Author's note: Like "The Houseguest", this is part of a longer story, so I’m not really sure it’s right to try to decipher a meaning to this. Long overdue thanks go to SGT Michael Volkin (who wrote The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook) for his reassuring words. I've never served in the military myself, but his words have been a help and comfort to me nevertheless, and I couldn't have written one of the most important parts of this story without him.
Daniel had stayed at Gerard Ripley’s hideout for weeks now, sleeping in the clinic, exercising in the gym, and visiting the garden when he needed to unwind. His body was fit and healthy, but there were still problems.
Ripley had some of his top men pay him visits in order to help with his recovery, but due to the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his former captors he continued to suffer flashbacks and nightmares. He also had trust issues. Ripley was smart enough to know this and during one evening visit he told Daniel, “I can’t say that I blame you, but I’ve noticed you’re still suspicious of us.”
Daniel replied, “Like you say, you can’t blame me. Even though you and other members of Basilisk have helped me, I can’t shake the notion that I’ll be betrayed.”
“So, you want something to prove that I don’t have ulterior motives? That’s understandable. I thought that might happen, which is why I brought this up to the clinic.” Ripley went to the cabinet, brought out a mask and a small vial, and set them on the table next to Daniel’s bed.
The mask looked metallic, had loops toward the back with straps attached to them, and resembled a leopard’s head. However, the leopard’s eyes were blindfolded, and there was some kind of gag in the mouth. “I found this artifact, and a formula for the powder that goes with it, in Pakistan,” explained the iguana man. “It’s called ‘The Binding Mask’.”
Daniel began to grow alarmed, “What are you going to do to me?”
Ripley opened his mouth to reply, but the henchman codenamed “Pathos” told him, “I’ll take this one.” Ripley gave a nod of understanding. Daniel looked at Pathos. The codename came from his ability to understand suffering, and to inflict it on others, if need be. It seemed to Daniel that Pathos could look into his very soul, that he need not explain his inner demons because he already knew. Pathos asked him, “What’s the gas chamber training they go through in Basic Training?”
Daniel was surprised by the question, and he figured that Pathos already knew the answer, but when he replied he found the words spilling out of his mouth. “They-They had us put on our protective masks and enter a chamber filled with tear gas. They had us exercise a bit to get our breathing rate up and had us practice quickly removing and re-donning the masks. Then they had us remove our masks, inhale some of the tear gas, and file out.”
“They forced you to breathe in tear gas? Why? Were they being cruel?”
“No, they wanted us to make sure we knew how to use the masks if we had to. That's why they call it 'Mask Confidence Training'.” Starting to see what Pathos was getting at, he added, “It was to protect us.”
“What was the worst part?”
“Well, the tear gas wasn’t fun, but you recover quickly once you get to fresh air. The fear, the apprehension, was the worst part.” He reflected, then managed a smile, “I was tough, tougher than a lot of them, so it was easy for me.”
“Good for you. You see, you suffer for a little while, but there’s a benefit. Don’t worry about it.” He patted him on the shoulder.
Daniel turned back to Ripley. As he watched, Ripley detached the portion of the mask with the “gag” and the end of the leopard’s snout, removed a small compartment from the segment, and opened the vial. He poured some of the powder from the vial into the compartment, resealed the vial, ignited the powder through the holes in the compartment, and allowed it to smolder. He reassembled the mask and moved toward Daniel. Despite Pathos’s pep talk, Daniel started to feel fear arise in his chest.
Before he could react, Simon grabbed his wrists and held them tightly behind him. The experiment previously conducted on Daniel by his captors had given him increased strength, but the experiment that Simon had conducted on himself had granted him even greater strength. In addition, Estes pinned down one forearm while Kim and Dago pinned the other. Ripley bound the mask to Daniel’s face and then pressed his hand against his chest to pin him down further.
With the mask containing no eyeholes, and having only two air holes in the snout area, Daniel could hardly see anything. What little he saw was obscured by wisps of smoke. Remembering Pathos’s words, he tried to relax. With every breath he inhaled the fumes from the burning powder, and soon he began to enter a dreamy, tranquil state. Within a couple minutes he heard Pathos tell the others, “He’s okay,” and felt the arms release him, but by that point he had stopped caring. His muscles relaxed, his eyes closed, and he drifted further into the altered state.
Hours later, when he recovered, his head felt clear, but his muscles felt tired. Now in the recreation room instead of the clinic, he reflected on what had occurred. Under the drug’s influence, he had done whatever Ripley suggested that he do. He was thankful that the iguana man wasn’t perverse.
Though he became simply Ripley’s puppet while in his trance, Ripley merely had him do activities that were strenuous, such as traversing up and down the main corridor on his hands and knees, or embarrassing, such as washing his face in the koi pond, rather than perverse, cruel, or self-destructive. He even allowed him to take a shower after his visit to the pond.
He saw Ripley standing before him. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yeah,” replied Daniel.
“There’s something you should know. That wasn’t the only mind-control drug I possess. I also have a drug which works by injection. Just a small bit of that puts someone in my total control, unless they’re immune to poison.” He paused to let his words sink in and continued, “I hope this convinces you that I’m not interested in controlling you, in taking away your freedom. If I were, I would have done that from the beginning. I always had the ability. I just have no desire.”
Since this is my story, my drawings are staying where they are. However, you artists out there are free to submit your own renditions of the Binding Mask in this section.
Written by Raidra