Stef’s body went limp as Curt pressed a gun to her head.

Everything seemed to slip. Her body went boneless, her soul trying to escape out of her ears, her nose, to take her anywhere but-
It shouldn’t have been a bright room with cabinets bought from a catalogue. It shouldn’t have been able to remind her of the tech floor. It should have been evil. Dark. Fire and brimstone and shit and-
It took six of them to drag a struggling, bleeding Grigori from the room.
Curt was talking to the man in charge. It was Charlie Brown parent-speak. Nothing but noise. Noise that refused to form into words. Snatches of English, of well-spoken Russian and Curt’s poor attempts. Pauses to work out translation issues.
All while he had a gun pressed to her head. It barely moved, the barrel pressing down on the crown of her head, guaranteed to kill her, even if she moved, especially if she moved.
She wanted to laugh.
She wanted to die.
It was a bad dream. It was a glitch. It was a scenario being run on the holodeck. Everything would be ok. Everything had to be ok. She wasn’t allowed to die, not in some random Solstice-
Two of the men who had dragged Grigori away returned – their shirts coated in blood – and Curt finally pulled the gun away from her head.
Each of the men grabbed an arm, and she didn’t struggle as they pulled her to her feet – she helped, getting her feet beneath her. Make it easier for them. She had to make it easy for them. Cooperate. Cooperate and-
One of them gripped her hand, squeezing the broken finger.
Hot points of light exploded in her brain and she lost her footing. They barely seemed to notice – dragging her as if she weighed nothing. She couldn’t weigh anything, she wasn’t there.
The man squeezed her hand again, and she screamed harder, fighting to push sound out through the gag, the dead fairy’s head lolling against her tongue.
Please just kill me now.
They dragged her from the room, down a well-lit corridor, around a corner, down another corridor, and into another room.
Please just kill me now.
They grunted, lifted her a little, and threw her forward. She hit the cold concrete with a smack, and stayed still. If their vision was based on movement, she’d be safe.
Her eyes moved, almost against her will. Information was important, even if she couldn’t use it. Unsurprisingly, It was a cell.
Her tongue, despite her best efforts, touched the dead fairy again. It tasted terrible, unimaginably horrible. More of the preservation liquid slid down her throat, well, she hoped it was the formaldehyde, and not blood from the corpse, or-
She threw up. The vomit hit the fairy’s corpse and the duct tape and began to slide back down her throat. She rolled onto her side, and struggled, unused to her hands being cuffed, to get the tape free of her mouth.
A hand grabbed her back and she felt herself dragged along concrete again. Some of the chunks of half-digested food found holes in the gag, and slid down her chin, dripping to the floor as she was pulled into the centre of the cell.
She closed her eyes, unwilling to face whatever was next. The hand let go of her, and there was a sound of fabric on fabric – the owner of the hand had knelt beside her. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ she heard Curt say, as a hand ran up and down her back, making her shudder. ‘We’ve got a lot of fun to have, Recruit.’
Recruit. He’d called her recruit again.
Curt. Curt couldn’t be evil. He was her friend. He said he wanted to be her friend. He liked Star Trek. He was okay with teaching her stuff.
He smacked her across the face.
Something finally let go inside her. Her shoulders slumped, and she began to cry.
The cell door slammed closed before she realised he’d gone. She looked up, caught his gaze for a moment as he stared at her from the other side of the bars. He didn’t look conflicted. He didn’t look scared. He looked…at home.
He smirked, turned away, and exited the room with the other Solstice.
The door to the room closed, leaving her alone. There was talk outside for a moment, then sounds of retreating footsteps. She stayed unmoving on the floor until there was nothing but the sound of her own struggling breaths.
With one slow, deliberate movement, she tore the tape away from her mouth. Skin tore, and she felt spots of blood along with the sticky residue from the duct tape.
The puke in her mouth, and the fairy’s corpse fell to the ground, and then did the remaining contents of her stomach. The fairy, the bile coating her throat, the stress, the fear…it all left her stomach as empty as the day she’d woken up in Jones’ lab.
It soaked into her pants before she had the energy to move back from the stinking puddle. She snatched the fairy body, and moving it out of the half-digested food – corpse or not, it deserved a little bit of dignity.
Dignity, she was sure, was a finite resource when it came to the Solstice.
She wiped her tongue on her sleeve, trying to savour the taste of cotton over that of corpse.
She slowly stood, her legs still unsure about taking her weight. The cell was empty, other than a solid concrete slab with a flat piece of foam on top – a bed of sorts. A heavily stained bed, covered in blood, and other dried fluids that she couldn’t identify, but it was better than the floor, and she moved to it.
She leaned against the back wall – this one was concrete, like the floor.
‘Mimosa.’
She jumped at the voice – Grigori, and looked around for him. He was in the next cell, chained to a frame on the back wall. His arms were spread wide, which made him look like some kind of blond Jesus, and what little of his uniform she could see was covered in blood.
She leaned to the side, her head swimming for a moment, to get a better look at him. Thick lengths of chain circled his arms, his neck, his chest, and his legs. He wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry – especially not with the gunshots to his limbs.
‘He’s alive,’ Grigori said.
She stared, unable to believe that was the first thing he said. She put her hands flat on the bed beside her, then screamed as pain shot through her broken finger again.
‘You should be quiet,’ he said, ‘they’ll be back soon enough.’ He chuckled. ‘He’s alive. Dmitri, Stef, he’s alive.’
Hatred. It was a good, pure feeling. It was a good focusing feeling. It was one easy to communicate through a look. She concentrated her hate, and back to Grigori.
She tried to focus the hatred into a fireball. Just a little one. Enough to singe his eyebrows, and burn off his hair. It didn’t work.
‘Aren’t you even going to ask,’ she said, hating the taste of her mouth, ‘if I’m okay?’
‘I’m not sure it matters. It probably would have been kinder if they’d killed you. If you can, kill yourself, it’ll be quicker, you know what Solstice to do their prisoners.’
Curt couldn’t be a bad guy. He was too good at being a recruit. He was too bright and shiny in his uniform. He knew the rules and the regulations and the paperwork. He’d called her recruit.
He couldn’t be a bad guy.
He’d broken her finger.
This is all just a bad dream.
Spyder…it’s not.
You’re just me, if I’m hallucinating, then you are too!
I think you’re going to get hurt. A lot more than one little finger.
Tears slid down her cheeks.
Stop thinking, please, I need…I need hope for a few more minutes.
Some part of you has to have these thoughts.
He can’t be a bad guy!
‘Mimosa.’
Grigori again.
The fuck do you want?
‘What?’
‘How old are you?’
She struggled for a moment to remember. ‘Twenty-three.’
‘That’s long enough- That’s a long enough life. I’ve lost children younger than you,’ he said. ‘Just…do your duty. Don’t betray your Agency’s secrets.’ There was a rattle of chain as he lifted his head. ‘If you do-’
‘It’s your fault we’re here!’ She screamed. ‘Don’t you realise that it’s all your fault?! If you’d…If you hadn’t! We’d all be home right now!’
‘Including the traitor.’
‘I know what he is.’
I hope I know. I hope he’s faking. I hope he’s on our side.
She rubbed her bloody fingers together. ‘You didn’t even hear him try to crack my skull open,’ she muttered, ‘if you hadn’t been so distracted, we might have gotten out of here.’
‘There are no Solstice in Russia, and Dmitri is supposed to be dead, it was a miscalculation, nothing more.’
‘If I get out of here,’ she said with bravado that she didn’t feel. ‘I’m going to leave you behind.’
She could try and pick the lock, get free and save the day. It was probably what she was supposed to do. What an agent was supposed to. She felt the world tilt again as pain reverberated through her head.
They’d probably use it as an excuse to hurt her more.
It was okay to be a coward. It had to be okay to be a coward. Being afraid meant you were alive. Alive when you’d rather be dead, but alive all the same. It had to be okay to be afraid, else she wasn’t ok, and that made everything even worse than it already was.
She leaned back against the cold concrete wall, folded her hands in her lap, careful to keep her broken finger safe, and closed her eyes.
She could feel the wound on her head, the awful sensation of glass embedded in skin, the ooze of blood against her scalp. She could hear Grigori fighting to get out of his chains, trying to talk to her, give her orders. She could feel her pulse in her wrist.
She couldn’t feel her heart beating. It wasn’t skipping and pounding, wasn’t giving her the satisfaction of behaving as it should. It sat cold and motionless, a lump of dead planet in a dead girl that was going to die again.
Please, I don’t want to be here.
Time passed, and despite everything, sleep knocked on the back of her brain.
She started as a loud bang broke the silence. She opened her eyes, and saw Curt standing at the front of the cell, backed by three or four other Solstice. His uniform was gone, he was dressed like they were.
Curt gripped one bar and let himself lean sideways. ‘Heeey newbie,’ he drawled.
‘If a thing isn’t human, it needs to hurt.’ She bit the inside of her cheek. ‘I was good at it. A natural.’
He stared at her for a moment, then made a performance of unlocking the cell, walking in, and closing it behind him.
‘I think we need to talk about your mistakes,’ he said. It was a serious tone, it had a sharp edge to it that his voice usually didn’t. He laughed, a slow, mocking laugh. ‘You took the tape off,’ he said, ‘I told you not to do that.’
She stared at him, unable to say anything.
He made a tutting sound. ‘And you made such a mess,’ he said, indicating to the puke, ‘you’re going to pay for that. But that isn’t the worst mistake you’ve made. Care to guess what that is?’
She stared up at him as he finally crossed to the bed. He took two steps, then stepped up onto the bed, towering over her. ‘I said guess!’
‘Calling you a son of a bitch, you son of a bitch?’
This earned her a boot to the head, and she fell to the side. She dry-retched, as the world came in and out of focus.
He pulled a baton from his belt and swung it twice. One swing making a rib make a rather unusual cracking noise, the other smashing against her hip.
‘Don’t,’ she whispered, the word coming out against her will, a tiny prayer against a monster.
He crouched over her grabbed the chain the linked the handcuffs, and pulled it upwards, forcing her arms above her head. There was a metal-on-metal noise as he hooked the cuffs onto something. She tried to move up the bed to slacken the pressure on her arms, but a foot on her chest kept her from wriggling.
He grinned down at her, then dropped suddenly, straddling her. ‘Your other mistake,’ he said, jamming the baton under her chin. ‘Was getting onto the bed. There is one reason, and one reason only we have beds in these cells,’ he said, letting go of the baton. ‘And that’s for our comfort while we fuck you.’
The words refused to process for a moment.
Spyder. Close your eyes.
‘…What?’
He slapped her, a look of disgust on his face. ‘Sorry, do I have to repeat myself?’
‘Curt-’
He hit her again, then gripped her head, his fingers pressing into the open wound. ‘I think you’re a bit slow, newbie.’
He pinched her hips between his knees, and began to work on the buttons of her vest.
What are you doing?
Even you aren’t that stupid.
He’s not-
He pushed open her vest, gripped the collar of her shirt, and ripped. The shirt, not wanting to cooperate, ripped in an uneven pattern, several buttons holding fast. This, somehow, was her fault, so he hit her again.
He can’t-
He ripped the shirt again, this time, the buttons gave. Another rip, and her undershirt was torn.
Fuck this. Stop this. Nothappeningnothappeningnothappeningnothappenignotnotnotnot-
‘What the fuck?!’ he shouted, the voice ripping right through her head. ‘Where the fuck are your tits? What the fuck are all those scars?’
Don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me.
He grabbed her face, his fingers digging into her cheek. ‘I know the uniform is unflattering, but where the fuck are your tits?’
He let her go, drew a knife from somewhere and cut down the centre of her pointless bra. The knife disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, and he exposed one half of her chest, then the other.
He dug his fingers into the left side of her chest, and pushed himself down harder against her. ‘I asked you a question,’ he said, as she squirmed in pain. ‘I want an answer.’
He kept his hand where it was, but adjusted himself on the bed – pulling himself back to sit on her thighs.
She wasn’t sure she was even breathing.
He pulled his hand away, bent down, and bit into her right breast.
Breathing or not, she was screaming.
He shook his head, like a dog worrying a dead fuzzy animal, and she felt skin break.
She closed her eyes, the only defence against reality.
She could hear herself whimpering, but it was…far away.
The assault stopped, and she felt him grabbing at her belt. It loosened easily enough, and he pulled it free. He grabbed her head, and lifted it from the foam, and she felt the leather of the belt against her skin. She opened her eyes – it was just as scary in the dark as being able to see what was going on. He looped the belt back through the buckle and began to tighten it.
This’ll be an easy death.
Spyder…
FUCK. Did I just think that? Fuck. No.
The best closed around her throat, tight as a choker…but not enough to choke her.
‘Stef?’
It was surreal to hear her name. Her name couldn’t be spoken because she wasn’t there. This wasn’t happening. She wasn’t there for her name to be spoken-
He yanked on the belt, and it jerked tighter around her neck, making it harder to breathe.
He braced his hand against the buckle and pulled it as tight as it would go. She opened her mouth wide, trying to gasp down any strains of air that she could, but nothing came.
She struggled against him, hands pulling at her cuffs, trying to do anything to break free.
She wheezed, last desperate attempts to pull air down, before blackness ate into the edges of her vision.
Is this the easy way out?
Everything went sideways.
It was like suicide, like being on the precipice again. There was still some small tether to the real world…but it scarcely mattered, it was barely there, and dwindling away like broken threads.
Please let me-
The belt loosened, but she couldn’t take a breath. Thought and action and need refused to coalesce.
Please let me-
The weight of Curt’s body changed. One hand laid on her chest, the other slipped its way up her arm, and squeezed her hand.
Please let me live.
The pain shot through her. Her body seized, and she drew in air almost by mistake.
Nothing had ever been better.
He released her hand, then squeezed it again, breath and screams fighting for the use of her mouth. She bucked under him as he kept hurting her already tortured hand, tears streaming down her face as air and fear came back into her body.
He loomed over her for a moment, his face close to hers as he kept squeezing and releasing her hand. For one still-oxygen-starved moment, normal!Curt broke over evil!Curt, but the callous look returned.
‘Look at the little bitch,’ he said, turning his head to look at their audience. ‘I think she just came.’ He released her hand and slapped her again, the heel of his other hand digging into her chest. ‘Is that the kind of game you play with your agent? Is that why you’ve got all the scars?’
His finger dug into the skin over her heart. ‘I think it’s time for us to be truthful, Stef. Don’t you agree?’ His fingers were over her heart. He had to be able to feel how still it was, how cold it was. ‘I asked you a fucking question!’
He knows, doesn’t he?
He’s smarter than he looks.
What do I do?
What can you do? Trust him.
She whimpered and gave a small nod.
He leaned down on her again and unhooked her hands – sparing her broken finger for once, then stood and dragged her up from the bed.
‘You’re not going to fuck her?’ One of the Solstice. An accusatory tone. If he was-
Curt let go of her cuffs, then kicked her feet out from under her, knocking her to the ground. Her head rang again at the less than gentle touch of concrete.
Oh, just let me be unconscious already.
‘You want to, go ahead, but I don’t fuck what an agent has touched.’ She felt him beside her, and he yanked her up against him, his hands bunched in her uniform. ‘Anyone?’ he asked, one arm slipping around her neck to hold her face in place. ‘No? Okay, is the room set up?’ She heard one of the Solstice give an affirmative response. ‘Get her up,’ Curt demanded, then chuckled as they pulled her away from him. ‘Oh, Stef, we’re gonna have fun.’