Saturday, September 22, 2018

Chapter 6


The Loki Exodus

Now Jane knew what it felt like to die.

It was not just pain she felt, but fear, fear of a nature that was entirely alien to her. Jane’s eyes darted back and forth along the walls of the dimly lit cavern chamber. A broad-shouldered man faced the rock wall opposite her, hunched over. He seemed vaguely familiar, but she could not tell from where: one eye was swollen shut, and her vision was blurry in the open one. Sweat dripped down the side of her face and into an unkempt beard. A deafening whir echoed through the chamber. Tiny sparks flew from behind the man, and a bright orange light rippled along the walls. While she perceived it all, she had no control over her movements. It was as if she were paralyzed, manipulated like a puppet on strings. It was cold. She must have been naked. She could feel that she was restrained somehow, but she could not turn her head to see what kept her in place.

The man turned around slowly, holding a wand-like device, its pronged tips glowing red. She felt intensified fear, genitals retract.

“Please, no” she pleaded. She did not recognize the voice. It was beaten, pathetic, not her own. The man stepped forward, face illuminated red from the device in his hand. He was smiling. She shuddered involuntarily. He hovered over her for a moment, and then crouched down, pressing his face close to hers, so that their foreheads nearly touched. She caught a glimpse of his dark, black hole eyes before she was forced to close her own. Then he started burning. The scream that spouted from deep in her chest surprised her. She struggled and twitched at each stroke branded into her flesh, but there was no escape.

I’m dying, she realized. I’m dying, and there is nothing I can do about it.

She felt every sensation, the labored breathing, the constricted vision and bright starry illusory spots. Slowly they faded, until she felt no sensation at all. No taste, smell, sight, sound, or touch.

Complete emptiness.

Then she found herself panting inside the obscuring device over her head. She pulled at the cuffs on her wrists and ankles that fastened her spread eagle to the rigid table, her fingers brushing against shallow crescent-shaped indentations in the metal, just about finger width. She could not tell if it was she or a previous tenant that had made them.

The device pulled back from her head, and she was met with the unflickering gaze of unnatural blue glowing eyes that completely overshadowed the otherwise unassuming appearance of a short man in street clothes. D’Arcangelo idly scratched his closely trimmed beard and then his equally short-haired scalp, wearing a mock look of regret. “Sorry, love, but orders are orders, and the Warden has the muscle to back them up. I don’t expect it to take much longer.”

Jane would have spat on him, but she doubted he would care. She also needed him, and provoking him would not convince the psychopath to join her. She had to convince him it was in his best interest.

Her head slammed into the table, and a sharp pain bit into her tongue. The flavor of copper seeped into her mouth. She arched her head back to get a look at her attacker.

“That will do, Dives. I’d like to be alone with her for the best results.”

Dives glanced down at her curiously and she glared back, upside down, fixed on her reflection in his visored helmet, then trailing her gaze to the faded insignia emblazoned on his drab gray pauldron: a crimson rose surrounded by a green circlet of thorns. Dives gave a shrug of his armored shoulders and turned to pass through a heavy black curtain that separated the chamber from the rest of the underground cavern. A flash of outside light rippled through the curtain, and dim lit chamber returned to the dull blue glow of D’Arcangelo’s cybernetic irises. Jane’s torturer smiled at her. “So you have been looking for me?”

“We are looking for the Leviathan,” she said, with sudden hope. Leviathan housed enough antimatter to light up a planet, in peace or in violence; an existential threat to anyone who didn’t control it, apparently worth a fortune. She would not need to tell him. D’Arcangelo knew full well its value. “We need your help to find it. We have a deal with the Vegacorp to get us off this moon. Help us, and you can come with us.”

He smiled at her in a way that chilled her bones. “I know.”

“Then you know that if you want our help, you’ll have to release me. Now.”

He did not respond. Instead, he stepped behind her and slid the wastebasket tube over her head, leaving her in the dark. She felt his footsteps wheel around and then suddenly she screamed.

It was just a flash of pain, but it was excruciating nonetheless.

“We’ve built up quite the library of sessions. I think you and I will eventually find one that fits.” He walked back and pulled the tube from over her head. “Do you wish to give me the access code now?”

“Not especially,” she said.

He shook his head. “All over a lousy crate of temporary material goods.” He pulled the tube over her head once more. She felt every sensation of dying, until she herself had died. Moments later she was resurrected, back on the table, with D’Arcangelo hovering over her. He held a pad in his hand, and was apparently taking notes.

He did not look up from the pad. “Shall we go through another round? Or are you ready to reveal the code?”

She wanted to stop him, to let the pain stop. But she could not. Her sense of duty to her people would not let her. That damned crate was the only bit of leverage they had. They needed to keep it. She needed to keep it.

“No? Okay then.” Once again he sent her into one of the torture sessions some poor individual before her had experienced. Once again, she was unable to perform any action whatsoever, forced to feel and act as they had, until their last moment of life—over and over and over again. She would have been awed at the creativity the likes of which this black-eyed monster could display, but she did not have time between screams.

Now she was thrust in the airlock to the surface, falling on her knees and scraping her palms raw. The monster had not given her the luxury of a vacuum suit, unfortunately.

Not this.

She stared out into the harsh landscape and tried to scream, but she could not. She could do nothing until D’Arcangelo let her, and he would not stop until she had experienced this man’s death. A sharp hiss indicated that the seal to the surface had been breached.

No.

A rush of air that was unfathomably cold and somehow corrosive. Her skin melted and froze at the same time. She attempted to move, only for his legs to buckle, and his skin to char. He tried to scramble back to safety, not caring that there was a foot of steel between himself and the inside. Dives stared at her from behind the viewing pane behind the door, with a look of smug satisfaction. Her sight went before her touch and she was still silently screaming in the swirling corrosive gas when she finally felt nothingness again.

Jane practically sprung up to give D’Arcangelo the codes. She gave all codes, any codes he could want. He looked at her curiously, and turned to the machine. She was still sobbing when he interrupted her. “A whole five minutes,” he said. “I am impressed. I was starting to fear that the Warden would suspect treachery with such a delay.”

She lifted her head to speak with him, but could not find the words. Her hair dripped with sweat. She felt exhausted, but except for some chafing from the wrist and ankle cuffs, there was no pain in her body.

“Speaking of my treachery,” he continued. “How do you propose we get off this moon without the corporations blacklisting at every available port?”

“What?” She asked, disoriented. “What do you mean?”

“You said we were going after the Leviathan. How are we going to get off the moon if we can't dock in any legitimate port in orbit around Odin?”

She regarded D’Arcangelo as he released the bindings. She would have lunged for him, but she did not have her strength back. Yet.

“You… want to leave with us?”

“Why would I want to stay here? Sure, compared to the poor saps in the mines and the fields, I am in Heaven. But this place is so restrictive, and I have learned as much as I ever will with these subjects and this equipment. Time to move onto greener pastures.”

She felt her voice quiver with uncontrollable rage. “Why do you think I would even consider allowing you to come with us? Why would I ever help you?”

“You said you needed me,” he replied, his head tilting slightly. “Has that somehow changed?” She pivoted on the table, and let her feet hit the ground, standing to meet his cheerful gaze. “Now that we’re done with all of that, I can even make sure the Warden keeps you alive. Everything is going perfectly for you.”

She had to clench her fists, her jaw, her toes to keep from attacking the man. As much as she hated to admit it, she did need him. As much as she wanted to strangle the man, to mock him for believing she would not act out of spite, she would not put her petty anger above her people. That is what a barbarian would do, not a citizen. Not a Regulator of the Freyjan Collective.

“Yes,” she growled, barely able to choke out the words. “Everything is going perfectly.”

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