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Katherine Marlow sat down against a cybernetically-enhanced ash tree, clutched her knees and put on her best helpless face. Frankly, she was offended by the fact that in spite of being a silver-badge warrior, she was chosen to do this lowly job. But of course, orders aren’t meant to be questioned.
She thought of her husband, who’d reluctantly agreed to this ‘epic’ strategy of The Society. She thought of Meiwei, where she’d had an exorbitant gourmet meal last night, she driving the zorb and how she might never get to see Meiwei or her zorb ever again. Cliff Miner over at Strategy had assured them that the plan was flawless, but there was nothing on earth that didn’t have the potential to go wrong. If there were, it would be what the ancients used to call God.
Most of all, she thought of her little boy, her nine-year-old Spruce, already in the intermediate stages of his combat training. He was a bit on the chubbier side, but he was a fast learner and his plumpiness didn’t hinder him from being one of the best trainees. A few more kilograms and he’d finally be fit enough to participate in a forest drill.
She’d tried to talk her way out of this, but she’d known from the start that it was futile. She was a direct descendant of the Homo Scelestus, and she knew she had to be the one to do this job, however lowly it seemed.
She rechecked the Flare she’d been provided with. It wasn’t a real flare that could be lit up, of course- those things were prehistoric- but it was a little signalling device that worked on the basis of quantum entanglement, and it was this ability that had prompted the techs to name it the Flare. The techs had always had a soft spot for History.
She quickly slipped the Flare back in her pocket.
“It is not often that one sees your kind wandering alone in these forests,” another spoke. As Katherine looked around, she saw a small tribe of them- those purple-eyed Hela mutants, led by a raggedy woman with the most orange hair she’d ever seen. She was less raggedy than the mutants behind her, though, who were already starting to fan out and surround her.
“It is not often that one sees your kind making small talk before attacking,” Katherine shot right back, her right hand poised over the Flare in her pocket.
The leader actually laughed. Contrary to all her expectations, it was a very human sound. Rather pleasant, in fact. She’d always imagined laughing hyenas.
“We are not just animals, woman, in spite of what your kind thinks,” she said. “It would be unfair for an army to attack a single unarmed soldier, I think.” With that, she flicked her eyes and a mutant was upon her immediately, frisking her for any weapons. She quickly pressed the concealing button on the Flare before the mutant could get to her right pocket, which compressed the already tiny device to the size of a sand grain.
“Nothing in here, madam,” the mutant said.
“So tell me, hominum immutatus, what are you doing alone and unarmed in the middle of us purpura oculi?” the leader cocked her head, inquiring.
“I’m here for a truce,” Katherine said her well-practised line.
The leader laughed again, but violently this time. She doubled over laughing and the ground almost shook with her laughter.
“Hilarious,” she said finally, wiping the tears from her eyes. “A truce between our kind and yours? That is very funny, indeed. Has The Society grown tired now?”
“Not between your kind and ours, miss. Between your kind and me.”
The leader appeared to be interested now. Katherine told her of her lineage and how she’d realised that her ancestors had only been trying to uplift humankind but had been branded criminals instead. She told them that she thought the Hela mutants didn’t deserve to be treated like monsters. She gave quite a compelling speech, one written by Anna Novak herself, the best Creative at Strategy. She’d almost been convinced herself when she’d first read it.
A mutant sniffed her to verify her lineage and told the leader that she was indeed a descendant of their creators. That was exactly why they’d needed Katherine- the Hela mutants could tell bloodlines by smell alone.
The leader was still skeptical, though. Katherine had expected this- she didn’t exactly think that a speech, however wonderful, could make the leader of the mutants trust her so easily. But there was another thing- the Homo Scelestus. The speech and her lineage combined were enough to make the leader consider interrogating her and not killing her outright on the spot.
That was good. The Society had been aiming for the mutants’ home base, but something was better than nothing. Plenty of mutants at the interrogation facility too.
She followed the leader to the interrogation facility, which was a huge stone fortress with rusty iron doors. The mutants had a taste for ancient architecture.
The leader took her inside a small room whose walls were painted an unnerving blood red. It almost looked like it’d been painted with blood itself. It wasn’t beyond the mutants- they were savages, after all. The leader and Katherine went in while the rest of the tribe stayed outside.
The room had four chairs in the middle- one facing the other three- and a long metal table with all sorts of instruments of torture. There was even a wood stove with a wok on top of it, filled with oil. The chair which was facing the other three had a wire attached to it running down to the back of the room and connected to a socket with the switch currently in the off position. Eek.
The leader noticed Katherine looking at the chair and the instruments. “Don’t worry,” she reassured her. “If you play right by us we won’t have to use them.” She pushed one of the normal chairs towards her. “Sit”.
The leader talked to her, using all the tactics used to extract the truth from a person. She talked to her gently and politely to establish a bond of trust. She told her some ‘funny’ incidents from her life. Laughter was the most potent relationship-builder. She didn’t fill the silences that arose when she asked her a question and Katherine didn’t answer. The leader was smart, but Cliff and the others at Strategy had already told her about all of these tricks. Katherine kept lying. All she was waiting for was for the leader to stop looking at her for a moment so that she could activate her Flare.
She finally did. She turned to call a mutant to get them some water, and that was when Katherine did it. She uncompressed the Flare and flicked its lever to send out her signal. Any minute now, the special ops army would rescue her and bomb the place.
Then all of it went to hell. The leader suddenly gripped her wrist, striking like a snake.
“I knew something was up with you,” she hissed malevolently. “Traitors, you immutants.”
She called for her army chief and told him to prepare for an attack as quickly as possible.
After that was done, she hauled Katherine up and threw her down on the electric chair. Although Katherine was trained in hand-to-hand combat, what she was actually good with was an Infernalance, which of course she wasn’t carrying. That bad boy was a lance which burned its unfortunate victim wherever it touched.
The leader overpowered her and wound the chair’s wire around her. She turned on the switch.
Katherine felt like her bones were on fire. She felt her whole body vibrating violently. The pain burned her insides and she was thankful when she started to black out, but the leader turned the chair off at that moment.
“I’ll teach you treachery, immutant.”
The leader grabbed a pair of pliers from the metal table. Holy flickin’ shit.
Katherine’s screams shook the very walls of the stone fortress. Hot pain coursed through her veins as the leader ripped out her left index finger’s nail.
Oh, it hurt. It burned.
Katherine wished she’d die before the leader picked up another one of her instruments.
And die she did.
Her whole body burned for a second, and then it was all gone.
The explosion was even louder than her screams.
It was the midnight man’s laughter that woke me up.
Enjoyed it, Spruce? he seemed to say.
There’s more to come, he hissed.
I was sweating and my fists were balled, my nails digging into my palms. My left ear felt wet, and I realised I’d been crying while sleeping on my side. Probably screaming internally as well.
They used your mother as bait, he chuckled. She, he corrected himself. Your beloved Creator.
There’s more to come, he said.