Chapter I: Psycho - Muse
‘Your mind is just a program
And I'm the virus
I'm changing the station
I'll improve your thresholds
I'll turn you into a super drone (super drone)
And you will kill on my command
And I won't be responsible
I'm gonna make you
I'm gonna break you
I'm gonna make you
A fucking psycho
A fucking psycho
A fucking psycho
Your ass belongs to me now’
She sits, hunched in the corner, hair darkened by grease as her Mistress sits on the cushioned seat at the table, legs crossed and reading the paper in between bites of toast. The smell wafts across the room and she wills her stomach not to growl as saliva pools in her mouth.
She knows the consequences of unauthorised noise.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she turns to look out of the window.
She remembers her Papa, sitting in just the same way when she was younger. Much, much younger and happier. She remembers his smile but everything else is a blur.
Sometimes, when Mistress leaves, she looks in the mirror, stretches her lips and tries to find his smile in the unnatural grin stretched across her face. The pinch of her cracked lips splitting, her skin pulled taught across her bones reminds her that she no longer looks like him.
Monsters are less scary than a gaunt face like hers.
And her body.
Each scar is braille to be read by a room full of people who are out of touch.
The creak of her chair and the click of heels makes her tense, the sound getting louder until she feels the heat of Mistress against her side, until she feels a soft touch against her cheek before it hardens and holds her jaw in a vice.
She bites back a whimper and looks down, the flash of a fist passing before her eyes as she remembers the one and only time she looked Mistress in the eye.
She can no longer look herself in the eye, the blue of her own merging with the blue or Mistress’ and she wonders if they are the same.
“Dear X, I’ve so many plans for you,” Mistress says, her hand running over collar bones, protruding ribs, tattered rags of clothing, mottled flesh.
X sits, frozen.
“Yes, so many plans for you. But first,” Mistress says, turning, voice light. “First, we need you to keep your strength up.”
A bowl filled with a thick, lumpy beige concoction is placed before X.
“Here, take it and eat. All of it.”
X does as requested, her stomach protesting the intrusion after going days without, her lips smacking together as the glue like substance coats her mouth.
It tastes of ash.
She puts down the bowl and sits back once it’s empty.
“I said all of it.”
X frowns before she licks her fingers clean, warm saliva coating them before a wet cloth is handed over.
“Clean your hands and face. I’ll be back, later.”
Mistress breezes out of the room, the click of her heels fading as X relaxes and turns to look back out of the window.
A myriad of greens and browns greet her, freshly turned grass and mud decorating the green expanse before of a wall of trees.
She closes her eyes and remembers her sister spinning around in circles in a field, sun beating down on her small body. Can almost hear the giggles.
It’s raining, now. The steady pitter patter making X smile as she breathes in the smell of it through the slightly opened, barred window.
She wishes she could be out in it, could feel the wet rain pour over her skin, taste the water on her lips.
Water gathers on the window sill, droplets running down the pain and pooling. X dips her fingers in and closes her eyes, imagining all that she just wished for and she smiles, bringing her fingers to her lips and soothing the stinging sensation with her wet fingers.
She wishes she could forget these wishes and frowns, tongue swiping away the metallic taste of blood.
“X, come here,” Mistress says. X jumps to attention, the door a grenade exploding in a room full of silence. “Good girl. Now, come. We need to clean you up,” she says, heels clacking towards the bathroom.
X sits in the bath, the lukewarm water coming up to her navel as Mistress runs the sponge over her skin, humming to the melody of water spilling over mottled flesh.
“I think we’ve finally cracked it, this time. All should go to plan but either way, no more procedures for you,” Mistress says, voice as soft as her gentle touch. “It has to work, though,” she says on a sigh and caresses X’s cheek. “I can’t lose you.”
X frowns at the unusual display of affection.
The hours, days, weeks, months, years are a blur of beatings and harsh words and pierced flesh.
She remembers her first day here.
“Where are we? Who are you? What do you want from us?” X asks, the boy, Michael standing beside her and squeezing her hand, the click of heels the only response in the whitewashed maze of corridors.
“Where are we?” she asks again, free hand playing with the hem of her shirt as the duo follow behind the formidable woman with pale skin.
“Be. Quiet,” the woman says.
X flinches at the cold tone of voice, the first words Mistress has spoken to her.
“I want to go home,” Michael utters.
The smell of piss and the hiss of liquid trickling to the ground breaking the silence and X gulps, squeezes the boys hand and wishes she could protect him.
Mistress spins around and walks over.
Both cower down, Michael leaning into X, his tiny form, his wet trousers pressing against her side. She doesn’t even grimace at the urine soaking into her trousers.
Mistress sneers, lip curled in disgust and she rolls her white shirt sleeves up in silence, her skin almost as white as her shirt.
The crack of her fist meeting Michael’s face makes X jump, hand still holding Michael’s as he drops to the floor. X looks down, sees a pool of read emanating from his face, eyes closed and not a noise escaping his lips.
She looks up, takes in the red splatters across Mistress’ shirt and catches her eyes, eyes that narrow as Mistress leans forward, the smell of lavender catching X’s attention as whispered tones meet her ear.
“You will not look me in the eye. You will learn discipline. Both of you.”
A slap across her face drives the message home. X snapping her head to face forward, head tilted down and nods her response.
“Pick him up and follow me.”
She does as she’s told, gritting her teeth as she staggers behind Mistress, holding Michael until they reach a door. Her arms burn, she’s panting, beads of sweat roll down her forehead.
The door opens with a clunk and the darkness of it jars X as she stumbles insides, unceremoniously dropping Michael as soon as the door shuts.
Slivers of light filter in through the high, barred window but she can still barely see anything, her eyes still adjusting to the rapid switch from light to dark. The floor is hard, cold, much like the walls. She wipes her face with her shirt, frowning at the different coloured stains now soaked into it.
She touches her cheek still smarting from the slap she received and feels something sticky, something that reminds her of the strawberry jam her Mama used to make.
She wonders if they’re thinking of her, if they realise she’s gone yet.
The walk from school never took this long.
Papa used to always find her when she was lost as a little child and it’s with that thought that she burrows into the corner furthest from the door.
He’ll find her.
After a little or a long while, time already beginning to lose meaning, Michael begins groaning and X crawls over.
"Shh, it’s okay,” she says, stroking his bright red hair as he begins to cry. “Shh, you need to be quiet.”
He begins to sob harder.
“Come on, please. We’ll get in trouble. Just be quiet.”
She sits on her knees and faces him, holding his cheek as she inspects the damage in the limited light.
There’s a gash at the side of his head where impact was made, and she knows that he’ll have blackened eyes and a lot of bruising to follow.
“Look at me. Hey, look at me.”
He does, eyes taking a few moments to focus on her.
He groans and looks around the room for an answer.
She nods, remembering hushed words en route to…here.
He shakes his head and groans at the movement.
She pulls back a hand and worries her lip, For the first time ever, she regrets the basic medical knowledge her Mama imparted to her.
There’s nothing she can do.
He rolls over and heaves, the smell of vomit quickly filling the cell.
There’s a bang on the door.
“Be quiet in there,” a male voice shouts through and X looks away, willing the burn of bile to stay down as the smell gets stronger, permeating the air and burning her throat.
She slides over to the furthest side of the room as Michael lays down on his back, tears still pooling in his eyes.
“Turn on your side,” she whispers, arms wrapped around her legs, sitting sentry.
He does as she says, and she wishes she was strong enough to go and comfort him.
A while later, when the slithers of light have begun to fade, a tray of food is passed through the door.
“Where are we?” X asks again.
“Take me home,” Michael sobs out.
The man stands, his lip curled in disgust at the stench in the room from the pool of vomit still festering on the floor.
He walks into the room, dressed in all black.
“Who did this?” he asks, pointing to the pool of vomit and saliva. Both stay silent as X stares at Michael, willing him mute.
“I asked you a question. Who did this?”
“You told us to be quiet,” X says as Michael opens his mouth, her jaw clenched, body tense, waiting.
His boots clatter with each step as he moves over to her, sidestepping the mess on the floor. She presses herself back against the wall, feels the coldness begin to seep into her until the first blow hits, rains down, knocking the air from her lungs as she keels over, and everything begins to burn.
Another blow, to the face and she feels the skin peel open like the rind of an orange, the bitter taste of blood gathering on her lips, her tongue.
He stomps back out of the room, and she feels a small hand on her back.
“Are you okay?”
She nods her head, wiping her face and grimacing.
“I’m fine. Be quiet,” she whispers out as she hears steps approaching.
The man returns, bucket and mop in hand.
“Clean this up. Now.”
The door shuts with a loud clang and X rolls her eyes before getting up and following orders. As she reaches the bucket, Michael hugs her leg and she pats his shoulder.
She shakes her head.
“No, it’s okay,” she says soaking the mop before setting to work and cleaning the floor for far longer than necessary, the smell of bleach making her dizzy but comforting all the same, allowing her to forget, to not focus on the her face, her shoulders that feel like shattered fragments piercing her skin with every movement.
Her Mama loved to clean.
Her Mama wouldn’t like this mess.
A small hand pressed against her back halts her movements and she flinches at the pain steadily building all over.
X closes her eyes before turning to face him.
“It’s okay,” she says, fake smile in place.
Her eyes soften at the sight before her. Michael sits on his knees, blood and bruises already decorating his face. He holds out a tray, a small chunk of bread and a bowl of something on display.
“Have you eaten?”
He wrinkles his nose and X almost smiles.
She picks up the bread and feels how hard it is as she breaks it into two.
“Here, have some more. You’re a growing boy.”
She winks at him and he smiles, a freshly made gap between his teeth.
X swallows and tries to swallow before enthusiastically taking a bite of the stale bread.
“We need to fatten you up a little,” Mistress says, X snaps to attention as Mistress runs her fingers over X’s ribs. “We need you strong if it’s to be a success.”
X swallows, looking down as always whilst Mistress finishes her ministrations, her mind still on Michael and not on what Mistress said.
What did he have to endure? Did he learn to be quiet or is he silent forever?
X knows that she’s given unusual treatment. On the rare occasions she’s been left with other captives (Mistress had always been furious, then). She’d learned that they were housed together, most knew each other, remembered their own names and not just the letters they were given.
She tries but she can never remember her own name.
She is just X.
Mary Cynthia had looked at her, softly, smiled and introduced herself as X sat in the corner, eyes flitting from one person to another as they awaited their impending fates.
Before she could form Michael’s name, Mistress strode in, everyone looking down to the floor in unison as she passed, X seeing her heels coming into view, a hand reaching for her bicep and dragging her out of the room.
She caught a glance of Mary Cynthia and her big, sad eyes before the door shut behind her.
“How dare you leave her in there with them,” Mistress had spat out to a man in a white coat with grey hair and glasses.
Not a word left his mouth as they both passed by, X stumbling to keep up with each step.
She’d seen Mary Cynthia once more, after that. Had quickly learned from overhearing conversations that only she lived here, so alone. Mistress always invading her space, taking X to steel, cold rooms or eating her breakfast and sleeping and living with X.
Everyone looked at her weird.
Everyone including the others in white coats.
“There, all cleaned up. And I have a surprise for you.”
X frowns, sits in the bath and watches as Mistress walks out of the room, still looking at the doorway until Mistress returns, something white clutched in her hands.
“I’ve been meaning to get you some new clothes, but you know how it is, don’t you? All this work keeps me so busy,” she says, replacing what was in her hands with a towel. “Come on, out you get.”
X follows orders and stands, naked as the day she was born until Mistress wraps a towel around her, the softest towel to touch her skin in years and she smiles at the feeling of being clean, of the fabric gentling caressing her skin, of feeling the best she’s felt since she was taken.
Her skin almost itches at the feel of Mistress’ gaze.
“You’re so beautiful when you smile.”
She remembers those stolen moments of looking in the mirror and the smile falters before it shatters into a Cheshire grin, a caricature of sincerity.
“Here, put this on.”
X does as requested, before Mistress steers her out of the room and stands her in front of a tall mirror.
“You look so beautiful.”
X tries not to grimace as she takes in her gaunt features, her protruding bones and scarred flesh next to the smooth, vibrant skin of Mistress, her curves and strong hands that have grabbed and hit and pinched.
“We’ll be meeting here at 0500 hours. Teams one and two will be covering the front and back entrances whilst teams three and five sweep the building,” Mount says, pointing at different points of the map projected on the wall.
“Crane, your team will focus on the small outhouse adjacent to the main building.”
Delia worries her lip as she watched Mount pace up and down, taking in everyone in the room and landing on her.
She stands to attention and holds his gaze, forcing herself not to look away from the ice blue eyes locked on hers.
“Know how to use a gun?”
One again she nods, swallows and remembers all those times Captain Crane (Phyllis she’d come to learn, despite the no first name rule) would take her out for target practise, quoting Spanish poets and making her laugh as she’d trained to become a killer.
“I trained her myself,” she says, smile in place as she stands, meeting Mount with all the confidence Delia couldn’t muster.
“Then, I have every faith she’ll be up to the task. Brief your team before departure. Now, all of you go, eat, sleep, practise, do whatever you need to do before tomorrow. This mission must be a success. Anything less, well,” he says, shaking his head. “Go.”
Everyone rushes out of the room, silently, the corridor bursting with noise as soon as the door closes.
Delia wanders to her room and awaits further orders.
“Come,” Mistress says, waiting for X to stand, blindfold in hand.
X had sat and watched the sky darken, the changing colours of the sky melting into blackness whilst she wore her new dress as her Mistress breezed into the room.
She clenches her jaw and follows orders, blood sprinting through her veins.
She knows what the blindfold means.
She doesn’t like leaving here, doesn’t like it when they poke and prod and take and touch but she has no choice, knows it’ll end up being a lot more painful to refuse.
Mistress guides her, as she always does, to wherever X is forced to be, blindfold firmly in place, the noise of her Mistress’ heels and her bare feet padding along the floor the only noise until a door gets opened.
The heat of the room encases her. The smell of bleach burns her nostrils (no longer a pleasant smell) until she can almost taste it.
“There, there. Dear X, today is such an important day. You’re about to become the greatest creation alive,” Mistress says, caressing her cheek. “You’ll be everything I’ve ever wanted.”
A man watches, frowning, glaring at the hand touching X’s cheek. X looks down just before he can meet her gaze, heart beating fast.
“Whatever happens, there’ll be no more pain,” Mistress coos, fingers guiding her chin up. “Look at me.”
X frowns and shakes her head.
“I said, look at me.”
X flinches as the pressure on her chin increases and tears pool in her eyes as she debates her options, as she obliges when she realises there is no options.
“There’s a good girl. Just do as I say, and everything will be okay.”
Mistress holds her gaze, eyes unflinching and such a dark blue as X wells up, seeing her eyes reflected back.
“Don’t cry. Everything will be fine, I promise. Now, get on the bed.”
X nods and clambers on.
“Strap her down.”
X begins to shake as the restraints are secured into place, eyes once again welling up, tears spilling over as a blinding light shines down on her.
She looks around, eyes wide, shaking off her temporary blindness.
Once again, she feels like braille in a room full of people without touch.
Phyllis stands at the front of the room, pacing up and down as an image is projected onto the screen.
“This is Patience Mount, photo taken at age fourteen, a few weeks prior to her disappearance. We suspect the target may be being housed in the outside beside the main complex. We are to secure said target and make sure no harm comes to her, if found. Dyer and Hereward, you will be team one and secure the entrance, Busby, Franklin, Turner and myself will follow.
We have no floor plans of the building so I’m afraid we’ll be going in blind. Franklin and Turner, you will be team two, Busby, you and I, team three.
Aside from the aforementioned target, you are encouraged to shoot to kill anyone that poses a threat. Understood?”
Delia nods along with the rest of her team.
“Good. Now go get yourselves ready and team,” Phyllis says, looking them all in the eye. “Do be careful. I want you all back here at 1200 hours for a debriefing.”
The team begins to filter out but Delia stands, unsure of herself, of her role in this mission.
Her first mission.
“As I’ll ever be,” Delia says, giving the gun in her grasp a quick once over for the hundredth time.
“It won’t be pretty, Lass,” Crane says, eyes softening as she squeezes Delia’s hand. “What you’ll see-what they do is…better left unsaid and unseen. I do hope our mission is straightforward and easy, but it might not be. The shoot to kill order is there for good reason.”
Delia frowns and Phyllis sighs, deflates before steeling herself for the situation head.
“But, needs must. Now, get yourself ready, Busby, we leave in five. And remember, kid, remember what I taught you. And for god’s sake, get yourself back here in one piece,” she says, breezing out of the room.