Beginning: Möbius rose

Instantly, a tingle ran through my body, a wash of pure need standing every hair on end. My saliva glands started pumping. The handcuff chains rattled as my hands began to tremble.

"We'll make this even simpler. You think the withdrawal's bad so far? It's been less than a day since you were off it. Just wait. It gets worse."

He grinned maliciously. I curled my hands into fists and tried to block out the sound of his voice, but my mind remained painfully attentive.

"Did you know the absolute maximum dosage period, even in the worst cases of Suey Sung's Disorder, is three months? There's a reason for that. Kepefrin is addictive enough as is, but with the amount of time you've been on it, the stuff's absolutely sadistic. See, here's the thing, as long as we keep you fairly healthy, you won't die. For years. And the symptoms don't decrease with time. If anything, they amplify. You're in for quite the ride."

He unlocked his briefcase, slowly, and took out a dull orange bottle. He set it at the center of the table. It took my absolute concentration to restrain myself from lunging at it.

"Unless you help us. In which case, we'll make sure you never have to feel like this again. And what's more, we'll get you off it. Hellishly difficult in medical terms, but more than worth the payoff."

I tore my eyes from the bottle to stare at him skeptically. He shrugged.

"I'm not an interrogator, Ben. That's a whole 'nother department. This is what I've been told to offer. I'm not being paid enough to give a shit whether you accept or not. I won't lose any sleep over it either way. If you wanna be an idiot, knock yourself out, but do it for a better reason than just to spite me."

He was feigning disinterest poorly; his nervous fidgeting betrayed his words. But I could barely spare a thought for him. Everything hinged upon the bottle. My mind was jammed up, completely paralyzed. It was impossible to refuse. Then I recalled Naomi's face, at that moment, when she began to truly believe the drug was my most important concern above all else. How hard I had tried to find a way to make it up to her, to prove it was not. As if it was the easiest thing in the world, the decision was made. No doubts. No regrets.

"Take that goddamn bottle and shove it up your ass, Eugene," I snarled, flooding with a sickly sweet mixture of relief and despair. He stood absolutely still, mouth open, thoroughly shocked. Then the expression faded into something approaching sadness. My satisfaction curdled into worry.

"I really, really wish you hadn't said that. Honestly. You're an unmitigated asshole, Ben, but she's definitely not. Pretty nice, in fact." He pulled something else out of his briefcase. I averted my eyes. I did not want to see it. "We apprehended Naomi Koyabu two days ago. Look at the picture, Ben."

I shook my head. "You're lying."
"Look at it."

"I don't care, you could've doctored it."


I finally opened my eyes. There she was. Flaming red hair, bright eyes, petite elven nose, and that mouth. Slightly downturned. Almost as if she was about to cry. Across the bottom of the picture was her serial number.

"They'll kill her, Ben. It's not my choice. You're both liabilities."

"You fucking made that picture up."

"And if I didn't? You want proof, that's all you're gonna get. I don't have time to stage a meeting. As soon as I walk out that door, I'm supposed to go straight to the boss's office. He's been impatient enough just waiting for you to wake up. Of course, he won't mind giving over an extra cell to watch you writhe, he's that kind of guy, but there's no reason to keep her around. If the answer's 'no', that's it. End of story. We need you, Ben, but we don't need you that much. And she's just taking up space."

He stared intently at my downcast face. "Please don't make me do this. Whatever you may think, I'm not a monster. It's not gonna give me any pleasure to deliver a death sentence, especially for someone who's not even involved. You need to make a decision. Now."

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