The ward is on the other side of the main O.R.B. station, but it takes me little time to get to the commander’s office. My slippers slide to a halt in front of his door; I take a minute to compose myself. The nameplate on the door wriggles around impatiently, letting me know the Pridon is still in effect. This might be a bad idea.
Opening the door I step in, walk past Delphi and turn into his quarters. “Tell me everything and don’t leave anything out. Hi Robert. I need to know what the information on the safety glasses… Robert?”
“We went to your place to get you some clothes but he took care of it all and wanted to tag along,” the commander says, holding one of my glasses filled with brandy.
Robert walks up to me and opens his chest to reveal a set of clothes and all of my effects. I pull off the pajamas and throw on the clothes. The last article of clothing is my purple blazer that I wore to dinner the night Anita died. The rest are my spectacles, cigarette case, and ring, and they all go where they need to. The commander hands me my gun and badge. I don’t look up at him but nod in thanks.
“This is the piece of information we took out of a pair from a Thor Braxton.” The entire surface of his desk goes white and a video plays.
It is a very shaky shot of the garage in the Conquers Arena. Whoever the perpetrator is he has a limp, the whole thing is at an angle as if he is favoring his right side. He might even be carrying the Icktar, but you wouldn’t want to walk that fast with it. The criminal stops at the opening to the Halum cubical, he turns around to face a hover-cart carrying the Icktar and begins to collect them carefully. Just before the glasses are turned off, a hand reaches up and into frame, it’s black and disfigured.
“That was video from the night before the first bombing. The profilers say—”
“The arsonist is male, extensively disfigured, filled with a powerful rage and sees himself as playing a role as an arsonist and not actually one,” I say, playing the video again. “I thought the limp was from carrying the Icktar, but the image of the hand was evidence enough to know the fire starter got burned. Normally arsonists have a below average IQ, but this man is dealing with a highly volatile substance. He knows what he is doing. He didn’t know right away what the glasses were, he was just playing the part of a mechanic, but when he walked in front of the Halum car its stats must have appeared in front of him. Because he stuck the bricks under the seat I don’t think he used the glasses again or he would have placed them all around the car in well hidden areas. What’s the Master’s message?”
The commander presses the corner of the desk and another video plays from another set of glasses. As it does, my own glasses wiz with comparison information on the height of this person to the one from the first video. As the person looks around I can see the Halum team, this must be Erica getting ready for the race. She glances over at the car; Darden is standing there with a race suit on.
“I’ll skip ahead to the message,” the commander says, but I stop him, still looking at the video.
Both Erica and Darden are loaded into the car, and after a final check the crews gives the green light and all six race cars go off for their warm up lap. Erica blasts around corners making Darden squeal. In a tunnel I see Thor’s Rotation Amplifier at work as he takes the lead from above her. At the opening Erica’s shift lags, then again at the next corner, then finally fails and she has to switch to secondary. The whole time the front windshield is riddled with statistics, temperatures, speeds, G-force and position. When she turns the next corner into the straight away, the glass turns black and she loses control of the car. It looks to still be driving, but no matter what she does it does not respond, and that’s when he appears.
When I say the Master appears I mean his silhouette. He is shrouded in darkness, and all I can see is a lit cigarette and a pair of glasses. I can’t tell if they are V.I.E.W. lenses from a video of a video. “Hello Leonardo, how was the asylum? I’ve been to a few myself, aren’t they interesting? You have, I’m sure, countless questions, and I will answer them all when we meet. I cannot tell you where to find me because I know you are not the only one listening, but make it into Hell Fire and you will find someone with information on that subject. I am sure the O.R.B. have the place surrounded by now, but do not worry, you will have your chance to talk to my informant, or I will blow the entire Arena apart. Though it will not be easy for you, the man I have guarding him is an old friend with a bone to pick. Well goodbye.”
With that the car fills with a purple light and the video is cut. Erica, Darden and countless others have just died in a flash. Neither the commander nor I make a sound. Robert on the other hand drops ice into a cup and hands me a drink.
“How am I getting there?”
“I have authorized a portal for you. It’ll drop you off in the main entrance where my men have a stronghold.”
I try my hardest to fight back the Pridon, and am winning so far. Taking out a cigarette, I light it and offer one to the commander, he refuses. I look down at Robert, his eyes flash up at me, “Goodbye little buddy. You keep the commander company while I’m gone.”
At that Romdar leads me out of the room and into the hall; Delphi doesn’t look at us as we pass. On our way to the transport room all of the officers nod at me. Do they think I won’t make it out alive? Do I agree? The Pridon has become far too strong for me to fight it any longer and the room starts to spin. I can barely focus on the tech trying to tell me what to do when I’m in the portal; I catch something about it taking five seconds since we are almost a galaxy away. The commander takes hold of my shoulders, says something inaudible and pats me on the back. I crumple and fall into the portal.
It is a gentle feeling being inside of it, my body may be getting pulled apart from all direction, but it feels like slipping into a dream. Everything is a pale green, everything but Anita. She is standing in all white not too far from me. I try and reach out to her but I can’t move. She fades a bit but I call to her. When she hears me, she hovers towards me like an angel on a floor of rose peddles. She is no more than a foot from me when I fall hard on my back. I am inside the cathedral of Hell Fire.
“Sir, are you ok?” An O.R.B. officer pulls me up. I push him out of the way and throw up.
“I’m fine.” Looking around I feel like vomiting again. The marble floor is strewn with piles of bodies, some in bags and others not. In a pile of corpses not yet in body bags I can see a tuft of blue hair.
“There are so many more out in the stands,” the officer says, stepping around my mess and handing me a flask of water. “But who knows how many were vaporized in the flash.”
“Where is Brightmen?”
“We couldn’t find him, but we think the shadow men have him held up in his office.”
“Who has him?” I pull him by the vest to within an inch from my face
“The shadow men, sir.” I let him go and walk away. No not him, not Horace. How could it be? He blew up with her. But the limp, the burned hand. No it could have been someone else, couldn’t it?
“Sir, are you sure you’re ok? Here, take this.” The officer soaks a handkerchief before handing it to me. Confused I take it and wipe my face, looking down only to find it stained with blood. Using the back of my hand I wipe off more blood, lots of it.
I didn’t fall face down, so it must be the Pridon. I sniff up as much blood as I can and feel a familiar drip. “Fuck.”
“Sir, I think you should look at the blueprints before we set off.” The officer takes me over to a betting booth with the top missing.
The counter holds the schematics of the whole arena. I riffle through them, blinking photos and let my spectacles find the fastest route to Brightmen’s office. I need to head north and go up four floors. “I go alone, officer.”
“But sir, there are too many shadow men.”
“The building is rigged; if you follow the Master will detonate. Get anyone still breathing out of here as fast as you can. Leave the bodies: you can’t help them anymore.”
“That’s an order, officer.” I know the commander gave them specific instructions to do as I say because he turns and distributes my message.
I walk past other officers, victims and bodies to the north corridor. Stopping at the arch I peer in, the darkness looks alive. Looking back one last time I catch a few officers eyeing me, I know they want to help but they can’t. I step through the arch.
The first shadow man attacks from the left and I shoot him between the eyes. His body stiffens as a purple haze spills out of the bullet wound and a scream from his lips. The next falls from the ceiling. I catch him midair and use him as a shield as another two come through an arch with rifles. They empty their clips into him; it only takes two shots to kill them. The next attackers are unarmed but dodge my bullets; one hits me in the gut, another in the back of the head. I kick and punch an opening; they too fall to the floor with holes in them.
I’m two arches away from the stairwell when a horde of shadow men empty into the haze filled hall. The barrel of my P22 glows red when I empty the bullet chamber the rest are lucky to be contained, electrocuted, gassed, and burned. The stairwell go silent leaving me covered in haze and white blood.
By the second floor I am out of ammo. Tossing my gun, I pick up a rifle and blast my way up to the third. Out of ammo again, I walk unarmed into a seemingly empty corridor. Halfway down it a mammoth shadow man emerges. He is twice my size, and the Pridon is taking full effect. He walks towards me kicking up dust with every footfall, his contorted hands reach for me. I run at the wall and jump, using the momentum I press my left foot onto it and propel myself at the giant. He catches me with ease, I’m fucked.
With his entire weight he launches me into the floor, my spectacles fly off and I’m winded. I roll to the right just in time to see his foot bash down on the spot where my head used to be. I take the opportunity to kick at his groin; this does little to no damage. This time his foot lands square on my chest. I cough blood over my face and onto the floor. I almost loose conciseness by the fourth crushing blow.
He stops and stands over me, takes out a gun and pulls the trigger. The bullet smashes into my chest but doesn’t go though, he thinks it does. While he throws his hands up in triumph I inspect the bullet hole. There is O.R.B. armor stitched in, thank you Romdar. While the giant celebrates, I sputter to my knees and crawl to an archway where I find an emergency case on the wall. In it is a four-use pneumatic door punch used to open stairwell doors in a disaster. I’m going to use it on his head; he doesn’t hear me coming up behind him.
The first shot is to the back of the knee which blows out completely and amputates the leg. He topples over onto me, I spit blood into his face and beat away at it while the punch recharges. While his blood pools under us he takes my skull and bounces it off the marble floor, I can hear stress cracks forming. I hear the ping of the punch, with all the force I can muster I burry the tool into his eye. Blood flows out of the wound and into my mouth, agenized scream rings only for a short moment before the second shot sprays his skull in all directions.
Standing isn’t easy; I drop back to the floor several times before I find my spectacles. They have a crack in them but they work fine. Well enough to lead me through the corridors and archways towards Brightmen’s office.
I find it faster than expected, the door is wide open and I can see his desk. I walk cautiously up to the door; it looks empty so I step in. One disfigured hand grabs the pneumatic puch, the other my hair. I am pulled in and thrown to the ground where a penny loafer crashes into my cheek. Two sets of hands pick me up off the floor, push me into a chair and tie me down. Horace stands over me holding my weapon for a second time. Brightmen stands next to him with his arm on Horace’s shoulder.
“Hello little mouse.” Horace is burnt all over. His once ghost white skin is black as tar, and his face sags like wax dripping off the side of a candle.
“Hello beautiful.” I spit blood when I speak.
“He is a rather charming young man don’t you think, Horace?”
“Not to mention resilient. He took out half my men, coming up here.”
“Ladies, you’re making me blush.” I need to get the punch back.
“Leonardo, stop looking at that toy. You know you aren’t getting it back.” Brightmen walks around me. “Anyway, don’t you have a few questions to ask?”
“What’s in it for you Brightmen? You blew up your paycheck to help this scum, now what?”
“This dump pales in comparison to the compensation the Master has for me. I know what you’re thinking, what could possibly be more profitable than fixed racing? Well let’s just say the Master has plans to make me and many others very wealthy.”
“I… I see.” Shit, the Pridon.
“Look at that Roger. I think the little mouse has taken a liking to your product.”
“Well then, let’s give him a bit more.” Brightmen walks back in front of me, holds his hand up to my face and smiles his meek smile. His palm begins to bead with sweat till a small pool appears. Within a second the liquid turns into white powder, Pridon.
He hands it to Horace. In his hands the powder bubbles and smokes. He holds it under my nose. I try to hold my breath but eventually I breathe it in. Brightmen smiles and says, “Straight from a Pridonite. Only the best for you my boy, I say.”
My vision blurs and my eyes go heavy. I don’t fight this. They close and I feel so at ease. I am miles away. When I open them, I am standing in the doorway between the bathroom and my hotel with Anita in front of me having trouble with her wedding dress.
“How the hell did I get into this?” She has the top part unzipped and folded over the front, revealing her bare upper body. “I know there is a button somewhere I missed.”
“Sweetheart, did I ever tell you I love you for your brains?”
“I will shoot you in the shins Leo. Now get over here and help me.”
“Gladly Mrs. Papiernik.” I walk over to her and unfasten the missing button. She turns and wraps her arms around my neck, letting the dress fall to the floor.
A searing pain brings me back into the office; Horace burned through my pants and left a scorched handprint on my thigh. It looks like Brightmen pulled him off of me; I don’t think the Master would like me too damaged.
“What—what does he want with me?” The pain subsides and the Pridon strengthens its hold on me. “What does Halum’s Son have to do with it? Is it political or does he have a grudge with the whole fucking planet?”
Still holding on to Horace, Brightmen answers, “The simplest answer to all that is, well, Landen. I know what you’re thinking, what does Landen have to do with anything? Well with Landen he can finish his plan… you could call it the master plan.”
My eyes close before I can see his stupid smile. I almost fade into another memory but I’m brought back with another burn from Horace, this time to my face. “Wake up little mouse. I want to see your face when I give you pain. Too bad your little mouse friend had to die before I could watch her suffer.”
“Fuck you, you deformed shit!” I pull on my restraints and brake free. Taking a hold of his face I dig my thumb into his eye. Brightmen beats away at me as Horace screams in agony. I let him go and he crumples.
In a blink I am back in Anita’s embrace. While she busies herself with my shirt I reach down between her legs. With a smile she knocks my hand away and says something about all good things. I try again and I see her hand rise to playfully tap my cheek. I don’t remember the hit knocking me to the floor.
Back in the office Horace sits on my chest and beats my face with the bottom of pneumatic punch. I try to punch back but Brightmen grabs my arms and holds me down. Kicking my legs up I wrap my ankles around Horace’s neck and pry him off of me. With some yanking, I free my arms from Brightmen, grab him between the legs and twist. While he whimpers, I pounce on Horace and bash the back of his head into the floor. As the wood floor cracks and brakes I fade away.
Anita is on top of me, her face points up at the ceiling in ecstasy. She takes my hands and places them on her breasts. She runs her hands through her hair before dropping down onto my chest and kissing me. She bites my lip and giggles, whispering a dirty fantasy into my ear.
Brightmen regains himself and wraps his arms around my neck, choking me. Reaching back, I throw him over my shoulder, something in my neck cracks. I stumble to my feet, my left side tingling, and kick at every part of his body. This gives Horace time to grab the chair and break it over my head. I fall back and land in my bed next to Anita.
She looks peaceful, curled up in all the blankets leaving me with none. To think I have a lifetime of this to look forward to. I look up at the hotel door and see both Brightmen and Horace, holding sharp pieces of the chair in their hands. Rolling off the bed, I pick the punch off the floor and press the small button. Brightmen crashes into the hardwood, decapitated. I can see Horace fighting an invisible assailant, blood dribbles out of my mouth. I press the button again and he two falls missing a head.
From outside of the office I can hear the shadow men pounding at the door. This doesn’t concern me, I’m on my honeymoon. I look back at Anita sleeping soundly on a combination desk/bed. She is bathed in the most beautiful moonlight in the universe. I continue to stare at this vision of beauty even when the bullets rip through the wall.
In the O.R.B. station a whole galaxy away, the commander is sitting at his desk watching the Helfye evening news. Robert refills his fifth glass of brandy watching the screen, waiting for the news on his master, of his friend. The anchor is retelling the events of a few hours ago.
“At two and fifteen minutes this afternoon, the Conquerors Arena erupted with a blast that shook the entire planet. In its place all that is left is molten rock. More than two-hundred thousand people lost their lives. More than fifty thousand fatalities where the result of the first blast that occurred at one fifteen. The second blast took the lives of the arena’s staff, racers and their crews, visitors, and O.R.B. officers. It is also said that the men responsible also perished in the bombing, along with an unnamed detective.” The anchor woman fixes her paperwork and Robert closes the gap between his corner and the screen. The commander puts the file on Leonardo into his desk and allows the Anchor to continue telling the story of the fallen detective to the lonely, drink serving brass robot. “The O.R.B.’s commander Romdar commented briefly, quote ‘We lost a good man.” more on the Attack at ten. Up next our reporter Clyde Rook has a front row seat at Silrow, The Musical Bafnar Troupe. Clyde, I think we all want to know, do they sing in tune?”