Had it only been hours? It was hard to tell in the low flickering artificial light of the small rust filled metal box of a space.
I kept focus on my breathing, or tried. At the tiniest movement, the secure cuffs connected to the table dug into my wrists. The unnatural forced hunch was causing an intense pain in my back.
The momentary blanks in memory were becoming harder to tell if I just blinked or fell asleep. Or blacked out. Each unconscious episode felt longer, without a gauge of time.
The only other in the room was a construct, a small cheap robot. This one was spherical and sat in the corner, the best the Lien Dia base could afford. It didn’t have speech capabilities, but had basic scanning. Usually, only the medics and techs had access to it, so the fact they had moved it to the small interrogation room probably meant they were worried about something to do with my health.
They should have informed me about it, well before locking me in here. I kept trying to think back to what got me locked down like this. My mind blanked. My chest kept tensing.
The aging gears of the door ground out a screeching protest. I glanced up to dispute my case, or the little I had pieced together.
A man wearing a black tie with a gold clip in the shape of a fiery bird. The International Division’s main symbol. A Board member.
The words died as I forced my eyes down to the table. This was more serious than I thought.
Shared mutterings just beyond my range of hearing. Enameled shoes scraped against the floor.
“Damien Holden?” a soft, unfamiliar voice; the Board member.
I tried speaking, but the dry air choked any sound. A burning inside of my nose as sparks danced over my vision. Ringing. Tinnitus. It usually wasn’t so noticeable.
Shouting. I couldn’t make out the words.
“Water, at least.” The Board member, again. He let out a sigh, leaning on the chair. It groaned against its bolts. “Can you speak?”
I assumed this was directed at me. Even if I wanted to look up, my sore muscles protested any more movement. My throat burned. A stabbing pain in my head. It was such a simple question, yet I only coughed.
Quick, heavy footsteps. Another person entered the room. Connor, as far as I could tell from the far edge of my vision. His natural red hair and green eyes made him stand out. Especially against the usual black inspector coat. He was one of Lien Dia’s few Chief Inspectors.
Connor kept a flat frown with his eyes low. An unusually stiff demeanor, at least for him. He handed over a bottle to the Board member. It looked like water.
The Board member took it, then flourished the bottle towards me. “Release him, please?” He let out a short huff. “Can hardly have a conversation like this…”
Connor flashed a half-hearted smile as he walked over to me. He leaned across to reach the locks of the secure cuffs. “Sorry ’bout this, Dame. Can’t argue with the Board.”
I tensed at his words, which was probably a mistake. Sharp stinging from the raw red imprints on my wrists. Tiny bleeding cuts crisscrossed the area. I leaned forward. A move my shoulders protested against. It was to hide tears building in my eyes. That didn’t stop the groan or searing pain through my back.
“Inspector Connor, wasn’t it? You can leave, now.”
Connor swiftly turned and left.
An object thumped against the table. “Here.”
The water. As much as I needed it, my aching body wouldn’t move. It took all of my strength just to remain lucid. If it could really be called that. Colors danced over my vision. My chest stung with every breath.
More shared muttering. I couldn’t make out the voices, but it didn’t sound like that many. Connor at least; I was assigned to his team, so I’d imagine he wouldn’t head that far away. Sometimes he worried a little too much about me. There also had to be a tech or medic to monitor the construct. Probably a medic, though both were given similar enough training.
“I can handle it,” the Board member responded. He moved over to the construct. Beeps of the keypad hit the air. A swift turn. “This is going to sting a bit.”
An alcoholic smell. Burning hit my raw cut wrists. Soft cloth strips wrapped tight.
The Board member held my hands loosely. He sighed, giving a gentle rub. A mutter to himself as he reached across to tilt my head up.
My first good look at the Board member. Light brown hair and honey brown eyes. His skin had a rosy tint of amber. He wasn’t one I’d seen before. Not that I expected that.
He clicked his tongue. His honey brown eyes studied me. Then he popped a capsule out of a small case. Straightening, he slipped to my side.
A press on a pressure point. My head forced back with a jolt. The capsule dropped. Water poured after. My mouth forced shut.
The water sloshed, hitting the inside of my nose. I swallowed. Air rushed in.
The Board member started tapping on the table. It was very precise; rhythmic. Keeping track of something. He stopped. “How do you feel now?”
I took a deep breath. “W-who…?” My throat was still rough and my voice was a little shaky.
He put a hand to his chest, giving a slight bow of his head. “I prefer Ashton.”
I scowled, rubbing at the ebbing pain in my head. A name I didn’t recognize as well. Then again, there were few Board members that were public with names, let alone how they physically looked.
A pleasant smile. “I prefer my privacy.” He chortled, possibly at my wide eyes and pursed lips. Ashton then cleared his throat and straightened, narrowing his eyes at me. A cold change that, as fast as it happened, almost seemed natural. “You do know where you are, don’t you?”
My eyes flittered over the small space. “The interrogation room, Lien Dia base.”
Ashton nodded. “And do you remember anything from the last couple weeks?”
“Weeks?” A sharp stabbing pain as my mind went blank.
“Ah, I should probably clarify. I’m afraid I wasn’t quite as properly…” His gaze fixed away, unfocused for a moment. Ashton then snapped his gaze to the door, raising his voice. “Informed as I should have been, either.” He pulled a small Identification Device from an inner pocket. “You’ve been in here for nearly thirty hours.” Ashton shook his head with a huff. “Cruel. It’s not even used for punishment anymore. Had I known the…” He made a circular motion with his hand. “Conditions here I would’ve asked for you to be brought to my office.”
“Don’t like the Main Division.” I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but the words just slipped out. I pretended to wipe my mouth.
Ashton laughed. “I do have a small lodging nearby. I’m meant to oversee the area.” A sigh. He rubbed beside one of his eyes. “Were you at least informed why you were placed in here?”
I tried to shrug, but the muscles still hurt. I shook my head instead.
Another click of his tongue. “You were drugged.”
I glared. Inspectors may not be allowed to lead interrogations, but I still knew how they worked. It didn’t help that higher-ups often held their own actions against people.
“That was just a basic pain reliever.”
A lie; the case he’d popped the capsule out of was much too intricate to have come from the construct, and basic pain relievers were dissolvable tablets, not capsules. What made it worse was the smirk across his face as he kept studying me.
“I was told you were found outside of the del Trendi territory with drugs that have thus far only been in the systems of murdered Division employees.”
I rubbed at my forehead. I knew about the murders. It was hard not to, stationed out here.
“I was informed…” He gave a glare at the door. “And I hope this is at least accurate.” Ashton turned his head back to me. “That you were part of the last mission run in the area.”
I closed my eyes. Fragmented voices. A horrible ache in my head. Churning from the pit of my stomach. My heartbeat radiated. I opened my mouth. Thoughts fractured.
“Alexandar…” The word came so soft I hadn’t realized I spoke. A nauseous feeling rose in the back of my throat.
Ashton’s jaw dropped as he pressed a hand to his chest. “You saw del Trendi’s leader?” The shock morphed into ambivalence. “How would you even know?”
“The hilt of his knife.” The words brought forth vivid images, more than memories. I closed my eyes, yet they remained. “A… A snake with green eyes.”
“Painted?” Ashton suggested.
Silence fell between us.
“It’s actually rather interesting.” Ashton glanced over, eying me again. “We’ve never had a chance to properly examine the effects of del Trendi’s drug on a living person.”
I scoffed. “So I’m a test subject?”
A frozen, twisted scowl. “Of course not!” Ashton forced a deep breath. He rubbed at his forehead, mumbling to himself for a moment. “We’re just uncertain as to the long-term effects at the moment.”
“A test subject,” I repeated, undeterred.
Ashton cringed, though quickly changed the subject. He scrolled to something on his Identification Device. “You already have a past infraction.” His eyes flicked over the same section multiple times. “You assaulted a Board member as a cadet?” Bemusement laced Ashton’s soft tone.
A tension hit my chest. “You have the official report; it was unprovoked.”
He chuckled. “Which one was it?”
“I’ve worked with them for a while now.” Ashton straightened his black tie as if it wasn’t noticeable enough. “Even if it’s one that’s already stepped down, I may still recognize the name.”
“Dalton.” I put a hand on my leg to keep from shaking. “He said his name was Dalton.”
“Dalton Othellen! You hit the Head of the Board?”
“It was a mistake.” A heavy lump choked in my throat. I dug my nails into my knee. My eyes locked down, colored splotches blocking any view. “I know my place.”
Silence again. Torturous, horrible. Ashton hardly even moved, adding to the stiff air.
Footsteps. Ashton placed his Identification Device in front of me. “I would hope you’ve seen one of these before.”
A held back snark. I glanced over the text on screen. “I don’t sign contracts.”
Ashton groaned, rubbing at the corner of his eyes. “You had to sign one to start working at this base.”
“I don’t sign random unsolicited contracts,” I clarified.
“Fair.” He gestured to his device. “The text is all there. I think you’ll find it’s fairly simple. I don’t like complicating things beyond what they need to.” Ashton let out a deep breath as he fixed the end of a sleeve. “Though I won’t mind that much if you feel you need time. Just that I won’t be able to do as much without your consent first.”
The text was surprisingly short. Especially for a board member contract:
This contract between the Board member [Ashton] and undersigned is executed in the following:
1. The undersigned agrees to keep their autonomy in any and all existing and future contracts within the International Division. This contract in no way excuses the undersigned from other agreed to obligations within the Division.
2. The Board member agrees to take the undersigned in as a ward and all that entails. The undersigned will be allowed access to resources and protection of any that the Board member can provide.
I glanced at the provided full name. “Lux?”
“I already said I prefer Ashton.” A slight twitch of a smile curled as he flattened his gaze at me.
I studied the text. “There has to be a catch.”
“No catch.” Ashton straightened. He gave a nod. “Not unless another contract you take complicates things. I find it’s better to keep things…” He paused for a moment, rubbing at his forehead. “Easy. Less misunderstandings.”
A habitual movement. I froze. An uncomfortable moment of clarity. “I don’t have my ID.”
Ashton swiftly moved to the door. His tone turned to a cold fury. “Somebody had better be able to bring his ID-”
“Here!” Connor rushed to the open door, holding out an object.
“Thank you, Inspector.” Ashton walked back over. He placed another device down on the table. My Identification Device.
I picked it up. It took some time for me to get a proper grip. My hands shook. Odd. I held it over Ashton’s Identification Device, as best as I could. It took a while for it to recognize and connect. I scrawled an approximation of my name.
A jolt of pain seared through my mind. I must have screamed.
Ashton dropped to my side. He put a hand through my hair as he mouthed something I couldn’t hear. No, singing. He was singing something. Soft, soothing.