CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
Silus Flax was impressed by the destructive power of the weaponry supplied by Ben Santiago. Even his prophetic visions of its use could not compare with the frightful efficiency of twentieth century technology.
He had assembled a group of his High Hats in his personal chambers for a demonstration and had used the Uzi sub machine gun on them after a short briefing from Santiago.
Flax stood wide eyed with sadistic glee as he watched them cut to pieces, reduced them to a bloody heap in a matter of seconds. He continued to fire at the dead bodies until the magazine ran dry. Then he smiled as he turned to his shocked supplier. Ben swallowed hard. “But they were your own men.” he said hoarsely. Flax shrugged his wide shoulders.
“No one is indispensable.” he replied and his eyes narrowed as he looked at him. Ben shivered and Flax laughed as he placed a Fatherly arm around Santiago’s shoulders. “We have much to do, let us begin my friend, let us begin our campaign.”
After a few hours of planning and instruction, Flax deployed his forces around the city and awaited his zero hour. He set his pocket watch to coincide with the Tallmens’ artificial dawn, but was surprised when the realm he craved to master was not gradually illuminated at the appointed hour. Some light came but it was the intensity he expected. The great banks of smog which hung over the city in this dimmed dawn indicated to Flax that all was not well in the towers.
As Flax watched from his vantage point on a high building above his headquarters, he noticed the flickering rifts that opened sporadically in the Dubh’s field walls. Flashes of lightening, in a thousand different colours irradiated the smog banks as energies ebbed and flowed in the unstable walls. Flax was disturbed.
Why was there an energy problem today? The Halls of Machines functioned normally, he had checked the last night. He shook his head. He would be in control soon he thought, soon he would put the Tallmens’ complacencies to right. Then he looked up as first explosions of grenades and mortars marked the passing of his deadline and his captains lead their men against Tan strongholds. His murderously equipped army was in full scale assault.
Now the city resounded with the sound of fighting, bursts of automatic weapon fire, grenades flashed and thudded, fires began to burn and the dying screamed as the victors howled in depraved triumph. The whole city began to glow bloodily as fires marked the advance of the merciless High Hats.
Flax watched them through binoculars supplied Santiago. These instruments brought the conflict so magically close to him and he so much wanted to be part of it. He felt the surge of adrenalin flowing through him, he wanted to be there to, but he knew that he must co- ordinate the battle himself.
With the help of a radio and its hastily trained operator he was in touch with all his Captains. Reports flooded in through the heavy hiss of static that the Tans were retreating, offering little resistance and dying in their thousands as they fled to the river and the walls of the Upper City. The High Hats were sweeping the Tans aside, their foe’s antiquated weaponry no match for his men’s equipment, even in their hastily trained hands.
Flax smiled. The Lower City was his and now he would join the fray himself. Flax shouldered his sub machine gun and, with his radio operator in tow descended to the battle field of Dubh.
Chaos and carnage reigned on the streets he now walked. Buildings burned fiercely, the bodies of Tans lay sprawled in the streets with their ancient and ineffective weaponry clutched in their dead hands. As the High Hat leader moved along through the aftermath of the carnage towards the river, where his forces now assembled awaiting his next order, he sprayed anything that moved with automatic fire. He riddled the unarmed civilians who peered curiously through doorways and windows and those who had emerged in curiosity out onto the streets. Flax found the pleasure of such destruction of human life intense as he picked off his targets indiscriminately as his troops had done; anyone not in a High Hat uniform was a legitimate target and as he neared the river he found himself clambering over piles of bodies of the ordinary citizens of Dubh.
Eventually, only lack of ammunition brought Flax down to earth and he was able to see reason through the red mist of his blood lust. He shouldered his weapon and increased his pace to join his men who waited impatiently on the banks of the foul smelling river, swearing at his radio operator to keep up with him.
The Tans had put up almost no resistance once they had realised the destructive capacity of the High Hats weaponry and had retreated en masse to the Upper City and the expected sanctuary of its curtain walls. The bottle neck of bridges over the river had been the demise of thousands as they attempted to make their way through the terrified crowds swept ahead of the High Hats advance. The bridges had been crammed with people fleeing in fear of the demons that pursued them in top hats. There, caught in the open and vulnerable, they had been slaughtered as they stood like beasts at an abattoir door.
At the corpse swollen river, all was now silent. The firing had stopped because of Flax’s orders and the simple fact that there was no one in the open outside the Upper City walls left to kill.
Ben Santiago had been swept up in the demonic atrocities of the High Hats advance. He had led the attacks with the same insane savagery as Flax himself would have. He had, with great difficulty, been able to eventually quell the sadistic enthusiasm of the High Hats as he knew they needed to preserve ammunition and he also released that the city would need people other than the High Hats to function after its fall to them.
The High Hats had wasted much ammunition in an attempt to achieve the latter, but Santiago had stopped it and now he oversaw the setting up of mortars and instructed how and where to launch grenades in preparation for the storming of the Upper City.
Now they awaited Flax. They milled around the river banks and on the bridges swapping stories of their personal exploits and itched to continue the rout of their enemy. Flax arrived and smiled as his horde cheered and waved their bloodied weapons in salute.
“Victory is ours!” their leader screamed until he was hoarse, then embraced Ben Santiago. His insane eyes bore into Ben. “Victory is Ours! he whispered into the arms dealer’s ear.
Then he turned to his High Hats again. He looked at the sea of white faces, their wide and manic eyes staring out from beneath the brims of their top hats grinned. Then he looked up at the walls of the Upper City and the dull glow from the field walls which crackled and flashed unstably.
Suddenly he felt cold. Goose pimples arose all over his body and the hairs on the back of his neck stiffened. He stared at the sky over the walls across the city. A great arc of golden light briefly lit up Dubh, it was the result of the energy imbalance in the field walls, but to Flax it was more than a chance disruption in the field walls. It was gate through which he would have to pass to secure his position as emperor of this place. Beyond it lay the city of the Tallmen, but they could not stop him. His dream of Jonathon standing before the golden gate now returned to him, causing him to shiver. The dream, the boy!
“The boy.” he croaked out loud, his eyes becoming unfocussed as a thin sliver of paranoia crept into his mind. “It’s because of him! He’s destroying my world! My dream! “he shouted at the assembled High Hats. A few looked puzzled a few repeated Flax’s words, chanting them as if they were religious prayer or a profundity from a prophet.
The golden discharge in the field walls faded and Flax recovered his composure. Yet now urgency filled him. The dream hung over him like the smoke from the bloody war he had brought to Dubh. The boy was here. The problems he had blamed on the Tallmen might be something to do with him he realised. The boy was out there, a real threat. Now time was of the essence. He had to find him and find him soon, but he knew that he would find him, that their paths would soon cross. He been close recently, he was alive. Soon, thought Flax. Soon. was silent now, apart from the static crackle from the field walls. It was a silence which slipped inside the soul, creating an atmosphere of expectation and fear.
On the Upper City walls the remaining Tans organised themselves to face the onslaught of the High Hats. They hoped that the narrow bridges, on which many of their number had been massacred, would perhaps give them some advantage as the High Hats advanced.
Santiago dropped his hand, signalling a barrage ofmortars and grenades. The grenades spewed smoke across the river and covered the High Hats advance on the walls of the Upper City which disintegrated under the deadly rain of fire and shrapnel. The Tan remnants died or fled.
Soon the High Hats literally exploded through the gates of the Upper City. There was no opposition and the frenzied minions of Silus Flax sought to fulfil murderous passion on anyone who happened to come within range.
Soon the bodies of Meks, dragged from their dwellings and killed, littered the streets. Flax ordered a halt to the attack. He needed the engineers and mechanics of the Upper City to run the Halls of Machines, without them he could not hope to sustain the realm he would tear away from the Tallmen when he conquered the Towers of the Tallmen.
His orders proved difficult to enforce, but, after halting several berserkers in his host with a hail of bullets from his own weapon, silence fell upon a shocked and shattered Upper City.
Only the hum of the engines could be heard now, perpetual and comforting to Flax. This was his home. He smiled. At least they functioned still, he thought and by the sweet tone the halls emitted, efficiently. Now he knew that the problem that threatened the city was with the Tallmens’ technology or management of it.
But how could the boy have got to them? Even the blazing lights of the Sentry Towers had now almost dimmed out of existence. He ordered his men on to the roofs of the Machine Halls where they gazed through the thickening smog of battle at the City of the Tallmen.
The lights of the Sentry Tower were ominously dull too. The metaphorical significance caused Flax to smile. They guarded his final goal and he knew that the Tallmen would still prove to be a real test. His men were well armed, but the technology of his enemy was highly advanced and they had nowhere to run and hide.
Flax had seen their weaponry used on only a few occasions, but it was lethal and efficient. On the open killing ground between the halls and the Towers they could pick off his men at will. He looked nervously at Santiago, who grinned back at him, his face manically confidant. He assured his client that the Tallmen would collapse with the same ease that the Tans had folded before them.
Leaving Santiago to organise his next strategy and he moved down to the Halls to force his way in. With a few trusted captains, they blew open the main doors and marched inside in jubilant arrogance. Flax was relieved to find that all was indeed, as he wished it to be. He inspected all the Halls and found the lines running normally, although the Meks worked anxiously, as he and his entourage passed by.
Reassured by Flax, the Black Gaffer, of their safety, they continued their work in fearful concentration. They knew of this man who now controlled the Upper and Lower Cities. They knew his reputation, his methods and now feared him more than the sadistic legend of Hall Nine. The new master of the Halls of Machines issued commands to his captains and his faithful servants ran gleefully to carry them out as he climbed the metal stairway to his old control room. He felt good to be back amongst his beloved machines, wrapped in the bouquet of warm oil and hot metal he felt confidence build in him at the prospect of the forthcoming battle with the Tallmen.
As he entered the control room, he heard the sound of gunfire in the Halls. He sniggered. His men were executing the Council of the Halls of Machines, the lap dogs of the Tallmen. Now he had total control of the halls and the Tallmens’ power supply. He had his hand at their throat, soon they would crawl at his feet one way or another. They could not win.
He swung open the control room door and stared at his deputy who fell on his knees at the sight of the Hall Engineer in whose absence he had taken over from. Bolster’s rolls of fat quivered as Flax advanced toward him.
“MMMMMaster!” he stuttered. “They said you absent and dismissed from your post. I am your faithful servant. I did not take your job. I knew you would return master.” he wheezed, unsure of his fate now Flax had returned and controlled the city almost in its entirety.
“My dear Bolster.” Flax laughed. “You are a crawling liar of the lowest order. Of course you didn’t want me to return you fat, slobbering wretch. I’m sure you enjoyed your new post and its advantages to the full.”
Flax moved closer to Bolster and stuck the muzzle of his gun into his left nostril, pushing it hard until the skin nearly split. “But you are right of course. I am your master, so get off your arse and continue your tasks.” Flax snarled and kicked Bolster to his feet and toward the control panels.
Bolster scrambled into a chair in front of the banks of trembling dials which were mounted above the glass windows which gave a view of the hall below were a few pale faces peered upwards from their work.
Flax looked down and the faces quickly concentrated on their work. Bolster turned and smiled tensely at Flax, sweat pouring from his pale face.
“The, the Tallmen have ordered us to increase output of all Halls to mmmmaximum.” Bolster stuttered again. “Shall I master?”
Flax paced forward and leaned over the trembling controller to study the dials.
“There is little left in terms of output without putting the machines at risk of overheating and seizure, what is the problem over there? Why do they need more power now?” he asked Bolster.
The fat man shrugged.
“We have heard rumours of sabotage and rebellion in their ranks, that they can no longer store energy as they used to.” he smiled hoping his meagre information would please his master whose face seemed to be blackening with every moment.
“Rebels?” he whispered. “Rebels and no energy storage?” He sighed deeply. So that was it. That explained it all. “The boy.” he hissed though grinding teeth.
He stood upright and slapped Bolster across the head. The Tallmen were in trouble, they needed every watt of energy just to maintain the field walls. It was the boy. Somehow he had got into the city. He hit Bolster again.
“How!” he stared at Bolster who sat with his hands over his head. “It is only rumour master! I know nothing more.”
Flax was growing angry. Was it the boy? Was it the Tallmens’ incompetence? He punched Bolster in the back of the neck. “Tell me now!” he screamed to a higher spirit than that of the terrified Bolster, a spirit which had given him enough to motivate and guide him in the past. Visions of the golden gate and the boy flickered into his memory, but no prophecy, no guidance, only laughter that seemed to echo through his own soul.
It tormented him with visions of the boy, the boy who stood before him and his prize. And this talk of rebels. He was not alone. He was destroying the city, ruining his dream before his very own eyes. Flax growled and laughed to himself. He began to fume and his face reddened.
Bolster could hear Flax grinding his teeth together, slowly boiling up a terrible anger. He retreated slowly as Flax’s face began to redden and saliva frothed at the corners of his twitching lips. He whimpered quietly to himself, repenting his sins to a forgotten god.
Now his master began to rant and swear unintelligible threats, sweat poured from Flax’s brow as he began to pace the control room and hit out at the nearest objects, he no longer seemed aware of his blubbering deputy at all. He was lost in a world of pure rage as he smashed his bony fists into the walls as his fury intensified and blood and scraped skin fell onto Bolster as he waited for Flax’s destructive passion to focus on him again.
Flax turned to the shivering mound of flesh in the corner and, to Bolster, his dark, bottomless pits of eyes seemed to ignite into glowing embers. Flax’s deputy closed his eyes in silent terror and flattened himself in preparation for his death.
As quickly as Flax’s rage had risen it subsided. The fire in his eyes faded and he stood erect, staring in space as blood dripped from his battered knuckles onto the cold tiles of the control room floor.
His emotions under control again, he lifted his bleeding hands and stared at them. He breathed deeply and then spoke softly.
“These ‘rebels’, what are the Tallmen doing about them?” he asked while he examined the exposed knucklebones of his fists.
Bolster gaped and sobbed. Had he been spared? He felt a dull ache in his chest. He tried to reply, but the words jammed in his larynx. Flax slapped him out of his shocked state and repeated the question. Bolster sobbed and sniffled.
“They say that they have one of them and....” Bolster took in a deep breath that was not deep enough. He began to pant. “They say.....he will lead them....to the others...” he spluttered.
“Good.” he said and then smiled at Bolster as he left the room.
The faltering and long abused heart of Bolster could take no more. The years of terror at the hands of Flax and the abuse of Bolster himself had taken their toll and, as Flax left, it ground to a halt, leaving its owners lips
to turn slowly blue as he collapsed face first into the blood splattered floor, his nose breaking with a loud crack.