Clipped Wings: Chapter 7

Dinnertime was the exact same as lunch. Sloan pulled Larkins back from the static by ordering her dinner from Bishop and then ate in front of her again before giving Larkins another glass of water. But this time Larkins found it more difficult to slip back into the static. There were two reasons. The first was her growing awareness of her body’s suffering. The alcohol and most of her sweat had dried a long time ago and the two glasses of water she had been given were nowhere near enough for the level of heat exposure she had suffered. The burn on her palm was no longer agonizing, but it was incredibly sore, and every muscle and bone in her body was stiff and aching from standing in a rigid posture for hours and not moving. She didn’t know how she was even standing.

The other reason was that the extent of Sloan’s torture became abundantly clear when immediately after finishing dinner, the sergeant cleared her desk of paperwork, picked up a magazine, lounged back in her chair with her feet up on her desk, and began to read. She was deliberately extending the punishment as long as she possibly could. Larkins wanted to be furious at her cruelty but she didn’t have the energy. She was too weak to be angry. All she wanted was a drink and sleep. She just wanted to close her eyes and drift away into the blackness forever.

Eventually the static returned again, gently carrying Larkins through the next several hours as she thought and felt nothing. After a long time, Sloan yawned and looked up at her. “I’m getting bored of this game, Larkins. It’s 2200. Time for you to go to bed.”

2200 hours. She had spent fifteen hours standing in one place, not moving. Fifteen fucking hours. An entire day gone from her life to Sloan’s abuse.

Sloan got up from her desk, saying, “At ease, Corporal.”

Larkins could barely stop the scream that tried to force its way out of her throat as she shifted positions and every part of her body protested against the movement. She winced and felt her limbs twitching involuntarily before she was able to steady them, barely able to keep standing as her legs threatened to buckle.

“So, did you enjoy the game, Larkins?” The sadistic smile was back as Sloan eyed her closely.

Please, no more fucking games. I can’t do this anymore. “Yes, ma’am,” Larkins said numbly, not even caring if it was the right answer or not.

“Of course you did. I bet you play lots of games just like it with all the partying you do. But Marines don’t act like you do, do they, Larkins? Do Marines party hard and get drunk on a regular basis? Do they disrespect their superiors and think they can get away with it?”

There was nothing Larkins could say beyond an exhausted “No, ma’am.”

“That’s right. Marines don’t act like you, Larkins.” Sloan’s voice was angry and accusing. “Which must mean you’re not a Marine. You’re not fit to wear the uniform. Hell, you’re not fit to polish a Marine’s boots with your tongue. Maybe spending some time as a civilian will refocus you and get your attention back on acting like a fucking Marine. If you want to act like a weak, undisciplined civvie, than I think we can accommodate that. So from now on, you’ve lost your uniform privileges until I say otherwise. When you get up every morning, you can put on your civvie clothes and wear them. Let’s show everyone what a failed Marine looks like walking around in civvie clothes. And when I think the lesson has finally penetrated through that steel skull of yours, you can put on the uniform again.”

Something dropped out of Larkins’ stomach. Sloan was taking away the one thing she could be proud of. It was worse than brig time. Worse than standing at attention for a full day. It was the ultimate humiliation. She wanted to protest but couldn’t find the words, and she knew she’d only be putting herself right in the line of fire again, so she remained silent.

“Now, let’s get you to bed. I’m going to walk you down and make sure you go straight there and don’t make any unauthorized detours. Let’s go, civvie.”

Sloan followed as Larkins weakly shuffled out of the office and down the hall, barely conscious. When they reached the women’s room, Collins, Reverdin, and Mathis were already there.

“Alright, Collins, you’re senior here, so I want to make a few things clear,” Sloan announced. “Larkins is still being punished. She’s to go straight to bed and not get up. You will not allow her to shower and you will not allow her to get a drink even if she asks for it. You will make certain she stays in her bed all night. Is that understood, Corporal?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Collins confirmed, casting a glance at Larkins, who was already stripping off her jacket and pants.

“Good. I’ll see you in the morning.” Sloan turned and strutted out.

“What the fuck did she do to you?” Reverdin asked the moment Sloan left.

Larkins ignored her, turning weakly to Collins. “Collins,” she said with the little bit of strength she had left, “You’ve got to help me. Please, I need… I need water. Just… just a little. I haven’t had anything to drink in the last four hours.”

“I can’t,” Collins shook her head firmly, beginning to unbutton her jacket. “You heard Sloan. Orders are orders.”

“Fuck orders!” hissed Larkins. “Fuck Sloan! Collins, please, please, just get me some water!”

Collins abandoned her buttons and lunged forward, grabbing Larkins by her shirt and shaking her. “You self-absorbed piece of shit, shut up and listen to me! Do you have any idea what Sloan would do to me if she caught me disobeying her orders?! You think you’ve got it bad but you don’t know a fucking thing about what she puts me through! As far as I’m concerned, you can just lay there and rot. If you could see past your own fucking nose, maybe you’d realize there are other people suffering here. Go the fuck to sleep. I don’t want to hear another sound out of you tonight.”

She released Larkins and whirled on Reverdin and Mathis. “That goes for both of you as well. If I catch either one of you bringing this piece of shit anything, I’ll make Sloan look like a fucking kitten by comparison. I’m not getting caught up in this shit. I want no part of it. What’s going on between Larkins and Sloan stays between them, and if I get dragged into it because of one of you two I swear you’ll never know peace again.”

She disappeared from sight as she dropped down into her bunk below Larkins. The pilot watched numbly as Mathis got into bed and immediately close her eyes, while Reverdin seemed much more reluctant to leave her suffering but eventually got into bed as well. Larkins couldn’t blame Collins. Couldn’t hate her. She knew why the other woman had behaved the way she did. Despite the accusations thrown at her, Larkins wasn’t so selfish that she couldn’t understand why Collins didn’t want to be caught up in Sloan’s wrath.

At least the torture was almost over. In the morning she could get up and get a drink. Everything would be somewhat better in the morning. Life might be bearable again. Even though she was still agonizingly sore and her head was still pounding, Larkins managed to relax and slowly drift off to sleep, hoping tomorrow would make everything brighter.

“Wakey wakey!” Larkins was jerked from sleep as Sloan rapped on the frame of the bed just inches away from her head. “Time to get up, Larkins. You’ve got work to do. Come on, get up, get dressed, and let’s go.”

Larkins pulled herself up, looking at the clock on the wall. 0630. Why was Sloan getting her up half an hour early? She got out of bed and began to get dressed, her entire body aching horrifically from her head to her feet. The effects of dehydration were beginning to hit more severely and she didn’t know how long she would be able to continue functioning. Forcing herself through the pain, she automatically reached for her jacket, but Sloan stopped her with a disapproving cough. Larkins flushed red as she remembered what Sloan had said the night before. Going into her locker, Larkins pulled out a set of her civilian clothing and her sneakers and put them on.

She followed Sloan down to the mess hall and was surprised to find Bishop wasn’t there. Usually the android would have started breakfast already.

“You’re up, civvie,” Sloan announced. “My Marines will be getting here in half an hour and they’re going to be hungry. Get cooking.”

Larkins stared at her disbelievingly. Was this what she was being reduced to? The lowest, most menial tasks in the entire Marine Corps? What was next? But all she said was, “Yes, ma’am,” and began hunting around the kitchen area for what she needed. The burn on her hand was a major hindrance, but she was able to figure everything out fairly quickly and actually managed to have the food cooked just as the other Marines began to arrive. Once everyone had served themselves, Sloan gestured for Larkins to get her own food. But when she sat down, ready to tear desperately into the food and drink her body was screaming for, she realized Sloan was sitting across from her. Great. More games. More torment.

“Alright, people, listen up,” Sloan called out. She pointed to Larkins. “I’d like to introduce all of you to Miss Larkins here. She’s a civvie who’ll be staying with us for a week or two while Corporal Larkins is away learning some valuable personal lessons. Miss Larkins will be taking on most of the day-to-day chores around the base while she’s here, so things are going to be a bit easier on all of you. You don’t need to worry about going to extra effort to make sure she feels welcome here. She’ll be polite and address each of you as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. Just make sure she does her job well and if you have any complaints or she doesn’t treat you with complete respect or address you appropriately, come to me. Miss Larkins, do you have anything to say to my Marines?”

Larkins wished she could sink under the table away from the mix of confused and amused expressions directed at her, and her cheeks burned hotter as she mumbled, “No, ma’am,” ducking her head down and trying not to cry.

“Alright then. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, once you’ve cleaned up after breakfast you can head to the bathrooms and clean them. When you’re done that you can start mopping the floors until it’s time to make lunch. After lunch you can finish the floors, take out the trash, and then come see me so I can give you your next tasks.”

Larkins bit her lip. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, you’re so polite,” Sloan joked. “So obedient and willing to comply. You’re much better than Corporal Larkins, Miss Larkins. I think you’ll do well here. Maybe we’ll just keep you around and get rid of Corporal Larkins entirely.”

There was nothing to say to that, so Larkins simply ate her food in shamed silence. When everyone had finished, Sloan looked around at each of them but Larkins before saying, “Alright, Marines, let’s head out for inspection. Miss Larkins, have fun with the clean-up while we’re out.”

She marched out of the room followed by the other Marines, leaving Larkins sitting at the table. When she was alone and the door had closed, Larkins covered her face with her hands and began to sob.

Larkins’ shame and hurt didn’t ease at all over the course of the day as she worked her way through the assigned chores. She ignored everyone whenever possible, although she heard some snide comments and mutters behind her back when the other Marines either didn’t care or thought she couldn’t hear. Why me? I’m probably the only one here who would put my life on the line for all of these motherfuckers, or any one of them at a time. What did I do to deserve being treated this way?

Eventually, she figured it out. Sloan knew her. The sergeant had known she would stupidly get drunk again after the first time. She must have somehow known what was really going on inside Larkins. How fake she was. Sloan must have seen through the lies that Larkins hadn’t even realized she was telling to herself. She was being punished for pretending to be something she wasn’t. She deserved the punishment. Maybe Sloan was right. Maybe someday the lesson would get through to her and she’d be able to pull herself together and be a better person. She should be grateful for the learning experience.

Larkins looked down at the mop in her hand. Grateful for being the fucking maid around here. Grateful for being humiliated, dragged down, and treated like trash too disgusting to even be stepped on. Yeah. Grateful.

The day passed and sleeping time came, bringing no relief to Larkins. She lay in bed wide awake, staring at the ceiling and continuing to berate herself for anything and everything she could think of. It never once occurred to her that she was hurting herself more than Sloan ever could.

The next few days were very much the same. Sloan woke Larkins up early every morning, and made her dress in civilian clothes and cook breakfast. From then on it was a toss-up as to what chores she’d be assigned, but every day Sloan came up with more than enough work for her. Larkins’ life became a blur of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and performing routine maintenance around the base. Most of the Marines ignored her, but Reverdin and Lucero actually seemed like they were trying to be nice. They were both better to her than any of the others and on the fourth day when Sloan stood over Larkins, who was kneeling on the floor scrubbing with a sponge, and rattled off a long list of new chores for her, she was sure she heard Lucero mutter some particularly harsh Spanish curses in Sloan’s direction after the sergeant walked off.

On the other hand, some of the other Marines took advantage of the situation. Visalli and Tasselis seemed to like finding excuses to make Larkins have to speak to them and call them “sir”. Mathis was less obvious, but Larkins could see an amused glint appear in her eyes every time she was forced to call her copilot “ma’am”, and she was sure on several occasions that she heard a barely-stifled giggle from the young woman as she walked away.

The most degrading part was being deprived of her uniform. It really did make Larkins feel like a civilian among Marines. It was like the career she had worked for so hard had never existed in the first place. She had never become a pilot. She had never been assigned to a unit of the most elite type of Marines ever to serve in the Corps. She was just a civilian nobody, and the sensation stung. Even things that were usually annoying, like standing in line for inspection, felt strange to not be a part of. She was on the outside looking in, and she had never realized until now just how important being part of the team was to her.

The treatment went on for over a week until Sloan finally called Larkins into her office at the end of the day. “Well, Miss Larkins, have you enjoyed your stay here with us?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Larkins replied smoothly, barely able to keep herself from clenching her teeth.

“Good. I know we’ve all loved having you here, but unfortunately all good things have to come to an end sooner or later. Tell me, do you think Corporal Larkins has learned the lessons I sent her away for? Is she ready to come back, put on the uniform, and act like the Marine she calls herself?”

That perked Larkins up a bit. This phase of the torment was almost over. She said eagerly, “Yes, ma’am, she is!”

“Good! In that case, you’re dismissed, Miss Larkins. I expect to see Corporal Larkins in the mess hall at 0700 tomorrow, just like always.”

“Yes, ma’am! Thank you, ma’am!” Larkins turned to leave, her spirits lifting. But as she reached the door, Sloan called out, “Oh, and Miss Larkins? As much as I’ve loved having you here, it would probably be better if we don’t have to bring you back. I might need to do something unfortunate to settle Corporal Larkins’ case permanently if that happens.”

“I understand, ma’am,” Larkins answered, even though a chill was running down her spine. She didn’t know exactly what that meant, and she didn’t want to. It was better to not think about it.

Her relief was short-lived, however. The next morning at inspection, Sloan stopped in front of Larkins, looked her up and down, and started right back in on the abuse. “Corporal Larkins, would you care to explain this?”

Larkins looked down as Sloan reached out and grabbed at a broken thread protruding from one of her jacket button holes. She cursed herself for not checking for it earlier. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ll get it fixed right away.”

“Yes, you will. But tell me, Corporal, do I need to be concerned? Have you really learned to respect this uniform, or are you just pretending? Do I need to bring Miss Larkins back permanently?” Sloan’s voice was harsh and grating on Larkins’ ears and after so many years of abuse culminating in the last few weeks of mistreatment, Larkins couldn’t hold back anymore. In full view of Sloan and everyone else in the entire squad, she burst into tears, sobbing loudly. This was it. She was giving up on all of it. No more.

Through the tears and sobs, she realized Sloan was laughing at her. The sergeant was nearly in hysterics as tears of her own streamed down her cruel face. But they were tears of laughter, not sorrow. “Well, Larkins,” the sergeant said loudly between laughs, “I guess this is what you’ve come down to! I don’t have to teach you any more harsh lessons! You’re teaching yourself! Let’s show everyone what a good, self-disciplined Marine you are! Come on, step up and face everyone. Let them see you.”

Still crying, Larkins stepped out of the line and took several paces forward and to the left before turning to face the others.

“Good. Now don’t stop crying, and no sniffling. Just stand there and snot yourself.” Sloan folded her arms and stood watching, continuing to laugh.

Larkins had no choice but to stand there crying in front of everyone else. They were seeing the one side of her she never wanted them to, and now they knew exactly how weak and pathetic she was. Tears and snot ran down her face in a disgusting mixture but she didn’t dare lift her hands to wipe her face as she continued crying, barely even able to stand. Sloan had broken her. The sergeant and her cruelty had won, and Larkins didn’t have the strength to resist anymore.

The tears kept coming for what seemed like hours until Sloan’s voice cut into her grief and pain. “Alright, I’m not amused anymore, Larkins. Turn the waterworks off. You’re all dismissed. Larkins, get that button fixed now, and then… do whatever the fuck you want. I don’t care anymore.”

No one said a word to Larkins or even looked at her as she pushed past all of them and fled inside, desperate to get away from everyone. She hid in the women’s bathroom until she was able to stop crying and then washed her face at the sink. The grief was being replaced with a simmering rage that was rapidly coming to a boil and she knew she needed to get to a place where she could be alone before the rage burst out of her. Forgetting all about the thread she was supposed to fix, Larkins exited the bathroom and took off running. She ran down the hall and out the main entrance, not slowing as she hit the dusty ground of the compound and dashed towards the Norman Scott in its dock. Still at full speed, Larkins raced up the stairs onto the dock and into the ship itself, heading for the hangar bay. She could be alone in the dropship cockpit and get herself under control there in the familiar, comfortable environment.

But when she arrived she found the hangar already lit up. Mathis was at work, inspecting the outside of the dropship. She looked up as Larkins slowed to a halt, saying hesitantly, “Hey, Larkins, I’m really sorry about earlier. Could you, um, could you help me? I-”

“Sorry?!” Larkins interrupted her. “Sorry?! I’ve got nothing to say to you, bitch. Leave me alone.”

She stalked up the dropship’s open ramp and into the cockpit, throwing herself down into her seat and rubbing at her face with her hands. She spent the next several minutes trying to calm herself down, but it was no good. She was too wired and agitated to calm down. She wanted to hit or break something. Anything. She couldn’t see Mathis but she could feel her presence as she worked around the dropship, and Larkins realized there was no way she could calm down with someone else around her. She would have to find somewhere else. Getting angrily back up to her feet, Larkins stalked out of the cockpit and almost slammed into Mathis as she was coming in.

“Larkins,” Mathis began defensively, “I’m really sorry to bother you, but I seriously need-”

It was Larkins’ second breaking point that day, but not one that brought tears. The rage that had been growing inside reached its boiling point at the other woman’s words, and Larkins let out a sound somewhere between a howl and a screech, screaming, “I said leave me the fuck alone!”

With all the energy and power her rage could give her, she drew her fist back and slammed it into Mathis’ stomach. Air rushed out of Mathis’ lungs and she collapsed to the floor with a shocked grunt. “Wha… what the fuck?!” she gasped, staring up at Larkins in agonized disbelief.

But Larkins wasn’t done. The rage had started pouring out and now it wasn’t going to stop. Grabbing Mathis, Larkins pulled her up and gave her a hard shove, sending her off the edge of the dropship’s cargo bay. Mathis slammed back-first onto the ramp with a cry of pain, but before she could get up, Larkins jumped down after her. She lifted her boot and stomped on Mathis’ stomach, all pity and caring gone as the rage overtook her. Then she dropped on one knee, grabbed Mathis’ jacket collar, pulled her up off the ramp, and punched her in the nose. Mathis cried out pitifully, but as Larkins prepared to punch her again she was suddenly tackled off the younger woman. She was slammed onto the ramp and found herself looking up at Sloan. The sergeant had her sidearm out, pointing it at Larkins as she roared, “Larkins, what the fuck do you think you’re doing!?”

Mathis was crying and gasping in pain, and Larkins saw Collins kneeling down to check the young woman.

“Answer me, you fucking piece of shit!” Sloan screamed at Larkins. “Who the fuck do you think you are to lay a hand on another Marine?! I’m so sick and tired of your shit, maybe I should just end this right now!” She jammed the muzzle of her M86 into Larkins’ mouth, forcing her lips aside until the tip of the gun clicked against the corporal’s teeth. “You want to live?! Beg! Fucking beg for it!”

Larkins froze, the rage abandoning her as it was replaced with sheer, overwhelming terror, leaving her completely mute. Sloan grabbed her by the collar with her free hand and shook her, still screaming, “Beg, bitch! Fucking beg!”

This was her chance to make it all end. Sloan would do it. She would pull the trigger and the bullet would punch through Larkins’ teeth and the back of her head. It would be too fast for her to even feel pain, and then it would all be over. All the suffering, all the agony would stop. It was time.

But it wasn’t the right way. If Larkins was going to die, she wanted to go out fighting on her feet. She couldn’t just lie down and take it. Mumbling around the gun still pressed up against her teeth, Larkins said softly, “Please don’t kill me, ma’am. I don’t want to die. Please.”

Sloan lifted her up off the ramp again by her jacket and then slammed her back down with a growl before holstering her sidearm. “You’re done, Larkins. I’m done with you. You’ve had it with this fucking unit. You’re out! Berkley’s coming out here tomorrow for inspection, and you’ll be leaving with him. I don’t know what he’s going to do to you for this, and quite frankly, I don’t give a shit! He can throw you in lockup for the rest of your life or just kick your ass to the curb on the spot for all I care!”

Sloan turned and stormed off, leaving Larkins staring after her in shock. The corporal turned to check on Collins and Mathis and saw the blonde corporal looking at her with an expression of fury as she helped Mathis up. “Don’t speak, Larkins,” she growled. “Not one fucking word or I swear I’ll blow your fucking brains out myself. Look what you did!” She pointed to Mathis, who was sobbing in pain, one hand over her stomach as she tried to use the other to stop the blood that was pouring from her nose. “You’re a worthless piece of shit and I have to say, if Sloan actually does get rid of you it’ll be the best thing that’s happened in this hellhole in years. Don’t fucking move. Just lie there until we’re gone. I’m done dealing with you.”

The tears began to fall again as Collins helped Mathis out of the hangar bay. Larkins lay back on the ramp and covered her face with her hands. What had she done? How? Sloan’s words echoed around the inside of her head again. “You’ve had it with this fucking unit. You’re out!”

Oh, no. She had done it this time. She was going to lose everything-her flight status, her career, her pay, her benefits, everything. For one Marine to attack another was a crime almost as serious as treason. It was an assault on the Corps itself. There would be no mercy for her. No more second chances. She could practically feel the prison bars closing in on her already.

Barely aware of her own actions, Larkins got up and left the ship, not paying attention to anything as she walked slowly down the dock stairs to ground level and began to aimlessly wander the compound as she imagined what would happen to her next. She could already picture herself being walked onto Berkley’s ship in handcuffs. She’d be court-martialed, convicted, and spend whatever was left of the good years of her life behind bars. It was all over.

Larkins wandered the open space around the compound, all her thoughts on what was going to happen to her over the next few weeks. It must have been several hours before she saw Bishop approaching to intercept her current path.

“What can I do for you, Bishop?” she asked softly.

“Sergeant Sloan wants you to do a final, complete inspection on the dropship, hangar bay, and equipment before you leave, and do any cleaning that needs to be done,” the android told her. “I heard what’s happening and I also wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

“Bishop…” Larkins trailed off sadly. What was she supposed to say to a machine that looked human but didn’t genuinely have feelings? “I… Out of everyone here, Bishop, you’re the only one who doesn’t owe me an apology of any kind. You’ve been the most reliable and dependable… person on this base, and I don’t know how much that means to you, but it means something to me. Thank you.”

Bishop actually seemed pleased with the compliment. “Thank you, Corporal. Whatever you think of what I can and can’t think and feel, that does mean something to me as well. Good luck.”

He turned and strolled back in the direction of the main building and Larkins stood watching him for several minutes before heading back to the Scott. The lights were still on the hangar bay and Larkins took a sad look around, certain it was going to be the last time she ever saw the inside of a Susquehanna-class transport as a free woman. When Berkley arrived and took her onboard his unit’s ship, she’d be in handcuffs. A prisoner.

But if she was going to go out, she was going to go out in the best way she could. She was going to leave her gear and equipment in perfect condition for whoever came after her. Sloan and the others could hate her and spit on her as much as they wanted, but that would be the legacy she left behind regardless of whether or not they would respect or even recognize it. With that in mind, Larkins set to work.

She kept herself busy for the next several hours, working in relatively peaceful solitude. She went over every inch of the dropship, making sure everything was perfect. She cleaned her personal gear out of the cockpit and piled everything on a cart to take when she left, including her Mossberg 590 and its ammo pouch. The Mossberg would probably be confiscated when she was taken into custody. Her Model 719 would as well. But they were hers all the same, and she wasn’t going to leave them for some stranger to come in and potentially not give them the best of care.

As she turned her attention to inspecting the airlock the dropship was deployed from, everything suddenly went dark. Larkins’ head shot up as she realized someone had turned out the hangar bay lights. “What the fuck?!” she called out angrily. “Who did that?”

There was a faint bit of light filtering in from the various entrances, but not enough for her to see clearly. Then she heard footsteps. Someone was in the hangar with her, and getting closer to her. “Who is that? This isn’t funny, jackass.”

There were more footsteps, this time from a different direction. More than one someone, then. She caught a brief glimpse of a person silhouetted in the light coming in from one of the distant doorways and saw the shape of night-vision goggles on their head before they disappeared into the darkness again. Great. Whoever it was could see her, but she couldn’t see them. There were more footsteps from yet another direction, shuffling closer and closer.

“Who are you?!” Larkins demanded nervously. This didn’t seem like a prank or anything of that kind. “What are you doing?”

She took an anxious step backward, groping for something to use as a weapon. Her hand settled on a heavy wrench lying on one of the carts, but as she wrapped her fingers around it, there was a rustling sound next to her and something slammed into the side of her head. She let out a grunt of pain as colored lights flashed in front of her eyes and she fell sideways. Then they were on her so fast she had no chance to fight back. A dirty, oily-tasting rag was forced into her mouth, muffling her attempts to cry for help, and she was thrown face-down on the ground and there was a metallic clicking as something was fastened around her left wrist. Then she was being picked up again and her arms were pulled forcefully behind her back until she was sure both her shoulders were about to be dislocated. She tried to lash out, but her arms were each being pinned by separate people and they had more combined strength than she did. Still letting out muffled cries through the gag, Larkins felt herself being thrown backwards against one of the dropship ramp’s hydraulic struts and the clicking sound echoed around the hangar again as something else was fastened around her right wrist.

Larkins had only a fraction of a second to realize that she had been handcuffed to the strut before the blows began coming in. The first one caught her full in the nose, slamming her head back against the strut. Then she received a sharp kick to her shins and nearly collapsed, screaming into the rag in pain. Another blow struck her stomach and then the hits began coming from every direction, striking her in too many places and too fast for her to keep track of. She dropped to the ground as best she could and hunched her shoulders, trying to protect her head. But lowering herself out of the reach of her assailants’ fists only changed the blows from punches to kicks. Heavy, booted feet slammed into her legs, arms, and torso as she screamed and squealed in helpless agony. Another kick caught her in the face again, and this time when her head slammed back into the hydraulic strut she saw more colored lights for a fraction of a second before they were replaced with an overwhelming white light.

Chapter 6……………………………………………………………………………………………Chapter 8

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