The moment Sandra blacked out, miles away, Garith stood up. His thinking time was up. He exited the Café, leaving a full mug of cold coffee on the table behind him. He produced a second pair of sunglasses from an inside pocket in his jacket and replaced the pair he was wearing. This pair was mechanical. Now whoever was watching through his eyes would be completely blind. A few moments later he stepped into a red phone booth outside of a post office.
The phone calls took longer than he would have liked, but they were very encouraging. The blueprint was on its way to and everything else was in process. This was a wild, desperate sort of plan, even on Garith’s scale, which would have sent it off the graph on anyone else’s.
He had just one thing to attend to before meeting Mylad.
He took the stairs to the underground two at a time. The long hallway plastered with garishly bright advertisements did not distract him. As he entered the tunnel, he caught the last gust and roar of a subway that must have just left the platform.
The middle aged aristocrat sat, legs crossed, today’s paper sprawled casually across his knee and a cigarette dangling from the fingers of his relaxed left hand. His hat was tipped down, obscuring his eyes, and his hair was messed so that it covered his distinct cheekbones. He barely glanced in Garith’s direction, as the younger man took a seat beside him.
“When I was five,” said Garith, without introducing himself, “my cousin; a girl, with wild yellow hair and a strange stare, told me that when I grew up, I wouldn’t be like other people. She told me I was not normal. I let her bizarre prophesy rule me, until a few weeks ago.”
“I’m sure your childhood was very unpleasant. You’re wasting my time.”
“Everything has spiraled downward since I left. I’m back to—end it all.”
The man looked up with some sharpness on that, but said nothing.
“But I’m almost too late. All hell is about to break out on the world. You know what I mean. I plan to put a stop to it in the next thirty six hours, but until then, the world deserves some warning. Let every normal man and woman look to their defense, and the defense of those weaker than themselves. And if my plan fails, God have mercy.”
“I did not know you were a religious man,” said the stranger, his voice not quite as casual as he meant it to be.
“All of history and the future weigh on my shoulders. I think I am becoming one.” Garith wasn’t even sure what he meant by these words, but he knew, somehow, that they were very true.
Then the aristocrat did something completely unexpected, and Garith hated being surprised. The older man took Garith’s gloved hand in both of his and shook it warmly.
“Despite the worst news you’ve just given me, I’m glad there is someone like you calling the shots,” he stared passionately into Garith’s pale sunglassed face as he spoke, quietly and intensely. “You give me hope, Garith. You give us all hope. You’ll get that normal life you want, or we’ll all die with you.” Then his hand was released and the man tugged down his hat and returned to reading his newspaper.
“I hope that little act doesn’t get him killed,” Garith muttered to himself as he stepped onto the next tube. But even as the stop turned into a blur, he spotted a few of the many body guards who would be scattered nearby to protect such an important person.
The lights flickered as the tube car rushed into the void.
* * * *
Sandra woke to the sound of coughing, the feel of someone shaking her and the most blistering, burning headache she’d ever had.
“Got to wake up before they do,” someone was saying.
“I’m awake, I awake,” she growled, clutching her head, “leave off the shaking, it makes it worse.”
Opening her eyes was one of the more painful experiences of her life, but if felt like a necessity, although she couldn’t say why. The pain was too intense to spare her brain room for remembering.
“What’s going on?” her throbbing eyes didn’t give her much focus, but she could see the intruders littered around the floor. The room was unbearably hot, but only a few dim emergency lights flickered above the doorways.
“I don’t know,” said Malpus. He was kneeling beside her, relieving one of the still men of his gun. “Somehow the heat-lamps maxed out. I wear protective contact lenses as a precaution against something like this happening.”
One of the men across the room stirred.
“We’ve got to get these men under restraint before they come around. Help me, will you?”
Sandra rolled onto her side and then slowly, painfully, staggered to her feet. Malpus produced a length of wire rope and a pair of wire cutters and they began to bind Errand and his men where they lay.
Just then two men burst into the room, gun’s cocked. But Dr. Malpus and Sandra were both holding borrowed weapons and Sandra nearly shot the first man through the heart in surprise. A millisecond before her finger touched the trigger, she lowered her aim and shot the man’s foot. Dr. Malpus was not so merciful. The wounded man fired a few poorly aimed shots before Dr. Malpus knocked the gun from his hand and wrestled him to the ground.
“You didn’t have to kill him,” Sandra said, and glanced over at Garith in the corner. He lay just as still and serene as ever. The screen was completely dark.
“So what caused the heat lights to overheat?” Sandra asked as she sank to the ground. It had taken their combined effort to bind the last intruder because he fought them in his half conscious state. A stream of filthy cussing broke out from one of the men, and was joined almost instantly by another.
“Can we gag them or something?” Sandra asked, pushing to her feet and holding her head, which still tormented her, although the pain had receded.
“I didn’t make them overheat, although it’s a good idea. I should have thought of it.” Dr. Malpus rummaged in a cupboard in the corner of the room, apparently looking for some suitable gag-material.
“Malfunction?” Sandra asked.
Dr. Malpus stopped his rummaging to stare at her. He slowly shook his head. Then he said, “Come here a minute,” and headed for the door into the kitchen, gesturing for her to follow him. He stopped on the far side of the kitchen where he could keep his eye on the captured men through the open door. “It couldn’t be malfunction. Impossible,” he whispered. Clearly, he didn’t want Errand and his men to hear what he was saying. “You got some special ability you’re not telling me about?” he continued in a whisper.
“No,” she whispered flatly.
He pulled out a device and began scanning her. A light flashed softly on the tool when it came to her abdomen. He nodded, a smug look on his face which all too clearly meant: just as I thought.
Sandra clamped her teeth together. What am I? What did Garith turn me into? Some kind of machine?