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“One more time Commander. Who are you working for?”
I didn't get the chance to answer. Just as well as it would have been flippant, not that it would have mattered. The fist that connected with my jaw had enough force behind it to topple the chair that I was strapped into over.
The cool metallic floor felt good against my left cheek. It was a good counter to the warm fluid with an iron taste that was rapidly filling my mouth. I probably had a tooth loose and so spat out the blood to be sure.
“You disgusting dreg.” I heard my captor say with contempt.
The nerve's in my scalp shot their electrical pulses to the pain receptors in my brain as I and the chair were hauled back to the up right position by my hair. I had been so busy over the last few months that the time to cut it to its usual millimetres crop had not presented itself. Once again I was wishing I had taken the time to smell the roses.
After my scream at being righted by my hair. A low chuckle rose to my throat as I sat there contemplating the situation.
“You find this funny little man?” With the question he kicked out and struck my left knee, I bit back the scream that wanted to escape my mouth a second time.
“No.” That's all I could reply as I tried to work out which teeth were loosening. Of course I couldn't leave it there. “I was just thinking that when I get out of here, I'm put some dentists kid through collage getting my mouth fixed.”
“IF not when little man.” A cruel, stereotypical villains smile cracked his lips.
I could hear the cracking and groaning of the leather of the gloves he wore as he curled his right hand into a fist. I was bracing myself for another blow when a door opened.
“Enough.” My chin was resting on my chest and so I managed to glance up. A thin rakish individual in an impeccable uniform stood there. “You've been beating him for long enough. Move on to the second phase.”
My tormentor, a larger man, well built. That's muscular well built not fat well built, saluted the thin guy. “Yes Sir.” The Muscle nodded and two more goons came in.
The bindings behind my back that had pinned my arms to the chair back were removed first. The agony as the blood rushed back into my hands lead me to a small groan, that was repeated as my feet were freed also.
The freedom of my limbs was short lived as the goons tied my feet together and retied my hands behind my back. A black sack was then placed over my head so that my world went dark.
I heard movement around me, whispered voices and other low level sounds. Finally I sensed a presence before me.
“Who are you working for little man?” Muscle asked me, even through the cloth of the sack I could smell the horrible and probably cheap aftershave he wore.
I was swaying a little as I stood there, unaided, which I was quietly proud of, and answered truthfully.
“No one. I work for myself.” It was barely above whisper.
“Very well.” Muscle said and I heard his foot falls retreat. “UP!”
Something had been looped through or around the bindings behind my back. That in turn must have been put over a rafter, joist or even a pulley, all guesses but I think I am close. Suddenly and with no warning my arms shot up my back and my feet left the ground.
I heard a scream fade and realised it was mine as my throat hurt from the effort. The pain surging through my shoulders was immense as my full weight rested on just those two joints.
“Not so funny now, uh little man.” I heard Muscle say just before he punched me in the gut. The air in my lungs rushed out and the pain increased as my body tried to retrieve the displaced air. Involuntary movement as I gasped for air caused powerful waves of pain to wash across my shoulders, which in turn caused gasps, expelling air, of pain. It took a little while but my breathing settled down once again and I could try to hang still.
“We'll leave you, so you can think about your answers and your future. One may be short, depending on the other.”
Footsteps and a door slam and then quiet. I assumed someone was still in the room with me and so kept my thoughts to myself. Trying not to think about the massive amount of pain surging through my body I started to think about what had led me to this situation.
It had been a normal trade run. I had been doing a little smuggling in the area when I noted that this station had a high sell price for Combat Stabilisers. During my usual activities I have been known to keep an eye on legal prices, so I knew of a market selling said items for below the Galactic Average. Sure the Clipper I was using only carried 160 tons but it was still a tidy little profit.
As the goods were being unloaded I was chatting to the dockers when three uniformed self importants walked in.
“We are looking for a Commander Aitken.” The tough looking bruiser at the front asked.
“That would be me.” I stupidly volunteered.
Before I could react the other two held my arms, a black hood was over my head and a second or two later I felt a thump to the back of my head, then darkness.
I had awoken tied to a chair, flight suit gone, my wrists and ankles in pain at the bindings being tight. I still didn't know who the hell this bunch of jokers were or what they wanted. Heck I wasn't even sure I had done anything wrong in this system but I had obviously upset someone a little.
Time had no meaning as I hung there and my mind started to wonder. Images of blazing hydrogen rich stars danced before my eyes as my brain tried to distract it's self from the pain signals it was receiving. A blazing bright orange M Class star was the back drop to a lonely Sidewinder with a young Commander looking for help. Fresh from flight school he had not fitted a fuel scoop and had become lost with little hope he thought of survival. I had been a few jumps out and answering his call for help was why I carried a fuel transfer controller. Joyful sounds of survival bled through to my ears as I swooped in firing fuel limpets.
The Sidewinder faded, to be replaced by a Fer de Lance with no scoop and a scoopable star close by or was it a scoop and no refuel able star close by. Two voices talked to me about Galmap, lines followed by dotted lines, KGBFOAM and thanks. With two pops and high wake emissions left behind the FdLs left. I sat there before the huge burning star as a Viper Mk III floated into my vision.
“You sound like you're from the Abe.” The pilots voice having a tinny sound to it in my helmet.
As the limpet streaked toward him I told him that I had grew up on the Abraham Lincoln. Fuel Transfer Complete flashed up on my HUD and suddenly I was blinded by a blazing white light.
Whatever was suspending me was released and I crashed back to the station floor, screaming in pain as my muscles were once able to move in a different direction. The blinding light had been the hood being removed, everything was still behind a veil of white light as my eyes tried to adjust. My brain was having it's own battle as the nerves in my body sent reports of pain from every sector.
The leering face of 'Muscle' swam into view as he took hold of my face.
“Where's the funny one liner now Little Man? Where's that air of arrogance and sense of superiority?”
With that he let go of my head and it crashed back to the station floor. If that had caused pain I didn't notice it as it was just a drop of water in an ever expanding ocean. Standing up he barked out commands to the other thugs in the room.
“We move on, strap him in and prepare him.”
Two gorilla like individuals picked me up and started to move me toward a table like object. Before laying me on to the upper surface they took off the binding on my wrists and ankles. The muscles in my back went in to spasm immediately and the pain at having everything loose again was excruciating.
With every part of my body screaming and I include my voice, I was strapped on to the table device. Thick pieces of leather with heavy duty buckles held me in the shape of a X. Then someone in a lab coat starting attaching circles of plastic with wires leading from them to me. One each on the sides of my forehead, two on my shoulders, two on my abdomen, one on my genitals and two each on my hips and calves.
Suddenly and without any warning the table pivoted around its central axis and I was standing upright, face to face with Muscle.
“Last chance Little Man. Who are you working for? The Progressives? Justice Party? The League? Or the Exchange?” He paused to give all that time to sink in.
“No one, I keep telling you I'm an independent.” I weakly croaked out.
“Very well. Keep your secrets if you wish.” He turned and nodded to the guy in the lab coat standing behind a podium. “Setting one on my mark.”
Turning back to me with a wicked grin and a glint in his eye, “This will tickle a little. Mark.”
My body went rigid as the pain flowed through it with the electricity. I didn't scream but gave out a gasping sound as I tried to get air and relief into my lungs. It only lasted 10 seconds but that fire coursed to every fibre of my bruised and battered body. Just as suddenly as it had started it ended.
“Well?” Muscle asked his breath hot and dank on my face.
Silence was my only reply. I could have lied but doubted it would get me anywhere. I'm sure many did lie and still ended up dead, this had to be one of the most useless ways of extracting information. So I gave him nothing.
“Setting two, MARK.”
My body went rigid again and this time I emitted no sound, oh I tried but nothing emerged. For my dazed, confused brain it was the last straw and so it shut down.
“In here Chief I think I found another one.”
A voice roused me, not that my brain wanted to be conscious and my body protested at any movement. I was in a cell, I'd been in a few but this one was spartan in the extreme. The only thing in it was a stainless steel bowl. Weather it was for bodily functions or to be used as a drinking bowl I wasn't sure. As I sat and stared at it the thought occurred it could be for both.
I didn't get longer to ponder on it as someone I recognised walk in.
“Geez Aitken you look terrible.” Chief Leopoldo Turner remarked.
“You should see the other guy, not a mark on him.” I feebly replied.
“Probably not for much longer.” He turned to the pirate behind him. “Get a blanket or something to cover him.”
“How?” I asked as I continued to stare at the bowl. It must have unsettled him a little. He covered me with the blanket his subordinate had given him and gently helped me to my feet.
“We'll talk about this when we get you back to your ship. For now let's just get the hell out of here.”
I offered no protest as he and the other pirate put my arms over their shoulders. It was a slow progress but eventually we made it back to the Clipper but not until we had made a stop. The Dock Workers Refresher Station wasn't glamorous but I needed to feel clean and it had showers.
“So how do you want to do this? I sure don't want to get my duds wet.” The pirate to my right voiced his concerns.
“No worries. Just set me down on the floor, turn the water on and let it wash over me.” I still didn't trust my legs to hold me up. Getting the dried and not so dry blood off of them and the rest of me did. While I sat there with the very refreshing liquid raining down on me the Chief sent the other pirate to meet us with their medic at the Clipper. As I sat there letting the water cleanse some of my my now stinging wounds and having the odd sip to quench my thirst the Chief told his tale.
“You might not remember but few weeks back we had a few customers ask that our couriers meet go betweens to find out the final destination.”
I nodded as I did indeed remember, not the specific intermediates or the final customer, but just actually doing the jobs.
“Well it seems one of them was playing both sides of an inter-faction dispute. Being the middleman and then selling the info to this bunch of dregs. Sorry to tell you Aitken but we had no idea you were here. A couple of guys from our mob went missing, we got a tip off a few hours ago and set up this rescue, raid to get them back. They hadn't started roughing over our guys yet as they had you to work on first by the looks of things.”
“No apology necessary Chief. It goes with the territory of being an independent operator.” My voice was just above a whisper and it was draining the little energy I had to talk. “I'm just grateful you guys got me.”
“Ok, enough talk and water for you. Your turning even paler in front of me.”
He flicked off the shower controls wrapped a couple of towels around me and then placed the blanket over my shoulders. With a move that looked beyond a man of his size he scooped me up in his arms and started to carry me. It hurt, it hurt like hell but I knew the Chief was not the cause of the pain and just bit my lip. I had never been so happy to see that blue Clipper before.
“From what I have with me Aitken I can tell you, you have busted ribs, bruises that run real deep to the muscle, burns, various lacerations, some of them done by knifes and a concussion that will make you sleep for a while. So let it win and get some rest” With that the medic left me on my bunk aboard the Clipper named 'Claymore'.
“Thanks Fuchs.” The Chief said as the medic left the cabin. “We'll get you seen to properly when we get back to Bunch. You don't mind me flying this thing do you?”
“No. No I don't. Get us out of here and don't spare the horses.”
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