Chapter 31

A dull ache in Neil’s throat was the first thing he noticed. He wasn’t sure when he regained consciousness, or where he even was, but he was pretty sure this throat pain was what broke his rest. Groggily, Neil struggled to shake off the cobwebs so he could piece together what was going on.

As he collected his thoughts, Neil realized that he was laying uncomfortably on his stomach. Not long after that, he realized that his entire body was radiating a searing pain. Every small move he made seemed to end up causing some muscle to spasm. Every breath was agonizing.

Neil focused on his throat. Concerned, he attempted to reach to his mouth and realized that his right hand was somehow pinned to something above his head.

“Handcuffed?” Neil thought to himself as he realized his left hand wasn’t bound. It took a considerable amount of painful fumbling to get his arm out from underneath his body

Slowly, he put his left hand to his mouth. It felt like he was wearing some kind of mask.

“Maybe a breathing tube?” Neil asked himself, as he tentatively bit down. With his teeth, he confirmed that a flexible tube was in his mouth.

“The mystery of the sore throat is solved,” thought Neil to himself.

Neil tried to open his eyes and felt overwhelmed by an excruciating sensation to close them. “I don’t know if it’s too bright in here,” he thought to himself, “or whether I’m drugged or whether there’s an injury preventing me from opening my eyes. Still though, I better try to get an idea of where I am.”

Using his left hand, he felt around. The surface he was laying on was cold. It seemed metallic to him.

“Probably grounded,” Neil thought to himself.

He touched his hair. It felt matted. He had some stubble. He reasoned he had to have been out a few days. He slid his hand down the bridge of his nose carefully toward his eyes.

“No swelling,” he thought. “I’ve got to try to force my eyes open.”

Prying his left eye open with his fingers, Neil could feel his eyelid struggle and strain to shut. Tears welled up while his eyelid trembled and threatened to close while he adjusted to the brightness of the room. Once he had coaxed his eye to stay open, he repeated the process on his right eye. After a good minute of blinking and adjusting, he could finally focus on his surroundings.

Neil was laying on a metal table. There was nothing special about the room, at least from his vantage point. Sterile, stainless steel everywhere. Abnormally bright.

Wanting to get a good look at his right hand, Neil craned his head to look toward the top of the table. A sick feeling set in Neil’s stomach when he realized his hand was not handcuffed. He could hardly bear to look at the unorthodox restraint. They had attached a metal chain to the frame of the bed. Connected to the metal chain was a thick metal padlock that went through a piercing in Neil’s hand. As Neil struggled not to throw up, he wondered to himself if his sudden hyperventilation was due to the gore, the pain or the claustrophobic sensation of being trapped.

At that moment, Neil realized his right foot was also bound. He couldn’t bear to look to confirm if it was attached the same way, though he suspected he knew the answer. He resolved to come back to that later. He knew that if he went into shock and threw up into the tube that he would choke and die in a very painful manner.

Struggling to push these thoughts out of his head, Neil focused on the room again. He carefully turned his head the other way and looked at the other half of the room. It was more of the same, with the only difference being that there was a door on that side of the room and some kind of apparatus hooked up to the tube in his mouth.

Just then, the door to the lab flung open. Neil struggled to orient his head towards the door. By the time he realized who had entered, Scott was right upon him. Without a word, Scott grabbed the breathing tube and tugged on it like a ripcord.

Neil coughed and gagged as he felt the tube scratch every inch of his throat.

“Welcome back, Neil,” said Scott, in the smuggest tone Neil had ever heard.

Neil struggled to swallow a few times and attempted to get some words out. All he could produce was a gurgle.

With a tone of mock concern, Scott spoke again.“Woah, woah, Neil. Take a second. Your throat is probably pretty sore from having this tube ripped out. Just relax. I’ll be right back.”

Scott grabbed the breathing machine and rolled it out of the room. He walked back in with some kind of metal stick or baton and closed the lab door.

“So,” said Scott, “I see that you’re awake. We’ve had this discussion a few times, but you tend to block it out or repress it or something. So, since I don’t know what you remember, if anything, we’ll start by covering the basics.”

Motioning to the bed, Scott continued. “That uncomfortable cot you’re sleeping on is grounded to the floor and you are physically attached to it with those padlocks and chains. We drilled holes in your hand and foot to insert them, so we’re pretty sure you’re grounded and restrained.”

Scott leaned in and continued, whispering in Neil’s ear. “The drill thing was my idea. I convinced them that you’d probably willingly break your hand to get out of cuffs and that you’d heal fast enough for that to be too dangerous a plan, but in all honesty, I just wanted to use a power drill on your hand and foot.”

Scott made Neil uncomfortable. Squirming, he tugged at his foot a bit. There was a little slack on the chain, but when he hit the length of it, a searing pain radiated from his foot all the way up to his hip.

Scott took a step back, raised the metal rod expressively and continued talking. “And this, this is a cattle prod. I will use this to facilitate torturing you.”

Neil had managed to produce some moisture in his throat. “I’m not telling you anything, Scott, even if you torture me.”

Scott smiled. “There’s nothing to say. We figured out the big stuff before we got you, that’s how we managed to capture you, and our testing helped us fill in the blanks while you were out.”

Neil gulped. “Testing?”

“Testing. Yes. Conrad tried about a dozen times to recreate the accident that created you and it never worked. A dozen innocent people died while you were out playing superhero. But, we never got closer to figuring it out.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

“I would have been too. I hate Conrad as well. I’m not an idiot, you know. He had gotten my dad hooked on drugs. I was wanting to see him die. I considered killing you back at that office to end this all, but I knew that he’d kill me if I didn’t deliver. Sadly, while you were out, they managed to get some tissue samples, and suddenly it all made sense to them. Traces of titanium from the reconstructive surgery after the accident. Traces of Chrome Vanadium from the wrench you carried into the cannon. We’re not sure how or why, but that specific combination of metal was the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Neil managed to follow the conversation, but as he processed what Scott was telling him, the room started to spin. Neil could feel himself passing out.

Suddenly he felt a jolt of electricity. Scott poked him with the cattle prod. Despite the uncomfortable jolt, the electricity actually felt nice.

“Hey,” Shouted Scott, “It’s rude to fall asleep while I’m talking to you. I gave you a little bit of electricity so you can heal enough to stay awake while I talk.”

Neil did feel a bit better. His throat didn’t hurt much anymore.

“Fuck, Scott, do you ever shut up?”

Scott grabbed Neil’s index finger and bent it back. Neil felt the pressure, followed by an audible crack and a burning sensation as the bone snapped and splintered as it let go. Neil began to hyperventilate.

Scott smiled. “Well, that was satisfying.”

Scott placed the cattle prod right on Neil’s finger. The electricity alleviated the pain and healed the finger.

“Even I have to admit that’s cool. Even though you’re grounded, your body can absorb some electricity to heal, Neil. You see, we figured that out. Your ability is somehow linked to the ability to efficiently extract ambient energy around you and store it for later. When you’re grounded you lose the ability to store it. When I hit you with the cattle prod, you absorb it and heal, but beyond that immediate need, you can’t process or keep anything extra.”

Scott reached out and broke Neil’s finger again before continuing. “This time I’ll let that hurt for a bit. I think I’ve made my point.”

Grimacing, Neil looked to Scott. “What do you want,” he asked.

“Nothing specific,” responded Scott. “I just wanted to make you pay for killing my father. I tortured you so much over the past few days while you were out, but it was mostly to satisfy the testing that the lab wanted. It’s extremely satisfying to do this to you while you’re awake.”

A sense of terror fell over Neil as he began to sweat. Scott shocked him with the cattle prod, healing Neil’s finger.

“Remember how I was curious about whether your arm would regrow? Yeah, it doesn’t. It will reattach though. I tested that a few times. The lab-rats were concerned with me bringing a sword into their lab, but I needed to know.” Scott put on a grim smile and continued, “Just so you know, I’m thinking of breaking your finger again and healing it over and over to play with your sanity, but I’m also considering other, more painful ways to torture you over and over again.”

Scott grabbed Neil’s finger again and continued.

“You see, I know that you have this feeling of dread crawling through your brain as well as a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach right now, a panic crawling up your spine. And, it’s not because I’m going to hurt you, but because you know exactly how this is going to feel and the anticipation is making it that much worse. I’m sure it would take just under a day to drive you completely insane.”

Scott let go of the finger. Although Neil tried to hide it, he let out a sigh of relief.

“Where was I,” asked Scott as he collected his thoughts. “Oh, yeah, so, we’ve got Conrad in a chamber with some titanium and chrome vanadium and we’ll recreate the experience with the right factors this time and we’ll save his life.”

Neil couldn’t understand how this was still flying under the radar. He was too curious to let this go. He had to ask.

“Where is the board in all of this? What about the scientists, the biologists, physicists – how can this be happening?”

“The board? The scientists? Do you honestly think that Conrad would work with anyone he doesn’t have leverage on? Look at the things you did and put up with. He called in all his leverage and forced the board to sell their shares. AET is his company now and there’s nobody to stop this test. All I can hope for at this point is that the eggheads screwed up and this fries him as well.”

“It’s stupid of him to try without testing, but I guess he can’t afford to make another disgruntled employee into a powerful enemy.”

“Well, that, but mostly, it’s because Conrad is dying, Neil, we’re talking hours. He doesn’t have time to wait for testing, if it doesn’t work he’s not going to lose much. How does that feel, by the way?”

“What do you mean, ‘how does that feel’?” asked Neil

“Well, Neil, Conrad may die today. And that would have been true, whether or not we caught you. If you had kept your head down and just hidden in Mondale, Conrad would have just died and this would be over. Instead, you brought yourself to his attention, practically taunted him and now you might be the one who saves him. Doesn’t that burn?”

Neil could feel his temperature rise in his head and his heartbeat quicken as he got more and more enraged with Scott.

“Conrad wins, Neil, he gets weapons, he gets soldiers, he’s got your badass arm cannon and costume design, and all you needed to do was nothing – literally nothing to prevent this. You couldn’t even get that right.”

Neil started to pull in his hand and foot, tugging against the chain and padlock, testing how secure everything was.

“You want to know something else, Neil?”

As much as Neil did not want to hear another word from Scott, he noticed that Scott’s impassioned ramblings were actually taking his focus away from Neil. He did his best to tune him out as he kept pulling at the chain, looking for a weakness.

“I’m enjoying this all so much, Neil, watching you strain and writhe on that table, watching you struggle to cope with the fact that you failed to stop Conrad. Watching you get more and more frustrated and enraged without being able to do anything about it. I even think my father would enjoy this.”

“I doubt that, Scott,” replied Neil, “he didn’t seem to be a sociopath like you. If what you’re saying is true, he did what he did to feed an addiction that would take his life.”

“I’m the sociopath?” Scott spat back incredulously, “Me? Neil, my father was so interested in the next fix that he did anything Conrad asked for. Anything. And I watched it eat him up inside.”

Neil’s interaction with Chuck didn’t match this picture. Chuck seemed to have some moral code. Neil wondered if he could sway Scott enough to help him escape.

“Scott, are you sure you know the whole story? He seemed to have a moral code.”

“I know all the stories, Neil. Conrad’s been so sick, I’ve been snooping. Dear old dad was not a moral guy.”

“I disagree. In his last moments, he was.”

“Would a moral guy sabotage a convertible with a pregnant woman in it just to help Conrad get leverage on some physicist?”

Scott continued ranting about Chuck’s other missions, but Neil was no longer listening. The revelation raced through his head. Conrad and Chuck planned the accident that killed Rebecca?

Neil relaxed his arm and his leg, letting all the slack go on the chains. He gritted his teeth. He took a deep breath. And with all the might he could muster, he pulled his hand and foot close to his body, ripping bones, tendons and skin apart as he ripped himself free from the padlocks.

Scott stopped talking and lunged toward Neil. Neil hopped off the bed and placed his hand on Scott’s chest. Scott slumped to the floor. Neil stood up on his left foot and looked down over Scott.

“Since you gave me a lesson about my powers, let me tell you some other interesting things, Scott. First off, that physicist was me, and I’m now thoroughly pissed off.”

Neil leaned forward and grabbed the cattle prod off the floor. He touched it to his foot until it healed.

“Second, Scott, you’re probably wondering why you’re laid out on the floor and why you’re finding it hard to move. Well, that’s because humans run on bio-electricity. I managed to steal some of your bio-electricity to kick start my healing process, which seems to have disrupted some of your important bodily functions like motor control. The good news is that it won’t kill you. The bad news is that I probably will.”

Neil walked up to Scott and kicked him in the ribs hard.

“Third, You want to know something funny? You built this room with no electricity at all – some windows and mirrors for lighting, walls that seem to be grounded – it’s a well-designed room. There’s only one problem. You’ve deprived me of electricity for so long, you’ve actually increased my ability to sense it. That’s how I can feel that the grounding is inadequate right there and that there’s a huge wire on the other side of this wall that supplies a ton of current to the building.”

Neil walked up to the wall and smashed his fist against the metal. It hardly made a dent. Frustrated and running on adrenaline, he smashed the wall over and over until his hand was unrecognizable.

Taking the cattle prod, he held it up to his hand until it healed and started the process over again.

Neil repeated the process three more times until he had managed to bend the metal enough to find a seam to exploit. Finally, he was at the cable.

Neil could feel the electricity coursing through the cable. He grabbed it and let the electricity pour in. He felt more powerful than he ever had before. Static electricity danced up and down his skin. The lights began to flicker.

“Lastly, thank you, Scott. Not only did you help me understand my powers, you gave me a reason to push when I was ready to give up. You gave me the dark edge I need to rid the world of people like you and Conrad. You’ve inadvertently made me more powerful and more dangerous than I’ve ever been, and it’s all thanks to your incessant need to carry on with the moronic droning and goading and boasting. Just for that, I’ll make sure you die quick.”

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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

Probably the darkest chapter in this book.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

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