Snakes and Pills

102 - old spectrum

It was unbearably hot under the glowing lights of the interrogation room. Beyond his immediate vicinity, Commander Holtberg could see nothing. It was all drowned out by the intense brightness blaring into his retinas. What he could see in his immediate vicinity was none too reassuring.

The two aliens, whose names he had gathered to be Rivex and Centu, were looking even more upset with their subject than they had been yesterday. At the moment, they were just staring at him intently, looking for something in his facial expression that the Commander could only imagine. At least they were not yet questioning him, or doing even worse. He simply stared back at them. And sweated, under the burning lights.

An unknown quantity of time passed. Holtberg had no way of telling how long he had been held captive here. All of his personal effects had been removed upon entering the facility, and he had not seen any timekeeping device, either. At least, to the best of his knowledge. He had no idea how this species measured time.

Finally, one of the interrogators spoke up.

It was the one called Centu. "So, Commander Holtberg, have you yet decided to tell us about the location of the Papel storage facilities?" he asked.

The Commander grunted. Not this again. "I would tell you if I knew! But as I said already, I don't even know what this 'Papel' is, much less where it's stored!" Holtberg replied, his exasperation at offering the same answer to the same question for so many times on so many days clearly showing through.

The two aliens looked at each other and made a little sound that Holtberg interpreted as their form of scoffing. "You keep saying that, and yet you also claim to be a human from the planet Earth, isn't that so?" Centu continued.

"Yes, I am, but I don't see what that--" the Commander began to answer. "Ah ha!" Centu interrupted. "So you admit it, then. The last time humans from Earth visited our system, they carried much Papel with them. They promised to return, to bring us more of this precious, life-giving substance."

"In return, we extended our hospitality and assistance to these humans, but in the end they never returned. Now you expect us to believe that you, a human," Centu said the word with seething contempt, "conveniently forgot about our pact, and don't know where the Papel is, or indeed what it even is?!" The two aliens emitted a very artificial sounding laugh. "That's very funny indeed," Centu concluded, in case their captive hadn't understood their attempt to emote.

"And I keep telling you, that's impossible!" Commander Holtberg angrily retorted. "I am the first human sent to explore your system. I am part of the First Expeditionary Force, with small crews being sent to promising systems throughly the galaxy to look for new life. We didn't even know this system was inhabited with certainty, how could we have promised you anything?"

Centu did not look amused. "My ancestors graciously accepted and helped your ancestors over a century ago, and you now really try to claim ignorance even to our own existence?! How dare you!" he said, incensed.

"A century ago? My species has hardly been spacefaring for that length of time, and we only gained the ability required for interstellar travel ten years ago. What you're describing simply cannot be true," the Commander said.

"How did we learn your language then? How do we know the location of your system? How do we know of your ways and customs? How is all that possible if you are the first human we've ever met?" Centu asked. Commander Holtberg had no immediate answer.

It didn't matter, though. The other alien, Rivex, who had until now been silent, suddenly spoke up.

"He's clearly not responding to logic and reason. I say we switch to more persuasive techniques."

Centu nodded in agreement.


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