If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time - Chinese Proverb
Sometimes you don't have control over any of them.
At least he wasn't hungry, although the irony of that was not lost on him. He and his team had been on a scouting mission to a bountiful planet he wished he'd never heard of, and as the lone scientist he'd been investigating locations for a possible research outpost. Almost without warning, he'd been overcome and knocked out by a female assailant half his size, and he'd woken up in this isolated cell dressed only in a flimsy robe.
So far he'd been unharmed, although the fact that they were keeping him alive instead of destroying him outright could only mean that a more ominous fate was in store. He looked around, trying to determine a way out of his prison. The room held only a sleeping pallet and a bucket in one corner. There were no obvious windows or doors that would accommodate someone of his size, so he temporarily gave up hope of escape. An opportunity might come later, though, so he'd maintain vigilance.
He sat down on the pallet and tried to ignore the growing feeling of panic. Someone would come looking for him, wouldn't they? Sure they would -- if they didn't think he was already dead, that is. They tried not to leave anyone behind -- bad for morale -- but no one was going to risk themselves for a corpse. He sighed. Nothing to do but sit and hope that he didn't have to wait too long.
As it turned out, he didn't. He soon heard footsteps approaching the cell. Two men, from the sound of it, continuing a conversation that had begun out of earshot. "Will this one serve your purpose?"
"Yes. Quite nicely, in fact." The second man's voice held a trace of excitement. "We should be ready to start once we get back."
The first speaker didn't seem happy. "Tell me again why you can't do things right here?"
"We've been through this already. I need more help and better equipment than we have here. Everything needs to run smoothly, or we won't get another chance."
The listener inside the cell stood up and swallowed nervously. Then an area of the wall swung out to reveal a uniformed man with a weapon trained unerringly on the center of his chest. "Gonna yell and threaten me again?" he taunted. "No? Just as well -- it was starting to get boring."
"My leader will secure my release. She..." He was interrupted by the stunner blast that knocked him into the opposite wall.
He slowly climbed his way back to consciousness and found himself lying in a medical facility. The antiseptic smell assaulted his nostrils almost immediately. His arms and legs were bound at his sides to the bedrails and another strap was keeping his head still. Numerous sensors were pasted to his chest, arms, and skull. What did they want with him?
For the next few minutes, he concentrated on trying to at least loosen the restraints. (He ignored the nagging thought that he had no way to call for help even if he did manage to free himself.) But just as he thought that the right wrist cuff was beginning to give way, a hand slammed down on that arm, pinning it to the bed. The dark-haired guard from earlier grinned lazily at him as he retightened the restraint. "You don't like our hospitality? I'm hurt."
Not caring that it was futile, he tried to lash out at his tormentor as rage filled his mind. He thrashed and screamed, barely even aware of what he said. He welcomed the pain that bloomed in his arms and legs as the straps cut deep. It was better than just waiting around for the tortures to start!
Four other men burst into the room. He recognized the voice of one of them as belonging to the second man outside his cell earlier. "What the hell happened? He was supposed to be sedated!"
"Well, he's not, obviously!" snapped one of the others. That person managed to sound both annoyed and afraid at the same time. "You maybe want to do something about that?"
"Thanks for the suggestion," was the sarcastic reply. The man on the bed heard the clinking of glass vials and a minute later something stabbed him deep in the side of his neck. Although he tried not to give his captors the satisfaction of hearing him cry out, an involuntary groan escaped him as the pain intensified.
"Sorry. It'll stop hurting in a minute or so," said the familiar voice. A doctor?
He expected that to mean he was going to be knocked out by whatever drug they'd given him, but instead he just became increasingly drowsy and unconcerned about what was happening to him. The room slid in and out of focus, and sounds took on a weird, muffled quality. Even with his altered state of consciousness he could see they were preparing for some sort of procedure. He knew he was in danger, but it just took too much energy to care.
Something stabbed him in the neck again, and the pain returned. This time, however, it escalated beyond the point of tolerability. He roared -- that was the only word that could describe the dreadful noise he made -- and his back arched off the bed. "Damn it, he's seizing!" someone shouted. Fortunately, this time he mercifully blacked out.
Sick. That was how he felt when he roused enough to take stock. He thought he'd woken several times earlier, but hadn't lasted long enough to catalogue his bodily sensations. His memories were a nightmarish blur of needles, bandages, and screaming. At one point, he thought he remembered having a tube shoved down his throat and receiving a massive electric shock. He couldn't be sure what was real and what was a product of a drug-induced hallucination.
He lay there waiting for the room to stop spinning and the odd sensation in his abdomen to go away. His arms and legs were still restrained, but the bindings were looser now. The head strap had been removed entirely. However, after all this, he was no closer to understanding what his mysterious jailers wanted with him.
Footsteps approached, and he turned his head to see the familiar doctor approach. The man wore a long, white coat and carried a clipboard. "How are you feeling?" The tone was pleasant but held no real warmth or personal concern.
"How do you think I'm feeling!" he snarled. His voice sounded odd to him, higher but raspier somehow.
The doctor noticed it, too, jotted something on his clipboard, and held out a cup of water with a straw. "Take small sips, until we know if you can tolerate it."
He wanted to refuse out of principle and to make things difficult for them, but he really was thirsty. In fact, he hadn't been this thirsty since he was much younger. From the state of the bedsheets, he had sweated profusely. He drank a bit, then turned his face away.
"Enough?" The doctor put the cup down on a small table next to the bed. "Now, then. I know you're... upset about your treatment, but I really need to know how you're feeling. I might be able to ease some of your discomfort."
Upset? Discomfort? Such understatement would be laughable if the situation weren't so dire. He wanted to spit in the physician's eye, but didn't have the strength or the moisture to do it. He settled for growling under his breath and closing his eyes. He heard the doctor sigh and turn to walk away, and suddenly changed his mind. "Wait!" He tugged at one of the restraints. "What is all of this?"
The doctor bit his lip and a variety of emotions crossed the man's face, but ultimately he shook his head and started to walk away again. He clicked on a recorder and began to dictate. "Subject has survived first inoculation with batch #48752, although cardiopulmonary resuscitation was required once within the past 36 hours. Will need to more aggressively combat against dehydration before we can continue administration. Plan to repeat body scans and possibly perform laparoscopic examination of..."
His team would come for him. The mission would be authorized. He had to believe that.
He wasn't sure how long it was before he woke up again. His memories were becoming a little fuzzy. He still didn't know what drug he was being given, but he was obviously having some sort of reaction to it. His skin was becoming a mottled pink rather than its usual uniform shade. And, of all things, his hands had started to hurt. He didn't even want to think about what might be going on inside his body.
"Good, you're back with us again." He turned his head to see a vaguely familiar-looking man smiling down at him.
"Yeah, I guess." Had he been here before? Why was it so hard to think? He remembered something about a city... Atlantis? Then, abruptly, his memory returned. He remembered who he was, where he came from, and the hell this man had been putting him through. He stiffened slightly, and the smile left the doctor's face.
"Right, then. I guess your memory's come back." The physician wrote something down on the ever-present clipboard.
"How did you know I was having problems with it?" After all, he hadn't mentioned it out loud. "Oh, yes. All part of your experiment, right?" One corner of his mind noted that his voice was even more different now, much higher-pitched.
"Believe me, I wish I didn't have to do this," the doctor said softly.
"Then let me go!"
Unfortunately, his raised voice brought the immediate attention of some of the uniformed guards, including the one who'd tormented him earlier. "Hey, Doc. He causing trouble?" The second guard, a large, bulky man, grinned at his companion's words and put the hand on the butt of his gun.
The physician looked irritated. "No, I think we have things under control here," he said testily. "You don't have to worry."
The second guard shrugged. "Okay, you're the boss." But he clenched a fist and gestured towards the restrained man. "Just give me a reason," he whispered.
The doctor turned bright red. "Out!" he snapped. The first guard pulled the second one away. The physician followed them out of earshot and began talking in a low, angry voice. The man on the bed smiled grimly to himself as the tongue-lashing continued for quite some time, but eventually the doctor returned.
"I'm sorry," he said again. "It's bad enough that you're suffering. Those idiots don't need to make it any worse."
The man on the bed felt his anger rise again. "You'll forgive me if I don't find that terribly comforting."
Now the doctor sounded annoyed, too. "I can always have them come back, if you like."
"Ah, spoken like a true healer. Tell me, doctor, how are you rationalizing what you're doing to me?"
"If nothing else, I'm helping my own people." His voice betrayed him, though.
It was then that the man on the bed knew he was going to die here. His colleagues were talented, but there was no way they would be able to mount a rescue in time to save him. He suddenly felt very weary. "Never mind." He closed his eyes. "I was a scientist; I know what usually happens to lab animals. When the time comes, are you going to have the guts to kill me yourself?"
The doctor made a noise that was half curse, half groan. His footsteps hurried off into the distance. The man on the bed smiled again. He'd finally won a round.
He felt worse and worse as time passed. He wasn't sure how long he'd been imprisoned, but he could feel his hold on sanity slipping. He was now in almost constant pain, all over his body. But even more terrifying, he often wasn't sure who he was anymore. There would be times when he woke up and his body didn't even seem to belong to him. During those times, he would look at the faces of the attending medical personnel and recognize them, only to forget again as he slept. He wondered if he looked as bad as he felt -- he hadn't seen anything resembling a mirror since he'd been brought to... wherever he was.
The medical staff, in turn, must have thought he wasn't doing well, either. They seemed determined to drain all of his bodily fluids. It didn't seem possible, but their attempts actually increased the agony. Through it all, the one thing that remained constant in his mind was the word "Atlantis." He wasn't even sure what it meant, but knew that it was vital to him.
Eventually the man who seemed to be the head doctor came over to his bedside and began doing something to the tube that ran into his arm. "What's going on?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. They had never told him anything before.
But this time the doctor surprised him. "I'm going to do a little bit of surgery. I found something on one of your scans that I want to get a closer look at."
It took a moment for his foggy brain to process that. By the time it did, someone had transferred him into a large room with a blinding white light overhead. To one side of him was a tray of metal instruments; on the other was an ominous-looking machine with tubes and a mask attached. He took a quick look around and saw that he was unobserved, so he grabbed a surgical blade and hid it in the folds of his robe, even as he recognized the drugged sleep creeping over him.
Horribly, he didn't completely lose consciousness, so he felt most of what they did to him. He choked as someone shoved a thick plastic tube down his throat, taped it to the side of his face, and attached the mask to it. The tube made it impossible to scream when another doctor picked up a blade and deftly made an incision across his upper abdomen. He couldn't move or signal that he was awake, either, probably also because of the drugs. The agony lasted a long time, and he was aware of every excruciating minute of it.
A few times someone came close to discovering his purloined blade, but in the end it remained hidden when he was returned to his room. Somewhere along the way they had eased the surveillance a bit, so he slipped it out of his sleeve and turned it over in his hands. He already knew he was going to die, and he had hoped to be able to take some of his tormentors with him.
Now, though, he wasn't so sure. He wasn't so naive as to think it was likely to work, and failure would mean a return to the restraints, close observation, and a protraction of his suffering. Perhaps there was someone else he should be using the blade on. His captors had determined the rules of the game and the stakes, but he would be the one to determine the quitting time.
He wasn't doing this lightly. He wished he could warn his team about his fate, since in all likelihood they would be in danger soon, too. But he didn't think he could take another session like the one he had just endured. This would be a cleaner death than the one which was otherwise in store for him.
Quickly, before he could change his mind, he picked up the blade and sliced deeply over his wrist. It didn't hurt as much as he thought it would. Probably because he was used to being cut by now, he thought with gallows humor. He watched the blood drip out, unsurprised that it was a different color than normal. It was just confirmation that they'd been trying to change him into something else.
A nurse ran into the room, and he belatedly realized that there must be hidden cameras in the walls or ceiling. The woman gasped and then screamed, "I need help in here! We've got a medical emergency!"
The room began to darken around the edges as he heard the sound of pounding feet. The head physician ran over and swore as he took in the scene. "Why did you do that?" the man whispered, pain and guilt showing in his blue eyes.
He didn't owe them any explanations, but he gave one anyway. "Surgery... awake. Felt everything. No more."
The doctor looked horrified. "Oh, God." He turned and gestured at someone behind him. "Get over here with that! And call in one of the vascular surgeons."
He was unable to stay conscious any longer. As the room faded to black and he realized that they would cheat death, the last thing he felt was disappointment that he hadn't even been able to control that.
He woke up slowly in a darkened room, feeling calm, peaceful, and safe. He wasn't sure how he had gotten there. In fact, he couldn't remember anything, including who he was. He wasn't concerned, though. He figured it would come back to him eventually.
The door opened and in walked a tired-looking man in a white coat. He was smiling warmly, and his blue eyes were friendly. The man in the bed shrugged off the vague sense of unease he suddenly felt at the sight of those blue eyes.
"Hello, Michael. You probably don't remember me, but I'm Dr. Carson Beckett. It's good to see you back with us again."