Stagger stepMature

[Author's note: there is a giant, gaping plot hole in this chapter. I'm aware of it and I'm going to fix it as soon as I get to editing this one.]

My hands are bound behind my back, a bag made of dark, dense fabric that lets no light in over my head.  I'm being guided down a long corridor.  I can tell because my boot heels echo with each staggering step.  The positive effects of the drugs have faded, leaving my body and mind feeling stripped, scooped out, hollow.  I stumble, and the barrel of a gun digs into my back.

I hear a door open.  We pass through, and the air inside the next room is cool.  For the first time, I notice I'm drenched with sweat.  It starts to dry on my skin, and I shiver.

They stop making me walk.  A night stick or metal rod cracks me across the back of my knees, and I collapse backward into a chair.  They tie me to it, ropes around my chest, arms to the arms of the chair.  And then I'm left alone.

It all feels so familiar. 

Bright likes to tease me that everything I know I probably learned from TV.  That I was never a cop or a secret agent.  It would be nice if she were wrong for once, but—

Rule number one: Bright is always right.

Realizing I might be able to transmit to her, I try to get a message off.  It's odd that she's not shouting for a status report.  I fumble in my brain, trying to use the link silently for once, but the words tumble out anyway.  The only response I receive is a harsh buzzing in my head—the neurocomm channels are being jammed.

Bad news.  Bright doens't pay me to think.  She'd be the first to remind me.

The door opens again, and I listen as slow, even footsteps come towards me.  The bag is removed from my head.  It takes a minute for my eyes to adjust.

Everything in the room is a uniform shade of gray.  Even the light steaming down from the single fixture in the ceiling seems gray.  The man in front of me is short with a slight build, gray hair, gray clothes, muddy brown eyes behind sliver-gray rimmed spectacles. He carries a case with him, which he sets down on a nearby table.

From the case he produces a vial and a syringe.  I watch the motions of a ritual I'd preformed so many times myself and it triggers a twinge of muscle memory.  My body stiffens with anticipation. I tell myself no, this is not a good thing.

He brings the needle closer, rolls the sleeve of my t-shirt up over my shoulder.  My brain is starting to get the idea, and I tense with fear.

“Don't act like you're scared of needles, Mr. Reilly.  We've had you under surveillance.  We know how you spend your free time.”  He forces the needle into the bruised and aching vein inside my left elbow and I wince.  “This is a truth serum.  You're familiar with the concept?  There are a few little extras in here as well—something to relax you, which I imagine under other circumstances you might enjoy, and an injectable form of the virus contained in those 'special' bullets you happened upon.  I won't bore you with the technical details, but it will take all of your systems offline.  So don't bother trying to record our little chat for future reference.”

The drugs start to work their magic.  I feel my body going limp, and he's right—I can think of at least half a dozen scenarios where being tried to a chair and drugged, utterly vulnerable, would be appealing.  This isn't one of them.

There's an odd tingling sensation as all of my 'machines switch off.

“We'll start off easy.  What's your name?”

I want belligerence, I want indignation, stubbornness, defiance.  Instead, I hear myself recite my name complacently.  “Doghouse Reilly.” 

“What is the nature of your relationship with Immaculata Bright?”

“Strictly business,” the words come out with an unexpected edge—bitterness, cynical regret.  Goddamn truth serum.

“And what business do you do for Miss Bright?”

“Hands and feet,” I speak like a sleepwalker.  I'm in a sort of trance, a chemically-induced out of body experience.  “Hired goon.  Scavenger.  Price negotiator.”

“Why does she need you to do these things?”

“She can't leave the Sanctum.”

“Do you know what Bright's 'goal' is?”

“She wants to travel, to see the world.  To become data.”

“You understand that the process may kill her?  And that even if she succeeds, she will no longer exist physically?”


“She won't need you any more.”

It's not a question.

“How do you feel about that?”

“Fine.”  It's not the truth, but it's the lie I've trained myself to believe.

“Come now, Mr. Reilly.  It doesn't bother you even a little that you're aiding in your own planned obsolescence?”

“Doesn't matter.  I want to help Bright get what she wants.”

“Oh, Mr. Reilly.  You're not cut out for sainthood.  Martyrdom, perhaps?”  He pauses.  I'm having trouble focusing, the words drifting to me through a thick fog.  I start feeling sick as hell.  I can tell he's trying to suggest something to me, as though he thinks he can program me—but I have no idea what he wants.  I'm a bit dense normally.  There's no way I'm going to catch on to subtle cues in this state. 

This feels more like relationship counseling than an interrogation.  “You'd really sit back and let her destroy herself?”

I feel myself in third person, blank face, bloodshot eyes.  “She's doing the same for me.”

The words choke me.  My head lolls to the side and I start shaking.  Through the fog I can hear the interrogator shouting for help.

“Shit!  What's happening to him?”

I know, but I can't tell them.  They shut my systems down, and with no 'machines to counter the ill effects of the myriad of chemicals in my body, I'm overdosing.  I'm probably dying.  Second time this week.  If I were in any condition to have an epiphany, it would be something along the lines of realizing how dependent I am on the 'machines.  Right now I'm too busy trying to swallow my tongue.

“Kill the—”

They untie me from the chair, hold me down.

“virus.  We need his systems—”

Someone shoves a rag in my mouth.  

“back online now.  I don't need a dead man on my watch.”

Another needle.  At least this time he's kind enough to put it in my other arm.

My systems start to come back online.  I can feel them waking up, taking status reports, calibrating, scrubbing the toxins from my system.  It hurts, and I know they've established that screwing with my brain chemicals to relieve pain is a poor idea right now.

“That was a waste of time.  Dump him.”

I've never been happier to be useless.


The End

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