Nightmares

Scilla's crossbow swiveled around like a hungry cobra's head, searching for the source of the noise. Murphy squinted down the barrel of his massive electromag railgun. I stood a little ahead of both of them feeling extremely vulnerable. My associates hadn't deemed it necessary for me to carry a weapon.

No one appeared, however, and the screams finally died down to agonized moans.

"It's coming from there," said Scilla, pointing her crossbow at a door to the left. "Open it, Ryder."

I didn't have much of a choice. I crept hesitantly forward and touched a switch next to the door which hissed hydraulically open.

The room beyond the door was small, dingy, and reeked of human waste. There was no light source in the room, but what filtered through from the passage outside illuminated a large cage, like something one might see at a zoo on the surface. But there was no exotic animal in the cage. There was a sliver of a man, lying crookedly at the bottom among some rags that had long since ceased to resemble clothing. It was from his twitching frame that the moans were coming.

I approached cautiously and the man angled his skull-like face toward me. A weedy gray beard tangled his cheeks and his eyes crouched back in his sockets fearfully. His groaning voice sounded somehow familiar, though I couldn't place exactly why.

"Where's Wayne?" demanded Scilla, aiming her crossbow through the bars. The man stared dumbly back at her, his lips trembling. I crouched down close to his face.

"What's your name?" I asked quietly, staring into the old man's eyes.

The man's lips continued to tremble and tears glazed his eyes so they looked like shiny black marbles.

"He's useless. Wayne's addled his brains," said Murphy tacitly from the doorway. "Finish him off and let's go."

"Wait," I said. The man's moans had become wheezing whimpers. There was something so familiar about this man. The seconds dragged by and the stench clawed at my nostrils.

"Get out of the way, Gavin," said Scilla.

I hesitated a second longer, then started to move. I could not even deny that a quick death at Scilla's hands might be more humane than allowing the man to expire on his own.

"Dmitriy Kamarov," rasped the man. "That's what they called me."

I froze. His time in the cage had gone a long way toward making him unrecognizable, but I suddenly realized where I'd heard his voice before. The File. This was him: the man who had created Vengeance and unknowingly shaped my fate.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

Kamarov's whole body was trembling now. His glassy eyes wandered over me and past me as though I were not there. He began to moan again.

"What's wrong?" I asked uselessly. The moans were intensifying into terrified yelps.

"They're giving him this," said Scilla who had crossed to a stark metal desk by the wall. In her hands she held a vial of clear liquid fitted to a hypodermic syringe. "Phobine."

I knew the stuff from my days with the Blood Hawks, though thankfully I had never experienced its effects. Phobine was a powerful hallucinogen which triggered terrifying, mind-warping visions and which had driven more than one man insane. It was used as a psychological torture agent by the Federation Investigators. They had threatened to use it on me when I was captured. I'd told them everything they wanted to hear to save myself from it.

I joined Scilla at the desk. A neat row of loaded hypodermics lay on a sterilized cloth.

"Is the antidote here?" I asked.

"There is no antidote," said Scilla. "He'll be like this for hours more, probably. We're wasting time."

Scilla glanced back at Kamarov. I slipped a hypodermic off of the desk and into my pocket, careful not to prick myself.

"It is more dangerous this time," rattled Kamarov suddenly, "more terrible. It cannot be controlled."

There was no need to ask what it was, because a moment later, we could hear it: savage shrieks that splintered down the corridors like glass. Thunderous footsteps. Then silence.

"I have created a true monster this time," breathed Kamarov.

My eyes met his for a moment and it was difficult to say who was experiencing the greater nightmare.

The End

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