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The sound of gunfire and flakes of brick shrapnel spur his race into the sewers. He runs recklessly, knowing it could be mere minutes before Kendall and his men force the steel door open and he must get out of sight. Heedless of the sodden, treacherous path, he pelts on taking every turn available until at last exhaustion takes over and he pauses to catch his breath.

Until an hour ago he was The Yellow Mark, the most feared man in London, slave and tool of the late Doctor Septimus. Now he is Olrik again, but a much-depleted version of himself. A wave of dizziness nearly knocks him to the ground but he manages to brace himself on the damp wall. It’s a disgusting feeling. Rats scurry at his feet. It’s hard to think, but think he must or his freedom will be short-lived.

One thing, at least, is clear. He must get to the surface. Down below, there are no safe hiding places and he is becoming disoriented and hearing pursuers from every direction. Olrik resumes his journey, but more deliberately this time, checking for possible exits. Just as the distant sound of footsteps sends his heart lurching, he spots his escape route and pulls himself upward, cautiously lifting the sewer cover. With no watching eyes evident, Olrik scuttles out of the hole and carefully replaces the metal plate. He runs to the nearest alley and drops to his knees besides a crumbling plaster wall. The snow is falling in large, heavy flakes. His tracks will soon be covered. Olrik leans on the frigid wall for support as he catches his breath. With a gasp of disgust, he realizes that he’s wearing the ridiculous pullover with the huge Yellow Mark that Septimus found so amusing. Cursing himself for an idiot, Olrik yanks off the offensive garment, turns it inside out, and puts it back on. The cheap, snow-wet knit is horrible on his skin and offers little protection against the weather, but at least he’s no longer obviously branded.

Without shelter, he’ll perish, Olrik thinks as he starts back into the street. It’s so bitterly cold and he has no coat, hat, or gloves. He doesn’t even have a handkerchief to cover his face or wipe his streaming nose. What luck to be stranded in a holiday snowstorm! If he had even five a few shillings he could get a cab. If he could even find a cab, he could perhaps force… but no, he’s in no state for a hijacking. On a normal night, he might have had a chance of lifting a coat from a restaurant or other business, but nothing is open for as far as he can see; bustling London is quiet.

Olrik forces his limbs into action by setting a series of small goals. Get to the corner. Get to the phone box. Get to the lamp. Get to the church at the end of the street. This church offers a bit of shelter with its recessed windows and overhanging gables. Olrik huddles near a door and tries to keep out of the wind that bites through his wet clothes. He is sick from whatever Septimus’s machine did to him and exhausted from running in the storm. Olrik sinks gracelessly to the ground, overwhelmed by cold and self-pity. He will die here, he thinks bitterly. He will die on the threshold of a damned church and those English pricks will make jokes about it. The thought of Blake and Mortimer laughing over his corpse gives Olrik an energizing spark of fury.

Think, dammit! He has contacts in London, or did at one time. Delaney is in… Kent? Surrey? Olrik used to know this. He can see the house in his mind’s eye but can’t recall his lawyer's address. Not that it matters, as Delaney goes south for the entire month of December. Olrik realizes that he had no idea who among his associates is in town or out of jail or alive for that matter. It occurs to him that what he needs right now is not so much an individual contact as an institution, something permanent.

Olrik pushes off from the stone wall of the church and forces himself to move on, one step at a time on icy, aching feet. Luckily, his aimless escape was more or less in the right direction and before he gets too far, a miracle occurs. He passes an elderly man urinating beside a chauffeur-driven Bentley and with a supreme effort he snatches the man’s overcoat and shoves him against the car, fleeing before the chauffeur can recover and run to the rescue. Within an hour of this satisfying crime Olrik is able to present himself at 13 Kensington Palace Gardens.

The password he gives the embassy guard is nearly two years out of date, but it’s enough to make the man listen to Olrik’s pleas for shelter and assurances that a certain occupant within would want to see him alive. The guard calls someone, who calls someone else, and eventually a brace of large, serious-looking young men, one blond, the other ginger-haired, take him inside and then through a series of hallways and staircases to a small but beautifully furnished office. The two men push him into the least comfortable chair and they all wait in silence while Olrik gradually recovers the feeling in his hands and feet. Eventually the door opens and a short, roundish man with large grey eyes sits down at the desk and gazes at Olrik with mild amusement.

“How lovely to see you at this hour! Our reports indicated you were most likely dead. We will have to update our files. Most annoying,” the man Olrik knows only as Ignatieff says with benevolent smile below cold eyes.

“I was… caught…” Olrik’s answer comes out in a rasp. How can he begin to explain the situation?

“How careless. Well? What brings you here?”

Rather than speak, Olrik drops his overcoat and peels off the black pullover. He hands it to the nearest guard, the blond, and quickly covers himself again. The guard shakes out the pullover to reveal the ridiculous yellow brand. Olrik sees Ignatieff’s look of genuine surprise and allows himself a bit of relief. He still has a little bargaining power here.

“Well,” Ignatieff says finally, “what an eccentric performance you have been giving us.”

Olrk shakes his head. “Not my idea. I was… caught.” He takes a deep breath to continue, but Ignatieff cuts him off.

“It’s late and tomorrow – or rather later today - is a busy time at the embassy. You are fortunate that I am in the, um, holiday spirit and that you apparently have something to offer. Come.”

Olrik rises and follows Ignatief, making an effort to walk steadily. The two guards are at his elbows the whole time and for a moment Olrik is certain they are taking him to some secret cell. To his surprise, he is led instead to an oversized marble bathroom retrofitted with all the modern conveniences.

“You might as well thaw yourself out while we get you something besides this ridiculous costume,” Ignatieff says. He turns to the guards and issues a few orders.

When Ignatieff leaves with Ginger Giant, Olrik steps into the shower and draws the curtain. He removes his remaining clothes and hands them out to the blond guard one at a time. The guard rolls up the bundle, indicates that he will be back in 10 minutes and leaves, shutting the door almost silently. At least they are respecting his privacy, Olrik reflects. That’s a good sign. It’s all very clinical, like going for a checkup or being admitted to an unusually progressive prison, but it’s a huge improvement over what he’s endured lately. Olrik allows himself a good long time in the hot water before reluctantly shutting off the taps. The sight of his own body in the mirror makes him grimace; he’s lost a lot of weight and there are just so many marks of every shape and color. More troubling is the trembling, which persists even though he’s now fairly warm. Before Olrik can take a proper inventory, there is a knock at the door, so he quickly wraps himself in two large towels. The blond guard steps in and hands him a bundle of clothes

“Put these on, please, and join us outside. He is waiting.” A nice, polite goon.

Olrik quickly puts on the clothes – a set of faded blue pajamas two sizes too big, a thin flannel robe and cheap slippers. All the garments are well-used and faded, but they’re clean and warm and whole. Likely the embassy has a large store of night things for surprise guests. Spent from the effort of getting dressed, Olrik has to once again focus on small goals. Get to the door. Open the door. Stand up straight in front of Ignatieff and his guards.

What follows is something of a blur as he is at first led and finally half-carried into a tiny bedroom in the top floor of the embassy. Olrik is almost too tired to be embarrassed as the two giants pull off the robe and slippers and manipulate him into the bed like a child. It becomes impossible to follow conversations as he drifts in and out of wakefulness, but at some point Olrik is vaguely aware of an icy stethoscope against his chest, strange hands which he tries to bat away, the pinprick of a needle. Finally, someone snaps off the light and he falls into a deep sleep.

The next morning Olrik wakes sweating in tangled sheets. A nightmare. He takes stock, noting that while he aches terribly and is still exhausted, he is at least no longer cold and his head feels much clearer. The bed is barely big enough to hold him, but it takes up most of the tiny, irregular room. They've stuck him in some former storage closet or maid's quarters. The wallpaper, hangings and bed are fairly new, however, and the room is cheerful enough in a fussy, impersonal way. There’s a covered glass of water on the nightstand and Olrik drains it with unseemly speed. The shaking he noticed last night is still there. An outsider would hardly notice it, but when he tries to hold his hands steady he can see them vibrating ever so slightly. Every joint protests as Olrik hoists himself out of bed, armors himself with the robe and stumbles his way to the convenience next door. This is a miniscule facility with only a toilet and a sink. He has no comb or shaving equipment so Olrik attempts to smooth his wild hair with water. The effort is still a bit much, so he returns to his bed and waits quietly for someone to acknowledge his existence. He tries not to think about the shaking or his newfound but definite clumsiness. A side effect of the telecephaloscope? A permanent impairement? Sometimes the sounds and smells of breakfast below reach him and he wonders what the ambassador’s family would do if he simply lurched up to the breakfast table and began filling a plate. To pass the time Olrik reads the only book in the room, a French version of The Old Testament. It’s the first book he's read in a year. Eventually, Ignatieff turns up accompanied by a servant pushing a small cart glittering with silver trays and pots… and recording equipment.

“Happy Christmas!” Ignatieff smirks.

“And to you,” Olrik replies. He’s decided that reserved politeness is the best strategy. Play the game as if you have something good in your hand. The servant converts the tray to a table, pours out hot drinks, and sets a plate holding a single poached egg and one piece of toast on a lap tray before leaving the room.

“We do not intend to starve you, but Dr. Babanin says you must take it slowly,” Ignatieff says with a small chuckle as he sips hot chocolate and balances a plate of elegant little French pastries on his knee. “He tells me you are suffering from severe overstrain and an as-of-yet undetermined degree of neurological damage, perhaps something like a minor stroke; also, a great many minor injuries that he will be pleased to treat once you have given an account of yourself. I assume you are capable of this?”

“I am.” It’s true. Everything that’s happened since that battle in the pyramid has come back in appalling detail.

Ignatieff nods and sets up the tape recorder. As he works, Olrik eats slowly and carefully, restraining himself from throwing himself upon the scanty meal. He does allow himself two teaspoons of sugar in the coffee. At this moment, it is the best thing he has ever tasted.

Ignatieff turns on the machine and looks expectant. With as little emotion as possible, Olrik explains what he remembers of Egypt, of Septimus, and the Mega Wave and his brief career as the most feared monster in London. Ignatieff, naturally, is particularly intrigued by the powers that Septimus’s technology granted him as The Guinea Pig. His large grey eyes glint with amusement as Olrik describes repelling fire and making the astounding leap into The Thames.

The session lasts for hours and as they progress, Olrik remembers more and more. He describes every detail, from the awful time spent lost and insane in the desert to the torture of his training as The Yellow Mark, to the escape through the sewers of London. Sometimes Olrik’s speech fails and he has to take several breaths before continuing. There is no question of stopping, however. Ignatieff is a relentless questioner and makes it very clear that Olrik can purchase shelter and help with quality information… or not. When it finally comes to an end, Olrik feels wrung out and exhausted.

“Your tremor is much worse,” Ignatieff notes rather smugly. “I don’t blame you. I read Babanin’s preliminary report. Such ill treatment.” The little man clucks in mock condolence. “Tell me, were you subject to sexual interference as well? Your Septimus seems the type.”

Olrik feels his face grow hot. He gives Ignatieff a hard, steady look. I am a killer, he thinks. I killed a man less than 24 hours ago, so watch out, you fucking bureaucrat. The little man nods with cold approval.

“Better, my friend. Anger is better than fear and misery, and more useful,” Ignatieff says. “You got out. Remember that. You are no doubt suffering from some kind of battle fatigue and will likely suffer from it the rest of your life.” He shrugs. “Professional hazard. However, you are here now and I am most pleased for the moment.” He pats Olrik on the shin. “Let’s get Babanin in here to take another look at you while I take care of some business.”

Ignatieff calls the servant who clears the plate and retrieves the recorder as Ignatieff gives more instructions in rapid Russian: doctor, clothes, razor, books, food and drink, and a better room once some other guests have cleared out.

Ignatieff turns his attention back to Olrik.

“You are lucky to be alive, but I’ve noticed that you are often lucky that way, if in no other. Rest while you can. We will talk soon.”

Ignatieff leaves and Olrik gets back into the bed to await the doctor. He is somewhat unstrung from the interrogation, but that will pass. This is a normal reaction Olrik tells himself. Besides the little bastard is right. He does have the damnedest luck, both for getting into massive trouble and for getting out of it alive. In a few days he’ll get out of here and then – well perhaps it will be no better, but at least he is still in the game.