My noble intentions sounded a lot better in my head than they did in practice, however. With each step, my paranoia grew. It was still down here and at any moment I was liable to run into it again. I wished I had a weapon of some kind. Even though it would probably have been useless against that thing, it would have made me feel better. Like maybe I had a chance.
I rounded a corner and saw a dark bloodstain oozing from beneath a closed door. I knew that Scilla and Murphy lay dead behind that door and my stomach tightened. I turned at the next opportunity and found myself in a dark room that resonated with a bassy hum which made my teeth vibrate against one another. The only light came from flickery blue strip lighting which dimly illuminated a path that extended to a door at the other end of the room. I proceeded slowly between the light strips, squinting as my eyes adjusted to the gloom. The room was conspicuously large and high-ceilinged. An enormous barrel-like silhouette dominated most of the room and the humming sound came from it. A mini-nuke reactor, I realized. It probably powered the entire Arena and would of course be a nearly limitless supply of energy for Wayne's nefarious enterprises.
That meant, though, that wherever Wayne conducted those enterprises was likely close by, perhaps through that next door. I tried to brace myself, but found that I was already strangely calm. I had settled into the same state of emotionless resolve which I had trained myself to enter into before an Arena fight. I thought about the wild panic I had felt only minutes ago and easily suppressed it. I couldn't afford to be like that anymore. I was no longer a person. I was a killer. I was a survivor. Wayne had created Vengeance to be a ruthless killing machine. But he had inadvertently done the same thing to me. Wayne, you made me a weapon, I thought. Now you're going to have that weapon used against you.
I stopped near the door where a workbench was piled high with equipment. I coldly evaluated the tools which would become my murder weapons. A wrench, a pair of cable cutters, a short coil of wire. I wrapped the wire about my shoulder, tucked the cutters in my belt, and hefted the wrench in one hand. I was armed. I was ready. I opened the door.
This was clearly Kamarov's laboratory. My eyes quickly took in a milisecond's worth of whitewashed walls, bright lights, stainless steel countertops, computers, beakers, and instruments I had neither the time nor the inclination to examine. But I paid virtually no attention to any of this, because lying flat on a sort of oversized examination table in the center of the room was Vengeance, arms at his sides, wings draping over the edges of the table like ragged tablecloths. A mask was fixed to his snout which seemed to be feeding him some sort of sedative, because he lay motionless and unfettered.
I took one last glance about the room, then strode quickly to the table. Vengeance seemed fine, but for a few tubes connected to his arms, so I reached out and removed the mask. It took only about ten seconds before the huge creature began to stir and then, slowly, open his eyes. Those familiar, glittering black pupils locked onto mine, and suddenly his arm shot out and his fingers tightened around my neck.
I couldn't move or breathe; I couldn't say anything as Vengeance sat up and snarled at me. I gazed pleadingly at him. The claws of his other hand flashed as he raised them to finish me off. And then a flicker of recognition sparked in his eyes. He lowered his claws and released my throat.
I fell to the floor gasping. It was a miracle he hadn't crushed my windpipe, but I knew it was badly bruised all the same. Fairy-like lights swam at the corners of my vision as oxygen returned to my brain and the room pitched disorientingly around me. For a full minute I was completely incapacitated. Vengeance stood silently above me, but I couldn't even lift my head to look at him. Finally, as my gasps subsided and the room slowed its spinning, Vengeance spoke.
"Gavin Ryder." It wasn't a question, but he spoke my name uncertainly, as though looking for confirmation.
I nodded and looked up.
"You came back." His tone was still uncertain.
I nodded again.
"I am sorry," he said after a moment.
I wasn't about to waste breath on an injured retort, so I made an ambiguous gesture with my hand.
"We have to get out of here," I choked out. "There's this thing . . . it's going to kill us."
"It's going to try," growled Vengeance, lifting me to my feet as though I were a child.
"Do you know where Lucatz is?" I rasped, touching my neck gingerly.
"Who is that?"
"I do not know. I have been asleep for . . . I am not sure how long."
"We have to find him," I said.
"No need," said a voice, which I instantly recognized as Jeremy Wayne's. He stood in the doorway with Lucatz. Lucatz's hands were cuffed behind him with razor tape and Wayne held a laser beneath his chin.
Vengeance let out a truly frightening roar and for a moment I feared he would spring on the two of them and mince them both. But his roar was echoed by a low growl that somehow chilled me more than Vengeance's violent outburst. An enormous shadow was moving behind Wayne and Lucatz in the bluish darkness of the reactor room, a shadow even larger than Vengeance.