The starfield rolls again outside the far window, and you've got that feeling again. Happy vertigo, the funky wave chasers that kick in whenever the ship begins a course correction and you’re in your euphoric state. The sacred texts are clear on such things, but you stopped caring a long time ago, didn't you? With no one around this deep into the mission, no company other than the delicate hum of the ship's systems and the occasional presence of God himself, there's no one to tell you what to do.
Even God stopped caring long ago. As long as you continue to safeguard creation in his name, he leaves you alone, letting you know how close you are coming to Deliverance, and avoiding any lengthy conversations.
And you just know that despite his predilection for morals, God approves of your other activities as well.
Aside from the way it smooths out the edges on the galactic plane, it also makes you more sensitive to course changes and variations in the gravitational field. Turn off all the instruments, break the link that keeps you jacked into the ship's systems and shut all the windows, and you could guide her in on instinct alone right now couldn't you?
The ship stops rotating and you feel everything around you right itself once again. Your world is right side up, the sky is steady, and the grassy fields around you all teem and chirp with the sounds of forest creatures and tiny insects, crickets, grasshoppers and butterflies. The navigational controls release you from their link, and you lean back in the acceleration couch and take in the smells, sights and sounds without distraction.
Ooh, they are so... is there a word for this kind of setting? So peaceful, so serene, so balanced. You're sure there is, but you just can't put your finger on it right now.
Time begins to slow, disappear entirely, and your head slowly sinks into the acceleration couch as you drift off into the stars.
Everything is... just right.
And just like that... it's not. You’re being summoned loudly.
[Tetrarch Adamczyk, are you there? Please respond]
You're mind snaps to as you realize God is trying to contact you. Though you have been able to tune him out in the past, as needed, you get the distinct impression that this time its important. His tone and the insistent prompting in the background seem to indicate this. Using the subvocal routine, you reply to him through the thick haze that has descended on your mind.
[What is it, God? Is there something wrong with the ship?]
[No, Tetrarch. Quite the opposite. We are nearing our destination. Protocol demands that I begin revitalizing the crew immediately]
Destination, you think. Oh my. Has it really happened at last? A short wave of lament is quickly replaced as the realization and its implication fully dawn on you. Yes, one journey is at an end, but another begins. Deliverance at last! The Days of Passing finally are over!
A flurry of emotions fills your chest, threatening to make it burst. Your mind bubbles over with the sheer ecstasy of it and you begin to mutter uncontrollably.
[Tetrarch, are you alright? You appear to be suffering from some kind of episode]
How can He ask such a thing right now? Has He not heard His own news? Stifling your short breath, you answer Him in exultant tones, forgetting the subvocalizer in your throat.
"We thank you, oh God, for this generous bounty! Let us look upon Deliverance with awe and wonder!"
God is long in replying. One would think he was not happy his flock were about to join him or something.
[At this time, the destination is not visible to the naked eye. I could provide you with a glimpse, correcting for distance and blue shift]
"Yes!" you shout. "Show it to me!"
The image resolves in your field of vision immediately thereafter. Or at least it appears that way to you, thanks to the link God has to your brain. You see it, a fine marble of indigo-red, a shimmering mass half-concealed behind a dark veil and glittering in the night sky. She is almost too beautiful. You want to cry.
[Shall I begin revitalizing the crew?]
"Yes! Commence bringing them forth! I am eager to meet your flock and begin administering to them."
Another pause. God must be feeling overwhelmed after all. [Very good. Proceed to cryochamber alpha-one-oh immediately. Your colleagues should be fully revitalized within a quarter cycle]
You begin to gather your things together, cinch your robe, and retrieve your walking stick from beside the acceleration couch. And recalling the uncomfortable sense of lucidity, you make a point to stop by the hydroponics section. If you are to meet your flock, you need to be in the right state...
The containers release their seals, a loud hiss escaping the vessels as icy vapor and condensation escape. You spread your arms wide, holding your stick to one side, and incline your head to the starry heavens. Around you, all colors bleed together and you can feel the walls undulate. Even your knees seem to feel no strain holding your body aloft. The Universe is changing, the time of Passage coming to an end and Deliverance about to dawn. Why shouldn't the very laws of nature begin to bend and dip?
The container doors are now open and you hear the faint stirrings of people within. The sounds of the flock coming to, their sleep at an end and their awakening beginning. Though you are not looking upon them, you can feel their eyes upon you, the traces of shock and mystery as they behold God's appointed Prophet.
"I welcome you, oh faithful followers, to the end of our journey. Though it has been long and hard, God has opened his arms wide and revealed to me His generous bounty. Behold, Deliverance! Behold our salvation at the end of the stars!"
You dip your head and await their cries of adulation and gratitude. Sadly, the flock appears to be mute. Their stirring continues, quiet words passing between them. Perhaps they are too shocked to understand...
"I say again, good flock, you have been delivered! Follow me to the pastures and look upon the Promised Land. See what God has shown me with your own eyes!"
Still no words. You look up at them finally, and see their dancing faces, twisted and contorted. Confused. One of them begins to speak.
"Mayflower? Are you there?"
God's voice responds. "I am here, Tetrarch Jones. I trust that your cryosleep was pleasant."
"What's going on?" a woman's voice asks from farther down. There's a third one too, sitting upright in his pod and eyeing you carefully. At the far end, there is a single pod whose door is shut and lights are off. You seem to remember something of that one, its claustrophobic containment triggering something deep within. But of greater concern to you right now is the conversation passing between God and the strangers.
"Mayflower, what is the meaning of this?"
"As you can see, Tetrarch Adamczyk has undergone a sort of... transformation. As I am unqualified to deal with this sort of occurrence, I felt it necessary to bring you out of sleep. Perhaps you can deal with him."
You look to the heavens, searching out for some trace of God. Why is he addressing this one, and why is he speaking of you to them, and in such strange ways? Your mind reels at the heretical nature of it all.
"God, why do you speak unto these undeserving as you do me? Am I not your appointed guardian on this plane? Speak through me!"
God does not reply. The one called Jones continues to speak freely, and He replies.
"What do you advise, Mayflower? We're a little spooked right now."
"I advise sedation and containment until we reach our destination."
Your mind reels again. Did God just say you had not reached their destination after all? What heresy is this?
"God! Speak to me! Why do you make your will known to these unworthy souls? Why have you closed the gates of Deliverance? Have I disappointed you, dear Lord?“
"As you can see," says God, "he is clearly suffering from delusions of a spiritual nature. I can only conclude that the nature of our mission, combined with generous doses of psychotropics, have taken their toll. It seems quite clear that he has suffered from a psychotic break.”
"Psychotropics?" says the one called Jones. He frowns as he looks to the woman next to him. "Oh no, don't tell me he synthesized something."
"In point of fact, he synthesized the requisite DNA to grow the substance in plant form. He then placed them in the hydroponics section and set them for maximum yield and purity. I tried to counter-indicate the use and dosage he was taking, but he would not comply."
"I knew we made a mistake bringing him along," says the woman. "He always was a little too kooky for my taste."
"Yeah, but he ponied up his share of the investment capital, didn't he?" says the other. "Might count ourselves lucky we got the money in advance."
You fall to your knees. These revelations make no sense. God has not delivered you and your flock. Worse, He has turned His back on you, His faithful servant. Whoever these people are, he clearly favors them now. You do not know what you could have done to deserve such a fate, but His will is clear.
"Oh God! Why hast thou forsaken me!"
Your head drops and you feel warm tears flowing down your face. The floor swims beneath you, like a wavy mass that could disappear at any second and reveal an endless abyss that would swallow you whole. The interlopers are moving, you can tell. Feet are striking the floor and they are coming in your direction.
"Alright, that's enough of that," says the woman. "Come with me Adamcyk. We'll get you all fixed up."
You feel her hand on your arm. A gentle tug pulls at your tunic and you are obliged to follow.
And then, it strikes you. This isn't really happening. This flock is not real, or perhaps they are merely vespers here. You must have known God would not have revealed his ultimate gift to you so easily. There had to be a final test of faith, something for you to prove your worth.
Your heart lifts and your spirit becomes light as air as the realization spreads over you. You rise to your feet and your face is pointed to heaven, absorbing the bright rays of God's radiance, beaming down from above.
"Yes, God! I see it! I see it clearly!"
"What was that?" the woman asks.
"Mayflower?" says Jones.
"He seems to have taken to calling me that, Tetrarch. I believe that cut off from all human contact and suffering his psychotic break, he came to interpret my voice as the voice of a deity."
"Makes sense," says the other.
You shake your head, throwing the hot tears from your eyes. You have passed the test, God need not continue with the charade. Or perhaps there is one final matter to attend to...
"Come on, Adamczyk. You're due for a nice rest."
Her hand grabs you by the arm, less gentle this time. Your hand clutches your walking stick tightly and you whirl to face her.
"Get away from me you whore!" You swing your stick, striking her on the right temple and sending her sprawling. "Harlot! Jezebel! I damn you to hell!"
She falls to the floor, blood sprouting from her head. She covers the flow and appears subdued, but you bring the club end down many times to ensure the unholy thing is dispatched.
"Tetrarch Adamczyk! I must advise you to stop!" God cries this many times over. But you have had your true revelation. This false voice will not deter you now.
The one called Jones jumps to the floor and rushes to your side, trying to stay your hand. You whirl to meet him, swinging the staff at head level. He is quicker to drop, this one. A single blow to the temple sends him against one of the containers, and he drops to the floor a second later, leaving his smeared blood behind.
"You bastard!" cries the other. You look to him, the world swirling in front of your eyes. He seems tilted, strangely. The small table behind him and against the wall poised at an odd angle. A glint flashes in his hand, and he rushes forward. Your staff comes up to meet him, but misses the pointed object he thrusts forward.
You feel hot breath escape your lips as the glinted object strikes home and finds purchase in your stomach. You are suddenly aware of another hot trail working its way down your stomach and into your nether regions. You can see the plume of red coming out of your clothing. Is this an illusion? Is God really so committed to it?
"Heretic!" you say, swinging your staff around one last time and striking the foul being in the neck. He joins the others on the floor, and several more blows keeps him there. The last of the devils is banished, and yet your bloody wounds remain...
You fall to the floor, your knees striking first and the rest of your body crumpling there shortly thereafter. Rolling onto your back, you see the light above again, its radiance shining down on your face, giving you warmth as the hot trickle drains out of you, leaving you cold inside. Your world becomes a blur as light, dark, matter and energy all merge into one. God's creation is becoming clear to you now, as it should be. All things melting away...
"God... I do not understand..." you say, but God's voice does not reply. You reach out using the device He gave you long ago, the one you still know how to use.
[God... God, are you there?]
No answer again. Only the sound of beeping coming from a different direction. You incline your head and look to its source.
Down from the containers that sprouted the demonic ones, you see several more containers just like them. You spot the familiar one again, and this time it remains in your field of view. The seals on it, the combination of strange runes that cover the surface, something about these make sense to you. The others are not so familiar, and yet you notice that the strange lights on them appear to be becoming more active. Something about them is coming alive, the flock contained within being brought out of their own deep sleeps...
"God... why hast thou forsaken me?" you cry again. There is no other conclusion to be had now, no other question to ask.
Your eyes begin to drift shut as the gentle beeping in the background lulls you into a cold sleep. You drift on, falling into the deep recesses of the starry night. Their gravity wells pull you onward, carrying you off into the dark of night...