It took Christine some moments to come to. Not that she had been physically abused but the whole experience had been disorientating. She had lost all sense of time and date, was not entirely sure where she was.
“Excuse me,” she said dreamily to a young man in a soldier’s uniform: “Could you help me?”
Somewhat unexpectedly, the boy (he was barely more) smiled back at her: “Yeah, I can help. What d’you want?”
“I’m not sure what’s happening. Aren’t we supposed to be going on some sort of mission?”
“That’s right, lady. So you are.”
“Did anyone tell us that the mission is, because I’m not sure if I can remember…”
“Your mission is to get back to camp, lady.”
“Oh!” Christine said, as if remembering some long-lost memory, “Yes, of course.”
She paused to allow the thought to register: “I don’t suppose you happen to know where my husband is, do you? He was here with me earlier.”
“Ah well, he’ll be along soon, lady. He’ll be having his turn now.”
“Yes, I see… I don’t think he knows any more than me, you know. There’s no use threatening him with violence. He’s a coward at heart, I think he’d say anything to avoid being tortured.”
The soldier dragged slowly on a cigarette (had he been smoking before? Christine hadn’t noticed): “Ah well, they all do that. What did you tell ‘em?”
Christine thought hard. What had she told the interrogators? Not that they had threatened her with torture, but otherwise it had been just like in the movies – being forced to stand against a wall with a bag over her head and white noise in her ears, then the bag ripped off to find herself looking into a harsh white light.
Voices, people she could not see hidden in the darkness firing questions relentlessly.
Stupid things, things she did not understand:
Was she in league with the enemy?
What terrorist plots was she behind?
Who was she planning to murder?
Who were her co-conspirators?
What were their objectives?
Why were they in this country?
And so it went on…. At first she had panicked and cried but at some point the tears had stopped. Time stood still, brain froze. A wave of absolute emptiness had enveloped her.
But still the questions came. And as her eyes became accustomed to the inky gloom beyond the light she was sure somebody was playing with an object. It was a very strange object, cables running everywhere, attached to a large metal box whose top surface was littered with old-fashioned knobs and switches, plus a green display screen. And at the other end some flat nipple-like rubber discs attached to the wires. They were – what was the word – electrodes? Someone seemed to be untying cables, smoothing them down.
It could be anything, but there was not a shred of doubt in Christine’s mind it was designed for one purpose only: to administer electric shocks.
Her brain had struggled to take in this strange display. Never once did the questioners (there must be two at least) ever refer to the machine, let alone threaten her with it. But its very presence focused her attention. It might be used at any time.
Would she have the strength to stop anyone who clamped the electrodes to her body?
No, she felt limp, unable to resist.
But what would be the purpose of torturing her? It wasn’t as if she knew anything anyway. But then, perhaps that didn’t matter. Interrogation with menaces was just a form of total control: she could be subjugated, forced to do anything, betray her friends and family, act against her innermost principles and beliefs. To avoid the threat of lingering pain, suffering, death was worth any humiliation.
So when the question came, she could not stop herself: “Who are you protecting?”
A very small voice indeed, but she could not stop the word escaping from her lips: “Imogen.”
It hung in the air for a moment. In Christine’s head it replayed
“Who is Imogen?”
“What has she done?”
“Why are you protecting her?”
“Where is she now?”
“No….” Christine felt hot tears stream down her face once more. The one thing no mother must ever do, betray your own daughter to save your own skin. Yet she had done it.
The rest of the session went by in a blur. Nothing else mattered. And then she was led gently but firmly outside, made to sit, given a cup of water. And then the soldier had told her the mission was to get back to base. She did not move.
Some while later Ian touched her shoulder. She turned to look at him. A huge grin was plastered on his face.
“Come on,” he said jovially, “Time we were going. Everyone’s here and ready. We’re just waiting for you.”
“Oh.” It was all she felt able to say. Ian was concerned, but for now led his wife by the arm towards the party outside.
Then another thought occurred to Christine: “Ian, we have to find Imogen. Before they do…”