He should have been relieved, should have been thankful to be back in this cell, and Jack supposed on some deep dark level he was. But it was just too much effort to try and figure out why. It was too much effort to shift through the wreckage that was left of his feelings, hope, trust, and pride. If these emotions had once been a mansion in his life, all that was left now was a shanty, awaiting one more strong breeze to make it collapse completely into rubble.
Locked in a cell was better, better than the alternative.
Better than being strapped to a chair with a hood over your head. And you sit there knowing that somewhere beyond the darkness there is something waiting for you. Waiting for you to let down your guard so it can pounce, destroy, and devour you. No matter how hard you struggle, how hard you fight, it is going to win. And your screams only add to its excitement and lust for power as it eats you alive.
Better than being unable to move as a gun is held to your head and the trigger is pulled. Knowing that you will never see your wife or baby again. Knowing that you have failed everyone who counted on you. Knowing that you leave behind a legacy of secrets and lies that will forever cloak the truth about what you did and who you were.
Better than smelling your own flesh as it burns and blackens, and knowing that you are failing to hide the agony from those seeking to hurt you. And that fact hurts as much as the physical pain, maybe more, because you can see the glee in their eyes that they are breaking through your defenses. They are winning and you both know it.
Better than sitting helplessly as your arm is twisted and the joints rent with all the thought of a cruel child pulling the wings off of a fly. You watch as your joints swell and the muscles twist and twitch in a macabre dance of pain which needs no partner. And you wonder briefly if you will ever use that arm again. And then you decide it probably won’t matter because you won’t need it in Hell and it will piss Satan off that you can only shovel coal with one arm. But then you remember Satan is in the room with you now and it’s not so funny anymore.
Better than feeling your own innards cook from the electricity raging through your body. Feeling your defenses crumble and allow the enemy to siege the fortress in which you have retreated to hide. Watch as they storm the bastion you had relied upon and take you captive. And for the first time you know you are a prisoner because they have defeated you and stripped you bare and there is no where else to run or hide. And you scream, begging for mercy, begging for sanctuary, but all doors are barred and you must face the enemy alone.
Better than death.
Jack knew it was over. Vicente had emerged victorious just as he had predicted. It was just a matter of the coronel laying claim to his trophy now. Just a matter of time until he broke completely and told Vicente everything he was seeking. It was only a cruel twist of the fates that had stopped him. One jolt of electricity too much, that was all it took, and the coronel had over-played his hand.
And Jack had regained consciousness back in his cell, knowing the reprieve was only temporary.
Oh God, he was so ashamed. Ashamed that he had caved. Ashamed of the screams that had ripped from his throat. Ashamed that he had found some sense of release in allowing himself to verbalize, even gutturally, the emotions that were shredding his soul.
It was never supposed to be this way. When he and Frank sat in class and listened to the instructors explain in graphic details just what extent the enemy was capable of, it was fiction, a fairy tale to frighten the children, the boogie man, fantasy. When did it become real life… fact? They sat in class, looked at the pictures and heard the stories, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were tough enough to stand up to anything the enemy threw at them. That they would never be the ones to crumble and break no matter what happened.
Was he the only one who had lied to himself?
Was he going to be the one who died a failure, a traitor, because he hadn’t been tough enough?
If Vicente was lying and Frank was still alive, please God let him be alive, what was he going to think of his best friend who would betrayed his mission, his country, and the innocent people who would die? As hard as Frank would take it, Jack knew they both would have preferred that he had taken a bullet in the head and died in battle. At least that way he couldn’t have reached this place he was in now. A place of fear, and failure, and unforgiveness.
The end was in sight. Jack could see the finish line, but this time he was wearing the uncomfortable shoes of the loser. And no matter how many times the shoes might cause him to stumble and fall, no matter how many times he might balk and attempt to change direction, no matter how badly he fought to drop the baton, from the moment the starting gun was shot, the outcome of this race had been predetermined.
He heard Alvaro walking softly down the hall and somewhere in a dim corner of his mind he knew the kid wanted to talk to him, but it no longer mattered. Nothing mattered. And so he remained on his bunk facing the wall because he could no longer face himself.
“Señor… Señor Valentine. Are you awake?”
Alvaro’s voice was a mere whisper above his own ragged breaths. Jack closed his eyes against the sound. Praying the kid would get the message and leave him the hell alone.
But apparently Alvaro could not, or chose not to translate the American’s body language. “I have a message for you. Señor Joe, he wants you to know not to give up. He is going to find a way out.”
Before Jack could turn over, Alvaro was gone, but in his wake he had left a precious gift. He had left a tiny seed of hope.