The sound and pictures faded. I stared at the blank patch of dark, crumbling concrete where the scene had just vanished. Long streams of luminous blue text were now flickering onto the wall from the File's tiny projector, but I barely noticed. In my mind, I was reliving the images that had just been displayed on that wall. Wet, slimy limbs unfurling themselves; and after them, two leathery, batlike wings.
"It was Vengeance," I said. "It was always about Vengeance." A numb feeling of partial understanding and frustration had settled over me, and I wasn't sure if I had the energy to sort it all out just yet. I tightened the scarf around my throbbing hand and turned to Kris.
"All that time I spent in that cell with him, and I never knew — I never really asked him. . . ."
But Kris, in turn, seemed to be coming to a realization of her own. She was staring at the words scrolling down the wall, though, like me, she didn't appear to see them at all. Their bluish light shone in her eyes and her mouth had fallen open slightly.
"A warrior race. . ." she read quietly. And then her head snapped toward me.
"Of course!" she cried. "Of course! Dmitriy Kamarov. He was a scientist from Rimeland. Maybe he still is, I don't know. Years back he made news in the political community when he said he'd found a way to blend the genetic index of humans and other animals. He got into a lot of legal trouble over it and there were a bunch of international councils debating it. This was before the Rimish Civil War. I remember because my father was the Scarabine delegate involved with the whole ordeal."
I nodded. I wasn't sure if I had ever heard of Kamarov before, but I remembered the Rimish Civil War. Before it, tensions between the countries of the World Coalition had been poised on the brink of war with Rimeland. In the Underurbs, Lucatz and I had made good money smuggling weapons in and out of Alarbor to the Rimish.
Kris pressed on, breathless.
"Kamarov was the one in the recording. Kamarov created Vengeance."
"And the Wayne brothers must've bribed or stolen this file off of him," I said slowly. It felt like I had been trying to fit a key into a lock, trying my whole life, only to find now that it had been the wrong key. And here at last was the key that fit. The pins were aligning in my head.
"This is it," I said, pointing to the complicated genetic data and biometric formulae flowing down the wall. "It's all here. All the information you'd need to create a living killing machine. That's why Wayne wanted me dead so badly. He thought I might have peeked at what was inside the File. That's why the price on our heads is so high. He's terrified we might leak the truth to the wrong people."
I ground to a halt. "But then," I continued, less sure of myself now, "why was Vengeance at the Arena with me? Why isn't he in some secret laboratory or something?"
"He must be the prototype," said Kris. "What better place to make sure your killing machine works than at an illegal gladiatorial arena? Let's face it, the people in charge of that place weren't the type to ask any questions."
"And that's how Vengeance knew Jeremy Wayne!" I exclaimed. Kris looked puzzled. "Wayne came to my cell once," I explained, "and when Vengeance saw him — he went berserk. He wanted to kill him. Vengeance told me after that Wayne had tortured him. That's all he could remember from when he was a child: whips and blades and pain. . . ."
My voice trailed off. Kris looked horrified. After a minute of watching the mesmerizing blue equations, she finally voiced the question that had been working its way to the front of my mind for some time now.
"Well, their prototype works. What do you think he'll do with the File now? He still has the original, doesn't he?"
"I don't know," I said in answer to both questions.
The blue light seeped away as the Kamarov File's battery exhausted itself, leaving the two of us in the pitch darkness once more. I pocketed the tiny datachip, my eyes staring blankly at where the projection had been, seeing its afterimage flash behind my eyelids every time I blinked. And yet, my last words seemed to echo around my head for far longer than the afterimage remained emblazoned on my retinas.
I don't know.