Chapter 3, Part 1
Added On: June 20, 2013 9:13 am
Type: Prose
Community Series: MOTU Classic

3.1

The Machine

He-Man stirred as the cell door opened. Some dozen or more of the green-skinned creatures entered, half-filling the place, and stood, watching him – then all turned to bow as Evil-Lyn made her entrance, staff in hand. She stood, erect and slender, and scanned her captive’s wary face.

“Come,” she said, “I have something to show you – as promised.”

“Er – I’m a bit tied-up at the moment – Some other time, perhaps?”

“But now is a good time, as it happens. So shall we?”

“Well, I suppose that I was only hanging around –”

“Very good – still with spirit, I see. Hold fast to that celebrated humor of yours; you will have need of it. Oh – and no more heroics, please. Just be a good boy and I won’t have to use this.” She raised the staff in playful but very clear warning. “You really must learn to be more helpful in your attitude; it will be very much in your best interests to co-operate.”

“I gave my word to surrender to you; not to co-operate,” her prisoner replied steadily.

“Understood; but it is high time to revise your behaviour. As you will soon see.” She made a peremptory gesture and her servants silently approached him – albeit somewhat more cautiously than before.

He-Man raised a sandy eyebrow in distaste at their green, saurian uncomeliness. “Tell me; what are these creatures?”

“Ah – my loyal and devoted followers. You will not have set eyes on their like before; I brought them hither from far, far away. They have the uncommon good sense to worship me as their goddess, you see.”

He-Man laughed shortly as they unhooked his wrist chain and allowed his cramped arms to lower at last.

You – a goddess? They must be very easily pleased, then, these – what do you call them?”

“Mooks, they are known as – a simplified corruption of their tongue and its coarse speech.”

“Then they aren’t the only corrupt thing around here, are they?”

“So very ungallant, He-Man – I really expected better of you. But no matter. They serve their purpose – and I can always replace them, for they are a numerous folk, the people of Morc. They can well sustain some – losses – in my service.”

They led him out, escorting him as he learned to walk with the shortened steps the ankle gyves would allow him.

“They don’t look up to much, frankly, these Mooks. Is this the best you can do, Lyn? I really expected better of you, too.”

“Well, even as a goddess it’s hard to get good staff.”

“Hah!”

“But they are exceptionally loyal – if a touch uncouth. And they are highly skilled in smithcraft, too.” She indicated the chains and manacles he bore. “You said yourself that they were nicely made. And so swiftly, too. Ah! But here we are.”

She gestured with her staff and a heavy door swung obediently open. They escorted him into a wide chamber, lower-roofed than most and brightly lit, with a smooth stone floor which reflected back the light as if polished. He-Man blinked and came to a halt, his eyes narrowing at what he saw before him.

“See; I told you that I had something to show you. Come closer – take a proper look.”

“I can see from here, thanks.”

“And what do you think?”

“That I don’t want to play.”

“Ah, still so spirited – as befits the hero in peril. And I have to inform you that you are in peril, I’m afraid. Look well – and consider what lies ahead.” From behind she reached up and took hold of some of the yellow hair where it grew thickly at the nape of his neck and toyed with it. Irritably he shrugged her off, his eyes still fixed on what lay in front of him.

There was a slab of polished steel – very long and wide – which stood on some kind of tilting mechanism under clustered bright spotlights. Panels set with all manner of diodes and dials blinked consequentially on its far side and an array of wires and cables hung from above where darkened screens were suspended amid the lights. It had the look of an overgrown operating table set ready for the purposes of healing; but He-Man had a very strong presentiment that this was not in fact its purpose – and only an act of will prevented him from taking an involuntary step backwards.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Evil-Lyn stepped forward and ran her hands over the smooth steel surface, her voice positively purring with pleasure. “It is quite the most advanced equipment of its type ever created. And I have to admit that I am completely immodest in the pride I take in it.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“How considerate; but I fear that your kindly thoughts will not last – not once you discover how very effective it is.”

He-Man stood, watching her, hiding his growing anger – and increasingly uncomfortable at what his senses were telling him. He shifted his stance uneasily – and was positively tingling with apprehension as Lyn spoke.

“Well – aren’t you going to ask me? Aren’t you curious – not even a little?”

“All right then; what is it?”

She paused impressively and declaimed her announcement. “I call it – the Machine.”

He-Man gave her a Look.

“Great name; very original.”

“Oh dear, oh dear. Such irony – and in one so young, too. But your pride and your wit won’t last, you know; they alone cannot sustain you against the Machine.” She shook her head. “I do understand, though.” She moved close to him, looking up into his eyes. “Defeat comes hard, does it not – especially in the knowledge that you have brought it upon yourself by your own rashness? In fact, you acted exactly as I had anticipated.”

“So do you plan on gloating me to death, then?”

“Not at all – not when there are so many more appealing methods to choose from; and the Machine here has most of them ready prepared for you. Not that death is by any means its primary purpose. No – you will find that it is very good at keeping its victims alive and sentient – rather moreso than you might wish. Besides, I’m confident that you will see sense before then. For that would be a tragic waste, would it not? I can think of far better uses for this strong physique of yours.” A long fingernail grooved down the centerline of his torso, from throat to navel and he tensed, uneasy. She was trying to rile him – and he must not rise to it. “But I don’t suppose that you are going to show much sense, are you? You heroes never do. Well?”

He glared down at her – and shook his head.

And so she turned to her servants and gave a nod. At once they began to close, their scaly claws reaching to take him. But he was ready for them. Swiftly he turned and, bringing both hands together, swung his brawny arms like a club, sending them flailing and flying so that they slid on landing all along the polished floor. Another sweep in the other direction repeated the drill. The remainder threw themselves at him, but he gathered them up in the chain between his wrists and flung them back to join the rest. The ones who were still capable of doing so rose and came at him again, but he dropped onto his hands, pivoted his body upside down and made a rotating sweep with his legs that sent them all back whence they had come. With a powerful movement He-Man pushed hard on the floor, back-flipped twice, somersaulted cleanly – and landed almost in front of the witch. There was an angry light blazing blue in his eyes as he reached out for her with his chained and manacled hands.

“Remove these, Lyn! Do it, or by the Elders, I’ll –!”

“You’ll – what? What will you do, exactly?” Her voice mocked him from the other side of the steel table, which she had prudently put between them. “You silly boy, you still don’t realize do you? Anyway, a little strenuous exercise has toned up your muscles nicely, I see – so we are very nearly ready to begin.”

“The only thing you’ll be beginning is a long spell of imprisonment in Eternos.” His fierce face circled the steel slab as she backed around it.

“I think not. Now will you co-operate? No – an inane question – of course you won’t. The hard way, always – so predictable; but rather a thrill, I must admit. Ah – and here come more of my Mooks.”

He-Man turned his head and laughed shortly. “I can beat them with my hands tied – again. But I really don’t want to hurt them; after all it’s not their fault that they don’t know how to choose a decent deity, is it?”

“Cutting of you; should I be bleeding?”

“I mean it; take these things off me and give it up, Lyn – this is your last chance!”

“We shall see.” She gestured, and a score or more of her ill-favored devotees came at him. He served them as he had the first, clubbing them with his conjoined fists and making use of the heavy chain. But still they came, picking themselves up and doggedly returning to the fight – and yet more arrived through the doorway and hurled themselves forward with a silent determination that was really rather impressive. A surging tide of them swamped him, bearing him down. With a roar he resurged from under and threw them all off. There was barely time to draw a breath and another wave hit him; he was floundering in a sea of creatures determined to drag him down. With a great bellow of effort he rose again – and sprang with a standing leap up onto the table. Once up there they could barely reach him and he was able to get in some good two-legged kicks by pivoting on his pelvis and using his fettered feet like fists. When they finally learned not to get too close to his legs he vaulted upright again and stood triumphantly in the midst of the slab, turning about to dare the boldest of those still standing to make the first approach.

“There you are, Lyn – I told you they weren’t up to much. Send the poor devils back to Morc and get yourself some new followers who can actually make a fight of it!” He was elated and grinned down at her, exhilarated by the action – and she smiled back at him, shaking her head in admiration.

“Your physical abilities really are impressive, you know. And with such restricted movement, too! And without your shiny sword! I was right about you all along; you really are too good to be true. Anyway, if you are quite finished playing with my loyal little Mooks, shall we get on with what needs to be done?”

“So you’ll free my hands?”

She stared up at him and her lip curled oddly. “Where do they get it from, this fatuous, incurable optimism? Is it part of the training they undergo to qualify as a hero?” she asked rhetorically, shaking her head. “Oh well –” She shrugged and pointed her staff at him.

Down went He-Man, flung onto his back, his body convulsing and his face contorted in pain while pale purple light flared, hissed and crackled all about him. As soon as the blast faded the Mooks were upon him, seizing hold and pressing him down to the table-top. Even then in his weakened state he fought them as best he could, heaving them off and straining to lever himself upright again. But the sending of sorcerous power had sapped his strength too much, and they were too many. They stretched him out at full length and held him down with their sheer collective weight while his wrist and ankle manacles had the chains between them disconnected and removed, the manacles themselves being at once firmly shackled to strong cables. Then, having secured him, they stood off, looking silently down with expressionless faces until their mistress ordered them from the chamber.

Slowly, with a lick of her dark-hued lips, Evil-Lyn circled her prisoner as he grunted and tugged, arching his body high from the surface of the machine as he fought to escape. Watching with a glow in her eyes she let him strain his fill, his struggles achieving no more than to prove himself helpless; finally he collapsed back with a groan to lie spread on the slab, his chest and stomach rising and falling with effort and emotion combined. Sweat was already beading and trickling off his skin, gleaming under the strong lights. At length his eyes opened again and watched her as she slowly circled, his head twisting as best it could to follow her unhurried progress.

“And now, He-Man, it is time for me to introduce you to pain.”

“Don’t bother – we’ve met. Recently!”

His eyes glared resentfully up at her as she bent towards him.

“Ah – but you see, there are many kinds of pain – and some are far harder to resist than others, in part because they do not take a familiar form. I see you frowning at me. Well, your puzzlement will soon end. The Machine will see to that.”

She paced some more, circling like a beast of prey about its hunting as she expounded her intentions.

“Your will – and your body – are undoubtedly both very strong – but the Machine is unlike anything that went before it. This is the most sophisticated interrogation device ever built, I am proud to say. Long was the labor over its planning, its creation. Modulok had the designing and making of the prototype – but I was able to – acquire – it from him, and have personally arranged for it to have certain extra capabilities and refinements which would never have entered Modulok’s dull and unimaginative little minds. And all this for you, He-Man! You should be flattered. Think what a significant contribution to the greater knowledge you will be making!”

He-Man guarded his watchful silence as she circled.

“Now, I know that you can resist pain well – but this will be different. Oh – there will indeed be pain – plenty, in fact – more than enough to satisfy even a determined hero like you. But there will be more than merely that; there will be the thrill of discovery! Yes, my courageous young hero – you are going to be taught things about yourself that you never even knew. And, of course, we have as long as it takes. No haste at all. After all you aren’t going anywhere, are you? Nor will any rescue come to aid you. And please do be assured that I don’t have any urgent appointments that may call me away while you make good your escape. No – I shall be here for you when you agree to tell me that which I need to know.”

“Then you’ll wait a long, long time.”

“Perhaps – and then again, perhaps not –” She smirked and walked around him, surveying, like a commander assessing a battleground prior to a fight. “The Machine is the ultimate instrument of truth – for those who lie in its steel embrace cannot long avoid speaking. It leaves no room for evasion, equivocation or mental reservation of any kind but demands the full and exact truth – and will accept nothing less. No secret can escape its demands. The rest is only a matter of time.”

“Then I hope your patience will hold out; you’ll need it.”

“My patience will outlast your capacity to resist – that much is certain.”

“And what makes you think it will?”

“And what makes you think it won’t?”

She leaned and ran her spread fingers unhurriedly down him from wrist to ankle – and, rounding the slab, again up the other side. Her touch made his body shiver, though he tried hard not to let it show. Uncomfortable under her intent gaze and hand He-Man began to realize his true vulnerability; he was effectively helpless – and she could do to him whatever she liked. She saw this thought taking root in him and nodded, as if pleased with an apt pupil.

“But, as I told you, there will be more than merely pain.”

“Do you really think that I’ll give in to you?”

“In the end you will, yes. I’m quite, quite certain of it.”

“So you actually expect me to talk!”

“Eventually – but first I expect you to scream.”

He did not reply to that; he did not need to – for the look on his face was answer enough for her.

“Now, at this very point rescue should arrive for you, should it not? In the very nick of time. For that is How It Is Meant To Be, so I understand, among those who subscribe to your inherently virtuous view of the world.” She cocked her head as if listening, then shook it. “But it looks as if they are late – or, worse, not coming at all, does it not? Should we give them a little longer?” Her eyes glinted with taunting irony as he shot her a furious glare of bright blue anger.

“Oh, they’ll come. Count on it.”

“You are the one who must do so – not I.”

“They’ll come, I tell you!”

“But plainly not yet. Not in time. So it looks like you’ll be screaming after all.”

He turned his face away from her, having no words.

“Well; then I think we’ll begin. Now, I’m not going to insult you with threats about what will happen to you if you oppose my will, since it’s patently obvious that opposing my will is what you are all about. No, I’m going to do this anyway – one step at a time – until the inevitable comes about.” She paused, considering. “And it probably will give me a certain degree of pleasure, I do have to admit.” He saw her take up a control unit; lights flashed in the panel opposite as she applied a finger to a button – and He-Man braced himself.

And yet he was taken by surprise; he had vaguely expected an electric shock, perhaps some fiery bolt of arcane power. Instead he experienced a slight pressure on both wrists and ankles simultaneously, just where the manacles held him – and it increased steadily until he felt his arms and legs begin to pull – his limbs were being drawn in opposite directions! He strained back his head to look – but very soon abandoned that idea. Already he could feel the tension increasing, the growing strain in his midsection where the sense of stretching was strongest. He-Man winced, assessing its impact on his body – and wondering how much further she would allow the Machine to go.

With a single movement Evil-Lyn applied pressure to the button – and the cables relaxed their hold on him so that his body un-tensed; his eyes opened very wide and he exhaled slowly, cautiously, forcing calm on himself as he tried to steady the sudden surge in his heart-rate.

“That will do – for now,” she said. “A test – no more than that. I’m sure that you already understand the principle involved.” She continued, addressinghis silence. “An ancient method of questioning, so I’m led to believe, but still one of the most effective. It is so very versatile, as you will discover. Besides, I do find it – pleasing. The extreme vulnerability of the victim is so very appealing.” Her hand reached out and scarped with palm and fingers down over his chest, glissaded the well-defined creases segmenting the muscles of his core – and He-Man felt himself starting to sweat in earnest. “But don’t let me hold you in – suspense; I really should explain how it works. The cables – Horde Steel again, please note – nothing but the best for you – are looped around a roller just below each end of the platform you are occupying. They then turn back under said platform until they meet again in the center – looped in opposite directions around a drum of small diameter – but geared to great power. The operation of this button –” her finger hovered suggestively on the control – “causes the drum to revolve; slowly, but with an irresistible force in its winching ratchet, thereby drawing the subject in two directions at once, stretching him until he – changes his stubborn mind. So very, very simple – and yet so very, very effective –”

He-Man listened, watching her, torn between fascination and horror at her monstrous, near-obscene pride in her vile contraption of shining steel. He could well believe that the Horde’s twisted creature Modulok had had a hand in its creation.

“Time for another demonstration; you do provide such an ideal subject for these important early tests, I have to say.” She indulged herself in a long perusal of his vulnerability – and then applied the control. Again the almost smooth sense of slack being taken up in the cables, the firm pull at wrists and ankles, the gradual increase in tension that began at the extremities and which swiftly met in the middle, in the already taut-stretched musculature of his waist. His eyes widened; a little indrawn hiss passed through his teeth. “You can probably feel the effect right now –” said Evil-Lyn conversationally, “even if, unfortunately, you cannot see it for yourself.”

And she was right; he could feel it – and how its power grew. He could resist it – but only by exerting his full strength, and even then not wholly – it still drew him slowly apart, and the pain grew with every last small measure of extension. This time she halted the drum, but did not let it release the tension; instead she held it awhile, watching him as he struggled to contain the pull, a thin smile on her lips.

“Enough.” She let his body relax again; his huge chest heaved as he drew back all the air which the brief intensity of the fight had expelled. “I’ve read that it was, of old, known as the Rack. Not that it really matters. It is rather what it can do now that concerns us here. And, He-Man –” and here she leaned close as she spoke – “you now begin to have some small idea of its capabilities. It will give you something to dwell on while I permit you a brief rest. After all, we wouldn’t want to spoil the fun by being impatient, would we?” She smiled archly and patted his cheek and passed out of his line of sight.

He drew in his breath and let his eyes close, concentrating hard. The trouble was that the witch was right; he now did have some idea – and he found it deeply unsettling. He knew that his own strength was very great, and his powers had frequently surprised him, as the Sorceress had at first suggested; they waxed and waned according to his own sense of belief and urgency. There was proximity to Grayskull, too – that had always played a part in his greatest feats of supernatural strength. But the castle, the Sorceress both felt very far away now; he could not sense their presence at all – only that of his enemies and the threatening aura of their power. And there was no longer any doubt that the Etheramite element in the Horde Steel of his bonds was somehow sapping his strength. Then this Machine – this misbegotten offspring of a pair of sick minds, would prove – testing.

“Not getting bored yet, I hope? We may have to – stretch things out awhile yet, I fear.”

“Your humor isn’t any better than your hospitality!”

“Oh – I’m hurt. But at least I can return the favor right away.” Smiling she took up the control and pressed. Again lights flashed – and again the Machine went about stretching the Hero of Eternia, extending his limbs, his torso, his whole being; slowly, inexorably applying the agony with each added micro-measure of tension. Hands clutching at the cables, clenching his jaw tight he fought back, the mighty muscles resisting, quivering with the sheer unremitting effort of holding on. The pain grew, filling his universe to the exclusion of all else – except his iron will not to submit to it. Like a note played on every string at once it jarred and thrilled through his entire body; no part of him was untouched by this sensation of being torn in two by the steel hands of some monstrous giant. Under his tight-shut eyelids all was redness, shot-though with jagged white lines of purest pain.

And then it ended – and he felt his muscles contract and twitch with the sudden retraction. He opened wide his eyes and struggled to steady his breathing, all-too aware of its raggedness, and of how it must sound to his tormentor. For that reason alone he spoke, his voice irate.

“And so this is your famous up-to-the-moment interrogation ‘Machine’ is it?” he spat with scorn. Though in truth this thing worried him – he could sense its baleful strength. But he must not let that show. “And it was meant to be so special, so you thought!”

“And it is. Very. You speak without knowing.”

“So it can stretch me. So what?”

“Oh, much more than that, I do assure you. That is merely one of its attributes. One of many – as you will discover.”

“Am I meant to be scared?”

“Being scared would show far more sense than I would expect from a hero such as you. But you will learn to fear the Machine in time.”

“Not as scared as you’ll be when they come for me and see what you’ve been doing!”

“Still hoping for rescue? Put it from your mind; it won’t help you. They will not come. And long before that you will have told me that which I need to know.”

“Oh no I won’t! You can put that from your mind!”

“Bravado and defiance – good. You play the hero very well – as well as looking the part, of course. I like that – it makes me feel as if I am doing the right thing – to the right person.” She nodded. “We shall be moving on to anger-and-threats next, I imagine? Before we reach the whimpers, the moans and groans – the screams – obviously – and finally the tears. And did I mention the screams? I did? Good, good. Oh – just one thing, though: when you give me your scorn and defiance in the usual manner, could you please refrain fromspitting in my face? Yes, I know it’s traditional, but I really don’t like it and it is so very – unhygienic. And it really wouldn’t be in your interests, either, as it will only result in your being gagged – tightly – which not only makes it far harder to breathe, but also runs the risk of my forgetting to take it off, so that even when you are ready to tell, you would be prevented from doing so – and so your interrogation would continue longer than it need do. And you wouldn’t want that, now, would you?”

“Very confident, aren’t you?” scoffed He-Man. “But you won’t win.”

“Oh, I’m certain that I shall. And what would you be prepared to wager against that, my fine young hero? Your word? Your pain? Your life? Oh! But you already are, aren’t you? Silly me. The process will take a little time, of course – but that suits me well enough. You, I think, probably rather less so – Not that I want you to break down just yet, of course; that would quite spoil my treat, which would be a pity, after waiting so very long. No, I’m sure that I can rely on you to hold out for a good, long time and ensure that I am given plenty of scope for my – amusement. After all, it isn’t as if I get a prime specimen like you at my mercy every –”

Mercy !

Don’t interrupt me when I’m giving you the benefit of my mind. It’s rude. Now, where was I?”

“Talking drivel. More drivel.”

Evil-Lyn made a tut-tutting noise. “Oh yes, I remember now. Looking at you laid out there reminds me of what I was saying – and of what I’m going to do to you. If you keep on interrupting me then we will move right on to the part which hurts – and you won’t get to hear my thoughts. Which would be a shame, as it’s possible that you might learn something. But, remembering your strange predilection for doing things the hard way, then I fear that I may be wastingmy breath. Now what was that? Did you speak? No, I rather thought not –” She leaned close and her finger stroked his clenched jaw-line. “And I know just what you are thinking right now, He-Man; you are thinking; ‘if only I had my sword –’ I’m right, am I not? That’s just what you are thinking. But I fear that I cannot supply your lack – at least not in that respect. But, then, finding out about the Sword is just one of the things we shall be doing together – once you become more – amenable, that is.”

“I told you; you’ll wait a long time.”

“But we have a long time – as much as it takes.” She reached for the control and the ratchets again began to tighten – and He-Man’s body to be extended.

“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction!” he gritted through his teeth.

“Oh, but my dear He-Man – I assure you that you already are! A great deal of satisfaction – and it will only get better and better.” Her forefinger delicately traced the outline of his lateral ribs where they showed defined starkly by the extension singing through him. She pressed at the button again and the Rack ceased to pull. With a long exhalation he re-opened his eyes and glared at her; his voice came unsteadily.

“Has no-one – ever told you – that – torture never works?”

“But torture is such an ugly word, don’t you think? Besides – it does work; I can really see it working; right here – right now.” Again her shapely finger depressed the button to set the stretching motion about its agony-inflicting work.

He-Man tensed, fighting back with all his strength, grinding his teeth together with the effort entailed in resisting the sheer power of this horrible contraption which had him trapped in its hands of steel – and was steadily tearing him apart. The muscles of his abdomen, tensed to the extreme, shrieked in protest; his extended limbs strained and stretched; his joints felt as if they could take no more of the load and still it went on, further and further until his resistance was concentrated in simply not yelling his anguish out aloud. The low continuous growl he could hear was his own voice, suppressed, vibrating through his clenched jaw and into his ears, and it was in danger of bursting out and becoming a full-throated cry. He must not succumb to that; crying out would be the first step to submission – and that he utterly refused to contemplate. And yet still the drum was turning, still the cables tightening – tighter and tighter and – And then it ended. With an anguish near as great the tension ebbed, his quivering and elongated body began to resume its normal proportions – and he fought hard for breath, each panting intake causing further hurt to chest and stomach. As his labored breathing steadied, he could feel all his muscles go into involuntary spasm as they contracted after their stretching – and there was a spreading numbness in his hands and feet. Watching her face through misty-edged eyes above the heaving of his chest, He-Man had the first real intimation of doubt; doubt that he could hold out indefinitely against her assault on him.

“How strong you are – and how brave! Most men – even the hardiest – would be screaming by now; but from you, barely a sound! I’m – impressed. Of course, you are far, far stronger – and possess power beyond theirs. Still; the Machine has been most carefully calibrated to take cognizance of those factors, and so –” She pondered, looking him over with a thoughtful expression while he tried to recover his breath, grateful that she did not realize just how close he really had come to crying out aloud. “So – yes; I’m impressed. Most men would surely have screamed and begged; but, then again, you are not most men –” She favored him with an appreciative smile while he peered up at her, his brow beading with sweat droplets which ran down steadily into his hair. His fingers moved, seeking to recover some feeling from the constriction of his hands. But he did not speak, and Lyn shook her head. She brought water in a beaker and held it before him, her brows framing a question needing no answer. His eyes beseeched her, craving drink – but she knew that he was not yet far-gone enough to beg, and so, moistening her fingers she held them to his lips. He hesitated a heartbeat – and then took the drops from them – and then again, his eyes fixed on her the while. She allowed him some more, surprised at her own reaction to the feel of his lips, his tongue soft on her finger ends.

“Only a little at a time,” she chided him archly, “too much all at once is bad for you.” His forehead furrowed at this implicit irony – but he again took water from her – and something in his stern gaze seemed to soften slightly. She set aside the empty vessel and leaned over him again, wiping the perspiration from his face with a soft cloth.

“There now. That’s my brave boy.” She looked at him as he lay there with half-shut eyes, and clicked her tongue. “It’s only a pity that your undoubted heroism isn’t matched by a greater degree of good sense. You see, the Machine feels nothing – nothing at all. It can carry on doing this to you until you are damaged quite beyond all hope of recovery; yes – even you, mighty hero. And that would be a shame – in a great many ways. And it really isn’t what I want for you – not at all. So be a good boy rather than just a brave one and unburden yourself of those petty and inconvenient details which stand between us – and you will find me a far kinder mistress than the one who so hates having to hurt you.”

The cloth moved slowly over his chest, his stomach as she spoke, wiping away the welling sweat which ran in rivulets down his flanks and puddled the surface of the machine. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift a long moment, to escape the echoing pain, the frustrated rage of helplessness, the subtly-crafted nuances of her persuasion. There were green lawns and shady trees in the Palace gardens; cool fountains splashed in the air and sent rainbows cascading over the white, water-wet sheened stone. And Teela was laughing at him, speaking to him, though at first he could hear nothing.

“Teela –”

Yes – that’s right – Teela. Come to me – let me help you.

“Help me –”

Yes – yes – He could now not only hear her but also feel her touch upon him, soothing, gentle, taking away the pain, causing him to raise his head to meet her lips. And then she was gone, and the dreamscape fled – and returned him to the reality of the bright lights shining above him as he lay spread out, stretched on Lyn’s ghastly torture rack. The contrast was so stark and sudden that he could not suppress a groan.

“Ah – back with us once more,” observed the witch brightly. She leaned over him with an expression of concern that very nearly looked uncontrived. “Oh, but you do look ever so weary and folorn. I think that we may be reaching the end of your first lesson; after all, there is always tomorrow – and the day after that – and so on. As long as we need, really. Day after day – after day. So we mustn’t be impatient, now, must we?”

He-Man, still feeling that terrible sense of loss, said nothing, but looked up at her with eyes that had already begun to show the first signs of a strain she recognized so well.

“And there is a certain irony in this, is there not? The most powerful man in the universe – that’s what they call you. And yet you really are no match for the Machine, are you? Quite, quite powerless, in fact. And we have barely even begun.”

Still he did not respond – unless it was by the sudden goaded spark of resentful anger in his eyes. And she knew just how to play with that.

“We don’t have to follow this path, you know. There are alternatives,” she insinuated.

“Go to the Outer Dark!”

“Oh, you’ll be there before me – and far sooner than you think. The Machine has much more in store for you, should you remain stubborn. Much, much more. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I mean, you don’t seem to appreciate how much it hurts me to do this to you.”

He-Man’s response was a hollow laugh.

“You don’t believe me? I’m wounded – I really am. And to think how much more I could have let the Machine do to you. And instead I’ve been sparing you –”

“Then I hope you’ll pardon my skepticism, Lyn, but I don’t feel very spared!”

“That, foolish boy, is because you have no idea what yet lies ahead of you.” Her fingers reached and toyed with his hair, smoothing back the sweat-darkened fringe from his brow while he scowled up at her. “And I really have been so, so gentle with you until now, though you do not believe it.”

Gentle!” His tone belied the idea in its sheer scorn.

“Well; I can see that you are still bent on defying me, and so – regrettably – the time has come to adopt sterner measures; to show you what will befall you if you do not see reason. So be it, then!” She released his hair and vanished from his field of view.

He tried to raise his head to see what the witch was up to; not that it would help much, but he couldn’t think what else to do; lying there and waiting for the unknown was somehow worst of all. What he did know was that this was bad – and probably about to get a great deal worse as well. Here he was, the Champion of Eternia, helpless in the adamantine grip of the Horde Steel and stretched out on Lyn’s ghastly interrogation ‘Machine.’ And he knew that he was weakening; he couldn’t shift the shackles they had secured him with, not even when he was fresh. Now, after – how long? – time’s passing meant very little here – he hadn’t a chance of freeing himself. Which meant that all he could do was endure. He smiled grimly to himself; that might prove easier said than done. The Machine was stronger than he was – and so, in time, it would –

“Here I am again,” interrupted Evil-Lyn brightly. “I didn’t want you to feel lonely, so I hurried back. And just look what I have for you!”

He-Man lifted his head with difficulty, stared with horrid fascination, and let it fall back with a sigh. This did not look good at all; she was holding up a gleaming bunch of long steel pins.

“My own special invention – tried and tested. I’m really rather proud of them. I call them vibro-needles – and they do exactly that. I can absolutely promise you that you won’t enjoy them. Not a bit. Especially when I couple their use with the Machine’s neuro-enhancement function. Unless, of course, you might yet choose to reconsider –? But no; of course not; ever the hard way for the hero. Oh well – it’s your choice, after all. So consider this a warning of worse to come.” She leaned forward and placed a hand on his broad chest, the other daintily holding the glinting metal with its heavy blunt head and sharp-looking point. She smiled down at his tight-lipped expression. “You may at first experience some slight discomfort. After that, when they actually start to vibrate, and as the frequency shifts, I’m afraid that the pain becomes really quite unbearable – or so I’ve been told; told rather forcibly, in fact. I shall be interested to hear your reaction. And I have plenty enough of them – even for you. So; shall we begin –?” So saying, her eyes locked into his, her right hand descended slowly towards his chest.

******

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