The Cube - Chapter 10 - Continued

The barracks chief was surprised that Ivy returned from the bunker with only a bloody lip. Usually prisoners taken for questioning did not return at all and were presumably either sent to headquarters or executed. Occasionally she recognized a body in the courtyard staging area where corpses were launched into space. It was her job to provide labor details for body disposal and she could tell the victims of interrogation from the missing digits, severed ears and gouged eyes, broken bones and genital mutilation. Ivy did not know what the director would do next. She had bought time invoking his superstition and self-preservation but ultimately he would report to headquarters. He was a tool in the bureaucracy, stupid and brutal, and such people always reverted to form. He would be better prepared for her next time and she did not wish to face his vengeance. He would plan out elaborate torture culminating in the signing of a confession, a document she would have signed without coercion, to be followed by an excruciating death quite possibly at the hands of Bogin himself in Leri Deri. She knew full well what Interior did to people like her. She had seen photographs in Harmour circulated among functionaries to build morale. At the time she accepted that the torture depicted in the photos was just desserts for enemies of the people but even then she had doubts. Could a party that resorted to such barbarism, cutting off tongues and boiling children alive before their parents, truly be the engine of history? She had rediscovered her humanity upon fleeing that awful place and finding an angel in Mutt but she was home again in Dunder, only this time on the other side. She was now the enemy destined to receive her just desserts.

There was nothing she could do about Interior until recalled to the bunker so she resolved to adapt to barracks life. She developed sores on her body from the hardness of the corner. Her body wedged into the planks during sleep pressing her flesh until welts emerged. She pleaded for a haysack but there were only a handful which the chief reserved for the sick. She drank buckets of mop water hoping to expedite her conversion, urinating through a hole in the corner she cored with a hand drill. She did not belong to the Skavians originally in the barracks or to the Arlanders captured in the salient. She was from the Notches, quite possibly the only survivor, and had no natural allies in Dunder. Her survival depended upon infiltrating networks, on proving herself useful to those who could be useful to her.

The bodies in the courtyard began to stink, the administration still in a quandary as to their disposal. The bombing of Shamba disrupted the flow of upwater to Dunder and the camp was low on bladders. They lacked the resources for launching the corpses into space before advanced decomposition set in and resolved to burn them. Ivy watched through the window while on sewing detail as a platoon of male prisoners moved the bodies to one side and began digging a pit in the center of the courtyard. They brought in straw and twigs and branches from the hinterland forest and constructed a huge burial pyre on iron grates topped off with dozens of barrowfuls of coal. A tin drainage system was constructed in the base of the pit beneath the combustibles leading along a channel away from the pyre. Ivy did not understand the purpose of this system. The chief of her barracks led a detail of Skavian prisoners into the courtyard, one of many such details, to prep the bodies for disposal, removing clothes and searching cavities for valuables. The work was unbearably foul given the state of decomposition in the hot Skavian sun. When the bodies were prepared the men lit the fire and waited until Ivy could feel the heat through the barracks window. They began throwing bodies in like cordwood, waiting for substantial consumption of one batch before tossing in the next. Women on detail operated large ladles at the receptacle of the drain, capturing human fat dripping from the pyre and pouring it back onto the bodies to accelerate incineration. Ivy watched this macabre scene emotionlessly while stitching together gunny sacks for earthwork defenses along the Edge, her small contribution to preserving a system that required ladling human grease back onto a burial pyre to dispose of corpses, so many there were. She vaguely recognized that each of these bodies was somebody’s child, or mother, or father, or husband, or wife, or brother, or sister, they were all human, and they were all destroyed without a trace, felled by disease, or torture, or execution, or malnourishment, or injury, but in all cases unnecessary victims of Muglair’s grand designs. With her limited capacity for horror she realized none of this had to happen. She was given a choice on the Second of Skitton, told by a higher being that destiny was in her hands, and had chosen not to tell Arland of the Flume, so afraid she was that Arland would take her knowledge and use it not to stop Muglair but to rewrite the Oopsah or, worse yet, destroy it. None of this had to happen. These bodies, each a loved one for some family, did not have to perish, did not have to reduce to ash anonymously in the courtyard of a prison camp, if only Ivy had been principled enough to tell Arland what she knew. For surely that great nation would have accelerated its plans to stop the Flume and prevented these atrocities. She saw among the numerous corpses the body of a small child and wondered if Hope was rotting in the pile, or her father. Strangely, the thought of her loved ones’ deaths invigorated her. For if they died, she would surely have to live, such was the bizarre world in which Ivy Morven lived.

Four days after her interrogation the sirens sounded. The Skavians in the barracks were rounded up by overseers and marched to the front of the camp to stand defiantly as human shields in the face of an expected aerial attack. Ivy and the Arland prisoners could not escape their confinement on the wall and nervously awaited the onslaught. But none came to Dunder and she later heard through whispers that Arland sent a warning raid to Leri Deri, leveling the official residence of the Great Man, the Regency, and delivering an ultimatum to Skava, dropped in a million leaflets in the residential boroughs, to control the Flume or the entire city would be destroyed. She also heard, from the mouths of overseers to the barracks chief to the deputies to the Skavians to the wallflowers, that Muglair lobbed artillery back at Rixjrig and was already rebuilding the Regency from original plans even as the crater of its foundation smoldered. The news of this attack spread amidst a hopeful buzz because Muglair also announced he would comply with Arland’s ultimatum to stop the Flume, not from fear but as a gesture of good will to demonstrate through action what he had always shown, that he was a seeker of peace. It might take a few weeks but he had a mechanism for controlling the flow of water, an intake door at the bottom of the Silent Sea, and he would delegate to the Council the honor of closing it by remote trigger. As a further gesture of good will he would surrender the salient to Arland. This was an easy concession because Arland had already reclaimed its territory, that very day chasing the last remnant of the Skavian invasion back over the Edge.

Within days of these events Ivy was sufficiently converted to navigate the barracks floor, her gravity now just a quarter slope. The Arlanders were well behind in reorientation and she requested of the chief permission to leave their company and join a bunk. She was assigned to the top level of a bunk between two women bitterly unhappy at sharing their already cramped space. She joined them in the sleeping hour and one reached across and clawed her cheek viciously. Ivy felt her anger rising, that column of fire that so often animated her, but let it surge past her conscious into the ether.

“I beg of you compassion,” she pleaded meekly. “I shall not be a bother.”

The attacker snorted but was disarmed by Ivy’s restraint. The newcomer slept between them motionlessly, aware even in sleep of the need not to disturb these bedmates who had forged an alliance which she was disrupting by her presence. Ivy thought by joining the bunks she would be assigned to Skavian work details. But instead she was accelerated on the path planned for the Arlanders, to the machine shop, a corrugated metal warehouse in the production district of the camp. She was escorted by a deputy to the structure and introduced to a trainer who placed her before an industrial stitcher. A large basket to one side contained pre-cut panels of cured thaban skin. It was her job to cut the panels according to patterns drawn on their surface and then stitch them together to form bladders that could be used with proper sealing to store water for military use or, in the camp, corpse disposal. The trainer stood over her shoulder instructing her impatiently on each step of the process, frequently slapping her hand, until the subject demonstrated the ability to construct one complete bladder from inputs. Ivy was weak from the lingering effects of dysentery and malnourishment and her mind was unstable from the stresses of the camp. She found solace in the repetition of the work, a sense of security in fulfilling a task, that she would not be abused on the floor so long as she was productive. As her hands manipulated leather by rote she worried about the fate of her family, that happy mirage she had embraced with such enthusiasm in the Notches, naively believing she had found an enduring new life. In the back of her mind she wondered if her current struggles were a test of love imposed by higher powers. If she could survive these horrors, would she be reunited with her loved ones and rediscover the bliss that gave purpose to her life? Her life with Mutt, and the nurture of their daughter, was so extraordinary for its normalcy, as if the most basic functions of humankind, mating and raising children, were for her an aberration. In defiance of fate she had fulfilled her natural role, to give and receive love, to bring forth new life, to be subsumed within a family, and fate was now punishing her. Mindlessly stitching together bladders for the waging of war and disposal of corpses, she summoned a memory of how it felt to be loved, before cutting her finger on an unusually sharp panel and crashing back to reality.


The bunker director was consumed with the conundrum of Ivy Morven. His duty was clear. She was a high value prisoner wanted for quadruple murder and abetting a known traitor, a source of potentially crucial intelligence, and he must interrogate her and send a report to Leri Deri, or alternatively alert headquarters to her presence and request appropriate instruction. Yet she had known in advance of the attack on the Regency. How was this possible? She said she was a seer but plainly this was a trick. Men of the cause did not believe in religious skullduggery. The world was governed by scientific laws, laws of history and social relations that drove the Hutman toward ever greater achievement, and within this worldview there was no room for prophets and end times. The only conclusion was that she had somehow acquired detailed knowledge of Arland’s military plans, and as such it was his inviolable duty to the Party to report her. So obsessed he was with this problem he could not focus on the task at hand with the dedication it required. For before him sat a prisoner, a criminal accused of distributing fliers on the sandstone plaza mocking the Great Man with devil’s horns and a tail. His mouth was gagged and wrists clasped to the armrests of a chair as a medical agent with pruning shears systematically snipped each digit from his hands. They were beyond information extraction – the young man had fully confessed – and were now finishing him off. If there was one thing the director learned from his stint at headquarters, it was never to show a traitor mercy. This man would pluck off the director’s fingers given the chance, and the vitality of the cause required the director to do the same. To pause in this task, to approach it with less than total relish, would be to betray the forces sustaining the Great Man. And so it was that when the agent finished defingering each hand the director himself removed the man’s gag and sheared off an ear so he could hear him scream. It was difficult to convey the necessary message – this is the price of resistance – over the moans of a man exsanguinating from knuckle stubs. But the director was up to the task and punched him, a boy really he was, violently in the face until he shut up. There was little time remaining for genital work before the man succumbed, and the director delegated that caustic task to the agent, a trained doctor.

He again sat down consumed with Ivy Morven. He could not kill her himself, not without higher orders, that much was clear. Anyone on those lists was reserved for the tender mercies of Kadangle and Bogin. What if she was telling the truth? What if he himself would be purged if she went to headquarters? The director was an honorable man. He had always followed the rules; he had always been loyal to the cause. He could not put fear for his personal safety above protocol. He was confident his loyalty would be rewarded. The doctor lay before him the fruit of his work, the innards of a scrotum slit open by pen knife, and the director saw that the prisoner had expired. His death expression was priceless. The director had no doubt that in dying this man recognized the folly of his resistance. Had he made a dent in the cause? Had his gruesome sacrifice yielded any result? The cause would thrive another day thanks in no small part to the efforts of its dedicated servants in this bunker. And that same devotion required that the director call Ivy Morven back into the bunker and process her according to regulation.

Ivy was sewing together a bladder beneath the enormous head of a stitcher, a sac that would be filled with upwater and used to discard into space the body of a young man, a boy of nineteen, just mutilated to death in the bunker. She was approached on the floor by agents who grabbed both elbows and escorted her silently across the main yard to the security gate. She was as frightened as she had ever been in her life. She could not control what these monsters would do and she was certain the director was still livid over her outburst. Yet had she not proven her power of prophecy? Even an unthinking snake like a regional director must pause before crossing the path of a seer. The director carefully planned the sequence. He knew how she had manipulated him before and decided not to offer her the chance this time. She was received by an unfamiliar agent and escorted to a softening cell. Not a word was spoken as a door slammed shut isolating her in total blackness in a closet no bigger than a file cabinet, with urine and feces still on the floor from a prior occupant. There was no way to configure her body for comfort in this cell. Air flow was constricted to induce hypoxia. She waited for them to introduce rats or spiders or suckleworms but the director had opted for prolonged sensory deprivation. For two days she remained in the cell in complete silence, her senses deadened except for the disgusting odor of human waste baking in the heat, including her own. She was removed from the cell dehydrated and unable to support herself. An agent hog-tied her and suspended her from a horizontal bar stretching her limbs in excruciating pain. She was too weak to flex her muscles to relieve stress, even momentarily, and fell completely limp, scarcely able to breathe. She hung for hours and was brought to the point of death. In her declining mental state she concluded they were restricted to soft torture with no physical scarring or disfigurement. Her body was being preserved for headquarters but her health was so rapidly declining she might not survive that long. She was removed from the bar, given a wet sponge to suck for water, and left on the floor for another day, her hunger now rivaling her thirst. In this decrepit state she was hauled into an interrogation room near death.

“You will now tell me everything,” the director said.

She collapsed in a heap unconscious. When she awoke the director handed her a persimmon and a glass of water.

“You are a very foolish woman.”

She snatched the persimmon and took a deep bite, chasing it with water.

“What do you want from me?”

“I want only the truth.”

“You want only to torture. The truth has never mattered to the cause.”

He lifted her by the hair and slammed her onto the table, slapping her repeatedly across her face.

“You will learn respect for the cause before I am finished.”

Ivy flinched in a rush of adrenaline and rolled off the table beyond his grasp. He cornered her and she spat in his face. He struck her again.

“You will die before I do,” she threatened, trembling with anger.

He grabbed her by the neck and threw her across the room, then sat down and pointed his index finger into the table, motioning her to sit across from him. Was the wench sufficiently subdued? He would be glad to apply additional measures. She approached distrustfully and sat down.

“How did you know of the attack on Leri Deri?”

“I told you.”

“Do you wish to lose your fingers?”

She reached across the table and smushed her palm into his face before he could react.

“Here they are, take them you piece of shit!”

The director backhanded her and lunged from his chair before catching himself and sitting back down. He was not going to let her control this interrogation.

“You leave me no choice. Your friend from the last session is waiting for you.”

“If you push me too far I will kill myself. Try explaining that to Kadangle.”

“Let us be reasonable,” the director changed his tone. “I must report on your source of knowledge. You should tell me for your own good. I can send you on to headquarters with no further harm. I cannot protect you there, but you are resourceful. You might last a week in the glass house.” He smirked at the thought of what the cannibals might do to her before slaughter. He would have to request photographs.

“I know many things,” she said.

“I want to know how you know.”

“Have you never heard of the Oopsah?”

“Do not speak to me of religion.”

She stood up from the chair and began pacing. Her legs were weak and she stumbled to the floor, lifting herself up slowly from a small reservoir of energy.
“I know what will happen to you,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Do not try these tricks. Your boyfriend is waiting.”

“Are you loyal to Kadangle?”

“Do not interrogate me.” His tone grew threatening.

“Because Bogin is plotting to kill him. He has Muglair’s ear.”

The director bolted upright, knocking over his chair, and raced to strike her.

“Kadangle will be dismissed tomorrow by the Great Man himself.”

She was doing it again, trying to manipulate him. The director was not going to tolerate it. He grabbed her neck and began choking. She tried to wrest away but was too weak. He relieved his grasp. As soon as she drew air she provoked him again.

“Anyone in Kadangle’s column is going to be purged. Bogin will see to it personally. You will visit the glass house before I do.”

The director was not going to argue with this wench.

“I checked on your witnesses,” he said nastily. “They are not available for comment.”

He grabbed her tightly by the wrist and forced her to the break room where the same agent she previously humiliated was waiting to exact vengeance. He told the agent to have his way and left, slamming the door. The agent had been planning this moment for weeks and told her she would now learn respect for a real man. She ran from his grasp to the opposite side of the food table, picked up a tea kettle from the counter, and hurled it violently at his face, lacerating his forehead and staggering him backwards.

“Do you think you can handle me?” she shouted with a bestial look that unnerved the agent.

He was not going to be humiliated again and grabbed a carving knife.

“Only one of us can be on top,” he menaced. He was going to have his way.

She ran at him trying to impale herself on the knife. He moved it aside realizing he was under strict instructions not to leave marks. She reached up and tried to grab the knife and he yanked it away, slicing her palm. She slapped him across the face leaving a bloody print. He threw the knife on the counter and resolved to rape her right there on the table. She gouged his eyes, then reached up and clawed her own eye emitting a scream so blood curdling the director reflexively jiggled the door handle on the other side, unsure whether he should intervene.

“You are not man enough for this job!” she taunted him, shrieking.

He forced her backward onto the table but she twisted furiously, escaped his clutch, then ran to the opposite side of the table. He grabbed the table edge, debating how to circle around and seize her. He ran one direction and she ran the other, stopping to pick up the knife he had stupidly left within reach. She knew the director was listening.

“Piece of shit behind the door! One of us in this room is going to die and you will never explain that to Bogin!”

The director entered the room. He was not going to let this woman humiliate the entire bunker. Other agents had gathered in the hallway amused at the fracas taking place within. He would hold her down so his colleague could rape her. That would accomplish his goal of violating this human trash, of demonstrating as invasively as possible the structure of power, while leaving no marks. Ivy knew she was outnumbered but would rather die than lose this battle. She lifted the knife, still in her hand, then turned it sideways and ran it across her upturned wrist. A fountain of blood spurted outward and rolled down her arm.

“I will die in an hour. You will die in a week.”

She collapsed from nervous disintegration onto the floor. This was not what the director had in mind. He had already notified headquarters that he was softening this prisoner for their further interrogation. He could not now produce a corpse without violating protocol. He called in his medical agent who ran to a supply closet and retrieved a pressure wrap. Ivy was unconscious as the agent tightly bound her sliced wrist and carried her to the administration infirmary. He busted through the door demanding that this prisoner receive immediate attention and told them Kadangle would be very interested in her prognosis. The director remained in the bunker nervously concocting a report in his head as to how this interrogation had gone so awry. A prisoner should never have access to a weapon. A prisoner should never have access to restricted areas such as the break room. And a prisoner on both wanted lists, for quadruple murder and for treason, should never bleed to death in a regional outpost. It was his duty to deliver the subject alive to Leri Deri for processing according to their prerogatives. He waited anxiously for word of her condition and was told the following day she would survive. He would have to relent on the interrogation to avoid further fiascos.

Shortly after receiving the good news of her survival he received additional shocking news. Muglair had delivered a speech that very day in the People’s Hall denouncing the excesses of Kadangle and promising to take steps to redress his outrages against the Party, starting with his immediate ouster from the Ministry. Why this was shocking the director could not say. Had not the seer already demonstrated her ability to foretell the future with the bombing of the Regency? Had not she told him of Kadangle’s fate? It occurred to him he had never really cared for his patron Kadangle, and that Bogin was a righteous man whom he looked forward to serving with unbridled enthusiasm. With the upheaval in Interior the director lost his reporting chain. Bogin was preoccupied with new directives, and investigative leads from regional bunkers were not a priority. Muglair had radical plans of an historic dimension for which Kadangle would not have been reliable. Bogin had much work to do to execute these plans – expansion of camps, construction of transit facilities, training of personnel – and the investigation of high values would have to wait, even subjects tied to the mysteries of Tobor Zranga. The director had fully expected to receive an immediate order for the transfer of this prisoner to headquarters, and he had contemplated with glee her treatment at the hands of Bogin. But as it turned out, he received no instructions for weeks, and in the meantime he was afraid to touch her.

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