Chapter 12: Phaon

 

"Let's get out of here and get back to com range and let Solo and the others know what's going on," Leon yelled over to Raymont.
"I want to see if I can shut this thing down first," Raymont yelled back.
The automated voice repeated itself in Galcom, "WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT IN TIME MINUS ONE HUNDRED AND THREE HOURS - EXACTLY. WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT"
Leon took a reading on his multiscanner. "Radiation levels are very high," he warned. "I think we'd better get out of here as soon as we can."
"I want to check first!" Raymont insisted. "I'll go ahead. You fall back."
Leon grabbed Raymont's arm. "No, if you want to do this, then I'll go."
"WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT IN TIME MINUS ONE HUNDRED AND TWO POINT NINE FIVE HOURS. WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT"
"It was my idea," Raymont pointed out. "I go!"
"The Radiation levels are too high," Leon insisted. "It would be better if I went."
"Why you?" Raymont yelled back. "I'll go. You fall back and quit arguing!"
"If you go, I go," Leon insisted.
"Suit yourself," Raymont told him.
"WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT IN TIME MINUS ONE HUNDRED AND TWO POINT NINE TWO HOURS. WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT"
Raymont and Leon ran down the corridor, watching for any sign of ambush. Pausing at the entrance to the room beyond, both peeked ahead and saw that the chamber was a large deck, with a fence at the far side. Out from this led a catwalk that seemed to disappear beyond farther than they could make out. Enormous banks of light pulsed with a purplish glow on either side of the catwalk while the very air around them seemed to thrum. About a third of the banks seemed inoperative.
Seeing no one to stop them, Raymont ran ahead while Leon covered him from the rear.
"WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT IN TIME MINUS ONE HUNDRED AND TWO POINT EIGHT EIGHT HOURS. WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT"
Raymont ran up to one of the large instrument panels that flanked the deck. There were several displays and he didn't know what any of them meant.
"Hurry!" Leon yelled from the corridor. "Radiation!"
Raymont tried a direct reading of energy output. It went off the scale. Raymont surmised that whatever its output, this one ship could have powered all of Phaon for years.
Seeing a computer console link, Raymont immediately ran to that. It had a hand activated grid, so he put his hand onto it. Engineering information disappeared and a very basic word text appeared, matching a voice in Galcom that prompted him from the computer speaker.
"Access by unidentified user. No security code on file. Please identify and state query."
The computer, having no record of Raymont's DNA code, didn't know who he was and probably had exited back out of engineering protocol to a very basic routine. It was all he would have to work with.
"WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT IN TIME MINUS ONE HUNDRED AND TWO POINT EIGHT FIVE HOURS. WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT"
"I am Raymont. Please direct, What are instructions to deactivate self-destruct."
The answer was immediate. "The option to terminate self destruct can be initiated by a command directive preceded by termination code sequence."
"What is command directive?" Raymont yelled, his hand still on the grid. "What is termination code sequence?"
"Hold." The computer paused only a moment. "Cannot comply with information requested. User unrecognizable by this system. Please refer to command personnel."
"Where can I find command personnel?" Raymont asked, trying a new tact.
"Hold - Cannot comply with information requested. User unrecognizable by this system. Please refer to command personnel."
"WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT IN TIME MINUS ONE HUNDRED AND TWO POINT EIGHT TWO HOURS. WARNING! THIS SHIP WILL AUTO-DESTRUCT"
Leon called out to him. "RAYMONT!"
"Argh," Raymont pulled away from the terminal and ran back to Leon. Together they ran back down the way they came.
Climbing back up one of the access tubes, they tried to remember which way they had come before. The monster body of the ship would have been a maze when alive. Now that it was a wreck, with collapsed and damaged sections, it seemed impossible to remember any details. It all presented a sameness of machine and human death.
Neither one could remember the exact way back, so they found themselves in a different part of the ship, but trying to use their scanners as guides, they headed in the general direction of their camp.
"Hello! Leon! Raymont! Come in please! Over!" It was Thorn's voice, calling to them over the com unit.
"Thorn?" Leon signalled back. "Great! We've been cut off. We found engineering. We have something important to tell you. Is everyone there?"
There was a pause. "Solo's dead. He was killed by what looked like a security droid. It almost got Joe and me also, but the rest of us are all listening."
Leon and Raymont each looked over at each other. "Say again about Solo being dead. Are you sure? - Over," Raymont called back to Thorn.
"Yes, we're sure," she insisted. "We saw him killed. He's in pieces back where we left him."
Her sobering words felt like blows. Solo had been one of the main motivators for the mission. It was hard to imagine him being gone.
Leon called back on the com. "Thorn, you and the others listen. We've got other problems. The ship is set to self destruct. According to the timer, we've got one hundred hours before this thing blows up."
There was nothing but what seemed like shocked silence on the other end.
Joe's voice came back on. "Great. Well, get back up here. We have to find a way of getting out of this thing. Try not to get killed on the way back."
"We'll definitely comply with that," Raymont replied. "See you soon and signing off."

Thorn and Joe made their way as best they could back to the rest of the party. Enroute, they were almost killed when an anxious Tessa fired upon them from a hastily erected wall of debris that she and Bug had built up in their absence.
"Sorry," Tessa shrugged, lowering her smoking machine pistols.
Thorn and Joe looked at each other as if to say, what next? Then, passing Tessa, Joe set in to help them build their wall while Thorn took stock of their provisions and weapons and continually tried to hail Leon and Raymont, still ominously out of contact.
Finishing the wall, Joe tried to see if he could read them on his scanner, but the ship's debris offered to much interference.
Suddenly, they could all hear a voice on their com units. "Thorn?" It was Leon. "Great! We've been cut off. We found engineering. We have something important to tell you. Is everyone there?"
Thorn looked at the others. There didn't seem that there was much more than to just say it. "Solo's dead. He was killed by what looked like a security droid. It almost got Joe and me also, but the rest of us are all listening."
There was an unbelieving pause on the other end. "Say again about Solo being dead. Are you sure? - Over," Raymont called back to Thorn.
"Yes, we're sure," she insisted. "We saw him killed. He's in pieces back where we left him."
There was another pause.
"Thorn, you and the others listen," Leon finally continued. "We've got other problems. The ship is set to self destruct. According to the timer, we've got one hundred hours before this thing blows up."
"I shouldn't have asked what's next," Joe muttered. Looking over at the others, Bug looked positively sick, his eyes rolling back into his head, he looked like he was going to fold up again. Tessa looked like she had been hit. Thorn shook her head, unbelieving.
Joe turned back to the others on the com. "Great. Well, get back up here. We have to find a way of getting out of this thing. Try not to be killed on the way back."
"We'll definitely comply with that," Raymont replied. "See you soon and signing off."

Solo gradually became aware of the light. As his vision returned, he saw that a man's face was staring down at him from overhead. The man had green eyes that seemed to burn as they glared down at him. Other than that, he was bald and was dressed in red robes. He was a priest, obviously.
"Rest, my son," the man insisted, laying a sympathetic hand onto Solo's shoulder.
Solo tried to get up, but then he found he was strapped down. Grimacing from the pain in his right arm, he turned to see what was causing it. Then he noted that he didn't even have a right arm anymore.

x.p. award: Raymont - 565, Leon -265, Thorn 250, none.


Solo looks back at the Green-Eyed Man, scowls and says, "Rest Hell! My arm is gone! What the fuck happened?!? Who the fuck are you?!? Where the fuck is my crew?!? Do you have any idea who you are fucking with?!? <never hurts to bluff> Put my damned arm back on now dammit!"

He is probably more pissed off right now than scared. That was his good arm!

Shocked, Solo looked back from the bandaged stump of his right arm to confront the stranger. Looking about, he could see that they were in a small stateroom. There were lockers and religious chants droned over the speakers. Solo seemed to be set into a niche in the wall, where the bed was.
The man stroked Solo's hair while seated on a chair. "You should rest," he chided. Then the unnamed man sighed. "Well, it doesn't matter anyway. We'll all be dead soon enough. Perhaps it would have been better if I had let you die."
"Who are you?" Solo demanded. "How did I get like this?"
"I am Brother Antheus," the man introduced himself. "I am the sole survivor of the Divinity, the ship you see around us. As to your wounds, you were attacked by one of the ships security droids. You are lucky to be alive. Fortunately the debris from the droids attack buried you and it was distracted from you in its attack on your companions."
"Where are my companions," Solo asked, hoping for the best though there was a bad feeling in his gut. The feeling was only confirmed by Antheus' next words.
"Oh, they're dead by now," Antheus shook his head. "Sad, but it had to be done. You had learned of the heresy. You all had to be destroyed. And besides, stealing church property is in itself a crime." Antheus turned to Solo. "I am not a full fledged priest, my son, but in the absence of one, would you like to make your confession before we die? You might still be able to reincarnate at something not so base as you quite deserve. Show penitence and I am sure the Prophets shall be merciful."

Solo started to think in rapid-fire fashion: He hasn't SEEN the dead bodies of the rest ... that means he might not have seen everything we did. If anything at all. He also may not have the whole ship bugged. Just certain sections. He also thinks he is some sort of true godling. My guess is he wasn't supposed to see the heresy either. Not unless he was a full priest. Naughty boy. Also a bit unstable with warrior droids at his command. Dangerous boy.
Solo took a deep breath and looked back to Brother Antheus. In a soft, humble voice, Solo says, "Brother Antheus, what if I told you we, I and my crew, could get us all out of here ... Alive!?! Would that be enough to let us live? If not permanently then long enough to get you safely to the church? Surely the church has rules on saving a Divine One ... such as yourself ... one who has seen the heresy."
Solo then gave Antheus time to let the compliment soak in, then before he can say anything else continued, "Why, you have knowledge that needs to get back to the alter! Why throw it away? Call off your attack droids ... fix my arm ... and we will do everything in our power to help you. The Divinty is not that bad off! If you do, then I and my crew will make a confession to you and you can do with us as you please after we have helped you. I admit that a Divine One hearing our measly confessions would be overkill, but ... would you do it? Hear our confessions I mean ... not just from me but from all of us?"

Antheus rubbed his white bearded chin, as if thinking about Solo's many propositions.
"I thank you for your offer, but I have no desire to live my son, nor should you after seeing what you should never have seen. We owe it to the galaxy to die here, lest we spread the contagion of heresy. Just think what would happen if you talked of what you have seen, why the Church would have to purge this planet of every living man, woman and child. Surely you would not want such a thing to happen. Isn't it better that we few should die so that others need not have the risk of being exposed to heresy?"
He poured Solo a drink and loosening Solo's left arm, let Solo drink it. It was water, cold and clean tasting. Then Antheus resumed.
"As for saving me, I must also die, and I am certainly not worth saving, delving into things I shouldn't have. And as for your suggestions, I am afraid I cannot help you. I cannot call of the security robots, though I was able to enable their function, I lack the command rank to stop them anyway. And I will be dead soon. When I went into Engineering to enable the ship's self-destruct charges, I took a lethal dose of radiation poisoning from one of the damaged reactor cores there."
Antheus turned to look at Solo.
"You know, maybe you're right. I should after all make an effort to hear the confession of any of your companions who might still have survived the robots. It is my duty as last remaining cleric aboard. Do you think that if I took you along to parley, that they would be amenable to confessing. I mean, it could mean a step or two up in their next incarnations. Of course, I am assuming they are alive, which does seem unlikely. Still, there might be a chance we could get them before the robots do."
Solo asked him, "How do we know the robots won't get us?"
"It doesn't matter if they do," Antheus told him. "Whether by the security bots, the self destruct, or even radiation poisoning, all of us in this ship are doomed to die - soon."

Solo noded an affirmative to what Antheus had said.
Solo will guled the water down and asked for another and nursed it.
Solo thought, "Oh, fuck!" Then said, "What makes you think it wasn't your destiny to see the heresy? What better way to catch the enemy than by knowing him? The creator left you alive with access to the information for some reason."
Solo said, "I will have to talk to them first. Let them know what they are up against ... number of droids on the loose, time 'till self-destruct, set up a spot where everyone can get to for the confessional. They may not even believe me. I will have to convince them."
As an afterthought he added, "I sure wish I had my arm with me. It may not be attached but I sure don't want to die with my body in different places. I don't think the creator meant for me to die in such a fashion. Do you?"

Antheus stood and faced the image of the Emperour/Living Prophet, seeking guidance in meditation.
Then, getting Solo his water, he sat back down again.
"My son," he said with a calm and soothing voice, "I know that you are trying to manipulate me, but I want you to know it doesn't matter. Your attempt to warn your companions, if they are even still here, is a weak feeble clutch at life when you should be preparing yourself for your next incarnation. And as for your arm, I don't have it. I assume it is rotting underneath the rubble I pulled you out of. I think you know as well as I that the Divine cares not for your physical state, but for your mental-spiritual purity. Take care for that."
Antheus walked into another room and returned with the com unit that Joe Grange had provided for everyone. It was dented along the headband, but as Brother Antheus turned it on to an open channel, its indicators showed that it still functioned. Antheus slipped it over Solo's head.
"You may talk to whoever is left. Urge them to seek confession. I will wait here to here them over you com unit."

Raymont said to Leon, "We need to keep going, but if we find a scrubber or medlab, we ought to stop and clean up."

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