– CHAPTER TWENTY –
Each day they drained Clara, rung her dry. Rag dolls had more water in them than Clara. She felt only one, maybe two drops left in her at the end of each session when they strapped her into the rig at the bus golem engine’s center.
Those sessions seemed longer each time they buckled the straps around her ankles, thighs, wrists, and chest and pulled down the metal conductor helmet. That first day she could swear the Junkers had her inside the engine for a little over four hours, longer than the strongest conduits they had captured and in their control. Roos had revealed the four-plus hours session was more like seven hours.
Since that day, the hours dragged out. They rang the rag further.
Seven… eight… nine… ten hours.
Clara was running up a steep hill angled just a few degrees from completely vertical. Muscles burned and screamed for air. Her stomach cramped from dehydration. The hill tilted steeper each day.
She should have dropped dead five times over the last several days. Yet, Clara lived. Her body ached, yes. It craved increased nourishment to replenish calories and begged for extended amounts of sleep—sleep and food the Junkers never provided her before pulling her from a cage. But Clara was alive!
This doesn’t make sense, she told herself when Turnip Head shook her awake from too short of sleep.
“Get up now, coppertop! Rise and shine,” he announced in his cruel way. His breath stunk of onions, as always. Then he jammed a boot into her ribs.
I should be dead… burned out. Clara almost wished she were. At least, she believed that was her desire. Odd thing to wish for, a burn out. The stories told of the Junkers killing conduits in the night. When Kell and his lost boys left her alive, she should have counted her blessings, prayed to God. Clara didn’t. She wanted the nightmare true as much as she used to want to wake. Two prospects frightened every conduit. One, being burned at the stake as some witch that didn’t fit into the new world. In pre-Black Out Thursday history, plenty of old world thumpers burned the different… books, people. Two, a conduit also feared using up her abilities and her life, burning right out. But I’m still here… and it scares me!
“Come along then,” Turnip said, grabbing her wrists and literally dragging her tired form from behind the four-sided set of bars. “Try not to break this tub tonight, huh?”
“Burn out!” She hissed the curse at the man and then added harshly with what she was able to hold on to of her partially rejuvenated strength, “You’ll burn me out first.”
Turnip mumbled something, his words breathed between thoughts of aiming his boot at her head or breaking a couple of her ribs. He instead tied her hands behind her and handed her off to two other Junkers.
She thought she caught something along the lines of, “Don’t be too sure…”
What? Clara’s brain was crispier than a piece of junk overcharged with Nites. The thought drifted away as she was hauled away between the two other Junkers, both with bits of metal carved into their flesh like the captain—a painful fashion statement if Clara had ever seen one.
Off to another session. Time to ring dry the rag. Perhaps this time the Junkers’ bus golem would ring the last couple of drops from her.
I hope all the water causes a short!
Burning hair offended Clara’s nose. Screaming pounded on her eardrums like an amateur hitting a snare drum with a mallet.
Heat pressed against her face as if someone had pushed her face onto the cobblestones on a blistering summer day, but hotter. Today the sun had fallen to the earth and the world was aflame. That heat tingled and spat.
In the chair Clara felt the sucking, a pressure pulled her skeleton away from her flesh and out through her eyeholes. It gave her a headache. Pain was pressing against her brow, the blunt end of an ice pick rather that the pointy end. Then the sensation was gone. Her body tingled with relief.
Awareness gradually came to Clara, her pounding head clearing.
She had sat in the chair a few minutes—or at least she believed it had only been a few minutes, she was tired all the time these last few days—when the sucking sensation let up and her body dropped back abruptly into the seat.
With the pain dulling to a steady—manageable—throb, she slowly opened her eyes. She blinked at first. Then her eyes snapped wide open.
The brim of the helmet that tried to suck out her brain fell forward to just above her eyes. Much too large. The bowl-shaped helmet tilted further forward to obscure her vision. Clara raised her chin and looked out from under the metal brim.
Wires writhed across the cluttered floor, the nest of snakes alive and agitated, hissing sparks. Clara squeaked. Her heart leapt into her throat. She tried raising her feet away from the snakes but the restraints on the chair legs kept her from jerking her feet more than a quarter of a foot off the ground.
The rational part of Clara’s mind kicked in and told her she was being silly.
Get it together. These are not snakes you silly, stupid girl!
Other wires and tubes hung free from overhead, swinging in lazy arches, dangling straight down all around the rig Clara sat strapped into. Each of the frayed ends smoked and discharged blue sparks, the energy from the Nites she had been feeding the bus golem was leaking. Clara breathed in some of the smoke and began to cough wretchedly. Something had blown the system’s wires from their sockets, melted the protective sheaths, and made parts of the engine explode. She guessed a massive power surge hit the golem’s systems. Either the junk engine could not take the input Clara had feed it or the connections from the Junker torture chair to the junk engine were too narrow and her feed bottlenecked, pressure then built up and blam! Blam or boom was satisfying. Clara would go with blam.
One of the exposed wires hung close to Clara face. She felt the spitting heat against her flesh. Sparks leapt at her eyes. Clara winced and squeaked, pulled at her bounds frantically, and held a hand up to shield her face from the dangers of the spurting Nite energy threatening to burn her flesh off.
It took a second or two for Clara to notice one of her hands was free.
The straps holding her limbs to the chair’s arms and legs were loose. Her limbs could slip free! The leather cuffs were there to make sure she did not buck out of her seat or reflexively kick anyone. Accident or purposefully, she would cease any opportunity to throw a punch or kick at a Junker face.
She sensed the bus golem was moving along at a slower base now. The other engine room was struggling to power the beast on its own. Realizing her opportunity cost her seconds. Junkers were likely hustling to the dual engine rooms to figure out what caused the golem’s hiccups.
Clara slipped her other hand out of the second restraint and began undoing the leather straps around her middle before moving to unbuckle the cuffs at her calves.
When she leapt out of the chair, Clara nearly collapsed, her legs unable to support the sudden movement. Tired was a weak word to describe her physical state. She was no stronger than a child. Regardless of her weakened state, while lying on the floor, she slapped her limbs the way you would a sleeping person after a cold knock out. Wake up. Wake up, burn it!
The pocket door leading to the narrow hallway outside was not far from where she lay. Feeling tickling her limbs again, Clara succeeded in hobbling to the closed door. She was so tired, nearly every drop of effort rung out. I’ve gotta keep going, she told herself. Any second the door next to her might slide open, pour in Junkers, and they would haul her back to a cage, like a naughty puppy that chewed the wires and urinated on the rug.
I need something to hit them off with… a weapon. But what?
She needed something hard enough to crack skulls and break bones.
The power surge had loosened from the wall near her ankle a pipe housing a fist full of wires. She quickly knelt and unscrewed that pipe. Clara went about the task carefully so as not to cut herself on the edges of the jagged end. Brushing the metal of the pipe, her fingers tingled with the Field energy shooting from the wires’ ends. It did not burn when touching her skin, though. She inhaled a relieved breath. The Field seemed to slip into her as easily as a stream down a mountainside. Her chest shuddered and she gripped the pipe tightly, the cool metal icy and heavy in her weakened grip. The pipe unscrewed easily.
The screaming—no, shouting, curses—the young conduit had heard earlier grew louder. Junkers were coming closer.
Taking one last long gulp, Clara used the wall and slid backup to stand. Then she raised her pipe as high as her meager strength allowed her, high enough for a good swing.
The sliding door retreated into its pocket.
Clara did not wait. She exhaled through her nose and swung, hoping the feeble force was enough to hurt more than a fly.
A hand caught the pipe in mid-swing and jerked the two thumbs forth of copper from Clara’s grip.
The offending motion sent Clara spinning. She hit the wall and then crumbled to her knees limply.
She took in a couple breaths before hands hooked under her armpits and hauled her to her feet.
The Junker—only one had come to investigate–tried saying something to her.
Clara threw fitful fists at the road pirate’s chest. Three punches and the flies continued to buzz. The Junker yelled at her. She did not care to make sense of his words. He would pay to drag her back to the conduit kennel. Clara opened her jaws, threw herself against her assailant, and sunk her teeth into his bicep.
The Junker sucked in a painful hiss and pushed her away, holding her at safe distance.
“Open your eyes and look at me, Clara!”
Finally, words penetrated and she knew Roos’ voice. Emotions warred inside Clara. He betrayed her. Lead her to this nightmare by the nose. After her first session in the chair, Roos had carried her back to the cages, gently placing her inside. He stayed to make sure she was all right.
Boys are so confusing.
“Are you here to take me back because I broke your golem?” she cried.
He quieted her with a gentle shh, the way a mother might. Then he shook his head in the negative, bowed in submission, and pulled Clara into his arms. “We don’t have time. Kell gave the order to stop so we can assess damage and make repairs. I can get you out. What did you do, Clara?”
“I gave the old girl a tummy ache,” Clara answered with a fit of hysteric giggles.
Calming herself with quick mouthfuls of air, Clara found her anger again and gritted her teeth. “Why should I trust you?”
Pregnant silence ballooned, consuming all the tension, the hot air, between the two teenagers.
Roos lowered his head and spoke softly. “You never should have.”
He held her gaze with his mossy green eyes, a single eyebrow raised, expression serious. “Do you have a choice?”
Wanna read more? Turn the page to Chapter Twenty-One (click here)
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved
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