h2>Dating : Control
Gunnar gazed at the sunset for the last time. His room had one of the most scenic spots of this castle in the bayou, and if he stood at this living room window at the eve of the day he could see all the trains coming and going from the city, in fact a quite familiar one was coming in now. Gunnar inhaled deeply, holding his breath before slowly letting it out again. His hair was all grey down to his long nordic beard and his hands were rough and creased, as befitted a man who’d worked and fought hard all his life. He noticed his bearded reflection in the window, superimposed on the starry blackness. It seemed to be smiling. Etched on the glass were runes that read “To spring sunshine through winter storm.” It was a protective sigil, but today it had faded.
There was a knock and the sound of someone opening the outside door. A man’s voice said,
“He’s in here,” and another voice said, “Thank you. I’ll let myself through.” That second voice was much lower than the first, worn but not imposing. There was the sound of a door closing.
A man walked into the living room. He was dressed in black, stylish as any first rate magician should be and covered with a mop of dark, curly hair. Noticeable, all in all, but not memorable. He was younger than Gunnar by at least a few years, but didn’t carry himself with the same bullish assurance, he recognized this person from somewhere, memories flashed of the Monastery where he spent his formative years.
“Gavin,” Gunnar said.
“Hi, Gunnar,” Gavin said.
“Give me a chance.”
“I have a proposition for you.”
“I have a gun in working order. Get out.”
Gavin walked over to a settee and sat down, unbuttoning his coat and pulling off his gloves. “I want to help you,” he said.
“You want to do a lot of things, but I don’t consider help to be high on the list.”
“I wanted… to see you but I was nabbed as soon as I came in.” His whispery voice was oddly modulated, as if trying to race past the meaning of its words. “Security’s tight here,” he added.
“Of course it is.”
Gavin ran a hand through his thick hair. “So you know why I’m here.”
“Your creatures are coming,” Gunnar said. “I’ve heard reports. They’re settling in the area, kidnapping people. Same as they always do.”
“Which is why I’m here,” Gavin said. “Hear me out, but take a seat first, please.”
Gunnar looked at him for a moment, then walked over to a chair opposite the settee and sat down.
“You’re right. The people I work for, they’re coming, they’re reaching out and they need new recruits, but nobody needs to get hurt. You yourself could walk away completely untouched.”
“Everybody gets hurt when the Saturni come in,” Gunnar said.
“We don’t want a fight, and we don’t want people to die,” Gavin said, ignoring the comment. “You and I, we know each other. You remember what happened last time and I don’t want that to happen again. I want you to give up this place, and convince its people to surrender so we can move in quietly and without bloodshed.”
“You know what happened in the Genophage,” Gunnar said. “Why did you even bother coming to me?”
“Because I do remember the Genophage and the time before that, too. I remember being taken in for a long while when I didn’t have anywhere to go and I remember a family that showed me a lot of kindness when I didn’t always deserve it.”
“Damn straight, you didn’t,” Gunnar said.
“And I remember Victoria, and your daughter” Gavin said.
Gunnar jumped to his feet as if he’d been stung, glowered at Gavin and seemed about to say something, hesitated, then merely stood there in silence. Finally it was as if the air went out of him, and he sat down heavily again. The two men sat there, unmoving. After a while Gunnar said, “Drinks in wood cabinet, lounge, other room. No ice.”
Gavin got up and walked out of the room. There was a clink of glasses and he returned, handing a drink to Gunnar and holding one himself. “There was only one bottle,” he said.
“I don’t much go in for alcohol,” Gunnar said. “Serve guests, that’s it.”
“Always happy to be a guest here,” Gavin said and took a sip, then grimaced. “Strong stuff.”
Gunnar held the glass at arm’s length, as if he’d forgotten about it. He had a faraway look in his eyes. “Why did you bring her up?” he said.
“When we come in, who do you think will be in the lead?”
Gunnar put down his glass and stared at Gavin.
“You did me a lot of good during hard times,” Gavin said. “But that’s over now. These are new times. Remember the Monastery?.”
“You will not mention that place again,” Gunnar said calmly.
“It’s the height of the Genophage, and I won’t pretend that the term doesn’t apply to the Saturni, too, because they came right when everything was bad enough already. So what happens? The leader of the New York school of magick is approached one night at his house by an acolyte like me, and he gets an offer, same as you do now, and he takes the offer. We move in, not intending any violence, but then some people get it into their heads they want to fight. So they fight, and they get hurt, and some of them manage to run away and some of them don’t, all because the school leader tried to make a sensible deal with us, and some people made a bad decision.” Gavin leaned forward. “It doesn’t have to happen again.”
“To hear you of all people saying this.”
“They’re coming, Gunnar,” Gavin said. “And you’re the headmaster of this… school. But I know that you can keep your people in check, so I offer you the same deal as before,.” He leaned back, waiting for an answer. When none was forthcoming, he said, “You know, they don’t always do this. Sometimes they just move in, especially when they’re hungry for people, and believe me, with the Collective thinning out their numbers they’re real hungry now. But I know you, and I asked to come here, smooth things out.” Gunnar said, “We might fight back this time, too. I have contacts and I heard of the Saturni coming. I made sure we had weapons.”
“That’s stupid,” Gavin said. “Stupid and suicidal.”
“They have my daughter. You know this,” Gunnar said. “You people are on the other side of everything.”
“That a fact? Is that why there are no pictures of your old Monastery?” Gavin said. He waved his hand at the walls. “I see pictures of Victoria, and your daughter, but no on else. That’s surprising, isn’t it?”
Gunnar sat silent. Gavin said, “I think the Monastery is dead to you.”
“I told you not to mention that wretched place” Gunnar said.
“Because the only one who matters to you now is your daughter Alison, and I don’t believe for a second that you’re being a headmaster of this school of magick is because you want to. It’s because you’re a sensible man with a good head on his shoulders, you are clearly a skilled practitioner of magick… and you have experience with us.”
Gavin ended the last part with a surreptitious undertone and took another sip of his drink, quietly adding, “You could see Alison.”
Gunnar’s breath caught. His own drink was untouched, he was about to reach for it but then hesitated. “What did you say?”
“I can’t guarantee that you will spend much time together, but at least you will meet again. She’s close enough in the area that she could be brought over, and I’ve told the Saturni of her connection to you. But that’s not going to happen if you bring a fight.”
“They won’t send Alison if I fight?”
“Oh, they will definitely send Alison if you fight. With a gun in her hand. And this is the first room she’ll go to. They’ll dock up north of the water, come in with trains, ships, and they’ll swarm in, and they won’t enter a single house or room in this school until they’ve entered yours, dragged you out and put a bullet in your brain. They will make an example out of you.”
Gunnar studied Gavin for a while, then said, “I believe you. Speaking of which, that rotten cheat of a Collective leader whose name you mentioned earlier. How’s he doing?”
Gavin’s tone changed subtly from confrontation to elucidation. “Calvin made the right choice, so he’s doing fine, enjoying his life.”
“Absolutely,” Gavin said without hesitation.
Gunnar replied, “See, that’s interesting. Because the last time I saw him, he was tied to a chair in a torture room, and there was little life left in him.”
Gavin, sipping from the glass, froze up.
“You’re right,” Gunnar said. “He did make the right choice, back when he was working for the Collective. It was right for him and nobody else. And we never forgot it.”
Gunnar, glass in hand, slowly rose to his feet and walked over to Gavin, towering over him. “I lost Alison, who your people took, and I lost my love, Victoria, after they brutally murdered her after she’d outlasted her usefulness. The Saturni took everything from me, and that miserable excuse for a human being who sold us out the last time we ran into your lot, he paved their way.”
He poured the content of his wine glass on the floor beside Gavin, who momentarily looked down at his own glass before looking up again with a puzzled expression.
Gunnar said, “For the longest time, I was a wreck. Alison had been taken and I wanted to get her back at any cost. I performed scrying rituals, I moved around, I got to know people, and I began to learn about the people whom you serve, but there was no way to get to her, or even discover where she was.” He leaned in close. “Until, at long last, I tracked down Calvin. He was a spy by that point, working for you people somewhere in London.”
In a cold tone, Gavin said, “And you ratted him out. To be tortured and killed.”
“During which I discovered that life among the Saturni really isn’t that pleasant. In fact, it’s downright horrible. You’re taken in and made mindless, subject to the whims of a single consciousness who certainly doesn’t bear your interests at heart, and it eventually drives you insane. Doesn’t matter what level your mental implants are or how much Thelema and willpower you have, there’s a threshold beyond which you start to rebel against the lack of free will, and your subconscious realizes that it’s been trapped. Inevitably it is incredibly destructive to the mind in the long run, and the symptoms break out in unusual ways. You’ve never thought about how willing these people are to die for their cult? To give up their families? You would think this manner of mind control and hypnotism couldn’t erase the survival instinct. But once you’ve been a slave for long enough, apparently all you want to do is die.”
Gavin took a long, slow sip. “I’m perfectly … fine,” he said.
“You acolytes, your type get more autonomy than the rest,” Gunnar said. “All they need is to keep tabs on you, not control you. They’ll have vetted you and found that you’re one of that rare breed who’ll willingly join the Saturni. You’re safe,” he spat.
Gavin stared at him, his jaw clenched. “Was there something wrong with the wine?” he said at last, nodding his head towards the puddle of alcohol on the floor, and lifting his own glass to his mouth.
“Oh, it’s poisoned,” Gunnar said.
Gavin stopped, wine in his mouth. He slowly swallowed, a look of fear slowly spreading across his face, then he said, “I’ve nearly finished it all.”
Gunnar looked at the spreading stain on the floor. Gunnar followed his gaze, dropping his own glass in the process. When Gavin looked back up at Gunnar, the old man had a gun in his hand.
Gavin’s eyes widened and he started to rise, but Gunnar shot him, first through a knee, then through each shoulder. Gavin dropped to the floor, screaming, and Gunnar knelt down beside him, saying, “Before you go into shock, I want to tell you something. I know this won’t get to the Saturni, because they don’t tap into their willing subjects.”
“First off, the wine wasn’t poisoned. I wanted to slow you down a bit, make you comfortable, and distract you at the end. Which is funny, because it’s pretty much what your type does when you’re about to pounce on innocent people.
“Second, I know Alison is near here. She’s been here for a while. It was a long time before I realized that I couldn’t possibly go after her, and if I tried they’d either kill me or move her somewhere that I’d never find her.
“So I’m bringing her to me.”
Gavin was quiet, gasping for breath. Gunnar ambled over to his seat, keeping his gaze on Gavin. “This entire school is wired with explosives.”
Gavin’s grimace turned to surprise, and he stared at Gunnar in shock. “You’re insane,” he said.
“Everyone has left, just about. I knew the Saturni were coming even before you were notified. I still know some scrappy people, and I know some scrying methods even your high priestesses don’t know about. When they made me headmaster I told them of my Saturni experience, and one of the first things I did was implement an escape plan in case your employers decided to move into the area. They haven’t touched Louisiana for a good long while, but I had my people start practicing.” He had the gun trained on Gavin, and his eyes narrowed. “When I found out that you of all people were around this part of Louisiana, I knew it wasn’t long to wait, and that you’d be the one they’d send. When I heard you were finally on your way, I fired up the plan, and everyone left quietly and efficiently. The only people left here are but a miniscule portion of the faculty and most advanced students, and after you and I are finished they have orders to make haste away from here. Nobody here will get caught by the zombies again. Not a single soul.”
“Your daughter will come here, Alison will come here “ Gavin said. “She will come to your house, gun in hand, and if I don’t return you’ll never get her back.” A puddle of blood was spreading around Gavin’s body, and his voice quavered with exhaustion.
“Oh, I will. But not the way you think I want,” Gunnar said. He got up again and walked over to Gavin, this time kneeling on his damaged hand. Gavin hissed in pain, but kept his eyes open and staring straight into Gunnar’s.
Gunnar said, “Once someone has been taken in by the Saturni, and indoctrinated up to Victoria’s or Alison’s level and kept for as long as they have, only in rare cases can people turn back. The only thing I can do for Alison now is ease her misery, and my own, and that of anyone else you people send to this miserable place. And if I can’t do it, for whatever reason, then the explosives will.”
“Murderer,” Gavin croaked.
“Yes,” Gunnar replied calmly. Gavin’s expression showed that this hadn’t been the expected reaction. “After the rest of have, this whole place will burn, you will all die,” Gunnar said.
“You’ll kill me,” Gavin said, clearing his throat, taking deep hissing breaths.
“You were already dead the moment you came here.” Replied Gunnar
“You really are a bitter old man, full of vengeance and rage, aren’t you?” Gavin said, trying to shift so that he could glare at Gunnar. “And you’ve already lost it. You tried resisting us once when you had a perfectly good chance of saving everyone you cared about, and you failed, so now you want to finish the job!” He had lifted his head with the effort, his shoulders giving him no support, and now he slumped back to the ground, breathing heavily, his one good hand making a fist.
“If it wasn’t for people like you, we never would’ve had those situations at all, and I wouldn’t have lost my daughter, or the love of my life.”
There was no response.
Gunnar sighed, aimed his gun and shot Gavin in the head. Gavin twitched with the impact, then lay still in his puddle of blood.
Gunnar set the gun down on his chair, then walked over to the comms console and activated it. “It’s done,” he said.
Several students came into the room. “You do all right, sir?” they asked him.
“Yeah, it’s all confirmed,” he said. “Thanks for waiting. You were nearby?”
“Outside the door, practically,” one of them said, and grinned. “No worries, we didn’t listen in.”
“Alright. Clear out the body, please, then on a train out of here as fast as you can. You have little time!”
The men nodded, and carried Gavin’s body out of the room. Gunnar had turned and was about to put away the drink glasses when he heard them all come back in. They walked up to him in silence, and every one of them shook his hand. Then they left.
Gunnar sat down on his eggplant cushion. If he had failed with Gavin, these people would have taken over, after which they’d have primed automated triggers that would set off the explosives as soon as the Saturni had gotten into the bayou.
Now that his suspicions had all been confirmed, the only thing remaining was to sit it out. If he were to die now, the triggers would still work, he’d always wished for a warriors death, but now in his final minutes all he hoped for was that he would hear a knock at the door and perhaps glimpse a familiar face, if only for a moment, before the end.