Darkness, blacker and denser than the heart of a black hole enveloped Toliver. He thought he blinked his eyes, but there was no reference, no way to compare. He could not feel his body below his neck, but his mouth felt stuffed with worms. Part of him thought he should gag, but it just seemed too unimportant. His mind drifted in the unknowable dark until he again lost awareness.
Toliver stared down from a vast distance at a featureless landscape; a wet-looking expanse whose color might generously be described as tan. He blinked, blinked again, and everything came slowly into focus. He raised his head and looked around him. Why, he wondered, was he seated near the end of a long table amongst a pitiful collection of drooling old men and women? All around, he saw blank faces with rheumy, unfocused gazes and snot and food caked around their mouths and on their clothes. Mismatched vessels containing some dun-colored slop sat before each as they desultorily moved the vile concoctions to and mostly into their mouths. Toliver looked down and saw the same before him, his ancient-looking hand clutching a tarnished malformed spoon.
What the hell, he thought, what the fuck?
This wasn’t right. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t look like this. His pushed back from the table. His chair scraped and his spoon clattered to the floor. Red-faced and panting in anger, he hurled the tub of slop against the wall.
Suddenly, the roomed swarmed with *Minibots®, cleaning the mess Toliver had made and checking the room for other debris. A stout, middle-aged woman scuttled into the room from a door Toliver hadn’t seen. She appeared so unremarkable he could no longer see her in his mind’s eye. She scurried crabwise to where he stood.
“Oh, dear,” she said. “You’ve lost your supper. Shall I bring you some more?”
“More,” Toliver yelled. “Why the fuck would I want more?”
Silence wrapped the room like a shroud, the poor women before him cringing and wringing her hands. The Minibots® halted all activity mid motion. Even the lack wits and alzies froze in place. The invisible door opened again and a tank of a bot rolled into the room.
“Such language shall not be tolerated,” the bot proclaimed in stentorian tones.
“I’m sorry,” Toliver said as the bot floated to him. “There’s been a mistake.”
“Silence,” the bot boomed even louder. You are not to speak, only to listen. You are for the board.”
“Really, I….” That was as far as Toliver had gotten when the tazer charge hit him. He slid beneath the table, his body twitching.
Black pain. Someone had rammed a Datapique® into his forehead and through his brain. Worse, they hadn’t removed it. Darkness surrounded him. He’d been strapped to something hard; he could feel the straps around his neck and ankles. He started to rub his eyes, which burned despite the darkness, but his arms would move. In panic, he try to scream. His voice came out barely above a whisper. Something was horribly wrong.
The weak sound must have triggered something. Blinding light lanced his eyes. The pain in his head exploded like a supernova. Agony filled his body, his very being, until he was again swallowed by darkness.
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