Her captor gently nudges her awake. It's the only gentle thing the man's done since he nabbed her, three days ago, and put her in this small, darkened room with a grilled metal floor and a bare, swinging lightbulb in the ceiling.
He has not fed her. He has not given her any water. He has not even let her get out of the chair to go to the bathroom.
He says he will, of course. But there's a catch.
"I'm not answering any questions..." she whispers, tired of this game: "You can let me go or you can shoot me. I'm not cooperating."
"Oh, you will," he says, voice muffled by the mask he's been wearing the entire time. A silver oval that betrays nothing. Even the voice sounds like it's being altered, somehow.
"!@#$ you jack," she tries to drift off to sleep. She was so close to something behind the wall. So !@#$ close.
"Uh uh," he says, nudging her again: "No sleep. Sleep is for people who cooperate. You do what I want and I'll let you have all the sleep you want."
"I won't betray The COMPANY."
"It's for the good of your country, Susan. Don't you care about America, anymore?"
"I won't betray him..."
"Ah, now see, that's terrible thinking, Susan. He isn't America. He's just a man. A man who's gone too far and needs to be stopped."
"!@#$ you... don't know what you're talking about..."
"He's betrayed America, Susan. He's betrayed you, too. It's been three days and he hasn't even looked for you. Why is that?"
She's dry as hell behind her lips and her throat feels like it's on fire. Her stomach is too weak to growl anymore. Her pants are full of her own !@#$ and !@#$ and her muscles are too tightly tied to let her even strain against the bonds.
But somehow she gets enough strength to spit at him. Weakly, perhaps. But the look in her eye is unmistakable: It says that she is still not afraid.
That and, when she gets out of this chair, he will be in terrible danger.
He shrugs and leaves the room. She sighs and leans back into the chair.
On the first day, she tried everything she could to escape, and when that didn't work she hoped she'd be rescued, somehow. 'SPYGOD hears all,' after all.
On the second day, she realized she wasn't going to be able to threaten, bluff, or feint her way out of this. And there was no way in !@#$ she was going to cooperate with this no-faced son of a !@#$.
(He claimed he was with the other Company. She said bull!@#$ to that. But part of her couldn't help but wonder: what if he was telling the truth?)
And now, on the third day, she was reaching the crisis point. She knew she couldn't continue without water. She knew she couldn't survive much longer. But that would mean cooperation with the enemy, and she would rather die than do that.
In Hell Month, they practiced extreme survival techniques. They'd taught them no less than five mental disciplines that kept captives from breaking or giving in. The techniques were so strong that, even when the body was breaking down, the mind and will would stay strong as iron, almost in opposition to the body's failure to continue on.
Anyone who'd lasted less than a day had been washed out of the program. She'd been able to last the longest in her group: two and a half days. It wasn't a record, of course, but she'd been !@#$ proud of it.
Best of all, he'd been impressed. Impressed enough to make her one of his scheduling assistants: a job that required all kinds of mental dexterity and problem solving skills, not to mention the ability to kill a would-be assassin from ten feet away with a pen, clipboard, or portable console.
And she was going to continue impressing him, then. Even if it meant they'd have to find her body in a landfill, somewhere, and she'd only be able to tell her story through a tricky postmortem, he would know. And then he'd make the mother!@#$ pay for what he'd done to the girl who'd made him sit up and take notice.
Sue F. Armatrading smiled at that thought, even as her captor came in to nudge her back awake, again. Oh yes. He would make the mother!@#$ pay.
"Wakey wakey," Beobachter hears someone say. He opens his crispy eyelids and looks up at the bright light over his bed. It's harsh and unyielding, like the pain he's been experiencing since they woke him up out of the coma he was apparently in until two days ago. He can't move anything, he can't feel anything, and he's certain they're keeping him on life support.
Someone puts their head between the light and him: "He's awake," he says.
"How are we doing today, Mr. Master Race?" asks another voice, off to the side: "Do you remember what we were talking about, yesterday?"
"Go to hell," the assassin spits: "I would rather spend a million lifetimes suffering like this than help you in any way."
"Oh I bet you would," the guy says: "And I bet you're counting on us not to torture you, because we're the good guys and we don't do things like that. Blah blah blah."
"My grandmother lost every member of her family to people like you," the voice leaning over him says: "And I'm the person who's going to put you back together again. I want you to think about that."
"Put me back together?" he asks, suddenly uncertain.
"Yeah..." the second voice says: "I'm afraid the people who took you down got a little... overzealous with the shock guns. That and your armor was a little uncooperative when we took it off. We did what we could, but..."
The first voice rolls a mirror out of nowhere. In it Beobachter can see what's left of himself: limbless and wrapped in loose, sterile bandages, with tubes and wires snaking out of every hole he has.
He should be screaming. He knows this. He knows this is the sane and healthy response to finding out that he has been turned into a burned stump whose life is literally in the hands of the enemy.
Instead he just laughs. He can't not, somehow. Shock, perhaps? Insanity?
"The good news is that, thanks to advances in surgical techniques, we can rebuild you... to an extent," the second voice says: "I'd be lying if I said it would be an ideal thing. You will be a mess. But you'll be able to walk again. You'll have hands and feet. You'll be able to feel, eventually."
"You'll be able to go to the toilet without having to use a bag," the head in the light says: "We might even give you a !@#$ that works like it's supposed to, without having to inflate the !@#$ thing like a balloon animal."
"All we need is the simple truth to a couple of questions," the other voice says: "Same ones as yesterday. Who hired you? What did they want, specifically? And how did you contact them?"
"I don't know," he says, still giggling: "I never got a name. I thought it was the Legion, since they've contacted me through my mail drop, too."
"You've killed for them, before?"
"Yes. I've killed for them, for ABWEHR, for many people, most of whom were in keeping with my goals. As for what they wanted, they wanted SPYGOD dead. They knew where he would be, and I went to intercept him. You were waiting for me, so I suspected this was a setup."
"How much were you going to be paid for this?"
"Ten million dollars," he says, smiling through cracked lips: "They offered twenty. I told them to donate the rest to Stormfront."
"Did you get all that, sir?" The second voice asks, and then there's the unmistakable voice of SPYGOD on the other line.
"I did. Is he telling the truth?"
"The polygraph seems to be holding steady, sir. He could be leaving out some info, of course."
"I'm sure he probably is. !@#$ him. We've got enough to go on, for now."
"So what do we do with him, then? You want me to eNd him?"
"Yes?" the voice in the light asks.
"Start putting him back together again. But limit yourself to ten million dollars. Each useful fact he gives us from here on out gets him another 500 grand."
"Very well, sir."
"And subtract what we've spent to keep him going so far from the total," SPYGOD says. Then he hangs up.
"How much... how..." Beobachter starts to say, but the doctor puts a mask over his face and starts giving him gas.
"My favorite movie is 'Human Centipede,'" he whispers in the nazi assassin's ear before the ether claims him: "Think about that, while I work."
"You are one !@#$ up human being, my friend," the second in command says on his way out, hoping to all gods that he was just kidding, but not entirely sure it would be a bad thing if it was true.
Called another meeting with all the big boys and section heads, today. Apologized for starting late, but this was one of those things that couldn't be helped. I had a long night of mulling over various scenarios and projections, not to mention getting my !@#$ sucked until I was seeing stars.
(I don't think my people really needed to know about that last bit, but I tell them anyway, just so they understand the full gravity of the situation.)
As of right now, the priorities have changed:
1) We go after HONEYCOMB. I've let myself get so tied up with other concerns that we've lost sight of the fact that we are, as of this moment, as ready as we'll ever be to deal with their !@#$. We have the tools, the tech, and the techniques. We have the person-power. We have a green flag. We drop six shades of !@#$ down on them from the sky and watch them fall.
2) We take down the Legion. They've made a terrible mistake thinking they can take a shot at me and walk away from it. They made a deadly mistake thinking they could take close to a hundred shots and live to toast their health with umbrella drinks in Bora Bora.
So no more !@#$footing. After Honeycomb's dealt with, we find The Skull and turn it into a candy dish. We hunt down every last member on their roster and offer them the big choice. And anyone who doesn't want to play along... well, they find out what it means to be on the losing side.
3) We go after GORGON. They can run but they can't hide, especially now that we know where they !@#$ went. Myron will be telling the section heads what they can expect from our raid, and we'll be turning out the machines we'll need to execute the mission as soon as !@#$ possible.
Myron does a good job of not !@#$ his pants when I single him out for attention. No one has the stones to boo him like the repentant supercriminal wannabe he is, but I think he knows he's got his work cut out for him in that department.
I also inform everyone that, given that Halloween is two days away, we will be helping warden the city's Trick or Treat, as always. I want everyone out in their best costumes. I want lots of lovely imaginative things to be stalking the streets and watching out for the kids.
And I want all expenditures carefully tabulated so I can enjoy sticking Congress with the bill once again.
After the meeting's over, I pretend to adjourn to my office for a drink or twenty. In reality I go down a few flights and talk to the secret section chiefs: the ones who really do run the show, whether they know it or not. I show them the amended timetable, and tell them to keep an eye out on all comms to see who's talking to whom about the "fact" that HONEYCOMB's about to get spanked. In reality, the Legion is first on the block, and then HONEYCOMB, in swift succession.
I get a lot of confused looks and a nod or two, and then let them go on their way. Now I know how to tell who's still playing both sides the way we used to, before I drew my line in the sand at Outland. If HONEYCOMB gets warned, it's someone in the main room. If Legion pulls up their tent stakes and runs for the border, it's a secret section chief.
Of course, it could be no one at all. It could be some weird spy I haven't even considered thinking of yet. Aliens or ghosts or something exotic.
But someone knows my weakness, and someone told the assassins where I'd be. Someone is watching and setting traps for me. Someone too close for comfort.
(Mental note: be sure to send the new scheduling assistant flowers. Pity about her grandmother dying like that. She's going to miss Halloween, and I know she was looking forward to it.)
"Sir?" One of the other Agents interrupts his concentration: "Sir, I think she's reached that state you were talking about?"
"You're certain?" Agent S asks, opening his eyes and watching the Agent start: "You're completely certain?"
"All the signs are showing, sir," the Agent says as the freakish person they've been ordered to obey gets to his feet and stares her down: "All green across the board. I don't know how she's lasted this long-"
"Because she's special," Agent S replies, looking through the one-way glass into the room the COMPANY Agent's been in this entire time: "Any of the others we could have gone with would be dead by now. But she has that certain something different, which is why I can do what I'm about to do."
He hears an audible gulp behind him. Is it fear or anticipation? Agent S is legendary within the Company for his one amazing talent, but he knows there's a lot of people who neither admire nor appreciate it.
"Understand, Agent Petersen. I am not to be disturbed. No matter what happens in that room, you are not to interfere. I am going to go in there and do something, and once I am done I will come to the door and knock three times, then once, then twice more. Only then do you open the door."
"I understand, sir," she says. She is afraid. Not a good thing, perhaps, but if fear keeps her obedient then so be it. Obedience is a good thing in this day and age.
He enters the room, and she locks it behind him. He walks towards the woman in the chair. She's dying, clearly, but somehow still alive enough to look up and see that he's not wearing a mask, anymore.
"This is the moment we've been preparing for, you and I," Agent S says, leaning down, getting his nasty, black on black eyes on the same level as hers: "Have you heard of me, before?"
"Yeah..." she whispers, too weak to really say what she wants to: "You're... you're the body thief..."
"It isn't so much theft as cohabitation," he gently corrects: "I'm going to be moving into your mind and taking over the lease. You'll still be free to do everything you want, or have to, within reason. But when I get in there I'm going to have veto power over everything. I'll be able to make you feel happy or sad, useful or useless. I'll bring you pain and pleasure and anything inbetween.
"All you have to do, my dear Susan, is let me come in."
She tries to get out of the chair, but she can't. She tries to get away from those nasty, black eyes that smolder with empty heat, but she can't move a muscle. She's too weak, too tightly bound, and his eyes and his voice are too powerful to resist...
There's a moment of uncertainty. Is she here or there, up or down, him or her? She feels a different anatomy and body structure. A weight between her legs and none below her neck. Coarse hairs in the wrong spots. A different smell and feel to things.
Then she's in the chair, and yet standing up again. She's watching him leave but walking away.
She's watching herself leave, but he's still sitting in the chair. Then he isn't. Then she is.
Three knocks. One. Two. The Agent outside opens the door and gasps to see the woman in the chair standing in front of her, looking at her with those nasty, black on black eyes.
"Begin the process of rehydration," Agent S says through borrowed lips: "Make sure she stays alive. This is your chief priority. She does not leave the chair, she does not make any move to harm herself. Force feed her if you must, but keep her alive, healthy, alert, and well."
"Yes sir," she says, backing away but looking into the room. Agent S in in the chair, somehow, but looking at the world with the woman's tired, red-lined eyes.
Agent S smiles, putting on special contacts that hide the one telltale giveaway. He blinks and they're there. Her eyes before his, his eyes below hers.
His name is Agent Sue F. Armatrading, and he is not afraid.
But SPYGOD will be. Oh yes he will.
(Agent S is thinking of Halloween (Ministry) and drinking in the tears of a new body)