ARC – Chapter Three
Vegan Fiction – Reading time approximately: 11 minutes
Previously on ARC – Blood for Blood
Like Old Times
11:30, 16 Oktober 2054
I wake in a somber pitch. No sound save my rasping breath that coils like a viper around my head, warm and stinks to hell, tangled in the funk of dried drool and blood, some of my own. eCuffs bound my legs to a chair, hands behind me, head stuffed in a bag that itches like the fug. What happened? Think, Moon. But before I can, an overhead door rolls open and I’m still as blue steel. The draft stirs a mechanic’s odor of grease, rubber, and oil dry. Light filters through the bag’s weave. There are unintelligible voices, two pairs of hard sole shoes stop beside me. “Wake him,” says one. A lock pops, a chain rattles, the chair tips back and falls. Head strikes a floor grate, jarring teeth, cleaving scalp. At this rate, like cattle at an abattoir, I’ll die of exsanguination.
“Sergeant Moon, we meet again,” says a familiar voice I can’t place. Another, with herculean hands, holds my head like a vise. I hear a spigot twist, feel the splattering water. Paralyzing fear stabs my gut. This won’t be pleasant. I know waterboarding, not only as a training exercise in interrogation resistance but as both victim and executioner. It’s brutalizing and fiendishly cruel. Simulates drowning. Has killed, maimed, caused brain damage because of oxygen deprivation, broke bones from struggling. Its psychological curse is why I bathe in a tub instead of a shower. But it is an Empire approved weapon of interrogation used in domestic and foreign matters of any import. It is not torture, so say the legislative bastards who’ve never experienced the dread of drowning.
I suck a filthy froth through the bag’s muck. Then, the water’s turned away, incidentally held over the punctures in my chest; it’s soothingly cool. That was easy. Thankful I’m dealing with rookies, “Is there a point to this?” I ask.
The reply comes in the form of a torrent, timed as I suck a breath. I hate this shit.
Hellbound in the panic of oxygen inanition, water claws my nasal passages, laryngospasms disfigure my throat, body wrenches testing its tendons. It’s like gasping for air beneath a waterfall. Finally, a reprieve, I heave and convulse. As I’m about to recover, water once more rushes into every orifice of my head. So much for rookies.
In the struggle for life, my mind swims in the ethereal haze of death. I feel drawn into the illuminating ether. Tranquil as the weight of my crimes evanesces off my shoulders. A harsh voice becomes an angelic tantalization in the sedated realm. Beckoning. Followed by a painful flash of light as I feel a wallop to the side of my head. The divine voice demonizes, “Moon,” it barks. And the burst of light repeats, with a swift, passionate open-hand right, “Moon! Can you hear me?”
I Gasp, choke, retch, and cough water from my airway. I return to reality.
“I worried. Thought I might have overdone,” he says.
I cough, “Fug you too, asswipe.”
He sighs. “Boyish profanity misbecomes a man. I suppose it’s the vernacular of the trade. However, compensated by a rare refractory. Admirable. Like the feral mustang. Wild, vivacious creatures these stubborn breeds. To tame them, you need only break their spirit. Teach them the whip, and you own a slave. Moon the mustang. Have I made myself clear?”
Thing I’ve learned about the agents of torture is, any response, no matter how fawning, will not provoke pity, so, “Piss off, Jackwad.”
He cackles with a smoker’s bronchial rattle, “Cracked tougher leathernecks than you, Moon. Or, maybe not. Either way, I’d love to stay and play, you’re a model of entertainment. However, I have an afternoon engagement with a prominent officer of ARC. Which, I understand, you’re no longer a member.”
From behind, I’m sat up. The bag ripped from my head, tearing the scabs off my face. I grind my teeth and squint into a light, and he says, “You look like shit, Moon.”
“So I’m told.”
A cart rattles in beside me. Extraction forceps, bone saw, diagonal wire cutters, and other miscellaneous medical and mechanical tools that stir a horrid imagination. I smell the warmth of a propane burner heating a soldering iron. It’s as much for psychological torture as their use is physical. And it works, it’s all I can do to keep from pissing myself.
He straightens his suit coat, snugs his tie, and stretches his rope-scarred neck, “Name’s Cornwall Ximenes.” Arrogant, narcissistic bastard, doesn’t realize water splashed his pants, makes him look like he pissed himself. I swallow a chuckle but smirk. He lights a cigar.
He is cadaver thin and gray-haired with a pink face accustomed to hard liquor and armed with a bionic hand replacement. But I recognize him from my military honor retirement. He gave a speech. Droned on about the merits of nationalism to the proud boys and girls in the Academy. Praised my kill record. Shook my hand, patted my shoulder, hung a medal around my neck that prompted a standing ovation. Told me what an exemplary example I was to our aspiring young patriots. I won’t do him the honor, “Name supposed to mean something to me?”
“I’m hurt, Moon. I championed you at your retirement ceremony. Remember? Colonel Ximenes, now Director of PIA.”
“Mr. X,” slides off my tongue with as must shit in my voice as I can muster.
I stare down the barrel of his .22 caliber bionic finger gun as he pretends to shoot me, “Bingo, gringo.”
“What’s the Planetary Intelligence dungheap want with me, Head Shit?”
He grins, looks beside me.
In my peripheral, the herculean fondles the pair of wire cutters like an inbreed brat bedeviled by a new toy. X says, “Meet, Bubba.”
“Bubba, eh? That’s original. Can it speak, or is it as daft as it smells?” The brute squats in front of me and puts his smiling mug in my face, an upper incisor broke off at the gumline, his nose shattered and swollen from Simplicia’s backhand punch. Halitosis assaults my olfactory nerve. “We’ve met,” I say. “Watched him get his ass kicked by a girl a tenth of his size.” He growls and grabs my gonads. I feel the wet squish of his shattered nose as I smash it with my forehead. He falls back on his ass wailing, holding his face, blowing blood out from between his fingers. It’s beautiful and I smile.
Now it’s his turn. Tears in his eyes, he moves behind me, whacks my head with a lug wrench, and twists my hand, nearly snapping the wrist. Cutters squeeze at the knuckle of my trigger finger but stop short. My breath digs deep, equal parts of fear and anger. X smiles, the sadistic bastard. Despite my time tortured, fear never released its grip. Twisting guts into knots, I feel like upchucking. Regardless, a man needs a code to live by, and I have rules. Número uno: exhibit bravado. Or, stupid goading, “Get on with it, fugwit.” Like a finger means nothing.
A nod from X and Bubba relaxes. Me too for the moment.
“Wilford Smith,” X says. “Know him?”
“Founder of Smith Valley Pork.”
“And CEO. Slaughters and packages more of your friends in a week than all the rest in a year. Inspirational speaker at the annual Future Hog Farmers Association convention. You know the affair, kiddos show their prized pet pigs, get a ribbon and an attaboy, learn critical disregard for life.”
“ARC and every animal rights group on the planet will protest the event. I’d like you to join them.”
“Got other plans,” I say, but I don’t.
X flips a barrel of cigar ash at me, I watch it roll down my chest. He coughs. “Cancel them. I need you to put a bullet in Smith’s skull.”
“Soft spot for pigs, have you?”
He looks at me like I’m an idiot, then I get it, “You want me to start a shit storm.”
A bit of sarcasm, “You crazy guys, always stirring crap.”
“You’ve crossed the Rubicon, Moon. Social media’s buzzing with ARC’s latest mink farmer mayhem. Animal rights on one side—already possessed with uncompromising devotion, now encouraged to fight to the end an opponent vexed to violence by your insult to their species narcissism.
“As your forces grow and flex their muscle, so too does the opposition. Vegans beget vegans beget vegans. Dregs beget dregs beget dregs.”
He draws a wheezing breath. Blows a column of smoke to the rafters. Clears his throat, “Discord is the means of supremacy, Moon. Turning man against man, ideology against ideology, faith against faith, and why you will kill Smith. Stir discord.”
“Do it yourself, jerkoff.”
“Moon the Recalcitrant. I expected your refusal, so I’ve prepared a contingency plan. Spare him the finger, Bubba, he’ll need it.”
A spike of gloom shivers my spine, “You motherfugger.”
“Fetch the girl!”
Bubba returns with Simplicia standing strapped to an appliance dolly, a masochistic ball-gag stuffed in her mouth. It’s cruel, sick looking, reminds me of Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs. Only worse. These bastards are criminally insane. The inbreed cuts free her right hand and holds her arm in his armpit, shows that shitty broken-tooth smile, his nose a leveled disaster. Simplicia’s chest swells with fear as the wire cutters fix her pinky.
Cornwall X curls his lip into a snarl, “Feel the whip, ‘stang?”
“I’m your bronco, cowboy.”
“If only I could believe you.”
Número dos: never supplicate.
I supplicate, “Master, I beg you, let her go, turn me loose, and I’ll raise your ruckus. I’ll beseech on hands and knees, kiss those ugly fugging Oxfords, suck your fungal toes. Or, whatever else you put in my mouth; I’m your inamorato.”
“Moon, Moon, Moon, I’m saddened to believe your assurance extends no further than your current dilemma. Or, like before, will you swear allegiance, slave?”
Bubba chuckles. Simplicia cringes, finger leaks as the cutters dig into the bone. Asshead’s toying with me and has every intent to sever her finger. X says, “Do you swear, Moon?”
“By the Virgin’s cunt, you rancid foreskin.”
“Bubba, would you say his pledge lacks sincerity, or do we take him at his word?”
Bubba pukes a wicked, guttural laugh.
I hear the cutters snap. But the rage roiling through the garage is mine. Simplicia squirms in her restraints, head whipping to throw off the pain, but smothers a cry.
X holds me in his gaze, calmly puffing his cigar. Bubba grins. The only sound is Simplicia’s labored breath. I’m fugging furious, but my delivery is impassive, “I’m going to rip your tongues out, peel the skin off your bones, and let the sun dry you out.”
“Comical threat, Moon.”
“It’s not a threat. I’m telling you what I’m going to do.”
A lack of concern follows X as he takes the pale, dripping finger from Bubba. Bubba takes the soldering iron and cauterizes the stub. Simplicia no longer contains her storm, blue eyes glare red, growls like a rabid wolf with a hot poker up her ass.
Holding the digit to the light, X examines it like an alien specimen. Licks the blood, kisses the tip with a smack of his lips. Pulls a clear vial on a silver chain from his breast pocket. That’s convenient. Unscrews the lid and drops the finger in, spilling formalin. Mine would never fit.
X turns hideous in cruelty, a tall, scrawny, hunched-back Grim Reaper, “As always, you belong to the Politikal, Moon. Except now, you’ll get no stipend. No metals of valor. No glory. Only orders from me. And lest you forget Simplicia has nineteen digits and two tits intact, this reminder.” He puts the chain around my neck, pats my face, “Like old times, eh, boyo?” He jimmies my jaw open with the strength of his bionic hand, shoves his mushy cigar in my mouth to my throat. “Suck that,” he says. I gag and spit it back at him. Cigar flies over his shoulder, spittled tobacco juice splatters his face, he laughs and lights another. Doesn’t whip the spit from his face.
Bubba chains the chair to the grate, X throws a dpad in my lap. I’m left alone with my rage as the sun goes down. It’s time spent struggling to escape while trying to connect the dots between Empire and ARC. I wonder if there are tires to fit the old gas-guzzling Firebird on stands. Will it start? Hours later, the phone chirps, and the eCuffs snap open, there’s a text message.
ARC is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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