NaNoWriMo Day 23
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.