temple of flesh and skin

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: New Writers wanting Reviews

Working for a cult hadn't been part of Ravenne's life plans, but it beats being on the run. Until it doesn't ...

The curtain rose and the grand performance began.
People had crowded unto the forecourt of the temple to watch the performance of the initiants.

But Ravenne couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right.

There was of course the fact that the plot that was shown, recounting the history of the temple, was more fabrication than anything resembling the truth.
Like that first meeting of the founding couple - the site had been changed to a mountaintop in fireland by the high-priest only last year - and now it was portrayed here as some kind of holy truth.

But something a lot more pressing was troubling Ravenne.

There it was again. This time she had seen it clearly.

A shudder had run through the big temple columns standing at the sides of the stage.
First through the left one, then a few moments later another one in the column on the right.
Ravenne didn't like that at all.
As impressive as the temple was, with the two massive columns and the steps leading up high to the altar - it was also a daring experiment at the forefront of scientific progress.

The temple was no mere heap of stones, but a monument of living, shimmering bronze flesh and skin.

You could feel the raw energy of the up to two meter thick muscle strands that formed the temple.

The two main columns reminded of muscled arms stretching up in triumph, up to the ceiling of the
airship hangar that harboured the still growing temple.

Ravenne always felt intensely alive surrounded by the temple's vital strength.

That made her dislike that shudder even more.

The temple was her work - her master-piece.
Any sign of imperfection was a blow to her ego.

Even more worrying though was the question of safety.
Was that a serious instability in the columns ?

She would definitely have to take a closer look once the ceremony was over.

The plot of the play had reached the Iberian Desert by now, where "Prophet Mother" and "Prophet Father" were searching for wisdom in asceticism.

From her slightly elevated position in the back, Ravenne could look over the crowd of believers.
In the hundreds they followed the play attentively, despite this being a somewhat slower part.
They didn't seem to have noticed the shudder in the columns - that was good.
Among other factors, Ravenne's safety depended on the illusion of the temple as an immaculate product of the divine prophets.

Ravenne spotted one other pair of eyes that wasn't focused on the stage.
Those eyes tried to get Ravenne's attention and gave her a questioning look.
It was a young female acolyte who was standing a few meters ahead in the crowd.

Ravenne demonstratively turned her eyes away and towards the stage.
The last thing she needed right now was drawing attention to herself.
Behind the acolyte's eyes Ravenne had seen a flicker of lively inquisitiveness - not really something that was valued here. She'd be better of trying to keep a low profile as well.

Did that acolyte perhaps suspect something about Ravenne's true role here ? The one besides the official one as a simple maintenance personnel?
Ravenne gave her a quick control glance. The hint from before seemed to have been received at least - the acolyte had turned her attention back to the stage.

The play showed "Prophet Mother" and "Prophet Father" receiving the vision that sent them on the fateful journey to Jurica.

Fate loomed in the here and now as well ... Ravenne noticed another shudder running through the columns.
There was something seriously wrong there.
How serious ? The columns shouldn't collapse just so, ... but if they did ?

After Ravenne had made sure that no one was paying her any special attention, she withdrew further to the back.
She had to look after the columns.
To leave the ceremonial play was frowned upon of course, but with essential maintenance personnel it was tolerated out of necessity.
Fortunately she always stayed on the fringes anyway.
Ravenne actually preferred not to come at all, but until at least some of the worldwide indictments against her had lapsed, she had to hide out here and her safety depended on this "community".
That made it recommendable to stay up to date on things to some degree - to see who in this snake pit was casting distrustful glances on whom and the like.

She got to feel those distrustful glances on herself right away, as she passed a temple guard.
Today an unusually high number of guards were on duty - Many of them were in full montage with helmets even.
That it was the day of the big initiation ceremony played some role obviously.
After the play, the initiants would be allowed to pass the first revelation phase in the temple.
But even for such an important day, the number of guards was high.

The high-priest must be expecting some kind of disturbance again - by ex-members or splinter groups or the like.

The guards knew Ravenne was untouchable at least - so she was spared the otherwise common harassment.

In a wide arch she passed the crowds and headed towards the base of the column to the right of the stage, where
the muscle strands rose upwards from the central temple tissue.

On the way there she already noticed that the columns had been loaded with more decoration than she had advised in her handbook for the high priest - once again.
But she had planned a high tolerance into those numbers from the start.
So that alone couldn't explain the shudders  - not without further factors.

As she arrived at the column she took cover behind it.
She checked the tissue - it was worse than she had expected.
The tissue was discoloured and wet in parts, parts had sunken in - whole areas seemed about to die off.
How could that have happened ?  How far had it spread ?

Ravenne waited a few moments.

Soon a suitable passage in the play would come: Everyone, including the audience, would raise their hands and eyes to the sky to receive the divine rays or something like that.
It was an especially ludicrous part of the history of the cult.
The founders - a pair of third class wannabe prophets - had travelled to the heart of the Jurica Peak disaster area to use the power of prayer to free it of radiation.
What had to come, came: along with their entourage, the two of them died a gruesome death from radiation sickness.

Ravenne tried to get eye contact with the high priest, who was sitting elevated in the middle of the crowd.
But Arik's attention was focused on the stage.
Hadn't he noticed anything still ?

Then it was time - all eyes were up.

Ravenne quickly checked the other sides of the column and took samples.
The decay was broadly visible.
That was highly dangerous.

What if the columns would crease over due to tissue damage and collapse on the kids in the first row - she didn't even want to think of it.

Worse yet:
Great pains had been taken to create the impression that the columns where holding up the ceiling like strong arms, and as if they were ready to cast aside the hangar roof at any moment to give the temple it's deserved place in the sunlight.
That looked great, but in reality the arms were much weaker.

They weren't holding up the ceiling, the ceiling was holding the columns in place.
They were attached to the roof with wire cables.

So a collapse of the columns could take down the whole roof as well.

Ravenne had withdrawn to the back of the column again.
She took some regenerating spray plaster from her emergency equipment and applied it to the worst hit area.
But that was an empty gesture.
It wouldn't help.

What would help ? An evacuation ? Was there enough time for that ?
And she would have to come up with a pretext or the believers wouldn't accept it.

Then it happened again - not as a slight shudder anymore, but in the form of a rocking that ran through the columns.
The roof was creaking.

A fright ran through the crowd.
But only for a moment.
In the play the bloody struggle over the succession of the dying prophets had just broken out and people thought the creaking was part of the special effects.

There was one option left for Ravenne before a collapse would ruin that illusion.

She programmed the respective sequence on her wristband and kneeled down.
At the bottom of the columns was the supply vein for both columns.
She injected a messenger agent via the needle in her self-constructed biotech thimble.

Would it work despite the dying tissue ?
The messenger agent was actually only meant for earthquakes or once in a century storms.
The cell tissue along the supply-lines, the veins of the arms, would be taken over and plastinated.
This would result in a stiff skeleton forming inside the columns - giving them the needed stability.

The effort to undo that later - to dissolve the plastinated tissue and wash it out - to keep all the believers away on a pretext - to keep the external workers separated and in the dark - ...
Ravenne didn't even want to think about all that.
It had to be.
And all that only applied if it actually worked anyway.

If it didn't: the consequences were hard to predict and it would be best to flee right away.

But ... it did work.

Ravenne could see the results of the agent and how the effect spread.
The tissue got stiffer and the veins got darker.

She retreated from the column to get a better view of the higher areas and the column on the other side.

It seemed to work there as well.

She took a deep breath of relief.
And another deeper one.

Next she really had to head into the temple to her devices, to figure out what was going on.

Ravenne looked toward the high priest again.
A few seconds later she managed to establish eye contact.
He tipped his head askingly and looked pensive.
Seems he had noticed by now that something wasn't right.

Ravenne moved her hand across her forehead as if removing sweat.
That should be easy enough to understand as a signal that the danger had been averted for now.
And if not: it was his own fault for being so paranoid as to jam all communications in the area.
So for a proper report he had to wait until she had returned to her terminal.

But he answered with a deep nod - as far as she could tell at the distance.
Then he turned back to the stage.

He was completely dependent on her in terms of temple biology.
That gave her a lot of manoeuvring space.
It was a mutual dependence admittedly.
Beyond this secluded community it would have been a lot harder to stay under the radar - if not impossible.
She felt rather safe here - especially in the temple itself.

The actors on the stage now showed Arik's rise to high priest.
How he alone among the wannabe successors had recognised that the radiation death of
the prophets could be also seen and sold as a transformation - and that it was his big chance.

He had been the shrewd genius with the idea to turn the cancer growths of the dying prophets into all this here.
He had something to offer to the believers besides dead relics, with which his adversaries among the followers tried to take over the cult.
He had kept the cells alive and pulled of selling the clumps of cancer-ridden flesh as so much more:
As the future messiah, eternal life and whatever else people wanted to hear.
Ravenne couldn't help but muster some respect for that.

His perhaps biggest stroke of genius though had been hiring her - to turn those fantastical promises into something tangible.
Today was the anniversary of that incident - more or less the temple's birthday.
Had it really been 7 years already - it was better not to think about that.

Ravenne hadn't been able to pull of eternal life or the like quite yet, but
her achievements were pretty impressive nonetheless.
It was her scientific breakthroughs alone that had made it possible to turn the cancer cells of the prophets into this gigantic temple.
Ravenne herself and her formidable accomplishments went unmentioned during the initiation play of course.
For the believers that had all been solely the work of the godlike prophets.

And this work had to be immaculate.

Fortunately the believers had a pronounced ability to see primarily that which emphasised that perfection.
But whether they would manage to overlook widespread dead tissue was questionable.

Ravenne kept an eye on the columns for another minute, but the situation seemed to be under control now.

That left the underlying cause - She had to get to the bottom of it to protect her masterpiece.

Ravenne went to the side of the temple, out of the way of the stage and the crowds.

Through her wristband she sent the signal to open the hidden door there.
The skin of the temple walls slid to the side silently and Ravenne entered the narrow hallway into the temple.

Her soft shoes sank lightly into the bouncy leathery floor and behind her the skin door closed.

A stripe of weakly glowing luminescent tissue on the ceiling showed the way.

After a few meters and a few stairs upwards over muscle strands, Ravenne sent another more elaborate signal.
Another hidden door opened - a more sturdy one with layers of cartilage and mother of pearl.

She entered her private room.
She had a passable flat on the grounds of course, but in here nobody disturbed her and she was in the midst of things nonetheless.

"Beautiful morning Ravenne" said a little stuffed animal on her desk.
She patted the little teddy on the head - it was a present from her niece and nephew and her only company in here.
It was nice of them to reciprocate her presents, despite all that had happened and that they had never had much of a chance to get to know each other.

Ravenne took place at her maintenance terminal.
Many functions couldn't be achieved via the tissue alone.
For those she had laid cables and electronics for supervision and control.
The system wasn't all that fancy - electronics wasn't Ravenne's speciality - but it worked OK.

At a quick glance the sensor values didn't help her much - they looked OK.
Except the values for the columns of course but that was to be expected after the plastination.
She kicked off a thorough diagnostic run.

That would take a while - a few minutes of mental distance would help her see things clearer as well.

On the wall was her most recent accomplishment.
Ravenne took a sip of sweet milk from the teat.
She had gotten the taste down quite well now - it was how you could imagine divine mother's milk to taste.
The process of drinking still felt kind of weird nonetheless.
Coming up with frivolous stuff like that hadn't really been part of her life plans, but by now she had gotten to like it somehow.
Arik would find some use for this nectar of gods for sure.
The faithful loved those 'out there' developments of their prophets.

From time to time Ravenne risked publishing a discovery or two  - so some real world good came of her work as well.

Ravenne laid down on the lounger in the corner.
It was quite comfortable there on the warm soft skin.
Her job wasn't that bad altogether - nobody bothered her much.
Through her wristband, Ravenne activated a slight raising up and down of the skin that would adapt to her breathing and make for a soft drifting off to sleep.
If the diagnostic run would find anything the rocking would grow stronger and would wake her up.
Or in a quarter of an hour in any case - she didn't want to risk any longer.
But it didn't come to that - something wasn't right again.

She had been working on this temple for years now and had developed a good intuition for the usual noises and movements of the organism.
The shiver that just ran through the muscles of the temple wasn't one of those.
She held still and concentrated - yes - something was off again.
It was different though than before, it came from within the temple.

Ravenne jumped off the lounger and hurried to her maintenance console.
This time the abnormal values jumped right out and it wasn't hard to narrow in on the source of the irregularities.

It was the 'Hall of Death' - a part of the initiation path.
Ravenne activated the microphones. they were included with the sensor units she used and they proved useful often - e.g. to stay in the loop about the intrigue and power plays in the cult.

She could hear whispering voices - hard to understand.

"modify"
"K17a" "q18i"
"harder"
"mother wills it"

Ravenne shook her head. It couldn't be.
Whoever that was - they tried to manipulate temple systems.
Who would dare such a thing ?

And those designators: those were her own ones - internal ones.
No one else should know them.
Her breath accelerated. This was getting serious.
She had to do something.

Via the maintenance console she sent Arik a generic warning.

He wouldn't see it right away, but she had to get an idea of what was going on by herself first.
Her defences had been bypassed. Secrets had been stolen.

They've known each other for a long time now, but if Arik got wind of that, he would undoubtedly try to capitalise on this to alter the balance of power to his advantage.
But she wouldn't let it get that far.

Ravenne left her private room in the direction of the 'Hall of Death'.

First she hurried along the hallways, but then she slowed her steps.
She thought back to the voices and the sensor values.

They were trying to make the initiation harder - that was the most plausible explanation.
She had gotten wind of some displeasure there: that too many passed, that too few were culled -
Too little blood, tears and failure.
And the last death had been quite some time ago.

That was all nonsense of course.

Nosy snitches from the press were sorted out now and then, but not anyone else.
The long fall, the electric shocks, the gas ... nothing of that killed.
The cullings and deaths that occurred were all staged.
Really unusable material was cleared out much earlier and certainly not allowed into the temple.

But something didn't add up.
Ravenne checked the transponders of the sensors around her and compared the data with the values from her maintenance terminal.

It wasn't the data that was off - it was the designators - they were all wrong.
Someone had manipulated her electronic systems - her Achilles's heel.
Things got more dangerous by the minute.

Which data could she still trust ?
The sensor data that was leading her towards the Hall of Death ?
Certainly not that.

She headed for the next secret passage.
Instead of opening the door by electronic means, she massaged the emergency mechanism above the door.
That was slower but safer under these circumstances.
Even without the electronic systems, this was still her domain.

If the Hall of Death had been meant as a distraction or a trap, then the Oracle room had to be the real crime scene - the rooms shared a hormone system linkup.
The supply-lines for the columns were hooked up to that junction as well.
An intrusion there could explain the dying column tissue.

The corresponding maintenance exit wasn't far off.
Before opening the secret door, she sent a chemical messenger via her thimble to activate the defence protocol of the room.
She also pulled out her spring knife. She never went anywhere here without it - it was her temple, but at the same time it was also a mountain of experimental tissue that didn't react quite like intended from time to time, so it was advisable to have some safeguards.

She opened the door.
Two unconscious bodies laid on the floor.

Adepts - Two males - Not any she really knew, but she had seen the faces.
Their skin had already turned blue. too blue.
There was nothing she could do for them anymore.
Not that she would have tried. They had maltreated Mother quite badly and accessed the hormone system by force.

In any case, the defence protocol had already been activated minutes before she had done so herself.
Someone else was on the loose here  - someone who was willing to kill.
She had seen her share of bodies - that didn't make it any easier.

Ravenne took a sample from the hormone junction and performed a quick analysis.
So much could be said right away: the hormone code didn't have anything to do with the initiation system or the Hall of Death.
Nutrient flow had been diverted.
Some of the already distributed nutrition had even been sucked out to be redelivered to the Grow-Chamber.
Someone tried to build something - something that needed a lot of resources.

She would have to head to there to prevent that.
But before that it would probably be wise to get reinforcements.

The message she had sent from her private quarters might not have gotten through or might only get read who knows when.

Given the opportunity, Arik wouldn't hesitate to renegotiate the terms of her stay here or even get rid of her altogether - after getting a hold of her knowledge.
But at least he was a known evil.

On the other hand she still had no idea who was really behind the attack.
There were plenty of plausible answers. She didn't like any of them.

Then she noticed something - Perhaps she wouldn't have to get help after all.
Someone was already coming. Ravenne could feel the slight rocking - caused by a sneaking motion over the bouncy leathery floor of the temple.

As she paid closer attention to it: there was some awkwardness to the movement - someone who wasn't used to the skin floor of the temple.
That wasn't a good sign. If it was someone from the outside, then it was certainly an enemy.

An enemy of the temple ? Defectors ? The organised crime goons that Arik wouldn't give a stake?
Or personal enemies of herself maybe? Her prior employer was vengeful and nosy enough.

The movement was coming from the maintenance hallway in any case.

Only the way ahead stood open for Ravenne.
But what if the enemy had access to the sensors ?
She wouldn't have much chance to escape then.

There was a junction point for the system nearby.
She wouldn't have the time to dig down to it, but the electronics were only encased in basic plastic.
She used her thimble to inject a command for the surrounding muscles to contract with full force - that should take care of the sensors.

She could feel the movement getting closer.
She activated the defence protocol for the hallway.
The movement stopped - but only for a second.

The substance was based on her immune system - only she and temple tissue should be resistant.
Gas masks ?
High time to leave in any case.
Ravenne followed the initiation path.

After the second turn she paused for a moment.

Someone was still following her - without much hurry at least.
But there was slight movement from her right as well -

It seemed as if they were trying to trap her.

Ravenne took the path to Ecstasy-Room M and the hidden maintenance tunnel there.
She pulled up the face mask of her overall to avoid the pheromone smell.

Having arrived in the room she made her way to the tunnel entrance.
The room was quite a sight - with all the fleshy torsi and phalli wiggling around, her pursuers would need some time to find the entrance.

Even for herself who had designed all this it wasn't easy to stay concentrated - Each contact with the tissue here called forth an electrifying tingle.

Ravenne would have liked to try out the whole initiation mystery for herself - without knowing what awaited her.
She had put so much work into this and still she'd never get to know what the whole experience really felt like.
It was really popular in any case and seemed to play a large role in the cult's allure.

She had a somewhat more modest version of the ecstasy setup in her private quarters at least - for testing purposes.
It was better than the range of possible mates in here. Cult-followers weren't exactly her type.

The secret door opened.
To make things harder for those behind her, she activated the cleaning mechanism of the Ecstasy-Room.
As was fitting for the type of room it was, the treatment was quite thorough - it would be hard work to go against that water surge.

Having squeezed into the tunnel, Ravenne drew her knife and started cutting into the floor at a suitable spot
to create an opening to the level below.

It was difficult for her to hurt her masterpiece so directly, but sometimes you needed a shortcut.

She climbed down and petted the wall comfortingly .

Did she gain some ground ? It was hard to say.
And where should she turn to now ?

She did have a panic capsule - but that would equal capitulation.

That's when another option opened up.

The cleaning treatment above made it somewhat difficult to make out movement patterns, but there ...
right next to her: those were steps - from someone used to the temple floor.

"Bastards" she head a voice call out - right next to her hallway.

It was a familiar voice - Massimo or so ... from the temple guard.
He held open the door for her from time to time at least.

Ravenne cut an opening into the thin flesh between them and stepped through halfway.

And indeed: Massimo - with his dart-pistol drawn and aiming down the hallway.
He didn't look good.
Of his helmet only the radio inset was left and blood was dripping down from that.
His trousers were torn.

He looked to her and relaxed for a moment as he recognised her, but then he spun the gun around in her direction.

Was someone behind her ?

Nobody.

She jumped to the side.
"Traitor" he screamed and shot at her.

Pain ran through her shoulder as a dart hit her.

Why traitor ?

Defence protocol? nothing again.
Someone must have deactivated it.

She tried to run - just down the hallway towards her private room.
He likely wouldn't miss another shot.
But if he did - she could make it.

There was the hidden door ahead - he wouldn't be able to follow her there that easily.
She sent the signal to open.
And the door opened.

And someone stepped out!
How could that be?

While slowing down, Ravenne fell backwards to the ground.
Armed men - they fired - a scream.

Three people where standing above her.

She retreated.

"Ravenne Andryani" said the man in the middle "pleasure to see you"
The voice was friendly on the surface, but not without sharpness.

"You remember?"

Ravenne retreated further - to get a better look among other things.
To catch her breath.

The guns were aimed at her now.

She didn't recognise him.

The man grinned then.
His skin seemed to get lighter, his chin wider.
Or was that just recognition setting in?
It did set in: 'Harkin' was the name.
His name had come up just before in the temple history play - he had been the prime bogeyman there - Arik's biggest rival to take over the cult all those years ago - and during all those years to some degree.

The power struggles hadn't interested her.
She had kept out of the hunt for him as well - She hadn't provided Arik with search enzymes and not with combat substances either.

But whether Harkin knew that or whether he even cared ...

She looked behind her.

Massimo was on the floor - he had been hit.
He still tried to crawl away though - same as her.

His pistol was there on the ground
One of Harkin's goons passed her and picked up the gun.
So much for that.

Ravenne pulled herself to the wall and leaned back.

She checked the wound on her shoulder - not that serious.

"What can I do for you?" she asked

"Oh, I already have what I need " said Harkin

Ravenne didn't answer.

What could it be that he had achieved ?

"I've freed the heritage of Mother and Father" he said.

Meaningless cult gibberish.

He raised his hand.
The skin began to change colour, began to glow and electric discharge jumped from finger to finger.

With disbelief she stared at the jumping sparks.
Her face betrayed how impressed she was before she managed to suppress it.
She could make temple tissue do this things.
But combining it with her own tissue, extending the capabilities of her own body -
she hadn't even gotten close to that.

All the new possibilities ...

"Your work here was really interesting " he said " but as you can see .. I'm already ahead quite a bit now"

Now, now ... Ahead? He still had to abuse her temple to grow the tissue.

"You'd still be a most welcome addition to our community ..."

A new job - in another madhouse ?
Only without the various insurance measures she had here.

"If it helps with your decision, " said Harkin "Arik already thinks you've switched sides - we've made sure of that"

Ravenne had to grin.
He had orchestrated that quite well.
What was that war all about anyway ?
Some sophistry Ravenne had long forgotten about - in the end it had all just been about who had the longest.

Hopefully her temple tissue didn't have to help Harkin get an advantage there.

She had to grin again and got up.
The job offer wasn't without allure. Working together with someone knowledgeable again would be a nice change.

She dropped her knife.

On the other hand there were the two dead adepts that he had obviously just used as pawns and Massimo whimpering in the background ...

She reached for her wristband as if she was about to drop it too.
She pressed it tightly.
A hand reached for it and took it away, the thimble too.

Ravenne took a few steps towards Massimo who was still dragging himself along.
By now he was only advancing centimetre for centimetre and his breath was rattling.
They had never been quite that cruel here.
He didn't have far to reach the door - but what was the point?

He was crawling past the funeral basin now - a deep chasm with acid on the bottom which fed the Grow-Chamber next door.
Ravenne nudged him softly in that direction - it would be a more dignified end.
The gesture commanded a grin from Harkin.
Only a few days ago two parents with child were lowered down there after an accident - To be dissolved and become part of the temple.
Now they were a part of Harkin's body most likely - they wouldn't have liked that.

"So?" asked Harkin.

Her wristband, that he still held, gave off a fizzle.
That was the sign - Too late for the abort code.
"I'll think about it" said Ravenne and jumped down the funeral chasm.
In the jump she grabbed Massimo's belt and pulled him down with her.
It wasn't a good plan, but better than the alternatives.

Above her, the panic mode of the wristband triggered immediate cell suicide for the whole area.
Billions of cell walls burst and a mass of sticky slime fell down on Harkin and his goons.

In a few seconds the slime would bury Ravenne as well, but before that she had other problems.

She was trapped in a bath of acid.
Ravenne jumped unto Massimo and pushed herself up on top of him.
His scream died as he went under, while hers only started.
Guards carried a knife - where was his ?
Not there. Gone. Nothing left of her plan.
The pain was unbearable.
Her torso was above the acid but that wouldn't last long.
No way out in sight.
For one last time Ravenne opened her eyes.
In front of them Massimo's face dissolved.
And the skin was peeling of her fingers.
There: His bared chin bone.
A badly healed fracture - artificial teeth.

Ravenne closed her burning eyelids and struck with full force.
Something gave way.

With her last strength and will, she broke off that side of his chin and slammed it's teeth into the side walls of the basin - on the top where the skin was weakest.

The skin tore and she dropped to the side.
She crawled away from the acid that was still burning away her body.

A second to catch her breath.
But there was no time.

Ahead of her was the cell slime, that had broken through from above.
And Harkin - just freeing himself.
How was that possible ?

His henchmen were only twitching slightly in the slime.

He was about to turn around.
Ravenne didn't have anything to show.
It was too late for a capitulation most likely.  She wouldn't show any weakness now.

Somehow she pulled herself up, presenting the jaw bone, as if it was a real weapon, as if she was ready to jump.

It worked.
Harkin saw her - pulled back.
Fright in his eyes - Fright from seeing her, her horribly disfigured face.

There - in front of her in the slime: a pistol.
Modern and probably with biometric safety features, but a chance.

Ravenne made a step forward - and collapsed in pain.
Clothes, skin, flesh it all fell in strips from her body.

Harkin - above her - grinning with his electric fingers.

But then - he screamed - shock in his eyes.
The cell-death effect - he had missed that.
His new face was temple tissue and it worked on that as well.

Arms, torso: it all dissolved in slime and broke down above Ravenne.

She freed herself from Harkin's remains with some difficulty.

She was still alive - just so.
And she had killed - this time for real.

She pulled herself up again.

Pulling her right leg behind her she dragged herself through the catacombs of the temple where the undissolved remains of the believers found their last rest, cast into their wristbands.

She envied them.
Flesh, heels, bones - it all lay open and was dripping away.

Her thoughts wandered back to that pistols and the goons.
Those reminded her of the style of her former employer more so than a cult splinter group.
An unholy alliance?
It didn't matter anymore.

She dragged herself past two temple guards.
Dead - killed by Harkin most likely.
Good for her.

She was back to crawling then.
Her private room - she had to reach it - without running across anyone.
It wasn't so much rescue she desired, but relief.

She made it - made it inside.

"Wonderful evening Ravenne" said her Teddy as cheerful as ever.

On the wall was the only thing that still had meaning: the opioid tit.
Her lips found it - if you could still call them lips anyway.
Better.
Not wonderful, but much much better.

Spray on plaster for temple repairs - it should help a bit in her case as well.

Ravenne broke down and then destroyed the access electronics and the fallback muscles.
Before the garbage hatch had fully closed, she dumped the teddy in there.
Harkin must have intercepted it and bugged it - that was the only explanation for all the security breaches.

For a while she would be safe her now.
Arik had certainly fled for the time being and what was left of the temple guard wouldn't find her right away.
And even if - the room was embedded into the load-bearing structure of the temple - the layers of cartilage and mother of pearl would hold a while - some steel was in the mix as well.

And she didn't have much time left anyway.
Her body was damaged beyond repair.

It seemed like a good moment for some music.
She activated the respective temple mode.
It worked.
The temple started to glow and hum and drum.
He called the congregation to dance.
The sound was a bit uneven with all the harm she had done to the temple -
In exchange it was louder than ever.
It didn't take long and the believers had followed her unscheduled call.
There must have been some unease that the initiation hadn't proceeded as planned.

The singing of hundreds echoed through the hangar.

They sang about Prophet Mother and Prophet Father that were leading them to light - or something like that.

Ravenne had never listened that carefully and now her ears weren't what they used to be.

Ravenne called up what Harkin had ordered the Grow-Chamber to create.
It was hard to focus and read while on drugs and with the damage to her eyes,
but scientific curiosity had guided her life, it would stay with her til the end.

Traces of the building blocks had remained. They offered some interesting insights.

Some possibilities opened up ...

A sort of plan grew and Ravenne got to work to make it happen.
She started a simulation of the needed sequences on her bio-informatics interface.

The believers danced on for hours and hours.
Ever further the temple drums whipped them on.
Ever further the temple floor raised and lowered itself in the rhythm while Ravenne's work grew slowly.

At last it was done.
What Harkin had started, she had perfected.

Ravenne stopped the drumming and headed off.
The temple darkened.

Only at the altar above a light shone.

The altar split apart and in it's middle a shimmering piece of something rose.
A kind of capsule or rather a giant seashell?

It opened.
And a human figure rose from it.

A murmur passed over the exhausted crowd.
More than a human - a messiah.
Androgynous and without sex - a figure like Father and Mother united.

Silence then.
Somewhere in the crowd Ravenne thought she could she the sceptical questioning eyes of a young acolyte.

Ravenne moved forward.

A stumble from newly grown feet - not very messiah-like - but that perhaps made her relatable.

Exaltation surged over the believers.

They had accepted her.
Ravenne was reborn - into a new skin and a new life as their leader.

Some time later she would tell them that it was all a big lie - would open the eyes of the kneeling believers to the true wonders behind the deceit of it all.
Or maybe she wouldn't.


THE END


Submitted: March 11, 2021

© Copyright 2022 r.f. krammer. All rights reserved.

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