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God and Mind - Volume III - Freedom
By Dark

Presented by: Xenogears: God and Mind

Chapter 28
Water of Hope

     Fei would have been familiar with the unrelenting flood of sensations that washed slowly over Bart, as his gluey mind began the agonizing step by step climb back up the long dark slope to awareness.  Fei could have told the young prince about the weary gathering of thoughts on the edges of consciousness, like flocks of bright phoenixes, swooping and diving and seemingly impossible for the drugged mind's eye to focus upon.  Fei could have explained about the dawning of awareness as each bodily system reasserted itself, and Fei of course, would have been familiar with the throbbing dizzying pain that snarled and roared around the pirate's broken wrist, and the dull dazing head ache that was the aftermath of concussion.  But Fei was not there, and so Bart made his way back to the land of the living by shear force of will alone, fighting and clawing like a swimmer grasping for clear bright air through dark obsequious water.  
     Bart opened his eye and gazed forward, the images he saw blurred and distant.  Like an overzealous sergeant marshaling lazy troops he called his thoughts to a sloppy attention.  Bart's single sapphire eye rolled slowly around the long utilitarian room he was in, a room with checked blue and white curtains closed tightly shut, and a wooden desk beside the door, holding a dimly glowing lamp that was the room's only illumination, it's slight and friendly light permeating the forest of drip stands, diagnostic instruments and other medical technology that lurked around the room like spindly robotic assassins.  The young prince looked down, and found that he was lying in a bed with white starched sheets and blankets tucked in tightly, in the distance he saw two similar beds, each filled by a sleeping form huddled in blankets and shadow, and a number of cots shoved against the walls, each occupied by an unconscious bundle of somnolent humanity.  The young prince felt a twinge of fear --- where was he? Then almost before the coldness of the fear had had time to grip his mind warm recollection flooded over him, bringing with it a wave of relief --- he was in the Yggdrasil medical bay.  He tried to move his head, and an ache pulsed through him, it felt as if he had disturbed some spirit level in his skull, which swung to one side and rippled with a sudden leaden ache.  A groan escaped his lips, and almost instantly a figure was bending over him, a figure with short brown hair and a tired but concerned face.  
     "Your alive, Sire!" He recognized the voice, the clipped and officious tone of the medical bay nurse --- her voice now holding an edge of strain and her normally neat blue medical uniform rumpled and dirt stained.  Rising to the occasion, the young prince thrust his dazed mind into action --- trying to unearth his usual repartee, like an apprentice conjurer feeling frantically at the inside of the hat to find the illusive rabbit.  
     "No--- I'm a decaying corpse."   Bart's witty retort lost some of its impact due to the thick grating whisper of his unused vocal cords.  
     The nurse didn't bat an eyelid.  "Yes sire --- is there anything you want?"
     Bart frowned, and then winced as another ball of pain landed on his agonized head --- this was, he decided the worst hangover he had ever had in his life.  "Yeah --- I'd like you to stop calling me sire -- I'm not your father, and I'd like a large black coffee ---" His voice trailed off --- true, he felt as if he'd been out on the world's biggest drinking spree --- but why did his left wrist hurt so much --- and why wasn't he in his cabin?
     "I wouldn't advise caffeine sire --- I mean sir, you are suffering the after effects of a severe concussion and though there is no permanent damage ---"
     "Concussion --- you mean I was knocked out?" Bart's voice was horse and croaking, rasping like the phonic equivalent of the feel of sand paper.  
     "Indeed you were ---"
     "Bart!" The cry of pure delight had hardly reached Bart before a strong amber skinned hand was squeezing his shoulder in a murderously tight grip, and the dim light was glancing of a figure in crumpled, sweat-stained white clothing, a figure who's single eye --- blanched to indigo by the dim lighting ran with concern and joy.  "--- You're alive!"
     "No --- I died and went to hell --- my head!" Bart groaned as his head pulsed like a glowing breathing engine, chugging away and filling his skull with the throb of its steady agonizing work.  He groaned again.  "--- What was I drinking last night Sigurd?"
     "Drinking?" Sigurd looked taken aback, the lines of strain on his face relaxing into pure consternation.  "There was a fight --- the Yggdrasil sank --- don't you remember?"
     Bart screwed his mind backwards --- no, he hadn't been drinking last night --- the image of a huge glowing gear flashed before his befuddled mind --- a flood of black destructive power --- the Yggdrasil tossed through the air like a toy --- and like a warm flood of slippery blood from freshly opened wounds, he remembered.   "How did I get here? ---" Bart punctuated his sentence with a pain filled groan as his head and wrist conspired in a spiteful double attack on his nerve endings.  
     "You were fighting that glowing gear --- it almost killed you.  Brigadier was severely damaged and when the Yggdrasil sank you were pulled down with us.  You must have got a bit banged around on the way down."  
     "If the ship sank? ---"
     Sigurd gave a quick abrupt nod, his albino hair --- unusually disarrayed flowing around his face like snow blown by a chill blizzard wind.  "We've been lucky --- we've come down into a massive cave which seems to contain some kind of underground inlet of the sea --- the roof's rock so we didn't get buried in sand when we fell down here, of course we brought a couple of hundred tones of sand down with us but most of that rolled off us down into the water --- this cavern's at a quite steep incline."  
     "How's my Yggdrasil?" Bart attempted to sit up, ramrod straight and take command, but dizziness swept over him, and he was forced onto his back, staring at the once smooth metal surface of the ceiling --- he noted rather sourly that the metal was cracked and warped, and only now that Sigurd had pointed it out he noticed that his feet were lying at a lower angle than his head.  Bart studied the cracked ceiling above him, almost as if he could read some point or logic into the slow sorrowful record, which Sigurd spoke.  
     "The engines are warped and damaged beyond repair, main fuel tanks exploded and caused fires which melted much of the electronic around the main engine area --- most of the sensors and computer equipment on the bridge is undamaged --- but with our total loss of fuel and power ---" The slow dry voice paused and Bart could imagine those strong amber hands spread in a gesture of helplessness, that face he knew so well filled with utter misery --- the single sapphire orb mirroring the profound and utter desolation which showed in the pale drawn face of the Pirate leader.  
     "How about gears and man power?" Bart asked dully, and he wasn't sure whether the thickness of his throat was due to the concussion or the loss of his once great ship.  
     "About half the crew are dead or missing.  All of the bridge staff are still alive, as are most of the people who were off duty at the time --- but just about all the engine room crew are gone --- as for gears ---"
     With a low croak like a strangled frog Bart interrupted.  "How about the Doctor --- Citan?" The young prince propped himself cautiously up on one elbow, corn gold hair falling about his face.  
     His guardian's own face was just as he imagined it, grave and solemn and sad, but at the mention of Citan a slight smile curled the lips.  "He got out I know.  We insisted that he should take the escape pod on the bridge --- and from what we can see in the engine gear bay that Heimdal gear of his is missing."  
     "I'm glad --- Fei needs him."  
     Sigurd nodded slowly.  "As for our own gears --- there are three or four that work --- just, the rest could be repaired if we had time and tools enough ---"
     "My Brigandier?" A sudden irrational dread fell over Bart, a sudden shock as bitter as the pain that drilled in his body --- it seemed that if his Brigandier, his red resistant spirit was no more then he may as well lie down and die, it was strange he knew, but the bond which grew up between himself and the massive nimble war machine seemed to contain all that he stood for --- against Shakhan.  
     "Brigandier could be repaired --- but the ship as a whole ---"
     Bart sank down on the pillows, feeling as if part of himself had died with the ship.  He remembered soaring across dune cites hands firm on the controls, then loosing bright torpedoes and harried sand cruisers --- or flying over his great vessel in his Brigandier, the proud bravery of his sunburst yellow symbol bright on it's gray side --- the symbol of his revolution, eclipsed for ever in darkness.  "Can we get back to Nisan or the main base?" Bart's voice was strangely calm, dry and utilitarian beneath its rasp --- but Sigurd could see by the slight moisture in his young prince's single eye how hard the loss of his ship hit him.  
     "That's the worst thing.  Most of our food reserves and a good deal of our water were lost in the crash.  Even with only a half crew, and even on strict rationing we can't hope to last longer than 14 days --- and as far as we've been able to determine there's no way out."   Sigurd's voice was grim and proud as an ancient image graven in stone.  
     "No way out? Let me take one of the gears that works and ---"
     Sigurd smiled, and like a small shaft of sunlight streaming through a prison window, his honey colored face seemed for a moment to lighten.  "No.  Your making a valiant offer but you’re not doing anything for at least three days yet, you've had several etheric cures performed on you and you'll need your rest to recover ---" Sigurd paused, and coming closer to the bed looked down at Bart with a smooth winning paternal smile, and for an instant all weariness and dread fell away from both of them, and Bart had just scored a cunning hit in their weapons practice in the emerald fields of Nisan, and Sigurd's face shone with pride and love like a miniature sun.   
     The next four days passed like an uneasy dram, waking and unreality, vision of pain darkness, weariness beyond any battle wound he had ever taken overcame the prince of Aveh.  The etheric cures which had been performed on the broken toy of his body rerouted his energies into rejuvenation and restoration, but left little for anything else.  A dim blur of hospital ward, nurses bending over him and forcing brackish tasting water and glutinous medicines down his parched throat, Sigurd head, peering quickly from behind the black gap of the door, each time more harassed and haggard looking.  But slowly, agonizingly Bart's body healed, and by the firth day restlessness slowly supplanted pain as lord of his consciousness.  
     "No sir you must ---"
     "I --- order you to get the hell out --- of --- my! --- Way!" Bart clenched his teeth, and with one muscular push he raised himself out of the bed and lent his weight on one trembling foot, true he was still dazed and confused, true his muscles shuck and crept as he forced them, to raise his body onto it's feet like a wounded gear, but at least he was standing.With a slow parody of his usual leonine grace Bart staggered out of the medical bay into the dim steel belly of the corridor, it had never occurred to him that the corridors of the Yggdrasil were steel lined thin arteries, with thick enclosing walls and no windows, but before lights had glowed merrily on the ceiling, and the corridors had not been warped cracked and twisted, the walls a network of cracks and jagged edges, more like stone than steel.  
     Slowly Bart made his way through the skeleton of the sand ship, feet always shuffling at the unnatural angle of the floor, face stern and lined with pain and effort, hand lamps held by crew members he passed in the ruined corridors passing then retreating like souls wandering through a dark dream.  The corridors seemed to press in closer, and Bart realized that his uncertain feet were negotiating shards and grains of shattered metal, and that on either side of him debris towered through the gloom.  The bridge had always been for Bart the heart of the ship, there he had sat, enthroned in the command chair, feeling the metallic power of engine and fuel rush beneath him, knowing that machine and crew conspired with him to make the Yggdrasil into the brave and dashing instrument of vengeance.  But no longer!
     The broad room was full of despair, control units were charred and blackened ruins, chairs tumbled and crumpled, screens blank and dead, and windows seeming just as blank, for outside there was nothing but the darkness of sand and water and rock.  Bart saw Sigurd standing like a specter at the shattered console, still wearing his cannibalized Gebler uniform, hands thrust into his pockets, but the prince didn't have the heart to speak to him, he turned on one heal, and with the white shirt and black trousers he had hastily donned billowing around him Bart turned and padded from the bridge, golden hair falling in an unkempt glitter about him like forgotten memories of summer.  
     The gear bay Bart found was even more wrecked than the rest of the ship.  The entire room was skewed and crushed in, and the darkness that blanketed the Yggdrasil seemed to be intensified by the massive space with here and there a gear standing in the gloom like a battered monolith, and a great flood of murky sand heaped at one end of the bay, eclipsing the doors.  
     "Bart!" Bart turned and saw Jerico waving to him from beside one of the tomblike gears.  
     "Good to see you awake sir" The man's tone was hearty and full of warmth, but like everything else in the Yggdrasil he was battered and tarnished.  
     Dark tension seemed to mount, like a dark spire of rock growing cold and thin, and with a suddenness that was almost violent the young prince felt something snap.  With sudden abruptness he tensed, the lines on his strong face becoming rigid and graven, and his sapphire eye looking more gem like and adamantine than ever.   "Are there any working gears?"
     "Sir --- Sigurd said ---" Bart started walking forward, slowly, deliberately, and though he lacked his usual athletic panther like grace he now appeared more implacable and predatory than Jerico had ever seen him.  
     "The 484B is still functioning at 80% --- but you won't be able to get it out the doors ---" His face set and strained, Bart turned dismissively away from his subordinate, and with slow steps walked the length of the gear bay to one massive shadowy form.  By touch alone he found the ladder and dragged himself to the cockpit, his mind stiff and upright as his gear.  He would find a way out --- somehow.  
     Jerico and the other crewmen backed to the rear of the gear bay as the revving thrilling rumbling sound of gear jets filled the dead stale air with noise.  It was a standard pirate model, gray with the red flashes and yellow Yggdrasil Y on the back, but in the dim light of the electric lamps that were all that lit the gear bay; it seemed black and cold and menacing.  
     Then the hopeful grinding roar of the engines was joined by blazing overpowering light, as Bart activated the gear's searchlight, all the decrepit broken room was revealed, and Jerico and the crew quickly covered smarting eyes as the massive metal monster hurled itself at the sand blocking the doors.  
     Adrenaline filled Bart's body, true this gear was by no means Brigandier, true his wrist heart like hell, true his enemy was nothing more than several thousand tones of crushed rock and desert debris, but still he felt that old familiar intoxicating draught wash over him.  Then he was at the wall, bringing the gears arms forward he smashed them into the sand, ripping, tearing, using every ounce of power at his command, like a swimmer in deep muddy water, pushing towards air.  After several massive strokes Bart saw the absolute blackness of the layer of grit in front of him lift and change, then he felt the gear falling forward, crashing ground wards as the momentum of the last stroke carried out of the blockage, the sibilant hiss of desert settling in it's wake.  With that familiar trigger reaction, Bart brought the gear's arms forward, and despite the wrench of pain as his not quite healed wrist jerked against the controls, he was able to right the tumbling gear and raise it to it's feet.  
     Slowly, Bart turned the metallic body around casting the radiant power of the searchlight about the darkness of this earth's end prison.  As Sigurd had said he was on the shore of some massive underground lake or inlet of the sea, wave upon wave of black glassy water shimmered in the steady beam, as much as desert as the bright diamond world he had just left.  The shore stretched away endlessly, rocks and sand and darkness swallowing the young prince's hope.  Turning Bart cast a glance down at the sad shape of the Yggdrasil, broken crumpled, half buried in sand.  He thought once more of the ship and it's crew, of Sigurd, Maison, of the green fields of Nisan, and of Margie, her pert, scolding image swam before him, vivacious and full of sprightly life.  
     With one last glance at the broken arm of the Yggdrasil behind him, Bart strode away into the dark, light going on before him.  The journey seemed to take hours, sand and water, an occasional outcrops of rock, some small enough for the machine to step contemptuously over, but some so high that Bart was forced to use the thrusters of the gear, and more than once, cracked the metallic scull jarringly against the cavern roof.  

     He was never sure when he first saw it, Mostly he had been looking at the featureless barrenness of the shore, and the sloping wall that ran to meet the ceiling in a smooth sweep of jagged rock.  But after a while, Bart turned his gaze to the water, the endless sweep of shimmering darkness that stretched pitilessly away into the gloom.  But the water was suddenly no longer a flat featureless sheet, ahead Bart could see something dark, like a massive floating blot or whale, lying close in to the rock strewn underground shore.  The shape was long flat and huge, taller than his gear, and many times longer.  Like an uninvited guest, the word ‘Sea-monster’ crept into Bart's mind, and he reached instinctively for the ether beam controls, heartily wishing that that elegant and dead wire cutting whip could have been transplanted into this gear.  But the black shape ahead appeared not to move.  Bart readied himself, even as he mechanically walked his machine closer to the dark behemoth, at any second expecting it to spring, or dive beneath the water, but the shape was silent, lifeless as the rocks around it.  Gingerly Bart passed the light across the nearest surface of the ship, the reflection across the glittering water formed a shimmering path of light leading to the smooth untarnished surface of mat gray metal, pocked hear and there with the quick glints and dark pits of shadow.  
     Then suddenly, like an unexpected blow Bart's mind reeled --- a ship! He almost knew what he would see next, as he slowly panned the light across the sleek surface, marking a window hear, a shuttered hatch there, each line and joist so familiar to him that he seemed to be looking not at a machine of cold emotionless metal, but at the well known contours of his own body.  So it was almost absently that he raised the light high up on the mounting wave of steel, and caught in it's beam a symbol drawn in brilliant yellow --- a circle transected by a Y.  
     With trembling hands Bart pushed buttons, boosting his gear to the massive top of the floating ship and squatting it down in the landing position.  Thoughtfully he took the survival kit carried in gear in the Yggdrasil fleet, with it's torch and rations and medical supplies, and swiftly bending he rummaged through the toolkit until he found a heavy chisel then with as much speed as his aching body would allow, he shinned down the ladder and landed on the roof of the ship.  Like a white wfe in his shirt, his hair disordered and matted, Bart padded across the massive gray expanse, changing his footing on to the unaccustomed constant up and down movement of the ship as it bobbed on the obsequious water.  As if mirroring deliberate hopeless search of his gear, the pirate leader began to walk unsteadily across the roof, the tiny circle of his flashlight flitting before him like some tiny frightened bird.  Then suddenly the light passed over something uneven, a slight humping of the metallic surface, Bart smiled, a silent expectant hopeful smile as he bent down next to the hatch and picked up the chisel.  
     Minutes later he was padding through the unlit corridors of the ship, his steps ringing hollowly through the darkness, but the darkness of these clean wide passageways was a far cry from the horror filled decrepitude of the sand ship, this darkness was comforting, womblike, and Bart knew that it would only take a single spark to awake the child of pride that waited in the dark womb of the ship, awake it to replace it's predecessor.  On his way to the bridge he noted how empty the ship was, there were no carpets or furniture in the rooms, only the blank skeleton and shell of the ship --- but that didn't matter, all that mattered lay on the bridge and in the engine room --- and in the ship's weapons.  The lay out of this see ship was as familiar as it's lines, and Bart found the bridge without difficulty.  Here he received his first real shock, the on the bridge the consoles looked broken, their cases open, wires protruding neatly from sockets, buttons and leaves lying ready besides slots and holds in the metal boards, as if they had been deliberately ripped out --- or were waiting to be plugged in.  
     There was only one control console that seemed complete, a console that Bart knew and loved above all the others.  With the trembling fingers of a zealot beside an alter he traced it's familiar lines, stroked and caressed it's small wheel, and then gently laid strong hands upon it.  With a rye smile Bart remembered the first time he had touched a control like this one, his twelve-year-old fingers quick and overeager.  
     Sigurd's voice filled his head.  "Ease forward --- that's it - not too quickly, now try turning slow --- ly slow--- ugh!" He remembered the lurch beneath his feet, as he had wrenched the wheel around, and the sudden hammer blow of acceleration that had cracked his nose into the side of the control board --- Sigurd had been mad.  
     Now once more Bart reached for the ignition switch, true he was alone, almost defeated in the dark caverns beneath the earth, true it would still take days of work and searching, hunger and thirst before they at last sailed the new Yggdrasil out from under the earth into the foaming waters of the sea, but as long dormant engines volcanically roared into life, and Bart felt the floor throb and vibrate beneath his feet, he raised his head and laughed a long joyous hard deadly laugh, "Watch out Shakhan! --- I'm coming to get you!" And then more quietly another image swam up through the darkness, a shy worried smile, and a vulnerable strength shining from two liquid brown eyes.  "See you soon Fei!" Bart breathed, as he whirled the ship about and began his voyage back to power.   

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~ End of Chapter 28 ~

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