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Dr Archeville

[Nov 2010 Vignette] Unchained Labor (Cannonade & Cimitiere)

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Unchained Labor

The man stood stock still, watching.

Cannonade was waiting for the man to do… well, something. Anything. Even if he just looked up at him and screamed, that’d be enough. He was looking down on the warehouse from the fire escape, trying to figure out what was going on inside. For close to an hour, nothing had come in and, save for the walking mannequin below, no one had come out .

He’d first heard the whispers down at the Green Shield. Greg’s brother-in-law was working on a site over in Port Regal that made use of some unregistered workers. One of the workers, Jose, had apparently talked to Greg’s brother-in-law about taking on a “side job.” Then he’d vanished. Everyone thought he’d gotten a better offer until Jose’s wife had shown up at the site, begging for answers as to why he hadn’t come home.

As far as Cannonade could tell, Jose wasn’t alone. There were stories of workers going missing all over town, as well as a few disappearances among the homeless. He’d managed to centralize the disappearances around a four-block stretch in Bayview, and had been pounding the street when he found the lone slack-jawed sentry. Ideas ran through his head when he looked down at the warehouse. Drug mill? Cult indoctrination? SHADOW getting desperate for recruits?

One thing was sure. He wasn’t going to find out down here. He swung down from the fire escape, landing a few feet behind the sole watcher. The watcher turned, and a stink filled Cannonade’s nostrils. And as he moved to put the guy down, he felt cold, clammy flesh under his hands, and finally got a good look at the man’s eyes.

Well. That explains it.

Nick Cimitiere, meanwhile, was trying to figure out what was setting off his death sense like a fire alarm. He’d been about to head out on patrol when the sudden flood of necrotic essence hit him like a jackhammer. Mind you, such a thing was remarkably easy to track, but it was definitely giving him a headache.

Which was only getting worse the closer he got to the warehouse in Bayview. He could feel something pounding in there, slowly yet loudly, like a steady drumbeat or a human heart. There was a working going on inside, something powerful and complex. And whatever it was couldn’t possibly be good.

And that was when he heard the fighting. He ducked around to the back alley to see a man wearing a steel helmet trading blows with a zombie. And not any zombie – to Nick’s senses, the thing was pumped full of necrotic essence to the point that he was surprised it hadn’t just fallen to pieces. Which would explain why it seemed to be giving its sparring partner an even fight, even as he picked it up and threw it with enough force to gouge a dent in a dumpster.

“Goddamnit,” the man in the steel helmet yelled. “I thought you guys came apart easily!”

The zombie rose up from the foot of the dumpster. And then it reached down, slipping its fingers under, and lifted the dumpster above its head.

“Aw, crap."

The zombie hunched its muscles. As it gathered the force within, however, Nick found the weak point in the working. With a simple exertion, the power was cut off. The zombie’s head rolled on its neck, and then it crumbled onto the ground, causing the dumpster to fall on top of it with a sick crunch.

Cannonade looked down at the fallen zombie – or rather, what was left of it – with surprise. “Huh,” he said. “Guess they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

“Oh, they make ‘em strong enough," said someone in the darkness. “This one wasn’t exactly factory issue.” He stepped out; he wore a leather jacket with strange symbols all over it, and his hair was slicked back and piled high. But what stood out most was the make-up – pale white, with black around the eyes. He looked like a skeleton on a night on the town. “Nick Cimitiere, and I’m guessing you’re --"

“Cannonade," he said, extending his hand. “I saw that article on the incident at the Luxury. Fairies, huh?”

“World’s weird.”

Cannonade jerked his thumb to the building. “So, let me guess – zombie factory.”

“Or something. This isn’t your typical rise. And your standard bokor’s keen to just make something that’ll shuffle about, bring you a drink and gnaw on your enemy’s skull. This guy… this guy was the Terminator in dead flesh.”

“You can’t find a way to make that sound less creepy, can you?”

“It’s a habit.”

“Yeah, well, all I know is, good men are dying to make these things. I’m gonna put a stop to it.”

“Same here. Really not a fan of bindings. Question is, what the hell is going on in there?”

“Only one way to find out.” Cannonade ran to the doors of the warehouse and burst through –

-- only to come face to face with a dozen zombies in various states of decay.

“I was gonna say, I could read the building’s history,” Nick called back from the alley.

“Yeah, that probably would’ve been easier.”

The zombies descended on Cannonade. Given the workout his fists were getting, these ones were probably like the ones in the alley – crammed with energy and fit for fighting condition. He didn’t know how much longer he could hold up against the onslaught.

Which made it a welcome relief when the zombies fell to the ground. Cannonade looked down and saw hands made of some weird, gauzy material grasping at them and keeping them pinned.

“That’s gotta come in handy,” Cannonade said as Nick walked in through the door.

“Yeah, but it takes a lot of power,” he replied. “Means I can’t do… this!”

The hands disappeared for a second, as the zombies rose from the earth – only to come tumbling back down soon after, as the light fled from their eyes.

“Revocation of power,” Nick said. “Hell of a thing.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Cannonade said, casting his eye about the darkened factory. Strange glyphs seemed to cover the walls, and disassembled machinery shared the same tables as collections of gems and arcane tomes. In some cases, it looked like the machinery was wired directly into the gems. “So, what the hell’s going on here? Why does anyone need zombie workers for this stuff?”

“Well, it’s a hell of a way to avoid union dues,” Nick said. “But… no. This is something larger, and the zombies themselves… too powerful…” He cast his gaze on the office at the back of the warehouse. To his inner eye, something seemed to flare up within. And it was only growing brighter…

“Yeah, that’d explain it. Those zombies. They weren’t drones.”

“Then what were they?”

“Prototypes.”

The door to the office burst open in pieces as a man the size and rough mass of a refrigerator came charging out. He was clad from the waist down in a long ceremonial robe – giving Nick and Cannonade a good look at the bleeding, gaping hole in his chest.

“How dare you?” the man yelled. “How dare you? I’m so close… to apotheosis. You interrupted my working! By what right -- ?”

But Cannonade was already rushing to meet him. “What right did you have to those men’s lives?” he said, driving his fist into the behemoth’s solar plexus. “What right did you have to make ‘em your goddamn slaves? Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

By the time he broke from his tirade, Cannonade finally realized that the man had not flinched one centimeter. And he was just staring down at him.

“I am conquering death, the greatest of evils,” he said, grabbing Cannonade by the waist. “And I have more important things to do than bother with your trifles.”

Nick watched as Cannonade was thrown over the man’s shoulder into a far wall. He called up the wellspring of death around him, coalescing the ambient ectoplasm in the form of barbarous talons.

“The gifts of Irkalla,” the man said, looking on Nick. “You are practiced.”

“Well, I don’t like to brag…”

“But an apprentice.” The man drew forth his will, and an orb of frost and shadow formed before him. Nick barely had time to duck as the orb flew right over him; he could feel the cold burn as it zoomed right past him. “I am a master.”

Cannonade roused himself in time to watch the two necromancers fight. Nick summoned ectoplasmic hands to root the behemoth to the ground, and the behemoth drew it into a lash that could split steel. Nick sundered the lash with a wicked set of claws, and shrieked at the behemoth with a guttural voice. The behemoth called the very beams to rust and fall upon Nick, but Nick managed to reduce them to ash before they hit the ground.

“Cannonade!” Nick shouted from across the hall. “Hit the office!”

This seemed to be exactly the right thing to say, as the behemoth turned away from Nick to Cannonade. Cannonade was already on his feet, rushing for the office. Inside, he found a motley collection of relics, blood-stained bowls, cruel daggers –

-- and a heart, lying on the desk. It was shot through with veins of black and a fierce, unnatural green. And it was still beating.

“Yeah, that ain’t right.” Cannonade picked up the heart in his hand – it’s just like a side of beef, it’s just like a scary, beating side of beef – and turned to see the necromancer rush into the office.

“You dare?”

“Yeah, I dare.” Cannonade squeezed. The lich clutched as its gaping chest and fell to its knees.

“Please… don’t let me go…”

“Master, huh?” Nick entered from the main floor. “You oughta know by now – there are evils worse than death.” He pulled the heart out of Cannonade’s hand and squeezed it between his; the eerie light within gave out, and the veins faded into the meat. The necromancer let out a strangled scream, and fell to the floor.

“Um. Was that… kosher?”

“Given what he did? He should’ve gotten worse.” Nick sighed. “I just turned off his heart. His essence is still inside, it’s just not giving him power. It’s like turning off a computer.”

“Ah. So he’s not…?”

“Oh, he’s dead. He’s just not… gone.”

“Geez.” Cannonade looked back to the pile of zombies on the main floor. “What am I gonna tell their families?”

“You got their names?”

“Yeah.”

“Drop a list at the corner of Green and Woolcroft. I’ll make sure their last requests get along.”

“Got it.” Cannonade turned to walk out. His work was done. He wouldn’t be able to bring good tidings back to the missing people’s relatives, but he could at least rest with the knowledge that their killer had been stopped.

Nick, meanwhile, watched the powerhouse walk out of the warehouse. “Good heart,” he said to himself. “At least he’s got the stuff to back it up. Don’t know what I was thinking those days…”

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