It was, ultimately, the pain that brought him back.
The gritty stone floor ground into his skin, only adding to the throbbing agony in his head.
attempted to move, the resulting nausea convincing him to hold off on any other
He levered one eye open, the other not responding. Reaching up with one hand, the movement painfully slow, he found that the other had been sealed up by the dried blood that had poured from his head, coating half of his face.
His sense of smell came next, and he could tell he had been here for a while, wherever here was, the scent of human waste strong in his nose. He tried to move from where he lay, but the nausea came swelling back, and out, his stomach heaving, trying to empty itself, his head exploding with pain beyond description.
He retreated, and slid back into the soothing darkness.
Mary awoke to find herself lying on a bed, still clothed in what she had been wearing before, a white blouse, now stained, and a pair of homespun pants she had put on for her trip into the forest for her mother. Her leather boots, also homespun were on the floor beside where she lay.
She took in her surroundings, her eyes taking in the light blue painted walls, and the white ceiling. The sheets of her bed were crisp and clean, and a finer weave than what she was used to. The air had that slightly artificial tang to it that she had noted just before Hardiman had closed that door…
She sat bolt upright, ignoring the aches of protesting joints. Her head turned this way and that, in an attempt to see the thrice-cursed man.
But, she seemed to be alone.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, and slid her feet into the boots, standing and stretching the last of the kinks away.
She felt rested, and somewhat hungry, but she was thirsty above all.
She walked over to a door marked ‘lavatory’, and opened it, finding an indoor privy, like the ones she and her mother had cleaned in the Baron’s hotels, when they had been working off their time for him.
Using it, and the warm, clean water that came out of the silver faucet, she washed away the many days worth of travel, using the soap she found on the ledge, a rough washcloth and towel that were hanging on a hook behind the door.
She felt, as she washed, slightly detached, like she was moving in a dream. Her mother’s death, her people dying…
Reality came crashing back as her fist smashed into the mirror over the sink, cracks spider-webbing outward. Pain shot up her arm, and she felt the warmth of blood start over her knuckles.
Mary looked into her shattered image, and felt like the image she saw, one part wanting to rant and rave, to tear and rend, while another wanted to curl up, and hope that it would all just go away.
She looked at her hand, watched the blood well up from her split knuckles like a slow, majestic tide. She simply stared at it. Then, she blinked, and looked her hand again. Then she thrust it under the cold water, hissing between clenched teeth as the blood rinsed away.
Grabbing the soap, she hastily washed her hand, not wanting it infected.
Then the young woman dressed again, having disrobed to wash, and stepped into the room she had awoken in.
The walls were still light blue, and the ceiling still white. Her bed, or cot rather sat at the end of many, ten along one wall, even with another ten along the other. The floor was gray concrete, covered with some transparent coating that shined in the light of the flourescents above.
A door at the other end of the room beckoned, and Mary started the long walk towards it.
Absently, she scratched at a small itch, at the crook of her elbow.
A sudden surge of ice-cold water woke him again, soaking him down and washing some of the dirt from him.
Sputtering, his one eye still shut, Graydon started, his good eye scanning even as he sat up.
He heard laughter even as his open eye began to focus. He saw, just out of reach on the other side of the bars, a stocky, greasy haired man, tattered clothing swaying as his body moved.
The laughter was more of a hissing, and Simon could see the gaps where teeth were missing, and the chipped and discolored patches where they remained.
His sense of smell returned, and Graydon could smell the man before him, the body odor almost visible, it was so strong.
But it wasn’t just the smell of an unwashed body, it was something more.
The smell triggered a buried memory.
The garage, when he first pulled into the ville, he’d smelled the man.
Back farther, when he’d fought that pale mutie outside Sam’s Place.
Farther back, on a night of fire and blood, when he’d buried a machete into a muscled neck.
“I know you,” Simon rasped, snorting out a bit of water that had gone up his nose. He heard the laughter stop as if a switch had been thrown.
“Good,” the mutie said, dropping the pail he’d been using. A hand went to his throat, idly stroking a large scar there.
“Good that mind still works,” he hissed. “Was worried hit norm skull too hard, make a no-wit. Only good for pot.”
“Dietary discussions aside,” said a low voice, interrupting the swampie, who stepped back, away from the cell. “I think I’d like a word with our guest alone, Bray.”
“If want,” said the swampie, who turned and left through an unseen door.
Simon turned his head, and saw the tall figure of Hardiman standing there, like a figure stepping from a nightmare. He wore boots, pants and a vest, no shirt beneath, each and every muscle defined like a bodybuilder’s dream.
His face, framed by his long, untied gray-brown hair, was quite handsome, strong, with a high, smooth forehead and slightly squared jaw.
However, that was detracted by the three scars that ran parallel down the side of his face, the untouched half smooth, except for the laughlines that crinkled out, a sharp brown eye gazing with a fierce intelligence, but that scarred side had the eye of hell staring from it, a red cat’s-eye that seemed to bore right into you.
In all, Hardiman was imposing, and he knew it.
“Thanks for the breath of fresh air,” Simon quipped, trying to stand. The smell of the swampie was quickly fading into a memory.
It was as he tried to stand that he realized he was naked as the day he was born.
He weaved slightly as he got to his feet, the headache threatening to return. He straightened, and stared Hardiman right in his mismatched eyes.
The Sec-chief smiled slightly, turned, then pulled up a stool that had been behind him, sitting on it just a few feet from the bars.
Just an arm’s length out of reach.
“Just what did you hope to accomplish,” Hardiman asked, “Coming into the ville as you did? You surely must have known that sooner or later, you would’ve been found out. The girl with the silver hair was most eager to inform on you, when she awoke.”
“I thought I might get to you before she woke up,” Simon admitted. “Truthfully, I should have killed her, but I thought that you and your dogs would like fresh, living meat better.” He took a deep breath, feeling stronger by the minute. He wondered if they’d found the lockpicks he had felt in her hair when he’d held her head still so his fingers could find her carotid artery.
The Sec-chief nodded in agreement. “I concur. A calculated risk, a living distraction…it might have worked, if I hadn’t known you were coming.”
“Your pet mutie tell you?” Simon asked, reaching up, and finally managed to work his eye open, Bray’s bath having loosened the clotted mass enough.
This time, the Sec-chief shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I sent him to the gate, where the silver-hair was taken. The Baron told me that you would be there, watching a woman of silver. Bray saw the only man who had watched her capture take place, and followed him.”
“Our suspicions were confirmed when you fought the Skulker in the alley, and won.”
“So, you were watched for awhile, then a squad was sent out after you. I take it that it was your handiwork we found soon afterward?”
“Yeah. I’d been winning enough to warrant arrest in this pesthole of a ville.”
“I knew it. Then, you questioned one of the men you left alive, and discovered my absence from the ville. And you left immediately to warn your people. Correct?”
“Finding again the silver lady, you appropriated her stolen transport...”
“Which you let her do,” Simon said, interrupting. Hardiman arched an eyebrow.
“Then, finding the remains of the ville, you embarked upon a mission of revenge and retrieval. I take it you noticed that Mary was not there?” Hardiman asked, leaning forward, his eyes, both of them, glinting in the dim light of the jailhouse.
Simon refused the bait, and Hardiman leaned back, looking both disappointed and relieved. “Good,” he said. “Most people would’ve tried, at least. Even though I was too far to reach. You’ll make an interesting adversary, my friend. But first, tell me about yourself. What ville are you from? Where did you learn your most formidable skills? Your blaster and blade are rather unique. Where ever did you find them?”
“At the risk of offending you,” Simon said, mimicking the Sec-chief, “You can go and fuck yourself. If you’re going to kill me, then you’d better get on with it. If not, get ready to find my hands around your throat some day.”
“So then,” Hardiman said. “What shall we talk about?”
“We could reminisce about old times,” Simon replied. “Perhaps we could talk about the night I wiped out half of your bastard sec-men. Maybe we could talk about how I knocked you on your ass when I blew up your wag, and how you scurried away like a mutie rat while your men died like they deserved.”
Hardiman blinked slowly.
And smiled. “I don’t think so,” he muttered. He ran his fingers through his hair, stood and straightened his vest out.
“I think I’d much rather see how your young lady is doing with the Baron,” he told the jailed assassin, words thick with malice. “He has been anxiously searching for her, and was quite pleased with her return.”
“Stuff the act, Hardiman,” Graydon said. “I was raised by people who talked like you, so don’t think your high jack words impress me. And as for Mary, remember that she can take care of herself. When she gets loose, and she will, with or without my help, she’ll come for you.”
Something flickered in Hardiman’s eye.
Simon saw it, and gave a lop-sided grin.
“Recover from your injuries quickly, my friend.” Hardiman growled, savage rage etching itself across his face. “For on the morrow, we will battle, you and I, and only death shall have dominion.”
He turned to leave, but hesitated, then dug into his pocket, and pulled out something he held in his clenched fist.
“Here,” Hardiman said, tossing it to Graydon, who reflexively caught it.
Looking at it, Simon recognized the clay pendant he had worn, minus the thong from which it had hung.
“It looked to me like something Mary might have made for you, if she had been hurried.” Hardiman said. “I thought that maybe you’d like it as a reminder of the time you had together.”
Then, he left.
Simon watched him go, clenching his fingers tightly around the molded clay.
“Oh, yes,” he hissed. “I’ll remember, asshole.”
Then he smashed the clay to bits against the floor.
Pushing open the door, Mary stared out from beyond the dormitory in which she had awoken. Looking left, she found herself staring a glittering wall of quartz specked granite. The stone appeared to have been polished to almost mirror brightness, and Mary could make out her image among the starlike flecks.
Looking to the right, she saw what seemed to be an endless hallway, the walls broken up by a number of doors that stretched out until lost in a turning far away.
Mary took a deep breath, then stepped out, and began following the hall, checking the doors as she went.
The first room she checked was empty, revealed by the guttering of a tube-light that came on with the opening of the door. The floor was bare, and the room had the sense of not having been used for a long time, though the walls, floor and ceiling were immaculate, not a smudge nor speck of dust to show the last time it had been cleaned, though it must have been recently.
She shut the door, an odd affair in itself. The door was pushed open, into the room. It had no doorknob, like the rooms of the Baron’s hotels, but a single bar that slid into the door itself, the catch releasing and allowing the door to move.
And metal! The door was completely made of metal! She had tapped it, and felt the coldness seep into her fingers, the cool that spoke of steel hidden below a layer of paint. This one door alone would pay enough to feed a family for most of a winter, and there were more doors, stretching off into infinity.
Enough jack to feed an army of families…like the family she used to have.
The one she could’ve had.
The cold rush she felt wiped away the wonder of the moment, leaving her feeling dead inside. Mary turned from the closed door, went to check the next one, finding it locked, or jammed.
She didn’t know, nor at that moment care, so she left it, and went to the next one, and then the next, finding each one locked as she made her way up the hall, finding at last an open doorway, leading into a huge room, filled with tables that stretched out nearly thirty feet long, with chairs made of black plastic and steel.
At one end of the room was a number of glass lined booths, with a number of polished metal bars in front of them. Mary recognized what this place once was, because Ryker had a set-up like it in one of his casinos.
She was standing in a huge cafeteria, big enough to feed hundreds of people with room to spare.
And at the thought of food, her stomach began growling, telling her that some time had passed since she had arrived in this place.
Searching the room, she found a cabinet full of canned goods, bowls and plates, and a bank of microwave ovens, all with instructions. She soon had one lit up, the so-called “Roast Beef Delight” within being irradiated.
Mary marveled at the sheer quantity of food here. Why, in the past, would anyone ever want to go to war when there was so much of everything around, so much food, so many places to live without having to worry about rad-hotspots or muties?
The food-warmer chimed, and minding the warnings both on the package and the oven face, she used caution when pulling the package out, feeling the heat beginning to scorch her skin even through the calluses she bore on her hands, a legacy of a hard life that had promised freedom.
She sat the container quickly down, and peeled back the rest of the film from the top, revealing the brownish sludge within, steaming away.
She sniffed it, wrinkling her nose. It almost smelled like a dead dog she had seen once, its swollen belly split by corruption and the huge maggots that writhed within.
Almost, but not quite as natural.
Still, food was food, and her stomach growled at the hint that it might be filled.
Then, tasting the steaming concoction, Mary felt she had discovered the true reason for Skydark.
People wanted to be put out of their misery after eating this shit.
But she was hungry, so she forced herself to eat, cleaning the microwave tray with a bun that had raised during the meal’s time in the oven.
The bread was tasteless, compared to the ryes and brans her mother had made, but it eased the cloying taste of the meal, making the after taste bearable. Stifling a belch, following it with a hushed “excuse me”, Mary pulled the tab of a ring-pull, and drank down the water it held.
Again, it had an artificial taste to it, but it eased her thirst, just as the so-called food had quieted the grumbling of her stomach.
Pushing the tray away, Mary stood, stretched and headed for the door, intending on continuing her exploration of this empty place that Hardiman had sent her to.
As she began down the hall, questions began to fill her mind.
Where was the Baron? She was sure it had been his voice that had greeted her when she woke up in that strange room with the shining silver ceiling.
Where was everybody else? This place was far too clean to not have anyone cleaning it.
And where was this place? She was sure that if it existed near Rykerville, someone would have known about it. So that meant it was outside of the normal range of Ryker’s influence, where none of his people would travel to.
And so, testing doors as she walked, Mary proceeded down the corridor, unknowing of the
destiny that awaited her.
A figure hunched uncomfortably in an armchair too small for it, and watched the progress of Mary’s journey down the hall with the aid of a wall of flickering comp-monitors. Giving up in his quest to find a comfortable position, a shriek of metal tubing echoed in the room, and was repeated several seconds later, the thump of the torn off armrests tossed onto the floor an anti-climax.
At ease at last, eyes reflected bright green in the comp light, while the reclining shape was backlit by lights from the automated laboratory behind him. Machines whirred and clicked, comps ran through intricate calculations at a million million digits a second and lasers flashed and hummed while focusing beams of radiation a millionth of a micron in diameter.
Turning slightly, the eyes of Baron Ryker checked the glowing red gauges at his right side, seeing that the numbers were well within the parameters he’d calculated.
A finger, tipped by something other than nail reached out of the dim, tapped a button, then retreated, like a predator easing back for the finishing lunge.
One monitor, showing Mary’s profile flickered, then her image was replaced by scrolling figures, numbers and letters flashing along in a testimony to a language dead for a hundred years.
Extrapolations and estimations.
The language of long dead men, many of which had contributed to the ending of the industrial world, nay, the world in general, birthing the lands and monstrosities that comprised the new world, charred by nuclear fires that still burned within the very core of the beings who now walked.
A finger tapped again, and Mary’s face filled the screen. Another, and the entire wall of comps linked, showing the girls face ten feet tall, her blue eyes startling against her dark skin.
A sigh of pleasure drifted.
And the machines continued.
In the corridor, Mary paused, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling.
She felt as though eyes were watching her, boring into her. The young woman turned around, looking back the way she came, but saw no one. She looked for ob-slits, still feeling the burning gaze, but saw nothing except for a black box mounted up on the wall, out of reach, a single red light burning.
Mary dismissed it, never having seen a security camera before.
Then a sound echoed through the hall, from the way she had come, a moaning gibbering noise that filled her with terror.
She turned on her heel, and fled down the unfamiliar corridor, the slapping of her boots against the floor not quite managing to cover the sounds of pursuit, wet fleshy sounds that spoke of bare feet, many bare feet, all pounding their way towards her.
She rounded a turn, and found her way blocked by a solid, transparent barrier that looked like glass, but was much, much stronger.
Mary had never seen arma-glass, the rare space station forged material that was stronger than steel, and didn’t know that pounding against it would be useless, so she hit it with the underside of her fists, panic setting in as the slobbering hoard behind her grew closer.
“Come in, Mary.”
The girl would’ve looked for the speaker, but at that instant, the glass slid aside, and she slipped through the opening, watching it close back, setting flush against the wall.
Then the hoard came into view.
Mutants, all of them. Some of them looked nearly human as they slammed into the arma-glass, smearing flesh and saliva along the barrier. But upon closer inspection Mary saw, as she was pulled by a morbid curiosity, numerous oddities.
She saw extra eyes, extra mouths, tongues that extended well past eighteen inches. Arms, so thin they looked fragile, topped with talons half again as long as the fingers that jutted out with three extra joints.
Legs that bent the wrong way at the knees, legs that didn’t bend, extra legs that flopped uselessly, hanging from the waist and chest.
Skin hung in dieseased folds, parasites squirming in the gangrenous flesh and the pools of oils collecting in the wrinkles. Some skin flaked off, some was peeling back from the raw muscle and glistening bone.
Heads, much too big lolled on too-thin necks, the eyes burning with madness. Ears were pointed or normal, or extended out on twitching columns of skin that opened and closed like extra mouths, or sealed shut by flaps of skin or swelling boils or a myriad of other afflictions.
She saw a humanoid batter his way through the crowd, flinging the others left and right. He looked at her when he got to the glass, hardly breathing.
Then he slapped his hands against the barrier and screamed!
Mary screamed too, backing away as the suckered hands of the near-norm stickie flexed, and a screeching noise could be heard as the talons that tipped the fingers scraped down.
She turned and ran, leaving behind the monsters that clambered there, the feathers that sprouted around eyes, the scales that covered gill-slits, the mouths that contained fangs and poisons and madness and pain.
Mary ran in a haze of horror, her breath coming harshly, sweat running freely, ran until she came to the end of the corridor she was in, the walls of which had changed from painted concrete to carved stone, the tool marks still visible in the rock.
The door was different from the others. It was like riveted steel, and split down the middle, seating together so closely that she couldn’t see between. The rattled girl panted, her mind whirling at the sights she had just witnessed. What sort of God would allow such monsters to live, even in the dark pits of this strange hell?
She began to grow angry, suddenly realizing that this freak show had been arranged for her benefit, likely to drive her to this very spot, facing the challenge of the solid steel door that stood impassively, waiting to grant or deny passage.
Mary reached out, and pushed.
Green eyes watched a giant hand push against the steel, and a finger topped by a talon the consistancy of horn touched a button, activating servos.
Mary started back as the doors, massively thick and two feet higher than the actual opening in the rock swung open, away from her, stone being ground to grit beneath the multi-ton slabs.
She slowly stepped through, and saw she was on a balcony, overlooking a scene glimpsed in a nightmare.
Sixty feet down, spread across hundreds of feet of floor space she watched as people moved back and forth, shuffling along as their backs were creased by the cracks of whips wielded by men who wore black masks over their heads, eyes covered by glinting pieces of tinted plastic, likely the remains of sunglasses.
The shuffling figures carried bundles, and handled wheelbarrows that brimmed with black earth, dumping them into a cart that was pulled away when it was full.
Looking across, Mary saw the windowed levels of a building, set into the wall opposite her. She counted five levels, the top one looking incomplete, the mirrored glass present in the other levels lacking there.
The feeling of déjà vu rushed over her in a cold rush, making her feel dizzy with the sudden sensation. She staggered back, feeling like she was on the edge of an abyss, as if to look over would allow the darkness to stare back at her, filling her with forbidden knowledge.
“Feel the power you have, little Mary,” said a deep voice behind her. She spun, knowing who it belonged to, knowing that it might be better to jump from the balcony and plummet to the hard stone littered ground below.
have swallowed a bullet, right then and there.
She got the impression of great size, well over Hardiman’s six-and-a-half feet, and muscular definition that was so impossible, it was obscene.
Mary saw hands reaching for her, big enough to envelope her head, each finger tipped with a yellowish talon that curved like a cat’s claw. Her gaze stopped at the Baron’s face, and she was entranced for an instant by the burning green eyes.
Then she screamed.
But down below, no-one noticed as the whips cracked, the dirt dumped, and the rag-bound feet shuffled.
The mechanic held up the selection of grens he had found wired to the wag.
Hardiman looked over the deadly little globes, seeing the dark green stripe of the frag grens, the plain casing of the hi-ex, the scarlet band of the implode, some with an arming dial, ors with pin-and-spoon.
“I just kept digging sir,” the man was saying. “I found this one,”pointing to the fragger, “under the dash, backed up against the firewall. It would’ve taken out everyone in the cab, and mebbe some people in the back.”
“Fuel tank?” asked Hardiman, flashing back to that night of fire and blood.
The man nodded. “Found two, one next to the tank, the next under the left spare tire. It’d been wired to the gas cap. Take it off to gas the wag, the wire tightens, arms the gren…”
Hardiman’s hand flashed out, grabbed the man by the throat, mentally seeing that idiot Crow clawing at the arm that held him up, strangling the life from him.
Just a little before his wag blew.
“I didn’t ask for details on the boobies, did I?”
The mechanic, his face red, his arms full of hi powered grens shook his head as best he could.
“I just asked if you had found any on the gas tanks, yes?”
The man nodded again, the grenades beginning to get heavy in his weakening arms.
“Then tell me what I ask.”
The mechanic fell to his knees, bracing the grens against his chest, not wanting one to slip as blood pounded back into his head, and his lungs sucked greedily at the air.
“So the wag has been searched and cleared, correct?”
The mechanics assistant, standing behind the kneeling man, his face pale, nodded.
“Good,” Hardiman stated. He put his hat on, snugged it down against the wind that had just started up outside. It looked to be the precursor to a chemstorm, a hint of sulphur in the air.
He was glad he hadn’t killed the silver-haired woman. The information she had given him about the rigging her captor had been doing during the time before they re-entered the ville had proven invaluable, telling him that there was more than one gren booby on the wag, prompting them to search further, beyond the obvious.
Of course, her usefulness was now over.
As a source of…information, anyway.
Behind him, the mechanics assistant clambered into the wag, so he could drive it over to the motor pool, where the rest of Baron’s wags were.
The man, named Albert Lean, held his breath as he turned the key, fearful of a missed gren.
The engine sputtered, then roared to life.
Albert heaved a sigh of relief. So did his boss, rubbing his throat where Hardiman’s fingers had dug in.
Lean put the wag in gear, then started toward the pool, where he’d park it, and fill it up for it’s next run.
“So, you get to live for a while more,” said a woman’s voice from the cell beside him.
Almost grinning at the venom in her voice, he replied; “Seems like it.”
“You sound happy,” Elsbeth spat. Hardiman hadn’t touched her, though she was sure that was because she had told him about the boobies that had been rigged. But when the traps had all been found, she’d better be gone. She reached into her hair, pulled out the picks, missed because this time, they had stripped her naked, searched every orifice none to gently, and had left it at that.
She winced as she moved, the soreness of her parts hindering her a little. Then she set to work, trying to work the tumblers like she had on a hundred different locks before.
“So, you a pro?” came the man’s voice from the cell along side.
Elsbeth hissed in annoyance. She’d been startled, and missed a pin.
She’d have to start over.
“Pro what?” she replied. She held the tension bar a little tighter, probed, and she could feel the pins falling right into place.
She’d be out of the cell in less than thirty seconds.
“Good looking girl like you?” The voice snorted. “What do you think?”
“Once,” she replied, not really paying any attention to his questions, nor to her answers as she felt the last pin fall, and the tension bar shift as it turned the lock.
Now to get out.
Hardiman was rounding the corner, only a block away from the cells.
He grinned in anticipation, thinking he’d let the man watch as he had his way with the woman. Not that the Sec-chief actually thought that the other would care what he did to her, after all, didn’t he use her as a way in, knowing the consequences for the girl?
No. Basically, it was just a childish game, a little bit of “I have this and you don’t.”
He hoped she’d scream. He liked the screamers.
And so, the Sec-chief hurried on, the thin civility peeling away, letting the beast come out to play.
Mary awoke, cold and covered only with a thin green sheet. She could feel that she was lying naked on some sort of steel table, the warmth being leeched from her by the chilling contact.
She tried to move, and felt the straps biting into her body.
And at that moment, she was more terrified than she had ever been before.
“Ah, awake at last.” She heard the Baron say, his voice coming through speakers set in the corners of the room. Twisting her head around, she could see his shadowy figure behind a wall of glass, bending over some sort of machinery, the flickering lights like fire. “Don’t worry about fainting, my dear. I’m afraid I often have that effect on women.”
There was a whining from the side of the room, and Mary could see a stainless steel assembly approaching her, a solid vertical bar of gleaming metal slowly advancing on her right, the mirrored finsh showing her struggling figure. The bar rose slightly, rotated on its center until it was horizontal, revealing the arm leading into the track that lead to the table. The bar stopped directly over her, and she could now see the small holes that lined it.
Another arm, at the end of the table,pulled the sheet from her.
“Don’t worry, dear, dear Mary. This won’t hurt a bit.”
From every other hole, a thin mist shot out, refracting the beams that came from the others. The gas shot out, covering her body, seeming to stick to her skin, turning golden as her body shivered, losing more heat to the clinging film.
The beams began to move, the refracted tracings showing the cone patterns, then the grid movements, then finally the conjoining, where they all concentrated their paths on her abdomen. They remained there for minutes that seemed to stretch into hours.
“You may want to close you eyes, my dear.”
The bar moved up to her head.
Mary closed her eyes as the mist began to spill out.
She could feel the heat of the beams going over her face, repeating the patterns from before, but felt the beams concentrate twice, once on each eyelid.
“Excellent.” She felt the bar withdraw, and the heat from the beams cease. Carefully she opened her eyes, saw the assembly withdrawing.
Movement from above caught her eyes and she saw another arm, this time descending from the ceiling. This one was also cylindrical, but had a cross-section at the rounded end that was pointed at Mary.
“Did you know, little Mary, that the human liver has regenerative qualities? That if you lost a piece of it, and survived, that piece would actually grow back?” The Baron snorted, as if disgusted with himself. “Of course you don’t. Where would you learn that?”
The end of the cylinder opened, the cross section blooming outward like a silver flower, revealing a black hollow.
Mary tensed her stomach.
“But, it is, because of those same regenerative qualities, very resistant to foreign intrusions. So, I am afraid that this will hurt.”
Mary saw the long, slim shape of the needle emerge, extending, coming down…
Her screams echoed through the room for a long time.
Albert hopped out of the wag, reached for the nozzle of the gas pump. He checked to make sure the pump handle was ready, because he seemed to be the only one who oiled the damn thing, then took off the gas cap.
He shoved the nozzle in, felt it catch, pushed in a little harder,beginning to pump almost immediately, smelling the prime predark processed juice as it began to flow. He looked down, saw the gas welling up, as if the flow was impeded. He pulled the nozzle out, looked inside.
And saw the reflection of a gas covered ball as it rolled down the tube, into the gas tank, lubed by juice and pushed down by the initial insertion of the nozzle.
He could only think to say; “Oh.”
Hardiman opened the door of the cell block, his grin threatening to split his face. Behind him, guards fled the building, to stand outside.
They knew what that grin meant, and didn’t want to get caught in it’s backblast. Hardiman’s times with female prisoners often gave the sec-men on duty nightmares, and none wanted to be the one to clean up the remains.
So they waited outside.
Simon turned to face the door as it opened, seeing the Sec-chief come in.
“Thought we were going to fight tomorrow, Hardiman,” he said. “Coming to scare me some more?” Simon fought not to show the chill that raced up his spine when the big man turned a beaming smile at him. He had seen smiles like that before. One of which had been on a man he’d killed while training at the Paradigm facility, a serious psychopathic personality that had driven through five states, killing entire families with a sledge hammer.
The man had been immensely strong, and had enjoyed his work.
It was one of the few deaths that Simon felt no remorse for.
The other time he’d seen a smile like that was on a training vid, at the death of the Sledgehammer Man, on his own face, raising the dripping mass of iron over his head, and bringing it down…
Simon shook his head slightly, and met the gleaming cat’s eye.
“I’m here to have a little entertainment, my clever friend. We found all the grens you had hidden on the wag, so I thought I’d come to tell you. And show the lady my appreciation of everything she told me.I’ll bring her out here, if you’d like to watch. If not, you can still listen.”
“Speaking of listening,” Simon said, a slow smile spreading across his face. “ I have question that you might know the answer to. Do you assholes refill the tanks of your wags when you take them back to the motor pool, or just let them sit? My guess it that you fill the wags up, so you can head straight out, no delays.”
Hardiman had stopped, and was slowly turning.
“I imagine that with this wind that’s started up, a sudden fire could spread quite far, especially if it started near a good supply of…fuel.”
Simon tried not to laugh at the look of consternation that replaced the sociopathic joy.
Hardiman turned and ran down the hall, bellowing at the guards.
Albert heard the gren hit the bottom of the tank.
Hardiman was half way to the motor pool when he felt the first explosion, a trembling beneath his feet. He saw the next one, as the now-burning wag launched straight up, flipped over on it’s side, the upper completely engulfed in flames.
His eyes widened, and he began backpeddling as he saw the curtain of fire descending from above, burning fuel that had geysered up, yielding to gravity and returning to earth.
Like a fiery hand of Retribution.
Hardiman turned tail and ran as the flames landed on the fuel drums.
Simon lifted his foot as Hardiman dashed out the door, plucking out the coiled wire he held between his toes. He quickly slipped it between the bars, over the bolt holding the door shut, and began working it back and forth, the surgical steel wire cutting into the rusted sec-steel.
Silver grains showered his bare feet as a core of steel was encountered, but under the assault of the wire, it too gave way.
He pushed the door open, even as he felt the first explosion trembling under his feet. He had only seconds now. Naked, he sprang for the door, even as it began swinging open, catching the wrist of the guard coming in, yanking hard.
Behind him, unseen, the celldoor next to his began to swing open.
The balding man, hoping to escape the blasts that were now shaking the ville felt his heart give a lurch as his arm was pulled into the jail hall, the fingers that pulled clenching with iron strength.
He landed hard on the floor, trying to roll, but an unseen kick pushed him flat to the ground.
He caught a flash of silver, then realized his throat stung, just like when he had cut himself shaving when he was young, using his father’s cutthroat razor.
But the stinging turned to an instant of agony, and he saw his own blood arcing out from in front of him, puddling on the floor.
Then he felt a warmth, and a comforting darkness settled down over his eyes.
Simon stood, and pushing the dead man away, dropped the bloody wire, and thrust the thick steel bolt into place, securing the sec door from any that would try to get in.
Immediately, blows began raining down on the door, hammering it violently.
If they got something to ram it with…
Desperately, he began looking for another way out, but stopped when his dark eyes met a pair of ice blue eyes, framing the barrel of a battered but functional-looking Colt .45 that was pointed directly at his face...