SUMMARY: All either of them really wanted was to do some shopping.
CHARACTERS: Wilson, House, OCs
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: First chapter of the Cierros arc. Previous chapter is here. More to come throughout this week. Links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe can be found here.
The Cierros Transgression
Wilson shifts from foot to foot, waiting for the Customs line to move forward so he can get back to the station and relax on the Callie, and isn't that an ironic kick in the pants. Cierros is beautiful, that part is true. Clocktower Square, Hawksworth Hall, the First Landing Monument that House had dismissed as being the same one that's on every damn planet everywhere. Even the Old Market had been a treat, its scores of merchants stretching for miles under the original barn roof.
He'd been able to pick up a jar of native honey, some slab-cured bacon, a few pints of applefoot mushrooms. Peace offerings, he knows they are, and he's not sure why he's bothering. House will scarf down whatever Wilson cooks, utter not a word of thanks, and none of it will change the fact that they're about to part ways. House hasn't even asked where Wilson will go once it's over, and deep down Wilson is glad because he doesn't know what he'd answer.
The one thing he knows is that it won't be Exeter and it won't be here. Beautiful as the place is, its people make him nervous. Every third person on the planet seems to be in uniform, or sport some kind of paramilitary badge, and he'd had to show his stamped Visitor's Visa at the market in order to buy anything. Plus there'd been the way everyone had looked at him ... or, more accurately, hadn't.
He shifts again, transfers his shopping bag from one hand to the other, and sighs when he sees yet another holdup in the line. He'd hoped to give House the slip, get back on board first -- House will be late anyway -- and have some time in Callie's kitchen, all to himself. Now it's looking like that won't happen, even though so far House is nowhere to be seen.
Please be out getting drunk, Wilson thinks, because the last time he saw House get drunk, they were both drunk, and it was good, and he guesses that's how he'd like to end this thing between them. One last pleasantly mutual bite before whatever has to come next.
Get hammered and have fun, Wilson hopes to himself, and come back late and happy.
"Excuse me, sir," comes a voice at Wilson's shoulder. He startles, looks, and feels a horrible unease when he sees that the man who has approached him is dressed all in blue. In a uniform.
Drew Comstock loves his job. Except today, when he has to be in charge of a gaggle of first-year trainees who think Customs consists simply of stamping passports and visas all day. Especially today, when there's a problem with the system and they're having to inspect passengers and baggage by hand. Drew blows out a weary breath and decides to take a break -- but it'll be a teaching break, so Lieutenant Jenkins won't ream his ass out.
"Okay, guys, heads up," Drew says, using his best tutorial voice. The trainees, a half-dozen youngsters fresh out of the Academy, still excited by the prospect of actually working at a real space station, crowd around him. Drew sighs again.
"Okay, we're going to do a new exercise," he says. He smiles at the eager faces. "Let's pick out a subject and run a tooth test." There. That'll take at least twenty minutes, and maybe the regular lines will be clear by then.
The kids' faces fall immediately. "Damn, Sergeant," one of them grumbles, and of course it's Prem Basset, who's been bitching about shit all goddamn day, "Can't we do something that'd be actually useful?"
"Suck it up, Buttercup," the guy next to him retorts. "Sarge says we do it, we do it, because it's -- "
"Required," Drew snaps. "The test is still part of the requirements to become a commissioned Customs officer, so you're going to have to know how to pass it." He stares at them, and when there are no more objections, he nods. "Okay," he says. "First step -- who do we see that we might have good reason to be concerned about? Anyone? Anyone?"
Prem Basset is the first to speak up. "Him," he says, pointing at one of the lines of travelers.
"Don't point," Drew says automatically. "He might try and escape if his suspicions are aroused. Now, why him?"
Prem rolls his eyes. "Because," he says, continuing what to him is obviously a stupid drill, "tall, brown hair, brown eyes, looks nervous, left-handed."
"And how do we know he's left-handed? Group? Anyone?"
"Because he's carrying his bag in his left hand," another first-year, thankfully not Prem, pipes up.
"Very good," Drew says. He straightens his uniform and presses a button on his call-pak. "Let's go."
"Ah are oo ooking for anway?" Wilson asks, keeping his jaws wide open and trying not to shift in the uncomfortable wooden chair. He knows an intern when he sees one, and this one is taking his own sweet time, moving the tiny mirror to peer at the backs of Wilson's incisors.
"Vampires," the kid says in a sour tone, and it's all Wilson can do not to snap his mouth immediately shut. Even so, he flinches back -- it's only a little, but the older officer's eyes narrow, the supervisor who'd so courteously asked Wilson to step out of the backed-up Customs line and take a seat in this small, windowless room. It's a curious and calculating look, and it's making Wilson nervous.
"Vampires?" Wilson repeats, smiling a smile that he doesn't really feel. "Is there really such a thing? I thought they were a myth."
The officer is still staring at him. The others interns, all of them crowded into the office, have fallen silent. "Not around here," he says finally. "Sir, I'd like for you to pull your sleeves up and hold out your hands, palms-up."
Wilson's mouth is suddenly very dry. Something wrong here! his brain says. Something very wrong! "Why?" he asks, hoping he sounds much calmer than he feels.
The Customs officer's eyes are cold. "Just do it," he says, all pretense of courtesy forgotten.
Moving slowly, Wilson pushes his sleeves up, exposing his wrists and forearms. The officer unclips a small flashlight from his belt and clicks it on; the ghostly pale blue glow of its ultraviolet beam falls directly on the insides of Wilson's wrists. The tiny scars of House's bites, virtually invisible to the naked human eye, shine like a miniature road map under the cool light. Tally marks, one for each day he's spent with a haemovore.
"Well, what have we here?" the officer murmurs. "Frank!" he calls to the other Customs cop, the one who's been ignoring the invasion of his office, "Frank, get Jenkins on the phone -- tell him to get his squad over here right away and bring a kit. I think we need to run a serum test. Prem, start going through whatever's he got in that bag." He looms over Wilson, a menacing bulk in his navy blue uniform. "Sir," he says, "I'm afraid we're going to have to detain you for a while."
Things have gone from bad to worse.
Jenkins turns out to be a thin, almost willowy man with glasses. His squad, on the other hand, are three very large troopers, armed with large, holstered weapons. Their dark blue uniforms seem to absorb all the light in the room, and their shoulder patches show a fist drawing a flaming blade from a golden scabbard. Red embroidered letters on the patch spell out Security Brigade. They surround Wilson, who still sits in his chair, frozen with apprehension. The interns have all been herded from the room, some of them looking back to gawk at the scene.
"Give me your right hand," Jenkins says.
Wilson licks his dry lips. "Why? Look, if this is about the food I bought, the merchants all said I didn't need an export permit as long as I declared it, and -- "
"It's not about food," Jenkins replies, then smiles a small, tight smile. "It's about blood. You should be used to needles by now, shouldn't you?" Two of the men in his squad chuckle; it's a low, ugly sound and Wilson's stomach clenches.
"I ... I want a lawyer," he says. Someone laughs out loud -- Wilson can't see who it is but it's not a good sign. Jenkins is staring at him as if he's a particularly revolting bug he'd like to squash.
"And I want to win the Galactic-Blast Lottery," he says. The troopers take up positions behind Wilson's chair and place their hands on his shoulders.
"Look," Wilson says. He's aware of the note of desperation creeping into his voice and tries to steady himself. "I'll leave. Keep the food. I'll go and get back on my ship, and I'll leave this planet right now and never come back."
Jenkins is unimpressed. "Too late for that," he says. "Can't allow your kind to spread your poison throughout the galaxy." His lips compress into a thin, hard line. "Now give me your fucking hand."
A pinprick later, everyone in the room is staring at a small square of blotting paper. It's turned blue upon contact with Wilson's blood.
"It can't be," the Customs officer murmurs.
"Maybe it's a ... a false positive," Jenkins says. His earlier cockiness is gone, and he seems shaken. He motions for another member of the squad to step forward. "Run it again," he says. A second pinprick, more painful than the first because the man's hands are larger and clumsier, and the result is the same.
"Holy fuck," the Customs officer breathes. "It's juice. It's real juice." Everyone starts talking at once, until Jenkins' voice rises above the babble.
"Shut up! It could still be a false positive. Or ... something else." He pins Wilson to his seat with a cold stare. "What are you on, you son of a bitch? Catspaw? Methafeen? Koka weed?"
Wilson starts to shake his head, but Jenkins has already turned away.
"We've got more than enough for an arrest," he says to the Customs officer, and then, to his squad, "Cuff this shitbag and let's go."
Strong hands haul Wilson from his chair; his arms are pulled behind his back and his wrists handcuffed tightly. The door opens and he's marched outside, back into the huge, bustling reception area of the Immigration/Customs building. A few people look around, but turn quickly away when they see the black uniforms. Wilson opens his mouth to speak, to object, to try and stop this, but one of the troopers claps an enormous gloved hand over it, muffling whatever appeal he might've made.
He has just enough time to see that House is nowhere in sight before a black bag is slipped over his head.
"These," House says, tapping the glass case above a very sturdy, and unfortunately very expensive, set of breeding hobbles. It's the materials that make these cost what they do; the leather is well-rolled along its edges so as not to cut into the flesh, and the things are lined with some kind of thick wool. Alpacky, or maybe even exotic sheepskin. The dealer nods, opens the back of the case, and takes them out for House to handle. The weight of the things is reassuring.
"You must have a damn fine mare, to need these."
"Stud, actually. Likes to kick during sheath cleaning." House turns one of the hobbles over in his hand, suppressing a smile at his private joke. "Better give me a second set, just in case. Fine horse, but he's a crazy bastard sometimes."
Stock Supply Guy doesn't need to know the two sets aren't because one set might get broken, but for two sets of limbs. Ankles and wrists.
Wilson's going to hate him, probably forever.
"Anything else I can do for you?" The guy's leaning over the counter, happy with the sale, and he ought to be. The price of House's freedom is high, indeed.
"Maybe. Little niece of mine stayed with Grandma a while and fell in love with the neighbor's animals there. Sorels. Grandma wants to get her one and won't let me hear the --"
The man's laughter cuts off the rest of the story. "Say no more," he says. "Over to the northwest bay, past the hay bales where you don't see 'em unless you know where to go. I think Loony Sue and her people are there now; they'll get you what you need."
"Thanks," mutters House. "Can't even tell you how much I look forward to sweeping up sorel shit all the way from here back home."
"Strip," the officer says. Only this is a different Security officer, in a different-colored uniform, one with a name tag over his breast pocket reading T. BENSON. Benson's taller and heavier than Jenkins, with a silver badge at his collar and a patch on his black uniform jacket that says Wardens, and they're in a different, smaller room. Maybe they're not even in the same building, but the same three squad members are there. Instinctively, Wilson's hand rises to his own collar, still buttoned to the top button.
"Look," Wilson begins. "Can't you just tell me what's going on?" He spreads his arms in what he hopes is a conciliatory manner. "All I was doing was shopping. I don't understand the problem. Thank you for taking the handcuffs off, but -- "
"I took the handcuffs off so you could strip," Benson says. "Now do it."
"Not until I talk to a -- " Wilson starts to say, and that's as far as he gets before one of the troopers clubs him in the back.
He lies on the floor a moment, stunned, trying to draw a full breath. "Wait," he wheezes. "What -- " He's just about gotten his legs under him to sit up when another trooper kicks him in the ribs. Wilson curls in on himself, tucks his knees under his chin, attempts to shield his body from the blows that follow. The beating stops, just as abruptly as it had begun, and a pair of black boots come close into his line of sight.
"Strip," the Wardens officer says. One of the boots rises, comes down slowly on Wilson's right hand and presses it gently to the floor. "Now."
"Your ship," Captain Benson says loudly. Why the smuggler -- Benson can't bring himself to call the prisoner a feeder yet, that's just not possible -- is resisting like this, he has no idea. It had taken him fucking forever to take his fucking clothes off.
"Your ship," Benson says again. "I want a name." They've got the smuggler's name and vital records from his Visitor's Visa -- doubtless it's all forged, but it's a start.
"Hey," the prisoner gasps out, "I don't -- "
Benson nods; two of the troopers haul the smuggler to his feet and slam him face-first against the wall.
"No," the smuggler gasps. "Please!"
"Your ship name," Benson says. The prisoner hesitates, but for too fucking long. When Benson signals a stop, the smuggler's knees have buckled and he's hanging limp, held up only by the troopers' grip. Benson grabs a fistful of the prisoner's hair and yanks his head back. He leans forward until he's close enough to estimate the number of hairs in the smuggler's prominent eyebrows. "Your ship," he says softly. "Tell me the name of your fucking ship, or my men will break both your fucking arms."
The prisoner looks at him; after a long moment he squeezes his eyes shut and mumbles a name.
Benson smiles. "Excellent," he says. "Now was that so fucking hard?" He turns away. "Put him in a cell and get the Colonel in the loop," he says to his aide. "He'll want Major Porter, but let's call Westerberg, just in case."
"In case of what, sir?"
"In case he's what our fucking tests say he is," Benson growls. "They'll need independent verification, Westerberg's got a pet doctor who can provide that. And -- " he pauses, one hand on the door, " -- I'm sure the Colonel'll want this scumbag to answer some more questions." Benson smiles. "And Captain Westerberg is very good at getting people to answer questions."
House shifts from foot to foot; his leg hurts like a bitch. Everything in this Lost-Ages town is quaint, old-fashioned brick and cobblestone, with all its quaint, old-fashioned defects designed to trip anyone who uses an equally quaint and old-fashioned cane.
Especially if they're carrying a sack full of meds, a couple sets of heavy-duty breeding hobbles, and the export-delivery paperwork on a perfectly ordinary sorel.
At least he doesn't have to haul the four-legged animal through Customs. Loony Sue has an export pass, so the sorel's being delivered -- a plain brown one because there were no black, and the blood's all the same anyway. It's far from well-bred but was the best of the lot, and if it weren't a doe, he might have decided to name it Wilson.
Hell, he still might. He grunts and hefts his parcel from one shoulder to the other, looking around until he spots a chronometer which, unlike the Clocktower, is actually easy to read.
14:30. Wilson was supposed to meet him here at Customs at 14:15, and knowing Wilson's insane compulsion for being on time to everything, he should've been here, waiting for House, at 14:00. Which was why, let's face it, House hadn't bothered to show up until 14:20.
But Wilson's not here, which means he's probably sulking somewhere, moaning into his beer or a hooker's breasts about what an asshole House is. House tries to remember the last time they'd spoken civilly to each other -- maybe it was last night, when House had, very reasonably, he thought, asked "Are you gonna eat that?" and Wilson had practically snapped his head off. Vulgaris bastard has been in a pissy vulgaris mood ever since leaving Exeter, and House had gotten damn tired of it on Numbskull Nine.
Fuck it. If Wilson wants to be a sullen asshole, better that he do it here, in some overpriced planetside bar, than on the Callie where House has to listen to him. Not that Wilson would actually say anything, but he's the loudest silent, sullen asshole House has ever known.
House turns on his heel and limps away -- he sails through Customs and soon enough is boarding the exchange that will take him back to the station and Callie.
There's been no sign of Wilson, and that's just fine with House.
They've left him here, handcuffed, naked, gagged -- for how long, Wilson can't tell. A long. Damn. Time.
When he could wait no longer, he'd attempting peeing down the drain in the middle of the floor, there being no other option, but it hadn't gone well without the use of his hands. He'd tried lowering himself slowly to his knees, but halfway there the long muscles of his back and thighs had seized in agonizing spasms, and he'd ended up lying in a puddle of urine.
He hurts all over, and itches from the dried sweat and blood and grime on his skin. He's sure he reeks of piss and whatever other unspeakable substances are on the floor he'd just rolled around on, but he's been in here so long he can't smell it.
The emptiness, silence, discomfort are a torture in themselves, and he's not sure if he's terrified or relieved when he hears another barrage of heavy footsteps in the hall.
They open the door, four thugs in all, those suddenly-ubiquitous black uniforms, just for harmless little Wilson, who, after all, was only buying bacon and applefoot mushrooms and ... and four noses wrinkle in unified disgust. The gag allows him no protest, and a moment later his hide is being blasted with cold water from a hose. He hates it, but not so much that he doesn't turn himself around in it, making sure every inch gets washed down. There's water sloshing in his ears by the time it's done.
He's marched out the door still dripping wet, with nobody saying a word. Hallway, turn, more hallway, turn, double doors, single door, oh. Clinic? It is a clinic, even if he's the one being handcuffed to the damn exam table, and that tall guy coming in, dressed in sweats, the one who's built like a scar-oak, is he ...
"Get to it, doc," one of the thugs says. "Westerberg says you gotta --"
"I know," the human tree retorts.
Because, yes, he is. Oh God, that's the doctor.
So this is the patient, the prisoner, the guy for whom Mason has had to get up and dressed in the middle of the night. Poor bastard. One look at him makes Mason feel a lot less sorry for himself, that's for damn sure.
The man lets out a moan, the only sound he can make given the gag-bridle he's wearing. His blackened eye is watering. Even in his present state, he doesn't look like what Westerberg says he is. Really, he can't be what Westerberg says.
But whatever he is, that doesn't change the job Mason has to do. Not a choice either of them gets to make, so best to just get it done with. He draws a blood sample -- and it really doesn't look like anything else has been leeching off this guy -- and pops the vial into the clinic's spec unit, programming it for the same marker compounds they always look for and never find. The very accurate, but long outdated and ridiculously slow scan.
Mason will do the rest of the exam, and fix the cuts and bruises on the poor bastard's face, while the tests run.
He'd half expected the doctor to inject him with psychoactive agents, or invite him to note the sharpness of a scalpel before using it on his fingers, or some other horror Wilson's only seen in one of House's fright-vids, but no. Doctor Scar-Oak, whose name turned out to be Mason, hadn't seemed very happy to be there. Not as unhappy as Wilson, of course, but not happy, and Wilson had hoped for a moment. Another doctor; it was the best chance he might have had in this place.
But the doctor, perhaps a captive himself, paid him no heed. What he did do, Wilson will make every attempt to forget.
And then, when that was over and the pain was subsiding, Mason had the goons remove Wilson's gag.
"Not so you can talk to me," the doctor growled. "I can't help you and I don't want to know." And with that, he'd pulled out a kit full of capillary catalysts, histamine blockers, and liquid sutures -- AltaMed's brand, Wilson noticed, and he'd always preferred Jarvon's version, and why the hell was he thinking of that when he didn't even know why they were treating him?
A chime sounded, test results finished, and Wilson had already known what that must be about. He'd known for sure when he heard Mason's incredulous cursing, from over at the console. Ignoring the glares of the goons for a moment, he found the courage to ask a single thing.
"Are they going to kill me?" His own voice sounded like it was coming from somewhere else, far away.
"Yeah." The doctor nodded to someone else and the gag was shoved back in Wilson's mouth just as he started to ask why, why, why.
And then they -- the same four black uniforms with blunt fists and pointed boots -- marched him back again, and left him chained to the fucking wall, and now he has nothing to do but wait, knowing for certain that solitude is preferable to company.
He still wishes someone would come and tell him what he's done.
Allen Westerberg steps into the holdcell with a hot cup of coffee in his hand. He'd prefer to be asleep, of course -- but they slept soundly at Newland, his grandfather used to say; they didn't worry about those neighbors of theirs until it was much too late.
The sight of the feeder makes Westerberg's skin prickle. A real one, naked and bruised, cuffed in back and shackled to the heavy ring in the wall, his face ... almost normal. "Mason fixed him up for us?" he asks the nearest soldier.
"He should never have had to. The prisoner's face shouldn't have been touched." Westerberg sighs at the troopers' obvious confusion, and continues. "It's important for people to know that monsters can come disguised as lambs, and they won't know that if we shred the damn disguise before they see it. Please tell me you dim-stars didn't ruin his clothes?"
"No, sir." The nervous youngster who answers bears a name tag reading WALTON. "They're in the evidence lock. Sir?"
"Make sure they're clean, pressed, mended if they need to be. Now, soldier."
Walton salutes and dashes off, clearly relieved to have something to do elsewhere.
"Uncuff him," Westerberg orders, and the red-haired soldier, Jacobi, blinks but complies. These aren't guys who've worked with him before, and it'll take them a while to catch on to the way he operates.
"You don't want to try hurting me," Westerberg says softly, approaching the prisoner. He hands his coffee mug to Jacobi, and reaches into the breast pocket of his uniform for the UV light Jenkins lent him. "I just want to see for myself. Your arm, please?"
The prisoner raises his chin -- such a bizarre gesture, with the gag in place -- braces his shoulders, and doesn't move. Not what Westerberg had expected from a guy with this many boot-marks all over him; he feels a flash of both respect and disappointment before he snaps off a lightning-fast punch to the left kidney area, where there's already a growing bruise.
"I don't enjoy this," he says to the doubled-over prisoner. "I'm very, very good at it, though. So as soon as you're able to straighten up, please hold your arm out. Spare us both."
This time, the prisoner complies. Westerberg checks first the left arm, then the right, which is even more heavily marked. Delicate tally-marks, just like his grandfather said, done in places where nobody would see. He'd always wondered about that, because they'd been too busy burying the dead to make visual records from Newland, and the only feeder scars he'd seen were the ones they'd found on that last man, thirty years back. Westerberg had been a fresh graduate then, hadn't personally had access, but the photos they'd released were the stuff of nightmares. Vicious, jagged patterns, parallel tracks of fang-lacerations all over. You did that kind of thing to an animal around here, they'd fine you and pull your livestock license.
He takes advantage of the feeder's upraised chin, pointing the light at the man's throat.
Nothing. Not a mark, unless that lone, faded snippet above the collarbone is one. He walks slowly around, blue-lighting the rest of the body. The only other scars on this man's hide are scattered around his torso, around his back, and they are obviously surgical and very, very old.
All except for that pair of spidery starbursts on the left trapezius. Those, Westerberg recognizes; the last feeder was covered in them, evidence of struggling against the vampire's jaws. He stretches out his hand and runs his fingers over the spot, making his prisoner flinch.
"This was when he caught you," Westerberg says. He takes his hand off the scar, reaches behind the feeder's head and flips the gag's trigger-lock. "I'd like you to tell me about it."
This part, Westerberg doesn't mind. He gets to demonstrate to these soldiers that brutality is not the only option, for one thing. They'd blinked when he asked for the small table, the couple of chairs, some coffee and a sandwich for the feeder, a set of fresh prison-greys for him to wear -- but they'd promptly done it. Allen carries not only the force of his own reputation, but that of his father, and his before him. Nobody for three generations has been careless enough to question the orders of a Westerberg.
The prisoner, who calls himself Wilson, knows none of this. He questions everything, even as he visibly holds himself back from inhaling the food put before him. Why, why, why, he wants to know. Why, when he's hurt no-one, and when the haemovore -- he doesn't say vampire -- has hurt no-one? Why?
"Breathe," says Westerberg. He sips the fresh coffee Walton brought in. He has some time. "Eat; you've got to be starved. Tell me how it happened and I will tell you why."
And the poor fool tells him. Shipwrecked on a ferry in the middle of nowhere, himself and the vampire the only survivors. The vampire's appeal, which is exactly the one, exactly the one they made at Newland, and Westerberg wraps his hands around the coffee mug so that nobody will see the tremors.
"You never saw his animals, though, did you?"
"Those animals of his that supposedly died. Did you ever see them?"
"That would be a no. But you believed him, because you were a good and decent person, and a doctor to boot, and he didn't tell you that once you gave yourself, you'd be hooked."
"He did tell me."
"And that's why he had to force you the first time."
"He couldn't force me. He was too sick to sit up."
"Haven't you figured out yet that there never were any animals? He had another slave on two legs, but he couldn't tell you that. You were his ticket out."
The feeder is staring at the table, so Westerberg continues. "You want to know why? I'll tell you why." He leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the four troopers, apparently just as interested.
"Your vampire master couldn't tell you about his two-legged animal, but he could tell you another story. It's the same story the Newland vampires told us, over a hundred years ago."
The feeder doesn't move, but he's listening. Westerberg can tell.
"There were animals here, animals at Newland that did die, by the thousands. We couldn't cure the disease; it raged until nobody on the whole damn planet had a domestic herd of anything and there were no animals coming in due to the whole damn planet being quarantined. And he knew that story and what happened next, so that was what he told you. And just like the Newland people, you had a compassionate heart. You wanted to save a life, you gave all you had to that thing, and where is he now?"
"I don't know." That, Westerberg knows, is the truth. The vampire might be anywhere, and there's no way this fallen creature could track him. Pathetic as this is, Westerberg can't let it move him to act on his compassion. The turned Newlanders had shot and killed their own countrymen rather than surrender their masters; his grandfather bore the scars he'd received as a young man from an enraged slave-woman's blade.
This man who's quietly sharing coffee with him, would kill him in the blink of an eye to save that master of his. Westerberg can never, not for a moment, forget that fact.
"This doesn't have to be difficult," Westerberg explains. "Whatever you used to be, it doesn't matter now. Hasn't mattered since the first time you let that vampire open up your veins."
"You're going to ... kill me," says the feeder, putting down his empty coffee cup and looking Westerberg in the eye. "What the hell else do you want?"
"A physical description and a name." He's speaking softly, patiently. This isn't the kind of small-bore smuggler Westerberg usually deals with, men and women that he can cajole into giving up their network without much of a fight. The feeder may be the mere shell of a human, but he's a shell that still remembers what it was to have dignity. "We want the bastard who tricked you," Westerberg says. "We want the one who took your life blood and then left you here to die."
The feeder's eyes close and an expression Westerberg can't quite read crosses his face. Bitterness, he thinks. Regret, fear, shame. All good things; they mean the truth is dawning and --
"No." The feeder has clenched both hands into fists on the tabletop. "If ... if you want his name, it means you don't have him. He went right through Customs. Not a risk he'd take if he knew about this place. He didn't tell me any stories about ... bloodslaves or ... killer vampires, and he ... he didn't leave me to die." The feeder takes a deep breath and sits up a little taller. "Even if there were something in it for me, I wouldn't help you kill my friend."
Westerberg sighs. That'll teach him to hope. "There was something in it for you," he says. "There still is, if you change your mind." The men, who've been standing silent and watching all this time, are already moving in. "I meant it when I said I don't enjoy this."
It's been less than a half-hour since his four young troopers forced the feeder onto his back, across the table. They'd tied his wrists and ankles to the table's legs so that he's splayed open, caught like a helpless insect turned wrong-side up. The small sandwich plate and the coffee cups had clattered across the floor in the unequal struggle, fetching up against one of the walls and coming to a rest. In the end the feeder had simply set his jaw and stared at the ceiling as Westerberg's men cut the prison greys off and tossed them aside.
Westerberg had kept trying. We don't have to step this up; we can't help you but we can spare you. Talk to me. Tell me who did this to you. There were already tears running down from the corners of the feeder's eyes. This should have been easier, with this soft-skinned former doctor off a civilized world. He's seen hardened ex-military guys crumble faster, and he can't help wondering if this is evidence that poor Wilson utterly lost his humanity or that he's kept a shred of it, a sense of honor in what used to be his soul.
"Wet him down," Westerberg orders, and is surprised at the note of anger in his own voice. If only he had time, he wouldn't have to resort to this. He's not a Westerberg for nothing; he's known since he was six years old that people talk more freely if they believe they're safe, that the information you get over coffee is much more reliable than what you get with your fists, or a whip, or, in this case, a Stinger, but it's not his call to make. The Colonel wants a name, and he wants it fast so they can get the signoff on the hunt-warrant from the judge. Still, it's like using a hammerweight to kill a buzzfly, and he's glad Jehosa's not here to see this.
Hell, now that Westerberg's looking, he notices that Jehosa didn't even ink in the target-shot over the feeder's jugular.
Water splashes onto the floor as quill-prickles rise on the feeder's bare skin; he raises his head and blinks his eyes clear, then stares straight at Westerberg. "You bastard," he says. "I haven't done anything! Why isn't anyone listening to me? I haven't -- "
"Shut him up," Westerberg says without rancor. He's been called much worse, and some of it by Jehosa. The feeder's voice dies away to a muffled series of grunts as gloved fingers push a wad of leather into his mouth.
"Right then," Westerberg says, and picks up the Stinger. His troopers' eyes follow the long, sleek instrument as Westerberg presses the red charger button -- it's entirely possible they've never seen one used before, and if so, what are they teaching the recruits these days at the Brick? "If you have any trace of humanity left," he tells the feeder, "you'll give me his name. A description." The Stinger makes a tiny clicking sound; the button goes from red to green and Westerberg curls his finger around the firing mechanism. "He could be recruiting a child," he says, but his only answer is a glare and a determined shake of the head.
Pathetic, this is, Westerberg thinks, and unnecessary, and keeping me awake all damn night. It's not even likely that they'll catch the leech -- they never have, not thirty years ago, not since the ones they ambushed at Newland a hundred years back, but unfortunately other people, much more powerful than Allen Westerberg, have vested interests here. The quarterly economic report is due out this week, and the State would prefer it if the people are watching the biggest execution, and the biggest manhunt they've had in years.
"Again," he raps out, and the feeder shivers uncontrollably in the icy spray. He looks once more into the prisoner's dark eyes; even now, red-rimmed and filled with tears, they're still lost and innocent. He's never seen anything more dangerous, not in all his days in the forces.
How completely can a monster own the soul of a man? Westerberg's afraid he's about to find out. He touches the fully-charged trident at the Stinger's tip to the feeder's wet skin and squeezes the trigger.
Wilson had thought they were done with the pain and humiliation games when he gave them the name of the Beryl, a ship he'd seen on one of the backlighted rendezvous boards in the station. He'd thought they'd simply put an electron-pulse in the back of his head and that would be it -- no more Callie, no more House, but best of all, no more pain. The pain, which he just wants to stop. He can struggle against the ropes all he wants, but it doesn't do any good, and they're not going to stop with the goddamned cattle prod until he gives them another name, and this soft-spoken Chief Bastard from Hell is determined to get one.
The name of his vampire master.
I'm not a vampire, a voice grumbles through the static in Wilson's head, and Wilson wants to answer but instead he comes close to blacking out as another jolt rips through his body. Unfortunately he doesn't come close enough.
You idiot, give them my name, House says.
He senses rather than sees Chief Bastard ready the prod for another shock, and has just enough time to register the tiny prongs against his right nipple before the prod makes that fucking clicking sound and the pain surges higher, higher until he can't stop himself and he screams again.
All because these people are fucking obsessed with haemovores.
Give them my name, House says, urgently this time.
"Shut ... up," Wilson gasps out, and whatever garbled insult that sounded like through the gag earns him another bolt from Chief Bastard that snaps his head back and leaves him writhing on a table slick and stinking with his own sweat and urine.
What the hell are you trying to prove? Give them my name! House yells.
Wilson starts to tell House to go fuck himself but finds himself sobbing instead, huge gulping babies' tears. He feels the tip of the instrument probing between his legs -- any second now it'll click, and then ...
He nods frantically, opens his aching jaw wide. Ungentle hands pluck the sodden leather rag from his mouth.
Fuck this. Fuck all of this. House wanted out of symbiosis, maybe he has gone and left him on Planet Crazy. These sons of bitches want a name?
He'll give them a name.