We all go to the next room. Ryder sits there, tied to a seat, his eyes alert and watching us. His gaze locks on me.
We stand around him. #1, #5, #6, and Mud all hold weapons. I suppose it’s just to intimidate the prisoner.
Mud claps his hands together. “Alrighty then!” he begins cheerfully, “Welcome to my home. This is the place where you are gonna explain to us why you thought it was a good idea to join the enemy and abuse the emotions of this sweet girl.” Mud puts a hand on my shoulder. Ryder glares. Mud continues. “#1, would you like to begin?”
Agent #1 hands her gun to #4 then makes a fist and pounds it into her hand. “Gladly,” she says with a smirk. #1 walks forward slowly. She stands in front of Ryder for a moment… then moves suddenly and quickly.
She slams her hand into the back of the chair, nearly hitting the boy, and holding the chair back so that it’s only supported by her and the two back legs. The girl hovers over a very alarmed looking Ryder.
“What is your name and why are you out here?!” #1 shouts at him, her face inches from his. Ryder doesn’t speak. “Answer me!”
“My- my name is Ryder,” stammers the boy.
#1 slams the chair so that it’s back on all four legs then pushes it back again. “Wrong answer! That’s the name you gave #3 and you would have been a fool to give her your real name. You’ve been a spy for a year. You. Are. No. Fool. Now what is your name?!”
“I won’t tell you!”
“You will regret that answer,” she growls. The girl lets go of the chair and it slams back upright. She and Agent #2 switch places.
Without hesitation #2 raises her hand high in the air and back behind her. I shut my eyes, but I can’t block out the sound of the hit. Slowly, I look.
Ryder’s face now has a bright red hand mark on it. He looks back up at #2, glaring at her. He didn’t even make a sound when she hit him. The boy smirks as he says, “Just as I thought. You are a weak little girl.”
My eye’s widen. Oh he should not have said that. He should not be trying to get the girl beating him up angry.
#2 stares at him then her face hardens. She is furious. Before I can look away #2 punches him hard. This time he grunts from the pain.
“You still think I’m weak!? Gr… Who are you?!”
He coughs. “Ok! Ok! My name is Ryan.”
She raises her fist again, “You’d better not be lying.”
“I’m not!” the boy gasps. “That’s my name!”
A memory comes to me. “That’s true,” I say. “He accidentally wrote it once while we were filling orders for Spyke. Then again when we were all drawing and he signed a picture.”
#2 hesitates then lowers her fist. “Fine. Mud take over.”
Mud nods and hands her his gun. He faces Ryan. “Why are you working for the enemy?” Mud asks calmly.
Ryan eyes Mud for a moment. He seems to be sizing his captor up. “That,” Ryan says slowly, “is none of your business.”
Mud draws his knife and puts it under Ryan’s chin. Using the flat of the blade, Mud forces Ryan to look up. The boys lock eyes.
“I’ll give you another try. You don’t want to find out what happens if you don’t answer. Why are you working for the enemy?” Mud asks again.
Ryan glares. “You won’t kill me,” Ryan says, careful to not get cut by the blade. “I’m too valuable and besides, Splat would never let you.”
My hands go to my mouth. Mud looks at me for a moment, then turns his attention back to the prisoner.
“You’re right. I won’t kill you… but I can make you hurt.”
Ryan swallows. Quietly he answers Mud.
“I dare you,” Ryan whispers.
Mud matches Ryan’s tone and says, “Challenge accepted.”
It happens so fast. One minute the boys are still, the next Ryan gasps and his ear is bleeding. By the looks of it Mud cut Ryan fairly deep. The blood is dripping on Ryan’s clothing.
Mud places his knife under Ryan’s chin again. “Ready to answer?”
“You’ll have to do better than that, weakling,” growls Ryan.
Mud takes the prisoner’s hand and forces it open. Carefully, he positions his knife across the palm.“By the time we see the end of this,” Mud murmured, “we will all see that you are the only weakling here.” Mud jerks the knife and Ryan cries out.
Mud stands and walks over to a table with a box. “So you going to answer the question?”
Ryan stares at his hand in horror for a moment before getting his bearings. “Of course I won’t,” scowls Ryan.
“You are such a fool.” Mud shakes his head in exasperation as he pulls a small container from the box and pops the lid off. “But ya know… I like the fools. They are the ones who make this interesting.” Mud walks back in front of the prisoner and kneels down again. Once more, he forces Ryan’s hand open. “This wouldn’t be as fun if there weren’t any fools that resist.”
I get a look inside the container when Mud puts it on the ground. The contents are like a white sand. Mud picks up some of the stuff and rubs it into Ryan’s cut. As Ryan cries out in pain, I realize what the sand is. It’s salt.
“This- ah- this won’t- ng- it’s not gonna work,” Ryan gasps out through the pain. “You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Oh I will. This is just the beginning. #5?”
Agent #5 had been doing something at the table. “Ugh, my hands are all sticky now,” the agent complains as he brings Mud a small plate with yellow wedges of fruit on it. Lemons.
“There should be some wipes in the table drawer,” Mud tells #5 and takes the plate. Mud looks back to Ryan who is staring at the lemons. A grin spreads across Mud’s face. “You see where this is going don’t you? Still don’t want to answer?”
Ryan hisses through his teeth.”I will not answer any of your questions. I won’t betray the Octarians.”
“But you’ll betray your race, people, and nation?” Mud asks with a raised eyebrow. “You need to re-sort your priorities.”
Ryan cringes and tries to pull away as Mud holds a lemon wedge over the prisoner’s hand. Mud squeezes the fruit. Juice pours out onto Ryan’s cut.
Ryan gasps and cries out. “Agh! Ngh….”
“Remember, answer the question at any moment and I’ll stop hurting you.” Mud gets a fresh lemon wedge and does the same as he did a moment ago.
I watch Ryan as he tries to deal with the pain he’s feeling. My brother- er- he has never been great at coping with pain. I found that out the hard way.
Mud squeezes half of the lemon into Ryan’s cut before standing. “Well, at this point that cut is just gonna go numb. Time for a new one! Unless you wanna answer.” No response. Mud sighs. “Fine. Here we go again.”
After getting his forearm sliced open and the other half of the lemon squeezed into the wound, Ryan shouts out. “Stop! Stop it! MAKE IT STOP!”
Mud looks up at Ryan and drops the last bit of lemon back onto the plate. “Oh goody. Ready to talk are ya?”
Ryan sits there, breathing heavily. He looks awful. His hand and arm are bright red. It’s easy to tell that he’s exhausted… but when he looks up I can see resilience and hate in his eyes. Then he says two simple, but awful, words.
Mud takes a deep breath and his entire body shudders. “Yes… You. CAN!” He kicks the chair with a lot of force, sending it toppling over. Both Ryan and the chair go down hard.
Ryan cries out. “Woah!? Agh! Hey, watch it you-” Mud kicks the bottom of the chair.
“You are in no position to tell me to ‘watch it’!” shouts Mud. “If you’re smart you’ll answer me before I get board again! Why are you working for the enemy!?”
“Because they raised me!” Ryan yells back. “I grew up with them!”
For a moment, everything stops. Mud gazes at Ryan, quietly judging the prisoner’s words.
“How does an Inkling get raised by Octarians?” #1 inquires.
When Ryan doesn’t answer, Mud kicks the chair again.
“My parents left me on the street.” Ryan looks up at his captors, “An Octoling saved me and I’ve lived with them ever since!”
“How old were you?” asks #2.
Ryan swallows. “Only a day or two.”
“Nice story,” Mud scowls, “but we know you’re great at lying.” Ryan grits his teeth. Mud walks over, kneels down, and cuts open Ryan’s shoulder, dangerously close to the boy’s neck. Then he straightens up as if nothing happened and turns his back on the prisoner. “Are you ready yet?” There is silence for a full minute. Mud gets tired of waiting. He looks to his cousins. “#1, where’s that perfume I asked you for?”
I step forward. “Um… may I ask him a question?” I’m sure I sound nervous. Mud looks at me surprised, then at #2, who shrugs.
He looks at me again. “Go for it girl.” He sounds fed up and like he’s glad to have a break to think for a moment. “You have the most right out of any of us.”
I nod then go sit in front of where Ryan is tied to the chair on the ground.
Ryan looks up at me. “Hey Sis.”
“Don’t call me that.” I order.
He frowns. “Why?”
“Because we aren’t related.”
Ryan raises an eyebrow. “How do you know?”
I nod in Mud’s direction. “He told me.”
“And you’d trust him over me?” Ryan drawls.
I nod. “You lied to me about everything. Even your name was a lie.”
“How do you know for a fact that everything is a lie? How do you know you can trust that boy? Do you know his name? His real name?”
I start to say yes, but stop. I don’t know Mud’s real name. Ryan smirks.
“That’s what I thought,” Ryan laughs. “What’s the difference between trusting him and trusting me?”
“I-I trust my friends and- and my friends trust him.”
Ryan’s smirk becomes more prominent. “Let’s test that theory. Hey, #4!”
Agent #4 stiffens. “Uh….” the boy stammers.
“Do you trust that guy? Do you #6? #5?” Ryan asks. The agents look between each other. Mud stands there dumbfounded.
“Wait…” he says, “you guys don’t-”
#2 cuts in. “Er, Mud, not now. I’ll explain later. Right now, and we have already been over this, #1 and I trust Mud and #3-6 trust us.”
I look back to Ryan. “So you don’t trust him,” he says, “#1 and #2 trust him, but I know you don’t really-”
“Shut up!” I yell. My face is hot. I’m getting angry. “Just shut up, Ryder. You’re just trying to manipulate me again.”
“I’m trying to save you, Splat,” Ryan contradicts me. “Bring you to the light.”
I cringe. “Save me? Save me by using my emotions to steal the Great Zapfish? What makes you think that I need saving?”
“Because you care about people. About Octolings,” he points out with a smile. “You are a good person. You put others before yourself. That’s why you joined the agency.”
I frown. “Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“It’s not flattery,” he says. “I joined the Octarians because the Inklings are jerks. I don’t want to be like the others. Neither do you.”
I suppress a grin. Now I’m getting answers. “What do you mean?” I ask.
Ryan continues. “Back when the oceans rose, the Inklings and the Octarians fought for the land. Inklings won, taking most of the living space. Then they left nothing but caves for Octarians. Inklings share with the Urchins, the Jellys, and literally every other race but the Octos! Sure a few Octolings can live amongst the Inklings, but most prefer to avoid the hate they get from Inklings. You know, most Octos don’t see true sunlight regularly? They only see an illusion of it. I want to help them. I want to change it all.”
Now I smile. Ryan gives me a strange look before glancing at Mud. Mud is also grinning. So is #2.
“Well, dang #3. You did good on that one,” Mud laughs.
“Actually, that was completely unintentional,” I admit. “I was gonna ask him what it feels like to know that I hate him, but forget that! Thanks for telling us why you joined the enemy, Ryan.” I stand and join the other agents.
Mud pats me on the back then says, “Well, I think we’ve done enough for now. We really need to get going. Since I won’t be seeing you for a while,” Mud kicks the bottom of the chair again. Ryan grunts. “There’s one for the road. Come on guys. Let’s get to work.”
With that we leave the room. No one bothers to set Ryan upright.
We leave the room, but Ryan’s words, and everything I saw in there, stay with me. I keep thinking about what he said about the Octarian’s living conditions. I know he was telling the truth there. I’ve seen their caves first hand and my friend has described them to me… but if Ryan really wanted to help people, he wouldn’t do it by hurting others… right?