Challenge: Pumpkin Pie #8 - A Body
Word Count: 1,385
Summary: It doesn't matter when it happens, nothing David plans ever seems to go quite right.
Notes: I kept forgetting to post. And the more I forgot, the harder it got to post. And now we end up with four stories per post. Yeah...
The wind was back again, stronger than ever and whipping the sands into a frenzy around him as he trudged, head down, onwards. Grains stung the exposed areas of his face; adjusting the scarf didn’t help. But it wouldn’t be long now. He had a knack for that, the same desert sense he’d used not so long ago to avoid standing on someone else’s child (and how conflicted he felt about that, the guilt and relief and absolute bloody frustration), like all the hairs on the back of his neck were tingling.
Or maybe that was just the sand.
The canteens hanging from his belt were far lighter than he’d have liked. One way or the other, dehydration or that uncanny sense of trouble, something that felt like the end was coming and it was dragging a sense of respite in its wake.
He crouched at the top of one of the vast sandy peaks, scuffing fingers idly in the sand as he caught his breath and stared across the unforgiving desert. Whatever impending event would happen whether he liked it or not, he didn’t care any more. Fate could have free rein for all he cared, he was done with this. It didn’t matter what he did, it’d all go to hell in the end.
And that bloody oasis wasn’t going to find itself. With a deep sigh he pushed himself up and began the slippery scramble down the slope.
Completed, each unit was bigger than himself and elegantly curved. Three white monoliths rising towards the high ceiling. Under the bright lights they almost seemed to glow.
“Very impressive, Mr. Deor. We didn’t expect that you’d complete the system so quickly.”
David grinned and shrugged, shoving both hands into his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “It wasn’t difficult stuff. Once I’d got one done, the others were simple.” He cocked his head to one side, ignoring the hair falling into his eyes, and his grin widened. “What do you take me for?”
“Oh, I’d certainly never consider you an idiot.” He ran a hand over the hard plastic shell of one of the towers and nodded once, firmly. “You’re one of the most accomplished young men I have ever met.”
David’s grin would have widened further, if it could; he turned to one of the towers instead in the hope that he could disguise the pride as interest in his work. And he had to admit, he was good at it. It was just an aptitude, not something he’d consciously studied; things just came together for him. Machines danced into life in his hands. But this was... something else. This had been his chance to make a mark, make a difference.
“And it works?” The words couldn’t have been more on cue if he’d tried.
David nodded, suppressing his smile and assuming a more businesslike stance. “I tried it on a limited range of animals: cats, dogs, sheep. Nothing bigger.” He quirked one corner of his mouth into a half-smile. “It was hard to even get the sheep up here. Turns out they don’t like elevators much.”
“I can imagine. And it worked without a hitch? No unforeseen consequences?”
“None.” David knew the pride had resurfaced in his voice; he didn’t care. “They all got up again within an hour. The timeframe can be adjusted without a problem - it has to be done separately on all three for safety’s sake, but,” he shrugged, “I can change that too if you’d prefer.”
“You’ve certainly thought of everything,” the other man said calmly, eyes travelling first the length of the nearest tower, and then the length of David. “Except potentially one: how are you planning on transporting them? They don’t look like they’ll fit in your lift.”
“I thought you said you didn’t think I was an idiot?” Much like his pride, he couldn’t disguise the slight frown as he turned again to the tower beside him, sliding open an almost invisible panel in the casing. A horizontal line split the contraption, a second cutting vertically from the base, ceasing at the upper line, and the three parts split. With a deep hum the lower panels opened out and, as both men looked on, the top half sank into the base like a snake swallowing an egg. “Another switch’ll extrude some wheels for easy transport, but you could just pick it up; it’s light enough.”
“That is... unexpectedly impressive. And it’s just a couple of button-presses?”
“You did say you needed the system to be portable.” David pouted. “I paid attention to all areas of the brief.” He gestured and the other man came to stand beside him, watching intently as the younger man pressed a short sequence of buttons; as if by magic, the upper half of the tower rose from the depths again. “Same order to open and close. I didn’t want to needlessly complicate it.”
“You really have thought of everything.”
“Of course.” David smirked.
“Do you have anything to demonstrate the system with?”
David’s grin widened again. “I wouldn’t send you away without a working demonstration. For all you know, I could’ve built hollow shells.”
He watched as David turned on his heel and jogged towards a door on the other side of the room. He didn’t bother trying to display an emotion as the young man returned at a much slower pace, a rabbit held carefully in both arms. The creature didn’t bat an eyelid as he carefully lowered it to the floor, sitting obliviously in the centre of the triad of monoliths as David moved back to the control panel beside his visitor. “If you look...” His fingers flicked from one button to the other and his visitor’s gaze followed avidly. “It’s really simple.”
The hum started as a vibration that ran through the soles of the visitor’s shoes, building into a deep thrumming that his heart tried to emulate the beat of. The light, however, took him by surprise, arcing from tower to tower in a wide band until wild shadows danced on the walls and the rabbit, now paralysed with fear, was completely surrounded.
As quickly as it had burst into being, the light vanished. The visitor was blinking rapidly, probably to try to dislodge the floating black spots David had learned to ignore during his tests; he wasn’t the important thing right now anyway. The rabbit was.
The little creature lay on its side, its chest rising and falling rhythmically. A few strides brought him to its side and he knelt, running his hand over its soft fur and marvelling at the heat of its body. That it was still breathing was a source of both relief and pleasure to him.
The hum took him by surprise, jerking him from his thoughts like an electric shock. Half rising, twisting around, he shouted to the other man but the words were caught in the rising tone. The blast of light he should have been expecting caught him unawares; the unconsciousness he should have remembered was coming dropped him like a stone.
Deor’s sleeping form looked oddly peaceful, the stranger concluded as he turned off the remarkable machine. He didn’t look like he’d just been coshed by his own invention, but instead like he’d chosen to sleep there himself, curled up with bare feet pressed together. He wouldn’t thank his visitor for it, but there was a lot David wasn’t going to be thankful for in his immediate future, and making him come peacefully now was worth the explanations later.
He should have expected it, he knew. That impending sense of something; he should have guessed that it was going to hit much sooner than he’d thought. The sand cushioned the impact as he slumped to his knees before the greenish-blue puddle that had once been an oasis, his nose only briefly protesting the smell before closing down entirely. The carcasses in various states of decay only reinforced what his eyes were telling him. This is it, then.
The shifting sound behind him went unnoticed.
The cold muzzle of a gun pressed to the back of his skull, the click as the safety was released; that wasn’t so easy to ignore.
“Found you, ghost.”
A sudden impact across the head, and then dreamless sleep.
Challenge: Pumpkin Pie #9 - Cobwebs
Word Count: 100
Summary: David wakes up, and wishes he hadn't.
It was cold when he woke, and gloomy. His bare feet scrabbled reflexively against the floor, like a startled rabbit, and his fingers scraped across the rough surface. No joy; it was unyielding. His eyes took their time adjusting. He only knew it was as good as it’d get when he could make out cobwebs spreading from ceiling corner to corner.
He was the first visitor here in a long time. Perhaps inmate was a better word.
A sliver of light appeared in front of him, rapidly blocked.
“Mr. Deor, please make yourself comfortable. You may be here some time.”
Challenge: Pumpkin Pie #10 - Torture
Word Count: 1,327
Summary: David explains a little of his past to the stranger. It's not like he's got much choice...
Notes: Contains asphyxia and violence.
The back of his head was throbbing, that was the first thing he was conscious of. Beyond the heat and the discomfort and the sand in his mouth, the nagging, aching pain. He buried his head under his arms, wishing he could bury it beneath the sand too and forget everything.
A foot caught him in the ribs, not hard - not hard enough to break anything, anyway - and David exhaled a heavy breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Fuck you,” he grunted, tensing his stomach for a second blow.
Which didn’t come. Instead there was the click of the safety, like an echo of a nightmare. “Sit. Up.”
The relentless sun (god he was starting to hate that sun now) scratched at his eyeballs as he grudgingly shifted his arms from his head and forced himself into an uncomfortable sitting position. The world had no business spinning so quickly. “What?”
The man in front of him was crouched on his haunches and watching his every move without blinking once, the gun in one hand and a knife in the other, held loosely as if it was a casual thing, that he just happened to be holding it when David woke. His gaze flicked from the stranger’s face, to the gun, to the knife; which one he was supposed to keep an eye on he had no idea. “Tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“Tell me,” the other man leaned in, his eyes firmly locked on David’s own with an intensity that finally inspired a spark of terror in him, “what you did that made them want you dead.”
He opened his mouth to tell him exactly what he thought of that comment but stopped. Why, he didn’t know: whether it was the gun, the knife or the fact that, now he thought about it, it was the first time anyone had asked him, the insult caught in his throat and refused to budge. He just stared, and the stranger stared back; somehow the insult converted itself into words he never thought he’d speak aloud.
“It was my own fault.”
The floor was harder than his own cell’s, if that was possible, and he hit it with enough force to wind him. The shadow that fell over him he’d seen often enough to recognise even as he gasped for breath. “Mr. Deor. I’m sorry we have to do this, but you really are being stubborn.”
“I’m not,” he groaned, pushing himself up. It got harder each time. “I’m being principled.”
The fingers that looped into his hair, pulling him into a kneeling position, were so familiar through habit. Their owner, his visitor who had so patiently and indulgently waited for him to complete the machines could no longer be described by either word. “No, David,” the word was spat in his face, “you’re being an idiot.”
David tried to shake his head (unsuccessfully, as the grip on his hair tightened further) and forced a smile. “No, I’m—”
The word was cut off abruptly by a hand wrapping itself around his throat. Instinctively his hands jerked towards his neck, trying to pry the fingers digging into his soft skin away. No success. The hand tensed, the man lifting him as though he weighed nothing, dragging him to his feet. “You will do what you’re told, do you understand me?” He hissed, his breath burning against his skin. “We can’t kill you but we can make you suffer and if I’m honest,” he leaned even closer, smirking as David failed to recoil, no matter how much he struggled against the grip, “I will enjoy it, you arrogant little shit.”
The fingers slowly, one by one, released their hold and David slumped back to his knees, both hands pressed to the tender skin. Breathing hurt, each one a burning gasp. Any attempt to form a rebuttal went out the window; all he wanted to do was get some oxygen into his body without it feeling like each breath would kill him.
The slip of something cool and rigid yet flexible around his neck paralysed him. Something cold, two solid lines, pressed against the nape of his neck, and then pressure again, uniform this time and not as hard. “Stand up.”
David shook his head; immediately he wished he hadn’t. The pressure grew, the ligature tight enough that he couldn’t even try to get his fingers under the straight edge without gouging the skin of his throat.
“This,” the voice whispered, uncomfortably close to his ear, “is my belt. It does a better job of hurting you than I can. So you are going to stand up.”
The pressure eased almost immediately, air crashing back into his lungs. “Why are you doing this?” Each word was agony.
“Because we need you. You made this machine, you can modify it.”
“I—” He remembered when they told him, three days ago - at least he thought it was that long ago - what they truly wanted his machines for. They hadn’t been keen on his reaction then either. His jaw still ached. “I don’t want to...”
Anticipating the reaction didn’t help. He choked, the belt the only thing stopping him from doubling over, hands pressed to his neck. “I don’t care what you want,” the man behind him snapped. “I thought that had been made abundantly clear; you will do it.” A sharp impact, the feel of shoes against the back of his knees, and David dropped like a stone, the belt the only thing holding him up. He let out a hoarse cry, thrashing around and pulling at the supple leather with enough force to open welts in his skin. “Do I make myself clear?”
He didn’t know what scared him most: the flashes exploding across his vision or the impassive voice of the man inflicting this on him. He couldn’t even nod, couldn’t speak; how the hell was he supposed to respond?
The pressure slackened without warning, the belt slapping him across the back as he hit the floor. The shoes came into blurred view as he curled into a ball on the floor, hands laced around the belt and knees pressed to his chest. “You have five minutes to pull yourself together and start work.”
David nodded slowly, heart and head pounding; the foot came up and he cringed back but the fear was unfounded this time. The feet turned and walked away, leaving him gasping on the floor with tears streaming down his cheeks.
The mercenary’s gaze had been unwavering and more than a little unnerving. Throughout David’s words the knife had been tossed into the air and unerringly caught several times. The only thing stopping the wanderer from slowly backing away from the big man had been the sneaking suspicion that he could impale him in any body part he chose with a simple flick of the wrist.
“So they threatened you.”
He shrugged. The gesture was barely noticeable through his clothes. “Something like that, yeah.”
The merc leaned forward, resting both elbows on his knees, and gestured with the tip of the knife at David. The action made him feel unaccountably uncomfortable. “That isn’t the whole story.”
“No.” There was no point in lying.
“You’re taking me back to them, aren’t you.” It didn’t need to be a question. He’d known ever since the gun had been buried in his hair.
The big man didn’t bat an eyelid. “Depends. If you’re who I think you are, I could just kill you instead. There are people who would pay well. Or,” he tossed the knife into the air again. The handle landed with a gentle thump in his gloved palm, “I could make what they did to you seem like child’s play. People would pay well for that too.”
David sighed, staring down at the sands between them, and smiled a smile he didn’t feel. “No. You couldn’t. No one could.”
Challenge: Pumpkin Pie #11 - In The Shadows
Word Count: 903
Summary: Acts of rebellion will not be tolerated.
They watched him all the time he worked on the machines and, he suspected, times when he wasn’t too. He never really saw them unless it was a movement from the corner of his eye, or if he tried something rebellious.
They didn’t like the little acts of defiance. David learned that very quickly, when sitting down for a rest earned him a kick that sent him sprawling across the tiled floor. By the time he’d gathered his wits enough to scramble up the offender had melted back into the shadows.
He tried to keep an eye on them as much as possible while he worked, but the lighting conspired against him, the single bright bulb making working conditions as difficult as discerning the features of the men posted at intervals around the room.
The machines spent most of their time on their sides on the floor, usually propped just so against David’s leg so the light shone into the internals. They hadn’t liked that either, the first time he’d knelt with the oversized monolith cradled awkwardly in his arms. There’d been no kick that time - couldn’t risk damaging the product, just its creator - but something had hit him round the back of the head so hard his vision clouded with stars. He’d swung round, only half-able to see but angry nonetheless, to find no one standing there; when he turned back his former employer was looming over him in the way he’d learned to both hate and fear. “What do you think you’re doing, Mr. Deor?”
“I can’t see a fucking thing,” he snapped, flinching away instinctively. The expected blow didn’t arrive. “If you want this,” and if he wanted to get out again, “I’ve got to see what I’m doing. Right?”
He regretted the final word instantly; it sounded cowardly. The spreading smirk on his captor’s face agreed. “If this is your reason, we’ll abide by it.” David looked down again, biting back the tears of frustration stinging his eyes, and when he looked back up all he was faced with was darkness. No more retribution came his way. For that, at least.
The chance to finally sit and rest his legs was a relief. The position eased the cramps that had been sprinting the length of his muscles, even as new ones replaced them. Sitting also helped in other regards: it made it far easier to hide vital components in the folds and sleeves of the shapeless white sweaters and pants they’d dressed him in. They didn’t even notice, initially, although what they put the failures of each machine down to he had no idea. He’d been so proud to tell his benefactor of his easy successes but they didn’t seem surprised by the sudden, unremitting failures. Perhaps they thought it was only to be expected. What it was that tipped them off he’d no idea; perhaps he’d been tired. He had lost track of the time by that point: they weren’t big believers in letting him keep regular hours. A hand had snaked out of the gloom and gripped his narrow wrist hard enough that he yelped.
The resistor fell from his nerveless fingers and clattered onto the floor.
Fingers entangled themselves into his hair and dragged him upright. He made a grab for the wrist, only for both of his own hands to be caught by two more of the guards and jerked out to his sides.
“Well well, Mr. Deor. What do we have here?”
The flat intonation sent chills through David’s veins and ice into his heart.
Hands slid roughly the length of his body as he tried to stare his captor in the eye without letting the sudden wave of terror show. A wordless grunt from one of the wordless grunts guarding him caught the man’s attention; David’s heart tried to relocate itself to his stomach. Without ceremony the sweatshirt was pulled over his head, the grips on his wrists released only long enough to get the fabric over his head and down his arms. It landed in a pile on the floor, half inside-out, a prime display of missing pieces snagged in the thick fabric.
This time the expected blow came swift and hard across his face. “You think you can do this?” Another slap caught him hard enough to send him reeling.
He stared at the furious man, heart pounding, and grinned. “Yes. I mean, I did and you didn’t even notice.”
The uppercut knocked him from his feet. “Take his pants too. I want to know what else he hid.” Before he could regain his senses enough to struggle the cold air hit his thighs, his shins. Fingers reacquainted themselves with his tangled blond mop; he let out a yell as searing pain spread across his scalp.
Stripped to his underwear, David struggled and howled the whole way to his cell. The far wall hit him like a sledgehammer - who knew that anyone could be strong enough to throw someone hard enough they’d hit it? - and he sprawled onto the floor, trying to regain his breath again and staring at the bristling silhouette in the doorway. Then he started to laugh.
The door slammed with enough force that he felt the vibrations. Plunged into the pitch blackness, David lay there and laughed until his chest hurt and told himself the tears had nothing to do with the pain.