Welcome to another free read Wednesday!
We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.
Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!
(I’m still cheating on the 1k thing. The muse is shaking me daily so I can’t cut it short now. Enjoy.)
Arad is Bryce’s hostage and she wants things she can’t have. What now?
*** PLEASE NOTE – THIS CHAPTER MAY CONTAIN DESCRIPTIONS OF TORTURE AND/OR GRAPHIC VIOLENCE ***
Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
First there was darkness.
Then the darkness ended with cold shards of reality.
Chemical fire spread through Arad’s oversensitive flesh, forcing his eyes open and into the glaring lights. His back tried to arch as his body seized, but failed due to the unyielding bar across his chest. His ribs ached. His heart pumped at an unhealthy pace. He couldn’t scream with his teeth clenched so tight as he resisted the burn, barely able to hiss frantic air between his teeth. For an all too brief moment, he’d forgotten where he was. Then the doctor’s voice pulled him fully out of the dark his mind yearned to hide inside.
“Just a little stimulant to keep you awake. We don’t want you missing anything important.”
Tears ran in scorching rivers over his cheeks at the sight of Bryce as all the awareness came back. He was still strapped to her operating table.
“Please… Stop,” Arad rasped, his voice having gone dry and raw some time ago.
Nightmares were only supposed to haunt you while you slept. He’d found safety in the darkness. Everything was backwards.
Shichi hovered nearby, sniffing at Bryce while she organized her tools. Arad wondered how long she could wait before the cravings caught hold of her and she’d need a new fix for the addiction his body created. The feeble hope died as fast as it flared. Days could pass before it overwhelmed her, and she wasn’t resisting it the way Arad had at first.
He made a silent prayer to the Saints of Seven Sins that Bryce wasn’t creative enough to dose him with Syn as part of her procedure. Corrupted addicts tended to fetishize their experiences. If Arad had to risk a permanent connection—and it could likely happen—between uncontrollable lust and physical suffering, it might kill him.
What an appropriate thought.
The doctor had started simply enough. A razor thin cut here and there, only to be sealed closed before much blood could be lost. Eventually she bored and the cuts went far below the surface, into the meat after slicing away his shirt for better access. The skin was fused shut, but the bruising showed the internal bleeding in darkening patches. Now, Arad’s right arm was a useless apendage. Those restraints had been lifted for the most recent series of punishments, and the latticework of deep muscle lacerations throbbed far too much to risk moving.
Seeing the twisted, swollen fingers on his right hand made his empty stomach churn. At least three were broken by Shichi. Ever the faithful servant, he’d done as he was told. No regret. No remorse. Arad had heard and screamed over each snap, one finger at a time. When Bryce had bored, she sent in her minion to keep Arad from becoming used to her tactics.
His right eye was partially swollen shut from repeated blows from Shichi’s fist, but he could see enough to know what hall looked like. Despite being held down, he shifted his weight in an agitated attempt to create some smidgen of comfort only to have his damp clothing saturated with sweat, blood, and other fluids refuse to peel away from his clammy skin.
The whole time he’d laid there, between every abuse, Bryce repeated some variation of the same question.
“What happened to the wolf DemiShou? Where is Go?”
Every time, Arad only had one version of the answer.
“I don’t know. I never saw him.”
The doctor never liked that answer.
After the first hour or so, Arad was convinced she believed him. He’d screamed through it all, confessing everything he knew about Torrins, Roku, and the other DemiShou. It didn’t stop her switching from elegant sadism to Shichi’s brutality, no doubt as payback for not knowing what she wanted to hear, or because deep down she was really just that sick. Arad had lost track of how long this went on before he’d passed out and Bryce had woken him.
With a ragged inhale, Arad steeled himself, promising to be strong in spite of the terror hooked solidly into his tattered flesh. If these were his last moments, he would bear them with what little dignity he could muster. Which wasn’t much, considering how hard he trembled from either the cold, the trauma, or both.
Bryce selected the familiar scalpel, its razor edge stained red. “I have three of the four DemiShou in my possession. I believe you when you say you don’t know where the wolf is.”
“Then you’ll let me go?”
“I’m afraid not. You may have gone from cabin boy to captain in a bizarre set of circumstances, but you were present the entire time the DemiShou were housed on your vessel. I’m convinced there’s some tiny bit of information, some random bit of pillow talk hidden in your memories that will give me a lead to follow.” Bryce sighed. “Our results have been less than stellar so far. We may need to apply more drastic measures to dredge them up.”
Arad’s spine braced, knowing things could only go worse from here, because Torrins had his secrets and took them to his grave. Even when the man drank—which wasn’t often—he was too much of a control freak to babble. He offered nothing worthy of gossip to the man who shared his bed. The arrangment with Arad didn’t come with confidences.
Bryce may not have shown the satisfaction on her face, it radiated from every line in her body. She was eager, looking forward to the next step in interrogation, but allowed the quiet to ratchet the tension higher. The only audible noise was Arad’s short, rapid breaths until the ship’s AI broke the stillness.
“Captain Southerland, the Nightingale is being hailed.”
Mouth pursing at the interruption, Bryce replied to the ceiling. “Forward it to my location.”
A gentle static pop heralded the communique opening through the hidden speakers, the only precursor to an unwelcome, yet familiar voice.
“Nightingale, this is First Commander Hyland Bard, Alpha One Flagship. Respond at once.”
Arad gasped, a new layer of dread spiking into the chaos. Bryce’s gaze flitted to his face, clearly noticing the tension he failed to hide.
“This is Captain Southerland of the Nightingale. What can I do for you, First Commander?”
“You’re not the captain. Where’s Hodge?”
“There’s been a change of venue. I’m a busy woman, Commander. I assume there’s a reason for your call.”
“My vessel is en route. I’ve been seconded to ApexCorp to retrieve stolen property. Prepare to be boarded.” Bard’s arrogance came through in full force, the bearing of a man whose rank allowed no amount of insubordination. Since losing the Midas Ascending, his impatience had grown alongside his attitude and Arad feared a clash with Bryce, because who would survive in the aftermath?
“If this is regarding what I believe it is, I’m currently under contract with ApexCorp to retrieve the property.”
“Your contract has been revised.”
Annoyance tinged Bryce’s tone. “I was not notified—”
“I am not discussing the details of confidential documents outside of an encrypted command channel. Contact me when you’ve done so.”
The communication’s abrupt cutoff left a still silence in the air.
“Ship, reroute a command channel to the infirmary.”
The synthetic voice was polite yet devoid of emotion. “I’m sorry, Captain. Command channel locations are fixed on the bridge or day cabin. Rerouting is not possible.”
Bryce set the scalpel down on the tray hard enough to make the other instruments jump and clatter, losing their methodical alignment.
Arad wasn’t sure which thread he found more troublesome, but Bard on board would lead to a different type of disaster. “Don’t trust him. Bard is the pirate that crippled the Ansariland to get to the Demis. Once he has them, he won’t need you anymore. He’ll cleanse the ship like he did Torrins and the crew.”
The narrowing of her eyes was nearly imperceptible. “Why are you telling me this? Do you honestly think it will protect you from more questioning?”
Arad’s pained laugh lacked any shred of humor. “I’m dead whatever happens. I just want to save Roku.”
Meeting his gaze, Bryce pondered Arad without the slightest arch of her brow. Focusing on her cold stare kept him from paying attention to her bloodstained hands. He winced as she pulled off her surgical gloves with an aggressive snap.
“It’s fortunate I still have need of you to keep Roku in line. Don’t go away. I’ll be back soon to continue our conversation.”
Bryce turned and strode to the exit, gesturing for Shichi to follow. The door swished shut leaving Arad grateful to finally be alone.
He wanted to cheer, but he had to press the tiny advantage. His right arm wasn’t shackled and the controls were within reach. Hopefully he could use them correctly, or the chance would be lost.
It might have only been an arm length away, but given his current condition, it might as well have been mounted on his destroyed shanty in Grey District. It hurt so much, but he told himself the pain was fake, he could endure it, just a little longer.. Sweat burst across his skin as he reached over the bed’s edge to the adjustments. He’d watched when she’s released his arm earlier. It was the small panel next to the large one. The controls didn’t seem to be overly complicated, but he had to find the right spot on the panel, and do it with his thumb since his broken fingers couldn’t do the job.
A baritone buzz mocked him with an incorrect choice.
The restraining bar across his chest and tender ribs prevented a deep inhale and exhale. As best he could, Arad relaxed for a moment before trying again. Maybe the other corner of the pad.
“Oh come on…” Arad’s eyes welled in frustration. There were no guarantees on how long Bryce and Shichi would be occupied. First Commander Bard’s arrival provided an opportunity, but could hardly be called a blessing. It bought Arad time, but he could imagine far too many ways the man’s presence would doom them all. If ApexCorp tapped him, escaping was the only option. Again. Groaning at the effort, Arad stretched his thumb down to another edge of the panel.
Please, please don’t make this worse.
Wet salt leaked from his eyes crushed tight. He swore if this worked, he would find the street preacher who used to shout brimstone scripture in his face and join his congregation.
A bright chirp sounded and the entire series of restraints retreated into the table with a gentle whirr.
Choked laughter and tears of relief spilled out of him. “Oh man, I’m going to need so much therapy after this.”
The release lightened his soul, but he could only indulge for a moment. Danger lingered, and he was damaged goods at best. Rolling out of the bed squeezed more awful noises out of him, and when his feet touched the floor, he had to rest a moment before he could bear his full weight on them. His bare torso chilled in the recycled air, and so many points and lines on his body protested. The effort left him lightheaded. He’d never felt so fragile before.
Even so, he’d never join the church in Grey District. They were a bunch of certifiable kooks.
Given his physical condition, he needed a weapon, but couldn’t bring himself to touch the scalpel or the wad of bloodstained gloves. He pocketed the scissors Bryce used to cut away his shirt then picked up a pair of clean medical-grade pliers made of heavy surgical steel. Thankfully she hadn’t yet found a use for them. He wished he had the energy to rummage through cabinets and shelves. Bryce had a fully stocked infirmary, which meant drugs and other items with multiple uses, but he couldn’t waste valuable time trying to decipher them. Not now, when if they came back and cornered him in the room, he’d never survive.
Now that he had his opportunity, Arad had places to be. However, nowhere on the Nightingale was safe or out of her sight. To give himself a fleeting chance, he would need to put out her eyes.
Weilding the pliers in his shaky hand, he hammered each and every monitor, splintering the fragile screens into masses of static. Nothing hurt so much and felt so good at the same time. Except maybe his moment of pure pettiness when he rearranged the pieces on her chessboard.
“Pawn blinds Queen, you bitch.”
Leaning against the counter, Arad stalled to ease his panting, his stamina too thready for strenuous action. Saying he was held together with adhesive and string wasn’t too far fetched. He needed a chance to recover. Maybe he’d get lucky and have the chance later.
Arad staggered out of the infirmary, bouncing off the door jamb crossing the threshold. Cradling his right arm, he closed and locked the door before cracking the control panel as deftly as he had Bryce’s bank of viewscreens. Ignoring the tearing fire in each step, he trudged down the hall in the direction of the brig. Weariness flooded each step, but he let the goal give him strength.
“I’m coming for you, Roku.”
Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!