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Author: Harry J. Bentham
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(Science-fiction; Mystery; Military) Carl Resco retraces a missing researcher's mysterious trail to a planet called Sapo. On the dark side of the planet, the brutal Provide armada is hunting for the elusive Loci sect, and Resco must brave extreme dangers to find the answer to Sole's disappearance.
Chapter 6: The Provides
Cyber-augmented masters named the Provides were the only “legitimate” rulers in all the colonies of space-faring humanity. They did not tolerate dissent. To deal with any opposition, they simply made use of their own cybernetic technology to alter the mind if they believed a person posed an unacceptable risk to the social order. The Provides considered their own form to be at the pinnacle of human evolution and socialisation on all worlds, and they saw it as their sacred duty to enforce order over mankind by processing one in every ten young adults to be perfect masters over the other nine.
The Provide masters were not only physically stronger and larger than ordinary humans as a result of their cybernetic enhancements, but also possessed greater mental capacity and special training in the manipulation of mankind. This meant they had developed unrivalled propaganda and myths to help them hold onto power. Such allowed them to dominate the “uninitiated” ninety per cent in every possible social domain. The Provides believed they were servants of a higher power presiding over all worlds, often still referred to as “God” by the masses even though the Provides adamantly discouraged such a crude and primitive label.
The Provides had great interest in the captive named Carl Resco, and had relocated him for possible torture, rehabilitation and implantation. At that time, he was being detained in their command ship high above the surface of the planet Sapo. Resco’s mental absence came to a halt, and he began to wake. When he had fully regained consciousness, he realised something fundamental about his body had changed. His head was plagued by intense pain, and he was also in a state of nausea and close to descending into convulsions. The Provide spymaster in the strange clinic quickly warned him of these sensations, but did not explain them.
A black cloak trailed behind the merciless Provide master of infiltration, as he paced back and forth beside the clinic’s vista. Beyond the pane, he would watch Sapo’s shadows as they were continually bombarded by his warships’ ion cannons. Observing the dark swathes of the Loci hemisphere below, he pondered all the possible routes for exploiting Resco as an infiltrator. This unfortunate student, he believed, would be all he needed to unlock the secrets of the Loci and pulverise the heart of their pitiful resistance movement.
A terrifying thought occurred to Resco, warning him that an invasive medical procedure had taken place in the clinic during his coma. Something had been installed at the base of his skull, and wired directly into his central nervous system. Was it irreversible? Did they intend to keep him in this state of suffering for the rest of his life, to control him? When he voiced the question to the Provide spymaster, asking him, ‘what have you done to me?’ he received only a look from the half-machine spymaster. Somehow, as the spymaster looked into his eyes, there was an answer moving into Resco’s mind. As Resco witnessed a ghostly image of the spymaster’s own thoughts, the latter required few words to convey the answer.
‘You are a fine part of the natural order again, Carl,’ the spymaster assured him, ‘we have enhanced the clarity of your mind, and to do this we have installed an enlightening device to indicate your way to truth and loyalty to our superior authority. If you obey us, you will receive content and pleasure. If you disobey the word, you will be punished in the harshest possible manner. We can kill you at any time and in any place if we wish, and we can do this with the greatest pain to you. Our divine word must be obeyed.’
Now, although Resco resisted the spymaster’s command for him to pick himself up from the diagnostic bed and come closer, the implant reinforced the command with the extremely painful compulsion for Resco to obey. He approached the spymaster, whose brutal metallic extended as though to grasp around Resco’s neck, but stopped. The spymaster explained to Resco that the implant was itself cloaked, using the same technology applied by the Loci to conceal themselves.
‘You’ll never be able to get past their scanners,’ Resco mocked, feeling a torturous burning sensation in every nerve of his body as he uttered these defiant words.
The spymaster retorted, ‘oh, but we can. Scanners are ineffective against some cloaking and phasing technologies, and only the illuminator fluid used to reveal cowardly Loci hideouts could possibly expose the bug within. But the illuminator is also toxic. If the Loci were to use the illuminator to detect our new cloaking technology inside you, then you would surely die.’
Resco meant to reply that he would rather die now than become a puppet of the Provides, but the torture inflicted by the device at his skull had become more precise and had adapted to his body’s unique weaknesses. An ultimate torture machine, the implant was demonstrating its ability to exact all the compliance desired by its programmer. Seeing that Resco had already become compliant, and his eyes had taken a glazed appearance when his strength of will had waned, the spymaster began to dictate his mission to him. He would seek and kill Benedict Askar, the leader of the Loci insurrection on Sapo.
As he received the mission priority, Resco felt truly overcome by misery at the possibility that he might succeed and fulfil the spymaster’s orders to quell the Loci resistance. Would Askar, whose name he had never heard before but sounded extremely important, die because of his weakness under the effects of the spymaster’s implant? Resco was forced to think about his own guilt for endangering the insurgents in a mission that might kill him and countless others. He dreaded the impending trail his body would be forced to walk, as a mindless automaton, so he could carry out someone else’s suicide mission and be destroyed. His body felt no longer human, but machine. He knew he had been reduced to a puppet, obeying machines subservient to unknown intellects and designers, just as Sole had hypothesised.
If the spymaster was indeed linked to Resco through a mental transceiver, then he was surely already aware of Resco’s acquaintance with Sole’s theories. But he did not discuss the matter, and Resco wondered why. Perhaps it was because the spymaster did not want to confirm the validity of those theories for Resco. If Resco somehow escaped his mission and managed to confirm Sole’s superstructure theory to the leaders of the Loci, nothing could be more dangerous to the Provides. It would surely result in the enlightenment of the Loci concerning the secrets of the superstructure technology and its layout. For all their opposition to the Provides, the Loci were still living in ignorance of Sole’s theories, and Resco easily surmised that the spymaster preferred things to stay that way.
Disturbed by the implant within him, Resco was increasingly afraid to think any thoughts that the Provides might condemn. With every impulse of hostility, his nerves burned and he wondered if pain alone could manifest welts or tumours if it gained levels enough to horrify every fibre of the body. Soon degenerating into a spiral of panic and confusion at his inability to control his own sense of horror at the Provides and the pathological reach of their technology into his brain, Resco was forced by the spymaster to an alcove within the clinic. In that small space, worse pain and traumas ensued. After six hours of torturous mental conditioning in absolute isolation in the cold booth, one would not recognise the man who now returned to the spymaster clinic.
Resco’s eyes held a glazed look, his mind utterly absent from his pacified body devoid of will. He would later recall that he underwent frightening travels in the domain of the Provides, dragged by the spymaster through their dark metallic corridors, walking among perilous exposed machinery and flickering optical cables. This march through the innards of the Provide battleship ended in the shuttle departure bay, where he saw steely launching rails, piers and gangways outstretched towards closed spiral airlock doors. Sitting on two of the rails, a small vessel was docked in readiness to fly through the airlock, and Resco was guided by the hand of the spymaster to a large round cargo door inviting him inside the unfamiliar craft. It was a bulky, round space vehicle, with nothing inside the round cold compartment where Resco was thrown. As the door drew closed behind him, he saw the dark alloy of the spymaster’s boots disappearing and the bruising of his voyage was severe until he discovered the utilitarian handles placed throughout the cylinder.
The cylinder plummeted violently, without any concern for its occupants. Resco was incapable of observing its passage to the surface of the planet, because no portals existed on the sides of the small craft, but the cylinder decelerated rapidly and a sudden sensation of buoyancy followed. Resco assumed the vessel had impacted liquid water, which surprised him because the cold of the planet’s dark side was glazed in the hardest ice and there could only be liquid water by volcanic or artificial means.
When Resco departed from the cylinder, he saw nothing of the water he had passed through, but he did see the dark interior of a docking tunnel in which he was already being coercively dragged by the Provides. Resco would remember being escorted forcefully by two of the titanic Provides, gripping his weakened arms to pull him through the complex. Resco knew nothing of the facility, until it was evident to him that the implant was exerting unusual hallucinogenic effects to educate him on his mission parameters.
Resco observed scrawled words on the metal walls of the corridors, in the very kind of graffiti left on all the junk of his home planet, and these messages provided cursory pieces information to him. The hallucinated words he saw conveyed the repeated expressions, “this way” and “connection cradle,” the latter of which he presumed to be the name of the whole installation itself. He also felt a strange compulsion to believe the place was vitally important to the Provides. In sharing the thoughts of the Provides, he was able to discern that the facility extended beneath a lake and was powered by geothermal power plants. This, coupled with the facility’s inevitable cloaking device, explained a clever means by which the cylinder could have brought him there without detection by the spies of the Loci. Vessels would be submersed beneath the lake, as they came in. Surely, the Loci had no idea of this tactic of concealment by the Provide forces on the planet.
Resco was simply cast out of the perimeter of the connection cradle, and saw nothing but stone when he turned to look at his captors. Now, every rock he glimpsed conveyed commands to him, scrawled demands that he must continue en route to the Loci base cloaked within a nearby gulley. If Resco had possessed any will independent of his hallucinations now, he would have surely expected to trip on a mine or walk into a disintegration fence. It would have been justified, in fact, to assume the Provide spymaster had only bothered to arrange the suicidal mission as an efficient means of disposing of him.
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