Bewildering Stories

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by Gareth D. Jones

Table of Contents
Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Dawn, two days later, was accompanied by the melodic trill of alarm bells throughout the temple. Darrien rose from his bed, slightly more comfortable than that found in a meditation cell, and pulled on his saffron robe. He emerged from his sleeping chamber into the Prophet’s lounge only seconds before the Prophet appeared from his own door in the adjacent wall.

The one-way transparisteel wall opposite revealed a temple guard still stood to attention; the inner area was evidently still secure. The Prophet flung open the door and set a fast pace down the corridor to the nearby security centre. Darrien followed and the guard fell in behind.

Huge video screens lined the walls of the security centre, giving all-round views of the compound and outer approaches. The main viewer showed a convoy of vehicles approaching along the main road that led from the city to the courtyard gates. Included in the convoy were civilian police patrol vehicles, military constabulary riot trucks and a Federal Law Agency command wagon. They covered the last two miles at high speed and ranged themselves before the main gates, which had long since been closed.

During this time the Prophet and his security chief had been deploying temple guards and armaments into strategic positions. It was the FLAC wagon, sitting directly in front of the gates, that delivered the prepared speech:

“This is the Federal Law Agency.” It began, quite unnecessarily. “The organisation known as the Stellar Brethren is hereby notified that its headquarters, known as the Temple, is liable to be searched and any illegal items are to be seized. It is requested that one Algefrid Ludange, known as the Prophet, turn himself over peacefully for questioning in relation to a number of violations of the federal code.”

None of those in the security centre were in the least fazed. Either they had complete faith in their leader or they were in on the illicit deals. The Prophet merely snorted. “Open the outside broadcast channel.” He ordered. Someone did so.

“We have done nothing wrong.” He answered the waiting troops. “We deny you access to the Holy Temple, you with your blasphemous weapons.” He signalled to close the channel.

There was only a few seconds pause before the reply came. “You are advised that this expedition is authorised to make a forced entry if necessary.” This was emphasized by the arrival of a number of MilCon tanks and choppers from various directions that surrounded the compound.

“Engage the primary defences.” The Prophet said calmly. There was another moment silence while the besiegers scanned the defences now going into operation.

“Your actions are taken as hostile.” The FLAC wagon broadcast. “Unless your defences are dropped immediately we will proceed to enter.” The security chief looked questioningly at the Prophet, who stood rigidly by.

When no reply was forthcoming, the vehicles outside the main gate shifted positions. A large MilCon half-track took centre stage. Its front was blunt and formidably huge. It was a battering ram. The other vehicles ranged themselves behind it and slowly it advanced, rumbling stentoriously. Darrien peered over the shoulder of the chief who was sat at the primary defence station, fingers hovering over defence control studs. The ram hit the doors for the first time; the chief pressed a button and the ram disappeared, to be replaced by a fountain of flaming metal shards. The surrounding tanks responded by beginning a bombardment of all the walls, which were protected by a repellancy field.

“I’ll monitor from my quarters.” The Prophet announced, and left the room in a swirl of white. Darrien turned to follow, but paused at the door. All of the security staff were intent on their stations and paying him no attention. The Prophet was round a corner and out of sight. Darrien drew a hand blaster, keeping it hidden in the folds of his sleeve.

“Chief!” He called. The chief turned, looking irritated, but stepped over to see what the bodyguard wanted. Darrien blasted the master control panel, causing a general panic among the security staff. He clubbed the chief, then stunned the rest of the defence crew; among them were valuable witnesses. He switched his weapon’s setting back to blast the remaining defence stations, then sealed the door by blasting the locking mechanism before running to catch up with the Prophet.

“Your place is with me!” The Prophet snapped angrily when Darrien caught up.

“I’m sorry, I was trying to identify the attacking vehicles.” He lied as they entered the Prophet’s lounge. All he needed to do was keep the Prophet here until arresting troops could arrive. Unfortunately, once the view screens were activated and revealed breaches in the walls the Prophet had other ideas. He rose to leave the room. Darrien moved to block him.

“You are safer here!” He protested.

“I will go where I choose.” The Prophet brushed past and out the door. Darrien could only follow. He could not stun the Prophet; he had no idea what effect this would have on his own neural implant. He would have to keep the Prophet safe.

The corridors were suddenly alive with Brethren heading for safety in the lower levels. The Prophet grabbed the arm of a passing guard to find out what had happened.

“Outer defence is down.” The man reported. “Troops are coming in.” He rushed on along with the crowd. The Prophet was heading for Defence Control, but Darrien did not want him to find out why the outer defences were down. As a delay he managed to convince the Prophet to take a detour that would keep them away from the compound.

Unfortunately the invaders were entering from many different points, which meant that a pair of FLA troopers suddenly found themselves face to face with the Prophet and his gun-wielding bodyguard. Darrien stunned them before they had time to aim, hurrying the Prophet on before he had time to notice that Darrien had not killed them.

Close encounters with troops became more frequent and it quickly became evident that the temple was lost. The Prophet was becoming more frantic, now seeking a way to reach the auxiliary defence centre in the third sub-level. Darrien could not understand why; there were no defences left. They stopped momentarily in someone’s private quarters to evade a passing squad.

“Do you not think it is time to surrender? Before more are killed?” Darrin asked hopefully.

“What is life?” The Prophet asked. “It is worth more than surrender. We are going to obliterate the whole compound. Our followers throughout the galaxy will be stirred on to greater effort at the news of this desecration.”

That was the only defence left, Darrien realised with horror. The Prophet could wipe out everything from auxiliary defence, except of course that room itself. While this was sinking in, the Prophet was out and away again and Darrien hurried after him, determined now to stop him regardless. The Prophet entered a lift and Darrien rushed to join him, but a barrage of blaster fire from a cross corridor sent him diving to the floor instead. The lift door shut and the Prophet was gone.

It was now a high priority for the Prophet to be stopped, which the FLA troops might well do, but Darrien would rather he not be killed in the process. He scrambled to his feet and took cover as an FLA corporal rounded the corner looking warily for his target. Darrien decided it was a bit risky standing to surrender to this trigger-happy trooper. He waited until the soldier’s back was turned before leaping silently from cover and grabbing him from behind, disarming and immobilising him in one swift move.

“Don’t worry,” Darrien said calmly. “I’m surrendering.” The corporal made no reply. “I need you to pass on a message to the FLA commander not to kill the Prophet.”

“If you’re surrendering you shouldn’t be holding me at gunpoint.”

“I didn’t want you to shoot me. I’m dressed as an apostle. I’m an FL agent. You’ve got to pass on that message.”

“Hand over your weapon.” The trooper said in a remarkably calm voice. Darrien released him slowly and handed over his pistol, still set on stun. The trooper changed it to blast and aimed it at Darrien. “Up against the wall.” He ordered. Darrien complied, with an assisting shove from the corporal who proceeded to search him, finding another four weapons. “Surrendered, huh?”

“I didn’t have time! Call the command officer! The Prophet’s going to blow the whole compound!”

The corporal finally produced his communit, still not convinced, and proceeded to report his prisoner. He then ordered Darrien onto the floor.

“The Prophet’s got to be stopped!” Darrien protested, but the corporal was not going to believe him.

“Release that prisoner!” An authoritative voice barked from the end of the corridor. The corporal whirled to find himself faced with an angry FLA major, the woman who had received Darrien’s signal and a dozen troopers. Darrien swiftly rose to his feet.

“Third sub-level. The Prophet’s heading for auxiliary defence.” He reported and took his weapon back from the corporal.

The major sent some troopers for the stairs while the rest of them squashed into the lift. Stopping the corporal had not turned out to be a good plan, and Darrien only hoped the Prophet was not too far ahead.

* * *

The scene on sub-level three was far more hectic. Dozens of the brethren’s women and children were milling around in confusion, getting in the way of the troops as Darrien tried to lead them towards auxiliary defence. Twice they met FLA troops coming in different directions, and he hoped these would have hindered the Prophet’s progress. During their hurried advance the major finally got the message about Darrien’s implant and passed on the no-kill command. They finally arrived in the vicinity of auxiliary defence to find a great crowd of civilians filling up the entire corridor.

The FLA troops began pushing their way through the mass of people, who were not being very cooperative. They were obviously unaware of the Prophet’s intentions. A scuffle broke out as some of the brethren took exception to being shoved. The major turned his back on the noise to talk into his communit. Suddenly, through the commotion, Darrien spotted a figure in brilliant white rounding the corner: it was the Prophet.

Taking advantage of the confusion, he was pushing his way towards the door of auxiliary defence. Darrien leaped forward, but he had no chance of getting though the human barrier, any more than did the troopers who were now fighting hand-to-hand. The door to auxiliary defence swished open for the Prophet, who was doing more injury to his disciples as he pushed his way through than were the FLA troopers, and he stepped over the threshold.

In a second he would disappear from sight, the door would seal shut behind him and they would all be doomed.

Darrien aimed desperately over the heads of the riotous crowd. He realised despairingly as his finger pulled the trigger that he had not readjusted the setting.

He fired.

The Prophet fell against the doorpost, sliding to the ground half in the room.

Darrien screamed.

The crowd, realising their leader was dead, turned into a berserking mob. Horrified, the major ordered a retreat. The FLA troops stopped behind a fire door where a newly arrived squad set up gas cylinders to stun the crowd.

A young lieutenant hurried round the corner to join them and saluted smartly. “Compound secure.” He announced. The major only nodded, glancing round for a sighting of Darrien who had disappeared in the melee. The officer continued his report:

“We found a large explosive device, powerful enough to destroy the entire compound. Bomb disposal disarmed it ten minutes ago. We’re all safe now.” An eerie silence fell as the last of the brethren slumped unconscious to the floor. Visible in his saffron robes that stood out among the other supine forms, was the prone figure of FL Agent Darrien, a man devoted to his work.

Copyright © 2005 by Gareth D. Jones

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