It took some doing to convince the hospital staff to let them accompany Mr. Vankar, but they managed to get across the idea that Zane was his cousins. A few chits helped get the idea across with a bit more speed.
It took maybe another two hours to get him stabilized to a point where he even had enough energy to talk to them. Jayna was sitting next to him when he was finally able to wake up.
Chuck looked blearily at her. He tried to say something, and coughed instead. He had to take a few breaths before going on.
“J… Jayna?” he managed. Then he let out a pained chuckle. “What am I saying, who else would it be at that size.”
“Very funny, old timer,” she said, managing a tired smile. “You must be exhausted. Here, let me get you something to drink.”
He nodded gratefully, accepting the water she offered him. “Did Ash send you?” he said.
“No. Ash didn’t even know. ” Jayna said after a moment, trying not to let her frustration show. “Do you know where he is?”
He coughed again, then looked uncomfortable. “I… don’t know,” he said.
There was more he wanted to say, Jayna was sure. But he seemed hesitant.
“I’m assuming that whatever happened to you is because of Ash. I’ve flown with Ash for years… and if he’s in danger I have to go find him and help him.”
“…Shut the door,” said Chuck. Jayna did so. He closed his eyes and took a breath. “The Brotherhood has him,” he said. “God help him.”
Jayna frowned. “What brotherhood?”
Chuck looked at her, his eyes wide. “You mean he didn’t…. he didn’t tell you?”
Jayna felt her heart drop into her stomach. “Tell me what?”
Chuck looked away. Jayna leaned in and loomed over him. Jayna, as a general rule, tried not to loom, but some circumstances called for it.
“The… the Brotherhood of Preservation,” he said.
She leaned back. “I’ve… heard of that name before… aren’t they the ones that just… blow up everything?”
Chuck nodded, deflating. “Yes. They want to keep the people in charge of each planet, instead of them being swallowed up by mega-corporations.”
She frowned. “What does that have to do with Ash?”
Chuck sighed. “I’m going to need more water. This may take some time.”
Ash was tied to a wall. And he was in pain. His head was throbbing. It was, all things considered, not the worst pain he could be in.
No, that would be coming later.
Of course it was a trap. He should have known. Ash, you fucking moron.
But then again, it’s not like he wouldn’t have gone anyway. For Chuck, he would have crawled across a mile of sandpaper naked. But he would have at least come more heavily armed.
The familiar tapping of feet in heavy work boots began to approach again. Ash looked up at a figure he had never hoped to see again. She was thick and stout, with features that could only be called “striking.” And she had struck down oh, so many over the years.
“Hello, Ashton,” she said, in a voice thick as honey, dripping with amusement and contempt in equal measure. “It’s been a long time.”
“Hello, Katrina,” grumbled Ash. Of course. Who else would it be. “I wish it would’ve been much, much longer.”
Katrina laughed. Then she punched him in the kidney.
“Credit where it’s due,” she said. “You disappeared admirably.”
A blossom of pain shot up between his eyes, blinding him for a moment as he slumped against the ropes. But they were tied well. They tightened as he struggled.
“Is there a special patch I get for that?” he asked after he could see again.
“And still as witty as ever,” she said, shaking her head. “Some things never change, hm?”
“If I don’t have my sense of humor, then what do I have, really?” he said, looking up again and slowly rising to her feet. “So what, you’re just going to kick me until all my organs are shot and then kill me? That seems… kind of unoriginal.”
“Well, what can I say?” said Katrina, pacing up and down the room. “I’m a big fan of the classics.” She scooped up a length of pipe and slung it over her shoulder. “You know, as much as I’m going to enjoy this, part of me still stings a bit. We were like brother and sister once, and you hurt me deep.”
Ash had seen her take out bigger men than him with that kind of weapon. He needed to do something. He closed his eyes for a moment, rattling around what little sense he had left and relied on his biggest weapon. His mouth.
“I’m still surprised they thought you could handle the job. Did you ever move up the ranks… or are you still just Leon’s grunt monkey?”
The pipe impacted his side. Yep, there went at least one rib.
“Don’t you dare speak his name,” she said, her tone suddenly cold. “He taught you everything you know, and thanks to your betrayal, he’s rotting in the deepest pits of some poker hellhole!”
Well… that didn’t work like he expected. He took a deep breath, trying to see if it had punctured a lung. Not yet. Cool… good start.
“So who are you taking orders from now then?” he rasped. “If they have grievances with me, should you really be assaulting me like this? They’re not going to be able to get anything good out of me if you break my jaw.”
“I’ll have you know that I’m now the head of all of our Enlil Sector operations,” she said, demeanor shifting instantly. “Admittedly, this is a little out of the way, but I volunteered.” She cradled his jaw. “And, get anything out of you? Sweetie, what do you think you’re doing in here? The only thing we’re hoping to get out of you is screams.”
“Maybe for you,” said Ash. “But you didn’t come here alone. You wouldn’t commit this many resources to a petty vendetta. You’re up to something.”
She sighed, clicking her tongue dismissively. She gently tapped him on the head with the pipe. “Oh, Ashton,” she said. “You’re stalling. Hoping that your oh so sharp wits will get you out of this one.” Her gaze sharpened, and she grasped him around the throat, forcing him to meet her eyes. “You’re going to die here, Ashton. And it won’t be soon. The Brotherhood took you under its wing when you had nothing at all, not even hope. We gave you something to live for. We gave you a family. And there can be no forgiveness for what you did.”
If Ash were a dumber man, he would have said something like. ‘My giant amazon buddy is going to crush you like a grape,’ or, ‘my crazy best friend is probably going to shoot you between the eyes and then we’ll go out for ice cream afterwards.’ Or even something like ‘watch out for the little one, she’s mean and scrappy.’ But he knew better.
He also wasn’t sure if they’d even arrive in time to actually save him.
So Ash smiled at her. “I know that. But it’s still nice to see my odds laid out plain,” he murmured.
She released his neck. Then she patted him on the cheek.
This was followed by a jab in the solar plexus.
“By all means, keep talking,” said Katrina. “It’ll make this so much more satisfying.”
Then she headbutted him in the face, and Ash’s vision went blurry.
After that it was hard to determine what he was being hit with. There were so many options and by the time Katrina stepped backwards to take a breath. Ash could taste the blood in his mouth and feel a thousand different nerve endings alight with pain.
He was dimly aware of another person’s presence in the room. “Let’s give him a rest now,” said Katrina’s voice, and it sounded like she was speaking from the other end of a long tunnel. “If we keep it up too long, he’ll just start tuning out the pain.”
“Do you want us to give him anything?”
“No, absolutely not. Let’s talk in the other room.”
Two pairs of footsteps left the room, and a heavy door was shut and locked.
Ash relaxed, but only a little. Relaxing hurt. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. Trying to stay conscious was a struggle, so eventually he just… stopped struggling.