I tickled a man in Reno just to watch him laugh.
Everyone gapes at General Xu in shock. He gains his composure first and struts across the floor like a peacock, surveying the room. His eyes light up like a kid on Christmas morning. He exclaims that he knew they were up to something strange, but when his spies told him exactly what had been going on down here he knew he had to see it for himself. He barks a quick order in Chinese to one of his men and the soldier hustles over to the control console and starts trying to figure out what does what. Cleaver brushes some of the dust from the explosion off his immaculate suit and gathers himself. Now see here, he says to Xu, I am the CEO of Nanodyne Defense Systems and the owner of this facility. What makes you think you can just barge in here like this? Didn’t you people learn that you weren’t in charge here when we removed you from power? You only continued to hold your position because we let you. He says this with a satisfied smirk, the same one I’ve seen in a thousand meetings when he is berating someone he deemed inferior.
The old man’s speech took him face to face with General Xu, who seems greatly amused by it. Like a cobra, he backhands Cleaver hard across the jaw. The old man sprawls to the floor with a feeble cry, and Jenkins scrambles across the floor to his fallen boss. Cleaver looks at Xu with true fear, he isn’t used to these things being settled physically. Xu tells him that he is relieving him of this facility and all of his assets, effective immediately. He nods to the soldier at the control panel, who starts fiddling with knobs. Just like that, I lose control again and I start to stiffly approach Cleaver and Jenkins. Cleaver backpedals in terror, ordering me to stop where I am. I don’t fight it this time, I let all of the frustration and humiliation of all the years I bowed to him course through my veins and I actually smile as I stalk him. I grab his silk tie, and Jenkins tries feebly to swat my hand away. I kick Jenkins in the chin and pull the old man to my face. Mr. Cleaver, I say, consider this my resignation. I yank the tie and it closes around his throat like a noose. His eyes bug out of his skull as he chokes, vainly trying to take a breath. I keep tightening the tie and something squishes, I think it is his windpipe. With a final gurgle, he dies, the regal spark drains from his body along with his life, and he is just a sorry old man.
A renewed moan of fear rises from the rest of the board, and Jenkins crawls back to them with a bloody mouth. I let him go, the fear in his eyes is satisfaction enough. Xu orders them rounded up for processing, whatever that is. Two of the soldiers start binding the frightened executives, and the rest he orders to secure the rest of the complex. They all file out leaving only three armed men in the room, plus Xu. Molly and I stay quiet, unsure of what his plans for us may be. Candy looks sick to her stomach, and it is she that he addresses next. He says that he seems to recall selling her into slavery, and making quite a nice profit by doing so. He wonders if he would be lucky enough to get such a nice sum from her a second time. Candy starts to cry, shaking her head weakly. My anger rises once more and I tell him to leave her out of this and let her go. He smiles and informs me that I am in no position to make such demands. I puff up and tell him that if he doesn’t let her go, I will kill him myself. This greatly amuses him and he nods to the soldier in control, who sends me flopping to the floor. I struggle to move as Xu calmly walks over and steps on my throat with a heavy boot. He asks me to repeat that but my jaw is locked shut, I can only make frustrated growls as I fight to move.
Xu is occupied with Joseph and the soldier controlling him is focusing on keeping him on the floor. The other two are watching the board, who weep and cower at gunpoint. I dash full speed toward the control panel, and by the time anyone is able to react I am in mid kick. The soldier’s neck breaks with a sickening snap and he falls to the floor dead. Joseph bursts from the floor, knocking Xu on his back, as the other soldiers point their rifles and yell. Joseph picks Xu up and orders them to drop their weapons. Xu fearfully orders them to comply and they do. I tell Candy to retrieve the guns and bind the soldiers with the plastic ties they used on the Nanodyne people. She does so quickly, pausing on her way to stick her tongue at Xu. He struggles in Joseph’s grip, fumbling for the pistol at his belt. Joseph sees this and tears his belt off with one strong pull, sending the gun clattering to the floor and poor Xu’s pants to his ankles. Joseph throws him down hard. He begins to beg, sitting there in his tightie whities, promising safe passage from the country in exchange for his life. I walk over to stand next to Joseph, picking up Xu’s pistol on the way. I look at Joseph and ask if he would like to do the honors. He shakes his head and tells me to go right ahead. Xu is in mid plea when I shoot him in the forehead. His eyes go straight up and he falls to the floor drooling.
I survey the room to try and figure out just what the hell we are going to do next when my arm jerks without warning and shoots Joseph in the chest. Everyone is surprised to see Brandt, looking very much the worse for wear, struggling to work the control panel with only one functional arm. Joseph gasps but does not go down, and my arm swings toward Candy. She dives behind one of the bound soldiers just in time and I shoot the man dead. My aim swings back to Joseph, who is still standing there in disbelief. He finally moves and slaps the gun away with a mighty swat before I can get another shot off. Brandt frantically switches to control Joseph, since he can’t do both at once with his ruined arm. Joseph takes a step toward me but stops. I can see veins pulsing in his forehead as he fights with everything he can. As I watch in disbelief, he staggers to the soldier that I shot and pulls a grenade from the bandolier around the man’s chest. His breathing has become very labored, and I can tell that the gunshot wound has almost taken its toll. Brandt shrieks and fights with the control panel as Joseph approaches him slowly, like a zombie.
I can feel air sucking through the wound in my chest and everything is going blurry. Every muscle in my body is resisting, but I keep pushing. Brandt seems incredulous that I can actually fight his control. As I get close to him, he desperately stabs something on the control panel and I freeze. I summon every ounce of strength and will that I have left, shaking with the effort. Suddenly, something goes pop in my head and all I can see is red. The last thing I do before I slip away is pull the pin on the grenade in my hand.
I cry out when Joseph pulls the pin. He falls heavily on Brandt, pinning him to the floor. Brandt’s screams are cut off when the grenade between their bodies goes off with a heavy thump, making quite a mess and killing them both. I turn away, horrified, and swallow a gag. I look over at Molly, who also looks pretty shaken. She catches my eye and nods, acknowledging the pain of Joseph’s heroic death. She holds up her left arm experimentally, it looks like the blast also took out the control panel. She asks if I am ready to get out of here and I nod, hoisting up one of the rifles. She takes the other and we cautiously make our way out of the room, leaving the Nanodyne execs to be dealt with by whoever finds them. There are still scattered gunshots from all around the complex, the last of Brandt’s men holding off against Xu’s men. Molly finds an intercom system and picks up the microphone with a wink. She announces that Brandt is dead, Xu is dead, that there is no reason to continue fighting. Amazingly, the gunfire stops. We continue on, passing the occasional pocket of soldiers who watch us tensely, but allow us to pass. No one seems entirely sure about what to do. We find a huge ramp that leads to the surface, it looks like they used it to bring down and store vehicles. Molly finds a jeep and hotwires it expertly. I hit the control to open the hatch and we tear out of there, into the bright sunlight.
There is a lot of chaotic noise as we approach the town, and I am fearful of just what we will find there. As we get closer, I realize that the noise is cheering, many, many voices all singing happily. We roll in to see the townspeople in full celebration mode, dancing in the streets. An excited teenage boy runs up to the jeep and tells me that the peasants formed a revolution and overtook the hardliners. They are finally free, he exclaims, although I’m not really sure if he has any concept of just what that means. I ask Molly to take me to Pratima’s house, I need to make sure she is okay. When we arrive, I run from the jeep and bang on Pratima’s door frantically. I see scared eyes peer through the slot and then she opens the door with a joyous cry. We embrace happily, crying like a couple of girls. I promise her I would come back as soon as I help Molly get home.
We head to the Ministry of defense, where a collection of village elders has quickly been assembled to rule. Molly tells them everything, about the abductions of townspeople for experiments, about the puppet government, and about Xu’s defeat. The elders converse briefly, and promise Molly that she will be allowed safe passage from the country. She breathes a sigh of relief and turns to me. She says that she is glad to have met me, and that she hopes I lead a long and happy life here. We embrace tightly, sharing the memory of Joseph, and she leaves with an escort to go wherever life may take her.
They are just starting to release the various political prisoners that the hardliners were holding, and I am overjoyed to find Chirag alive. A little shaky and malnourished, but alive. I make sure he is ok and go back to Pratima’s house. She asks me all about my grand adventure, but exhaustion hits me like a tidal wave and I assure her that I will tell it all another day. She pouts but leads me into her bedroom where I crash hard and fall asleep almost instantly. As I drift away I am comforted by the joyous sounds of the town all around me. I think things are going to be ok.
My new employer, Red River Security and Retrieval, is a lot more fun to work for than stuffy old Nanodyne. They looked a bit doubtful when I strolled in and told them I was looking for work, but when I took my new boss down with a Judo move, they got a whole lot more receptive. I even got to learn all sorts of cool new stuff, like zero-G fighting and psychic combat. I’ve sort of shacked up with a guy named Reese, one of the instructors. I say sort of because relationships between instructor and student are frowned upon, and neither of us know how serious we want things to get. The sex though, my god it is amazing and worth every hour of the grueling physical training required to stay at the top of my game.
Sometimes I think back on my old life, and how if it weren’t for the whole awful mess that happened, I would still be meek little Molly the wallflower. Now, I’m badass Molly the mercenary, and no one dares mess with that. When I first got back to the States, I turned in my resignation with Nanodyne immediately. Things were in such chaos, with the CEO dead and the board missing, that I don’t think anyone ever noticed. It seems they were having trouble with the authorities in determining just what exactly happened. Hell, I was there and I still couldn’t explain it all. That was when the U.N. got interested, and it was all downhill for them from there. Last I heard the corporation was liquidated, and more than a few bigshots were arrested.
During my first job with
My days are pretty much routine, unless there is a job. I train in the morning, meet up secretly with Reese for a bit, train some more, horse around with the guys, and hit the sack. I stopped counting how long I’ve been with
Other than a few other minor goofs though, we run an extremely tight outfit. Our reputation for efficiency and discretion was unparalleled among all of the other private security firms. I was welcomed into the fold quickly. There was no macho bullshit here, once they realized that I was perfectly capable of kicking ass like anyone else, I became a member of the family.
Maybe I’ll settle down and go back to a normal life when I’m old and can’t hack it anymore. But for now, I’m having too much fun. If there is a heaven, I hope Joseph’s self-sacrifice earned him a golden ticket. And if the powers that be lighten up on the whole “thou shall not kill” thing, then just maybe I’ll see him there when my ticket gets punched. We’ll have a beer together. Things are good, and all I can do is hope that they stay this way. Unfortunately, circumstances have a way of changing just when everything falls into place like you want it to be. All I can do is stay sharp, and try to keep my ass out of the fire. I hope Candy is doing the same, wherever she ended up.
One of the soldiers knocks on my door and tells me that Brandt wants to see me. I exhale sharply to push out some of the nervousness that has begun to buzz in my stomach and I follow him out. The walk is long, almost the entire length of the complex. When we enter the large room I see Joseph doing absolute amazing acrobatics, I don’t know what the hell they did to him but I can’t help but be impressed. Maybe they replaced something of his too? I doesn’t seem like it has been long enough for him to master it to that degree. The soldier stops me at the doorway and no one notices me come in. I realize with no small amount of shock that the Nanodyne board of directors are here, clapping and enjoying Joseph’s show. Brandt is in the middle like a ringmaster, fielding questions about Joseph and boasting about the great future of Nanodyne. He tells the soldier to go get the test subject, whoever that is, and the poor guy marches off on his next quest. Joseph finally notices me and I see that his eyes are wide with terror. He does not move, just stands there with his arms at his sides, breathing heavily.
Brandt tells the big wigs that the demonstration will begin shortly and walks over to me. He quietly tells me that he has a very important job for me. He explains that Joseph will kill someone to prove that they have complete control over him, and when he does I am going to kill the board of directors to prove my loyalty. I look at him, shocked beyond words. He says that Nanodyne has lost its way, that the fossils and yes men gathered in this room have no stomach for the decisions required to be true competitors in the ugly world of arms dealing. Once they have been removed, he can finally step in and help Nanodyne take its rightful place as the world’s greatest and most powerful defense companies, powerful than some whole countries. Governments will fall over themselves to stay in the corporation’s good graces. Wars will be decided by what will be most beneficial to Nanodyne. And it all started with me, he says with an affectionate smile, and he will never forget that. He loves me like a daughter. The look in his eyes, ranting speech not withstanding, tells me that he has completely lost his mind. I can’t think of what to say, and my hesitation visibly angers him. Kill them, he hisses, or he will order Joseph to kill me as well. The soldier returns and the surprises keep on coming because following him is a very lost and confused Candy. The test subject, now I get it.
Just when I formulated a nice little plan to bolt as soon as they open the door and run out of here as fast as I could, come hell or high water, a soldier opens the door and I completely lose my nerve. Without a word, he grabs my arm and starts to drag me down the hall. I fight and swipe at him, but his grip is iron and he doesn’t even seem to notice my meager blows. He pulls me into a large room and it looks like the gang is all here. There is Joseph, looking happy to see me but standing firmly in place, Molly looking surprised to see me but white as a sheet for what I assume to be different reasons, and Brandt, eyeing me with an evil grin. There are a bunch of suits on the opposite side of the room, watching me with interest. I start to ask what this is all about but the soldier throws me to the ground roughly. He steps back while I hurl insults at him and Brandt takes the floor. Ladies and gentlemen, he says to the suits, this piece of trash is a drug dealer and a prostitute. That’s really not fair. He says that I am a blight on society, that filth like me is what keeps the world in such constant turmoil. He is really laying it on thick. I don’t recall him complaining when I was shoving light bulbs up his ass while he cried and called me mommy. As a demonstration of our complete control over subject beta, he continues while pointing to Joseph, I will now order him to kill this girl and rid the world of one small bit of the slime that thrives on misery. Oh shit. I hop to my feet and back away, looking for a way to escape. The soldier stands at the only door in the room, and he looks ready for action. Brandt looks Joseph right in the eyes and simply says “do it.” Joseph doesn’t move at first, eyes wide with disbelief, but he haltingly starts to advance toward me, walking like Frankenstein. I try to reason with him, as he gets closer, I tell him he doesn’t have to follow this crazy asshole’s orders. Unfortunately, my pleas appear to be falling on deaf ears because he keeps on coming. It looks like I am going to have to take him down.
When he gets into reaching distance, I kick him square in the nuts. I have used this old standby many, many times to great success but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it have absolutely no effect. He just stands there, grimacing in obvious pain, but makes no move to indicate that I did anything but hurt his feelings. In my surprise, I forget that I should be retreating, and my chance passes up as he wraps his hands around my throat and begins to squeeze.
Oh god no, please don’t do this, I have to stop but I can’t make my arms listen to me and let go of Candy’s throat. My balls are screaming in pain from when she kicked me, but I keep on going under Wong’s control. Candy is crying and begging through choked sobs, and I start crying too. I can’t kill her, I love her, I have to fight. No matter how hard I try though, it is no use. She is starting to black out, I can see the light fading from her eyes. The board are all intently watching this poor girl get murdered, as if they were watching a movie. Cleaver seems satisfied, I think this is the first time I can ever remember him looking pleased by my actions. I notice that Molly is stalking up behind them all unnoticed, and for some reason she has a large pistol in her left hand. She has the barrel pointed at the back of Cleaver’s head, and I forget about the fact that I am choking Candy to death for just a moment to wonder why in the hell she is about to shoot our boss.
The only sound in the room is Candy’s terrible choking screams, which grow fainter by the second. Everyone else has their breath held, watching this disgusting spectacle. No one notices me pull a gun and walk right up behind their row of chairs. Wong is furiously concentrating on controlling both of us and Brandt is next to him, watching me and mentally goading me on. My gun is inches from Mr. Cleaver’s head, and I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Do or die time. The crowd gasps and I open my eyes to see that Joseph has managed to pull one of his arms away momentarily. Wong regains control and snaps it back to Candy’s neck, but that was all the distraction I needed. Before he can react, I toss the gun into my right hand and shoot Wong in the throat. That was messier than I planned on, blood sprays the console as he falls to the floor gurgling and choking. Brandt ducks behind the console when I point the gun in his direction. The control link severed, Joseph releases Candy and they both fall to the floor. She is barely conscious, but she still manages to kick him in the face as he hold his groin and apologizes profusely. The board have all begun to panic, and they take to their feet and scurry to the door. Lucky for me they are blocking the line of fire of the soldier who wants very much to shoot me. I yell for Joseph to get up and get Brandt before he can, and I am too late as he manages to reach up to the console. My left hand snatches the gun from my right and points the weapon to my temple. So much for that plan. I close my eyes and wait for the shot but instead I get the wind knocked out of me as a heavy body crashes into mine and knocks me to the floor. The gun goes off and deafens my ear, but I don’t feel any pain. I open my eyes to see Joseph on top of me, pinning my left arm to the floor while Brandt makes it fire harmless rounds into the wall. He figures out the controls for Joseph and now he is choking me instead. I try to hit him with my right fist but I have no leverage, and hitting him is like hitting a wall. I start seeing spots, it looks like this is finally the end.
When I finally get my breath back the room is in complete pandemonium. The soldier at the door is trying to clear away the panicking suits who are clinging to him desperately for protection. Joseph is on top of Molly and apparently choking her now, and Freidrich is hiding behind some big console, twiddling dials and watching them. It all clicks now. I charge Freidrich with a furious shriek and damn near kick his head off. He falls to the floor with a cry and Joseph jerks back off of Molly. The guard finally pulls clear and aims his rifle at me, but Molly shoots him clean through the heart and the poor bastard crumples to the floor without a sound. Joseph storms over, fire in his eyes, and pulls Freidrich off the floor. He raises his hand to punch his face in, but the floor buckles hard with a massive explosion from somewhere else in the complex and everyone freezes. Jesus, what the fuck was that? There are shouts and gunshots from outside the room. Freidrich manages to pull away from Joseph and he runs to the downed soldier, pulling the man’s radio from his belt. Molly tries to shoot him but the gun clicks and it sounds like she is out of bullets. Freddy screams into the radio to initiate termination of alpha and beta, but the panicked reply on the other end apparently isn’t a confirmation. The hootenanny outside is really starting to sound close, there are small explosions and the screams of men dying just outside the door. Freidrich picks up the dead soldier’s rifle, cocks it, and gets absolutely demolished by the metal door as it is blown off of its hinges from the outside. The thing knocks him clear across the room, and it looks like that will do it for him. I can only see his lower half from under the door where it landed, and I am oddly reminded of the Wizard of Oz. I half expect his legs and feet to shrivel up and disappear. The smoke from the charge clears and who should walk in but General Xu, accompanied by quite a lot of men. He looks just as surprised to see me as I am to see him. I backpedal and stand next to Molly, who is standing there like she is ready for a fight. Joseph joins us, and we stand there and wait for Xu’s move.
I can feel the searing heat of the glowing branding iron begin to burn my skin before it even touches me. The brander holds it just inches from my forehead, taunting me. Fayed watches, grinning like a wolf. Even the slave quarters guard is here, apparently someone woke him up. He watches angrily with a rag to the back of his head. I am guessing that he is in for some sort of punishment as well, for letting me escape. I am crying hysterically, begging and pleading and cursing and whatever else I can do to convince them not to brand me. I never relied solely on my looks to get by, but it was a nice option in a pinch.
Just before he plunges the white-hot metal into my vulnerable flesh, there is a large commotion upstairs. Fayed’s attention snaps upward and the brander backs off just a little, looking up as well. The commotion continues down the stairs they dragged me through and who should burst in the door of the torture room but Freidrich Brandt and a handful of armed new regime soldiers. He tells Fayed to stop what he is doing, which obviously doesn’t go over very well. Fayed demands to know the meaning of this intrusion. Freidrich tells his men to lower their weapons, to try and calm the room a little. He tells Fayed that he has come for the slave girl, and with a jolt of relief I realize that he is talking about me. He says that he is willing to pay any price that Fayed thinks is fair for my release. Fayed’s gaze travels back and forth between me and Freidrich, I can see in his eyes the internal struggle between greed and cruelty. Luckily for me, greed wins and he names a ridiculous price that makes me feel awful important. Freidrich nods without hesitation and one of his soldiers pulls an astonishing wad of bills from a knapsack. Freidrich hands it to Fayed, who tosses it to one of his guys. He approaches me and takes my chin in his hand softly. This is the luckiest day of my life, he says, he hopes that I will cherish it forever. Fuckin’ A right I will.
They release me and I run over to the apparent safety of Freddy and his guards. I shoot a hateful glare at that little snitch Bilanna and she sticks her tongue out at me petulantly. Her loss. Freddy takes me by the arm and we retreat out of the palace slowly and carefully, things still just a little bit tense. When we walk out into the stifling hot air and I am finally free, joy bursts from my heart in a way that I never thought it would again. I take Freddy’s hand and begin gushing my thanks, and he responds by slapping me in the face. He calls me a whore and tells me to keep my filthy mouthy shut until I am spoken too. I must say, that was not the reception that I expected.
We board a helicopter and take off, the soldiers watching me closely. I start getting quite nervous, perhaps I have just been rescued into a situation worse than being a disfigured sex slave for the rest of my life. If that’s even possible.
The helicopter drops us off seemingly in the middle of nowhere then takes off again. One of the soldiers starts to fiddle with a metal hatch, which is the only distinguishable thing in the area. Freidrich pushes me to the edge and I look down to see a ladder descending into blackness. He tells me to climb down, so down I go. The drop is huge, and a fluorescent glow gets brighter as I reach the bottom. Freddy is right behind me, or right on top of me as it were. I finally reach the bottom and gape in astonishment at the huge space we are in. Some sort of underground complex, apparently that’s where he has been hiding this whole time. I’m still confused about the soldiers accompanying him but I don’t want another slap so I can’t really ask about it. If Freddy came to take me from Fayed, then Joseph must have found him and might just be here too. Hopefully he can talk some sense into mean old Freddy here, if I can find him.
I am hustled down long, featureless hallways, passing the occasional posted guard along the way. This place is huge, I can’t believe I never heard about it. We come to a door and Freidrich opens it, shoving me inside the small living space. He shoves me in and tells me to stay put and not to make a sound. With that, he locks the door behind me and I am alone with my chaotic thoughts.
I can’t stop pacing around my room. Physically dismantling those men was such a rush, but part of me is very concerned about just what they have turned me into. At the beginning, Brandt said that I was going to be some sort of super soldier, but I never considered the life that would accompany that. I especially didn’t think that I would not have control of a part of myself ever again. Is this how it is going to be? The life of a hired gun, traveling to exotic locales and killing who needs to be killed, just like in the simulations? I thought those were all fun and games, I never imagined that Nanodyne might be involved in so much violence and intrigue. Unless they plan on selling me as a weapon, the company is a defense contractor after all. I still have no clue how Joseph is involved in all of this. I never thought that I could be honed into a ruthless killing machine but they did it. Could they do the same to him? I laughed with the thought, I couldn’t even imagine Joseph being trained to kill roaches.
One final test, then I begin the life of a mercenary. I think back to how things were back at home, and what, if anything, I was really giving up. My cozy little apartment. My modest group of friends who would more likely be classified as casual acquaintances as far as anyone else might be concerned. My mother, who might just start to be wondering where I’ve gone if she has even noticed that I am not around. The job I took just to pay the rent until I could find a useful way to benefit from my psychology degree. The company oath that I swore without even considering the consequences. Breaking the oath is tantamount to treason, and Nanodyne is fully legally entitled to punish treason with death. I have to remember to be more careful with what I agree to in the future. Physically wired but mentally exhausted from all of this introspection, I take a sleeping pill, then two more, and fall into a fitful sleep. The big test is tomorrow, I want to be in my best shape.
This time when I wake up I am relieved that I can open my eyes. I am in an operating room, on a table, and my head is killing me. I sit up and groan with the wave of pain and nausea that accompanies being upright. There is a pitcher of water next to the table and I drink straight from it as if I was dying of thirst. A man in doctor gear that I don’t recognize comes in and asks how I am feeling. I hoarsely tell him about the headache and he nods, making his way to a tray of needles. He tells me to relax and plunges a syringe gun into my neck. Just like that, the pain floats away and I feel absolutely dreamy. He looks into my eyes, tests my reflexes with the little rubber hammer on the knee trick, and asks if I feel well enough to stand. I agree that I do and rise, a little unsteady at first but not too bad. He asks me to stand on one foot and hold it, which I do without too much difficulty. He has me touch my nose, do a few jumping jacks, walk a straight line, it is starting to feel like I got pulled over on a DUI. Finally, he seems satisfied and he hands me some clothes telling me that he will be in the next room while I change. I put on the clothes quickly and head out of the operating room.
There are big consoles and blinking lights all over the place, it looks like some sort of control room. Brandt is huddled over a mound of diagrams and papers. He acknowledges my presence with a slight nod and asks how I am feeling. I reply that I feel pretty good and asked what happened. He puts down his pen and approaches me, looking me right in the eyes. He explains that I, along with Molly, were chosen specially for an exciting project. It may be the drugs, but I am actually more impressed about this than upset. When I ask about the experiment he grins and cryptically says that I will find out soon enough. He glances over at Wong, who I didn’t even notice was sitting at one of the big consoles, and asks if he is all set. Wong nods, pushes a button, and just like that I can’t move. I start to hyperventilate and Brandt tells me to calm down, they are just getting some baseline rest readings. Since I don’t understand what he means, this fails to reassure me. Without any input from me, my arms shoot straight out, hands turning to face upward, my knees bend, then the whole routine is topped off with a little hop. The only thing under my control is my eyes, and I look over to see Wong looking very pleased with himself. Brandt also seems quite tickled by the display. My body stands upright stiffly, then does a ridiculously acrobatic back flip that I know I never would have been capable of on my own. Apparently everyone else is just as impressed as I was. Wong does a few more tricks with my unwilling body, then like a flick of a switch I am back in control. I back up against the wall in horror, staring at the hands that are once more acting as they should. I ask what the hell they did to me and the smug bastard Brandt again tells me to calm down. He explains that they have implanted a device into my brain that allows them complete control over my motor functions. Under their direction, I am capable of much, much more than I ever have been before. I ask why me, and he chuckles. Apparently my psychological profile indicated a strong desire to serve and to succeed. Now, thanks to the gift they have given me, I can be the greatest asset Nanodyne has ever produced. Even through my panic, I kind of like the sound of that. I ask why they would need control of me and he tells me that my successful procedure opens the door to the possibility of an army of soldiers that can be controlled with perfect efficiency by a single tactical mind. Molly was the first step, once they figured out how to control one limb it was a hop, skip, and jump to full body control. She was an unexpected success, but I, he says, am a veritable masterpiece.
He orders one of the soldiers standing at the door to accompany me to the mess hall. He tells me to get a good meal and go to my room and rest. It has been a big day. I am too flabbergasted to protest, so I obediently follow the soldier. I eat spaghetti but I don’t really taste it, my mind is reeling too much for me to do anything but robotically shove the food into my mouth. Unless I’m not doing that and it is them controlling me once more. With a start, I drop the fork and a few other diners look at me quizzically. Am I going to spend the rest of my life wondering if I am the one controlling my every move? Oddly enough, the first thought I have is about jerking off, and how uncomfortable that is going to be in relation to this train of thought.
The soldier looks at me to ask if I am finished, and I nod. We walk to my room and he leaves. I sit on the bed and try to slow my heart rate. The company oath said something about them owning every part of me, and I certainly meant it when I agreed, but I never in my wildest dreams thought it would mean something like this. A guinea pig. Not exactly the big important management career I imagined for myself. That fucker Jenkins probably knew the whole time, that’s why he’s been so intolerable lately. While I am being paraded around and made to do silly tricks for amused audiences who are interested in purchasing meat puppets that they can throw into battle, he will be sitting in my corner office with his feet up on the desk, laughing his ass off. God damn him.
I can’t believe that asshole Brandt told me to rest. Hey buddy, we just made you a freak and ruined your life as you know it, but try to get some shuteye, ‘kay? Shit. Oh man, my mother is going to kill me. She is always so proud to tell her jealous friends about her big shot successful corporate son. Somehow I doubt that she will be as happy to gush about her son the dancing, hopping, flipping war monkey. I become lost in these thoughts, obsessing over everything in my life that no longer has any meaning, and I jump when the soldier who dropped me off before opens the door and tells me it is time. Time for what, I ask. He just jerks his head for me to follow, and with a sigh I do.
We enter a large room and I stop with a gasp. The old man is sitting there, along with Jenkins and half the Nanodyne board of directors. Cleaver stands and walks over to me regally. He shakes my hand and tells me that he couldn’t be prouder of me. Thanks to me, Nanodyne is now once again the world’s most cutting-edge defense company. Jenkins, still sitting behind him, nods like a sycophant with a little grin on his stupid face. Brandt asks the board if they would like to see a demonstration and they nod excitedly. He gestures to Wong, across the room at his control board, and the sickening loss of control comes again. The board claps and gasps delightedly at the tricks they have me do. Amazing feats that only a highly-trained athlete should be able to pull off, and a schlub like me is pulling them off with gusto. I land on my feet after a particularly exciting somersault and I am back in control, breathing heavily. As you can see, Brandt says proudly, we are now capable of amazing things. Nanodyne is on the verge of a very exciting and profitable new era. The board applauds this, and the old man nods his head with a smile.
Jenkins raises his hand like the snotty know-it-all kid in elementary school and asks how they can be sure of my complete compliance with whatever instructions they give me. Brandt tells him that this is an excellent question, and Jenkins beams like he just got a treat for being such a good boy. They have arranged a demonstration that will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will carry out any order that they give, no matter how questionable I may find it. He tells my escort soldier to fetch the test subject and off he goes. I really don’t like where this is heading.
The three brutes advance on me, slowly. They each outweigh me by at least 100 pounds, and one of them is an absolute hulk. He is the closest, his eyes tell me that he has been waiting for something like this for a long, long time. I stand there calmly, letting the big one get closer. When he is within arm’s reach I strike. Like a whirlwind I drop to my knees and lash out with my left hand. I grab the fabric of his crotch and squeeze until I feel meat, then I pull as hard as I can. There is a terrible wet tearing sound, topped by an even more terrible scream. His fatigues look like he pissed himself in blood and he falls to the floor half wheezing and half crying. This shocking act of brutality makes the other two pause and reconsider their plans of attack. They both charge me at once with arms outstretched. I easily roll under their grasp and donkey kick one of the men in the back of the knee. Something snaps and he crumples to the floor with a sharp cry. The one left standing tries to stomp on me and I catch his boot. I roll sideways with his leg still in hand and it pops out of his hip joint violently. He goes down screaming and I stand and kick him hard under the chin. Teeth fly and he is out of the fight. The guard with the shattered knee tries feebly to stand, telling me to stay away from him. I slap him across the face, leaving a big red hand print on his cheek. He looks up at me in utter terror and begs for his life. I glance as Brandt who looks pleased as punch with the demonstration. The fucker looks so smug that it makes me want to smash his face in. I try for the element of surprise and charge him, but my arm jerks up and grabs my throat, clamping hard. I sink to my knees, struggling to breathe, and the room starts going swimmy. Brandt stands over me and reminds me that they are in complete control. I nod weakly, and my arm lets up. I cough and gasp while Brandt orders more guards to cart these sad sacks off to the infirmary.
Grabbing me by the collar, Brandt tells me that if I continue to misbehave they will be forced to lobotomize me, turning me into a drooling emotionless killing machine. I certainly do not like the sound of that. He asks sternly if I can be trusted from now on. I pause, staring hard into his eyes, and finally acquiesce. I will follow orders, I promise. He nods, satisfied. He tells me to get some rest, there will be one more test before I am ready to leave. It sounds like it is going to be a doozy.
I can’t move, but it’s just as well because I can’t make my eyes open either. Voices come and go around me, snatches of conversations that I can’t understand. At one point, two of them are arguing. One voice says something about being too soon, and the other replies that they are too far behind schedule and will have to risk moving forward now. He says that the success of subject alpha proves that they have perfected the technique. Before I drift back out of consciousness, the second voice says something about finding the whore, that she will be an excellent test. I slip away and dream for a while, strange visions of masked figures huddling over me and sticking metal things in my face. There is a distinct feeling of loss of self, as if they are drilling right into my brain and yanking out everything that makes me who I am. A most unpleasant feeling, indeed.
Oh god, every inch of me is in utter agony. I’ve had it rough before, hell I’ve been raped before, but I’ve never had it given to me like that. Fayed is a complete and unapologetic sadist. My insides went cold when he came into the pen that held all of us captive girls. Various wealthy-looking men came while we huddled there, each man picking and choosing the girl he wanted to own. I was grateful each and every time I was passed over, but now I wished I had been taken by someone halfway sane. Fayed’s eyes locked on mine as soon as he entered the pen, and before I was able to cast mine away I saw pure hatred in those dark black pupils. I prayed that he would pass me by but I just knew my luck had run out. He didn’t even look at anyone else, he pointed me out to one of the guards and two men hoisted me up and dragged me out of there kicking and screaming. My outburst only seemed to please Fayed as he followed behind us, a slight smile crossed his face while I struggled. Someone put a hood over my head and I was stuffed into the trunk of a car. I jostled around painfully for the entire long trip, and I heard various men talking and joking jovially inside the car, as if they were returning from the market, rather than an underground slave market where they had just purchased me to do with whatever they pleased.
After what felt like hours, the car stopped and shut off. I gasped at the fresh air through the hood when they opened the trunk, and strong arms hauled me out and threw me over the shoulder in a fireman’s carry. They set me down after a bit and someone took the hood off, along with everything else I was wearing, and I stood there nude in a large ornate room. The place looked like a palace, and I wondered if Fayed was some sort of royalty. He ran his cruel eyes over my body and nodded his approval, then left the room. One of his flunkies lead me over to a plump old woman with a tired face. He told me that this is Marta, to do whatever she said. She took my hand gently and we walked down gorgeous hallways to what I assumed to be the slave quarters, which obviously weren’t quite as nice as the rest of the joint. She had me get down on my hands and knees in a large tub and began to wash me like a dog with a bucket of hot water. I was too emotionally drained to protest while she roughly scrubbed every intimate area of my body. As she washed, she explained the rules of the house and what was expected of me. She warned me gravely of the consequences for insubordination. When she was done, she dried me off with a painfully scratchy towel and handed me a silk robe. Grateful to be covered once more, I let her take me to a small kitchen where two other girls prepared a stew of some sort. She introduced me to my fellow slaves. The first girl, Ilya, looked Persian. She was very pretty, a little bit older than me. She had the same tired expression as Marta. The other girl, Bilanna, couldn’t have been more than thirteen. When I realized this, I stopped feeling sorry for myself for just a moment. Her skin was snow white, with curly blonde hair. I’d guess Norwegian maybe. She didn’t look as defeated as the others, maybe it was just her youth. Marta told me to start peeling carrots and I jumped right into it, thankful to have something to concentrate on other than the fact that my life was basically over.
That night was when Fayed first summoned me. The things he did, I don’t dare to remember for fear of completely losing my shit. I am curled up in a ball in our cramped sleeping quarters, shivering uncontrollably while Ilya and Bilanna sleep on either side of me.
The days go by, sometimes it is Fayed who has his way with me, sometimes it is mercifully one of his servants or guests. He doesn’t seem picky about who has their way with his newest acquisition. The sessions with him are like nightmares, creating scars both internal and external that I fear may never heal. Between these awful episodes, the other girls and I cook, clean, and live quiet little lives. It saddens me when Bilanna is summoned, I hope that evil bastard doesn’t subject her to the same horrors as he does me. We never talk. No one ever expressly forbade it, but I think we all just prefer to suffer in silence.
Before long I am completely dead inside, I make it through each day like a robot, with no hope of ever being happy again. Every once in a while, the guard who stood at the entrance to the slave chambers would wake me up and pull me to the kitchen for a little romp. I didn’t mind so much, he was gentle and actually somewhat giving. Not that I could ever hope to deride any pleasure from this, but it was a welcome relief compared to some of the more forceful rapists that inhabited this horrible place. This particular night, he is going at it vigorously with me bent over the sink. He cums quickly, he usually does, and then the strangest thing happens. He steps back, his limp penis still dripping semen, and he slips on a small puddle of water on the floor. He hits his head with a violent crack on the stove behind him as he goes down, and just like that he is unconscious. I freeze and look at him, pants around his ankles lying prone on the kitchen floor, with blood beginning to pool behind his head. I realize with a rush of excited energy that he is the only person watching the slave quarters, and there is very likely no one else up because of the late hour. Quickly and quietly I sprint out of our quarters and into the dark hallway. I know the place pretty well from all of the trips I have taken after being summoned. If I am careful, I just might be able to make it out of here.
I stick to the shadows like an expert cat burglar, tiptoeing down one hall and stopping to listen for any activity. The front door is so close, but I can’t afford to be reckless now. My heart jumps into my throat and I freeze when I hear someone coming down the hall toward me. I duck behind a large vase and hold my breath. Who should come walking by, looking very much the worse for wear but Bilanna. If I do one right thing in this life, it would be getting this poor girl out of here. I stand with a smile and she freezes like a deer in the headlights. I motion for her to follow me and she just stands there with a blank shocked expression. Then she does the worst thing in the world. She opens her mouth and lets of a piercing scream that just goes on and on, echoing through the dark hallways. Oh you stupid little cunt. Just like that, guards are everywhere, and she starts hysterically pointing at me and yelling that I am trying to escape. So much for sisterhood among slaves.
A guard tackles me to the floor brutally, knocking the wind out of me. Fayed comes from his bedchambers and looks at me lying there, coughing and struggling to breathe. He shakes his head in disappointment, and announces that I am to be punished for my insubordination this very instant. They drag me downstairs to a stone basement room that I have never been in. There are shackles on the wall, which I am promptly put on my knees and locked into, and a large basin with a roaring fire. It looks like a torture chamber, and I am befuddled as to why Fayed hasn’t brought me here before. It seems like his style. There is a small crowd gathered, including Marta, Bilanna, and Ilya. That little bitch Bilanna is on her knees by Fayed, one arm wrapping around his leg like a teddy bear. He clears his throat and the room falls dead silent. For trying to escape, he says coldly, I am to be marked so that anyone who looks upon me will know that I am his property. I really don’t like the sound of that. One of his men pulls a long metal pole from the fire and I realize with panic that it is a branding iron. Oh no no no no. Two men hold my head as the one with the branding iron approaches with a smile. I start wailing when I see that he is going to put it right on my forehead. Things have gone from bad to much, much worse, all because I can’t behave myself and do what I am told.
Word Count: 40,134
This Brandt character refuses to be straight with me, and he is really starting to piss me off. He explained about the government, about Molly and the experiment, about the need to fabricate the whole search and rescue thing to get us here, but something still doesn’t seem right. I ask him why even bother with all of the cloak and dagger crap if they were already powerful enough to take down the government and he gives me some bullshit about maintaining balance and not ruffling feathers. He seems to blame me for the fact that they had to play their hand earlier than they wanted because I refused to take the right steps that would lead to an inconspicuous extraction. I asked why they didn’t take me when they conked me on the head in the lab and he shakes his head with an exasperated sigh. He says that no one hit me, I knocked myself out when I stood up to fast and hit my head on the corner of a cabinet. They were watching the whole time on security cameras. I have to admit, I am a little embarrassed by this, but I plow ahead anyway. I understand why they wanted Molly the wallflower, but what, pray tell, did they need from me. Again, he refuses to provide a suitable answer. I don’t know what they’ve done with Molly, but she seemed so broken. Whatever little scheme they have going on here doesn’t sit well at all.
After we leave Molly with the other doctor, Brandt takes me to see Dr. Wong for some tests. The rest of the day is filled with grueling physical tests, none of which I do very well on. Wong seems upbeat still, he’s a nice little fellow. Next is a bunch of psychiatrist nonsense, what does this blot look like to you and all that stuff. Then things get weird. They give me this big test, a multiple choice kind of thing. It has all of these questions asking how I would respond to certain situations, sort of like that robot detector test in that old movie Blade Runner. They start off innocently enough at first, if you found a wallet with lots of money etc, etc, but then they start to get really messed up. Would I kill the President if I knew he was going to send innocent people to their deaths? Could I cut my own leg off to keep from freezing to death in the wild? Crazy stuff. I do the best I can, there is stuff here I never even imagined ever happening to me, and it takes a while to get over the initial shock to even begin to imagine how I might respond. Finally, the test is over and I am drained.
Brandt walks me back to the room that they set up for me and tells me that I am free to visit the mess hall or the media room whenever I feel. I ask if he has had any progress in locating Candy and he shakes his head dismissively. Bastard, I bet he’s not even looking for her. I can’t let her go out like that, not after all the times she saved my butt. I decide right then and there that I am going to take a more proactive role in rescuing Candy. They obviously need me for something important around here, so I can’t imagine they will kill me for not following the rules.
After waiting long enough to be sure that Brandt is long gone, I sneak back out of the room and pick a hallway at random. I have no idea where I am going or what I will do to help Candy once I get there, but anything is better than sitting around doing nothing. There are guards posted here and there, but none of them seem to pay me too much attention as long as I stroll past them like I actually know where I am going. Some of the doors they are posted at look interesting, but I can’t imagine they will let me just walk right into one of them without some sort of pass. I’m pushing my luck as it is. After a series of rights and lefts and u-turns, the hallway ends at a large set of double doors. The doors are unguarded, it looks like this is worth checking out.
The large room is dark and smells absolutely terrible. I find a light switch and a series of fluorescent bulbs crackle to life overhead. Figures, the one room I pick to snoop in is a friggin’ garbage room. No wonder it was unguarded. There are a ton of bags strewn around the room, including a lot of those red biohazard bags that always look like bad news. I toe the one nearest to me and it gives with a sickening squish. I suppress a gag and back away from the bag, right into the broad chest of the soldier that I didn’t hear come into the room behind me. He pops me one in the jaw and down for the count I go once again.
Time drags painfully until it’s finally time for the afternoon session. I head to the lab and acknowledge Brandt and Dr. Wong with a stiff nod before climbing into the rig. Dr. Wong is his cheery old self but Brandt eyes me carefully, perhaps noticing the change in my demeanor. Dr. Wong asks if I am ready to go. I give him the thumbs up and in the blink of an eye, I am in a busy street café huddled over a table with Marlow, one of the artificial squad members that I have worked with a number of times. Marlow is gruff and very no nonsense. He keeps eyeing the street behind me, watching the faces of the pedestrians who walk by. I resist the urge to look over my shoulder and wait patiently until he begins the briefing.
There is a cult, he explains, that is currently holed up in a cave in Eastern Russo-China. The leader of the cult is a former arms dealer named Sergei who turned into a divine prophet and started calling himself The Hand of the Righteous. He currently has two hundred men, women, and children barricaded in a deep cave for a mass suicide pact, under the impression that taking their lives will lead to ultimate salvation. I make the offhand remark that I’ve never been sent in on a rescue mission and he shakes his head. The powers that be don’t give two shits about those people, he tells me, they just want Sergei. It seems The Hand of the Righteous got his hands on a nasty experimental chemical weapon that is highly illegal under the revised Geneva Convention rules and would cause a giant headache for a major world superpower if Sergei gassed his flock with it and the rest of the world found out that they were messing around with the stuff. So, this major superpower would like to politely ask him just where he got it. Suicidal peasants be damned, Sergei is the only one who matters.
As he finishes, Marlow’s eyes catch something in the crowd behind me and I finally can’t help but turn just enough to see what it is. A nondescript man in a trench coat is approaching our table quickly. He sits without asking and looks at Marlow expectantly. Marlow stares him down as if to show him who is boss and introduces the bespectacled man as Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is an expert in religious fanaticism and cult psychology, and he will help me to gain access so I can get close to Sergei. I look at him just as he should expect me to look at him after telling me that I have to escort a shrink into a dangerous situation and he shrugs at me in a way that can only mean “brass orders.” He tells me that the chopper lifts off in an hour and leaves just enough money for the check, with no tip. Great, now I’ll look like a bitch. I fish a few bills out of my pocket, nod to Smith, and hit the streets for a walk to clear my head before the mission.
An hour and a half later we are cruising low over the ravaged countryside of Eastern Russo-China. I glance over at Smith and smile because he looks very much the worse for wear. He has turned an alarming shade of green and is hunched over with his head between his knees. I have two other squad mates, Peretti is a hoo-ra tough chick that doesn’t talk much and Thompson is an affable kid from the US Midwest who is by all accounts one of the finest marksmen in the world. He lovingly cleans his rifle as we fly, oiling each and every last little metal piece before sliding it back into place. Brass couldn’t get the clearance for a proper landing, as would be expected, so we are going in hot and fast. I can’t wait to see Smith flailing his way down a drop wire. We enter a cold misty mountainous region, the objective is very near now. The Russo military has set up camp outside of the cave where Sergei and his people are holed up. Topography and satellite found what is hopefully a series of connecting caves that start six miles from the main chamber. That is our way in and it isn’t going to be easy. Things go smooth at the drop point, Peretti wasted no time with Smith and slung his skinny ass over her shoulder as she dropped from the copter. I go last, and as soon as my feet hit the mud the chopper is gone in a flash. I nod to the squad and motion for them to form up on me. I already told Smith to stay between us and not to make a sound unless prompted. The cave is dark and foreboding, but I’ve been in worse places in my short career as a mercenary. The path gets rough in a hurry, we have to repel down sheer cliffs, belly-crawl through nauseatingly claustrophobic tunnels, and slog through brackish waist-deep waters. About two thirds of the way there, I hear voices and see a light at the end of the tunnel we popped up in after a particularly treacherous pass. I motion for the team to halt and silently approach the figures ahead. It looks like the first of our fanatics, they are having a fierce argument about something. One of them, a large older man is trying to drag some punk kid down the tunnel in our direction, and the kid is resisting with all of his might, spitting in the man’s face like an animal. I nearly jump out of my skin when Smith plops down next to me with his attention focused fully on the two men. Before I can order him back he stands and approaches the men with his hands held out.
The arguing men stop and look at him with fright, and the teenager pulls away and runs in the opposite direction. I curse and jump to my feet, waving the squad to follow. I knock Smith over in my rush and yell back at Thompson to detain the older man. The kid has a good head start but I am fast as lightning and it is mere seconds before I see him hoofing it in front of me. He glances back in terror while I click my scope over to night vision. I take a knee, aiming carefully, and with a silenced click I put a round through the back of his neck and out his throat so he can’t cry out. He crumples like a rag doll and lays motionless. It is then I realize that I took the shot with my right hand, under my own volition. I decide not to ponder on this and run to retrieve the body. He is still gasping when I reach him, drowning in his own blood. I hold his mouth and nose shut while he looks at me with wild eyes, until the light goes out and he dies. I drag his corpse back to the rest of the squad and the old man wails in anguish through the gag that Thompson put on him. I grab Smith and slam him against the cave wall, telling him in whispers that I will not hesitate to do the same to him the next time he doesn’t follow simple orders. He is shaking, and I can tell by his eyes that he knows I mean it. Satisfied that he understands the way things are going to be, I tell him to quietly interrogate the old man and find out the situation ahead.
After much blubbering, he manages to get out of the man that the fanatics are starting to question the leadership of The Hand, and some of them want to escape. The boy I killed was his son, but he wasn’t able to convince him that they should get out of there before they died. He gives us a basic layout of where everyone is located in the main chamber, and that is all he is able to offer. I tell Thompson to kill him and move forward without looking back to see if he actually does it.
Soon we are at the cusp of the main chamber, I can hear hushed voices arguing, joyful voices singing, and one strong male voice chanting something over the rest of the cacophony. I nod to the others and they take my lead by putting on their gas masks. On my mark, Peretti fires four canisters of tear gas into the main chamber and we rush into the ensuing chaos, weapons hot. There are peasants choking and gagging all around us, wailing and falling to their knees. I give anyone who gets in my way a big boot in the face as I push forward to the throne where our man Sergei should be. When I break through the throng and the smoke, I stop. There sits The Hand, wearing his own gas mask and holding a weeping young woman before him as a shield with an ornamental sword to her throat. I yell for Smith and he is at my side in an instant. He approaches the throne with a bow, and Sergei nods for him to come forward. They exchange words, Smith sounding particularly placating, and it looks like he might actually be making some progress. That thought is dashed to pieces when, without warning, Sergei swings the sword from the girls throat and lops Smith’s head clean off with one powerful swing. Well shit, I hope brass didn’t think he was too valuable. In a flash, Sergei has the sword back at the girls throat and her sobs have turned to shrieks because Smith’s blood hit her like a geyser. Peretti and Thompson have the crowd under control behind me, it’s just me and the big man here. I order him to release the girl and he laughs cruelly. Ok then, if that’s how you want to play it. Sorry darling. I put a round clean through her forehead and she drops to reveal a very surprised looking Sergei in all his regal glory. His eyes are huge through the gas mask and he stands, waving the sword in my direction. I tell him if he doesn’t drop the sword and lay on the ground I will shoot him in the testicles and he considers this for a moment before quickly complying. That little trick is always a deal breaker with men.
I bring my knee down on his back hard, and he gasps painfully just as I rip the gas mask off of his head. He retches and writhes on the ground for a while, struggling to breathe with lungs full of fire. Finally, he is subdued enough and I gather him up to march him off. He says something with a rasped voice and I don’t realize it is a curse until I notice the button in his hand that he has just pushed. There is a series of pops along the walls and I kick myself, he has just released the chemical weapon. The masks will protect us for a minute or two, but any longer than that and we are goners, just like Sergei’s people. I slap his mask back on him and shout for the team to haul ass out of the cave, there is no time to go the way we came. We are going to have to go right through a regiment of Russo soldiers. People die horribly behind me as we run, me dragging Sergei’s sorry as on the ground behind me with my super arm. He is wailing now, crying to the heavens about the things he has done. Daylight starts to show up ahead and I can only hope we are far enough ahead of the invisible gas to make it out alive.
We burst out of the cave and into the blinding sunlight at full speed, right into a mess of very surprised looking soldiers. It takes them a few blessed seconds to realize who we are and what we are doing before they open fire, just enough time for us to take cover behind a small tank. Thompson and Peretti begin to return fire and I tuck Sergei under the tank and tell him to stay put. The turret of our sheltering tank swivels impotently, unable to get an angle on us. The gunner fires a few shells into the cave wall behind us, but all it does is annoy me. I pull a grenade from my belt and jam it into the barrel, yelling for everyone to duck and cover. The explosion bursts the end of the barrel into shards, and the resulting kickback slams into the interior of the tank. There are anguished screams from the bowels of the metal hull, but they die out quickly. One down, two hundred to go.
Thompson screams as a large round, probably a fifty cal, tears his arm clean off at the shoulder. Too bad he doesn’t have a cyber arm like me. Peretti drags him over and slaps him hard to keep him from going into shock. She puts a pistol in the hand he has left and he nods, rolling over to begin firing once again. To my left, I can see what looks to be an unoccupied prewar Humvee, and I decide that this will be our only chance of getting out of here. I order Peretti to scramble right, take position behind the boulder and I would follow right behind her. She gives me a look like I am crazy, but rises to her feet and hauls ass anyway, still firing. All of the enemy gunfire concentrates on her running form, just like I knew it would, and I grab Sergei and make a break ion the other direction toward the Humvee. Poor Thompson watches me go, realization creeping across his face that he is pretty much fucked. Amazingly, Peretti makes it to the boulder and the fire concentrates on her in earnest. Shells start taking the boulder apart in chunks, and like a good soldier she just keeps on firing. No one even notices me as I stuff Sergei into the back of the Humvee and jump into the driver’s side, praying that I will be able to start it. Just like in the movies, the keys are right there in the ignition, and I fire the beast up with a struggling roar. I take one last look at Peretti just in time to see a spot-on mortar shell completely obliterate her, leaving nothing much but a red stain when the smoke clears. Thompson lays motionless, having shot himself in the head rather than risk capture. The jig is finally up when I speed away, bullets clang off the armored sides of the Humvee and huge pits erupt all around us. Against all odds, we push clear of the army’s fire and we are home free to the extraction point. I clear the last hill to see the helicopter waiting for us there in the glorious sunset, and it is the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen.
The simulation ends and I take the visor off slowly, expecting to see a room full of shocked and angered faces. What I see instead is Brandt looking positively ecstatic. He gushes that I did an incredible job, I was willing to do whatever it took to complete the mission. He is so excited, and I am bewildered that brutality like that is what they wanted all this time. He says that the operation is finally ready, and that they couldn’t be happier with my progress. I have made them all very proud it seems, and I hate them more than I have ever hated anyone in my entire life.
Dr. Giles smiles warmly at me and tells me that he will no longer need to see me after the operation. I feel some small pang of sadness over this, remembering all of the times his kindness made me feel accomplished and worthwhile, but the anger washes over these feelings violently. I put on my girly act so that he doesn’t suspect that I no longer plan on participating in their little experiment, and I do a damn good job because Mr. big shot psychologist here doesn’t even notice the dripping sarcasm in my replies to his stupid questions. He tells me to rest up, the operation is in the morning and I will need all of my strength. Sure thing, asshole, I will be fit as a fiddle.
I go back to my room and lay down on the bed. I have some idea what they are planning, but their plans are definitely going to change once they put my arm back on. I close my eyes and drift off almost instantly, the sleep of the righteous.
I am up before the alarm goes off and there are butterflies in my stomach. The good kind, more excited than scared. There is a message that I must skip breakfast and report to the lab immediately. There waits Brandt, Wong, and a new face that I don’t recognize. He is a cold looking man, greasy black hair plastered to his skull and a pointy moustache. Brandt introduces him as Dr. Fell, he will be performing the operation today. I nod and he barely responds, turning to fiddle with the instruments that he has laid alongside an operating table that sits under a harsh light. Brandt asks me to disrobe and lay down on the table. I do so without hesitation, enjoying the way the men in the room try not to look at my body. It has certainly improved since I’ve been here, no more cellulite thighs, no more belly. I am tight and fit as a gymnast, and the boys can’t help but notice. I lie on the table and Brandt applies an anesthesia mask. As I breathe in the gas, he tells me that when I wake up I will be the most special woman in the world. He doesn’t know the half of it.
I float awash in la la land for what is probably a long time, and come to strapped to the table under the light just like the first time I woke up here. I blink off the grogginess and shake off the paralysis quicker than before. I look over and smile, my left arm is back. It looks just the same as before, except for the metal disc implanted on the underside of the wrist. I wiggle my fingers and giggle softly, it’s nice to be whole again. Footsteps approach and there is Brandt, grinning madly like Doctor Frankenstein. He asks me how I feel and I must say, I feel pretty damn good. He undoes the restraints and I sit up, stretching marvelously. The operation was a complete success, he exclaims, he couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. I stand, a little shaky, and see Dr. Fells watching me smugly. I’ll save him for last. Dr. Wong is in the corner fiddling with some sort of instrument panel, not even noticing that I am up. This is all going just as I had planned. Gentlemen, I say confidently, your little experiment is over. In a flash I have a scalpel in my left hand and I thrust it at Brandt, stopping just centimeters from his jugular. He stammers and falls backward, landing on the floor with his hands held out to ward me off. I am on him in an instant with the scalpel, and I tell him that he is going to tell me how to get out of here right this instant. He hesitates and glances at something behind me. Just then, the now familiar sensation of losing control sparks in my arm and just like that, the scalpel blade is pointing at my eye. I scream and try to back away from my own arm, but there it stays. Brandt smirks and stands, brushing himself off. I try to pry my left arm with my right but it is no use, the limb is like steel. I see Dr. Wong watching, twiddling dials at the panel. So he is the one in control. Shit. In the simulations I never tried to actually prevent my arm from doing what it would, it never occurred to me that I might not be able to make it do what I wanted it to do if someone else wanted it to do something entirely different. So much for the plan.
Brandt asks if I am done with my little display of subordination, or should he tell Wong to gouge my eye out with my own hand? My lips begin to quiver and that old feeling of helplessness washes over me like an old comfy blanket. I tell him that I’ll be good in a tiny little voice and Brandt nods, prompting Wong to send the blade away from my eye and straight into the meat of my thigh. I cry out in pain and drop to the floor, defeated. Brandt towers over me, laughing. He hopes that I won’t forget who is in charge again, the next time he will not be so merciful. Bastard, I will take him out if I have to cut my arm off just to do it.
He pulls me to my feet and plucks the scalpel from my leg before pushing me roughly back on the table. Dr. Fell comes over and bandages the wound, which has bled surprisingly little. After that, and armed guard escorts me to my room. Brandt’s final words before we leave the lab are a warning that they will be watching me at all times, so I had better be on my best behavior.
Once locked into my room I break down, blubbering more like a frightened little girl than the badass superwoman that I began to envision myself as. Now that it is back the arm feels alien, no thanks in part to the fact that it could do whatever it wants without any say on my part. I curl up in the bed and cry my eyes out, until I mercifully pass out.
When I wake up I feel completely dead inside. A soldier opens my door and orders me out. I comply meekly, allowing him to lead me to a part of the complex that I’ve never been in. Dr. Giles is in the room we enter, and he eyes me suspiciously. I am ordered to sit in what looks like a dental chair. Dr. Giles peers into my eyes with a penlight as he tells me he is very disappointed, he thought we had an understanding. My behavior in the lab was reprehensible, and if they can’t trust me not to act out anymore I would have to be considered a failure and disposed of like the others before me. The others? There are more tests to be run on my new arm. Dr. Wong comes in and sets up his little station. Dr. Giles first hands me a soda can and tells me to crush it with my left hand. I do so easily and look at him, puzzled. He explains that they are getting base level readings on resistance and pressure. If the arm isn’t calibrated correctly I could end up maiming someone just by shaking their hand too forcefully. Along with the gear which allows them complete control over the limb, they have enhanced it with synthetic muscle for unparalleled strength. He pokes me painfully with a pin in various spots on the arm, despite my angry reactions, and explains that I will still feel pain, though at a lesser extent. He nods to Wong and pokes me again, this time it barely registers as a prick. This way, he tells me, I will still know if the arm has been damaged but the pain will not cause me to lose focus. For the last test, he tells me to hold a metal rod that is attached to some sort of meter. Wong flicks a switch and there is a sharp electric crackle in my fist. Dr. Giles nods, satisfied. My hand can give off a significant electric charge, which can be used to incapacitate or to short out machinery. Even I have to admit, that is pretty cool.
Now that we are done with the tests, he passes me off to the jerkoff Brandt, who has just entered the room and conversed with Wong. He grabs me by the arm roughly and takes me to a large empty room. Pretend time is over sweetheart, he says with more than a little menace. Let’s see how you handle yourself in the real world. A door on the far wall opens and out come three large soldiers, looking as confused as I am. Brandt shoves me into the middle of the room and steps back to watch. This woman is a traitor, he shouts, punish her. The soldiers focus on me with a look that makes me very uncomfortable and begin to advance. They have bad thoughts in mind for little old me. Suddenly we aren’t playing around anymore. Time to see what tricks I carried over from the virtual world.