With Extreme Prejudice, pt3
by Lee Hulme
Around the town, scenes played out with bleak inevitability. Everyone in the town, it seemed, was preoccupied with the prisoner in the cell.
In a house on the edge of the town square, a red-faced woman blew out her cheeks and listened intently to the voice on the other end of the phone, telling her all about the murderer in the jail. As she listened, she poured schnapps from a bottle into a shot glass, downing each one automatically.
A young man stared out of the window in a house closer to the sheriff’s station. Ignoring the chirpy “night daddy” from his child as she was taken up to bed by her mother, he brooded darkly.
A woman paced the floor, wringing a handkerchief in her hands, “Used to be a good town,” she repeated to herself. “Used to be a good town.”
An older black man ate in silence at his kitchen table. All of this had happened before, he knew all too well. It couldn’t be allowed to happen again.
The Sheriff sat on the edge of her chair, eyes fixed on the door, coffee cup held tightly in her hands. She could feel the tension in the town and wondered how long it would be, and who would be leading them.
The older man who had escaped from the scene of the murder stared at the bottom of his glass in a bar much busier than usual, with more people piling in every minute. The conversations around him centered on the freak in the jail, and what it had done. It didn’t matter that nobody knew the young man who was killed. Their fears of the monster under the bed – or, more accurately, in the shack – had been confirmed. This terrified them, and there was only one way to fix that: kill the monster. Every fairytale in history could have predicted this, the man thought with a sigh. And never mind the shock, the horror, on the thing’s face as it realised what it had done. Never mind it could have torn him apart just as easily, but had chosen to first leave, and then come back, peacefully, and allow itself to be captured. None of this sat right, but nobody would listen to him tonight.
With a flick of his fingers, the man ordered another drink from the green-haired bartender.
Despite the number of people, few conversations drowned out the soft click-thud of glasses on tables. Those that did speak whispered, rather than cut through the silence that rode expectantly in the air.
A newcomer entered the bar, dressed in bluejeans and a fleece jacket, boots clicking gently. Instead of ordering a drink he looked around and uttered a grunt of disgust, “This is what y’all do?!” His words shattered the tension and the bar was instantly alert. “A murdering freak just down the road there, and y’all just sit here, wallowing in yer beer? What the fuck?!”
There was silence for a few moments as everyone looked at everyone else to see their reactions. Eventually a heavyset man in a thick sweater, face weathered from outdoor work, ruddy from too much beer. “And ye’d have us do what, whoever ye are? Sheriff got the creature locked up. I ain’t gonna risk hurting her or them deputies for the sake of revenge.”
The newcomer shrugged, “Then sit back down be a coward. Anyone around here actually got some guts?”
There were some angry mumbles, but nobody stepped forward.
The newcomer laughed, “So it’s a town of cowards, is it? Suppose that explains the monster story – none of you ever brave enough to go look for yourselves, huh? And now look – the monster killed a boy, then walked right into town, stood right in front of you all, and you just stood there with your thumbs up your asses and watched.”
“Ay, now lad, calm down,” a woman’s voice came from the back. “No call for insulting us. We know what happened. This ain’t the frontier, boy, we leave the law to the law folk.”
“And what do you think the law folk are gonna do?” came another voice from closer to the door. “Lock It up, feed It well, study It maybe. You think It’s gonna be punished?”
“You think this was the first time that thing killed someone?” a third voice called. “Not fuckin likely. Thing like that? Probably left a trail behind it.”
“Yeah, and it handed itself in,” the woman responded. “Whatever it did before, It got remorse. You saw It, coulda ripped through the Sheriff like paper, but It didn’t. Stood there and let Itself be taken. That’s remorse, is that.”
The newcomer stepped up onto a nearby table, sloshing alcohol across his boots, “And if It changes Its mind again? Decided It got enough remorse? Who d’you think’ll be left standing if that thing decides it wants out?”
“Public service, really,” came a voice from by the bar. “Stop It killin anyone else.”
“Act o’ kindness too!” another woman joined in, “What, would you be happy walkin’ around all freakish and murdery like that? Put the thing outta It’s misery, eh?”
The older man shook his head sadly. The anger would have it’s way, it always did. Standing in its way would just get him trampled on.
The Sheriff’s station door opened slowly, two figures silhouetted in the light from the streetlamps, “You guys happen to have a cybernetic being of non-specific gender in one of your cells?” the smaller silhouette asked.
The Sheriff stood, gun in her hand, safety off, but held down at her side, “And who might you be?”
“May we come in?” the taller silhouette asked politely.
The two deputies watched warily. The moment where they could have sprung into action gone, they settled for attempting to give the illusion of readiness from their desks.
The Sheriff nodded, “Come in. Slowly. Any sudden moves, you get a bullet.”
“I understand,” the taller silhouette said as both raised their hands and stepped into the light.
The smaller silhouette turned out to be a young girl with curly hair, pulled back into a messy ponytail. She smiled at the Sheriff as she approached. On one wrist a small device made a gentle bleeping sound and the girl tilted her head slightly, “Shh.” The bleeping stopped.
The taller silhouette carefully closed the door with one foot and moved into the light. She was dressed in a red and blue suit, a visor across her eyes. She shimmered slightly as she moved, and a warmth seemed to radiate from her. On one wrist she wore a device that looked similar to that worn by her companion.
The Sheriff looked both up and down and nodded to her deputies, “Search them.”
One of the deputies stood smartly and made it to the pair first. Deciding the smaller of the two looked safer, he patted her down, finding nothing. When he attempted to take the wrist device, however, the girl put a hand over his and shook her head silently. He looked back at the Sheriff, who nodded for him to let it be.
The second deputy, inwardly kicking himself for not moving fast enough, reached Bonitas and awkwardly patted down her suit, turning slightly red as he did so. Following the Sheriff’s lead, he left the wrist device alone.
“Thank you,” the Sheriff acknowledge the deputies with a nod and they melted back out of the way. “So,” the Sheriff looked at the two women, “You know something about my prisoner?”
“We know people are coming to kill your prisoner,” the costumed woman said softly. “When they get riled enough. And they won’t let you stand in their way.”
“There are others who will stand,” the Sheriff responded.
The costumed woman nodded, “There are, but there are more that will be too afraid to do so. It won’t be enough.”
“My prisoner will remain unharmed as long as I still breathe.”
“They won’t let you keep breathing,” the smaller of the two said. “And normal people, even a lot of them, they can’t kill zir, they’ll just wind up getting hurt and that’s the last thing ze wants. It’s why ze came here in the first place! Because-”
The older woman held out a hand and the younger went silent. “We need to ensure none of those people get to our friend, because if they force zir to defend zirself, they will die. Unless you let us help, there will be blood spilled that need not be. Please. We will abide by our friend’s wishes, if ze wishes to remain captive, but we will do everything we can to protect zir – from zirself as much as others.”
The Sheriff’s mind worked furiously, her next questions uttered merely to fill time, “Zir? What’s that? What is that thing?”
“Zir because ze is neither male nor female but something which simultaneously encompasses and stands outside of both. As to what ze is…a construct, made by human hands. And a friend, who has saved us, and many others. Ze has a darkness – which is not zir fault, but which ze cannot always control. But ze strives to be good. This is why ze hid away. This is why ze came and allowed you to arrest zir. Now please, will you let us help?”
Mind made up, the Sheriff nodded, “I will.” She stepped forwards and held out her hand, “My name is Meredith.”
“I am Bonitas,” she shook the hand. “This is Millie.”
“Hi,” Millie smiled, shook the hand, and fell to tinkering with her wrist device.
Bonitas raised her head, as if catching a scent, “They’ll be coming soon. But there are others who will stand. I can bring them here.”
“You can what?” Meredith asked.
Bonitas smiled, “I can influence the emotions and desires they already have, suggest that they should come here to offer their support.”
“Then can’t you do the same to the others – just the other way round?”
“They are too filled with rage,” Bonitas shook her head. “I can stop some of them, I can slow others down, but the anger of a group is far greater than the anger of a single person – or even a few. If I could do it alone, I would, believe me, I have no wish to see anybody hurt.”
Meredith sighed, “I guess I can debate ethics later, right now we need those bodies. Bring me anyone you can.”
Bonitas nodded and sat cross-legged on the floor, leaning against the wall to the street. She closed her eyes and began tracing to their source the feelings of those who would help.
Millie wandered the office, examining the computers. “You got a weapons locker?” she asked suddenly. “Think I can slow a few of those mob people down.”
“Slow them down…?”
“Non-lethal, I promise.”
Meredith nodded, “What the hell, breaking every other rule we got, may as well appoint you both deputies for the night too. C’mon.”
Over at the bar, the crowd had changed. Some had slipped quietly out – to go home, or to follow the summons of their conscience to the Sheriff’s station.
Those that remained were giving in to the darkness that both fed and fed on their rage and despair and fear.
In the room with the screens, both woman watched, expressionless.
“Bonitas,” the older woman said softly. “I hoped she and that sidekick would miss this one.”
“Will it change the outcome?” the scarred woman asked.
The older woman shook her head, “I don’t know. But we can certainly tip the scales back our way a little.” She tapped out a message on her phone and smiled grimly, “Our friends are about to get a weapons upgrade.”
The Sheriff’s station was suddenly less empty than it had been shortly before, as those with a desire to help piled in. Meredith tried her best to ensure any guns were safely away, begging their owners to use them only in an emergency. The deputies tried to ensure everyone has something blunt to hit with, should it come to a melee. Millie, with an escort, arranged traps out in the street before retreating to an upstairs window with a bulging bag of tricks.
In the midst of the chaos, Bonitas opened her eyes, “They’re coming.”