The explosion woke him up first.
His whole body shook with the cabin as it roared.
He tumbled from a barely comfortable bed to the hard ground. Metal. Painful. Great...
A little hazy and dizzy, Ace moved to sit up and found he couldn’t move his hands. He blinked at the ground, shifting his body slightly to look down at himself.
Ropes had been bound intricately over his upper body. Ropes lashed over his chest several times keeping his arms tied to his sides, while yet more rope had been spread out over his stomach like a spider web. He could only imagine his back had similar roping and his wrists and arms were lashed together.
And then he noticed he’d been gagged. And not just any gag, a muzzle. He heard a jingle as he tried to push it off, in case it was loose or poorly latched. Unfortunately, it was tight and kept him from making any noise.
He squirmed and struggled, frustrated by his situation, before he became distracted by his surroundings.
Now that he thought about it, waking up in bondage wasn’t the only thing that seemed unfamiliar.
He was in a cabin with two tall bunk beds that each held three beds reaching up all the way to the ceiling. One of the beds, not the one he’d fallen off of, had a blue briefcase on it. There was a table to his left in the corner, a porthole leading to the outside, a sink and cork board beside it with a shelf between them and a clock up on that same wall. On his right was a curtain, a large door with the number  painted on it in something that looked unsettlingly like blood with a terminal on its right with a red light and a lever. Just under the terminal was a small black box with a keyhole. And to the right of that was another curtain, and a kettle atop a dresser. They must’ve been nailed down because nothing was moving despite how the cabin seemed to lurch.
He propped himself back up with exceeding difficulty and sat down on the closest cot. Ace’s heart was beating at 100 miles per minute. He was in one of the cabins for the Nonary Game. HIS Nonary Game.
Without a second thought he hurried to stand and made for the door. He turned around and fumbled with the door handle, barely able to look over his shoulder as he blindly grasped it.
It wouldn’t open.
With increasing fear, Ace faced the door and ran at it, slamming against the hard metal door with his shoulder. And again and again. He tried to get someone’s attention on the other side by screaming behind the gag as he collided.
No one responded.
And the door didn’t give.
He wanted to break down right then and there, but something else caused him to give pause.
Ace heard a cracking sound.
He turned his body toward the back of the cabin and saw the port window start to crack under water pressure and then it burst open. Water, cold and black, started to pour into his cabin.
Fear gripped at his chest, caught in his throat as he felt the helplessness weigh him down.
And then he felt a surge of strength. He’d done this before. He could do them blindfolded! He’d made them!
And at that, he waded forward in the water already up to his ankles. He saw the briefcase and studied it for a second. He knew he’d have to find a key first before he could put in the combination. So, he set out finding that first, searching under the pillows and sheets on the beds. He found a piece of paper on the opposite bed, but no key. He put it on the briefcase and kept searching, checking inside the pot and... yes! There it was!
He had a rough time removing the key from the pot, since his hands wouldn’t both fit inside it for him to snatch it. Ace turned it upside down on the bed and was relieved it came out easily. Putting the key in the lock was another issue. He blindly tried to force the key into the keyhole, frustrated as the key didn’t even slide in. It was upside down. He bit down hard on the plastic between his teeth, and he managed to get the key inside.
Ace turned it. Maybe he’d be lucky and the code would be already typed in correctly.
It didn’t open.
Ace swallowed, looking around. There was the code he’d found earlier. So he’d need to look around for another slip of paper to complete it, but he also didn’t remember what the shapes, one shaded in and the other not, were supposed to stand for. It’d been 9 years, after all. It also could’ve been altered by his captors.
So he took another look around, searching in the dresser and finding a screwdriver, and then looked up at the cork board and saw the paper there. It was far out of reach for him, so he stood on his toes and knocked it off with his head.
He frantically tried to catch it as it fell, but it landed in the water now up to his knees. Ace managed to fish it out after bending his knees and trying for a few precious seconds. And then he saw the picture just sitting on the shelf and figured he could unscrew the back of the portrait (which should have the answers to the code).
Ace made his way back to the briefcase, setting the papers side by side and then set onto unscrewing the back. It was infuriatingly difficult to make sure the head of the screwdriver was in the grooves of the screw and simultaneously turn it. His fingers grasped clumsily at the head of the screw, unable to both hold the portrait still and use the screwdriver.
He sighed in relief as the last screw came out and the back of the portrait came loose. Now he had the codes and the cypher.
The next issue came from trying to look over his shoulder at the dials on the briefcase. It was impossible to make sure he was doing it right, that he finally got down on his knees and turned them with his nose. It worked a lot better, and he managed to put in the code before turning the key with his hands.
The file inside, once he laid it flat for him to read, was about Digital Roots, which Ace was already well familiar with. He flipped through it quickly to see if there was anything else worth reading before discarding it and the calculator. Key cards fell out of the book, and he excitedly snatched them up and made his way to the door.
He tried them in the door and came up with nothing. The cards, which he had to assume were going in right before he turned around to check the asterisk on the terminal, all came up with errors.
Ace would’ve slapped himself on the forehead... if he’d been free to do so.
He didn’t have all the numbers, so he couldn’t make the Digital Root of . So he went searching behind the curtain to his right and found another briefcase, Red this time. It was too high for him to reach, but he’d come back to that when he needed to.
It required another key, but thankfully he had all the information to open it. So he searched the second curtain behind him and saw the red key taped on the mirror. He snarled as he saw it was well out of his hand’s grasp.
Ace rubbed his arm against the key until it came loose and fell into the water. The water was now almost at his thighs, soaking him completely from the waist down in a manner of minutes. He bent his knees and managed to snatch it before it fell completely to the flooded floor.
Then Ace stopped.
He’d been so focused on the key, he hadn’t noticed his appearance in the mirror.
The rope had indeed been expertly bound about his person. The rope also went under his armpits and knitted there to keep it in place despite his struggling to get free. The rope intricately patterned over him so much it looked like he’d fallen into a net. And the muzzle gag was black and smooth reaching all the way behind his head where a small gold lock had been fastened shut. He even looked behind his back and saw there was no way he’d have managed to get free on his own. His upper arms, elbows, and wrists had been lashed with rope each getting closer and closer together. And the ropes had been thoroughly wrapped over each other, preventing him from even moving his arms much as they almost created a large bar of rope between his limbs.
It made sense why he’d struggled to do this stupid puzzle beyond the obvious.
He glared at his reflection and at the fantastic and aesthetically pleasing bondage. Ace would’ve been impressed (after all, it’s almost hard not to be) if it had been... not on him.
The sound of rushing water brought him back out of his revere, and he hurried to complete his task.
With renewed vigour, he made his way to the red briefcase. He tried to put in the code first, but the briefcase wouldn’t allow it. So he stood on the tips of his toes, using his chin to slowly edge the briefcase to the metal wall and then inch it out and over the edge.
It fell with a splash on the water and, with some frantic finagling, Ace managed to get the briefcase on the dresser. He forced the key inside after several tries and then set out onto his knees, the water up to his neck, as he used his nose once more to get the code right.
The case opened with a satisfying click, and Ace pulled the key cards out, heading to the door. He used , , and  (1 + 2 + 7 = 10, 1 + 0 = 1) and pulled the lever. The light switched from red to green and a key dropped from the bottom of the terminal.
It landed on the black box. And as the room’s water was now up to his stomach, Ace snatched the key, forced it haphazardly into the keyhole, grabbed the contents of the box, and opened the door. The water followed him as he pelted out of the cabin and down a long hallway to another door, which, thankfully, opened up as he turned around and fumbled with the handle. He bashed his shoulder at the door and then bashed it again to close it.
His eyes saw the Titanic set up he’d made for the kids, with the brilliant golden yellow steps and fancy lighting fixtures.
But Ace didn’t care too much about that. He sat down on the stairs and emptied his handful on the floor. There was a note, a pocket knife, and another small key. Too eager to get himself free, he took the knife and flicked open the blade, cutting himself slightly.
He winced, but hurriedly — and cautiously — cut himself free.
It took ages to cut the ropes. They were so well bound and tight he couldn’t go too quickly. Even with his wrists free, the rope holding his arms was still tightly wound around his limbs.
Finally the ropes fell from his body, and he rubbed at the marks they left on his skin. He took the key and blindly unlocked his gag, pulling it from his mouth. He groaned, flexing his jaw and swearing angrily.
Then he snatched up the note and read it.
“Even with your bondage, it would be too easy for you. You deserve worse.
He crumpled it up and put it in his coat pocket... and added the gag as well, in case it came in handy later, or he could shove it in Zero’s mouth when he got his hands on the sonofabitch.