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Episode Thirty-Six

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We were searched for weapons. Our PPGs were taken, but they found little else. I didn't even have a sharp knife on my person. My pack was taken from me. The Pak'ma'ra clutched at his satchel-case of serum, but they took that too. For our surliness, we copped a few more random belts.

They dragged us across the flight deck and into a lift. We went up many levels, then were shoved out and marched along a corridor into what looked like a control room of some sort.

A Dilgar entered the room. This wasn't surprising - this room contained a number of Dilgar, including our guards. He was dressed in Markab robes like all the other Dilgar. What set this one apart was the extra, very unMarkab-like ornamentation on the clothing and the way he walked. This Dilgar not only was important but thought himself important as well.

All this I noted in the moment before the guard-leader shouted "DOWN ON YOUR KNEES, SCUM!" I turned my most bloody glare upon him, and then crumbled as my knees received another vicious rap behind them. My blood boiled, but I knew to respond was to court death. I wanted so to pull them limb from limb....

"Well, you have caused me a great deal of TROUBLE! We've been trying to track you down for some time, and you appear here, in this secure base!" His voice boomed and he strutted in front of us like a Centauri. "Why are you spying on us and who are you spying for?"

We looked at each other. Spying? "We aren't spies!" Both the Pak'ma'ra and I protested simultaneously. I am a trader, a freighter pilot. The Pak'ma'ra was was, well truth be told, I am not sure what the Pak'ma'ra does.

"I don't believe you! How could anyone without infiltration training be able to do what you have done! Look at this!"

He showed us records from the base under the mountain. "How did you get into this base? You," and he pointed at me, "just entered a ten digit code and walked in! How did you know that number? You must have been told it! Who told it to you?"

I looked at him bemused. "No-one told me it - I just knew it!"

"I don't believe you!" That was a refrain we were to become very familiar with. He stressed the "I" in a most annoying manner.

"And what about this?" He showed records of the Earther freighter being shot out of the sky, and escape pods being destroyed, showed a recording of me sitting on the ground in front of ground troops, then our escape via the sewers. "How did you manage to escape our highly trained troops?"

"Oh, come on," said the Pak'ma'ra, "You can't imagine that we arranged for a bit of junk to break through to the sewer so that we could escape." He was showing a remarkable amount of gumption, I felt. As far as I could tell, we were in the doodah to the tops of our heads. Already I could see that we could not, and I would not, satisfy this pompous git that we were telling the truth. His secure base! Hah! If we could just walk in, anyone could!

"And how did you get from Capitalia to Cashino, eh? We know that you were in Capitalia, then you are suddenly using a Gaim shuttle to get to your ship. It had to be you - the Gaim made a terrible racket and it headed straight for your ship. And how did you disarm the systems-bomb we placed in your ship? How did you know that it was there?

"And how did you arrange to blow up our interceptors? And how did you manage to survive when our armoured ships did not? You had a ship standing by in hyperspace just ready to blow up the jumpgate and pick you up!"

This being was a lunatic. The Pak'ma'ra was persisting, "Why would we blow up the jumpgate when it means that we couldn't leave the system?"

No, our guilt was obvious in this creature's eyes. Nothing we could do would save us apart from telling him what he wanted to hear. I would not. I could not. Not even to save my own life. Maybe to save the lives of those I loved, but not for myself. He tired of his sport and sent us away.

We were taken to another lift and went down, down, down, well below the level of the flight deck. The corridors were not as well finished there and it was musty with disuse. I guess that they didn't have much use for dungeons without any beings to torture, not now that they had killed off the Markab. I knew the Dilgars' reputation. I had not seen my great grandfather die, but I had heard the tales of his death. We would be lucky to get out of here intact and not hooked up to some terrible lifesucking machine.

We were hustled into a room and left to wait. One by one, they picked us out and took us away. They took Nar'Bon first, and he did not return. Then they took me, and I learned where Nar'Bon had gone and what had been done to him.

They took me into a little room and stripped me of my clothes, ripped them to shreds. They took the data crystals that were bound to my chest. Then they performed the most intensive body search I have ever had performed upon my body. Much worse than anything during training - these beings had no interest in ensuring my comfort. They brutalised me and invaded my being in a way that I will kill them for, given a chance. Then they brought in my pack and ripped that to shreds as well, and scattered my cereal like seed and minced my energy bars.

I hated them.

I wanted to taste their blood as I tore their throats out.

I had no chance. Not against two guards with heavy PPG rifles and two other heavily armed guards.

They found nothing else of any significance. I was dragged out of the room and thrown into a cell. There I found Nar'Bon, also naked and brutalised. The Pak'ma'ra joined us shortly thereafter, having also been strip searched. However, as it turns out, they didn't search his body cavities. He said that they had argued over who would endure searching a stinking carrion eater and then gave up on the idea, instead scanning him. Maybe he was irradiated by the search, but it sounded a whole lot more comfortable than what Nar'Bon and I suffered. Finally the Human joined us. He immediately started shivering.

Our cell was not large, but we did not need that much room. It was cool and slightly damp. Generally uninviting, but then who ever heard of a comfortable dungeon? I started exercising to keep my body temperature up and also to calm myself. It took a lot of furious action before I felt any better. At least I had one thing to amuse me - Human male genitalia. Stupid things - hanging on the outside, although it seemed that this Human's would prefer not to be dangling, but wanted to be inside whenever he took his hands away. Nar'Bon and I made some very crude jokes, in the southern continent tongue and laughed.

Then they came and took the Pak'ma'ra away. We didn't laugh then. Hours later the door opened, and the Pak'ma'ra was shoved in the door. He collapsed flat on his tentacles. Nar'Bon and I picked him up and brought him into our little group. After a while, he was able to talk.

"They interrogated me. Wanted to know about how many data crystals there are. I told them that there aren't any more. They wanted to know how we got into the base. When I said that we were guided by the spirits of the dead, they began torturing me. They were using some sort of electrical stimulation to cause pain. They did not know that I lied about the data crystal."

Not long after that they took the Human away. Then Nar'Bon. Russell hadn't come back by the time they brought Nar'Bon back and then took me.

I was ashamed. They used veridicals and pain on me, and I told them that there was another data crystal but it was lost somewhere between our splashdown and the land. They asked me how I had known to take that data crystal out of all the ones left at the base. We had seen no other data crystals, only this one. They did not believe me. What had we found on the crystal? What information did we have? None - the data was encrypted! They questioned me over and over and over about my entry to the mountain base, but I could not tell them any more than what I had. They did not like my answers. Now I understood why the Pak'ma'ra and then Nar'Bon had collapsed when returned to the cell.

Nar'Bon and the Pak'ma'ra took me in when I returned, hours later. The Human still wasn't back. It was cold in the cell, cold enough that even I sought the warmth of other bodies, even if one of those bodies was the Pak'ma'ra's. After some time, food and water were shoved in through a small hatch. We examined the sustenance closely, but could not smell anything wrong with it. We ate, and then fell asleep.

At some point in our troubled, cold and uncomfortable sleep, they came and took the Pak'ma'ra away again. Then they took me. Then they took Nar'Bon. Food, sleep, interrogations. There was no rhythm to it. All was random - designed to break us quickly. The uncertainty and fear in the cell could be smelt, and I was as great a culprit as any.

Then the door to the cell opened and the Human was shoved in.

He was standing on his own two legs. He looked healthy. Much better than we felt or looked. He had been away for around two days, or as close as I could figure it. We three stood together and eyed him suspiciously. He was clean and rested. We were becoming filthy and were tired from the long interrogation sessions.

"You've been away a long time!" "Where have you been?" "Are you one of Them now?"

Russell looked at us and his narrow face grew even longer. "No! I've been in a tank. They poisoned me! They injected me with something and I nearly died!"

"They put you in a tank?"

"Like the ones the Markab put you guys in. Remember?"

I looked at the Pak'ma'ra and then on to Nar'Bon. "Do you remember?"

Their blank faces were my reply. Still, we know that we had been cured somehow for one day we were mortally wounded, and four days later were totally healed.

The Human was getting upset. His face twisted. "C'mon, guys, it's me!"

We accepted him back into our huddle.

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Na'Tiel's Story / Lynne / last modified 29 February, 2000