ARC – Chapter Five
Vegan Fiction – Reading time approximately: 12 minutes
Previously on ARC – Riker the Biker
Simplicia – Exit Strategy
12:01 am, 21 Oktober 2054
A nagging hum reverberates to the bone. A feeble light hovers over the door; its illumination a disturbing phantom in the darkness. My slightest sound echoes in the empty expanse. I’m standing or rather held vertical by a pulley and rope system tied to my hands. It’s day two of consciousness. I count the days by the three men who guard me in shifts. They wear typical black military garb but bear no insignias. They are mercs. Two of who behave professionally. Meaning they don’t grope me. The other is Jacko. He’s foul and fetid, rotten teeth in a corrosive mouth that reeks of whiskey and obscenities among his other bodily stenches. Did I mention he’s a pervert?
It is the beginning of his shift. Jacko stares at me from the door, engrossed in his mental foreplay. “Take a picture, for when you’re alone in bed,” I tell him, and he does. He steps into the chamber, walks behind me, and smacks my butt. He doesn’t talk, he grunts. Then, it’s on. He can’t keep his hands off me. Nor himself as he fondles me. Yes, it’s as revolting as it sounds. But it’s only a matter of time before I get him to lay me.
… That’s my plan, anyway.
Not knowing the other guards’ names, I designate them Hostile One and Hostile Two. Hostile One lowers the hoist at the beginning of his watch, allows me eight hours to sit, lay, and relieve myself in a bucket as he turns his back. Not an inconsiderate merc who also brings me toilet paper. Don’t think it isn’t a luxury.
Hostile Two has entered my chamber once, and only then in my semi-conscious state. But I see his eyes periodically when he peeps through the door slit.
The stub of my finger leaks as I grab the rope binding my hands and lift my feet over my head. I wrap my legs around the line and hold myself upside down as I gnaw into the hemp tied around my wrists. It’s a punishingly slow process I’m too depleted to maintain for more than a spell. After several rounds of upside down and spitting rope fiber from a dry mouth, I give up and pass out.
I wake to the sound of Hostile One unlocking the door, it’s my daily feeding. He’s the only guard who brings me food; I sense he’s breaking the rules. He unwraps the rope from the cleat and lowers the hoist. I sit on a cold steel floor. Hands me a pan of food. Scrambled eggs, bacon, and bread. “I told you, I don’t eat this crap.”
“Right. Vegan.” His accent thick Ukrainian, “Go hungry, I don’t give a shit.” But he does, his tone is false, and I see sympathy in his eyes.
I pitch the pan across the floor, the tin on steel clatters.
“Childish vegan. Suit yourself.” He stomps out. Maybe I was wrong about him. Should have eaten the bread, at least.
Hostile One’s back with sandwiches, peanut butter, and jelly oozing out the sides like a three-year-old made them. And a glass of… milk? “Almond,” He says in reply to my sigh.
Oh? Big, bad merc’s got a reaction to cow’s milk. How funny.
Wearing a look of resigned compassion, he stares at me as I eat, his arms folded over his chest. I test our relationship, “Thank you.”
“A lady should not go hungry.”
“Nor should you hold her against her will.”
“It is,” he thinks a moment, “how do you say in English? Nonnegotiably.”
“Nonnegotiable,” I correct him. “They’ll kill me, you know.” He looks away. I let that simmer as he stares into the void. Then, I see it, just as bright as the jelly dripped in my lap, “What’s her name?”
“Whose name?” he asks absently. My question is background chatter; he’s captured in the ether of his mind.
“Your daughter’s.” Call it a woman’s intuition.
That gets his attention. His Adam’s apple throttles a lump in his throat, “It’s not important. I go now. To guard.”
“I’m here, guard who? Where are we?”
He lingers inside the doorway, arrested by his thoughts. Without looking at me, he says, “Hell. We in hell.” He means the world is hell.
The next day, after surviving another enduring round of Jacko’s self-gratification, Hostile One brings me a steaming pan of green beans and potatoes and a cup of orange juice. He’s warmed up. Sits cross-legged in front of me, he says, “Sofiya.”
We make the connection, lock eyes, “How old is Sofiya?”
“Nine.” He shuffles nervously, “Sofiya is nine.” Pulls a crumpled picture from his pocket, shattering a smile on his face. “Sofiya and wife Katrya.” Hands me the photo.
“They’re beautiful.” Stunning brown hair gracing gorgeous Russian features. Modestly but elegantly dressed in traditional Ukrainian. Red and white embroidered blouses signifying purity and happiness beneath black embroidered vests, plaid skirts in shades of red. A glowing mother and joyful daughter holding hands wearing smiles as golden as the domes of Kyiv’s Monastery of the Caves in the background.
“Sofiya beautiful. Katrya dead.”
His pain reaches into my heart, opens a pathway into his. I choke on the words, “I’m sorry.” I bite my lip. I feel the immensity of his sorrow drowning my soul. He’s right; the world is hell.
“Politikal drone. Wrong place, wrong time. Accident.”
And he mercs for them? I wonder at his sense of justice, his appreciation for revenge. Perhaps I have an ally? “The Politikal does nothing by accident.”
He takes the photo, puts it in his pocket. Eyes water as he stands to leave.
I have him where I need him. But there’s more than selfish concern. There’s compassion, understanding, sympathy for what seems a good man who’s made bad choices, “My name’s Simplicia.”
His hand on the door, his voice cracks, “Aleksander.”
“Aleksander? The defender of man. Odd occupation for the name.”
He looks at me, and I see the hurt spill from his eyes. “The world is a hell mixture of contradictions and hypocrisies.” He leaves. I don’t see him until the end of his watch when he hoists me to my feet. Still showing the bloodshot of emotion.
I moan like a pornstar in bondage, and to make it perv-ably believable, just as spurious. It has the effect I’m after. Jacko’s primed. I tell him, “I could enjoy this better if you lower me, allow my participation.” He grunts in reply. Reluctantly disengaging himself, he hesitates. I don’t think he enjoys sharing the passion. Then he hangs his gun belt at the door and lowers me to the floor. With his pants around his ankles, his stench raises by the power of ten. His image as vile sears into my brain. Respiring like a rape-raged maniac, he struggles to pull my pants down. “Better you untie my legs,” I tell him. Although he’s thinking with his rancid erection, he hesitates again. I smile, he complies. Clumsy dolt fumbles with the knot, “Settle down, I’m not going anywhere, hun.” A grin cuts into his cheek, he really thinks I want him.
He slings off my pants. I spread my legs. Timing is vital before anything more abominable happens; I scissor-lock my legs around his waist. He thinks I’m playing. I bash his face with my forehead, his nose bleeds. Still, he thinks I’m playing until I disabuse him of the notion by wrapping the rope from the hoist around his neck. I yank. He gags, eyes bulge.
To tighten the noose, I roll to the ropes reach. Jacko struggles wildly but pulls the knife from the sheath on his boot. Stabs me in the thigh. Grazes the femur and hurts like nothing I’ve imagined, but I tighten my grip. He rolls against me, putting slack in the rope, but still, I hold the choke. In his terror-stricken strength, he rears up on two feet, his face contorts in a silent red rage. Both hands clasp the knife as he raises it over his head. I’m clutched to him like a cicada on tree bark, but he stumbles, and I dodge his first clumsy thrust. Again he raises the knife, wearing a fierce determination. This is it. Though my effort worthy, I feel Death’s blade imminent. I brace for a brutal stabbing. But he flounders, the blade clanks atop the floor. Deprived of oxygen, his eyes roll back into his head. We fall. I hit my head and lay unconscious.
A boot to the ribs wakes me from my involuntary slumber. My eyes focus to see Jacko standing beside me, smacking the blade of his knife on the palm of his hand. Air spits out through bloody crusted nostrils like a raging bull. Rope scars circle his neck. Glad to see his pants pulled up. Mine is still off, but I feel no violation. “Fucking bitch,” he sneers. “I offer you pleasure, and you try to kill me. Now you suffer. Slowly.” He tests the knife’s edge with his thumb; it’s sharp, it bleeds.
My legs are a weapon, and if Jacko were only half as smart as he stunk, he would have tied them back together. By Jupiter, he’d be a world-renowned Nobel prize-winning nuclear physicist with his own prime-time talk show. But as it is, he takes the knife and simulates slicing his neck, “I kill you, little by little, little whore.”
“Not today, bucko.” I push up on my shoulders, on to my hands, and kick the blade into his throat. It lodges in his thyroid cartilage, severing carotid arteries. Out of the gaping gash spills a bloody froth. His eyes flummoxed and wide in a chaotic orbit. Springing to my feet, I meet him face-to-bewildered-face. He falls forward. As I sidestep, I slide the knife out of his neck.
“The pleasure,” I huff, “is mine.”
I wipe the blood off the knife onto his shirt, tempted to spit in his face. I don’t. I cut my hands free. Put on my pants, Jacko’s gun belt, and boot sheath.
The corridor is lit as dim as my cell. I see a steep metal stairway; I opt for up. Still, the relentless hum drills into my ears. A strange new fear worms its way into my gut. Nursing my wounded thigh, I hobble up several flights to a steel hatch. I hear the pounding of heavy boots rising below me. I open the hatch and step outside where the night air is fresh, crisp, and clean — a slight breeze. I see the moon, but it’s not in the sky. Its reflection shimmers over the waves. I’m in a panic, standing on the helideck of a littoral combat ship.
At the nonsensical idea of commandeering a warship, alone and with only a pistol and knife, I snicker, the sort of sound that attends the early stages of madness. I stumble aimlessly across the helideck, my mind a fritter, my motion tripping the auxiliary lights. I recognize the eyes of Hostile Two standing ten paces away. He raises his M4A1. It’s aimed and ready to place two bullets into my heart. I don’t bother trying for my gun; I raise my hands. I feel defeat. He motions for me to lie on the deck, “Face down,” he says.
I stand dumbstruck. The hatch opens. I turn and see Aleksander, his .45 caliber automatic trained on me. “The gun, Simplicia,” he says, closing the gap between us. “Lay the gun on the deck. No sudden moves.”
With my pistol in hand, my finger finds the trigger. There is that instant. That flashing fleeting moment when I consider putting the gun to my head. They won’t take Jacko’s death lightly. And I’ve lost Aleksander’s favor. Foolish of me to think of him as an ally. The man mercs for money for the love of Venus. I see a cold determination harden in his eyes, the same eyes I saw sympathy in is now daggers thrust into mine. A man incapable of knowing morality, loyalty. A man who works for the Politikal, the entity that drone-killed his wife.
But I cannot take my life. I lack the courage. And even if I somehow shot and killed them both, what next? A flood of mercs to rape and torture me worse than I can imagine? I lay the 9mm on deck.
Aleksander picks up the weapon, he aims it at my temple, and says, “Jacko was my brother. He was sick, he heard voices. Father used to beat him. One day he developed a fever and after that Jack became Jacko. But, he was family, Simplicia. My family. My only sibling.” He cocks the hammer, “I’m sorry.” I close my eyes. At least he’s sorry.
The report of the 9mm rattles me, my heart hammers like a war drum, but I feel no percussion or pain, no slug burrowed into my head. No warm blood flowing off my shoulder. Is this the numbing shock of a mortal wound? I’m terrified of what I’ll see when I open my eyes. But I open them. I’m shamelessly giddy at the sight of his blood. Hostile Two lies on his back, a stream of crimson flowing out of his head like a slithering snake into a pool of wax. I’m so glad to be alive, I tremble with glee.
“To live, you must go, Simplicia. Nigerian coast, eighteen, twenty kilometers that way,” Aleksander points. “I’ll tell them you killed him. I shot you, and you fell into the ocean.” Aleksander raises his .45 into the air and fires one shot, hands me the 9mm. “Go quickly.”
I take the gun from his hand and holster it. “Thank you, Aleksander.” I kiss his cheek. “Go to Sofiya. She needs you, a father.”
To make his story credible, I smear the blood from my leg wound over the railing. And leap into the abyss. Wait. By Juno, wait. Did he say Nigeria? Then another fear stabs into my mind, like a sledgehammer driving a stake as I plunge into the depths. Sharks? I’m bleeding.
The relentless hum I heard earlier is now the thrashing of propellers, louder the deeper I sink. I become disoriented, every direction as black as the depth and just as indeterminable. I fight against the current with all my strength, kick with all my might, heedless of my missing finger and wounded thigh. I don’t know if I’m swimming up, down, or sideways. The ship’s hull slams against me, twisting, turning me like a rolling pin beneath its barnacles shredding arms, back, chest, and legs, driving me under. I struggle, my will to live more powerful than ever. My lungs scream. I get light-headed, woozy, and grow weak, I feel myself blacking out.
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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