Meeting at the Crossroads

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Meeting at the Crossroads

by Joel Limmer

Barry slung his backpack onto the table and slumped down, hiding his face in his trembling arms, ignoring the sea of foreign chatter, the clink of unknown utensils, and the pressing, unappetizing odors. How had he gotten himself into this?

“With respect, Monkey, I wonder about your condition,” said an artificial voice.

Barry breathed deeply, then looked up. A Worm, with bright blotches along her back and myriad rubbery feet, had coiled into the chair opposite him. The voice came from a metal box strapped to what you could loosely call her chest as she manipulated the controls. A viscous substance glistened on her eight mandibles, and her blue, featureless, tennis-ball-sized eyes seemed to stare right through him.

“Uhh…I’m fine.”

“You lie, Monkey, with respect.”

“Well…I’ve never entered the Crossroads before.”

She drew back in apparent disgust. “With respect, the inhabitants and visitors here disturb your racist mind.”

“No! I’ve talked with non-humans…I mean, non-Monkeys before, made a few friends. Some come to the hu…Monkey zone, from time to time.”

“But there are too many for you here in the Crossroads, with respect. You are overwhelmed.” The place they sat in—a “restaurant”, Barry supposed, for lack of a better term—was crowded, wall to wall and across the ceiling, with Raptors, Bugs, Squids, Spiders, more sapient species than Barry could identify.

“No, that’s not it either. In other circumstances none of this would really bother me.”

“With respect, Monkey, I do not know what disturbs you.”

“Well…it’s the…outside, in the corridors.”

“I see. But, with respect, there are no Monkeys on the poles. You wish to see Monkeys on the poles.”

“No! But, still, the poles are there! They exist! Along every corridor, in every square, in every direction. I had no idea there were so many. It’s…quite disturbing.”

“With respect, I did not know Monkeys were empathic.”

“Not literally, not like Butterflies. But it disturbs me anyway.”

“Then you are, with respect, a fugitive.”

Barry hesitated. “No.”

He felt the Worm’s staring regard. She had no eyelids with which to blink. “With respect, the punishment of criminals should not disturb you.”

“They are criminals?”

“They are, with respect, subversives. The Crossroads Station cannot function as neutral ground if the people fear for the integrity of their customs and their unifying culture. Commerce and trade would become impossible. You would wish for Mycons to decorate the Monkey zone with their spitting spore pods.”

Barry grimaced at the toxic mess that would make. “No, I wouldn’t. But we’d deport the Mycons to their own zone, not execute them.”

“You would then be less disturbed in the Sponge zone, or the Crystal zone. Or, with respect, the Monkey zone. The superintendent of the Crossroads has strict policies concerning cultural contamination. Enforcement is crucial to station harmony.”

Barry sighed. “My business brings me into the Crossroads itself. Few Monkeys…take the opportunity to come here.”

“With respect, you are a representative of Monkey interests.”

“Not officially,” he said before he could stop himself.

“With respect, I must remind you that I am a Crossroads civility enforcement agent.” The symbol was emblazoned on her translator box.

Barry’s heart began to race. And then began to race faster, because he’d forgotten whether Worms could read human emotions.

“With respect, you are carrying goods.”

“I cleared them at customs.”

“With respect, I insist on examining your goods.” The Worm had curled her tail onto the table and was tapping on the surface with her stinger.

Barry hesitated.

“With respect, I have the authority to conduct a more thorough search, at the civility facility. Of your goods and of yourself.”

Barry slowly pulled the case out of his backpack and slid it across the table. The Worm opened it and lifted out one of the small chips with her stinger.

“These are information chips. With respect.”

“Textbooks for field theory training. From the Snow Mantas. We translated them.”

“The linguistic proclivities of Monkeys are, with respect, known to us.”

The Worm inserted the chip into a slot in her translator. Her stinger continued to rummage through the case. There was a quiet ripple of high frequency sound as the contents of the chip were analyzed.

“With respect, I as yet find nothing illegitimate on this chip. I have impounded several more for further examination.” The coils of the Worm dropped off the chair while her head remained motionless. “You will conduct yourself carefully in the Crossroads. With respect, the superintendent has strict policies concerning cultural contamination.” The Worm slithered out of the room.

Barry breathed a short sigh of relief but kept alert. No one seemed to be watching him. He retrieved his case, but before he closed it, he noticed the seemingly random scatter of empty slots the Worm had left.

He blinked. They weren’t random at all, he realized. There was a pattern. He stared at it, puzzled, searching his memory—and understanding dawned. He reshuffled a few of the chips and shut the case.

He suddenly felt quite hungry, and ordered something that didn’t ooze, bubble, or wiggle for lunch. After finishing, he checked the time, took a deep breath, and left to meet his contact.

Barry walked out into the busy square, and felt his anxiety begin to rise again. Wide, bustling corridors with transparent ceilings revealing the crowded stars stretched in eight directions from the square. The corridors were lined with double rows of tall poles. On every pole a body of some shape hung; decayed, or dead, or…twitching. He’d heard the poles killed with a slow current, stimulating every nerve simultaneously until the victim, eventually, died of sensory overload.

Down one of the corridors was the door of a currently empty business unit. Barry keyed in a combination code and it opened. A Koala, sitting at a small desk, looked up and waved him over with a heavy claw.

“¡Welcome! ¿Perhaps you will find this unit useful for your shop or office?”

The hatch swung closed. The Koala flipped a switch on his desk, and Barry heard faint static fill the room.

“¡Bless you! ¡You came!” the Koala whispered through razor-sharp teeth. Barry handed over the case and the Koala opened it. “¿Some are missing?”

“They are in good hands.”

“¡Oh! ¡No ungratefulness intended, we are indebted for all the coded Testaments we can get! ¿We cannot duplicate these in our zone, the broken patterns could draw suspicion? ¿But who has the others?”

“I’d better not say.”

The Koala nodded. “¡Of course, of course! ¿Will you be back?”

“How many more do you need?”

“¿As many as we can get? ¡Literally; we need a hundred times more than this case full, and more! ¡We cannot duplicate them!”

“I’ll be back.”

“¿You will wait fourteen days? ¡Bless you! ¡Bless you four times!”

“Stay off the poles.”

“¿If the Lord wills it?”

Barry walked with an empty backpack along the branching corridors that led back to the Monkey zone. He kept his eyes on the floor. He figured smuggling Bibles was probably the worst possible form of cultural contamination. Odds seemed good that he would be up on one of those poles someday.

But he had reason to hope it would not be anytime soon, not if he was careful. Because the pattern of chips the Worm had taken spelled out a message in burstcode.

The message read, “JOS26.”

In the translation Barry had grown up with, Joshua 2:6 read, “But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.” An odd verse—but it was from the story of Rahab, a citizen of Jericho who had hidden two Israelite spies from the men coming to kill them. The message seemed to mean three things.

First, the Civility agent was quite familiar with her Bible. Familiar enough to know not only the stories but the chapters and verses they came from.

Second, the agent was protecting him. She had made clear both what would happen if he were caught and that she would not herself turn him in.

And third, the agent feared she might someday need his help. In the story, Rahab was saved by those two spies when the rest of Jericho was destroyed.

He could trust her to do what she could to protect him. And she was trusting him to fulfill his mission, to help get the Word to the Universe, to not betray her trust. And if there was one, perhaps there were more of the faithful in the Crossroads, all doing their small part, all depending on each other for the mission, for their freedom—and for their lives.

Barry walked on, determined not to let them down.

Joel Limmer is a research engineer who, at the time of this writing, is about to start work at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a direct result of his childhood love of science fiction. He entered and won a few (very) informal story contests in the “ChristSF” Yahoo Group back in the Twenty-Oughts and occasionally blogs about odd theological ideas. “Meeting at the Crossroads” was inspired by the thought, “What if Jesus meant for humans to spread the Gospel to the entire universe?” and by those odd, “coincidental” miracles experienced by people like Corrie Ten Boom and Brother Andrew.

“Meeting at the Crossroads” by Joel Limmer. Copyright © 2019 by Joel Limmer.

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  1. Well done! Really enjoyed the setting of the story, and I'm always inspired by stories of Bible couriers. Great job, Joel!


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