Truth and the Goddess Arl - Part Six
One of the more overpowering themes of Alex's new life in the future centered on pain. In his former life pain had been a thing to avoid whenever possible. Sure there were nicks and scrapes and bumps and bruises, but pain in general was not very familiar to Alexander Sterling. Then he entered the future and pain became a very good friend indeed.
The overall amount of abuse Alex suffered at the hands of the future far outweighed all the pain in his entire life. If he rolled up the oh-so-joyous painful experiences throughout his life up until he zapped to the future, and then compared it with a ball of all the pain he'd experienced since coming to the future, his past ball of pain would be about the size of a basketball. His future ball of pain--Earth would be about the right size.
"He's awake," Jared said from cozy cell across the corridor. "I think. His eye is kind of open, the one that isn't grotesquely swollen."
Alex stared up at the water-stained ceiling in a futile attempt at focusing in on the tiny cracks he'd seen before. His left eye was useless; his right eye barely functioned.
Breathing through his mouth--the only option currently open to him--brought waves of fun-loving agony. Besides his left arm, which he was almost certain had been broken or very nearly, a few of his ribs were cracked or broken. A strange part throbbing, part ice-pick-repeatedly-jabbed-in-and-out danced through his right knee whenever he moved it.
Somehow he'd managed to get himself on his cot. Had Kai or his attacker moved him? He didn't know, he didn't remember, and most importantly, he didn't care.
"She had a doctor seal your cuts, dearie," Mama said from the next cell over. "But she didn't let him mend the bones or clean you up. Just lie still. Move as little as possible."
It wouldn't do to let the soon-to-be-executed die from blood loss before the big show.
"What the--Alex? No, that can't be Alex." A familiar voice from beyond the grave, back to carry Alex over to the other side. He believed that for a while, until his mind was able to grasp on to the other reality he faced.
"Fine time to make your return, Danny."
"What--it is you! How in the hell... my instruments must be on the fritz. I was supposed to be scanning deep into the future--what happened to you?"
Great, Alex thought. This Daniel is from before the last incarnation of Daniel. Alex turned his head, much to the disapproval of his neck and shoulders. Daniel was nowhere to be seen, not that Alex would see much of him anyway in his current condition. Now the earlier conversation made a little more sense.
"Long story," Alex said. "If you smear yourself in your blood, I'll be able to see you. Go away and give it a try. We'll talk again when I'm in better condition."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I gathered that was why I could talk to others through the time window, blood relations, at least, but I can make myself visible by... of course. It's the blood. That's a little morbid, but all right. You look like shit, little brother. Maybe you should get to a doctor."
From his cell, Jared said, "Uh, Mama. I think Alex is hallucinating. He's talking to someone."
"Not deaf yet, dearie," Mama replied. "I hear him. Let him be."
Anthony, from his cell, said, "You realize what this means, correct? The only reason they'd go to the trouble of keeping him alive..."
"I'm one of them, I know."
"Well I don't," Jared said loudly. "What's it mean?"
"Public execution--with a side order of drawn-out torture."
"What are they talking about, Alex? Are you in some kind of trouble? Look at you--of course you are. What's going on?"
Is this it? Alex wondered. Is this why Daniel commits suicide? Does he witness his little brothers execution by way of torture and become so overwrought with guilt at paving the way for Alex to find a way to the future that he locks himself in a freezer with a deadly gas?
"I'm going to be fine," Alex said. He had to get rid of his brother, keep him from witnessing the coming attraction. "We're about to be released. I saw farther into the future when I was checking out my own future. This all blows over and everything is a-okay."
"Trust me, Daniel. Tell you what--you go and try that blood bath thing, and then come back and check on me. You'll see that I'm just fine. I'll be all healed up and waiting. Then we can talk about something more serious than this."
"I don't buy it. Never could lie to me. What have you gotten yourself mixed up in, Alex? Talk to--"
Huh, cut off. Just like before, Daniel just went poof! Some of his wiring was a little shoddy when Alex first started checking over the pieces of equipment he could salvage after Daniel tried to destroy everything. Twice now Daniel just disappeared with no warning. It's possible, Alex thought, that he doesn't have a very good connection.
For a while Alex floated in and out of consciousness. He picked up snatches of conversation between the others but nothing solidified in his mind. A hazy reality settled over him, sucking away perception of time.
A sharp prick in the side of his neck drew Alex back to the surface. His half-good eye opened to see one of the steroid hounds standing over him with a needle.
"Little cocktail to get you up and moving," the guard said with a grin. "Wouldn't want to disappoint the crowd."
The guard grabbed Alex's upper arm and hauled him to his feet. Alex stumbled, held up momentarily only by the strength of the man next to him. Then he regained his footing and felt a surge of strength roll through him. His entire body screamed out for mercy, the world spinning around his head like a mad roller coaster ride from hell. Then the fog lifted, his mind cleared, and torture took on a whole new level of experience.
Shoved through the unpowered energy barrier, Alex fell into line behind Anthony. Ahead of him, Jared and Mama walked side-by-side with Bethany's unconscious body slumped between them. Glancing back, Alex found an even more horrifying sight. Franky had taken on the persona on an insane asylum veteran. His arms were bound behind his back, his mouth was gagged, and four guards fought to keep the rebel general from hurling them all into the wall and making a run for it. Eyes bulging, Franky made each one of those guards earn their pay for the month, more than once knocking one or two of them to their knees.
The parade of condemned Leaguers marched through the halls and out a back door. The first thing to hit Alex was the sound. Even before he made it out the wide double doors, a wave of roaring, screaming people washed over him. Outside, the sun blinded his half-good eye, once more causing Alex to stumble. The cacophony of noise wrought by the crowd deafened him. Screams of, "Baby killers! Murderers! Rapists!" filled every pore in his body.
A wall of guards flanked the line of prisoners, shoving and bashing at anxious onlookers hoping to get their hands on the filth that was the Pure League before anyone else. Alex watched in horror as one man dove into the wall of guards, only to have his skull cracked open for his troubles. If they did that to their own, what were they going to do to him?
High in the sky, the sun beat down; sweat broke out on Alex's face. As he swiped a hand across his forehead, he gazed unsteadily down at the blood and grim that came off on his fingers.
The longer he walked, the weaker he became. His right knee felt on the verge of explosion by the time his leg finally gave out. Tumbling to the ground, the two guards assigned to Alex swiftly grabbed him up and dragged him the rest of the way. The rough treatment of Alex's already injured arm sent a new series of pains throughout the length of his arm and across his shoulders. If it hadn't been broken before, confidence told him it was now.
Ground Zero loomed directly ahead. Alex raised his head to get a good, hard look at the final stop on his journey of the future.
A platform stood raised above the crowd. Two posts were erected on either side of the platform with a single bar running across the entire length of the platform rested on top of each post. A series of hooks, two to a pair, hung from the bar. Underneath each set of hooks, shackles chained to large round rings rested comfortably, looking forward to hours of torturous fun.
Dragged up the stairs to the top of the platform right behind Anthony, Alex watched as Mama took the lead. Two guards wrapped that paralyzing rope around her wrists and then each guard grabbed an arm and tried to lift. The comical expression of strain on both guards faces as they failed to heft the hefty Mama brought a loud chorus of laughter from the crowd. A third guard joined in, stepping in front of Mama. They lifted the large woman and--Alex winced, fearing the worse--lowered her unto the hooks, one armpit snug against the curve of each hook. No torture yet, at least. The points of the hooks jutted out from beneath Mama's fleshy arms, her skin and body remaining intact and unharmed. Then the guards shackled her feet last. Once secure, the hooks rose upward while the chains of the shackles lost all slack. The movement stopped as soon as Mama was stretched rigid.
Next came Bethany. Alex looked away, unable to watch the procedure again, especially on an unconscious teenage girl.
When his turn came, his body continuously reminded him of all the damage already done. Bones and muscles screeched with agony; his head stayed clear, though, unphased by what his mind knew was pain. Uncomfortable, yes, but his mind pushed back the pain and refused to let it take hold.
Last came Franky--a wild beast thrashing at his captors without mercy. Three more guards joined those already attempting to secure the mammoth. Alex couldn't help but internally cheer Franky on, hoping he somehow escaped or at least critically injured as many of the guards as he could. Unable to get Franky in the setup--one guard took an elbow to the head and ended up trampled in the crowd--a guard whipped out a tranquilizer and shot Franky fully of drugs. Once the mighty beast fell, the guards still had trouble getting him on hooked up.
Alex's half-good eye scanned the sea of humanity--thousands, hundreds of thousands of people stretched out for miles, oozing from between buildings, hanging out of windows. With all their different outfits ranging throughout all of history, they looked like the vomit of Time itself, spewed forth into this time and this place.
When at last it was finished, all six prisoners secured to this bizarre contraption, Priestess Kai took center stage. Her voice boomed out of the heavens from every direction, silencing the choir of profanity and insults.
"The Goddess Arl has spoken to me! The Goddess Arl has revealed these traitors in our midst to me!"
Bingo. Alex now knew why the Goddess Arl's true name was a secret.
To be continued...