Mom and Pop Dave are arriving on the morrow, and Caer Dave is (mostly) ready. Fortunately, my ‘rents aren’t judgy, so the crud along the molding may stay there, and the bits of clutter, too. Kitchen’s clean, though, and my computer desk is back up (though now in the laundry roomoffice, my desktop is moved atop it, and I can *just* stretch my hand over and grab whiskey. Not that I’d do that while writing, whatever Hemingway says.
Oh, I’m recently taken with Teh Youtubes series, the Great War, with Indy Neidell. Mr. Neidell is the historian who also appears on Sabaton’s history channel, which goes into the history behind their songs. Mr. Neidell takes WW1 week by week, and started the series 100 years after the war started, so each video was released a century after the events described therein. Pretty freakin’ cool. I enjoy his presentation, as well, even if I have reason to question some of his emphases. Each video is about ten minutes long, so it’s a fairly rushed survey, but full of nifty stuff, and a decent eagle’s eye view of the war. He also has a series on the interwar period, and one on the second installment of the 20th C. War. I plan to view my way through both.
For now, however, I owe you words. I’d like to keep following my (inaccurately) named protagonist, for now. If y’all get bored of that, please let me know, and I’ll go back to our more usual nonfiction format, though I can’t help but think my value as an entertainer outweighs that of an instructor.
When last we left our hero, he had just received a literal shot in the arm from a man who then thanked him for saving his life. is he hallucinating? Does the Chief Corpsman really know him, a disgraced Empress’ Guardsman and erstwhile potential breeding partner for the not-at-all sinister Theban Royal Breeding Project?
Chapter 4: Remembrance and Revelation
It took me a couple of seconds to process what Chief Ferrer said. I’d been expecting it, honestly, and hoped he wouldn’t place me, but between the stasis shock and the drugs he’d just pumped into a vein, everything took a second longer than it should have.
“You’re still welcome, Chief.” My mouth continued without input from my brain, “I just wish I could have saved the rest of your unit.”
Ferrer’s face instantly took on the impression of hull steel, and I knew I’d made a mistake.
“Yeah,” he replied, his voice soft. Almost soft enough to miss the burr of suppressed grief and rage. “I wish you could have, too.”
Hard brown eyes bored into mine for a long minute while his fingers continued to fiddle with his screen. I tried to rein in my thoughts, but the drugs wouldn’t allow it. For an eternal instant, I was back at the Assault Corps encampment on Axilon Minor, where the cream of the Theban AC was participating in a greater regional exercise with several of the closest star nations.
I’d been just an unknown starship captain, a small-time free trader making a delivery of high end hooch for a buddy in the capital. The quartermaster who’d taken delivery had offered me the opportunity to hang around and watch the closing ceremony, and parked me near the field hospital set up to treat the inevitable injuries that such “friendly” war games produced.
I’d chatted up one of the corpsmen while we both watched the dick measuring contest out on the field, more to have someone to talk to than because I was that interested in watching elite units march around in a square. From his attitude, he was just as bored with the whole thing as I was. The little backwater I’d grown up on had been big on pomp and circumstance, so I’d seen much more impressive looking performances.
What had followed left his entire unit and the patients in the field hospital, as well as a shocking number of the elite warriors of a dozen polities dead. More personally, my ship had been destroyed in the fighting, and my crew killed with it. Never got paid for the job, either.
I’d somehow come out of the debacle smelling like an entire hectare of Margan blood roses, and Ferrer had … kept on being an AC corpsman. It didn’t seem fair.
“No, it wasn’t fair,” he replied, and I realized I’d spoken my thought out loud. “Y’know, I never did see you again. In person, at least. Plenty of newsbytes, though.”
“The war was weird.”
Ferrer barked a short, bitter laugh.
“Morons didn’t reckon on you, or on our response to their little coup attempt.” He eyed me, his gaze measuring. I realized with chill that while I may have saved his life, Ferrer was as much a stranger as Dr. Corama, and had actual reason to dislike me. “Long way from Her Imperial Majesty’s Own Guard to convict under an assumed name.”
I licked suddenly dry lips. His words could mean all kinds of things, and under the influence of whatever drugs he’d given me, I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t give me away. I’d stopped being able to trust the people around me, and the last thing I remembered was making plans to leave Theban space with what little Andy had left me and try to start over. Again.
My face must have betrayed something of my inner turmoil, as Ferrer’s face creased in a not-altogether hostile grin. I wouldn’t have called the expression outright friendly, either.
“Godsdamn, man, you look like you’ve forgotten how to trust. Life at the top must be even crazier than it looks from these un-rarified heights.”
“I … look, the last thing I remember, I was leaving Thebes entirely.”
Ferrer nodded. The sensy hounds followed Andy around more or less constantly, and while the Guard tried to wear armor all the time to minimize their own exposure, it wasn’t like their identities were particularly secret. An autocrat with a personal guard of peers meant that many of the Guardsmen – men and women – had their own fans. And if you weren’t ennobled before you were coopted into that life, the machine of Theban politics ensured you would be by the time you swore your oaths to the Empress. And gods help anyone the Empress invited to be part of the royal family.
“Which doesn’t much explain what you’re doing here.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
“Healing, for now. After that, well, I suggest you stop shaving.”
I nodded, sudden joy surging through me as I realized I could make even that small movement without my head jerking around on my neck.
Ferrer opened his mouth to continue, when the door opened behind him.
“As I was saying, Mr. Avender, you’ll be under surveillance while you’re in the infirmary. When the doc clears you-“
“The doc can speak for herself,” Dr. Corama said as she entered the room. Ferrer rolled his eyes at me, but his expression suggested he wasn’t concerned. Still, I knew she’d treat the AC corpsmen under her nominal command a sight differently from the prisoners they all treated.
Dr. Corama took the screen from Ferrer and read it, then scanned the readout on the cuff encircling my arm. Only then did she actually look at me.
“You seem to be responding well to the pharmaceuticals, but you’re going to be here for at least a few days until we’re sure you’re over the stasis shock, and the concussion is healing. Fortunately for you, Her Majesty’s government spares very little in the way of expenses, here at Tartarus.”
My heart sank. I wasn’t just a convict under a name not my own. I’d been somehow exiled to work the mines from which the Theban Empire extracted the peculiar ore which formed the basis of its growing primacy in local space. Tartarus was the prison into which Thebes fed its criminal element, and out of which came power.