Imagine waking up one day unable to recall who you are or where you came from – only to find you are serving a sentence as a convict conscript for crimes you have no memory of ever committing…
Avilon woke up as his training taught him – moving from sleep to full consciousness in less time than it took to draw a breath.
In the past this was followed by instant physical movement: to rouse, rise and be ready for anything within moments. His life depending upon it. But today he lay still, eyes open on a blank ceiling, noticing the fine lines where the printed construction panels joined, noticing the slight unevenness which hid the recessed lighting and noticing the absence of the data stream downloading information from the Lattice.
The strangeness of it still left him with a vague uneasiness. All his conscious life he had been accompanied by its intrusive companionship. All his conscious life he had been trained to equate its absence with the inevitability of death, with the knowledge if he stayed out of range of live-linkage for more than a brief period of time the wiring in his brain would burn out and kill him. He was adjusting to the lack, although sometimes he forgot and then there would be a stab of panic until he remembered.
He missed it.
It troubled him when he could not call up the data he needed on something he had not encountered before or when he needed information about his environment. He knew there were public link networks he could access, but they were not tailored to his needs – they needed him to use them. Shut off from the Lattice he felt isolated and alone. It had been his guide and companion for as long as he could remember and without it he often had to stifle an illogical sense of abandonment and loss.
The Lattice would have given him an ID on every individual he encountered, marked them as friend or foe so he would know how to deal with them. Even without access to tactical data, the subdural sensors that were standard equipment for all Special Legion troops, would have given him readings revealing the emotional state of those around him: heart-rate, muscle tension, changes in blood flow – the small signs warning of attack long before it came.
It sometimes felt like going deaf or blind. Or both.
He lay still, realising for the first time ever in his conscious life, he had no reason to rise that day – unless he made the active choice to do so.
A totally new experience.
In its own way a little overwhelming too, pushing onto his shoulders the responsibility for making the decision about what to do with his time. Every other day of his life as a Special he had been assigned tasks. That carried on as part of the Legion’s discharge process and then through the CRD who had arranged his relocation and given him a new identity, culminating in the last ten days of work at the reclamation plant.
At least the work taxed neither his physical nor his mental resources, although it seemed to do so for some of those he worked with. They complained a lot about the stench, the weight of the skips they were required to manhandle when the robotics failed, the inadequacy of the maintenance team, the dangers of the hazardous materials they sometimes needed to deal with and the incompetence of the management. Avilon obeyed the instructions, mastered the tasks his manager expected him to perform and avoided, as far as possible, involving himself in conversations or any other social interactions with his co-workers. He knew he could have no real grasp of their motivation and values. To engage with them on any other than the most superficial level was bound to result in their hostility. And. sure enough. it had done so on the previous day.
“What did you do?”
He had been eating the food provided from the meal-synth in the plant’s cafeteria during his mid-shift meal break when one of his co-workers sat down at the same table, a man Avilon already identified as one of the informal leaders amongst the workers. His hair was cropped close to his head and a large animated tattoo of a winged female covered over half his face. He sat down purposefully, easing off the works issue jacket which would restrict movement and displaying muscles testifying to a good many leisure hours spent working out.
“Do?” Avilon asked, not wanting to antagonise his unwanted table companion by ignoring him.
“Shit. This stuff is worse than the crap we get out of the toxic waste cans. Yes, friend, do. You are here from CRD, right? So what did you do?”
“You mean what crime did I commit?”
The tattooed man nodded.
“That’s the one. You’re a bright bastard, catch on right quick, don’t you?”
At this point Avilon heard the odd snort of muffled laughter from those sitting at the other tables nearby. A large, well muscled, woman made a gesture towards him with one arm and there was more laughter. He had seen new grunts in the Specials go through much the same social farce. He also knew the trajectory it always took and the end result. But here, unlike the Specials, he must make sure not to let anyone end up dead or maimed. He took the time to remind himself, consciously, because he knew when it kicked off he might otherwise just react. With that thought very clear in his mind he looked back at the tattooed man.
“I killed people.”
The tattoo lifted up and moved back and the animation revealed more of the female form, as the other man grinned, baring his teeth.
“Bit of a hard man then?”
“No. Not really. No more than anyone else.”
The other man frowned, then gave a short laugh.
“You think you could take me?”
Avilon realised he could predict with precision the course of this conversation. He wondered if, no matter how he responded, he could avoid the inevitable. He tried.
“I don’t want to fight you. I don’t want to fight anyone. I am eating. Then I have work to do.”
“You sound like a coward to me.”
Avilon had not needed any sub-dural sensors to warn him. This man broadcast his intentions a long time before the tray left the table aimed at his face. Avilon deflected it, caught the punch that followed, then drove his hand under the skirts of the winged woman tattoo to strike at the nerve cluster at the base of the neck, deliberately taking care to use much less than lethal force. The man doubled over on his seat, making odd noises.
It happened fast enough that Avilon got to his feet and moved clear of the table, ready to deal with any further trouble, before the tattooed man stopped gasping. But none of the other workers in the cafeteria had even moved. They sat in a frozen tableau of shocked faces, some with food part-way to their mouths, others caught mouth opened, half-masticated food visible within. The only sound and movement came from the tattooed man as he struggled to breathe.
At that moment Avilon realised precisely what he was in this civilian world.
So he stared down the other workers, his gaze steady until all eyes looked away from him. Then he walked out and went back to work. At the next break, the shift manager sent for him and told him he would receive his first pay and, as he earned a rest day, he should be sure and take it the following day – oh and he could go home early if he wanted. He had stayed to finish the shift.
So now he lay in bed with an entire day of unallocated time and a seemingly infinite range of possible things he could do with it. But only one thing that mattered. Jaz had promised him if he came to Starcity he would find Avilon. So far, having been here over ten days he had not been found. Most likely Jaz did not know of his discharge here. But maybe Jaz knew and had deliberately decided not to approach him or had forgotten what they had agreed. He did not want to think like that – but he accepted both as a possibility. For now, though he would assume Jaz simply did not know about his discharge. After all he had to live under a new name here – Vitos Ketzel. There was no reason Jaz would know to look for him under that name, so perhaps he should be the one going to look for Jaz. The thought gave his day its plan and purpose, he got up and dressed and headed out.
FFrom Trust A Few – book one in Haruspex, the second Fortune’s Fools trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook – which is only 0.99 to buy for a limited period.
Leave a Reply