The Opal - Part 1 - Hero

There was a dead body on the train. Hero didn't know who put it there, but that didn't matter. Dead bodies meant trouble, and he couldn't afford trouble right now....

By Klemen Bobnar

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There was a dead body on the train. Hero didn't know who put it there, but that didn't matter. Dead bodies meant trouble and he couldn't afford trouble right now.

Fortunately, the train was nearly empty; less chance of someone unexpectedly sneaking up on him. He couldn't just leave the body where it was, of course. They knew he was on the train; he had to report all his travels. That’s what you get for being an ex-con. It wouldn't be long before they found out who was on the train, and from there it would only take a quick database search, and he would be their prime suspect.

“Fuck, not now,” he thought to himself as he assessed the situation. He had to get rid of the body, and quickly. There was one slight problem, though. The windows of the train were sealed shut, most likely a precaution to not allow any passengers to stupidly poke their heads out and get them caved in by a telegraph pole or a stray bird. Well, the reasons didn't matter now. He had two options: he could wait for the next station, hope there would be no people around, disarm the conductor, that wouldn't work. Stupid brain. Bribe him? If he were anything like the other government officials he's met, he would take his money and then turn him in anyways. Maybe he could frame somebody? Hardly a way where no suspicion would fall on him, and given the amount of time he had, not a very sophisticated option either. No, there could be absolutely no connection to him whatsoever. The body must disappear.

He was running out of options now and panic was starting to set in. Why was this happening now, the plan was nearly completed, why? He never wanted to be a part of this mess. Then he remembered. There was a small exhaust port at the back of the train, but big enough to fit the relatively small body through. He was only two, three carts from the back and there were hardly any people on board. And if there were, they would probably be sleeping at this hour. He decided to take a chance; not that he had any other options at this point. The next stop was approaching fast, and the conductor would do another walk through the train right after it. This wasn't the time to think through, plan or hesitate; he grabbed the body by the legs and started dragging.

It was lighter than he expected, but then again, he was also stronger than the average man. Something else that came with being an ex-con. Quietly, he opened the door of the first cart. No people here, he sighed with relief. He started to drag the body further when he felt a change in gravity; the train started braking, and it did so forcefully enough that the man lost his footing and fell to the floor.

“The next station? So soon?” He stumbled to his feet and looked through the window: there was nothing in sight. Then he heard a shaky voice through the speakers, and with each word spoken, his face grew paler. “This is your driver speaking. We are going to be subject to a search by the Controle. Please stay in your seats, remain calm and cooperate and we will quickly be on our way.” The driver didn't sound too sure of that. He knew as well as everyone else what a search by the Controle meant. And Hero knew damn well what it meant for him.

The body didn't matter now. Fuck the body. They don't conduct searches just by chance; they knew something has happened on the train. That meant that he was screwed either way; the Controle weren't exactly known for letting someone with a record go free on a lack of evidence. To them, it would be enough that he was on the train. The only option now was to get the hell off the train and get as far away as he could. He ran to the back, sprinting at full speed. There were some passengers standing in line, ready for inspection. He knocked them aside; they didn't matter. All that mattered was keeping it safe. Without it, everything he had gone through would have been for naught. “A runner!” one of them shouted. Thanks a lot, asshole, he thought. But he was nearing the exit now, he was nearing freedom. Only one more, and hopefully no guard at the back...well, shit. Of course, there was a guard. The guard saw him, too, and started screaming frantically into his intercom as the man lunged towards him. Two long step jumps and a push kick to the stomach, and the guard crumbled to the ground. The man was well trained, not so much the railroad employee.

Finally, the door! He opened it, jumped through and started running. A voice yelled at him to stop, followed by others. He had no intention of doing so. The forest was near, and he knew how to cover his tracks. I am safe, he thought, it is safe. Bullets were whistling past his ears, but he wasn't concerned. He already had enough distance between him and the shooters. They hadn't brought a sharpshooter with them, or else he would be dead by now. He leapt over some logs and into the forest when he felt the sharp, familiar pain of a bullet in his chest. Hm, he thought, I guess they did bring one.

The impact pushed him forward, and he fell down the slope. He stopped at the bottom, the pain too much for him to think straight. He cried out loudly, more out of frustration than pain. Keep it safe, keep it safe, was the only thing on his mind. With the last of his strength, he reached into his bag and took out a small, oval-shaped stone. Its surface seemed to glitter in the dark, throwing light on his surroundings, and if you looked long enough, you would have noticed a small vibration of the colors, like a small, glossy chameleon. It was a beautiful stone, but it was also much, much more. No, he cried as tears welled in his eyes. This can't be the end. They can't get it. This isn't how it's supposed to end. All of the work, all the planning, the sacrifices, all for nothing? He knew they would catch up to him soon, and no matter where he put the stone, they would find it. He was as good as dead, but more importantly, the mission failed, and who knows how many will end up dead because of his failure.

He listened for steps in the snow, but he heard nothing. Instead, he heard a curious, squeaky voice. He turned his head and saw a small, fuzzy creature. It looked at him with interest, especially at the stone. “You like this?” he asked and waved the stone. It responded affirmatively, chirping excitedly. “Take it,” he said as he extended his arm in an offer. The small furry creature surely couldn't understand what he was saying, but it was drawn to the shiny object in his palm. It approached carefully, jumping back at any movement from the man. Eventually, it came close enough to snatch the stone from his hand. It looked at him for another second, then bolted underground.

The man relaxed. What happened from here was not in his hands anymore. These furries had extensive underground networks, sometimes spanning miles away from the main lair. It would take weeks to find the stone, and by then, word of his failure would have gotten out. That is if they did find it at all. At least his friends will be safe, he thought as he coughed. He was becoming weary, and his breathing was hard, courtesy of the bullet wound in his chest. His eyes wouldn't stay open any longer. He felt warm, but he knew that was just an illusion, the last sign of hypothermia, and that the end was near. He looked around one last time, ready to meet whoever was waiting for him on the other side of this reality, and froze in fear.

He saw it, not twenty feet from him. It saw him, too. Slowly, not in any hurry, it made its way towards him. He tried to get up, run, crawl away, anything, but his body wouldn't listen. He collapsed to his chest, his face buried in the snow. Suddenly, he was lifted, and he came face to face with it. It. It had a metal face if you could call that a face, made out of black steel. It was carved out to resemble a mask, one such as many traditional cultures wore. Behind the mask, inside the face, there was fire – a cold, screeching blue flame. It was burning hot, and he could feel the warmth on his skin. “Where is it?” asked the robot in a growl reminiscent of a blowtorch. The man spat blood on the robot's mask. “You'll never find...” he said, as the robot tightened its grip. His mask started to glow red. Hero knew what was to come next, and he procured one last ditch effort to get away, but to no avail. He wouldn't stand a chance at full strength, and he certainly didn't now. He yelled, he begged for mercy, he tried to reason with it. Unmoved, the robot's mask exploded with flames and the man screamed in agony as his face was burnt away.

Then, all was quiet. A few miles east, a fuzzy creature suddenly stopped and listened intently. Was that a man's sound? It couldn't decide. In any case, it was of no significance. There was only one thing that was important. And that was to deliver the stone.

Wake up.

Wake up!

Oh, for fuck’s sake, get up!

The bright light pierced her eyes as the night mask she was wearing was forcefully ripped away from her. She twisted away, trying to hide from the sun, but it was of no use. Keving was going to drag her out of the bed no matter what. That was why she hated him; well, that and the fact that he acted like he was her dad.

“Get up, camp’s moving,” he said, “and today’s the day, so you better be on your best behavior.”

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