The road toward Faith was uneven and torrential rainfall had caused additional mud on the already slippy surface. A thin sheen of moisture glimmered in the sunlight and small traces of water remained, laced across the causeway in several puddles. The small group made their way along the muddy path tentatively, careful not to fall in the mud. Either side of the causeway, large pipes ran alongside the road and from within the faint sound of water could be heard rushing through the metallic construct. The ground was uneven underfoot making the journey from the town to the Bio-Dome a difficult one. Holes ranging in various sizes littered the landscape and left the ground resembling a battlefield site. As the group walked, a large metal sheet moved at the side of the causeway and revealed a shifty pair of eyes peering from beneath the make-shift shelter.
"Is it safe?" the voice from the metal sheet was old and cracked and as it emanated from beneath the sheet, the metal shifted slightly as it rose to reveal more of the person's head. Unkempt greying hair pushed up against the jarred metal and old wary eyes shifted about nervously.
"The rain has stopped" stated Lorraine testily. A pair of scrawny arms pushed against the metal and through the sudden upward motion, the sheet flew backward crashing into the mud. Feint splashes of mud and water speckled into the air as the figure of a man sat in the middle of the hole. He looked at the group and considered them for a moment before standing and grabbing once again for the metal sheet.
"Not safe...not safe..." he muttered through his grey wild facial hair.
The Reverend stepped forward and gentle spoke to the old man, "It is alright my Son" he said, "there is nobody here who will harm you", his tone was soft and easing, which caused the man to sit back into the hole.
"No... no...no" insisted the man, "not them..." he pointed at the councilors as he spoke, but instead pointed toward the sky.
Aston turned his gaze toward the cloudless sky and turned back to the old man, "there is no danger"
"Yes...yes" insisted the old man, "danger"
"Please Father, don not listen to the ramblings of an idiot" said Lorraine.
"Madame" said Aston calmly, "sometimes the most clarity comes from the mad. Now if you don't mind..." the Reverend squatted on his haunches, close to the old man's eye level. "Please explain"
"The voices..." he cast his eyes around the group as he spoke, "the voices they speak to me..."
"What do they say?"
"What do they say?" Aston repeated ignoring the protests of Lorraine from behind. The old man retreated back into the hole and violently rubbed his hands over his face. Great streaks of dirt smeared his face and stained his beard and moustache and echoed the dirty streaks which marked his arms and legs. "When did you last eat?" asked the Reverend.
"I eat" cried the old man, "I find food..." he looked at the councilors and leant forward toward Aston and whispered, "they don't like it...but I find food. They throw out...I find it", laughter erupted from his lips and he collapsed back into his hole, pulling his legs up toward his chest. He rocked back and forward in the hole, hugging his legs close to his body. "I find it" he whispered to himself.
"This is getting us nowhere..." complained Lorraine.
"I disagree Madame" said Aston, "this is an insight into the life and soul of the colony" he rose to his feet. "How many more are living in conditions like this?" he demanded.
"He is the only one" said Lorraine defensively, "really!" she insisted under his stare.
"Please...", the Reverend looked around to Lorraine as he held a hand out toward the old man.
"Robert" she breathed under her breathe.
"Please...Robert" said the Reverend gently. The old man raised his head and looked at the Reverend’s hand and laughed.
"Won't do no good...he said so"
"Him" Robert replied simply gazing toward the sky.
"You don't mean..." Lotti trailed off as she spoke and glanced toward the sky, her hand reaching for her bible on her belt. The Reverend shook his head in her direction, but couldn't help his own quick glance skywards before returning his attention to the old man.
"You don't believe all this do you?" demanded Lorraine.
"Please Madame...I am here to conduct a review of your colony and I do not appreciate the constant interruptions!" The old man rolled over in the mud at the sudden outburst of the Reverend. The Reverend could see from his vantage point that mud was caked over the man's naked back and buttocks. Even through the dirt, the profile of the old man's skeleton forced through the mire and extended over the length of his body. "I want this man fed and clothed before the day has ended" he said simply.
No clothes...no clothes..." screamed the old man, "no clothes...it inhabits him talk talk...no clothes...just nature"
"I am sorry my Son, just food. Is that agreeable?" The old man rolled over to face the Reverend and sat in the hole stretching his legs before him and nodded eagerly.
"Hungry..." he whimpered.
"But first..." the Reverend held up a finger at the old man, "tell me who speaks to you...and what they say"
"Don't know...don't know" whimpered the old man as he rocked.
"I am only here to help" soothed the Reverend.
The old man sat for a moment in the hole completely still with his head slightly cocked to one side as though listening to someone speaking in his ear. One hand snaked beneath his long beard which rested over his groin, while he rested on the other hand. Lotti turned away from the hole, her face flushing violently as she watched his hand beneath his beard rising and falling as he spoke. "He says I can talk to you..."
"Please don't do that" complained Lorraine as his hand hidden from view moved faster and faster beneath his beard.
"It makes me happy" he said, "and when I'm happy I talk"
Lorraine turned toward Lotti and placed an arm around her shoulder, "Come on dear..." she said, "We'll go on ahead...if you don't mind" she called over her shoulder as she led the young girl toward the Bio-Dome.
If he had heard her, then the Reverend had chosen to ignore her and instead kept eye contact with the old man. Councilors and guards shifted in the mud uncomfortable with continued movement beneath the beard. "Continue" insisted the Reverend.
"He talks..." the old man's words were interrupted by the occasional grunt as he spoke, "he hurts...hurts bad..."
"He hurts..." insisted Robert placing emphasis on the word he. "The drilling it makes him sad...it makes him cry...it hurts" He sat in the mud staring up at the Reverend and the councilors and closed his eyes as he continued to speak, a smile crossing his face as the words spilled out. "He is quiet...he cannot speak, but only to me through my mind. He tells me, he is hurt...in pain..." the old man let out a small thrall of excitement and fell backward into the mud, a smile extending over his face, pearls of sweat crossing his brow. "He no like it...he no like digging...it makes him cry...it makes him boom boom...no like...no like". The smile disappeared and he frowned at the Reverend, "it hurt...cry" he said, "It make him sad...now food". The Reverend straightened and spoke over his shoulder to the remaining dignitaries and nodded a silent command. One of the guards looked at the councilors for confirmation before turning and running toward the town.
He turned to face the councilors, "Now...if you could show me the way" he indicated toward the path and as the group carried on their journey down the causeway the Reverend cast a final glance toward Robert still sitting in his hole and wiping his hand across the mud around the crater and wondered who exactly was talking to him.
Cass was standing amidst a vast plumage of vegetation when she heard the main hatch of the Bio-Dome open. The hiss of the electro-valves ruptured the silence of the sterile atmosphere within the carefully monitored environment. She realised the leaf that she was holding was ran through the soil to the path. "Close that door!" she barked toward the main doors, "the samples are at a critical point in germination!" She emerged from the undergrowth and stared down the path toward the two women...no, one woman and one teenage girl and waved desperately toward the door which still remained open behind them. "The door...the door" she groaned. Cass ran along the length of the path toward the hatch and slowed only when the older woman activated the switch which closed the door. The door hissed in protest as it slid back into place as it sealed the outside atmosphere from the artificial environment. Cass slowed to a stop before the women and bent over double gasping for breath and placing her hands on her knees she looked up at the newcomers and spoke between gasps. "I'm sorry Ma’am, but we are at a crucial moment in harvest..." she began. ""This is the first complete crop we have managed to sustain..." her words trailed away as she got her first real look at the teenage girl, "...and this is?" she ventured.
"Oh, forgive my manners" laughed Lorraine. "Cass, this is Sister Lotti." she presented the young girl as she spoke, "she is here as part of an official investigation on behalf of H.O.S.T into the activities within the colony" she explained.
Cass regarded the young girl for a moment and after a short pause nodded and turned her attention back to Lorraine, "Look, whatever the political situation, this Bio-Dome is about to produce the first crop we have had since our arrival. If we can successfully cultivate then we can offer sustainability" Cass urged.
Lotti stroked one of the leaves close to the path, "Are all the plants cultivated here for consumption?" she asked.
The question threw Cass for a moment and she considered the young girl standing inspecting the blooming plant spilling into the path. "No, not all of them" she stated. "Although many specimens are for consumption, we do have an aesthetic nature for the dome"
"In what way?" Lotti asked.
"We have been experimenting with flowering shrubs and trees as well as food substances"
"For what purpose?"
"Sometimes, my child we cannot live without beauty" came a voice from behind the three women. They turned to face Aston James and his small party of councilors as they moved through the door. Cass wondered how she hadn't heard the hatch opening upon their arrival and strained her neck to gain a better view of the Reverend. The door slowly moved back in position behind the party and they moved further into the dome, there footsteps echoing on the artificial floor.
"Father..." said the young girl softly as she moved by his side. She looked up into his face and listened as he spoke.
"From the air we breathe to the food we eat, what you see around you my child is the life bread of the entire civilization. If the plants do not grow, then the people cannot survive" The Reverend looked past Lotti and continued to speak as he cast his gaze across the plush foliage. "A garden of Eden..." he breathed in awe of the scene before him.
"Father...this is Cass..." started Lorraine.
The Reverend waved her away and spoke directly to Cass himself, "the work you are doing here is astounding" he said.
"Thank you Father" she said softly.
He held a large leaf in his hand and stroked the stems of the plant allowing his hands to trace the veins in the surface of the leaf. He knelt at the edge of the path and ran his fingers through the soil and stroked the tender shoots struggling to touch the sunlight. "From the smallest acorn, the greatest Oak will grow" he quoted. He looked back toward Cass as the soil trickled through his fingers. "Artificial sunlight?" he asked.
Cass nodded, "We generate most of the energy through solar power, but most of the dome is run through Hydroponic technology"
The Reverend stood quickly and rubbed his hands together, then extended a hand in Cass' direction. "Forgive my rudeness, I am Reverend Aston James...representative of the Holy Order of Spiritual Tribute". Cass accepted his hand and almost fell into his gaze. His blue eyes...
"Father..." said the young girl by his side, "Cass was saying this is the first sustainable crop the colony has produced"
"Is it now...I wonder..." he withdrew his hand and Cass inwardly sighed with the loss of contact. She blushed embarrassed as she realised her hand was still wavering in mid-air and she had become the focus of Lorraine's attention.
The older woman smirked slightly at her reaction and spoke to the Reverend, "we have tried many techniques, but this is the first successful crop, largely thanks to Cass here". Cass blushed with false modesty as Lorraine piled on praise of her work.
"Have you any records?" asked Aston. Cass nodded, "may I see them"
"Of course...if you would follow me" she said and moved off down the path. As they walked both Aston and Lotti looked around them as they progressed through the dome. A small network of paths streaked their way through the dome and each path appeared to center at a singular point toward the middle of the dome. Plants of varying shapes and sizes ranged throughout the dome and through the dense vegetation, the shape of a small hut type building could be witnessed sitting in the center of the maze of pathways. Cass pulled a set of keys from her pocket and fumbled for a moment with the lock. She pulled open the door and offered the visitors entrance to the building first. Aston and Lotti entered the small hut first, with Cass and Lorraine following. Even with four people in the hut the conditions were cramped and stuffy in the warm condition of the dome. Cass pulled open a drawer in a singular cabinet within the hut and pulled out a sheave of paper from a folder hidden in the depths of the cabinet. Cass sat in the solitary chair and spread the sheets out on the wooden desk. Aston examined the charts spread before his eyes without touching their delicate surface, whilst Lotti seemed intent on examining the graphs pinned across the walls of the hut.
"These graphs..." he enquired.
"They show the growth over the last year" explained Lotti, "this one..." she pulled a paper to the top of the pile, "shows the extent of vegetation in ratio to populace. This one has rainfall content...and this one shows soil content..." The Reverend nodded as Cass pulled one piece of paper after another and showed no signs whether he understood the charts and graphs, simply stood listening intently and staring at the information presented on each graph.
"The levels of Alkaline and iron in the soil..." said Lotti who was staring at a graph on the wall. All eyes flicked to her as she spoke, "surely you must have some signs of growth outside the dome"
"No... all attempts to grow vegetation outside have all failed"
"Do you know why?" she asked. Cass shook her head and returned to the pile of paper.
"As you can see from these records" she said indicating to several reports, "we have tried on numerous occasions to cultivate on several different sections on the planet, but all have been unsuccessful"
"Yes but..." insisted Lotti, "these graphs show an abundance of nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and Sulphur in the soil as well as components of zinc, copper and iron. Surely the conditions should benefit growth in natural conditions"
"Yes..." admitted Cass. "When we took initial core samples the conditions seemed ideal for growth, but in reality the instability of the atmosphere and the rain caused all attempts to nurture the soil inoperable" Cass stood and gazed out of the door and into the cornucopia surrounding the hut. "We built Faith...this dome" she explained, "in a final attempt to produce a natural source of protein and fibre and..." she waved her arms out into the dome, "we succeeded" she breathed.
The Reverend eased past her and stared into the expanse of vegetation and marveled at its wonder. "Eden..." he whispered under his breath, "but where is the snake?" he turned and regarded his companions for a moment. "Could you show us more of the dome" he asked. Cass nodded and moved out of the hut, extending her arm in the direction away from the main hatch.
Outside the dome, Dillonger Creed stood looking through the glazed panels.