A Harvest of Earthlings
In response to Sue Vincent’s
‘She called to me first!” he whispers into the quiet air as his deftly trained fingers used the most subtle of movements to spin the final sector of the third quadrax lock.
Ordinarily, such a noise would mean death, on a stealth mission of this nature, but he knows, without knowing how he knows, that the two eunuchs on guard around the ancient tower are busy with something else.
He knows so much… So much had been transmitted in the constant dreams that plagued his sleep with despairing delight when she appeared to him each night, urging him on, showing him the skills he needed to open the locks of the ruined Tower. Always, as her image faded with the Silamnos’ sunrise, he would hear her plead, “Save me…”
Now he was going to be the one who saved her…
Of the ship’s crew of six, he was the only one left – well, maybe Box was still alive, out there somewhere, but they hadn’t seen each other for a week.
After she appeared on the viewing screen, standing in the desert just in front of the USX Antania’s landing site, no-one had spoken. Box had tried to get to him before he hit the switch to allow audio input from the desert, outside, but his enchanted fingers had been faster, and her song filled the cabin. After that, nobody cared much about anything but saving her…
In his dreams she is always looking at his hands, the guitarist’s hands, his prized possessions.
Box had stood, there, then; with him on the bridge, swaying with the beauty of her voice as the diaphanous purple and silver robes had flowed around her kneeling body in the desert breeze, while she sang, “Save me!’ And then the goons had caught up with her, and dragged her by the wrists back to her prison tower; hints of skin tones from heaven becoming visible as she fought and twisted in the hot dust, spinning and singing.
He had lived with that cry ever since. In the beginning, he had awakened each night to a phantom of her face hovering over him while he slept. Always, she would be looking down at his hands, his guitarist’s hands… Then, one night, seeing him awake, the ghost began to show him, in mime, how those hands could open the quadrax locks at the tower’s base. After that, there had been no need for sleep as the fever took him and he practiced the infinitesimal dexterity that would be needed, should he ever get to the base of the tower, undetected.
There comes the sound of a slow thump-whomp-thump from somewhere above, but he takes advantage of the hiatus in security to fling himself across the old stone passageway, landing, coiled, against the stone base that holds the last of the quadrax units. He reaches out to apply the merest caress to the upper quadrant of the cold, steel orb. Immediately the black metal responds to his practiced touch, separating its molecules and revolving in a now familiar way. He lets the revolving ceramic coat slide out of his touch and lowers the guitarist’s fingers to the thickest part of the quadrax, stroking downwards and to the right, flicking the second quadrant into life with the slightest touch of his middle finger.
Another move, with the inflexion to the left and only one segment awaits from the sixteen death-charges, any one of which could have vapourised him where he knelt…but none had…he was good; very good. Around him the greasy and heat-faded stains on the stone spoke of those who weren’t…
Thump-whomp-thump. The sound is clearly of something being dragged. His fingers linger on the final death segment, but then he throws caution to the desert winds and flicks the quadrax with the skill of a last, lingering chord, held in vibrato and played at one of the crew’s improptu rock gigs.
The door at the base of the Tower slides open, with a soft hiss. Whomp-Thump-Whomp. The sound is now too close for safety. He looks up in horror and sees the two giant eunuchs manhandling a body-bag down the final arc of the spiral stairway.
“Save me!” she cries, from far above the heads of the eunuch guards.
He does not think, he races through the opened portal, standing on the body in the bag without glancing at what should be a pair of startled guards. As he completes the first circuit of the stone spiral, he steals a look back to see a shock of Box’s red hair sticking out from the bag he’s just stood on.
The portal slides shut. The guards hadn’t even bothered to look up at where he now stands, elevated and breathless…
“Save me…” laughs the evil, honeyed voice, high above him; dragging his feet in an hypnotic dance around and around and up the dark stairwell…