Todayâ€™s Word: Interrogation
Green light dug into Horner's guts like greedy fingers pressing into a ripe fruit. The old man gasped. A shot like this was the worse kind. It was standard technique for Empyrean interrogation. The laser caused horrible pain and deadly damage, but at the same time it cut through flesh, it cauterized the wounds. The internal damage would be sufficient to end a man's life, but it was a slow, painful road to death.
The six pence tumbled from Horner's hand, striking the stone floor with the age-old sound of dropped coins. They fell askew of where they had been when Linus retrieved their alter-selves. And for an instant Horner thought maybe something was changing; maybe this go round would be the last.
But then Linus, with the sleek gun still drawn, bent and lined the six pence up with his free hand. Horner squinted his eyes against the tears threatening to overflow onto his cheeks.
"Before I leave, tell me why you left the Ministry," said Linus. "You've obviously had extensive reconstructive surgery, you even had a brain flush. Can you remember what was so terrible that you'd relinquish the entire world?"
Horner kept his eyes closed, but said, "I ordered the Children's Massacre."
"That's a myth. It never happened. It was made up by Capitalist sympathizers and paid-off historians."
"I was there. I gave the order." Pain seized Horner's guts like a thousand strong hands ripping his insides apart. He gasped and shuddered.
"Then I won't give the order," said Linus, oblivious to Horner's pain.
"You will. It's the only way to retain power. You'll give the order and it will color your days and haunt your nights until you become mad. And even then you'll see the faces of all those children, unarmed, arms locked and voices raised, singing your destruction. You'll order them dead and in that moment you'll condemn yourself to become me."
Linus stood silent for a moment. Horner felt that any second he would raise the scream gun once again to lance his alter-self to death. But the younger man finally turned back to the time machine and triggered its hatch to open.
As the hatch closed to the sound of compressed air, Linus said, "Things will go differently this time."
"I hope so," said Horner.
There was no thunderous sound to accompany the time machine's departure. The stone room brightened for several seconds, whiting out the Sphere's overlay, then the darkness returned, and the room sounded empty.
Horner rose slowly, painstakingly to his feet. He wouldn't die here. No one in the Ministry, especially the computer nodes of the Sphere, would deem his body worth retrieving from the cave. Horner Jensen, once known as Linus Turring, First Minister of the Empyrean Empire, refused to lose his dignity with his life.
He stumbled out the way he'd come. When he neared the cave entrance, Horner turned off the Sphere overlay and strode out into the light of day. The sun was bright and warm, the air sweet.
"Next time," whispered Horner and then fell, dead among the blackberries.