Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Twenty-Third Matthew Beaurvelais




The Twenty-Third Matthew Beaurvelais


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 gay sex, torture, and death.  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 (c) 2012 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.



Table of Contents


Chapter 1 - In which Matt makes a surprising discovery about himself
Chapter 2 - In which hard work is rewarded with the mastery of skills
Chapter 3 - In which an explosive revelation is unveiled
Chapter 4 - In which a journey is undertaken and Matt acquires a silver necklace
Chapter 5 - In which Matt becomes acquainted with his host and catches a glimpse of the future
Chapter 6 - In which preparations are made
Chapter 7 - In which Matt makes his public debut and learns a surprising fact
Chapter 8 - In which time passes, slowly
Chapter 9 - In which Matt once again undertakes a course of recovery and restoration
Chapter 10 - In which Matt attempts to maintain a clenched fist
Chapter 11 - In which a career in motion pictures blossoms
Chapter 12 - In which Matt bids farewell to a small but dear friend
Chapter 13 - In which a tender interlude occurs between Matt and his host
Chapter 14 - In which Matt's situation becomes much less clear
Chapter 15 - In which miscellaneous varieties of entertainment are enjoyed
Chapter 16 - In which an opportunity arises and is quickly seized
Chapter 17 - In which a pair of guests pay a visit, bearing another silver necklace
Chapter 18 - In which a guest returns unexpectedly
Chapter 19 - In which Matt's host reaches a decision
Chapter 20 - In which further miscellaneous varieties of entertainment are enjoyed
Chapter 21 - In which an assembly gathers and introductions take place
Chapter 22 - In which the assembly makes preparations
Chapter 23 - In which Matt reprises his debut role
Chapter 24 - In which a further revelation is unveiled
Epilogue



Chapter 1 - In which Matt makes a surprising discovery about himself


Matt felt at first as if he were waking from sleep.  There was the sensation of swimming through glass, of bright colors erupting in vivid flashes just beyond the edges of his vision, of huge dark shapes looming up behind him unseen, only to scatter into sparkling dust motes when he turned to look.  In the way of dreams, he hung suspended in a vast ocean and he could breathe the clear water easily, yet his mind ran thick and dark and slow like mud, unable to hold on to a thought long enough to actually grasp what it was.  In occasional moments of clarity, he knew without knowing how he knew that it this would pass, that in just a few minutes more he would wake up fully and the world would make sense again.  He resolved to wait it out.

But those few minutes took a small eternity, days or even weeks.  Matt didn't mind - the ocean was warm and pleasant, mostly, and he learned to recognize the dark, terrifying shapes for what they were: constructions of his own mind that had the power to frighten him but nothing more.  There never came a single moment of transition, of definitive transfer from dream-state to reality.  Instead, clarity returned in tiny increments, bringing with it the ability to follow thoughts from beginning to end, a gradual thinning of the mud that filled his brain.

There came a time when he noticed that the ocean, without ever changing, had become a bed in a white room.  He felt utterly wasted, unable to move, as if the world's worst case of the flu had laid him out flat for weeks and he was only now beginning to recover.  His eyes tracked the lines leading from bags of fluids down toward his body and out of sight.  He tried to lift his head, but was unable to move it.  Then he tried to move his arms and succeeded, sort of, in that his arm did indeed move, but in a spastic, flailing motion that sent it crashing into the rail at the edge of the bed.  There was no pain from the encounter, and then suddenly there was, and then just as suddenly it was gone again.  The feeling was very disorienting, as if the nerves and muscles in his body weren't his but belonged to someone else.  He tried again to move his arm, gently and with control.  There was no response at first, then it suddenly shot upward like a striking snake before collapsing back down.

What happened to me?  An accident?  An injury?  A disease?  He tried to remember what his last thought was from before.  Nothing came at first, which worried him for only a second until the memories came flashing back, all at once, all jumbled together: the visit to the memory clinic with Sandra.  The cheerful receptionist, the efficient techs, the MRI-like scanning machine...

It took a few moments for him to assemble the jumbled pieces into an orderly sequence, but when he did, it explained everything: the long trance-like stay in the ocean, the hospital he found himself in now, his total lack of control over his body, a body that so obviously didn't fit him that it was like wearing someone else's clothes.  That was because this wasn't his body at all - it was a brand-new one, cloned from his own tissue and grown in a tank somewhere, waiting for that snapshot of his mind from the memory clinic to be downloaded into it.

He had been restored from backup.



Chapter 2 - In which hard work is rewarded with the mastery of skills


The next few weeks were full of intensive physical therapy as Matt re-learned how to use his arms and legs, his eyes and ears, his voice.  Human bodies are complicated machines, and it was explained to him that even though this body had been grown from his own DNA and had the same outward appearance as his old one, under the skin it was subtly different.  Nerve cells that took one route from his brain to his fingertip in the original followed a slightly different path in the copy; muscles were similar on a large scale, but not so at a microscopic level; the new network of blood vessels still nourished every cell he possessed, but the exact map of all the veins and capillaries was very different.

His mind, which knew the old layout so thoroughly that it was instinctive, now had to re-learn the new.    Fortunately, autonomic process like his heartbeat and digestion and gland secretion functioned without his conscious intervention, although he did wake up a few times in a sweaty panic because his body had "forgotten" to breathe.  The techs and, one time, the doctor in charge, told him that this was frightening but normal and wouldn't last.  The process of learning his new body would take a few weeks, but that the harder he worked, the faster it would go.

And so he applied himself, learning how to stand and to take tottering steps, to chew and swallow food, to pick up blocks and balls and eventually pencils and paper clips with hands that felt at first like chunks of wood but steadily became integrated parts of himself.  His legs, at first like stilts beneath his hips, soon learned to hold his weight, able shift fluidly beneath him to hold him upright as his center of gravity moved.  His tongue was the hardest to control, and for a frustrating couple of weeks he possessed neither the coordination to speak nor write, though he could read and understand speech plainly enough.  Every so often he would undergo a round of tests, both physical and mental, evaluating not only his physical progress but also making sure his mind and memories were intact.

His first question, once he had tamed his tongue enough to shape the sounds correctly, was "Where's Sandra?".  That had been the burning question on his mind ever since he realized what was happening to him.  The two of them had gone to the memory clinic together, had made recordings at the same time.  It had been about a year after the birth of their daughter Brielle, which had seemed like the perfect time - they were both so deliriously happy with each other and with the new addition to their family that it was only natural to choose that moment to preserve.  The process of having a memory scan made was expensive, and they had to postpone their plans for a family vacation to Disney World for another year to afford it.  But it seemed worth doing, to have a permanent record made of the what seemed to be the most blissful time of their lives together.

Now, it was clear that something must have gone wrong.  Had he been in an accident?  If so, was Sandra OK?  Or was she perhaps undergoing the same kind of restoration that he was now in the middle of?  If so, what about Brielle?  His mind thought of all sorts of possibilities, but the techs didn't know - or wouldn't tell him - any of the answers he craved.  Even the lead doctor, who only showed his face on very rare occasions for a cursory review of his progress, was evasive and wouldn't give him any straight information.  Which, of course, only fueled his runaway imagination even further.



Chapter 3 - In which an explosive revelation is unveiled


A day came when the pattern changed.  The orderly who entered his room to clear away his breakfast dishes was accompanied, not by the tech who usually took him to the physical therapy room, but by two very beefy, uniformed policemen.  They asked him to stand and to change out of the hospital gown he was wearing and into a bright orange set of coveralls.

"Why?  I'm not in some kind of trouble, am I?" he chuckled nervously, taking the garment from the larger of the two cops.  Neither laughed, or even smiled, in reply.

"Everything will be explained in a few minutes," the slightly-shorter cop replied.  He gestured toward the small bathroom.  Matt walked in hesitantly and closed the door.  His apprehension only grew as he unfolded the coveralls and saw the words Wake County Department Of Corrections emblazoned across the back.  Reluctantly, he put the coveralls on, wondering why he was putting on a convict's clothing when there was no possible way he could have done anything wrong.  He had only existed for a few weeks!  He couldn't possibly have committed any crime while cooped up in a regeneration tank and a hospital bed!  Clearly there had been some mistake or misunderstanding.  He would play along, for now at least, and try to get it resolved peaceably.

He emerged from the bathroom to find the larger cop holding a set of chains.  Feeling even more nervous, Matt allowed the cops to put the chains on him, one around his waist, one connecting his ankles together, and a third connecting the other two together.  His hands were cuffed in front of him and attached to the waist chain.

The cops led him, in slow shuffling steps, out the door, down the hall, and to an elevator.  "Look, there's got to be some mistake," Matt tried to explain as they walked.  "Whatever you think I did, I couldn't possibly have done it.  I've been here the whole time.  Just ask any of these people.  Hey, Nancy!  Please!  Help me... tell these guys I've been here all along... Nancy?"  But Nancy refused to meet his eyes, and instead slipped into another room, closing the door behind her.

Matt stopped walking.  "Look, what's going on here?" he asked, trying to sound forceful but betrayed by a quaver in his voice.

The shorter cop pulled on the chain to get him moving again.  "I told you, you'll get your explanation in a few minutes."

They entered the elevator and rode it to the ninth floor, emerging into what must have been the administrative area of the hospital; the floors were carpet, not tile, and the colors were pleasant greens and browns, not plain white.  Matt's escorts brought him to a large conference room where a number of people were waiting and deposited him into one of the empty chairs around the table.

Matt looked around.  The others in the room were looking at him, but most definitely not in a friendly way.  The sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach congealed into a hard, cold lump and for the first time, he began to be genuinely afraid.  He only recognized one of the people there: the head doctor who had made occasional rare visits to his room while he was still recuperating.  He realized he didn't even know the man's name.

"I think we can begin, your honor" said another man further down the table.  "This Wake County Criminal Court is now in session, the honorable judge William Peltrami presiding."  Matt noticed a stenographer in one corner taking notes.  Was he on trial?  What could he possibly be accused of?

Judge Peltrami was dressed in an ordinary suit, not judicial robes, but Matt could tell who he was from the way everyone's attention was focused on him.  "Mr. Saunders?" the judge said.  One of the other men got to his feet and looked at  Matt.  "Thank you, your honor.  The prosecution would like to establish the identity of the accused.  Would you please state your name?"

Matt was caught off guard.  "Uh, Matt Beaurvelais."

"Your full name, please."

"Matthew Edward Beaurvelais."

"And your address, Mr. Beaurvelais?"

"Well... here, I guess."

"Your last known address, I mean."

"Oh.  Uh, 1911 Curringham Drive, Willamette, Oregon.  But I di..."

"Thank you.  Mr. Beaurvelais, prior to your awakening here at Bellings Memorial Hospital, what was your last memory?"

"Um.  Well, it was of going to the memory clinic to have the recording made.  Right?  I mean, that's the recording they used to revive me, so I wouldn't remember anything after it was made.  Would I?"


"Thank you."

"But what's..."

"That's all.  Doctor Adams, can you confirm the identity of the accused?"

The doctor did not bother looking up from his notes.  "Yes."

"How?"

"Every clone we build has an RFID chip implanted at the base of the skull.  Any RFID reader can tell you the identity of the chip, and therefore the identity of the clone."

"And who is this clone?" the prosecutor asked.

"This is the twenty-third clone of Matthew Edward Beaurvelais."

Twenty-third?  Matt reeled, but no one else in the room looked even vaguely surprised.  How could he have been reincarnated twenty-three times?  He sucked in a gasp of surprise, drawing a brief glance from the only woman at the table.

"Would you verify that for me, please?"

The larger cop stepped up behind Matt and held a device like a supermarket scanner up to the back of his neck.  After about half a second, the machine emitted a beep.  Doctor Adams checked his pad.  "Yes, that's him," he said after a moment.

"And is there any other way to identify this particular clone besides an RFID reader?"


"Yes.  His skin has been modified so that parts of it glow under ultraviolet light.  These parts spell out the word CLONE on his forehead and again across his shoulders.  Also on his back is the RFID number on the chip."

The cop held up a black light, gleaming with a violet glow.  He shined it at Matt's head.  Matt, of course, couldn't see anything.  "Let the record show that the word CLONE does appear on the accused's forehead under ultraviolet illumination.  Thank you doctor.  Now, does this clone have all the memories and personality of the original Matthew Beaurvelais?"

"Yes.  To the best of my and my staff's ability, he has all the memories and personality of the original.  I have test results if you want to see them."   The doctor sounded as if he was reading from a script.  Perhaps in effect he was - if he had done this twenty-two times before, it was no wonder he, all of them, in fact, were acting bored.  Matt was apparently the only person in the room who hadn't heard every word of this script too many times already.

"Thank you, doctor.  We'll hold off on admitting those test results into evidence for now.  That's all, your honor."

"Ms. Terelone?" the judge inquired.

"Nothing from the defense, your honor," the lone woman replied.  She was the defense attorney?  That meant she was his lawyer...?  She was supposed to be on his side!  And she was just sitting there!  As the proceedings continued, Matt interrupted.

"Um, excuse me, but I don't have any idea what you think I might have done, but I can assure you..."

"Thank you, Mr. Beaurvelais, you're right on schedule as usual," the judge cut him off.  "Now if you'll just pipe down and pay attention, you will come to understand what's going on and why you are here.  And please do pay attention, because if you don't we'll have to play this film for you again, and frankly, I've already seen it more times than I care to think about."

The man who had first spoken pressed a button on a controller and a screen at one end of the room lit up.  A deep voice began to speak as images formed.

"On November 15, 2038, Clove Glen Elementary School in Morrisville, near Raleigh, North Carolina, became the site of one of the worst school tragedies in our nation's history.  Seventy-four children and eight adults lost their lives when a bomb exploded in the crowded cafeteria where they were gathered.  The bomb was brought in and detonated by this man:"

A face coalesced on the screen.  It was older by a few years than the face he was currently wearing, craggier and blotchier and a bit doughier.  The man on the screen was wearing a scruffy beard and had let his hair grow long and shaggy, but it was still clearly and recognizably his face.  As if to hammer the point home, words formed below the picture at the same time the voice spoke them:

"Matthew Edward Beaurvelais".

"No..." Matt whispered.  "No...  I would NEVER do something like that!"

But the voice continued on.  "Matthew Beaurvelais perished in the explosion as well, and so it is impossible to be certain what his motivation was.  But we can speculate..."

The voice went on to describe the events of Matt's life after the trip to the memory clinic.  After three years had passed, Matt had an affair.  Before another year had gone, he had two more.  Then Sandra found out.  Their marriage suffered.  They tried to work it out, but reconciliation proved difficult, then impossible.  Sandra had moved out, taking Brielle.  Long court battles ensued.  Sandra won full custody of Brielle; Matt got much less visitation time than he had wanted and a series of hefty child support payments to his now bitterly-estranged ex-wife.  Then Sandra met someone new online.  She sought - and won - court permission to take her daughter with her across the country to North Carolina.

That much was all part of the public record.  The rest was speculation.  Matt became enraged over Sandra's theft of his daughter and the courts' collusion.  He reasoned that he had no way to get her back.  Therefore, since he couldn't have her, neither would Sandra.

On the morning of November 15, Matt had wrapped six kilos of C-4 around his body, covered it with a jacket, and walked into the school.  He found the children all gathered for an assembly, watching a wildlife rehabilitator show them owls and tortoises and rattlesnakes.  He stormed up and down the stage area, ranting semi-coherently about justice and betrayal and the colossal unfairness of life.  Teachers and parent volunteers tried to slip children out the back doors, but Matt saw them and insisted everyone stay in the room.  For 45 minutes he kept them there, holding his detonator switch in his right hand while pacing back and forth in front of the gathered assembly.

When the police arrived, they assessed the situation and decided to move in, slowly and carefully.  It didn't matter - their presence was apparently enough to get Matt to work up the nerve to do what he had been planning all along.  The final few seconds were recorded by one of the teachers, who had been subtly streaming video out from her phone the whole time: Matt lifts up his arms, holding his hands out at shoulder level.  He is, presumably, talking to Sandra, describing the heartbreak of losing a child.  The words are hard to make out at first because of the noises the children are making, but as the end nears, he starts shouting and they become clear.  "See how it feels!" he shouts.  Spit is flying from his mouth.  "You'll see how it feels!  You'll see..."  There is a bright flash on the phone video, and then it ends.

Seventy-four children ranging in age from 4 to 11, six teachers, and two parent volunteers lost their lives in the explosion and the ensuing fire.  Images of the gutted elementary school, including a shot taken from a helicopter showing smoke pouring from a crater in the center of the building, fill the courtroom until the video ends.  The deep voice goes silent, and the screen fades once more to a neutral grey.

Tears are pouring down the cheeks of Matthew Beaurvelais the Twenty-Third.  "No..." he says.  He has stopped protesting that this is impossible, because he has seen the evidence with his own eyes.  "Oh, no.  Oh, I am so sorry..." he stammers.

The judge speaks.  "Matthew Edward Beaurvelais, you were tried post-mortem and found guilty on eighty-two counts of premeditated murder.  You were sentenced to Personalized Retributional Justice for each of those counts.  Forty-eight next-of-kin members accepted PRJ as the sentence.  Today's sentencing hearing is for the murder of Lakeesha Grier-Lee.  Let the record show that this entity has been determined to be the twenty-third restored clone of the original Matthew Edward Beaurvelais, with all the memories and personality thereof, and that the clone shall therefore be delivered to the custody of Tyson Grier, father and next-of-kin of Lakeesha Grier-Lee, for PRJ.  Court dismissed."

The people sitting around the table stood and began to mill about.  Matt was lifted to his feet by the two cops.  "Wait!  What just happened?" he cried, but was ignored.  "I wanna talk to my lawyer!"  As it happened, the woman was making her way around the table toward him.

"You just sat there!" Matt said accusingly when she arrived.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Beaurvelais, but there was nothing I could do.  As you know, all of us here - except you - have been through this many times before.  With the early clones, I tried everything I could think of.  I tried to show that you were a different person than the original.  It didn't work.  I tried to suggest that the cloning process had produced someone who wasn't a perfect copy of the original, but the doctor took offense at that and came armed with a barrage of test results proving the copy was accurate.  I'm sorry, Mr. Beaurvelais, but you damned yourself.  All those tests you took while in recovery, the testimony you gave just now...  you proved their case for them, just like all the others before you.  I'm particularly sorry for you, though...  I've got to go."

She turned to leave.  The conference room was emptying out - only Matt, the two cops, and one other man were left.  The remaining man stood about five foot ten, with dark hair and a pointed goatee.  His eyes were dark and unreadable.  The defense attorney gave him a fleeting scowl as she stalked past, which he returned with raised eyebrows and a slight shrug of his shoulders.  He came over to where Matt was standing and looked him up and down for a long moment.  "So how does this work?" he asked the cop to Matt's left.

"That's up to you, Mr. Grier.  You can take custody of your Mattie now, or we can escort him to your property."

"Given the circumstances, an escort would probably be best."

"Yessir.  This way."



Chapter 4 - In which a journey is undertaken and Matt acquires a silver necklace


The foursome took the elevator down to the parking level beneath the building, then split up into two cars.  Matt was put into the back seat of a patrol car.  He could hear the others talking through the window, making arrangements for one of the cops to drive Grier's car for him.  "Under the circumstances."  By the time the larger cop got into the driver's seat, Matt's stomach was turning butterflies.

"Please," he said as the car backed out of the parking space and began to move toward the exit.  "Please, tell me what's going on.  What is... what did he call it?  RP... I can't remember."

"PRJ," the cop grunted in reply.  His southern drawl was not pronounced, but still rang funny in Matt's Oregon-raised ears.  "Personalized Restora... no, Retri.. shit, I don't know what it stands for.  Basically, you hurt a bunch of people, and the court said you can't dodge your debt to them just cause you blew yerself up too.  So they're bringin' back a bunch of Matties - that's what they call 'em, 'Matties' - one for each of the victims."

"So... I'm going to jail?  Eighty-two copies of me are going to jail?"  The image of an entire cell block filled with copies of Matt Beaurvelais, playing cards and dealing bootleg cigarettes to each other and forming mini-gangs of Matts to face off against other Mattgangs was funny enough that a small, slightly hysterical chuckle burst out of his lips as he said it.

The cop's eyes flicked to him in the rear-view mirror.  "Think it's funny?  I don't think you'll be laughing this time tomorrow, but I'm off duty then, and I'm not even going to be thinking about it."

"About what?"  But the cop went silent.  Between that comment and the one the lawyer had made, Matt's anxiety was only growing.  And yet there was nothing about this Tyson Grier - the man whose custody he was apparently being delivered into, the father of one of the murdered children - that set off any alarm bells in Matt's mind.  He seemed like a perfectly ordinary guy.

They traveled out from the city core.  The buildings steadily shrank as they went; trees appeared and grew greener and leafier.  Sidewalks and storefronts gave way to lawns and fences.  They turned into a quiet-looking neighborhood, turned twice more, and then suddenly there was a crowd in the street in front of them.  There were perhaps twenty-five or thirty people, some waving signs, others holding hands in what looked like prayer, and at least two speaking into megaphones.  The patrol car slowed to a crawl, gently but insistently forcing a path through the milling people.  Matt twisted around in his seat to see the second car - Grier's - driven by the other cop close on their bumper.  The two cars pulled into a driveway.  It led all the way behind the house it was associated with to a detached garage in the back yard.  They pulled as far from the street as the could; the mob, thankfully, stayed where it was.

The cop got out and met with Grier and the other cop.  Matt twisted around again to try to see what was going on behind him, but the house blocked most of his view of the street and the noises from the competing megaphones turned both speakers' words into an unintelligible jumble.

Then they let him out.  He climbed awkwardly out into a blast of wet, sticky heat.  Hands still cuffed in front of him at his waist and feeling very conspicuous in his vivid orange jumpsuit, he was led around to the front of the house toward the front door.  He got a good look at the crowd on the way.  There seemed to be at least three distinct groups of people... maybe.  Or possibly two.  Four?  The loudest were jeering, although whether the shouts were intended for Matt or for the cops or for Grier, he couldn't tell - all the words blurred together into a steady frightening noise.  There were others standing in the road, beads and cards clasped in their hands.  They seemed to be praying, perhaps toward the large cross that was standing in the front yard.  Others were wandering around more or less on their own, craning their necks to get a look at the parade working its way up the front sidewalk to the door.

Grier opened it, the four of them filed in, and shut it behind them.  The noise level dropped dramatically, to Matt's relief.  The smaller cop - he still had no names for them, he realized - pulled out some papers and asked Grier to sign them.  Then he and Grier disappeared to another part of the house.  The larger cop, meanwhile, pulled out a metal chain and placed it around Matt's neck.  It was thin and looked very much like a necklace, with a small square box the size of a postage stamp attached that rested just below his chin.

They waited.  Matt looked around.  The house was well-kept and ordinary-looking, though it showed its age - the wallpaper, while tasteful, was peeling in a few spots; there was a ficus tree in a pot near the front door, a few dried leaves littering the linoleum floor beneath.  A faded, well-worn carpet greeted visitors' feet.  He could see a living room furnished with old but comfortable sofas and chairs, homey paintings on the walls.  One large framed photograph hung in the center of the far wall.  Matt recognized Tyson Grier; there were three other people in it: an Asian-looking man and a brown-skinned boy and girl, all four smiling at the camera with the Disney World castle rising in the background behind them.  He realized the girl in the picture must be the girl who he had been resurrected for, the girl killed by that other Matthew Beaurvelais - he couldn't think of that murderer as himself, no matter what the evidence might have been.  He realized he couldn't remember her name.  Here he was, brought back to life to atone for the death of a little girl, and he could not even remember her name.

Grier and the smaller cop returned.  The cop pulled out a small hand-held device and pointed it at the box hanging from Matt's neck chain.  "Lemme just make sure the signal's good... yeah, that's fine."  He looked up into Matt's face.  "Don't panic.  I'm just testing it."

Before Matt had a chance to process the words, there was a sudden tightness at his throat.  He tried to breathe but was unable to force air past the sudden constriction in his windpipe.  He tried to lift his hands to his neck, but of course they remained locked to his waist.  Panic came, despite the cop's words - how could it not?  His head began to feel swollen as blood became trapped in the vessels in it.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, the constriction vanished.  Air flowed easily again.

"How does it do that?" Matt heard Grier ask.  His voice sounded intrigued

"Smart metal," the cop replied.  "No idea how it works.  You apply an electric pulse and it changes, gets shorter but thicker.  Apply a different pulse and it reverses.  Now.  You pay attention."  He poked Matt in the chest to emphasize his point.  "This is our failsafe to make sure that you don't decide to set yourself free.  There's a transmitter in the kitchen.  It emits a pulse every sixty seconds.  As long as that box around your neck reads that pulse once a minute, you're fine.  But if it misses three in a row, it's gonna start sounding a warning beep... a loud one.  You and anyone around you is gonna notice it.  You get three minutes of warning beeps.  After that, if it doesn't get another pulse, that chain is gonna shrink like it did just now.  Oh, and that metal's been hardened.  You won't cut through it without a lot of effort, and long before you succeed, the thing'll detect it's being tampered with and set itself off."

A long pause.  Matt stood, trembling.  "You understand what I'm saying?  That transmitter has a range of about a hundred feet.  You get out of range for more than five minutes, or try to take it off, you're dead."

"What if there's a power failure?" Grier asked.

"Battery backup, good for four hours or so," the cop replied.  "If it looks like it's gonna be off longer'n that, take the transmitter with you and get him down to the station, they'll help you out."

"Sounds good."

"One more thing, Mr. Grier.  When you're done with the chains and the suit, please bring them back to the station."

"All right, but we could take care of that right now.  I've got my own set of shackles, and I've got no use for the clothes.  You could take them with you."

Matt saw the two cops exchange a look at this proposal, their faces impossible to read.  "Save me a trip," Grier continued.

"OK."

Grier left and returned shortly with another set of chains, very similar to the ones Matt was wearing.  The cops unlocked his wrists.  "Strip," the one ordered.  Slowly, Matt unbuttoned the jumpsuit.  He shrugged his arms out of the sleeves and the top half flopped down, stopped by the chain that was still around his waist.  The cops removed the waist chain while Grier fastened the other set in place, but on Matt's bare skin just above the seam of his underwear rather than outside the suit.  The touch of the cold metal made him hop up slightly on his toes.  The suit was worked down around his ankles, and a chain swap was performed there, too.  Matt was not surprised at how efficient the cops' movements were - they must have worked with hundreds of suspects and convicts before.  But Grier's motions were equally practiced... and how was it that he just happened to have a set of shackles lying around his house, anyway?

Before he could pursue the thought further, the process was finished.  The cops turned to go.  Matt realized he was left standing in nothing but underwear and chains.  "Wait," he began.  "Don't I..." but thought better of finishing the sentence before it escaped his lips.

Too late.  "Don't you what?" asked Grier in an open, offhanded voice.  "Don't you get other clothes to wear?  We'll talk about that.  First let me see these very helpful gentlemen out.  Officers, I thank you very much for your assistance today.  Perhaps I'll see you back here tomorrow, but if not, I understand completely."  The two cops left; the sounds from the street outside doubled in volume as the door opened, then dropped again as it closed.  Grier walked slowly past Matt and into the living room, where he sat down on one of the chairs and eyed Matt up and down.



Chapter 5 - In which Matt becomes acquainted with his host and catches a glimpse of the future


Matt suddenly became very aware of his near-nakedness.  Grier stared at him, no emotion visible on his face.  His eyes raked over Matt from top to bottom while Matt shifted his weight from one foot to the other, squirming uncomfortably under Grier's silent gaze.  Finally Matt could take the silence no longer.  "Look, Mr. Grier, I just want to say I am so, so sorr..."

"Stop," Grier held up a hand.  "I don't need to hear your apologies.  You and I both know that you, you personally, had nothing to do with the bombing.  You were not the bomber.  You happen to share a bunch of genes and memories with the guy who actually killed my family, but you're not him.  You can't apologize for what he did.  Any attempt you could make would only sound hollow.  You might as well apologize for an earthquake or a meteor strike."

These were not the words Matt had been expecting.  He had anticipated rage, or icy hatred, but not this... almost cordial attitude.  He almost dared - almost - to allow himself to feel relief.

Grier stood up.  "Come over here," he beckoned.  Matt shuffled forward - the new set of shackles allowed less leg mobility than the others, so his progress was even slower than it had been before.  Grier put a hand across his shoulders and led him to the Disney World photograph.

"That's them.  That's my family."  It took a moment for Matt to register the point that Grier was making: there was no wife in the picture, only two grown men and two kids.  Grier, straight-appearing though he seemed, was telling Matt he was gay.  This was not unusual in Matt's experience - he had known several same-sex couples in Oregon, even some with children, though it tended to be the ladies rather than the gents who went in for parenting.

"That's Huang, my partner," Grier said, pointing at the Asian man.  "That's Darnell, and that's Lakeesha.  We fostered them for a few years, then made it official with an adoption.  Strange state we live in, North Carolina.  The state constitution still says we can't get married, but they have no problem letting us jointly adopt kids."  Matt became aware of Grier's hand slowly moving down from his shoulder, down his back and around his side as he spoke.  He shifted forward slightly, but Grier followed him, his hand still brushing Matt's skin.

"I lost all three of them that day," Grier said.  "It just so happened that Huang had gone in to help volunteer with the assembly they were having.  I was at work.  I got word that some psychopath with a bomb had taken over the school and I rushed over."  Grier's hand continued to slide around Matt's side.  "Stood around outside for an hour... that was a long hour, let me tell you.  I think that hour must have lasted ten years.  But it eventually ended.  With a bang, as you know.  At that moment, I knew, I just knew, that the news would not be good.  And it wasn't.  All three... my whole family... gone."

Grier's hand was now cupping Matt's chest.  The thumb was flicking against his nipple.  What the hell was this guy thinking?  That reincarnated-Matt would become the replacement for the lover original-Matt had killed?  That was just sick.  Matt couldn't let it go any longer.  He turned to his left and shuffled backward, away from Grier's groping fingers.

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I making you uncomfortable?" Grier asked.

"No, um, well, look, I don't know what you're expecting..." Matt stammered.

"No.  You don't.  So let me explain.  Matt, in the eyes of the law, you are not a person.  You are property.  This particular edition of you happens to be my property.  That means I can do anything... anything... I want with you."

Grier stared at the photograph.  "It's been eight years since the bombing.  Those first few months, I hated you with such a passion that I could hardly contain it.  I can still conjure up that hatred sometimes, late at night when I can't sleep.  But eight years is a long time.  For the most part, the rage has cooled.  For the first year, I would have done anything to have my family back."

He turned to look at Matt.  "But I can't have that.  See, we gay guys have pretty much two choices in our sex lives: we can go the respectable monogamous family-man route, or we can opt for debauchery.  I made my choice, but circumstance - in the form of one Matthew Beaurvelais - operated to take my first choice away.  So I've gone over to the debauchery side, and you know what?  It's not so bad.  True, I miss the deep emotional connection you can only make with a single partner, but there are compensations.  I made a discovery about myself.  I've learned I like it rough.  Huang wasn't into that sort of thing, and it really doesn't coexist well with the whole kids-n-Disney-World scenario.  But now that my first choice is gone and I'm left with the runner-up, I'm going in for it full throttle.  Making the best of the cards I've been dealt."

Matt wasn't quite making the connection that Grier was expecting him to, and it must have shown on his face.

"Still not following me?  My fault.  I'm being too evasive, using too many euphemisms.  I'll spell it out.  I.  Am.  A.  Gay.  Sadist.  That means I like to inflict pain on other men.  Ordinarily, I have to take care of the guys I play with, make sure I don't do them any real damage.  But you, you are a special opportunity that has been handed to me.  And I plan to make the absolute most of it."

Matt felt his heart begin to sink.  Grier walked over to the window.  "Come here."  Matt shuffled toward him and peered out reluctantly.  "See all those people gathered in the street?  They're here for you.  Or, more specifically, they're here for what I'm going to do to you tomorrow."

Matt watched the crowd milling in the street.  He still couldn't get any sense of united purpose from them - there seemed to be too many groups there for different reasons.  The one set was still standing with their signs, mostly silently attending to the words of one of the men with a megaphone.  Another set seemed to be breaking up - there were definitely fewer people out there than when Matt had arrived.  There were still a half-dozen people in the prayer group, still holding hands and facing the large wooden cross standing in the yard... why was there a cross in the yard?  Grier didn't seem like the sort of Bible-thumper who would put one up for religious reasons... Matt's heart sank even further as an awful thought occurred to him.  He turned to glance at Grier, who was watching him, apparently waiting for Matt to make the connection.

"Yep.  You guessed it.  That cross out there?  That's for you."



Chapter 6 - In which preparations are made


Matt awoke to a brief moment of disorientation.  Then he took in his surroundings - the hard rubber floor, the bare-bones but not uncomfortable cot he was lying on, the ropes and leather and metal implements hanging from hooks on the walls - and it all came rushing back.  He was trapped in a surreal nightmare, and it was only going to get worse.

Yesterday afternoon and evening had been a strange mixture of cordial politeness covering brutal threats.  Grier had been unfailingly polite to him, had even cooked and served him a meal and chatted with him while they ate.  At first the conversation had been the typical sorts of things two people do as they get to know one another - discovering shared interests, inquiries into backgrounds, and so on.  But every so often Grier would let slip an allusion to the crucifixion Matt would be enduring the next day.  At first Matt had no idea how to respond and let the conversation sputter to a halt while he tried to process the incongruity of making small talk with a man who intended to be his executioner.  The third time it happened he had to interrupt.

"I think some members of the Westboro Baptist Church will be here tomorrow... heard of them?  They're the radical anti-gay nuts from Kansas, you know, the ones who picket military funerals? Oh, this just kills me - unlike everyone else who will be gathering, the Westies aren't coming for you.  They'll be here to make sure I know that Lakeesha is burning in hell right now because she had two dads.  I just can't fathom those people... I mean, we got her as a foster child when she was six months old, adopted her when she was only two.  How's any of that her fault?  And yet the god they worship in their twisted little minds is the kind of deity who would consign a child to endless torment for something she had no say over.  THAT is enough to motivate them to climb on board their little bus brigade and pay a visit to good ol' Morrisville.  They couldn't give a rat's patoot about you suffering on a cross, but hey!  a little girl has..."

"Excuse me.  Excuse me, Mr. Grier?  I'm sorry, but... this is freaking me out.  You're not… you're not really going to go through with it, are you?"

"With what?"

"What you keep saying.  You know... that cross..."

"Absolutely I'm going through with it.  I've crucified guys before, part of an S&M scene; I know what I'm doing.  Of course, those scenes always involved ropes, not nails, and they were inside, not out in the sun on a scorching August afternoon.  And I let the guys go afterward.  But aside from that, it's nothing I haven't done before."

"But...  but..."

"But nothing.  Hey, you're not eating very much.  Is there something wrong with the chicken?"

This was too much.  "Dammit!" Matt had shouted.  "How can you sit there describing how you're going to torture me to death tomorrow and in the same breath ask me how the chicken is?  You're sick, man!"

"Oh, I won't dispute that," Grier had replied.  "My tastes are definitely outside the mainstream.  But that's no reason to be impolite.  Were you expecting me to act like some Chicago gangster, all 'Shaddap an' eat or I break ya kneecaps'?  Sorry, that's not my style.  I don't get off on verbal abuse.  We Southern gentleman practically have civility in our genes.  Now do eat, please.  You need to get a good meal tonight and tomorrow morning, and get nice and hydrated - I want you to last a good long time up there."

Matt had tried to protest that he had lost his appetite, but the conversation had quickly taken a frightening turn, with Grier - still unfailingly polite - describing exactly how he would force protein into Matt's stomach if Matt didn't get it in there himself.  In the end, Matt ate.

After dinner, he was permitted a toilet break and then taken into the room he found himself in now, chained by the ankle to the cot, which was bolted to the floor.  He could stand up and walk around within the limit of the chain.  That allowed him to see but not touch many of the implements on the walls.  Some of their purposes were obvious, as with the whips and the chains.  Others were not clear at all how they were to be used, and the uncertainty that surrounded these devices somehow made them more disturbing to Matt than the ones whose manner of causing pain was self-evident.

The room had no windows, so Matt had no way to judge the passing of time.  Eventually, Grier had come in and turned off the light, leaving Matt in darkness and silence.  Even the rumble of the crowd outside was gone - perhaps they had all headed home for the night, planning to return tomorrow.  Eventually, Matt had slept, though not well.  Having his hands chained to his waist made it difficult to get comfortable, and he kept waking up to toss and turn, trying to find a good position, while thoughts kept creeping into his mind of what the nail would feel like when it pierced his palm and how long it might take him to die of... well, what exactly did people die of after they were crucified?

Eventually he must have slept again, for Grier had come in and turned on the light.  Now he was once again awake and the answers to the questions that had swirled in his head all night were coming inexorably closer.

The door opened; Matt gave a little jump.  "Breakfast time," Grier told him.  There was another toilet stop - Matt had by now worked out the best way to pull his white cotton underpants down far enough that he could piss and shit without pushing them down so far that he couldn't reach them with his shackled hands to pull them back up.

The smell emanating from the kitchen was heavenly.  Grier had made eggs and sausage and whole-wheat toast, with fruit cocktail and coffee, milk and orange juice.  Despite the churning in his stomach, Matt found himself salivating at the scent.  Grier loosened his arm chains again, allowing him enough slack to bring a fork to his mouth.  As with the meal the night before, the conversation was civil, but focused almost entirely on the plan for the rest of the day.

"I have no idea how many people are going to be here," Grier said at one point, "but I think it'll be a lot.  I've been playing this game with the media, see.  I've never actually spoken to them directly, only let slip hints of what I'm planning to do.  They know I'm going to crucify my Mattie, but I haven't told anyone why.  Their minds are all swirling with what my motivation might be, whether it's simple vengeance, or whether I might think this'll provide 'closure', blah, blah, blah.  But I haven't told them, in fact, I've made it known that all I want is to be left alone.  Which, of course, makes them that much hungrier to do the opposite.  Which in turn gives me exactly what I really want: an audience for your show.  I could crucify you right here in the house, just you and me, very intimate and personal.  But I would rather have your suffering be public, in front of as large a crowd as I can possibly muster, with hundreds of thousands more, maybe millions, watching remotely, both live and for years to come afterward.

"Each individual out there may be here for reasons he thinks are his own - maybe he's coming to demonstrate against PRJ, or in favor of PRJ, or for or against capital punishment, or for some religious reason, or just to get off on watching you... whatever.  Their individual reasons don't matter to me.  The reason the group is there is because I have brought them, so that your suffering is as public as possible.  Just something to bear in mind while you're hanging there... hey, drink up - I want you to down at least two glasses of fluid, OK?"

The event was scheduled for noon; Matt therefore had several hours of idle time.  A few minutes were occupied with Grier having Matt stand up so he could take measurements of his body, explaining that he would be using them to get the positioning of the various bits of the cross just right for Matt's size.  After that, Grier left him chained to the cot while he did his prep work, though the chain was much longer than it had been the night before, long enough, in fact, that he could walk down the hall, into the bathroom, and even partway into the living room and halfway into the kitchen.

Thoughts swirled in his head.  He felt as if he were swimming in a river - the water around him was calm and smooth, and there was no hint of danger anywhere near.  But up ahead, he knew, was an enormous waterfall.  Placid as the river might appear now, there would come a time, not too far off, when he would be swept over the falls and be broken to pieces.

How to escape that fate?  Getting out of the chains was the obvious first step.  He had tried to slip free last night, but in the darkness it had been too difficult to tell which movements were helping and which weren't.  He experimented a bit more and discovered that there truly was no way out - the chains were attached with padlocks; he had no keys and no idea where they might be kept.  He tried to force his hand out through the cuff.  It didn't work; there wasn't enough room to squeeze the thick part of his hand through, and it hurt too much to keep trying.

So finding the key was the obvious next step.  He began to explore as much as he could reach, trying to be as subtle as he could.  Sometimes he would meet Grier in the hall or in one of the two rooms he could get to.  Grier would pass by him with a polite "excuse me" while Matt found he couldn't even bring himself to meet the man's eyes.  He found himself full of helpless rage, wanting to grab his captor and throttle the life out of him before he could implement his sadistic plan.  But shackled as he was, Matt was helpless.  He had to find a way out...

There was a small pantry off the hall near the kitchen; the prospect of searching it for a key was difficult to contemplate.  How would he explain his actions when Grier inevitably asked?  "What are you doing?" Grier would say, and how could Matt respond?  "Looking for the key to unlock these chains"?  Then again, maybe the brazen approach might be the right tack to take - Grier had been absolutely up-front with his plans, so why shouldn't Matt act the same way?  But then he would probably find his chains shortened until he was confined to the cot until it was time for... no, don't even think about that.

He settled on a cursory inspection of the pantry's contents while Grier was off at the far end of the house.  No key, of course, but he couldn't really inspect every possible hiding place.  It just wasn't practical to open every bag of flour and box of cereal and dump its contents out just on the off chance the key might have been stashed inside.  The bathroom contained nothing obvious that he could use, either.  A razor blade that he could wield as a weapon would have been too much to hope for, of course, but there wasn't even so much as a toothbrush.  Just soap and a towel.

The kitchen had a few supplies - there were some sharp-looking knives in a rack on a counter that caught Matt's eye right away.  Perhaps one of those?  He could hide it and then when Grier came for him, he could lash out and hope to slice an artery or something?  But it was not to be... the knife rack was too far out of reach, impossible to get to no matter how much he stretched his body.  The chain just wouldn't let him get there.

Grier came back to the kitchen area.  "Help you with anything?" he asked.

"No," Matt replied, doing his best to look downtrodden and helpless... which was not too taxing an acting job.  "Just restless."

He left the kitchen, pacing aimlessly around the small home, wandering in and out of the living room, back into the kitchen, the bathroom, and then the room that presumably had been a first-floor bedroom before it had been converted into some kind of prison cell-slash-torture chamber.  Alone and out of Grier's sight, he let his eyes rove over the walls.  There were weapons there, certainly, but they were designed more for use on a victim who had been previously rendered immobilized, unable to strike back or even flinch out of the way.  How could he hope to threaten Grier into turning him loose when his only tool was a rawhide whip that he could barely swing with his hands locked to his waist?  There was some kind of electricity device... maybe he could talk Grier into holding a wire in each hand and waiting while Matt figured out how to turn the thing on?

It was hopeless.  He was doomed.  Death would be coming for him, but it would be a long, slow, painful time getting there.  Unless...

Perhaps there was a way to speed up the process?  And to make it hurt less as well?

There was enough slack in the shackles that he could just reach the chain around his neck.  The cop had said that tampering with it could set it off.  Ordinarily, suicide would have been unthinkable for Matt.  He still marveled at how the original Matthew Beaurvelais could have blown himself up - the current version, the one that had been recorded years before that event, would not have thought it possible.  But these were desperate circumstances.  While escape would have been preferable, what could he do on the lam?  His body would betray him; his very skin marked as a clone, and the police could no doubt trace him using that chip in his neck wherever he tried to hide.  He would be found, and caught, and returned to Grier's possession just like a runaway slave would have been 200 years before.  Perhaps, then, the only available escape from the torment in store was one with a high cost, but a cost worth paying.

He began to fiddle with the neck chain, unsure how much force it might take to convince the circuitry in the little box that it was being tampered with.  It was terrifying work - he kept expecting the thing to constrict his neck at any moment, and it was hard to force his hands to do what his brain wanted them to do.  They kept rebelling, poking or twisting with less power than he had intended to use.  Finally he gave up and went to the wall where all the instruments were hanging.  He found two metal objects, blunt and round with no sharp edges, whose purpose he could not guess at, and began to try to crimp the chain between the two metal chunks.

Nothing.  He got to the point where he was slamming the metal chunks together with the chain between them, banging his cheek and jaw in the process, but there was no response from the choker.  He dropped the two metal chunks in disgust.  The chain remained stubbornly un-collapsed, still receiving that every-sixty-seconds signal from that transmitter in the kitchen...

The transmitter.

He got up quietly and shuffled down the hall toward the kitchen.  Grier wasn't there.  He wasn't in the living room either.  Matt could hear his voice coming from the far end of the house, presumably talking to someone by phone  Good.  Because there, on a counter next to a toaster, was the transmitter.  But - frustration! - even dancing on one leg, the other stretched out behind him, still connected to the cot, and reaching his right arm as far as he could, he still couldn't touch it!  Except... there was one part he could get to, the power cord.  He got a thin grip on it with his taut fingers and began to pull.  The transmitter was too heavy to move, but the other end of the cord, the end plugged in to the wall, was more yielding.  It took a few minutes, but he was able to extract the cord from the wall, shutting off the power to the transmitter.  He pushed the cord as best he could back in behind the transmitter and the toaster so it wouldn't be hanging there in plain sight, then worked his way back to the cell.

So.  It was running on battery power now.  What had the cop said?  Four hours or so?  It probably wouldn't be fast enough - the time was a little after 9:00 now, which meant there were only three hours left before he would be hung up on the cross.  Unless he could find a quicker way to end his life before noon, there was no way to avoid his crucifixion.  But at least he would cheat Grier out of the full agony he had planned - Matt might have to suffer for an hour, but then, five minutes after the transmitter's battery finally died, the chain would clench itself around his throat, there would be a few short minutes of airless strangulation, then it would all be over.

"Dang," said Grier, entering the cell.  "That's two cancellations."  Matt looked up at him questioningly.  "There's an online group I belong to whose members all share an interest in the erotic aspects of male crucifixion.  More than a thousand guys like me are in it, guys who would get serious hard-ons out of watching you dance."  Dance?  There was no chance to ask what that meant because Grier continued, "I had posted a note to the group a while back informing them of what I was planning to do to you and inviting anyone who wanted to join in to come on over.  Three of them accepted, but now two of them have backed out.  They both said the media attention was just too much - they don't want to have their faces plastered all over the news.  Even if they wore masks, the software is too good these days - some computer somewhere would use body measurements to correlate a match with a blog photo or social network profile, and then they'd be outed.  I suspect the third guy will be a no-show, too.  I mean, not really a no-show, I have a hunch all three of them will be out there in the crowd, just not willing to help out.  It's a shame... now I'll have to lift the cross up, with you on it, all by myself.  Ah, well.  I think this old back can manage that much."

"You are one fucking sicko, you know that?" Matt said.  Grier tipped an imaginary hat and gave a small ironic smile.

The hours passed.  Matt paced occasionally, still looking hopelessly and unsuccessfully for the keys to his restraints.  He repeatedly visited the rooms he could reach and noted with satisfaction that the wall socket behind the toaster still had only one plug in it.  On his trips to the living room, he could just barely get a glimpse through the sheer curtains covering the windows at the large crowd gathering outside.  Matt waited with dread in the pit of his stomach.



Chapter 7 - In which Matt makes his public debut and learns a surprising fact


The time inevitably came.  Grier came and retrieved him from the cot where he was sitting, head hanging down dejectedly.  "Up you go," Grier said.  "Show time."

He crouched down to unlock the chain that connected Matt's ankle to the cot and Matt recognized the golden opportunity he'd been waiting for.  Without any pause to betray his intentions, he lifted his hands up as high as they would go and brought them down as hard as he could on the back of Grier's neck.

Unfortunately, his hardest blow wasn't nearly hard enough.  His restrained hands didn't have enough room to move.  Grier merely looked up at him.  "Still got some fight in you, I see.  That's good, that's very good.  Now, I'd like you to go in there and empty your bladder.  Bowels too, if you need to.  Of course, the choice is yours.  If you'd rather piss and shit yourself a few hours from now, that's fine by me too."  Seething in helpless rage, Matt used the bathroom.

They went to the front door.  Grier opened it and a wall of heat struck Matt's skin.  This was nothing like the clear, breezy summer days of Portland; this was a pure tropical blast, thick with haze and humidity, the air so thick he felt he could swim in it.  The noise of the crowd doubled and redoubled when they caught sight of the two men standing in the open doorway.  Grier spoke right next to Matt's ear to be heard above the din.  "I had hoped for a real heat wave for today, but it's only in the mid- to upper-eighties.  It'll have to do.  At least there's no thunderstorms forecast... that would drive the crowd away."

He pushed Matt out the door.  The sights and sounds were overwhelming.  Media trucks were parked all over the narrow street; there were at least three camera crews visible.  People were shouting, fists raised in anger or in passion.  Matt couldn't focus on anything specific; the deluge of colors and images was too much.  He closed his eyes for a moment, wishing he could shut his ears as well.  He became acutely aware that he was wearing nothing but a pair of white cotton briefs.  It was like the stuff of nightmares: being paraded in front of a crowd in his underwear.  If only that were the worst part of this nightmare...

Grier propelled him forward.  He opened his eyes again so he could see where to put his feet.  He noticed that the cross was no longer standing upright in the yard, but was lying down.  Of course - how else could he be affixed to it?  Grier had mentioned having to raise it up himself.  Perhaps he wouldn't be able to?  That might be too much to hope for.  Still, Matt had his backup insurance policy - the last time he had checked, the transmitter was still unplugged.

As they neared the cross, Matt began to struggle.  Somehow the sight of the raw wood - beams bought at the local hardware store and bolted together - made it all too real.  That was real wood... there would soon be real nails driven through his living flesh and into that wood, and it was as if he could see himself there, lying on the ground, pinned in place like a bug.  He shook Grier's hand off his shoulder and broke to the right to get away, but Grier was ready for him.  His other hand had a grip on Matt's waist chain, and Matt couldn't shake him off.  He batted ineffectually at Grier's grip with his manacled hands, tried to pry his fingers free.  "Lemme go!  Let go!"  He could barely hear his own words above the crowd noise.  Sweat - not solely from the heat - began to bead on his forehead.

They reached the cross, which was not lying directly on the ground as Matt had assumed at first, but was instead propped up on blocks.  Grier knocked Matt's legs out from underneath him and he fell down hard, his backside hitting the ground next to the instrument of his execution.  Grier forced him to lie back, shifting him sideways until he was on top of what would become the upright beam.  The reason for the propping blocks became clear as Grier bent down and quickly wrapped a rope around Matt's neck and the beam beneath him, tying it just tightly enough to keep Matt from squirming away.  Another rope bound his waist to the wood, and a third secured his legs.  He lay, hyperventilating in dreadful anticipation, the heat of the raw sunlight scorching his pale, unprotected skin.

But nothing happened.  Fearing the worst, Matt had been clenching his eyes shut, but he now squeezed them open, unable to resist looking at what was going on.  Grier was standing next to him, a loudspeaker in his hand, clearly waiting for the crowd to quiet down.  It took a long time, but eventually it became evident to the mob that the show they had all gathered to watch was not going to take place until Grier got a chance to say whatever was on his mind, and the noise level dropped, not quite to nothing, but low enough for Grier's amplified voice to be heard.

"I want to make one thing clear," he said.  "I don't want y'all here.  Any of y'all."  Matt wanted to shout that he was lying, that he really DID want was an audience for Matt's torment, but what good would it do?  Who would believe him, even if he could somehow raise his voice to be heard?  And even if they did believe him, the likelihood that all these gathered people would just disperse quietly and leave him to endure his suffering in private was near zero.  "Now, I can't stop y'all from gathering in the street," Grier continued, "but I will not allow anyone to interfere with this Mattie's crucifixion.  These kind gentlemen...".  Matt raised his head to follow Grier's pointing hand and saw half a dozen uniformed police gathered, their eyes roving over the mob.  "These kind gentlemen have explained to me that I have the right to defend my property, as long as I give fair warning.  So I'm giving y'all fair warning now: I've got a gun over there by that chair where I'll be sitting.  Set one foot on this property, and I will shoot you."

He lowered the megaphone and started to turn toward Matt, then turned back to the crowd and raised it up again.  "Oh, and I'd appreciate it if y'all would extend the same courtesy to my neighbors' yards, as well.  Mrs. Nagy works real hard on those flower beds, and it'd be a shame to see 'em get trampled underfoot.  Thank you."

With that, he set the megaphone down and knelt down by Matt's side.  Matt began to plead.  "Please... please, Mr. Grier, please don't do this."  His words were drowned out by the rapidly-growing roar of the crowd as the various protesters made their points of view heard.  The cops fanned out, patrolling the buffer zone that they had set up with sawhorse-style fences between the mob and the edge of the street.  Grier opened up a bag and pulled out a heap of ropes.  He separated one from the pile, then unlocked the cuff from Matt's left wrist.  As soon as his arm was free, Matt began to thrash it around, trying to stall Grier's work as long as he could - with any luck, the transmitter's battery would die sooner rather than later and, minutes afterward, so would Matt.

But it was not to be.  With his body tied prone to the wood, he could not stop Grier from forcing his hand down onto the crossbeam.  He knelt on it, his weight crushing the bones, while he wrapped the rope around both wood and flesh, tying it tightly in place.  He then repeated the process with Matt's right arm.  Matt found himself utterly helpless, desperate to pull his arms in toward his body to protect himself, but unable to wrench them free.  Spending the morning anticipating this moment did not in any way diminish the horror of what was about to happen to him.  He floundered and thrashed on the ground, fully aware of the hundreds of people watching him, and equally aware that not a single one of them was willing to defy the line of cops to step in and rescue him.  The sweat was now drenching his whole body.

Grier dug into his bag once again, this time pulling out two nails and a massive mallet.  The crowd roared even louder, some imploring Grier to stop, others egging him on.  "Oh, no, oh, don't do it, oh, please NO!" Matt shouted.  He couldn't stop looking at the nails.  They were about four inches long and as thick as his finger.  The thought of one of those things piercing his palm was petrifying.  He clenched his fists, unconsciously striving to save his skin by covering it with his fingers.  Grier took his time, threading washers onto each of the nails, washers that were perhaps an inch and a half across.  Matt could see the reason for it - the thick washer would prevent him from ripping his hand out over the head of the nail.  He kept his fists as tightly shut as he could, eyes riveted to Grier's work, squirming and pleading all the while.  "Don't do it... please don't do it... please stop!"

But Grier did not stop.  He picked up the hammer in his right hand and held one of the nails in his left.  Kneeling by Matt's left arm, he set the nail in place... but not against the palm as Matt had been expecting.  Instead, he felt around the bones in Matt's wrist, which was difficult to do with the ropes covering them.  After a few presses, he found the spot he was looking for and set the point of the nail on it, nestling it between two coils of the rope.  He pressed it down, the point digging painfully into the skin at the center of Matt's wrist.

This was even worse.  A nail through his wrist?  "Oh, jeez, oh no, don't do it, don't do it, NO!"  With the moment here, only seconds away, Matt was shouting, but his voice was lost in the din.  He watched helplessly as Grier raised the hammer up and held it high for a long moment.  It shone in the hazy sunlight, briefly dazzling Matt's eyes when a reflected beam landed on his face.  Then it moved.  The dazzle of sunlight disappeared, the hammer swung down and made contact with the head of the nail.  Pain erupted in Matt's hand.  He arched his back and screamed.  He redoubled his effort to yank his arm to safety, but it would not budge.  The hammer lifted up again and again came down.  Matt could feel the nail bite into the wood this time - it had passed all the way through his wrist, spearing him to the board beneath him.  His hand felt like it was on fire.  The blows kept coming, each one sending shock waves through Matt's arm.  His screams were wordless now, mere animal cries of pain.

There came a time when Grier stopped pounding.  Matt felt him untying the rope around that arm, working it out from beneath the washer.  Then Grier picked up the hammer again and pounded a few more times until the washer was flat against the skin of Matt's wrist.  Matt gasped for air, shocked at how much pain could emanate from one small spot on his body.

Grier moved around to Matt's other side to repeat the process.  Matt, distracted by the pain in his left hand, didn't pay attention until he felt the poking of the second nail into the skin at his right wrist.  Then, suddenly aware of what was about to happen, he found breath for one more tremendous shout of "NOOOO!", which disintegrated into a wordless shriek as the hammer came down once more and lightning bolts shot through Matt's other arm.  The singing electricity reverberated through his nerves with every blow of the hammer.  Again the ropes were removed, again the washer was pounded flush against Matt's skin, and then the process was complete.

Matt was beyond himself with pain.  He spun his head, looking from left to right and back as though in disbelief at what he saw.  That was his arm, dripping with his blood and with a freakish bolt of metal protruding from it.  He tried to tug himself free, but the slightest movement caused his bones and nerves to scrape against the metal nail, and he quickly learned to hold himself as still as possible.

But Grier was not yet finished.  Matt felt him working around at his legs.  He lifted his head to see what was going on just in time to see and feel Grier grab his ankles and yank him toward the foot of the cross.  His wrists, of course, couldn't move, and so the effect was to stretch Matt's arms out and tug his flesh against the constraining nails.  More lightning shot through his arms and he gasped and nearly blacked out from the agony, his head falling back with a thunk to the wood.  He was brought back to himself when he felt Grier working at his left foot, bending his knee upward slightly and positioning the sole onto a small flat platform that protruded at an angle from the side of what would become the upright beam.  Once again ropes were applied. He tried to shake them off, but Grier was deft and soon had his ankle pinned in place.  The right foot followed soon after.

Then once more Matt felt the sharp point of a nail against his skin, this time on the top surface of his left foot.  Knowing now what to expect, he began to scream again, begging for someone - anyone - to come and save him from this sadistic monster.  But as before, the incessant roar of the crowd simply grew in volume as the hammer went up and came down.  As the nail drove between the bones of his foot, Matt tried to flail and kick, but the ropes held him fast.  A few more blows and his foot was securely fastened to the wood.  Then it happened all over again on his other side.

Matt was now trapped, intimately joined to a pair of wooden beams.  Even if nothing further were to happen, he knew that he could not possibly survive long like this.  The pain was simply too much.  He found himself begging in his mind for the swift clutch at his neck, the relentless embrace that would shut off his air and release him from his pain.

What felt like a long while later but was probably only a minute or two, he felt motion.  Grier was standing above his head, fumbling with the cross.  Matt felt his body lifted up a few inches, then dropped, then lifted again and dropped again.  Every movement sent fresh waves of pain lancing out from the holes in his body.  "You're heavier than you look," he heard Grier mutter.  "Eh, I'll work something out."

Grier walked off to the side, then returned with a metal patio chair.  With a burst of effort, he was able to lift the head end of Matt's cross up about two feet and kick the chair in place underneath.  Matt now rested at about a twenty-degree angle to the ground, and could feel his weight wanting to shift downward.  The only thing preventing that motion was the spikes through his wrists and the muscles of his legs.  He could push himself upward using his legs, but only at the cost of increasing the pressure on the spikes through his feet.  He quickly found an equilibrium point, balancing the pains in all four of his extremities as best he could.  And this is barely above horizontal, he thought.  How much worse will it be when he finally puts me upright?

He did not have long to wonder.  With the chair propping up the heavy end of the cross, Grier was able to squat beneath it - instead of having to lift it from the ground - and push upward.  Matt felt himself raised into the air, his body trying ever harder to slide down the wood toward the earth.  Up and up he rose.  The crowd in front of him came into clear view, but in his pain-wracked state it was just a riotous jumble of swirling colors.  The lifting continued until at last he felt he must pitch forward and land on his face,  but at that moment, some kind of mechanism fell into place beneath his feet - bolts on all four sides of the upright beam had been held out of the way until Grier kicked latches to release them.  One by one, they fell into place, securing the upright into some kind of below-ground support structure.  Grier released the cross and Matt was left to hang.

Oh, the pain!  It was indescribable.  Matt had never felt such pain in his entire life, both the post-resurrection life and the remembered one before.  For long minutes he could do nothing but hang there and endure it.  The weight of his body pulled at the nails in his wrists.  Stretched out to the sides as they were, the force pulled at his torso, trying to split him in half vertically.  He had only one option to try to relieve the pressure, and that was to lift his body up with his legs.  They were slightly bent at both knees and ankles.  His feet rested on small platforms that jutted out to either side, angled toward the street so that his toes were lower than his heels.  The nails in his feet prevented him from shifting his weight around, compelling him to leave each foot exactly where it was.  Pushing upward was not too hard to do, but it hurt his feet horribly, and so Matt pushed up only enough to make the pressure on his chest and shoulders bearable.  All the while, the fierce North Carolina sun beat down on his head from high over his left shoulder and the sweat beaded on his head and chest.

He couldn't even scream - it would take too much air.  He needed every bit of willpower he had to hold himself in exactly the least-painful position, because the slightest movement scraped raw nerves against the nails, firing off the lightning bolts.

Eventually, he was able to focus on other things.  It wasn't that the pain lessened, it was more like his nervous system had grown overwhelmed at the sensation and was unable to sustain the full level of reaction.  He found that by the time five minutes or so had passed (or so he assumed, because it was impossible to judge the passage of time with any accuracy), he was capable of - indeed, he desired - some kind of distraction to take his mind off the agony.

His cross was located about fifteen feet from the edge of the street.  The mob in front of him had been shouting and waving signs, the meaning of which finally sank in.  The groups were somewhat mixed together, all trying to be at the front-and-center point as much as possible, yet still wanting to remain apart from the others  Tending toward the right side was a group with signs that read things like "PRJ: Make Him Pay!" and "82 Crosses Are Not Enough!" and "See How It Feels!".  That last line he recognized from the video at yesterday's sentencing hearing - they were the last words of his original self, spoken right before he detonated the bomb that killed all those people.  There were also photos of kids, Lakeesha prominent among them.  These, clearly, were the ones in support of what was happening to him.  He wanted to call out in apology, but knew that it would do no good.  These people were out for his blood, and no apology, especially one as insincere as his was bound to sound, would satisfy their thirst.

Over toward the other side were counter-protesters.  These were a less organized group, but there were more of them, and they were louder.  Matt supposed it was because the pro-PRJ group was winning, getting its way, while the anti- crowd had nothing but its voice.  Their signs read things like "One Cross For All" and "People, Not Property" and "Repeal UID!"  Matt couldn't make sense of what all the signs said, nor could he make out the words the group was chanting.  He had no idea what "UID" was or why it should be repealed.  If it had something to do with the law that made it OK for Grier to do this to him, though, then he was firmly on the anti-UID side.

And yet the anti-crucifixion crowd was clearly not a pro-Matt crowd.  Looking closer at the signs and trying to catch snatches of words out of the air, he realized that most of these people didn't oppose Grier's actions out of any sympathy for Matt.  Rather, they felt it cheapened the crucifixion central to the religion they adhered to.  It seemed they would be perfectly happy to let dozens of copies of Matt suffer hangings and electrocutions and gassings... it was just this particular execution method that they objected to.  Matt turned away, knowing he would find no sympathy with either camp of protesters.

There were other groups as well, some of whom did seem to actually be sympathetic to Matt's plight, but they were individuals or small groups of at most three.  There were signs about cloning, some clearly for or against, but most incomprehensible to Matt.  Apparently a lot had changed in the years since his memories were recorded; he couldn't understand what the issues were, nor why people would feel so strongly about them that they would stand out in the heat to watch a bleeding, broken shell suffer and die.  Matt's eyes landed on one sign, far off to his right, that simply read "Forgive".  Matt met the eyes of the woman holding the sign and saw tears there.  He looked away, grateful for her pity but aware that tears were all she could offer him.

Turning to his left, he was able to spot Grier sitting on the patio chair in the shade of the oak tree by the driveway.  Grier was staring at him, a glass of lemonade or iced tea or something else frosty and cold resting on a small table beside him.  He had his feet propped up and his arms folded across his chest.  Two guns rested in easy reach, and periodically he would glance at the crowd, making sure no one tried to cross the barricade line.

There was an enormous screen set up next to him.  Matt recognized some of the images on it - he had seen them in court the day before.  There were still photos and videos of Lakeesha, her brother, and her fathers playing, laughing, standing in a row in the school auditorium singing Christmas-season songs.  There were other images - of the scruffy, haggard-looking original-Matt with his bomb vest, of him shouting "See how it feels!", of the crater in the middle of the school.  It was ham-handed, but Grier was taking no chance on anyone failing to see the reason why he had hung Matt the 23rd from a cross.

And yet if what he had said yesterday and earlier this morning was true, justice and revenge weren't his motivation at all.  He was doing this for the sheer pleasure of it.  He was getting off on the agony Matt was now enduring.

And agony it was.  A fresh wave of pain surged through his arms and chest, pulling Matt's attention away from Grier and the crowd.  He gasped in a huge breath and whimpered at the magnitude of it.  Surely he could not survive this for more than a few minutes!  Surely his body must break down, stop functioning, cease to be.  It was impossible to imagine that he could endure.  And yet somehow, oblivion did not come.  He surfaced at the far edge of the wave of pain still trapped, still pinned in place, still struggling to find that one impossible point where his arms and legs and chest all hurt as little as possible.

The sweat ran down his forehead and trickled into his eyes.  He tried to blink away the sting of the salt, with no success.  Rubbing his eye against his shoulder helped a tiny bit, but what he really needed to do was use his hand to wipe away the sweat and rub the itch out of his burning eye... he sobbed in his frustration.

When next he had enough attention to spare for his surroundings, he thought he noticed a lessening of the noise level.  The anti-PRJ group had stopped chanting.  "Please," Matt spoke as loudly as he could.  "Please, someone, get me down from here.  Please?  It hurts so much..."  This did not have the effect of arousing sympathy as he had hoped.  The pro-PRJ crowd roared, drowning out Matt's words, and it was clear that however much Matt was hurting, it was nowhere near enough to atone for the deed they blamed him for.  "Fine!" Matt shouted defiantly from his position over their heads.  "Just shoot me then!  Someone!  Anyone!  If you've got a gun, I beg you to use it.  Kill me, PLEASE!  Kill me now"

His eyes scanned the crowd for some kind of response, and to his surprise, there actually was one.  In the anti-PRJ side there was a brief scuffle.  He missed the beginning of it, but by the time he saw what was going on there were three men wrestling over a gun.  One of them had pulled it out, intending to use it as Matt had requested, but his neighbors must not have shared his viewpoint.  The cops waded in and were able to remove the firearm and lock it in their car.  Two other cops pulled the would-be shooter aside as Matt sobbed... so close.  If the guy had only had a few seconds more to squeeze a shot off... but there was nothing to be done.  His body continued to hang on its torture tree.  Another wave of pain broke over him and he stopped paying attention to the crowd.

The next time clarity returned, he began to be aware of something new: his leg muscles were getting tired.  He realized that ever since the cross was raised, he had been supporting much of his weight with his legs.  However, they were forced into a partially-bent position.  This was like starting to squat down, then holding that position instead of standing erect.  There was no way to change it, either.  He tried to straighten his legs, but the nails and the downward-pointing angle of his feet prevented him from doing so.  He had a little bit of slack in his limbs, enough to change the angle of his bent knees, but not enough freedom to straighten them out completely.  The result was that his thigh muscles had to constantly work to support him.  And they were growing tired.

Experimentally, Matt allowed himself to sink down, seeing how far down he would have to go to let his thighs rest.  The answer was: too far.  By taking weight off his legs, he necessarily had to support more of it with his arms.  The spread-out position made it very difficult to do this; the force felt like it was enough to rip his chest apart, and the slightest change of angle or pressure on the nails through his wrists set the nerves in his arm to singing again.  Terrified to continue, he pressed down with his thighs again, returning his body to the equilibrium point he had found before.

But how much longer could he hold that position?  His legs would tire, probably soon.  Already he could feel the twitching that said he was overworking them.  There would come a point when he simply would not be able to hold himself up on his legs any more, and then he would have no choice but to hang from his wrists instead, enduring whatever pain that brought.  "Oh, FUCK!" he shouted.

This could not go on.  He could not stand it.  There had to be a way to end it.  How long had it been, anyway?  Five minutes?  Ten?  Half an hour?  He had no way of judging.  Even thinking optimistically, that half an hour had already passed, he still had something like that much time left before the collar would end his misery.  Matt didn't even think he could stand that much more time.  Surely he would go insane from the agony before then...

More time passed.  The crowd noise began to lessen again.  Were they actually growing bored watching him?  Was he not putting on enough of a show to keep them entertained?  Matt wanted to stir them up once more, just out of sheer perversity, but could not spare the energy.  His entire being was focused on sending power to his legs so that he would not have to take all his weight on his arms.  It was a battle he was losing.  His legs began to fail him in short stutters - he was forced to lower himself down for a few seconds, long enough to give his thighs a brief break, then he surge upward again to relieve the strain in his upper body.

"Mr. Beaurvelais?  Mr. Beaurvelais?  Matt?  Mattie?  Mr. Beaurvelais?"  He became aware of a voice calling his name.  This was nothing new - voices had been shouting his name from all directions in the crowd, usually followed by some sort of invective or else by questions he could never hear over the sound of the throng.  This voice, though, was coming from directly in front of him.  He looked up to see who it was and spied a woman in immaculately pressed clothes, her hair perfect and with teeth a shark would envy.  She saw that he had noticed her.  "Mr. Beaurvelais, do you feel the PRJ program provides fair compensation to victims' families?"

Matt's head spun, trying to process the question.  He noticed a man next to her with a camera rig sporting a media logo.  He was pointing a directional microphone in Matt's direction.  It wasn't bad enough that Matt was suffering up here in full public view; he was expected to provide social commentary at the same time?  The mike was probably sensitive enough to pick up Matt's breathing while suppressing the crowd noise, but he shouted his reply anyway, as best he could.  "Why don't you trade places with me, sweetie, and then I'll answer your questions."  Unperturbed, she fired a few more at him, but Matt found her easy to ignore - he just let the pain sweep up his attention.

He was learning that what he had thought was the worst part of the ordeal - the nailing - was in fact merely a prelude.  The pain of the nails going through his skin and muscle and bone was only a side effect; their main purpose was to hold his body in position.  That position, Matt discovered, was the true torture.  His body was being made to torture itself.  He constantly had to fight to keep supporting his weight, and there was no comfortable position.  No matter how he held himself up, it hurt somewhere - arms, legs, chest, back.  And yet he could not stop.  The cross forced him to keep working his muscles in a futile, never-ending effort to stop the pain.  He knew intellectually that the pain would never stop until he was dead, but still he was compelled to keep trying, to keep struggling, endlessly...

Grier was suddenly standing beside him.  He had brought his chair over and was standing on it, putting his head level with Matt's chest.  How had he gotten there?  Matt hadn't even noticed.  Grier held up a tall glass filled with water.  He held it up to Matt's lips.  "Drink."  Matt did.  Oh, the water felt so good in his mouth!  He swallowed it down greedily, having to pause for breath a few times but eagerly returning to the glass for more.  When it was drained, Grier put his hand flat on Matt's chest.  "You're doing great up here," he said in a low voice.  "That's half an hour passed.  Keep it up."

With that, he stepped down off the chair and returned to his spot in the shade, leaving Matt once more to squirm in the hot sun.

More time passed.  Matt was alternately lucid and lost in his agony.  He yelled, he screamed, he sobbed, he endured in silence.  When he could spare the attention, he noticed that the crowd seemed to be thinning out.  The chants were softer and no longer constant; the swirling mass of people was definitely smaller.  Many of the media trucks were gone - apparently he had provided them with all they needed in the first 30 minutes of his crucifixion.  Now anything else he suffered was just more of the same, yesterday's news.

Grier returned with a second glass of water, commenting that another half hour had passed and that Matt was still doing just great.  Matt downed it as greedily as he had the first and felt slightly revived once it hit his stomach.  Then he realized: if Grier was watering him every half hour, then the transmitter in the kitchen should surely have exhausted its battery by now.  Without a steady signal coming in, the collar should have detected that Matt was trying to "escape" and taken action to stop him.  But nothing had happened yet.  Why... ?

Something in his eyes must have betrayed his thoughts because Grier spoke to him.  "Oh, there's something you should know.  I noticed earlier this morning that one of the appliances in the kitchen had come unplugged.  It happened to be right next to the toaster.  Since I wasn't planning on using the toaster today, I pulled the toaster's plug out and put the other appliance's power cord in its socket.  I just thought you might be interested in knowing that."



Chapter 8 - In which time passes, slowly


Matt stared at Grier, understanding dawning in his brain.  Grier smiled, patted him on his chest, and stepped down to return to his seat.

That was it, then.  There would be no sudden rescue by instantaneous strangulation.  He had thought he was being so clever, but Grier had been a step ahead of him.  In fact, now that he thought about it, it was possible that Grier had even set Matt up for this: what an amazing coincidence that Matt's chain had been exactly long enough to reach the cord of the transmitter, but not the transmitter itself so he could have done something more immediate like smashing some circuitry!  No, now that he thought about it, that had to be what had happened.  Grier had had years to plan, and was clearly a smart, if viciously sadistic, man.

So Matt was doomed to live out the full experience.  Surely it couldn't take much longer - he felt half dead already.  Then it occurred to him that he had no idea how, exactly, crucifixion killed.  The nail piercings, while certainly painful, were not draining him of blood.  Nothing about his position would cause his heart to stop beating or his lungs to stop working or his brain to shut down.  So what would he die of?  Heat?  Thirst?  But Grier kept bringing him water... oh, shit.  Realization dawned that Grier's motive was exactly what he had said it was yesterday when encouraging Matt to eat and stay hydrated: he wanted Matt to last as long as possible up here.  Matt wondered if Grier would bring meals out to him, too, feeding him like a child in a grotesque booster seat in order to prolong his agony even further.

He cracked.  He sobbed and pleaded and begged Grier to take him down.  Salty tears mingled with the sweat in his eyes.  He couldn't take any more of this, he just couldn't, he had to get down or he would go out of his mind...

A long while passed, though Matt was unable to escape from his thoughts.  His legs had long since failed him and he was forced to give them long periods of rest, the force of his weight tearing at his chest and making breathing difficult until he could bear it no longer and forced his thighs to lift him up again.  He would hold himself up as long as possible, his legs shaking under the strain, before collapsing back down.  His attention was constantly drawn from one pain to another - his left foot would demand to be noticed, then the pressure on his chest, then the heat of the sun, now an hour further to the west and striking him more fully in the face, then his burning, exhausted thighs, then his right hand, which had become totally immobilized.  Had his constant up-and-down motion on the cross rubbed a nerve or a tendon against the metal nail until it had been severed?  Or was it just "asleep" from being held in the same position for too long?  Matt strained to force his fingers to respond to his will, but they might as well have been blocks of wood.  He could not move them.  How ironic that he had put all that effort into his rehabilitation only to have this be the end result.

The crowd had thinned some more.  Now only the hard-core groups were left: thirty or so of the anti-PRJ crowd, twenty pro, and a dozen or so floaters.  In one of his moments of lucidity when his attention was not completely consumed by the pain he became aware of a buzzing noise.  He swiveled his head slowly to his right and saw: a lawnmower.  How touchingly suburban.  Some guy two yards away was actually cutting his grass while Matt was dying of crucifixion.  Some guy... in an orange prison jumpsuit?  Matt squinted, suspicion dawning slowly.  He could only see the back of the jumpsuit, but then the guy reached the end of his pass, turned around and began pushing the mower back toward Matt.  The hair was longer, but the face was unmistakable: this was another Matthew Beaurvelais.  Matt #23 could even see the glint of a silver neck chain that matched the one he was wearing.  The other Matt caught his eye, then quickly looked down at his mower.

Of course it made sense once he thought about it.  The crime he was being punished for was blowing up a school.  The PRJ program provided clones of the criminal to the next-of-kin of the victims, in this case the parents.  Naturally those parents would all live near each other in the neighborhood of the school.  He had been assuming that all the Matties were being executed, perhaps not as gruesomely as he was, but he now realized that this was a flawed premise.  The victims' families could do whatever they wanted with their Mattie; obviously at least one of them had chosen to keep theirs alive.  Perhaps that was the typical case, and Grier's horror show was the exception.  For all he knew, there could be almost two dozen Matties within a mile of this spot, and he was the only one of them nailed to a cross.

This, this was just too much.  The agony of the cross was bad enough, but the knowledge that he had been sentenced to a ghastly and painful death for a crime he couldn't remember committing while an exact replica of him had apparently been sentenced to light household chores, that was simply impossible.  He ignored the burning in his legs and forced himself upward once more, resolved that this had to end.  He focused all his willpower on his left arm - that one seemed to have slightly more give than his right, and also had not yet gone completely numb.  He pulled at it, trying to wrench his arm forward and away from the wood.  He was going to tear himself down off this cross - Grier would have to find some other way to have his fun.  The pain was blinding, but after more than an hour on the cross it was just one more drop in the ocean.  He didn't so much ignore it - it was impossible to ignore - as work despite it, pulling and twisting and yanking at his arm.

For a moment he thought he could feel his arm moving, that perhaps his motions were working the nail out of the wood.  But minutes passed, and soon it was clear that was not the case.  Whatever motion Matt thought he sensed had been illusory.  The nail wasn't moving, and the washer around the head was wide enough that Matt would have to expand the hole in his wrist to three times its current diameter to slip free, and there was no way he could make that happen.  He simply didn't have the leverage; the angle was all wrong.  If he could get one arm free it might be enough to let him also free the other, but with both held where they were, he was helpless.  He thought briefly of focusing on his feet, but knew that even if he could break them loose, he would still be stuck in place by his arms.  Having his feet where they were actually provided him with the ability to find a small amount of comfort by bearing his weight on them, however briefly and infrequently.

His burst of strength failed him.  His legs collapsed and his arms bore all his weight again.  The pressure on his chest was intolerable, and yet there was absolutely nothing he could do to change anything.  He could not break free; he could not force himself to die; all he could do was hang and suffer.  He sobbed and cried, wailing his frustration in wordless anguish.

Grier returned with a third glass of water.  This time Matt refused.  However wonderful the water would have felt and tasted in his mouth, he knew it was a poisoned gift that would only increase his suffering.  After a few minutes, Grier walked away and Matt was left to hang again.

Time crawled slowly by, every minute lasting for hours.  The sun continued its slow march to the west, shining more and more directly into his eyes and bathing more of his body with its baking rays.  Matt struggled to remember a time when he had not been splayed out like a bug in a collector's display case, his racked body sweating and squirming, animal noises issuing from his lips.  No memory came.  He had spent his entire life here, hung to suffer while protesters who had initially gathered because this event was noteworthy now grew bored with the unchanging tedium of it all, drifting away by ones and twos or checking their little electronic gizmos or chatting idly with one another or the four remaining cops.  Matt couldn't decide which was worse: his pain or the world's indifference to it.

Twice more Grier offered him water.  Twice more he had the willpower to refuse.  The end had to be near now.  Matt found himself spending most of his time off in some other place, where the pain of his body still existed but somehow he could wall it off, pretend it belonged to someone else.  His legs were utterly useless, totally unable to bear his weight for more than a few seconds.  But he only seldom tried - he found that his muscles had frozen into position, and any attempt to move was like pushing on a door that had been stuck for years, as if rust had settled in his joints.  Better to just hold still, even though his arms felt like they would be wrenched from his shoulders, even though his very bones ached from maintaining the position, better to not try to move.  Every once in a while, though, the agony of his body was enough to draw his mind back from that other place, forcing itself onto his awareness.  At these times fresh screams would break forth from his mouth as he begged and cried for an end to his suffering.

But then somehow, without him noticing it, he would drift back to that other place.  At its best, he could pretend there was no pain at all.  More often, the pain was there but he could overcome it by thinking about other things, or by not thinking at all, shutting his mind off.  With his eyes shut he could clear his mind of distractions, letting the sounds wash over him like the noise of the surf.  His prison might restrain his body, but his mind was still free to soar.

Somehow the sun had jumped halfway down the sky.  How had he not noticed?  Perhaps that was something the sun could do now in this weird future world.

Later, there was water at his lips.  It tasted wonderful.  He thought he vaguely remembered some reason why he shouldn't drink it, but why would that be?  That made no sense.  The water tasted just fine, in fact, the best he had ever drunk, cold and clear and soothing.  He tried to reach for another glass, but his arm was strangely stuck.  How odd...

The sun jumped again.  Now it was nearing the horizon, sending its rays directly into his eyes.  He stared at it because he could see a tunnel there.  Some kind of magnetic force was pulling him forward into the tunnel.  He could feel the motion, the wind whipping past him as he flew.  He was traveling fast, but it was a long way to go so he never seemed to get any closer.  That was OK.  Matt was in no hurry.  It was wonderful to fly.  Why hadn't ever tried before?  It was so easy to do, so effortless...

The light went away.  The tunnel went dark.  Still he flew on...

and on...

and on...



Chapter 9 - In which Matt once again undertakes a course of recovery and restoration


Matt awoke in darkness.  His entire body ached all over, as if he had been hit by a train.  He blinked, disoriented, not recognizing his surroundings.  There was only a faint light to see by, creeping in from under a closed door.  He was lying down, a light blanket over his body.  He thought about trying to move, but his muscles were so incredibly sore and tired that it hardly seemed worth the effort.  He drifted back off to sleep.

When next he awoke it was to the sight of an unfamiliar man with dark, nearly black eyes and a pointed goatee leaning over his bed.  He had a bowl of broth in his hand and was speaking to him, though Matt couldn't follow the words.  He seemed to be wanting Matt to sit up, though Matt absolutely did not want to do that because it would have meant changing positions and that mean that fire would lance through his nerves like it did before and he had to stay still at all costs but the man wouldn't allow it.  He lifted Matt's head up and piled some pillows underneath it.  There was discomfort and some dizziness, but not the shooting pains that Matt had been expecting.

The man began to spoon the broth into Matt's mouth.  It was pleasantly warm, not too hot on his tongue, and it tasted good.  Matt swallowed and the man spooned some more in.  It was delicious.  At one point Matt thought he might try to do the spooning himself and started to extract his hand from under the blanket, but Grier - that was his name, Grier - said perhaps next time, that he was happy to handle it for now, and this time Matt understood the words.  He swallowed some more.

Recognition came like it does with one of those optical illusion pictures, where you can see the lines and curves just fine but they're just a jumble of shapes until suddenly they aren't any more: they're a picture.  All the memories were there in Matt's mind, there just was no story to go along with them, until suddenly there was.  A tsunami of fear and dread surged up uncontrollably  inside him and his body spasmed as he tried to cringe away from his tormentor.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Settle down, there!  I'm not hurting you.  This is just broth.  OK?  See?  It's fine, it's OK."

But it was not OK.  Matt lifted his hands and inspected them.  Moving them hurt horribly, but it was a dull ache rather than the lightning bolts of pain he was subconsciously expecting.  There on both wrists were angry-looking scabs, red and black and inflamed, proof that the horrifying images that existed in his head were not nightmares, but memories.  It really had happened.

His hands were like claws, the fingers bent halfway to his palms.  He tried to force them to unbend, but they refused to respond.  He tried to pull his legs in, preparing to stand up, knock the demon with the soup bowl down to the ground, and run like hell.  Thwarted again: his leg was chained to the bed.  He was back in the cell.  Crucifixion had not been the end  - somehow, he was still alive, and Grier apparently had still more planned for him.

"Get away from me!" he tried to shout, but the words came out in a stumbling stammer.  The soup that had been sitting so placidly in his empty belly now churned and threatened to come up again.

"Matt!  Relax!  No one is hurting you!  Calm down, already!"  Grier's voice was soothing, but Matt was not fooled.  If Grier was being nice to him, it was only to soften his defenses for some future torment.  He would not be fooled.

"Matt, you really should eat," Grier said in an oh-so-reasonable tone.  "You've been asleep for over a day.  Your body needs the nourishment."

"No," Matt replied, his eyes fixed on the scabs in his wrists.  "I'd rather die."  But even as he said it, he knew it wasn't true.  It might have been true when he was still up on the cross, but now that he was down, the claim that he wanted to subvert eons of instinct and end his life was a sham.  His heart wasn't in the words he spoke.  As long as he was alive, after all, there was still a chance for escape.  And perhaps even revenge...

"OK," Grier said. "I won't force you to eat.  What I'll do is put this in a cup with a straw and you can drink it if you want without me helping."

He left, closing the door behind him.  Matt drank the broth, holding the cup awkwardly in his crippled hands, sipping through the straw.  He might have done it too fast - there was a ten- or fifteen-minute span when things were touch and go, when it seemed like his stomach might rebel against the strangeness of food in it and expel it out the way it had come in.  But the feeling passed; he held the broth down.  He thought briefly about trying to sit up and explore the damage to his body, but one attempt to rise up off the pillows changed his mind.  He tossed and turned a few times - gingerly - and eventually drifted off to sleep again.

Subsequent days followed the same pattern.  Each day he felt stronger, and was soon eating solid food and even making trips to the bathroom, walking unsteadily on his still-tender feet.  Grier was an attentive nurse, which Matt couldn't figure out.  Was the guy being nice out of basic human decency, or was he just healing Matt up faster so he could break him down again?  Neither one of them brought up the topic, so it was sort of like the giant pink elephant in the room that everyone knew about but no one mentioned.  And yet Grier was, as ever, unfailingly polite, even solicitous of Matt's needs.  It was so difficult to reconcile the man's friendly words and actions with his demonstrated capacity for brutality.  It was far easier to suppose that Grier was, truly, deep down, a good man who had lashed out because of the devastating loss he had suffered.  There were even times when Matt envisioned Grier letting him walk free, of the two of them parting at the front door almost friends, Grier telling him that his hours on the cross had atoned for the crime his prior self had committed, so good luck, godspeed, now go start a new life.

They talked occasionally, mostly at meals.  Matt learned that Grier had held a management job at NC State Raleigh, but that he had resigned his position two weeks before he was due to get his Mattie.  It was just as well - the university was not happy with the publicity the planned crucifixion was generating and would probably have invited him to leave if he hadn't volunteered.  Money was not an issue.  After the deaths of his partner and children, he hadn't had anything to spend his money on, and they had had a generous life insurance policy on Huang.  He also learned that Grier had a sister in Arkansas who he never spoke with, played the guitar passably well, and hated cats.  Mealtimes aside, though, Matt was mostly left to his own devices.

As his strength and dexterity returned, Matt became increasingly restless in the small cell / bedroom.  Grier usually left the door open, but Matt was always chained to the cot, which was bolted securely to the floor.  The chain was long enough that he could reach the bathroom across the hall and partway down the hall toward the kitchen and living room area.  It was a small space to be confined to, and Matt grew bored.

He had begun working his fingers as best he could.  The damage was severe, and his fingers frequently tingled with phantom pains, but as time passed, the scabs in his wrists gave way to scars and muscle control slowly began to return to his hands.  He remembered the exercises he had done after his reincarnation at the hospital and began to do them again, flexing and extending his fingers and slowly increasing their range and power.

A day came when boredom and dexterity came together.  Matt awoke from a nap with a sensation he hadn't felt in a long while - his cock was erect.  He shifted his hands toward the waistband of his white cotton underwear (still the only clothing he had ever worn since stripping out of the prison jumpsuit - he was never without it: it got washed in the shower whenever Matt did).  He slipped his hand inside and began to squeeze.  Eyes closed, he allowed himself to get lost in the sensation.  It was surprisingly easy, requiring very little finger control to trigger the right sensations.  He just had to maintain his grip and his arm muscles could do the rest.

It didn't take long.  He hadn't had a chance to jerk off since his rebirth, but his body knew exactly what to do.  In only minutes, Matt was quietly gasping and shuddering and spraying the inside of his briefs.  Damn, it felt good!  He had actually almost forgotten what an orgasm felt like.  A satisfied half-smile on his face, he sank back against the pillows, eyes shut, drifting...

"Well, I see you're feeling better," Grier's voice said from the open doorway.  Matt started upright, twisting to look behind him.  "I guess that means break time is over and we can get started again.

Matt's blood turned to ice in his veins.



Chapter 10 - In which Matt attempts to maintain a clenched fist


Matt gripped the detonator in his hand with all the might he could muster, deathly afraid of what would happen when he let go.  Letting go was inevitable, of course: Grier was infinitely patient and would wait as long as necessary.  Part of Matt thought about just giving in, letting go now, getting it over with, but it was a very tiny part.  A much larger part knew what would happen when his strength failed and would do whatever it took to postpone that moment for as long as possible.

He was standing in the center of the cell, his legs spread out to the sides, held up by ropes that ran around his body and between his legs, almost artistic in the design they made.  His arms were held stretched out to his sides, the detonator switch in his right hand.  He was naked.  His cock ached from the treatment it was receiving.

He had fought Grier with a strength born of panic, but he had lost all the same.  Grier had seemed to even enjoy the struggle, wrestling with Matt on the hard rubber floor, dodging the blows Matt aimed wildly at his face.  The fight was a mismatched one - Grier was whole and rested while Matt was still not fully recovered from the ordeal he had endured.  Grier had fully-functional hands and feet; Matt's were limited and hurt when he moved them.  Grier could step out of Matt's reach whenever he wanted; Matt remained chained to the cot.

It took a long while, but Grier had bit by bit worn him down.  Matt was able to land a few blows and scratched a good gouge along the side of Grier's face, but the man didn't even seem to notice.  He mostly stayed tantalizingly just beyond Matt's range, stepping in to grapple briefly, then stepping back again, allowing Matt to exhaust himself in his hopeless effort to defend himself.  Eventually Grier was able to get a chain fastened around Matt's waist again.  Somewhat later he got a cuff around one of Matt's wrists.  Then the cuff got locked to the chain, and it was pretty much all over.  In short order, Grier had latched a cuff on Matt's other wrist and clipped it to his waist as well.  Matt was helpless.

Grier had ripped the briefs off him then, forced Matt's mouth open, and shoved the briefs inside, the wet stain from his recent release first.  He had sat on Matt's chest while holding the soggy gag in place.  Matt had retched when the cloth hit the back of his throat, not so much from the taste as from the awareness that this was his own soiled underwear in his mouth, but Grier held it firm.  Matt swallowed down the bile and, slowly, sought to control himself.  Only when his wild, spastic movements had slowed and stopped did Grier release his grip, allowing Matt to gradually work the fabric out of his mouth with his jaw and tongue and spit it off to the floor beside his head.

After that he had been roped up in the position he found himself in now.  "We're going to play a little game," Grier had said.  "Do you know what a safe word is?  It's a tool employed by S&M players.  When the one getting hurt wants to take a break or end the scene, he says the safe word.  It's a way to kind of get lost in the moment, so the top doesn't have to guess whether 'No!  Stop!' really means stop or if it's just the bottom getting into character.  If the bottom says 'Stop!', it means 'Don't stop,' but if he says 'peanut butter', he wants out.  Make sense?  Now, for our little game, your safe word is actually going to be a phrase.  Can you guess what it is?"

Matt shook his head, eyes fixed on the floor, still seething over how he had actually been so naive as to allow himself to believe that Grier would let him go.

"Aw, I'm sure you could if you tried.  But then, perhaps you didn't get the media saturation that the rest of us did.  For a week or so it was unavoidable, everywhere.  Then, of course, the world moved on, but the phrase lingered.  Even now you'll see it on tactless T-shirts here and there.  Still no guess?  OK, the safe word is 'I'll see how it feels'.  Notice it's slightly different from your original's wording, 'you'll see how it feels'.  That's important.  Now, I'm going to hurt you until you say that phrase.  Whenever you want a break from whatever I'm doing, just say the safe word.  I'll accept any reasonable variation: 'Gonna see how it feels', 'I want to see how it feels', even just 'see how it feels'... any of those will do.  In order to count, though, you have to say it like you mean it, not just a monotone drone, but with feeling, right?  The better you say it, the longer the break you'll get."

"You are a fucking psychopath," Matt told Grier, looking him in the eye.  Grier looked puzzled for a long moment, long enough that Matt briefly worried that he might have said something that would provoke Grier to explode in rage.

But he didn't.  "Oh, no, there's where you're wrong," Grier eventually replied in his light, conversational tone.  "Call me a sick bastard, call me a fucking asshole all you want, but I'm not a psychopath.  A psychopath is unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality.  I can.  See, your error is that you persist in thinking you are a human being.  You're not.  In the eyes of the law, you're a thing.  You're not even an animal, or the authorities - who by the way are not at all happy with the scene you and I staged not too long ago - would have been able to stop me on animal cruelty charges.  They couldn't, because you are not a human or an animal, but a thing.  If I were a psychopath, I might try to crucify a real person, and then I'd get arrested and thrown in jail.  But I understand that, and so I crucified you.  Q.E.D. - I'm not a psychopath.  Now, would you like to practice that safe word before we begin?  No?  You already know it well enough?  OK, then."

Grier had started laying on him with a whip.  At first it wasn't so bad - each individual blow stung a bit, but compared to the agony he had already endured, it was trivial, like the buzzing of a gnat.  He had been expecting so much worse that as time went on and the intensity failed to increase, he actually began back-talking his tormentor.  "Is that all you've got?  That's the best you can do?  Bring it on, fucker!"

But as the blows started piling up on the same spots over and over again, they began to really hurt.  The trash talk stopped and was replaced with grunts and moans.  Matt was squirming in his bonds, unable to move or flinch or do anything but tense up in anticipation of the next strike.  He swore to himself that he would not play Grier's game, that he would allow himself to be beaten into unconsciousness before saying that hated line.  His resolve held out for a long time, even as the strap struck him on the back, the butt, the chest, the thighs.  Then the blows from the whip changed to clothespins on his skin, pins that were strung together with string and then yanked off all at once.  Each individual pinching pain was not so bad, but the sudden flare from the swift pull-off was enough to make him gasp.  Still Matt didn't crack.  Then came the weights on his nuts.  He had no idea how much weight Grier eventually suspended from his balls, but he vowed that he would let them be ripped right off before he gave Grier the satisfaction.

"Ordinarily," Grier said after removing the ball weights, "I would go to electricity next.  Current is a great way to cause pain without also producing permanent physical damage.  In your case, though, damage is not a concern.  So I'll just use this instead."  He had then lit up a candle and held it up close to Matt's face.  Some reaction must have shown in Matt's face, because Grier smiled.  "Oh, this makes you nervous does it?"

He stared at the flame, seemingly mesmerized by its glow.  "This sight has fascinated men for ages," he mused.  "The flickering flame.  Such a double-edged sword, fire.  It gave us civilization... but it can still burn us."  Slowly, slowly, he had lowered the flame to a spot where the skin of Matt's chest was not covered by any of the restraining ropes.  Matt felt the heat began to build and strained to pull away.  Fire did indeed scare him - the idea of being burned was a terrifying one.  Grier simply followed him, bringing the candle closer and closer.  Inspired, Matt blew out a quick breath of air and succeeded in extinguishing the candle.

Grier was startled at losing his instrument of torture, but only for a moment.  "Oh, well done!  Very clever!" he had crowed once he got over the initial surprise.  "And you know I can't gag you because then you couldn't say the safe word.  Smart boy!  Unfortunately, that just means we're going to have to play from the other side."  A quick flare from a lighter and the candle was lit again.  Grier walked around behind Matt and this time brought the flame close to the skin of Matt's shoulder.  Matt tried to turn his head around to repeat the trick, but he couldn't get the right angle.  Soon, very soon, he felt the heat blossom against his skin and he cried out, yelping like a puppy with a stepped-on tail.  Then the sensation faded, only to reappear on the other side, eliciting another yelp, and then over and over across his back side.  He never knew where it was going to happen next.  He kicked and jumped and pulled uselessly against the restraining ropes.

"Mmmmm," Grier moaned, inhaling deeply.  "Smell that?  That's your hair and skin burning, Matt.  Such a powerful smell, the scent of human flesh on fire..."  Matt felt panic begin to rise in his blood.  Somehow this was much, much worse than the whip.  He felt his stern resolution to resist beginning to weaken and crumple.  Another touch of the candle under his outstretched arm, another scream from Matt.  "Stop it!  Stop it!" he cried.

"'Stop' means 'more', you realize?  Okay, more it is."  The flame kissed the skin of his other arm and Matt nearly leaped off the ground, ropes or not.  There was a long pause, and then Matt felt the heat beginning to rise in his testicles.  Grier was holding the flame beneath his wide-spread legs and slowly raising it upward.  Matt nearly went insane.  "No!  No!  Oh, no, not that!"

"You know what to say, Matt."

He did.  He didn't want to say it, but he knew what words Grier wanted to hear.  He also knew that saying them would buy him only a temporary reprieve.  Whatever pain Grier felt like dishing out, he would dish out.  Saying the safe word might win Matt a short break, but as soon as it was over, he would find himself right back where he was.  And yet... the knowledge that there was an open flame licking at the underside of his scrotum was enough to drive all other thoughts from his head.  He had to make it stop, whatever the cost, however brief the respite might be.

"See how it feels!" Matt said, not quite yelling, not yet, but still hating himself even as the words left his mouth.

"Who will?" Grier asked.  He had stopped raising the flame, but was not lowering it either.

"I'LL SEE HOW IT FEELS!  I'LL SEE HOW IT FEELS!"  Matt was frantic to squeeze his legs shut.  This was a viciously cruel position, forcibly exposing his tender balls to whatever Grier could imagine.  The feeling of helplessness was absolute; nothing he could do could protect them.

Grier withdrew the flame.  "All right.  We'll take a five-minute break."

Matt sagged against the ropes, unaware until it flooded out of his body how much tension had been within him.

After that, it had gone downhill.  They both knew that now that Matt had cracked once, there was no turning back.  Grier had teased him with the flame some more, burning bits of him all over his body.  Matt tried to hold out, but called out the safe word again after only a few more go-arounds.  Grier wasn't satisfied, though, and made him repeat the phrase over and over, demanding more emotion, more volume, more frenzy, before he would grant a reprieve.  It only got worse with each repetition.  Very quickly, Matt had gone hoarse from shouting the words so loudly.  "I WANNA SEE HOW IT FEELS!  SEE HOW IT FEELS!  GOTTA SEE HOW IT FEELS!"  Only the loudest, most passionate cries brought relief from the licking flame, and then only for a few minutes at a time.

Finally, Grier had stopped.  Matt was allowed to lower his arms, though his body and legs were kept restrained and his hands were cuffed in front of him to keep him from picking at the knots.  Grier left the room for what felt like twenty minutes or so, then returned with a glass of water.  He quickly re-tied the two ropes that Matt had managed to loosen, then let him drink the water.

"I think we got some usable footage out of that," he said, then, feigning puzzlement at Matt's expression, "oh, did I forget to mention that I was filming you?  Yes, there are four cameras set up, see, against the wall there?  I can understand you wouldn't recognize them, cameras have gotten so small nowadays that they can be hard to spot.  Anyway, one is getting a whole-body shot, and the other three are zoomed in on your face, your right hand, and your crotch."

"Why?" Matt croaked.  And Grier had explained.

Which was how he found himself in the predicament he was in now.  Grier had instructed Matt to drain his bladder onto the rubber floor, which he did, though it took a long time to get the stream flowing.  Grier had then washed the results down a drain with a hose.  Matt's arms had gone back out to the sides again, and Grier had slid a metal rod into Matt's dick.  Nothing, to Matt's knowledge, had ever gone in that particular hole before, and he did not enjoy the process.  Even lubed up, the rod caused an uncomfortable sensation as it went in.  After that, Grier had looped a thin metal cord around the base of his cock, fastening it tightly down to both hold the rod in place and at the same time force blood to pool in his cock so that it swelled up and became fully engorged.

Next had come a metal collar around Matt's balls, to which a metal plate was attached separating his balls from his dick.  "For your own protection," Grier had explained.  Another thick metal belt went around his waist and two more bands circled his upper thighs.

After that had come a white putty-like substance that Grier had formed into a condom-like sheath around Matt's swollen cock.  Only the tip of his dick, blackish-purple and with the lips splayed out around the invading rod, could be seen emerging from the end.  Then two wires went into the putty, wires that ran to a switch that Grier had placed in Matt's right hand.

"C-4," he had explained.  "The very same substance your previous self used to blow himself up before.  Kind of poetic, don't you think?  And look - the position you're standing in is very similar to the pose recorded on that jittery phone-cam video.  It's just like last time!  Only this time, there won't be any victims other than you.  No, that's not right, it's not exactly like last time, because this time, you will definitely not be committing suicide.  Only one small part of you will be destroyed in this explosion.  So.  Whenever you're ready, just release the switch."

There was only one way for this to end.  The outcome was inevitable, the only question was how long Matt wanted to - or was able to - delay it.  He knew that the logical thing to do was get it over with.  And yet he couldn't bring himself to let go of the switch.  And so the minutes dragged on.

How had his predecessor actually gotten up the nerve to do it?  Matt knew himself to be very afraid of pain, so the idea of voluntarily inflicting it on himself went against everything he thought he knew.  Perhaps it would have been easier for the original, who knew he would not survive the explosion?  Or had he truly been driven crazy by the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of rights to his daughter?  Of course, the person Matt believed himself to be would never have slaughtered dozens of innocent people either, so perhaps the second explanation was the most likely.

The switch in his hand was not hard to hold, but it did take constant effort to keep his hand clenched around it.  There was a spring that was constantly working against him, trying to press his fingers apart.  Also working against him was the fact that his hand was damaged.  It took concentration to force the muscles in his arm to obey his will, and as the clock ticked on, it became more and more difficult to do.

Sweat was trickling down his forehead.  He was breathing heavily, focusing his attention on keeping his fingers clenched together, because the prospect of what would happen the moment he wavered was just too grisly to contemplate.

He glanced down at his crotch.  His cock was like a monstrous thing grafted on to his body where his real penis should have been.  It was pointing out at an angle just below horizontal, the pooled blood inside striving to aim it skyward but thwarted by the weight of the steel rod through its core.  He couldn't even see the thin cord Grier had used to tie it off at the base - the flesh around it had swollen so much that it was buried in dark purple skin.  It hurt terribly, and it had been like that long enough that Matt suspected his cock was a goner even if Grier relented and set him free right this moment.  Perhaps blowing it off would be a kindness, better than watching it succumb to gangrene and rot right off...

His grip flickered and weakened for just a moment, and panic washed through him and he forced his fingers to tighten their hold.  No!  How could he even think of letting go?  The pain that would follow... he just could not do that to himself.

There had to be a way out.  Still staying focused on the grip of his right hand, he began to explore with his left.  For long minutes he strove to untie the knot at his wrist.  It seemed at first like it might be possible to do, but as the minutes passed by and he couldn't move the rope, he began to despair.  A tiny sob escaped from his lips and he shook his arm in frustration.

"Matt," came Grier's voice, "you do realize I'm right behind you watching you, don't you?  Do you really think I'd be stupid enough to tie you up with a knot that you could untie?"

Matt screamed then, a hoarse, primal yell of rage and frustration.  Dammit, it was so unfair!  He had done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment!  There had to be a way out, there just had to be...

His grip flickered again and his thoughts were immediately pulled to his right hand.  The long strain was beginning to wear on him.  The muscles in his arm were beginning to tire.  He tried to think of a way to let some of them rest.  Slowly, carefully, he tried to relax the grip of his outer fingers, the pinky and ring, while keeping his thumb and index finger clamped tight on the switch.  It was much more difficult than it should have been - his damaged nerves didn't allow him that much control.  After a few attempts, he knew it would not be possible.  He retightened his full grip and tried grimly to hold on.

More long minutes passed.  Matt knew the end was nearing.  He could feel his fingers spasming, moving in ways he did not intend and could not control.  The moment one of those spasms was large enough, his cock would be obliterated.  He took a look down once more, thinking perhaps to say good-bye to it, but the thing that his eyes encountered looked nothing like the dick he remembered and he looked away again.  His fingers flailed some more.  He fought to keep them curled in tight, but his muscles refused to obey him.  His fingers clenched and released, the switch beneath them straining to rise upward and complete its circuit.

The moment, when it came, came so suddenly that at first he didn't even notice it.  There was a bang, but it didn't really register.  So much of Matt's attention was focused on his right hand that anything else was merely a distraction.  There wasn't even any pain, at least at first.  He was pushed backward a bit, as if a heavy boot had pressed him in the belly. He looked down at his groin at the same time the first wave of pain struck.

His dick was gone.

Or rather, bits and pieces of it were still there, but they were splattered all over the floor, his legs, and his belly.  He felt a wave of nausea and dizziness wash over him at the sight of all the blood.  He moaned and sagged into the ropes, the detonator switch falling at last from his exhausted fingers and bouncing on the floor.  He hung for a while, aware now of nothing but the pain in his groin.  His balls felt as though they had been struck by a mallet, and there was an itching, burning sensation at the base of his cock, but from his dick itself, of course, he felt nothing.  Not even a phantom pain, as he had read some amputees sometimes feel.  It was simply gone.

He squeezed his eyes open and dared to look down.  The metal rod was still there sticking out from where his dick had once been, still clamped tightly in place by the cord.  It was dripping with some blood, and there were a few chunks of meat stuck to it, but it otherwise looked clean and whole and undamaged by the explosion.  His cock, on the other hand was nowhere to be seen.  It had been completely, utterly destroyed.  And then the bile rose up in his throat and he couldn't stop himself from heaving it out, trying to aim to the side to avoid splattering the fresh wound with gastric refuse.  Darkness swelled up in his head and he knew no more.



Chapter 11 - In which a career in motion pictures blossoms


When next he awoke, it was to find himself lying on the cot with only the trickle of light from under the closed door for illumination.  He tried to move, but found that his hands had been chained above his head, his ankles chained below.  He could swivel slightly in place, but could not fully turn over.  He wrestled a bit with his bonds, then gave up.  He looked down to see if he could inspect his crotch, but it was hidden under the blanket that was covering him.  At least it didn't seem to hurt as badly as it had before.

He lay awake a long time in the dimness, wishing to move but unable to.  Silent tears of frustration leaked down from the corners of his eyes.

A long while later, he fell back to sleep.

-------------

"OK, lazy bones, time to get out of bed."

Matt had been awake for a long time when Grier opened the door and swept into the room.  His heart lurched inside his chest, adrenalin sending him instantly from a state of numbed boredom to outright terror.  For hours he had been anticipating Grier's next arrival, unsure whether it would bring tender nursing care as after the crucifixion, or more pain.  He had gotten to the point where he would have taken the pain if only it would have meant release from the fixed position he was forced to maintain.  Now, as Grier released his arms from the chains and moved to his feet to do the same, he almost wished to have the state of boredom back.

Grier pulled off the blanket and helped Matt sit up.  It was a slow and painful process - his muscles were cramped and stiff and did not move easily.  Once he was upright, Matt got a look at his groin.

The wound was clearly in the process of healing.  The long rod that had jutted out before had at some point been replaced with a much smaller one.  Grier let him stretch his arms for a while, then cuffed them to his waist.  He was then allowed to stand on stiff, uncertain legs.  Grier knelt down to inspect his ruined crotch.  He hummed and looked and finally stood up.  "Seems like it's healing OK.  How does it feel?"

"How the fuck do you think it feels?  I got an idea - let's blow your dick off and you can see for yourself."

Grier grinned.  "Aw, thanks anyway, but I'm good.  Now, I'm going to pull the plug out.  Try to piss if you can - I drained you out via catheter twice while you were still sleeping, but I want to see if you've still got any control left."  His calm voice infuriated Matt - how could he speak so matter-of-factly about the trauma Matt had endured at his hands?  "This is all new to me too, you know.  Everything I know about cock-ectomies I learned from the net.  I think what I did should have left you with bladder control, but we won't know till we try, eh?"

He gently tugged the metal plug out of the hole where Matt's dick used to be.  A thin dribble of urine followed it out.  Matt was half-inclined to just let it flow, perhaps even soak Grier's feet with it, but deep-set instincts kicked in and he clamped his bladder closed.  The dribble stopped.

"Did you stop it, or are you just empty?" Grier inquired.

"Fuck you."

"OK, well, the important thing is that some came out, so that means the pipes aren't blocked by scar tissue.  You won't suffer a burst bladder and die prematurely.  Now, I've got breakfast warming on the hot tray, you wanna come out and have some?  Your leg chain should be long enough to reach."

Matt ignored him, turned his back, and lay back down on his cot.  It smelled wonderful, but he had no appetite at all.  Grier waited a few moments, then left for the kitchen.  Matt could hear the clank of silverware on plates for a while, then it stopped.  The sounds of cleanup followed; Matt stared vacantly at the ceiling.  Then came a whirring noise; Matt couldn't bring himself to care what it was.

He was still staring at the ceiling when Grier came in to the room carrying a blender and a funnel with a tube attached.  In his numbed state he was slow to react, but even if he had been at his peak, it probably wouldn't have changed the outcome.  Grier sat down on his chest, pinning him to the cot.  With his hands cuffed to his waist he had almost no leverage.  He squirmed and bucked, but there was no way to throw Grier's weight off.

The tube was in Matt's mouth before he knew it was coming.  He tried to shove it out with his tongue. Grier only pressed it deeper until it struck the back of his throat.  He gagged; the tube only forced its way deeper in, scraping against the sides of his throat as it went.  There was a moment when he panicked - Grier was shoving it down his windpipe, not his esophagus!  He twisted and thrashed all the harder in his struggle for air.

Grier must have realized his mistake, because the tube slid upward a fraction, realigned itself, and then plunged downward once more.  This time it kept going.  Matt could see the funnel at the other end drawing closer and closer to his face.  His mouth was forced wide open as Grier shoved the neck of the funnel between his teeth and pressed down.  Matt stopped struggling at last, eyes wide open, sucking air through the thin opening that the tube allowed.

"Did I not tell you that it would be more pleasant to eat with me when I invite you to?  You're a smart guy, Matt.  I know you don't like what I'm doing to you, but wouldn't it make sense to take pleasure when it's offered?  But if this is what you prefer, so be it.  Here are the eggs, juice, toast, and pancakes that you could have eaten in a more enjoyable matter."

Still holding the funnel down with one hand, he lifted the blender with the other and slowly poured its contents in.  Matt could feel the movement of the liquid in the tube, but nothing actually touched his throat.  Instead, it poured straight into his stomach.  Grier drained the blender and, after a minute or so's pause, slowly extracted the feeding tube from Matt's throat.  The edge scratched his throat again as it had on the way in.  As it emerged, Matt was wracked with a coughing fit that was only made worse by Grier's weight still pressing down on his chest.  Grier relented and climbed off, leaving Matt to hack his way through the next five minutes, the spasms only gradually subsiding.

When at last they had subsided, Grier briefly left, then returned with a display pad.  "Here," he said.  "This is what I wanted to show you over breakfast."  He pressed a control and a video began to play.

It was, of course, the recording of Matt's mutilation, edited down to two and a quarter minutes.  The scene faded in from black to show Matt standing, bound, the explosive putty wrapped around his spitted and obscenely engorged penis, the detonator switch in his hand.  The scene flipped among the four cameras' various points of view - the full-body shot, the close-ups of head, hand, and groin.  Slowly, though, Matt realized that some editing had been done, and not just trimming for length.  The visual was from the later part of the scene, but the audio was all from earlier, when he was grunting and moaning from the whip and the clothespins and the candle, though Grier was nowhere to be seen and his voice never spoke.  Then, of course, there was the famous line interspersed throughout.

"I want to see how it feels," Matt said as the camera focused in on his trembling fingers on the detonator switch.  Then a close-up of his sweating, straining face.

"SEE HOW IT FEELS!  I'LL SEE HOW IT FEELS!" Matt shouted as the camera showed his cock bouncing and twitching from the movements his body made, lurching in its bonds.  More full-body and face shots, more grunting and swearing.

"I WANNA SEE HOW IT FEELS!" Matt cried, his voice hoarse and wasted.  His fingers were trembling on the switch, but only Matt and Grier knew the trembling was from exhaustion.  Anyone who hadn't been there, who was only seeing this video clip, would have assumed it was from anticipation, that Matt was eagerly awaiting the explosion, only barely able to hold his fingers down to prolong the delicious moment...

"SEE HOW IT FEEEEEEEEEELS!" Matt shrieked as the camera showed his fingers slipping free of the switch.  The explosion was played three times from the cock-cam's point of view, each time at a successively slower speed.  By the third repetition, Matt had seen - and would never forget - exactly how his manhood had been destroyed.  It had started at the base, the inward-pointing force of the blast shredding and severing his cock at its point of connection, then the rest of the destruction traveling upward toward the tip, bits of pulverized flesh flying forward and out until the largest bit, the very tip, split into two and blew outward from the steel rod and away to the sides.  Throughout, the word "FEEEEEEELS" echoed like a vast bell.

Then a fourth repetition, this time from the full-body camera.  The video ended with a long shot of Matt's head hanging down as if savoring the sight of his empty crotch with satisfied delight.  Then he lifted his head and the view cut to his face saying "Bring it on, fucker!"  He had, all unknowingly, been looking at the camera at the moment he had said those words.  It made it look like he was talking to the viewer of the video.  The gleam of malice in his eyes was unsettling, almost terrifying.  Matt hardly recognized himself; he looked every bit the madman that the world believed him to be.

"No... no... that's not how it happened!" he spluttered.

"Well, that's the version that... let me see... 180,000 people so far have seen, and it's only been out there for twelve hours," Grier responded, a smug smile on his face.

"You made me look like... like I wanted this to happen!  Like I was happy about it!"

"Perception is everything, Mattie.  Let's face it, you may not feel like it, but the evidence conclusively shows that you do indeed have a mind that is capable of planning and carrying out the murder of eighty-two people, not counting your own miserable self.  Do you remember a few days ago when you called me a 'fucking psychopath'?  I didn't say it at the time, but the irony of that accusation is just rich.  I'm a psychopath?  Oh, no.  You are.  You are the one who wasn't content to kill himself quietly, privately.  No, you had to make sure that, when you ended your sorry, pathetic existence, you took a roomful of people with you!"

His voice changed to a mocking whine.  "Oh, pity poor me!  I hurt!  I have been grievously wounded by the heartless actions of my ex-wife!  I suffer!  Oh, woe is me!  It is not fair that I should suffer!  But if I cannot cure my suffering, then I can do the next best thing... I shall make sure I do not suffer alone!  I shall share my suffering with those who hurt me, indeed I shall inflict my suffering on those who had NOTHING TO DO WITH ME AND MY PROBLEMS!"  Grier was shouting now, banging his hand on the wall before finally mastering himself, his breathing hard and heavy.

It took a few moments, but he calmed himself.  His voice dropped back to a normal register.  "That, Mr. Beaurvelais, is what makes you a psychopath, and that is why all... 185,000 people who have seen this video will absolutely believe it's real.  It is real.  Because what is 'real', anyway?  No one ever views reality directly.  We only see reality filtered through our own perceptions, and the perception of you that I've portrayed in this clip fits exactly with what people already know and believe about you.  They know that you are a psychopath.  This video only confirms their beliefs."

He shortened Matt's ankle chain, limiting him to stay within three feet of the cot, then turned to leave.  At the door, he snarled, "I was planning to fuck you this morning, but I am totally not in the mood now.  Right now I just want to rip your fucking head off.  Better to save you until I cool down a bit."  With that, he closed the door.



Chapter 12 - In which Matt bids farewell to a small but dear friend


The fucking arrived some hours later, after Matt had dozed off on his cot from boredom.  Grier came in and the noise of the door roused Matt from his nap.  Grier did not speak, but instead eyed Matt with an appraising look that made him acutely aware of his nakedness.  The long stare once would have made Matt uncomfortable, but he had had many days now to start thinking of himself as a piece of meat rather than a human being.  Grier was gay; if he wanted to work himself up by staring at Matt's body, what did that matter to him?

"It doesn't bother you, does it?" Grier asked.

"What doesn't?" Matt mumbled.

"Me staring at you in a lecherous and lascivious way.  You know, that's the one drawback of the success of the gay rights movement.  There used to be a time when straight guys were absolutely revolted at the idea of being eyed up by another guy.  The thought of being touched by one, violated by one, was so disgusting it was unthinkable.  Nowadays, gays are everywhere, and no one cares.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to turn the clock back by any means.  But it's getting harder and harder to find guys who I can terrify just by threatening to put my dick in their ass.  I mean, there are still some, but they're getting harder and harder to find."

Grier bent down to cup Matt's balls in his hand, stroking them with his thumbs.  Matt strove to keep his face expressionless.

"That wouldn't bother you at all, would it?  Me fucking you?  I mean, you wouldn't enjoy it, but it wouldn't fill you with loathing and disgust.  You wouldn't fear that I was somehow turning you gay.  It's just bodies to you, isn't it?"

Matt found the energy for one smartass remark.  "You have that much trouble getting dates, you have to settle for me?"

"Ha!  That's good!" Grier replied.  "But no, that's not it.  I am fortunate enough to have sufficient opportunities to scratch the itch for sex.  There are plenty of guys, even here in good ol' Raleigh, who like to play.  Some of them even like to play rough.  No, I get plenty of sex, and plenty of bondage sex.  But there is one thing you can provide me with that I've never experienced before.  I've never had sex with a guy while biting off his thumb at the same time."

It took a moment for the meaning to sink in, and then Matt sat up as quickly as he could with his hands still cuffed to his waist.

"Oh, that got your attention?  I thought it might.  If the prospect of a dick in your ass doesn't fill you with dread, I thought I might be able to reach you with the prospect of yet more damage to that still-lovely-but-not-quite-so-brand-new body you're wearing."

And so, once again, Matt found himself waging a futile struggle against Grier.  He shouldn't have bothered - it was a struggle Grier was foreordained to win, and Matt knew that by resisting he was only giving Grier exactly what he wanted.  And yet he couldn't stop himself from trying.

By the time the struggle was over, Matt had been strung up from the ceiling.  A cradle of ropes were wrapped around his body, from his neck down to his thighs.  The ropes all met at a single point behind his back, and from this point three of them continued upward where they were attached to the ceiling.  He had started out standing, but once the cradle was attached, Grier had bent each knee double and tied each ankle to its corresponding thigh.  He could not kick, could not straighten his legs.  All his weight was suspended from the hook in the ceiling, though since it was spread out over a variety of attachment points, he was not in much discomfort.  His hands were roped behind his back, the left one underneath the right.  The fingers of both were taped down, all except for the thumb on his right hand, which Grier had thoroughly cleaned with antiseptics.

Grier paused once he had Matt arranged to his satisfaction and set up his cameras to record the coming scene.  "I'm developing quite a following, it seems," he said as he worked.  "Your crucifixion was the talk of the whole country for a while, even of the world.  Apparently some little Pacific island nation actually severed diplomatic ties with the U.S. because of our perverse criminal justice system and what it allowed me to do to you.  But the attention didn't last; the media moved on to the next sensational topic, as they always do.  Still, it focused the attention of torture-porn fans all over the globe on Morrisville.  When those fans learned that you hadn't actually died on the cross but were still around to take more abuse... well... it turns out there's a nice little market out there for more videos."

He finished setting up the cameras and came over to stand in front of Matt.  Matt had to crane his neck upward to look at Grier's face.  It wasn't worth the effort, and after a few seconds he allowed his head to drop down again.

"Last time I checked, we were up to 230,000 hits on your dick explosion video.  I'm charging two cents per hit, rising to five if someone watches past the halfway mark.  Now, I'm sure it's already been pirated and redistributed all over so the counts will start dropping, but still, I've managed to make over $8,000 off it.  That's definitely more value than Harvey and Leanne have gotten in weeding and mulching services out of their lawn-boy Mattie, and they've had him for months.  Heck, it might even be more value than has been produced by the whole quartet of chain-gang Matties sentenced to pick up roadside litter."

He leaned down to murmur directly into Matt's ear.  "Of course, this isn't about the money.  You and I both know that."

The cameras had gone on.  Grier had undressed.  His cock jutted out proudly from his crotch, pulsing and throbbing as if eager to find and penetrate its target.  But Grier had not plunged it in right away.  Instead, he had warmed Matt's ass up, starting with a spit-slicked finger, teasing and probing at the rim, gently pressing a fraction of an inch inside only to withdraw again, then advancing in once more.  The sensations were not painful, not even unpleasant, but nevertheless Matt wanted them to stop.  He said nothing, though, knowing that any noise he made would be twisted by Grier in the editing of the video he was recording.  His goal was to provide as little source material as possible.

Eventually the finger went all the way in and Matt could feel Grier flexing it inside his ass.  This continued for a while, and then the finger was replaced by a somewhat larger object, thicker in diameter.  Grier inserted this and pistoned it back and forth, and now Matt began to find the sensation uncomfortable.  He tried to move away, but his suspended position allowed him absolutely zero control of his motion or position.  Grier could rock him back and forth, spin him around, hold him still, and Matt had no leverage to stop the motion.  The dildo in his ass went where Grier wanted it to go and nowhere else.

At last the dildo was withdrawn and Matt could feel Grier lining his body up behind him.  The tip of Grier's hard cock pressed against his ass.  Grier moaned, but did not thrust himself in.  "Oh, Matt, I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this moment," he said as he teased the opening.  "It's been so... damn... long since I last shot a load.  I've been saving myself, see?  I want this to be one of the most intense orgasms I've ever had.  It's been almost two weeks since the last time I came.  In fact, the last time I got one off... let's see... oh, that's right, you were there!"

Matt had no idea what Grier was talking about.  The cock tip continued to probe at the outer borders of his ass.

"That's right, although I wouldn't be surprised if you don't remember.  You were a bit stressed at the time.  It was evening... I had just lowered your cross down and disconnected it from the support post in the ground.  I dragged it - with you still attached - back to the garage out back of the house and laid it out so I could pull out the nails.  I just had to jerk off... it had been such a turn-on watching you do your cross-dance, I was raring to blow.  You were lying on the ground, moaning deliriously.  It hardly took any time at all.  I just whipped it out, stroked it a few times, and BAM, out came all that hot white juice.  It splattered you right on your face, you know.  You were so desperate for water at that point that the moment you felt the liquid hit your lips your tongue came out and started lapping up my milk like a little kitten."

This was disgusting.  Grier had to be making it up.  And yet, he honestly could not remember anything between when he was hanging on the cross and when he woke up on the cot.  For all he knew, it could have happened just as Grier said.

"I wish I had filmed it so I could show you, but filming would have been wrong for the moment.  It was such an intimate, tender time, just you and me, alone at last after that long public display.  I wanted it to be private, but now I wish I could show you what you were like, like a starving dog, even when I pushed my still-pulsing dick into your mouth and you tried to suck the last drops of moisture out of it.  I finally had to literally tear myself free of your mouth's grip.  Oh, that was so good...

"And now... here we are again... and my dick's got almost two weeks' worth of load saved up just for you.  It's gonna feel so... damn... goooooood uunnnnnnhhhhhh..."  Loosened up by the previous work, Matt's ass easily parted to let Grier's cock in.  It was even thicker than the dildo had been, and Matt felt the tissue stretching painfully to accommodate Grier's girth.  He strove to remain silent, but had to stifle a groan as Grier began to slide in and out.

Shit!  That hurt!  How could gay guys do this voluntarily?  This was not a pleasurable sensation at all.  The tender surfaces of the inside of his ass were not designed to cope with the friction of a dick rubbing against them.  It burned and he longed to stop it, but there was nothing he could do.  He heard Grier's voice behind him letting out increasingly louder groans of pleasure.

Worse, as the fucking went on and the strokes became firmer and more forceful, Matt became aware of a sensation of fullness in his gut.  It felt as though he was filled up with gas and desperately needed to fart it out, and he realized that was exactly what the sensation was: Grier's motions were forcing air into his rectum with each stroke, and it was building up there and causing him to bloat and cramp.  Every once in a while, some would escape, but it was never enough.

Then he felt the teeth.

"Oh, SHIT!" he yelled before he could stop himself.  How had he forgotten?!?  He had gotten so wrapped up in the sensation of the anal rape that he had completely forgotten about the other threat Grier had promised.

The teeth were gentle, teasing.  He held his thumb clamped down against the side of his fist with all the strength he could muster, which actually was a fair amount despite the nerve damage.  Perhaps it was just panic-induced extra motivation.  Grier ran his mouth over the thumbnail, worrying at the edges like an adolescent fretting during a school exam.  At one point he actually bit through the nail, which of course didn't hurt but made Matt acutely aware of how much a similar bite elsewhere on his thumb would hurt.  That, he thought, was probably Grier's intention.

The pistoning continued all the while.  Matt's attention was torn between what was happening at his ass and what Grier was doing to his thumb, constantly flipping from one to the other.  When he felt the first nip on his skin, right about halfway between the first and second joints, he couldn't help himself: he yelped.  Grier's mouth continued to explore Matt's trapped thumb while his cock continued to plunge itself into his innards.

Another bite came, this time on the thumbtip.  Grier forced his teeth between Matt's thumb and the rest of his hand, levering the thumb upward and away.  He fought he hold it down, but he did not have the strength he needed.  Grier's jaw muscles overcame his resistance and Matt felt Grier's molars hovering threateningly on both sides of his thumb.  He held his breath, trying to brace himself for the shock of having his thumb severed.

But Grier continued to tease, not biting down with all his strength.  The pain was horrible even so.  Matt could feel the bone being crushed, the tendons screaming from the pressure.  And then, to his surprise, he felt Grier's dick slide completely out of his ass.  An enormous explosion of gas followed, and then the wonderful sensation of Grier's bite going slack, though it didn't release his thumb completely.  "Sorry," Grier panted, his voice garbled from speaking around the object in his mouth.  "Got a little too close there.  Wanna make it last."

His teeth bit down again, harder this time.  Matt couldn't stop himself from screaming.  His thumb was being crushed!  He could feel the individual points of Grier's teeth as they dug into his skin.  Then Grier slid his teeth from side to side, grinding the meat of Matt's thumb between them as if it were a lump of steak.  Then at last he was released.  He hung in his rope cage, gasping and drooling.

It went on and on.  Grier eventually re-entered his ass and began thrusting again, all the while chewing on different bits of Matt's now-extremely-sore thumb.  He would nip some skin off at one spot, then grip the nail and yank, then engulf the whole thing and grind once more.  At one point he pulled out of Matt's ass completely and spun Matt around, kneeling down so that Matt could see the blood smeared all over the lower half of Grier's face and chin, smiling a ghastly red smile as he did.  Then Matt was swiveled back into position and the torment began again.

All thought of the video was gone.  Matt was yelling and screaming, shouting and cursing, desperate to stop the torture.  He had no idea how long Grier dragged the process out, but eventually, an end did come.  There came a time when Grier bit down, but instead of grinding Matt's thumb between his teeth, he kept biting.  The pain skyrocketed beyond anything Matt had yet felt.  The molars were centered halfway between the thumb's two knuckles, and they bore down with all the force Grier's jaw could supply.  Matt could feel the bone splintering under the onslaught.

At the same time, he could feel Grier's cock picking up the pace of its thrusts.  His ass by now must be torn to shreds; every push felt like the rub of sandpaper against the inside of his chute.  Surely there was as much blood there as there was gushing out of his thumb...

Grier ground his teeth around, still pressing down with all his might.  Tiny moans and grunts escaped from his nose and mouth, drowned out by the much louder shouts and shrieks Matt could hear himself producing.  Bone shivered and splintered and suddenly the sensations changed.  There was still pain, but less intense.  Grier shook his head and Matt could feel the last few scraps of flesh holding his thumb to his body giving way and tearing free.  At the same time, Grier's hips drove into him with long, powerful drives and he knew that Grier was shooting a load deep into his bowels.

Then it was over.  Grier delivered a few more thrusts, then allowed his cock to slip out of Matt's ass.  Matt felt his body spin around again, and then a bloody gobbet of meat appeared on the floor beneath his head: Grier had spit out the remains of his thumb.  It was completely mangled - he could barely tell which end was which.  Once again Matt felt the bile rise in his throat.  This time he was able to master it and not vomit, though he could not stop the ejection that occurred at the other end.  With Grier's dick no longer blocking the entrance to his ass, all the material - gas, liquid, and otherwise - that had built up during the long fuck began to come out, in bursts and in trickles.

Matt hung in his ropes, the pain in his right hand only just starting to ease, the pain in his ass as bad as ever, the bloody remains of what had been his thumb filling his whole view, and sobbed.



Chapter 13 - In which a tender interlude occurs between Matt and his host


Matt and Grier were sitting in the living room after dinner watching a news program.

"Son of a gun!" Grier exclaimed.  "They're actually considering a rewrite of the UID law.  That's our doing, you know.  It's because of that crucifixion that this would even come up for discussion."

Matt could not bring himself to care.  After the latest video he and Grier had made - which featured Matt being forced to torture his own balls by repeatedly trying, and failing, to support the weight of a mallet with his thumbless hand - he found it hard to focus on anything except the lingering dull ache in his testicles.  Not wanting a repeat of the feeding tube, though, he had joined Grier for dinner when invited to, struggling through the process of eating when his fork-holding hand had no thumb.  Now the two were now relaxing in front of the wallscreen in a gruesome parody of domestic bliss.  Matt had mostly tuned out and was letting the flickering images from the screen wash over him, allowing him an all-too-brief respite from having to think about the hell he was trapped in.

"I forget, had UID been passed by the time your memories were recorded?  Matt?  Hey!  Wake up!  I asked you a question!"  Grier snapped his fingers, and Matt stirred himself to attention.

"I don't even know what UID is," he mumbled.

"You don't?  But Matt, that's the law that made it possible for you to be here!  Without UID, there'd be no PRJ program.  UID is 'Unique Identity', and it was passed when cloning and brain recordings began to become a real possibility.  The original idea behind the technology was to help people whose bodies were failing - copy their memories, then download them into a new, fresh body, ta-da!  But as soon as that becomes possible, then it also becomes possible to duplicate a person, right?  Make a copy of someone whose body is perfectly healthy."

Good Lord, Matt thought, trying to shift his weight so that his balls would hurt slightly less, the man loves to hear himself talk.

"... and the government said we couldn't have that, they're scared of all the implications, so they passed UID.  Its central idea is that each person is unique - there is only one legal copy of a given person at any one time.  That means you can't make a copy of a living person, and that if you do, only the original counts as a person.  If the original dies, the close can claim UID status, but only under certain circumstances, and blah, blah, blah.

"But then some folks in Texas, execution capital of our fine nation, realized the implications: if someone kills himself committing a crime, that's no reason to let him escape from the righteous vengeance of the State... not when we can bring the evil-doer back to life and punish the copy!  The idea spread to other states, mostly in the South.  They framed it in terms of terrorism, of course, still a sure-fire way to get support for a law.  'Suicide bombers will know they'll go to prison, not paradise!'  The original is dead, and since he's dead by his own hand in commission of a crime, he forfeits the right to pass UID to any of his clones.  Thus, none of the clones are legally human.  Once that's established, the state can do as they will with him.  In Texas, they ship 'em of straight to the lethal injection chamber, but here in North Carolina, we believe in the power of atonement, hence Personalized Retributional Justice.  Criminal clones are expected to make restitution to the people they harmed."

Matt found himself paying attention despite himself.

"Europe, of course, thinks we're barbaric, and China's still got more bodies than they want, so it hasn't caught on there either.  Pretty much only in the U.S.A. do we spend so much of our time, talent, and treasure on this particular use of medical technology, though there's been a few in Israel and Saudi Arabia.  And now, thanks to you and me, they're actually talking about changing law that makes it possible."

Something occurred to Matt then as his gaze brushed over the Disney World photo on the wall.  "Why me?" he asked.

"What do you mean, why you?  Because you committed the crime."

"No, I mean why bring me back?" he pointed at the picture.  "Didn't they have recordings made, too?  Why bring me back to life when you could have brought them back instead?"

"Ah.  That's a very good question.  I'm surprised you didn't ask before now, although now that I think about it, I guess I've kept you busy since you got here.  Here's the thing: cloning hasn't been perfected yet.  You know how most of the time technology leaps ahead of the law?  Well, this is one case where the law is in the lead.  The government has provided a solution for a problem that doesn't exist yet, the problem of having multiple people with the same identity."

He reached over and put his arm on Matt's leg, squeezing the thigh muscle there.  "This body you're in feels good and strong, right?  But there's a problem - it won't last.  The longest any clone has survived has been just under ten years, and most of them only go five or six.  They think it's because of the accelerated growth - clones start from a single cell and are scaled up to full-grown size in about four months.  Then six more weeks of rehabilitation while the restored mind gets acclimated to the new body, so about six months in all.  But they're finding that the accelerated growth comes at a cost.  Cloned bodies are very susceptible to cancer, and to auto-immune diseases like lupus and Gullain-Barre.  It's like the body keeps trying to maintain that accelerated growth pace.  If I were to let you live that long, in two years you'd probably have your first skin melanoma.  A year after that it'd be a tumor on an organ.  You'd hang on a while longer, but you'd grow steadily weaker and by the time your fifth anniversary rolled around, your body would be just about ready to drop."

Matt said nothing.

"That's why I can't bring my family back. It's one thing to resurrect yourself when you're 85 years old and wealthy, or you're a parent with young children who wants to just hang around long enough to get the kids out of the nest.  The prospect of five more years in a mostly young and healthy body is very attractive then.  But five years is all you get.  I would never wish that on my husband and kids.

"Also, they can only grow adult-sized clone bodies, they can't stop the process partway to make a kid-sized one that would then finish growing up normally.  I've got memories of my kids scanned and ready, but I would never want to implant them into grown-up bodies.  Especially not grown-up bodies with a five-year life expectancy.  That wouldn't be fair to them.

"No, I plan to wait until the technology has been perfected, when a cloned body can expect to live a normal human lifespan and when a kid's mind can have a body to match it.  I've got copies of all four of us from before the... incident... ready and waiting for the technology to catch up, but of my life since they died I'm only keeping video and written memories.  When the time is right, I will arrange to resurrect all four of us, together.  We'll all wake up with memories that are all from the same day - the day we had the recordings made - and it will be as if the explosion, and everything that's happened since that time, never happened.

"This right here?  You and me, sitting on this couch?  It isn't real.  It's a bad dream that my one-day future self will read about, but not remember.  My new self will know how this current self spent the intervening years between recording and resurrection, but only by watching and reading, not from visceral memory.  All the pain I've experienced since that day will be erased.  I will have undone the harm your previous self caused as best as I possibly could."

He paused, staring off at the flickering screen but paying it no attention, lost in reverie.  It went on long enough that Matt wasn't sure what to do or say.  This was Grier actually opening up to him, as if they were actually... friends.  For a moment, a brief moment, he was stirred to pity at the sufferings Grier had endured, enough to make him forget the pain he himself had experienced at Grier's hand.  He actually felt sympathy for the man.

And then the moment was gone.  Grier stood up.  "Well.  Better hit the sack.  I've got a busy day planned for you tomorrow," he said and led Matt back to his cell.



Chapter 14 - In which Matt's situation becomes much less clear


"Not my eyes!  Please, please, not my eyes!"

His struggles had been as useless as ever.  Grier had entered the cell, causing Matt's pulse rate and adrenaline levels to spike as they now did every time he walked in.  Grier had rousted him out of his cot and - with some difficulty, but not much - gotten him into a spread-eagle position lying on the floor, held in place by ropes attached to hooks at the baseboards.  Matt pulled at his ropes but of course, there was no slack.  His body was stretched taut like a bow.

Grier had brought a box with him, a box that he fitted over Matt's head.  Once it was in place, he turned some cranks on the sides, squeezing the box down at left, right, crown, and chin.  The effect was to totally immobilize Matt's head.  He could still lift his neck, but it was a tremendous strain on his neck muscles to heft the box along with his head, and even that ability was denied him once Grier had maneuvered a cinder block over and set it down on the edge of the box.  After that, Matt could not move at all.

He had no idea what Grier had planned; all he could be sure of was that it would hurt, and so he whimpered and tensed every time Grier so much as moved his way, expecting the pain to start.  Grier noticed.  "Damn, I love the smell of fear!" he crowed, bending down to take a deep whiff of the air near Matt's crotch and giving his balls a playful squeeze.  This had led Matt to expect that the day's torment would be ball-related, and so all his attention was focused there.  Would it be a full castration?  Now that his dick was gone, would Grier want to finish the job?  Or something less permanent but equally horrifying?  His mind raced in overdrive, trying to imagine what Grier might do and only sure of one thing: whatever he could imagine, Grier could imagine something far worse.

Thus his surprise when Grier finished his preparations and came over, not to Matt's waist, but to his head.  He reached down with, Matt saw, a needle threaded with fishing line, bringing it straight toward Matt's eyes.  He clenched them shut, terrified at this sudden surprise, then opened again, unable to bear not seeing what was coming, then squeezing them shut again to try to protect them.  "Not my eyes!  Please!"

"Once again, we're exploring new ground together, Mattie.  I've never done anything like this before, so I have no idea how to proceed.  You can get pretty far with online research - that's how I, and no doubt your original, figured out how to obtain and use the C-4.  But online research can't tell you everything.  So we're just going to have to experiment a bit.  Let's start with the left."

Trapped, imprisoned, Matt was unable to stop Grier from fingering his left eyelid, working his thumb under the lid and prying it up.  Once he had room, he stuck the needle through the lid, then again through the skin near his eyebrow.  The pain of the needle stick wasn't too bad, but the terror was overwhelming.  Matt screamed, the ropes and head cage preventing him from doing anything more than make noise.  Again the lid was pierced, then the brow, and finally a third set, evenly spaced from left to right.  Grier began to pull on the line then, tightening it and forcing Matt's eyelid upward.

A second set of piercings went through the lower lid and held it similarly down.  Matt was unable to close his eye.  Trying to blink had no effect; his eye was held open, exposed to whatever Grier might come up with.

"I thought we'd start with vinegar.  My goal here is not to destroy your vision... that would be all too easy.  Just a quick knife through the eyeball, or even a spoon to scoop it out.  No, my goal is to reduce, but not totally destroy, your eyesight.  Let's see how it goes."

Grier brought an eyedropper loaded with the clear liquid to a spot right over Matt's eye and squeezed.  Matt could not help but watch as a droplet appeared and ballooned at the tip of the dropper, then grew too heavy to hold itself up and plunged down to land squarely in the center of his vision.  It stung but did not appear to have any effect other than that.  He longed to blink the itchy substance away.  Instead, it just sat there, coating his eyeball.  Grier tried salt next, which also stung, but which likewise did nothing worse.  Matt's panic began to subside, but only slightly.

"I thought of maybe trying sand on the theory that it would scratch the cornea, but that would really only work if you were able to blink, which would move the sand around.  Maybe we can try some of that later when I'm ready to unstitch your eyelids.  For now, let's see what else we've got.  This is acetone."

That brought Matt's panic back up to full strength again.  The acetone burned like icy cold hellfire.  His voice rose an octave as the liquid slathered his eye like flame.  He redoubled his efforts to break free, extreme duress lending strength to his limbs, but for all his effort, he got exactly nowhere.  His arms and legs were trapped, his head was pinned in place, his eye was open and exposed, and there was nothing he could do to stop Grier's slow, methodical destruction of his vision.  Tears and snot ran down his cheeks and he had to fight to keep from choking on the fluids that built up in the back of his throat.

Drain cleaner was what finally did the trick.  This highly caustic chemical was powerful enough to discolor the cornea of Matt's eye, turning the clear lens into mist-smoked glass.  Not satisfied with one round, Grier administered a second dose, further clouding Matt's sight.  At last, content with his work, Grier sprinkled in the previously-threatened sand and then cut the lines pinning Matt's eyelids open, allowing him to blink at last.

But blinking was all he could do.  He longed to reach up and rub his eye, desperate to get the tiny, scratchy grains out and ease the burn of the chemicals that had been applied to it.  Blinking had to suffice, though.  The sand grains gradually worked their way to the corners of his eye, scratching and irritating as they went.  The lingering pain of the caustic burn faded away even more slowly.

There was no break.  Even while his left eye was slowly trying to recover, Grier was already at work on his right, piercing the lids and stretching them wide.  The same chemicals were applied, in the same order, eliciting the same responses from Matt, still screaming frantically on the floor.  Finally, the burn of the drain cleaner, the scrape of the sand, and at last the ability to blink.

"Tell me, what do you see?" he asked.

Matt's body was still shaking with the aftereffects of the terror and trauma.  He longed to lifted his head or even turn it too the side, but all he could do was look straight upward.  He could see, sort of.  It was as if the world had gone gauzy, like he had water or something in his eyes, fuzzing his vision, or was looking out at a mist-shrouded landscape.  But blinking did not clear his eyes, and the fog would never lift, for it was now a part of him.  Colors were washed out, all shading to grey.  Outlines were blurred, contrasts diminished.  He could still see, but nowhere near well.  A shuddering sob fluttered out from Matt's lips.

"I can see what your eyes look like from the outside," Grier said when it became clear Matt was not going to answer.  "They look like you're wearing milky-white contact lenses.  I'm guessing from the inside that everything that makes it through that milky lens is fuzzy and colorless.  Hmm?  Accurate?  Then I do believe my work here has been a success.  Oh, damn, that looks so... aw, fuck... it's like you've got a built-in blindfold... only it's never coming off... unhhh..."

Distracted by his pain, Matt didn't realized that Grier was jerking himself off until the moment of release when drops of liquid once more spattered his face.  He tensed and twitched as the first jet struck his face, some of it squirting up his nose, some grazing his eyelids, but most coming to rest on top of his face.  At least I can close my eyes this time, he thought.  Grier's orgasm went on for a dozen seconds more until he shuddered to a halt, then reached down toward Matt's face.  With one hand, he pried Matt's right eye open while Matt, who had thought the torture was over for the moment, felt a new wash of terror flood through his body.  With the other, Grier scooped some of his semen toward Matt's exposed eyeball, slathering a generous dollop across the whole surface before repeating the process with Matt's other eye.

Compared to what he had just been through, it didn't hurt at all, and yet Matt found himself crying all the same, crying at what he had been reduced to: a cum-dump and pain-whore for a relentlessly inventive sadist.  He had no control over what happened to him; his body was being slowly and methodically destroyed in ways designed to inflict maximum pain and mental anguish; and he had no hope that anything would ever improve.

He realized, lying spread-eagled on the floor trying to blink Grier's salty fluid out of his ruined eyes, that the hope for escape that he had nourished since waking up after his crucifixion was mere self-delusion.  There was no way Grier was going to let that happen.  He was too careful, had planned too thoroughly for Matt to ever think he could outwit him.  Matt's last chance to save himself from more pain - and to deny Grier his twisted pleasure - was his own death.  There was really no other alternative.

But even assuming he could actually work up the nerve to kill himself, how to do it?



Chapter 15 - In which miscellaneous varieties of entertainment are enjoyed


More sadistic games followed.  The following days were filled with what Matt was told were more conventional S&M activities, things that Grier could do with real men, men who weren't PRJ clones, men who wouldn't want permanent damage done to their bodies.  There were no amputations or destructions of organs; instead, there were clamps and belts, ropes and straps and canes, chains and spikes and other things that Matt couldn't see but could sharply feel as they bit into his skin.  Grier made videos of each session, and gleefully kept Matt up to date on his burgeoning stardom.  The Mattie clips continued to bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors, and the micropayments to Grier kept adding up.

Matt had known in the abstract of the existence of people who got off on pain, but this was his first time actually entering that world.  He found it totally incomprehensible.  He could sort of understand Grier's role: it must be intoxicating to have such utter power over someone else.  Being able to cause pain and witness the results... he could see how that could turn someone on.  What he couldn't understand were the ones who liked to be on the receiving end, the role he unwillingly found himself in.  How could anyone actually enjoy having one's nipple bitten - not just nibbled, but bitten hard - or having electricity applied to one's ball sac while one was tied up and helpless to resist?  How could someone find sexual excitement in being struck with a whip?  It defied comprehension.

One session was spent with Grier focusing entirely on his nipples.  He was tied erect with his back to a wall, his hands locked to the small of his back, his chest thrust out to receive whatever Grier felt like dishing out.  Grier provided a running commentary as he worked; Matt couldn't tell if it was for the benefit of the cameras or because Matt couldn't see the action through his maimed eyes and Grier wanted him to fully understand what was happening.  "These are clothespins... we'll leave those on for ten minutes or so."  Then, "OK, I'm going to yank them off now.  Three... two... one..." and no matter how Matt tried to prepare himself, he couldn't help but squeal a bit as the pins were ripped off his tits.

"Now these are a little stronger - the large size black binder clips.  I won't be able to tear these off, I think - they grip too hard."  From the moment they went on, Matt desperately wished for Grier to remove them, but Grier took his time.  And after they came off, they went right back on, oriented vertically instead of horizontally, and Matt had to endure another long few minutes until Grier finally relented and removed them.

Worse followed.  The hardest to stand was sandpaper, which felt like fire as it abraded the tender flesh.  Or so he thought, until Grier applied actual fire, which sent Matt into a frenzied panic as it had during the dick-ectomy scene.  And then, once his nipples had been sufficiently burned and abraded, Grier started over with the clips, which now caused ten times the discomfort as they had earlier.  When the clothespins were torn off of raw skin, it felt like Matt's nipples went with them.  He howled his misery, his voice swallowed by the sound-dampening walls of the cell.

It ended with a pair of alligator clips - not only tight and constricting, but with sharp teeth to dig into already-brutalized skin.  Matt couldn't stand them.  The moment they went on, he was dancing and hopping in his bonds.  "Get 'em off!  Get 'em off!  Oh, holy... I can't stand it!"

The clips were attached together by a short length of chain that hung down in an arc between them.  Grier tugged on the chain, or lifted it up and tucked it between Matt's teeth, or dangled weights from it.  Matt could not believe how much pain two tiny clamps could cause and just wanted them gone, frantic with his desire to end the pain yet impotent to influence the proceedings in any way.

Grier was in no rush to remove them.  Instead he led Matt through an elaborate ritual of verbal humiliation, forcing Matt to beg for Grier's cock in his mouth in exchange for relief from the crushing, biting pain.  "Please, sir, please let me worship your dick with my tongue.  Please let me suck it into my mouth and wrap my lips around the base."  The words meant nothing to Matt - he would have been happy to say just about anything, knowing that it was all a show for the camera.  Whatever words were needed to get those clips removed, it was worth it.  Grier either would or would not make him suck his dick; any words he might speak had no bearing on what would happen.

But after all the fake pleading, it turned out a blow job was not what Grier had in mind.  "No," Grier said.  "No, you don't get to suck my cock.  You don't deserve it.  You know what you do deserve?  These clips.  They hurt, don't they?  They've been on about five minutes now.  How do you think you'd feel after another five minutes?  Ten?  An hour?"  He flipped the clips up and down with his thumbs, dragging the chain with them, making Matt wince and grimace as they moved.  "A day?  Now there's something I've never done to a guy before, left alligator clips on his tits for 24 hours.  How do you think you'd feel this time tomorrow, Matt?  Do you think they would still hurt then?  Or do you think maybe your tits would go numb?  Maybe they would starve from lack of blood?  Then they wouldn't hurt at all, ever again.  I'm curious.  I honestly don't know what would happen.  Shall we find out?"

Matt was desperate.  "Please... please don't do that.  Please take them off," he gasped.

Grier's face was inches from his own.  His eyes bored into Matt's as he stood, unspeaking, for long seconds, drinking up the sight of Matt's anguish.  Matt stared back, pleading with his eyes.

Finally, Grier broke eye contact and lowered his gaze to Matt's chest. "Sure," he said.  "This time."  He gently squeezed the clip on Matt's left nipple, parting its jaws and loosening its grip.  Matt sucked in a huge breath at the surge of sensation rushing back into the crushed, flayed tissue.  Grier slowly worked the clip back and forth until it was completely off, then rubbed Matt's tit between his thumb and finger, blood oozing out and onto his fingertips.  Matt nearly went crazy from the overload, bucking and twisting in his bonds.  The process was repeated on the right side.  When at last it was over, Matt stood drained, his nipples throbbing with each beat of his heart.  The camera went off and he was allowed to return to the cot, where he spent the rest of the day not lying on his stomach.

A different day featured hours of testicle torture.  Compression, percussion, tension, electrocution... the mechanics didn't matter to Matt, only the result: his balls suffered.  Grier brought him to the point where he was actually begging for castration just to end the agony.  But Grier left his nuts intact, though swollen to nearly twice their normal size.  He smirked as he turned off the camera, satisfied at having brought his captive low once again.

The days ran on, blending into one another.  Torture followed torture, each painful in its own unique way.  When he was not being actively abused, he spent his time either recovering or - less and less frequently - trying to find an escape.  Through long, fruitless hours when Grier was away, he explored the limits of his confinement, searching for anything that he could use to end his life.  He found nothing.  The chain attached to his ankle was too short to use as a noose; all the other equipment in the room was locked in cabinets and drawers that he could not get into.  He tried once to hold his face against the small pillow Grier had provided for him, but it was too thin to allow him to suffocate himself.  He could not even hope to fall on his head on the floor - the yielding rubber wouldn't cause him anything worse than a headache.  He was trapped.

At length he began to know despair.  There was no way out.  The only thing he had to look forward to was endless sadism at Grier's hands.  His existence was reduced to long hours of tedious waiting punctuated by terrifying sessions of pain and horror.  He came to dread the sound of the cell door opening, trembling in terror like a cornered rat with the knowledge that his enemy had come to hurt him once again, and there was nothing - nothing - he could do to stop it.



Chapter 16 - In which an opportunity arises and is quickly seized


Then, one day, inspiration struck.

The day's session found Matt stretched out in a vertical X so that Grier could flog his skin, raising welts and even drawing blood before experimenting to see what was the largest object Matt could take in his ass (answer: a baseball bat, though only with a great deal of difficulty and discomfort).  It went on for a long time, long enough that Matt once again lost feeling in his hands and could only hang there, screaming, as Grier worked what felt like a tree trunk into his bruised and bleeding rectum.  After about half an hour to recover, which was not nearly long enough, he was summoned to dinner.

The contrast was ghastly.  Grier had showered and shaved; Matt was bloody and sweaty and filthy, with yellowish fluid oozing from the angry red cracks on his back.  Grier was chipper and cheerful; Matt was barely able to hold his head up.  Grier kept of a stream of chattering banter on various topics; Matt concentrated on trying to manage a fork with no right thumb, trying to eat food that he could only dimly see on his plate.  Simply sitting down hurt - Grier had whipped his ass bloody, too.  Finally, he could stand it no longer.

"Just kill me," he croaked.

"Oh, Matt, do we have to go through this again?"

"Kill me.  Please, just kill me.  You are a fucking monster to drag this out.  Please... let me die."

"Oh, I will.  Eventually.  Just... not yet,"

"Not yet?  Not yet?!?" Matt's fork thunked to the floor, slipping out of his grasp as his concentration wavered.  "I CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE!  Look at me, you've destroyed me, you've..."

"You're suffering, I'd agree to that," Grier interrupted, "but you're nowhere near done yet.  Not by a long shot."

Matt sobbed, staring at the milky white blur that was his plate, trying to think of something to say.  "I can't take this any more."

"And yet you have no choice."

The warbling chirp of a phone sounded.  "Oh, please do excuse me," Grier said, "I normally wouldn't take a call during dinner, but I've been trying to get hold of this guy all day.  Sorry..."

He put the phone to his ear and stepped out the far door of the kitchen, out toward the side of the house Matt had never been in.  "Gary, thanks so much for calling me back.  How've you been?  Yeah?"  His voice faded to a mumble from the far room.

Matt stared down at the food he had no appetite for, miserable and dejected.  There was no reason to eat, it only strengthened his body and made him last longer.  If he could get away with it, he would stop eating altogether, stop drinking, stop breathing if he could, whatever it took to hasten the end... and then it came to him.

Stop breathing.

He listened carefully; Grier was still at the far end of the house.  As silently as he could, he stood up from the chair and worked his way to the counter that divided the kitchen portion of the room from the dining room half.  There, on the counter, exactly where he had first seen it, was the blurry blob of the transmitter that controlled the signal to the collar around his neck... only this time, it was within his reach.  It had been shifted on the counter at some point so that it was a few inches closer to the limit of Matt's range.

Picking it up was easy; yanking the cord from the wall almost effortless, and then Matt was off down the hall to his cell where he shut the door behind him.  It couldn't be locked from this side, of course, but the room was very well sound-proofed, which was what Matt needed to buy himself a bit more time.

The transmitter was operating on battery power now, and would continue to do so for hours if left alone.  Matt did not plan to leave it alone.  He slammed it down against the metal edge of the cot and was rewarded by a satisfying crackling noise.  He picked it up and slammed it down a second time and this time it split apart.  Almost delirious with glee, he laughed out loud, a maniacal chuckle bubbling from his lips.  Take that, asshole!  Parts spilled onto the floor.  He suspected he had already disabled the device, but he wanted to make absolutely certain it could not be reassembled.  Working by touch, he tried to identify the most important pieces and further shatter them.

A few minutes into his efforts, he was jolted by a piercing shriek coming from the collar around his neck, followed by an urgent-sounding voice.  "DANGER!  A convicted criminal is attempting to escape!  Stay away and call nine-one-one!  Danger!  A convicted criminal..."  The message continued to repeat at high volume while the shrill whistling sound beeped incessantly.  Laughing out loud now, he continued to smash bits of electronics against the edge of the cot.

The door opened.  Grier's figure appeared in murky silhouette.  "I'm gonna have to call you back," he said, then shoved his phone into his pocket.  He whirled around and ran out.

"You're too late, asshole!" Matt crowed at his retreating back.  "It's game over now!  You'll never get this thing fixed in time!"  But Grier did not reply.  Matt heard the bang of a door.  "I WON!" he shouted.

It was only a matter of time now.  Matt sat back, a sense of delicious triumph slowly blossoming in his mind.  Soon, very soon, the chain around his neck would tighten.  It would hurt, yes, but it would be the last hurt he would endure.  His airway would be clamped shut, blood would begin to pool in his head.  In a few minutes, it would be over.  No more pain, no more torture, no more mutilation.  He tried to relax, to calm his breathing for his last moments.  It was hard to do with the shrieking whistle and the tough-cop voice filling the cell's small space.  He closed his eyes and tried to breathe out, expelling all the air he could and holding it for as long as he could stand it, snatching a quick breath when he absolutely had to.  In this way, he hoped to hasten the end - if he was already near oxygen starvation when the moment came, it would take that much less time to go the rest of the distance.  It was hard to do, but he kept himself as close to the edge as he could.

With no warning, the collar abruptly and without fanfare reconfigured itself, the molecules of the material altering so that structures that had been aligned on their long axes rotated ninety degrees, exchanging length for thickness.  Immediately the length of the chain shrank by a quarter, causing it to dig painfully into the skin of Matt's neck.  Now it was safe to try to breathe - he went to gasp and found he couldn't.  It was impossible to force air through his tightly clamped throat.  Exultant but terrified nonetheless, Matt reveled in his inability to take in air.  Since he was already starved for oxygen, it didn't take long before black spots started to swirl in at the edges of his vision.  Along with them came a steadily-building swelling sensation in his head as blood began massing in his brain, flowing in through the deep-buried arteries but unable to leave through the more superficial veins.  There's no stopping it now, Matt thought as the blackness grew and consumed him.

Off in the distance, he heard the slam of the door again.  It didn't matter.  It was over.  Whatever Grier had thought of, he was too late.  Matt vaguely sensed him appearing in the cell doorway again.  He wanted to crow his victory once more, but speech was impossible, and then it was all moot because the suffocating darkness overwhelmed him at last and he went spiraling down into the black depths...

-------------

Nothingness.



Chapter 17 - In which a pair of guests pay a visit, bearing another silver necklace


Pain!

Matt surged upward, fighting to pull air into his lungs.  It burned as it passed through his throat... why?  His brain wasn't working right... his thoughts dragged as if through mud.

"Dammit, breathe!" a voice was shouting.  Someone was pounding on his chest.  It hurt, but not nearly as much as his neck did.  Matt tried, but the first breath he had sucked in triggered a coughing fit and he spat it all back out again.  He tried another, his body desperately hungry for air.  Again it burned and triggered more coughing.  Matt felt panic welling up within him.

"Shit!" that voice again.  He knew the voice, but could not spare the attention to think how.  He focused everything he had on trying to keep the air flowing.  Slowly, steadily, it came, returning oxygen to his deprived tissues

"That's it.  Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out," the voice continued in soothing tones.  Rational thought began to return, and with it, memory.  It took a few moments to sort the isolated chunks together, but eventually, realization dawned.  Matt fought to shout "No!" but the effort triggered another coughing spasm.

Right in mid-cough, he was stunned by a blow across his face.  "You fucking jackass!" Grier shouted.  "Goddammit, now you've made a fucking mess!"  Matt continued to cough helplessly, having no idea what Grier was talking about.  Grier stomped around the cell but didn't strike him again.  He was muttering to himself but Matt couldn't make out the words.

At last he was able to master the spasms.  Grier, too, seemed to be getting himself back under control, calming the rage that Matt had never seen him exhibit before.  Not trusting his voice to project, Matt waited until Grier was looking his way and then carefully said "How?", his voice a harsh croak.  The cough threatened to return.  Grier bent down, picked up a shiny object from the floor, and held it up for Matt to see.  It was a chain.  Matt reached up and touched his neck - sure enough, no chain was there.  Somehow Grier had gotten the thing off.  But how?  The cops had implied, no more than implied, they had pretty much promised that it couldn't be removed.

Grier gestured over to an enormous bolt cutter.  His normal detached persona was back, and his voice was light and conversational as he said "Took a lot of work, and I almost didn't make it.  I had to dig pretty deeply into your neck to reach the metal.  Sorry about that, but you have only yourself to blame, you know."  Matt worked his hands backward around his neck and found the spot Grier was talking about - a giant gouge in his skin and muscles.  His fingers came away bloody and he felt slightly dizzy.  He sagged back against the cot.

He had failed.

"I'm afraid this changes things," Grier continued.  "The gloves are going to have to come off now.  You just tried to deprive me of my property.  Now, I don't hold grudges, but I am going to have to take steps to ensure that doesn't happen again.  First, though, I fear we're going to have to deal with a visit from Wake County's finest.  This could be... awkward.  Well.  First things first."

Grier turned Matt's limp, unresisting body over and cuffed his hands behind his back, then shortened the leg chain so that Matt couldn't move more than two feet away from the cot.  Then he left the cell.

Matt lay on his side on the cot, his spirit utterly broken.  He had come so close... so close... and still Grier had gotten the best of him.  And yet, the fact that Matt had obviously caught his captor by surprise was oddly reassuring - the man was not omniscient.  He could be outwitted.

Sadly, though, Matt would probably not get another chance to try.  He lay, despairing, on the cot.

After only a few minutes the cell door opened again; Matt struggled to get himself into an upright position.  Grier came back in, this time accompanied by two uniformed police, one female, one male.  "He's in here," Grier was saying.  "As you can see, he poses no threat to anyone."

The cops came in.  The woman bent down.  "Matthew Beaurvelais?" she asked.  Matt nodded, still not trusting his voice.  She waved an RFID reader over the chip in the back of his neck, nodded with satisfaction at the display on its screen after it beeped.  Her eyes roved around the room, taking in everything there was to be seen.

"Sir, can you please tell us what happened here," the male cop said.

Grier explained, starting from dinner and the interrupting phone call.  "... and then I heard the alarm go off.  I came in here and found the Mattie with the transmitter.  He had gotten hold of it in the kitchen - it was my fault that it was in his reach, of course - and brought it in here to smash it.  I ran to the garage to get my bolt cutters and was able to get the chain off before he succeeded in killing himself."

The cops inspected the chain and Matt's neck.  "Is that what happened?" the female cop asked him.  "This was a suicide attempt?"

"Yeah," Matt croaked.  She nodded but said nothing.  Grier and the cops left and closed the door.  More long minutes passed.  Matt reclined on the cot, too dejected to even move.

The door opened again.  The cops came back in, the woman carrying another chain.  She asked Matt to sit up and began to fasten the new chain in place around his neck.  "Wait," Matt rasped.  "Don't..."

"You see?" Grier said.  "He doesn't want it on either."

The woman sank back.  "I'm sorry, sir, but what he wants and what you want have to take a back seat.  This is a public safety issue.  Mattie is a clone of a dangerous man.  He cannot be allowed to escape, no matter what.  The conditions of the PRJ program are clear: all clones must wear fail-safe collars."

"But you can see that he tried to use it to escape the punishment to which he had been sentenced.  Putting a new collar on will only encourage him to try again, and he might succeed the next time."

"That doesn't matter," she replied.  "Even if he succeeds in ending his life, in the public's eye that's preferable to letting him get free."

"Look, if it's a public safety issue, I can assure you: the public is safe.  Look at him - he's half-blind and he's missing a thumb.  I would be happy to finish the job on his eyes, take off the other thumb, even take off both hands, whatever it takes to assure you that he poses no threat to anyone.  Just... please don't put another collar on.  He will only use it to harm himself."

Matt began to shake at the mention of the new mutilations Grier threatened in his oh-so-reasonable voice.  "No... no..." he whispered.  The female cop leaned in to hear him.  "Put the chain on."

That seemed to seal the deal in the cops' eyes.  "Sorry, sir," she said.  "There's really no option."  She fastened the chain in place around Matt's neck.  It rubbed against the raw and abraded skin and Matt winced at the pain.  The woman stood and turned to go.

"Well, now wait a moment, aren't you going to test it?" Grier asked.  "The first chain needed to be tested."

A test?  Matt remembered what that meant.  The constricting collar had been painful enough when his neck was healthy and whole.  How much worse would it be now?  "No... no..." he rasped.

The female cop hesitated.  "No, a test is not necessary," she said.  Thank God.

"Oh?" Grier asked.  His voice still sounded as mellow and reasonable as it ever had, but Matt had been listening to that voice for weeks on end and heard a tinge of steel in his tone.  "Are you absolutely certain about that?  You just finished telling me how important it is for public safety that this dangerous clone be collared.  Surely it is equally in the public's interest that we be certain the collar is working correctly, is it not?  I would hate to think that you fine officers might get into any trouble by accidentally skipping a step."

The bastard.  Matt wished he could see more clearly.  He suspected that if he could, he would see the female cop glaring daggers at Grier.  She had taken one look at his brutalized, bedraggled state and, like a normal human, was moved to pity.  But it was just like Grier to maneuver her into adding to Matt's discomfort. This suspicion was confirmed when she bent down to Matt's neck, ostensibly to check the attachment, and whispered "sorry...".

She fiddled with the new transmitter box.  The collar contracted.  The pain was agonizing and threatened to make Matt pass out.  Mercifully, it was brief, but even after the collar relaxed its grip, the residual ache was still intense.  Matt could feel fresh blood seeping down the back of his neck - the taut collar had cracked the newly-forming scab open.

"There.  It works fine," the female cop barked.  She left the room.  Grier and the male cop lingered a bit longer, but with his fuzzy vision, Matt couldn't see any reason why.  After a few seconds, they left too, and Matt found himself alone in the dark once again.



Chapter 18 - In which a guest returns unexpectedly


"Matt?  Matt, time to wake up!  Come on, buddy, no time for sleeping.  Upsy-daisy!"

Grier's voice was an insistent bubble of cheer pushing into Matt's dreamless sleep. As soon as he recognized the voice, the now-familiar adrenaline rush surged through his system and roused him almost instantly to full wakefulness.  He tried to sit up but was reminded when he did that his hands were cuffed behind his back.  Grier helped pull him to an upright position.

"That's it, buddy, there we go.  Sorry about the late hour, it's almost one in the morning, but I just had to wake you up.  We have a visitor.  Actually, it was as much a surprise to me as I'm sure it is to you, and... well, I'll just let you see for yourself."  Matt found that his leg chain had already been lengthened and so he was able to follow Grier out to the kitchen, shambling along behind his perky tormentor.

There was someone sitting at the kitchen table.  Matt could not see who it was, of course, but he had no interest in taking an active role in whatever new torture Grier had cooked up for him, so he sat meekly at the table, head bowed.

"Do you recognize our visitor, Mattie?  I have to admit, I didn't, even though I'd seen him only hours before.  It's so amazing how a uniform can make so much difference - he's wearing his civilian clothes now.  This is Officer Castille.  He came by earlier with his partner to refit you with your new collar, remember?"

Grier could have claimed it was the pope for all Matt could tell.  Castile was only a vaguely man-shaped blur a third of the way around the table.  Matt took a quick look and lowered his head again.

"Officer Castile has returned this evening with a very interesting offer.  Before I tell you about the offer, though, I have a story to share with you.  It's about a little girl named Lorena.  I'm told it's spelled L-O-R-E-N-A even though that E is pronounced like an A, Lo-RAY-na.  Lorena was a beautiful girl, with long dark hair and big soulful brown eyes and a smile that just never quit.  She was always smiling, Lorena was, always had a reason to be happy.

"But then, one day, Lorena's smile went away.  It's a sad thing - she was caught in a fire, and even though she got away from it, the fire burned a lot of her skin, over half her body, in fact.  The worst of it was on her face - the whole right side was just charred.  She recovered fully from the burns, even managed to keep the sight in her right eye.  But all the same, her smile disappeared.

"No one really knows why, though of course all the people who love her have guesses.  Is it because she used to be so beautiful but now considers herself ugly?  Is it because the safety of her world was taken away?  Something else?  No one knows, and it's a shame, because the fire happened when Lorena was eleven years old.  Now she's nineteen, but her parents haven't seen her or heard from her in two years.  She ran away.  Of course, she might have run away at age seventeen even if there had never been a fire, but those close to her, including her uncle, say that she was a different person ever since that day.  They believe there is a direct connection between the fire and the direction Lorena's life took afterward."

Officer Castille stood up at this point and began pacing around the room.  Matt could hear him stomping his feet as he moved around.

"Have you figured out why I'm sharing this story with you?"  Of course he had figured out what the story would mean for him - more pain.  The only variation was that it looked like it would be dished out this time by a guest torturer instead of the headliner.  Which really made no difference at all, so Matt's goal was to keep Grier talking for as long as possible, because the longer the self-absorbed prick pontificated, the longer it would be until the actual hurting started.  He glanced over at the cop, who was still stalking and rumbling.

"Yes, I can see it in your face.  YOU started that fire, Matt.  Or rather, your original did.  And Lorena's uncle just happens to be Officer Castille here.  I'm sorry, he's not here on official duty, so I shouldn't call him that.  Let's call him 'Ricardo' instead.  'Uncle Rick'.  Funny thing how our justice system works... those of us who lost family members in the explosion get Matties as compensation; but if your son or daughter... or niece... survives, you get nothing.  How fortunate it is that some of us who have are quite happy to share with those who have not."

While Grier droned on it occurred to Matt that there might be a better strategy, one that might get him off the hook completely.  He spoke as soon as the idea came to him.  "Officer Castille," he croaked in his still-raspy voice, "I am so, so sorry about what I - what the original Matt - did to your niece.  To Lorena.  She absolutely did not deserve..."

"YOU SHUT UP!" Rick shouted, slamming his fist on the table.  "SHUT THE FUCK UP NOW!  You do NOT talk about my niece!  You do NOT say her name, you worthless piece of shit!"

Too late, Matt realized his mistake.  Grier had set him up once again.  By relating the story, he had made the policeman relive his niece's injury over again.  Heartache that had been healed - or at least dulled - by time was now fresh and raw in his mind again.  There was no way he would see Matt as a contrite penitent trying to atone for his crime.  No, to him Matt was the face of evil incarnate, and nothing Matt could say would change that.  He shut his mouth - anything he said now would only make things worse.

Grier wrapped up his oration, "In short, Rick and I have come to an arrangement.  In exchange for a few hours with you, he will very kindly take that damn collar off so I don't have to worry about you trying to throttle yourself with it again.  Rick, this 'worthless piece of shit' is all yours.  Help yourself to anything in the cell you want to use.  All I'll ask is you make sure he's able to wake up in the morning."

Rick came over and with fumbling fingers, removed the collar from around Matt's neck.  He was actually grateful to have it off - there was no way the same trick would have worked twice, and it had been chafing uncomfortably around his throat.  The off-duty cop re-sealed the chain, but around air this time instead of Matt's neck.  "Here," he said, handing it to Grier.  "Far's the system is concerned, it's still right where it's supposed to be.  You just keep that in a safe place and when the time comes, take it back to the station."

With that, the cop yanked Matt to his feet and brought him to the cell.  There was no talking - the cop had nothing he wanted to say to Matt, and Matt knew there was nothing he could say that would soften the cop's pent-up rage.  That was not to say the episode was soundless: there were plenty of grunts and shouts and cries from both men, for the beating that followed was savage.  "Uncle Rick" had brought his nightclub along and was an expert at wielding it.  The blows rained down on Matt's arms and legs, his ribs and chest and back, everywhere.  He screamed and cried out, twisting and bucking and rolling to escape the beating, unable to lift his hands to protect himself or even slide them around to the front or side.  Rick just followed him, slashing with his club at any unprotected skin.  At one point, Matt felt a tooth crack and had to spit out the bits along with what felt like a hefty dollop of blood.

Matt hadn’t realized until this moment that there was actually different styles of sadism.  Pain was pain, after all, and it had never occurred to him to question that the method of infliction might vary according to the personality of the inflictor.  Now, with the cop to use as a comparison, he realized that Grier was much more subtle in his technique.  No, subtle wasn’t the right word to use... “precise” was a better term.  When he blew Matt’s dick off, he had been very careful to destroy the dick utterly but leave the nearby balls untouched, even to leave a hole for Matt to continue to piss through.  He carefully gnawed off exactly one thumb.  Even the crucifixion was meticulous and precise, almost like a surgical procedure.  Rick, on the other hand, just let fly.  He didn’t care whether the stick landed exactly where he aimed it, he just swung.  Over and over and over, until Matt stopped thinking about the stylistic differences between the sadists of his experience.

Every once in a while, through the fog of pain, he would hear Grier's voice.  "Whoa, that was... thorough."  Or, "Hey, maybe you might want to slow it down a bit?  Give him time to feel one before hitting him with the next?"  He sounded like a helpless housewife, twisting her hands in indecision while her husband used her good china for skeet shooting.  Officer Rick was lost in rage, though, and didn't pay him the slightest attention

Eventually, after a savage shot to the face that nearly made Matt black out, Grier stepped in.  "Whoa!  Dude!  Take a break, or you'll kill him!  He's no good to either of us if he's dead."  Rick wound down, mastering his animal instincts by force of will.  Matt had stopped moving.  His body ached all over; at least one rib was probably broken, and his ear was ringing with a high-pitched buzz that wouldn't go away.  When he finally noticed that the beating had stopped, he didn't dare to move for fear of starting it up again.  He lay still and quiet for what felt like a long time, unsure what was going on.

Grier's voice broke the silence.  "OK.  OK, thanks.  I'm sorry to have grabbed you like that.  My apologies."

Rick's voice was distant, like part of him was still off in that other place where it was OK, normal, even expected, to beat a helpless creature into a bloody pulp, but another part of him saw what he was doing and was scared at how easy it was to give in to that temptation.  "'s a'right."

Grier bent down to inspect Matt, who had been so thoroughly pounded he could only lie there, not moving.  "OK.  I'm glad you stopped.  The goal is to punish him, right?  And he can't feel the punishment if he's dead, and I was getting worried there.  But he looks like he'll pull through.  If I may offer a suggestion?  There are still plenty of other ways to hurt him.  If it were me, I'd stick my dick in him at this point.  You want to really show a man you're his boss, you rape his sorry ass.”

The cop shook his head.  "No... no, that's just si... not my thing."  Pause.  "I ain't no f... I ain't gay.  No offense."

“None taken,” Grier replied.  “It’s not for everyone, I understand.  Maybe I’ll do it for you after you’re through with him.  A proxy fuck.  All right, how about this instead?”

Matt couldn’t hear the next words Grier said - he must have been whispering into Rick’s ear.  Whatever he said must have met with the cop’s approval, though, because Rick grunted his assent and the next thing Matt knew he was being hoisted painfully to his feet and dragged toward the kitchen.  He could see even less than usual because one of his eyes was starting to swell shut.

He reached the end of his chain and Grier had to unlock it - apparently whatever they were doing required them to be in the cooking part of the kitchen, not just the eating portion of the room.  Grier freed his ankle and they arrived at their destination, but then nothing happened.  Grier and Rick didn’t speak, and Matt just sagged against the cop’s arms until, disgusted, Rick let him flop down onto the floor.  For long minutes he enjoyed the sensation of lying down and not being hit.

“Would you mind if I filmed this?” Grier asked.

“No way.  They’d shitcan my ass so fast...” the cop replied.

“They’ll never know it’s you.  You could put this mask on?  Totally hides your identity.”

But the cop refused.  Grier didn't push too hard, perhaps worried about losing the cop's cooperation.  Matt found himself actually grateful that his latest suffering and humiliation would not become fodder for some sicko’s jerk-off fantasy.  Then he realized that the man he was feeling grateful toward was the same man who had just spent the last however-long beating him with a club.  The sense of appreciation quickly vanished.

"I think we're ready," Grier said.  All too soon Matt was yanked to his feet again.  “Take your time, make it last,” Grier advised the cop.  Matt didn’t know what the details would be, but advice such as that could not possibly be good, and so he began to squirm in Rick’s grip.  He didn’t stand a chance - the cop was behind him, his hands like steel bands on Matt’s arm and shoulder.

“You sure you don’t want to fuck him?” Grier asked.  “No?  OK, have at, then.”

Matt felt the hand on his left shoulder shift its grip toward his neck.  The right hand slipped between his arms and his back, where it was able to pin his body in place all by itself, leaving the left free to apply pressure to his head.  His head was bent down and to his right, for what purpose he could not guess, but he didn’t want to find out.

There was no resisting the cop’s grip.  Matt’s head slid inexorably downward and he began to feel a warm flush against his cheek.  At the same time, his knee jerked forward and banged into something that made a hollow thunking sound and Matt figured out where he was: this was the cooktop.  He had banged his knee against the oven, and his face was feeling the heat from...

... a very hot burner.

Matt remembered what the stove looked like from before the destruction of his vision - it was one of those sleek, glass-top models with an electric heating element buried under the smooth surface.  No open flame, no bare metal coils.  What waited for his face down at the end of the arc it was traveling on was one very hot, very smooth slab of glass.

He recognized Grier’s handiwork at once - the cop was perfectly content to get his revenge with a good old-fashioned beating.  Grier, on the other hand, would find it poetic to mar Matt’s face to match the runaway niece’s.  He redoubled his efforts to escape and actually got a break when his heel slammed into the cop’s leg.  The cop grunted and relaxed his hold for just a moment, which was enough for Matt to slip out and down and away from the stove.  He scrambled backward on all fours, his cuffed hands scrabbling at the floor beneath his back.  The cop was on him in an instant, regaining his grip and lifting Matt once more to his feet.

Matt was in full panic now.  His beaten body still ached everywhere, but Matt didn't care; he had to get away.  He screamed and squirmed and struggled in the vise-like grip.  The right arm once again worked its way between his elbows and his ribs, immobilizing his body.  His legs continued to kick and thrash, though, and he was able to use them to keep the cop off balance and keep his face away from the searing burner, which in his eyes appeared as a sinister-looking red patch on a larger expanse of black.

"Feisty little bastard," the cop barked, struggling to control his captive.  Then Grier stepped in to help.  Matt felt a rope loop around his left ankle, then a second rope around his right.  After that it was hopeless - a third rope ran from one loop to the other, and all Grier had to do was tug on it to shorten the gap.  Soon enough, Matt's ankles were bound together.  A second rope went around his knees and he was helpless.  The arms tightened their grip, the left hand pressed up against the left side of Matt's face, and he felt himself being forced downward once more.

This time there was no stopping it.  He had no leverage.  The red spot loomed larger and larger in the right side of his vision until he squeezed his eyes shut to block out the sight.  The heat grew in intensity, then grew some more until it felt as if the side of his face was inches away from a bonfire.  He pressed against the implacable grip of the cop's left hand with all his strength, but it was not enough to stop his head's descent.  "No!   No!" he shouted.  They ignored his pleas.

Contact.

Matt felt as if the side of his face was melting.  His hands and feet spasmed with muscular twitches that he had no control over.  His legs sagged and completely failed to support his weight, but he did not fall because Rick was holding him up by his arms.  The searing pain covered his whole face, from cheek to ear, forehead to chin, and for extra measure, the cop rolled his head around on the burner.  Front to back, top to bottom, the whole right side of his head touched the glass at some point.  Matt thought he must pass out from the pain, it was so overwhelming, but he did not.

Then, at last, he was released.  He slumped to the floor, crashing backward and rolling to his left side.  The cop gave him one last kick in the ribs, then Grier walked him to the door.  Matt lay in agony on the floor, unable to even think about anything but the blistering pain on the side of his face and giant throbbing ache all over the rest of his body.

Grier returned.  "Dammit, he really made a mess of you, didn't he?"  The detachment was gone from his voice as he bent to inspect the damage Rick had done.  "Bruises everywhere... gotta be at least one broken bone in there... face is wrecked... shit, it's going to take weeks for you to recover from this!  Dammitall, why'd you have to go and screw everything up?"

Despite the aches, despite the fire in his face, a thin chuckle escaped from Matt's lips.  "Heh... this is... my fault?"

"Of course it's your fault, you ignorant mouse turd.  You forced my hand - I had to destroy that collar or it would have killed you.  But then that meant a visit from the police, which meant a new collar, which meant..."

He took a deep breath and calmed himself.

"No.  What's done is done.  I shouldn't blame you.  When Rick came to the door tonight with his offer, I could have said no.  I'm the one who allowed him to do this to you.  I was so eager to get that new collar off... I should have realized this might happen.  Some people just don't know how to take care of their toys.  I do apologize for blaming you."

Not for the beating or the burning, Matt noticed.  For the blame.

"OK, this is going to be a real problem now, though...".  Grier continued talking, but Matt's head was swimming and he lost track of the words.  The panic that had given him strength for so long had at last subsided, and the after-effects were setting in fast.  The pain of his injured body was beginning to rise up like a wave to engulf him.  He was barely able to rise when Grier untied his legs and led him back to his cell.  He sprayed the floor with urine from his dickless gap.  Grier washed it down the drain with the hose while Matt collapsed onto the cot.  Blackness engulfed him.



Chapter 19 - In which Matt's host reaches a decision


The recovery process was even slower than before.  Officer Castille had done major damage to his body, and for a whole week Matt couldn't even move out of the bed.  Grier kept him hydrated and fed and cleaned up after his wastes while his skin turned yellow and blue and black and green, his body reabsorbing the blood that had leaked out of battered veins.  His face hurt constantly.  Grier kept a dressing over it to keep it moist, cleaning it out once a day.  Matt sometimes wished he could see what his face looked like; other times he was glad he would never get the chance.

He kept waiting for his strength to return, but as the days passed he never seemed to get much better.  Even after he was able to stand and walk around again, he seldom did.  It was much easier to just stay down on the cot.  There was no point in trying to hurry the healing process along, after all.  As soon as he was well enough, Grier would just start blasting him down with pain again.  Better to just lie in the dark, quiet cell and let the time pass.

Of course, the respite couldn't last forever.  One day Grier came in to deliver Matt's breakfast.  He had no appetite, but forced himself to sit up and eat anyway.  His nerve-damaged hands shook and his head throbbed, neither of which made eating any easier.  Grier removed the dressing, declaring that it looked good enough to leave off.  "Of course, the rest of you still looks like crap, if you'll excuse my saying so."

What could Matt say to that?  Nothing.

"The bruises are looking better, but you seem to have lost your mojo, buddy.  No offense."

Another long pause.  Grier huffed a sigh.

"Hello?  Hello in there?  Anyone home?"

Was this humor?  Matt couldn't be bothered to care.  He continued to stare at the floor.

"Nope.  I was afraid of this.  You're done, I can tell.  Your body's getting better, but your mind's gone.  You've given up.  You're just not as much fun any more as you used to be."

Possible replies occurred to Matt - We could try chopping off your dick this time.  That would be fun. - but nothing he could say would shock or offend Grier, so he held his silence.

"I gotta say, Matt, I'm tired of coming in here and feeding you and watering you and getting nothing in return.  Not much point, is there?  If I'd wanted a houseplant, I'd've bought a philodendron.  It's a shame, but I knew this day would come sooner or later."

Was he saying what it sounded like he was saying?  Matt lifted his head and focused what remained of his vision on the blur where Grier's voice was coming from.

"Oh, that perked you up, I see.  Yeah, unless you can give me a good reason not to do it, I'm afraid this is the end, pal.  Time for your grand exit."

From deep down, Matt found his voice.  "Seriously?" he croaked.  "You'd let me die?"

"Yep.  Of course you know it won't be easy.  I'm going to wring every last bit of suffering out of you that I can."

Matt closed his eyes and swallowed.  He hadn't expected anything different, but to have it spelled out so plainly in such unemotional tones was something he still hadn't gotten used to, even after all this time.

"How... how are you going to do it?" he asked.

"Well, I want to make it something more than just you and me.  I mean, I've really enjoyed all the things we've done together, but something like this... it needs to be special.  Nothing as public as that scene when you first arrived, though.  I mean, throngs of screaming protestors make for a nice show, but I find that I've kind of lost my appetite for being at the center of the media spotlight.  And I'm sure not inviting that cop over to help out.  He'd no doubt be willing, but jeez, with his 'help' it'd be over in five minutes.  No, I think I'd be happiest with a more intimate affair, just have a few friends over, some dinner, some wine.  You know.  Simple."

The blur shifted position, walking across the cell to fiddle with some object either lying on a table or buried in a drawer.  Matt couldn't see what it was.

"The time has come, Mattie," Grier said.  He walked over to Matt and fastened something in place around his neck.  "From this point forward, you are dying," he said as he worked.  "I mean, we're all dying, in a sense, from the moment we're born.  But you, you can mark this moment as the beginning of your personal plunge down the slope to extinction."  The object around Matt's neck turned out to be made of steel, a collar with long arms that stuck out to the sides.  It chafed a bit, but the worst of the damage from the constricted security chain had healed over.

One at a time, Grier unfastened Matt's hands from the chain around his waist and lifted them to either side.  Matt was too weak to offer more than token resistance.  Grier buckled them to the ends of the steel arms so that Matt's wrists were held up at shoulder height, his elbows bent, his hands out to either side of his neck.

"What I'm saying," Grier continued, "is that up until now, it's been more pain, then less pain, then more, then less, and so on.  Starting now, though, it's only going to go in one direction.  The pain is going to constantly increase."

Matt swallowed.  He knew he should be feeling terror at Grier's words, but somehow all he felt was numb.  Perhaps he would care more once the pain actually started, but for the moment, it just didn't register.  Grier went back to the supply cabinet and returned with something else that Matt couldn't see clearly enough to identify.  "You'll remember these, I'm sure," Grier said.

The moment the first teeth bit into his tit, Matt remembered: the alligator clips.  The pain was sharp and swift and took his breath away.  Grier finished placing the first one and started on the second, with equally startling results.  Matt twisted and turned and discovered exactly how frustrating the device he was wearing could be.  His arms seemed like they ought to be useful - it should be a simple matter to just reach down and squeeze the clip to remove it from his nipple.  And yet he couldn't.  No matter how he tried to move, his hands simply could not reach his chest.  His fingers were inches away, but try as he might, he just couldn't reach across that short gap.  Roused from his lethargy by the focused points of agony, he heard himself shouting and pleading with Grier to take them off.

"Oh, please, man, I can't take this.  Take 'em off, take 'em off!"

"Sorry, Matt.  They're staying on."

"Shit!  What do I have to do this time?  Beg you to rape me?  What?"

"Do?  There's nothing you have to do.  Although I like the sound of that 'beg you to rape me' idea..."

"Dammit!  I can't stand this!"

"I know."

Matt stopped talking then and focused once more on removing the clips.  If he pushed his arm upward as far as the enclosing steel would allow, his fingers could almost - almost! - touch the one clip, but not quite.  He tried for a long while, his fingers flailing helplessly so close while his tits shrieked their agony, until at last he gave up.

"Please, just tell me.  What do I have to do?"

"That's twice you've asked that.  I don't think you're understanding me.  You're already 'doing' what I want you to be doing.  You're suffering.  Those clips?  They aren't coming off.  Ever."

This was impossible to believe.  Matt's brain refused to accept it.  "No..."

"Yes.  We talked about this last time.  I told you I'd always wanted to see what happens to a man's tits when they're left clamped for a day.  Right now it's Thursday morning.  It'll take me a couple of days to pull the guys together for your send-off party, so I thought it'd be a perfect opportunity to indulge my curiosity.  See what 24 hours of compression does to those sensitive little nubs.  And then after that, there's still no reason to remove them.  You're dying anyway, what do you need unclamped tits for?"

Matt felt despair wash over him.

"Now, I woke up this morning with a raging hard-on.  You've been unavailable lately for me to satisfy my carnal urges on, so I've got a, I don't know, nine- or ten-day load built up.  Time to release some pressure."

Grier fastened Matt's neck brace to a pair of chains that ran from floor to ceiling, low down so he was forced to bend at the waist.  He wanted to sag to his knees, but Grier tied a rope from his waist to the ceiling, holding him in that bent, vulnerable position.

"I think a bit of weight wouldn't be out of place here," Grier murmured.  Matt felt the agony in his tits double as Grier fastened a weight to the cord that connected the two alligator clips, pulling his tits downward.  He began yelping again.

"Now we're ready,  Damn, don't you look hot like that!  First, though, lemme go shoot some quick messages.  Be right back - don't go anywhere!" he said with two genial slaps to Matt's outstretched ass.



Chapter 20 - In which further miscellaneous varieties of entertainment are enjoyed


He wasn't gone long, barely long enough for Matt to find the optimum position where the weight dangling from his nipples was not shifting around, though the constant pull of gravity combined with the sharp teeth biting into his skin still made impossible to focus on anything but the pain.  Grier returned and straightaway Matt felt his dick fumbling around the entrance to his ass.  With no fanfare, it plunged in, forcing its way through the sphincter muscle and spreading him wide open.  His yelps turned to squeals.  Grier began to thrust, his dick rubbing against the sensitive inner surfaces of Matt's ass in a way that never grew easier for him no matter how many times it was repeated.

The fucking was mercifully brief - Grier must have really been building himself up.  He toyed with Matt's tits a bit while he was at it, squeezing and flicking them to elicit more gasps and whimpers.  Then a rapid increase in pace and depth, then he was pulling out and Matt gratefully felt his ass slip shut once more.  The fact that Grier's seed was now liberally splashed over the inside of his guts didn't matter at all - only the pain held Matt's attention.

Grier let him down from the chains, removed the weight from his tits, and led him over to the cot to lie down.  He used buckles to clip Matt's neck brace to the metal frame of the cot, holding him down face-up.  Matt's legs were similarly attached.

"Now you've got nothing to do but lie there and think about how much your nipples hurt.  I've got to go work on the logistics... be back later."

The door closed.  Matt wept with frustration.  His tits were hurting a bit less, but he knew it was only because his mind couldn't keep up with the stimulation the nerves there were sending him.  He tried to twist his hand to reach the buckles that held the neck brace in place, thinking that if he could just sit up he might be able to try again to reach the alligator clips.  It would have been a trivial task - just turn the screw on the buckle and he could slide the steel bar right out.  But try as he might, he could only reach one of the buckles, and it was the one near his right hand, the hand that had no thumb.  The buckle on the left was too far out of reach, and with no thumb his right hand couldn't grip the hex-shaped nut firmly enough to twist it.  Tears poured down his cheeks at his helplessness.

The time passed much more slowly than it had yesterday.  Where yesterday he had been content to lie in the cot and think of nothing at all, today the sharp, constant discomfort in his nipples constantly distracted him in a way that the dull aches all over the rest of his body hadn't.  Every minute, it seemed, the pain from the clips surged forward and commanded his full attention, compelling him to strain once more to twist his arms and back to try to seek relief.

The door opened again.  "Well, it looks like only one of the guys won't be able to make it.  The other five will be here by tomorrow; one's actually already on his way.  I'm glad... I was worried it would be too short notice for them, but they've all been on standby, half-expecting the call to come any day.  How're those tits doing?"

A tiny sob escaped Matt's lips.  Grier bent down to inspect them.  "OK... totally white.  They haven't had any blood in over an hour now.  If I were to take the clips off now, they'd still probably hurt like the dickens as they slowly un-crushed themselves back to their normal shape.  Of course, that's not going to happen.  Man, I feel like I'm at loose ends... I want to get started now, but I want to wait for the guys to get here, too... it's weird, I've never, ever been in a position where I couldn't think of a way to hurt a guy!"

"What... a fucking... pity," Matt groaned.

"Yeah, although it's not that I can't think of anything, it's that I hate to repeat myself.  And it doesn't help that your strength is failing and I want to make sure you have enough left for a decent final performance.  I'm thinking we'll do it tomorrow night... it was going to be Saturday, but the guys should all be here by tomorrow and there's no reason to wait.  But how to pass the time until then?  I just don't know!"

He ended up satisfying himself by tying off Matt's balls and squeezing them between the jaws of a vise, which was indeed something he had done before but was apparently sufficiently interesting that he was willing to risk boredom from repetition.  The pain was atrocious and actually succeeded in drawing Matt's attention away from the searing pain in his nipples for whole minutes at a time.  As always, Grier kept up a running commentary as he went, which Matt tried to ignore, but the words would sometimes seep in anyway.

"... CJ is gonna love these.  He totally gets off on ball torture ... practically all he talks about ... gonna be interesting to meet some of these guys at last ... hope Dima can make it, he still wasn't sure last I heard ... oh, you noticed that?  Your ball is about 3/8 of an inch think right now, in case you were curious ..."  And so on.

When Grier finally stopped and went to check on the status of his various guests, he left the vise in place.  Matt's balls remained trapped between the jaws, though without Grier actively tightening and loosening them, the pain settled down to a constant dull ache.  His nipples, too, were somehow less acutely sensitive than they were before.  Perhaps the nerves there were indeed dying off the way Grier had predicted they might?  Matt could do nothing about either source of pain, in any case, and could only lie on his back while the slow minutes crawled by.

The next time Grier returned, he amused himself by prying Matt's mouth open and attaching one of the black binder clips to his tongue, then using it to pull the tongue out and down, tying it to the brace around Matt's neck.  Matt was unable to work his tongue out of the clip's tight grip and was forced to lie there with his mouth open, his tongue dehydrating from exposure to the air.  Grier took advantage of the position by climbing up onto the cot and pressing his crotch down onto Matt's face.  As Grier's erect cock dipped into Matt's open mouth, he dearly wanted to chomp down with all his might and unman the bastard as he had been unmanned.  The clamp on his tongue prevented him from delivering anything near enough pressure, but it was sufficient for Grier to notice.

"Woo hoo!" he crowed.  "The vic's got some fight left in him after all!  That's it, boy, keep nibbling!"  He pumped his cock in and out of Matt's mouth, pressing it deep against the back of Matt's throat while Matt choked and gagged and fought to pull his tongue in, expel the invader... die... anything.

The doorbell rang.  Grier pulled out.  "Dang, if that's who I think it is, he made record time."  He left the cell door open when he went.

Matt lay there, now suffering at tits, balls, and tongue.  Vague voices came from down the hall.  He wondered if it would be possible to choke to death on his own spit with his mouth locked open as it was.  Before he had a chance to test the theory, Grier had returned, with another man in tow.  Matt of course could not see what the new man looked like, but Grier introduced him as CJ.  "CJ's from Atlanta.  He was actually here before, but things were just so hectic then... you remember... that he only got to see you from a distance.  CJ, this is Matt."

"Holy shit, what the hell have you done to him?"  CJ bent down, inspecting Matt's bound and tormented body, giving the tit clamps experimental flicks, testing the squeeze of the vise crushing his balls.  "I cannot believe this," he said, admiration suffusing his voice.  "And this is all legal?  You can just do whatever you want to him?  Oh, you are so... so... lucky."  His tone of voice changed immediately when he realized what he had said.  "Oh, wait, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded.  That was really thoughtless..."

Grier calmed him.  "No, it's OK, I know what you meant.  It's not a problem."  CJ went back to inspecting Matt's nuts and the lump of scar tissue where his dick had once been, cooing appreciatively over what he found.

Something Grier had said had been bothering Matt but in his pain-distracted state he hadn't been able to pin it down.  When at last his thoughts caught up with him, he began to moan.  "Aaaaaannngh."

"What's that?" Grier asked.  "You trying to say something, Mattie?"

"Ooo-aay.  Oooo-uunnggh."

"Hang on."  Grier removed the black clip, allowing Matt to pull his tongue gratefully back into his mouth.  He worked it around a bit, bathing it in saliva before trying to speak again.  "You said... CJ... was here... before."

"That's right.  You might even recognize him, if you could see him.  I didn't, though - we've never actually met in person until just now.  He kept his distance last time he was here."

"Too crazy," CJ added.

Matt knew exactly what the circumstances of that previous visit were, then.  The thing that was filling his guts with dread now - the thing he had to ask, even though he knew with utter certainty what the answer would be - was...

"Why... come back... now?"

"Aw, Matt," Grier chuckled.  "Deep down, you know the answer to that, yeah?  You just want me to say it out loud.  OK, I will.  CJ is a member of that cross fetish group I told you about.  All the guys who are coming for your send-off party are.  Because you.  Are going back up.  On that cross again.  Only this time, it's for keeps."



Chapter 21 - In which an assembly gathers and introductions take place


Grier - "Ty", as CJ called him - and CJ spent some time getting Matt cleaned up.  His hair had grown long and straggly; whiskers covered the part of his face that hadn't been charred by the stove burner, and he was filthy and rank from not bathing.  The process was not comfortable - they lathered him up with soap, then hosed him down right there in the cell, washing weeks of grime down the drain.  Then they cut his hair, razoring his head to an even layer of eighth-inch stubble.  His face they shaved clean.  Then they laid him back down on the cot and re-fastened him in place.

CJ asked Grier if he could shave Matt's groin as well.  For this they had to remove the vise from Matt's balls; the sensation of not having his nuts squeezed was so surprising and unfamiliar that he felt unaccountably elated for a few minutes.  CJ went at the task with obvious enthusiasm.  He tied Matt's knees out to the sides to ensure he had room to work, then he used an electric trimmer to buzz the hair down to manageable length.  "So much easier without a dick flopping around and getting in the way!" he joked.  He was about to use a safety blade and soap to remove the rest of the hair when Grier interrupted.

"Here.  Try this."

Matt of course couldn't see what was going on.  There was a long pause, then CJ replied.  "Damn.  That's just evil."

Matt squirmed.

There was a gentle clicking noise, and then the next thing he felt was a surge of heat on his balls.  He bucked a bit, but the heat followed him and he didn't have enough freedom to move around much.  The air began to fill with the smell of burning hair and Matt realized what was going on.

"Have you ever done this before?"  Grier asked.  "Keep moving it around.  That'll burn off the hair without searing the skin.  He's feeling it, obviously, but it won't do him any harm if you don't keep the flame in any one place too long."

Feel it he did.  Matt whimpered as the open flame licked and kissed his balls, his thighs, everywhere.  CJ lifted the fragile orbs in his hands so he could sweep the flame into every crack, cover every place where a stray hair might be lurking.  Matt, tied with his knees spread, was unable to protect himself from the fire sweeping over his skin.  Sobs and cries filled the cell.

When it was over, the two sadists stepped back to inspect the results.  "Not bad," Grier said.

"He looks pretty darn hot, even.  Can't wait to see him up on the cross again.  Close-up this time."

"Oops.  Almost forgot," Grier said.  Matt felt more fumbling at his balls, then the familiar embrace of the vise being set back in place and retightened to its original level.  He clenched his eyes shut, trying to adapt once again to the pain.  "That's better.  Hey, you want something to eat?"

Grier and CJ wandered off to the kitchen, leaving Matt once again to lie in timeless agony once more.

Over the next eighteen hours, more men trickled in to Ty Grier's house.  Each new arrival was brought in to see Matt, still lying with clamped tits and balls, arms bolted out to either side of his neck.  Each wanted to inspect the victim, and so Matt was subjected to more pokings and proddings and invasions of his various orifices with each stranger who entered his cell.  Once they were in, they never wanted to leave, so fascinated were they all by the prospect of having carte blanche to indulge what until now had been only fantasy for them.  The talked about Matt's previous crucifixion, sometimes trying to pull Matt into the discussion to ask how this or that aspect had felt, but more often treating him as a piece of furniture.  Only CJ had come in person the last time, but the others had all watched the videos from various news outlets and private cameras.  All were eager to get started, but Grier held them back, waiting until everyone was present.  No one bothered to sleep, or snatched quick catnaps when they did; no one wanted to miss a moment of what was going on.

At one point Matt was fed.  There was no pretense of letting him do it himself - Grier want straight for the blender, pouring a pulverized, liquidy mush directly into Matt's stomach.  Matt tried to will himself to vomit the mash up, to expel the nutrients that Grier was only providing so that Matt would be able to suffer longer, but his body betrayed him, processing the food, converting it to energy as it had all his life, his cells going mindlessly about their duties with no regard for the wishes of his mind.

The last to arrive came on Friday afternoon.  Grier brought him in for the customary inspection of the victim, where he met the other four gathered around Matt's cot.  Introductions were made; small talk ensued.  Matt thought, when his mind was able to spare the effort, that it was like the early stages of a cocktail party if it weren't for the horrific content of the banter they exchanged.

"Well, since we're all here," Grier interjected when the conversation hit a lull, "I think we should get started.  Since Seth was able to catch an earlier flight from D.C., there's no reason to wait for tomorrow morning, right?"  A chorus of approval met his words.

"So, just to go over the rough plan, which we can make changes to any time, but to go over... Dima wants to go up first, right?  And then CJ, and then we'll have the main event."

This puzzled Matt.  Was Grier implying that two of the visitors were also going to be crucified?

"I want to do some introductions first.  Dave, would you and Carlo get Mattie up, please?  He's the reason we're all here... it's only fair that he get to know you."  Matt felt his bonds being loosened and then he was lifted to a standing position.  His legs, which had been tied in the same position for so long, could barely hold his weight, but the men on either side helped to hold him up.

One of the blurry shapes in the room swam closer.  "Matt, I want you to know it's been truly a pleasure having you here in my house these past three months.  You have been an absolute delight to work with... and on... and in".  Chuckles from the assembly.  "And I am just as pleased that our last hours together can be spent in the company of these gentlemen.  I never actually met any of them in person until today, but I feel as if I've known them all for years from our shared discussions on the net.  They know all about you, of course, but I want to let you know a little something about each of them.  It might help... explain... some of the activities we'll be doing later.

"You met CJ already.  He's from Atlanta, and he's - of course - into crucifixions... duh!"  More chuckles.  "But his particular interest combines crucifixion with genital torture.  For him, a crucifixion is great by itself, but if it can be spiced up with a bit of dick or ball pain, maybe a castration, that's even better.  It's like gravy on a steak.  Now, unfortunately, you no longer have a cock that I can offer him, but I've promised him that he can have your balls.  We've batted some ideas around as a group as to what he should do with him, but ultimately, he gets to make the call.  It's his fantasy."

Matt felt fingers groping his vise-clamped crotch, accompanied by appreciative murmurs.

"Next up we've got Carlo, from Austin, Texas.  Carlo's particular fetish is nails. He's OK with a crucifixion by ropes or straps or chains, but what really gets him going is the prospect of hard steel slicing through yielding flesh.  To have a man suspended from his cross by metal through his skin just gets his juices flowing.  Am I describing this right, Carlo?"

"Yeah, man, you got it."

"So Carlo will be your nailer today.  He'll be the one lining up the points on your wrists and slamming that hammer down.  Carlo, meet Matt.  Matt, Carlo.  I hope you don't mind that he doesn't shake your hand, Carlo."

Another round of amused chortling.  Matt had been feeling steadier on his feet, but Grier's words sparked all-too-vivid memories of nails piercing his wrists and feet.  The prospect of enduring that again left him weak in the knees.

"... and this is Dave, who joins us from New Jersey," Grier continued.  "Dave's interests lie not just in crucifixion, but in executions in general.  And torture, too, I think, but mainly execution.  I wouldn't exactly say he's not into crosses, it's just that he isn't quite as focused on that particular fetish as the rest of us.  Dave, maybe you could explain your tastes better than I'm doing?"

"No, you got it right.  I'm looking forward to seeing you on the wood, Matt.  But I'd be just as happy watching you hang, or get shot.  I'd also love to slice your belly open and watch your guts slide out while you tried to stuff them back in.  Damn, Ty, I still can't quite believe this is happening.  I have never, ever, said those words to a man without both of us knowing it was just hot air.  Now, though, I can say it and mean it.  It feels totally different.  And look at him, he knows it, too."

Matt indeed had no doubt that Dave would gladly do exactly what he had said he wanted to.  It sounded horrible, but once he thought about it, it would have been better to have been delivered to the custody of a man like Dave rather than Grier.  The image of him trying to hold his intestines in was nauseating, but at least that death would have been quick and relatively merciful compared with what awaited him.

Grier's voice called his attention back.  "Have you noticed the various sub-specialties, Matt?  It always amazes me when I stop to think about it.  Here we are, six men gathered together.  What unifies us is that we're all in that very small percentage of men who like to have sex with other men.  Within that group, we're in a still-smaller group of gay men who like bondage and S&M.  And within that group, we're in a smaller-yet group of crucifixion fans.  Seems very specialized, doesn't it?  I mean, how many gay cruciphiles could there be?  You'd think we'd all be pretty much alike.  And yet we still manage to subdivide ourselves into further interest areas.  You should read some of the discussions that come up: there's the nails vs. ropes issue, the floggers vs. the non-floggers, the guys who like the religious aspect vs. those who don't.  We even debate the shape and orientation of the cross and whether and how to use sediles.  Pretty amazing, huh?

"But I'm stalling, and we all want to get to the good part.  This is Dima; he hails from Montreal.  He and I are perhaps closest in our interests, in that we're generalists - we don't really have a sub-specialty within the crucifixion field.  We like it all - ropes or nails, any kind of cross, whatever.  I think the main difference is Dima is pretty much exclusively a bottom.  Have I got that right?"

"Yessir," a small, thin voice replied.

"Dima is here, I believe, because he wants to be you.  Perhaps not just yet, and perhaps not ever for real, but he really gets off thinking about it.  While you're doing your dance on the wood, he's going to be imagining it's his body up there.  He's even going to take the cross for a test run first before we hang you on it.  Of course, it's erotic fantasy for him, and we'll take him down whenever he wants to come down.  Then CJ's going to try it, he likes to be on the receiving end too.  And then, then it'll be your turn."

Matt's knees were shaking even more violently with dread at what was coming.  He was barely paying attention to Grier's perky, cheerful voice.

"Finally, we have Seth.  He comes here all the way from Ireland, although he wouldn't have been able to if he had been home when I sent out word that tonight would be the night.  As it happens, Seth was visiting family in Washington, D.C. and was able to catch a flight on short notice.  Glad to have you here, Seth.  Your specialty is flogging, right?"

"Yeah, I guess I fall squarely on the pro-flogging side o' that fence."  Seth's accent was noticeable but not dramatic.  "Not that I'd begrudge any of you your own tastes, o' course.  Just seems to me to be an integral part?  A good whippin's what a back needs b'fore it starts rubbing on the upright."

"And you'll be the guy to deliver it.  All right, introductions over... let's get started!"



Chapter 22 - In which the assembly makes preparations


Matt was allowed to sit down on the floor, his back up against the wall.  He wasn't even fastened to it, though his arms were still yoked to his neck and the tit and ball clamps were still firmly in place.  With so many guards around, Grier evidently wasn't worried about him making an escape.  Grier, Dave, and Seth went to fetch the cross from the garage, where it had been since the last time Matt used it.  It took them a while to get it all the way into the house - apparently it was large enough to make getting it through the doors difficult.  While they were gone, CJ and Carlo examined the various instruments Grier kept in the cell and talked about things they might do with them.  Dima, the skinny "bottom", as Grier had described him, nestled up next to Matt and whispered in his ear.

"I know you probably can't understand this, sir, but I am so... jealous.  One of these days I want to go all the way.  Do what you're doing."

This was just sick.  He dredged his voice up from the depths of his pain.  "Trade ya," he croaked.

Dima started stroking his chest and groin.  "Some day," he cooed.  "Not today, but some day."

He bent down and placed his head over the spot where Matt's dick used to be.  He began licking and sucking on the stump.  Matt, disgusted, let his bladder loose, thinking to get rid of the pervert and get a bit of peace before the horror show.  To his surprise, Dima swallowed every drop down and kept sucking as if he could inspire Matt to produce more.  It went on for so long that Matt actually felt the stump of his dick stiffening up, his body betraying him yet again.

Dima broke away when the cross-fetching trio returned, slowly and gently easing the wooden construction into the cell.  It had been taller when Matt had been on it before, but they had trimmed the base so that it just barely fit, stretching from floor almost to the ceiling.  They secured it to chains hanging down from above, and then Grier crowed, "Dima!  You ready, boy?"

"Yessir," Dima replied in his reedy voice.

"Sure you don't want nails?" Carlo asked with a grin in his voice.

"If you say so, sir."

"No," Grier said.  "Just ropes.  We'll get to the nails later."

They brought a stool for Dima to stand on and he voluntarily climbed up and held his arms in place.  In short order, ropes had been wrapped around his wrists and then the stool was removed.  Dima hung from his arms for a few moments while they maneuvered his feet into place and tied them with more ropes.  When it was done, they stood back to let him hang.

To Matt's eyes it was all a watery blur, but his ears heard clearly the sounds of the event.  The mood was festive; the crucifiers heartily approving of Dima's dance on the wood.  Dima, for his part, was clearly enjoying himself, moaning and sighing as if it were a lover's embrace that held him and not harsh ropes and wood.  Erect penises were abundantly in evidence.  One of the fuzzy blurs moved in to suck Dima's dick as he dangled; another pair commandeered the cot to stroke each other on it.  Another blur - presumably the whip fan - moved in and began striking Dima's chest and thighs with one of the straps Grier stocked in his dungeon.  Matt was mostly left to sit alone awaiting his turn.

I am in hell, Matt thought.  Of course, he had been in hell for weeks... months... but with only Grier for company.  It had been easy enough to imagine that Grier was an aberration, his warped mind one of a kind.  Clearly that was a flawed assumption - all six of the men gathered here shared Grier's passion for sick, sadistic games.  For now, they were making use of Dima, who actually enjoyed what they were doing to him, so it all balanced out.  But soon they would tire of their willing victim and Matt would be compelled to ride the wood instead.  He claims he wants to take my place, but he's only been up there twenty minutes.  I'd like to see how he'd hold up after the second hour.  The fifth.

He hoped that it would end quickly this time.  His body was so weak, it was unthinkable that he should last as long as he had the first time.  And then it would, finally, be over.  No more pain.  No more terror.  Just black oblivion.

"No, three more minutes.  Starting... now."  Grier's voice.  Matt gathered from the ensuing sounds that Dima, after more than half an hour on the cross, was ready to come down.  Grier, though, was prodding him to stay up just a little longer.  "Come on, Dima, push through it.  You can do it.  You think you've hit the point of can't-take-any-more, but you've got three more minutes in you.  Two and a half, now."

"Y... yessir," came the thin, watery reply.  The men gave supportive atta-boys, rallying him through his final minutes on the cross.  Then the stool was brought back, Dima's legs were untied, and he stepped down, shaking life back into his numbed arms.

Fucking sicko.  He actually enjoyed that.  His little play version.  But I've got do the real thing.

CJ took his turn next, up on the cross the same way, ropes around the arms, legs tied to the upright.  The crucifiers treated him to some genital abuse, per his desires, smacking and squeezing his dangling testicles, striking his stiff cock with the whip.  Like Dima before him, CJ clearly loved every minute of it, and the rest of them were equally enthralled.

Matt sat and waited.  He felt fear and dread, but the sensations were vague and remote, not gut-clenchingly real as he had thought they would be as the moment drew close.  Perhaps it wasn't only his body that was growing weak, but his mind as well.  All the better.  It'll end sooner that way.  His nipples had, as Grier had predicted, gone completely numb.  The cord between the alligator clips hung from two inert, necrotic nubs.  He could feel tugs in the skin and muscles of his chest as it moved around, but the twin peaks would never feel pain again.  One less way he can hurt me.

"Five more minutes?  Dima only had to do three!"

CJ was yanking at the ropes that held his arms outstretched, with as much success as Matt had had tugging against his nails.  "Yeah, but he wasn't expecting any extra time," Grier said reasonably.  "You, though, expected that whenever you asked for release, we'd try to get you to stay up another three minutes.  So you, probably subconsciously, called a halt sooner than you would have.  I'm just compensating for that.  Of course, you can come down any time you want, but I bet you can do another five."

CJ agreed somewhat reluctantly to try, and the others cheered him on as they had Dima.  He almost made the whole five, but at 4:15 claimed he absolutely couldn't take any more and they let him down.  He had spend just over twenty-five minutes on the cross.

Freakin' amateur, Matt thought with a perverse sense of superiority.  CJ rubbed circulation back into his limbs, and was congratulated on his performance.  And then it was Matt's turn.  "Time for the main event," Grier called.  And at last Matt felt the visceral fear in his belly.

"First, though, would anyone like to take advantage of our boy before he ascends?  This will be the last chance to fuck him, because once he's up, there just won't be any way to reach his ass.  Any takers?  I'm thinking it would be nice to send this straight boy out with at least a couple men's loads sloshing around in his guts."

There was discussion.  Some of the guys were worried that if they came now, they wouldn't be at their peak for the actual crucifixion.  CJ, in particular, wanted to be as primed as he could be, and had actually had to stop the guys from working his dick while he had been the crucified one so he wouldn't shoot too soon.  Others, though, like Dave and Seth, were happy to take Grier up on his offer, and so Matt found himself once more bent at the waist, accommodating a dick with his ass.  No matter how many times the act was repeated, it never got any easier or more enjoyable.  Dave went first and pounded away, describing in detail as he did the agony that Matt would soon be suffering and the relish with which Dave would be watching.

With grunts and shudders, Dave reached his climax and was quickly replaced by Seth.  The Irishman's dick slid in slightly more easily, perhaps because Matt's ass was already lubricated with Dave's semen, but for Matt it was still uncomfortable, growing toward unbearable as the friction eroded the tender lining.  He, too, shot a load, and then Grier called out "anyone else?".  Carlo agreed to take a turn as well, but he made it clear that while he would fuck Matt, it wouldn't be all the way to climax - he wanted to wait until Matt was in maximum agony on the cross before going all the way.

And so Matt experienced a new concept: fucking not for the sexual gratification of the fucker, but solely for the humiliation and pain of the fuckee.  For his part, it worked - now working on its third dick, his ass had grown extremely sensitive and every stroke rubbed him painfully.  He was straining in his bonds, grunting in discomfort, and the only thing that made it bearable was the knowledge that as long as the fucking went on, at least he wasn't hanging from nailed wrists.

Carlo eventually decided Matt had had enough, and Grier moved in for his turn.  It took a long while, long enough that Matt lost the ability to focus on anything except the raging, burning pain in his ass.  He didn't even notice when Grier shouted his way through orgasm, pumping a third load into Matt's intestine.  He only noticed when the invader in his ass withdrew, leaving him free to savor the sensation of having nothing at all abrading and distorting his rectum.

The sensation, however, was brief.  "Now, let's make sure all that good sperm stays right where it's supposed to be," Grier said.  The words barely registered, but their meaning became clear when Matt felt yet another object prodding at his ass.  His hole, stretched and distended from multiple rapes, offered no resistance to whatever it was Grier was trying to push in, at least at first.  But whatever it was must have been enormous, wider around than any cock, because he felt his ass stretching and stretching with no end in sight.  His pain level shot through the roof and he cried out, but just at that moment, the object pushed past the point of maximum width and his ass seemed to suck it in rather than try to push it out.  At last only a narrow neck was left at his sphincter.

"That ought to do it," Grier's smug, satisfied voice said.  "Matt, that's a baseball-sized plug you've got in your ass.  Go ahead, try to push it out.  Come on, try - I want to see if it'll stay in."

Matt didn't want to oblige, but he felt his body trying all the same.  He had to; his ass felt so full, as if he hadn't crapped in days.  But pushing accomplished nothing.  Whatever it was remained firmly lodged in place.  That didn't stop his body from trying all the same, over and over, even through all that followed.

Satisfied, Grier moved the proceedings along.  "I think we're ready for that flogging now.  Seth?"

Matt was raised up to a standing position and led over, hobbling, to stand facing the cross.  The neck brace was fastened to it so that he stood with his back exposed to the group.  Seth, ready for his favorite part of the ritual, stood behind him holding a whip.  "Fifty strokes," Grier called.  "Whenever you're ready."

Matt tried to brace himself for the impact; Seth took his time.  When Matt's concentration faltered for a moment, that was the time he chose to begin.  The lash tore across his back, not as bad as it might have been but still taking his breath away.  His fingers clenched spasmodically as he fought to lower his hands.  The second blow took almost as long coming - Seth was not going to rush through this part.

Blow after blow landed.  He had been whipped before by Grier, but this felt different, the pain sharper.  Voices vaguely heard explained why.

"Damn, that thing's wicked!"

"It's so thin, it's designed to break the skin, not pound it."

"Look at the blood."

"He's gonna be feeling all those cuts when he rubs 'em on the wood."

Seth covered every spot he could reach, from Matt's neck down to his knees.  At the halfway mark Seth switched to work from the other side.  The onlookers admired the diagonal pattern of marks this created.

"Dude, you're a real artist!"

"How the heck do you get them so evenly spaced?"

All Matt could do was stand and suffer, crying out loud with each blast of fiery pain that washed across his back and whimpering through the times between strokes.  Tears and snot dribbled down his face.

Then, flogging completed, it was time to mount the cross.



Chapter 23 - In which Matt reprises his debut role


Matt was spun around, lifted onto the stool, and pressed into place.  The fresh lacerations on his back shrieked as they made contact with the rough wood.  "No... no... stop..." he mumbled.  They removed the yoke and used ropes to secure his hands in place, stretching him out cruelly tight along the crossbeam, leaving no slack in his arms at all.  Carlo - presumably it was Carlo - made sure the crossbeam was pressed up snugly against the wall so that he would have a surface to pound against.

"Working vertical is kinda strange," he remarked at one point.

"Yeah," Grier answered.  "I wish we could lay him down to get him situated and then raise him up, but there's just no room to tilt the cross in here.  It's gotta be upright."

"Hey, we'll make it work," said Carlo.

Matt tried to ignore what was happening, enduring the roping and the rubbing of his skin against the beam, praying that he could get into the detached state that had come toward the end of his previous session on the cross.  Perhaps by denying what was going on, by pretending it was happening to someone else, he could avoid the worst of the pain.  Then he felt the first touch of the steel nail against his left wrist and it was suddenly, crashingly, very real.  He knew exactly how it would feel when that hammer came down and that nail tore through the nerves in his wrist and at that moment, there was nothing he would not do to escape having it happen again.  He yanked on the unyielding ropes; he kicked out with his feet and felt them quickly restrained by a strong pair of arms.

"Oh, God.  Oh, please, no, please don't do this, please, please..." his words faded into incoherence as Carlo carefully positioned the nail right on top of the scar tissue from the previous nailing.  He couldn't see clearly, but he couldn't look away, either.  By the time the first blow of the hammer landed, Matt was a gibbering wreck, all his composure gone.  His screams shot up two octaves as the nail drove through his flesh and into the wood behind him.  If he had harbored any thought that the second time might somehow be easier, having been through it once already, the sensation of lightning in his wrist and hand would have banished them.

The searing pain was soon joined by a matching pain on the other side.  At Grier's instruction, the ropes were removed, and then the footstool.  Matt's weight was abruptly supported fully by his nailed wrists.  He frantically scrabbled for foot support to ease the agonizing pain.

"Holy fuck..." one of his crucifiers breathed.  "That is so... fuckin'... intense."

The footrests were inserted into the sides of the upright and Matt gratefully stood on them.  The relief was tiny - if he wasn't mistaken they felt lower than they had last time, too low to support much of his weight on.  Hands grasped his ankles and Carlo readied another nail.  More pounding; another surge of lightning, this time in his left foot.  A short while later, its twin erupted on his right.  The hands retreated, and Matt was once again hanging from a cross, impaled at all four limbs.  And now it can end.  They've done all they can do.  Now all I have to do is die.  Any time.  Any minute now, let it end.

Of course it did not end.  For all the exhaustion of his body and mind, there was nothing about crucifixion that killed swiftly.  It was a fiendishly clever device for inflicting torture, but brutally inefficient at inflicting death.  Matt hung, breathing laborously, as the minutes passed by and the crowd of onlookers gazed on his racked body.  Hands passed over the muscles in his legs, his arms, his chest.  They tugged at the cable attached to his numbed nipples; they lifted and twisted the vise still clamped around his balls. They dipped their fingers in the blood dripping from his wrists and feet and traced patterns on his body or licked it off their fingers.  Words washed over him, only vaguely understood through the haze of pain that engulfed him.

"So fuckin' hot."

"That's it, yank those tits."

"You think his stump is capable of getting hard?"

"Yeah, I felt it when I was blowing him.  There's not much left, but what's there can get hard."

"Oh, do it again."

"Yeah, suck him."

So Dima did.  His lips wrapped themselves around the nub that remained of his cock and his tongue flicked and lapped at the skin of his ball sac.  It took a long time, but eventually Matt's body betrayed him as it had before.  Dima broke away long enough to say, "He's stiffening up," before returning to his labors.

"Aw, yeah!"

"Fuckin' awesome."

They reached in to feel the hardened base of his cock while he fought to keep gravity from tearing his chest apart.  They pushed Dima aside to inspect the mutilated stump while he strained to find any position that would give him relief from the horrible tension.  Then - strange - relief.  It took him a moment to realize what had happened: the vise had been taken off his balls.

"Dima," came Grier's voice, "you want to take one last lick?"

Matt felt Dima's face burrowing into his crotch, nuzzling at the his balls and washing them with his tongue.  Then he pulled back.

"OK, CJ, they're all yours."

The short-lived respite was over.  The next thing Matt felt at his groin was a sharp, sudden coldness lancing along the base of his scrotum.  He craned his neck down, trying to peer through the murk and see what was happening, though the effort only increased the strain on his arms.

"Curious, Matt?  I'll clue you in," said Grier.  "Right now, CJ is using a scalpel to slice your scrotum open along the line from front to back.  When he's done, your balls will fall right out and hang, unsupported by anything but the cord that connects them to your pelvis.  After that, I'm not quite sure what he'll do, whatever comes to mind, I suppose.  Whatever he wants to do."

"NNNNNNNNGGGGGGHHHHH!" Matt groaned, slamming his head backward into the wood.

The feeling in his nuts was unlike any he had ever known.  Physically, it wasn't as bad as the crushing vise had been, but knowing that his nuts were being exposed to the air was horrifying.  He longed to protect them, to tuck them safely between his legs and stop the knife from its bloody work.  CJ began to narrate as he sliced.

"Through the other layer of skin now... there's a membrane underneath, an inner lining for the sac."

"Have you done this before?" another voice asked.

"Nope.  I watched a couple videos, but never got a chance to do it myself.  Still can't quite believe it's happening.  OK, I'm all the way through the inner lining.  The way they did it in the video was to squeeze the balls out one by one through a small slit, but that was for a castration and they wanted the sac to heal up afterward.  That's not what I have in mind, so I'm making the slit longer.  I'm gonna split him all the way..."

He paused in his narration, focused on his work.  Matt hung, suffering, his wrists on fire, his arms and chest straining, his lacerated back scraping the wood, his legs beginning to tire, and with a constant sense of fullness in his ass that made him try over and over to expel the blockage.  His scrotum felt strange, but really it was just a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the agony he was experiencing.

"There, look, the right one just slipped out," CJ announced.  "The slit goes all the way from front to ba... oh, there's Lefty!  Oh, that is so... sweet."

"Not a lot of blood," Grier remarked.  "Nice work."

"Look how low they're hanging!  They're halfway to his knees!"

"They look like, jeez, like chicken thighs."

"Yeah," said CJ.  "They've each got their own separate membrane, that's what hold the nutmeat in.  Then this thin little cord, well, not all that thin, really, connecting it to his body, and that's all that's holding them on... oh, jeez..."

A shadow loomed in front of Matt's face.  It was CJ, who had climbed up on top of the stool, facing the crucified victim.  His breathing was ragged and it took Matt only a moment to realize why.

"Dang, he's gonna shoot all over the vic's balls!"

"Aw... fuuuuuuuunnngghhhh...", CJ groaned in Matt's ear.

Seconds later, Matt felt it.  CJ's semen sprayed out of his whole, intact cock and onto Matt's destroyed one, also splattering across his uncovered balls, mingling with the blood that covered them.  CJ's moans were high-pitched, almost girl-like, as he lost himself in his orgasm.  A ragged cheer went up from the others.

Eventually he shuddered to a stop.  He grabbed Matt's balls, one in each hand, and squeezed.  Matt screamed.  CJ leaned in close.  "I think we can dig up two more nails from somewhere, can't we?" he asked Grier.

"Right here," Grier replied.

"Can I take a look before you nail them?"  The rest crowded around, each man groping at Matt's groin.  If it had been the only suffering he was enduring, Matt would have found it horrifying painful, but as things stood his crotch was just one singer in a very loud choir.

Then, suddenly, the pain got very much worse.  The round of fondling his naked balls was over; while he was distracted with other pains, CJ had brought the hammer down, shoving a nail through the meat of his right ball and skewering it to the wood of the upright.  He jumped, all thought of the agony in his arms and legs forgotten, desperate to reach down and undo the trauma he had just received.  For a moment, he thought he had actually succeeded in pulling his arms off the wood and was reaching down to cradle his destroyed testicle.  Then realized it was just an illusion.  His mind was playing tricks on him; he remained as trapped as ever.  CJ lined up the other nail on his left ball and pounded it home.  Matt screamed again, all rational thought lost.

After that, he lost track of time.  There was only pain, pain from one end of the universe to the other.  Every inch of his body hurt.  He could spare no attention to the words or actions of the vague man-shaped blobs around him as they stroked and sucked their various organs.  All he could do was the dance of the cross, his body running on auto-pilot, wholly independent of his mind as it tried to find the one impossible position that would ease the agony.  He rose on his legs; he dropped to hang from his arms.  His back scraped the wood and his nailed balls were stretched and yanked with every motion he made.

The voices around him rose and fell; bodies made wet slapping noises; occasional extra pains, as from a lash or a fist or a clamp, buffeted him; but mostly he just hung and suffered, suffered and hung.  It went on for hours.  Days.  Years.

He began to despair that it would never, ever, ever end.



Chapter 24 - In which a further revelation is unveiled


"Matt!  Matt!  Come on, boy, stay with me here!  Mattie!  Yoo-hoo!"

What was this?  Who was trying to pull him back to life?  It had been so comfortable where he was, so peaceful, and now someone wanted him to leave that wonderful place?  He fought to resist, to stay, but it was as if his soul were being sucked through a tunnel and then, suddenly, he was back on the cross, in a dark cell full of men who wanted more than anything his suffering.

"You back?  Yes, you're back.  There we go!  Hey, Mattie, glad you could join us."

From some reserve of stamina he didn't know he possessed, Matt summoned enough energy to whisper, "Go... to... hell..."

"Hey, before you check out again, I just wanted to let you know the plan.  Wouldn't want you to die out of the loop, y'know?  It's your body, after all.  So here's what's going to happen.  After you are definitely, solidly, totally past the point of being able to feel pain, my buddies and I are going to open up the veins in your legs and drain your blood out.  Then we're going to fire up these space heaters here.  I've got four of them, and we're going to aim them at various parts of your body.  The goal is to mummify you.

"I feel so lost here, working in uncharted territory.  I mean, I've never preserved a body before.  I have no idea how to do it, and neither do any of my buddies here.  But we've got the net to help us fumble our way through, and common sense.  So the idea is we want to dry you out as much as we possibly can, right?  Get rid of all the moisture in your tissues.  Then what's left should stay un-decomposed, right?"

Matt's head was swimming.  He tried to tune out Grier's voice.  He had spent months having to listen to the man's irritating drivel while being tortured by him... surely it was not too much to ask that now, at last, at the very end, he could be spared another soapbox speech?

Apparently not.  "Only here's the thing... your head keeps drooping down.  It's nice from a oh-look-he's-exhausted-himself perspective, but artistically, it just doesn't work.  See, I want to preserve your body as a work of art, a showpiece to act as a point of interest here in the cell.  Some dungeon decor, as it were.  But Mattie, you gotta keep your head up!  If it's dangling down with your chin on your chest, we can't see the expression on your face!"

"So sorry... asshole," Matt whispered.  Or thought he did.

"Well, I've got a fix for that, thanks to Dave.  He came up with the suggestion that we should drill a hole through the back of the cross, right behind your head.  Then a slightly smaller hole in your skull, lined up with the first one.  Then just thread a bolt through with a washer on it, get it nice and tight in your skull, and voila!  Problem solved!

"So... get on... with it..."

"Yeah, we will, but I was worried if we drill into your brain, you might not be able to comprehend why I was doing it.  I wanted to tell you now so I could be sure you'd understand.  So we'll go ahead and start drilling, and you can just keep right on suffering a while longer.  Take your time, there's no rush.  You're doin' great, buddy!  Isn't he doing great, guys?"

There was a chorus of cheers.  Matt felt the muscles in his face twisting, wholly independent of any effort from him, shifting into an unfamiliar expression.  It was a sensation he hadn't felt in... he couldn't remember how long it had been.  The corners of his mouth were turning upward... he was... smiling?  He hadn't smiled in so long he had forgotten what it felt like.  And then a laugh, just a tiny one, bubbled up from somewhere in his pain-wracked chest.

"Matt?" Grier asked.  "You seem amused by something?"

"Your toy... broke... for good... now."  Every word cost him an ocean of effort to get out, but it was worth it.

"Hmm?  Yes, I know.  Or you will be soon."

Grier wasn't understanding him.  He tried again.  "No more... Matt... to play... with."  A pause, then another monumental effort.  "I... win."

Grier's reaction was not what Matt had expected.  He thought there would be, well, if not mourning, at least some hint of sadness that he wouldn't have a live-in victim to torment at will any longer.  But instead Grier said, in a soft and curious voice, "What did you say?"

He croaked the words out again.  "I... win."

There was a long pause.  "Oh, Matt," Grier finally said.  He sounded as smugly satisfied as a cat.  "Thank you.  Just when I thought I couldn't possibly break you down any more than I already have, you give me another opportunity.  Oh, I can hardly bear to disillusion you so quickly, I'd love to draw this out but let's face it, you're not going to last much longer.  You think this is the end?  Matt, that is so sweetly naive!"

What the hell was he talking about?

"I honestly thought you understood.  I mean, we talked about this when you first arrived, but I guess it was all too new to you and it didn't register.  You are Matthew Beaurvelais the Twenty-Third, right?"

Yes.

"You were assigned to me as PRJ punishment for the murder of my daughter Lakeesha."

Right.  So?

"But remember?  I lost my husband and son to your bomb, too.  So that means... ?"

He paused, clearly expecting Matt to fill in the blank.  Fuck him.  Matt couldn't figure out why that should matter.  Eventually Grier explained, as to a child.

"That means I'm entitled to two more Matties!  As it turns out, I'm scheduled for numbers 32 and 34 - they were assigned by random draw to everyone except your ex-wife, who gets the last one if she wants it.  The court's web site tells me that #32 should be ready in about six months, and #34 a few weeks after that.  I'll get to have two of you to play with at the same time!  Imagine the possibilities!"

Matt's heart sank.  So that's why he wasn't bothered by Matt's impending death - he would get to start all over with a fresh, undamaged, brand-new pair of copies of Matt's mind, body, and soul.  Consumed though he was at his own despair, Matt found his heart grieving for men he would never meet, but who were nevertheless intimately tied to him by a bond deeper than even twins could share.  The pain they would endure, the agonies they would suffer... it was almost over for him, but their torment was yet to begin.

Grier kept droning on, but the words grew fuzzier and fuzzier in Matt's mind.  "The first thing they'll see when they get here, of course, will be your body - their body - desiccated ... nails ... scarred face ... hanging from a cross ... imagine what they'll think?  How would you have felt? ...  not all, it gets better ... popularity of the videos ... people who actually want me to be a consultant!  It's like my dream job ... actually hire me to think of ways to torture their Matties!  ... maybe even have me do it for them... outsource the PRJ ... could be the start of a whole industry here ..."

The words faded away, along with the rest of the room.

Though he could no longer have put it into words, Matt felt it when the drill bit entered the back of his head.  He felt the twisting of the metal threads as they ground into the bone.  He felt the strange stiffness of his neck, the paralyzing immobility that came from having his skull bolted to the wood.

Eventually, he no longer felt anything at all.  But it took a long, long time to get there.



Epilogue


Matt felt at first as if he were waking from sleep.  There was the sensation of swimming through glass, of bright colors erupting in vivid flashes just beyond the edges of his vision, of huge dark shapes looming up behind him unseen, only to scatter into sparkling dust motes when he turned to look.  In the way of dreams, he hung suspended in a vast ocean and yet he could breathe the clear water easily.  The ocean was mostly warm and pleasant, and as time passed he learned to recognize the dark, terrifying shapes for what they were: constructions of his own mind that had the power to frighten him but nothing more.

What happened to me?  An accident?  An injury?  A disease?  He tried to remember what his last thought was from before.  Nothing came at first, but then, like the opening of a flower, the memories came flashing back all at once, all jumbled together, the cheerful receptionist, the efficient techs, the MRI-like scanning machine, and he knew:

He had been restored from backup.