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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
George R. R. Martin
Black Trump 48
Creighton-Ditmar nodded, glanced down at Sprout's bare breasts. "Time for the rest of the process, Doc," he said. "You might, uh, want to turn your head."
♥ ♦ ♣ ♠
The wind whistled like an invisible chorus, kicking up clouds of sand that swirled like gritty fog as Croyd came to a screeching halt in front of a tall, ridged sand dune.
"We're here," Croyd announced.
"Jesus, my butt hurts," Ray said as he slid to the ground. He helped Harvest off and they both walked around a bit, stretching and groaning.
"The camp is right over that dune," Croyd said, pointing with his snout. "I'm going to get that bastard Rudo."
"You and what other circus animal?" Ray asked. "Look, if it's that damned important I'll bring him to you trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. After we find and destroy the Trump."
Croyd seemed mollified, but it was difficult to tell with a camel. "All right," he said.
The darkness and the sandstorm made their job easier, providing them with cover, masking the noise made by their approach, and keeping most of the Nur's people in their tents. They hunkered down behind a low dune, Ray peering through eyes shaded against the blowing grit.
"Well, there it is," he said. "Anything took unusual, out of place?"
Harvest looked at him. "How would I know? I'm from Manhattan."
"Damn," Ray said. "We should have brought along some locals. Well, why don't we start with the big tent? It looks important."
"All right," Harvest said. "That's as likely a candidate as any."
Ray went first, scuttling low like a crab across the floor of some waterless primordial sea. Harvest followed. They skirted the camp, keeping to the shadows and shifting dunes, moving silently. Once they saw a lurking guard, but he was more interested in keeping out of the blowing sand than guarding anything. They left him huddled, miserably trying to find some shelter in the lee of a tent. When they reached the big tent near the middle of the camp they stopped to catch their breaths.
"I'll go in first," Ray said in a low voice. He hesitated a moment. "How about a kiss for luck?"
Harvest shook her head. "Not until you get your face fixed."
Ray grinned. "I'll hold you to that. And a lot more."
There was no way he could get into the tent quietly, so he did it quickly. He dove in, banging the door open, hit the ground, rolled, and came up to see a young man, a boy realty, sitting on a pile of cushions and writing in a notebook. He looked up, surprised and irritated at Ray's unexpected entrance.
"Who are you?" he asked with a frown.
"I'll ask the questions, dork," Ray said. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Rudo. Dr. Pan Rudo."
Ray grinned. "No you're not. You're busted."
He heard Harvest come through the door.
"We've got the Shark bastard," he told her.
And something exploded against the back of his head, and Ray thudded to the floor, unconscious.
♥ ♦ ♣ ♠
Rudo had left the lab last night, carrying a little inhaler in his hand. He'd drafted two of the older women for infirmary duty. They hadn't come out yet.
The sandstorm had returned, the simoom, whose name meant "forty," for it always felt forty days long, or so they said in Jerusalem. The storm hissed through the camp like a maddened dervish, and Zoe blessed it for the cover it might give her.
Paolo was confined to the infirmary tent with the jokers. Rudo hadn't left the infirmary all day - he was still inside. Near the entrance to the infirmary, a tarp had been stretched over a table. Two basins waited there, and stacks of green gowns, gloves, and masks.
Zoe stayed in the shelter of the women's tent until she saw Zahid leave the lab and stagger to his tent, his arms raised over his face to protect it from the stinging sand. Zoe went toward the empty lab tent as if she had night work to do there. The guard outside huddled with his back to the wind. He didn't ask why she carried her pack with her. She was one of those western devil scientists, after all.
Zoe opened the airlock seals and stepped into the lab. The mask she grabbed felt comforting on her face. She pulled on gloves, but no clean suit. The fans on the negative pressure hood were shut down, all dangerous materials stowed for now, or so she hoped.
In the Coleman refrigerator, inhalers of Black Trump waited, right where Rudo had told her they would be. Fourteen inhalers, in a box with places for sixteen. This was all Rudo and Zahid had managed to make? It couldn't be, not after all the work they'd done -
Rudo had said sixteen - he'd sworn that was all there was. "It's such a tricky little virus, so fragile," Rudo had told her. "But if carefully used, it will be enough. Each victim creates the next, isn't that lovely?" During that drunken ride across the dunes he'd talked about the Nur's promise to send infected volunteers on commercial flights - and then even a small quantity could blanket the world, for the virus multiplied easily in human hosts.
Zoe grabbed the little box and counted the inhalers again. Fourteen! Rudo had taken one to the joker tent. Someone else had the fifteenth vial.
Her hands shook. She almost dropped one of the bottles. One at a time, she set them in the autoclave, sealed its door, and punched the controls for the longest cycle of killing heat the machine could produce.
Time to go. Whether or not Rudo had lied to her about the quantity of virus, she could feel pretty sure that no other lab worked on this horrid project. The desert camp had all the Trump that existed; she had to believe that. Get home, tell the Dog to destroy every living thing in this place - beg him to use his goddamned nuke?
See, Zoe? What you have become? You are going to beg the Black Dog to use a nuclear device on this camp, and you know there are innocents here.
Like the guard outside. I know it. Shut up, voice.
She had to have water if she was going to walk the desert. There were calculations for water loss that varied with exertion and heat, but Zoe didn't know them. She rummaged in the supply cabinet and taped four rectangular plastic IV bags of sterile water around her middle, two bags on each thigh. She sloshed when she walked, but the bags didn't show under her robe.
Now. Get out of the bubble dome without collapsing it. Zoe picked up a scalpel and walked to the back of the enclosure, tasting freedom beyond the plastic barrier. She breathed on the sharp blade, instructing it. It cut smoothly through the tough plastic. Zoe slipped under the edge of the dome and pulled her pack through the opening. The dome sealed itself behind her. One stroke of her little blade sliced through the goathair tent that concealed the dome.
"Good timing, Zoe," a voice whispered. A camel stuck his head through the slit in the tent. "I was looking for you."
♥ ♦ ♣ ♠
When Ray came to he found himself wrapped in chains like some kind of fucking mummy.
"What the hell?" he said groggily. He squinted, trying to focus his eyes. Harvest and Rudo were sitting side by side on a pile of cushions, drinking from tea cups.
"He's awake," Rudo said.
Harvest shook her head. "His skull must be harder than I thought."
"April? What the hell is going on?"
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "God, Ray, do I really have to explain it to you?"
Ray felt like he'd been smashed in the head again; pounded flat by Crypt Kicker, and gutted by Mackie Messer, all at the same time.
"You're a Shark," he said in a sick voice. "You're a fucking Shark."
"Oooo. Give the man a prize for deductive reasoning."
Ray surged against his chains, but he couldn't break them. His ankles were bound together, his arms were wrapped from elbow to wrist behind his back. He couldn't bring any traction or leverage to bear. He flopped around like a gaffed fish, then stopped, panting for breath, when he realized that Harvest was laughing at him.
"Have you ever tested the Trump on an ace, Dr. Rudo?" Harvest asked.
"Well," Rudo said. "There was Crypt Kicker. Of course, he was already dead whe
n we exposed him to it. And I never did get a chance to observe the final results."
"Well, here we have the perfect specimen." She picked up a small device from Rudo's desk. It looked like a nasal sprayer. She squatted down in front of Ray and smiled. "Well, lover, I guess it's good-bye. You know, I did kind of enjoy our time together. The fact that I knew I was going to kill you soon did add a certain poignancy to our love-making."
"Bitch," Ray spat.
Harvest shook her head. "You're really not very bright, are you?" she said, and sprayed him right in the face.
Rudo checked his watch, scribbled in his book. "This should be interesting."
"I'll kill you both," Ray promised through gritted teeth.
"Sure you will." Harvest turned to Rudo. "Shall I take care of that fucking camel for you before I go?"
Rudo nodded. "No need. He'll make an interesting test subject. A pity about Zoe, though. You can't trust anyone these days." He sighed. "Hafaz will give you the keys to the water truck. Drive safely, now. No sense taking unnecessary risks at this late stage of the game. In a week or so there should be no more wild carders."
Harvest smiled. "It's been an honor working with you, doctor."
Rudo kissed her on the cheek. "Me, too, dear. I hope we meet again very soon."
"I do, too." She stopped, looked down at Ray. "Bye, lover. I'm off to spread cheer across the city of Jerusalem. I'd kiss you good-bye, but I'm afraid you're just too damn ugjy now."
"I'll see you again," Ray promised.
Harvest laughed. "Right." She opened the door and disappeared into the night.
"Lovely girl," Rudo said as she left.
♥ ♦ ♣ ♠
It was definitely a camel. It looked like a camel. It smelled like a camel. It talked.
Zoe looked up from where she crouched in the narrow space between the plastic dome and the tent wall. This apparition wasn't her new-found inner voice speaking. So it had to be - "Croyd?" Zoe asked.
"Are you alone?"
"I am now. I brought Carnifex and April Harvest in to bust up the camp. I was supposed to come in and get them out, but April took off in the water truck and I can't find Billy Ray anywhere."
"The water truck? That's all the water there is here."
"So they'll dry up. They aren't on our side, Zoe. Where's Rudo? As soon as I kill him, we can leave."
"You're taking me out of here?"
"Yeah. Where is he?"
Zoe shoved her pack through the slit in the tent and crawled out behind it. Even seen through the dense murk of blowing sand, Croyd was a disaster. He was as tall as your average camel, but most camels had four legs. Croyd had eight, and no hands.
"Shhh!" Zoe hissed. "There are guards out here. Are you crazy?"
"I'm not crazy. I'm not exactly happy being a camel, either. But don't worry about yelling. Nobody can hear a damned thing in this wind." He brayed like a camel, and the camels tied in their temporary pen didn't bray back. "Where's Rudo?"
"We can't wait to kill Rudo. We've got to get out of here. Let the Black Dog do this!"
"Let the Black Dog do what? Kill Rudo? No way."
"I've destroyed most of Rudo's stash of Trump, but I can't find it all," Zoe said. "Croyd, I don't know where all of it is! We've got to let the Black Dog burn this camp to the ground and everyone in it. Is this April Harvest on our side?"
"I think so. I thought so."
He had a camel's way of working his jaw back and forth. She wondered if his new physiology equipped him to eat grass and chew his cud.
"If you're not sure - We've got to get back to Jerusalem. Fast."
"As soon as I find the bastard. Which tent?" Croyd asked. He took off at a lope, apparently unworried about guards with guns. Who would believe they saw an eight-legged camel in a sandstorm, anyway? Still, they might shoot first and decide they were seeing things afterward. Zoe lost sight of Croyd in the storm. She ran, and hoped no dedicated guard would shoot her.
Where would he go first?
She caught up with him as he reached the table in front of the infirmary tent. He was pushing his nose, er, muzzle against the tent flap when she tackled a pair of his legs. Croyd kicked. Zoe went sprawling. One of the basins tipped over, splattering water in all directions. A stack of clean gowns and masks fell to the sand. Camel Croyd backed up and nosed at a plastic jug of chlorine bleach.
"Smells bad," Croyd whispered. "Why did you try to trip me, Zoe?"
"You could die in there. At least put a mask on," Zoe hissed. She reached for one and waved it at him.
He lowered his long neck. Zoe pulled the elastic band over the back of his head and fitted his snout into the mask.
But he couldn't open the tent flap without her help.
"Let me in there, he pleaded. "Please, Zoe. Help me."
Help him get them both killed? But he was her only way out, and he wasn't going to budge until he'd found Rudo, or made a good hard try. Zoe pulled the tent flap aside. Light spilled out into the clouds of wind-borne dust Zoe heard nothing inside, not a sound. The camel shifted his bulk and nudged his way into the tent.
"Oh, God!" Croyd said. "Oh, God."
Zoe struggled into a gown and a mask. She pulled on a pair of gloves, stretching the left one over her aluminum and white flannel splint, and followed Croyd.
Croyd stood just inside the gloomy space. He blinked constantly, as it he were trying to clear his vision. The yellow light cast by a Coleman lantern was too bright, terrible, merciless. No detail was hidden.
They were all dead, and they had died horribly. Something in the Black Trump caused a breakdown in the clotting system. The cots were soaked with thin blood. The jokers had bled from every orifice, even from their tear ducts. Dry streaks of brownish red tracked the matted fur on the face of the mink-man. He had died with his eyes open, staring at eternity.
The walls of the tent billowed, pushed by the wind outside. Runnels of sand made their way across the tarps that had been spread for flooring.
On it, two dark heaps lay - the two women from Zoe's tent, drafted as nurses by the kind Dr. Rudo. She took a cautious step toward them, knowing even before she really looked. They had pulled aside their veils, forgetting modesty in a struggle for air to fill their bubbling lungs. Their faces had been beautiful, Zoe realized, before the Trump had sucked away the fluids from their skins and left only these sagging, skeletal masks behind it.
They were dead.
Rudo hadn't told them to mask or gown. They weren't trained nurses, and they were nats. It would be like him to let them catch the Trump. To see how they reacted. After all, nats were supposed to only get a mild case of the flu....
"He's not here," Croyd said.
"It kills nats," Zoe whispered. "The fucking Black Trump kills nats."
♥ ♦ ♣ ♠
"Out uff der vay, svinehunds!"
A pair of technicians looked up with frightened eyes at the bizarre pair approaching: the tall skinny American with his hands cuffed behind his back, the dumpy German brandishing a Makarov. They scooted away down the cement-walled hallway and were gone.
"Piece of cake," Creighton whispered.
"Jesus, man, that's like the worst German accent ever. You sound like the bad guy in some old Republic serial."
"It worked on them," Creighton said smugly.
"Yeah, but they're Chinese."
"Shudt upp," Creighton said in his ghastly Katzenjammer kids accent. "Ve're dere."
Mark rolled his eyes. "Ditmar" reached past him to open the door to the examining room.
Sascha lay on his back on a metal examining table, shackled to it by one wrist. He moaned softly. He wore only his boxer shorts, and his pallid body was coated in sweat. Despite a heavy smell of disinfectant the room stank; he had soiled himself.
A Chinese med-tech and an Occidental goon sat around reading Asian porn mags from Hong Kong. They looked up in surprise.
"Out!" "Ditmar" bellowed. "Go! I will tage ofer now
!" He gesturing toward the door with the pistol. The pair went rabbiting out of it. "See?" Creighton's voice asked. "They went for my accent, too."
"They went for that gun you were waving around," Mark said. He let go of the unlocked handcuffs, which he had been holding almost closed around his wrists, and tossed them into a wastebasket.
"Meadows?" Sascha asked, turning his head left and right as though looking for his partner. "Jerry!" he said.
"In the flesh. That fat sadist's flesh, at the moment. I'm not going to have to worry any more about forgetting myself and trying to take a pee standing up."
"You stupid son of a bitch, Meadows!" Sascha screamed, spittle flying from his mouth. "You give me that hoodoo bug, I spend three hours in absolute hell, and I don't even die! What the hell kind of mad scientist are you?"
"Reluctant," Creighton said, casting around the examining room. "Sounds as if you're feeling better now, anyway, old man. Where are the keys to those cuffs?"
"In the pocket of the guy you chased out," Sascha said sourly.
"Well, okay." Creighton held up the Makarov and jacked the slide. A gleaming golden cartridge came flipping out the side and bounced ringing on the floor.
"Shit," Creighton said, "that never happens when they do it in the movies."
"It already had a round in the chamber, you ninny."
"'Ninny'?" Creighton echoed. "You sure don't have much touch for invective, Doc. At least get with the nineties and call me a dickweed, or something."
He extended the pistol, closed one eye, and took aim at the handcuffs that bound Sascha to the table.
"Give me that," Mark said, and astonished himself by reaching out and snatching the pistol out of Creighton's pudgy hand.
"Hey!" Creighton yelped, grabbing at the weapon.
"What were you planning to do with that, anyway?" Mark asked, fending him off with a long arm.
"Shoot the cuffs off him."
Mark slipped on the safety and stuck the Mak in a back jeans pocket. "No way."