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To the Victor…
There was that smell again. Sort of metallic. For seven moths the only sense Lista had been able to really use was smell. Her nose had always been keen, but now, with a little focus, she was able to identify most of the people that entered the room with her by smell. There were only four so far. The metallic smell was the leader. At least, he was in her mind. He’s the one that did the talking. The smell of ozone hit her at the same time as the jolt to her feet. This one lasted nearly a full minute and the sensation was intense.
The leader spoke. “At this point it’s more out of habit than anything else, but any change of heart yet? Willing to fill us in on what your group knows? No? Well, we can’t very well increase the settings on the chair any further. I feel a new plan is long overdue. You don’t seem to feel pain yourself, but maybe you will feel empathy for another in that chair. What do you think? An innocent civilian; or a young hero? Maybe a friend? Mourning Angel might motivate you. How well do you think she would hold up?”
Lista made no actions or sounds, but it made no difference. The man kept speaking. “You’re probably right. It would be far too difficult to take her alive. At least while she knew to expect it. No. To get her, we need to arrange for a trap that will take her totally off her guard.”
A second smell arrived in the room. This was a sticky smell; somewhat fruity, like perfume made from strawberry syrup. “Sir! I just spoke with B…”
The microphone was cut off mid-word. There was a new sensation now, something warm and wet on her face. Not a lot of it, and spread out a bit. It had a metallic smell as well, though faint. It was obvious to her that it was blood.
A moment later, the leader’s voice filled her ears again. “Forgive the interruption. He was new. Too new, it would seem. I shall return when you have a roommate.”
Both of the main smells left the room, leaving Lista alone with the other, less savory smells.
She had lost count of the days. Had it really been seven months? It seemed impossible to her that she could have been there for that long. It was not the first impossible thing that had happened since she arrived however.
From the first jolt after she arrived, she had been expecting to be in excruciating pain. The fear that she would be unable to hold out weighed heavily on her at the start. It wasn’t until the third or fourth timed infliction that she realized that nothing hurt. Nothing at all. She thought back to the times that she had been injured, and she could not recall any difference from this sensation. She also thought back to her many sexual encounters. There was no pleasure in any of them. There were only sensations; sensations which were neither good nor bad. In fact, there was no difference that she could detect between what should be pleasure, and what should be pain. She did enjoy the sensations for what they were, but it was based on the intensity of the sensation, not what was causing it.
It wasn’t until she was brought here, and placed in a device that was intended to cause extreme pain, that she realized that she did not feel things the way others did. Maybe that was a clue to her past?
Mourning reached down and turned off the water. It was good to get out of the base, and Beau’s place was beginning to feel like a second home to her. Maybe even a first home. A little shiver ran down her back at the thought of it. She opened the door to the shower and felt for the towel she had left on the rack. When it wasn’t there, she thought little of it. It was the sort of joke Beau liked to pull on her from time to time.
She opened the door to bathroom and called out to him, but there was no response. She closed the door again and searched the bathroom for something she could wrap around her self to further explore the apartment. Her robe was missing from the hook on the door as well. Someone had been in the room while she was in the shower. She was sure of it. It wasn’t like him to play a joke and not stick around to see it pay off.
Unsure of whether it was instinct or paranoia, she ventured out into the hallway, alert for any sound or movement. Her mind flashed over a pair of thoughts. First, despite Beau’s insistence to the contrary, she should have brought the dogs. The second was that she was still naked, and dripping wet.
After popping into the bedroom to be sure it was empty, she continued down the hallway. With each step her focus shifted away from the possibility of someone lurking for her, and toward the realization that she was walking around nude. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the thought that this was a surprise party horror story in the making was formed.
She stood on the edge of the living room. From where she stood, she could see most of it. To her left was the large patio with the little patch of grass. To the right was the front door. More accurately, there was the hallway to the front door. She was not in a position to actually see if the door was unlocked, or even standing wide open.
She looked at the room for the first time ever with eyes that saw it not as the place where her boyfriend lived, but as just another place to be caught unaware in by an ambush of unseen foes.
The kitchen counter could be a good place to hide. The guest room on the other side of the living room was open as well. Inside that room was another bathroom, and a second door to the patio. It might be possible to flank her if she went in there, but if she didn’t check it out, someone could get behind her as she approached the door.
She approached the guest room door with all the stealth she could muster. Her plan was to peek in, then rush to the far corner so as to keep both doors in view until she was sure she was not under attack. As she gently pushed open the door to get a better look into the room, a loud crash to her right made her jump, the front door burst open and a figure appeared. She was just bout to choke him with a cloud of ash and soot, when she realized it was Beau. He stood with keys in hand, in a foamy puddle of what was probably a six pack of beer before it fell.
“Woah! Woah! Hey! Sweets, it’s just me! What are you doing?”
“Why did you take my clothes and all the towels?”
“I wanted to surprise you, but something came up while I was out. I was hoping to get back before you got out.”
“Surprise me how?”
“This box was supposed to be on the bed when you got out of the shower. Open it.”
Mourning snatched the box, more out of anger than curiosity. Inside was a knee length powder blue dress, cut low in the front and back. Also in the box was a pair of shoes to match, and some matching underwear that were modest, but still provocative.
“What are you up to?”
“Today is sort of our one year anniversary.”
“We started seeing each other in March.”
“But we didn’t have our first real date until June. I mean a real, sit down dinner sort of date. It was one year ago tonight that I decided to stop looking at other women and focus on you.”
She stood silent for a moment, her eyes locked on his, until her view of him blurred suddenly and she blinked to force the welling tears down her cheeks. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
“I-I had no idea you kept track of that sort of stuff. I feel bad that I didn’t remember it now.”
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t think it had hit you yet just what that night meant for me, and for us. There is probably a date in your mind that I’ll be blindsided with before too long.”
“But, why did you take the towels?”
“I like seeing you naked,” he said with a shrug. “I might be a charmer, but I’m still a guy.”
She gave a small laugh. “Heh, Lis’ was right. Sort of,” she said under her breath.
“Nothing. So, plan?”
“Get dressed. We’re going someplace secret.”
Tog entered his room and picked up the phone. “I’m here, Justine. What’s up? You okay?”
“Yeah, fine here. Look, I may have another lead for you. No phantom evidence this time, just a place to start.”
“About a month ago we get word that there was a new hat in the political ring. Some guy named Miller. He’s from out west. Our editor told us to find some dirt on him, so we dug. We dug deep and found nothing.”
“Nothing, like he’s not a cheating, tax evading, drunk, or nothing like he didn’t exist before his high school transcripts?”
“More the former. He’s real all right, but squeaky clean. No dirt can be found. He’s intelligent, handsome, and a good speaker. He’s got a pretty moderate view on basically everything. There really is nothing about him that eighty percent of the county could possibly take issue with.”
“Sounds like he might be good,” said Tog.
“Exactly. He’s done amazingly well in every area he’s visited. Here’s where it gets odd. He’s gotten some death threats. Pretty serious ones from the looks of things. He’s been assigned a real secret service detail for protection.”
“If he’s such a perfect candidate, why does anyone want to kill him?”
“Because there will always be kooks. That’s not the strange part. My editor, and a few other editors around the city, have put a ban on reporting anything about the death threats. Their reason is that they are, and I quote, ‘unsubstantiated rumor’.”
“This is the same editor that is pushing the story about excessive force with no actual evidence?”
“One and the same.”
“Yeah. That might be worth looking into. Thanks for the heads up.”
Tog hung up the phone and sat at his desk lost in thought. So many different ‘ifs’. There was no way for him to keep them all straight. If the editors were involved in some way, then the stories about he heroes were all part of some scheme. Maybe. If the editors were legit, then maybe they were just pawns of the advertising firms. How did either of those things change if Miller was legit?
“Athena. Do you have a location on Mourning Angel?”
“She is taking some personal time. She mentioned going to Beau’s, but I don’t expect her to return before tomorrow afternoon.”
“Great. Can you contact Epim and Kat and have them meet me in the interrogation room with, err what’s his name.”
“I can call them for you. Room two is set up.”
Five minutes later, Tog was waiting outside the room while Martin looked around at the blank walls. When the others arrived, Tog gave them each some instructions.
“Ep. You’re on Tog-watch. If The Other Guy can’t contain things, get me out of there.”
“Kat. You’ve got bodyguard duty. His. Don’t let me hurt him. Most of what I plan to do is a show, but if it turns real, get him out of there. Ep will let you know.”
The two women nodded and the three of them entered the room.
“Wow, Doug! I mean Tog. You were one of my projects. I had to come up with ways to defeat you if it came to that. It’s nice to get to meet you in person.”
“You sure about that?”
“Look, I’m not with them any…”
“So you said. I’m sure by now you know as much about me as I do. You may not be quite so familiar with The Other Guy though, so I thought I’d introduce you two.”
Something about Tog’s face changed. As it did, Martin saw the child that was concealed beneath the surface fade from view, only to be replaced by a hardened and bitter look.
“Look, I-I all ready told you guys that everything I know can’t be verified without admitting you’ve got me. If you do that, I’m as good as dead.”
“You say that like it matters to me.”
“You’re a hero though. You can’t just leave me to die!”
“Well, look at it from our point of view. If you tell us something and we act on it, it can be right or wrong. If it’s wrong, you’re a plant, and you get left alone with a lovely little girl with pink hair, a fondness for truth, a really sharp sword, and 15 seconds of amnesty. If it’s right, then we know you told the truth that time, but the bad guys know we have you. That’s really only a problem for you. I guess that would mean that it’s really in your best interests to tell us something that we can use to end this completely. No more bad guys, the threat to you is gone. If you tell us something that only hurts them a little, you’re worm food.”
“You’ll never be able to stop him! You don’t see that at all do you? He thinks like a computer and has been planning this since before the invasion. You want to know just how important you really are to him as an obstacle? He mentioned once that the invasion was an ‘inconvenience’ that set his plan back almost three full months.”
“So don’t think we’ll ever be able to stop him?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Then why turn yourself in to us?”
“Protection. I wanted out.”
“You expect us to just keep you here for the rest of your life?”
“No. Just until he’s far enough along to no longer see me as a threat.”
“He sees you as a threat even though there is nothing that you know that could pose a threat to him? Which is it?”
The man looked at the three faces staring back at him. None seemed to be willing to give him any ground. He looked down at the table and sighed
“I’m a strategist. I may not know his actual plans, but I’ve seen enough to get a general idea how he thinks, and that may be more valuable in the long run. Look. You guys have managed to get in the way a few times, but this isn’t the only project he’s working on. It can’t be. Let’s say his ultimate goal is to get to the store and buy milk. He’ll have his car ready, but he’ll also have memorized the bus routes in case the car breaks down, the shortest way to walk there, if the busses aren’t running, at least four alternate paths to avoid dangerous areas, and once he gets there, he’ll have at least five different ways to pay for the milk, and a backup plan in case the store is out. That plan will probably include holding the family of the operator of a dairy farm hostage in at least one version. One way or another, he will get his milk. Nothing is ever left with just one way to finish it. Everything he plans includes every possibility and ways to deal with them. That was one of the things he stressed in the plans I had to come up with. They had to have a simple redundancy with at least three ways to get it done. Then at least three other teams had to come up with three more plans to do the same thing.
“You might be able to shut down his operation in Paragon City, but you can bet that he’s running something completely different, but with the same goals, in at least five other major cities around the country.”
Tog took a long time to gather his thoughts. When he spoke, it was simple and direct. “Give us the guy right above you. If we can take him cleanly, we’ll do it. If we can’t, we’ll ‘stumble’ across him somehow.”
“I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“Not much of one.”
ex-Royal Army major named
Without a word, Tog, stood up and left the room. Epim and Kat followed. Once they were in the hallway, Tog called to Athena, “I really need to get in touch with Mourning. As soon as possible.”