WT Stockholm 1.1
She felt light tapping on her face. It wasn’t so rough as to hurt, but sharp enough for her to stir. She knew her eyelids fluttered and the tapping stopped. She felt the presence move away from her, unnoticed until its absence.
Cautiously she opened her eyes – a harsh white glare made her close them quickly. She caught a glimpse of the back of a white coated man at a bench of presumably medical instruments before pressing her eyelids tight.
“You’ll need to give your eyes time to adjust to the light – you’ve been out for a little while.” To her ears, it sounded like he hadn’t turned . She heard the touch of metal on metal, and the swirl of his coat as he moved back. “I’m afraid that you need to be awake for this. Sorry about that.”
“Why?” Her throat was rough from being under.
“Chemicals that the body, well, the mind, produces in this sort of situation. So far, it’s too hard to convincingly replicate . Medical got it close enough years ago, but didn’t have a need to go further. They can always tell if you didn’t cut it off… pity, it would be a lot easier if we could just use cloned parts – but I guess that would make verification too difficult, and then we’d be out of business. So,” he bobbed down to her now open eye level, “I’m sorry, but, uh, I’m going to have to cut off a finger. Do you have a preference?”
“I’m, I’m a pianist …” She fumbled.
“Oh…” He rubbed his stubbled chin. “They do have music for nine fingered people – I think they even have one handed pieces, but still…” he pulled at his ear. “Well, it’s unconventional, but I guess I can take a toe – it’ll affect your balance a little, but not too bad – assuming they pay up.”
“And if they don’t?”
“A few more toes, then a foot. You can grow new ones, but occasionally you don’t get full compatibility . I wouldn’t worry too much – most of the time they pay up after the first body part. Left or right foot? Most people use the right more to balance.”
“Okay, I’ll take the second little toe, you won’t feel the loss as much .” He turned and grabbed a scalpel from the metal tray. She used this moment to test her bonds: she was strapped down basically unmoveable. He noticed, but was unperturbed. “I need you to mostly see this, sorry.” He pressed a button and the table angled so that she could see her feet. He held the scalpel close to her toe.
“That’s a bit primitive, isn’t it?” She asked.
He smiled. “Yes! It’s just theatrics . The way the human mind works, it uses the primal horror of knives to help generate the chemicals I need. Today, I’ll actually be using this!” He held out a black test tube looking object. “It cuts, cauterises and stores for transport, all in one nifty little container.”
“You seem proud of it.”
“I am. I invented it. Now, hold still.” He moved it over her toe, and then moved it away, leaving a short stump in its place.
“Should I have felt something?”
“Did the earth move for you? Sorry.” He looked away. “No. We don’t actually need you to feel pain, just a mix of anticipation and, well, you still feel the pain, it just doesn’t get processed by your mind.”
“Wouldn’t it be more effective if I felt the pain?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“We’re not barbarians .” He looked at her with a furrowed brow. “Well, I’m not a barbarian…” He took a long breath. “Now I’m going to transfer you to your room while we wait, refreshments will be provided.”
“You mean a cell.”
“A gilded cage.” He pressed a button so that once again the table was flat. She was moved through a short corridor with nothing to see except the metal roof. As he walked, he talked. “There’s not a lot of point trying to escape, the ship is filled with bloodthirsty pirates, I guess kidnappers is more accurate now, they are armed, and some of them are more than a little crazy. Space crazy . There’s no point trying to take me as a hostage – they’ll just shoot me, then replace me. The terminal in your room isn’t connected to the network. Oh, and it is adjacent to an outer hull, I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you about the vacuum of space, but if I do, speak up now, otherwise I’ll have another nightmare clean up. How are people so stupid ? Anyway, any questions?”
“How long do these things normally take?”
“That depends.” He thought for a heartbeat. “Three, maybe four days generally . Sometimes longer if they are reluctant to pay. We’ve got it pretty streamlined. You know, you’re surprisingly calm about all this.”
“What else can I do?”
He didn’t respond. He released the bindings and helped her down. There was a comfy looking lounge chair opposite a computer terminal, a decent sized bed and a doorway that led to a refresher. There was a dumb waiter for food delivery, a flask of water sitting on it. She looked at it.
“The water isn’t drugged. If I need to drug you, I’ll ask first.”
“And if I refuse?” She looked around the room.
“I’ll use the air scrubbers. But that puts stress on your lungs, so I prefer not to.”
“You seemed awfully considerate,” she turned to face him, hands on hips, “of the merchandise.”
“Got to make the best of a bad situation .” He closed the door behind him.
Food and drink were provided, but it was two days before she heard from him again.
There was a knock on the door, and then a reasonable pause before it opened.
“Sorry to disturb you, but they don’t seem that willing to pay your ransom, so the captain wants to send a message.”
“Another toe?” She flexed her bare feet.
“Yes and no.” He pushed the table in. “How are you at screaming?”
“We’re going to have to cut off another toe, but we’ll have to do it the old fashioned way for the camera.”
“I think that will be plenty of cause for me to scream.” She stepped back subconsciously.
“Oh, I was hoping you’d be able to scream on cue, that way we can block the pain. We still need to cut the toe off, sorry. So, it’s your choice.”
“Well,” she thought for a moment, “but what if I don’t? ”
“I pull the pain blocker. What would you say anyway?” He gestured at her to climb onto the table, which she did, and he wheeled her off.
They went into the operating room that she’d first woken up in.
“Is the camera in here?” She asked.
“No, we just need to do some prep.”
“Uh, we need to make it look like we’re mistreating you.” He opened a cabinet and pulled out a makeup case and a selection of prosthetics .
“Wouldn’t it be easier…”
“Kind of not really .” He finished and showed her a mirror. She was impressed by the details, she looked bruised and battered. “Can you put this on please? There’s a screen over there.” She put on the ‘torn’ clothes, they were surprisingly comfortable. He had put on a blood splattered lab coat, tussled his hair and grabbed a roll bag medical kit.
He approached her slowly. “This is the pain blocker, I need to put it on your neck. Try and keep your hair covering it.” She let him put it on. “Also, uh, try and trust me.”
“My mother warned me about men who said that .” She smiled, although it didn’t look like it.
She lay back down on the table, and he fastened a cover over the top, it appeared bloodstained, with thick leather straps and solid restraints. It had ugly protrusions in a couple of places.
He wheeled her over to the door, took a deep breath and opened it.
The walls in the corridor were clean, but not surgically so. Ahead, a crewman looked up from his work, closed the panel quickly and moved out of the way. She wasn’t sure, but thought there may have been fear in his eyes.
He took a direct path to the main deck, she’d be able to follow it later if need be. They stopped in front of a camera, a plastic cloth covering the deck. He angled the table so that she would be visible. A crewman went for the Captain.
“How are you treating our hostage?” The captain was a wiry man, with oily hair and a vaudeville moustache.
“I haven’t killed her… yet”
“Good.” He nodded at the camera operator. A moment passed, and he nodded in return.
“It seems,” the captain addressed the camera, “that you don’t seem to be taking our ransom demands seriously. And so, you get to watch as we remove another of her toes, which we’ll be sending to you soon. I suggest you respond quickly, before we send you parts that are more difficult to replace…” He nodded at the doctor, who with a flourish, brandished the scalpel.
The doctor knelt to the toe, and as he did, gave her a nod. He readied himself, and looked up to make sure that she too was ready. Then he cut into her toe.
A heartbeat passed, and then she screamed, long, piercing.
A perplexed look passed his face , then he took the bleeding toe and put it in a clear tube and handed it to the captain.
“We await your response.” And he left.
The doctor stuffed a swab on the toe, and wheeled her back to his compartments in silence. On arrival , he cauterised the toe, undid her restraints.
“Normally it doesn’t go past this stage, so we should be able to get you home soon.” He handed her some wipes to clean off the makeup.
“How’d you get caught up in this?” She asked, wiping away fake dried blood. “You don’t seem the type.”
“Really?” He looked at his coat. “I thought I made quite the dapper pirate.” He waited for a response, but didn’t get one. He turned serious. “I got shanghaied , their last doctor got herself killed, and so they nabbed me. They tried to get me to torture information out of people – rich people’s account details and so on… I managed to convince them of the inefficiency of it, that ransom was quicker and easier – luckily it was, otherwise they would’ve spaced me long ago. Over the last few years, I’ve managed to build a bit of a persona, so that they don’t interfere. And as long as it’s working, they have no reason to push.” He hung up the coat, moved to another cabinet and poured two drinks, brought one over to her. “I tell myself that they kind of deserve it, because they are rich, self indulgent, entitled, exploitative, whatever helps me sleep at night… I do my best to not cause too much pain, I try and be as close to a doctor as I can …”
“Why don’t you leave?” She sipped at her drink.
“They would hunt me down, and torture me for betraying them…” He finished his drink in one go. “Maybe, I’ll get enough money to be able to hide, but more likely, I’m here until either I die, or they die.” He spent a moment looking into his empty glass. “You want some dinner?” He moved to the cupboard to get out a pan.
“Sure.” She thought for a moment. “You’ve been making the meals yourself ?”
“Yeah. They okay?” He began preparing.
“So, what’s your story? You’re not like the others.”
“Started off on the down side of life, but my parents got lucky in a big mining operation, bought the right rights at the right time. I always felt that my start in life kept me grounded.”
He brought dinner, and they chatted.
It was three days, one toe and a number of shared meals before once again they were summoned by the Captain. They went through a similar process to the last time.
“This is unusual – be ready to respond appropriately – I… whatever happens, I’ll do my best to minimise any damage, but I warn you, it may not be pretty.”
She nodded, and they moved through the ship to the same room as before. This time though, there was a screen set up. The captain was waiting impatiently, and as soon as they arrived, he nodded to the cameraman.
“You wanted to talk to her? Make it quick.”
“Baby ! How are you?” Came a strong voice from the screen.
“I…” she hesitated, and the eyes on the screen furrowed, “I’m okay, but the food is terrible, I want to come home.”
“We’re working on it. Soon… Real soon… Baby…” He was interrupted.
“As you can see, she’s clearly still alive. “ The captain filled the camera. “And unless you want that to change, I’d suggest hurrying it up. ” He cut the camera and stormed off.
Again, they moved back through the ship in silence.
“How long ?” He asked when they had returned.
“How long until they come for you?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at her foot and flexed her remaining toes.
“I’m not a fool.” He said it quietly. “It was a code, you aren’t a rich heiress, you’re some sort of cop. And they’ve tracked you.” He poured two drinks, finished his before moving away, refilled it. “They’ll put me away too, won’t they?”
“Not for as long.” She stood up and got her drink. “But yes, I’m sorry, you’re pretty deep into this.” She put an arm over his shoulder and held it there for a while. “Forty eight hours.” He stood, staring at the bottom of his glass, until she left him to go to her room.
The next morning he woke with breakfast, he almost dropped the tray, and stood, worrying at his right arm as she ate.
“Come with me.” He said as soon as she finished.
He led her to the operating table, and bade her sit down. “I have your toes .”
“Yeah, well…” he showed her a suspension chamber, with toes in it. “I grew them from your DNA, I like to return people as complete as I can… you may have a little loss of functionality, sorry. You aren’t a pianist, are you?”
“No. I’m sorry .”
“That’s okay.” He got his instruments ready. “You want to stay awake for this?”
“If you don’t mind .” He put a pain blocker on her neck, began attaching the toes. “Did you…?”
“Did I tell the captain?” He shook his head. “No. He deserves to be caught. You’ll need to rest today, but you should be okay for tomorrow. I’ll keep an eye on you.”
He spent that day with a professional manner, making sure the toes took, bringing her supplies that he thought she might need, and lastly, a small, ugly looking hand gun .
“Won’t you need this?” She asked.
“No.” He half laughed. “I plan on hiding like a coward and then being as non threatening as possible . It’s strong enough for flesh, but won’t go through the walls. All the doors in this section will be unlocked, except for the main door, which will allow people out, but not it, in case they try to fall back here…” He sighed. “I guess there’s not much more I can do, maybe put my affairs in order.”
“Thank you.” She put a hand on his. “It won’t go unnoticed.”
He left, and she scratched at her ‘new’ toes.
The assault went smoothly for the police. She had rushed through the lab to attack from the rear. Caught between two forces, the pirates were quickly overwhelmed .
It was basically over when an explosion rocked the ship.
Two officers went to investigate and returned with a hand in a jar. A medic plugged in.
“ID says it’s our missing crew member. Trauma indicators say this came off while he was still alive. Any more left of him?”
“Was a big explosion.” The officer responded. “That was the only big bit, rest was chunks. He couldn’t have survived.”
The leader turned to her. “Any chance that this is a trick, that he survived somehow.”
She hesitated, just for moment, flexed her toes .