In the darkness, water rushed over Waylon’s mouth and washed down his back-tilted face. The black bath towel draped over his head was soaked and its weight pulled his neck back. Someone had a hand on his chest, so every time he tried to hold his breath they gut-punched him and he gasped reflexively, sucking just enough water into his lungs to keep his terror constant.
They stopped and flipped him upright again. He sputtered and lusted for air. The blood drained from his head and his fear slipped back into hatred. Waylon’s screams—too filled with rage to form words—came out as pained and tired groans.
He couldn’t remember how long he’d been here. He couldn’t remember much of anything at all. He’d lost the ability to think coherently.
No, it was not something he’d lost. It was something they’d taken from him.
Fragments of memories swam in and out of his mind, though his consciousness had a difficult time separating them from the sensations of bile and burning in his throat and chest. It was the insurgency that had taken him. Enemy forces had breached the compound in the night. Unthinkable, but there was no denying it.
Spotlights on him now. He braced himself. From what, he didn’t know, but surely a blow was coming. He squinted his eyes and saw in the brightness the featureless silhouette of what must be some acolyte of hell. From it came a woman’s stern voice.
“Internal email from Waylon Brandt to Dena Carson dated July seventeenth. It begins, and I quote, ‘Which one doesn’t belong: heads of state, battlefield commanders, infantry, bombs and bullets, and engineers? It’s engineers. All the others get the credit they deserve when the dust settles, the treaties are signed, and the flags are hoisted. By this time next year they’ll be talking all about how antimatter munitions won the war, and all us engineers will be nothing more than a faceless aggregation known only as Operation Absolute Value, and you and I will be right back to grading papers. Just you wait.’ End quote.”
What kind of a game was this?
“Do you deny it?” asked the woman.
“I, uh…” Waylon tried to shake away the cobwebs.
“Let the record show the defendant motioned his head in the negative. Mr. Brandt, you are found guilty of crimes against humanity in the opinion of this military proceeding and in accordance with the Crimson Revolutionary Codes, as witnessed by these officers of the guard. You will await sentencing for no more than 90 days.”
The lights snapped off again, but the ghost of the woman’s silhouette remained on his retinas. In the blackness, she was a shape of something darker still. “Congratulations on finally getting the credit you so rightly deserve,” she said.
The towel fell back over his face and he fell backwards into the downpour again.