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Chapter 12

Banjo sat staring at the walls of his Dome in the semi-gloom. The deaths of his colleagues was still weighing heavy on his consequence, as part of his duties as supervisor of one of the ten work parties he was responsible for the safety of everybody working with him. They knew the risks, they all knew the procedure during a storm warning, but still his heart felt heavy for the loss. He checked the time piece hanging on the wall and lay down on his bed knowing that in another eight hours he would be expected to report to the mines to continue as though nothing had ever happened. His colleagues weren't the first to die in the mines, or the storms for that matter, but they were the first under his supervision. Since his altercation with Creed, Banjo had returned to his dome, closed the door and turned the lights off and now sat in the darkness with his thoughts and as normal they strayed to Cass.

She was the reason he had stayed, she was the reason he hadn't left for Earth, she was the reason for everything he did. If only she knew...

At this time, Cass was standing on the cusp of the Bio-Dome watching as the group of visitors retreated from the dome and back toward the town. She had never seen Creed treated like that before and the display of defiance had given her the courage and hope that things could finally be changing for the better. As the group disappeared over the horizon a dark shadow covered her and caused her to spin around sharply. A fist came down hard on her cheek and the f

ferocity of the attack forced her to the ground, where she lay in the soft soil of the Bio-Dome. The shadow shifted across her body as she lay unconscious at its feet, only the slight rise and fall of the breast signified her condition as a thick discoloured bruise slowly spread across her face.

With Faith slowly going out of view, the group made the slow return to the town. The Reverend had not spoken since leaving the Bio-Dome and Lorraine watched his movements as they walked. She noted his silent contemplation and wondered whether his actions concerning Creed had altered his perception of their situation. She could see one of his hands was placed over the crucifix at his waist, whilst the other was reaching up toward his chest presumably reaching out toward the beads around his neck. Lotti followed behind him as normal, but her demeanor had visibly changed. The altercation with Creed had shook her up more than the Reverend and she walked clutching the book to her chest. She still looked at her master with a look of admiration and longing, but now had a level of fear which hung over her like a cloud.

"Father..." said Lorraine quietly. The Reverend looked at her expectantly and nodded. "Is everything alright?" she asked.

"Forgive my silence" he said, "sometimes the sins of the flesh need to be cleansed spiritually before we can accept our own penance". He looked at his hands as they walked, "in my past I was a killer of men" he said. The statement shocked Lorraine, but she did not show it as he continued. "I have rivers of blood of my hands" he explained, "I joined the priesthood to repent my sins and wash my soul, but there are too many people in this life that are like Mr. Creed. Parasites..." he spat, "parasites who feed on the weak and the vulnerable. Despite our best intent, it is necessary sometimes to get our hands dirty to cleanse our laundry". He looked back in the direction of Lotti who smiled toward him. "We must protect what is important to us..." he broke off and looked toward the sky. The clouds had dispersed and the sky was clear from the earlier storm. "If you could arrange a suitable escort for me to examine the mines, I should like to conclude my duties as quickly as possible...for both our sakes"

"I understand" Lorraine said casting a glance between the Reverend and Lotti, "If we could hurry back to the main dome, I can arrange the suitable clothing and escort for you both"

"No" said Aston, "just for me" he cast a glance at Lotti and sadly spoke to Lorraine. "The mines are no place for the innocent. If you could keep her safe while I am conducting my initial exploration...". Lorraine acknowledged his request and they moved over the terrain and through the town. People stared as they walked down the main causeway and Aston knew word had gotten around about the incident in the Bio-Dome. In a place as small as this idle gossip was quick to escalate and spiral out of control if not nipped quickly.

Banjo's uneasy slumber was disturbed by a sudden banging on the side of his dome. He struggled to open his eyes to locate the source of the noise. In his befuddled state, he could have sworn he had seen movement within his dome, but knew that was impossible. He sat up in his bed and swung his feet onto the cold, hard floor and rubbed his eyes in an attempt to wipe away his own lethargy. The noise erupted again and pounded inside his head, "Alright! alright, I hear you!" he called. He pushed the blankets roughly onto his bed and grabbed at a red gown hanging limply from the back of a chair. Once again the noise echoed through the dome and rattled against the inside of Banjo's brain, "I'm coming!" he called, "Christ almighty, I'm coming!" he complained as he shuffled across the floor toward the door, his socks pushed up slender columns of dust as they thrust through the surface of the floor as Banjo clumsily fought his way across his home. He winched as light from the outside pushed its way through the crack in the door and forced Banjo to contort his features into a twisted parody of a smile. "Cole" he complained as the blurred figure ringed in the sunlight came into view.

"Creed wants to see you" Cole said.

"Again" smirked Banjo, "I am popular today". He looked Cole up and down for a moment and considered the small man. He looked nervous and stood outside the dome casting his glances around the causeway as he stood before Banjo. "What does he want this time?" he asked.

"I don't know" admitted Cole, "but it is important..."

"In what way?"

"Look, if you know what's good for you, then you had better move it you see. Creed is waiting..." Cole shuffled uncomfortably and glanced around again. His movements and actions were beginning to unnerve Banjo and he subconsciously glanced along the causeway. From his position of the edge of the doorframe, Banjo could see nothing out of the ordinary. From what he could see, normal people were continuing with their lives. People moved from dome to dome collecting, carrying and talking and he glanced back toward Cole.

"Let me get dressed" he said eventually, "I'll be along as soon as I'm ready". Cole nodded and moved away down the street and Banjo watched as he left moving through the early evening shadows as they began to fall across the street. Cole was acting strange and moved as though he was being hunted, but Banjo could still see no-one following him or watching him. "Couldn't happen to a nicer person" he murmured as he closed the door to his dome and crossed to the sink perched on the wall. He turned the taps and watched as the basin filled with hot water. He glanced toward the door, before splashing water over his face as he prepared himself for his meeting. It did worry him that Creed he demanded to see him, that would be twice in one day...not a good sign at the best of times.

Night was falling as they entered the dome and throughout the colony automated lighting systems were beginning to flicker into life. Lorraine headed the group as they entered the central dome and immediately were greeted by her husband, Michael. "Problems?" he asked, looking up from a series of paper strewn across the table.

"Nothing that cannot be handled" remarked Aston.

"We had a run-in with Dillonger..." said Lorraine.

"I am sorry Father; I should have warned you...". He sat in his wheelchair at the rear of the dome and inhaled heavily on the oxygen stick between his lips. He allowed a wisp of smoke to escape from his mouth as he exhaled before speaking again. "Creed likes to think of himself as the local gangster"

"The petty politics of the colony do not concern me Mr. Norton, I am here to determine to ability of this colony to sustain itself independently"

"You should have it Michael! he threw Creed into the soil. It was fantastic" Lorraine enthused.

"Is this true?" Michael asked. The Reverend nodded his head and cast his gaze to the floor. He laughed and clasped his hands together. "Oh...I wish I had been there to see it" he crowed. "Forgive me, but Creed has persecuted our colony ever since he arrived. He has held us ransom with threats and violence for as long I can remember" His hand reached down for his packet in his chair and he pulled another oxygen stick and lit the end allowing himself to draw a long intake of oxygen from the small white stick. "I know it's wrong of me, but it’s about time he was put in his place with a taste of his own medicine"

"Violence begets violence..." stated Aston sadly.

"My dear...the Reverend wishes to inspect the mines" said Lorraine cautiously changing the subject.

"Of course...the mines!"

"Not tonight..." said Aston. "It has been a long day. If you could show us to our quarters, we would appreciate the rest"

"Yes...yes, of course" said Michael. "Lorraine, please show our guests to their rooms"

Lorraine nodded and moved toward the stairs and waited for the two members of H.O.S.T to follow. The Reverend paused at the base of the stair and spoke to Michael, "tomorrow, it is my intention to visit the mines while my companion stays here within the town. If you could arrange the suitable arrangements for my visit"

"It will be arranged" promised Michael as he watched the two follow his wife up the stairway to the upper level.

Banjo pushed open the door to Creed's dome. He tentatively peered through the gloom and could make out some figures in the center of the room. "Come in, come in" he heard Creed's voice cut through the darkness and forced his way into the dome. Banjo was wary of his position and remained close to the door and scanned the interior of the room. He could make out the figure of Creed sitting at the table in the center of the room, with Cole standing close to his shoulder. Toward the rear of the dome he could make out the two figures of the burly guards, and although the features were obscured by the darkening shadows he could tell by their frames this was Creed's bodyguard. Between them he could see a female form in the shadows and partially blocked from view by the larger two men. Banjo assumed this was Creed's latest girl and he moved further into the dome.

"I'm here Creed...what do you want?" he demanded.

Creed sighed, "Why the hostility?" he queried. "You offer the hand of friendship and this..." Creed pointed at Banjo as he spoke, "is what you get". His men laughed at his remark. "I am tired of being treated like this today Mr. Jax" his tone was tinged with a hint of menace and Banjo felt uncomfortable as Creed rose from his seat. "You see Mr. Jax, twice now I have offered the hand of friendship only to have it thrown back in my face...and I do not like being treated like that. Do you understand?" Banjo did not, but nodded anyway. He had no idea what Creed was talking about, who had snubbed his offer. He watched as Creed approached him and briefly considered making a bolt toward the door. "You won't get far" said Creed as though he had read the thoughts of Banjo. Creed circled Banjo and looked him up and down for a moment as though sizing up his prey before speaking, "come with me..." he said eventually.

Banjo obediently followed Creed across the floor toward the rear of the dome where Creed stopped before a series of crates and containers. He clicked his fingers and Cole moved from the table and passed Creed a large crowbar, which the large man swung easily in the air. Banjo winched as Creed welded the object and this caused Creed amusement. His laugh cut through Banjo as he stood frozen to the spot waiting for Creed to make his move. He thrust the end of the crowbar into the nearest crate and prized open the top of the wooden container. Creed inside the crate and withdrew a metal container and moved across to the table where Cole had taken his place once again. Creed moved his hands of the box and Banjo watched with interest at the box as Creed worked.

"Do you recognise this?" he asked as he gazed into the open box.

Banjo looked inside the box and nodded as he gazed into the milky liquid. Creed closed the lid of the box and gazed at Banjo expectantly. "Well...?"

"Liquid plastic" said Banjo.

"And you know what we use this for?" Creed asked.

Banjo nodded, "yes, the liquid is used as a repair covering system" he explained. "If a dome...or a spacecraft suffers a rapture, then the liquid can be applied over the damaged area and once exposed air the compound hardens sealing the hole"

"Very good Mr. Jax" said Creed laughing. "It can do a great deal of damage..." Banjo looked from Creed to the smiling Cole and shifted uncomfortably.

"What do you mean?" he stammered. Creed clicked his fingers and from the rear of the dome the two burly bouncers strode from their position in the shadows. Between them they carried a large wooden barrel which rested on two heavy thick poles. Banjo could see the figure of the female still hidden in shadow at the rear of the dome, he frowned as he thought he recognised her form and watched briefly as she appeared to struggle against...something. His attention was brought back to Creed as the bodyguards stopped dead before them. Creed clicked his fingers once again and the two men lowered the barrel, allowing the wooden container to rest on the floor. They moved the poles from the sides of the barrel and rested them up against the stairway.

Creed turned to the nearest bouncer and spoke softly to him, "you know what to do..." he said and turned to look directly at Banjo. "Right Mr. Jax...I think it's time we got down to business and stop running around in circles" He placed a hand on the top of the barrel and pulled off the top of the container. Banjo strained from his position to gaze into the dark inky depths of the water in the barrel and looked up from Creed to the smirking Cole. "Unprocessed water, Mr. Jax" said Creed indicating toward the barrel. "You know what it's capable of..." Creed picked a small stone from the floor and roped it into the water as part of a macabre cabaret. The water bubbled and toiled as the stone fell into its icy grip and slowly the surface of the liquid became tainted with the melting force of the water as the rock slowly dissolved. "Almost everything is consumed by the water Mr. Jax" stated Creed.

"The barrel? why isn't it dissolving"

"Lead lined..." said Creed as he opened a drawer in the table, "one of the few substances which is immune to its touch". He considered Banjo for a moment as he drew out a pair of heavy gloves from the compartment. "Wood...paper...plant...bone...flesh...all decay under its pressure" he purred as he pulled on the gloves. "Now!" he barked the order and from behind the two bodyguards moved swiftly and... past Banjo to the laughing form of Cole. The smile and the laugh faded quickly from Cole as the two guards grasped an arm each and pushed him savagely across the table. The two men pinned Cole down firmly against the wooden surface and Creed lowered his head level. "You disappoint me Mr. Jax and..." his words trailed off and he straightened and nodded in the direction of the barrel.

"No... no... please Mr. Creed" begged Cole, "please Mr. Creed I didn't mean it...I didn't do anything" he whimpered.

"That's just it Mr. Cole, you did nothing!". Creed grabbed the back of Cole's head and pulled his face close to his own. Cole flinched under his employer’s touch. Banjo felt a twang of pity for the man as he watched and he could see traces of tear welling in his eyes and panic rose in the smaller man. Cole grabbed at Creed's hand, but did not have the conviction or strength to pull away. A suddenness of movement from Creed brought Cole's head sharply down onto the surface of the table. He looked directly at Banjo throughout the movement and smiled at both men's discomfort. Cole whimpered and pined as blood trickled from his mouth and nose. Creed pulled at his hair once again, but this time moved away from the table, still holding Cole tightly in his grasp. The smaller man struggled desperately as Creed stood over the barrel.

"Creed..." whispered Banjo, but was silenced with a single look from the man.

"I have a job for you to complete..."

"And if I don't accept?"

"Why do you think I'm doing this!" stormed Creed pushing Cole's face close to the water's edge. "You will accept my offer...!" he raged. "Because if you don't", He sneered and pushed Cole's face deep into the water. The man struggled under Creed's grip and Banjo could see the colour of the water slowly change a dark reddish colour. Cole waved his arms in the air as he struggled against the pressure placed on his head and grasped weakly at the gloved hands of Creed. He pulled Cole out of the water and allowed Banjo to gaze long and hard at the man. His features were melded across his face and the liquid had started to melt the flesh from his face. The skin on his forehead was bleached pure white and vast traces of skin hung from tendons across his cheekbones. Particles of bone poked through the damaged portion of Cole's face and the skin around his eye sockets sagged allowing his left eyeball to hang loosely against bone. The lower half of his face had mostly been melted through the liquid within the barrel and the bare bone of his jawline melded into a twisted smile. Creed forced Cole's head back into the barrel and the smaller man sagged under the weight of his grip. The liquid within the barrel was tainted visibly with a crimson tinge as it splashed over the edge of the barrel.

"Alright!" shouted Banjo turning from the actions of Creed, "you've made your point"

"This isn't for you Mr. Jax, it's for her..." Creed cast his gaze toward the shadowed female at the rear of the dome. "You disappoint me Mr. Jax and..." he trailed off and nodded toward one of his guards who moved silently toward the figure. He pulled the writhing form of Cole from the water and pulled his decaying figure of his employee. Banjo recoiled in horror as further features had melded into one as his left eye had now completely dissolved, a hole where his nose had once been sat in the middle of his face and his other eyes hung limply on what was left of his cheek. Creed opened the box on the table and forced Cole's face into the plastic solution and once again held the man fast as Cole writhed under the pressure of his grip. For the third time Creed pulled his employee's head from a liquid solution, but this time the plastic content within the box had covered his face and hid the horror of his form. Cole fell to the floor as Creed relaxed his grip on the man and Banjo watched in horror as Cole clawed desperately against the plastic covering across his face. The plastic covering hardened as the oxygen in the air touched the solution and as Cole struggled to pull off the plastic mask now covering his face. Slowly the movement from Cole got slower as the oxygen was cut off and he collapsed to the floor. Creed walked over to the body and kicked out at the unmoving form sprawled on the floor.

The guard pulled the female figure into the light and under the dimmed bulb hanging high in the rafters of the building he could see the horror in her eyes. He could see the fear in her face as she glanced between Banjo and the lifeless form of Cole at the feet of Creed. "You will do as I say Mr. Jax or..." he pointed toward the woman, then at the water.

"Cass" whispered Banjo.

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