by Edward M. Erdelac -
Kes ushered Considine into a white room within a white ward, where beneath a white sheet Croix lay, his face a mass of lesions, eyes bloodshot, pale hair now scattered on the pillow.
It had been only nine hours or so since last he’d seen him, but Croix now looked like what he was, a man on the verge of death.
“Great God,” Considine muttered at the sight of him. “What’s happened to him?”
“His condition’s worsening,” Kes said, “at a substantially accelerated rate. It’s as if the parasite’s tripled its normal feeding habits.”
“As if it’s trying to kill him,” Considine said.
“Oh it is,” Croix murmured, his voice shockingly harsh and rasping amid the relative silence of the room, which was broken only by the steady pulsing and chugging of his various life support systems.
Considine went to Croix’s side. Kes hovered near.
“What is it, Croix? Do you know?”
Croix smiled, and that cracked and bleeding smile was terrible to see in that wasted face.
“It’s God,” Croix said. “My own personal God.”
Considine glanced at Kes.
Kes shook his head.
“You’re not going to get anything sane out of him.”
“Faith isn’t sane, Dr. Kes,” Croix said. “I don’t expect you to understand that.”
Considine narrowed his eyes. Croix didn’t appear to be rambling in the throes of fever.
“What do you mean it’s God, Croix?”
“Not God per se. An intermediary, really. Like a saint. A saint bred by God, for communion with this unworthy body. But it brings me close. First, it shuts you out, lets God wear you like a pressure suit. You know nothing of God’s purpose. You only watch yourself, like you’re a character in a story. But then, now….now I begin to see God’s plan.”
“Did God tell you to use the detonite, Croix? What on…?”
“These are incidental questions, Inspector. I am closer to God now then I ever have been. No longer a mere suit, a puppet. I am near to Him. So very near. And you ask God such mundane questions. Really, Inspector. You’re a waste of flesh and lungs.”
“What’s the thing inside of you? Attached to your spine? How did it get there?”
“Incidental, incidental,” Croix yawned. “I’m tired. Very tired. Feel like I’m sinking. Back into the blackness. The darkest waters.” A cloud seemed to fall across his serene though ravaged features, and his eyes popped open, wildly rolling. “No! Not back down there. Not the prison! Hate it! Hate! End is coming! End of all! Must get loose! Must rise! Rise! Kill them! Kill the wardens! Free! Must be free!”
The last he shouted, his gums distended, cracked lips splitting, oozing blood and pus. He went rigid, and then fell back into the pillow, the monitors and scanners flatlining.
“Damn!” Kes said, rushing forward.
Considine turned away and frowned as Kes worked futilely over the corpse for a few moments before throwing up his arms in exasperation.
“He’s dead,” Kes announced.
“Yes,” said Considine. “Dr. Kes, how long can you keep his death a secret?”
“Come now, doctor. I know it’s in your best interest. You want time to dissect and study the thing inside him. I need that time too. How long?”
“I could possibly get him into a forensic pathology lab, or the morgue, without anyone noticing. If he doesn’t leave the ZMB I could maybe push him around on a gurney-lev for some time. Maybe a day. Two, if I don’t go home.”
“What if your interested parties come looking for him?”
“They won’t. Officially, you’re going to release Croix from quarantine into my custody, and I’m going to extradite him to Avenir.”
“Will that work?” Kes asked doubtfully.
“We’ll see. Is my man Enforcer Brendermeyer still here?”
“He’s about to be discharged.”
“Where is he?”
Kes told him the room, and Considine shook his hand and went off down the corridor.