"As you requested -" Cardinal Abidan motioned to the open bay "- the Sepulchre."
They had landed inside the vessel and now stood outside their shuttle: Captain Barron; Jordan Rattan; Ambassador Locke; and their guide, the black robed Cardinal Abidan.
They examined the Sepulchre's bay. It had architecture like a mausoleum. The bay was mostly empty, with walls of grey and jade. Decorative columns spanned the height of the room, almost like it was built from stone. Two monstrous statues stood by the far wall on either side of the exit, like giant angels carved from rock. Like vigilant guardians standing watch, the two statues looked down toward room, sword and shield in hand, stone wings tucked behind.
"I'm not sure we should be here," Jordan whispered to Erin.
"I know what you mean," Erin said.
Rolland started towards the door with the warrior-angel statues at its sides. "The captives are this way?"
"They are." Abidan nodded and walked along with Rolland. "Though they are not captives."
Jordan and Erin walked closely behind.
"You're telling me they're here willingly?" Rolland raised an eyebrow.
"Their fate is their own making," The Cardinal said. "Our role is only as intermediaries."
The group approached the large metal door, stopping to examine the massive statues. From this close, they could see fine detail in the colossal figure. It was constructed from separate pieces expertly joined together at each of the joints. The pieces looked designed to move and slide along one another.
"I think those are robots," Jordan said.
"They are." Abidan nodded. "Guardians of this place. We have many robotic attendants. Especially here." He hit a button on the wall.
The door slid open, revealing a stadium sized room that stretched far across the length of the starship Sepulchre. The space was tightly packed with glass tubes, not much smaller than a human torso, each one filled with an opaque green liquid. The tanks were stacked in rows and columns that stretched from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, reinforced with interlocking metal girders. Winged robots patrolled along the many alleys between the tanks.
"Some kind of warehouse?" Rolland stepped into the room. "So where are they?" Rolland asked Abidan.
"Go ahead -" Abidan motioned into the room "- see for yourself."
Rolland, Jordan, and Erin walked into the room, among the rows of tubes. The air hummed with the sound of the surrounding machines.
Rolland brought his head close to one of the tanks. The green liquid within sloshed gently. On closer examination, the substance was slightly transparent. It splashed over the edges of something contained within the tube. The contours of the immersed object came slowly coming into view. Rolland recognized it suddenly: a human head, eyes closed, face contorted in agony. Wires and tubes protruded from its nostrils and holes ithrough its skull.
Rolland stepped back and stared out over the many tubes, and saw it now for what it was: a field of human heads suspended in some chemical broth. "What have you done?"
"We have carried out the Lord's will," Abidan answered. "These people have all met the fate they have earned."
"You said they were alive -" Rolland waved aggresively toward the tanks "- survivors."
"Indeed." Abidan nodded. "They are."
"They're alive?" Rolland stared blankly.
"They are alive in the after world." Abidan nodded.
"After world?" Rolland repeated. He examined the nearest tube, and the human head suspended within. The flesh, though discoloured, was not rotting. Wires extending from the heads led out into a panel in the back of the machine. The heads twitched subtly.
"I think they're plugged into some kind of simulation," Jordan said. "A neural simulation."
"How many are there?" Rolland asked Abidan. His gaze ran down the length of the walkway, surrounded on each side by walls of tubes that stretched to the ceiling.
"The new design is remarkably efficient -" the Cardinal nodded towards the tubes "-eliminating storage of the bodies. We have recently surpassed one hundred thousand."
"One hundred thousand?" Rolland examined a nearby tube. It contained the head of a young man, his face visible through the surrounding liquid, contorted in pain; intermittent twitching of facial muscles gently jiggled the wires leading from his brain. "You've done this to a hundred thousand people?"