My shoulders ached. My head throbbed. I opened my eyes. For just a second, everything spun violently, and I thought I was going to get sick. I was looking past my boots at a vast expanse of black from which a cold wind swirled up. I looked up. My wrists were chained together. I was suspended on a hook at the end of a long chain that dropped from the bottom of the Brechttarianís ship, which was hovering about two hundred feet above the bottomless pit. I wasnít worried about falling. I was worried about hitting the ground.
"Do you know whatís down there?" a voice asked in my head.
It took me a minute to realize that the mercenaries had put some kind of communicator on me. "Does it matter?" I asked.
"Itís a passage straight into the netherworld. Itís cold, yes? Thatís the breath of demons."
A strong gust pushed me around to emphasize the point.
"They get hungry and come up into this world occasionally. Theyíre hungry now. If you listen closely, you might hear their stomachs growling."
"No, thatís mine."
"They smell fear. It makes them stronger. They smell pain and suffering."
"No, I just havenít showered in a while."
"Will you stop it? Iím trying to be scary and threatening!"
"Sorry. But I have nothing to be afraid of. You canít kill me. Shane has to turn me in alive. And Iím not afraid of dying."
I heard a very feminine grunt of frustration and then nothing.
I looked up at the chain again. I could have possibly pulled myself up the chain, but I didnít see where I would have gotten into the ship. There was no open hatch. But that was good. That meant that it was likely no one was watching me. They were waiting for Shane to get Blackstone. And they probably didnít think Iíd do anything but hang. I get bored easily. Just hanging around gets on my nerves. I could climb the chain and wait for someone to notice I wasnít where I should have been and then have a little fun.
I flexed my wrists and my fingers. There was a sharp pain in my right hand. The recoil from the ripper must have cracked something. It was too dark for me to see if it was swollen or discolored. I put my hands on the chain and pulled. It hurt. My wrist throbbed. It felt like it had been laid open, and someone was dragging ice cubes across my exposed nerves. The bones grinded together, snapping and popping like Hiramís knees. I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes. Hot tears rushed down my cheeks. I got my feet onto the hook and rested a while. Iíd never felt quite that much pain in one small part of my body. I wasnít sure I could deal with it for very long, but I knew I didnít have a choice. Like I said earlier, going quietly was out of the question.
The first few feet were hard. After that, I didnít notice the pain as much. As long as I kept moving, I was fine. When I reached the spot where the chain was anchored, I was quite happy to find lots of little things I could hold onto. Pipes and wire coverings and things I wasnít sure about. They didnít move on their own, so I didnít panic. Not yet. And even better than all that, I was right outside the hatch.
I got my wrists unchained but not without cutting my hands up. Then I pulled the long chain up to me. That hook at the end of it was going to be my best friend real soon. But I had a lot of waiting to do.
And wouldnít you know it? Hanging there under a ship with a broken wrist above what may or may not have been a bottomless pit full of demons, I felt the chills of a coming vision. The last thing I needed was to pass out and fall off. If there was any time when I needed to be able to control my ability, it was right then. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. But I felt myself falling anyway.
I saw an older woman in scarlet and black robes, her long white hair done up in a tight bun at the back of her head. In one hand, she held an official scroll in a black wooden sheath with a red tassel at the end of it. She handed this to another senator who opened it, read it over and went pale. She laughed. She turned and walked away, still laughing. The other senator was Irial.
There were no voices that time, but I didnít need them to tell me that whatever was going on wasnít good. The woman was Blackstone. Of course, that wouldnít matter if I were falling to my death.
I opened my eyes. I was surprised to find that I was still holding on tight to the bottom of the ship. I didnít pass out after all. That was good. But it was getting colder and my wrist was hurting. I wasnít going to be able to hang on for too much longer.
So I decided to let them know I was ready to move on.
"Hey! Bug bitch!" I shouted.
I didnít get an answer, but I heard static crackle. They could hear me.
"Itís kinda cold out here. Iím getting a little tired of hanging around."
I was rewarded with Shaneís voice in my ear, faintly. "Where the fuck did he go?"
I listened to him shouting orders and tried to figure out how many were on the ship. There was Shane and Leysa and two bugs. I knew that. I didnít know if more bugs had come on the trip or if other bounty hunters had joined up. I was out numbered at any rate, by at least four to one.
The hatch came open. I threw the hook at one of the bugs standing there, catching its leg. I pulled. The bug tumbled down into the black pit. I heard the sound of something that may have been the demons. The bug disintegrated. The second one fired at me, narrowly missing. I reeled the hook in and threw it again. It hit the bug square in the chest, knocking him back a few feet. I jumped down into the hatch and pulled the chain back to me again. I needed a gun. Any kind of gun. But I didnít have one, so I used the hook instead. I swung at the bugís head. He ducked and punched me in the stomach. I stumbled back towards the opening. He kept coming at me, swinging at me as hard as he could. I got the feeling heíd just watched an old Western movie and wanted to fight like a cowboy. But if he didnít back off, we were both going to fall out of the ship. Unless I went voluntarily. I let his swings push me off the edge. I wanted him to have some sense of accomplishment before he died. I used the hook to hold on and threw the other end of the chain around his feet. Then I pulled as hard as I could. Unfortunately for me, I pulled with my bad hand, and he took his gun with him into the pit. I turned my head to watch him fall. He managed to turn his body around and fire a few more shots at me before the demons tore him up. I scrambled back over the edge of the opening. One of the shots hit my thigh. It didnít hurt nearly as much as my wrist did. It would hurt later. Iíd heard several disgusting stories about what a wound from a Brechttarian laser could do to you if left untreated for too long.
First things first. I didnít see Shane or Leysa or anything or anyone else. Leysa was probably waiting somewhere else. Shane was probably off the ship already. Just like him to run from me. I needed an equalizer or two. I had never been on a Brechttarian ship. The layout was like a twisted maze. Finding anything was going to be a pain in the ass. But if I could find a weapon of any kind, Iíd be better off. If I could find Dylan, Iíd be even better off.
I looked for anything that could have been a storage area or a brig. I found a kitchen. At least I think it was a kitchen. I found a toilet. There was no mistaking that one. They have bad hygiene habits. I found sleeping quarters. Then I gave up and headed straight for the bridge. On my way, I ran into Shane and Leysa trying to make a get away. Shane was terrified.
"Itís not too late to turn yourself in, Talon," he said.
"For what? The only thing I did wrong was listen to you in the first place."
"You stole a ship."
"You tried to kill someone. I donít think thatís quite the same offense."
"I didnít have a choice. I didnít want to lose my job."
"Well, look at where it got you now. Is this a good job? Hunting down your friends and blaming me for your mental lapses?"
"You knew he left and you didnít tell me."
"He asked me not to."
"Why didnít he want me to know? He knew I would have done anything for him. Whatever he needed."
"You couldnít have helped him."
"You donít know that. He didnít know that. He didnít ask me to help him. He didnít tell me he needed help."
"Thatís not why you tried to pin this all on me, is it?"
"It was easy for everyone to believe that you done something. Except your mom and dad. After all, you were already holding a lot of dirty little secrets over a lot of very important people. I was always a fine, upstanding citizen with a good job. Who knows what you found out about Blackstone or anyone else that made you want her dead? Or you could have been working for someone else. Or it could have been anything."
Coming up the corridor behind Shane and Leysa, I saw a large shadow. I just shook my head.
"Things would have been different if Dylan hadnít left," Shane said.
"Oh yes. I agree. Very different."
"Or if he had at least told me why he had to go."
Dylanís large, furry, clawed hand fell on Shaneís shoulder. "You wouldnít have understood," he said.
Shane shrieked and spun around. Leysa took off running, shoving me into the wall as she went past me. I took most of the impact on my bad wrist.
Shane backed slowly away from Dylan, shaking his head. "No," he said. "Itís not really you. What did they do to you?"
"It doesnít hurt any more. I went to a doctor who could fix the mutation."
"He didnít fix it. Youíre ...youíre a monster."
"By the time I got to him, there was no other option. It was all the things about me that made me look human that were killing me. I never told you because I didnít want you to worry about me."
"But ...but, Dylan, youíre my brother. My twin. How could I not worry about you anyway? You should have told me!"
"How many days do you have left, Shane? Two? I suggest you use them to pray."
Shane turned around and ran after Leysa. I just watched. When I heard the shuttle detach and move away, I looked at Dylan. He was staring straight ahead.
"Twins?" I asked.
"There were two eggs. One was me. One was him. Supposedly from the same woman, I donít know."
"Iím sorry. If I had known, I Ė "
"But you didnít know. And youíre as much my brother as he is. Heís not the same any more."
"Iím surprised you let him go like that."
"I had to. Can you fly a Brechttarian ship? We need to get somewhere we can get a doctor. Neither of us are in great shape right now."
"We need to get back to Pilon. I told Cherry to tell Danel or Kaylan what happened."
"You should have left."
"No way. I wasnít about to leave you."
"I appreciate that."
I wasn't able to fly the Brechttarian ship very far. The controls weren't very intuitive, and the ride was less than smooth. Several times, I thought I had set off some kind of self-destruct sequence, but it was just an interior light. It handled like a drunk cow on ice skates. Out of all the ships I'd flown, I had to give this one a disappointing two out of five. But I had a knack for crash landings, so when we decided to put it down outside the south end of Pilon, I managed to keep the damn thing upright and not tear it or us to pieces.
A Brechttarian ship heading straight for your city is cause enough for concern, especially when it was a known fact that Brechttarians were involved in a battle that caused all those explosions earlier in the day. It's even more worrisome when it looks like a drunk two-year-old is piloting the damn thing. So I guess that explains the welcome wagon that was waiting for us when we stepped off the ship.
A small army of well-armed soldiers pointed their weapons at us as we came limping out of the ship. A general in a clean white uniform yelled at us to stop. I couldn't decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, we'd both get the medical attention we needed and Shane's plans were foiled. On the other hand, we were about to be arrested.
"Talon Rosewood Konstantine?" the general asked.
I pointed to my left. "He went that way," I said.
"You're under arrest for -- "
"Don't bother. I know what you say I did."
The general rattled off a long list of charges anyway that included quite a bit more than what I had expected. Then two men stepped forward, slapped handcuffs on me and dragged me away. I didn't fight. I was in too much pain. They would have killed me on the spot.
Once I was subdued, the whole party withdrew, leaving Dylan standing alone and the Brechttarian ship still in his hands. I wondered for a second if that had been the plan all along; to just catch me and forget about everyone else. Dylan would never to that to me willingly. But I had once thought the same about Shane. There was just no way for me to know.
I was taken to a local jail and unceremoniously dumped into a cell with concrete walls and no window. Instead of iron bars, the front of the cell was made of super strong, unbreakable glass. A guard in a white uniform with red trim sat at a desk twenty feet away. The desk was turned sideways so he could watch me and the front door at the same time. I was quiet for about two minutes. Then I started to kick the glass.
The guard gave me a tired look.
"I need a doctor!" I shouted at him.
He sighed and got up. He pushed some numbers on a keypad. The door slid open about an inch. He kept his hand on his gun. "What do you need a doctor for?" he asked.
"My wrist is broken. Look." I tried to show him my busted wrist, but the handcuffs didn't give me enough movement. I turned my back to him. "It's the right one. Look at it. It's fucking purple. And it hurts like a bitch. And I got shot, too. I need medical attention." I turned to face him again. He had a look on his face like he wasn't sure what to do. "I need my hands. I'm a pilot. If I don't get something done now, it might never heal right, and I won't ever fly again."
He smirked. "Serves you right."
"Hey, come on. I just need one doctor. I'm not asking for a whole fucking hospital. And that laser wound might get infected. Then I might die before I'm properly punished."
"That's not my concern. Now sit down and shut the hell up."
"At least get me something for the pain."
The guard pushed the door open further. He pulled a billy club from his belt and whacked me over the head. I guess I was lucky he didn't get carried away. I couldn't defend myself except by dodging and biting, and I really didn't think that was a good idea. But at least being unconscious kept me from worrying about how much pain I was in.
I was very, very cold. My eyes and the inside of my nose were frozen. If I opened my mouth, my tongue would freeze, too. Regan was looking up at me from deep inside the hood of a heavy fur coat. A purple scarf was wrapped around her head to keep her ears warm. Purple was Regan's favorite color. She held her mittened hands over her nose and mouth, and little plastic goggles protected her eyes.
"Daddy, you're hurt," she said.
"I'm okay, baby," I said. "It's just a little bump or two."
"I don't like the cold."
"I know. But you're safe there."
She smiled. "Hiram's funny. And Anala tells me stories."
"Do you like her stories?"
"No. They don't have fights like yours. And she says I'm supposed to learn something. When are you coming here, Daddy?"
"And bring Dylan and Cherry."
"Daddy, I'm scared."
"Don't be scared, Regan. It won't be too much longer. I love you."
"I love you, too, Daddy. Bye!"
Regan's image was gone, and for a few minutes, I listened to a cold wind howling around my ears. It faded into blackness and silence.
I felt myself being lifted to my feet. Cold water splashed my face. I opened my eyes to see the white uniformed general and Senator Joelle Blackstone standing in front of me. Several armed guards stood behind them.
"Well," Blackstone said, drawing the syllable out like a loose thread. "After over a year, you've finally been caught. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Fuck you, bitch," I said.
The two guards who held me slammed me back into the wall. My head rang. The guard on my right put his hand on my broken wrist and slowly tightened his grip, kneading my bones together. As much as I wanted to scream or lash out at them, I didn't. I bit my tongue and tried to smile.
"If you ever want to see your daughter again, answer the questions I'm about to ask you truthfully," Blackstone said.
"Is it a multiple choice test or essay questions?"
"Did you really think it was a good idea to have your friend try to kill me?"
"It wasn't my idea. It was Shane's."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"He's not capable of such a well-conceived plot."
"Don't play dumb with me."
"He wanted to stop the merchants from going to war because he didn't want to lose his job."
Blackstone laughed. "There's no need to protect him any longer. We'll catch him eventually."
"You're blackmailing Senator Falkenberg."
She pressed her pale lips together.
"You know damn well Shane's just crazy. You want to be able to blame all this on Irial. So you sent Shane after me because you knew Irial would try to keep him from getting to me. Because you know who I really am."
She wanted to slap me. "Who else is helping you?"
"This could have been easy, Konstantine."
"Then it wouldn't have been any fun."
She turned towards the door. "Kill him," she said as she walked out. The general drew a pistol and grinned. The two guards holding me up twisted my arms back and forced me to my knees. The general put the gun against the back of my head.
"Any last words, Konstantine?" he asked.
"May you all find peace and freedom in the Way. Stars die, but no one knows for thousands of years."
I never figured out what made me say that. But the general hesitated. The explosion happened first. Then the gun went off. After that, there was nothing but the sound of wind chimes and a gong beat every ten seconds.