The cold touch of steel pressed against Creed and a hot voice whispered in his ear.
"One more move and the universe will have one more eunuch", Creed grimaced as the Reverend Aston James held him firmly around his shoulders with one arm, whilst the other held a blade at his groin.
Creed could feel the cold of the blade press against his skin, "you haven't got the balls!" he spat.
"No" stated Aston simply, "you haven't"
From his position in the doorway, Banjo could see the scene unfold before his eyes. The figure of Creed stood behind the prone form of Lotti, his trousers gathering around his knees and his bare buttocks displayed for all and sunder. Now he watched as the Reverend stood behind them both with a blade placed around the groin of Creed. Banjo winched as he watched a sudden and swift movement from Aston, followed by a small pocket of meat falling from between the legs of Creed. The lump of flesh hit the floor with a sickening squelch, as blood and sinew met the cold confines of the floor. Creed screamed and released his grip over Lotti, before clutching his groin and falling to the floor whimpering. Banjo could see, even though the fading light blood cascade across Creed's hands as rivers of darkening liquid forced its way through his fingers.
Aston stood over the whimpering body of Creed for a moment, looking down with remorse over his actions and wiped the blade clean on the man's shirt before replacing the blade back into the sheath. He stood with the form of the crucifix in hand for a moment before leaning over the prone figure laying on the table, listening to her sobs as he gently pulled her pants up her legs and pulling her robe down over the lower half of her body. He pulled blade from the crucifix once again and thrust it through the leather strap which bound her wrists together. Lotti stood and faced Aston with a tear stained face, before she collapsed into his arms sobbing uncontrollably.
"I am sorry Father, I..."
"Sssh Child" he said gently. "It is I who should be sorry" he looked around the room as he spoke, his arms firmly around the young girl. ""I should never have brought you to a place like this..." his voice trailed off, an obvious sadness tinged his words. He looked toward the rear of the dome, where the bodyguard stood frozen by the figure of Cass, still gagged and bound. "Release her" he spoke softly, but the menace was heavy in the air. The bodyguard looked toward his employer who still lay on the floor covered in his own blood. "I said release her" he repeated and stared directly at the bodyguard, "these people are under my personal protection...do you understand?". The bodyguard nodded and pulled the bonds which held Cass. She collapsed forward and sobbed as she pulled the thick rope from her mouth. Banjo ran to her and threw his arms around her.
"Cass..." he whispered.
"Get off me!" she spat through her tears as she pushed him away.
"I couldn't do it" he apologized, looking into her eyes.
"Just leave me alone" she cried as she spoke, but accepted his help to stand. Despite her protests, Banjo placed his arms around her shoulder and she in turn leant heavily on his body as they walked through the dome. "Don't..." she warned.
"I said don't you dare"
"Please do not blame Mr. Jax, it was him who led me here" stated Aston as he held Lotti in his arms. "It was his heart and love for you which stopped him from doing something which would have darkened his soul for eternity"
"I don't want to hear it" she complained. Banjo held her in his arms and buried his head into her hair, allowing the sensation of her and smell to wash over his face. As the coldness struck him as they pushed out of the dome, he thought about the incident in the cavern and the failure and strength of his own personal resolution.
Banjo could feel his hands shaking as he stood behind the crouching form of the Reverend, tears swelling in his eyes, his stomach tightening and a nagging persistence in his head that this was fundamentally wrong. The rock weighed heavy in his hands and in his soul and in one quick sudden flurry of activity, Banjo brought the rock crashing down on the floor by the side of the Reverend. "I'm sorry..." he sobbed, "I can't"
"I know you can't Mr. Jax" said Aston who still sat crouched over the white boulder unmoved by the sudden activity.
"You knew" whispered Banjo as he wiped away tears from his eyes through dirt encrusted clothing. The Reverend nodded, but still never turned to face the miner. "How?" he asked.
"I knew Mr. Creed was unsettled by my actions" started Aston, "I had a feeling he would try something, especially after our little...how would say...confrontation in the Bio-Dome. Admittedly, I never thought he would go to such extremes...or at least at first"
"I don't understand"
"People like Mr. Creed as creatures of habit Mr. Jax" explained Aston, "they like to be in control...they like to have the power. When I came I showed him I was not afraid of him or intimidated and that scared him. He is a person who is used to getting his own way, either through violence or threats. I had an idea he would use extreme measures to scare me off from my investigation, but what I don't yet know Mr. Jax is why?"
"Cass" said Banjo. "He has Cass hostage"
"Ah, yes...the young gardener"
"Yes" agreed Banjo. "I have...feelings for her" he blushed under the admission as Aston turned for the first time since the attempt on his life.
"There is no reason to be ashamed of our feelings" Aston said kindly.
"There is when the woman you love doesn't know" Banjo admitted.
"Then don't you think it is time you told her" said Aston standing and placing his hand on the miner’s shoulder.
Aston nodded, "yes, after this. She'll be mad...yes. She'll shout and scream at you, but she'll forgive you. If your heart is pure Mr. Jax then love will conquer" he turned and pointed back toward the white boulder laying on the ground of the cavern. "Now then Mr. Jax...what would you say this rock reminds you of"
Banjo blinked at the sudden coldness of the dismissal by the Reverend. He had just attempted to kill the man and here he was talking about rocks. Banjo knelt by the rock which had fascinated the Reverend so much and ran his hand over the uneven white contour of the boulder. The rock had a smooth glaze running over the surface of the rock and Banjo could feel a slimy stickiness to the stone. He withdrew his hand and wiped it on his clothing, but found a clear sheen over his palm. Banjo frowned and wiped his hand again as he cast his gaze around the floor of the cavern. He could see several similar boulders placed around a large lake and several smaller pools of a thick white substance lay scattered across the floor.
"It’s fat" said Aston. Banjo looked at him and blinked. "or at least a similar substance...don't you think" Banjo had no words to offer and shook his head slowly. "It is" urged Aston crouching by Banjo. He ran his hand over the surface of the boulder and looked at Banjo as he spoke. "The consistency, the texture...these are lumps of excess fat"
"It...it can't be" stammered Banjo. Aston moved over to a small pool and thrust his hands into the thick white substance inside the small pool. He pulled his hands from the solution and allowed the white substance to flow through his fingers back into the pool.
"Look at the evidence of your eyes Mr. Jax" stated Aston. "A corrosive acidic fluid...similar to stomach acid perhaps. White fatty substances, an opening with contracts to the touch and a pool of an indiscriminate lake of...whatever" he stood and waved around the cavern, "this is a stomach Mr. Jax...a stomach"
"It can't be" insisted Banjo.
"It just can't be"
"I think...if I’m right the answers we need should be down that tunnel" he said pointing to the far extreme of the cavern to a small opening in the rock face.
Banjo's train of thought was disturbed by the sound of Creed's voice through the open door and following them down the street, "I'll kill you" he threatened. He held Cass in his arms and continued to walk in the wake of Aston and Lotti down the causeway toward the shuttle pad. His thoughts returned to the cavern...
Banjo glanced back over his shoulder at the disappearing light behind them as they walked further into the bowels of the mine. The walls of the tunnel were soft to the touch and glazed with the same sheen which had covered the rocks...no fat...no rocks. He steadied himself on the walls as he picked his way over the uneven surface and watched the disappearing form of Aston as he turned a corner in the tunnel, following a trail of light before them. The tunnel opened into a second, but smaller cavern. In the center of the cave stood a single rock formation rising from the floor and standing proud alone in the cave. Banjo stood in awe of the nature and majesty of the rock and stood staring at the thin column which held firm a large bulbous boulder at its peak. In the slender light, Banjo could see the first traces of plant-like vines as the stretched and supported the central column and ran from its base out into the cavern. Smaller roots reached out, up through the construct and covered the bulbous boulder with small tendrils of roots which ran and felt their way over the surface of the rock. Aston stood before the rock and reached out gently toward the formation and almost immediately withdrew his hand, recoiling from the rock.
"Easy" he whispered. Banjo frowned and moved to his shoulder. The Reverend spoke to Banjo without looking at him, "the brain..." he whispered. Banjo looked closer at the rock formation and while he agreed it did indeed look like it could represent a brain, he still wasn't sure. "Watch..." urged Aston. He reached his hand out slowly to the rock and placed his palm on the surface of the formation. Banjo watched in fascination as the rock contorted and writhed beneath the pressure of the Reverend’s hand and could feel the walls recoil and contract under the touch. "This Mr. Jax is the central brain of the creature, with the central nervous system running from this point"
"I don't follow..." admitted Banjo.
"Don't you see Mr. Jax!" exclaimed Aston and continued as Banjo shook his head, "this isn't a planet you are mining Banjo...this is a living sentient being. You are living in the bowels of a beast!"