Rachel awakened with a violent start from a dream of having dinner with her parents -- both parents, including her late mother -- with a feeling of alarm. As the fog of sleep cleared, she slowly recalled her circumstances with dismay: that she was in a prison in a foreign country, charged with -- or actually convicted of, she assumed, if that's what had happened at her trial -- espionage. She swallowed convulsively as the word "espionage" rattled around in her head, with all its grave implications. That she was confined to a tiny cell, in chains. That she had been stripped of her clothes and all other possessions. She began breathing harder as she remembered it all.
She tried to stretch, and banged her head against the wall of the cell. That must be what had awakened her, she decided. She'd shifted in her sleep and hit her head.
She spent several minutes squirming around, trying to find a position giving her head a little more protection, but the cell was simply too small for that.
She sat upright, trying to stretch the tightness out of her back muscles. She heard nothing from the next cell. She supposed the little pixie girl had cried herself out and was asleep. In the aisle, the two fight losers were still there, stretched out one atop the other, also seeming to be asleep. Still kissing, unable to stop until released.
A few cells down on her own side, Rachel heard a furtive whispered conversation. Not in English, of course, and Rachel couldn't have followed it even if she could hear it more clearly.
Suddenly one of the dogs appeared, barking furiously at the cells from which the whispering had come, and was joined quickly by the other one. Rachel could see girls awakening from the noise, lifting their heads to see where the commotion was coming from, then resuming their former positions, presumably used to this type of disturbance. Clearly the dogs were trained to object to any conversations between the prisoners. The girls themselves were safe inside their cells, of course. But the conversation, not surprisingly, did not resume after the dogs quieted.
Rachel saw that the bound-together girls had awakened, their muscles suddenly tense. As they had no doubt feared, one of the dogs turned to them and began lapping industriously at their crotches for any residual taste of gravy that might remain. The girls squealed and began helplessly humping each other again in their fruitless efforts to get away.
Rachel reminded herself again never to lose a fight.
In a few minutes the dogs, including the one licking the girls, returned to their position at the head of the aisle, lay on the floor with their heads on their paws and appeared to go to sleep. Rachel supposed they were light sleepers. The bound girls were left crying softly, gradually quieting.
Rachel lay down once more, curling up on the other side from the one she'd been sleeping on before. Just two more days, she told herself, at the most. Help is coming.
It took longer than before to fall asleep again.
Passing through the inner office, with its bookcases and cluttered desk, which she took to be the doctor's personal office, Yelena was led through a door to the side. She found herself in a room hardly bigger than a closet, furnished only with a single chair, shaped to fit approximately the contours of a seated person, upholstered in leather. A headrest projected above the back of the chair, curved to fit the head.
The room's only other contents were two devices mounted on tripods, on either side of a huge video screen, perhaps two meters wide and more than a meter high, probably, she thought, for high definition display. At present it was powered off. The devices to the side of it looked like they might be cameras, but of a type Yelena had never seen.
Yelena froze at the sight of the chair. The resemblance to a dentist's chair set off a chain of painful associations that led her to suspect she was in a torture chamber. Her heart pounded. Whatever they intended to do to her, she was helpless to resist.
The general seemed to read her mind. "This room is for observation only. You will watch closely, and will not be hurt. There is simply something I wish you to see."
Yelena bit her lip. As little as she believed the general, she reminded herself again that resistance was not possible. To calm herself, she decided to take the general at his word, as other choices were absent.
One of the men who had joined them in the infirmary now came forward and, to her tentative relief, unlocked her wrist manacles from the collar behind her neck. He also removed the rest of her chains, leaving only the short one between her ankles. At the general's gesture, Yelena sat in the chair, swinging her arms briefly to relieve aches and then letting them settle on the armrests. After her exertions and the tension of the last hour, it felt wonderful simply to rest, her nudity in view of only a minimal number of strangers rather than the entire prison staff.
The general said conversationally, "The chair is designed so that you may sit comfortably in it without needing to move, particularly your head." The padded headrest did indeed cradle her head.
Yelena saw the man who had just unlocked her bonds flip a switch, and the video screen lighted, but only to show a large red X in its center.
The general continued, "If you would, please look directly at the X on the screen in front of you." He was back to being polite again. I suppose, thought Yelena, as long as I do what he says, he will remain that way.
The second man with the general began fiddling with the camera on one of the tripods. He had the air of a competent technician. When he looked up and frowned at Yelena and pointed towards the X, the general said, "Continue looking at the mark, please."
Yelena quickly tensed up again, and the general said, "I assure you, no harm will come to you in this room."
The chair itself was sufficiently relaxing, with nothing about it indicating the potential for use in torture, such as straps or electrodes, that Yelena again decided to trust the general, for the moment.
The technician moved to the other camera and made adjustments, and at last looked to the general and nodded.
At a nod from the general, the first man pressed another switch. The scene on the screen changed, and it looked as though Yelena was seeing into a room adjacent to this one. Having no idea where it might actually be, Yelena decided to think of it that way.
Within that room, a naked woman lay prostrate on the floor. Her wrists were manacled to the ends of a metal bar, about a meter in length, and chains ran from the ends of the bar up to the room's ceiling. Her ankles were locked to the ends of a similar bar, wider than the first.
The doctor, whom Yelena had seen earlier caring for Marya, was now in the room with the woman. He knelt next to the woman and gave her an injection.
Yelena had a moment of panic on seeing the doctor -- his association with Marya made her suddenly think it was Marya herself on the floor. But the woman's hair was shorter, and of a lighter shade, than Marya's, and her skin, with its unnatural pallor, looked nothing like Marya's.
The doctor stood and exited the room, leaving the woman alone.
Minutes later, the woman began stirring, and moaning. Obviously the doctor's injection had awakened her. The sound of her moan was emerging from speakers in the upper corners of Yelena's room.
The man seemingly in charge of the viewing screen now pushed another button. Yelena could hear a clanking sound over the speakers. In the other room, the chains connected to the bar holding the woman's wrists began being reeled in towards the ceiling.
The next sound from the speakers made Yelena's hair seem to stand on end. It was another moan from the woman, but one so desolate, so hopeless, that it pierced Yelena to her soul.
In a shaky whisper, Yelena asked, "Wh-what are you going to do to her? Please, please don't hurt her!"
The chains continued lifting the bar, and the woman, rising to her knees and then to a widely-spread-legged standing position because she had no choice, her arms held high over her head, moaned again. The mechanism raising the chains stopped at last, with the woman now held in a standing spread-eagle, on her toes, unable to put her heels on the floor.
Though the woman was clearly awake, she still, surprisingly, had her eyes closed. And something looked wrong about her mouth.
Yelena jumped when the general addressed her. "She cannot hear us, by the way. I want you to keep your eyes on her face."
Yelena, horrified, stammered, "I -- I c-can't."
The general said sternly, "You must. It is important."
It was a pretty face, one easy to look at under ordinary circumstances. But not now.
Yelena whispered, "Are... are her lips...?"
The general responded, "Yes, they are sewn closed. Her upper and lower teeth, behind the sutures, are cemented together."
That accounted, in part, for the desperate sound of her moans. She wanted so badly to protest, but could not open her lips or her jaw.
"You can't see the smaller stitches, but her eyes are sewn closed as well."
Yelena was breathing hard. She wanted to tell the general he was a monster, that every man here was, but she had already done so, with no visible effect.
The way the woman was moving her head, Yelena could tell she was trying to open her eyes. The movement had a resigned quality to it. She had repeated the performance many times, Yelena believed, but could not stop trying.
The man who had controlled the viewing screen had left Yelena's room a few minutes earlier. He now appeared in the woman's room. He approached the woman, pushing towards her something like a sawhorse whose crosspiece was a cylindrical metal pipe. He slid the sawhorse under the woman's crotch, and turned a knob that adjusted the height of the crosspiece, raising it so that it pressed hard upward against her crotch, not quite lifting her off the floor. Kneeling, he plugged an electrical cord from one of the legs of the sawhorse into an outlet in the floor.
Yelena was shaking her head, unconsciously whispering, "Please, please, please..." She had no trouble predicting what she was about to see. Aloud, to the general, she asked, "Who is she?"
"You don't know her, then? I suppose that is not a surprise. Her face was kept out of the news media. Do you remember the assassination attempt against your husband?"
"This woman pulled the trigger. As you know, it was quite a near thing. She was caught, obviously, and the members of the revolutionary cell who had helped her prepare for the attempt were also arrested. Your husband was quite clear about the nature of the punishment she was to receive."
"That was... a year ago. She has been here since then?"
"Yes. Though she doesn't remember all of the intervening days, so the time probably seems shorter to her. On the other hand, in another sense, I'm sure it seems much, much longer. Now, you must keep your eyes on her face."
Yelena shook her head, turning away. "I can't."
She looked back suddenly. The woman had made the sound of a closed-jawed scream, and her whole body had convulsed.
The general said, "Keep looking at her! There are infrared light beams trained on your eyes. They will do you no damage, but they can sense the direction your eyes are looking. If you look away from her, move your head, or close your eyes longer than a blink, she will experience a powerful electrical shock between her legs."
Another man, a huge uniformed specimen Yelena had seen in the hallway, now entered the room with the woman, carrying what Yelena recognized as a whip. Yelena gritted her teeth as the man swung his arm and landed the first lash on the woman's hip. The woman grunted in pain, her body jerking as she tried to get away. Yelena, unthinking, closed her eyes, not wanting to watch. Again she heard the sudden scream as the woman was shocked once more.
The horror washing through Yelena left her without the power to breathe. Not only was this woman being tortured, but Yelena herself was one of the torturers! I have to keep looking at her, she said to herself, watching this poor woman's agonized face, and I can't do it! I can't watch! And when I don't look, she is then hurt much worse!
Yelena shook her head, causing another scream.
The general, as though describing his efforts at home gardening, said, "We always before have had a female member of this woman's revolutionary cell perform the task you are doing right now. There are three of them here at the prison. I'm sure they are grateful you have taken their place for a short time and they don't need to watch their friend suffer. Each session of punishment lasts at least twelve hours, usually fifteen. She will become dehydrated, of course..." Yelena could see, indeed, that a sheen of sweat already covered the woman's body, appearing at the moment of the first shock, "...and her muscles will eventually begin to cramp. Her leg muscles especially, and her shoulders of course. She will nevertheless keep straining to try to raise herself free of the shocking bar in her crotch. You'll be able to tell when she does that, all of her leg muscles standing out and quivering, her arms muscles flexed trying to lift her weight. She is less and less successful at that through the day, as her muscles grow weaker and more cramped, and the pain in her body grows greater by the minute. Sometimes she faints. We shock her awake."
Unbelievably, he chuckled. "None of the women sitting where you are now has been able to go as long as twenty minutes at a time without losing concentration at some point, looking away, closing her eyes. The assassin in front you is always shocked many times in each session."
Yelena groaned. She really was torturing the poor woman, and she felt awash in guilt. I have it in my power, she thought, to stop the shocks. But I haven't been able to do it. When she screams in pain, it really is my fault.
But the woman suffered beyond that. "And... you whip her besides?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes we throw darts at her. Or let stinging insects climb on her. Or shower her with near-freezing water." Yelena shuddered, and the general went on, "We keep her unconscious -- comatose, actually -- for several days between sessions. During that time, she is rehydrated and fed intravenously, and her aching muscles, cuts, and bruises are treated to the point of near recovery. She actually feels physically undamaged at the start of each session. But she knows what is about to happen."
Yes, Yelena thought. She knows exactly. She knows she faces a day of inescapable, building, unbearable agony. She goes through it over and over, and has no memory of the times between. "How... long... how long will you do this? How many sessions, I mean." Yelena began shaking her head, and stopped herself too late. The woman screamed and convulsed in pain from the shock once more.
"She started out quite healthy, and the doctor is keeping her so. He estimates we can do this for about ten years before her heart finally gives out."
Ten years! She would have hundreds of sessions like this! And would not remember anything else except this! It was worse than any hell Yelena had ever imagined. "And... my husband ordered you to do this?"
"Basically. He ordered us to come up with a plan that would amount to this. He's quite pleased with the result."
"Pleased... He's seen it?"
"He watches regularly. There are cameras recording every session, and the videos are fed to the presidential palace. The president can see as much of each session as he wants."
Yelena closed her eyes -- and opened them quickly following the resulting scream, focusing on the woman's tormented face once more. She had never known Dimitri, fully. Never known him at all.
The general said, "You haven't asked why we are showing you this. I'm a little surprised at that."
Yelena sighed. "Okay. Why? To show what animals you are? I already knew."
"That, and to show you what will happen to your daughter if you choose not to follow the primary plan."
Yelena spun her head to look at the general, then jerked her gaze back to the woman after a particularly prolonged, closed-mouthed scream. Meanwhile, the man inside the room had begun whipping the woman once more. Yelena broke into a cold sweat. "You... you would do this same thing to her? To Marya?" Her heart almost stopping, Yelena admitted to herself that of course they would do this to Marya.
"Only if you refuse to perform in the way I outlined earlier. If you do refuse that, then you would sit here, in this chair, once every... oh, four or five days, and assist us in torturing your daughter. In between, you would be kept with the general prison population as one of the inmates, working at hard labor. We thought you should have a way to keep busy." He smiled as if he'd made a pleasant joke. "I should tell you that we allow the guards to make use of the prisoners after their work day is done, in any way they choose."
Yelena didn't have to ask whether he meant sexual use. Her stomach felt so tight she felt sure she could never again use it for eating.
"You must admit now that the primary plan would be much easier, both for yourself and your daughter. You are an actress. That was a large part of the inspiration behind the plan."
"I... I can't... I haven't acted in twenty years."
She could hear the smile in the general's voice. "Your husband thinks otherwise. You always played the devoted wife with him."
Yelena felt faint. To do what the general wanted... She couldn't, she just couldn't. Yet she must. Under no circumstances, thought Yelena, looking at the suffering woman, can I ever let this happen to Marya.
"Give, give... give me a day. One day. To... get into character. To get my head around the role."
"You may have it. But no more than that. We are eager to see. And to show the president the result."
So Dimitri would be watching her and Marya as well, thought
Yelena. She was not at all surprised.
Rachel's entire body spasmed as a deafening blast from an airhorn ripped through the cell block.
In near panic, she squirmed around to sit upright, and saw that most of the girls around her were doing the same.
To her relief, she saw that the girls around her, though looking glum and resigned, were simply in a waiting mode. There was no movement into the "present breasts" position of the previous night.
One of the guards walked past Rachel and, at last, unchained the two women who had spent the night in such intimate physical contact. Both women stood upright, rubbing their extremities, and their standard arrangements of chains were restored. Looking exhausted and grim, both were allowed to return to their cells. They avoided looking at each other.
Another guard pushed a food cart, like the one last night, down the aisle between the cells. Breakfast, Rachel realized, an entire night having been completed in the prison. One night down, just one more to go, she thought hopefully.
The breakfast ration, accompanied again by a large bowl of milk, was, if anything, a little bigger than the dinner from the previous night. Rachel frowned, wondering whether that meant there would be no lunch. The food was of the same mix as dinner had been. It was still fairly tasty and filling, though Rachel suspected she would get tired of it for every single meal if she had to stay here much longer.
She was glad the meat wasn't familiar. She liked the taste, but once she was out of here, she didn't want to run into anything that reminded her of this place.
She followed the example of the other girls she could see and consumed her food quickly. Not surprisingly, she saw that, as that haste implied, it was not long before the guards began at the far end of the row, letting the girls out of their cells. They started forming two lines, one on Rachel's side of the aisle, one from the other side.
Rachel felt tense as her own cell door was unlocked. She saw what the other girls were doing, and hoped that copying them was all she needed to do. If she had to follow any spoken orders, she hoped at least one guard spoke English.
Able to stand, Rachel stretched out her leg and back muscles. She hadn't been able to straighten her legs out all night, and, despite the restraints of the chains, it was nice to feel that amount of freedom of movement.
Rachel stood beside the pixie girl from the next cell, and for the first time could tell just how much shorter the girl was than herself. The top of the girl's head barely came up to Rachel's breasts. The girl looked up at Rachel for a moment, but with such a vacant, hopeless look that Rachel wasn't completely sure the girl was actually registering Rachel's presence.
As the women from Rachel's side of the cell row formed their line, a man came across the drawbridge into the room. One of the guards already in the room had started fastening the chains that would link the collar of each woman in line to the collar of the one behind her, but he paused as the newly-arrived man spoke to him. The new man pointed directly at Rachel, and she tensed in sudden fear, her full stomach giving signs it might be about to eject her breakfast. Now what? she wondered, starting to tremble.
Her heart nearly stopped when the new man walked up to her. She flinched when he reached into his pocket, and suppressed a moan when she saw him withdraw a coil of leather from the pocket. Is that a whip? she wondered. That doesn't make sense, she decided. Some guy wouldn't just walk into the room and decide to whip me.
The man let the leather uncoil, and Rachel flinched again as he reached towards her collar. She understood when he clipped one end of the leather device to her collar. I see, thought Rachel, another leash, like yesterday. He's going to take me somewhere.
She recalled, then, how her long hair would stand out among all these closely shorn women. Rachel tightened her jaw. Are they going to give me that haircut now?
The man began walking away, forcing Rachel, as before, to follow. Rachel's fear increased. Please, she thought, let this just be some standard procedural thing. Like a haircut. It wasn't impossible, she realized, that she was in for a torture session, though she couldn't imagine a reason. I haven't done anything! she shouted in her mind. Please, just leave me here, let me do what the others are doing! I'll feel safer with the other girls. I'll do whatever they do, I promise!
Following the guard across the drawbridge and into the corridor, again Rachel was conscious of walking the prisoner walk, of being hobbled by the chain connecting the manacles on her ankles, of her wrists being secured to her waist by more chains. And of being naked, the very essence of vulnerability.
Oddly, the sensation that impinged on her consciousness the most forcefully was that of being barefoot. I'm bare all over, she reminded herself, but somehow it's my feet that are telling me that. My feet know this isn't the sort of place I'd be walking around in without shoes.
She held onto any thoughts that helped her stay calm, to slow down her galloping heart. Just the haircut, she told herself, they're taking me to get that done. They don't have any reason to hurt me, she said in her head. I haven't done anything that I haven't seen the other girls doing.
Oh!! she suddenly thought. Maybe the call from the embassy came through, and they're taking me to be released! I might be going home now! It's over! Her excitement built as she continued walking. She visualized meeting the U.S. ambassador. Should she thank him first, or start in immediately with complaints about her treatment by the Irkhetnian authorities? Thank him first, of course, Rachel. My country is saving me!
The guard leading her at last stopped in front of a door and opened it. Behind it was a tiny room, a closet really, containing shelves on which clothing was stacked -- to Rachel's amazement, the clothing looked like men's pajamas. At the back of the closet there was another door. The guard, after closing the first door, opened this one. Rachel followed him through, and suddenly stopped, astonished, at the sight of the room's furnishings. She followed quickly as the leash tugged at her collar, still trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
A large four-poster bed dominated the small room, its silky-looking red sheets turned back, large soft pillows next to the headboard. There was a bedside table, supporting a red-shaded lamp that was giving the room a soft illumination. On the other side of the bed there was a large, comfortable looking chair, upholstered in a plush fabric in, again, red. The walls of the room were of a soft cream color, tinged slightly pinkish by all of the reds in the room.
Rachel had continued expecting, from the moment they had ripped her clothes off the day before, that she would be raped. The bed, as a bed, fit in with that idea, but the romantic atmosphere of the room did not.
At the side of this room was yet another door, with a window in it covered by decorative wooden blinds -- the blinds were on the outside of the room, oddly enough. Rachel's guard, having again closed the door through which they had entered, opened this third door.
Rachel had thought she couldn't be further surprised, but found out how wrong she could be.
The room seemed to be the remainder of an apartment whose bedroom Rachel had just passed through. There were two women within, both wearing sheer, silky robes that barely came below the hip, and apparently, nothing else. One of them, a brown-haired woman with a beautiful face, large breasts partly hidden by the robe, and long, curvy legs, was sitting at a brightly-lit makeup table, its surface covered with neatly arranged cosmetics. The other was sitting back in a soft reclining chair, and this woman, Rachel could say without fear of overstatement, looked sensational. Rachel's eyes widened as she took in the overall impression the woman in the chair made. Rachel felt no physical attraction to women, but she was well aware of what worked and what didn't. This woman, from her cascade of deep black hair down to her delicate feet, had every part of a woman's arsenal in the sex wars in perfect working order. Her face was stunningly gorgeous -- every feature perfect, from her slightly pointed chin, to her regally high cheekbones, to her dramatically arched eyebrows. With one bare leg stretched out straight and the other with knee upraised, she was reading what looked to Rachel like a fashion magazine, judging from its covers. Rachel stopped again, and was allowed to stand still this time as the guard spoke, gruffly, to the woman at the table.
The brown-haired woman was instantly alarmed, her eyes widening in horror, her head shaking visibly. She responded to the guard quickly and intensely, a torrent of words in which Rachel could make out "Nyet!" several times.
Whatever the guard said in response to her protests, it had the desired effect. A threat, no doubt, of something even worse than whatever the woman was protesting. She quieted immediately, looking terrified, still shaking her head as the guard turned to a nearby shelf and took down a set of manacles and chains that Rachel recognized as being identical to her own. Pulling the robe away from the woman -- though seeming to take care not to rip it -- and tossing it aside, he quickly applied the restraints to the tearful woman, after first unlocking a heavy green ceramic bracelet, hinged into two semicircles, from her wrist.
Almost as an afterthought, he reached up to pull on the woman's hair, revealing it to be a wig, which he tossed aside casually. Underneath, the woman's hair was the same brown color as the wig, but much shorter. Rachel guessed the woman must have been in the general prison population about a month ago. Her hair was just that much longer than the normal prison cut Rachel had seen.
All this time, the black-haired woman, the one on the recliner, barely reacted, showing no emotion, least of all surprise. Rachel, understanding a small part of what was happening, was far from able to make sense of all of it.
The reclining woman, her magazine now in her lap, was giving her full attention to Rachel, looking her over in much the same way the guards had the day before. Rachel shifted her attention back to this woman.
As perfect as the woman's hair was, Rachel sensed that it was all her own, not a wig. Her eyes were lovely and very penetrating, almost hypnotic.
With the first woman secured, the guard, speaking to the seated woman, now began unlocking Rachel's chains, as well as the manacles. Rachel stood stunned, rubbing her wrists, now free to move in any way she wanted, as the guard set Rachel's prison hardware on the same shelf on which the now-fettered woman's had sat. She let him take her left wrist roughly to lock the green bracelet, which the now-chained woman had been wearing, around it.
The guard spoke to the reclining woman once more. Still looking at Rachel, she nodded in a satisfied way and said, "Da," followed by a couple more sentences, one of them a question. The guard answered, and at last led the now-sobbing first woman out by the leash he had earlier used for Rachel. Leading her into what Rachel thought of as the "red room," he closed the door, leaving Rachel alone with the black-haired woman.
Rachel, taking in more details of the room in which she was standing, saw that there were several standard bathroom fixtures in the room -- in it, not in a separate room. Beside a large bathtub with a shower head and opened curtain, there was a porcelain washbasin with a mirrored cabinet above it, and a standard flush toilet. Beyond that there was a small, single-person bed, its sheets and blanket not nearly as expensive-looking as those in the "Red Room," and a rack with several wigs similar to the one the departed woman had been wearing. Scattered around the room were other varied types of furnishings.
There was even a covered slab which Rachel recognized, with difficulty, as a tanning bed -- the difficulty resulting from its utterly unexpected presence.
The woman spoke to Rachel. Rachel, who at least feared speaking to the woman less than to the guards, sighed and said, "I don't understand..."
The woman's jaw dropped, and she stared at Rachel for several seconds, before finally saying in an astonished voice, "You are English?"
Rachel stared back in a stunned silence of her own, then finally stammered, "I... Yes, I... I mean no, I'm American."
The woman, again taken aback, finally managed to ask, "How do you get here??" Her accent was strong, but she spoke carefully enough that Rachel could easily understand her.
Rachel, crying in relief at having someone other than the terrifying commanding general to talk to, said, "It's really a very long story."