Sergeant Reilly stared at the Rigelian sitting in the shaky wooden chair. The big man in combat fatigues was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. His flat Rigelian features were contorted into a mask of pain. His red face was partially blackened from the explosion, which had destroyed his amphibious truck and killed his driver. Reilly paced nervously, not knowing how to kill the time, until the civilian from headquarters arrived.
Finally the door to the room opened and a pretty young woman, dressed also in fatigues, walked in. “You asked for a translator, Sergeant?” she asked. She received a stare as her answer. “I’m Mona Cortez from Base A.”
“You took long enough to get here.”
“Sorry, but locating this dirty little shack in the middle of a jungle took a lot of my tracking skills. Is that General Graz? Nobody told me you had captured the top man.”
“That’s what I need you to find out. Is he Graz or not?”
With a quizzical expression, she asked “Don’t you know what Graz looks like? I recognized him immediately.”
“Yeah, he looks like Graz but...the natives in this area are a tribe of shape shifters. It’s not beyond the Koods to hire a tribesman to replace one of their leaders. I need to find out if he’s the genuine article or not. Graz is planning an all out attack on our forces. It just seems too fortuitous that the lead dog of the Kood forces just happened to stumble into our ambush. The real Graz might be safely in his quarters getting ready to spring.”
“I’ll do my best, Sergeant, but he’s going to lie, whether he’s Graz or not.”
“Just get him to talk. If he talks enough, he’s bound to screw up.” The Sergeant pulled up a chair and sat in it, tilting the back against the warped planks of the walls.
“It might be easier if I questioned him alone.”
“He might try to escape. I’d better stay just where I am to back you up. He’s a big man and could plow right over you. It’s all for—”
“Sergeant, you talk too much.” Pointing to her holster, Cortez said, “I’m armed and he’s cuffed.”
“Just the same. I’d rather stay in the room in case he decides to make a run or it. You being tiny and all, I highly doubt if you’ve had much combat training and,” he paused. “You’re right. I do talk too much. Sorry.”
With a heavy shrug, Cortez turned to the prisoner and spoke a few words in the Kood guttural language. Graz answered back.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing important. He called you a Woshag. That’s a three-headed, rat- like—“
“I know what it is.” Reilly interrupted. “That’s good. You’ve got him talking. Ask him about his family. They may not have briefed him too well and he may slip up.”
The interrogation continued for nearly an hour before Cortez asked for a break. Reilly gave her his chair, but told her not to stop. The information they needed was vital. Cortez suggested, “Perhaps we should transport him to headquarters. They have experts there in interrogation techniques. I’m just a translator.”
“It’s too dangerous to move him. The Koods don’t know where this shack is. We’re safer right here. You’re doing fine. Just keep him talking. By the way, where’d you learn to speak Koodian?”
Accepting the chair, Cortez said, “My father came here about fifteen years ago to learn about the denizens of Rigel. I came with him.”
“I would have heard of your father. I don’t know him.”
“He was killed in Lanshaggen about five years ago when the fighting broke out. I took a job at headquarters for protection.”
The door to the room opened and a corporal barged in. “Sarge, we just made contact with Major Pyres. He wants to speak with you, right away.”
“Looks like you got your wish, Cortez. But I’ll be right back.” Reilly followed the Corporal into the corridor outside. There were three other soldiers drinking coffee while their rifle blasters were leaning against the wall on the other side of the room. The Sergeant admonished them to keep their rifles close when they were in a war zone and they agreed they would, but didn’t make a move toward them. Promptly, Reilly continued on to the communications room. The room was hardly more than a table with a laptop comm on top. It was too dangerous to use their hand comms, but this laptop had scrambler units as well as scatter control, so their position could not be triangulated.
“Nice looking gal,” the Corporal remarked.
“Yeah, Sarge, who else? I bet she has one heck of a shape underneath her jacket.”
“I doubt if we’ll ever find out. As soon as she’s finished, she’ll disappear into he upper echelon and we’ll never see her again.” For about five minutes, Reilly chatted with Pyres about the progress they hadbeen making with General Graz, but before he was able to continue, he heard the sound of blasters and shouting from the room of the lazy soldiers and he and the Corporal dashed to their aid. The soldiers were strewn around the room with blaster burns on their fatigues and the door leading outside had been blown off of its hinges.
“Get a cruiser ready. I’m going to check on Cortez.” Picking up a blaster rifle, the Corporal ran through the door while the Sergeant went into the interrogation room. He found Cortez groggily climbing to her feet. Her holster was empty and there was a nasty bruise on her forehead. “You were right, Sergeant. He was a shape shifter. He changed the shape of his hands to literally slither out of his handcuffs. He grabbed my blaster and whacked me with it.”
“Find a rifle. The Corporal is waiting outside. We’re going after Graz.”
“It’s okay. I have another blaster strapped to my leg.”
Before Reilly made it through the door, he stopped “You know, something doesn’t make sense. If Graz was actually a shape shifter, all he had to do was change into your shape, take your jacket, and stroll out the door. He wouldn’t have had to shoot his way out.” Realizing what he had just revealed, Reilly turned slowly to Cortez, and found himself facing a red faced native with flat features, still dressed in Cortez’s fatigues, pointing a blaster at his chest.
“You could have survived, Sergeant, if you didn’t talk so much.”
To read another short story by Nicola Cuti, click here!