Chapter 14 – Pursuit and Quandary

I hadn’t been paying attention. I felt several of them coming but it was hard to tell where they were coming from. More priests were on their way and with them were more Warriors. There was also something else, something animal. No, something that was made to act like an animal but underneath was something programmed.

They would be able to overpower my commands I gave to my driver not to hurt me so he was too dangerous to have with me.

“Stop the vehicle.” I commanded  and he did so. “Get off.” I didn’t even have to make it a command, he just stepped off the vehicle despite being three meters off the ground. They’re built like tanks, I probably could have told him to jump off while we were moving and he would have been fine.

I was watching him drive and I had a pretty good idea of how the vehicle worked but when I touched the controls I felt like I had driven this kind of vehicle before. This must have been another “gift” from Loc that I was accessing. The computer in my brain must monitor what I want to know and just reaches out and grabs what I need from him. What I didn’t understand was why Loc would continue to allow me to pull down information like this. Surely he could just shut off my access, why wouldn’t he unless he wanted me to have the information?

I sped off as fast as the floating slab would carry me. I stretched out  with my mind to try and find out where my pursuers were coming from. I tired to read the mind of one of the Warriors first but apparently he was just along for the ride. He didn’t need to know where I was, he just was there to kill me when I was in view. I imagined the rest were the same. This was interesting because even though I could read his mind, what he knew wasn’t useful to me. How could I do the same thing to Loc?

The priests started to send commands. I was getting stronger and crushing their whispers was easier than before but the effort was tiring. I had to get out of their range. I wondered if I could read the minds of the priests. I knew that it was possible but I didn’t know if it would take too much effort and I wouldn’t be able to defend myself.

Then I lost connection with them. I had passed by the mainframe computer I had been connected too and the scourge automatically connected to the next one in range. I shut the communication ports of the computer down to prevent them from getting to me over the network. At least this told me one thing, I was moving away from them.

They would eventually cross over to this computer too and would be in range again so I wasn’t free of them. How long did I have before that? Math was significantly easier now and I was able to pull information about the vehicle they were on and the one that I was riding from Loc. They would be back in range in between seven to ten minutes.

They were slowly outrunning me. I wouldn’t be able to get away on this flying slab. I had to come up with a plan. I could hardly expect to ambush them or spring a trap with Loc watching. On the surface I was exposed even more. I had to go back into the underground but the closest tunnel down was more than a hundred kilometers away. On a straight run they would be in range of me two more times as I passed by the mainframes and each time they would be closer.

I wondered what would happen if I shut down the mainframe I was on hoping that it would prevent them from being able to reach me. I could just try it and find out but I had some time so I decided to look at the programming that set up my connection to the computers. I set up my mirror program and started it up. It took several minutes to access my brain again. Examining the programming was easier than before but still dizzyingly complex. After several minutes more my deadline was approaching but I found what I was looking for.

The program would connect me to the closest working computer. If I shut down this computer, the program could connect me to the last computer that I was connected to. That would be the computer the Priests are connected to now. That didn’t look like a good idea and my time was quickly running out. I had been lucky so far, if one whisper got through they could tell me to turn around and head straight back to them.

I might be able to shut down each computer as I connect, it’s possible that the time it takes to reconnect would give me a little more time. I also could just keep killing the computer I’d connect to in hope that the Priests would eventually connect to a different computer than I did.

Then I thought about disabling the computer instead of shutting it down. What would happen? They were already due to connect any moment so I didn’t have a lot of time. I reached with my mind into the insides of the computer. It wasn’t like looking at files, it was like touching and tasting the programs that were there. Again, the information I was looking for was there for me. Loc was providing knowledge to me, but why? I felt the program I wanted and crushed it.

The computer wouldn’t respond to anything after that, which is exactly what I wanted. Was it that easy? Was I free? It didn’t seem likely. For several minutes all I could feel in my mind was Loc.  Somehow I was still connected to him. It didn’t matter what happened with the mainframes, I was directly connected to him but most of the time he didn’t seem to be paying attention.

It wasn’t that easy, the mainframes are self healing, meaning they recognize when they are broken and they pull a copy of any damaged programs from a neighboring mainframe. I felt it shut down and a few moments later I connected to another computer and the Priests were there with me.

Their barrage started immediately. Command after command hit me and I tried to crush them as quickly as possible. They were overwhelming me which kept me from fighting back.

The first one sunk in. “Give up.” it said. I tried to resist it but my will power quickly faded. Numbly I stopped the vehicle.

More commands barraged me. “Don’t fight.” “Kill yourself.” “Come here.” “Crash!”  Thankfully my compliance with the commands seemed to follow a logical order. I needed to follow all the commands and I couldn’t go to them if I had crashed or killed myself. I turned the vehicle around and started to fly toward where I thought they were.

I struggled against the commands, managing to break down the ‘Kill yourself’ command. It was like taking apart a thought that seemed completely logical on the surface. My true thoughts were buried. I had to dig into my memory to find that I didn’t want to kill myself a few moments ago. Even then it was difficult to ignore the thought but slowly I became more sure that I did not want to kill myself.

I could see them now, a blurry dot on the horizon. Now that both vehicles were traveling in the same direction the distance was closing quickly between us. I could slowly make out the vehicle and it’s occupants. It was much larger and it’s shape looked like a turned over speedboat with fins hanging down toward the ground. There were two pilots, four Priests, four Warriors and a dozen of those vicious Hounds. Their vehicle slowed as we got close, I didn’t. They didn’t say what to crash into.

I broke the command not fight. I tried to undo the command to crash but wasn’t able. I didn’t understand it then but the command to give up was making it harder to not want to ram into them and bring this to an end.

I couldn’t feel the pilots the way I felt the warriors and priests, they don’t have the mental connection. I sent out my own command to the Priests and Warriors.

“Everything is fine, relax.” I sent the command with all my might.

The pilots hesitated, probably asking for instructions, but quickly decided it was in in their best interest to get out of the way. The big anti-grav’s engines pulled hard to get out of the way and the flying slab I was on flew like it was driving on ice. I turned in a wide arc and came around to ram them again.

I saw two plasma weapons extend from pods on the front of the vehicle but they didn’t fire. The pilots were probably trying to get permission to fire.

I focused on one of the Warriors “Kill the pilots, they hate Loc.”

I saw a bright flash in the cockpit of the anti-grav and then another. I could feel the tension of the Warrior rise and I tried to calm the group again but it didn’t seem to take hold this time.

One of the Warriors grabbed the controls and the roof of the vehicle split and slid down, opening the back of the vehicle. At once a  the Chezbah Hounds, the same beasts that killed Crowley, leapt out of the vehicle in all directions. Their huge white claws and teeth stood out starkly from their black skin. In another second they were leaping at my vehicle, trying to get on. The slab wasn’t made for aerial acrobatics making it an easy target. Three of them made it on before I could fly  away. I fired several rounds at one of them with my pistol and hit it once. I was out of practice and out of bullets.

I still had the Chezbah pistol so I fired at another and watched the charred monster fall from the railing. The third leapt at me and I flinched, expecting to feel it’s claws slice into me. I felt the hair on my arms and body stand on end. There was a crack like thunder and a flash of bright white between me and the Hound. It fell into me and then then to the ground stunned for a moment. I looked around for a moment wondering what just happened. Then the Chezbah pistol wobbled in my hand, signaling that it was ready to fire again. I finished off the creature with it.

Three of the Warriors fired at my flying slab and I found myself falling through the air as my vehicle fell from under me. I landed awkwardly, I couldn’t tell exactly what had happened but I was on my back with my right leg underneath me. It was broken and I wasn’t so sure about my back. It took a moment for me to register the pain but when it came I nearly blacked out. My hair stood on end again. A spark jumped between the ground and my hand and then a longer arc jumped to me from the ground. I pulled my hands in to my body to try to protect them and wondered how I had survived the shocks I was taking.

Then I remembered back to when I was given this scourge. The Priest was electrocuting me. Was the electricity coming from me? I quickly had a chance to test the idea when a Hound loped around the wrecked vehicle and saw me. At the time I imagined that the electrical discharge only worked at very short range so I waited for the Hound to leap and tried to time it for when it was coming down. This time the arc was far more powerful and did more than just stun the hound. It landed on me limp and lifeless.

I felt the charge building again as several Hounds jumped up on the downed slab. First three then two more joined them. I concentrated on the building charge, waiting for them to jump when the anti-grav flew over it’s plasma guns charged and about to fire.

I thought I was dead as I heard the crack and hiss of plasma fire but it wasn’t me being fired on. The side of the anti-grav erupted in flames and the Hounds were sliced open by a powerful laser. I started to turn my head to see what had saved me when something traveling at immense speed flew over followed by the shockwave of a sonic boom. In the distance I saw it turn back and slow down. It fired a volley of plasma at remaining Hounds.

A Scimrahn anti-grav Delta gunship flew near me where I lay and landed. The cockpit opened and two Scimrahn men jumped out checking the scene for any survivors. I raised my hand to signal them but they seemed to ignore me. Then a third pilot emerged from the Delta. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, it was Osulo. She ran over to me.

“Stupid Earther! Why didn’t you give me more time!” she shouted with tears in her eyes. “Look at what you’ve done!” she said with her hands over my broken leg.

“How did you find me?” I was only able to get out a whisper.

“I’ve been tracking you ever since I left. Hadolko found me while I was tracking you.” She answered and did her best to pick me up. I let out a shout in pain at being moved. My femur was snapped in half and had torn through the skin.

The men ran up, “That’s all of them, we have to move him now or more will come. The TF will be here soon, I’ll wait here and they can pick me up.”

“Help me pick him up.” Osulo responded.

“Wait.” I said “I thought I was too dangerous to have around now.”

“You killed a priest, you were supposed to take his head, don’t you remember me telling you that?” Osulo said. They picked me up and my back and leg screamed in pain. I felt dizzy and almost blacked out.

I was a little unnerved by this for several reasons. “No. There are a few things that I don’t remember.”

“I took it for you.” she said very plainly as the men lifted me into the Delta.

She climbed in with me. The cockpit was extremely small especially for three people, my right leg was jammed against the wall and every movement hurt. As the vehicles engines started the vibration and the shaking was excruciating.

“We need to get him to a dark place.” Osulo said to the pilot before the roar of the engines drown any other sounds.

I closed my eyes and concentrated as much as I could away from the pain. I could tell we were moving very fast because I was connecting to a new mainframe computer every few seconds. I calculated the speed as nearly two and a half times the speed of sound. The whole cabin got oppressively hot from the engines and the friction of the air over the vehicle. We were rocked around by pockets of air and the whole hull screeched as it vibrated and stretched under the strain. I can honestly say that it was the most unpleasant ride of my life.

Where were we going? Osulo had said a dark place so I wasn’t surprised when we went underground but then we kept on going. The pilot slowed down then, flying through Hexes and their doorways is obviously much harder than the open surface.

My leg was swelling badly, I couldn’t even maneuver to look at it in the cramped cockpit but I could tell it wasn’t going to be pretty. I was also bleeding badly at this point and I was fighting hard not to vomit.

Eventually the vehicle landed and it’s powerful engines whined to a stop. It would be several days before the ringing in my ears would stop. I was nearly unconscious as they dragged me from the vehicle and tended to my leg.

They had taken me deep into a region of the underground that had no power. I was still connected to a mainframe that was possibly several hundred kilometers away. Loc and his priests could trace me to that mainframe but would have to scour vast areas of the underground before they found me. This strategy is an old one used by Kelecs which the Scimrahn knew very well.

Osulo took good care of me again. The searing pain in my back and my leg made it impossible for me to move. I came to the realization that my existence on this planet would never be a comfortable one and I should just get used to it. I thought long and hard about who had it

better, myself or Crowley. As for me, I was still alive. As for Crowley, he had the exact opposite going for him.

In weeks my leg and back healed amazingly fast. My nose was also nearly back to normal when what was left of the Kwi tribe met up with us. This scourge did have a few advantages, as Path had said I healed far faster than a person would naturally but I wasn’t yet able to stand.

The tribe was mostly women and children now and they had given up most of their possessions and food. The ASO soldiers that drove the transports were now part of the tribe more than being the military men they were and most were able to speak the language.

“Well, I can’t say you’re looking good, cause you aren’t.” Came a voice in english from the entrance of the tent.

“Corporal Abraham! You look like you’ve done only a little better but it’s good to see you.” I said.

“Wow, it looks like something must have scared you white!” He laughed.

“My hair?” I turned serious. “I was given an artificial virus the Scimrahn call a Scourge.” I started to explain.

“I’ve been told all about it.” The Corporal assured me. “Seeing it is something else. You’d need a lawnmower to get through that beard.”

“You’re not slacking in the facial hair department either my friend.” I said.

“Well at least you look better than the other guy.” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, confused.

“The Chezbah that your girl friend has hanging outside.” He saw that I wasn’t following. “You mean you didn’t know? The Kwi are talking about you like you’re some kinda holy man cause you killed the priest. Your girl friend has his head on a post outside the tent. They call you ‘the Kelec’, though that scares my girl a bit.”

“Your girl?” I smiled “Good for you Abraham. I guess I am something different than I was before. Kelec means something like seer or a wise man, someone to warn about coming danger. I have plenty to warn about but I wonder if anyone will believe me.”

I could tell the Corporal was trying to figure out if I was still joking. “I heard some nasty things about these scourge but they say you must be okay if you kill a Chezbah priest.”

“Maybe but what I’ve learned is something that command needs to know about but won’t act fast enough even if they do believe me. Killing a Chezbah won’t convince them to listen to me that they need to act immediately.”

He furrowed his brow. “Okay, now you’ve gone deep, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I think the Chezbah are getting ready to use a new kind of weapon, one that we’ll have a hard time standing up to.” I said.

“What like some kinda gun?” He asked.

“More like the ability to teleport without a receiver, alter the fabric of space or maybe move through time.” I answered. That was only a small part of what they’d be able to do. I just wanted to give him a little bit of it to see how he would take it.

“Time travel?” He huffed. “That would make our job a lot harder. How did you get this intel? I thought you’ve just been wandering in the dessert.”

I shook my head that all seemed so far away. “Wandering, yeah, but more than just in the dessert. I was given the equivalent of a very high tech brain surgery meant to crush my will and make me a Chezbah priest. I am, for all intents and purposes a failed priest. I seem to know what they know, and can do what they do.”

The Corporal didn’t seem to know what to make of that. “Well when you report, I wouldn’t quite say it to command that way. It might make them a little suspicious.” He said, half joking.

I wasn’t going to get him to understand the weight of the information I was carrying with me. “Enough about me, tell me about this girl or yours.”

We sat an talked for a few hours and he told me the goings on of the tribe. Their life was hard but they were surviving. Hadolko had found the tribe after distracting the Chezbah search parties from them and they slipped off into the darkness.

My old companion Hadolko had taken up a prominent role in the tribe and over the months had several children of his own now. I asked for him several times but Osulo would only say that he wouldn’t come. What I didn’t know was that Osulo and Hadolko were battling over what the tribe should be doing. Osulo insisted that I would lead the tribe to greatness. Hadolko insisted that I, as a Kelec was too dangerous to be around. At the time I would have agreed more with Hadolko than Osulo.

Those were hard weeks for me. I wondered over and over what I should be doing and if so, how to accomplish anything with Loc staring over my shoulder. There were two things that had to happen. I had to warn others about what I’ve been shown and I had to get them to believe me not to wait to act. The need for action made me curse my injuries. I didn’t have time to wait to heal.

Even if I could get the ASO to listen and act in time, would they even be able to get through the Chezbah defenses and break into the Collector Wells? It didn’t seem likely. Even if a significant number of Scimrahn tribes joined in the attack I doubted it could have been enough. There was only place I could find a force large enough to penetrate the Collector Wells, the Kelrath.

Chapter 15 – Calling On The Memory of A Friend