In the first two parts, Avery “Wort” McEwan had decided that he needed to obtain a weapon to destroy Canute, a computer that tracked citizens with ruthless efficiency. Elizabeth convinced him to bring her Inside, where he could obtain such a weapon.
Wort pulled off the free lane several miles from the border. He had information on how to get Inside from his brother Gueuzers, but as he neared the border, Elizabeth began to guide him. She pointed to a dirt road that ended in an empty roundabout close to the border. “It’s safe here,” she said. “We can wait until dark, which will give us time to make love before we enter.”
“You amaze me,” Wort said.
“Over there,” she said, and pointed to a group of trees that stood in the middle of a field. Wort pulled his pack from the trackmobile and they walked slowly to the grove.
“What about me amazes you?” Elizabeth asked, once they had found a comfortable place to settle. “My intelligence or my beauty?”
Wort opened his pack and pulled out a bottle of beer. “A porter,” he said, needing time to formulate his answer.
“Where did you get it?” she asked.
“That’s a secret,” he replied.
“Must have cost you,” she said.
Wort didn’t reply, instead poured the beer, took a sip and lay back.
“How is it?” she asked.
“It’s a great porter,” Wort said. “It has a mix of bitterness and robust, roasted flavor that blend together perfectly.”
“Thanks for offering me some,” Elizabeth said.
“I’m sorry,” Wort said. He sat up. “I thought they tested you.”
“The traces will be gone before we get back,” she said.
Wort handed her his glass. “That’s what I meant,” he said, as she drank. “You knew about this place. You know how long alcohol remains in your bloodstream. Who are you?”
“So it’s my intelligence.”
“That’s part of it.”
“Does it frighten you?”
“What frightens me is that I like you too much.”
“I spend most of my time in Joshua’s library, reading,” she said.
“Where are you from?” Wort asked.
“I’m local,” Elizabeth replied. “I graduated from Sacred Heart and went to their university, which was where I met Joshua. I was his top Physics student.” Wort’s face betrayed disbelief. “You don’t think a woman can be a Physicist?” she asked.
“I guess I have a stereotypical view of Physics students,” Wort said. “You don’t look like one.”
“Maybe that’s why Joshua chose me as his handmaid. That, and the desire to sire brilliant children, of course,” she said. Wort stiffened and Elizabeth changed the subject. “I worked on the principles behind the Flamegun, I’m not proud to say, then began work on using those principles to promote space travel. That was before I was dismissed from the team.”
“I got pregnant and was forced to carry to term. The law, you know, what with all the infertility problems. Once they took the baby, Joshua chose me as his handmaid. He’d been having fertility problems himself, and my ‘once and you’re pregnant’ experience led the committee to believe I was highly fertile. They performed all sorts of tests, found me clean of synthetic chemicals, and decided that I was the perfect choice for delivering his children.”
“How does a Flamegun work?” Wort said?
“It’s similar to a microwave,” Elizabeth said. “They superheat the insides of the target by raising its energy level. Raise it high enough and boom!—auto ignition. Once we developed a way to laser guide the waves, we could aim it at any number things. Then we began exciting targets’ molecules to levels that transformed them into pure energy.”
“How did you prevent them from exploding?”
“Good question, lover,” she said, rolling up against him. “They combined the beam with an electromagnetic field that kept the target’s energy from scattering. I say ‘they’ because that was when I was pulled off the project. Further research and stronger energy bundling capabilities allowed them to shoot targets off at high speeds resulting, eventually, in space travel. Just choose the coordinates of a promising solar system and reincorporate your target there.”
Wort offered Elizabeth the beer again, and she drank. “You make it sound simple,” he said.
“Not when they started. Joshua has a book on the history of space travel, which describes some of the mistakes they made in moving objects around. Before they began to experiment with life forms, they were reincorporating targets inside solids. It was a mess.”
“Let’s not talk about Joshua,” Wort said. “Let’s talk about your beauty. Where does that come from?”
“That’s my parents’ fault,” she said. “Do you want to thank them, my history maker?” She began to unbutton his shirt. Wort began to massage her shoulders, pushing his hands through the loose short sleeve ends of her shirt. She sighed.
“Should I be careful?” Wort whispered.
“That’s what I like about you,” Elizabeth said. “You’re thoughtful. Let’s just do it this once.
“And risk a child?” Wort asked, shocked.
“I’m due to have one anyway. I’d rather it be yours.”
Wort rolled away and sat up. “That’s what amazes me the most.”
“You caused it,” she replied. “It wasn’t until I began to enjoy you that I thought so much about what I wanted. And now I plan to enjoy you as much as I can.” Wort reached for his porter, uneasy with the direction of the conversation. “Do you know what book I read over the weekend?” Elizabeth asked.
“The Joy of Sex. Joshua’s library has an incredible array of banned books.”
Wort finished the porter. “This is a good dark beer.”
“Tell me if you like this,” Elizabeth said, and dipped her head toward Wort’s half-opened pants.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Wort rolled away.
“Let’s talk about going Inside,” Elizabeth said, giving up the attempt to educate her lover. She took his hand and pulled him to his feet, leading him to the edge of the grove. She pointed to a sign post that stuck out of the ground halfway to the border.
“What does it say?” Wort asked, unable to read it.
“‘I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. My skin is black upon me, and my
bones are burned with heat. My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into
the voice of them that weep.’ Job 30.” That’s the last warning you’ll see.
“You’ve been Inside?”
“I’ve talked about myself enough,” Elizabeth replied, taking his hand and leading him back to where they had previously lain. “Tell me about you.”
“There’s not much to know beyond what I’ve already told you,” Wort said.
“You told me about your family, but what about Virginia?” she asked.
“She provides me with an identity,” Wort said.
“Don’t feel you have to belittle your wife to me,” said Elizabeth.
“I’m not,” Wort replied. “She has given me an identity to move about freely, that’s all.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“A rural route,” Wort said, and the memory flooded back to him. “I’d been on the road for months, without an identity. I was hiding wherever I could, sleeping in empty barnhouses and fields to stay away from the bastards that stole my family. I was sleeping in a field when I heard the explosion. I crept to the roadside, where a Bureau agent stood by Virginia’s husband, or what was left of him. The agent had flamed him and was about to do the same to the family. I don’t know why I did it—I should have just fled— but I doused him the way my uncle taught me.”
“Who taught you?” Elizabeth asked.
“A Violent Offender,” Wort said, recovering. “I call him Uncle. Anyway, this left Virginia and her children alone. She was terrified to be a single parent. I think she would have preferred to die.”
“So you felt sorry for her and agreed to marry her,” Elizabeth said.
“Close enough,” Wort said “I took her husband’s identity. We salvaged several of his fingers and I got a renegade surgeon to clone copies."
“Why didn’t she request an annullment?” Elizabeth asked.
“She was afraid they would discover something about her husband and take her kids. She still thinks the flaming was justified.”
Wort hesitated for a moment, then said, “I guess I took advantage of her. I know she regrets having done it, but she’s too far in now to turn back.”
Elizabeth began to massage Wort’s shoulders. “When are you going to start taking advantage of me?” she asked.
Wort kissed Elizabeth. “Let’s get the rest of these clothes...” he began, but before he could finish Elizabeth stiffened. Her eyes held a fear that could only mean one thing, an agent.
Wort grabbed his pack and rolled forward, ignoring the urge to protect Elizabeth. He swung the Extinguisher in front of him and fired through the pack. His first shot was wide but the agent had to reset position. Wort fired again, scoring a direct hit. He kept the beam on for an extra half second while the agent’s skin and muscle melted, revealing bone. Before the doused remains had fallen, Wort rolled to the shelter of a fallen log and leapt over. Crawling quickly backward, he waited. Nothing erupted.
“It’s okay.” It was Elizabeth’s voice. “That was my guardian. She travels alone.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Once it was dark, Elizabeth led the way across the border into Devil’s Town. Wort followed quietly, until they entered a long concrete gully.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“A drainage canal,” she explained. “It only fills when the rains come. We’re going to meet Papa here.”
“Papa. He’s an Inside Guide. I trust him.”
“How do you know so much about this place?” Wort asked.
“Joshua comes here often to research fertility rates. He uses Papa as a guide.”
A half hour later, Elizabeth slowed, holding Wort back. She emitted a whistle that sounded like a bird call, and waited. Moments later, the whistle was returned. “He’s coming,” she whispered.
The figure emerged so quickly from the dark that only Elizabeth’s restraining hand kept Wort from using his Extinguisher again. “Hi, Papa,” she said, kissing the darkened figure. She turned. “This is my friend, Edward.”
Wort stretched out a gloved hand, remembering his alias.
“A friend of yours I trust.” Papa took off a glove and Wort did the same. “Why are you late?” Papa asked, after the barehanded exchange.
“It was a difficult crossover,” Elizabeth said.
“We must hurry and rehearse,” Papa said. “The meeting with Sparta is at midnight.” He turned on his heel and disappeared into the darkness.
“Sorry, time flies when we make love,” Elizabeth whispered in Wort’s ear.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The meeting took place in Devil Town’s central library, a safe place due to the reverent treatment books received Inside. The library was dark, and Sparta, the clan’s leader, stood where the checkout area was. Dark, tattooed tears ran down his cheek and disappeared behind his shirt collar. A smashed metal bullet hung on a chain around his neck.
On each side of Sparta stood two young, muscular, men. They looked inattentive, but Wort imagined they would move quickly on command. “You wanted to see me?” Sparta asked.
“We’re looking for a weapon,” Wort said. At the same time, Elizabeth showed a large wad of money.
“We got feria,” Sparta said, and jerked his head to the left. The boy next to him walked over to a hope chest that had replaced two computer terminals and opened it. The chest was filled with dollars.
“You can have more,” Wort replied.
Sparta focused on Elizabeth, and said, “I know the old man. Who’s the gabacho?”
Wort shifted, but kept his face passive, something he’d perfected long ago. Papa had warned them to expect the unexpected.
“Why the whiteface?” Sparta repeated, his voice growing nastier.
There was a long silence, during which no one spoke. Finally, feeling he must respond, Wort pulled one hand out of the bulky jacket he wore and pulled off the glove. “The hand is white, too,” he said.
Sparta’s face betrayed a flicker of amusement, which was cut short by an angry grimace. “The last gabacho to enter this building was before the Cleanup, when they abandoned the city. Maybe you should leave.”
Elizabeth stepped closer to Sparta. “He’s my pimp. Trust.”
“Trust?” Sparta snarled. “Ain’t a white devil alive I trust.”
“He offers something you might like,” Elizabeth said. As she spoke, her hand grasped the zipper on her jacket and pulled it down, revealing part of her upper torso.
“I got rucas,” Sparta said to the obvious come-on.
“This ain’t to own,” Elizabeth replied, her voice suddenly husky. “It’s an exchange, pure and sweet, nothing barred. If you got enough to deal.” Elizabeth began to tremble slightly, filling the room with an erotic energy. Wort’s eyes scanned the guards, whose eyes were all on Elizabeth.
Finally, Sparta looked to his warrior chief and shrugged. “You may go,” he said.
“Let’s go, Zorra, we meet with the X-men at two,” Papa said softly, speaking for the first time.
Sparta turned his attention to the old man. “The X-men?” An imperceptible nod caused the guards around him to move closer to him. At the same time, shadows from behind them stepped into the dim light. “You won’t live to see the X-men.”
By Bill Metzger
Copyright 1994, Southwest Brewing News