He did not know where to go; all the hallways looked the same, all of them stilettoed with moonlight. The siren chased after him, echoing across the walls and the windows. After a few turns, he entered another room. Just as dusty, but the walls were covered with huge tubes inlaid with glass windows and flashing lights. A block of white glass, untouched by the grime surround it, stood in the middle of the room, the top almost brushing the popcorn ceiling. Hanging florescent bulbs flickered fitfully in their sockets. At the opposite wall, a wide arch doorway led elsewhere.
Frederick took a closer look at one of the tubes, but the window was thick with grime, the figure inside very vague and blurred. He tried rubbing the dirt off; the effort only made it worse.
He walked around. There were seven chambers that had lights on; the others were dark and apparently empty. Frederick touched one of the dark tubes and it silently opened, showing off an interior that reminded Frederick of cotton candy. He reached in to touch the lining and was surprised that his fingers sunk in to the second knuckle.
A brief burst of static across the room, and the siren shut off.
He stood still, trying to hear his assailant, then quickly removed his hand and closed the tube. The lights surrounding it blinked once then went into a solid red before turning off. He backed up against a side of the glass cube, trying to look completely inconspicuous and straining to hear anything out of the ordinary. A moment later, he heard a scrabbling.
“Where are you, interferer?” The voice, somewhat faint, was no longer silvery but instead brash and harsh. “Where are you so that I may kill you for trespassing!”
Frederick felt a hand on his shoulder, and he screamed shrilly before a gloved hand covered his mouth.
“Quiet, you crazy man!” Billy whispered fiercely in Frederick’s ear, looking around at the tubes. “The hell is going on here?”
Frederick pulled down the hand, and he felt a slight dampness in his pants. “I do not know!” he whined, trying to get control of his fright. “Lola pushed me in here, and then I saw this guy watching Bugs Bunny, and then–”
“SHH!” Billy hissed. “I didn’t see any man come my way, but that is because I took a shortcut.” He pointed to the other entrance. “The exit. I took a right and found myself here. With you.”
Frederick sputtered a bit, but Billy covered the mouth again. “Shh! Listen!”
The scrabbling got louder. “You better not be where I think you are!” The brashness softened to loud whispers. “Come on, let me help you. I am sorry that I tried to kill you, I really am. I can help.” Then he came into the room and paused in front of the entrance Billy pointed at, his eyes fearful and his frame trembling as if in a high wind.
“Oh no. You shouldn’t be here,” he said in hushed tones, taking a step forward, his eyes roaming around the room frantically. “Their plans can’t be ruined.” He motioned with the knife still in his hand, looked at it in shock, and tossed it behind him. “Come on, and I will take you out.” He motioned again with his hands and made as if to turn around. “We have to hurry. He will find out and punish me if he finds you here. No, please,” he added to Billy, who raised a gun at him. “I’m just a guard.” His voice trembled towards sobs. “I thought you were here to come back.”
“Come back?” Billy said.
“To come back home,” a new voice, chiming and strange, said.
The guard’s face paled visibly, and he stepped to the side and bowed, still shaking and mumbling apologies to the person who stepped into the room.
He was tall and stately, dressed in a purple velvet smoking jacket and striped corduroy trousers, the shoes a highly polished black. The face was solid lines and angles. In his hand, a fine ebony walking stick swung around jauntily. It appeared to Frederick that he was hovering a few inches off the ground.
“Who the hell are you?” Billy asked, shifting the gun back and forth to the two.
The man sneered at the gun and walked to one of the tubes, paying close attention to the lights and the seals. “Hm,” he said vaguely as he peered inside the window. “It seems that no one has ruined anything,” he said, the voice sounding like distant crystal chimes. He looked at the tube that Frederick opened for a moment before focusing on the guard. “You have performed your service well.”
The man almost bent double in gratitude. “Thank you, great one. Thank you.”
“However, that does not tell me why these people are here.” He pointed a finger at Frederick and Billy.
“I-I can explain, great one,” the other said hoarsely.
“Then do it!” he snapped. Although he appeared to be perfectly at ease, Billy knew that he would kill them without moving a muscle. He adjusted the grip on the gun.
The man glanced at the gun and smirked. “I would not do that if I were you,” the man said. “Not here, of course, or anywhere else in this area.”
“Number Seven brought him over,” the guard said, gesturing to Frederick. “Apparently, it was thought he was one of us, but he did not have the mark when I looked at him, so I was going to kill him and then–” His mouth shut when the man raised a hand.
“Thank you,” he said, reaching up towards Billy and made a grabbing motion.
Billy felt his gun wrenched from his grasp, and his jaw dropped when he saw the gun in the man’s possession.
“How did he do that?” Frederick asked, stunned. “He was across the room!”
The man ignored the comment and gave the weapon a loving caress. “Number Seven should be more careful with the choices, it seems. First the publican, and now these two.” He flicked the gun towards the other man. “Should I punish you as well?”
“No!” the guard cried out, kneeling to the ground and clasping his hands in pathetic prayer. “Please! I have served you all my life and with all my heart. I beg for mercy, founder! I beg for it in the names of the gods that never were and always will be! I beg it! Please!”
A tense pause followed, then the pistol lowered halfway. “You may serve still.”
“Thank you!” Tears flowed from his eyes. “Thank you, founder!”
The gun fired.
The guard convulsed briefly, and then, starting from the bullet hole, the corpse faded to a dark gray.
“Such a worthless template,” the man said, eyeing the corpse, the form blurring and powdering into dust. “Perhaps the next one will do better.” He turned his head, not to Billy and Frederick, but to the block behind them.
Frederick felt something nudge him on the back. He turned to find a quickly growing bulge that quickly covered the height of the side, forming features such as legs and arms. A hideously misshapen face pressed itself against the bulge, the mouth open in a silent scream.
“I think it is time we need to leave,” Billy said, grabbing Frederick’s hand. He pulled him away from the block and to an exit, only to freeze as the man glided in front of them, the gun aimed at Frederick.
“I do not think so,” the man said, twirling the cane like a vaudeville actor. “You have seen too much and understand so little. The plan cannot go wrong, not now. Not ever.” He sneered. “You and your kind are rubbish. We shall not mourn for your passing, for you never were the true masters of this world.”
Frederick noticed a wrench held by a shadowed hand quietly rising up behind the man.
“At least we will have two new templates for us to use.” The man smiled as the hand swiftly brought the wrench down against the man.
The head shattered like brittle paper; the hands spread with shock. The form swiftly turned into a bleached grey and slowly cracked apart into a pile of thin shell-like plates. The cane and the gun landed on the ground with a clatter.
“Dammit people,” Clarissa said, stepping over the pile of debris the man was now and waving the wrench around. “I leave for an hour, and I come back to find you people in trouble.”
“Bang?!” Billy said. “What are you doing here?”
“The police called me over,” she said, going up to Billy and giving him a tight hug. “Con’s in the hospital getting his stomach pumped out. Apparently, he was doped.” She shrugged, eyeing the block. “I do not think we should be staying, eh?”
Billy and Frederick turned back to see the bulge now fully detailed, its arms stretched out and gently grabbing at the air. The head then turned, the eyes clearly focused on the three. The mouth was no longer open, but frowning in concentration.
“Yeah, let’s get going,” Frederick said as Billy picked up the gun. “I need a drink.” He eyed the figure. “Or three.” His eyes rolled up and he crumpled into a faint.