tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 15

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 15

bybradley_stoke©

Chapter Fifteen
Judgement - 3754 A.D.



Although the previous three years of military training had been hard and unrelenting, Isaac would have gladly exchanged the year-long flight in the overcrowded troop carrier Judgment for many more years in the space colony of Paradise. There was little relief and a great deal more discomfort in the space ship. The only distraction to the many hours of enforced rest on a five-level bunk bed in the dormitory was regular military practise.

The chapel and mess room were the only other places where there was any reprieve from his third level bunk where sleep was his only and most elusive pleasure. His guilt for enjoying such fleeting relaxation was assuaged by the words of the Lord in The Book of Psalms Chapter Four Verse Eight: "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety".

Isaac needed the comfort of the Lord's words ever more as he increasingly yearned for the security of Holy Trinity, the company of his children and, most of all, the love of his wife, Rebecca. This last brought him the most anguish. He'd always been very proper with his wife. Their snatched moments of intimacy had always been with the intention and that alone of bringing more children to the world to serve the Lord. It troubled him that Jesus Christ said in Chapter Twenty Verse Thirty-five of The Gospel According to Saint Luke "But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage." It troubled Isaac also to know that it was said in Chapter Two Verse Sixteen of The First Epistle General of John: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." But he also knew that the Lord implored the descendants of Noah in Chapter Nine Verse Seven of The First Book of Moses Called Genesis to "be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein."

Surely Isaac was committing no sin by his desire to be by his wife's side.

He was also bothered by the persistent erection that accompanied his sleepless sojourns whenever he contemplated his wife. He was forbidden from touching his penis to relieve himself, but resisting such temptation was a daily struggle which even the well-memorised words of Holy Scripture couldn't entirely banish.

Every day, the Chaplain selected quotations from scripture that he and the other Soldiers of Christ had to read and reflect upon. These mostly came from the Book of Revelations and were no less obscure and confusing now than they had ever been, although Isaac was sure that these verses were selected to steel his resolve to thwart the evil of the Anomaly.

Just what did Saint John the Divine mean in Chapter Seventeen Verses Four and Five: "And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."

And just how was this Anomaly associated with the numerical mysticism of Chapter Thirteen Verse Eighteen where it was said: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."

His slumbers were not made any easier by the fact that there was no artificial gravity on the Judgement and that his fellow crusaders had to strap him to his bunk bed so that he wouldn't float away.

The only times that Isaac experienced anything like standard gravity was in the cramped and sweaty exercise chambers where the military exercises were unrelenting and fatiguing. They were principally designed to keep the crusaders fit and to prevent their muscles from atrophying. As there wasn't enough space on the space ship, the physical exercise was within specially designed virtual environments. This was Isaac's first exposure to virtual space. Because it was considered a sinful distraction, it wasn't accessible on Holy Trinity but was nevertheless reluctantly permitted on the Judgement. The virtual world was even less pleasant than real life. In fact, the most realistic element by far was the pain simulation. The setting was of a series of combat situations in which his virtual enemies were attired in the dress of the infidels and heretics he'd got to know as his fellow crusaders. It might be satisfying to immolate a Muslim infidel or to squeeze out the eyes of a Hindu devil, but the enemy he would soon confront wouldn't be such an infidel. In fact, they would be his reluctant allies. And their common foe would be atheists and maybe even aliens. Still, it was a salutary reminder to Isaac that there would be the unfinished business of cleansing the Solar System of heathens after the Anomaly was annihilated.

The Judgement was an ancient seven hundred year old craft that lacked almost every modern comfort. Its life support system was pared down to the bare minimum even though it carried three times as many soldiers as it was designed for. The atmosphere was thin, the rations were meagre and, worst of all, the quantity of fuel it carried was only just sufficient to take the craft to its destination. Only if the crusaders succeeded in their mission and took control of the atheist craft was there any possibility of returning home. And this would only be after the threat from the Anomaly had been eliminated.

There were hundreds of other space craft similar to the Judgement that had been brought back into full service after centuries of neglect. They were all hidden from the prying eyes of the Interplanetary Union by cloaking devices generated by the only modern space ship that was accompanying the mission. This was the relatively sophisticated battleship Enlightenment, whose name was sufficiently neutral to accommodate the range of competing faiths that for the first time in history were united on this one mission. The Enlightenment was the only space ship with enough antimatter fuel to make the return journey. It also carried all the senior military officers and the many senior clerics, priests, imams and rabbis.

Every day was noted by a countdown of the number of days remaining until the fleet would rendezvous with its target. Isaac privately cheered, as did all his fellows, when the count was at last reduced to double digits. But when the count became a relentlessly dwindling single digit, his joy was overshadowed by anxiety. All too soon he would be risking sudden death when his military training was put to practical use. And were the atheists as truly as evil as they were portrayed: if his death wasn't sudden then it would be after protracted and agonising torture. That, after all, was the punishment planned for the atheists. It was unlikely that unbelievers should be any more compassionate than the crusaders, jihadists and other holy warriors.

On the morning of the penultimate day, when the countdown was just two more days, the lesson provided from the Book of Revelations Chapter Twenty-two Verses Thirteen to Fifteen read: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."

This was followed the next day by a lesson from the final five verses of the Holy Scripture, which culminated in the Lord's promise that: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

"Amen," repeated Isaac, as he shuffled in a long line with his fellow crusaders into the small landing craft that would take him and twenty others to the atheist craft which, with the blessing of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, they would soon seize control.

Isaac had never been inside the invasion pod before. These vehicles were considerably more modern than the Judgement and, except for a glimpse of the Enlightenment, represented the most modern space craft Isaac had ever seen. Although many corners had been cut to feed and quarter the crusaders, there was no such parsimony with regards to the military hardware. The landing pods, like the cloaking devices employed by the Enlightenment, were of the most modern design. They had to be if there was to be any possibility of the mission succeeding.

Although Isaac was crammed shoulder to shoulder into a pod designed for fewer than half the number of occupants, everything else about the craft was of superior quality. The empty space outside was displayed to the crew by high definition holographic graphics. It also broadcast a voice message from the Archdeacon who implored his congregation not to dishonour their faith and to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

The panoramic spacescape captivated Isaac. He'd never before seen space so clearly and vividly. Images were forbidden on Holy Trinity for it was said in Chapter Forty-two Verse Seventeen of The Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images." Indeed, before Isaac participated in virtual training he'd never seen a holographic, let alone a graven, image. Space was much more awe-inspiring and disquieting than Isaac ever imagined. It extended in all directions as did the light from the billions of stars that could be seen in a space unmediated by atmosphere. There was no evidence of the hundreds of ships in the crusader fleet. These would remain invisible until the stealth devices were compromised by the launch of thousands of landing pods towards the enemy vessel.

Of the many bright spots in the sky, one was only slightly larger than the others but shone much more brightly. This was the Sun that in Mercury orbit was so huge and so fearsome that it would immediately blind anyone who gazed upon it.

The most awe-inspiring sight to meet Isaac's eyes was not so much the bleak emptiness of space and the distant Sun, but the enemy space ship that was glistening in the starlight. It was a featureless cylindrical cone that must have measured several kilometres in length. Its computer systems were as yet still unaware of the military force gathered outside. The crew and passengers were smugly oblivious to the fact that the atheist space ship wasn't the only manmade object this far out in space from the Solar System's ecliptic plane.

The countdown began. There were a whole three hundred seconds of waiting until the simultaneous launch of what was hoped to be an overwhelming invasion force would burst out from the cloak of invisibility that had been maintained around it for over a year.

These three hundred seconds passed painfully slowly at first but appeared to pass more rapidly as the launch came inexorably closer. Sixty seconds. Fifty seconds. And then all too soon the countdown ticked off one single digit after another towards the inevitable zero. There was then an abrupt thrust upwards at a rate of acceleration that was at least as great as any Isaac had endured in the gravity simulators on Paradise. His body and head were pinned back against the seat into which he was strapped as the pod broke free and accelerated towards the atheist space ship.

Despite the intense agony that the effort cost him, Isaac kept his eyes open in the long seconds that followed. The previously calm holographic spacescape erupted into sudden brilliance as thousands of landing pods and hundreds of space ships burst into view. The cloaking device could no longer function now its surface had been so spectacularly breached. Isaac proudly, if briefly, surveyed the valiant crusading fleet. And at its heart was the sleek and impressive battle cruiser from which the senior clerics were coordinating the invasion fleet.

This impressive image filled Isaac with confidence. What could possibly overcome such an overwhelming force?

The answer came only too soon and just as swiftly shattered Isaac's belief in the Holy Crusaders' invincibility. Thousands of missiles were suddenly launched from the atheist space craft at a truly astonishing speed. They hit the Holy Crusaders' space craft before they could manoeuvre out of the way. What Isaac had thought a sitting target had all of a sudden become an overpowering war machine.

There were countless devastating explosions during the next few critical seconds while his pod was attaching itself to the hull of the atheists' space ship. The once proud invasion fleet was being steadily reduced to little more than a brilliant fireworks display. Even the Space Ship Enlightenment was blown apart in a brilliant explosion that scattered the clerics and imams in a cloud of floating debris.

The atheist space ship was fully armed and engaged in combat. And it did so with a degree of devastation that exceeded Isaac's greatest fears.

The pod's thrust was slowed to a dead halt when it touched down on the ship's massive hull. This appeared on the holographic display as a wide plane of metal that extended in all directions and upon which the hundreds of surviving pods were now making contact.

Not all was lost.

The pods were in the shape of hemispheric domes that attached themselves with the shallowest possible external surface. Even from where Isaac was strapped, they resembled an infestation of warts on the space ship's surface.

As soon as the pod made contact, it shuddered excruciatingly while its laser drills were engaged in the task of penetrating the space ship's thick hull. Isaac's jaw shook against the rubber pad that he crunched tightly between his teeth and which he'd naively thought had been there only to protect him from biting his tongue. The intense vibrations would have shattered his teeth if he hadn't had such a thick wad of rubber in his mouth. His helmet muffled his ears from what was still a deafeningly shrill noise.

When he prised open his eyes, Isaac could still see glimpses of the holographic spacescape but this view no longer afforded him even a single crumb of comfort. Laser devices were flashing and robots were swarming over the ship's surface. Some of the other pods were exploding or simply disintegrating. There was now little evidence of the once holy and valiant space fleet amongst the scattering debris and the brilliant flame of the slowly extinguishing antimatter engines.

There was a sudden thud on the outside of the pod that Isaac initially feared was from the impact of a missile. He then saw through the now erratic and flickering display that it was the debris of another pod that was rolling slowly and ungainly off the space ship and into deep space.

As the laser drills cut through the hull, the holographic display from inside the pod showed only the steep walls of the hole through which it was drilling. Isaac remembered from his training that the surface of the pod was now retracting into the hole and acting as a plug that protected the crew from the extreme cold and airlessness of space. But the minutes that it took for the pod to drill through the twenty or so metres of hull were punctuated by judders from inside the hull and crashes on the surface.

And then, suddenly, and without warning, the crew and Isaac amongst them were ejected into the wide open expanse inside the space ship. They were equipped with heavy combat gear that was absolutely necessary as defence but was still an onerous burden in the standard gravity of the atheist ship.

The dazed crew staggered to their feet. They were totally disorientated. What had seconds before been down- and inwards was now up- and outwards. Isaac momentarily wondered whether he was still alive and had been transported to heaven. Far from being in a long corridor of the kind he assumed he'd find in a space ship, he was standing in a very pleasant garden landscape.

Neither on the misleadingly named Paradise nor in Holy Trinity, had Isaac ever before seen such an idyllic pastoral landscape. He believed that such gardens only existed in the hereafter. The nearest thing to a rural landscape that existed on Holy Trinity was dedicated to food production where every available space had to serve a utilitarian agrarian function. Here there was a wide open acreage of lawns, trees and even animals that were running free rather than being penned up for the purposes of intensive meat and dairy production.

Isaac didn't have much time for reflection. There was a mission to accomplish. The many years of training hadn't been endured simply to allow Isaac the opportunity to ponder on the bounty of nature. Much as there was to celebrate in the benison of the Good Lord, he was implored by the yells in his helmet's intercom to join forces with his comrades to secure the atheist ship and complete the mission. Isaac was guided by the Spirit of the Lord. He had absolute faith that his faith was a force that no atheist could possibly repel.

The guidance of which Isaac was most aware came from the yelling voices from inside his helmet. As the instructions couldn't be coming from the now annihilated control hub, it was evidence that an artificial intelligence had now taken automatic control of the mission. Isaac was commanded to proceed ahead with his fellow Holy Crusaders towards the emergency stairwells that could take them up to the higher levels and towards the atheists' control centre.

Isaac saw hundreds of other crusaders about him. They might have many different faiths but they had one shared mission. And as a result they were all heading towards the same destination. Isaac stumbled onwards, but he was weighed down by the huge military suit that in this pastoral landscape now seemed ridiculously incongruous. The invading force tramped doggedly forward over the green grass, under the towering trees and beside the startled deer and horses that became even more alarmed when the crusaders practised their weaponry on the defenceless beasts with devastating and bloody effect.

They passed a few homes that seemed bizarrely tranquil in what was now a battlefield and which Isaac amongst other soldiers was directed to investigate. The villas had been deserted—probably only a few minutes before judging by the obvious disarray—but they were remarkably luxurious. Although it gave Isaac a degree of satisfaction to train his laser rifle on the sofa, bed and electronic hardware and reduce them to flames, he wondered whether it was truly right for a Soldier of Christ to act like a vandal. He'd never before seen homes so luxurious and spacious. And in his dutiful pursuit of justice Isaac had entered many homes on Holy Trinity, most of which he had similarly reduced to ash and dust.

If Isaac had wondered how the atheists would defend themselves, this was soon revealed as he became steadily aware that the place to which he was urgently directed to proceed was also where a large contingent of robots were standing in wait.

Isaac had never had much contact with robots before. There were none at all on Holy Trinity, where artificial life was strictly banished as it was increate and not of the Lord. There were a few such machines operating on Paradise and Judgement where their presence was excused on the understanding that compromise is sometimes necessary in the battle against evil. The robots that stood in wait for Isaac and the Holy Crusaders were sophisticated and deadly.

There was little that the atheist soldiers accompanying the robots needed to do. They stood in attendance at the foot of a tall metallic column that housed the emergency stairwell that was Isaac's destination and which seemed somewhat incongruous in such an Elysian setting. The soldiers were dressed rather less cumbersomely than the Holy Crusaders. In fact, their clothes exactly matched the background and whenever a soldier moved the uniform changed colour and design to match the scenery behind. Each soldier was training a gun or rifle towards the approaching crusaders but there was very little need to actually use it. The robots were already quite capable to repel the clumsy, confused and disorientated invasion force.

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