One more step and he would have to choose. Knife or wife.
He could feel her breath. So warm brushing over his skin, raising hairs and burning memories. Fingers trembling, he reached for the blush along her cheek.
Thirty milliamps jerked his eyes wide and seized his heart. The filaments of illusion fell away. Blue and gold light scrabbled around a barren room of steel alloy. Electricity arced and zinged, neatly avoiding the Lucite chamber at the very center of the room.
A Courtier's Catch. A godsdamned electrified prison box.
His big boot was on the pressure pad.
He dropped, convulsing. Foam and spittle formed on his lips, carrying the scent of broiled meat. Black spots burst before his eyes. Hot and wet oozed down his legs.
His greatest damnation smiled and stretched. Muscular limbs straddled the clear bench that had once seemed a sumptuous bed. The knife, though, that was real enough; that she clenched in her left hand. Her right tapped the hollow behind her ear.
"Turn it down, Jhonyi. We need his precious brain wholly functional. Call up Doc and her minions. Maybe she'll have better luck locating his implant."
The light-show died. The floor brightened to glaring white. He stopped gagging on his own bile, but couldn't work his lungs worth a damn. Beneath the keening between his ears, his gasps sounded like an old vinyl record at the end of its song.
His wife slapped the flat of her blade against the Lucite wall. "Darling, you never could make a decision and stick with it. You've been dead twice. That's beyond a miracle. That's a problem."
Rubber hands hoisted him off the floor and dragged him out the door.
Crackling echoed inside his skull.
"Tank's finally topped off. All circuits now registering. Let's bring his systems online."
A hum. Two hums. Three and his lungs finally drew in a real breath. Still tasted like charred chicken.
"Easy, easy, buddy." The voice no one believed was real had the gall to chuckle. "Twenty paces 'til three doors. Red cross for the infirmary and Patient Zero's blood sample. Yellow biohazard leads to the containment cells holding the rest of your team. Blue ouroboros...no one knows."
He closed his eyes and prayed to any god that would listen. Opening his eyes changed his vision.
"Five steps. Four. Three. Two..."