Banjo stared in horror as the bodyguard roughly pulled Cass into the light. He could see traces of decolourisation spreading across her face along her jawline and up toward her right eye. She had cuts ranging in size above her left eye and cheek and her clothing bore the evidence of tares across the full length of the material. From his position he could see that she had been gagged with a heavy material which snaked across her mouth and round the back of her head, while her hands were bound behind her back. "Cass..." he breathed and turned to face Creed who was standing before him, smiling and removing the heavy gloves from his hands. "If you've..." he began, his words dying in his throat.
"If I've what Mr. Jax...harmed her? Well...guess what...as you can see from her appearance I have" Creed laughed and took his seat behind the wooden table. "What are you going to do about it?"
Banjo stood clenching his fists but never moved from his position, just stood staring into the baleful eyes of the woman he loved. She stared back through her one good eye as the other swelled beneath a savage discolourisation around her face.
"You are all talk Mr. Jax" said Creed coolly, "now if we could talk business" he indicated for Banjo to take the other seat at the table. Banjo stood stock still, unmoving looking at Cass and the pain in her eyes. "Don't worry Mr. Jax, her injuries are only superficial if that is what you’re wondering" Creed smiled through his whitened smile, "her body hasn't been touched by myself or my men...now why don't you take a seat so we can talk like mature sensible gentlemen" Banjo reluctantly obeyed the instructions partially received that she had only received a beating by the hands of the thug, but still with the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach that there could be worse yet to come.
"What do you want?" asked Banjo.
"It appears that I have a vacancy in my corporation following the sudden demise of Mr. Cole" he smirked as he cast his gaze down at the body at their feet. Cole still lay on the floor close to the barrel. His clothing stained with his blood and plastic covering his hand and face. Traces of water covered the floor around the body and Banjo sat in his chair watching as Creed clicked his fingers and the other bodyguard pulled the legs of the small man and dragged him into the darkness of the dome. "That is a position that I am now offering you" Creed leant forward as he spoke and from behind them Banjo could hear muffled cries as Cass struggled in her bonds. Banjo cast a look toward her and she furiously shook her head in his direction, her eyes bulging and her body writhing as she attempted to pull free from the bodyguard's grip. "Move her..." ordered Creed and with that the bodyguard hoisted her high onto his shoulder and carried her back into the shadows at the rear of the dome.
"If I say no?" asked Banjo.
"Nothing..." said Creed simply.
"Nothing" Creed sat back in his chair smiling which caused Banjo to glance into the shadow at the back of the dome. Through the darkness he could see the figures of both the bodyguard and Cass, then a sharp noise of flesh meeting flesh as a slap reverberated itself around the dome. The figure of Cass fell onto the ground, where the figure of the guard kicked her savagely in the stomach. "But...as you can see" said Creed indicating to the shadows, "the same can't be said for your girlfriend"
"She's not my girlfriend..." bluffed Banjo, "I don't care what happens to her"
Creed laughed loudly and signaled to his guard who kicked her for a second time. This time Banjo could hear a soft thud of his boot against her stomach and Banjo turned his head away unable to watch anymore. "Don't kid yourself Mr. Jax, nearly everybody in this colony knows about your feelings for our little Cass there..."
"Alright..." whispered Banjo looking at his feet, "stop" Creed raised his hand and the bodyguard moved away from the body lying face down on the ground. The sound of her sobs could still be heard through the material which covered her mouth and Banjo wanted nothing more than to rise from his seat, cross to the rear of the dome and take Cass up in his arms...caress her long hair and promise her that everything would be alright. "What do you want me to do?" he asked full of remorse.
"Tomorrow a party of visitors will be expected to enter the mine system. I do not wish them to return" Creed said simply.
"You want me to kill them?"
Creed laughed, "you catch on quickly Mr. Jax, kill them or arrange for a little accident...it doesn't really bother me how you choose to do it"
"I can't kill anybody" said Banjo.
"Oh, but I think you will...remember..." he said pointing into the shadows.
Banjo nodded and looked back at Creed. "Why me?" he asked.
"Oh don't be so modest Mr. Jax. Your reputation goes before you. Everyone in this colony knows your just about the best miner here and your knowledge of the mine system is second to none" Creed sat back in his chair and regarded Banjo as he spoke. "When the council come to you in the morning...and mark my words they will, they will ask you to guide that vicar into the caves. There you will ensure he will not return; you understand"
"What makes you think the council we come to me?"
"Please...you’re the best, and I want the best. The council will come and you will accept"
"I'm not so sure they will, I am after all not regarded in the greatest of esteem with the council at the moment"
"But you are the best!" snapped Creed. He stood and walked for the stairs, "you know what to do...and what is expected of you Mr. Jax. Now please do not fail me...I do not like people who fail me and I would hate to see anything happen to poor Cass there" his threat hung in the air for a moment before Creed headed up the stair. "Now if you excuse me Mr. Jax, it has been tiring day" he indicated up the stairs, "and I wish to be alone. Next time we speak I expect it to be under happier circumstances. You know the way out"
"Cass..." Banjo said.
"She will stay here...with me, until the job has been completed. And don't worry Mr. Jax I do not intend to harm her" he smiled and continued his climb up the stairs leaving Banjo sitting alone in the semi-darkness. Banjo stood and peered toward the rear of the dome, hung his head and stalked from the building fighting back tears as he walked. His eyes strayed to the Sheriff's office and pondered over informing him into the kidnapping of Cass, but realised the lawman would do nothing over the incident. It would appear to Banjo that he would have to comply with the instructions given to him.
The light rose across the colony, and Banjo lay in the bunk of his bed within his dome. The night had gone slowly for Banjo and his thoughts strayed back to the actions of Creed the previous evening. He felt angry, he felt frustrated, but more importantly he felt disappointed at his own actions. The feeling of complete inadequate whilst in the company of Creed and his guards. Throughout the night fantasies played in his mind as he imagined himself kicking down the door of Creed's dome, storming in and throwing off the attack of the two bodyguards, before he scooped up Cass in his arms and swung out of the building. In reality, he knew within his heart that he had let her down. He had seen the sadness in her eyes during the entire confrontation and despite the helplessness of the entire encounter, Banjo couldn't shake the feeling that he had let her down. He had promised himself a long time ago, that he would protect-even if she didn't know it, but he would protect her...he would keep her safe and now it was that time, he couldn't.
Sliver of light forced their way through the cracks in the outer fabric of the building and Banjo forced himself to sit, swinging his legs from beneath the rough blankets that covered his bed. He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment and rubbed the back of his head and thought about the proposition that Creed had given him. Could he really kill a man? he didn't know what he would be capable of...but if it would protect Cass then would he? He looked over at the table resting by the table and stared at the overalls which lay hanging over the back of the chair. What if they didn't ask him to escort the visitors into the mines? what if they chose someone else...then he would have to find an excuse to accompany the group. It was true that he was good at his job, Banjo had proven that day after day over the last twelve months and Banjo also knew that nobody knew the mine system as well as he did. It had been his knowledge that had helped to map the system, but still there was that lingering doubt that maybe...just maybe the council would choose somebody else above him.
He pulled down his nightwear and slipping them over his feet absently kicked the clothing over, close to the bed. He stood for a moment in the semi-gloom considering whether to wash or dress in the state he was. He looked down at his naked body and his eyes picked out the grime from the previous day still on his body. As he pondered his next move, the door to the dome was pulled open and a figure appeared silhouetted in the doorway, "hello Banjo" came the woman's voice.
"Christ!" exclaimed Banjo as he desperately moved his hands before his groin in an attempt to hide his modesty, "Shut the door!", his words trailed off into quiet revere as he looked at the figure before him. "Madame" he whispered respectfully.
Lorraine moved into the dome, without waiting for an invitation. Banjo moved his position to place the table between himself and Lorraine as she strode into the building. "Oh please, Banjo...you've nothing I haven't seen before" she laughed as Banjo desperately struggled to maintain his composure whilst still attempting to hide his dignity.
"What do you want" he asked.
"Where were you last night?" she asked, "I sent a couple of men up here with a request for you"
"I was with Cass..." he lied.
"Ah, young love..." she laughed again, "you've finally told her then" Banjo flushed violently and shot her a venomous look. "Oh, please...don't pretend. The whole colony knows of your feeling toward young Cass...well almost, probably only Cass herself...and don't look at me like that, I'm not that old not to remember what young love was like". Banjo lowered his head ashamed over his feelings and embarrassed that he was still standing in the middle of his dome naked. "Truth of the matter is Banjo...you are the most experienced miner we have in this colony and we need you to take a couple of visitors into the mines".
"This isn't no tourist center and I'm not no tour guide"
"Banjo...this is important" she said, "and you are the best"
Banjo sighed outwardly, but his mind was racing with thoughts of success. It had happened exactly as Creed had predicted. "Alright, I'll be along as soon as I'm dressed" he said, conscious that the door was still open and the world outside was beginning to wake. He could see through the open door, people rising from their domes and beginning their days.
Lorraine smiled, closed the door and sat at the table, her eyes focusing on Banjo as she moved. Her fingers slowly turned over a towel resting on the table, "Don't worry I can wait" she purred as she suddenly threw the towel toward him. Instinctively Banjo caught the towel as it hit his chest, "not bad..." remarked Lorraine with a smirk growing over her face and a glint in her eye, "Cass is a lucky girl". Banjo dropped his hands back to his groin and flushed with embarrassment as her amusement.
"Could you at least turn around?"
"Don't worry about me, I'm quite alright as I am" she smiled as she spoke and her eyes never left Banjo's body. "Take your time...". Banjo turned away absently and walked back to a set of drawers close to the bed. "Not bad bottom...nice and pert" she laughed as Banjo wrapped the towel around his waist in an attempt to hide his body from her eyes, "Aww...spoilsport!". He opened a drawer and pulled a pair of shorts on underneath the towel, before dropping the cloth he crossed to the chair and retrieved his overalls.
"Who are these visitors?" he asked.
"Adjudicators...nothing more, nothing less" she said, and Banjo noted that her eyes never left his body as she spoke. He felt a sudden thrill of excitement over the sudden attention that he was getting from this woman, but attempted not to show it...not in his face anyway. She rose from her seat and crossed to where Banjo stood dressed in his overall and she reached down for the zip which rested open around his groin. "My how you've grown" she purred as she pulled the zip from between his legs up his body under it reached the clasp at his collar bone.
Banjo shifted uncomfortably under her gaze and her smile unsettled him as her eyes flashed across his body, resting on the growing bulge around his groin. "I think we should go now" she whispered in his ear and smiling stalked toward the door. Banjo adjusted his suit and followed Lorraine into the morning air.
"I do not understand Father..." said Lotti, "why must I remain?" The Reverend stood close to the wall inspecting a series of charts and graphs. Aston turned to face his young ward and looked over the activity within the central dome. He could see several councilors in sharp discussion at the rear of the building close to the senate rooms with Michael, still inhaling on his oxygen sticks.
"These charts" he explained, "are the visual representation of both mineral and plantation extraction through the last twelve months". He jabbed his finger against the charts as he spoke, "as you can see excessive growth in all sectors of the colony...until..." his finger pressed down on a red mark on the nearest chart. "Each one has the same results...here...here...here" he continued, "and the one thing in common?" he turned to Lotti who stood blank-faced at Aston and watched as he raised his eyesight upward toward the ceiling.
"The rain..." she said softly.
"Yes...the rain. Look at each chart" Aston said, "mineral extraction...food production...raw material...everything all dropped at exactly the same point...here" he jabbed a finger at the chart and smiled.
"Could it be a natural phenomenon?" she asked. The Reverend didn't answer and spun silently on his heels and stared back at the charts. "Father?" he words were halted as he held a finger up before her as he peered at the charts and figures on the walls looking at each graph in turn. "Forgive me Father...but you have not answered my question?"
"Why you cannot come into the mines with me" he stated. "Look at the charts again, my Child" he said pointing at the graphs. "Each one shows the state of the welfare of the colony...but there is something else...something not on these charts" he glanced back toward the councilors huddled around Michael at the rear of the colony. "That business yesterday..." he shook his head as he searched for the right words, then stopped and looked at Lotti's expectant face. "For every student, there must come a time when they surpass the expectations of their own limitations and fly!" he said eventually, "Lotti...my Child this is your time". Lotti stood aghast for a moment in shock, shouldn't remember the last time he had used her name. "I want...no, I need you to remain here in the colony. Look around and find out what is laying beneath the surface...that girl...Cass, find her. Talk to her, but be careful" he warned finally.
"Father", the voice from the doorway broke the mood between the Reverend and Lotti and they glanced toward the door. Lorraine stood framed in sunlight and strode purposely across the floor to their position. A stranger followed and Lotti watched as he walked across the floor, mirroring Lorraine's steps until he too came to a stop before them. He wasn't tall she thought, but then he wasn't short either. He wore a simple overall with a yellow helmet perched on his head. A small lamp hung loosely from a black strap snaking around the back of the helmet. "Let me present Mr. Banjo Jax!" she crowed.
"Mr. Jax..." said the Reverend without turning, "I here you are the best"
"I do my job" Banjo stated simply as he stretched his hand out toward the Reverend. Aston turned and smiled at the newcomer and took his hand.
"Lorraine highly recommends your service" he said glancing from Banjo to Lorraine and back again.
"I bet she does..." Banjo murmured. "What are you looking for?"
"I will know that when I see it Mr. Jax"
"Doesn't give me a lot to go on"
"All I want you to do Mr. Jax is to give me a quick guided tour around the area. Show me localized tunnel systems, extraction points and...as I understand from the councilors most of the trouble began to happen soon after you found..." he turned back to the charts and gazed at the red, yellow and blue lines snaking their way over the paper, "...seem Eight". Aston turned back to Banjo and smiled, "that is what I would like to see Mr. Jax...in short everything".