Threshold

by Sylvia Stevens and Karen Winter

"Welcome to the party, Plissken. So glad you could make it," the uniformed figure's gloating voice came from above him. A boot connected solidly with his ribs, and Snake slid across the metal floor of the USPF transport into the opposite bank of seats. He shook his head, trying to clear it, nausea rising from an earlier head blow. He coughed, swaying to his knees on the floor of the jouncing van taking him in to blackbelly headquarters.

"You're OURS now, fucker!" The USPF officer pushed Snake roughly back down to the grimy floor.

Snake gagged, tasting again the cobra venom he had drunk minutes before as part of the Three-In-One contest on New Vegas. Groggily, he ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth. Somehow, he had managed to avoid any cuts there during his capture and manhandling by the USPF.

Good. Venom was fairly harmless when ingested; it didn't become deadly until it entered the bloodstream through a cut or puncture wound. Watching him drink it sure fucked with his opponent's mind and raised the stakes on the match, though. He swallowed hard, looking up at the six blackbellies crowded around him. God, but he'd like to bite one of them, he thought. The lingering venom in his mouth would make at least one of the fucking assholes very sick indeed. Cop dies of cobra venom from bite of Snake Plissken. He saw the headline in his mind's eye and managed an internal ironic chuckle before abandoning the idea. He was better off avoiding any injury, if he could, until the poison had cleared from his mouth and throat.

He was hauled up onto the bench along the van's side, and the cuffs on his wrists fastened to the loop bolted to the wall. His ribs ached and he was covered with bruises. Trust the cops to take out their aggression on a helpless prisoner. He knew there was more of it waiting for him, and set his mind grimly to endure what was coming, feeding on his inner fury and hatred, fanning it into strength and drawing on it to survive.

At the end of the short ride, he was shoved into a holding cell and roughly strip-searched.

They "found no money"...of course...taking his jacket, winnings, and gunbelt from him before he endured the rituals of fingerprinting, laser and retinal scan, front and side photos, questions which he stubbornly refused to answer. That earned him a few more blows. It had been sixteen years since he had been captured and sent to New York Max, sixteen years of freedom. Maybe, Snake thought, he had begun to believe the legend of the "uncatchable" Snake Plissken. Maybe he had grown careless and overconfident. Back to New York? Probably.

Hauk wouldn't be there this time. Snake had read in the underground press that the Police Commissioner had resigned angrily after the new President had begun his "moral rearmament" of the country. Snake, himself, was disgusted with it all. He was accused of "twenty-seven moral crimes against America," or so the public service spots blared on every vid channel; accused and convicted in absentia. Now they would have a real crime to pin on him. Gunfighting was illegal, even on New Vegas. He wondered if the USPF would bother with a trial, or just haul his ass back to the States and dump him in New York Max. Still, he thought, sixteen years wasn't a bad run, all things considered.

Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside his cell and the door slid open. An officer barked, "Come on, Plissken," and reached out a hand. Snake shrugged out of contact and stepped into the hall, raking the little squad of guards with his cool, contemptuous glance. He was marched down the corridor to a room containing a chair, table, and some kind of recliner that gave it the look of a medical exam room. Snake's mind brought up memories of the hospital at Helsinki, of the underground butcher who had patched him up after New York, and he felt an internal shrinking he hoped wasn't visible to his captors. "Siddown," the blackbelly officer ordered. Snake considered refusing, but the numbers weren't in his favor. They were more than capable of injuring him, badly, and *then* forcing him into the recliner. He sat.

The guards strapped him down with bored efficiency, uncuffing his hands to fasten them to the chair's arms. Snake twisted, resisting, trying to pull his arms and legs free before the restraints locked home. One blackbelly backhanded him and cocked a fist for a harder blow; Snake subsided as the chair-cuffs snapped shut. He'd been beaten in restraints before. Not worth repeating for the satisfaction of making a useless gesture. He stared at the wall, trying to look unimpressed by the USPF's Finest. From the glower he got in return, he apparently succeeded. Two officers flanked him while a third snugged a rubber tourniquet around Snake's upper arm and plunged a hypodermic syringe into his brachial artery to collect a blood sample. The little group left, the blackbelly holding the blood-filled syringe aloft like a trophy, and Snake heard the sound of the door's lock engaging.

Cold fire burned the length of Snake's backbone, and he felt fear, like small, sharp teeth, nibbling at the edges of his self-control. Blood samples meant they would be questioning him under drugs, the interrogator trying to see if he had any other chemical in his system that would create a fatal reaction when combined with the truth-drugs. Snake reached back into his Army training, back to the techniques he had been taught to use under enemy interrogation, if he was captured. He brought up the faces of the fallen men of Black Light one by one, and, finally, the face of Bill Taylor, his partner. In Snake's mind, Taylor eyed him with a calm certainty beyond blame or doubt, a certainty without questions or reasons, without limits.

For Taylor, he had always been a soldier, with a soldier's honor, even after his enemy had become their own government. Taylor had trusted him, believed in him, to the end. He saw the quick "thumbs up" and confident grin Taylor always gave him just before the hatches of their Gulffires slid shut, and they went up on a mission. He held on to the image.

Snake lay still, listening. He knew they were leaving him alone to stew and anticipate what they had in store for him, in hopes of breaking down his resistance. Deliberately, he turned his thoughts away from whatever was about to happen, and back to a replay of the last few hours before his capture, back to the Three-in-One Deathduel.

******************

He had made his drop, passed the heroin safely to Paul Frees, his Dayglo contact, and collected the first installment on his cut of the take. All he had to do was wait until Frees made his connection and got paid in turn, then he could collect the rest and get out of there. In the meantime, he had signed up for a couple of Three-In-One matches. They made a good cover for his presence on New Vegas, and, if all went well, would pull in some extra money. A little backup plan, in case Frees ran out on him with the rest of his cut.

"Odds are stacking pretty well," the promoter observed, as the two of them cased the smoky backroom crowded with thrill-seeking high-rollers placing bets on Snake's upcoming deathmatch.

Snake snorted softly. "Cobra venom. They fall for it every time." The advantage went to the man with cooler nerves and bigger balls, the man who could get the psychological drop on his opponent and outbluff him. Last time Snake had come away with $500,000 for his cut of the take in the Three-In-One. Gunfighting alone was equally risky, and the payoff was smaller, but it was the adrenaline rush that drew him as much as the cash. That, and the kick to his rep.

He met Su Yan at the table. The Chinese man's fat bulk was squeezed into the metal chair, his eyes concealed behind mirrored sunglasses, his sweating face a mask.

He had nearly as much of a name in the gaming underworld as Snake, but the word was he had never done the Three-In-One. As the announcer gabbled in Chinese, and the crowd yelled its bloodthirsty enthusiasm, Snake readied himself for the test, mentally focusing, creating a calm inner certainty by force of will. The objective was simple: out "gut" his opponent, and, if the first phase was a draw, go to the gunfight.

Several thousand dollars for twenty minutes work...if Su Yan blinked first.

He didn't watch as a cobra was selected from the writhing mass in the holding pit.

He knew the routine. The snake's venom was milked into a clear shotglass, displayed to the cheers of the crowd, and set down with a flourish on the black lacquered tabletop between the two men. Expectant silence settled as eyes focused on the little cup mirrored in the table's shining surface. The smack of a cleaver behind them announced the death of the cobra. Its blood was squeezed into a second glass, the heart and liver poured into a third, and the two other shotglasses lined up beside the first. A flick of his fingers started the small floating cylinder in front of the announcer spinning. Snake tipped his head back with a calm sigh, and, as the pointer slowed, the faint breath nudged its tip into stopping in front of the Chinese man. Good, Snake thought with an inner smile. Su Yan paled slightly.

Sweating, Su Yan took up the glass with the cobra blood and downed it grimly. The cylinder spun again and settled on Snake. He could drink the venom now, but that would spoil the show, and bets were still being placed. Raise the stakes, take the gamble, and hope he could fake out his opponent, Snake thought to himself. Snake pretended to hesitate, manufacturing an apprehensive expression. With an infinitesimal tremor visible in his fingertips, he lifted the glass with the liver and heart, tossed it back with a long breath, and set the empty glass down sharply on the slick black lacquer. The click of its impact was dramatic in the silence as the crowd around them watched in intent expectation.

Time now for the psychological deathblow that would decide this contest. The cylinder spun a third time. Snake let it go its full rotation, until it finally stopped, pointing to Su Yan.

The other man was pale and sweating, hesitant, and Snake could read the apprehension in him.

Snake leveled his coldest stare at his opponent, his good eye fixing Su Yan with deadly menace.

The Chinese man reached out a shaking hand toward the remaining shotglass. Snake caught his eye, putting all of the force of his personality into the look, and Su Yan slowly withdrew his hand. Psyched by Snake's feigned apprehension and the very real threat in his glance, Su Yan was defeated, his fear of the venom magnified beyond his control.

Swiftly, Snake's hand moved. He picked up the clear glass and drank the contents in one gulp. The bitter taste at the back of his throat told him he had not managed to get it all down completely. 'Whatever you do, don't bite your tongue for the next twenty minutes, Snake', he thought grimly. The crowd whooped and yelled.

Now for the rest of this. Snake rose from the table, keeping his eye fixed on Su Yan with intimidating menace. His opponent got uncertainly to his feet, and the two men moved to the open area in the center of the room as the crowd melted back out of the path of the impending shots. One man was shaking, the other outwardly calm and icily elated. At the signal, both men drew and fired. Snake felt the light breeze as Su Yan's bullet passed his shoulder, missing him by a millimeter. His own guns found their mark, and the Chinese man crumpled to the floor, dead. Snake drew a deep breath and holstered his Magnums, his heart slowing gradually from its fast heavy rhythm as he rode the crest of his body's reaction, surfing the adrenaline rush back down. He strode to the promoter's table, swept his share of the winnings into a pile, tapped the bluebacks into a bundle and shoved the wad of paper into the pocket of his camo pants. Tonight, he thought, there would be steak, a bottle of good scotch, and a high-priced whore for dessert.

Ignoring the cheers of the spectators, avoiding the proffered claps on the shoulder and requests for autographs, Snake made his way out onto the deck of the rusted tanker moored off the Thai coastline. A cigarette girl approached him, and he passed her a bill for a pack of real smokes. As he stood at the railing, smoking, faint, steady drumbeats began to echo in his head. Shit! he thought...the venom! He knew the effects of the cobra venom could start with mild hallucinations. The steady, throbbing sound grew louder, and Snake looked up, searching for the source. No, not the poison...a USPF chopper. He heard the steel net before he saw it, felt it whistling down, slamming him to his knees as a lead weight bounced against his skull, stunning him. ShitshitSHIT! Blackbellies swarmed him and bore him to the deck as a blow from nowhere in particular took him out of the waking world.

**

Snake was brought back to the present by the soft, heavy thud of a door closing. He looked toward the sound to see a slender man in the crisp uniform of USPF Medical entering the room.

Snake took a breath. Gritting his teeth, he reached far down into his past and called up the phrase that would activate his programmed military conditioning.

 

******************

The pale, blond interrogator with the dead eyes and the cold expression came through the door, alone, closed it carefully behind him, and stood sizing up his subject. The man on the medical restraint couch turned his head to glower at him, hatred and defiance in his face. Dr. Anderson smiled slightly to himself. "Snake" Plissken. This one should be an interesting challenge. If he could break Plissken, it would mean a commendation, and an article in the USPF journal under his byline.

"Plissken. Good to have you with us at last." Anderson pitched his voice low, making it soft and deceptively innocuous, making the captive have to strain to hear him clearly. He stepped over and gripped the subject's chin, turning the man's head to study the bruises. The prisoner twisted his head free, glaring at him. "I see you sustained some damage during your capture. Unfortunate. It makes my job a bit more difficult," he said. The prisoner gave him an icy stare and nothing more, stubbornly silent.

Anderson crossed to the other side of the room, laid his case on the table, and opened it, shielding its contents from the subject's view with his body. When they didn't know what he would use, what was coming, it always gave him an advantage. He spoke over his shoulder as he set up his instruments. "I've been following your career, Plissken. You've led us a merry chase, but we have you at last. Now we can...make up for lost time." He took the gunbelt the man had been wearing when he was apprehended from the case, and hung it over the back of the chair, the buckle facing the prisoner. "Nice work. These mean a lot to you, don't they?" He laid fingertips lightly on the black strap. "I never saw the use of firearms, myself. I've always found other methods...more effective." Anderson producing a cold smile he had always found useful in unsettling those he was interrogating, but got no visible reaction from the one currently across from him.

When he heard a knock, Anderson opened the door, accepted the printout the orderly handed in to him, then shut it again. He read through the sheet. "Your labs are back. No drugs in the bloodstream, no alcohol. Clean living, Plissken? I wouldn't have expected it of you, but it does give us a better baseline to start from." He set down the flimsy pink sheet, the snap of thin latex gloves being pulled on sounded in the air, and when he turned back from his case, a hypodermic needle gleamed in his hand. "Now. We shall begin."

The prisoner lunged violently against the restraints, twisting and fighting. Anderson waited him out. "That will do you no good, you know," he said in a patient, slightly bored, tone.

"You belong to us now, and anything we want to do to you, we will." He glanced at the paper.

"Your chart says you have a problem with needles." In one quick move, he pinned an arm and jabbed the needle home, then held the hypodermic in place, injecting slowly, ignoring the subject's struggles. Not much different than the monkeys in his lab experiments, he thought: the same futile struggles subdued by a fast, firm grip. At least this animal had language.

"Fight me and it will only be worse," he said. He withdrew the syringe and studied the figure on the examination couch. He was hiding his fear well, but Anderson could tell it was there, under the burning hatred in the one cold blue eye.

Anderson stepped away from the subject, who had subsided into a rigid quiet, and sat down in the office chair next to the table, consulting his watch. He picked up the paper, read through it again, rearranged the contents of his case, and waited. When the time was up, he came over and laid a hand against the prisoner's face, testing reactions. The man pulled away, more slowly now. "Still there? Yes," Anderson said. His hand touched the face again. This time, the subject stayed motionless, blinking at him with unfocused, half-open eye.

The doctor returned to the gunbelt on the chair back. "Yes. Very nice workmanship. Must have set you back quite a bit." The buckle glinted in brightness from the ceiling fixture overhead.

The subject's dull gaze turned slowly toward the shining metal. "Feeling tired? Try to stay awake, if you will." Anderson toyed with the belt, turning the buckle slightly back and forth to catch the light. Anger and hatred had faded out of the his blank expression, but the prisoner seemed to be struggling to stay awake concentrating on the moving flash from the buckle.

"When I touch your hand, you will hear me clearly. You cannot hear my voice now," Anderson said softly. The subject stared dully ahead. "Close your eyes now." He watched the face opposite him intently, but no flicker of awareness crossed its features. He brushed his fingers across the back of the other man's hand. "Close your eyes now," he repeated. One unpatched eye fell shut slowly, and Anderson smiled inwardly. As he had expected, the subject had proved quite easy to hypnotize. The criminal mind was simpler, more childlike, easier to manipulate, than that of normal people.

The doctor reached down and unzipped the fastenings on the prisoner's tight fitting black shirt and pushed it down, exposing the chest, to monitor the breathing more accurately. He glanced at the oxygen container with the resuscitation gear beside the enameled storage cabinet. The drug dosage had been calculated carefully, based on body chemistry and estimated weight, but the possibility of suffocation was still present. If he lost this one, it would set his career back and displease his superiors. He frowned. The subject's breathing was almost too shallow now, and he seemed asleep.

"What is your name?"

Silence.

"What is your name?"

"Snn'k...." The sound emerged grudgingly, almost a voiceless breath.

"State your full name!" The doctor's voice became a sharp, almost military, bark.

An almost imperceptible shudder passed over the prisoner in the restraints, and something in the slack face changed, shifted, then faded from the doctor's view.

"H'z'kn...Ssssn...."

"Again."

"Ltnn...Sss..vnn H'fd...Plllzk'n...."

Too deep. Anderson felt a stab of alarm. Had he miscalculated the dose that badly?

Perhaps, or, more likely, the subject's reactions were slowed by genuine fatigue.

He took a bottle of glucose drip from the case, inserted tubing and a needle. In a moment, he had the IV going, the bottle hung from a hook at the top of the recliner. He hoped that a slow, steady infusion of glucose would prevent further damage.

"Your name." Once again, there was silence. Exasperated, Anderson tried another tactic. "You are Steven David Plissken. Is that correct?"

A faint shake of the prisoner's head. The doctor laid a hand on his face again, and this time he offered only slight resistance. "Relax, Plissken. Nothing you can do will have any effect on what is going to happen to you. Resistance can only make it worse." The man in the restraints had been handsome once, Anderson thought. Cleaned up, shaved, with the surly snarl removed, the face might even have looked boyishly wholesome. But now the rough features were marred by moral degeneracy. He was a criminal, a killer, a psychopath, totally socially unredeemable, and it showed, stamped into the scarred flesh. The man's mind was undoubtedly as filthy and defective as his body.

He returned to the attack. "Who were your contacts in New Vegas? Give us the names!"

The subject turned his head slowly, as if trying to evade the question.

"You were arrested for gunfighting for profit. Who set up the match? Answer me!"

The man in the restraints twitched, his face tensing. "Nnnnoooo...."

"ANSWER ME!"

"S.D. Plis-sken...Lieu-tenant, U-nitedStates Ar-my, Serial num-ber...." The raspy, nearly inaudible whisper droned on, reciting old information. Anderson scanned the printout with the prisoner's file and an item caught his attention. Special Forces.

That would explain the strength of the resistance. A specific name: Black Light.

"Black Light." That was the last mission the young Lieutenant Plissken had completed before he had suddenly gone renegade. It wasn't what he had been told to question the prisoner about, but sometimes indirect approaches proved fruitful. If nothing else, it might throw him off track and confuse him into providing some kind of answers. "What about Black Light? Tell me...."

"Lied to us. Suicide...mission. Di'n't...'pect us t'come back. ...Trusted me... trusted me... Dead. All of them...." The man's voice trailed off. Somewhere within him a door seemed to open and raw pain flooded the blank face. "Nooo...."

He was reaching some inner place, something of emotional significance to the subject, Anderson thought with satisfaction. The resistance was breaking down. "Where are you now? What is happening?" the doctor said, watching intently. "Tell me: where are you?"

Instead of the response Anderson hoped for, the prisoner lunged against the straps, fighting the restraints violently, thrashing wildly in the recliner. The straps held, and, after a moment. he collapsed onto the chair, quieting. His expression turned dull again, emotion fading. "No..." he mumbled, and fell silent.

He seemed to be losing contact with the other man, the doctor thought, the subject drifting farther away from him, retreating into whatever surprisingly strong defenses this unusually resistant criminal mind had constructed to frustrate him. Abandoning the sideline, Anderson turned back to the immediate question. "Who was working with you in New Vegas?"

Stubborn silence from the prisoner.

Anderson put an imitation of concern into his voice, trying a different tactic. "Snake, you have to tell me. Your friend is in danger. You have to tell me, so I can warn him." The doctor watched the prisoner's face intently. "Who was with you in New Vegas? Who was your contact? Who?"

"No." The subject's voice was faint and hoarse, a weary rasp, but determined. His eye was closed, his breathing all but stilled. "No," he whispered doggedly.

"Your contact, Snake. Tell me. Snake, talk to me!" Anderson was becoming concerned. Even under Versed and the other drugs in combination, the man was still resisting. This was dangerous. He had lost prisoners before, when they retreated too far and simply died in the chair. If that happened, the USPF would never get anything out of this one. Time to back off temporarily.

The subject's lips moved silently, then he breathed out a long sigh and fell still, slumped limply in the recliner. Anger and the fear of failure in this important interrogation, galvanized the doctor, and he slapped the prisoner's face, hard. The head rocked to one side, but there was no other response. Alarmed, Anderson lowered the recliner flat and began CPR.

Several moments went by before the prisoner took a ragged breath. Anderson quickly activated the oxygen and put the mask over the subject's face. The man lay utterly still, barely breathing. The doctor injected a strong stimulant into the IV line, and, as the drug slowly took effect, the subject stirred and raised his head fractionally. One blue eye slowly focused on the interrogator. A low, relentless voice, muffled by the mask, grated "Fuck you...." The eye closed again and the expression smoothed into a blank, solid wall of resistance, conceding nothing.

Annoyed and frustrated, Anderson stepped back a pace and contemplated his uncooperative subject. This was not going well. Evidently, if they were going to get anything useful out of this one, they were going to have to rely on less subtle methods than drugs and hypnosis. He would turn the prisoner back to the guards for more traditional methods of persuasion. Sometimes sleep deprivation, hunger, and plain, old-fashioned physical force were still effective.

With the subject sullenly unresponsive in the restraints, Anderson began collecting the rest of the information he wanted for the prisoner's file. In the last few years, the study of medicine had once again turned its attention to the bio-genetic basis of criminality, and S.D. Plissken was an unusual case: a war hero and former American patriot lost to immorality and insanity. The doctor took precise measurements and a complete body scan before moving on to the specimen samples. He would run a detailed program on all of them later. There was no telling which, if any, of these would unlock the secret of Plissken's unexplained degeneration.

As he had expected, the subject was uncooperative, but Anderson continued with brisk efficiency, no longer concerned with the prisoner's mental condition. With surgical scissors, he clipped a generous lock of hair, and dropped it into a specimen container, labeled it and set it aside. He added a scraping of tissue from the inside of the mouth, and samples of blood, skin, saliva, and a muscle biopsy, each with a meticulously detailed label, before finishing the examination by collecting a final sample that got more reaction from the subject than the rest.

The drugs were wearing off, and the prisoner was beginning to come around, fighting the restraints again. Anderson ignored the futile thrashing, concentrating on extracting a good sample of sperm. "Stop that!" he said sharply, "Be grateful I'm not using electrodes on you."

The doctor noted, with disgust, that the cobra tattoo on the subject's belly ended in a tail inked down the shaft of the penis. What strange twist of the man's perverted mind had led him to have that done? Anderson wondered. Carefully, he removed his damp surgical gloves and dropped them into a hazardous waste container. Even through latex, he felt contaminated by the contact. He packed his samples and equipment, and closed his examination case with a firm click. "You know, Plissken," he said, "It's almost too bad you won't remember any of this." He gave the subject a final disgusted glance before turning away. "You're nothing but a symptom of the moral rot we're cutting out of the body of America."

He left the examining room, nodding absently to the guard outside the door. "I'm finished," he said. "When he revives completely, take him back to his cell." The guard saluted.

When he returned to his office, Anderson picked up his digital recorder, spent a moment organizing his thoughts, and then began dictating into it: "Subject: S.D. Plissken. Date: October 11, 2013; 1640 hours. Subject responsive to Versed and Sanlaxene combination, but massively blocked mentally. At levels deep enough to cause asphyxia and cessation of breathing, no useful information obtained. Further interrogation under drugs may prove fatal. Subject was revived, but remained uncooperative. Tissue and fluid samples for genetic research project taken. Suggested course..." He closed his eyes and rubbed them. Constant contact with the degenerates he was required to interrogate was tiring and unpleasant.

"Suggested course: termination or revocation of citizenship and deportation."

He shut off the machine and leaned back with a tired sigh. It had been a very unsatisfactory afternoon, and he was not pleased with forwarding this inconclusive report to his superiors.

Perhaps a more thorough analysis of the recording and the samples might give them better answers, or perhaps they might never know what motivated the criminal in Room 16, and who his accomplices were. A mental image of the prisoner's repulsive tattoo surfaced, and the doctor's mouth twisted slightly in disgust. It was a perfect symbol of the pathology of the criminal class: diseased bodies, degenerate minds. The president's policy of removing such sources of moral contagion from American society was right and necessary. The country was lucky to have such a man in charge.

He looked out his office window at the bustle of organized activity below, the neat rows of barracks, military vehicles, uniformed men passing by, and a familiar pride rose in him. His service, the USPF, was his commander in chief's strong right arm, the means by which the president's plans to regenerate and purify this great nation once again would be achieved.

Plissken was an example of the problem; they were the solution. The doctor glanced at his watch. It was almost time for the president's sermon from Lynchburg tonight. Anderson pointed his remote at the office video and activated it.

******************

Snake returned to awareness in his cell, half-slumped against the hard bedshelf, stiff, aching, and exhausted. He levered himself up onto the flat surface and surveyed the room, rubbing absently at an annoying, burning itch on the inside his arm. He looked down to see a fresh puncture-mark over the vein, surrounded by faint bruising. He stared at it, sorting through his memory: the USPF capture, the van, the search, booking...the rest was hazy. He lifted his head, the cell swam dizzily, and he caught himself on one outstretched arm to keep from falling over. This wasn't the lingering effects of the cobra venom; it had to be something the blackbellies had done to him. The confused image of an officer in a medical uniform came back to him. He must have been interrogated under drugs.

Shit. What had he said? Snake wondered, trying desperately to remember. He cared little for Frees, and less for the men behind him, but he had been paid to do a job and keep his mouth shut. His reputation, and far more important to him, his concept of himself, the last ragged remnants of his soldier's honor, lay in his reliability. Had he kept his word, or had he broken?

There was no real defense against truth-drugs except to go deeper than the drugs could reach. He had been trained and conditioned to resist under interrogation, to push himself down into that armored redoubt inside him, but that had been twenty years ago. Had the fucking blackbellies violated him even there, in the inner reaches of his self? In the end, he owned nothing, could hold on to nothing, could count on nothing, except the integrity of his mind. If they had taken that from him, mere survival, now, would be pointless.

He rose to his feet and unsteadily paced the featureless grey space, listening intently. There was no sound but the faint hiss of the air circulation system, nothing visible beyond the blank wall of the prison corridor outside the barred Thermopane barrier of his cell. He returned to the bedshelf and sank down onto it, drifting restlessly within his mind, searching for any memory of what had happened during the interrogation. Time slid by slowly.

**************

"Hello, Plissken. Enjoying your stay?" Snake's eye snapped open to see a tall, heavyset guard in USPF uniform on the other side of the cell barrier. The door opened to admit the speaker and three other blackbellies, then clanged shut again behind them. "We thought you might like a little company before you're transferred," They grinned sadistically at him. "You owe us for Cleveland, Snake." The voice was heavy with sarcasm.

Two of the officers grabbed Snake's shoulders and upper arms, and held him while the larger man buried a fist in Snake's belly, driving the wind out of him, and followed it with an uppercut and a crashing blow to the side of his head. Slowly, methodically, the guards took turns beating him. After the first few punches and kicks, Snake sagged in their grip, making them hold his weight upright. They dropped him to the floor, and he curled as best he could to protect his most vulnerable organs. Fists, feet, elbows, nightsticks and handcuffs smashed into Snake, and he yelped, grunted, cursed and gasped, unresisting, as the blows fell. False heroics and struggles would only infuriate them into hurting him worse and gain him nothing. Finally, the attack slacked off, and the big officer grabbed Snake by his matted hair and dragged him to his feet. Blood trickled from Snake's nose and a cut on his head as the officer snarled at him, "Next time you'll be a little more cooperative when somebody asks you questions, won't you, dirtbag?"

Snake stared silently at the other man, and a slow, cold triumph welled up in him. So the interrogation under drugs had given them nothing they wanted; that was why they had beaten him.

He hadn't talked, they hadn't broken him, he had survived the worst they could do to him with his mind intact. He hardly felt the bruising impact as the blackbelly released him with a shove that slammed him against the far wall and sent him sliding to the floor. The group walked out and the door of the cell closed behind them, leaving Snake alone.

Snake slowly gathered himself together, considering. No, he hadn't talked, he knew that now, but would Frees and his men believe it? It was a common tactic for the police to leak false information to the mob that one of their people had broken and turned snitch. With men like Frees and his bosses in Dayglo, that would be fatal. No matter where he went, in prison, New York Max, Los Angeles, they would find him and he would be maggot bait. No, he wouldn't make that rendezvous in Hollywood that Frees had set up for him now. If the USPF deported him, he'd fade into the L.A. crowd and try to disappear for good. Snake wiped the blood off his mouth with a bruised hand and smiled slowly, painfully, to himself with a new, calm inner certainty. Wherever he went, he would make it; he would survive. He was surer of himself than he had been for the last twenty years.

They held him in isolation for two weeks, while he endured the gawkers, the Police Channel camera crews, the periodic repeat visits from brutal guards, refusing to answer questions or give them anything, until the USPF squad came to transfer him to Firebase Seven for deportation to Los Angeles Island.

 

END

 

Back