Chapter 18 - Tangles
Quentin DeLoth smiled as he lounged in the overstuffed, brown leather La-Z-Boy recliner in Yuri-Milost’s suite. He always took the opportunity to imagine himself as leader of the Church known as The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany.
Following her nightly routine, Yuri-Milost had left for the gym. She liked to keep her muscles rock-hard, and lifting heavy steel weights tempered her overabundance of testosterone. Yuri-Milost had been examined and treated by several Endocrinologists for her hormone imbalance, but nothing eased her symptoms more than good old heavy lifting and sweat.
Visualizing a room full of devoted followers kneeling before him, DeLoth practiced moving his hands in complex benedictions. Just as he completed a gesture baptizing a new follower into his flock, the door of the suite rammed open, and ten FORCE Commandos stormed into the room.
Four of the soldiers covered him while the others searched the suite. Shouts of ‘Clear’ echoed from the various rooms. DeLoth was handcuffed with manacles made of tempered steel designed to withstand the muscular strength of activated humans. Confirming the suite was secured, the leader of the Commando squad touched his throat mic and spoke the all clear signal.
General Blunt and Captain McPherson entered the suite. As the Commandos backed away, their squad leader pointed what looked like a miniature garage door opener at DeLoth and pushed one of its buttons. Chirping after a short delay, a red LED flashed on top of the device confirming DeLoth’s PDS had been deactivated.
Deciding bluster was the best way to handle the strong-arm intrusion by Blunt and his team, DeLoth said, “What is the meaning of this, General? Has the burden of leadership caused you to abandon the Constitutional rights enjoyed by all US Citizens?”
Ignoring the question, Tom frowned at the intricately carved cross on the wall above DeLoth’s head and the tables covered with half-burnt candles and brass bowls.
“Tell me, Lieutenant DeLoth, what do all these decorations mean?”
“Decorations?” DeLoth responded. “You have the honor of standing in the Holy Sanctuary of The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany. Bow your head reverently and cherish the sacred moment.”
Rather than being honored to be in the sacred chamber and chastised for his blasphemous description of the Holy Relics, Tom said, “My father once told me the story of his raid on a church named The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany. Bunch of religious fanatics committing murder and treason in the name of God.”
McPherson chimed in and asked, “Are you telling me this skinny lounge rat is the reincarnation of Your Grace?”
DeLoth was stunned. These profane infidels must be punished for their transgressions. Straining to break his bonds and leap at the devils, he wrestled with the Commandos who held him in the recliner. Realizing at last he was incapable of administering Holy Retribution upon Blunt and McPherson, DeLoth stopped fighting his captors and glared.
“I don’t have the background, training or Divine Lineage to carry the mantel of Your Grace. Only her eminence, Colonel Svet Yuri-Milost possesses the Divine Lineage and Holy Spirit of Your Grace.”
“Interesting,” Tom said. “You refer to lineage. So Yuri-Milost is somehow related to the original Your Grace?”
Shifting his eyes back and forth as if he’d unwittingly disclosed a trade secret, DeLoth licked his suddenly dry lips.
“Church secrets and ceremonies are beyond the comprehension of nonbelievers and heretics. As a result, you are incapable of understanding or appreciating the nuances of The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany. I pity you.”
“I pity the damned evil soul of Hubert Rash,” McPherson shot back. “I bet he’s still knocking on the gates of Hell trying to get the Devil to let him enter.”
“Rash? What’s happened to Deacon Rash?”
“Deacon, huh? He assumed room temperature a short time after he tried to kill me. Seems he developed a throat condition incompatible with fogging a mirror. Corporal Trakutel will be enjoying a full body cast for several weeks while he tries to get healthy enough for execution after his conviction for treason.”
Pleased with the shocked look on DeLoth’s face, Tom demanded, “Where is Yuri-Milost? I have many things to discuss with her.”
“Your Grace answers to no mere mortal, be it man or woman.”
“I think you misunderstand this whole situation,” Tom replied. “Your PDS implant has been deactivated. You’re under arrest for subversion. Your life expectancy is limited.”
Just then, the squad leader touched his ear where his K-wave combat transceiver was fitted and said, “General, I’ve just been advised the Verbinna has FLITed. Its IFF beacon can’t be located in our Solar System.”
Frowning at DeLoth, Tom said, “I think your value just dropped to zero. Seems Colonel Yuri-Milost considers you expendable. Take him to the brig.”
“Wait!” DeLoth pleaded as he was dragged from the suite. “I have information you need. Please! General!”
As his screams faded down the hall, Tom grinned at McPherson and said, “Get with Dr. Heinbaum and see if he can trace the Verbinna.”
“Yuri-Milost means what?” Tom asked with amazement as he sat down at the Staff conference table. Jason, Amanda and McPherson were the only others present.
Jason replied, “After interrogating DeLoth, I checked some translation apps to verify his ramblings. Svet means Holy and Milost means Grace in the Croatian language. Phonetically, Yuri sounds like the English word Your, so her name translates to Holy Your Grace depending on how twisted your mind is.”
Pointing to some papers in a file folder she held, Amanda added, “According to the records, her Croatian mother and brother were killed during the Chrysallaman invasion as she told us at our first meeting. A more detailed drill-down into her family history reveals her grandfather was the original Your Grace who Whatsit killed during the raid on The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany in Washington, DC.”
“Yuri-Milost was seeking revenge against Whatsit for killing her grandfather and destroying The Exalted Fellowship of the Holy Epiphany. Her actions make sense in a perverted way,” McPherson added.
“Have her contacts and followers been rounded up?” Tom asked.
“Yes. Trakutel and Rash were the recruiters, and DeLoth was the record keeper.”
“Sounds like DeLoth is a fountain of information,” Tom said.
Smiling at the remark, Jason replied, “For some odd reason, DeLoth has the impression Captain McPherson is a bloodthirsty devil ready to tear his arms off if he doesn’t talk.”
Nodding at McPherson, he continued, “At first DeLoth acted like he wasn’t going to talk. McPherson showed him the video of Trakutel having the compound fractures of his arms reset by the base physicians. I’ll have to admit the visuals and audio were gruesome. McPherson turned off the video, cracked his knuckles and walked toward him with a frightful look. DeLoth sung like a canary.”
“The poor lad is just high strung,” McPherson chuckled. “Heck, everyone knows I’m just a big teddy bear.”
“I’d say a big Polar bear with two inch claws is more like it,” Amanda replied. “Anyway, we’ve taken six men into custody. Acolytes as DeLoth refers to them.”
“What about the Salterr and our people?” Tom asked. “What did they do to them?”
“Gassed them unconscious, destroyed their exterior MA weapons, programmed the FLIT gens to self-destruct and sent them on a one-way journey into orbit around Chrysalis,” Amanda answered. “The assumption was the Asiddians would destroy the Salterr the moment it appeared in orbit. All evidence of the crimes of Yuri-Milost and her followers would be obliterated. The perfect murder of five innocent people.”
Scowling as he considered how Yuri-Milost almost got away with her crimes, Tom said, “We’re going to Chrysalis. Doug and his team are resourceful. Assuming they survived their arrival in orbit without being blown apart by the Asiddians, I believe the odds favor them still being alive when we get there. If not, the Asiddians are going to learn about Human retribution. What’s the status of the repairs to the Destinnee?”
“Completed,” McPherson said. “All damages have been repaired, the fusion generators replaced by FLIT gens and MA weaponry installed. The improved defensive shield works like a charm.”
“Since we don’t need the stasis pods any longer because we have the FLIT drive, they’ve been replaced with living quarters for our troops. The ship’s capacity for transporting personnel has doubled, and we have four hundred FORCE commandos with PDS implants on standby.”
“All three remaining scout saucers will be going with us,” Tom said. “The Salterr may have been completely destroyed, but if there is anything left of it, I want an available docking bay ready to receive it.”
“Yes, sir,” Jason, Amanda and McPherson said in unison.
“I’ve decided Chellsee Brookkss will be a member of the crew. Even though her main concern seems to be the welfare of Whatsit, she has convinced me her knowledge of Chrysalis and the Royal Palace will come in handy. Nothing like a native guide to make our search for survivors a little easier.”
After a soft knock on the door, Madelyn Amsley stuck her head into the room.
“Sir, Dr. Heinbaum requests all of you join him in his lab. He says he has something you’ll probably want to take with you to Chrysalis. He’s insistent.”
Tom was intrigued. The only times Heinbaum ever requested personal meetings was when he’d made a momentous development.
Glancing at McPherson with raised eyebrows, he asked, “What’s going on?”
Shrugging, McPherson responded, “Search me.”
Tom said, “Tell the good doctor we’re on our way.”
Tom and his Staff walked into Heinbaum’s laboratory just in time to see Longarrow pretending to quick draw a finger gun from his lab coat pocket and shoot Heinbaum. Doing his comical best to act as if he’d been fatally wounded, Heinbaum flailed his arms as if an imaginary bullet had pierced his chest and careened backwards into a workbench.
Realizing he had an audience, Heinbaum straightened the lapels on his lab coat and said, “Ah, you’re here at last. Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“Time is precious, Dr. Heinbaum,” Tom replied. “I trust the Oscar winning performance we just witnessed isn’t the only reason you asked to see us.”
Missing the sarcasm, Heinbaum said, “I do have a flair for the dramatic, General. I appreciate your noticing; however, I do believe the demonstration Ernest and I have planned will overshadow my acting skills.”
“Come closer,” Heinbaum urged, and he motioned for everyone to gather near Longarrow. “Please notice we’ve set up targets at the far end of the lab.”
About 30 feet away, workbenches and equipment had been moved to clear a space along the far wall. Some two feet in front of the wall, a wooden bookcase had been positioned and on top of it were arranged a glass jug, a wedge of Armorium and a plate of the Asiddian hull material. The arrangement looked like a cobbled together shooting range set up by Boy Scouts at a campsite to test their BB guns.
“You’ve all heard of British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s third law which states ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. I thought it would be useful for our advanced technology to take on some of the aspects of magic.”
Pointing at the makeshift target range, Heinbaum said, “Observe. Mr. Longarrow, if you please.”
Longarrow pulled his empty hand from his lab coat pocket and dramatically made a finger gun which he pointed at the targets.
“Abracadabra,” he exclaimed as his thumb came down against his index finger like the hammer on a pistol.
A white MA beam filled with winking sparkles and flowing in dazzling swirls leaped from the tip of his index finger and blew the glass jug into a fine dust.
Gasps of amazement escaped from Tom and his Staff, but Longarrow wasn’t finished. His thumb dropped again like the hammer on a pistol. This time the MA beam from his fingertip swept across the wedge of Armorium and plate of Asiddian hull material, neatly cutting both of them in half.
Raising his finger pistol to his mouth, Longarrow blew at the tip of his index finger to disperse the imaginary smoke swirling up from it. For all intents and purposes, the impression was the MA beam had emanated from the tip of his finger like a supernatural lightning bolt. Magic!
“Okay,” Tom said in a voice mixed with wonder and excitement. “Explain.”
As Longarrow displayed his hand to the group, Heinbaum said, “I call my new weapon the Finger Initiated Naturally Guided Energy Repeater. FINGER for short.”
“The Finger?” McPherson asked.
“Of course,” Heinbaum replied. “My first thought when I conceived the weapon was the famous painting in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. God’s finger breathing life into Adam.”
“You imagined God pointing a finger gun at Adam?”
“Of course not, you dolt. God would never consider using a Finger gun, but Dr. John Heinbaum certainly would. Now pay attention!”
“The mechanism consists of a one-fingered clear mesh half glove. The index fingertip on the glove is connected by microcircuitry to a Velcro wristband. A miniature FLIT gen is installed in the wristband to provide continuous power. The palm of the glove contains built-in pressure points acting as both the power-on switch and safety mechanism. A button on the inside base of the index finger is the ray activator. As you can see, the clear mesh allows the glove to blend with any skin color rendering it virtually invisible.”
Pointing at the two buttons in the palm of the glove, Heinbaum continued, “When the wearer makes the hand form the finger gun, the middle and ring fingers come in contact with the power-on and safety switches. The thumb then comes down on the activator button at the base of the index finger, and the weapon fires. The beam issues from the miniature black crystal embedded in the glove fingertip. From a distance of more than three feet, the illusion of the beam coming from the fingertip is quite convincing.”
“I added a self-destruct feature into the design just in case a Finger gun is ever taken by an enemy. The firing button at the base of the index finger is keyed to the thumbprint of its assigned user. No one else can fire the imprinted Finger gun. If an unauthorized entity attempts to fire the weapon, the FLIT gen self-destructs along with all the built-in circuitry.”
Grinning, Heinbaum added, “I also made sure that when the FLIT gen destroys itself, it creates a nice 3,000 degree fireball. Anything and anyone within six feet will get a very bad sunburn.”
Reaching into his pocket, Heinbaum pulled out another Finger gun and handed it to McPherson. When the big fellow simply stared at it, Heinbaum helped him put it on and adjust it for a snug fit.
“Doc! You sly dog,” McPherson said. “You hid this from me. Why?”
“It wouldn’t be much of a birthday surprise if I hadn’t,” Heinbaum sniffed.
“Birthday. How did you know?”
“I haven’t spent the last half century working with your sorry self without finding out a few minor details about you,” Heinbaum replied. “Now try it out before I regret giving it to you.”
McPherson grinned and pointed his Finger gun at the remaining half of the Asiddian hull plate. Bringing his thumb down on the activator button, he drilled a neat hole in the center of his target.
“Unbelievable!” he exclaimed as the rest of the Staff admired his gift.
“I want enough Fingers to equip all the commandos going to Chrysalis,” Tom ordered. “I don’t know if the Asiddians believe in magic, but when we get through with them, they’ll certainly believe in a higher power.”