May 24, 1680
In the many decades since my last entry I have travelled the length and breadth of the known world. I did however neglect to take this volume on my travels – thus why it has sat neglected these eighty years.
I regret that I have not been able to document my discoveries as I made them and my experiences as they happened. Never mind, my own memory will have to suffice until I decide to write my memoir.
My constant companion Loechner has taught me much about the ways of the Revenent. We have learnt much of the ways of this world together.
I did however conclude some years ago that he had shown me as much as he was ever going to, leading me on a merry romp these last ten years for reasons known only to himself.
The one thing he had not shown me was what happens to one of our kind when he is killed. This morning past I decided to do an experiment of my own to learn that which had eluded me.
Having only one other Revenent in my life I decided if I were to witness death I was to kill my long time companion, I had no sentimental attachment to this man and knew he would only be of assistance in further learning.
Using all my supernatural strength I snapped the leg off the table and drove it as hard as I could into his heart. The look of surprise on his face was most amusing to me.
Within moments he had stopped moving and what little colour he had disappeared from his face.
What happened next was fascinating, all the moisture seemed to disappear from his form and seconds later his entire body was engulfed in a flame that looked like it ran over his skin like a smoldering ember. In an instant he erupted in a spectacular burst of dust and embers, making a terrible mess on the floor.
So now I know everything there is to know about being Revenent (that name even after 80 years still grates on me) and am no longer hampered by a self serving or guide, I now need to find my own followers and forge ahead.
Liam was woken for his first day of training by the sound of his door opening. He groggily looked at the clock, the numbers 0500 glowed back at him. Early start, he was used to his nocturnal training with the six-pack. His bedroom door slid open revealing Amelia Hill standing there “Up and at it sunshine, you’re with me this morning. Put this on.” She threw some clothes at him and walked away. He sat up and looked blearily at the clothing he held. It was a wetsuit, this didn’t bode well.
Liam slowly pulled himself to his feet and changed into the swimsuit, slowly waking up in the process.
Closing his door behind him he found Amelia waiting for him on the walkway that connected their quarters.
She turned and looked at him “Good fit?” She didn’t wait for an answer “Excellent, lets go.”
She led the way down the stairs past the ground floor into the subterranean area. It turned out the gym area was located almost directly underneath the Knights quarters. Liam supposed this made sense, but in his awe at the luxury décor the day before he hadn’t even seen that the staircase led underground.
Amelia led Liam up to the side of the pool, almost to the exact spot she had introduced herself to him two days earlier “Start swimming mate”
Liam had missed something “How many laps?”
Smiling that familiar smile that lit up like sunshine Amelia replied with a simple “As many as you can do before I get back.”
This reply should have filled Liam with dread or rage in equal parts, but accompanied by that smile it didn’t seem so bad.
He had swum hundreds of laps growing up, so this shouldn’t be too hard. Liam gave her half a shrug and dove into the pool. She watched him complete a lap and almost felt sorry for the guy- he had no idea how long she intended to make him swim. To be honest with herself, neither did she but it was going to be a lot of laps.
She left him to his laps and went to the gym to run a few dozen Ks on the treadmill. As she started to run her mind wandered, she liked to run. The past couldn’t catch her if she was running.
Amelia’s family on her mothers side had been serving as Knights of the Blood Cross for more than three hundred years. Her mother, Natalie, had been the last in a very long line of Knights and had married fellow Knight Graeme Burrows, She’d kept her own last name as a mark of respect to her family lineage, something all Hill women did. They had two children, the eldest of which was Amelia.
Being the oldest child it was expected of her to take over her mother’s mantle and serve as a Blood Knight. She had been taught the ways of the Knights her entire life. Everyone knew she was Natalie Hill’s daughter and that she would be the first in the next generation of Knights.
When she was sixteen she decided, as all teenagers do, that she was going to do whatever she wanted and make her own way in the world. She was never going to be a Knight and ended up in an argument match with both parents screaming at them that she was nothing like them and that they had wasted their lives hunting these creatures that didn’t seem to be getting any fewer in fact they were obviously so bad at it because, according to them, the Vampires were spreading and getting even more organized. She followed up by yelling at them that instead of hunting well past their prime they should have stayed home and been better parents.
She stormed out of the house and never saw her mother again – she was killed in the field just over a month later.
The memory was forever etched in her mind.
She had received an urgent message from her father to come home as there’d been a family emergency.
Being sixteen she thought it was just a ploy to get her home. When she got to the house she stormed in ready to resume the fight that had driven her out in the first place.
What she had found was her father sitting stone faced staring at the wall. Marcus Adams had been there, red eyed but trying to be strong for his friends and their daughter. Rounding out the trio was Titan who had stood stoically in the kitchen doorway.
They didn’t even have to say a word, just looking at them she knew. Tears had flooded from her eyes and she had slumped to her knees an uncontrollable mess. Her father had stayed like a statue staring into space, it had been Adams and Titan that had picked her up and comforted her.
Her father slipped into a deep depression that consumed his entire being and he turned his back on the Blood Knights and got a regular job at a manufacturing plant. Within a year it engulfed him and he hung himself.
Once both her parents were gone Amelia was overcome with guilt from what she had said and done. Her younger sister Clarissa blamed her for their parents’ death and had gone to live with their father’s parents, and the Hill sisters hadn’t spoken since.
With nowhere else to turn Amelia threw herself headlong into training as a Knight. The lessons she received from Adams, Dreki, Titan and the others all fell on deaf ears, it was the lessons she had learnt from her mother that rang in her subconscious mind.
Usually calm but somehow confident, in her day-to-day activities she moved with very little poise and confidence. Until it came to training or hunting, then she became what Bedo described as ‘Amelia – Warrior Princess.’ Her entire demeanor changed and she was one of the most dangerous women on the planet.
Many people observed over her life that one day she would harness potential and focus it into her entire being and there’d be no stopping her.
At the moment she was content to be the best Knight and trainer she could be. It was the least she could do to honour her parents’ memories.
After running for close to half an hour across an unknown distance on the treadmill (she stopped checking her distances years ago) she decided to go back to check on Liam.
She expected to find him totally worn out at best, on the bottom of the pool at worst.
What she found was Liam still swimming, a lot slower than he when he started, but still swimming. Amelia was impressed at this guy’s determination.
Walking up to the side of the pool she called “Alright new guy?”
At first she thought he hadn’t heard her. She took a breath to call again but stopped when she realised he had heard her but was determined to finish the lap. He slowly dragged himself out of the pool and flopped on the side, looking eerily like a fish out of water. Amelia squatted down next to him, smiling her the warm smile he was rapidly growing fond of.
Using the last of his strength Liam dragged himself out of the pool and lay panting on the edge with Amelia squatting over him, her smile shining down on him like a welcome ray of sunlight.
She repeated her question “You alright new guy?”
Totally exhausted from the massive effort of swimming for half an hour with no end in sight he sluggishly dragged himself to a sitting position “oh I’m fine” he smiled weakly.
“Come on you” she lifted him to his feet and helped him to a nearby chair.
He lowered himself with a grunt, settling like an old house in the night “Any more swimming today? Or have you got something else in mind?”
She handed him a towel and a bottle of fresh water “I was going to say breakfast. But if you want to be smart you can get back in the pool.”
He wiped off his face and gulped down mouthful after mouthful of water. He was pretty sure he had swallowed most of the pool in the last half hour but that was chlorinated. This fresh cool water was at that moment the best thing that had ever happened to him.
When he finally came up for air he handed the bottle back to her “No thank you.”
“Didn’t think so” She gave him a moment to work out if she was serious “Breakfast?” She asked airily.
“I thought you’d never ask.” Liam slowly hauled himself out of the chair. Sitting down had been a bad idea, his limbs all felt like jelly and he started to fall over but Amelia caught him and pointed at a pile of clothes nearby “maybe some dry clothes would be better than your wetsuit?”
Liam hadn’t even thought about what he was wearing. He looked down at the clothes, a simple set of exercise clothes. He smiled weakly at her “Bless you Amelia, Bless you hard.” He grabbed the clothes and hobbled towards what he hoped was a change room. He emerged several minutes later dressed and somehow rejuvenated. He grinned at her “Breakfast?”
She gestured to the door “After you.”
While they walked to the upper level and towards the mess hall Liam decided it was time to get to know the woman behind the smile “So Amelia, how long have you been here?”
She added up the years and months in her head “As an active Knight, five and a bit years. Is that right? Yeah that’s right.” She tossed up how much of her back-story to give him, right now it wasn’t going to be much “As a trainee pretty much all my life.” She gave him the quick version of her story – she told him about her family line and that she had trained all her life, the painful parts she left buried with her parents.
“Wow. You’ve all been here so long, looks like you don’t recruit much.”
Amelia paused again not wanting to scare him on his first day she simply told him “We had some…losses recently. Newer guys, I’d rather not talk about it” The sunshine smile faded. “That’s why we were looking at your unit.”
Not knowing how to answer her statement Liam fell back into silence until they got near the mess hall “What’s on the breakfast menu?” he asked, trying to lighten her mood.
“Bits of everything.” She answered cryptically.
When they walked into the A Block mess hall he saw what she meant, along one wall was the most extensive breakfast buffet he had ever seen. The rest of the room didn’t seem that different to what it was like before the refit. It still felt very utilitarian.
Liam followed Amelia to the buffet table and loaded his plate with just about everything he could get his hands on. It wasn’t until he had seen the spread of food that he understood just how hungry he was. It then dawned on him that this would be the first actual meal he had eaten since he got here. His only previous nourishment had come from IV Drips and water.
He intended to eat until he couldn’t move any more. He had at least gotten the feeling back in his knees after his marathon swim. He considered that a victory in his personal war against the pool.
His plate piled with food he looked around for Amelia. She had grabbed a few pieces of fruit and sat at a table with Hammond, Kennedy and Bedo. Liam sat in the seat next to Amelia in time to catch the end of a story Hammond was telling the group.
Hammond pointed at Kennedy with his forkful of sausage “And then this fuckin’ superstar here, Van Helsing the great Vampire hunter, wonders if you drink a lot of Holy Water, like a bucket of it, would your piss be harmful to Vampires?”
The entire table erupted in laughter, Liam included
Kennedy was laughing at himself “Come on, I was young and stupid” he let out another burst of laughter “And before you say it I will – now I’m just plain old and stupid.”
Hammond choked back his last hiccup of laughter “Hey you said that pal, not me.”
Liam sat quietly listening to the interplay between the two Americans, which was soon joined by Amelia and Bedo.
After a few moments he started to reflect on the fact that the last time he and his now former teammates of the Six Pack had all been together, laughing like this had been a similar breakfast the morning of The Trail.
He looked closely at his rapidly diminishing plate of food and saw that he had eaten a sizeable portion of eggs without once complaining that they weren’t right.
This one fact disturbed Liam more than anything else that had happened to him since waking up in Stacey’s medical bay.
The eggs themselves had never been the problem, but one morning early on in training he’d complained about it and it had become a subtle running joke. By the end of things the Six Pack expected him to do it every time he ate eggs.
Letting go of the old habit had apparently already happened without him noticing.
He’d have to find all new running jokes and habits, but as a mark of respect he’d hold off on heckling the others until he started to find his groove. He found there was nothing worse than when the new guy came in wise cracking and getting under everyone’s skin. Better to wait until he was part of the team to join in.
Someone had spoken to him. He looked up absently from his almost empty plate apologetically “I’m sorry?”
It was Kennedy, he repeated himself “What are you looking forward to most this afternoon?”
Liam was dumbfounded, he didn’t even know what he was doing from minute to minute and here was this American asking him what he was looking forward to later in the day “I don’t really know what I’m doing this afternoon.” He looked at Amelia for confirmation or details. She was busy laughing at some Australianism that Bedo had just said about shaking a sauce bottle.
Smiling broadly Bedo filled in part of his schedule for him “well, this afternoon you’ve got your first flying lesson with Ronnie.”
Liam went white at the thought “Really?”
Bedo laughed heartily and clapped a hand on Liam’s shoulder “God no, Ronnie would never let anyone else fly her ship.”
The table again erupted in laughter, this time Liam was definitely part of the group. He relaxed back into his seat with his orange juice visibly relieved he made a mock gesture of wiping sweat off his brow “Thank Christ for that. That was the scariest twelve seconds of my life.”
Bedo gulped down the last of his coffee and looked at Liam again “I’m sure it was, but in all seriousness mate, you’re with me for equipment 101 as soon as you finish your Brekky.”
Liam had seen more than enough Australian TV shows to know that Brekky was apparently how Australians pronounced Breakfast. “Sounds good” he finished his juice and looked at both his and Bedo’s empty plates “Looks like we’re both done, I’m good to go.”
Bedo stood up, lifting his empty plate and mug as he went. He looked around at his friends “Thank you Ball Boys, thank you linesmen.” Everyone on site was used to Bedo and his eccentric behavior. In this case, it was his way of farewelling of a group of people. Only time would tell if Liam would get used to him or simply ignore him.
Right now he had no choice but to follow the scientist to his laboratory.
Liam bid a farewell to the others and left the mess hall. Bedo led the way across the yard towards a section of prison Liam hadn’t been to yet. It looked like it had been previously used as the visitor’s center.
Inside was yet another contrasting area. This one was obviously the research wing now. Workers in white coats were at various tables doing things that Liam could not fathom.
Liam’s eyes wandered all around this new room as he followed Bedo, who was quietly overseeing what everyone was doing. For so early in the day there was already an awful lot activity happening. Did no one but Liam sleep around here?
Unlike its medical wing brother, the research center could still be equated with its former life. The walls could still be recognized as prison issue with pale blue paint peering out between the display panels and various whiteboards that were covered in equations and sketches.
The floor was still the 1970s linoleum. Natural light streamed in through the high windows, making a nice change from the artificial lights that filled almost every other room Liam had visited so far.
He couldn’t understand why the research and development area was so undeveloped compared to the rest of the refurbishments done to the prison.
The only part of the superstructure that seemed new was a staircase against the western wall that led underground.
“Hey Bedo” Liam said. Bedo stopped his inspections and looked at him.
“What’s all this? I’d have thought that all this fancy R and D would be underground with everything else.”
Bedo was only half listening to him, his attention caught by one of the nearby whiteboards “This is just my little administrative area where we do all our prelim and theory work. Most of our actual work is underneath us in the BatCave.” He pointed at the staircase “Down there is all our seriously high tech toys. I’ll show you later on if you like. There’s some high security holding cells down there too, well not down those stairs, down different stairs. But realistically you’ll never need to go there so I don’t know why I’m bothering to tell you about it moving on.” He took a large intake of air.
Liam nodded in a semi-committal way, ignoring the statement about the cells sensing Bedo had already forgotten he mentioned them. “So why’s the preliminary stuff done upstairs?”
Bedo paused thoughtfully. Liam was expecting some answer about the use of daylight in reaction to Vampire biology or something equally technical. The answer he got shocked him at first but when he thought about it, it didn’t really surprise him that much.
Bedo’s answer was “because I prefer to work up here on ground level than down in the tunnels with the Morlocks. I like to have sunlight around…or at least what passes for sunlight here.” Bedo was referring to the fact that he had grown up in Australia where the ambient light levels were generally a lot higher than in Chelmsbrook’s little corner of the countryside.
They walked through the large open area towards one of the smaller rooms at the back. Room was a generous description, it was a corner of the room that was walled off in old wood paneling and had a run of opaque windows all the way around it. Its original use had been the guards room, but the Knights had enclosed it and turned it into a smaller work area.
Bedo pushed the wooden door open “Step into my parlour said the spider to the fly” Liam was learning very quickly not to question the things Bedo said. He stepped into the smaller room and was again struck by the contrast.
Unlike the vast open space they had just left with its multiple workstations and staffers buzzing around like drones in a colony this room was smaller with only two or three tables scattered around the room, surrounded by junk covered chairs. Every available surface was covered with various pieces of equipment, notepads and other things Liam couldn’t even begin to identify.
This lab was Bedo’s personal domain. A desk appeared to be underneath a pile against one wall, above the desk was the strangest bladed weapon Liam had ever seen – it was curved but didn’t seem to have an identifiable handle. It instead had three hand holes set directly into the blade. He puzzled at it a moment before asking “This weapon, Japanese?”
Bedo followed Liam’s eye line “oh no, that’s a Bat’leth” Liam stared at him blankly. Bedo continued “Klingon Weapon.”
“As in Star Trek?”
“That’d be the one.”
“Right.” The single syllable response was the best one Liam could muster before looking around the room again. He picked up a metallic black boot that was connected to a knee brace by two thin rods “What’s this?”
Bedo grabbed the boot out of Liam’s hand and shoved it in a cupboard “This is just a new toy I’m working on, don’t worry about it.” Without missing a beat he moved to the only relatively clear surface in the room. It had several items meticulously laid out in a row, including several firearms “Come see.”
Liam sidled up next to Bedo and looked closer at the things on the table “What am I looking at here?”
Bedo picked up the first item; a small device identical to the one Liam had seen Adams using during his tour “This is your best friend.” He handed it to Liam before continuing, “This is your PCU – Personal Command Unit.”
Liam turned it over in his hand “Looks like an iPhone to me”
Bedo almost staggered backwards in indignation “An iPhone? A Bloody iPhone?!?” he took a breath in an attempt to calm down “mate, this thing makes an iPhone look like a string between two cans” He quickly composed himself before speaking again, if there was one thing that Bedo hated above all else it was people trivializing his work “Have a bit of a play with it while I get the rest of this shit ready.”
Liam shrugged slightly and started pressing icons on the PCU’s screen. It seemed like a pretty user-friendly interface. Whoever had designed it, presumably Bedo, had definitely made it easy enough for just about anyone to pick up and use.
He cycled through various programs. It all looked pretty stock standard: utilities, clock, calendar, calculator- the usual stuff.
A different menu: com-link, messenger, Explorer, Map-maker. Liam lingered over this last icon for a moment before tapping it. An instant later the PCU let out a high pitched, almost imperceptible ‘ping.’ It displayed the word ‘Charting’ for a few seconds before displaying a three dimensional map of the lab area. It had used a sonar sweep to chart the room, a handy feature. The more Liam toyed with the PCU and its functions the more it reminded him of a smart phone, despite Bedo’s claims that it was much more.
‘Scan Options’ brought up a whole new menu with icons for things such as ‘Environmental analysis’ ‘Thermal’ and ‘Motion’ among others. ‘Visor Control’ definitely caught his attention, he tried to activate it but it wouldn’t respond. “Bedo, half these things don’t work’ a slight exaggeration, clearly lost on Bedo.
Bedo looked at the PCU intently for a moment “Oh that’s hardly surprising, you don’t have a visor yet, but we’ll get to that. Now you’ve had a bit of a look at it, you no doubt realize this is your everything. Keep it safe at all times. I know it looks boring as bat shit now, but you’ll get more Apps in there as you go along, all sorts of fun things, yes I have modified Angry Birds to work on the OS if you want it.”
Liam smiled at the idea of playing games while he was supposed to be hunting Vampires “I like it, very easy to get the hang of.”
Bedo smiled proudly “Thanks mate, that was the idea. There was nothing worse than having a complicated system in the field. Now, you’re next to is this fellow, I call it the Cyclops visor, because, well, look at it. Anyway put it on and see how we go” He handed the visor to Liam.
Liam looked down at the strange visor in his hand. It was black and slightly curved, designed to wrap gently around the eyes. There was an audio earpiece on the right. He slid it over his eyes and waited for something to happen. Nothing did, not at first. All he saw was Bedo’s grinning visage looking at him through the glass of the visor “It’s not doing anything.”
Bedo let out a small burst of laughter “Of course not, you have to activate it. She won’t work on her own. Go back to your PCU visor control.”
As instructed Liam tapped the icon again, hoping something would happen on the small display screen. So far the state of the art equipment was all a bit of a let down.
After a few seconds he saw a word blinking in the bottom left corner of his field of vision. It simply said “synching.” Right as he opened his mouth to ask what it was doing, the screen of his visor filled with all sorts of scrolling data and readouts.
Scrolling along the bottom were the weather conditions. The local time displayed in the top right. Every time he moved his head the visor scanned what he was looking at “Wow, now this is impressive.”
Bedo increased the size of his smile and started talking “This is the most advanced field HUD you’ll ever use, at least until I build a new one. What you’re looking at now is Data Mode, you’ll use that more than any other. There are several more, if you tap this section of the visor” He pointed to the round button on the side of the visor “You can cycle through your various vision modes” he quickly tapped the button in rapid succession, demonstrating the various things he could see.
Bedo did this far too quickly for Liam to keep up with, let alone take in every mode displayed to him. He hoped he’d have time to come back to them and really hoped Bedo wasn’t planning a test at the end. Bedo considered what he’d done “Sorry champion, I went to fast. What I’m going to do is show you everything, then go back and give you a step by step, I probably should have told you the plan first. I’m really sorry, I do that, get ahead of myself and go off on a tangent and realize I’ve left out something important.” He paused for breath or thought or both before he went on “So now you have your PCU and your Cyclops Visor, don’t worry you’ll get used to using them together, up next is something I’m sure you’ve been tonguing to get at, one of your primary Vampire hunting weapons.”
Bedo picked a black bundle up off the table and turned back to Liam “this my friend, is a Snikty Glove.”
“It’s origin isn’t important” A slight shrug and a knowing smile before he unwrapped the bundling to reveal a black glove. Not just a glove, a gauntlet that was long enough to go almost all the way to the elbow. Sitting on the back was a metallic component that ran the entire length of the glove. He handed it to Liam who eagerly slid it onto his right arm.
Bedo resumed his briefing. “Fits like a glove. Sorry that joke was shithouse. What you’re wearing is a glove made of Kevlar thread and Carbon nanotube, very tough stuff. Now if you make a fist and clench your fingers except your pointer…”
He didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence, Liam followed the instruction – instantly deploying two ten inch blades from the gauntlet.
Fortunately he hadn’t been looking too closely at the glove, the blades came dangerously close to his face as it was.
Any closer and he’d have lost not only an eye but most of his head as well “Holy Shit!” he yelped and gave a little stumble. He thought about berating Bedo for not warning him not to hurt himself but soon decided against it, theorizing it’d just get more words from Bedo than need be. Liam was still unsure exactly how he felt about the eccentric Australian. He didn’t dislike him but he knew he’d take a lot of getting used to “That’s brilliant.”
“Sure is, do it again.”
Liam flexed again and the blades retracted “That’s great, I get why you call it Snikty now.” He didn’t, he was just humouring him but had an idea it had to do with the sound the blades made when the slid in and out.
“If you flex everything but your Pinky.”
Liam again followed the instruction, holding the blade away from his face, once almost blinded, twice shy. This time a wooden stake sprang out in between where the blades had been “Nice, Nice. Wooden stake, I like it. Can I assume the blades are silver?”
He didn’t wait for the instruction to retract the stake, he assumed it worked just like the blades. The stake slid back into its housing with a satisfying click.
“You’re jumping the gun there mate, I was getting to the silver, but since you asked: What we use is actually a silver alloy. Yonks ago, I’m talking years here, the Knights researchers discovered that it didn’t have to be pure silver to cause damage to the various ES going round. What it actually is, is a combination of Silver blended with, you don’t care what the alloy is made of”
Bedo was right- Liam didn’t care. Bedo continued unabated “Suffice to say the combination of metals in the alloy is the perfect mix to inflict maximum damage in Vampires and Werewolves and whatever else you come across. I think Hammond even used it to slice fruit on one mission, I could be wrong.”
Liam slid the blades out again and gave them a few swipes through the air “I’m impressed with these blades, you’ve done a good job.”
“Thanks, the Knights all rave about them. They actually work in unison with a suit that’s made of a similar weave, keeps the cuts and bruises to a minimum, at least that’s the plan. Doesn’t always work to said plan though.”
Liam slid the gauntlet off his arm and put it gently back on the table “I bet it doesn’t” He was referring to the ‘recent losses’ Amelia had mentioned, he could sense that these losses had gotten to everyone, even Bedo dropped his smile slightly.
The next thing Bedo picked up was the handgun “Standard run of the mill Browning nine mil handgun, nothing fancy” he didn’t give it to Liam but simply showed it a little and put it back on the table. “Until of course, you load it with these” He produced a bullet from his pocket, silver in colour. “You hit a Vampire in the arm or leg with one of these it’ll take the limb right off, reduce it to ashes. But more often than not they’ll just keep coming at you. They’re crafty little buggers, but if you hit them with one or two rounds in the chest or head it’ll destroy them pretty efficiently.”
Liam could not believe it “A silver bullet?” he’d heard of them in movies but didn’t think they’d actually be used.
“Kind of, this is a silver alloy hollow cavity round. It spreads its shrapnel better since it’s hollow.” Liam knew the theory behind hollow point and hollow cavity rounds. It made sense for the Knights to use them, he was about to say as much when Bedo continued dramatically “But then” he extended the word to last several seconds “We fill them with this” he picked up a small vial of silver tinged liquid “What this is, is silver nitrate dissolved in holy water, or as we call it around here, Lunar Caustic. Now I realize Lunar Caustic has always been one of the alias’ given to silver nitrate but I figured since it was dissolved in water that…”
“Dissolved in holy water you say?” Liam asked, cutting off Bedo’s diatribe.
Liam was fascinated by the vial and moved closer to peer through the glass.
“Yeah mate, holy water, reacts with Vampires the same way sulfuric acid reacts with everything. Doesn’t really effect the Werewolves though, I’m not sure why”
“Wow. I’d assumed that the holy stuff was totally ineffective which is why you developed these weapons.”
“Oh no, not all. The Holy Water works wonders, crosses not so much, something about crosses being a symbol of man or something, again, not something I’ve got a lot of data on. Amelia or Father Graham will no doubt give you the drum on all that side of things.”
This was a name that was new to Liam. He’d heard no mention of a Father anyone. Although knowing this place it could simply have been someone’s nickname “Sorry, who?”
“Amelia. Amelia Hill? She was at breakfast with us.” Bedo realised that wasn’t the name Liam was questioning and quickly corrected himself “Sorry, of course you know Amelia. Have you not met Father Graham yet?”
Liam shook his head “Nope, his name was never mentioned”
Bedo blinked a few times “Father Graham Benson? Old bloke that does history research up in the old chapel and runs services?”
Liam shook his head again “nope”
Bedo opened his mouth to speak then slapped himself on the forehead “God I’m a wanker. He’s not here, he’s on a retreat. That’d be why you haven’t met him yet.” He paused, staring into the middle distance before continuing “At least that’s the story, I personally think he’s off running around the bush in the nuddy or something equally weird.”
“Now…” he repeated, more confidently “This is what you’ve been waiting for” he grabbed the small sheet covering the edge of the table and whipped it away like a magician revealing not a top hat with a rabbit in it but an automatic weapon of the same design he had seen Hammond and Kennedy using when he met them.
Bedo hefted it and handed it to Liam who studied it closely. As far as assault rifles went, it was relatively small and snub nosed with a squared off barrel. Its most striking feature was that it was all black, light seemed to almost fall off it. Liam had to look closely at it to make out the finer details.
Bedo continued his demonstration that was starting to feel like a sales pitch “This, is your friend and mine, the B-KAR9 fully automatic assault rifle. Designed and manufactured specifically for The Knights of the Blood Cross” he was glowing like a proud parent “It fires a ten millimetre version of the Lunar Caustic bullets, or LC Round if you prefer. This is where it gets clever though, its actually designed to fire it’s rounds at a relatively slow speed, most guns you’re going for a straight through and through effect. Not these though, these fire slower causing the LC’s to spread their payload even more effectively once inside the Vampires body.” He finally stopped for breath and to marvel at his own genius.
Liam had to give the man credit; it was pretty ingenious to combine the two effects, the LC rounds and slower bullet speed. He knew without asking that slower still meant extremely fast, but in bullet time it was relative.
Now Liam was really impressed “And you designed all these things?”
Bedo nodded enthusiastically “Oh yeah, with a little help from my minions out there, but yes, I did a lot of it. Not so much the manufacturing though, a company called Brandt Manufacturing does that in Switzerland. Not sure I should’ve told you that, oh well. But yes, I did most of the design work. I’m a lot like Q in that respect” A blank stare from Liam, Bedo clarified “Q from the James Bond films, not Q from Star Trek. I’m good but I’m not that good.” He chuckled at a personal joke that was entirely lost on Liam “Listen to me rabbiting away like I’m Basil Exposition or someone.”
Liam missed yet another of Bedo’s references but soldiered on anyway “What sort of signal links the visor and the PCU?” Liam wasn’t sure himself why he had asked that particular question. It wasn’t relevant to anything, just a simple curiosity.
Bedo wasn’t expecting the question and was momentarily taken aback “Oh…wait what? The signal? No one’s ever asked me that before, it’s a highly encrypted local signal, similar to Bluetooth but so much more secure.” He picked the PCU up again and placed it back in Liam’s hand “Now I’ve shown you the main collection, lets go back to the beginning. This needs to live on you now. Like I said, it’s your everything. Communicator, organizer the lot.” He quickly moved some boots off a nearby chair and gestured Liam to it “Now, pop a squat and we’ll go through everything it’ll do.”
Liam had a sick feeling that this too was going to turn into a full lesson from this mad professor. He slowly lowered himself into the chair and waited for Bedo to start the lesson. Liam didn’t think he’d have to wait long.
However, before Bedo got a chance to start his lesson Liam decided he’d ask a few more questions, Bedo was a lot more free and easy with the details than Adams had been.
“These Vampires.” He began, watching Bedo move a pile off his own chair and settle into it “Is it like all these movies and such where the centuries old Vampire falls in love with the teenage girl? Because that shit pisses me off.”
Bedo’s eyes filled with fire and his demeanor took on an edge that Liam wouldn’t have thought possible “Oh Fuck No! That crap annoys all of us like you wouldn’t believe” once again he pulled himself under control. A strange characteristic that Liam was still getting used to watching “No, they don’t cross breed with humans, they pretty much just want us as Happy Meals on legs and we want to kill them, send them to whatever hell is the most convenient.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. Now crosses, you say those are ineffective?”
“Not at all, more of a rallying point than anything else.”
Liam looked down at his PCU. There was no point postponing the lesson any longer “You wanted to show me this thing?”
Bedo pulled his own PCU out of his pocket “Certainly do” He slid his chair closer to Liam and started to explain the device in detail.
The first thing Liam learnt was that there was a tracking ship inside the PCU that was used to locate the Knights, as well as the fact that sensors in the suits Bedo mentioned earlier relayed the Knights’ vital signs back to Chelmsbrook along with a video feed from their Visors.
After an hour or so of listening to Bedo, Liam figured he either had the hang of using not only the PCU and the Visor or that prolonged exposure to Bedo and his tangents had driven him insane. He was inclined to believe it was the former more than the latter.
Liam didn’t find Bedo unpleasant by any means, he quite liked him in fact. It was just with his military background Liam didn’t have a lot of patience for the obscure pop culture references and tangents that Bedo went off on far too frequently. His life would be much easier if he didn’t have to spend large amounts of time with the Australian scientist.
But conversely he figured if he ever needed to find out anything, Bedo would be the perfect place to start – the guy seemed to know everything that went on around the prison and wasn’t scared of talking.
As Liam was going through the finer points of the various scan modes the PCU let out two quick beeps and a message popped up on the screen. It said ‘Reminder: Lunch’
‘Reminder: Meet Titan. Xi. Dojo’
Liam couldn’t believe what he was seeing, he’d only just gotten this thing and had barely looked at the calendar, let alone set any reminders. He held up the screen so Bedo could see it “I’ve got reminders.” It was both a statement and a question.
Bedo chewed his lip for a moment before answering “I did that actually, programmed your entire timetable in there, just in case I got carried away talking to you. It’ll pop up reminders to let you know where to be until you get used to your routine. If you go into the calendar it’s all in there.” He stood and picked up a duffel bag that was sitting against one of the many nearby piles “chuck all your gear in here. The suit I mentioned earlier is already in there. If memory serves” a little smile, yet another of his personal joke’s “Lunch is soon. You better have a decent feed, you’ve got a big afternoon. I don’t envy you and the training ahead, this is why I’m glad I’m just the bloke that builds the toys and not one of the Knights that plays with them.”
Liam saw the point Bedo was trying to make and couldn’t help himself, he had to rain on his parade “No, your job is much more high pressure.”
Bedo’s face dropped “What? How so?”
Liam stood and started loading his new equipment into the open bag, speaking slowly as he went “Well, the way I see it, you might not be in the field facing Vampires and Were-Donkeys and whatever else is out there, but you’re building the equipment that the Knights are putting their faith and their lives in, you fuck up, it’s their death on your head.” He knew he shouldn’t be antagonizing the young researcher so early on, but thought that he was hard enough to take it. Liam himself didn’t realize it but he was already treating Bedo the way he had treated the other members of the Six Pack.
For the first time in a long time Bedo was dumbstruck “Oh my god. I had never thought about that, and that’s shocking because I usually think of everything.”
Liam hoisted the bag over his shoulder and smiled devilishly “Just something to think about. I’ll catch up with you later.” He turned and walked confidently out of the office, leaving Bedo to his research.
After a lunch that was small compared to the breakfast spread, Liam made his way to the training room that he had met Titan and Xi in two days earlier. He smiled to himself as he did, grateful for the fact he was now seemingly allowed to walk around the prison unescorted. He wondered how quickly Dreki and his boys would be on him if he wandered too far from where he had been instructed to go though.
Deciding not to push his luck on his first day Liam continued on his path to the training room. Maybe he’d wait a few days before testing the boundaries. He walked up to the familiar entrance and grabbed the handle, taking a deep breath before sliding the heavy door open.
The room inside looked the same as it had the last time he was there, right down to Titan and Xi being present. Except now Titan was very much human looking. He was off to the side mercilessly beating a punching bag while Xi stood sentry in the middle of the room.
Xi smiled as Liam approached him “Welcome Welcome. This is my dojo. You’ll train hard.”
Titan stopped pummeling the bag and moved silently towards them “Very hard” he rumbled. “Morning Liam” He stuck his hand out. Liam took it in his and shook it. He still couldn’t quite reconcile the fact that this man he was shaking hands with was the same creature that had been here yesterday.
Titan released Liam’s hand and stepped back “There’s no point wasting time, lets see what you’ve got.” He gestured with both hands towards himself “What’s your favourite move?”
“My favourite what?” Liam wasn’t sure exactly what Titan meant “Shouldn’t I change into training gear or something?
Titan didn’t hesitate in his reply “Are you going to have the luxury of training gear in the field?”
“Exactly. Now show me your best shot. Now!”
When Titan gave an order, you followed it. Liam did his best to ignore the fact that he was about to attack a Werewolf that could tear him apart. He fired off his signature kick aimed straight at Titans ribs.
Before the kick connected Titan caught Liam by the ankle, pulled the leg in tight and smiled the scariest smile Liam had ever seen, This was going to end badly for one of them and it wasn’t Titan. Liam didn’t even see Titans other arm move before he hooked the other leg and slammed Liam on his back.
Laying on the floor gasping for air, Liam was eternally grateful for the layer of padding that was beneath him. He pulled himself to his feet and looked at Titan who was chuckling quietly. Xi was standing ominously to the side, no doubt waiting to unleash some Shaolin combo that could break bricks.
Titan stopped chuckling and nodded encouragingly “Not a bad kick. Muay Thai right?”
Liam was trying desperately not to let the fact he still he hadn’t regained his breath show, so he merely nodded.
“It’s a good kick, I use it sometimes. Come again.”
Liam was determined to prove himself but he had to try a new strategy. He barely knew these men but was inexplicably awed by them. He tensed his leg muscle, hoping Titan would grab at the empty air and leave himself open. Titan didn’t take the bait but Liam had already committed himself to the second kick. It was already in midair by the time he saw that Titan hadn’t moved.
Once again he found himself flat on his back. This time he didn’t even see how it had happened. All he could see was Titan standing over him with his hand outstretched waiting to drag Liam back to his feet.
When he had Liam on his feet again Titan continued his lesson “See what I did there?”
“No, I really didn’t” Liam admitted with a cautious laugh.
Titan was in good spirits “I put you on the ground is what I did. Now I’m going to throw the same kick at you and you’re going to block it the way you normally would.”
Liam shifted his weight to a more defensive stance and nodded that he was ready. He watched Titans leg flex, the kick was about to come. What he didn’t see was the giant fist flying at his face. He didn’t fall down this time but he did stumble backwards. His hand went straight to his nose to check for blood “What the hell man?” He didn’t think his nose was broken but he was grateful for the slight padding on Titans MMA gloves.
Titan showed no remorse at all “You never know what your enemy is going to do.” He saw that Liam was still favouring his nose “It’s not broken, you’ll be fine.”
Liam begrudgingly ignored the throbbing inside his skull, stepped back towards Titan and nodded that he was ready to go again. This time he was ready to block the punch. He should have known better – The punch started, Liam swung his arm up to block the strike that never came. As Titan twitched his arm, his leg shot out in a perfect recreation of Liam’s signature kick. It connected with Liam’s left thigh with a slap that echoed through the room.
Liam swore loudly and limped around a little. If he had thought Titan had hit him with full force he was wrong. Had Titan used all his Extras-Sapien strength he would have shattered the bones in Liam’s leg.
He was not making a good first impression and he knew it. Liam knew how to handle himself, just not against a Werewolf that kept changing the rules. The silver lining was that he wasn’t trying to fight Titan in his wolf form.
As he resumed his defensive stance he heard a voice next to him “No!” It was Xi. Liam hadn’t even seen him move. He tapped Liam’s leg with the short stick he was holding “Your feet, stop dancing. Is martial arts dojo, not dance studio.”
At first Liam missed what Xi was trying to tell him, he was still awed at the small mans silent movement. After a second or two he understood what Xi meant and he was exactly right: Liam had been shuffling his weight around between both legs and moving his feet back and forth.
Whether he had been doing it the whole time or only since Titan had so thoroughly dominated him, he wasn’t sure.
Titan ignored the fact that Liam was still limping and called him back to where he was standing “Alright, that’s kicking. Throw me something else.”
Liam didn’t even think about his next move – he threw a straight punch at Titan. He expected it to connect with his face, he wasn’t sure if it’d hurt him or not. He never found out either way: Titan saw the fist coming at him, took half a step backwards, caught Liam’s fist with both hands and pulled him forwards, almost ripping both arms out of their sockets in the process. This time Liam landed face down on the mat. Frustration was starting to creep close to the surf ace of his emotions. It manifested in a simple slap to the ground and a grunt before he stood back up.
What he saw next terrified him – Titan was taking his gloves off. Liam was suddenly convinced he’d be visiting Dr. McDonald again very shortly. His concern was written all over his face.
“Ok, So” Titan said, ignoring Liam’s terror “we’re going to work with you because you don’t know shit right now.” He paused briefly considering what he’d said “No, that’s not what I meant” he corrected himself before taking a sip of water “Your instincts are good and you have good form, but we’re going to teach you better techniques for what you’ll be facing.” He used his water bottle to indicate a nearby pair of stools “Take a seat, we’re having a chat.”
Without question Liam pulled the stool out and perched on it, Titan did the same. Liam looked around to see if Xi would be joining them, he was gone. More Shaolin silent moving, that was starting to become really disconcerting.
“Before we even start on fighting, we’re going to work on a lot of what you could call Extreme Conditioning. The things we go through out there are anything unlike you’ve ever faced before. Our missions can last anywhere from a simple in and out three hour raid to a drawn out three month investigation.
“You need to be able to keep up.
“The first thing you need to know is that most of the fancy techniques you know of are completely useless, which is unfortunate for me because I do a hell of a lot of them. What we do, is focus less on using punches, kicks and strikes to do actual damage. Because frankly, ordinary humans don’t have the strength to actually hurt most ES types. With enough training and conditioning however, we can get you as close as possible to actually doing some damage though.
“The way we cause the damage is to use everything we know to open up their defenses for access to their heart so we can stake them, or decapitate them, the two most efficient ways to kill a Vampire. Were-Creatures you will need to work harder, or just shoot them.” He smiled slightly “But don’t shoot me.”
Liam returned the slight smile “I’ll try not to.”
“That’s all I ask.” This wasn’t true, Titan asked quite a lot of his field knights, but Liam would learn that in time. “Anyway, your best course of attack is not a good defense but a fantastic offense. You’re best defense is the same offense. A main thing we learn is how to use their own strength and momentum against them.
“Now” he stood up again “I’m going to turn you over to Xi to start your conditioning”
Liam was stunned by the fact that not only had he not seen Xi disappear, he had also somehow completely missed his return.
Titan firmly shook Liam’s hand again, clapped Xi on the shoulder and strode towards the door. Right before he crossed the threshold he tossed a look over his shoulder and called “Good luck.”
Liam would later look back on this conversation and realize it’s the longest sustained piece of dialogue he’d ever hear Titan say. He didn’t know exactly what Xi, the Shaolin Monk Vampire Hunter had in mind for him but he was sure he wasn’t going to enjoy it.
Xi led Liam back towards the center of the room before he started talking in his clipped, but surprisingly clear manner “I teach you. We focus your Qi Gong, your Chi energy. With it, any body part – hand, leg, neck, all strong as bricks.”
He walked towards a shelf that held a variety of weapons, most of which Liam didn’t recognize. Xi picked up two sticks, about the length of Liam’s forearm and about the width of his thumb. “Focus your arms and heart, this way.” He led Liam to a post that had rubber wrapped around it so it resembled car tires.
By now Xi had one of the sticks in each hand “What we do” he swung one of the sticks at half speed towards the rubber, connecting softly and following through like he was swatting an elusive fly. He handed one stick to Liam “You do it.”
Liam swung his stick at full speed at the target, in what he thought was the same way Xi had done it. Xi waved his stick and shook his head “No no, not stop. More power, follow through.” He swung his stick at full speed towards the pole, he hit it so hard it appeared to pass straight through the rubber barrier. “If I stop” he swung again, instead of following through he stopped it against the pole, the stick bouncing backwards “Much less power.”
“I see” Liam nodded. He was amazed at the speed and strength with which Xi swung the stick “I’ll try again?” Xi nodded at him and stepped back folding his arms across his chest. Liam swung his stick again, this time he was determined to follow through.
His impact was the same as Xi’s. Except unlike Xi Liam felt a jarring impact in his wrist. Xi smiled encouragingly at him “Good Good. Feel better? More power.” He handed the second stick to Liam “Now both sticks. Swing in time, one two one two” Understanding what he was supposed to do, Liam swung the first stick the same way he had before, the same follow through, the same wrist jarring impact, the same encouragement “Good Good” Xi nodded approvingly “but when you hit, I already tell you, don’t dance. But this hard part, when you fight, don’t stay still, stop long enough for strike, move again.”
Liam nodded while pondering the apparent contradiction in styles. He planted his feet and swung again, right left, right left.
By now Xi was happy with the strikes Liam was doing “Very good. We start slowly on your first day. Ten minutes get used to it.”
Ten minutes? He couldn’t be serious. Liam’s wrists were already feeling the effects of the impacts with the rubber lining. But, he knew he had to keep going. Like McCallister’s rule had always been ‘Do it right, or do it again.’
“No problem Xi” Liam kept swinging. Xi watched the first dozen then walked to a far corner and sat silently on the floor with his eyes closed in meditation, listening to Liam’s strikes.
At first Liam felt fine running the drill, it was good to be doing some training again. After five minutes or so he was feeling the familiar exercise pains in his wrists, the impact of the wooden sticks on the rubber was actually a lot harder than he first thought.
After ten minutes it had gone from the familiar good pain to feeling like his arms were going to fall off. Every time he slowed down Xi heard it, or sensed it in his meditative state and snapped a simple command of “Keep speed.” By the time Xi stood up and came back Liam’s arms were all but numb. His upper back was burning with the constant back and forth swinging. His neck was too stiff to move in any direction and he didn’t even want to think about what’d happen if he tried to move his legs now.
How Xi had kept track of time in his meditation Liam didn’t know, but he was nonetheless impressed. Xi picked up a bottle of water and handed it to Liam who took the bottle in his trembling hand. Before Xi even gave the instruction he dropped his fight stance and bent over ninety degrees, sipping awkwardly from the water bottle as he did.
Due to his short stature Xi only had to bend slightly to be level with Liam’s face. He rested his hand encouragingly on Liam’s back, making sure he only rested it gently “You did good. Very good.” He straightened up and waited for Liam to pull his muscles and bones back under control “How do you feel?”
With a slight grunt Liam forced his body to resume a vertical stance. “I’m ok” he lied while tilting his head to stretch his neck.
Xi laughed lightly “No, you hurt. Is ok to hurt some time. Pain can be your friend. But not today.”
Given the option of being flattened every ten seconds by Titan or doing more of Xi’s conditioning Liam would have gladly lined up for a hundred of Titan’s kicks and throws.
He only had a moment to breathe before Xi opened a small cupboard. Much to Liam’s surprise it seemed to be filled with kitchenware of varying descriptions. He picked up a small white plastic bowl, nudged the door closed with his foot and brought it back to Liam.
“You hold this” Xi held the bowl to Liam who was about to take it when Xi smiled at him. If he hadn’t been a Shaolin monk and devoted to Buddhism, the smile could almost have been called sadistic. Liam hoped he was wrong “You hold this on your head. Helps balance and leg strength.”
“On my? Head?” Liam was astounded, he had just almost lost both his arms to a pile of rubber and now he had to stand here with a bowl on his head.
“Yes, on your head. You stand like this.” He stretched his right leg forward like he was doing a lunging exercise. When his left leg was straight and his right leg bent almost ninety degrees he stopped “And then. Bowl on head.” He straightened up and waited for Liam to do as he had done.
Despite the fact his neck was frozen and his back was still smoldering Liam was now supposed to stand in a lunge for god knew how long. The pain had started to fade, but only slightly. Sighing deeply he slowly slid his right foot forward until he felt it was a recreation of what Xi had done.
Apparently he was wrong. Xi pointed at his feet “Your feet Liam. Need to be straight, like train track.”
As Liam painfully shuffled his feet to a more parallel stance Xi gestured for him to put the bowl on his head. Liam knew this was going to be the hardest part. Breathing deeply he slowly put the bowl on his head. Much to his surprise the bowl sat there in a bizarre parody of a crown.
“See, much better. Now, you stand there, be aware of surroundings.”
“For how long?” Liam was careful not to let the bowl drop.
“In field, you never know how long you’ll have to be still. I tell you when to move.”
Without warning Xi slipped behind Liam, out of his field of view.
The first few minutes standing motionless were ok. After a short while, he wasn’t sure how long, the pain started in the lower part of his thigh, it slowly crawled up towards his hip while being joined by a similar feeling in his left calf.
It wasn’t bad enough that his legs hurt, he also had to focus on staying still so the bowl wouldn’t fall off his head. At first he found it difficult, but he was proud the bowl only dropped all the way to the floor twice. The other times he had managed to catch it in midair. Liam quickly found that if he focused all his attention towards the bowl on his head, the fire in his legs and now lower back burned with less intensity.
Suddenly there was a hard impact underneath his right thigh. Xi had kicked Liam’s thigh with the hardest part of his own shin. Liam swore loudly and jumped in shock, sending the bowl clattering noisily to the floor.
Xi quickly swept up the bowl and held it for Liam “You to focused on bowl. Not listen to world around you.”
Liam slowly resumed his position, but with his legs reversed. He slowly returned the bowl to his head, talking slowly as he did “Yeah, but I didn’t think you’d kick me.” All things aside he was happy for the chance to change legs.
“You stand focus on bowl, pain, world, everything. No Vampire get close.” Once again without warning he disappeared from Liam’s field of view, leaving him alone with his thoughts and pain. He thought he heard Xi slip out of the room, but with Xi it was hard to tell because the little man made no sound when he moved.
Liam didn’t see anyone for what felt like an hour, in reality it was closer to fifteen minutes, until the door quietly rolled open and Kennedy walked in wearing carrying a towel and a water bottle.
He smiled quickly at Liam and walked towards the stack of rubber Liam had recently been hitting. Liam started to move towards him, he assumed Kennedy was there to train with him.
Kennedy saw Liam start moving, dropped what he was holding and held his hands out with a very real sense of urgency “No! No! Don’t move!”
Liam froze to the spot, hand on his bowl, left foot slightly off the floor he stared wide eyed at Kennedy.
“If Xi sees you move he’ll pull your eyes out, rearrange them and put them back, then maybe mine for distracting you. Just stay still for the love of God son.”
Liam gingerly lowered his foot and regained his balance, not letting go of his bowl until he was confident it wouldn’t drop. He hoped desperately that Kennedy was exaggerating.
Kennedy being in the room gave Liam something new to focus on, which was surprisingly welcome. He had gotten sick of listening to the sound of his own breath mixing with the soft whir of the air conditioner.
He watched with as much attention as he could spare from his pain and balance as Kennedy picked up the same sticks Liam had used and went to work hitting the layer of rubber. His form was slightly different, Liam had done a single strike with each arm in turn. Kennedy was hitting one way then swinging back again. Liam wasn’t sure but it looked like Kennedy was hitting harder and faster than he had.
After ten minutes Kennedy stopped hitting the pile, put his sticks away and jogged quietly out of the room, pausing briefly to nod at Liam.
That was the only time Liam saw anyone or anything of interest since Xi had kicked him.
It was once again time to focus on the bowl on his head instead of the pain in his body. Liam almost missed the rhythm of Kennedy’s sticks, it had become a welcome distraction.
Now that the room was silent and motionless, and now that he seemed to have gotten the hang of standing with the bowl on his head, he went back to concentrating on nothing.
Without being consciously aware of it he slipped into an almost meditative state and let his mind wander, thinking about things that were totally unrelated to what was happening to him. It was a trail of thoughts his father used to describe as ‘taking his mind off the hook.’
He stood alternating between having his ‘mind off the hook’ and being bored thinking about the bowl on his head for longer than he thought possible.
By now he somehow felt immeasurable pain and completely numb at the same time. It was an interesting sensation, but not one he was keen to repeat. This was worse than anything McCallister and her trainers had ever put him through.
Eventually Liam heard the sound of the door rolling open. He listened for footsteps but didn’t hear any. Within seconds he knew why – Xi silently moved into view and reached up and took the bowl off Liam’s head “How you feel?”
Liam moved his legs into a more comfortable standing position and instantly regretted it, his muscles had locked up “Not great, I’ll be honest.”
Xi mulled this over a moment “It gets easier when you do it more.”
“Tell me I don’t have to do this every day.”
“No not every day, different exercise tomorrow. Now you should go eat.”
“Eat? Is it that late?” he pulled his PCU out of his pocket to check the time before Xi answered.
“You standing a long time, longer than you think.”
Liam was stunned he had stood there most of the afternoon “Apparently.”
“Very good, now go eat. I see you tomorrow.”
Liam slowly forced his feet to move one in front of the other, desperately trying not to actually move any of the joints or muscles in his body.
Eventually he managed to hobble his way into the mess hall, grab a plate of food and painfully settle into a chair at a vacant table. He had looked around for a familiar face but hadn’t seen anyone he recognised, he was slightly relieved by this. He didn’t know if he could speak through the mix of pain and numbness he was feeling.
Within seconds this was put to the test as he heard a female voice across from him “Hey Sport.”
He looked up and saw a woman, he blinked a few times at her before he worked out it was Ronnie standing across from him. This was not the same woman he had met in the hanger area. This Ronnie was gorgeous – she had her hair tied in a slightly off center pony tail so it fell over the front of her shoulder.
She wore a simple white singlet top that caused his eyes to move involuntarily south. He had been right, she was attractive under all that grease. She smelled slightly of bath oils and the closer he looked, her hair was damp. Obviously she was fresh from the shower.
She was holding a tray with a plate of food Liam paid no notice to. She slid gracefully into the chair opposite him “You’re movin’ a little slow there sunshine.”
Liam nodded very carefully while swallowing his mashed potato “Yeah, I had conditioning with Xi this afternoon.”
“Oh yeah. How’d that go?”
Liam thought for a few moments about how to phrase his response. He didn’t want to down play Xi’s methods, but nor did he want to overstate his pain, in the end he opted to reply with “I survived”
Ronnie threw her head back and let out a quick guttural laugh that echoed through the entire mess hall, attracting curious glances from the other diners. She waved a quick apology to the others and turned her attention back to Liam, wiping her eyes that may or may not have had tears in them. Liam was staring blankly at her wondering why his pain was so funny to her.
It took her a few deep breaths before she could form a coherent word “I’m really sorry Liam, that was really funny and I have no idea why.”
He hadn’t thought it was particularly funny, but he guessed that it was just Ronnie’s sense of humour. As they chatted absently about Liam’s various aches and pains he came up with a theory – when you first looked at Veronica Stephenson, especially dressed as she was now, which the more he thought about it wasn’t actually anything fancy, you expected her to be what Krump used to call ‘a vapid party whore.’ After speaking to the girl for any more than sixty seconds you came to the conclusion she was so very much more than that. That was all before you learnt about her test pilot history.
He pulled his focus back to the conversation from his musings and realised with more than a little irony that she had started talking about her hair, even stroking it gently.
“I’m sorry Ronnie, what did you say?” he was legitimately sorry that he had drifted off.
She smiled a warm smile at him, it didn’t have the same impact as Amelia’s sunshine smile but it was still nice to see such an attractive woman smiling at him, it made the isolation he wasn’t ready to admit feeling, that little bit more bearable.
“I was saying” She said, putting her dinner roll down “That after so many years in the RAF having to keep my hair short I now make a point of growing it long, just because I can.”
Liam couldn’t for the life of him remember how they’d gotten onto the topic of Ronnie’s hair, but he didn’t mind. While they kept talking his focus kept drifting, he was absolutely exhausted but didn’t want to bring an end to the first real conversation he’d had since he had woken up in the medi bay that first day.
“Go to bed soldier!” She had been talking about her own experiences training with the RAF and snapped midsentence.
“I’m sorry what?” Liam for a moment thought he had fallen asleep at the table. He hadn’t but it was close.
“Your eyes are hanging out of your head. Go home, have a shower, get some sleep because trust me when I say, it doesn’t get any easier.”
She was right and Liam knew it. He nodded at her once again and slowly tried to push his chair back from the table. Despite his best efforts to stretch them out while he had been sitting, his leg muscles seized up while he had been sitting with Ronnie.
With a grunt of equal measures pain and determination Liam managed to straighten his legs and spine all at the same time. He looked back at the table and saw his plate still sitting there. He reached out to grab it and stopped when Ronnie gently put her hand on his “It’s ok mate, I’ll sort it out for you.”
Liam was genuinely touched by the very simple gesture “Thanks Ronnie, appreciated.”
Ronnie smiled up at him “Good night Liam.”
The door to Liam’s quarters slid open quietly before him. He was grateful all he had to do was a push a button to open the door, he wouldn’t have been able to do it himself. He ambled inside and listened to the door close behind him while he leant on the doorway to his bedroom and tried to get his boots off. He was glad that they had zippers on the side, at this stage between his sore body and fatigue he wouldn’t have been able to untie laces.
He absently dropped his boots on the floor and stumbled back into the bathroom. through sheer guts and determination he managed to shower and change into something comfortable. The hot water infiltrated Liam’s body to the core, loosening up the contracted and painful muscles to a more manageable level. The plan had been – shower and loosen up the muscles then hopefully get some broken sleep around the lingering pain.
Liam took four steps out of the bathroom, collapsed face first onto the bed and fell into a dreamless sleep.
He’d later look back on the full nights sleep and lack of dreams with fondness, things were about to get intense.