The sky over the city of Kronala was thick and heavy, a rolling blanket of gloom imbued with rage. As the slow rumble of thunder carried on the wind, the first of the summer storms was heading in as predicted. But for the planet Augusta and the galaxy at large, the approaching squall was simply a sign of things to come. Like a thick stew, the heavens changed from gray to black, as a northeastern gale brought the clouds to a boil. But Governor William KaRel hardly seemed to notice. Sitting in the dark of his private study, his mind was on more pressing matters.
“Who are you?” he asked the bearded, old man. “And how the hell did you get in here?” For the better part of the night, KaRel had been working on the final phase of his plan, a scheme that would separate his territory from the rest of Augusta and the Union of Planets. His actions, if found out, would be deemed treasonous and punishable by death. But he was far beyond such concerns. His course had been set. And whether successful or not, he was committed to seeing his valiant crusade to the end. Stubborn? The governor was that and much more.
“My name is Leit,” he replied, “and I have come a long way to speak to you.” Leit’s clothing was torn and tattered, but he had a dignity about him nonetheless. As a gust of wind slammed against the window, William noticed his eyes most of all. They were blue within blue. And yet his face, even his gray hair was aglow as well.
“Tell it to security,” the governor advised, his dark eyes angling like that of a hawk’s. “I’ve never taken kindly to unwanted visitors and I’m not about to start now.” As the smoke from his pipe wafted above his desk, the governor pressed the blue button on his console to notify security.
“Please, Governor. Your console will not work,” said Leit. “What I have to tell is for you and you alone.” The old man turned his head to the side. And with a slight gesture, the door to the study slammed shut.
“What is the meaning of this?” the governor growled.
Leit held out his hand and in a flash appeared a book. The governor was startled. Then all of a sudden, the howl of the wind became a whisper. Before he could utter another word, the tome whisked across the room and landed on his desk.
“This book will tell you who I am and why I came.”
William glanced down as another burst of lightning flickered across the room. In bold lettering it read, The Holy Bible. Overwhelmed, the governor came to his feet and straightened his blue uniform. “I don’t want riddles. I want answers.”
“Your answers are there.”
William picked up the book, cocked an eyebrow and looked at the old man. “This book is about a god, supposedly from a world that existed long ago.”
“Yes, it is about a god, the only God. I am one of His holy servants, sometimes referred to as an angel. I have been sent by Him.”
“You’ve been sent by God?” William asked. He came from around his desk. “This book is a collection of stories, that’s all.”
“No, William. You’re wrong.”
At the mere notion the governor’s very soul trembled. But he gave no indication. He tried to wet his dry mouth and continued. “Leit, this book has been a part of our world for nearly a thousand years. Alien settlers came here in a ship called the U.S.S Augusta. We were little more than factions then, more concerned with land and power than anything else. They gave this planet its name. But what they gave us was so much more. At that time we were a very barbaric people. We needed something to keep us from destroying ourselves. This book gave us a direction, an example, a solution. People tried to live by it then, as we try to live by it now. But no one thinks any of it really happened. In the end it’s simply a product of someone’s imagination.
“I remember all the stories my grandmother used to tell me as a child. They brought everything from their world: strange, four-legged animals, birds and creatures that took to our seas. Sound familiar? It was like Noah and the Ark all over again. At least that’s how she used to put it.”
The old man smiled. “The Lord uses many ways to spread His Word, William. The stories of God and His Son are real. The many accounts from the men and women who believed in them are true, as are the stories of an elusive, sinister devil. Don’t you see? This devil, this beast is the very reason I am here.”
“You speak nonsense, old man,” said the governor, his face like stone.
“And you refuse to see the truth.”
Leit walked over to him and said in a haunting tone, “The most proud of angels, who was cast out of Heaven is here, William. He’s here now.” The governor glanced at the book again as another flash of lightning lit up the sky. “Yes, it’s becoming clear now, isn’t it? The senseless acts of violence, the rumors of sedition, the political corruption: they are all related. Even the cold chill that races down your spine every time another sane person suddenly goes mad, the same, common thread runs through them all. Satan is the reason your people do wrong. He and his dark followers are causing your Union to crumble.”
The governor turned away, his reddish brown skin now pale in comparison. “You’re mad.”
“You say the words. But you know in your heart they no longer hold true. An evil beyond all comprehension is coming to your neck of the galaxy. The Union’s fate is sealed.”
The angel’s words made him shudder. But still he remained stubborn. “If I believe who you say you are, what can I do to save the Union? Tell me that, angel.”
“I have not come to save the Union,” said the old man, his eyes shining evermore brightly. “I have come to tell you what must be done to save the galaxy.” The young governor turned. “The Union is set on a course of destruction. Its destiny cannot be changed. Satan sees the Union of Planets just as its founders first envisioned. The Union was a means to bring people together. Long ago, it stopped wars. It didn’t play a part in them. When your government came into being, injustice became a thing of the past. The slave trade on Mumra 4, the retched scourge of the Vranian Order, the rise and fall of Asila Miar—every one of them and countless others would have painted the stars red with blood, if not for the Union. Your government brought about change, real change. Not through force, but by example. They stood against the wind and shouted their defiance, brave people like Ambassador KaRel, your great grandfather. He and many others like him knew what was right and they were prepared to do anything for it. And before long, the wind obeyed them. Yes it did. That ferocious, terrible wind answered to their voice and their voice alone.
“Like a miracle of untold wonders, your Union gave the galaxy something to believe in, to fight for and protect. And for a time, a very short time, evil and hate were gone from the heavens. But now the stars tell a different tale. Now they tell the sad truth of what has become of their precious dream, for what was once so noble and true is now filled with blight and decay. But that will not satisfy the beast. He will stop at nothing until every last trace of the Union is swept away completely. That includes you, your family, Augusta and the galaxy for which you are all a part. Do you understand?” William nodded. “Yes, I know. It looks quite bleak. But don’t despair. Despite the Union’s fate, the galaxy still has a chance. That’s where you come in. You have a son now and soon you will have another. One of them will be chosen by God.”
“One of my sons?” he asked. “Which one?”
“It is unclear. But know this. He will save your world and the rest of the galaxy from evil.” Leit paused, directing his eyes to the holy book from Earth. “And in so doing, the living Word will have a new life . . . here . . . now . . . and forevermore.”
“What will happen to Augusta?” William asked as the tow of truth and dread tugged at his soul.
Leit walked over to the window overlooking the Kralian Sea. “There is still some time before the Union sees its last day. But before it does, you will witness many things, horrible things that will tear at your very heart. He is gathering his disciples as we speak, telling them to do evil, preparing them for his coming. But in the end a storm will come, one far more powerful than the tempest I see before me. The storm will take Augusta into darkness. And only the light of God can break its curse.”
“But why? Why must this happen? Why must the Union, why must everything be destroyed? If you can come before me, you can come before our leaders. They’ll listen. I promise you they will. When I tried, they . . . they only laughed at me. What I’m trying to say is not to give up on us now. Give us a chance to save what we have!” said William, his fists clenched.
“In my long years of service to the Almighty, I have seen many worlds of His universe,” said the angel, his tone somber. “I have seen what evil can do. My experience has been that one cannot truly appreciate Heaven, until one has lived in Hell.”
The governor walked over to stand beside Leit. Together they watched as the waves crashed against the jagged rocks below. “Then how can we stop him?”
Leit reached inside his robe and pulled out a small pouch. “In this pouch is the power, God’s power,” he explained. Stretching open its worn leather mouth, he shook it across his palm and out came a magnificent ring.
“This will be his one day,” Leit said as he gave the ring to William. “It is your responsibility to prepare your sons for what will one day come. Make them strong, William. Make them strong enough to tangle with the devil himself.”
Confused and shaken, William looked at the gold ring, the strange carvings on the side and the flat blue stone embedded upon its face. “Leit, this is all so . . .”
“Unbelievable? Have faith, William. It’s time to start believing.
William closed his hand around the ring. “Leit, my sons will be ready. I promise.”
“Good, then I have succeeded in my mission,” said the angel with a warm smile. “Now you know the fight is not over. It’s just beginning.”
But William still had one more question for the old man to answer. “You said one of my sons would save the galaxy. What of . . .”
“Your other son? That I cannot say. The future of your family is not yet written.”
William thought Leit’s reply seemed to hide something. But he didn’t see the need to pursue it. He was still content to know the future of one of his children. As the wind began to howl again, Leit nodded to the young governor and vanished. William took a deep breath. His pulse was racing. Clenching the holy ring in his stone-like fist, all he could do was ponder his family’s future and also Augusta’s.
~ ~ ~
A month had passed since the angel’s visit and it showed. William was a changed man. No longer was his mind consumed with the dark times ahead. William was thinking of the future, a future as bright as the stars above.
His wife, Sara, also had good reason to be happy. But she was also guarded. In fact, after he told her the strange tale, she was never quite the same again. William spent hours and hours talking about his dreams, his hopes and all his plans. But all she did was listen. And he knew why. Whether the prophecy was true or not really didn’t matter. He and his wife were about to have their second child and they planned to name him Joseph. But the expectant parents would soon learn. Sometimes serving God comes at a high price.
~ ~ ~
Complications had developed the morning Sara went into labor, forcing Governor KaRel to return to the palace at once. As his shuttle sped home from the city, he couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Complications could mean anything. But this was different. For some reason he felt his whole life was about to change for the worse.
After his shuttle landed, William blew through the main entrance and took to the long flight of stairs. When he opened the door to their room, their eyes met instantly. He could see the labor had been trying on her. Racked with pain, her face was beaded with perspiration. But still she managed a smile as he walked over to her bedside and kissed her.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve looked better,” said William, wiping her brow with his handkerchief. She clutched his hand.
“We’ll be alright, William . . . you’ll see. This one’s just having a rough time coming into the world,” she explained. He gently touched her cheek with his forefinger.
“Governor,” the doctor began, “I’m afraid it’s not as simple as your wife believes.” He adjusted his specs and glanced once more at the mini bio-scan. “This could be life-threatening. If her condition worsens, we might need to sacrifice the child.”
The doctor’s words hit William hard. But it made him see who and what mattered to him most. “Sara, don’t worry about the baby. Don’t worry about anything. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. All that matters is you, no one else. God will find another way. You’ll see.” He paused. “Just don’t . . . don’t leave me. I couldn’t bear that,” he pleaded. “We’ll have another. Everything can go to hell for all I care. You hear me?”
Sara smiled. He thought she understood. But when the alarm on the monitor blared into his ear, her true thoughts were revealed. Sara wanted this baby, this son, no matter the cost. As the nurses quickly hurried William out of the room, he knew his wife had made the choice for the both of them, and there was no turning back. Before he could say another word, the door closed behind him, punctuating her decision with a finality that cut him to the core.
Little Michael, the governor’s first born, was sitting on the green sofa in the hallway. The butler, Matthew Craven sat beside him. William took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying desperately to calm his rattled nerves. But it did no good. When he finally looked at his son, his face was a picture of despair.
“Son?” At once the little boy got up and ran straight into his father’s arms.
“I’m scared,” Michael cried.
“I know, son. I know.”
~ ~ ~
Some time later, probably no more than an hour, the door reopened as William took his four year-old by the hand and walked in. While the doctor and several of his attendants were busy deactivating the various monitors, one of the nurses came over and placed the newborn in his arms. William was overjoyed. He couldn’t believe how closely he resembled his mother. But something was wrong. Sara . . . “What of Sara?” he questioned.
Slowly the doctor turned to face him. When William saw the look in his eyes, he knew his worst nightmare had come true. “I’m sorry, William,” said the doctor. “Sara didn’t make it. She’s gone.”
The governor’s heart nearly stopped. His entire body felt cold, ripped open, dead to the world and everything around him. “No, not Sara! Please, God, not her!” William wanted to turn away. He wanted to pretend this somehow wasn’t real. But it was no use. The truth was merciless and couldn’t be denied. “Did she suffer long? Did she say anything?” he asked, his lips trembling.
The nurse replied, “No, she didn’t suffer. But she did say something. It was a name. She kept repeating it the entire time.” The young nurse paused. “It almost sounded like a prayer the way she said it . . . ‘Joseph.’”
William closed his eyes. And with a deep inhale, the pain he felt was equaled only by his anger. Sara had made her choice all right. She’d sacrificed her life for a dream. “It didn’t have to be this way, Sara,” he said. “Losing you was never part of the deal—never.”
“Daddy, is Mommy ever gonna wake up?” little Michael asked. “Daddy?” William had all but forgotten his firstborn was there.
“No, your mother’s left us,” he replied. “She’s not coming back.”
“Why, Daddy? Why did she have to leave us?”
He never answered the question. But he knew why. Sara’s heart had been stolen, not by another man but by a god, a selfish god. And what had William gotten in return—a dead wife and this child.
Tortured by the sobering sight before him, the governor watched the doctor pull the sheet over her face. As his firstborn started to cry, he couldn’t help but think what the nurse had said earlier. With her last breath Sara said his name. “Joseph . . .”