It was a bad idea. I should have known better. I was always looking for something better: more money, more power. Something to make me feel more alive. But just when I thought I had found what I was looking for, it bit me in the ass. That one deal of cards cost me my freedom, and pretty much my life. I was bound to a magical contract and could not break the words written there. Not because I haven’t tried; lord knows that I have. But it was impossible for me to anything other than what "it," or the ones who held it, told me to do. Now, as I was staring at the timer of the bomb tick slowly to its detonation, I was reminded, once again, that I had really fucked up on that night so long ago.
“Kevin!” I yelled into my comm, attempting to scream over the roar of the waterfalls I was working behind. I need more info on how to make this thing not go boom!”
“Well, first, you don’t have to yell. The comm filters out the background noise, as I have told you a thousand times. Second, I need a little more time. They modified this model from the original and the tweaks make it hard for me to figure out how to not make it go boom.”
I knew he was doing his best and that was one hundred, if not one thousand, times more than the normal tech-guy. I just was getting a little anxious looking at the timer count down to my impending doom… Well, sort of. That feeling was not because I would die, because I couldn’t. Nothing could kill me since I signed the contract. And I have tried everything including exploding a nuke in my face, in the dead of space, with no suit. That experience just sucked because I told no one where I was or what I was doing, and I found myself dying and coming back countless times from lack of oxygen, freezing and radiation poisoning before they found me. When they found me, I still had to be decontaminated and my crew never let me hear the end of it as I sat in a tiny room while the nanites ate the radiation from every inch of my body. EVERY INCH. Imagine being in a tub full of 'creepy crawlies' for 2 days. Not the best experience in my life.
That was what I was not looking forward to again, as well as the stern 'talking-to' I would get for failing a mission. That would be horrible as well, because the bomb sat at the base of a hydroelectric-plant owned and operated by the Sepsis. If it detonated, it would cost them billions upon billions of dollars, and that would cause quite a stir with the Leadership. Not something I wanted to deal with, either.
“Kevin?” I asked with a little urgency in my voice as the timer reached the three-minute mark. “How about I just freeze it? You gave me the freez-y thing?” reaching for the liquid-nitrogen canister on my belt.
“They thought about that. The mechanism is shielded and will work to about -500 degrees. Just give me a moment. I see that it reached 2:40. I just need a little more time. Plus, if it goes off, just think of the vacation you would get.”
I would definitely repay his sarcasm after this was done, and I’m sure he knew that. Just as I was thinking of punishments for him in order to pass the time, I heard the audible click from safeties being flipped off behind me.
“You have to be fucking kidding me.” I turned to face three very large men, each carrying a carbine that would not only shred my clothes, but probably set off the bomb, as well.
“We can’t let you stop that bomb. The Sepsis must pay for what they have done.” They were shaking as they said that. By their clothes, and the age of the carbines they were pointing at me, and the callouses on their fingers, I knew that they were from the slave camps located a little ways from here. Laborers that did everything from farming to mining, and sometimes both, during a busy time of year. They were treated badly and paid worse. I knew who planted the bomb and wished they had just let me disarm it.
“Boss,” Kevin said in a whisper, “Open the nanite pouch on the left side of your belt. I will do the rest. Orders from above. Secure, do not kill. Answers needed.”
These guys would live, but they would wish that in the next few moments I would have killed them. The pouch was towards my back so flicking the latch open without them noticing was simple. The nanites flew out and Kevin remotely controlled them in order to destroy circuits to disarm the bomb. Now, I had a job to do.
“Please put your weapons down. The bomb is disarmed and your shots will not set it off. I can spare your lives if you surrender now.” They did not know those were my orders, but I was hoping that it was a trigger that would cause someone to do something that would allow me to kill them. They knew what would happen if I took them back alive. They knew who I was and who I worked for. Anybody who worked for the Sepsis did. Hopefully, they would act stupid or smart enough to give me cause to kill them.
Just as an omnipotent presence granting my wish, one of the men fired off a shot with one of the antique-looking blasters, missing my left shoulder by a few inches. Before I could react, the shot ricocheted off of the rear wall behind me and found its mark: taking a chunk out of my neck. I fell to the ground from the impact, not from the pain, knowing the next moments' occurrences like an old book. I moved my hand from the wound so they could see the flesh on my neck, once a gaping hole, begin to close itself. Muscle, veins and tendons closed and regenerated on their own. Finally, the skin grew back, only leaving scorched clothing where a hole should have been that would have killed any other man.
“ALIVE!” The message flashed across the HUD implanted in my eyes, stopping from killing them in self-defense. The message was plastered across each of their faces. Now, it didn’t matter if they tried to kill me again. I had no choice but to bring them back alive.
“You bastard!” One of the men screamed. “Do you know what you have done! Do you know what will happen to our families? Do you even care?” He screamed as tears ran down his face. His expression was a mixture of anger and terror, knowing what the future held for himself and for those he held dear.
“I do know, and I am sorry for what you are about to go through. Please know that this is not my choice, but it is the will of the Leadership.” It was a speech that I had said so many times before, I know it held no emotion in it, seeming nonchalant in its deliverance. But I knew that was the only answer I could give them, save one piece of inaudible advice. Making sure that the gesture was not visible to the HUD camera, I pointed at their guns first, then them, and finally, I formed my fingers into the shape of a gun and put them to the side of my skull. Hopefully, they would know that in killing themselves they would die in an instant instead of the weeks of torture following their capture.
Looking dazed and pitiful, they all instantly knew what the gesture meant. Unfortunately, they didn’t know that it all had to be in unison. The man on the left was too quick to perform his suicide, leaving the other two to begin to do it in what seemed to me to be slow motion. “Kevin. Audio and video off,” I said as I leaped into motion. Anyone from the leadership watching would see that I was trying to stop them from killing themselves so they could torture them for information, but Kevin, as well as any of my crew, would never be subjected to the sight or sounds associated with what was about to happen. These men were somewhat innocent, shooting me in the neck… Okay, they were just wrong for that, so beating them to a pulp should not be the next course of action. As the first shot entered his head, I was on the other two. Grabbing the stocks of their rifles, pointing them to the cavern walls with such force and momentum, it easily snapped each of their wrists at the same time. I then used a combination of aikido and some martial art I don’t remember to break six ribs, a fibula, a femur, both noses, an eye socket, and I ruptured a testicle. Pulling a vibra knife from another pocket on my vest, I stabbed it through the hand of the man with the busted eye socket pinning him to the wood railing lining the wall. They both had been incapacitated now, and my job was done.
Hearing the trucks coming up the road, I went outside to make sure it was the company vehicles and not more of the laborers coming to help out their companions. As I stepped outside into the mist of the falling water, I saw armed guards jumping from the parked vehicles rushing to secure the area. Seeing the familiar scene, I listened for the familiar sound of the hovercar admins came in. Hearing it from the direction opposite of where the truck came from, I turned Kevin’s audio and video back on so he would stop yelling in my ear.
“Dammit, I’m not a kid! Stop doing that!” I winced as he rattled off a few more profanities and scolded me for shutting him down. It's not that he wanted to see the gruesome sight, but he couldn’t tell what was going on and if I was okay, so it bugged him a little.
“I’m fine and it's over. Thanks for caring. Just gave them a few bumps and bruises. A few days in the med-tanks and they will all be fine.”
“Not by a long-shot,” he muttered knowing that their pain and suffering had just begun.
“Shhhhh. My boss is here so be on your best behavior.” Most likely my violent showing had appeased whoever was watching, but I could never tell. I had no privacy as they could tap into my HUD feed whenever they wanted. Kevin had a knack for running his mouth a little too much and sometimes that caused more trouble than it was worth. Just like any other job, talking bad about your bosses had its consequences.
Bowing, I greeted the Caretaker as he stepped out of the now landed hover car. “Sir,” I greeted him dryly. We had met earlier; I knew what kind of man he was, and he was the kind that I didn’t like. “Mission has been completed and the threats have been neutralized. If there is nothing else, I will be on my way.” I bowed and turned to leave, but was interrupted in mid-stride.
“Wonderful job, Trent!” He said with a snarky tone. “Now, before you go, there is one more thing that I would like you to do for me.”
At this point, there was nothing more that I wanted to do for him. The things he wanted me to do was the stuff nightmares are made of. “My apologies, Caretaker. Before I headed here to assist in quelling the uprising, I was en-route to another Caretaker by order of the Leadership. I stopped here along the way, but I must be on my way.” I tried to emphasize the Leadership, using the name-drop to get me out of this hell-hole.
“I have already been in contact with the Leadership and they assured me that you were the right man for the job. They also said that if you can complete this in a day or two, it should not hinder you from getting to your destination in time to complete the next task on your list.”
Knowing what was going to come next, I wish I had time to shut off Kevin, but facing what passed for a Caretaker on this world didn’t allow me the opportunity to do so.
“I need you to question these men. Get all the information you can before you leave, and question their families as well. Use any means to see who was involved and responsible for the unrest and report your findings to either myself or Caretaker Johns. Questions?” he said with a smile that could be one from the star of a horror movie.
“Where would you like the questioning to be done sir?” This was not a question of my choosing. Apparently, there was still someone watching as the question appeared on my HUD.
“I have already identified the men here. Take them back to their homes and perform the questioning there. Their families have are being detained as we speak, and the area is secured, thanks to your efforts earlier. That should be a fine place to do it, as we only have to transport the three men there. Saving on manpower, right?” he said laughing, as if it was a funny joke.
“Two men, sir. One killed himself as I was telling them to surrender.”
The prayers I thought of at that moment must have gone on deaf ears, as the rest of the orders came from the Caretakers mouth: “Oh, then make sure to question his wife properly. I hear she is used to a certain type of questioning, as she has caused us trouble before. If you need to fully understand what I mean, I am sending you a file so that the techniques that work best for her are clear to you.” Tapping on the keypad, he sent me the files of her rape and beatings in order for me to perform the same ‘techniques’ again. “Be sure to follow these guidelines to the tee as she has proven to be quite responsive to them, and again, great work.”
As he was trotting his pot-belly up to the hover car, I imagined 12 different ways I could kill him before he touched the hatch release. All were imagined in futility, as the Contract would not allow me to even "flick off" any member working for the Leadership. My mind could think all the thoughts it wanted to, but my body would not react. The only thing I could do was mumble a simple, “Yes, Sir," and head for the truck they were loading the men into.
“Kevin,” I said into the comm as I walked to the trucks. “Thank you again old friend, for getting me out of that situation. Tell the crew to take the next 30 hours off, and I recommend that you explore the beach area near the spaceport. I hear there is a bar out there that is to die for on this planet. I will be back at the ship tomorrow and we will head for Prime. Pass this mini-vacation order to the crew, and tell them I appreciate all of the work on this mission. I will check-in in about six hours for a post report and see you guys tomorrow. No comm-traffic unless it's an emergency, and you guys go enjoy yourselves. Prepare for departure at the 36 hour mark to leave at 48” This would keep them occupied as I began my new assignment, and maybe take their minds off the horrors I was about to inflict on these innocent people.
Kevin knew exactly what was going on as he had heard the entire conversation. He, as well as any of my crew, knew what questioning meant to the Leadership and knew that it was something that I did only because I was ordered to and had no choice in doing.
“Orders received, boss,” Kevin said almost in a whisper. “We await your return and will be prepared for liftoff as soon as you board, Sir.” The last part was his message to me that as soon as the door closed behind me, we would be prepping for our jump and comm silence, so no other heinous missions could be assigned by this particular Caretaker. Great thought, but an email had the same effect as an in-person or comm conversation. Orders were orders, and I had to follow them.
“Thank you Kevin. Comm Off.” The command turned off all external comm functions and did not allow them to call me if I was in the middle of something particularly gruesome. They could use an emergency channel to reach me, but that was reserved times when something was really wrong.
I hopped in the truck with the two burly, wounded men, looking at each of them as they stared back up at me, wondering what torture awaited them at my hands. I looked down at the man who still had my knife pierced through his hand. I reached over grabbing his hand to examine the blade, as it was no longer vibrating. With a slight twist, I pulled the serrated blade from his hand, causing him to scream, rip his arm out of my grasp, and collapse sobbing and screaming on the floor of the truck.
“Hopefully, you tell me all I need to know before we reach your families, so their questioning is easier than what yours will be. I have two days to get two weeks worth of information out of you. Be glad your time with me is short.” The warning fell on their horrified faces as the guards closed the doors of the trucks and I began to filet the skin from the first of the two men's bodies.