Thin beams of early morning light shone through the numerous cracks in their hiding place, and still Felix had not returned. Bernard’s watchful gaze alternated between the corrugated steel that acted as their door and the girl he was being paid to bring back to Terra Haute. The night had been tense beyond the excitement created by passing patrols of the warlord’s guards and the roving packs of bandits. The girl, Rasine, had spent much of the night crying, and when she wasn’t doing that she was glaring at Bernard. She was not the first to do either, but something about her hate filled gaze bothered him.
“It’s time for us to go,” he said. “Relieve yourself in the corner then we’ll be on our way.” He moved toward the door and looked out through the cracks. There was no one around that he could see, but that meant little. A person could be standing above the door and Bernard would not know it for certain until it was too late. He should have started out while it was still dark, but he had wanted to give Felix a chance to get back.
The quiet within their den was not right. Bernard turned to see the girl sitting on the floor, her legs and arms crossed, staring at him defiantly. “You don’t have to go? Fine, we’ll leave now.” He made to grab for her and she let out a little squeak. “Quiet!” he hissed. “If they find us here they will kill us both.” He looked her over once. “Well they will kill me. They will probably do much worse with you.”
Rasine’s eyes went wide. “They wouldn’t dare! I am worth too much to the warlords.” She wanted to believe that, but the unflinching stare of her kidnapper made her doubt it.
“The men out there,” Bernard said while jerking his thumb over his shoulder, “care very little what you are worth to the warlord. Most of them aren’t even aware who you are. All they will see is a woman, a young woman at that, and that makes you very valuable to them, but only until they tire of you. You may be caught by one who will keep you around for a while, make you a whore to earn him money, or perhaps he’ll just use you himself until the beauty has left you. He’ll sell you, most likely to someone living a little too close to the HotZone.” He looked at her with his emotionless gaze. “No, death would be far better than what they would do to you.”
Tears streamed down the girl’s cheeks as his words brought the cold reality of life near Detroit into sharp focus. Being a woman was hard enough in the more civilized parts of the world, or so she had been told, but the brutal world of the labyrinth ruined most women. Rasine had seen some of the broken women, usually from afar and less as she became a woman, and she learned early that they were to be pitied and that there’s was a fate that all women who lived within the reach of the warlords risked such a fate.
Slavery was still uncommon in what was left of America, but the wilder lands and their denizens saw slavery as a means of survival, for both the slave and the master. Male slaves usually worked as brute labor, but occasionally a slave with an exceptional skill would find work doing something less back breaking, but not less degrading. Female slaves were prized for their ability to act as labor and pleasure. All but the most beautiful were forced to work for their masters during the day and to please them at night, but to fall in with bandits or soldiers usually meant a life of torment. Such angry, violent men had little use for the women they took other than for their own gratification.
“You are right,” she said at last. “Can you at least turn your eyes while I pee?” Her headmistress would have slapped her for using such language, but her headmistress was not there and the little act of rebellion reminded her she was still free, at least for now.
“No.” There was no anger in his eyes. There was no pleasure. No desire. There was nothing. “Get it done so we can be on our way.”
The girl quickly removed her clothes and placed them to the side before squatting over a slight depression in the ground. She stared at him as she urinated and felt no shame. He never blinked. He kept an eye on her the way he might watch some sort of treasure. She was an object to him, nothing more. “Is this what you like you pervert; watching young girls pee?” Rasine knew he didn’t, but she couldn’t stand his blank stare any longer.
He stared back with his soulless eyes and said, “no, but I won’t let you out of my sight again. We have been here too long and I have no desire to have you slip away when my back is turned.”
“Bastard,” she said as she moved away and put her clothes back on. He was more machine than man, but he was all that stood between her and the beasts who roamed the allies of the labyrinth. She had been living a dream and he had shaken her hard until her eyes had opened. Waking up had been worse than the nightmare fringed fantasy she had been living. Even if someone managed to rescue her from him she would never be able to go back. She had to escape Detroit if she was ever going to live a life of her own.
His eyes never left her as Bernard waited until Rasine was dressed then motioned her closer. “When I open this follow me out right away. Do not wait and stay directly behind me. If there is anyone waiting for us I will have to kill them quickly. If you are in the way they may kill me first, and you know where that leaves you.” She nodded silently. “Good.”
Bernard held a small throwing blade in one hand and a long, wicked looking blade in the other. He was tempted to pull out a gun, but the advantage it provided in killing power would mean little if they were heard the moment they stepped out of the shelter. At least with his knives they might keep the noise to a minimum. “All right,” he said, “let’s go.” Bernard slid the corrugated steel back and stepped into the light.
It was tempting to shield his eyes, but he squinted instead so that they could adjust as quickly as possible. Rasine did as told and moved behind him, doing her best to act as his shadow. Bernard scanned the alley they were in and the mounds of debris that acted as the walls of the labyrinth, but he found no one. He closed the door to their refuge and walked along the wall, not trusting in his luck.
“Don’t shoot cowboy,” said a voice from around the corner.
Bernard relaxed his stance and tucked away the long knife. “Where have you been Felix?”
“Looking for a way out,” he said as he came from around the corner. “This place is damn confusing. You add in all the gunmen running around this place and it can be a bit tricky getting just about anywhere.”
“I suppose it is.” Bernard looked up and down the alley they were in. “I can’t imagine how we got lucky enough to not have anybody in this alley this morning.”
“Well it’s a big place, Bernard. Even the warlords can’t patrol every inch of ground all the time.” Felix leaned against the hood of a half buried car and nodded toward the girl. “What’s wrong with her?”
Bernard looked back over his shoulder and saw Rasine standing away from him, but still behind him as he instructed. Her eyes were wide and she stared at him strangely. “I had to give her a little scare this morning.”
Felix barked a laugh and said, “I think you over did it.” He squinted and asked, “you didn’t threaten to rape her did you?”
“You know I wouldn’t,” said Bernard. “It’s not my style, but I reminded her that I was nicer than most.”
“You’re not nice. You’re a damn cold, heartless bastard,” said Felix before giving another laugh.
“Better cold than an animal.” Bernard looked at Rasine once more. Something about her bothered him and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He turned back to Felix and scowled as he spoke. “Did you at least find the way out during all of your running around?”
Felix struck a look of hurt. “You know I did Bernard. I’m not good for a lot, but finding my way out is a specialty of mine.” Felix walked to the corner he had come from and peeked around it. “We’re close enough that we probably could have gotten out last night except there were so many people between us and the way out.”
“And now?” asked Bernard.
“There’s still people, but there are less of them this morning.” Felix looked back and said, “I think that most of the warlord’s men are heavy drinkers, and by the look of them they aren’t exactly drinking the good stuff.”
“Let’s go then. The sooner we get out of here the better.” Bernard pulled out a couple of extra throwing knives and turned to the girl. “Stay close to me and do what you’re told. I will get you out of here and I will get you to Roscoe, who I think you’ll find considerably nicer than Ivan, as long as you do as you’re told.”
She nodded and followed him as he chased after Felix. There was definitely something off about the man, but he was not out to hurt her and that was more than she could say for most of the people she knew.