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Capitol Conspiracy

William Bernhardt

Constitutions are merely the lengthened shadows of men. They are invented by men to protect themselves from one another. When they fail to do that, when the fate of human society is at stake, more drastic measures must be taken for society’s own sake.

- RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Prologue

ABANDONED WAREHOUSE GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON, D.C.

You’re a proud man, Marshall told himself when he regained consciousness, and a proud man doesn’t scream. No matter what they do to him. He was a former marine. He was trained to resist. So when they first began hitting him, he almost wanted to laugh. Did they seriously believe he would betray his country because of that? They would never get anything out of him. This became his mantra. It was a form of self-hypnosis; he would immunize himself against the pain.

It worked-for the first four minutes. Then he screamed with such ferocity that he could not stop long enough to breathe.

They did not relent. They hit him again and again.

He was securely tied to a chair; there was nothing he could do to stop them. They took turns, one after the other, which made the blows rain down on his battered body all the more quickly. The one called the General worked on his abdomen while his sadistic underling kicked him repeatedly, at the base of his spine, his groin, the front of his kneecaps. He kicked and kicked over and over again on the same tender knee until Marshall felt something break. He realized to his disgust and despair that despite the unbearable new shock wave of misery that coursed through his body, it was not physically possible for him to scream any louder than he was already screaming.

“You will give me the code name,” the General said, and then he hit Marshall again, without even waiting for a reply. Marshall couldn’t make him out: he wasn’t sure if the man was dark-skinned or merely shrouded in darkness. The room was nearly black but he sensed a window behind him that permitted the faintest moonlight into his utterly barren surroundings. It didn’t help for long. Nothing was visible to Marshall now, because his eyes were swollen shut.

“Can’t…,” Marshall mumbled in a broken voice that sounded nothing like his own.

“You mean you won’t,” the General said, and he drove his fist into Marshall’s putty face with such blinding speed that it burst his nose like a balloon. Blood and cartilage flew through the air.

The General grinned, wiped the mess away with a rag, flipped it back into Marshall’s face, and repeated himself. “Give me the code name.”

Marshall could taste his own blood and flesh. He wanted to wipe it away, wanted to feel himself to see what was left of his face, but his hands were bound fast. “I…can’t.”

“Won’t.”

“I can’t.”

“Won’t.”

“Can’t!”

“Will.”

His scream was silent, as Marshall felt the second kneecap shatter, because he had no more air left in his lungs. But the sound in his head was more intense than anything he had heard in his entire forty-seven years. And then, mercifully, he succumbed to unconsciousness.

They woke him.

And when he still refused to talk, they cut him. They put a bowie knife at the base of his receding hairline and skinned him, scalp and hair and all. They sliced off an ear. They ruined his face, cutting around his eyes and down his cheeks, always careful not to inflict a fatal wound, avoiding the eye sockets and the carotid artery, but skillfully inflicting the maximum pain possible. Nothing bled like a head wound, he knew, and soon his face was bathed in his own blood. And still they would not stop cutting.

Every nerve was on fire, sending electrical ribbons of pain radiating through him. As unconsciousness clamped its cold black shroud around him once more, he was gripped with terror-but not because of the pain.

He realized, when they ruined his face, that there was no chance they could ever let him go.

The next time Marshall woke, at least the next time he remembered, he had been stripped naked and strung from the ceiling, hanging by his outstretched arms like raw beef in a meat locker, his useless legs dangling tantalizingly close to the floor without touching it. He did not know how long he had been hanging, but he knew they had been working on him the whole time, even while he was unconscious. Hours. Days. Every muscle and tendon was stretched beyond capacity. His arms felt as if they had been ripped from their sockets. Perhaps they had been; surely the pain could be no worse.

“I can make this end,” the General growled. “All you must do is give me the name. Then it will be over.”

“You’ll…never…let me live,” Marshall mumbled, his tongue thick and numb.

“Nor did I claim I would. But I can make your suffering end.”

“Can’t.”

“Don’t be a fool.”

“Can’t… aaaahhh!”

Marshall thought he had been skewered like a bull polished off by a matador, like a dumb animal in a slaughterhouse. He wanted to curl up in a fetal ball, but he couldn’t-couldn’t move at all. He could only dangle like a pinata, unable to help himself, unable to do anything but wait for the next blow to arrive.

If they were less…effective, Marshall was certain he could resist indefinitely. If they went too far and killed him, it would be over. But he knew they would not do that. And he realized now that even he, with all his strength and training, could not resist forever.

“Give me the name!”

“It’s…it’s…” Marshall tried to catch his breath, tried to enunciate despite his missing teeth. “… Hawkman.”

Even though he was blind, Marshall sensed the slight change, the tiny play of the General’s expression. He was considering.

The wait seemed eternal. The beating briefly subsided. Marshall could feel his heart pounding fiercely as he waited for the verdict.

“No,” the General said finally. “You are lying.”

“No,” Marshall choked. “I’m not!”

“You are. The valiant always attempt a lie at first, until they learn that it will hurt them, not help them. I am not a man who likes to be lied to. You have made your situation much worse.”

Worse? Could it possibly be worse?

“A man such as Blake would never accept such a code name. It is too…politically suggestive. You’re lying.”

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