Chapter 7, part 7

Ocelot did not know how long he was unconscious before he finally awakened with a massive pain in his arms, and another in the back of his head. His head? That didn’t--yes, it did. He must have whacked it against the wall when he was thrashing around. The memory of what had happened came back to him in a rush--it wasn’t real. It isn’t real. It isn’t real, dammit. He forced the thought into his mind, but it didn’t work. ‘Hawk was right: it just didn’t matter. Who cared if they ever got out of here? He didn’t even have the energy to raise his head.

“Are you back with us?” came a quiet voice off to his side.

He didn’t answer. He didn’t want to talk to anyone right now.

The voice was there again, insistent, gentle. “You’d better stand up, you know. Best if you do, I think.”

His legs felt like jelly; his arms felt like lead. And his head...He forced himself to awareness. “What--?”

Winterhawk’s voice was very soft, still thin and ragged. “You’d better stand up,” he repeated. “Remember, nothing that happened to you was real. Nothing at all.”

Harry came back over, looked at Ocelot, then at Winterhawk. “He was out longer than you.”

The mage nodded. “I think he knocked his head on the wall,” he said grimly, hoping that Ocelot hadn’t done himself any permanent damage. Turning back, he repeated. “Come on, now. Stand up.”

Ocelot did as he was told, more on autopilot than anything else. His eyes were unfocused, unaware of his surroundings. He too was bleeding from the wrists, and when he leaned forward, Winterhawk could see a small bloodstain on the wall behind him. The mage winced, but pressed on. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah.” His tone was utterly dead, with no conviction behind it.

“No, you’re not,” Winterhawk insisted. “Look at me. Now.”

“‘Hawk, aren’t you being a little rough--?” Harry asked.

“No. He has to see this,” Winterhawk answered. “I’ll apologize later. You saw what I was like, didn’t you?”

Harry nodded wordlessly.

“Look at me,” the mage repeated to Ocelot. He was trying hard to project an aura of competence, even though he was still keenly feeling the effects of the Horror’s torture. The image of Aubrey kept floating into his mind insistently; he was finding it hard to force it down and away. It wasn’t real, he reminded himself. If he didn’t believe it himself, how was he going to convince Ocelot of it?

Ocelot turned his head and looked at his friend. Winterhawk was not completely able to keep his expression neutral when he saw Ocelot’s pale face and ravaged, tortured eyes. “Tell me about it,” he said. “Tell me about this dream you had.”

“No...dream,” Ocelot said, shaking his head back and forth.

“Yes,” Winterhawk said. “That’s all it was--a bad dream. Remember, you told me that no one was here but us? Well, you were right. No one was here.”

“Yes...they were.” Ocelot maintained, his voice taking on a slight edge of emotion. “ But it was...real.”

“Tell me about it,” Winterhawk said again.

“No...” Ocelot shook his head again, more strongly this time.

“Do you trust me?”

Ocelot took a deep breath, swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

“Will you trust me when I say it will help?”

“It...can’t help.”

“Listen,” Winterhawk said under his breath. “I might have a way to get us out of here. But you’ll have to help me. You’ll have to be ready if it happens.”

Ocelot looked up, this time with a flash of hope in his eyes. “What...what way?”

“I can’t say right now. I didn’t want to say anything because if it doesn’t work, I didn’t want to get your hopes up. But it isn’t going to be easy, even if it happens. That’s all I’ll say right now about it. Now, tell me about your dream.”

Harry looked back and forth between them, intrigued in spite of the situation at how these two so easily switched roles: before, Winterhawk had been paralyzed with despair, unwilling to answer even a simple question, but Ocelot had somehow managed to get him talking. Now, when the roles were reversed, Winterhawk was forcing himself to be the strong one, to put aside his own anguish to help pull Ocelot up from his. That was why they were such a good team, Harry knew. It was really too bad that they had decided to retire in their prime, and even worse that they were now going to die in here along with him.

“I...I really don’t want to talk about it,” Ocelot muttered. “Just--just stop it, okay?”

Winterhawk shook his head, wishing he didn’t have to do this. “Tell me and I’ll shut up.”

Ocelot didn’t speak for a long time. When he finally spoke, his voice was far away, dissociated. “I I...didn’t...go anywhere. Then...they came.”

“Who came?” Winterhawk asked quickly. “The creatures?”

Bugs,” Ocelot blurted. “They were--everywhere. Crawling around...then they saw me. They were...huge. They all came over here...” He stopped, breathing hard. “No...”

“Keep going,” Winterhawk said. “You’re doing fine. Remember, it was all a dream. There were no bugs here.”

There was another long pause. Ocelot’s forehead broke out in beads of sweat. “They...grabbed me. Then...they reached into me. Grabbed... started pulling out...” His breath came faster.

Winterhawk gritted his teeth. “Go on...” he said quietly.

“They were pulling out my cyberware!” Ocelot said loudly, then was overcome by a coughing fit as his ravaged throat protested this ill-treatment.

Harry turned away; Winterhawk did not. He waited patiently, hating but accepting the fact that there was nothing he could do to help his friend. When Ocelot got it together again, he continued, “And then what happened?”

Ocelot closed his eyes, making his voice continue even though he did not want to go on. He relived the scene in all its detail: the chittering creatures gleefully ripping wires and metal from his bleeding body, the inhuman pain, the blood, the terror as they went at last for his eyes--

“No!” he cried. “I can’t do this! I can’t!”

“Yes, you can,” Winterhawk said. His voice changed, took on the tone of an order. “Look at me.”

Ocelot looked at him, still breathing hard.

“Do you see me here?”

He nodded. “Yeah. You look like hell.”

“Well, thank you. So do you. But my point is: you see me. Could you do that if you didn’t have your eyes?”

Ocelot mulled that over for a minute. “But--it was so real. It had to be real. And--Sensei was here.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Winterhawk said, gently but with a break in his voice. The vision of Aubrey was coming back again.

Harry sensed that Winterhawk was faltering, so he took up the questioning. “Ocelot, nobody was here. But tell us about what you dreamed. This a friend of yours, yeah?”

Ocelot nodded as Winterhawk looked gratefully at Harry. “Yeah. A good friend. And...that thing...” he stopped.

“What did it do?” Harry pressed. “You gotta tell us, kid. It’ll help.” He wasn’t sure this was true, but he could be very persuasive when he wanted to be. He just hoped Winterhawk knew what he was doing.

Ocelot mumbled something that neither Harry nor Winterhawk could hear, then lowered his head until his chin was on his chest. His unbound, sweat-matted hair hung down in strings over his eyes.

“What was that?” Harry said, keeping his tone soothing. “I didn’t hear you.”

Ocelot raised his head again, but his hair still hung over his face. “I said,” he repeated slowly, enunciating each word carefully, “that it...pulled off her head...and threw it at me.”

Winterhawk began to shake again, turning his head fully away from the two others. Harry could see the telltale quick rise and fall of his chest indicating that he was trying hard to get control of himself and failing; Harry did the most humane thing and ignored him.

Of course, Ocelot wasn’t doing any better. He had completely switched off now, standing up but otherwise not responding to any outside stimuli.

Harry looked back and forth hopelessly between the two of them, wondering if there was anything he could do. He wondered if the thing would come back and do this to him, and hoped that if it did, he would just have a massive coronary and check out before it could get to him. Harry was tough and full of bluster, but he knew these two were tougher. If this thing could reduce them to this, then that scared the hell out of him. He wondered if he should off himself now, but wasn’t sure even now that he could do it. He didn’t know what the hell to do.

Finally, he just sat back down against the barrier and waited for the end to come.

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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.