The distant, steady beeping of an electrocardiograph machine roused him from the abyss and into a fuzzy state of consciousness. He knew they ogled the spikes and dips on the screen displaying his brain activity. He knew they used their machines to eavesdrop on his every breath.
During these delicate moments between waking and sleeping, Kain sensed their scrutiny most acutely. He knew they waited for something, they wanted something, but every time he woke, he found it impossible to remember.
“Skirra.” A rough male voice interrupted his thoughts; fingers snapped. “Increase the current.”
“Yes, Sir,” a timorous female voice responded. Fingers clacked across a keyboard. “Output is increased by twenty units.” Skirra tapped her foot against the tiled floor.
A harsh, electronic tone split through his head, cutting into his brain like a knife: in a burst of pain and confusion, his bubble of thought popped and disappeared.
“He’s primed.” The man approached with the clomp of heavy boots. “Inject him.”
“Sir... Commander Brigham? Sir... if I may speak...” Skirra’s limp fist thudded against her chest; she offered the customary salute. “The biomedical research team in the Nanotech Department submitted a recent study of the compounds for review, and--”
For a moment, neither spoke. The electrocardiogram beeped steadily.
She cleared her throat. “One of the primates in the experiment went berserk.” Pausing, she swallowed. “Sir, not that I am comparing your investments to a bunch of monkeys, Sir--” She vouched for her intentions with another salute. “I believe this experiment will bring Glory to the Empire, Sir!”
Rattling a rack of glass vials, Skirra poked through a clanging assortment of tubes. She selected one from the rack and popped the cap. Moments later, she tore a disinfectant pad from the wrapper.
Kain knew all of these sounds; they were routine.
“Then do it.” Brigham’s fingers drummed on a nearby table.
Cold fingers dug into the muscles of his arm, dabbing him with a cool swab, moist with an astringent-smelling chemical.
“That whole department is revolting. They have become so obsessed with transcending human limitations that they’ve grown disgusted with the body.” Brigham snorted. “It will forever retard their efforts.”
Skirra drove the needle into Kain’s arm.
“The will to live frustrates them because it is irrational, unquantifiable; there is no way to predict it, or to accurately compensate for it within calculations.” He hovered over Kain. “The body is an impressive machine: consider the possibilities in subduing that will, in bending its power to serve your goals.”
Skirra’s cold hand, bedecked with metal rings, gave Kain’s hand a firm squeeze.
“If we want to test his capabilities, we have to push him to the limits.” Brigham’s voice remained cool, scientific. “If we find his breaking point, we can control him. Once we can control him, we are free to utilize those capabilities to the fullest extent.”
Pressure surged through Kain’s head, overwhelming him. He lurched forward, restrained by thick, leather bonds on a metal chair. His breath caught in his throat, and his eyes fluttered open.
Skirra released her hand. “Sir, his vitals are stable!”
He squinted, blinded by the garish light.
“Let’s begin.” Chase Brigham, a sturdy man old enough to be his father, with waist-length silver hair, loomed over Kain and spit the booming command: “Aadima.”
Mind abruptly blank, Kain opened his eyes. He tilted his head to one side, feeling a metal helmet shift on his head. Posture stiffening without his control, Kain nodded, making a fist, unable to beat his chest in salute. “Commander Brigham, Sir!”
Brigham glanced at the winking display of computer monitors beside him, and then at his watch. “Thirty-seven seconds.” He nodded to Skirra. “Note it.”
Skirra fumbled with an electronic notepad, alternately typing notes and chewing her nails.
Kneeling down on one knee, Brigham signed an intricate series of hand gesticulations to him. “Greetings, Kain.”
Kain could think of nothing to do. Feeling nothing, wanting for nothing, he remained rigid in the chair.
“Dvitiiya.” Brigham paired his command with a symphony of motor signals. “Disable.”
“Secondary Dvitiiya functions.” Kain echoed him in an empty voice. “Disabled.”
“Kain.” Brigham climbed to his feet, sauntering behind the chair. “Tritiiya.”
Kain froze. His mind froze.
“Damn you!” Brigham grabbed a flat remote from his pocket, and pointed it at him.
Moaning as violent tremors wracked his body, Kain convulsed and flopped in his chair.
The unforgiving bonds subdued him, held him in place, subjecting him to further torture.
Skirra lifted her hands to her head, watching in horror as graphs spikes and numbers soared on adjacent computers.
“There are no uses for faulty machinery!” Brigham leaned into Kain’s face, hissing his words. “None. You remember that.”
Skirra glanced at the clock and chewed her nails.
“Kain.” Brigham cleared his throat. “Load Tritiiya.”
Shifting his posture, Kain’s breathing slowed, and he sat upright. He stared ahead with empty eyes and spoke in a monotone. “Tertiary Tritiiya functions loaded, Sir.”
“Kain.” Brigham waved his hand and spoke in a thunderous voice. “Load Caturtha.”
“Identification confirmed: granting access to restricted Caturtha systems.” Kain mechanically rotated his head toward the floor and closed his eyes. “Proceed with instructions.”
Skirra plunked an unwieldy pair of goggles over the bridge of his nose, fitting the frames one at a time over his ears with a gentle touch. Compulsively grabbing the tufts of flaxen hair that poked from his helmet, Skirra thumbed his temples affectionately before jerking her hands away. “Sir, goggles are ready, Sir!” She threw her hands into the air and blushed.
A hypnotic lightshow of flashing colors entranced him.
“Kain, do you recognize the image of this man?” Brigham drummed his fingers against the chair.
Amidst the lights, Kain saw flashes of an elderly man, with thinning hair and age spots. “Recognition affirmative, Sir.” Kain knew him: he was a senator.
“Spectacular.” Brigham joined his hands in a deafening clap. “Execute primary Caturtha commands, and target this man.”
“Target confirmed, Sir.” Kain remained hypnotized by the goggles. “Requesting variables of mission duration, Sir.”
Brigham pealed his final command. “Caturtha functions will terminate when his Glorious duties are fulfilled.”
“Parameters understood, Sir.” Kain twitched. “Caturtha, execution complete. Awaiting further instruction.”
Brigham waved dismissively. “Kain, I require no further services from you today.”
Kain’s eyes fell shut, and he slumped forward in the chair, still restrained by the leather bonds.
He felt himself drifting again... floating, fading...
Looming over him, Skirra placed a hand on Kain’s chest. She paused, and then quickly swiped the goggles, retreating behind Brigham.
“Skirra, send for Krodha. We’re finished today.” Brigham turned and strode toward the door.
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Genre – Sci-Fi/Steamy Romance
Rating – R (18+)