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 destruction.
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 -----