Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Of Men And Machines

Disclaimer: The following story is a purely fictional account. Any relationship to any real person living or dead is coincidental. The narrative contains non-consensual male-on-male torture. It is intended for mature readers who wish to view such material, and for whom it is legal to do so. The author in no way condones or promotes such acts in real life.

Copyright © 2020 by POW. For spam prevention, an animal name has been added to the author's e-mail address. Remove the animal name to get the actual address: POWauthor zebra at yahoo dot com. This story may be freely copied and distributed so long as it is copied in its entirety, unchanged, including the author credit information and disclaimer. Other POW stories are available at http://powauthor.blogspot.com. The author welcomes feedback.

Of Men And Machines

Journal, January 11

Finished the installation of the replacement component #2 today. Slight trouble with the fit, had to re-drill two of the holes. After that, the install went smoothly, got the input and output jacks hooked up and throughflow is normal. Tested the joints - all OK.

Took a moment to stand back and consider the big picture, was struck once again how Mark's vision is not just engineering, but also art. When the lights are turned up, all the parts gleam. Metal shines, rubber reflects with a subtler radiance. All the parts fit together in a way that is satisfying because it's so right. So natural. When a machine's component pieces are all operating at peak performance, energy and substance flowing from point A to point B to point C, system humming softly to itself as it runs... there's beauty in that efficiency. Poetry. Mark would certainly appreciate it. Might try telling him some time. Maybe when the machine is closer to completion.

Back to practical matters. Have a lead to a potential source for a fifth component. (Would have been the sixth if #2 hadn't failed so soon after installation, grumble.) Assuming the lead pans out, that will leave only one empty slot in the first bank. Gonna have to get started on building that second bank soon!

Vince paused at the door, looked back at the quietly sobbing wretch on the motel bed. Pathetic, he thought. Not about the whore, about himself. He had promised himself he wouldn't do it this time, but it seemed his heart always softened up as soon as his dick did. He actually felt sorry for the bitch! And so, like always, he found himself digging a couple extra hundreds out of his wallet and setting them on the table, on top of the already generous amount he had paid her. The bitch wouldn't be able to work for a few days with her face looking the way it would. Two hundred more would make up for some of her lost income. Not all, but some. That's what he told himself, at least. Mostly, though, the payment wasn't for her, it was for him, because now he didn't need to feel guilty about having been the one who had wrecked her face.

Then he was off and into his car and heading back up to Northwest. As always, there was that flicker of fear that he would be spotted, recognized, caught on his way out. But the night was foggy and wet and the few people who were out on the DC streets showed no interest in Vince. As the blocks went by and he drew closer to the wealthy neighborhoods of home, the tension drained out of his shoulders and neck. By the time he got to his building, he was back to his usual cocky, confident self again.

And was, of course, ruing his decision to leave the extra cash for the hooker. Stupid, pointless gesture, he told himself accusingly. Every time, the script played out the same way - he promised himself before and berated himself after... and yet during, when the moment came, he always did the same thing. As if he were a robot following its programming.

Ah, well. Doesn't matter. He could certainly afford to leave the "tip". Even if the bitch didn't deserve it. Which, let's be honest, they never, ever did. And yet, he kept using them. Whores were far from the optimal solution, but they were the least risky these days. Everyone was so hyper-sensitive to "sexual harassment" and "hostile work environments"! It was impossible to even flirt any more, let alone actually get some action. Especially the kind of action Vince liked.

He undressed, showered, and got into bed.

Journal, January 19

Been tracking down prospective component #5. Source claims movements are steady, like clockwork (ha!). That's good if so. Still, can't be sure without actually seeing the product. Made two trips to DC so far. Nothing first time; second trip caught a glimpse from a distance. Will make future trips as needed. Machine can run on its own for a limited time, as long as a day before needing attention to ensure everything's running smoothly.

Don't want just any old parts - each component must be the right fit.

Another wet night. Washington seldom gets snow, even when the surrounding suburbs do. So the fat white flakes that were falling in Reston and Fairfax and Rockville this night, the flakes that would close schools across Maryland and Northern Virginia tomorrow morning, were just slow, thick rain in the city. A lousy night for any sane person to be out...

... which meant a great night for Vince to go a'hunting.

He always preferred to do his trips on the gloomy nights. Sure, there were fewer hookers out... but there were fewer johns as well. And fewer vice operatives ready to nail Vince and splash his name and face across the news. It's not that he was a particularly big name in a town full of people who were either important or trying to be important. But he was a senior partner at Clarkson and Fowler, and any whiff of scandal involving a firm of lobbyists was like raw meat to the news clowns.

So why not set up his trysts online? Why risk exposure for, let's face it, some pretty crappy sex?

The answer to that was clear: sex wasn't the whole of what he was after. Online call girls tended to be the high-end kind. The kind with security systems and support networks. If Vince were to set up a date with one of them and then indulge some of his darker desires, she'd holler for help and that would be the end. Even if he got away with it once, she'd spread the word and he'd find himself shut out of any future dates with any of them. The girls on the street, on the other hand, tended to be lower end, more desperate, less protected. And they were used to getting beaten up, it was no big deal to them. Hell, at least with Vince they got a generous tip after the beating - they were better off with him than with their pimp / boyfriends!

So it was just a matter of avoiding anyone that looked like an undercover cop and finding a bitch he didn't recognize, someone new. Twice he almost found one, but each time, just as the conversation was getting started, they took off. Third time was the charm, though. Tawnya, she said her name was. Light brown skin, on the heavy side but curvy enough. She got into his car and they drove the five blocks to Hector's, a bar that also had a business renting upstairs rooms by the hour. Vince booked a 2-hour slot.

Five minutes in, Tawnya got her first taste of what Vince was really there for. Usually it took him twice that long to work up something to get outraged about - the smell of the bitch's breath, her hair, her disease-ridden twat, her unwillingness to go along with whatever (arbitrary, senseless) instructions Vince gave her, any old manufactured excuse to build up some fury. But this Tawnya seemed to want to provoke him, almost like she wanted to get hit as much as he wanted to hit her. "You git that thing up, sugar, I ain't gonna sit here all night!" she taunted. Not typical hooker behavior, which should perhaps have been his first clue.

Instead, his first clue was a glimpse of motion out of the corner of his eye, unexpected motion that should not be there. Vince started to turn but before he got far he felt a searing jolt in his side. It went on and on while his muscles spasmed and twitched until he found himself collapsing to the ground, unable to force his legs to hold himself up. He lay there in a heap for a short while, knowing that it was vitally important to get up and deal with whatever threat was looming above him but totally unable to do it. Snatches of conversation drifted by over his head.

"Thanks, Tawnya, I appreciate you doing this". A woman's voice. "Here, let's get you your... wow, he brought quite a stash with him, didn't he?"

Vince forced his eyes open to see a well-dressed blonde woman pawing through his wallet. What the hell?

"One, two, three..." the blonde said, counting out hundreds and laying them in the slut's hands. Vince forced himself up onto his hands and knees, muscles still twitching in random spasms, preparing to try to stand and grab his wallet back from these psycho bitches. "Oh, just take it all." The blonde removed all of Vince's cash and handed it to the hooker.

"Hey, you fuckin' put that back, you hear -" The words were cut short as another electric blast caught him on his other side, and then he was curled up in a naked ball on the floor, moaning to himself. On the way down he caught a second glimpse of the same thing that had caught his eye earlier: an enormous, pale-mocha-skinned man, eyes covered by dark glasses, as if Dwayne Johnson had dropped out of one of his movies and had shown up inexplicably in the hotel room where Vince was trying to give a trashy whore the beating she needed. The man had a short blunt object in his hand; presumably the source of the shock that had left Vince so incapacitated.

"You can stick around if you want," Vince half-heard the blonde say through the haze of his discomfort.

"That's all right, hon, I got all I need. Y'all do what you came for, ain't no business of mine." There was a click from the direction of the door. Then there was a second click from much closer and Vince felt a cuff wrap itself around his right wrist. His first fleeting thought was that the vice squad had nailed him after all, but that was absurd because in all other ways, the events that had gone so horribly wrong in the last half-minute were not typical vice squad behavior. He fought to keep his hands from being restrained, but his position was a helpless one. Strong arms forced him to uncurl and lie face down on the floor, and in short order, his hands were locked together behind his back. The powerful grip released him.

Then a foot was prodding his shoulder and he was flipped over onto his side. His breathing was starting to ease up, no longer requiring his full attention, and he was able to scooch himself up into a sitting position, leaning against the bed that was supposed to have been the site of his conquest of Tawnya The Tramp. He looked up. The brown goon was out of sight, probably behind him, but the blonde was standing over him, his emptied wallet still dangling from her hands.

"Hello, Vince," she said, peering down. "Remember me?"

Nope. Should he? She looked like any number of other women he'd encountered before. Easy enough on the eyes, but nothing noteworthy. Nice tits, certainly, but there were plenty of those around. The legs seemed like they might be nice, too, though they were hidden away under loose pants. Sexy enough for an older women... she must be at least 30, probably more like 35. Still a doable age. Under other circumstances, he might have been interested in seeing what might be hiding under those loose folds of fabric. But for the moment, what concerned him more was the thug. Where had he gone? Vince twisted around to try to see.

"Ah, ah, ah. Eyes over here, please. You have no idea who I am, do you?"

No, he didn't. But it was time to regain some control of the situation. "Yeah. You're the bitch who's going to get these cuffs off me before I sue your ass into a hole so deep you'll never see daylight again." Vince lashed out with his legs, trying to trip the arrogant cunt and send her crashing to the ground, where he could maybe get his legs wrapped around her, get some leverage to use against the real threat in the room who was still hovering somewhere where Vince couldn't see him.

But his legs were slow to react, still recovering from the jolts he had taken. She easily danced aside and then backed away to where he couldn't reach her.

"Tut tut, Vince. Mr. Oak? I'm not feeling particularly safe. Do you think you might help me out, please?"

The giant - and Oak was certainly a fitting name for him - materialized over Vince's right shoulder and the taser came in for a third blast. Vince squirmed to try to avoid it, but the moment it made contact his muscles all turned to jelly. The third jolt went on much longer than the first two. When it finally let up, Vince couldn't move at all. While he lay helpless and twitching, Oak manhandled Vince's inert body into a canvas sack, depositing him inside it feet first and working it up his legs and chest until only his head poked out. The drawstrings were pulled up snug against his neck and Vince was propped back up into his seated position on the floor, leaning up against the bed. His muscles were useless blobs of tapioca. Breathing became even more difficult. Vince had to concentrate to keep air moving in and out of his lungs.

"Thank you," the blonde said. Oak stood by her side, staring impassively down through his dark glasses.

"Since you obviously have no memory of me, my name is Christine Lasanky. Well, it's Padmorton now, but it was Lasanky when I was interning for you at Roydon. Gosh, that must be what, fifteen years ago now? How time flies."

"Still not ringing any bells?" she went on. "Maybe this will spark your memory. On my fifth day working at Roydon, a Friday, you invented some piece of crap imaginary assignment and handed it to me at 4:00, saying you needed it as soon as possible and that I'd need to stay until it was done. Today, I would have seen that ploy for what it was, but then I was a fresh young intern, all too eager to be a team player so I could get my career started. God, how naive I was."

Vague memories were starting to surface in Vince's mind. He couldn't recall specifics, but that wasn't because his memory was faulty. Rather, it was because the scenario she was describing had happened more than once. More than several times, in fact. And after so many years the individual incidents all tended to blend together, washing the specific details into a hazy blur.

"So the hours passed while I devoted all my attention to the piece of shitwork that you never actually needed. By 10:00 the floor was completely empty. Except for... you. You called me into your office, and do you remember what you said? I do. You said 'You look so tense, Chrissy.' I hate 'Chrissy', by the way. Always have. 'You look so tense, Chrissy, why don't you let me loosen up those shoulders for you?'." And, even though I knew it was a bad idea, I went along. Team player, right? And it started with a shoulder rub, and then you were reaching down my blouse and by the time I tried to stop you, my blouse was completely off and I was standing there in my bra. And do you recall what you said to me then?"

Vince didn't answer, instead looking off to the side.

"ANSWER ME, you worthless worm! DO YOU?"

"No," Vince mumbled. "No idea."

The blonde's voice became icy calm again. "You told me that if I said anything, that you would claim I was the one who had come on to you. That management would of course believe you, a valued rising-star employee, over me, an intern with an unknown and possibly slutty past. And I believed you. I thought that couldn't possibly be right, but I wasn't sure, and so I believed you. And from there it went straight downhill until I found myself on my knees with your disgusting, foul-smelling THING in my mouth and I remember thinking as it was happening how did it come to this? What did I do wrong, what could I have done differently?

"Well, it wasn't until years later that I was finally able to know, and really feel and believe, that it wasn't anything I did. It was all you. The blame is entirely yours. But it took me a while to get there and by the time I did, it was too late. I went to the police - nope. 'No physical evidence, statute of limitations, he-said-she-said', blah blah blah. All the nonsense that has helped snakes like you get away with your crimes for so long. I looked up Roydon - they've gone out of business. I contacted management at Clarkson and Fowler - they don't want to hear it. It seems they know you're a snake and they don't care. They wouldn't say that, of course, but when I mentioned your extra-office activities with prostitutes, they didn't even blink. You have pull with your contacts on the hill and that's all they care about."

Vince found his voice at last. "So what's it going to take to make this go away, Chrissy? You want money? I can offer you money. You want me to apologize? Fine, I'm sorry. But it couldn't have been such a big deal as you're making it out to be. I mean, just look at you today! You're strong, confident... sexy, even." He tried to bring his voice into the smooth, low register that seemed to have an effect on women, but it was hard to get into the right mood when he was tied up in a canvas bag with that tree-creature looming silently over him. "The affair we had..."

"Oh, don't even go there," Chrissy cut him off. "Stop. Just stop. First of all, it's Christine. Not Chrissy. It was never Chrissy. And secondly, it wasn't an affair, it was rape. Rape. Oh, you are so slimy you are like a cartoon of sliminess. How a creature of the 1950s ever survived into this century defies explanation. You were about to claim that by sexually assaulting me, you actually helped me, weren't you? You were going to phrase it more smoothly than that, something about how it's challenges that build character, but at heart you were going to try to claim that you were somehow doing me a favor by sticking your filthy dick in my mouth, weren't you?"

She turned around and stood facing away for a minute, visibly making an effort to compose herself. Vince glanced up into the impassive face of Oak, who had not moved a muscle since taking up his position. He might have been a statue carved from the wood he was named for. Vince looked away again, unable to see the man's eyes behind the dark glasses or read any emotion in the stony face.

When the blonde turned back, she was all poise again. "You know what? I think we're done here. I had thought that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance you might have changed. That you might show a speck of remorse. But you haven't changed, and there's not a speck of remorse to be found anywhere in you. You still see me as an object, a thing to be used and discarded. You used me and discarded me, and you did it to who-knows-how-many other young women, and you got away with it for at least fifteen years. And if it were up to the people who supposedly deliver 'justice' in this city, you would continue to get away with it. Because you're important and you have political connections. You would pay nothing at all for what you've done."

She turned and acknowledged the tree-man, whose arms - each as thick as one of Vince's thighs - remained stonily folded across his broad chest. "That's where Mr. Oak comes in. He's a friend of a friend of a friend, and he assures me that he will deliver a suitable punishment."

Vince started to squirm in the bag. "What the fuck, this guy's gonna..."

"Mr. Oak, I don't think either of us needs to hear anything else from this creature, do you?" The tree moved and taser came down once more. The canvas took the edge off the blast as compared with taking it on bare skin, but it was still unpleasant enough and it stopped him from trying to talk. When he could focus again, Christine was crouching down next to him, staring straight into his face.

"Don't worry. He assures me he's not going to kill you. Or castrate you. Or even beat you up. Even though you richly, richly deserve all of those. He hasn't told me specifically what he plans to do with you, and honestly I don't really want to know the details because I don't care. He assures me that you'll have plenty of opportunity to think about the behavior that led to this moment and that you'll never have a chance to hurt a woman again. That's all I care about. Beyond that, I don't want anything to do with you. I've subcontracted my vengeance out to him, so to speak, because I don't want to be bothered with you any more. I just want to finally put this incident - and you - behind me as efficiently as possible. After I leave this room, I don't plan to ever think about you, ever again. But Mr. Oak assures me that you will be in a position to remember me every single day for a long, long while."

She stood up. "Mr. Oak, he's all yours." She handed him Vince's wallet and headed for the door.

"Chrissy, wait!" Vince called.

She turned back, halfway out into the hall. "Christine," she said, her voice like ice. Then door swung shut and she was gone.

The moment she was gone, Oak bent down and began untying the drawstrings from around Vince's neck. A wave of relief washed over him. Of course! It only stood to reason. Now that the flighty, irrational women were gone, the two men - members of the more practical sex - could come to a decent arrangement that would satisfy all parties. Such arrangements were usually financial in nature, or at least such was his experience both at work and out of the office. But other forms of currency could be exchanged - influence, drugs, girls. Finding out what the other wanted was what he needed to do. "Ah, thanks, man, that... AAAAAAIGHH!" Vince's voice cut off as the taser zapped him again. "WHAT THE FU... AAAAAARRRRGGGGG!". Another blast.

Once the strings were untied, to Vince's surprise, Oak lifted the sack upward instead of pushing it down. He let out one more yelp as the canvas slid up to cover his head and got another electric jolt in response. Then the strings were retied, this time with Vince completely inside the sack. Nothing happened for a moment.

"Hey, Mister OaNNNNNGGGGGHGHHGH!" Dammit, he was tired of getting hit with the damn stun gun! He waited, breathing heavily, feeling the air slowly start to grow stale inside the bag.


He waited again, panting in the increasingly stale air. What the fuck was wrong with this guy? He hadn't said a word yet and every time Vince tried to open negotiations, he got shut down abruptly and painfully.

Minutes passed. Twice more he tried to reason with his captor, and twice more took a jolt before he could get more than three words out. He resolved to wait the man out, to let him speak first. But Oak never spoke, not once, and Vince sat stewing in his own exhalations. Eventually he was lifted to his feet, and then lifted completely into the air and felt his body get slung across the giant's shoulder.

One more try. "Hey! Let me NNNNNNGGGHGGH!"

OK. Message received. Every single time he made a sound, the lunk would blast him with the taser. Vince decided to stay quiet for a while and try his hand again later at talking his way out of this. After long minutes of silence, his bagged and cuffed body was at last lifted and carried out of the room, up and down and through various places he had no way of identifying, and eventually laid down, not gently, in the trunk of a car. The slam of the lid was followed shortly by the slam of the driver's side door, and then they were off into the night.

Journal, February 3

Component #5 acquired. Process went smoothly enough. Only complication: the source chattered at the component for a while, which never helps - the components tend to make noise in response. Had to spend some time applying corrective measures. Didn't want it drawing attention during transit through public spaces. It got entrained quickly enough. Usually only takes half a dozen repetitions to get new components performing to spec. In the holding area now. Going to try 48 hours this time - 72 worked with the replacement #2 but that was probably longer than necessary. Would prefer to get started on the modifications sooner.

Machine is running smoothly. Rearranged the ports so that the flow sequence is reversed, from #4 to #1. No visible change, of course, but "I" can sense a subtle change to the operation. Like how a car engine sounds slightly different when running in reverse gear. Will leave it that way for the day, then flip it back to normal tomorrow.

A couple days relative leisure would be nice before getting busy again, starting on #5. But first: groundwork to be laid.

Vince had completely lost track of how long he had been locked in this pitch-black cell. There had been no food, no water, no bathroom trips. He had held out as long as he could, but for the last several hours an increasingly-foul stench had been emanating from the far corner after he could hold it no longer. Just piss, fortunately - he had managed to keep control of his bowels so far.

There was no light; there was almost no sound. Besides the noises that he himself made, the only sound he could hear was the intermittent chiming of some kind of clock. Very faintly, once an hour, the tones of a Big Ben-style cadence would come in through the walls of the cell, followed by the chiming of what hour it was. The sounds were very faint, though, and the tones seemed to blend in to each other so it was difficult to distinguish four chimes from three or six. All he knew was that he had cycled past the long 12:00 set to the short 1:00 one at least twice already and had probably dozed through a third. Which meant more than a day alone in utter darkness.

This couldn't go on forever. At some point, he would have to be fed, right? Chrissy - Christine - had said that Oak wasn't going to kill him. Well, not feeding him would kill him if it went on long enough! His hands ached, too. They were still cuffed behind his back, only worse: a waist chain had been added and the cuffs were attached to that. Otherwise he might have been able to slide his hands under his butt and feet and brought them around to his front side. As it was, his hands were pinned where they were, making decent sleep impossible and everything else difficult. He was wearing a second chain, as well, this one around his neck. A short length dangled down in front of him and constantly irritated him by banging into him whenever he moved. He tried moving as little as possible, but the boredom was getting to him. Alone, in a dark and silent cell, what was he supposed to do, meditate like some goddamn Buddhist monk? Fuck that! And so he would pace around the cell, careful to avoid the puddle in the far corner, until he grew tired and sat or lay down again.

Staring at nothing. Watching his light-starved retinas producing hallucinatory flickers in his vision. Waiting for... what?

There. A sound at last! Lights came on and he was dazzled by the brilliance. He heard the sound of a door opening and squinted into the brightness. It was Oak, of course, face as expressionless as ever. He was walking through the door and into the room that contained the cell. Vince got his first look at the layout since he had arrived here however long ago.

The walls were cinderblock. He had known that from bumping into them during the long, black night. But only three of them. He was kept from the fourth by a grille of steel bars. The room was a square about eight feet on a side. The bars ran across the center of the room such that Vince was confined to the back half of the room. The front half, where Oak was standing now, was where the door to the outside was located. There was another door set into the steel bars. Oak began the process of unlocking and opening this while Vince's eyes were still slowly adjusting to the light.

Squinting, he could make out that the brute had the taser with him, gripped in one hand and ready for use. All of the thoughts he had had over the past however-many hours, thoughts of what to say and how to say it when his captor returned, thoughts of the best way to negotiate his freedom, vanished from his mind. The sight of the taser was all it took... he knew what would happen the moment he opened his mouth. Vince backed away from the door but there was absolutely no place to hide. His best shot might be to try to slip past his captor and make a dash for freedom that way? But no, the man was too enormous and filled up the entire doorway.

Oak grabbed the dangling neck chain and led Vince out of the cell. They went out into a corridor and into the next room over. It was the same size and shape as the one Vince had just left, only there were no steel bars dividing the room in half, just a bare 8-foot-by-8-foot space. In the center, a chain hung down from the ceiling, and Oak attached Vince's neck chain to this. Vince stood there while other chains were affixed to his wrists and ankles. His feet were pulled apart until they were spread wider than his shoulders, and then the cuffs were released and his arms were lifted up and attached to the ceiling, stretching him into an X shape. Finally, with the rest of his limbs secured, the neck chain was unhooked from the ceiling and taken off entirely, along with the chain around his waist. Throughout, neither man spoke a word. Vince from dread of the likely response, Oak from... well, whatever reasons he had. Vince tested the chains - no give at all.

Oak then went to a small table in the corner and retrieved an electric clipper. He flipped the switch and a hum filled the air. Vince could see there was no guard on the buzzing blades - whatever hair this cut would be cut right down to the skin. Oak brought it up to Vince's head and was about to start shaving when Vince couldn't stand it any more.

"No! Don't do..." but his words were cut short as the lightning dug into his rib cage again. This time he couldn't collapse inward and curl up upon himself - the chains held him upright and spread. He felt the razor against his scalp even as his muscles were still twitching and felt the hair come tumbling down around his shoulders. He wasn't particularly vain about his hair, but the idea of being forcibly shaved was degrading. Humiliating. And yet, what could he do? He couldn't move, and if he spoke, he'd just get another hit from the taser.

Soon enough, the hair from his head was piled on the floor between his feet. Oak then started in on his cheeks and neck. It must have been two or three days, then, that he had been in the cell because his beard had grown enough that it could be shaved. After that, things took a surprising turn. The razor crossed over his eyebrows, removing them in a spray of tiny particles. And then downward, methodically covering his chest, his arms and armpits, his legs... Oak slid the chains at his wrists and ankles aside so as to shave the areas covered by them. Even his crotch got denuded, even the crack of his ass! By the time Oak put the razor down, every bit of hair on Vince's body had been removed with the exception of his eyelashes and the ones inside his nose. He could only imagine what he must look like - some kind of chemo patient, or a naked mole rat.

While he was lost in thought, wondering what purpose Oak could possibly have for doing this to him and how long it would take for it all to grow back, a sudden sharp smell pierced his nostrils. Oak had put on rubber gloves and had opened a tube, from which the noxious smell was pouring. He squeezed the tube and a fat blob of white cream oozed into his gloved palm. Vince winced as the cold cream touched his bare scalp, though it warmed as Oak rubbed it in. In fact, it kept warming. Even as Oak applied the substance to his arms, he could feel the skin of his head growing steadily hotter. By the time his arms were covered, the temperature at his head seemed to have reached its peak, but by then his arms were growing increasingly warm. Oak kept slathering the stuff on, opening up a new tube when one ran out, until at last only Vince's face remained clear; the entire rest of his body was covered with a thick layer of cream that grew steadily warmer for the first few minutes after it was applied. The hot sensation was particularly uncomfortable on his dick and balls and in the crack of his ass, almost burning to the point that Vince squirmed in his restraints, seeking any kind of relief. It was almost enough to distract him from the appalling indignity of having the most personal part of his body manhandled by a stranger.

Oak squeezed the last drops out of a third tube of the stuff, applying the splotches on parts where the substance was thinnest, and then left. Vince had no choice but to stand and wait.

He hung there, not sure what the purpose of this exercise was. His nose had finally grown accustomed to the acrid smell, though his nasal passages felt slightly seared. After the initial round of warmth on his skin, the cream finally cooled back to room temperature while he stood there, a piece of beef, helplessly watching events pass over him, completely out of his control. The distant clock chimed some ambiguous hour while he stood, waiting, wondering. How the hell had this happened? At what point could he have stepped in and altered the way this had played out? Vince was no charismatic orator, but he had some reasonably good skill at persuasion that he had leveraged into a comfortable career. But how could he use that skill if the target of his negotiations shut him down every time he tried to open a discussion?

Oak finally returned. He took a hose from off the floor and Vince just had time enough to gasp in a breath before a blast of icy water struck him in the chest. The water played all over him, from all sides, washing the thick cream off his skin and onto the floor where it disappeared down a drain. Vince shouted and grunted through this process, wordless vocalizations that were not met with a blast from the stun gun. An interesting datum... was it words, rather than sounds, that brought punishment?

Then the last of the cream was gone. Vince's skin felt tingly, as if loaded up with a static charge. Oak drew near again, this time placing a pair of swim goggles over Vince's eyes. Then it was one more round of the cream, slathered on his face this time. The warmth was soothing after the chill of the water and Vince actually enjoyed the sensation of heat on his cheeks and jaw and forehead. A while later, of course, it was all blasted off with the spray of the hose, which was not soothing at all.

The next step was measurements. Vince stood, having no choice about it, while Oak took a tape measure to all sorts of points on Vince's body. He got the usual chest, waist, inseam, neck, arms, but in addition got the circumference of Vince's thighs and calves, biceps and forearms. His hands and feet, even, and various measurements of his head. Most cringe-inducing, he measured Vince's cock and balls in several different ways. At the first grope, Vince pulled his hips away and, forgetting himself, snarled "Back off, pal," but the instant the words were out of his mouth he knew what would be coming and sure enough, his ribs immediately felt the sharp bite of the stun gun again. Vince yelped and then held his silence until the measuring process was complete.

Then - at last! - the arms came down. They had started to grow very uncomfortable from their long stretch over his head. But they were immediately locked behind his back again, and the waist chain was put back in place to hold them in one spot. Once his hands had been re-secured, the neck chain went back on, his feet were released, and he was ungently led back to his original cell. In through the room door, then through the gate in the bars, and then Oak released him with a shove and stepped back to the other side, closing the bars behind him as Vince dove, too late, to try to prevent them from closing.

"DAMMIT, YOU FUCKER, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME???" he screamed as the door clicked shut an instant before his body slammed into it. He half-expected Oak to reopen it so as to deliver another shock from the stun gun, or deliver the shock through the bars. Hoped for it, almost - being disregarded was in some ways worse than being electrocuted. But Oak ignored him, leaving the room and closing the door behind him. "AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!" Vince shouted into the empty air.

He spun about and almost kicked the wall before remembering his feet were bare. What the fuck? Hours and hours sitting in darkness, followed by being shaved bare, covered in some caustic, foul-smelling goop, then returned to his cell without so much as a sip of water, let alone any food or a word of explanation. This was intolerable! He stomped around, unsatisfyingly because the concrete floor was hard on his feet as they landed. His arms were trapped uselessly behind him as he paced. Within a minute or two, he had to stop - his feet hurt too much if he stomped, and if he didn't stomp, well, there was no point in moving, really.

Calming a bit, Vince realized, belatedly, that unlike before, he could see: the lights were on. He looked around the space he had been storming back and forth in. There was little to see. The space was small, eight feet by eight, with the bars across the center confining him to half that. Concrete floor, cinderblock walls on both sides of the separating bars. Lighting came from two bare bulbs in the half of the room he could not reach. They illuminated the puddle of piss in the corner where he had left it, now mostly dried though still emitting an unpleasant smell. Now that he could see, he noticed a hole in the floor near the wall of bars. It was in the center of the room, just like the room next door, and the bars passed near it, but not so near that he couldn't direct future streams down the hole. And, god forbid, future bowel movements.

No. It would not come to that. He would find a way out first.

The only other object in the room was a bowl, set on the floor in the corner nearest the barred door, a bowl that he somehow had not noticed during his brief tantrum or else he would have sent it flying with a good kick. He knelt down awkwardly to inspect. It contained a thick, brown liquid. There was no particular smell. Looking closer, he could see what looked like bits of potato or turnip or perhaps carrot floating in the otherwise-undifferentiated mass. Was this... food? It might have been stew, but if it was, it must have been run through a blender because nothing in it was larger than a grain of rice. He knelt closer and sniffed again - still nothing strong enough to penetrate the fog of dried urine that filled the cell.

He sat back on his heels, pondering. After so many hours without food he was ravenously hungry, and yet this... this mush, this slop, this limp bowl of whatever... that was not whetting his appetite at all. The prospect of eating it did not appeal. If he could even eat at all! Even supposing this crap was indeed food, how was he supposed to bring it to his mouth with his hands cuffed behind his fucking back? There was only one possible way, and if he tried that he would end up with half the bowl smeared across his cheeks, chin, and jaw. No. He was not an animal.

And yet... thinking about food had made him realize how goddamn hungry he was.

Perhaps one more test? Vince bent forward once more, bending down far enough to touch the surface with his tongue and coat the tip with the thick, pasty substance before sitting back up. There was no taste, no salt, no spice, no seasoning at all. It was like eating wet paper.

No. Fuckit, no. He was a human being and he would be treated like one. He stood up and kicked the bowl toward the bars. The bowl clunked into one of the metal rods but the pasty not-quite-stew kept right on going, splattering the bars and the floor on the far side of the barrier where it lay in thick chunky dollops. Vince resumed his pacing then, not stomping, but taking measured, methodical steps while he planned what he was going to say and do the next time his captor walked in. It was time to take back control of this massively-fucked-up situation.

Journal, February 5

Initial processing of component #5 went well. No problems with transportation, only a few instances of excessive noise that had to be addressed. First coat of surface polish was applied; probably will need one more coat, then some spot touch-ups here and there, especially in the areas around the input and output ports. Resulting measurements are well within standard range - should be able to find a casing that fits without major alterations. Output port sleeve, of course, is always a custom job since a good fit is essential and tolerances are tight. Will start machining that up soon.

Haven't looked in on the machine yet today - should be fine. There's enough fuel in the tank to keep things going til tomorrow. Left some fuel in with #5. Time to go see if it processed the fuel on its own or if it needs its input port installed today. Might just do that anyway - tomorrow's going to be busy enough.

The far-off clock chimed twice between the time Oak left and his return. Vince was ready for him this time, standing near the cell door but far enough back to be out of reach of any stun-gun-holding arms that came through the bars. "OK, buddy, fun time's over," he barked the moment the room's outer door opened. "You need to open up this cell door, get these cuffs off, and get the hell out of my way, understand?"

That was as far as he got before Oak had the cell door open and was inside. With no change in the calm expression on his face, he aimed the stun gun up toward Vince's side. Vince danced away for a few seconds, but couldn't keep the stern tone in his voice while he bucked and dodged. Never rushing, Oak closed the distance between them until he chanced close enough to bring the device into contact with Vince's skin. Vince's muscles lit up like fireworks. Two, three, four, five seconds it went on until his legs gave way and he fell to the floor, nearly cracking his head on the concrete. He lost focus for a time. When he regained awareness, he found himself lying on his back, his legs stuck through the dividing bars with his feet on the far side. They were spread out just to the point where any further stretch would have pulled painfully in his groin. Oak was just finishing locking chains around his ankles, connecting them to each other and to the bars, holding his feet in place. Then he left.

When Oak returned, he was carrying a flat board about three feet long and eight inches across, a roll of silver tape, a length of clear plastic tube, and a squeeze bottle. Fuck... what now...? Vince wondered, still groggy from the jolt and unable to hold his head up long enough to get more than a glance at what his captor was carrying.

Oak knelt by Vince's head, sat him up, and then shifted so that he was behind him, preventing Vince from lying back down. The board went up against Vince's back and a few loops of the tape around his torso held the board in place. Then more tape went around his neck and then the most yet went around his forehead and even his eyes, wrapped tightly so as to hold his head in place against the board. He could only see in a few thin strips where layers of the tape didn't fully overlap.

Vince's body was laid back down on the floor and he found himself immobilized by his own body weight on the board that his head and chest were taped to. Space was tight - his head was brushing against the cinderblock wall. He couldn't move his head or even turn it to the side. His hands ached as his weight forced the metal cuffs to dig into his wrists. A hint of panic began to flutter in his belly as he started wondering what his silent, sociopathic captor might have planned.

The answer came in the form of a tickling at his nose. He felt a touch of cold, then a sense of pressure, and then he realized what was happening and began to buck and thrash against his restraints. The bastard was shoving the plastic tube into his nose! Vince snorted and twisted, but the tape held his head still and he could do nothing to stop the tube, greased up with some kind of lubricant, from sliding up his nose, through his sinuses, and down into his throat. He gagged as he felt the tip probing at his tonsils. Oak kept pressing, then backing off, then pressing again, until at last whatever needed to line up was lined up correctly and the tube slid down past his epiglottis and into his neck. His eyes teared up and he couldn't stop himself from sneezing two, three, four times, a painful thing to do lying down with an immobilized head. Then the hands pulled away from his face; the tube must be all the way in, though he hadn't felt it moving down. He felt like he had a bit of food caught that he needed to either swallow down or choke back up, but no matter how he moved his throat muscles, the tube wouldn't be dislodged.

Then he was being lifted back up into a sitting position. The tape came off in rapid tearing motions that left him actually thankful that his hair had been razored away. The tearing was bad enough on his bare skin; having hundreds of hairs all ripped out by the roots would have been far worse. The board fell away; Vince's legs were still chained to the bars of the cell, but he could keep himself in a sitting position with the help of his hands pressing on the floor behind his waist.

Oak stepped away, over to where the bowl of slop was still lying where it had fallen when Vince kicked it. He bent down and began to scrape the spilled contents back into the bowl. Vince felt bile began to build in the back of his throat as he realized what was about to happen. "No... aw, no, don't, JEEZ NO, PUT THAAAAAAAAAAGGGHH!" For of course, the moment he started speaking, Oak picked up the stun gun and delivered another powerful blast to the ribs. Vince gasped and panted and nearly fell backward. Oak calmly returned to scooping up the "stew". When most of it had been returned to the bowl, along with whatever dust and chunks of concrete and other debris had been on the floor, Oak disappeared through the door again. Vince was helpless. He knew what was coming but was powerless to stop it from happening, powerless even to protest.

Oak returned with a blender, a fat syringe, and a pitcher of water. Glop from the bowl went into the blender along with an equal portion of water. The blender whirled them around for perhaps fifteen seconds, thinning the stew and pulverizing any remaining chunks to mush. In went the syringe. Oak sucked the liquid up until the syringe was full of perhaps eight ounces of liquid. Then he stepped over to Vince, jammed the end of the syringe into the tube that protruded out from Vince's left nostril, easily overpowering Vince's feeble attempts to prevent the connection by shaking his head, and slowly pressed the plunger. Vince watched as the brown slurry flowed through the tube and into his nose. He couldn't feel it going down, but he knew the stuff was being injected directly into his stomach and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.

When the syringe was empty, Oak refilled it and repeated the process, then sent several ounces of plain water down the pipe. Vince wept silently throughout. The helplessness, the humiliation, the total lack of control... he had never, ever been in a situation where he had felt so powerless. Making it worse, his own body was betraying him. His belly had been filled with repugnant crap that he would never have eaten voluntarily, and yet his body was nevertheless enjoying the feeling of satisfaction after so long without food.

Unexpectedly, the memory of Chrissy's - no, Christine's - words came back to him. "Your disgusting, foul-smelling THING was in my mouth. How did it come to this?" It was creepily close to his own situation. And yet such a direct, literal form of revenge was so... so ham-handed. Corny, even. Even as he thought about it, the parallel broke down. His dick was nothing like a feeding tube full of floor slop. And giving a blowjob was a perfectly normal thing. For the ladies, at least. Sure, Vince might have been a bit heavy-handed in persuading her to provide him with that long-ago service, but it was totally, totally different from this. This was treatment that decent human beings wouldn't even inflict on animals. Which led him to think of foie gras, and then he decided to shut down the whole train of thought altogether. It wasn't getting him to what mattered: escape. Followed by revenge.

Oak gathered up the various pieces of equipment and then left. The lights went out. Vince stayed sitting up for a while, waiting for something else to happen, but nothing did. Eventually he lay down, but with his movement so restricted - legs spread and chained to the bars, arms cuffed behind him and chained to his waist - it was impossible to get comfortable. He lay there, constantly shifting positions, rolling from side to side on the bare concrete every few minutes to the limit that his restraints would allow as hour after hour slowly crawled by, marked by the occasional muffled chimes of the distant clock.

Journal, February 5 (cont'd)

Got the input port installed on #5. Looking back through these notes, looks like half the components were not capable of self-fueling on initial acquisition. #1, the original #2, and #4 did; #2's replacement, #3, and now #5 required the input port to be installed prior to the initial fueling. "Were not capable" is not quite right. All components in their unmodified, off-the-rack state are capable of self-fueling, but they can be finicky about what fuels they accept. That's fine elsewhere, but "I" don't have time or patience to come up with a custom mixture for each separate component. "My" machine runs on a standardized blend, tailored to optimize component longevity with no unnecessary additives. All the components get their fuel delivered through the port eventually. Still: interesting to note the differences in products that require the port to be installed earlier on some models than others.

Thinking of component differences inspired a closer inspection of the currently-installed set. #1 and #4 showed no change in operation. #2 began to rattle and rumble when touched, the way #1 used to do. The sounds continued long after inspection ended. Perhaps it will eventually settle down into quieter performance the way #1 did. #3 made sounds as well, but not as loudly as #2 and it did not rattle around as violently. All four look to be in fine operating shape and should last for a good long time yet before wearing out.

Happened to be there at 5:00 and paused to watch the show. Used to do that a lot, less often lately. Was reminded of the beauty and elegance of the machine. Such grace, all those components calling and moving in unison for a few brief synchronous minutes, then falling back into patient stillness.

Spent the rest of the day prepping the output port for #5. Nice little titanium sleeve, taking shape already. Should be ready to install day after tomorrow. Tomorrow's plan: further surface polishing, removing ragged edges. Also, finances.

Three days of little to no sleep had left Vince ragged. The night - if that's what it was - had gone on for days, it seemed. There had come a point when he had had to drain his bladder. He had done his best to aim it sideways away from where he lay pinned, but even so, the puddle spread back toward him and left him soaked from knee to halfway up his back. That must have been hours before because the liquid had long since cooled and mostly dried. When the lights came on again, it happened to be in one of the rare moments when Vince had fallen into a fitful half-sleep, and so the sudden dazzle left him disoriented. His hands were cramped and nerve-dead beneath his body; he fought to sit up and bring life back into the lumps of meat at the ends of his arms. Before he could sit up, though, Oak was fiddling with the chains around his ankle and then, for the first time in what felt like months, he could move his legs again. Gingerly, he brought them in, one at a time, and got them underneath him. They throbbed and ached at the movement after such a long time in enforced stillness. He tried to rise to his feet, but nothing in his body was working right.

Oak grabbed the neck chain and yanked upward. "Hey!" Vince blurted, then caught himself, but it was too late. The stun gun made contact yet again with his ribs and he howled in pain. The pressure on his neck did not let up and Vince struggled to his feet, ignoring the burning in his legs; there was not a doubt in his mind that Oak was capable of suspending his body one-handed, and he would much rather have his legs under him than dangle by the neck.

Then they were headed out through the door into the corridor, Walking was painful and difficult, but Oak made no allowance for Vince's weakened, pain-wracked state. He walked at his own pace and the chain attached to Vince's neck was dragged along in his iron-fisted grip, leaving Vince no choice but to either walk or be dragged behind. They went into a new room this time, a bit larger than either of the others. In it were two chairs and a small table. Vince was deposited into one of the chairs, one that was equipped with straps all over its edges. Oak fastened the leg straps first, then released Vince's left hand from the cuffs and strapped it down to the arm of the chair, then followed that with the right. Finally, the body straps were tightened down to hold Vince upright. Two more straps at neck and forehead prevented his head from moving.

The next thing Oak did was tape Vince's hands up. He wrapped the fingers of the left down over the thumb and secured them in place with more of the silver tape. Then the right, but he left one single finger out: the pointer. Vince resisted the process, but only at a token level - if Oak wanted his hands taped, his hands were going to get taped one way or another, and it was only the prelude to whatever new horror he had planned. Better to save his willpower for whatever was coming next... if it would make a difference.

Oak left the room, then returned a few minutes later carrying a laptop computer. He set it down on the table in front of Vince and powered it on. The system started up and then displayed a very familiar-looking login screen. "This is my lapt... aw, fuck!", Vince blurted, once again cursing himself for repeating the same dumb mistake yet again as the stun baton moved in. Bzzzzzzzzt.

While Vince recovered from the shock, Oak undid the straps that held his right forearm. His upper arm was still fixed to the chair, but he could move his hand around in a limited way, and the keyboard of the laptop was well within his reach. Oak said nothing, of course, but merely sat down in the second chair and watched, the same calm expression as ever on his face. Vince's sleep-deprived state left him slow on the uptake and so it took him half a minute to realize what was expected of him, but once he got it, it was blatantly obvious: he was supposed to log in.

Vince took a moment to consider his response. Then, knowing it would cost him, he looked straight at Oak's face and said, softly but clearly: "Fuck. You." The jolt hurt as much as all the previous ones had, but he tried to keep talking through the pain "Fuck... you... nnnnnnngggghhh... not doin' it! Fuckin' ape! Rrrrrrrrgggggghh!" The blast went on a long while until he was forced to give up his effort at speech and concentrate on breathing. After the assault was over and his exhausted, spastic muscles had a few minutes to recover, Vince looked up to see Oak sitting there as impassively as before, still waiting for Vince to enter the credentials that would unlock the computer. After the punishment he had just endured, Vince wasn't about to risk speech again, but the limited mobility his arm possessed gave him an idea. He lifted his forearm and twisted it so the back of his hand faced his tormentor. His middle finger was taped down, so the index finger would have to do. He held it straight up.

No response. Oak sat there, expression unchanged, waiting patiently until Vince grew bored and lowered his arm. Another thought occurred to him then, and he tried to reach his face to see if he could yank the offending tube out of his nose. Alas, the way the straps held him, the highest his finger could reach was his chin, not nearly far enough to get a grip on the end of the tube. Oak displayed no reaction to these efforts.

Then, just as Vince was considering whether to risk speech again, Oak stood up. He strapped Vince's forearm back down to the chair, and then pulled the laptop away. In its place he put a set of tools. Pliers. Needles. A wooden board. Some nails. A hammer. A spray bottle. A soldering iron, which he plugged into a nearby wall outlet. Vince began to get nervous as each implement was set out on the table, but was not quite ready to risk another shock from the stun gun. Oak sat back down and slid the board across the table toward Vince's right hand. Vince curled his finger up to keep it out of the way, but Oak reached out and stretched it out straight, laying it flat on the board. He pressed down on the knuckle, holding the finger in place while adrenaline started to surge in Vince's veins. With the other hand, Oak picked up a nail, laid it on the board next to Vince's finger (Not into, thank god) and held it in place with the same hand that was pinning the finger. With the other hand, he grabbed the hammer and lifted it high. Vince winced as it came down, but it struck the head of the nail, not his finger. The nail went partway into the wood. A few more pounds and it stayed there, leaning at an angle over his finger. More nails followed on alternating sides until they formed a tent over the finger. When Oak finally let go, Vince found he couldn't extract his finger from under the tent - the straps on his arm prevented him from pulling backward and the tent of nails stopped him from curling his finger. It was stuck there, helplessly awaiting whatever Oak had planned next.

Oak set down the hammer and picked up the pliers. Calmly, without any hesitation or lingering for effect, he gripped Vince's fingernail with the pliers and began to tug and twist. Vince could hold his tongue no longer. "Ah! Ah, shit, OW!" The words went unpunished; perhaps his captor deemed what he was doing punishment enough. Or perhaps he simply didn't have a free hand. Gripping the pliers with his left hand, he picked up a needle with his right, and Vince began to really howl. "Oh no... oh please no... please don't do this, ah god, no..." But there was nothing he could do to stop it. The needle poked at the bed of the nail, aided by the pliers that lifted the nail up and away, stretching the skin beneath and easing the needle's job of severing the connecting tissue between. As it bit into his tender flesh, Vince's shouts became wordless screams.

The pain was beyond anything he had ever experienced before. The entire universe was concentrated at the tip of his finger; there was nothing else. So many nerve endings were located there and all of them were exploding with white-hot bolts of lightning as Oak worked. Vince gibbered in helpless terror. Eventually, after what felt like months, the nail came free everywhere but the root. A few more twists and pulls on the pliers and this last connection was ripped apart. Blood oozed out onto the wood and Vince's body strained against the straps that held it. When at last the nail tore free, a small part of him was actually relieved - the ordeal had been horrible, but at least it was over.

But it wasn't. He had forgotten about the soldering iron, whose tip had been steadily heating up all while the extraction was going on. Oak set the pliers down and picked up the soldering iron, and Vince's whimpering pleas for mercy doubled in intensity. Slowly, inexorably, the tip of the iron came down. Vince could feel the heat on the top surface of his finger while the iron was still well above, and the heat only intensified as it drew nearer. He watched, horrified, breath coming in heaving gulps, unable to tear his eyes away as Oak aimed the iron right at the point the nail root had been torn from, and it was only when contact was made that his words once again turned into screams and he was able to look away. Heat poured into his finger, melting the skin and the flesh beneath, cauterizing and searing wherever the iron touched. Oak traced a curved line right along the base of the nail, thoroughly burning everything there so that the nail would never be able to regenerate and regrow.

Oak then sprayed the area with alcohol and the pain that Vince didn't think could get any worse redoubled. His screams went up an octave and his body would have exploded out of the chair if it had been able. Then a layer of gauze went down on the brutalized fingertip, followed by bandages wrapped with tape. Oak slid the board away, freeing Vince's finger to curl at last, now that it was far too late to do any good. Oak left him then, alone in the chair, laptop (powered down once more) sitting on the far side of the table.

Slowly, slowly, Vince's breathing and heart rate returned to normal. He ached to move, to curl his finger up against his chest and protect it from any further damage that his madman captor might wreak. Tears flowed out of the corners of his eyes, dripping unstoppably down his cheeks.

Some ten or fifteen minutes later, after he had calmed down a bit, a thought occurred to Vince: the laptop had been in his apartment. That meant several things: that Oak knew where he lived. That he had gotten in, which would not have been difficult since he had Vince's keys. That he had prowled around, snooping through Vince's life, and had selected at least this one item to bring back as proof of his conquest. And Vince had no way to know what else the ape had done while he was there. The sense of violation seeped all the way down to the center of Vince's soul.

The clock chimed, then, louder than it had sounded from his cell. It sounded the sixteen tones of the Big Ben theme, and then the hour markings came. The sounds were clearer from this location and he noticed that the weird distortion of the hour markers (which he had assumed was due to the thick cell door between himself and the clock) was even more pronounced than he had thought. The tones were not at all pleasant. It sounded not so much like a clock chiming as a pack of dogs trying to imitate the sound, howling only roughly in time and tune with one another.

He waited a while longer, but did not hear the clock again before hearing footsteps in the hall. His heart leaped in his chest and he bucked against the restraints anew. But Oak was merely carrying in another syringeful of goop for the feeding tube, which yesterday would have been something Vince strenuously objected to, but which by recent standards was no big deal. He sat quietly while the mush was squirted through the tube, down his throat, and into his stomach. Oak carried the syringe away and returned a minute or so later. He undid the tape around Vince's right hand and forearm, then re-taped the hand so that this time only Vince's middle finger was free to move. Then he sat down once again, pulled the laptop over, powered it up, and set it down within Vince's reach.

Vince's heart sank.

The end of the path he was on was starkly clear. Really the only choice he had was how much abuse he took before reaching that point. Did he really have the strength to hold out through nine more repetitions of what he had just gone through? He could feel his heart starting to hammer in his chest again. His middle finger looked terribly helpless there, sticking out from the end of his taped fist. He curled it in to protect it, but he knew how little effort it would cost Oak to forcibly straighten it out. In his imagination, he could feel the stronger man's ten fingers working together, applying irresistible force to overpower his pathetic effort to keep his one lonely, exposed finger safe. It would only take seconds before his resistance crumbled completely and his finger was secured in the already-built torture rack. And then... and then... No. Impossible. Even if he somehow survived the destruction of his middle finger, there were still eight more that this monster could use against him...

No. He couldn't go through it again. It was just the login screen, it wasn't like it was his bank account. Quickly, without thinking, he fingered in the password and hit Enter.

Oak swiveled the laptop around toward himself so that Vince couldn't see the screen. He clicked a bit, eyes presumably flicking here and there though Vince couldn't see them through the dark glasses that the man apparently never ever took off. Soon enough the screen was turned back around and Vince saw the "Change Password" window looking back at him from front and center. The cursor was positioned in the "Old Password" field, and Vince didn't have to think hard to know what would happen next: he would type in his current password, and then the laptop would be turned around again for Oak to fill in the "New Password" and "Confirm New Password" fields out of Vince's sight. And then the laptop, and everything on it, would be Oak's to peruse at his leisure.

Vince never really consciously decided to resist. It was more that he dithered for too long, and then the window of opportunity closed, and then it was too late. The moment Oak leaned forward to take the laptop away, Vince's heart rate surged and he strained to start typing, but he could only hit one - wrong - key before the keyboard was out of reach and then he was scrambling, panicking, ready to gnaw off his own leg if it would get him out of the trap he was in, but the trap encased not just his leg but his entire body with only his middle finger free and he couldn't gnaw that off and then the wooden block with the nails was in place and the pliers were coming in and Vince just screamed and screamed and screamed...

This time, after the nail had been destroyed, Vince was set free from the chair and led back to what he was coming to think of as "his" cell. His hands - the right one swollen and aching and throbbing - were once again cuffed to the back of a chain around his waist, but he was otherwise free to move around the 4-foot-by-8-foot pitch black space. He curled up in a corner of the concrete floor and passed out.

Journal, February 6

Not much progress on finances yesterday, but that's in line with how previous components responded. The smoothing work needs to be done anyway. Components have twenty points where they tend to develop sharp edges. These edges either need to be regularly evened out (impractical once the outer casing is applied), or else removed entirely. Obviously, removal is the cleaner approach for the long haul, though it takes some effort up front. It's nice when effort that needs to be done anyway can serve a second purpose... in this case the finances. 2 down; 18 to go.

Will continue with that today, and well as work some more on the output port.

Vince had been awake for a long while when the light turned on and Oak came in. He quickly sat up and scrambled as far from the approaching figure as he possibly could, but of course it did no good. He was hoisted up by the neck chain and led off down the hall to sit once again in the small office-like room, strapped to the chair, completely immobilized except for one digit, this time the ring finger on his right hand. A syringeful of glop was squirted into the feeding tube, and then the laptop was placed before him prompting him to log in. Typing was awkward with just the ring finger, and Vince miskeyed the password the first time. But he tried again and soon the system was open. As before, Oak brought up the "Change Password" window. This time Vince didn't hesitate.

Oak spun the laptop around, finished changing the password, and then clicked and typed for a few minutes while Vince sat and waited. The next time the laptop was turned around to face him, Vince saw Capital One's web site. It was already logged in as him... of course, he had let the browser remember his credentials, and so Oak would have sailed right in to the site. Dammit.

Once again, the screen he was on was a "change password" screen, this time for his Capital One account, and he was being prompted to enter his old password.

Which he didn't remember. Because the browser remembered it for him so he didn't have to.

Oh, shit.

Panic began to growl in his chest, threatening to break out and overwhelm him. There was no choice, he had to risk speech. "I don't know the password," he said as quickly as he could, but the moment he started he could see the taser rising and coming at him. He spoke even faster, hoping the words could save him. "I DON'T KNOW IT! IT'S WRITAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGHHHHH!" The jolt went on for long seconds. As soon as he could form words again he went on "It's written on a note in..." but his words turned into shapeless sounds as the taser made contact a second time.

Over and over he tried, never getting more than a few words out at a time. "... in the drawer...", "... my apartment...", "DON'T KNOW IT DAMN YOU!" After the sixth blast, the laptop was taken away and Vince could only sob, knowing what was to come next. It was only after the ring finger's nail had been removed and the nail bed destroyed, with the smell of singed flesh stinging his nostrils, when his ring finger had been sterilized and gauze-wrapped and taped down and his pinky finger freed, when he was confronted once more with the same change-password screen... only then did he think to say "You have access to my e-mail; just use 'forgot password' to have them send you a new one." But all he got for his brilliant insight was another blast from the taser.

And, of course, the eventual removal of his pinky fingernail.

And then his thumbnail.

Journal, February 6 (continued)

Success with the finances, and took care of 5 of the 20 sharp edges. Will take care of the other 15 at some point, but for now... wow. Nice windfall. This is a high-value component. Have transferred assets in excess of $2,000,000 to newly-created accounts. That will buy fuel and maintenance parts to keep the machine running for years to come.

Component #5 is in storage while awaiting its output port. Off to finish building that now; will install it tomorrow.

For the first time since he had been captured, Vince needed to move his bowels.

His entire right hand throbbed with agony. He couldn't see because they were trapped behind his back, but he could tell that the fingertips were swollen, inflamed wrecks. Each of the nails had been so thoroughly destroyed that there was no chance they would ever grow back. If he ever got out of here... no... don't think that way. When he got out of here, maybe there was something a doctor could do to repair the damage. And Vince would also need to try to repair whatever other damage his captor had done to the rest of his life. The lunatic now had full access to his laptop, his e-mail, his bank accounts, including the investments... and all Vince could do for the moment was try to figure out how not to shit himself in the pitch black cell he was trapped in.

He fumbled his way over to the bars and felt with his foot for the place in the middle where the floor dipped down. Then he had to try to aim, awkwardly, with his hands cuffed behind him, squatting over what he hoped was the hole in the floor and letting go. The smell soon filled the small room. And he couldn't even wipe himself; he didn't want to use the gauze bandages for fear of setting some kind of flesh-eating gangrene loose in the wounds where his fingernails used to be. It actually helped, a small bit, that he had been shaved so thoroughly shortly after his captivity began: no hairs for shit to cling to on its way out.

The thought of the shaving reminded him, though... that had been several days ago, hadn't it? Surely the hair would be growing back in by now? He rubbed his cheek on his shoulder, and there was definitely no stubble there. And then he remembered the strange, hot cream that had been rubbed all over him shortly after the shaving, and a horrible, sinking sensation formed in the pit of his belly.

"No... oh, no..."

Somehow, the thought of being permanently hairless all over his body was as horrifying as anything else he had endured. If he looked at the issue rationally, it shouldn't bother him nearly as much as the destruction of his hand or the pillaging of his wealth. And yet somehow it did. Maybe because it affected his self-image? He still had a pretty thick head of hair, or at least he had until a few days ago, and the little bits of grey in it were easy to cover up. But now... when he escaped from this hellhole... he'd forever look like a cancer patient. No toupee could ever take the place of natural hair.

He didn't have much time to muse on this, just enough time to build up a good, volcanic rage, imagining what he would do to Oak after he escaped, picturing the revenge he would take on his tormentor, and on Chrissy too, oh yeah, that bitch was definitely going to get what was coming to her.. . maybe after raping her with his dick he'd rape her next with a kitchen knife... when the lights went on and the door opened. Fueled by fury, Vince waited until the cell door was unlocked before driving his body into it, hoping to knock Oak backward and make his escape.

It didn't work that way. He slammed into Oak with his full weight, but the massive man didn't even break stride. He caught the chain around Vince's neck and lifted it up, and Vince suddenly found himself with no purchase on the floor. His legs danced and kicked, but he could gain no traction. He lashed out at Oak's legs, but the man didn't even seem to notice. He just stood there, holding Vince up by the neck while Vince's breathing grew raspy and redness closed in around the corners of his vision. When he was finally set down again, Vince was still filled with rage, but was too dizzy and weak to do anything about it. He fought feebly while Oak chained his ankles to the bars of the cell, once again spreading his legs apart and forcing him to lie on his back with his hands trapped under his body.

"NO!" Vince shouted when he had enough breath to focus again. "You can't do thisGAAAAAAAA!" Inevitably, the taser that the man must have carried with him everywhere he went made contact and Vince's words disappeared in a gargling scream.

His captor left and returned with several metal objects and, terrifyingly, something that looked like a spot welder. The fury drained out of Vince like water down a drain, replaced with dread and fear. His body screamed to run away before whatever horror Oak had planned could be inflicted on him, but he couldn't escape, couldn't do much more than lift his head, or possibly sit up if he could muster the strength to do it. No, he was trapped, stuck here splayed out like a butterfly in a collector's display case.

The first thing Oak did was coat his dick and balls and the surrounding area with more of what Vince now knew to be hair-removal cream. He left it to sit for ten minutes while it baked and cooled, destroying any stray follicles that the first go-around had missed. Then a blast with the hose to rinse it off - incidentally flushing the cell's "toilet" and marginally improving the smell in the small space.

Oak next grabbed him by the balls and wrapped a cord around the base, tying them off. Vince just closed his eyes and hoped that whatever was coming wouldn't hurt too much or result in his testicles going the way of his fingernails. The next sensation he felt was one of pressure, and while it wasn't comfortable, it wasn't awful, either. It lasted for a few minutes and when Oak released him and stood, Vince dared to raise his head and shoulders to try to look at what had been done. He expected it to be hard to see his dick and balls from the position he was in, but they were very visible. The cord had been stretched up to the cell bars and was holding his genitals up, not tightly, but enough to make it possible for Vince to see that there were now two metal rings in place. One encircled the base of both his dick and his balls and a smaller one went around his balls alone. The pressure he had felt must have been his balls being pressed one by one through the smaller ring.

He only had a few seconds to look because Oak had returned to the inner half of the cell and had brought the spot welder in with him. He reached under Vince's crotch and squeezed what looked like a thick rag between the rings and Vince's skin at the point where the two rings met behind his balls, then placed other scraps across nearby areas of Vince's thighs and waist. Then came the welder. The process was swift and though Vince had been expecting some painful heat, he felt only a bit of warmth. When he looked up again, Oak had put the welder's arm down and was picking up a new tool. This one made a loud droning sound when he turned it on. Vince saw sparks fly as Oak lowered the grinder and sanded the sharp points of melted-and-refrozen metal off of the two rings that he had just welded together at the point where they met behind Vince's balls. Some of the sparks landed on him and caused him to twitch as they fell, but most either hit the floor or the pieces of insulation that Oak had draped over him.

Oak next brought in a small round tube, about the size of a man's thumb... well, a normal man's thumb. It was far too small to fit over any of Oak's fingers. But Vince had a feeling it wasn't designed to go over a thumb, and was not surprised when Oak began lining it up to slide it over Vince's cock. There were two holes in it, in addition to the large one that his penis was currently sliding through. The purpose of the one at the tip was obvious, but there was a second hole along the top, just to the rear of where his flared cockhead ended and the shaft began, and Vince couldn't see what purpose that one might serve. Ventilation, perhaps? If Vince had been even the slightest bit hard, the metal sleeve would not have been able to fit over it, but sexual arousal was about the furthest thought possible from his mind at that moment. His dick was as soft and small as it could possibly get and the sheath soon covered him from tip to base.

The sheath had indentations on its lip, right at the points on top and bottom where it met the two rings. Oak squeezed a few more scraps of insulation under the rings and then brought the spot welder back out again. Several clicks and zaps later, the sheath had been secured at both contact points. The grinder once again smoothed out the sharp points of metal that the welding process had left behind. When Vince ventured a look again, he saw that the cord had been removed and his cock was now sealed inside a shiny metal casing... one that would prevent him from getting hard, not that that seemed likely in the near future. But, thinking long-term, the fact that it had been welded on was a bit worrisome. This was not something he was going to be easily able to remove by himself, even after he figured out how to get his hands free.

But Oak wasn't finished. He returned once more with a screw about an eighth of an inch in diameter and half an inch long. He was also holding an even smaller tube, slightly curved and not quite as thick around as a pencil. Vince watched him inspect the two, inserting the tiny threaded end of the screw into an equally tiny hole in the side of the tube. Even so, Vince had no idea what Oak was going to do with these two objects until he felt the end of the tube being inserted into the tip of his penis through a hole at the end of the metal sleeve. He bucked and squirmed but there was no way to prevent the thing from being worked up right through the center of his dick. At two inches in length, it reached right about to where the ring was, stretching out his urethra the whole way.

And then the reason for second hole in the sheath was made plain. A white-hot searing pain blossomed on the top of his dick, just behind the crown, right where that second hole of unknown purpose was located. Vince felt a horrible tearing right through the meat of his dickhead until the thing that was puncturing him reached the tube in his urethra and ground against it. The needle came out. Vince lifted his head and watched Oak coat the threads of the screw and the bottom of the its head with some sort of paste. Then the screw was being inserted into his dick, through his dick, right down through the hole the needle had made. When it reached the urethral tube, Oak began to turn it with a screwdriver and it slowly sank into place. Grey paste oozed up around the edges where the screw met the metal sheath, fitting perfectly into the edges of the hole and sealing it off. Oak smeared the paste around, squeezing it into the slot where the screwdriver had fit. The purpose was clear: when this stuff, whatever it was, had cured, it would be in the threads at the bottom of the screw, it would be sealing the screw to the sheath, and it would be filling up the slot in the screw's head. A screw had been drilled right through the head of his cock and it was not going to be coming out easily. If ever.

Oak gathered up his equipment and left, leaving the lights on and Vince chained on his back with his legs spread out wide. He painstakingly levered himself up to inspect the work that had been done at his crotch. Where his dick had once been was now a seamless nub of shiny metal, marred only by the slowly-drying grey paste. It was stuffed from the inside by a tube and encased from the outside by a larger tube, held in place by welds to rings and further by the screw that had been driven right through the meat of his dick. His cock would not be getting hard again until he could figure out some way to get the metal off without damaging the underlying flesh too badly.

He lay back down and tried to focus on a plan to end this insanity. But his mind couldn't seem to come up with anything that had even a ghost of a chance of working.

Journal, February 7

Output port has been installed. Gave the area a polishing, then fastened the necessary attachments in place. #5 currently in storage until the bonding compound cures and is ready to be ground and shined so the finish matches the rest. Other components humming along smoothly.

Source gave me a message to deliver to the component at this point in the process, but have no intention of doing that. Told her "I" would as part of the negotiations - she seemed very interested in this stage of the transformation. In fact, was the only part she wanted to know about. Wanted to hear in great detail how permanent the fixture would be, how unremovable, how effective at controlling its contents. Wanted "me" to read a statement to the component gloating about it.

Silliness. Reading a statement to a component. Probably talks to her houseplants, too. Some people are funny like that.

Here, for the record, is the message she wanted delivered: "Hi, Vince. As promised, I haven't been thinking about you at all these past few days, nor will I ever again. That's because Mr. Oak has assured me that he will be taking care of your problem area. By the time you get this message, the part of you that caused me and so many other women such trouble will be safely locked away and will never threaten anyone else again. I'll repeat that so it sinks in: never again, Vince. Never again. - Christine"

The next "day" - or however long a time it was before Oak next returned - started out easy. First Oak sanded and polished the tube around Vince's dick. This didn't hurt at all, so Vince barely even noticed. Then he was led into the cell next door once more, chained in a spread-eagle, and re-coated with the depilating cream. He endured the almost-uncomfortable warmth and the too-cold rinse once more. Vince was not bothered much by this either; virtually all of his follicles had been destroyed by the first round; what did it matter if the remaining hundred or so bit the dust too?

But then the day got worse. Much worse. Instead of being led back to his cell, he was taken to the office-like area and strapped once more into the restraint chair. This time it was his left hand that was left untaped. Vince wanted to beg, to say that he'd cooperate completely, bring the computer over and he'd type anything at all, just please, please, please don't destroy his other fingers. But he didn't dare speak: he had finally acknowledged the futility of even trying. His old self, his pre-captivity self, would have scoffed at the idea that there would ever be a situation where he couldn't negotiate some advantage for himself. His experience up until then had taught him that all of life consists of horse trading: everyone is willing to give a little something to get a little something else. But there can be no negotiation where there is no communication, and Oak had made it clear that Vince was not to utter a single word, and had done so without ever saying a word himself. The man was a mutant monster, a freak, but he had all the power and Vince had none.

To Vince's surprise, and then his despair, Oak never brought the computer out. Instead, he secured all five of the fingers of Vince's left hand to a board using the same tent-of-nails technique over each finger. There could only be one reason why he would do that and Vince fought with all his strength to break free of the restraints. He could not.

The pliers and the needle and the soldering iron came out. They did their work. Vince had thought that perhaps, having been through this ordeal five times already, the sixth and seventh and eighth and ninth and tenth times might be somehow easier.

He was wrong.

That "night", lying broken in his cell, sheer exhaustion enabled him to somehow fall asleep huddled up in the corner, pressed up against the cinderblocks. He lay on his stomach, half turned to one side. With his throbbing hands cuffed behind him, lying on his back was not a possibility. Twisted shards of dreams haunted his sleep. Demons chased him through black streets. He tried to run, but in the perverse way of dreams his legs moved as though mired in thick tar. The hellfiends would catch him and toss him from one to another while he sought blindly to slip free. Their faces morphed and melted and bled into one another. At one point he found his hands to be embedded in a pit of flaming coals. He roused himself to enough awareness to realize that this was just his mind's way of rendering the real-world pain in his hands into the dreamscape, and yet when he pulled his hands from the fire, they continued to burn in the open air. He held them in front of him as they blazed and they lit his way as he ran sluggishly through the endless dark twisting alleys.

Still later there came a time when a different discomfort roused him. Somehow, despite all that had happened, his dick had tried to come to life and get hard. This had shifted the position of the head against the spike that had been driven through it and it was this sensation that had woken him. He tried to adjust the position of his dick, but it was no use. Even with fully-functional, uncuffed hands, his options would still be limited. The metal sheath was solidly fixed in place and would not be coming off without some tool capable of cutting through metal while leaving the tender flesh beneath it unharmed. Meanwhile, his body continued to pump blood into the organ the way it had for the last few decades, but instead of swelling to satisfying stiffness, his dick pressed up against the metal surrounding it on all sides. That part was merely uncomfortable and frustrating, not painful. The pain was coming from the not-yet-healed involuntary piercing he had received. He wanted to reach down and squeeze his dick to ease the pressure. Lacking hands to squeeze with, Vince instead squirmed and ground his crotch into the concrete floor, causing himself fresh pain but different pain, willingly doing it in the way that he might grind his teeth fiercely together to distract himself from a toothache. It took long minutes, but eventually his dick softened again and the discomfort that the swelling had brought eased.

There was no more sleep to be had, though. He spend the rest of the dark hours staring blindly into the blackness, trying to think of some reason not to give in to despair.

The following "day", the toenails were removed from his right foot. Vince's aching hands remained cuffed behind his back, where they had been any time they were not needed for some other torture. His legs were locked into stocks and his toes were tied individually to the top of the wooden frame. Vince fought and screamed, but more weakly than before. Whatever shit Oak had been pouring into his stomach through the feeding tube, there wasn't enough of it. He was constantly hungry, constantly tired from not sleeping due to lying on the concrete floor, and constantly exhausted from the effort of fighting his restraints and his pain. So although every single one of his right foot's toenails hurt with flaming agony as it was torn out by the root and cauterized, he just didn't have the strength to react the way he would have a few days earlier.

His five remaining toenails were removed the next day.

The next several days, nothing much happened. For most of the day, Vince was left alone with only the handcuffs as restraints. Oak came in to feed him twice a day and a third time midway between to inject water into the feeding tube. Oak checked his fingers and toes, looking for signs of... something... but of course he didn't say what he was looking for, nor could Vince ask.

He tried to move as little as possible, only changing position when the current one grew too uncomfortable. Moving hurt, and it was only worth doing when remaining still hurt even more. Mostly he lay in a heap, eyes half-focused on the grey walls and ceiling when the lights were on and staring emptily into the blackness when they weren't.

Journal, February 13

Component #5 is almost ready for installation. Sharp edges have been removed and show no signs of reappearing. Just needs the final outer seal coating and then can take its place with the other four. Looking forward to filling out the first bank - just need one more after this! - seeing how it looks, how it works with all components in place. Maybe see if Mark has any opinion to offer on how his vision is turning out.

This might have been the one-week mark since Vince's abduction. Or maybe it was more like ninth or tenth or twentieth day - there was no way to be sure here in this windowless dungeon. The chiming of the distant clock had long ago become just part of the background. Whatever day it was, the lights came on and Oak walked into the room carrying a black blanket. Or so it first appeared. When he laid it out, it became clear that it was actually a man-shaped suit. The suit was made of dense black rubber, about as thick as a finger, very heavy and inflexible. In his exhausted haze, Vince didn't figure out what was going to happen until Oak started putting him into the suit. Then he struggled, but feebly, weakly, unable to offer any significant resistance to Oak's efforts.

The legs went on first. The suit had been slathered inside with some kind of gel such that it slid easily over his skin. The fit was tight but not constrictive, as if the suit had been tailor-fitted to his calves and thighs - which, he realized, remembering the measurements Oak had taken long ago, it probably had. When it had been snugged in place up to his waist, Oak took a moment to attach Vince's right foot to the bars of the cell will with a long chain, then undid the handcuffs that had held Vince's arms behind his back for most of the time since his arrival. Slowly, cautiously, Vince brought his arms around to the front of his body, wincing at the pain of the motion and the unaccustomed position. Oak lifted Vince to a standing position via the neck chain, and secured the chain to the ceiling to keep Vince upright. Vince could barely keep his balance - his legs kept quivering and threatening to drop him to hang and his butchered toes throbbed with agony, but he somehow managed to hold himself up on his own. Oak placed Vince's arms into the sleeves of the suit and drew the body up once the arms were secure. There were no fingers at the ends of the sleeves; Vince's mutilated fingers were forced to curl up into a loose ball. The sound of a zipper came from Vince's back, starting low at his waist and traveling slowly but inexorably up his spine until it reached his neck, pulling the suit tight around his chest as it moved upward. The neck of the suit was particularly thick and encircled his neck like a collar. Oak made sure the neck chain was not trapped between the suit and Vince's skin, then used a heavy padlock to secure both ends of the collar and the zipper together.

Vince was now locked into the rubber suit. It covered every inch of his body from his chin down. He tried to move, experimentally, and found it was difficult, but he couldn't tell how much of that was the resistance of the suit and how much was his own weakness from hunger and exhaustion. The memory of his haunted dreams came back to him as he realized that trying to run now in his real-life body would be as arduous as running in his dream-world body had been. Just one more way in which his life and his nightmares were becoming indistinguishable.

Oak left briefly and Vince hung there, slack-jawed, waiting. When Oak returned, he was pushing something that looked sort of like a wheelchair but wasn't. It was a contraption of welded steel beams, and there were indeed four wheels on the bottom, but there was no seat, just two of the beams laid out in a sort of V shape that someone could sit on, resting his ass on the point where they intersected and stretching his legs out along the beams. Which, as it turned out, was exactly what Oak made him do. He unhooked the neck chain from the ceiling and then Vince was pushed and pulled and placed into position, half-heartedly resisting but with very little fight left in him. Shortly after that, it didn't matter whether he fought or not: the neck chain was padlocked to the top of the "chair" and there was nothing Vince could do. If he tried to stand or roll to the side or slump down, the chair would follow along behind him wherever he went, dragged along by the chain around his neck.

Oak set about methodically fixing other parts of Vince's body to the chair. The wrists were first. One at a time, he positioned each wrist in place atop the arm of the not-a-chair and covered it with a thick round steel bracket with flat flanged edges pointing down. The round part encircled Vince's wrist and the two flat flanges lined up flush with the sides of the steel beam that made up the chair's armrest. Oak used a C-clamp to temporarily hold the bracket in place, then used his welder to make the attachment permanent. The fit was flawless, metal in contact with rubber all around the circumference of each of Vince's wrists, snugged down tight. Vince tugged experimentally and found that he could not move his wrists at all, that he could move the elbows and the fingers but the wrists were securely fixed in place.

His upper arms were next. These were attached vertically since his elbows were bent at a ninety-degree angle. The slightly-larger rounded, flanged brackets were first clamped, then welded into place right at the center of his biceps. Vince now found his range of motion to be even more limited - he could bend his shoulders forward as far as the neck chain would allow, he could twist his torso from side to side, he could probably have slid his waist around if the rubber hadn't clung so effectively to the steel... but he could not move his arms much at all. Only his fingers had a bit of freedom, and even that was sharply curtailed by the fist-shaped enclosure they were in.

It occurred to Vince that this was intended to be permanent. Every other restraint his limbs had been placed in up until this point had been reversible, undoable. But now he was being welded into place, losing freedom of movement with every flash of the arc. It was only going to get worse, and it was never going to be removed. Whatever twisted horror Oak had been steering him toward, this was it. Everything else was preparation; this was the end stage. If Vince had any hope of avoiding whatever was in store for him, it would have to be now. If it wasn't already too late.

A small lucid part of Vince's brain made an observation: his body was now encased in rubber. Rubber was an electrical insulator.

He would be safe from the taser.

As Oak prepared the tools that would affix Vince's ankles to the legs of the chair, Vince tried to speak. It was difficult: words once came out of his mouth effortlessly, but his time here had trained his body to expect pain every time he spoke. Even knowing that he was now immune from (that particular) pain, it took great effort to force his throat to make sounds, to shape them into words with his tongue. Oak was bent down near Vince's left ankle by the time Vince was able to coax the words out.

"Please don't do this," he croaked. "I'll give you anything, just please no no NO NO DON'T!"

They were the last coherent words Vince ever spoke. Calmly, with no emotion visible anywhere, Oak lifted the taser and aimed it at the one open, unprotected, vulnerable spot on Vince's body: his head. Vince took the jolt right on the underside of his chin and his words disappeared into a meaningless scream, then ceased altogether as the current locked up his jaw and neck muscles.

Vince passed out, or at least lost awareness of his surroundings. By the time he recovered, having been slowly, grudgingly dragged back to consciousness, Oak had made several further attachments. Vince was now secured to the beams of the chair at his ankles, thighs, waist, and chest. At each site, welded steel braces secured his rubber-clad body to the frame of the chair. The leg ones were tight enough to prevent motion; the waist and chest were slightly looser, allowing him to breathe. When he expanded his lungs, both waist and chest pressed firmly up against the metal. He thrashed, weakly, and was unable to move anything other than his head.

There was a gag in his mouth. It was strapped around the back of his head and it mostly filled his mouth. There was a tube in it that Vince found he could pull air through. That was reassuring, because with the feeding tube running through his nose it sometimes became difficult to take in a full breath. Thinking about the feeding tube made him realize that something felt different about it.

Focusing his eyes closer, he saw that Oak had made one more modification. His feeding tube had been extended. Vince followed the tube with his eyes and saw that it led out from his nose and down... down... ending at... his titanium-encased dick, which emerged from the thick rubber suit he was wearing through a zippered opening. The feeding tube was plugged into the tip of the cock tube.

Vince's head sagged back. He tossed it from side to side a few times, but without any real hope of dislodging anything. Oak was standing there, immobile and impassive as his namesake, just watching him.

Vince had pissed many times in the days since the dick cage had been installed. There was a slight burning sensation the first few times, but it hadn't been nearly as bad as he had feared, given that there was a tube in his urethra and a fucking screw through the head. It had been hard to aim with his hands cuffed behind him, and he had spattered the area around the drain hole pretty thoroughly, not that that made the stink in the cell noticeably worse. Also, the flow had been slower, which made sense since part of the space inside the shaft was now taken up by the inner metal tube.

It had never occurred to him that the cage might be used in this manner: to drain his bladder directly into his stomach. The thought made him retch, but he quickly got himself under control - the prospect of vomiting with a gag in his mouth was absolutely horrifying.

He realized his stomach felt full, come to think of it. Had Oak fed him while his mind was elsewhere?

No. That wasn't it. His stomach was full, yes, but it sloshed when he twitched his belly muscles. It was full of water, probably water mixed with salt or caffeine or something else that would make his bladder fill up fast. The smug bastard was going to stand there staring at him until he couldn't stand the internal pressure any more and pissed down his own throat, filling himself right back up again to repeat the process over and over and over.

Was this Christine's revenge? Was this the deal she had made with his captor, to turn him into a urine recycler?

The pressure was starting to build in his bladder. He could practically feel his kidneys laboring to filter out whatever crap had been dumped into his blood, disposing of the excess water the same way they had been doing it his whole life, totally unaware that the end product of their labor was going to come flooding right back into his system the moment he couldn't stand to delay any longer.

He considered just getting it over with. There was nothing he could do, nowhere he could go, no way to avoid the inevitable. But he decided to hold out as long as he could - let the smug asshole stand there waiting. And so they waited. Vince grew increasingly uncomfortable as his bladder steadily filled, while Oak showed no sign of impatience whatsoever. He merely stood, impassive, eyes hidden behind the omnipresent dark glasses, no expression at all on the stony face. Dammit, what would it take to get the great beast to crack? To speak, to show surprise or loathing or sadistic delight or any fucking emotion at all? Vince would have been happy - perversely so - to have been captured by someone who got off on his suffering. At least that would have been understandable. Sick, but understandable. Hell, it was the way he himself felt about his whores. This guy didn't seem to care about the pain and humiliation he had inflicted on Vince. So why was he doing it? Nothing about this made any sense.

It might have been an hour later, or it might have been half that - Vince's time sense had not been operating at its peak for a while. It couldn't have been two because he had only heard the far-off clock chime once since Oak had finished welding him to the chair. But however long it had been, Vince's bladder was full to the point of bursting. He could not have held out more than a few more minutes, but Oak apparently had grown tired of waiting. He moved, and the movement made Vince's blood sing with anticipation of pain to come. But the man simply left the room, returning a few moments later holding a cup and a funnel. He opened his fly and urinated, catching the stream in the cup. Then he set the cup down on the floor, zipped himself up, and reached toward Vince's head, and Vince began to guess what was about to happen.

Working at an unhurried pace, Oak unfastened the nose tube from the dick tube and stuck the funnel into the nose one. Vince strained, but of course there was nothing he could do. Oak's piss poured into the funnel, down through the tube in Vince's nose, and emptied into his belly, and it was at this moment that Vince realized he was truly, fully, completely broken. He was no longer a man, he was a urinal. His jailer's piss was already inside him, pooling hot in his stomach; could his own be any worse? What was the point of holding it any longer? He let loose his bladder even as Oak was still pouring from the cup, but Oak had anticipated that and was holding the end of Vince's dick tube in the funnel. Vince, eyes welling up with tears, could vaguely see through the transparent plastic wall as his own piss mingled with Oak's and the two flowed together down into his gullet. There was no taste, of course, but he could feel the warmth through the tube taped to his cheek and nose.

Vince wept, hot, quiet tears spilling out of his eyes and down his face.

At one point, his stomach churned and he could feel the fluid come burbling up through his esophagus. Then there was taste, the rank, rancid taste of urine at the back of his throat, and he once again came close to vomiting. The only thing that saved him from that was the knowledge that with his mouth blocked, the piss and stomach acid would have nowhere to go but up and out through his nose. Almost... almost... he considered letting that happen, but the idea of drowning in bile and urine was too terrible. He was not against the idea of suicide, but there had to be a better, less terrifying way to accomplish it. Besides, Oak would probably have intervened and calmly and methodically (but not painlessly) somehow prevented Vince from dying. And so he forced his gorge back down and tried not to think about the taste and scent that now filled his nose and mouth.

Pouring finished, Oak set the cup and funnel down and re-connected the two tubes together. For the foreseeable future, until Oak decided otherwise, Vince would be recycling his own liquid waste.

Oak went to the back of the "chair" then and began wheeling Vince out of the cell. Instead of turning right as they had on every previous excursion, Vince steered him off to the left, down through a corridor he had never seen. A few turns and then Oak paused to open a heavy door. He held it open with his body, pulling Vince in backward through it, then spun the chair around and left, walking off to another part of the room.

The room was large, the size of a repair garage for trucks or buses. The lighting was harsh and industrial, shining down from an array of hanging overhead fixtures. The edges of the room were mostly empty, although here and there were tables and shelves and tool racks and various other bits of equipment. But what dominated the room was the structure in the center.

It was tall and large, twice a man's height and stretching at least forty feet long, made mostly of metal but with a substantial amount of black rubber or plastic. Various beams and supports crisscrossed one another forming a complicated lattice. Hoses and pipes and power cords traced out vein-like patterns along the structure's steel bones. Studded everywhere were reservoirs and motors and axles and elbow joints... it was a massive, complicated machine.

Lined up across the front, at left, hard to see because their dark color blended into a blur behind the gleaming polished steel, were four human figures. Vince didn't realize that's what they were at first - none of them looked much like a human. Each of the four was in a seated position, each completely obscured behind a black covering of some sort. Even their faces were hidden behind black masks made of some sort of... some sort of... cloth or... or...

Vince looked down at himself, then back at the four shadowy figures. He screamed into the gag.

He kept screaming as Oak came back and began wheeling him closer to the machine. Vince could see more clearly as he was brought nearer. Tubes jutted out from the center of each rubber-masked face and from between each pair of rubber-clad legs. The dick tube from the leftmost figure led to the face tube of the second, and so on down the line. The dick tube from the fourth figure was aimed toward a drain in the floor. There were two empty spaces to the right of the last figure, two empty spaces in a bank of six that spanned from one end of the great machine to nearly the midpoint. Vince had no doubt that he was destined to become the fifth link in the chain, a receptacle for four-times-recycled piss. And then there would be a second bank? A total of twelve captives, each sitting like a statue for eternity?

Did Christine know that this was the fate she had sentenced him to? Had Oak told her what his plans were? Vince had a sudden hysterical vision that this was where the anti-sexual harassment movement was heading: racks and racks of men entombed alive, sent to places like this at the whim of female accusers. He imagined a sign over the head of the leftmost figure stating "Back when I was a man, I treated women badly", and then sign after sign after sign to the right, each saying "Me Too", "Me Too", "Me Too". His scream rose in pitch, became almost a laugh, a hyena-like cackling muffled by the gag that shoved the sound back down his own throat.

Vince felt a probing from underneath the seat and something cold and solid was inserted implacably up his ass. Of course. Every other orifice was controlled, of course this last one would be too. Wouldn't want Vince fouling up the gleaming steel and rubber with his shit. Appalling as this intrusion would have been two weeks ago, at this moment he barely registered the stretching, pushing sensations in his gut, because while the operation was in progress, something changed.

The great machine before him began to stir, and, distracted, Vince forgot to keep screaming. Some timing mechanism had reached its tipping point. Motors began to whir, axles began to turn. The four seated figures began to rise, slowly assuming standing positions. Each of their legs was welded as Vince's were to the steel frames that supported them. Each of their arms was fixed to similar beams, as were their heads with metal bands around where their foreheads must be, but Vince saw now that the beams were hinged, jointed. They could flex. The motors whirred and forced the rubberized shapes to stand with their legs apart, hands lifted up over their heads.

All the while, the deep, sonorant sound of the Westminster chimes filled the room. Four bongs, pause, four different bongs, four more, then four more. Sixteen in all. This was the far-off clock he had been hearing since the start of his captivity. This torture rack, this tomb of living hell... it was nothing more than a clock. A mockery of the elaborate public timework displays found in charming Bavarian tourist towns. Instead of smiling carved figures clad in lederhosen or dirndls, instead of painted roosters and flugelhorns, this clock featured faceless rubber drones, man-sized, man-shaped tombs whose anonymous occupants were, presumably, still alive, each sealed inside his own black, form-fitting crypt. The world's most macabre way to mark the passing of the hours.

The chimes ended and a new sound took their place: the tortured moans of suffering men. Each of the four encased victims before him howled with his own private anguish, and yet they all sang out in unison, once, twice, a total of seven times in all. Seven o'clock. Then the motors whirred again and the captive figures performed a grotesque sort of dance. Moving in slow motion, the figures dipped and bowed, kicked their legs up like Rockettes, waved their arms. They bent at the waist, straightened again, crossed their arms in front of themselves, reached out to the sides to bump hands with their neighbors. None of the motions was a voluntary one. All movement was forced on them by the relentless force of the motors driving the shafts that then drove the steel beams, dragging the rubber and the man-meat along for the ride. The show went on for perhaps five minutes, during which time Oak finished inserting whatever it was into Vince's ass and then stood, watching the horrifying display.

When the figures had settled back down into seated stillness, Vince's captor spun him around and backed the chair into the open position to the side of the fourth figure. That figure was now to Vince's right, since Vince was now facing out from the machine. He sat, helplessly waiting, dreading what he knew must be coming and yet totally, completely helpless to stop it from happening. Earplugs were placed into his ears, muffling external noises and amplifying the sound of his own blood rushing through his head. Pads went over his eyes, taped in place, shutting down his sight. Then a hood, black and thick, greased inside, sliding down over his naked skull. It took a moment for Oak to line up the hood's only hole with his nose and mouth, but soon enough Vince could breathe normally through both. A bit of fumbling as the hood was sealed to the collar, then a bit of sound and pressure as the metal band was welded into place over his forehead, forever fixing his head to the bar behind it. Then some fumbling with the feeding tube. More fumbling with the thing that had been inserted into his ass. A last bit of fumbling at his caged cock.

Then... nothing. No sound. No light. No vision. No movement. Just endless silent stillness.

Vince couldn't tell if he was still screaming, or if it was only in his imagination.

Journal, February 15

Component #5 is installed. Looks good next to the others. Tested the fluid flow, nutrient provision, waste removal: all performing to spec. Chimes sound different now with the addition of the fifth voice. Richer, fuller sound. Wonder what all twelve will sound like?

Taking a break before starting to seek out component #6. Need a couple of days to clean out the storage area, finish sorting out the new finances, replenish the supplies. More beans, potatoes, lentils, kale, carrots... fueling five components now, not four. Need to adjust quantities. All the minor auxiliary sorts of tasks that go into making sure the machine runs smoothly.

Good thing financing is taken care of for years to come.

Dear god, he had to get out of here. If he had to stay like this one minute longer he was going to die, he was going to go insane.

Maybe he had already done one, or both. He was pretty sure this was not the first time he had had that thought, though, which must mean he had not died or gone insane. Yet. Unless he had. Maybe this was hell for crazy people.

It had been at least three days. Possibly more, maybe as many as eight or nine or ten. But at least three. Vince was certain... mostly...

He had quickly learned the parameters of his new world. Once an hour, he was lifted to his feet with his arms stretched up over his head. Dimly, muffled but still audible through the half-inch-thick hood and the earplugs, would come the sixteen tones of the Westminster chime. He would not only hear them, he would feel the vibrations rattling his body. Then he would scream into the gag, one scream for every hour on the clock.

He tried not to scream, but he couldn't help it. It was as involuntary as the reflex to toss extra hundreds to brutalized hookers had once been. The cage around his dick, his balls, his ass, all had been wired up and connected to some sort of electrical device. When the current was turned on, it was as if his groin had been dipped in a pool of lava. His entire body would convulse, straining against the welded bands that held him. The pulse only lasted a brief moment, perhaps half a second. That was plenty long enough. He would scream, the sound torn from his spasming belly, and then the current would turn off and there would be a pause during which his scream would fade away, and then the cycle would repeat as many times as needed, the sounds of screaming spaced out perhaps three seconds apart, emitting from what he knew to be five throats simultaneously even though he could only hear his own.

Then the macabre dance would begin. Unlike the hourly chimes, the dance varied. Sometimes it was brief; other times it went on longer. The specific movements varied from day to day, but the noon set was always the most elaborate. Vince took no active part in the dance. He was a bystander to his own body's movements - the machine put his limbs into position, then moved them somewhere else, then somewhere else again, all without any input needed from him. After some time he would be sat back down again to await the next performance.

This went on every day starting from 6:00 (presumably AM, but for all Vince knew, his lunatic captor could be nocturnal) until 10:00 at night. Sixteen hours of screams, one hundred eighteen synchronized screams in total each day. Then a break until the following morning. Vince sometimes slept, either between hours or during the long overnight lull, but never very well.

Feedings came twice a day. Vince could feel material coming in through the tube in his nose, followed by water to flush the tube clear. Those were predictable, coming at 7:30 in the morning and 5:30 at night. Less predictable was the arrival of the other substance that came in through the tube: his neighbor's urine, recycled from the wretch beyond him, et cetera. Vince could always tell when this was happening because the tube would grow warm against his upper lip. Sometimes, if it was a particularly large load, he could feel it swelling his stomach, but soon enough that sensation would dissipate as the piss was absorbed into his blood.

He let his own urine flow whenever the need arose, not that there was any other option available. He figured that for now it was draining down into the floor, but that one day it would start filling up a new prisoner to Vince's left. He wondered if he would even know when that happened. Certainly the luckless creature next to him had not been notified of Vince's arrival; why should Vince expect to be told "hey, you're now pissing down the throat of the new guy"? It's not like he could do anything differently.

Solid wastes he didn't have to think about. That was handled for him, also on a twice-daily schedule (9:30 AM and 7:30 PM. If there was once thing Vince was hyper-aware of, it was the passage of the hours). The plug in his ass would dilate and expand and warm fluid would flow in, filling him uncomfortably in a way he had never experienced prior to his installation in the clock. The fluid would stay there for a few minutes, then be drained away. The process would repeat twice more, then stop. The plug would return to its normal size.

Vince had tried to expel the plug, but it would not be moved. No amount of pushing or straining could dislodge it, or force anything out past it when it was not open and ready. And so even when his bowel was urging him to void it, he had to sit, waiting uncomfortably, until the automated system would dilate him, dissolve the problem matter into paste and smaller bits, and drain it away. Vince had no idea where the stuff went. Back into his nose tube, for all he knew, although that seemed like it would be self-defeating. Vince guessed that his captor wanted to keep his array of rubber clockwork toys alive and in peak screaming condition; if so, then feeding them fecal matter would run counter to that end.

Vince found that his time sense, which had been eroded to almost nothing during the preliminary phase of his captivity, had grown exceptionally keen. He knew to within a few minutes when the next hour was due to sound. It wasn't anything he counted, or thought about at all. It was simply that his body had been conditioned, machine-like, to expect pain at regular intervals. He could tell when the top of the hour was nearing because his pulse would start speeding up in anticipation, his blood would start pounding in his temples, his breathing would grow faster and more ragged, the desire to stand up and run away would grow particularly intense. Sure enough, within five minutes of the onset of the symptoms, usually more like two or three, he felt the inexorable pull of the motors hauling him to his feet and heard the sound of the bells pealing out the introductory overture to his torment.

Aside from these events, there was nothing remarkable about the rest of Vince's day. He did absolutely nothing at all. He sat. He watched flickering hallucinatory light shows, phantoms generated by his photon-starved visual cortex. He listened to the sound of blood whooshing through his plugged ears, the subtle click of his jaw as he moved it. He chewed on the gag in his mouth, exploring and re-exploring the now-entirely-familiar surface with his tongue. He swallowed his saliva, or allowed it to spill out over his lips and down his chin. He twiddled his fingers, moving the thumb from inside his fist to outside and back again or rubbing the tips together or uncurling them to the limit of their confinement or touching the scarred places where no fingernails would ever grow again. He waited for the next chime to sound, dreading the moment when he would be dragged to his feet to have his cock and balls blasted again. Every once in a while, several times each day, when the enforced stillness had grown too intolerable to take any longer, he would erupt in a frenzy of pointless effort, straining against his bonds and making no progress against them whatsoever until exhaustion and frustration drove him to stop. These fits came on him with no warning, no conscious decision on his part. It was simply one more thing his body did without requiring his consent or even his awareness.

The blood began to race faster in his ears and he could feel his heart pounding faster in his chest. He recognized the symptoms: showtime, coming soon. He couldn't endure it again, he had to, had to, HAD TO break free! Tensing every muscle in his body, exerting every ounce of force he could summon, he strained against his bonds, pressing, pressing, pressing... and there! Something moved! A weak spot in the weld at his right upper arm stretched and bent and deformed and then POP! gave way! With the increased leverage of his now-movable upper arm he could pry at the right wrist, forcing his forearm up like a lever against the wrist cuff and soon that too yielded to his will. He felt like a comic-book superhero, able to break solid steel with nothing more than the power of his own muscles! More and more of the bonds fell away and the rubber suit was melting off his body and he was standing, stepping forward, running out of the room without a glance back at the nightmare clock that was even now beginning its introductory chime, lifting its hapless remaining captives to their feet.

Vince felt himself lifted implacably to his feet along with the others. All the strength drained out of his body and he sobbed his frustration at the evaporation of his escape fantasy. There was no escape, there was only limitless darkness, enforced immobility, pain.

The Westminster tune died away. Hyperventilating through the gag and his nose, Vince awaited the fiery kiss at his crotch. Seconds passed like years, and then it came and, as always, he screamed and screamed and screamed, nine screams in total which meant the fall of night was only an hour away and then he would be left alone which seemed at this moment, with the electricity setting his balls on fire, like a blissful relief but would over the course of the long, lightless hours reveal itself to actually be an even more insidious torment. For it was during the night that Vince found himself dissociating from his body ever more, his mind floating free, away from the prison his body had become, steadily losing his grip on reality, on his sanity as the seconds crawled by unanchored to anything in the real world. Universes could be born, grow old, and die in the space of just one of those seconds. After the final chime at 10:00, one hour from now, Vince faced eight hours of those eternal seconds. Alone. In silent darkness.

He wondered if his mind would still exist when the clock dragged his body up to greet tomorrow's new dawn.

He wondered if he wanted it to.

Journal, April 5

Finished the first bank! Installed component #6 today, took a moment to inspect the other five. #1, #3, and #4 are all running smoothly and quietly. #2 made a groaning noise during inspection, but was quieter than last inspection, less rattling around. #5 is still running rough. A few days ago, it surpassed the old record (set by the original #2) of how long a component takes to become fully integrated into its new role. It'll get there. And of course the newly-installed #6 will be some time before it's settled in and running at optimum performance.

Started wishing Mark were still around to see this. Mark, "my" lover, "my" friend. Mark, the visionary who set this project in motion. Mark, who lifted "me" out of the delusion that "I", that any of us, have free will, who taught "me" that we're all just machines acting out our programming. Who showed me that the "I" is an illusion, a delusion, a mirage arising out of otherwise-sensible neuronal firings. A ghost in the machine of the human OS.

Opened up the optical port covers on component #4 for the first time since it was installed. (Custom job there - the other components don't have optical port covers in their casings.) Mark's brown eyes looked out at "me", but Mark was not there. "I" suspect Mark hasn't been there for a while. Mark hung around long enough to see components #1, #2 (the original), and #3 installed, then decided the process was now routine enough that he no longer needed to be part of it, that he could take his place in the machine. Handed himself over to "me" for installation, went into the rubber with those beautiful brown eyes wide open. Then #2 failed and needed to be replaced, a job that fell to "me" alone, as did the acquisition and installation of #5 and #6 and now we're halfway to Mark's vision of a mechanical clock built of dancing rubber drones. Was hoping Mark would find some joy in knowing how well the project was coming along, but that's not to be. The beautiful brown eyes are there, but the delusion that called itself "Mark" is not.

It hurt, at times, to be the one to take him through the transition from man to machine part. "I" don't need to leaf back through this journal to the days right after the installation of component #4 to remember how Mark cried out for release, begging to be set free, imploring "me" through his plugged mouth in words "I" could understand even though they were little more than moans that he had changed his mind, that the real thing wasn't at all like he had imagined it would be, that he absolutely had to get out, please, please, please. Before becoming component #4, Mark had said this was probably what his reaction would be: the ego, however superfluous, does not give up its existence easily. And so he had made "me" promise that no matter how much he begged and pleaded and cried, "I" was not to change the plan under any circumstances. And so "I" did not, though it was one of the hardest things "I" have ever done. And now "Mark" is gone and only component #4 is left in its place.

"I" am getting maudlin. An indulgence "I" allow "myself" every now and then. But there's work to be done. Need to locate and obtain six more components to fill the second bank. Get all twelve installed, one for each hour on the clock face, then there will be time to take things easier. Should only need to replace components as they fail then, not actively obtain new ones. Will probably allow for some time to tweak the patterns. Maybe see if those servomotors can allow for some more intricate motions among the components. Would be nifty to try to weave them in and around one another as they chime and dance the hours. Can probably figure out how to keep the wires and tubes from getting tangled. An interesting mechanical challenge.

Not that "interesting" matters, of course. "I" am just doing what "my" programming tells "me" to do.