interrogation_lightWith a black bag over your head, you lose track of time. The world around you is dark. Perception is cluttered. You quickly begin to withdraw from your surroundings. I felt sick. The ride was longer than I expected. Or was it my imagination? Inside the bag, my breath, hot and thick, was choking me. I could hardly breathe. Where were they taking me?

Before we departed the skirmish site where they took me from two LMO security officers, the team of insurgents, Dada, Parker, Pili and Ghia, made certain that I was hidden from sight and that I was blinded. For security reasons.

From my prone position across the floorboards, I felt the vehicle rise and rock over the frozen landscape. The engine’s low whine reverberated throughout the vehicle. I heard the crunching of ice underneath the powerful tracks that propelled us. The toe of Ghia’s boot dug into my ribs. She tapped her toe impatiently when she spoke. I heard only quiet tones, infrequently. Ghia spoke with a Dominican Spanish accent that was warm and murky. Even in a hushed voice, there was a rapid staccato delivery to her speech and a tendency to slur consonants.

Parker at the helm clicked off the kilometers and the checkpoints as he navigated. Dada ran surveillance sweeps and scan blocking. Even in their quiet voices, I could tell there was a nervous tension about traveling through dangerous territories. Who was out there? How many?

The vehicle passed through a series of gates. I heard the electronic acknowledgment of every pass-thru from the vehicle’s AI. We were in an official vehicle of some sort. I couldn’t tell if it was government or military or corporate. The onboard AI had a non-inflected tone, a cold but proficient quality typical of special-purpose systems.

When we stopped, I heard all manner of noises. The city. I was pulled from the vehicle. By the feel of the grasp, I could tell Ghia was escorting me. Even with the bag over my head, I could feel her anger and frustration. She gripped my arm tightly and pushed me through each of the turns like an ill-bred animal.

I felt myself pass through a doorway. Then another. Down some stairs. Down again. We went through a final door that sounded heavy and thick. I heard the latch work to open and then close again. The room we entered was cold. I heard a few footsteps. Someone else was here.

Ghia released my arm suddenly and it made me sway a little on my heels. That’s when I felt the kick to the small of my back: unexpected and sharp. I went sprawling through the air head first and hit the floor with a painful smack that knocked the wind out of me. My shoulder and my chin took a beating against the floor. My chest tensed. I gasped for air and groaned. I began coughing. There was blood in my mouth.

“Damn it, Ghia,” shouted Dada. “That’s enough!”

Someone pulled me up, grumbling. It was probably Parker. He grabbed both of my hands around my back and bound them together. I was shoved roughly into a chair. “What’s happening,” I asked.

“Nothing yet,” replied Parker. “He’s all yours, Dada.”

The hood came off. Bright light. Harsh. I squinted. Shadows moved around the room. I could make out Ghia’s tall and slender figure, as well as Pili’s mountainous mass. The chair was metal, cold. With my hands fastened together, my shoulder injury begin to burn.

My eyes adjusted to the light. The room was gray walls, tile flooring, and barren, but for a few intensely-bright lamps on the walls. Pili, Ghia and Parker stood at one end, watching me. Each was expressionless. Parker still had his EMD rifle slung over his shoulder. There was a drain in the center of the floor. It was rusty. An improvised medical monitoring station occupied one corner. Dada was standing by the station, talking to another man. Someone I hadn’t yet seen. He was older, with short, thinning blonde hair atop a round head. They whispered to each other for a bit. Dada gestured toward me a few times but the rounded-headed man did not look over. I could hear nothing of their conversation until the round-headed man said “Oh, that is interesting.” Then they both turned to me.

“Maxim,” said Dada. “We’re going to have a little question and answer session with you.”

“I don’t understand,” I replied, the taste of blood lingered in my mouth.

“Your arrival here has many of us… confused. We lost a man during our mission to recover you. He was a leader, a friend.”

“I… I understand that but…”

“Maxim, this is Dr. Klas.” Dada interrupted, pointing to the man with the thinning hair. “He will be assisting us today.”

Klas smiled and approached me with a device that looked like a black metal truncheon with a flat, silver-tipped end. He reached down and opened my shirt to the skin. “That appears to be a nasty wound you have there,” Klas said with an accent that was Swedish in tone but tempered by decades of English dilution.

I stared at him.

“We’ll probably have to look at that soon.”

“Klas,” said Dada, impatiently.

“Fine,” he replied, with a quick look over his shoulder. He turned back to me. “This shouldn’t hurt too much.” Klas pressed the end of the black truncheon object to my chest, just under my collarbone. There was a cold hiss and a small wisp of vapor, followed by a metallic snap. Painless. When he pulled the truncheon away from my chest, there was a silvery, round device attached to my flesh by a number of thin prongs that penetrated into the skin. A small trickle of blood ran down my chest. The face of the device was a display screen that was alive with a series of bright blue digits. It was a bio-medical reader and short-range transmitter. It would tell them everything about my vital signs and my physical state… during whatever they intended to do with me.

“Well, Maxim. That should tell us everything we wish to know about you,” said Klas

“Where are you from, Maxim?” asked Dada. “Tell us why you’re here.”

I licked my lips and tasted more blood. I looked around the room at all of them. I could imagine their frustration, anger, and confusion. Who was I? Why did I come here? What was so damn important about me? So, I told the story, as best I could remember. The HyperDrive Assist Station, the accident, Spegg, the other SM5, the fighting, the wormhole, the data patch and the crash. I was nearly out of breath when I finished. They stared at me. Dada looked at the others.

Parker exploded. “I don’t believe any of it! He’s talking about technologies and events that simply don’t exist. It can’t happen, Dada. How do we know he isn’t making all this up?”

“The LMOs wanted him pretty bad!” Dada shouted. What are we supposed to think, Parker?”

“Let’s get the real story out of him!” Parker shouted back. “Treat him like any other mission apprehension.”

“And…?” asked Dada.

Parker was silent, serious. Dada stared at him. I felt a cold sweat on my forehead.

“Pili,” said Parker, snapping his fingers and pointing over to me. “Squeeze it out of him.”

Pili looked momentarily confused. He turned away from Parker’s intense gaze. “Dada?”

Dada continued to stare at Parker. “This is your way? This is really how you intend to address this problem?”

“I saw Quinn die, Dada. I dissolved his body so that the LMO’s couldn’t get their stinking hands on him. Yeah, this is how I intend to address this problem.”

There was another silence between the men. They stared at each other. Dada now appeared perplexed. Parker was unrelenting. Shaking his head, Dada quietly walked to the back of the room and leaned against the wall.

“Pili,” Parked said, pointing to me once more.

“Okay, boss,” replied Pili, crossing the room toward me. When his huge shape stepped in front of the light, I was engulfed by his massive shadow. He looked down at me, his eyes deep and calm. No expression crossed his face. His big hand reached out and encircled my neck. He turned to the side, so they could all see. I took a breath. The hand went tight and I felt my head swell.

Parker stepped forward. “Maxim, you’ve told us quite a story. I don’t believe a word of it. So, I’m going to ask you this one question. What is your relationship with the LMOs and The Director?”

“Parker…” I started weakly, “I don’t know…”

Pili’s other hand dropped to my wounded shoulder and his fingers dug in. The pain was immediate and excruciating. I screamed. Pili’s tightened his grip around my neck and my scream was silenced. I choked. I squirmed. My neck and shoulder muscles turned into agonizing, twisted knots of pain.

Parker took a step closer to the chair and looked down at me. He looked up at Pili.

“A little higher, Pili,” Parker said. Pili lifted me by my throat to Parker’s eye level. “Maxim, I shouldn’t have to say that your answer to my question had better be really great.”

This was madness. I had no answer. Silently, I twisted in the air. My lungs burned. My eyes bulged. My hands struggled against their bonds and my feet danced in the air. Parker looked back at me indifferent and silent.

“Please,” I gasped, struggling against the grip.

“What? I didn’t hear that. You said you’re working for The Director?”

“Parker, this isn’t going to work!” Dada shouted.

“Shut up, Dada!”

“You’re killing him!”

“He’s fine,” Parker replied. He smirked at me. “So who are you working for, again?”

I stared deep into Parker’s eyes and tried to speak, but my throat was clenched shut.  The room started to spin. My vision began to fade. Suddenly, my lungs violently seized and an exhalation escaped Pili’s tight grip. I showered Parker with spittle. Parker cursed and turned away to wipe his face. In the distance, I saw Klas call Dada over to his monitor station. I heard Klas say “Dada, I think there’s something on the medical monitor here that you should see.”

I closed my eyes.

“See there,” said Klas.

“I see it,” Dada said. He let out a long breath. “But I don’t believe it. How is that possible?”

“Maxim may be telling us the truth.”

I gave in. The room faded into echoes and forms and blackness gently folded in over me.

[Communication Relay: 10MAR2086 Alexander Island, Antarctica]