CHAPTER 41: BROKEN SCORPION
Where am I? Cole wondered as he woke up. He couldn’t see.
Something was weighing down on him, covering his face and chest.
He tried to move his right arm to push it off.
When he came to again, he made a mental note that he was not to move his right arm. It felt like a dislocated shoulder (or at least, it had in that split second before his brain had shut down from the agony.)
He pushed the weight off and very slowly got to his feet.
He looked around (carefully, as it felt as if he’d sprained his neck).
Darkness, walls, garbage.
The thing that had been lying on him had been a body. It was not, as he gazed around, the only one in evidence. In fact, the alleyway only needed a layer of earth over it to qualify as a mass grave.
Did I kill them? he wondered groggily, did I do this?
He took a step.
When he came to again, he made a mental note that his left shin had been broken and that he wasn’t to walk on it.
Cole leaned on the wall to catch his breath, and to consider how he was to get out of the alleyway using only his left arm and his right leg.
Who were all these people, who did this?
So many bodies.
When he caught whoever did this he’d…
Wait, he did it. Didn’t he?
He didn’t remember.
All these bodies.
Who killed them?
I think I have a concussion, Cole thought. Either that, or I took one too many knocks to the head and now I’m permanently brain damaged.
He began to hop along the wall careful not to trip over the bodies that littered the ground.
Where was he?
He could feel heat on his face, and realised that half his helmet had been broken clean off. He put a hand to his face and winced as his fingers met a mass of wet, sticky bruises that felt like bubble wrap. He probably wasn’t looking too pretty right now.
He leaned against the wall and took deep breaths through the open mask.
In front of him, Leonard’s bar burned like a beacon.
Little snippets of memory started floating through his battered brain. Thomas. The riot. They’d overpowered him so he’d broken through and run for the alleyway, not to escape but to force them to come after him and thin their numbers. Classic tactic, at least as old as the Spartans, and they’d probably stolen it from someone else. He had met hundreds of Spartans, and had yet to meet one with an original thought in his head.
But the alley had been considerably wider than he’d remembered.
His train of thought was broken as he heard someone talking through static.
He glanced around.
Cole realised the radio receiver in his helmet was receiving a message, and his hand was halfway to the side of his head before he remember that the receiver was in the left side of the helmet. Which he had presumable left back in the alley.
Only ten feet or so, but he knew that he was going to feel every inch of it.
Swearing and hissing in pain he hobbled back into the dark, stinking embrace of the alleyway.
The dark seemed to mingle with the stench to become something blacker and fouler smelling than both.
His eyes combed the dark for the missing half of the helmet.
“Night vision.” he said, wincing with pain as he did.
But nothing happened. Well, he hadn’t been expecting it to. The helmet’s features would hardly still be working what with it being broken in two and all.
The missing half made one last burst of static and then was silent.
No, no, no…keep talking, keep talking, I can’t find it by sight alone.
He turned over a body and almost whopped with joy as his fingers closed around it. He raised it to his face. It felt good to feel the helmet whole again, like he was putting his head back together.
“Hello? Hello? Blue Room?”
That’s it, thought Cole. I am going to die here. I am going to collapse of pain and exhaustion in this stinking alley and I will never wake up.
“GS, is that you?”
Cole gave a bruised, lopsided, and utterly joyous smile.
“This is Golden Scorpion to Blue Room.”
The Blue Scorpion on the other end sounded relieved.
“Good to hear your voice sir. We had some pretty reliable eyewitness accounts saying you were dead.”
“Well, it would have probably looked like that.” Cole admitted. Sure as hell had felt like it.
“Situation is not good sir. We’ve lost eighty nine reds in the last hour alone and…”
“Soldier listen to me.” said Cole grimly “If you don’t get a green van down to my location in the next twenty minutes I am going to…”
He left his right arm slip and fall.
“…cry like a little girl.” said Cole, fighting back the tears. This was without a doubt the worst pain he had ever been in and he had been worked over by people with fancy degrees in putting the hurt on.
“Sit tight sir. The Greens are on their way.”
“I’m in the alleyway opposite Leonard’s. I’m going to pass out now so tell them to look for the body that’s shinier than the other bodies…”
And Cole breathed in relief and the darkness wrapped him up like a gift
He awoke in the green van to find that the Green Scorpions had opened him up and were removing his organs.
“…what are you doing…?” he mumbled. His mouth felt like it had an anvil tied to his lower jaw with a string. Anaesthetic. They must have flooded him with painkillers.
The Greens wore armour similar to his own, but more lightweight and flexible and painted the colour of poison frogs. There was something very unsettling about watching people perform surgery on you when you couldn’t see their faces. What expression was there? Were their brows furrowed in concentration, or were they grinning at the sight of so much blood?
His mind’s eyes started playing tricks on him, and he thought he could see their faces through the masks, their eyes wide in manic joy, their mouths fixed in psycho-clown smiles. He closed his eyes and prayed for it to be over.
He didn’t trust the greens, never had. They had been trained by Groethuis, just as Cole himself had trained the reds. That in itself was enough to cause concern. And Cole knew that if he was told the histories of the men and women now operating on him, he’d be even more worried. What kind of doctor is destined for hell? The kind you don’t want operating on you.
He could hear a heart monitor somewhere.
He listened as the beeps representing his heartbeat got faster and faster.
I’m nervous, he thought.
I’m nervous, and hearing that’ I’m nervous is making me more nervous.
The greens had stopped, and were looking at the heart monitor. One of them spoke in a language he didn’t recognise and he felt a buzzing in the back of his neck, like a mosquito trapped under his skin.
His hissed in discomfort.
The Babel chip was broken. Groethuis had implanted it in the back of his neck when he had first come to New Gomorrah, as he had with every other soldier in Mabus’ army. It was a tiny piece of plastic smaller than a grain of rice that could instantly translate any of the thousands of languages spoken in the city. Temporal technology, mass produced and turned to Mabus’ own ends. And now it was broken and he couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying.
“Положено ему уснувшему.”
“이렇게 매우. 자야 한다. 그렇습니다.”
“No, please I don’t understand.” Cole protested.
He raised his hand to point to the back of his neck, to show them what was wrong. A hand grabbed his neck and he felt the needle cut into him like he was butter.
Then warm blackness filled his veins and he knew nothing.
The smell that woke him up was new plastic.
They had replaced his helmet with a new one.
Was it strange that they had repaired his armour and put it on him before he had even regained consciousness? No. To them, the broken armour was just another thing to treat. He wasn’t a patient, he was just a broken weapon that needed to be repaired. They made no distinction between the body and the armour.
“We have remade you, sir. Your bones are rebuilt, we have given you fresh organs for some of yours were torn and bleeding. And we have replaced your Babel chip. You are ready again for war.”
The voice was female, Asian accent. Korean maybe?
He took stock, twitching every muscle in his body slightly, to see which ones reported pain. Most of them did, but it was all good pain. Weariness, bruising, no sharp pain. Nothing to warn him that he was bleeding to death.
He opened his eyes.
The Green Scorpion stood before him. They were alone in the van.
Cole shook his head in disbelief. Groethuis had trained them well, he had to give the old creep that much. Fifty minutes to fix broken bones, cuts, contusions and major internal bleeding. They were like machines. He wondered if he took her helmet off what would be underneath. Cogs and wheels?
“What’s been happening?” he asked her.
“There is a place we passed on the way here. So great had been the violence that there was a river of blood running down a street as if on it’s way to the sea. Have you ever seen such a thing, sir? A river of blood.”
Cole shuddered a little. Memories of old stories his mother and other old women had told him. The riots of ’34. The streets of Harlem running red.
“No.” he said.
“It was beautiful.” she whispered.
“Okay.” he said “Okay, I really should…yeah. Okay.”
He raised his hand to his helmet and turned away, as the staring lenses of her helmet were beginning to unsettle him.
“Golden Scorpion to Blue Room.”
“This is Blue Room, what’s your condition sir?”
“Seriously creeped out.” he muttered to himself.
“I want to know everything that’s been going on since I was out. Give me all the data you have on the last hour or so.”
“Patching through to your helmet now, sir.”
The inside of his helmet suddenly flickered into life and he found himself staring at a schematic of the city, with the quarters currently in a state of conflict marked in purple, and red triangles showing the position of Scorpion squads.
“This is not good.”
“Where the Hell is Mabus?”
“We haven’t been able to get through to the Chamber.”
“We never stopped, sir.”
“Yessir. We’ve been trying to hold them back along this line.”
A yellow serrated line appeared on the map, around a third of the way into the centre of the city.
“No. You’re fighting this all wrong.”
“Let’s just say you’re lucky I came to when I did. This isn’t an army we’re fighting. This isn’t one whole. This is around a dozen different mobs. We shouldn’t be fighting them all together, that’s just going to force them to join forces, to cohere. Grudges get settled in times like this. Rivalries flare up. We gotta use that. Set them against each other, let them do our dirty work for us. How many Black Scorpions do we have out there?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have clearance for that information.”
Cole swore under his breath.
“Well find someone who does, and tell them that I want one Black Scorpion in each of these eight clusters I’m seeing south of Xanadu. Get them in with the Spartans and you make damn sure they know about this group of Athenians further East. Same thing with this bunch of Irish Celts who are running amok down here, let them know about the Royal Marines a mile north of them. And pull those Reds out of the shanties.”
“But there’s still some major rioting going on there.”
“What’s the worst they can do? Burn down some tents? We can get more tents.”
“Yessir. Where shall I deploy them instead?”
“Around the Chamber. We need to defend Mabus.”
“Yes sir. Sir?”
“Why are we really deploying them there?”
“Because they are going to ask him very politely when he is planning on stepping in.”
Cole took a sharp breath. He had as good as admitted to a Blue Scorpion that he was planning on using Red Scorpions to threaten Mabus. He half expected to feel a Black Scorpion’s blade pressed against his throat. He turned around.
The green was gone. He was alone. Where was she?
“I’ve relayed your orders sir.” said the voice on the other end.
Cole breathed a sigh of relief.
We’re not beaten yet. We can still win.
He was snapped out of his reverie by a sharp, very disrespectful yell at the other end.
“What are you doing in here?”
Ah no, Cole thought.
“Hey! Hey! Put that! Help!”
Cole could only listen.
Screams. Shots. Chaos. Crashes. Swearing. Screams. Shouts. Screams. Begging. Screams.
And then a voice.
Cole’s hands formed fists at the word.
“Hello? Is there anyone there? Helloooo…?”
Say nothing. Don’t give him the satisfaction.
“Cole? Is that you?”
On any given moment the Blue Room was staffed with eighty Blue Scorpions.
“Cole, I’m afraid I have some rather bad news.”
Eighty men. And he’d just killed them all.
“The Blue Room…well, let’s just say you may want to consider renaming it.”
No, he’d killed more than that. Every Red Scorpion in the field would suddenly find that they were fighting blind, with no one to tell them the enemy’s position or strength. The Green Vans would be driving directionless, not knowing where the injured were. With one stroke Thomas Hieronimo had crippled the Scorpions. Now New Gomorrah would burn to ashes, unless Mabus decided otherwise.
“Don’t get killed Cole. Don’t get killed. I think I’m ready for you now.”
And the line went dead.
Cole managed a smile. That, at least, was something to look forward to.
He took off the helmet, it was getting too hot in there. He needed to think.
He leaned against the wall, slowly and methodically banging his head against the side of the van.
On your own now. Where do you go? Where can one man do the most good?
He leapt as if he’d been shocked..
That was Groethuis’ voice.
“Cole, come in if you’re there! Please!”
Cole realised that he had never heard the doctor sound frightened.
“Groethuis what the hell are you doing, where’s Mabus?!” Cole snarled, scooping up the helmet.
Cole felt his stomach fall into a pit.
“Cole listen to me.”
“It was Thomas and Holtz, they broke in…”
“We are dead. We are deader than dead. We are Rasputin dead.”
“I’m going to try and resuscitate him but I need you to listen to me.”
“Wait what? What!? You can do that?”
“I’m going to try.”
“What are his chances?”
“Well let me see, he’s over six hundred years old and he’s been shot dead. What do you think?”
“We’ll, I’m no fancy big city doctor…”
“No. Now listen to me. There are two girls.”
“Yes. Girls. The opposite of boys. Little girls. One of them has ringlets, have you grasped the concept? They are in the medical tower and Thomas is on his way to murder them.”
“I don’t know! It’s just his day for killing people, he’s got a real thing going! Now you get your shiny golden backside to the Tower and you stop him and you bring them here!”
“No, I’m asking why the hell did you bring two girls here to this place?! With these people?! What is your problem!!?”
There was silence.
Even Cole had to admit, the rage had taken him by surprise.
“Are you done?” said Groethuis.
“Do you know what you have to do?”
“Then get going.”
The line went dead.
Groethuis put down the speaker and turned to the operating table.
Mabus lay there, seven foot of bone and wrinkled skin. Age had eaten every trace of human-seeming from him, licking the signs of smiles and laughter and tears from his face until nothing was left but a mummy face, a corpse face.
As Groethuis looked at him, he felt no sense that this was a fellow human being, even a dead one. He was something other now. He had long outlived his own humanity. And no one could say what he was now, because no one had ever gone through what he had. Now, he was simply Mabus. The original. The first, the last. Mabus, sui generis.
“Well Master.” said Groethuis as he disinfected his hands “Shall we enter the record books?”