Chapter Eight: Temptation   Leave a comment

(Missing a recap, I know. When last we left our heroes, Captain Manx had just done a favor for Captain Pavretaigne of the Muster. Upon his return to Tabriz, he spotted Brother Sand being tailed by two thugs. He set off to help the man, only to be confronted by Sand at gunpoint.)

Manx realized that the two thugs were in fact working for Sand, not threatening him, and recognized the al-Malik livery on one of their coats. He stalled the friar, asking what would prompt him to turn on a fellow pilgrim in such dramatic fashion. Sand explained that the chaos the others were causing–the revolution on Criticorum that Victor had aided along; Manx’s own troubles with the Muster–were putting the pilgrimage at too much risk. Though this didn’t quite answer why Sand wanted to kill Manx right at that moment, Manx didn’t stick around for an answer, instead trying to overpower Sand and make a run for it. Sand’s thugs were quicker on the draw, however, and gunned Manx down in mid-stride.

Victor rode out to the Prophet’s Shadow, a holy site west of Tabriz. The dark smear was said to be the shadow of the Prophet himself, burned into an ancient wall by the blazing light of the Empyrean as the Prophet prayed to be saved from temptation. As Victor approached the site, he saw several unconscious pilgrims strewn across the grass. Then he was overwhelmed by a wave of darkness, emanating from the wall, and knocked unconscious.

Fannagus, lacking the patience or technical savvy to investigate the quantum core further, installed a voder/vocoder circuit to query it in Urthish. After a rigorous programming process that involved plugging the core back into his think machine–against Crafter Luceta’s instructions–and rewriting its output in Latin, Fannagus found a way to get the core to talk. After several hours of halting interrogation, he was able to uncover its purpose: “Arcoseed #77A.” It was built to begin a rigorous process of arcology construction and optimization, and it had already begun on Criticorum.

Manx awoke to find himself in a boxcar being flown to a Muster mining camp, along with four dozen other vagrants, derelicts, and wounded. He learned from another prisoner that flights to Stigmata were easier to come by than he supposed: goods and services (licit or otherwise) had to get to the garrison somehow. Once at the mines, Manx spotted a guard he’d worked with on the raid that he’d done for Captain Pavretaigne. After persistent wheedling, he convinced the guard to make a vidcall to Pavretaigne. Several hours later, Manx found himself hitching a ride back to Tabriz, still badly injured.

Victor came out of his swoon on what appeared to be a railed walkway through a garden between two houses. In one house, through an open doorway, waited his mother, dressed in conservative fashion and lecturing Victor on how disappointing he was. In the house opposite waited Lady Corezza al-Malik, draped in translucent silks and enticing Victor to come closer. Before long, Victor realized that both ladies were referring to his psychic gifts, and that proceeding either way would result in drastic changes to his mind.

Fannagus continued to interrogate the quantum core, which gained a greater mastery of Urthish over time. The core (or “Arcos,” as Fannagus named it) explained that, after being plugged into the Criticorum power plant to prevent a meltdown, it began its standard arco-building procedure: population relocation, resource allocation, infrastructure calibration, and then a population cull. It was this last step that gave Fannagus pause. Try as he might to reason with it, he couldn’t convince Arcos that there was a way to redesign the arcology on Criticorum that could sustain the planet’s full population. At least five hundred million people on Criticorum would have to die, and the arcoseed had no problem getting the process started.

Manx reached Tabriz and set about searching for Brother Sand, recruiting Dylan Borsar (who aided him in the ambush he planned against the revolutionaries last time) to sniff him out. He also set about searching for a way off of Shaprut to the garrison world of Stigmata. He learned that, while official passage to Stigmata was hard to come by, all manner of illicit transport could be made available. Discreet inquiries turned up the name Bence Qadar, crooked Charioteer.

Trapped in a psionic mindscape, Victor refused both temptations and flung himself off the railed walkway into a mental abyss. He awoke with a start as the other pilgrims regained consciousness around him. Victor found Fr. Flavian and shared what had happened. Flavian explained that Victor had been tempted by his Urge – the dark impulse that entices all psychics. Victor, never having received formal training as a psychic, would be more vulnerable to it than most. Around this point, both Victor and Flavian realized that Lady Adorna was missing.

Manx received word that Borsar couldn’t find Sand, meaning he had somehow gotten off-planet. He returned to the pilgrims’ suites and relayed the news of Sand’s inexplicable betrayal. Lady Adorna reappeared shortly after Victor and Flavian returned, with a more provocative outfit and manner than she had displayed in the past. After discussing their options, Manx went off to secure passage to Stigmata. Victor and Flavian had a private conversation, taking refuge in a basement sanctuary beneath an Orthodox Temple, where they confirmed their earlier fears: Lady Adorna had likely succumbed to the Urge while at the Prophet’s Shadow. She was now operating without psychic restraint, putting the entire party in danger . . .

Lady Adorna Li Halan, governed by the Urge

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Posted February 4, 2012 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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