Chapter 7, part 6
Ocelot opened his eyes. The room had been silent for about thirty seconds, so he dared a quick look to see what was happening.
Winterhawk hung limply from the chains, the cuffs of his shirt torn and bloody from the manacles’ bite on his wrists. Ocelot could not tell if he was breathing. He would not have been surprised if he was dead: he had never heard anyone scream like that, never in all his days.
The Horror was gone. It had apparently finished whatever it was doing with Winterhawk and decided to give them all a rest; at the sound of the mage’s last scream, it had disappeared from the room.
Ocelot had no idea what the Horror had done. From his point of view, it had merely stood in front of Winterhawk with its finger pointed at his head. It had said nothing, only laughed, the entire time. Something to do with Aubrey was all he could ascertain; the mage’s voice was so wasted that Ocelot could barely comprehend what he had been yelling. All he could do was stand there, ineffectually trying to rip the chains from the wall and help his friend, which of course he was unable to do. The closed eyes, the withdrawal had been a defense mechanism against the inability to act.
“Hey--” An uncertain, quiet voice came from the other side of the room. Ocelot looked over: slowly, Harry was rising up from behind his pile of machinery. “You--you over there?” Harry sounded exhausted, mentally spent.
Very carefully, Harry made his way over. He looked like someone who had just been involved in an accident and hadn’t realized it yet. He also looked as if he might snap at any second. “What--what the hell is goin’ on? Please tell me. What in God’s name is that thing?”
Ocelot sighed. “Harry, it’s better if you don’t know. If we get outta here, I’ll tell you. Or ‘Hawk will. If he’s alive.” He looked over at his friend. “Is he still breathing?”
Harry shuffled over and stared intently at Winterhawk from behind the barrier. “Yeah. Barely. Whatever that thing did, it worked him over good.”
Ocelot nodded, sighing again. “Yeah. I guess I’m gonna be next, after that thing recharges its batteries, or works off its jollies, or whatever.” He lowered his head. “I don’t know, Harry. I don’t know what to do. This thing’s too tough for us.”
“I guess nobody knows you’re here, huh?” Harry didn’t sound hopeful. He sank down into a sitting position against the barrier.
“Nope. Nobody. We didn’t even know we were comin’ here ourselves until an hour before we got here. That thing wanted us here. It sent us a sim of you gettin’ dangled over the building.”
Harry closed his eyes. “So you got yourself inta this t’ rescue me.”
Ocelot shook his head. “Not completely, but yeah. The thing said if we didn’t show, it would start picking off all the people we cared about. And it knew who those were, too.”
“This thing isn’t human. Or metahuman.” Harry said.
“No. Or anything else you’ve ever heard of.”
“Not a dragon?”
“No, and not a bug, and not a toxic spirit, and not any of the other nasty stuff you’ve heard about. Just take my word for it, Harry. You don’t want to know what it is. It--” He stopped at a sound to his right.
Winterhawk was stirring. He raised his head, then let it drop again. His eyes looked haunted, his expression one of utter, exhausted despair. The only color on him was the bright blue of his eyes, the dark shadow of stubble on his bone-white face, and the blood drying on his arms.
“‘Hawk?” Ocelot ventured. “You awake?”
For a long moment, there was no answer. Then the mage’s voice came, ragged and barely audible. “Leave me--alone.”
Ocelot shook his head. “I can’t do that.” He knew if they had any chance at all of getting out of this hellpit, they would need Winterhawk’s magic. Cruel as it might seem, he would have to get the mage talking. “How bad are you hurt?”
A long pause once more. Winterhawk raised his head again and painfully drew his legs under him. His arms seemed almost useless for the moment, strained from hanging so long from the chains. Shakily, he maintained his balance by leaning against the wall. “H...hurt?”
“Yeah. Did it hurt you?” Ocelot tried to keep his voice calm and steady. “I see you ripped up your wrists, but anything else?”
Suddenly, Winterhawk seemed to remember something. Quickly, his gaze flew down to his chest, and he seemed confused for a moment. “Nothing...It--it isn’t there...” he whispered.
Harry pulled himself up from where he had been watching the exchange, and stood in front of the mage. He said nothing, content to let Ocelot conduct the questioning.
“What isn’t there?” Ocelot asked.
“Please,” Winterhawk rasped. “Just--just leave me alone.” Closing his eyes, he lowered his head once more.
“‘Hawk, listen to me,” Ocelot said forcefully. “Listen. If we’re gonna get out of here, I need you. I can’t do it by myself. You gotta pull it together. I don’t know what that thing did to you, but whatever it was, you can’t let it stop you.”
“What difference does it make?” the mage mumbled. “We aren’t going to get out of here.”
“What did it do?”
Winterhawk, apparently convinced that Ocelot wasn’t going to shut up until he told him something, turned to face his friend. “It...just doesn’t matter,” he said. “I--don’t want to fight it anymore. It’s--killed Aubrey--” his voice caught “--and it’s...going to kill us.”
“Aubrey?” Ocelot stared hard at him. “What’s Aubrey got to do with it?”
Winterhawk didn’t answer, just turned away from Ocelot’s gaze.
“You’re saying it killed Aubrey? Is that what you were yelling about?”
Wordlessly, the mage nodded.
“But it didn’t, ‘Hawk. It was here the whole time. So were you. There wasn’t anybody else here except me and Harry. Aubrey was never here.” Ocelot forged ahead, trying to drive a wedge in Winterhawk’s despair and get him to listen. “It was all in your mind, ‘Hawk. It had to be. We didn’t see anything.”
Harry spoke up, sounding far more uncertain than was usual for him. “He’s right, ‘Hawk. There wasn’t anybody else here.”
Winterhawk regarded Harry with haunted eyes. “You--you didn’t see anything?”
“No. Nothing. I’m tellin’ you--whatever that thing did, it was messin’ with your mind.”
“Then--he isn’t--” the mage drew a deep, shuddering breath. “No. It--it doesn’t matter. Nothing...matters. We’re already dead. It would be--easier if we could just end it now and get it over with.” His voice, still barely more than a whisper, sounded broken.
“My God, ‘Hawk, what did it do to you?” Ocelot was getting seriously worried about his friend’s mental state now. Winterhawk might make a show of bitching and carping about the little inconveniences of life, but the man had one of the strongest minds Ocelot had ever seen in a human or metahuman. Winterhawk didn’t break. That’s what all the bitching and carping was--his safety valve. After many years of association with him, Ocelot knew that. He had only ever seen the mage anything close to this despairing once before, and that had been when he had been forced to kill his own son to spare him the suffering of a terminal condition. Now, Ocelot was scared. He knew that Winterhawk had a stronger mind than he himself did, and he also knew, or at least strongly suspected, that the Horror would be back for an encore soon, this time on him. If whatever the thing had done had reduced Winterhawk to wishing he could commit suicide, what would it do to him?
The mage’s gaze swiveled around to face him. “Do you really want to know?” he asked quietly.
Ocelot nodded. “I don’t, but I think I’d better.”
“All right, then,” he continued in the same soft, ragged tone. “You asked for it.” Painfully, he recounted the details of the Horror’s torture, leaving nothing out, describing the experience in full detail. By the time he reached the part about Aubrey’s destruction, his voice was choked, his eyes glistening with tears he refused to shed. When he finished, he lowered his head again.
Ocelot stared at him, appalled and sickened and terrified all at once. Harry sank back down against the barrier, eyes closed. “Oh, God,” the fixer muttered under his breath.
“‘Hawk...” Ocelot said after a few moments, reluctant to intrude further but knowing he had to.
“What?” the mage replied without looking up.
“You’re not hurt, right? Physically, I mean.”
Winterhawk sighed. “No. Not--not physically. Except for my arms. They’re--coming back, though, I think.”
“And you know none of that stuff happened, right?”
The mage nodded tiredly. “Yes, I know. But that doesn’t make it any easier, believe me. I don’t want to go through that again. I’d rather kill myself now.”
Harry sighed loudly, pounded his fists against the barrier. “Damn it, I wish there was somethin’ I could do. Some way I could help you guys get outta here.”
But there was none, and he knew it, just as Winterhawk and Ocelot knew it.
An hour passed, or at least it seemed like an hour. Harry got up and wandered around the area, testing the barrier again and discovering that it was still up. Winterhawk and Ocelot were silent, each with his own thoughts. Slowly, the mage stopped shaking and a bit of his color began to come back as the sheer impact of what he’d experienced started to wear off a bit. He knew that if he ever got out of here he would have nightmares about it for years, but he didn’t think that would be a problem, since he was convinced that none of them was going to get out of here. Ocelot was weighing options, trying to see any holes in the Horror’s plan and finding none. He even turned briefly to Winterhawk’s tack of trying to figure out how to commit suicide, but that option wasn’t even open--he was somehow unable to pop his cyberspur, and without weapons, he couldn’t think of a way to do the job. He, too, thought they were doomed; it was just a matter of how long the Horror wanted to play with them before he killed them.
“Harry?” he called to the fixer, who had settled back down against the barrier near the two prisoners.
“Was all our stuff there?”
“You mean in the pile over there? The weapons?” At Ocelot’s nod, Harry continued, “Yeah, looks like it. I can see your sword, your coats, ‘Hawk’s sword, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s kinda hard to see, since it’s so dim in here. Why? You got an idea?”
The laughter was back.
All three quickly looked to the center of the room: the Horror was there, its head thrown back, cackling with mad glee. Winterhawk shuddered and turned away from it, but it seemed not to notice. “Yes,” it said between spasms of laughter. “Do you have an idea? I’d love to hear it. Really I would. You know, that’s why I left your things there, so tantalizingly near yet so far away from you. I love to see you try to come up with escape plans.” It snapped its fingers and a chair appeared next to it. Picking up the chair, the Horror turned it backward and straddled it, leaning over the chair-back. “You’re so easy to manipulate. Just think about the way I got you all to Chicago. Hardly took any effort at all. Embarrassing, really, how easy it was.”
“So you’re in with the bugs now,” Ocelot growled. “Great. I’m ecstatic.”
The Horror snorted. “The invae? Oh, no. There’s so much you don’t know, small one. So much...but you’ll never know it now, because you’ll be dead. But don’t insult our kind by implying that we have any alliance with those. It was just a simple matter of convenience--they were there. By the way, you might be interested to know that there are quite a few of them around that area. Wasn’t hard to find them at all. And it’s much easier to get you that way than it was to have to come here myself. I’m not pleased, I’ll have you know.” Its expression changed to one of cold hatred. “Not pleased at all.”
“Pardon us if we don’t pity you,” Winterhawk said softly without raising his head.
The Horror grinned again. “Oh, I don’t mind at all, mage. Pity isn’t what I’m looking for, after all.” He turned his attention back to Ocelot, first glancing down at Harry and motioning sharply across the room in the way one would order a dog away. The fixer sighed, got up, and returned to his machinery-pile bunker. There really wasn’t much else he could do, and he knew it. He would be no use to the prisoners dead because of false bravado.
The Horror moved in closer, reaching with its outstretched finger to an inch from Ocelot’s forehead. Ocelot shrank back, knowing it was useless.
With his knowledge of roughly what was to come, Ocelot lasted maybe thirty seconds longer than Winterhawk had before he was reduced to thrashing at his chains, screaming curses, writhing and stiffening as something unseen seemed to be pulling him first on one direction, then in another. Gradually, his screams grew louder and less articulate; his voice grew weaker and more ragged; his limbs lost the strength to hold him up.
Winterhawk stared straight ahead, eyes closed, and tried not to think about what was happening to his friend, wondering if that was how he had appeared to Ocelot during his own ordeal. He gritted his teeth, hating this creature more than he had ever hated anything in his life. Its face, when he spared a glance at it, was utterly oblivious to anything in the room except whatever was going on in its demented brain. He wanted to kill it. He wanted to rip it limb from limb so he never had to look at it again.
The mage stiffened.
It wasn’t paying attention to anything else but its pleasure.
A thought came to him, all at once. It wasn’t paying attention to him. He tried to block out the sounds of his friend’s screams and think; he knew it might be their only chance.
Could it be--would it be possible, then--?
Did he even dare try?
He had to make up his mind soon; Ocelot didn’t look like he was going to last much longer without passing out, and then the Horror might realize what he planned to do.
He had wanted to die, after all...if this didn’t work, then he would have his wish, and the ordeal would finally be over.
Grimly, he marshalled his will and made the effort.
Copyright ©1996 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.