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The Glorious Revolution.
Who bade me dress my best for death and had me rehearse the kill, the kills. Then promised him something irresistible if he would agree to meet someone privately, and the someone the Revolution chose was me. No more ignoble death than alone with another man's wife, according to the mores of the People--well understood in the Compound, and honoured at least enough to keep the peace for two generations. However little the wife is worth, it's still considered wrong.
Fuck the People.
"I acted of my own accord," I say, as I know I'm supposed to, even though I was never, ever, supposed to be in this situation.
He's unconvinced. Unsurprisingly. Hard fingers jerk my face back up toward his. Closer than the woman got. A different smell. Beneath an arched brow his wide eye burns bright with some fervour equal to any I've seen in those who sent me here. And I feel the needle press against the muscle of my neck. The right side where I held it not quite touching and waited too long to see him fall.
"Interesting substance," he says. "Locally produced?"
It can't matter. They must have worse. Although, if there's one thing the People know, it's poison.
"Yes," I say. And the needle breaks my skin. A small searing pain--I await death, and all the time it doesn't come he regards me with dull smugness. Straight strong jaw set tight.
At length, satisfied in some way, he lets go of my face, relieving an ache I'd forgotten I had. He turns his back to me and puts the needle on the counter. My eyes follow it. A drop of red on the tip. Sufficient, they assured me--the backup was only for if it stuck or broke or some other unforeseeable event.
My hands clench beyond my control into fists, tendons pressing against the straps.
"Different needle," he says. Then spins on his heel to face me again, a superior smile flashing and gone. "We don't carve them one by one, you know. Each one is not unique."
I try to understand. I'm breathing too fast. Black spots silver-edged crawl across the white wall, the blank ceiling. I'm shivering. He watches me a minute or two, then glances at the door and on cue his woman enters, a synchronous nightmare, I'm dreaming. Opens a cupboard and flips back the sheet and I feel another needle prick, in my left arm near where the tube went in before.
The panic's gone before the injection is over. She watches my face, while administering the drug, and for some seconds afterward, then departs.
I nod. It. Reasonable.
"Nobody questioned me bringing you here," he continues, after I have shown no more reaction. "You're a local. I could have stuffed you down the incinerator. Nobody cares. Nobody sees."
No. Nobody smart, nobody sane, sees. His gaze shifts again. Door. Wall. Me. But I don't care either. Things are too far beyond my control to concern me. This is only a story. A short story, nearly over.
"Answer my questions correctly and you're free," he concludes. Calm and clenched. Oh, yes, free to go back, a failure at this now as well. I have a strong impulse at the thought to tell him what he wants to know.
He looks away from me and down and toys with his pretty ring, a token of command I assume. He was doing the same, but looking at me, when he stepped out, then, away from the other shadows. Obviously I must come close or no word can be heard above the din. Obviously I must come within arm's length; eyes lower than his shoulder, this close. The neck and the face are too high, too chancy, I decide now, never actually having seen him before, and I don't think any of Us has, except at anonymous distance, or they would have said...
I am only allowed to assess for the second or two it will take him to conclude something's wrong and respond drastically, as he ought to, if he's really got this far on competence. You'd have to be desperate to be here...
"Well?" he asks.
I glance furtively to my left, and with my right hand I jam the needle in.
Answer my questions and you're free. He'd have to be even more desperate than I'd thought before, to still think there might be something to be gained from this. He lived, that's a prize, is it not?
"You asked me one question," I say. The poison. He lived. "I answered."
At this response he seems momentarily at a loss.
I think to keep from thinking: I know for a fact that they have people here whose only job is making anyone they want answer any question they ask. They're as orderly as bees in the Compound, and the new soldiers even more so. No doubt their leader is moderately versed in all their most essential arts; still he doesn't seem as assured in the role as a professional would be.
He recovers his composure.
"I asked you two questions," he snaps. "I asked you who told you to kill me, and I asked you why."
Hesitation. The Glorious Revolution must be a lot more competent than I've previously given them credit for. Must stand more of a chance of victory, of one kind or another, than I'd ever imagined. Hesitation.
"I acted of my own accord," I say.
He straightens and walks back over to me--a fluid electrical movement, swift and precise with shining black anger--and slaps my face. Hard. The room swallows the sound. It's a sensation I am well enough accustomed to. His jaw clenches, the muscle in the side of his cheek flexing rhythmically. His hand, poised above me, makes a fist. Then he turns his back to me once again.
He is desperate. Not to hit me again, when he obviously wants to. Not to hit me harder, when he obviously can.
So, they said, he would walk alone out into obvious danger, on the off chance he actually would get the information promised. The power to put the People in their place once more, for good, and initiate a new order as untroubled as the old, but vastly more productive; to claim the success entirely his own, and leave admired once again for his military skill, rather than the symbolic strength in his ring.
Ah. He could never give me to them. They'd know he crept off alone, unofficial: he'd lose even more face. I'm dead when he's done with me. A relief in a way to know for certain.
Alone. Well--the Glorious Revolution, for all their insight, went very wrong in being unable to imagine that even in their boots the soldiers' women could be as quiet as our own. As invisible.
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