A Scale of ViolenceBy Judith Proctor
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Soolin must have been asked that question a hundred times now. "I don't know. Avon hid it."
The interrogator smiled, a serene dreamy smile, but she knew what to expect now and ducked backwards. Too slow. Her torturer was a giant of a man, but he moved fast. The blow caught her hard on the cheek, spinning her head, adding to the dizziness from the drugs. She wanted to talk; her body demanded that she talk; all that she could do was to exert some degree of control over what actually came out. "I didn't see him hide it. Vila might know where it is; why don't you ask him?"
"Avon wouldn't show Vila something as important as that. You're lying." That smile again.
She'd learnt to dread that smile. It meant there was worse coming.
"I could break your arm."
It wasn't what he said, it was the way he said it, so careless and casual, yet so certain in meaning. She had no doubt at all that he meant what he said. She felt sick. Why was she holding back anyway? What was the point?
He took hold of her right wrist, almost gently, gripping her elbow with the other hand.
"It's no good to you!" she all but screamed. "It'll only work for Avon."
"Wrong." The bone broke with a dull snap. "Orac cannot be commanded, only cajoled."
The scream broke free and she didn't care. Her gun hand - if she couldn't fire a gun, she was helpless, she was nobody. Her skill was the very core of all she had spent her life to be. If she was screaming she wasn't talking, but it was hard, so very hard now, not to say it. She could see the exact panel behind which Avon had hidden Orac and could not understand why, why, why they had not found it long ago. Any halfway decent search should have found something as large and obvious as Orac long ago. "Behind-" Oh God, it had been a mistake to think of it, "- behind maintenance-" she fought it, but the pain and the dizziness won over, "-maintenance panel 7b."
"You're lying. All the maintenance panels were checked."
The hand holding her wrist twisted and Soolin passed out.
Soolin came round to the sound of voices. The floor was hard and cold against her cheek, but at least it was clean. Everything here was clean and clinical. Prisoners might be hurt, but they only died with the permission of the Federation - no infection or disease came to the rescue here.
She opened her eyes to a cautious slit. A doctor in a neat white tabard, tapping his palm irritably with a stylus, was addressing the interrogator.
"I told you not to damage her."
"You can fix it," her nemesis replied.
"That's not the point. We can't afford to take unnecessary risks. She's the only one left and we have to have that information."
"Vila's dead?" It was said slowly and with an undertone she couldn't quite determine.
"Nothing we did," the other man said quickly. "It was all her fault. She and Avon led Vila into the trap." He gave the top of his stylus a sharp twist. "It was her fault and she's hiding information from you."
The interrogator gave a low growl; sweat started on his forehead, sticking his short curly hair to the skin.
Vila, she thought frantically, her brain going into overdrive. He'd known Vila? The man was a homicidal maniac. Vila would never have had so dangerous a friend. Unless. Unless... It was impossible. But if it was possible, she had just one chance and she had to take it now.
She sprang to her feet, ignoring the pain that stabbed from her broken arm. Reflexes honed by years of constant practice did not betray her now. Her left hand flashed out and grabbed the stylus as she rolled to the floor to give herself an extra few moments. She twisted the top at random, heard an agonised roar behind her and turned it as far as it would go. The roar became the bellow of an enraged bull.
Keep out of sight! She went limp, faking dead, hoping desperately that the act would not become reality moments later.
The bull charged. The doctor made the mistake of moving. The enraged bull grabbed him, shook him, threw him against the wall where he slumped, broken-necked, and slid slowly down to the floor. Shaking its head, the bull turned, seeking fresh bodies to gore.
Fascination held Soolin frozen for an instant, but she was a killer too - not prey. She twisted the stylus in the opposite direction as far as it would go. The bull slowed, looked around as if puzzled, stopped, and became, ludicrously, a cow chewing the cud. Soolin ignored him, focusing her attention instead on the doctor. There - on his belt, a bunch of keys. Unthinking, she used her broken arm to push herself off the floor and gasped with the pain.
"You're hurt." The bully sounded surprised.
She moved carefully along the floor, keeping her distance, trying not to look like a possible threat.
"No, you're not. Let me take a look at it."
He bent towards her and Soolin flinched backwards. Her brain might suggest that he was no threat now, but her body told her otherwise.
"I won't hurt you. Who did this?"
She wanted to cry and vomit all at the same time. He didn't remember. He didn't remember! Halfway to hysteria, she choked out, "The Federation."
He looked confused. "Blake said... But they're not all bad... I don't know - sometimes I can't think straight any more."
"Gan. There's no time to waste. I have to get out of here." She mustered her resolution, got to her feet and started for the door.
He didn't move. "You know me?"
"Vila described you often enough, especially when he was drunk."
"You know Vila?"
"Listen." She waved an impatient finger at him. " I can stay and chat about the old days and get caught again, or I can get the Hell out of here. Which do you think it's going to be?"
He took a step towards her, then stopped as he saw the body on the floor. "Doctor Pirelli!"
"He's dead." She reached out a hand for the keys, struggling to open the snap fastening left-handed.
Gan unclipped the keys for her and tried them in the lock one at a time. The third one lit up a sequence of coloured lights and the door slid open. Soolin took a cautious glance down the corridor before stepping out. The odds of getting out of here alive had to be close to zero, but she was certainly going to try. If she could only get clear of this complex, she had a fighting chance. Gauda Prime was her world; she could survive here if she had to.
"There's a guard just around the next corner," Gan said quietly. "I can go ahead and take him out."
"Since when did you become involved in this escape?"
He looked at her solemnly, brown eyes shadowed. "Since you couldn't manage it without me."
Logic took over. There wasn't time to argue the rhyme or reason of it or to try and determine Gan's motives or sanity. Both were highly dubious, but he was a killing machine, and she had the control. He was potentially useful.
"Take him out," she ordered, "and get me his gun."
She waited as Gan vanished around the corner, trying to control the sudden fit of trembling that seized every limb. Logic be damned! This man had hurt her. So what if he now resembled the gentle giant that Vila had described? Vila had also described a man who had gone totally berserk, attacked his friends and tried to kill them. That was the Gan she recognised. Sweat pooled between her shoulders and trickled down to the small of her back. Maybe he was just telling the guard to come and get her. If he was unable to kill in this state, then maybe he had to get someone else to attack her.
She could hear voices: Gan and another man, the words indistinct. She looked frantically around for a hiding place, but there was nothing except bare walls and locked doors. How had she been so stupid as to let Gan take the keys! Trapped in a dead end, all that was left for her was more questions and more pain until execution came as a final mercy.
When the sound of returning footsteps headed her way, she swallowed and held her head high. If she had nothing left except pride, then even that was better than nothing.
Gan was alone.
It took a moment for the reality of that to sink in. Then she noticed his face, pale and distressed.
He held out his hands in supplication; they were shaking slightly. "I tried, truly I did. I couldn't even raise a hand to him. You know about my limiter?" He rubbed his forehead wearily. "I told him I had a headache, that I was looking for Pirelli. I think he believed me."
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