“You’ve been injected with a drug that will make you hyper-alert so you can experience your execution with fierce intensity,” the voice says.
Execution? My mind races. My heart pounds. My skin prickles under the wet suit. The voice. I recognize it. It is Yuri Putchenko’s. He hosts a television show on the Federation’s network where he executes prisoners in absurd devices. The theme for this year’s show is food.
“I thought live executions would have repulsed your viewers by now,” I say.
“On the contrary,” Yuri says. “I gain more viewers each week. It’s the perfect reality show. Who could resist watching the ultimate human drama play out before one’s eyes? We’re sending a live feed to your troops so they can watch.”
I watch the two small screens mounted outside of my helmet. One shows an empty stage; the other the TV show, which splashes today’s title in dripping red letters: Death by Pasta.
Yuri enters the stage, and a live audience claps, hoots, and hollers. He is a massive, broad-shouldered man with a knotted bald head, flat crooked nose, and icy, gray eyes. Shirtless, he steps to the edge of the stage and announces that he has a special guest for the show: a war criminal.
Two large screens are mounted on each side of the stage. The right one shows me hanging like a marionette on metal strings in the center of a long, curved tube. The left shows fake news stories and fake videos of me committing atrocities. The Federation invaded our homeland and illegally annexed our country. The last thing I remember is being in a firefight protecting it. After watching the lies and propaganda, the audience curses and throws popcorn at the screen.
I twist my body and rattle the chains, testing their strength. They are formidable, but every chain has a weak link.
Vibrations and the rumble of heavy machinery cause the chains to jingle. The curved tube lopsidedly rolls. I flail end over end, my limbs straining. The tube stops on a ledge overlooking a giant metal tank filled with millions of gallons of water. Steam rises from the water’s surface. Television cameras perch like vultures on the tank’s rim and are recessed into the walls beneath the water’s surface.
On stage, Yuri looks at me on the giant screen. “I designed this execution to work painfully slow, to build tension and suspense. You are chained to the inside of a giant macaroni noodle. Do you know what happens to pasta when it is boiled?”
“I’m a soldier, not a chef.”
“It expands, Reni. It expands greatly.” He laughs maniacally.
I follow the chains from my limbs to the pasta wall. A pit of terror opens in my stomach. I contort and twist on the chains, trying to escape, but it is useless. The shackles cut deep into my wrists, causing blood to trickle down the arms of my wet suit.
“You will be plunged into the heated water below you,” he says. “As the water boils, the exposed flesh on your hands and feet will scald, giving you painful third-degree burns. But that’s just the beginning. Because of your specially insulated suit, the boiling water will not kill you, although you’ll wish that it did. For a few horrifying moments, you’ll suffer unspeakable pain and terror as the expanding noodle wall rips your limbs from your torso one by one. It should be most entertaining.” He laughs maniacally again.
Vibrations jingle the chains again, and the giant noodle rolls again. Suddenly, I’m falling and weightless, then jarred by impact with the water. The noodle quickly floods and submerges below the surface, drifting down to the tank’s bottom in a zigzag pattern. I feel the water’s pressure on my wet suit and take short, quick breaths until I get used to breathing in the helmet. In front of me, at the center of the tank, there’s a curtain of rising bubbles where burners under the tank had been placed. The water is already hot, and the pasta wall expands and takes up slack in the chains. The chain to my left arm has one less link, making it shorter.
“We’ve intercepted messages from your troops watching the show,” Yuri says. “Many are betting the trauma of having your limbs ripped from your body will be so great you’ll cry out and beg for mercy. Others are betting you’ll laugh in the face of death.”
“Place a wager for me on the latter.”
“Such bravado. I like it when my guests are insolent. It boosts ratings.”
During a commercial break, the TV crew sweeps the popcorn from the stage and applies makeup to Yuri’s face. As the pasta wall expands, the chain to my left arm becomes stiff, the pull severe. There is no escape. I can do nothing but wait. Doubt creeps into my mind. What if the trauma is too great? What if I can’t stop screaming from the pain and horror?
A promotion for next week’s show splashes in dripping red letters across the small screen: Death by Fajita. Back on air, Yuri addresses me again. “Very soon, my audience and your troops will hear your shrieks of terror and agony. Any last words?”
“You can break my body, but you’ll never break my spirit.”
“Most excellent, Reni. Defiant until the end. Put on a good show for us.”
Yuri barks a command to turn up the burners. The exposed flesh on my hands and feet blisters and turns bright red. I bite down hard on my tongue to keep from screaming. Blood fills my mouth, but I do not cry out. I refuse to let him win.
As the water reaches a full boil, my left arm’s chain becomes taut as a piano wire. My arm is about to be severed from my body. I shift my weight to lessen the tension. Unexpectedly, the noodle lurches toward the turbulent center of the tank.
The center! I vigorously thrust my hips back and forth, swinging on the chains, edging the noodle closer and closer toward the curtain of rising bubbles. My left arm strains, the pain is acute, but I continue thrusting anyway.
Suddenly, the vortex of bubbles sucks the giant noodle in. Around and around, end over end, the noodle tumbles and twirls. It jerks right, left, up, and down like an insane amusement ride. My mind blurs. My body twists. The noodle spins faster. Dizziness. Nausea. I can’t stay alert. Spinning faster. The wall softens. Spinning faster. The wall caves in. Spinning faster. The chains relax. Spinning faster. I ruin his show. Spinning faster. No screams. No begging. Spinning faster. Euphoria. Madness. Spinning faster. I laugh hysterically while spinning around and around and around.
Copyright © 2023 A. P. Salnikov