Can I just say I’m really looking forward to school starting next month? Growing up, I always thought summer was a glorious time of play and adventure. I can’t help but think I drove my parents as nuts as the Wee Horde make me. Still, I’m managing to progress on projects, which’ll see write-ups elsewhere when the time comes. Regardless, here’s part two of what I started last week.
“Get up, Convict.”
The words didn’t register as more than sounds. My head felt as though it were packed with drive insulation. Not the good kind, but the cheap stuff. The kind that looks like spike vine under magnification. The fragile crap that splinters and works its way under your skin if you don’t handle it with protective gloves. In fact, that’s what my skin felt like. All of it. It was somewhere between the worst itch you’ve ever had, and a burn just short of deadening the nerve endings. And I couldn’t move.
“I said, get up,” the voice repeated. It sounded tired, as though resigned to an unpleasant job.
I tried to open my eyes, and thought I succeeded in fluttering my lids. Maybe. I could almost feel my limbs, but everything was heavy, and my muscled refused to obey the broken commands issuing from my half-conscious brain. Someone nearby sighed and muttered under their breath.
“Get him up.”
Someone, a second someone, chuckled. I immediately hated whoever it was. Heavy footsteps clumped across what sounded like bare ship plate decking, and I heard a spiteful buzzing I recognized as prisoner control rod. Hell, I’d used them on occasion. The compact rod induced an electrical current that could be dialed to the desired result, from a warning tingle all the way up to a zap that locked down a sophont’s motor functions. I’d heard of hacked versions that were used as torture and execution implements. My heart pounded as I realized I was about to be on the receiving end.
I increased my efforts, and thought my fingers might have wiggled. Just a bit.
“Hold on, Crind-“ the first voice started, and then there was a crackle and pain consumed my tiny world. I might have thrashed. I certainly tried. I know I screamed, though I couldn’t tell if my mouth was open.
“Void take you, Crind, turn that off.” Anger bubbled in the first voice, and after a brief infinity, the pain receded. I didn’t feel any better, though. I could feel my body twitching in the aftermath of the jolt from the control rod, and I could smell the sour stench of bile. And taste it, too. I must have vomited. I could feel involuntary tears leaking down my face.
My eyelids finally fluttered open. At first, everything was a blur, as though I hadn’t used my eyes in a long time, which made no sense.
Flat light shone from a panel on the ceiling above whatever I lay on, illuminating bare hullmetal bulkheads. A shape stood backlit, and after a long moment, my uncooperative eyes adjusted. I wished they hadn’t.
Lank hair hung from a lumpy skull, framing a scarred and sallow face. This must be the overzealous Crind. Muddy brown eyes lurked under beetling brows which gave him a perpetual glare. Protruding cheekbones dropped into hollow cheeks which framed a plug nose over lips twisted by a scar. If I hadn’t been so confused by my circumstances, I’d have laughed at the caricature of a sadistic prison guard. The sick light in those shadowed eyes stilled the urge, however.
“Back off, Crind,” the first voice ordered. The speaker was just out of my field of vision. The anger I’d heard before simmered just below the surface. “Doc, need you to take a look at-“ the voice paused and then ripped off a string of alphanumerics. “There’s something hinky about this one.”
My too-heavy head jerked on my neck as I tried to lift it to get a better view. The universe spun, and nausea roiled in response. I heard a muted groan, and realized it was me. What in space had happened to me? Was I in a drunk tank somewhere? I remembered packing the few things I was going to take with me, and wiring an order to my bank liquidate my assets. Andy might have made me a noble, but that wasn’t going to keep me anywhere in Theban space when it was obvious I was no longer wanted. The old, familiar pain spun a dark counterpoint to the nausea twisting my guts.
More footsteps sounded on the deck plates, and then another figure blotted out the light from the overhead. This one was female, wearing the white coveralls of a physician over a compact frame that suggested she got plenty of exercise. A name strip on her right breast read Corama. Auburn hair was cut short around a face covered in freckles. Disinterested blue-gray eyes looked at me over a frown of concentration as she held a diagnostic wand to my forehead, momentarily blocking my vision.
I tried to speak, but it came out a gurgle.
“Shush,” she murmured. The diagnostic device chimed, an incongruously pleasant sound. She move the device to my chest, and set it down on bare skin, which was when I realized I was unclothed. Mostly. I wore a set of shorts. Still wore them, my brain said, which I didn’t understand. She started prodding my abdomen with unpleasantly strong fingers. The device chimed, again, and she slowly ran it over each of my limbs in turn.
The physician straightened and turned away from me, and even the shapeless coveralls couldn’t conceal the curves under it. And I wasn’t the only one to notice. Crind had retreated to the corner of the small compartment, and turned a burning gaze on Dr. Corama. An unpleasant suspicion gelled in that part of my mind not suffused with misery.
“This man is suffering from a concussion, as well as stasis shock. Who put a concussed prisoner under stasis sleep? That’s incredibly unethical, as well as stupidly dangerous.” She bit off the words. I was glad she wasn’t angry at me.
“I don’t know, Doc,” the first voice said, back to the original tired monotone I’d first heard. “Manifest lists Convict D315B9-57 as one Burtran Avender, convicted of embezzlement and fraud, sentenced to five years in the mines. Doesn’t say anything about a concussion or stasis.” A note of irritated confusion crept into the voice. “Doesn’t even say anything about solitary confinement. He should have been in a bunk room with the others.”
“Well, he’s not likely to be violent, or he wouldn’t have been sent to where he could work off his debt to society,” the physician responded, twisting that last phrase into a mockery that set a chill of dread settling into my unresponsive limbs. Dr. Corama held something up to her mouth and spoke. “Willems? Yeah, get a float cart up here. On the prisoner transport. There’s an anomaly, but he’s got a concussion. No, I’m not having him carried down. Float cart, I said. I’ll wait here. Yeah, he’s the only one needs attention. Everybody else has the bumps and bruises you’d expect.”
She lowered the communicator and turned back to the unseen first voice.
“Regim, I’m taking him to the infirmary for treatment,” she raised her voice over his protests. “I’ll use the restraints, but they’re unnecessary. He can barely move on his own, and he’ll probably need to be in bed for at least a few days, just for stasis shock alone.” A note of humor entered her voice, and I imagined she was smiling, though I could only see her backside. And the unpleasantly watchful Crind. “Just tell the Warden I bullied you.”
Regim sighed in acquiescence. “Out, Crind.” That worthy jumped, and the unwholesome light in the guard’s eyes turned briefly to fear before he turned and stumped out the door and out of my vision. Dr. Corama blocked me from seeing the elusive Regim as he followed his minion.
“Well, Mr. Burtran Avender,” the physician said as she looked down at me, “we’re going to do our best to get you healthy and hale, but you’re going to have to cooperate. Too many of your fellow convicts think the infirmary is a place to play silly buggers. They forget that I’ve got a control rod, too, and my orderlies are all hospital corpsmen in Her Majesty’s Assault Corp. So if you think you’ll be able to get away with anything, I’d really recommend against it.” She shut her mouth, lips pressed into a firm line.
Even if I’d been able to protest my innocence, I didn’t think she’d have been swayed, but I still couldn’t do more than inarticulately gurgle. The nausea began to subside, but it was immediately replaced by a bubbling stew of dread and apprehension overlaying the still-fresh pain of betrayal and rejection.