The Chariot
rating: +7+x

“Look, I've told you way too many fucking times, I don’t know. Harrison chose the location, go ask- -"

"Mr. Porter, we're in the process of consulting Mr. Harrison, and, paradoxically, he tells us that you should know. It should logically follow that one of you must be lying. It seems we've nearly exhausted our methods…”

The lead up was always the bit that bored you. The sturdy officer got to weasel his way into the victim's brain as you twiddled your thumbs outside with your heavy black briefcase. The seniors pretended not to see you, and the juniors looked horrified. It's not you, it's what you imply, you tell yourself. But what's the difference?

"–not going to cooperate, we'll have to try something else."

You enter on cue. In the middle of the grey concrete room is a chisel-chinned agent. Everyone adores that prick. The sharp eye, the minuscule smirk. He's always quick to entrance everyone with his James Bond image. You wish what you are about to do was performed on him and not the gentleman beside him.

The agent's guest is a sallow scientist feigning aplomb. His form is slouched against the metal chair, his unkempt grey hair dangle in front of his face. Somewhere in the foliage are two eyes boring into you. He's trying to get under your skin. Searching for empathy. A pointless endeavour.

"My associate is rather quiet, so allow me to introduce them. They've been in their line of work for some time, so don't expect your experience to be any different. But they're not like others of their profession. They're dedicated. Look at them. There's nothing left in there. They don't know you."

The agent pauses for effect, and to accentuate his Bond mirage.

"You and I may busy ourselves with hobbies, social events, relationships… my associate spends their time… studying their craft. In fact, they've been diversifying in recent years. They used to work exclusively with the eyes, now they do soles, genitals, toes, shoulders; I've been told they're doing fingers for the first time today. How exciting."

The guest cycles through the textbook signs. Irregular breathing, twitching hands, racing eyes, all the usual. You slide over to the table, slowing your pace to build tension. You stop just before the table, purposefully allowing the briefcase into the guest's line of sight.

"Mr. Porter, I believe we are now on the same page regarding the gravity of our situation. I am going to ask you a question now. Are you ready?"

The agent's gaze digs deeper into the guest. He watches as the guest's defiance melts into fear. With no empathy to find in you, he considers exploiting the agent. He cannot. He is yet to realise he is in a truly apathetic room.

"Mr. Porter. The latitude measurement of the location is seventy point eight five. What, pray tell, is the longitude of the location?"

Out of the guest's trembling lips comes a squeaking sound.

"Pardon?"

"Ask… ask Harrison…"

The agent sighs. "Mr. Porter, it appears I was mistaken regarding your understanding of your circumstances. Perhaps my associate can aid you."

The briefcase swings up onto the table, making a disconcerting bang as it lands. You angle it halfway towards you and your guest before removing the latches. It opens to reveal a tidy assortment of various items, mostly metal. Front and centre are a vice, a pair of tweezers, an electric drill, and a circular saw.

"No. No, please. I don't know. I don't know where. Please."

The agent nods stoically. He doesn't need to. He's just doing so to look cool.

You retrieve the vice from the case. Holding the guest's shaky left hand still, you affix his wrist to the steel chair arm. You deliberately avoid eye contact while doing so.

Here comes the most mild part of the procedure. You remove the tweezers from the case. Tarnished by age, they squeak when squeezed. This is the first tool they gave you, and you cherish it dearly. This tool showed you the visceral joy to be found in piercing a quivering retina, of ripping an incisor out through sheer manpower.

You reach for the man's finger. It instinctively retracts below the palm, forming a fist. No matter how many you encounter, you always get sick of turtlers. You're desperate to get to the action, and he's not going anywhere, so he's just wasting time. Your fingers easily dig beneath his palm as you pluck his fingers out like worms. Look away for a moment to let your giddiness dissipate, and… composure.

Time to commence.

The tweezers wedge under the fingernail, digging just too deep for comfort. That familiar squeak you know too well joins the two prongs. Now you meet the man's eyes. Tears cleanse his dirtied cheeks. His head twitches side to side. Good. He's not a fainter.

Your eyes continue boring into him. He thinks you're intimidating him, but you're searching for a specific window. After he finishes anticipating the procedure, and before he accepts it. Right now, all the signals are wrong. He's still visibly distressed, but his muscles are still rigid.

Eighty-seven seconds pass.

Finally. Just as his finger muscles loosen, yours violently arc up up to pull the fingernail off. As screams echo off the concrete, a sickly grin plasters itself across your face. This is what you were built for. The man's wailing entrances you. The wet flesh beneath the nail fascinates you. Your tug of war with the human psyche invigorates you.

"PLEASE! I DON'T- I DON'T KNOW!"

Ohh, how it soothes you. To see the critter squirm in its cage, to hear it tug at its captor's shirt… a more convincing release than could be offered by any drug.

The agent shows intrigue in more subtle ways. He doesn't find the same visceral pleasure you do, but he speaks your language. He sits with arms crossed and eyes twinkling, a dilettante to your field. Your profession is like any other art form: it unites those with an eye for perfection. Some squirm at the sight of bloodied teeth and exposed nerves, but most warm to the idea, after a while. It's funny how the human mind is more comfortable harming humans than animals. Most could not bring themselves to skin a bunny, but their worst enemy? When one is forced to cooperate with someone they despise - an ex-partner, some hardass workplace superior - some will find solace knowing that they will soon be away from them. Others, however, will look longingly at their loathed co-operator's malleable skull. Their permeable eyeballs. Everyone else thinks they will never be like you. You're just like them. The only difference is you aren't afraid. They tell themselves that violence will only end in violence, that the most effective medicine is parley, but they do not know themselves. Peace is not why they are here today. For the vast majority of human history, our leaders have consoled themselves knowing that their enemies will one day be dangling from their tongues with their nails dug into their stomach. If our god wanted us to live in peace, why does mutilation feel so damn good? You were born into a senseless era. Our world leaders use paperwork and laws to broker peace, but these are the very things that lead to unrest, to revolt. Don't they see? The universe resists order. Anything else is unnatural.

"It seems my associate has failed to bring us to an understanding." The agent leans forward in his chair.

"Mr. Porter, you and I both know that my associate is two numbers away from walking right out that door. That you are two numbers away from returning home. In a mere matter of syllables, you will be a free man. You will walk upstairs to your bedroom. 'What happened today?' She'll ask. 'Nothing.' You'll say. And then you'll drift off to sleep. But here you are, sat across from me, scouring your mind for a simple base-10 digit. Where would you prefer to be, Mr. Porter?"

"H… home. Please. Just believe me. Please, Lord."

The agent mulls over the fate of his guest, ignorant to the misery tugging at him.

"Just… one more test. Alright?"

'One more test.' Bullshit. The first stage would be enough for any other interview. The agent is clearly eager for this next phase, although he's doing a much better job of hiding it than you. Unlike the guest, you can see his signature smirk attempting to develop into a grin.

"You'll notice a PXC cordless drill before you. I'll admit we didn't have time to get one custom made, so apologies in advance if the procedure… deviates from expectations."

"You're… you're fucking… sick. You've already gotten your answer, you shitstains are in it for the… for a laugh!"

"Now, now, Mr. Porter, this is all policy. I promise you that I am taking no sadistic liberties here."

The agent flashes you a nanoscopic smirk. He doesn't care what the ref says, he's going to get his rematch.

The drill is removed from its case. It's notably heavier than expected. The pleasant geometry of its bit soothes you. The strength of its mechanical whir beckons you to use it.

"You could be creative this time. Why base-10? We have translators. Say it in binary. Morse. Pig Latin. Enigma code. Any of it beats your deafening silence, Mr. Porter."

The guest only screams.

The agent glances at you. "Take it away, handyman."

You place the drill piece five millimeters down the middle metacarpus. Fortunately, he can't turtle from this one. Once again, you wait for your window. Ninety-four seconds pass as you watch the bone become ever so slightly less defined against his skin.

His hands go limp, and you take your cue. As the drill bit spins you watch it spew viscera as far as the opposite wall. Blood on your shirt, muscle on the table, nerve on the agent, and… ohh, you've found your sweet spot. You revel as the drill fights through the dense marrow. Casing, marrow, casing, out through the other side. So reposeful that your mind doesn't process the inhuman howls gracing your ears. You close your eyes and gain heightened dexterity. You know how the drill permeates one's anatomy, but never before in this arrangement. Never before have you experienced this exact blend of dermal, nervous, muscular, skeletal, muscular, nervous, dermal. You had thought the abdomen to be your favourite target with its boneless canvas, but the bones are the best part! The stark contrast gives one a small yet stimulating shock as you suddenly switch from mindlessly guiding the drill through squishy innards to actively fighting the bone within. The bone doesn't shatter, either. It provides a steady drilling surface, almost like pine. In your high school years, you returned to the woodworking workshop again and again, fantasising about using your drill on marrow. In a sense, your work is a dream come true.

You remember your first amputation as others remember their first kiss. You'd wasted four years of your life trying to ignore the gang of school bullies. They knew the most agonising way to tease. Just enough to irritate, but not enough to report. The best way to elicit a response. You'd learnt to block it out. Your right shoulder was desensitised to shoving. Your ears were deaf to your nickname. It was easier this way.

Until one day in woodworking. The hellions had found an avenue to which you hadn't been desensitised. When your teacher looked the other way, they'd stuff wood chippings down your shirt. They knew this would get a reaction. So after four years, seven months, two weeks and one day, they got one. You pulled the handsaw from your station and grabbed their leader's left thumb. You wedged it in the table vice, then tightened until the blood flow cut off. Then, you found consolation. You found that there were better things to do than keep your head down and keep quiet. As the saw cut through, you loosened the vice and admired your tormentor's severed thumb. What pride there is in admiring one's handywork.

The drill bit pulls you from your trance as it scrapes against the steel of the chair. Your ears bring you back to the sound of the guest's ragged pleas.

Once the pleading breaks down into sobs, the agent speaks. "Well, Mr. Porter, you were right after all. Apologies for the inconvenience. A guard will be here momentarily with a sedative, and in a couple hours, you'll be waking up next to your wife. Of course, if you feel inclined to bring any of this to your loved ones, my associate and I will have to arrange another meeting."

The guest is slumped over, unresponsive. He's awake, but he's not in the room with you.

"Mr. Porter?

Hmm. Well, whatever. we'll just leave him a note or something." He turns to you with a look of respect, "You really know what you're doing, huh?" You stone-face him. He's not worth opening up to.

"Well, forever hold your peace. Have a good one."

You nod automatically. You pluck the fingernail off the table as a souvenir, then head for the door.

"Oh, and one more thing."

You freeze.

"Come by my office next time you're on shift. I'd like to see more of your work."

You consider for a moment. Sure, he's a prick, but you never got along with anyone else. At the very least, he's a prick with your eye for design. You saw it in him. He didn't avert his eyes when you pulled off that fingernail. He too admired the underlying mechanisms of the human subdermal system. With time, he could become you. Anyone could, but he is willing.

You nod wordlessly, and the door closes behind you.

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