If the crowds noticed anything strange, they sure did not show it. Maybe they saw nothing strange when an older man forced a young girl to walk. They seemed to not care. Even if he appeared to have a short-shot under his tunic. Which he did...
Louisa asked these obvious questions, and more, as her captor led her along the carnival grounds.
-Where are we going?-
She tried to act as naturally as possible. But that proved impossible. Hiding her fear? Truth be told, her death could come at anytime. Or so her captor had said.
-It's where you're going. That's what's important. I need to get you -- and Ewarian -- out of here.-
Louisa looked around, towards the speaker. Lance Corporal Francis could have passed for any of the fairgoers. Even his red hair's neat comb-over his forehead looked at place among the mid-western crowds. But the sweat on his forehead gave away his unease. His blue eyes seemed particularly steely. This was the only sign of his discomfort and behavior that, on one hand betrayed his true intentions, but also showed his true training and purpose. She recognized the training of Janus. The Sergeant-at-Arms of the Palace had taught Francis well. Killing.
-Did you see the Viscount’s body. Was he all shot up. like!?-
The thought excited her.
Lance Corporal pulled on her, his hand gripped her arm. Tight.
-It doesn't take much kill a man.-
She whistled, the sound felt nervous, and sounded like that too. It could not beat the sight of that dead fascist, though, and she grieved for twenty eyes. Finally! Damned to hell!
-That's really fuckin' crazy...-
She realized she was happy he was dead. She blamed him for Kirsten's abduction and Janus' death. And all the other things that go down with a government.
-In the end, the Cobra Warlord dies just the same.-
She thought about that one. Francis would know of death. As an inhabitant of Dead Moines, before the atomic-slagging by the hand of the crux-ader-states, he had fought in the ruined suburbs of the Battle of Santa's Village, and later on, as one of the jayhawker pilgrims, allies during the Battle of the Sea of Kansas. He knew death.
They pressed on through the crowds of sticky-fingered children and electro-carnie bellows. The angry red sun had begun to set, and with it, the lights of the Fair rose. Louisa's eyes darkened with thoughts. She imagined what Lance Corporal had told her. She had only known about his former desertion. Him and the rest of the Demi-Corps under his command. They had abandoned their positions just after the Star of the West had landed at the Estate of Paul and Luke.
She never expected anything fortuitous could come from his desertion. He was on the Fairgrounds to rescue the Empress, rumored to be closeby, here at the sponsor of the Fair, the Great Carnival of Ohio State, the ancestral home of the House of the Studebaki, the Estate of Andramadeus.
-The Empress has to die.-
Louisa thought about that one. What a strange way to save Kirsten!
Louisa remembered Janus’ worries about zealotry. It still made her laugh. Janus as Sergeant-at-Arms of the Palace had not seen the humor. But at least Janus the Zealot could handle her passions. The Demi-Corps recruits chosen from the Kansas pilgrims could not. Deaf to orders, so quick to anger. But Kirsten had not cared, nor listened to the advice of Janus. Kirsten called them the people's army. She actually said that!
Well here was her people's army, and a commander even -- Francis -- ready to kill their Empress. Some people....
Louisa did not have the time to mourn Janus, or celebrate the murder of R.P. Luke. Francis jumped into a new tale. To hear the news from him about Kirsten's self-inflicted injuries, mortal in nature, of which she would soon expire, Louisa only had time to appreciate the drama.
-How fuckin' death rock....-
Yet she couldn't even reflect on the woe that was the Empress Kir-sten'ya -- Kirsten Satan Navarre. Francis pressed on, with the child Ewarian in tow.
-You're stolen property Lou. Texas will pay a great deal for your return.-
Francis mentioned pursuers were in hot and humid pursuit.
Louisa’s mind scrambled for a way to survive. There had to be a way. Yet she couldn't guess why Francis led them the the way he did. Towards the suburban palace of the Estate of Andramadeus? Was he nuts? No shit, the Fair enjoyed the backyard of the ancestral Studebaki house, and the Fair's pre-fab fairgrounds proved endless in their sprawl. Beyond the ferris wheels and carousels, Louisa could see the ancient pastures of Old Ohio. Dark woods lurked just beyond these fields, with plenty of room to hide. What a waste of land!
Their pursuers closed the distance. G.O.O.N.s. The Guardians of the Ohio Nation. Their wrap-around visors gave them another sight. The all-present Argus of the media-stationez. The advantages of the Eye-NC proved hard to ignore, and Lance Corporal knew they did not have long to run.
The chase was on.
Then, came more G.O.O.N.s. Lance Corporal must have seen them first. He grabbed Louisa and yelled at Ewarian. They ran against the current of fair goers. Louisa could smell the syrup and the sweat. The muggy Ohioan air trapped her, oppressed her. The droll faces of the public greeted their escape -- and seemed to laugh at their chances of survival. Almost as if to block their passage, the crowd pressed harder, and Lance Corporal Francis struggled to bring Louisa and Ewarian to the crest of the wave. They seemed ready to go under.
Then came a shot from a grassy knoll, first from the G.O.O.N.s, and just like that, the crowd parted. Louisa likened it to a flock of animals herded and cornered. Only Francis stood. Then he was shot down. Maze-volts pinned him mid-stride. He struggled, he took a few steps. But he went down all the same, a wreck of useless arms and legs that flailed, then twitched. In seconds, he was dead.
Only Louisa and Ewarian. She grabbed him by the hand. She thought about all the times she had run in the canyons of the Utah desert. Yet stranded in the Ohio fairgrounds, she had no cave to seek shelter.
Another shot. Then others. She looked at Ewarian. His bright brown eyes looked towards the shoreline of the fast-receding crowd. One by one the G.O.O.N.s stumbled and fell. Not with the violence of energy weapons. She saw blood, she saw guts. Ewarian stared wide-eyed at the gore, and she had half a mind to cover his eyes.
Tattooed men emerged from the crowd, which opened to them, and soon ran. The Illustrato, and friends. With guns Louisa had never seen before, they killed the G.O.O.N.s. More murder, more guts. Louisa did not see the fun...
-We have to run.-
She grabbed Ewarian by the hand. Dragged him. She did not take the time to look behind her. No time. In minutes, she crossed the frontier. Into the wilderness just beyond the civilized suburbs, in the hope that the darkness would soon swallow and protect.