Operation Stingray                        Part 5 // PG. 3 of 5

     

     Electric pain jolted me awake. I had passed out, though I wasn't sure for how long. I scrambled back to my feet as the guards entered to carry me away again. They laid me on a metal table with straps holding me secure. Dreiser sat next to me, softly running a hand through my hair. He held a handkerchief to his mouth and coughed into it for several seconds.

     “Phase One was the most difficult,” he said at last. “The science was years behind where we needed it and the most brilliant minds on the subject weren't exactly enthusiastic about the goals of the project. Nowadays we can point the Ray at them and make them do what we want, but back then we had to use more traditional methods.”

     He dipped a small needle into a dish of clear liquid and inserted it into my arm. Fire erupted in my veins--my whole body burned with blinding agony. My hands dug at the table until my fingernails cracked. After an eternity of screaming anguish, the pain subsided.

     “Phase Two was relatively simple, by comparison,” Dreiser said. “Our first field agents were experts in human psychology, but we soon learned that that was unnecessary. As I said, humans are animals. When they're hungry, they eat. When they're scared, they run. When they're angry, they kill. If you know what buttons to press, you can make them do whatever you like.

     “Stimulus,” he said as held up another needle, “response.” He inserted it into my arm and I felt barbed wire in my veins again. My vision darkened around the edges as the room started to float away. I thought I was dying until cold water splashed on my face, bringing me back to reality.

     “No, we didn't need experts,” Dreiser said. “We only needed men with the strength to pull the trigger. Of course, the project was still far from complete. There remained the possibility of a mass movement too large for us to control. The same problem that confounded leaders from Caesar onward still plagued us: how do you break the mob's will once and for all? We were determined to press onward until we had solved the final equation of history.”

     My lips moved in a breathless whisper. Dreiser leaned in and pressed his ear to my mouth as I struggled to make a sound. At last I was able to force out a few choked words:

     “What is Phase Three?”

     Dreiser laughed as he prepared another needle.

 

     My mind floated back from an unconscious void as I slowly regained my senses. I was strapped into a chair again, sitting under a pool of light in an otherwise dark room. As the fog lifted, I became dimly aware of the presence of another person in the room with me.

     “I'm sorry, baby.”

     My head shot up. “Lindsay,” I called, “Lindsay where are you?”

     She hobbled forward into the circle of light. Her head was shaved bald and a jagged scar ran over her scalp. Her arm was in a cast. Her left foot was twisted and bent.

     “Jesus, Lindsay,” I said, my eyes watering. “Please believe me, I never wanted to hurt you. Dreiser, that fucking monster, he's doing it. He's doing all of it. Oh god, Lindsay I'm...I'm so happy you're alive.”

     She moved closer. Her eyes were soft and sad as she gently touched my cheek. “I'm so sorry,” she said.

     “It's okay, Lindsay, I'm sorry too. I know it wasn't really you. I know that Dreiser was the one who--”

     She shook her head. “No, baby. I'm sorry that I don't love you anymore.”

     “What?”

     Dreiser stepped in from the shadows. “There's nothing you have that we cannot take from you,” he said. “Do you understand? Everything you own, everyone you love, even the things inside your own head are ours to take or leave as we choose.”

     He ran a finger down the nape of her neck. She closed her eyes and moaned softly.

     “I will take things from you for as long as you fight me,” he said. “I will strip you down to nothing if I have to. I will carve you down until I find your soul and I will smash it to bits. And then, when you are completely hollow, I will have a final task for you.” His spotted hands ran up her arms and she sighed.

     I shook my head. “Lindsay, listen to me. You have to fight it. It's not you right now. He's inside your mind. He's making you do things you don't want to do.”

     Dreiser smiled at me as he unzipped her dress. “She certainly looks like she wants to, doesn't she?”

     He made me watch.

 

     I stood in my cell. He's trying to break me, I thought. He doesn't want information, even if I had any to give. No, he wants to conquer my mind and he wants to do it without the Ray. He wants to reduce me to a simpering puddle and when I am kissing his feet and pleading for mercy, only then will he kill me. Well, I am not going to let that happen. He can torture me to the brink of death and, with my last ounce of strength, I will spit in his fucking face. If kills me, he'll do it knowing that I defied him to the end. And if I can do it, others can too.

 

     “We're the same, you and I,” Dreiser said, pushing me down the corridors in a wheelchair.

     I scoffed. “I'm nothing like you.”

     “Really? Mind control isn't new. Organizations all over the world have been practicing it for centuries, albeit in primitive forms. Psychological warfare, brainwashing, propaganda. And you, my boy, are a born propagandist. Or do you think we hadn't seen this?”

     He handed me a tablet with a web browser open. I looked at the top of the page: Operation Stingray is in effect. God help us.

     “It was really quite amusing,” he said. “You published your story for the public to read, believing that you were striking a grand blow for freedom. You thought you could galvanize your readers to action and spark a mass movement to overthrow us. You believed you would change the world.”

He turned a corner and wheeled me down a long hallway. At the end was giant steel door flanked by two armed guards. Printed on the door in huge bold letters were the words, PHASE THREE DEVELOPMENT.

 

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H. K. Reyes

SCIENCE FICTION & HORROR