Fate of Frailty Chapter 25

By Karen Hart

There was an eerie silence as Gaignun and Canaan stepped through the opened hatch into what would be the Durandal's bridge—a hatch that should've been sealed tight and guarded constantly. But the guards in question were probably dealing with the dockside shootout. Or shot. That too. Gaignun suppressed a shiver that tried to move down his spine, the word trap repeating in his mind on a loop. There were no sounds, no scuffling of shoes (excepting their own), no soft rattle of chairs being turned, no thump of bodies hitting the consoles as they hid.

"I'm not picking up anything," Canaan muttered a moment later and frowned. "Are you sure we've picked the right place?"

Gaignun said nothing for a moment, too focused on the silence. "Not at all," he said then. "But this place has trap written all over it, so I'm inclined to go in."

"And you came to this conclusion just how exactly?"

A short, humorless laugh escaped Gaignun's lips. "Because I want to know what's going on, and this seems like the most promising route to finding out."

Behind them, the hatch shut.

---

"Thanks for closing the door. Wouldn't want anyone just walking in, you know?" The man went back to assembling the firearm, humming off-key as he worked. "Ah…ah. Let go of the door handle," he admonished when he saw Shelley slowly turning the latch. "I can't very well let you just walk out and report me. –So what're the two of you doing in a head with a shady guy like me?" He asked this with a grin and a rakish wave of the gun.

It was Shelley who answered, her sister shaking too much to form a coherent sentence, though she had trouble keeping her own voice steady. "We were just removing the old food trays from the rooms. We thought maybe you were a janitor and then when we didn't hear anything so we came in and—" Self-preservation made her ramble.

"—and you found me here," the man finished. "You know, that was a pretty big streak of luck, you know that? I mean, what are the chances you'd come across an armed intruder here, on your own? I mean, you should be commended." There was nothing mocking or condescending about his tone, only what seemed like genuine admiration for the girls' discovery. He switched subjects. "So you've been helping out the hospital staff, huh?" They both nodded. "That's real nice of you, you know. I hope they've appreciated all the assistance."

The two of them stared at him, confused and then frightened as he suddenly shot up and, with his left hand shoved Shelley against one wall, bending her arm at a painful angle against her back, and with his right aimed the gun at Mary's head. "I really should clarify—when I said you were really lucky I meant I was really lucky." Shelley struggled against his grip, and whimpered in pain as he bent her arm further. Both girls started to cry. He ignored them.

Suddenly the man loosened his grip on Shelley for one brief moment, taking a step back to bludgeon Mary with the heavy pistol. A split second later he knocked Shelley to the floor, and was holding her face down a second after that. She felt something slip into the slot in her neck, the slot she had forgotten, neglected—and then she saw the Network flashing in front of her eyes.

Upload in progress…

---

The silence persisted again after the hatch shut, as unnerving as it'd been before. But they proceeded anyway, but there aren't anything else to do but stand there and imagine what would happen, and that would've been far worse. It wasn't long before they were standing at the far end of the bridge, both of them surveying the area and then turning as one as a single screen came to life.

There was no picture, only static: it was an audio transmission. "You're a shrewd man, Mr. Kukai. Or Nigredo. Or Unit 669. Whichever name you go by. –Yes, yes, we know about you," the voice—a gravelly, male voice—said irritably as Gaignun opened his mouth to speak. "We know about you and the lies you've been perpetuating against these fine people. Well, I suppose not all of them are fine," the man amended, "but you have lied to them, haven't you, with your whole 'estranged son of an industrialist' scam. It's disgusting, you know that? Typical behavior of a Variant." They got the impression that the man behind the voice was shaking his head in dismay.

After a moment it seemed as though the voice had quit talking for the time being, and Gaignun deemed it a good opportunity to ask questions. "So why don't you tell us just what you're up to? We're a captive audience." He was glad Jr. wasn't there to hit him in the kidneys for that remark.

The voice grunted in surprise. "Why would I tell you anything? Don't you think I know a delay tactic when I hear one?"

Gaignun shrugged, feeling the gesture wasn't wasted at all. He's probably got a few cameras set up somewhere, he thought, eyes trailing the overhead. "I just thought that announcing your plans was part of the whole villain itinerary," he answered easily.

"Villain?" the voice asked, still in that surprised tone. "Hardly. After all, I am doing everyone a great service in this. But it does add a certain amount of drama to the moment, doesn't it?" A chuckle exploded over the speakers for one brief second. "I always did love that part of a show, where the bad guy started telling everyone all the things he intended to do. Very well!" At that moment gas started leaking into the room.

"I suppose I'd better be quick about this."