Susan struggles awake. Her arms and feet are tightly bound to a straight-back chair; a dark hood covers her face. She inhales an odd sweet taste and tries to remember. Her arms recognize the cotton of her blouse. She feels where her jeans pinch her waist.


She searches for pain, injury, down her arms, her legs… between her legs.

nothing, thank god.

Her bare feet recoil from cold damp concrete. She gasps and the hood smothers her breath, the cloth sucked tight to her face, a dark dimple of it bulging into her mouth. She bites her lip, struggles to control her breathing.

Images come to her in blurred flashes. Her car at a traffic light. A van pulls alongside. The shower of glass as her driver’s side window explodes. Panic as darkness is yanked over her head and a hand presses against her mouth. She inhales a sickly sweet taste. Rough hands jerk her and pull her from her car. The underwater feeling as consciousness slips away. The stumbling burble of her Corolla as it idles vainly at the light.

Her minds races, thinking moves ahead, like a fast-paced game of chess. Her lawyer’s instinct to argue and confront wells up in her but she pushes it back down. She’ll say nothing. No one is on her side in this room. She is without defense and without power and part of her rages at the idea. But she’s not in a courtroom now. She knows that. Not anymore.

There are no courtrooms and institutions of law, no optimistic monuments to the permanence of Law and Justice. No judge. No jury. Only windowless basement rooms like the one she knows she’s in now. She knows the situation. There is no system, no evidentiary procedures, no assumption of innocence, only anonymous rooms and the impassive stare of the Interrogators. She doesn’t have the right to remain silent. She doesn’t have any rights. No one does.

could they know about the coffee shop?

She’d been so careful, taking side street after side street, pausing to gaze in shop windows so she could check the reflection of the street. She saw nothing unusual, no one appearing to notice her, and more telling, no one appearing not to notice her. She thinks of what she’ll say. She had been alone at the coffee shop, reading. A simple story, impossible to verify, impossible to prove wrong. A wave of panic washes over her.

what if they had somebody there, at the coffee shop? what if they heard the whole thing?

She thinks it through. Could The Party have known about the meeting? Have they captured Professor Stripe? Her mind swims with too many questions. She has no answers. Better to say nothing and stick to her simple story. If the Professor is captured – if at this moment he is in another green-grey room somewhere nearby, if they have his briefcase – it’s all over.

Susan thinks of Miles and their baby. They had been careful, their lives deliberately separated, their tracks covered, traces erased. She has to believe that Miles and the baby are safe. But she doesn’t know. It’s been six months since Professor Stripe approached her, since she learned about the weapon, since she and Miles agreed it was her duty. She thinks of their last night together, afraid to stop touching each other, making love and talking until the sun came up. They agreed. A bold strike could cripple The Party. Susan was the only person who could pull it off, the only one who could be trusted. They agreed. Miles would take the baby and go into hiding. Susan could not know where Miles was. He made her promise not to ask, but still she whispered the question as they embraced goodbye. Miles mouthed “I love you” as he and the baby slipped into the night.

She bites her lip hard and tastes copper blood. Pain screams through her head and shouts down her thoughts.

no traces. no matter what.

She knows the score. They could have bugged the coffee shop. There could be video, agents at every table. There is nothing to stop them. She pushes the coffee shop from her mind and focuses on her silence. They will not make her talk.

The blindfold is lifted and she squints into the glare of a bare bulb swinging in front of her. Through blurred lids, she sees the dark green surface of a desk, cracked and pitted in the swaying circle of light. A black-gloved hand slips a photo facedown into the light. The light sweeps to the edge of the desk and she sees the tray of instruments at its edge, the diamond-glint of something sharp. A scalpel? “Who’s there?” she says. “What do you want?”


If they have the professor, she knows she’s dead. It’s pointless to say anything. It’s better to let them talk. They’ll do whatever they want anyway. There’s nothing she can do to stop it. The photo is flipped face-up and the gloved hand slaps back down over it. She sees blue calico in the photo. A voice, calm, and menacing, fills the room yet she hears it as a whisper just beyond the halo of light. The voice is familiar and at once oddly distant. A face dips into the umbrella of yellow light, pale blue eyes, no glimmer of recognition.


“Mrs. Sandhein,” Miles says as his gloved hand pats the photo. “We have your daughter.”


(to be continued)


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