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Chapter Fifty-Seven

The desert north east of New London, 1880

"It is always the same," thought Farfarello as he peered in glum dissatisfaction into the coffee pot. "When there is boring work to be done, I am the one to end up doing it! No doubt Schuldig will say I cannot properly feel the heat and so would not benefit from a stroll in search of a breeze. Pah! He did not used to be so indulged by Crawford, but he is becoming spoilt! He is not the only one to be worried over Crawford's visions, I should have some indulgence also." He laughed unwillingly at such petulance, and stretched out beside the little fire, wishing with all his heart that they had good strong Indian tea as well as coffee and the last remnants of green tea brought with them from Japan. When he thought of drinking tea sweetened with sugar and with milk he felt queerly nostalgic for the land of his birth. "Ah well," he thought, shaking off the stirrings of melancholy. "We could not have brought milk with us, I must wait. Where has everyone gone?" he thought, peering round. "Why, the sun will be down very soon." He rose and went to where Nagi lay, shaking the boy lightly.

"Nagi. Nagi! If you are going to sleep, go into the tent and take off your shoes. It will get very cold during the night."

"No," said Nagi, seemingly without waking, curling tighter upon the sand.

Farfarello cast his gaze up to Heaven at such childish intransigence. "All right," he said. "Don't blame me when you are stiffer than you have ever been before. Crawford will think you very silly."

Even this powerful name did not stir Nagi, who made no reply other than a little whistling snore. With a shake of his head, Farfarello sat once more, feeling quite bored with his lot. "The dov will serve as guards," he thought suddenly. "I will go hunting! Finding one of those native sheep might give me almost as much sport as if I had a man to occupy my mind. I should tell Nagi I am leaving him alone." With this thought he went and shook the lad again, saying, "Nagi, I am leaving you in charge of the camp."

Nagi frowned in his sleep and tucked his folded hands beneath his cheek. Taking this as assent, Farfarello gathered together some of his knives and his rifle and sauntered off, whistling tunelessly to himself as he went. Thinking of how the native sheep loved to clamber about on the highest and thinnest of ledges that they could find, he started up the side of the valley in which they had camped, excited by both the thought of some sport and the hope of leaving enough meat in edible condition to supplement their supplies for the next day. While he himself did not care overmuch what he ate, the others would be pleased, he thought, for while he was insensible to most sensation he found it pleasing to make those who had become not only his comrades but his friends happy.

Surveying the sides of the valley and seeking out rocks upon which a sheep might hide, Farfarello became aware of a slight sound borne to him upon the pleasant breeze that cooled the oppressive heat of the day. At once he was wary, thinking this might be some beast previously unknown to them, and that could cause them harm. Rifle in hand, he crept forward, seeking out the source of the noise and stopped still in surprise as he saw, huddled at the base of a large rock, the weeping and shaking form of Schuldig. Running forward at once, though not neglecting to keep alert for possible foes who might have wounded his friend, he knelt by the young mind reader, feeling him all over for the site of injury he suspected.

"Schuldig!" cried Farfarello. "What has happened? Where are you hurt?" He received no reply, Schuldig being taken up in frantic repetition of words that at first made no sense to Farfarello, spoken as they were in a hushed voice made ragged by weeping and unhappiness.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," were the words Farfarello at last understood, once he had successfully dragged Schuldig's hands from his face, Schuldig seeming to need this screen against the world.

"Why? What have you done?" said Farfarello in bewilderment, a query that only made Schuldig weep the harder. "Come now," said Farfarello. "This will never do, Schuldig. You must tell me what has happened." He pulled his friend into a clumsy embrace, patting his back. "Oh," he thought, "What can have happened to him? I have never seen him like this, I do not know what to do." Pulling out his handkerchief he attempted to wipe Schuldig's wet and dirty face, saying, "Let's go back to the camp. Crawford will know what to do with you." Schuldig wailed, and it took some precious seconds before Farfarello could decipher this into a self-condemnation for their older friend's death. "Don't be silly," said Farfarello, "he's quite alive, he and Micah went for a walk." Schuldig shuddered, as if some loathsome thing had crawled upon him, apologising more and more fervently for sins Farfarello could scarce make out. After a little he heard names mixed in with Schuldig's torrent of words and frowned. "Nagi is at the camp," he said firmly. "You haven't anything to be sorry for where he is concerned, nor with me! And if you expect me to believe you are sorry for hitting Micah, then you must think me very silly --" He paused, and held Schuldig at arm's length, peering into his face. "What brought this on? What could make you sorry for your actions concerning him?" He shook Schuldig till some slight sense came back into his friend's face.

"I'm sorry," said Schuldig again. "I'm such filth. Herr Dorfmann was right --"

"What?" said Farfarello, his eye widening in shock. "Why would you say such a stupid thing?" He paused, saying then, "Neither Crawford nor I would let you get in such a state to say such stupid things. Have you been fighting with Micah again?" As the sense slowly faded from Schuldig's face, Farfarello pulled him upright, appalled. "Stop it! What did he do to you? Crawford will know what to do -- stop that! He's not dead, and it's not your fault! Damn it, Schuldig, you're useless like this -- that's what this is about -- making you powerless!" He dragged Schuldig forward a couple of steps. "We have to get back. Walk, damn you! Come on, Schuldig, snap out of it!" Thinking it poor to make a friend even more unhappy, but seeing little other recourse he added, "I left Nagi alone and asleep! No, you haven't hurt him -- come on, you can make sure he's safe, you can see nothing is your fault if you just come with me!"

"Nagi," breathed Schuldig, coming, as it seemed, more fully to himself. "I want him to be safe."

"Good," said Farfarello. "And Brad, you want to see that he's safe too."

"Farfarello," said Schuldig, as if seeing the Irishman clearly for the first time, "We are betrayed. Micah did this, he's gone looking for Brad."

"Yes," said Farfarello. "And we must get after him. There's a good fellow, come along." Supporting Schuldig with an arm tight about him, he led the way slowly back down to the campsite. He grimaced to see Nagi's little form lying unmoving not near the fire where Farfarello had left him, but near the tents, as if he had woken and obeyed the Irishman's injunction to go properly to bed, his thin limbs not relaxed as in sleep but splayed unnaturally as if he had fallen to strike the ground like, as it were, a marionette whose strings had been cut.

"Oh," said Schuldig. "Oh, Nagi." He fell to his knees beside the boy, gathering him into his arms and crying hard once more.

"Hush," said Farfarello grimly. "We must not attract attention to ourselves. You in this state, Nagi --" he did not say what he feared, lest Schuldig lose what little control he had left. "We need to come at Micah by surprise, Schuldig. Here, let me see." He examined the limp form of the boy, carefully touching the bloodied and tender area on his skull where he had been struck. "He's not dead. Schuldig, wake him up."

"I'm sorry," whispered Schuldig, taking Nagi back and rocking him in his arms. "I'm so sorry, Nagi."

"Enough!" cried Farfarello. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do the boy some good! Wake him up, Schuldig!"

With a haunted look on his face Schuldig cradled the lad's head in one hand, holding him close as he shut his eyes. For a long moment he did not move and then the lad gave a sudden hard jerk in his arms, shuddering all over and whimpering.

"Schuldig!" cried Nagi, opening his eyes and flinging his arms about his friend. "Micah hit me! He hit me, Schuldig!"

"We won't let him hit you again, will we?" said Farfarello, watching Schuldig carefully. He was glad to see the queer expression that had marred his friend's face be replaced, at least in some measure, by anger.

"No," said Schuldig. "We won't. You don't," he went on, abashed, "have to hug me if you don't want to, Nagi." When the lad clung on all the tighter Schuldig's face cleared a little in relief, and then hardened in fury. "That's enough now," he said softly. "We have to do something now, Nagi."

"Good," said Farfarello in satisfaction. "Will you be able for this, Schuldig?"

"I feel sick," said Schuldig, "and I feel like I want to do nothing more than curl up and sob. And I feel like killing the man who did this to me."

"Good," said Farfarello again, taking out a long-bladed knife. "Good."

* * *

"I should return to the others," thought Crawford, finding himself quite calm once more. "If this is a future that cannot be altered I should make sure that all is ready for their success when I am gone." He savagely kicked at a stone as a feeling of great sorrow that he should die suddenly came over him, catching him by unaccustomed surprise. "I must not be so damnably weak," he thought. "I must find some way to not make them weak." Trying to think of ways that he could help his friends he found himself annoyingly distracted by desires to have Schuldig by his side. Though he was, by dint of long years and the threat of punishment when younger, accustomed to compel his mind to obey him and to push all other considerations aside save those that needed the force of concentration bent upon them, he found himself sadly bereft of such mental fortitude at this time. "Well, he will be here soon," he thought, "and I may, perhaps, snatch a few moments of quiet privacy with him. I must remember to tell him I do not regret a single moment of his company." This thought, he found, calmed him considerably, the sorrow left in its wake being heavy but not interfering with his mind as it had before. He leant against the rock, calculating how much of the gold his friends would have to spend to allow them the money to finance tickets on an ether flyer. No doubt they would need to allow twice the value of the tickets, to buy the silence of the men who would convert the precious items to cash.

Hearing small stones shift and move, Crawford looked up hoping to see Schuldig, in a fit of silliness perhaps, attempt to surprise him by slipping down the valley side. Instead he saw Micah, picking his way with caution.

"Is Schuldig on his way?" asked Crawford, not caring how he sounded.

"Not quite yet," said Micah. "I'm sure he'll be here as soon as he can. You must make do with me for now. You see, I told you I wouldn't be long, didn't I, Bradley?"

Crawford smiled at him. It was good of Micah not to leave him alone, he thought.

* * *

"Can't you walk any faster?" asked Farfarello in frustration. Beside him, Schuldig and Nagi struggled grimly along.

"I am fighting off the urge to be ill or to lie down," said Schuldig. "I am not malingering, Farfarello."

"I feel sick," said Nagi faintly, trying to feel the site of his wound and being prevented by his friends. "Your voices sound very echoey to me."

"Just a bit further," said Farfarello consolingly, though he felt he might scream at the halting manner in which the other two progressed. "Schuldig, can you hear Crawford? Where is he?"

Schuldig propped himself against Nagi, closing his eyes and looking as if he would faint. "Brad," he murmured. "Where --" His eyes snapped open. "That evil-minded bastard! Quickly, quickly, we must hurry!" So saying he seized Nagi's hand and towed the lad along to the best of his impaired ability, Farfarello beside him, still fretting at the pace they kept.

* * *

Micah looked upon Crawford for a long moment, unspeaking and unsmiling, as if he wished to fix forever within his memory the lineaments of his brother's face. Then, quickly and smoothly, he unsheathed his pistol.

"No closer, Bradley, please," he said.

"Micah?" said Crawford in surprise and alarm. "What is this?"

"You should have listened to Schuldig," said Micah, his voice rough. "You should have killed me long ago and we would never have come to this." He took a deep breath, never raising his eyes from Crawford's face and said, his voice calmer and easier, "This is a bad turn of events, is it not?"

"Micah," said Crawford. "Put down your gun. This is something we may resolve."

"How so?" said Micah with a bitter laugh. "Do you think you would ever forgive me for drawing a weapon on you? Do you think your men would? Let me put myself beyond the pale, brother. You should ask after your mind reader's health."

"What?" said Crawford, his heart feeling all at once as if it wished to escape the confines of his chest. "What have you done to him? Dammit, Micah! If you have harmed him --"

"No closer!" cried Micah, raising the pistol a little. "How queer," he said with a peculiar twist to his mouth, "here you are the one in trouble and you think of him. How weak you are! He is alive, Bradley, but you may rest assured he will not move from where he is. You have placed too much store in his aid -- things like him have a specific use; I suppose he is not entirely to blame for his shocking behaviour, having been indulged so much by you. You should console yourself that he will learn better."

"Schuldig," breathed Crawford, his mind suddenly taken up in worry for his friend.

"Enough!" cried Micah. "He is the source of your misfortune, brother. Your shameful indulgence of his fancies and whims have led you to this. That you should seek to betray our masters for the sake of, of a creature such as that! Were you not warned what a mind reader could do? Did you simply not care, for the sake of his pretty face and gay humours?" He spat to one side, saying, "He took everything good and strong in you and perverted them to his own unmanly, unnatural desires."

"That is not true," said Crawford, his gaze fixed firmly upon Micah's face, for he disdained to pay attention to the pistol or to show fear, though the realisation that his brother was still loyal to their erstwhile masters shook him. "You do not understand. Perhaps things were ordered differently for students outside the Schloß, but we are quite ordinary for those raised within its walls - having been denied friendship so long, do you think people once they have left the Schloß do not want to have a friend, Micah? Did you not have one in India?"

This, it appeared, was the wrong thing to say, for Micah's face hardened in anger. "I knew my duty! When I was recalled to Europe I went! I did not compromise myself for my friend's sake."

"No, but if you are to be believed you allowed her to compromise herself for your sake," said Crawford, at last growing angry that his brother could act such a fool.

"I will shoot you down like a dog if you speak to me like that again," said Micah. "Don't think you can foresee how to avoid my shot, for I know you cannot." He glared in fury at Crawford, continuing, "How could you abandon your work? How could you be so stupid as to believe you would succeed in your rebellion? You cannot win against them, you should know that - you should not want to! Bradley, we are remaking the world into a better place, how can you wish to separate yourself from this great task?" He seemed most excited as he spoke, his eyes shining as if he saw a great and glorious vision.

"It will never succeed," said Crawford dismissively. "It serves no purpose than to perpetuate the power of those you seem to continue calling "master", and to turn men and women who should be kings and queens to slaves. They have fooled you, Micah. They took you from slavery into slavery and told you it was freedom. They are slavers and liars, and you deceive yourself with every breath you take at their command."

"Do not throw the state of my birth into my face!" cried Micah. "Be damned to you! You have always had every advantage, while I have had none! You had wealth, status and education when I was but the son of your father's valet! You were the one they wanted when they came from the Schloß! All my life I have come in second to you!"

"You should not be jealous of my education," said Crawford, thin-lipped. "That is sheer foolishness. As for the rest, am I not glad to call you brother?"

"Now you cannot deny it, you call me thus," said Micah. "With our looks and the fact we both have powers you are forced to acknowledge our relation."

"There was no compulsion in it," said Crawford quietly, thinking that Micah had had in the past reason indeed for jealousy, but that he must be persuaded that he had none any longer. "That we share a father is scarcely in doubt --"

"Indeed," said Micah coldly. "But have you considered that the father we share might be he whom I called by that name? Your mother was always so gentle in her speech to him!"

"You think to make me angry," said Crawford.

"Do I succeed? How does it feel to be the powerless one, to hear your mother spoken of so?"

"My mother is dead. It matters nothing to her what is said of her," said Crawford, keeping himself quite calm. He very much wished the other to known that he might yet be forgiven, for he thought it clear that his brother was misled rather than truly treacherous. That those in the Schloß had a way of twisting a man's mind round till he no longer knew what was sensible and what foolish he well knew. Such insults bore, he thought, the mark of the spitefulness and vituperation of their erstwhile masters. "Micah, there has never been any need for such jealousy between us - especially not now! Put down your weapon, brother. I promise you there shall be no repercussions. This is just a moment of confusion and unhappiness - think how good it will be when we have achieved our aims! No man shall ever again tell you what to do or where to go, and you shall never lack for friends, never."

"I am not confused," said Micah, though his pistol wavered a little. "You are the one who does not understand, for if you did you would never have rebelled. Your treachery has been suspected, and now I have the proof. There is no place for you with us any more, you poor fool. You don't understand that you are nothing, nothing, without your work and our organisation. You have thrown it all away, and cast doubt on me by the mere fact of our relation, though I did not even know you lived until I was recalled to the Schloß! I prove my own loyalty with this and expunge our shame. I am going to take away the stain upon our name, Bradley, and you should be glad for my mercy, for you would take many days to die if you had been taken in Europe."

"You're not going to kill me," said Crawford, putting every ounce of belief into his voice that he might. "I haven't seen it --"

Micah laughed gaily. "Oh, Bradley! When you have already told me you saw your own death out here, with no friends by you! You cannot foresee my actions, no more than your corrupting mind reader can read my thoughts!" He smiled, as if Crawford were a stupid boy. "They said it would be useful and I should be glad I was man enough to withstand the pain."

"Oh, Micah," said Crawford in pity. "What did they do to you?"

Micah shrugged. "It was mostly in my boyhood. We both learned to endure hardship, did we not, you amongst the favoured students in the Schloß, me scrabbling amongst the refuse and rejects for the merest hope of acceptance and success?"

"All this cannot be simply because you wished to be in that hell on earth," said Crawford. "You owe them nothing. How can you be so blindly loyal as to excuse the agonies of their experiments, when you yourself admit they saw you as the detritus cast up outside their walls? Do you love them so much purely because they forced enough supernatural power upon you to light candles?"

"You are the blind one, deserted by your visions, forced to rely on your own weak sight," said Micah. "How easy you have been to mislead! Brother, brother, I love them for they will remake the world and men such as I will endure the slights of others no longer, and because they were successful with me. Do you want yet more proof of our closeness, Bradley. That you were a strong oracle was never in doubt, while as for me --" He dropped his pistol as flames suddenly enveloped his arms, wreathing them in unnatural flickers of red and yellow. "A little better than a candle, wouldn't you say?" said Micah viciously. "Your precious friends will not recognise your body, Bradley. They'll think it some charred kindling." A queer expression crossed his face. "Breathe in when it happens," he said quietly. "It will be faster that way."

"Micah," said Crawford, seeing some hope of sympathy in the other's demeanour. "There is still time to stop this."

"Bradley --" said Micah, his eyes shining with tears he would not allow fall. "If that were so -- but I can't --"

"Stop!" came a cry from above them and Crawford looked to the side to see the others had taken advantage of his and Micah's absorption in each other to creep around them on the side of the valley. He was greatly shocked by the signs of injury and illness in both Schuldig and Nagi's faces. The blood that marked Nagi's boyish features angered him and he turned to Micah, crying, "Whatever you do, do not harm the boy further!"

"This must end," said Micah seemingly to himself, and the flames that wreathed his arms burned higher and brighter. He flung a hand towards Crawford with a loud ejaculation and fire rushed at Crawford's face, swift and deadly.

"No!" screamed Nagi in a voice filled with shrill fury. "He is not yours! You may not have him!"

The flames stopped the merest breath from Crawford's face, filling his sight with red and yellow brightness. As he instinctively flinched away, though he felt no heat from them, nor the dreadful burning of his lungs he had expected, Nagi punched towards Micah and the flames rebounded upon him, not causing him the slightest damage with their heat, but knocking him from his feet with the force of the rage behind Nagi's will. As the boy sank down, his face pale and drawn, he gestured and Crawford found himself flattened to the ground, presenting the smallest target as he and the others had oft instructed the lad. Clearly putting forth the last reserves of his strength, Schuldig leapt down to the rocky valley floor, Farfarello a half-step behind.

"No!" cried Crawford, looking to where Micah raised a shaking hand to his forehead. "Don't! We can save him!"

It was no use, it was as if he had not spoken. As Micah attempted to clamber ungracefully to his feet Schuldig and Farfarello rushed past Crawford and were on him, the last of the sunlight glinting from their knives. Crawford cried out in sorrow, the final remnants of his childhood taken from him at last.
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