A Walk

by Kaylee

The characters, for the most part, are Marvel's. Except the guard lady and the executioner, that is. No money is made. Don't sue. This is a response to a challenge. Which one? I'll tell ya at the end. ;-) Oh, and it's sorta depressing. And maybe drivel. I dunno...I was bored. (My universal excuse...) Comments to [email protected] "A Walk" by Kaylee ([email protected])

He might once have been a strong man. She could see the lingering traces of heavy muscles across the line of his shoulders...filling out some of the loosened skin of his arms. He might once have been a wary man. His eyes seemed to take unconscious note of their surroundings at all times, though he of course did nothing about what he saw. He might once have been a brave man...but there wasn't enough left of whoever he had been for courage, not anymore.

<I hate to see them like this,> the guard thought, stomach doing its typical little flip at the sickly blankness in the man's face. <Bad enough they never give us enough rations for them...worse to have to watch as they die from the inside out.>

But there was nothing she could do about it, and at least this man's suffering would soon be over. That was some small solace, anyway.

She walked beside him, her weapon not even drawn. It wasn't needed. He was as docile as anyone she'd ever had the duty of guiding to his death. The false leg he'd been fitted with was of poor construction and clanked with every halting step. He wasn't too skilled in its use. No surprise. He hadn't had much occasion to be on his feet in weeks, not since the woman he'd been celled with had finally died. And after they'd hauled her body out, he'd gone even farther into his private, brain-damaged world.

He took a misstep and almost fell, but she caught his arm tightly and held him up. His head turned slowly, eyes fixing on her as if only now noticing her presence. Her heart constricted. <Oh please, don't let him talk, I can't handle it when they talk, please don't let him say anything...> But he only looked, age-crinkled eyes seeming sad and distant and empty all at once.

"Come on, now," she said softly, keeping her hand on his arm until his balance was restored. "Just a little further."

The salt and pepper-capped head almost seemed to bob once in acceptance, and they resumed their slow journey down between the rows and rows of cells lining this long, long hall. Other prisoners watched silently - the only tribute they could give was this wordless witnessing of his last walk. Half the rooms were empty, now. The executions had been increased as the government grew more stingy with the funding that kept the camp running. Mutant criminals were a drain on resources better spent on defense, or so the President said. There was no point in keeping them alive even for study, not anymore. After the process was perfected, the Agee method was used on every imprisoned mutant in the United States. Not a one was left with powers intact...and if it broke their minds as well? A necessary evil. And it wasn't as if these were productive members of society, anyway.

Near the end of the hall, a slender hand reached from the right-side cell towards the man. He shuffled to a halt, staring at it as if he didn't know what it was. A name was said from inside - his name, perhaps. No response. The man's brain was mush. At his continued silence, the name was repeated, then followed by a choked, helpless sob. The guard's jaw tightened.

"That's enough. Let him pass." She ignored the curses the dark-haired woman heaped on her, taking the man's arm once again and urging him past. Desperate cries followed them, but neither the guard nor the man so much as turned to listen.

And then they were at the door, and she was unlocking it with the special key as he stood canted a bit to the side away from the missing leg. It swung open with the grating hum it always made - the ominous, hollow sound that had marked the ends of so many forgotten lives.

For the first time, something showed on his face. A faint, almost-missed flicker of...apprehension? Fear? Something else?

"It's all right," she murmured, reaching for his hand. "It'll be over soon."

His mouth opened slightly. Throat worked. No sound came out...how long had it been since he'd spoken? She smiled reassuringly and pulled gently at his hand, and he slowly stepped forward to follow her into the chamber. The false leg caught on the lips of the opening, and he staggered forward gracelessly. She caught him and held him up, feeling the worn body tremble in weariness, pain...

She half-carried, half-supported him to the chair. Gasping in breaths, he let her seat him. Sweat was dripping from his brow, running in heavy rivulets down the creased lines of his weathered face. He didn't even try to move as she secured the clamps over arms and the one real leg.

She stepped back. "Are you comfortable?"

No answer, of course, though his eyes lifted to hers. The mouth opened again...but still no sound, no words. Brows drew together, an expression of sick confusion passing over his face.

This was always the worst part. The moments of waiting...having to stay in the room with him until the executioner gave the sign for her to exit the chamber. She didn't know why it was procedure to do things this way...but no one ever questioned procedure. Not here, and not now. Not anymore.

It was even harder now, with this man. If there was any intelligence behind those eyes, she couldn't see it. But somehow... There was a dog, once. A pet she'd had briefly. During the Legacy Strain C scare of 2023 they'd been ordered to have all animals in Manhattan destroyed. She'd taken her dog with the countless others to the extermination center, and when they'd told her she could drop him off and leave, she'd insisted on staying through the end. Those eyes...so trusting. So full of confidence and innocence...completely unaware of what was about to happen. She'd had nightmares for weeks afterwards.

This man had those eyes.

"All right, Sadie," came the executioner's voice over the speaker; bored and disinterested as always. "I'm ready."

She didn't move at first. He was still staring at her, still watching her. Still blind to what was coming. The lips moved, but no words came out. They probably wouldn't have made sense, anyway. She swallowed once and gave him a nod, then another comforting smile.

"Don't worry," she told him quietly. "You won't have time to feel a thing."

"Sadie," said the executioner impatiently.

She backed out and closed the heavy door, then stepped up to stare through the thick glass. His head had dropped, those unknowing eyes fixing on the restraints that held him in place. A whir of sound as the machinery started to power up.

Slowly, trance-like, he started to tug at the clamps.

"Is the door sealed?" From the speaker again...that voice, so flat and uncaring.


The withered muscles flexed. Skin shifted as he pulled back as much as he was able.

"Heat shields on?"


Cries, screams, threats from the woman in the cell who'd reached out to him. Silence from the rest.

"I'm ready to initiate the blast. Cover your eyes."

She didn't answer. Not once in the countless times they'd done this had she covered her eyes. Not once had she turned away from the final moments. It was hard enough to look at herself in the mirror as it was...had she denied them this final witness, she'd never have managed.

His head came up, uncomprehending terror finally filling that blankness. The machinery was humming now...the blast would come at any moment.

The throat worked. The lips moved. Sadie hit the button that would allow her to hear inside the chamber...

"But I'm...the best...at what I..."

The blast flared, white-hot. The blinding light seared into her brain. Her teeth ground against the wince she wanted to give. For the two seconds that seemed like forever, she made herself gaze directly into the blaze of extermination fire, hearing the deafening roar of the blast over the comm.

And then it was over. Her eyes cleared slowly, spots dancing in front of them. Nothing was left in the chamber but the chair. Not even his fake leg had survived the intense blast.

"I'll have the servos prep the room again," the executioner told her levelly. "Why don't you go collect the next subject?"

Sadie stared at the empty room. <"I'm the best..." Wonder if that ever meant anything...> "All right. I'll get on it."

The walk back down the hall was more disconcerting after an execution. The silence that followed her wasn't of respect or tribute, but loaded with something far, far uglier. She ignored it. They learned early how to cope with being despised by the prisoners.

And death really was preferable to the endless days of near- starvation and abuse they faced, wasn't it?

The computer console lit up with the next prisoner to be executed. She read the description and raised her brows in surprise. <Isn't this a coincidence?> The very dark-haired woman who'd raised such a ruckus...could this have been planned?

Well, it didn't matter. Sadie sighed deeply and drew her weapon, knowing that this one wouldn't come along quietly at all. She'd been a problem since day one, and she'd doubtless put up a fight to get herself killed rather than going peacefully into the chamber for the same fate.

And when she reached the cell, she received the spat curses she expected from the sobbing, glaring woman inside. They didn't faze her. She'd heard them many, many times before. And when Jubilation Lee demanded to know _why_ she was doing this, _how_ she could endlessly march people to their deaths, Sadie responded with the words that had become standard issue among the guards of the camps...

"I'm only following orders."


Notes from Kaylee: Gee, guess you can't figure out which challenge this was a response to, could ya? That's right...Alara's Kill Your Fave Character challenge. And I did. And now I'm depressed. And I just gotta say...this would _never_ happen in the Jayaverse! This is _not_ the Jayaverse! This is some alternate reality of the Jayaverse, that's it!

Actually, I just kinda got sick of talking with some friends who said that Logan would die an honorable death, no matter what. Y'know the thing...saving an innocent/the world/a woman he loved/etc. Life'd be really nifty if we could be so certain that our deaths would mean something, wouldn't it? But we can't.