Somewhere in the Philippines
“No, you can go tell your boss to fuck himself.” The man in the suit bent down and extinguished the butt of his cigarette against the back of Tracy’s neck as he struggled to free himself from the grips of the man’s thugs. What happened next was, unfortunately, entirely due to reflex.
Tracy shrieked, abruptly ripping himself from the grasps of the men holding him down and hitting the nearest one in the neck with a rapid motion – all of this happening in just under half a second. There was a brief pause as the struck thug spluttered and the rest reached for their weapons while Tracy started to run back in the direction of the moored skiff he had arrived in, where several figures were also suddenly moving. Then, the bullets started to fly. Tracy immediately stopped running forward and threw himself off to the side of the pier and into the water. Several angry calls began to exchange across the length of space, but Tracy didn’t particularly care, focusing entirely on how to get out of the mess that he had just caused.
He had messed up. He had fumbled the deal, and he would have paid for that, although the man would only have been a little annoyed. But no, Tracy had gone and freaked out, starting a firefight. The man was going to be enraged. The man was going to core out Tracy’s abdomen and use his intestines as party streamers.
Still, he had to go back, if only because if he didn’t then the man would kill the others. He didn’t have a choice, so he swarm hurriedly up to the skiff and climbed in as one of men untied it from the pier, and a few moments later the skiff was cresting across the water back towards the ship, barely a speck on the horizon.
Somewhere in the Philippine Sea
“So.” The man gave Tracy a big, toothy, smile. “How did the deal go?” He sat in a chair across from Tracy in the staff quarters of the Phantasmagoria. The man who had asked the question had a wild mane of moderately slicked back hair, and he wore a white-ivory vest over body armor. His arms, bulging with long cords of muscle, were bare save for a pair of thick leather gloves. His eyes were obscured by a pair of goggles, with thick opaque surfacing. As he spoke, he casually opened a case that was on a long metal table nearby, and perused the selection of drill bits that he found within. Tracy was cuffed to his chair, and sweating rather profusely, with two large stoic men standing behind him. There was an IV drip stand nearby, with a peripheral needle snaking its way into his upper arm. He said nothing – he knew better than to actually attempt and talk to the man. He had nailed one of his subordinate’s tongues to the floor of his mouth for having the gal to answer a question, once. People only ever talked to the man when he gave them permission to speak.
“Feeling nervous? That’s fine. I suppose I might feel nervous after getting two of my escorts killed due to being a pedantic little fuck.” He made a selection, and pulled out a very thin drill-bit with a particularly fine point. “Did you think me letting you play errand boy was a joke? Because it was. My little joke, anyway. I thought eventually you were going to burn yourself, but no, instead you get two of my best men killed.” He brought the bit up to his goggles and looked at it closely, his toothy smile never receding. “But you know, the rest of the boys say it wasn’t your fault. Apparently, you’re just such a jittery bastard, you can’t help but jump twelve feet in the air like some kind of fucking Olympic acrobat every time somebody so much as sneezes.” The man picked up a nearby power drill and began screwing the bit into place. “So, how much do you know about biology, Trace? You know anything about ‘habituation?’ It’s where you expose something to the same stimuli repeatedly over a short space of time so that they’ll eventually get used to it, and don't react to it. So what I’m gonna do here see, is habituate that nasty habit of yours.” He stood up, and signaled for the two other men in the room to hold Tracy still.
Tracy immediately shot to his feet and surged forward, the IV stand clattering to the ground as the needle was ripped from his arm, dragging the chair along with him, zipping between both of the men before they were even halfway finished to reacting to his sudden movement. Tracy shot straight for the door leading out to the deck, knowing that drowning to death was, with complete certainty, better than what the man would do to him.
The man stepped smoothly in front of the door and punched Tracy in the face, and he went spilling over the floor, the chair clattering down on top of him jarringly and bruising his back.
“Now see, if you had tried that with someone who DIDN’T know you were a jittery little bastard, that might have actually worked. “ He leaned down, grabbed Tracy by the throat, and dragged him over to the table where he slammed Tracy’s head onto its surface. He again signaled for the two men to hold Tracy down.
“All the more important that we get this habit of yours kicked, eh? So, here’s how this is going to work.” The man picked up the drill and experimentally pulled on the trigger, filling the room with a metallic, whirring noise. “The more you move, the more this will hurt. Especially since you ditched the anesthetic over there. So feel free to go crazy.”
Somewhere in the Philippine Sea
“Jesus Christ, what did he DO to him?” One of the people in the dark, locked supply room asked in a horrified whisper.
“The guards who brought him said something about surgery.” Another one said. “They said that we needed to look after him until he recovered, and that they’ll leave us alone until he does.”
“Why? And how long will that be?”
“I went ahead and took a look at him. We’ll need to clean and rebandage the wound twice a day. Most puncture wounds take about two days to two weeks to heal over, but with this…There’s just a lot of skin that isn’t there anymore. He’ll be lucky if it only takes six months.”
“Don’t we need antibiotics and other shit? How the hell are we going to get that?”
“No, we just need sterile water and gauze. We won’t need antibiotics unless it does get infected.”
“We don’t have either of those.”
“We can get some. I can work something out with the guards.”
“Damnit, Sarah, you don’t need to do that.”
“You seem to be forgetting that Mr. Grosvenor is currently on the floor with more bandage than head. He was the only pull we had with them. So yes, I think I do need to do that. Are you saying we should just leave him to die?”
“It might be better if we just uh, not to sound like a complete psychopath or anything, it might be better to just kill him.”
“Oh for fu-“
On the Horizon of Lost Haven
The man came to the room that day. The door suddenly opened, bathing everything with the light of dusk, and he strolled in as though he hadn’t a care in the world, still with the same smile on his face as he had worn eight months ago. Two men waited outside with carbines.
“Well hello everybody. How is our favorite jitterbug doing today?” He asked, strutting over to where Tracy was laying against the back wall. The bandages were off, the wounds mostly healed, but the scars from that day still zig-zagged over the right side of his head in patches where his hair no longer grew. He squinted and winced as his eyes were suddenly flooded with sunlight, and grimaced.
“That bad, huh? Well, I don't care, you’ve had enough time for sick leave. Time to get back to work.”
It had been a long time (excluding the eight month time lapse) since Tracy had been in the work deck. After the raid, it had been where the man had most of the equipment on the ship relocated. He spent most of his time in there, when he was not off the ship. Near the center of the room was a cluttered work station composed of several desks and counters that had been shoved together. Loose wires, circuitry and scraps were scattered about haphazardly on the floor. There were signs of extreme heat-scarring on most of the available surfacing. The only sign of neatness at the station was a row of well-kept and precisely arranged tools. Several computers sat near them, many of them with broken monitors, dented casing and torn keyboards.
Sitting in the middle of the chaotic mess was a briefcase of polished chrome. Beneath its handle was a large circular panel on a frame that held the two halves firmly shut.
"That's your new assignment." The man said, waving at the case. "Here, let me show you how to open it."
The man turned the case around so that Tracy had a better view of it, and then showed him how the locking mechanism worked - the circular panel displayed a color wheel, with a trio of three-digit combination locks set next to it, and a dial beneath them. The man dragged his finger across the wheel until all three locks displayed the correct codes, at which point he adjusted the dial, the numbers rapidly changing to reflect the change in hue indicated on the color wheel. Finally, he pressed the dial inward, and the frame let loose a hiss. Several bolts pulled themselves clear of the case through the frame.
The man let Tracy look at what was inside. Then he told Tracy what it did.
"Your job," The man said as he closed the case, "is to deliver this case to a friend of a friend. It's a gift, of sorts, in return for services rendered." His smile widened a bit. "And so of course, I thought about you, our resident smooth-talker. I'm afraid all of my men are wanted here, and I don't have much local pull. Not really my scene, as it were. So it would be best to send you, but I can't send any escorts, and I can't call ahead to have an escort arranged for you, given that this ain't exactly your normal business deal. You'll be unsupervised for this trip. Naturally, it goes without saying that I'll kill all your work buddies if I see so much as a meter maid preparing to leave the docks, so please don't throw away their lives uselessly by going to the authorities."
As the man spoke, he took the case and dropped it onto one of the desks a few feet away, and then rummaged through the debris at the work station until he found and retrieved a small cylindrical detonator with a flip-cap. "And, to make sure you have the proper incentive to make sure you stay focused on the job and don't misplace the case, you'll have this." He flipped the cap and pressed the button.
A piercing, keening wail reverberated through Tracy's skull. He could feel as the sound moved through his bones and skin, his eyes quivered as they vibrated softly in their sockets. He instantly whirled around, looking for the source of the noise. Not seeing any, he clapped his hands to his ears, but the wail continued to echo. He fell to his knees, and then onto his side as the shriek increased in intensity until he felt that his eardrums were surely going to burst.
The wail died away.
"That will happen if the case is more than a meter away from the transmitter I left in your head all those months ago. It will happen more frequently the further away it gets. Oh, and the transmitter will explode if anybody tries to remove it. Should have mentioned that first. Heh."
The man leaned down and stared into Tracy's face, still smiling. "The way I figure it, either you'll deliver the case and then come scrambling back here to get the noise turned off, or you'll get killed and I'll never have to deal with you again."
As much as Tracy knew it was a mistake, he asked a question. "Why?"
The man just laughed. "Oh, well. Back when I put the transmitter in your head, there wasn't much of a reason. It was just another opportunity to screw with you. And then of course, on one hand you're a valuable asset, and on the other you're a little prick and I don't much like you. If I sent you out without the transmitter, your job would be far too easy. You'd definitely live. And that's no good. I WANT you to suffer."
The man turned and started walking away towards the door, signalling one of the men waiting outside to go and pick Tracy up. Then, almost as though it were an afterthought, he called back over his shoulder. "You leave tomorrow. You'll be given some toys and the name of the recipient once we drop you off."
Tracy watched bleakly as the skiff pulled away from the docks, and headed back to the Phantasmagoria, anchored far off as a speck on the horizon. He had been left with the case, a duffel bag full of ammunition, a strange machine pistol in his coat, and a few hundred dollars in cash. He had no idea where he was, and only the code name for the person he was looking for.
"Why do I need all that for?" He had asked. In the past he had generally been armed with a pistol, but never before had he been given additional ammunition, never mind an entire bag full of it.
The thugs he had posed the question to had just laughed. One of them said, "You'll see."
"And by the way, that pistol was made special - if a super harasses you, it will do a number on them."
"Wait, there are heroes here?" Tracy asked anxiously - but the men just laughed again before tying off and receding across the waters.
The first thing Tracy did once he was sure the skiff was out of hearing was to throw the case to the ground and swear loudly.