She rattled the shackles against the edge of the stool. Her ankles were bound to its legs and her wrists to the back of the small seat. Crouching on the low stool with her knees pressed together to prevent them from shaking, she waited.
The room was intimidating with its bare walls, lack of windows, and low ceiling. Central to the room was a vast desk and seated behind it was the anonymous man assigned to interrogate her. His face was cast in shadows, while she was illuminated under a spotlight.
She was starting to perspire.
He swiped his hand over the console and finished reading. “Tell me why you are here.” He articulated his words clearly, but she understood him easily. Language wasn’t going to be the issue. What she needed to hide was the truth.
“My name is Freya Caspari. I’m a journalist for the International Eagle Network. I’m part of the cultural exchange program initiated by both of our governments to improve relationships between humans and the Vendu,” she rattled off the familiar response. It wasn’t a lie. She was a journalist and her visit had been sanctioned by both sides of the divide.
He shrugged. “I know all that, Freya. What I want to know is why else you are here.”
“I’m part of the cultural—”
“I’m not lying,” she retorted.
“You’re not telling the whole truth either, are you?” He sighed and puffed out his lips. “I really hoped we could avoid this.”
She swallowed hard. From out of the shadows stepped another man. A bear of a man, and like many Vendu—the alien invaders who’d arrived on Earth decades ago and never left—he wasn’t much different from humans, except somehow he managed to appear bigger and brawnier than a typical male human. Her interrogator rose from behind his desk, stretched his arms and his mouth yawned open in a false display of boredom—he wasn’t a great actor. Unlike the guard, this man was tall with lines etched about his eyes and mouth. However, his senior years hadn’t turned his hair gray or thinner.
“What are you going to do to me?” She failed to mask her quivering lips or wavering voice. She stared up at the looming guard, who’d folded his arms across his chest and planted his legs firmly either side of the stool.
“When our great emperor permitted the opening of our border to your emissaries, allowing them generous access to our cities, we assumed the Earthlings would honor our rules. Sadly, Freya, you were caught trying to capture images of our facilities.” He removed from his pocket a small item—her ring.
Freya closed her eyes.
“Yes,” hissed the interrogator, “we know that it contains a camera.”
She inhaled deeply. Whoever had betrayed her had stitched her up good. Four days after she’d left Phoenix, the capital of the Americas, one of a few cities that had survived the onslaught of the Vendu invasion, she had been arrested while visiting a key terraforming facility in the middle of Australia. However, according to the Vendu, it wasn’t Australia any longer—they had renamed it in their own tongue. Its surrender had been part of the peace pact between the alien invaders and the collaborative forces of Earth’s defense council. Give up one continent in order to live in peace, side by side. Once the Australians had been evicted to other countries, or killed fighting the occupiers in one last futile attempt at saving their heritage, the Vendu had barricaded themselves on the vast island, shut their borders, and refused to enter into any further dialogue.
With their satellites destroyed or taken over by the Vendu, the fragmented intelligence agencies had no means to spy on their unwanted neighbors. Little had been gleaned from them prior to the treaty. The Vendu warriors chose self-sacrifice over captivity and on the rare occasions when they had been caught alive, they refused to speak. Eventually the handful of captives been demanded back as part of the treaty’s prisoner exchange program.
She opened her eyes and exhaled. “I’m a journalist—” she began again. Under pressure and swamped by nerves, trying to recall her training, especially the advice from her mentor, proved challenging. The thundering headache and waves of nausea, which emanated from her churning stomach, befuddled her already anxious mind.
“Do it,” the interrogator ordered with a nod.
She glanced around, trying to gauge what tools of torture were present in the room. She wanted to vomit. The tension was terrible. The fear of the unknown was far worse than she had imagined.
Something sharp pricked at the vein in her neck. “Ouch! What have you done?” She twisted her head to one side, but it was too late. The guard had already completed the injection.
She expected pain. She waited for the agony of it.
The man behind the desk chuckled. “Do you think us barbaric, that we haven’t mastered the art of questioning without resort to ineffective torture? We have conquered many worlds and have yet to find a humanoid that isn’t susceptible to this drug.”
“What drug?” she whispered.
He laughed and it sent shivers down her spine. “It won’t harm you. Now you will tell me the truth because you won’t be able stop yourself.”
Truth serum. Whatever it was called. Would it work on her?
The room swayed. Or had she moved? Everything had a fuzzy edge to it, including the man, who seemed taller than ever as if he were touching the ceiling. The distortions continued to worsen. However, with the strange visual effects came a sense of euphoria. The nausea lifted and she ceased shaking. Instead, she felt relaxed, almost happy.
“Now, Freya Caspari,” the man perched on the edge of the desk. “Why are you here?”
“I’m part of… I’m a…” Who exactly was she? She smiled; oh, yes, that was it. “Earth’s technology advancement task force recruited me as a spy. I came here as a journalist, but I’m also conducting a covert operation on their behalf.”
She couldn’t stop the words tumbling out of her mouth. In the back of her head, a little voice shouted at her to stop, but she ignored it. He bombarded her with questions and she answered each one while bathed in a swath of warm contentment. It didn’t matter, she kept telling herself, she felt safe in her cocoon.
However, later, when the drug had worn off, she knew that each word she’d uttered had sealed her fate.