tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 19

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 19


Chapter Nineteen
Intrepid - 3754 A.D.

Naked and hairless. The shame of it. Isaac had never been so since he was a baby. The humiliation was torment in itself.

But Isaac could comfort himself that he wasn't the only one so demeaned. All around him and equally immobilised on the grassy lawns of this strange Elysian but Godless world were others like him: defeated, dishonoured and similarly paralysed. He could move his eyes. He could breathe. But he couldn't move his limbs and he could mouth words with only the greatest effort.

He was comforted by the scriptures that said in Chapter Thirty-two Verses Twenty-five and Twenty-six of the Second Book of Moses: Called Exodus: "And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:) Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD's side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him". Surely the Lord would see Isaac's similar shame and rescue him. He would know that Isaac's faith remained strong.

Nonetheless, Isaac could see little evidence of the Lord's intervention and rather more of a flurry of efficient robotic activity. Peculiar-shaped metal and plastic objects flew about the verdant landscape herding away the deer, horse and antelope and tidying up the wreckage left by the Holy Crusaders' abortive invasion. Military officers of the Interplanetary Union strode amongst the robots. These included women of whom many were immodestly dressed. Isaac had never before seen so many bare legs and naked midriffs. Many soldiers had shaved heads and some had very unnatural skin colour. Only Satan could father abominations with green, violet or even striped skin.

A handful of military personnel were crouched over and attending the forlorn crusaders who were slumped ignobly on the ground. Isaac guessed that these were medical officers by virtue of the dispassionate and clinical nature of their attention. They attended to each crusader individually with hand-held devices that were studied more intently than the patient himself. One or two crusaders were carried away by stretcher-bearing robots. Isaac could only speculate what cruel torments awaited these unfortunates.

It didn't take long until it was Isaac's turn. A thin scantily-clad woman crouched over him. She wore a silver one-piece uniform that displayed her legs below the knee and was open almost to her bosom. She skimmed a smooth plastic device several centimetres above his chest. Her head was shaved and she showed as little interest in him as a man would another man. She plucked his penis between her fingers with clinical disdain and probed his anus with the same non-intrusive device. She then spoke in a language that Isaac didn't recognise, but it wasn't Isaac she was addressing but instead a small device attached to her bosom.

Isaac feared that he would be one of those dragged away by the robots for further interrogation and, no doubt, torture, but the woman left him where he lay and strode off to repeat the same procedure on another crusader. She showed no interest in Isaac beyond that required to perform her duty.

As the crusaders remained where they were, the robots continued to mop up the wreckage caused by the abortive invasion. The scattered remains of Isaac's pod, still less than half a kilometre away, were collected and removed by robots that were almost entirely composed of articulated arms and broad wheels. Small sniffer robots scurried about to gather the smaller debris. Within hours there was no evidence that a battle of any kind had ever taken place. The huge flat screens that hovered well out of reach above the crusaders' heads appeared to be windows into other worlds, but all Isaac could see were holographic representations of the same empty space he'd observed from within the descending pod.

Isaac reflected on the words of the Lord in Chapter Six, Verses Ten and Eleven, of the Book of Job: "Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off! Then should I yet have comfort; yea, I would harden myself in sorrow: let him not spare; for I have not concealed the words of the Holy One." Job had suffered great hardship but was proven worthy, as Isaac hoped he would soon also be.

After a while, the flurry of activity was reduced to simply the sight of a few hovering robots that one by one floated off over the curvature of the ground and beyond his sight. The huge columns the crusaders had been so desperate to secure retracted upwards so that there were now no accessible stairways or escalators to other levels.

Then Isaac noticed that several of his fellow crusaders were hesitantly staggering onto their feet in a landscape now clear of animals, robots or atheist soldiers.

Isaac flexed the muscles of his arm still expecting to experience the same paralysis that allowed him to twitch his fingers or wriggle his toes but nothing more. This time his efforts were more successful. The force that had pinned him to the ground had disappeared and he could clamber to his feet. He might be tingling with cramp, but at least he was standing. Only now, like all his comrades, he was hairless, even to the extent of his crotch and armpits and, worst of all, totally naked.

His priority was still as it had been before. He had a mission to fulfil. The need to overpower the atheists and seize their vessel remained the imperative for the Godly and Righteous. But he also needed to follow the example of Adam and Eve and hide his nakedness. Isaac hoped that there might be some fig leaves available. Unfortunately, not only were there no leaves or garments to be seen but there were also no weapons with which he could arm himself and pursue his crusade.

A flat screen floated just a metre above his head. There was writing on it, but it was in a script he couldn't decipher. It was replaced by other equally incomprehensible icons and then by script he recognised but whose words he did not. And then, in English, he read: "This way for food and lodgings." Next to these words was an arrow that hovered beside the screen. Although it appeared to be solid and tangible it was in actual fact a hologram. It pointed in a different direction to the arrows that accompanied the words in other scripts.

Isaac was wary of accepting favours from atheists, but he decided that the arrow might direct him to where he might meet other English speakers and perhaps others of his and, therefore, the only true faith.

Isaac walked in the arrow's direction and with his hands cupped over his genitals as the only way he could see of maintaining his modesty. Other crusaders were also converging on the same route whose direction was further reinforced by other arrows that were suspended in space beside a succession of hovering screens. When he looked forward in the direction of the arrow the words were displayed in English. If he looked in any other direction the symbols and language changed and a different arrow appeared. It seemed that all English speakers were being coaxed in one direction and other language speakers elsewhere. The atheists were differentiating the crusaders not in terms of their faith, but purely by the language they spoke. English was the language of the King James' Bible and therefore the true language of the Lord. Where English-speakers gathered so too would other true believers of the Christian faith.

Just how big was the atheists' ship? Isaac wondered when he had walked several kilometres and was still not at his destination. He was tired and hungry, so the appeal of the promised food and lodgings steadily increased however much he reminded himself that his first duties were to protect his modesty and to destroy the Apostasy. This second duty, after all, was the reason why he'd travelled so far from Mercury's orbit.

A hairless naked man approached him, also cupping his genitals in his hands. He was as fearful of Isaac as Isaac was of him. "Art thou of the faith of the Holy Trinity?" the stranger asked in what even after all his bible study seemed to Isaac a peculiarly archaic English dialect.

"I am that," said Isaac. "In fact I herald from the colony of Holy Trinity."

The man was confused. "Thou art a follower of the word of the Lord, but not of the exact word, in sooth. Thy tongue is near heathen. But here there are heretics and apostates aplenty and I must pardon thy errant ways."

"As I must yours," said Isaac with more conciliation than he would have previously entertained. "You follow the word as written in the gospels..."

"The exact and unvarying word," corrected the man.

"...And in this atheist world such faith is worth more than any heretical deviation."

"Well said," agreed the man, comforted that there was common ground between them.

The two naked men walked onwards together both diligently hiding their genitals, as were the other crusaders. They engaged in a dialogue liberally peppered with quotations from the Holy Scripture. Isaac discovered that his comrade came from the colony of Divine Truth between the orbits of Jupiter and the Asteroid Belt which maintained the doctrine that King James was the actual author of the Authorised Version and was therefore Divinely Inspired. He was a Presbyterian who also believed that the small independent Kingdom of Scotland (now a republic) was the Promised Land.

Isaac was better informed, of course. He knew that the King James Bible wasn't actually written by the first King of the United Kingdom of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, but rather by his scribes. It was they, not His Majesty, who were divinely inspired and who corrected many of the heresies of the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Calvinist faiths. However, he shared with Elijah the belief that the word revealed in these texts, not those in Latin or Greek, were the exact ones of the Lord God, even where there were apparent misspellings.

Isaac and his companion eventually arrived at a glade beneath some tall trees and beside a collection of villas. Each one was stripped of the clutter of domestic life that Isaac saw in his brief foray into a similar building when he was armed and considerably more dangerous. Under the trees was a long table on which was presented a sumptuous array of dishes and where some crusaders were already dining.

Isaac and Elijah had made a pact to resist the temptation of gifts provided by the atheists. Surely only evil could come from evil. As it is said in Chapter Seven, Verse Fifteen, of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." But when Isaac saw that the other crusaders had already sampled the repast and showed no sign of having been poisoned, he decided that there was really little choice. In any case, he was very hungry. He could decline the feast but then he would only die from starvation. If the food poisoned him, this would merely hasten his arrival at St Michael's Golden Gates. Isaac was also surprised by how good the food tasted, however simple and plain it appeared to be. There was rice, bread, boiled vegetables and greens, and they were all remarkably fresh and lightly seasoned. Isaac had never tasted such wholesome and appetising food before: either on Holy Trinity or since. The vegetables tasted far better than those he'd cultivated in his garden under the colony's dim lights. There were also foods from the Holy Land that rarely featured in Isaac's diet such as olives, figs and dates. The repast sinfully reminded Isaac of the manna bestowed on the refugees from Egypt on their way to Israel.

The atheist dogs had also provided many comfortable beds on which Isaac and the other crusaders could sleep but which also lacked sheets or blankets to cover their nakedness. In a sense, such covering wasn't strictly needed as the temperature aboard the Intrepid was very comfortable.

Isaac hesitated about resting on a mattress and not only because each one was in such close proximity to the next in the villa's otherwise empty rooms. Then there was a light shower of rain which persisted for many minutes but miraculously failed to fall on the table on which the repast was laid. Isaac needed shelter and he needed to rest. He debated whether it would be sinful for him to sleep naked. He wasn't sure his genitals mightn't be exposed when he was asleep. But when Isaac lay down on a mattress he was so exhausted that sleep overcame him almost immediately.

Isaac got to find out more about his comrades in the following days. They were not only all English-speakers but without exception also all Christian. The other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Judaism each had their own languages and English was the language of Christianity. Well, many of the Christians. Some like the Orthodox Christians spoke Greek or Russian, whilst others spoke Aramaic, Italian, German and Spanish. There were no Orthodox Christians in Isaac's company, though there were Roman Catholics, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and even a solitary Mormon. Nevertheless, those who followed the exact word of the Authorised Bible as revealed to King James kept themselves apart from those who followed heretical corruptions of the Lord's word as revealed in other texts.

Isaac and those of the most proximate faith soon removed themselves from the heretics and claimed a room in one of the smaller villas. Isaac was the sole survivor from the colony of Holy Trinity. Despite the many doctrinal and liturgical differences that separated him from his closest companions, especially those relating to the practise of prayer and worship and rather secondarily to the exact interpretation of the Gospels, the crusaders chose to unite around what they had in common.

Isaac became steadily more accustomed to his nakedness although not an hour passed when he didn't yearn to conceal his shame. The atheists had removed all material that could be fashioned into clothing and had herded away any animal or bird whose hide could be fashioned into clothing. It was evident that they preferred the crusaders to remain naked, although their beards and hair were allowed to grow.

Those in Isaac's company were reluctantly forced to resign themselves to their nakedness. Despite everything, they were all men. Isaac became accustomed to seeing his comrades' limp penises. More to the point, the surviving crusaders had other concerns. They were still intent on fulfilling the mission to which they were all sworn.

Isaac's companions included some whose pods hadn't even penetrated the Intrepid's well-defended hulk. Most hadn't made it nearly as far as he had. Some like Jeremiah and Ephron had been captured while their pod was still drilling through the hull. The vessel was destroyed but the crew was taken alive by the atheists' robots. Others like Thomas and Joshua never made it even onto the ship's surface. Their pod was destroyed and they were rescued by the same robots that had inflicted the damage and carried inside the ship after being detained outside for several hours. During their hours spent floating in space, they watched the Intrepid's robots clear away the battle debris and bear it off to the rear of the ship. The residue of the once proud invasion fleet was to be converted into the Intrepid's antimatter thrust. Rather than hinder the ship's progress, the Holy Crusaders' efforts had ended up in helping to refuel it.

Isaac's company erected barriers outside the room they had designated as their own to ward off Catholics, Baptists and other heretics. When their territory was secure, a party was assigned the task of exploring the ship. It was imperative that they determine whether there was a way to pursue their holy crusade. Isaac was one of those chosen, along with Amos, Ezra and Elijah.

As the crusaders explored their new territory, Isaac couldn't help but be impressed by the evidence of opulence and wealth. The outermost level was deserted although there were many villas now stripped of anything useful, and many of these had been assigned to crusaders of other faiths. Although these heretics and infidels were similarly naked, they made an effort to designate to which faith their territory belonged. A crucifix was carved on a tree to designate a Roman Catholic stronghold. On another tree, a crescent marked Muslim territory. There were other areas held by Hindus, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Sikhs and other faiths.

Isaac and his comrades diligently avoided having to stray into such territories just as they also avoided contact with the other naked men they saw wandering about the level. It was sinful to expose oneself to heresy. It was also likely that any contact with heretics and infidels would only be violent. The compromises that had enabled so many disparate faiths to work together towards a common cause would have evaporated as surely between communities of different religions as it had between those of different faiths of the same religion within the first few hours that the English speakers had settled in their villa.

There was none of the wild and domestic animals that had been in such profusion when Isaac arrived. The only other living things he saw were the odd scurrying rabbit or vole, and the birds and squirrels in the trees. The landscape was mostly composed of lawns, wooded glades, lakes and streams. There were no robots although the hovering holoscreens were still very much in evidence. These continued to provide the very useful information as the direction by which the crusaders should return to English-speaking territory.

The level bent upwards so their home territory was soon obscured by the ship's curvature. The columns that housed the elevators could be seen high above their heads where they had retracted into the ceiling. Huge struts kept the outermost level in contact with the levels above but these afforded no anchorage to the crusaders for an upward climb. Their imposing height was interspersed by platforms that were too smooth to offer a grip and too wide to clamber over.

After many hours walk and some breaks for repast and prayer, the crusaders at last reached the furthermost limit of where they could wander. This was not indicated by any warning line, but rather by an invisible barrier that gave off no reflection but repelled any force with one that was equal and opposite. Beyond this barrier were the animals that had once roamed freely about the whole of the outermost level. There seemed to be no way to enter the innermost levels of the ship that were high above Isaac's head.

The crusaders continued to roam along the edge of the invisible perimeter. They weren't sure whether it encircled the freely wandering large animals or whether it enclosed them. The only way they could establish where they were in relation to their new home was from the holoscreens which every few hundred metres pointed back to where they'd come. Isaac had no more skill in land-surveying than his comrades. In fact, all they had in common was that they had worked in a capacity, either in the police or the military, where they had expertise in killing people. The people they'd killed had all been heretics or recidivists, and not one of which belonged to a faith as far removed from their own as, for instance, a Roman Catholic, a Mormon or a Jew.

Elijah had served as a soldier in a war against the breakaway colony of St James whose heresy was to claim that King James was not merely divinely inspired but was actually the Second Messiah. Amos and Ezra had both been policeman with roles very similar to Isaac's. Their faiths differed in detail rather than substance and like Isaac they took great pride in their duty of ridding their respective colonies of any hint of deviancy or wavering in the true faith. Isaac was uncomfortably aware that on Holy Trinity it would have been his duty to slaughter all three of his comrades as it would have been theirs to kill him. Consequently, there was no real intimacy between the reluctant comrades.

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