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Rumours of Life part 1 - A Corpse Too Few

By Marian de Haan
Page 1 of 13

- - - 1 - - - With pleasant anticipation he waited while the cell door slid upward. Through the rising gap he glimpsed the prisoner. Unkempt and unshaven, the man sat up slowly, wincing, and gingerly placed his bare feet on the floor. He didn't look like much, yet he had resisted all attempts to get even a name out of him.

Pulling himself up to his full height, he entered. "They tell me you haven't been co-operating."

"No?" the man croaked. "What's the matter? Did I bleed on the wrong bit of floor?"

"Good. Good." Looking down at his prey, who sat with head in his hands, visibly trying to concentrate, he felt the familiar surge of power.

"I'm glad you're pleased."

He ignored the interruption. "I hate to waste my time."

"Don't let me detain you."

Better and better! "I'm a specialist, you see."

"Oh, it's written all over you."

"I specialise in unco-operative prisoners."

"And you love a challenge."

At last deigning to acknowledge the other's comments, he gave the prisoner a predatory smile. "It's good that we understand each other."

Wincing, the man brought his hand up to his neck. "You're name wouldn't be Shrinker, by any chance, would it?"

For a moment he felt surprised - this was against the pattern. "You've heard of me?" His reputation must have reached beyond the confinement of the institution - very satisfactory!

"Ah..." Rubbing his neck, the man winced again. "I knew if I held out, you would show up eventually."

Shrinker began to feel uneasy. What was the man playing at? "That says more for your nerve than your brain."

"You think so?"

"Long before I've finished with you, you'll be begging for death!" Time to shatter the prisoner's hopes: "Don't worry, it's sending all right."

"What are you talking about?"

What a lousy liar this man was! Still, if he insisted on having it spelled out to him: "The implant in your neck."

"I don't know what you're talking about." The fool, persisting in his lies! "There is a homing device implanted in your neck."

"How did you know?"

"We detected it as soon as we picked you up. We've been monitoring it ever since." Shrinker's uneasiness deepened; somehow the man seemed less concerned than one would expect. "It's been sending steadily for five days."

"Five days?" His surprise sounded real. "Is that how long I've been here?"

Shrinker took pleasure in rubbing it in: "Your friends aren't coming."

"Oh, they are. They MUST!"

"An attack on this place would be suicide anyway." Shrinker bent over his victim to press home his point. "Is there ANYONE who thinks you're worth dying for?"

"Not any more," the man whispered. "Not since Anna."

Now they were getting somewhere - one name tended to lead to another. "Anna?"

"Dead. Anna is dead."

The way he spoke the name betrayed a deep affection. Had this idiot decided to perform some kind of heroic deed in his dead woman's honour?

Time to take off the gloves. Shrinker produced his tool of trade. "You know what this is?"

The prisoner eyed it apprehensively. "It's a laser probe."

"It's a laser probe," Shrinker confirmed, licking his lips in anticipation. "Now we're tired of waiting for your friends to come to us, so we have decided to go to THEM." He activated the probe. "You are going to tell me WHO they are and WHERE they are."

"I can't!" The man tried to back away - a futile move as he was already sitting with his back against the wall. "Please, I can't!"

"I'm going to start by burning out your eyes," Shrinker went on relentlessly.

"Please!"

Not showing his satisfaction about having brought the man to grovelling at last, Shrinker held the probe close to his victim's eye. "And you're going to start by telling me your name. Now that's not too difficult, is it?" He let steel creep into his voice: "Who are you?"

"Avon. My name is Avon."

"Avon?" Shrinker frowned - he'd heard that name before somewhere.

"And you misunderstand about the homing device," the prisoner went on, uninvited. "My friends wouldn't come while it was sending..."

A strange wheezing sound made the hairs on Shrinker's neck stand up. Something was wrong...

"But now I've switched it off," the prisoner said.

"And we're here," a new voice added.

Shrinker lashed out with his probe. A hissing started. The smell of burnt tissue filled his nose. The prisoner gasped.

Shrinker felt a shock. The probe slid from his fingers. Gripped by dizziness, he tried to keep his balance. Faces began to dance before his eyes, the faces of his victims. All the people he'd ever tortured were there, cursing him. He tried to speak. Instead of sound, blood surged from his mouth. A deafening roar filled his ears, his brain... Shrinker found himself on his knees on the floor. Suddenly the faces disappeared. A split second before his world blacked out he knew this was the end. A protest against the unfairness of his fate welled up in his throat, but was drowned in the blood.


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