Elijah tried to be somewhere else in his mind. Anywhere else. But he couldn’t do it. Even trying to hold the idea of imagining he was somewhere else was a stuttering and disjointed struggle. The pain was too much. Too intense. Too absorbing.

He should have been dead a long time ago.

Instead of walling off and compartmentalizing his awareness of the present moment, his brain was hyper focused. Adding details that weren’t really there. Could’ve been the drugs, or the mergerware. Or maybe they’d simply broken him. Surely he’d broken. The truth didn’t so much matter to his mind. Reality’s nothing if not subjective.

He smelled acetone and burnt meat. Felt the raw skin of his scalp splitting and curling. Heard the popping of hot fat. Saw the flames.

But he was blindfolded. He knew it. Little comfort when the mergerware said he was burning.

Even with him hardwired, the system has its limitations. No complex ideas, in or out. You want complex output, you’ve got to ask for it. If you’re not the type to say please, then you’ve got to resort to the old ways.

Simple ideas, though; you can push simple ideas into someone’s brain all day. Elijah’s brain, in this case. Old ways, new tools.

They turned it off. They’d start in with the questions now. Must be broken. ‘Bout fucking time.

“What’s your name?”

He sucked air through sobs, chest heaving. Mostly real, but he played it up. Stalling. Don’t turn it back on. He didn’t answer, but they moved on.

“What agency do you work for?”

“Don’t burn me again,” he pleaded.

“Where did you acquire the tauonium?”

“I don’t know what that means,” he said. Or he thought he said it. Hard to stay lucid.

“Where is your physical location?”

Right here, strapped to this chair.

“How many more times will we have to go through this?”


“You see, it’s like I said.” No longer directed at Elijah. Conversing. Muted. “Every time, same results. We keep going we’re gonna scramble his eggs, and where’s that leave us? Better off putting the kid in a chemical coma for a couple decades and running a signal trace manually.”

“You know they won’t go for that upstairs.” A second voice.

“You got any better ideas? I can run it again, but it’s a waste of time.”

“Something else then.” A pause. “Show him.”

A longer pause. “You’re the boss.”

The blindfold came off. Elijah was dazzled by a fluorescent sky. He blinked away tears and darkness, and his eyes began to adjust. Small room. Concrete. No windows. A bearded guy sat in a folding chair in front of him, tablet at his side. Looked like he could KO a Kodiak.

“Elijah,” said the man, “I want you to take a look at something.”

He held up a piece of paper. On it, it said:

Holden Sunder
Martian Independence Movement
Synthesized it ourselves
Right here, strapped to this chair
Let’s find out together if you’ve got the stones

He flipped it around:

Holden Sunder
Don’t need to acquire it
You’re looking at me
I haven’t been keeping track, let’s start over

He flipped it upside down. And then around again. And then held up a stack of papers just like it.

“Now I want you to look at your right hand,” he said.

Elijah did, looking down with his eyes, as his head was strapped upright. Someone behind him held aside the mergerware cabling. Gentle, like brushing his hair behind his ear.

In his hand he held a pen.

The man scooted closer and tapped Elijah’s temple with a hard finger. “You’re not alone in there son. You’ve got a freerider, and he bombed Embassy Row at Noctis. We need to know where you picked him up. Now, if you remember, we might be able to help you. Otherwise I’ve gotta wipe you again and try to get him talking for the—,” he held up the stack of papers, “—I don’t know, hundredth time, maybe.”

Elijah was at a loss. A freerider? “I’m innocent! Somebody hacked me!”

He watched in stupefied horror as his hand moved, absent of his control.

Let’s go for 200.

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