To begin there was only the darkness, all pervading and all encompassing. Then slowly, from within, it crystallised into a second state: awareness of the darkness – and for a long time nothing else seemed to matter. It was enough to just have being and consciousness within the darkness. But gradually that changed and there grew a strong sense of urgency – a knowledge that there was something more.
he awareness struggled for comprehension of itself.
With a suddenness that shocked, a dull pain gnawed in from one direction and a wave of nausea rose from nowhere in an irresistible surge. The physical body took over, turning itself and vomiting over and over again. Then there were cool hands and a reassuring voice, but the body was exhausted and darkness came again, taking even the awareness of itself away.
The second time it was easier and the ascent to full consciousness came more naturally, almost like waking from a dream-filled sleep. There was time to accept the fact of the pain, to notice the feel of the rough cloth on naked skin and the strong smell of animals and unwashed humanity. The previous sense of urgency to action seemed somehow less intense. Part of the mind registered automatically that this was due to the effect of some drug, but the strength to fight it was not there. Both body and mind were too weak. Instinctively the mind reached back, searching for the reason to explain its present state.
There was very little there.
He could remember he had been on a ship, fleeing something – what, a battle? Nothing there. Perhaps a battle, because the ship had been badly damaged and unable to maintain Faster Than Light status. A battle would explain the damage. Leave it for now. Follow what was there. Dropping out of FTL, no idea where – could have been in the middle of nowhere and without an operational drive there would have been no way of getting to a planet before the life-support systems failed. But it had not been in the middle of nowhere – can’t have been because there had been a hard landing and an explosion.
Then there was no more memory – nothing but the blackness.
It was little enough and experience said that the gaps might remain forever or at some time in the future fill in with full and vibrant recall. For now, though, that was all and no struggle to force memory would add anything else. Other things mattered more in that moment. The drug was beginning to lose its hold and the pounding ache in his head which it had kept partly locked away was intensifying. He heard a low groan nearby from someone in pain and he realised with a shock that it was himself.
Other sensations came to awareness. The air temperature was cold. Hands were touching him, lifting his head and trying to force some bitter liquid between his lips. They were trying to drug him again. He turned his head sharply, close to panic at the thought and what it could mean, spitting it out, almost retching at the taste and with a supreme effort of will forced his eyes to open.
It was dark and the only source of light came from a primitive flame-lit lantern hanging from the supporting pole of a low fabric roof. He was in the corner of some kind of make-shift shelter, lying on a crude pallet and covered with blankets of thick, coarse felt that was harsh against his skin but apparently offered some protection from the cold, because his naked body beneath it was warm. An old woman knelt beside him, her face dark and wrinkled, almost grotesque in the dim light. She spooned a noxious-looking brew from a wooden bowl.
Seeing her was a relief and the sense of near-panic receded. If he had been in the hands of his enemies he would be in a much more secure prison than this flimsy shelter and have a far more effective gaoler than this one old woman. For with the fractured memories had come the responsibility of knowing who he was: Avilon Revid, probably the top name in almost every Coalition Security Force list of most wanted.
From The Fated Sky part one of Fortune’s Fools Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook
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