I slept in my hospital bed, alone with only the white walls to console me. “Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.” I knew for a fact there had to be doctors and nurses somewhere because I had an IV in my arm and heart monitor stickers on my chest. I didn’t have a feeding tube, but somehow I wasn’t hungry. But I did have a catheter and a piss bag. This made sense with my amputated legs. The room had no windows, only air vents, and bright white led lighting. There sure as hell was no door. That made what happened next all the more strange.
My eyes shot open, as I awoke to the sound of screaming. There did not seem to be any sleep schedule; I would get sleepy at random times, so I had no idea if I had been out for hours or minutes. But somehow there was now an opaque curtain down the middle of the room. Since it was attached to the ceiling, it offered a comfortable level of shade. Part of me wanted to try to sleep but the cries were too loud. So, instead, I tried to listen for the voices of any doctors, nurses, or anyone who appeared to be in a position of power.
“Why isn’t the patient sedated?” asked a female voice. She was one of at least six people struggling with keeping the male patient pinned down.
“He doesn’t react to any sedation we have on hand, not even horse tranquilizers,” replied another attendant.
“Is Jane Doe conscious?” asked the third voice. A tall thin figure seemed to freeze in place, looking in my direction.
Was that me? Am I Jane Doe? I’d actually never heard anyone make reference to me. My body stiffened and I closed my eyes. The last thing I wanted was for one of the strangers to open the curtain and put a bullet in my head. (Or something toxic in my IV line.)
I focused on the backs of my eyes, watching the colors play out in front of my retinas. I took slow shallow breaths, remaining as quiet as possible until I heard footsteps, followed by silence.
I blinked carefully looking around. The curtain was still there, but was the roommate?
Sitting up I was able to reach the thick pale pink fabric. I drew back the curtains, revealing a young man who looked to be no older than eighteen. He was on his side, in the fetal position, facing me. It was like he had been waiting to see if I would try for the curtain. He blinked his big brown eyes, clearly conscious, despite the fact he was being abnormally quiet.
“What happened to you?” I asked, moving to the edge of the bed.
The man took one look at me and shook his head, rolling his eyes as he turned to face the opposite wall. He quickly pulled the blanket over his shoulder, up to his neck.
“Um, ok.” I had to assume my appearance seemed too young to be taken seriously. “What’s your name?” I sat up, straining my neck to see if I could catch a glimpse of any clues. Oddly, I spotted a white dry-erase board (where a nurse would put a patient’s name), facing the opposite direction.
“What do they call you?” he asked, still facing the opposite wall. His voice was low, sickly, but clearly, he was young. (Not much older than myself.)
“Sit up and see for yourself,” I replied, I actually had no idea if there were any identifying information to be found on my side of the room.
“You think I can sit up?” he said with a groan. The young man moved his arm, letting the thin sheet fall from his body.
“Oh fuck.” While he still had his legs, his body was in a horrific state. From what I could tell, my roommate had a badly injured spine, held together by visible metal pins. This was all covered in a layer of painful blisters. It was as if he had been burned with a blow torch (or acid.) If I had to guess he had been in an accident or maybe an explosion where he was huddling in the fetal position to protect his face and head. “I guess we’re like the island of lost toys.”
I turned my legs towards him, showing off my stumps. My legs were no longer in any pain, it was just a matter of not having my ankles and feet. Of course, he couldn’t see me since he was still facing away. Apparently, my comment did not intrigue him enough to turn around. Oh well. Since my new roommate wanted to sleep I decided to do the same.
I awoke from my nap to see a brand new wheelchair next to my bed. I carefully maneuvered my leg stumps, then came the matter of my catheter and IV.
Thankfully, the catheter was gone. That made sense; I was meant to learn how to get out of bed to use the restroom. But what restroom?
I forced myself to sit up and get a look around. In the corner, on my side of the curtain, I could see a portable toilet, similar to a porta-potty but without a door.
I was excited, happy even. I was not longer trapped in my bed; with a chair, I had some control. I looked at my IV, anticipating a difficult issue with my line, but the fluid had been stopped and my arm had a bandage over the port. It wasn’t even sore.
With the strength of my arms, I maneuvered myself into the chair. I was slightly afraid of not making it in on my first try. If I fell all the way to the floor, I would be at the mercy of my new roommate. And judging by the sound of his snoring, I would be pretty screwed.
Luckily it was just a matter of using every ounce of strength in my toothpick arms, to guide my lower body. Once I was in my chair I felt truly powerful and I knew the first thing I wanted to do.
I made my way to my roommate’s side of the room, to read his file. (Or whatever the doctor’s wanted me to see.) On the side of his bed was a clipboard attached with a piece of chain. The man was a John Doe, approx age 22. Apparently, he had been brought in from an American military base, in (location redacted). Was he a soldier? A prisoner of war? Among all the redacted information was a single line. “Codename: Deadlock.”
“Deadlock?” I giggled. That name was way too badass for the pathetic lump that lay before me, cowering in pain like a dying animal.
Either way, he was asleep, so I decided to attempt to do the same. I got back into bed, and suddenly I felt sleepy. This was strange since I didn’t feel tired a few seconds ago.
My hospital bed felt so warm, comforting. It just felt so nice.
I awoke to a clang, followed by the distinct sound of a door shutting. Knowing I had my chair, I shot up, desperate to catch sight of someone, anyone.
But instead, I saw a make-shift physical therapy gym; mats, weights, and a set of parallel bars.
Deadlock awoke, holding the blanket to his chest. “What the fuck?”
“I guess the people in charge want us to get off our asses.” I looked towards my wheelchair and much to my delight I saw a pair of prosthetic legs. They looked to be the rigth size and with plastic locks and straps that seemed to make them easy to put on “Hey, Deadlock, can you get out of bed?”
I got no reply, but he was groaning. I didn’t know if it was out of exhaustion, annoyance, or the fact that I called him by his ‘project’ name.
Whatever. Sliding into my wheelchair, I was able to put on my new legs all on my own. They were more like stilts than legs; long metal poles with rubber ‘feet.’ Attempting to stand, I felt steady and strong. (Although actually taking a step was another story.)
Using my wheelchair as a walker (I stood behind as if pushing an invisible person) I was able to make my way to the side of Deadlock’s bed. “Yo, Deadlock.” I admittedly poked him in the side like an obnoxious little sister.
The man appeared to be sleeping but judging by his grunts and moans, it was clear he was awake, hoping I would just go away.
“Come on, man, are you seriously going to stay in bed?” I attempted to shake his arm, once then twice. “Don’t you at least want to try to get out of here?” I shook him one last time, shoving him off the bed.
Thankfully he landed on a well-placed gym mat. (It was as if our captors predicted the most likely outcome.)
“Get up,” I said, moving my body forward, I managed to kick him with my new rubber feet. At first, I did it softly, just to show him that I was just as injured as he was, if not more, (except I wasn’t being a little bitch about it.)
“I already know, we’re never leaving this place,” he said as he rolled on his side. “Just let me die.”
“Die?” I took that remark as him saying we were both going to die. And well, that was a little insulting. So, with all the power of my new legs, I kicked him in the crotch.
He folded over like a piece of origami.
I guess you’re not getting up anytime soon.
The lights flickered, as a series of panels opened in the ceiling (six to be precise.) The first three dropped plastic packages. They all seemed to be the same size but with distinctly different weights (as I observed from the sounds they made when impacting with the floor.) The other three dropped what was clearly a gun, a knife, and a small plastic stick. The large bladed knife with a red leather hilt looked so much like my former property, I was temporarily distracted. It was as if someone had taken the blade, cleaned it, sharpened it, and even replaced the corrosion on the handle. “Wow.”
This made me, and my new legs, an easy target for a low sweep kick. With a crash, I fell on my hip, quickly rolling over to see Deadlock’s location. He was on his hands and knees, clearly struggling to stand. We locked eyes for a moment before Deadlock darted for the gun.
In a split second I had to make a choice; go for the weapon myself or attack Deadlock’s injured lower body. I placed my faith in my arms and shoulders, lunging at him with all my strength. On my first try, I managed to grab his thigh, pulling myself up to his hips. I punched the surgery sutures on his back as hard as I could causing him to cry out in pain.
The burn scars were real, as was the barely healed stitches. My nails were noticeably long at least a good half an inch, and I didn’t hesitate to scratch him as hard as I could. From my time on the streets, I knew this was a technique that always drew blood. Usually, the poor unfortunate soul would eventually let go of me and we could both leave on our merry way. Not this time.
Instead of removing my hand, I dug my (now blood covered) nails into his stitches, moving under the suture until I could feel muscle and then bone.
My opponent was no longer screaming, his body went limp, shivering uncontrollably. “If you’re going to kill me just do it already.”
“I don’t want to kill you,” I said, relaxing my hold. “Talk to me, you can trust me.”
“I can trust you?”
“Yes,” I said only then realizing my nails were still firmly stuck in his scar tissue. “My real name is Nicki. although the last team I was apart of gave me the name Hellion.”
“Hellion?” he said softly, his voice sounding almost human.
“Yeah,” I whispered, stroking his back. His skin felt rough like leather or sandpaper but throbbed with natural, throbbing intensity.
“Hellion?” he asked in a meek whisper.
I removed my hand and started stroking his back, gently like I would for a stray animal. “Yeah, I kinda like it.”
“Because the person who called you Nicki was someone who hurt you,” he replied, as he swallowed hard. “My name is Tony.”
“Well, Tony, I’ll make you a deal. you don’t hurt me and I won’t hurt you. Together we can figure out what’s going on, Ok?”
Tony nodded feebly.
Glancing at my hand I could see why: there was a torrent of blood. I carefully laid him on his side, in the prone position (the way I had seen in the movies.) He started to cough. At first, he was foaming at the mouth spewing what appeared to be thick white spit, then came spots of blood. He was likely going to die.
“No, no no,” my voice quivered, “this is just a puzzle, a game. I have to solve this.” I needed to know what was in the three plastic packages. Covered in blood, I forced myself to my feet. The room was not huge, so if Deadlock (or Tony) was truly in too much pain to move I had to try for all six items.
The knife was a knife, but the stick seemed to be something electrical. It was a plastic casing housing something that came apart to form a tool. I twisted and pulled, careful not to break off any pieces (although that might have been the secret to getting it to work.) Dumbfounded, I moved on to the gun. The silver pistol itself looked normal but when actually lifting it, the item was abnormally lightweight (as if it was hollow.)
The first of the three plastic packets contained sugar cubes (or food rations similar to what was given to WW1 soldiers.) I had heard of these. They were little candies that could keep someone alive for days. The next packet contained a sealed bag of drinking water. That was when a realization hit me. We had no other food or water. Would the doctors put us to sleep again? Or were we meant to find a way out (or die trying?)
I hoped the third bag would have some answers. I quickly tore open the plastic to reveal a container (I assume to hold the water or distribute the food) and six unlabeled medical syringes. What were they? Should I test them on myself? What if they were lifesaving medications? Maybe Tony knew.
I crawled back to Tony’s side. He was still coughing, struggling to breathe. So I did what felt right. I stabbed him in the neck with the blue syringe. My goal had been to make a hole in his neck, like a tracheotomy. But the needle slipped, plunging the blue fluid into his throat.
Tony’s eyes shot open and that was the moment I figured out why he was called Deadlock. His once brown eyes seemed to glow blue, with digital neon rings.
Was he scanning me? I barely had a chance to think before taking a brutal kick to the chest that sent me flying across the room. I slammed into the parallel bars, knocking them to the ground. Luckily the posts were bolted to the floor, if I could get my hand around the pole I could get to my feet. (And I needed to get to my feet if I wanted a chance at grabbing a weapon.)
The nearest option was the knife, so I made a grab for it. I managed a half spin, clocking Tony in the face with my elbow. The strike made an impact but he did not go flying. “Oh, crap.”
I watched as Tony spit blood. He wiped his mouth with the front of his palm, before picking up the plastic stick. With a flick of the wrist, he seemed to switch it to the on position, causing it to transform into what could only be described as a lightsaber. And then he swung it.
The electric rope behaved more like a whip or a lasso grabbing me around the neck. My skin was on burning like I was wearing a necklace of fire. So, as soon as I was close I stabbed the knife straight into his stomach, making sure to thrust upward. Only then was I able to breathe.
I caught the device before Tony dropped it, hoping to be able to use the electric blade to cauterize his wound. but the device jumped, flailing like a snake. I scooted backward, as the weapon fought to escape my grasp. Then, in one swift motion, the electric rope hit me in the face causing my world to fall into darkness.
I groaned as I awoke on a cold, wet surface. The room was dark but with just enough light for me to see what I was resting on. the world around me smelled like rotting meat and the floor seemed to be made of various squishy material. “Is this a dumpster?”
“I think the word you’re looking for is a mass grave.” The words seemed to echo on the wind, but the voice was all too familiar.
“Faust?” I asked the darkness. He sounded far away, which gave me a small amount of confidence.
That was until a hand gripped my shoulder. “Or Alexi, if you prefer.” His breath was cold on my neck as he placed his lips to my skin.
I started to crawl, desperately trying to force myself to run. But on the soft, muddy surface, (with my stilt-like legs) I could barely walk much less run.
It was so easy for Faust to grab me with Alexi’s large hands; one on my neck and one on my left breast. I’d been wearing a hospital gown with a bra and underwear. The way he touched me, his intentions were clear.
His hands felt rough, fleshy like wet clay. Taking shallow breaths, I dared not look down.
“What’s the matter, love?” his voice said in a cackle. “Isn’t this what you like? Isn’t this what you want?” He held the last word, slipping his hand lower.
That was when I looked. His hands were nothing more than rust and decay, held together by frayed wire and rotted bone. I screamed and ran.
I tripped and fell, then got back up, forcing myself to keep moving. But I did not escape his grip; a single hand remained stuck on my chest, gripping me with his sharp bone fragments. “Fuck! oh God, fuck!” I hit the limb but it remained in place as if he was still controlling the fingers. I ran until my leg became stuck. Faust was screwing with me, he was going to find me.
If there was light, there had to be a light source, right? The ceiling was bathed in the deep red light of a moon. There was a hole, I could see it clear as day. But was there a ladder? Would I even make it? I had to try.
“You’ll never escape,” Faust’s voice whispered. Again he seemed far away but I knew he was looking for me. “You belong here.”
I started to run, crawl over the garbage until I reached a peak. It was a pile of dead bodies; naked men women and children in a massive pile. Could I climb it? I didn’t even want to touch it. Looking around there was no way around the massive pile. this was the way out.
I took my first step. my rubber foot making a squishing, crunching, sound as it made contact with the torso of a bloated corpse.
Nothing was moving. they seemed to be pinned in place. Arms and legs made for easy handholds, but my legs seemed to hit random textures. I was stepping on flesh, bone, liquid, solids. “Don’t look down.” I seemed to be getting closer to the light.
I reached for one more hand, a very familiar hand, with a very familiar tattoo. My father had the words ‘ass’ and ‘grass’ with ‘or’ on his thumbs. the hand I saw had the ‘grass’ portion. “Nicki?” his voice whispered. Deep and crackly from years of smoking.
I fell backward, screaming. I was stuck here, in Hell. Then something else caught me, gripping my arm with firm pressure.
I awoke on an operating table with a light in my face. tears filled my eyes. I wanted to die. Please, just let this be over. Since I was not restrained, I got off the table landing on my feet. I was wearing a blue leotard, clean, bright. There was no blood anywhere.
and there was a door.
A tall dark-skinned man entered, he was laughing, performing a slow clap. “amazing job both of you.”
“Both of us?” I looked around, a rush of fear washing over me. Was Tony here? Did I want Tony here? could I trust tony or whoever the fuck was talking to me?
The tall dark-skinned man approached, he had a kind smile like a highschool teacher. “My name is Adam, but you call be Axel.”
“Axel?” the very word made me giggle.
He took a knee, making sure to stay a good four feet away. “Welcome to TAC: Transnational Authority Command.” He held out his hand. “Do you prefer Hellion?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir.” I shook his hand, allowing him to help me to my feet. “Thank you for the legs.”
“Those are just training wheels,” he explained. “Isn’t that right Deadlock.”
Tony emerged from the shadows. He wore armor over his head, back, and shoulders. He rolled his neck and stretched his back as if he’d just gotten out of bed. But as he did, new scar tissue seemed to form on his chest and stomach. his muscles appeared to move on their own, like independent creatures living within a symbiotic ecosystem.
I turned my attention to Axel. “Are you recruiting me?”
“My men found you. and we have a friend in common.”
“Tony?” I asked quietly, already knowing that was not possibly the correct answer.
Axel chuckled, his bright white teeth visible through his parted lips. “Larissa Diaz, but you know her as Maverick.”
“Maverick,” I paused for a moment biting my lip. “Is she okay?” I wanted to ask if she was upset at me since I was the reason Faust was able to blow up their base.
“You weren’t the reason Faust was able to access their base. He was two steps ahead the entire time.” Axel sighed. motioning to the door. “Let’s take a walk.”
“Sure.” I stood on my new legs, adjusting my hips and shoulders to show off my poise. I would have liked to have put on clothes, but the leotard was better than nothing.
Since Axel was substantially taller his strides were wider and I had to struggle to keep up. Eventually, he took notice and slowed down as we approached an office door. “I do apologize.”
“I’m fine. I can keep up.” Just as I said that I, of course, managed to trip over my own feet.
Axel caught me in his arms. “you’ve been here for a little over six months, you deserve a chance to rest.”
“But you’ve made incredible progress. Everyone here at TAC, we’re all very impressed.” Axel pushed in a code on to a small keypad, which brought up a larger keypad with a scanner. “A lot can change in six months,” his voice seemed to drift off as he opened the door with a scan of his palm.
For a moment I felt confident, strong, perhaps even a little hopeful. that was until Axel opened the door to reveal a woman handcuffed to a chair.
She was slumped over, with fiery red hair (the kind that only could have come from box dye.) her muscular arms and back were covered in bruises. upon seeing the light of the hallway she lifted her head. “Hellion, you’re alive!” her voice was weak, sickly, but very recognizable.