Fairlight Tale by Paul M. Carhart
you think it will work, Nik?" Skyler asked.
oldest of the three men rubbed the back of his hand across his graying
whiskers. He made eye contact with the other two men. The firelight
danced across their tired faces. Nik Tavarone could smell the ash
as the sparks drifted upward between them. "It'll be a bit dodgy."
a whopping understatement, Nik thought. But the consequences
of failure ...
didn't even want to contemplate it as he glanced at his surroundings.
The triple tier, ion-charged fence topped with barbed wire encircling
the cleansing camp told him enough. They would find no escape that
just wanna get outta here and get a hot cup of coffee," Drake said.
"Whatever your idea is, it's gotta be better'n gettin' my brain
don't fry your brain when they cleanse you," Skyler said. "They
just ... change it somehow."
don't know that. Have you ever talked to someone once they been
this bickering," Nik interrupted. "We'll need to work together if
we're going to pull this off. We need to focus. The enemy is not
sitting around this fire."
right," Drake conceded.
nodded in agreement.
let out a sigh.
Enforcer interrupted them from where he stood near the fence. "You
stood and turned to face the helmeted soldier. "Give us a break,
will you officer?" He smiled. "It's a cold night and we're just
trying to keep warm."
are rules, old man. Stay apart. Maybe you'll get to go home sooner."
my creative aspects, Nik added internally. He was an actor,
mime and imitator ... At least he had been before they put him in
this "cleansing" camp. Cleansing, he thought. Such an
enchanting word for mental rape. Cleansing would strip him of
his talents. Without them, he wouldn't be himself. Even before he
had been captured, he had decided he would rather die than part
with any aspects of his personality.
the term "out-of-work actor" to new levels, doesn't it?
been in the camp for two days. Skyler was there already and Drake
had joined them yesterday. Nik didn't imagine the Government would
keep them around much longer before getting around to cleansing
them, or killing them if they made too much trouble.
aside," the officer ordered.
his periphery, Nik caught Drake sliding away from the fire and inching
toward the far wall. "Whatever you say, officer." Nik brushed off
his pants and walked the opposite direction, leaving Skyler with
glanced around the compound. It was a small camp compared to the
one from which he had recently come and not very well guarded. The
other inmates were docile. They had apparently already opted to
go through the cleansing process and get back to their mundane lives.
Most of them had not been there as long as he had—another reason
Nik believed his cleansing was imminent.
they didn't deserve their fate, even if they refused to fight for
really did want to help but knew he could do nothing for them, unless
he could first save himself.
had discovered a day and a half into his stay that his first plan
would not work. However, he had high hopes for his current scheme,
which he'd spent most of the day on. Nik had originally planned
to wait until everyone slept to make his move. However, he could
not pass up the opportunity of having only one guard.
script is a great idea, but the key to a truly successful performance
me, Officer ..." Nik ventured as he stepped closer.
Enforcer paused as he was turning away. "Yeah?"
squinted his eyes. "What on earth is that up there?" He pointed
to an imaginary gargoyle on the top of the guard's helmet while
contorting his face into a look of utter revulsion.
reached out and pulled the Enforcer's helmet visor down over his
face. Disoriented, the guard could do little before Nik's knee punched
him squarely in his gut, successfully knocking the wind out of the
soldier. Maintaining his hold on the helmet, Nik finished the man
off by slamming the guard's face against the same knee.
guard crumpled unceremoniously to the ground.
work, Nik decided. He wondered if he could pull off the rest
of the plan with a little less hands-on violence.
brushed his hands together while glancing around the curious inmates.
Drake and Skyler joined him.
bad, Nik," Drake said, patting the lanky older man on the back.
"I can almost taste that coffee."
Nik started giving orders. After all, he was the one with the plan.
"Skyler, you get his sidearm. Drake, take the rifle. If we're going
to escape with our personalities intact, we'd better get moving."
two sidekicks clapped each other on the back and nodded in agreement.
Now time would work against them. A guard could pass by any minute.
Nik intended to be elsewhere when that happened.
Drake," Nik added, "get rid of this guy will you?"
nodded, thumbing up the power on the rifle.
come on," Skyler whined. "Do we have to kill him?"
considered for a moment. Drake rolled his eyes. "Alright. Don't
kill him. Just make sure he doesn't wake up and sound the alarm."
nodded and picked the man up by the feet, dragging him into a nearby
scrutinized the other inmates, who had gathered to watch the action
with interest. If one of them thought they had something to gain
by ratting them out, he or she would do it. What could he do to
keep their mouths shut?
older woman with frantic eyes stepped forward from the crowd and
skewered him with her gaze. "Are you taking us with you?"
wanted more than anything to say "yes." However, he could not.
can't stage an exodus, madam. I can send help back though."
looked away from him. "By then, my daughter will have been cleansed.
Perhaps even me ..."
licked his parched lips. He didn't know what to say, but he did
know trying to free everyone would be suicide. It was better that
someone managed to leave a cleansing camp who could actually remember
the tale to tell. That had to be valuable to someone.
think?" Skyler asked.
if we want to succeed," Nik breathed before snapping back to the
situation at hand. "Come on. Let's go."
joined them from the nearby shelter, where a pair of shiny boots
protruded from inside.
have to be good enough, Nik thought. Time is ticking ...
small building stood between the three of them and freedom. Inside,
Nik expected a metal detector, a key code pad, maybe a hand scanner
and at least two guards. Despite his desperation-inspired dispatch
of the Enforcer only a few moments before, Nik had never been a
soldier and was perfectly at ease not carrying a firearm. In fact,
the thought of violence usually turned his gut. But he had no way
around it this time. His identity, indeed his life was at stake.
To Nik that justified a sort of proactive self-defense.
two compatriots, on the other hand, each carried their weapons as
if they had been born with them. That boded well for the mission
and suited Nik just fine. Indeed, it was the main reason he had
included them at all.
inmate closer to the building fixed his eyes on the three men closing
in and started to say something. Skyler rewarded him with a boot
across his face as they passed.
shut him up," Skyler commented.
of that," Nik muttered. "These people are bad enough off. Now spread
out. When I draw the guards out, you two take them down."
tucked the pistol into the back of his pants and meandered off to
Nik's right. Drake held his rifle up against his leg and vectored
off to the left.
then. Time for my next performance. Nik continued at a brisk
pace. When he reached the building's ten-foot perimeter sensors,
a floodlight illuminated the grounds.
Nik's gait changed. He was limping, as if he had been doing so all
came upon the building door and scratched pathetically at the handle.
"I'm thirsty. Please ... give me some water."
in the middle of the door irised open and a man poked his head out.
"What are you doing?"
... Give an old man something to drink," Nik whimpered.
back to your quadrant! If I give you something extra, it'll start
... Just a small cup."
alright but then you're gonna have to shut up. You're interrupting
sincerest apologies, kind sir."
door slid open a few seconds later. The man appeared with a cup
of water. Nik stretched out a trembling hand, snatching away the
drink just before the soldier took a laser hit in the chest and
teetered backward. Nik used his free hand to push him out of the
way as he scurried up the steps into the building.
Enforcer sat at a small table. He was facing the door with five
playing cards fanned out in his hand.
soldier spotted Nik and stood, sending his cards fluttering as he
went for his sidearm. Nik dumped the water at the Enforcer's feet.
The man skittered on the slick surface before toppling forward and
smashing his face against the table.
knelt down and checked the man's pulse. Still alive, the lunk.
rack of electronic equipment occupied the other side of the room,
its colored blinking lights casting an eerie glow across the room.
Beyond that, a corridor stretched out, terminating in a distant
sliding door, the ultimate goal. Nik was certain that the hallway
was lined with metallic sensors.
and Drake joined Nik, dragging the other solder in behind them.
Nik sealed the door shut.
should have finished him off," Drake said.
stun setting will still do the job," Skyler replied. "I don't go
for unnecessary killing."
smirked. "Drake, you both had a clean shot. Perhaps you should dedicate
yourself to becoming a better sharpshooter if you want your targets
funny. Can we get out of here?"
Nik agreed. "First step is getting past the hand scanner." He glanced
over at the ill-fated card player. "No problem there. Skyler, pull
that lummox over to the scanner and put his hand in the receptacle."
prob." Skyler hefted the man over his shoulder and plopped him down
next to the equipment. Another few seconds found the unconscious
man's hand in the scanner, which twittered, beeped, and flickered
before a green light flashed over the corridor entrance.
code's next," Nik said. "Any ideas?"
don't have a code?" Skyler asked.
shrugged. "Hey, I can't think of everything!"
sighed. "Maybe we could wake this guy up and force his code from
time. Maybe I can try a few things and we'll luck out."
likely," Skyler commented.
stepped forward. "Look, if we're going to start guessing, let me
give it a go. I used to be an Enforcer."
eyes went wide. It occurred to him that he really knew very little
about either of his cohorts.
they would have retired your code," Skyler pointed out.
smiled lopsidedly. "Maybe. But I knew a few codes I wasn't supposed
to know. Why do you think I'm in this dump?" He stepped up to the
keypad and punched in a six-digit number.
code," an electronic voice announced. "Please input a correct code.
You have six seconds."
on," Drake rasped through clenched teeth.
his fingers flew across the keypad.
code. You now have three seconds to input a correct code."
tongue traced across his lips. "Just one more try ..."
green light appeared next to the first. "Correct code."
slumped a little and sighed. "Would you believe, lucky guess?"
grinned. "That should take care of the metallic sensors as well."
He stepped into the corridor. The walls were bare and plain white.
On the other end was the doorway to freedom. "Let's get going,"
he said as he headed down the hall. "Your coffee's getting cold,
stopped only when he heard the laser fire from behind him.
it right there," Skyler's voice echoed down the corridor. Nik put
up both hands and turned around.
was still in the control room, his pistol leveled at Nik. Drake
lied face down on the floor, smoke rising from his burnt back. "I
can't let you go any farther, Nik."
mind raced. Who had he thrown in with? Before he finished asking
himself the question, he had the answer. "You're a plant," Nik breathed.
Realization blindsided him. "No wonder you didn't want to kill any
of the Enforcers ... only Drake."
nodded. "Drake was a traitor. Now come on back," he said, gesturing
with two fingers.
shuffled his way back the eight steps to the control room. "Why?"
else? To root out resistance members for interrogation."
don't you just let me go? I'm not resistance."
know. If you were, I would have let you go and simply followed you
home. Instead, you'll be cleansed tonight. In twenty-four hours,
we'll have you running a hot dog cart at the corner of Broadway
and third. You won't remember any of this—Drake, me, anything.
is just the way we like it."
glanced down at Drake. On the floor not far from his right hand,
lay the fully charged rifle he had carried.
followed Nik's gaze. Long ago, when he had first started performing,
Nik had learned that the audience's eyes almost always followed
what an actor looked at. It was staging 101.
rather than going for the gun, Nik brought his opposite leg up and
around quickly, knocking the pistol out of Skyler's hand and sending
it clear across the room.
determined to make it hard on yourself, aren't you?" Skyler asked
as he hunched himself over in a wrestler's stance.
really." Nik grinned. "I'm actually more determined to make it hard
lunged and Nik danced to the side. Again, Skyler came forward, but
Nik slipped away.
can do this all night, Sky."
likely, old man."
leapt for him but this time Nik slipped between his legs, came up
quickly, and kicked him hard in the ass. He knocked the larger man
off balance and into the wall. Nik immediately pounced on him. He
grabbed Skyler by the hair and slammed his face against the wall
twice. Then he pulled the near unconscious man's bloodied head back
one more time.
had never realized that he was capable of such brutality. He'd always
possessed a mild temper, a jovial personality. Still, his irrational
mind could find no reason to spare the man who would have killed
him if their places were reversed.
this one's for Drake!"
before he could deliver the final blow, the man collapsed from Nik's
sweaty grasp and crumpled to the floor.
rolled him over with his foot. Skyler stared wide-eyed at him, either
unable or unwilling to move.
don't much like unnecessary killing either, you sorry sonuvabitch,"
Nik muttered, grappling with his sanity and winning. He kicked his
opponent hard in the ribs. Blood dribbled from the corner of Skyler's
looked the room over one more time. His gaze fell upon Drake. The
scorch marks across his companion's back told Nik that checking
Drake's pulse would be a waste of time.
am I doing waiting around here? he thought as his senses flooded
back to him. I need to get the bloody hell out of here!
looking back, he darted down the corridor. When he reached the halfway
point, the computer spoke once again.
back from your lunch break, Lieutenant Fairlight."
skidded to a stop. The door at the end of the hall opened and a
lone Enforcer stepped inside.
gaze locked with his enemy's cold blue eyes. Neither of them made
a move. Experienced with firearms or not, Nik desperately wished
he had picked up Skyler's pistol.
as quick as lightning, the Enforcer drew his sidearm, brought it
up and fired.
had never seen a man draw a gun so quickly. The corridor was not
wide. He had nowhere to go and nothing to do except brace himself
for his demise.
the shot went wide. Judging by the warmth on his face, the blast
had missed Nik by only a few inches.
let out the breath he hadn't realized he held. From behind him came
the clatter of something against the hard floor.
spun to see Skyler leaning against the corridor wall, scorch marks
emblazoned across his chest. At his feet lay Drake's rifle. Not
a second passed before Skyler folded, joining the fallen weapon
on the ground.
Enforcer just saved my life, Nik realized. He brought his eyes
back around to meet the soldier's. This time, the man's blue orbs
were not without compassion.
lieutenant did not say a word as he turned, opened the door, and
figured he would have been shot dead if he had been armed. However,
without a weapon, Nik had not posed a threat to the newcomer. Not
knowing the full story, the Enforcer had acted to spare Nik, the
it stood, Nik was not about to question fate.
he charged headlong down the corridor and straight through the door.
He continued running into the cool night, finally free of his prison.
He hadn't planned this far ahead and had no idea where he would
go. However, he guessed the only place he would find a home now
was within the ranks of the resistance.
they'd take him.
irony worthy of Shakespeare, Nik thought. He would never forget
Lieutenant Fairlight's name. If any kindness could be found in the
heart of one Enforcer, perhaps the world stood a chance after all.
if I ever run into that bloke again, Nik vowed, I'll buy
him a drink and shake his bloody hand!