Those nice guys at the Overlords podcast ran a competition a while back - finish a story in a thousand words or less - and I got an email from Steve this evening to say I had won! And it's a great prize, too - a signed copy of 'Horus Rising'
The entries can be read here... and this was my short story; the italic section was the 'starter paragraph'...
Sitting in a room that looked little more than a steel box he was shivering, visibly shivering, his teeth snapping together sounded like a drum in his head that accompanied the baseline of his heartbeat rumbling through his ears. It wasn't his flimsy clothing or even the cold steel of the room that caused such visible involuntary movements. No, it was the ice cold eyes. The eyes of the Inquisition. He knew he'd pushed his luck once too often and now he was heading for a whole lot of hurt.
“You look ..............”
“I'm just a bit uncomfortable in this chair”
“I, I, I .....................”
"Uncomfortable is a stone in your boot or a crick in your neck after falling asleep in a chair, maybe a paper cut. I suspect you will soon want to re-assess your definition."
The young man said nothing more. He knew it was his own actions, and his own inactions, that had brought him to this room. He thought about what he knew of the Inquisitor. What was the rule? Be truthful or be silent. The Inquisition know.
He looked up and raised his chin, trying to put a little steel into his posture. The Inquisitor was seated behind his desk, looking for the world as though he did not feel the chill that radiated from the reinforced walls. Long minutes passed as he read through a scribe-written sheet of notes. Tall, youthful (though that was rumoured to be the result of many rejuvenat procedures), lightly built, fair haired; not an obvious candidate for the Inquisition, but it was rumoured that he could wring a confession from a rock.
The Inquisitor leant forward, augmentics clicking softly beneath his skin.
"You visited a shop on the Street of the Holy Bolter."
The young man nodded his agreement.
"You will speak or this will go badly for you. This was your choice. Do not make it harder than it has to be."
"I did. I was just..."
"Answer the questions. We are establishing facts. We may come onto justifications later, if that is necessary. You visited a shop on the Street of the Holy Bolter."
"Where you purchased some five hundred lasgun charge packs."
"You then proceeded to Deliverance Way where you purchased two hundred and five standard weights of a promethium based malleable explosive."
"And three hundred variable delay detonators."
"Good. We are establishing the facts quite efficiently. I do wonder, however, whether you are just telling me what you think I want to hear. And that brings us back to the contrast between discomfort and... other feelings."
The Inquisitor reached into a desk drawer and brought out a small box, similar in size to a pistol case. Outwardly it was unremarkable, a standard military grey case stencilled with the sign of the holy Aquila and a yellow circle with a red symbol that he did not recognise. To the young man, even before it was opened, it radiated malice. Malice and the promise of pain.
"Hold out your hands."
The young man hesitated, barely a twitch, but the Inquisitor saw his reluctance.
The Inquisitor did not raise his voice by the slightest amount, but the young man's hands leapt forward without conscious thought; it was as though they had been guided by the Inquisitor's word.
He opened the box and brought out a pair of gloves; dark grey and gossamer thin, they were covered in fine copper tracery that ran through the weave of the material. He handed them to the young man, who put them on unfalteringly.
"Yes, I am controlling your physical actions. I am not controlling your mind. Your thoughts, your fears, your feelings, they are all your own. Now that you have the gloves on, let us try again. And this time, with meaning."
The gloves tightened around the young man's hands, pulling close to his skin, and he felt them begin to insinuate their substance into his flesh.
The young man pleaded.
The young man screamed.
The young man whimpered.
And each time, the Inquisitor was there to ask the questions again.
The young man looked down at his hands. It was hard to believe how much pain had flowed into his body through his fingers; they must be completely destroyed by now. The gloves had inflicted every possible type of pain imaginable. He had felt the gloves draw his nails from his fingers, felt his bones break, felt them crushed to powder within his skin. And still the Inquisitor stood there, asking those same questions in a level voice, as though none of this were happening.
"I believe we have confirmed the facts. Hold out your hands."
This time there was no hesitation. The Inquisitor drew the gloves from the young man's hands. Drew them from his unbroken, straight fingered, intact hands.
"Inductance gloves. Colloquially known as pain gloves. I acquired them from a contact in the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, where they are used for training. And this is the contrast. To you, the gloves inflict unimaginable, unendurable pain. To the Astartes, they sharpen the mind. Discomfort, if you will."
The young man slumped in the chair. He knew that he had told the Inquisitor everything. There was nothing hidden, nothing concealed. There was nothing he could do except await the Inquisitor's judgement.
"You may leave"
The words came as a shock, and the young man stumbled as he rose to his feet.
"But you may wish to consider this, Sergeant Barrow. Keep your receipts and next time your expenses claim will be much easier to verify."