27 Aug Chapter 2: Inflicted
I come to in a large canvas tent. Various pains all over my body trigger memories of being chased and captured. Was it recent? How long have I been here? I have no idea.
In front of me are a dozen men in military uniforms standing around a large table. I catch a few snippets of conversation—something about association personnel appropriations. Soldiers with rifles stand guard by the open tent flap. Each has blinders on—black leather squares strapped to the sides of their head allowing them to see only forward. I hear gunfire and muffled blasts coming from the tent opening; we must be near the front lines. In the corner a woman clacks away on an ancient manual textwriter, another is putting folders in a file cabinet.
I try to move my arms and realize they’ve handcuffed me behind my back through the cross brace of the chair I’m on. This is not good.
One of the men turns and notices I’m awake. He leans over and whispers something to a man with gold epaulets on his uniformed shoulders. Epaulet man seems to take no notice. I look around the tent to see if I can spot something that will help me escape but find nothing promising.
“Treason is bad enough—but you had the arrogance to think you could commit treason and escape unpunished!” Epaulet man has walked over and is speaking directly to me. I glance up and see that his uniformed chest is completely covered with military ribbons and medals. His grey facial hair has been trimmed into two tight vertical lines.
I ask, “Isn’t it kind of tacky to have on that many ribbons all at once?” Okay, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to say but I might as well play this for all it’s worth.
Epaulet man doesn’t look amused. “I haven’t yet introduced myself. I am Supreme Commander Trenauk, leader of the Imperial Army. Now onto your crime: collaborating with the enemy. It is the highest offense one can commit in our culture. You probably thought you wouldn’t be discovered, but our spy network is more sophisticated than you might imagine. As a foreigner we grant you no immunity from our laws, but you do earn the privilege of a formal review of the punishments that will be inflicted on you.” Oh joy.
At this point I would normally try to bargain my way out of this, but I’ve already demonstrated I’m a traitor so I don’t think he would believe anything I say. Trenauk takes a step closer and clears his throat. “We also know what you are. For an abomination such as yourself, there will be no leniency.” He’s looking at my crotch at this point and has a queasy look on his face. “Our lord is perfect in every way, and we are made in his image. Your kind however does not deserve His grace.” I think about that one a second—is it just me or does the arithmetic of his statement not add up?
He leans forward, looming over me. “It will be my pleasure to personally supervise your punishment regimen. It will take lifetimes to fully repay us for your treachery.”
I’m starting to feel real fear now—I hope he can’t tell how fake my smile is. “I wouldn’t expect anything other than extreme sadism from someone like you.”
He looks bewildered. “No, no we are pacifists. The Almighty is the Lord of peace, and we follow His word without question.”
Wait, what? Has he looked outside recently?
Several of the men behind Trenauk whip their heads around towards the tent opening. I begin to hear what caught their attention—a hissing noise that’s quickly getting louder. A crash shakes the tent canvas on the opposite side. One of the men yells, “Sir, it’s the Plutoch gas attack!”
Trenauk looks around in a panic and grabs the man closest to him. “Intelligence said they were days away from operational readiness, how can this be?”
The man tries to pulls back and responds, “Our agent was certain! We had confirmation!”
Trenauk shoves him against the table and screams at no one in particular, “Where are the gas masks? Someone get me a gas mask!” Men scramble around the tent looking. I saw examples of the masks in question earlier when I delivered the shipment of canisters; total crap, not worth the fake plastic they’re made out of. The men are panicking now, one of them bumps into another and knocks over a chair in his haste to find a gas mask.
A yellow haze starts seeping into the tent through the open flap. It quickly thickens as the man nearest to the opening starts coughing and drops to his knees.
This is just what I need.