The Iron Might of Bathory

The following short story was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre night Space Dreams and Dystopia.  Please enjoy.

“The only thing I ever had going for me was that I had half a brain,” Eoric thought as a large metal-adorned combat boot pressed firmly against his back. He was melancholy to say the least, but subdued. He was here because he was a prisoner of war, and he was in his present condition because he had information, or so it was believed.

“Should I be having more of a reaction?” he wondered. He thought it best to keep sane by asking himself questions from time to time. Eoric’s veins were coursing with secobarbital, a powerful pre-surgical sedative. As a result, his vision was dull and hazy, and his cortical implant was malfunctioning. His captors felt the need to put him under. Eoric, even in his bare, naked, powerless form, was apparently too much of a nuisance to handle. He felt the nozzle of a rifle pressed against his temple. He was aware that he was on his chest, and his body was splayed across the floor. All he was wearing was what seemed to him to be a tattered loincloth.

“Well, scumbag. I thought it best to just skip right ahead to the fun part,” a gruff voice echoed from above. Eoric smiled half heartedly, while he tilted his head ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of his tormentor. He saw, for the briefest moment, what looked like a digital dog tag swaying around the neck of a large figure, encased in layers and layers of thick armor. His face was occluded from Eoric by his chest plate. It read “Leon, Abrieu.” That was all Eoric got a chance to see as the large man sharply bludgeoned the side of Eoric’s head with the butt of his his rifle.

“Hey, isn’t it customary…” Eoric struggled to speak as he coughed up blood. The brutish armored officer leaned his large body downward as he mockingly put his hand to his ear.

“What, maggot? I can’t hear you with all that shit in your mouth.” Eoric spit up the aforementioned contents of his maw into a pool of bubbling blood, phlegm and pus.

“Isn’t … it customary to hide your…dog tags? Or is your dick that small?”

Abrieu Leon chuckled and turned his head directly towards his captive. Leon’s face was quite ugly, gnarled and asymmetrical. His breath was horrendous, and his misshapen, yellowish teeth indicated generations of repeated and forced inbreeding. His bloodshot eyes clearly indicated a lack of conscience and barely contained insanity.

He grabbed Eoric by the back of his hair, pulling tightly at the roots, to the point where he was ripping some of them from his scalp. Eoric’s facial expression remained ambivalent. It wasn’t just the drugs — it was a resignation to his fate after several days of such torture. Leon shoved his face into the puddle before him. “I told you to speak louder. It’s not polite, you know, to speak with your mouth full.”

Eoric’s voice was muffled by the cesspool of his own bodily refuse. He was suffocating in his own filth and yet he didn’t care. He thought of his son, Conrad. He didn’t know who would take care of him, or who would raise him, or any typical last thoughts. He thought: “What a shitty name. Why did I let my wife name him?”

Just as his face was turning blue, Leon pulled him out of the puddle. “So I know you didn’t learn your lesson, but give it time. I’m a specialist at my trade,” said Leon, smiling. Eoric simply smiled back.

A loud rhythmic burst of sound emanated from down a hallway behind a corridor to the left. It was the sound of a ship’s thrusters docking. “She’s here,” said Leon gleefully.

Eoric managed to roll over onto his back. His chest had several scars, some new, most quite old. He was hardened by his life, and by the “mercy” of those who he ran into during the course of it. There was one long scar running from the top of his left shoulder down to his left hip, surgical in nature. Of all his bodily decorations, this was his most memorable. He had chosen not to go through tissue regenerative therapy, so he could remember what he was.

Eoric spotted Leon’s dog tag again, this time sloppily tucked into his collar, but still visible. He was apparently a Lieutenant. Underneath the rank were the words “Sadist.” Under a normal regime, such a designation would be considered politically inappropriate in the 25th century. Supposedly, autocracies, with arbitrary, military-inspired (brutish) morality were done away with, and along with them all semblances of symbolism that represented utilizing power for the sake of it. Unfortunately for a select few, like Eoric and his kind, that idealized vision of the future had never materialized.

Eoric surveyed the room. His damaged cortical implant attempted to do most of the work of reconstructing his environment, on its own. He was able to distinguish the metallic grays and rusty greens — a cargo bay. The walls were tall, and there were shiny black polystyrene tarps magnetically fastened to many of them. He could barely make out a sign placed high above an open doorway. “Enhance.” He saw in the corner of his eye a diagnostic message. “Error: Unable to complete perform spatial reconstruction of selected surface. Approximately 40 percent enhancement achieved.” The only word he could make out was Bathory. Eoric, looked perplexed. “Bathory,” he repeated.

Like the shadow of a hawk engulfing a field mouse futilely running for its life, Leon’s large, helmeted head flooded into Eoric’s vision. “That’s right. Welcome to Her Majesty’s personal escort. I know what you are thinking…” said Leon, as bits of food and saliva flew into Eoric’s face. “This is just some redneck fantasy, and we just label everything in an overly magnanimous way. Like Old Glory. Or Fort Independence, or something. ” He inched a little bit closer, his tone darkening. “Let me assure you, this is as real as it gets.” Eoric turned his head to the side and stared out into the hallway. There is no way this is real, he thought.

Eoric heard footsteps. He was able to make out the silhouette of figures walking down the hall. There appeared to be five of them: three large armored ones, similar in form to his new “friend” and a much smaller one, with its hands restrained behind it. The largest guard, to the rear of them all, was forcibly pushing along the smaller figure.

“Lower the force field,” shouted a stern authoritarian voice. The shimmer of a waning energy barrier briefly appeared as the five figures approached. Despite the haze induced by the drugs and the injuries, Eoric could make them out clearly now. His eyes became wide with horror. Whatever arrogance he had managed to muster over the last few hours had faded away in an instant, as did all thoughts of martyrdom for the sake of it. For the first time in years, Eoric had felt completely and utterly helpless. Not even barbarous torture to the point of debilitation was as heart wrenching as what he was witnessing. With whatever strength he had remaining, he looked at the face of the child.

His child. “Conrad…”

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