10
Prisoners

We marched for several hours and were nearing exhaustion. BabyJane had twisted her ankle on the rough ground and was limping badly. I had fallen several times, grazing my knee and elbow quite painfully. Our captors must be extremely Ůt, and have the eyes of cats. Although the moon was shining there were pools of deep shadow among the trees. Our route was winding; there was no path to follow, and frequently we made a ninety-degree turn for no apparent reason. I had totally lost my sense of direction, but most of our route had been uphill; we must be high in the Lojbandian Mountains.
At last we came over the top of a ridge and in a hollow below us was a group of tents. Some twenty Lojbandians appeared as we came down into their encampment. A jug of water was brought and we were allowed to drink from it. Then they sat us down on each side of a large tree and tied us Ůrmly to it by the wrists.
The Lojbandians then disappeared from view. We could hear them talking amongst themselves, but couldn’t hear what they were saying, not that I would have been able to understand anyway.
“BabyJane,” I called in a loud whisper. “Are you all right?”
“Sort of,” came the reply, “But I wish I could get my boot off. My ankle’s swelling. Do you know any Lojban?”
“Not a word,” I had to admit.
“Nor me,” she whispered. “Not many Loglandians learn it. But they probably all understand Loglan, so be careful what you say.”
It was nice to be able to make contact; during the march our captors had made it clear that we were not to talk to each other.
I tried to get some slack in the rope around my wrists, but they were expertly tied and my movements only served to tighten the bonds.
After a while I heard footsteps. The woman of the group that had captured us appeared, carrying the water jug and a couple of blankets. She held the jug for me to drink and draped a blanket over me. Then she went round the tree to BabyJane.
I heard BabyJane say, “Please, I need to pee.” The woman repeated, “Pee. OK.” She untied BabyJane’s wrists and led her away among the tents. When they came back the woman tied BabyJane again and came round to me.
“You pee too. OK.” said the woman. She bent down and untied my wrists, then led me away to a privy on the other side of the encampment.
When we returned to the tree the woman indicated that I should lie down with my wrists against the tree. She tied them expertly and covered me with the blanket.
“Sleep,” she said.
It should have been hard to fall asleep. The ground was hard and lumpy, the night had grown quite cold, and what were the Lojbandians going to do to us? But with the exhaustion of the march I just whispered, “Good night” to BabyJane, and fell asleep immediately.
I awoke at dawn, chilled, stiff and sore. I coughed and tried to sit up. BabyJane whispered, “Alex, are you awake?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Are you OK?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve slept in better beds, but at least the woman let me take my boots off.”
“What do you think they’re going to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Perhaps they don’t know either.”
Footsteps. The woman again, with a man.
“Not talk,” he said roughly. “Colonel speak you.”
They untied us and led us into the encampment. BabyJane was half limping, half hopping, with the woman supporting her. The man gripped my arm Ůrmly.
We were taken into one of the larger tents. A man in camou▀age gear was sitting at a table. He had some kind of insignia on his shoulders. He said something in Lojban and the man who had brought us fetched two chairs.
“Sit,” said the ofŮcer. “I am Colonel Horski of the Lojbandian Freedom Forces. You have been arrested for trespassing in our territory. Perhaps you are spies. Or perhaps you are not. We shall have to Ůnd out.”
The colonel spoke quite good Loglan.
“We are not spies,” said BabyJane. “And these mountains are part of Loglandia.”
“It’s too early in the morning to argue politics,” said the colonel with a shrug. “And I’m really sorry that such a beautiful woman had to spend a most uncomfortable night. Unfortunately we have no guest accommodation. Now perhaps I may offer you some coffee?”
Coffee was brought in enamel mugs and we drank gratefully.
Colonel Horski asked who we were and what we were doing in the mountains. We told him our names, and that BabyJane was a botanist studying the mountain fungi. They had her case of samples, so it seemed a good, innocent explanation for our presence.
I told the colonel I was a foreign visitor and wanted to see the mountains. I said nothing about Fred, of course, or that I was working at the Institute.
“Yes, I see,” said the colonel. “It’s unfortunate that you made your camp inside the border of Free Lojbandia. Of course people do make mistakes. Lieutenant Josmaos will take a full statement from you.”
The colonel left the tent. I was taking another sip of coffee when a stinging blow to the side of my head sent the mug spinning to the ▀oor.
A voice behind me roared, “Stand, you spy.” I half turned, and the chair was kicked from under me. I sprawled on the ▀oor. BabyJane started to get up. Lieutenant Josmaos turned on her and punched her brutally in the stomach.
“Spy bitch, stand up,” he snarled.
Two of the guards bundled us to our feet. The lieutenant perched himself nonchalantly on the edge of the table.
“Now you will tell me who sent you,” he said. “And what your mission is. You will tell me now, or you will tell me later. The former will be considerably less painful for you. You,” and he turned to me. “Empty your pockets.”
I did so, putting the contents of my pockets on the table. He picked up my passport.
“Aha, a foreign spy. Your country sells arms to the Loglandian fascists. What are you selling? Missiles? Poison gas?” He wrote something on a clipboard.
He turned to BabyJane. “Pockets, spy bitch.” BabyJane emptied her pockets. He picked up her pocket microscope. “Spy equipment!!” He hurled it to the ▀oor and scribbled some more on his clipboard.
“Now you will tell me the truth,” said the lieutenant.
“We told the colonel the truth,” I answered. “This woman is a botanist. She came to the foothills to study the fungi that grow here. I came along because I like camping, and I wanted to see the countryside.”
“Just innocent little mushroom pickers,” said the lieutenant sarcastically. “You should have stayed in the Great City and picked mushrooms in the park.”
He went and stood in front of BabyJane.
“Your girl friend is very pretty,” he said. “If you want her to stay that way I suggest you tell me the truth now.”
“We are telling you the truth,” I started to say, and he slapped her with all his force across the face. She would have fallen but for the guard holding her up. He slapped her again.
“But Ůrst,” he said with a sly smile, “Perhaps we’ll let Sergeant Ox enjoy the pretty lady.”
“Sergeant,” he called, “I’ve got a treat for you here.”
I looked round. The man who came in was the biggest man I had ever seen. He must have been over 2 meters tall and his shoulders Ůlled the doorway. Across his face, from his hair to his chin, ran a twisted scar. He had no nose.
“You’ll like our handsome sergeant, spy bitch,” sneered the lieutenant. “He’s big all over.” The sergeant growled and spat on the ▀oor.
At that moment Colonel Horski stormed into the tent.
“Sergeant, pick those chairs up and get out.” he snapped. And when the sergeant had gone he turned on the lieutenant.
“Please do not let your zeal induce you to act in a manner unbeŮtting an ofŮcer of the Lojbandian Freedom Forces,” he said grimly. “You may go.”
“Please sit down,” the colonel said to us. “You must forgive the lieutenant, he is young and inexperienced. We have no need for violence, you will tell us the truth anyway. Unfortunately I have to leave this afternoon, and the lieutenant will be in charge. First he has a patrol to lead. When he returns, I leave. Now you will be fed, and you have until this afternoon to reconsider your story.”
A soldier brought us soup and bread, and when we had eaten we were taken back to the tree and tied up. We saw most of the Lojbandians form up and march out of the camp with the lieutenant.