Bewildering Stories

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Through a Glass, Darkly

Part 8

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 7 appeared
in issue 129.

Booth came to a stop and extended his arm in the general direction of the door to the cell block, snapped his fingers. Michelle and I heard the sound of the door opening, followed by the unmistakable sound of heavy equipment being wheeled down the corridor. After a moment a laden pallet on a wheeled jack came into view. The jack was being operated by a young pup in a simple black jumpsuit. He came to a stop in front of the cell. A moment later a short, stocky gentleman in his middle years came into view, accompanied by four armed guards.

The machine on the pallet was interesting. It was shaped something like a coffin, but the inside was studded with various kinds of probes and prods and electrodes and such. A series of straps were tied to the inside of the lid of the coffin, which was heavily reinforced. I know this because the lid of the coffin was open and I could see the straps.

Booth stepped up beside the older gentleman and draped an affectionate arm around his shoulders. “This is Doctor Strong,,” he said. “The good Doctor has been working with me for a number of years now. He has been researching the human nervous system with the intention of understanding exactly how the human body transmits and responds to pain stimulus. His researches have helped us to produce the device you see before you. Allow me to explain how this is going to work.”

“The subject is placed against the inside of the lid, where he is strapped in place. The lid is then partially closed, just enough to bring the subject into contact with the probes you see on the inside of the sarcophagus. The device then scans the subject, and in a matter of seconds produces a rather complete picture of the current state of the subject’s nervous system. This picture provides the Doctor with a baseline to use during the course of the session. The really unique thing about the sarcophagus, however, is its ability to continuously scan the subject throughout the course of the session. As certain neurotransmitters become overloaded the sensors in the sarcophagus inform the operator, who then begins to focus on other parts of the body, thus allowing the overloaded neurotransmitters to rest and desensitize. The sensors will inform the operator when this has happened.

“On all occasions when we have used the sarcophagus during the course of an interrogation, the subject has ended up answering our questions truthfully and completely one hundred percent of the time. So will it be with you.”

The prospect of being tortured wasn’t exactly appealing to me, especially not when the instrument of that torture was a device as obviously sophisticated as the sarcophagus, but I allowed myself to feel a moment of pride. If Booth was going to bother with torture then is was because he hadn’t yet figured out what was to come. This was a good thing, because if he hadn’t figured it out yet then he probably never would. Blind siding people can be so much fun, and in this case it represented a certain poetic justice.

I looked at Booth and shook my head sadly. “Torture,” I said. “How Spanish Inquisition of you. Here I thought that you could do so much better.”

Booth just grinned. “Ah, but I can do better, Captain. Shall I demonstrate?”

I returned Booth’s grin. “Be my guest.”

“I would be delighted.” Booth snapped his fingers. The Doctor and the pup wheeled the sarcophagus down the corridor. Booth and three of the guards retreated around the corner while the fourth guard pulled something from his pocket. He touched a button on the object, tossed it leisurely onto my bunk, and then retreated around the corner. It wasn’t until the object landed on the bunk that I recognized it for what it was, and then it was too late.

The stun grenade is a device used by the SWAT teams attached to local police forces. Basically it’s a flash-bang with a little extra kick. There was an almost electrical snapping sound, closely followed by a flash of white light. That’s when the specially shaped explosive charge built into the grenade went off. The physical force of the explosion threw me back into the wall. I slumped to the ground and did not move.

Booth’s guards came back around the corner and opened the door to the cell. Two of them picked Michelle up off of the bunk and carried her out. The third guard knelt down beside me and pressed a pressure injector against my neck. I wasn’t in any shape to fight him. A moment later the guards were gone and so was Michelle.

I don’t know how long I lay there on the floor. I tried to move but I couldn’t. At first I thought that it must be an unanticipated side effect of the stun grenade, but then I remembered the pressure injector. It didn’t take me long to conclude that the injector must have contained a neural toxin of some kind, and that the toxin was responsible for my paralysis.

Then I forgot all about stun grenades and neural toxins. From down the hall I heard Michelle start to scream, and she didn’t stop.

I fought like hell to overcome the paralysis, but it just wasn’t any use. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t move. I was stuck there on the ground while some sadistic lunatic was torturing the most important person in my life, and doing it for kicks. The only time I’ve ever felt anything like as helpless as I did right then was the day that Percy told us that the Elves had effectively rendered all of our stolen gold worthless. Then I had been able to go out into the bar and get myself soused. Here I couldn’t even move far enough to pick up a glass.

I’m still trying to decide which one was worse.

I think that there must have been a mild sedative in that toxin they shot me with because I passed out. When I came to I was still sprawled out on the floor and the guards were carrying Michelle into the cell. They laid her gently on the bunk and left. I did a little experimentation and discovered that I could move again. I climbed up off of the floor and sat down on the bunk beside Michelle, started to examine her.

“She has not been permanently damaged,” Booth said from behind me. I turned and saw him standing in the corridor in front of the cell. “Be warned, though, she will be sensitive to touch for some time yet. In twenty four hours, though, she will be as right as rain.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I demanded.

Booth shrugged. “Because it suits me to do so,” he answered. “Understand this, captain, I will do whatever it takes to break you, spiritually, emotionally, physically. Every time you displease me I will make her suffer, and you will listen to her screams. The advantage of using Doctor Strong’s device lies in the fact that I can keep doing this for as long as I want to, and the subject will never suffer any permanent damage.”

“How could you do this to someone who didn’t have the answers you sought?” I asked. “You knew she didn’t know the answers to your questions.”

“You’re right,” Booth admitted. “I did know she didn’t have the answers I wanted. That’s why I didn’t ask her any questions.”

I rose up off of the bunk and advanced on the cell door. “You went to all the trouble of torturing her and you didn’t even bother to ask her any questions? Where the hell is the logic in that?”

Booth just grinned. “I wanted to make her scream. And I wanted you to hear her scream. And for the moment, that’s more than enough reason.”

And with that he turned and strode out of the cell block.

* * *

Booth’s prediction came true.

Michelle was unconscious when they brought her back to the cell. An hour after that she was awake. I tried to hold her hand and assure her that I was there, that I wasn’t going anywhere, but her nerve endings were still a little on the sensitive side and every time I laid hands on her I hurt her. Eventually I retreated to the other bunk and left her alone.

Eight hours after Michelle woke up the pain had subsided somewhat. I was able to sit beside her on the bunk and touch her without causing her pain. I tried to talk to her but she wasn’t interested. She could tolerate me sitting with her but she wasn’t the least bit interested in having a conversation with me.

Eventually I retreated to the other bunk and had a nap. I came awake some hours later when I felt someone on the bunk with me. I rolled over and opened my eyes to the sight of Michelle sitting beside me. She was still a little shaky and pale, but her eyes were clear, and they burned with an inner fire. “It’s time for us to talk,” she told me.

I sat up and leaned back against the wall. “I’m listening.”

Michelle took a deep breath and folded her hands in her lap. “There are things that you must come to grips with if we’re going to get out of this in one piece,” she said. “When you decided to throw all caution to the wind and come after me you set in motion a chain of very specific events for which there are very specific consequences. Our imprisonment is one of them. My torture is another. The decision you made has caused the universe, in the form of Booth, to decide that we are to be made to suffer.”

“So you’re saying that this is all my fault.”

“I’m sure that’s what Booth would have you believe,” Michelle answered. “From a certain point of view he’s right, but a truth dependent on point of view is only half a truth. The universal truth of a given situation is much more elusive, but in this case it’s right within our grasp. When you and I got together we made a conscious decision to live our lives a certain way, and in the course of pursuing our chosen life we earned more than our fair share of enemies. Most of them we’ve managed to outlive, but sooner or later we were destined to encounter someone who is just as resourceful, just as intelligent, and just as motivated as we are. And now we have. Booth is the enemy that we’ve been spending the last twenty years of our lives gearing up to fight.

“Now, the universe isn’t big enough for us to be able to share it with Booth and live in peace, so that means that one of our groups has to be destroyed. There can be no other conclusion to the current conflict, it’s that simple. Either Booth kills us or we kill Booth. Booth lives in anticipation of one outcome and in fear of the other so he’s going to do everything in his power to stack the deck in his favor. That’s why he engineered the ambush where I was captured. He knew that if he got his hands on me you would storm the gates of hell itself to get to me, and that’s exactly what you did. You walked right into his hands and now he can do what he wishes with us.”

“And he can do what he wishes with us because that’s one of the consequences of the chain of events that I set in motion,” I said.

“Exactly,” Michelle nodded. “Notice that I said it was a consequence of your decision, I did not say that you were to blame.”

I shook my head. “Then why do I feel responsible?” I wondered. “If I’m not to blame then why do I feel as if I’ve failed you?”

Michelle smiled, reached out and rested her hand against my cheek. “Because, Martin Horvath, in your heart you’re a good, kind, and sentimental man. Years ago you promised me that you would never leave me, that you would always be there to protect me and defend me and to love me unconditionally. You take your promises seriously, and sometimes you take them a little too seriously. You think that Booth’s ability to stun us and take me away so that he could strap me to that sarcophagus somehow constitutes a failure on your part because you didn’t see it coming, and were thus unable to prevent it. The problem with that kind of logic is that it’s not logic, it’s an emotional fallacy that we as people sometimes fall into when rotten things happen to people that we love.

“What you don’t realize now, but you will realize in time, is that by taking responsibility for my abduction and torture you somehow absolve Booth of his responsibility for those actions. You’re taking it upon yourself to act as judge, jury, and executioner for your own trial and you’re trying yourself for a crime that you didn’t commit.

“This whole thing is one elaborate psych game, and your sentimentality for me is allowing Booth to burrow under your skin and poke and prod at you anytime he wants to. He knows that he can get to you anytime he wants to by hurting me, causing me to suffer. It causes an emotional reaction in you that makes you vulnerable, and Booth wants to exploit that vulnerability.”

“So, what am I to do when he takes you from me and straps you to that sarcophagus?” I demanded. “Would you have me sit here and do nothing, act as if I don’t care?”

Michelle shook her head. “I don’t know what you should do,” she admitted, “or how you’re going to get out of this. I just think that you need to take a step back and take a good, hard look at what’s going on, the part that you’re playing in what’s happening to us. You need to detach yourself from what’s happening, because that’s the only way that you’re going to be able to survive.”

“And what about you?”

Michelle shrugged. “I guess that I’m going to have to trust you to do whatever you can to get us both out of this,” she said.

I sat there and nodded thoughtfully. I had already let her down once. I had no intention of ever letting that happen again.

* * *

Booth left us alone for a long time, which suited me fine because it gave Michelle a chance to recover from her experience in the sarcophagus. It took a little while but eventually her color came back to her, and she became more like the Michelle of old, the person who had inspired me to change the destructive course of my life and do something better with myself.

We passed the time with touch and talk, played elaborate word games with each other. Sometimes we passed the time in comfortable silence, and sometimes we slept. After our little talk while Michelle had been recovering she decided that she didn’t have any reason not to sleep beside me, so we took to having our little siestas together. The bunks were narrow and couldn’t be moved, so we took to sleeping spooned up together. By unspoken mutual consent Michelle always had the inside of the cuddle.

I was awakened from one such siesta because I felt something watching us. I opened my eyes and looked at the cell door, saw Booth standing there with his arms folded across his chest and a thoughtful expression on his face. I sighed regretfully. “And to think that things were going so well, too.”

“Was I intruding?” Booth wondered. “Oh, I do apologize. Sometimes I forget myself.”

“How I wish that were true,” Michelle murmured sleepily.

I grinned, dipped my head down and kissed her temple. “Just relax, sweetheart,” I said. “I’ll talk to our guest.” I threw off the blanket and climbed over Michelle and off the bunk. I tucked the blanket back around her and stepped into the middle of the cell to face Booth. “What the hell do you want this time?” I demanded.

“Enlightenment,” Booth responded.

“I doubt it,” I answered. “If you were really interested in enlightenment then you wouldn’t be a slaver.”

Booth shook his head. “I have no interest in spiritual enlightenment,” he said. “I’ve always believed that it’s a crutch for people who are too weak to face the real world. What I am interested in is intellectual enlightenment.”

“I fail to see the difference,” I said.

“I thought you might,” Booth responded. “I find myself faced with something of a mystery. You see, my sources of information on New Geneva have suddenly gone silent. The last transmissions I received from them were several hours old. I estimate that they have been silent for at least a day. Now, since there was absolutely no indication that Federation Council Security had detected them then logically they must have been sold out by a different source of information. Logically in order for anyone to profit from silencing my sources they must be either competitors or enemies. My competitors have learned that it’s just not profitable for them to shut down my sources of information, and all of my enemies are dead, except for you. So I have to wonder exactly what your people have been up to since their arrival on New Geneva.”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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