“Please state your name for the record.”
“Officially or unofficially?”
“Whatever was on your birth certificate.”
“Oh! Sorry. It’s been a while since someone asked… What? It has!”
Admiral Henry Wilkins sits back against the bench of a holding cell made pop up interrogation room. The look on his face is one of finding out the milk he’d intended for cereal had gone sour two weeks ago. His moustache curls when the man across from him gives an almost awkward laugh, his hands pulling gingerly at the cuffs keeping them together, then clears his throat.
“Tethers... Nelson Tethers. I’m...hoping you don’t need a middle name too. I seriously can’t remember that-“
“...hm.” He clicks his tongue against his teeth, and his eyes turn upwards to the metal ceiling, focused on a bolt in the hull. “Occupation, occupation...I guess Agent works fine at this point. Negotiator is a bit more...Nevermind. Agent is fine.”
The admiral’s upper lip twitches. His eyes narrow just an inch when he speaks next, “Alright. Agent Nelson Tethers…” he leans in closer to a tape recorder set on the table, “The subject is an average build, average height Caucasian male. I would put him between his mid thirties to early forties if I had to guess.”
“Well! I’m flattered I look that young-“
“Do not talk unless you are spoken to, Agent Tethers.” The admiral growls the name under his breath. He stares down the man a moment before he goes on, “The subject is dressed in a simple black suit. White shirt, black tie, dress shoes...subject was also found wearing a pair of sunglasses with a handheld tape recorder in his possession.”
He seemed to breathe deeply, looking over Nelson for a long moment, his hand coming up to rub over his chin, clearing his throat.
“Are you sure you don’t want some gum too?” The man’s handcuffs clink together as he offers a stick of peppermint-flavored gum towards the admiral, “It helps with a dry throat.”
“I’m-hrmph!-fine…” he steadies himself by gripping the bench tightly, leaning to the recorder again. “The subject also insisted on gum from one of our crew hands. Said it would help him think and cooperate more efficiently.”
“The subject has only two unusual attributes. The first is his voice. As you can tell by the interruptions, the man speaks as if he’s been recorded once before. The static and clicks heard are most akin to a classic cassette player. It is noted that the recording of his own voice found on the confiscated player sounded clear. As if he’d been standing right in front of me.”
“The second are his eyes.” And this got another pause from the admiral. A bead of sweat drifted past his brow to land on the floor below. “...the subject has mismatched eyes. Both eyes contain solid red...whites, what the hell do you-“ “The sclera-“ “Right, thanks-“
The admiral gives another pause to scowl at the man before he goes on again, “...both eyes are accented by white pupils. Both seem to have bioluminescent qualities and glow even in bright rooms. However one of his pupils has formed a...a spiral. Like the type you’d see in a cartoon, with tweety birds around your head.”
“Quite the scientific way of describing that, Admiral-“
“Do not speak until you are spoken to , Tethers.” He waits for the man to go quiet again, several minutes passing before he feels settled enough to talk, “At o’six hundred hours, the subject was spotted within the halls of the submersible. Some crew mates thought he’d been caused by a lack of oxygen within the sub. Until he began asking questions.”
“Questions have included personal information, medical history, family ties, bank account data, mortality queries, and very occasionally trivia concerning the state of Minnesota.” He glared once again, but it felt somehow more tired by the time he spoke again, “Lieutenant Jabrowski unfortunately supplied him with a lot of these trivia pieces.”
At this, agent Tethers seemed to brighten for a moment, a smile coming to his face, “Fascinating stuff, right? Did you know it was one of the first states to have Betty Crocker on the radio? And the state muffin is-“
“Tethers, if you speak one more goddamn time without me asking, I will personally see you marooned on the next shit sandbar we pass by. Are we clear? ”
Nelson went quiet for a moment, mouth shut, his eyes shifting down to the recorder tightly gripped in the admiral’s meaty palm, “...You didn’t stop the tape.”
“...” The admiral sat himself back down, his own mouth a thin line, “I am conducting the current interrogation to find out how Nelson Tethers snuck aboard our vessel and remained undetected until his recent capture one hour prior to this recording.”
“I gave you an answer when you brought me in.”
“Yeah well your answer is bullshit.” The admiral has curled his upper lip so much his moustache has turned into an M. “Our last refueling was two days ago in Honolulu. With the size of this ship it is nearly impossible for you to stow away as long as you managed.”
“Which is why I didn’t.” Nelson had sat up to look the man in the eyes. “I just stepped aboard hours ago.”
“From where?? ” The admiral slammed his hand against one of the walls, “We have stayed submerged most of this time and even when we surfaced, there were no other vessels for miles! Underwater or otherwise!”
“Right! And I stepped on board.”
“YOU DID-“ he stopped himself, breathing deeply through his nose, nails leaving faint scratches on the metal walls. “...you didn’t do that. You can’t do that. You would have been compressed like a vacuum sealed steak if not had your insides crushed from the pressure.”
“Define ‘insides’ here.”
He pinched his nose, feeling the bristles of his moustache going curly from the tension. “You’re fucking with me.”
Nelson rolled his shoulders, “If that’s what you want to believe.”
“Well I can’t believe what you’re telling me, because that’s impossible.”
“Denial is a river in Egypt, Admiral.”
The admiral looked like it took every ounce of energy not to slam his fist into his nose and shatter every bone inside. He’d been trained well and graduated top of his class however, so he brushes his hand off on his shirt, “Moving on...You can tell us who you work for next.”
“No I cannot. Next question.”
The admiral struggled again, his fist visibly clenching, “...You said you’d cooperate with the gum.”
“And it’s very good gum!” He offered the stick again, “You sure you-“
The closed fist smacked it out of his hand to sail away and land in a dusty corner-a bent over heap of sucrose and foil wrapping, “...That was pretty wasteful you know.”
“Shut up about the gum!” He planted his hands on either side of the man, a good foot and a half and fifty pounds up against Nelson’s frame, “You said you would talk, so talk! Who hired you?”
The admiral grit his teeth, one hand moving off the bench to grab his tie, his glare boring holes into his skull. “Why did they hire you??”
He was nearing his limit for this shit, his voice echoing down the metal halls, “WHY THE HELL WAS IT OUR SUB?!”
At that, Nelson’s almost bored expression changed. He was staring right at him. His mouth stood as a small, thin line, slowly curving up into a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes as the bastard laughed softly. It would almost look warm if it wasn’t for the chill the admiral felt up his spine. “ Now you’re asking something I can answer. Do you really want to know why your sub, admiral?”
Suddenly, he felt like he didn’t want to. It was a feeling unfamiliar to him. Tall, broad shouldered, the peek of masculine fitness down to the last hair on his chest. A guy like him wasn’t easy to threaten. Yet that slow smile filled him with this apprehension, this dread...the sensation of a small animal being stalked by something far, far more cunning and dangerous then he even began to know of.
And with it came curiosity. He swallowed, and nodded his head.
“A clear answer.” Nelson’s eyes moved to the recorder and back again, “For prosperity’s sake.”
“...yes.” He gulped and moved a few inches back, “Yes. Tell me.”
Nelson’s smile widened. “My clients didn’t pick your vessel. I made that decision. And might I say, you’re a fascinating character, Henry.”
“A football scholarship straight into Naval academy. Top marks graduate. You rose quickly through the ranks up until meeting your wife for the next fifteen years. Mariah Carson.”
“Where did you-“
“Don’t speak until you’re spoken to, Admiral.” Nelson’s tone has shifted from a summers day to a cold knife in ice, then back again just as quickly. If he didn’t know better, he’d almost swear Nelson’s spiral had begun to move. “You both had a son together. Adorable green-eyed boy named James. Least, that’s what you told all the neighbors.” He sighed, tsking aloud before continuing, his head against the back wall, “Nobody believes you of course. A brunette couple having a bright-eyed redhead like him? Why on earth would people think he’s yours?”
“Admiral, please. ” His hand was cold, colder then one would have expected, as he gripped his chin to keep eye contact. “I’m answering your question as asked. Don’t interrupt.”
When did he take his cuffs off?
Nelson stared a beat, then smiled again, eyelids dropping to a more relaxed position, “Well, luck happens to be in your favor. Both of you tried so, so long for something, anything. And you finally did it-the night before you left on this tour. Three months now with a little girl.”
He moved back suddenly, out of that cold hand’s grasp, his eyes wide, “A...a girl?”
Nelson nodded, “Brown hair and blue eyes. She’ll look just like her mother.”
Despite that nagging tension, he let out a soft laugh, trying to will his hands to stop shaking, “Thats...that’s a miracle-“
“It is, isn’t it?” Nelson locks eyes with him again, holds them in place as he gives a wide smile, showing teeth. “Shame about the accident.”
A car slammed, crushing metal and glass, rubber screeching across the asphalt. The admiral staggers with a gasp, his pupils pinpricks as they stare deeply into the red pools of Nelson’s face. His heart was still hammering in his chest. The scream of tearing leather seats and the tinkle of glass still pulsed in his ears. “H-how did-“
“James goes first. That’s for the best, isn’t it?”
A sudden scream halted by a strained, gurgling groan. All is still for one, two, five seconds, before the piercing scream threatens to shatter his eardrums. A hand goes to his head, trying to block out the noise.
“I think it was...a drunk driver? Or maybe someone falling asleep at the wheel...T-bones the Cadillac right as it’s coming through an intersection.”
“M-Mariah said…I it wasn’t safe for him…” A sobbing wail had begun to ring in his ears, a sound he was starting to recognize as coming from inside his own skull.
Nelson hissed through his teeth, a look akin to sympathy on his face, “And you didn’t listen to her? Shame...such a shame…I think the worst part is when she tries to get help.”
The whoosh of cars passing by, close enough to graze his ear. Wails become desperate screams. OH GOD SOMEONE, PLEASE, MY BABY HE’S-FOR THE LOVE OF GOD-
“The second car is the real surprise.”
A dull THUD, a scream suddenly cut off, a ringing sound like a pair of eardrums bursting as a weakening heartbeat thrums its last. It’s too much. Tears are streaming from the grown man’s eyes as nauseous drool collects in his throat.
“Don’t look so depressed.” Nelson’s shoulders slump, his smile one of kindness-like a parent telling a child their dog ran off to a farm one day. “The last words on her lips were your name. Henry . That’s a nice name, isn’t it? Nice enough to give your daughter.”
“Yes, that one! I wish hers had been so quick.” Nelson had that same smile as he stood upright, “At least she wouldn’t have known any better. Still, to be stuck like that for so long...freezing to death in a morgue…” He laughed, “Trust me, it’s not a kind fate-“
The cool muzzle of the gun felt worse then the slam against the wall, cutting a small circle in the center of his forehead. The admiral’s eyes bulged, wet and red as he snarled directly into Nelson’s face. The laugh out of him was shaky at best as he pressed the gun deeper, “You...you nearly had me!! You’re lying! Dammit you’re lying about everything!”
“You’re a wackjob that snuck on board in Hawaii!! Some...some Russian plant playing mind games on us!” He laughed again, louder now, “Well! It’s not gonna work on me!! Whatever you did to get those fucking sounds, I’ll make them come out of you twice as hard. I’ll make you suffer . You hear me?!? You’re going to die, Tethers!!”
He opened his mouth to argue, to point out the muzzle pressed tightly to the man’s forehead, but it had suddenly appeared in his mouth, his jaw clenched and tightening around cold gunmetal, tasting the powder in the back of his throat. “Ohhh...with this! Sorry, thought you had maybe a combat knife on hand, a flare. Some sort of backup.”
Nelson leaned in, his finger just brushing the trigger, pulling the safety back, “Now, let me emphasize something very important to you. I could very well be lying. I also could be honest about every single fact I’ve told you today. But here’s what I do know. You are going to have no idea until you surface and get a radio signal out. It may be a few days until you hear anything back of course, the nature of the sea and all that. But the sooner you get it out, the sooner you’ll know. Right, Henry?”
The admiral had had a lot of tricks played on him today. But he would swear up and down a thousand times that the black of this man’s suit had stained a deep, crimson red in the dark of the holding cell. “Now you can go on and punish me all you want...or you could see if I’m telling the truth.” The gun slides from his jaw, leaving it hanging as Nelson holds it limply in one hand, giving a casual shrug, “It's your choice, Henry.”
The shaking has gone from his hands to the remainder of his body. The ghostly wails and screams seem to rise and fall within his head, the icy chill of a morgue cooler creeping at his back, sending pins and needles up his shoulder blades. His eyes stay on Nelson, the taste of metal and copper on his tongue. And Nelson stares back.
The moment his eyes turn to the door is when Nelson laughs, “I knew you’d make the right choice.”
He wanted nothing more then to inflict whatever pain could be worse then what his family experienced. But he could only hope they hadn’t as he bolts down the hallway as fast as his legs could take him.
He only looks back once. Right as he’s about to round the corner, he looks behind him.
There he is. Standing outside his holding cell, picking that piece of gum off the floor to unwrap and pop in his mouth. He seems to pause while chewing, as if he had just noticed the admiral was standing there. The smile on his face then had been a new one, but it was one that made him double down on his efforts to run, to escape to the main deck for an emergency breaching. The one that sent his heart racing and made him feel like a frightened, cornered animal.
The man had looked satisfied.
It was the last time he would ever see Agent Nelson Tethers-how the man was now. He would do some research on his own time before realizing how much he hated that face. At one point he had been with the FBI. At another with a secret agency that reportedly dealt solely in psychic powers. A puzzle agent in both. Dead for nearly two years now.
That was a comforting thought. The crew had witnessed a specter. A ghost, a paranoid delusion brought on by oxygen deprivation or the fear of confinement creeping in among the crew men. Some of his men would go on about the strange man who asked so many questions and disappeared as quickly as he’d arrived. Nobody had experienced what he had. He prayed none of them had.
They’d searched high and low for even a trace of him. Not even his confiscated glasses or recorder had been left. He’d even taken their own recorder, making the idea that he’d been some hallucination all the sweeter. Whatever the reason, Henry Wilkins made that excursion his very last for the Navy and retired the moment he got home.
It had taken two weeks to get an answer back, but apart from a near miss on the intersection, his wife and son were fine. And she gave birth to a beautiful brown-haired girl with eyes as blue as the open seas. So maybe it had just been a nightmare-a dream brought on by the dark seas spouted off by a polite man obsessed with gum and Minnesota.
It was the one comfort he could give when Henrietta had nightmares about a man with eyes like a cartoon.