TITLE: Ch. 11..The Valley of Hope.
By Jesus Puppy
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Chapter 11... The Valley of Hope.
Shaking as though waking from a bad dream, remembering the flight and being chased through space, in an attempt to seek freedom. Then being shot down, as an Imperial Star-fighter came from nowhere, cannons blasting into the side of his small craft. It was all he could do in the smoke and flames of the cabin, to make it to the escape-pod, getting away before it blew.
Upon waking he knew his fight was at an end, the restraints binding his wrist were unbreakable. Sitting up in the dark of night on a desert planet, seeing the Imperial Fighter in the shadows, and the guard just beyond a fire before him, Noalus knew his race for freedom was over. He knew this guard that sat across the fire from him, her chase had been endless, until now.
"Well met once again, Lieutenant," he said with a sigh, crossing his legs beneath him as he sat up, watching her near expressionless face in the flickering light of the fire.
"A merry little chase you have led me on," Lt. Jass stated calmly, as if speaking over a dinner table to an old friend, not over a fire to a captive enemy. "You could have saved much trouble if you had just given up. You must know you can not win against something the size of the Empire. We will always be able to track you down."
"The One who leads me," Noalus said softly into the flames, "is even greater than them, so vast the universe can't hold Him, but He has the universe nailed to the palm of his hand."
"This God of yours must not be so great," she said, looking straight at him, head high and shoulders back in formal military form. "Look at your life Noalus, a man on the run, barely alive in the eyes of the universe, and soon not even that. And what has your cause gotten you? Outcast."
He watched her movement closely as she added more brush to their small fire, seeing the expression of prideful calm on her face. He knew her, and others like her, both military and common alike, Imperial clean to the heart, with only one view of life. Their own.
"There is more to life than a name, Jass," Noalus replied after a while, "more than wealth or prestige. Great financial holding setting in someone else's vaults, always putting in, yet never satisfied, always reaching for more, yet never truly happy."
"And you are happy with your life, as it is?" The Lieutenant asked with a smile and a raised eye brow, looking at the shackles on his hands. He looked down, lifting bound wrists until the chains rested in his lap, then looking across at his guard and captor, he smiled in return.
"I am blessed with a heart of joy," he said. “And you?”
They sat quietly, watching each other across the small fire. The desert night was black around them, and the only sounds that could be heard were the crack and pop of dried scrub brush the Lieutenant used for their fire. She sat waiting, holding her rifle across her lap, watching the man she was sent to capture and bring to trial, for his crimes against the Empire.
"What will you do now, Jass?" Noalus asked, "After you return me that is. Will they give you a medal of honor for bringing in a religious fanatic? Maybe advance you in rank, you think?"
"I will return to my Unit," she replied, head raised high, though slowly the prideful smile grew less, "and then on to where they send me next." Her expression grew somber for a moment as she looked over at him, but only a moment and the military pride was back, a dull gleam once more in her eyes.
"And what is it you seek in life, Noalus," the guard asked plainly, "beyond this silent God of yours."
"A safe place to worship Him in peace," he replied. "A quiet little valley where others might come to know His blessings as well. To feel the joy of the Creator without fear. To be free from the drudgery of constantly striving to make the universe save for a child to walk the street, or play in a field. What do I seek in life," he said looking deep in to the shadow of her eyes, "freedom."
"It seems you seek something that can not be found, Noalus," Lt. Jass stated, her voice low and showing little emotion. "A legend maybe, like the lost mines, or mountains of gold. Great cities where wealth is of no importance, and everyone lives at peace. But trust me, I dreamed as a child will, and I have looked, it does not exist in this universe. Not in this time."
Moving as much as he dared, seeking a comfortable position on the cold ground, and rubbing the shackle-restraints on his wrists, Noalus eyed his captor, a smile slowly coming to his face. "A legend", he thought to himself, "No, I have seen it, if only in a vision."
"There are millions of old tales and legends of secret places," he said across the small fire. "Mountains, carved out inside to make vast cities and hidden kingdoms, cities with golden halls and temples. Or worlds that are a paradise, never a harsh day, but only peace and contentment. Fables and dreams, everyone tells us, but is it so." Slowly he spoke the story he learned, making it as near word for word, in hopes it would make it more true.
"Morlass, Lotoalim, the secret land of Norkue, Valhalla by the ancient Norseman, Shamayim by the Hebrew children, or by the ancient Tibetans, Shangri-La. Paradise, the Golden Valley of Hope. A place of dreams, where there is no more strife or hardship, and everything is peacefully handed to you by the loving hands of the Creator Himself.
"A place laid aside from the beginning of time, for the blessings of those that seek peace. For just such a reason God made Eden, that all would be blessed and each day filled with joy in Him. Man sought his own way, turning from that blessing, and yet still God's love would not be denied. He sent down rules that Lost man could use to guide himself and work toward a closeness with his Creator. Though many came to Him with joy, more chose again to seek their own way, and yet His love would not turn from them.
"A loving God and Creator, Father to all living things, His love was greater still. He gave up His divine throne and came Himself into the world. Born as a man, and raised so, subjected to the will and ways of the world of man, and yet he showed a better way. By clinging in faith to the strength of the Father's love, He gave of himself to the fullest, taking all the darkness of man's sin away. If they would only accept it for the gift of love it was meant to be, and return that same love He gave to them. And still many turned away, seeking their own power and a name.
"Dreams they tell us, maybe so, but look at the great things Mankind has this day, all from someone dreaming it could be. Fables and old wives tales, there is often more truth hidden in the hearts of old wives, than in all the great libraries in the Universe put together.
"Norkue, Valhalla, Shamayim, Shangri-La, they exist, if only in the heart of those who believe in them. A Golden Valley of Hope, a place of safety, set aside for people to live in peace. Paradise, free to those seeking to praise the Creator of all things, without fear of persecution. A heavenly home for children that are willing to hope in His name alone, just for a greater life yet to come.” Noalus became silent for a moment, seeking the Lieutenant’s face in the shadowed light of the fire.
"And for believing in this?" He went on after a moment, raising his shackled wrists slightly, shaking the chains that held him. "I am charged for seeking peace. Condemned, for seeking Salvation from a God of grace."
"I do not know your charge," the Lieutenant said looking down into the flames of the fire, "I am just to bring you back. I just follow orders."
Slowly adding more brush to the flames, she looked across the fire at her captive, a man she had fought and pursued half way across the galaxy to find. "Who is this seeming man of peace," she thought, "what crime has he done? Seeking peace as we all do." Her movements were like a dream in themselves, outside of her own actions, she moved across the fire to where he sat, standing over him in the dark night.
"You almost make me want to believe," the Lieutenant said sadly. Reaching down and taking his shackled wrists in her hands, slowly unlocking the catches. "Run, man of peace, I pray you find your valley."
* * *
"What in blazes is all that beeping?" The old man shouted as he entered the control bridge, looking around at the five man crew of a ship he had run alone for more years than most of them had been alive. The scan consol, flashing a blinking dot and showing numbers on the screen none of the young crew could even understand.
"We're not sure, Sir," one crewman said, watching the old captain walk over to the long range scan screens. "Scanners have picked up something, but by these numbers it is so far off we shouldn't even be reading it."
"Can't even read this stuff," the old man said, "put that on full screen, and can someone shut off that speaker?"
The normal sound of the bridge was like dead silence as the beeping alarm sounding from the cabins main system speaker was cut off. The old man walked slowly towards the main forward screen, at first not understanding what he saw, then not believing it when realization set it.
"So, they caught you did they, boy," he said softly to himself, watching as the numbers showed the strike on a small cruiser, then ticking the oxygen level rate and pressure. He waited to see the inevitable blink of the screen showing the loss of the ship. As another set of numbers appeared to the side, he laughed loud and hardy, watching as the coded program made years ago unfolded before his eyes. He watched the trajectory numbers tick off, as an emergency pod left a small ship, then tracked its course.
"Turn this tub," the old man shouted to the crew, even in the midst of his laughter. "Lock onto the last set of coordinates and set the course." A young crew man started resetting the sequences of the directional coding, then stopped momentarily.
"Sir, they want confirmation and reason for our course change."
"Then tell them it is a distress beacon and we're turning to check it." The old captain looked at the question forming on the young man's face, and said, "Use my name, Kyle, and don't try denying the fact you been using it all along."
"Yes, Sir," the young man smile, shaking his head for a second, then returning to the communications panel, he said as plain and bold as he could, "Captain Morlan Scott of Arkanis1, we just received a signal of distress, and seek to respond. Please confirm."
* * *
"And where can I run?" Noalus asked, looking up at the guard, not knowing if it were simply a trick that might get him shot when he moved. "As you have said, the Empire will always be able to track me down again."
“I will give you a short time," Lt Jass replied, walking back around the fire and reaching down for her gear pack, "I sent the message that a pod had jettisoned, but have not sent that you were found."
Stepping to the side of her fighter craft, opening a small compartment, she removed several EM food packages and an extra canister of water, stuffing them into the gear bag as well. He watched with mix of fear and unbelief as she turned to him once more, removing two power clips for a hand blaster, and tossed the gear and extra clips across the fire to him.
"I have not told them," she said again, then smiled with her touch of military pride, "not yet. It may take a while yet to search the planet for your pod, they are small and sometimes hard to see."
"So.. I am free to run into the night," still held by uncertainty, Noalus remained at the fire, "only to die in the heat of the sun tomorrow. Well, my God has kept me alive this long, maybe there is hope. Even for you." He added with a slight smile.
"I am a Guard," the Lieutenant stated proudly, shoulders back and head held high in full military fashion, "a fully commissioned warrior of the Imperial Police. I do my duty." Then glancing down to the flames of the fire she added softly, "I do not think your God could over look that."
"Soldiers of old beat Him and nailed him to a tree," he said to her, still watching for signs of mischief, but wanting all the more to trust this lone soldier, hoping beyond hope. "He called to them even from the tree, seeking forgiveness for their wrongs done, even those done to Him that day."
"How could a Powerful God allow such?" Looking up at him, tears starting to form in her eyes, yet still holding herself straight. "And this as you say by His own people, His own creation. Willing to over look the suffering mankind causes, and for nothing more than a name."
Noalus looked deep into her eyes and saw she spoke not of the others in life, but herself, her own actions coming to bare in her heart, the past being laid out before her. Slowly he rose to his feet and stepped around the fire to stand before her. Not judging, or condemning her for past wrongs, but wishing only for her release as well, to free her from the pain she bore.
"He did it for love," his words spoken so soft they were barely heard above the crackling fire, "He did it because He loved them, even as a Father would love all His children. He did it even for love of you, Jass."
As his hand came to rest on her shoulder, Noalus could feel the welling of pain within her, then the shaking as the tears began to flow. Her pride breaking like a dam, giving way to the pain filled weeping of a child. He took her in his arms, holding her gently, praying his God would truly touch the child buried deep inside.
* * *
A week later, beside a similar fire in the desert night, Noalus viewed the multitude of stars in the night sky. Alone now for five days, waiting and praying for help to be sent from his God, yet not knowing in what form that help should be.
His food rations were getting low, even conserving them as he was, they would not last much longer. The small rodent like life form he had found would keep him alive, if the taste didn’t kill him first. Water was again his biggest worry, he had tried digging a shallow well in the sandy soil, but had to go nearly three feet down before even coming to moister soil. If it didn’t rain soon he may dry out too much to seek water, and then what?
He sat back against the rocky out-crop of what he had taken for an old stream bed, the place he made for his camp. It was not far from the place his Pod had crashed, though all the resources there had been used up days ago, he could not bring himself to leave it. He kept hoping a passing ship might just be able to read a signal if his power packs held out long enough.
Saying another quick prayer, thanking God for his life, and the blessing of the rescue he knew would come one day, he scanned the heavens above him, and smiled. Alone with his God once more, and still alive and free to send his prayers as praise for thanksgiving, he felt at peace. He watched, as what he thought was a meteor streaked across the sky, then slowed to nearly a stop, and started growing in size.
A ship, he thought, watching carefully as the dot grew larger still on the horizon, leveling off, seeming to come in his direction. Quickly he thought to run to the pod and send a signal of some kind, then thought it might be Pauline Jass returned, but no, she would be back long before to a guard post somewhere. Then the thought of the Imperial Police finding him once more came to mind, but how would they know which direction to come so soon.
Images of Lt. Jass being made to tell his whereabouts flashed in his mind. NO, he thought in anger, knowing the torture the Empire would use on a new Christian, the thought was more than he could bare. Fearfully he watched as the ship came on, headed straight for the location of the escape pod, locked on like it was a beacon in the desert night. Staring in shock, as his fear turned to awed disbelief, he watched the ship fly low overhead. Seeing in great detail, the blue and gold lettering it had taken so long for him to paint on.
In a moment he was out of the dried stream bed and running blind across the rocky desert ground, headed to the only flat spot big enough for the cargo vessel to safely land, near the escape pod. He heard the roar of engines die down as it landed, even before he cleared the last rise and saw the ship on the dark floor of the desert valley nearest the pod.
Clearing the last hundred yards in a dead run, with a shout of praise to his God. As light appeared around the opening portal hatch, the entrance ramp slowly lowered to the ground. He stood breathless, a smile growing on his face as he watched an older man stepping lively into the opening, and shout out in mock anger.
“I take a short nap and you get my cruiser shot down!” Morlan shouted, then laughing as he cleared the end of the ramp. “How are you, boy, you look starved?”
“No, sir,” Noalus replied, smiling at seeing his old friend, “had me a couple good sized rats for dinner. I could use something to wash them down with. Got any coffee in that tub?”
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