“So what was it like, in the Specials? I mean I’ve done military, but that has to be different.”
Vitos hesitated imperceptibly, food partway to his mouth, just long enough for Charis to wonder if she had been wise to have asked. Then, as he continued to eat he was watching her with his disconcerting, penetrating green eyes.
“I can’t compare it to regular military,” he said when he had finished the mouthful. “I have never done that.”
“Well, it doesn’t mean you can’t say what it was like, surely? I was just thinking it would at least have a bit in common with regular military.”
“You mean like obeying orders and doing dangerous things?” He sounded sarcastic. But Vitos never did sarcasm. Charis gave a shrug.
“Kind of thing. I guess.”
Vitos didn’t say more right away and continued eating. Charis wondered if she had pushed too much on a sore spot.
“It is very hard,” he said, just as she was convinced he was not going to answer, “to describe something to someone who has not got the same – or similar – terms of reference.” He gave her a slight smile. “Believe you me I know, I’ve been on the receiving end of that often enough.”
“Would you be willing to try? It’s alright if you don’t want to, I can see why you might not. It must be difficult to talk about it.”
He considered a moment then gave a small nod.
“What do you want to know?”
“I was on a military stop-over once. There was this – this compound of Specials. Someone told me they were killing each other. I mean, that they were being allowed to. Which made no sense. Was it really like that? Or was I being laughed at?”
The green eyes seemed to weigh what she was asking, then they dropped away from her gaze as if he couldn’t bear to look at her.
“You mean ‘yes’ I was being laughed at or…?” She let it hang.
“Yes. The Specials kill each other. It’s part of how we were made to bond into units. Then the survivors were beaten down and formed up depending on how they behaved. Usually it was done with by the time you got anyone through training, but sometimes – something might flare up. Someone pushing for something, or someone others thought to be a weak link. But it was most always fought out one on one. We had to be careful. If it looked like turning too general we’d be stopped.”
He broke off and carried on eating. Perhaps he had seen noticed her reaction, although she had tried to hide it. Tried, because she wanted to know. So she asked more, to show she did.
“How – how could they stop it?”
“We were all on the Lattice with no way to shut it off. You can flood someone with so much data they can’t do anything, get paralysed – literally, physically. Or you can just drop the link and put everyone on a countdown. Amazing how fast that will work.”
“Drop off the Lattice and you have a count triggered. It hits zero and all the stuff they pack into your scalp port will fry out in your brain and kill you. Not very quickly, because it is not very big. But it will kill you.”
Charis was silent. Robbed of words.
Vitos watched her, his green eyes assessing. Then he said: “Maybe it’s not it’s so difficult for me to talk about as difficult for others to hear.”
From Trust A Few a Fortune's Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook and the first volume in the Haruspex trilogy.