The Last Bender, Chapter 51
That night, when a commotion in the halls woke me up, I thought, almost with relief, here we go. I had had a pretty good run of luck. They didn’t get me in the war, and the years since had been quiet enough, quieter than I expected or deserved.
There were shouts and screams. I dressed and went for the gun but it was gone. I searched under the pillow by the bright light. I scrutinized the head. It smiled. A cold skin seized hold of me and I went out into the hall. Stronghole ran by and knocked me over with his elbow. He was shouting, “No one leaves!” I took off after him. He ran into St. Claude’s offices where Evalyn was seated on a cushion, St. Claude off to the side, sipping that green stuff. They had on tight faces, like we had surprised them arguing. They were not used people running around the dome.
“Stronghole,” St. Claude said, “What’s going on? Who’s out there?”
Stronghole pointed to his neck and said, “I’ve served you long enough. I want it off, before it’s too late.”
St. Claude put his hands to his lips and looked at Stronghole. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not? They’ve launched an attack. Can’t you hear?”
“Because it’s over, Stronghole. My wife has convinced me of that. We have to be rational here. It’s time to go to the ship and continue our work at sea.”
Stronghole pulled the shears out. “Who has time for dreams like that? The heads want me now. I know it. Please. You know what it feels like, the loneliness. We haven’t got much time.”
St. Claude took the shears. They glittered like cables in the rain.
I thought, I have to stop this. But I couldn’t. Some strange inertia had taken hold of me. My ability to act was somehow bound up with the brain. And the brain wanted Stronghole. It wanted all of us. There was no use in resisting. Evalyn and I were like a little energy furnace, along with the sun and sea. Our purpose was to give desire to the thoughts. But this wasn’t enough for us either. I could feel it now in me. I wanted it too. I wanted to have him cut my head off, just to see how it would feel. I longed for the cold pinch on my throat. How much stronger was it for Stronghole then? He wanted it in the worst way. He wanted it as badly as I wanted Evalyn, because it was the same thing. It was slicing free from the pain. He would be weightless. He would live in a place where he never could hurt a thing again. He could taste the steel. St. Claude hesitated as he approached him, eyes trembling with uncertainty.
Evalyn said, “Stop. I have a gun.” St. Claude looked confused. He would not let go, but she stood him down. “I mean it, I’ll blow your head off if you kill him.” He lowered the shears but did not drop them.
Stronghole fell to his knees and sobbed, “Please, I’m begging you to do this now.”
“Evalyn, look at him. Where is your compassion?”
“Compassion? Maybe patience! Bromion, you agreed to leave. The experiment is over.”
There were gunshots and the sound of shattering glass. Bullets pinged off the crystal panels. The room filled with smoke. Stronghole lay curled up in a sobbing fetal position.
“It’s time to go,” I said.
He said, “I’ll never leave. They’ll just kill me, rip me apart for nothing, steal my work.” Evalyn tried to touch him but he shrank away. St. Claude was imploding and he didn’t know what to do.
That’s when David Watts came smashing through the wall, behind a big steel clothing rack, shouting, “Back, I say back!”
St. Claude seized up with a surprising fury. “You!” He raised the scissors. He looked like one of the heads, the whites of his eyes flaring.
“St. Claude, I’m taking you down!” David said, swashbuckling about the clothing rack, which had a dozen corrupted torsos hanging from the cross bar. St. Claude walked up to him with the scissors. “No David, you’re moving up.” His voice was gentle, full of pity. He opened the shears and closed them on David’s throat. The blades cut about an inch into the flesh and then blood sprayed across St. Claude’s face, slicking his baldhead with a dark red sheen. It splashed into my eyes. I wiped it away. David was jerking and hissing as the blades sank deeper into his skin. Then Evalyn fired three shots. St. Claude turned slowly around, staggered backwards, opened his eyes wide and fell dead. The blood welled out across his chest, soaking the white clothes black. The scissors were still embedded in David’s neck. He gurgled and lifted his hands then swung back into the rotten corpses. The dome was silent. Everything stopped. Then someone came walking down the hall. It was a deliberate walk. Every few footsteps it paused. At the entrance boots ground into the glass. Crunch crunch crunch. She walked into the room, dressed in leather, with a gas mask and a helmet. A light beam shined from the helmet, through the smoke. She looked us over before lifting the mask. It was Helen. Her yellow hair fell against the black leather. She tossed me a box of Lemon Drop suckers and said, “Hi.”