The soothingly repetitive heavy metal blared from the television, as across the screen an explosion manifested a title comprised of riveted metal letters, splattered with something crimson: BATTLE ROYALE WITH METTATON. Unfortunately, Sans couldn't hear it properly. The crashes and bangs had been coming out of Papyrus' room all day. Grunting in irritation, he turned up the volume, just as the Title Screen gave way to a tastefully rusting box emerging from a trap door in the program's studio, seizing a microphone from an irascible looking cat, and rolling over to four monsters on his treadmills, crushing the tip of the cat's tail. Sans loved watching people performing their community service to make up for their crimes.
"Welcome back to Mettaton's Battle Royale!" the box was saying. "Before commercials, we were down to our final four contestants." He trundled over to a cragged looking vulkin. "Now then! You, darling, if you overcome your enemies with the single weapon of your choice, what prize would you like?"
"Excellent choice! Now, how many nails do you want in your baseball bat?"
That question was unexpectedly loud. It was then Sans realised the noise from upstairs. had finished. Fidgeting a little, the eponymous hood of his black hoodie stopped pressing against his back. Lowering the volume, he hoped he could finish watching before-
"GET UP HERE!"
Ugh. "ugh..." Pressing record on the remote, Sans slowly headed upstairs and into the bedroom.
"GET UP FASTER NEXT TIME, LAZYBONES."
"you don't pay me for punctuality, boss."
"I DON'T PAY YOU AT ALL!"
"BAH, NEVER MIND. I'VE BEEN REFINING MY HUMAN CONTAINMENT SYSTEM." He proudly presented the iron cage in the middle of the room. "I WAS WORRIED THAT IT WAS TOO... TOO..."
"NO, COMFORTABLE. SURELY WHEN WE CAPTURE A HUMAN, THEY SHOULD BE PUT ON EDGE. THAT ANXIETY SHOULD RENDER THE SOUL MORE POTENT WHEN THE KING HARNESSES ITS POWER."
"uh, what are ya basin' that on, papyrus?"
"I READ IT IN A BOOK ONCE."
"sure it was a book? sure it wasn't nothing?"
"SHUT UP! ANYWAY, I WANT YOU TO TEST IT OUT."
Sans picked at a piece of burger stuck next to his golden tooth. "huh?"
"I NEED METRICS TO MEASURE ITS DISCOMFORT, SANS! DATA, EVEN ANECDOTAL DATA, IS ESSENTIAL. GET INSIDE FOR HALF AN HOUR AND REPORT TO ME HOW YOU FEEL."
The door to the cage creaked open, and Sans climbed in, skull resting on his shoulder to avoid scraping it against a jagged spike aimed at him from the ceiling.
"AS YOU CAN FEEL, MINIATURE SPIKES KEEP THE INHABITANT FROM PROLONGED SITTING OR EVEN LAYING. IN THIS, THEY WILL HAVE TO STAND FOR HOURS AT A TIME, AND THAT FATIGUE WILL AGITATE THEM. MEANWHILE, THEIR OWN WEIGHT WILL CAUSE THE IRON TO GROAN, DISRUPTING THEIR ATTEMPTS TO CONTEMPLATE ANYTHING BUT THEIR IMMINENT FATE..."
This technical analysis of the myriad unpleasantries of the cage continued for the entire half hour. Sans tuned it out after a while.
"...AND FINALLY, CONFINEMENT JUST REALLY STINKS! COME OUT NOW." he opened the cage to allow this. "REPORT. HOW DO YOU FEEL?"
Sans cricked his neck. "welp. the groaning's still ringing in my ears. i'm stiff from tryin' to keep a pose wihout budging. i can still feel the pricks of the spikes whenever i moved at all. my neck's being a pain in my tailbone, and my tailbone's being a pain in my ass. an' finally my back's gonna be outta whack for a week."
"SO, HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE CONTAINMENT SYSTEM?"
"...can we replace my bed with it?"
"NYAH!" Papyrus tipped the cage on its side. It didn't look any different. "THAT'S USELESS TO ME! IF YOU CAN ENDURE IT, A HUMAN SURELY WILL!"
"well boss, why don't ya think of something else?"
"WHAT DO YOU THINK I'VE BEEN DOING FOR A WEEK? I WROTE DOWN EVERY HORRIBLE THING I COULD INFLICT WITHOUT RISKING MORTAL INJURY. HOW DARE YOU FAIL TO BE COWED BY IT!"
"BAH! WHAT TO DO? THINK THINK THINK..." Papyrus drummed his fingers on his mandible.
"ya know, there's a saying, papyrus. 'a problem shared is a problem halved'."
"I TOLD YOU, NO EXECUTION, THAT'S FOR THE KING ALONE."
"i mean, go talk to somebody about this. they might thinka somethin'."
"SANS, THAT'S... THAT'S BRILLIANT! SO GLAD I THOUGHT OF IT!"
"way to go."
"...so then i-" BZZT. "ow. i said 'way to go', and-" BZZT. "ow. and he picks up his-" BZZT. "ow. his cage and me and brings us-" BZZT. "ow. brings us here. and then you-" BZZT. "ow. you know the rest."
"Yes," grumbled Alphys, "and I didn't ask you to recount any of that."
BZZT. "ow. i like to make sure."
Each shock seemed to enhance his grin rather than diminish it. He was cramped inside the cage again, a sophisticated looking device wired to it, and the device itself wired to two car batteries. Papyrus stood cross-armed as the Royal Scientist chose this moment to "forget" their presence and check one of her camera feeds. A mournful discordant wail poured from one of the screens, so she scooped up some dog food from a bag next to the terminal and dumped it into one of the half-dozen delivery tubes. Not looking at all like she cared about whether it was the right one. Adjusting her glasses, eyes completely hidden as some of its inbuilt functions fluctuated in a random swirl, she returned to her unwelcome guests.
"Well, that's the gist of it, Papyrus. The cage-"
"-cage is hooked up to this transformer to regulate the current and prevent accidental electrocution before the King is ready to tend to the human. I can lend you a micro-core to power it if you don't think the batteries will be enough. This panel here can either set regular intervals between shocks from six seconds to four hours, or it can be entirely random. In this, the subject will be even less unlikely to get any sleep and can only ponder their fate."
"YES," grumbled Papyrus, "AND I DIDN'T ASK YOU TO EXPLAIN IT AGAIN!"
She sniffed, not at all intimidated. "I like to make sure. In any case, that uncertainty should contribute to the anxiety you seek, further tempering the soul's power before we unleash it on the world."
"YOU'RE SURE IT WILL WORK?"
Alphys shrugged. "Read it in a book once."
"you sure it-" BZZT. "ow. was a book? sure it wasn't-" BZZT. "ow."
"NO GUFF, SANS! DOCTOR, SUSPEND THE SHOCKS AND RELEASE MY BROTHER." She chose to do those things, not obey his orders. Sans kept twitching in peculiar ways. "NOW, HOW DO YOU FEEL?"
"GOOD. DO YOU WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN?"
"nope. no way."
"NYEH-HAH! THE SYSTEM IS READY! ONCE A HUMAN-"
"not before my birthday."
"i know i'm rubbish to shop for, boss. you wanna get me one of those systems for my birthday?"
"ARGH!" In his anger the cage was rendered entirely recognisable with another tipping. "I'M DELIGHTED I DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT THIS YEAR, BUT WHAT ABOUT TORMENTING THE HUMAN?! WHAT ELSE IS THERE?"
"And you thought this was worth bothering me with?"
Papyrus and Alphys didn't answer, remaining prostrate. Asgore looked around the scarlet room, black tiles directing would-be supplicants to where they should stand, and where they most definitely should not. The black and red Delta Rune hung from banners covering the few signs of the room once being a natural cavern, shadows flickering across them as the torches lining the walls burned menacingly. Two things undermined the effect this throne room had: The remains of a throne similar to the one Asgore currently sat in, looking like it had been smashed in a violent rage, and a small patch of golden flowers in a corner, in the one place natural light reached from the Surface. Asgore stood up from the throne, charcoal-coloured beard caught in a wickedly sharp claw as Sans dared to emerge from the containment system. He didn't join his brother and Alphys in bowing, though nobody was sure if that was a side effect from the shocks, but watching as the King approached the cage and inspected it up close.
"WE JUST THOUGHT, MY LORD, IF ANYBODY KNEW OF MORE WE COULD INFLICT ON THE HUMAN, IT WOULD BE YOU."
He smiled a smile full of yellowing teeth, looking placated. "Hmm. Sound reasoning. As is your motive for this endeavour, skeleton. I read it in a book once."
Sans remained silent. He knew better. Asgore's clawed thumb rested over his mouth as he contemplated the contraption before him.
"So," said Alphys, "what would you d-do to make the cage more uncomf-"
The large hand waved over the cage, which promptly burst into flames of dark and sickly hues. The three petitioners began to sweat from the intensity of the flames, until Asgore dismissed them as quickly as he'd summoned them.
"They would not burn. Not until I allowed it."
The outburst from all three petitioners took him aback. Surprise flickered across Asgore's face, followed by exasperation, like he'd just given them a two-dot puzzle and they still hadn't figured it out. Neither expression was detected by the others as they cheered his wisdom. Wisdom he had a hard time understanding.
"The only problem," said Alphys, "is that non-magical fire can't not burn. If you were present when the human is apprehended, My Lord, that wouldn't be a problem, but that's unlikely. So it looks like shocks are the best you can do, Papyrus."
They also missed the relief Asgore felt for her poo-pooing the suggestion. "Yes. The final human shall have to suffer at my hands, and my hands alone. Your efforts are valiant, skeleton, but as long as the human is delivered to me, no extras are required. Now return to your posts before I punish you for thinking beyond your station."
"sure thing, boss's boss."
"Doctor, a moment."
Her glasses displayed no emotion, just another fluctuating swirl. The rest of her body made up for it as Sans and Papyrus left with their unharmed cage.
"My... M-My Lord?"
"Those discomfort features he droned on about... You couldn't install some of them in my bed, could you?"
"Congratulations to this brave warrior!" shouted Mettaton from the TV. "She's won our Battle Royale!"
The camera focused on the Vulkin, chipped and cracked and oozing lava, but with a glint in her eyes that she would now do anything to survive. For Sans, the volume remained untouched, for since they returned from the castle Papyrus had been quiet. Made a nice change.
"Now then, I suppose you want the antidote?"
"That's what I told you."
"Well you can have that. Orrrrrrrr..." A package in gaudy pink wrapping paper ascended from a hole in the floor. "You can take the mystery box."
The glint in her eyes was replaced with longing.
"It could be anything. A glamburger, a waiver from conscription, a conveniently shaped lamp, it might even be the antidote! So, what will it be?"
Ugh. "ugh." Knowing what it would be, he paused the recording and walked up to Papyrus' room. Only to discover he didn't know what it would be.
The Human Containment System was unrecognisible. Doctor Alphys' shock system was removed, and Sans couldn't make out any spikes. Instead, soft and fluffy looking pillows filled it, threatening to burst. Even more disconcerting, a teddy bear poked its snout from the middle of the obscene collection, its heart-shaped nose determined to offer friendship to whatever mad soul divorced from reality dared make its acquaintance inside the ineffable contraption.
"what the hell is this, boss?" Fear laced his voice.
"A REVOLUTION," Papyrus cheered, "IN TORTURE! YOU SEE SANS, I REALISED THAT I FOCUSED TOO MUCH ON THE PHYSICAL DISPLEASURE OF CONFINEMENT. IT'S COUNTERINTUITIVE, BUT SOME WAYS OF SKINNING A CAT REQUIRE NO SKINNING WHATSOEVER! WHAT SHALL REALLY CONFOUND THEIR NOGGIN IS WHEN I CONFINE THEM IN SO MUCH COMFORT AND CUDDLINESS, THE COGNITIVE DISSONANCE WILL BE MADDENING! THEY'LL KNOW I'M LEADING THEM INTO A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY, AND WITH WONDERING WHEN THE HAMMER - OR RATHER TRIDENT - WILL FALL, THEIR ANXIETY WILL RENDER THEIR EXCELLENT NIGHT'S SLEEP RUINED!"
"my god, that's... that's genius, bro." A rare dollop of sincerity plopped onto his words.
"I KNOW IT IS," said Papyrus, "NOW GET IN."
"GET IN THE HUMAN CONTAINMENT SYSTEM SANS, I HAVE TO TEST IT."
"uh-uh, no way you're getting me in that unholy piece of crap, you don't pay me enough."
"I DON'T PAY YOU AT ALL!"
"BAH, WHATEVER! THE CAPSTONE TO MY PLAN TO CAPTURE A HUMAN IS PERFECT! I, THE GRAND PAPYRUS, SHALL DELIVER THEM TO THE KING PERSONALLY!"
Sans twitched again. Alphys had said it should stop. Eventually. Not that she sounded concerned. "cool. hey, if that's the last step, what's the first step boss?"
"WHY THAT'S EASY, I JUST... I..." Papyrus creaked as his jaw fell. His blank unchanging sockets betrayed a stab of shocked realisation.
"did you not bother to work on that?"
"OF C-COURSE I DID! I JUST... I DON'T HAVE TO TELL YOU EVERYTHING. I DON'T HAVE TO TELL YOU ANYTHING! THE PIECES SHALL FALL INTO PLACE ACCORDING TO MY DESIGN, AND THE HUMAN SHALL FOLLOW EVERY STEP OF MY PLAN FROM THE MOMENT THEY ENTER THE UNDERGROUND! TRUST ME ON THIS."
Sans twitched again, again. "okay, papyrus. can i finish my show now?"
"YES, BEGONE! I SHALL JUST... PUT THE FINAL TOUCHES ON THIS SCHEME..."