Joined: 12 Jul 2006
|Posted: Thu Jul 27, 2006 8:26 am Post subject: VS #7-"The Derelict" (Chapter 5)
Sheba only listened to the tape containing Delambre's conversation with that charming, but hideously familiar voice for another half-centon before she shut it off. As far as she was concerned, she didn't need to hear anything any longer. Her curiosity had been more than satisfied, and now the sooner she resumed her search for Apollo and a way out, the better.
As she got to her feet, she could feel the sting in her leg suddenly act up again, and she winced from the pain. She rubbed it vigorously to try and ease it, but it was clear that it only offered temporary relief. What she needed was a good examination in the Galactica Life Station as soon as possible.
She started toward the compartment door that led back to the passageway she had come from, and then became aware of something she hadn't noticed before. A half open door, that looked as if it led to a storage room. Curious, she approached it and reached out to press the button that would open it the rest of the way.
But before she could press it, the door slid back by itself.....revealing the sight of a skeleton with a tattered Colonial maintenance uniform still attached to the body standing in front of her.
Sheba let out a startled gasp as she backed away from this terrible unexpected sight. And then...she felt her inner sense of fear increase when she saw the jaw of the skeleton suddenly move.....and heard a horrific sounding voice that was both high and low pitched speak.
"Are you now afraid?"
She turned around and dashed toward the compartment door that led back to the passageway, opened it and began to sprint down the corridor as fast as she could go.
"A hundred of them?" Apollo was trying to comprehend the horrific magnitude of what Delambre had said.
"Give or take a few," the Callisto executive officer grunted as he motioned Apollo to follow him out of the room they'd been conversing in. "It's....a planned location. The central hub is the only access point that can lead back to the landing bay. And no one I've come across before can survive that unholy chamber without losing their nerve and begging for a way out, which only comes by surrendering the soul to the one in charge."
The captain shook his head, trying to come to terms with the magnitude of how evil and wretched this place was. And then he trembled as he thought back to how the fate of the Callisto could just as easily have been the fate of the Galactica.
"Are you prepared to face them, Captain?"
"I have no choice," Apollo said with quiet determination. "Not just for myself, but for....Sheba."
"Your friend," Delambre then squinted slightly as if he was trying to look deeper into Apollo's expression, "She's more than a friend to you, isn't she?"
The Galactica warrior nodded, "I love her. And when we get out of this, I plan on asking her to marry me."
"Keep those feelings for her in proper balance, Captain," Delambre cautioned as he opened the compartment door and motioned him to step out in the corridor. "They may prove to be helpful in saving her......but could easily be used against both you and her."
Apollo found himself grimly nodding as he followed him out.
Sheba didn't know how long she'd ran down the passageway when she abruptly came to a stop and realized in horror that in her panic, she'd completely lost track of her measured calculations as to how far she needed to go before she had any chance of finding the landing bay deck above her. Running and stumbling in the dark redness of the corridor meant there was no way of getting her bearings back short of going back to the compartment she'd come out of. Which was something she had no intention of doing. The sight of that decayed skeleton speaking was even more terrifying a sight than the sight of the demons in their true form.
She could feel her heart pounding and could hear the sound of her breath exhaling heavily. She had clearly lost some of her inner resolve, and she knew she had to get it back before she dared to continue her search for a way out.
"Calm," she whispered aloud between exhales, "Stay calm. Fear is their weapon. My fear serves them. I can not.....fear,"
She didn't know how long it was before she felt enough of her composure come back to let her resume walking down the corridor at a normal pace. Her mind was trying to chase every feeling of fear away and formulate a plan of action.
The next access ladder I see, I'm going up. I may not know if I'm directly under the landing bay, but going up means going in the right direction.
Sheba walked another twenty paces, her head alternating from left to right to see if an access ladder would come into view. Finally, on her left, she saw what looked like one. Similar to the one she had fallen down in what seemed an eternity ago to her. Without giving it a micron's thought, she stepped into the shaft, placed her hands on the rungs and began to climb up.
One level, she thought as she saw the lighter area indicating another access hatch behind her. Two levels.......
Abruptly, she became aware of a hideous screaming noise as she passed a tunnel that moved vertically above the second level she'd just passed. She felt her skin crawl and her hands tremble on the rungs, but she resisted the temptation to look to her right or left to see what the source of that noise was. She continued to climb up.
When she became aware of an access hatch to the third level above where she'd started, she felt that now was the time to start investigating for the way out. She climbed out and on instinct detached her laser pistol as she carefully looked to her right and then her left.
Sheba put her pistol back in the holster and began to move forward down the passageway. Around her, she noticed signage that she was certain was the Delphian language, indicating that some unfortunate probe from Gomorrah had fallen victim to the evil that lurked within this derelict.
Maybe that's why they gave up spaceflight and confined themselves to their own system, she thought idly as she felt the sting in her leg increase. She stopped to rub it again, as she found it hobbling her ability to move forward at a normal pace.
Damn it, Sheba thought as she felt a chill go through her, I can't stop. I've got to keep moving!
She was still hunched over rubbing her leg, when she became aware of a dark shadow falling across her field of vision. Followed by a second, and then a third.
Slowly, Sheba lifted her head and saw three figures just ten paces away. Two of those slouched red-color demons, and another human skeleton, but this one clothed in a costume or uniform that struck no recognition in her.
"You are afraid!" they all spoke in a horrible unison, "But you will only fear more and soon have no choice!"
Sheba slowly got to her feet, feeling the sweat running down her forehead and the thumping of her rapidly beating heart. She aimed her laser pistol at one of the demonic creatures and fired. For a brief flash, she saw a human figure wearing a uniform just like the skeleton next to it. A rectangular emblem was prominent on the shoulder.
And then, giving them no other thought, she suddenly ran toward them and charged through the opening between them, going down the passageway as fast as she could go. She was now oblivious to the pain in her leg, and felt only an increasing fear that she wasn't going to have time to find a way out, let alone find Apollo.
The brown haired warrior looked back over her shoulder to see if any of the three she'd charged past were giving pursuit. She saw no sign of them. She turned around and then stopped in horror when she saw another figure standing before her. And this time, the terror was at its greatest since this was a figure that while not repulsive in appearance, was one she was well familiar with, and which she hoped she'd never have to face again.
"Hello, my princess," he smiled at her and spoke in that smooth, familiar voice.
Sheba felt on the verge of screaming when suddenly, as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
"No," she struggled to keep her emotions calm, "It doesn't matter if it's him. Just stay....*calm*! He *wants* me to be afraid!"
She became aware of a growing intensity of light coming from around the corner in front of her. She resumed her trek forward, feeling the sting in her leg again and as she rounded it, she suddenly stepped into a passageway where the lighting was perfectly normal.
And in front of her, in the clear print of present day Colonial writing, were the bold words. CENTRAL HUB.
Central hub? Sheba thought. Isn't that where Apollo was?
She no longer cared whether or not the placement of that sign and the lighting was a trap from an old enemy. She only felt a determination to go through that central hub, no matter what.
"This way," Delambre pointed to an access hatch. "That leads to the Central Hub."
"How is it different from the one I was in before?" Apollo asked, feeling an edge of skepticism return.
"You were in the central hub of an old Cylon baseship, Captain. The Central Hub I'm talking about is the one that feeds out into all areas of this ship. So massive it makes the one you were in seem insignificant. That's why it's big enough to have so many of them ready to strike at once."
Apollo chided himself for doubting the Callisto warrior. "I get the picture. And I know it can't be a pretty one."
"This is where the newcomers always crack," Delambre stepped inside, "The mind is too overcome by terror, and if they've already been hit by acid, they're a ripe target the instant they see what's in store for them in the Hub. I've seen it so many times these last five hundred yahrens."
"But if a Cylon baseship manned by robots was captured by them, what happened to the centurions?"
"All reconstituted for spare parts and amalgamated into the ship for other purposes, of course," Delambre sighed as he kept himself hunched to move through the access tunnel. "Living beings, no matter where they come from, have their own fate as you've found out."
Apollo realized it wasn't an appropriate time to ask, but the methodical part of his mind knew he had to ask these questions, or else he'd be haunted by them for a long time to come. "Colonel, before we go further, I have to ask you about those who preceded me here. Were there any other humans who didn't come from the Colonies? Humans from.....another civilization?"
Delambre turned around and smiled thinly, "You're asking me about the Thirteenth Tribe, Captain?"
Apollo was taken aback by his familiarity with the term, "Well, I----,"
"The answer is yes," he interrupted, "But I haven't time to explain that, and neither do you. Because there, Captain," he looked ahead and motioned his hand, "There lies your way out. If you can make it."
Apollo came alongside him and stared into the chasm before him. His jaw fell open in both amazement and horror over the spectacle that lay before him.
He saw a gigantic circular shaft, nearly four times wider than the one he'd fallen into before that seemed to stretch down to a bottomless void. In the center of the chasm were smaller circular deck levels that seemed to be supported by some kind of base at wherever the bottom of the core lay. Consoles and computers seemed to dot each deck, each of which had an access walkway that led out into open hatchways that fed back into the kind of tunnels he and Delambre now found themselves in.
But what made the sight all the more formidable and terrifying was the sight of massive hordes of the red colored demonic beasts, some crawling on their hind legs, others gliding above the deck surfaces with their wings outstretched. It was all too clear to Apollo that Delambre's estimate of a hundred had been somewhat conservative.
"My God," Apollo whispered, "But.....how can this lead to the way out?"
Delambre pointed across to an opening for which no access walkway led into. "That's the way out, Captain. That leads to a tunnel that at the end exits into the passageway you first entered when you left the landing bay. One left turn after you reach the end of the tunnel in that shaft will put you back at your starting point."
"No walkway," Apollo tried to overcome the fear he was feeling now and formulate a plan, "How can anyone gain access to that tunnel without.....making some kind of jump?"
"Therein lies the question no one could ever find an answer to before it was too late and they'd surrendered," Delambre said as he began to back away into the tunnel they'd been going through, "And now....I suppose it's time for me to bid you farewell."
"Wait a centon," Apollo grabbed him by the arm, "Where do you think you're going?"
"Captain, I've done all I can for you and your friend. I've told you all the information, and the rest depends on your own strength of mind. If I had the answer to tell you the easiest way to get to that inaccessible opening, I'd do it. But I don't, and I can't."
"All right then, but you've got to help us, still. You don't fear them. They have no effect on you."
"Captain, you don't understand," Delambre sighed as he tried to move away, but again Apollo's grip held him back.
"You're fracking right, I don't understand," Apollo found himself growing testy, "Don't you want to find a way out to end your misery and let your soul be at peace at last? Isn't that why you called out and asked for help?"
"That was so I could get your attention and tell you everything," Delambre said, "The truth of the matter, Captain, is that I'm resigned to my fate. The eternal suffering of what was once my fellow crewmates from the Callisto was completely my doing for pushing Harriman into a quadrant of space we never should have explored. I'm to blame for what happened to them, and that means the last thing I deserve is freeing myself from this place so my soul can have eternal peace."
Apollo exploded, "That is felgercarb! Okay, you made an error in judgment, but it wasn't you who made the crew turn to him and swallow his con game that enslaved them. They made those choices of their own free will, and that is where ultimate responsibility for our fates rest, not because of what others did to us, but because of the choices we as individuals make! You managed to save your soul because of your choice as an individual to stay strong. Well maybe after five hundred yahrens you should finally show some of that strength again, instead of wallowing in an eternity of self-pity that just played right into the enemy's hands!"
Delambre said nothing, but Apollo found that he wasn't trying to wriggle free of his grasp. Instead, he had an almost contemplative look in his expression, as though he'd heard an insight that had never before occurred to him during the centuries of torment.
"A commander is....responsible for the lives of his crew, Captain." He finally said.
"For their lives, yes, but not for the state of their souls, Colonel Delambre," Apollo emphasized, "That was their choice, and the reason why they're like that now is because they lacked the strength to risk their lives to save their souls. They forgot one of the simplest passages of the Book of the Word that whoever tries to save his life can ultimately lose more if his salvation is the price he pays to try and save his life."
Delambre sighed forlornly, "It's been so long since anyone quoted the Book of the Word to me."
"It usually has all the answers," for the first time, Apollo tried to sound like a friend, "Colonel, please come. Help us, and we can help you at last."
A centon went by before the Callisto executive officer finally nodded. He crawled next to Apollo so that they were both looking out into the open chasm.
"There are rungs beneath us that we can take to drop down to the walkway one level below," he said, "That's the way to get started." He paused, "Soon, they'll find a way to lead your friend to us. That's when the final phase for them will take place."
Sheba saw that the path that led to the mysterious Central Hub funneled in to what looked like a walkway. When she stepped out onto it, she suddenly became aware of a towering chasm above and below her, with smaller circular deck levels towering in the center of the shaft.
As she felt awed by her surroundings, she suddenly felt the pain in her leg act up again and she collapsed to the floor. She lay sprawled on her stomach, trying to regather her strength when she heard a low rumbling noise that soon shook through the walkway. When she saw cracks forming, she realized that it was starting to crumble beneath her, and that if she didn't get off it soon, she ran the risk of plunging below to the bottom of the vast and seemingly endless central core.
Sheba struggled to her feet, and with the terror rising inside her managed to stagger off the walkway and onto one of the circular deck levels just as the walkway finally collapsed.
Apollo and Delambre had begun descending the rungs lining the shaft that would enable them to drop onto a nearby walkway. At first, the captain refused to look down but then realized he needed to keep his eye on how far he and Delambre would need to descend.
His eye then caught of something further down the shaft on another walkway some three levels beneath the one he was moving toward. He could see someone moving, and then stumbling. And as he heard a rumble, he could see the figure get up again and stagger out onto the deck level in the center of the shaft.
When he saw the figure get to a standing position, Apollo immediately saw the unmistakable sight of flowing, shoulder-length brown hair.
"Sheba!" he called out.
"Captain, no!" Delambre looked up and motioned angrily, "If you see your friend, don't call out!"
Apollo looked out at the center of the hub and suddenly saw what seemed like a vast number of eyes focus squarely on him. Hateful, red eyes of the hideous beasts they belonged to.
And then suddenly all the light in the Central Hub abruptly went out plunging the vast chamber into total darkness.