Friday, September 24, 2010

Chapter 36 - ESCAPE

One thing I learned from my teachers was to think about surprising events after you are safe and have time to think about them. I whirled around, grabbed my parents by the arms and started to run, but soon realized that my mother wasn’t capable of running. She was too stunned to do more than stumble along, so I scooped her up in my arms, thankful that she was a small woman. My father might have been able to do it too, he was bigger than me, but all his time at the table writing his papers couldn’t compare to what I had been doing for the last near year (I don’t even want to count my time in that box).

My magic bolstered my strength and energy, but it didn’t tell me where to go. As soon as I was out of that room, I was hopelessly lost. My father, however, had no such problem.

As soon as we were in the hall, he took the lead. “This way,” he said, and waved me after him.

Up until now, I always thought of my father as some kind of a dorky nerd, but right now, I would have followed him into the gates of hell.

We rounded several corners and descended two flights of stairs before we went through a door leading outside. Dad led me around behind some other building and up to a small door located in a massive brick wall.

I put mother down while father searched for something. She was crying now, though she was trying not to make any noise with it. “Don’t you remember, Lloyd? Six bricks up and two over” (sniff). “It’s on the right hand side.”

He went to the appropriate spot and a brick slid sideways at his touch. He moved something inside the small hole and the door came ajar. He closed the brick and ushered us through the door.

We were just rounding a corner that would lead us down into the city when we came face to face with someone I wasn’t happy to see; it was the shadow we had acquired at the mining colony.

I didn’t take the time to analyze his reaction to finding me here. I drew my sword, and then pulled him helplessly forward into its point.

“Pip sent me,” he gasped hastily before my point pierced his skin.

I froze. “What did you say?”

“Pip sent me. He sent me to see if I could find some information about you. I didn’t expect to find you so soon and not out here. Please follow me. I’ll take you to him.” He spoke rapidly, obviously disconcerted by his present predicament. “He sent these.” He held up a large bag, but was unable to present it too far forward without risking his neck with a careless shifting of his weight.

“What is it?” I asked without moving. “Open the bag.”

He let the bag fall open and then reached inside to draw out a gray cloak. “There’s one for each of you.”

I let my hold on him slip and he took half a step back with a barely concealed sigh of relief. I took the cloak from him. It was just a cloak, but just to make sure, I remade it. No one noticed the act; careful watching wouldn’t have revealed it, but now it was a product of my creation and couldn’t be trapped with anything. I handed it to my father and held my hand out for another one. My sword was still trained on the man’s throat. I noticed that he wasn’t much older than me.

After I had changed the third one, the man wadded up the bag and stuffed it into the front of his shirt.

I sheathed my sword and waved for him to lead on, but before he could take a single step, I pulled him helplessly back into my reach. “You better not be playing a trick on me. Don’t think you’ll be able to escape if you are.”

“I’m not. Pip set me to following you back at the colony. I was backup, in case something went wrong.”

“He didn’t tell me.”

“You weren’t supposed to know I even existed.”

I pushed him forward. We needed to get away from here. We didn’t have time for discussion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chapter 35 - BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

When we made it back to where we started from, my box was still there though closed again. My ‘guide’ propelled me over toward the only other occupants of the room with a shove. My parents hugged me desperately. My mother was sobbing openly and my dad looked like he just might join her any second now.

Through her tears, mom said, “Oh, Liam, what are you doing here? We thought you would be safe on that planet. We thought you wouldn’t be able to leave. We thought you couldn’t.”

“I came looking for you. I got worried when I didn’t hear from you.” Then I whispered in her ear in case we were being listened to. “F.Y.I. mom, there’s another man with me, or at least I hope he’s still with me. The story is that you hired him to baby-sit me before you left. He’s a short man with light hair that’s turning gray. He has a mustache and his name is Pip; have you seen him?” and then louder again. “What’s going on here?”

Both my parents shook their heads imperceptibly about Pip and then tried to answer my question. “My last report about the magic that man told us about, I didn’t believe it until after we reached that mining colony,” started my father. “I’m sure my attitude was clear in my report and I didn’t bother to change it after you convinced me otherwise, but someone believed it. When they took us, they were after you. Baron Vladimir was furious when they brought us here and you weren’t with us. Now that you’re here, I don’t know what he’ll do.”

“Listen, mom, dad, whatever he does, I can handle it.” I really wasn’t as sure about that as I managed to sound, but they didn’t need to know that; they were scared enough. “So don’t worry. I need to know where they’ve taken Pip, so I’m going to have to let them do whatever they’re going to do until I find that out.” I looked them both intently in the eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll get us out of here.”

Mom looked dubious and dad was trying his best not to.

“Well, well, well. Such a happy family reunion,” said an oily voice behind me. “Ah, and there’s even tears, how touching.”

My dad stiffened and my mom let out a tiny gasp. I turned around, keeping my mom directly behind me. Striding into the room from a door on the far side was a man dressed in many layers and folds of what could only be very expensive material. All of it was glittering with gold thread and expensive gems. He might have been quite handsome some forty years ago, but greed and indulgence had had their way with him unfavorably. He had pale red hair and too white, too fine, too shiny skin. There was a large jewel on every one of his chubby fingers and gem encrusted slippers on his feet, or what I could see of them. I was stunned; he must be wearing several million credits worth of clothing. I wondered how much it weighed.

“Have you no welcome for your baron, boy. Didn’t your father teach you any manners? Bow to me, boy, before I have you flogged for insubordination.”

As a matter of fact, my father had never mention the proper way to greet royalty, but I bowed anyway, and out of the corner of my eyes, I saw my parents doing the same on either side of me.

I held my tongue as he looked me over with glee twinkling in his eyes. If he wanted obeisance, he wasn’t likely to stand for questions until he asked for them. My bow was only half hearted; I didn’t want to take my eyes off him, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“I’ve been told that you can do magic. I want you to show me something,” said the baron without preamble.

Who could tell him something like that? “What do you mean? I don’t know any magic tricks.”

“That’s not what I heard. I read that medical report. That idiot doctor going on about some miracle. No one could survive that kind of boost. A heavy-worlder couldn’t have done it let alone a skinny fifteen-year-old boy. Show me something, or I’ll show you some pain.”

“I’m sixteen now; I celebrated my birthday while I was in that god forsaken box of yours.” I knew that making him mad wasn’t going to get me anywhere but in trouble, but showing him some magic wouldn’t make the situation any better.

“Well happy birthday to you,” he said sarcastically. He waved to someone out of sight and a man with a whip stepped into view. Sixteen you say, then let it be sixteen lashes. If you can heal yourself from the damage done by a PTS boost, a little thing like a whipping should be a cinch.

He was right. I could protect myself or I could let it happen, but I wasn’t too sure I would be able to let it happen completely. That whip looked like it would cut to the bone and my control had never been tried under such pain.

Men poured into the room and grabbed me. They pulled me to the center of the room and forced me down onto the floor where they held me spread-eagled face down.

“NO!” my mother screamed, “How can you do this? He’s only a boy.”

“Silence,” Vladimir snarled at her. “If he can work magic then he’ll work it for me, or he can die.” Then in a different tone he said, “Be gentle with him, I don’t want him to pass out yet; I’m not finished with him.”

I looked over my shoulder at the man with the whip. “I’ll never work for you,” I yelled, trying to sound brave.

The whip descended with blinding speed and I could only flinch away from it. It didn’t do any good though. My back lit up like it was on fire. I didn’t scream after that first stroke, not because I was being stupidly brave, but because my lungs wouldn’t cooperate with such an idea. I did scream after the second one and for many others after that; by the time the last one had come and gone I was a blubbering mass of raw nerves.

The rest of the room, however, was quite silent. The men who had held me pinned to the floor drew away and I curled up, wishing I could bend the other direction so that my hurt could be protected from further pain.

“I knew it,” I heard the baron say, and my heart sank.

What had I done? I lifted my head enough to glance down my back and saw. My t-shirt was in bloody shreds but though my back was streaked with angry red welts, my skin looked like it had not been broken. I groaned.

The men who’d pinned me down pulled me to my feet where I swayed. I could hear my mom’s muffled sobs and I turned to look; her face was buried in my dad’s shoulder. My dad looked like he was carved of stone.

“So you can heal yourself, boy. I knew it. What else can you do?”

I locked eyes with my father for a moment longer before turning back to the baron. “Where is my servant? What have you done with him?”

“We left him at the docks. Someone will open that box . . . eventually,” replied the baron with a sneer. “I didn’t have any use for him.”

So, Pip was dead. I had no reason to believe that he had received the same care I had received. He had either smothered or starved to death in that damn crate. Someone would pay for that too and that someone was standing directly in front of me.

I turned back to look at my father; his face had gone all dark. Someone smacked a hand flat in the center of my raw back and I roared in pain.

I looked back at the man I had learned to hate. “I can do quite a bit. What would you like to see first, death or destruction?” It was rather satisfying to see my antagonist draw away.

The baron just laughed at what he thought was pure bravado. It was bravado, but it was so very real. “Why don’t you start by making me a pile of gold here at my feet? One can never have enough gold, you know.”

Gold? Gold is very rare and he wants a pile of it. “I thought you might start with something hard like clothes,” I said, and brought my leathers back into existence complete, with my blue basilisk. “Or perhaps weapons for your men.” I reached out and grabbed the two men who were closest, and used the metal and leather on their bodies, as well as the others who were close, to make my sword belt with its comforting weight of blades. I didn’t have to do it that way, but now they were disarmed, and some of their clothes were threatening to fall off as assorted buckles, zippers and buttons were no longer there to do their job. It felt so good to flex my magic. “But no. All you can think of is your greed.” I knelt down and touched the floor. The drain was tremendous, but the rush was exhilarating. Finding a source of gold far closer than I had expected, I caused a patch of it to replace the marble under my hand and then extended that patch toward the baron.

He was ecstatic, and actually bent over to watch it come. He was utterly unprepared for what happened next. It’s difficult to change stone into metal. It’s not much harder to change flesh into metal, but with the gold at such close proximity, I could scarcely tell the difference.

The baron stepped out onto the gold path and knelt down to touch it with his hand. He began to scream when his hand became welded to the floor and the line between gold and flesh traveled up his arm. In another minute, his screams stopped as his lungs no longer drew air to expel sound. His eyes were nearly popping from his head with terror before they too were made of gold. Everyone in the room was frozen with shock.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chapter 34 - THE BOX OPENS

After a forever that threatened my sanity, I felt my box being moved. My box was carried and then loaded in some sort of vehicle. Unless the ship had been diverted to some other landing, we were at our planned destination, the baronial planet of Cambay. The place might be considered my parents’ home since they were both born here, but they had cut any physical ties with the place when they left for Earth where they got their education in planetary sociology at the university in Huston Texas. I was born, and had spent most of my life, on Earth.

The ride took hours and I could tell that it was long past my daily ‘fix’ so I knew that when they opened my box again, I could be awake. What I didn’t realize was that after nearly two weeks of complete immobility, being awake wasn’t going to be good enough.

My tedious ride ended when my box was dropped rather unceremoniously on the floor and someone flung open the lid. Then, regardless of the fact that I tried to sit up and claw the mask off my face, I found a big hand pinning me down and another one doing it for me. First, the mask was ripped from my face and then the tube was pulled from my throat. I curled up, gagging and coughing and teaching my ribs how to breathe again. I was barely aware that someone was crying.

When I finally stopped gagging, rough hands pulled me from the box. I felt like a puppet on a string.

“Oh man, he stinks,” said my puppet master.

“Clean him up. We’ll talk to him when he’s more presentable,” said someone else I couldn’t focus on. The room was too bright; my magic had made it possible for me to see very well in places others might consider pitch black. I had been in the dark for too long, and unfortunately, my eyes had never adjusted quickly under such extremes.

I was drug off down several flights of stairs while I struggled with my weak body enough to at least support my own weight and see where I was going. My throat felt like it had been ripped out of my body; I couldn’t even swallow enough saliva to ask for some water.

I got my wish for water though, as apparently, we had reached our destination. I was propped up against a wall and hosed down with what felt like a large garden hose. I could see by now, but I was forced to keep my eyes closed anyway or have them filled with water under pressure. The water felt so good though, and I opened my mouth to it. He obligingly squirted some there, likely thinking that he might be causing me some discomfort.

“Strip,” said a voice on the other side of the hose.

I struggled with the buttons on my shirt, but had to turn my back to the water in order to accomplish their undoing.

“Turn around,” he said.

I did and let the force of the water wash my clothes away with only a little more help from me.

“Come on, turn around again.”

I did. I could have lessened the pressure that was beating on my body but it felt good; it was beating my stiff muscles back to life and I stretched and preened under its pressure, and then it went away, too soon if you ask me.

I shook the water from my hair and squeegeed it out of my eyes.

He threw me a towel. “Dry off.”

“Where’s my servant?” I asked, now that I could make my throat work. “Where am I?”

“You’ll have all of your questions answered in a little while. Come over here out of that water and get dressed.”

I could have drowned him in that water. He didn’t know how armed he had made me, by letting me near so much water. I looked around as I slowly did as I was told. We were in some sort of basement. I almost smiled. I put on the blue jeans that were a little bit too big. “Do you have a belt?” I didn’t get an answer.

After I pulled on the t-shirt and made the pants fit a little better (he didn’t notice that part), my escort took me by the arm and propelled me back upstairs.

“Don’t I get any shoes?” I asked.

“You don’t need shoes,” he replied. “You smell a lot better.”

“Why didn’t you just let me take a shower?”

“You really don’t think the baron would want your filth to soil one of his showers do you.”

The baron. This was the baron’s palace. Incredible.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chapter 33 - THE PLAN PROGRESSES

We were booked for first class; my parents had always traveled first class. First class afforded us luxury as well as a certain amount of isolation, and, as expected, our shadow showed up as part of the crew.

We hoped that the same thing would happen to us as happened to my parents, and then we hoped that I could get us out of whatever predicament we would find ourselves in. I thought it was a real shitty plan, but I couldn’t think of anything better. A lot would depend on my magic. I’m quite sure that Pip had yet to realize how much my magic depended on my surroundings.

Our destination wouldn’t be reached for six weeks so I took advantage of all the entertainment the ship had to offer. Not only was it in keeping with my rich kid front, but I was bored. Even when I took to using my magic to work the exercise machines, it wasn’t enough.

As I grew increasingly snappish, (I just couldn’t help myself), Pip took to keeping his distance from me as much as possible and I’m sure the crew grew to hate me. It was almost a relief when the trap finally sprung.

I returned to our stateroom after a long session in the weight room to find Pip sprawled on the floor. I looked him over but couldn’t find any damage, so I did what I knew I should do. I called the infirmary.

Two men came in with a stretcher and loaded Pip onto it, then in a sly move I almost missed, one of them fired at me. I’ve heard of punch guns but I’ve never seen one operated before. It took me quite by surprise and knocked the air out of me. While I was doubled over trying to make my lungs work again and trying not to use my magic on them, one of the men grabbed my arm and jabbed a needle into my neck. That took care of the magic part.

I woke up a little while later in complete darkness. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t even open my eyes. I was packed tightly inside of something, probably a big box. I was reminded of the box I had seen being carried off that other ship that had the body of the crewman in it. It was a reasonable assumption that I was in something similar. I hoped Pip was still around even if it meant that he was in a similar box. I hoped they hadn’t just shipped him out of an airlock.

It was very difficult to breathe since the packing was so tight. It would have been impossible if I hadn’t had an air mask over my face. My magic would have allowed for it but . . . .

We still had almost two weeks to go before landfall. I hoped that they would feed us. I hoped there was still an ‘us’. I worried about that a lot.

As I’ve said more than once already, I’m not very good at waiting and that didn’t do me any good here. Not only was I forced to wait; I was forced to do it without being able to move a muscle.

After what seemed like an eternity, someone came around and opened my box. On the assumption that I was still supposed to be drugged, I lay perfectly still.

“He’s not awake yet. Should be any minute now though, so you better hurry,” said someone who was standing directly over me.

A hand roughly grabbed my chin and turned my head from side to side, and then he lifted the mask from my face. The movement told me that my neck was stiff and I couldn’t help but grimace.

“He’s coming around. Give him another shot.”

I felt a needle prick my arm and before I slept again, I felt the hand force my mouth open and something shoved down my throat. I remember gagging, but that’s all.

I’m pretty sure that I woke only a few minutes later because I’m certain that I heard the latches on the outside of my box being locked again. My magic was working faster and faster at countering the drug. It was comforting to know this little fact, but I soon wished that I could just sleep. It would have made the wait so much easier.

For the rest of the trip, I was shut in this box. Every once in a while - I can only assume that it was once a day - someone came and did something with the end of the tube that was down my throat and shot me full of drugs again. I kept my eyes closed because I wasn’t supposed to be awake and I was determined to lie there and play along until they took me to my parents, despite the humiliation of being forced to soil my fine satin pants. They were feeding me through that tube. I could have taken care of it with my magic, but I needed to play along. Someone would pay for this, I promise you.