Chapter Five – The Flowers of Late Night

Date – 2375 A.C.E.

He was dreaming.  There, standing in a field of flowers, bright yellow – leaning toward the sun.  He could feel the soft wind of the midday touch his cheek, blow his hair back.  For a moment he stood this way, surrounded by the fields of yellow flowers, basking in the radiation and warmth of the Sun.

There was a knocking sound – a pounding even.  The light faded and the flowers melted away into the darkness of wakefulness.  Don sat up, dazed for a moment, rubbing the sleep from his mind and eyes and heard the pounding again.

He sighed heavily – glancing at his digital clock he moaned, “2 in the morning?”  The pounding continued, it sounded like someone hammering on his door with a metal pipe.  “Computer,” he called out, “illumination.”  The lights flickered on.  Don swung his legs over the edge of his sleeping platform, feeling slightly dizzy, now the blankets were off him, he felt the full effect of the weak gravity of Mars.  Reaching down, he slipped his feet into his boots and stood.  Still disoriented he stumbled across his room to the door.

He pressed the door communicator button angrily with his thumb, “you know my communicator in room works just fine,” he muttered.

The pounding continued.  Don reached behind him off the small table at the entry way and pulled on his shirt.  He started to engage the door lock, then thought better of it, returned to his sleeping chamber and pulled on his gun and holster.  He glanced around the room again then to the door.  He pressed the external communicator again, “Look, whoever this is, I’m coming out, if you don’t have a reason to be here I suggest you leave now.”  For a moment he wished he had the external cameras installed that had been originally recommend.  “Computer, open door.”  The lights flashed again above the door and it hissed open.

For a moment Don was blinded by the lights and the rush of air coming into his chamber – the hall outside was dark, which it shouldn’t have been considering someone or something had been pounding on the door.  He pulled his gun and squinted into the hall, the light from his chamber enough for him to make out shapes.

“Alright, whoever this is, show yourself, I’m Father Don Wesley, though I’m guessing you know this.”  He stepped out into the hall, as he did so he glanced left and right, though now the light cast from his room wasn’t enough to see more than a meter or two on either side.  He glanced up at the ceiling and then down at the floor.  “Computer,” he called out, more loudly than before, “Lights on.”  Nothing.  Sighing Don looked back into his room. He could just go back in there, lock his door, put plugs in his ears and sleep, or, he could call for back up, no doubt Wayne would come or another priest.

He heard a shuffling to his left, down the hall, “Stop!” he called out, “who is it?”

A soft voice came back, a man’s voice, “Father”  Don started to walk down towards the voice past the light.

“Look you, if you had anything to do with the lights being disabled…….” he didn’t finish, suddenly he felt strong hands and arms around him from behind.  Damn he thought, fell for an easy trick.  Then everything went dark as something was pulled over his head.  He tried to struggle, but whoever held him was strong and his gun was pulled from his fingers.  “Computer” he managed again, “red….” then he was out as something hit his head.

At first all he could hear was a pounding sound, thump-bump… thump-bump… thump-bump.  It was rhythmic, soothing, but every time it thumped, he felt flashes of pain.  He wanted to open his eyes.  He wanted to go to sleep.  He wanted to be back in his bed.

As his mind cleared he became aware of a few things; he was lying on his side, his hands were bound behind him; there was something over his head, even after he opened his eyes he could not see except for light filtered through some sort of cloth; he could hear mumbling, no, whispering voices.

He closed his eyes again, the thumping emanated from the back of his head, ah right, he was struck there.  No doubt by something very heavy.  He slowed his breathing as he realized it was heavy.  The bag over his head pulled him down to the floor, the artificial gravity acting on the bag itself, it felt like he was under water.  For a moment he began to panic again.  “Calm down Don,” he told himself mentally. He knew that if he were to be missing beyond the night, people would search for him. He had a staff briefing at O- seven hundred hours, even Wayne would look for him, probably.

The voices grew gradually louder, they were coming towards him.  Don felt powerless, but his military training started to kick in, “Just be patient he told himself.”

“Get him on his feet.” A gruff voice grumbled.  Shuffling around him ensued, and he found himself being thrust upwards.  The voice again, “Stop playing possum, we know you’re awake.”  Don immediately stood of his own accord.

“Take the damn bag off my head, it hurts enough without me straining.”  Don gritted his teeth, talking made the pounding return with a frenzy.

There was a laugh, “You’re still an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.”  Suddenly the bag was yanked off.

He was blinded, and staggered for a moment as the pain shot through the back of his head and across his cranium.  “shit” he muttered.

Laughter from his captors then, “Welcome ‘Father’.” It was said with such distain that Don felt his stomach drop.  He blinked and allowed his eyes to adapt.

The room was still dark, illumined only by a few scattered lamps, mining lamps from the look of them.  He blinked again and stared at his captor, “YOU!” he gasped.

The leader of the miners, the one he had seen on the electrotrak smiled a crooked smile at him, “Me.”  His dark eyes glinted and narrowed, “Have you missed me, ‘Father’” again the distain poured from his mouth.

Don scrambled in his mind, who was this man, he had only noticed for the first time this morning on his way to greet the new expatriates.  “Look bud, I don’t know who the hell you are…..” the man’s back hand stung Don suddenly across the mouth.

“Shut up priest.  You’re not here to talk,  you’re here to listen.”  The man, now seemingly much larger than before stepped up, only a few centimeters from Don’s face.  His hot breath reeked of tooth decay.  “We have words for you.  Words you must hear regarding the Bishop.”

Don dropped his head to his chest, the pounding in his head was now screaming.  Shit he though, now I have a concussion.  He lifted his head, “Tell me then what you have to say.”

The man walked away, turning his back.  He crouched down just in front of Don, looking like a tribesman of some sort.  He fumbled with something from a pouch that hung on his hip.  He spun back around, something black, but gleaming in his hand.  “We found this priest.”  he thrust the object into Don’s face.  In the dim light he couldn’t make it out, that plus the pounding in his head

.

“I can’t see it” he gasped for a moment, “too dark.” Don closed his eyes again, he thought he might pass out.” the men holding him upright felt him go slack and struggled to hold him up for a moment.

“Get him some water,” the man growled.  He placed his hands on Don’s chin and lifted his head, “Open your eyes.”  he squeezed Don’s chin, “OPEN YOUR EYES!.” he pushed Don’s face away from him.

Don blinked his eyes open.  Damn.  He blinked again and looked at the man before him.  He was a hardened man, skin pale from the lack of sun.  Around the corners of his eyes was caked the fine red dust of the planet.  His hair was likely blond, but looked auburn beneath the dirt caked in it.  The man smelled like Mars, a unique smell, almost akin to the smell of blood, no doubt the iron in the soil.  Don mumbled, “give me a moment.”

The miner grinned and looked over his shoulder, “where’s that water.”  He turned back to Don and sneered, “Sorry for these methods priest, but I wanted to do more than talk to you to be quite honest.” Someone stepped up to the miner and handed him a cup, “here’s some water.”  He thrust it up to Don’s lips, whose blood filled mouth gulped it down.

Don’s mind was clearing, standing upright seemed to help, and surprisingly the smack on the face cleared his head a bit, minus the bloody lip it left.  Don glanced around over the edge of the cup.  He could make out shadowy figures just behind the miner in front of him, two, no three.  He knew there were two men holding his arms, supporting his weight, Don was faking part of his weakness, better to not let them know he was recovering.  He guessed at least one more was behind him, maybe two men.

He faked a cough, allowing the blood to splatter a bit, the miner, the leader, stepped back, growling a bit. “Shit priest, watch it.” Don looked up, his eyes narrow.

“Damn,” he thought to himself, “they’ve got me in the Park,” this, The Park, the old memorial on Mercy colony built to remember the earliest astronauts who came to Mars all those hundreds of years ago, now abandoned and used as a storage facility.  Most folks avoided this place, claiming it was cursed, haunted.  Nothing grew here, nothing at all.

The lead miner noticed Don’s moving eyes, he knocked the water cup out of Don’s hands, the cup clattered to ground, while the water fell slightly more slowly.  “Enough priest.  Time for us to talk.” He leaned in towards Don’s face, only centimeters from his face.  “Do you know me?”  he hissed.

For a moment Don was confused, he slowly shook his head, “no, well I mean I’ve seen you at the colony, we interacted this morning,” or was it yesterday, damn he didn’t know what time it was.

The man barked a laugh, “Ha, that’s not what I mean.  Look at me.”  He grabbed Don’s cheeks between his fingers and forced Don to star at his eyes.  “Look at me…..”

Don looked, this time he really looked.  There was a power in the eyes he was starring at, burning power.  Strength.  A brightness.  Intelligence.  Animal magnetism.  He wracked his brain, did he know this man?  Think….. Don closed his eyes.

The miner squeezed, “LOOK AT ME” he shouted.

Don’s eyes flashed open.  He starred. Then, slowly a memory floated in.  “I do know you, but god, it’s been what, 20, 25 years?”

The man released Don’s face and stepped back.  “22 years, Samuel.” Don inwardly shrank, Samuel, a name he had almost forgotten for himself.

Don shrugged against the men holding him, their grip tightened.  “You’re Benjamin!”

The man smiled, “yes, there it is, Father.  Looks like some light hit the back of those eyeballs of yours and finally you see.”  He motioned at the men holding Don to release him, suddenly Don almost fell, having grown accustomed to the men holding him up.  Benjamin put up a hand against Don’s chest, stopping him from falling forward.  “How well you’ve forgotten me, my face, is it so different now?”  He removed his hand from Don’s chest.

Don brushed back his hair from his forehead, tucked in his shirt, straightened his collar.  He was missing the familiar weight of his gun on his hip.  “We’re all different now Ben.”  he looked Benjamin in the eyes again.  “What happened to you?”  He immediately regretted the question.

The dark eyes flashed with madness, for moment, but Benjamin controlled the flash, and the madness was covered in the dark recesses of his eyes.  “What happened?”  he laughed, a gravely laugh, rough, unpleasant sounding.  “you had me removed from my duties as a priest!  I was an outcast; lost, alone with no one!”  He spun away from Don, facing in the darkness.  “I lived in the streets of Tulsa for a long time, then found myself working the plantation fields outside of Brazil.  Finally I got work as a miner, and when the mines opened on Vesta in the Asteroid belt, well I went.  I was there for nearly a year before the weakness of zero gravity nearly killed me. I managed to convince my doctor back on Earth that I was fit for duty on Mars, and got assigned to one of the early mining teams.  I’ve been here nearly two years, two years of hell.”  He spun back around towards Don.  “But in that time, Father, I’ve regained trust of those in the Church who matter. I’m not some politician “cop” pretending to have faith.” The madness flashed again, but was gone, almost as quickly.  “No, I’ve rediscovered the true faith and I will do anything; I will do EVERYTHING to promote it.”

Don audibly sighed, “Benjamin, you know what happened at the Bishop’s council, I didn’t have you removed, I only reported my concerns about your behaviour.” Don paused a moment before continuing, sensing that Ben was going to let him continue without interruption.  “It seems, based on this kidnapping, my fears were founded.  You were a fanatic.  You destroyed anything that deviated from your interpretation of the truth.  You couldn’t allow for error, for fallacy,” Don’s voice raised, “you couldn’t allow for people to be people.”

“Fallacy?  Error?  Those words are the words of a man who tolerates suffering, lies, deception!”  the madness was back, crashing against the front of his eyes like a storm, “Those fallacies, errors, lies lead humanity to war, they destroyed faith, they killed people.  I’ve learned that trust in the Divine is the only true thing and any deviation from it is murder.”  He leaned in again, his hand again on Don’s chest, “I have seen the devil Samuel, and he wears a priest’s frock.”  he pushed Don back.

Don stumbled but kept his balance, “What are you talking about Ben?”  He stepped forward, “What lies, errors?”

Benjamin grabbed Don’s right shoulder in an iron grip, “Yours, the Bishop’s, the false church.”  His eyes cleared, “I’ve seen hope Samuel, in Meruna, in the faithful. I’ve heard the voices of angels singing to me.  The truth of the Church, the real Church is our salvation, not this mining company, not you, as a fake priest.”  he released Don’s shoulder.

Don was confused, “Benjamin – what happened, you leaving the church…..”

“LEAVING?  ME???  You bastard, you know I was laicised!  I did not choose to leave, I was pushed out.  I, along with others who kept the true faith, forced out.”  He was speaking so forcefully spittle formed on his lips.  Then like a light the passion was gone.  “It was worth leaving though Samuel.  It gave me the chance to suffer, to experience the same pain as the God who made us.  That loss was the same felt by the Lord for our sinfulness, our arrogance, our pride.  I’d do it again.”  he paused, “all over.”

Don was thoughtful; this was not the first time he had dealt with those so ingrained in the faith.  Their ranks were swelling it seemed as the Church grew fatter off the successful peace following the last war, as its revenues grew from its investments in mining and the Mars colony, more and more extremists, if they should be called that, came forward.  “Benjamin,” his voice was soft, gentle, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.  You killed that boy Ben, he died as a result of your actions, I did what I thought was right.”

Benjamin looked up, “Boy? Ha, hardly, he was man.”

“He was twelve.”

“He was armed.” Benjamin turned away.

“We all were, it was war.”  Don signed, glanced around the room. The other men stood silent, one held a gun.  “Ben, look, it’s been a long time, what happened has happened.  What’s this all about.”  Don swept his hands around.  “You didn’t need to knock me out for this, Jesus man, you could’ve just made an appointment.”

Ben spun and was on Don so quickly, Don thought he was a like a flash of light.  “DO NOT speak the Lord’s name so flippantly.”  He hands grasped Don’s shirt front.  “Don’t!”  he thrust Don back.  “This isn’t about that, that, well that is reminiscing isn’t it?”  Ben smirked, “This, tonight,” pausing, he looked around the dark chamber then reached into his pouch again at his side, “is about this.”  He thrust a small dark object towards Don.  “Take it,” he snarled.

Don reached out with a shaking hand and grabbed the object in front of him.  It was a piece of dark blue metal, cold, and appeared to be broken.  He held it up toward the lamp, “what is this?”  He turned it over.

“You know.” Benjamin stepped towards him, “you know,” he repeated.

Don looked a Benjamin, genuine questions on his face.  “Tell me.”

Benjamin motioned to the men around him, “Secure the exits, we’re running out of time.”  The men scattered quickly, the one with the gun remained.  Benjamin made sure the rest were gone before continuing.  “We found this, along with several other pieces a few weeks ago, at the south pole.  It’s only a small part of the find, I’m sure you’ve heard something was found there.”

Don palled, “You were there? I thought only the robots were working the south pole.”  Don cursed himself immediately for saying anything. The metal in his hand was strangely warm, it almost felt like it was pulsing.

Benjamin smirked, “those robots sometimes need a human.  One of my men was assigned to geo-track them down there.  When he noticed that they all converged at one spot, well he followed them.”  Benjamin began pacing.  “What is the Church doing at the south pole Samuel.”

Don held the metal object then closed his hand around it.  “I don’t actually know Ben.  Yeah, you’re right, we’ve found something, but even I don’t know the details.  I heard it was an object, a large one, metal maybe, but perhaps just trace metals in rock.”  Don sighed, looked at the object again, he could swear it was glowing.  “you know even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.” He looked up at Benjamin, “Even if I wanted to tell you I couldn’t.  You might pretend that I don’t have integrity, but we both know that’s not true.”

Benjamin turned to face Don and slowly walked up to him, his hand outstretched, “give it to me.” Don dropped the object in Benjamin’s hand, and it disappeared in the pouch.  Benjamin looked at Don, the anger flashing in the eyes again, “Alright, Father, then let me tell you why you’re really here.” Don must have looked surprised because Benjamin smiled, “Surprised you eh?”  He actually laughed, “You’re here because you’re going to help me kill Bishop West.”

“What?  You’re insane.” Don started to turn away, to walk out.

Benjamin grabbed Don’s shoulder again, spun him around.  “Oh you’ll help me kill Bishop West.”

Don pushed Benjamin’s arm away, “No, no I won’t.”

Benjamin smiled again, “Yes, yes you will.  If you don’t I’ll kill her.”  the rage in the eyes was mesmerizing, Don couldn’t look away.

“Kill who?  What are talking about?” Don felt sweat roll down his neck.

Benjamin revealed in Don’s confusion, “Why your daughter of course.”

Don literally stumbled and gasped.  “Daughter……” he muttered.

“Don’t be a fool old man, I know you.  I know why you were so eager to leave Earth and come here.  I might have killed when I was a priest, but I never broke my celibacy.  I didn’t have a wife.  I didn’t have children.”  He was grinning like a jackal delighting in the expression on Don’s face.  “Oh, you thought no one knew.”  he laughed,   “It was convenient that the woman you fucked died shortly after giving birth.  It was convenient that your family supported the old couple who raised her in that village in south Wales.  It was convenient that she’s found you, though I don’t think she knows so yet.”  Benjamin stepped close to Don again, “She loves me you know.  She worships me.”  He licked his lips, “Me, a former priest, now a faithful follower of righteous way.  Me, a worker humbled by God so as to experience his glory.  Me,  a man who fought, who killed for my faith so that others might know it too.  Oh yes, she loves me more than you know.”

Don gasped, “who….”

Benjamin starred at him, “you don’t actually know do you?  By the faith man, are you so heartless?”  He stepped up to Don, “Meruna you fool.  She’s your daughter.”

Don laughed out loud. “Meruna?  I don’t even know her. I met her today.”  His mind was reeling.  “Daughter?”

“Don’t play dumb.   You and I both know you have a daughter.”  Benjamin glanced over his shoulder, “I have followed you Father, every step of your life I have traced.  You lacked the faith, the strength to do God’s will; but you had the pride to follow man’s folly.  Your pride made you powerful, reliant on other men’s praise. I knew you would work for Bishop West, the snake.”  he physically spit, “that man is truly Satan’s servant, and you are his whore.”  He looked at Don again, “yes I know your life and I have been waiting until the time was right, presenting itself as it has now.”  He paced again, “This discovery in the south pole here threatens everything I have worked for, my followers,” he paused, “God’s followers.  We will destroy this discovery, but more importantly we will kill Bishop West, and you will help me.”

Don stepped towards Benjamin, the guard behind him followed, “Ben, what are you talking about?  Kill Bishop West?  Me, helping you?  My daughter?”  He felt like all the gravity was off, like he was floating.

Benjamin again grabbed Don, “Listen, Father, you’ll hear from me again but know this.  I will kill everyone on this colony to stop Bishop West but first I’ll kill your daughter. It would be so easy, she trusts me, honors me.  She’s mine.”  He grinned, “But you, in all your good sense won’t say anything will you?” he didn’t wait for Don to respond, “Samuel, my old friend, you know I’m right.  you know the lie planted by the Bishop in the south pole is a test and I’m here to destroy those liars and deceivers; I will destroy any and all of those who seek to harm the faithful.  You know me.”  he squeezed Don’s shoulders, “you KNOW ME.”

The broiling color in Benjamin’s eyes were in tumult, rolling in and out of focus before Don.  He recoiled from the sight. This man was insane, but holding onto reality enough to be dangerous.  “Don’t do this Ben, let’s talk about it.  Let’s find out together what’s going on in the South Pole…..”

“NO!” he pushed Don, “I know enough and I know what I have to do.  I am but one man Samuel, if you think I’m here alone, doing this alone, you’re a fool.  We are many.  We are powerful.  Cut me down and another will step up.  There is no talking about this.”  He looked at the man behind Don, “I’ll be in touch priest.”

“No wait, Benjamin…………..” He was struck from behind again and all he saw for a moment before blacking out was a flower, who looked a lot like Meruna.

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