Friday, October 29, 2010

Chapter 29

Lights Out

Siana and Bear’s windings through the corridors that ran beneath the Judicial and Municipal buildings led them eventually to a stairway. They went up this stairway until they stopped at a locked door with a small window. The window was of thick glass, reinforced with thin wires that criss-crossed the pane.
Siana and Bear looked through the glass. 
On the other side of the door was a plain hallway.
“This hallway runs between the holding cells and Judge Hopper’s courtroom.” Siana said.
She retrieved her set of keys and a small flashlight from her pocket.
“I can’t unlock it now, or it’ll trip an alarm. Of course, once the alarms go off---“
“It won’t matter.” Bear said, finishing the thought, “How many guards will we have to deal with?”
“Two, most likely; four at the most,” Siana answered, “But we’ll have the element of surprise.”

Judge Hopper’s court, while not crowded, was full of people that day. Rynza and Kevin sat at the back, waiting for their friends to be trotted out.
They sat through a few cases. At the moment, a Sardossian teen was being brought out, through a door to the judge’s left. Before the door was shut though, Rynza caught a glimpse of the next defendants in line; waiting in the wings, as it were.
“Get ready, Kevin.” Rynza said, in a terse whisper.
Kevin quietly got up from his chair, and took a position behind Rynza, as if he was about to wheel her away.
“Don’t do it until I say so,” she continued, “At least one of them has to see us, so they’ll know it’s going down.”
“Okay.” Kevin whispered back.
Judge Hopper sentenced the Sardossian kid to Ragginarck. The kid seemed almost relieved as he was carted off. Then, Jon, Dom, Peggy, and Wes were brought in.
As they were led before the bench, Rynza caught Dom’s eye. It was only for a second, but Rynza saw recognition turn to a smirk of merriment. He turned to the others, and nodded. 
They understood.
“Kevin,” Rynza said, “Now.”
As their friends were turned to face the judge, Kevin backed up until he was at the wall, next to the red fire alarm. He lifted the plastic sheath, grabbed the switch, and pulled it down.
Immediately, the clamor began.
Kevin threw himself to the floor to avoid being seen, but the cacophony of loud ringing bounced off the walls and sounded like it was coming from all around.
The people in the courtroom looked at each other as if trying to find someone to tell them what to do. They didn’t panic, but they did start heading toward the doors in a semi-orderly rush.
The running and panic set in a moment later, when one alarm after another began to go off in the building.
Kevin, now standing again, kept Rynza away from the flow of increasingly frantic people.
Jon, Dom, Peggy, and Wes, and the other as yet unprocessed juveniles, were quickly bundled together by the frain, and sent back to the holding cell area. From there, all the detainees could be evacuated together.
Upon giving the order, Judge Hopper slipped out through the door at his right, and got the hell out of there.

Deep under all of this, Spencer and Woodrow heard the alarms.
“It’s time.” Woodrow said.
Spencer took his clamps and wire cutters, and went to work.
Moments later, the power went out in both the Judicial and Municipal buildings.
Herb’s “soft spot” had succeeded too well!

When the lights went out, several women screamed. The alarms had been cut off, but since the courtroom and hallway had no windows to provide light, the place was now plunged into a pitch black darkness.
Outside the courtroom doors, Kevin and Rynza could see moving light beams, as security officers with flashlights helped lead the frightened masses out.
“Maybe they’ll finally fix this place up.” Rynza said.
“No they won’t.” Kevin retorted.
“Either way, it’s time to go. Our work here is done.”
Kevin rolled Rynza out of the dark courtroom, and into the crowded, flash-lit, hall. A beam of light fell on them, and a security officer approached.
“Oh shig.” Kevin muttered.
But the officer merely said, “Here, let me help you there, son.” as he took Rynza’s wheelchair handles from Kevin, “Just follow me, I’ll get the two of you out of here.”
“Thank you officer.” Rynza said.
He led them all the way outside. Rynza thanked him again as he turned to re-enter the darkened building. Kevin wheeled Rynza in the direction of the Municipal building’s parking lots, where the Longstreet’s station wagon was parked.

When the alarms started, Siana used her key to unlock the stairwell door. As she and Bear watched through the window, Jon, Dom, Peggy, Wes, among others, were marched right past them, by two officers.
Then the lights went out, and Siana and Bear went through the door. From yonder came the sounds of a short scuffle.
The sudden revelation of Siana’s flashlight showed the two frain officers unconscious on the floor. The chained-together kids had jumped them, knocking them out before they had a chance to go for their stun guns.
“Well, Bear,” said Jon, “What took you so long?”
“We stopped for lunch.” Bear said, as she and Siana rifled through the officer’s pockets for the keys to the chains.
“Who’s this?” asked Peggy, referring to Siana.
“A long story.” Bear answered, pocketing a stun gun.
Siana found the keys, and soon all were freed.
“I suggest those of you not coming with us get the hell out of here, while you have the chance.” she said.
They didn’t need to be told twice; they scattered. Only the five Dreadniks remained.
“This way.” Siana said, and pointed down the stairway she and Bear had arrived through.
They bounded down the stairs and then through the corridors. Siana led the way.
They reached another stairway. They went up these, and ended up in the Municipal building. The lights were still out, and beams of light danced along the walls and ceiling as officers tried to lead people out.
“Over here.” Siana said, and the Dreadniks followed. They entered through a door marked: No unauthorized personnel beyond this point! They scooted past recently emptied offices and conference rooms, to a door with an EMERGENCY EXIT sign on it.
Siana pushed the door open. Afternoon light blinded them as the six stepped through the door to the outside.
In the parking lot, next to the Longstreet’s station wagon, Rynza and Kevin were waiting for them.
“Hey, guys!” Kevin said.
There were hugs all around. Only Siana remained the outsider, looking around nervously at the frain cars and fire trucks beginning to surround the Municipal and Judicial buildings.
“Mike and Callie’s wagon!” Jon said, “Does that mean---?”
Bear shook her head. “Sorry Jon. She’s gone.”
“Have Spencer and Woodrow shown up yet?” Siana asked.
“Oh my, I forgot about them,” Rynza said, “No, they have not.”
“Should we wait for them?” Bear asked.
“No,” Siana said, “There’s going to be frain swarming around here. You guys go back to the motel. I’ll go back in and find them. When I do, I’ll bring them back in my car.”
“I’m coming with you!” Jon and Bear said at the same time.
“No Jon, we just got you back,” Bear said, “We can’t lose you again. Plus, you’re an escaped prisoner; they’ll be looking for you. I got Spencer and Woodrow into this, they’re my responsibility.”
“You are no less important to this group than I, Bear---“ Jon started to say, when Siana cut him off.
“Neither of you are coming with me.” she said, “It’s going to be a hornet’s nest in there, and you two will only slow me down.”
“How do we know we can trust you?” Bear asked Siana, “How do we know you won’t screw us and use Spencer and Woodrow for some advantage. For that matter, how do we know this wasn’t a set-up, cooked into the plan from the beginning?”
“You don’t.” Siana answered, “But if I’ve learned one thing about you, Bear; it’s that you have a gift for discernment. Use it now. Look at me when I say to you that I will bring Spencer and Woodrow back to you.”
Bear looked hard at Siana, for an uncomfortable moment.
“See you at the motel,” she said, at last, “Good luck.”
Siana nodded, and re-entered the Municipal Complex alone.
Bear turned to Jon. “Jon…” she began to say.
Jon smiled. “If you trust her, that’s good enough for me.”
“Oh, I don’t trust her,” Bear said, “But I know when people are lying to me. She wasn’t.”
They turned and piled into the station wagon, and got on the road back to the Caprice Motel. Along the way, Bear told Jon and the others everything that had transpired after the frain sweep.

After Spencer and Woodrow took out the lights, they were engulfed in a darkness whose totality was only slightly mitigated by the flashlight Herb had given them.
“You know, this place is quite oppressive in the dark.” Spencer said, “Herb should have given us a bigger flashlight. This thing is pathetic; no shigging help at all.”
“Let’s get out of here.” Woodrow said, “Which is our corridor?”
“This one.” Spencer said, pointing with the flashlight.
The two ran down the long corridor, until they reached another intersection like the one they had left behind.
“What did Herb say?” Woodrow asked, “Go right?”
“He said left, dummy!” Spencer snapped.
“Left, right?”
“LEFT!!” Spencer growled.
Woodrow snorted laughter. “For a pointy-headed freak, you are so easy to mess with!”
“Remind me to kill you later.” Spencer said.
They went left. They ran down this corridor a long time; almost too long. Then they reached a dead end.
“Oh shig! This is wrong!” Spencer said, “We sharfled it somewhere. We should have ended up at a stairway.”
“Do you think we took the wrong corridor?” Woodrow asked.
“Maybe,” Spencer said, getting angry, “If you hadn’t been horsing around, we might have paid more attention---“
“Don’t try to pin this on me, crapstick!” Woodrow retorted, “You’re the brains of this operation, why didn’t YOU---“
The unexpected sound of distant footfalls silenced them.
“Did you hear that?” Spencer asked.
“Yes. Shh!” 
Whoever it was, was now running.
“We need to get out of this dead-end.” Woodrow said.
“Agreed.” Spencer replied.
They started to run, then realized that the owner of the footsteps had entered their corridor, and had them hemmed in. This person had a flashlight stronger than theirs, and shined it at them.
“WHO’S THERE?” Spencer called out, shining his lesser flashlight back at the other person.
“Brilliant maneuver, brain-boy.” said Woodrow.
“Guys?” the other person called back.
It was Herb’s voice.
“Herb?! Is that you?” Woodrow yelled.
“Yeah! Thank the gods I found you guys! I was in such a hurry when I left you, that I accidently gave you the wrong directions!”
“Smooth move, Herb.” Spencer said.
“Yeah, good job getting us lost there, pal.” Woodrow added.
The three met halfway down the corridor.
“When I realized my mistake,” Herb continued, “I figured Siana would kill me if something happened to you two, so I came running back to look for you guys.”
“Well, you found us.” Spencer said.
“We have to get out fast, this place is gonna be crawling with frain.” Herb said, “Well…more than usual.”
“Lead the way.” Woodrow said, “Just don’t get us lost again.”
Off they went.
Herb led them through the twists and turns of the corridors with the same expertise as before. At last they reached the stairs. There, on their way up, they ran into Siana; on her way down.
“Where were you guys?” she asked.
“I accidently gave them the wrong directions.” Herb said, with a sheepish smile.
Siana rolled her eyes. “You clod!” she said, and gave Herb a lighthearted smack on the forehead. “I’ll take them from here, thank you.”
“Just remember our deal,” Herb said, “When you’re the Crellat.”
“I always pay what I owe.” Siana said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chapter 28


The Judicial Complex was a big redbrick building, as was the Municipal Complex. Like a pair of twins, the two nearly identical buildings stood side by side in the thick of the city; the Municipal to the left, the Judicial to the right. Children and those below the age of eighteen were not allowed in either building unattended by an adult.
At four o’clock, the Longstreet’s green station wagon parked at the side of the Municipal building. Bear was at the wheel, Rynza sat in front with her; Spencer, Woodrow, and Kevin sat in the back seat. Carissa was left behind at the motel, with Rak.
Siana arrived in her own car, and parked in front of the Judicial building.
Bear stepped out of the wagon. She looked different than her usual appearance, as she had on a nice professional woman’s business suit and shoes Siana had purchased for her so she could pass through unattended. She also had on make-up that had come from Siana’s purse. She looked uncomfortable, and not a little embarrassed.
The boys clambered out of the wagon and took out Rynza’s wheelchair from the back. They helped her onto it. Rynza put her hands on her lap, and allowed Kevin to push her.
The group hurried over to the Judicial building. They met Siana there at the door.
“Spencer and Woodrow with me, Kevin with Rynza, and Bear goes alone.” she reminded them, “When we get in there, spread out, get some people between us on the line; don’t everyone clump in the same place.”
“We know.” Bear said, “This isn’t our first jamboree.”
They went in.
Inside, it was packed. They got in line with those waiting to get past the two frain officers standing sentry at both sides of the metal detector. Bear was the first of them to go through, and passed without incident.
When it was Siana, Spencer, and Woodrow’s turn, Siana flashed her badge. “Raishera Nandehl, officer.” she said.
“And these two?” the officer asked.
“Witnesses for the Copely trial,” she said, “It’s already started, and I have to get them in there fast. There was no time to process them through the usual channels.”
The officer was uninterested; he yawned as he gestured them to go on. When they passed through the metal detector, it started shrieking its alarm. Siana gave the officers a weary “I don’t have time for this crap” look. They nodded, waved them through, and reset the alarm.
They went on, until they met up with Bear. The four then walked into a service elevator. Siana took out a set of keys from her pocket and inserted one into a lock hole set into the bottom of the button pad. She turned the key and pushed its companion button.
They went down.
What few people know, Siana had told them earlier, as they ironed out their plans, is that the Municipal and Judicial Complexes are connected by underground passages that criss-cross under both buildings. There is also a control center down there, where power and security for both is managed. These passage-ways are forbidden to most, but I have a friend there who’ll help us.
When at last they reached the bottom, the doors swished open; revealing an ill-lit and claustrophobic hall descending into infinity. Its walls were concrete grey, and its lights flickered incessantly. Along both ceiling and walls crawled tubes, pipes, cables, and electrical wires.
“I think we’ve entered Hell.” Woodrow said.
At that, the lights along a stretch of hall up ahead gave out, plunging that section into darkness.
“This place must be a maintenance nightmare.” Spencer said, inspecting the wires, “And a fire hazard too.”
The group walked quickly down the hall, their footsteps echoing loudly along its length.
“Are all the underground passages like this?” Bear asked.
“As far as I know; although some, less frequently used, passages are rumored to be much worse.” Siana said, “And I’ve heard there are some sections so bad, no one will go there; not even to replace the lights.”
“Has anyone ever gotten lost in these?” Woodrow asked.
“I heard once about a maintenance worker who disappeared for hours. When they found him, he was gibbering in a dark corner of a rarely used passage. He said he saw---“
“Siana, cut the campfire crap.” Bear said, as they passed through the dark section of hall.
Siana smiled a malevolent little smile, but did as requested.
As they walked on, Spencer noticed that other passages intersected with theirs. He also noticed something else. “Siana, are those cameras looking down on us, every twenty yards or so?” he asked.
“Yes, but don’t worry.” Siana said, “That’s where my friend comes in. He works in the control center. He’s taking care of that little problem for us. Not that much attention is given to these halls anyway. They mostly look at what’s happening above.”
“He’s taking a rather big risk, isn’t he?” Bear asked, “What’s in it for him?”
“I promised him a cushy promotion, when I’m the Crellat.”
“Guys, I hear something.” Woodrow said, stopping.
The others stopped as well, and listened.
In the distance, footsteps echoed; faint, at first, but getting louder.

Once they were past the checkpoint, Kevin rolled Rynza down a crowded hall, to courtroom 7A.
The courtroom was large, and descended obliquely towards the judge’s box, which was set against the wall, flanked by doors on either side.
Judge Cobb Hopper was currently presiding; rushing through cases like a man who’s had a long day and just wants to go home and get drunk.
Kevin parked Rynza close to the exit, and sat down next to her. He stole a quick glance at the fire alarm switch on the wall right behind where they sat.
According to Siana, the fire alarm systems in the Judicial Complex were antiquated, and their wiring seemed to have been installed by incompetents, or madmen. The pulling of one alarm would set off all the others in the building, in a cascade of increasing noise. The city government had had the similarly screwed-up alarms in the Municipal building fixed, but costs had spiraled out of control. Thus the budget for the Judicial building’s repairs was still in a state of bureaucratic limbo.
Rynza noticed Kevin’s antsyness. “Relax, I’ll let you know when the time is right.” she said, “Are you always this nervous before a Febwith?”
“Not really,” Kevin said, “I’ve just never been this deep into the enemy’s lair.”
“The frain?”
“The city.”

The footsteps came closer, until a short, balding man of about forty came into view. He wore a white short-sleeve shirt with black pants. The lenses of his black plastic frame glasses were so thick, they magnified his beady eyes to insectile proportions.
“Sorry I took so long,” he said, “I couldn’t get away.”
“Did you fix the camera problem?” Siana asked.
“Obviously, or your little party here wouldn’t have gotten this far.” he answered, looking Bear, Spencer, and Woodrow over, “After awhile, there are no more cameras, though. Too expensive, it seems, to cover all these walkways with cameras.”
“Okay, here’s where we split up.” Siana said.
She retrieved a small set of tools from inside her suit pocket, and handed them to Spencer.
“Bear goes with me, you two with Herb here.”
“See you guys later,” Bear said, “Good luck.”
“Don’t worry about us.” said Woodrow. He and Spencer turned and followed the man called Herb down one corridor, while Bear and Siana entered another.

Herb led Spencer and Woodrow down a few turns, until they entered a large open area, filled with giant tubes and dark machinery, humming noisily. As ill-lit as the corridors, it would be easy to get lost in this maze. Being accustomed to the place, Herb moved through it with quick ease, while the two Dreadniks strove to keep up.
Herb motioned them to stop. Under the cover provided by a huge, refrigerator-sized thing with thick cables emerging from its sides, they could see the control center. It was ahead of them, like a magic cottage surrounded by the dark forest of vast machinery.
Essentially a small building inside of a building, its walls were sheet metal on the lower half, and clear plastic on the upper half. Inside the well-lit station, bored-looking men dressed just like Herb worked at busy consoles, looked at video screens, or milled around aimlessly, looking over each other’s shoulders, paper cups of coffee in hand.
Herb and the boys gave the control center a wide berth, and once beyond it, continued onward. The machinery gave way to corridors again, and their route turned and turned, until Spencer and Woodrow lost all sense of direction.
At last they came to a point where four corridors intersected.
“Here we are.” said Herb.
He pointed to a large metal box on the wall. A multitude of wires and cables snaked out of it in many directions.
“This junction here is a soft spot in the electrical system. If you know what you’re doing, and don’t flash fry yourself, you can kill the power to most of the Judicial building; and it’ll take the power guys forever to figure out where the problem is, and even longer to fix it. Anyway, my part of the deal is over. Here, take this---“
He handed Spencer a flashlight. 
“If you succeed, this place is going to be as dark as a tomb.”
“Are we gonna be able to hear the alarms from down here?” Spencer asked.
“Oh yes!” Herb said, “In this crumbling deathtrap, when an alarm goes off, every alarm goes off! Don’t worry, you’ll hear it. One last thing---your escape route. Listen close! Follow that corridor until you get to another intersection like this one. Then turn left down that corridor, until you get to an open area where there is an elevator---“
“Which, of course, won’t work.” Herb continued, “But beside it will be a stairway. Go up the stairs until you get to the ground floor. From there you can exit the building. Okay? I’m outta here.”
Herb scurried down the corridor they had come through, and was gone; his footfalls echoed on the corridor walls until they were too far away to hear.
Spencer unrolled the set of tools Siana had passed through the metal detector for him. It held all the tools he would need. He gave Woodrow a screwdriver, and together they removed the lid of the metal box. Inside, hierarchies of wires were laid bare before them. To Woodrow, it was impenetrable mess, but Spencer knew what he was looking at.
“Now we wait.” he said. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chapter 27


When the Dreadniks and the Adreynac sisters arrived at the Caprice Motel, they were met by its owner, Madelyne Caprice; a woman of about fifty or so, with faded red hair and a pale, slightly wrinkled, face.
“It’s good to see you again, Rinnie,” she said, giving Rynza and Carissa warm hugs, “Rissa.”
“It’s been too long, Maddy.” Rynza said.
“Funny, I thought about calling you last night.” Madelyne said.
“Really? Why?”
“Oh, nothing really; it’s not important.” Madelyne said, “Just me being silly.”
“I’ll be leaving now!” Clyde called out to Rynza, once everyone was off of his pick-up.
“Oh, okay, thank you!” Rynza called back, “Send my love to your sister for me!”
“I will!” he replied. He waved, got in his truck, and drove away.
“Anyway, sorry to intrude on you like this,” Rynza said, turning back to Madelyne, “But we need a place to lie low for a little while.”
“How many rooms will you need?”
“Just one,” Rynza said, “I don’t wish to presume on our friendship more than I have to.”
“Oh, presume away,” Madelyne retorted, “I have the rooms for it; we’ve had a lot of sudden departures this morning.”
“Well, one for now, will do.” Rynza said.
“Suit yourself. So, who are your young friends here?”
“Well…the less you know about them, the better.” Rynza replied.

The Caprice Motel was a long connected line of short, squat rooms laid out in a squared U-shape, with a modest pool and a swing set taking up the center, between the two lines of rooms facing each other. The whole set-up was painted a faded pink, for reasons known only to its owner.
The room Madelyne gave them consisted of two beds, a television, a small dining table, and a bathroom.
“Keep an eye out for our guest.” Bear said to Woodrow and Spencer, who were manning the heavily curtained window next to the dining table.
Bear turned to Rynza and Carissa. “If I’m wrong, and this does turn out to be a frain trap…” she said.
“I’ll be too cumbersome for a quick get-away.” Rynza said.
“WE’LL be too cumbersome.” Carissa corrected.
Bear nodded grimly.
“We understand,” Rynza said, “For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is a frain trap.”
“Neither do I.” Bear replied.
“But I do feel some roiling in the psychic stream,” Rynza continued, “Something feels wrong around here; and my spirits haven’t returned since Longstreet’s visit scared them off.”
“You are not gonna believe this!” Spencer exhorted from his post at the window.
I don’t shigging believe it!” Woodrow added.
“What is it?!” Bear asked.
“It’s Rak!” said Spencer.
Bear and Kevin rushed over to the window.
There was Rak, shambling like a drunkard by the rooms on the other side of the swimming pool.
“Go get him boys.” Bear said, “Quick and quiet.”
Spencer and Kevin zipped nimbly around the dining table and dashed out the door. When Rak looked up and saw them running toward him, the relief and gratitude on his face was palpable.
Spencer and Kevin picked him up between them, and half-carried half-dragged him back to the room. 
Woodrow opened the door for them, and closed and locked it once they were inside.
They sat Rak down on one of the chairs from the dining table.
“Go watch the window.” Bear said to Kevin.
The rest huddled around Rak. His deathly pallor and dark hollow eyes chilled them all to the bone.
He held his sides and wept. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” he moaned, “I betrayed the group. I betrayed you all. But I couldn’t help it!”
“We know.” Rynza said, in a kind voice, “It wasn’t your fault. But how did you escape? How did you break out of his control?”
Bear was more to the point. “Where is Longstreet now?”
“He’s deep asleep,” Rak said, “I injected him with a large dose of Tullaxiffan. He’ll sleep till tomorrow.”
“But where is he?” Bear insisted, “Is he here?”
Rak seemed to fight for words; then exhaled, defeated. “It won’t let me say.” Rak said, “It won’t let me betray him.”
“What won’t?” Spencer asked.
“His BLOOD.” Rak answered, “I was able to break its control, but it’s still there, trying to wear me down. It won’t stop until I’m too tired or weak to fight it anymore. If it takes me again it’ll be the end of me.”
“It won’t come to that.” Bear promised, “We’re gonna get you to a Ma’jai who can help you; but we gotta free the others first.”
Rak wiped his eyes. “For them, I’ll hold out as long as I have to.”
Bear patted his shoulder, “Now that’s the Rak I know.”
“HEY, she’s here!” Kevin shouted, “The frain woman is here.”
“Is she alone?” Bear asked.
“Alright, go meet her and bring her here.” Bear said, “Carissa, help Rak over to the restroom. Keep him company there while we hash this out. Rynza, you’re with me. The rest of you just sit on the beds there and let me and Rynza do the talking.”
Everyone moved and did as ordered. Bear sat herself down at the dining table, and left the remaining chair empty for their guest. Rynza wheeled herself next to Bear.
The door opened, and Kevin and the woman entered. Kevin joined Spencer and Woodrow, while the woman sat at the chair clearly meant for her.
“My name is Siana Nandehl.” she said.
“I’m Bear.” Bear said.
“I assume you’re the one I spoke with on the phone.”
Bear nodded.
Siana continued: “As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m involved with the frain.”
“Involved?” Bear asked; her voice and expression innocent, but the effect, sardonic.
“Well, I am a frain. A Raishera, in fact.”
“Well, well, a Raishera!” Bear said, “How fancy!”
“It’s not as impressive as it sounds,” Siana said, “There are many Raisheras of varying importance and power.”
“And why be a mere Raishera, one among many, when you can be the sole Crellat, right?” Bear asked.
Damn, she’s quick, Siana thought.
“And what better way to undercut the current Crellat,” Bear continued, “Than by robbing him of his victory.”
“And here I thought Miss Adreynac was the psychic.” Siana said, “You are correct. Crellat Mallacharr is indeed standing in my way. I believe you know him already.”
“We do.” Bear said with distaste.
“Did you know also that Mallacharr was a hairsbreadth away from getting booted out of the Crellacy, when he caught your friends?”
“We know a lot more than you think we do.” Rynza said.
“Ah yes, the psychic,” Siana said, “The point is, Mallacharr used your friends to get back into the Vignach’s good graces…”
“And now you want US to help you do the opposite.” Bear said.
“Correct. The Vignach will drop Mallacharr like a bad habit for a good enough reason.”
“Why didn’t you just try catching us yourself?” Bear asked, “We told you where we were going to be. You could have set us up.”
“Is that what you suspected this was? A set-up?”
“I would have been a fool not to consider the possibility.” Bear replied.
“And yet you rolled the dice.”
“I don’t play dice with my friend’s lives; it was a risk, yes, but a calculated one.” Bear said, “Now answer the question.”
“Yes, I did consider catching you all myself.” Siana admitted, “But it wouldn’t have worked. Because of the frain power structure, Mallacharr could simply have taken credit for it.”
“How do we know you won’t come after us after you become Crellat?” Bear asked, “Assuming we succeed.”
“Oh, I probably will.” Siana replied, “But you will have gotten your friends back on the playing field. I think that’s as fair an exchange as you’re likely to get in this world.”
“I assume you have a plan?”
“I do. I also have access to parts of the Judicial Complex. I called in a lot of favors to get your friends at the lower end of the docket.”
“Alright then,” Bear said, “We’re in.”
“Good. Now, there are some things we’re going to have to acquire, to pull this off.” Siana said, “And we’re going to need an extra vehicle.”
Rynza dug into her pocket and took out a set of keys; they were the keys to the Longstreet’s station wagon.
“Do you have any pull at the impound yard?” she asked.

In his office, Crellat Mallacharr assessed the facts.
Longstreet’s tip was a bust. Mallacharr had suspected as much. No matter, he was glad to have Longstreet out of his hair; the man was a ghoul. Mallacharr hadn’t felt right since meeting him; like the color of the world was slowly draining away.
As for Siana Nandehl, she was missing in action, and Mallacharr was beginning to worry. Nandehl was not the type of person to curl up and wither away upon defeat. She was probably out there right now, plotting.
Oh, to take a bat to that woman’s head, Mallacharr thought to himself.
He sat back, put his feet up on his desk, and allowed himself the pleasure of that reverie.

In the large holding cell of the Judicial Complex, Jon, Dom, Peggy, and Wes, along with other teenage offenders, sat and waited.
The four found an empty spot on the long sitting bench against the wall, and sat together as a group.
A tall skinny Sardossian kid slid over to Jon. “Hey, do you guys know what judge is presiding over the juvenile cases today?” he asked.
“I heard a guard mention a Judge Hopper.” Jon answered.
“Judge Cobb Hopper?” the kid asked, “Oh man, we’re all screwed.”
“What---do you know him?” Peggy asked.
“No, but I’ve heard he’s a mean old bastard. I hear he’s been known to send sixteen and seventeen year olds straight to Rolom, instead of Ragginarck.”
“Really? That can’t be right.” Peggy said.
“Probably just a rumor.” Dom said.
“Well that’s what I heard.” the Sardossian kid said. He left them to spread the bad news around to the others there.
“What if he’s right?” Peggy asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jon said, “Because we’re not going to either Rolom or Ragginarck.”
“How can you be so sure?” Wes asked.
“Because I know us,” Jon replied, “And I know Bear.”     

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chapter 26


After Mike and Callie had departed, Rynza called the Judicial Complex and made some inquiries. Once she had all the necessary information, everyone migrated to her kitchen to make their plans.
They discussed the myriad obstacles they would have to overcome to free Jon, Dom, Peggy, and Wes from the holding cell where they were being held, pending trial.
Out of the blue, Kevin asked: “Has anyone seen Edward?”
They all looked at each other and shook their heads. In the depth of their calculations, they hadn’t even missed him.
“Last time I saw him, he was with you putting the supplies in Mike and Callie’s car.” Spencer replied.
“I know,” Kevin said, “That’s the last time I remember seeing him as well. I went inside before him, and I guess I just assumed he came in after me at some point.”
“Check the restroom.” Bear said, “Woodrow, check outside.”
Rynza closed her eyes and looked into the psychic stream. Though its waters were often muddy; they did, on occasion, clear up.
Both Kevin and Woodrow returned empty-handed.
“Where could he have gotten to?” Bear asked.
Rynza opened her eyes.
“He’s gone,” she said, “With Mike and Callie.”
“He snuck into the back seat of their car while they were still saying goodbye. He intends not to show himself until they are far enough away that they cannot turn back.”
“Why? Why would he do that?” Kevin asked.
“I can’t say for sure,” Rynza said, “My guess is, he felt they would have more need of him than we would.”
Bear put her head in her hands. “Aw cripes, Edward.” she said, feeling the full weight of the responsibility she alone now carried, “It’s like Jon all over again.”
“What is it with those Longstreets that everyone they meet wants to help them, run off with them, or kill them?” Woodrow asked.
“They are a wrecking crew.” Spencer said.
“Edward’s made his choice; it’s out of our hands.” Bear said, “In the meantime, we still have work to do.”
Rynza suddenly dropped her glass of tea, which shattered on the floor, startling everyone.
“What is it, Rinnie?” Carissa asked.
“Mike and Callie’s father!” she gasped, “He’s coming!”
“HERE?!” Bear asked, standing up.
“He’s on his way!”

The first thing Charles Longstreet did, upon successfully divesting an ash-grey car from its previous owner (who was currently engaged in bleeding to death in a parking lot), was to drop Rak off in front of the Caprice Motel.
“Go to my room and wait for me there.” he said, as he handed Rak the room key. Rak had already given him directions to Rynza’s place.
“I’m not coming after all?” Rak asked.
“No. Some of your friends might be there, and try to retrieve you from me. I don’t need those hassles. I just need to know if Mike and Callie are there. I’d send the frain if I didn’t think they’d muck it up again.”
“What am I supposed to do until you return?”
“I would suggest a bath. I intend to take one as well, when I get back. We both look like we just lost a battle with tar.”
“I have no change of clothes.”
“You’re a thief, steal some. There’s a laundromat across the street. Try your luck there.” Longstreet said, and peeled off.

He arrived, soon after, at Wedgewood Street. Adreynac’s place was not hard to find; the neon sign kind of gave it away. The blinds on the front windows and door were pulled down. The sign on the door said “SORRY! WE’RE CLOSED!”
The door, however, was unlocked.
He opened it and walked in.

Inside, the Dreadniks and the Adreynacs were waiting for him. Rynza had a rifle pointed at him, Bear held a bat, and the others had implements both sharp and blunt. Still, none of them were quite prepared for just how alarming he looked, covered in black ooze.
“I think you better stop right there.” Rynza said, fighting to keep her voice from quavering.
“That rifle looks ancient, lady; do you even have bullets for that thing?” Longstreet asked. He took a slow menacing step toward her. “Could you even shoot me if you did? Blood would fly everywhere.
Bear stepped out in front of Rynza and extended the top of the bat against Longstreet’s chest. 
“Back off.” she said.
“Just tell me where Mike and Callie are, and I won’t have to snap your neck.” Longstreet said.
Bear grinned mirthlessly. “Mister, I’d like to see you try.”
“They’re not here.” Rynza said from behind Bear, “We sent them away. They were too much trouble anyway.”
Longstreet looked over at Rynza. “And where did you send them, witch? To their mother? To Cathim?”
Rynza sat dumbfounded.
Longstreet laughed an unpleasant, grating laugh. “Ahh, I see you did. Just as well. I can catch them up in no time. They probably just left too, didn’t they?”
“Get the hell out.” Bear said, “You are not wanted here.”
“Why did you leave the door unlocked then? You could have locked me out. Why didn’t you? Were you hoping to see someone? A certain little thief, perhaps?”
“Where is he?” Rynza asked, “Where’s Rak?”
Charles Longstreet smiled, turned, and opened the door. “You’re the psychic,” he said over his shoulder, “You figure it out.”
The door slammed shut behind him.
Woodrow, Kevin, and Spencer ran to the front windows and lifted the slats of the blinds to take a peek outside.
“Is he gone?” Bear asked.
“He’s getting in his car…” Spencer said, “Okay, he’s gone.”
Bear turned to Rynza. “Do you see him coming back here?”
“No. He got what he wanted from us.” Rynza said, “He’ll go after Mike and Callie now.”
“Still, we have to leave.” Bear said, “I wouldn’t put it past him to inform Mallacharr of our presence here. We need a new place. Preferably, someplace Rak doesn’t know about.”
“I have a friend who owes me a favor,” Rynza said, “She owns a motel.”
“Good. Call her.”
“What about Rak?” Kevin asked, “If Longstreet goes after Mike and Callie, he’ll take Rak with him. We’ll lose any chance of ever getting him back, or getting him to that Rufus guy.”
“Don’t you think I know that?!” Bear snapped, looking pained, “But rescuing Jon and the others has got to come first. While they’re still in a Judicial Complex holding cell, we have a window; but that window grows smaller as the day grows older. Once they put them put on the bus to Ragginarck, it’s over.”

Rak was in the shower when Charles Longstreet got back, but had left the room door unlocked. Longstreet entered and went first to the telephone. Though he felt no particular antagonism against the Dreadniks, he felt it was necessary to repay the hospitality they had shown him on general principles. The gesture had to be made.

George Mallacharr couldn’t resist a smile as he finished up the paperwork that would put Siana Nandehl in her place.
Even with his position strengthened, some subtlety had been necessary; his maneuver did not seem unduly punitive on the surface, even if it did cut her off at the knees.
The phone rang. He picked it up and heard a familiar voice.
“Hello again, Crellat Mallacharr.” the voice said.
“What is it, Longstreet? I’m a busy man.”
“Oh, I’m sure you are, but I’m also sure you won’t be too busy for me when I tell you that I happen to know where the rest of the Dreadniks, the ones that escaped your sweep, are hiding out.”
“Where?” Mallacharr asked. His voice betrayed more eagerness than he had intended to convey; but if he could get the rest of the Dreadniks, he’d be golden. Then he could stomp Nandehl into a pale grey smear once and for all, without the necessity of half-measures.
“If you remember, Crellat Mallacharr, the last time we made a deal, and I provided information, you got what you wanted; whereas I got nothing.”
“What do you want?”
Longstreet laughed. “Lucky for you, you no longer have anything I need. So consider this a gift. The remaining Dreadniks are being aided and abetted by a woman named Rynza Adreynac. She runs a psychic business on Wedgewood Street. Even your useless men can’t miss it; it has a neon sign and everything. Happy hunting!”
The phone went “click” in Mallacharr’s ears, and he put it down.
He wondered if this wasn’t just a trick to get back at him for not delivering his end of their bargain. The fact that he didn’t ask for anything in return for this information only made it seem more so.
On the other hand, what if it wasn’t?
It was worth his while to check it out. Certainly not another frain sweep, not yet; but sending out some officers in an unmarked car to have a look-see didn’t sound too risky.

Siana Nandehl stepped out from inside the storage room.
She hurried past Mallacharr’s office, and went to her desk.
Through the vent, she had heard him talking with Longstreet on the phone. Though she couldn’t hear Longstreet’s voice, Mallacharr’s responses gave her more than enough information to deduce what they were talking about:
What is it, Longstreet? I’m a busy man.
An overexcited, Where?!
And finally, What do you want?
Then Mallacharr had called for two officers in an unmarked car to check out an address in Wedgewood Street, a psychic shop run by someone named Rynza Adreynac.
Siana Nandehl didn’t give a damn about the Dreadniks; but Mallacharr had already used them once to strengthen his position.
She could not let him succeed twice!
She flipped through her phonebook till she found Rynza Adreynac’s name and number.
She dialed it up and, to her surprise, an older girl’s came on the line.
“Who is this?” the girl asked. She sounded like she had neither the time nor patience for anything but pithy replies.
“Listen close,” Siana said, “You don’t know me, but the frain know the Dreadniks are there; and they’re coming. Right now. Whatever it is you’re doing, drop it, and get the hell out of there.”
“We figured as much already.” the girl said, “The question is: who are you and what do you want?”
“We need to meet.” Siana said, “I can help you free your friends.”
There came two seconds of silence as the girl weighed her options. “Do you know where the Caprice Motel is?” she asked.
“If it’s in the city, I can find it.”
“Meet us there in half an hour.”
“I will. I’ll be the blond haired woman in the light blue suit.”
“Come alone or it’s off.” The girl replied, and hung up.

Had she considered the matter, Bear might have let Rynza’s phone ring and not answered it; but as she was the closest to it when it rang, she had picked it up without a thought.
“Are we sure that was wise?” Spencer asked, once Bear described the content of the call, “What if she’s a frain?”
“Of course she’s a frain,” Bear replied.
“It’s a trap, then.” Woodrow said.
“If I thought so, I wouldn’t have agreed to have her meet us.” Bear answered.
Just then, a red pick-up truck stopped in front of the building.
“That’s Clyde,” Rynza said, “Our ride.”
Clyde Diggins was a twenty-something young man with light brown hair and a tall thin build. Moderately wealthy by an inheritance Rynza had helped him to uncover, Clyde was only too happy to be of assistance. The pick-up was a survivor of his scrap yard days, and a constant reminder of his humble beginnings.
“Are you ready, Rinnie?” he asked, upon entering.
“Yes, we’re ready.”
They exited the building. Kevin had composed a note that read:
The note was taped to the front door window.
Once they were all outside, Clyde lifted Rynza out of her wheelchair, and put her in the passenger seat. The wheelchair was folded and placed in the back of the pick-up, where the Dreadniks were going to ride (except Woodrow, who was short enough to be squeezed in between Clyde and Rynza, to his horror). Carissa locked up, and joined Bear, Kevin, and Spencer in the back.
The truck pulled away from the curb, and off they went.

Rak stepped out of the shower feeling unburdened of the sticky black mess he’d been coated in. He dried himself, and put on the clothes he had taken from one of the dryers at the laundromat. The trousers and shirt were about two sizes too big, but he made do by rolling up the leg bottoms on the pants, and cinching it at the waist with his original belt; which was amenable to washing off and towel-drying. The shirt he just let hang long. He threw his soiled clothes in a corner.
“C’MON BOY!” Longstreet yelled from outside, “I need to wash this crap off before it congeals any further!”
While buttoning up his new shirt, Rak caught a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror, and stopped cold.
There was something wrong with his reflection, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it; something wrong with the eyes.
Rak put his face very close to the mirror.
“What are you looking at?” he whispered.
You.” the mirror Rak whispered back.
For a moment, Rak was unsure he had really heard that, or just imagined that he had; then the mirror Rak spoke again.
You don’t belong there.” he said.
Suddenly Rak understood what was wrong with his reflection; the eyes of the Rak looking back at him from the mirror were not the dead eyes of the Rak Longstreet’s Malevolencia had created; they were the eyes of the old Rak.
“What can you do about it?” Rak replied, “You’re trapped in the back of my head. Imprisoned.”
“No prison can hold me.” mirror Rak said. He extended his arm across and through the mirror plane, grabbed Rak by the hair on top of his head, and pulled.
Rak’s head hit the mirror, but it was he who shattered.

Longstreet was about to bang on the bathroom door, when it opened. 
Rak walked past him.
“All done.” he said.

Longstreet only got as far as removing his shirt, shoes, and socks, when there came an insistent knock on the bathroom door.
“What is it?” he shouted.
There was no answer.
“Dammit boy, answer me! I command it!”
No answer, but the knocking started once again.
Longstreet growled, got out of the shower, and opened the door.
There was Rak, standing there, waiting for him. Longstreet felt a sudden stabbing sting on his side, then collapsed to the floor; the now-empty hypodermic syringe jutting out of his ribs like a tiny flagpole.
“That bath will have to wait.” Rak said.
He looked down on Longstreet’s face, and kicked it…hard.
“Bastard,” he said, kicking Longstreet’s face again, “This is for making me betray my friends, you SON OF A BITCH!”
He kicked Longstreet’s face again, and again, and again. By the time he stopped, he was sobbing. Charles Longstreet didn’t so much as grunt, deep under as he was; black blood oozed from his mouth, nose, and various points of broken skin.
Rak turned and went back to Longstreet’s duffel bag. There he had found the forgotten syringe of Tullaxiffan. Now he went and took the money out of the wallets he had pounded earlier, back when the world had been brighter, and darkness was but a shadow.
He was about to leave the room, when a ripping, searing sensation tore through his body like an electric shock, and made him double over in pain.
Rak fought through the pain, until it abated.
There was no hiding from the truth: the darkness deep inside him, the darkness Longstreet had given him, wanted to take back control; and it would not stop trying until it succeeded in doing so.