Fallen Angel, Part 16

Day 59. 25 pages, 7,524 words. Didn’t obviously do all that overnight – this just shows the notes I’d already collected and moved to the next part.


 

Day 725 (Centre / Mind standard). Reactor at 98% efficiency. Batteries at 100% and stable. Recycling systems condition green (sustainable). Air supply condition green (sustainable). Sleep chamber effective durability at 36%. Estimated depletion of raw materials for nutrient fabricator 492,000 days.

Further study of the Category 9 Convoy Defence Platform internal security measure, code-named ‘Flesh-Eater’, has revealed primary cause of deactivation to have been heavy impact against a spinal node that acted as a universal regulator. This almost certainly occurred when the Flesh-Eater was ejected forcibly from the platform, backwards, through the hull plating.

Destruction of the regulator simultaneously deactivated the platform’s main centralised control functions and also rendered the Flesh-Eater inert. It is hypothesised that the unit is designed to be rendered inert upon disconnect in any case, to avoid the risk of independent military actions or subversion. The regulator is completely destroyed although as stated in previous entries, limited internal functionality (logs) has been restored by use of interfaces.

Bypassing the regulator to establish any form of communication with the platform must first deal with the security measures set in place to prevent exactly this.

No further communications received. Investigation of Flesh-Eater ongoing. Investigation of possible planetary bodies deeper in-system on hold pending ship repair and sensor overhaul. Ship repair and sensor overhaul on hold pending location of suitable raw materials. Drill project for water collection is on hold due to recent developments.

Researcher Predericon Ti Akmet, Lelhmak’s Moon.

Log ends.

Predericon sat back from the interface and sighed. She felt weary, and no amount of lulltime study and reflection or regenerative exercise seemed to help.

She’d spent more time with the sculpture – far more than she’d planned. It was a distant secondary priority at this point, and she shuddered to think what Lelhmak would say if he knew the full extent of her fascination with the abstract project … and yet she felt drawn to it.

The benefits of taking one’s mind off an immediate problem were well-established, but it had proven misguided in this case. She’d spent several hours staring, tweaking, reviewing, and making minute adjustments, but not really getting any closer to a solution. She told herself that once they established their location and got a better idea of what had happened in the hours immediately surrounding their crash, the project would gain more merit. And then instead of going back to the Flesh-Eater, she’d continued to stare at the middle of her impossible work-in-progress.

When Lelhmak and Gyden had knocked on her door to find out what the status of the Flesh-Eater research was, she’d been jolted. And she’d been forced to cobble together a series of elementary findings into a highly dubious set of secondary conclusions and an action plan scarcely justified by the information in her possession. Writing it into the ship’s log had seemed fraudulent.

Lelhmak had almost certainly seen through it anyway, but she’d made enough progress before ‘taking a break’ to work on the sculpture that they were satisfied with her intermediate conclusions. The Flesh-Eater did deactivate on severance from the platform for a reason, and circumventing that measure without reestablishing the connection was a bad idea. If, however, they could reconnect it to the platform while at the same time keeping it safely disconnected from its horrifying knife-hands, that would be a great benefit.

It was just a difficult thing to achieve when the mechanism actually designed to facilitate that connection was the thing that had been obliterated.

She’d succeeded in extending Old Man Lelhmak’s deadline by a day, and had little to show for it. Sooner or later he was going to press for some sort of decision, or cantankerously demand that they put him back in the sleeper.

Actively resisting the urge to return to her cabin, Predericon made her way back to the comms / examination station where the Flesh-Eater’s head lay face-down and open on the table.

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while on the bus.

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Fallen Angel, Part 15

Day 58. 133 pages, 60,439 words. Part Two finished.


 

The researchers couldn’t decide on what to do next, and what was the best course. There didn’t, in fact, seem to be a best course.

“Can we – excuse me, you – use elements of the Flesh-Eater’s interface to communicate with the Elevator?” Gyden asked Predericon. “The platform might have more robust sensors and be able to tell us where we are. It’s unlikely she can communicate with local systems, if there even are any – because if she could, they likely would have come here by now. But at least we can share some information.”

“Even if they’re immobilised and unable to get here, there might still be other ships or settlements like ours, functional but grounded elsewhere in this system,” Predericon agreed. “Setting up a communications network with them would be useful.”

“Of course, tuning into the comm line of a dead Flesh-Eater might just alert the Elevator to our presence,” Lelhmak said. “Or the Demon, if it’s managed to access those systems.”

“So we take the whole setup off-base,” Gyden suggested. “Predericon could scavenge enough parts from our comm system to set up a tight-beam connection using the Flesh-Eater as a transmitter. We sit away on the ice a sensible distance from the Speed, and transmit without revealing the location of the ship.”

“Leaving aside the possibly unwarranted confidence of that plan,” Predericon said, “isn’t it going to be immediately and painfully obvious to the Elevator or the Demon that the chances of us having survived out on the ice for two years, with exactly the items needed to fashion a communicator out of a handy Flesh-Eater head we happen to find, is basically zero, and that we have to have a base of operations somewhere relatively nearby?”

“Yes, that will be obvious,” Gyden said, “but I don’t know that we have any reasonable alternatives.”

“Let me see if I can get any more information out of the Flesh-Eater,” Predericon said, “and work through some data and interface scenarios on the computer before we commit to a course of action. It might not even be possible to retrofit it to reconnect with the Elevator, let alone any other ships. We only connected it to this one by direct interface.”

“Two days,” Lelhmak said, holding up his fingers. “If nothing’s happened by then, I’m going back to sleep.”

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark. Sorry but I ran out of time today but I got a bunch of main writing done.

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Fallen Angel, Part 14

Day 57. 127 pages, 58,058 words.


 

“Okay,” Predericon said. They’d returned to the kitchen, although at this point they were all drinking water. The unspoken understanding seemed to be that if they started drinking frohu again now, they weren’t going to stop. “It’s been a solid year and a half since the Flesh-Eater was thrown to where Gyden found it. If this … whatever-it-is…”

“Demon,” Lelhmak intoned.

Predericon tried to ignore him. “If this whatever-it-is hasn’t-”

Demon,” Lelhmak snapped.

Predericon capitulated. She’d known all along that Old Man Lelhmak wouldn’t be rolled over. “If this Demon hasn’t found us yet, then it clearly doesn’t have a way to track us or sense us. It’s either trapped in the Elevator, or it’s scouting at random across the surface like Gyden has been.”

“Hell and teeth, I might have run right into it,” Gyden said weakly.

“Or it could be capable of finding us and has no interest in doing so,” Predericon went on, “although that feels a little wishful to me.”

“Agreed,” Gyden replied. Lelhmak made a low sound of assent.

“Of those options … I don’t see how it can be trapped in the Elevator, to be honest,” Predericon continued. “It managed to punch a Flesh-Eater clean out through the hull without any apparent effort, so getting itself out should pose no difficulty. And it’s clearly not stuck in there by dependence on heat or air, because according to those final readings the platform has had neither for some time already.”

“So where does that leave us?” Gyden said. “We stay here until the sleep chamber runs down, and then stay a bit longer before we all die; we put together Lelhmak’s escape pod and leave one of us stranded and the other dead while the third goes for help that may not exist; or we go to the Elevator which may be overrun by a – a Demon.”

“And the Elevator might just swat us dead the second we turn up anyway,” Lelhmak said moodily.

“Or chop us to pieces like she did with her crew,” Predericon added. Lelhmak nodded.

“What even is a Demon?” Gyden demanded abruptly.

Oh for goodness’ sake,” Lelhmak exclaimed, “didn’t you read anything about the Four Realms before coming here? Quick quiz: how many Realms are there?”

Gyden favoured Old Man Lelhmak with a glare. “Right now I’m going to go with ‘none’.”

Lelhmak glared back at her, then conceded with a grudging mm hm. “Okay. But neither of you read up on the Void theocracy?”

“We read it, Kedane,” Predericon said gently. “There was nothing about Demons in the official literature.”

“Well as the name might suggest, while Angels are human undead glorified by the Pinian God, Demons are human undead glorified – excuse me, diabolised – by the Darking Adversary,” Lelhmak explained.

“Was it imprisoned in the Elevator?” Predericon asked. “Maybe it got free when the platform went into shut-down?”

“Maybe it was catching a ride from Cursèd to the Castle,” Gyden suggested.

“Maybe we should ask it,” Lelhmak grunted, and poked at the database display with his lower hands. “Look, the official literature doesn’t talk about them because they’re one of those dirty little open secrets the Firstmades love so much. Like, they’re all eternal opposites and nemeses and all that, but they still go to the same cocktail parties and chat about mortals these days, you know?”

“No,” Predericon said.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Gyden agreed.

“This is the Firstmade equivalent of politics,” Lelhmak told them. “The Elevator ferries people up and down between these two deathly-enemy states, and everyone just pretends it isn’t happening. Free will. The right to choose. The Pinians put agents in Castle Void, and the Darkings ignore it. The Darkings put agents in the Four Realms, and the Pinians ignore it.”

“The Demons are Darking agents,” Predericon concluded.

I don’t know,” Lelhmak said impatiently. “I don’t understand it much better than you two newborns. But no, they’re more like … byproducts. A necessary evil,” he barked a short laugh. “Literally.”

“The newborns are still lost,” Gyden remarked.

“God gets Angels,” Lelhmak said, “the Adversary gets to make Demons. And they sort of just hang around and stay out of trouble. So you’re not going to find them on any important database … but they’re part of the landscape if you know where to look,” he tapped at the interface again. “There,” he said, and pointed. “You see?”

Predericon leaned forward to examine the database entry, which was still fairly obscure. There were classifications within classifications within classifications, and the Demons seemed to be tucked away at the bottom levels of all of them.

In a way, it made sense – an unspoken and unacknowledged secret, indeed. And yet this was apparently a creature capable of demolishing at least the low-level internal security measures of a Godfang. One would think that the Pinians and the Archangelic court would be more interested in keeping tabs on them.

Unless things had gone far more horribly wrong than even Predericon had assumed.

“How many of them…?” she asked.

“Three,” Lelhmak replied. “Odium, Mercy and Fury.”

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while on the bus. Ooh, must be Wednesday!

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Fallen Angel, Part 13

Day 56. 125 pages, 57,211 words.


 

Gyden fed the log data, which allowed audio-visual translation after a brief technological wrestle, onto one of the comm viewscreens.

“SEGMENT FOUR,” the audio announced in a deafeningly loud but otherwise mellow single-toned human voice. Gyden winced and dialled the feed down. The cryptic message didn’t seem to correspond to any logging or timestamp data, so they disregarded it for the time being and watched the sequence of events leading up to the Flesh-Eater’s demise.

The interior of the platform was as smooth and white and organic-looking as her hull, and as aesthetically twisted as her security devices. The Flesh-Eater was moving through smooth corridors and vast ribbed chambers, possibly within ‘SEGMENT FOUR’, without much sign that there was anything untoward happening. They couldn’t see its body, just the smoothly-shifting point-of-view as it – presumably – walked its rounds.

A doorway opened and disgorged a number of humans in similar pale wrappings to those worn by the Flesh-Eater. They were running, clearly agitated, and when they saw the Flesh-Eater in the passageway they panicked entirely. Some of them froze, others fled back the way they had come, others attempted to do so and were shoved aside or trampled. A few in the front line drew weapons of some kind, but it was obvious from their faces – not to mention the faint blue-white outlines the point-of-view drew around the instruments in the humans’ hands, and thereafter disregarded entirely – that they would have no effect on the Flesh-Eater.

Nevertheless, they opened fire. The Flesh-Eater’s point-of-view surged forward into the crowd of struggling humans, and its arms flashed in the peripheries of the display.

“Dear God,” Lelhmak said queasily after a few seconds.

The Flesh-Eater, almost eerily living up to its namesake, hacked the cluster of humans to pieces as though they were made of mist. As those at the rear of the crowd fled back the way they’d come, the Flesh-Eater stepped forward and followed – until it crossed the threshold of the doorway.

“SEGMENT FIVE,” the audio announced cryptically, and the Flesh-Eater stopped.

“Looks like its interior movements are limited?” Predericon mused softly.

The Flesh-Eater didn’t need to give chase. The humans had nowhere to go. A few seconds later another pair of Flesh-Eaters loomed out of the passageway in ‘SEGMENT FIVE’ and finished carving the platform’s human crew – or at least these representatives thereof – to pieces. Gory to the elbows, their white robes splashed liberally with lurid red human blood, the Flesh-Eaters regarded each other for a moment across the invisible demarkation line. The three Molren watched the screen in tense silence.

Then ‘their’ Flesh-Eater turned and headed back the way it had come.

“What the Hell,” Gyden said, then tapped at the interface. “Looks like it went dormant after that for … a couple of months? Next set of logs show ambient temperature and air pressure to be pretty close to – well, Lelhmak’s Moon normal. I guess the platform went down and lost environmental control.”

“How?” Predericon shook her head. “The Godfang is much more resilient than the Speed, and we managed to maintain life support.”

“If I had to guess,” Lelhmak said, “I’d say she went into controlled storage and was unable to sustain her human crew. Normally when that happens, the crew is evacuated but there doesn’t seem to have been any way for that to happen here.”

“So the Flesh-Eaters put them out of their misery as quickly and violently as possible?” Predericon concluded.

Lelhmak grimaced and shrugged. “Intentional venting of atmos,” he said, “but it points to a problem with the computer protocols, not the actual hull or systems.”

The Flesh-Eater point-of-view was once again gliding smoothly through the passageways of the now-frozen Elevator interior. There was no sign of habitation, human or otherwise. Suddenly, and in synchrony with a flashing series of alerts on one side of the viewer, the Flesh-Eater accelerated. The passageway walls blurred.

“Something about an intruder,” Gyden reported tensely. The screen went dark – it seemed as though the Flesh-Eater had simply descended into the floor – and then brightened again as it rose up out of another. Some faster means of internal transit, maybe. Or a glitch due to damage. The Flesh-Eater swept into one of the large buttressed chambers – “heavy freight gallery 7,” Gyden identified the area – alongside a dozen more of its disconcerting kind.

A human was standing in the middle of the gallery, arms open. What appeared to be a human, anyway – it was humanoid, indiscernible from the ones the Flesh-Eaters had killed apart from its clothing, which seemed to be the crisp silver-and-black of Earth’s domestic military. There were hundreds of strikingly similar uniforms across the Four Realms, though, and Predericon had to admit she’d never paid much attention. Neither had Gyden or Lelhmak, she guessed, since neither of them spoke up.

The strangest thing about this human, however, was that despite the fact that it was unarmed, its body was highlighted on the display in a lurid, pulsing red. The Flesh-Eater, or its security protocols, considered it a severe threat.

“Priesthood?” Predericon theorised.

“Not according to the data imprint,” Gyden said. “There are categories for various soldier and mage classes. This is … actually if anything, it’s checking most of the characteristics for the Angel profile … but it’s not an Angel, either.”

The screen winked, there was a flash of white, and then the log ended.

“End of the line,” Lelhmak noted. “Can you play that last bit slower?” he stepped over and sat at the console next to Gyden. “Way slower.”

Gyden nodded, and tapped at the interface.

The Flesh-Eater’s final scene was a strange role-reversal of its massacre of the human crewmembers. The red-outlined intruder strolled through the looming white figures, simply … obliterating them, one by one. Some it waved its hands through, shattering them. Others it picked up and bashed into the ground hard enough to leave craters in the gleaming enamel of the floor. And others still, it punched. Those ones flew, impacted the walls of heavy freight gallery 7, and … vanished, leaving holes in their wake.

It was like some sort of comedic animation. The entire scene was slowed down so that the work of less than quarter of a second played out over the course of almost a minute, but the intruder’s movement really was just like a casual walk, interspersed with lazy movements of its hands. About halfway through the fight it punched their Flesh-Eater, presumably right through the Elevator’s outer hull and clean across the surface of Lelhmak’s Moon. The flash of white was the icy landscape flying by in the Flesh-Eater’s final logged data influx, accompanied by a discordant declaration of “SEGMENT ZERO,” followed by nothingness.

The comms area was silent for a few seconds in the wake of the insane replay.

“Still want to sit around down here for another sixty or eighty years?” Lelhmak asked in a low voice.

 


– Written in the wee small hours of the morning. Sent off from my Huawei mobile phone while on my coffee break.

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Fallen Angel, Part 12

Day 55. 123 pages, 56,335 words. Actually did quite a bit this weekend despite a lot of faffing around, but I also moved a bunch of pages into Part 3 so the total word count didn’t climb by much.


 

After careful inspection and sampling of the Flesh-Eater, Lelhmak declared it inert.

“It might be able to be broken down and reconstituted into new units on board the Elevator,” he said, “but it’s dead now. A little bit of cold and airlessness wouldn’t have slowed it down otherwise.”

“You said it was an internal security unit,” Predericon said. “Could its forcible removal from the platform have caused it to shut down?”

“I’m not a scholar on this particular subject,” Lelhmak said, his habitual grumpy tone softened by the sheer intellectual excitement of what they were doing, “but I don’t think so. The Flesh-Eaters were meant to be pretty autonomous, and while they didn’t venture far from the platform, that was more to do with the treaties and conventions than any operational limitation. Plus the fact that there’s not much point having a localised small-arms set that wanders off and goes on holiday.”

The upshot of the examination was that there was no risk in dismantling the alarming-looking thing and bringing its intelligence matrix inside. Predericon knew it was safe because Lelhmak mounted only mild objections to Gyden going out to perform the operation. And most of his argument was a gruffly affectionate insult about Predericon being a smaller loss to the academic community if she went instead, and got sliced up by the unit’s autonomic defences.

Predericon pointed out in turn that Old Man Lelhmak had just been talking about sacrificing himself for the good of the crew anyway, so maybe he should go. Lelhmak huffily agreed to this, but Gyden overruled him on the grounds that she’d already handled the unit and was familiar with the EVA equipment – which, furthermore, she hadn’t cleansed to phobe standards. Lelhmak grimaced, but yielded amidst mutters of what shamelessly grotty little children he was forced to work with.

Gyden went out, cut the Flesh-Eater into manageable pieces and stored each one in a series of sample containers, and brought the one containing the head back into the airlock. They scrubbed and scanned and re-scrubbed the ‘sample’, then took it around to the comms console.

“Should be easy enough to link up,” Predericon said, “the computer-to-computer actually has a zirgox adapter. We’ll just have to hope that the Flesh-Eater’s fibre-fluid isn’t too old to handle the connection.”

“Start it with a low-yield single-layer spike,” Lelhmak advised, “and see if smoke comes out of its nostrils.”

Predericon braced herself, pried apart two of the glossy white eyelids, and eased the adapter into the glistening black zirgox. It was still deeply cold, but the interface on the console lit up with an active connection.

“That was easy,” Gyden remarked. She leaned over the console and began distilling the link. Predericon adjusted the angle of the adapter – the substance inside the Flesh-Eater’s head was thick and tarry and less crystalline than the zirgox fibre interfaces she was used to – but further re-seating proved unnecessary.

Lelhmak grunted. “Argo-tech was first invented by the Dark Realms,” he said. “How difficult can it afford to be?”

“Not too difficult for everybody else to adopt it,” Gyden murmured. Before Lelhmak could retort, she added, “I’ve got what looks like a set of logs. The most recent segments have actually been compiled into a black box package.”

“Let’s see it,” Predericon said.

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while in carpark.

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Fallen Angel, Part 11

Day 54. 123 pages, 55,523 words.


 

There still wasn’t a reasonably established answer to this question, however, so the three Molren sat and discussed the various hypotheses that came closest to fitting the evidence.

The presence of a single Flesh-Eater, Gyden insisted and both Predericon and – grudgingly – Lelhmak concurred, didn’t necessarily imply the presence of the Elevator. Still, it was a fair indication, and the presence of the Flesh-Eater or the Flesh-Eater and its home platform changed the basic equation they’d been working with.

Not enough to actually force a conclusion, of course.

“So if we’ve been relocated, then at least something from the volume immediately surrounding us was also moved,” Predericon said.

“And if the Four Realms were swallowed up by a spatial anomaly and reconstituted into a ballworld solar system like the ones in Cursèd’s Playground,” Gyden replied, “then at least we might not be alone in this new environment.”

“And the sensors still can’t tell us if we’re even still in the Void,” Lelhmak added, “or how big this ‘new environment’ might be.”

“No,” Predericon admitted. “The heavy-spectrum scanners and essential physics contrast engine burned out during the … just before the crash,” she said.

“Burned out, like they never even existed in the first place,” Gyden put in, just in case Old Man Lelhmak didn’t remember this conversation from his previous revival, and wanted to berate them some more.

“I get it,” Lelhmak grumbled. “So we’re left with really nothing much better than the naked eye. And our eyes, and what’s left of the sensors, tell us that we’re in a solar system in the stellar-vacuum style, considerably larger than the volume of the Four Realms. And that the solar system is part of a galaxy that’s even larger still. And that the Castle is gone.”

“Yes,” Predericon said, as if they hadn’t gone over this hundreds of times before. “And we are unable to pick up any comms traffic. We have either been transported a huge distance and the sensors are unable to find any reference point, or we have been left behind in a fundamentally altered sphere of near Castle space, and the sensors are not equipped to accurately scan it,” Gyden shifted in her seat. “Or,” Predericon concluded in the interests of fairness, “the Cursèd megaengineering site underwent a dramatic and unannounced state-change, and everything we’re seeing on sensors and out in the sky is a simulated backdrop to account for the new configuration,” for whatever reason, she prevented herself from adding. Things were speculative enough without adding motive as a variable.

“Why choose?” Lelhmak actually seemed to be in his element now. “We’re stuck down here with nothing but our eyes and a completely beshitted sensor array. Any of those options, or none of them, or all of them might be true.”

All of them?” Gyden echoed sceptically.

“Until more information comes along,” Lelhmak spread all four hands. “Don’t forget, we were playing around in the Pinians’ back yard. Cursèd was the construction site of a Firstmade God. This might just be a test case, a new layout run-through, simulation on a cosmic scale. Just because the Four Realms have been stable for millennia, doesn’t mean they’re always going to be. And just because we’ve got machines and technology and logic and empirical evidence, doesn’t mean the Firstmades have to give a crap.”

“And just because ‘the Ghååla did it’ is an unsatisfying scientific conclusion-” Predericon paraphrased one of Old Man Lelhmak’s favourite weed-out-the-time-wasters axioms.

“-Doesn’t mean the Ghååla didn’t do it,” Lelhmak concluded, and scowled at her. “Sycophant.”

“Fossil,” Predericon replied blandly.

“Alright,” Gyden cut through the exchange and pointed at Lelhmak. “But you just said we need more information. And also that we can’t risk going looking for the Elevator because we might find her and that would be awful.”

“I didn’t say we needed more information,” Lelhmak replied. “I said ‘until more information comes along’,” he paused. “Which, now I come to consider our situation, may not have been the most reassuring choice of phrasing,” he admitted.

“Is there some way we can find out more about what happened from the Flesh-Eater?” Predericon asked. “Without undue risk of exposing ourselves to the Elevator,” she added, when Lelhmak opened his mouth in exasperation. He closed his mouth, and looked thoughtful. “Its head seemed to be packed with zirgox interface fibre-fluid,” she pressed her advantage. “It’s possible we could interface with it using the computer-to-computer handshake protocols.”

Lelhmak opened his mouth again, then stopped. A smile of disturbingly uncharacteristic rapture spread across his face.

“We can look into its eye,” he said, “and find the last thing it saw reflected there. Akmet, that’s the stupidest, most brilliant thing I’ve heard since you thawed me out.”

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Fallen Angel, Part 10

Day 53. 123 pages, 55,523 words.


 

“Honestly, the pair of you,” Lelhmak said. They’d returned to the kitchen and were sitting around the table, drinking heavily-watered frohu liquor. The syrupy mixture was the only narcotic the processor would produce that was both strong and approved by the academy, but at least even a phobe could drink it. “You call yourselves students of Firstmade and Elder Theology. We’re on a research tour of the Four Realms with a stated focus on the Cursèd megaengineering site and – under no circumstances whatsoever – an occasional discreet look at Castle Void. The Elevator is right there at The Godfang’s Landing.”

Was right there,” Gyden corrected him.

Lelhmak waved this off. “Was there. We were practically floating in her flight path. You never bothered to familiarise yourselves with the Pinian Brotherhood’s principal enforcer across The Face of the Deep?”

“The Destarion is not an enforcer for the Brotherhood,” Predericon said. “I may not be familiar with the platform’s specifications but I have read the accords and treaties connected to the Godfang. Brotherhood authority in the Void is seated in the Archangelic court, and enforced by the Vorontessæ or in exceptional cases by the Burning Knights. The Elevator is a transport platform now, nothing more – hence her nickname.”

“And if you believe that…” Lelhmak muttered, then went on more firmly. “Regardless, if you’ve read the accords, you should at least be familiar with the Destarion’s armaments.”

“Flesh-Eater is a weapon category,” Gyden said excitedly. “I remember. There were World-Eaters, and God-Eaters…”

“And All-Eaters,” Lelhmak nodded approvingly. He turned back to Predericon and jabbed a finger at Gyden. “There, you see?”

“That creature outside is a weapon, then,” Predericon said calmly.

“In a sense,” Lelhmak shrugged his bony upper shoulders. “The Destarion is old. She’s got weird, olde-worlde ways of describing her components. The Flesh-Eaters are sort of low-level security and anti-vehicle armaments. They take different forms. The attractive fellow lying in the ice out there is an internal measure.”

“If an internal measure is lying in the ice in the middle of an impact crater…” Predericon said.

Lelhmak nodded again. “That means whatever brought the Speed down,” he said, “might also have brought down the Elevator.”

“So maybe we did handle the crash as well as could be expected,” Gyden remarked.

“Mm hm,” Lelhmak raised his glass and drank sourly. “You covered yourselves in glory.”

“More to the point,” Gyden went on, “if the Destarion is down here, she’ll probably have resources we can use.”

Old Man Lelhmak seemed completely flabbergasted by this suggestion. In the hopes of intercepting a scathing response, Predericon said, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to approach the Elevator – not according to some of the stories I’ve heard about the platform, anyway.”

“Come now,” Gyden said. “We’re students of Firstmade and Elder Theology, not Post-Worm Folklore.”

Lelhmak slammed his lower hands on the tabletop. “And if you think there’s a line between those two subjects, child, you’re not the student I took you for,” he snapped. “For once in your life, listen to your desperately boring friend.”

Predericon and Gyden flicked brief, surprised glances at each other. Lelhmak’s surly criticisms and ire were usually reserved exclusively for Predericon, who – he made no secret of the fact – he considered the more promising long-term academy candidate while simultaneously harbouring forgivable sentimentality towards the younger researcher. For the elderly but brilliant phobe to so forget himself and address them in correspondence to his actual opinions, the severity of their situation was clearly far beyond what they’d suspected.

“Alright,” Gyden said, subdued but not petulant. “The Elevator is dangerous. She’s also a very valuable and high-powered asset. If she’s downed somewhere on this moon, recovery teams will be working on retrieving her.”

“It’s been seven hundred and twenty-two days,” Lelhmak said wearily. “Either they’ve already retrieved her, leaving a few broken bits and pieces lying around, or…”

“Or they’re not coming,” Predericon concluded.

Lelhmak drained his frohu and grimaced. “Not coming or can’t come,” he said. “Which brings us back to the question of just where the Hell we are.”

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments