Sunday, 12 February 2012

016 - Sundown

They waited in the cell, silently watching the sunrise. There was always the chance of a last minute reprieve. A flustered guard would stand at the door telling them of a dreadful mistake.
Instead there were heavy footsteps in the corridor outside. A key turned. An Ironguard soldier entered. He pointed at Jacob.

"You’re first," he said. He indicated with his heavy gauntlet towards Nelya. "Then you."

A pair of guards appeared to escort each one of them silently into a different cell off the main corridor. Once Garth and Cassidy had gone, Frida was taken down the corridor past their cells. She was pushed into another cell, with a heavy door and stone walls. A window at shoulder height tempted her with its warm light. A low table sat in the centre of the cell, holding a shallow bowl. In the corner of the cell a few small insects buzzed around a dark stain.

A masked person entered. Frida had heard of Ironhavan’s inquisitors, she thought they might be priests like Jacob. The inquisitor’s wooden mask was an intricately carved face, the mouth exaggerated and grotesque, behind it, covering the head completely was a waxed leather hood.

 The inquisitor began to question Frida, asking simply about who she was and where she'd come from. The expressionless face maintained a consistent enquiring tilt when Frida spoke. It unnerved the young wiretap. 

"Consider me your interlocutor, a participant in a civil dialogue." The mask nodded, tilting, to one side. The voice was muffled.

"I'd like that," said Frida," I don't really know why I'm being held here."

There was no reply, the face tilted upright. 

"I'm a licensed wiretap, operating for the Markermeer Caravan," she said. The figure remained unresponsive. From the shapeless robes the inquisitor pulled out one of Frida's eel battery jars, placing it on the table without comment.

"Tools of the trade," Frida stated. She felt sympathy for the trapped writhing eel.

Although nothing was revealed by the shapeless clothing, Frida was convinced her interrogator was a woman.

The inquisitor placed a candle in the bowl on the table.

"Face the window, watch for sundown," the mask told her.

Frida looked out of the window, the sun was still rising. Her view was across the execution yards to a scaffold, built of metal and stone, permanent. The yard was deserted. She felt the sudden drop in her gut.

The inquisitor spoke again, answering Frida's unasked question.

"The executions occur at sundown."

There was a smell of rosemary in the cell, it smelt comforting, homely. There was no physical threat made, but as her interrogator spoke Frida's willpower diminished. She was terrified, facing the execution yard whilst the inquisitor stood behind her. Without thinking she found herself blabbing. She had been tortured before, it happened to wiretaps during training to test their integrity.

There was something descending from the sky above the yard. A metal insect the size of a long-shore ship began unfolding limbs. As the insect descended, heat and dust blew into the cell. Frida began to make out a doorway and windows on the insect. It had come for her. Her inquisitor had disappeared. She grabbed the opportunity, stepping back and throwing the eel battery at the wall. It exploded, leaving a smoke filled hole. She crawled through the gap, running towards the metal insect that hovered above the yard.

She clambered up the scaffold, cautiously grabbing the struts by the insect's open doorway. Once inside she felt the ship ascend. Through its dirt streaked windows she watched Ironhaven disappear.

The sky insect had no occupants. She found a wooden seat with a window to the onrushing clouds.
A voice spoke to her, the voice of the metal insect.

"What about your friends? Should we not return to rescue them?" It asked. 

She told it about her friends, she felt guilty about them. Aside from Cassidy, she had only known them for a short time. The voice asked her what she wanted and where did she wish to go. She thought about it, there was only one place she wished to go, ever since she was a child.

"To the stars," said Frida.

"To the stars," the voice repeated and chuckled. 

A door slammed.

The cell returned, hazily drifting into focus. She was sitting with her head resting on the table. She felt heavy, drowsy. A tiny fat asymmetric insect sat in front of her on the table. She recognized it. She had found it years ago in the rubble of an eviscerated city. At first, she had mistaken it for real beetle. It was so small and insignificant. How odd, she had thought, an insect with letters etched on it. Then she discovered something else. It had tiny doors, windows, engines and stubby wings, all scratched away by time. This was a child’s toy of a space machine. She hid it in her possessions, wrapped up, telling no one about her find. The inquisitor had taken it from her bag and placed it on the table in front of her. The deepest secret she held; she had seen the remains of a real one, its weathered carapace rotting in a salt marsh.

The faint odour of camphor remained, it emanated from the extinguished candle, smoking in the centre of the table.

Her other belongings were littered around the cell. There was a torn paper label on everything, written in Frida's own handwriting. She examined the pieces of paper, the scraps contained gibberish words or nonsensical rhymes.

Frida panicked, alarmed at how the drug loosened her tongue. A rising feeling of nausea struck her, what had she revealed about her new friends and the secrets of Fairfield. She wondered what they had threatened Cassidy and the others with. The sun would set soon, over the gantry yard.

She picked up her clothes. They had been left neatly piled on the chair. She held them tightly. She felt how coarse they were. She inhaled their strong earthy smell. Then she began to cry.


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