Chapter 26

Jackhammer woke gagging as the fist melted his rock hard abs into jelly. His body tried to double over but the chains hoisting his arms above his head had been built to hold him. Likewise the shackles around his ankles kept his feet secured, digging into his flesh as his knees attempted to curl upwards.

He gasped for air and his mouth filled with the bitter taste of chloroform that made his head reel. He was naked, all except for a bandana tied around his neck, wafting its dizzying smells into his face. He looked up, trying to move his nostrils as far from the fumes as possible.

Crunch loomed before him, floating in and out of focus.

"Wakey wakey," Crunch crooned.

"What's happening?" Jackhammer tried to focus but his mind felt like waves on a shore, wafting in and out of his reach.

"Who would have thought something so simple could bring you down?!" Crunch flicked a finger at the bandana around Jackhammer's throat. " You really should pick your friends more carefully."

Jackhammer frowned, letting the words find a hold in his brain. He mouthed a silent "No!" Someone in The Brotherhood had betrayed them? Betrayed him?! He tugged hard against his bonds.

Jackhammer turned his face away from the chloroform-soak cloth around his neck. He had to clear his mind and think! Which of The Brotherhood had turned against them?

He thought of Gyan almost instantly: bitter for never being good enough to become a hero and strongly opposed to the mission; Vis, who lacked confidence, and was probably the most susceptible to outside influence; Brains, who held no real power but whose intelligence was...

Brains! It was Brains who had suggested chloroform back at the school when the team had been asked to think how they would combat someone as strong as Jackhammer. Brains had not only come up with the idea of using chloroform, but had suggested a rag be tied over Jackhammer's face to keep him unconscious.

Jackhammer groaned. Could Brains have betrayed them? He struggled against the idea. The thought of any one of those boys turning traitor stabbed him right in the heart. They may not have been the perfect battle troupe but they were all he had and he'd relied on them as much as they'd relied on his leadership. He refused to believe it.

"What have you done with them?" Jackhammer demanded, his voice weak from the chloroform.

Crunch smiled and held up a small wooden box that he'd been holding in his hand.

"What do you think?" he asked. "I cut off their thumbs. You wanna see?" He shook the box, it's contents rattling like a morbid toy.

Jackhammer knotted up. He fought back the bile.

Crunch opened the box and peered inside. "The dead don't feel any pain. The fingers are just a keepsake," he assured, as if it would make a difference to his prisoner.

"NAAARRRGGHHH!!!" Jackhammer thrashed madly. He would kill Crunch. He'd rip out his stomach with his fist and ram the innards down the murderous bastards throat!  The cry of rage that escaped him though, filled his mouth with the found taste and smell of the cholroform.  He gagged and sank back into silence, his mind a whirlwind of disbelief and horror. He'd promised to protect The Brotherhood; to lead them into battle and beyond but instead, their first confrontation had ended in this. Could they really be dead?

He felt the last vestige of hope drain out of him. Before him, Crunch smiled at the sight of Jackhammer buckling but somehow he didn't care what Crunch thought. He had blood on his hands. He had destroyed not only today's hope, but the promise of tomorrow's heroes. He alone had brought an end to the future.

For the first time in his life, Jackhammer knew he was defeated.

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