‘We could really do with him working for us again.’
‘Really? He’s almost died several times now.’
‘Precisely, he’s almost died. He has a remarkable ability to stay alive.’
‘I don’t think he’ll come back, he has a chance to be a normal member of the Community now. I’d be surprised if he changed his mind.’
‘Indeed, we can but hope, however.’
‘We have other Mechanics, of similar ability.’
‘If you’re referring to Achilles and Peredur, I would be inclined to disagree. Achilles is as likely to kill someone as he is to capture them and Peredur still seems to be in the grip of this ‘fair fight’ nonsense.’
‘There are few as professional as Cailte, he gets the job done with a minimum of collateral damage, perhaps there is some means of persuading him to return to us…’
Cailte looked on in satisfaction as the construction robots concluded their work. Before him was what, to all intents and purposes, appeared to be a large house created from naturally shaped wood. In fact, despite it’s slightly ramshackle appearance, it was constructed from advanced polymer materials which would withstand a massive amount of physical damage before collapsing. From the nearby woods, emerged a beautiful young woman with deep auburn hair and soft brown eyes. She carried with her a small woven basket containing freshly cut wild flowers.
‘They’re very quick,’ remarked the woman, as the robots dismantled their construction equipment and began to load themselves on to the transport.
‘Just a few hours,’ agreed Cailte, ‘last time I used this design I had to build it myself, took months.’
Cailte draped his arm around her and the two of them watched as the transport trundled off towards the nearest maglev line, some miles distant. As they did so, they became aware of a figure standing at the edge of the clear area their home was constructed in. The newcomer was short, powerfully muscled and had curly fair hair. He was clad in knee length, baggy shorts and a loose fitting sleeveless tunic, belted at the waist. Cailte noticed he wore no shoes.
‘Cailte, Sinainn,’ he greeted them, ‘nice house.’
Cailte regarded the man with mild suspicion. ‘I’m retired, Achilles. Why are you here?’
Achilles smiled, a little sadly, ‘I just wanted to see how the other half live. Do you realise how few Mechanics have ever retired, in the conventional sense of the word?’
‘So you’re not here to try and talk me out of it?’
‘Not in the least,’ he said ‘really, I just wanted to meet the woman who stole you away from us.’ At this the tension dissolved. Cailte grinned broadly.
‘Then you shall! Achilles, this is Sinainn. Sinainn, this is Achilles, I’ve mentioned him before.’
‘Of course,’ replied Sinainn, ‘Welcome to our home Achilles. You’ll stay for a time?’
‘I would be honoured. I come bearing gifts.’
‘Not a giant wooden horse, I hope?’
‘Did you have something in mind?’
‘Indeed, I have a… volunteer, who will assist us in this matter’
Richard Lewis had been in Purgatory for what seemed like an eternity. He was not alone. There were many like him, trapped in this state, neither dead nor truly alive. They were the worst of humanity, forever consigned to this shadowy prison. It was a landscape filled with predators, with only each other for prey. Each prisoner continually jostled for position in the tight hierarchy. He knew there were prisoners weaker than he was. There were also many who were stronger. Always prepared for attack, Richard was nevertheless startled when the figure materialised in front of him. He took in the stranger’s tall, dark form. The dark tanned skin and aquiline features. His mouth opened in dismay, he sagged visibly. The stranger smiled in a chilling manner.
‘I assume I need no introduction?’
Ashen faced, Richard shook his head.
‘Excellent, I do enjoy my little visits here, the appreciation from you people is quite bracing. I have an errand for you. You get to go back.’
‘But that’s impossible!’ blurted Richard. He immediately realised his mistake. The stranger looked at him as if seeing him for the first time.
‘I didn’t give you permission to speak.’ The man narrowed his eyes, and, with mounting horror, Richard felt his mouth seal shut.
‘As I say, you will perform a minor task for me. On completion you will be free to go about your business in the Community. on that subject, let’s have a look at your Bio.’ The dark man, briefly closed his eyes. When they reopened, there was a cold mirth present in them.
‘Torturing animals, torturing people… Wow. I mean, really. Are you a Satanist as well? Could you be more stereotypical? Grow an imagination. I’m almost tempted to use someone else on principle.’
Abruptly, Richard felt a tearing sensation in his mind. He felt lighter, yet stronger.
‘That would be your body dying,’ stated the stranger, ‘it’s time to go.’
‘So, who is this, volunteer, you mentioned?’
‘You don’t need to know. All you need to know is that his reappearance will deliver Cailte to you.’
‘I wouldn’t want Cailte harmed.’
‘Physically, Cailte will be fine, I wouldn’t give our volunteer five minutes once Cailte gets hold of him. It’s a mental adjustment we need to facilitate.’
‘What’s to stop your volunteer from spilling the whole sordid tale?’
‘It won’t matter if he tries, I firmly believe Cailte won’t give him a chance to speak.’
‘I don’t like this.’
‘You’re approval is not required for this particular task.’
It had become habit for Cailte to take a walk through the nearby forest in the mid-afternoon. Back at their home, Sinainn was visiting with her raven haired sister, Murigen. After a time, a rank, metallic scent assailed Cailte’s senses. Instinctively, he stooped to pick up a stout cudgel of wood and then moved to investigate the smell. In a small clear area he found the source. A selection of woodland animals, from small birds to a bulky badger, were to be found in various states of mutilation. Some had been pinned to trees and crudely dissected, others had been clumsily flayed. Cailte studied the remains, there was nothing natural about the state of the corpses. He stood up and looked around, his face concerned. By the decomposition, he estimated the small bodies had lain here for at least a couple of days. Cailte crouched once more and scanned the area for any signs of passage. Though he could see no obvious tracks, he discovered that due to a quirk of geography, he had an excellent view of his home from his current position. With swelling panic, Cailte ran towards his dwelling.
As he approached the wooden seeming building, Cailte suddenly skidded to a halt. The smell of cooking meat reached him. There was something wrong with the scent. He observed a thin column of greasy smoke climb skyward from behind the house. On noiseless feet, Cailte crept to the side of the house and peered round the corner.
Murigen lay staked out on the ground, she was gagged, her clothes scarlet from blood. Squatting next to her was Sinainn, carefully slicing a portion of thigh meat from the prone woman. She turned and carefully laid it in a sizzling pan along with another piece of flesh which was already cooking.
Cailte carefully withdrew around the corner, his mind reeling. The implications of the scene he had just witnessed began to sink in. He silently padded round to the front door of his home and entered. The interior was in complete disarray and there were considerable amounts of blood, pooling in places. Grimly Cailte went to a wall and took down a medium length bronze spear, a gift from Achilles. He moved carefully through the house, exiting via the back door.
Every detail of the grisly tableau became etched in Cailte’s mind. A solitary tear rolled down his cheek, as a terrible numbness spread through his soul.
‘Who are you?’ Cailte said, holding the spear in a loose grip in his right hand.
Sinainn stood and turned to face Cailte, opening her mouth as if to respond. There was no sound. A flicker of surprise crossed Sinainn’s features. She looked down to discover the shaft of the spear protruding from her chest. She staggered a step or two and slumped to the ground, a disbelieving look on her face.
‘Actually, I don’t care who you are, at the moment. I can find out later. As you die, know that I will hunt you endlessly, I will kill you every time I find you until the day comes when I learn how to destroy you utterly. Only when your soul is shattered and cast into the void, when you have suffered the fate of my Sinainn, only then will I stop.’
Cailte watched as the construction robots tore down his home. About an hour previously, Bio Engineer technicians had whisked Murigen away to the nearest settlement, assuring Cailte she would survive her ordeal. Cailte received this news impassively, in much the same manner as he witnessed the destruction of the monument to his plans for happiness. There was nothing left for him now, only the fight. Shouldering his pack, Cailte set off into the wild.
‘Did it work?’
‘He’s making excellent progress. I’d imagine he’ll turn up within the next few months.’
‘Was it really necessary to go as far as that?’
‘Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have. Any war calls for effective weaponry. All I have done is forge a better weapon, one unhindered by the burden of mercy.’
‘We’re walking a fine line here.’
‘Is there any other kind?’