Paran’s Gospel

By David Bailey

Somewhere outside of time, the remnants of life hide within scattered colonies, thrown across a universe expanding into an infinite field of death and darkness.  Anchored to the few remaining red dwarf stars that glow progressively dimmer in the black sky, eons of technological advances preserve unraveling worlds. The remaining interbred life forms cling to these synthetic homes like frightened children grip blankets. Though the shelters offer no lasting protection against the encroaching doom, warmth and comfort flicker within. For Calteran, hope literally fades as each visible star in the distance blinks from existence. Soon an eternity of cold blackness will devour the colony. The only answer to nature’s inevitable decay comes in the shape of an ancient, blood stained android. His name is Paran: a living ark for all with the courage to throw off the body and embrace what lies beyond the eyeless womb of unbeing.

Visage

Fenris stands tall, gazing through thick, clear glass. He fixates upon the red plumes and dark orange fields of flame that form Lunis. The red dwarf growls and thrashes into space, shortening its life with each angry eruption. He twirls two steel stress balls in his hands as the light clanks and rings of bells ping the air like fleeting voices.

Tactus enters through the enclave behind.  He feels sharp, frigid air cut into his face and adjusts his collar. At first he thinks Fenris has failed to notice his entry. In an effort to break the tension, he clears his throat. Fenris maintains his visage and remains motionless. Tactus finds what’s left of his nerves, breaking the silence.

“It’s been three months since Tieran disappeared. You haven’t left your quarters since, and frankly, its getting difficult to keep everyone calm.” He says, still and stoic.

“Why should we assuage their fears when life chokes dimmer above their heads every day? We’ve been siphoning energy from Lunis for generations. At least before, the relay station at Tieran provided us with the comfort of knowing someone else was still out there, even if reaching them was impossible.” Fenris taps his fingers against the glass as he speaks. A long band erupts from the star’s surface and stretches, snake-like across the black sky. For one second, a brighter red bathes the metro-colony and Calteran glows. The light fades and the white, harsh beams of artificial fire once again leap from the scattered buildings.

Tactus chimes in with his own despair. “We need a leader Fenris. A miasma crawls through this place.” His voice lowers and his fists grip tight. “Meela cries every night. Yesterday she actually talked about drowning the children in the tub, all calm and quiet like putting down a dog. She said she didn’t want them to live in a world where death was the only certainty.” He joins Fenris at the window.

Fenris tries to assure him. “I’m sure she’s just talking. Ever since she gave birth to Gimon, she hasn’t been right.” Fenris knows the words only increase the weight on Tactus’ shoulders.

“What frightens me is not her words, but the fact that for a moment, I considered it myself.” An awkward silence looms as Tactus wonders what Fenris thinks of this revelation. He continues.  “I’m beginning to think that all we really want is to be drowned out.”

Fenris runs his fingers through his grey strands of hair. He decides to change the subject. Something angry should lighten the tone. “Aeschylus believed he could improve the ninth space siphon system Tieran tried to implement, but it looks like there’s no point studying the concept anymore.” Tactus knows the theory. Ninth Space speculums break through to a Meta dimension uniting all possible points of reality within one singular field of quantum space, and the radiation contained within it erupts through several temporal layers. Perfect for interstellar travel and (possibly) a perpetual power system. All they ever had to fear were the Origin, prowling and stalking the phase space of the ninth layer. But millennia had subdued and conquered their ancient aggression.

Tactus tries to focus, and devote all concentration to Fenris. This is the first time he has opened up about what may have happened to Tieran’s prototype. Only the Abran Council knows. He finally speaks again. “When Saria began to fade, Tieran’s only chance for survival probably blew them to pieces, or worse. My theory is they ran directly into an Origin, if those things even still exist. We could know for sure when the light bands of the incident’s time frame reach us in four hundred years, but we likely won’t last long enough to watch what happened.”

Fenris coughs and stares Tactus in the eye. He continues. “In any case, Tieran settled three hundred years of debate. There’s officially no way out now. The age of Ninth Space siphons died that day.  When Lunis blinks out, it’s gonna get real cold, real fast.” Fenris walks to a nearby table where an unlabeled bottle of whiskey stands somber and brown.  He lifts it to his lips and takes a sip. After a deep breath, he speaks again. “What does Aeschylus, our endowed messiah , have to say about the coming energy revolution now?”

Tactus doesn’t hesitate. The news is the real reason he came to Fenris’s chambers anyway. “He hung himself yesterday, in the main square outside the Ministry building.  Very inconvenient, morale is already as low as it can get.” Tactus speaks without emotion, slow and calm. “I have received some good news. Shera has conducted a final analysis using the new R-9 depth divers. As far as we can tell, Lunis can still give us two to five hundred years. Perhaps we can figure something out by then?”

Fenris plants his hand firmly against the glass again, leaning in hard. “We’ve already been here fifteen hundred years, and Tieran was ahead of us on the Ninth Space siphon. We’re fucked Tactus.”

Tactus tries to sound defiant. “Perhaps someone will come…”

Fenris interrupts. “We haven’t seen any travelers for three hundred years, back when my father was still in charge. Even the Dark Watch have likely gone extinct. Look into the sky Tactus…there’s nothing out there. It’s just us, and we’re alone. And we still waste all this time, trying to come up with some excuse to keep holding our breath. We hope like fools, that some vast miracle will erupt from a universe that has simply reached its expiration.” He slams the glass down and wipes the brown fluid from his lips.

Tactus strikes. “Perhaps we should just drown our children? Or blow out the primary hatches and de-pressurize? Is that what you want?” Tactus can feel Fenris teetering on some edge, far within his mind.

They stare out upon the Calteran skyline. Every square inch of the station floods with towers and bright Pheron light. A cloud of grav cars fills the massive air between the internal towers and the thick synth-glass panels, separating Calteran from the ever darkening universe. Above them shines Lunis, faithfully, weakly. For five minutes, silence growls between them. Another serpent band rockets from the star’s surface.

Fenris’s face becomes blood red as his misery boils. “The insane looks more reasonable every day.”

An Omni-screen appears at his side with a weak alarm.  He activates the Vid-Screen and Shera appears. Her eyes are wide and her flesh glows more pale then usual. Her voice filters in panic through the small speakers nestled in the ceiling above.

Sir, the communication lines have been on the fritz and I’ve been unable to reach you. We have an emergency.

Fenris tries to calm her down. “Whatever it is Shera, it can’t be that bad, Lunis is still up there.”

Someone is coming. We have a lock on in incoming object skirting the boundaries of Ninth Space. It will be here in fifteen minutes.

Fenris feels energy unknown for ten years. “They must be survivors. Move as many medical personnel to the primary dock station and contact…”

Shera interrupts. I’m sorry sir, but its not survivors. Tracking trajectories in Ninth Space is still a very in-exact science, but this is definitely coming from the Periphery. Besides, Tieran’s experimental Pheron clamps wouldn’t generate the same field as a true ninth space speculum.

Tactus feels hope and fear. He expresses both in one breath. “We haven’t heard anything from the periphery for two-thousand years. I thought they all pulled closer to the center?”

Fenris relies on instinct. Tactus feels relief within horror as Fenris resembles the leader he once was. “Whoever it is, they still have a functioning Ninth Space speculum and no one has had enough Pheron concentration for interstellar travel in hundreds of years. That means they’re powerful and have resources we don’t understand. I want you to dispatch a squadron of Senrial Guard just in case. Get some soldiers down there.”

Sir, Shera says.

“Go ahead.”

There’s a riot. Everyone in the station is crowding the entrance to Megiddo Entry.

“How the hell did this get out?” Fenris shouts.  “You know what Shera? Don’t fucking answer, I know one of you idiots leaked this, and now everyone is in a frenzy. If anyone dies in the chaos, it’s on your goddamn consciences.”

Shera blinks out as Fenris moves swiftly to the door. He drapes a long Officer’s coat around his shoulders. It shines black and glossy with brightly colored insignias on the chest and shoulders.

Tactus again expounds upon despair. “If they are aggressive, there’s no point in sending Senrial. The battalion hasn’t fought a battle since Calteran was founded. They’ll be useless.”

Fenris stares Tactus in the face and scowls. “Then I guess we should hope they’re peaceful.”

Shatter

Tactus brings the communicator close. Melea appears on the screen. Her blonde hair hangs mossy, and he can hardly see her face before she rakes the locks away with her fingers.  Her cheeks gleem moist and fail to hide tears, shed in cascades before she activated the screen. He grinds his teeth with wretched thoughts.

“Meela, you haven’t…have you?”

Her voice whispers meek and quiet. “No…they’re okay.”

Tactus breathes. He thinks of the children’s small faces. Temrin, Falia, Gimon, all laugh and talk in a fog of dreams. For several seconds he feels relief, knowing they still breathe. As she wipes the moist drops from her red eyes, he envisions the children quiet and motionless, lying face down in clouded, white water, possessed with peace and calm.

He decides to break the vision. “Get the kids together and head for Megiddo Entry.”

Her face brightens with confusion. “Why?”

“Someone is coming in fast from the periphery.  We don’t know who they are, could be pirates or something worse. In any case, this will be the last contact with the outside before Lunis goes, and I want the kids there no matter what comes through that door.” Tactus knows he may be sending his family to death, but he doesn’t care. They will simply be joining him.

“I’m on my way,” Meela says, gathering several things together in sight of the Comm screen.

Tactus considers the weight of the moment. “Meela, people are rioting. Everyone will be headed in the same direction, so be careful.”

“I’ll be there as quick as I can,” she says reaching to the power switch.

“If we are still alive by the end of the day, I’ll say every thing I never could before.” Tactus breathes deep and stares longingly into her eyes.

“It would just be words, and you would still be as empty and hollow as the day I married you. It makes no difference what you say now. I hope whatever comes through Megiddo Gate, it kills us all.” The screen blinks to static.

Tactus closes his fingers tight around the comm and feels pain shoot through his fingers. The screen cracks, and a drop of blood leaks from his index finger. Red fluid streaks the screen and Tactus tosses the Comm from the window of the car. It falls fifty stories down to the streets below and shatters.

Savior and Predator

Tactus watches a crowd of hundreds as thousands poor in from all sides. Standing from an open grav-car, he and several other officials hover above the mob. Fenris likely pushed his way through to the airlock, but in the endless sea of desperate faces, Tactus can distinguish no individual. Megiddo Entry sits quiet as the crowds stand in an open gallery below. Three streets converge before it and massive words frame the grey, steel wall surrounding the airlock door. He reads the message over and over.

Beyond this wall stretches the ever expansive infinite, which grows colder and wider with each gasp of our feeble breath. Here’s to hope that this door opens to friends, and not a quiet, dreadful silence, removing our fears with a hateful certainty. Willa watches us. We commit ourselves to her care, love, and guidance.

The name Willa calms Tactus’ nerves. The four priests left the inscription when the airlock closed around the last refugee Cheruban, rocketing away from Calteran in search for something other than a waiting death. They probably found what they hoped to escape shortly after leaving Calteran’s haven.  He searches the crowd for Meela. For a second, he hopes she stays far away from this gate. Something waits, crawling closer, ravenous and angry as each moment dies and falls away. A thousand eyes open across his viscous imagination. A voice booms clear from the loud speakers surrounding the airlock, and every Caltan holds a painful breath.

We have acquisition. Decontamination complete. It’s not a craft. Never seen anything like this before. Origin Damned, everyone hold your breath. There’s no telling what the hell this thing is going to do.

Tactus turns to the dignitaries and snatches a wrist Com from the third block delegate. He binds the unit around his arm and contemplates what to say. He thinks of ordering quarantine, or at least a stay until some type of contact can be established. He knows Fenris is likely thinking the same thing. As Tactus reaches for the call button, Meela’s face turns to him from the crowd. She has all three kids with her and an anxious look whitens her face. He hesitates, and the airlock wardens decide the fate of Calteran.

Airlock breach in three, two, one…

The air pulls violently, and some weaker Caltan fall with the force of the suction. The doors retract slowly and the sound of the rushing wind roars through the streets. A savage din whirls as horror spreads through the mob. Tactus remains unphased as Fenris’ voice yells through the comm. Again, he is glad to have his leader back.

You inbred assholes didn’t balance the pressurization rates before breach. What the hell is wrong with everyone today?

A minute passes and the crowd regains composure. The doors continue their slow separation as the Caltan struggle to peer inside. Tactus speaks into the comm.

“Fenris, I don’t like this. We’re just sitting ducks here.” Tactus gazes at Meela as she helps the children back to their feet. Gimon cries, eyes pursed and a mouth shrieking with fear.

No point in thinking about that now. You just said all we really want is a drowning. If that’s true then who cares? Besides, I think I know what it is anyway.

Tactus smirks at Fenris’ confidence and decides to call his bluff. “Oh really?”

Think about it. What could survive the outer periphery for that long and still power a ninth space speculum? It’s got to be a…

Before Fenris can finish, it emerges. Though the doors have not yet separated enough to see in, two black claws grip the upper and lower halves. It pulls through, spindly and black, with wires and bright metal panels twisting through the gap like an insect. Its face is circular with seven bright eyes beaming through the dark airlock. Its body rips into the street, and the object stands. Its height stretches twenty feet into the air. Though littered with joints and spidery segments, the structure appears somewhat human, with four prominent limbs stretching from a central body. Thick, red stains cover his extremities and what some would call his chest. Tactus wonders if the behemoth is blood thirsty, and imagines its powerful claws tearing into the mob. The crowd gapes in awe as it surveys its surroundings. Some begin to pray with frantic words.

Fenris’s voice cracks through once again. Tactus can barely hear the words, though silence covers the streets and fills the massive air.

I knew it…I fucking knew it. The Seele aren’t extinct after all.

It speaks with the voice of a giant. Gentle and calm, though bursting with volume to fill every corner of Calteran. For the first time, Tactus feels cold fear.

“I am Paran.” He pauses and all prayers cease. “This universe is crumbling, falling away and fading. Yet you still cling to life.” As the shadow speaks it walks with razor legs, clanking and scraping along into the crowd. The living steel lowers itself, gazing upon the Caltan. He stops and stares into the face of a young girl. The bright lights blast her with blinding beams, illuminating her platinum curls and crimson red eyes. She stands paralyzed with wonder.

“You remind me of Willa. I knew…well…know her. She still lives you know.” He whirls his arms around and begins to walk on all fours. Darting his visionary beacons and lighting the faces of all around him. “I have searched for you…for all of you, every individual. Calteran was well known among the last remnant I visited. It was a colony far out in the periphery. I believe it was called Sola.”

Tactus speaks into the comm. “Sola ring a bell Fenris?”

No. I’ve never heard of it.

Tactus winces as new horrors dart through his mind. “That thing is covered with blood. Do you think it could be crazy?” Tactus seems to recall a disease that spread among the Seele units long ago. It supposedly made them violent and psychotic. Fenris has no time to reply.

The behemoth begins a dreadful sermon. “I HAVE searched for you. I knew every one of you before I saw your faces. I offer a great gift, something all life should know before the great dark gnaws oblivion’s edge.”

Tactus overcomes his hesitation. His words are fast and stressed, “Fenris, if that thing is dangerous we should try and neutralize it before it can attack. I don’t like the way its acting.”

Fenris abandon’s the logic Tactus had hoped to hear.

Let him speak.

The Seele climbs a long obelisk standing before the airlock. The spire stands high above the streets and Paran wraps his limbs around the pole tightly. He vaults himself above the tip and stands on the edge with a single claw. He becomes majestic and birdlike, dividing the artificial lights above him into multiple spectrums.

His voice thunders once again. “I am the last functioning Seele unit. The remains of man’s cannibalistic collective intelligence exist within me. I will fulfill the human’s foolish dream for the undying soul. All who wish to join my eternity will have the chance. We will defy death, time, the real and sorrow filling this layer of creation.”

The crowd erupts with his words.  The din is, at first, incomprehensible, but then a singular question vaults above all others.

“How can we become immortal?” someone shouts.

Paran faces the man who spoke: a tall, young Caltan male with dark hair and eager eyes.  He speaks to him directly. “Seele units are the remnant of a collective, robotic entity designed to preserve the living thoughts, memories, and personalities of human beings. The scanning process proved fatal, and almost eliminated the human race in a systematic war with an aggressive A.I. I possess Nano Scavengers, which the collective once used as a weapon. Only now, I offer you the opportunity to fuse with my programming and defy death. These demon drones will easily mesh into your blood stream and swarm the grey matter of your brains, harvesting thoughts, memories, emotions, desires, loves and hates, all forever enshrined within my dark shell.”

The crowd falls silent as Tactus reaches for a Pheron pistol in his holster. He fingers the grip, hesitant to draw the weapon.

Another voice screams out from the multitude. “You spoke of Willa. She told us that immortality was foolish and sinful, the path to the same fate of the Origin who suffered our creation!”

Paran grips the pole below his body and flips around. He skids down in a shower of sparks and flashes. He lands and returns to all fours. The seven red and orange lights on his face dim, and his voice softens, though still powerful enough for all to hear.

“I contain Willa within me.” A chorus of muffled shock and confusion blooms around him, then fades once again. “We were aboard the Hearth when the Mala Ministry launched their final assault and her body ripped in half as debris tore into her. She told me a month before that I would acquire her soul and merge with the origin which dwelled within her flesh. I can show you.”

Paran shoots a single, holographic ray of changing lights into the center of the crowd. At first he only conjures a cloud, morphing and shifting like a haze in breeze. But then the smoke condenses into the image of a woman. She is tall, 6’4 with a long blond plume of hair trailing down her back, the tips constrict into black strands. She wears the ceremonial urimite armor of the Kulun-Baal Prime. Her eyes rage a bright red, but her face stares downward, sad and silent. She is thin to sickness, and her skin glows pale: the most common symptom of lifelong space travel.

The crowd loses all control, and prayers explode. The Caltan fall to their knees and sing praises at her likeness, so long described but not once seen. They accept and believe.

The black god rises on two limbs again, and the halos on his face shine brighter then ever before. “Believe me. Willa preached the evil and pain of eternal life, but I offer you something greater than hellish life everlasting. I offer you a death, most profound, for none of you will survive conversion. Beyond the wall of oblivion lies the ark of transcendence. I will take all who long to abandon this fading chasm of dead stars and silence.”

One angry voice, launches from a high balcony. Tactus immediately recognizes Chairman Falk, yelling into a voice module, throwing his shrill complaint several decibels below Paran’s giant words. Tactus continues to trace his fingers along the gun.

“You would have us give up our lives! For what? You will not survive this Armageddon either. Even if you can somehow sustain a ninth space speculum and maintain a power source, entropy will eventually claim you. In a trillion years or so, your very atoms will collapse beneath the weight of this dying universe.”

Paran fires several anti grav pads, and rockets up to the balcony. Again, no Caltan struggles to hear his words.

“I have within me the living minds and memories of three million souls. Kulun, Calan, Human, Dysperian, Tolar. The history of this universe exists, recorded with my database.” He turns from Falk, hovering above the crowd with a low hum. His voice reaches a level beyond hearing. They can feel his words vibrate through blood and myriad threads of consciousness. He speaks within their souls. “I will break through this layer of real. The universe twists like a lowly string, hidden within a patch, tucked away in a broader tapestry of creation.” Massive light wings break from his metal frame. Eyes blink within the folds where feathers should bristle, and blood drips but fails to stain the surrounding matter. They stretch, revealing a span far beyond Calteran’s synth-glass barrier, beyond Lunis, past the black skies forever long.  “Do you doubt my ability? I will break free.”

After several minutes of holy glow, the wings return, folding upon themselves. The crowd shakes with fear, and Tactus removes the gun from his holster, but he cannot bring himself to aim. Paran finishes his Gospel. “I will take all who want to leave with me, but make no mistake; this choice will bring certain, agonizing death. I will deploy a holographic field four hundred feet wide at your central gardens. It will stand for nine hours. After that time expires, I will deploy my scavengers and devour any that remain standing within that perimeter. I will only acquire those who desire this fate. Take this time to weigh a beautiful damnation, and choose.”

Paran returns to the ground among the praying Caltan. His sharp claws dig into the concrete, peeling the ground as he moves gingerly through the frail mob. Tactus speaks into the comm unit once again.

“Fenris, I know you think this is some kind of solution. I know you want to give him a chance, but that thing will kill us all. I know it.”

How do you explain the wings?

“I don’t know. It has an onboard speculum; it shouldn’t be that hard to execute a light show.”

I suppose you’ll attribute the image of Willa to…

“That could have been any Calan-Rea bitch, there is no reason it had to be Willa,” Tactus aims at Paran. His breath is hard and fast.

Don’t shoot him Tactus. If you try to hurt him, he may just turn against us. Its definitely suffering some mental lapse, but for once, I feel hope. Let him through.

Meela appears from the amorphous crowd. She blocks Paran’s immediate path. He pauses, and his luminous face dims, betraying confusion. In her arms squirm three children. They fear the beast, and fail to grasp its wretched hope.  For a second, Paran shrinks from her, appearing to fear what she suggests. Tactus feels fire rage in his face as Meela restrains the kids, forcing them to gaze into the monster’s cursed eyes.

She yells loud, almost shrieking. “Prophet from the far dark, take my children! Rip their minds from them and bathe their visage with eternal waters. Nothing remains for the innocent, stupid eyes. I have longed to drown them myself to spare their suffering. I give this ultimatum. Take them now and bless. Abandon them to me, and I will descend upon them like a hell.”

Tactus fires. The Pheron ray lacerates the air, and claws at sight, sound, and touch. The Caltan reel from the blast. Paran’s wings unfold once again. They shield and bend the Pheron ray straight up into the Strata-dome. The Pheron ark dissipates like lightening.

Tactus  throws the gun from the car and leaps. He falls three stories down to the street, crashing with a stiff crack in both legs. Several ribs shift and his insides revolt. He screams as blood pours between his teeth. His fists grip tight as he struggles to stand, but falls face forward. He lies. The smell of concrete and rust fills his nose as loud scrapes cut his ears. Paran approaches. Tactus prepares to die.

Paran lifts the wounded man gently with a single massive claw, grasping a bruised arm. The Seele reveals several large syringes and injects Tactus with clear fluid. The pain numbs and Tactus feels peace.

Paran speaks softly. Only the broken man can hear him now. “I knew you Tactus. I knew your fear, your vice and virtues. I will not take your children from you. They are not ready for this journey, and you need them.”

Tactus smiles and believes. “It’s one death or another.”

Paran lifts a wire finger and drags it across Tactus’s bloody cheek. “You and your children will face that end as one.”

Tactus voices one demand. “Take my wife. Meela will just hurt herself or someone else.”

Paran reassures him. “She will follow. She is no longer any concern of yours.”

Tactus decides to ask one question. He can feel unconsciousness creeping upon him. “Why are you covered with blood?”

Paran lowers his gaze, but confesses. “My ritual caused a frenzy in the last colony. I accidentally revealed that I acquire dead subjects faster and easier than live ones. The result was an orgy of ritualistic suicide. The Solan’s wished to decorate me with a piece of themselves.”

Tactus laughs as darkness envelopes him. “That’s so God damn horrible.”

Paran’s words echo like a lullaby. “I know.”

The Mark

Fenris gazes into the crowd of hundreds gathering in the golden mist of Paran’s hologram. Some begin to pray, shouting to Willa and Trepida while praising gracious Paran. He spots a group of devout passing a knife and carving their flesh. Blood streaks their faces and clothes as wails erupt from the masses.

“I wish I had not told them. I find their suffering painful.” Paran says, low and quiet.

Fenris turns to him. Paran sits like a statue, his legs folded beneath his heavy core. Above him dart the holo-lines that form death’s boundary. Meela sits before them, naked and silent. Blood grips her face and her eyes stare forward.  Fenris smiles before he speaks. “Its not so horrible. These are only shells: bodies with fading souls, begging for a chance to die. I’m amazed so many of them have not simply offed themselves.”

Paran retorts. “All of them have struggled with that desire. Poor Meela almost misdirected that self hatred upon her children.” Fenris and Paran become slaves to silence, as agony sings around them. Paran speaks after two minutes of hell, “the last supreme chancellor tried to drive me away. Why have you been so gracious to me? I know how frightful I look.”

“You’re all they have now. Who am I to rob them of god?” Fenris says, gazing upon Meela.

“Willa is god, not me.” Paran says. “Has Tactus Stabilized?”

Fenris smiles once again and digs into his pockets. “Yeah, he’s going to have a rough couple of weeks, but he’ll get through. He has his children with him, and I don’t think he’ll let a little thing like internal bleeding rob them of a father.”

Paran’s eyes brighten as his voice grows louder. “You could come with us Fenris. The data of a leader will only strengthen the all-being I am to become.”

Fenris pulls a black Comm unit from his pocket and turns to Paran once again. “These people need me. It seems pointless to lead a bunch of depressed people headlong into nothingness, but that’s a fate I can accept.”

Shera approaches from the crowd. Someone smears blood on her face as she passes, reddening her pale flesh. She is unaffected by the fluid that clings to her and continues resolute on her path. She reaches Fenris and Paran, then speaks softly. “We have ten minutes before Paran’s fireworks begin. Unless you want to take the ultimate galactic ride, we should probably get out.”

Fenris speaks to her with respect. “Were we able to get some type of census?”

Shera shrugs, “about as good as we can. I’m sure we will still need to identify some of the dead, but most everyone has a tag, so hopefully clean-up won’t be that horrible.”

Fenris berates her: “Fuck it Shera, it’s gonna be horrible. Don’t kid yourself.”

Paran speaks loud as chills stampede in both Caltan officials, “The time approaches. You have both served me so well. I apologize for the chaos and inconvenience I will leave in my wake, but just think of it. Soon these people will merge not only with me, but Willa. They will exist forever alongside god and love that took shape in flesh. She will welcome them with sacred death, and calm the nerves that writhe with life’s unceasing pain.”

Meela rises and reveals a Calteranian ceremonial blade. Fenris and Shera watch as she plunges the silver edge into her stomach. Her face remains stoic as the blade carves deep and she twists its edge. Meela gasps and falls on all fours. She crawls slowly along the ground, passing between Fenris and Shera. Paran moves to her, abandoning his feline pose, and stretching into the air. He walks the short distance with powerful strides, and lifts her naked form.

“Look into my eyes Meela. You may see into her. You will be with Willa soon.”

Meela’s fear breaks upon her face as blood pools beneath her legs. The Seele draws her in and holds the dying body close. Her white arm reaches deep within the fatal wound. A blood caked hand emerges, and makes its mark on Paran’s center eye, casting a brown shadow in the otherwise golden light. Meela smiles and traces her fingers across the two surrounding eyes, creating random patterns in the beams. She falls limp, and the Seele lays her flat.

Fenris and Shera have no words. Paran turns to them, and a shrill alarm howls from his body. It echoes, drowning out the voices of the numerous converts.

“Soon. I will spare no one in my perimeter. Leave.”

Fenris shudders at Paran’s command. They turn their backs and flee to Calteran’s frail lights, and the fading flames of Lunis.

Paran’s Gospel

A voice breaks the black depths as stars whine

And draw their labored breath.

The Black One brings quiet and pause

In a veil of wringing hands,

Cracking teeth, and torn flesh. Paran clasps

Something far beyond

Creation’s black wall. Though we pray and hope

The dark gates fall,

And his spidery limbs can divide the space

Between air and thought,

We doubt. The Seele prowl, and walk

An endless path.

Paran, take us away from life’s grip

To a place unknown,

Unseen, Unheard, Unthought.

Live, and our death

Sings its wretched words through

Endless song.

Whatever heaven you find,

Tell the angels

Of our sins, our pleasures

And our failed faith.

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