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Chapter 7

The legs of the shuttle craft sat on then landing pad on the further most edge of the colony. The couple in the cockpit undid their harnesses as they continued the flight checks. The man lifted a headset and placed it over his smooth cranium and spoke into the tiny microphone, "HOST 1, successful touch down" he said into the device, "landing checks complete...no problems to report...will report upon mission evaluation...over". A buzz of static noisily attacked his hearing which forced him to replace the headset. He flicked at a couple of switches and peered into a monitor, "localized atmospheric pressure is causing communication issues"

The girl looked at her companion, "What does that mean Father?" she asked.

"Nothing to worry about child, just poor weather" he gazed into the monitor, "looks like a storm's coming...".

The tower guards walked around the cramped conditions of the Watchtower and monitored visual readings and atmospheric conditions. From their vantage point they could feel the changes in the localized air. Small monitors sprang into life as bars rose and fell across the screens. Readouts chattered loudly and echoed throughout the tower cabin. The Watchtower commander walked around the small metal gantry and pulled the paper from the reader and examined the figures on the parchment in his hands. He turned to his comrade, "better launch a probe" he said studying the paper "we've got an unusually high buildup of pressure coming in from sectors Two and Three". His colleague nodded and opened a small locker and pulled a box from inside, "I'll contact the other tower's and get confirmation...looks like we could be in for a big one". The tower guard unlatched the box and withdrew a simple square box with two small lights on the top and a lens projecting from the center of the box. He lifted the item in his arms and ducked through the small opening in the side of the cabin.

Standing on the outside of the Watchtower, the guard flicked a switch on the side of the box and watched as a compartment opened at the top of the box and a balloon inflated. Small motors whirred inside the device as the balloon swelled in size and the guard activated another switch on the side of the box. As helium filled the balloon, the lights on the top of the box began to blink off and on showing their blue and red illumination as the lens extended from the center. Slowly the box began to rise as the balloon swelled further from the internal pressure and battled slightly against the wind which currently swept over the top of the Watchtower. The guard lifted the engorged box and assisted it over the edge of the railing and into the wind beyond the tower. He stood for a moment watching as the capsule floated high above the tower, before he ducked back into the safety of the cabin. "It's gone" he said simply to his commander, "any news from the other towers?"

The tower commander was bent over the communication system and looked toward the guard as he spoke, "Watchtower Two is reporting massive cloud build up to the west, Tower Three has visual on lightning activity...no contact with Tower Four..." his voice trailed off as static from the system roared through the cabin. "We have to assume weather condition has risen around Four, cutting them off"

"Why is there no alarm sir?" asked the guard.

The commander looked off into the distance through the viewport in the side of the cabin. "I don't know..."he admitted, "better contact central government and warn them of the impending storm...issue a weather warning One alert and prepare complete lockdown condition..."

"Yes sir"

"Looks like we have company Father" said the young girl staring into the monitor at the front of the craft. The man had left his chair and currently stood at the rear of the vessel clutching his beads in one hand and reading in silent meme from a leather bound book in his other hand. His attention was briefly drawn to the screen for the briefest of moments before returning to his quiet contemplation.

"Looks like a welcoming committee" he stated.

"Shouldn't we greet them?" she asked.

"In a moment child" he looked at her and held the book up toward her for a moment, "you will learn that no planet must be stepped on until we have blessed our safe arrival and completed the blessing of the planet before we disembark"

"I'm sorry Father" she said and looked down at her own beads.

"That is alright child" he said gently, "you are still young and experienced and you will learn in time"

She looked at the small congregation of people gathering at the base of the craft. Five people in total had gathered and she could see from her vantage point that at the head of the party stood a stern looking female form. Behind her stood four men, all dressed in the same drab expressionless clothing. She watched as another man ran toward the group, this one was different; dressed in tight black overalls, with a brown or even bronze metal chest plate strapped across the front of the outfit. He wore a heavy looking helmet of the same colouring as the chest plate and she watched as he spoke urgently with the woman at the head of the group. Upon his communication she looked toward the sky and pointed toward the other men around her. The girl could see her talking, but from her monitor could hear no words spoken.

"Shall we go?" the words from behind her made her jump slightly and she flushed with embarrassment at her weakness. She turned to face the man who had placed the book into a harness on the belt he was strapping around his waist. The belt had several pouches hanging from the leather strap and she could make out the bulge of the book in complete contrast to the crucifix and gun which complemented his outfit. He pulled the hood of the cowl over his head and turned toward the door in the side of the vessel. She stood and adjusted her own white gown as he operated the door panel by jabbing at a button set into the wall of the vehicle. The door slid open quietly allowing a sharp cold breeze invade the cabin of the craft.

"Father..." Lorraine stepped forward toward the craft as the doors slid open to reveal a man and a young girl framed in the doorway. Lorraine held out her stretched before her, "welcome to Hope" she said. The man stepped out into the cold air of the planet and breathed in the clean air.

"It’s been such a long time since I have tasted the air" he said.

"We are honoured with your arrival" she said as he took her hand and grasped it in his own. He turned her hand over in his grasp and placed his other hand over it and smiled. "We must hurry Father..." Lorraine breathed under his grip.

"Why?" he asked puzzled.

Lorraine looked anxiously toward the darkening skyline, "I'm sorry to rush you Father, but we have reports that there is a storm on the horizon, we must hurry..."

He held up a hand and dismissed her urgency, "Do not worry my child, we are not fearful of getting wet...after all it is nothing but God's creation and the source of life"

"Please Father" Lorraine urged, "we must reach shelter". Her voice was filled with a sense of urgency as the words fell on deaf ears.

"Father, perhaps we should do as they say..." it was the young girl who had spoken, and for a minute the man seemed outraged at her interjection but his annoyance was quickly replaced with compliance and he smiled.

"Of course...if you would..." he beckoned toward Lorraine to lead the way from the craft. She turned to the guard who stood respectfully toward of the rear of the group.

"Any word from the Watchtowers?" she asked. He turned away spoke into a small hand held communicator before turning back to the party of people. He nodded and held his thumb in the air, "how long?", Lorraine's gaze drifted to the sky where the clouds were thickening at a quick rate. In the distance they could hear the distinct rumble of thunder and the illumination of lightning from over the mountains in the distance.

"Contact with Tower Four...Storm imminent. Atmosphere warning...heavy local conditions...", the activity within the Watchtower had changed instantly with the report from Watchtower Four. "Readout reports!" snapped the commander. The guard pushed his way past his commander and tore at the reader by the wall.

"High pressure build up, Sir. Could be a big one"

The commander nodded, "fortify the tower!" he ordered. The guard ran around the perimeter of the dome pulling at the hatches one by one, fastening each section as he went while the commander listened to the reports streaming through the head sets from the other three towers.

"Tower secured..."

"Close central hatch and operate auxiliary systems" ordered the Commander, "prepare Storm Warning"

"Understood..." the guard heaved at the central hatch and pulled the large metallic cover over the open stairwell, sealing the compartment. The red light from the auxiliary system bathed the interior of the cabin and the noise from the oxygen pumps rumbled through the confined space. From the distance a siren rang out over the mountains and down toward the waiting monolith. The sound was soon followed by a second siren, then a third...

"Operate Storm Warning" ordered the commander.

The guard pulled at a level in the wall and set it into the down position. "Storm Warning operative!" he wailed over the sound of the alarm.

The wail of the Storm Warning cast a wary hand over the colony, from each of the four towers. From the mining area to the town, every part of the colony was touched by the call of the siren. Lorraine placed her hand on the back of the holy man, "Please if we could hurry..." she urged.

He paused and looked up toward the four large metallic legs of the Watchtower, "what is that noise?" he asked gazing through the clouds at the fading cabin above.

"Forgive me Father...but if we could hurry..."

He raised a hand toward her and peered at the darkening clouds, "explain...". In the distance he could make out the illumination of the clouds by the spark of sudden swift lightning streaking through the upper atmosphere.

"Sorry, Father...but that is the three-minute warning, we really need to hurry". The sky darkened further as the clouds overhead gathered into a plethora of black blanket cover, "we don't have much time" she urged. The small party hurried through the time town and as they moved the man watched around him with interest as they moved as the people collected property and rushed through the muddy streets.

"What is happening?" he asked Lorraine as they rushed. Buildings and faces blurred into view as they fought their way toward the central dome.

"Please Father...I will tell you, but we really need to hurry" she turned her head to the Chamberlain who was trailing at the rear of the group. "Chamberlain..." she called over her head, "How much time?"

He paused briefly and checked a small strap on his wrist, "about ninety seconds until complete lockdown Ma'am" he called.

"Sorry Father...but we will need to run the rest of the way" she apologized as she broke into a run. The rest of her party followed her lead, leaving the newly arrived couple standing in the center of the causeway.

"Father...do you think?" the girl asked.

"If we are too receiving any answers..." he began. His sentence was cut short by a roar of thunder from the sky above and shortly after a flash of lightning illuminated the sky above the town.

"Please Father..." said the Chamberlain, who had broken from his run to return to the couple. He grabbed at the man's hand, "please we are nearly here" he fervently glanced at the sky as he spoke, "hurry...hurry". They broke into a run, their feet splashing in the soft mud as they struggled through the worsening conditions. Around them citizens of the town huddled in the doorways of their homes looking out into the causeway.

"Why do they not close their doors if the storm is coming?" shouted the man as he ran.

"They are automatic!" called the Chamberlain, "There the central dome" he called. Rising from the ground before them sat the imposing security of the central building and framed in the doorway stood Lorraine beckoning toward them.

"Quickly..." she called.

The Chamberlain stumbled in the mud as they ran the final part of the way toward the dome and splashed hard on the ground. He raised his head and looked at the figures before him. "Go on..." he called as the man turned briefly. He slipped and lost his grip on the muddy surface of the ground and knelt in the mud, looking at his muddy hands. "I'm sorry..." he breathed silently.

The man and the girl entered the dome and turned toward the scene on the street. He could see the Chamberlain kneeling in the mud staring at his hands, "Come on man!" he called.

"Father..." Lorraine said sadly, "it is too late" she breathed.

"What? he is just there"

"No, Father...stand back". Thunder cracked over the town and from the sky the first drops of rain struck the ground. The Chamberlain stared at the sky, a look of fear growing across his face. He struggled to his feet and looked toward the central dome and the safety of the building.

"Madame..." he called reaching out for the door. Lorraine turned from the doorway and lowered her head as a small red light signaled the imminent closure of the door.

"I'm sorry Jeremy..." she called over her shoulder as the dome was filled by the whir of machinery. A heavy metal door slid clumsily over the doorway sealing the occupants of the dome inside the building. Drops of rain splashed down onto the causeway causing tiny flurries of water to splash up into small geysers of dirt erupting from the ground. Lorraine crossed to the doorway and placed her hand on the metal surface and closed her eyes. She could hear the faintly knock on the other side of door from the Chamberlain who pressed his body desperately against the cold steel of the door.

"Open the door" demanded the priest.

Lorraine ignored his request and barked orders to the remaining council members, "check the conditions of the mines" she ordered blocking out the cries from outside the building. "Then call on the domes...let’s get a head count" The sound of the crash of thunder broke the atmosphere within the dome as councilors scurried from the main area and into smaller side rooms. Lorraine turned back to the couple at the door and she looked at them. He was tall and bathed completely in a long brown cowl, while the girl was barely in her teens and dressed in a similar cowl, but white in colour. "Father..." she said softly, "I am Lorraine Norton, head of the town". Lorraine stood in silence for a moment watching him as he pressed his ear to the cold surface of the door.

"I am sorry..." apologized the girl who had strode forward, leaving the man's side. "I am Lotti Caine...and this is the Reverend Aston James, we are the holy representatives of H.O.S.T and are here on official business to ascertain the sustainability of this colony". The girl, Lotti smile sweetly to Lorraine and extended her hand in friendship. Lorraine took it and warmly shook it, whilst her eyes never left the form of Aston James as he listened at the door.

He pressed a hand to the door as he listened to the cries of the Chamberlain outside. Through the door, the sound of his cries echoed through the reception area of the dome and mixed with the noise of banging against the surface of the door. "Open the door" he asked again, more quietly this time.

"I am sorry, Father...I truly am, but the systems are interlocked and operated automatically from the Watchtowers" Lorraine shook her head sadly as she spoke. "We all know the danger of being caught outside during a storm" her words were simple, but loaded with regret.

"What are you scared of..." asked the Reverend.

"The storms..." her voice trailed off into a whisper as tears welled in her eyes.

"The storms?" he echoed.

Lorraine nodded, "it is what we fear" she said, "We all live in fear of the storms"

"Can you show me?" asked Aston. Lorraine nodded and moved to a panel in the wall. She opened the metal surface to reveal a Perspex window which overlooked the town square.

"We built this section into the side of the building when we first arrived" she explained, "it became a symbol of trust within the colony and gave everyone the opportunity to watch the council at work as we strove to build our community" Both Aston and Lotti joined her as she stood by the panel looking out into the town, "when the rain first came, the panel gave us the opportunity to view the weather at first hand...safely". Aston stared out into the street and watched in fascination as the rain cascaded down onto the causeway beyond the pane. The sky had covered so quickly with dark clouds and the rain had escalated in a way which he had not seen before. The water beyond the building came down heavily from the sky in a thick torrent of water. He watched as rivers of rain ran down the Perspex paneling and could make out tiny droplets bouncing off the domes in the distance. It looked enchanting...it looked beautiful. He turned to face Lorraine and wondered how could this beauty fill her with such dread?

A gasp from his side attracted his attention and he turned his head to his young ward, "My child?" he whispered. She pointed out into the street, beyond the dome and he followed her eye line. He could see the Chamberlain; Jeremy running across the growing quagmire of the causeway from one dome to another, his voice fading and echoing over the town. Aston strained his ears to pick up the sounds from his voice as he watched the man run from one dome to another banging desperately on the outer wall of the buildings. Rain bounced off his body and drenched his clothing. He could see traces of steam rise from the Chamberlain as he continued his desperate search for sanctuary. He turned and faced the dome, seeing the open hatch the Chamberlain ran for the central building. As he crossed the causeway, the rain bounced off him as he ran screaming. The Reverend James gasped and choked as the man approached and he could see the reason why the people of the colony feared the rain.

The Chamberlain continued his scream as he ran, rain cascading across his body. The water was tinged by traces of red as blood trickled from his mouth, nose and eyes. Steam rose from the top of his head as his hair thinned under the pressure of the water and Aston leant forward toward the window in morbid fascination. The side of the Chamberlain's face was twisted as his skin sagged under the pressure of the water and he could see patches of flesh melting from the man's forehead. Chunks of skin drifted down his cheek as the water melted the flesh on contact and Aston pulled Lotti from the window and buried her head forcibly into his chest. He held his ward tightly in his grip as he stared at the man facing him in the window. Through the window, Aston watched as the man stood in silence in silent resolution on the other side of the panel. He could see patches of white from the man's skull as chunks of flesh traced the edges of bone and crawled across his face. The Chamberlain's right eye drooped from its socket and hung limply on the man's cheek and as the skin dissolve around his mouth, a twisted travesty of a smile spread over his face. The Chamberlain placed his hand on the panel and Aston copied his action and watched as the skin melted on the hand and slid down the expanse of the panel. His pained expression changed slowly into a skeletal vision as the skin which covered the Chamberlain's body was washed away by the rain.

Lorraine pulled at the lever on the wall, "I'm sorry..." she whispered through tears as the metal hatch slid back over the viewing panel. She fought back tears as the image of her Chamberlain slowly disappeared behind the panel.

The Reverend Aston James removed his hand from the Perspex as the metal panel slid into place and grasped at his beads around his neck. "Heavenly Father..." he whispered and closed his eyes in silent prayer for the Chamberlain.

Outside, the body of the Chamberlain finally collapsed in a sodden heap of material as the rain soaked his body and left the town peaceful under the rainfall's soulful blanket.

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