Illien searched for Carl from his prone position on the ground, finding himself too weak to stand. He found him running after Emily, yelling at her captors to let go and bravely waving his wrench around, for a moment freezing the captors. After a brief moment however, they had come to their senses, and surged upon Carl. For a few seconds it seemed Carl would escape, beating them back with his wrench, but then it was all over as one of the captors stabbed a syringe into his arm, causing Carl to go limp.
Chapter 34: No Peaking
The look on her face when they took her away, was more than enough to stir up the bravest side in Carl, of which he had no idea her was even capable of. But through a blackened, bruised eye, the empty, glazed over eyes on Emily's face when they finally dragged her back into the cell was…more than Carl could take. Any idea he had been fostering about trying to wrench free the guard's weapons and make a run for it were replaced by an overwhelming sense of…emptiness.
"Emily?" He asked softly.
Emily didn't so much as bat an eye, but stay in the same seated position she had been lowered down to, staring straight ahead. He waved a shaking hand in front of her face, to no effect.
"Emily?" He asked again. "Are you there?"
Not even the slightest sign that she had even heard what he'd said so much as flickered across her face.
"Emily!" He shouted, shaking her violently.
Her body felt limp in his hands, resuming it's previous position, as if nothing had happened.
"What did they do to you?" He asked, before realizing Hashan and a few guards had been watching him the entire time, carefully he said "What will they do to me?"
Hashan simply smiled, revealing a number of golden teeth carved with strange symbols. "He wants to know!" Hashan chuckled, as if the act of reducing a person to little more than a shell was little more than cutting hair. "The boy will know soon enough."
"Boy?" Carl echoed, feeling braver than he thought. "I'm nineteen!"
Hashan grimaced, as if Carl had disrupted some meticulous ritual. He threw up an arm and snapped his fingers. Instantly one of his guards came and landed a blow to Carl's right arm with the back of a dagger. Carl let out a cry of pain as his arm exploded in pain. For a moment his vision blurred as he grabbed his throbbing limb.
"Next time it'll be the other end." The impossibly thin, yellow eyed guard told him with a strange twitch to his manner, as if delivering the blow gave him an twisted deprived ecstacy.
"The boy." Hashan repeated. "Will follow me."
Through strained breaths Carl tried to downplay his throbbing upper arm, to a moderate degree of success. Still, Emily stayed impossibly still, completely uncaring to the situation unfolding around her. He looked at the back of her head, dark hair flowing behind an empty face. A hand grabbed him, pulling him to his feet. With a shove the hands turned Carl around, pushing him towards the cell's exit. Carl stole one last glance at Emily, stoic and still within the cell her mind had made for her. She seemed so peaceful, a fact Carl knew with an almost god-like certainty was the opposite of what was going on inside.
"Get moving!" One of his tormenting guards barked, as he slapped Carl across the head.
Carl silently obeyed, following the guards out of the cell for the first time, trying to maintain his composure with every bit of strength he could muster. As the cell door sealed itself off behind him, he found himself following Hashan down a long corridor with similar cell doors lining it up and down. Carl realized that the corridor seemed to have a curved shape, indicating that perhaps it continued all around to form a circle that formed some sort of detention centre.
The spaces between the doors of the corridor were lined with grilled plating, which half-concealed pipes and other hydraulics that formed paths this way and that. The floor was made out of a grimy tessellation of interlocking hexagons, adding to the look of general degradation. The whole locale gave Carl the impression of being inside some ancient, steam powered robot's insides, added to by the occasional outburst of white smoke that hissed from the pipes above.
When Hashan finally reached a section of the detention centre wherein the walls of cells gave way to a curved indent where stood a cluster of elevator shafts, Carl started to feel the heat and humidity outside the modern looking cells. As he did so, he realized how strange it was that the cells would be temperature regulated and clean in comparison to their exterior.
As if reading his mind, Hashan spoke.
"You like the place?" He asked.
Carl shot him back a confused look.
"No?" Hashan asked, putting on an exaggerated frown "It took many, many fingers to peel all of this unnecessary gloss off of these walls. Feels much more like home now."
Carl didn't ask what Hashan meant by 'fingers', but was struck with a sudden curiosity.
"What was here before then?" Carl asked carefully, eyeing the yellow pupils of the thin guard.
"Oh, stainless walls and even more stainless people." Hashan replied.
Carl considered this, taking into account how unstable of a mind he was playing with.
"Where are we?" Carl asked, perhaps too boldly.
"Questions, questions, questions!" Hashan said, his voice rising with each "I thought I was the one who asked them? Right boys?"
A chorus of quick confirmation followed by his goons.
Before Carl's stress popped open all the arteries in his brain, a resounding clank announced the arrival of the rickety elevator, which Hashan danced towards and pulled out the lock holding the sliding doors together. Two of his goons pulled open the rusty gates of the elevator, as Hashan motioned for Carl to enter.
As the gates shut behind them, the elevator jostled into life, beginning it's ascent with a wild jolt. The sound of straining engines and rickety chains hauling the elevator to the surface punctuated the silence between them and their destination, a silence in which a sickening feeling began to well up in Carl's stomach, not the least made better by the odor of death which steadily grew stronger as the surface grew nearer.
Carl's heart leapt as the elevator came to a flimsy stop, the echoes of the clanging rusted metal reverberating all the way down the deep shaft. Hashan didn't move at first, choosing rather to simply stand and listen. Carl tried to perk up his hearing, to which he gathered a number of strange rattling sounds. A shrill, agonizing yell held his attention for a brief, chilling moment. It came rattling off the reddened walls of the elevator shaft, distant and out of sight, yet no less unsettling.
Hashan's disturbed grin stretched the skin on his face, taught from far, far too much smiling. Seeming satisfied, he pushed open the gates himself, before proceeding down a hallway made of dark grey cement. Swarms of symbols from various cults Illien had told Carl about, gave a disconcerting half-life to the wall's rough texture. Following Hashan's beast-like form to the end of the hallway, he finally stopped in front of an entrance lined with transparent flaps, the kind you'd see at the entrance to a galley, beyond which lay darkness.
"No peaking." Hashan called back, before pulling back the cluster of grease-stained flaps, disappearing behind them into the darkness.
Carl took a deep breath of the now intense smell of something he couldn't quite put a name on. Whatever lies beyond that door, and it's probably nothing, can't be that bad he repeated to himself. These thoughts could not have been farther from the truth.
The sickening smells of organic matter hit Carl like a magnetic-rail car, sending him reeling over to the side, where he tried to stable his balance by reaching out for support in the darkness. His fingers met something…squishy. Instantly, he pulled his hand away. A cool liquid from whatever he had grabbed ooze slowly down his hand.
The room was much too dark to make out any details of anything at all, save the general outlines of crooked looking forms hanging from what looked like racks that lined the entirety of the frigid room. Carl tried to ignore the signs of weak movement he could occasionally sense inches from his face from the racks on either side of him. He persuaded himself he was just imagining. Finally, after what seemed like an impossibly long stretch of space and time, he stumbled out the other side of the unsettling realm he never wished to revisit.
He now found himself in a brightly lit hallway that strangely contrasted the cement-lined graffitied mess on the other side the poorly lit hell. Around him were polished walls of white and black, perfect in their symmetry. It was then when Carl looked down to his hands.
The red liquid that dripped onto the tiled white floors could only be one thing, a fact which sent shivers down Carl's spine and drew up a deep sense of fear for the monster standing not two meters in front of him. Turning back to steal a glance at the strange room he had exited from, he saw a sign that answered every question Carl could possibly have had.
"-Hall of Meat-" It read.
If Carl had felt unsettled by the room before, now a different kind of fear radiated through his brain, processing the meaning behind those three awful words. In that moment, all he wanted was to get as far away from that place as possible. Not everything in this universe needs to be uncovered he thought. He knew this was a betrayal to the Carl two days ago, imprisoned in a different kind of cell, but in that moment of pure shock, all he could do was satisfy the very primal urge within him to retreat, to run, to flee.
Two hundred and eighty two million, four hundred and seventy five thousand, two hundred and forty nine. Other wise known as the 11th root of seven. That was how far Carl got to as he sat in the uncomfortable metal chair across a table made of dark wood that seemed out of place amidst the lining of grilled plates and pipes. Carl could always rely on math for the familiar, the one thing that seemed to stay constant in a universe where everything else seemed to change. His nerves had descended to a much more manageable level now, almost to the point where he was ready for whatever challenge came next. Almost.
The feeling of the flesh-like substance he had grabbed back in that aphotic room kept resettling itself his hand, securely bound along with his ankles to the chair. It nearly put him off from the calculations he performed in his estranged mind. He tried not to think about that room, or any of the sinister corridors he had travelled to get there. Thoughts of Emily were pushed back in an effort to strengthen his mental defenses. But her eyes, lost and distant were already seared like hot metal on skin into his soul.
Standing across from him, the man Illien had told him so much about stared blankly through him, apparently in deep thought. Carl couldn't bring himself to stop staring at the necklace of fingers that could just be seen hung about his neck, beneath his great brown overcoat. After a painfully long silence, Hashan abruptly pulled himself out of his daydream and slammed both fists on the table in front of him. He slid his thick fingers slowly forwards until they latched onto the edge closest to Carl, who looked at him with a look of heart-pumping uncertainty. Then, in one powerful motion he pulled the table back, sending it flying across the room and crashing into the the wall beside it. Carl flinched, but surpassed his natural stimuli to show nothing more.
"Who do you work for!" Hashan roared in all his terrifying ferocity.
Carl took in a strenuous few breaths, willing words to come out, but his mouth betrayed him.
"I said, who do you work for?" Hashan repeated, his whole hulking form threw itself against a wall, which received a pounding series of punishments for it's crime of existence.
Carl was paralyzed, every inch and fibre of his body at once unable to do anything his mind told it to. Frantically, he searched for away to give the terrifying space pirate cannibal a satisfactory answer, but his mind was too overloaded to function.
"Where are you from?" Hashan asked, the change in his tone of voice an almost uncanny opposite from the furious animal before. He almost seemed…friendly.
Carl forced his lips to move. Somehow, a word managed to fight its way out.
"M-Malgrauh." He stammered.
"Ah, that pitiful, dead world." Hashan said to himself. "Yes indeed, that reminds me of a…a certain meal I once had…Quite scrumptious"
Carl winced. He knew all too well what he meant.
"Normally I don't do these kinds of things anymore." Hashan said, as he walked to the corner of the room "Too many people have, shall we say… fallen apart before they could become of any use."
Carl stared straight ahead, trying to force himself to the conclusion that this was some awful nightmare, in strained attempts to keep his courage above insanity.
"So, all you have to do is tell me how you and your strange little friend ended up here, so I don't have to eat you." Hashan said, nonchalantly. "So, do humor me."
He turned, and came to stand in front of Carl with his arms crossed, a sharpened butcher knife in each hand.
Careful, Carl he heard himself think there's more at stake than you. This he knew all too well. Every fearing inch of his body burned to tell Hashan the truth, which would spare him the most limbs and suffering. But thoughts of Emily, Illien, and all the rest of the crew aroused a deeper itch inside of him, more powerful than fear.
But how could he know how much this man knew? Perhaps he even knew from the very beginning Emily had been on their ship. He had so little to count on, so few solid points to base his story on. Yet within these impossibly thin parameters, Carl spoke.
He told of his time on the trading vessel Golden Phoenix and it's captain Jeevan Gresgor, names which surprised even him when they were conjured. The very least Carl could count on was the fact that Hashan had never seen him associated with Illien and the crew-his only real advantage over him. He continued to tell of how this captain Gresgor had run low on his luck, after a particularly bad trading season that forced him to fire half the crew. Carl, naturally being an engineer was a critical part of the ship, hence he stayed.
Gresgor told the crew he had left of a lucky rumor he'd heard from a militant in the desert about a ship carrying a valuable cargo from a pirate lord. At this point Carl was placing the blame on as many people as possible, trying to make it as difficult as possible for Hashan to find the truth. Finally, Carl explained how Gresgor brought Emily back to them, telling them to ask no questions and run back to the ship, at which point the man in white robes attacked.
"…and here I am." Carl finished.
Hashan stared at him, probing and skeptical. For a terrifying moment, Carl thought his life would end in a gruesome mess. For a terrifying moment, it seemed it would, as Hashan stepped forwards and raised his knife. Carl looked on in horror as he brought it down onto his right hand, hitting something that made a dull thud sound. Carl slowly moved his head towards his hand, and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it was still firmly connected to his body. It was the rope that had been cut.
"When I find out your story is false, you'll make a nice, nice little stew." Hashan said, licking his lips as he turned and left the terrified young engineer.
When he heard the heavy metal door slam shut, Carl collapsed. Tears came to his eyes as he choked for the air to feed his near-collapsing lungs. He knew his alibi was solely based on the fact that Hashan had never seen him before, a precariously balanced knife point. He knew it was only a matter of time before Hashan saw through the barriers Carl had constructed.
Carl only had the hope someone might come for him, even if he didn't even know where he was himself, to keep him from completely disassembling.
It was all just a mess. Carl had never felt more alone in his entire life. Even Tracy's uncaring voice would be welcome company in a place so devoid of caring as this. And so between the blank eyes of Emily, and the faint screams that made their way through the interrogation room's walls, Carl uttered a silent prayer to captain Jeevan Gresgor, the greatest man who never was.