She clutched an iron railing and caught her breath.  Naked and exhausted, she needed the police and an ambulance.

The stub where her toe had been was bleeding again, and the stones and debris on the cluttered street lacerated the soles of her feet.  She ignored the pain in her right shoulder.  She’d dislocated it while escaping her cell, and her arm hung uselessly at her side.  Afraid to call for help, in case her captor heard her, she limped to find help. 

She’d escaped several times before, but the madman had caught her before she’d made it out of the basement.  Her right nipple was missing, a scar testifying how angry he’d been when she’d scratched him during one of her escapes.  It wasn’t her fault.  He pumped her full of adrenaline and hallucinogens to keep her awake and terrified.

She was in the old city somewhere.  The daylights weren’t on yet, and the streets were empty.  Through the transparent canopy overhead, alien stars streaked by at an amazing speed.  She staggered to the next lamppost. 

Maybe he’d be so angry this time he’d finally kill her.  The fear that he wouldn’t kept her moving. 

She’d never seen the bastard’s face.  He always wore some stupid mask: a crow, a baby, a dinosaur, a harlequin.  He enjoyed watching her closely before the attacks, lusting after her fear and helplessness.  Often, he achieved orgasm before he sliced into her, so great was his anticipation.

He didn’t want her dead; he needed her fear.

A loud clang behind her made her jump.  Her captor could be playing with her, chasing her until she collapsed from exhaustion.  A lit window on the second floor in an alley caught her attention, and she limped across the street.  A low fence behind the building was too high for her malnourished body to climb unaided, but a pile of rubbish against it gave her opportunity and hope.

She climbed it slowly, pulling herself over the top with her good arm.  She slipped and tried to stop herself but her injured arm couldn’t support her.  She stifled a scream and toppled into the darkness and oblivion.


“Don’t try to move.”   An old man sat across the room.  He wore a tattered robe, and his glasses reflected the firelight from the hearth.

Clutching a bathrobe about her that smelled of flowers and mothballs, she raised her head. She lay prone on an overstuffed couch.  Her injured toe was elevated and bandaged.  Her dislocated shoulder – bruised and sore – was back in its socket.

“Where am I?” she asked.

“You’re safe.”  The old man poured a cup of tea from a pot on the table between them.  “Sugar?”

“What?  No.  Who are you?”  She sat up, and he placed a pillow under her back.

“My name is Malcolm.  I’m one of the Originals.  By the time they developed the anti-aging formula and built this colony ship, my wife and I were already in old age.  You must be a second generation or later since you appear quite young.”

She didn’t understand.  “Please.  I need to call the police.  I’ve been kept prisoner by a madman.  You’ve got to help me.”

He passed her the tea.  “I don’t have a phone, miss, but you’ll be safe here.  Since my wife died, I’ve been taken out of the game.”

“The game?”

He sighed.  “What’s your name?”

“I, I’m Victim 241.”  She didn’t remember her real name.  The cup in her hand shook, spilling hot liquid. 

She’d been unwilling to call herself a number, but after the man had taken a potato peeler to the skin on her legs, she’d have changed anything to stop the pain.

The old man frowned.  “I forgot you’d been scrubbed.  That name won’t do.  I’ll call you Eva.  That was my wife’s name.”

She sipped the tea, grateful for the warmth.  Even in the cozy room, she shivered.  Was this another game orchestrated by her captor?  Could the old man be her torturer?

The door was close.  If she threw the hot tea at him, she might escape.

“It’s my fault.”  Malcolm stared at the fire.  “We didn’t realize when the ship took off on its thousand-year voyage to Alpha Centauri that we immortals would find it intolerable.”


“My wife and I were social psychologists.  We thought we could challenge the population with art and science, and enough research and exploration to keep them sane.  It didn’t work.”

“How long have we been on this trip?” she asked.

“Almost seven hundred years.  Initially, people kept busy, and we didn’t worry about dropping birthrates.  When the suicide rate slowly rose, we tried new approaches.  Free love and unrestricted sex?  People grew jaded and killed themselves.  Total immersion in Virtual Reality?  Loss of muscle tone caused heart disease.”

She couldn’t believe what he was telling her.  “This is the solution you came up with?  A colony ship of torturers?”

Malcolm hung his head.  “The other social psychologists and I determined that if love equaled increased suicides, then hate might do the opposite.”

She didn’t understand. 

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “Your continuous pain is my fault.”

“Continuous?”  She flinched as someone banged violently on the front door.

Malcolm set down his cup and leaned forward, his eyes glistening with tears.  “Unfortunately, fear and aggression are the traits mankind needs to survive.  Your pain will end soon.  The authorities will save you.  They always do.”

She struggled to stand.  Her head spun.  He’d put something in the tea.  “Please.  I can’t go back.  He’ll kill me.”

“Almost.  But you’ll be repaired and have your revenge soon enough.”

“What do you mean?”  She sagged back onto the sofa as the door crashed open.  A man in a skull mask stood there.

“Your husband is Victim 242,” Malcolm whispered.  “Think of what you can do to him when it’s your turn.”