The Reverend Aston James turned to his host's and stared each one down, one after another. "I think you had better explain" he said softly. His eyes strayed to the closed hatch and his thoughts were cast to the death of the Chamberlain beyond the safety which they now enjoyed.
"Reverend..." a soft weak voice broke the tension between the holy man and the councillors and caused Aston James to focus on the shadows of a room toward the rear of the dome. Silhouetted in the doorframe sat a man in a wheelchair, his face etched with pain and body ravaged by time.
"And you are?" enquired the Reverend.
"Father..." began Lorraine, "may I introduce my husband, Michael Norton". She walked to the newcomer and kissed his forehead gently before taking her place at the rear of the chair and pushing it firmly into the light. "And my life..." she said smiling down on his fragile form. He in turn smiled back at her and raised his hand to touch her's as she placed her hand on his shoulder. He gently pulled her hand toward his face, where he softly kissed the back of her hand before his head dropped weakly into his chest. The Reverend noted the love between the couple and wondered how much of a strain on their relationship his apparent condition had placed on it.
"You are weak" Aston said.
"I am ill Sir" snapped Michael, "but I draw my strength to continue through my wife" he re-affirmed, "and while I survive, this colony will survive. As long as I have life in my body..." he coughed violently as he spoke.
"Forgive my husband" apologized Lorraine, "but he does often exude such activity"
"I am alright my dear" said Michael quietly, "as I was saying Father, this colony must survive. We have placed so much time and effort into building everything you see".
The Reverend moved forward and raised his hand toward the couple, "I am not here to judge you, simply to assist...if I can"
"And if you can't?" Lorraine asked.
"That is up to you, all I can do is advise both yourselves and the Holy Order", the Reverend spread his arms wide as he spoke. "But, may I remind you..." he paused and cast his gaze over the couple, "you called us"
"What if we do not like the decision?" asked Michael.
"We can only advise" said the Reverend, "We cannot force you to comply with our decision...but I would advise you do". It was a simple statement, but nevertheless the malice was in his voice as he spoke. "It is the Lord's greatest gift" the Reverend continued, "the freedom of free will...the liberty of our own choice". The young girl joined him and stood by his side as he spoke. He placed a protective arm around her and in turn she gazed up into his expressionless face. An awkward silence sat in the dome as the two parties stood before each other with only the echo of the rain against the metal of the building to break the atmosphere.
"I think we should start again" said Lorraine eventually. The Reverend nodded and clutched at his set of beads hanging from his neck. "I am Lorraine Norton acting head of this colony, and this..." she said indicating toward the figure in the wheelchair, "is my husband and leader, Michael Norton"
"I am Aston James" the reverend said in response, "representative of the Holy Order of Spiritual Tribute...on official business on behalf of the Earth council into the sustainability of this colony"
"...and the girl?" asked Michael.
"This is my ward...Lotti" said the Reverend, "She is here to observe, nothing more. Just to observe"
"Why? is this normal procedure" queried Lorraine. "This is an official enquiry"
"She is learning..." said the Reverend stroking his ward's hair as he spoke. "Lotti is new to the order, her mind is clean from the rigors of the universe and her body is pure" he pulled himself away from Lotti and approached the leaders of the colony, slowly walking around them, looking them up and down as though evaluating their own purity. "The whiteness of her cowl..." he continued, "denotes the purity of her body and soul". He placed his head between those of Lorraine's and Michael’s, "she is one with her own purity...she is clean...and through the devoutness of the church she will continue within the habit and observe the abhorrers of mankind until she too can elevate herself into the full ordinance of the order". The Reverend walked back to his place by his ward's side and turned to face the couple, "We are not important" he stated simply, "please tell us about the colony, and your problems"
Michael nodded and indicated toward a chair as Lorraine pushed his wheelchair toward the table. Aston James sat at the table opposite Michael and watched silently as Lorraine took the chair by her husband. The couple held hands for a moment and smiled at each other before Michael broke her grip. His hand snaked down the side of his chair and he pulled a small cardboard packet from a pocket hanging from the metal frame. He pulled the packet to the tabletop and open the lid, pulling out a small white stick from within the box. Michael placed the object between his lips and inhaled deeply from the stick, closing his eyes as he sucked heavily at the thin object. Lotti stared with interest at the sight before her and watched as Michael opened his eyes and pulled the object from his lips and held it gingerly between two fingers.
Michael smiled at the Reverend and extended the box toward him, "sorry Father...where are my manners" he apologized, "Oxygen stick?"
Aston frowned and shook his head holding up a hand before him, "I thought these had been made illegal"
"They have" said Michael, "but this far out from Earth...we have so little, what we can get we are grateful for. Even if they are against the law". He smiled and took another long drag from the oxygen stick, "sometimes Father, the smallest things give us the greatest of pleasure...and as you can see from my current position, I hardly have anything else" he coughed as he spoke and struggled through the words.
Lorraine placed her hand on his, "my love..." she said softly.
"I'm alright..." Michael insisted.
She shook her head, "You've already had more excited today than you've had in months...rest..." she smiled at him and took the box from his hand, replacing it in the pocket then turned to face Aston and Lotti. "We left Earth looking for a better future" she began, "as you know, Earth is overcrowded with resources at a complete minimum". Aston James nodded as she spoke and sat back in his seat as he listened. "We found this planet, full of potential...full of hope..." her words trailed off as she looked around at the charts adorning the walls, "...so much promise"
"Please continue..." urged Aston.
"I'm sorry...We found this world, so full of minerals, so full of hope. Our initial survey revealed this planet was rich in material which we could use to stabilise a colony and use the minerals to trade with Earth to bolster our own stocks"
"What went wrong?" asked Lotti. Aston shot her a warning glance and she lowered her head in silent apology and listened to the rest of Lorraine's story.
"We arrived just over a year ago..." Lorraine continued, "everything was fine. We established Hope...sorry...the town" she explained, "we call it Hope" Aston nodded his understanding and indicated for her to continue, "yes...well...we established Hope...then Prosperity and Faith...our working and greenhouse facilities...and everything seemed good. Then six months ago, things started to change"
"In what way?" asked Aston.
"The rain started" she explained. "Only slight at the beginning, but slowly the storms got worse". Aston looked toward the ceiling as she spoke and he realised the sound of the rain on the outer skin of the dome had ceased. It had been so relentless, he wondered how he had missed the sound of the rain's incessant touch on the metal.
"Can you elaborate?"
"Well...they became heavier and more frequent"
"When did it start?" asked Aston.
"I said...about six months ago"
The Reverend waved away her words, "No... no...no, I'm sorry. You misunderstood me. I mean, did anything change. Any movement in the planet? any significant work which could have disturbed anything geologically?"
"No..." said Lorraine, "I don't think so..."
Michael waved, "wait" he gasped, "the first rainfall happened not long after we opened shaft nine"
"What was the significance about shaft nine?" asked Aston.
"Nothing..." admitted Michael. "We found a new vein of nickel ore off shaft eight and established another link, deeper into the planet"
"Anything else? no geographical anomalies?"
"So, this is when the rain started?"
It was Lorraine who continued the story, "Yes" she said. "The first time it came, it burned. Nothing more than external burning, but as the rain got heavier...well...you saw". She stopped and lowered her head in grief. "We built the Watchtowers to monitor atmospheric pressure and monitor for changes in weather conditions. Once the siren rings out, the citizen's no there is only three minutes until rain strikes and the colony is lock downed". She stood and crossed a set of controls on the wall and indicated toward the panel, "everything concerning the lockdown is controlled from here" she said.
Aston James rose to his feet and crossed to join her at the panel. He gazed at the dials and switches and looked at the lights, "Where do you get your power?" he asked flicked one of the side lights mounted on the wall. The bulb fluttered under his touch, but shimmered relentlessly.
"All domes are powered from individual solar power units and generated through internal motors from an external unit situated toward the rear of the colony" Lorraine explained.
"How do you get water?" Aston asked suddenly.
Lorraine was taken back by the question and considered her answer for a moment. "Nothing is wasted" she said. "Any waste matter is recycled into either drinkable matter or fertilizer for the Prosperity project, all other water is recycled from the outside"
"But isn't that toxic?"
"No" replied Lorraine. "All of the collected water is processed through automatic exchangers and filtered through cleansing plants until the water supply is safe to drink. We do recommend all water consumed is boiled beforehand...as a precaution". From outside the sound of the siren stopped and slowly the shutters covering the door to the dome slid across the entrance allowing a slight breeze to enter the building and clear the stuffy atmosphere. The Reverend crossed to the doorway and gazed out into the causeway. He could see a similar scene across the colony, doors were opening and life was returning to normality through the chaos which he had witnessed previously. He wondered at humanity's endurance through adversity and watched as people tentatively stepped out of their domes and into the sunlight.
"Isn't the remaining water dangerous?" he asked as people began to daily chores as though nothing had happened.
"It evaporates quickly..." Lorraine said as she joined the Reverend at the doorway. "For some reason the water doesn't stay on the ground long enough to cause any real damage". They stood for a moment gazing into the street where children emerged and ran across the mud. The Reverend watched as the steam rose from buildings, drying in the sunlight as the rays from sun stretched its fingers and touched every part of the Hope.
"May I see the rest of the colony?" asked the Reverend.
"Of course..." purred Lorraine and turned to whisper to one of the councilors. "Go forward and inform Cass that will be arriving at Faith within the hour". The man nodded slightly and ran from the dome and away down the causeway.
The Reverend watched as the man's feet splashed in the mud as he raced away down the causeway and into the distance. His eyes strayed to the side of the dome, where a small pile of clothing lay discarded. He walked from the shelter, with his ward by his side and stood over the clothing. He stared at the clothes for a moment before bending to examine the pile. His hands flicked over the cloth lying in the mud and piece by piece he sieved through the clothes, handling each piece individually before allowing each one to fall into a heap on the floor. Small tinged fluid droplets fell softly from the clothing as they were lofted a high. "Nothing left" pondered Aston as he rifled through the clothing, "nothing at all" he looked up from the clothing toward Lotti and sadly shook his head. She lowered her head in solace as he spoke softly, "prepare the rites..." he breathed and contemplated the force of nature which had reduced a man to a pile of bubbling liquid and clothing while Lotti removed her book from her belt and flicked through the pages.
"Damnation!" cursed Creed as his fist slammed onto the table in his dome. He looked around at his bodyguards, who shrank into the shadows desperate for the boss not to take his present mood out on them. His eyes fell of the weasel form of Cole who was standing beneath the stairwell, attempting to hide his presence. "Cole!" he yelled as their eyes met. Even from this distance, Cole could see the anger in Creed's eyes and a vein on his forehead pulsing through the anger.
"Sir" said Cole meekly. Creed clicked his fingers and stared defiantly toward his employee. Cole stepped from his safety net and slowly crossed the floor toward Creed. The larger man considered Cole briefly before bringing his clenched fist hard down onto his cheek.
"Idiot" he spat and swung another punch in his direction, this time connecting with his stomach. Cole clutched at his stomach in pain as he doubles over with agony from the second punch. He groaned under the blows and Creed looked down in pure contempt at him and savagely connected a third blow to the back of his head. Cole fell roughly to the ground and lay on the hard flooring of the dome, clutching his stomach in one hand and the back of his head with the other. He looked up at the imposing form of his employer standing over him menacingly with his fists clenched. "You!" Creed exclaimed through gritted teeth as he launched a savage kick into his chest. Cole recoiled from the impact of Creed's foot and cowered in a foetal position as Creed delivered another savage kick to his back.
"Please..." he moaned as traces of blood trickled through his teeth. Creed kicked him hard again, straightened and smoothed his ruffled hair.
"I want to know every movement of that Holy man" he demanded looking down at the prone form of Cole, "...and I want to know within the hour" he warned. Cole struggled across the floor, still on his stomach. Creed watched with satisfaction as his employee struggled to his knees and spat out a mixture of phlegm and blood into the street beyond the doorway. "...and Cole" he called rubbing his fists. He waited patiently as Cole stood weakly to his feet and using the doorframe as a support turned to his employer.
"Yes sir..." he whispered.
"Do not fail me..." the threat hung in the air for a moment before Creed walked to the bottom of the stairwell and began to climb up the metallic steps. Cole watched through a bulging eye as his employer stalked the steps, eyeing each one as he walked before turning his attention back to the street. The bruises on his face began to rise and the swelling in his eye and cheek swelled in the sunlight as Cole stepped out of the dome and into the street. Creed paused on the landing and spied Cole as he walked feebly out into the street and sighed, shaking his head. As he stepped onto the final step, he weighed heavily on the railing and gazed over the expanse of his dome. He closed his eyes and slammed his hands hard against the metal rail, "Fuck!" he cursed.
"What's up Baby?" the soft female voice stroked his senses and the smell of her perfume invaded his nostrils before he saw her form. Creed turned and watched as the light from the room at the rear of the upper level spilled over her body and silhouetted her in shadow. She walked evocatively toward Creed, and he watched the sway in her hips as she crossed the metal floor toward where he leant against the railing. Her delicate white silk gown floated open slightly revealing her white lace underwear and her long slim legs thrust through the thinning material as she walked. She placed a hand on his chest and she leant with her back pressed the railing and smiled warmly at Creed. "Come and tell me all about it" she cooed through lipstick encrusted lips and rubbed her hand across his chest, down toward his waist.
"Not now..." he warned and pushed her hand away, "I've more important things to worry about"
"But, Baby...I can make you feel better" she said softly as she leant forward close to his face. He could feel the warmth of her breath against his face as she spoke and the softness of her touch as she rubbed against his body. Her hand snaked down his stomach and pressed against his groin, slowly moving in tiny concentric circles as she smiled into his eyes. He watched her movements and felt his groin stir beneath her touch and allowed her to move beneath his body. "Let me make you forget..." she purred and kissed his cheek, leaving an indelible red mark from her lipstick and lowered her eyes toward his groin. She raised her eyes back to Creed's and smiled into his face and seductively licked her lips. Creed ran his hands across her arms as she writhed beneath his touch and up toward the expanse of blonde hair. She smiled and closed her eyes at his touch, before lowering her body slowly into a kneeling position before him. From her vantage point at his waist, she gazed up at his face and meeting his gaze moved her hands across his groin, smiling as she felt the pressure rising beneath his clothing. Their eyes locked as she felt for the zip to his trousers and smiled as the swelling tightened the material around his groin.
"I said, not now..." he repeated. She pulled a mock sad face, but continued to rub the material of his suit around the groin area tracing the growing expanse beneath the material. She could feel his hands move across the top of her head as she moved her face close to the bulge in his clothing and kissed the material. He grasped at her hair and pulled her savagely to her feet, "I said not now...what part of that don't you fucking understand" he spat the words into her face as he spoke. Still clutching her hair, he lifted her to her feet as placing his other hand beneath her body, raised her waist into a sitting position on the edge of the railing. She sat on the railing as tears from her eyes marked her mascara and made dark black streaks across her face.
"Please Baby...you're hurting me" she sobbed as she desperately clawed at his hand still entwined within her hair.
"I warned you..." Creed breathed softly in her ear and suddenly pushed her from the railing. He watched from his vantage point as the body of the woman slipped through the air, her arms failing in the open expanse of nothingness. The scream died in her throat as she glided through the air and came to a sudden and abrupt end as she hit the floor below. Creed gazed over the bannister at the broken form of the woman on the floor and barked a series of instructions coldly toward his guards. "Clear that fucking mess!" he called as blood spilled from her body and spread across the once clean surface of the dome. The looked at her body and sighed, "Slut" he whispered and walked toward his room, closing the door hard behind him.