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But for the Grace of God 1

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    The inevitable happened a few years later. Miriam had been sleeping when she was awakened by the knights guarding her room. Hastily dressing, Miriam rushed towards the communication room. When she saw Lal on the monitor she abruptly stopped, not even sitting down in the chair.

    The chief surgeon of the Unity seemed to have aged 20 years since their last talk. He was dressed in a green surgeon's outfit, and in the low light of the room he was in she spotted bloodstains. There were dark rings under his eyes, and the usually impeccably groomed beard was frazzled. The connection was poor, crackling making the man hard to hear. In the background, she could hear several other people shouting.

    "Pravin!" She said. "What's happening there?"

    The man's voice was sad, but calm. "The end, Miriam, the end. UN Information Exchange has fallen. The Spartans control the whole base. I've basically given most of the troops permission to surrender. But the rest of us are making a last stand here." He sagged in the chair a bit. "The Spartans seem to be taking their time though, So... I figured I'd talk a bit while we waited." He chuckled, though his eyes became moist. "Sorry I got you out of bed."

    Miriam sat down, clenching her fist. "It's all right. I'm glad." She forced herself to remain calm. "Is there anything in particular you wish to talk about?"

    Lal sighed. "I... I'm not sure. I just... would like this to be remembered. I don't know why I'm asking you this. You... left the UN as well after all but... I still... think we were on to something. It could have been better than before. We tried... we really did and now... I just want there to be someone... something that survives to remind people of what we did."

    Miriam nodded. "You will not be forgotten, Lal. I promise you." She said. "Pravin, this sounds crude but... I would not forgive me if I didn't speak. Your time on Planet might end, have you considered the state of your soul?"

    Lal smiled and shook his head. "Once a Chaplain, always a chaplain, aren't you, Lieutenant Commander Godwinson?" The words weren't mocking. "No, I know it would make you feel better but... I'm not going to lie to you. I..."

    There was a loud explosion and the sound of screams and the fire of particle guns. Lal looked to the side, fear flashing in his eyes before being covered up again. "Well, they've arrived. Thanks for your time, Miriam."

    With that he pulled himself to his full heigth and folded his arms, looking at the battle happening beyond Miriam's sight.

    It was a short battle. As the last screams faded two men in the brown and black Spartan uniform grabbed the fallen leader, tying his arms behind his back. A third one looked at the screen, meeting Miriam's dark glare. He spoke. "Lal secured, he was talking to the Believer leader. Conenction still open, do I close it down?"

    There were sounds from the other end. "Confirmed." The man stepped away, leaving the connection open. Miriam didn't speak, merely watched as the two soldiers forced Lal on his knees, only his head remaining within her view.

    Then the soldiers not holding Lal saluted, and a familiar voice rang out. "So, are you finally done with pointless gestures?" Santiago appeared within sight of the camere, her uniform immaculate, except for the dust covering it, results of the battle.

    As Miriam watch, she drew back her arm and delivered a harsh punch across Lal's face. "THAT is for the men who died pointlessly." She snapped angrily, before turning away. "I'll deal with you soon enough."

    She turned to Miriam, nodding. Her face was as she had seen it on the Unity, a bit older. Likely, she was due for another longivity therapy. "Sister Miriam." she said with a grim smile. "We haven't talked much, have we? Just enough for you to declare your war on me."

    "More didn't need to be said." Miriam said darkly.

    Santiago scowled. "Really, Sister Godwinson. You're on another continent. You've arranged troops to be transported over dangerous waters, only to have them sent back after a few years because this weakling didn't have the stomach for a war, and not enough sense to stay out of it. And still you are listening to his simpering?"

    She breathed deeply. "What you used on my soldiers was dirty, Sister, but it was a war, and I respect that you used all resources you have. But I think it's about time this war is done. You didn't fail, this man never gave you a chance. His own fault. Let's move on."

    "You've not been punsihed for your crimes yet." Miriam said in a low voice.

    "My crimes? MY CRIMES?" Santiago slammed a fist on the table. "WHAT crime? This war? HE is the one that claims the right to tell us all what to do! Was I supposed to just claim him to be the only legitimate authority, while sitting right next to us? Through his own words, he was a threat, and we removed him!"

    She fodled her arms. "Or is this STILL about the Unity? About my 'betrayal', because I don't see you waving the UN Flag, Lieutenant-Commander." The colonel said acidly. "Don't think to claim the moral high ground just because you abandonned the UN a bit later than I did."

    Miriam just glared back. "I made the choice I did for virtue, not to grab power for myself. Pravin Lal is a good man, and I hoped to see him turn to the way of virtue. You are nothing but a dictator."

    "How would you know? You barely know my name." Santiago said. "I've taken command because I am the most capable one. Because we can't afford to listen to whimpering cowards like Lal. There are mindworms, traces of aliens and who knows what. I'm making sure we're prepared for them. "

    She sat down where Lal had sat. "We've fought your men, Miriam. And if your faction has what it takes to get troops so far from home, and defeat Spartans in battle, then you are obviously worthy of leading men. You are on one continent, I am on the other. Give reparations for the soldiers that you took from me, and let us end this war."

    There was a moment of silence. Lal was looking at the screen from his position. When Miriam spoke, her voice was like stone. "I will not be swayed from my course, Santiago. I will not allow sin to take root on this planet anymore than it has. Zhakarov found that out... and so shall you."

    "Ah, maledicta puta!"Santiago cursed. "Have it your way then!" She stood. "You'll find us a harder nut to crack than that old egghead! Oh... and one more thing Miriam. When you fight Sparta, you risk it all." She turned and aimed her shredder at Lal. "And you lose it all."

    She fired three times. Lal had just enough time to open his mouth. To scream? To curse her? Something for Miriam? Only the Lord knew. Santiago shot one shard into the man's skull and two in his chest, straight in his heart. The body spasmed once, then collapsed.

    After 200 years, more or less, and having travelled the sea of stars, Commissioner Pravin Lal died.

    Santiago gave the monitor a hard stare. "you ponder that, Sister Miriam. And if you decide to stop this senseless war, you know how to contact me." She aimed the shredder at the camera. "Santiago out." There was the sound of the shredder firing and then static.

    The room was empty, as always when Miriam had diplomatic talks. For some time Miriam stared at the static. Then she slowly, carefully got off the chair, making her way to the door.

    Outside, several people were waiting, Father Nielsen first among them. He looked concerned.

    "The Peacekeepers have fallen." Miriam said. "Pravin Lal is dead. Santiago killed him." she looked him in the eye. "The Crusade will continue."

    Father Nielsen nodded. "Understood sister." he looked around. "Everyone return to your posts or rest. You will hear about the steps to be taken in the morrow." With hushed acknowledgements and bows, the priests and laymen returned, leaving the two Earthborn alone in the austere hallway.

    "I failed him..." Miriam said when they were alone. "He is lost, Father Nielsen... he did not accept the Lord in his heart. He is lost." Nielsen wrapped an arm around her shoulder. There were tears in her eyes. Part of her chided her for her selfishness. She had seen hundred thousands Belivers come and go, and couldn't shed a tear for them anymore, yet she cried for Lal.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    The two Peacekeepers walked through the land south of UN Education Agency. For civilians to leave the base was dangerous in peaceful times, but these were not ordinary civilians.These were reporters.

    Granted, with a population of 1600 they couldn't be full time reporters, and the cameras affixed on their shoulders were cheap, but they were reporters nonetheless. With all the curiosity that came with it. And right now, they were investigating the going ons of a set of Believer priests that had left the base, as they had done before.

    They had tried to follow them, only to find the priests had arranged for speeders just out of the city. Now, the two of them had been following their trails for half the night and a good deal of the morning.

    "Hey, there someone's over there!" The front one said, pointing in the distance. As he said, a man was wandering aimlessly over the reddish ground. As they came closer, they saw he wore a uniform and carried a rifle. Which he aimed at the two as soon as he saw them.

    "Oh ****! Spartan!" The rear one said, raising his hands. "We're dead!"

    The front one also raised his hands, a terrified grin on his face. "Stay cool, he's alone... maybe... we can talk our way out of it."

    The Spartan came closer, hesitantly. The two peacekeepers saw he seemed disoriented and confused. Not a normal state for the disciplined folk. "Who are you?" He demanded, shifting his aim from one to the other.

    "Michael Lewis and Edward Harris, we're reporters from UN EA." He spoke. "You know, the base nearby."

    The man licked his lips, nodding. "Yes, yes that makes sense. Near the base. We were... we were oing to..." He seemed to think of something, then gave them a hard stare again. "Do you know who I am?" There was an edge of desperation in his voice.

    "Ehm... you look like a Spartan soldier?" said the reporter hesitantly.

    "Yes... no!" He said, then lowered his gun, clutching his head. "I... I'm not sure anymore..." He stood like that for a moment before raising his gun yet. "Stay where you are!"

    "I'm not moving." The front reporter said, curiosity replacing fear in his eyes. "Perhaps I can help you somehow. What do you mean, you're not sure?"

    "I... we... the Spartans they... they.... confused us. Maybe. I'm a man of... faith... but... I don't remember... ever going to church. They must have... wiped it, but... my memory is..." he shook his head. "My comrades they, they've gone to attack the other Spa... the Spartans... I don't know. They're all sure... but... I... I don't know anymore. I don't wanna be a traitor but I don't know who I'm loyal too anymore."

    The reporter nodded. "That's a pretty bad situation you're in." he spoke calmly. "Let's see if we can help you find out more. Tell me, when did you remember those things?"

    The Spartan lowered his gun again, frowning in concentration. "I... I... this night there was... I don't remember... there was a voice... and suddenly I remembered the Spartans tricking me and... There were men there... But... it's hard to remember. The guards were dead. Why were the guards dead?"

    The reporter spoke once more. "Tell me, those men... did they wear black with silver crosses... was there a grey haired man..."

    The mumbling Spartan fell silent for a moment, then nodded. "Yes... yes there was one... he... HE was the voice... there was his voice and... and blue eyes. And crosses, crosses everywhere... You know what happened?"

    The two reporters exchanged a look. The front one's eyes glimmered. "Oh, I think I have an idea. I know a doctor back at base. perhaps I should take you there. And see if we can be sure."

    The rear one was wide eyed in shock. "Sweet mercy, the Believers are. This is huge... Lewis, are you sure we should..."

    Lewis grinned. "Are you kidding? The fundies are brainwashing people into being religous? Oh, hell yeah, I'm sure this is something that's gota be known!"


    The reaction was as expected. The Peacekeeper population had been uncomfortable with the Believer zeal in battle, as well as the soldiers' tendency to vocally object to 'immoral' behaviour of the population. This was fuel on the fire. Hundreds of people protested, which was quite a large number considering the size of the base. Soldiers threathened to go on strike. The Believer Probe Team's residence at the local church was ransacked, and the same drugs found in the veins of the Spartans were found on their possession.

    Lal and Miriam were soon in contact.

    "Sister Godwinson... What... on Planet... did you do?" He looked harried and desperate.

    Miriam's lips were a thin line. "What was necessary, commisioner. The Spartans have numbers on their side. We won't win this war by playing fair."

    "You... brainwashed enemy soldiers... and then had them go on suicide missions!" He pinched the bridge of his nose.

    "Yes, we know. EVERYONE on Planet knows, because you can't keep your datalinks in check!" Miriam said with annoyance.

    "Miriam, the ends do not justify the means. I cannot accept this, and I will not gag my own population so your priests can go commit atrocities!"

    Miriam scowled. "Those 'atrocities' saved the lives of countless of men, yours and mine, Pravin. But fine... I'll withdraw our inquisitors. As soon as you let them out of jail that is. The foil should bring in reinforcements any moment now."

    "No, Miriam, I'm afraid... that's not how it's going to go." He sighed. "This pact of Brotherhood has been voided by your actions, Miriam. I want your foil to come and collect all of your troops... and withdraw from UN territory."

    Miriam's mouth fell open. "You cannot be serious. This is suicide. You cannot hope..."

    "I KNOW THAT!" Lal snapped. He leaned in his seat. "I know that. It's not my choice. I'd just kick those priests out and leave it at that but... the people have spoken. They want your troops out, now."

    Miriam slammed her hand on the table. "The fools! Lal, you can't let them..."

    "I can, and I will. They believe that it's better to try and defeat the Spartans, and perhaps lose and get conquered then... risk getting mindraped by your people."

    "You're our allies, we wouldn't... Are you just going to let them destroy everything you made?"

    Lal gave a sad smile. "No, Miriam, I'm going to make sure that what we made... we remained true to it till the end. I'd rather it end here, then that I destroy everything we stood for." He sighed. "The people have spoken, I will obey."

    Miriam sgihed, sounding defeated. "I... I see. It's a shame I never managed to convert you, Lal. You'd have made a fine priest."

    "You've got your cause, I've got mine. Sorry it had to be this way, Miriam. I'll free your priests as soon as the ship arrives. And take the Spartans you brainswashed with you as well. Lal out."

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    "So, what trade did you manage to make, Father Nielsen?" Miriam asked. She still had not spoken to Deirdre ever since finding out she controlled mindworms. Perhaps it was petty, but she still couldn't stomach the idea of speaking to her. And she worried what either of them would say.

    "A very interesting one... information about Planet and its creatures. We gave them our information on high energy chemistry we recently developped. A lot of their knowledge is academic, a lot of potential for the future, but no immediate use, and of course, filled with their mysticism. But their theories are sound, and there are three important practical uses."

    He looked at her back as Miriam looked out of the small window. It was raining heavily. It reflected Miriam's mood. Preparations to get people across the sea to the other continent were advancing too slow. And one of the priests had she grown fond of had died. And she hadn't cried.

    "The first one is the one Lady Skye was the most... enthusiastic about. We know that the Gaians have always been trying to minimize their influence on Planet. Well, apparently, with some help of their monstrous little friends, they've been finding out just what exactly IS causing changes to the ecosystems, except for the most obvious things."

    He smirked. "Then there's a whole lot of conjencture, speculation and assumptions, all leading to the conclusiion that we have to be very careful with the planet, and we'll get less mindworm attacks. Now where it gets interesting again is where they actually adapted their society. They've started putting hard limits on excavation, waste-production, fertilization, just about everything. They've even put limits on how many children people should have, though from what we've known, that one's likely a suggestion. For now, it seems to run.

    Now, I've looked over this and made some estimations of the effects on our colonies. Basically, we'd have to pretty much grind food production to 'just enough to feed the ones we have and a little more', and our industry'd get a serious beating. One thing the Gaians noticed, and I think that IS plausible, with resources limited like that, we can skip a lot of the controlling. If you know you're just going to have THAT much material and not more, you won't be wasting them."

    Miriam shook her head. "No, we're in the middle of a war. Closing factories is NOT an option. Besides, Planet shall bend to our will, not the other way around. Let those mindworms come. We'll wipe them all out sooner or later. Besides, we have nothing but their word for it. They've shown how much they can be trusted."

    Father Nielsen nodded. "As you say, sister. The second practical application then... well, I really don't think we shall be using that one." He coughed. "The Gaians know enough of mindworms now to... breed them. And now so do we."

    "WHAT?" Miriam turned around. "We're trying to wipe that scourge of the Planet and she's making MORE of them?"

    Nielsen didn't look in the least surprised by the outburst. "At least once to have these test results. They've had a few mock combats and it seems they listen to orders well enough if matched to a..."

    "No. Over my dead body shall we fight side by side with those beasts! Sparta shall fall, but it will be thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of our righteous knights, not her pet monsters!" She sat down.

    Nielsen nodded. "I figured so. Even Lady Deirdre seemed disturbed to offer the suggestion, but I believe she hopes that we shall be more kindly disposed to the mindworms, and Planet, if they've showed themselves useful to us. I did tell her that we were not as... pragmatic as Zhakarov."

    He continued. "The third part of the investigation. We've known for decades the existance of telepathy, as one of the powers of the mindworms. The Gaians, thanks to their... bonding... with the creatures have managed to make some discoveries. Humans that had a gift for communicating with mindworms often had other talents as well. Nothing to the extent of the rampages of the mindworms, but more subtle. Mindreading, putting influence on minds, some illusions" The researcher sounded somewhat excited now. "They've found ways to find latent telepaths and train them. In fact, they seem to be gathering all of them in an organization."

    Miriam frowned. "Telepaths. That is... useful information. Is it known whether those talents can arise spontaneously?"

    Nielsen shook his head. "There have been no confirmed cases, but there's always stories. Still, these things will become known soon enough. If the Gaians could discover it, so can others. Also, this might very well be a boon in the war, I'm thinking mainly of our Inquisitors."

    Miriam nodded. "You speak wisdom Father Nielsen. Organize the tests among the flock. But keep discrete. These powers may tempt one and doom their souls. I want each trained empath to be an ordained priest." Nielsen opened his mouth. "I know Father Nielsen, if these talents have genetic origin, we shall likely be limiting their number, but I rather have less empaths, than rogue empaths twisting people's minds."

    "I'll see it done, Sister." Nielsen said.


    The people in UN Education Agency were gathered for the transport foil to arrive. It had been a long time since there had been good news. The land around the base had long since been razed by Spartans, and the barely two thousand citizens hardly had enough for themselves. And with the Spartans regularly attacking the base, all industry went to producing weapons.

    Still, the feelings were decidedly mixed. Lal had known he couldn't outright lie about the nature of Believer society, and many felt this was a 'deal with the devil' But with the Spartans banging on the door, the few complaints were mostly ignored.

    The Believer foil entered the airlock, the entered the breathable air of the Peacekeeper docks. Moments later, a hundred crusaders marched into the base, led by their knight-captain. Swords at their side and lasers on their back. That last thing was noticed, and caused looks of dissapointement among the people. Their own soldiers, as well as the Spartans, had been using Impact weaponry for some time.

    As the Knight Captain was welcomed by Commisioner Pravin Lal himself, a few more people came out. They were all dressed in blck, crosses hanging from their nexks, carrying suitcases. Lal shook the captain's hand and sent him to the barracks to meet his Peacekeeper comrades before going to meet them. "Father," He said, bowing his head slightly in respect to the oldest of them, walking in front. "Welcome to UN Education Agency. I regret that we cannot welcome you with the luxury we would have liked."

    The leader of the priests, a broad, grey-haired man, bowed his head in return. "Too much luxury sickens the soul, High-commisioner. We thank you for your welcome. I am Father Killpatrick. We've come here to provide spiritual support for the troops that will come, as well as any citizens that might need it."

    Lal nodded. "Be most welcome then. I do not know if you wish to stay in the barracks? We could also ask for the local churches to host you? Though I do not know how great your theological differences with them are."

    The man smiled. "Oh, I'm sure that as men of God, we should be able to peacefully compare our views. Staying in the church seems like a wonderful suggestion. Perhaps we'll even ask to use it for services."

    Some more words were exchanged and the men left. Moments later, the colonists returned to their work. Pravin spoke to one of his agents. "Keep an eye on the local church. Don't do anything." He stroked his beard. "Eight priests for hundred men. Of course, there's more to come but still..."


    A few nights later, a few hundred kilometres to the west, two Spartans were standing guard. They didn't banter or dozed, one of them carrying IR goggles as they scanned the night. At the other side of the camp stood two others, while two more circled the building.

    Just as the two circling the camp left, movement came from the bushes as another Spartan came towards them. The one that had been hiding out in the wilderness. He calmly came towards the two Spartans.

    "What's the matter, Guido?" asked one of them.

    The other man was silent as he came closer, pointing at his filter.

    "Oh, the breather, password and I'll let you in."

    In the meantime, the guards encircling reached the other side, and moved to return.

    "What's the matter?" sounded in the radio.

    "Guido's filter is malfunctioning. Coming in soon." The man answered.

    "Come on, Guido, give us the passw... wha..."

    And then 'Guido' suddenly lashed out, his fist slamming with force in the Spartan's throat. At exactly the same time, a series of shredders silently flew through the air and faultlessly buried themselves in the other guard's skull.

    'Guido' knelt by the door, quickly placing a device on the lock and furiously typing, ignoring the words from the radio and the other guards, who started running towards them as soon as they heard the two 'thuds' of the bodies hitting the ground. Nor did he pay attention to six other shadows that came from the sparsely covered ground around them.

    More silent shots took care of the rest of the guards, just as both the airlock doors were forced open, letting nitrogen saturated air into the barracks just as the inside guard screamed the alarm. She managed to raise his particle rifle and fire off a few shots before a bomb fell inside and hissed as it released a gas. Soon, she fell, and the awakened Spartan soldiers returned to their slumber.


    Sergeant Nichols woke up with the feel of a slight sting in her neck. As she opened her eyes, a second sting just above it pierced her. Abruptly, she felt the awakening of her mind stopping. Mutely, a thought rose. drugged Immediately she started fortifying her mind. Spartans were trained to resist interrogation.

    "Sergeant, can you hear me?" came the voice. It was a warm and friendly voice, coming from the grey haired man in front of her. She saw a silver cross hanging from his neck. the Believers have arrived. HQ must know. bubbled vaguely through her head.

    "Sergeant... Jean Nichols, epsilon sqaed, serial number... 5468." she said. She had to gain time. By dawn someone would come to investigate. she looked around, trying to get information. One grey haired priest, still with that friendly smile, two more with guns on her. One was treating the injury of another. So she had hit one. her eyes then went to one that was staring intently at her. And met his blue eyes. And she suddenly felt unable to look away.

    "We haven't come to interrogate you, sergeant, we've come to help you." She felt her mental defences against the drugs weakening. A sliver of fear rose, but the combination of chemicals in her veins and those blue eyes soothed it.

    "Sergeant... Jeaan... Ni.... chols...." mechanism, don't listen to them... she was a Spartan! She could.... blue eyes.

    The voice was closer now. "you're confused, let me help you. I'm here to help you remember."

    Remember... she had forgotten? Spartan, she was Spartan... blue eyes... had to resist... "esi... lun....s...." it was hard to think....

    "You're a good woman, sergeant. Good, steadfast and loyal. Faithful. Who are you loyal to?"

    She knew that. She had known. But she couldn't remember, she kept looking in the blue eyes, trying to find the answer. She was loyal but... there was something wrong. She couldn't remember. There was a symbol... an arrow downward, but it was blurring... and spinning... upside down.... arrow upward... "I.... am loyal... to.... to..." her voice sounded so far away, while the other voice sounded close. but she couldn't answer, why couldn't she answer?

    "shhht... don't worry... it's okay... people have been confusing you. But I'm here to help. You serve God, sergeant. The God that created Heaven and Planet." The voice sounded reverent. "He loves you, sergeant, and He wants you to serve Him."

    There was something weird... blue eyes, but yeah... they'd been trying to confuse her, so that was normal... wasn't it? The arrow upward changed, the diagonal lines at the top straightening, then lowering. A cross. She felt herself vaguely nodding. She was confused, someone had tricked her. A good thing there was the voice to explain things.

    And the blue eyes to calm her down.


    The next morning they left for the north. There were Spartans there. Their captain answered the confused reports from the other group's captain. Sergeant Nichols gave a grim smile. They had tricked them into fighting against God, it was only fair they'd return the favour.

    Then the signal was given, and Sergeant Nichols shouldered her rifle and shot one of the Spartans head off.

    "Burn in hell!" She cried out, her shout drowned out by the cries of rage of her comrades, and the surprised and outraged screams of the godless Spartans. She knew they were alarming the troops further north, and that soon they'd come, and they'd be between hammer and anvil. They'd all die.

    But she didn't mind dying for the Lord. After, she was a Believer.


    In the meantime, the group of Inquisitors made their way back to the Peacekeeper base, carrying some Impact weapons that were to be sent back home with the foil. The Believers would soon enough fight with equal weapons.

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  • goldenerasuburb
    "It's the end of the line for me." Kauffman thought, as he sat down before the interrogator, who with the lights dim and Kauffman tied down and blindfolded spat on him. He was being charged with attempting to blow up Headquarters and he knew very well that he was guilty. He had made almost no mistake. The plan was almost flawless. From the obtaining of explosives from a renegade Knight to the organizing of a group of people willing to do the job, to the place ment of the bombs. But the one mistake he had made was not making sure his daughter was asleep. It was her that told on him, that doomed the project from the outset.
    Then he got right to the point. "Right now we've already got enough to execute you. But luckily for you, since we're at war with the Spartans, you have a second option..." Kauffman interrupted "You want me go on this crusade against the Spartans in exchange for my freedom. How many ways can I say no? Let's see; No, No way, Not a chance, I'd rather be have mind worms plant their eggs in my skull..." At this the interrogator got angry. "LISTEN SCUM! You can either help carry out God's will, or die horrifically, which come to think of it, I'd rather see you do. Now pick yourself. Your wife wasn't given anything half as good as you're getting..." This caught Kauffman's attention. "Leave her out of this!" The interrogator shrugged. "Sorry, but she refused to cooperate no matter what I said. So she dies... Unless, of course, you have something to say about it. What do you say?" And with that Kauffman submitted, and became part of the crusade.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    I've taken plenty of chronological liberties here again, for story purposes

    The next years were blessedly calm.

    The alliance with Deirdre had ended, the suspicion towards them grew with every year, and on the other hand the Gaians had griped about the end of the democracy. The message had been given indirectly, Miriam and Deirdre hadn't spoken since last time.

    Honestly, Miriam considered allowing the democratic constitution to become active again. Without the University as a threat, and people calming down, there was something to say to allow God's People to take some more control of their own bases. But she decided to wait until the people from the University were fully integrated in their society, and then reconsider it.

    The road network between the bases grew, and one could travel from Terrible Swift Sword, deep in the Monsoon Jungle, to Valley of the Faithful by speeder. It still wasn't a casual thing to do, but people became more mobile. Teraformers worked year after year. Bit by bit, the planet was tamed.

    With the war over, there was time to consider several projects. Some of them did not even reach Miriam, except to inform her of their rejection. The project to adapt the genome of the people to increase the quality of man sounded like the act of hubris only Zhakarov would do, and the other idea about having teraformers work in harmony with Planet sounded more like something Deirdre would come up with. But another project was more interesting.

    The Virtual World it was called. It was based on techniques found in two of the alien artifacts, ginving them a much more efficient way to program it. Each and every single Network Node would allow its citizens to step into... well, a virtual world, all at the same time. People would hear, see, even feel the things there.

    Then there was the merchant exchange. The economy had continued to develop. The Conclave kept a strong hold on the vital industries and agriculture, making sure that no matter what happened, no Believer would be reduced to poverty. But as new inventions were made and new luxuries became available, trade increased. Terrible Swift Sword, End of Darkness and Throne of God sold wooden statues, Voice Of God took full advantadge to the Cain and the Abel nearby and even House of Martyrs managed to scrounge things from their relatively barren lands, not to mention their close connections to the Gaians. Energy had become a mature currency. And now they would construct a place where all that trade could be centralized.

    Because energy was getting scarce. The Believer Faction was spreading wide, as Miriam had wished, but parts of the Conclave had seriously underestimated the job of al lthe elected governments in keeping the economy running. Those people had been able to carry the effort in controlling the economy of their cities. Now, countless of manhours, megajouls and space was used up in priests trying to run an economy. Father Nielsen, normally unflappable had been known to lose his temper a few times thinking of all the things his team could have done with the wasted energy. Both proponents of a more free market approach and a return to a democratic model lobbied. Miriam listened to them and told them she'd consider. And she did.

    Part of her disliked the idea of letting loose the free market and all its sinfulness. She disliked greed, but then, she also disliked sloth, and many of the citizens, no longer faced with immediate dangers of starvation were
    slacking off, which meant more effort had to be given to controls, which meant bureaucracy, waste of energy and Father Nielsen being grouchy. Miriam would wait, for now, once the last weeds born of Zhakarov's seeds had perished, there would be elections, and then she would consider.

    And then, near Time of Salvation at the end of the 22nd century, an alarm was given. A rover was appraching from the south. The rovers stopped once they came in reach of the colony.

    "This is Time Of Salvation, unidentified craft, do you copy?"

    "We copy... Holy crap, we didn't expect more people to have survived! This is Captain Beauregard, UN expeditonary Force. Please, tell me you're not Spartans."

    "UN? Spartans?" The man on the other end was stunned. Both of those names were parts of stories told. Things their grandparents knew about. "No, we're not Spartans... eh... we'll send someone. Can you contact your leader, we'll contact ours." The man put down his microphone. "UN and Spartans? Dear Lord, we've got ghosts of the past coming by for a visit. Sir, I think we'll need to contact the Conclave."


    The third time... Miriam thought. The third time she was about to speak to a new group. A new leader

    The third time she would meet someone she thought to have buried. Pravin Lal. And with him, the UN. The thoughts gave her butterfly and cramps in her stomach, each in turn.

    Pravin Lal was a good man, and more survivors were a thing to rejoice, but unlike Deirdre, this time the flag of the UN was flown. The UN that she had betrayed a century ago.

    She really did not want to go to war with Pravin Lal.

    The technician to the right gave a signal. Miriam held the cross on he rneck, gave a quick prayer and nodded. The screen came on.

    Pravin Lal looked just like the last time she had seen him.

    The last time she had seen him was on board of the Unity, seeing the entire mission fall apart.

    But he smiled widely when he saw her, as a thirsting man seeing water. I'm sorry, Pravin, but I'm not what you think I am

    "Miriam!" He said. "I'm so glad you're still alive! Same way as I am, I suppose?"

    Miriam nodded, feeling a smile on her lips, though it was somewhat sad. "The grace of the Lord, with Zhakarov's invention as His tool. I'm glad to see you too, Pravin."

    "It took us a long time to find each other, Liuetenant Commander, but I'm glad to see someone of the old crew again! And I can tell you, we couldn't have found you at a better time!"

    Miriam breathed in. He'd find out, best to get this over with. "Pravin... there are things you should know. I... do not consider myself part of the Mission anymore. I've encountered Deirdre, and she feels the same way."

    Pravin's face was everything she had feared. "No, Miriam, not you too. We can't let it all happen all over again, the wars, the divisions. We both have seen where that leads to."

    "We both have seen the horrors of war, Pravin, but it is just part of the wages of sin. I... would like humanity to be united. Especially with these mindworms. But if we unite, we must be a virtuous union." She licked her lips. "The UN lacks in virtue."

    Lal's shoulders sagged. "Please Miriam, tell me at least you're respecting your citizen's freedoms. That what you said doesn't mean you're going the way of the CSA?"

    Miriam breathed in and out. "For a few decades, we did have free elections. But war broke out, and people abused their freedoms. Perhaps they will be reinstated one day."

    "War?" Lal said. "War with whom?" His face was growing ashen, and he looked his age suddenly.

    "Zhakarov." Miriam said, feeling as if each word she was a bullet firing in the man she would have liked to call friend. "I could not tolerate him corrupting souls. It is done now. Though he escaped."

    There was a long silence.

    "I... can't say I'm sorry Pravin. I do what I know is the righteous course. But... I do regret hurting you. I know you believe in this, I know you are a good man. I want to... help you. The Lord knows we can ill afford to quarrel. But even for our friendship, I cannot step away from what I know is right, nor will I try to hide it from you. I am Sister Miriam Godwinson, leader of the Conclave of the Lord's Believers."

    Finally, Pravin spoke in a dead voice. "So be it. I... I don't know if I can ever forgive this, Miriam, but as leader, I have to think of my people. Sister Godwinson... we need your help."

    Miriam nodded. "I heard soemthing about Spartans."

    Pravin nodded. "They've survived. Santiago survived. They've attacked us. We lost our headquarters to them. They razed it to the ground. We're under siege now. We've got two bases left. We can't hold them. We sent those rovers to see if they could find a place for us to flee to but... I don't think we have the time to get out of here."

    Miriam felt a fire stir in her. Santiago. She too lived. "You will have my help, Commisioner Pravin Lal." he said. "Where do we send people."


    It was on Planetfall, the first day of the 23rd century that Sister Miriam inaugurated the Virtual World project. Countless of cities had been building network nodes while the project was undertaken.

    And so, Miriam was standing on the top of a virtual platform that stood on a balcony of a church of New-Jeruzalem, looking down at tens of thousands of people, or rather, virtual representations of people, each staring up at her.

    "Good people!" She said. "Today, we look back upon what we have wrought, and we allow ourselves not sinful pride, but satisfaction. One century after we have arrived here, desperate survivors from a degenerated world, here on this hostile planet, we look upon this world and smile. For with the help of the Lord, we have started to tame this world.

    We now no longer fear every day for humanity's survival, for we are spread wide, and our power to destroy beasts that threaten us grows daily. We have reclaimed much of what we have lost, and gain what we never had, and yet, we remain humble, know that we should give thanks to the Lord each day in prayer, and in virtuous deed. So, shall we continue to flower.

    But there is yet another challenge. And I look upon the youths here. You are, mostly, of the sixth generation. Each generation before has had a challenge.The rigours of Planetfall, the discovery of mindworms, the tragedies as some bases were taken, the war with the sinful University. Now too, have you your challenge."

    She pointed west. "There, west of Terrible Swift Swords are a peaceful people. You have heard of them, as rumors spread. The Peacekeepers, and their leader, Pravin Lal, long though dead. They are under attack. Not by mindworms, but by other men. Men that are still known for their actions on board the Unity. Spartans!"

    "Spartans, a name that stands for brutality, tyranny and arrogant pride in their prowess. Their leader is still Santiago, an evil that has come with us from Earth, kept alive so it could test us." She held her cross. "We shall overcome them. The Spartans of ancient times were fearsome, but they were heathen, and thus they fell, as all godless nations will. I call upon you, to face a great challenge. I call upon you in a CRUSADE, to go west, far from your homes, and fight a people who have taken their names from a people that lived to fight, and vanquish them!"

    "Brave young Chrisitan soldiers, knights! Shall you rise to the challenge?"

    And all over the continent, in the network nodes, people roared.
    Last edited by Rand Al'Tor; March 29, 2007, 06:35.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    Kauffman had been someone once. He had been a young, talented researcher. He had several plans for desgins that would have helped the University stand up to the Believers. Not too long before the fall he had even gotten married. The man laid in his couch as he nursed the old memories. Late nights in the labs, frustration one day, elation the next. He had barely given the war his attention. He had been so sure that they would defeat Miriam's hounds, even with one of their two cities fallen. That had been a sneak attack. Zhakarov would show her how much prayers helped against technological superiority.

    Except their soldiers didn't have much in the way of technological superiority. He remembered litte of that last night, but he had talked to some of the soldiers. The 'Knights' of the Believers came with Laser 'bows' and sinthmetal 'plate'. They came in the hundreds (historically he was aware that was a very small army for human standards, but he was used to a couple of thousands being his entire Faction) and they were good. The attack came just before dawn. They knew the layout of the streets. Any attempt to ambush them was pointless. And their soldiers seemed to know no fear of death. The soldiers he had talked to had almost wept in frustration and shame. They had felt like a bunch of children compared to the crack Believer Troops.

    When the escape pod had launched, the defenders, military and civilians alike, had surrendered. Kauffman still had mixed feelings. Part of him felt betrayed. Zhakarov had abandonned them, taking a couple of hundreds with him and leaving the rest of them at the mercy of Miriam. But the other part hoped that the Provost would return one day and get his revenge.

    The battle itself hadn't lasted long. By the time the first sun had been good and well over the horizon, one of their knights had called for a gathering. It hadn't been the Knight that had done the talking but a priest. He had 'welcomed' them all among the Believers. Kaufman had barely listened. He had been plotting a way to overthrow, or at least sabotage them then.

    Things hadn't gone as he expected. He had expected a police state, knights watchmen and priest taskmasters enslaving the people.

    No, in fact, very little had changed. The existing economic infrastructure was adapted slightly, but food, medical treatment and all necessities of life were still provided for. Some new laws came in effect, and a few protests came in reaction, but, Kauffman had realized in the coming years, for the people that worked the farms and the factories, little had changed. The University had played with the idea of democracy, but the infrastructure just hadn't been there. So after some years, many of the populace just continued with their lives, as if nothing had happened. They went to church on sundays and parroted 'amen' when the priests said so. Likely some of them had even taken to the worship.

    But Kaufman saw the things that were happening. The first, most radical change was the data links. They had been there for the University citizens almost since Planetfall. Almost al lthe knowledge of the University was available to any of its citizens. The Believers had changed THAT quick. Before he had the time to make back-ups or backdoors, the changes started. pages were replaced by error messages, and the links later removed. Programmer friends told him that backdoors and dumped information was searched out and destroyed. By the time the University datalinks were allowed within the harsh firewalls of the Believer network, they was a shadow of their former selves. Research came to a standstill at University Base, or 'Hour of Forgiveness' as they called it now.

    The second change was perhaps the most painful. Once the schools had been glorious places, where children were encouraged to excell and compete, knowing that a man was judged by the knowledge he had, and the new knowledge he could create. Now, they just were an extension of the churches, quite literarely, as it were the same priests who preached that taught.

    The priests, he hated them, more than he hated the knights who had conquered and killed. The knights looked grim, with flames of anger behind stoic expressions, some still believing ridiculous stories that Zhakarov had commanded mindworms. But the priests, with their damn friendly smiles... They had come to him as well, talking about their religion. He had kept quiet, though the way he had acted they obviously knew what he thought of their 'faith'. But they had just given their smug, condescending PITYING smiles and said they'd pray for his soul.

    It was a public secret that most of University Base was still atheist. But it was not one that was talked about. Some people had talked in public about it, and found themselves arrested. Some had tried to pass it to their children, but the priest-teachers friendly voices and warm smiles got children to talk of doubts, and a handful of parents had been given to 'godparents' in New Jeruzalem. So the University People just sneered at the cross in private and nursed their lack of faith in their hearts. One day... one day Zhakarov would return.

    Kauffman's wife had been pregnant the day University Base fell. Their daughter was a bright girl. She had learned to talk months before expected.

    While going to the bathroom, he had heard muttering for her chamber, peeking through, he saw his little girl kneeling at her bedside, and could make out her words. "...and I pray that mommy and daddy see Your light so they'll go to Your kingdom, amen."

    he hadn't talked about it with his wife, he just sat in his couch. Miriam had won. By the time Zhakarov made it back, University Base would be gone. It would be Hour of Forgiveness, and his children, or his children's children would be fighting against him.

    He wept bitter tears.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    (Note, because I don't feel like keeping notes, or give year by year descriptions, I'm now working with a 'play until an important moment, then describe the last years, describing things in the order that suits the story. So, you might notice that Miriam instals a fundamentalist society before secrets of the Human Brain are discovered.)


    Some 20 years after Miriam had buried the penukimate passenger on the doomed colony pod. By now, she was burying the first generation already. She had allowed herself to stop keeping track of it. That way led to despair.

    The war against Zhakarov was over. They had taken his cities with almost no losses in two one sided battles.

    And yet the last 20 years had been sad ones.

    Mindworms, always those mindworms. The hatred for the creatures pervaded the entire Believer Faction now.

    A massive wave of the creatures had assaulted Throne of God, overwhelming the garrison inthere, as well as a team of formers that had been constructing a road to aid the march of the armies. An group of hundred Knighs turned away from Zhakarov's cities to help, but even they fell. Then the rest of the mindworms fell upon the population. Hunderds upon hunderds of people were killed. Many of the survivors were insane, and even those that remained with their sanity intact mostly requested to move towards another colony. Already stories rose about ghosts, or ghastly crimes that had called for such wrath.

    And then there was Hallowed Ground. Miriam tightened her fists until the knuckles went white. More than a thousand men women and children, including a garrison, that had just been placed. Gone. Miriam had been in her tank when it happened, and visiting the place had been first on the agenda.

    Even with the corpses cleaned up, and the salvageable equipment taken back, the empty buildings still stood as giant gravestones. Miriam had wept there.

    She had been somewhat relieved at that. She had buried too many people that she had baptized and wed, and was starting to become inured to it.

    Then there had been the riots. Miriam scowled. That had been worse in a way. There were various reasons. Some of the citizens simply could not accept the new economic model, and that worsened when the Central Laymen Command started developping more economic theories, and the requirements for a society run on free market rose. And as factories rose, and population sprawled, some people started to protest damage caused to the environment.

    And of course, some people just started to fall from faith. Many fathers were away from home to advance on Zhakarov, and the new democratic rule and larger population caused children in the larger cities to grow up without proper guidance.

    There had been riots. In the Rapture and Godwinson's Hope, two of the oldest colonies, several groups had begun rioting. Free Market proponents had picketed stores, Eco-activists had blocked factories, factory workers, many of them having a 'free day' used this time to cause all sort of trouble, taking advantadge of the police force and garrison's trouble in keeping the order. Even some of the churches had been defiled.

    Miriam and the conclave had acted. The CLC was relieved of its duties as the Conclave took full control of the economy. Rights in the constitution were 'indefinately suspended'. There was a thorough restyling of the education system, with all teaching now to be done only by priests, or lay teachers approved by the Conclave.

    There was some grumbling, but many had welcomed the change. Miriam still held the hearts of many. And the clergy of The Lord's Believers was well developped by now, filled wtih the brightest and most charismatic of their faction.

    And also, on occasion, cunning. They had introduced her to 'the inquisitors'. While their role migth have some comparitions with the inquisitors of old, their tools didn't. The team of six men contained experts in electronic warfare, espionage, burglary and persuasion. Each of the men were chosen for talents and the depth of their faith. Father Nielsen had personally overseen their training, and was busy training a second team. In private he confided her that the men had ended up even more dedicated than he had hoped, or feared.

    It were to be those men that would cause the war to erupt. Travelling through the jungle, they had made their way to Akova Discovery. At night they slipped through the perimeter the army had made. Their leader had reported that the mission had been laughably easy. The University Datalinks seemed to think Security was a dirty word, and the inquisitors had trained on the fiercest firewalls that kept the flock of the Believers from seeing things that might harm their soul. And so, they came back with detailed information about brain functions.

    Among others it described the effects of Lithium on the human brain. Miriam had been ready to wipe it all before Father Nielsen checked her.

    They had also left a little gift. As the Probe team left, several of the monitors in the city had suddenly a message displayed.

    Judgement has come.

    Thirty minutes later the Two divisions of Knights and the Twenty Rovers had stormed the city. The battle was short and one sided, and after fifty minutes of dying, retreating and barricading, the University Troops surrendered. Some parts of the population had tried to repel them as well, and certain vital parts of infrastructure were damaged, leading to many casualties.

    And of course, the fighting men had been preparing for years for this battle. Knight-Captain Hikori, who was in charge of the attack, had several of the more blasphemous citizens executed on the spot. Miriam regretted it, but these people had been led astray for decades, subject to arrogant scientists mocking all faith, without anyone to lead them back. It would take more than friendly words from priests to convert them.

    Miriam sighed. She had managed a long time without this, but one did what was necessary.

    But then, there had been a worse shock.


    Knight-Sergeant Philips was leading his men to scout the northern edge of Akova Discovery for fleeing troops. The men had been flush with victory and sang several songs describing how Zhakarov would have to explain how he was beaten so badly to the devil, when a frightening noise was heard.


    The man had not hesitated, and perhaps somewhat too eager had attacked, hoping to cathch it 'sleeping' and returning with a bounty of Planetpearls.

    The first surprise was when the mindworm retreated. That had never been seen before. Of course it only caused the men to pick up the pace of their pursuit. Flame guns belching flame in anticipation.

    A pursuit which stopped dead when, out of the teeming mass emerged a human figure, as if the boil had just given birth to a human female. A human which promptly raised her hands and called for them not to shoot.

    It took the sergeant all his authority to prevent the soldiers from killing her on the spot. Here, finally, was the proof that it was the University that was responsible for the thousands upon thousands of dead.

    And then came the third shock.

    The woman was a Gaian.


    "Give me one reason why I shouldn't torch your bases to the ground Deirdre!" Miriam had been furious. The men had brought the Gaian back in bounds, and the mindworm was tolerated only because it was carying several incidentary grenades on it. There was no way this news could be kept silent.

    "We were waiting to discover more, Miriam. But I swear to you, it were not our mindworms that attacked our cities. They were scouting there. We've found the University's Headquarters." Deirdre looked pale.

    "How would you know? Do you create these things?"

    "No!" Deirdre said. "Look... we've lost people to mindworms too, but sometimes, when we find them sleeping, mindworms have... communicated with us. Like a voice in people's minds instead of the horrid images. And after a while, they decided to follow us." As she spoke, a soft smile came to her lips. "I heard they can hear our thoughts from far away, and while often they attack, in some cases, they're just curious."

    Miriam balled her fists. "Curious? Or gaining intelligence for some alien masters or worse! Deirdre, have you taken complete leave of your senses? These creatures are a plague upon this world!"

    Deirdre's smile turned sad. "We are the aliens here, Miriam. And if Planet is a body, we are the plague. But it doesn't always have to be like this. If we can befriend them, so can you. We think it has a lot to do with our relation with Planet that the mindworms are friendlier to us."

    "Don't, Deirdre. Don't tell me to 'live in harmony' again." She breathed and held her forehead. "You keep those... creatures out of our territory. That woman of yours got lucky, the next one might burn with the worms. For now, I'll leave things as they are, but if I find out you're playing me for a fool Deirdre, you'll suffer worse than Zhakarov. You might also want te retrieve your ambassador. I cannot guarantee his safety from the fall-out from this. Miriam out."

    That had been some years ago. Since then, they had talked again. Technologies were exchanged, and Miriam even gave Deidre a loan, as her own energy reserves were high. Still, the backlash was hard, and decades of goodwill were lost in a matter of weeks.

    And now, University Base had fallen as well. And yet, final victory had been robbed from them. The Provost had managed to construct an escape capsule, including his sarcophagus and a sizable portion of his populace.

    He left a message.

    "You all but destroyed the greatest thing I have ever made for your delusions, Miriam, and proven that intelligence cannot stand if enough fools are put against it. If I ever believed in a god, I'd pray now that you and your mindless drones become food for the mindworms, you and your little green lap dog. Know that if we ever meet again, I'll make sure I'll have weapons you won't even have seen in your fevered dreams."

    And so, Miriam now walked through University Base, looking at the disgruntled faces of its citizens, partiularly the old intellectual elite and upper middle class were hostile.

    It seemed that conquering the bases was going to be the easy part of this war.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    Miriam had thought the years after the discovery of the Gaians were grim, but they were nothing compared to the resolve shown when the third faction was revealed. The Planetborn had been raised on stories of Earth, and those that had ruined it. Godless scientists filled with hubris had been prominent in those stories. And now, it appeared, they were here with them. And unlike the Gaians, this time the Believers were less divided.

    Even Miriam felt it. The University of Planet were the worst mistakes of Earth that had followed them. And sooner or later, they would have to face it. Over the last years, Knights had been trained to use the new synthmetal armour, as well as the use of new laser weapons for which plans had been found by their small ship. None of these helped against mindworms. The decision had already been taken, now it was merely a matter of executing it.

    The first step had been finding Zhakarov. That had been easier than expected. The scouts that had been sent west had discovered a fertile and rainy jungle. Taveling through it, they had found that one of their cities was on the northern end. Troops there had been atacked by mindworms though, and the University was subject to the same suspicions as the Gaians. It did sound like something Zhakarov would do.

    When a colony Pod bound east from Divinity Base encountered mindworms and had to rush back to its protection, and only a desperate stand from a surprised garrison could save the colony. Still, the mindworms, so close had caused panic in the city as civilians, men, women and chidlren were exposed to the terrifying effects. The garrison suffered worse, and was decimated. The news spread, and more and more people started to believe that someone was steering the mindworms.

    However, with methods of communication becoming easier, especially between the Gaians and Believers, the distrust towards Deirdre and her followers had abbated somewhat. And so, the two leaders had met in New Jeruzalem and signed a pact of sisterhood between their factions. Stories were exchanged, products were showcased and Lady Deirdre even attended the morning mass. There were reports that the Gaians seemed to be avoiding the subject of mindworms as much as possible, but that wasn't thought strange. And swiftly forgotten as Deirdre brought with her the know-how, data and material to expand the networks, and causing a rebirth of the internet, or, as the Gaians called it 'Datalinks'.

    The technique caused serious waves in the Beliver society. Each colony had more or less operated on its own, drifting towards a more egalitarian or meritocratic economic model, but with most cities barely two thousand people in size, and each city hardly able to communicate with others, there had been little need for too much economic development. As the new technology spread, some governors proposed that all colonies would plan their economy's together, and a central organ would coordinate the allocation of raw materials and food. Detractors pointed out the inefficiency, both sides claimed the moral high ground and defended their principles in fiery debate. Some Belivers, mostly those freindly with Gaians, suggested that perhaps more care should be taken with their Promised land, and suggested a more 'green' approach.

    In the end, with the rudimentary economy in place, and Planet still an unknown quantity, those that proposed a central organ to steer the economy won out, winning the elections. Miriam, in her sermons, had given her tacit approval of the move. For the coming battles, they would need all production and all the people they could get.

    But as they geared themselves up for war, Miriam still kept scouting more. The scouts up north had discovered that the body of water to the west of New jeruzalem was not a small sea, seperating the two continents as they had initially assumed, but rather a bay, with New Jeruzalem at the mouth. The scouts had reached the far end, and now approached the University from the east. In the south, some scouts had found a second alien artifact. With the Monolith north of the Rapture a place many Believers tried to approach at least once in their lives, their reaction was less panicked than the discovery so many years ago. Mindworms and the University were on people's minds. The possibility of a hostile advanced native population was no longer considered after so many years. Most of the men believed the artifact to be another gift from the angels, and Miriam didn't discount the possibility. And so, she didn't keep the discovery a secret, and arranged for the other ancient artifact to be 'discovered' as well.

    One more thing.

    Paulina Romero was of Brazilian origin. She was one of the younger crew on the Unity, picked for her excellent physical condition as well as her talent for electronics.

    Miriam didn't remember meeting her before launch. It had been a franctic period.

    She had been in the damaged pod, and had been one of the survivors of Planetfall.

    Miriam remembered her there, she thought. In a dark corner, shaking quietly, but there had not been a tear in her eyes until Miriam had spoken to her.

    In the early years, she had busily helped scavenging their materials for electronics to keep New Jeruzalem operational. She had met Shawn Heatherdy, a programmer from Birmingham, and had married him 15 months after Planetfall.

    They'd been one of the three couples to be married that day. It was raining, and there was no material for a dress, but she had looked radiant.

    Paulina had six children, one of whom died at age three. She continued to fix broken electronics as best as she was able to, as well as develop some of her own, togerher with her husband, in her spare time. She lost her husband to disease at age fifty.

    Births and funerals. After a while, they all started to blur. Especially after her own close shave with death. But she remembered the funeral of that woman's husband. She mostly remembered being surprised at how old she looked. She still remembered her as a young woman.

    And now, she was dead, aged 86, and Miriam spoke at her funeral.

    It was not a funeral she would forget.

    Not counting Father Nielsen and herself, Paulina had been the last Earthborn.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    The year 2144 had been going well all in all. The first length of road east of New Jeruzalem, the discovery of diagrams to build proper networks in a rusted pod from the Unity, and the establishment of yet another base.

    And then Deirdre has transmitted a message. Miriam had gladly accepted and greeted her. Initially the news had been the greatest news of the last years. More humans had survived and Deirdre had found contact.

    Miriam had missed the wary look in Deirdre's eyes, so the name had hit her out of the blue.

    Prokhor Zhakarov.

    The Science Officer.

    Her smile had died on her lips. He lives yet? The surprise had not been as complete as it could have been. Sure, normally he should have been dead, but then, so should she. And he had been the one who had designed the sarcophagusses after all.

    Old memories came bubbling back as Deirdre told about their meeting. Zhakarov had never liked Deirdre, had been opposed to her presence on the Unity, claiming she was irrational and overly mystical inclined. With a sad smile, Deirdre had said his attitude hadn't changed, and any hopes the old Russian had seen the light as he fell from the heavens were dashed.

    She really should not be so dissappointed that he and his men had lived. With a hostile Planet, every human was a boon.

    She remembered how the man had explained her exactly how he could ruin her faith, with scientific reliability, she remembered how she had recoiled in horror from a lifetime of being among him and his creatures.

    She should not hate him.

    "He's a genius, Miriam. He's arrogant, unkind and I would never want to live in his University, but he's a genius. If there is anyone who can help us find out more quickly about Mindworms and Planet it's him."

    "At what price." Miriam asked, surprised at how harsh her words were. "But I should speak to him. Might I have his frequency?"

    "Of course. And Miriam. he doesn't know you're here. I thought I'd leave you the choice in that matter."

    "Thanks Deirdre. We'll speak later. Miriam out."

    And a few minutes later she had an aid talk to some communications officer of the University of Planet. Miriam would have done it himself, but she didn't want to give Zhakarov the satisfaction of having her wait for his presence. And indeed, it seemed to take half an hour for the 'Academician' as he called himself, to make himself available.

    He looked as he had done when they last met, his hair was as grey, his skin as wrinkled, but there was a healthy energy that hadn't been there before. On the Unity, the energy had been desperate.

    When he appeared in front of her he raised one eyebrow. "Miriam Godwinson, there's a face I hadn't expected to see. Considering you call so shortly after I met Deirdre I shouldn't wonder how you got this frequency."

    "She and I have met yes. I see you have done well on this world. And that you no longer wear your old uniform."

    "Just like you." He said with a faint mocking grin. "Yes, I decided I had quite enough of wasting my talent for this ideology or that nation. It was science and technology that saved humanity, so we'll finally let those guide us, instead of whatever idea is in fashion now. I suppose I shouldn't ask what you've been trying to accomplish?"

    "A godly society, free from the monstrosities your kind has created you mean?" she said vehemently. Already the man was getting under her skin.

    "Yes, I could have expected as much. And here I thought we'd have managed to leave that behind." He sighed. "Still, I see you found one of my prototypes as well. You're welcome." He said. "I'm surprised you even found people willing to finish the work. I expect Deirdre did the work for you"

    "It was God's will he landed near where we did, Zhakarov. And it was Father Niesen that..."

    "Doctor Nielsen?" the man interrupted her. "He survived? What have you done to him?"

    Miriam felt a smile come to her lips, despite her best efforts. "FATHER Nielsen has embraced the Truth of the good Lord's scripture, academician. He is my personal advisor, the first priest, and the second in command of The Lord's Believers, and a true testament that even the most wayward of God's children can return to his grace."

    Zhakarov's lips twisted in distaste. "Such a waste." he finally said. "to see such fine minds shackeled. I warned Lal against taking you." he sighed and made a dismisive gesture. "Still, we're here together on this world. I suggest you stay on your part of Planet and do what you do and leave us alone, and we won't bother your little world as well. I've made an agreement with Deirdre as well..."

    "No." Miriam said.

    Zhakarov stopped, his look icy. "And what do you mean with that?"

    "I mean that I won't be bound by any oaths or agreements yet. I do not trust you, Zhakarov. We can of clourse ill afford any war, but if your soociety becomes a blight in God's eyes, we'll keep the option open to set things to right."

    Zhakarov's eyes glared back at her. "And so you show your true colours. Very well, we'll keep that in mind, Miriam. But I warn you. We haven't been sitting and praying these last years. And we've develloped some exceptional weapon systems. If you attack us, you'll get to 'field test them', have fun in Jesusland Miriam, Zhakarov out."

    The screen went black.

    "That old, hellbound sacriligeous wretch!" Miriam punched the seat of her chair. The people looked at her tensely. Some of them looked eager.

    "Knight-Commander Jackson. Please make sure that all our troops know to be on their guard against any unknown humans they encounter. All new troops are to be given additional training in combat among humans."
    Last edited by Rand Al'Tor; December 29, 2006, 10:57.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    The sound of bells roused Ralph Trenton from his slumber. He was used to it by now, and got out of the small bed. The room he was in was a bit smaller than what he had been used to at Gaia's Landing, but comfortable enough. A radio was standing next to his bed, continuing to transmit the bell's call to wakefulness as he slid out of the bed.

    The room he had was relatively large for a single person's room. He was after all an emissary from Gaia's Stephdaughters,and even had a private shower. Still, relatively large meant a bedroom, a bathroom and a small kitchen/dining room. That wasn't too different from Gaia's Landing though. The look of the room was different.

    There were more corners for one. Of course, there were angular parts at Landing as well, but those were either objects that had relatively little contact with people, or were made shortly after Planetfall, when any aesthetic worries were a luxury nobody could afford. New houses and tools avoided corners like the plague, giving it a nice organic look he hadn't even noticed until he had taken up residence in New Jeruzalem.

    Not that the room was stark. Instead of the organic feel, it seemed they had gone for 'cosiness' It reminded him of pictures he had seen of houses on Earth somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century. Metal furniture had been painted to make it resemble wood, the light had an actual lamp-head. And of course, the ever-present crucifix hung on the wall. Considering the lack of industry they had here, he had been impressed by the detail of the figure.

    What did bother him was the lack of windows. In fact, there were few places in New Jeruzalem where there were windows. All the residential areas clustered around the church/headquarters in the centre. In a way, that told him a thing about the Believers and their relation with Planet.

    He showered, dressed in his green uniform and had breakfast. It wasn't quite as good as what he had in Landing, but then, the Believers hadn't actually started any large-scale farming yet. With the first team of formers recently inaugurated, it'd only be a matter of time. Of course, such projects risked some damage to Planet's ecosystem, but considering the Gaians had started the farming years before, he wasn't going to say anything about that.

    Half an hour later, he thought it was about time to head to church. He was not a Christian. That had been a conscious choice. Mostly to AVOID problems. After all, if he had been a Christian, he might have taken more offence to the prophet-like awe the Believers had for Miriam. As it was, he attended all the services, refrained from any behaviour considered sinful and was polite when conversion attempts were aimed at him. He got a few nasty looks, and some parents forbid their children to talk to him, but nothing worse.

    The hallways was yet another way of noting differences between Gaians and Believers. The most public hallways in Landing were round, with the light as diffuse as possible, and the walls looking earthen. Here the walls were in an angle, and the light shone down from above, illuminating the middle of the path but leaving some shadows in the corner. Both methods were not the most efficient, but both were done to inspire a feeling. To make one feel part of something bigger, or to make one feel watched by something bigger.

    He started seeing more and more Believers in the hallway as he neared the church. There were many of the older population here. Ralph knew that of those, a good part had once been part of new colonies, mostly Godwinson's Hope and The Rapture, but had been allowed to return to New Jeruzalem, where Sister Miriam herself was most of the time.

    He knew why. Something similar happened in Gaia's Landing. (though less clearly, as they only had one other base) Nobody spoke of it, but those who had eyes for it saw it.

    Miriam and Deirdre were saying goodbye to the crew they had sailed with. It made Ralph a little sad thinking about it. He had never been on Earth, but at least he could talk to people who had been there. As they died, he felt he was losing something of himself. As long as they lived, he was part of Gaia's exiled children. But when they were all dead, what was he different than an alien plague upon this world? And who would tell him of their homeworld. If they returned, how would they even recognize Gaea?

    He dropped the melancholic train of thought as he entered the church. As he made his way towards the rear seats, he noted the looks of the people. He didn't like what he saw. The looks were more numerous and harsher than normal. The younger generation eyed his people with suspicion, and he knew the feeling was mutual. Another thing that the death of the first generation would lead to. The vanishing of the reminder that they had all been together once. He had seen the Believers up close. True, they were staunch in their beliefs, and dismissive of his own, and their dour solemness and disciplined reverence was occasionally stifling to one who had grown up at Gaea's Landing, but all in all, they were humans like the Gaians, with the same fears and hopes.

    He sat down. Not long after someone stood next to him. “Mind if I sit next to you?” asked Father Nielsen, as he asked each time he chose to come to him.

    “Please do.” He answered as ever. Initially he had been intimidated by the man. Miriam's confidante, with whom she even shared her longevity. The man had been remarkably normal and soft-spoken, compared to the Believers' expressive leader, and they now had a cordial relation. Something which caused many a Believer to look with wonder and even some envy.

    The man sat down next to him and smiled. “So, how are you today?” He spoke in a hushed tone. The moments before the service began always were good moments for a quick talk.

    “Quite well, thank you. Though I hope I have not caused offence recently? I seemed to attract quite some attention.” He asked. He had carefully avoided to scandalize the Believers, but he had slipped up before, and Father Nielsen had quickly alerted him.

    “Not you but... news came in tonight. Knight Ilira's unit was ambushed by mind-worms in the night. They barely had time to send out a distress signal.” His expression was neutral. “They were ambushed near the Gaian border.”

    Ralph felt his stomach turn to ice. “I'm sorry to hear that.”

    He looked at the altar. “They seem to be hunting for us. Remember the group of worms near Divinity Base I spoke you about? Those are the kind of things that show it's more than just wild beasts looking for prey.”

    He said. “We have lost people to the mindworms too. We are constantly researching and studying them for ways to end the attacks. We're probably provoking them in some way. If we find what it is...”his voice trailed off. The people on the bench in front of him were glaring at him.

    Father Nielsen smiled sadly and looked at the people with a frown. “Good people, this may not be a confession, but it is a private conversation.” The mild rebuke resulted in hastily apologies and the bench being emptied quickly.

    Father Nielsen turned to Ralph. “Those words are exactly what makes us suspicious, good mister Trenton. There is evidence of intelligent life here, and the local creatures seem to make concerted attacks upon us. Yet you still speak of harmony.”

    “We did not send those mindworms to you. If we could have stopped them, we would have.” He whispered.

    Father Nielsen nodded. “I believe you, and so does sister Miriam, but the years here have taught me that 'impossible' is a word that one should be wary off. Deirdre and you may feel differently, but battle lines are being drawn. By all means, take care of the environment but remember where you stand in the end.” The murmuring was quieting down as the novices finished the last preparations for the mass.

    The conversation was over, and Ralph looked at the front. Miriam stepped to the altar and started preaching. She too talked of the men that had died, the love for her people obvious in her voice. But she spoke of the creatures that had done it, and their sacred task of taming the land and eradicating the mindworm scourge. Ralph shivered. Deirdre's words was gentle and soft, like thw wind and water. But the fiery haired leader of the Believers, her words, her faith her love... they were hot like fire and unyielding like stone.

    And Ralph feared the day that the Believers would find out that the Gaians had managed to bring mindworms under their control in the north.


    Excerpts from the Believer Constitution

    1,1 All the Believers are beloved in the eyes of God, and to have the respect and rights that this entails.

    4.5: Each colony shall hold elections every seven years, electing a governor and a council of seven to watch over him. The laws of each Colony are left up to each colony, though they must be in accordance with the most righteous constitution.

    4,6: Each Colony shall send a representative to the Central council, where they shall provide a voice for the people and look after the running of the faction as a whole, though the Conclave, led by Sister Godwinson shall provide guidance.

    6: Regarding crimes we shall separate crimes against man and crimes against God. The former shall be infringements on laws elected democratically, and those accused shall be judged by a civil court. crimes against God shall be defined by the Conclave, and judged by them.

    The document was printed out and signed by the governors of all the colonies, as well as several key activists for democratic reforms. Sister Miriam and Father Nielsen were present at the signing and showed approval, but did not sign the document.

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  • Rand Al'Tor

    It was a word that had almost be forgotten, but one of the old Earthborn scientist-priests had offered the suggestion. The year 2138 had been a year that caused great change among the Believers. The establishment of Time of Salvation was the least of it. But Edwards scouting team had discovered a pod that held tools and directions that were vital to starting up a decent industry. In all the colonies now, industries were being reformed. First signs of currency started to show themselves. The 'Cred' as it was called mostly gave the bearer allowance to some of the scant available luxuries. If a worker couldn't make it out of bed, he could give up his claims to hot water for the next two weeks and let someone else work his free day.

    That would bear keeping an eye on, Miriam knew, but the old priest's suggestions had caused more of an immediate turmoil. With immediate survival less of a worry,with no further signs of alien life, and all mindworm attacks defeated, there had been a wave of ethical tracts and debate. What of old Earth was sinful, and what had been good? The priest had suggested that, while Miriam's position as prophet, head of the Believer church and guide for the people was inviolate, people had to be allowed to make certain choices themselves, for enforced virtue is no true virtue. He proposed a democratic state, 'wisely limited' by a constitution to avoid sinfulness. Elections would be held to choose base governors and many important functions,all of them advised by the priesthood of course.

    In all five bases, the merits were hotly debated. The oldest generation,many of whom had lived in more or less democratic countries was most in favour, though they always made clear they'd defer to Miriam. The youngest generation, the grandchildren of the Earthborn were open for it as well, if only because, while they were disciplined, the rule of their fathers sometimes stung.

    It were the second generation that was most fiercely opposed. They had never known anything but the harsh,simple political system, and it had worked for them. Many of them were well in their thirties, and called it sinful.

    In the end, Miriam made an edict. An attempt would be made, as soon as resources could be found. But, she made it clear, democracy and freedom were to be seen as the means towards virtue, not an end in itself. If it became sinful, it would be stopped.

    Later in the same year, a message was sent by Deirdre Skye, while Miriam was overseeing the construction of yet another colony pod in the Rapture. She asked whether Miriam would meet her... in person... in the Flower's Preach. Miriam consented.

    Knight-Commander Jackson was livid,as livid as he dared to be towards his Porphet at least. Distrust towards Gaians had only grown over the years. They were a strange people on the other side of the desert that preached living in harmony and friendship with a planet so obviously hostile Their full name only helped the distrust, and rumours about witchcraft among them were widespread. Miriam did not budge though, and so, later in the year,together with an escort of priests and several Knights in full uniform with ceremonial swords, Miriam left The Rapture, passed Miracle Church at the Monolith and went due east, across the unforgiving Great Dunes, to The Flower's Preach.

    When they approached the city, quickly greeted by a Gaian Miriam briefly crossed herself and feared that the rumours of witchcraft were true. What she saw resembled nothing more than a giant sprawling tree with terraces on.

    One of the Gaians saw her worry and reassured her. “It's mostly covering. It's hollow and mostly made of normal material. But we believe that, even if it's just a layer,it helps us remember we are to become part of this world, and not isolate us behind metal and plastic.”

    Miriam nodded. In a way, it was not too different from the cathedrals she built, its Gothic towers a thin veneer over pragmatic durasteel, yet inspiring awe and worship for God nonetheless. Not too different and yet somehow alien. She looked at her guards and priests that gave suspicious looks at a way of life they had only heard rumours of.

    When they entered, they noticed that, just like home, the veneer extended inside. The ground of the general hallways was covered in dirt. Dirt meticulously cleaned of possible dangerous organisms but dirt nonetheless. The doors and walls had a circular feel to them and were painted in brown and green colours, making one feel in a tunnel, and round windows looked outside. Elevators were available, but their guide led them on a long winding hallway that brought them higher on the spire, until they opened an airlock that brought them to one of the terraces. Each was given an air-filter. Jackson tried to convince Miriam to use one of their own but she refused. The airlock opened again, and nitrogen choked air wafted in.

    Deirdre was sitting in the middle of the terrace on a chair, looking at two children looking at the world around them under the auspices of an other man. When Miriam stepped forward, she tried to go alone, but this time, Jackson defied her will and went with her, saying he would do penance later.

    As they came closer, Deirdre called the children, and they eagerly stormed towards the newcomers, until the man called them to order. Miriam saw their filters had been rigorously affixed to their faces. They gave Miriam a quick look, but their attention went straight to the tall black man. Jackson looked distinctively uncomfortable. He had children of course, but Believer children tended to be calmer.

    “He is big!” Said the smallest child, a girl.

    “And carrying a sword too! See,I told you the Believers had knights!” The older boy smugly said.

    “He can't be a knight! He doesn't have any armour!” The daughter retorted.

    “He probably left that at home! He's not here for battle. When he fights he puts on an armour and wears a shield and rides a horse into battle!”

    “I... ah...” Jackson said, fighting to ignore the children and keep an eye open for threats to Miriam.

    penance comes quickly these days Miriam had to hide a chuckle. She concentrated on Deirdre, who didn't seem to bother hiding her amusement. “Hello Deirdre, it's been... quite a while.”

    “Thirty-eight years since we got separated on the Unity, and too long since we met on the screen. Please, sit down.” She pointed at another chair.

    Miriam sat. “We both are busy women. You in more ways than one it seems.” It stung slightly. She would never have this. But other paths had been chosen.

    Deirdre smiled. “They're quite a handful. Grandchildren actually. Ethan here is my third son.”

    The man smiled and made a small bow. “A pleasure to meet you sister Miriam.”

    Miriam nodded. “And you Mr. Ethan. This is Knight-Commander Jackson.”

    “See, I TOLD you he was a knight! Hey, where is your horse? I've got pictures of horses!” The boy's sharp voice followed the introduction.

    Deirdre looked at the man. “Ethan,could you take the children inside. Miriam and I need to talk, and I would not want to have her return with a migraine.”

    Ethan nodded, and Miriam looked back. “As for your penance, Sir Jackson, assist Mr. Ethan if you would. And no, you are not allowed to discipline his children.” The man gave Miriam a desperate look before he was taken along with the children and Ethan, leaving the two women alone.

    “They have your eyes,” Miriam said “though I remember you being easier on the ears.”

    “They have that from their grandfather.” Deirdre said. “I missed... speaking to you Miriam. With all that went on, I was afraid you despised me.”

    “I think you're making some mistakes, Deirdre, and your course will bring you harm. And it is never easy to see those you care about walk a dangerous path. And there is my duty to keep.” She said. “But I remain convinced we need to wipe out those mindworms.”

    Deirdre didn't react. “Miriam... have you used the sarcophagus on anyone else? Someone you cared for?”

    Miriam nodded. “Yes, Father Nielsen. He developed it. He is an advisor to me. I trust him deeply.”

    Deirdre nodded. “I... I offered it to Jack as well, but he said, he said that he loved me but... he wanted to die when his time came.” Tears welled up, and all of a sudden, Miriam was the Psych Chaplain of the Unity again.

    “Jack was.... the father of your children?”

    Deirdre nodded. “He helped me in the beginning, yelling at people when I should have done it. When you... you made that gift, I was so happy. I'm still grateful. I want to know more of this world. I want to become part of it, I want to show you to be part of it, but I needed more time. The people like me, I've become... something of a mythical figure to them. The Lady Skye” She almost looked apologizing but Miriam didn't react. “But Jack... he accepted it, but he didn't want to. He said he didn't want to see his children and grandchildren die.” She held a hand in front of his mouth. “He died a few weeks ago. I didn't... I didn't have anyone I could talk to. My children had problems of their own and I... I remembered you on the Unity...”

    “And you did the right thing.” Miriam said. “I know what you feel. In some ways. You feel alone, and you start to realize everyone you'll get to know will die, and you will live on, unless you choose to die yourself. But to accept death when there is work to be done feels like cowardice. And you are not a coward. I have taken Father Nielsen with me, to be there with me through the years. There have been says I was immensely grateful for his presence, to know there is someone who will endure with you, remember Planetfall with you, know the price of a long life with you. But at other times, there's guilt. Every time I see Father Nielsen present at a funeral of one of the people he boarded the Unity with, apart from all the other living ones who are grey and old even as he remains youthful. Each time I wonder if my decision to extend his life was nothing but the whim of a selfish woman. And now that he knows that I need him, nothing but me barring him from the sarcophagus will release him.”

    Deirdre nodded. “Thanks... it sounds cruel but knowing that... it wouldn't always be better if I convinced him makes me feel better.” She sighed. “May I ask you something?”

    “Of course.”

    “Jack...well... he was catholic, and we've had... quite a few arguments in our days. We have a priest but, he always did say he admired you. Would you... would you speak at his funeral?”

    “I'd be honoured Deirdre.” She simply replied.

    Deirdre smiled and stood. “Thank you, Miriam.I think... I think I should trust you more. I'll give you the maps of what we have discovered, and we've made a design for decent rovers with local materials as well. I'll have them sent to you.”

    Miriam nodded. “That sounds delightful. Our priests have written some works as well,some of them might interest you...”


    By the time Miriam returned, maps and technologies had been exchanged. Twopriests and a knight had been left behind to found a church according to their precepts, while they had taken some Gaians with them, so the Believers would actually know them outside of a few rumours. For now, the ties wouldn't officially be tightened, there was still too much mistrust. But someday... perhaps.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    The next years in the Believer faction were grim. While originally,many had been elated at finding other survivors, the loss of O'Reily's group,combined with the Gaian's idea of living in harmony with planet,led to a growing sense of distrust. It wasn't helped that Deidre established a colony on the far reach of the Great Dunes, meaning that the two factions now actually shared a border. The work on the Colony Pods was now not only aimed against mindworms, but also against the Gaians.

    Not all news was bad. Two new scout units, both of them consisting entirely of Planetborn, and one of them led by Adam, first of the Planetborn himself had found new territory. Knight Franz Werner had discovered the southern coast along the Great Dunes to be relatively fertile.

    Adam had gone in the other direction, due west, and had discovered a unity pod. Except locating nutrient resources, it also contained an old unity foil, well preserved in the pod. Someminor reparations and some dragging later, it was manned with some skilled people, and christened the Pinta, after one of Columbus' ships. It was then sent due west.

    More good news came when in 2026, Nielsen and his team had finally managed to gain an understanding in the strange biology, proposing plans for relatively alterations to the surface of Planet such as mines, large farms and solar collectors. Considering the hostile conditions outside the colony and the large amount of work and specified equipment needed, it was suggested that these works should be done by teams that acted independently. A few suggested a large project to gain a deeper understanding in the workings of Planet, and to work with it instead of against it, but they did not find a sympathetic ear to it.

    Adam's unit encountered mindworms in the fungus in the west. But as they had detected them before the mindworms had attacked, they had taken the initiative and charged the mindworms. Though they lost quite a few men, in the end, they eradicated the local infestation. What was more, they found small pearl like objects. Father Nielsen was amazed, and after investigation, concluded that they contained an amazing amount of energy. He proposed it was some kind of food mindworms made, and could be harvested if they were surprised. This news led to great celebrations among the Believers, and the counter-theory the planetpearls were a reward from God for eradicating the pests. The few contacts that existed between the factions. (Very few people could transmit all the way to Flower's Preach) had the Gaians react scandalized.

    Franz didn't let himself be outdone though. In 2131, they spotted a boil of mindworms in a patch of fungus one of the two new colony pods was about to cross. The battle was gruesome, and Franz Werner himself lost his life in the battle, as did most of the men, but the boil was eradicated, bloodstained pearls delivered to New Jeruzalem.

    A year later, the third colony was inaugurated. Miriam and Nielsen themselves joined in. The tragic occurrences around the time of Godwinson's hope founding had prevented them from attending that one. It was established just south of the strange monolithic structure O'Reily and his men had discovered so many years ago. The small chapel there was turned into a church, with statues of some of the men in that unit, and all their names engraved. The monolith seemed to radiate energy, as well as going deep into the bedrock and spreading far. Many of the metals would be useful, though the Governor, a Planetborn called Michael Vermeers, preferred to cultivate the rich and fertile ground in the south.

    After the sermon at the church's inauguration, and the naming of the city (called The Rapture) Father Nielsen and Sister Miriam were sitting at a table in the back, having retreated for contemplation.

    Father Nielsen spoke. “There are almost no Earthborn here.”

    Miriam nodded. “Most are too old to leave everything behind a second or third time. And the first Planetborn are old enough to get by without them.”

    They had grown, the Planetborn. Many of them had had several children already. Miriam had not stopped preaching the need and divine mandate to spread and claim land, and for that, they needed people. It was generally accepted that women didn't fulfil any important tasks, at least until their menopause. Not because they were considered incapable, but because each month that was not conceived was considered a waste by all parties, and pregnancy was incompatible with many other duties. By the same logic, after much debate, Miriam had consented that the age where people could be married was lowered to 16.

    They were a grim lot, the Planetborn, and they raised their own children as such.

    “Yes, I'm surprised about them. I had expected them to be less disciplined than the original crew. But they're even more dedicated than them.”

    “Earth and its sins are a distant memory for them. Many of the Earthborn converted later in life, and their souls were somewhat tainted.” Miriam said.

    “Don't you mean 'your souls'?” Nielsen said with a smirk.

    “You and I are exceptional cases, Father Nielsen. We shall remain to keep the children, and the children of the children on the righteous course. Such is our fate.” She said.

    There was a long time of silence. In the end Father Nielsen spoke. “I received a message earlier today, but I did not want to ruin the celebration. Knight Commander Martinez has suffered a fatal heart attack.”

    Miriam was silent for a while. “Oh...” There was no need for comforting or talking about a better place. Both of them were aware of that. “I... had hoped to grant him a calm retirement.”

    “I think he'd have preferred it this way. He always suggested Knight Jackson to take over after his death.” Another moment of quiet. “I think I understand better now why you had me rejuvenate as well. Maybe even why the Lord saw fit to give them to Deidre.” He sighed. “The years will become lonely, won't they?”

    Miriam nodded. “So they will... so they will.”

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    There were four of them in the small room as they listened to the end of O'Reily's unit.

    “They're everywhere! We can't hold them!” The sound of a flamegun flaring, and the sound of slithering and popping everywhere. And screams. Lots of screams.

    “Pull out of there, squire! Retreat!” Martinez commanded. The group had come across another Unity pod, in the middle of the xenofungus. It had cracked and the insides had been overgrown with the red stuff. The mindworms had erupted from all around them.

    “I can't... can't see the exit! Everywhere! Help me! PLEASE HELP ME! PLEASE!”The voice became hysterical.

    Martinez held the microphone, shaking his head. Miriam quickly took it from his hands. “Squire Lebeau, this is Sister Miriam. Listen to me, and repeat after me.”

    A few sobs. “I'm hiding. I'm scared. They'll find me. Oh god please,pleassepleaseplease.” The sound of screams and flameguns started to die down. The slithering didn't.

    “I am with you brother,” Miriam said, her voice soothing. “Now... Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy will be done on Planet as it is in heaven...”

    The terrified man repeated the words, clutching them as a buoy in the ocean he was drowning in. “Give us... this day our.... our d...daily bread. And forgive us... our trespasses as we... no... NOOOO!” The slithering came closer.

    “as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation...”

    “Get away! Get off of me! NO,I DON”T WANT TO, I DON'T WA...AAAAAAAGH!”

    “But deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glroy, for ever and ever.” The screaming stopped. There was only the slithering sound of mindworms. Miriam shut off the radio.


    “Amen.” came the breathless reply from the radio operator,Martinez and Nielsen.

    Miriam stood, her eyes were like dry ice. “Prepare a memorial service... this will be remembered. This will never be forgotten.


    “... and so, as O'Reily's unit has joined Cassini in His kingdom, we place their names and faces with him,so that future generations may remember them for their courage, piety and selflessness.” The expression on the people's faces was one of fright.

    “Faced with such an abomination, one cannot help but wonder... what can we do? The Lord is with us,of course, but how do we fight, when the strongest of us have fallen?” She balled her fist. “I shall tell you how. These mindworms are like the beasts that lurked in the woods of yesteryear earth! We shall do the same here as we did on Earth with them! We shall spread, and claim this land for ourselves, kilometre by kilometre! And each colony we build shall reduce the hiding place for these BEASTS! And finally, when this Planet shall be brought to heel, when this land shall know humanity to be its master and keeper, we shall wipe this scourge out, as a farmer plucks out the weeds amongst his crops!”

    She pointed at the people. “So tomorrow, when you return to work on the materials to build new colonies, I want you to consider each and every act you do, each blow of a hammer, each twist of a screw, each tap on a keyboard, a strike against these creatures that stand against us! We are humanity, created in the likeness of God and given this land by His decree! We shall not be denied!”


    “This is not about giving us a leg-up, Deidre! This is about our survival! If you know anything about these accursed monsters, my people NEED to know!” Miriam said sharply.

    Deidre had returned to her fair, black-haired self. “I wish I could help you, Miriam, I truly do, but we know very little as well. We're investigating it of course, I mean... they're fascinating creatures.”

    “They're monsters, Deidre. A dangerous plague that needs to be wiped out!” Miriam snapped.

    Deidre looked sad. “I know you're distraught over the loss of your men,Miriam, but it is just the way of these creatures to defend themselves. Likely they considered the pod a nest and felt threatened. Please, we must be careful. We know next to nothing of the ecosystem, the consequences of such actions...”

    “...are more acceptable than having my people be food for worms!” Miriam snapped, she felt her face flushing in anger.

    “Miriam, if they threaten people, of course we must kill them, but unless we wish to repeat what happened on Earth, we must learn to live in harmony with Planet.”

    “I've spoken to a man that died in stark terror today, Deidre. I do not care one fig about 'harmony with Planet'. Unless it is to make sure Planet changes its tune! Miriam out!”

    Miriam stormed out of the room. She didn't believe Deidre held information back, but her liking to protect nature was completely out of place here! Humanity was the endangered species!

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    Miriam felt a tube pressing air in her lungs, and a liquid sloshing around her. For a brief, mad moment she thought all that happened on Planet was a dream, and she was awakening now on the Unity. But then she realized she was horizontal. The liquid was draining away, leaving her body exposed to warm air being pumped in, caressing her bare skin that was connected to what felt like a hundred tubes. It was pitch dark. All her muscles felt stiff.

    Then, with a mechanic sound, the top came off, and bright light assaulted her eyes, making them water, but she was grateful for it. A silhouette appeared in front of the light, but she couldn't make it out yet.

    “Forgive me sister, your eyes should adapt soon. Can you speak?” He reached down and removed the tube from her mouth.

    Miriam recognized the voice. Nielsen. She had been wounded. What had happened? They'd saved her? But how? Where was she? “Father Nielsen.” S he was surprised at the croak in her voice, as if she hadn't talked for many,many months. Her muscles felt stiff as well, though oddly enough, surprisingly powerful. She moved to sit up.

    Her pupils tightened toward off the light and she could see the man's wrinkled face. It was spread in a smile of utter delight. “Yes! It worked! Exactly as it was meant to be! Oh thank you, Lord!” His hands came down to remove the tubes from her body, preventing her from ripping them off and granting her more freedom of movement. Miriam became acutely aware of her disrobed state and covered herself up. Her body felt... odd. There was something strange about her vision as well. And there was a dream, but she discarded that for now.

    “What...happened? How long...was I asleep?”Her voice started to regain power, but still sounded alien to her.

    Father Nielsen wrapped a robe around her. “Almost a year, Sister. But I made sure the Believers kept faith that you'd pull through. They're waiting outside.”

    Miriam looked around the room, noting now that the light was actually quite dim. This didn't look at the medical bay, but a laboratory. She had a sick feeling in her stomach. Carefully, she stepped out of the object that held her and looked down. She recognized it. Anger rose. “Father Nielsen... what have you done?”

    “I saved your life, Sister Godwinson. It was necessary. I saved your life... and I did more.” The man's face became solemn.

    “You... What do you mean.” As she spoke, Miriam started to notice the things that bothered her. She looked at her hand. The wrinkles had all but vanished, the muscles had regrown and the bones were less brittle. She noticed that she saw much clearer in the dim light than she had for the last years. Shocked, her hands went to her face, finding smooth skin covering her round visage. Grabbing her hair, she noticed it had returned to its red colour. She felt anger rising to outrage. “How dare you... Did I not forbid you to do this?”

    “You did. I obeyed a higher command.” Nielsen said calmly.

    Miriam banged a fist on the sarcophagus. “You defiled my body and defied God with this instrument of Zhakarov, and then you dare claim it an act of faith?” She spat.

    Nielsen folded his arms. “Zhakarov merely discovered the possibilities God had given to the world. He claims the full credit for this. I say that is like a human using a branch like a club claiming he created the club.”

    “I was not afraid to die, Nielsen. It was my time!”

    “No it was not.” The man stood defiant. “You made me a priest, Sister Miriam, and you made me look for the will of God in things. When you came to us in space. That was the will of God. When we survived Planetfall. That was the will of God. Then you inspired is and led us to a virtuous existence here, in a way that none of us could hope to mimic. And then God has this device being dropped a scant few hundred miles from where we landed, and gives me the inspiration to finish what a scientist of surpassing skill like Zhakarov started. That, I say, is nothing less than a miracle and the clear will of God made manifest. And that is why I ignored your command, and did so for the last years as I investigated this thing. And I shall submit to any punishment you see fit. But I shall not be ashamed for this.”

    Miriam was quiet,dumbfounded for a moment. Doubt rose in her, a feeling she was unused to. “I am but one woman. A woman of faith and with skill, but not... not some...” Memories came back. She knew this path, and the last time she walked it, it had brought her great pain.

    “You are NOT,sister Miriam. It is plain to see for me and all those outside. You are chosen by God to lead us on this world. You are His blessing, and in His infinite goodness, he has made sure you will be with us for a long time.” His voice broke. “I know this happened before, and I can now honestly say that removing you from that post was the worst mistake the UN ever made. Had you been allowed to meet your purpose there, perhaps Earth would not have fallen.”

    Those words stung, yet rekindled old feelings at the same time. She was silent for a few moments. Then she spoke. “I am not... to be immortal.”

    “No.” Nielsen said. “This device merely extends life, and many of its ingredients cannot be copied here. You would gain time, perhaps a few centuries, but it will not undo God's command that our bodies be mortal. It is more akin to making you like the first humans, a Methuselah.”

    Miriam sighed and nodded. Centuries of life. Centuries of guiding her people to virtue. A great duty, but the man's words sounded true to her. She strengthened her heart and banished doubt. “Very well. However, though I am Chosen, I say that I will not meet these centuries alone.”

    Now Nielsen looked surprised. “Sister Miriam?”

    “You promised you would take over after I die, Father Nielsen. And I shall keep you to that oath even if it means you shall wait centuries.” She smiled now. “Please, tell me all that I missed, for you shall soon sleep a year as well.”

    Nielsen looked stunned but then gratefully bowed his head. “It is an honour to receive this duty,Sister.” He looked at the door. “Now... the people outside are fearful and worried. Will you go to them and put their souls at ease?”

    Miriam nodded and carefully closed the robe, then she went to the door to greet her flock once more.


    Almost twenty years now. Twenty years now Knight Landon had been out here on the surface of Planet. And as he walked over the land, land kinder than the Great Dunes they left behind, a thought struck him. He had started to like it. Not that he didn't feel less of a Believer. He prayed daily and fervently. He had wept when he heard of Sister Miriam's near-death and wept again when he heard of her resurrection. But every time he thought of going back to New Jeruzalem, or even to help out in Godwinson's Hope. His stomach turned.

    Some shared this feeling,some didn't. In the last years, many men had been replaced and allowed to return to the colonies. Their replacements were Planetborn. There had been some tension initially, but all in all, the new soldiers were good kids. They were a reminder what they fought for. But for now, Landon liked it where he was, chasing the horizon and discovering what wonders Planet might hold.


    “.. I saw her... she smiled and thanked us for the trust we had in God. I tell you,I cried, I cried like a baby when I saw her. I don't know what she is. A prophet or an angel. But I tell you, if she says so, I'll take on mindworms with my teeth!”The young man called Bill spoke to the older advance scout.

    The older man smiled. “O'Reily's group's more likely to give you that. In this group, your sacrifices are likely to be blisters on your feet. We encountered some pods but... things are pretty calm here. But it's good to have you with us, son. We were running out of fresh jokes.”

    The young man smiled. “Heh, I'm glad to meet you as well. It's... kind of sad that more and more of you Earthborn are dying.” He looked sad. “It's like we're losing our link know... Earth.” He sighed. “Tell me about Earth again.”

    “Earth? That's not a happy story. I'm from China... part of the Crimson Revolution. Not my best time. In the end, the name was more for the amount of blood spilled than the communism thing. Still, that Golden Emperor had it coming. Still can't believe I ended up serving under his bloodhound, Yang.” The soldier looked lost in thought for a moment.

    The young man was listening, but suddenly stopped. “Did you see something there?”

    The older man, Feng, frowned but stared. “Can't see anything.”

    “I'm positive I saw something moving there, a few . Not sure what it was.” He peered and lowerd himself to a crouch.

    Feng grabbed his radio. “We might have encountered something. Investigating now. Please stand by.”

    “Roger, be careful and God be with you.”

    This are was dominated with high grass that sucked the moistness out of the ground. Ideal for hiding. Without a word the two advanced. He followed Bill. Experienced or not, the boy had been well trained, and, oddly enough, seemed more comfortable with the gravity than Feng. Both of them were tense, ready for anything. Feng held the flamegun. Of course, it'd be dangerous to use that here, but better some burn wounds than getting your brain eaten.

    Suddenly, they stopped. Both of them had heard something moving nearby. It didn't sound like slithering, which was how mindworms had been described to them. But that didn'thave tomean anything. Bill looked back, a knife bared and made a signal he was going to pounce. Feng readied the flamegun and nodded.

    And then something leapt out of the bushes and threw himself on the young man, who screamed and tried to slice at it. Something else rose above the grass and loomed over the two as well. Feng's old muscles reacted and he stood, aiming the flamegun at...

    a grey haired woman.

    For a brief moment everyone froze as they saw what they were attempting to kill. The woman lowered the gun she had aimed at Bill. “Michael. Stand down...” Her voice was hoarse.

    “Bill... calm...down...” The words came slowly as his mind reeled. It didn't matter, the two younger men on the ground had stopped as soon as they realized what they had been stalking.

    Feng just stared in amazement at the woman, as if he had never seen one before. She had an air filter around her mouth, similar to him. Her clothes were green, a red symbol on her chest. He saw a scar just above her eye. He remembered that scar. He had seen a woman in training... sixty years ago, uncountable miles away, with just such a scar. They had been friends. He had written her name on the monument to those died on the Unity. “Isabelle?” He whispered.

    “Feng... you...”

    The two locked arms in an embrace, even as the two young men stood and gave eachother embarrassed apologies.


    Miriam meditated, fighting down the surges of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. It had been something of a joke that Landon's reports were the boring ones. This report had certainly changed that.

    Other humans had survived!

    It was not widely known yet, but Miriam had no illusion that the news would spread. And why should she keep it a secret?

    She knew almost nothing. A word and a name. And a way to contact them.


    Deidre Skye.

    Again the exhilaration threatened to overwhelm her. She lived! Miriam had dared not even pray on that. She lived and had thrived!

    Martinez had been glad as well, but there had been a worried look in his eyes that had reminded her of a problem.

    They had renounced the unity of the UN mission. They had believed themselves to be the last survivors of humanity. What now?

    He had given her... suggestions. Suggestions she knew were wise but... stung. She wished Father Nielsen was here as well, but he was being rejuvenated now.

    She arrived at a communication room. There was a camera, a microphone and a screen. It had taken some time to get the communication set up. Behind Miriam the symbol of the Believers, a white cross on an orange and black background hung. She sat down. An Earthborn was performing some last checks, then nodded. They were ready. The screen sprung to life.

    Deidre Skye had aged gracefully, but she had aged. Her hair was starting to go grey, and her skin had a more withered look. But those eyes, those kind blue eyes.Miriam recognized them immediately. Even if they looked stunned.

    “Miriam...” Deidre gasped.

    “Deidre...” was all she could bring out. Of course she was surprised. Miriam looked as old as the day of the launch.

    Deidre recovered and nodded. “You... you look... so young... you found... you found one of Zhakarov's things too?”

    Nowit was Miriam's turn to be shocked. “You as well?” Coincidence? Providence? What did this mean? “But you didn't...”

    “We're... unsure if it works.” Deidre said. “And... I would not want anyone to risk...” She gave a questioning look.

    “I was the test subject myself.” Miriam answered. “God... assisted me. As well as Father Nielsen. I'll... have his results sent to you.” Was it wise? If God meant her to use it, then did one landing near Deidre not mean the same?

    Deidre nodded. “Thank... you...” she said. “I... I might... use it. I want to...learn more of Planet.” A few moments of silence. “So... how've you been doing the last decades?” Deidre stiffled a giggle, and even Miriam felt her lips twitch. It all sounded so... surreal.

    Miriam just smiled. “We've been... doing well.” Then her face turned grim. Best to get these hard parts over with. “Deidre I... I don't know how you.... see it. But... we've been going our own way. Not... the way the U.N. intended. The U.N. ... the U.N. is dead, the mission ended the moment the Unity fell apart. I... follow my conscience now How do you see it?”

    There was... relief in Deidre's eyes. “Oh, I.... I feel the same. I don't... I don't think the U.N. is a bad idea but... there are... mistakes... we should not make again We called ourselves Gaia's Stephdaughters. We're going to make sure we live in harmony with Planet. We won't make the same old mistakes again... you see that too, don't you?”

    Miriam was relieved, yet the knot in her stomach remained. “In a way. But I think that...pollution was but a symptom. Sinfulness was what caused Earth to die. We call ourselves The Lord's Believers now. We're living as God intended.”

    “Oh...” Miriam saw her own doubts and worries mirrored. “I... respect your faith Miriam but... you know that I'm... not religious.”

    Miriam sighed. Part of her had hoped Deidre had seen the light in the miracles. “I regret that, and I'll pray that you see the light. But...regarding Harmony. There are creatures here that... threaten us. We have even found proof of alien intelligent life here.”

    “We're the aliens here, Miriam. If there's something here, they've got all rights to want us gone.” Deidre said sadly.

    “This is our Promised Land. Not an Eden, but a Promised Land.” Miriam said. “Whatever it is that is here. If they try to stop us...” Her lips tightened. “We will be victorious.” She was vehement. Deidre didn't answer and looked away. The silence became uncomfortable.

    “So... what now?” Deidre asked finally. “I don't think any of us has any reason to tell the other what to do. I mean... as long as you don't destroy Planet... your people live as they want.”

    Miriam sighed. A choice again. She liked Deidre but she did not have the resolve or faith to stand against sin... the existence of her group meant that people would live in sin. Was her desire for peace merely the selfishness of someone not willing to sacrifice a friendship in the name of God? She thought of the men far in the north, that were even now exchanging stories. Would she tell them to shed the blood of their fellow men, so sin could be exterminated before it could take root?

    “Let there be friendship, Deidre.” Miriam said. “I shall pray that your people see the light of the Lord. But there might be many enemies, and it would be foolish to quarrel over superiority now. I swear that the Believers shall respect the Gaian's territory.”

    Deidre smiled. “And I swear likewise.” Her smile was sincere. Miriam felt joy, and then guilt at feeling joy? Had she been wise, or had she been weak? “Our territory is somewhere in the north east. Let's say that 1400 kilometres from our bases is our territory?.”

    Miriam nodded. “That sounds okay. Your men are just north of our land then. Maybe... you should keep them away a bit. I mean... people can visit but... they're soldiers and all. And... even if we're at peace.” Her voice sounded a bit hollow

    Deidre agreed, her voice sounding hollow as well. “That's good... maybe we'll be able to trade things.”

    “By the way.” She asked. “We've been harvesting crops but we do not have the best biologists here. You for example. Could you assist us?”

    Deidre opened her mouth, then she closed it again. She looked at someone through the side. Miriam felt oddly guilty when he saw the torn grief in her face. “I'm...I'm sorry, Miriam. It's... nothing personal but... I remember the Christian States of America. It didn't matter when we were on the same team so to speak”

    “The Lord's Believers are not the CSA, and we are on the same team. Humanity!” Miriam said.

    Deidre bit her lips. “I'm sorry Miriam. But... it's been so long and... I have to think of my people... if I'm wrong...”

    She was not budging, Miriam sighed and nodded. “I understand Deidre. Don't worry. We're both... politicians now. Our personal feelings... must come second to our duty.” The words didn't comfort her or Deidre. “Perhaps in time... we will have trust enough to... share more.”

    Deidre nodded. “I hope so, Mirriam. I really hope so. I... I should probably make sure that everyone knows what we agreed on.” She was silent, as if thinking how to end. Then she suddenly blurted out. “I'm glad you survived Miriam. Whatever happens, I'm glad we could have talked again.” Her eyes were moist, and Miriam felt hers moisten as well. She almost cursed, it wouldn't do for humanity's two last leaders to start bawling!

    “Me too, too...”

    “If you don't want to send me the data on Zhakarov's machine, I understand.”

    “I will send that data Deidre. You might not realize it, but nothing happens without godly purpose. You shall endure, and I shall endure. And one day we shall be in worship together, and there shall be no more distrust.”

    Deidre smiled again. “Perhaps Miriam. But thank you... Deidre out...”

    The screen went blank.

    Miriam left the room. Martinez waited outside. His face was tense.

    “Knight Commander. Please...arrange for all data of the sarcophagus to be transmitted, and announce that there is to be peace. However.... use some of our energy reserves so more manpower can be given to the construction of colony pods. We must see to it that we acquire the necessary theory... just in case.”

    Martinez nodded. “Will you not announce the peace?”

    Miriam shook her head. “No... I must think on things.”

    The Knight-Commander saluted and walked away. Miriam quickly made her way to her private quarters.

    The Lord demanded sacrifices. She had always known that, and she accepted it. For years she had taken the burden of leadership, with none beside her,except perhaps Father Nielsen.

    And now that she had met one of the few people she might call friend. Now... she felt more lonely she had ever felt since Planetfall.

    And away from the eyes of followers, Miriam buried her face in her pillow and wept.

    Man, not to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty damn happy with that last scene. And with happy I meant I started getting teary eyed myself.

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  • Rand Al'Tor
    Miriam's mind felt sluggish. As if she was just about to fall asleep and wake up, but couldn't. She vaguely remembered a stinging pain in her chest.

    Oh,true.... she had been shot.

    Was she dying?

    Was she dead?

    She briefly thought a prayer. She couldn't feel a mouth to talk.

    Then thoughts scattered again, only to come together on something else.

    She was standing in a river, and a man was pouring water over her. Her baptizing. Where it all had started. She had been so proud that day. Looked forward to it for weeks.

    The image, the feeling blurred out of focus, and then she was sitting at a desk, studying psychology. Ah yes, Yale. There was some noise and in the hallway, the giggling of one of the other girls could be heard, followed by the smell of alcohol and cigarette smoke. Through the open door she saw her, clothes already disheveled and helped to her room by a young man that looked as drunk as she was. She knew this was a regular occurrence. The memory roused her anger, and that emotion enough to send the vision blurry again.

    She was speaking to her congregation, seeing the fear on their faces. The world was becoming a worse place every day. Her voice thundered, decrying the sinfulness and arrogance of man that was bringing the world to an end. She could see her words had impact, but she knew, she knew that despite all the Christian States of America were still filled with sin, up to the highest stations. The further she went, the more sin she seemed to see.

    She was in the ruins of a village, the ground nearby scarred where mass graves had been dug and filled. Around her was her new congregation. Mutilated, emaciated, suffering from radiation poisoning... and without hope. She had brought hope, which had lasted longer than the medical supplies. She had told them of the imminent end of the world. About how all material wealth would soon become irrelevant as only virtue or wickedness would be measured. She saw them kneel and sing praises to God... to God and her.

    Her emotions stirred heavily here, sending the image scattering. It was inappropriate for her to be prayed too. But nobody else seemed to be able and willing take the burden to warn humanity of its doom. Back then she had believed that she could avert it. That these poor, scarred people would be the first step to mankind's redemption.

    She saw herself stepping on a plane, vision blurry and tears streaming down her face. They sent her back. They stopped her. She knew what was to come. Years of doubt, anger, fear and self-recrimination. Had she been overly arrogant to act as a prophet? Or had she bowed to soon to the UN's wishes in spite of God's command? Had her removal been the loss of the last chance of humanity? Did humanity even deserve to be saved? Keeping an eye on the news she just performed her duties and prepared for the inevitable end.

    Unity. The first meeting with the others. Almost she had refused the suggestion that she'd be psych-chaplain. She wanted to be on earth when God would end things. But a flame had flickered to life that had almost been stamped out. Hope. Hope that she could do more than to prepare her own soul for the inevitable end. Hope she could help make sure humanity would be able to meet it Maker without being deeply ashamed. She had accepted, and been introduced to the others.

    Pravin Lal. He had been vocally opposed to her acceptance on the Unity. Even that day he had given her suspicious looks. But as they talked of their respective experiences in helping war torn countries, they had warmed up to each other. She had never managed to convert him though.

    Prokhor Zhakarov: Oddly enough, he hadn't really cared she was on the mission. Apparently, he felt the position of Psych chaplain was foolish to begin with, and it didn't matter who fulfilled it. He and she had despised each other at first sight.

    Deidre Skye. Kind but somewhat too shy. Miriam had been somewhat protective of her. When Zhakarov opposed her appointment, that had only encouraged that feeling.

    Shen-Ji Yang. She didn't know what to think of him. That disturbed her. She had a sharp eye for the slightest shows of fear, joy, anger or doubt. Yang showed none of them. It made her shiver.

    Captain Garland. Even now she couldn't bring herself to use his first name. He had been everything she had expected in a captain.

    She remembered that last look at Earth, from the Unity, remembered Deidre softly crying. She remembered them being called to go into cryogenic sleep.

    The memories started flashing faster and faster. The awakening. The betrayal of Santiago. The discovery of Morgan. Deidre being taken hostage. Yang's callousness. Zhakarov's desperation to finish repairs, her argument with him. Garland's disappearance. The discussion about taking one pod each, Pravin's vehement opposition, and Deidre's unexpected support for the idea. The fighting erupting, Yang using martial law. Her rejection of Zhakarov's pod and arduous travel to the abandoned damaged one. Her arrival at the desperate people in that pod, many injured and radiation poisoned. The terror as the ship tore apart.


    The violence of the crash rattled her mind and caused the visions to fall apart again. Once again there was emptiness. Emptiness? No... there was someone else. Someone was watching her?

    'Lord?' did she think it or say it? She thought she could hear her own voice echo.

    A response came. She wasn't sure if that was what she heard, but she did get an impression.

    A very young child's delighted laughter.


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