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From then on I answered all its questions, all right. I had learned that that was a good idea. When I hesitated, all it had to do was gesture toward the box with the helmet. Then I stopped hesitating right away.

See, no matter what you've heard, nobody ever holds out against serious, protracted physical torture. The body doesn't allow it. When real agony starts, the body cuts the volitional part of the brain right out of the circuit. It doesn't matter what your intentions are. First you suffer, then you scream, then you do whatever the person inflicting the pain wants you to do, including giving away every secret you ever knew.

Bureau doctrine told us there were things we could sometimes do about it, provided you had a chance to do them-including, as a last resort, biting down on a capsule of one of the Bureau drugs that turn off all physical sensations, so the guy who's interrogating you can do any horrible thing he likes and you just don't feel a thing. Provided, that is, that you've had a chance to get the capsule into your mouth ahead of time. Even that doesn't really solve the problem. You know exactly what is happening when the guy starts inflicting major and irreversible damage on the only body you own. Then you almost certainly talk anyway.

I didn't have to go the way of irreparable body damage. The pain was enough. I talked, and kept on talking, for a very long while.

I don't know how long, exactly. The only way I had of measuring time was by the internal clocks of my belly, bladder and bowels. By their count, that first round of questioning went on forever. I told the glass machines everything there was to tell about the Scuzzhawks, Green-glass taking it all down with his microphones and lenses. That wasn't the end of it. Then Pinkie switched without a pause to questions about the precise nature of their smuggling operation, and what "smuggling" meant in the context of Earth's more or less independent political entities called "nations," each with its own laws about what was forbidden or taxed. And then it wanted a detailed catalogue of all the sorts of things that were smuggled-dope, money for laundering, weapons-and then what the weapons were used for. Which led to many more questions on some large subjects. Crime. Terrorism. Why such aberrations were permitted to continue when they obviously interfered with the orderly workings of government and commerce.

Then, without warning, the lights went out in the camera lenses. The green-glass machine that had been operating them turned to the wall and a door opened. And the pink one said, "Go through there and attend to your biological needs. We will resume when you have finished."

I hesitated. Perhaps I hesitated a moment too long, because my headache was still slowing my reflexes, but the machine wasn't patient. It reached out toward me in a way I didn't like. I turned and hurried to the doorway.