11. Goodbye To The Village

Pinioned

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Our Chinook settled on the deck of the South Korean carrier as an engorged crimson sun set behind Tokyo’s darkening skyline. Men, women, and children were on crowded on the deck, watching as thick columns of smoke rose from the blushing city.

A Korean guard armed with an AK-47 approached our helicopter, ducking the wind, and gestured for us to get out. The caged zombie howled as he approached. Telders lobbed an empty canteen at the cage. “Fuck off, you.”

The zombie growled in response and slammed his head against the bars of the cage.

Michael slapped me on the back. “Alright, hang back for a moment, Robertson,” he said.

“What’s going on?” I said.

“It’s cool. Just hang back,” he repeated, and got out.

Telders had a few indistinguishable words with the soldier, then pointed directly at me. The guard nodded and handed him a pair of silver handcuffs. The pilot looked back from the cockpit and mockingly pressed his wrists together.

“Goddamnit,” I mumbled.

“Alright, Robertson,” Telders said, climbing back in. “Assume the position.”

“This really isn’t necessary, is it? C’mon, Michael, we’re friends, right?” I started to get up.

Telders stiff-armed me in the chest and grabbed me under the jaw. “We were friends, Wayne. And we can be again… if you cooperate.”

I shook free from his grip. “This is ridiculous. You’re not cuffing me.”

“Turn around.”

I glared at him. “Go to hell.”

The North Korean with the NY baseball cap drew a pistol and leveled it at my head.

Michael nodded at the soldier and smiled. “You first.”

“Christ.” I said, turning my back to him.

Telders wrenched my arms backward and clasped the handcuffs on my wrists. The steel bit into my flesh. “Not so goddamn tight!” I shrieked.

“A lot more substantial than those zip-ties, huh Robertson? Though, I must admit that was a pretty good trick you pulled back in Hokkaido. You’ll have to teach me that sometime.”

“Oh I’ll teach you, alright.”

Telders laughed. “You’ve got spunk, Wayne. I’ll give you that.” He nodded at the Koreans. The soldier in the cap holstered his pistol and hefted a green duffelbag over his shoulders. The others followed suit and began climbing out of the chopper. “Let’s find you a nice place to relax, shall we?” he said, and yanked me out onto the deck.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,” a voice shouted. “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”

I scanned the crowd for the source and spied a tall European man dressed in clerics with an open bible in his left hand, and making the sign of benediction with his right.

The priest locked eyes with me. “The end times are upon us,” he said, hurrying over. “Do you have Christ, sinner?”

“Get bent,” Telders said, shouldering past him.

“This is serious!” the priest warned. “The day is coming when human pride will be ended and human arrogance destroyed! On that day the Lord Almighty will humble everyone who is proud and conceited. He will level the high mountains and hills. He will sink even the largest and most beautiful ships. Human pride will be ended, and human arrogance will be destroyed!”

There was a horrible noise from the helicopter, screaming, and the sound of clattering metal. A crew of men in bio-suits were off-loading the caged zombie, poking at it with cattle prods.

Telders grinned at the priest. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, reaching for his Beretta. “You and me go in that cage. You take your precious bible and I’ll take this.” Telders cocked his pistol dramatically. “Then we’ll see who gets saved.”

The priest straightened up. “But the end times are upon us!” he repeated.

“Yeah, you said that,” Telders barked. He grabbed the bible out of the priest’s hands and skipped it across the deck. “Now scram!”

The priest gasped and went running after it.

“Those bible thumpers never give up, do they?” Telders said, shoving me forward. “How about you, Robertson? Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart?”

“Not Christ,” I mumbled.

Michael scowled at me. “I don’t even want to know.” He pushed me through the crowd until he found a thick, steel door that led into the ship.

Telders escorted me inside and slammed the door behind us.

Bolshoi Blonde

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Michael ushered me down several flights of stairs, along a well lit corridor, and into a galley at the bottom of the carrier. The room was packed with a mixed crowd of survivors, mostly Japanese and Korean, but there was a big table crowded with hungry Eastern Europeans, and another with a Jamaican contingent near the back. A short Korean woman with a giant mole on her ear presided over the winding chow line, spooning out red and yellow globs from stainless steel bins. I wrinkled my nose.

“Hope you like kim-chee,” Telders said.

“What, you gonna spoon feed me?” I replied, wrestling with my cuffs.

Michael grimaced. “Keep talking and you’ll eat with your face.”

“C’mon, this is ridiculous. Everyone is staring. Just take these damn things off.”

“Yah, I don’t think so,” Telders laughed. “I release you and the next thing I know you’ll be running around swording everyone and screaming about time travelling fish.”

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“I’m happier for it.”

The line moved and Telders nudged me forward. I sighed and scanned the room again.

A group of South Korean soliders and a tall, very thin, blonde woman were seated at a round table near the exit. The soldiers seemed clean and in good spirits, chattering and chopsticking bits of fish and cabbage into their mouths, but the girl had obviously been through hell. Her hair was wrecked with mud and twigs, her face spattered with filth, and she wore a shredded cocktail dress splotched with gruesome, dark stains. A tear on the dress’s left breast had been covered with duct tape. The woman stared lifelessly over the crowd, making no attempt to acknowledge her food, nor the men seated around her. I followed her gaze to a blank spot on the far wall, then looked back. Her eyes slowly moved my way. They settled on me, paused, then slid back without the slightest hint of emotion. One of the soliders next to her took note and shot me a hard look.

“Already making friends, are we?” Telders grinned.

I glared at him.

“You know, you’d probably have better luck with the mole lady,” he continued, nodding at the woman behind the counter. “Though honestly, that’s still probably kind of a long-shot.”

“Whatever.”

“Aww.” The line moved again and Michael gave me a shove. “Seriously, though, I’d keep my eyes off blondie if I were you.”

“And why is that?” I growled.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Ugh, Robertson, you’re such a philistine. That’s Kseniya.”

I blinked.

Michael stared at me, clearly disappointed. “Kseniya Sakharov? The world-famous ballerina? Bolshoi Theatre? Ring any bells? No?”

I shook my head.

Telders rolled his eyes. “Well just keep on gawking at her if you wanna get your face yanked out of your ass. Those SK’s aren’t infantry, they’re special warfare.”

“Well what the hell is she doing with them?”

“I don’t know, dumbass, why don’t you go ask?”

“Maybe I will.”

“Maybe later,” Michael said, pushing me toward the counter. “We’re up.”

Telders rattled off something in Korean to the mole lady. She nodded, then spooned a few heaps of vegetables and fish onto two silver plates and slid them across the counter. He thanked her, then smiled at me.

“Okay, turn around,” he said, rotating his index finger.

“Christ, finally,” I said, turning my back to him. “These cuffs are fucking killing me.”

“Alright, then,” he said. “Now if you drop this plate I’m not getting you another one.”

“What?”

Telders pushed the edge of the plate into my palms. “Grab it with your thumbs. Real tight now. Hah. That looks uncomfortable.”

“Son of a bitch,” I said, gripping the plate behind my back. “You’re a right son of a bitch, you know that?”

“I try,” he said, stuffing a pair of silver chopsticks into my front pocket. He slapped me on the back. “Now let’s go find you a nice, dark cell to curl up in.”

Brig

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

The brig on the South Korean carrier was little more than an angular enclosure contained in a larger, white room devoid of any furnishings or implements, save a garbage can and small first aid kit affixed to the opposite wall. Inside the cell were four bunks, one toilet, and a small metal desk with rounded corners which jutted out about six inches from the wall. Between the pairs of bunks was a big, circular mirror like the ones used in retail stores for loss prevention.

I glimpsed my reflection as Telders guided me into the cell. I was covered in mud, my clothes were soiled, and my hair was matted and full of debris. I barely recognized myself.

I sat down on one of the low bunks and released my grip on my dinner plate.

“I can’t believe you carried that all the way down here without dropping it. Pretty impressive,” Telders said. He slammed the cell door behind me and shrugged. “I was going to give you this one if you did, actually.”

“You’re a saint.”

“Guess you don’t need it now,” he added, and dumped the plate in the trash.

I winced. It’d been days since I’d had a proper meal. I could have easily eaten both servings, and then some.

“Come over here and turn around. I’ll uncuff you.”

I stood up and turned, inserting my wrists through a slot in the bars.

“Don’t I get a proper shower?” I said as he worked a key into the handcuffs.

“I’ll send in someone with a hose.”

“Wonderful.”

The cuffs came off one at a time.

“Eat up, buddy,” Telders smirked, pocketing the handcuffs. “You’re gonna need your energy.”

“Energy for what?” I said, rubbing my wrists.

“For the interview of course.”

“What interview? I’ve already told you everything.”

Telders stared at me with his dark, sunken eyes. “Psychotic ramblings are hardly a proper substitution for a thorough account of events, Robertson. We will take a full statement, so when we arrive at the station we’ll know exactly what may or may not be waiting for us.”

“We will? Who is we?”

“Oh, I dunno. Both South and North Korean military are well represented on this ship. I’m sure there’s someone on board who has experience with these things.”

I folded my arms. “Why does it sound like I’m about to be interrogated?”

“Call it what you like,” Telders said, then turned to leave.

“Wait,” I shouted, grabbing the cell bars. “Where are you going?”

“Oh sorry I can’t stay and chat. I’m dining at Captain Stubing’s table this evening.” Michael smiled and shut off the lights. “Don’t stay up too late.”

“Wait!”

The outer door slammed, and I was engulfed in darkness.

“Telders!”

Lucid In The Sky With Diamonds

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

I ate for a while in the darkness then set my plate on the floor and stretched out on the top bunk. My cell smelled heavily of fermented cabbage and garlic, but somewhere underneath that was a hint of bleach and shoe polish. I could hear footsteps all around, the hum of the ship’s engines, and the occasional groan of the vessel as we headed out to open water.

I laid in bed trying to pick out shapes in the darkness, until the noises around me morphed into less sensible things, as they often do when I’m falling asleep.

I found myself in an old, bustling marketplace, teeming with shoppers haggling for colorful, handmade things swinging on crooked, iron hooks. To my right, the boy Wayne stood at my side, his hand firmly gripping mine. The boy Wayne was younger than I remembered, but bright-eyed, and ready for adventure. It was a big day for us. We were searching for a way into the giant maze that led to a dark, stony castle on distant hilltop. No one had ever made it through the maze, or so we had heard, those who’d dared try, were never seen in the town again. But the boy Wayne and I were determined to conquer the maze, and dead-set on unraveling the mysteries of the dark castle. We only needed to find the way in.

We followed the flagstone path, past cloaked hawkers and swarms of excited shoppers, seeking out the elusive door to the maze, but every turn seemed to take us further and further away from our goal. We took a right and it became a left. We asked a vendor for directions and he couldn’t speak. We tried to get to higher ground but the clouds rolled in and obscured our view. I tried to think but I got distracted. What were we looking for again? At long last, I realized what was happening. I stopped and turned to the boy Wayne.

“I know what’s going on,” I told him. “I know why nothing makes sense.”

The boy Wayne looked at me, perplexed.

I bent down and whispered so no one else could hear. “We’re in a dream.”

The boy Wayne nodded his head slowly.

I rubbed my hands together. “And now that we know this, we can do whatever we want. We don’t need to conquer the maze.”

“What do you mean?” the boy Wayne asked.

“We can just fly over it,” I said. “Like this.” I imagined us taking flight, floating over the maze, and landing in front of the castle doors. And suddenly we were there, high atop the hill, far above the sprawling maze and the distant marketplace.

“I like this,” the boy Wayne said, spinning around. “I like this a lot. What should we do now?”

“Well, I kind of don’t care about some dirty castle anymore,” I said. “Let’s go into space.”

The boy nodded excitedly, and we were suddenly screaming past Saturn, and off to distant worlds, rocketing through black holes and peeking in on quasars with big radio telescopes for ears. The boy Wayne was cold, so I imagined us a couple of big, comfy sweaters to ward off the chill of space.

When we were tired of that, I decided to take the boy to Antarctica. We flew through a crackling rift in space-time and exploded out of the sky above Alexander Island. But when we’d landed we found my old stomping grounds in ruin. The Array was mangled. The warehouse was burned to the ground. The station was dilapidated, having succumbed to the harsh Antarctic weather. We approached the station slowly, and I opened the door. It creaked and snapped off its hinges and collapsed in a drift of snow.

“What happened here?” the boy Wayne asked.

“I don’t know, boy Wayne.”

“Well can’t you imagine it right as rain?”

I squinted and tried to focus. “I try but nothing works.”

The boy Wayne frowned. “Are we still in a dream?”

“I’m not sure anymore.”

Suddenly the door slammed behind us. I spun around to find that it had jumped back on its hinges and was securely in place.

“Did you do that?” I asked boy Wayne.

“No,” he said, pointing. “They did.”

I turned. We were standing in an elegant ballroom. Everyone was there. Telders, and Dr. Alfieri were sharing a toast. Captain Moriyama, Yumi, Takeshi, Kenichi were seated at one of the big, round tables sharing tapas. Yumi speared one with her katana. The rest of the Nisshin Maru crew, all healthy and fit, stared on and smiled. Even Kenji Ashida, the yokozuna ranked zombie sumo wrestler (and his head!) was there, spinning platters. He smiled and knocked on his skull to prove I hadn’t really sliced it off, then dropped the needle on Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”

“We thought you’d never make it, Chikushou.”

I turned to find Spegg dressed in a tuxedo and tails, grinning ear to ear. Einstein was at his side. The transgenic seal hooted with joy. Buzz trotted in and barked and twirled around, wagging his tail.

“Buzz!”

My husky leapt into my arms and licked my face. “Who’s a good Buzz?” I said, laughing.

Spegg started clapping. He started slowly, then everyone joined in. The sound of applause grew louder and louder until the entire ballroom roared.

“Good job, Chikushou,” Spegg said, popping a maraschino cherry into his mouth. “You’re finally home.”

My chin trembled and I felt the tears coming on. Boy Wayne took my hand. “Those are good tears, right big Wayne?”

“That’s right, boy. Good tears. Great tears.” I set Buzz down and wiped my eyes. I stared out at all my friends and raised my fist as high as I could. “God bless you all!”

“It’s time for your interview,” the boy Wayne said.

“What’s that?”

“It’s time for your interview.”

I looked at the boy. “What interview?”

“Wake up, asshole,” he said. “You’re sobbing like a little girl.”

I frowned at him. “Boy Wayne, what has gotten into you?”

“Wake up, mother fucker,” he said. Suddenly the boy Wayne vanished I was jerked awake by a splash of cold water.

I sat up in my bunk to find Michael Telders and large, shirtless man standing outside my cell.

“This is Ivan,” Michael said, gesturing with his thumb. “He’ll be conducting your interview.”

Ivan grinned and twirled a pair of silver pliers around his fingers. “We make friends, yes?”

Hard Pressed

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

When I sat up on my bunk and saw Telders staring at me through the prison bars with cold, vacant eyes, I felt a sharp tremor in my chest.

I almost didn’t recognize him.

“What is this?” I said.

“Get up,” Michael replied, his voice heavy and even.

I swallowed. Next to him, stood Ivan, a muscular, skin-headed Russian wearing nothing but a pair of bluejeans and a Soviet-style hammer and sickle tattoo on his left breast. Ivan grinned as he toyed with a pair of heavy, red pliers, flipping them around like a giant, toothy butterfly knife.

“Hey, hey, Michael,” I said, standing up. “You don’t need to do this.”

“Let’s go, Robertson” he said flatly.

“What, you’re gonna torture me? Really?”

Michael looked at the Russian.

“I do torture,” Ivan said. “I put on… how you say? Good show?

“A good show?” I looked at Michael. “Seriously, man? This isn’t you.”

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Robertson.”

“What do you want to know? I’m not hiding anything. I already told you what happened in Antarctica. You even said you believed me!”

“Enough,” he growled. “Approach the door, turn around, and put your hands through the opening.”

I raised my hands. “Fuck that.”

“Don’t make us come in there and get you, Wayne. I’m want to be reasonable, but you’re testing my patience.”

“No, this is exactly the opposite of wanting to be reasonable. I’m trying to be reasonable. You’re being a dick.”

Telders scratched his chin. “Alright. I warned you.”

Ivan sneered in delight as Michael fished the key to the cell out of his front pocket.

I shuffled backward, scanning the cell for a weapon. I snatched the chopsticks from my empty plate and held them out like daggers.

The cell door swung open and Ivan rushed in, working the pliers with a sound like chattering teeth.

I felt my body stiffen. “No!” I screamed, and lashed out with the chopsticks, aiming for the Russian’s bulging eyeballs. Ivan laughed, easily parrying my attack. He spun me around and wrenched my right arm behind my back, then pummeled me in the spine with his left fist.

Suddenly I was falling. On the way to the floor my head careened off one of the metal bunks, drawing a stripe of blood over my eyes. I slammed onto the cold tile, and Ivan piled on, digging his knee into the small of my back. He delivered a flurry of powerful blows so punishing that I repeatedly rebounded off the floor, taking hard damage from both directions.

“You learn to obey, yes?” Ivan hissed in my ear. He yanked my right thumb backward and closed the pliers around it.

“Don’t do this! Michael, what the hell are you doing?” I yelled.

“Shhh,” Ivan said. “You will feel little pinch.”

The teeth of the pliers bit into my thumb. I screamed out in pain. Ivan jabbed me in the ribs and cackled as he squeezed harder. The bone cracked with a sudden snap, and I howled, begging Michael to make it stop. Ivan grabbed me under the chin and lifted it up so Michael could see.

“Nice?” Ivan said proudly. “Good show?”

With a cold stare, Telders nodded.

“Good,” Ivan said, slapping me on the cheek. “Mike, you want I take his thumb?”

“What?! No! Please!” I screamed. “I’ll tell you whatever you want! Everything! Anything!”

“I know, Robertson,” Michael said. “I already know you’ll tell me anything. That’s not the point.”

“Then what’s the point!?”

Michael bent down and looked me in the eye. “The world’s gone, Wayne. The few people on these ships are all who’re left of the human race. They’re tired, they’re scared; they’re angry. They’re desperate for someone to blame. And as far as I can tell you’re the closest someone I can find who fits that description.”

“But you don’t have to—”

“These people need a leader, buddy. And let’s face it, I need to be loved. It’s a natural fit. Sucks that you have to suffer like this, but you have to admit, suffering is kind of your thing. In a weird way, I think you enjoy it.”

“I’ll fucking kill you, Telders.”

Michael stood up, then nodded to Ivan. “Take it off”.

“No!”

The Russian laughed and let go of my head. I saw a flash of light, then the pliers bit in again. Their teeth crushed what was left of the bone, then they started sawing and tearing away at my flesh, yanking the tendons and the nerves out of my hand. The pain was so intense that I started to black out. I was still screaming, I guess, but I didn’t feel like it was me anymore. Just some stranger’s deep, hollow agony. Just nothing, really. And then total darkness for a while. I don’t even know how long.

 

***

“Wayne?”

“Wayne?”

A match struck in the air. I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Sorry. I didn’t want to turn on the overheads.”

The brightness seemed to fade and I opened my eyes slightly. A hand was cupping the light. After my eyes adjusted, the face of a man I didn’t recognize ebbed into view. He slowly brought his hand away from the match.

“Can you see?”

I tried to answer. “Umh, I—”

“That’s okay. Don’t waste your energy.” He brushed the hair out of my eyes with cool fingers. “I’m going to take care of you.” He lit a candle with the match, then shook it out. He set the candle aside. Long shadows from the cell bars danced in the light.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

“Just relax. I’m going to give you something for the pain, okay?”

I nodded sluggishly.

“You’re going to feel a slight pinch.”

I felt nothing.

“Alright, that’ll numb your hand so I can sew you up.”

I heard a bag’s zipper and the sounds of things being taken out.

“Just a few minutes and you’ll be right as rain.”

“Wait. Who are you?” I asked again.

“I’m Dr. Shinobazu,” he said.

“Hi, Dr… um.”

He laughed softly. “It’s okay. You can just call me Makabe.”

WWJBD?

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Makabe returned several times over the next few days to oversee my recovery. Not only had I lost my right thumb, but I’d suffered a concussion, three broken ribs, and loads of internal bruising. He plied me with Ibuprofen and vegetable soup, and even managed to bring in a bucket of hot water, soap, and a fresh towel so I could have a somewhat proper bath. Makabe was taller than the average Japanese, but still an inch or two shorter than me. He was in his early thirties and had choppy, black hair, light skin, and unusually prominent cheekbones that made him look both distinguished and somehow alien all at once. He asked few questions, but spoke constantly—and in fluent English.

He wasn’t technically a physician, he told me, but he’d attended medical school at Kyoto University for nearly three years. He’d chosen to drop out to take care of his ailing mother, working odd jobs as an electrician and carpenter to pay the bills. He’d studied Aikido in his youth, enjoyed American rock ‘n’ roll, and dreamed of playing baseball for the Hanshin Tigers.

He talked a lot.

Today he was talking about the American TV show “24” as he took my vitals, checked my stitches, and flashed pen lights in my eyes. He’d seen season one, two, three, and just finished the first episode of season 4.

“I can’t believe Jack Bauer got fired from CTU,” he said, pressing a stethoscope against my chest. “But Chloe O’Brian is still there. I think she can help him get back in. He has to get back in!”

I opened mouth.

“No, no! Don’t tell me what happens,” he said.

“I’ve never seen it,” I said, shaking my head. “I wouldn’t know.”

“What?!” he said, his mouth agape. “You’ve never seen 24?”

“Not… no.”

“You don’t know who Jack Bauer is?”

“I know he’s Kiefer Sutherland.”

Makabe cocked his head and sniffed. “Wow. You are missing out. Seriously.” He leaned forward. “Cough, please.”

I coughed.

He pursed his lips. “Well, you’re not out of the woods yet. But you’re healing quickly.”

I relaxed into a slump. “Any luck finding my thumb?”

Makabe shook his head. “I think Mr. Telders is keeping it as a souvenir.”

“Lovely,” I growled. “Know if he’s planning on harvesting any other momentos?”

“I wouldn’t know.” He cocked an eyebrow. “I hope not.”

“Any idea what he’s planning? Why he’s keeping me in here? What’s the word on the street?”

“I don’t know. He’s been pretty busy.”

“Busy how?”

“Oh, meetings, you know. Planning. That kind… of thing….” He trailed off, stuffing the stethoscope into his black bag. “Rallies,” he mumbled.

I straightened up. “What’d you say? Rallies?”

Makabe took a breath and nodded. “Every night on the carrier deck, right at sunset. Attendance is mandatory.”

“What… he forces everyone to show up?”

“Well, Mr. Telders doesn’t. His security teams handle that. But I wouldn’t call it ‘force’, per se. They just knock on the door and say it’s time to go.”

“And if you don’t?”

“I haven’t resisted.”

“Hmm.” I sat back in my bunk and propped my back against the wall. My right hand started throbbing. I poked at the bandage. “So, what does he talk about at these rallies?” I asked.

“Not much. This and that. Rebuilding society. That kind of thing.”

“What else?”

“I dunno.”

I leaned forward and stared Makabe in the eye. “Mak, you’re being evasive. Tell me what Telders talks about.”

He looked down. Dark shadows underscored his big cheekbones.

“You. He talks about you.”

Friends

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

“I need to get out of here,” I said, standing up. “Give me your keys, Makabe.”

Makabe got to his feet and backed away. “I’m sorry, I only have keys to your cell. You know that.” He pointed behind him. “A guard has to let me out of the room.”

I snarled at the young Japanese man. He calmly stared back, his big, black eyes wide, and round.

“But I wouldn’t let you out even if I could,” he added.

I sniffed. “You think I’m some kind of monster? Is that what Michael is saying?”

“I don’t think you’re some kind of monster, Wayne. But I know you’ve done some horrible things. Everyone in Japan knows about the Nisshin Maru. Murdering those sailors is reason enough to keep you locked up, even without the other things Mr. Telders has told us.”

“I didn’t kill those people. Yumi murdered them and pinned the whole thing on me.”

“Yumi?” Makabe shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, Wayne. Utsunomiya Yumi was locked in a safe room with ten other people while the rest of the crew were brutally slaughtered.”

“No. She was with me every step of the way. She helped me escape, she showed me where they kept the weapons, and she led the way through the ship’s corridors. She may have been in a safe room, but she was with me as well.”

Makabe was silent for a moment. He pursed his lips, thinking. “Mr. Telders did speak to that,” he finally said.

I rolled my eyes. “What.”

“He said that you often spoke to someone who wasn’t there. He said that there may have been others, but you spoke directly to someone named Yumi. Not once, but often.”

I turned and kicked the metal bed behind me. Of course I knew it was the truth. But when I knew Yumi she was as real to me as Makabe, Telders, and the cell that confined me. I slammed my first into the frame of the top bunk. A sharp sting of pain shot up my arm. It felt good.

I heard Makabe take a step toward me. “Do you still see her?” he asked.

“Not anymore,” I said, without turning around. “I sent them away.”

“Them? There were more?”

“Two others. Spegg, a monster—and Wayne, a little boy.”

“Spegg.”

“Yes, Spegg. A transgenic—”

“A half-fish, half man from the future who sent you messages through a hole in the sky?”

I turned and frowned at Makabe. “No. A figment based on a half-fish, half-man from the future who sent me messages through a hole in the sky.”

Makabe licked his lips. “So, this… other Spegg. Is he real to you?”

I balled up my fists and growled.

“Do you still see him? This other one?”

“The real Spegg is in Antarctica,” I sneered. “I don’t see him now because he isn’t a figment of my imagination, and I’m not in Antarctica.”

Makabe cocked his head. “Mr. Telders says—”

I lurched forward and grabbed Makabe by the neck, slamming him into the cell bars. “I don’t care what Mr. Telders says,” I hissed. “How about I snap your goddamn neck, then the guard’s, and then slaughter Mr. Telders and everyone else on this ship, just like I did before?”

Makabe’s huge eyes bulged. “Way…ne,” he said, laboring to speak. “I don’t… want… to hurt you.”

I grinned. “That’s good. Because there’s zero chance of—”

Makabe’s elbow shot up and connected with my chin. Light flashed before my eyes, a space opened up in front of me, and I collided with the cell bars. I felt my legs kick out from under me, then another bright light announced the arrival of the floor. Makabe dug his knee into my back.

“I’m sorry, Wayne,” he spoke into my ear, wrenching my left arm behind my back. “I like you very much. And I would very much like to help you. But I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about your present situation. And if Mr. Telders gets his way, when we reach Antarctica you will be sentenced to death not only for the murder of those aboard the Nisshin Maru, but for the slaughter of every man, woman, and child who died in the nuclear attacks. Not to mention the horrific virus that followed.”

“I had nothing to do with the war, or the virus.”

“Mr. Telders believes otherwise. In fact, he believes you inoculated yourself before releasing the virus into the population, which is why you are the only one who is known to have recovered from the sickness.”

I let out a sigh. Makabe released some of the pressure on my arm.

“I really don’t want to see you suffer, Wayne. Considering what I’ve learned about you, I doubt you’ve ever had a true friend. A real one. And I would like to show you what that’s like before… well, before it’s too late.”

I turned my head to look at Makabe. He looked relaxed, and his dark eyes were calm and inviting.

“What do you say, Wayne? Can I be your friend?”

A vision of Antartica flashed in my mind. Snow fell in clumps on the fresh bodies of the baby LMO we called Einstein, and my faithful Husky, Buzz. Spegg stared at me, framed by the giant metal dishes of Station151’s massive radio telescope array. His words echoed in my head: We are wound together. My life and your life.

“Wayne?”

I looked at Makabe and growled: “I already have a friend, Chikushou.”

Slow Drip

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Makabe stood above me and let out a deep breath. “I am sorry to hear that you won’t accept my friendship, Wayne. I know the next few days will be difficult for you. I don’t condone the taking of any life, regardless of the crime. But if it’s any consolation, perhaps this death sentence—this terrible thing—will bring the last of us together and help us rebuild the world.”

I slowly got to my knees. I drew my hand under my nose, painting a broad, red streak of blood over my knuckles. I turned and leveled my eyes at him. “Get out.”

Makabe nodded and gathered his things. He closed the cell door, offered me a reluctant glance, then knocked on the outer door for the guard. The heavy, iron door swung open. An African guard dressed in dark-green fatigues looked in and glared at me. After Makabe was gone, the guard gave me the finger, spat on the floor, then slammed the door. A moment later the light flicked off and I was shrouded in darkness.

I stayed on my knees for a while, letting blood drip out of my nose, listening to the ship groan as it plowed through the waves toward the bottom of the world. My knees burned, but I stayed in that position, unmoving, somehow reveling in the discomfort.

Pain had become a constant companion in the past few months. I’d been beaten, experimented on, starved, drugged, frozen, dumped into frigid seas, infected, and had my thumb savagely ripped off. Short of being drawn and quartered, I doubted there was any kind of pain I could be subjected to that I wasn’t already intensely familiar with. But it wasn’t all bad. Starvation I could do without, but the beatings I’d grown accustomed to. Brutal, reoccurring pain really opens your eyes. It focuses the mind. If you feel good for too long, things start to lose their meaning. You get bored. You lose purpose.

Pain fixes that.

I let the pain from my jaw, my back, and my ribs wash over me. I welcomed it in, and let it go, time and time again. Blood continued its slow drip from my nose, softly tapping the floor. I counted the drips as they grew fewer and farther between. A steady tap every two seconds became somewhere between two and three. Then four seconds. Five….

I sat back on my hands and stared into the darkness. Wonderful, black nothingness. No shape, no color, no depth—just pure, caged absence… patiently waiting to get out and roll over everything.

I raised my hands in front of my chest and gave it a push.

Guest Of Honor

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

I wasn’t aware of how much time had past between Makabe’s departure and Telder’s arrival, but it could have been days. After so much time in the dark, the sudden blast of overhead lights drilled into my eyes.

Telders was alone.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Michael said, ducking his head under the door frame as he entered. He was bright-eyed and cheery, and wore a fine, tailored black suit with a solid yellow tie. “What do you think, huh, Robertson?” he asked, turning around with his arms out to show off the suit. “Not a bad look for the post-apocalypse, huh?”

I sat on one of the top bunks with my back against the corner, squinting against the brightness. I said nothing.

Telders peered into my cell and tilted his head back and forth, pretending to get a read on me. “What’s up, Wayne?” he said. He frowned and waved his hand. “Earth to Wayne Robertson….”

“Hi Michael.”

“There he is!” Telders grinned. “Hah, I thought for a second you were ignoring me. How’s it going, buddy?”

“Doing just fine,” I said, unmoving. “Have you come to let me out of my cage, Michael?”

“Hah! Always the comedian. Hilarious, Robertson. Really.” Suddenly his eyes lit up. “Oh, hey! Come on down here and check this out. You’re gonna love this.” He lifted a clear plastic bag to eye level and nodded sideways at it. Inside was what looked like a scrap of metal.

“You bring me a present?”

“Kinda sorta. Come on down from there and you can check it out.”

“I’m fine where I am,” I said.

Telders nodded and mocked a look of defeat. “You’re still upset about the thumb. I can tell. No sense in hiding it.”

I regarded the bandage that covered my missing digit. “Hadn’t thought about it.”

“Oh? Then you won’t mind if I get Ivan in here to take a finger or two? Or… would you like to show some manners and come see what I’ve brought you?”

I gave Michael a hard stare, then slid off the edge of the bunk.

“Great! Now, what I’ve got in my little bag…” he said, pointing at the metal, “…is no ordinary chunk of aluminum. Care to guess why?”

I sighed and looked away. “Dazzle me.”

Telders chuckled. “I like that. ‘Dazzle me.’ You’re a funny guy, Robertson. Well, prepare to be dazzled, then, because this bit of aluminum is part of the housing from a freaking cruise missile. And we’re not talking your every day, run of the mill Tom Cruise missile. Oh, no no no. This baby is advanced. The science team ran it through all their best equipment and they don’t know what to make of it. It’s smaller and faster than anything they’ve ever seen. They even think it might have had some kind of anti-grav propulsion. Pretty far out, huh?”

“Sure.”

“I’m glad you agree, Wayne. And that’s not even the best part. Do you know what they found on this little scrap of metal?”

I stared at him and slowly shook my head.

Michael widened his eyes and said with a spooky voice, “A viiiiirus.”

I bit my lip. Telders took note of it and smirked. “I know, right? And there was a ton of it on here. Like, really a lot.” He laughed. “I bet you can guess which virus it was, huh?”

“I have an idea.”

“You bet you do. You were on a first name basis with this sucker. Only, it didn’t seem to kill you, like everyone else—did it?”

“No.”

“And you have no idea why.”

“No.”

“But you’ve got a pretty good idea who does, though, don’t you? Advanced weaponry, killer-alien-zombie virus… sounds like that Spegg thing has been pretty busy.”

“That Spegg thing may or may not be responsible, but I had nothing to do with it.”

Telders nodded.

I eyed him suspiciously. “But…”

But… it doesn’t fucking matter! It only matters what they think,” he said, pointing upward, presumably toward everyone on the ship.

I shook my head. “What did you tell them, Michael?”

Telders grinned sheepishly.

“Let me guess. You painted me as some kind of super-genius with a grudge against society. I grew up in a broken home, then quietly did my time at Yale, where people who knew me would describe me as “strange”, or “a loner type”. Then, after I graduated, I went to Antarctica, to a remote station where I slowly lost my mind. Mad from the cold and the isolation, and hell-bent on punishing those I deemed responsible, I created a hideous bio-weapon and an advanced delivery system to distribute it to the masses. Something like that?”

“The details are a little off, but you’ve got the gist of it.”

“Nothing unites the people like a common enemy.”

“You said it. And you wouldn’t believe how desperate they are for your blood. Most people lost everyone they knew. Families, wives, husbands, babies. They are seriously pissed. And I’ve been holding little rallies up on deck to encourage it. Last night we burned you in effigy.”

“Sounds like a blast.”

“Oh, we have fun. How about you drop by tonight and meet everyone?” He checked his watch. “Say… eight o’clock?”

“Something tells me I don’t have a choice.”

“Yeah. I guess it’s kind of mandatory,” he shrugged. “We’ve got the whole thing planned out. Torches, pitchforks… the whole shebang. You’re the guest of honor, Wayne.”

I calmly regarded my old friend. “Telders, when I get off this boat—”

“You’ll die on this boat,” he sneered. “And probably sooner than you think.” Michael turned and called out: “Guards!”

The outer door swung open. Ivan, the savage who ripped off my thumb, the African guard in dark-green fatigues, and two Korean soliders stepped into the room with heavy weapons and hard expressions carved on their faces.

“Uh oh,” Telders said, turning around. “Somebody’s ready to party.”

He fished a key out of his pocket slid it into the lock.

Via Crucis

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

If you’ve never bee on the business end of an angry mob, I don’t really recommend it. It’s loud, frightening, and you tend to pee your pants a little. Okay, a lot.

Whatever Michael had told these people, it resonated. After Ivan and the other guards shoved me out onto the carrier deck, I was met by a throng of howling faces and screaming fists. I was knocked sideways at the onset, down to my knees, where I was met by a parade of snap-kicks and elbows. My blood splattered on the deck like so much modern art.

Voices called out in a barrage of languages, most of which I didn’t understand. I did pick out the occasional “Kill him!” in English, which I found oddly comforting. Another kick to the head, a couple to the balls, and I was laid out flat.

Someone got ahold of my shirt and yanked hard, tearing it from my body. The collar caught at my neck and suddenly I was being wrenched upright by the jugular. I hadn’t been able to breathe much at that point anyway, but the extra lack of blood flow really made the world spin. Another kick to the balls and I pretty much lost it. Shit went real dark for two or three seconds, then there was a sudden flash of red light and the shirt was off. My vision slammed back into place just in time to greet a hurling, whistling fist, followed a solid crack, announcing the destruction of my nose.

There was a lot of shouting by the guards, mostly Korean, with a bit of Soviet Ivan in the mix. I wasn’t sure if I’d gone into shock, or if the crowd had let up, but for some reason fresh pains stopped arriving and my brain got a chance to start cataloging the damage. It wasn’t happy.

Consciousness came in intervals, just bits and flashes: a pair of boots, a cloud, a green door, a baton, and good, solid, throbbing pain all over me, everywhere.

Suddenly, I realized that I was being dragged by the arm pits. My legs were somewhere behind me, thumping along like a couple of obedient dogs. The crowd had fanned out. Korean uniforms had formed a barrier, waving their hands and guns around to keep the savages at bay. They dragged me along the deck for I don’t know how long, then we thumped up a flight of stairs, which my brain indignantly reported had destroyed my kneecaps. I told brain to hold all my calls until further notice.

Then, there was a face. A Michael Telders face.

“Well, hello there,” A Michael Telders’ face said.

“I said no calls, Brain.”

[I’m afraid he insisted], Brain said.

“Fine, goddammit. But I’m gonna remember this, asshole.”

[Patching him though], Brain replied.

A seemingly disembodied hand slapped me repeatedly on the cheek. “You still alive, Wayne old boy? I wouldn’t want you to miss the big finale.”

I guess I’d only been using my right eye. When I tried my left, there was a squishy sound, and 220 volts of scorching hot agony shot straight through my head and exploded down my spine to my toes.

“Oh that looks like it hurts.,” Telders said. “You might not want to use that eye anymore. Like, ever.”

Someone chuckled somewhere in the distance.

“Anyway, it’s time to get up, Wayney-poo. Time to shine!”

Someone said something that I couldn’t make out.

“In his condition? Not long, I’d guess,” Telders replied. “Okay, here we go.”

I was lifted up. We were high above the carrier deck, atop a platform, like a dais, towering over the swarming crowd below. Telders raised his hands and the crowd went nuts.

“We had this especially made for you,” Telders said. He motioned for the guards to spin me around. A tall, metal pole had been erected on the platform, and affixed to he pole, was a large, iron cross.

Telders gestured to Ivan, who came forward and took me into his arms. He grinned, then turned me around and pressed me against the cold metal of the cross. He leaned against me with his left shoulder and placed my left arm along the horizontal beam of the cross. Holding it in place, he snapped a steel handcuff around my left wrist. Spikes on the inside of the cuff pierced my flesh. “This is worst way to die,” he said, snapping the other cuff on my right wrist. One of the spikes cracked a bone and a bolt of fire shot up my arm. “And yet, is too good for you.”

Ivan took his hands away and let the cuffs take my weight. I screamed in agony.

“Hurts?” Ivan said with a smirk. He bent down, crossed my ankles, and snapped another cuff around my legs. The spikes stabbed in, and I instinctively dropped my weight to relieve the pressure on my wrists. Razor-like pain shot up my legs.

Ivan stood up and looked me in the eye. “Right side up, you die of heart attack.” He grabbed the left side of the cross and pulled. My view spun sideways as the cross turned. My weight briefly shifted to my right wrist, then fully on both wrists as the cross locked in place, upside down. Ivan knelt down and tapped me on the forehead. “Upside down your brain explode from inside.”

Ivan patted me on the shoulder, then moved away. An upside down Telders came into view. Michael winked, then turned to face the crowd. He raised his hands into the air.

“It is the day of reckoning!” he shouted.

The crowd went nuts.

Christcicle

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

The roar of the crowd on the deck of the carrier filled my ears, punctuated by the pounding of my stubborn heart as it struggled to compensate for the new gravity on the cross. I hung upside down, sweat and blood stinging my eyes, as inverted icebergs slid into view on a canopy of broken ice, as if all the sky had frozen over.

The crowd’s voices carried deep into my mind, rapidly changing pitch and forming into colorful shapes, as if I were slipping headlong into a fugue or some heavy, unkind drug. The sound of Michael Telder’s voice, as he spoke to his people, suddenly reminded me of my place:

“To ‘reckon,’ means to understand,” he said, his voice sputtering and curling around my mind. “And on this day, we come to a mutual understanding. Not simply that we are sending this savage to a rightful death, but that because of his atrocities, we have become a family. An unlikely family. A family born of tragedy and heartbreak. But a family that represents the remaining few of a once great human civilization. A family who will rekindle our civilization at the very bottom of the Earth, on the glacial ice of Antarctica.

This will not be an easy transition. We will endure hardship. Many of us will fall. But in the end we will persevere. We have no other choice. We are humanity’s last hope.”

Shades of Michael Telders danced to the beat of my thumping heart, green and blue Telders, pink and orange Telders, his Telders face weirdly stretching over mine, his words slipping from his mouth into my mine, then somehow backward through my ears like a oily, feverish sickness.

My heart thumped louder and louder. Telders was fading, breaking. His words sputtered and crackled.

“…stand in judgment of Wayne James Robertson, and let suffer… our sufferings… let his pain be our pain… let his blood be our blood. Let his death… a cleansing. And afterward, he… plummets… this frigid ocean, we will… forward. To… future… humanity. Not looking back… never forget….”

The deck whorled, pulsing, flashing, strobing, tinged by things (colors?) I no longer could identify. Was I the Wayne James Robertson? Was I suffering the sufferings that he spoke into my mouth? All those eyeballs and fingers and mouths dancing around. Each glance, each little gesture, or tiny judgment, was I?

“They want you dead,” a voice hissed. It was new. A brand new voice. Like a snake—if a snake could have a voice—coiling, twisting, slithering around my ear. Or was it my own? Was I thinking myself?

“It won’t be long now,” it said. “Not too much longer.”

“WHO—!” I screamed.

Michael’s voice had become hollow and unreal, a thumping, distant drum. But this new voice was clear, and sinister… and true.

“Please help muh—,” I told it.

“Almost.”

A roar. A lot of voices. Thousands… of far away voices. And shattering, crackling. Howling wind. Splash. And then cold, cold, cold, cold, cold….

Next: Chapter 12. Wintergardens