> view full size
I was dreaming about a grand cathedral of sea cucumbers belching sediment through the windows. I missed my wife.
I awoke leaking into a strange room. I was strapped to an old self-surgery seat. My shirt had already died. The stainless steel throne stood in a garage littered with car batteries, syringes, crumbs of glass and scattered gaskets. There was a pile of tyre-rims like cybernetic haloes.
It sounds more fun than it was. The moment fell into me like painful rain. The Jade and time cap had worn off. I was blood-sick, time-sick. I rolled my head a little - my neck felt granular. It seemed my throat had been doing some wholesale rasping. Three fingers were missing from my left hand, leaving the thumb and index. They weren't too bright - they'd left me both trigger fingers.
Wearing his hair back to front, Jose stood at the lowered garage door in some sort of apron. And there was Alfonso, sitting sadly on a pile of galvanised steel tubes and looking as if he might cry all over his Astra jacket. They seemed in worse shape than me, as ragged as if they had been keeping up a show of goodwill. Maybe I'd already been annoying them - but I didn't remember. I supposed I'd been running interference and then wiped that part of my brain before re-emerging. I had no option but to start from the beginning.
'The sun has risen, senor,' Alfonso said, perking up a little. 'The brotherhood have the streets.'
Jose approached me with a cordless hammer drill. 'Coffin bugs know the geometry of disappearance, Senor Atom. They will explain it to you soon.'
He proceeded to demonstrate what he called 'the sawmill essentials' of persuasion with various expert shoves, workshop horrors and other morale-blasting monkeyshines. It was like a sort of electric birthday, and seemed designed to provoke me into a reckless and unguarded outburst. I didn't think of many remarks, except the unvoiced one that they didn't go nearly far enough. As it was I seemed to horrify them every time I opened my mouth - even when I asked explicitly after the relevant protocol.
But they were enlivened. The project interested them so much that they frequently stared at me to see if I was starting to like it too. Jose referred to his knife as 'the key to your throat'. I realised these people would quickly exhaust me with their enthusiasm.
'Your friend waiting to welcome your guests at the Stina?'
They looked annoyed, which meant the kid and the old man hadn't re-entered the city yet. Alfonso stood and began punching me almost as if it mattered to him personally. I was surprised - baffled, really - at this level of insecurity. Like most interrogators, they were trying to act cool but something was bugging them. Their position forced them to admit there was something they lacked. Ironically this imbalance will tend to have a fella making one wild claim after another to set them at their ease. As they continued sawing out the rungs of my skeleton I was at a loss as to what else I could do to soothe these bastards. My rotten reassurances left them apparently inconsolable. Jose threw part of my explanation back at me - it sounded strange cut out that way, without top or tail, so I added some new words at the front and back, and he punched me in the nose. Then with a brittle quiver of childlike petulance he started smacking my head about like a tetherball.
It wasn't really a matter of throwing a scare into me but of discouraging me until I indicated that I understood things the same way they did. Though it was hard work and paid nothing, it would have been unworthy of me to regret or criticise any of us.
An interrogation is not just a form of emotional feasting, it's really a form of divination. Its arcane conditions are supposed to conjure information that none of those taking part actually know. A setup designed to expect deception will tend to generate it, bending information into 'true' by forced surmise. Everyone comes out ahead. On this occasion the principle players' self-delusions - theirs and mine - were soon mixed and intermingled. Their conjecture was exhaustive and my groans were without content. Of course, my knowing nothing resulted in information moving osmotically in the opposite direction. Their central theme was the Heber kid and my connection to him. They talked about him as if the matter were too familiar to merit much detail, but I gathered that he was a military intelligence asset. Meanwhile they were waiting for enlightenment while obviously afraid of what they might discover. We seemed to be at crossed-purposes.
At least they were uncertain, not bored. But finally they did seem bored. The general sentiment seemed to be that they'd wasted enough time already and here they were. They became reproachful and morose. Alfonso's face looked like a cow's. This despair of theirs led me to seek some kind of consolation for them. I evinced stubborn dignity, dazzling indifference, mimsy flirtatiousness, hard-earned sagacity and enigmatic radiance, all in an effort to keep them entertained. Jose looked at me in pained wonder, then became indignant. Alfonso seemed overcome with disbelief and pity, adding a rosy grace note to this depressing shambles of an interrogation.
'Maybe we're going at this wrong,' I said. 'You're not allowing me much latitude - not enough for truth, anyway. I can't believe you really want to know, and apparently I've nothing more to learn from you. So why don't we abandon the project as a failure?'
I was feverish, but I think I made a pretty good case for my remaining meat being of less use than the bits they had claimed so far. I would sooner yield to the micro-banditry of ageing than their surgical persuasions. It was a solid argument. Only the terminally suspicious would assume it came with an agenda.
They looked disappointed.
'D'you think I'm made of blood?'
'Come now, you've got more than you give yourself credit for,' said Alfonso.
I succumbed. 'That's it. This interrogation sucks. It's the worst one I've ever been in. You guys don't know what the hell you're doing. And that's the one thing you didn't count on. You've cheapened a beautiful evening with the torture theme. I didn't think you were scared enough to need this much chair.' I did not keep from them the fact that they appalled me and that their end could be traced within the stained fringe of any horizon.
Jose breathed hard but didn't say anything. He looked genuinely hurt. This sudden gravity seemed to mature him.
'What was the man's name, senor,' Alfonso asked almost in a whisper, not looking at me and wandering way off the point. 'The man in Atlanta who disappeared the killers.'
He clutched at his stomach, vaguely puzzled. Then he folded down hinge by hinge, finally slapping his face to the floor.
I recognised the motion immediately - someone had just discharged a Bohr gun through the wall. A Bohr worked via quantum entanglement, using the particles of the loaded bullet to activate those of its entangled partner in the victim. The loaded bullet was ejected after the operation, as re-firing would only re-install the same quantum bullet in the same impact position.
Jose was up and at the metal wall of the garage door, drawing the Calico while at the same time activating what looked like a counterwave belt studded with vortex coils - the Bohr gun wouldn't harm him. A rectangle of light appeared at his side - an inset door had opened in the riser and Jose was instantly brawling with someone in front of it. The light flickered like a bulb battered and pinged by moths. I slipped the bloody left strap with my thinned left hand, releasing the right strap and attending to the leg fastenings as the small door fell closed and subfire flared in the gloom, smashing a fusebox. There was some ballistic commotion outside, the fusillade shifting gears back and forth in the signature syntax of the brotherhood. Apparently they were falling over themselves to shoot each other, or perhaps one other person who was unarmed. Jose threw his assailant aside and escaped through the small door. The gunfire changed register as the new element joined.
I staggered through tintacks and obtainium - the frayed view between my eyelashes revealed a woman with mustard-yellow hair, eyes the dead green of visa paper and a mouth that could tear out the sacred heart of Jesus. I confirmed the presence of a nose only much later. She was toting a Bohr 5.56mm rifle and slung under her purple leather coat was a hardshell shotgun, at a minimum. She'd probably weigh no more than 80 pounds drenched in blood. 'Lux Murphy - FBI.'
'Good - I need drugs.'
The garage door was lifting like a curtain before a stage.
Copyright © Steve Aylett, 2007