Tag Archives: exploration

One Year Later

Here’s my #BlogBattle entry for this week. I need to tweak some formatting (italics and such) but I wanted to get it posted before the deadline.

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Hero, Hearty Fighter, and Formidable Foe…

Accompanied as always by his gorgeous assistant, Birgitte Bakkersson, the Stunner of Stockholm.

 “I think I figured it out, Bridge,” Grant said as he walked, hunched down, through the dusty catacomb.

The bright-eyed blonde smiled. “You’ve sorted out the way into the sealed Chamber of the Sun?” The Nordic lilt in her voice and the soft laugh when she asked tickled Grant’s fancy.

“No, not that. Look, we know now that there’s a whole other world,” Grant said. “We’ll call it Pandora.”

“Oh,” Birgitte said. “This again.”

“And it bears the mark of at least four ancient Earth cultures—”

“We are in the middle of a job,” Birgitte said, and the dim tunnel seemed to grow chilly and dark with her mood. “Lost in a grimy maze of bones, hoping we can even get inside the sanctum—once we find it. If we find it. Yet you’re still caught up with this mystery of yours. Perhaps you’re not best equipped to make sense of all these details, Mister McSwain.”

“I’m not,” Grant said with a sigh. “She was always better at this stuff.”

“You cannot prove your tale,” Birgitte continued, “and no one would believe it.”

“She believed it.”

“I hate to be cold, Mister McSwain, but our livelihood and our very lives depend on your expertise. Teagan O’Daire is dead and buried. You helped lower the casket—do you not remember?”

Grant paused as memories flooded his mind, forcing in against his will. The devastation in the Repository of Castellano after he set off a dynamite charge… the long, silent flight to Ireland… a blurry ceremony seen through tears in a cemetery in Galway under a sky that had no right to be so blue…

It feels like forever ago, yet sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

He noted Birgitte’s expression and took a deep breath. She needed him at his best, here in the moment, not caught up in a different life however long ago.

“I’m not reliving the past,” Grant said, taking Birgitte’s cool hand. “I’ve moved on from all of that. I’m just saying, these artifacts and sources of mythical power have a common root. And Roquefort would bury us in pound notes if we brought that back to London.”

Birgitte furrowed her pretty brow. Covered in webs and grime, gleaming skin hidden under a layer of dust, she still looked more ravishing than any woman Grant’s eyes ever beheld. Even her? Yes, more than her.

“Master Roquefort isn’t financing this expedition,” Birgitte said. “Are you ill, Mister McSwain? Do you not remember your meeting with the Viscount?”

“Right. What was I thinking?” Grant shook his head and pushed aside all thoughts of Pandora’s magenta skies and double moons. An image of a handsome man’s thin, pale face formed in Grant’s mind.

Anatoly Tarvinthian, the Viscount of Belarus, held to traditions of nobility while amassing a fortune in modern business. The vast wealth of his estate dwarfed his personal holdings in arms manufacturing, which was still sufficient to fund significant investments in America. Railroad barons gave way to natural resources and automotive industry over decades, but Tarvinthian’s money flowed freely into all of these.

Even more so, Tarvinthian showed talent in the world of fine arts trading, giving him ties to prominent museums and access to historic sites around the world. His private collection in his secluded castle summer home was rumored to fill several stories, with more floor space and estimated value than the Smithsonian and the Louvre combined.

That’s only what he dares reveal to his privileged few guests. He’s got secrets buried beneath secrets, and a treasure hoard that spans millennia of human history. What could he possibly need from a hired hand like me?

“Look at this marking,” Birgitte said, brushing a long, gloved finger in a strangely sensual way across a rune carved into the catacomb wall. “It’s part of the crest of Vlad Tepes. We’re on the right path.”

Then the shadows shifted up ahead, and a touch of natural light brightened the stone. Birgitte stepped back in surprise, and Grant cocked his head. “Do you think ‘the Chamber of the Sun’ could somehow be a literal meaning? Not just some honorific for a local lord?”

“I’d very much like to find out,” Birgitte cooed, and suddenly Grant very much wanted to find out as well.

Hunkered down, he shuffled toward the bend. The light grew intense, and Grant’s eyes narrowed and watered in protest. But he spotted a cracked stone wall, with a hole in the center where a pickaxe had broken through. The tool itself lay among ashes and dust piled on the floor. Grant grabbed the pickaxe and swung, doubling the size of the hole. Getting in would be easy enough. But where is sunlight coming from this far below ground?

Birgitte watched with wonder from the bend. “You’ve done it, Mister McSwain. The Chamber of the Sun and all its secrets will be laid bare. The heir of Vlad Tepes will be made known to the world, and your name will be on the lips of multitudes.”

Grant swung again and again, swelling with pride—partly at the thought of renown, but mostly due to the breathy tone in Birgitte’s voice. If it made her happy, that mattered more than any other reward.

With a great lunge, he burst through the crumbling stone and stumbled into the sunlit chamber, then gasped.

Four Ixthacan sun-plates sat in fixtures at head level, and above each, an Eye of Ra had been chiseled into the stone. Hieroglyphs and characters glimmered around the room, some form of gold that seemed illuminated from within.

But Grant ignored all that at the sight of the portals. Suspended in the air a hand-length from each sun-plate, a shimmering circle of light offered a view to other places. Stars glimmered in one like a patch of night sky, and fading amber clouds shone through two opposing portals. In the portal opposite the night, pure sunlight shown through, filling the chamber while focusing its warm beam on the sarcophagus at the center of the room.

Grant ambled about, dumbfounded at yet another conflux of cultures and inexplicable technology. “Birgitte, come in here,” he called. “This is what I’ve been talking about.”

“Not yet,” she said from the gloom in the tunnel. “Not for another minute or two, I believe.”

Her words fell on deaf ears as Grant examined the room. Old forms of Chinese characters mixed with the Egyptian hieroglyphs, all of them etched in that glowing gilt. His bare skin tingled when he touched one.

The sunlight shifted, diminishing slightly, and Grant eyed the brightest portal. Through squinting eyes, he saw the burning orb slip behind the dark sphere of the moon. “That’s right… there’s a solar eclipse today.”

Within moments, only the glimmering corona shone through the once-bright portal. Dim light came through the other two portals, their openings revealing dawn or dusk, though Grant couldn’t say which. “On most days,” Grant realized, “full sunlight always shines on the center.”

Birgitte sauntered in, her smile wide and hungry. “But not today. Well done, Mister McSwain. Now quickly, remove the Ixthacan relics to close the portals so we can see what lies within the sarcophagus.” She pointed toward the plate behind the eclipse. “Start with this one.”

It made sense—the gold alone was worth a fortune. Grant stepped forward to obey.

Then Birgitte spun and hissed, her fingers curled like claws. A cloaked woman burst into the room. A silver crucifix jangled around her neck and glinted in the light of the eclipse, and Grant caught the pungent odor of fresh garlic cloves.

She doffed her hood to reveal a wild mop of red hair, and lunged at Birgitte with a thick wooden stake raised in her right hand.

“Teagan?!”

Birgitte twisted, but the stake found its mark, plunging into her chest. She threw Teagan across the room, but the woman landed in a crouch with feline grace.

Birgitte cackled and examined the thick stake in her bosom. “Fool girl, you deem this little sliver of wood sufficient to kill a Brood Queen?”

“No,” Teagan said, drawing a revolver. “I think it makes a good target.” She leveled the gun and fired as Birgitte’s eyes settled on the red-paper wrapped cylinder shoved into the hollowed-out stake.

The dynamite erupted and Birgitte vanished in a cloud of fire and a spray of undead chunks.

Grant stood gaping at the scene. “You—you’re dead. How did you–”

“She lied, Grant,” Teagan said, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been chasing you for almost a year trying to free you from her grasp. Come on, you lumbering ox. Tarvinthian and the rest of the brood are coming, and Dad here is about to wake up. And none of them will be happy to find Mom in pieces.”

One Year Later

Here’s my #BlogBattle entry for this week. I need to tweak some formatting (italics and such) but I wanted to get it posted before the deadline.

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Hero, Hearty Fighter, and Formidable Foe…

Accompanied as always by his gorgeous assistant, Birgitte Bakkersson, the Stunner of Stockholm.

 “I think I figured it out, Bridge,” Grant said as he walked, hunched down, through the dusty catacomb.

The bright-eyed blonde smiled. “You’ve sorted out the way into the sealed Chamber of the Sun?” The Nordic lilt in her voice and the soft laugh when she asked tickled Grant’s fancy.

“No, not that. Look, we know now that there’s a whole other world,” Grant said. “We’ll call it Pandora.”

“Oh,” Birgitte said. “This again.”

“And it bears the mark of at least four ancient Earth cultures—”

“We are in the middle of a job,” Birgitte said, and the dim tunnel seemed to grow chilly and dark with her mood. “Lost in a grimy maze of bones, hoping we can even get inside the sanctum—once we find it. If we find it. Yet you’re still caught up with this mystery of yours. Perhaps you’re not best equipped to make sense of all these details, Mister McSwain.”

“I’m not,” Grant said with a sigh. “She was always better at this stuff.”

“You cannot prove your tale,” Birgitte continued, “and no one would believe it.”

“She believed it.”

“I hate to be cold, Mister McSwain, but our livelihood and our very lives depend on your expertise. Teagan O’Daire is dead and buried. You helped lower the casket—do you not remember?”

Grant paused as memories flooded his mind, forcing in against his will. The devastation in the Repository of Castellano after he set off a dynamite charge… the long, silent flight to Ireland… a blurry ceremony seen through tears in a cemetery in Galway under a sky that had no right to be so blue…

It feels like forever ago, yet sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

He noted Birgitte’s expression and took a deep breath. She needed him at his best, here in the moment, not caught up in a different life however long ago.

“I’m not reliving the past,” Grant said, taking Birgitte’s cool hand. “I’ve moved on from all of that. I’m just saying, these artifacts and sources of mythical power have a common root. And Roquefort would bury us in pound notes if we brought that back to London.”

Birgitte furrowed her pretty brow. Covered in webs and grime, gleaming skin hidden under a layer of dust, she still looked more ravishing than any woman Grant’s eyes ever beheld. Even her? Yes, more than her.

“Master Roquefort isn’t financing this expedition,” Birgitte said. “Are you ill, Mister McSwain? Do you not remember your meeting with the Viscount?”

“Right. What was I thinking?” Grant shook his head and pushed aside all thoughts of Pandora’s magenta skies and double moons. An image of a handsome man’s thin, pale face formed in Grant’s mind.

Anatoly Tarvinthian, the Viscount of Belarus, held to traditions of nobility while amassing a fortune in modern business. The vast wealth of his estate dwarfed his personal holdings in arms manufacturing, which was still sufficient to fund significant investments in America. Railroad barons gave way to natural resources and automotive industry over decades, but Tarvinthian’s money flowed freely into all of these.

Even more so, Tarvinthian showed talent in the world of fine arts trading, giving him ties to prominent museums and access to historic sites around the world. His private collection in his secluded castle summer home was rumored to fill several stories, with more floor space and estimated value than the Smithsonian and the Louvre combined.

That’s only what he dares reveal to his privileged few guests. He’s got secrets buried beneath secrets, and a treasure hoard that spans millennia of human history. What could he possibly need from a hired hand like me?

“Look at this marking,” Birgitte said, brushing a long, gloved finger in a strangely sensual way across a rune carved into the catacomb wall. “It’s part of the crest of Vlad Tepes. We’re on the right path.”

Then the shadows shifted up ahead, and a touch of natural light brightened the stone. Birgitte stepped back in surprise, and Grant cocked his head. “Do you think ‘the Chamber of the Sun’ could somehow be a literal meaning? Not just some honorific for a local lord?”

“I’d very much like to find out,” Birgitte cooed, and suddenly Grant very much wanted to find out as well.

Hunkered down, he shuffled toward the bend. The light grew intense, and Grant’s eyes narrowed and watered in protest. But he spotted a cracked stone wall, with a hole in the center where a pickaxe had broken through. The tool itself lay among ashes and dust piled on the floor. Grant grabbed the pickaxe and swung, doubling the size of the hole. Getting in would be easy enough. But where is sunlight coming from this far below ground?

Birgitte watched with wonder from the bend. “You’ve done it, Mister McSwain. The Chamber of the Sun and all its secrets will be laid bare. The heir of Vlad Tepes will be made known to the world, and your name will be on the lips of multitudes.”

Grant swung again and again, swelling with pride—partly at the thought of renown, but mostly due to the breathy tone in Birgitte’s voice. If it made her happy, that mattered more than any other reward.

With a great lunge, he burst through the crumbling stone and stumbled into the sunlit chamber, then gasped.

Four Ixthacan sun-plates sat in fixtures at head level, and above each, an Eye of Ra had been chiseled into the stone. Hieroglyphs and characters glimmered around the room, some form of gold that seemed illuminated from within.

But Grant ignored all that at the sight of the portals. Suspended in the air a hand-length from each sun-plate, a shimmering circle of light offered a view to other places. Stars glimmered in one like a patch of night sky, and fading amber clouds shone through two opposing portals. In the portal opposite the night, pure sunlight shown through, filling the chamber while focusing its warm beam on the sarcophagus at the center of the room.

Grant ambled about, dumbfounded at yet another conflux of cultures and inexplicable technology. “Birgitte, come in here,” he called. “This is what I’ve been talking about.”

“Not yet,” she said from the gloom in the tunnel. “Not for another minute or two, I believe.”

Her words fell on deaf ears as Grant examined the room. Old forms of Chinese characters mixed with the Egyptian hieroglyphs, all of them etched in that glowing gilt. His bare skin tingled when he touched one.

The sunlight shifted, diminishing slightly, and Grant eyed the brightest portal. Through squinting eyes, he saw the burning orb slip behind the dark sphere of the moon. “That’s right… there’s a solar eclipse today.”

Within moments, only the glimmering corona shone through the once-bright portal. Dim light came through the other two portals, their openings revealing dawn or dusk, though Grant couldn’t say which. “On most days,” Grant realized, “full sunlight always shines on the center.”

Birgitte sauntered in, her smile wide and hungry. “But not today. Well done, Mister McSwain. Now quickly, remove the Ixthacan relics to close the portals so we can see what lies within the sarcophagus.” She pointed toward the plate behind the eclipse. “Start with this one.”

It made sense—the gold alone was worth a fortune. Grant stepped forward to obey.

Then Birgitte spun and hissed, her fingers curled like claws. A cloaked woman burst into the room. A silver crucifix jangled around her neck and glinted in the light of the eclipse, and Grant caught the pungent odor of fresh garlic cloves.

She doffed her hood to reveal a wild mop of red hair, and lunged at Birgitte with a thick wooden stake raised in her right hand.

“Teagan?!”

Birgitte twisted, but the stake found its mark, plunging into her chest. She threw Teagan across the room, but the woman landed in a crouch with feline grace.

Birgitte cackled and examined the thick stake in her bosom. “Fool girl, you deem this little sliver of wood sufficient to kill a Brood Queen?”

“No,” Teagan said, drawing a revolver. “I think it makes a good target.” She leveled the gun and fired as Birgitte’s eyes settled on the red-paper wrapped cylinder shoved into the hollowed-out stake.

The dynamite erupted and Birgitte vanished in a cloud of fire and a spray of undead chunks.

Grant stood gaping at the scene. “You—you’re dead. How did you–”

“She lied, Grant,” Teagan said, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been chasing you for almost a year trying to free you from her grasp. Come on, you lumbering ox. Tarvinthian and the rest of brood are coming, and Dad here is about to wake up. And none of them will be happy to find Mom in pieces.”

Into the Repository 

Here’s a #BlogBattle entry for both “hazel” (this week) and “menagerie” (last week, which I missed).


From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Discoverer of the Fabled Repository of Castellano, and Vanquisher of the Treasure-Thieves of Vallarte’s Lost Vessel

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

“I’m telling you, Teag, this is the big one.” Grant squinted into the darkness and held his torch aloft. The jagged tunnel walls glowed with the dance of the flames. “Tepandorixotl—the Mayan Repository of Knowledge. Castellano’s crowning achievement, and soon to be ours. The find that will put our names in journals and reviews across Europe and the Americas.”

Teagan scoffed and brushed away the red hair matted to her sweaty face. “You mean the haul that will put us in a California mansion, if I remember correctly.”

“That was showmanship to sway Master Roquefort, a mere display of expected bravado and panache.” Grant paused and stared at the ceiling. “With the amount of money from the sales, plus an exhibition of all our collected antiquities, the mansion will be the talk of the West Coast. I’m going to make Hearst himself jealous of his little shack.”

“Should I start referring to you as Mister Gatsby?” Teagan asked with a chuckle.

“Do I know him? Do you think he’d be willing to purchase some of the future collection?”

Teagan shook her head. “He’s—Grant, you need to read more.”

“Reading?” Grant laughed. “That’s what I have you along for.”

He reached a steep slope and peered into the depths. “Speaking of, does Castellano’s log say anything about spelunking? Did he ever explain why he buried this so deep?”

“Nothing clear. He wrote at length of the frustration he felt at deciphering what little he could find about the Repository. The Mayans destroyed the Ixthacans, long before the conquistadors arrived. Castellano had experts on Mayan culture and language, but Vallarte scooped up anyone with a grasp of Ixthacan. And after their falling out–”

“What triggered that, I wonder?” Grant hammered a piton into the rock wall of the tunnel, then fastened a rope through the exposed metal loop. The clang of metal reverberated between the walls.

“The Repository, actually,” Teagan said once the echo died down. “Castellano refused to transport it to Spain, and by then Vallarte had lost his ship. He tried to organize a mutiny, but Castellano escaped with Vallarte’s notes and maps, intent on relocating everything of value contained within. Toward the end of his journal, Castellano said the Repository should remain lost in the annals of history.”

Grant tested the rope and smiled. “Time to prove him wrong.” He wrapped a length around his waist and took halting steps down the incline, torch in one hand, fingers gripping the rope with thick leather gloves. With each footfall, Grant’s knapsack jostled from a heavy weight within—an Ixthacan sun tablet Vallarte’s notes associated with the Repository.

Teagan donned her own thinner gloves, hand-made at exorbitant cost by a tailor who proclaimed women had no need or place for such gear. She pictured the dainty gloves of ivory lace he’d tried peddling her. “Fit for an extravagant gala or the finest ballroom, milady,” he’d said. “Or perhaps a proper wedding?”

She eyed Grant’s broad back, his muscular frame a silhouette in the torchlight beyond him. A proper wedding someday, perhaps. Any day now, just like Grant’s long-sought great haul of treasure that would carry them through the rest of their lives.

With each downward step, the light of Grant’s torch moved farther and farther away, as did Teagan’s expectations for the future. She sighed and followed Grant.

Several minutes later, they reached a bed of soft, moist earth at the bottom of the tunnel. A chill hung in the air, and Teagan rubbed her arms for warmth.

“What exactly are we looking for, Teag?”

“That’s part of the problem. In the excerpts I’ve got, Castellano pronounced curses upon any who opened the Repository. But he never actually described his find. His log mentions some of Vallarte’s lexicons for Ixthacan, and one entry I found describes something like storage or collection.”

“Like a repository? Great. The thing you’re looking for is the thing you’re looking for.”

“No, this was different. One of Vallarte’s translators was a Frenchman. Next to some words, he wrote French equivalents. And for this, he chose ‘menagerie.’”

His torch high and behind his head, Grant checked possible passages. “Like a traveling zoo? What do we do with that? Tepandorixotl was sealed for three centuries.”

“I don’t think that’s what he meant. Ixthacan uses word pictures. A word conveys a thought that can mean more than one thing. Knowledge might mean facts, for example. Or secrets, or trophies, or even rituals. Basically anything where one might learn from the experience.”

She ran a finger across the stone wall. “And at one point Castellano talked about some kind of unnatural clay. Kind of greenish-brown in color. Nothing like anything he’d seen in the region.”

“That’s a lot to go on,” Grant said. “I see reading is working out for you really well.”

Teagan gasped at the jab. “Go ‘cross yerself, ye dirty wastrel,” she blurted, and slapped Grant’s arm.

“You’re so cute when you cuss.” He laughed and continued his search.

“Ye think this is cute? You’re a filthy cuss yerself, ye gobsmacked ball of–”

“This way,” Grant said and dashed around a corner. The torchlight faded and something skittered in the darkness near her feet.

“I—you—Grant McSwain, you arrogant—wait for me!“ She ran and caught up to his long-legged stride. The smooth stone walls of this tunnel seemed almost polished. “How do you know this is the right passage?”

He pointed at the intermittent streaks of hazel clay on the rock floor of the winding tunnel. “Can’t be too unnatural. It’s right here.”

Teagan shook her head. “But this is basic geology. We’re well beneath the appropriate sediment level to find deposits of—“

She bumped into Grant and jumped back to protect her hair from the flames of his torch. A wide chamber opened before the pair, with a massive stone ring reaching twice Grant’s height. The flickering light played across ornate figures engraved on the walls. Monstrous representations of alien creatures covered in eyes and claws reached out their hands, opened wide toothy maws, or hovered on broad wings—all of them fashioned of the same greenish-brown clay.

Several lines of clay stretched in all directions like a spider’s web from the central ring. Underneath dust and strange earth, patterns of gold sparkled in the firelight. At the center of the chamber lay an indented circle, roughly the size of the Ixthacan tablet in Grant’s pack.

“Tepandorixotl,” Grant whispered. He doffed his knapsack and drew out the golden plate. As he knelt to fit the device into its receptacle, Teagan examined the patterns of gold.

“Grant,” she said. “Can you bring the torch over? Check out the gold-work in the stone.”

“Sure, just a moment,” Grant said. “Let me get this fitted and—“

Teagan lunged toward her partner. “No, wait!”

The Ixthacan tablet clattered into place, then the walls hummed on all sides. Symbols illuminated bright red on the stone ring, and in a circle around the chamber’s ceiling. When she looked through the ring, Teagan’s vision distorted like waves of heat on a desert road.

“The tablet closes the circuit,” Teagan said, “and activates the device.”

“But what does it do?”

Pulsing in time with the thrum of power from the artifact, a line of red light appeared over the panels of clay figures on the walls.

Then a hand near Teagan flexed and stretched its fingers. One after another, unrecognizable creatures stepped from the walls, their two-dimensional images swelling and filling out.

Grant and Teagan spun, surrounded. Then his large hand clamped down on her shoulder and yanked her into the shimmering energy of the stone ring.

The world stretched into lines of light in an instant, and a thunderous roar shattered Teagan’s thoughts. Then she fell into mushy earth under a magenta sky. Her fingers sank with a squish into clay—the same greenish-brown covered the ground as far as the eye could see.

Monsters rose from the expanse, sloughing off clumps of excess earth. Wings flapped from the backs of distorted humanoids hovering overhead. Two violet moons hung low on the horizon, one a sharp crescent where the other blocked light from—did this Tepandorixotl even have a sun?

A name came to mind, and Teagan breathed it out in a gasp. “Pandora.”

She fought the madness and fear that filled her as the creatures closed in. One of the flying things swooped toward her, its three-fingered hands grasping like a bird of prey.

Grant’s fist smashed through its face, splattering clumps into the air. The devastated creature spiraled and tumbled, cutting a trough in the clay.

He slipped into a boxing stance, defending Teagan against the oncoming horde. “And this is what you have me along for.”

The Devil’s Bath

Here’s another episode of Grant and Teagan’s misadventures for this week’s BlogBattle using the word “bathtub” as a prompt.

Genre: Action/Thriller set in the early 1930s.

Update: This won the weekly BlogBattle hosted by Rachael Ritchey. (You can click the image to see all the entries for that week.) Thank you to those who voted for my story.

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Adventurer and Intrepid Explorer of the Farthest Corners of the Globe 

…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway


Grant swatted and chopped at the thick, leafy wall before him until sunlight burst through, illuminating the shaded mysteries beneath the jungle canopy. Teagan bobbed and peered around Grant’s bulky form, but could barely make anything out other than a sharp decline.

Grant posed, hands on hips, his green-stained machete out to his side. “La bañera del Diablo,” he said with pride. “We found it, Teag. The records of Castellano’s expedition were right.”

He cast a glance over his shoulder, his strong chin and smug smirk more appealing than Teagan would like to admit. “The path to the Mayan repository of knowledge is within our grasp. Just think of what wonders await discovery… and how much money Roquefort is going to give us for a first pick of ‘em!”

She peeked between his forearm and his sweat-stained shirt. A wide basin in the jungle opened up beyond Grant’s feet. Surrounded by heavy foliage, no one would guess at its existence—at least not prior to the advent of air travel and its impact on cartography for the unexplored reaches of the earth.

“That looks like a mighty drop to a surface of jagged rocks,” Teagan said. “I thought this was supposed to be a small lake?”

Grant pointed at something Teagan couldn’t see. “There’s the Arroyo de Lágrimas,” he said, uncoiling a length of rope. “The Stream of Tears. Used to be part of a sacrificial ritual… the offerings marched themselves down the river and dove into the lake. Or so goes the story.”

“Where’d all the water go, then?”

“The Guatemalan government built a dam upstream some years back. Hardly a trickle flows this way, short of a torrential downpour in the rainy season.”

He slipped a knot around a tree trunk and tested the weight. “When Castellano found it, the river flowed freely, feeding into the basin and creating hot springs as well as the lake. There’s a reason the locals call this the Land of the Eternal Spring.”

“I remember something about that in Castellano’s notes,” Teagan said. “But it wasn’t good.” She pulled her worn journal from a satchel on her back, flipped through a few pages, then read aloud. “’The steam curled up like the spirits of the damned,’ he wrote. ‘The very ground moaned and wailed in angry protest at our approach.’ Sounds formidable.”

“All part of his plan,” Grant replied. “Vallarte’s local slaves resisted doing his bidding, and his soldiers were a superstitious lot. But he was always nipping at Castellano’s heels, trying to discover the repository. Castellano spread word of a basin flooded with vengeful demons cast out of heaven, and the imprisoned souls of the men they’d ensnared—a perfect place to hide treasure from your relentless rival, wouldn’t you say?”

“I don’t know,” Teagan answered. “Judging by what remains of his private thoughts, he seemed to believe it. Listen. ‘No apparition proved more terrible than La Novia Triste—the Mournful Bride. Her appearance changed based on the desires of her intended prey. Several of my men dashed into the plumes of smoke calling out to their loves back in Madrid. Each time, the locals fell into a grave hush. It was as if the very skies dimmed at her awful presence.’”

Grant scoffed. “More imaginations to dissuade those who might come after his secrets. Paranoia expresses itself in interesting ways. I’m telling you, the guy knew more than he was letting on, and he wasn’t about to give it away.”

He slid down the rope and vanished below the ridge.

Teagan watched the shifting plumes from the black rock at the bottom of the basin. Strands and wisps of steam stretched and beckoned. Curls of vapor formed crude faces of mist, and all their gray eyes seemed fixed on her.

She ran a finger across her medallion and whispered a half-hearted prayer before taking hold of the rope. Grant was already picking his way across the smoky terrain at the bottom of the basin. “Wait for me, you daft ox,” Teagan called and descended.

The sun hid behind a puffy bank of clouds, bringing a cooling shade and sweet relief from the oppressive heat. An unexpected breeze chilled the sweat on Teagan’s back as she lowered herself down the side of the basin.

She alighted on the cracked earth at the edge of the basin and jogged over to Grant. He squatted near the middle of the deep bowl, counting off something with his fingers.

“What’s the matter, Grant?”

He dismissed her with a wave and pointed. A sharp noise built into a whistle like a giant tea kettle. “And… now!” A gout of steam burst from a crack in the earth, obscuring Teagan’s view of the high cliffs. “Every twenty-three seconds, give or take,” Grant said, “that fissure emits a plume of vapor. It explains how the lake maintained its warm temperature back in Castellano’s day.”

“That’s interesting, Grant. But I don’t know how it helps us track down Castellano’s treasure.”

A distant male voice echoed between the walls of the basin. “I do not know either,” the man said. Teagan whipped her head around and spotted armed men at the north end of the basin, their guns trained on the figures far below. One at the front stood at parade rest and glowered at the small pair. “Frankly I am surprised to find ze Devil’s Bath at all. I thought it a myth when the twins proposed this journey. And then you two went and killed them.”

Teagan glared at the blurry figure warped and distorted by the plumes of steam. “More of the Kaiser’s men, I presume?”

“We work for… other interests in Berlin,” the German said. “You cost my master significant resources, an expense he can ill afford in these trying times. Your discoveries here might reduce the great debt you owe my people.”

Grant said nothing, distracted by something in the basin. Teagan stepped forward, empty hands held out with a shrug of her shoulders. “Your choice of victims is quite poor. We have nothing that will help you, no idea where to go from here.”

“A shame,” the man said. “Be that as it may, I’m afraid you’re never going to find out.”

Something boomed in the distance, and Teagan’s gaze followed the direction of the sound. One edge of the basin dipped, the rocky cliff cut by centuries of flowing water. “The Arroyo de Lágrimas,” she gasped. “They just blew the dam.”

Grant didn’t respond. He stared into the distant plumes, a look of wonder on his face. “Teag,” he muttered as he stumbled toward the fissure, “how did you bring such a fetching dress all this way?”

Teagan followed Grant’s gaze and balked. That misty shape—arms outstretched, tendrils of smoke brushing and swirling around Grant’s shoulders and waist—could it be the Mournful Bride?

On her left, rolling thunder built to a cacophony, and a rush of water burst from the divot in the basin’s edge. It poured like a waterfall into the deep bowl, crashing into the rocks and hissing as it flooded the searing fissures. Teagan’s red hair fluttered in the growing wind as the force of the waves sweeping toward her pushed air out of the way.

To her right, ignorant of multiple dangers, Grant lumbered toward the remarkably feminine column of smoke pouring from the broken earth. The shape stretched to inhuman lengths, tentacles of steam curling and wrapping around his arms, his back, his throat. The face grew clearer, its eyes two sparkling lights, its mouth a hungry grin.

“Thank you for your help, Mister McSwain,” the German called, though Grant paid no heed. “And goodbye.” He vanished into the jungle.

Feather

This went over on word count and I don’t have time to edit it down to fit the Blog Battle standards. But I had fun with it, and it made me do some writing. So here’s another installment of Grant and Teagan:

The Adventures of Grant McSwain, Man of Intrigue, Daring Do-Gooder and Fearless Explorer

accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway and occasional fire demon

 

This is the Caproni Ca.90, from Wikipedia Creative Commons license
 


A high-pitched whine pierced Grant’s ears and a constant thunderous rumble shook him awake. Strong winds battered his face, bearing a strange scent of lilac. He cautiously opened his bleary eyes, and found them safe behind a pair of pilot goggles. A leather cap with ear muffs strapped under his chin offered minimal hearing protection.

Far below him, snow-capped mountains formed a jagged horizon. Oh my God, I’m flying in an aeroplane.

A wide wing above and behind Grant shaded him from sunlight. On either side of Grant, four large piston engines hammered away, spinning propellers in front and behind their shaking frames. Centered above the cockpit, another pair of engines strained with effort. Several bullet holes riddled the engine on the left, and it sputtered smoke. The glass around the cockpit had broken in places, with spider-web cracks across what remained.

The plane lurched to the left, and Grant felt sudden discomfort in his stomach like a punch to the gut. Then a sharper pain struck, and he sucked in air between gritted teeth. Breathing brought agony. Something was wrong.

Teagan’s rough-chopped, wispy hair fluttered in the wind, the source of the lilac fragrance. Grant would never admit it, but the hasty haircut of the Atuachan savages gave Teagan a rather fetching new look. How she managed to cling to feminine refinements on their forays into uncivilized lands was beyond his comprehension. Why she bothered also fell in that category. Who wasted valuable space in a rucksack on perfumes and shampoo where a bottle of fine whiskey could fit?

The stabbing in his gut throbbed. He gripped his side and the pain intensified.

Teagan turned her head back and yelled, “Don’t touch it! You’ve been shot.”

A foggy memory filled his mind—the German twins laughing over him, the one with the scarred face holding a smoking revolver, the other clutching a satchel full of Ixthacan artifacts and Vallarte’s gold.

“He shot me?” Grant winced and shifted to a position he told himself felt slightly more comfortable. “That damn Kraut actually shot me?”

“My skill with medicine is minimal,” Teagan shouted. “But I believe you’re bleeding inside… and your intestines may have been perforated.”

“That sounds like a foul way to go.”

“It is. And excruciating as well.”

Grant squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, and felt tears well up. “Thanks for the ray of hope.”

“We can make it back to Caracas,” Teagan said. “Master Roquefort might be waiting for us. Otherwise, we’ll have to steal another plane.”

Grant opened his eyes. “…Another plane?”

“Look at the markings on the fuselage, you overgrown baboon.”

Grant craned his head to see the side of the plane. The black and white cross of the German luftwaffe shone proudly from the gleaming metal.

He settled back into his seat, surprised at a crippling wave of exhaustion from such a small effort. “The twins?”

Teagan struggled with some controls out of Grant’s view, then turned to answer. “It’s an Italian prototype, actually. Caproni C-A-90. Only one ever built. The twins’ exploits on behalf of the Kaiser earned them enough money to get their hands on it, and they’ve added the latest technology from various aeronautical manufacturers. Synchronized machine guns, variable pitch propellers…”

She said some other terms Grant couldn’t make out, and he stared at her through the blurry goggles. “When did you become an aviatrix?”

The plane shuddered and Teagan adjusted some levers. “I went with an RAF ace from the Great War for a couple years. Didn’t work out, but I picked up some things.”

Grant sat back with bemused chagrin and watched the thin clouds like stretched cotton floating past. “It’s strange, Teag, but I never considered that you had a life of adventures all your own before becoming my assistant.”

“Well that sword cuts both ways,” Teagan said. “You were delirious when I helped you hobble onto the aeroplane. You thought I was some exotic dancer from Batavia. Kept talking to me about a night of cavorting and revelry in the East Indies…”

Grant opened his mouth to speak, then thought the better of it. The plane shuddered again, and he checked the engines, unsure of what to look for.

“Teagan, is something wrong?”

With the rush of wind, he couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like she laughed. Then an engine sputtered and belched out black smoke.

Grant realized how much open sky sat between himself and the mountain peaks. At the same time, it hit him how little he knew about aeroplanes. “Should it sound like that?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but his white knuckles gripped the edge of his seat. “What’s the problem?”

“Several problems, in fact,” Teagan called back. “The cargo hold is too full, the radiotelephone is inoperative, and three of the six engines are damaged from gunfire. But really the issue is we don’t have sufficient fuel.”

“What?!”

“The crew was distracted with fueling operations,” Teagan said. “It seemed the perfect time to sneak you onboard and steal the aeroplane. I’m doing what I can to glide us to Caracas.”

She pointed at the smoking left engines. The four blades in back and two in front were turned parallel to the aeroplane’s course of flight, cutting through wind resistance like knives. “The Germans installed the newest in variable pitch propellers, so I’ve feathered the props to reduce drag.”

“Oh man,” Grant said, racked with another throbbing pain. “The twins are going to be peeved you stole their toy.”

“Scarface’s brother didn’t seem too happy about it after I got airborne.”

Grant spun—and suffered another stab of anguish for it—then checked the cargo hold. There was no sign of any other passengers. “Where is he now?”

“The cargo hold was rather over the weight allowance…”

Grant checked the rack of tightly-packed parachutes. None were missing. “You jettisoned one of the twins?”

Teagan gave a sheepish shrug. “My mate from the RAF was an amateur pugilist. It seemed like a useful skill to pick up.”

Grant shook his head in wonder. A few silent moments passed as he considered everything his assistant had done for him over their time together. “Teagan,” he finally said, “I’m impressed. I realize I’ve often overlooked your contributions to—is that flame supposed to be there?”

Teagan’s head whipped toward the left engine, with its plume of oily smoke.

“No, the other one,” Grant shouted.

Tongues of fire flashed out of the right engine, and a thick white smoke billowed behind the wobbling aeroplane.

“I have to cut that engine too!” She pulled a lever, and the high pitched whine and rumbling ground to a halt with a sound of metal shearing on metal. The aeroplane dipped toward the ground and twisted into a spiral, pointed at the snowy slopes of the mountains.

Old habits returned, and Grant shouted, “I thought you were an aviatrix!”

Teagan shot him a glare through her goggles. “I never said I was a good one!”

A Trace of Terror – a #BlogBattle entry

Blog Battle entry for Week 51 – Trace

Genre: Action

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Doer of Amazing Deeds, Dashing Explorer of Dangerous Locales, and Reclaimer of the Treasures of Antiquity…accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

A Trace of Terror 

Rickety stalls and wooden carts laden with produce or hand-craftedgoods blurred as Teagan raced past, and her heart pounded in her chest like a steam engine. Panting for breath, she kept her eyes on Grant and tried to ignore the burning sensation in her side.

Even with the noise and bustle of the Caracas market, she heard his angry voice clear as day. “I can’t believe you gave him the actual map!”

“He had a gun!”

Grant’s wide shoulders slammed into a rack of jewelry, sending beaded necklaces flying. He spun off the impact and regained his pace.

An old woman yelled a string of curses that made Teagan’s freckled cheeks burn. “Lo siento,” Teagan said as she dashed by.

“Why didn’t you do some of that sleight-of-hand, thief-y stuff?” Grant asked, seemingly unfazed by the exertion of their frenetic chase.

“He checked the map,” Teagan said, breathless. “And he knew… what he… was looking for…”

The small clusters of people moved for Grant as he barreled down the street. Teagan had to weave and elbow her way between bodies.

Grant paused at an alley, and Teagan caught up to him again.

“Dead end,” he said, and pointed at a distant warehouse between the wooden stalls and back doors of stores. He started down the alley, checking for any sign of the German thief and muttering to himself. “After all that work pulling the Corazon de Oro out of the water, discovering the topographical map etched into the ridges on the side…”

He left out the part where Teagan nearly drowned, and she wasn’t sure whether the omission was out of kindness or simply because it hadn’t crossed his mind.

He wiped his brow and stared down the alley. “Now that damn Kraut has the only lead to the source of Vallarte’s treasure.”

Teagan caught her breath and shot Grant a glare. “If only someone had a photographic memory!”

Grant’s eyes narrowed. “Just because I can remember the map you traced doesn’t mean I can find the hidden mines. They could be anywhere in the Carribbean.” He lowered his voice and his cheeks flushed. “And you saw that I can’t produce even a remote facsimile.”

Teagan stifled a snicker. She’d seen toddlers with better control of charcoals. The ‘map’ Grant drew only led to a headache if one stared at it too long.

They checked the shops as they moved down the alley, but saw no sign of disturbance. Then they reached the warehouse and found the doorframe busted where the lock had been forced. A heavy chain and lock held the wide shipping dock doors closed.

“I don’t see any other exits,” Grant said. He slipped inside and held the door for Teagan.

Dust motes floated in sunbeams shining on stacked crates of furniture marked for shipment to Europe. The room smelled like sawdust and wood polish. A nearby ladder provided access to a grid of walkways ten feet above the floor. Grant grabbed the rungs and ascended. “I’ll take the top, you take the bottom.”

Teagan opened her mouth to protest, but Grant had already disappeared. The floorboards above her creaked at first, and Teagan winced. Then Grant moved with unexpected stealth for his large frame.

Suddenly, the silence felt oppressive, and every noise sent a jolt of fear down Teagan’s spine. This is a terrible plan. She looked around for a makeshift weapon, and eventually found a crowbar.

White-knuckling the bar over her shoulder like a baseball player waiting for a pitch, she crept through the maze of boxes. With each squeak of a floorboard, with every scrape, she spun toward the sound and her heart skipped a beat.

“Grant,” she whispered. No response.

She hissed out his name a little louder. Still nothing.

By force of habit, she almost put her hand in her pocket, reaching for the Saint Nicholas medallion she always carried. But the crowbar provided an immediate and tangible sense of security, one she wasn’t willing to give up even for a moment.

The hammer of a revolver clicked into place behind her, loud as a gunshot in the silence. Teagan froze.

“Set ze crowbar down,” a soft-spoken man said, “on ze crate next to you.”

Teagan did as commanded and raised her empty hands level with her head.

The man behind her chuckled. “You couldn’t just let ze map go? Vas ziss treasure vorth your life?”

Panicked, Teagan’s gaze flickered around the crates in search of an escape route or at least some cover. But the German couldn’t possibly miss at such close range.

“A shame,” he said, “to kill a rather competent and intelligent voman. You showed promise. But my employer desires no vitnesses…”

He raised the gun toward Teagan.

Grant’s bulky form crashed into the thief from above, knocking his arm down and to the right. A gunshot echoed and the board of a wooden crate snapped. The men fell into a heap.

Grant scrambled atop the thief and smashed a fist into the German’s face before pinning the man’s arms beneath his thick legs. Teagan snatched the gun.

“Where’s the map?” Grant screamed, fist raised to deliver another blow.

The German laughed, coughing up blood that speckled his blonde hair. “Fools! I don’t haff it.”

Teagan waved the gun at the man, hoping it seemed threatening. “But you accosted me in the hotel and demanded my tracing of the corazon.”

“Did you know,” he said with a grin, “that I haff a twin brother?”

Grant chuckled. “Really?” Then he punched the man in the face again, knocking him unconscious.

Teagan gasped. “What was that for?”

“When we find his brother, we’ll be able to tell them apart.”

To be continued in Teagan Oh-Hair versus the Barbaric Barbers

“A Heart of Pure Gold” Week 50 #blogbattle

Genre: Action

Word prompt: Pure

997 words

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Hero of Harrowing Deeds, Delver of Dangerous Depths, and Charmer of Cold-Hearted Dames…

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

 

Teagan swept thick layers of spider-silk aside with a machete and slipped between the narrow walls of the tunnel onto a small shelf overlooking deep darkness. Pebbles jostled and fell, clattering on stone and splashing in water far below. “There’s a ledge here, Grant. Watch your step.”

Her partner stood frozen, his sharp and fetching jawline offset by a grimace, his wide eyes inspecting every inch of web. “Set it on fire, Teag,” he whispered.

“The webs are ages old,” Teagan replied. “There aren’t any—“

“Burn it!”

Teagan gave him a playful smirk and waved the torch around the opening. The webs recoiled from the flame as if alive. “Better now, muffin?”

Grant exhaled loudly and took a deep breath, then crept forward.

“If Master Roquefort could see you now,” Teagan said with a laugh.

“Not one word, Teag,” Grant growled.

“He’d think less of your next round of tall tales, I don’t doubt!” She shot him a sour look, wasted in the dim light. “You have that poor sot fooled—a feat I admit might be a trifle too easy.”

“He’s a good chap with a heart of pure gold,” Grant said. “Keeps us paid, doesn’t he? And agreeing to lure out the Pops Kimble twins for the Feds took some guts.”

Grant held his torch aloft. The outlines of an underground structure appeared in the shadows below. “The Fortress of Castanzo Vallarte,” Grant declared. “Hamwich will thrill to hear of this discovery.”

Teagan tied a firm knot around a rocky outcropping and tugged on the rope. “Only if we find the treasures of the Corazon de Oro. Vallarte’s ship bore wealth from the Ixthacan Empire when it ran aground.”

“True, Hamwich may care more about that,” Grant said. “If he ever hears about it.” He took the rope and descended into the shadows before Teagan could press him for an explanation.

She wrapped the rope around her leg and caught the length between her feet for a measure of control. Even so, her heavy leather gloves grew warm from friction on the descent.

At the edges of the circular plaza surrounded by an underground lake, proud likenesses of the conquistador sneered at Teagan as she stalked across the dusty stone. “What do you mean ‘if he hears,’ Grant?”

Grant had already moved to the front of the rough-hewn fortress. He stood at a pair of iron doors, looking for a means of entry. He didn’t even turn at her voice. “I promised the treasures to Bonhomme in Paris,” Grant said. “He offered twice as much as Hamwich.”

A mechanism clicked out of Teagan’s view, and Grant gave a triumphant laugh as the doors swung open. “Don’t worry. I have a reliable fence with a reputation for discretion. Hamwich need only hear tell that someone beat us to it.”

He crept down the wide hall toward the central chamber, pointing out an obvious trap with a long pole.

Teagan followed, fingering the Saint Nicholas medallion in her pocket. “And if, God forbid, he discovers the truth? He funded the expedition, after all.”

“Not to fret,” Grant said. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” He flashed her his devilish smile, the one that shook her steel will and resolve. Then he noticed her hand in her pocket. “I assure you, Saint Nick won’t jot your name on his naughty list, Teag. It’s just business.”

“It’s not Santa Claus, you dolt,” Teagan hissed. “After so many voyages and successful expeditions, even a lout like you has cause to thank Saint Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of sailors.” She swallowed a wave of guilt for ill-gotten bounty. And repentant thieves.

Grant brushed Teagan off. “Me an’ God? That bridge burnt long ago.” He stepped into the main chamber and began a methodical search for Vallarte’s wealth. “God’s of the mindset money’s the root of all evil, and I—like Vallarte—am rather fond of it.”

“Love of money,” Teagan corrected while checking their supplies.

Grant laughed. “Yeah, but who has money and doesn’t love it? We have about four hours before we need to head back. Let’s get to work.”

But after three hours of grueling search, Grant and Teagan sat on the steps outside the Fortress, defeated. “What are we missing, Teag?”

Teagan reviewed research notes she’d meticulously copied. “Castanzo Vallarte dedicated the spoils to the Throne, of course. But historians claim he was infatuated with Princess Anna of Austria, before she married King Phillip.”

She glanced at Grant. “How would you try to win the heart of a queen?”

Grant nodded. “Gold more pure and plentiful than she’d ever seen before…”

Teagan surveyed the plaza’s silent sentinels. “Could Vallarte have hidden his treasure in plain sight?”

Grant grabbed a pickaxe and dashed to the nearest statue. Then he plunged the point into the stone man’s chest. Pieces of rock fell away, and Teagan held up her torch.

Gold glittered in the flickering light.

Grant laughed and broke more of the stone. A flow of coins, cups, and dinnerware poured from the cavity. But Grant’s eyes stared into the statue’s remains. “Teag,” he whispered, breathless, “shine the light here.”

She did so, and beheld a massive golden heart on a stone support. “A literal corazon de oro,” she said with a gasp, “meant for his love.”

Grant pried it free and turned toward Teagan, that charming grin splitting his face—then shrieked at the furry spider crawling across the heart.

Before Teagan could react, she caught the massive heart in the chest with a sickening squish of spider guts. The impact knocked her back, and she splashed into the chilly water.

Weighed down by the massive gold heart, she plummeted into the gloomy depths…

To be continued in “A Trace of Terror”

Grass on Venus

North Korea launched a long-range missile past the island of Okinawa today, ostensibly to launch a satellite, and quite probably as part of their ongoing efforts to develop a better ballistic missile program in conjunction with weapons of mass destruction.

My thoughts on this are a little rambly… to include the question of whether ‘rambly’ is a word.

I stood at the park with my 5 year old around noon, watching picture perfect clouds stacked in different layers coasting across the blue sky. He climbed on all the playthings at the park, and then I gave him a ride home on my back, listening to him laugh with delight.

 

The Dude on a recent trip to the park
 
I recently played a bunch of Fallout 4, exploring a ravaged Boston battered by radiation storms and post-apocalyptic cruelty. Coupled with today’s news, when I looked at those clouds it struck me that it would not take a whole lot to bring the beauty around us crashing down. Some combination of insane or fearless world leaders, political brinksmanship, and powerful weapons–that could do the trick. 

My idealism wants to rail and shout. What sort of madmen would threaten something so pure and peaceful as a 5 year old climbing and playing with abandon on a bright sunny day?

My cynicism knows the horrors wrought by human nature, and my pragmatism understands that I and my family aren’t immune to or protected from events that can shake the world.

For a few minutes, while the Internet connection held, I played a video game for a while. Destiny is a sci-fi, first-person shooter with open areas on several planets in our solar system. My character stood on Venus, killing evil robots and aliens. My 10 year old son recognized the level and watched for a moment, then asked, “Wait a minute! Why is there grass on Venus? It’s super hot. That isn’t right!” 

And that led to a conversation about the far-future, sci-fi dream / hope of terraforming other worlds to make them habitable for humankind. I laughed at the idea, but remembered a recent article suggesting the sort of “colony” we actually could put on Venus (in theory) in the distant future: a suspended cloud city that would rest not too high in the upper atmosphere as to freeze and not too low as to suffer the inhospitable heat.

But with all that comes the realization that this will almost assuredly never happen in our lifetimes. 

So we talked about what it means for humanity to reach for the stars. “Basically, one meteor strike, one nuclear war, one significant enough calamity, and everything ‘human’ ceases to exist. We have this one planet, where every single human has ever lived and, for the near future, will ever live. We don’t want all of that swept away in an instant. People want to spread that risk out a bit.”

Questions of faith arise in our home. Is that like the Tower of Babel? Is that an expression of human arrogance or pride, making more of ourselves than we ought, or not being content with what we have? And how do we reconcile that desire with what the Bible says about the end of the world? 

Oddly enough, my justifiable fear of what we know could likely happen to end the world aligns pretty well with the Bible’s promise of an end to this world–coupled with wars, famines, diseases, and calamities. And that raises challenging questions. 

But I also find great hope–both in what my faith has taught me to expect if/when I see those promises come to pass, and in what the best and noblest expressions of human capacity show us is possible when we put our minds and resources toward fantastic, even ‘impossible’ goals. We’re coming to understand so much about the universe around us. We live in a world surrounded by knowledge and technological miracles compared to just a few decades ago, and that trend is on track to continue for the foreseeable future.

Depending, of course, on the paths we choose.

May our faith in something greater than ourselves and our hope for a better future guide us to always take the path that leads to a park at noon on a sunny day, and maybe even grass on Venus. 

The Gospel on Mars

Does God want humans to go to Mars?

Serious question… sort of. But it’s possibly going to make my atheist readers’ heads spin off, because these are actual discussions Christians sometimes have.

I read a news story recently about some of the folks volunteering for the Mars mission. One is an Army 1st Lieutenant, and–being in the military–this caught my attention. Another is this fantastic article about the man behind SpaceX, Elon Musk and his vision for the future of space exploration. (Warning to my more sensitive readers: there’s strong language right off the bat.)

I mentioned the Army lieutenant and the Mars mission to a Christian friend, and was surprised by their off-the-cuff response.

“I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.”

I was shocked. I saw no issues with it. I was excited that it’s even a possibility. That humanity could take the first steps to go beyond this little ball of rock spinning around in the vast dark, and propel itself across the expanse to land on another spinning ball of rock in order to start the process of some day establishing human colonies on other planets, and to think I might see that happen in my lifetime? Amazing!

“Why not?” I asked.

“Jesus isn’t coming back to Mars. He’s coming back to Earth to reign for a thousand years.”

My evangelical Christian upbringing wanted to agree. <em>That’s true, that’s in Revelation. What do you think about that? Why</em> didn’t <em>you think about that?</em>

But of course I couldn’t let myself be wrong in any way.

“Is it really wrong to go to Mars? Is that even a topic the Bible attempts to address? No.”

I already knew the answer to my argument. There are a great many topics the Bible doesn’t specifically mention, yet we Christians take various principles and statements contained within, and figure out ways they might apply to those cases. Take the Christian concept of the Trinity: nowhere is that word found in Scripture, yet it’s a central tenet of the faith.

We went back and forth a bit. My friend thought 1) this was reaching beyond the scope of authority humanity has been given, 2) that the debate was fairly silly because there are resources and space aplenty as yet untapped on Earth, and 3) that the point is probably moot because it’s pretty clear from all the signs that the various prophecies of Scripture are coming true and the end is near.

I countered with some optimism both ‘rational’ and religious, like:
“think of what great technological advances the space program has brought about thus far,” and
“why did we explore Antarctica? God didn’t put people there either but we still went there to learn and discover more of the world around us,” and
“Imagine two astronauts on the surface of Mars, and one of them shares the Gospel with the other. Does it not have power to save because they’re not on Earth?”

Seems appropriate to this post.
Seems appropriate to this post.

But most of all, my defense comes down to one question, a question I realized I don’t think my friend is willing to consider.

“What if I’m wrong about this whole faith thing?”

We talked about the end times, but it struck me that Paul and others in Scripture wrote about the end times like they were already happening, like it would all be over in <em>their</em> lifetimes. I recall listening to Christians as I grew up, hearing their proclamations about the end, and thinking it would all be over before I became an adult.

(Ok, let’s be honest, I was afraid I’d never get married… because I was a teenage boy and I was afraid I’d never get to be with a girl. And while going to Heaven would have to be totally awesome, maybe God could hold off on the End of the World thing a little bit?)

Now, I think there are some interesting points about Scriptural prophecy. We’re living in the first time in human history where the Gospel could actually reach every people group on the Earth (Matthew 24 makes that out to be a requirement before the end comes). We’re living in the first time in human history when technology and economics make it feasible that some one-world government could mandate the use of a “mark” worldwide in order to have access to conduct business (Revelation 13 talks about the Mark of the Beast and what all that entails). We’re living in an age of “wars and rumors of wars” and natural disasters aplenty… and though it’s possible they seem to be increasing only because of worldwide 24-hour media coverage, it certainly feels like this world is going through the “birth pains” described by Christ in Matthew 24.

Yet here we still are. And it’s been 2000 years of Christians saying “the end is near.”

I’m not sure I can fault the skeptics for being a little skeptical.

Elon Musk makes the argument that for humanity to thrive, we can’t have all our eggs in one basket. He wants to make sure we get off this planet and start the process of reaching others. His view comes from reasoning about evolution and the risk of catastrophes on a planetary scale which could render this world devoid of life (or at least kill off the vast majority of living things and no doubt cripple or destroy civilization permanently).

While I have my faith, and I have personal experiences and I daresay <strong>reason</strong> backing my beliefs, I have to wonder.

Why wouldn’t humanity go to Mars? Why wouldn’t we reach for the stars? Why shouldn’t we work toward a better future for mankind in whatever time we have?

Because, well, what if I’m wrong?

Is that too serious a question to consider? Can that thought even occupy a corner of my faith-based brain without toppling the house of cards?