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God and Mind - Volume III - Freedom
By Dark

Presented by: Xenogears: God and Mind

Chapter 26
Sentence repealed

     Citan nodded to Fei and gave an abstracted warm smile.  "Hello Fei," he said.  
     Hammer's ratty little nose swiveled from one to the other in surprise like some strange radar.  "--- You two know each other?"
     Citan nodded emphatically, his usual slight distant smile playing lightly across his lips.  "Indeed yes.  Fei and I have been on cordial relations for the last three years ---"
     Hammer grinned toothily at Fei --- an odd expression that made him resemble an attacking weasel.  
     Fei involuntarily flinched at the sharp white little fangs that were bared in such a terrifying grimace.  "Well if he's your pal, bro we could really clean up on this deal --- black market drugs is a vary lucrative business around here Doctor ---" Hammers voice trailed off, partly to trap Citan into acceptance in a shrewd political maneuver that wouldn't have been out of place coming from the lips of an international ambassador --- but mostly because he didn't know the doctor's name.  
     "Oh --- this is Citan Uzuki --- and I don't think you'll get your black market drugs from him, Hammer."  
     "Indeed not --- I have always been morally --- not to mention professionally against abuse of opiates, amphetamines and other neuro-deregulatory hedonistically employed substances."  
     "Narcotics."   Fei translated for the slightly stunned looking Hammer --- who took on a crest fallen look.  "But doc! How the hell did you find me?" Fei's voice and face radiated incredulity as he bounced up off the bunk he was sitting on eager and energetic as a child.  
     Citan smiled paternally and pushed his glasses up on his nose.  "Well Fei, I monitored the Kislevian radio transitions around the boarder --- it took me a few hours to break their military coded messages --- but the shear intellectual challenge of it was most stimulating."   Citan grinned in that familiar tinkering way that Yui found so irritating --- but for Fei it was a transport back to the sun warmed balmy days of Lahan, sitting with the grease covered Citan in the cavernous space of the work shop, gazing at some new complex of half tottering machinery that the doctor had just constructed.  The nostalgia made Fei's battered emotions reel for joy --- he was not alone.  
     "I believe that as the host etiquette demands that you recount your adventures first Fei."   Citan's voice broke through Fei's reverie, and Fei sat up, his wide eyes suddenly lost their glazed happy dreaming look.  
     In a faltering flat stream of words --- seemingly ripped from the core of his memory he recounted the fight with the boarder fleet and the arrival of the darkness that called itself Grahf.  "--- I don't remember anything after Vanderkaum and Grahf ---" Fei swallowed, his eyes growing seeming and full of speckles of light in the steadily growing gloom as the gray flat clouds outside the windows started to turn first blue then black.  "--- I went to pieces Doc --- just like at Lahan --- I lost all sense of time and I can't remember anything --- then when I woke up, I was in D block."  
     "Hmmm," Citan muttered, now only a dim shape in the steadily darkening room.  "I wonder ---"
     "But what happened to the boarder fleet --- and Bart?" Fei was as eager for news as a man 30 days in the desert is eager for water, he thirsted for it, needed it.  
     "Well --- when I got there I found the boarder fleet --- not to mention most of Maitreya's force destroyed."  
     Fei slumped in the dark; his hands over his face a tide of bitter galling misery filling him like a flood of acid.  He swallowed but his throat was sand paper dry.  "--- So, I did it again."  
     Citan walked across the blackened room and gripped Fei's shoulder.  "No one's pointing the finger Fei --- we know that Grahf has the power --- and probably the intention as well, to eradicate a fleet like that.  I hold you blameless as would Maitreya."  
     Fei sighed, and leaned back into the softness of the bunk, feeling misery and pain sluice off his body like drops of heavy leaden water.  
     Suddenly there was a click, and the harsh bright electric bulbs that hung over the shabby dormitory fizzled into life.  "Sorry guys but it's as black as hell in here."  
     Citan grunted a reply to Hammer.  
     "So --- where's Bart?" Fei asked, his voice half hesitant as his mind filled with images of the Yggdrasil shattered and destroyed --- or, a small part of him though, with images of a castle with its battlements topped a flag emblazoned with the Yggdrasil Y symbol flying at full mast.  
     Abruptly from outside the door was the tramp, tramp, tramp of feet on wooden boards --- the other prisoners.  The doors swung open and a tide of men in dusty overalls or bizarrely decorated leathers flooded in and climbed onto the bunks, some starting to undress beneath blankets, but most simply hurling their boots to one side and sleeping in their clothes.  They ignored Citan and Hammer with the studied ignorance of people who knew that the people they were ignoring were just a part of the furniture, and they ignored Fei with the averted glances and skirting looks of people who knew that the one they were ignoring would brutally kill them if they so much as looked him squarely in the face.  A big heavy set man pointed with one grubby six-inch nailed finger to a curtained off area at one corner of the room.  Fei guessed that this was the A rank bunk and that as an A rank prisoner he got the privilege of privacy.  
     "Come on."   Citan muttered, and Fei followed him through the double doors into the hard white light of the medical bay with its monitors and hospital bed standing like sentinels in the glare.  
     Hammer melted shadow like through the double doors after them.  
     With the same fluid economic grace of the fighter, Citan reached out and slammed both doors shut, drawing a bolt across them to keep out the riff raff then he turned round and saw Hammer --- realizing that the riff raff had already got in.  But as if accepting the demi-human's presence out of hand, the doctor walked across the room to a small stove in one corner, lighting it with a match from one pocket of his medical uniform he hung a battered looking kettle over the burner and started rummaging on the small shelf of domestic apparel next to the stove.  "--- Have they ever heard of teapots down hear --- aaaah!"
     "So --- where's Bart?" Fei's voice was impatient now --- was his friend here in Kislev waiting for an opportunity to storm the prison and make a dramatic rescue.  Or was the golden haired pirate-prince lost in the desert somewhere, flies crawling over his strong rakish face.  
     Fei saw from Citan's expression that the news wasn't good, and he felt something jump inside him.  "The truth is Fei ---I don't know.  The Yggdrasil was attacked by a gear with immense power --- it laid waste to most of Ramsus's fleet too so I do not believe that it was anything to do with Gebler.  The Yggdrasil was sinking and Sigurd and Bart urged me to take one of the escape capsules ---" Citan recounted the destruction of the ship, his black almond eyes narrowed in sympathy, his voice with it's unusually long winded vocabulary soft and reassuring as he told of the failed coup, the dramatic chase through the dune seas of Aveh and the attack by the demonic glowing gear.  
     Fei paced the room uneasily, his eyes cleared of tears, his face full of honorable, respectful sorrow for his friend.  "Do you think there's any hope that they made it Doc?" Citan shook his head sadly, and poured the scolding brown tea into three mugs with the soft steaming plink, plink that hurled Fei's mind back to that room in the pirate's lair where an old gray haired butler had offered them foul tasting tea and shortbread as he explained about the Fatima Jasper.  
     The Solarian shook his head, shrugging his strongly muscled shoulders.  "I don't know --- it's possible I suppose --- though unlikely."   Citan handed Fei a scolding mug of tea and Fei stood, holding it in both hands in front of him, his face full of a fierce, sorrowful pride, like a soldier watching a hopeless charge into enemy fire, knowing that his general had lost --- but also knowing that the battle may still be won.  
     "Bart's alive!" His voice held absolute conviction, absolute truth.  Citan smiled the psychologist's sympathetic, accepting smile.  "Doc --- I know it is true, I have to believe it's true.  I failed my responsibility to Lahan and I can't believe that I've failed Bart as well."   Citan nodded acceptingly.  
     Fei thought of his friend, of the rakish pirate's face with the long almost feminine golden hair and the single turquoise eye shining like a royal jewel beside the black patch.  Of Bart's affectations like the elaborate foppish uniform and the murderously accurate whip.  He remembered the bluff - half cultured, half sardonic manner, the aristocratic lack of tact and the strange loneliness of command.  No! He couldn't be dead --- not someone who was that alive.  
     Citan sipped his tea, watching his young pupil with keen sparkling eyes.  He raised the chipped mug to his lips and slurped again, the steam causing droplets of condensation to form on his spectacles, which he was forced to take off and rub dry on the sleeve of his jacket.  "So Fei, when were you planning to escape?"
     "Escape?" Fei was startled, the hand holding the mug shook and a few drops of tea fell on to his overalls making him wince with the heat.  
     Citan nodded.  "Yes --- well you weren't planning on staying here for ever were you?"
     Fei looked down, his animal brown eyes soft and sad.  "Well Doc --- with everything that's happened, don't you think it'd be better if I was here.  I can't hurt anyone here ---"
     Fei stopped.  Citan was looking at him with stern gravity.  The physitian's usually so abstracted voice was flat and final, his eyes resolved and hard as chips of marble --- though sympathy still shone in them like stars in the depths.   "Do you not remember your promise to Bart, that you would protect Margie and the people of Nisan?"
     "Oh."   Fei felt his face flush, even as the guilt rose inside him, how could he have even thought of ending his life here.  He remembered that promise, the cold night wind, the knowledge of the mission ahead, and he remembered another moon filled night when a Solarian soldier had taught him the meaning of responsibility.  
     "Yes Fei, you must escape."  
     "Escape, huh?" They both spun round having almost forgotten about Hammer, who sat on the edge of the hospital bed cradling a mug of tea in both hands and occasionally lowering his snout into it like an insect sipping nectar from the heart of a flower.  
     "Yes --- escape Hammer."   Fei said stoutly, draining the tea from his mug and setting it down on a shelf with a firm resolve.  
     "Sorry bro --- but that's impossible."   Little black diamonds of eyes staring with pointed intensity at Fei's bomb collar.  
     "Why? This appears to be a minimum security prison, surely a diversion --- hole in the perimeter fence, swift get away ---"
     Citan's face trailed off as Hammer shook his head.  "You don't get it Doc, that collar lado's wearing ---" He jerked a fury thumb at Fei.  "Is explosive."  
     Fei nodded somberly, remembering the words of the old doctor.  "He's right Doc, cross the city limits and --- boom!" He spread his hands helplessly.  
     Hammer jumped to his feet and as if Fei hadn't illustrated the point properly gestured expansively with furry paws and snout.  "Bang! Boom --- you headless."   He pulled an imaginary champagne cork from an imaginary bottle and made a pop sound with his lips.  
     Fei looked up at Citan, but the doctor was smiling, and his angular eyes were flicking over the seamless silken surface of Fei's bronze bomb collar.  "So --- it explodes if you go over the city limits.  --- Hmm."  
     Fei noted with some misgivings that his friend's strong lined face was settling into its "I'm going to tinker" expression.  
     As if reading his thoughts Hammer stepped in front of Citan as the doctor started to walk towards Fei.  "Top class engineers have worked on those things before and haven't found a way to get 'em off.  They've got a safety device that make's 'em explode if you try and tamper with 'em."  
     "Oh."   Citan squared his jaw, the strong white light of the medical bay flashing off his specials with a hard martial gleam.  "I'll fix it, let's have a look, Fei."  Citan reached one hand into his black leather bag and pulled out several small metal machine tools each gleaming with the loving coat of a well-polished sword.  "Perhaps you better sit down Fei."  
     Obediently Fei crossed to the metal chair and sat on it, feeling like as if he were about to be executed --- it wasn't that he didn't trust Citan is was just ---
     The doctor moved to stand beside Fei, his hands going to the bomb collar, twisting gently until the metal box of the detonator was facing him beneath Fei's ear.  Fei felt the rub of the edge of metal on his already sore skin and winced.   "Try and keep still Fei."  
     Fei locked his muscles, the last thing he needed was to die now, not now he had a job and a promise to keep.  It was only as Citan started prizing off the front plate of the detonator with smooth practiced ease that Fei realize that if the bomb went off he wouldn't be the only person in the area, Citan with his spectacles almost touching the metal would be killed too.  The fact that his friend was risking his life for him made Fei feel a pang of guilt resound inside him, but still he didn't move or speak.  
     The Solarian's quick gentle hands moved a pair of wire cutters past Fei's nose.  Fei felt his long hear being gently pushed aside as Citan bent to work.  Then suddenly there was a click, immediately followed by a loud crack.  Involuntarily Fei rolled off the chair and got to his feet, body trembling with tension.  Citan had jumped back like a startled rabbit, but as he saw his young pupil shake he grabbed Fei's arm and guided him back to the chair.  "Are you alright Fei --- I did not mean to startle you."  
     "I'm fine Doc."   Fei said, his voice sounding surprisingly calm even to himself.  
     "That was the safety device."   Came Hammer's voice from the other end of the room where he was flat against one wall, looking like some bizarre statue depicting fear as he crouched, snout tucked in, paws around his knees eyes covered.  Citan smiled broadly.  
     "Good! At least now I can remove it without it spontaneously exploding for no readily apparent reason"
     Hammer bounced to his feet like a fiery ball, the light catching his silver badge and making it seem as if his chest bore a tiny spark of condensed moon light.   “Not that safety device, the other one --- the one that stops it exploding any time."  
     "What?"
     "Oh dear --- err ---hold on a minute Fei."   Before Fei could object the doctor had plucked a pair of pliers from his little heap of tools and twisted the two cut wires together, fusing them back into one that would hopefully keep the current of electricity flowing and Fei's handsome head firmly where it was.  
     The doctor began to pace the floor in quick furious steps; arms swinging face screwed up into a mask of concentration, as he walked past Fei caught the words: "--- Would conduct current through the relay ---"
     Fei's imagination started to roll, he though of Citan, face intent tools moving as if they were part of his own body poking and prying around inside the deadly mechanism around his neck.  "Ho-hmm there and there and --- oh no!" There would be a brief click; a slight electric whine then everything would go black.  Fei tried to imagine his own blood and brains splattering the pristine white floor of the medical bay, dying his white T-shirt a new crimson.  "Waaaaah!"
     Citan spun abruptly his face a mask of worry, hand thrust deep into the pockets of his medical uniform.  "Fei --- something wrong?"
     "Er --- no Doc."  
     Citan walked forward, making ready to pick up his tools.  "Alright Fei --- we'll start again, I think I've though out how to remove I ---"
     "No Doc."   Fei's voice was cool and firm with conviction.  Though he trusted Citan implicitly there were some things that were just too much.  
     "Alright Fei, I do not blame you.  In your position I would probably not want someone with limited mechanical experience trying to get the bomb off me either."  
     Fei reddened, and tucked his fingers round the base of the chair, worrying that he might have embarrassed his friend.  "No Doc --- I just ---'
     "Never mind Fei.  But how are we going to escape D block if not by removing your collar?"
     The image of Rue Cohen suddenly swam into Fei's mind and what Hammer had told him about the battling tournament.  The gall at having to fight rose too, but against the promise he had made --- maybe it would be the lesser of two evils.  "There might be a way Doc --- just before you came, a lady from the Imperial battling committee offered me a place in the gear battling tournament --- if I win I get out"
     Citan sat down on the bed his face troubled, steeping his fingers in his characteristic gesture of deep concentration.  "Do you believe that you could trust to this --- would you be released if you did win or is that merely a pipe dream?"
     "No, it's true man.  But if you want to win Bro you've got a job ahead."   Hammer's voice was steady and firm and serious, like a mountaineer who was standing at the foot of a nasty looking peak, hefting his ice pick and deciding where the best place was to start.  
     Fei squared his shoulders, thinking of the vivacious Margie and the beautiful town of Nisan with it's ancient cathedral that stood like a rock of ages in the center of the shifting mutable sands of the desert.   "I'll do it"
     Hammer walked over to stand next to Fei's chair, his small black marbles of rodent eyes weighing and measuring as they swept over the young man's body, noting the muscles, the fighter's stance, the slight bruise at the wrist of his overalls from his fight the day before that was still slowly healing from the reaction of the aquasols.  "You might do it bro, only you'd be up against the Champ --- and he hasn't been beaten in three years."  
     Fei stared at Hammer, eyebrows raised as he suddenly made the connection between the image of that terrifying demi-human warrior with the flame colored straggling hair and crushing fighting skills and the word ‘Champion’.   "Rico? But if he's won the tournament why hasn't he left?"
     "Search me, --- but he's killed most of the challengers in gear fights --- and those he hasn't have had ---" Hammer gave Fei a side long look, cocking his rodent head on one shoulder, and poking his snout forward.  "--- Little accidents if you get me"
     "Mmm" Fei grunted, remembering the frightened looks on the prisoners in the bar, and thinking of his bloody baptism "I make all the rules."  
     "Who is this Champ --- your apprehension indicates that he is most formidable."  
     Fei and Hammer both nodded grimly, Fei's mind full of the image of the leather clad giant.  "He's a demi-human Doc --- seven feet tall and really strong --- but I'll beat him somehow."   Fei gripped the base of the chair, his knuckles whitening as if anticipating the feel of gear grips beneath his hands and the crackle and burn of etheric weaponry.  "I'll beat him somehow --- I must!"
     "Hmm.  You sound as if you've fought this man before."  
     Fei briefly told Citan about the baptism and how Rico had defeated him in the cold, stony gray street under the clouds.  "I'll win this time though Doc, I'm sure of it, I have to do it for Bart and Margie."  
     "Hmmm," Citan's voice was unhappy and uncertain, but before he could object Hammer had scampered over to Fei and was pumping his hand vigorously between his furry paws.  "Good for you Bro! It's time that Rico was taught a lesson --- I'll go register you on the battling comity list right now ---" Hammer dashed to the double doors, but as he lifted the bolt --- a complex exercise requiring both of his dexterously tiny little hands, Citan called him back and he looked over his shoulder, nose twitching even as the top of his tale twitched behind his hairy legs.  
     "It would probably be best if you pretend we never met Hammer --- just call me Doctor Uzuki if anyone asks --- oh, and as a preventative it may be better if people believe Fei and I don't know each other either."  
     "Are you in some kind of trouble, man?"
     Citan nodded slowly, his hands stapled once more.  "Possibly --- there are certainly those who would be glad of knowledge of our location."  
     "You mean Shakhan?" Fei asked, his voice high and startled, in all the joy of meeting Citan and the glorious, grounding resolve of competing in the tournament he had not given a thought to Bart's enemies --- his enemies.  
     Citan nodded again, his black hair bobbing.  "Possibly --- but I have a notion that we are being covertly observed somehow."  
     "You think we're being watched?" Fei asked interested.  
     Citan shrugged and spread his hands reassuringly.  "Just an idea."  
     "Well, I'll register you bro and then get some shut-eye --- I'm bushed."   Hammer whisked through the double doors like a spry young squirrel, giving Fei and Citan a brief view of the dark dormitory beyond.  
     For a while Citan was silent and meditive, the doctor's face growing drawn with concern, his lips pursing as he looked critically over Fei.  "Are you sure you wish to continue with this plan, the logical mind can alwayss produce alternative solutions ---"
     "Yes" Fei interrupted his friend's proverb stoutly, smacking one fist into the other palm.  A strange pleasure seemed to fill him at the idea of a task, now he had a goal, an end, and he wasn't floundering aimless and unwanted and lost, he had a mission and purpose to follow, and a promise to fulfill.  "When I fought Rico before I had no reason to fight.  But now I'll try and win --- I must."  
     "There is always a choice Fei, I do not want you to feel that you are being coerced into this is any way ---"
     "Look, Doc" Fei's voice was rock solid, he brushed his long hair out of his eyes with one swift movement, resolution radiating off him in waves like some strange red light.  
     Citan sighed --- and then smiled, his lined experienced face beaming like a sunrise on a harsh desert, as if all the suffering he had ever seen in is life had been for a purpose.   "Alright Fei, I will trust your judgment on this --- now ---" Citan pulled a few packages out of his leather doctor's bag and started clattering familiarly around on the shelf of domesticities, looking for a pan.  "Had anything to eat today Fei?"
     "I went to the prison café a while ago but ---" With a sudden wrench Fei's stomach started up like the engine of a well-fueled motorcycle.  With shock he realized that he must have been so sunk in misery that day that he hadn't even noticed the fact that he hadn't eaten for hours! In a sudden duck back into morbidity Fei wondered if he would have starved to death without Citan, too sunk in a pit of gloom and self pity to notice.  The small refueling session in the café seemed eons ago.  Then with a bold strong of his shoulders, and a brave confident smile he let the thought go.  It didn't matter now what would have happened, Citan was here --- and he had a job to do.  He thought of the tiny green oasis of Nisan and felt his resolve grow firm.  
     "I'm afraid that my culinary skills are by no means comparable to my dear Yui's but I'll try to produce something edible.  Then you've got to sleep.  Sleep is essential to regain mental and physical energy --- and to complete the Aquasols treatment."  
     "How do you know about that?!" Fei jumped off his chair and surprise and started staring around the room like a child on in a toyshop, his expressive eyes wide and full of innocent curiosity.  How in hell had Citan known?
     The doctor laughed, a full warm, easy laugh, as if he had just taken Fei's queen with a cunning knight maneuver that Fei had totally missed, on the carven wooden arena of the sunlit chessboard in the safe and womb-like haven of Lahan.  "I made frequent use of aquasols in Gebler, you can always tell when someone has taken a dose --- something about the eyes I believe --- it is lucky that your injuries at Rico's hands were not more severe --- broken bones and flesh wounds can take two weeks to heal even with aquasols.  I doubt your injuries are too serious --- just bruises and minor concussion, yes?"
     Fei nodded, he knew a professional diagnosis when he heard one.  
     Citan had managed to find a small pan and was filling it with water and placing it on the stove as he talked.  "Alright then.  I'll give you another dose tonight, and then one more tomorrow, by the day after that you should be in a fit state to fight"
     "Right Doc" Fei didn't mind, at least this way he had time to think about what he put himself in for, time to plan, time to practice his tactics, and most of all time to rejoice in the lone but blindingly brilliant star in an otherwise black and despairing void of a horizon --- he was not alone! And he would escape! He would find Bart again, and then he would repay the people of Lahan for the terrible blow he had dealt them, --- everything would be fine --- yes! Everything would! Be fine.  But deep in his mind --- he knew that wishing it --- would not make it true.   

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