45 Minutes Later
Curt smiled, and slapped Stef again.

It was amazing that anyone ever underestimated a face.
It was everything you could ever need to know about a person. Their skin tone and features could give you clues to their past; their complexion and care could tell you about their everyday life; and their expressions told you everything they were thinking, as surely as though you could read their mind.
It was one thing to beat a body into submission, things went up a notch when you let the spotlight fall on the face.
And given the chatter from the observation room – the men who were itching to hire him seemed to love the look of a beaten woman. Another common Solstice trait wherever you went.
The slaps, her cuts, the amateur dental surgery – if they made it out, it could all be repaired, but if they didn’t-
He loved the face, as wounds tended to bleed profusely, and with a little bit of showmanship, could be made out to be even worse than they were.
Her exposed torso was also a testament to his skill – cuts, burns, bruises, a Pollock painting of pain.
At least she’d stopped crying.
He pressed down on her two broken fingers, and stared at her. ‘Is that your final answer?’
‘Yes!’ she screamed, her voice straining with pain. ‘For the last time, yes!’
He swung around to look at the man standing to his right, who nodded.
He turned and grinned at Ivan. ‘I think I believe her, guess she does know her own name’ he said. He turned back to Stef. ‘Ok, question three, you filthy little whore, what’s your serial number?’
She shivered, goose bumps running all over her flesh – the room wasn’t heated – it was as cold as a fridge, though he barely felt it under all the Solstice-issued cold weather gear.
She turned away from him, so he punched her in the ribs.
‘I asked you,’ he said, picking up a scalpel, ‘what your serial number is.’
‘I don’t know!’
His heart skipped a beat – the answer had come out so quickly and so honestly that it sounded…true. He pressed the scalpel into her forearm. ‘I don’t think I heard you.’
‘I don’t know my recruit serial number!’
He cut into her arm again, silently cursing himself. Of course she didn’t know her serial number, she’d been at the Agency two days as a recruit. Not enough time to memorise it – if she’d ever known it in the first place.
That, and if she said her agent serial number, at the very least, she was dead.
Whether or not they killed him depended on a few things. Even if they believed his cry of innocence, there was still the opportunity to be executed for stupidity. For being tricked by the proxies. For buying their lies, and falling prey to their spells.
She stared at him, but only for a moment.
She knew he was acting. She had to know he was acting. They were in this together, she had to know that. He was going to save them, she had to believe that.
She seemed to understand.
She wasn’t fighting, not even as much as she should be. She was, for the most part, just taking it.
He couldn’t even talk to her. Any code words might be noticed, any familiar sentences might be recognised, any simple phrase, any small comfort, even one distorted through references, might lead to both of their deaths.
It had been risk enough to ask her the truth of her biggest secret.
‘Tell me!’ he shouted, cutting into her arm again.
‘I really don’t know!’
Time to cut her slack. Time to give her an out. ‘Come on,’ he said, grinning his oh-so-false grin down at her. ‘It’s just seven numbers, recruit, can’t a worthless bitch like you even remember seven numbers?’
Seven numbers. Any seven numbers would do. He silently willed her on, hoping to make it at least through this question without having to move to something drastic.
‘Five!’ she started.
He cut another groove into her arm – they were shallow, just enough to make a point, and when finished, another way to humiliate her.
‘Five!’ she shouted again.
He slapped her, trying to take some of the power out of his blow. ‘You stuttering there, recruit?’
‘Five,’ she said again, blood leaking from the corner of her mouth.
He cut her again. ‘You’re stuck on repeat!’
‘Zero!’
‘Oh good, there we go, want to get around to answering my question sometime this decade?’
‘Six!’
He moved the scalpel again, and again, finishing off his task on her forearm. ‘Got two more numbers for me? You really don’t want to make me start this all over again, do you?’
‘Nine, zero!’
He smiled again, this time, allowing himself a little relief. Whether by sheer luck, or by making some obscure geek reference that he didn’t get, she had made his job extremely easy.
More moments filled with words, rather than blows. He laughed, dropped the scalpel in the tray, then leaped onto her, the chair rocking back, despite being anchored into the ground, but didn’t fall.
He crushed himself against her, trying to transfer a little warmth into her shivering form. ‘I can see why they gave you that number,’ he said, grabbing a handful of hair and turning her face to look at him. ‘Five-five-five-OH-sixty-nine-OH!’ he said, thumping his body against hers, more seconds of warmth. ‘Did he really have his cock shoved down your throat so much that he needed to label you a whore in your serial number?’
She tried to look away, but he held her head steady. One hand slid up her chest, feeling the same spot as before, just to confirm it before he took the final step, one more chance to ask her to trust him with her life.
There was no breastbone, but a soft patch of skin, and beneath, he could feel cold radiating up to his fingers. Not the ambient freezing environment, a different kind of cold, a deeper kind of cold. Like the kind of cold there would be if a newbie had a piece of mirror in her chest.
He slipped back into his patronising voice. ‘Do you actually love him?’ he asked, shaking her head so that it didn’t look as though he was going easy on her. ‘Or is it just sex?’ He pressed down on her chest again. ‘I mean, I’m going to kill you, should he get your heart when I cut it out?’
For one tiny moment, she focussed and caught his gaze. For one split second, he imagined a small nod.
It was as close he could get to confirmation, to consent, to cooperation.
The tiny moment passed and she looked away. ‘I don’t want to die,’ she whispered, blood-covered lips parting painfully.
She was talking to the real him, not to the version of himself that had been making her scream, not to the Curt that was slowly bringing her closer to death.
‘Oh, but that’s too bad,’ he said. ‘Because so far as I’m concerned, you are worse than they are.’
‘You should get off me,’ she whispered.
‘It’s cute that you think you can give me orders,’ he said, yanking his hand, and pulling out a clump of her hair.
She closed her eyes, and suddenly he felt warm. He pulled himself off her, and saw a dark patch on her pants – she’d wet herself. He fought his pity, fought the need to console her, or to just take his chances, cut into her chest right then and there, and try and get them out of the mess they were in.
Instead, he played his role, took a step back and kicked her in the head.
‘You fucking little piece of trash!’ he shouted. ‘You pissed on me! You pissed on me!’ He moved forward, and undid the collar around her neck, pulling her head forward to look at her forearm. ‘Read that!’
‘C-c-c-,’ she stuttered, quaking in fear.
He slammed her forehead against her forearm. ‘Read it!’
‘…cunt,’ she whispered.
‘I can’t hear you!’
‘Cunt.’
‘That’s what you are, a dirty, filthy, little cunt. And…I know that pissing on a proxy probably makes him hard, but the human race does things differently!’
He worked on the restraints around her wrists.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Ivan asked.
‘You’ll see, besides, you’re armed,’ he said, ‘if she runs, shoot her in the back.’
‘Protocol-’
‘Fuck protocol,’ he said, swelling with false bravado. ‘I’m the best, and I know what I’m doing.’ He took a step back, laughed, and danced around, acting drunk on power, even as his stomach threatened to turn.
He freed both of her hands, then moved down to her legs, freeing them and her feet. Stef, for her part, thankfully, didn’t move an inch, nor try to escape, or even breathe deeply. She was trusting him, and he hoped he deserved the trust.
He had trust for the moment, until they got out of there. Once they were out of there-
Curt pulled her from the chair, and let her drop to the ground. She didn’t even make an attempt to support her own weight, just let out a short cry of pain as she hit the ground, then went silent and still.
He wanted to hit her so hard that she lost consciousness, but doing that would only extend the process – as the superiors would rarely want to continue interrogating an unnatural whilst they were unconscious. No point in inflicting pain if they couldn’t feel it.
That, and if they decided to pump adrenaline into her heart, and pulled out a syringe covered in mirror, there’d be no end to the possibilities of the ways that it could go wrong.
He grabbed a shoulder and flipped her onto her back. The ground was freezing, the concrete even worse than the surrounding air. She just stared at him with the same tortured, scared eyes that had been staring into him for nearly an hour. A very long hour.
One hour, out of the two before her blood entirely turned to ash. It would already be showing signs, if they cared to look closely at it, which they hadn’t, which they weren’t.
He was treating her like nothing more than a girl recruited for nothing more than the sexual gratification of an angel. And she was taking it like a recruit, a scared recruit with no resistance to pain. Unless there was an extremely paranoid member of the bunch, they had absolutely no reason to believe she was anything other than human.
‘I’m going to tell you something,’ he said, wrapping a hand around her throat. ‘You are far worse than they are. Proxies can’t help what they are, those born unnatural can’t help what they are, they are just victims of their abhorrent births. They need to be put down like the animals they are, but still, they don’t have a choice.’
He lowered himself onto her, straddling her tiny frame again. ‘You, on the other hand, you chose to be what you are. You chose to turn your back on your own people, to side with those that have no right to live.’
‘Fuck you,’ she whispered.
‘Thanks, but no thanks, especially not since you covered us both in piss!’ He took his hand off her throat. ‘You need to be punished for that.’
‘You’re-’
He slapped her again, and she shook. ‘Stop. Talking.’
He pulled a small knife from a sheath on his belt. ‘You are going to lie there, and take this, and be glad it’s the only thing I do to you.’ He lowered the knife to her cheek, and began to slide it up towards her eye. ‘You’re in control, Stef,’ he said. ‘I’m going to cut your eye out, which would be so much easier for me to do if you were in bondage, but since you aren’t, you need to listen.’
‘No. Please-’
He ignored her. ‘If you lie still, and take your punishment, you’ll be alright. If you struggle, if you scream, if you thrash about while I’m doing this, well, there’s really nothing to stop me from…slipping, and you don’t want that, do you?’
She closed her eyes.
He laughed. ‘You really think that will stop me? Open your fucking eyes.’
She did, and they were full of tears. He silently begged forgiveness, and slid the knife into the white of her eye.
He expected her to scream. He wanted her to scream. He wanted her to sit up, filled with some sort of mirror-fuelled superhero rage, and destroy the entire facility. She simply bit her lip till it bled, and stayed still. He levered the eye from the socket, as gently as he could, and let it rest on the top of her cheek, the optic nerve still attached.
‘As I thought,’ he heard himself say, detached and still playing the part, ‘eyes are the window to the soul, and you’re empty behind there. No soul. No right to live.’
He cut the nerve, and she screamed.
He gently lifted the eye, stood, turned and tossed it to Ivan. ‘Here, trophy for you!’
He crouched, then pulled her stained, ripped, and wet pants over burnt feet and broken toes. He knelt beside her head and lightly slapped her bleeding head. ‘I have to go change my clothes, thanks to your waterworks,’ he said. ‘But in the meantime, I want you to feel as disgusted as I do.’ He slipped the pants over her head, and tied the legs around her neck, sealing her in with the smell of her own urine.
He stood, and kicked her for good measure. ‘I’m going to leave you on the ground,’ he said. ‘Just so you can contemplate the fact that very soon, you will be beneath it. If you move one inch, one fucking inch, I will kill you when I get back. Do you understand?’
There was a vague nod.
‘Tell me you understand!’
‘I understand.’
‘Call me sir!’
‘…I understand, sir.’
‘Good.’
He kicked her again, then turned to Ivan. ‘Where do I change my clothes?’
Ivan jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘This way.’
He stared at the bloodstained sheet as they walked past – they were running out of time, soon enough it would be obvious that it wasn’t human blood there, even if they weren’t paying close attention.
He fought an urge to look back at the girl, to see if she was writhing in pain. Not that it mattered, whether or not she moved, she had to die for there to be any chance of escape.