A Good Servant – Ch. 22
By Laura S. Fox
Copyright © 2018 Laura S. Fox
All Rights Reserved
Intended for Mature Audiences Only
This story contains graphic depictions of sexual intercourse, strong language and it is not meant for readers who are less than 18 years of age.
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"Should I ask what's wrong?" Edgar's voice broke the thread of his gloomy thoughts. "Besides the obvious," the scientist added, with a tinge of humor.
"The obvious?" Cory turned toward his friend, with a small smile.
Maybe it was not too bad to get distracted for a bit.
"We're planning to start a war we have no idea we can win, we have coyotes and who knows what other desert critters to worry about, and, on top of it all, Marcus just offered to become a mentor for me in matters of the flesh," Edgar explained.
Cory half-giggled. Ah, how much he wished he could be carefree and truly laugh. But he had never been truly free, not until he had climbed Edgar's strange contraption and flown over the desert to meet his destiny. Except for those moments of pure happiness he had lived in the arms of a man with beautiful green eyes and strong arms and a heart as big as a mountain. A man he had left behind. A man he could not know of, whether he was still ...
He fought his own train of thought.
"Can you believe it, Edgar? Sometimes I don't think I can recall his face. Was this the machine's doing and only that? Sometimes I fear my memory is failing me. And my heart, too."
Edgar placed a hand on his shoulders, squeezing in sympathy.
"Maybe I can be of help," Edgar offered. "As someone who used that terrible machine more often than anyone on the entire continent, probably," the young scientist added with a small, self-deprecating smile, "I believe that I can offer some assistance."
"That would be great," Cory sighed.
In the wee hours of the morning, this was what he hated most. The silence. It felt oppressive, not conducing to soothing meditation, but a gate to dark thoughts. And the worst part was that he felt selfish, for caring more for the memory of his lover than for the fate of the world resting upon his shoulders. He could not tell which task was heavier. Edgar's lack of sleep and interest in holding a conversation came at the right time.
"The point of the machine is to rob you of your feelings," Edgar spoke matter-of-factly. "Yet, I have the sensation that the machine is far from being perfect. It's like a sharp tool shaving off what lies at the surface. Do I make any sense?"
"Not exactly, but do go on," Cory joked.
"Our feelings, what makes us what we are, our memories, do not exist solely on the surface of our cortex. They have their roots deep in our consciousness, and, when the machine performs its culling job, it is nothing but a tool that cuts the branches, yet cannot fell the trees."
"I think now you're starting to make more sense, Edgar," Cory replied, and this time, he was no longer joking. "Are you trying to tell me that I still have him? That I didn't forget him?"
"The simple fact that you're losing sleep over thinking about him should be enough proof," the young scientist replied.
"I feel like his face ... I cannot see his face in my mind," Cory let out a heavy sigh.
"But you don't need that to still remember him," Edgar spoke. "The only thing that truly matters is that you're holding him in your heart and in your mind. The rest are details."
"But what if I see him and I cannot recognize him anymore? Am I the same person as before? Is he the same?"
"Change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same forever. Yet, there are things that are enduring, and that is what makes us most human," Edgar explained.
"What is this thing you're talking about?" Cory asked, his voice full of hope.
"If I were a romantic, I'd call it `love'. But I'm afraid the notion is as strange to me as anything dealing with emotions. So let's call it just what makes us preserve. As individuals. As a species."
"What do you mean?"
"Feelings express something that goes deeper than what we can comprehend. We love, let's use that word, because we don't want to be alone. And it is a natural instinct, or else people would have never gotten together, and built settlements, like this one, nor would they have gotten friends to share their lives with, nor would they ... felt deep affection toward someone else."
"That sounds like a romantic explanation to me," Cory joked. "It's funny, though, don't you think. We learned the word `romantic' only recently. From the old books."
"That's true," Edgar admitted, his gaze a bit unfocused for a second.
"Do you ever think about Lena, Edgar? Like I do about Lucas?"
"All the time, my friend, all the time. See? I'm the living proof that the machine could not erase the one I love from my mind."
"And you say you're not a romantic," Cory joked. "What you just said sounds exactly like that."
"Then I suppose all that is needed is just a little practice," Edgar joked back.
"I worry about him. I feel guilty. We're here, yes, in the heart of the desert, exposed to who knows how many dangers, yet, there is no other more dangerous situation that what Lucas's fate must be right now."
"He should be safe," Edgar said half-heartedly. "At best, the Trainers will just put him through their reeducation program. They never waste a talented mind, or so they say."
"After we fled, he must have been caught. He must have been punished," Cory said, his pain making the sounds came out strangled, unnatural.
"There was nothing more for us to do. If the Trainers had caught us, Lucas's life would not have been different from what it must be right now. He made his choice, and, since I'm the one with the cool head in this, please, forgive me, Cory, I would say that it is the least terrible outcome."
"What are you saying? That we didn't make things worse for Lucas by running away?" Cory asked.
"No, we didn't. Without us in their clutches, the Trainers have no bargaining chip. Which means that they cannot truly determine Lucas to do their bidding."
"I would like to believe that is true," Cory spoke, his eyes drifting away, through the window, taking in the first rays of the desert sun over Haven.
"It's one of the things I recently learned. To believe," Edgar said. "And even I, a man of facts, have to admit that on a psychological level, it works. It gives me the motivation to move forward. And, Cory, don't ever think of yourself as an egoist. I am as selfish as I can be. Because I hope and I believe that, when everything is said and done, I will be able to return to Aeria, my home, to my books, my workshop, and, of course, to Lena. And that I will finally have the courage to take her hand and tell her what I truly feel."
Cory turned to look his friend in the eyes. He placed both hands on the man's shoulders.
"Thank you, Edgar. In this time of need, you prove to be a true friend. Now I feel like I can face the world again."
"Glad to be of help. Is it a wrong time to mention that we need to saddle up for Teran? If we want to be able to grab those guns, as Marcus says, we need to put the hours in ... well, driving, and grabbing."
"Isn't it dangerous? Maybe it would be for the better for you to stay here. There are plenty of things you can do while waiting for our return."
"Nonsense, my friend," Edgar brushed Cory's caution off. "One, I would disappoint Lucas if I were to lose you out of my sight. Second, I also need to keep an eye on this operation so that it goes as peacefully as possible."
"And third," Cory added with a small laugh, "you don't want to miss all the action, right?"
Edgar smiled in turn.
"Of course. Some of Marcus's behavior must have rubbed on me. I almost feel the need to grab a gun and shoot," the scientist replied in good humor.
"As much as we would like to joke about it, we might just need all the hands we can get for firing weapons, too," Cory spoke, some of the gloominess from earlier slowly creeping in again.
"I would have no problems with that," Edgar hurried to assure him. "And somehow I feel Lena would be impressed to hear about me firing a real weapon. Hmm, this just might be something that Marcus planted in my head. I do not recall having such ambitions before."
"Then let's get ready for Teran so that you can put these ambitions into practice later. You should at least show some marksmanship once you get to fire a gun in front of Lena. We wouldn't want her to be unimpressed, right?" Cory joked.
"Definitely," Edgar agreed.
Cory looked over the settlement again. But, this time, his heart was a little less heavy. He would have to face whatever the future had in store. What made it easier was the fact that he was not going to do it alone.
In Drena, in his iron chair, Lucas could feel his strength coming back to him. It was like power was coursing through his veins, raw and wild. It needed something, a channel, where it could pour itself.
"Head Trainer, I am ready," he confirmed, placing his hands on the iron arms.
"I would recommend waiting for a little more time," one of the Trainers spoke. "Lord Lucas has just awakened."
"There is no point," the Head Trainer waved. "We are pleased with our favorite son's enthusiasm."
"Have you forgotten about Lord Xavier?" the same Trainer from before spoke.
"No, we have not forgotten. Should he come back to us, we will welcome him into our loving arms," the Head Trainer replied, and this time, his grey eyes searched for the speaker to identify him in the midst of grey hoods.
"I believe Lord Lucas is still too dehydrated after the effort," Lucas's servant suddenly spoke. "I recommend a hearty meal and a bit of rest. With your blessing, of course," the servant took a bow.
"Why are you, servant, still here?" the Head Trainer turned his attention on the young man speaking out of turn.
"To watch over Lord Lucas's wellbeing," came the prompt reply.
"You are free to go, child. Lord Lucas is with us now. He has no longer need of your services."
"He still needs nourishment and ..."
"Be gone, servant!" the Head Trainer's harsh voice slashed through the air. "We will see if you can still be used later."
"I beg forgiveness, Head Trainer," the servant bowed again, and began walking away.
Lucas registered the young man moving from his side. The hand the servant had held throughout the ceremony of initiation felt cold. Colder than the rest. He gave it no longer thought. He was to receive his first mission.
"Let the trial test begin," the Head Trainer commanded, as soon as the heavy door closed after the servant.
"Aren't we traveling a bit too light?" Xavier asked, seeing Marcus pulling his van in front of Ayn's home. "We do go there to collect an important amount of weaponry."
"Collect," Marcus repeated after him and burst into laughter. "I like the way your man thinks, Ayn. He just makes our entire operation, I don't know, sound like a stop and delivery sort of thing."
"Should I really explain to you the difference between collecting and delivering?" Xavier glared now.
Marcus laughed even harder.
"Ayn, I believe you fucked a sense of humor into this guy," the man began slapping his thighs, his fit of laughter unstoppable.
Xavier had to admit that he was working hard on keeping a frown and the corners of his lips tugged down. Marcus was incorrigible, that was a sure fact. That didn't mean, however, that the question didn't still stand.
"Are we using just this one van?" he insisted.
"Brother," Marcus placed one heavy hand on his shoulder, "take a little look over there."
Xavier followed the direction pointed by Marcus.
"I see. That is more like it," he commented.
It looked like the entire settlement intended to be part of this operation. There were vehicles of all shapes and sizes gathered further toward the gates to the settlement, and while people were still barely waking up, it looked like there were plenty of drivers to man all the transportation devices.
"Ayn, how can I impress your man?" Marcus complained.
Ayn, who had so far preferred to watch the exchange between his friend and his lover from the sidelines, grinned.
"Sorry, man, you don't have it in you. Only I can impress Xav."
Xavier noticed with satisfaction how Ayn moved lazily to come next to him. He said nothing as the man threw one arm over his shoulders.
"Should I pull out my dick to see whose is longer?" Marcus asked, his eyes shiny with mischief.
"It's not all about length," Ayn puffed out his chest. "It's how you use it."
"Stop it, man, your sweetheart's blushing already," Marcus joked.
"I am certainly not blushing," Xavier protested. "And I can vouch to Ayn's prowess in bedroom affairs if that seems to be the issue."
It was hard for Xavier to keep a straight face as Marcus stared at him, trying to figure out if that was a joke, or Xavier was serious about all that. Eventually, scratching his head, the man declared himself defeated.
"You got yourself a fine man, Ayn. He almost shut me up, what can I say?"
"You can simply rally up the troops," Xavier chose to reply in Ayn's stead. "We need those weapons."
"Yes, sir," Marcus mocked, feigning a salute, but he followed through and began shouting at the man and women getting busy around the vehicles.
"So, are we ready?" Xavier asked, turning toward Ayn.
Ayn's gaze was intense, and Xavier sustained it with his own.
"For all that is worth, Xav, it's been fun, right?" Ayn said, pulling him close.
"Let's see how this plays out," Xavier patted his lover on the back. "We have a long road ahead of us. Filled with dangers, yes. But I have you by my side."
"And I have you," Ayn replied. "And you know what? You still behave like a Ruler."
"That is not easy to forget," Xavier said with a sigh.
"No, it's okay. Because I think you're one of the reasons why I think we're going to win this."
"One of the reasons?" Xavier laughed.
"For me, the best reason of all," Ayn embraced him tightly.
"Are you going to put on a show, so that others can enjoy it, or you're just going to stand there all day making lovey-dovey eyes at each other?" Marcus interrupted them.
"Chill," Ayn shot back, but without an edge to it. "We're ready to roll."
"Who else is riding with us?" Marcus demanded to know.
"Just the usual. Cory and Edgar," Ayn replied.
"Good. Then let's go get them," Marcus nodded. "I want Edgar to see his work on my baby's engine put to the test."
"Are you in love or something, Marcus?" Ayn teased. "Edgar this, Edgar that, all day long. If I didn't know you any better, I'd say you're smitten."
Marcus didn't seem bothered in the slightest with his friend's allusions.
"Yeah, I'm smitten. The guy's a frigging genius. That chick of his, she's a lucky woman."
"I hear she's a genius, too," Ayn continued.
"Then I'll have them both," Marcus shrugged. "You know I can handle," he opened his arms wide as if he could barely wait for Edgar and Lena to jump into them that very moment.
"Just don't let the guy hear you say that about his beloved. Genius or not, he might get pissed."
"Ah, no reason to," Marcus laughed. "I'll just have the both of them upgrade all the vehicles we have. I'll pay them in hard liquor and I'll rent them my cot so they can finally get to know each other. For real."
"Really, Marcus, I think you should not propose such a thing to Edgar. He is a gentleman, unlike you," Xavier pointed out, but he was laughing, too.
"Well, then I'll repay him by teaching him how to be less of a gentleman, or that girl is going to leave him for some big bad boy, like me," Marcus joked.
"Let's just focus on getting back from this trip alive," Xavier said. "So ready?"
"On your call, Your Majesty."
It was odd how at ease they seemed to be able to breathe now, Dion thought. Although it felt like they were going deeper into the pits, the air was not as heavy as he had expected, and the tall walls also made their trip into the unknown easier to handle, at least, as far as the fear threatening to nestle in their minds went.
"We should find a refuge room, and then scout the corridors. It's all a maze," John spoke.
Dion looked behind, at the men following them. He was surprised with the discipline the miners showed. None was complaining. Except for the people who had wanted to try escaping through the regular entrance, no one was speaking of this being a mistake.
And every word John said, was taken and said by the people walking right behind so that everyone down to the last would know what decisions were discussed. It seemed that the miners had tacitly decided to appoint John as their leader, and they could definitely do without all the chaos that would have derived from having too many heads shouting too many contradictory ideas.
Dion was completely out of his element, and he was wondering, inwardly, at John's determination and what seemed to be great knowledge of dealing with his co-workers. He had always seen John as a loner, someone who cared more about keeping to himself than getting involved. And this new face of the man was only making him want to love him more.
He took John's arm and glued himself to it. There was no danger from the others, he did not sense anything of the kind, but he needed to feel his man close.
Word from the men marching behind flew back to them. It seemed that one of the miners knew of an old refuge, back from the times when the mines had not become so complicated. It wasn't something that the man knew based on his own experience, but from a memory passed from people who had lived before.
Dion wondered briefly how come the Trainers had allowed such a thing to be known by the miners. Maybe they had thought that once trapped in Drena's underbelly, they were condemned to die there, anyway. So what they knew didn't matter anyway.
"Are you cold?" John asked him, pulling him close.
He shook his head. They were moving forward, but he still feared of what lay ahead. They needed nerves of steel and hope on their side.
"I won't let anything happen to you, not as long as I breathe," John whispered into his ear. "You came for me."
"I came for you," Dion said, too.
"You could have stayed, continue living up there," John pointed out. "Someone pretty like you ..."
"Someone pretty like me would have missed you very much," Dion said softly.
John pulled him closer, if that was even possible.
"No way I'll let you alone," Dion added. "You know I picked you, right?"
"How can I forget?" John chuckled. "All fiery hair and determined eyes and such a pretty, pretty face. I really thought to myself: John, you got your work cut out for you."
"Well, I had no idea you would be such a cry baby," Dion joked. "Come on, I'm compensating. I'm cooking, I'm cleaning ..."
"And you're giving amazing blowjobs," John whispered very softly, to avoid his words being caught by the others.
Dion giggled. It was a good thing that they could still joke. And it was good that John was back to him. Hearing him speaking like he usually spoke was a really good thing. Even if he could not know what awaited them, deep in the darkness of the mines, he knew he would be okay, because the man he loved was next to him.
"The refuge must be somewhere near," word came from the miners.
The corridor was growing larger, and soon it opened into a large room.
"Let's set our base, and organize scouts to explore the area in search of an exit."
"Or places where we can dig our way out!" one miner shouted.
"That too," John agreed. "We need a way to the surface. After that, we will see. We need to be prepared for anything. Let's ration all the food we have. If there's an underwater stream, we should find it."
John was thinking of everything, and, in the faint light of the torches, Dion could see the other miners looking at him and nodding in agreement. These men weren't scared. He should not be either, he thought.
He stepped aside, as the miners began organizing themselves, deciding on who to go first on the scouting missions. Waiting was going to be agonizing, but hope was going to keep them alive more than anything else.
John came to sit by his side, their backs against the smooth wall.
"We should also organize the people remaining," someone talked. "Who sleeps, who stays to guard. There is no way to tell what could come for us."
Other sounds of agreement welcomed that proposal. Dion could say that the fact that they seemed to understand each other so well helped. The Trainers could not have envisioned this. They could not have realized that people were going to find each other, even in the darkness of minds they were keeping everyone. That was truly giving him hope.
"Are you tired?" John asked him, hooking one arm over his shoulders.
"No, not exactly, but I think it would be good for passing time to sleep a little."
"Okay, just rest your head against my shoulder. I'll wake you up if something happens."
"Aren't you going to sleep, too?" Dion asked.
"Not right now. I want to watch over you a little. It feels like it's been so long since I felt you next to me. Really felt you."
"You were under the spell of that thing," Dion said gently.
"And it robbed me of my time with you," John said back, and placed a small kiss on Dion's forehead.
"John, what if ..." Dion stopped himself.
"No, no what ifs," John said with determination. "I will do everything I can to hold you near. And I believe there is a way out. Just like I believe that it was not just by accident that I met you."
Dion cuddled against his man, and sighed.
"I had never been happy before I met you," he said softly.
"Me neither," John said back, his voice filled with tenderness. "Let's make a vow."
"Yes?" Dion encouraged him, seeing that the man stopped talking, as if he was trying to gather courage to speak.
"When we get out of here, let's go someplace else. Away from Drena. There are people living out there, in the desert, so I hear. It must be true. Traders won't just lie all the same. Let's go to one of those places. I guess it will be tough, but I'm a hard worker, and so are you. I want to live all my life with you. As long as it might be."
Dion buried his head into John's chest, to hide his face. He was afraid he was smiling so widely that people who happened to look their way might just start to think he was going insane. John's large hand rested atop his head, caressing his hair slowly.
"Don't you want that?" John asked.
"I do," Dion's voice came out muffled. "I sure as hell do. And I don't care how hard we'll have to work. A life with you is worth it. It's worth everything I have. Everything I am."
"That's good to hear, princess," John said with affection.
"Hey, my name is not princess," Dion protested, but only in jest.
"It's not? Because I could swear by how much my life changed for the better since I took you in, that I must be living like royalty," John joked. "Like one of those Rulers up in Drena."
"You're just saying," Dion giggled.
"Well, let's see. I'm getting serviced by an amazing pleasure expert," John began, and his words instantly earned him a playful punch from Dion. "I'm eating the best foods in the universe. All I have to do when I come back from work is to chill and do whatever I like ... but well, it's true that was before. Now, it's going to be even better."
"Better?" Dion's head shot up.
"Yes. Because where we go, I know we'll be together all the time, not just for some borrowed time."
Dion fell silent and rubbed his forehead against John's collarbone.
"Promise?" he asked softly.
"Promise," John said back.
"Should we consider it an honor that we're riding in front?" Xavier inquired, as he looked through the back windows of the van at the other vehicles behind.
What did make him a little worried was that Marcus was leaving the others in a cloud of dust.
"Yeah, it's an honor, Your Majesty," Marcus replied. "And I just want to show Edgar what this baby can do now because he worked on the engine."
"I believe that the demonstration was more than satisfying," Edgar replied, from the seat next to Marcus.
Apparently, the man cared for no one else to ride in that seat. Xavier could not found it in him to find an affront in that. He preferred riding in the back with Ayn anyway. The man was holding him by the shoulders and was happily chatting with Cory.
"So you two," Xavier turned his attention to his lover and his former servant. "You basically conspired under my roof."
Cory had the decency to look away guiltily. But Ayn laughed, like the uncouth devil he was, and even dared to tip Xavier's chin to make him turn.
"If we hadn't plotted against you, you wouldn't have gotten it so good," Ayn joked.
Xavier could sense Cory making himself little in his place. No matter the importance lying on his shoulders, Cory was the same. For his sake, and not only, he hoped Lucas was fine. He knew enough about the Trainers' reeducation system to also know that it could be reversed, at least to some degree.
"You know fully well that I chose that path," Xavier stared his lover in the eyes, but he felt like laughing, too. "I could have called an army upon you."
"And risk losing all of me?" Ayn mocked.
"Of course, that consideration stopped me from even trying to do that," Xavier replied and grinned.
Now he could feel Cory relaxing gradually on the bench across from him.
"For what is worth, Cory," he finally turned toward his former servant, "I do not blame you for anything. Even though you disobeyed me, I know you did it because of the kindness of your heart."
"And also because no one resists me," Ayn joked again.
Xavier glared at his lover, but by the smug smile on Ayn's lips, he could tell the man was far from being impressed.
"I knew Ayn wanted his freedom," Cory said simply, clearly not completely oblivious to the subtleties of the exchange between the two lovers. "I hoped you would forgive me, Xavier."
It was clear as day that the former servant found it difficult to say his ex-Master's name without the honorific.
"And forgiven you are. Actually, even more than that. Ayn kidnapping me was the best thing that had ever happened to me until that moment," Xavier said.
Ayn leaned a bit to stare at him.
"Are you frigging serious? You were like the Master of the world or something. All day wearing silk and having sexy boys like Cory wash your back," Ayn joked.
"Obviously, it was not what I wanted," Xavier pointed out.
"Ah, but I know what you want," Ayn grinned.
"You should have a bit of decorum in front of other people," Xavier chided his lover.
"Pff," Ayn shrugged. "It's not like Cory didn't see my naked ass ever."
"Please don't remind me. You know you're not allowed to fool around," Xavier glared, hoping that this time Ayn knew he was only half-joking.
"Chill, Xav, you know no one compares to you. And I bet Cory hated all that servant shit you were forcing him to do."
"Guys, I think I'm going to try sitting in the front with Marcus and Edgar, if you two plan on going at it like this," Cory intervened, his voice filled with amusement.
"No need," Ayn waved. "You chill, too. I promised Xav I'll behave on this trip and even keep my hands to myself."
"Really? When did you promise that?" Xavier asked, surprised.
"It must have been while you were sleeping or something," Ayn shrugged.
The vehicle seemed to be catching even more speed, making the metal carcass tremble. They were pushed around their seats like bags of potatoes.
"Marcus!" Xavier boomed.
"What? Don't you like it, Your Majesty?" Marcus roared.
"I would like it even more if we were to arrive to our destination in one piece," Xavier poured all his former Ruler training and the irony he could muster in that statement.
"Point taken," Marcus agreed and the vehicle was finally brought back to cruising speed. "Edgar, my man," he added, slapping the scientist on the back, "you did a fine job with this one. You make me wonder what other tricks you have up your sleeve."
"Seeing that I'm about to decorate the dashboard with the light breakfast I had this morning, I would say that I should keep those tricks up my sleeve and avoid sharing them," Edgar replied, only half-amused.
"Oh, no, and ruin the upholstery?" Marcus joked. "It's genuine, you know."
"I suppose it is," Edgar acquiesced. "Let me guess. Genuine ... crap?" the scientist seemed to have chosen the word after careful deliberation.
Marcus howled with laughter.
"I fucking love this man," he shouted over the roaring of the upgraded engine.
"And I sincerely admire your easiness to use cuss words," Edgar replied politely.
"I could teach you more," Marcus promised.
"Are you teaching Edgar dirty words now, Marcus?" Ayn intervened. "You might break our little scientist. Next thing we know, he starts drinking booze and sleeping around."
"I can assure you that I find the beverage called as such difficult to keep down. As for sleeping around, I'm afraid I'm more than satisfied with the current arrangements," Edgar replied promptly, contributing to the happy banter flying back and forth. "For now, I will just settle for the deliberate use of the word mentioned before, and nothing more."
It seemed so easy to pretend to be happy and carefree, Xavier noticed while looking around at the faces of his comrades. But he knew what that meant. The words, the attitude. No one knew what lay ahead. And, as he stole a look toward Cory, he wasn't the only one who knew exactly how they stood. Cory seemed troubled, and it was right to be so.
The city was approaching, a silhouette at the horizon, drawing a blue grey shape against the still sunlit sky. It was not going to be long for twilight to settle. And, according to Ayn, that was the best time to begin their operation.
Cory could sense an ominous feeling invading his chest, to the point that he could feel that he was skipping one breath or two. There was something unsettling about the city rising in the distance. He could not tell what it was.
He got up from his place and got behind Edgar's seat in front, so he could take a clearer look through the windshield. The others fell silent, too, a contrast to their happy chatter from before. It was like they were feeling something wasn't quite right.
"All right," Ayn was the first to speak. "We'll just need to go first inside and bash some heads in."
"Please, don't kill anyone," Edgar said sternly.
"Don't worry, my man," Ayn replied. "I'm an expert at making people take little naps, that's all. They might just get a huge headache, after this, though. Xav and I go first."
"Isn't it a bit too risky?" Cory asked, looking back at Ayn and Xavier.
"Xav throws a mean punch," Ayn grinned. "Sorry, Cory, but I don't see you do that."
Cory pondered over Ayn's words and looked at Xavier. The look on his former Master's face bore no argument. There was little of the Drena Ruler apparent on that face; Xavier had changed, emerged as a different man, and his face was now tanned by the desert sun, and his steely grey eyes had another quality to them, something wild and determined, unlike what Cory could remember from before.
"We go in, we solve the issue of guards lying around, doing nothing, and then we open the gates wide for everybody. In and out, no one will suspect a thing. Of course, we might need to use some of that firepower to suppress the guys that will come after us, in case they sound the alarm too early."
"You know a lot about Teran, Ayn," Cory noticed.
"My favorite place to shop. These guys have everything."
"Be careful," Cory said.
"It's okay, mom," Ayn laughed.
"I'm coming with you," Cory said right away, and his voice sounded determined, even to his own ears.
"Let the boy play with you," Marcus urged Ayn. "He may be scrawny, but we all were like this."
"Not you, Marcus," Ayn shot back with a large grin. "You were always big. Your mom had to work six days and six nights to get you out of her belly."
"No shit," Marcus laughed. "So you were one of the midwives, holding my mom's hand? No wonder you can't shoot for shit."
"We're getting close," Xavier interrupted them. "I hope you were clear, Marcus, when you told the others to wait for us to clear the entrance and give them the signal."
"Sure thing, Your Majesty," Marcus nodded.
Marcus slowed down, letting them at a fair distance from the entrance. Cory could not suppress the heavy pressure he felt descending upon him like a veil made of lead, as they continued to close in to the city.
Their steps into the sand were making strange sounds. Like they were the only sounds. Cory looked around. There was not a bird in the sky, not a single growl from desert animals. Nothing moved.
He had a strong sense of foreboding, as he threaded behind Ayn and Xavier.
"Something's not right," he spoke.
The two men in front turned to look at him.
"What do you mean, Cory?" Xavier's inquisitive eyes searched for Cory.
"There is just too much silence," he explained.
"So everybody's off to dinner," Ayn shrugged. "Plus, it's not like you could hear anything through those heavy doors, anyway."
"No, I don't mean just the city. There's just nothing," Cory insisted.
Xavier remained silent, but he turned slowly to face Teran, not one half a mile away.
"Cory is right," the former Ruler spoke.
"Shit," Ayn mumbled. "What the hell is this supposed to mean?"
"We have to find out," Xavier began marching toward the entrance, with steady steps.
"Really? We do?" Ayn said, but there was no humor in his voice now, just apprehension.
Cory hurried after them.
For minutes, they remained silent, but now, all three of them were throwing cautious looks around.
They stopped in front of the large gates. Ayn hurried to brush off the security panel that appeared to be covered in fine dust.
"They should do a bit of cleaning once in a while," Ayn joked. "Now let's see if I can wire us in."
Cory stepped closer, looking at the security panel, too.
"Isn't this odd?" he spoke out loud.
"What?" Ayn replied, while he began punching in numbers, while holding a small device in his hand.
Cory had learned from Edgar that it was some sort of a magnetic device that could override the components in the security panel. The scientist had worked on improving that, too.
"This dust," he touched the edge of the panel, gathering some powder on the tip of his fingers.
"Really, Cory, not the time for playing the house maiden. I need to work on getting us in," Ayn replied, his attention focused on the device in his hand and the security panel.
"I don't think there's any need," Xavier drew their attention. "The gate appears to be open."
"Now that's fucking strange," Ayn murmured, raising his eyes from his work. "They never forget this open. That much I know."
Xavier didn't reply. Instead, he grabbed the heavy handle and pulled toward him. Cory and Ayn hurried to join him, the latter reaching for his gun.
"I don't think there's any need for that, either," Xavier shook his head, and pushed the large gate open widely.
Cory knew, instinctively, what he was going to see, but he looked anyway. On the large corridor opening in front of them, lay clothes covered in the same dust of a whitish color from the security panel. They looked like guard uniforms, as far as he could tell. As if on cue, the wind began wailing.
"What the fuck is this?" Ayn murmured, giving a voice to everything all the three of them were thinking.
"It looks like the test was a resounding success, Head Trainer," one of the grey hoods spoke.
"As expected. No sign of life from Teran?"
"None whatsoever. What should we do about Lord Lucas? He appears to be unconscious," another Trainer asked.
"He will come to his senses," the Head Trainer replied.
"But is he capable to carry on our work?"
"He will be. Enough to bring our plan to fruition."
"He might become damaged beyond repair."
"That is not a matter of concern. When his role is finished, we will no longer have a need for him anymore," the Head Trainer spoke.
The grey hoods moved out of the room, in silence. The Head Trainer sat at the long table, taking in the human slouched in the iron chair. The weariness was going to fade, he decided, watching his hands and willing their trembling away. Not long until he could claim true rest. The plan was going to succeed, and his existence's work was going to be complete.
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