The voice of the Darkness thundered inside the skull of Konrad Selivanov, this time the voice of a fretful child. Selivanov felt himself enveloped in a crushing pressure. He labored to breathe as his mind filled with the image of flames. “What of your vows to Me, little thing?” the Darkness demanded. “What of your services to be rendered?”
“The Engines are almost ready!” Selivanov pleaded.
“I will wait no longer. My adversary, the boy, has escaped Me yet again. He grows stronger. Given time, he could prove a true hindrance to My desires. This I will not allow.”
“I promise, Master! Soon!” Selivanov felt as though he lay on the bottom of the ocean, the weight of the world bearing down on him, threatening to shatter his bones like the brittle chitin of an insect.
“You are not so valuable, little thing. I can withdraw the favor I have shown you. What then, little thing, will become of you?”
“Please, Master! I’m trying! I’m trying so hard!”
“Complete your appointed task, little thing. Tolerate no distraction. Open to Me the doors to your world, or else know My anger.”
“I will! I will!” Selivanov whimpered. “Everything is almost ready!”
The pressure lessened and Selivanov’s mind emptied. He gasped for breath, even as he felt strong hands grip his shoulders, shaking him.
“Yeah, it’s me. Are you okay, sir? Please say you’re okay.”
“I’ll be fine, Charlie.”
“Good,” Charlie said. “Good. ‘Cause I, um, I messed up real bad, sir. Real bad.”
“What’s the matter, Charlie?”
“That redheaded bitch, the doctor,” Charlie replied. “You said I could have her, right?”
“She got away, sir.”
“Oh, Charlie!” Selivanov shook his head.
“Sir? She-she turned loose the other prisoners, too.”
“They got away, Mr. Selivanov.” Charlie lifted Selivanov’s hand, kissed it, pressed it to his forehead. “They all got away.”
“What?!” Selivanov demanded. “All?!”
“Oh, you damned fool!” Selivanov jerked his hand free, striking out, slapping Charlie across the face with all his strength. “You damned, stupid brute!” He hit him again and again, Charlie trying to cover himself. “Do you know what you’ve done?! Do you?!”
“I’m sorry!” Charlie began to cry. “I didn’t mean to do it!”
“Oh!” Selivanov groaned as though in pain. “If any of them should reach help! And the machinery isn’t ready! We’re not ready!”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie blubbered. “I didn’t mean it!” He knelt beside Selivanov as he had once knelt before his father, repeating the same words. “I didn’t mean to do it!”
Selivanov struck him on the top of the head. “Shut up, you fool! I don’t want to hear your pathetic groveling! You must go after them!”
“We need them alive, but kill them if necessary. Above all, they must be stopped! Oh, Charlie, you fool!”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie sobbed.
“Go!” Selivanov said. “Take all the men! Hurry!”
Selivanov cowered in his wheelchair, listening as Charlie’s heavy footsteps retreated down the hallway. He expected the Darkness to return. He sickened with the fear of it. But the Darkness did not return. The Darkness had fears of its own.