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[Warning: This story depicts ideas, words, and actions which are even more offensive now than they were in their own time. If you can't tell the difference between a story which endorses those ideas and a story which condemns them, you probably shouldn't be reading text-only stories anyway—the Author]

"I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceases to be a man."
(Frederick Douglass)

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Number Five
An Omega limited series by Marc Singer


[London, England. April 19, 1787.]

...Hannibal lashed out with everything he had, but they were too well-prepared. He only hurt a few of his attackers before sheer numbers overwhelmed him. He was dragged to the floor; his wounds were already healing, but his body was pinned and his mind was numb.

He looked up at his attackers, and mouthed a few words while he still remained conscious. "Why... why?" he asked.

"Because we can, you African filth," said their leader. "Because you made too many enemies over the years."

Hannibal was feeling more numb each second. He could feel his mind slipping away, even as his enemies explained how it was happening. "You will have no idea who you are," said their leader. "You will be an ignorant, savage slave... for the rest of your life."

His senses were departing him, he couldn't even remember his own name anymore, but somehow he summoned the strength to speak. "I will not give up so easily..." he groaned. "I will return... I will find you... and I will have my revenge..." He ignored their laughter. "I will not give up..."

The rest was darkness.


[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995. Two o'clock in the morning.]

"That's it," Jack Russell said, "I give up."

"C'mon, Jack," said Kierthos, Jack's fellow immortal. "It's too soon for that. Let's give the journals another try."

"The journals?" Jack moaned. "The journals? Kierthos, you don't get it. Hannibal disappeared. The journals won't tell me why it happened. Hannibal also disappeared two hundred years ago, and the journals don't say why that happened, either. The journals did tell me that this St. Germain was his closest protege and friend, and now you tell me he disappeared a hundred years ago. I can't win."

The muscular Greek immortal grabbed Jack by both sides of his face and looked him in the eyes. "You can't win if all you do is feel sorry for yourself," Kierthos said. "Now get up and get back to work. We need to see the rest of the journals. Where are they?" Jack tried to look away, but Kierthos shook him by his head. "Damn it, Jack, your secrecy is even more annoying than your self-pity! Now where the fuck are they? You think we can find Hannibal if you don't go get those journals?"

"I can't go get those journals," Jack said sullenly, twisting out of Hannibal's grip. "They aren't in your mansion anymore. And the cops would spot me in a second if I went to go get them."

"You haven't answered me, Jack."

Jack sighed. "Omega House. I left them at Omega House."

"With mortals?" Kierthos shouted. "Are you crazy?"

"Hey, Anne and Harvey saved Hannibal's life," Jack said, shrugging his shoulders. "I figured the journals would be in good hands." Then he pointed to the newspaper article revealing that the police were searching for him as 'Mr. Lazarus.' "Only now I can't go anywhere near them, because the cops will see... me..." Jack's voice trailed off.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Kierthos said slyly.

"Yeah," Jack said. "I'm thinking that I have a sidekick now."

"I'll drive over and get them; I suppose you can stay in the car, we'll take one with tinted windows."

"No way," Jack said, jumping off the couch and backing off. "No way I'm gonna risk getting caught by the cops... I'd hate to think of what serving a life sentence would be like."

The exasperated Kierthos gave in fairly easily. "Fine, Jack. You stay here and watch the place. And from now on, be more open with me, okay?"

"You got it," Jack said, smiling.

A few minutes later, Jack watched the tail-lights of Kierthos's Mercedes move past the front lawn, the War of 1812 cannon, and the iron gate. And Jack thought: Thank God I don't have to keep up the stupid whiny act any longer. Then he ran to get the rest of the journals.

It wasn't that he had anything in particular against Kierthos, Jack reflected as he carried the next set of journals back into the house. He just couldn't afford to trust anybody right now, let alone become anybody's sidekick. The extent of his cooperation was a quick phone call to Omega House, asking Harvey to keep Kierthos there.

Of course, Kierthos would eventually learn the truth, and he'd be mad as hell if he came back. Jack would have to have some kind of answer for him then, if he was going to keep Kierthos as an ally. Jack was gambling that Hannibal's current disappearance had some kind of connection to his last one; in fact, by this point Jack was betting everything he had on it.

Jack sat in the library and started leafing through the journals. The early entries were still barely readable. The author was just learning to read and write, and the entries didn't make much sense, except for the frequent mentions of terrible beatings. Stranger, many of the pages were charred and blackened, as if by some terrible fire. Jack wondered just how much punishment they had taken...


[Walker Grove, Mississippi. August, 1859.]

The whip cut deeply into Hank's back, knocking out several long gashes of flesh. Hank didn't scream—he'd had plenty of these by now—but he still shook from head to toe, and let out a low moan in spite of himself.

"I didn't hear anything," said the overseer. "When I whip niggers, I like to hear them holler good and loud. So holler." He drew the whip back again, then snapped it forward. Even its whistle through the air sounded harsh and painful; but Hank still didn't scream, just moaned some more and sagged down as much as his chains would allow. His arm-chains were looped over a tree branch about eight feet off the ground, so Hank's body was pulled to its full length—all the more skin for the whip to flay.

"I told you this nigger would be trouble," the overseer said, addressing his employer and father. "He was too cheap for such a strong one. They were just unloading him on us."

Colonel Walker placed his hat back on his fiery red hair, and started walking uphill to the plantation house. "That's alright, William," he said. "I'm sure you'll break him."

William drew the whip back for another strike. "I always do."

It wasn't long at all before Hank learned to scream good and loud.

Colonel Walker had only gone partway uphill before one of the slaves came running after him. The Colonel was moving much more slowly now, and relying much more heavily on his cane, but it was still remarkable how quickly they came for him. The Colonel nearly struck Androcles for the interruption, but Androcles had the sense to stay out of the range of his cane. "You best come back, Master Colonel," Androcles said, carefully adding all the honorifics his owner insisted upon. "The new slave, he's—he's—you best come back!"

Androcles bolted back down the hill, and the Colonel slowly followed—even if only to berate the messenger. But as soon as he reentered the slave quarters, the Colonel knew what all the fuss was about. The new slave was still standing in the commons in front of all the quarters, still chained to the tree. William was still standing behind him, holding a bloody whip. But most of the welts across the slave's back were gone -- and as the astonished Colonel watched, the last few vanished before his very eyes.

"What in God's name is this?" the Colonel screamed, loping over to William and wresting the whip from his son. He cracked the slave a few times himself, and worked up enough energy to really knock the flesh off his back. The Colonel put three long gashes across the slave, who by then was screaming hideously. Then the Colonel watched as the blood stopped pouring out of the wounds, the cuts sealed up, and new flesh grew to replace the old. The other slaves in the commons started screaming and praying—to what terrible gods, the Colonel could only imagine—and Colonel Walker spun around and cracked the whip at their feet. "Get the hell away from here!" he screamed. "Get back to work!" His few other white hands started moving them away from the commons.

William started helping the other overseers, but the Colonel shoved the whip back in his hands. "You aren't done breaking him yet, son."

"But I—didn't you hear him screaming?"

"You think niggers don't know how to lie, boy? He was faking it!" Hank simply hung from tree, silent. "I don't know what powers fuel this black devil—perhaps Noah's curse, perhaps—but I can't have him stirring up the other niggers. So long as he resists our whips, he must be chained at all times. He can't see any of the other niggers, except Androcles. And you must break him." The Colonel pushed the whip even further, into his son's abdomen. "Until you do, you're both stuck down here."

The Colonel left the slave quarters. Once he was gone, William screamed his own scream of rage, turned, and began whipping Hank even more furiously than before.

Hank had a small shed all to himself. In a perverse way, his unnatural powers had earned him a sort of luxury among slaves, if being chained to the wall in a shack stinking of pig shit could be called luxury. His days quickly settled into a familiar routine: wake up, get a breakfast of crusty bread and water, get led out to the fields alone and start picking cotton under William's personal, punishment-heavy supervision. He worked hard, to avoid the whippings, and so he picked a lot of cotton, especially since he never got tired; but that frightened William and caused more whippings, so soon Hank was faking being tired, which also caused whippings, but not such severe ones. Then it was back to the shed at sunset for a small dinner and a few more whippings "just to drum him into shape." Hank wished his body would stop healing so quickly, but he'd been praying to God to remove His gift for over seventy years, and it hadn't gone yet.

Hank hardly saw anybody, except William during the day and Androcles at night. Androcles was hardly more friendly than William (though he didn't come with a whip), and he wouldn't talk to Hank; he seemed afraid to. Hank could tell that the other slaves weren't allowed to talk to him, or talk about him, or even look at him. Whenever a slave in another part of the fields looked at Hank during the day's work, he or she would get a nasty beating. There weren't enough white men to go around on the plantation, so most of the time the higher slaves like Androcles would do the beating.

Hank didn't mind his own lifestyle so much, because it had always been this way for him. From the first time he could remember, back on the slave ship (when he was already a grown man), the whites always kept him chained and alone so he wouldn't start trouble. It was his own body's fault—its damnable ability to heal, and its color. Those two things had driven Hank from the slave ship, to Maryland, all the way down to little Mt. Zion, Georgia, and now out to the Mississippi. Each time, the whites would eventually get scared of him, sometimes after a few months and never more than a year or two, and they'd sell him to the next town down the road for cheaper than they'd gotten him. Only now he'd run out of road, he'd run out of value, and he'd run out of time; no place had ever whipped him so much and found out his secret on the first day, and he figured his stay here would be about the worst yet. Worse still, it might be the end of the line for Hank, and he'd be here getting beaten by William forever. But Hank didn't mind his own lifestyle so much.

A little noise—a key turning in the shed's lock—jolted Hank out of his thoughts. "Who's there?" he whispered. Androcles, to silently beg Hank to stop causing trouble? Or William, to give another whipping?

They didn't enter the shed, and the suspense just about drove Hank crazy. "Who's there? Who's there?" he said, a little louder.

"Sssssssh." The small sound was accompanied by the opening of the door, slowly, softly, so softly that the hinges barely squealed. A figure stepped into the room, carrying a small basket and a dark lantern. The figure carefully closed the door, then opened the shutters on the lantern, flooding the shed with light. And Hank could see that it was a woman who'd come inside.

She was a mulatta woman, real "high-yellow" as her type was called, at least half white—still not white enough to be anything but black in the eyes of the law. Her straight reddish hair was only slightly darker than her light tan skin. "You have to keep quiet," she said, simply and directly, "nobody's supposed to come in here."

Hank, happy to see anyone, sat up and walked towards the woman. She didn't shrink away from him, though she didn't come any closer either, and his chains stopped him a few feet short of her. "Then how come you're here?" he asked.

"Because I can come and go," she said, more to herself than to Hank. "And because somebody got to help you." She opened her basket, pulling out a few pieces of fresh bread, rolled into pockets and stuffed with chicken and pork and greens. "Make sure you eat all of this, now, or they'll catch on and I won't be able to bring you no more." She carefully set them down on the ground, just within reach of his chained hands. Then she looked up at him nervously. "I, uh, I should be going now."

"Th-thank you," Hank whispered. As she started to leave, he called out, "Wait. Who are you?"

"I... I'm called Zipporah."

"Zipporah what?" Hank asked.

She closed her eyes and blushed. "Just Zipporah. I have to go... you can't tell no one I was here, or we'll both be in trouble." She closed the shutters on the lantern, pitching the shed back into blackness, and she started to edge out the door.

This time, she prolonged the conversation. Stuck halfway through the door, Zipporah said, "Is it true that you heal from all those whippings? That they can't break you?"

"I guess so," Hank whispered. Zipporah slipped outside and locked the door, and Hank was alone again.

But after he devoured food and drifted off to sleep, it occurred to Hank, as it had so many times before, that this was all so very familiar...

...he creeps into the forbidden room of his master the king's most precious property, armed only with kindness and language, and ready to steal her away...

Hank woke up with a start, and realized he'd been dreaming again. Hank had no use for his stupid dreams. He hadn't ever been in a palace, and he'd never be in one. He was just a slave. A slave. And like William said, the sooner he got it in his stupid nigger head, the better.

Zipporah came back to visit him the next night, and the night after that... she stopped by most nights, and started staying longer once it became apparent that she wouldn't be found there. She brought him all the little bits of food she could sneak away, asking only for his company in return; in fact, he fascinated her. She loved to stare at the new skin on his back (which was always less tan because it had grown in within the past day), and hear about his healing powers. It was the last thing Hank wanted to talk about, but he obliged her, because he wanted the company, too.

But one day, he let the big secret slip out. "Far as I know," he said, "nothing on this earth can kill me. People can hurt me, but nothing can kill me." Even if he sometimes wished it otherwise. Even if he'd tried to kill himself a few times, and failed terribly.

Zipporah ran down a list of ailments—knife, gun, exhaustion, famine—but Hank said he'd outlasted all of them, except for fire, which he hoped never to find out one way or the other. "What about old age?" she said, smiling. Her grin shone even more brightly than her skin did. "That gets everybody."

Perhaps the smile made Hank want to show off for his only friend. Perhaps he just wanted to tell the truth for once. "Naw, even Father Time himself can't catch me. He ain't caught me yet in over seventy years—ain't even..." Hank, realizing what he'd done, stopped himself. He quickly tried to change the subject, saying, "Now, I don't know about fire. That might just do the trick."

"You just said you're seventy," Zipporah said quietly. "Seventy. You got the youngest body of any man here, but your eyes... It might just be true. How can they keep you here? You're amazing!"

"That's just my body that's amazing, Zipporah. I don't do nothing but work and sleep and get beat. I'm just a stupid field-nigger."

In the dark of the shed, the slap caught Hannibal completely by surprise. "Hank, that is not true and you know it! I can't believe the only man on the plantation who can't be hurt would give up so damn quick!"

"It ain't quick," Hank said, "it's been seventy years. And I do hurt. I just heal the cuts on the outside."

"Well, that's a damn sight tougher than the rest of us are. And we all ain't happy to stay in this stupid shed." Hank could hear Zipporah picking herself up from the floor and brushing off her skirt. When she left, she didn't even worry about the sound of the slamming door.

Zipporah didn't return for three nights, and Hank got so upset that his work suffered and he took some extra whippings. The whippings weren't quite so hard, though, because William thought he was breaking Hank down and that made him happy; but the whip still flayed the flesh right off Hank's back. Hank had terrible dreams—a man with the strength of an elephant was torturing him and laughing at him—but he knew dreams didn't mean anything. Nothing that would soothe the pain of a whipping.

On the fourth night, Zipporah came back to the shed, and Hank was ecstatic—but her cold stare shut him up before he could offer any apologies. She opened the shutters of the lantern (which she rarely did, for fear of detection) and reached inside her basket. Instead of food, she pulled out a few pieces of paper, a charcoal stylus, and a small book.

Hank was disappointed that he wouldn't be getting any food. "What's all this for?" he asked.

Zipporah stared at him dispassionately, perhaps even a little cruelly. "It's to get you out of this shed."

Every night from then on, Zipporah taught him how to read and write. Hank was an incredibly fast learner, even though the lessons kept triggering more of his strange dreams and memories, sometimes right in the middle of the lesson. Hank mastered the alphabet almost as quickly as Zipporah could teach it; soon he was writing letters, words, and even whole sentences:


my MisTREss is GooD to mE dut but my MastEr is MEaN...

 

wHEn hE wHips mE it HuRTS but hE does not STOP...

And he quickly improved on that. After only a few weeks, he could read and write as well as Zipporah. Soon she brought Hank a small Bible so he could read more, and more paper so he could practice his writing. Hank would eagerly, almost compulsively, fill the pages with records of his daily experiences. It didn't matter that every day was the same; writing them down seemed like the right thing to do. And it made Hank feel more like himself.

Hank had something to truly look forward to now, and the hard days on the fields were a little more bearable for the nights of education and company. But letters alone didn't nourish Hank, and he got a little irritated at the "slow" progress, especially because Zipporah still wasn't bringing him food. "I've been learning," he told her, "and I'm still starving."

"Starving don't kill you, Hank. Slavery will. I ain't letting you get all soft, settling on the few scraps of food I could toss at you."

Hank nearly laughed. "Don't worry, those scraps aren't enough to settle on. And I work every day. I ain't about to get soft."

"You work picking cotton! That don't help nobody but the Colonel. I want you to read!"

"Why?" he asked, taking the offense. "How does that help me?"

Zipporah groaned and dragged her hands through her fine hair. "Hank, do you know that it takes most people years to learn this much? You must be just about the smartest man I ever heard of. You got the brain to go with that body."

Something felt wrong to Hank; a black man leading another black man into a trap, a trap of learning something he didn't mean to, only Hank wasn't supposed to be the one falling for the trap... Hank feigned indifference, saying, "So, how does that help me?"

"So, how can you ever call yourself a stupid nigger again after this? After seeing how much you really know, how can you say you belong here?"

Hank reeled, even though he was sitting down and he never moved an inch. Seventy years of being beaten and told he was a worthless, inferior, stupid piece of shit didn't die so easily. The whole shed seemed to spin around him, becoming something much older, grander... Zipporah sounded right but she couldn't possibly be right... "Something's wrong," Hank said, gasping for breath before he drowned in false memories. "It should be... the man sneaking in and teaching the woman..."

"It should be what?" Zipporah said, rolling her head. "Before I came in here, you couldn't teach me shit, except maybe how to sit around and get beat."

Hank reached with a chained hand and grabbed Zipporah. "No," he said, "that's not what I meant! Please... please don't go."

Zipporah froze up when he grabbed her, but she slowly relaxed. "Hank," she said sweetly, "I wouldn't leave you. Come on, let's write some more..."

A few nights later, while Zipporah was busy cleaning the house, she came across William and the Colonel in the parlor. William stood at attention in the center of the room, while the Colonel drank a brandy in his favorite chair. Zipporah quietly dusted the room, and listened.

"He has been more docile of late, father, sir," William explained, "and for a while I really had him down. I think he came out of that with a lot more respect for us. But his body can't stop healing; I don't even think he wants it to heal, it just happens."

"Nonsense, boy. Things like that do not simply 'happen.' Only the nigger religions believe that; we confine those fancies to books." He waved his cane at the bookshelf, pointing vaguely at the volumes of Poe. "And even those books go too far, save for the good Book. This nigger cannot have a body superior to ours; it's his will that's holding him up, and a true son of mine should be able to break it!" The Colonel hauled himself up out of the chair, leaning heavily on his cane. "I want that buck out there working for me, making me some money!"

William stared at his feet. "Father, sir, he does work for us. He works harder than anybody else, never tires, and takes less upkeep too. He's got to be the only slave who's worth the cost anymore."

"Then why haven't we seen a return on him yet?" Colonel Walker screamed in his son's face. "Why are we still losing money?"

"Every plantation around here's losing money, father, sir. It just ain't the right soil for cotton."

The Colonel glared at his son silently. He slowly limped around his son, and then drove his cane across William's back with all his might. The blow knocked William to the hardwood floor. "Don't tell me my craft!" the Colonel screamed. "This house, this business, this industry, this whole damn country is built on the soil of this fertile land! Don't tell me the cotton's no good here! And don't tell me you can't keep control of the slaves who grow it!" The Colonel spat on his son's back. Much more softly, he added, "And don't say 'ain't.' It makes you sound like a damn nigger."

The Colonel shuffled back to his reading-table, and had another glass of brandy. While William picked himself up and apologized, the Colonel watched Zipporah, who was still dusting and pretending she'd heard nothing. "Don't take it personally, my boy. Everything in this house has seemed wrong since your mother passed away, and then Sally died..." Looking at Zipporah and not William, he said, "I miss her so much... such a beautiful young woman. But the races have to be kept separate... pure... Pharaoh in Egypt, he knew... Zipporah?" The slave was shrinking further into the corner, looking for things to dust, looking away from her master... "Zipporah, precious, look at me..."

"Father, sir," William said, politely but loudly. "I'm going to go down to work over that nigger one more time. You'd better go to bed now. It's late."

"That nigger... oh, yes. Oh, I have a plan for him, William. Time for the father to come and do the work of the next generation... You go on and have one last crack, go on... I'll be all right..."

"Good. Zipporah and I will see you tomorrow."

"Yes... you go on ahead, William, Zipporah and I will be fine." The Colonel waited, but William did not move. And when the Colonel flexed his cane hand a little, as if to strike again, William stared straight into his eyes, as if to let his father know that he saw everything.

The Colonel took it in stride. "Some other time," he said, though to which listener was uncertain. After he left the room and shuffled upstairs, William and Zipporah could both exhale again.

Zipporah slowly pulled out of the corner and walked towards William, still holding her arms protectively across her chest. "Thank you," she said, but William pretended not to hear; he didn't like even thinking about this. Changing the subject, Zipporah said, "So you're going down to Hank's shed tonight?"

"That's right," William said. "Which means you'd better not."

"What? But I--"

"Don't lie to me," William whispered. "I know you've been going there. I found my shed key missing one night, and you were gone. Be glad I saw your books missing, too. If I thought you'd gone to lie with him, I'd-- well, you just be glad I didn't. You better lay off the books and the visits altogether, though."

"But he's so lonely, and the visits don't hurt anybody."

"You know the rules. No books for the niggers. Christ, you're lucky the Colonel even makes an exception for you, and then you go and break his rules. You should never, never forget that he's your father."

"I can't," Zipporah said, shoving her pale face and red hair in front of her half-brother's. "I just hope he doesn't forget it."

That night, Hank received his worst whipping in seventy years. It continued for hours, no matter how much he screamed. All the other slaves could hear him, despite the distance between them and the shed; some were careful to be obedient, so it wouldn't happen to them next, but most were upset to hear Hank treated so badly, precisely because they knew it could happen to them next. They might have done something about it, too, but the overseers were watching them very carefully that night, and carrying shotguns.

Hank screamed the whole time, and when William got tired of swinging his arms to whip him—around two in the morning—he realized that nothing would break this slave. So he dropped his whip to the ground in disgust, and decided he'd see what his father would do.

Zipporah saw Hank much sooner than she thought she would—the very next day. Hank was allowed out of the shed for half an hour, chained at the wrists and ankles and escorted by two white overseers, to eat a full dinner with the other slaves. Hank greedily ate the food, while the other slaves stared at him, and the brand-new skin all over his chest and back, with fear and awe.

In the middle of the meal, William and the Colonel came down to the slave quarters. Usually the Colonel only came on Sundays to give Bible readings, but today he was making some very large exceptions to his rules. The Colonel told Hank -- loudly, so everyone could hear—that he would now be getting paid two cents an hour, which he could use to buy personal items from the Colonel. "Because you've been such a hard worker," the Colonel announced, "I've even seen fit to give you back pay, back to the very day you started your employment here, in the form of a little something from my own private stock." The Colonel profferred a bottle of whisky.

Hank didn't look too happy. "C'mon, boy," said the Colonel, "you wouldn't want all that effort to be for nothing."

Hank took the bottle with his shackled hands. The rest of the meal was very jovial; the slaves could see that Hank had taken the worst William could give and beaten him, even gotten a reward from his dad, and that made them feel a little happier about their own lot. That evening, life at Walker Grove wasn't so bad anymore.

At the end of the half-hour, they still went back to the slave quarters. And Hank was marched back to the shed and locked in.

After a week, William relaxed his watch over Hank. Hank was allowed to interact with the other slaves much more, and was even given little gifts of beer and tobacco when he worked hard; he was no longer a mystery man or rallying point for the other slaves. Furthermore, since the whippings had stopped, his magic healing powers were no longer so apparent. Hank was quickly becoming just another slave, a model slave in fact, who showed just how soft this life could be for a slave who worked hard enough. Only one person thought of him differently.

The first night after William ceased his watch, Zipporah returned to Hank's shed. As she crept out of the house and down the hill, she had to remind herself that she was doing this for Hank—not just to get away from the Colonel. The shed door was now unlocked, since Hank was chained to the wall and other slaves were encouraged to stop by and help him finish off his whisky. Since it was late, Zipporah found Hank drinking alone. "Well, look who's back," Hank said when she entered. "Let me guess, you want some liquor, too?"

"Not really, Hank. I was hoping you might want to try some more learning."

"Learning," Hank muttered. "Didn't do me any good. The Colonel eased up on me anyway."

"Did he, Hank?" Zipporah asked. "You're in the same pig-shed. It still stinks like shit. You're still chained to the wall. And you still pick cotton. What changed?"

"This did," he said, waving the bottle. "And William hardly beats me at all now. That's more than you did for me."

"And you know why they did that, Hank? So you wouldn't stir up the other slaves no more. Now they take their whippings like you did, with a smile, so they can get their own pig-shed and whisky. Only they don't heal like you." She made a big show of moving back towards the door. "I hope you're happy."

Hank jumped up and ran as close to Zipporah as his chains would allow. When the chains pulled tight, they nearly yanked him off his feet. "It's real easy for you to say how hard you got it," Hank said, "when you live up on the hill. I heard about you, Zipporah. The Colonel's own daughter, living higher than any other nigger here, and you're complaining about it. What gives you the right?"

Zipporah turned even paler than normal, and shuddered involuntarily. "I know the Colonel better than you do, Hank. I know he's only treating you 'nice' so you'll keep all the other slaves in line. Just like Androcles."

"I am nothing like Androcles --"

"Just like him, Hank! And don't tell me how high I live! At least the Colonel isn't trying to fuck you!"

Hank started to shout something back, but nothing came out of his open mouth. The bottle slipped from his hands. "He's trying to --? But he's your..."

"He don't care," Zipporah said, crying. "I look too much like my mother for my own good. And he's real worried about me sleeping with some black man, thinning out his "white seed"... but he doesn't want me marrying a white man, spreading the "black seed" around... so he wants to keep it in the family..."

"Oh, God," Hank said. "What do we do?"

Zipporah stepped into his arms. "Just hold me," she whispered.

After that night, Hank knew that he and Zipporah had to escape the plantation. In more than seventy years, he had never seriously considered escaping. He used to tell himself that it was because he was too tightly bound—his first owner had received strict instructions to keep him chained, and those instructions had been passed down through every other owner. They were the only thing that didn't degenerate over time. Hank sometimes imagined buying his freedom—it seemed like someone he knew had done it, though he couldn't remember who -- but usually the only things Hank could buy were more ways to keep him chained, like the whisky.

But even that wasn't the real problem. After seventy years in bondage, Hank had honestly believed that escape and freedom weren't options for a "stupid," "inferior" slave; now he knew that freedom was the only option, and Zipporah was the only reason he even thought he was worthy of it.

But he couldn't escape until after the harvest was over, when all the slaves would have more free time. Hank retained his resolve through the harvest by reading the Bible that Zipporah had given him. He hadn't been too eager to read it at first, because the only parts he'd ever heard were various in owners' sermons. Many of them, the Colonel's in particular, dwelled on Noah cursing the sons of Ham with slavery; and because Ham's sons included Egypt and Ethiopa, that meant it was right for Africans to be slaves. That just made Hank feel even lower, like even God and Noah had something against him. But Zipporah told him that he should read it for himself, and even marked which parts. Now Hank looked at them, with Zipporah helping him (and taking refuge in his shed) when she could.

It made his head spin all over again. First Hank learned that it wasn't all of Ham's sons who were cursed, just those of Canaan, which Zipporah swore wasn't in Africa; and he learned the curse was Noah's fault, for being drunk and exposing himself to his children. Then Hank read about how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and how he rose from the Pharaoh's jail by interpreting dreams. As Hank read that part, he was filled with a tremendous charge and sense of purpose.

Strangely, the part that happened right after Joseph's sale terrified Hank immensely. "Onan knew the offspring would not count as his, so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his seed on the ground; this was wicked in the LORD's eyes, and the LORD struck him down." It made him shiver, and it sent terrible dreams—dreams which he could not interpret like Joseph, dreams he'd had for all his lean years, which numbered far more than seven. But now the dreams only strengthened his desire to interpret them and escape.

At last, the cruel harvest season came to an end. Naturally, the harvest hadn't been as much as the Colonel expected; he took it out on William, and William and his overseers took it out on the slaves. They hardly ever whipped Hank, though—Hank just watched as they tore into the rest. Like every other slave Hank had known, they didn't heal from the abuse. Some slaves had their entire backs covered in scar tissue. And still, some of them thought the Colonel's trifling rewards made their slavery more bearable. Hank supposed the whips hurt him just as much as them, supposed he'd been whipped more than the whole rest of the plantation put together, but when he saw the flesh get stripped off them, it just didn't seem right for him to languish there and justify it any longer. He and Zipporah began making plans to leave "the soft life."

The chains were the largest obstacle. Zipporah had tried to get a file or hacksaw, but they were all kept under tight guard. Besides, they would have taken forever to cut through the thick metal. Then Zipporah realized that the key had to be somewhere, and she searched for it during her daily housecleanings. When she couldn't even find it in the Colonel's room, she realized, much to her chagrin, that it had to be with the Colonel himself.

She and Hank waited until one chilly October evening when the Colonel got particularly drunk. Zipporah served the Colonel more liquor than usual, fortunately enduring his terrible proposals in the company of William. The Colonel nodded off very early that evening, asking Zipporah to take him to bed; William took him instead, but Zipporah crept upstairs shortly afterwards.

Zipporah tiptoed into his bedroom, searching the dark chamber with a narrow beam of light from her shuttered lantern. The beam found the clothes he'd been wearing, and Zipporah started rifling through them. She reached inside the coat pocket, closed her hand around a long, cold, cylindrical object with teeth on one end, and smiled triumphantly. Then a floorboard creaked --

She had time to turn around and see him, but not to scream, as the Colonel's hand clamped over her mouth. "There, there, Zipporah," he said with alcohol-laden breath, "I'm much more interesting than my clothes." Zipporah started struggling against him, but the Colonel snaked his other arm around her waist. "I saw you watching me all night, yes? Giving me more drink? I knew you'd want to come up here... good girl..." Her elbows and knees flew into him, but he was too heavy to dislodge. "Do your duty to your father, like Pharaoh's family or Lot's daughters... this house will not fall if I can just keep its blood pure..." He pushed Zipporah up against a wall. He was clad only in a nightshirt, and Zipporah could feel his erection against her thigh. "You're so pure..."

Zipporah nearly vomited. But she kept her wits, and tried to think of a way out. She could call for William, but if he found out she was trying to get the key to Hank's chains, they might never escape. Then she thought of another option. Zipporah bit the Colonel's hand, and when he drew it back, she shouted, "I'm... I'm not pure!"

"What are you talking about?" the Colonel said. "You're even purer than your mother was. Your child will be purer still."

"My child is—I'm already pregnant! You can't... do that now, there's already a child in me!"

The Colonel pulled back and slapped her across the face. "How dare you, Zipporah! After all the kindness I showed you... who is it? Is it one of the white hands, or..." He slowly looked around the room, settling on the pocket she'd been searching. "It's him, isn't it? You nigra slut! I'll fix the both of you! WILLIAM!"

William crashed through the door within seconds, and at first thought his worst fears were confirmed when he saw Zipporah slouched against the wall. But his father said, "This ungrateful creature has just told me that she is with child, William... by the beast in the pig-shed."

William's face reddened and twisted into a grotesque caricature of his own hatred. Zipporah knew she had to change her story. "No, William, it's not true..."

"Shut up!" screamed the Colonel. "She was just trying to free him. William, I want you to finally do your duty... break him."

"With pleasure, father, sir," said William. Zipporah howled when he started to leave the room, but he promptly re-entered and grabbed her by the wrist. "I'm locking her up until I get back," he told his father.

Zipporah tried to explain to William as he dragged her through the house, to tell him she'd only been trying to fend off the Colonel, but he wouldn't hear any of it; he already knew she'd been seeing Hank, and he filled in the rest. He locked her in her room, rounded up Androcles and a few others, and headed down to the shed.

Colonel Walker watched the party march down the hill by torchlight. Then he casually walked downstairs to Zipporah's room.

Hank heard the loud, angry group approaching his shed, giving him just enough time to hide his Bible and papers before they got there. Hank had just smoothed out his straw pallet and lain down on it when William unlocked the door and charged inside. The harsh torchlight filled every corner of the shed. Hank figured they'd finally come to punish him for learning to read, but he feigned innocence. "Master William! What's wrong?"

"You know damned well what's wrong, you filthy nigger!" William and the other overseers pulled Hank off the pallet; William slapped him in the face as he did so. "How dare you touch my sister?"

"Touch her?" Hank said. "What?" Then Hank realized what William meant. "I ain't touched her that way at all, Master William!"

"A nigger will say anything to keep his skin," said one of the white overseers, as he stripped Hank's shirt.

"I suppose so," William said, "and this one clings to his skin harder than most. I'm going to enjoy changing that. Get down."

"Please, Master William, you got to believe me --"

"I said, get down!" William kicked Hank in the groin, knocking him to the dirt floor. William unfastened his whip from his belt. The other overseers stepped out of the tiny shed, so the whip wouldn't hit them when he swung it. They watched through the door as William laid into Hank's unprotected back, more fiercely than he ever had before.

Hank didn't scream at all this time, just as he hadn't the first day he arrived at Walker Grove; after all, he was quite accustomed to the pain. Instead, he tried to reason with William. "You know I would never touch her --" he winced as the whip hit his back—"she's a fine lady, and my master's daughter --" he winced again—"and I couldn't do it, as you stuck me in here --"

William cracked the whip once more. "I know she's been visiting you, you stupid nigger bastard. If I'd known she wasn't just teaching you reading--!"

"She—she wasn't teaching me!" Hank said, a little more desperately than he wanted to. "Wasn't even visiting me!"

"Both lies, nigger." William hit him a few more times, and exulted in the sight of the dark blood running down his back, reflecting the torchlight. But Hank was already healing the blows, and he wasn't even screaming this time. It wasn't as satisfying as William had hoped. William knelt down by the prone, bleeding slave. "What does it take to break you, nigger? What will make you give in?"

"This body don't give in to nothing," Hank said. For the first time, he was proud of that.

William actually laughed. "Your body ain't supposed to give in, you stupid black ape. We need it to work in the fields. It's your savage mind that I will shatter."

Still gasping from pain, Hank said, "You ain't done a good job so far."

William jumped up and kicked him in the face. "I will see you broken for that, nigger! Whatever it is you love most --" a kick to the kidneys—"whatever you think I can't touch --" a kick to the stomach, causing Hank to vomit up his meager supper—"I will find it and I will destroy it!"

Hank regained his voice as his stomach and lungs tamed themselves. "All because you think I did something I didn't do?"

William smiled. "No, nigger. I'm going to break you because you got to understand that black is meant to serve, and white is meant to rule."

"I used to understand that," Hank said, "until I came here."

William thought Hank actually meant that, but he kicked him in the face anyway. "This is all Zipporah's fault... teaching niggers how to read..." Then he remembered, Hank had lied about learning to read. As if that were more serious than being accused of defilation... "It really is because of Zipporah, isn't it? Boys," he called to the overseers outside, "I want one of you to run up to the library and get all my sister's books and such! The rest of you, get in here and toss the place!" The overseers piled in and started ransacking the shed; it wasn't long before one kicked aside the straw and found the papers.

"Well, I'll be damned," William said. "A Bible. And you just about wrote one of your own. Be a shame to burn all that writing." He held the Bible over one of the torches. Soon Joseph, Moses, and all the other risen slaves were consumed in flames, rising only as ash and smoke.

Hank screamed and lunged for William, but the other overseers held him back. William just laughed and started dropping Hank's pages onto the torches, one by one.

Soon Androcles came back into the shed, carrying the books that had brought Hank out of ignorance; William switched targets and started burning them. Androcles said that the Colonel was pounding on the door to Zipporah's room, but William no longer cared. "I've finally got you, nigger," he told Hank, "and I ain't stopping now. How smart do you think you are now, with your books all up in flames?"

Drops of sweat were rolling down Hank's cheeks, from standing so close to the flames, but he held his head high so nobody would think he was crying. "It don't matter... I still know how to read and write."

"Well, let me finish your education," William said, holding the alphabet primer over his torch. "Reading and writing only go so far. No matter how clever you are now, you're still in chains. And you will be forever."

William dropped the burnt primer onto the floor and stomped it into ash. Hank's body sagged, more water rolled down his face, and the faint sound of sobbing could just be heard over the flames.

William's laugh echoed over the whole plantation. Hank had finally been broken.

Zipporah shoved more furniture against the door to her small, windowless room. On the other side of the door, she could hear Colonel Walker pounding and shoving. "Come on, darling," he murmured. "Do your duty. I own you, you know... if you were any other mulatta girl, I could have had you long ago, and nobody would care..."

Zipporah tried not to think about her parentage protecting her for so long; it also made his lust doubly repulsive. She searched for a weapon, and found none, while the Colonel said, "Don't let the baby stop you, I don't really think you have one in you anyway. And even if you do, well, it would just mean I couldn't leave any, ah, evidence..."

Tears poured down Hank's face as the primer crumpled into hot, soggy ash. The last of Zipporah's books soon followed it. His body abused, his learning exposed, his books destroyed, his teacher under assault, his future in chains -- he'd felt terrible before, but Hank figured this was the lowest he'd ever been. Probably the lowest he'd ever get, although life as a slave had a way of always getting worse. And he couldn't even die to end it.

The lowest he'd ever get...

"What's that?" William said, as he was about to drop more of Hank's pages onto the torch. "Are you—laughing?"

Hank laughed even louder. "You're damn right I am! This is it, 'Master William.' It can't get no worse. You finished old Hank off good."

The bright glare of the torches showed William's puzzled expression. William laughed a little, too, as if perhaps the laughter was a sign of his victory. "You, ah, you're glad of that, are you?"

"Well, there's just two problems, 'Master William.'" Hank stood up straight; the heat evaporated the tears right off his face. "For one, if things can't get no worse, then I got nowhere to go but up. And for another, I ain't just old Hank."

"You've gone mad," William said, delighting in the totality of Hank's breakdown. "Exactly who do you think you are, then?"

"I don't know," Hank said, "but I'm better than this." He started thrashing madly against his overseers, trying to reach William. Unfortunately, he was still chained to the wall.

"Master William," Androcles said, "I think we need to get out of here. Too many people for this shed, and the torches..."

"Shut up, you spineless dog. I don't run from any nigger." While the overseers held the thrashing Hank, William stepped forward, brandishing his torch. "Let's see if he burns as easy as his books."

Hank saw his chance. He didn't know if he could survive the attempt, but then he of all people didn't fear death. As William stepped forward, Hank lashed out with his left leg, kicking it right into William's torch. The torch flew out of William's hands, bouncing against the far wall, then landing near some straw, and setting both on fire.

Hank laughed madly while the overseers fled the pig-shed. William was the last to leave, for he struck Hank as many times as possible before fleeing. Charred and coughing, William joined the others in watching the blaze. "Let the stupid nigger fry," William said as the flaming walls collapsed in on the slave, "suicide is still a victory for us. I won't miss that dumb bastard at all."

"Ah, master?" Androcles said, nervously. He didn't say anything else, he simply pointed at the burning shed...

The whole far side of the shed was on fire, and the flames were rapidly spreading to Hank's side. The shed was suffused in a yellowy- orange glow that hurt Hank's eyes, even as the heat hurt his skin. Blisters were popping up all over as burning embers fell on him; the roof had now caught fire, as well.

This is it, Hank decided. This was as low as he could get. He was in a cube of fire now: the roof and all four walls were raging sheets of flame, and even the floor was burning as stray pieces of fiery wood fell to it. Hank was happy to let it all burn, but then he saw that some of his pages were still unburned, and he flung himself on top of them just as a large section of roof collapsed. Hank got between roof and pages just in time; the wood fell on his back and set him aflame.

Hank's involuntarily will to survive kicked in -- it still wasn't quite gone, even after all this. He thrashed against his chains, but they were still firmly anchored to the wall, which had been the last one to catch fire. He knew he was going to burn before the shed was. If he could die at all, it would be tonight, and he would be glad for the release... but Zipporah would still be in trouble, and Hank wasn't giving up on her that easily. Everything that was Hank flailed against the chains.

It was no use; the chains held fast. Every hair on his body had burned off by now, and licks of flame were rolling up and down his body, charring his skin. The red-hot chains were searing him. His lungs filled with smoke, and he couldn't breathe anymore. His whole body, his whole world, was burning. Hank was burning. But he still summoned the strength to curl up in a tight little ball, around the fragile pieces of paper. They contained something else of him, some tiny little piece that he could not allow to die. Something that was immortal.

All four walls were weakened by the flames by now. One by one, the walls crashed down onto the burning man, their fiery wood piercing his side and torching his skin... he curled tighter around the papers... hot, like when he was in the desert, chained for so many years... he was burning... Hank was dying... burning...

Burning...

And then the final wall collapsed, and suddenly the chains were no longer anchored to anything. Dimly, dimly, the burning man realized what had happened.

He was free.

He stood up, though it pained him to even move anymore, and shoved aside the wood that covered him. Hunching forward over his belly to protect the precious scraps of his identity, he started picking his way out of the inferno, dragging the useless chains along behind him. He fled the blazing glare of the slave-shed, running into the light of the cool black night.

William watched as the burning man came charging out of the flames, loping in a strange, hunchback-like pace. He was clearly dragging the chains of Hank along behind him. Half of the whipping party assumed it was Hank's ghost, and tried to run away. William drew his revolver and fired it into the air, bringing them back under control. "Hold your ground, men! We're going to kill this godforsaken beast!"

William leveled his revolver at the man, cocked the hammer, and fired. It hit the man cleanly in his head, causing him to jerk up straight and stagger backwards. As he jolted upwards, some little scraps of paper floated down from his belly.

But the man didn't even fall over. He straightened himself, shook his head a little, and kept walking back towards the overseers. The hole in his head sealed up; even worse, his horribly blackened and charred skin was starting to look a little better. William looked at him in horror and realized he was no beast or ghost; he had been a man all along. He was Hank, and he was still marching forward.

William and the others fired more bullets at him, but they only barely slowed him down. The burning man drew back his right arm, then snapped it forward; the red hot chain went shooting past him, hitting one of the white overseers in his face. That overseer dropped to the ground, scarred and screaming; the others started to flee, for good this time.

William waved his revolver at Androcles and the other black overseers. "I order you to stop this man!" He saw Hannibal snap his left arm forward, hitting a fleeing white overseer in the back. "I, ah, I'm going to go up to the house to get help." William bolted uphill.

The few remaining overseers tried shooting or whipping the man, but now he would not be stopped. He whipped them back with his own chains, driving them away with the hot metal. Soon only loyal Androcles remained, backed up against a tree and firing a useless gun at the escaping slave. When he realized the gun wasn't loaded anymore, he slumped against the tree and wept.

The burning man just marched closer. "Did you really think hurting us would make you free?"

Androcles cried for all he'd done. "What in God's name are you, Hank?"

The burning man knelt down and grabbed Androcles's cheeks. His grip seared Androcles's skin, and left a crispy dark layer of his own. "Not Hank," he said. "Hannibal."

Hannibal walked past the weeping man, up to the large house on the hill. He left little flaming footprints.

William mobilized the overseers and servants into mounting a defense around the house; they holed up behind windows and doors, armed with rifles. William told the overseers to pile on Hank and grab him if they couldn't shoot him dead. William hoped Hank wouldn't make it inside, but just to be safe, he tried to find his father. When a maid told him the Colonel was trying to break into Zipporah's room, William remembered that Androcles had told him the same thing, and he cursed himself. What had he brought down on his sister and his house, by insisting on breaking that man?

William dashed to the back of the house, finding his father in the hallway outside Zipporah's room. The Colonel was still clad only in a nightshirt, using his cane to pry the door open.

"Father!" William screamed. "What are you doing?"

"William! You are to address me as 'father, sir.' Now go break that nigger. Your father is busy."

William could hear a few rifle shots from the front of the house. "Father, sir, that slave is coming up here. There might be some danger. You need to get out of here."

"Boy, did I raise you to be a weakling and a fool? Take some hands and stop him. I'm busy!"

William stood sharply at attention, trying to ignore what his father was busy with. "We can't stop him sir. It's those powers of his. Nothing can kill him. You need to go someplace safe." He could hear more shots coming from the front, then the sound of breaking glass.

The Colonel heard it, too. "Sounds like we do need to get out of here." William almost sighed in relief, but the Colonel quickly added, "But we need to get Zipporah out, too. Can't have her diluting my seed." The Colonel attacked the door with renewed urgency, prying it open and pushing aside the meager furniture that was blocking the entryway. William stood at attention, unsure what to say or do, though he could hear fighting in the main hall. And he could smell smoke.

The Colonel charged into Zipporah's bedroom, and William followed him, deciding too late that he had to be stopped. As soon as the Colonel entered, he found himself under attack by Zipporah, who swung a broken broom-handle at his head. Remembering his duty, William ran around his father and pulled his half-sister away.

"What are you doing?" Zipporah screamed. "You know what he's trying to do to me!"

William couldn't answer that; his usual excuse, 'He's my father,' was rather poor given the circumstances. "We've got to leave Walker Grove now," he said. "Something terrible is happening." More battle sounds were spilling in, this time a little closer; and there was something else, the sound of something dragging...

"There really is no time to waste," the Colonel said pragmatically.

"Then let me go and get the hell out of here!" Zipporah shouted.

The Colonel smiled sadly. "I can't, precious. You negresses will breed with anything --"

Zipporah sneered. "You're one to talk!"

"--and I can preserve my family, if nothing else. William, shoot her."

Zipporah and William both screamed, "What?"

"Shoot her," the Colonel calmly repeated. "If we let our Walker seed go to the niggers, then how could we ever tell black and white apart? How could we say we are better than they? It would undermine the body, the family, the plantation, the whole nation... So shoot her."

William stood rigidly still, clutching Zipporah with white- knuckled fingers. "No, father, sir."

The Colonel glared at his son. "What did you say, boy?"

"I said no. I won't do it."

"Then I will." The Colonel swung his cane, striking William's head. The son fell to the ground, shoving Zipporah across the floor as well. The Colonel leapt onto his son, hit him once more with the cane, and pulled the revolver out of his belt. The Colonel turned around and saw that Zipporah had run out of the room, so he slowly chased after her.

There was no sign of Zipporah in the hallway. But there was a strong smell of smoke, and a strange man's shadow on the wall, and a loud dragging sound: metal scraping across the parqueted wood floor, and something else... The Colonel readied William's revolver, and rounded the corner.

The escaped slave was at the other end of the hallway, just entering from the front hall. He was naked, bloody, and burned, but his wounds were getting lesser by the second. Firelight from the front hall cast a strange glow behind him. The man was dragging his chains behind him, and for some reason was using both hands to drag the chain on his left arm. "Colonel Walker," the man said, far too calmly.

"Hank, isn't it?" said the Colonel, aiming the revolver.

"My name is Hannibal."

"Ah, a classical allusion. I suppose a nigger wouldn't know that Hannibal eventually lost."

"I think I know better than you," Hannibal said. "I also know that you have to keep thinking I'm stupid, and you even have to get me thinking it, or else all your slavery falls apart." Hannibal walked slowly down the hall, dragging his chains, especially the taut one on his left arm. "And I know that this time, Hannibal wins."

"I think not." The Colonel fired at Hannibal, piercing his leg. Hannibal barely even slowed down.

"Your son already tried that," he said. "He failed, too. It was smarter to tell the overseers to try and grab me, but as you can see --" Hannibal tugged on his left-arm chain—"that didn't work, either." The rest of the chain came through the hall entryway; its loose end was still wrapped around the broken neck of one of the overseers.

Walker panicked and fired again, but this time he missed. Hannibal continued to walk down the hall, dragging the corpse behind him. "What are you so afraid of, Colonel?" he asked, grinning.

"You don't scare me, nigger." The Colonel raised his shaking hand and fired again, hitting Hannibal in the shoulder, achieving nothing.

"That's right," Hannibal said. "I don't scare you. I'm no monster." He lurched down the hall, shedding more burnt skin. "I'm just a man. So what do you see that scares you so? Is it the proof that you're not superior? Is it the end of your days of torture and rape? Or is it the past, your own crimes coming back for justice, that frightens you? Is it your own hate, your own lust, your own fear?" The burned, beaten, undead man shambled towards him. "Is it a mirror?"

The Colonel fired his last shot, impotently hitting him in the chest, failing to stop him. "It's over, Walker," said Hannibal. "Time to pay for all that slave labor."

"I'm still faster than you, nigger." The Colonel started moving back down the hall, as fast as he could on his cane.

But Zipporah ran into the hallway—it was safe now that the revolver was empty—carrying a dead overseer's rifle and a small iron key. While the Colonel staggered down the hall, Zipporah quickly unmanacled Hannibal's legs and left arm. They didn't wait to free his right arm, they just ran after the Colonel.

The Colonel actually made it back to the door of Zipporah's room. "William!" he screamed. "William, get out here! Your father needs you... William!" A chain flew into his back, knocking him down. The cane rolled just out of his reach. The Colonel crawled to the door, screaming, "William!"

William stumbled out of Zipporah's room, pressing a handkerchief to his bleeding head. He might have gone to help his father, but Zipporah rounded the corner, aiming her rifle at him. He ducked back into the room.

"William, don't!" the Colonel screamed. "Will--aggh..."

Hannibal wrapped his last chain around the old slaveowner's neck. The Colonel looked up into his eyes, silently pleading for mercy. "You never let us go," Hannibal said. But he looked to Zipporah for guidance. "He's your father."

"He sure don't act like it," she said. But she still looked the other way as Hannibal strangled the life out of the bitter, perverse old man.

William stood in the doorway, looking pale and ill. Hannibal slowly unwrapped the chain, saying, "And I owe you a lot of beatings, Will. I hope you can take it..."

"Hank, no," Zipporah said softly. "We've done enough, and he wrecked himself. Leave him be."

"I owe him, Zipporah," Hannibal said, pulling the chain tight.

Zipporah looked in his eyes—his were two little white islands in the crusty burned skin of his face, hers were two dark pools against her pale tan. "Would it make you any freer if you beat him?" she asked.

Hannibal slumped his shoulders. "I guess not." He took the rifle and held it on William while Zipporah undid his final chain.

"Let's get out of here," Zipporah said. "William can collect his inheritance."

They ran out of the house; a few minutes later, when William thought it was safe, he followed. He couldn't leave by the front, since somebody had knocked over an oil lamp and set the whole house ablaze. So William climbed out a first-floor window, then looked down the hill and out across his property.

The fire from the pig-shed had spread rapidly; so had the story of Hank's escape. The slaves, whom William had thought were so content with their little treats and so afraid of his little threats, were beginning a mass exodus. A few paused to torch the cotton fields, or the huge barns that stored the year's harvest. All around him, William could see nothing but burning riches, or black fields and sky.

William sank to his knees and wept. He had finally been broken.


[From the journals of Hannibal.]

Zipporah and I, and the rest of the slaves, all fled north. It was a long, rough trip—because of the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Law, we could not stop until we reached Canada—but nearly all of us made it. I settled in Canada for a while, living with Zipporah as my spiritual mate, if not my legal one. She bore a daughter in July of 1860, meaning she conceived her at Walker Grove; though Zipporah reassured me of the child's parentage, I was much relieved when little Ruth was born three-quarters black. I could have been quite happy with Zipporah and Ruth, but I devoted myself to two other purposes: ending slavery, and learning who I really was.

Zipporah's inspiration had started my recovery of my true self; my fiery ordeal in the shed completed it. With the last of "Hank" and his acceptance of slavery burned away, I was left only with the dignity and knowledge that Zipporah had restored to me. But my memories did not all return at once; for several years, I knew only that I was the immortal Hannibal, and that someone had greatly wronged me, and little else. I did not even go to the other immortals I remembered to learn who I was, for fear that my enemies or their descendants would capture me again.

When the American Civil War erupted, I decided I would focus on ending slavery, one bullet at a time. I joined the ranks of the 54th Massachussetts Negro Regiment; though led by white officers, it was the first all-black regiment and I thought I would be making a difference. I suppose I did; the 54th was placed in the front lines and sacrificed to Confederate fire, but we did show the world that we could fight for ourselves. And we did win the war. Yet although slavery was finally vanquished, racism and inequity were still very much entrenched, and I knew that I could better end those if I had my old station. I knew I had to find out who I really was; and I did as soon as I returned to Canada, through no effort of my own.

Zipporah, who had always done more to help me than I myself had, introduced me to an Englishwoman who had been looking for me. This woman, Ann Marie Vessey, was herself about one-eighth black; this did not surprise me, as I knew that the races were far more fluid, and more equal, than most whites would ever admit. I asked her if she was related to the Denmark Vesey who planned a slave revolt in 1822; she said no, but she suspected their names stemmed from the same source, for she was the great-granddaughter of a freed slave named Gustavus Vassa.

The name sent shivers down my spine. The shivers were doubled when Miss Vessey said she had brought two items for me: the last surviving doubloons with which Mr. Vassa had bought his freedom, a gift he willed to me for some reason; and a set of journals kept in his family's care for four generations. Miss Vessey said she had heard tales of my powers from some escaped slaves who had been driven to England by the Fugitive Slave Law; she soon suspected I was the journals' rightful owner. Ms. Vessey waited until she could locate me after the war, and then brought the doubloons and journals over personally.

She handed the package over to me, right there in Zipporah's small apartment; as as I tore open the wrapping, I realized that I had found myself again. My memories came back faster than I could read them in the journals; I even remembered events I had not set down to paper. Most especially, I remembered the one event I could not set down to paper, an event I set down here for the first time...


[London, England. April 19, 1787.]

Hannibal entered the elegant parlor of his protege, the immortal alchemist St. Germain, and allowed the footmen to remove his coat. As St. Germain promised, only two members of the Invisible College were present for the summit; Hannibal had observed the building for several hours and made sure no others had sneaked in or stationed themselves nearby. He and St. Germain were at least matches for these petty magicians, and with the footmen—homunculi grown from St. Germain's own body—the immortals had a clear advantage. Hannibal preferred to negotiate from a position of power whenever possible.

St. Germain, whose mind was currently in a thirteen-year-old body, hopped down from his chair and waved his hands in small circles, making an aristocratic gesture of excitement. "Monsieur Hannibal, I am so glad you have shown! At last, we can put these centuries of squabbling behind our great organizations. May I introduce Sir Francis Dashwood and Joseph Balsam of the Invisible College."

Hannibal shared polite but tense handshakes with both men. "May we get down to business?" Hannibal asked, taking a chair. "Our little clubs have been feuding for far too long now, over far too trivial a reason. All the principals involved in the matter are dead now."

"Except you," Dashwood said calmly. He was a pallid, enervated man who hid his grotesqueness behind powder and beauty marks.

"What is that to you?" Hannibal asked indignantly. "I did not even prevent your predecessors' petty little murders. What does it matter to you if I want to work in England now?"

Balsam, a dark, serious man, said, "I think we can drop the pleasantries."

Hannibal dove from his seat just as Balsam's spell hit it, blasting a hole through the upholstery. Hannibal grabbed a small footstool and lobbed it at Balsam, knocking him backwards. Hannibal scrambled for cover behind a chaise longue so he could prepare a spell of his own. "Georges," he shouted at his protege, "quickly, repel them!"

St. Germain placed both hands up on the tall arms of his chair, and calmly swung his feet a few inches above the floor. He looked for all the world like an innocent little boy. "I don't think so, M. Hannibal," he said sweetly. "Osric, Seyton, try not to damage the furniture."

The homunculi footmen charged into the fray as well. Hannibal rapidly cast a simple force spell at the charging Osric; a sticky white spray exploded out of the back of Osric's head, and he fell. But Seyton managed to tackle Hannibal, giving Dashwood and Balsam time to cast more spells. Four more footmen ran into the room. St. Germain simply sat in his chair, watching. Hannibal lashed out with everything he had, but they were too well-prepared. He only hurt a few of his attackers before sheer numbers overwhelmed him. He was dragged to the floor; his wounds were already healing, but his body was pinned and his mind was numb.

He looked up at his attackers, and mouthed a few words while he still remained conscious. "Why... why?" he asked.

"Because we can, you African filth," said St. Germain, hopping down from his chair gleefully. "Because you made too many enemies over the years."

Hannibal was feeling more numb each second. "Didn't... didn't want to give away... your processes?" he asked.

St. Germain laughed. "My processes would never work on them. You were the deal all along." The thirteen-year-old immortal spit in his face. "That's what you get for treating me like a child. You won't be so high and mighty when you're the servant. You won't think you're so smart."

Hannibal couldn't even move anymore. Something was affecting his mind. "I am using a version my mind-transference spell on you," St. Germain said. "It normally fails to transmit any mind but mine, leaving the new mind blank, but the original one unharmed. I'm simply adapting some techniques of Dr. Mesmer and my dear Count Cagliostro--" he pointed to Balsam—"and I am wiping out the original intellect entirely. You will have no idea who you are. You will be an ignorant, savage slave... for the rest of your life." Hannibal's senses were failing, but he could just make out St. Germain pouring three glasses of wine. "And the Vitalongae and the College will forever celebrate their mutual happiness, while you are in perpetual misery."

His senses were departing him, he couldn't even remember his own name anymore, but somehow he summoned the strength to speak. "I will not give up so easily..." he groaned. "I will return... I will find you... and I will have my revenge..." He ignored their laughter. "I will not give up..."

The rest was darkness.

[Washington, D.C. July 26, 1995. Two-forty-five in the morning.]

Jack slammed Hannibal's journal onto the floor. His worst suspicions were confirmed—his worst suspicions about everything. But worst of all, Jack knew he was sitting in the worst place possible.

Jack quickly grabbed all the journals and ran out of the library. He thought of running upstairs and grabbing the soul bottle that contained Astral and Hannibal's other valuable items, but he realized there was no time; besides, the journals seemed to be what he—or they—were really after. Jack sped through the foyer, opened the front door, and nearly collided with Kierthos, who was on his way back in.

Jack swiftly picked up the journals he'd dropped. "Didn't you go to Omega House?" Jack asked.

"I decided not to," Kierthos said angrily, "and it's a good thing I didn't! Those are new journals! Where the hell did you hide them?"

Jack sighed and stood up. "Okay," he said, "you got me. I hid them on the front lawn. Right out there." Jack pointed past Kierthos with his left arm.

Kierthos actually turned his head to look. And while he was distracted, Jack drew his gun with his right hand, extended his arm, and shot Kierthos squarely in the side of the head. He wasn't the least bit surprised to see sticky white semen come flying out instead of blood.

But Jack was surprised to see the wound heal almost instantly. This homunculus must have had the same powers as the real Kierthos, assuming there was a real Kierthos, and the real Kierthos could heal even faster than Jack. The thing was hardly disoriented at all, it just lunged for Jack. Jack retreated and fired a few shots—heart, kneecaps—which were all but useless. Then he ran through the mansion.

The Kierthos-clone was stronger than Jack, too, and only Jack's agility kept him from getting tackled. He wound a twisted path through the many rooms of the house, finally coming out just ahead of Kierthos back at the foyer. He didn't even grab the journals, he just ran out the front door. And this time, he slammed into an invisible wall of force.

The impact gave Kierthos time to catch up. He grabbed Jack from behind, twisting and dislocating both his arms. While Jack winced, a figure outside in the darkness dropped his spell and strolled in through the doorway. Jack had never seen this arrogant, middle-aged white man before, but he instantly knew him. "Please, permit me to introduce myself," the man said.

Jack wouldn't give him the pleasure. "St. Germain," he hissed.

The prodigal immortal insisted on completing his title. "...The Deathless."

TO BE CONTINUED...


Next issue: Oh, boy, is it to be continued! In the past, Hannibal journeys to the heart of darkness. In the present, Jack faces off against St. Germain and the truth comes out. What happened to Hannibal? Why does St. Germain hate him? What's going on? Do not miss the final issue of Epitaphs!


This issue's quote comes from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. That was my main source for this issue, along with Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror , although the events of this issue weren't as historically specific as other issues. However, the evils of slavery were all too real, and fortunately well-documented.

Kierthos (the real one, anyway) is created by and c. Specter. Kierthos regularly appears in Slayer, also from Omega. All other characters written by, created by, and 1995 Marc Singer. A Legacy House production.

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