Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
NOTE: This is the prologue of The God Machine, submitted by the original author and hosted with permission from his publisher. I have to admit to not having read the book – I haven’t read much that isn’t pasta submissions lately! – but I really enjoyed this prologue and felt it stood well enough on its own that I could feature it as its own pasta. If you feel this will be a problem for you, you have been warned and nobody is “forcing” or “tricking” you into reading this. For everyone else, please do enjoy a prologue that, I think, stands on its own as a fun read.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.” – Genesis 1:1
Baitman was uneasy as he got into his spacesuit. “What’s expected out there, Rawlings?” he asked.
“Well, like the briefing stated, we go out there, find out what happened to Fletcher and report back, asap. Other than that, I don’t know. Hopefully we will find him.”
Rawlings gave Baitman a look that expressed more than words could say. The fact that Rawlings was as baffled as he was from it all, made Baitman even more uneasy.
“I told him that this wasn’t a smart idea. Who plans this shit out? They told us to come up here and dig. So we dig. Four damned months we’ve been out here digging in that crater on the dark side where communications can’t even reach and they don’t expect to lose someone?”
“I don’t think they intended to lose anyone, Baitman.”
“No?” Baitman was beginning to heave his words out from his gut, he was getting emotional. “But they expect us now to go out there and find a man that was trained for this shit, just like us. Go out there with the same damned Rig he went out there with, to the same damned place… and we’re expected to come back? They don’t intended to lose us out there either?”
“Baitman, the months out here are getting to you. You need to calm down.”
Rawlings put his hand on Baitman’s arm, trying to comfort him and smiled, “Take a breath and let’s get going. We’ll be back soon, probably in time for lunch.”
“Probably?” Baitman looked at Rawlings in search of the leadership he’d seen from him in the past and was afraid that he wouldn’t find it this time. They had been out here on the moon digging for lunar materials many times over the years and for months on end. Not once has Rawlings ever lost face. Not once has Baitman ever felt that there was something Rawlings couldn’t handle or couldn’t fix.
He remembered his second mission with Rawlings. Two hours after landing, the power in the lunar base shut down, leaving the crew with only a few hours to figure out what was going on and how to get things running again. Power was provided by sixteen solar arrays mounted on an external truss and a few of them were cracked. It was possible that the solar arrays were hit by space debris or that the rare moonquake had occurred to cause the cracks, but Rawlings didn’t think twice about it. He managed to salvage what he could and fixing up two makeshift arrays. He rerouted the power flow to the main life support systems. His fast thinking and hard work bought them a full three days of power, which was more than enough time for a rescue shuttle to get prepared and shot out to pick them up. The crew of three dealt with thirty six hours of pitch black inside the lunar base and suffered hungry stomachs. The only loss was an aborted mission and a year set back.
That’s just how Rawlings was built. He took care of things without a doubt in his mind of weather or not it was possible, he just did his best with what he had to work with. But now, where was that cool and collected man when faced with stepping into the unknown, uncharted lunar surface that NASA wanted them to dig up, without so much as a word to describe what they were looking for. It wasn’t lunar material, the two men knew that much.
“We will be back in time for lunch. Okay big guy?” Rawlings was able to ease some of the thoughts rushing through Baitman’s mind. He could see it in his eyes; he was getting through to him and calming him down. “You know, sometimes I think these six month jobs are too long for you, Baitman. The moon makes you paranoid.” Rawlings laughed.
“You think so?”
“Yeah. You know, I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be cooped up in here with you for those two year programs the big wigs are talking about. You’d start acting like Hal or something.” Rawlings smiled and slapped his hand against Baitman’s arm.
Baitman let out a small chuckle and started to relax. “2001: A Space Odyssey… I love that movie. Did you know, it was…”
“The reason that you wanted to fuck up your life and get shot out into this black mess we call space to begin with. I know buddy, I hear it every time we come out here.”
The two men finished getting into their suits and set out to the Rig. Scratched into the side of it was Blaster Master III, a name Fletcher gave the first time they were out here on the moon. Rawlings asked him, “How can you just name something, “such and such” three? Isn’t there supposed to be a Blaster Master and a Blaster Master Two first?” Fletcher shook his head and told him it just sounded right.
“Maybe we wouldn’t be going out there after him if he took his favorite Rig, huh?” Baitman asked.
“A mans fate lies with God. This Rig or the one he went out there in wouldn’t have made a difference.” Rawlings said, “Doesn’t matter to think about it anyways, let’s just focus on the job before your mind begins to wonder again, ok?”
Baitman nodded, keeping his cool.
Rawlings got into the Rig with Baitman and started it up.
The Rig was a NASA designed space vehicle, made to travel across a variety of terrains. It was similar in look to an M38 Wolfhound tank from World War II, yet nearly triple in size. Complete with a high powered, reverse circulation drill that can reach 500 meters into the ground and return the drill cuttings to the surface inside the rod.
Rawlings hadn’t driven a Rig in over a year. The last time he had driven one he almost drove it into one of the moons many canyons. He had to wait there for an hour and twenty minutes, seesawing on the edge of the canyon, until Fletcher came to get him and towed the Rig out.
“Maybe this is the balance of things, Baitman.” Rawlings laughed, almost yelling over the loud engine of the Rig resonating in side the cockpit. “Yeah, I bet he’s just sitting out there pissed. Wondering how many ways he can tell a man off for taking his sweet ass time.”
“Well you told him off nine kinds of ways that day. If he wants to keep things original he’ll have to think about it for a bit.” Baitman said. “Of course he has been out there for just shy of twelve hours.” Baitman’s smile began to fade, “The Rig only has about twenty hours of air supply. I bet he has given up on thinking about you and me and is trying to make peace with his maker.”
“His maker? I know I wouldn’t want to claim that piece of work.” Rawlings said jestingly.
Baitman let out an uneasy chuckle and the two became silent. They continued to mock the misfortune of Fletcher in hopes that he really was alright, trying to keep their minds off of the possibility that he was badly injured or dead. Trying to ignore the potential danger they themselves were embarking upon.
After an hour or so, they reached the dark side. The jesting had ceased and their chatter had turned into routine call outs of “Clear.” and “I still don’t see a thing.” The men were on their last string of hope. Traveling in the dark left a horrible feeling inside them both, a feeling that neither of them could shake off anymore. It forced their minds to spin around the thought that here, in this pitch black where even God himself couldn’t reach, Fletcher was dead.
The headlights of the Rig pierced the dark ahead of them. As Baitman looked out the window to his side, he could see nothing, but darkness. He tried to focus on the lit moon surface in front of them to keep his mind off of the darkness that surrounded them. The dark that seemed like at any moment would consume the Rig into oblivion. But, the more he stared at the lunar surface before them the more he got the feeling that the light was leading them both to a hell that waited.
Looking over at Baitman, Rawlings could see the furrows of worry upon his brow. “He still has time, Pat. We still have time.”
“I’m more worried that you’re lost Rawlings. I think you gave up on finding him awhile ago and you’re now just trying to get your bearings to head home.”
“Are you shittin’ me, Baitman? You think I’m lost on this rock after all the years of working her? Sheeeeeit, this place feels more like home sometimes than Seattle does, let me tell ya. And if I’m lost on her…”
Rawlings stopped talking and squinted, peering out into the endless black. In the distance the two men could see a source of light that was barely making the crater it was coming from visible. It was the Rig Fletcher had left in.
“You see that!” Rawlings exclaimed, pointing off in the direction of the light. “That’s our boy!” Rawlings laughed almost hysterically as he veered towards the crater and accelerated.
As they pulled up closer, the edge of the crater became visible. Rawlings slowed the Rig to a stop beside it and looked down into Parsons Crater, a name given to it when it was discovered in honor of the occultist and rocket scientist, Jack Parsons. He saw Fletchers Rig sitting there in the center of it and beside it he could barely make out what looked to be a large rectangular shaped object lying on the ground. In front of the object was a man in a spacesuit. It was Fletcher. A feeling of relief came over them. They had found their co-worker and could soon be on their way back to the base.
Rawlings opened the radio to speak with Fletcher, but there was no response. He tried a few times, but there was still no response.
”Get your helmet on Baitman. We’re going down there.” Rawlings said.
They locked their helmets and stepped out of the Rig.
Baitman turned on the short wave radio communication device in his helmet, “Fletcher, do you hear me?”
There was still no response. The two men started down Parsons Crater toward Fletcher who was facing the object in the center of it. When they got there, Rawlings shined his flashlight into Fletcher’s helmet.
Rawlings cried. “Fletcher! Baitman help me get him back in the Rig!”
Baitman froze at the sight of Fletcher’s face. It was locked in a contorted expression of fear and awe.
“Baitman, come on man! Help me!” Rawlings ordered.
Baitman composed himself enough to look away and quickly grabbed a hold of Fletchers right arm to drag him back to his Rig with Rawlings. They pulled him into the small closet space entryway of the vehicle and closed the outside hatch. Rawlings pulled down a large lever and the room hissed as it was quickly pressurized. The inside door opened and they stepped in.
“Get his helmet off.” Rawlings said, with a cool about him that came naturally.
Baitman took Fletcher’s helmet off and held his upper body up.
As Rawlings reached for the medical kit, he felt a stark hand snag his leg. He quickly looked down and saw Fletcher staring up at him. His face was still contorted and his eyes were sunk deep in his head, as if his life was being siphoned through the back of his skull.
“It’s so beautiful…” Fletcher said, barely able to pronounce the words as he attempted to move his mouth. Each word caused his jaw to pendulate.
Baitman pried Fletcher’s hand off of Rawlings leg, “Easy there buddy, we’re gonna help you, ok? Just let us help you.”
When he finally got Fletcher grip loose, Baitman held Fletcher tight in his arms and looked up at Rawlings, “What the fuck is he talking about? What’s beautiful?”
Rawlings just stared at Fletcher who began to moan and wail in Baitman’s arms, twisting free to the floor of the Rig. Fletcher’s body began to coil around itself, his arms flailing and Baitman backed away from him to avoid getting hit. Rawlings quickly snatched a strong sedative from the medical kit.
“Hold him down,” he said and filled a syringe with lorazepam.
Baitman froze and just stared at Fletcher. The sound of bones cracking echoed with a metallic ping off the interior of the Rig with each sudden twist of Fletcher’s body.
“Hold him the fuck down, Baitman!”
Baitman snapped out of it enough to react. He held Fletcher down and Rawlings injected the needle into Fletcher’s neck. Almost immediately, Fletcher was unconscious. Rawlings sat down in the driver’s seat of the Rig and took his helmet off. Sweat was beading on his face. His voice may be able to remain smooth, his mind keen, but his body couldn’t hide the signs of the stress he was under. His hands were shaking and he tightened them up around the seat of his chair. He held on as if he was worried that he’d somehow shoot off like a rocket. Baitman just sat on the floor and stared at Fletcher.
After a few moments of silence, they heard a voice over the radio in the Rig. “Tartarus, this is Houston. Do you copy?”
Neither man responded. They looked at each other, then over to the radio. The voice came through again, repeating the same words.
“Are you going to answer it?” Baitman asked.
Rawlings leaned over and pushed down the talk button, “Houston, this is Tartarus, we copy.” Rawlings replied.
“Have you found Fletcher?” Houston asked.
“Yes we have Houston. But, we aren’t sure of his current condition and I don’t think we have the equipment up here to take care of him.”
“You are at the dig site?”
“Have you secured the dig site?”
“Secured it from whom? We’re the only ones out here.”
“Secure the dig and prepare it for pickup.”
“The dig…?” Rawlings became angry. “Are you listening to me? What does the dig have to do with anything right now? Fletcher is hurt, bad. We need you guys to come get him now.”
“We are on our way, Tartarus. But we need you to secure whatever was found in Parsons Crater. Do you copy?”
“You have got to be kidding me.” Baitman said to Rawlings.
Rawlings pushed down the talk button, “We will secure what we can sir, just get some people out here fast.”
”As I said Tartarus, we are already on our way, but we need you to step out of the Rig and secure the dig. Make sure that everything is still intact. It is imperative that you do this, Tartarus. Do you copy?”
Rawlings looked over at Baitman who was muddled by the situation. After a moments pause, Rawlings queued in the radio again, “Copy, Houston, over and out.”
“Secure the dig? We have a man here, a friend, about to break his fucking spine, if he hasn’t already and they require us to secure the fucking dig?” Baitman said, already putting his helmet back on and standing up to move towards the Rig door.
”You know what we do out here as well as I do Baitman. The contract we signed was crafted by the devil himself.” Rawlings attached his helmet to his suit and opened the door.They stepped outside and walked to the large object.
“I’m starting to think you aren’t joking when you say that. You know I don’t believe in that religious crap, Rawlings, but any NASA big wig sure is a fine candidate for the devil. So, what do we do now?”
“We make sure that there is no damage done to whatever was dug up and we do it fast. Then return to base with Fletcher and wait until they arrive.” Rawlings was still angry, “I don’t know about you, but once we leave, I don’t think I’ll be coming back.”
“You will never leave.” Baitman said, his voice crackled a bit in Rawlings’ helmet, buried behind white noise.
“What was that Baitman? You broke up a bit.”
“Huh? I didn’t say anything.”
“Just now, you said…”
“I said what? When I asked what we should do now?”
Rawlings felt a chill down his spine. Being stationed on the moon could get to people sometimes and they could start to hear or see things that weren’t really there. Was he losing his mind? Was this job getting to him? Or was there something more sinister at work? He shook off the thought and focused on the task at hand.
As they drew closer, they shinned their flashlights toward the object. It seemed to be an enormous sarcophagus that was intricately carved out of a smooth metal, almost gold in color and clearly not of the moon. At least not any lunar material they had dug up. It was large, almost forty feet long. Along the sides of it were curious hieroglyphics depicting a story that neither man had the quiescence of mind to try and decipher.
They set up a ladder against the object and climbed up. The top was similarly carved, but the images were clear. It was of a man standing with the sun behind him, in the middle of eight serpents and above the serpents was a two headed eagle that gripped a pine cone in its left talons.
The man appeared to be in a bulky suit with tubes that connected from the body of the suit to the helmet. In the man’s right hand was a bucket. The sun behind him was made out of some type of crystal and the serpents surrounding it had unusual heads crowned with horns. As they walked across the top, Rawlings noticed that the lid to the object was a jar.
“Check this out Rawlings. Where did this come from?” Baitman knelt down and touched a large feather. He smiled, “It’s pretty.”
Rawlings was barely paying attention to Baitman, he shined his flashlight into the opening of the object. “Yeah, it is. She’s beautiful.”
“Hey, I thought you said the dark side was beyond our radio transmissions.”
“Then how did Houston get in touch with us this far out? They can do that?”
“No, they can’t” Rawlings said as he stared at what was inside the giant sarcophagus, “They sure can’t Baitman.”
Credit To – Anthony Genova