Authors: James Axler
Tags: #Speculative Fiction Suspense
Dylan nodded. “The future has to be born, Kane,” he said, “and birth is traumatic. But it will be brief, and the new world awaits you once it's done. You need never look back, never regret. God will be with you.”
Kane gritted his teeth as he watched Dylan bring the stone closer. Then he felt it brush against his skin, its surface cool, and for a moment the ex-Mag tensed.
“Relax yourself into it,” Dylan advised. “Don't fight it.”
Dylan pulled his hand back slowly, leaving the stone balanced on Kane's outstretched arm. The stone was resting against Kane's wrist now, in the groove that was made there at the heel of his hand. Kane watched as the stone rested there, doing nothing out of the ordinary. And then he felt it move, like an insect's tiny feet tickling against his wrist, and he almost laughed. The movement was so slight that, in the gloom, he could not really see it. All the same, he felt it, felt as it rolled and turned, inching around in a slow turn at the base of his palm.
Suddenly, Kane felt a strange kind of pain, his skin splitting at his wrist with a burning sensation. It reminded Kane of the way that chapped lips feel in cold weather, a hotness around the wound. He watched as the stone rested at his wrist, watched as it seemed to become slightly smaller. It was sinking, Kane realizedâsinking into his flesh, burrowing there like an insect.
Exile to Hell
Wreath of Fire
Tigers of Heaven
Tomb of Time
Devil in the Moon
Talon and Fang
Sea of Plague
Mad God's Wrath
Mask of the Sphinx
Children of the Serpent
Rim of the World
Lords of the Deep
Closing the Cosmic Eye
Pantheon of Vengeance
Warlord of the Pit
Cradle of Destiny
The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game
âJames P. Carse
Finite and Infinite Games
Almost two hundred years after the global holocaust, Kane, a former Magistrate of Cobaltville, often thought the world had been lucky to survive at all after a nuclear device detonated in the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. The aftermathâforever known as skydarkâreshaped continents and turned civilization into ashes.
Nearly depopulated, America became the Deathlandsâpoisoned by radiation, home to chaos and mutated life forms. Feudal rule reappeared in the form of baronies, while remote outposts clung to a brutish existence.
What eventually helped shape this wasteland were the redoubts, the secret preholocaust military installations with stores of weapons, and the home of gateways, the locational matter-transfer facilities. Some of the redoubts hid clues that had once fed wild theories of government cover-ups and alien visitations.
Rearmed from redoubt stockpiles, the barons consolidated their power and reclaimed technology for the villes. Their power, supported by some invisible authority, extended beyond their fortified walls to what was now called the Outlands. It was here that the rootstock of humanity survived, living with hellzones and chemical storms, hounded by Magistrates.
In the villes, rigid laws were enforcedâto atone for the sins of the past and prepare the way for a better future. That was the barons' public credo and their right-to-rule.
Kane, along with friend and fellow Magistrate Grant, had upheld that claim until a fateful Outlands expedition. A displaced piece of technologyâ¦a question to a keeper of the archivesâ¦a vague clue about alien mastersâand their world shifted radically. Suddenly, Brigid Baptiste, the archivist, faced summary execution, and Grant a quick termination. For Kane
there was forgiveness if he pledged his unquestioning allegiance to Baron Cobalt and his unknown masters and abandoned his friends.
But that allegiance would make him support a mysterious and alien power and deny loyalty and friends. Then what else was there?
Kane had been brought up solely to serve the ville. Brigid's only link with her family was her mother's red-gold hair, green eyes and supple form. Grant's clues to his lineage were his ebony skin and powerful physique. But Domi, she of the white hair, was an Outlander pressed into sexual servitude in Cobaltville. She at least knew her roots and was a reminder to the exiles that the outcasts belonged in the human family.
Parents, friends, communityâthe very rootedness of humanity was denied. With no continuity, there was no forward momentum to the future. And that was the cruxâwhen Kane began to wonder if there was a future.
For Kane, it wouldn't do. So the only way was outâway, way out.
After their escape, they found shelter at the forgotten Cerberus redoubt headed by Lakesh, a scientist, Cobaltville's head archivist, and secret opponent of the barons.
With their past turned into a lie, their future threatened, only one thing was left to give meaning to the outcasts. The hunger for freedom, the will to resist the hostile influences. And perhaps, by opposing, end them.
“The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game
âJames P. Carse,
Finite and Infinite Games (1987)
Kane awoke in darkness.
His head ached, a dull sensation as if from too much sleep. He was ravenous, too, and his mouth was dry, so dry it felt as if he had been chewing sand.
Kane felt the rough, cool rock beneath his crumpled form and realized he had no recollection of how he had come to be here, wherever here was. He was lying on his side, the rough surface pressing against him. His muscles ached with a cold burn, like the onset of influenza.
Slowly, Kane rolled onto his back, stifling a groan of pain as his body protested the movement, settled as it was on the rocky ground. He lay there, gazing up into the darkness, his breaths coming out as forced bursts. He tempered his breathing, waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.
Kane knew he was a large man, muscular yet well proportioned. He kept his dark hair trimmed short, and more than one person had told him his penetrating, steel-gray eyes seemed full of challenge and fury. His upper body was powerful, with broad shoulders and a firmly defined chest, and his arms and legs were rangy, giving him
something of the appearance of a wolf. His was a body suited to stealth and swift movement, a body built to respond. His temperament was like that of a wolf, too. On the one hand, Kane was a natural pack leader, yet on the other, he was a loner who preferred to handle things his own way rather than worry himself with the concerns of others. It was this latter quality that had defined Kane's life, from his younger years as a Magistrate in the barony of Cobaltville, where he had gone from enforcing the baronial law to rebelling against it, to his subsequent role as a Cerberus exile. The Cerberus rebels had pledged to defend humankind against the insidious threat of a race of aliens called the Annunaki.
Kane was trained in many combat arts, at home with gun and knife, and just as deadly with his fists. In short, he was a magnificent specimen of what man can make of himself.
Or at least he had been.
Now, he lay on the stone floor, his body bruised and aching, scarred even through the armorlike weave of the skintight shadow suit he wore. Whatever had hit him had hit him hard.
At least his breathing was normal now; he could be thankful for that much. His guts seemed to churn, his stomach rumbling in complaint at the lack of sustenance.
“How long have I been here?” Kane wondered aloud. And more to the point, just where the hell was here, anyway?
Lying on his back, his breathing slow and regular, he reached out with his senses, letting what information he could detect flow into him like an empty receptacle. Kane was renowned as a remarkable point man, having an almost Zenlike oneness with his surroundings in any
given situation. There was nothing mystical about this ability; it was merely the studied use of his five natural senses with a focus and surety that few people would ever achieve.
He was in a small, enclosed space. He could tell that much without even moving. There was no breeze, just the lightest drafts moving about him. The air seemed normal enough, although it smelled a little of sweat and all those other scents humans create when held in an enclosed space for any length of time. As he realized this, Kane wondered when he had last urinated; his bladder ached dully. His stomach rumbled again with the thought, reminding him of its emptiness.
He could not detect any breathing other than his own, and suspected he was alone.
His eyes were adjusting now, getting used to the darkness he had woken to. There were rocks above him, he saw, and along the walls to either side of him. It seemed he was in a small cave, hidden away from the sun.
His mouth was terribly dry. His tongue felt as if it was swelling up, and his breath had a solid harshness as it passed through his open mouth. He took another breath and could taste the dryness, and something rotten in his throat.
With a grunt of effort, Kane pushed himself up, forced himself into a sitting position. He felt cramps run across his stomach muscles, realized he had been lying in one position for far too long.
“Just how long was I out?” he muttered.
At first his legs did not want to move, and he almost fell as he tried to stand erect. This wasn't like waking from sleep, Kane noted. It was more as if he had been in some kind of coma. His lack of any immediate memory confirmed that feeling.
Automatically, he reached up and brushed at the wayward strands of hair over his face. He felt the stubble, a rough line running down his jaw, like a bed of tiny needles. He thought back, tried to remember when he had last shaved. It seemed like less than a day ago, just before he and his team had taken the mat-trans leap to Louisiana to fight with the queen of all things dead, but he had at least two days' growth of beard now, maybe three. It was closer to a beard now than stubble. Somehow time had slipped by without his noticing.
Kane stood, pins and needles running through his toes as he did so, his feet numbed by the boots he wore. His body felt heavy, as if he were waterlogged, an old thing dredged from the river.
Gradually, he made his way to the wall, walking like a geisha girl, with tiny steps as though his feet were bound. He felt sick.
There was so little light, yet he could see the structure looming ahead of him. Kane reached out with his right hand, noticing the absence of weight there for the first time. He had had a Sin Eater stored in a wrist holster, a handgun that reacted to a specific flinch of tendons to deliver the formidable weapon straight into the user's grip. The blaster was gone. Kane ran his left hand along his arm, felt the torn strands of leather there, the remnants of the holster that had been violently ripped from him, stripped away at some point he could no longer recall.
Then Kane pushed his fingers against the wall before him, pressed his palm flat against it. It was cold and rough like the floor and the ceiling.
He walked along three paces until he found another rock wall in the gloom, their meeting point creating a right-angle corner. He was in a cavern, then, a cave of some sort, just as he had thought.
“Where the hell am I?” Kane muttered as he peered around, his eyes struggling to make sense of the darkness.
Systematically, he ran his hand along the wall, staggering in slow steps, feeling sensations gradually return to the numb muscles of his legs and feet.
It appeared to be a cave. Yet there didn't seem to be an exit, which made little sense. How had he come to be here, in a cave with no door?
There was the interphaser, of course. Like the mat-trans, the interphaser worked to transport people instantaneously through the quantum ether to new locations. Had he used an interphaser to get here?
Kane knelt down, sweeping his hands across the rough floor, brushing the sand and dust as he sought the little pyramidal shape of the interphaser unit. It wasn't here. Nothing was here. Just him and the clothes he wore, in a room without a door.
His stomach grumbled again as he struggled back to a standing position, peering around him at the dark cavern. This was it. He was alone, trapped in an impossible space.
So, is this how it ends,
Kane asked himself,
or simply how it begins?