Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers (10 page)

BOOK: Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers
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12. The End of the World, Part Two

Pain swelled in every inch of Mason’s flesh, copper tendrils cutting through his altered skin to bite hard into muscles and bone. Without opening his eyes, he was aware that he was suspended in a clear chamber in the centre of a great, circular room. Its name burned at the back of his thoughts—he took a startled breath that cascaded pain along every nerve—and with it stirred the devil who had remained silent for so many weeks.

The hollowed hall.
The name of the space crept forward, touched with Pandarus’s own voice. Theodora had spoken of it. And now he knew what it was, it was the very centre of the Crown of Towers.

Other whispers touched his thoughts, half-heard, bringing with them shadowy images. Battering against his brain, wanting him to know, to feel...everything. The metal. It was the walls of the ship. So much of it massed into one structure, and he could sense the life—the alien life—that had given it shape.

That was what the Martians did. They scoured a planet of life and used it up for their own bodies, their ships. The code of life. The secret wrapped so small in every living thing was a commodity they craved.

With his heart thudding, he opened his eyes and the pulsing whispers died away. But one remained. The smile of the darkness squatting in his skull cut as deep as the wires into his flesh.

Frost. Mason sought the man out, wanting, needing him to silence the voice.

Frost stood with Theodora gripping one arm and Menelaus the other before the ageing Pandarus. Their mouths moved, but as in the
aeolipile
, the interior of Mason’s chamber held only silence. But the Martian had put him at the centre of his ship, he was now its brain, and his prized instincts pushed out. There...

“—and you thought to outwit me? Your
Ilarches?
” Pandarus smoothed the sleeve of the golden robe he wore. He tilted his head and the browned smile was sharp. “Everything has been a trap to bring Mason to me.”

Frost snorted and Theodora wrenched his arm back. His expression didn’t change. “
Everything?
” His lip curled into a sneer, and Mason fought back a smile. There was nothing quite like Agamemnon Frost’s aristocratic disdain. “You had no
idea
about him, about me. I fooled you for thirteen
years.

Pandarus cuffed him, splitting Frost’s lip. “So clever, Mr. Frost...and yet here you are and there, at the heart of
my
ship, is the man you fucked.” The old man wrinkled his nose. “Think I didn’t know? The stink of sex coats you.”

Frost lifted his head, blood a stain against his chin. “It kept him from you.”

“And yet...there he is.” Pandarus waved his arm to the chamber caught into the centre of the hollowed hall. Mason closed his eyes, but the whisper of the ship, the feel of it tugging at his senses painted him as clear a picture as if he stared straight at the Martian. More clear. With the living ship beating through him, he saw Pandarus as he was within his hollowed skin.

A monster, all head and long, thin tendrils, filling the limbs and head of the old bishop. He pulsed, shone, the power of him incredible—

Mason drew in a breath, the pain of it twisting his nerves. He was slipping. Falling into being a creature who belonged to Pandarus. His senses sought Frost, but he caught nothing from him, no feeling that would drive away the darkness. With his eyes shut and only the ship as his vision, Frost’s gaze was dull, no hint of distracting wickedness. Only his sapphire cravat pin gleamed, its angle confusing. Something about it was...wrong.

Pandarus stood beneath the chamber. He ran his fingers over the copper console curving beneath it. With each touch, light spiked, dancing through Mason’s brain.

“We need to replicate him.” Pandarus’s voice wove across him. “His sensitivity to the ship, to the manufacture of
koile
, is something unique. Have his neural responses at the heart of every ship.”

His
Ilarches’
satisfaction swept over him and it swelled pride in Mason’s chest. He ignored the pain.

“This advance is worth the horror of this stinking world.” Pandarus’s laughter was to himself. “And the vast amount of
koile.
If this doesn’t buy my elevation...”

A chamber burned, somewhere in the northern wall. The shape of it scorched against Mason’s brain.
Koile.
With that difference, the hint of minerals that allowed movement, travel...and for an
Ilarches
to control the unworthy flesh.

A large man strode out of the wall, the brilliance of the creature at the heart of the walking flesh almost incandescent. The
kardax
and the automaton in the hall bowed, a fist in his hair dragging the traitor down with them.

Language moved between them, so quick and tangled that not even his ties to the ship could make sense of it. And he shouldn’t. This was the pure language of his creators. Its power almost burned, the strange scent of roasting flesh thickening the Martian air.

Pandarus swore in English and scrubbed at his face. “Such frail bodies. Even the least touch of our tongue sears them.” He wiped his hand over his mouth and moved away from the console. “What do you want?” Pandarus said his name, the scorch of it in the air sounding vaguely like “Priam.”

“You think this will elevate you?” Priam’s laughter was brittle. “You’ve pulled the ship into the shadow-structure. With that
finally
achieved, you’ve given the company access to this world.”

“The charter...”

Priam spread his fingers and looked at the back of his hand. He tilted it in the soft light. The human strength in it was obvious. “The Court of Princes has grown tired of your ineffectiveness. The charter is void. You no longer have even minor rights to this world.” He looked up and a hard white light shone from his dark eyes. “Your mouth hangs open.”

“You lie.”

“Why would I do that, brother?” Priam strode across the metal floor, his slippers silent even for such a big man. Mason sensed him. The power of the creature within, so much more powerful than the Martian who had created him. Mason’s gut twisted with fear and humiliation. Something pushed at him, the knowledge that he had been created wrong.

“You have whined. Declaring that these insignificant bags of flesh had foiled you. You. A Servant of the Court.” Priam stopped before Mason’s chamber, staring up. His gaze narrowed. “I knew shame that day.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Am I to listen to yet more of your excuses?”

The creature within Pandarus flared white, and Mason wanted to shrink back from the blast of rage. He sought any relief and his attention caught on the blue sparkle of a sapphire, its pureness pricking him. But something about it, the angle, the crease of the tie its attached pin pressed through...

Mason opened his eyes. The traitor was staring at him, his gaze sure and hot. Mason’s heart clenched around the spike driven in it. Pain swelled and he breathed, slow and deep. Not a traitor. Frost. The man he loved. Mason cursed against the stupidity of his own brain. He’d lost himself again. So easily.

Below him the Martians argued. Now was his chance. The ship was his,
wanted
to be his. So much bitter life turned to the use of a company of ruthless, greedy aliens.

The voice in his head railed, but Mason kept his open gaze on Frost. Mason belonged to him. Not to some writhing, slimed creature that sought only advancement and profit.

Mason reached out to every part of the vast underground ship, binding the metal and the flesh within it to himself. He
knew
it. As if he wore it as his own skin. Beyond the hollow hall, he broke free every chamber as easily as flicking one nail against the other, and with it came the hiss and slurp of retracting filaments.

“What are you doing?”

Frost mouthed the words, slight and quick, and they touched Mason, warming him. This was right. He could do this. He could save them. Save the people Frost loved. He was worth that sacrifice.

The devil at the back of his mind screeched, but the surety of what he felt for the man far below him gave him strength. And its wild thrashing exposed it. He saw what Lady Cadwallader must have seen as she sacrificed herself for her daughter: the way to unstitch the words of Pandarus from his mind.

“Mason.” Frost’s features had tightened and he stilled against his captor’s hold. Both Menelaus and Theodora looked at the floor, shamed by their
Ilarches
. “What are you doing?”

There, just on the edge of his thoughts, the deepest levels of the ship’s mind, vast, seeming to push so far beyond the earth... With the energy of the ship no longer hollowing out thousands, it was Mason’s to command. He took it.


Frost.

The man’s eyes widened briefly and his chest lifted, but he showed no other reaction to Mason’s thoughts pushing into his brain. “
Damn it
,
Mason
...”

Even Frost’s anger was a caress against his thoughts after the devil that had burned there. “
I
can
,
I
will
give them back to you.
I
can break his hold.
Get them out.
All of them.
It’s still possible to escape through the remand cell wall.


You are not
—”

Mason broke the connection. The power of the ship opened more doors into the minds of the
kardax
and automata, ripping the ideas and laws of the
Ilarches
away from their thoughts. And one more thing.

A smile tugged at his mouth as he caught the flesh of the two
koile
the Martians wore. Frozen, they couldn’t move, couldn’t escape, but he left them the use of their mouths. Because he wanted their screams to be the last thing he heard.

“Now you see!” Pandarus spat out the words at his brother. His flesh strained, ripples flowing over his face. “These are your insignificant bags of flesh!”

“You.” Priam’s voice was a growl. “You put your tainted—”

“Mason!” Frost stood beneath the high chamber, his brother at his side. Theodora stood just behind, worry etched on her young face. “Trigger the release.”


I
have to hold them for you to escape.
” He allowed himself the luxury of touching Frost’s mind for a final time. “
And I have to destroy this ship.
More Martians will come.
With it here
,
we’re more open to invasion than ever before.
Please
,
Frost.
” He thought of caressing Frost’s cheek, of kissing him before the world and smiled, his heart aching, as the man put trembling fingers to his own lips. “
Save yourself.

Frost’s mouth thinned and colour heightened his cheeks. He turned, barking orders to his brother, to Theodora, and ushering them out of the hollow hall.

Frost was gone. He was safe. Safe. Mason closed his eyes and let the presence of the ship flood him. Its power breathed, the brush of the escaping people light strokes against his skin. Already he picked apart the locks that held the ship in the deep earth. He would send it back to Mars. And the effect of that sudden change would blow the whole fucking thing to kingdom come.

The satisfaction of the knowledge warmed his belly. It rippled out into the ship itself. The ancient alien race who had died to create the Crown of Towers and so many other ships grabbed at the chance to turn themselves against those who’d killed them.

They offered flickering images of their vanished world, of a brilliant orange sky and plains of black grass, with air so sweet Mason could almost taste it. Sadness and joy intermingled. They were ready for their end.

“You need to move!” Priam scorched the air with his own language, and Mason tightened his grip. They were burning their bodies from the inside out. “He is your creature—”

“You are the superior brother.” Pandarus stretched his jaw, cracking it. “You should—” He stopped as the walls thrummed, the sound deepening. “He has total command of the ship.”

The vibrations ran in quickening waves through Mason’s flesh and he gritted his teeth against the increasing pain. Already, the Crown of Towers’s grip on the earth was fading, slipping between the prepared shadow-structure and the alien
koile
-thick soil of Mars.

He would not fail Frost. He would not fail the aliens who formed the ship, the ones who had helped him to free his own people.

As he’d once told Frost, he’d made his peace with death.

* * *

“Have you quite finished being some sacrificial virgin in a gothic novel?”

Mason opened his eyes, staring down through the clear glass of his suspended chamber to the console far below him. “Frost...?”

His golden-brown eyes snapped with anger. “Did you think I’d leave you?” His fingers moved over the console, every tap a touch of bliss against Mason’s skin. “Where’s your faith in me? We’re a team. Achilles and Patroclus—”

“You have to go.”

Frost slammed his palm against the copper. “No! Not without you.”

Mason let the chamber descend to touch the smooth metal floor. He had to convince the man to leave. The walls thrummed, the warp of the metal distinct. Minutes. They had only minutes now before the ship rammed into Mars and exploded against the alien soil. Frost
had
to live. He had his family, his fiancée and a world free of Pandarus. He had everything for which he’d worked so hard.

Through the glass and the steaming of Mason’s breath, Frost still glared at him, his mouth thinned and tension tight across his shoulders. He was so beautiful and Mason ached to touch him. The chamber door clunked and swung back, the ship itself wanting him to have his final moment.

Frost’s fingers brushed his jaw and his eyes shone bright with tears. His thumb pressed against Mason’s bottom lip. “I...” He swallowed and drew in a fresh breath. “I am
not
leaving you.”

BOOK: Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers
13.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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