I walked into the metal room, and the steel door swung shut behind me. The voice was raw, exhausted, accented, muffled beneath a black bag over his head.
“Who is there?”
In silence, I walked to the single chair as the door locked, and locked, and locked again. My shoes clicked on the floor as I circled him. His shirt was bloodied, torn. The bloodstains were pale pink, evidence that they had tried waterboarding, too. His teeth and nails were unmarred, but if they’d had time to exhaust every avenue, they wouldn’t have called me.
“Do not ignore me! Show yourself!”
I could scent sour fear from unwashed sweat, copper from his blood, the chemical tang of chlorine from the water, and fouler scents as well. I stopped in front of him and pulled the hood from over his head. “Mitchell. They tell me you planted a bomb.”
“I will open your ‘jewel of the skies’ to hard vacuum. There is nothing you can do. I will not tell you where to find it or how to disarm it. ”
I began circling the chair, quietly, thinking about his motivations. I didn’t have a lot of energy for it, though. The answer was usually depressing, and I would know them better than I wished by the time I finished. “No. If you’d succumb to cruder means, you would have by now. I don’t have the time to worry about making you talk. We only have a couple of hours.”
“You can do nothing if you do not know where to look. None of you deserve to escape the flames. You Orbitals,” he spat the slur like a curse, “you care for nobody but your own. Your moralistic pleas are hollow.”
I took a syringe out of my inside jacket pocket, peeling it out of its foil packet. I was a simple man, and I liked simple things. The lack of mess appealed to me. “Don’t worry. It won’t hurt. You just go to sleep for the last time.”
“You are lying.”
“If that makes it easier for you, sure.” I uncapped the needle and bent to his arm.
“Wait! Stop! You can’t kill me if you don’t know where it is!” He was scared, now; it was the first time he had used contractions in his speech. Dying when nobody cared if you died was somehow not the same. I slid the needle through his skin and depressed the plunger.
“Sorry. This is how you end.” His eyes were scared, but he was already beginning to drowse. I capped the needle, and cupped his cheeks, forcing him to meet my eyes.
“Please . . . just tell her that I . . .” He never finished. I put a thumb over each eyelid, holding them open, and as we looked into each other’s eyes, he died.
Flickering before my eyes was a childhood filled with indoctrination. His father’s cult. The beating of his mother, and when she died, the beatings of his little sister. Melissa, too young to fight back. Barely thirteen when it started. He was never beaten – that made it worse. The shame was more painful than a belt. Then there was Melissa’s death after a brutal beating. That broke him. His rebellion against the teachings of the cult was violent, a teenager indulging his anger and vengeance in extremism.
The world was a place without compassion. Governments without compassion, companies, religions, the world, humans without compassion. Nobody was innocent in a world that killed Melissa. They would all burn.
There were murders. There were studies. There were mistakes. The missing pinky and ring finger were from his first error assembling a bomb; it taught him caution. Then there was THE bomb. It wouldn’t just kill people here; it would take station-keeping offline, and push us out of orbit. The debris would hit some of our most densely populated cities.
I saw the electronics cabinet he hid it in, D5-NE-3-107. There were the tricks and traps he used to protect it. He was very skilled, and so, so angry. I saw his capture, his torture, his pain. I saw myself, a government boogeyman, an unfeeling monster with green eyes sent to terrorize him.
Suddenly I was merely staring into a dead man’s eyes, and tears were streaming down my face. I crumpled, sitting hard, and folded my arms around my knees. The door unlocked, unlocked, and unlocked again, and someone knelt beside me.
“The device is on Deck five. Northeast quad, third ring, cabinet 107. It’s trapped. Don’t re-orient, shake, or vibrate it. A glass pane is embedded in the front of the acrylic block. Find it using laser light, the air pockets between the two will sparkle. Cracking the glass will cause the bomb to detonate. Drill slowly into the acrylic from above, mind the vibrations. You will have to cut open the cabinet to get an angle. Break the wires with the drill, in this order. Red with a white stripe. Blue. Black. Red with a black stripe. White. It will be disarmed and safe to move. Submerge it in acetone to dissolve the acrylic; then you can disassemble it. That’s everything, hurry up.” I heard his pencil scratching as he transcribed my directions, then a radio crackling as he relayed them to the EOD team.
I clutched my legs, laid my head on my knees, I cried for Melissa.