Ekaterina knelt before the empty machine, lost eyes trying to connect the missing shape with the man who had been sleeping in her bed. Like some of the others she’d been praying to him for a very long time. She had given the community her good news and all had marvelled at the vacant tomb. She had asked for time for him to recover and they had agreed after Gabriel had revealed his presence. Now that he was alive and real she wasn’t sure what to think. He was a man. She’d swapped the comforting touch of his mind for the gentle stroke of his hand.
In the process she’d lost that thing that she’d promised to him. Or, she thought she had. She must have. She was still not certain what had been happening at night but suspected something miraculous. Under the long robe, beneath the plain shift, she thought her skin felt different, tighter, and she knew she had lost weight. Excess seemed to have been burned away leaving her feeling younger and stronger – better able to express those desires that now seemed to crowd her mind whenever she thought of the two angels.
The sound of footsteps behind her was a minor distraction from her contemplation. People had been coming and going from the chapel, all wanting to see the void left by his rising. She guessed that two from the community had entered as there was no cry of surprise and turned to see who it could be. She was not expecting to see Gabriel and Mykhail – Mykhail all in shades of blue, his hair a shining halo and his skin radiant. In the doorway behind them she could see the curious faces of her fellow worshippers astonished at seeing the risen being. They had followed the angels into the sanctuary but were too awed to approach and speak to them.
“This is where they kept me?” Her angel, her beautiful warrior archangel, looked around the chapel. He saw what she could not recognise. It had been the end of a production line, a sterile work place to decant Shabtis from their growth pods. Faded markings on once smooth walls indicated it was just one of a number of rooms, all of them designed for the activation and immediate care of the fresh soldiers. A chaotic build up of religious paraphernalia covered almost every flat surface. The significant exception was something that looked like it had been a control panel. It had been cleaned very recently. Cleaned and then possibly burnt out after one last surge of energy to complete its task.
Mykhail stood in front of the altar that had been erected immediately below the hollow shell of his empty cartridge. He tried to ignore the gilded wood, so out of place in a place that had to be one of the greatest affronts to creator beliefs ever perpetrated. He remembered too well some of the things that had gone on before, and even on top of, that focus of faith. He sighed. Maybe wanting to manufacture a substitute soldier race was not the worst thing that people had done if there was a God somewhere to take offence.
Gabriel raised Ekaterina to her feet and bowed low before her so that the onlookers in the doorway would see his deference. It was a moment of theatre. In quiet tones he begged that she give him some time to speak to Mykhail alone of his imprisonment and release. In front of the small company he embraced her and called her blessed. Her eye shining with reflected glory the woman happily shut the door behind her and left the two creatures to their conversation as her friends crowded round her.
Mykhail gazed up at the empty thing that had been his womb and his prison. He fancied that he could see flesh on the larger sensors and probes that hung like a net from the back wall of the thing. He shuddered at the sight. He knew it must be part of the life support system. Gossamer thin filaments ran in bunches from a number of nodes and ended in long acupuncture needles. He was relieved that he hadn’t been aware of the process to remove so many connections.
“You were the only one I could save. Whoever found this place and found you they were too awed or too ignorant to break through the seals. There are many chambers below this one. Some held empty units so I’m guessing at least one wave was successfully activated before the strike. With no technicians to intervene it looks like all the other systems were shut down over time leaving you as the remaining viable unit. What might have been an acceptable loss of power over a short period became catastrophic over the centuries. Nothing survived down there. It was a mess, such a pointless waste.”
Gabriel – Dave – stood at the burnt out console. He wasn’t looking at Mykhail but spoke to a braided cable that terminated in a handful of cruel looking needles. There was definitely blood and skin on the needles. Some strands of dark hair were matted in the clots. The matter looked burnt onto the needles. Mykhail remembered the dried blood in his own hair. He looked back up at the unit and saw the matching spikes. There was a dim echo of the pain when the other had torn the connection from the back of his head. He guessed that he was not the only one hurt by the process.
“You saved me. I might be biased but I don’t think that was a waste.” He took the cable from Dave’s hand and let it drop into the mess of circuitry in the console. “How did you do it? You said you used Ekaterina for power.”
“I didn’t have enough energy to brute force my way past the stasis on my own. If I’d come up here with the other Shabti it might have made your birth easier but time was against me. Even with everything else shut down the system was draining faster than it could recharge as the power cells died. At one level there is no difference between physical and psychic energy. While I applaud you taking an interest in people it seriously affected your life expectancy – you were taking everything out and putting nothing back in to the system.
“You knew Ekaterina was special. What made her able to hear you across the void also made her a suitable vessel for me. Sometimes this happens with humans, a genetic wild card that resonates with us. I don’t know the best way to explain it. It’s one of those things that may come to you with time and experience. There were some experiments back at the start … but it didn’t seem to be a gift that we all had. It’s about building energy and focussing the release.” He nodded to the burnt out console then put Mykhail’s fingers to the back of his head to trace the outline of still raw circular wounds. “Using her I was able to use the auxiliary training shunt to punch through the system barriers. Once you were awake it was just a case of getting you out of that damned pod as soon as I could.”
“Building energy and focussing release? Sex magick.” Mykhail remembered other visitors and the totemic power he seemed to have for them as they asked for fertile harvests, fertile women. The rediscovery of the old faith might have made such actions more furtive, but there was still the undercurrent of sex and sacrifice to attain an outcome. The difference with this Delta was that he seemed to be genuine.
“That will do as a description for now I guess.”
“You’ve done the same thing the past two nights.”
“I told you, I’ve never tried this before. It took a lot out of me to get you out of that thing. It exhausted me. Ekaterina is very receptive and being female she has more capacity than a man would have, but she’s still only human. I needed more energy to finish healing you, to replenish myself … and I also wanted to see if I could give something back to her. ”
“Not just for pleasure then?”
“Oh, I would be lying if I said there was no pleasure to be had from being with her. For you I would have still done the same but it is a most happy coincidence when necessity and gratification come together.”
“What do we do now?”
“Right now we destroy all the biological material we can find. We leave the chapel to these people but we make sure there is nothing left here in case others come looking for you. I’ve already taken care of what was below in case anyone gets through again. You may be perfect but this is not an experiment I would like to help anyone try again.”