Pilgrim of Cele — 7
Chapter 7: Consequences
This has got to be a trap, was the only thing Paul could think as the slender young woman took a seat, a little too close to him, so they could eat their slop together. His Pasticha training was setting off more alarms than a radiation leak. Even through his lingering headache Paul Kane knew he could either play it really safe, or stir up the pot a bit. And Paul Kane didn’t enter the void of space to play it safe.
“Whence I come, it isn’t proper to sup with strangers.” Paul spoke in Brother Samuel’s voice: high-handed, overly confident and self-assured. He looked forward to getting the practice, in truth, this luncheon could prove useful. It was an easy enough thing to do; pretending to be a messiah wasn’t that far off from pretending to lead a terrorist cell. At the heart of Pasticha was the art of mimicry and creativity: and he meant to flex every bit of his creative muscles.
“My apologies, Brother Samuel,” she feigned a blush, obvious to Paul but effective on Brother Samuel. “I’m… you may call me Sister Layla.”
“That’s a dangerous name, Layla. Are you dangerous, Sister?” He probed and fought back the will to smile: this persona was kind of fun! “Pray, my child. What brings you near to me?”
“Brother Samuel, I… I don’t know what to say.” Again a blush, perhaps this time it was real. “They speak about you. I’d rather know about you.”
No, Paul scolded himself, She’s just that talented. He put down his spork into the synthetic protein “goop” that passed for lunch on this junker, lifted his gaze deliberately. His eyes caught hers and they both stopped for the longest moment, unwavering, un-breathing, stoic as statues waiting for the other to blink.
It was exhilarating! Sister Layla couldn’t believe how capable he was with the laws of Pasticha. He might be unmatched in her short lifetime, but that wasn’t saying much. Brother Samuel, which she was already convinced wasn’t his name anymore, had encased himself in the art of deception so deeply that even he might not remember his real name. She’d only ever met a few capable of practicing the basic levels of mental and emotional manipulation necessary to call oneself a practicing Pasticha. But this man she sat staring at, was far more adept than she had ever imagined.
“I apologize,” Layla cast her eyes down and summoned the energy necessary to slow her fast-beating heart. “I should have let you dine in peace. I don’t know why I came here…”
“How’s the boy?” She marveled as he appeared genuinely concerned. “I’ve never seen such an old sintap without a regulator around his neck. He must be very special. Kai,was his name?”
Sister Layla continued to be impressed — tricking Brother Kelly was none too extraordinary — she had done it easily enough. But there was something special about this Pasticha, something providential about the way he seemed to know how to say the right thing. For the first time Sister Layla wondered in earnest if the prophecy might be true; even if it wasn’t, perhaps this man, whoever he was, would be of use.
She didn’t get to tell him that Kai was fine and a-bed because a voice echoing down the hallway immediately caught their attention.
“…Got an emergency transmission! Sister Layla, where are you?” Footsteps were padding up the hallway toward them frantically and Layla sprang to her feet to meet a panting, red-faced Brother Raven. “Oh, Sister Layla, thank the Navigator! We’ve got an emergency beacon from a vessel nearby. Sister Diane says they need you on deck. And Brother Kelly wanted you too, Brother Samuel, if you were well enough. We’d better hurry,” and so they did.
“A man that called himself ‘Brother Stephen’, offered us docking permission. We’ll be within range in less than an hour. You sure about this, Abel?” James was getting more annoying the closer they got to The Ark.
“Am I sure that I like breathing?” Orion remarked from the relative comfort of the cramped cockpit.
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m pretty sure I don’t. But whatever you are talking about, do less of it please. We’ven’t got the oxygen for you to waste on your doubts, or your concern for a handful of zealots.” He spat and earned another displeasing look from James. Orion hadn’t slept well in a standard week, even his CSA issued sleepviral wasn’t putting his mind to rest anymore. But it wasn’t in him to apologize to such scum, instead he turned back to face the black nothing before him through the transparent plexiron.
“I guess I should leave you to it, then,” said James as he got up uncomfortably. “I’ll get the boys ready for the raid. They’ll be jumpin’ to do anything that isn’t worrying about starvation or asphyxiation. Just make sure you get us linked up nice and tight. If they don’t let us dock this’ll become messy, and messy doesn’t get us all home, you ‘rehend?”
“Check that, Commander Lambert.” He leaned into the title sarcastically, showing how little he cared for the loose hierarchy of their criminal enterprise. James exited without another word and Orion felt his hands dash across the console to pull The Astrolabe that much closer to fate.
He flipped on his scanners and suppressed the blinking light that warned that The Ark was scanning them in turn. A grin crept slowly across Orion’s face as he knew they’d never be able to tell the danger; those pilgrims were trapped the moment they picked up Paul fucking Kane. He looked down at his wrist but thought better of activating his memento here; this wasn’t the time or place.
He would do his duty, dock the ships and once the air-lock was sealed, so too would Paul Kane’s fate.
Something was wrong, it was in the air. Kai jumped up in his cot like he’d been fired from a railgun and found his quarters completely dark. That was wrong too, even under a power-loss it’d never been this dark. His heart started to race a bit as he stepped to the floor and paced toward the door, hands out like a mummy as he felt for the latch-panel.
“Hello?” Kai called out as he banged up against the wall unexpectedly. He giggled at himself as he climbed to his feet again and unlocked the portal to his room manually. The hall was dark too, completely dark in fact. How was this even possible, he thought to himself but dismissed it because he wasn’t really sure how anything about space-travel was possible.
“Sister Diane?” Kai called down the hall again, but there was no response so he started walking toward what he thought was the mess-hall. It was the biggest cell and someone was almost always there no matter what time it was. He crossed two halls slowly, turned left at a fork and still no light, no people.
“Can anybody hear me? Am I blind now? What’s happening?” He was starting to panic and panic was never a good thing, in his experience.
“Kai, is that you boy…” the words were coughed out, and strangled by liquid. Like someone was calling to him from a bathtub that was too full for its occupant. He looked around but his night vision still hadn’t set-in so he saw nothing, but he was almost certain that was Brother Stephen’s voice.
“Brother? Where are you? What’s going on.” Kai felt hot tears burn the corners of his eyes as he fought back his fear.
“Listen to me boy,” the voice was croaking nearby, just to his right. He stumbled past a table and Brother Stephen said, “Good boy. Just around that chair, come to me. Here, that’s a good lad.” He coughed again and spat something up that Kai was relieved he couldn’t see in the darkness. Brother Stephen put his arm around the young boy and pulled him close. He was wet, warm and sticky and he winced as soon as Kai’s weight leaned into him.
“The ship is dead boy, you need to get off it. Get on that infernal junker, get hidden and don’t let anyone know a damned thing about you. All of this ain’t worth a bit if you don’t make it out of here.” He was coughing almost too much to comprehend anymore, but Kai listened, absorbing everything he possibly could like a sponge. “That man, Samuel. He ain’t who I thought, Kai. But the girl, goddamnit that girl fooled us all…” He trailed off and never spoke again.
Kai lay there for as long as he could, but even a boy his age knew when someone had stopped breathing.
Editor’s Note : Thanks to Leo for this chapter. We don’t currently have anybody assigned to write the next chapters of the Pilgrim of Cele. We’d like to invite anyone to write the next chapter. Until then, we’re excited to see what comes out of The Afterworld Saga. Thanks to everyone who’s helped so far!