As Thomas read the latest news on the Internet, he shook his head in disgust. Yet another government crack-down. Not surprising. Not even unexpected. Over the course of the past decade, the once proud American government had transformed itself into a post-modern Stalinist government all in the ironic names of democracy, freedom and human rights.
Thomas recalled what his father had told him about the terrorist attacks in New York some sixty years ago shortly after the turn of the millennium. The government began to crack down on its own population under the hypocritical motto of protecting freedom. Since that time, there have been two more terrorist attacks and in order to protect its citizens, the government has retracted most of the freedoms taken for granted by our forefathers.
Under the alias of "presidentstalin," Thomas kept a very popular blog which he used to chronicle the unconstitutional wrong-doings of the government. He occasionally received death threats by fellow American citizens who were brain washed into thinking that what the government was doing was entirely necessary for the security of democracy. Those comments Thomas usually just deleted however.
After getting up to get a quick cup of coffee, Thomas sat back down at his computer to write about the crack down he had just read about in the news. This latest incident involved the arrest of a fifteen-year-old boy who had written a school paper about why he thought the president should create a law mandating that all high schools should have an open campus. In a press conference after the arrest, the chief of police stated that the boy was being held on suspicion of collaborating with the Iron Fist terrorist group in Venezuela. The boy had no hope. Long ago the government had taken away any right to a trial by jury for suspected terrorists or for those suspected of collaborating with terrorists. His only hope was that the judge would be sympathetic to his case; however with the fury of patriotic brain washing that was so rampant, the likelihood of being acquitted was very low. Soon enough, the boy would just disappear and the media would move on to the next terrorist suspect.
All this Thomas wrote about in his blog entry. He also drew a parallel between the suspected terrorists of the modern age and the poor fools branded as heretics during the Spanish Inquisition so many centuries ago. Amazing how the human psyche does not change.
Thomas stood up from his computer after clicking the publish button on his blog. That entry was bound to conjure up some more death threats from the redneck patriots and religious conservatives. He went into his kitchen where he finished up his cup of coffee and set the glass in the sink. He stood and stared mindlessly at the cup sitting in the sink as he began to wonder what it would have been like to live in the time that sink was installed in the kitchen. The house was built before the turn of the millennium and the stainless steel sink was original. Although no freedoms had really been removed, the government used every excuse in the book to arrest those who exercised too much freedom. Thomas smiled. Maybe the government should stop reading books then. After all, the Communist Manifesto was such a tedious read and the government really had much better things to do.
Breaking his thoughtful stupor, Thomas turned to go back to his computer. In the pit of his stomach he suddenly felt an uneasy feeling about the blog post he had just published. He had broken his normal habit of using public computers to create the entry. When he looked at his computer screen, he sighed in relief. Exactly the way he had left it. Really he did not know what he should have expected except for it to be just the way he left it.
Thomas reached down to close the browser, when the hair on the back of his neck suddenly stood up. His sixth sense was telling him that someone was watching him. He tried to shrug it off as he turned off his computer and disconnected the Internet cable, but the eerie feeling refused to subside. Slowly he walked back to the kitchen. Everything was just as he had left it here too. It was only then that Thomas realized it was dark outside. He suddenly wanted another cup of coffee. Perhaps this would help ease the eerie feeling that still grasped his mind. Reaching into the old sink, he grabbed his cup and looked down in it. He paused.
Thomas instinctively looked up at the window that was over the sink when his peripheral vision caught a beam of light shine in. The noise of shouts, broken glass and splintered doors suddenly assaulted Thomas' ears. He found himself unconsciously clinging to his coffee cup as he was apprehended by masked officers wearing black bulletproof vests. The cup was torn out of his hands and shattered on the ground – the last remnant of his life. The last thing Thomas saw before they put the bag over his head were the broken pieces of his beloved coffee cup now sprawled across the kitchen floor.
When Thomas came to several hours later, he found himself alone in a dark concrete room. The only light emanated from the small rectangular hole in the cell door, but was distorted by the bars in the hole. At some point shortly after his arrest, he had lost consciousness. He wished it would happen again. He cried out and suddenly there were voices coming from the other side of the door. The silhouette of the top of a man's head appeared in the hole, blocking most of the light.
"So, you're awake now," the man said. "Good. We can get started then."
At that, the man disappeared. Thomas heard more talking from a distance, then there was a series of clicking sounds that came from the door and a light flickered on overhead. The man reappeared in the doorway as he pushed the door open. Thomas tried to get up, but quickly found that he was bound hand and foot. Two men dressed in military style and armed with sub-machine guns followed the first man in. Each one stood guard around the door with each man standing on either side of the door. The other man, who was dressed in a suit and tie, appeared to be a detective of some sort. He came over and began to untie Thomas as the guards closed the cell door behind them.
"My name is Agent Peterson," the man in the suit and tie said. "We're going to be seeing a lot of each other over the next few days, so I want to make this go as smoothly as possible."
"I want a lawyer," Thomas demanded. Peterson kicked him in the side as he sat on the ground. "I know my constitutional rights!" Another kick.
"I'll be the only one you'll see for a very long time," Peterson answered maliciously. "Criminals get lawyers. Terrorists get this!" He kicked Thomas again in the side as he lay doubled over on the cold ground.
"Either you're going to make this easy on yourself and tell me what I want to know or I'll get it out the hard way!" Peterson stomped on Thomas' arm nearly breaking it. Thomas cried out in pain.
"Venezuelan scum!" Peterson turned around to leave. The guards opened the door for him and then followed him out. They closed the door behind him and the light overhead turned off. Thomas was left alone in the darkness and in agonizing pain. He could not help but ponder Peterson's last comment. Venezuela was a socialist country headed by an energetic dictator; and yet somehow, the citizens of that country had more freedom and more rights than any American citizen.
Thomas had no idea how many days he had been left alone in his dark, cold cell. He knew he had been given three small meals since his arrival and they were his only means of telling time. A couple of days must have passed, he figured, because he was starving. They were giving him just enough sustenance to keep him alive. In that time, he had not heard from nor spoken to Peterson again. Sleep and blessed unconsciousness only came in varying intervals and never for very long. Boredom and starvation had begun to creep in and he figured they starved their prisoners to help them keep their minds off the boredom.
At some point, he found himself pacing his cell, when he heard voices and the clicking of the door again. The lights flickered on and in walked Peterson again accompanies by two different guards outfitted similarly to the last two.
"So, have you decided to cooperate?" Peterson asked as the guards closed the door behind them.
"Yes, I'll tell you everything I know," Thomas replied.
"Good. Let's get started then." Peterson walked around behind Thomas and grabbed his arms. He slapped handcuffs on each wrist. "Come on then."
Peterson led him to the door which the guards had opened once again. They stood in a long concrete hallway with several other cell doors. Peterson grabbed Thomas by one arm and led him down the hallway. All this time, Thomas could not help but think of what that fifteen-year-old boy must be going through. Thomas was in his fifties and scared.
Eventually, they stopped in front of a plain steel door and Peterson opened it. He shoved Thomas inside. The room had a single overhead light, a table in the middle and two chairs facing each other on opposite sides of the table – clearly an interrogation room.
Unlocking the handcuffs on Thomas' wrists, Peterson pointed to a chair and commanded Thomas to sit in it.
Thomas obeyed and Peterson sat down in the other chair. "So, tell me what you know."
"I know I was illegally arrested for posting a blog entry criticizing you," Thomas stated quite matter-of-factly.
Peterson shook his head. "We have evidence that you are connected to the Venezuelan terrorist group know as the Iron Fist." He looked Thomas in the eyes. "Tell me what you know about them."
"All I know is that I exercised my right to freedom of speech as stated in the first amend…" Peterson suddenly stood up, reached across the table and hit Thomas squarely in the jaw.
"You are a terrorist! Terrorists don't have any rights!"
Through the pain, Thomas yelled, "I wasn't considered a terrorist before I made that last blog post!"
Peterson stood up and threw the chair he had been sitting in at Thomas, hitting him in the chest. "If you're going to play tough with me, I have ways of dealing with that!"
In a bout of anger, Peterson turned and left the room. Thomas now sat alone with the two guards who kept watch by the door. They had their guns pointed directly at him.
It felt as though years had passed since Thomas had been apprehended and held captive in this miserable hell. In reality it had only been a few months. No matter how hard he tried, Peterson still could not extract a confession of anything out of Thomas. He was guilty of absolutely nothing and he knew it. His only mistake was exercising his right to freedom of speech. In a day and age where publication is instantaneous and the government is paranoid for its own survival, such a thing as freedom of speech simply does not exist. Thomas lamented over the days when he was a child and talking badly about the government might have earned you a scorn from the ancient neighborhood Vietnam veteran, but nothing more.
As Thomas sat in his cold, damp cell, he started laughing. His laughter echoed off of the bare concrete walls, ceiling and floor. He could not control himself. For the first time since his arrest, he found his illegal captivity funny. There was no explanation. Perhaps he was going mad or maybe there was some sort of dark and twisted humor in being locked up for typing a few words and publishing them online. Was there really a difference?
A clicking sound coming from the door and the flickering of the lights turning on suddenly startled Thomas back to reality. The standard procedure of Peterson coming into his cell closely followed by armed guards was carried out to a T. It had been ages since he had last seen Peterson it seemed. At least 60 or 70 meals since he had last seen anyone or had even seen more light than that which came through the small slit in the door. Thomas had to squint profusely to allow his eyes to become accommodated to the bright florescent overheads.
"It's been a while," Peterson said, looking down on Thomas as he sat on the floor. "I hope by now you've decided to talk," he paused. "Because if not, I'm going to try a few things to make you talk."
Thomas stared at him blankly, still trying to adjust to the bright light. He said nothing.
"No answer, huh?" Peterson sniveled. "Well, that's alright. We'll see how you feel about it in a couple of hours."
Peterson beckoned for one of the guards to go fetch something. The guard quickly disappeared out the door. A few minutes later he reappeared with a large metal box and a small plastic case on top of it. The plastic case was opened, revealing a remote control. Peterson removed the remote from the case, setting the case on the floor, then picked up the large metal box. Thomas could see that there was a round hole in the center of one of the sides of the box.
"Do you know what this is?" Peterson asked.
Thomas gave no response. He knew very well what it was.
Peterson continued, "This device is a wonderful invention of the CSS. See this hole?" he asked, pointing to the hole Thomas had noticed. "That's where your neck goes. You're head of course inside the box."
Thomas was familiar with the box. He had done his research on American torture methods implemented by the CSS, or Committee for State Security since its creation in 2032 by the Terrorist Prevention Act. Tearing his eyes away from the box, he looked up at Peterson, who smiled.
"You know what this is, don't you?" He beamed with excitement. "I'll be nice. One more chance. Are you going to talk?"
Thomas said nothing.
"Well, ok then. Let the fun begin!" Peterson motioned for one of the guards to come over. The guard grabbed Thomas and held him in place as Peterson opened a latch on the side of the box. It opened like a giant metal jaw.
"You know, the beauty of this thing is that it's multipurpose," Peterson said as he went over to where Thomas was being held. "Not only does it evoke cluster phobia by enclosing your head, but it also deprives you of sight." He smiled. "Oh, and of course you can't eat or drink anything with it on either."
In one quick move, Peterson snapped the box shut over Thomas' head. He was enshrouded in total darkness and could only hear the sound of the latch closing and of a lock snapping shut. A sweat broke out on his forehead and he began to struggle. But to no avail. He was in too weak of a condition to overpower the guard still holding him in place. He leaned his head forward less than an inch until it came to a rest on the front of the box.
Suddenly a very high-pitched noise coming from somewhere within the box began squealing its way through Thomas' head. The noise was excruciatingly painful and seemed to come from all around him. He began to struggle ferociously, but the guard continued to hold him in place. His ears felt as though they were about to burst. Instinct told him to cover his ears with his hands, but they too were being held. The pain was unbearable. As suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. Thomas was relieved. A voice seemed to come from his own head, but he quickly realized it was coming from somewhere inside the box. It was Peterson.
"I hope you enjoyed that," Peterson said through some sort of speaker system in the box. "I guess that's something I forgot to mention about the box." The squealing suddenly came back on, sending Thomas into struggling fits again. Then it stopped. "Oh, what fun!" Peterson said. "I'm enjoying this already! Can you imagine listening to that sound for hours?"
"I'm not a terrorist!" Thomas suddenly yelled, breaking his silence. He nearly went deaf in his effort to yell from the confines of the box.
"What was that?" asked Peterson. "I couldn't hear you." He turned the high-pitched sound back on with the remote and Thomas began to wiggle again. He stopped. "I still don't think you're ready to talk yet. Maybe in a couple of hours."
Peterson turned on the noise again and, satisfied at seeing Thomas struggling again with the metal box locked around his head, strolled out of the room whistling. The guards soon followed, leaving Thomas alone with the box and the torturing noise.
Over the course of the next several months, Thomas endured many different kinds of ruthless torture. Different instruments had been brought in as Thomas had very nearly gone deaf after so many hours of exposure to the high-pitched noise of the box. Physically, he was a broken man, but he never confessed to anything he did not do. He admitted the running of his anti-government blog as well as a number of other trivial things, but never falsely claimed having anything to do with the Iron Fist.
Thomas' only hope lie in the trial that was rapidly approaching. A single CSS judge would hear his testimony and that of Peterson's, then decide his fate. Should he be found innocent, he will be released. Should he be found guilty, he had no idea what to expect. Death probably.
The morning of the trial found Thomas sitting on the cold hard floor of his cell mindlessly starring into the darkness. Drool trickled down one side of his mouth as he continued staring unblinkingly.
The familiar sounds of his cell door opening suddenly jolted him back into reality. Peterson waltzed confidently into Thomas' cell with an entourage of armed guards. Two of them picked Thomas up from the floor while another snapped handcuffs around his wrists. Shakles were also locked around his ankles. Peterson stood in front of Thomas and looked directly into his eyes.
"Well," Peterson began. "Today's the big day. Justice will finally be served." Thomas continued to stare at him in silence. "Let's go," said Peterson, motioning for the guards to bring Thomas out of the cell.
The bewildered man realized his fate was already sealed as he entered the courtroom. There was no jury and he had no right to a defense attorney as a suspected terrorist. It was his word versus Peterson's and, although he had not confessed to anything at all, he knew his word meant nothing and that Peterson's suspicions alone would be enough to convict him. As Thomas and Peterson took their seats, the judge entered the courtroom. There were heavily armed guards in every corner and by every exit of the courtroom. Three stood directly behind Thomas and two stood in front of the judge's bench.
Fortunately for Thomas, the trial was short. Peterson fed the judge exactly what he wanted to hear by calling Thomas a terrorist who had collaborated with the Venezuelan terrorist group, the Iron First. He simply told the judge that the CSS had a reliable source from which these accusations were based, but never actually provided any proof – tangible or otherwise. Despite his attempts to defend himself, Thomas was never allowed any time to speak. In a total of three and a half hours, Peterson had managed to convince the judge he was guilty as charged; although Thomas suspected the judge never really needed any convincing.
The next day Thomas was brought back in front of the judge for sentencing. As the judge read the sentence, Thomas silently stood in horror.
"You are hereby sentenced to be drilled," the judge read aloud. "This is the standard procedure for terrorists adopted by the CSS." Thomas tried to speak. "Silence! You no longer have the right or privilege to speak unless given permission by a CSS agent. If you don't know what it means to be drilled, you will find out soon enough. That is all."
The judge got up from his bench and left the courtroom as Thomas was hauled off by four guards. He was taken to a concrete room he had never seen before. In the center lay a table in the relative shape of a human. Thomas was forced onto the table after being released from his handcuffs. His arms were strapped down to the ‘arms' of the table and his ankles were strapped down to the ‘legs' of the table. Several straps were tightened over his chest making it difficult for him to breathe. Finally a strap was tightened over his head, securing it to the table. He was entirely unable to move, no matter how much he tried.
"So this is what happens to terrorists," a familiar voice said from somewhere above Thomas' head. It was Peterson. "I told you, you were a terrorist. But sadly you didn't believe me." Peterson patted Thomas' head as though he was dog. "Just remember, Thomas, the government is always right."
Thomas tried to rebuke Peterson's cocky statement, but a gag was quickly placed into his mouth. "Didn't the judge tell you, you have no right to say anything?" Peterson yelled. "But I guess it doesn't really matter. After all, you won't be able to say much for much longer." At that, Peterson turned and left the room.
As Peterson left, another man came into the room. He introduced himself as simply being "The Doctor." Thomas never managed to get a look at him as he was stuck with his head strapped down staring at the ceiling. A rustling broke out to the left of Thomas. He began to perspire profusely, having no idea what was about to happen. The rustling stopped.
Suddenly he could feel a cold metal tip press against his temple. The Doctor apologized profusely before he pressed the drill into Thomas' frontal cortex through his temple. Thomas felt a rush of extraordinarily intense pain and lost consciousness. His last thought before blacking out was that of the broken fragments of his favorite coffee cup sprawled across the floor of his kitchen.
When Peterson came to visit Thomas, he found him sitting on his haunches, rocking back and forth in a corner of his cell. He had a bloodied red cloth wrapped around his head. Drool was pouring out of his mouth and tears streamed down his cheeks. A rank stench filled the cell from when he had soiled himself. When Thomas saw Peterson, he smiled a very happy smile and made an unintelligible noise to express his delight of having a visitor. Although he could remember what had happened over the course of the past several months, he was no longer in control of his own emotions or responses. Peterson patted Thomas' matted hair and he grinned.