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A short story by Kuzco

Mark awoke slowly. The dryness in his throat and lips was a familiar feeling, if only one that he never got used to. Then an acute headache followed, another gift from the gutters of Red sector. Eyes closed, sensations slowly started to fill in.

He felt warm. And dry. The absolutely maddening acidic rain wasn't falling on him, washing him with the rejection of topside's bourgeois lifestyle. There was a damp feeling to the air, as he took his first tentative inhalation.

There was no sound.

Mark opened his eyes slowly, his olive green irises opening up to the painful artificial light.

He was lying on some hard, cold surface. Directly in front of him, the roof offered a most vexatious view of what could be old nouveau art... if it weren't for the blood composing the involuntary piece, instead of synthethic paint.

Light, as it were, came not from theinactive lightbulb hanging above him but from a desk light to the right, where a hunched man was sitting on a disheveled office chair. White haired, he had a... pale grey dress shirt, and marine blue suit trousers, though the weak illumination made for a poor chromatic appreciation. He was giving his broad back to Mark, and only then the noise began. Low clicking and whirring mechanical sounds came from whatever was hidden by the frame of his room companion.

There was no SIC signal.

The rest of the room was quaint. Shelves filled with actual books, whose covers where unreadable from the distance and angle of the observer. Electronic trash piled up in corners; he could point out several cannibalized enotes. Posters from old Deathball glories, faded with time and humidity, lined the walls. A potted plant, unknown species, rested on a corner. Next to it a door of some solid white material was a world away.

There was no movement.

It was at this moment that Mark realised he was restrained to an operating table. Down to his ankles, brown and cracked leather straps held him firmly in place.

His generalquality cyberarm, he noted, was missing, the stump on his shoulder feeling raw. Then he saw it. On a small tray by his side, chromed and slick with blood and he wasn't particularly flabbergasted to deduce it was his own lay his Secure Identification Chip, the gateway to instantaneous thoughtpowered communication with the heterogenous population of this little hellhole called Withmore city. He was all alone, a mixed blessing.

There was no escape.

The sound of the office chair creaking with relief as the suited man stood up. Mark craned his neck to look at him in a perpendicular perspective. Now he was able to make more details. A powerful jaw and aquiline nose gave way to a calm, collected but intimidating visage, clean of facial hair and eastern european if anyone was betting on it. Crow's feet flanked his eyes, which were black coloured and hard, as he leant closer to Mark to say, in a deep voice:
"Na chto ty smotrish?"

Mark blinked. Though he had invested none of his time in learning foreign languages, aside for a few loose threads of mixmash, the language of the poor, he had enough mental acuity to recognize russian when he heard it. The man said:
"Da,thats what I thought. Do you know why you are here?"

Mark made a small, tentative effort to test his restraints. No luck. The russian man smirked and calmly continued with his thickly accented english:
"My employers, they be most generous of men. Allowing me to treat your wounds. You remember, yes?"

A flicker of uncertainty flashed on Marks eyes. The russians grin widened:
"Yes, you do. Greedy man, trying to walk through Mix with combolock briefcase. Only one guard. Sloppy conduct."

Mark risked looking away from the man, not wanting to give him the full frontal vision of the growing animal fear inside of him. Instead, his gaze migrated to the desk from where his impromptu interrogator had risen. There was... hm... a tourniquet. A scalpel. Forceps. Also a... Suddenly Marks face was forced back by the russian holding his jaw with a single, long fingered hand:
"Red sector is not safe. You were hurt, yes. Guard was killed, he had clone insurance. So you alone, now, with me."

Pleasure? Mark couldnt discern emotion in those predatory eyes. The russian continued:
"Briefcase was locked, yes. Cant force it open, cargo may be damaged. Do you understand, tovarishch?"

Mark nodded, using as much movement as he could with his restrained face. He took a deep, satisfying breath, intending to talk, but the russian clicked his tongue and went on:
No, no, silence is important. I do not know sound of your voice yet. Let me savor a little further. This is not interrogation. You cannot negotiate briefcase number for combolock, see? and he tucked a hand inside his pants pocket, from where he produced a small folded paper. He proceeded to unfold it, with a care that mimicked a surgeons delicacy, and showed it to Mark.

It was a number, indeed. The calligraphy was unmistakable. It was his own... but how? When? As if reading his thoughts, the man went on:
"Drugs, be powerful things. Making them legal, is strange measure for citys Council. Maybe fact that Withmore is enclosed in dome makes people nervous. Not my problem. Fact is..." and he licked his lips once, narrowing his eyes:
"You already gave us number."

Mark blinked, feeling dizzy. The man smiled, almost paternally, and walked away to the door. Next to it was a switch, which the man turned on with a flick of his finger.

"My employers, they be most generous of men. They let me play with their trash."

The ceiling lightbulb turned on and almost blinded Mark. The russian went to the desk, then, always walking slowly. As Mark strained to see, the russian turned towards him with a grin on his face that spoke volumes... and a blue plastic drill on his hands, that promised agony.

"Now, comrade. Lets hear that voice of yours."

There was no silence.


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