart says, after a while.
They fly in space.
“Was it worth it?” Candace asks. “To violate our most sacred oath, just to save a woman?”
“I don’t know,” Bart says. “She . . . made me wonder, you know. For a while, I thought . . . maybe there is a God, and maybe he does call people to fight against a Satan who lives not in the center of a planet but in people’s hearts.”
“Maybe,” says Candace.
There’s a space phenomenon ahead. Comets are flying from all over the sector to smash together into an ever-larger and ever-hotter mass.
“It’s the birth of a sun,” Candace says quietly.
“Wow,” says Bart.
“Google page rank, totally off the scale. Network activity, practically at sigop levels. Cold fusion is go,” Candace says. “I’m kicking the readings into a log file for the Fleet.”
Machines click. The iCorder whirrs. Something, somewhere, beeps.
Whoosh! The new sun ignites.
Bart and Candace stare out the window of their space ship for a while, and wonder.