The Nick Of Time
(and other Abrasions)
A Heart Full Of Dust
Al Bruno III
“What do you think?”
Voices stirred him from Vagabond from confusion of this thoughts and dreams.
“He looks...well, older.”
“Just another one of his damned tricks that's all.”
He could still hear the screaming winds but they were diffused now, blunted. That meant they were indoors, safe from the storm. He opened his eyes slowly; they felt like they had been skinned. Tears welled up, washing away the dirt and tracing paths down his dirty cheeks. When his vision cleared he surveyed himself; no apparent physical damage but his shirt, shoes and sweater were utterly filthy.
The building he was in was at least seventy feet long, domed and metallic. Veins of rust worked their way up the wall, slipshod tin patches were welded in place over the worst spots. It was filled with an odd combination of bric-a-brac and survival gear. Rifles and automatic weapons were stacked against the wall, cases of ammo rested nearby. A pyramid of canned food leaned up against a pile of car batteries and geiger counters. A crate of hand grenades sat beside a jukebox with cracked glass. The piles of boxes and junk gave the spacious chamber a crowded feeling. Through the maze of odds and ends he spied a canopy bed that had seen better days.
This was a Quonset hut and Vagabond knew the name of the woman that lived here. He spoke without realizing it, “Rhea.”
A gauntleted hand grabbed him roughly by the throat. A veiled, goggled face loomed before him. “What are you doing here Vagabond? What do you want this time?”
“Air for a start…” he choked.
“Here for the Splinter?”
He tried to loosen the grip on his throat only to discover that his hands had been tied behind his back. Standing up was impossible too, his feet were bound as securely as his wrists. “Please...” he begged, “let go.”
“Why are you here? What are you up to this time?”
All that was left of his voice was a whisper, “Please-”
“You're hurting him!” a second voice said.
“Lily!” Rhea hissed, “Now Vagabond, one last time... what are you doing here?”
“I don't know! I swear I don't!” for a moment he thought he saw a stranger reflected in his tormentor's goggles- a short man with dark close-cropped curly hair and brown, impossibly sad eyes. Then he realized it was his own face.
The gauntlet loosened, “Expect me to believe that?”
“You know I don’t I never do. It’s part of my charm.”
“Oh I give up…” The robed figure stood and removed its goggles revealing a pair of stern dark eyes. While undoing the network of cloth, an ageless face framed by close-cropped gray curls was revealed. A thin scar traced a line from her left eye to her left cheek. “Charm,” she murmured to herself, “after all the misery you’ve caused you dare to talk about charm.”
The second figure, shouldered out of her robes revealing a slender girlish figure in a brightly-colored camisole. Now he could see why her head looked so misshapen. There was a sleek screen at the end of her neck, thick cables fused technology into flesh. The face on the screen was a sketch of life drawn in sharp clean angles. In spite of its weirdness there was something pleasant about her, “What are you talking about Mother?”
Vagabond, distorted and artificial as it might be he knew that face, “Rhea… what have you done?”
The older woman grunted ambiguously, “You have eyes don’t you?”
His voice was cracked and hoarse. “What purpose does this… this thing serve?”
Lily glared at him, “Hey. I’m in the room.”
The older woman's sneer deepened, she pulled a huge cannon of a pistol from the holster on her hip and pointed it at his head. “No more questions. No more lies.”
“Wait!” he begged.
“For all the lives you destroyed, for all the people you manipulated and used,” her finger tightened on the trigger, her eyes were glittering and cold, “for letting my daughter to die...”
“And then what? Just wait for the world to end? Wait for death like sheep?” he tried to move away but he was as helpless as a hog-tied calf.
Lily grabbed the older woman's arm and gently moved it away from their prisoner's head, “Mother. Don't.”
“After all he's done? After all he's caused?”
“That was the War. If you kill him now you're no better than Killjoy, or Emil.”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
In a flash the weapon was back at his head, “Maybe I am no better.”
“Don’t,” he said calmly, “do this.”
“I thought you could see the future?” Rhea said mockingly, “Tell me Vagabond, do I pull the trigger or not?”
Lily placed a hand on her mother's shoulder, “Look at him, he’s helpless.”
She looked uncertainly from her daughter to her prisoner, with a sigh resignation she re-holstered the pistol “All right, he lives. For now.”
“Does that mean you're going to untie me?”