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The Blackening

In the final two minutes of descent to the comet, a number of things needed to take place in rapid succession and perfectly. The failure of even a single one risked jeopardizing the entire mission, which was now well into its fifth year and which had cost American taxpayers a bit over four hundred million dollars. The fact that what taxpayers would be getting for their nearly half a billion dollars was a container of comet dust about the size of a shoebox made the demands of perfection for the landing all the more critical. With one hundred twenty seconds remaining, the lander detached itself from the main vehicle. It then fired a series of quick brief blasts from its maneuvering engines to reorient itself so that the main descent booster ...

Those Who Speak, Ch. 3 – ...

February 11, 1963   “Mister Chamberlain, it’s a real pleasure to finally meet you in person,” “Mister Brentwood, the pleasure is all mine, and please let’s stick with Cyrus, shall we? No need to stand on formalities if we’re going to be working together.” “Fair enough,” Brentwood replied. “You be Cyrus, and I’ll be Frank. But I wouldn’t describe what’s happening here so much as working together, except perhaps in the most distant possible sense. After all, as I hope I made clear in our calls, it is not my desire or intent to interfere in any way with how you choose to build and operate this church. I’m simply pleased that you’ve agreed to help me out of a sticky situation, even if only ...

Those Who Speak, Ch. 2 – ...

November 4, 1962   Right around the time the steeple was being raised into position atop the as yet unnamed new church outside Wellington, Connecticut, a young man christened Cyrus Chamberlain (after a long departed maternal grandfather) sat fidgeting and less than attentive in the back row of a seminary classroom three hundred or so miles away in western upstate New York, listening to (or, more accurately, in attendance at) a lecture being delivered with ironic torpor on the role of fervor in spiritual messages to sedentary audiences. The course was a historic survey of canonical rhetoric and the mid-term paper was due in four days, a paper that Cyrus and his classmates had ostensibly been researching and writing for the past six ...

Those Who Speak, Ch. 1 – ...

May 5, 1962 No one on the construction crew had any idea why someone would want to build a new church way the hell out at the far end of Old Parish Road. There were already two churches in Wellington—one Baptist and one Methodist—and neither of those were exactly packed to the rafters on Sunday mornings. Besides, it was a good seven miles from the center of town, and the houses out here were pretty far apart. It was going to be a hell of a thing driving all the way out here in a Connecticut snowstorm on a Sunday morning. Best they could figure was that land was cheap this far out of town and there was plenty of room for parking. In any event, it wasn’t up to the crew to dwell on the reasons for the construction. They were here to do ...

Those Who Speak, Prologue R ...

October 16, 1637 The morning of their final day arrived biting and redolent of the smoke from the night’s nearly-dead fires. Though only mid-October, the Connecticut winter was announcing its imminence with a verve not experienced in recent years. The denizens of the tiny Pequot settlement regularly rose with the dawn, stoked the fires back to life, prepared breakfast, and set about the chores and challenges of the new day. But today was different. Rather than waking to birdcall and the iridescent purple glow of an easterly sunrise above the distant forest line, they instead arose to the sudden shrill cries of two scouts as their horses sped through the settlement gate. As the men dismounted, their breath and that of their horses rose ...

Those Who Speak – Origin ...

I. My grandmother once said to me, “There are those who speak about what happened, and there are those who do not.” And when prompted to elaborate, “There is nothing inherently right or wrong about this choice. Different people simply handle tragedy in different ways.” And that was the most I ever managed to get out of her on the matter, meaning, of course, that she was in the latter camp. Except that, to make matters all the more frustrating, she would, from time to time, toss out additional teasers, innocuous little asides that led me to conclude that the events of that time must have been horrific indeed. “It’s not the kind of thing children should even know about.” “Your grandfather was never quite the same ...

Payback

Trevor Halprin sat alone and silent in his car in front of the building. A light mist coated the windshield and the only sound was the faint ticking of the cooling engine. He’d lived in Brooklyn his entire life, but he had never before been in this area of the city. It was a complex of unremarkable single story buildings near the Fort Hamilton Promenade, just east of the Verrazano Bridge. There were a few other cars parked up and down the long street, but no one walking around, a mildly unsettling thing anyplace in New York City. Trevor had been given an appointment time of 4:00 p.m. and instructed not to be too early or too late. But he was nearly half an hour early, since he’d been uncertain of directions. So he sat and he ...

The Antique Shop

A couple of blocks east of Jackson Square, in New Orleans’ French Quarter, wedged into a narrow alley abutting St. Louis Cathedral, stood a small single-story antique emporium called The Alcove. The building, viewed head-on, appeared a bit twisted and of dubious structural integrity, in the same manner as certain ancient pubs in remote English townships. You had to push hard on the front door to get it to open. On the rare occasions when someone did so, a small bell affixed to the top of the door would tinkle brightly, conveying positivity that a subsequent look about the place would promptly cast doubt upon. Mere words could not do justice to the interior of The Alcove, but if they could, they would include words like hodgepodge, ...

The Fletcher Legacy

Monday, January 12, 1903, 8:45 p.m. Conrad Fletcher lay dead, or seemingly so, on the floor of his capacious upstairs library. A crystal highball glass lay unbroken beside him, its contents spilt out and soaked into the carpet on which Fletcher lay. Oddly, none of the assembled guests leapt to the aid of the stricken man. Instead they simply stood about the library, a few looking at Fletcher, but most making a point of not looking at him, as though either seeking some measure of plausible deniability or perhaps expecting others to do whatever was appropriate to the situation. At last, however, Giles Prescott knelt beside Fletcher’s prostrate form and leaned in closely, his hand, then his ear to the fallen man’s mouth. After a moment so ...

Iron Law

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world. — Malthus T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population. ...