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Chapter 14

A klaxon rang over the whole town and the Reverend looked toward Lorraine with a puzzled expression on his face. "Beginning of shift" she commented which brought a deft nod from Aston. They walked through the town, behind the precession of miners as they marched through the streets of Hope. As the small group walked, the Reverend glanced around at the people at scenery which passed them. The men and women heading toward the mine all wore similar overalls and helmets, only changes in colour and size offered any difference from each individual. Every person wore the same blank expression as they trudged through the mud toward the mining facility. Many wore a tired expression even before the work shift had begun, whilst others bore defeat and exasperation within their eyes. Whoever said life on a colony, forging a new world was easy had no idea just how hard life was in reality.

The group passed the final few domes within the confines of the colony and Aston risked a glance toward the furthermost dome. His eyes locked with those of Dillonger Creed and the two men remained steadfast in their gaze, neither wanting to back down first. The contest of wills was broken by Banjo who spoke, "When we enter the cavern system, please be sure to stay close at all times" The Reverend, disturbed by the words of Banjo caused him to break gaze with Creed, causing a smile to break over Dillonger's face. "the tunnels can stretch for miles...and not all are stable. What I do not want is to waste precious manpower hours searching for you if you get lost". Lorraine frowned at Banjo's cold dejection toward the Reverend as he spoke.

"Do not worry about me Mr. Jax" said Aston, "I have my faith to guide me, you just concentrate on your job". Banjo nodded and strode over the landscape, casting a quick glance toward Creed's dome and offered a slight nod in that direction. Lorraine followed his eyesight, but saw no-one and continued behind the group, struggling to keep up with the pace. The three members of the group walked up the causeway in silence as a quiet tension grew.

"Are you...?" started Banjo.

"No, don't worry Banjo, I have no intention of stepping foot inside that mine" said Lorraine. "I would be more of a hindrance than help" she smiled as she spoke, "you don't have to worry about me, once we get to Prosperity you’re on your own"

"Yeah" said Banjo casting a glance toward The Reverend as he forged a path ahead of the pair. "I don't know of that's a good or a bad thing" he whispered knowing what he had to do.

"You'll be fine" encouraged Lorraine rubbing his arm, "stop worrying"

Lotti stared over a series of charts which she had lain across the surface of the table within the central dome. "Are these all of the minerals that have been uncovered in the mines?" she asked.

"Most of them" admitted Michael, "...well only the significant ones. Many of our discoveries have no use and we abandon the area".

"But according to those records..." Lotti pointed at the charts on the walls, "the mineral deposits appear to move from one area to another"

"That is correct..."

"Then how do you know which area to mine?"

"Experience mainly..." offered Michael, "but more importantly probably to your investigation is, an area is routinely tested with core samples taken at a period of around once a month. If an area is bountiful, then we mine that area...if not then it is abandoned for a specific time"

"Why does the areas move? Shouldn't they remain fixed?"

"That's one of the beauties about this planet. No matter how much an area is mined, mineral deposits appear to fluctuate between areas"

"Except seem Eight?"

"Yes..." agreed Michael, "Except for seem Eight"

"What is different about this?"

Michael shrugged, "Nobody knows. We found high traces of calcium deposits in the area, but following further excavations the area just seemed to dry"

"...and then the rain started" Michael nodded and inspected the charts on the table. Lotti sieved through the paper on the desk and looked up toward Michael, "Do you think I could have a breakdown of each individual element and each area where it was found?"

Michael looked through several sheaves of paper before eventually nodding, "It may take a while..." he said.

"That's alright...there are a couple of other things I would like to check on in the meantime". She gathered the paperwork together and smiled toward Michael, before she walked out of the main dome. Her eyes circled around the town, before they rose and looked at the imposing figure of Watchtower One standing overhead like a guardian protecting the town.

"I told you!" shouted a voice toward the group as they rounded a bend in the causeway. "I told you!" They turned and saw, running over the muddy mounds the small fragile form of Old Robert, waving his arms frantically. The Reverend held his hand up at the small party and stopped in his tracks and patiently waited for the old man to catchup with the trio. Banjo winched as the old man ran over the mounds and allowed his beard to wander and trail behind him as he journeyed over the mud flats. He ran in his full naked glory and tiny splashes of mud jumped from the floor beneath his feet. "Wait! wait!" he called as he ran.

"Mad old fool!" spat Banjo as he watched the old hermit.

"There is sometimes wisdom in the words of the mad" said the Reverend, "and who is truly the mad one?"

"I told you!" shouted Robert again and came to an abrupt stop before the party.

"What do you want?" asked Lorraine.

"I told you..." insisted Robert, "he can hear you"

"Who can?"

"Him..." Robert held his finger to his lips as he spoke, "he knows you are coming...he can hear your thoughts"

"Where is he?" asked Aston.

The old hermit looked around him and giggled furiously stroking his beard. "Everywhere..." he said cryptically.

"Come on" insisted Banjo, "I would like to get on"

"In a minute..." said Aston, turning his attention from the hermit to Banjo and then back again. "How does he know we are coming?"

"He's mad..." said Banjo glancing around, "you know that don't you", it was a statement rather than a question, but the Reverend chose to ignore the protests of Banjo as he listened to the ramblings of the hermit.

"Please...how does he know we are coming?" he asked again.

"He knows everything..." Robert chuckled, "he see's everything. He feels everything..." he placed an arm around the shoulders of the Reverend and whispered in his ear. "Listen..." The Reverend strained his senses, but all his efforts to hear what the old man heard came to naught.

"I don't..."

"He knows...he knows" Robert released his grasp and ran through the mud and leapt into a hole in the ground shouting over his shoulder. "He knows you are coming..." his laughter subsided as his body disappeared from view.

"Can we get on?" remarked Lorraine looking over the Reverend’s shoulder as a sheet of iron ore moved over the hole. The Reverend nodded and indicated for Banjo to lead onward toward the mining operation.

From a distance behind them, Dillonger watched the unfolding event with interest, "Hmm, only two of them" he pondered and glanced up the rise toward the hole where the old hermit had disappeared. "I wonder where the girl is...?"

The climb to the summit of the Watchtower had been a struggle especially in her long white gown, but Lotti had been determined to see the inside of the tower. She stood leaning heavily on the guardrail and looked down toward the ground below.

"I wouldn't look down if I were you Miss" came a gruff voice from inside the cabin, perched atop the strong powerful legs. Lotti turned her attention to the source of the voice, her lungs still bursting from the exertion of the climb. "Take a moment to get your breath" said the man, "it may be difficult to get use to the thinner atmosphere at this level". She gulped for air and her head swam under the varied atmosphere at the top of the Watchtower. The man held a hand out for Lotti and steadied her as she stumbled under her own weight. "Easy girl" he exclaimed as she fell into his arms and looked up into his eyes, which peered from beneath his helmet. The man took her in his arms and eased her inside the cabin and led her over to a small seat close to a panel of computer banks. Another man watched from his seat, but never rose to assist his companion before he turned his attention back to a monitor bank stretching around one side of the wall. "Here..." said the commander, "take a seat". He offered her the chair and knelt by her form as she almost fell into the seat. His companion eyed her suspiciously, glancing from his monitor screen to the newcomer.

"Who is she?" he mouthed toward the commander, who shrugged and gazed down at the girl as he stood.

"I am sorry..." stammered Lotti, desperately catching her breath.

"Easy Miss, the air up here's different from that on the ground...take a moment to climatise". Lotti nodded and took several deeper breaths before attempting to speak again.

"My name...my name is Lotti..." she struggled to speak as her lungs acclimatized to the thinner atmosphere.

"Take a drink..." insisted the Commander and against her earlier revulsion concerning the water filtration she accepted the drink and greedily downed the clear liquid.

Lotti wiped traces of water from her lips, "thank you" she gasped.

"Now then Miss... who are you and what business do you have here?" demanded the Commander, all previous pleasantness gone.

"I am a representative of H.O.S.T" she explained, "and as part of our investigation into the activities of this colony, I am authorized to examine every part of the colony"

The Commander considered her words for a moment, "...and what is your business here?" he asked.

"I wished to see the atmosphere equipment" she said.

"To what extent?"

"As I understand..." said Lotti, "the rainfall is a new occurrence" the Commander nodded at her statement and listened as she continued, "I wanted to see the monitoring procedures and examine your results first hand"

"You could have done that on the ground..." said the Commander.

"Yes, I could have...but then I wouldn't have gained unrestricted knowledge of the entire procedure" The Commander and his fellow officer frowned at her words, but remained steadfast in their position.

"You do know how dangerous it could be, if a storm strikes" he commented.

"That will be my problem...now if you could show me your recording equipment and explain their use, I would appreciate it". The Commander reluctantly nodded and leant close to the officer’s ear.

"Contact Central Dome" he whispered, "tell them we have a situation..." the officer nodded and spoke softly into a microphone on the desk. The Commander turned to Lotti and smiled, "If you would care to follow me..." he said indicating to a row of monitors on the other side of the cabin. Lotti returned his smile and rose from her seat and followed the Commander to the monitor banks, affording herself a swift glance back to his fellow guard who was speaking softly into the communication relay.

"Welcome to Prosperity!" called Banjo as he stood on the crest of the hill which overlooked the mining area. The Reverend joined him and stared back toward the town as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the miner.

"Hope...Faith and Prosperity" he mused as he cast his gaze around the landscape. From his position he could see the town in the distance, and the large imposing Bio-Dome and striding across the landscape the figures of the Watchtowers as they protected the colony. From this vantage point he could see a hive of activity in the valley beneath. Men and women walked to and from the mines carrying tools and bags into the yawning chasms in the solid rock, while full wagons rolled down the hillside to waiting transporters with their cargo laden interiors of mineral and rock samples. Aston could see people with clipboards standing by the rails, inspecting the cargo before writing indiscriminate scrawls on the paper and shouting to other workers to remove the carts.

"If you gentlemen will excuse me..." apologized Lorraine, "but this is as far as I go" she smiled and nodded toward the two men.

"That is quite alright Madame Norton" said Aston politely, "I am sure Mr. Jax will take good care of me" He smiled and nodded back at Lorraine as she turned as walked back toward the town. Banjo grimaced at the Reverend’s choice of words and shuffled uncomfortably in the mud.

"If you would follow me..." he said nervously, "I would like to get this over and done with" and without waiting for a response he walked down the slope toward the mine workings.

Light spilled into the hole where Robert sat toying with himself in the darkness. "Do you mind!" he roared and attempted to cover his eyes as light blinded his vision. "I'm busy..."

"Disgusting old man!" spat Creed as he looked into the hole at the naked old hermit. His bodyguard flinched under the stench which emanated from the hole as he held the sheet of metal and pushed it roughly into the mud.

The hermit continued to rub himself as he held one arm against his forehead in an attempt to hide the sun from his face. "Come back when I'm finished" insisted the old man, his face breaking into a grin. "Won't be long..." he chuckled and turned over away from Creed and his guard. Creed watched in disgust as the hermit continued his movement as he lay on his side and felt feelings of repulsion as he stared into the pit at his naked torso. He could see streaks of dirt scrawling over the man's body which covered his back, buttocks and legs and could feel anger rise in his stomach. He could feel in fists clench and signaled for his guard to enter the pit. Mud erupted from the ground as the guard jumped down into the hole and hauled the old man to his feet and pushed him roughly against the side of the pit. "Now look what you've done!" raged the hermit. "You've put me off my beat!" He moved his beard to the side of his body and revealing his naked groin, thrust it in the direction of the bodyguard. Small splashes of fluid dropped from the front of his body and Robert frowned, "Gotta start all over again" he complained through a toothless grin.

"Get him out of that fucking pit!" roared Creed. Both men stood for a moment staring out of the dank conditions of the pit before the hermit moved.

"No need...I can do it" he said and pulled himself out of the pit clawing at the soft mud beneath his fingertips. He sat in the mud at Creed's feet and looked up at him through the sunlight. "I know you..." he said, "you bad man"

Creed laughed at the old man and considered him for a moment, "Maybe..." he said eventually. "What did you say to that Vicar?" he almost spat the words as he asked the question and waited for a response from the hermit.

"You bad man..." Robert repeated, "I no say". The hermit sat in the mud with his arms and legs folded and turned his head away in defiance.

"You will tell me..." Creed demanded.

Robert sat for a moment, before laughing. "Yes...yes...he is bad man!" he said to an unseen voice. "I no tell"

"You will tell me" said Creed again, rubbing his fist as he spoke.

"I be careful" said Robert turning to face the dominating figure of Creed standing over his body, "you bad man...he knows"

"Who?" demanded Creed, "the Vicar?"

"No... no... no... Him" Robert whispered the words pointing upward as he spoke. Creed followed his eyesight upward before shaking his head.

"I will only ask this one more time...you disgusting old man. What did you say to them?"

"He no want me to talk" Robert said stubbornly. Creed's temper snapped and his fist came down hard on the old man's head. He could hear the sound of breaking bone as his fist connected with the hermit and he watched in silent satisfaction as the old man slumped into the dirt.

The bodyguard leant close to the hermit and examined the body, "He's dead" he commented as he pressed a hand against the man's neck. Creed screamed into the air and savagely laid his boot into the ribs of the carcass. Again and again, his foot connected with the hermit's body as Creed's anger pushed him to the brink of the pit. Blood seeped from the old man's mouth and his dead eyes stared out accusingly toward his murderer. With one final kick, Creed forced the body of the hermit back into the pit and listened to the sound of the man's ribs crack under the continued pressure from his foot. For a moment Creed stood over the hole and gazed down at the bloodied mass of flesh which had only moments before been that of Old Robert, then in another fit of rage he let down into the hole and let his boot connect with the head of the old man. Creed continued with his attack and watched as the force of his boot connected time after time with the head of Robert until his face exploded in a mass of blood. Creed pulled himself out of the pit and smoothed down his hair with his dirty hands and looked down into the pit at the corpse.

"Look at what you've done!" he screamed at the body. "Look how dirty you've made me!". Creed inspected his muddy clothing and breathed heavily from the exertion. "I need to clean up..." he said the bodyguard. "Cover the body" he indicated back toward the iron sheeting, which the guard raised back into position over the hole. Creed looked toward the mine and smiled, "I don't think I have too much to worry about do I?" he asked the bodyguard who shook his head furiously. "No... Banjo’s too scared not to complete his duty..." he smiled at looked down toward the town. "I think I need to find that girl, to give her the bad news...we can't have her sad, now can we?" he smiled at his guard before the pair walked back into town. The guard briefly glanced back toward the pit where the body of the hermit lay and felt remorse settle in the pit of his stomach. The old man hadn't deserved that, had he? he thought to himself as they walked in silence. His eyes crossed to his employer, but no words were uttered between them as they walked.

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