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Luke 2

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed [Or, enrolled].

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch [Or, the night watches] over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

And when the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord;

(As it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY MALE THAT OPENETH THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”;)

And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES, OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.”

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the Law,

Then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word:

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,

Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.

And Joseph and His mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of Him.

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary His mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem [Or, Israel].

And when they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him.

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.

And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the Feast.

And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it.

But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

And when they saw Him, they were amazed: and His mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.

And He said unto them, “How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?”

And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them.

And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature [Or, age], and in favour with God and man (Luke 2: 1-52).

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Isaiah 9

 

Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first He lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not [Or, to him] increased the joy: they joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For Thou hast broken [Or, When Thou brakest] the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.

For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.

And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, they say in the pride and stoutness of heart,

The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.

Therefore the LORD shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together;

The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.

For the people turneth not unto Him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the LORD of hosts.

Therefore the LORD will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day.

The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.

For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.

Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly [Or, villany]. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.

For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.

Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother.

And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm:

Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah.

For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still (Isaiah 9: 1-21).

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Isaiah 8

 

Moreover the LORD said unto me, “Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

“And I took unto Me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.”

And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

“For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, ‘My father,’ and ‘my mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.”

The LORD spake also unto me again, saying,

“Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son;

“Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks:

“And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of Thy land, O Immanuel.

“Associate yourselves, O ye people, and [Or, yet] ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.

“Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.”

For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying,

“Say ye not, ‘A confederacy,’ to all them to whom this people shall say, ‘A confederacy’; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

“Sanctify the LORD of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.

“And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

“And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”

Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.

And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him.

Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in Mount Zion.

And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward.

And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness (Isaiah 8: 1-22).

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PSALM 24

A Psalm of David.

 

The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

For He hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in His holy place?

He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, not sworn deceitfully.

He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

This is the generation of them that seek Him, that seek Thy face, O Jacob [Or, O God of Jacob]. Selah.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah.

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 14

 

 

According to Leader Monrage, it was fortunate that his brother’s planet wasn’t far. After all, the transport carrier wasn’t very fast — and that was by design. It was part of the Security Force’s strategy to prevent an escape; they only allowed for a certain amount of time to pass before a member of their crew was required to check in. After that, faster ships would be dispatched to track the rogue vessel down. Leader Monrage figured out that he and the other members of his group would have plenty of time to make it to his brother’s planet before those ships caught up to them.

“Oh, but before we start up again there is one more thing …” Leader Monrage stated. “Ten, bring the tools.”

Leader Monrage squeezed himself underneath the console. After a few minutes, he re-emerged with a black metallic box in his hands. Leader Monrage smirked.

“A homing device.” he advised. “Clever, but not clever enough for me.”

Leader Monrage smirked again.

“All right, now I’ll input the coordinates into the stellar map, and we’ll be on our way. Oh, and, Twelve, no need to take it slowly. We’ll have plenty of fuel.”

Lark turned back toward the console.

“Oh yeah, hold on a second before we start off.” Leader Monrage suddenly added.

Lark froze once more. These repeated interruptions were getting hard to take.

“Ten, have the prisoners taken to the prisoner compartments. We don’t want them to know where we’re going. They can probably see the monitor from there.”

Lark had wondered why Leader Monrage had been talking in a softer voice instead of his usual brazen tone. Now, it seemed obvious.

“Why don’t we just dispose of them?” Ten asked.

“Because that’s not where my head is at right now.” Leader Monrage stated. “I just want them out of my way. Is that too much to ask?”

Lark could tell Leader Monrage was getting agitated.

“No, sir.” Ten replied.

“Good. Then, see that it’s done — now. I don’t have the time or the patience for this.”

Ten headed off to complete his task.

“It’s as though people can’t think for themselves on the one hand but question my decisions on the other. And I’m the one who was right … obviously. Even you, Twelve, had doubts.”

“Only about myself.” Lark heard herself say. Why did she say that? It couldn’t have been true. At least the ‘only’ part wasn’t true. Still, her words seemed to please Leader Monrage — a lot. Unfortunately, it seemed to please him too much, for he placed his large hand on her shoulder then. Lark wanted to cringe but froze instead.

“But you see, I trained you. You’re Twelve now. There’s no need for you to doubt yourself.” Leader Monrage insisted. “You will succeed because I will succeed.”

Lark managed to nod.

“Good.” He released his hand. “Then, let’s get going. We don’t have all day.”

Leader Monrage finally inputted the coordinates into the computer. An arrow appeared on the screen. As long as the arrow lined up with the center of the monitor, the transport carrier should move in the given direction. Lark was mostly happy that guiding the transport carrier was so simple. The only problem was that it soon became pretty boring keeping the spacecraft steady. It gave Lark time to think — too much time. What would happen if the Security Force did track them down? Lark’s sentence had expired, but would they send her back anyway? Probably so. They wouldn’t care that they had never released her. The fact that she escaped would be seen as enough cause to send her back. This time she and the others would probably all be sent to the mines. Still, if Leader Monrage blamed Lark somehow, she wouldn’t have to worry about living there long. Either way, here or there, Lark wouldn’t be free.

Still, every time there was a twinkling of light on the monitor, Lark’s eyes would move toward it. Was that a pursuing craft come to overtake them? Perhaps their pursuers had been in the area rather than at a base station farther away. No, it was a star. Lark breathed. She returned her gaze to the center of the screen. Then, she tensed. “How long was this trip going to be?” she wondered. Leader Monrage hadn’t said, and there didn’t even seem to be a way to confirm the existence of Colony 38 on the screen. Was it hours, days away? Would Lark just have to hope for the best? She couldn’t think about that right now. At least she was making progress; Lark would just focus on that. Many hours passed — or what seemed like many hours. Leader Monrage then reappeared behind Lark.

“There it is.” Leader Monrage stated.

There was a small, dark, gloomy, round speck in the center of the screen. Lark’s reaction was mixed. There was relief that they were almost there; Lark would at last be able to get up from this chair. Also, there was no sign of pursuit from the Security Force. On the other hand, the gloominess of the planet coupled with the uncertainty of what would happen next caused her stress. Then, there was the impending landing of the craft; that thought sent adrenaline rushing through her. Another life and death moment was approaching. Lark would be glad when this was over.

As the transport carrier got closer, Lark saw another guide tunnel. Suddenly, a voice came over the intercom asking for information about the identity of the transport carrier and its crew. Lark jumped back slightly. Leader Monrage picked up the receiver; he didn’t seem fazed.

“Yes, we’d like permission to land on Colony 38.” Leader Monrage advised them.

Lark looked up at Leader Monrage. If there was a security checkpoint, how would they be able to land on this planet — or any other planet for that matter?

“By whose authority do you wish to land?” the voice on the other end of the intercom asked.

“By Col. Oliver Bertrand’s authority. He’ll know me; I’m his brother.” Leader Monrage informed him.

“Just a moment. Hold your pattern.”

Lark pulled back on the accelerator. Then, she and Leader Monrage waited. After awhile the man on the other side of the radio said, “All right. You may approach.”

Leader Monrage looked pleased but not particularly surprised. Lark guessed he was right about his brother being willing to help. Lark had wondered about Leader Monrage’s comment that his brother didn’t like him. If true, would it affect whether or not he’d be willing to offer help? It would seem it wouldn’t. It would seem that whatever favor Leader Monrage’s brother owed to Leader Monrage, Oliver Bertrand was willing to pay. Lark hoped for all of their sakes that this wasn’t just some sort of a setup.

Either way, they had to land. This whole exchange had convinced Lark there was nowhere else to go. They couldn’t keep traveling until they ran out of fuel or were discovered by the Security Force. Lark bit her lip; it was time to land.

Lark didn’t seem to have any breath to release as the transport carrier eventually touched down. She realized that she forgot to inhale. Landing wasn’t as difficult as Lark had feared. The hovering capability of the transport carrier was designed to land on a variety of surfaces. She looked up and to the side at Leader Monrage; he seemed pleased.

But fortunately, Leader Monrage didn’t have time to waste on Lark. He was quick to head to the hatch to meet with the traffic control team … and maybe even his brother. By the way Leader Monrage motioned to his men to file in behind him, Lark could tell that his ego had dramatically inflated. It was almost as though Leader Monrage thought his great feat should entitle him to success. These people should just give him power and anything else he wanted. On the other hand, Lark could see how vulnerable their situation was. Leader Monrage could easily rub people the wrong way. Then, what was to stop someone from reporting them to the Security Force? What did they really have? There were only a few tasers taken from the guards, a slow-moving transport carrier with little fuel left, and no money. But Leader Monrage didn’t seem to get it — you’d think he was the one with the upper hand.

Still, maybe it would work for him. Maybe bravado was better than self-doubt. After all, it was doubtful someone such as Lark could have gotten these people to even allow her to land the carrier there.

Lark started to stretch out. She was surprised by how stiff she was. When she attempted to stand, she realized her legs were asleep. Lark tried to rub the numbness away. After a little while, she realized she would have to walk it off. Lark headed toward the back of the ship slowly. None of the other recruits were around. Lark looked at the benches that were of the type she’d once been tied to. Then, she saw the doors of the prisoner compartments in the back. The rooms reminded her of the one she’d been held in on the transport ship, the vessel she had first left her home planet in. As it turned out, there were fewer prisoner compartments on this ship, and surprisingly they seemed even smaller. It occurred to Lark that they were probably designed for prisoners who were too uncontrollable for the benches — sort of a solitary confinement. “It was lucky Leader Monrage and the rest of his group made it this far,” Lark thought. This particular ship was obviously not meant to travel a long distance.

Lark stood in front of one of the rooms for a moment. She stepped toward it slowly. She felt herself reliving what it was like to be on the other side of the glass. She couldn’t resist the urge to peer into one of the windows and get a better look. There she saw one of the guards looking back at her. It was sort of eerie. Her first thought was that she should do something for him, release him somehow. Lark stepped back from the window. She knew she couldn’t do that. Though she wasn’t locked in a room or chained to a bench, she was a prisoner nonetheless — Leader Monrage’s prisoner.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

 

Chapter 13

 

Lark had thought that the small hovel in the middle of the desert would be her new home. Instead, it was just a shelter from the periodic sandstorms that plagued the planet.

Lark should have known. After all, those destined for the mines were still in the back of the conveyance truck. She found it strange how they went with this unknown group of men without even a word of protest. Then again, maybe they also didn’t know what was worse — the mines or Leader Monrage. Certainly, if Lark still had the choice to remain silent and blend into the background she would have, especially after the way Leader Monrage had manhandled her before.

Still, there seemed to be no way out. Trying to get out of it now would just make things worse. “Either way, it isn’t good,” Lark concluded.

The conveyance van, built much like a tank, rolled to a stop in front of a large complex. When the main hatch was opened, Lark noticed there was little light outside. Did this planet’s sun set so early? That’s when the smell of sulfur hit Lark’s nose. She began to cough, though she tried hard to stifle it.

“Where is the shipment?” a man’s voice demanded.

Lark assumed the man who had just entered the hatch asked Leader Monrage that question. It probably wasn’t a good sign that he was wearing a gas mask. Certainly, if the sounds from the back of the van were any indication, the others weren’t very happy about it either.

“Bring the group forward and three-fourths of the supplies.” the man added.

The group that hadn’t been selected by Leader Monrage moved forward. This time they had to be prodded by taser sticks. Lark watched them stumble and lurch out of the conveyance van. Lark couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Suddenly, Lark became aware that Leader Monrage was standing next to her. He lingered just long enough to get eye contact with her. He smiled then moved on. Lark figured he could tell she didn’t want to go to the mines. Perhaps, he thought he had this advantage over her now. Not only could he threaten to send Lark there, but there was also probably nowhere else to go on this barren planet.

“It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” the man with the mask called forward.

“Of course.” Leader Monrage called back. “I’m a big believer in situations that are beneficial for all those involved.”

“Yeah, it’s better than having to travel a long way for pickups. There are so many these days. I’m surprised we still have room for everyone. Besides, it’s not as though you’re going anywhere.” the man with the mask laughed.

“Yeah … right.” Monrage said to himself, a tone of bitterness in his voice.

It seemed as though the man from the mines was aware of Leader Monrage’s dream for escape. Leader Monrage certainly didn’t keep it a secret. Lark guessed there was probably no reason to keep it a secret since no one took Leader Monrage seriously anyway. They probably also thought that since Leader Monrage was that open with them that he was trustworthy or at least predictable. Lark doubted either was the case.

After the other prisoners were completely loaded out, Lark noted the conveyance van was almost empty. She looked about her at the empty spots where most of the prisoners had been. Even though Lark had seen them leave, it felt as though they had just disappeared off the face of the planet.

As Lark was looking about her, she became aware that she herself was being looked at. The handful of formidable-looking prisoners who had also been selected were looking at her with annoyance and distrust. Lark turned her face forward and pondered the situation she found herself in. Suddenly, it occurred to Lark how odd it was that she was selected. There was no good reason she could think of as to why she should be here instead of at the mines. Lark clutched at the items she’d been able to retrieve without drawing too much attention to herself. The thought occurred to her that she would have to make herself invaluable in some way and be seen as an asset.

But how could a child be an asset? Lark was smart and a quick learner. Maybe she could excel at something mental — at some sort of strategy. Maybe there was some sort of mechanical expertise she could learn. Leader Monrage had mentioned wanting to escape. He had been disturbed when the man from the mines had suggested Leader Monrage wouldn’t be capable of doing it. If Lark could think of a way, a way to escape this place and the people here … Lark felt herself growing anxious. This was no good. If Leader Monrage saw her stress, it would weaken her position and possibly put her in danger. Lark decided to pray for a while; by the time she was done praying she seemed to have regained her composure.

Time continued to pass, and the van traveled on. Apparently, it was quite a distance from the pickup point to Leader Monrage’s base. There must be a reason he chose to be that far away, but Lark couldn’t think of what it could be. Lark tried her best to stay awake as they moved forward slowly, but her body wouldn’t cooperate. It was probably for the best. After all, she couldn’t stay awake and on guard forever. Fortunately, when Lark did wake up again it was because the conveyance vehicle had lurched forward as it rolled to a stop.

Lark blinked a few times. She needed more sleep – a lot more. It was painful to wake up after such little sleep. Her mind was still a bit fuzzy. That was the moment she saw Leader Monrage approaching her. That jolted her awake.

It scared Lark that Leader Monrage had had all this time to think. If he even knew why he took her with him, he might have changed his mind. The way he smirked when he eyed her didn’t ease her fears. She decided to meet his gaze unflinchingly.

“Everyone, welcome to your new home.” Leader Monrage finally announced. “Go ahead and release them.” Leader Monrage said to the other men. Then, he looked back at the new recruits. “You won’t survive out here alone, so you’d be wise to fall into line. Causing trouble will just get you killed.”

“So, that’s the reason for the isolation.” Lark thought. “It made it easier to control them.” While some of his men released the new recruits, Leader Monrage came to release Lark. Lark realized that someone must have given Monrage the keys to the prisoners’ cuffs. Still, Lark was soon distracted away from how he managed to get the keys; the interest in his eyes when he looked at her was disturbing.

“What I said before was for your benefit. I think of all of them you’re the one most likely to panic and try to run.”

This was Lark’s opportunity.

“I do want to escape.” Lark stated coolly. “Just like you do.”

Leader Monrage stopped smiling. He eyed her with curiosity.

“Maybe someday I’ll be useful in making that happen.” Lark stated.

“Hmmm …” He laughed. “Well … we’ll see, we’ll see.”

He then grew a bit dark and glared at her.

“Don’t make me regret taking you on.” he said. “I’ll take it as a personal insult if you don’t get yourself together. You can’t do anything for me as you are now.”

 

***

 

It had been wise for Lark to buy into Leader Monrage’s vision. It seemed he had felt no one really believed in it. Now, Lark was his confidante in this small way. And he had some investment now in not completely losing her favor. Yet, even so, he would have moments of violence. And the training that he would inflict on everyone to prepare for the escape sometimes tipped to the extreme.

Even without Monrage’s regimen, the conditions on the prison colony would have been harsh. For one, it hardly ever rained there. When it did, it was mostly a welcome relief. The precipitation removed a lot of the dust from the air. It even seemed to lower the temperature of the air a couple of degrees. But more than anything, Lark enjoyed how much the precipitation reminded her of her home colony where it rained quite often. Looking back, she decided she would no longer have minded those stormy nights when she had been left alone. How much better off she had been then and hadn’t realized it. She could curl up on that sofa in the darkened house and hide there. There was nowhere to hide on the prison colony.

Still, it could have been worse. The training all the recruits had to endure was hard, but Lark was determined to keep up. She felt that if she slipped out of the acceptable range of performance that bad things would happen. So, Lark stayed awake when she was told to; ran through obstacle courses in the heat; and hiked miles in the deep sand after being left in the middle of nowhere. She also ate bugs when that’s all there was available and tried to hold her own in bouts the best she could.

And when it would rain and form mud on the ground, she’d crawl through it. Sometimes she would even be forced to sleep in it. Still, she never complained, and she never talked back. So, she was considered less of a nuisance to Leader Monrage than some of the others. There was always a new recruit that would annoy him more by questioning his methods.

When Leader Monrage was busy, everyone would get a break. But when he was bored, he would invent new training methods or just revisit some of his favorites. Time passed slowly, but fortunately it did pass. And one day, Leader Monrage managed to come up with a new strategy with his free time. It was the miracle Lark had been praying for. Leader Monrage wanted to start training the recruits how to fly a transport carrier. Learning would have to be academic at first. He had paid off with supplies one of the prison transport carrier workers, who Monrage had met when the man had stayed on the prison colony long enough to inspect the mines, to hide flight manuals in the boxes. Eventually, they’d have to commandeer one of those carriers for the escape to become a reality.

“Remember how you said you wanted to help me escape?” Leader Monrage asked Lark after he pulled her aside. “Now is your chance to be useful to me. You’re the only one of my recruits that I think is clever enough to pull it off. I probably should have picked smarter recruits. But I guess I only need one. Who would have thought that picking you would be such luck to me?” He stopped, probably feeling he’d been too complimentary. “Then again, I could probably find someone else if I had more time. But who would want to wait when one doesn’t have to? Anyway, it won’t be easy to learn mainly from manuals, but if you want something badly enough you’ll find a way. That’s what I do.”

He smirked.

“Oh, and we’re going to build you a makeshift model of the control panel, so you can practice. But in the meantime …” He handed Lark the manual. “Here. Start reading.”

Lark took to the books with a fervent dedication. Contained in all the technical jargon and diagrams was her only known chance for escape. Yet, this wasn’t a risk-free proposition. It could all backfire on Lark. She would be expected to know what she was doing from the instant she sat down at the controls of the transport carrier. If she didn’t — if she couldn’t pull it off … well, Lark figured she’d be as good as dead. Leader Monrage would have missed his opportunity — possibly his only opportunity. If that were the case, Leader Monrage would unleash his full wrath on her.

So, the only thing Lark could think to do was succeed. The model that Leader Monrage had promised Lark was a bit slow in coming. When it was finally completed, it turned out to be very primitive. Still, all the buttons and such were where they were supposed to be. As long as the transport carrier didn’t have a complicated onboard computer system, one that wasn’t more advanced than the manual described, Lark figured she had a chance. Not a very good chance but a chance.

Lark had a lot of nightmares in those days. Before that time, she hadn’t had a chance to sleep deeply enough to dream. Now that she was trying to learn how to pilot a transport carrier, she was exempted from having to train. So, the dreams came, and there were many. From nightmares about her cousin to ones about Leader Monrage, her dreams were rarely pleasant. A particularly disturbing nightmare involved Leader Monrage.

In the dream, he would come to her room. She would tell him about the progress she’d been making with the manuals. He would listen to her intently as she ran through each step of the process in finite detail. Leader Monrage would then start to laugh violently.

“What is it? What’s wrong with you?” Lark would ask.

“You fell for it. I was just toying with you. There is no escape plan. You’re here for good.”

“But why – why would you lie?”

“It’s more fun for me that way.”

“What … is fun?”

Leader Monrage would then reach out his hands toward her. His hands would wrap around her throat. At that moment, she would wake up.

On the last day she would awaken on the prison colony, Lark had that same dream. She awoke slightly confused, yet she had a chill shoot through her almost instantly. It was a sense that someone else was in the room … lurking. Lark turned her head sharply. She caught herself before she gasped aloud as her eyes fell upon Leader Monrage. He cocked his head to the side. Lark waited while keeping her eyes locked fixedly on his.

“It’s time.” Leader Monrage stated.

“Time for what?” Lark uncharacteristically demanded.

“Time to leave.” Leader Monrage jeered. Suddenly, he grew serious. “Get up! We’ve got to leave now!!”

Lark stood quickly. It was lucky that she had slept in her regular clothes; that way all she had to do was scramble to grab the charts she had made from the manuals. Still, after Lark walked over to him, Leader Monrage grabbed Lark by the arm anyway.

“Boy, you’re slow. What’s up with you? You’d better not let me down. You’d better not have been slacking all this time, or you’ll be sorry.”

Lark cast a look at him.

“Are you sure now’s the right time?” she questioned him.

“It better be.” he returned. “It better be.”

Leader Monrage had been tipped off as to when the prison transport would arrive. Normally, he would learn about a shipment just far enough ahead that by the time he arrived at the rendezvous spot the transport carrier would have just left. Given that the transport carrier had no pattern to its arrival, this had proven problematic for his escape plans. That day would prove to be the one that was different.

Of course, when Leader Monrage’s group arrived at the designated spot to nothing but a patch of emptiness there was a sense of tension in the air. Fortunately, not long after their arrival the lights from the transport carrier cut through the darkness. Leader Monrage sneered. “Ready yourselves, men. This is it.”

Lark was kept away from the ship; she was to hole up near a boulder until the ship was seized. Leader Monrage would then come for her himself. She was too important to be risked at the moment. Certainly, the guards would attack her, the weakest one, if they could. Still, Lark hoped the wait wouldn’t be too long. The impending performance that would either spell her life or her death was weighing heavily on her mind.

Lark could see the lights flicker in the distant darkness. It was the only light she could see. She wasn’t given a light of her own; it would draw too much attention to her, Leader Monrage had said. Lark couldn’t be trusted not to panic and turn on the light.

Panic, yes panic; Lark was beginning to feel that. In fact, it occurred to Lark that this was the first time she had been completely alone since coming here years ago. As her eyes adjusted, the glow from the lights dimly illuminated what was around her. She could see the barren wasteland that seemed to stretch out forever in front of her.

She had never before questioned the belief that there were only dust and heat out there. After all, why would Leader Monrage choose to be in the middle of nothing if there was something more? Then again, what if there was something else? What if there was somewhere to go now? What if the test Lark was about to undergo was destined to end in failure? Maybe it would be better to go out into the desert and take her chances there. Maybe she could find an oasis. That possibility at that moment seemed better than the possibility of dying at Monrage’s hands. Or, she could turn herself in at the mines. No, that wouldn’t work; Leader Monrage knew people over there. They’d just turn her over to Monrage if he failed to escape, and it would end the same way. And if he did escape, they might punish her and try to get information she didn’t have out of her. That only left the desert as an alternative to the ship. But what if instead of trying to escape without her he went hunting for her instead? Maybe no one else was capable of handling the spacecraft. Lark bit her lip and considered. There wasn’t time to think. If she waited any longer …

“Twelve.” Leader Monrage’s voice stated. Lark whirled around towards him. “What you’re looking for is over here.”

“Is it done?” Lark asked, trying not to show how unnerved she was by his sudden appearance.

“That’s why I turned the light on.” he replied. “You’d better be ready for this. You’d better not have been playing me all these weeks.”

Lark had never guaranteed him anything. In fact, they never even discussed it. But then again, perhaps he could read her well enough to know she was doubting herself and her ability to pull it off. Why wouldn’t she? Lark had never piloted anything before; she didn’t know that she could. But doubting his plan was dangerous. He chose her for this, so it had to work.

“All right.” Lark stated. “Let’s go.”

Lark began to walk past him. He grabbed her arm stiffly and wrenched it slightly. She looked at him. After a moment of his staring at her in anger, he released her.

“Let’s go.” he finally agreed. He smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”

Leader Monrage kept Lark less than a foot in front of him as they walked toward the transport carrier. Every time Lark would walk a bit faster, she would feel Leader Monrage’s presence behind her threatening to grasp her shoulder. It didn’t take long for Lark to catch on that walking too fast wasn’t in her best interest.

When they got to the control room of the ship, Lark was relieved to see that the crew from the transport carrier was alive. They were chained to a bench similar to the one Lark had been chained to when she arrived there. She had mixed feelings about it. The guards from her flight had shown her no pity, and yet she couldn’t help but see herself in the guards sitting before her at that moment. Then, after looking at the guards for a few seconds longer, Lark turned to Leader Monrage.

“Why can’t the pilot fly the ship out?” Lark suggested with enthusiasm.

Almost instantly, Lark wished she hadn’t mentioned it. Leader Monrage’s look turned dire.

“Why do you keep second-guessing me?” he demanded.

She just looked up at him with surprise on her face.

“They learn ways to alert their headquarters if there’s trouble. That’s one of their safety protocols. That’s why they think no one will ever escape; the escapees usually don’t have a pilot of their own. These pilots can’t be trusted.” Leader Monrage explained. “The question is can you be trusted?” Leader Monrage concluded ominously.

He then shoved Lark forcibly.

“Get to the controls. Quit stalling.”

He shoved her again. It occurred to Lark that Leader Monrage wanted to kill her at that moment. Maybe he would have if he didn’t still need her. The only way to save her life now was to succeed. So, Lark turned off her emotions and set to work. She went to the control panel and arranged her charts on a side table.

She followed the instructions she had set up for herself. This was the easy part. It was actually maneuvering the carrier that would be difficult. All the learning of how to drive a land-based vehicle wouldn’t be enough. In fact, in a lot of ways this whole plan was insane. The only way Lark could pull off flying let alone safely landing this carrier was if a miracle occurred. Could Lark just be a natural at it? When the moment came to actually take off, Lark prayed. Then, it was time — the moment of truth: life or death.

The transport carrier jerked upward under Lark’s control. A little more finesse, Lark thought. The controls were more sensitive than she expected. She then maneuvered the large, floating boat toward the guide tunnel. Lark was careful to stay in the middle and avoid scraping the sides of the tunnel. Yet, she knew she had to accelerate soon. Once the ship was lined up within the tunnel, Lark rapidly increased the carrier’s speed just as the instructions had suggested. Lark held her breath while trying to hold the ship steady. The old structure quaked a bit for a moment, but it powered on. And then like a shot, it burst through.

Suddenly, all around them was the dark blanket of space. Lark released the throttle then sat back in her chair. She stared forward in shock for a moment.

“All right.” She could hear Leader Monrage breathe behind her. “Now, I’ll just input our course, and we’ll be off.”

Space was cold and impersonal; she had forgotten. It was quite the shock when compared to the pulsating heat. The air was easier to breathe but sterile somehow. The artificial smell of ozone filled the air. Lark just kept watching the monitor, kept watching as the prison colony got smaller and smaller. Would she really never be there again? Her prison sentence was only supposed to be a few years, but no one seemed to think she would survive it. True, her being with Leader Monrage rather than at the mines meant they may have lost track of her, but Lark doubted they ever looked for her in order to release her on the final day of her sentence.

That prison colony was a life sentence for most. For her, being a young girl in that environment, it should have been a death sentence. Lark had lived day to day all these years trying not to think about it. The fact was she thought she would never view that prison planet from a distance but instead be engulfed by it forever.

Lark breathed out.

“My brother is on Colony 38. That’s where we’re going. My brother and I aren’t close, but he owes me one, and he always repays his debts. I can’t wait to start the next phase of my plan …”

Lark turned her head and looked up at him slowly. He was looming over her left shoulder. The next phase of his plan? Leader Monrage had never mentioned anything specific about another phase of his plan. She could only vaguely remember him alluding to something more years ago. All he ever talked about since then was escaping. Lark looked forward again. She gripped the arms of the chair with her hands. Lark had been so focused on the escape plot; she hadn’t thought about what would happen afterward. Lark was never sure the plan would work, so she didn’t allow herself to consider what having freedom again would be like. Suddenly, she was experiencing how it felt to have it wrenched away moments after recapturing it once more. A weight had instantly sunk upon her. She had escaped the prison colony but not the prison. Lark was still under Leader Monrage’s control. And by the sound of it, he wasn’t planning on letting her go.

“We’ll have to get a better ship. We’ll ditch this one and maybe sell it for parts.”

“What about the guards?” Lark wondered.

“The guards. We’ll drop them off somewhere. Anyway …” Leader Monrage leaned forward, placing his hand onto the console.

“I want to have uniforms and a whole hierarchy for our group. We’ll be feared and admired everywhere we go. I have plans to increase our power throughout the universe. So tell me, do you feel lucky to have met me, Twelve?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Your new life starts now. And so does mine … so does mine.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Acts 1

 

The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

Until the day in which He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen:

To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:

And, being assembled together with them [Or, eating together with them], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, “but wait for the promise of the Father, which,” saith He, “ye have heard of Me.

“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”

When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

And He said unto them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.

“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;

Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.

Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day’s journey.

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)

Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.

For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.

Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.

And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The Field of Blood.

For it is written in the book of Psalms, “LET HIS HABITATION BE DESOLATE, AND LET NO MAN DWELL THEREIN”: and “HIS BISHOPRICK [Or, office, or, charge] LET ANOTHER TAKE.”

Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection.

And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two Thou hast chosen,

That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.

And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles (Acts 1: 1-26).

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