[We last saw Rayford under armed guard in one of the lavish sleeping rooms aboard GC-1 curling up into a ball and wishing oblivion would take him.]
(Trigger warnings for threats of murder, torture, fridging, and the like.)
(Trigger warnings for threats of murder, torture, fridging, and the like.)
"Wake up fuckface," a voice said more loudly than Rayford would have liked and full of more disdain than he was accustomed to.
Rayford had to blink twice to get his eyes to focus but when he did he saw the speaker and tried to respond as cheerfully as he could because he figured that was more likely to annoy than confrontation, "Leon!"
"Mr. Fortunato," the man corrected sharply.
"What brings you to grace me with your most excellent company?"
"Do you honestly think that being chipper is going to somehow give you the upper hand?"
Rayford dropped any hint of his fake mood and said, "So spit it out asshole."
"This plane will be touching down in Baghdad soon to pick up some guests, then we'll make the last leg of our journey to New Babylon once we are certain of the security there.
"You will be flying at that time."
Rayford looked at the four armed guards, the ones he had hoped would kill him in his sleep, then back to Leon Fortunato. Silence filled the room as the two men looked at each other. Rayford broke it, "Yeah, because that makes so much sense."
"You think you'll be able to defy Carpathia?"
"Put me back in the cockpit. I dare you."
"He said you'd say that. That's why I'm here. To let you get your hopes high before He explains to you exactly why you will carry out every order He ever gives. Let them soar, convince yourself that you can resist, but when you realize your wings are made of wax and you come crashing down into the surf, when what's left of them becomes soaked and pulls you under no matter how hard you try to keep your head above water, remember this:
"I told you so."
Mr. Leon Fortunato left Rayford with the four armed guards, and in spite of his words Rayford was was convinced that if he were put at the plane's controls it would mean death for all on board. This time he wouldn't wait. This time he would do what he should have done. No matter the cost. He'd sell his soul to get the blood already on his hands off of them, he'd die before he took part in anything to add to that blood with more innocents he could have saved. That was what he told himself.
Then, Carpathia came.
"Our friend Mr. Fortunato has explained the situation to you?"
"Yes and I'm completely ready to be your faithful lapdog yet again." Carpathia was good at reading people, he'd know if Rayford were playing along so he could crash the plane, so Rayford saw no need to make his lies compelling or his contempt anything other than transparent.
"Oh, but you are."
"If you think that I'm going to work for you-"
"Tell me, what do you think about your son," Nicolae let a pause rest there just long enough for Rayford to experience grief for his only son, taken in the Rapture, "in law?"
"I... uh... what?!"
"Do you think he'd place principle first? Do you think he'd refuse to work for me no matter what? Because if he would then you have every reason to turn me down.
"You see I plan to make him the same offer I'm about to make you, and if he doesn't take it... well... I'm sure you can work it out for yourself.
"You can come back to work for me, and be completely loyal in word and deed. Or I can rip everything that you love out of your life, right in front of you. Your daughter, assuming she's still alive, dead. Your church will be burned to the ground, and then have all of the underground portions burned, with the entire congregation inside of it. Any who manage to escape will be executed by machine guns.
"Your friends from work, your old work, will be tracked down and executed. Your friends from this job too, and you know I know who they are because you know about my surveillance archives. I know because you erased the part where your wife let you in on the cities to be bombed* and you warned your son in law.
"Hattie as well, even if she does please me from time to time.
"And your wife will naturally be shot in the head. Not at first, you understand. We'll probably shoot her in one foot, then the other, chop off her left hand, then the right, poke out her eyes, then take her nose-"
"And then her tongue, I suppose," Rayford said morbidly.
"Exactly!" Nicolae said excitedly. "To the pain, but she will not live a long life wallowing in freakish misery because then you would have hope that, somehow, you might comfort her. And that we can't have. So once we've extracted as much pain as we can from her, we shoot her.
"In front of you, of course.
"After that we'll probably have to go to people you just randomly happened to meet. How does your entire second grade class sound? Bet you don't even know their names, but we'll make sure you get to watch their deaths.
"And you, you'll get to live. A rich and happy life. At least that's how it will look from the outside, every need taken care of, every amenity provided for, and so much leisure time you won't be able to help but think about all of the deaths we've made you watch.
"And when I do run out of people with some connection to you, I'll start making things up. Say people who have the same name as your daughter. I'll bring one in, introduce you to her, let you know about her life, her hopes and dreams, her loves and likes, the people she cares about and the people who care about her, and then I'll kill her in front of you.
"Once I run out of people with that name it'll be your second-born, Raymie I believe his name was. Not the most common name, I think. So I'll find people the same age he would be, or as close as I can manage, with the same interests, introduce you to the young men, let you get a good feel for them, and then kill them, slowly, in front of you.
"Every day. Day after day. Forever."
There was silence.
"And lest you think that you can avoid this fate by coming back to work for me and then crashing the plane, rest assured that the orders have already been given out. If anything should happen to this plane, everyone and everything you ever cared about dies.
"Slow, agonizing, deaths.
"So make sure to do your pre-flight checks completely right every time. And if you should ever have any doubts about the plane's maintenance you get the problem solved, because the life of everyone you ever cared about hangs in the balance."
Rayford hadn't moved a single muscle, save his heart which was beating erratically, since Nicolae got to the part where he mentioned second grade. Even if he could move it was unclear what he might do. His eyes couldn't open any wider, the look of horror on his face couldn't be any more pronounced.
Breathing might be nice, but he'd forgotten about that though his lungs were beginning to burn.
"I expect you to be in the cockpit by the time our guests from Baghdad board."
Nicolae turned and walked toward the door. He opened it, then he turned back to Rayford. "Mr. Fortunato asked me to remind you: he told you so." Nicolae addressed the guards, "You're no longer needed here. Can I interest you in drinks in the lounge?"
Nicolae held the door open for the four guards, then closed it, leaving Rayford in the room alone.
At that point Rayford's oxygen deprived lungs finally overrode his brain, and his horror along with it, and forced a sharp intake of breath. More gasping followed.
Rayford didn't know what the asking price would be on his soul, but he knew that Nicolae had bought it. He would be the Antichrist's lapdog. He would make sure the plane never crashed.
And he would pray that someone would shoot the bastard, provided they did it on the ground.
* Actually, he erased the part where Amanda tried to let him in on it and he told her he already knew. Nicolae is well aware that the plane is bugged, he ordered it to be, but his lack of mind reading means that he doesn't know Rayford has access to it beyond being able to break it. (The files are encrypted, deleting them is much easier than listening to them. Also I'm assuming Rayford did it in a way to make it look like an accident, power surge took out the hard drives or whatever.)
[Skewed Slightly to the Left Index]