When Leng the Torturer captured me, I pretty much knew what would happen. Okay, I thought as his oily henchmen trooped down the corridor, stopped, and trooped back to my hiding place. Now for torture. That’s what Leng does. Whole squadrons of space marines have vaporized themselves rather than be taken as his prisoners, and I would have done the same if I’d had a vaporizer or been wearing a belt and sitting in a chair. But they got me.
The henchmen led me down the hall, kind of snickering and casting meaningful glances the way you do when no one is going to get tortured except one guy. They pushed me into a room, and then it was just me and Leng.
It was a kind of operating room with lights and a gurney, and he was talking in that way that sounds nice but is actually scary. He invited me to sit. I sat. He smiled. He said that I would surely go insane after he had tortured me for a while, but don’t worry. He would keep me alive when I could not.
What I want to do here, I thought, is delay torture. I figured once he started torturing me I was done. You hear about people who are triumphantly rescued after years of imprisonment and suffering, but in my opinion those are not happy stories. I did not want to survive the attentions of Leng the Torturer. My best bet was to widen the window between now and when torture began, if only to marginally increase the odds of someone saving me before he started. I asked him what he was going to do to me. He seemed to think that was funny. Probably a lot of people ask.
“Well,” he began, and we froze at the sound of plasma fire in the corridor. A henchman screamed. Leng looked at me for one second, and then he dived for an air vent at the base of the wall. It looked way too small for him, and he pulled himself out of his clothes wriggling through.
“He’s in—oh Jesus!” a space marine shouted as he burst through the door.
“What is it, Johnson?” another marine shouted from just outside the room.
“He’s standing,” Johnson shouted.
“Sweet Jesus, Johnson,” the other marine shouted, his voice cracking. “Help him. Give him some water.”
Johnson took a step toward me and stopped. He looked confused.
“Didn’t he break your big toes?” he said.
“No,” I said. “I outsmarted him.”
“Normally the first thing Leng’ll do with a biped is break your big toes to limit your mobility,” Johnson said. “Then he makes you stand on them.” He looked at me as if I might collapse at any moment.
“Welp,” I said. “He didn’t.”
You can see from this exchange that I offered no assessment of Leng’s abilities as a torturer or what it might be like to be tortured by him. I did not experience that. But you know space marines. They mop corridors and write letters, so to speak, and by the time I got back to a civilian cruiser everybody was talking about how someone had escaped torture at the hands of Leng the Torturer.
“He doesn’t really have hands,” I said, the first time somebody asked me about it.
It was about two hours after the marines dropped me off. I had a shower and a disinfect, and then I went down to the hospitality bay for a drink. I was talking to a gray lady in a gray compression suit when she started looking at me funny, like someone was behind me. It turned out my picture was on TV, as part of a news story about how I had escaped from Leng.
“Leng the Torturer?” she asked.
“Yup,” I said. “Took the whole cruiser. Everybody dead but me.”
“And he didn’t torture you at all?”
“No ma’am,” I said. “I stalled him.”
She looked at me skeptically. After a long sip of coffee, she said she guessed he wasn’t that bad.
Again I want to make it clear that I did not guide her assessment in any way, nor even exercise much control over the conversation. I simply told the truth, as I have in all the interviews and interrogations and holo-modelings that followed. And yet, understandably but also, I emphasize, erroneously, Leng the Torturer holds me responsible for recent changes in his public image—even for events in his life.
For example, two months ago an away team in Kappa Sector resisted when Leng tried to board their geosurvey runner. They were killed in the incursion, pretty much immediately, but it was the first time in history a civilian crew had not voluntarily asphyxiated upon making contact with Leng the Torturer. A few thousand hours later, Leng actually retreated from a battalion of space marines that had become moonblocked from their command ship. They were about to vaporize themselves, believing he had the superior force, but by the time they were done voting he had begun to withdraw.
They were dumbfounded. So was the rest of the universe. Had Leng the Torturer been sliding by on his reputation? How many previous crews had vaporized when he only appeared to have the upper hand? Could his heretofore relentless success as a space pirate be the product of confirmation bias?
I have no opinion about these questions. I do not know Leng the Torturer, except for the brief interaction I described here, and I offer no assessment of his character or abilities. Please stop finding me. I want only to live a normal life of interstellar travel and business. Your stated plan to “show [me] what torture means” is unlawful and not necessary, as I have never professed any expertise. With your cooperation, Mr. Leng, I never will.