Friday, November 14, 2014

Fallout Chapter 9

"My alias is Gray," said the man, after taking a smoke from the cigarette. "Please, sit."

"What's your real name?"

Gray ignored his question. "Sit, if you would."

"I'd rather stand, thank you."

"I think you would rather sit, Jason. You would feel much more comfortable."

"I've been sitting far too much lately."

"Suit yourself."

From the back of the shed, he dragged the chair that Jason had been bound in. The ropes were long gone, but there were bloodstains on it. His blood.

Gray sat down, casually blowing out a cloud of smoke. Jason had always hated cigarettes; he'd tried one once in middle school, and his father had made sure he'd never try one again.

This man (whatever his real name was) had implied he was a professional interrogator. That made everything he said and did suspect to being a tactic to elicit information. With Akim and Nadira, he had just had to withstand the pain and not let it have anything to do with what they were asking him. A trained interrogator was a different story. Jason wouldn't put it past him to be using the cigarette to remind him, the prisoner, of who was in control of his environment, and made him wonder whether or not the cigarette would be used as a tool of torture.

On the other hand, he was on familiar turf now. Nadira and Akim had been wild cards; you never knew how someone untrained would act. During training with the Agency, Jason had learned most of the tricks counterintelligence interrogators used. He'd passed those tests with flying colors.

No matter how good you were, though, there was always someone who was better. Jason would have to study Gray, gather information from him at the same time he was resisting the interrogation, in order to get an idea of who he was dealing with and how he could prevail.

"When did you first find out about the weapon?" asked Gray. Akim stood, hands behind his back, near Nadira; Nadira leaned against the wall, looking on with interest.

"I'm not going to answer any of your questions, you know."

"The answer to that question isn't classified."

"Do I look like I've been willing to cooperate?"

"You look like you could use a rest from not cooperating."

Jason leaned back against the tool shelf. "So you're the good cop, is that it?"


"That's a pretty old trick."

"Would you rather we used a different 'trick'?" He rose, and walked toward Jason. "For instance, I could use this—" he brandished his cigarette, the smoke trailing through the air—"as motivation."

Jason tried to keep his face impassive. "Torture doesn't work."

Gray clicked his tongue. "That's just an official platitude. You and I both know that in expert hands, it does work. Bludgeoning your way through, though, like amateurs—" he waved in the general direction of Akim and Nadira—"most often results in either false intel, or an unconscious subject." He dropped the cigarette onto the floor, ground it with his heel.

"It is true that one of my problems is that you are a seasoned agent who's been interrogated several times before. You can resist most forms of questioning—intimidation, deprivation, physical pain, even most chemical coercion."

"So you might as well give up now."

"Except that if I gave up, I'd be losing a very valuable commodity."

"You don't even know what it is. How do you know how valuable it is?"

"You created an elaborate diversion in Egypt for the sake of escaping with the weapon. Anything worth that much trouble is worth looking into."

"Just how do you fit into all of this? Are you working for Nadira, or is it the other way around?"

Gray smiled. "Let's just say we have mutual interests.

"So, I'm curious. How would you elicit high-stakes intel from an agent with almost twenty years of experience?"

"You want to know how I would do things."

"One agent to another."

"Well," said Jason, "I wouldn't use torture, for one. And, let me see. I'd give the agent a nice, comfortable place to sit down. I'd give him water, food. I'd let him sleep without knocking him out first. In fact, I'd give him the best treatment possible."

"And you think this would get results."

"Maybe, maybe not. But my conscience would be clear."

"In this business, a conscience is a liability."

"I believe that we should at least try to live up to the ideals that we uphold."

"Perhaps the ones who cling to their ideals at the cost of practicality are doing their cause a disservice by not being willing to sacrifice everything, even their souls, to defeat the adversaries of their cause."

"By winning that way, haven't you changed what you've won? I mean, if you're willing to go that far, I'm not sure I'd want to live in a world like that. It sounds a little too much like Nazi Germany. Or a terrorist's paradise."

"We're talking about extremes there, I suppose. Selling your soul might not be completely necessary in this game, but compromise is. For instance, a spy has to construct a complex lie in order to survive long enough to perform his duty. It's just the way things are."

"We do have to compromise. But when you get so absorbed in the performance of your role you forget even what truth looks like, you've betrayed your mission."

"How so?"

"I lost sight of it so much that I caused the death of an innocent girl."

"It wasn't your fault."

"But what I did resulted in her death."

"Some would say you are being overly sensitive. These things happen. 'Acceptable collateral' I believe is the term."

Jason whirled on Gray, chain clinking, pulling against his ankle. Gray stepped back, out of his reach.

"I will never accept an innocent life as merely 'collateral'," said Jason.

Gray looked at him, as if sizing him up. "You're a good agent, Jason. I've seen your file. I've also seen the notes on why you left. It was not even about the death of a girl at that point. It was about 'feelings'. You felt you'd gone too far in pursuit of Grote, lied for the sake of the truth. You have a conscience, fine. But if you'd learn to ignore it, not all the time, but when it matters, you'd still be working for the Agency. Still doing good, putting the 'bad guys' in prison."

"Sorry, but some things are even more important to me than my job. My relationship with people I love. With God."

"God," scoffed Gray. "That would open a whole new avenue of discussion.

"But, as interesting as this has been, I want to keep things moving.

"Akim—come over here."

Akim stepped over beside Gray. "Yes?"

"Make sure the prisoner does what I tell him."

Akim nodded.

Gray looked at Jason. "Take off your clothes."

Shock ran down Jason's spine. No way was he going to comply with such an order, though he knew he probably had little choice in the matter.

"Just your shirt will do at the moment," said Gray.

Jason fingered his tattered shirt. There wasn't much left of it; one sleeve was torn off, and all the buttons had been ripped off the front. Though it would hurt to take it off, he wouldn't miss it much.

But if he did comply, it would be an act of submission. He would concede nothing willingly.

"I don't see what you need it for."

Gray nodded. Akim stepped over to Jason.

Jason backed away until the chain tugged at his ankle. In a flash, Akim grabbed his throat, fingers digging into his neck. As he struggled to breathe, Akim forced him to his knees. With his other hand, he tugged the shirt off his shoulders, yanking it down his arms. Pain shot through his injured shoulder.

"Now, we need him in a more restrained position. We don't have a lot to work with in this place, so we'll have to improvise." He looked up at the ceiling. "Ah, there. A crossbeam. Take your rope, and sling it up there."

Akim took some rope from in his pack. It took two attempts, but he flung it so that both ends dangled down onto the floor.

"Good. Now attach one end to his wrist."

"Which wrist?"

"The left one."

"His left shoulder is injured."

"That's why I want that one."

As Akim advanced on him, Jason lashed out with his fist, hitting the larger man in the jaw. Despite his weakened state, Jason was glad to see that he had enough strength to make Akim reel backwards, though it felt like his hand had hurtled into solid rock.

Before Akim could recover, Jason punched him in the stomach, and he doubled over.

"Enough," said Gray. He strode over to Jason, and rammed his fist toward his face. Jason blocked him with his arm. But then, Gray's hand slammed down against his shoulder, sending him to his knees. Gray kicked him in the side. He collapsed to the floor, unable to keep his face from hitting the hard cement.

He tried to struggle up again but Gray's heel ground into his back.

"Now you may tie his wrist, Akim."

Kneeling on the floor, Akim pulled Jason's arm out straight. Jason gasped in pain as the shoulder wound felt like it had burst open again. The rope was pulled tightly around his wrist.

Gray ordered Akim to pull the other end of the rope. Jason braced himself but was not able to anticipate the inferno of pain as the strained muscles in his shoulder tugged against the knife wound.

The rope was tied so that he dangled several inches above the floor, all his weight relying on one injured arm.

Agony surged through his veins; hatred for Gray ripped through his heart.

Gray sat back down, looking up at him. "I think we might as well strip him the rest of the way. Go ahead, Akim."

"But—" said Akim. "I would rather—"

"Whose orders are you obeying?"

Nadira stepped forward. Her face looked gray, her dark eyes wide and earnest. "Please, don't do this. Isn't this enough? Leave him some dignity."

"This is not about dignity, Nadira."

"There's a point when—it's going too far."

"I hope you won't continue to interfere in this interrogation. If so, our interests may be at cross-purposes."

"Listen," said Akim. "She is Muslim. It is not…proper for her to see a man…unclothed. For her sake, not his."

"Oh, very well. I will humor you both—this once.

"Now take the rest of the rope that you have. Knot it in several different places, more heavily at one end than the other."

Jason shivered as he hung there; it seemed much colder, but it was probably more from shock than anything. He was grateful to Nadira for taking his side; even Akim, though that was tempered by the fact that Akim had no qualms about hurting him.

Gray on the other hand—Anger gripped him, directed against this man who had crushed his hope of escape.

As the knotted rope crashed into his back, sending fireworks of pain across it, he held onto that anger, and it gave him strength.

I may not be an agent at the moment, but I will stay true to what I have vowed to protect. I will give my life before I give my secrets.

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