Canto 1

Hale and well-tempered was Scott Winslow Hale. His body was
military grade, and unscarred; his intensity in combat had been not an
intemperate fury but an unflappable precision, and those frenetic months
against China — as part of the 16th Fighter Squadron, 51st Interceptor Wing — had never made him a daredevil. Fit and level-headed, he was one of a hundred
equivalent men chosen for the Astronaut Corps. His exemplary progress as an
astronaut had pleased his superiors at NASA, so much so that he was chosen for
the Virgo Project itself and would, in 1960, so long as President Dewey’s "frivolous
ambitions" were not killed by Congress, be among the first to walk on the Moon.
To the consuming public, NASA had naturally emphasized Scott’s apollonian
worth. NASA had also naturally emphasized his delightful wife Helen. Only
lately had things become awkward, as Helen’s deterioration diverged her from
the Hale perfection.

Her sickness had been patient: her symptoms smattered, each
alone so seemingly petty; but after a time she was clearly amiss. And despite
her being not even thirty years old, there was no mistaking it: paralysis agitans. The Shaking Palsy.
She trembled. She stiffened. Her voice flattened. She couldn’t summon a
gesture. She couldn’t remind herself to blink. Her presence flaked away and dementia
was stirring. The pallidotomy, the opening up of her skull, the cutting of her
brain, had failed. Oh, from the start she and her husband had prayed. They had
recited every little prayer, every little novena, every little litany of hope.
They had been stalwart; even then they were not hopeless. But they were afraid.
They didn’t want to part now, even if
Heaven awaited both. Before the thoughts and words could never again be formed,
Helen asked Scott to take her to Blessed Zebediah’s shrine.

However much a Catholic child might be encouraged to admire
St. This-or-That, This-or-That’s tale could not compete with Bl. Zebediah’s. To
be sure, the densely sober minds of the Church bristled at the utter outrageousness of Joanna Hutchinson’s
memoir. Giant! Martians! Holes between
Yet the piety and orthodoxy of Joanna could not be gainsaid; and
she was hardly the only earthly witness to the Giant, nor to the Prince of
Mars. What’s more, Zebediah’s heroism on behalf of the Blessed Sacrament was a
magnificent lesson. And, well, if all of it came mixed with a trek through the
Solar System, so be it. Anyhow, there was no fighting the popularity of
Zebediah, especially once the healings at the Hole began. By 1944, the Church
had enough evidence — and finally the inclination — to beatify Zebediah. Only
one more miracle, directly and clearly attributable to Zebediah’s intercession,
remained for his canonization.

And like many Catholic children, Helen had enjoyed the
colorful little books about Zebediah. When she learned more about him — the
things deep in Joanna’s memoir; the richness aside the storybooks — she became
all the more fond of him. Zebediah’s shrine may have been the only shrine in
the United States, the nearest place of healing, the most reasonable place for
her to go; but she would have chosen it in any event, as it was his shrine. Scott favored it as well. He
had his own affection for Zebediah (indeed, this affection had been one of the
happy, small things that had drawn Helen and him together). Still, he had to
thank God that the shrine was just twelve hours north of Houston. NASA had been
against their going at all, fearing the publicity that would attach to the
Credulous Astronaut, His Dying Wife, and the Outer-Space Saint-to-Be; but an
anonymous jaunt to Kansas, the briefest absence from the Virgo Project, would
surely go unnoticed; and in the end, even the jittery bureaucrats were moved by
Scott’s determination to aid his pathetic wife. They let him go. And only now,
on the road, away from his training, from the simple distraction of preparing for the Moon, did his determination waver
and the certainty of Helen’s death overwhelm him. Rationally he could hope for
God’s attention; but this trawling for a miracle seemed so merely desperate. Scott Winslow Hale was
unfamiliar with desperation. It had begun to unnerve him.

It had even begun to fracture him. Later that night they
stopped at a motel. As Helen slept, Scott was restless. Suddenly, against the
darkness, he saw himself in a terrible vision, trapped on the Moon and arguing
about something with Zebediah; while,
beside the two of them, Judas laughed.

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