Finally, a bluish gleam appeared in the red twilight. A conventional electric lamp stood in the center of the vast hall at the foot of a strange kind of black pylon. Next to her the one who read the mantra was sitting on his knees. It was a shapeless figure in a hood. Its voice, now distinct, was emotionless, it seemed mechanical, unnatural.
Nick held his breath and, as slowly as he could, went ahead. His lips repeated the mantra silently, and somewhere deep down he knew that what was happening right now was not right. But fear seized his mind as much as his fingers seized the handle of the knife.
The gunner raised the blade to strike and sharply lowered it.
There was a metallic clank, the blow landed on something solid. The next second, the figure twisted, dropped the robe and forcefully pushed Nick away He immediately struck another blow, but the knife got stuck. His gaze met the gaze of one human eye and an eerie group of cameras in place of the second. To his horror, Nick found the blade of the knife trapped in the thing that this monster had instead of his left hand — a rough hydraulic manipulator.
The knife flew out of his hand when the creature twisted the manipulator, and launched somewhere into the red darkness. Nick cried out, hit the enemy with his hand and jumped aside.
— Blasphemy! Growled a mechanical voice coming from a rough implant, replacing the left half of the lower jaw, — how dare you step on this holy deck!?
Nick looked convulsively in search of at least some kind of weapon: a piece of pipe, plating, wires — anything. But his eyes could not find anything.
— This is the Seventh Seal. The last resting place of the great servant Bartle. The holy tomb!
Suddenly, Nick realized that there was no monster in front of him, but an ordinary Jericho, yet incredibly ugly. The gunner heard about a Jericho pilot with such implants at the station, but he never saw him.
— It’s just a ship, calm down, — Nick said, but he himself would do well to stay calm.
— There is no forgiveness for those who shed blood in a holy place. — Jericho’s words were threatening, but he stood still. It seemed he was afraid of Nick just as much as Nick was afraid of him.
— I did not spill anything. Not even a machine oil smudge.
— You attacked me — a less mechanical tone appeared in the voice of the half-man-half-machine.
— It was an honest mistake, — Nick began to retreat to the exit, but suddenly realized what a unique opportunity he had — how did you get here? Do you have access codes?
The servant frowned with his only eyebrow.
— Dr. Al-Khali said that we will pay the temple for his service. He said that…
— Enough, Dariusz. Sergeant Finigan does not need to know all the details, — The doctor appeared from the twilight holding Nick’s army knife in his hand.
— Now I do, — he almost growled, he had not had time to calm down after the fight.
— My boy, — smiled the doctor, who was not much older than the gunner,— you don’t quite understand who gives the orders here.
— I’m the only one with army training here, — Nick retorted.
— I was a senior research officer at Ellydium Corporation. However, you must not have heard of combat neuro-programming. — With these words, the Doctor flicked the knife from hand to hand and back with the agility of a juggler.
— You will not shed blood in a holy place! — the Jericho resolutely clicked his steel claw.
— Yes exactly. You won’t. — Sam walked into the circle of light, a circular saw was howling in her hands. The girl did not look particularly pleased.
Nick quickly assessed the situation. He was the only unarmed man here. So he had no choice but to resort to diplomacy. Dariusz and Sam did not have a clear position, but the doctor was definitely against the gunner.
What to do? He was bad at lying… so only the truth remained.
— He wants to take the ship away! — Nick shouted.
— Nonsense! — Albert cried a little too nervously.
— He filled the jump engine with iridium fuel from the drones, — Nick stressed.
— Why do you think so? — Sam asked.
The gunner turned and looked into her eyes.
— That was my plan, too.
There was a silence. The doctor gritted his teeth, the pilot was clearly embarrassed and could not understand whether it was sacrilegious or not. Sam was silent for a while, then suddenly smiled and said:
— We can save hundreds of people! — We can evacuate them out of the Flotilla!
— Look around you! It’s a flying coffin! — exclaimed the doctor, — it only has an emergency life support system. This damned trough was on autopilot! In the best case, there’s only enough air for the base crew!
The Jericho’s eye implant lit with a scattering of purple lights. Nick did not know what he was afraid of anymore — his claws or another tirade about holiness.
But he did not have time to do anything, as the information board lit up with sixteen points approaching the station.
— Receiving a signal from the automatic fleet, — said the female voice of the on-board computer. — Identification completed. Await extraction. Relic protocol activated.
When the board dimmed, the light went out in the eyes of Dariusz.
— Oh no,— he mumbled, — oh no…
— What? What does this mean!? — Exclaimed the doctor. —Answer me!
— Relic protocol means a complete sweep of all organics, — said the Jericho, — they will not stop while someone is still alive near the Seventh Seal.
With a ringing sound the knife fell to the floor from the hands of Dr. Al-Khali. He looked at Nick and said:
— You were right.