What is Man?
Brother Samuel Barristar pondered the question “Is man a reflection of God”. His conclusion came from the most ancient of biblical texts, the first chapter of the Book of Genesis:
It was clear that God existed before the beginning of the cosmos, and then in a flash created something that defied man’s understanding. It was equally clear that He saw the newly created cosmos as a meaningless jumble of pieces, and moved to organize his creation.
When it came to the Earth, God created exquisite patterns. He divided the day and night, the air, water and land, and the planet from Heavens. God then created life in the form of plants, trees, fish, birds and animals.
God’s final creation was magnificent. It was the making of mankind in His own image. Man was given intelligence and dominion over the life and resources of the Earth. But he was also cautioned that the temptation to accumulate and misuse knowledge would bring evil into the world.
Brother Samuel had not seen the abuses that preceded the extinction events, but he knew from the historical records that mankind had forgotten the way of truth and the importance of the soul. God’s punishment for such transgressions had been horrific.
Life is a very stubborn thing that hangs on until the last hope is gone, and even then exists in combinations of molecules to be reinvigorated in some distant future.
Atlas Empowered’s plan worked sufficiently well to save the human species as well as critical scientific, technological and engineering ideas, materials, and equipment. The vitally important core of governmental, religious, moral and cultural information had likewise been preserved so that it could be quickly used when mankind re-entered into a survivable Earth. Finally, information on the nature of the extinction, the various alternatives to save mankind, and the successful solution had been enshrined in a nearly impregnable computer library.
Brother Samuel had been somewhat skeptical about wasting valuable space and resources on history. His observation was that people all too often lived their lives with little references to the lessons of the past. The significant discovery was that the complexity of life in the universe had grown even in the face of extinction. The ultimate question was not whether God existed but how God existed in so many ways, places and times.
The Triumph of Sister Savannah
Throughout history, thirteen was considered an unlucky number. Some curious souls asked why thirteen was chosen and what it meant to Atlas Empowered. The choice was actually straightforward – Jesus and twelve apostles, one of whom was Judas.
Sister Savannah had been a strong advocate for the “Judas solution” as she called it. Her work with the poor and downtrodden had left her with a strong sense of compassion for those in need of another chance. She would often say, “Not everyone who claims to live a perfect life does so, and the most honest of people are often those who do not hide their flaws behind a mask of piety. And, after all, if we who survive believe in biblical revelations, what is symbolically better than the thirteen.”
She also reminded people of the story behind “Amazing Grace”. John Newton, born in 1725, was initially a man of little religious conviction. His early years were much like those of Pierre de Sota – rebellious and angry. He was eventually pressed into service with the English Navy and then sailed in the slave trade. During one voyage, a massively powerful storm battered his ship, and in a moment of abject fear he called out to God. The storm abated rapidly, and Newton was left with a profound sense of God’s mercy. He devoted most of the remainder of his life to theology and the practices of the clergy. “Amazing Grace” is considered to be the greatest of Christian folk hymns.
When the time came, all who had been part of the initial cadre of 1,300 were long gone. Only their ancestor remained to carry on the human race. Like it or not, the original assumption that space and capacity for 13,000 people was sufficient no longer made sense. Some had to leave regardless of the risks associated with the outside world.
The first step was to send a well-armed scouting team of thirteen men and women out into the wilderness. These thirteen were given the best information possible about the compass direction that had the greatest promise for success. They were to report back to the leaders of Atlas Empowered within thirty-nine days after departure. If they did not do so, then it would be assumed they had perished.
Each 39 days another scouting team left the city. The first team went to the South. The second team ventured to the North. The third to the East. No one returned. No trace of them was ever found. The whole situation was reminiscent of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke, Virginia.
With obvious trepidation, the fourth team was sent to the West – and thanks to the grace of God spared whatever fate had befallen the other teams. The Empowered’s “westerners” explored widely and found beautiful lakes and rivers, fruitful plains, and majestic mountains. There were animals that looked like the ancestors of wild cows and pigs. There were birds in abundance and fish in the streams.
This foray, begun in fear, had exposed a grand territory as close to the paradise of the Garden of Eden as anyone could imagine. After exploring for thirty-nine days, the western team returned to Atlas Empowered and announced success.
The One Hundred and Thirteen
The one hundred and thirteen were assembled, and given rations and a means to defend themselves. Then with great fanfare, they were ushered into the new world. The successful thirteen west scouting party was placed in the lead. The remaining “one hundred” were to establish a permanent colony.
The hundred chosen consisted mainly of families. To the Atlas Empowered leadership, it made no sense to separate a husband, wife and children. Families throughout history had been the fundamental building blocks of human societies, and when families prospered, all of society was rewarded.
To make sure that every individual was fully prepared to colonize the land, Atlas Empowered’s training staff constantly taught a broad range of survival and civilization skills. Anyone old enough to understand became expert at self-defense, agriculture, construction, healthcare, and equipment maintenance. It was also recognized that each individual had a unique set of abilities useful in unanticipated situations, and those were identified and catalogued for future use.
The members of the groups were reminded of the importance of the individual liberty, the need for truth, and the necessity of a firm reliance on God. They were cautioned that while danger could be anywhere, the greatest dangers were the ignorance of the individual and the arrogance of the group.
The extent of survival of other humans was unknown. Since the North, South and East teams had not returned, the assumption was that they had been confronted by some unusual and deadly obstacle. Speculation first centered on the idea that the Earth’s environment had not fully stabilized, and these teams had succumbed to storms, methane concentrations, unrelenting cold and ice storms, lack of a food source, a new disease or something outside the prior realm of human experience. However, the West team had experienced none of this so speculation turned to the hostile remnants of man or beast.
During its initial foray, the thirteen members of the West team had heard strange howling sounds but had seen no evident of carnivorous beasts. The truth of the matter was revealed when Brother Samuel spotted the tracks of what appeared to be men, horses and dogs. Apparently, some nomadic tribes and possibly even villages existed in the outer world.
The one hundred and thirteen decided that the tracks should be followed regardless of the danger. They reasoned that as an enlarged team, they were fully prepared to deal with almost any threat. Fortunately, when the confrontation occurred it was more one of mutual curiosity than hostility. As with the early settlers to America, strangeness in appearance was not an obstacle to the human desire for understanding and compassion.
After a few weeks of meetings and bartering with the “outsiders”, the thirteen left the colonists and headed back to Atlas Empowered. Interestingly, the “outsiders” apparently had a tribal name but it was basically unpronounceable – too long, too guttural, and too much like a howl. It was easy to give them a nickname and they responded to it with unexpected glee.
Over the next few years year, the scouting team came and went from Atlas Empowered, depleting its contents 100 at a time. The first 100 had clearly prospered under the guidance of the “outsiders”. The integration of cultures and advanced technology proved much easier than expected.
The only disturbing information involved the disappearances of the original North, South and East teams. Although the “outsiders” could not accurately describe what was clearly the stuff of legends handed down over generations, it was apparent that little if anything lived on the other side of what was called the “cruel” river. If the previously sent Atlas Empowered teams had actually crossed this river, they would have entered a lifeless zone. Brother Samuel wondered whether the entire zone was lifeless or whether the legends were similar to those of sea monsters that guarded the Pillars of Hercules at the mouth of the old Mediterranean Sea.
Because of this legend, a special scouting team was sent to trace and map the apparently benign Western side of the cruel river. It was hoped that by doing so information could be obtained that would uncover what was creating the lifelessness. Unfortunately, after spending an exhausting year exploring, nothing useful was discovered other than the fact that the “other side” of the cruel river looked much like the side being colonized.
The mysteries of the lifeless zone were to remain unsolved for generations. It had been decided that repopulation of the Earth was a priority and the Atlas Empowered leadership would not risk scarce human resources in a blind test of survival possibilities.
Eventually, the entirety of Atlas Empowered was depleted of its people. Mankind prospered in the West and the population rebounded quite quickly under very favorable conditions. However, it became an absolute necessity to provide room for an expanding population. The “cruel” river had to be crossed.
The legend of the “cruel” river and the loss of the first exploratory teams had not been forgotten. Thus a number of much larger exploration and settlement development parties were sent across at different locations along the river. The choice of such large parties was based on the fact that the initial thirteen hundred members of Atlas Empowered had successfully survived, and it was postulated that such a number might be necessary to confront an unknown form of extinction.
As little as possible was left to chance. All members carried weapons and special clothing to protect against environmental, biological, chemical, or even radiological hazards. A special food supply was provided so that no one had to live off the land for nearly three months. Because of the situation, transportation was mechanized and by foot. No animal could be trusted to survive or avoid becoming an impediment.
But nothing adverse happened. Although the land was devoid of human and animal inhabitants, it matched the West in almost every way. Apparently the passage of time had resolved the problems that caused the initial three teams to disappear or perish. The Earth was healed from the “cruel” river to the blue-green sea. The belief was that this was God at work with his creation.
Large groups of people and animals, as with the old wagon trains heading West during frontier times in America, now headed North, South and East to settle old areas now become new. Only one disappeared without a trace.
By Faith Alone
When the world lacks an explanation for a mystery, there is a tendency to either dismiss it as an anomaly or embrace it by way of faith. The latter is particularly the case when the inscrutable does not yield up its secrets to scientific inquiry.
The “cruel river” disappearance was, of course, alarming. Necessarily, search parties were deployed to follow the presumed direction of the lost group and look for any signs of a human activity.
An aerial search using manned balloons showed nothing unusual. The land and water features were similar to all of the other territories being settled.
Ground search parties also fanned out into forests and thickets hoping that something was missed or not revealed by the aerial investigation. One such party thought they had uncovered a path, but after further investigation it was but a natural feature of the land. Samples of soils, dung, leaves, and even the air were collected and analyzed. There were no signs of a civilized presence or the passage of men.
Brother Samuel remembered one of the biblical phrases associated with faith, “God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform”. Certainly that was the case here. But maybe the more appropriate phrase was one from the writings of the Catholic philosopher, mathematician and inventor, Blaise Pascal. It was “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”
Was that the point? Were those who disappeared shadows destined to wander the Earth without the light of faith, or were those who searched for them without sufficient faith and, therefore, blind to the presence of those they sought.
Brother Samuel summed up the life of a man or woman who lived in faith. His reference was the 23rd Psalm from the biblical Book of David:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
In the end, faith is all there is.
By the grace of God, it is finished.
Brother Samuel T. S. Barrister