Tears of the Oracle
by Justin Richards
Cover Blurb
Tears of the Oracle

'Benny, you're ill. Let us help you. We want to help you. Really we do. This paranoia. These delusions. What you've done - it's driven you insane. Nobody wants to hurt you. We're your friends.'

On Dellah, the shattered former home of Bernice Summerfield, only the Advanced Research centre survives - the last remnant of the once famous university. But it's under siege from fanatical groups of religious inquisitors, searching for new converts or dangerous heretics.

Benny would have to be mad to go back.

Jason Kane, Bernice's one-time husband and all-time opportunist, has found the ancient remains of the Oracle of the Lost on an obscure planetoid known only as KS-159. Or so he says.

Benny would have to be mad to believe him.

The mysterious Irving Braxiatel is looking for somewhere quiet to house his huge collection of... everything.

Benny would have to be mad to suggest KS-159.

The Oracle of the Lost, legend says, can answer any question. But the cryptic answers she gives are never helpful, and often dangerous.

Benny would have to be mad to reawaken her.
Or ask a question.
Or believe the answer.

  • Another book in the new series of The New Adventures featuring Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: June 1999

  • ISBN: 0 426 20533 2

Irving Braxiatel is seeking somewhere to store his collection of artefacts from across the known Universe, and although Benny is suffering from recurring headaches which may be a side-effect of her recent Mary-Sue, she agrees to help him. While preparing to go through his catalogue, they are joined by Clarence, who delivers a message from God from Benny; for some reason, he wishes her to view the last lecture of the famed archaeologist Edward Watkinson, who mysteriously vanished shortly after his friend Oleg Mikelz also vanished. At the time Mikelz had been leading an expedition to find the Oracle of the Lost, a living statue with the power to foresee the future. Clarence reports that the People are having trouble developing time travel despite their new treaty, and that it still seems 87 percent certain that war will develop between his and Braxiatel's people. The inventory is interrupted when Braxiatel receives a message from his friend Skutloid, who is trapped on Dellah. Skutloid's cybernetic implants have been protecting him from the madness rampant on Dellah, and he has been helping protect the occupants of the Advanced Research Department in the belief that Director Silvera had developed a means of protection; however, it has become clear that Silvera's devices do not work, and that his and his followers' faith in them is another symptom of the madness. Braxiatel and Benny travel to Dellah to rescue Skutloid, but he is mortally wounded by the fanatics while they fight their way back to their ship. Despite his personal atheism, Skutloid's assistant Garshal places a coin in the dying Skutloid's mouth, which is traditionally used to pay the Journeyman after death. Skutloid dies knowing that at least he saved Garshal and Benny's robot porter, Joseph.

Benny is surprised to find Jason waiting back at Braxiatel's storage facility, but is even more surprised when he claims to have stumbled across the trail of Mikelz's expedition and found the Oracle of the Lost on the asteroid KS-159. When he provides proof of his claims, Benny decides to mount a follow-up expedition, and enlists the aid of her former head of department Divson Follett and historian Emilia Winston. Braxiatel wins the rights to KS-159 from its owner, Hayward Denson, on Vega Station, and Denson, intrigued by his interest in the asteroid, convinces them to let him join the expedition and fund it properly. As they set off, Follett tells Benny about a discrepancy in Watkinson's autobiography. Watkinson had refused to give grant money to Mikelz for his expedition, causing a temporary rift between the two friends; Mikelz apparently forgave him, however, and wrote him a letter about his discovery -- claiming that the Oracle had told him he would both commit murder and destroy the Oracle. This is apparently the only surviving letter from the expedition, but according to Follett, the man who wrote the autobiography claimed that while interviewing Watkinson's secretary she told him there were two more messages from Mikelz -- both of which Watkinson apparently destroyed before he too vanished...

The expedition arrives at KS-159, where their initial excavations uncover both the Temple of the Oracle and the remains of Mikelz's expedition -- including two skeletal bodies, both shot through the head. Jason finds a coin lying near the Temple ruins, and Benny threads it onto a necklace before they continue on into the ruins. The Oracle, once unearthed, proves to give cryptic answers to all questions asked of it; Braxiatel, however, explains that it does not actually foresee the future, but creates a model of the Universe to which it continually adds, and -- with the aid of telepathic impressions from its questioners -- makes best-guess predictions based upon the data from that model. In passing, the Oracle identifies Clarence as the ship formerly known as !C-Mel, which surprises Benny although it means nothing to Clarence.

As the excavation continues, Denson finds a DNA match for the bodies in Mikelz's base -- Mikelz's wife Louisa and his assistant Gregor. Follett attempts to learn more about the circumstances of their deaths, but doesn't return -- and when Garshal investigates, he finds Follett dead, his body mummified. In his hand, he is clutching a fragment of Mikelz's second letter to Watkinson, in which Mikelz claims that, after the Oracle predicted he would kill the one he loved and then destroy the Oracle, Mikelz started to realize that Louisa and Gregor had been spending too much time together. Benny discovers that Watkinson's last expedition, to the planet Paracletes, ended with his students dead and the planet placed in quarantine for unspecified reasons. Convinced that there is a connection to Follett's inexplicable death, she searches Mikelz's base but finds only fragments of Louisa's and Gregor's diaries and letters, which prove that the two were not having an affair and were in fact becoming concerned over Mikelz's odd behaviour and his apparent obsession with the Oracle.

Benny decides to consult the Oracle to find out the truth, and Braxiatel is with her when the Oracle makes an odd remark about Benny's future -- or rather, her lack of it. When Braxiatel demnads that the Oracle elaborate, the statue is forced to admit that Benny is dying of a fatal brain illness, and that there is no cure. Denson conducts medical tests on Benny which confirm the Oracle's prediction; due to a side-effect from her botched Mary-Sue, Benny has less than a month to live. After her initial reactinos of grief, denial and anger, Benny decides to throw herself into her work in order to fill her last weeks with more than self-pity -- and it occurs to her that Watkinson did the same between his return from Paracletes and his disappearance. According to his biography, he was more sombre and withdrawn during his last few weeks, which he spent following up on Mikelz's research. Benny, determined to solve the mystery, consults the Oracle, which admits that Mikelz became driven by paranoia fueled by his own guilt about bringing Louisa to this desolate spot and then ignoring her. Convinced that Louisa and Gregor were having an affair, he killed them both -- and then came to understand that the Oracle's prediction had been deliberately self-fulfilling. Cursed by its "gift" and wanting death, it had deliberately provoked him in the hopes that he would destroy it for what it had done to him. Instead, he chose to crash his spaceship nearby -- but not atop -- the Oracle, intending to bury it alive forever to dwell upon what it had done to him.

Garshal is then found dead and mummified with a coin in his mouth, but while the others assume that it is payment for the Journeyman, Benny recalls that he did not believe in the tradition -- and finds that the coin is the same one she'd threaded on a necklace for Jason. She confronts Jason, who appears to age before her eyes and attacks her, demanding her life for his; trying to fight him off, she hits him with her table lamp and smashes in his skull, killing him. Horrified, she passes out, and when she recovers, she finds her friends surrounding her with apparent concern. However, their concern suddenly appears a bit too good to be true -- and it seems as though they are conspiring behind her back to ensure that she is never left alone. She tries to continue her work, and manages to get the Oracle to confess that Watkinson reached KS-159 as well and is still buried in the sands nearby. However, she is soon distracted from her attempt to solve the mystery by her growing convinction that her "friends" are no longer all they seem -- suspicions which seem confirmed when she eavesdrops on Braxiatel and Denson as they study Jason's body, and overhears them discussing the difficulty of keeping a human form...

Braxiatel sends word to his own people asking for help, and they send him Chris Cwej, who has been force-regenerated into a new form to survive the radiation poisoning he suffered during his last mission. Despite some irritation over his new short and pudgy body, he travels to the quarantined world Paracletes, where he finds journals written both by Watkinson and one of the students on his tour. It seems that Watkinson had become convinced that his students had all been replaced by shape-shifters who were trying to kill him, while the students themselves were merely concerned by their professor's apparent descent into paranoia and suspicion. Before continuing on to KS-159, Chris makes one more stop to collect someone who should be able to prove his theories. Meanwhile, on the Worldsphere, the ship B-Aaron has been investigating odd recent activities, convinced that God is trying to hide something from him and Clarence. He visits his old friend, simulations systems supervisor Zeb'lan, and learns that he has recently run a number of simulations of Benny and her friends, as God believes that Benny and Braxiatel will play vital roles in the forthcoming war. Zeb'lan also mentions that Jason Kane recently visited the Worldsphere, and stayed for a long time, watching his own simulations...

Benny finds her "friends" trying to sedate her without her permission and barricades herself in her room, convinced they are all out to make her one of them. Trying to find a clue, she reads the transcript of Watkinson's last lecture before his disappearance, and finds that he talked about the basic drives of living beings, the needs for survival, for friendship -- and for revenge. Braxiatel, who has also read the transcript, consults the Oracle to find out if Watkinson came her for friendship or for revenge, and the Oracle finally reveals the whole truth. Chris arrives with proof of Braxiatel's claims -- Jason Kane, alive and well -- but Benny doesn't believe that they are either the real Chris or the real Jason, and flees out into the wastes while her friends are distracted. When she sees her friends pursuing her with handguns, she sets Mikelz's base on fire to distract the heat-sensitive GPS satellites, and escapes back to the base. There, she is confronted by Braxiatel, who tries to explain that she has been possessed by a creature which feeds on doubt, fear and uncertainty, and which absorbs other beings' life forces in order to maintain control over its host's mind.

Watkinson was possessed by the creature on Paracletes, and managed to resist it only after it had killed the rest of the expedition through him. Knowing he was dying, and seeking revenge for his friend Mikelz's death, Watkinson brought the creature to KS-159 and killed himself, forcing the creature to evacuate into the only suitable host -- the Oracle. The Oracle shut down its systems, keeping the creature trapped within, until its next visitor came -- a shape-shifter named Kebara, sent to KS-159 by God to consult the Oracle on the forthcoming war. The creature passed into Kebara's mind, and the doubt and uncertainty created by its possession caused Kebara to lose his self-identity and become convinced that he was really Jason Kane. When Benny killed him, the creature passed into her mind, causing her to lose her faith in her friends. She is still not convinced, and when Braxiatel apparently tries to pull a gun on her she overpowers him, takes the gun and shoots him with it. She then retreats to her room and locks herself in with her porter, Joseph.

B-Aaron's investigations attract God's attention, and God admits that as the People were getting nowhere in their attempts to develop time travel, he sent Kebara to KS-159 to consult the Oracle for solutions. When Kebara learned that Benny and Braxiatel would become key figures in the war to come, God decided to keep them occupied by sending them to KS-159. Only Jason Kane could convince Benny to go, and since the real Jason Kane was too unreliable, God had Kebara study simulations of him in order to impersonate him convincingly. However, something has gone wrong, and God isn't sure what it is. B-Aaron passes on the last message from Clarence explaining the situation on KS-159, and God immediately sends the warship J-Kibb on a new course which will take it out of the People's space altogether...

Benny finally realizes that Braxiatel was telling the truth, and that the creature will die if unable to leap to a new host. Before Joseph can stop her, she puts Braxiatel's gun to her head and pulls the trigger. When she recovers, some hours later, she learns that the guns were loaded with anaesthetic capsules; however, the creature was convinced that Benny was about to die, and leapt into Joseph. Joseph is no mere robot, but is in fact a remote drone for the J-Kibb, planted by God long ago in order to keep an eye on Benny. Now the J-Kibb has been possessed by the creature -- but God has sent it on a course which will cause it to crash on Dellah. The Oracle reveals that the war is now much less likely to occur; the flashpoint would have been the release of the People's Gods from Dellah, and the resulting spread of religious mania across the galaxy. However, thanks to Braxiatel and Benny, a creature which spreads uncertainty has just been released upon a world gripped by creatures which feed on faith, and with any luck the two will cancel each other out.

Freed of the creature, Benny trusts her friends again -- but she is still dying. Braxiatel, however, reveals that he has a manuscript in his collection, written by a man who claimed to have found the Fountain of Forever. According to legend, it could cure all ills. Of course, it's only a legend; but so was the Oracle of the Lost...

Source: Cameron Dixon

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