Kingdoms of War: A Trial by Fire

Lieutenant Jim Harkness has found himself face-to-face with demons.... And now he must confront his own.


6. Upgrades and Terror

His dreams offered him images of Eshurg's beautiful snow-capped mountains (an offering gratefully received), and also of wind cold enough to chill his bones (he was less grateful for that). Walking down a pleasant forest path, with orange and red leaves falling gently from branches, Harkness had never felt more at peace.

Until the demon clasped a smokey hand on his shoulder, and squeezed, and turned him around to fill him with that impossible stare, that never-ending blackness, that threatened to swallow him whole...

He woke with a start, momentarily breathless as he got his bearings. Harkness came to the realisation of where he was, back in the medical ward aboard Freedom's Light. He placed his hands upon his face... And swiftly realised he had two hands again. 

He looked down at his new, right hand, and saw that it was a silver colour, a smooth sort of look that somehow, didn't shine, though it looked like it should. His medical gown covered most of his arm, but his gut feeling was that the silver look went nearly all the way up. 

His next revelation was that he could see out of both eyes again.

It was silly really. Harkness had known he was going to be healed, but his mind couldn't quite get around the idea. He had barely begun to adapt to life without his lost appendages, and now he had new ones. Back in Eshurg, he'd probably already be dead.

His left eye felt... The only word that sprang to mind was sharper. He wasn't sure, but he felt that if he closed his right eye, he would see a lot better...

As with his right arm, his left leg was restored. Peeling back the gown, Harkness came to discover his new leg also made of the same silver material as his arm.

They felt normal.He was aware of them in the same way he was aware of his flesh and blood limbs. Yet, as with his eye, Harkness felt something was different.

He flexed his arm, clenched his fist, and rotated his shoulder. Everything felt easy, natural, and smooth.

Next came testing his leg. Harkness swung his legs out over the side of the bed, and once again his leg moved easily. With a sudden intake of breath, he stood up, putting all his weight on his left leg.

It struck him that he could, if he so wanted, stand on one leg and one leg only indefinitely if he had to. He wasn't about to put it to the test, but he couldn't shake the feeling that his new leg was a lot tougher. 

The next important step was for Harkness to shut his right eye, to put his theory about his left one to the test. Sure enough, his vision - far from suffering - suddenly became a lot clearer.

The clarity of everything was astounding. The walls, the other beds, the monitors, the flashing multi-coloured lights... they were all so vivid! Harkness found himself staring at the computer screen behind the glass wall in Doctor Hanson's office... and experienced (what he considered to be) a miracle. He realised he had focused right in on the monitor, to the point where, despite the impediment of the glass, he could read every word.

"Ah Mr Harkness!" The cheery voice of Doctor Courtous, from behind him, greeted him. "You're awake I see."

Harkness span around, and couldn't help but smile broadly. "I... I don't know what to say..." He suddenly felt quite emotional. He could once again walk, when he'd expected to remain a cripple. Despite knowing what the doctors planned to do, the reality of it was something else.

"You're a lucky man. You have military-grade replacements, since that's all we have on board. I'll go over a few details about your new prosthetics..." The doctor reached for a small data pad by Harkness' bed and started tapping the screen. "So, first of all, your arm." He tapped Harkness' forearm. "It - and your leg - are composed of a Jurassium alloy that, allied to the electrical impulses naturally produced by the body and augmented by a small power cell within it, should be capable of withstanding most small-arms fire - and even most automatic weapons. Of course, the rest of you is still flesh and blood, so I wouldn't stand in the way of any guns!" Courtous laughed, as though his remark was hilarious.

"Your arm can lift, at a minimum, seven to eight times that of a regular human being. It is resistant to temperatures in excess of five hundred degrees Celsius, as is your new leg."

Harkness looked down at his leg. "I am still at a loss for words."

"Well, the best is yet to come. You might have noticed your new eye is a bit better than the original. It's a cybernetic implant, capable of letting you see clearly in the dark, in different spectrums of light too, and you can zoom in on far away objects. Not too shabby."

For a second or two Harkness twiddled his thumbs, then thrust out a hand to the doctor. "Sir, I thank you for your fine work. I had not expected this, not in my wildest dreams."

Courtous chuckled, and shook his hand. "Just doing my job. Any questions?"

"Yes, just one. Can I have a change of clothes? This gown is just a touch too revealing."

Courtous laughed again.

Kill them. Rip them apart, each one of them deserves to die, slowly and painfully...

Doctor Hanson shook herself out of the sudden and terrible thought almost as soon as it occurred to her, but as she walked down the corridor to her quarters, she couldn't shake the foreboding and nagging fear that struck her. The thought - the strand of it at least - persisted, like a sudden moment of intense fright that would linger for several minutes or even hours. She hurried back to her quarters, craving a few moments alone, a few moments of peace to calm her nerves.

Like most of the crew, she had a fairly sparse living area, with a small sofa, a fold away bed and a few pictures of her family and loved ones in magnetic frames stuck to the walls. A small beech bedside cabinet was her only concession, her only little luxury item, that held within it things precious to her.

Hanson slipped open the top drawer, and took out a small book, an old-fashioned paper book. The hard cover was a soothing shade of light blue, and Hanson ran her fingers over the gentle silver trim, before opening up the book.

Pictures of her family - her mother, father, two brothers and her grandparents - greeted her on the first few pages. Some of the pictures were old - she was a young girl in some of them, getting soaked by buckets of cold water thrown by her older, mischievous brothers. In one photo, she was sitting by the Christmas tree, wearing half the gold and red baubles, and had draped the tinsel lavishly around her shoulders.

The photo album was normally a source of great comfort and strength to her. Now, she still could not shake her unsettling fear. Her eyes focused on a picture of her dear dad, waving at the camera as he sat on the beach, on a gloriously sunny day. Hanson remembered that day, when he had threatened to go nude and chase after her and her brothers in the sea. She remembered giggling as he lifted her up and pretended to dunk her head first into the waves striking the shore.

What would it be like to smash his head against a rock?

Hanson gasped and dropped the album. Her hands went to her mouth. In her mind she heard her own voice ask the question, a voice dripping with bile. Why would she think such a thing? She loved her father, who had always been nothing but good to her.

A short, sharp stabbing pain stung her eyes. She closed them, squinting hard, and felt that nasty gritty sensation again. Putting a finger to the corner of one eye, Hanson was sure she could feel something tangible there.

They all think you're weak, feeble. A walk-over. Let me show you the real you.

"Shut up, just shut up!" Hanson felt herself tearing up. She looked at herself in the mirror, and saw to her horror that the tears were completely black... with a dark smoke drifting from them.

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