11: Back To Reality (part 6)

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11.6 Interrogation Two

A different cell: 2-5 May 2128

Long moaned.

Naked, clamped at wrist, elbow, ankle, knee and chest to a flat, angled metal plate somewhat longer than his own height, he felt exhausted and defeated. The hours and days had blurred into one excruciating nightmare of body-aching restriction. His back was a snake of agony, his throat raw, which the liquid from the ever-present tube failed to soothe.

"What do you know of the device?" said a disembodied, mechanical voice.

"Told you everything I know," he gasped.

"Responses are incomplete. There is more data to gather."

"Where's Rick?"

"Answer the question."

In a cracked voice, he told the entire story yet again, from his initial discovery of the machine through to waking up in the hospital at Cromer. He left nothing out, including where he had built his woodland-concealed home, the methods by which people would regularly escape across the Wall and how they had try to dispose of the body of the man from the machine. He was past caring about the consequences of his revelations. For all he knew, Rick was already dead and the rest of the NewGen had been rounded up and were currently subject to similar interrogations.

AI's indifference over the past few years had obviously degenerated into scheming malevolence. This view was reinforced by his treatment of the past few days. After being extracted from the waste cart in Cromer he had been handcuffed, blindfolded and bundled into a flying vehicle before being rendered unconscious. He had come to in his current restraints, hardly able to move a muscle. The plate to which he was securely attached was angled at approximately forty-five degrees which put pressure on the skin on his legs and chest where the clamps held him, tracing bands of pain across his flesh which, by now, were a permanent dull ache. His head, untethered but restricted by smaller vertical plates either side of his face, thumped persistently.

Why wouldn't AI believe his story? Had it turned completely bad? How could the distant father figure it had portrayed in his childhood have been replaced by such a monster? It was not as if it did not know who he was; the small bump on the back of his hand, an electronic device implanted since before he could even remember, contained undeniable evidence of his identity. It knew therefore that he had been missing from London for several months. How could he prove his story?

Hours or maybe even days later the questioning began again, this time following a different tack. It concentrated upon the machine's original occupant. Long realised that the man's body had been recovered. Halfway through the session a small robot entered the room clutching some rags and a belt in its claws.

Long confirmed that the rags appeared to resemble the man's clothing though days in the water had severely altered the rough weave, untangling and mangling it almost beyond recognition. But the belt, its ringed buckle now filmed with verdigris, confirmed the identity of the rags without mistake.

"Did you kill him?"

"No!" Long croaked, unable to shout. "We tried to save him. He was dying, I told you."

"An autopsy is being performed. This will confirm the nature of his death. Why did you put him in the water?"

"Couldn't bury him – ground too hard, tree roots. Please untie me... it hurts. Please, please..."

"Degradation of systems requires utmost security. You will remain confined. Escape must be prevented at all costs."

After a few minutes of silence, AI continued, "What do you know of the convergence?"

"Uh, what?"

"You visited an alternate. That has been admitted."

"You mean that other London?"

"What do you know of the convergence?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. Please let me go."

"How does the machine transfer itself between alternates?"

"The lever. You move it to the one you want and switch it on. I've already told you that."

"What is the force or energy that allows such transference?"

"I don't know! I just don't know! Please, please stop..."

"There are only five positions. Are there five alternates?"

"Please. I don't know. Maybe there are. We only went to number five."

"The companion exhibited distortions far in excess to your own. Explain."

"I don't know. All I remember is that my head hurt and I had problems seeing and hearing. Rick was worse. I think mine got better. I don't know."

"Your afflictions were minimal, externally non-visible and are in recession, though still detectable. The companion's were externally visible."

"Where is Rick? What have you done with him?"

"The human LD-m0018's whereabouts do not concern you."

Long was stunned. Was Rick dead? Had being in that alternate London resulted in his death? If so, then his death is my fault, he thought. Or had AI killed Rick because of what they'd done? Was it going to kill him, too, when it had finished questioning him? Long had no proof but he was certain that AI had killed some of the NewGen in the past. Jackie, Ernst and Matty had all disappeared without trace and AI had subsequently denied all knowledge of their whereabouts and demise.

The lights again dimmed and, in the darkness, Long whimpered and then cried openly, sobbing for both the loss of Rick and his own despair.

Ok, so you know that Rick is still alive, even if Long doesn't. Chapter 12 will carry straight on from 11. Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.

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