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Chapter 1

Agony

I hate blood.  The way the stench lingers in the back of my throat.  How it clings making my skin itch.  I want to gag.  I ignored the warm slick spots on my skin.  Killing five men with long slim blades gets messy.

Centering myself, I opened my eyes.  The man at my feet lay drowning in his own blood.  My next target stood at the end of the courtyard.  I couldn’t be distracted.

“Are you certain these were your elite guards, Yusik?”

I did not look at the man standing just a few steps to my right.  The man who ordered me to kill.  He was always there.  He enjoyed these forays into death and despair.

Shifting my weight to the balls of my feet, I waited for the command.

The final rebel opened his mouth.  “I don’t have it!”

“But you did.  Where is it now?”

“Gone.  It’s already reached my contacts in the Hyperia.”

“I see.  You’ve sentenced more people to death then.”

“You wouldn’t dare.  You can’t cross the border, the defenses are-”

“A trifle.  Like your own.”

I glanced over at him.  Lord Drake Fall, the most powerful man outside of the Hyperia, smiled.  Triumph glittered around his large form.  His contempt cut like a laser through fog.  I shivered but tried not to let it show.  It was unnecessary, wasteful movement.  He glanced over at me.

“Calm down.” He growled.

My muscles relaxed responding to his command.  The gurgling at my feet stopped.  Drake grunted and turned away.  Satisfied for the moment.  I stifled a sigh, looking to Yusik.  His reaction at seeing me was expected.  Many things had changed in the last seven years.  But him turning traitor, selling information to one of Fall Intergalactic’s major competitors?  He had admired Drake.  Or maybe it was actually jealousy.  My experience was limited, so I could be wrong.  But this wrong?

“Now are you ready to pay for your crime, Yusik?  Or shall I have it start on the members of the household?”

“No, I alone am to blame.  They knew nothing of my plan.”  His voice was strong and sure now his eyes never wavering.  He had made up his mind.  Had he resigned himself to death?  Surely he wouldn’t go down that easily.  I flexed my fingers.  They ached from holding the hilt of the sword too tightly.  The movement did not release the tension.  The ache spread up my arm.

“You admit you have been helping the rebels on Byne too..”

“Yes.”

“Then there is nothing more to say.  Finish it.” Lord Fall growled at me.

I started forward.  There was a strange prickling along the base of my skull.  Yusik’s confident manner was gone.  He scowled at me, his breath rasping.

“Drake, you fool.  What have you done?”  He growled under his breath, “I am sorry child.  I was hoping to rescue you at some point, but there is nothing left.  Only a monster.”

I blinked and stopped a few steps from him.  He had been one of my instructors.  So who was the monster?  His anger was palpable.  The air around him quivered with unreleased energy.  I took a step back.

“You are an abomination and if I am to die, I will take you with me.”

I moved to the side to avoid his headlong rush.  It was like moving through water.  The ache spread.  My joints were on fire, my vision blurring.  He whipped around slamming his cane into my leg.  I parried the blow vibrating through me.  His hate dug into me with sharp claws.  I shoved him away.  I drew my sword ready to end it.  He lept forward as I lunged.  His full weight hit me knocking us both to the ground.  Blood poured thick and hot down the hilt, coating my fingers.  His gasp turned into a bubbly cough, but his eyes were clear and full of intent.

I barely managed to grab his arm as he stabbed down with a dagger.  Where had that come from? The prickling sensation spread, sapping my strength.  A cold hollowness clawed at my stomach sent shivers through me.

“Get up!  What the hell are you doing?” Drake’s shout echoed through the courtyard.

I ignored him focusing on the knife.  Yusik growled as he bore down with all his weight, his eyes glowing in the moonlight.  My arms were shaking with the strain.  The knife pricked my skin.  I put my feet in his stomach.  Shoving up with all my strength, I sent him flying over my head.  I staggered to my feet, the ground tilting under me.  What was this odd feeling?  It was growing stronger as it spread.

Yusik clambered to his feet.  A low gurgling chuckle reverberated around me.  Coldness burst in my middle making me shudder.  I fought to keep my breathing even.  I could not be losing control.  I never lose control.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy, to draw you out.  Leaking that information seems to have done the trick.  It is a shame that so many of us had to die.  If we achieve our goal, the sacrifice is worth it.  You deserve worse than death, Drake.”

The tingling intensified until it was a buzzing.  I shook my head trying to get rid of it.  My control was slipping.  I took a step forward and fell to a knee.  What was going on?  I looked up.  Yusik was smiling, his teeth glowing white in the moonlight.  He had seen his death.  It showed in his eyes.  Flickering blackness crept over him.

“We just wanted to destroy you and now, we have.  You should be feeling disoriented about now.”  He paused to cough, wiping a trickle of blood from his chin.  “My men had been treated with a special compound for the last several months.  Each drop of blood on your skin is laced with a powerful neurotoxin.  By killing these men you sealed your own fate.” He shook his head, the smile fading, “I didn’t want to kill you outright.  But there is no need to let it drag out.”

I lurched to my feet; my whole body tingling painfully.  I gasped as pain erupted behind my eyes.  He had murdered his men, killed himself, just to get to me.  I knew people loathed me, but this was madness.  The coldness was gone replaced by hollowness; a strange piercing ache lingered at its core.

If he wanted to kill the person responsible, he should put that dagger through Drake’s heart.  I gagged, agony ripping through me.  Part of me was screaming to kill him.  But that would not change my situation.  It had been a trap from the start.  Trembling quickly becoming a violent shaking.  It took all my will power to remain standing.  The screaming in my head was hard to ignore.  Yusik chuckled, the sound slicing through me.  My heart was going to burst under the strain staying upright.  How long since I had been at someone’s mercy?

“It’s no wonder you bed a Barendi, Fall.  You are just like them.  Wicked.  Conniving.  Only they would twist a child into such a wretched life.”

His words sent heat rushing through me.  Wretched?  Twisted?  It was not my choice to be this way.  Nothing was ever my choice.  Screaming.  I tried to regain control.  To shut it back behind the barriers.

Something slammed into my chest.  I bit back a yelp my head bouncing off stone pavers.  I blinked trying to focus through the pain.  It hurt to breathe.  His dagger was sticking out of my chest.  Just under my right collarbone.  I went to pull it out.  Agony swept through me.  What was this thing?  A non-energy based weapon?

“Now I’ve got you.” Yusik hissed as he lurched forward.  I struggled to get up, but my limbs wouldn’t move.

“Drake you are an idiot.  The Revolution will overthrow your corporation and without him, you will lose everything.  You can kill me, but you will never stop the Revolution.”

My despair overwhelmed me.  The screaming in my head drowned out everything.  I was falling.  Forever falling into a deep void of pain and suffering.  The hopelessness that lived there was a terrible desperate force.  It swallowed me whole.  A white-hot sphere of light enveloped me for an instant and then was gone.  I lay trembling.  What had just happened?  Yusik was gone; all that was left was dark stain on the stones.  It took a moment to realize the gravity of what had happened.  I had lost control.  The screaming had abated but still made itself known.  Footsteps rang across the courtyard vibrating painfully through me.

I made it to my knees light headed and nauseous.  Lord Fall strode toward me his eyes shadowed.  Apprehension wrapped around me.  I was not supposed to release my full power with out the command.  The screaming was harder to contain as the poison clouded my mind.  He would never accept such excuses, even if I could voice them.  He stood over me.  Without warning he reached out grabbing the hilt sticking out of my chest.

“What the hell were you thinking, you stupid little shit.  I did not tell you to use that.  If you can’t control it, you are useless.”

I gasped as he yanked the dagger free.  My hands pressed to my chest as if it would stop the pain.  Blood oozed in warm rivulets from between my fingers.   More blood dripped from the dagger, gleaming in the moonlight.  He held it up inspecting it careful not to let any of the blood get on him.

“Huh, simple but effective.  A ceramic blade.  Oh, well.  I guess we better get you to the ship and see about an antidote.  Although, I’ve got half a mind to let the poison run its course.”

The hilt connected solidly with the side of my head.

***

Awareness returned in bits and pieces.  First the pain.  Then a dull glow and a low humming.  Voices hovered around.  Flitting from one side to the other.  I didn’t try to comprehend them letting the sound wash over me.

“Vital are stable.”

“Inhibitor is within acceptable parameters.  Spiking at seventy-five percent of maximum containment.  Capacitor is nominal, bleed off of kinetic energy is at point oh nine.”

“Increase to one point zero and hold.”

“Spike at eighty percent.”

“Adjust accordingly.”

“Spike at eighty two percent.”

“Increase dosage of napro.”

“Increasing to 2 mils per minute.”  The pain faded to a tolerable level.  No longer a blinding agony.

“Spike has dropped three percent.”

Something began beeping.  A soft yet irritatingly insistent sound.

“He’s conscious.”

“Get all non essential personnel out of here.  Adjust inhibitor for emergency containment and raise the shield.”

“Adjusting.  Shield up at one hundred percent.”

I opened my eyes.  Drake was standing on the other side of the shield.  Two medics worked at a station behind him.  His expression did not change.  I tensed, restraints biting into my arms.  The table tilted so that I was nearly standing.  Bright white antiseptic light flooded the area with its coldness.

“I want a full work up done on that compound.  Are the preliminary results back?”  He crossed arms bigger than my thighs over a massive chest.

“Yes.  It was transmitted by osmosis and immediately began attacking the nervous system.  Muscle control and coordination where the first to be affected.”

“That was obvious from what happened.  Tell me something I don’t know.”

“It has already caused some minor brain damage.”

“Is it reparable?”

“Chances are excellent with the proper treatment.”

“Go ahead with treatment.  Otherwise keep him under observation.  No contact.”

“Yes sir.”

***

It was two days before they let me out of sick bay.  I shuffled bound between the two brawny Sentinels sent to escort me.  The deck tilted.  I stumbled knocking into the Sentinel to my right.  A cold fire blossomed in my gut.  I could not be this frail.  He wouldn’t need me anymore.

“Gods and demons, can’t you walk, stupid little runt.”

A heavy fist clubbed me to the deck.  I lay there trying to control the spinning.  The Sentinels argued above me.

“Lay off Tamik, he just got out of sickbay.”

“Who the hell cares?  It’s because of him that we’re delayed getting home.  My wife’s going to be furious.”

“Let’s just get him to the IC.  We can go grab a drink after, how’s that sound.”

Tamik grumbled something.  I rolled to my side, hands still cuffed behind me.

I flinched as the guard reached for me.  He laughed, a short derisive bark.  With one hand under my arm, he hauled me to my feet.  The IC was what they called the isolation chamber where I stayed during these longer trips.  It was a small room insulated and shielded to keep me from messing with any of the technology on the ship.  I had never tried to take over a ship, but they thought I could.  Nothing like being treated as a dangerous criminal before even committing the crime.

“Come on co-tac, I bet you could use a good stiff drink too, not that you’re going to get one.”  He snorted.  I shot a glare up at him.

“All he’s going to get is punished for what happened dirtside.  I heard that Drake just about blew a thermal coupler.  I guess he wanted that rebel alive and our trusty little co-tac here burnt him to a crisp.”  Gerad patted me on the head, almost sending me back to my knees.

“Lets just dump him off and be done with it.  This kid gives me the creeps.”

I was glad I was medicated.  It takes the edge off.  Blunts the colors and dulls my perception of others emotions.  They all hated me to varying degrees.  It gets tiresome feeling nothing but hate and fear.  Drake appeared in the corridor striding toward us.  My legs got weak and a chill ran through me.

“I’ll take him from here, Sentinels.”

He grabbed my elbow.  Whipping me around to face him.  A flash of alarm seared me, his anger raking through the drug induced haze.  He was in a murderous mood.

“Yes, sir.”  They both saluted and set off at a crisp trot.

I glanced sideways up at Drake.  His blue eyes narrowed to slits.  He backhanded me across the face.  I sucked in a startled breath.  The blow stung right through the fabric mask.  He turned dragging me along with him.

***

The air was cool and brisk as we walked down the extended ramp.  It was a perfect autumn evening, the stars hanging close and brilliant.  Taking a deep breath I reveled in the sharpness of the air, how it bit into my throat.  It had rained earlier and everything seemed to glisten in the floodlights.  I winced as my guard shoved me forward.  Even after three days, I was stiff and sore from the beating Lord Fall had given me.  He could be unforgiving at best and ruthless at worst.  I sighed and looked up at my home.

The vast manor sprawled on the hillside like some great spiny beast.  The tall spires were dark, lit only by the exterior floodlights.  Fall Manor was one of the oldest buildings on the planet.  Originally built by the first family to incorporate the planet, each successive generation had expanded the grounds, until it overran the hillside.  It still housed the Fall family, owners of Fall Intergalactic, the largest family owned conglomerate in the galaxy.  The family I had served since I was a small child.

Lord Fall would no doubt already be in his wing of the manor.  I looked up as I walked across the pavement.  The light was on in his study on the top floor of the main tower.

I trudged up the steps to the servant’s entrance on the main level.  Suppressing the heat building in my chest, I shook my head.  Waste of energy to be upset that Lord and Lady Fall owned me, owned my abilities.  It was forbidden for me to feel anything.

We descended to the sublevels where my chamber was.  I hesitated at the entrance to the lower barracks.  The stone archway glistened with condensation in the low light, the corridor stretching away into darkness.

The Sentinels, guardians of the Fall family for generations slumbered in their chambers.  Each chamber housed four guards.  The day guard was already in their chambers.  The night guard was on duty.  I was neither.  As the covert tactical operations specialist, or co-tac, I specialized in offensive maneuvers carried out off planet.

My guard stopped at an empty chamber.  This Sentinel squad had been wiped out last month during a mission.  Trying to infiltrate and sabotage a Yamagata Shipping space platform they had tangled with the Yamagata corporate militia.  There were no survivors on either side.  The rest of the squads had been subdued for several weeks afterward.  I watched her say a quiet prayer for the dead, touching fingertips to her lips.

Danger and imminent death were part of the job, we all knew that, but it was still hard to take.  They at least had the comfort of the close-knit squads.  I ran my fingers over the smooth place where their names had been, the burnished metal glinting in the low light.  There had been no funerals.  When they had not returned, they had ceased to exist.  I had been scheduled to go with them, but had been severely injured during a training session the day before.  I let my fingers linger for a moment longer wondering if things would have been different if I had been with them.  Or maybe I would have died along side them.  Would anyone have said a prayer for me?  The Sentinel gave me a dark look and I thought she was going to hit me.  She shook herself and turned away, her sadness lying close about her like a shroud.

We continued down the corridor the cold hollowness in my chest growing stronger.  My chamber waited at the very end of the hall, apart from the others.  The locked door sprang open at her touch, the lights glowing dully in the small space as if the room wasn’t worthy of their effort.  I glanced at her as I walked past, but she wasn’t looking at me.  She was looking at my room.

The only things in the small space were the few things I was allowed.  My pallet was one I had salvaged.  My spare pair of boots stood at the end of the pallet, closest to the door.  A small pile of rations and water containers huddled in the far corner.  That was new.  She cocked an eyebrow at me but didn’t say anything, shutting the door instead.

Flopping down on the pallet, I unbuckled my boots and eased them off.  Next, I peeled the sweat and blood encrusted uniform off.  I had not been allowed out of my room on the ship, further punishment for my failure, and it had only a toilet no shower.  Lastly I untied the headband and mask laying the black fabric next to a spare uniform.  My fingers lingered on the metal attached to the headband.  It was dented and scuffed, testament to its harsh treatment and mine.  Sighing I sank down on to the tattered pallet, too tired to bother getting permission to go down to the bath hall.

###

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5 Comments »

  1. I don’t often read sci fi. I spend most of my time on the opposite side of the aisle, among the fantasy books. You, however, have made me a fan, Davonne. Thank you.

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