Disappointment – 1.20


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The boots of a Guard squeaked as he closed the door behind him and entered the corridor. He whistled tunelessly and swung his keys around his middle finger, as if confident, but when he stopped to tell some prisoner in a cell further up to stop fighting his voice was quiet and, as he tried to shout, he stuttered. I could identify him as one of the Guards I had been with earlier, the quiet one, not the irritating weasel-like man who had attempted, and failed I might add, to threaten me. I grinned to myself. Good. His reaction would be far more interesting.

Even as I watched, he mumbled something half-heartedly at the scuffling prisoners, then, as they slammed against the bars and reached for him, fingers clawing inches from his face, he jumped away into the middle of the corridor. He tried to compose himself by readjusting his slipping grip on the baton he held in his other hand, but had clearly given up trying to stop them at this point and just began shuffling away from them and down the corridor towards me. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as they say.

I turned away from the bars before he saw me, and sat down with the back of my head resting on the uncomfortable ridges of the metal. I listened to his footsteps reverberate through them with my eyes closed and tried to suppress the grin that was beginning to play at my lips. He was coming closer and closer, so blissfully unaware, making my spine tingle with every step he took. I could hear him pause outside every cell, glancing in, but always keeping his distance from the hands that clawed at the air before him, and his stops brief, as if he couldn’t wait to be out of here. I’ll bet he was wondering what had gotten them all worked up so suddenly. He’d probably put it down to me, being the only thing that’s changed around here recently, and make sure to take an extra careful look in here. Well, let him. He’d be the one regretting it later.

I heard his feet come to a stop and, heart beating slow in my chest, I turned towards him. As his piggy eyes met mine, from deep in his wobbling cheeks, I saw his sparse eyebrows pull together and his lips part in horror. I noticed how very red they were within his pale face, like a girl’s. His eyes had swivelled to the side, away from my blood-stained face, and I knew what he was seeing. They turned back to me again, with a look as if that was the last thing they wanted to do, and he froze on the spot. Then the spell was rudely broken by some shrill screaming from a cell further up, and he lunged for the door.

It banged closed, but he didn’t lock it, the keys seemed to have turned to liquid in his hands as he tried to grasp them. He need not worry, though, as I was completely satisfied with waiting here until he came back with his partner. I was in no hurry after all.

Here he came, I could hear him running back down the corridor and dragging the protesting man behind him.

“What are you doing? I’ve got to finish my rounds before lunch.” The weasel-like partner whined in a particularly nasal voice.

The other man said nothing, just pulled at his arm with building urgency.

“What has gotten into you?” The weasel Guard said as he arrived outside my cell, he pulled his arm away with a shove and, breathing deeply, he turned his head from his partner and slowly down towards me.

“My God…” he said, and crossed himself as he backed away. He held his hands to his stomach like he wanted to be sick. “How in hell…?”

“I have no idea.” The piggy one said, covering his eyes. I bent my neck back to see him and smiled an upside-down smile. They both had nice reactions after all.

Coming back over, the other one turned to the piggy Guard and said in a hushed tone, as if I couldn’t hear him if I whispered. “He didn’t look like that before, did he? He was all scarred.” He made an absurd gesture around the whole of his face to illustrate the extent of my former burns.

“I would like to wash my hands.” I said, holding them up to show the blood that blistered them and staring him in the eyes. And there was my reward, that look of terrified disgust that twisted his fat face as he looked down on me. The moment of realisation as to just what he had gotten himself into.

He didn’t say anything straight-away, instead turning to search his partner for the answer and, when he had nothing for him, choosing rather to shift around his feet nervously and let his eyes wonder anywhere but to the body inside the cell. “We should really get him out of there.” He whispered.

“Huh?” The weaselly one looked at him in amazement. “He’s staying in there until I’m sure he’s not gonna try anything!”

“But we-we’re meant to separate the attacker from the bo-body upon finding them. I-it’s in the rules. Who knows what evidence he could destroy in there.” He stuttered.

His partner sighed, glaring at the man before quickly turning his attention back to me. I could see he was scared, the fact that he was trying to hide it just made it more obvious. His fingers were twitching and he was subconsciously backing away from me. “Who needs evidence. I can see clear as day exactly what happened.” He drew his shaking hands back to his sides and I looked up at him, he knew I had noticed. I beamed.

“See.” I mocked. “It’s in the rules. You seem scared, but, you know that there’s no point dragging out the inevitable, you’re going to have to open this door eventually.” This was rather unnecessary, but fun nonetheless. ”You have to let me out.”

“Lead you out, not let you out.” He conceded, playing along. “I’d take you straight to the cell next door.”

“Oh.” I said. “Certainly, you could do that, but I don’t think that it’s a good idea.” He narrowed his eyes until they were just slits but he couldn’t keep them trained on me, his fear betrayed him. “See, I’ve been talking to them, telling them exactly what I did to my former partner here and just what I’d do to them if I got the chance. They’re pretty riled up. They even said that if you put me in any of their cells that they’d take it upon themselves to ‘object’ pretty violently.”

He stepped closer on shaking legs. I noticed that I could reach him through the bars if I stretched my arm out now. He probably wouldn’t even be able to get away quick enough. “What’s to say they wouldn’t just kill you. There’s plenty of them in there, enough to not be scared of some sissy-boy who killed a dying man. Your own partner no less! Where’s your loyalty? Just what kind of a Guard were you?”

“Oh, so he was dying.” That explained why he’d been so obstinate with me. He probably thought accepting death would mean it wouldn’t be scary anymore, he didn’t know how much I could make it hurt. “They won’t kill me, you think they care what kind of Guard I was? These guys were all arrested by you Guards. They hate them more than anything. Anyway, they’ve seen first-hand just how crazy I am now. I guarantee they’d rather take their chances with you than have a go at killing me. I think if you take me into any of those cells you’d have a revolt on yours hands, Gentlemen.”

The weasel Guard spluttered. “Are you threatening me! I could just walk away and leave you in this Goddamn cell until you starve!”

“We can’t do that.” The other one raised his voice a little, sounding concerned. “The man inside, he was a Gu-Guard, a good guy. He de-deserves proper treatment.” He said the whole sentence without a stutter, I was almost impressed. Especially because he was doing exactly what I had hoped.

“Yeah, you can leave him in here with me. Who knows what I might do?” I giggled.

“Look.” He came a step closer. I could have reached out and held his ankles by now. “I don’t know what you’re planning but you are not getting out of there. We take the body out, and you stay in.” He turned to his partner. “That all right with you?” He asked, sarcastically.

“Yes!” The other man practically beamed, obviously happy that they were know playing to the rules and seeming to think that everything had been resolved nice and cleanly. He didn’t consider how I was going to play my cards, though, and he had definitely forgotten about the door he had left open.

I sprung to my feet and twisted to face them in one movement. But, as they flinched away, I lifted my hands and stepped back from the cell door. They each let out a sigh of relief and started towards the door as if nothing had bothered them. I watched them slip in through a small a space as possible, the weaselly Guard giving the other a disparaging look as he realised the door had been unlocked the whole time, but carrying on regardless. After all, they seemed to feel the need to keep an eye on me at all times, they had no eyes for anything else. As if I was going to attack them now. Not that they could have prevented me from doing so even if they’d had a hundred eyes on me. For some reason, they were even stupid enough to lock the door behind them.

It didn’t take them long to realise that mistake. No, I didn’t attack them; why they thought I would want to be locked in a cell with three dead bodies and nowhere closer to my goal I do not know. They realised they’d done wrong when they saw that they weren’t getting him out of here in a hurry. I’d made sure of that, bending the metal leg that jutted from his pelvis over so he couldn’t be removed from the bed it was attached to without significant difficulty. The bed also was too big to remove from the room whilst he was still attached to it and, anyway, one side of it was chained to the wall. For safety’s sake. They hadn’t really thought this one through when they were designing these cells; maybe if they’d attacked each leg to the ground or designed them to be dis-assembled they could have sabotaged all my plans. Though I would have come up with another plan in that case too, as I had found out about this particular use for the bed frames by looking through the Major’s eyes and doing some experimenting. I could have figured something else out if necessary, I’m sure.

I was happy to see that they decided to attempt to get the whole bed out the door rather than remove his body. I had banked on them being rather squeamish about that. Their chosen method meant both of them were occupied in carrying the bed and, as they took it out the cell, they would have to leave the door wide open and one of their backs exposed. They’d fallen for it. They must have thought I was desperate to be let out the way I kept pushing for it, but the truth is that’s the last thing I wanted, both of them holding me and opening the doors in turn meant I was less likely to be able to get away from them cleanly. And it would certainly be a whole lot less fun.

This was the perfect situation. They hadn’t even restrained me, even though I had factored that in, so this was going to be even easier than I had predicted.

It was mere luck then that the piggy man had chosen to turn his back and help his partner shift the bed onto its side through the door. In one swift movement I had my hands at his throat, the weasel man saw but he couldn’t get past the bed in the doorway quick enough, and I had soon taken the knife from the piggy Guard’s belt and began pressing it to the soft flesh that was exposed just above his collar.

“You little rat!” Weasel yelled as he tried to pull the bed through the door and then stopped as he realised that would leave my escape route free.

“Your partner’s life for my freedom.” I said. “Where, oh where, does your precious loyalty lie now, Guard?”

The man I was holding tried to say something, so I pulled the knife closer and clamped my hand over his mouth. His heavy breath was hot on my palm, I frowned with distaste but held fast. I knew what he was going to say.

The weasel cursed loudly and pulled the bed through the door, leaving my passage clear. I sidled into the corridor, dragging the man as I did. The weasel could hear his partner’s muffled protests, but it was too late for that. He’d already made his choice.

I shoved the one I held into the weaselly man, he stumbled and almost flattened the smaller Guard, giving me plenty of time to get past them.

“Good choice.” I shouted back at them as I turned to leave through the unlocked door the piggy Guard had dragged the other through at the top of the corridor. “Though, somehow I don’t think he would have done the same for you.”

I was right, the piggy man was cursing now as well, saying that spiel about sticking to the rules for hostage situations that he had wanted to blurt out earlier. I supposed loyalty to the Guard meant letting your partner die if need be, betraying them. Ginger had been the same. The Lieutenant as well. I laughed, how dare they try to lecture me about loyalty.

I grabbed the door and pulled, still watching them try to get themselves back on their feet, and bumped into something hard. Damn! I should have been looking. Were they more Guards? I looked up as I felt hands grasp my arms. He had a face like a bird: a big curved nose like a beak, a small, pointed chin receding back into his neck, and round black eyes, glossy and standing out against the dullness of his tanned skin.

They stared down at me without blinking and, animal as I was, it was only naturally for me to stare back. Blinking would be showing weakness, it would be daring him to make his move. We stood there for a while, with me feeling every second was a wasted chance to get away, but my patience paid off as he eventually broke eye contact and looked at the Guards behind me who had caught up. I could hear their laboured breath as they saluted him, stamping one boot on the ground as they stood to attention. Damn, I didn’t like how he could easily watch them over the top of my head. I guess that was a benefit of being from the Empire. In Mallogal people had food, they grew tall and healthy. Here more died than survived, children were almost always stunted and their legs bowed out with rickets. Of course, such things didn’t affect me, but that didn’t mean I like being outdone in anything by anyone. It rubbed me the wrong way for sure. It would have annoyed her too. She would have seen his height as a symbol of this empire assuming their supposed natural authority over the people of the Old Country. I, however, was only insulted on my own part.

I aimed a heavy kick at his shins, at the same time driving the knife he hadn’t yet spotted up towards his armpit. It wasn’t a bad place to stab, if you could get it past the shoulder joint you could take a man’s arm out if you were determined enough. He doubled over as it bit the soft flesh, but he shifted to the side as he did, and I lost the drive that was forcing it upwards. My hand slipped from the handle and it dropped. I turned to run but he grabbed me with one arm under both of mine, easily lifting me off the floor. I kicked out, but he seemed not to feel it and instead addressed the Guards as if nothing was happening.

“And what would be going on here?” His tone was light despite the knife still embedded in his flesh. How could it not be hurting him?

“He got out Sir, killed his cellmate and then slipped past us while we were trying to get the dead man out.”

“Hmm…” The man looked over at the body that was just visible on the upturned bed at the end of the corridor. “Clancy.” He said.

“Yes, that’s him. This guy said he was his partner.” Weasel replied, I could tell he was pointing at me and nodding profusely though I could only see the wall from where I was dangling.

“Oh, so this would be him, would it, the famous rebel Guard? The one everyone has been looking for all these weeks?” His voice got clearer as he looked down at me.

“I prefer infamous.” I tried to grab the knife, but he squeezed his arm over it.

“I suppose that is a better fit.” He said, musingly. “But what really interests me is why you two decided to move the body without securing the prisoner in another cell.”

“Huh!” I laughed, distortedly as I was having trouble breathing with his arm slipping up to my chin.

“Uh.” They must have glanced at each other because they both mumbled at the same time. The weasel-faced one spoke up after a while. “He said he’d threatened all these prisoners and that if we put him in with them they would revolt.” I laughed again, it did sound stupid when he said it. It was a bit unfair to say that they were just idiots though, I’d worked quite hard to convince them. They should have really checked with the other prisoners first though.

“And you believed him?” Bird man sounded incredulous, these guys were going to get in trouble later. Maybe even demoted for this.

“Yeah…, he, sounded like he meant it. And he had the bo-body there, and the prisoners really were all worked up so it seemed pretty believable.” It was the weaselly one stuttering this time, I was surprised.

“At the time.” The other Guard murmured.

“Yeah.” The other corroborated.

“And why didn’t you alert me as soon as you saw him? Surely you’ve seen his posters up around! We’ve all been briefed on capturing him not that long ago, after all.”

“Well…” He paused. Even he must have worked out how insane this one sounded. “…He didn’t look like that when we took him in.”

“He didn’t look like that when you took him in.” The man repeated.

“General…” The piggy one spoke up. “He really didn’t. He was all scarred when he got here, and he had something tied over his face. We didn’t recognise him at all.”

General? So, this guy was the famous crazy General O’Sullivan. I hadn’t had the honour of meeting him even in the Major’s form yet. I couldn’t say it was a pleasure, I had not expected to be dangling a foot off the ground when I did. It was not my most graceful moment.

“Well, that is interesting.” He looked down at me with an expression I could only describe as unfathomable. Addressing them again, he shook his head, and said, “Some unfortunate things have happened.” He glanced at the body. “And you two did not follow instructions. The rules are there for situations just like this. You’ve failed me today.” He shook his head and the movement banged my head against the cement wall, hard. “But it could have been worse. At least we don’t have an uprising on our hands. I’ll deal with this, you two are on probation until later notice, go and get your things.”

He moved us out of the way as the two Guards hurried past, not even daring to grumble about their punishment until he was out of ear shot. And that must be a long way because he had very large ears, I could see right up them at this very moment. He sighed and then turned away from the scene, stepping through the door and then locking it behind him. He appeared to be moving purposefully slowly, probably knowing how it would infuriate me.

But there was nothing I could do. I had to wait for my opportunity to get away from him, and not get too annoyed as to miss it. I relaxed against all instinct and let myself be carried, making sure to pay attention to where we were going through the maze of corridors, doors, and stairs in the prison. I also noted that he didn’t lock a single door behind him even though he had keys at his waist. After about five minutes of memorising, he seemed to realise what I may be doing because he readjusted his grip on me to tip me upside down and flung me over his shoulder, holding on only to my feet. I didn’t know what to do with my arms, so I let them fall down as if reaching for the floor.

He reached up and I tensed for a moment, thinking he was going to do something, but he just pulled out the knife with a grunt, swinging it down in his hand where I could see it. I watched it glint in the white lights of the corridors as his arms swung, watched the bright blood drip to the ground from its tip. It was rhythmic, calming, quiet.

And then we were walking through another occupied corridor, I could see part of the cells every time he moved his leg to stop. The faces looking out, opening their mouths to yell but the sound was muted in my ears. They gripped the bars and shook them, kicked them. Most of them were looking at him but some were glancing down at me and laughing. I felt sick. Maybe it was the blood running to my head but the whole thing was buzzing. As the blood filled my head all the thoughts were washed away, there was nothing but the sound of my breathing and his clipped footsteps on the cement.

Through another door and we were in sudden darkness. No, it wasn’t completely dark. My eyes were adjusting, they could see the grey walls marking the small, square room. He reached up to pull a cord and a low, white light flickered in the centre of the room. There was something under it, but I couldn’t quite see what it was where I was. I tried to twist under his arm, my heart beating fast. For some reason I felt the need to see, I had to know where I was going.

He walked towards the light. It was a chair, a leather one that leant back under uncertain glow. I began to struggle, there was something about it that kicked my fight or flight into action. Shivers of adrenaline licked my skin, making hair stand up on end and each muscle burn in tense anticipation. I clawed and kicked but he hardly even faltered, if only I could grab the knife from his hand I could give myself an advantage. One good stab at a vital and he’d have to drop me. He hadn’t locked this door either so I could easily get out while he is recovering.

I kicked towards his face and at the same time made a grab for the knife. I gripped the blade and I felt it slip, yes I’d got it! But as my hand felt the point press into my palm I knew the slipping was just my grip sliding on the bloody surface, his hand had remained tight around its handle. I dropped my bloody hand down, I didn’t give up though, I grabbed his leg as if I was trying to pull it out from under him. Impossible really but he shifted his weight onto it to keep him stable and I kicked out at the other one.

He stumbled and I tried to grab the knife again, again I failed.

“You’re being quite troublesome.” He grumbled as he chucked me towards the chair. “Don’t bother fighting. Your anger’s only making you clumsy.”

I tried to kick his hands away as he fastened the shackles over my ankles.

“Just stop! There’s no need to be scared. In case you haven’t realised I’m not trying to hurt you. If I were I’d have just chucked you in with those prisoners in the cells next to yours. They were making some pretty violent threats at you before we left.”

“Why would I be scared.” I spat. “You’re the good guy. I know you’re not allowed to hurt me.” I showed my teeth in a sort of smile.

He strapped my arms to the chair and then stood in front of me, appraising. “Why did you kill him?”

“I thought you knew about me?” I grimaced as I tried to move my arms and felt the metal buckle pinch the skin above my wrist bones. “He betrayed me, I told him I’d be back.”

“I know, I even talked to him about it. He said he’d talk to you, try and convince you to hand yourself in when you came for him. Of course, we didn’t predict you’d come in as a prisoner, he was convinced you’d be too proud to get caught on purpose.”

“Well I didn’t exactly get caught, did I? It was in my plan, so I knew I was going to get the upper-hand eventually.” I gave up my struggle, panting, and looked him in each hawkish eye. “You think it would hurt my pride any less to come in here as a Guard. I’d be ashamed to be seen as one for even another second.” I laughed without humour.

He glanced down at me, looking almost disappointed. “You could have been a great Guard.” He shook his head. “No, you still could be. Just because those rebels think you’re their leader, doesn’t mean you have to be. Or you could have used your power over them to convince them that we are doing this Empire thing for all the right reasons. I know they think we’re just out to hurt them.”

“Like I could have changed anything.” The light above me was bright, making me glare. I could hardly see his face in the darkness beyond it. “Your Guard is so stuck in its ways, its rules and its outward order. It made me think why it was even set up in the first place. It’s not like it’s actually helping this country. There were criminals so you put them in prison, let them stay here for a while getting better food than they do out there and then let them go and expect them not to re-offend but they do just so that they can come back in; there were poor people who were starving so you took all the money away and made everyone equal, not realising that all you’ve done is changed the currency to power and now everyone but the corrupt are starving; and worst of all, you say you’re here to serve the people, help them and protect their rights but really you just want us to rely on you, most of the people in this country can’t read or write so you use your voices to speak for them. You make us dependent on you and pretend that you’re doing us a favour. We don’t want your pity or your help, we want to be responsible for ourselves, and come up with our own rules. Give us some personal responsibility at least, either that or we’ll never get better!” I growled.

“You feel strongly on the subject?” He said, after a pause. “That’s a surprise.”

I spat at him. “I bet it is a surprise, you’ve probably never had any one of us Old Country people tell you what they really think, probably didn’t think we had it in us. If I were you and had all these people from the country I’d enslaved working for me, I would watch my back.” The stupid light was clicking on and off, I could already feel by head beating from the strain.

“You talk about all the bad things we did but are you really in a position to judge? You’re the one who just killed your own partner because he betrayed you, and he wasn’t a criminal, not really. Sure, he admitted to corroborating on some of the Major’s crimes, but he was threatened, and the Major was such an authority figure for him.” So that was the story General Nevan had dreamt up for Ginger’s part in this. That meant nobody knew what he had done yet. This guy probably still thought he was just an impromptu rebel leader, who had no place being one. He probably still thought he could convert me to the Empire point of view. Well, good luck to him for trying. He was still talking, I tuned back in. “He was dying for God’s sake, you could have just left him, but the rebels probably told you to come in here yourself and kill him with your own two hands, didn’t they? And they act like they’re the good one, just trying to protect their country from the evil rule of the Empire, but really they’re just enjoying the trouble they cause. These rebels are nothing but a bad influence. They’re not saving people, Seth, they’re ensuring their deaths. The more they get these poor people to fight, the more we’ll have to do to keep them down. You must understand this, Seth. You must have seen what is happening.”

He really thought he had me. I could hear the smug note in his voice, practically purring out the lines like he’d rehearsed them. He was the one who was really enjoying this. Everything about this situation he found fun. “They have good intentions, which is more than I can say for you. You asked me why I betrayed the Guard and that’s why, I hate how you people act like you’re the good guys while you kill people every day. Sure, I killed one dying man, but when I chase the Empire from this country, I will have saved thousands more. That’s an exchange I would take any day.”

“Will you really have saved them though? Who’s to say that this country won’t just fall even deeper into turmoil as soon as we leave. I mean, we have brought civilisation into this country, to take it away again would be the same as showing a poor man a rich man’s life and then pushing him back out onto the streets as if that wouldn’t just turn him all the more bitter about a situation he was previously quite content with.”

“That may be so, but at least now he knows his choices. And if he decides he likes the rich man’s life, he can choose to go and get it.”

He held up his hands with a smile. “I can see I’m not going to change your mind on this. But that doesn’t mean I can’t change your mind on killing that poor Sergeant. If you can regret that at least, maybe we can find some common ground here?”

“Regret?” I laughed. “I don’t regret it one bit. I don’t even remember doing it.” Kindly, I left a little line for him to grasp onto.

His eyes locked back onto mine. “What did you say?” He said. Serious all of a sudden. So he had caught it.

“What do you mean ‘I don’t even remember doing it’? Are you saying you don’t remember?”

I said nothing.

“Did you black out?” He shook my shoulders hard, making the leather bite into my arms. “You know you killed Sergeant Clancy, but do you actually remember doing it?” He was right in my face this time. I just hoped he would fall into the trap soon or my head would explode, it was throbbing painfully every time he spoke at this point. Hurting like each word was reverberating around inside my head. I couldn’t cover my ears as my hands were tied down, and the flashing of the light was hitting me like it was punching my eyes. I couldn’t take it.

“No, I don’t remember. But what does that matter? Just stop shouting!” I cringed, trying to close my eyes and smother my pounding head in the darkness behind them, hoping that I sounded flippant enough for him not to suspect anything.

“You really don’t remember?”

“No!” I hissed. “Just be quiet, please.” I begged. It hurt my pride to do so, but it was necessary.

He looked down, his hand on his chin as he pondered.

We stayed like that for a while, him silent, me with my eyes closed trying to stop the pain in my head. At some point the blackness swallowed me.

***

I opened my eyes and immediately had to half-close them again as the glaring light still shone directly above me. He was close, looking at me. I tried to sit up then remembered that I was tied to the chair.

“Well…” He said.

I looked at him, confused, so out-of-it I could hardly even able to work out what he was saying.

“You said you killed your sister, how?”

“What are you talking about.” I groaned, though my heart had begun beating slow at that word.

He shuffled closer, his beak-like nose highlighted under the light. “I just asked you how you killed her?”

I told him that? Did I say something while I was passed out? Well, I would have to work with this for now. “It was a long-time ago. I haven’t thought about it in a long time.” I shielded my eyes.

He was quiet for a minute and then I saw his mouth move from the strange shadows it casted. “Your family were rebels, traitors to the Empire. Your sister died in the fire caused when raiding their house. You had nothing to do with it. Why are you blaming yourself?”

“I don’t want to talk about this.” I sighed. “If you’re going to arrest me just do it.”

“You’re already arrested. Even if it was as another person. You are in prison, you know.”

“I know. So what am I doing in here? Are you trying to interrogate me for more crimes, or something?”

“Yes. I was.”

“Was? What are you doing now then?” I didn’t really care anymore, I wished he would just get on with it.

“Honestly, I’m trying to understand why you did what you did. Maybe understanding why you rebelled, will help us prevent similar things happening in the rest of our native force.”

“You might as well let me go now, put me back in a cell, because I am not going to speak.”

“You already have, Seth. It’s the guilt about what happened in the past making you reject the larger message of the Empire. You blame the Empire for your sister’s death, and yourself as well, but those people that burned down your house did not represent the Guard. They were punished for what they did. They are criminals in our minds as much as yours. You must understand that.”

My wrists were still firmly in their restraints and I didn’t even bother trying the shackles on my feet, I knew they wouldn’t be coming off in a hurry. “I’m going to stop speaking now.”

“I don’t need you to speak. I’m finished with my ‘interrogation’, as you call it. I’ve decided that you need treatment. You can be rehabilitated, I can see that. And nothing would be more persuasive for the rebels to back down than seeing their own leader as a Guard again and this time as a true supporter of the Empire. Starr, Brown.” I thought for a bit that he was addressing me but then I spotted the two moving sections in the darkness, like floating faces. I hadn’t even heard them move. I shivered to think that they’d all been here while I was sleeping.

“What do you mean?” I frowned, now concerned.

“I thought you were going to stop speaking.” He smiled. I didn’t like the sound of that. I couldn’t do anything as they advanced towards me, one holding some sort of metal box and the other, two rods. As they got closer I could see they were joined to it by wires. Something was wrong.

I shook my head. “No! What is that? What are you doing?” If I could have sunk back further in the chair I would but there was nowhere for me to go.

“Relax.” He said, as one of the two pushed something like bandages into my mouth. I tried to bite his hands but he retracted them before I could and the other one quickly leant forward to push my head back.

“I’m afraid this isn’t going to be very pleasant.” He continued. “But it’s for the best. Maybe, when you get better, you won’t be so lonely anymore. You can be a Guard again and you won’t have to worry about all the things you’ve done. All will be forgiven!” He raised both hands up like he was talking to God. Like he was God.

I tried to scream through the bandages as one of the men pressed the cold metal to my temples. Whatever this was I knew it was going to be bad. I tried to pull my head away, but someone was holding it down from behind now.

And then I heard it. A buzzing that got louder and louder. A thrumming alien sound that made my hair stand on end. So high pitched it was like it was screaming inside my head. And then it connected. Ran through my body like fire. The corners of my mouth turned up over the cloth, pulling his cheeks to tight it hurt. Even as my whole head shook uncontrollably with the tearing current, I kept my wide-open eyes right on his. Be scared, I thought, know that there’s something wrong, that I’m not like the other ones. Deep in the night, think of the eyes that watch you now, remember them well because I will be back. I will not let you get away with this, not after you learnt so much.

A new beginning, I shouted inside my head, keeping up my maniacal grin even as the sweat streamed down my forehead and my muscles contacted in violent seizures, with open arms I must welcome it.

Everything went black.

***

“He got away, Sir!” A Guard, Starr. His pale brown hair was darkened with sweat where it met his forehead and he was bent over his large stomach, panting, before the hawk-nosed man.

The man turned towards him in one swift movement and plunged his fist into the man’s chest. It was only when he drew back and the Guard saw the dripping red of the metal that he realised that he clutched a knife in his hand and that it had sunk into the flesh just under the Guard’s rib cage.

He looked up at the man with eyes hung underneath with purple like he hadn’t slept in weeks. “Why Sir?” He opened his mouth and stinking blood slipped from his lips, down his chin and spattered onto the floor.

The man threw the knife onto the cement, it landed with a metallic clatter and skidded through the red pool, scratching it into dark lines that gripped the weapon’s handle. He’d forgotten he even had that, hard to believe now he felt the burn beneath his arm where it had been lodged into his joint.

“You let him go, didn’t you? He’s convincing, that’s why I warned you not to listen to a word he says!” He yelled. “We’ve had weeks of therapy and I’ve gotten absolutely nowhere with him! And he was going to be my crowning glory, a success with him would have convinced the whole Empire that my experiments are worthy of recognition. That’s why I didn’t tell them I had him in the first place. Now what am I going to do?” He turned away and composed himself. “No matter. I’ll send someone after him. He shouldn’t be able to get very far like that. Still, I quite underestimated him, that was the fastest recovery yet. They usually take weeks just to be able to stand again, no…there was that girl that recovered quickly too, not enough to be able to run away though. He really has proved himself special, though not quite in the way I had hoped, I fear.” He was not angry now, in fact he was smiling slightly, and his hands were clasped behind his back, just thinking about the possibilities like he was in fact enjoying the disruption. “I was hoping to see how well it had worked before I set him loose. Well…I can find out soon enough.”

“I’ll go out and find her-him then Sir?” The Guard questioned cheerfully, smiling while he inspected his bloody hand.

As he turned around the back of his hand hit the Guard square in his grinning face.

“You’ve made enough mistakes already! You don’t know just how much you have endangered by not following my instructions carefully. I have to be able to trust my Guards.”

The Guard held his hand to his cheek and spat out a tooth from the corner of his mouth as he turned back to the man.

“How dare you.” He growled in a voice lower than before. “That hurt!” His hands shook as he glared up at the man through dark hair and lunged at him with dark teeth bared.

“Am I going to have to send you back to treatment, Starr?”

He stopped mid-step, mid-snarl; frozen like the air had thickened around him. The man stepped forward and pushed him with one hand, falling flat on his back with an exhale of air like it was being pressed from his lungs.

He looked down at the Guard and spat. “Don’t forget who is in control here. I have been lenient with you, but I could just as easily lock you back up. If I find out that you did this on purpose you’ll be back in your cell, and I don’t feel like giving out any more second-chances.”

He shook his dark head at him disgustedly and walked away back into the well-lit corridor, leaving Starr in the cold, dark room, feeling his neck from where the blood was beginning to seep through his collar. That man who’d run away wasn’t like the rest of them, he thought, he was scary.

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