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A short story by Seth Comire.
Barnaby awoke to the quiet sound of tape pulled from a roll. As he became more aware of his surroundings, his ears picked up a distant screaming. It sounded terrible, like a man experiencing pure anguish. Barnaby wished the person screaming would go away or at least shut up.
Then the peeling tape sound came back. Barnaby felt a slight twinge in his left hand. The screaming started again, except closer this time. Much closer.
Slowly, his consciousness began processing his reality.
Barnaby’s vision started to come back, albeit through the tiny slits of his swollen eyes. As the sound of the tape peeling came back, he craned his neck to the left and saw a person holding a pair of needle-nose pliers. Gripped within the pliers appeared to be a fingernail. Barnaby’s fingernail, to be more precise.
The entire situation clouded Barnaby’s mind again, as he came close to losing consciousness for the fourth time in the last hour (except he didn’t remember the first three). He had no idea where he was or why he was in this nightmare.
He was experiencing so much pain at the moment that his brain detached his mind from his body. It’s a good thing, too, since the screaming he heard was his own.
“Ah, you are awake. Very good. I thought I lost you there for a few minutes.” said the torturer. “Are you ready to proceed, now?”
“Pr- pr- proceed w- w- with wha-?” replied Barnaby, slurring his speech and drooling like a teething toddler as a tooth fell out of his mouth.
“You do not recall? I suppose you would not, given your current predicament. Allow me to speak precisely: are you ready to die, or will you tell me what I want to know?”
Barnaby’s head jerked back, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. He mumbled a desperate “kill m-me…”
The person holding the pliers with his fingernail put the pliers down and picked up a small flashlight-looking device, and responded, “This will hurt.”
Barnaby started screaming, this time experiencing the full extent of the pain surging through him. A bright white light flashed in his mind, then suddenly everything turned black. His agony subsided as his body took its last breath.
Or so he thought.
Barnaby heard a soft, gentle voice calling out his name. “Mr. Jenkins, are you OK? You’re back now – in reality. Your BCI exam is complete. How do you feel?”
“Huh?” replied Barnaby, as he clenched his fists, still feeling a sharp pain in his fingertips. He glanced around the bright white room he just awoke in.
“Where am I?” was his next question. He heard the voices of a few different people in the room, but he struggled to see anything but the blinding white light.
A woman in a lab coat walked over to Barnaby and injected him with what felt like a giant needle. “I just gave him the Amandatine Type 3 serum. Mr. Jenkins should be himself in a matter of minutes,” said Doctor Jessica Grennel.
“Thank you, doctor. I’ll take it from here,” replied Senior Special Instructor Marcus Corinth, the head of Earth’s Galactic Clandestine Services Agency, dismissing the doctor from the room.
Everything suddenly flooded back into Barnaby’s mind. He remembered that today was the final exam for the GCSA’s Spymaster program – a simulated training exam which GCSA trainees experienced getting rolled-up during a mission.
When an operation goes south, and an agent is arrested, it’s paramount the agent does not divulge any secrets – no matter the method of torture. The agency uses a brain-computer interface, so the trainees feel like they’re actually living the experience. Although it eliminates actual physical injury to the trainees once the session is over, the psychological impact can last forever.
“You chose not to use your L-pill. Explain your action,” SSI Corinth challenged Barnaby.
“Yes, sir. The team that arrested me did not have definitive evidence I was a spy. If I took the L-pill and died from cyanide poisoning, it would have confirmed their suspicion. I locked my mind down like a steel trap after I blacked out the second time, so I knew I wouldn’t divulge any intel. I felt forcing my captors to kill me was more logical,” replied Barnaby.
“Well done, Spymaster Jenkins. Welcome to GCSA’s most elite branch,” said SSI Corinth.
“Thank you, sir,” replied Barnaby, leaving out the part where his captors ironically knocked out his tooth with the embedded L-pill; the same tooth he spat out.
“Oh, I almost forgot – head to GCSA Quartermaster Derrick Cuentas. He’ll get you kitted and provide you with a new identity. Barnaby Jenkins is dead,” SSI Corinth said as he walked out of the room.