Henrietta massaged the space between her brows, rubbing the tension away as Arthur stated his case.
“I understand you’re opposed, Arthur,” she said sternly, “but the facts remain the same either way. Whatever may have gone wrong, this interrogation failed, and it wasn’t as if she was going to give in to any other forms of questioning. We would never break her.”
The guilt had welled up inside him since the first session of questions. Arthur had paced the halls endlessly, deep in thought, trying to come up with some way to pull Arras out of this coma—the one they had put her in. The coma he had put her in. It had been the only way to keep her useful, and thus to keep her alive. Henrietta was right, Arras Enqelin would have never given in to torture. And that was the problem. If she would not speak, then she would have been of no use.
“We can’t just execute her, Madam President,” he said bravely. “I know there are risks involved here, but to terminate her life would be hasty at best.”
“What do you suggest, then, Doctor?” Her question was sincere, if not pointed. “If you have any other way of getting us what we need, I’ll take it in a heartbeat. But otherwise, we’re dealing with an enemy insurgent, perhaps the very linchpin to these people’s plan to attack Rededication. If we can’t get anything out of her, then eliminating her would be our next best move.”
“What if we tried to make a trade with them? We could give them her in exchange for the suit.”
“Do you honestly think they would trade such an asset, just for her? That weapon is too valuable to them, even without Arras.”
“But if we kill her,” Arthur replied, growing frantic. He caught himself, then continued. “If we terminate her, it is my belief that we will bring down upon ourselves a greater threat than we now face. She’s trained, yes, but Daniel Eick isn’t. If we go through with this, and he gets wind of it, who’s to say he won’t simply bring a hammer down on us?”
“You’re not the only one who’s calculated the risks,” Henrietta said. She looked out through the observation window at their sleeping prisoner, strapped to her bed, monitored by only one doctor and one armed guard. “But we have few options. If we’ve…” She didn’t want to accept the possibility, but there really was no other way to put it. “If we’ve rendered her incapable of responding to our questions—”
“You mean to say, if we’ve lobotomized the poor girl,” Arthur said boldly.
Henrietta found his sudden tenacity surprising, but she needed to maintain a level head. “It that’s the case, she’s no longer of any use to us. Keeping her here could put everyone here in danger.”
“Just give me more time,” Arthur pleaded further. “Just a little bit more. If she doesn’t respond, then you can do as you please.”
Henrietta thought his proposal over with a sigh.
“You have two hours,” she finally stated.
“T-two? Excuse me?”
“I was going to have it done now,” Henrietta informed him, “but if you really think time is all you need, then I can give you two hours. If you can get some sort of coherent response, something to indicate that she’s still in there and able to address us, then I’ll let her live and let you continue trying to pull her back to reality.”
“Two hours,” Arthur told himself, nodding firmly, already brainstorming. “Two hours. Okay, two hours.”
“Two hours,” Henrietta reiterated, emphasizing each word to him. Then she turned and left the observation room.
Arthur followed her out, on his way to the room where Arras slept.
Cleared by the guard and having greeted the doctor on duty, Arthur pulled up a stool, sitting himself down at Arras’ bedside. Intertwining his fingers, he stared down at her, as if to take her with him on his train of thought.
“Two hours,” he repeated in a whisper. “We have two hours, Arras. That’s all.”
Separating his hands, trying not to get ahead of himself, Arthur stood and leaned over Arras. The doctor and the guard watched him cautiously, not quite sure what he was up to.
“Arras,” Arthur said in a low voice, hoping she could hear him—if only she could hear him at all. “Arras, if you don’t wake up, they are going to execute you. We have two hours to pull you out of whatever state we’ve put you in. If we don’t, then you die. I need you to help me in whatever ways you can. I know you’re still in there somewhere. Your vitals are all normal, and even your brainwaves indicate that you’re still thinking. I’m going to need your help to keep you alive, all right?”
Receiving no response from Arras, he relented and sat back down. He lifted the clipboard from the end of her bed, looking over the attached paper, listing all the questions he had prepared to ask her.
“This is really my fault,” he confessed to her, looking up from the list. “I did this to you. But I won’t leave you this way, not if there’s something I can do. So please, for your sake, help me.”
He looked back down at the board, clearing his throat.
“Question one: what is your name?”
“Question two: can you tell me where Daniel Eick is?”
“Question… Question three.”
And so he continued.
Enthralled in his own attempts, Arthur didn’t know that Henrietta was just outside the closed door, listening in. With her back against the wall, her arms folded, her eyes closed, she listened closely. She wanted to tell Arthur this wasn’t his fault, not entirely; at the end of the day, Henrietta considered herself the sole perpetrator. If Arras Enqelin died in two hours, that girl’s blood would be on Henrietta’s hands, not Arthur’s. But she couldn’t afford to go soft, not now, not when someone still had to make the difficult decisions.
Pushing off of the wall, Henrietta returned to her original route, lost in thoughts of her own. She continued to think of Arras and Arthur, as well as Eli Vale and the Eicks, who were still holed up in the cafeteria a floor below. And she thought of Daniel, and his remaining comrades, somewhere out in the world—who knew if they were even in the US? If Arras couldn’t tell them, then Henrietta had no idea how they would find them. No idea at all.
Still, there would be no going back. Not now. And certainly not in two hours.