"No June! There is no way I'm signing off on this. You're not going there!"
"But Sir: if only ten percent of the rumors are true, and these atrocities are taking place on our soil..."
"That's just it, agent Penn: it isn't our soil! That complex functions as an embassy. It is actually on Tahrula ground, and we have no jurisdiction there whatsoever!"
"Welcome to Tahrul, Miss Penn! Later on, we will gladly answer a few of your questions about our facilities. Not all of them perhaps, but a few for sure. But first of all, you'll need to go through our safety procedures. They are very strict and some might say extreme, but we are after all a small vulnerable enclave within your beautiful country and we have to be very, very cautious! Now please stand up straight with your arms stretched to the side, please."
He started patting her down, leaving no part of her body unchecked. This had happened to her on many occasions, and although, like always, her breasts and buttocks weren't excluded, he did not linger. Just part of the job, it seemed. She felt a little relieved, taking into account the stories she had heard about this place.
Down on her hands and knees, Mrs.Winter rocked her body back and forth through the big iron ring circling her waist and the small of her back. She would not be able to get her hips through, so much was obvious. But she wondered if she might be able to back out of it.
"I don't know, Peter... This thing doesn't feel as secure as many of the other constructs."
"We're not finished yet, Mrs. Winter. It's a one-size-fits-all device: I still have to adjust it to the size of your waist. Just a sec."
And with that, he attached a meter-long tube to the top of the wheel, with a compressed air canister on the other end. As he pressed the button the rubber band on the inside of the ring began to expand. After ten seconds her waist was firmly strapped in and she could not move back or forth any longer. She would have to remain in this position until the boys would deflate the band and remove the top half of the ring. Satisfied with the result Peter removed the tube.
"I'm going to see if Frank has finished with the camera in the other room now, Mrs. Winter. And then we can begin our shoot, OK?"
After he left, she tested her situation and found she had quite a bit of freedom. She could move her arms and legs, look around, bend down a bit. But her waist remained trapped in place at all times, bolted five inches above the floor: she wasn't going anywhere.
Marc was praying. His hands were in his lap, inconspicuously. But his fingers were intertwined and he was praying.
For the last half-hour, he had been watching this quiz together whit his mother. The candidate, an attractive lady in her mid-thirties, had reached a score just three points short of moving into the final. And now she found herself locked in the Loser's Throne, awaiting the Cascade of Defeat.
The beginning was always the same. He entered the cell and there was no reaction. None at all. This one was no different. She just stood there, motionless, with that familiar stoic face. Her arms were trapped in a huge wrists scaffold. It was so big that it covered most of her forearms, forcing her to stand upright. She showed no sign of fatigue, no form of emotion.
There was no hate, no disdain, no defeat. But no resignation either; it was quite difficult to understand their demeanor when one first encountered them in captivity. As fierce and loud as they were in battle, as enigmatic they became when defeated.
Now the Duhl Sharkan was more than just the head of the dungeon and the most feared torturer of Carrandolan. He was also a scholar, and in the last few days, he had been gathering as much information as he could about the Baduhl Khani culture. This was how he had found out that in defeat they were able to go into a form of trance. In this state, they were free from fear, able to undergo very severe forms of torture, and even capable of fighting off a considerable amount of assailants for some time. For a while, he had been pondering on the question of why they never used it when in battle. In the end he understood that in this state of mind, they had a very limmited sense of purpose. All they were doing was defending themselves, there was no further goal, let alone a collective battle plan. But as a personal defence, it was very difficult to break down.
Unless you knew a few little secrets...