Reginald awoke with a sharp pain in the back of his head. He instinctively attempted to rub it for some relief, but he found his hands were bound behind his back. He struggled for a few moments, but submitted to the pain in his head and the soreness in his shoulders, too exhausted to carry on. He was lying on his side on some sort of cold, hard surface–the bag was still over his head.
It was quiet. He figured he must have been in one of the cells in the detention block, down the corridor from the security barracks. At least he hoped that was the case. The only other type of room in the control tower that could have been as dark and quiet was an airlock.
He could feel spots of saliva pressing against his cheek from the inside of the bag. How undignified. He urged his body upright through the pain and stiffness, rolling and pushing towards a wall. Of course, since his vision was severely restricted, he didn’t see the metal bunk jutting out of it. He crashed into it with his back, a fresh wave of pain radiating from the epicenter of the impact.
“Damn it!” He cursed, falling back to the floor.
He felt a sudden burst of air flood into the cell. A pair of heavy, deliberate footsteps soon followed. Reginald pricked his ears for details–the newcomer’s breathing was labored, he could hear the rustling of loose-fitting clothing, and the footsteps were those of a man wearing boots.
“Lord Reginald Sakakibara,” The intruder stated, his voice dripping with contempt.
It was the first time Reginald shivered at hearing his own name. His mind raced to match the voice with a face while simultaneously developing some response. He wasn’t fast enough. Within a few seconds of the words slithering out of his captor’s mouth, Reginald felt a sudden and unexpected kick directly into his stomach. It took a few moments to register–the wonders of the nervous system–but in those moments, he poured every prayer, hope, plea, and dream to be spared the additional pain.
God failed him, again.
He felt a spasm shake his body to its core, crumpling into a ball. He couldn’t even clutch at his sides his hands still bound behind his back. He gasped for air but only managed to catch a bolt of filthy cloth in his mouth. Was this how he was going to die? Asphyxiating after being kicked in the stomach inside of his own control tower? Pathetic.
“Didn’t your Holder father teach you to speak when spoken to?” The voice chuckled.
Reginald frantically pushed the cloth out of his mouth by jerking his head to the side. He sputtered, “What do you want?”
“What do I want?” The voice laughed, “I just like seeing you squirm like that. But the others, the others want justice.”
Reginald answered weakly, “Justice? For what?”
He received another kick for his inquiry.
“You should know!” The intruder snarled.
As he was reeling from the second kick, Reginald felt a pair of strong arms hoist him off of the floor and onto his feet. He was pushed out of the cell, and yanked, dragged, and prodded down a number of corridors. He was finally thrown into what felt like a wide-open chamber–most likely the docking bay–and forced onto his knees.
The bag was torn off of his head, flooding his eyes with a profusion of lights, images, and shadows. They all blurred together into a mass of shapes and voices, though he could distinctly tell that at least a dozen set of eyes were on him. Trying to blink away the kaleidoscope of color, he peered towards the ground, noting several lifeless corpses of men and women loyal to him.
Shaking away the shock, he asked aloud to no one in particular, “You just left their bodies?”
He received a blow from behind as an answer.
“All right,” Reginald nodded bitterly, “What do you want?”
“I already told you, we want justice.”
Reginald noticed that they were brandishing weapons, though none of them were pointed at him–at least not yet, “Are you going to execute me? Because if you are, it’s clear I’m not going to get a fair trial, so you might as well just kill me, now.”
A slight, lithe figure appeared from behind the crowd of Brutor. His skin seemed stretched across his face, giving him an emaciated appearance. Reginald recognized him immediately as a Sebiestor.
“Killing you would be meaningless,” His voice was strong and definite despite his frame, “At least, without the proper preparations.”
Slightly fearing being struck again, Reginald said defiantly, “In civilized society, we introduce ourselves.”
The Brutor that dragged him out of the cell raised his arm again, causing Reginald to wince in preparation, but the Sebiestor raised up a hand.
“It’s all right, Crofton. You’ll forgive me, Lord Sakakibara, if I don’t give you our actual names. You can refer to me as ‘Vuld.'”
“Well, you have me at a disadvantage–can you release my bindings and then we can talk like real men?”
“And why do you need to keep striking me?!” Reginald turned to the Brutor, his eyes brimming with lost patience.
“That’s enough, Crofton, help him into that seat over there.” Vuld motioned to an overturned metal chair.
After Reginald was seated, one of Vuld’s other men found a similar seat for the Sebiestor and soon the two were looking at each other face to face. His hands remained bound, but sitting upright was certainly an improvement.
“I must apologize for how you’ve been treated, because I really do have great respect for your talents,” Vuld smiled sardonically.
“Why do I have immense difficulty believing that?” Reginald responded, his eyes fixed on the Sebiestor.
Vuld laughed, then produced a neocom, tapping onto it lightly with graceful fingers. “I’ve read your work on… the term you used–La dependence à la mort?”
Reginald’s face betrayed a twitch of concern, “I’ve only written a working draft, there shouldn’t be anything in circulation.”
Vuld smiled, “Of course there shouldn’t be–the university you wrote it for hasn’t even been established yet, after all. Still, not quite my approach on the issue, but nonetheless, inspirational.”
Reginald said nothing in response.
“My friend Crofton here must have told you by now that we–,” Vuld motioned to the men around him, “Want justice.”
At the word “justice,” the Brutor named Crofton bent down and nearly tore the neck off of Reginald’s fencing jacket, revealing several thin scars underneath.
Vuld continued, “The public story you’ve been putting out is that the Imperial Outlaws Executor Shalee Lianne convinced you to stop using slaves. But that is only half of the story–rumors are that she put a collar on you. I see now that that is most likely true.”
Reginald tilted his head, trying to remain undaunted, “What of it? I released all corporation slaves.”
“I think,” Vuld stood up and started tapping on his Neocom thoughtfully, “That our sense of justice and hers are fairly closely aligned. She wanted to teach you about how our brothers suffered. She was on the right track. But she didn’t go far enough.”
Reginald swallowed hard. Calm. Remain calm. Help was on its way.
“What if,” Vuld turned a sinister glare towards Reginald, “we took the lesson she was trying to teach you and extend it further. Killing you in your current state would be meaningless–we know, after all, that you only have one clone and that it’s in Amarr. But, what if we took some of the ideas in your paper and turned them around? You write about how to combat addiction, but I’m interested in inducing it, particularly in the CEO of a certain corporation whose brutality towards their slaves is legendary throughout the warzone. So, let’s say that we’ve found a way to intercept the digital signal of your death and that we can transmit it somewhere else.”
At that, Vuld motioned towards the forcefield entrance of the loading bay. The shimmering blue-green screen was all that separated the contents of the loading bay from being sucked violently into space. Beyond it floated the unmistakable form of the ORE Industrial Capital Ship, a Rorqual.
“Do you even know how many have perished toiling for your corporation in chains?”
Reginald ran a series of numbers through his head, spinning his response so that it sounded a little more acceptable, “Less than a thousand.”
Vuld nodded, “Nine hundred, sixty-seven. And do you know what other number that matches exactly?”
Reginald shook his head.
“The number of times you’re going to die.”