The Beast was tall, and as Hank gazed up at it, he could feel the sweat dripping down his back slowly freeze into tiny spheres of ice.
The Beast was smiling too, down at him, as it stood above Hank. It spread its hands, and as Hank watched, he realized that was what the Beast was; it was a thing of 1000 hands. They looped their fingers together and used thumbs to form joints until it was a whole body of hands.
Some of the hands had been there for a while. They were rotten, the flesh sliding off the bone the more they moved to follow the motion of the body. Soon, they would become only bones. Somehow, Hank knew it wasn’t good for the hands when they became bones. There was something… vital about the flesh, even rotting and desiccated as it was. Without it… the body would slowly become nothing.
The Beast wouldn’t let his body come to nothing.
Alan was there, laying with his arms across his chest. His suit was white and his eyes were closed. Beneath those eyelids, there seemed to be a crimson fire, something that was burning its way out of its body. Alan had been betrayed by himself, leaving him injured and furious. His heart refused to beat.
Hank blinked. That was true. For some reason, that heart of Alan’s was refusing to beat. That’s why they were all here, gathered around Alan. Everyone wanted to figure out what was going on with Alan’s heart.
Well, everyone except the Beast. The Beast was here to take Alan’s hands.
Abruptly, there were hundreds of people, walking back and forth in front of them. They were blurry silhouettes, curved and soft at the edges. They were more like throw pillows than people, the type of thing that was thrown to the ground when anything really happened. They were a backdrop.
The Beast was closing in on Alan, and Hank began walking forward as well. He narrowed his eyes. His hand reflexively went to his waist, but there was nothing there. Hank swore quietly and brought his hand to his mouth. He bit his right pointer finger, hard. A fat drop of blood welled up, swirling upwards.
Miming holding a gun, Hank kept his crimson bullet trained on the Beast.
The Beast noticed Hank’s attention and was amused.
“Yyoouu ccaannnnoott kkiillll mmee lliikkee tthhaatt,” The Beast whispered. “II ccaannnnoott ddiiee aass lloonngg aass ssoommeeoonnee ccaallllss mmee.”
“How are ya called?”
“jjuusstt ssaayy mmyy nnaammee.”
Hank’s tongue was swelling in his mouth, as though his body was struggling to stop him before he went too far. “Whaaa….. What’s yur name?”
“Iii aaAMmM CCCAAALLLLLLEEEDD fear.”
Then, both Hank and the Beast were in front of Alan. When the Beast spoke its name, Alan twitched. His eyes opened. The orbs were pure crimson.
“Did someone call my name?”
Hank opened his eyes as the train stopped. Wincing, he straightened. He couldn’t believe that he had fallen asleep when Alan was in the hospital, for all that the manatech train was as familiar as a lullaby to Hank.
Without even taking the time to grumble to himself, Hank pushed his way out of the train into the bright sky. But no matter how much light there was, Hank’s heart was heavy and clouded. If Alan died…
Hank shivered. Something terrible would happen. Something that their Zone couldn’t survive. Although the details of the dream were fading quickly, that certainty was lodged in Hank’s heart. In a way, he was glad that Laurel hadn’t returned with him to Zone 1. She would want to stop and think about what the dream could mean. She would want to think about why Hank was always the one who dreamed when Laurel was the one with the Skill.
It was exactly for this reason that Hank never mentioned how frequent the dreams were. Mostly, they seemed harmless. But this one…
Did someone call my name?
Feeling cold even in the direct sunlight of the afternoon, Hank shook his head. Then he began walking briskly towards the hospital where Alan was resting. When he got there, he was quickly let into the back section of the building, where the VIPs were kept.
With the advent of the System, long-term stays in the hospital began almost unheard of. You either survived long enough for your HP to recover, or you didn’t. There were few injuries that wouldn’t heal with the raised Vitality. Most terminal illnesses of the past were defeated outright by the human body’s newfound power. There were some exceptions like rare curses or dangerous poisons that would affect an individual for an extended period, but most visits to the doctor involved drinking health potions until you could get into surgery.
Often times, you would be right as rain 24 hours later.
Alan had apparently been attacked three days ago. He remained cloistered in his room, according to his wife. Luckily, the wife had Jane out at the park when Hank arrived, because what happened next was not something he wanted his niece to see.
“This is where Alan is staying?” Hank asked the two men that were standing outside of the presidential suite of the hospital. They exchanged a glance. With fewer patients staying, those that did were afforded more room. From the shape of the building, there was likely an entire house’s worth of space behind the golden inlaid door that the two guards protected.
“President Howard is resting right now,” The one guard eventually said, reaching up and adjusting his sunglasses. “If you return tomorrow, hopefully, he will be feeling good enough to receive visitors.”
Hank smiled at the man, feeling not an ounce of kindness in his soul. “That’s my brother. Let me see him. I’m a big boy, I can take it.”
“Unfortunately-” the guard began, but Hank’s frayed temper snapped.
His Hard Right smashed the guard against the wall, the back of his head knocking with enough force that Hank believed he felt something crack. As his body slid down the wall, Hank just looked at the other guard. The gaze froze the man, who was reaching simultaneously for his plasma pistol and for his wristlet to call for backup.
Hank’s smile widened. The guard stayed still.
“Just here to visit my brother, boys. No need to get so feisty,” Hank said casually as he reached forward and twisted the knob of the door. There was a faint tingling on the back of Hank’s neck, but he went forward anyway.
There were four men with plasma rifles waiting on the other side of the door. The leader of the four cleared his throat. Hank recognized him as a lazy if law-abiding, man. “Sheriff Howard, I understand your worries. But until President Howard regains consciousness, we are under strict orders to let no one-”
Hank’s Dodge Roll put him right up between the four rifle users, and it changed the man’s pleas into quiet curses. One of the more useful items Hank had learned in Donnyton was how to manipulate the Skill so they performed differently depending on what he wanted. Which was why he was able to cover 5 meters in a single roll, which was a feat that would have left him just as shocked as these guards if Hank had seen it two months ago.
Well, Hank amended mentally. Not this shocked.
There was one woman on his left, and three men to his right. All were frozen except the rotund leader, who realized quickly that he couldn’t turn the plasma rifle in the enclosed hallway and dropped it. He let go of it just in time to take a Sharp Left to the face. As Hank pulled his punch back, he brought his elbow into the nose of the woman behind him, breaking it in a smooth stroke.
Deftly, Hank put his foot out under the butt of the gun and lifted it with his toes. He threw it accurately. Entranced, the farthest man jerkily caught the gun as it floated towards him. As his hand gripped the heavy rifle, Hank had already doubled the boss over, hit him in the temple with his pistol, and then smashed the third man with a Sharp Left.
The third guard had none of his boss’ toughness and dropped like a rock. It looked like the fourth guard pissed himself. Without a second glance, Hank turned on his heel and walked calmly forward down the hall. It took them about three seconds, but it seemed like the woman had reset her nose and was talking rapidly into her wristlet while looking at Hank’s back. Hank had to admit that she had some spunk, for all that she hung around politicians all day.
A sense of doom was seeming up from the very ground of this hospital as Hank walked down the hallway. But Hank didn’t mind. After all, he was empty. He arrived at the door on the end with the label “Alan Howard” and opened it. It was as empty as he felt.
Hank showed his teeth to the room. His Soul Skill was keening like a coyote. Someone would pay for this.