**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**
After fixing something for Cristina and Alix to eat, Slahl’yukim told them what his kind ate, though he insisted he was not hungry. It was just as well as Dom didn’t know where he would obtain different types of gravel at that time of night
Dom handled everything else he could. Slahl’yukim’s ID implant and payment wand, were linked a fictitious database to populate fields establishing a history that would not be suspected if it were brought up in a cursory check of credentials. For the sake of human identity, the sand-morph was named Stanislaus ‘Staash’ Stanokowski’. It seemed to fit the massive stature of the beast, giving him a good, solid Polish name that happened to be something Cristina suggested in reference to the stuffed animal she and Alix found when they were cleaning the apartment above the coffee shop.
Raven gave Cristina detailed views and directions for where the authorities were keeping Paul. He arranged for Dom to issue them temporary visitation privileges under their assumed identities.
She was determined to find her brother and if possible liberate him but that was no longer her overriding priority. Her immediate focus was on Slahl’yukim, who Alix was already calling ‘Staash’. If for no other reason than it was easier to say and remember. The Sakum’mal seemed to like his new name.
Once everything was completed, Cristina hugged Raven and thanked him yet again for helping. But then as she started to pull away he resisted, “You know that now I’m fascinated by this adventure. That’s the only reason I’m moderately participating.”
“We’ll see if what turns out is as entertaining as you anticipate.”
“Yes, we will,” Raven said. “You cannot imagine the variables you’ve thrown into possible courses of the immediate future. Now, I have a lot of new niches in potential reality to explore.”
As Cristina headed toward the others, she turned back and faced Raven. “You know I wanted to use all this time to write some songs for the band’s next recording session.”
“You have a wealth of experience to draw from. The writing may even come easier once you find the time.”
She smiled. “Regardless of how this turns out, thank you. When I first met you I never realized we would ever become friends.”
“Usually couriers never see their charges after the delivery of the orb.”
“Well, you have always been here for me and I appreciate it.”
“It’s never been convenient, but it’s always been interesting,” Raven told her as he embraced her yet again. Then he looked down. “It will be a very long time before we can ever meet again.”
“You know this?”
“It’s a cruel certainty of my perception.”
“Long enough for it to matter to either of us,” he said.
Cristina looked to Alix and Dom, then back to Raven. “So, this is farewell, not goodbye.”
“Yes,” Raven said. “If you need to cling to that hope.”
“You are a charmer. You could go anywhere and be exactly who and what you are. And yet, you are sincere, always the same person you’ve ever been. You have the gift, Cristina. You’re the focal point. Of all those with the attributes, you have the balance and grace to make all of it work. It’s instinctive perhaps but it’s there. Paul should have learned from you.”
“Well, that was hard for us to do living on opposite sides of the continent.”
“It was a wasted effort, breaking him out…”
“No, not really. The local resistance is still at large. That’s the positive that comes from what you did. Paul was instrumental in their escape. But he became the authorities total focus.”
Outside the air was not quite as dry as it had been in Raven’s study. Even so Dom had packed a large quantity of water for Staash, just in case.
The trio descended the hill toward the Starport stop and waited for a few minutes. When the coach arrived Staash was a little wary of boarding the coach at first but then he received non-verbal reassurances from Cristina that it was very safe and he boarded just ahead of Alix. As was the usual case the coach was virtually empty. But by the time they reached ‘the crosstown’ stop they picked up a few more passengers.
‘The crosstown’ coach was half-full. It had much to do with the time of night. The heavy influx of people toward the downtown area was over for the night, probably until morning. With the pickups and drop-offs the number of passengers never exceeded half-capacity.
Staash peered out from beneath the hood of his trench coat, appraising the variety of people and their appearances, beginning to appreciate the diversity of human appearance. It troubled him as much as it intrigued him. He was not sure Cristina’s plan would work. He was putting his faith in her. Really, his life was under her control.
Why was he doing this? Was it for the sake of the adventure? Who would he ever tell about this experience? Everyone he knew was already dead and had been for a period that Cristina termed eighty years, something just slightly less than an average human’s lifetime – as he understood it. It was significant in a way. What human was yet alive that might have made the decisions. Anyone who was still alive would have been a relatively young human – an infant they were called – and therefore would not have had such authority at the time anyway.
Raven seemed very different compared to Cristina and Alix. Some of it was attributable to age. From that already Staash learned humans grow tired and feeble with age, much the same as the Sakum’malien. Raven defied that. He was far older than what Cristina had indicated was normal. Staash could tell. He had tried to rectify his lack of knowledge, but Raven resisted his mental probes. What he knew was he was more like the servant called Dom than Cristina or Alix – they were not really human either, but at least they were the result of a natural process of reproduction.
As Staash sat quietly mulling over everything that happened he tried to piece together the words fitting properly to flow as his vocalized thought. He had been listening to Cristina and Alix. He listened to Raven and even Dom back at the estate. There was a rhythm and meter to the language, which he recognized from his knowledge of how poetry worked. It was not the meter Sakum’malien preferred, but some poetry had been composed utilizing the exact same meter and rhythm as the language Cristina was teaching him.
The spoken Sakum’malien language employed a natural meter consistent with the underlying harmony of its delivery. Yet the language was seldom uttered except for infrequent mass oration or, more frequently, mass entertainment. Interpersonal communication was always telepathic. It fact it was considered at least rude but, often, an unforgivable insult to speak directly to one Sakum’mal. It was tantamount to presuming the lack of intelligence to communicate in the normal, preferred way.
For that reason Staash fought the first inclination to think humans were natively rude and inconsiderate. Raven mentioned privacy as if it were more important than communication. It was antithetical as a concept for a Sakum’mal. Among his kind, nothing was more important than communication. It fostered understanding without which there would be no peace. As much as the humans pretended to be seeking peace, Staash decided it was their need for privacy that prevented it.
Staash consumed water from one of the several flasks Dom provided for him. It refreshed him, restoring the necessary moisture to his palate. Humans seemed to prefer a much drier, less humid environment than the Sakum’malien. He projected the comment mentally to Cristina whose answer was particularly odd. She claimed that humans adapt to a variety of environments, but perhaps, they preferred warm and relatively dry. Staash was trying to understand humans and their world but he kept coming upon gaps, mysteries that, even after Cristina tried to explain them, still left him wanting.
He stared out the window of the coach at the city as it passed by outside the coach. He wondered at the technologies involved and why humans preferred to be above ground. Surely they were very, very different from the Sakum’malien.
He was immersed in thought when Cristina nudged him, indicating that they had reached a point where they needed to exit the coach. As they stood the coach stopped. The three of them descended from the coach and out onto the curb. She turned to Staash and through telepathy explained that they were going to be taking him to a safe place where he could stay and be more comfortable. It wasn’t far, only a few blocks.
Once she had set out for the coffee shop Cristina paused, turned back to encourage Staash. She could tell that he was overwhelmed and did not understand the necessity of anything they were doing, especially why they were eventually going to seek freedom for her brother. She attempted to explain but the concepts she attempted to covey were alien to Staash. “How do you deal with criminals?” she finally projected to him.
“‘Criminals’ means what?” Staash asked aloud.
“Surely there are those of your kind who break laws or do things deemed harmful to others and society.”
“Thalimuv,” Staash rendered as best he could in utterance.
Cristina frowned, “I think that concept is more like ‘an outcast’. Someone who was exiled.”
“No more belong anywhere. Alone always.”
“We restrict freedom,” Alix said. “For some that is much worse than exile.”
“Different ways,” Staash said.
Cristina looked at Staash. “My brother is inside a prison.”
“At least we think that he is,” Alix said. “We could be wrong. That’s why we want to check it out first thing tomorrow.”
“Staash go with?”
“It will be best for you to wait for us.”
“We have an apartment at out disposal,” Cristina explained, projecting what she needed to so that Staash understood her better. “We’ll stay there tonight. Tomorrow Alix and I will go and you will stay in the apartment.”
“Staash good. Me wait Cristina and Alix.”
Alix entered the coffee shop first, then Cristina and Staash. The coffee shop was closed, of course. Alix located the lights and clicked them on until the others ascended the stairs and entered the apartment. Then Alix returned to lock the front door and turned off the lights as he went upstairs.
Once he was in the apartment, he saw that Cristina was already demonstrating world viewer for Staash. From the sand-morph’s responses he seemed impressed. Cristina explained through telepathy that he was watching programming from their city as well as other cities on the planet.
“Cristina city where?”
“New Milan,” she pointed to one of the preview monitors. “Here, this is an entertainment channel from my home city, our home city. Alix is from New Milan, too. Where we found you is close to where Haven which is there.”
Staash nodded. “Staash home.”
“Yeah, in a warped way, you are,” Alix confirmed from behind.
“Sit down,” Cristina said to Staash. He complied and as Alix handed the remote to him, he was duly impressed with how rapidly he learned how to use the device. He suspected Staash considered the technology archaic and the remote device a mere toy.
Cristina was beginning to appreciate the complexities of Sakum’malien culture from what she already assimilated from Staash.
“If you watch world viewer, you can learn how to speak,” Cristina said. “Listen and learn.”
Staash looked at her, “You leaving?”
“In the morning, we have to find my brother. We are going to rest now.”
“Staash help. Free Paul.”
“Okay,” Cristina said. “You like your new name?”
“Staash like,” he said. “Simple name, uncomplicated.”
“Staash, Alix and I are going to sleep. You can rest as well. Or you may watch the world viewer. When we wake in the morning. I’ll find something for you to eat. There is water. Let me show you.” She led the way into the kitchen and demonstrated. “The glasses are right here.” she obtained one. This one can be yours. If you get thirsty, you drink. Okay?”
“We are going to shower and go to bed.”
“Staash watch. Learn much.”
Periodically, throughout the night, Staash drank water. He watched world viewer, sampling channels. Everything interested him at first. He rested on the couch. Though he did not require sleep as a human would, he did experience a cycle similar to a dream state. During this the images in his mind were of his home world, where he spent his early years, the place he truly wanted to be.
In the early morning, when the Sakum’mal roused, immediately he consumed several glasses of water. Resuming his scanning of the channels on world viewer, he found one of the entertainment offerings of particular interest, a theatrical production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Although he did not understand it, it fascinated him.
When Cristina woke she went to the bathroom for necessary relief, then came into the living room to check on Staash. “You like this?”
“This interests,” he replied. “Older language is?”
“Yes, it is an archaic form or the language you are learning.”
“Yes, it is, although it is performed as a play, it is beautifully written poetry.”
“Staash likes.” He smiled after his fashion. “All humans like?”
“Some, not all.”
“Human Sakum’malien difference little. Staash like. Staash strange.”
“Being different is not a bad thing, Staash. I’ve been different for all my life. If you embrace the difference and use it do distinction others appreciate uniqueness – sometimes.”
Staash nodded. “Cristina smart.”
“I don’t know about that. I’m different, though.” She smiled.
“Humans more different, like Cristina better.”
She grappled with what he was attempting to convey, then having received a telepathic impression of his desired meaning, she grinned, “Thank you Staash. That is sweet. But I think if everyone was like me, the world would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?”
“For Cristina, not others.”
She reached out and touched the rough surface of his head. “I have to get ready. We’re going to see if we can find Paul. You’ll be here by yourself.”
Staash nodded. “Watch, listen, learn.”
“You’re doing very well.”
By then Alix had finished taking care of part of his morning ritual. He was in the surveying the refrigerator for the makings of breakfast, something different than what they’d had before. Cristina joined him, kissing his cheek as she came up from behind.
“How’s our friend?”
“Learning a lot, actually.”
“From watching Shakespeare?” Having searched the cupboards as well, he assembled the ingredients for making pancakes.
“Actually, maybe that is the best way to begin to understand humans, at least our artistic side. That’s our best side, for certain.”
“He’s beyond most humans, then,” Alix said as he obtained a mixing bowl, a whisk and a large mixing spoon. “I remember suffering through Hamlet in school.”
“I had a very good teacher in high school. We studied the period of Shakespeare and Elizabethan culture. I think that’s the only way to bring it to life for someone.”
“Staash seems to be doing fine.”
“He knows it is poetry.”
Alix laughed. “That’s a good start. Okay, I’m taking care of breakfast for us. He’s going to be the challenge.”
“I have some ideas. I may need your help, though.”
“You go ahead and do what you need to do to get ready, I’ll do this and then we can eat. I’ll take my turn getting ready when you’re all done.”
She kissed him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, hon.”
By the time Cristina was partially ready for their outing, breakfast was served. When they were finished, Cristina opened the door to the attic and after a few minutes of exploring, she returned to ask for Alix’s assistance. “There is a bag of tile grout in there. I guess it’s putting tile on the bathroom walls. I don’t know how much Staash eats, but that is pretty-much exactly what he considers food.”
“I guess that would wake sense.”
“If you can bring it in and set it on the table. I’ll see if he needs anything else?”
After several minutes of a mental conversation, during which both Staash and Cristina nodded several times, Staash sat at the table. Using a ladle, she filled a bowl with grout and provided a serving spoon to the sand-morph. At first he looked at it. Mentally she provided him with instruction for the use of a spoon. He gurgled, which she had learned as a laugh. Then he leaned over the bowl and licked a rough-surfaced tongue into the contents. Then he looked up and nodded.
“Is it good?”
While Staash continued to eat, both Alix and Cristina finished getting ready. By then, they hard the tell-tale noises from the coffee shop indicating Arnie and Emma had arrived to begin their day.
“How are we going to break the news to them about Staash?” Alix asked.
“I’ll tell them we have a guest and he’s resting. That should cover us for the morning, anyway.”
“They’re going to want to meet him.”
“I want them to. They’ll be our first trial.”
“Are you serious?”
“The world needs to meet him sometime, right.”
“It’ll be fine. You’ll see. Who wouldn’t love him. He even sort of resembles the stuff animal.”
“Maybe in a way. They’re almost the same color, anyway.”
Cristina explained to Staash once again what their plans were for the morning. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. Until then stay here and don’t go anywhere else. I’ll tell the people downstairs that you just arrived from Haven and you’re resting. They are very nice people. They won’t disturb you.”
“Staash watch.” He gestured toward the screen. “Hamlet next. I learn.”
“Yes, that is the best thing for you to do.”
Once Alix and Cristina were comfortable that Staash was safe and understood what was going on, they set out together, pausing briefly for Cristina to explain the cover story for Staash to Emma and Arnie. She told her that Staash had traveled all night and all day and needed some rest. Emma understood and even promised to be very careful of the noise in the kitchen with the pots and pans. Cristina said that Staash intended to sleep on the couch while having world viewer in the background as noise so that would cover the noise. Anyway the breakfast rush was about to begin and already the coffee shop had a few customers.
“Why will you be back?”
“Hopefully by noon.”
“I’ll make something for everyone to eat. I’m sure your guest will be hungry.”
“He just ate. I think he’ll sleep all morning, maybe into the afternoon.”
“I’ll make some sandwiches, and a fruit salad,” Emma said. “I’ll keep everything down here for your return.”
Cristina smiled. “You’re really too good to us.”
“You take care of what you have to do, honey. I’ll have something waiting for you when you return.”
It was a little more than a block to the Starport stop where they could board ‘the crosstown’ coach. From there, riding east to the far side southern part of the city, according to Raven, the place they were seeking was a quick walk directly south toward the edge of the dome.
Alix and Cristina rounded the corner of a building, the last one on the street before the intersection with the city’s ‘loop’, a thoroughfare wrapping around the entire city at the furthest extent of any commercial buildings. It was also the end of any private residences as only Colonial Authority complexes and public transportation buildings like the railcar stations could be constructed near the security track that was just inside the edge of the dome’s foundation.
The support columns for the dome itself were anchored deep into the ground within the security track and, for that reason alone, it was an area heavily defended against any potential sabotage or terrorist acts aimed at damaging the dome. Even if it had been decades since there was any suspected conspiracy against the basic structures or utilities of any city in the world the Colonial Authority continued stating the potential as a real concern. It was the justification for Security Agency’s existence as well as its expansion over the past few years.
Paranoia prevailed with the upper echelons of the Colonial Authority’s organizational structure. In the early days of Pravda, an attack on any of the dome supports might have ruptured a seal allowing massive amounts of di-hydrogen sulfide or even worse poisons into the city’s air supply. Although the risks breathing the air outside the dome was not as great anymore, security was still enforced with at least the same vigor. For most citizens, it was part of their reality and security concerns were well incorporated into their daily routine.
In the history of Pravda there had been few direct attacks on any of the cities’ dome structures, utilities or basic services. However, the same could not be said of other colonies. The Colonial Authority credited their preparation and expectations from the earliest days of the colonization of Pravda for the level of security and the maintenance of peace and order. Constant vigilance was cited as the reason the safety of all citizens.
As Alix crossed the loop directly behind Cristina, he studied the sprawling complex of the maximum-security compound for the local regiment of the Colonial Authority Peace Enforcement Division, an instrument of the Security Agency. It was an imposing edifice, a high fence circles – obviously electrified and crowned with spirals of razor-sharp, super-concertina wire. Between the outer and inner fences was a gap wide enough for security vehicles to patrol. The compounds secondary fence, though not electrified was crowed with the same razor wire as that used around the perimeter.
Within the double fence of the compound was the two-story building. On the roof at each corner of the rectangle and in the middle of each of the longer sides, were towers staffed with heavily armed guards. As Alix and Cristina observed, two guards with robotic ‘guard dogs’ passed one another at the apparent gates. Moments later other guards passed each other as well. This formidable fortress, somehow, they expected to enter.
Cristina appeared to be unfazed and undaunted. She confidently approached the outer security checkpoint and smiled as her eyes met those of the guard.
“State your business,” the guard challenged.
“I’m here to meet with a prisoner who may have information that is vital to my research.”
“Well that narrows it down a lot,” the guard said with some sarcasm. “Who’s he?” He asked as he indicated Alix.
“He’s my assistant,” Cristina said.
The guard presented an electronic pad for them to sign in and then he scanned their ID chips and the clearance came back positive.
He handed each of them a badge that clipped on to their garments. “Wear these temporary badges everywhere you go inside. There are some areas that are restricted beyond temporary badge access. You will need an administrator to escort you if you have to go there. Is that understood?”
“It’s normal procedure,” Cristina said.
“Most people with your level of clearance are used to it,” the guard said. Once Cristina and Alix had clipped on the badges, they were clicked through the small gate and descended a ramp into a tunnel that passed beneath the gap between the two fences. When they reached the far end, at the inner gate another guard checked their ID scan and their temporary badges, then once he was confident that everything was appropriate he clicked the lock and allowed them into the inner compound.
Cristina turned back to the guard, “I have never been here before. Is the administration office where it normally is?”
“I’m afraid this facility is the older design,” the guard said. “I have never seen the other facilities so I’m not sure what you are accustomed to. Go inside to the first door and the administration office is the third door to the right. I can call ahead if you are meeting someone in particular.”
“They’re expecting us,” Alix said.
“Good.” The guard smiled, allowing them to pass.
Cristina seemed perturbed at Alix. “What?” he turned to ask.
“I had him explaining everything,” Cristina whispered.
“You would not be here if someone did not know you were coming. Your asking about the layout inside was nearly suspect. Every one of these facilities is nearly identical. We lucked out that this one is a bit different.”
“How do you know that?”
Alix smiled, “I have friends who were not saints as kids and when they became adults they were incarcerated in facilities exactly like this.”
Cristina reached for the door handle but the door opened as someone was exiting the building. He gave a cursory scan to Alix and then to Cristina, not their temporary badges but he immediately held the door open for them. “Sometimes it’s a pain getting inside with the temporary badges,” he offered almost as an apology.
“We appreciate your help,” Alix said.
“No problem,” he said as he went on his way.
Once inside the outermost door, Alix grabbed Cristina’s shoulders from behind and turned her around, “You have not told me our plans.”
“I’ve been doing this on the fly.”
“Great!” he said with sarcasm.
“Do you have a better solution?”
“Look, at least I’ve been inside of one of these hellholes. Maybe I should take the lead.”
“Be my guest.”
“Come on,” he said as he removed his temporary badge and waved it across a scanner to open the inner security door. He pushed it open and held it for her to pass by. Then he escorted her into the administration office.
The desk attendant looked up at them as they entered. There was no enthusiasm and very little life expressed in her actions or her voice as she asked, “Can I help you?”
“You may,” Alix said, couching a correction of her grammar in his response, not that he expected her to pick up on it and subsequently put it to use. “We have questions that we need to ask one of your prisoners.”
“Inmate or detainee?” she asked.
“Detainee,” Alix said.
“Paul,” Cristina interjected. “ Scalero. Paul Scalero.”
She typed in the necessary information to locate the detainee then printed out a pass. “He is in Block 08, Section 092 on the second floor, cell number 467. This is a permit. Give this to the block guard and he will escort you to the cell.”
“Thank you,” Alix said.
“Don’t mention it,” the attendant said, flashing a smile as if she were flirting with him. Alix ignored the overture. Cristina did not.
Alix took the permit in hand and turned toward Cristina who was smiling even as she wrapped her arm around his. “You did that very well,” she said as they exited the office and went back into the hall.
“I paid attention every time I visited my friends.”
“Well, maybe you should lead on, then,” she said as they started down the hallway toward the central security checkpoint. Alix held up the pass there and was directed to an elevator for the second floor. When they arrived on the second floor they found the guard post for Block 08 and again presented the permit. They were clicked through to a staging area where another guard scanned them for weapons or contraband and then, along with a female guard for Cristina they frisked them. Finally they were passed through to Section 092, which was a special security area requiring them to be scanned again for anything sharp including plastic articles with sharp edges. Checked through, they were given an escort to cell number 467.”
The escort pressed a sequence of number then pressed his thumb into a scanner and the multiple locks of the door opened one after another. Automatically it swung back on its hinges to allow both Alix and Cristina to enter. “When you are ready to leave just say ‘we are ready to leave’. We monitor all conversations, of course.”
Cristina nodded. Alix vocalized his understanding with, “Fine.”
When the door was closed behind them Paul still sat precisely where he had before, staring at the wall, seemingly obviously to having another visitor.
Knowing to take care of what she said, she approached. She sensed he was heavily sedated, virtually unaware of their presences. Due to the electronic fields broadcast into the cell she needed to gain Paul’s attention, see his eyes, and have physical contact to have any hope of communicating telepathically with him. Thus far he was unaware of her. She sat across the table from him, taking his hand in hers, she projected a thought. Paul turned his dreary, drugged eyes toward her, fighting to perceive her through the mental haze. But at least he smiled, signaling he knew she was there.
“Are they beating you?” she projected her question into his mind.
After a few seconds she shook his head. “Beating, no.”
“I wish I could say it is good to see you,” she said aloud. “But not like this.”
“Under these circumstances I would prefer to be left alone.”
“We have retrieved a Sakum’malien,” Cristina projected. “That is what the sand-morphs call themselves.”
Paul showed no emotion, not even the mildest surprise.
“I thought it might change things, coming here,” she expressed verbally.
“You are well?”
“I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do,” Cristina responded.
“I don’t want to know what you plan to do. They will extract it from me eventually.” Paul said telepathically.
“I thought you should, though.”
Paul turned away. “Now you come here too. It is really very cruel.” Then added telepathically. “They sent mother here to try to convince me to cooperate with them.”
“She is alive; you didn’t know?”
“It’s good to see you, all the same,” he verbalized. “You look like her, you know.”
Cristina stared at him. “Are you certain it was her?”
“I was skeptical at first.” Then verbally, “Not that it really matters anymore.” He met his sister’s eyes. “I believe it was her. We embraced I felt the connection.”
“It always matters,” She spoke. Then silently continued. “Maybe they know how to fabricate something to compensate even for that emotional connection.”
“I guess I can still choose to believe what I want,” he said. “It was really her.”
Cristina nodded. “Why the suspicion of lies? Why conceal her from us for all this time?”
“You tell me.” He turned away. “Obviously, you know more about what’s going on than I do. You have at least some granted access.”
“Is that what you believe?”
“How else could you get the necessary permissions to be here?”
Cristina looked at Alix, “He is the one who made it possible.”
Paul grabbed her hand again. “To retrieve one of the sand-morphs?”
“I suppose I should be considerate and express some sort of gratitude.”
“I expect nothing,” Alix said.
“Then you will never be disappointed,” Paul said. “Well, at least now there is some kind of proof.”
“It changes everything.”
“It changes nothing,” Paul reacted. The he responded, “My arraignment is next week. I’m to be charged with multiple assaults, batteries, and murders – oh and also sedition, treason and a possible terrorism charge thrown in for good measure, to justify things they did to me before. Perhaps they’ll throw in some unsolved mysteries. Pinning anything on me should be easy.’
“Don’t be. I’m destined to be the fall guy, the fundamental and necessary scapegoat. As prisoners go, I’m the pick of the litter. Whoever prosecutes me will earn bonus points for every charge successfully brought to conviction.” He paused to project. “Of course nothing will ever be offered in evidence about the torture that prompted my extreme response. No one will ever enter as evidence that I could have killed everyone but did not. I demonstrated amazing restraint, really.”
“Of course, they won’t allow that.”
“Only those who fired a weapon at me were attacked. Some died. I never wanted to kill anyone, but some people don’t deserve to live.”
“That’s not your judgment to make.”
“They invited the evil, it consumed them and eventually claimed them,” Paul said. “Those who directly participated in my torture were killed. I even spared harming one agent because he was sympathetic to me after he understood what had been done to me. He was instrumental in my escape and so I did not harm him. I refuse to identify him or state the level of assistance he provided. It would be tantamount to ratting him out to the authorities – the only saint amongst all the legions of demons. He was the only one who seemed to have a real, beating heart inside of his chest. The rest were cruel and evil. That was how I dealt with the mass number of deaths.”
“Killing is never justified.”
“The world is a better place without the ones who died.”
“I want to help you but you are giving me very little to play with,” Cristina said.
“You expect a miracle? Maybe that’s why they sent mother here. She was supposed to persuade me into compromising, working a deal so they could spare my miserable life to exist in a cell like this one death comes borne of my nature and releases me from their prison. I have been at odds with my nature for longer than I have the Colonial Authority – all my life, in fact. This is nothing new and certainly there is a case for it being anticipated all along. I will never escape this hellhole or the solitary confinement that has been interrupted by mother’s visit and your coming here. Otherwise my only company had been the barber.”
“The barber?” Alix asked.
“It is what they call the new chief interrogator, the replacement for the one who – let’s say he – passed on. He takes his orders from someone higher up the food chain than anyone in this city. I have to say, he’s good, damned good. He works with a sharp razor,” Paul said as he pulled up his sleeves and pants legs to show the scars, some of them so very fresh that blood was still seeping into the bandages. “He has had me to the point of considering telling everything just to be able to die, just to have him drag his razor across my throat, severing my jugular. But I refuse to let him or anyone associated with them win. If they kill me, so be it. I will never betray anyone even though someone, at least one of my friends has obviously betrayed me.”