by Martin Maenza
A few months ago:
The entire castle and its surrounding village were nestled in a blanket of darkness, and its people, save for a handful of guards on the tower walls, were slumbering peacefully. While the men, armed with crossbows — primitive weapons by the typical standard of the thirtieth century — watched for any intruders approaching, they were not aware of what was going on within the castle walls themselves.
A lone figure moved silently through the shadows down a set of stone stairs to a vault in the basement area. Dressed from fingertip to toe all in black, the figure blended with the darkness, becoming one with it. His cover as a servant all these months had gained him access to the royal dwelling, and his training had prepared him for this very vital mission.
The air in the basement area was cool and damp, with some staleness. They certainly don’t believe in enviro-systems, he thought to himself as he moved along the wall. True techno-phobes in every sense of the word. Still, the man was grateful for that flaw in the monarchy’s thinking, for it was what had allowed him to retrieve the prize all the more easily.
A gated door led to a separate chamber, a crypt of sorts. The lock was no challenge to him at all. In a moment he slipped inside and closed the gate carefully. Using special goggles that allowed him to see in the pitch blackness, he soon found what he was searching for among the various stone coffins and the like.
In a recessed shelf, by itself, was an ornate urn. The vessel was made of gold with various gemstones about the sides.
Beneath his full-face mask, the man smiled. There we go! he thought.
He reached into the small satchel at his side and pulled forth a clear, bag-like container. He opened it and placed it on the floor at his feet.
Then, using two hands, he lifted the urn and opened the top. Carefully, he began to pour the powdery contents of the urn into the container. He gave the urn a bit of a shake, then again. Two glinting objects fell from the urn into the bag as well. The man put the urn down for a moment in order to seal the container.
He then produced a second container from the satchel, this one already full. Opening it, he poured the contents of this new bag back into the urn. When he was done, he put the empty bag back in his satchel, along with the newly filled one. Finally, he closed the urn once more and returned it to its resting place. Easier than shooting hykrains in a tank! he thought as he slipped out of the mausoleum.
Soon, he was back in his quarters, where he placed the satchel on the bed before him. He pulled forth a small device and activated the signal. His transport would arrive soon for the rendezvous. Finally, I can get off this backwater planet, he thought to himself. There seemed to be a change in the wind coming, and he wanted to get away before whatever it was came down hard.
He eyed the bag full of ashes and saw the two glinting pieces of metal. Opening the bag carefully, he used a finger to fish through the charred matter and to pull forth the items. They were two rings: one a simple band of gold with serrated edges, and the other a bit larger with an ornate L symbol on the front facet.
The man smiled. Guess these are my retrieval bonuses, he thought to himself as he pocketed the two rings. The mistress will never know.
Sometime later, in a hidden retreat across the stars, a large, muscular man dressed in black stepped into a chamber filled with laboratory equipment and a huge tank. In his hands he held a small, bag-like container.
A stunning woman with long crimson hair also dressed in black turned upon his arrival. “Is that the remains, Ubu?”
“Yes, mistress,” the large man said, bowing before her. “Agent Kern completed his task as you planned.” With his gaze still to the floor, he raised up his hands and offered her the item he carried.
“Excellent,” the sultry woman replied, taking the bag from him. She walked across the room to the large tank that was horizontal in length on the floor. With a wave of her hand to a nearby console, the transparent lid slid back with a hiss, revealing a greenish fluid. In the fluid was the form of a figure the size of a man.
The woman opened the bag-like container, sprinkled the contents of it into the tank while invoking an ancient incantation under her breath. When the bag was empty, she cast it aside and stared at the yet-unmoving form in the tank. “There,” she said aloud. “It is done. Now we must wait.”
“How soon will we know if it worked, mistress?” Ubu asked.
“Soon enough,” the red-haired woman said with confidence. “Between the cell samples we acquired from that vermin Karrion and these mortal remains, our experiments should soon be complete.” She walked passed her manservant, who was still in a bowed stance.
She tapped him on the shoulders. “Come! We must prepare for the time of the rebirth.”
Ubu rose and followed her from the chamber.
His eyes snapped suddenly open, and a wave of panic crossed over him. In a single second, he took in the entire situation around him.
He was naked in a tank of greenish liquid.
Small electrodes of some sort were attached to his body — his arms, his legs, his chest, his back, his temples — all, no doubt, monitoring his status. A breathing piece was affixed over his mouth.
Someone was studying him.
He was no one’s lab rat!
Summoning forth his strength, he put his hands and feet against the sides of the tank and pushed. While he had little leverage to work with, the tank was obviously not designed to be a prison.
The container cracked, then shattered; the green fluid rushed out to the floor.
The brown-haired young man stood and glanced about the dimly lit room. As his eyes adjusted, he could make out equipment. But the shadows were many and kept him from seeing everything.
From the shadows, something whizzed through the air.
His instincts blocked it with a chop in the air, sending the throwing weapon skittering away.
This brought more from the darkness. The naked man fended them off with equal precision.
Then came the assault by many darkly dressed figures, attacking him with martial speed and accuracy. While he was able to parry most of the blows, a few connected. He retaliated with punches and kicks of his own.
Where am I? Who are these men? he thought as he fought. I need to defeat them quickly, find some clothes, and figure this all out. I need to find Jec…
His thoughts were stopped as a pain seared through his chest.
He glanced down to find the pointed end of a steel sword poking through the front of his chest, his own blood dripping from the end of it. He barely had time to contemplate how someone could have attacked him from behind as his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
He fell forward.
The sword slipped back through its cut path.
Behind him stood the red-haired woman holding the hilt of the weapon. A smile crossed her face. The man had been reborn and was now dead. Time to move on to phase two.
“Quickly!” she ordered. “Take him to the pit!”
“He fought well, mistress,” Ubu said as he stood next to the woman.
“I never expected any less,” she replied, her eyes glued to a large stone vat at the center of the chamber. In it, a liquid bubbled and frothed like an active volcano. “His exploits are legendary. His skills unmatched. He will serve us well.”
“Will he serve?” Ubu asked skeptically.
The woman frowned. “Of course he will! I will mold him personally, rebuild him. He will make the greatest of assassins. He will serve me as I fulfill the legacy of my mother and grandfather before me.”
Suddenly, the pit before them swelled. A figure burst forth from its depths, screaming loudly.
It was the brown-haired man, his mouth open wide in a constant wail. His eyes were wild, crazed, as he dragged himself from the pit’s burning depths. He rose to his feet and took a defensive stance. Feral rage filled him.
“Subdue him!” the woman ordered.
In an instant, the dark-garbed agents were upon him once more.
The man fought them off like a wild creature, slashing and kicking and throwing them about. They were upon him like bees to a bear who had just come across their stash of honeycomb. And though they were many, he fought them off just the same.
But they were meant only to distract him, not subdue him.
The mistress pulled forth a handheld weapon and shot a beam right into the brown-haired man. He cried out in pain and then fell to the floor, unconscious.
“A stunner this time,” Ubu said. “Why didn’t you use that on him earlier?”
“Ubu, there is a sense of poetry in my slaying him before with the sword that belonged to my ancestors,” the woman said. “Besides, I needed him to die at my hands so that the pit could remake him anew. And as the legends stated, when he was reborn anew, he was also filled with insanity and rage. I can use those both to help reshape him, rebuild him.”
She holstered the blaster and approached the fallen man.
“Is this wise, mistress?” Ubu asked.
She ignored the manservant’s cautious remarks and cradled the fallen man against her chest. His breathing was shallow, but there were signs of his strength still as he fought the stunner’s effects. He was a prize warrior, her prize warrior.
“Hush now, my dear,” she cooed as she stroked his brown hair. “It’s all right. Alita will take good care of you.”