I like to think that honesty is the best policy in every situation. My petty little sister always chirped at me, like a too-talkative bird, that I was too honest about everything. Huh, as if she ever did anything but lie her way through life. I can almost hear her nagging voice when we were kids.
“At least I’m not a heartless brat about everything like you. Keep it up, Jane, and you’re going to end up hurting someone, and it will be no one’s fault but yours.” I nearly scoffed at the way she had spoken to me, her older sister. The memories play out as if I am once again a hapless child, yet for some insane reason, after nearly 10 years without so much as a call, her words haunt me. The wind rustles my hair as I exit the White House pulling me out of the memory. Shrugging off the intrusive thoughts, I straighten my posture and head toward the parking lot. Emma doesn’t matter to me, I think to myself. You’re the most successful scientist in the country and you’re worried about something your sister said to you as a kid. Good grief, woman, get a grip.
As I approach my parked Mercedes, I can’t help but take a moment to admire how my hard work has paid off. My perfectly pressed lab coat shimmers gold in the car’s reflection, and my eyes peer out of auburn hair, dark and firm, reflecting all of the determination I feel inside. There was a time when politicians and businessmen had been shameless deceivers of the public and would lie through the smiles and promises they made. As slippery as snakes and as deceptive as con artists they were, and I had despised each and every last one of them.
At the start of my career any and every one had guffawed at my idea, that when essential, a serum could be used to make one tell the truth. An impossibility they had called it. One man even had the nerve to scream at me that If I ever found this “voodoo liquid” he would sooner use it on his wife than believe such folly. I had gritted my teeth and shoved away the urge to lash out, replacing it instead with the burning desire to finish what I had started. And 5 years later, I was the one laughing because my idea? It had worked. Large quantities of the serum I named “Veraci Nullantenus,” or “Vernus” for short, were quickly manufactured and distributed to only those of high importance, should they ever need to acquire the truth from someone. I took special care in petitioning that all politicians be injected with the serum before each conference or speech and was pleased when none but the president himself approved. The world rejoiced over their “newfound honesty,” and since then, I have taken my place as head scientist of the the country. Huh, if only Emma could see me now. She’d be groveling, taking back every nasty comment she’d ever made about me. The world is better like this. With a pleasing beep, I open the car door and sink into the lavish seats customized to my curves and start the car, listening to the soft purr as it comes to life. I reach back to put my purse on the seat when movement catches my eye.
“That’s weird,” I mutter, “I could’ve sworn I just saw someth-”
It happens quickly, and I don’t realize what is occurring until it’s too late. A white-masked figure lunges from the darkness of the car, and I feel hot pain erupt as a fist connects with my jaw. Instinctively clutching my jaw, I forget to protect myself, and the assailant yanks my head back and shoves something cool and rough against my face. White spots dance across my vision as my muddled mind tries to process what is happening. With my last ounce of strength, I scream and clamp down on the hand that holds me, earning a moment of reprieve from the attacker. Faster than I could’ve thought possible I’m out the door and running, yelling for help. But it’s late, and no one can hear me. I have just enough time to think I’m going to die before the figure is looming over me, and with a swift kick, my mind goes blank, submitting to the obscurity of my unconscious body.
I wake to a blinding fluorescent spotlight over my head. My arms and legs are bound to a chair in the middle of a small room. The cement floor is filthy and fences and various chains line the outskirts of the room. As I get my bearings, I spot three figures in a corner talking among themselves, though I cannot make out their words. Still drowsy, I manage to make a very unintelligent sound and draw their attention.
“Good, you’re awake. I’m Dimitri, it is such a pleasure to finally meet you, Jane,” a man says approaching me and extending a hand, an evil smirk plastered to his face. He is a tall man with massive muscles rippling across his arms and legs and has surprisingly fair features, though his skin looks gaunt and has a sickly yellow tinge to it. The other two wear white masks, and one appears to be a woman, though both stand at the same height and have the same dark hair and honeyed skin. When I don’t take the hand because of my bonds he simply chuckles and stares at me. My body still aches, and I feel the dried blood on my face crack as I lean forward and spit as close to Dimitris eye as possible. I’m rewarded with a surprised grunt as he wipes off the spit.
Sneering, he tsks me. “Come now, I expected more from you, Jane. I had hoped to do this the easy way… but, no matter. I’m sure you’ll be very compliant either way.”
“What do you want from me?” I sneer back, unwilling to let them see my fear.
“Why, only what we deserve, my dear! Brian, get the tools.” he says, turning to the masked figures, and the man named Brian disappears out from the corner into what appears to be another room.
My eyes dart around the room, searching for something, anything, that might help me evade these cruel people. A moment later, Brian returns with a bag and lays it out. I catch a sickening flash of silver as Dimitri plucks a scalpel from the pile.
“Jane. Let’s make this simple, shall we? I will ask you a question, and you will answer. Answer wrong and well…you don’t really need all of your fingers now do you? Good, let us begin.”
Terror blazes through my body as the reality of the situation dawns on me.
“Where is your sister Emma?” Dimitri asks simply, voice dripping with venom.
Bracing myself I reply, “I don’t know.”
Mock sympathy crosses his face as he lifts the scalpel. “Pity,” he says, “I quite liked your pinky.”
I thought I was prepared for the pain. The scalpel bit through my flesh as easily as it would butter as my screams echoed in the near empty room. Dimitri seemed to enjoy my pain.
“I will ask you one more time. Where is your sister Emma?”
I couldn’t remember when she had told me to stop by her apartment nearly 10 years ago, before we got into that argument. I hadn’t cared to even pay attention. Bracing myself once more I mutter, “I don’t know.”
Silent tears stream down my face as he takes my pointer finger this time, cutting it nearly to the second knuckle.
“Why…?” I manage to groan.
An amused smile appears on Dimitri’s face. “I’d have thought you would’ve guessed by now, Jane.” His face takes on a darker look as he continues.
“You took something important from me.”
“I don’t…I never.”
“Ahh but you did. Thanks to your little ‘discovery,’ we were forced to give up our freedom, to always tell the truth. I was quite the politician before you destroyed all of that. It isn’t right what you have done. To force the truth upon others. The truth is what we make it, or at least it was until you came along with your stern looks and pouty proposals. You forced me to say what I did not want to. And now, I will gladly return the favor.”
He pulls out a surgical syringe filled with purple fluids, and my heart drops. I’d know that substance anywhere. I invented it. Fear grips my body, and I watch helplessly as he pulls the plunger back and inches it toward my spine. His lips brush my ear as he whispers, “And this time I will take something important from you too. You might claim to dislike your sister, but killing her will leave a far bigger hole in you than I could ever put there myself because you’re going tell me where she is, and you’re going to know that you did this.
The needle violently pierces my skin, and with a gasp, warm liquid enters my body as the serum starts to take effect. I relax helplessly as it penetrates my central nervous system and forces me to obey, to tell the truth. The truth that I had wanted so badly for everyone else to tell, but that I would give anything to lie about now. My eyes glaze over.
“Where is your sister Emma?” Dimitri asks finally, a coaxing smile upon his face.
A tear drips down my cheek, but my face is blank and my tone even when I answer.
“Her address is 32 Dickenson Street in Virginia. She usually goes to the Manwell’s coffee shop each morning before going to work.”
His eyes glint with a twisted sort of excitement. “That wasn’t so hard now was it, Jane? Brian, show our guest out now. It was such a…a pleasure to have met you.”
Then as Brian kicks me in the face my mind is once more engulfed in darkness. I don’t mind the darkness now though. It shields me from the pain. The knowledge that my sister will die because of me. She was right all along. The memory of her voice haunts me like that of a damned soul.
“Keep it up, Jane, and you’re going to end up hurting someone. And it will be no one’s fault but yours.”
How badly I wished I’d listened to her, my younger sister. As I woke up I was back in my car, the only evidence that the whole thing hadn’t been a dream are my missing fingers and the 20 missed calls from my mother. All I can do now is destroy the serum and try to move on. To hope that that is enough. I used to think that honesty was the best policy in every situation, but now… now I don’t what to think.