Broken Soldier by Orin Drake
A Novel In Progress.

        Chapter 11

        There were dreams. At least, he thought they were dreams since he was moving from one to the other, appearing to sleep through them. Bits and pieces, motion, voices... He couldn't really remember them, they weren't clear, and he couldn't manage to find the energy to pay attention while they were happening. He just knew when he was somewhere still, somewhere dark and warm and far away.
        Then the pieces became a little clearer. Bit by bit, there were memories returned through a sleeping haze. Names, faces... sirens, and... then what..?
        "...know... wake up... still raining..."
        A voice he knew, he thought. Was pretty sure. Female... worried? Irritated, more likely.
        Footsteps. Something... cold. Not unpleasant, but very cold...
        He gasped, trying to form the word, trying to call her back. His throat was too dry, tongue numb and heavy in his mouth--
        Shuffling. He heard movement by his side, but his eyes wouldn't open. He thought he heard his name but he couldn't be sure...
        Something warm was on his forehead. Then on his shoulder.
        "...lax, Rean. Calm down."
. His whole body was overcome by intense pins and needles, every muscle twitching with the sudden onslaught of feeling.
        "...recovery from the withdrawal... over soon..."
        Pained and frightened--he wanted the whole story. Everything; he needed to know and he needed to understand. "R-- 'Kshi..."
        "Ssh." Warmth on his forehead again. "Just relax and be patient. It'll pass."
        He slowly realized that his hearing was coming back fully, though it was tinged with a dull hum. Once the vicious tingling slowly left his limbs, he also realized that he was completely exhausted--but unwilling to surrender back to sleep. He opened his mouth to speak again, instead finding something cold pressed to his lips. Cold, wet; instinct told him to accept, and he was rewarded with slow sips of water.
        "You're still dehydrated." The quiet, familiar voice informed him. "And sensitive to light, so be careful. There are just a few candles in here now."
        ...Here... "Where?"
        "I don't know yet." The voice that was unquestionably Rakashi's admitted. "Language barrier. I suppose that says enough about distance..." She sighed in annoyance. "This is an inn, though. I know that much."
        Rean lifted shaking hands to rub over his still-closed eyes, carefully. They ached in their sockets, making him even more unsure about opening them. "How're you so awake?" His throat felt seared, scratchy... but at least he could speak.
        "Wouldn't be the first time I've been through this." She informed him dryly. "Knocked out via electric pulse device. kept sleeping through some pretty damn strong drugs... but withdrawal gets easier, apparently."
        The ice that moved through her voice made him shiver. Slowly, tentatively, he began to crack his eyes open, immediately overcome even by the soft candlelight. It was an instant headache, aching from the bridge of his nose to deep within his skull--but at least it was short-lived. He didn't want to ask what he was thinking. Maybe he just didn't want to know so soon.
        Something about her silence seemed to suggest that she wasn't all that willing to be asked, either. Rean felt her push against the bed to stand, then heard her quietly walk across the room. She didn't leave at least, which made him feel the slightest bit better.
        "You know as much about what happened as I do, more or less." She finally spoke, staring out the window at the rainy night outside. It had been raining heavily when she'd woken, never letting up enough to let her see what was outside. Exploring while Rean remained unconscious hadn't seemed like a good idea, and the fact that he'd woken two full days later confirmed that he probably wouldn't have been anything more than a panicked mess if there were no one around at the time. "There are two people who run this inn, an old man and a young woman who appear related. Clean towels and bedding are left outside the door every morning, along with food for both of us three times daily. I can only assume they've been paid handsomely for this service, but the language barrier prevents me from asking."
        Those things really weren't his concern, despite being good to know. Fighting to keep his eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time no matter how much they were watering, Rean allowed himself to play back the last events at the Tower in his mind. Certainly Rakashi knew something more. "What... happened there? I remember... the siren and..." Demi. He didn't want to say that part out loud.
        She sighed quietly, turning back to him. "I'd gone to report to the admiral... but he was dead." Not that she had any remorse in her voice for that bastard. "I was a little understandably surprised and the blood was still fresh, so going out in the hallway to see if the killer was still around seemed like the best idea." She paused uncomfortably. "I saw someone sprinting toward me."
        "Captain Dulce." He guessed softly, not wanting to use the man's familiar name.
        Rakashi nodded, sure he could sense it even if he couldn't see it. "He was visibly upset. I'd use the word afraid, more, actually..." Trailing off, she remembered the events detail by detail as she'd spent the last two days doing. As she continued, her voice lost emotion and tone; it was like a dull report, forcefully removing herself from the moment so as not to let anything interfere with the events unfolding. "He insisted there was no time to explain, that I needed to get to my office. I wasn't about to let him go, so I insisted he accompany me." The laugh was weak, fake. "He didn't seem to have the time to argue. It was on the way down that the siren went off."
        Rean could imagine the rest pretty easily. She'd asked Demi what was going on, and he'd probably dodged the question several times before she finally lost patience completely. That still... answered nothing... "What now?" he hadn't entirely meant to ask out loud.
        "Now..." she tasted the word, its meaning lost over the days. "You try to eat."
        It wasn't what he'd meant. They both knew that. He was enormously grateful for her answer, however.


        Keeping food down was the hardest part of the first day. His hands shook and his eyesight phased in and out for the first several hours, hearing a bit spotty from time to time. It was still easier to deal with than a sour stomach, somehow.
        Knowing that Rakashi was still alive as well was a help. Having her so obviously watch over him was a little strange, slightly disconcerting, but not unappreciated. She seemed to stay close to the window, for the most part... staring out at endless rain and wondering where it was they'd wound up. He wasn't sure why she didn't just go out to explore, but he was admittedly glad that she was close. Someone familiar, someone he could maybe trust...
        Rean never questioned that much. He didn't really question any of it, possibly being too much in shock to do so. Far too surprised over... everything. His life had changed in seconds and he just didn't understand how that was possible. He'd been too exhausted to get out of bed on his own until the following morning, damn well needing to use the bathroom--but he'd been woken by a knock at the door.
        The general responded with no hurry, movement cautious as she approached. Sitting up with a little difficulty, he watched her open the door. Surprise came first, then a puzzled expression as she took the envelope that she was handed. Nodding in thanks, she closed and locked the door before slowly making her way to the desk. Envelope placed on its polished surface, she simply stared at it for what may have been several minutes. Maybe she was gathering the courage to look inside... and Rean dare not interrupt even though the desire to know what was inside was nearly enough to get him to open it.
        Slowly, she reached for the off-white paper, neatly tearing the side of the envelope open and pulling the note from inside. He held his breath along with her as he watched, paper unfolded delicately and with hardly a sound. The reading was silent, Rakashi completely still save for her eyes.
        "G-General..?" Rean prompted softly, seeing her stop and then read the note over again. There was a very uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach that had nothing to do with the reason he'd so desperately wanted to get out of bed in the first place.
        She cleared her throat, for a moment having forgotten that she wasn't alone. "Andrew." She responded quietly, voice tinged with an emotion that she was trying to reign in. "He's here."
        He didn't recognize that name. It probably didn't matter. "Wait for me." He insisted, not knowing what he was asking and being quite aware that he had no right to request anything--but it would seriously suck if anything dramatic happened while he was in the bathroom.


        She'd insisted that he stay in the room and rest. Strongly insisted. Maybe he'd just been around her for so long that he found it easy to strongly insist right back that he didn't exactly want to be left out of this conversation. Even if he had the feeling it might turn into more than just "conversation"... but Rakashi knew what she was doing. Hopefully. He just had to know, needed to be there and hear and see, despite slightly trembling legs and provided clothes that didn't quite fit right. Shit, if Demi had been there--
        Rean immediately shoved that thought from his mind. Walking a straight line was requiring more concentration than usual anyway, adding to the uncertainty of the world around him. At least the general was kind enough to walk slowly, which was a little odd in itself. Maybe she wanted the company? Or this was just to brace herself. Her complete silence during their walk was more than a little uncomfortable, something very much noticed. She seemed focused to a sharp point...
        And that did seem a bit necessary, he supposed. With every step, he swore he could see that coldness that she was known for become ice, little by little. Armor, maybe. This did feel like a bit of a war, marching on toward the unknown... not that he would know anything about that.
        There was just too much to think about, and too little known. Far less understood. He focused instead on Rakashi's pace, on trying to match it as he followed. Wherever they were going wasn't a public place, but another room that appeared to be on the opposite side of the inn from where they'd been staying.
        She stopped at a specific door, giving the hallway surrounding them a long look, up and down. No traps that she could sense, no one spying, not a sound or a single indication that this was a trick. Careful fingers rested on the doorknob... a rare moment of naked uncertainty in her expression. It passed as she took a breath, preparing; and that was all that she'd needed. There was no more hesitation as she turned the knob without knocking.
        Inside, there were no defenses. Just a man sitting in a chair turned toward the door, having expected them. There were two more chairs facing him, left and right, as if set up for a bit of conversation.
        While Rakashi took the chair to the man's front right without a word, Rean stopped short and stared. Even without the uniform, there was no doubt in his mind that this man was the janitor. The one he'd asked Demi about just before everything...
        "Sit." She managed to order and invite at the same time, not even looking at him. Her eyes were on the janitor, on Andrew, and Rean could only sit numbly and wait for this all to make sense.
        Finally, as prepared as he suspected he would ever get, Andrew began speaking. "You have to understand their intentions. Our intentions."
        Rean expected... something. Anything. Violence, yelling, maybe worse. All he got from the woman at his side was blankness. Silence. An unnerving clarity about exactly how closely she was listening.
        The man continued in a show of blazing courage or phenomenal stupidity, trying to remain calm in that golden-eyed glare. "You, Rakashi... you were... you are..." His hands balled into fists with frustration, eyes averted for a moment. The words weren't coming as he'd hoped, the explanation seeming to escape even him. If nothing else it made him seem honest. Afraid. "You're here because of an experiment."
        Silence could be far more than just deafening--it could grasp one by the throat and shake with a demon's ferocity. Still nothing from the woman, no outward reaction. She was waiting for more.
        Andrew continued, spurred on. "You don't remember anything before the Rush because... technically, you didn't exist before then. At least... not as you are."
        Rean suddenly counted his blessings. He was already sitting down, which was good. He was too shocked to turn his head and see the general's expression, which was also good. Best of all, he was too weak and tired to panic.
        At last, Rakashi spoke. Low and expressionless, demanding with the barest threat of violence. "So what am I, then?" She revealed nothing of her thoughts on this, on her feelings. Just a sharp, shining blade taking human form.
        Andrew sighed deeply, looking more exhausted than the other two put together. "I was originally an experimental weapons technician for the Castle. That's why I was brought on to consult on... you. On your project." His voice had begun to tremble at that point, showing everything from anger to sadness--but the fear began to fade from it entirely. "I honestly don't know who's responsible for the idea, but I remember it being explained to me. That there's some... 'thread'. A thread that's energy, that runs through all of existence and links everything together. Sometimes... life moves through the thread, too. Maybe souls, I... I wouldn't pretend to know."
        "Go on." She ordered, far too calmly.
        The man bowed his head, continuing to speak even though the words themselves appeared to make him ill. "All I can tell you is that someone found out about this thread, and the idea of individuals--souls, people--being transfered by it. The theory was that one could be... 'captured' as it passed." Andrew forced himself to look up, to make eye contact even if it made him physically pained to do so. "But it required energy. That's what I was there for, to try and figure out... how to create, then harness this energy to make it work... and how to trap what came through because of it. It was all sort of silly at the time, but the brass was so insistent and we got it to the last stage. We experimented, and... well, it..."
        "Worked." She finished for him, soft but cold.
        Andrew nodded with a swallow. "The Rush was actually... us, on purpose." He winced as he spoke those words, stomach clenching. "I didn't know. I'd theorized and drawn up plans, but I didn't know they would take them to full power and... that was the energy. That was what brought you... into the crater..." A continent divided. Millions dead. Thousands wounded, remembering the horrors. The surrounding environment had been forever destroyed, and further still there had been mutations, mass die-offs, poisoned water...
        "This only makes so much sense." Rakashi spoke with absolutely no sign as to whether she believed him or not. Simply cold.
        Rean was listening in astonished silence, feeling every bit of the tension building. He was truly outside of himself, none of this seeming real but everything seeming too real at the same time. He had to be dreaming. He hoped that he was dreaming.
        The man, the not-really-janitor, took a ragged breath and looked down... then made eye contact with the general once again. "Someone figured out that your... 'kind'... makes a habit of traveling that thread. Specialize in it, even. And, according to whoever was in charge... it wouldn't be the first time your kind has been here." Andrew took another bracing breath, as if feeling the hand of fate squeezing. "That was why they tried to do it artificially, I think. To... selectively choose one. I don't have evidence of that, but... it's all I've come up with. I can't comprehend why such an atrocity would be committed in the first place..."
        So calm. So very, perfectly, eerily calm. Her voice was a veil over things that the other two in the room both hoped would not be revealed in its truest form. "What were you, then? A weapons tech or a janitor?"
        Eye contact was lost once more, the man's hands balled into such tight fists that they were white, shaking... "Once I understood what was going on, I wanted to... befriend you, I guess. After the brass discovered that you weren't exactly the 'friendly sort', I was relegated to watching you."
        "As a janitor."
        "Yes." Swallowing, he tried desperately to make a joke, "Who would suspect the janitor?"
        Rakashi didn't laugh. But she didn't react negatively, either. "Who else was involved?"
        Andrew looked like he was going to be sick right then and there, glancing to Rean--who jerked back at the fleeting eye contact. "There were only a few people that I ever came into contact with. Dr. Taiyet, Admiral Quent... And Captain Dulce."
        "A-as... for Captain Dulce..." Rean found himself somehow able to speak, legitimately surprising himself as well as his company. "What was he?"
        The man answered the question to the best of his ability. "Technically, he wasn't involved... but I suppose he acted like a psychologist of sorts." Shaking his head, Andrew knew that didn't really explain or describe anything, but he didn't know any more than that. "I think the two of us were the only ones who every thought about our mistakes... ever thought about the person rather than the general..."
        "Not a general anymore." She dismissed, starting to feel too numb. Too distant. This was all... insane... and yet she couldn't deny that there was something to it. Something... there... "And Sarah?"
        Andrew seemed to be attempting to be assuring. "Sarah and Rean are the only innocents in this entire thing, as far as I'm concerned."
        Rakashi sat silent for a moment, gathering what was left of her conscious thought. Even if this were the truth, it only explained so much... She stood for no discernible reason, moving slowly and quietly. Rean swallowed hard, absolutely certain that she was going to gut the man with her bare hands--and he seemed just as certain, the very essence of surrender all around him.
        "Why now?" her voice remained soft, however. "Why all of this now?"
        Andrew shook his head, trying to stop himself from trembling. "What happened at the Tower... I don't know. I just know it was destroyed, someone killed Quent... and with nothing to keep you there, the captain decided to act." He laughed suddenly, the sound of it forced and tense. "Don't ask me why he decided to drag you two this far out. He never made sense to anyone."
        Well... that sounded like Demi, alright. Rean wasn't willing to move let alone say a word. None of this made any damn sense...
        "I'm ready, though." The man continued, voice far softer as he sat back. "You know the truth, and now... well. I've sinned against the universe by helping them. By... enabling them to kill so many. And by bringing you here in the most unnatural way possible." He looked at her, a calm certainty in her eyes as he nodded. "I'm ready."
        To die. Yes. She hadn't seen that often, but... enough. She understood--not that she allowed anything though her expression. After a long moment of silence, she merely answered, "Don't leave here."
        Rean's teeth clicked together as he closed his mouth quickly, seeing Rakashi turn to open the door in order to leave. He ignored his weak limbs, ignored the dizziness, and pushed away everything but the instinct to follow her out. Thought, thinking, would take much longer.


        They trekked right back to the room they'd started in, Rakashi making it to the desk... but no further. She just couldn't find the strength for another step, falling into the chair and remaining.
        Rean took it upon himself to close and lock the door, the action having become routine. The way his legs started to shake were not, of course, but he wished that desk were more familiar. And had another chair, preferably metal and creaky as hell to offer some sound, some... comfort.
        "I'm leaving tomorrow." She whispered, voice slightly rough from things he could only imagine. "The captain... he can't be that far."
        There were no answers for him in that announcement... but he could go along with it. "I have to find him, too."
        The word was quiet, Rakashi not turning to face him. "Why?"
        "I just do." Maybe he didn't know why, or just didn't care to figure it out. "I thought... he was my friend."
        She closed her eyes, slumping against the desk as she fought back a confusing flood of emotion. Everything that had kept her in that godforsaken place was either destroyed or in chaos, unknown... and then that possible revelation. She didn't know what she believed, but... she didn't have a memory of the Rush itself, nor the time before. Her whole life may have been a lie--and not just a lie, but a prison. Outside. There was the overwhelming need to feel the rain on her skin, to prove that she was out of that place, to wash its filth from her...
        "Can I come with you?" Rean asked outright, voice quiet. He'd managed to walk to the corner of the desk, more holding himself up than leaning against it.
        Only a shuddering breath answered at first. The forced control was becoming... painful... "Yes." She managed. But that was all.
        I am an idiot
. He told himself firmly. The fact established, he half-stumbled over to the woman and placed a hand on her shoulder. He was more surprised about Rakashi reaching up to place a hand over his own than he was about the fact she'd squeezed it lightly.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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