Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Caiaphas, ch 3

When a woman like that tells you to run, you don't argue with her.  Without as much as a by your leave, no matter how civil of a conversation we had been having, i broke into a sprint from a standstill and was panting for air and gaining speed soon afterwards.
Senide.  Senide.  Dripping blood and asking to make my aquaintance.  I had survived an encounter that few other people in the known universe had made it out of alive, including more than a few of the other inhabitants of Carron, prisoner and guard alike.  She had no scruples, no morals to speak of.  Inuman and deadly.  and I had survived.  my heart was beating too hard, hurting, and still I ran, my passage loud and probably gathering the attention of anyone or anything that happened to be listening.
sleeping alone on the darkened floor was no longer an option.  it would not be a safe haven, and i doubted that i would ever again feel completely safe while i was alone.  Senide had killed hundreds, with her bare hands, her cold reptilian morality giving her powers i could only dream of.  there was a pull to her, too.  i hadn't felt it until i had been right on top of her, but there was a pull.  but not to join, to serve... it was to succumb.
I was only lucky that she was full.  that she had warned me.  because that pull... it was deep.  the call of the void, and if i had stood there any longer i just might have taken the plunge.
Finally, I had to stop.  Not because i was tired - i would have run until utter exhaustion if i had to.  I had run out of ship.  ahead of me, looming in the semi-darkness, was a pit.  and i could see, barely, the edges of what could only be the hole continuing to the floors above me.  there were voices, dim and far away, and the pull which I had felt since entering the ship was much stronger here.
I walked forward, aware that the light was much stronger here and staying out of it.  the hole was large - thirty feet across, at least.  I crept as close as I could to the edge, looking up for enemy eyes and seeing none, and saw at the bottom of the hole a dark, open space.  the ship was wider than i had given it credit for.  what small fraction of the place had I seen in my explorations?
then I crept back, out of sight.  there were other hallways - i could see chunks of them that hadn't been destroyed to make way for the hole through the ship.  there was a hallway right next to me, with an easily traversable part of the floor still intact.  But how to get there from where I was without being seen?  the walls were thick, and the closest point of entry was close to six or seven feet away, but even from where I was i could see holes in the side of the pit, like footholds.
Then I decided that it didn't matter if i was seen or not.  it's not like any of them could do anything about it, not this early in the game.  they were probably looking for the same thing i was.
No one hailed me as I walked to the edge, and i passed unremarked as i hoisted myself over the edge and found the indentations with my toes.  i didn't allow myself to look down.  i had already met Senide, and something in my gut told me that others like her would slowly be moving down.  if i fell, i would put myself squarely in their grasp.
I didn't fall.
I made it to the other hallway, and started to walk.  This one was also well lit, with cells on either side, empty and lifeless.  I checked each one as I passed, just to be sure.  I had been surprised once, and that was more than enough.  They were all empty.
There was a doorway at the end of this hall, just as I knew there would be.  Stairs went up and down, and this time I chose to go up.  I didn't care to meet anyone else who wanted to kill me on sight.
I skipped two floors, meeting no one, the quiet comforting.  Then I opened the third floor, the one above the one I had first been on, and closed the door again quickly.  A hallway.  Cells.  Not what I was looking for.  I knew there was something else, something bigger.  Somewhere i belonged more than in the dark hallways that now stood empty.
The next door was locked, and i made a mental note to look and see what was going on the next time I was close to the pit.  The next door held what i was looking for.
I cracked the door open, pressing my eye to the gap and hearing voices.  I did not delude myself that i was the only person who yet knew about the stairways, but i had yet to see another living person on them and the fewer people who knew that they existed the better.  but how else were people traveling between floors?  what was i missing?
there were two men, standing in front of a door that was mere feet away from where i was crouching.  too obviously guards.  their hands were empty, but what else could you expect?  we had no weapons.  Even had i wanted to storm the place, it was two against one.
they were still talking, and I quieted my breathing to listen to what they were saying.
"... just leaving us here like this.  What are we supposed to do if someone comes and tries to take it from us?  claw them to death?"
"'s prolly what he expects.  I'm not going to die for him, are you?"
"Hell no.  Not for him, not for no one.  But..."
"Yeah, I hear you.  Not like we really have much of a choice."
The speakers were two men, one tall and gangly and the other of average height and decidedly ugly features.  they could be anyone, wearing those uniforms.  the same prison blues that i still wore, that we were all issued and that constituted the entirety of our worldly posessions.  i didn't recognize either, but the man furthest from me had that bland look afforded only to the incredibly boring - one of those faces.
what would it possibly be worth to guard, but with only two men who seemed only barely competent?  i was unarmed, but so were they.  and i had just heard them saying that they weren't too thrilled with the idea of dying for whatever boss they had attached to.  there was only one way to get the answers i wanted, and that meant to break out of this secretive, skulking persona i was still considering adopting.
I opened the door fully, noting and appreciating that it opened silently, without a squeak.  The two continued to bicker, and only after I had completely walked into the hallway and stood mere feet from them did they seem to notice my presence.
"Oh, fuck!"
"The fuck did you come from?"
I looked at the wall, but the door had already closed and there was no visible sign of it from this side.  Another thing to keep in mind.
"What's behind that door?" I asked.
Both adopted carefully blank looks.  The tall one was better at it.
"Listen to me, you punks," I said.  "I know you're unarmed, and I'm a lot meaner than you.  What were you in, Cottonwood?  I can tell.  I know you think this boss of yours is the meanest boss you've ever had, but he's peanuts compared to what some of these guys'll do to you.  are you sure, really sure, that this is the one you want to die for?  Because I'd give it some more thought."
The shorter one glared at me and spat on the floor.  "I haven't seen anything better."
"Why anything at all?  Don't have to serve no boss.  Especially not these ones."
The taller one eyed me with those sharp eyes of his.  "Why do you say that?"
I shrugged.  "It just feels like there's a lot of power in one place, is all.  Like we're all going to get torn up in it.  I say we let them fight their own battles.  Why kill each other?  Let the psychos do that!"
"Yeah, but that's all talk," the ugly one said, sullen.  "I'd like to see you try and keep out of it.  I don't know how they do it."
"It doesn't matter how they do it.  What does matter is that you're your own man, and you don't have to listen to a crazy bully.  Tell me what you're guarding."
The smaller one looked like he was about to argue again, but the taller one stopped him.  "Dunno.  Crates.  Boss looked real excited when he found it, and is probably on his way back here right now with some more men.  He found this room and wants to hold it.  Me, personally?  I think it's a food cache.  Probably dozens of them, all over the ship."
"What are you doing?" the other man hissed.  "He's coming right back!"
"Yes, and I'm not going to be here.  He's right.  I've only been here for a few hours, and I don't have any ties to nobody.  Screw him, he can guard the door himself if he wants something."
"Yeah, but..."  He looked around nervously.  "Aren't you going to take anything with you?"
The tall man laughed.  "I may be disloyal, but I ain't stupid.  There's no fucking way I'm going to be here when he comes back.  I advise you to do the same."  He looked at me.  "And I advise you to do the same.  Sure, he doesn't have any weapons, but he sure is... scary."
"All right, quit your teasing!  Who is he?  Who are you working for?"
"Vaughn," he said.
My breath caught.  "Which one?" I whispered.
I could breathe again.  Charlie was ruthless, but at least he acted like a beast.  His brother, on the other hand, was even more inhuman, and didn't even have the good grace to lack civility.
"I'll hurry, then."
"Yes, I believe that would be best."  The man dipped his head and walked briskly away, following his friend who had not waited for him, and the moment he had turned his head his features were dim and blurry in my memory.  He didn't feel any different, at least not like one of them.  And yet there was something about him, including the feeling that I might have met him somewhere before.  I was always so good about faces.
But that was a thought for another time.  If Charlie Vaughn was on his way here, now, I wanted to be out and away before he got anywhere near here.  That meant getting in and out five minutes ago.
The door that the two men had been standing in front of seemed simple enough, and the round door slid easily when I grabbed the handle.  I slipped inside and closed it behind me.  The room was filled with boxes, and it was unlikely that I could have enough forewarning to make a quick getaway - so hiding it would have to be.
If it came down to it.
The room was large but not enormous, which made me agree with the theory put down by the skinny man.  There would have to be more storerooms.  I would have to keep an eye out for them.
Slipping behind the front row of boxes was easy enough, and when i crouched down i was all but hidden from the door.  My knees started to shake a bit earlier than i had hoped for, damn them. I knew i wasn't getting any younger, but this wasn't the time for the whole thing to just give up.
The boxes were vaguely labeled, and were too large for me to take one with me.  they were all sealed with clear tape, and even if i wanted to open one it would have to be louder than I wanted.  I glanced at the door, but it was hidden by a stack of boxes.  quickly, then.  Quickly!
The closest box to me was wooden, spraypainted green.  cheap.  not the kind of box that would keep anything from spoiling, which told me that the food inside was going to be of even lesser quality than i had enjoyed in actual prison.  nothing fresh, for two years?  sure, maybe we had all killed a few people.  Maybe we all did deserve to die, but not like THIS.  Right?  There was some faded picture on the side of the box, yellow and black.  Nothing informative - they could have even been letters in a language i didn't recognize.  not that it mattered now.
One quick slam with the palm of my hand to the side of the box yeilded results.  the wood splintered and a couple of handheld packages spilled out on to the floor.  I immediately reached down and tore one open.  It didn't matter what it was - I was starving.  and it was a good thing, because it tasted disgusting.
i frantically gnawed the object, making some small progress with my back teeth as I scooped as many as i could into the pockets of my pants, in my arms.  i couldn't help but make a sign of my forced entry, but with any luck charlie would blame the vanished guards.
i would have felt some small amount of guilt if it didn't work out so perfectly in my favor.
I left a trail of bars behind me, clattering to the ground as they slipped against each other and out of my grasp.  It didn't matter.  I still had so many that I should be set for days - more than a lot of other people had, i would tell you that.  after a couple of days without finding a boss to take care of you, a lot of these folks would be getting real hungry.  and i wasn't above buying a few alliances.
Food, food, glorius food.  i hummed happily into the processed meal I was holding between my teeth, already feeling the nutrients working their way into my system.  I felt great, and now that i knew that to look for I should have a fantastic advantage in my struggle for my life.
It was all going so well, too well, that I should have known that something was wrong as soon as I opened the door.  But i didn't.  Still humming, having learned that the food was much easier to ingest if you first covered it in lots of saliva, I walked into that hallway like i didn't have a care in the world.
That's when I realized that I wasn't alone in the hallway.
"That's him," said a familiar voice.  To my left were two people, backed by more guards than I could count at first sight.  my right looked much the same, except just the mooks.
I recognized both men. One was the taller of the two I had just told to shove off so I could raid their supplies.  The other was charlie vaughn.
"Hey, stranger," charlie said, grinning a little.  "You seem to match a description of a man who tried to fool a couple of my guards.  There wouldn't be any truth to that, would there?"

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