by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 10, Chapter 12
appear in this issue.
The following morning before dawn, Slim and Dax left in a hover car, heading north into the mountains to rendezvous with one of Cato’s agents. Aurelia and Ludwig waved good-bye and then remained on the dew-dampened gray flagstone patio, listening to a nightingale’s song. A mild, pine-scented breeze blew in from the green foothills. Rising above the distant, snow-capped mountains, the sun’s rays stained the clouds cinnabar like blood saturating white sand.
Ludwig put his arm around Aurelia’s slender waist and said, “I wouldn’t trade a hundred lifetimes for a moment like this with you.”
Aurelia looked up at him and replied, “Why, Luddy, I think you have the makings of a cavalier poet.”
Ludwig laughed softly and whispered, “I love you, even when you tease me.”
“I’m not teasing. We have a great tradition of warrior poets. For example, according to legend, old Ludovicus used to write sonnets to his mistress on the eve of every battle.”
Skeptical of his poetic talents, Ludwig observed, “Hmm... I think I’ll stick to cleaning my blaster.”
Aurelia kissed, him and remarked, “How very practical. A hero should always keep his blaster clean, ready, and fully charged.”
Ludwig smiled, lifted her into his arms and carried her back to bed.
Ludwig and Aurelia spent a quiet day at the villa, walking around the grounds, eating a light dinner and going to bed early. The evening was tranquil, with the stillness disturbed only by the chirruping of crickets on the lawn, the hooting of an owl in the pines, and the occasional rustle of a fluttering curtain, blown by a gust of wind entering though the open French doors of the bedroom balcony.
Ludwig slept fitfully. He awoke with a start at about three a.m. and immediately noticed the warm, empty space beside him. After a moment, Aurelia entered the bedroom through the adjoining bathroom door, standing for an instant in the pale moonlight streaming through the translucent curtains. Ludwig recognized her lean, tanned, almost too-perfect body, her fresh, floral scent, and her gleaming cat-like emerald eyes.
“Sorry, if I woke you, Luddy,” she whispered. “It was the call of nature.”
She walked quietly to the bed and then knelt beside him, saying, “Turn over and let me give you a nice massage; it will help you sleep.”
Doing as she asked, Ludwig rolled over onto his stomach and felt her smooth flesh against his, as she straddled his hips, leaned over his back and began rubbing his neck and shoulders. As her fingers gently worked their way up his scalp, he sighed, “Aurelia,” and then drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.
* * *
Confined in a soundproof concrete cell in a top security subterranean bunker, Ludwig lay naked, securely strapped to a hospital gurney. A glaring surgical lamp made him grimace and blink as he tried to focus on the dark, inchoate figures surrounding him. One of the nebulous figures moved, and Ludwig shuddered as its polished, crimson fingernails slid down his exposed flesh.
Still groggy, Ludwig noticed a familiar, citrus and grass oil scent: a pair of bright green eyes glimmered in the shadows. “Aurelia, is that you? Where am I?”
Consul Finn answered, “You’re my guest, Ludwig.” Turning to the woman, he added, “You may go, now.”
Ludwig saw a female dressed in a white antique stola walk to a door and exit the cell without saying a word.
Straining to look Finn in the eye, Ludwig asked, “What have you done to Aurelia?”
Finn smiled and answered, “If I were in your position, I’d be more concerned about what I was going to do to you.”
“I assume I’m good as dead, Consul. Will you at least do me the courtesy of not speaking in riddles?”
“Well said, Ludwig.” Admiring Ludwig’s physique, the Consul added, “You’re a magnificent specimen of your type. A bit dense, perhaps, but with many fine qualities. For example, your head would look great on a coin.” Finn took the Aureus in his hand and held it in the light. “You’ll be missing this, I suppose?”
“Will you please tell me what’s happened to Aurelia?”
Finn laughed. “One-track mind, I see. Very well: after all you’ve done, I still like you, so I won’t torment you. Let’s just say that your Aurelia has recovered her proper sense of filial duty, which, under the circumstances, was very wise of her.
“General Zack located you, based on information he received from a double agent, a “C” series ’droid called Charmaine. She’s now tracking your friends Slim and Dax, with orders to intercept and destroy. I know Slim is a formidable cyborg, but Charmaine has the latest combat modifications, not to mention the element of surprise on her side.
“Charmaine overcame Aurelia, who put up quite a fight. You, on the other hand, slept and were easily subdued with drugs. Without the power of the Aureus, you’re just a strong and at times gullible, careless and politically inept soldier.”
Ludwig scowled at Finn. “You’ve won, Consul. Will you at least allow Aurelia and me an honorable death together?”
Finn shook his head, sniggered, and responded, “You’re so unimaginative. Aurelia doesn’t want to die; she wants to live with you and bear your children. Ponder that. In the meantime, I’ll have Aurelia bring you some clothes, loosen your restraints, and feed you a hot meal.” Finn turned to leave; before exiting the cell, he added, “Pereat veritas, fiat vita.”
Ludwig lifted his head as far as the restraints permitted and replied, “Let truth die, let life be? You twist Nietzsche. It should be Fiat veritas, pereat vita. ‘Let there be truth, though life perish.’”
The Consul burst out laughing. “You never cease to surprise me, Ludwig. I can’t let a man like you go to waste.” The Consul departed, leaving Ludwig, alone, in the dark.
Staring at the ceiling of his gloomy prison, Ludwig thought, I’ve survived and come through worse than this. I’ll find Finn’s weakness and go on the attack.
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder