“’Is it not still more dreadful that we are now being told, thirty years later, ‘Don’t talk about it!’ If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we—‘”
Zechs stirred on his bed. Duo hushed immediately, unconsciously holding his breath until the other man turned over, facing away from the small desk light.
Duo touched the screen set into Zechs’ wall. It came to life, displaying the United Earth Sphere seal in muted ozone blue. “Computer,’ he murmured, ‘search ??????.”
A moment later, it beeped softly, and the screen cleared. “??????,” it repeated back, in that monotone, unaccented male voice that had become the industry standard after Hemmersley had won the hotly contested contract. They’d beat Winner by dropping their bid to millions cheaper and the promise of faster results. Everyone had been suffering through quality flaws for six years. They had Quatre’s new design in the equipment packed in the storage bay. He’d got the new Mars Colony contract through a direct government order, the smartest thing to come out of elected office in a decade, in Duo’s opinion. “??????. Noun. Morality. Defined as conformity to the rules of right conduct—“
“I know what it means. Thanks.” He doused the screen with another touch, as Zechs shifted again. It was almost morning by Zechs’ schedule, but Duo was reluctant to give up his last quarter-hour of privacy—as private as you could get, anyway, sitting in another man’s chair and wearing another man’s underwear. He watched Zechs until he was sure he was really still sleeping, and pulled the book to the edge of the desk. The pages warmed under his fingers. He flipped forward and carefully pressed them flat.
Once it was established that charges had to be brought at any cost and despite everything, threats, violence, tortures became inevitable. And the more fantastic the charges were, the more ferocious the interrogation had to be in order to force the required confession. Given the fact that the cases were always fabricated, violence and torture had to accompany them. This was not peculiar to 1937 alone. It was a chronic, general practice. And that is why it seems strange today to read in the recollections of former zeks that ‘torture was permitted from the spring of 1938 on.’ There were never any spiritual or moral barriers which could have held the Organs back from torture. In the early postwar years, in the Cheka Weekly, The Red Sword, and Red Terror, the admissibility of torture from a Marxist point of view was openly debated. Judging by the subsequent course of events, the answer deduced was positive.
It is more accurate to say that if before 1938 some kind of formal documentation was required as a preliminary to torture, as well as specific permission for each case under investigation—even though such permission was easy to obtain—then in the years 1937 – 1938, in view of the extraordinary situation prevailing and the specified, limited periods granted for individual interrogation, interrogators were allowed to use violence and torture on an unlimited basis, at their own discretion, and in accordance with the demands of their work quotas and the amount of time they were given. The types of torture used were not regulated and every kind of ingenuity was permitted, no matter what.
It was easy to read objectively. Maintaining the level of concentration to translate and comprehend kept him from really feeling anything he read. But he thought about it, later, in these quiet times. Zechs had been right when he called it horrible and appropriate; and Duo had been wrong when he’d said it was still a cipher, lost in the past and incomprehensible without—without having been there, maybe. He had been there. It had been the machinery of his entire life.
There’d always been whispers on L2 about the secret prisons. Solo had always taken care to point out the homeless men and women to avoid—the ones who claimed they’d been there, the ones who had numbers inked on their hands in faded blue. They’d been crazy, most of them, some of them talking to anyone who would listen and others refusing to talk at all. They’d called them the untouchables. The soldiers would come and pick them up, sometimes, and some of them came back and some of them didn’t, but it was always best to give them a wide berth and pretend you didn’t know who they were if anyone asked. And then later there’d been the rumours that the Plague had been no accident, or, if it had, that there’d been no rush to pass out the vaccine, especially not to colonists. The Alliance had got it, that was a sure thing, the officers and their wives and children who lived on the bases, but not the colonists, not Duo’s friends. And say it wasn’t something Duo—thought about, a lot, ever; say it wasn’t something he—knew how he was to deal with. Horrible and appropriate. Material proof that some things didn’t change, and the only material difference between Duo and millions of others was that he’d lasted a little longer.
He felt a jolt then, with a hand landing on his shoulder. His heart pounded.
Zechs bent over him, a strand of long pale hair falling to Duo’s arm as he bent over to look at the book.
“The Interrogation,” Zechs said. His voice was gravelly from sleep. His thumb travelled lightly down Duo’s arm and stopped on the knob of his wrist. “You shouldn’t read it alone.”
“I didn’t hear you wake.” Zechs’ other hand worked under his braid to the back of his neck, warm and familiar. Duo closed the book quickly. “Fencing or shower first?”
“I can be flexible.”
“Ample evidence of that. From what I remember, anyway.” It had been a dry three weeks. Then, with no reason Duo could discern, last night over dinner Zechs had made an overture Duo could only describe as flirtatious—and cut things off the second Duo went for third base.
The hand on his neck disappeared, and Zechs perched on the edge of the desk, his bare arms crossing over his chest. Duo took in an eyeful of pink nipple and deliberately imagined doing naughty things to them; then he sighed and slumped back in the chair. "You don't think that's kind of self-defeating?" he asked.
Zechs seemed to know what he meant. He didn’t smile—he never did—but his arms tightened over his chest. "It keeps me out of trouble."
"Keeps you in strong wrists, too."
"That's not your concern."
“Cause we’re not sleeping together or anything,” Duo said sarcastically. His suit was in the laundry; he’d been neglecting his wash out of the sheer luxury of being able to be lazy. With no-one to see him but Zechs, it hadn’t seemed important. Except that Zechs’ undershorts didn’t exactly fit, and with Zechs standing there over him so determined to be all tall and muscled and everything, he sort of wished he was dressed. "Masturbation is that much better?"
“You only had to ask."
Duo rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, it's been all about my wants."
"I didn't proposition you, Slick."
"We needn't continue if you dislike it."
"You are so god-damn prickly." Duo knocked his knee against Zechs’ leg. “I didn't say I don't enjoy it now. I just don't get why it's on a fucking holiday suddenly."
"Three weeks," he reminded him.
"You could have approached me sooner."
Duo grabbed his crotch as vulgarly as possible. Zechs averted his eyes on cue. "I’ve practically got a dislocated jaw from making out last night. I'm offering. We can fuck more. We can fuck every night if you like."
Zechs looped his hair behind his ears, and sat on the bed instead, forcing Duo to turn the chair. “You as much as admitted to me that you saw this as a favour. An exchange for the language lessons. I’m not… comfortable with that, Duo. I can’t be.”
That left him speechless.
“I like you,” Zechs said. “I’m attracted to you. Physically. I greatly enjoyed sleeping with you. I very much wish I could be assured that you chose to sleep with me for the same reasons. I’m not.”
Duo chewed the inside of his lip and stared at the book. “I appreciate your candour,” he said. “Especially since I’ve tried to be clear I don’t feel the same way.”
“And I’m explaining that I understand. There’s no blame.” Zechs opened the bureau drawer beside his bed and tossed a cotton shirt at Duo. “Fencing, I think. Perhaps you’d like to learn that as well.”
“I don’t think it’s really for me.” He dressed reluctantly. Zechs’ shirt hung large on him, like the underwear.
“What do you do for exercise? Normally.”
“You’ve seen me exercise.”
“I’ve seen what you do in low gravity,” Zechs corrected. He removed his fencing gear from under his bed and began to dress. Duo leaned over to snag the foil, letting the blunted tip wave through the air as he examined the handle. “You must have some other routine.”
Zechs fastened his white jacket across his chest and held out his hand for the sword. “Well?”
Duo handed it over. “Dancing.”
Duo laughed, and tried to stop himself. “No. Not ballet.”
“Ah.” Zechs rubbed the polishing cloth over the blade, suddenly preoccupied. “Clubs, then.”
“No.” Duo stood and stacked the book with his notes. “There’s studios in town. I take classes. Contemporary dance, and Latin dancing. I even tried ballroom last year. It keeps me pretty fit.” He made it to the door, and turned back. “Why would you assume I go to clubs? I mean, it’s kind of an assumption.”
“I apologise. I couldn’t think of anywhere else one could dance, off the top of my head. Studios make sense.” Zechs met his eyes squarely, the way he did, Duo had come to think, during any kind of confrontation.
“Well I don’t,” Duo said. “Go to clubs. And I don’t go to bars, and I don’t hang around the gyms. I don’t pick up guys in public bathrooms, either. Not since my last boyfriend, anyway. Big mistake.” He waggled his eyebrows.
“Ah,” Zechs said again.
“That was a joke,” Duo explained.
“I laughed on the inside.”
Duo hugged the book to his chest. “The thing about—you called it a trade,” he said. “I guess I don’t get why that’s a problem. Why it’s a thing. You turned out to be nicer than I thought you would be, so maybe I don’t not like you as much as previously indicated. I think that’s plenty for fooling around.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Zechs closed the few steps in the little cabin, stopping in front of Duo. His hand rose, then touched Duo’s cheek. “You’re bleeding.”
“Shit.” He hadn’t even felt it. He rubbed his nose, and his fingers came away bloody. His mind blanked. “Shit.”
“Head back.” Zechs grabbed his flannel from the hamper and pressed it to Duo’s nose, putting his hand on Duo’s forehead to tilt his head back farther. “Maybe you’re anaemic? Those nutrition drinks can’t be enough.”
“They’ve always been fine before.” It made him uncomfortable, Zechs hovering so tall over him. He took the rag for himself and stepped back into the hall. The bleed wasn’t stopping. He put the book on the floor and went to their bath. His blood spattered in little drips into the metal sink when he bent over it. He pinched his nostrils shut and held them.
Zechs came in behind him. With the both of them in there, Zechs was pretty much standing in the shower stall. He pressed up behind Duo, and put both hands on his hips. He rubbed gently, his thumbs stroking half-moons.
“This is fucking embarrassing,” Duo said, after several minutes like that. He ran water over the stain in the flannel. It didn’t come out entirely. He wiped his face with a wet palm. “I think it’s done. Probably it’s just the humidity.”
“We can have the computer raise it.”
Zechs’ hand curved around his belly. It was so warm. All over he was warm like that. And after a little longer, his arm went wrapping around Duo, and then the other arm too.