The Exploratron wound out of the torch shield,
tossing infinite mass into a hypothetical pocket of nowhere as it left the
light-speed continuum. A long deceleration had begun, and Allan awoke having
a flash dream, his bones as cold as ice. Movement was difficult, his limbs
remained stiff and there was an odor like he was breathing through a fuel
tube. Memory flooded back, he remembered he was wearing a protective suit
and why he'd killed the others.
Darkness was a solid wall as the ship still
hadn't slowed enough to reverse the blindness. The sense was of plunging in
a deep well, and his mental phosphors created an illusion of starlight on
choppy black waters. Shadowy lands appeared, then he began to think -- of
course it was a well; a gravity well . . . this was their destination. The
dead planet Telescope was below; its every valley a dish, a radio telescope
and more. The place had once been the eyes of some alien gods, observing the
universe in every imaginable way.
“Gods and their totems have died, taking the
aliens who created Telescope with them.” That was the way Captain Tiho had
put it. Now Tiho was dead, too. In this distant point of space only Allan,
the Exploratron intelligence and a surviving computer system down on
Telescope were alive.
Earth's great hope was that enough of
Telescope's records were intact, so that an accurate picture of the early
universe would be revealed. A record of Earth would show the truth of
evolution so that scientists would no longer have to rely on fossils and
eloquent theory. Telescope was the scariest thing and greatest hope of
science. It would reveal the facts and because of it many past and present
scientists would be made fools.
Allan felt a touch sad for Earth and the goal
that'd been exploded by his sudden religious conversion. Yet even in
sadness, he smiled peacefully. His sense of purpose was renewed. He was
blind but he could see. It had happened just before the last long burn --
then he'd been out on an observation deck, viewing the emptiness of space.
It was an odd view, and it made one feel upside-down. There was numbness in
the thought of one's own insignificance. A star wasn't even a speck in that
vastness, and if a man felt like nothing it was because he was nothing. An
atom drifting, falling forever, so that even loneliness froze and shattered
at absolute zero.
A distorted play of light fanned into one view.
In a moment, his vision would be normal. It was just like it was back then
when through tears of space blindness he'd seen God. God and the
kaleidoscopic truth of Creation. It had been a painful revelation, one that
told him the mission as it was had to be aborted.
A rainbow bubble popped and the interior of
Exploratron appeared. He pushed the plastic shell aside and checked the
situation. It was about what he'd expected; the control banks emitted barely
perceptible white noise and the nano computers were alive with test lights -
everything else was dead. The bodies of his five mates and Captain Tiho
floated from the clip hooks he'd attached to a holding pole. Their condition
was bizarre as unprotected light-speed travel had caused some morphing.
Folds of rot hung like wings from their shoulders and their feet were
flippers of dried blood, leathered skin and splintered bones. A transparent
green spaghetti of worms waggled fatly from their bellies and eye sockets.
Allan had assumed the worms would be dead, but they were hardier than he'd
expected. It meant he couldn't remove the suit. He thought of gathering them
all and sealing them back in the life-form lab he'd released them from, but
he had to rule that out. There would always be a bit of infected flesh
floating somewhere and it wouldn't do for him to die when his mission for
God was to stay alive long enough to destroy Telescope and the unholy
science stored there.
Telescope was a planet of sky-high hives, glare,
dust, cobwebs and Earthlike gravity. Allan's heavy boots drummed loudly on
the alien streets. There was an ever-present hollowness, the sense of the
planet as a dead husk or cocoon. Feathers of dust puffed up from splits and
wrinkles and patterned to blow as webbing in the dry eddying air. The fluff
rose and thickened until it met with low-hanging cloud fleece. High
architecture was obscured, massive honeycomb structures that faded in the
clouds and yellow haze. Central science terminals were all low-to-the-ground
blisters of impervious glass, located on the equator. Each one was marked
with an eyelike emblem of concentric circles and coded. There were millions
of them, millions of windows looking back to the ancient universe.
All-seeing in the past, the planet was now blind. Glumly, Allan thought this
dead world the perfect instrument for ending the soul of sentient life.
One needn't call down the end with haste; Allan
took time to reflect as he did a requisite study of the planet, the dark
half-moons under his eyes showing the seriousness of his thoughts. In its
slight heaviness the planet felt like a grave; a place that pulled life
down, never to rise again. Public areas were all glass-smooth floors,
rectangular and walled in. Remnants of small buildings lay broken like
junkyard sculpture. Most of these squares were heaped with bones - skeletons
that were petrified, turned to bronze and knitted together like coral.
Wide-crowned skulls gaped from every angle, looking especially morbid in the
shifting dust and webbing.
Obviously, these aliens had gathered and died
together at an appointed time. He remembered Captain Tiho saying they'd kept
no record of the end, intentionally leaving it a mystery. But it was no
mystery, the story flowed like black water into Allan's heart - God had
called them out of their hives and announced their doom. Judgment permitted
no records of the punishment to be kept on their instruments of sin. Fire
and brimstone, the lake of fire, had consumed all but their bones.
Roaring fire, holy fire became a sea in Alan's
mind, and on the seventh day, he brought the bodies down from Exploratron
and had a robot team lay them on top of a mountain of bones. When
inspiration came, he hit them with fuel burn; scarlet flame that left only
blackened stubs and swirling ash behind. It was proper and fitting, he knew.
Their unholy belief in evolution had first been pieced together with bones.
They had shaken an abominable rattle in the face of God, and now they were
bones, dust, and fit for a sorcerer's pouch.
He had intended to destroy Telescope without
looking back to the beginnings of Earth -- lest he be made a pillar of salt.
Yet as time passed, he knew that couldn't be. A test of his faith was
required. He would use the planet's remaining and functioning telescopic
giant and allow the devils of science to torment him. He was sure the
evolution lies would be there, but the power of his faith would triumph --
he would check the record and then swear by the Lord and bring the planet
its last vision.
Guided by the Telescope computer spider web and
Exploratron he reached the rather ordinary science blister coded for Earth.
Inside his heavy feet hit the floor like bombs, but in spite of his great
weight, his spirit was as light as helium.
Jags of light rotated on the walls as the
building came alive. A quick glance around showed the building to contain
many skeletons. A number of them were seated. They were viewers who had died
in the viewing, and they were outworlders and not from Telescope. Allan
openly laughed; so the planet was a flytrap - those who came saw what they
wanted, but could never leave. This time it was a different game; he was
God's prophet and he'd already sentenced Telescope to hellfire and
Allan gained understanding of the jeweled banks
of equipment from Exploratron and gave a simple command in an alien
language: Show me the beginnings of man on Earth, and whether they be
evolution or God.
The answer was nearly instant, an ear-splitting
shriek of power that exploded the room to a completely new reality. He was
in an immense garden. Ferns towered overhead, touching the warmth of the
pristine sun and sky. Volcanic soil was tumbled dark and rich at his feet,
banking by huge tree trunks. Tremendous snowcaps marked the horizon, but not
a creature stirred. Breeze blown flowers made it all seem tremendously
peaceful and unreal and perhaps there were no creatures, but only microbes
and plant life.
Thunder boomed in the cloudless sky and his eyes
were drawn upward to a blinding white light. It was descending; was it the
hand of God? Ecstasy flowed in his veins as he watched the falling light.
His spine tingled, his hair rose with static,
awe paralyzed him and adrenaline made him shake. A giant was landing in the
field. There was distortion, razor light and crystalline scintillation as
the limbs and features gained clarity. It was a being of great power, but it
wasn't God; it couldn't be -- Allan's mind refused to accept such a
proposition. The creature was hideous -- reptilian wings, apish legs with
three-toed claws for feet, and a monstrous green penis with the rearing head
of a serpent. It had a chest of slime and blood-colored armor, a square and
swollen dog's head with ten oil-black eyes and features that were warped,
devilish and malevolent.
The God creature grinned through blood-dripping
fangs as it jammed bleeding claws into the soil. It was almost wrestling
with the squirming mud, its penis erect and rocking obscenely as it grunted
and growled. When Allan saw that its claws were shaping a human body, he
closed his eyes and tried to blot out the vision. When an ape-like man rose
next to the creature's huge penis, he began to scream.
---- the end -----