The First Age

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The chair was a throne. Comfortable. Padded. His weight sank heavy. The skin on his face sagged. His blood was sluggish, pooling in his feet. Lids lowered. The room fell dark. His mind fuzzed with static. When Marcus addressed him, a jolt shot through his brain. Ryker startled, eyes flaring hot and wide. The few seconds of sleep was briefly invigorating. His willpower was rubbed raw. He didn’t care about games. Didn’t care about winning. Survive. That was the end. Survive. Evade. Escape.

His voice was raw and raspy. Forced from someplace empty. “I didn’t want to. I wasn’t going to. Could have done it at Almaz. Didn’t. Could do it any time. Too busy. Then she did to me what I do to Brandon,” as he spoke, his voice slurred like he was drunk.

“She wanted it. She wanted the pain. Sick bitch.”

As he swayed in his seat, his eyes closed once more, sleeping straight up.
Marcus kept his face smooth as his mind switched gears- all pleasure at Ryker's broken demeanor vanishing- and processed what he said. The man seemed delirious and out of it, but through the haze, the words provided the clues. As if of its own volition, a mentat projection began, a vortex drawing in every related piece of data: Ryker's service in the US, his capture in Ohio, the meltdown, the burns on his face; an apparent pardon that had to come from Ascendancy himself; his appearance at the the Ball; Oriena and her games; the Almaz and her keeping Giovanni in her thrall; the Grand Ball and her possession by the Ijiraq; the barbed words designed to whipsaw back and forth, yanking people this way and that, trying to get a rise; his first time touching the Force- a Jedi mind trick.

Multiple projections spun out.

Projection 1: Ryker had been pushed to attack Oriena by her use of the power.
Projection 2: Ryker had been in Ohio neat the time of the meltdown. The scars on his face were a result. The CCD and the Ascendancy had been behind the collapse.
Projection 3: Ryker knew where the "bodies lay" but was too valuable or dangerous to merely disappear.
Conjecture: Ryker had used the Force on Ascendancy and had been pardoned.

That last intrigued him. Ascendancy was a merely a man, for all his power. He could die, could be killed even. Marcus had watched him nearly die. It was too soon, yet, for that to happen. But...Ryker had an influence on him, at least of a sort. He could prove to be a useful tool. It would be a one off and thus all the more valuable. It had to count, if and when it came time to use him.

He stifled the exciting possibilities that began to pop up in his mind. Ryker was indeed far more important then he had realized. Which meant Marcus had to own him, body and soul.

Kindness and compassion appeared on Marcus' face and he leaned forward a fraction. A touch of warmth entered his voice. It had to be subtle. The man was open and weak. Too strong and it would set off suspicions. "I am sorry you are suffering Ryker. I cannot release you, not yet. But perhaps..." a hint of a smile, as if shared only briefly and only to him. He waved a guard over. "Please allow Mr. Petrovic to have a night of peace. And a meal." The guard nodded once and then left.

Marcus nodded in satisfaction before looking back at Ryker, observing carefully. Just like that. So simple. A small act of compliance and a big reward. Nevermind that Marcus was the reason for his suffering. No, what mattered was that Ryker saw that Marcus made the suffering go away.

After a moment, he frowned and looked thoughtful. "Tell me about Ms. Ruseyev. Why do you think she wanted you to attack her?" It was designed to distract him, of course. But she also intrigued him. He wasn't sure she was a tool or not. A good one, anyway, had to be predictable, and she seemed anything but.

Well, that wasn't true, actually. She was predictable in her unpredictability. Chaos. As such, she still could be useful. In any case, it was worth thinking about.
The world fell quiet as Ryker dozed in and out of consciousness. Only the mention of a hot meal fluttered his eyelids. However, Marcus dangled the carrot and took it away. Dropping in Ryker’s lap a far less tempting morsel. Why was he so obsessed with Oriena? Ryker could probably figure it out if he gave even half a rat’s ass.

“Fuck if I know. Revenge? Attention? Distraction? Maybe she’s into that bondage shit and can’t afford the classy places. Got any better ideas?”

He swayed in his seat and dozed again.
Marcus hid a grimace. Ryker was having trouble concentrating. He'd expected something like it, of course. The studies he'd read- especially the classified stuff- painted a true horror picture. Minds broken beyond repair. Violent and uncontrollable. Those early Soviet doctors had had to put down most of their subjects, with the exception of those few kept for longer studies.

None of them were alive now, though. This was Marcus' first exposure to it in person. It did pique his interest. His days as avenging angel were over. He knew that. The lack of any comment from Malik only served to cement that fact. His old life was well and truly over.

Still, for those who needed it, it could be useful. He filed that away.

The matter at hand. Ryker. The man had drifted off again. Very likely, he would not remember their speaking moments ago. The man had to know him as friend and savior. Owner.

He seized the force, weaves for the Jedi mind trick forming. He learned forward, hand on Ryker's- the first touch of human kindness he'd have felt in what had to have seemed months- and spoke quietly but insistently, threads of the Force lacing through his words and into the man's brain. "Ryker. Wake up. I came to help you."

The timing was spot on. The squeak of the door announced the guards return- that and the smell of food wafting from the tray. Marcus had eaten but in this place, even he had felt hungry. He smiled, looking genuine. "Ryker, I have food."

He waited for the man to come to.

[[Up to you whether the weave works. Also the food choice is yours.]]
His groggy gaze found the consul. Ryker was obviously delirious with a glaze across his eyes thicker than blood. Yet he kept his attention on the handsome face across the table. Marcus was young, so young. But a menace emanated like shadows. Ryker grit his teeth, wanting to dismiss the other channeler with all his might, but instead, he could not look away. The pat on the hand curled a sour taste up his arm. The disdain was writ plain on Ryker’s face, although the reason was unclear.

Food was presented, and Ryker managed to put some in his mouth, spilling some down his shirt as he devoured it.

After some time, he finally spoke. "What do you want with me?"
Marcus stifled a sense of frustration as the man seemed to shake off his weave. He knew it was petty. The man might be bending but he was not broken. Reading between the lines of his jacket, interrogation resistance was likely part of his training. Add his Force abilities and the will it required, well it was only expected.

Time. It would just take time. He relaxed and leaned back, giving the man space and leave to eat ravenously. To his question, "I want you to be someone we can rely on, Ryker. Simple as that. As to whether that happens...." he trailed off.

He stood slowly. "Enjoy your meal Ryker. I will visit again."

On his way out, he left instructions with the guard. "Two days, give him food- not prison swill, mind- and plenty of it.. And let him sleep. Then..." he paused, unable to help to small smile that formed on his face. Then.. start it over again. No sleep. Little food. Solitary. Keep it up until I come again."

Let him marinate. Marcus had other things do occupy him in the meantime.
The days blurred for Ryker. He pulsed from sick one moment to furious the next. But not even his hatred for this place and these people gave him the energy to put up more than a pathetic fight. Eventually, the fight ran out and he just waited. Maybe something broke. Probably something important, but he didn't care. To breathe was inhaling fire. To drink was to swallow nails. His sole consolation was the isolation. In the larger confinement rooms, he didn't stand a chance.
The days after their trip into the tunnels blew by. Every waking hour was filled with Neverending meetings, papers to read, reports to go over, decisions to make, and more. It would be two o'clock before he had a moment to eat. A hurried meal later, and he would be back at it.

Seven or eight o'clock rolled around before he would leave the Consulate. It was less frequent, but he did try to hit the gym a couple times a week. At least his new position came with perks. Having a meal prepared and ready for him made it easier, in some ways. He'd get home, eat, do more work, and then be in bed by 11.

Sleep was hard to come by. His mind was filled and raced. Once or twice, he'd had a few drinks to help- and they did, to an extent. He fell into a deep sleep. But in the morning he paid for it.

I few words to a doctor on his staff and he had a prescription for a mild sedative, which seemed to help- enough anyway. Well, that and putting on music or a TV show he'd seen enough times that he didn't need to pay attention. A stationary bike for his mind. Between the two, sleep was better.

He did notice that he looked thinner than usual. His jawline and cheekbones was sharper than normal. Somehow, days had turned into weeks. All blurring together so that time seemed to have no meeting.

It was only a chance meeting that brought Ryker to his mind again. A strategy meeting with the head of Domovoi concerning the threat of rogue force users in civilian neighborhoods. That in and of itself, was a normal and necessary concern, deescalation and elimination of dangers.

But the footage the chief had brought in to quarterback with him and his staff had been of Ryker and that woman. He recognized her from the party so long ago. And from the Almaz before that. Dark smokey eyes that promised- promised!- danger. He felt that pull, once again, from the glimpses from the various cameras and lenses that caught the fight that night. 

He could track her down. It would be easy enough for someone in his position. But he rather preferred to catch glimpses of her. If it was important to his path, then and only then, would he meet her again. 

The memory of those hate and fire filled eyes tucked neatly away, he found it was another face that pulled at him- for a different reason, this time.

Ryker. The man was in a place few wanted to speak about. Ascendancy had wanted him brought to heel, fully pliant and obedient. Marcus wasn't sure this was the way to go about it. Horrific conditions had a way of breaking people or filling them with such despair, resentment or hate they could never be trusted- either to get the job done or to keep controlled. 

If the stay was to have an effect, it would have happened by now. That is, any further incarceration their would be pointless.

Marcus decided another angle would be used. What that was, he wasn't sure. He'd have to visit and assess the man first.

Strangely, despite his destination, he felt excitement as he drove away from the buildings and offices that had become his universe for the last few months. The change in scenery alone was worth it. He resolved that regardless of his work load, he'd have to take time off periodically, to reset- to read what he wanted, the indulge in what he desired, and to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

What was the point of seeking power if you didn't get to enjoy it?

The driver stopped and he snapped out of his reverie, pulling focus around him like a cloak. The guard let them through and soon the vehicle was stopped. The door opened and he stepped out. 

The air smelled of darkness, though how that actually worked, he didn't know. Their was a weight to the atmosphere. Strong dark emotion tangled up the Force, it seemed. He hadn't felt it before. Perhaps the baseline his routine had set made the change more noticeable.

There was definitely a swirling of something sinister here. Or perhaps it was his imagination. Seizing the Force, he sent out tendrils of spirit, tasting the environs. The sensation was...ephemeral.

He did not let the Force go as he was led into the prison again, clenched his jaw to ignore the enhanced smells he could now taste, the squeals of rusted metal hinges that whined in his ear and clear grime and rot that seemed to be everywhere.

This place needed a fire to cleanse it. He felt a small burning in his stomach, that dark hunger stirring at the thought of purging flames and destruction. It had lain dormant for a while, too. 

Yes, he'd take time off and let himself satiate that hunger. He could be Malik for a little while.

Later, though. For now, he needed to be Marcus- distant, but not cold. Ryker would be brought to him. And then he would decide how to proceed.
When Ryker was led into the room, he was a willing participant in the walk. Despite the scars on his face, he was in quite healthy shape otherwise. No bruises were apparent. No cuts welted red. Yet he shuffled his feet like his legs were lead and thudded into the chair. It felt like a throne for all the comfort it gave his back. He hadn’t the luxury of something like chairs in longer than he could remember.

With that, he knuckled the low of his spine and stretched in a good arc. Just stretching was enough to make him yawn. A thick stubble of pale growth fuzzed half his jaw. The scarring remained hairless down his throat. His hair hung long, oily points into his eyes. The prison jump suit was baggier than when he first put it on.

Eventually, he rolled his gaze upward. There was no apparent recognition in his chalky stare. After some moments, lips flaked with dead skin parted a gravelly voice.
“You can rely on me,” was all that sputtered out.
Marcus studied the man as he shuffled in, the quiet unease only deepening. His concern about breaking was only heightened. Gone was the arrogance and bluster, the confidence and defiance. His cheeks seemed hollow and gaunt, his eyes sunken.

Honestly, it surprised him. A few weeks, a month even, here should not have produced this. His gaze hardened as he looked at the guard who had brought Ryker in. He was going to have to speak to the commandant in charge of this place. He had wanted the man pliant, not broken. Bendable, not listless.

Something flickered in the pit of his stomach, though, as he looked closer at the guard. Seizing the Force brought the man's face to him more clearly. The same hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. He cast his mind back to his entry. He had only looked at them enough to communicate. Now, replaying the memory he saw the same.

That sickly feel in his stomach grew and he pulled on the Force, casting tendrils of spirit out. The lights of the examination room were bright- cold and cruel. Yet the feel of darkness, of filth remained. 

Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw movement. There was nothing there. 

He looked again at Ryker and the guard, pursing his lips, thinking. 

"Has anything odd happened here since I saw you last?"
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