"This is Captain Rolland of the Federation Starship Excalibur. By the time you hear this message, I will be on board the Catechumen vessel Testament." Rolland leaned back into the pilot's chair of the shuttle. He took a breath and surveyed the shuttle cockpit. He was used to riding in the passenger compartment. It had been ten years since he had pilotted a shuttle himself. Nevertheless, Rolland had relieved his regular pilot Kristina Alita of duty. He was making this trip alone.
Rolland felt the back of his head, running fingertips over the unfamiliar mark from his recent neurosurgery. Cutter had patched it with med-salve, which left a small fleshy lump over the hole through his skull. Somewhere in his brain were the two neurochips Cutter had installed, and with them the key to salvation for the Catchumen's prisoners.
"To Federation command: I've decided to take this action entirely on my own. None of my crew were involved or informed of my intentions." Through the viewscreen Rolland could see the starship Testament coming into view, though still just a speck in the distance. He tapped the pilotting console and confirmed his trajectory, straight towards the Testament's shuttle bay. "I know that my actions today are in direct violation of my orders. But I am acting according to my conscience and better judgment. I can only hope that all of you at home will judge me by the same standard."
Rolland paused. For a moment, he considered turning back.
"To my crew: I'm sorry we didn't get to spend more time serving together. However short, though, it's been an honour serving with you all, and a pleasure, and I know you've all got promising careers ahead of you." The starship Testament expanded in the viewscreen ahead, an ornate silver cross centered amidst the sparkling starscape. A halo of reactor plasma gently illuminated the approaching vessel. A sparkling sheen across the sterling hull highlighted intricate surface details. Rolland couldn't help but feel in awe at the beauty and magnifence of the Catechumen ship, even knowing the suffering they had caused.
"I wish you all the best," Rolland said. "I'm just trying to do the right thing."
Rolland clasped his hands to his face, beginning now to feel the full weight of his decision crushing down on him. Breath quickening and heart rate accelerating, he rubbed his face and then opened his eyes, half expecting to see something different.The Testament now occupied a wide stretch of the viewscreen and continued to expand ahead. Maybe I should just follow my orders. The open bay door was now visible. I haven't sent the message yet. I can still turn back. The Testament grew closer and Rolland's self-doubt turned to panic.
Are you doubting yourself? The voice inside his head was nothis own. Rolland felt a presence with him.
Zoojin? Rolland thought to the disembodied voice.
Yes. Zoojin's voice returned to him. I am here with you in spirit.
You're speaking from the Muramasa?
Yes, Zoojin confirmed telepathically. My mind can travel with yours, so long as you allow it.
You're here to help me?
I will offer what help I can, but that is not why I have come, Zoojin answered. To the contrary, I am here to ask for your assistance.
You picked a heck of a time, Rolland thought. This is a one way trip, you know. So how exactly do you want me to help you?
It is my royal duty to free those suffering under the Catechumen, Zoojin explained, but I was unable to penetrate their prison machine. My training did not prepare me for such a powerful experience. The psychic forces within that machine are beyond anything that I could ever have envisioned. I can't enter by my own strength. But you may succeed where I have failed. And with your help, I may enter the prison as well.
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Angels and WormholesScience Fiction
A star-faring religious cult has created an army of robotic zealots designed to follow holy scripture. As the robotic menace spreads across the galaxy, it takes prisoners to be 'excommunicated': hooked into a neural simulation of eternal torment. Ca...