*Warning: This chapter features references to trauma and trauma induced mental illness.
One of the things that had made the Kelmno cells so effective was their complete isolation.
Soundproofed, windowless blanks, they isolated the subject from any possible knowledge of a world beyond their pain.
The removal from outside stimuli, combined with techniques guaranteed to cause maximum suffering with minimal damage, provided the Inquisitors with a high rate of success. Particularly Gajor Lok, who had broken so many POWs, he’d become known throughout the Judon Empire for his successes.
Until Harry Finn was brought to Gajor Lok’s cell.
Harry Finn, who, despite Lok’s best (or worst, depending on your point of view) efforts, did not break.
Not because he was strong, or because his honor was his shield, or whatever other bullshit stories ended up being told after the fact.
No, Harry Finn didn’t break because, a long time before the cells, before the war, even, he’d loved a woman with golden brown eyes, warm terracotta features, and a crooked grin that haunted him still. And this woman he’d loved, for reasons of her own, had taught Harry everything she knew about keeping secrets.
One of the tricks she’d taught him was that the only way to hide from pain was seek a deeper pain, a pain so deep, so eviscerating, that no external trauma could match it.
And then she’d died—badly, in a fire—and in so doing, given Harry the sanctuary he needed to hold himself closed against Gajor Lok during the war, and Neishi Fabria, now.
“Neishi…” Seth—no, Gemini—dropped the name into the thick air of the cell, jarring Harry from the protective ghost of his past.
“Gemini,” Neishi’s voice, deep and sultry and dearly hated, was followed by a possessive hand sliding up the inside of Harry’s thigh as she straightened. “Do you like it?”
“He’s beautiful,” Gemini replied, joining her and pushing his cold, metal finger into the blackened flesh over Harry’s hip, causing a low grunt to emerge from the hanging man. “That had to hurt.”
Harry felt a lot less bad about what happened to Seth back in the day.
“Are you sure he’s paying attention?” Gemini’s head twisted down and under Harry’s, which was hanging slack to his chest. Spittle and blood were dripping off the leather cylinder Neishi had fastened between his teeth.
“Don’t want you biting through your tongue,” she’d explained, lifting up what Harry’s sweat-stung eyes thought was a culinary torch.
Turned out he’d been right.
He would never look at crème brûlée the same way again.
“Ah,” Gemini said, meeting Harry’s eyes from beneath, “there you are.”
“You were right about him,” Neishi said with a sigh. “Beyond a few creative insults, he has not been forthcoming—even before the gag.”
“Still got it, eh, Finn-Haija?” Gemini straightened, put a brotherly hand around the back of Harry’s neck. “Always the brave soldier, always strong.”
“Not exactly,” Neishi said.
“What does that mean?” Gemini turned to face her, yanking Harry’s head up by the hair as he did.
She tossed the torch onto the table before turning to rest against it before answering, “It means he’s learned how to escape the suffering I give him through a greater suffering.”
“Is that so?” Gemini’s left hand rose into Harry’s line of sight. It was holding a dagger. “I bet I can help him find some greater suffering.”
Intuitively, Harry’s thoughts dove down… deeper than this cell, deeper than Ceres, deeper than the craving for… just one more drink… and all the way back to the crash site, to where he’d lost—everything.
“As you should,” Neishi was saying while Gemini’s blade danced in front of Harry, who wasn’t seeing it. “But I don’t think it will help.”
Gemini looked at her. “Because…?”
“Because this suffering is not physical,” she said, staring into Harry’s eyes. “I smell burning,” she murmured.
“Well, you did sort of…” Gemini’s blade poked at one of the blistered streaks on Harry’s chest.
“No—well, yes, but I also smell burning leaves, and upholstery,” she clarified. “I smell what he is smelling, over and over again.” Her expression sharpened and her voice spiked with understanding. “He’s had psionic conditioning,” the empath said. “Rasalkan conditioning.”
Which didn’t sound right to Harry, but even he could admit he wasn’t thinking too clearly, at present.
“Is that so?” Gemini asked Neishi. “Is that so?” he asked again, sliding the blade up Harry’s cheek, beneath the gag’s tether, and with a flick of the wrist, sliced through the strap holding the leather cylinder in place. “Time to tell the truth, Harry,” he said as the gag fell to the floor.
As he spoke, his voice became richer, more cultivated, less Gemini-like.
“You owe us that much,” Seth told him.
Make him angry.
“What?” Harry croaked, annoyed that, on top of everything else, he suddenly had a headache.
Seth’s expression softened. “I said, you owe us the truth.”
Make. Him. Angry.
Harry wondered if the torture had driven him to madness.
There is only one way to find out.
Past Seth, Harry saw Neishi straighten.
“The only thing I owe you,” the words burst thick from Harry’s cracked lips, “is a lifetime membership in the Titan Super-Max ‘Bend over because you’re Killer Joe’s bitch’ club.”
“Harry,” Seth’s voice took on a warning edge, “don’t do this.”
“Do what?” he gasped out the question. “Point out you’re nothing but a pissant wannabe Big Bad with esteem issues?”
Okay, not his strongest.
Not helpful, he thought at the voice in his head.
“Damn it, Har—”
“Listen to me, you pathetic little shit,” Harry cut in. “We were never friends, do you hear me? Never. I felt… I felt sorry for you.”
“No. That’s not tr—”
“Sorry for a spineless wuss who caved the second things got too tough in the Kelm—”
“It wasn’t that—”
Neishi joined Seth, where he now stood face to face with Harry. “Gemini—”
“I am not Gemini!”
“No,” Harry agreed, “you’re not. Gemini has a pair.”
“Seth.” Neishi’s eyes flicked hatred at Harry. “You are—”
“A loser,” Harry rasped on. “A loser with a pretty face that your dick couldn’t keep up with.”
“Lies!” Seth hissed.
Neishi dropped to the floor, hands scrabbling for the gag.
“So what’d you do?” Harry asked, pushing himself, pushing Seth, before it was too late. “You let Gemini take over. Things fell apart, all right, and you, you mewling coward, you couldn’t hold, so you bent over and grabbed your ankles for Gemini, a liar and a cheat and a two-bit hacker who used your brains and your body to fuck you over but goo—”
“Seth!” Neishi jumped to her feet, the gag dangling forgotten in her hand.
Harry, however, wasn’t inclined to speak—not with Seth’s blade buried in his shoulder.
“I am not a two-bit hacker,” Gemini told him.
Dimly, Harry heard Neishi assert what slim control she could over the frothing Gemini (or Seth, Harry couldn’t tell for certain) before walking him out of the room.
This left Harry alone—still hanging from the ceiling—still with a knife in his shoulder.
Well? What are you waiting for?
He almost rolled his eyes. “I’m going to assume you’ve never been strung up by the wrists for over an hour.”
I see your point.
Then, even as the voice faded, Harry experienced an adrenal rush so strong he almost jerked a shoulder off its socket. Lucky for him, the PT he’d made a personal religion since he broke his back kicked in, and a heartbeat later he was using the previously inert arms to pull himself up. He made it just high enough for his left hand to get the knife out of his right shoulder and slice through that fucking rope.
He dropped the knife and hit the ground rolling, hands unwrapping themselves from the bindings as he asked, “Did you do that?”
What do you think?
Harry grunted and continued his forward motion, coming up to his feet to grab Neishi’s case from the table.
Lucy is at the door.
He grimaced, but didn’t stop using his momentum to add to the impact of the metal case, which he slammed into the face of the man who was just walking into the cell. “That was Ethel,” he said, stepping over the slumping hunk of thug.
The voice chose not to answer, so Harry, still holding Neishi’s briefcase of horrors, dashed through the door.
He huffed out a frustrated breath, but he turned left.
Then he stopped.
Why are you not moving?
“I’d like to get the needle out from under my toenail.”
… Very well…
When Ray woke again, the glove was nowhere to be seen.
Unfortunately, Gavin was still there, and holding on to Ray’s vibro-dagger, which he turned from side to side, seemingly enjoying the play of light over the sleek blade.
“Last chance, bodyguard.” Sims leaned over and patted Ray’s face, possibly making sure he was fully awake but definitely exacerbating the headache Ray had picked up to go along with the everything-else aches. “Gavin’s eager to start playing, so if I were you, I’d be a little more cooperative.”
Where the laugh bubbled up from, Ray had no clue. “You—you are pathetic, Sims,” he said, surprising himself as he did. Was he trying to get himself killed?
At the soft remonstrance, Ray blinked and his eyes darted from side to side, seeking the woman who’d uttered it, only to find no one in the room but himself and his tormenters. What the hell?
Jessyn says to trust, the voice continued, and it was then it struck Ray that the voice was in his head, and with that voice came a sensation of cool water in a deep stream he instinctively associated with Jessyn.
So either the pain had driven him over the edge, or—
Or, the non-voice cut in.
Ray came back into the moment and saw Sims above him, eyes murderously hot.
“Odd,” Sims said, “I’m not seeing me as the pathetic one here.”
“I mean,” Ray said, “I don’t think this,” Ray jerked his chin towards the salivating Gavin, “has a damn thing to do with the Man upstairs or Beta Niobe 6. It’s about Jessyn,” Ray said, putting all his creds on the jealousy card. “It’s been about Jessyn from the second you saw her with me.”
From the flash of hatred in Sims’s eyes, he’d struck ioprine. Now he could only hope it didn’t blow up in his face.
Too late to stop now, the voice in his head prompted, so he forged on.
“It’s about some noob coming out of nowhere and catching her eye. It’s about your street cred, and your need to save face. So you accuse me of being a threat to the cause. Torture me, carve me up, and what? Dump me in the river, but in a way that guarantees everyone who’s anyone will know Sims Al-Macho is not to be trifled with.”
“You’re on dangerous ground,” Sims growled, gesturing to Gavin, who turned on the blade.
Ray felt the thrum of the vibro-blade all the way to his bones. “Only because I’m dancing on your doorstep,” he said as another laugh found its way past the lump of fear in his throat. “If you checked me out like you say, you know I did a bit in the Dutchman, so you know I’m an ex-con.”
“Why is that relevant?” Sims asked, giving his head a little shake and rubbing at the base of his skull.
Tell him, the voice urged.
I got this, Ray thought back. “It’s relevant,” he said aloud, talking almost as fast as he was thinking, “because ex-cons are prohibited from working in any field that requires a weapons permit or an operator’s license. I’m an unlicensed jammer, meaning I can’t be choosy about my clients. I have to take whatever jobs I can get. And what I got on Beta Niobe was twenty thousand platinum for a pickup, escort, and delivery, no questions asked.”
Sims’s eyes narrowed, and Gavin dipped the knife so it hovered over Ray’s groin. Yipes!
“Questions are being asked now,” Sims said.
“The client was Juno Je T’aime. I know,” Ray said, eying Gavin as he swept the knife down towards his knee, then back up again, “crap name. He used to work out of the Centaurus Smugglers’ Guild, but now he’s on the run from his own people, so he paid me ten thousand to pick him up on Beta Niobe and another ten after I dropped him on Rwandii, where I guess I barely missed meeting you and Slicey McChucklenuts here.”
He shouldn’t have been surprised when Gavin responded with, yes, a chuckle.
Sims, however, remained silent, then he jerked his chin again, and he and Gavin moved a few feet from the table, where they carried on a quiet conversation, which, on conclusion, brought Sims alone back to the table.
Well done, the voice in his head told him.
“Here’s the deal,” Sims said, coming back to the table and leaning over Ray. “I’ll look into your claim. If I’m satisfied you’re not the lying sack of shit I believe you to be, you get to keep breathing a while longer. If I’m not satisfied, well,” he glanced at Gavin and back, “better start saying goodbye to those favorite parts.”
He bared his teeth, then turned and, with a disappointed-looking Gavin in tow, left Ray alone in the room.
“Holy shit,” he muttered to the empty room. Now what? he asked the voice in his head, but whoever owned it must have been distracted, because this time there was no answer.