Torment Online - Jeremy Bishop

1

Siberia

Ice cold air seeped through the slate gray stones of the cell wall, infusing the darkness with a biting chill.

But it wasn’t the frostbite taking root in Matt Brenton’s toes that held his attention. Nor the frost coated layer of bile clinging to his ten day old beard. He’d grown accustomed to the company of pain and filth.

With each rise and set of the sun—seen only as a reflection of light through the cell door—Brenton’s mind slipped further from reality and into a kind of hellish dream world. Pain numbed his mind. Time escaped him. But his captors had taken notice and were making an effort to regain his full attention.

Brenton stared at the hand on the table. Skinny, frail and bloody, it didn’t look like his, but the pain pulsing up his arm and radiating through his body confirmed it with each whack of the blade. Brenton twitched as the dull fishing knife neared the third finger of his left hand. He wasn’t sure if the rusty odor filling his nostrils came from the blade or his blood, but it centered him enough to speak.

“Wait,” he said, his voice like a pitiful stranger’s. “Please, don’t.” The masked face of his torturer, a man without name who reeked of garlic...or body odor, lowered into view. “Tell me what I want to know,” said the voice with no accent. “No further harm will come to you.

Just confirm for me what I already know to be truth and you will be set free.” The knife rested on the skin of his ring finger, just above the spot where a wedding ring would soon rest.

His mind, desperate for distraction, flashed back to his proposal and found perspective instead.

Page 6

It was raining. Not hard. But enough to make the oceanside view gray from top to bottom. Decidedly un-romantic. But this was the spot. They had spent several long summer nights at this spot, watching heat lightning and talking about space travel, alternate dimensions and other geeky topics that interested him.

He knew Mia was humoring him most of the time. But she listened.

When he dropped to one knee, she listened harder than ever.

He heard no cheer. No hoopla. Just a whispered, yes, and a tight embrace—the kind that says, I will love you until death do us part.

Happily Ever After.

Not quite.

A year had passed since the proposal, eight months more since he’d been deployed, delaying the wedding. At least ten days since he swerved off the road under a barrage of gunfire and a near death run-in with an IED in northern Afghanistan. The assailants took him from the ruined convoy and killed his team. Wounded and blindfolded, he spent the next few days delirious, hungry and in motion. Always in motion. As the air grew colder he realized they were heading north. By the time they reached their destination, his wounds had just begun to mend, but his heart had broken. He knew he’d never see home or Mia again.

The pressure of the blade on his finger ripped him back to the present. He looked into the eyes of his captor, then back to the finger. If there was any chance, any chance at all he could see Mia again, he had to take it. Pain pinched his finger as the blade began to slice. “Okay! All right! I’ll say whatever you want me to.”

The blade came away.

Brenton looked at his hand. Two fingers lay separated, but the ring finger wriggled at his command—still attached, though bleeding. “What do you want to know?”

“Only for you to confirm our intelligence.”

Brenton nodded. “Anything.”

His captor walked behind him. A click echoed through the cold air. “What is your name and rank?”

“Staff Sergeant Matthew Brenton, U.S. Marine Corps.”

“Please confirm the following.” Brenton heard the unmistakable tone that added, “or I’ll take the finger.” Confirmanything the man says.

“You intended to cross the Afghani border on a mission to infiltrate Russia?”

“I did.”

Page 7

“You are a sniper, yes?”

Brenton squinted. This couldn’t be happening. “Yes.”

“One of your country’s best?”

“Yes.”

“Elite?”

“Yes.”

“Is it true that your government—the United States government—sent you here, to Moscow, with orders to assassinate President Misha Alexandrov?”

Brenton’s eyes widened with a shock near that of losing a finger. “What?”

“Answer the question!” The voice of his captor was closer to a growl and the sound of metal on stone revealed he had picked up the knife again.

“Yes! Yes, it’s true.”

“What...is true?”

Brenton’s head sagged. He was committing treason on a gross scale, not only admitting to something awful, but an outright act of war.