They strapped Partridge to a chair and injected him with so many drugs that he could not help but tell the truth. Once, long ago, he had been trained to fight such drugs. He would put a shield in his mind of words, words like "I dreamed that one had died in a strange place near no accustomed hand; and they had nailed the boards above her face, the peasants of that land, and, wond'ring, planted by her solitude a cypress and a yew: I came, and wrote upon a cross of wood, Man had no more to do: 'She was more beautiful than thy first love, This lady by the trees': And gazed upon the mournful stars above, and heard the mournful breeze." Never a speech of Father's. It was to be something frivolous, something that could be quickly discarded for another shield. But Partridge had always used poetry.
They used old injectors left over from more dangerous times, not caring if the needles broke in his skin. They repeated it over and over again until Partridge couldn't help but speak truth.
"They kept me in a chair like this until my Interval wore off. They noticed a slight trembling in my left pinkie and asked if I was scared. I told them I wasn't and what a silly question that was. So they waited a few more hours until I realized that I wasn't scared, I was terrified. My first emotion was fear."
It had been over nine years before. Preston had been so new he squeaked and his mentor was already on his way into sin. What a legacy for the boy.
"I did not go back. I couldn't. I was Errol there and I couldn't, wouldn't, go back to being Cleric. But I couldn't stay."
Preston had been hard under his hands from training, and he had a wife. But there were some urges that Prozium couldn't stop and wives would never understand. It was always so much easier to take comfort in each other. Only another Cleric would understand the stresses and pressures. Citizens thought Clerics were demigods, all powerful, all dangerous, and so addicted to the dose that even the thought of going off it was sense offence.
"I never spied. Not everyone off the dose is a traitor. I merely enjoyed feeling. But I did help in the Underground. I told them how much we usually found in one stash and how many decoys could be allowed before an investigation would be started. But I never told them anything they didn't already know."
Their first time had been in Partridge's rooms and they had bit at each other so hard they both had marks for days. The next morning, Preston took a double dose. Partridge wanked in the bathroom.
"You've never lived until you've felt."
The incinerator was at the other end of the gauntlet. All active duty Clerics lined the walls with eyes forward. Preston was four down from the tube and Partridge knew that his partner was receiving extra attention. There would be merit for having brought in a rogue, but still questions. Preston would never say goodbye. Partridge hoped that John was off the dose. He had lived every day like his last, but he still wanted a legacy. The corruption of John Preston would be a laudable achievement. The EC-10 books he had read spoke of Heaven and Hell. Partridge hoped that wherever he went, Preston followed later.
He took his first step and felt almost naked. He wore plain civilian clothes and the Clerics were in dress uniform. Each face was schooled to be as harsh as possible and Partridge felt confident in his ability to match their skill.
"Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair." The words were like a warm blanket in the cold room and Partridge saw several younger Clerics visibly flinch. They all knew his words were EC-10, but none could move to cover their ears. "And dream about the great and their pride. They have spoken against you everywhere."
His long strides had him halfway down the hallway and he could see the Incinerator was ready for him. He didn't fear it. He wasn't leaving anything behind that he would miss. Surely the afterworld had no Father.
"But weigh this song with the great and their pride," Partridge's voice was for Preston's ears alone as they made eye contact. Preston could not look away first. It would be a sign of weakness. "I made it out of a mouthful of air." Partridge couldn't move his bound hands, but he could make this moment only for him and the man with whom he had shared passion for almost a decade. "Preston?"
"Sense offender." Preston's voice was cold and modulated, regulation, but Partridge could see the tick in his eyes. He hadn't had Prozium for three days.
"And I that have not your faith," Partridge whispered. "How shall I know that in the blinding light beyond the grave we'll find so good a thing as that we have lost?"
Preston looked away in clear dismissal. Partridge smiled. So Preston understood.
The Incinerator's door was open and Partridge walked calmly inside. They had offered him Prozium that morning as a chance to atone for his sins. He had laughed in their faces. He had never been so alive.
"Their children's children," he said as the doors closed in front of his face, "shall say they have lied."
His last sight was of Preston calmly walking away.