Authors: James Axler
Barat spoke from a chair beside the bed. “You are awake.”
“I am surprised to be alive.”
The baron held up Nero's massive double-barreled blaster. “The weapon was loaded with rock salt. Nevertheless, it is of .75 caliber, and I am afraid I gave you both barrels.”
“Nevertheless, I am still surprised you have let me live. I admit I had every intent of slaying both you and your son.”
“Well, that is understandable given the circumstances,” the baron conceded.
“I am forgiven?” Doc asked warily.
“Most assuredly not.” The baron smiled like a shark. “And not to unduly alarm you, Doctor, but the reason you remain alive is that our conversation is not yet finished.”
Barat leaned over Doc, his black eyes examining him as if he were an insect. “And given your past resistance, I fear the remainder of our conversation shall not take place in my library over cordials.”
Doc unconsciously pressed himself back into the pillows as far as he could.
The baron raised a calming hand and leaned back once more. “I believe you have more companions coming through the mat-trans, Dr. Tanner. Depending
upon their affection for you, there is a chance you may prove of use as a bargaining chip.”
Doc wasn't sure how much affection Ryan had for him, but the man's loyalty to his friends was iron. Doc's greatest concern was that Ryan would get himself slaughtered trying to effect his escape. He knew if Ryan were alive he would try, and so would the rest.
Barat gave Doc an inscrutable smile. “Andâ¦”
Doc regarded Barat warily. “And?”
“And Sylvano has spoken in your favor.”
Doc went from alarm to surprise. “Oh?”
“Yes, he is prevailing upon me to make you his tutor and fencing master. I am of two minds about this. I will tell you honestly, Doctor, your cooperation from this point on will have a great deal of influence on your prospects for survival, the survival of your friends and your own possible employment. No matter what the final outcome, you will tell me what I wish to know, willingly or unwillingly.”
Doc shivered despite the warmth of the fire and the covers. He would be damned if he gave Baron Barat one thing more, but nonetheless he shook. This was not the first time he had been brought down despite his best efforts and been taken captive. Bile rose in Doc's throat. Terror racked his brain. Nor would it be the first time he had been humiliated, tortured and broken. Cold sweat burst upon his brow, and the spiders of madness began spinning their webs around his consciousness. Memories he strove to suppress rose. The damaged dikes of lucidity he struggled to shore every waking moment began to crumble once more.
Alarm bells in the ville cut Doc's downward spiral and began ringing like hope.
Doc knew without a doubt his friends were coming for him.
“You think your friends come for you?” Barat inquired.
Doc was sure of it but shook his head. He searched through his tattered psyche for the courage he had found when he had faced down the baron and his son in the study. Doc was insufferably pleased that though he was bound and helpless and facing torture and death, a small, mostly hidden reservoir still remained. With the flickering candle of hope that his friends lived Doc found that he was still prepared to die. “No, but you have given them great offense, and they will make murder among your people until you see the error of your ways.”
Barat sighed wearily. “Pray that you are wrong, Dr. Tanner.”
“Forgive my impertinence, but if I may ask, by what reason should I devoutly desire such a consummation?”
The baron shook his head. “Because if your companions do not fall into the hands of myself and my men this night, they will most assuredly fall into the hands of my brother.”
Doc was not entirely sure what Barat meant, but he felt his guts turn to ice at the remark. “I fear I am not entirely sure I understand you, Baron Barat.”
“I fear I am not entirely in control of this island, Dr. Tanner.” The baron stared out inscrutably through the heavy iron bars that secured the window and into the night. “And I fear your friends are in terrible peril.”
Jak moved among his enemies. A crowd was gathering in front of the church, and he walked up and joined it. Father Joao was waving his arms, exhorting the mob in whatever speak he spoke. Ryan said it was Portuguese, whatever that meant. To Jak it did sound like the talk he'd heard in Amazonia. The islanders began moving off in heavily armed detachments. Father Joao turned and stalked into his church. Jak followed silently. Joao wasn't even aware he had a shadow until he was halfway down the pews. The priest jumped in alarm and whirled. His pale face flushed crimson with anger, and he began spouting off and pointing toward the door. Joao's jaw dropped in shock as Jak raised the double blaster he carried in each hand. One he leveled at Joao's guts. He used the muzzles of the other to push up the brim of his hat. Jak's blood-red gaze regarded Father Joao rather critically over the rims of the smoked lenses and his smile rearranged the scars on his face.
The priest went white again.
“Boat,” Jak said. “Now.”
Father Joao's eyes flew wide and he launched back into his outraged arm waving. He switched back to English for Jak's benefit. “Listen, fool! Your life and those of your friends are in my hands! Drop your weapons now andâ”
Jak rammed the twin-muzzled blaster into Father Joao's solar plexus. “Shut it.”
The priest's pale face fisted in agony as he shut it and dropped to his knees.
Jak replaced the blaster in his right hand with the .357 Magnum Colt Python from under his coat to let Joao know they were dealing in lead rather than rock salt. “You. Me.” Jak tipped the black hat back down and jerked his head to snap the dark glasses back in place. “Wharf. Your boat.”
Father Joao sucked wind but managed a disparaging look. “And just whereâ¦do you thinkâ¦to go?”
“Beach.” Jak glanced to the north. “Two miles. North.”
Father Joao became so scared he lost his English, and Jak was pretty sure it wasn't him he was scared of. Joao was babbling a mile a minute but he kept repeating
“O Baron da Noite! O Baron da Noite!”
and kept waving his hands.
Jak was reminded of Ryan's tale of the cave chiller down on the beach, and he didn't like the sound of
Baron da Noite
at all. “Night baron?”
I mean, yes!”
“Who's night baron?” Jak asked.
Father Joao's eyes got very wide. He spoke a name as if he were afraid its owner might hear. “Raulâ¦”
“Raul's night baron?”
“Xavier's day baron?”
“I am sure he has heard the alarms!”
Jak raised one speculative, snow-white eyebrow. “Raul swim?”
Father Joao blinked in confusion. Jak could tell the question had never occurred to him. In the end it didn't matter. Jak had a job to do. He jerked his blaster toward the harbor. “Move.”
Father Joao cringed in dread. “We will die.”
Jak cocked his blaster. “Chill you now.”
Father Joao's shoulders sagged in resignation. “It might be preferable.” Nevertheless the priest moved toward the door.
“Blast spine if you trick me,” Jak cautioned.
“We will reach the harbor. Beyond that it will be up to you to keep us alive.”
Jak silently slid his Magnum blaster back under his coat. He was already pushing it, and the weapon was completely out of place on this island. He palmed a throwing blade and kept the local blaster ready. “Go.”
Jak saw people rushing this way and that. It looked as though the ville was girding itself for siege. Father Joao walked across the square with a purpose. Jak hustled along slightly behind him and kept his face in the shadow of his hat. So far Ryan's plan was working. A few islanders tipped their hats to the priest in passing, but other than that no one gave Jak a second look. Father Joao hesitated as they reached the wharf, and Jak gave him a prod to keep him moving. There were a score of armed men down on the beach. They had set up barricades with wags and barrels, and guarded the steps up the seawall where Ryan and Doc had entered the ville. The docks themselves were mostly abandoned. The islanders were defending the docks from outside attack and not expecting the enemy to be operating from within. Sailed fishing boats of generally small size and various descriptions were tied up at dock. Most did not have engines.
“Boat,” Jak said. “Which?”
Father Joao pointed. “That is the one I use.”
It was a whaleboat. Jak surveyed the craft. He had spent a great deal of his young life maneuvering canoes, pirogues and rafts through the bayous and could run a skiff, but open ocean sailing was a stretch. The boat was about twenty-eight feet long and the mast was stepped. Jak was relieved to see the boat had a small cobbled-together outboard motor and a jerrican of whatever it was using for fuel. Assuming another storm didn't hit, he could maneuver the craft from island to island. Jak glanced at the tiny iron cannon mounted on a swivel in the prow. A small keg of powder and short iron harpoons were racked next to it.
The albino teen's head snapped around at the sound of footsteps on the dock. One of the islanders was walking toward them. “Who?” Jak muttered.
Father Joao raised a hand in greeting as he spoke low. “That is Thiago, Captain Roque's brother. He is captain of the night-fishing fleet. What shall I tell him?”
“Baron business,” Jak suggested.
“That should suffice,” the priest agreed sourly.
Thiago raised the fishing spear he carried in greeting as he approached. “
, Joao.” He was stocky and broad-shouldered and in the night wore a knit cap rather than the broad hat. A weighted hand net was wound over one shoulder, and he carried a long, single blaster crooked in his elbow. He didn't look happy. The fishing captain and the priest exchanged a few terse words. Thiago scowled at the priest in parting and turned away.
“You said?” Jak whispered.
Thiago spun and let fly with his fishing spear. Jak
dodged, and his throwing blade sang through the air. The range was so short the knife had no time to revolve. The trident-tined spear ripped the hat from Jak's head. The point of Jak's blade punched like a dart into the hollow between Captain Thiago's collarbones. A second blade instantly filled Jak's hand, but there was no need. The night captain dropped with his throat stoppered by steel. Joao's jaw hung open. It had happened so fast he'd had no time to react. Now he found himself staring down the double barrels of Jak's blaster. He raised trembling hands. “Listenâ¦Iâ¦”
“Stupe.” Jak snapped the blaster across Joao's mouth and the priest dropped to the dock spitting teeth. Jak rolled Thiago's corpse into the whaleboat and tossed his longblaster and the spear beside him. He gave Father Joao a few swift kicks to get him in motion. “Boat.”
Father Joao moaned and held his face in his hand as he crawled into the vessel. Jak hopped in and cast off. He took up an oar and pushed them away from the dock. The tide was going out. The albino teen shoved a pair of oars into Joao's hands and took the tiller. “Row.”
Father Joao very reluctantly began bending his oars. The whaleboat slowly slipped from the little harbor and out of range of the lights of the ville. Jak waited until they were in the channel and felt the pull of the current before he kicked the motor into life and began heading north. Ryan and Mildred would be heading inland.
Jak wondered how Doc was doing.
HE RUNNER STAGGERED
into Doc's holding room breathlessly accompanied by two grim-faced guards of Baron Barat's personal retinue. The baron sat up in his chair and gave Doc a weary look. The runner began to
gasp out his news, but the baron held up a calming hand and gestured to the bottles on the sideboard. One of the sec men took a decanter and poured. Doc watched as red wine splashed into the glass. He raised an eyebrow as the man splashed in a brown liquid from another decanter. Doc suspected this was the “Lotus” he kept hearing about. Doc's stomach turned as the concoction was finished off with the contents of a large corked test tube. The bright red blood hit the glass and hung billowy and suspended in the amber broth of wine and hallucinogenic drugs. The sec man stirred the contents into a blood-streaked cloud and held it forth. The runner took the offered glass eagerly and gulped the contents. Almost instantly he stood taller and his breathing slowed. He straightened his coat and stood at attention. The baron nodded for him to continue his report.
It seemed to be short and to the point; however Doc could make out almost none of it except names like Christiano, Mateus, Jorge-Teo and Joao. Baron Barat leaned back in his chair when the report was finished. The sec men glared at Doc and clearly wanted to kill him. Barat stared at his bandaged hand and then into the flames of the fireplace. The firelight reflected in his black eyes and his face was even grimmer than that of his sec men if that were possible. Whatever thoughts the Baron Xavier Barat was thinking did not please him.
To his shame Doc jerked back as Baron Barat gave him his full attention. “I am told, Dr. Tanner, that your one-eyed friend, an albino and a black woman are loose upon my island. I am further informed that they assaulted my constable and killed four of his men.”
Doc tried to keep his voice cold. “I warned you they would make murder among your people, Baron.”
Barat scoffed. “If they are so ruthless, then why would they keep a damaged wretch like you among them?”
Doc flinched. He knew that far too often he wasn't the asset to his companions that he should be.
“No, Doctor.” The baron waved his wounded hand in dismissal of the rhetorical question. “I believe we both know they will try to rescue you and then steal a boat.”
Doc unhappily admitted to himself that was most likely exactly was going on.
“It matters not if you have an army of murdering friends. They can only come through the mat-trans two at a time. They will have no way off the escarpment other than swimming, and there are things far more dangerous than the currents and the rocks in these waters.”
Doc searched for a rejoinder and failed.
“The albino and the black fell easily to my men. The smoke of the Lotus is quite effective in this regard, and it is a performance I am prepared to repeat as often as I must. Further, I now have a fairly accurate grasp of their arrival time. Try my patience, Doctor, and rather than capture your remaining party members I shall simply have them blasted down while they are fresh from the mat-trans and still about their regurgitations.”
Doc had no answer for that, either.
The baron sighed. “Dr. Tanner, tell me how many people you have in your party in total. I want their names, descriptions and how they are armed and equipped. Do this and perhaps there shall be some leeway in determining their final fate.”
Doc rummaged among his dwindling courage. “And what will you do should I refuse, Baron? Break me upon the wheel?”
The baron smiled with genuine amusement. “Why, yes, Dr. Tanner! That is exactly what I shall do! I have things I must do this night, but we shall speak again at dawn, and if you do not tell me everything I wish to know, I will have my men overturn one of our largest wags and tie you to the wheel, whereupon you shall be stripped, crucified, emasculated and broken upon it.” Barat shrugged carelessly. “It is our common punishment for rebellious slaves and invaders of our island. Afterward, when I am convinced you have told me everything of relevance, you shall be bled dry and the meager meat of your bones given to the nightwalkers.”
Doc found he was shaking. There was only one consolation left. Ryan had outwitted and outfought barons with far more manpower and firepower than Barat. “My friends will come.”
“I know, Doctor, and just three of them decimated the sec station. I am afraid I cannot have them marauding upon my island, or crossing back to the other island and causing trouble.” The baron rose from his chair. The look on his face was terrible. “The fact of the matter is that you and your friends are forcing me to do something I do not wish to do, Dr. Tanner. Something I have not done in years, something I had sworn never to do again.”
Doc wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but it didn't matter. He had seen both craft and cruelty on his ghost-faced host. What Doc saw now on the face of Baron Xavier Barat was a terrible resolve, and it scared him witless. “Iâ”
“In the meantimeâ¦” Barat snapped his fingers and pointed at Doc. The larger of the two sec men prepared two more drafts of wine, blood and drug. Doc recoiled
in the ropes that bound him as the baron took one glass and the sec man brought the second one toward the bed.
“No!” Doc shouted. He desperately clamped his teeth together as the sec man's hand clamped onto his jaw.
“Dr. Tanner,” the baron said. “Surely you know I cannot have you lying abed plotting, much less in any condition to assist in your own escape.”
Doc thrashed helplessly.
The baron gave Doc his skull-face grin. “Dr. Tanner? The Blood of the Lotus can be introduced through other bodily orifices if you are uncooperative, and the only difference it will make is that you will not enjoy the taste of the wine.”
Doc sagged in defeat. His sanity, strength and courage were at their limits. The glass was pushed against his mouth. Doc didn't resist, but the sec man still cruelly vised his mouth open and held it open as he steadily upended the glass. Doc gagged and choked as the sourness of wine, the coppery slickness of blood and the sickening sweetness of nightmare slid down his throat.
Barat raised his glass in mocking toast. “Pleasant dreams, Dr. Tanner.”
YAN RAN HIS EYE
over the baron's manse. He examined the stone walls and spear-tipped iron fence along the top. The first-story windows were bricked over except for firing slits. The second- and third-floor windows were barred. Barbed wire and razor-sharp spikes ringed the roof. Ryan stared long and hard at the brass dome of the observatory that rose among the multiple chimneys. Movement returned his gaze earthward. Sec men with auto-blasters patrolled the grounds. The mansion had fairly extensive grounds, but the sec men all stayed
behind the fence. Ryan was pretty sure he and Mildred could take them, but he had no idea how many people might be inside nor did he know where Doc was. Best to go in quiet. He frowned at the manse once more. It was the only house in the hills that was lit, and Ryan didn't like it.