*NOTE: If you have not read any previous stories of 'A Salvager's' Tale I recommend doing so before proceeding.*
He opened his eyes despite the burning that followed. He closed them, opened them, rubbed them, closed them and then ultimately decided to roll over and turned off his alarm. He knew he should get up and work out, his routine having been pretty steady thus far but he was just too tired and at the moment not very motivated. Besides, its always best to try and take some time off in order to allow one’s body to recuperate and heal. Justin almost laughed at this notion as he knew that desire to stay in bed had nothing to do with health and instead everything to do with the recent bedfellow.
He rolled over and through the light that managed to filter through the blackout curtains, he saw her and he couldn’t help but smile. She said her name was Kara but he was certain that wasn’t true. Throughout their entire conversation with one another through the momentary silences or forced screaming at the club, there was always a considerable delay whenever he called her name. This falsehood didn’t minimize the fun they had or make him feel that she was deceiving him in a negative way. In truth a name was just the name. And to be fair he told her his name was Jason.
The two had met at Club Verve, a standard hotspot for those their age. The drinks were overpriced, the music too loud, and the space too small, but he loved the experience. Every time he went was a great night out and he always enjoyed meeting new people, or spending time with his friends. He only went out on the weekends and his goal wasn’t to hook up with a random person, but when he did plan to, he often didn’t leave alone.
He couldn’t explain why he felt the need to give a false name, Jason being the first one he could think of and it stuck from there. Perhaps it was the desire to be someone else, if only by name. He never lied about his job, his family, his likes and dislikes, but he wasn’t ready for any sort of commitment. He didn’t really want to be in a relationship and just wanted to have fun. Giving a fake name, sometimes fake number if asked, allowed this. He and his female companion would have a good night, great night he often hoped, and they would part ways never to see her again. This name change allowed him to do this. It bestowed a confidence that he normally wouldn’t have. He couldn’t hook up, Jason couldn’t.
Unfortunately there was a problem. His typical good-great-night which usually lead to a brief conversation and both lying about calling one another again had a hiccup. The issue was that he wanted to speak to her again. During the night at the club, on their way back to his place, he found her not just pleasant company but amazing company. She laughed at his jokes which normally elicited exasperated groans from his closest friends, she shared similar interests in books, movies, television, she could hold up her own end of the conversation. So much so that he found himself just sitting and listening, really listening, to her and wanting to know more. This woman, Kara, had stolen his attention and perhaps in the process of stealing something else.
The woman opened her eyes, and only smiled as she saw him staring at her. Her hair was a tangled mess, her make up slightly smeared but in a classy sense, and her eyes a tired red. There was a silence that fell between them, the hum of the air conditioner and the sound of his neighbors moving around him starting their Sunday rituals filling that gap. He was actively ignoring his impulse to go about his daily routine, choosing to lay with a woman’s who name was certainly not Kara. Even with this knowledge, he couldn’t help but look at her and smile.
“Good morning.” He said, careful not to speak to loudly. He could taste the sour tang of morning breath on his tongue and didn’t wish to bathe her in his that fetid breath.
“Good morning.” The woman replied. They stared at one another, enjoying not the silence but simply being in their shared presence.
The night before came back in vivid detail for him, neve allowing himself to have more than a few drinks. He didn’t like not being in control of his actions. He remembered the moment he saw her sitting in a chair with some friends, the first drink he bought her: a Rum and Coke, the first time they danced; his movements a gyrating mess that only made her laugh. They danced, talked, walked, kissed; a lot of kissing. And he wanted more. Not just the kissing and the sex but all of it. He desired to know more about this woman and who she was and potentially could be.
“I had fun last night.” He said, a coy smile drawing up on his face. ‘Kara’ smiled back at him, biting her lip and he felt the sudden urge to bite it as well.
“Me too.” She told him. Then after a brief pause she held out a hand offering it to him. “My name is Sarah.” She told him. He laughed slightly as he accepted it with his own. They both understood that this was not just a one night stand for either; that there was something between them that they had blindly stumbled into. He knew that this was someone he wanted to get to know better, someone he wanted to spend far more time with.
With another laugh and a growing smile he said, “I’m Justin.”
Justin screamed as the pain ripped through his skull, feeling as if each cell, every axon was being shredded. It was unlike pain he had ever experienced as the probes that had been placed on his head, drilled further into his skull. Even through the pain he could still hear the whir of the needles as they bore deeper into the flesh of his skin, the hard bone of his forehead. Through a brief moment of relief his mind began to piece together what was happening to him. There were three needles that were connected to three sensors that fed data from his brain, converting it into some sort of data that he could not see. Even if he could he wouldn’t be able to focus, feeling only utter agony as the machine did its work.
He struggled against his restraints but the chair kept him very secure. Certainly not his first rodeo. His arms, feet, chest, thighs, neck, even his head were strapped to the chair, keeping him still. For as much as he seemed that torture was in the cards, there seemed to be a great number of precautions to keep him from wriggling and harming himself. His clothes had been stripped away, leaving him naked and afraid. Various sensors were placed over him, allowing for data regarding his physical body to be tracked. All of this data fed into the terminal that was being closely monitored by the man that Justin was truly terrified of: the Arbiter.
“Quite interesting.” He said as he powered the probes down. Justin’s gasped, as the pain began to fade further away. Body slick with sweat, he felt a noticeable chill but his internal temperature was spiking. The internal feed of his optics read that his body temperature was over 101 degrees. His cries echoed and rebounded against the walls of the space he was trapped within. The room had been referred to as the Interrogation Chamber, a large domed area lit only by a handful of floating lanterns that illuminated the Throne and the terminals at which the Arbiter worked.
Slowly Justin peeled his eyes open catching sight of this man once more. He was a Troika, an insectoid type species from a planet he could not recall at that moment. The probes were interfering with his neural processor and blocking the communication from his hard drive. For now he only had access to the information that his actual brain had retained and this planet was not one of them. The Arbiter bore a likeness to a grasshopper, the thin angled legs, as well as narrow arms that ended with three fingered hands, the organic exoskeleton and sideways teeth. His coloring was a dark grey that stood out under the purple cloak. The hood was pulled down his antennae twitched as he worked at the terminal.
The Arbiter approached Justin, carrying tablet along with him. He poked at the display and when he reached Justin he held up the screen. Justin’s eye widened slightly, fighting through the exhaustion as he saw an image of his wife staring back him. Her eyes were half lidded, her smile wide but tired. It had taken him several moments, far too many to realize as to what he was actually looking at. This was not some screen shot that was grabbed from his phone or computer. This was an image of Sarah taken through his eyes.
The memory had come to him completely at random, a thought that he had not considered for years, not since he and his wife Sarah had solidified their relationship. It was a fun story, an anecdote to their greater life but it was a thought would simply pass, never fully materializing into a full recollection. However the memory had flickered through his mind during the session in the chair, but for him it was merely a brief distraction. His focus was on the on the blinding pain that racked his entire body.
“How… how did you… see that?” Justin asked, his words broken up with deep, pained gasps. The Arbiter’s cold, insectoid eyes shifted slightly. It was impossible to read his expression as it remained placid and removed from any obvious emotion. He pulled the tablet back and examined the image with a cock of the head.
“It is a fragment from your memory.” He told him in a cool, clinical tone.
“H…how is that possible?” Justin managed. The Arbiter tapped on the tablet once more going about his day, completely unmoved by the naked man strapped to a chair with needles sticking out of his skull.
“This device allows me to sort and sift through the memories that you possess.” He replied matter-of-factly.
“Wh… why?” Justin asked and he truly wanted to know why. This was not merely a stalling tactic as he concocted some escape plan on the fly. He need to know why this being was torturing him, sifting through his memories like a child looking through a photo album. What was the point, the reason for it? “Why not just kill… kill me?” He pulled his lips back into a pained grimace, a futile attempt at rage that ultimately fell away. Beads of sweat ran down his body, pooling around him. As he attempted to shift his weight, there was actually splashing from the collected perspiration.
Once more the Arbiter cocked his head as if the question in itself was a puzzle. There was a pause as he considered the question before responding with, “I am not a monster. I do not kill because it suits me or because I am paid to.”
“Now… that’s… that’s funny.” Justin returned with a humorless laugh. The Arbiter turned his gaze back to Justin, his eyes shifting in their sockets, his head cocking once more. And it was with that, Justin realized that head cock must have been his way of expressing emotion. The hard exoskeleton lacked the flexibility and muscle design that allowed for facial expressions. Movement and posture, perhaps even smell was what the Troika had in order to truly show whatever emotions it must have.
“You think me a killer? A psychopath?” He asked turning away from Justin and returning to his console.
“Ye…” Justin started but he froze as he was struck with an odd realization. It was because of the pain he was experiencing, the agony of not only having needles drilled into his skull and the whole of his body racked with pain, that he didn’t notice that when the Arbiter spoke. It was with an odd realization that he understood it. The probes prevented direct access to his hard drive so any of the countless languages that were stored there couldn’t be utilized by the internal translation software. Instead the Arbiter was speaking English like as native speaker. “How… how can you speak…”
“This device,” he said with a sweeping gesture, “Is designed to pull information from organic material. In this case it is able decipher neural information. I am capable of extracting auditory and visual information that has been stored within the neural network of your brain and converting it into useable information. When I started delving into your brain I noticed the neural drive that has been installed and deduced it allowed you a vast amount of information. I have temporarily disabled it so that you cannot influence the outcome of my search. I then utilized the information and located the aspect of your brain that moderates speech and I used this device to extract your native language and I installed it into my own neural drive. Hence my ability to speak what you call: English.”
“Is… is that why… you were able… able to find… Sarah?” Justin asked. The Arbiter looked at the screen of his terminal, the image still frozen on Sarah.
“That is correct.”
“If… you can just pull information why do you need to torture me?” Justin screamed at him, his words driven by rage and fear. His words echoed around him as if the entire room was filled with duplicates of him asking the same question over and over again.
“The brain itself does not experience pain and through my experience pain is one sensation that allows information to slip through the mental blocks that biologically advanced species construct.” The Arbiter said, “Therefore I have placed one of the probes within the pain center of your brain and by stimulating this area pain is elicited. Because of this, the neural data can be pulled more easily with less modification since the conscious part of your brain is focused on the pain rather than false information.”
“Why? What is this all about?” Justin asked. “Why are you doing this?”
“I am not a psychopath, as you would word it.” The Arbiter said and Justin found that he actually believed him. He wasn’t torturing for the sake of inflicting pain. There appeared to be a cold, clinical nature to his methods. He wasn’t just cutting him open, burning him, ripping him apart. He was extracting information, the only question was why?
“Then what are you?”
“I am in interrogator.” He said. “My purpose is to find the truth as it has been accused and if I find that this information coincides with the accusation then it is my duty to execute the perpetrator as quickly and cleanly as possible.”
Justin said nothing as he absorbed this new information. It all made a terrible sense. The last thing he was told before being dragged into this room for his interrogation was that Kiran Kitra was accused of a crime. The Arbiter was digging around his brain because he was looking for proof that he was guilty. The only problem was that he wasn’t Kiran. All he would find were the memories of Justin Kennedy and none of them involved assaulting of a princess. So, really, all of this torture was for nothing. But if that was the case though, what would happen when he discovered the truth?
“What… if you don’t find what you are looking for?” Justin asked. The Arbiter cocked his head once more.
“That has never happened.” He said as he toggled the levels and the pain returned with blinding force.
“Ally, a little help here!” Justin cried as he pivoted his body. The Goliath suit curved out of the way, the missiles barely missing him. He felt a light scraping vibration as it skipped across the outer hull. The loud beeping in his helmet ceased as he swung downward moving away from the missiles as they sailed several hundred more feet before exploding far from him. He pivoted once more, straightening out his trajectory as he returned to his intended path.
The Merc ship, Katar, was still attacking the Federation transport. According to Ally the ship was carrier vessel, a civilian ship being escorted by the Federation. There were over one thousand people that would be killed or enslaved if the mercs got ahold of the ship. The Tianlong had only been passing by when he heard the distress call. It took him less than a second to hop to his feet before running down to the elevator to suit up. His armored Mech, Goliath, was his first choice since assaulting a ship with a suit wouldn’t be as effective since it didn’t have larger weapons or as well protected. This massive bipedal Mech could rip through a ship’s hull with ease. However it also meant it was a larger target. It took less than a minute before the mercenaries caught sight of him and engaged.
Unlike the smaller suits that he tended to wear during combat, the Mechs were far larger and their operation differed greatly. He didn’t pilot it like other Mechs that were manufactured for the Federation or other various companies. Their Mechs were piloted by a person in a cockpit and using joysticks, pedals, or other various systems, operated the entire body. Those Mechs were larger but due to the nature of locomotion, clumsier as well. For his Mech Justin’s entire body fit within the core of the suit. Like his small armored suits, there were nodes that read data and allowed him to manipulate the systems with his own thoughts. Since the suit was man sized, it was simply an overly elaborate suit of armor akin to a medieval knight or, pop culturally, Iron Man. The Mechs were different. Since they were so large, he couldn’t pilot them by simply moving. Instead the nodes connected and placed his physical body into a state of paralysis as the data fed from him to the Mech. The cameras fed into his optics so he could see the exterior and since the body was tied to the Mech, it moved as such. He moved the same way his own body did, by mere thought—both voluntarily or involuntary. For all intents and purposes he piloted the Mech with his mind. The suit became merely an extension of his own body.
“I have sent a message to the Federation officers requesting that they not attack you.” Ally told him.
“Lovely.” Justin shouted. Shifting his body, his suit spun and regained its original flight path. The raider’s defenses directed towards him once more, the suit beeping wildly once more within the helm.
“The ship has locked on.” Ally told him a sense of urgency in her voice.
“Rockets or Cannons?” Justin asked but as he spoke there was a sudden flash as two green plasmic charges were launched toward him. Justin screamed as he pivoted once more, the charges missing him as they sailed past into the darkness of space. “That answers that.” Justin exclaimed. With a single thought the suit responded. Raising his arm, the side panels of his wrist slid open revealing four small rockets that rose from within. The targeting system locked onto the cannons and fired with a noiseless hiss. He dodged another salvo as his rockets struck the cannons causing them to explode.
“The side cannons have been disabled.” Ally reported.
“How long before the Federation reinforcements arrive?” Justin asked.
“Seriously?” Justin shouted as he dodged two more rockets as they sailed past, the alarms ringing in his ears. He pivoted, spun, rotated without any resistance. It had taken him hours, days of practice navigating in a zero-g environment. Moving at high speeds, adjusting to the neural output, the systems with merely his mind was a unique experience but now it was second nature. The suit was a part of him and now he couldn’t see himself without it.
“There are no outposts this far out. That is probably why the Raiders chose this vessel.” Ally told him.
“How pragmatic of them.” Justin said. He shifted his weight, his body flipping so that his feet connected with the hull of the Raider’s ship. Raising his left hand, the arm mechanics shifted, turning it into a portable plasmic cannon. Swinging his arm up he fired several shots, the charges striking several pieces of equipment. He didn’t know what they were but figured they were important, most items often were on a star cruiser. Lowering the cannon towards the hull he began firing at his feet, punching sizable holes. Immediately air began to rush out, bringing anything that wasn’t bolted down along with it, including several raiders. This lasted only a moment before the ship’s internal systems activated the ionic barrier to prevent depressurization.
“You do remember how life support systems work don’t you?” Ally asked, dubious.
“I aim to annoy.” Justin announced with more than just a hint of pride.
He watched as the raiders, dressed in their patchwork clothing drifted away from him and into the vacuum of space.
“Curious.” The Arbiter noted as he turned down the machine once more. The pain that flooded through Justin’s entire body faded. Once more he struggled against his bindings but they were still far too tight and he was growing weaker with each probe of his mind. The Arbiter’s words were nothing but muffled whispers, his attention solely on the machine that was slowly tearing his brain apart.
“Please… please stop.” Justin gasped, his breathing labored.
“You risked your life against Morian pirates.” The Arbiter noted curiously. “How unlike you.”
“Just full of surprises I guess.” As Justin spoke he realized that he was crying, hot tears streaming down his cheeks in torrents.
The Arbiter took up the tablet once more, tapping on the console and then the tablet before approaching Justin once more. Involuntarily, he tried to pull away as the Arbiter approached but he could barely shift his position in the chair.
“Do you know who this is?” The Arbiter asked as he held the tablet up once more. There was an image of a woman, young. In terms of Earth she was perhaps in her early teens, perhaps even younger. She looked human, or Latyran, but along the sides of her heads were bony frills that ran across and down her skull. With flaxen hair tied into a tight braid, her eyes seemed to sparkle like purple gems. Seeing her, he knew she would no doubt grow up to be a beautiful woman.
“No.” Justin admitted. The Arbiter cocked his head and lowered the tablet before returning to his position at the console. Watching him approach, Justin could feel his heart race, the deep thudding in his chest sending rapid shudders throughout his entire core. Like Pavlov, the Arbiter had conditioned him to become absolutely terrified whenever he approached the console. “Please… don’t do this.”
“The neural connection should have been made by seeing that image. I cannot miss the opportunity to trace those pathways to find the truth I seek.” The Arbiter told him in that same cold, disconnected manner.
“Please… don’t.” Justin whimpered but immediately pain began to flood his body as he unleashed a feral scream.
“She’s cute.” Dami said as he peered at the tablet. Justin looked up at him and caught his associate’s wide, telling grin.
“That’s gross.” Justin said as he tossed the tablet back on the table next to the chairs along with the rest. The image was that of a young girl dressed in a flowing white gown with platinum tiara upon her head. What stood out to him was the boney fringe that ran along the sides of her head and the purple eyes that seemingly sparkled in that digital image. Under this regal image was the caption: Shia’ara Lodan, Princess of the Rohan Kingdom from the planet of Verus. Justin had taken notice of this as the Latryan homeworld was that of Verus as well. It seemed that there was more than one Royal family on the planet, which in truth wasn’t too dissimilar from Earth. There were dozens of royal families all across the planet so why wouldn’t that ring true elsewhere?
“What?” Dami asked with a playful shrug. “The Princess is well into her marrying age.” From what Justin knew of the races on Veus, they aged slowly. This girl physically by Earth standards, was only in her preteens but in actuality she was well into her twenties, perhaps even thirties. Still this did nothing to make Justin feel any better. The girl appeared far too young to be looked at as a sexual being. Of course Dami was clearly not put off by this.
“Still gross.” Justin said as he rose to his feet. Dami was a Shroger. Hard, leathery skin, head large and flat, he was built, as it was often said on Earth, like a brick shit house. The clubbed tail tapped against the floor with each step or if he was excited, as it was doing so right at that moment.
“Oh you are such a prude.” Dami told him.
“Maybe I just don’t constantly think of sex like you do.” Justin suggested but Dami simply waved him away with a waggle of his thick sausage-like fingers. He trotted over to his counter and began tapping on the terminal.
“So you have something for me?” Dami asked.
“3000 Shitaran Plasma Cores as promised.” Justin told him. He raised his arm, a holo image appearing over his bracer and he tapped on the keys uploading the data to Dami’s network.
“Oooo and where did we find these?” He asked with a wide smile.
“On planet side of Nunyabusiness.” Justin replied. Dami laughed, though Justin knew the alien didn’t quite understand the colloquilism. However Justin had used it enough that contextually, Dami knew to drop the subject. “And with my delivery I believe you have something for me.”
Dami glanced up at him, back at the new log of the plasma cores and then nodded. He knelt out of sight, Justin assuming he was accessing a hidden compartment. Black market contraband was not something that one kept in their standard inventory. It took Dami only a moment to reappear and in his hand was a small data disk. Justin couldn’t help but smile as the disk was held out to him.
“Thank…” Justin started as he reached out for the disk, but Dami pulled it back slightly, just out of reach.
“One day you’ll have to tell me what you are looking for.” He said once more with that telling grin.
“We have an agreement, Dami.” Justin reminded, not threateningly but with an obvious sternness, “I don’t want to know what you do with the shit I give you, i.e the Plasma cores, and you don’t ask me about the charts.”
“Alright, alright.” Dami sighed handing the disk over once more. “I was just a little curious that’s all.”
“Curiosity is a dangerous thing.” Justin said, snatching the disk out of his hand. “It can get you killed.”
“You know what, I don’t think I like this side of you.” Dami noted and it was with that Justin sighed. He knew he was being abrasive, purposely so. He slipped this disk into his pocket and grimaced as the thought slipped back into the forefront of his mind.
“Sorry, D, it’s just that I’m having a bit of a bad day.” Justin said.
“Not getting cold feet about our nefarious dealings are you?” Dami teased. Justin smirked but shook his head, dejected.
“Today’s my son’s birthday, or as close as I can guess.” Justin told him. Dami’s demeanor suddenly shifted as he frowned deeply.
“How many years is he?” Dami asked.
“Turning one.” Justin replied, “One full year without knowing I even exist.”
“My apologies,” Dami said with a low bow. For as jovial and off color as this man could be, he was actually a rather sensitive man. A father himself, he had lost his own children during a civil war that was still ranging on his home world. He understood family, as well as loss. “I had completely forgotten. If you don’t mind me asking though, why not just go see him?”
“It’s… complicated.” Justin said, unconsciously touching the disk. Dami said nothing as he returned to his terminal.
“I see.” Dami said, “Well hopefully one day you may see your child.”
“That’s a rather warm sentiment coming from you.” Justin said with a notably playful tone.
“I may be unscrupulous, but I still understand the importance of children.” He told Justin simply nodded
“You’re a dying breed.” Justin laughed as he turned back towards the door. “Let me know if you have any other jobs, alright?”
“Be careful out there.” Dami shouted. “Don’t get yourself killed.”
“I didn’t know you cared.” Justin called back.
“Only about my cargo, I couldn’t care less about you, Latyran.”
“Kisses!” Justin returned with a wave of his hand.
The pain ceased once more, Justin’s entire body relaxing from the extreme strain. The puddle of sweat grew larger, the fluid mixing with urine that had finally was released from his bladder. The pool spilling off the edge, pattering down to the floor with light, inconsistent taps. It took him several moments to realize that he began crying again, the hot tears falling down in streams from pain, fear, sadness. Never before had he prayed to a God that he wasn’t certain was even there.
“God, please… help me…” He sobbed, the words almost lost by his straining voice. He wanted to be in his ship, he wanted to be on his planet, he wanted to be with his wife and son. However instead he was trapped in room, bound to a chair with probes in his skull with a sociopath searching his thoughts and memories.
It was in that instant that he realized that never before did he want to die so much. He wanted the pain to end, to be done with all of this. Even the thoughts of his wife, his son couldn’t keep this thought from entering his mind. Justin had reached many low points since his journey out into the cosmic void but he could always keep himself moving. This was something entirely different. This torture was guiding him to only one idea, to one end. He wanted death, to end all of his agony.
The Arbiter approached Justin, this time his hand empty. He examined him, cocking his head before returning back to the console to continue his work. Justin tried to speak, to beg him to cease this but he couldn’t find the words. He was too tired, to beaten down by the pain that all he could do was weep. He watched as the Arbiter touched the console once more and braced himself for the next bout of agony that quickly followed.
“Adam?” Sarah asked.
“No.” Justin replied as he continued to scroll down his phone. A light breeze drifted over them, the hammock swinging gently in the breeze. The two lay opposite one another, so they could look across at each other. There was a scent of lavender in the air but it was quickly cast aside by the smell of freshly cut grass. The sound of a lawnmower could be heard nearby as their neighbor, Roger, tended to his yard despite the yips of his Pomeranian from the porch.
“Brian?” Justin said.
“With an I or a Y?” Sarah asked him.
“Then why did you even put that out there?” Justin called as he threw his hands over his head. Sarah laughed as the hammock swung wildly for a moment from the sudden movement before returning to the light sway carried by the wind.
“It’s funnier this way.” She teased. Justin rolled his eyes, looking back to his phone. Tapping his wedding band against the case there was an audible clacking sound as he continued to search for a name that they both could agree on. It was a familiar, welcome sound, something he did unconsciously as a reminder that he was still wearing his wedding band. Wearing it had become such a habit that to be without made him feel off.
“Darwin?” Justin asked.
“Why do you hate our child?” Sarah said looking away from the baby book she slowly lowered to her chest.
“What? I like Dar… okay I don’t like the name I just thought it was funny.” Justin smiled, a wide toothy grin, before Sarah nudged his side with her foot. He laughed and flailed, trying to get away from her but the hammock held him in place. All he managed to do was cause the hammock to swing wildly once more, almost spilling out of it several times. The two continued their struggle for several more moments, catching the eye of Roger as he took another pass with his lawnmower. Justin looked over, their eyes meeting a moment before he continued on his work.
“Surrender!” Sarah cried.
“Fine I give, I give!” He cried as Sarah ceased her assault before falling back into the hammock, offering him an enormous smile.
“Jerk.” Justin said.
“Bitch.” Sarah replied. Justin found that he couldn’t even pretend to be mad as he could only smile as he looked at her. The love of his life was carrying his child, his son, and he couldn’t have been any happier.
“Tell me the truth.” The Arbiter said as he turned down the console once more. He approached Justin who was still screaming as the pain slowly drifted away. He tried to focus but his vision continued to blur. He couldn’t see, could barely focus on the words that this man spoke.
“What… what truth?” Justin managed through deep gasps. “What do you want?”
“Are you Kiran Kitra?” The Arbiter asked straightforward.
“No.” Justin sobbed. He could have lied and kept the Arbiter digging around his brain or tell the truth and be killed on the spot. There was no good answer to give, no way to keep this man from learning his secrets, sifting through his memory. All he wanted was to end all of this pain, all of the torments. He just wanted it done.
The Arbiter cocked his head once more, “Then who are you?” It was impossible to tell if he was angry, curious, doubtful. His tone always remained calm, never belaying this true intention.
“My… name is Justin. I’m from… from a planet we call Earth.” Justin told him. He fought through the pain, the exhaustion that came from this session.
“I am not familiar with that planet.” The Arbiter told him.
“It’s… it’s in the outlands.” Justin admitted. The Arbiter cocked his head once more.
“You are an Outlander?” He asked, “How did you come to find yourself in Verusian space?”
“I… I was abducted.”
“I see.” The Arbiter said. He slowly turned, walking back to the console. Justin immediately started to cry as his Pavlov approached his bell. He didn’t want to endure any more pain, feel any more anguish as the Arbiter continued his interrogation. How much longer could he hold out before his heart finally stopped. The body could only endure so much before shutting down entirely.
Justin screamed as he watched the Arbiter reach down to the console. What would he see now? What would he be looking for? Did he believe him? There was no reason he should but if he was able to truly look into his memories, there would be none that would coincide with Kiran. But what if he did believe him? Would he arrest him? Kill him? Torture him for impersonating a royal member? The sheer thought of more pain made him cry out louder. He wanted this to stop, for all of this pain to stop.
Closing his eyes, he braced for the pain that would no doubt follow as he heard the light beeping of the console. A moment passed followed by a sharp, biting pain. Justin screamed, his throat burning, growing raw from his cries but unlike before the pain stopped suddenly. He continued to scream out and it took him several moments to realize there was no reason for it. The pain was gone. Justin opened his eyes and watched as the Arbiter worked at his console. A moment later the shackles that bound him, opened. Before he could catch himself, Justin toppled to the cold floor in a heap.
He was barely able to roll onto his back but he managed and found himself, staring up to the ceiling. The lights that floated overhead were blinding and despite closing his eyes they still managed to filter through his lids. Justin opened his eyes the machine appearing blurry. He could barely make out the head piece, the long probes an invisible blur. He struggled to raise his hand to block out the light but he was too tired, far too worn down by the sessions with the Arbiter to fight back. He was broken, mind and body. All that remained was his soul but even that was yearning for relief. He wasn’t a soldier, didn’t have any necessary training to build up the resistance to torture and interrogation. He was just a man desiring to go home. Every moment, every second of pain was an eternity of agony.
It was a second later, a long slow second, a figure appeared above him blotting out the light that had garnered so much of his attention. Justin looked up and through the haze of his vision he realized it was the Arbiter standing over him. He would have been afraid, terrified in fact, but he was just too tired.
“What… what are you going to do to me?” Justin asked, his voice weak, his words carrying little strength.
“Nothing.” The Arbiter admitted. This time it was Justin’s turn to cock his head curiously.
“You are not Kiran Kitra. That was who I was called to judge but you are not he.” The Arbiter told him. “Therefore your fate is not up to me.”
“You’re… not going to kill me?” Justin asked.
“As I said I am not a psychopath.” The Arbiter said, “I do not kill just for the sake of killing. It is judgement, justice I am brought in to root out. In this case, consider yourself free to go.”
Before Justin could say anything else, there was a roll of thunder in the distance. The room shook slightly, the vibration sending light tremors through him. The Arbiter looked up and cocked his head, a telltale sign that he was curious about something. He shuffled out of sight and the light once more fell upon Justin, his eyes narrowing to slits. He could barely anything now, the lingering pain, the cold floor underneath him as exhaustion quickly overtook his mind. Sleep, death perhaps, was stealing him away and all he could watch that brilliant light over him slowly dull.
In the distance he thought he could hear shouting, a light voice followed by a far deeper one that he thought was the Arbiter. The words never materialized into anything but muffled sounds, and as Justin drifted away from consciousness, swallowed by the encroaching darkness, he thought he saw someone come into view. It was unclear, the face turned dark by the light, the world turning black. For the briefest of moments he actually heard a voice calling to him and hearing it he felt a sudden rush of joy as Sarah spoke to him.
“We’re getting out of here.” She told him, “Just stay with me. Stay with us, Earth man.”
“Sarah…” Was all he managed as the world went black.