A Matter of Pryde
"Twenty three . . . . Twenty four . . . . Twenty five . . . . " Sabrina counted into her knees, curled against the stone wall, her legs tightly drawn up to her chest as proof against the hunger-pains. She knew it had been a mistake to spit in the rebel's face the other day. He might have handled it with quiet dignity, wordlessly wiping the saliva off his cheek before leaving the room, but it was always a mistake to antagonise your captors. They would probably deny her food for a couple of days now - a means of punishment as well as persuasion. Not that it mattered to her. She couldn't allow it to matter. The pangs would pass in time, but she had to keep her mind occupied until then. And counting was the easiest way she knew.
She had reached three hundred by the time she heard footsteps come up to her cell and pause. The lock beeped as someone tapped in its combination, then opened in a hiss of hydraulics. She looked up to see the young man who had claimed to be LeBeau come through the door.
In the time that she had had to mull over his revelation, she had reached the conclusion that he was not who he said he was. By evading all the MPF's attempts to track and capture him, Remy LeBeau had proved himself too intelligent to give away his real identity on a whim. She might have been his captive and there might have been little hope of her escaping or being rescued, but she doubted he would have risked even the fraction of a fraction of a chance there was of that happening, especially when there was no need for him to do so. No, he would never have revealed his real identity to her as easily as he had. That meant this young telepath was probably a plant by the real Remy LeBeau. Still, she would play along with him. He might give away clues to the actual leader's identity.
No matter who this young man was, however, one fact about him was as important as it was undeniable: he was holding a tray in his hands, from which smells of coffee and porridge rose. Her stomach growled within her.
"Breakfast time," he grinned at her, "I'm afraid dat it hardly be gourmet. Momma LeBeau would be rollin' in her grave right now."
She snorted, turning her head away from him. She wasn't fooled by his buddy-buddy act - it was only the oldest trick in the interrogator's book - and years of training had taught her not to seem too eager about getting the food. She remembered her instructor's teaching: the early stages of interrogation were all about getting a handle on the person, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses. They were also about the deprivation of basic needs, seeing how the person could survive going without food or water, seeing how they could handle extremes of temperature. She knew the game, and she would not let them break her through hunger. Besides, she told herself, it wasn't like she hadn't gone without food in the past.
"We used ta starve our prisoners," she said to show them she was aware of his intentions, "Made them more pliable."
Over her shoulder, she saw him squat and place the tray of food on the ground. He remained where he was, hands crossed on his thighs, watching her from behind his reflective glasses. It annoyed her that she couldn't see his eyes.
"How many years o' brainwashin' did it take before ya accepted dat?"
She refused to be baited, "Basic principle of interrogation. Ah'm surprised you aren't applying it."
"I'm surprised ya want me too," he said wryly, nudging the tray towards her with a hand. She didn't even move to acknowledge it, "Besides, dis may be a war, but we don't have to treat each other like animals. It be de difference between McTaggert an' us."
"That, and you're here interrogating me, LeBeau." she retorted. She remembered what he had said to her the previous day, obviously before he had remembered his leader's instructions to pretend to be him. She was not quite satisfied with that explanation for why he had acted like a grunt-soldier for most of their conversation, but it was less ridiculous than him actually being Remy LeBeau, "By the way, if Ah'm just a pawn in the game, why would yo' bother with me?"
"Because a pawn's jus' a few steps away from a Queen," Remy said cryptically, "Ya ever play chess, chere?"
"Never had time for games," she answered, keeping her eyes firmly away from the red trident that was tattooed on the webbing between her finger and thumb.
"Mon père used to play with me before he was murdered. He was good at it too. De pawns were de weakest pieces an' ya sacrificed dem without really t'inkin' about it."
"An' your point is, Remy?"
"My point is, 'tite, dat when de pawn reached de other side of de board, it became a queen," he looked up at her with an expectant look on his face. She met his stare with a blankly uncomprehending one of her own. The closest she had come to a game of chess was killing off a player who had been using the configuration of the pieces on the board to pass messages to one of the rebellions, "Forgot ya didn't know de game. De queen is de most powerful piece."
"Lemme guess?" she drawled sardonically, "The moral o' that story is ta never discount the seemingly valueless, because you never know how much it might be worth in the future."
"Non," he grinned, "De moral o' de story is dat I stunk at chess."
Sabrina began to laugh, but snapped her mouth shut as she realised what she was doing and what he was trying to do. Stupid, stupid girl! she berated herself, One of the oldest tricks in the interrogation manual, and you almost fell for it! Win the prisoner's confidence, make them believe they're your friend, and they'll share everything with you. She could almost see the words written in her book. The knowledge that she had tried it on the Contact only days ago did nothing to make her feel less idiotic.
"Can Ah eat now that you've finished trying to get me into your confidence?" she said coldly, "Or do you want to try again?"
"Can't con de con-woman, henh?" he pushed the tray closer to her, his voice regretful, "Ya know, it wouldn' hurt ya t'be polite. Sayin' 'please' would even be a start."
"Not ta rebel dogs. An' not ta their bastard leader."
She realised she had pushed him too far. He surged to his feet, his hands balled at his sides. His reflective glasses fell to the concrete, shattering into thin, black glitters. For a moment, he bent as if to retrieve them, then he straightened and glared at her. It took all her training for her to hide her surprise when she saw his eyes. They were like coals in his face - a flicker of red flame against absolute blackness. Fear fluttered in her belly, but she somehow managed to meet his stare emotionlessly.
"Batiscan!" he punched the word out, "Ya do realise how precarious ya position is, don' t ya? My entire team is baying f'r ya blood."
"An' you don't want me ta die?" she laughed harshly, attempting to cover up her discomfort, "How sweet. Ah wouldn't do th' same if Ah was in your shoes, LeBeau."
"Espèce de tête dure," Remy exclaimed in frustration, "What will it take t'get through t'ya? I'm not like McTaggert. I don' fight 'cause I want ta. I got no choice."
"Life sucks. Get over it," she said with a dismissive shrug, "Ah did."
"What is ya story?" he leaned towards her, an oddly gentle expression on his face. With some relief, she realised the moment of immediate danger had passed along with his anger. She also realised that he had not been lying when he said he would not kill her. If he were unable to kill her in a fit of temper, he would never manage to do the deed in cold blood, "How did ya get out of de fighting syndicates, los Gladiatores? I t'ought de only way out of dem was in a body bag."
Her eyes narrowed at the mention of her past career. How had he known she had been a fighter on the deathmatch circuit? Had he been able to get through her psishields? What else had he discovered about her? Then, she remembered the tattoo on her hand. It had marked her as daCosta's property, as a member of the biggest syndicate in the country. He must have seen it, and leapt to the only conclusion possible. The knot in her stomach loosened slightly.
"Mah story is none of your business," she pulled the tray towards her, and helped herself to a thick slice of bread. It was all she could do to keep herself from stuffing it whole in her mouth, "Now, go away.You're putting me off mah food."
"Bon appetit," he replied simply, and left the room.
Grumbling to herself about colleagues who shirked their duties, Cecilia Reyes headed down the corridor to the medilab. Milan knew perfectly that it was his turn to check up on the cyborg, yet he remained locked up in his room tinkering with some inconsequential gizmo or another. He hadn't even had the decency to open the door in response to her banging - only shouted through it that he was busy and needed to be left alone.
Her lips tightened. His behaviour had been seriously unstable since repairing Pryde's electronics. She couldn't understand it, and he refused to explain it. It had been a grim sight, sure, but it wasn't like he hadn't seen much worse since joining the rebellion. And it wasn't like he was responsible for her being injured or crippled. On the contrary, according to the report he had given her, he should have restored all sensory and motor functions to her arm. That was more than she had been able to do in most of her field surgery.
She wondered if he was worried about the cosmetic aspect of his operation. Admittedly, the cyborg's mechanical arm would never pass for a human one again. Synthskin could only be obtained from the most top-secret of government laboratories and they had no safe way of accessing those. Not that it made a difference. The blackened metal of her arm looked more like slag than muscle and tendon now - the heat of the blast had melted and twisted it into grotesque shapes, while white wires looped out of the opening like feeding maggots. It had done no permanent damage to the underlying circuitry, but, short of melting it down and recasting it, her arm would never look the same again. However, as Milan knew, it wasn't like the rebellion held any beauty contests. So, what could be wrong with him?
She shrugged off the question, as she entered the medilab. She would get to the bottom of what was eating Milan later, but, for the moment, her patient needed her full attention. She couldn't understand why Pryde hadn't woken from the strange coma into which she had collapsed at the factory. Physically, she should have done so. Her pulse-rate and blood-pressure had stabilised days ago, and her ECG had registered nothing more disturbing than the steady cycles of sleep in the whole time she had been under her care. No, it had to be something to do with her programming. Perhaps it was a tactic. Perhaps the scientists had set her to hibernate if she were injured in the hopes that she would be dismissed as scrap.
Again, Cecilia had to force down her anger and disgust at scientists who thought their degree took the place of their conscience. Emotions only hampered patient care by impairing rational, medical judgment, she told herself. With that in mind, she took a deep breath, before drawing aside the curtain that screened off the cyborg.
"Hijole!" she breathed, "Como . . . ?"
Pryde was sitting on the bed in a paper gown, her feet dangling over the side and her hands folded neatly in her lap. Her metallic arm gleamed chrome in the dim light, all traces of damage vanished. Where it had been twisted and blackened, it was smooth and mirror-bright now. Cecilia could see her shocked face reflected in it for an instant, as she stepped closer to examine the supersoldier more carefully. Unbelievable as it was, all the cuts and bruises on her body had healed as well. There were no signs of any injury, nor even of any scarring. From what Cecilia could tell, Pryde was as new and perfect as any baby.
"Hey, doc," the other woman said, "Do I have a clean bill of health?"
To be continued.
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