And his eyes have all the seeming
Of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming
Throws his shadow on the floor,
And my soul from out that shadow,
That lies floating on the floor,
Shall be lifted--nevermore.
- Poe, The Raven (st. 18)
They watched each other from opposite corners, staying as far apart as was possible in the elevator. Two pairs of wary blue eyes, hands near the places where weapons would have hung – only that, because of situations like this, Cavalry Command had instituted a total weapons ban. Technically they were no longer enemies. But the habits and enmities of years could not be forgotten because of a piece of paper and a few scribbled signatures.
The elevator lurched to a stop. Jesse stumbled as he lost his balance, throwing out a hand against the steel wall. He was mildly annoyed to see that Saber hadn't lost his balance – hadn't even uncrossed his arms. The two soldiers stared at the red light blinking on the control-panel.
"The power's out," Jesse commented.
It was a wholly unnecessary observation – but he made it anyway. There was something in the tense set of Saber's jaw, the flicker of…something in his eyes, that intrigued the Outrider lieutenant.
"It's been a bad week for you, hasn't it?" Jesse said, mockingly. Now it was his turn to casually lean against the wall, watching curiously as Saber stalked across the elevator.
Every jerky step broadcasted the taller man's sudden agitation. He stood in front of the control-panel, fists clenched, glaring down at the lights and buttons as if they had insulted him personally.
"I mean, first they dismantle your precious Ramrod…"
Saber began to jab at the buttons on the panel, hard and fast and almost convulsively. A few other warning lights began to shine beside the first red diode.
"And then you have to play nice with us – that must rankle you something fierce, huh, Tin Star?"
Now Saber was concentrating all his efforts on one button, pressing it so hard that Jesse half-wondered if the thing would just up and stick into its socket.
He went on, in the same mocking, derisive voice, "…canceled leave… CC's going to slash their budgets…and they even made you leave your pigsticker at home."
He sighed, sardonically deep. "Sucks to be you."
"Shut the bloody hell UP, Blue!"
Saber whirled, so suddenly that Jesse straightened in reflex and actually tried to back into his corner. He stared in vague shock at the Highlander snarling at him. Even when he was new-come to the Academy, and Saber was only a fourth-year cadet, not yet a New Frontier legend, everyone had been commenting on how hard it was to shake the boy's famous composure. All throughout his strange relationship with the Star Sheriffs, he'd never seen Saber so unhinged as he was now.
And for what?
The tableau held for several eternities, and Jesse was surprised to find that his heart was pounding in his chest. In a few seconds, Saber had schooled his face back into blandness. His eyes gleamed weirdly in the harsh emergency lighting.
Saber broke the stare first, brusquely turning his head away. He began to pace across the length of the elevator, his head bowed, his steps hurried and violent. Jesse opened his mouth to speak, couldn't, found he had to lick his dry lips.
"What's eating you, Rider?"
Saber froze in mid-step, his head coming up slowly. He gazed blankly at some point on the elevator's ceiling and began to laugh – a strange, hollow sort of laugh. The hairs on the back of Jesse's neck stood up. He began to wish, very fervently, that he had his pistol with him. Or, better yet, that he safely ensconced within the cockpit of his Badlander. The fact that Saber was similarly unarmed was of little comfort.
Saber resumed his restless pacing, still chuckling oddly under his breath. Jesse had moved away from the wall, shifting into a combat stance. He tracked the other man with his eyes, always making sure he was in Jesse's direct line of sight. Memories of old classes about combat-induced mental illnesses – what the soldiers called 'See-me's', bucking for a mental-health discharge – began to float to the front of his mind.
Saber suddenly stopped pacing, and Jesse tensed for action. But all the blond Star Sheriff did was stare into space, almost dreamily, eyes glazed as though he was looking at something very far away.
"It's almost time," he mumbled, as if to himself. Slowly, he swung his gaze round to stare at Jesse.
"You need to get out of here, Blue."
Jesse couldn't agree more. But he could see no way out of the elevator – the air vents were too small to fit even a child, and there were no access hatches. The elevators had been designed so that CC would be protected from Outrider incursion. Kinda funny that now they wouldn't protect an Outrider from a CC operative.
Jesse startled as Saber suddenly dug his fingers into the thin hairline crack between the elevator doors. With a wheezing creak, followed by the ear-jarring rasp of metallic parts scraping over each other, Saber began to force the doors open. Jesse stared in blank astonishment. The doors were constructed from massive slabs of eight-inch-thick valethium, the densest metal known to either Outriders or humans. They should have weighed at least three tons each.
So how was that damned Rider moving them?
The lights blinked on again, distracting Saber from his task. Both of them looked around, almost wildly, as the power came back on. Jesse saw an expression of deep relief cross his rival's face, and wondered at the sheer intensity of the emotion. The doors Saber had been forcing open slammed together again.
Saber spun around as a repetitive pounding began. "What?! No!" he shouted, and began to hammer at the doors with his fists. An artificial female voice informed them, in a voice too soft and pleasant for Jesse's nerves right now, "Magnetic locks have been engaged. Please remain in the elevator until certified CC personnel have released you. This is for your own safety."
She repeated the message in two other languages – Jesse thought he recognized a little Spanish, but was lost as to what the other was – before the power cut again.
Even the emergency lights failed to turn back on. Jesse cursed under his breath and fished around for the penlight he kept in his pockets. He'd had to argue with a bunch of CC Security who were sure it was some sort of insidious Outrider weapon, but he was very glad now he'd taken the trouble.
He flicked it on, and then took an involuntary step backwards as two points in the darkness flared at the same time. He looked closer, and found that they were only Saber's eyes, reflecting the flashlight's gleam.
The Star Sheriff had slid down the wall to a sitting position, resting his arms on top of his knees and letting his head droop. Every inch of him portrayed immense exhaustion.
He looked up at Jesse, and the look in his blue eyes – turned an odd yellow color by the flashlight – was a mixture of weariness and apology. And Jesse, with a sick sinking feeling, wondered what he was apologizing for.
"I'm sorry, Jesse."
He'd used his first name.
Okay, now was the time to conclude that something very bad was about to happen. Jesse backed himself as far away as he could, as quickly as he could, from the slumping Star Sheriff.
Wait…he wasn't slumping…
He was changing.
Jesse stared in horrified fascination. Because it was fascinating, not really very ugly at all – and in a way, that was worse. It was like looking at the flashing orange dance of flames, and not understanding that it was going to burn you to ashes – or, knowing it would, but so enthralled that you no longer cared. Something inside Jesse yammered at him to go away! Away! Now! Nownownownownow…
But he couldn't listen. Where could he go, anyway?
When Jesse Blue disappeared from Yuma, the peace talks came to a screeching halt. Most of CC could not honestly say that they were terribly disappointed – not because they were opposed to a ceasefire, but because no one had really believed that the talks would succeed.
They doubted that Blue had really come to any harm. Probably, they complained to each other, he had sneaked off-world in order to give the Outriders an excuse to stop the talks. And now he'd first-hand knowledge, updated knowledge, of Yuma's defenses. And they'd dismantled Ramrod, one of CC's best weapons in the war.
So, they did not search very hard, at the Admiral's request, for Blue's body. He was still alive, and probably scheming in the Vapour Zone, the traitor.
There really was no sign of him. He hadn't been caught by the surveillance systems at all. He hadn't left so much as a fingerprint on any of the ways down to the main exits. And there were no tracks to indicate he had left the base on foot.
So they shrugged, and returned to base, and began to again prepare for upcoming battles.
And something sang to the night, crying like the empty winds.
This elevator challenge - I looked it up after reading Claudia's excellent fic - was exactly what I needed to jump over my writer's block. Not that it's a very witty fic, mind. (looks apologetic) There isn't that much dialogue. Sorry. But I wanted to try writing something different, and so... (shrugs)
If Saber can be a vampire, why not this? I love werewolves. Not the Hollywood type, but the ones in stories and legends and stuff. :P
Title comes from the Runic alphabet. Pertho, the fourteenth rune of the Futhark, stands for Cup (Hidden Mysteries or Transformation). Thought it fit.