“Kwan, who is this?”

“This is Gray.”

“This isn’t Gray. Gray’s twenty-eight years old and skinny. This is a fat fifty year old.”

Forty-eight, he wanted to murmur, but he was parched, the words wouldn’t come out.

“Kwan, how did you manage to screw this up so royally? We told you what plane Gray was coming in on, you knew you just had to go to the airport and fetch him, and instead of which … Instead of which you pick up this lump.”

“We saw him coming out of the contact’s location.”

“The contact’s location? Location? Kwan, we have an expression in English: don’t shit a shitter. Can you guess what that means?”


“Because right now you’re covered in shit, it’s dripping off you like you’ve been for a swim in a sewage farm, and you’re still standing here, trying to persuade me that you smell of sweet, sweet perfume and you’re just the man to change my nappy.”

A pause.

The too-clever-by-half voice chimed in. “That’s a rather mixed metaphor.”

“That’s a rather mixed metaphor. That’s a rather mixed metaphor? That’s very clever of you to say so, Dr Genius. Were you reading a book of literary criticism while you were busy interrogating the wrong man entirely? Oh. Quiet now? What, are you waiting for me to give you a dictionary so you can look up some new words?” He sighed heavily. “Ok. This lump here, how long has he got?”

“How long -?”

“What, you got upset when I told you not to be a smartass, and now you’re going to play dumb? You’ve got him plumbed into a dehydrator – how long before he’s dried out, before he’s powder, has kicked the bucket, no longer wanders this vale of tears? You know, how long till he’s dead?”

“About two hours.”

“Fine. I doubt anyone would miss him. Now Kwan, I want you to go find Gray, and Dr Superbrain here is going to come with me to the consulate. Come on, Einstein, we have places to go, people to see.”

They walked out, leaving him sat in the chair, the pump continuing to wheeze and shudder, the light still shining in his face. His heart pounded in his head, yet at the same time it seemed weaker. He felt dizzy and lightheaded; if he hadn’t been sitting down he would have fainted clean away. Lucky he had the chair.

Those bastards. To talk about him like he wasn’t even there, to leave him strapped down to this chair, left to die like he didn’t even matter. What sort of pricks were they? He’d show them. He wasn’t just going to sit and take this, he was going to get up, make them pay for what they’d done.

He struggled feebly. The straps that bound him were too tight, and he was so weak, so thirsty and so weak.

At least the voice wasn’t talking to him any more. That was one small comfort. For the last couple of hours – hours? minutes? days? time was so hard to measure – it had grown fainter, whispering ever more quietly that he needed to get up, to drink some water, to rehydrate himself. He hadn’t bothered trying to talk back to it, point out that he was strapped down to a chair with no way to get up, with some kind of machine sucking his life out of him. It wouldn’t have mattered – all that voice seemed to do was either boast or tell him to do things, and he didn’t really want to listen to it. Perhaps it was for the best. Now it was silent, maybe he could just relax.

No. Not relax. He had to get up. He had to escape somehow. But … so thirsty. So tired. So feeble.

Again, he slumped in the chair.

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