Tags: cornelius

new life

Chapter Eight, IV.

We walked the rest of the way in silence. Soon we caught up to Cornelius and Katie. They were standing in front of Violet’s hillock, a bump in the snow not five feet high. Still, it was the single distinguishing feature on the snow plain. There was still no sight of Violet.

“It’s an entrance,” Cornelius said. He waved vaguely to the other side of the mound. Erin and I went around to see that some of the snow had been cleared away to reveal a hole in the side of the hill. I stepped closer and turned on one of the camera lights. The hole was a tunnel, carved of solid, unmarked rock, and there were stairs leading down, down beyond the radius of my lights. Erin pulled out a scanner, and crouched down to examine the rock. I looked up at Cornelius.

“Katie’s comm readings say Violet is down there,” Cornelius said.

“Or her comm is,” I said.

Cornelius said nothing.

Erin stood up, squinting at her ministation through the snow. “The rock is indigenous, but the tunnel isn’t a natural cave. Someone carved it out using sophisticated tools. But it’s been here for a long, long while. Whoever built it left centuries ago, at least.”

“There are steps, Erin,” I said, half caustic, half pleading. She shrugged, aware of how inadequate her report was to answering any of our questions. I sighed and reached out to rub her arm gently in apology.

“Call it in,” I said to Katie.

“Wait,” Cornelius said. “Nothing out of the ordinary has happened yet. The rock could be blocking the comms. There’s no reason to get New Rome up in a panic over stairs. We are on a mission. We knew there was something out of the ordinary going on out here. We’re fully qualified to deal with it.”

I gaped at him.

“So far,” he amended.

“You think we are qualified to deal with the fact that this uninhabited planet has just showed its first signs of previous habitation? A fact that the initial surveys all missed? Who’s to say the previous owners have left? What exactly is the logical reason for not contacting New Rome? Violet is gone. Vanished. And you want to keep that raging pilot’s ego of yours in tact by not asking for directions.”

Cornelius smiled at me, a lazy predator’s grin, full of teeth and warning. “It’s a good thing for the mission, Ovid, that you have no decision-making capability. They leave that to the trained professionals, who don’t base their actions on a bad mood.” He came around the hillock to grip my shoulder. “You’re going first. We need full documentation, and you have 360-degree lighting on this rig.” He leaned in close, then, right to my ear. I tried to pull away from him, but his grip was crushing.

“Speaking of egos. You’re just determined to be right, aren’t you?” He shoved me toward the hole. My only thought was how dearly I’d love to smash his smug face in, a thought very unbecoming to an Ovid but intensely satisfying, when the momentum of Cornelius’s shove brought my boot down on the first stone step.

Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Eight, III.

Veran Argosis, Private Log (con’t)

“Check in,” Cornelius’s voice crackled over the comm. I checked my gear. It had been running for thirty minutes.

“Nothing,” Katie said.

“Nothing here,” Erin said.

“Empty,” I reported.

“Me too,” said Cornelius.

“I might have something,” Violet said. “I’m not sure. There is some sort of hillock a couple of yards ahead. I’m going to check it out.”

“We’ll meet you,” Cornelius said. I turned around, and began the trudge back to the shuttle.

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Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Eight, II.

Veran Argosis, Private Log (con’t)

It was silent outside. The girls were standing with their backs to the shuttle, motionless, looking out at the endless snow plain. The city was beyond the horizon, lost in the falling snow. Even the snow was silent, as the atmosphere did not have enough moisture to support large, wet, hissing flakes. Each flake was a tiny, perfect, lacy design, and to my eyes, every one was exactly like the other. I heard the loud, indecorous thumping of Cornelius’s boots on the ramp. He stopped by me and handed me my gear bag. I took it without looking directly at him, and set to work strapping the recording gear about my body as quietly as I could. The silence was oppressive, and I didn’t want to break it.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Violet finally asked in a stage whisper.

“The coordinates were locked in,” Cornelius said, also whispering. “The scanners still read the energy fluctuation.”

We five stood motionless for a few minutes more. There was nothing here.

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Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Eight, I.

Veran Argosis, Private Log.

I dreamt of the mission. It felt like I was still there, that it was all happening all over again, only it was a dream so I knew how it would end up, but I couldn’t make any sort of warning.

In my dream, the snow drifted by the window of the shuttle in eddies, stirred up by our flight path. The snowfield below was so featureless that I could discern no forward progress at all. Only the dancing snowflakes marked our passing, and looking on them brought out the same feelings of dark hopelessness that I felt in the hangar. I looked away from the window to find Erin staring at me from her seat across the aisle.

She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head, asking after me without alerting the others in the seats in front of us. I smiled to reassure her and shook my head. No one felt the oppression but me. Erin had compassion in her eyes, but I turned away from it like I turned away from the window and stared at the patterned plastic of the seat before me and turned the collar up on my all-weather coat.

It was a short flight, not even half an hour. “This is it,” Cornelius said. He brought the shuttle down expertly, and I heard the creaking of the snow as we settled on it. Then he was powering down its engines and running through the shutdown checklist.

“Showtime,” Katie said, and bounced to the back to open the large cargo door, catching the last whine of the engines dying. Violet followed her out, then Erin, who leaned over to put a hand on my shoulder before disembarking. I sat motionless. The alien dread and terror had nailed me to my seat the second we had landed, like a cold spike through my gut. I no longer could tell whether the apprehension was forced on me from the outside or completely harbored in my own mind.

“Have you worked yourself into an ulcer yet?” Cornelius had come to stand in the aisle, leaning back against the opposite seat.

“Funny,” I said, pushing myself out of the seat. “You funny, funny man.” I lurched out to the aisle, breast to breast with my friend, and I grabbed him by his coat and dragged him even closer, until we were centimeters apart. His eyes were wide in the moment of surprise before effrontery. “There’s something out there. You’d better be ready.” I let him go before he could refute me and turned away to walk down the cargo ramp.

Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Seven, VIII.

The moment was over; the Avatars closed their conduit to the god and the devotees rose and slowly left the cavern, talking very softly to each other. When Siarl raised his head, he found Cornelius looking right at him. The Avatar caught his eye and broke the mask to give Siarl a questioning look. Siarl shook his head sharply, and moved on to the real reason he had come to devotions tonight.

Siarl moved through the crowd, contriving aimlessness as he greeted friends and wished them well. He maneuvered himself into conversation with an elderly woman and escorted her out of the cavern, letting her lean on his arm. Ahead of them a wiry youth with thick black hair moved uneasily in the crowd, his devotional robe twitching with poorly-suppressed eagerness. Siarl kept up the harmless line of gentle flattery to the woman on his arm, and out in the tunnel, just past the door to the cavern of the altar, he deftly handed her off to a friend of his and followed the youth through the tunnels. They were heading out, out of the center of the catacombs to the edge of the city of Dawning. At the last curve before the newly-installed electronic gate, the youth slowed down and touched the tunnel wall gently, running his hands lightly over it until he found a particular spot. Then he touched his temple for a moment, took a deep breath, and stepped directly into the wall, disappearing completely into it.

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Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Six, V.

Veran Argosis, Private Log (con’t)

“Veran!” Cornelius rushes in and comes to my side, crouches down and takes my hands to pull me up into a sitting position.
The miasma is gone; I don’t have to suffer this. I jerk my hands away and crab myself away from him.
“Don’t touch me.” My voice is hoarse and without inflection. The words and their meaning can never equal the clear depths of my repugnance and despair.

Cornelius looks me up and down, his face impassive. “What have you done to yourself?”

“Nothing.” It is the absolute and literal truth, and speaking it makes the three days, sixteen hours, thirty-six minutes, and nineteen seconds weigh on me like lead, as I had not slept for any of it. I am afraid of the power the creature will have over me in my dreams.

“You’re a disgrace. You profane the holy with your actions.”

I stare at Cornelius blankly, as I try to make sense of the words that he has said. He simply stares back at me with that hard, flat look that makes his face look like an impenetrable mask. Profane? Holy? The syllables disconnect in my head, try to find some meaning to attach themselves to.

“Cornelius,” I say, very slowly, “that thing. In the cave. That evil. That is no god.”

The expressionless mask broke, and Cornelius’ face was mobile again. It was filled with pity and concern. “You’re very sick, Veran. Let me help you, please? I didn’t realize- I didn’t think on how hard this would be for you.”

There is a lure in his pity that I don’t trust, some hidden snare. But the thought of giving over the responsibility of my actions to a third party, to someone who might not be impartial but at least was outside the combat of wills raging in my head, was impossible to decline. For the first time in three days, sixteen hours, forty minutes, and fifty-seven seconds, I let myself relax.

“Yes,” I said, and Cornelius caught me before I pitched over in exhaustion. He pulled me to my feet and half-carried me to the bedroom. I could barely help him. Far away I felt some piece of ragged pride protesting this submission to helplessness, to cowardice. I let the voice of my conscience scourge my soul with a foul recitation of my weaknesses. I was too exhausted to answer it. The shock of the reality of my imprisonment in my own body by a relentless, unfeeling entity was finally settling in like a cold blanket of snow, and I succumbed to the feeling with relief.

Cornelius tipped me onto the bed and started wrestling my all-weather gear off. I lay limp and let him, barely feeling his manipulations. He’s talking the entire time.

“-would have come by sooner, if only I had thought of it. I could have guessed this would happen, but I let you fool me. You hide everything so well behind your Ovid role that I forget how you distance yourself. You’ve never had faith, Veran. Me, I’ve always had faith. I knew there was justice, that there was a universal measure of it, that my life was being measured and judged. But you, you just go on and let the universe take care of itself. You have to see now Veran, you can’t just let the world go by you as you live in it, you have to be a part of it. That’s what you’re having such trouble with, I know. I’m wrong to chastise you for it. Ah, there you go. Boots and coat and all-weather gear off. Veran, you’re a mess. And you smell. Never mind that now, don’t try to get up. I’ll find some blankets. Just go to sleep, Veran. I’ll be here for you when you wake up. We’ll need to talk-”

The blanket settles over me, and the voice fades into a murmur. I feel comforted, like a child, and feel shame at the comfort, but it all washes away as the soft, clean blanket works its magic. I might be a fool, but with Cornelius to watch over me, I felt, at least I could safely sleep. I let my burden of responsibly go, just for an instant, and felt all the rest go away too. In no time at all, I was asleep.

Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Six, IV

Veran Argosis, Private Log (con’t)

I heard voices, sleepy yet cheerful, echoing across the hangar. I rose to meet them, and my inner turmoil truly eased for the first time that morning. I hung out of the shuttle door to see the three women of our expedition team walking abreast. Violet Hoefler, our scientific expert, was silent and looked distant as she usually did, pouring over her own thoughts. But Erin Salda, the communications tech, and Katie Harris, the structural engineer and geologist, were talking animatedly.

“Ladies,” I called out, “your chariot awaits.”

Violet blinked and shook herself out of her preoccupation enough to smile at me. The other two laughed. I made a great show of helping them in the shuttle and settling them and their bags of equipment.

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Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Six, III.

Veran Argosis, Private Log (con’t)

A little excitement. The clock still ticks. I think I’d like to laugh the sort of loud laugh that is the knife edge between tears and madness, torn from the throat in great raking coughs, like choking. But the red mist crawling inside my head keeps me in this status, and my only choice is to sit or move on as if nothing had happened at all. I can hear the sounds I desperately want to make as the beginnings of some sort of release in my head, but no matter how I try to force my lungs and voice to make them, they will not.

It was snowing when I woke on the appointed morning, so early that the lights of the city were not yet turned up. The sullen red of the sun was just starting to creep over the horizon, but sunrise was marred by the storm clouds.

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Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Six, II.

Veran Argosis, Private Log (con’t)

Sometime after the initial landing of the main body of the colony, once all the systems were up and running, a strange scientific event was recorded and reported. There was a surge of energy some miles outside the city in the uninhabited wilderness of unending snow plains. The energy was natural in origin, not contrived by a machine, but still unexpected based on the original surveys of the composition of the planet. It was, in short, an oddity. The phenomenon was carefully recorded and watched, in proper scientific inquiry. After a few months, the energy surge was not a surge but a constant output. There were meetings in committee, and once the colony was settled enough to support it, a date for an expedition was set.

Cornelius was to lead it. He came to me a week prior, to my rooms, and knocked on the door.

“Cornelius,” I said. “Is it time? Already?”

“Not quite,” the disembodied voice of my friend came through the speaker on my workstation. “I’ve come on official business, I’m afraid.”

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Mirrored from Oasis Stories.

new life

Chapter Three, VII.

Author’s Comment: You know, I was wondering why Chapter Three was so short! Because I am writing way ahead of posting and somehow completely missed this huge swath of text. I am very sorry! The index to the right has all the posts in the correct order if you need to review.

Avatar Penniford was in his room. He waited there with dread to keep him company as he rehearsed the lie in his mind. The god shifted in his thoughts, the red weight of his silent regard ponderous and foreboding. Penniford did not dare reach for reassurance today. He sat very still and straight upon his bed in the catacombs and took what reassurance he could from his own sense of justice.

He wondered how long it would take for the god to forgive him. He wondered if he ever would be forgiven. He had never crossed the god before. No one he knew had.

He argued with himself, furious. He had not crossed the god; he would still search for the Priest, as commanded by the god himself. He had interrupted the mortal plans for conducting the search, a beastly abuse of the responsibility of the Avatars to bring people to the god.

He was not guilty. And yet, he dare not touch the god, nor did the god wake in his mind. The god sat in the back of his brain and watched through Penniford’s eyes, as he had all this day. The constant, unfailing regard brought all Penniford’s sensible, logical thoughts to ruin, and he dared not touch the god and he needed to so desperately that he moved to hold his head in his hands to keep it from breaking apart.

“‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ But you do not look comforted, Avatar,” a voice said. Penniford looked up to see Veran Argosis standing in the door of his room.

“There is no comfort I will find in you,” Penniford sneered, long habit sustaining him.

Veran did not look insulted. “No? Well, you are no doubt correct. I fear I am the bearer of bad tidings.”

“You are always an ill-omen, Veran. Disaster haunts your footsteps. I will have none of your brand of mischief or bad luck; leave off your haunting of my door, please.”

Veran regarded Penniford silently, his false joviality gone. He entered into the room to crouch in front of the Avatar.

“That was a good thing you did today,” he said to Penniford, very softly, even respectfully. “I had always thought you a just man. I am delighted to have been proven right.”

“I am not you,” Penniford said. “I do not twist the tail of the god out of spite. Do not think you have found a compatriot to join in your addle-headed games of defiance.”

“You should thank the god you are not me. In any case, I have always admired you. You didn’t know, but I saw you after the Killing Freeze. I saw the mark it made on your soul, and I hoped for you. I do not pray anymore, but I hoped. And today you have fulfilled my hopes. I came to thank you, for doing what I could not.”

“Why could you not?” Penniford asked. “If you wanted to, why did you not just do it?”

“Ah,” Veran said, with a small twist of smile, “because I am Cornelius’s best friend. He has such high hopes for me. I’m sure he prays for the redemption of my soul nightly. And so I am trapped.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s of no matter,” Veran said, shaking off his melancholy and his kindness. “I came here to thank you, and so I shall. You have to leave. They are coming for you.”

He’d been practicing. “I’ve been in my room all day.”

Veran looked amused. “The god always watches, Penniford. Sometimes, he’s a nasty little tattle.”

“If I am forced to do penance for my trespasses, than I shall do it,” Penniford said.

“Oh, Avatar,” Veran said, like a curse. “Are wise men always so blind to the true nature of things? They come to kill you, Penniford, not punish you! You’ve turned against them, and there is no redemption in their eyes.”

“I have not gone against the god!” Penniford yelled.

“They are the god,” Veran said. “Haven’t you seen that yet?”

“Get out,” Penniford said.

“You have to leave.”

“I won’t,” Penniford snapped. “I won’t subscribe to your view of the god.”

“Not the god,” Veran replied. “The man. Can you truly doubt his ruthlessness now?”

“I must,” Penniford said. Or I will condemn myself along with him.

Veran bowed his head. “May your god see in you the honor that I do.”

And he was gone. Penniford cursed him for leaving behind his doubt and riddles. He’d never liked the man, even before the god, when he was an Ovid.

He hadn’t crossed the god. There would be retribution, from the men. But not the god. He believed it, in his heart.

“Avatar Penniford,” a new voice said at his door. Penniford looked up to find Cornelius before him.

“Avatar,” Penniford said, warily.

“I came to pay my respects,” Cornelius said. Penniford felt the blood drain from his face.

“I was in my room all day,” he said, and even though he had practiced, it came out shaky and diffuse.

Cornelius smiled.

“The god rewards his chosen,” Cornelius said. “Surely you didn’t forget?” He crossed the distance, and leaned down to kiss the other man on the forehead.

“Goodbye, Avatar,” he said, and then he left.

Sweat poured down Penniford’s face, and the chill it left behind was so deep he felt unable to move from his spot on the bed. Frantic, he touched the god in his mind. The red Presence boiled and fulminated, but it did not open. The god had no comfort to offer. He pleaded, babbling in his mind, but the Presence was closed to him.

This had to be Veran’s fault. It was his blessing, the curse that had turned his fellow Avatar’s against him. The taint of Veran’s kindness burned on him with a bitter smell of fear. He pushed himself off the bed, and forced his cold, cramped muscles into motion. He had to get out. Damn Veran! He lurched for the door, working blood back into his limp left arm when he ran into something solid standing in the way.

“Avatar Penniford,” Littleton intoned. “You have done a great evil that must be atoned for.”

“No,” Penniford said, falling back away from the shadow of death. “It was Veran, he made me–”

“The god knows the inner workings of your mind, Avatar. He has whispered your thoughts to me. Your treacherous, traitorous thoughts.”

“I’ve been–” Penniford panted, “in my room–”

“May the god be kind to you in your afterlife, Penniford,” Littleton said as he drew out a curved knife hidden in his robes, “for your afterlife will never be the same as mine.”

Penniford screamed as the knife came down, clutching in his head for the god. The red Presence left him entirely as the knife plunged into his waiting throat.

Mirrored from Oasis Stories.