ShadowRun: Live to Rise

The Good Times Are Gone

“Sean!” I scolded my lover with an embarrassed giggle as he surprised me with a passionate kiss on the neck. There is a time and a place for romance; Sitting on a log in front of a night-time campfire in the Mexican desert might have been a fantastic place if there hadn’t been four other mercenaries awkwardly watching.

“That’s enough out of you two love-birds. You’ve got a tent, so use it. Try not to keep us up this time,” Trish grumbled. Deciding it would be best to behave, Sean pulled himself off of me.

I’d been with the Red Devil mercenaries for just under two years now. After my previous companions had gone their separate ways, I found myself alone and once again short on options. Jim wouldn’t send me anywhere by myself, which was understandable. Few others saw any value in my almost unique strength as a dedicated support member. No gun, no job; It was rough. However, the Red Devils saw me for what I was: A genius mage with a limitless well of potential. Though I was still largely unrefined, they’d told me to “consider yourself an investment in the long game.”

With time and lots of convincing, I’d eventually grow comfortable enough to use my mind controlling abilities to kill my enemies. Honestly, forcing someone to turn on their friend and kill them felt worse than the idea of doing it myself. I’ve killed more people than I care to count and I still feel sick to my stomach every time. For me, it was simply a tough means to an end that would some day get me my dream career back.

It had been Trish that had introduced me to the Red Devils in the first place and landed me a permanent position with them. We made good partners on missions when we weren’t busy butting heads for some stupid reason or another, but mutually considered the other a friend. Trish always covered my back, and I was there to pry out the occasional bullet that found it’s way past her armor and patch things up. Having been more experienced than myself, I had actually learned a lot from Trish in my time with her. Not only some arcane wisdom never taught in magic university, but other things about tactics in shadow-running and some tricks to ease the mission into success.

As for Sean Mire, my boyfriend, you wouldn’t think finding your soul mate in your own mercenary group would be a good idea. “Don’t shit where you eat.” That is a phrase I’ve heard more times than I can count. I still hear it whenever one of the other Red Devils gets bitter or irritated by the bond I share with Sean. It wasn’t as if I’d consciously defied the advice; I’d always found myself a little distracted by Sean’s good looks and confidence, but we hadn’t really clicked until a few weeks after I’d joined. At first I did my best to keep my feelings to myself and quietly admire him from afar like a good girl. It was sort of a “look but don’t touch” policy that I’d promised to myself that I would adhere to for the sake of the team’s integrity. That wouldn’t stop Trish from reading me like a book and teasing me about my girlish crush.

However, one night things went terribly wrong. I was with the Red Devils on a mission, and things were running pretty smoothly. However, there was once catch: We would go on to find that not only was our intel faulty, but that our arrival was leaked and therefore anticipated by security. Whoever had hired us clearly wanted us dead. Long story short, when the time came to run, I fell behind. I was more a volleyball girl in high school and less of a track athlete. There’s an old saying that the Red Devils put a twist on to tease me with after we’d gotten home safely by some miracle: “You don’t have to outrun security, you only have to outrun your medic.” Although it was meant as a joke, it had been true.

Apprehended and seemingly abandoned as the one sacrifice to benefit the many, I was interrogated on the site of my capture. Unwilling to betray my brothers and sisters, I soon found myself with a gun in my mouth as my would-be executioner gave his little monologue to explain how I could have lived if I’d just cooperated. Only moments from my death, Sean suddenly swept in like an old western cowboy and gunned down half a dozen men to save my sorry butt.

I felt lost in a mixture of strong emotions; I was thrilled and relieved to be alive, but still shaking from the remnants of terror and dread. I couldn’t decide if I should be sobbing, panicking, or prancing around like a little girl. So I did exactly what my heart told me to do; I embraced my knight in shining armor and planted a passionate kiss right on his lips. I still have no idea to this day what exactly I had been thinking. Thanks? I love you? Both? I quickly pulled away as I realized the reality of my actions set in. Mortified, my face went flush and turned hot. All I wanted to do was hide some where under a rock and never come out. As it turned out, even though he was surprised, Sean was quite receptive to the gesture. His confused expression shifted to a romantic smile and he returned the favor by pulling me back in for a second serving.

Neither of us were apparently professional enough to ignore how we felt about the other from then on. Time eventually eroded our judgment as we both quietly entertained the desire we mutually held for the other. One quiet night when most of the other Red Devils were away on a mission, things finally escalated from fantasy to reality; We were in love and no one in the world could stop us. Ever since then things have been, for lack of a less explicit term, really… fiery.

“Well, it’s getting late,” Beef interrupted the casual conversation eventually, “I want you all functioning tomorrow, and I expect that you will actually sleep instead of fooling around all night,” the orc stated sternly as he purposefully directed the last half in my direction. I looked away with a scowl of shame on my face. Beef was the closest thing we had to a team leader when Harley wasn’t on comms giving orders from back home. I didn’t mind him so much when he was laid back like an ugly teddy bears, but he was blunt, rude, and harsh on the job. Ever since getting together with Sean, Beef seemed to target me with his scoldings and criticisms. He certainly did a good job making me feel like trash some days.

“Yes, sir,” I agreed with a humiliated mumble before standing and walking away from the fire and toward my tent. The others similarly stood as I left and went off their own way as ordered. Even if I’d wanted to stay up, my social flame had been snuffed out by Beef. I didn’t much want anything to do with anyone for the time being. I took off my boots and grumpily settled down into my sleeping bag. It wasn’t long before Sean followed me inside. He was likely having his last few words with the others for the night before hitting the hay.

“Are you alright, Kitten,” Sean asked. “Kitten” was a nickname some of the others had given me while I was still green. For Sean, the name had become a term of endearment.

“I’m fine.”

“Sure you are,” Sean shrugged and plopped down in his own sleeping bag before rolling over with his back to me in disinterest. “If you don’t want to talk, that’s fine.” I hated that I was so readable. He could have at least taken my pity lure and shown some sympathy.

“I don’t know, I just feel sick with shame. I’m not even sure what I was thinking by letting you bait me into sex last night.”

“Bait you? You were all over me,” Sean teased as he turned back toward me with a smirk. I shot him a frustrated glare for the comment even though there was a degree of truth to it. Shrugging me off, he continued. “In any case, I wouldn’t worry about it. Give it another day and no one will remember a thing.” I disagreed with his theory.

“I don’t want to give it another day. Some times I wish we could just be done with all of this.”

“What exactly are you talking about?”

“All of it. Shadowrunning, this madness with the Red Devils where we’ve got bullets flying at us every other week, and all of this blood I’ve got on my hands. I’m so sick of everything, but it’s all I’ve got to make ends meet.” Sean went quiet as he thought carefully about what to say to me. I simply stared at him expectantly until he finally opened his mouth.

“So what do you want to do about it? I’ve got nothing,” he admitted. “Are you sure you’re not just letting your bad mood get to you?”

“My bad mood? Sean, this has been nagging at me for months. What if something happens to you?”

“Then you’ll be there to patch me up, won’t you?” I frowned at Sean as he countered me grin. “Look,” he started when he realized he’d upset me, “we’ll think things through, okay? For now we’d probably better get some sleep. It’s going to be a rough day tomorrow.” I was dissatisfied with Sean’s answer. I rolled onto my back and stared quietly at the ceiling of the tent. I wanted him to explain that we could simply walk off into the moonlight and that everything would turn out just fine. I could certainly get into living a simple life in Mexico.

Maybe settling down to live in a beach house wasn’t want I’d had in mind as a goal when I’d started shadow-running, but maybe it didn’t have to be? I shook my head and cleared away the fantasy. Now was hardly the time to be stressing over such things. Sean was right about one thing, I needed to sleep, and the sooner the better. Naturally, just because I told myself not to worry wouldn’t mean I’d be saved from a long night of restlessness.

“Rise and shine, Devils,” Beef would called out loudly a few hours later. Damn, I thought to myself, it was far too early in the morning for my personal tastes. I opened my exhausted eyes and I felt that same anxiety I grew to know in college: Here comes yet another day of getting up early without enough sleep. It’d felt like hardly any time had passed at all since I’d drifted off to sleep the previous night. “We’ve got a long hike through the heat and we’d best get past the worst of it before high noons hits.” I forced myself up and began to pack my things through the fog that polluted my mental focus. Sean finally got up after several minutes of ignoring Beef’s repeated orders and knelt down to help roll up the tent after taking his morning leak. It would have been easy to pass out on the cool desert sand in my deprived state, but my rational side demanded I stay on task and remain active. With Beef seemingly so bitter toward me, I wouldn’t be getting away with any self-indulging foolishness like Sean had. We neatly folded our gear up before loading the sleeping bags and tent on Sean’s pack since I was hardly strong enough to carry my own supplies. While I wasn’t particularly amazing in the physical department, he was built like a mule.

As Beef had promised, the cool morning quickly melted away under the sun as we trudged forward. With intel suggesting a vehicle would be spotted by satellite patrols, Harley had set us on foot and fully dressed in desert camouflage. Apparently it would be up to a chopper pilot to extract us. With as hot as it was, I know that had I fully understood what the mission entailed, I’d have almost stayed behind. After all, I’d mostly only come to look after Sean and make sure he’d make it out in one piece. These days, due to my increasing disinterest in shadow-running, I was less likely to jump on board if he wasn’t coming along too.

Eventually, we did make it to our destination. I wiped the bullets of sweat off of my head and sipped some water from my canteen as we all ducked into some shrubs to take a look at the facility. Beef and Trish took a good look at the present security as the rest of us sat quietly and awaited instruction.

“Looks good,” Beef stated. “We need to keep a low profile. The security response team clocks at just under six minutes. Any alarms and we’re in for a really tough time.” That wasn’t a lie either. The team had been forced to bring smaller arms and only a small supply of ammunition compared to the arsenal they usually boasted for the three day desert trek to avoid becoming exhausted by the excess weight. “Unless there are any questions or objections, let’s move and enter from the south wall.”

With no words to oppose the order, we moved around the base, swinging wide and remaining distant to avoid being spotted in the evening sun. It required careful timing to avoid being spotted, and Harley was exactly the man for the job. He guided the team, through the present security cameras, up against the wall of the facility where we scaled our way to the top with a grappling hook before dropping to the other side with similar precision and quickly heading through the first door. I sighed with relief as the cool air-conditioned atmosphere kissed my sweating face and chest. I was now not only out of immediate danger, but out of the sun as well. If I’d learned nothing else over the last three days, it was that most of the others were far better adjusted to the heat than myself. As the Devils stopped for a short breather I stripped off my long sleeved desert camo in favor of the sleek black tanktop I wore underneath. We were all exhausted from traveling in the heat, but there was little choice now but to press forward.

The goal of the mission was to extract Ron Wight, an advanced electronics engineer, from the custody of the Pueblo Corporate Council. Officially, he was a “political guest” staying at the facility under a contract. Our intel suggested otherwise; Ron had infact been taken prisoner and was likely being forced to develop something dangerous. Regardless, Wight wasn’t of personal interest to the Red Devils. The man had a massive price tag on his head that was set to see to it that we could all take home a fair pay check.

Finally, Harley signaled over comms that it was time to move; there would be no more time to rest until the job was done. We quickly strode through the hallway unchallenged, leaving a trail of unconscious bodies and corpses that had hardly known what had hit them. It seemed this was going to be a clean run. We arrived at Wight’s quarters, which were locked from the outside. Nothing a little tinkering and Harley’s genius couldn’t solve. With the tech savvy master strategist as his guide, Beef cracked open the lock and began his work.

After obtaining digitally forced access to the cell, we burst into the room ready to secure the prisoner and eliminate any threats inside. It was unexpectedly fancy, filled with pleasant interior decoration, entertainment, and a well stocked kitchen. Ron Wight stood from his couch in front of a display screen, dropping whatever he’d been reading in surprise. He was old, with thinning peppered hair and glasses. I’d guessed he spent a little too much time in a lab given the lack of solid meat on his bones.

“Ron Wight?” Trish automatically stepped in to take charge of the diplomatic end of things. The woman had a well honed silver tongue and she knew it.

“Y-yes?” The man stuttered nervously as he spoke. It seemed he hadn’t been clued in that we would be coming for him.

“We’ve come to release you from incarceration. Come with us. You’re in good hands but we need to move quickly.” The man stared speechlessly for several moments before finally speaking up.

“Thank god,” Wight sighed with relief. “I’m going insane, I haven’t seen the light of day in weeks! Let me grab my things and we can go.” The man immediately turned and strode to a small decorative table with a briefcase on top. “I’ve got to make certain I have my research with me, I can’t leave it here with the PCC.”

“We need to go now, Mr. Wight,” Beef insisted, sensing that something was off. The orc signaled silently to Trish with a quick gesture that he could smell fish.

“No, no, just allow me to verify that I have everything in here.” Wight defiantly opened the briefcase and quickly dug about inside.

“Stop right there,” Trish commanded, raising her weapon. Wight froze as instructed. “Put your hands in the air and stop where you are.” The man slowly raised his arms above his head with his fists closed as he was told before shifting on his feet to slowly turn around. “Open your hands,” Trish barked. Wight once again complied, opening his hands and consequently dropping a small electric device that was now flashing red.

“Unfortunately for you, I’ve come to enjoy things here quite well. I’m not going anywhere,” Wight smiled victoriously. “Think you can make it out of here with top notch security on its way?”

“You sack of shit,” the woman cursed before unloading two rounds of stick and shock ammo into his chest. Wight convulsed and fell over into unconsciousness as the shock from the sticky pellet overpowered his frail body.

“God damn, woman,” Sean playfully scolded as he rushed over to the body to pick it up.

“Cut the shit, Sean, he deserved it. That’s most likely a security alert beacon, it’s time to go.” As if on queue, the overhead speakers blared out their automated announcement: “SECURITY ALERT, THE FACILITY IS NOW GOING INTO LOCKDOWN. PLEASE FOLLOW ALL LOCKDOWN PROCEDURES AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTION.” Without another word, we all looked to Beef who immediately signaled the group to move out. I hated when it was time to run. As we made it out into the hallway, large blast doors began to sink down from the ceiling. We sprinted to make it under the door, though Sean soon fell behind with the additional weight of Wight on his back. With an armed security team quickly coming in from behind. Harley was forced into a split second decision.

“Sean, drop Wight and get through that door with Sam, pronto,” he ordered. The soldier didn’t hesitate to do as he was told. With little time left, Sean grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me over to the door before throwing me under. After I was through, he dropped prone to roll under the door in the last moments before it was sealed. Gun-fire and the sound of smoke bombs erupted from the other side of the door. Several rounds found their way into the door itself, creating a loud clinking sound as the pellets of metal were crushed by their own momentum upon meeting the reinforced material. As the fire ceased, I waited anxiously with faith that my team had survived while down two people.

“Sam,” Beef inquired finally over comms.

“Loud and clear,” I replied with relief. “Is anyone hurt?”

“We’re all fine. But I need you and Sean to find a way to lift the lockdown. We’re trapped and it’s only a matter of time unti reinforcements arrive.

“We’ll figure something out,” Sean interrupted, “but it seems like we’re as trapped as you are.” The two of us weren’t exactly in a terribly large area either. Another layer of doors beyond the first had left access to only a few rooms. I immediately began to scout around for any way out, checking for computers, keypads, or anything else with little more than a few meeting rooms to show for my efforts.

“Sean,” Harely piped up over the comms, “the blueprints are showing a ventilation shaft in your area, do you see it?” I looked up at the ceiling. There it was, but it was easily twelve feet up. “It looks like you can make your way into the security room from there, but it’ll be a bit of a crawl. Think you can manage?”

“Consider it done,” Sean assured him.

“How are you going to get up there,” I asked without taking my eyes off of it.

“I think I’ve got an idea,” Sean proclaimed proudly with an accomplished look on his face. “Boost me up and I’ll climb in the vent. I can get this no problem.” I simply scowled at him. He knew damn well that I couldn’t support his weight. I never could understand why he always seemed starved to get some kind of reaction out of me.

“You can’t honestly expect me to go in there,” I protested nervously. I already knew the answer even if I didn’t like it.

“Come on Sam, even if I could get up there I don’t think I could fit.”

“You’re not making the situation any better,” I shuddered as I did my best to shake off the idea of getting stuck in there. I could already feel my heart pounding in my chest.

“This is why we practiced this. There will always be situations where you need to face your fears. Now come on,” he gestured with his hands as he squatted down low and created a platform for me to stand on with his hands, “I’ll boost you up so you can climb in.”

“Whatever,” I mumbled. I wasn’t going to argue any further. Even though he was helpless to do otherwise, I was bitter toward Sean for sending me off alone. Sure, we’d practiced fighting my claustrophobia, but always in a safe place where he could scoop me up if I got in too deep and lost control. I stepped on Sean’s hands while careful to maintain my balance as he hoisted me up toward the vent. I grabbed the grating and tossed it onto the floor before jumping up and grabbing the ledge to pull myself in. “Here we go,” I whispered quietly to myself.

Every inch forward into the dark vent was another butterfly in my stomach. It was a tight squeeze that forced me into an army crawl to get around. As the light behind me faded, my mind began to scream at me to escape. “If you don’t go back, you’re going to die,” it told me. Every fiber in my body seemed to agree as the walls seemed to be closing down on me. I couldn’t take it any more. I stopped to catch my breath and focus on regaining control. I needed to remember that my rational mind was still in charge here. It knew that I was okay, and that there was nothing to be afraid of.

“Sam, Sean, I need a status report,” Harley ordered over the radio, “the next wave of security is moving in on Beef’s location.”

“I’m in the vent,” I managed to say with stress practically bleeding out of my voice as I pushed myself forward once more. “I can’t keep this up much longer. How much further to security?”

“Just hurry the hell up, Sam, we’re taking some serious fire over here,” Beef interrupted.

“Enough, Beef. You’re about twenty feet in Sam,” he reported patiently. I’m sure I was driving Harley as crazy as I was Beef, even if he’d handled it better. Still, there was little I could do that I hadn’t already done to improve my state of mind. “You’ve got a ways ahead of you, so keep moving and take a right at the fork. Hang in there.”

“I’ll do my best,” I nodded as I fought off the urge to hyperventilate. “Just breathe,” I whispered to myself to assist in mustering my strength and forced one arm in front of the other while simply focusing on handling each second as it came and passed. As I moved slowly down the vent tunnel, I stayed to the right as instructed. It seemed like forever before I was finally met with the light that rose up from the vent further down. With my goal finally in sight, I scurried over as quickly as possible and pressed my face against the grating to take in the sweet air from the other side.

“Sam, we’re running a little short on time here,” Harley reminded me as he apparently noticed I’d stopped moving. I never could be sure how it was the man seemed to be omniscient. Still, he was right and even though I wanted to plop down and enjoy my sweet relief, I needed to get down there and get those doors open. I quietly popped the vent cover off, and set it down gently in the tunnel. Looking down below me, I saw a security guard monitoring camera footage and providing real time intelligence on the invaders. Apparently he was far too busy to hear me shuffling around in the air duct. I decided to try my luck and drop down onto the floor, hoping that too would go unnoticed. As my feet hit the ground, the man spun around in his chair to see me standing in front of him like a deer in a spot light.

“I got you motherfucker,” he shouted as he quickly drew his pistol to open fire.

“Uh uh, drop the gun and sit,” I commanded as a thin strand of white and black lightning arced up my arm and from my finger to the mans forehead. The man did as he was told and took a seat in his chair. I calmly walked over and picked his pistol up off of the floor before removing the magazine and dumping ammunition in the trash can. “Open the security doors.” The guard turned back to his screen and his fingers began to dance across the console as he performed a manual override on the security. I took an adhesive patch out of my pouch, removing the wrapper and carefully peeling off the wax coating with my teeth as he worked. There was enough juice in this slap patch to put a troll out.

I looked at the console to see how he was coming along and wiped the sweat off of my head that had began to drip down into my eyes. I needed him to be quick, it’d been over a minute and I was starting to get tired. Maintaining a hold on someone for so long quickly took its toll. Finally, the man stopped and simply awaited further orders without even turning around. I watched as the doors began to open and stuck the patch on the back of the guard’s neck. “Good night sweetie,” I told him as I pushed it down firmly to be certain it wouldn’t fall off. He’d be gone in about five seconds.

Time was against me, and I’d already taken too long. I looked at the camera footage to see Beef and the others still fighting the incoming waves of security. It seemed that Sean had regrouped with the other Devils, so heading back through the vent was thankfully no longer an option. However, my team was barely holding on against superior firepower and larger numbers. Deciding I’d have to make my way through the halls and risk confronting a security team, I poked my head out of the office door. I could hear the distant sound of gunfire and the shouting of commands. At least I knew where to go.

Opening with a deep breath, I mustered my courage and bolted down the hall. Time was of the essence, and I was long out wiggle room for skittishness. Even though I was exhausted I was fairly certain I had enough juice to put the fight to an end. It wasn’t long before I came up behind the security team who were slowly overtaking the Devils. More flickering white lightning sprang from my hands and tickled the skulls of my initial target before chaining and arcing around my other enemies; Now they were mine. The other Devils stood in surprise and relief as they watched their opponents gun each other down in a bloody slaughter.

“About time,” Beef berated. “Pick up the pace next time, got it? You need to get your childish fears under control.” I’d hardly thought I deserved a scolding for saving his butt. Some how I doubted that the orc even had the mental capacity to understand the psychology behind a phobia.

“I’m sorry, I did my best,” I panted. After a stunt like that, I was nearly ready to pass out and really not in the mood to argue. With Beef it was best that I just bend over and take it any way if I didn’t want to hear about it for the next week.

“Don’t apologize, fix the problem. Let’s move, people.” Without allowing another word, Beef took off back the way we’d come and the rest of the Devils along with myself followed closely behind. We burst out the door and back into the sun before making our way over the wall once more. Sean still had Wight, and the extraction chopper could be seen landing only a few hundred yards in the distance. It was relieving to finally be on the home stretch.

Suddenly, bullets rained into the sand around us; the security personnel had caught up and now had line of sight on a handful of targets running directly away from them. We were all lightly armored to combat the heat from the trek , and no one was eager to take a hit. Beef veered to the right, planning to swing in to the chopper from a wide angle and the rest of us follow suit. Being hard to hit was important, especially now.

Only thirty feet or so from out goal, Sean suddenly fell face first into the sand, taking Wight with him. I felt my gut wrench and my mind immediately raced with concern for the worst. I stopped in my tracks and rushed to his aid.

“Sean,” I shouted as I shook his limp arm urgently, “get up!” It was then that I noticed blood pouring from a hole in his head. The bullet had passed through the back of his skull and come out the other side, killing him before he’d hit the ground. My heart sank and tears welled up in my eyes as my worst fear was realized. “Sean!” I yanked at his arm again in denial as I sobbed.

“Sam, get up!” Beef had turned back to grab Wight. He hoisted the unconscious man onto his shoulder and quickly ran to the chopper. “He’s gone, Sam,” Beef insisted as he watched the security team get too close for comfort.

“I can still save him,” I argued. I did my best to hoist Sean up like I’d just watched Beef do with Wight, but the dead weight was too much and I only managed a slow stagger toward the chopper with his legs dragging in the sand. “Help me, Beef!”

“I can’t get him in time, we have to go now!” I couldn’t leave Sean behind. The security team popped more shots at the chopper, and Beef was forced to close the door after he’d seen than I refused to drop the body to prevent further casualty. As the bird took off, I knew deep inside that I’d hesitated too long. I’d thought some how that if I tried hard enough I could get Sean aboard and everything would be alright. We’d retire after getting paid, hit the coast and laugh everything off over a bottle of hard liquor. I was wrong. Burying my face in my dead lovers chest, I whimpered to myself and prepared to be snuffed out right along with him. Perhaps it would be better than living with the pain.

“Hostile is unarmed,” their leader said as the squad quickly surrounded me. “She’s awakened, get me some mage-cuffs and a mask, now!” A strong arm pulled me off of the corpse before pushing my head against the sand and pulling my arms behind my back. “Even a hint of magic, and I’ll make you wish you had died with your comrade,” he threatened through his helmet.

I fought feebly against his strength, but I was no match especially in my exhausted state. I felt the cuffs wrap around my wrists and lock into place. Finally, the security guard pulled me up by the hair and stuffed my head under the hood before securing it in place with a leather strap around my neck. Yet again, the suffocating feeling of my claustrophobia began to set in, and this time Sean wouldn’t be around to save me.

I was walked back into the facility and down a series of hallways by my captors. I had countless questions, many of them involving my well being in the future, and most of the others involving why I was being kept alive. I got a hint soon enough as I was buckled down to a chair with more leather straps. I was screaming on the inside, and twitching to break free as my breathing spiraled out of control. It was likely that my captors would be all to thrilled to learn about my claustrophobia, but my hopeless situation had acted as a catalyst that was throwing me into a panic.

The room was vacated with only myself and the sounds of my muffled cries remaining. I waited for what seemed like an eternity in a cycle of desperate struggling and resigned fear. Once more, the door to the room opened and the sound of someone pulling up a chair across from me echoed off of the empty walls.

“Samantha Todd,” said the man calmly, “you’re in some very serious trouble.”

“Please let me out,” I begged, unconcerned with how the stranger knew my name, “I can’t breathe!”

“We want to know where your little team of mercs is taking Ron Wight,” he stated, ignoring my pleas. I cried quietly, unwilling to answer the question, but too scared to remain composed. The man stood and approached me slowly. He loosened the strap around my neck and tore the mask off of my face. I breathed in the sweet scent of fresh air; I was still in a bind, but the removal of the mask was a good step forward. “Where is Ron Wight,” the man asked again firmly, hoping that fulfilling my request would make me more cooperative. I silently stared the man in the face with a look of hatred, still sniffling with red cheeks and puffy eyes from crying. “Look,” the man began to explain as he sat down once again, “I’m not the kind of person you want to make your enemy. You tell me what I need to know and I can play nice.”

“Screw you,” I scoffed and spat on the floor.

“Alright. I’m going to go do some paper work then,” he shrugged. “I’ve got all the time in the world.” The man walked over to me once more and picked up the mask off of my lap. “Since you seem to like this so much, I’ll just go ahead and slip this back on.” I fought as best as I could, but with everything except for my neck largely immobilized, there was little could do to prevent its return. The door closed, and once again I was left alone to be consumed by anxiety. They played their game for a couple of days; good cop, bad cop. Mask on, mask off. I gave them nothing. Seemingly fed up, I was finally taken to another room. It was dark, and empty except for what appeared to be some kind of high tech tank in the middle.

I was stripped of my clothing and placed in front of the tank as it opened. I had been uncertain what to expect, but from the looks of the inside, it seemed I was going to be left inside for a long time. Water filled the better part of the tank with restraints floating motionlessly on either side. From the top, several tubes designed to be inserted into a human body to ensure the survival of whoever was left inside draped down.

“You like tight spaces? We’ll see how you do in here for a while. This is a float tank, designed centuries ago to deprive an individual of their senses completely. It’s old tech, but it still works. Most people go nuts in only a few hours without any stimulation of any kind. This is your last chance, Sam. Tell us where to find Wight, or we’ll drug you up and leave you inside. When you pop out your tongue will be so loose you’ll tell us anything we want to know. At least if you tell me now you’ll have some dignity left.” I remained silent. It seemed to be the best tactic with this guy. “Suit yourself,” he shrugged. I felt a needle stick into the side of my neck as I stared into the water with uncertainty. It’d been this long, and no one had come for me. I couldn’t blame them either; this was self inflicted. I took a deep breath and waited for the drug to kick in and rob me of my consciousness. I’d get through this some how.



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