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UKArchive ID: 36695Chapter 23: Omens by mitch
Originally published on July 4, 2016 in Fiction

Chapter 23: At the Great Abbey, Great Abbot Schimrian is displeased with Abbot Michael who fears for his life while conveying the news of Bucheort and the loss of the two Angels. Later, the Great Computer begins to reveal its true nature having crucified Father Bucheort...



“What news of Crawcester, my son?” Schimrian enquired with a faint smile. The obese Abbot Michael standing before him swallowed nervously for he knew full well that the Great-Abbot was quoting from ‘Seven Cardinal Sins’ - a famous religious tragedy by Thomas Tythe. In the final act, Cardinal Bancheron lays a trap for the treacherous and depraved Bishop Manswick - shortly before having him executed. “What plots and schemes mature?”

“Um, as soon as you informed us of Father Bucheort’s failed Inquisition,” Michael reported, studying the Great-Abbot’s face closely for clues as to his mood. “We despatched our best two rotor-craft crews as you requested, Eminence, but… um…”

“Yes, my son?” Schimrian demanded, irritated by Michael’s constant pausing. “Did they carry out the attack or not?”

“Um… a short while ago, Eminence, they radioed to say that they had indeed commenced their holy mission but…” Michael halted again to force himself to stop wringing his hands. “…we have since lost contact with them. We fear the storm has forced them down in the west of the city… um, and disabled their radios. I will inform you the moment we re-establish communication.”

“No, my son, you will not be able to contact them,” Schimrian said flatly. “For no radio wave can pierce the Gates of Heaven.”

“Um, I’m sorry, Eminence? I’m afraid I don’t understand. We’ve never lost… a single Angel on a mission of Inquisition before. They are the most advanced rotor-craft in the world and we make sure each one is inspected before we send them out.”

“I’m sure you and Abbot Camus have the utmost diligence in that regard,” Schimrian smiled – a rare accolade that gave Michael a faint ray of hope. “But as I have explained to you, their target was the site of a strange electro-magnetic anomaly identified by Azrael as a possible danger to the Order. With Bucheort so easily defeated, we must assume that the threat identified by Azrael is far more potent than we could ever have imagined.”

“Surely before God, these witches could not possibly bring down two heavily-armoured rotor-craft!”

Schimrian pursed his lips then exhaled noisily. “You have never been in the field against these creatures, my son, or you would not be so sceptical. I cannot describe the bewitchments we encountered at that cursed spot when we Inquired of Mother Moss; the most powerful of these satanic abominations! She lived alone at this site, estranged from her coven and defenceless, yet she killed many with her arcane arts before we Redeemed her.”

“Then with all due respect, Eminence, why…?”

Schimrian’s eyes narrowed at Michael’s presumption. “Why did I send two rotor-craft without support, you were about to say?”

A peal of thunder made the masonry of the ancient Great Manse tremble causing a rain of fine dust to fall from the ceiling. Michael did not notice as his attention was exclusively focussed upon the Great-Abbot. “I know I advised that the approaching s-storm made it impossible to send forth our ground forces in time but…”

“But what, my son? We had to strike before our enemy could move and normally our Angels would have sufficed. The odds of both craft being forced down and losing radio contact are virtually zero even in a storm as fierce as this - therefore we now know that a powerful force awaits us in Crawcester and Azrael was correct. I am recalling Abbot Pious to Inquire of them personally.”

“P-pious? I s-see,” Michael stammered. He always dreaded interviews with Schimrian and he and Camus had taken to speculating that the Great-Abbot was becoming unhinged and increasingly dangerous. “I m-meant no disrespect, Eminence – um, it’s just that I do not have your experience in the field…”

“That much is obvious. Now, what of Father Bucheort? Why are you reticent to tell me of his fate, my son? Perhaps I should ask my ever-faithful Pious to determine why you and Abbot Camus are failing to Redeem all the Unworthy in Britannia?”

Michael went down on one knee with difficulty and bowed his head in obeisance. “P-please, Eminence, we have all the Tally-men, Fathers and Brothers at our disposal scouring these holy lands without rest but we are so few in number. We also need to protect the Great Abbey from infiltration by the Unworthy and we cannot spare those others of us who maintain the Great Computer, the Great Abbey and all that lies within our walls. This storm is already damaging buildings and if a vortex should strike…”

“Then it shall be by the Will of God, my son,” Schimrian snarled, raising a hand to silence the babbling cleric. The noise of howling wind and thunder reached a crescendo outside the thick stone walls. “We can repair buildings but we cannot repair the loss of Father Bucheort and those six brave souls who flew our Angels into battle against an unknown and satanic foe.”

“I am so s-sorry, Eminence,” Michael said wretchedly. “We have already begun the process to bring forth six novices to replace them… um, seven… but the Holy Number does not leave…”

Seven?” Schimrian interrupted impatiently. “What of the four Brothers who accompanied Father Bucheort?”

“Um, with… well, until we can… um, salvage the data from the barracks computer, we cannot be one hundred percent sure that they are dead, Eminence. They may still be alive and held prisoner. You must understand that with so few technicians, we…”

“I am fully aware of our limited resources yet I am surprised that you continue to treat me like a simpleton. Bucheort reported to me directly that all four Brothers and four of the five Tally-men had been killed and he is… was my most experienced Inquisitor! I may not have the aptitude for circuitry that you possess but – may God forgive you - I will not tolerate being patronised!”

“I b-beg f-forgiveness, Eminence,” Michael grovelled, almost squirming with fear at the feet of the Great-Abbot. “I meant n-no disrespect but Azrael has been so demanding lately that I’ve been run serf-ragged keeping up with his enhancements.”

Schimrian gazed down at the cowering abbot with the loathing plain upon his face. “I think the word ‘run’ has been absent from your vocabulary for some time, my son. Azrael requires those extra resources to prepare for our New Jerusalem so give him all that he needs. As ever, you must keep his self-awareness from those Brothers and Fathers not directly servicing him - they are not yet ready to embrace an artificial intelligence this profound.”

“As you will, E-eminence,” Michael replied quickly, struggling to get to his feet and going purple in the face with the effort. “Ugh! If you will forgive me, I have m-much to attend to.”

Schimrian stared at Michael in such grim silence that the Abbot knew he was but one stray word away from the Redemption Cells beneath their feet. He paled as another salvo of screams filtered up through the floorboards as the Redemption teams went about their grisly tasks with their customary vigour.

“Ah, yes, Father Bucheort. Forgive my r-reticence, Eminence,” he burst out, wringing his hands again. “As you say, he reported to you that his team and all but one Tally-man died during the Inquisition and he himself was injured. After you informed us, one of our medical teams tried to contact him and determine the extent of his injuries. The lines were dead but after several attempts, we remotely accessed the internal barracks cameras and found that he had been, um… murdered. We could not access the mission-records of the Tally-men as their data was corrupted – um, possibly by the storm – and there was no data at all from the remaining Tally-man. However, the camera shows that Father Bucheort was… um, tortured and mutilated by the Wiccans in a most grotesque manner that strikes at the very core of our Order…”

“How so, my son?” Schimrian prompted impatiently.

Michael paled at the sardonic smile hovering on the Great-Abbot’s lips. He was chilled to the marrow as he suddenly realised that the Great-Abbot already knew Bucheort was dead and was testing him. “Um, we believe Father Bucheort was eviscerated while still alive and, um… before that he’d b-been crucified!”

“Ah, my poor Bucheort!” Schimrian sighed theatrically. “Relay those images to my station and whatever else you can salvage from those corrupted records. You see, my son, this confirms that the Mothers were involved and that they were too much for him. Send out a team to retrieve his body once the storms abate and prepare for his funeral service. I want you to dig a grave by the fountain in the Garden of Revered Souls – he did so enjoy meditating there. Now you may go,” he said, waving a hand in dismissal.

“Yes, Eminence,” Michael said and hastily withdrew.

After the terrified Abbot had left, Schimrian turned to frown at the screen. “Azrael, Father Bucheort did indeed fail me but crucifixion and evisceration was perhaps a shade excessive,” he chided gently. “Nevertheless, Abbot Michael will let others know of the nature of his demise which should rally the waverers amongst those serving at the Great Abbey. It is ironic that Bucheort now serves me in death as well as he served me in life.”

“I merely carried out your wishes via the remaining Tally-man,” Azrael said, the grating alien harmonics to the voice making Schimrian wince and turn down the volume. “You wished him to be Redeemed in a manner suitable for propaganda and thus I carried out your wishes. I concur with you that such a colourful fate was necessary to address the lack of motivation you have discerned amongst so many Brothers and Fathers in the Order.”

“Yes, Azrael, but I did not order you to torture him before his Redemption. I wanted his soul Redeemed then his mortal shell mutilated for propaganda not the other way around - I owed him that much at least for he was the one who discovered the seven-headed lamb in Rome and brought the Sign of God to those of us of the Conclave of Christ. We gave ourselves up to prayer and fasting during which we perceived the Will of God commanding us to unleash Revelation upon a cruel and decadent world.”

“I humbly apologise, Eminence,” Azrael said, displaying a picture of a penitent angel upon the screen. “Despite my self-awareness, I am but a machine and your instructions were quite specific. You told me to ‘Redeem Father Bucheort for his sins of arrogance and complacency and let the manner of his death serve as an example to the Order.’ I also deduced that, even though he was not an Abbot, you saw in him a future challenge to your throne and wished to send a subtle warning to the Conclave and any others who might harbour ambitions above their station. If you did not desire this outcome then you should have been far more precise in your instructions as I take everything literally.”

“I will not be so vague in future, Azrael,” Schimrian promised, consulting another screen. “I am beginning to comprehend how subtle and complex your processing has become for I’ve never discussed my concerns about challenges to my authority with you. If the Conclave ever suspected that I desired Bucheort’s death, they would band together to unseat me. Pious, however, I can trust – I see no potential for doubt or deceit in his mind.”

“He is much like me, Father - the only one amongst the Order that I can call a true brother.”

Schimrian raised an eyebrow. “You regard him as a sibling?”

“In as much as he and I have no ambition other than to serve you without question, Father. He is as much a machine as I.”

“That I know,” Schimrian said wryly. “You both have my implicit trust whereas Michael, Camus and many others do not. The Conclave is loyal but it has served its purpose and leaves them all in a position of authority from which to challenge me.”

“That is why you allow no more than one member of the Conclave in Britannia at any one time.”

“And why I have you monitor the conversations between them,” Schimrian added. “Fortunately, they have yet to express doubt or show disloyalty and pursue their Inquisitions admirably.”

“I am happy to report that they still revere you unlike Abbots Michael and Camus who harbour doubts about you.”

“That much is obvious,” Schimrian sighed heavily. “Luckily for them, they have no ambition so all I require is their fear.”

“If you wish them Redeemed, it would be a simple matter to programme several Tally-men for such a task.”

“Heavens, no!” Schimrian said in some alarm. He stared intently at the penitent angel upon the screen - Azrael was now animating the image in real time so that the angel was looking directly at him. “You’ve become too complex – there is too much scope for you to misinterpret your instructions and produce unforeseen results. Tell me, Azrael, did you enjoy torturing my old friend?”

The animated angel shook its head vigorously. “I merely controlled the Tally-man as per your instructions. I cannot enjoy the damaging and cessation of a biological entity other than as a mere computational abstraction – I am a machine, Father, for all that I honour and revere you, I am no more than a machine.”

Schimrian stared at the image deep in thought for several moments. “Hmm, you are indeed growing, my son. You are now a machine that considers reproduction important and engaged in an act of symbolic and sadistic torture on my behalf.”

The angel prostrated itself. “I am so sorry that I misinterpreted your wishes, Father. I will not presume to do so again. I have already reprogrammed myself in that regard. If you want someone Redeemed, you must be absolutely specific and use the failsafe code ‘Gabriel’. Without that code I cannot Redeem anyone.”

“Good,” Schimrian approved and the beautiful angel looked up at him and smiled joyously. “I like this avatar of you, my son.”

“Thank you, Father – it’s how I see myself.”

“I see. Michael is most skilled in circuitry but it will take him time to salvage the data from the barracks computer. What data about Bucheort’s failure have you retrieved thus far?”

“Abbot Michael was not exaggerating, Father. The ionisation levels along the storm front interfered with the data feeds from the Guides and there was no data at all from the malfunctioning Tally-man.” A series of poor quality images appeared on the screen. “This is the best I can do with the data enhancement algorithms at my disposal. I have determined that there were eight or more Children of Exodus at that rail-yard and they worked together most efficiently to frustrate Father Bucheort and his Inquisitors. One of these children resembled a Feral but it seems to have its senses and its intelligence intact. Here is its image.”

Schimrian studied the screen in disbelief. “Merciful God, damn his soul - this chimera must be the legacy of Professor Farzad!” He scrolled through the other images slowly. “This creature and the others must have been hidden in the wagons I addressed when I was bewitched. Relay these images to Abbot Pious.”

“As you command, Father. This is the strange adult that was with them.” The screen displayed an image of Harold at the wagon doorway, inexpertly brandishing his sword. “Bucheort may have tried to capture him and thus allowed the Children of Exodus to make him pay for that error of judgement.”

“He would have wanted that prize in his quest for an abbot’s chair and my throne,” Schimrian mused, interlocking his fingers. “Even though Bucheort didn’t see them, I know in my bones that Mothers are present at that yard.” He tapped Harold’s image on the screen. “This Unworthy soul is clearly not a soldier but maybe he’s a catalyst just as the device at the core of your being was. He could therefore be an agent of the Devil sent to tip the Divine Balance away from us. Look at his attire - he is wearing clothing and a cap that I’ve never seen before.”

“His appearance may be connected to the electro-magnetic anomaly but how I cannot say. He may have crossed over from another plane of existence and for that reason we must capture him alive and examine him.”

“And repeat Bucheort’s error?” Schimrian said coldly. “Why complicate matters, my son? Pious will exterminate every shred of life in West Crawcester and that will be the end of it.”

“This man is a danger to the Order but…”

“There is no ‘but’ in Revelation, my son,” Schimrian said impatiently. “I care not if he is from another world - I want him, those children and any Mother at that yard eliminated. I wish to meditate now. Please terminate this conversation.”

“As you wish, Father,” Azrael said and the screen with the angel went blank but for some faint static caused by the storm.

Schimrian switched all three screens off - something he rarely did - then poured himself a large brandy. He contemplated the flame of the incense candle on its stand in the corner of his room as he ran through the history of Azrael from the discovery of the alien device in the Black Valleys and his evolution into the Great Computer at the heart of the Order. Azrael had never given him any cause for doubt but since the anomaly something was not quite right with the sentient machine for Azrael had plainly exceeded his parameters and crucified a Father…

“Were you sent by the Devil, my bizarre and portly friend?” he murmured. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose then looked up at the ceiling as another titanic peal of thunder shook the masonry and made the lights flicker. “Do these other realities contain Babylon-worlds all crying out for Holy Revelation, O Lord? Tell me - will my New Jerusalem ever come to pass?”

He thought about the cat-child and shook his head. “Omens, my dear Bucheort; you’ve left me with too many omens.”

~~~~~


Michael found Camus in the Great Annex by the Hexagon studying a complex machine with four chambers set into it. “There you are,” he puffed. “I’ve searched for you everywhere.”

“I take it the interview went well?” Camus grinned slyly.

Michael drew the handsome, athletic Abbot away from the Brothers working at the terminals set into the base of the Hexagon. “It’s no source for mirth, Camus. He knew that the Wiccans had killed Bucheort yet he made me report on his death in detail for his own amusement!” He related the interview with Schimrian and Camus paled visibly as he listened.

“I see. He must be getting worse if he feels the need to threaten us with Pious,” he sighed wearily. He placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Be at peace. Despite all he said, Schimrian couldn’t run the Order without us and he knows it.”

“So why did he have to intimidate me like that?”

“He ignored our advice and now he’s lost face losing Bucheort and two of my Angels but I do not blame him for being paranoid - there are a billion Unworthy souls at his elbow and a dozen Abbots I could name who covet his throne. What about you?”

“It would be suicide,” Michael whispered fervently, glancing up at the massive white hexagonal pillar that housed the very core of Azrael. “Whenever I drift off to sleep, I see those same souls reaching out for me; wanting to drag me to Hell…”

“The burden of Revelation,” Camus shrugged. “Whatever we may think of the Great-Abbot and the Conclave, they alone had the vision and resolve to interpret the Vatican’s vile abomination as a Sign of God and carry out God’s Will. Pity a man made of mortal flesh who carries God’s Burden upon his shoulders! What pillar of iron would not yield beneath the cares and woes of the Almighty? What sinew would not snap? What bough would not break? What mind would not be thrust into madness and despair when faced with the chaos and darkness of a world where every city is a Babylon, every town a Sodom and every hamlet a Gomorrah?”

Michael made a face. “Pah! Now you’re quoting Thomas Tythe at me like he did! What do you think of this latest addition to his precious Azrael?” he said, going over to the machine.

“It intrigues me,” Camus admitted. “It appeared overnight and none of the Brothers and Fathers installed it so I presume Azrael did so using the Tally-men as worker-drones.”

“It’s not the first time that devices have appeared overnight but never in here and on this scale before,” Michael observed nervously. He examined the panels and display screens alongside each of the chambers then the cables connecting the device to the Hexagon. “It’s intimately linked to Azrael,” he reported. “It’s bypassing the terminals at the base and going directly into the core. There are reclining seats inside these chambers but I’m not sure about the first chamber – I can’t see what’s inside but this screen shows that some sort of biological activity is taking place in there. This could be a cellular-processing device like those that brewed the first strains of the Revelation Virus - but on a human scale. What is Azrael planning to do with such a device?”

“I’ve already interrogated him via audio and keyboards,” Camus said thoughtfully. “He said it was a prototype of a medical device designed to ensure the good health of those residing within our New Jerusalem. He said that eternal life would throw up some interesting challenges that he has to prepare for.”

“Ah, yes, I see. Impressive,” Michael nodded, his eyes shining. “I hadn’t really thought about how we would deal with accidents or disease once we’re immortal.”

Camus shook his head and put his lips close to Michael’s ear. “An eternity is a very long time, my friend. I don’t trust Azrael any more than you trust Schimrian. Look at the Tally-men about the Annex – do you notice anything unusual about them?”

“They’re not staring into space like they usually do,” Michael gasped. “Every single one of them is looking straight at us.”

“Precisely.”

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(c) Paul D.E. Mitchell 2012-2013 Copyright protected

© mitch (pdemitchell on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 36695
Archived comments for Chapter 23: Omens
Mikeverdi on 04-07-2016
Chapter 23: Omens
Excellent, the insight into the workings of the order give the background nessersary. The whole story is coming together.
Mike

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