Chapter five – Paper Cuts

In a far, but not insignificant distance away, was a room.  The relative distance of this room changed constantly as most rooms aboard a starship tend to. The room was sparkling, so impossibly clean that dirt seemed uncomfortable settling on the floor.  It was a very large room, primarily designed to show off how much empty space the owner could afford. The ceiling was peppered in clicks and beeps as lights flicked on and off in an impressive array, an expensive and useless optional extra in the rooms construction; meant to make the place feel more productive and involved. The man sitting at the centre in a chair several sizes too tall and far too ornamental to be in any way comfortable, couldn’t feel less involved.  This man is George Miller, currently feeling very at odds in the captain’s chair of his prize cruiser at the heart of his Death fleet. like many men who’d ended up in control of such a vast empire, he was terribly unhappy.

Miller dealt with unhappiness in a very adult and productive manner, by choosing and prioritizing individual pockets of sadness on a daily basis, he found he could focus on hating something different every day, and today he was thinking of how sick he was of hearing the word ‘Death’. It was his own fault, maybe he’d gone a bit overboard with the whole ‘Death’ naming convention thing, ‘Death Moon’s’, ‘Death Troopers’, ‘Death Orders’, even ‘Death Community Outreach Programs. Before his stint at universal domination, Miller had had a very short and unsuccessful career in advertising. He’d thought that by naming everything using ‘Death’ would make him sound intimidating and recognisable, but now he found it just made him look unimaginative and childish. Anything would be better at this stage, even calling his ship’s ‘Life Management & Conversion Cruisers’.

Miller looked out into the emptiness from his window on the bridge. Each day that sight frightened him more and more, all it contained was disappointment.  Like most men, his fascination to feel big and important within the boundaries of civilisation crippled his appreciation of the majesty of the infinite.

“Can we get some curtains in here?” He asked wearily to his assistant, who was diligently running the vast majority of Miller’s empire from a small desk in the corner of the bridge.

“The view is a testament to your glory my Lord, reminds us that the Universe is yours.” replied the assistant not looking up.

“Glory or not it gets a bit samey” Miller muttered as he plopped out of his seat. “I think I’m going to go get something to eat.” He announced.

“My Lord, your appointment with your Death Golf instructor is within the hour, I suggest you wait here.”

“Golf, it’s just ‘golf’, can’t we just pack it in with the Death stuff?, we don’t have to prefix everything.”

“It is humble that you think that my Lord, but your subjects’ adore it.”

“Do they?”

“Of course my Lord, when they hear a Death Cruiser is on the way, they praise your greatness.”

“It’s just I don’t think I’ve actually met any of my subjects’.”

“Of course my Lord, they know they are not worthy to receive your presence.”

“You’d think I’d know at least a couple?.” replied Miller glumly as he slid back into his chair and went back to his crossword.

The war for Miller was apparently going incredibly well and that was very upsetting. It had raged now for almost 10 years and Miller had found himself spending most of his time sitting in his chair or slumped on the floor staring at patterns on the wall; all the while having to listen to underlings relentlessly report great victories and praising his leadership. He had started his war for the excitement and adventure, intent on leading troops into great battles and witnessing magnificent displays of space combat, just like the old films he loved as a child. Slowly, wonder turned to boredom and guns to paperwork. Sure, fighting within the solar system continued relentlessly under his name but he never saw any of it.

George Miller looked at his watch, the numbers made little sense to him anymore. Living on the ship was a round-the-clock lifestyle; totally at the mercy to his calendar, juggling his time between appointments, policy meetings and staring out into the void. Some days he thought he caught shapes in the darkness as shadows danced in the corners of his vision. Images that he’d decided were the result of his large caffeine intake, but even after cutting down on his mid-morning lattes, the view was just as unsettling as before; he felt like he was on the wrong side of a two-way mirror.

Miller reflected, he was sick of it all and he was still a bit peckish. Having lost a lot weight recently, he was discovering his new slender frame was becoming an annoyance as he loathed asking for new trousers.  Maybe the weight loss was partly due to his recent lack of sleep.  Miller grimaced as he remembered that currently the most powerful person in the universe needed to sleep with the lights on.

“I’m just going to grab a bite, I’ll be back shortly.” said Miller having comprehensively failed to complete even a single clue on his crossword puzzle.

“Did the caterers fail you at lunch then my Lord? I shall have them removed post haste.” queried the assistant reaching for a new form.

“No, no, lunch was fine, good even, I just feel like a small snack.”

“I understand my Lord” replied the assistant as he completed signing-off a new airlock expulsion form for several of the kitchen staff and made a mental note to drop it off on his way to dinner later.

“Thanks Pritchard, I’ll see you in a bit.” said Miller as he started to leave, before a sudden ‘ping echoed from his assistant’s desk made him stop.

“What was that?” he enquired looking for something to break the tedium.

“Nothing my Lord.” replied Pritchard a little too quickly.

Miller walked back over to his assistant. Someone he’d had by his side since day one, Pritchard was a shrewd individual by all accounts, thin as a thistle and twice as sharp, he hung over his desk like a spider, his spindly arms moved at speeds that made onlookers surprisingly uncomfortable.  In a single day, Pritchard would easily get through at least 2 small tree’s worth of paperwork. Originally working as Miller’s top accountant, Pritchard stayed within the upper echelons of power due to his knowledge of one of the universal truths, that the real person in charge is not the one who gives the orders but rather the one who writes them down.

“Look, it must be something Pritchard, the screens gone all red.” said Miller leaning over Pritchard’s shoulder, quite unaware of the intensity of a  twitch currently a prominent feature in his assistant’s left eye.

“I’m sure it’s nothing my Lord.” replied Pritchard as smoothly as he could, trying his best to divert any interest.

“No, look, it says one of our Death Moon’s has broken its… inertia stabilization.  Which Death Moon is that?”

“Number 5 my Lord.”

“I thought we only had 3?”

“Your empire grows in your magnificent vision my Lord.”

“Oh, that’s good, I guess; well it sounds like some damn exciting stuff, I’d best leave you to it.” said Miller stepping smartly away from the desk making his way to the door which suddenly sprung open in his face resulting in him almost being bowled over by a Death Trooper.

“My Lord there’s an emergency!” shouted a Trooper as he caught his footing, causing Pritchard’s twitch to go into overdrive.

“Oh splendid, I mean nothing too serious I hope?” responded Miller in the desperate hope that this was leading somewhere more exciting than a snack.

“Well my Lord we’ve captured…” began the Trooper slightly taken aback by Miller’s warm smile.

“How dare you even think of talking to your glorious deity, are you asking to have your fingers plucked from their joints?” yelled Pritchard, rising from his desk and drawing himself to his full height, arms outstretched like a perverted vampire flashing his victim.

“My apologies mighty leader, I have been too forward, please I beg your forgiveness.” spluttered the Trooper, audibly trembling and bowing steeply.

“Steady on lads, let’s all calm down, what’s your name son?” said Miller placing his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Really my Lord I must protest.” interjected Pritchard.

“Kevin, Sir, I mean my Lord.” said Kevin.

“Good, nice to meet you Kevin.  Don’t mind old ‘Pritchy’, he can be a wee bit protective of me but he means well. So what was it you wanted to tell us?”

“I, uh, well we’ve captured a rebel spy Sir.  We discovered him sneaking around the Officer’s quarters and he’s being prepped for interrogation.”

“splendid, good work team.” beamed Miller. “Looks like I’ve got something to watch with my snack then.”

Pritchard felt several of the larger knots in his back unravel.  His eye stopped twitching and he began to relax, nothing made him calmer than a good torture.

“I’ll fill out the proper forms and get started immediately my Lord.” said Pritchard quickly grabbing the nearest pen.

“Oh that reminds me, hold on.” said Miller as he jogged over to the Captain’s chair and pulled out a large parcel covered in brightly coloured wrapping paper sporting cartoon animals and hearts, all topped with an impressive black bow.

“Didn’t think I’d forget did you?” beamed Miller as he thrust the present into Pritchard’s resisting hands. “Happy Birthday pal.”

“Happy Birthday Sir.” added Kevin from the back of the room hoping this was the polite thing to say.

“I must protest my Lord.” pleaded Pritchard”

“Go on, open it.” encouraged Miller. “It’s from me and Melissa.”

Pritchard rather reluctantly peeled open the parcel to reveal ‘Sergeant Stabby’s Premium Torture kit.’ a meagre selection that utterly paled in comparison to his own personal collection of handcrafted interrogation tools; acquired over many years, they were as Prichard would often remark smugly, an exquisite portfolio of pain for the discerning practitioner’

The weakest of smiles lazily crept across Pritchard’s face, an expression just barely concealing his palpable anger and distain, it would have been more convincing if he’d drawn it on in biro.

“Wow.” said Pritchard slowly.

“The man in the shop said that would be the one you wanted.” said Miller earnestly.

“Oh…”

“Yes, he said it was perfect for any keen Interrogator. Actually he said I was very lucky to have such a keen eye.”

“Did he now?” Said Pritchard realising his surveillance appeared to leave some considerable gaps. “When did you buy it?”

“Oh, some time ago back on some moon or other, oh and don’t worry ‘Pritchy’ it was very reasonable.”

Miller leaned over to Kevin and whispered loudly,

“Never buy an expensive gift for your Accountant.”

Kevin nodded knowingly.

“So don’t worry about the expenses my friend, in-fact, the man said I was practically robbing him.”

“Did he?” asked Kevin earnestly.

“He did, so I bought a ‘Lieutenant lightfingers Burglary Kit’ off him too, couldn’t have done better.”

“And I suppose that was a steal as well was it?” asked Pritchard feeling his twitch resurface with newfound energy.

“Huh.., no, now that you come to mention it that kit was rather pricy. I think I had to go back to the ATM a couple of times; anyway Happy Birthday. I can’t wait to watch you use it.” Let’s go watch it my cafeteria booth Kevin.” rambled Miller as he took Kevin under his arm. “Have you ever seen a proper interrogation in full resolution Kevin? The colours are to die for, you can actually see the hope drain from their eyes, it’s truly remarkable.” added Miller as they strolled out into the corridor.

Kevin popped his head back through the doorway.

“I didn’t get you anything sir, I didn’t know, but I will next year.”

“No worries, you enjoy your final meal.” spat Pritchard as a smile surfaced.

Kevin’s head vanished before reappearing once more.

“Final meal?” he asked.

“Hmmm?”

“You said final meal.”

“Did I?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” replied Pritchard staring coldly at the boy.

“Come along Kevin.” came a distant voice and the door shut once more.

Tucked into a dark corner the camera twitched and with a motorised groan craned to get a better view of the chair. Prichard detested being on film, as a man of the shadows he objected to the spotlight on principle and besides, the 10 pounds the camera added detracted from his signature malnourished physique. He rolled up his sleeves exposing his pinkie white flesh, reflecting that his arms were actually even thinner than his tight clothing suggested.  He rather fancied that combined with his claw like hands and deep hollowed face with dark sunken eyes he must be by some significant margin, the scariest living being in existence

Prichard was all alone in the room apart from the ‘guest’; a presumably fairly unwilling participant who sat slumped in a chair in the centre of the room. A chair that was bright crimson for reasons fairly obvious to anybody who’s had any real experience of tough stains. A hood hung over the person’s head and all their limbs were clamped securely to the chair.

Pritchard whipped the hood away, revealing a bleary eyed face with a strong chiselled jawline sporting a magnificent head of hair that was naturally bedraggled in a way that would take forever to achieve in a reasonably upmarket hair salon.

“Captain Harding, I presume?” asked Pritchard as he wheeled a clinical cabinet over to the chair.

“In the flesh.” said Harding sitting up defiantly.

“Oh, we’ll find out what’s in your flesh soon enough Captain.” Purred Pritchard washing his hands in antiseptic.  A man to whom health and safety meant a good deal. “If you care about formalities my name is Pritchard, I won’t pretend it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He added after picking up one of the many forms he had brought with him. “Now” he continued “I’m just going to run through a quick medical questionnaire before we get started, just shake or nod your head accordingly.

“Any heart conditions?.. Good.

Any allergies?.. Good

On any medication?.. Good.

Finally, any recent injuries?…No? well I’ll just leave that blank for now shall I?.” Said Pritchard allowing himself a small smirk as he went about setting up.

Harding watched carefully as Pritchard humming eerily, calmly went through his preparation rituals.

“Where am I?” he finally asked, feeling his bravado falter.

“You are at a crossroads Captain.” said Pritchard picking up a clipboard.

“One path leads you out of the woods, a path you can walk alone. The other leads nowhere and on that one, I shall accompany you. The choice is yours, will you take your first steps or your last?”

“And how might one choose?” asked Harding furrowing his brow.

“The answer is in your answers, Mr Harding.” Said Pritchard as he placed his birthday gift onto the cabinet.

The Captain looked confused before bursting into laughter.

“Is that the ‘Sergeant Stabby’s Kit’? – What sort of 2 bit operation is this?”

The colour ran from Pritchard’s already sickly white face until he was practically transparent.

“It’s top of the range.” he stammered.

“I bought my nieces’ one of those, came in a pack of 3 with a free can of cheap aftershave.”

“In the right hands it’s deadly.”

“Yeah maybe, if you’re about five.”

“I’d stop with the lip if I were you.”

“Or what? are you going to give me a papercut with the instructions?”

“Right, that’s it.” spat Pritchard as he walked over to the camera and ripped the cables from out the back. Then he swiftly flicked the box kit off the cabinet and replaced it with his own spread of 46 individually crafted instruments of pain. To his surprise Harding was relaxed and grinning.

“Nice show we put on there.” said Harding looking pleased with himself.

“What show?”

“You can cut it out now the cameras off, I know you’re one of us.”

“One of what?”

“A rebel spy.” winked Harding.

“No I’m not.” winked Pritchard.

Hardings face fell. “Richard?” he asked

“It’s Pritchard I’m afraid.”

“You sure?”

“Quite.”

“Oh, ‘cause I thought you said your name was…”

“Easy mistake.”

“Yeah.”

Harding slumped back into the seat.

“And what Richard were you looking for?” asked Pritchard sweetly.

“The Officer on deck 4, I was meant to meet him if things went south.”

Pritchard nodded and tapped the comms device on his wrist.

“Hi Carol, it’s me, could you possibly ask Richard from deck 4 to pop up here please? Yeah just tell him it’s urgent will you, thanks.”

“…Oh.” said Harding staring meekly down at his feet.

“…yeah.” said Pritchard as he cracked his knuckles.

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