He crossed back to the bed and sat down. Closing his eyes, he concentrated again, transferring his mind to the Everspace. In his mind, he opened his eyes and looked about him. The clouds of the Everspace swirled as always, and the lightning flashed its strange, yellow-green glare. He breathed in, and concentrated, closing his eyes again..
Alethia sat up and frowned, she was aware, somehow, of a presence. She
stood up and looked about her room. Nothing. Shaking her head, she sat
and went back to her work. Then he heard something, a strange, soft sigh,
like the breathing of an old man, and the rustling flap of leather. She
stood again and turned. Azelin was standing across the room from her, his
arms behind his back.
"Azelin? How did you.." her voice trailed off as he took a step forwards. She remembered their capture, and the fact that she was supposed to be meditating in a cell, a prisoner somewhere.
"This is a dream, isn't it?" she sighed.
Azelin nodded. "Yes." He unfolded his arms from behind his back, and continued:
"There is something I need to show you."
Alethia looked deep into the reflection in Azelin's sunglasses. The deep blackness had a strange, hypnotic effect, which was amplified by the usual low, melodic tone of Azelins voice. In the reflection in his glasses, she could see the pinpoints of light in her own eyes. She focussed on that small light, and listened.
"I don't know if you will understand what I am about to show you, but right now, you and I both need this place."
As Azelin spoke, and Alethia listened, it seemed that the points of light grew, grew until she felt absorbed by them. Two tiny white dots that grew, faded a little, and expanded, filling her field of vision with gray.
Alethia shook her head and looked around. The room was gone, and she found herself facing a void filled with swirling gray clouds. Looking down, she saw that her ankles were wreathed in fog. Thunder rumbled in her ears, and the distant storm clouds were illuminated by a yellow-green flash of lightning. Startled, she wheeled around, and saw Azelin standing a few yards away. He held out his hands as if gesturing to the strange place that seemed to trap them both.
Azelin spoke, his voice a quiet rumble, offset by the distant thunder.
"Welcome, to the Everspace."
Alethia looked confused and terrified at the same time. She turned this way and that, as if she were looking for a way out.
“I assure you, you are quite safe.” Azelin was saying.
“What is this place? Is it still part of the dream?” Alethia was on the border of panic.
Azelin took off his sunglasses and pocketed them. He reached out and took hold of Alethia’s arm. “It’s alright.” He rumbled. “Trust me.”
Alethia looked and saw that there was something different about him now. He seemed stronger, more self-assured and confident. She listened as he spoke.
“This is the Everspace. It is a place that exists outside of space and time, a mental dimension where I have control. When I concentrate or dream, I can choose to enter the Everspace. Once here I can normally project my consciousness back into the real world and view the goings-on in it. That is how you were able to sense me when we were in the van on the way to the enemy compound.”
Alethias eyes darted about, and her face underwent several changes of expression as she tried to fathom what Azelin was saying. “So, this is a dream?” She finally asked.
“For you, yes.” Azelin released her arm and looked up. “Your body is asleep, back in the real world, but your mind has been projected into the Everspace with me. I am able to control your dream because your mind is open to me.”
Alethia looked around again. The banks of clouds and fog rolled about her, swirling and moving. A strange, warm wind blew, moving her hair about. Around her ankles was fog, but just beyond that, there was nothing. Only an abyss, dotted with clouds and lit by the flashes of the lightning.
“I have been trying to project myself out of the Everspace to try and find a way to escape, but I feel as though I’m being blocked somehow.” Azelin was saying. “I have brought you here to ask you to do a favor for me, for us.” Alethia nodded and Azelin went on: “I need you to try and find out where I am being kept, and how to get out of the cells I am in. I don’t know exactly how that will help us, but it’s a start. Something is going to happen soon, and I don’t like the way I feel about it. We need to escape before it happens.”
Alethia shook her head in agreement. “I’ve felt it too. I was visited earlier by a man calling himself Petrovitch. He tried to tell me that you’re some kind of insane criminal. He knows something. I don’t know what, but I feel that he needs you for something. There is a strange evil about him. I don’t know what it is, but it’s like a façade of some kind. I feel as though he’s wearing a mask. After he left, I could feel an apprehensiveness in the atmosphere. The whole place is saturated with it.”
Azelin dug his hands in his pockets and grimaced. “Petrovitch.” He spat out the name as if it were a bad taste. “I’ve had a run-in with him too. I know exactly what you mean.”
“They’ve been letting me out to walk about.” Said Alethia. “Maybe I can look at a map or some directions?” She sighed. “I don’t suppose they’ll have a big sign saying “Detention cells this way” but it’s worth a shot.”
“Well, I am pretty sure the place where I’m being held is underground. The cells are just cubicles cut into the rock, really. I would assume I’m being held under the main detention areas somewhere. Maybe if you can find a stairwell or an elevator going down, that would be a start. Then if you can find out where the hangar we first arrived in is, in relation to you.” Azelin frowned in thought and scratched his chin.
“I’ll do what I can.” Said Alethia. “It’s better than nothing. I’m just thankful to know you’re alright.” She looked about the Everspace. “This is just amazing though, I had no idea you could do this!”
Azelin gave a smile so razor-thin that it could have cut glass. “Until recently, neither did I.”
Alethia looked down into the void below her again. “It’s strange, even though I know this place is essentially just a dream, I can still feel, just as though it were real. I know that there is no danger of me falling down from.. wherever we are, but it still feels like a long way, and I’m scared to fall.”
Azelin walked silently to where she stood, and peered over the edge of the foggy plateau. “You won’t fall.” He said, quietly. “I won’t let you.” With that, he stepped off the edge of the fog bank and into nothingness. Alethia gave a shout and grabbed the sleeve of his coat, but Azelin didn’t fall. He hovered, standing on nothing as sure-footed as if he were on solid ground. “You have to let go of fear, Alethia.” He said. “There is no danger to you here. It’s not real. I won’t even let it seem to you that you’re falling.”
“It isn’t real.” Alethia repeated, in a strange, dreamy way. Azelin took another step backwards, and held out his hand to her. “You have to trust me.” He said.
Alethia looked down, then up into Azelins eyes. She lifted her foot, and took a brazen step towards Azelin. She didn’t feel her feet touch anything, but she didn’t fall. When she looked, she was standing three feet away from the top of the fog bank she had been standing on, hovering, it seemed, over an infinite void filled with mist and clouds. She gasped and little and Azelin steadied her. “I told you, I won’t let you fall.” He said, softly. “Ever.” Alethia hugged him tightly. “I’m glad.” She whispered.
At that moment, Azelin became aware of a noise. In the real world, his cell door was opening. His concentration dissipated, and the image of the Everspace faded. He opened his eyes to see three guards entering his cell. One of them carried the metal cuff-sleeves he had been forced to wear. He opened them and the other guards encouraged him to put them on, by pointing their weapons at him. Azelin looked up at them angrily as he did so. Again, inside him he felt the brooding, malicious anger that he had felt when he had discovered that he could not leave the Everspace. It felt as though his blood were boiling, and something inside him raged, beating against his self-control like an animal throwing itself against the bars of a cage. He fought back the compulsion to attack the guards, and allowed the guard to lock the sleeves in place. He stood and followed the first guard out of the cell in complete, black silence.
Alethias eyes flickered open and she took in a deep, gasping breath.
Awakening from the Everspace was a strange sensation. It felt like the
gentle bump at the end of an elevator ride, only the bump was in all directions
at once, not just vertically. Taking another breath, she swung her legs
down from the bed and stood up. She looked around the cell, half-expecting
to see something. She wondered what had caused her to be flung out of the
Everspace so violently. It didn’t feel as though she’d woken up, just that
she’d been pushed away. Idly she thought that it might have been Azelin’s
strange reaction to her hugging him. She sat back down on the bed and rubbed
her temples. Even though she had been asleep, possibly for hours, she felt
inexplicably exhausted. It made sense that she should, though. After all,
hadn’t her mind been active the entire time? Her body had been rested,
but her mind had been more active than it had been in a long, long time.
In truth, it didn’t even feel as though she’d slept. Alethia curled up
on the bed and fell almost immediately, into a deep sleep.
“What do you mean, he did it to you?” Colleen asked. The look she wore
was somewhere between fear and confusion. Hunter chewed his lip and sighed
a little. He hadn’t spoken to anyone about his previous encounter with
Azelin, and very few people remembered it.
“It was after the botched Romania mission.” Hunter began. “The rescue chopper was low on fuel and had to leave. I was shot and I couldn’t make it. The plan was that you’d go, and you’d pick me up later.”
Colleen nodded, as the memory brought back a twinge of pain. “I remember.” Was her simple reply.
“I fled the area as best I could and headed for the thickest part of the forest. I knew the soldiers were close behind me, and they caught me soon enough. I’d been wounded pretty badly, and they were about to finish me off when he showed up. I don’t remember exactly what happened. I just remember his rescuing me, and the next thing I knew, I was back here at mission control. All my wounds had healed, and there was no sign of him. I was the only one who saw him at first. He appeared in my room one night and then in the records room the next day. He told me his story..” Hunter stopped. He snorted in a strange way. Half amused half disturbed. “I guess I should say that he showed me his story. All he had to do was to touch my forehead and then the next thing I knew, I was living his life. All of the memories, worries, tortures and guilt. I experienced them all first hand. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know what he does. But he did it to me and I’m fine.” He looked forlornly down at DJ. “This is.. This is something different.”
“What’s going to happen?” Asked Alec of nobody in particular. Hunter
shook his head slightly as he looked up from the comatose form of DJ.
“I-I don’t know.” He stammered. Colleen took his hand as if to comfort him. “The longer this goes on, the darker it gets. We’ve lost Azelin, Alethia, DJ.. Who’s next? Where is this going to go next?” Hunter pulled up a chair and sat down heavily. “I suppose your punishment is over.” He said “Dismissed.” Alec took one last look at DJ and walked back to his room, solemnly.
The first thing Alec did when he got back to his room was to light one of his cigarettes. He sat on his messy, unmade bunk and scratched his head. Azelin was gone, so was Alethia. Taken to God-knows where by mercenaries hired by a man who was a mystery. Now DJ was gone too. His mind totally absent from his body. How could they find Alethia now? He drew deeply on the cigarette and sighed, breathing the smoke out in a single cloud. Alec didn’t know what to feel. He didn’t know if he should be angry, or upset, or worried. Never in his life had he known such a tempest of emotion. Confusion was one thing, but this was another thing entirely. Why should they all be forced to suffer and wonder in this way? He stubbed the cigarette out in his ashtray. It was now obvious to him that his life had been simple until now. After all he’d seen and been through, his life had still been simple. Alec ran his fingers through the longer fur on top of his head.
‘ I need to wash my hair.’ He thought. Then he froze.
‘I’m a dog.’ Thought Alec. ‘I should be chewing on a rawhide bone on the floor of somebody’s living room, not sitting on a bed, smoking and worrying about others of my kind. What possessed the humans to play God and create us? How can they justify what they’ve done?’
Alec snorted. “Fuck it.” He thought. “It’s your world. I just live in it.”
Alec took a shower to clear his head and then returned to his bunk. He wanted to sleep, but the worry he felt about DJ was obviously going to prevent it. In some small way he wanted to finish his philosophical musing from earlier, about why the humans had found it necessary to pull their usual prank of not being satisfied with nature the way they found it, why they had to change things in this way. But Alec knew it wasn’t his place. He was an engineer, not a philosopher, and the way he saw it, when it was all said and done, was that he was here, in this form for a purpose. What it was he couldn’t say, but it sure as hell wasn’t for him to ponder the thought processes of a race in which he had as much in common as he did with a tuna.
Alec turned on his computer and spent several hours going over maps of the area they had been in. They all seemed perfectly normal to him, and as far as he could see, there was no place that the trucks could have gone, where the Vector wouldn’t have been able to track them. It made no sense. It was like they had just vanished. It wasn’t unheard of for organizations with advanced technology to have access to things like radar shielding and cloaking technology, but for some reason he just knew the people they were dealing with weren’t that advanced.
As he sat there, straining his mind to get around the block, something occurred to him. He checked the date of the map he was looking at, then stood abruptly up, grabbed a bag of tools and diagnostic instruments from the workbench in the shop, and marched into the hangar where the Vector was.
Alec lifted the door and got in. He punched a series of numbers into the keypad console mounted between the seats and the Vector hummed into life.
“Run a diagnostic on all radar and tracking systems.” Snapped. There
was a pause.
“Diagnostic indicates no system malfunctions.” Replied the AI
Alec flipped down a panel to the left of the steering wheel, under the dash. He rooted through the spaghetti-mess of rainbow colored wires and located an access terminal to the Vector’s main computer. He plugged in a small hand-held monitor to the terminal and turned it on.
“Ok, now replay me the radar data from the last fifteen minutes of the
chase. Double speed.”
The monitor showed the radar data. Alec watched the sweeping of the radar as it swept around the screen. He watched it data once, then again and again. He closed his eyes. Very calmly he set the monitor down, got out of the car and slapped his pockets for his cigarettes. They were not there.
Alec exploded in rage. He kicked the Vector viciously, again and again, punched the windows until his knuckles bled, then he reached into the car, tore the monitor from it’s terminal and slammed it against the roof of the car. As his anger reached boiling point, he released an electric charge into the monitor, frying it and causing it’s plastic casing to soften from the heat. He screamed and snarled in frustration and hurled the monitor away. This temper tantrum lasted several long minutes, after which he collapsed to his knees and sobbed bitterly. He knew what mistake he had made, so long ago, that had possibly cost the lives of three of his dearest friends.
* * *
Azelin found himself treated to another battery of unusual scientific tests, conducted y the silent human doctors. Petrovitch was there too, but Azelin tried to ignore him as he questioned and pestered him. The doctors scanned him with various machines (Azelin wasn't sure of their purpose), took more blood and measured his heart rate, breathing and blood pressure all the while. At one point they attached a pair of sensor pads to his forehead, and left them there while Petrovitch talked to him.
“It’s kind of a shame that we’re only going to know one another for so short a time.” Petrovitch was saying, pulling up a chair and sitting across from Azelin. He wore his usual smug grin of excessive self-confidence. Azelin looked down and fumed. He was sick of this smug bastard and his insinuations.
“You’re pretty much unique, you know that? It’s a real shame that things had to turn out this way. But we hate loose ends here. You’re a loose end we can’t have flapping around, running about and playing hero. You’re not doing any good anyway. You’re just wasting your time.”
“Do you have a point?” Azelin snarled, cutting Petrovitch off.
“Oh, I have a point alright.” Petrovitch nodded.
“Then what the hell is it? You’re here hinting that I’m about to die, that you’re going to kill me. Is that it? You’re going to kill me?” Azelin was not afraid at all, but full of bitterness and sarcasm.
“You? Die? That’s a laugh.” Petrovitch seemed taken aback. “You’re not going to die, not at all. We simply need something from you.”
“Oh do fuck off.” Azelin swore. “You’re going to kill me. Why not just admit it?”
Petrovitch shook his head again. “You’re not going to die. Your white friend is another matter though. She is quite difficult..”
“If you so much as touch her,” Azelin growled, his voice unusually low and evil. “You’ll die screaming.”
“Petrovitch seemed taken aback for a moment, then he smirked maliciously.
“A bit late for that, my friend.”
Azelin knew he was bluffing, but still, something inside him snapped. He leaned the chair back on it’s legs, and kicked forward with both his feet as he did so, planting the heel of his boot squarely in Petrovitch’s face. Bones crunched sickeningly as blood and snot sprayed as he made contact. The chair fell backwards, and Azelin heard Petrovitch’s inhuman shriek as he fell. No sooner had the chair landed than Azelin rolled backwards and sprang to his feet. The sensors on his scalp were pulled free in the process and Azelin leapt after Petrovitch as he crawled away. Petrovitch’s nose was severely broken, and blood ran freely from the crushed mess of his face. Azelin leapt to his side and kicked him in the ribs. He heard bones snap and felt the meaty twisting of gristle as he his boots made contact with Petrovitch’s ribcage. Although his hands were retrained behind his back by the cuffs, Azelin kept his balance and continued to pummel Petrovitch until he was jumped by six security guards. Azelin was then on the receiving end of the beating, as they set about him with nightsticks. It didn’t take long for him to lose consciousness, and the blows became dull thuds upon his unfeeling body.
* * *
A heavy pounding on the metal skin of his door awakened Hunter. He stood, groggily, shaking the sleep from his head and rubbing his eyes. The pounding came again, and Hunter was obliged to shout: “Ok, I’m coming!”
As he pressed the button to open the door, Hunter looked up and blinked as the light from the hallway flooded into the room. In the doorway stood Alec. He was wearing a suit of black body armor in a style not used by the Rovers. At his sides were his pistols, holstered and gleaming dully in the light. Slung behind his back was a large assault rifle, and he was carrying another energy rifle. On his forearms were thicker sections of armor, the right one featuring a computer interface and two small openings near the back of the wrist which Hunter rightly assumed contained retractable blades. The armor extended up over the back of Alec’s neck and over the top of his head. A visor obscured his eyes, and he wore a radio headset. He looked like he was going to war. He also looked like he was ready to kill anyone who got in his way.
“Alec? What the hell?”
“I’m going after them, Hunter. I know why we lost them and I’ve a good idea where they are. I’m going after them and I’m going to bring them back. I warn you now: Do not try and stop me. If it means I have to resign my place here, then fine, but do not get in my way unless you intend to help.” Alec turned and began to walk away.
“Alec, wait!” Hunter called after him. Alec raised a dismissing hand and disappeared around a corner. Hunter swore and ducked back into his room to throw on some clothes. In the meantime, Alec headed to the hangar, his head full of anger and vengeance. He pulled the dust cover from his hoverbike and started it up. The engine whined into life and the bike lifted off from the ground. Alec pointed the bike at the exit ramp and twisted the throttle.
Hunter, Colleen and Exile spilled into the hangar in time to hear the whine of the hoverbike’s engine echoing from the walls.
“Dammit, he’s gone!” Shouted Hunter. “We have to get after him before
he gets himself killed!”
“Not possible, comrade.” Muttered Exile, eyeing the space where the bike had been parked. “He has taken the hoverbike, it is too small and fast to follow, and it will not show up on radar. I know this as I worked on it with him. He does not want us to follow him!”
“That’s tough. We’re following him anyway!” Shouted Hunter. “Get a team
together and meet me here in ten minutes. I know where he’s going.” Hunter
stormed towards the Sonic Rover. Colleen and Exile exchanged glances. Hunter
turned and looked at them.
“That was an order.” He said, coldly.
Nobody came to Alethia’s cell that day. She passed the time by resting, and trying again to keep her mind open to Azelin’s call. She could not possibly know that as she sat on her bed, in a meditative pose, trying desperately and hoping against hope to contact him, he was bruised and beaten, unconscious in a room upstairs from her. She remembered his request that she try and determine a way out. Every time she heard a footstep outside the door of her cell, her head would lurch in her chest, ever hopeful that the guards would come back and let her out to exercise.
She could not be sure how many hours she waited. In the cell, hours could crawl like years or fly by like minutes. She had been a captive in one way or another before, but it hadn’t felt like this. This was different. Alethia was intensely aware of the hum and throb of this place, the constant feeling of doom and depression that pervaded every aspect of the building. A less sensitive person would not have felt the aura of this place, but Alethia felt it. On the surface it was calm and quiet, but unseen presence’s moved within this place, tainting the atmosphere with fear and sadness. Like the air of a cemetery full of the bodies of victims of a holocaust, the darkness was tangible and very, very real. Sometimes she thought she would go mad from the constant evil hum of the energies here.
Try as she might to hold the feeling of depression at bay, it wore at her like the beating of the sea against a stone. Deep within her, she knew that it would eventually consume her, wash away her will to fight, to survive. For that reason escape became all the more important. Her time was torn between her desperation to contact Azelin once more and the resistance to the darkness. Alethia wrestled endlessly with her doubts in her dim cell, trying to focus, trying to keep alive the dim spark of hope that still burnt within her. She knew, however, that the darkness would win eventually.
When Azelin came to, he was laying on the floor of the lab he had been in when he attacked Petrovitch. A little blood had leaked from the corner of his mouth, and he could taste its copper tang still. His back and sides felt battered and bruised, and a large lump was growing on the back of his head. He moved groggily to his feet, and looked about. The guards were still there, gripping the handles of their nightsticks with white-knuckled hands. There was a large smear of blood on the floor that nobody had bothered to clean. Petrovitch’s blood. Petrovitch himself was nowhere to be seen. Azelin found that he was still wearing the cuffs that prevented him from moving his arms, but they had been moved so that his hands were now in front of his body instead of behind it. Why the guards had done this was a mystery, a mystery also, was why they had not taken him back to his cell.
A guard moved forward and seized Azelin by the collar and thrust him towards the door. He stumbled a little, feeling deep bruises on his legs. Another guard joined them, and they marched Azelin out of the room, and back in the direction of the cells. Azelins anger still bubbled inside him, like the rumbling of a dormant volcano. His outburst and attack on Petrovitch had been satisfying, but completely unlike him. This troubled him as he was lead back to the dark, dusty gloom of his prison. Long ago Azelin had shrugged off violent outbursts, yet here he was, partaking in violence, and, he had to admit, enjoying it. He had enjoyed attacking Petrovitch, yes. The satisfaction that came in watching his nose crumple into his face, and hearing that awful shriek of terror could not be denied.
Azelin sighed heavily. He felt completely hopeless.
“Don’t worry, it’ll all be over for you soon.” Sneered one of the guards. Azelin gave a start. The guards were usually as silent as the rest of the people here. It seemed unusual to hear the man’s voice.
Despite himself, Azelin felt compelled to answer. “Oh?” He mumbled.
“Yeah, you screwed up bad back there, attacking him like you did. He was going to let you live, but I think you tossed that right out the window.” The other guard chimed in
“If you think he was going to let me live whenever he was done with me, you’re bigger fools than you seem.” Azelin grumbled. “I don’t think kicking his ass changed much.”
The first guard opened the heavy steel door to the lower cellblock, and Azelin stepped through it, into the caverns of living rock that housed his cell. The first guard sneered at him as he passed.
“Of course, you know your friend is done for, too, don’t you?” whispered the second guard. He knew how to get Azelin’s attention. It worked, and Azelin froze.
“Oh yeah, he was going to let her go, for sure. I mean, she’s no good to us, is she? But you pretty much wrote her off with your little episode back there.” The guard locked the door behind them. Azelin turned and glared at them.
“Are you that eager to die?” He rasped in a voice that didn’t seem like his own.
The second guard said nothing, but grasped Azelin’s shoulder and tried to spin him around to keep him moving in the direction of the cell. Azelin jerked his shoulder away and growled at the guards in an animalistic way that was quite unlike him. Both of the guards reached for their nightsticks and advanced on him, brandishing their weapons with deadly intent.
Azelin rushed the pair, raising his steel-cuffed hands to fend off the blow that the first guard aimed at him. He kneed the man in the groin, and spun around him to avoid the downward rush of the second guards nightstick. Before the second guard had time to recover, Azelin body-checked him against the bare rock wall of the passage. He groaned and went down, unconscious. The first guard swung again, catching Azelin in the ribs and causing him to give a cry of pain. Azelin swung hard with the metal cuffs, hitting the guard in the side of the head. He fell to the ground, and Azelin hit him again.
Then, it was as though Azelin stood outside of himself, or rather, beside
himself. He heard the vicious, bestial snarls and grunts that issued from
his own mouth, saw again and again the frenzied downward blows of the steel
cuffs, and how each time they came up bloodier than before. Azelin closed
his eyes against the horror, but could not block out the growls of rage,
the smell of blood and sweat in the air, nor the sounds of cracking of
steel against bone, especially when they became repeated, wet crunchings…
* * *
Alec was intensely aware of the speed of the hoverbike. It was purely an experimental craft, and had only been subject to the barest of testing, but he knew it was fast, dangerously fast. Anyone riding it was required to wear full-body armor, and a full-face helmet with an oxygen supply. Alec wore both of these now, as he rode the hoverbike towards his destination.
As he rode, Alec cursed himself and his oversight. He knew why they had lost the enemy truck while they were following it. His examination of the vector had revealed it to him. When they had been shot, the radar had gone into an emergency mode, keeping track only on the escape route of the vehicle they were following. This meant that the radar had only tracked objects on the road itself. If the vehicle were to simply pull of the road onto the hard shoulder, the radar would no longer track it. All it had taken was for the truck to pull off the road while the radar swept behind the car, or to the side and it would disappear from the screen. Alec had written the program for the A.I and the radar, and he felt he should have known better.
Alec’s plan was thus: He would take the hoverbike to the area where they had lost contact with the truck and he would begin a search of the area, not using any scanners, sensors, radar, infra red, heat seeking or night vision, but using his eyes and intuition only. He felt as though he had relied on technology for too long, and now his oversight might cost the lives of his friends.
Alec twisted the throttle back a notch and the engine accelerated slowly.
The engine was dangerously powerful, and sudden acceleration could easily
injure the rider. Tucking himself low to the bike like a Grand Prix racer,
Alec hooked his feet over the rear pegs and lowered his head. The digital
map on the instrument panel showed that there was still about five hundred
miles to go. It would take about an hour and a half. Alec cursed himself
again, and opened the throttle completely.
* * *
Hunter was stock-still and silent in the cockpit of the Sonic Rover as he performed the pre-flight checks. Behind him, he was aware of the eyes of Colleen and Exile on him. Neither of them dared say a word to him, and he was glad of it. In his current mood, he felt it would be dangerous for anyone to question him. He was more concerned than he had ever been about the members of the team who waited hundreds of miles away, and the stress was wearing heavily on him.
Behind him, Colleen looked at Hunters back and sighed. She glanced over and looked at Exile. Exile glanced back, his eyes seeming to say: “Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” But he kept his lips tight. Exile tightened his restraint harness and looked at the floor, then back at Hunter in the cockpit. Something in the hangar outside the aircraft caught his attention. He looked, squinted, then looked again. There was a moment’s pause, and then Exile wrestled himself free of his harness and leapt across the body of the aircraft. He threw the door open and jumped down onto the surface of the hangar.
Recovering from his jump, Exile eyed in excitement the person who had caused him to leave the aircraft in such a hurry.
It was DJ.
He looked haggard and worn, sweaty and tired, but he was up and mobile! Exile slapped him on the back and rumbled. “DJ! Are you alright? We were very worried!”
DJ winced and nodded slowly. Exile noted that there was a strange glassy quality to his eyes, and he seemed to look through Exile, instead of at him. “Yes, I’m ok.” He muttered, quietly.
From inside the Sonic Rover came sounds of excitement and confusion as Hunter threw down the rope ladder from the aircraft and tumbled down it, followed by Colleen. Then there were “Are you OK’s?” and “We were so worried’s” DJ took them all in stride, and waited for a moment’s silence before turning to Hunter.
“I know where they are.” He said, solemnly.
“You? How do you know?” Hunter was incredulous.
“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. Hell, I’m not sure I believe it myself.” Said DJ. “But I’m telling you, I know where they are, and they’re in trouble. Big trouble. We have to get going now before it’s too late.”
Hunter nodded. “You go get suited up and we’ll be ready to leave when
A short time later, they were airborne. Colleen and Exile sat in the back, and DJ shared the cockpit with Hunter. DJ sat with his eyes closed as Hunter swung the nose of the aircraft around. DJ’s eyes flicked open and he muttered: “This is it, this heading. Full speed ahead.”
Hunter pulled back on the throttle and the afterburners kicked in, surging
the plane forward. DJ closed his eyes again and muttered a prayer to a
God he wasn’t sure he believed in, hoping against hope that his friends
would be safe..
* * *
Azelin lay on the floor of his cell in a fetal position, sobbing. It had been several hours since the guards had found him kneeling unresponsive by the unconscious body of one guard, and the… Remains of the other. They had dragged him to his cell, removed the dented, bloody steel cuffs from his hands and left him there in horror. To Azelin, it was the end. He knew now that he was a cold-blooded murderer, filled with wickedness and violence. Nobody would think otherwise now, especially himself.
Despair washed over Azelin like a black tide, and he felt himself drowning in it. Alethia would want nothing more to do with him now. His search for answers was at an end, and he knew himself to be what he had feared all along. Azelin could conceive of no God that would look down on him in mercy this time. He’d had his chance and he’d blown it. If he had the strength, Azelin would have tried to finish himself by throwing himself at the walls of the cell, beating himself to death against their cold, nitre-streaked roughness. But he had no strength left in his body. Once or twice he had tried to suffocate himself by holding his breath, but at the last minute he would always draw a gasping, sobbing breath, panting and sucking in the cold, damp air of the cell. Azelin truly wanted to die, but he could not. All of the items had been removed from his cell, there was only him and the cold, dusty floor of this dank dungeon.
Azelin gave a start as he became aware of a putrid, bubbling laugh inside him. It rose up full of poison and rot, like a bubble in a swamp. It was an obscene laugh, merciless and very, very cruel. Opening his eyes, Azelin was surprised to find himself in the mist and darkness of the Everspace. Leaping to his feet, Azelin found that the laugh no longer came from within him, but from all around him! It echoed and rose from a quiet chuckle to an almost hysterical, maniacal howling!
Then there was silence. Azelin looked around, half-expecting to see something. As he looked, the fog began to congeal, massing together in a column that pulsated and sent out whipping tendrils. Awe mixed with terror as the fog grew denser and denser, then from within the column stepped a figure!
It was a figure familiar to Azelin, yet completely alien. It was himself! But it was not. It had his form, his body, but it was larger, more muscular and lacked Azelin’s flowing mane of hair. Azelin scanned it visually, noting the differences. It’s left ear flopped loosely to the left, almost severed at its base, while the right was pierced with a large metallic tag bearing the roman numeral ‘I’. Azelin looked at its eyes but was forced to look away. It was like looking into the eyes of the devil himself! They were feral and full of sin. Those eyes held such evil! Such utter wickedness and a knowledge older than time. No room for joy in those eyes, no compassion or kindness, only darkness and lust and pure hatred.
The Other grinned, showing rows of sharp teeth, and stepped forward. As it did, Azelin knew whom he had spoken to here in the Everspace all those times. Who had befriended him here and mentored him in the ways of the Everspace!
“You!” Azelin snarled, his muzzle twisting into a mask of anger. “It was you all along!”
“Me?” The voice of the other was the rattle of gravel on the lid of a coffin. “I am you.”
“It was you! You did that to them, Petrovitch, the guard!” Azelin was furious. “You hurt them through me!”
“I did not.” Grated the Other, advancing menacingly. “You did those things yourself, my friend.”
Azelin snarled and leapt at the Other. He wanted to choke him, to beat him, to destroy him! The Other saw him leap and raised a hand. Azelin was thrown backwards as if hit by a truck! He skidded and rolled across the ‘ground’ of the Everspace as the Other came on.
“When are you going to learn?” The Other said, walking over. “When are
you going to accept the truth, that you are just… like… me!” With the last
three words the Other kicked Azelin twice, shoving him along the ground,
and then stomping on his back.
Azelin groaned in pain and tried to move, but the other put more weight on Azelin’s back, pinning him where he lay.
“When are you going to accept what you are and leave this holier-than-thou façade behind you? When are you going to realize what you are?” The Other rasped, it’s voice the very voice of the pit.
“I’m not like you.” Grunted Azelin in defiance of the monster, which threatened to destroy him.
“You are!” The other knelt beside Azelin and seized the back of his
head with a claw-like hand that threatened to crush Azelin’s skull. It
yanked back on Azelin’s head and growled into his ear:
“LET ME SHOW YOU!”
Azelin felt a strange sensation, as though the fingers of the other had punctured his skull and were worming their way into his mind. He gasped in pain and closed his eyes. A moment later he opened them again, but not of his own free will. Azelin looked down and saw a puddle underneath him. He was in a forest or thick woods. Reflected in the pool was his own face, daubed with mud and blood.
It was a memory he had remembered countless times before. The memory of the attack on Perris Park. Azelin had seen it, and had shut it off before. Not this time! This time it was real! He felt the concussion of explosions, smelt the cordite stench of explosives, the reek of burning fur and flesh! Azelin looked out through eyes he could not control, and saw that he was running across the battlefield, firing his shotgun at enemies in front of him. He could not stop himself, and he could not look away as the shots hit home, tearing apart the bodies of the targets in red ruin!
Azelin leapt over a sandbag blockade and into a machine gun nest. The gunner was badly injured, trying to crawl to safety. There was a click as Azelin slid the pump back and forth on his shotgun, then he pressed the end of the barrel into the back of the canosapien gunners neck and pulled the trigger without hesitation, blowing him into the void of death.
Azelin tried to not see, tried to will himself to look away, to stop, anything. But the memory continued. He threw back his head and gave a bestial howl of triumph. The defenders of Perris Park were slain, all of them. But within himself, Azelin shuddered and dreaded what would come next.
The darkness of the night spread like ink spilled on a blank page, shutting out all light. The sounds dimmed also, fading to nothing. Azelin became aware of the sensation of movement again, he was walking, and walking towards a light that appeared ahead of him. It was a single time-yellowed bulb hanging from a cobweb-frocked outlet in a concrete ceiling. Looking about, Azelin found himself in a narrow concrete passageway, in front of a large wooden door. Reaching out with an unwilling hand, Azelin slid back the bolt, opened the door and stepped inside.
The horror of what he knew he was going to see paled in comparison to the horror of knowing that he could do nothing about it. Azelin looked about the room and saw, lit by another single light bulb, the form of a female canosapien. She would have been beautiful if she was not covered in filth and grime, but Azelin was uncaring. He screamed and gibbered to himself, unable to look away. He was exchanging words with the female, but he could not hear them, only his screams. The female looked up and Azelin reached behind his back and withdrew a pistol. A look of calm and acceptance crossed the female’s face as Azelin felt the weight of the gun in his hand, the cold of the grip and the click of the safety as he took it off. He pointed the gun at the head of the female and Azelin felt the pressure of the trigger on his finger increase until it clicked. The hammer moved slowly down, events slowing to a hideous crawl as the hammer struck the firing pin with a dull click that echoed in his ears, driving the pin into the back of the round. The slow pace of the replay was terrible as Azelin waited for the gun to go off. It did, and the round sped from the barrel, trailing fire and smoke behind it.
Azelin looked past the barrel, whimpering in horror to himself, then screaming and howling in anguish as the female’s body slowly slumped forward, and a dark red stain began to spread about his feet. The blood turned black as night and began to spread all around him, returning everything to inky darkness.
This time the light of a fire split the darkness. He looked ahead and saw a clearing in a copse of trees, lit by a fire. Gathered around the fire were his Dogstar comrades, celebrating their victory. Azelin walked towards them slowly, dazedly. They looked up at him, and their faces were masks of horror and shock. A few of them muttered to one another, and one of them ran off into the darkness. Azelin heard him retching. The others just stared in disgust.
At last Azelin breathed a sigh of relief. Thankful for once for the memory. After the attack on Perris Park, when he had returned gore-smeared and filthy to the Dogstar camp, they had attacked him. His own comrades-in-arms had attacked him, beaten him. His violent excesses had been too much even for them.
Azelin felt a blow to the back of his head and groaned. For once there was no pain. He felt that this would be an end to the torment of his memory and he did not care if he never awoke from the blackness that was engulfing him. As he fell to the ground he saw the smoke of the fire going up forever and ever into the night sky.
Only this time the smoke spread about, becoming the familiar fog of the Everspace! Once again in control, Azelin had a moment to breathe a sigh of relief before he became aware of a terrible, crushing pain in his chest. He lifted his head to see what was happening, and immediately wished he hadn’t!
Azelin was on his back, seemingly unconscious. The Other was astride him, with his fist inside Azelins chest! The arm of the Other became immaterial at the elbow, and his hand was inside Azelins chest, grasping and tugging at something. The face of the Other was a twisted snarl of perverse enjoyment where it strained and tugged at something buried!
Azelin felt his strength being sapped, his will to fight fading. It was as though the Other was pulling his very soul from his body! Azelin tried to scream, but could only utter a single bass croak of utter horror!
Elsewhere in the area, Alethia’s eyes flickered open and she leapt up from her bed in a fit of panic. She had been dreaming, and as she had dreamed she had heard a single, fading cry for help, and she had seen something that had threatened to freeze her heart in her chest! She leapt across the room and pounded on the door. She hit the door, punched it until her knuckles bled. Then she took up a chair and began to beat on the door, screaming hysterically.
A short distance down the hall, two guards stood watch. They heard Alethia’s terrified screams and the pounding on the door, and went to investigate.
“Oh God! He’s KILLING HIM!” Screamed Alethia as the door swung open.
The larger of the guards placed himself in the doorway and let his hand
dangle above the grip of his nightstick.
“Who’s killing who?” He asked, suspicious.
“The other like me, you’re keeping him somewhere around here and he’s
about to die! I’ve got to help him!” Alethia dropped the chair and sobbed.
The two guards exchanged glances. Petrovitch had been very specific that
the other canosapien was not to be allowed to die. The smaller, younger
guard stepped into the cell and took Alethia’s wrist.
“Come with us.” He said.
As soon as they left the room they broke into a run, the larger guard going on ahead, and then the younger guard, with a hysterical Alethia in tow behind him. They rushed down several flights of stairs, down into the bowels of the place, where the passageways and rooms were carved from the living rock. Soon they stood outside the door to Azelins cell. Alethia was screaming at them to open the door, desperate to get into the cell, but terrified of what she might find there.
The door opened and Alethia rushed inside. Azelin lay there, on the floor of the cell, jerking as if plugged into an electric outlet. He twitched and shook, emitting strange noises from his dry throat. Alethia dragged him to a corner of the room, and sat down, putting Azelins head in her lap. She stroked his face, tried to comfort him, but knew that she was unable to help him at all. Azelin jerked spastically and curled into a ball, throwing himself straight before emitting a terrible sigh and laying limp.
Alethia started, then shrieked in terrible denial. The guards outside the cell jumped and looked at one another.
“No!” Alethia screamed. “NO!” She shook Azelin, pawed uselessly at his
body. She threw herself over him and pounded the dusty floor of the cell
in agony. Tears of frustration and despair welled up in her eyes and flowed
down her cheeks as she caressed Azelin’s face, hoping against hope that
he would open his eyes. Suddenly, a strange calmness overtook her and she
looked down at Azelin. She kissed him and stroked his cheek. Leaning down,
she whispered into his ear:
“Please don’t leave me.”
In the Everspace Azelin was drifting away, the numbness and cold becoming almost welcoming. He looked down and saw the Other, jubilant over his body. A veil was lifted from Azelins eyes then, and he knew. It was as if the Other had left some part of himself in Azelin, a fragment of memory that filled in all the gaps in his life and gave him the answers he had sought for so long. His search truly was over now. He knew the truth, he saw everything he had looked for, for so long. But it was over now. He did not have the strength to fight anymore. He knew that death was taking him this time and there would be no third chance. Then came a whisper, like the hush of a breeze. It blew through Azelin and he heard the familiar voice.
“Please don’t leave me.”
A strength beyond strength filled Azelin in that moment, a wild, surging
power that could not be described. He looked down at the Other, and knew
what to do..
The Other stood over Azelin’s body, kicked it over onto it’s front. He was gone now, and the Other knew there was still much work to do. He readied himself, concentrated and focussed his terrible, evil mind on the transference.
Suddenly, Azelin’s body gave a twitch. It curled up into a fetal position and remained still. The Other frowned and bent to look closer. Had he been mistaken? Perhaps he had not succeeded in removing the consciousness from this mental projection?
The Other jumped back as Azelin climbed slowly to his feet. He stood there for a moment, head and shoulders hanging limply, and suddenly flung his arms open wide, throwing his head back and opening his eyes.
From around Azelin the mist and fog of the Everspace was thrown back, pushed off and boiled away in a great sphere like clouds pushed back from the shockwave of an atomic blast. The sphere expanded in all directions at once in a flash, eliminating the clouds, fog and mist of the Everspace. The Other felt Azelins sheer power wash over him as the edge of the sphere passed by, and for the first time in it’s life, the Other felt fear.
There was only blackness in the Everspace now, the primal blackness of a void. Azelin reached out with his mind, clearing away the last of the fog and stripping the other of his control. Then he opened his eyes again and stared at the Other. Although there was no light, he could see the Other, and the Other could see him!
Azelins eyes BLAZED with a seething power that dwarfed the Other. Reaching out with his mind again, Azelin seized the other and held him there, helpless.
“I know who you are.” Came a voice in the mind of the other. It was
Azelins voice, but he did not need to speak. His thoughts were powerful
enough. “I know where you came from, I know what you did, and I know what
you were planning to do. You’re going back there now, to your prison.”
With his mind, Azelin opened a door in the Everspace that yawned open onto the physical world. Azelin turned the Other to the doorway, showed him what lay beyond the glittering frame of the rift.
Oh how the Other screamed then! He was the one to gibber and wail now, as Azelin thrust him through the doorway and into what lay beyond….
Meanwhile, in Azelins cell.
Alethia looked up from Azelins body and touched his face. All her hope, she now channeled, to give Azelin a beacon to return to. She closed her eyes and prayed.
In her lap, Azelin drew a breath.
As she watched, Azelin began to breathe. Wonder filled Alethia as she watched what happened next..
A faint, white mist formed around Azelins body and his head became light on her lap. His body lifted gently from the ground and moved to hover upright, the strange aura flowing down him, a strange, and somehow beautiful sight. Then, without warning Azelin threw open his arms. As he did, it seemed to Alethia that the mist took on the shape of wings across his back, stretching open, spreading what looked like feathers before fading away.
He hung there, floating in mid air for a few moments. Then he slowly fell back to earth, and he turned to look at Alethia. Tears of happiness rolled down her face as he extended a hand to her, lifted her to her feet and smiled.
“Do not cry.” Alethia heard in her head. “Come.”
The steel door to the cell buckled outwards and was torn from its hinges as the two guards cowered in the hallway. Azelin stepped through the doorway and glanced at them. They felt the power he held, and did not move. Alethia followed Azelin down the hallway. He stopped by another cell. That door, too was sheared from its hinges as Azelin exerted his will upon it. Alethia looked into the cell. There was a man in there, old, frail and dirty. He looked up at Azelin, grinned and whispered hoarsely:
“Hey Pal. I knew you’d come through.”
He struggled to his feet and followed slowly as Azelin followed Alethia down the hallway and up the stairs to the upper levels of the building. As they reached the top of the stairs, Alethia ducked back down. There were guards in the hallway, several of them. Azelin continued on, unfazed. He walked out of the stairwell, ignoring the hoarse cries of the guards. They rushed him as a mass, but none of them could reach him. They were thrown back, scattering pistols and nightsticks as they went. It was as though they were on strings, yanked back by them as they ran forward. And still Azelin advanced down the hallway, silent, unblinking and seething with power. Azelin gestured to a guard’s pistol where it lay on the floor of the hallway. It flew to his hand and he continued down the hallway.
Alethia picked her way past the unconscious guards. Azelin was ahead of her and she ran to his side. Suddenly he stopped, turned his head slowly to the left and looked at a door, which was there.
The door shattered into splinters and Azelin strode through. Alethia tumbled in behind him and gasped. The room was a lab of some kind, blinding white and filled with strange machines and equipment that bubbled and buzzed and hummed as it went about it’s business.
In the center of the room was a glass tube four feet in diameter and twice as tall. Inside the tube liquid bubbled like the water in a giant fishtank. But there were no fish in this tank. Alethia’s jaw fell open as she saw the occupant of the tank.
He could well be Azelin’s twin, only he lacked Azelin’s hair, and his left ear flopped loosely to the left, almost severed at its base, while the right was pierced with a large metallic tag bearing the roman numeral ‘I’.
Alethia watched as Azelin raised the pistol, pointing it at the occupant of the tank. As he did, the thing in the tank’s eyes blinked open, and they held a look of absolute terror!
Azelin pulled the trigger.
He pulled it again and again until the weapon issued a dull click. As the bullets tore home, the glass of the tube was shattered, spilling the liquid and the now dead occupant of the tank onto the floor of the lab. Azelin dropped the pistol from his outstretched hand and turned away. As he did, Petrovitch came through the doorway. He looked confused and disorientated. Azelin looked at him and seized him, telekinetically. He dragged the man towards him by force of will and held him inches away from his face. Azelin peered into Petrovitch’s eyes for long moments, then released him to the wet floor and left the room.
When they got to the outside of the building, There was confusion. Petrovitch’s private army was fleeing. Alethia wasn’t sure what had caused the confusion, but she soon discovered it.
Alec, Hunter, DJ, Exile and Colleen were there. They had arrived just as the confusion was beginning to break out. It took her a long time to convince them that she was well. After all the chaos was over, Azelin and Alethia stood in the shade of some trees and talked.
“You did it.” Azelin said, his voice full of calm and comfort. “You
gave me the strength I needed to fight back. You helped me, in the end
and you helped me find the answers I needed.”
Alethia smiled. “You kept me going. You gave me hope and comfort when I was alone. I knew I had to come to be with you in your moment of need.”
Azelin took her hand and held it tenderly. “Look.” He said. “It may be a while before I can explain to you everything that happened, and it may be a while before I can see you again. But trust me, I will return and I will tell you everything that happened.”
“But why?” Alethia asked. “Why do you have to wait?”
“There are things I need to do first, things need to be allowed to settle.” He said, putting his arms around her and holding her. Alethia felt sadness at the knowledge that she would be without him, but he still comforted her.
Hunter called to her from the field where the Sonic Rover was parked. Azelin let her go and said simply: “Your people need you.”
Alethia turned and began to walk away. Then she turned, hoping to say something.
But there was no one there. Just a swirl of leaves blown by the wind
where he had stood.
Alethia looked about. She was alone again.
When all the confusion was over, once Petrovitch’s private mercenary army had been rounded up, DJ and Alec sat together in the shade of the Sonic Rover and talked too.
“I’m glad you’re ok, mate.” Alec intoned, tossing away the butt of another cigarette.
DJ nodded solemnly and replied: “Yeah, me too.”
“You’re not going to tell anyone how you knew where they were, are you?” Alec said, looking down.
DJ shook his head. “No.” Something happened while I was out. Something I don’t understand. You know me, if it doesn’t run on gasoline or diesel, I don’t know about it and I don’t mess with it. Like your car.” He looked over at Alec and grinned.
Alec punched DJ playfully on the arm. “Well mate, I think we need to change that.”
“I’ll learn your crap when you learn mine!” DJ laughed. “And that’s not about to happen, is it?”
There was a moment’s silence. Then Alec grinned again. “Don’t be so sure. I’m kinda passing the technology thing up now.”
“You?” DJ was incredulous.
“Yeah. Here, let me tell you about my next project. How does this sound? Truck, probably Ford. V-8 engine, fuel injected, supercharged, nitrous?”
DJ laughed loudly. “You wouldn’t know where to start!”
“That’s the idea. I want you to teach me.” Alec was serious. “Then maybe I can teach you a thing or two about gadgets and gizmos.”
DJ looked off into the distance. “Alec.” He began. “I think you and
I could just make a great team. You’re already heading in the right direction!”
* * *
Alethia couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned in bed, troubled and worried.
Worried about Azelin. It had been three months since their capture and
imprisonment. Three months since he had disappeared on that lonely field
and left her to wonder. She sat up in bed, sighed and scowled.
“You said you wouldn’t leave.” She whispered softly, sadly.
“I did not leave you.”
Alethia’s heart gave a great start in her chest and she looked over at where the voice had come from. The darkest corner of the room, from which stepped a figure she had so long dreamed to see.
It was Azelin.
Alethia sprang from her bed and threw herself around him. She cried and laughed, made him promise not to ever leave again.
“I won’t.” He promised. “Not without you.”
Alethia dressed and they talked. The first question she asked was, simply:
“How do you come and go like that?”
Azelin smiled in that strange, thin way of his. He helped Alethia to her feet and took her hand.
“It’s something I’ve learned to do in the last few months. When I came back, I was able to retain some of the power I had over the Everspace, only I can now exert my metaphysical mind on the physical universe. I can travel by thought.”
Alethia frowned. It didn’t seem possible. “You can teleport?”
Azelin sighed a little. “Try not to think of it as teleportation. I use my mind to open a door in the universe that leads to another point. I can form a doorway here, step through it and step out elsewhere.” He took Alethia’s hand and looked at her. “Would you care to see?”
“Yes.” Alethia answered without thinking.
Azelin stepped forwards, and she followed.
Sunlight! Blinding sunlight!
Alethia blinked, held up her hand to shield her eyes against the glare. As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, she felt a cool spray on her face. She looked around in amazement. She was standing on a beach in the warm afternoon sun. Birds wheeled and cried above her, and the sea splashed on some nearby rocks. A short distance down the beach, some people splashed and played in the sea. Azelin was standing next to her, and she was able to see him clearly.
He was wearing a long, black leather coat over casual black slacks and a light green shirt. His hair was short now, trimmed neatly. His eyes were the same, only now they seemed to be full of sparks of life. He smiled, and Alethia saw that it was the smile of a man at peace with the world and himself. She smiled back.
“It’s amazing.” Was all she could say.
They sat in the warm sand, and Azelin explained everything to her.
“The thing you saw in the tank was Leon Saularic. “He began. “He was the creature the government scientists created all those years ago. He was the one who was a member of Dogstar, who committed the atrocities at Perris Park. When he was beaten and left for dead by the other members of Dogstar, the scientists reclaimed his body, took genetic samples from it and created me. They changed my genetic profile and mentored me differently. Him, they put in suspended animation in that tank, and left him there until he could be useful. I still had a part of him in me, and that is why I had his memories. Those memories, that confusion was what forced me to wander, feeling the guilt that he should have felt for all those years. As I wandered, he grew strong in his mind, there in his tube. His mind outgrew his body, and he fled to the Everspace. From there he began to mentally control Petrovitch, who was one of the scientists minding his body. He used Petrovitch to track me down and bring me to him. He wanted my body. His was dying, you see. Some kind of genetic breakdown. He couldn’t live in his body so he wanted mine. He taught me how to use the Everspace, to expand my mind and get it used to the kind of power he had. He was going to make Petrovitch get my body ready, and then he was going to inhabit it. They did a lot of tests, Petrovitch and his lot. To determine if I was a good ‘host’, I suppose. But Leon grew impatient and started trying to take over my body from the Everspace. When it didn’t work he decided to kill me and take over that way. He used his memories to weaken me with despair, and then he literally tore my soul from my mind. He was so very close to taking over, you know? After I was dead, he was so very, very close. But you gave me the strength I needed to fight back. When I returned, I brought his memories with me, and a portion of his mental strength, his talent. I was able to use that strength against him to expel him from the Everspace and imprison him in his own body. That’s where he was when I destroyed that body. He’s dead now, and he’s no longer a threat. I know what happened, I know who I am and what I have and have not done. I’m free.”
Alethia took it all in. “Who was the old man in the cell that you set free?”
“He was John Saularic. He was the scientist that first created Leon and gave him his name. Leon had Petrovitch imprison him because he knew how evil and powerful Leon was. He spoke to me when I was imprisoned, but the guards came and took him away. They had to take away everything I could hold on to, you know? You felt the despair in that place. It had to be that way. Despair is a powerful tool Alethia. It can weaken a man so badly that he cannot fight you at all. In that place, Leon’s influence was so great that he exuded despair, it became tangible. I’m sure you felt it.”
“I did.” Alethia gave a shudder.
“So that’s it.” Azelin shrugged. “I am my own dog now. I am not a composite creature, the soul and body of one creature with the memories of another. I am not a murderer, I am not a killer. I am who I choose to be. You were right all along.” He looked over at Alethia and smiled.
Alethia leaned over and kissed him.
“I’m very glad.” She said. “You are who you want to be, who you deserve to be. You’re a very special person.” She cuddled up to him and sighed happily. “and I love you very much.”
Azelin held her tightly. “I love you too.” He whispered. It was the first time in his life he had said those words, and it brought a tear to his eye. He looked out across the ocean to where the sun was beginning to set. They stayed there, holding each other, until the sun was a bright orange blister on the horizon.
Just as the sun set, Azelin got to his feet. Alethia stood too. They brushed the sand from their clothes and looked out to sea.
“So what now?” Asked Alethia. “Are you going to stay with us in New Mexico?”
“I don’t know.” Azelin replied. “There are still adventures to be had, still wrongs to be righted. I doubt I’ll work for Shepherd, but whatever I do, I’ll always have you.” He wrapped his arms around Alethia and kissed her tenderly.
“It’s getting dark.” Said Alethia, looking out to sea.
Azelin grinned. “Here it might be.” He whispered. “But on the other side of the world, it’s a bright new day.”
Azelin wrapped his coat around them, and together they stepped through Azelin’s doorway, and out onto the other side of the world.
And Azelin was right: It was a bright new day.