He clasped the wrist of his trembling right hand with his bionic left and steadied it, applying enough pressure to nearly make the light pen fall from his suddenly numb fingers. Just a couple of hours ago, he had gotten his badge back, something he had never expected after his crimes and the trouble he'd caused. Still, the commander had done it, without the reprimand he deserved, even without much of a scowl. He almost wished he'd been scolded. Maybe he wouldn't feel so shaken about the whole issue then.
And maybe that was why Walsh hadn't done it.
Maybe that was why all he had to do was writing a standard report about what had happened as if he had been on a mission – which he hadn't been – and after he had some sleep – which he hadn't gotten – before he would be sent to their next mission – which he almost feared. And as a result he sat here now, trying to steady himself enough to actually sign the report.
He desperately wanted to believe the shaking was because of the lie. Unfortunately, he was honest enough with himself to know that it wasn't.
It was the truth behind it.
With a grim line around his mouth, he positioned the light pen again, and scribbled his name onto the dotted line:
2087-01-25 – 1917
The apartment door slid shut behind him. He leaned briefly against it, closing his eyes against the bright lights in their apartment, and tried to find the strength to face his children. They needed him. More than ever, now that their mother was gone, and what did he do? He ran off to get...
His thoughts stopped dead-still, shrank away from where the line led, as if it were glowing red-hot and about to consume him. He clenched his fist and forced himself to breathe. He'd known after the dizziness of the depsychocrystallization had worn off, returning the memories, that the first time to really calm down would be the worst. And he was glad that they would blame the psychocrystallization for it... most of them. In Goose's case, he wasn't sure. There had been something in the look the ST had thrown him after their flight back to BETA that was disconcertingly close to sympathy.
He was marked – in more than the obvious way – sporting bruises in places no sane man wanted bruised. He knew it too well, even before the Captain at MedoStat had raised a brow to him in a silent inquiry he'd pretended not to notice. He just hoped the physician turned out to be sensible enough to keep the suspicion to himself.
God, he felt dirty, filthy, and he'd already discovered that soap and water didn't help. He didn't want to bring that filth home to his children. He'd left them alone, abandoned them, betrayed them – as much as he'd betrayed their mother. He got what he deserved for that. He–
"Dad?" his son's uncertain voice cut into his milling thoughts. "Are you okay?"
He forced the bile from his tongue before he answered. "I'm fine, Zach, just tired. It's been a rough couple of days this time."
"Sleep well, love." Finally, the last of their doors closed, allowing him to go into his own room. A room where nobody waited for him, where only the memories lurked. He started when the light suddenly dimmed, then realized it was only GV following its preprogrammed bedtime routine as usual.
Only he didn't feel as usual.
"Lights on, GV," he ordered sharply, and noticed, annoyed, that the fingers dealing with the buttons of his uniform were less steady than they used to be. He ground his teeth. Now, some dreamless sleep would change that...
"Wake him. I need to assess his responses."
The voice cut into his throbbing head, called him back... to what? He felt hard metal against his back. Rough-textured metal. It pressed a pattern into his biological skin, and even a little into the semi-artificial mix that marked the transition zone from flesh to bionics. He blinked, tried to look at it, and noticed broad openings in the plate left and right of his body in addition to those he felt along his spine, and there were metal bonds around his lower arms and legs and around the thighs, tying him solidly to the plate.
He tested their strength but even the ones clasped around the bionics didn't give any way.
"Stop that," a female voice ordered behind him, seemingly amused by his efforts. He twisted his neck to catch a glimpse, but to no avail. Icy fingers reached through the openings next to his head and clasped his cheeks, forcing him to look straight ahead at a highly polished mirror-wall in front of him, immobilizing him even more. "I said stop! We don't want bruises on you." With a malicious undertone she added after releasing his face: "At least not right now. Damaged goods gain no pleasure."
The hand appeared again. White, narrow non-human fingers brushed through his hair and over his cheek, then wandered to his shoulder. Purple talons scratched across the cloth of his uniform. Their owner was still invisible, hidden behind the plate and himself.
"Quite cute, the dark hair and this incensed glitter in his eyes." A cackling laughter emerged. "She'll be pleased this time." The talons reached for his mouth. He tore his face away, only to find himself grasped again. "I said, stop that!" his torturess repeated icily, then scratched across the uniform again. "This disturbs." Fingers snapped behind his ear. "Remove it!"
"Don't you dare–" he flared as Crown troopers rushed towards him to obey the order.
"And stun his vocal cords."
"No!" he sat straight up in bed, shivering violently.
=Sir, are you all right?= GV bleeped from the wall screen.
No, he wasn't. He clearly and definitely wasn't. But he'd die before he explained to a piece of... software how it felt to endure the atrocities against him without even the chance to scream. He'd wanted so badly to wake up from the nightmare at that moment. But he couldn't, it had been real. And now it seemed he couldn't escape even when it was really a nightmare.
His thoughts involuntarily continued, recalling how a thick suction pipe had invaded his rectum, had made him wish desperately that the bionics weren't set to feel so natural, hadn't transmitted so precisely the sensation of being violated by a metal snake sliding segment by segment into him. He had known it wasn't natural flesh through which it forced its way, had known it couldn't cause injuries unless it reached the natural tissue beyond the bionics, but it hadn't felt that way.
And even that nightmarish sensation had been dwarfed by the female alien approaching with a thin golden suction pipe spiraling in tiny ringlets behind her to the wall. Fully immobilized, he'd been unable to even squirm when she had deftly inserted his manhood into a transparent plastic vise with an opening in the top just wide enough for the gold cable to fit in. That cable had slithered, throbbing, through very sensible, natural flesh from the very beginning and...
Even now, alone in his own brightly-lit room, his face burned in red-hot shame and humiliation, remembering the seneschal's "Oh, yes! You will serve well!" before she had clapped her hands and ordered the stomach evacuation to begin.
"Well done, Seneschal." He froze. That voice was horribly familiar.
"Our aim is to please You, Your Highness." The seneschal snapped into a full-fledged bow. "Whatever you wish." The latter gained her a regal nod.
"Dispose of my consort. He's used up."
Consort!? Horrified, his eyes darted to the Queen, suppressing a violent shiver at the implication and the callous order connected with it. He didn't know what used up meant in this context, but–
"After only two nights, Your Highness?"
"They aren't what they used to be, Seneschal." The Queen made a dismissive gesture and sauntered closer. He drew in a sharp breath to hide his shaking, all too aware she'd use any reaction against him.
Pressing a taloned finger under his chin, she raised his face as much as the metal he was strapped to allowed, studying him, appraising him. He choked as she released his chin to run a sharp fingernail down his chest, tracing the tattoo just as Eliza loved to do when– "You needn't have decorated him for me. I know he's from a primitive race."
"That was already there, Your Highness."
The Queen arched a brow under her spiky crown and tilted her head in amusement. "Already there?" She smiled in luscious anticipation. "Ah, our Zachary..." she patted his cheek with an expression of greedy assessment, "...always good for a surprise," and continued her inspection of his body. Acid from his emptied stomach burned in his throat as she reached for the plastic vise still clasped around his manhood. Merciless fingers palpated inquiringly. "Seneschal. What's the condition of his functionality? Improved?"
"I fear not, Your Highness. Though that might not be true for his full length."
"What a pity. It might have proved interesting." Pulling the plastic off, she clawed around his organ and the icy sweat that had fled him earlier dripped down his bare skin. The Queen noticed. Her grip tightened. Scratching a talon of her unoccupied hand across his wet abdomen, she licked her dark purple lips in anticipation. "Don't worry, Zachary dear." She rubbed the clammy moisture between her fingertips and brought it to her nose, inhaling the scent like a connoisseur tasting an exquisite wine. "I love this natural spice. Your fear is such a wonderful aphrodisiac. You will serve me well." A snap of taloned fingers called the seneschal's attention. "Leave now." Another bow with heels slamming together followed by the staccato of metal spike heels leaving the hall faded away as the Queen's malicious voice purred in his ear, "And now for the two of us..."
He tore his eyes open, and after a moment, realized he had obviously drifted back into sleep and his dreams had replayed... He curled up, fighting against the sensation of nausea the memory flash had left behind, and noticed almost too late that he was going to lose the fight this time, now that his stomach wasn't mechanically emptied beforehand. He barely reached the toilet before retching until only bile burned acidly in his throat.
Back in his bedroom, he realized with a shiver that QBall might have erased the resonance between the bionics and the mindnet component used against him, but that didn't affect the memories he already had.
Eliza's face swirling in front of him, teasing, luring him, then morphing into the Queen's, in the flesh or displayed on one of the immobile slaverlords hovering around them. Blood on his lips, bitten by his own as well as alien teeth, slime dripping down his skin.
Eliza again, tenderly stroking his hair, comforting him as he held her in his arms, then she was suddenly the Queen jerking his head back against the shackles that hold him into place while she thrust her bony hips against him...
Feeling another convulsive shudder of nausea, he abandoned the idea of sleep rather than take the risk of more nightmares. He was already left shivering violently by the memories. The psychocrystallization hadn't been that bad afterwards. In fact, it had been a relief after what the Queen had done to him. A relief, that added considerably to his guilt now.
The padding of bare feet walking across the living room towards the kitchen, detected involuntarily by his sound enhancers, brought him to his feet. He wrapped his robe tightly around himself in addition to his all-concealing pajamas.
He found his son in the kitchen getting a glass of milk. They both acknowledged each other's presence with a nod.
A small booklet on the kitchen table, somewhere between mud-brown and sand colored, caught his attention. It was worn, slightly torn, and he suspected the muddy brown was not its original color. It looked shabby in a way no book in his family's possession had ever looked: even the title wasn't readable any longer. He picked it up suspiciously. "What's this?" he asked his son.
Zachy looked up from stirring cinnamon into his milk. "Sorry, Dad. I forgot about it. It's for you. Goose brought it while you were still at the office."
He froze, while Zachy gulped down his milk, wiped his mouth clean with the sleeve of his night-shirt, and said he was going back to bed. Zachy's awkward behavior remembered Zach with a pang of guilt that it wasn't typical of him to stalk his own son on the way to a midnight milk in the kitchen.
He almost hesitantly opened the tattered booklet after he heard Zachy's door closing behind his son. The first page with the title and print information was also missing, leaving no clue what the book was all about. But already on the first yellowed and stained page was a passage marked with yellow marker:
Always keep in mind:
torture – in exercise as well as reception – is a matter of power and control over the victim, nothing else.
The 'nothing' was underlined twice.
Whether it is carried out as a deprival of vital substances, drug administration, excruciation, exposure to extreme environmental conditions, inquisition, interrogation, or rape doesn't alter that fact.
the extent of destruction of the victim's will depends primarily upon the victim's fear, self-accusation, guilt, and shame, not directly upon the stress put on the victim's physical body.
2087-01-26 – 0315
"What?" The voice from behind the door growled downright aggressively, like someone who'd already been disturbed that night before. After a moment, the door opened and a scruffy, not at all agreeable Gooseman glared at him. "Yes?"
Zach hesitated. The prolonged silence didn't do much to improve the ST's patience. "Why?" The single word was all he managed finally.
There was a moment of silence while Goose intensely studied the opposite corridor wall, painstakingly avoiding Zach's eyes, then: "Bodies heal. Despite the sensations and awareness they cause, torture injuries are ordinary wounds. But the mind is another matter." Another long moment of silence, and just when Zach wanted to break it, he continued, "Understanding how it works is the only help – however small – I can offer." His tone made it clear that he didn't want to go on with the topic.
"Don't." The ST stopped him hastily, hoarsely. "Believe me, you don't understand." If Zachary expected an explanation of that, he was disappointed. None came. All Goose finally said as he attempted to close the door in his Captain's face was, "Don't try to tell me that nothing happened. We both know that's not the case."
His bionic hand quickly stopped the door from closing. "What gave me away?"
"Keeping your thoughts off it saves you from Niko, not from me," the ST growled. "You spent four times longer than usual in the shower, kept the cockpit lights on, hesitated to take positions hard to defend yourself from. Do you want me to go on?" Controlling his temper, he added, "The pattern is obvious. If you want to hide what happened, you have to change that. Good night." This time, his door closed fast enough that Zach had no chance of intercepting it.
"It was really a pleasure with you, Zachary." The Queen patted his cheek leisurely. "As a reward," she straightened and allowed her seneschal to drop a wide mantle around her shoulders before she continued with gleeful satisfaction, "I will send you to Earth as my most powerful slaverlord, in charge of a battle fleet to crush the League of Planets." Snapping at the Crown troopers the seneschal brought, she ordered, "Ready the psychochamber."
Early in the morning he started again out of a shallow, dream-haunted slumber, breathing heavily, and knowing with a tormenting certainty that something dreadfully, tremendously important in his nightmare had slipped his attention. But all he could recall were black talons cutting into his flesh while she ripped her pleasure from him...
One month later, the Crown Armada appeared above Earth.
Thanks to S. 'Trivia' Blank for chasing the mistakes out of my story, E. 'fatima' Bales for yelling in time when I was about to "go too far", and K. 'Bruinhilda' Anderson for convincing me to post it nevertheless.