long had he been here?
day? A week?
this little stone room, barely big enough for him to stretch out in, time had
ceased, or slowed to an imperceptible crawl. The stone floors were cold,
pressing against his body as he lay there, his only clothing an old cloth
wrapped around his waist, ending just halfway to his knees.
body ached from the bruises blooming on his body, the results of a careful
beating, done by experts over the course of uncounted hours.
two men hadn’t asked him any questions, nor made any statements. They only
grunted from the efforts of their task.
faces blurred in his memory, leaving them with only a blurred expanse of smooth,
were they doing this to him?
did they want?
you can see,” said a voice in the dark, “his pain receptors are superior to
that of a common, outland Homo Sapiens.”
comp-monitor flared to life.
endures pain that would lay most so-called normals low.”
said a voice in reply, the slight, the tinny after tone and barely audible
crackling telling of a comp-speaker, a tele-presence, not one of
voices, both personal and broadcast sounded eerily alike, soft with an undertone
of arrogant power and belief, voices that gave the impression of ‘I am
right’, with no room to argue.
and perception are linked to the higher animals,” answered the first speaker.
“But in the lower, pain is something to be ignored if survival is at stake.
Humans, if hurt enough, physically or even mentally will merely lie down, and
wait to die.”
animals fight to the last breath.”
The strong. The predators.”
humans are like this.”
It is a factor that cannot be calculated precisely. For some, to protect others
is the key factor, when the animal mind takes over, subsuming the higher
functions. For others, rage or retribution. A slight, or a loss.”
a deception, like..”
not mention his name in my presence!”
my brother. I know how…sensitive you are about…” a pause; “Him.”
would be sensitive too, if you’d been manhandled like a common slag by
we should continue this at another time,” said the electronic voice. “The
readings I am receiving from you indicate that the specimen is asleep.”
and autonomic responses show that he has already slipped into REM sleep,” said
the other, calming down, and shuffling about the dimly lit room. “His brain is
keeping his mind active, yet quiet, allowing resources to be diverted to where
they are needed. He also shows signs, by my sensors, of a head trauma, now
he begins to heal his most recent wounds. It will be sometime before his body is
completely recovered, but his usefulness will by then be long since over
will proceed with the experiments, Brother?”
know there is no other choice, Brother. I must.”
looked up from the fishing net he was repairing, to see his five-year-old
daughter barreling towards him, arms wide, the gauzy cloth wrapped around her
waist flapping in the breeze created by her passage.
shadow stood stark against the white sands that formed the beach, stretching out
for miles both north and south, a hot sun, even now lowering, beating down from
a lightly clouded blue sky.
dropped the splicer and cord he was using just in time to catch the little girl
as she jumped into his arms, hugging him close.
held her tightly, arms browned by the sun and scarred from the past wrapped
around one of the most precious things in his life.
did you catch today?” she asked, her eyes, so much like her mother’s blinked
Sarah,” Elliot replied. “I caught some fish.”
know that, silly! You always catch fish. They live out in the water. What
salmon, just coming in to spawn, I think. As well as a big swordfish, and a
couple of sharks. One of them bit right through the net,” he pointed to the
hole he was mending. “Almost bit through me, too.”
go over well with the villefolk,” said a voice behind them, deep and feminine.
stood, still holding Sarah in his arms, turned and smiled at the speaker.
stood even with his five-foot-ten, a stature that made her a giant among the
people of her little fishing ville, slight inbreeding making the common height
five-foot- five or shorter. She owed her stature to her mother’s encounter
with a band of raiders who’d barely left her alive, and she found later, with
skin was tanned, a deep bronze that was stretched tightly over a lithe muscular
body. Her eyes, light blue, contrasted deeply with the dark skin, and when she
smiled, her white teeth stood out starkly.
hair, not the common brown of the ville was midnight black, at the moment pulled
back and tied with leather twine to keep it out of the way. When loose, it hung
to nearly waist length.
was beautiful, but a rugged beauty, because like her husband she too bore scars,
signs of a hard life, the most recent still pink against the dark skin, only now
beginning to burn in the hot sunlight.
the scar ran the length of her forearm, ending just above the elbow, a parting
gift from the poisonous tip of a mutie stingray’s whipping tail. The creature
had been twenty feet wide, nearly ten long, with a bony tail nearly half again
been feverish for a week after that, the ville elders sprinkling boiled salt and
herbs on the wound, to pucker and dry it, drawing out the poison, chanting all
the time they did so.
Elliot’s opinion, the chanting did more good than the salt, but they’d had
more experience with that type of mutie than he’d had, so he allowed them to
on the eighth day, she opened her eyes, and asked for her daughter.
he said, smiling. She arched an eyebrow, asked; “Needin’ to put a name to
the face, lover? Mebbe you’ve been out on the water too long.”
shrugged. “Mebbe I missed you.”
spoke up. “And me!” she said indignantly.
two adults laughed.
Sarah. And you.”
little girl wriggled out of his arms, dropping to the sand. “Gonna look at the
sharks. Mebbe gots good teeths.”
Elliot cautioned. “What teeth I saw were sharp. Made short work of the net.”
she tossed over her shoulder, heading toward the skiff that Elliot used,
anchored near a pile of driftwood.
turned toward Asia. “C’mere, woman,” he said lightly, holding out his
stepped into his embrace, feeling the muscles of his swimmer’s body pressing
against her, hot from the sun and his efforts on the beach. She could feel his
pulse through his skin, and her breathing quickened as she felt him harden as
she pressed against him.
felt her heartbeat speed up.
been awake for hours now, the dream a fading memory, only the warmth of love’s
memory kept him from pounding the walls in a frenzy.
captive walked around the concrete cage he was in, avoiding the rimmed hole that
served as a privy. It took only a few steps to completely navigate the cell,
ending with him facing the only way out, a heavy steel door, held to hinges with
rivets and pins as thick as his thumb.
had he eaten last?
seems to be getting stronger, brother,” said
the transmitted voice
other grunted in reply.
is still battered and bruised,” answered the natural voice. “But he ignores
it. Does he just do this naturally? Does he have a reason to persevere, or is it
he wants vengeance, brother.”
is only a little more than an animal.”
But if he ignores the pain your handlers have inflicted, will he respond to
stimuli properly? Perhaps you cannot goad him with pain and prods.”
punishment is not the only tool at my disposal, brother.”
felt that a day had passed when he was fed, a tasteless gruel that did little to
fill the hole in his belly. If his sleep, disturbed by the scraping of the
tray’s delivery, had any dreams within it’s dark confines, he couldn’t
wanted to call out, demand what had happened to his wife and child, but he knew,
if he did so, whoever this was who held him captive would find them, use them
found himself looking at his arms, leanly muscled, scarred by a hard life of
more than fishing, then realized he was watching his fingers moving so slowly,
felt his mind dimming as a relaxing fog crept through it.
slumped to the ground, cursing himself.
shout went through the ville, like a fire through dry plains grass.
three air wags, called Deathbirds by Mag and Roamer alike settled down, the
modified machines looking like monstrous mutie insects.
opened, and from each stepped two figures, stopping as they stood shoulder to
shoulder, watching the villagers scattering. The black polycarbonate armor
gleamed in the reddening sun, the red badges of office standing out starkly.
one, Sin-Eaters, as much a symbol of the Mags as the armor they wore sprang out
into their hands like magic. Big blasters, as black as the hearts of the men who
held them shone in oiled beauty.
felt a shadow pass over, and looked up to see a strange, triangular airwag move
hidden from the Mags by a low sand dune, the three, husband, wife and frightened
daughter who had returned from the boat, watched as Mags raised their
blaster-tipped arms, long bores pointing like accusing fingers.
one, they fired.
slugs ripped out, striking arms and legs, only occasionally a chilling shot as
torsos twisted, or heads ducked into the line of the bullets, high velocity
death sending them to the darklands.
does the plague, the Mags began to march through the ville, which had boasted a
population of over a hundred, dropping clips and slamming fresh ones home as
they strode among the ramshackle huts and driftwood houses.
pulled Asia down, Sarah clutching to his legs, watching as the Mags hunted
everyone down, each cry of pain sparking a fierce fire of hate that burned
higher and higher.
watched the Mags begin to spread out, blasters roaring as stragglers were found.
turned to Asia. “Get to the boat,” he hissed.
nodded, bending to gather up a whimpering Sarah. Then staying low, they made
their way to the boat, Sarah scampering in, and ducking down at the muttered
command of her mother.
clambered in, and set the oars. She looked at her husband.
nodded, then ground his teeth, pushing the boat off the beach into the water,
slightly murky from the churning sand driven by the incoming tide.
a cloud of splinters showered him as wood exploded next to his hand.
a startled curse, he looked behind him and saw a lone Mag struggling with his
a muscle-popping heave, Elliot shoved hard, pushing the skiff into the water.
“Use the oars, get clear for the sails!” he shouted. “Go to the inlet!
Keep Sarah safe! I’ll meet you!”
goddamn it! GO!”
chunk of wood blew off, close enough to Sarah to get a scream from the child.
With an anguished expression on her face, Asia began to row, pulling hard on the
oars, the prow cutting through the oncoming waves.
deep in water now, Elliot dove as the Mag, advancing towards the shore and
seeing him as the most immediate threat, fired again, the burst making the water
diving man felt the impact waves of the bullets plunging past him.
Mag fired again, trying to hit the slagger in the water, but the churning sand
made it impossible to find him.
a clip, the armored man inserted a fresh one, then sighted in on the skiff,
which was just in his range, focusing on the black-haired woman who was even now
raising a patched sail that billowed in the breeze.
finger began to squeeze…
slammed into the Mag from the side, the blaster discharging harmlessly into the
water as the Baron’s man stumbled.
blinked saltwater from his eyes, and panted, still winded from the quick
underwater swim, his lungs still desperately pulling air from his surfacing
behind the low pile of driftwood and his quick dash to stop the Mag from firing.
His chest burned, but with the sight of the Mag gaining acquisition on his
family, his thoughts of escape were washed way by a burning tide of desperate
slammed his forearm into the juncture of helmet and neck, the Mag stumbling
forward into the water. He was driven to his knees as Elliot struck again,
barely feeling his own flesh crush against the armor of his opponent.
Mag surged up, his own forearm smashing against his attackers head.
stumbled back, his vision obscured by a wave of stars filling his eyes. Dimly he
was aware of the Sin-Eater raising, and more by instinct and luck than by
conscious effort caught the Sec-man’s wrist, the blaster cooking off, powder
scorching his thigh.
Mag, three inches taller, tried to knee Elliot in the groin, but he was fighting
in an unfamiliar environment, not the savage Tartarus Pits and missed, the sand
and water combining to drag his foot down, for one precious second leaving him
shoved even as he felt the armored knee scrape his thigh, and both he and the
Mag plunged into the water, sinking below the waves that now surged waist high.
world turned sea-green, sound became muffled as the water closed over him.
Mag tried to bring his blaster in line, but Elliot shoved hard, and the barrel
plunged into the silt.
broke the surface at the same time, gasping for air. The Mag clawed at his boot,
drawing his combat blade to slash at his enemy’s chest with the razored edge.
hissed his pain, then locked up with the man, his left hand still holding the
Mag’s blaster hand, his right grabbing for the knife wielding left.
felt, for an instant, a strange sense of Déjà vu.
thrusting his leg between the Mag’s, Elliot heaved with all his strength,
lifting the Mag up and plunging backwards into the water.
washed over where they’d gone under, then there was an explosion of bubbles,
then a blot of red stained the water’s surface.
head broke the water, his teeth gritted, his right hand holding a gauntleted
hand armed with a blade, the other under the water.
burst of bubbles, and the knife-hand opened convulsively, clawing for Elliot’s
the need to gasp for air, his head spinning and his chest burning, heart
pounding as if it were trying to fly free, his face twisted into a rictus of
fury as he shoved down harder, his body above the water jerking as the Mag’s
struggles below began to slow…slow…
ducked under for an instant, came back up with the Mag’s combat blade clutched
in his shaking right hand.
turned his head, saw the sail of the boat swelling with the wind, smoothly
cutting the waves.
seconds had gone past.
were still too close.
Elliot splashed to shore.
him, the Mag’s armor, buoyed by trapped air broke the surface, showing the
stump of the Mag’s right hand, where the plugged barrel of the Sin-Eater had
burst, the instinctively squeezed burst blowing off his armored fingers.
vented in bloody bubbles from the ragged hole, and the corpse sank back,
foot bumped into something as he crawled, trying to keep his breathing
inaudible, looking over a three-foot-dune at the ville, watching two Mags
dragging a bloody, writhing figure to the ville’s center. He looked back, saw
what it was he’d struck.
splashed his face.
Elliot blinked water from his eyes. Standing over him was a Mag, clad in shiny
slagger,” he snarled, throwing himself at the armored man only to find himself
bound to a table by nylon straps and metal shackles. The shackles were lined
with some sort of rubber, like the inner tubes of tires, and had been inflated
to hold him snugly down, the slack that solid metal straps would have negated,
holding him tightly.
Mag casually sat the bucket he’d been holding down, then back handed the bound
man, the armored gauntlet raising a welt where it had struck.
were not ordered to speak,” said the man, his voice flat and unemotional.
hand raised again, the fingers curling into a fist this time, when a quiet voice
hand dropped to the Mag’s side. “Yes, my Lord Baron.”
looked about, saw a vid-monitor, like ones he’d seen…somewhere. On it,
silhouetted by a backlight, and concealed by a thin gauzy curtain was a man-like
form, the thinness of the arms giving the impression of inhuman delicacy. The
head seemed slightly too large, balanced precariously on a too-thin neck, and
round, no curls or strands of hair showing.
see anything else was impossible.
would imagine you are wondering what you are doing here,” asked the quiet
why your murdering Mags didn’t fuckin’ chill me.”
suppose your being alive after what you’ve seen and done must indeed be a
surprise to you. Let us review, shall we?”
image of the Baron faded, to be replaced by the jumpy image of a big, familiar
looking blaster, aimed at a wooden boat rowing out to sea.
picture jumped, and several confusing, blurred moments later, Elliot saw his own
face, twisted with desperate anger.
realized he was somehow seeing through the Mag’s eyes as they had fought, even
as the man drowned.
Magistrates have viewing cameras, or as your ilk call them, spyeyes on their
helmets while they harvest for us.”
scene faded, to be replaced by the view of another, and the picture suddenly
became chaotic as a fishing net flew over a dune, to unfurl and entangle the
watching Mag and his companion.
are very resourceful.”
bit back a reply.
viewer shifted under the net, just in time to see Elliot jump onto another Mag,
and shove the point of the knife he held up under the man’s chin, a torrent of
blood pouring down as the blade sliced up through soft flesh, cleaving the
tongue and palate, punching on through to penetrate the brain.
Mag dropped, and Elliot jerked out the blade and ran, closely pursued by the
remaining armored men, Sin-Eaters blazing.
view faded out.
you kill two of my Magistrates, incapacitated two others, then nearly escape
from the remaining two. What a pity your reason to do so was…ended.”
blinked, his heart suddenly leaping to his throat.
pounding, Elliot watched again from the view of a Mag as the ground suddenly
receded, land was swallowed by the sea as the Deathbird the Mag was flying
soared over the water, heading for a white dot cutting through the waves.
whispered Elliot. “Oh God, no.”
spear of fire, trailing smoke shot into view, flaring past the Deathbird’s
nose, continuing on into the distance, until it almost touched the boat skimming
through the water.
fireball erupted, flaring to almost painful intensity for an instant then
fading, leaving nothing.
debris. No bodies.
stood out in sharp relief as Elliot strained at his bonds.
think you damaged him, brother.”
needed a response. I had to make him react, respond to stimuli of my choice, so
I could gauge a reaction.”
see, by the information that you are sending me, that the specimen’s brain
world has just collapsed. I am the destroyer of all he knew. But, he also knows
he lives only by my will.”
have noticed a flaw.”
does indeed give a true reaction from a subject. This much is true. But
background, his life before, this also builds the foundations of his reactions.
His fears are built from the past. His hopes come from overcoming his fears.”
have no idea what his life was like before you captured him.”
was in a fishing village. The only one to fight back before the strobe finally
caught his eye in the dusk. That is the reason I singled him out, and had him
brought to my more…shall we say…isolated cells. Inborn aggression, focused
in a specific direction at the stimulus of my choosing. ”
he, unlike the others you harvested from the village, was not born there.”
Baron spun on his heel, stared at the image on the screen, the struggling figure
suspended in the center, bound to a table of stainless steel. “What?”
is not of the same genotype as the people of that ville. They were shorter,
darker, according to the images you sent me. He is taller, leaner, and though
tanned by the sun, lighter than they.”
it!” The Baron whispered. “Damn it!” Louder this time, nearly a shout.
at ease, brother.”
This…this…interloper has invalidated my entire experiment! My facts are
Baron swept the monitor holding Elliot’s image off of the table, the display
ending in a shower of sparks as the tube imploded.
Baron, his hand trembling with rage stabbed at a button. “Magistrate! Serve a
termination warrant on the specimen in holding cell 3-A! I want his body
disposed of afterward! And have the cell cleansed! I want no trace of the
my Lord Baron.”
Baron turned to the other monitor, the one with his fellow hybrid looking on.
want to say something?” he asked.
are becoming more and more…volatile, my brother. You’ve been like this, ever
mention his name!” interrupted Baron Cobalt, his face fully lit now by the
illumination of the monitor over which he spoke to his crèche-brother. The
monitor was beginning to show signs of static, a sign that the atmosphere was
again becoming unstable, overcoming the power of the recently completed relaying
image of the other hybrid began to fade away, and Cobalt thought he could see a
faint trace of a smile on his brother’s face.
you wissssshhhh……” then there was static, white noise that filled the room
Baron stood there, feeling a tension twisting inside him. He reflected that
maybe he should visit the Dulce facility, as it was near his time. With the
harvest of the fishing ville…he groaned, lifting his face to the high ceiling
of his chambers.
my Lord Baron.”
lay on the table, his body clothed only in his now filthy loincloth, watching as
the black-clad Mag received orders from his master.
visored gaze turned to rest on him.
been ordered to serve a Termination warrant on you,” the Mag said.
snarled at the Mag.
Mag looked up, saw the light of the spyeye was out. Lifting his hands, he undid
the underjaw lockguards holding his helmet, and took it off, revealing a man
older than Elliot’s near thirty, his hair white with green eyes looking out
from pale skin. His face held the stillness of something dead, but those green
eyes held a trace of something that Elliot could read as…anger?
Mag leaned over him. “I trained the two Magistrates you chilled, slagger. They
were some of the best I’d had. They could’a been better than me. Better than
face twitched, and he stood back up. Through gritted teeth he snarled; “But
you, you outland piece of rad-shitting slag, you chilled ‘em!”
gauntlet slammed down into Elliot’s stomach. “Nobody chills a Mag and gets
away with it! Nobody!” The man’s wrist flexed, and his Sin-Eater shot out.
He slapped the barrel against Elliot’s face, raising another welt. “I pulled
a lot of favors to get sent here, slagger!” Another blow, this time from the
butt across Elliot’s jaw, nearly dislocating it as it loosened teeth. “The
Baron doesn’t know I know about this place, but I know a lot!” The blaster
was retracted, seemly only so the armored fist could be used.
felt his nose break.
back and breathing harshly, the man looked his captive over.
got a lot of scars there.” The Mag said. He drew his knife. “Lets play
tried to isolate himself as the Mag used his knife, but in the end he found
himself screaming as the blade sliced through flesh. The man knew what he was
doing, cutting only deep enough for pain, but not deep enough to traumatize the
nerves into numbness, or send him into shock.
flowed down his face, to mix with the blood pooling on the table, running down
from long trailing cuts in his arms, shoulders and chest.
Mag leaned forward. “I’d like to cut off your fingers, maybe keep your cock
and balls for souvenirs, but you never know when the Baron might check up on us.
So…” He turned away, and picked up the ebony helm, sliding it on, and
locking it in place.
this was his last chance, Elliot pulled desperately, feeling already torn flesh
black helmed head turned, the blood-spatter dotting the exposed jawline
beginning to clot. He saw another Mag, a cherry named Devries hurrying up to
is it, Rookie?” Magistrate Marshall said, standing among the slaggers he’d
just chilled, Roamers who’d been ambushing the Baron’s supply routes and
making off with wags, juice and mechanical parts imported from Ragnarville. The
tables had been turned this last time though, and they’d found the cargo to be
hard-contact Mags. The fighting had been fierce, but the armor and superior
firepower of the Baron’s Magistrates had managed to wipe them out to a man.
nudged a body absently, turning it over to see the peach-fuzzed face of a
woman and child, he amended.
stopped beside him. He too was covered in grime and blood, none his own. He had
the breathlessness of a virgin no more.
about it, Marshall realized that that was true enough.
Marshall, Sir. We’ve found something you should see.” Devries said,
deferring to the other man as the one in command, since their commander,
Magistrate Barnes was wounded and sedated, his lower jaw blown off by a lucky
round. It would be reconstructed back at the medical wing of the Magistrate’s
he followed the younger man, wondering if he’d ever been so…young.
man lead Marshall to the cadre of wags the Roamers had used, some beaten wreaks
about to fall apart, while some others, the ones taken before gleamed in bright
patches under the crusted dirt. He saw a number of Mags gathered around one wag,
this one a converted truck, the back covered by riveted steel sheeting. The back
as Marshall arrived, a burst ripped out. Immediately, his Sin-Eater sprang out,
his trigger finger an ounce away from firing. There was another, just as he
pushed his way through the circle.
saw this; the other rookie Mag of the group, Riley, was holding a smoking
Sin-Eater which was pointing at a young woman whose chest was now a red ruin.
Lying beside her, a red-stained bundle, also torn by a burst from the Mag, a
tiny hand poking out.
not saying a thing, Marshall turned, looking at the back of the open wag,
staring at the door in particular. Then he gestured for the young Riley to join
him, the Mag stepping up smartly, the Sin-Eater retracting, and a tight,
adrenaline-fueled smile on his face.
Marshall turned slightly, his eyes concealed by his tinted visor. He gazed at
the young Mag beside him.
he backhanded him.
stumbled back, his mouth gaping open, and blood began to run from a split lip.
“What...” he began, just as Marshall’s fist rocketed out, catching him on
the point of the chin, up-ending him, spinning him slightly to make him slam
face-first into the woman’s open wound.
stupid Slagger!” Marshall roared, stepping on Riley’s back, forcing his face
deeper into the red darkness. He kept his weight on, until Riley stopped trying
to rise, and began to thrash as his air ran out.
stepped back, letting Riley get to his knees, spitting and hawking.
he hauled the young man, bloody faced and retching to the open wag. “This was
locked from the outside, you stupe fuck,” he yelled, pointing to the thing
he’d noticed before, a padlock that swung on a broken clasp. “Do you think
that those two locked themselves in?”
asked one of the men, Magistrate Miles, a ragged scar beside his mouth
distinguishing him from the rest.
shrugged his reply. “We’ll never know, will we?” he gave the bloody Mag a
shake. “Thanks to Quick-shot here, who didn’t notice he was chilling roamer prisoners,
we’ve lost possible intel. If there were more roamers, what they might have if
there were. We have nothing now! Nothing!” Gritting his teeth, he resisted the
urge to slam Riley’s head into the steel side of the wag.
he pulled the blood-streaked face of the Mag close to his own. “You’re going
on report for this. Not because you chilled some outland slag and her baby, but
because you failed to read the signs in a post-combative, post-op situation! If
you can’t control yourself, at all times, I don’t want you where
you’ll get good Mags chilled!”
the cringing Mag away, he strode away from the scene, away from the carnage, the
stink of blood and powdersmoke, to stand at the peak of a hill, which dropped,
jaggedly, into a river nearly a hundred feet down. He sighed, and undoing the
helmet locks lifted it off, breathing deeply as a slight breeze rippled his
short, light brown hair.
smelled the rushing water from below, clean after the air he’d been breathing
for the last while. He ran through the mission, minute by frenzied minute,
seeing every face he’d put a bullet into, some angry, some frightened and some
wondering, as if asking; Why?
he flashed to every other hard-contact mission, and saw those faces.
needed a woman when he got back, he decided. Needed to do something besides
think. He’d seen Mags become fused out when they thought about the past. The
past was dead, the present was now.
future, at least his, determined.
closed his eyes without knowing it, but they sprang open when he heard a crunch
of dirt and rock beneath running feet.
it seemed to him anyway, he turned to see the blood faced Mag running at him,
helm gone, teeth standing out against the blackening ichor, the Sin-Eater
holstered, but the Mag-issue combat blade out. Behind him, the other Magistrates
stood, blasters out, some beginning to run after the seemingly fused out rookie,
but none firing for fear of hitting Marshall.
weapon sprang out, but sparks flashed as the heavy blade struck it, the shock
making it retract.
Then Marshall was fighting for his life.
with the younger man, Marshall’s hands held both of Riley’s at bay, the
Sin-Eater blocked by his grip, the blade arm held at the wrist.
bloody head thrust forward, hitting Marshall in the face, dazing him. Then Riley
screamed, and used of all his insane strength, gained by the ignominy of
Marshall’s pronouncement and the loss of face before the others, to push
himself and Marshall.
Mag felt his feet leave the ground under the assault, then a brief moment of
weightlessness, then a slamming impact as his back struck rock, the armor
absorbing most of the shock. The two combatants were separated by the sudden
shock, but they kept tumbling down the steep incline, Marshall getting a single,
blurring image of a jagged stone shattering Riley’s face.
Marshall was busy trying to survive. He drew his arms and legs up, curling into
a ball, his body rebounding like some predark toy off of the rocks he struck.
felt the armor cracking under the assault. Then saw stars as his head slammed
into another rock, blood spurting.
he shot out again, into open air, and then struck the churning water, slamming
into yet more rocks, the water rushing through his cracked shell, dragging him
last impression was trying to get the suit off, and then darkness claimed him.
slicked his wrist as he blinked his eyes clear of the sweat that stung them. He
pulled and the rubber, slippery with blood, and truth to tell not as full of air
as it should have been because of micro-fissures gained over two hundred years
slipped over, and Elliot’s right hand was free!
quickly set it back, setting it alongside the shackle, hoping the Mag wouldn’t
man had finished clipping the lock in place, and was turning around. His gaze
zeroed in on Elliot’s face. His fingers curled, his wrist flexed, and the
Sin-Eater sprang into his waiting hand.
voice was again flat, and unemotional. “I hereby serve the Termination
warrant, as ordered by Baron Cobalt.” He raised the blaster, aiming it between
miss, Mag.” The Mag smiled slightly, as much as the confines of the helm
allowed his face to move, then stepped closer, pressing the barrel into the
bound man’s forehead, leaning in slightly.
close enough, slagger?”
Elliot hissed, his fist whipping up, striking the Mag in the chin, clacking his
teeth together and rocking his head back. The Sin-Eater barked, but the burst
went wide, powder singeing Elliot’s long, sun-bleached brown hair.
seized the blaster by the barrel, barely feeling the metal burning his fingers,
and pulled it forward, jerking the Mag towards him, off-balance, then rammed his
forehead into his chin, feeling his brain scramble for an instant, rushing
water…rushing water…then the air was knocked out of him by the weight of
the unconscious Mag’s body collapsing on him.
Elliot pushed the Mag off, reaching over to pull the locking bolt from the other
shackle, which deflated, opening with a metallic click. Then he fumbled with the
clasp of the nylon holding him down, breaking a nail at the quick, but managing
to flip the silver clasp up, the strap immediately loosening.
to sit up, he tried to ignore the agony pulsing through him, but couldn’t
stifle a groan as he grabbed for the remaining straps.
Must’ve bin hit by Roamers.”
moaned, feeling as though he’d been through a grinder.
eyes, swollen nearly shut, opened slightly. What he saw was an old, old man, and
a woman just into her twenties, her hair a long and flowing corn-silk blonde.
Except for a wicked scar down the left side of her face, likely from a knife,
she was quite pretty.
old man was just that, old. And he looked every year of it, wrinkled and marked
by sun and wind, frost and strife. He smiled, showing the three front teeth he
still had, two at the top and one at the bottom, each one blackened at the gums.
His eyes, like the girls sparkled a bright, predark sky blue from under
tried to sit up, but found his body was stiffer than a corpse’s, and glancing
down at his body, nearly black from bruising, he understood why.
son,” the old man cackled. “Don’t go burstin’ those bruises. I seen folk
fine one minute, then chilled the next cause’a them startin’ to bleed
inside. And I ain’t never seen anyone as near chilled as you was when we
pulled ya from the river.”
said the girl, with a fine, rich voice. “”My grandfather and I found you,
snagged on some rocks, blood trailing from your arms and back where the edges
had gouged you. You were near naked, only a black pair of longjohns. They were
pretty much scragged, so we just covered you up.”
me. Do I know you?”
who are you then?”
name’s Claude. Claude Parker. That there’s my daughter’s get. Names
Daphne. What’s yur name?”
I’m a…I’m…I can’t remember.”
That’s often the way,” replied Claude. “Seen a feller git knocked on the
head once, thought he was the Baron of Samauriumville. Got chilled by the
Mag’s fer sedition in…lessee, Bernie’s saloon, down east way.”
nowhere, son. Rad-storms to the north, making the ground glow from the black
rains, and chemstorms to the south, with acid’s that’ll steam you down to
nothin’. We’re goin’ west,
tradin’ as we go, mebbe find some place to settle with good water. Mebbe find
a man fer Daphne here, too.”
woman blushed slightly, and the man covered by the rough blanket looked at the
old man. “I hope you aren’t saying…”
old man shook his head. “Nah. I ain’t sayin’ you gotta stay with her. Man
can’t stay with someone if’n he don’t know himself. Daphne’s my
granddaughter, dammit. She’s gonna get the right man to stay with. I ain’t
tossing her to the first dog that comes sniffin’ around.”
Claude!” Daphne looked outraged. The old man laughed. “Easy girl, I’m jist
lookin’ out fer yur innerests. The boy here, he knows what I’m talkin’
think so,” he replied, shrugging. He felt a scab break, and hot blood began
running. “Shit,” he muttered.
laughed, and dipped a cloth into a steaming pot the man hadn’t noticed. She
wiped the blood off gently, her elbow bumping a bundle from off of the crude bed
the man lay on. He caught the glint of gold leaf printing. He asked; “What’s
book I found,” the woman said, picking it up and brushing it off. As he
watched her, the man looked around, saw for the first time that he was in some
kind of cave, about thirty feet of which was lit by the fire the two had going.
The floor was dirt, and the walls showed some kind of tool marks, giving him the
impression that perhaps this place was man-made.
it about,” he asked her. She shrugged.
don’t know. My learning never got around to reading.”
it over here,” he said. She held it close to his eyes, and he made out the
title, The Collected Works of T.S. Elliot.
liked the sound of it…
looked down at the unconscious Mag, lying on the floor at his feet. His forehead
hurt where he’d smashed it against the Mag’s chin, but the desperate move
had done the trick, giving him the opportunity to slip the catches on the straps
and shackles that had held him down, allowing him to stand.
ran down his arms, the red flow lessening with each second as it clotted,
closing the shallow wounds.
down, he lifted the Mag onto the table, and strapped him down, sagging from the
effort minutes later, leaning against the wall. He spied a washbasin, and
staggered over to it, twisting the faucets in a new/familiar motion.
gushed out, quickly wafting steam into the air.
his teeth, he thrust his arms under it, feeling the heat washing out the wounds.
shock was so sudden, he nearly passed out, grunting out curses through clenched
jaws, every muscle in his body quivering.
let the pain feed his rage, let the rage burn away the weakness of blood loss
felt the memories of who he was beginning to fully coalesce in his mind, like
the pages of poetry in Daphne’s book, there to be read, each page flipping
over with such speed it was a blur, but still legible. Understanding filled him.
the pain faded, and he withdrew the cleaned limbs, splashing water from cupped
hands onto the cuts on his chest, the stinging minor compared to the agony of
cleansed, he turned to the bound man, unconscious on a torturer’s table.
old Mag woke up, feeling his wrists and feet going numb from the straps that
bound them. Feeling a chill, he knew that he was also naked, a fact confirmed as
he opened his eyes. He looked up, and saw another Mag standing over him, just
now adjusting his helm. For an instant, the bound Mag feared that this was the
man he’d been torturing, but saw the ease that he wore the armor and felt the
aura of authority that a Magistrate in full armor projected.
this was no Outland slagger. It had to be his partner, Samuels. “Magistrate!
Release me! The prisoner’s escaped! We have to find him, before he gets out of
Mag slowly turned his head, and the man bound to the table saw the painful way
he moved, felt the sheer malevolence from the man’s eyes, even through the
visor that hid them. “Who are you?” the older man whispered, realizing, as
awareness bloomed fully, that he didn’t know this man at all.
wife called me Elliot,” said the man. “She gave me love I didn’t
deserve.” The Sin-eater, holstered to his right forearm, sprang into his hand.
“I’m going back, to say goodbye to them.
bound Mag looked into the bore of the blaster.
figure topped the peak of the trail, adjusting the straps of the leather pack on
his back. His hair, long and sun-bleached stirred in the breeze. His clothing,
the tough homespun leather of the Outlands was worn from weeks of harsh travel,
sweat-stained and dirty.
coat, patched, was tucked into the pack, leaving him wearing a tied leather vest
that left his arms bare, the skin spotted by a multitude of scars, more standing
out against the exposed, sun-darkened skin of his chest, crossed over in turn by
the black nylon string of a compound bow, which rested partly on the slung pack.
eyes, so light they would appear red in the right lighting, scanned what lay
great waters of the Cific glittered below him, reflecting the sunlight that
burned down, the sky swept clear of the great chemclouds that commonly shaded
the land. Gulls, some mutated so large their wingspans cleared fifteen feet,
circled and swooped, some coming out of a dive with a writhing fish clutched in
webbed claws, some hitting the water only to be taken themselves by predators
heaved a sigh.
been alone now for nearly three months.
had succumbed to rad-cancer four weeks after he’d pulled Elliot from the
river’s embrace. He’d passed painlessly in his sleep, after going to bed
claiming an upset stomach. He lay buried now, deep in an unmarked grave,
hundreds of miles away. The only indication of his being there was a cluster of
daisies, sprung up miraculously days after.
and Elliot had traveled on, the two traveling from ville to ville, the woman
finally settling with a man who owned a blacksmith shop, becoming his wife and
the mother of his three young children.
then traveled alone, braving mutated forests and beasts, moving, always moving,
driven by some deep desire.
eyes caught a hint of movement at the shoreline, a gigantic sea turtle pulling
itself to shore, the ten-foot-flippers digging in deeply to haul the huge,
soft-shelled creature out of the water. Elliot watched as the turtle dug a deep
pit, flippers scooping like great fleshy shovels, flinging sand far and wide,
settling in after the hole met with the turtle’s approval.
great gull, seeing the soft back of the creature so tantalizingly exposed
circled, then dove, razored beak leading the way.
sea creature looked up lazily, as if sensing the approach, then it opened it’s
mouth, and a long tongue slapped out, catching the bird as it recognized the
danger and tried to dodge, dragging it down to the turtle, who slowly chewed the
bird and swallowed it, feathers and all.
looked closer, saw the tendrils rising from just beyond a hill, a half-mile down
hitched up his belt, feeling the weight of the cavalry saber that swung on his
left hip, then lifted the bow, and reached behind his shoulder to grasp one of
three nylon fletched shafts protruding from his pack, pulled and nocked it.
seventy-five pound pull of the bow gave the wide broadhead arrow damage
exceeding the weapons available to most outlanders, even those that had
blasters, which were commonly nothing more than wire-handled pipes with either a
flint or fuse to touch off the homemade powder within.
and deadly, it had saved his life several times in the last few months.
tight smile grew on his lips, his eyes seeming to blaze in the sunlight.
descended, following the trail to wherever it may lead.
Mag strode the carved-rock halls, a symbol of justice. The ebony of his armor
seemed to blend with the darkness of the tunnels he traversed, giving the
impression he was merely an image, a ghost of some forgotten time.
complex was odd, not like the fortified ville he was born in. This one was
nearly deserted, and had the smell of the outside in the air, not the recycled
staleness of the rebreathed ville atmosphere. The floor was rough, as were the
walls, deep scores still holding the grit of their creation, telling of the
newness of the place. Predark lights were strung along the walls, hung from
wires, and burned with a cold, white light.
halted outside a steel door, hearing voices.
I hate this duty!” came a muffled voice.
soulless voice answered. “Perhaps you’d like to inform the Baron,” it
replied another, different in pitch, but similar in content. “The Baron is
always searching for ways to make his people happy.”
no slag to be threatened by the likes of you,” shot back the first voice.
“Unlike you strutting, bottle-fed showpieces, Craven and I have been in battle
against actual enemies, living, breathing, trying-to-
rip-your-guts-out-so-they-can-eat-them enemies, not some simulated firefight
test like you slaggers.”
the armored man flexed his wrist, the trigger of the Sin-eater just resting
against his index finger when the blaster extended. He noticed the Kevlar
underweave he wore felt sticky, especially around his hands, and he looked down
to see thick, red droplets oozing out.
blood reminded him of his injuries, almost forgotten after he’d donned the
armor, the remembered invincibility the polycarbonate and Kevlar gave him
wavering for an instant.
straightened, surprised he didn’t remember slumping against the wall, and
leaned into the door, not noticing the smear of blood he left on it, entering
the room beyond.
leaned back in his chair, looking at the Baron’s strutting personal Guards. He
hated how they sat there, stiff as a virgin’s dick before his first fuck. He
hated how they seemed to talk to each other without saying a word, a raised
eyebrow getting a mocking grin, with both then glancing at him.
hated how perfect they seemed, no scars, no rad-damaged nerves to make their
hands tremble slightly, no burning patches where a bullet or muzzleblaster-ball
had been dug out of a wound left by a lucky shot.
struggled to sit still, aware of the two men’s separate gazes drilling into
him, waiting for a sign of weakness they could mock with their facial
expressions and grunting laughter.
really hated this duty.
the door opened, and Craven, his older partner and former squad leader strode
began to open his mouth to speak, when the two Guards stood, their expressions,
mocking before, smoothed over to the faces of living statues.
they both said, their own weapons shooting out into their hands.
Craven’s Sin-eater was already out, instinct telling Samuels that it had been
out before he’d entered the room, and tracking the closer of the two standing
Mag blaster roared, and one of the two fell back, his face and throat ruined by
the 9mm burst, blood and bone misting the air, some settling on Samuels’ face
even as he threw himself to the side, his own Sin-eater thrusting out from the
sleeve of the gray uniform he wore.
the other guard’s blaster fired, the discharge telling of a maxed-out
powderload. The force of the slugs was like that of a sledgehammer, and the
armored man was picked up like a child, and flung back against the wall, the
polycarbonate armor barely absorbing the double impact, but the red badge of
office shattering into red plastic dust.
slid down the wall to lie, barely moving, on the floor.
pain nearly took him under.
armor, he was sure, was cracked from the magnum force of the Baronial Guard’s
blaster. Likely a few of his ribs, as well. But still, he struggled against the
dark tides that pulled at him, fighting to remain above them.
hand twitched, and the Sin-eater fired, the slugs burning a path into the
other’s leg, knocking him down, hands immediately grabbing for the wound.
took a moment to breathe.
recognized the two Baronials when he’d come into the room as the men who’d
methodically beaten him when he’d first awoken here. He realized now that that
had been straight from Mag training, to soften him up, and make him
more…pliable to further interrogation.
looked the same, those two, well over six foot, each with the same strong
features, each with the same smug look of superiority that all Mags hated to
have come their way. The only difference between the two was the color of their
eyes, which were hazel on the one whose face was now a ruin, and bright,
florescent green on the other.
fired as they rose, the burst taking the first one out.
he’d been punched back.
world had brightened again, and he tried to stand, getting one leg underneath,
straightening it out with a suppressed groan as he rose.
before his widening eyes, the Guard he’d shot in the leg began to stand, the
bloody wound not hampering him at all. Even the blood, strangely pale, had
Sin-eater had become heavier, slowly rising to meet the other’s challenge.
burst ripped out.
stopped by a copse of trees, oak and poplar from the looks of them, and
heard shouting, and the grunts of men in combat.
pushed forward a little further, and finally looked into the ville.
saw two men battling, using hard, copper weighted cudgels inside a circle of
gathered people. They all shared the same features, showing the clannish
familiarities that isolated Outland villes often had, though no serious
inbreeding seemed to have occurred yet, judging by the intelligent faces and
strong, healthy bodies gathered about.
seemed slightly Oriental in heritage, with some Caucasian thrown in, perhaps
some Indian as well. Their eyes where slightly almond shaped, and for the most
part dark, though some brighter eyes could be seen glittering in the sun. They
were short, but still common height for the majority of the Outlands, even a
little taller than others. The woman were slim, with fine figures and small,
firm breasts revealed by the fact that they had only a skirt as clothing.
men wore the same type of skirt as well, making it the common dress of the
ville. They had arms thick with corded muscle, broad shoulders topping a wide
chest and muscled stomach, and what of the legs that were revealed showed bands
of muscle too.
men battled almost formally, the weapon of one up to block the strike of the
other before the blow had even begun. They grunted and yelled as blows were
launched and blocked, the wood and copper striking with hollow sounding clacks,
and metal clunks.
would have believed it to be some sort of ceremony, until he saw the bruises and
cuts that festooned the fighters before him, streaking them with blood.
club was blocked, and a hand flashed out, nails digging in to tear out a chunk
of scalp, flooding the eyes of his victim with dark red ichor.
crowd gasped. One woman, taller by head and shoulders than the others, cried
blood from his eyes the man, whom Elliot saw was older than the other, perhaps
in his fifties verses the other’s twenty or so, kicked out, catching his
opponent in the abdomen, forcing him back.
the younger recovered and pressed his attack.
older stepped back at the last instant, when the club began its arc, making the
younger man try to compensate, sending him off-balance.
old man returned the blow with a quick, practiced jab, sending the end of the
cudgel into the others gut, forcing the wind out of his lungs and dumping him to
man, now obviously the victor, flicked his wrist, and the copper weight struck
his opponent under the ear, dazing him and toppling him over.
that was that.
eyes looked over the ville, as the people who’d been watching swelled around
the old man. Thatched huts, mostly, with some built or reinforced with driftwood
and predark scrap. The fenders of cars acted as rain gutters and shutters
against the rains that would come in off the waters, old glass windshields
sparkled from the windowsills they were set into. There was even a wagon with
old tires, threadbare but usable, with two tree limbs as handles for people to
haul the conveyance around with.
looked back at the crowd, saw that the tall woman had bulled her way through
them, and had hugged the bloodied man to her.
crowd quieted, and Elliot could hear them speaking.
think that I’m getting too old for this,” said the old man. Even from where
he was listening, Elliot could hear the exhaustion in the old man’s voice.
“I think this was my last challenge,” he panted. He turned to the villefolk,
raised his hands, red with his own blood, and said; “Martin has lost the
challenge to lead, in both peace and war. And I am now too old to make a good
accounting of myself anymore. I cannot be the leader this ville needs in times
of trouble. We needs must go back to the old ways, the tests of strength and
skill, of heart and soul to find the one to replace me. My time grows near, I
feel. Death brings the cold chills to me each day, and each night, I draw closer
to Ella, my wife gone for near twenty years. I dream of her reaching out to me,
and each night I reach for her, getting closer to my life’s love.”
turned, and grasping the ladle the tall woman gave him poured water over his
head, the blood sluicing off, more coming down to replace it, the wound bleeding
as only scalp wounds do. He wavered as he lowered his head, and the crowd held a
collective breath. With an effort of will, he raised his head again, the strain
evident. “Make your choices. The testing begins when they are made.”
with the woman helping him, he turned and began to enter the nearest structure,
evidently the leader’s residence as it was nearly twice the size of the
others, then everyone started as a
howl broke the respectful stillness of the ville.
young combatant, a lump swelling on the side of his head below the right ear
leaped up, brandishing the copper bound club. “No! You will not cheat me, old
man! It is my right to lead! My right!” He began battering his way
through the crowd, which gave way, shocked by the sudden fury in their midst.
he was in the clear, and charging for the old man, who went down on one knee as
the woman, who had been supporting more of his weight than she’d let on
dropped him, spinning around, the old man’s club in her right hand.
felt the thrumming of the bowstring before he realized he’d drawn and loosed.
The shaft flew straight, hitting the charging man in the left shoulder, the
three-bladed arrowhead deflecting slightly to core through the muscled neck,
burying itself up to the fletching, blood spraying out to stain the ground as he
The crowd turned, some raising weapons as Elliot stood, pushing his way into the clearing. He noted that he towered over them, with the exception of the woman, now helping the old man to come towards him.
You saved my father’s life,” the woman said when they were close enough.
“I thank you.”
breathing heavily, her father nodded. “You saved my life. The ville owes you a
debt, stranger. What can we do for you? How can we repay?”
looked over the scene before him, looked beyond the bloodied sand, to see the
ocean before him.
smiled. “One thing…” he said.
Guard slumped, his head nearly taken off by the Sin-eater’s burst.
Behind him, the gray-suited Mag lowered his weapon, looking
down to see Craven’s Sin-eater pointing steadily at him. Realization that this
wasn’t Craven blossomed like a nukeburst, and his hand came up, finger tensing
on the blaster.
it was too late. A burst smacked into his chest, knocking Samuels over a chair,
onto the floor. He lay there, growing cold, as the other, the imposter began to
struggle up. “W-who are y-you?”
came the reply, fading away into the darkness. “Elliot Marshall.”
sighed, and was still.
A man struggled through the last of the clinging bushes, the gauntlets still bracing his forearms scraping along them. The chest and codpiece were gone, the Kevlar bodysuit was tattered and stained and the helm was lost.
looked into the clearing of the inlet, remembering his shouted command to his
fell to his knees, his hair now almost touching the sand, and tears fell from
his eyes. He raised his face to the sky, filled with flashing red and black
chemclouds, and felt a pain that washed away the rage that had kept him going.
face twisted with silent sobs, his wrist flexed, and the Sin-Eater, with its
single remaining bullet came up to rest on his temple.
eyes sprang open. His head twisted, and he saw coming from the bushes a girl of
nearly six, followed by a tall woman, with eyes of startling blue, and hair of
sat there, speechless.
little girl ran towards him, shouting; “We jumped, Daddy! We jumped!”
leaped to his feet, and letting the blaster retract, scooped her up into his
arms, her and her mother.
was crying again.
this time, with joy.
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