I get the distinct feeling that Khivar derives a great deal of satisfaction from my pain. There's something about this intent look he gets
Apparently, he really can't take a joke, because he goes out of his way to, as he puts it, "alleviate any boredom imposed upon me by his company". He likes throwing my words back in my face.
And it's true, he keeps me on my toes.
I'd love nothing more than to spit in his face, to remain silent, passively thwarting every attempt to get to me, get into me. Name, rank, serial number, and all that. But like one of Pavlov's dogs, I react to every piece of stimulus. I'm helpless not to.
When I'm pulled out of my cell, I resist. As I'm pushed down into the now-familiar seat, I struggle, even though I know it's useless and probably a waste of my energy because all they need is a spot of bare skin to administer the drugs, the sedatives that sap me of strength, of the will to keep them out of my head. I know this and still I fight it, fight them, because their very presence awakens in me a terror so elemental, so profound, that all self-control dissolves before it.
When I'm in this chair, I truly understand that I could die here.
In my delirium, I babble.
"Why do serums always make you sweat? You'd think they'd come up with one with a little more dignity. I mean, it can't be pleasant for anyone involved, and let's face it, interrogations are usually conducted in close quarters. Don't the people who make these things ever think about stuff like that? I don't think they do. Come to think of it, they can't have that much imagination. Or personality, the fuckers. Bet not one of 'em got a date in high school."
They ignore me, checking the straps that hold me to this chair like they do every morning. And like every morning, the straps are firmly in place.
My nose itches. I don't ask any of them to scratch it.
"So is Khivar coming in today or what? I'm feeling downright neglected. If I were writing a guide to torture chambers of the universe, I'm sorry to say I'd have to take off marks for poor attentiveness. I mean, really, we're talking basic hospitality here, guys. Although I have to say I approve of the ambiance. Bad lighting, ancient looking toys, and you just know they got that crappy looking by years and years of use. Hey, do you guys know any poetry? I know some poetry. 'There once was a man from Nantucket -'"
I giggle. The lights are doing funny things in front of me, sort of bobbing around until I can't see anything else.
"But that's not real poetry, although at least I understand it. No, real poetry takes words and gives them new meaning. Seriously! It's because there's meaning to the words other than the words themselves. You feel them in the gut, and you feel a little dizzy, because you know there's some kind of magic in that exact arrangement of words, and that's when you know you have real poetry. Hey, Antarians don't have poetry. Or poppies. Maybe the two are connected. Do you guys think so? I don't think you Trejies have them either. At least that's what I think. Well, what do you think of this? 'In Flanders Fields the poppies grow -'"
Out of nowhere, something slams into my belly, knocking all the air out of me, pushing my back against the hard chair with bruising force. Wheezing, I force myself to look up, to focus on something other than the hot lights that are giving me a headache despite the poison running through my veins.
"Kevvie!" I cry out gaily, through tears and hitching breaths. "There you are. Where ya' been, bud? Was starting to feel neglected. Travel guide and all, you understand."
Someone backhands me across my cheek. I feel something loosen up inside my mouth, and I think one of my teeth is embedded deeper into my tongue than my gums. If I weren't floating right now, that would probably hurt. As it is, the blood that's running down my throat tastes and feels rather unpleasant.
Two hands come forward out of the light and cup me on either side of the head. Immediately I feel a pressure building between my ears, and something warm and thick trickles down the side of my neck. There's a rushing noise, and then the memories start.
As always, they're jumbled and disordered, a distorted mishmash of everything that's ever happened to me.
I cry as I relive my first bike, my first school dance, the first time I was kissed, the first time I was shot, the first time I traveled between planets, the first time I made love, the first time I killed. I cry because it's a violation, but also because it's truth. This is me, this is the essence of me, this is everything that has created the person I am, and I feel naked but also awed by this glimpse into myself.
He always goes back to the beginning. He's fascinated by my childhood, the sense of security I felt growing up, the unwavering belief that life - that living - had meaning. Eventually, however, he moves forward. He ignores my memories of human friends to concentrate on my early contact with Max, Michael and Isabel, and then later, with Tess.
It hurts him to do this, I think. Physically and mentally. Good.
Soon, depending on what mood he's in, he tries to piece together what I know of Antarian politics, military strategy, and the inner workings of the new monarchy. This is harder for him, somehow, and he always calls for more drugs at this point. And they help, but for some reason my memories of these things are inextricably linked to and obscured by the sound of voices chanting, and they get louder and louder as he pushes.
War is death/ Dulce et decorum est/ I am at war/ The poppies grow/ Therefore, I am death/ Pro patria mori
When the voices start blending together like that, it means his iron control is slipping and we both know the session is over.
No one's come for me yet today. I heard some guards whispering, but none of them came in.
The drugs are wearing off and I can feel my mind clearing. It hurts.
So I ignore it. I can do that. I just have to stay very, very still.
Khivar knows everything there is to know about me. I knew it would be bad, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I feel violated, like he's stolen me, taken my humanity and left me this empty shell.
Michael's doctors were right about one thing, though. Those memory implants can't stop a mind-rape, but they can divert it. I could feel Khivar's attention slide silkily past memories I sense are important and head right for the personal ones that reveal me but don't betray the cause.
So mind-raping isn't the miracle weapon it's supposed to be, if finding specific answers requires knowing just the right questions to ask. Kind of like a computer search. I remember what Alex used to tell me about searches: if they're not properly focused, one of two things happens - either you get nothing, or you get everything that's even remotely related. And no one can sort through that much random information.
Maybe that's why Khivar isn't worried about me projecting. Maybe he doesn't know about it, or understand how it works, or or ...
Frowning, I try to call up an image in front of me. Anything. Nothing happens, except that my head pounds even harder. I try again, focusing on the last clear memory I have of Max, of him hugging and kissing me good-bye at the transport depot that last quiet morning on Antar.
I blink back tears. It's just the serum. It has to be. Khivar may have been able to invade me, but he can't take that away from me altogether. He can't.
I can't think about it anymore. Instead, I think about not telling Olan and Drav that my mind was booby-trapped. And how I couldn't tell them what that meant, or why it was done, because I didn't (don't) know.
What did Michael's doctors do to me?
Every time I find myself back in my cell, it's a little harder to piece things together; my thoughts are that much less coherent. But at the same time, more memories are surfacing. Memories of Michael, of all people, explaining something about triggers - and that he's sorry, but Khivar can't die just yet.
What's in my head that would be a worse punishment for Khivar than killing him? And why are the voices so emphatic that I can't kill him until it happens?
In a way, I know the answer. It's 'need to know', and after all, I'm just a soldier.
Just a soldier.
Isn't that what I wanted? What I always insisted I was? How I wanted to live and, if it came to it, die? So why do I feel so cheated?
In my mind, I see a field of red poppies, bending before a light breeze.
I'm doing my duty, and that should be enough. Right?
Right, but but this entire enterprise smacks of sneakiness and back room politics and manipulation. I feel used and dirty, and not just by Khivar.
There is no honor here.
'Liz? Liz, answer me.'
'What the fuck do you want?'
'I said, what the -'
'Just tell me what you need to tell me, Olan. I'm not in the mood.'
'Why? Liz - you've got to stop fighting the connection. Relax, or I'm going to lose the link.'
'Why - '
'Who's gone? Khivar?'
'What do you mean, Max is gone? You mean King Zan? But he was never here.'
'No, in my head. He's never left me alone this long before.'
'You mean, he connects with you? Even out in the field?'
'Yeah. And it's never gone this long before. I - I thought that if I just held out, he'd contact me, and I could tell him what's happened, and he'd figure something out, and and '
'Why didn't you tell us about this before?'
'I don't know. I don't know why. Look, I'm sorry. I just I've never talked about it before with anyone. It's private. And '
'There was a voice in my head telling me not to.'
'Voice? Have you been getting more memories?'
'Yeah. I think Khivar is tripping the triggers every time he interrogates me. This last one is interesting, though. Apparently it's important not to kill Khivar right away, I have to wait for the go ahead.'
'Damn, that's freaky.'
'Sorry, you weren't supposed to hear that.'
'It's okay. Everything about this whole damn mission is freaky.'
'Mission? It really is a mission now?'
'Yeah. That's what I remembered today. And get this: I volunteered for it. To get captured. To let them all mess around in my head.'
'Yep. But I remembered something else. And I think you're going to like this.'
'I really do know how to destroy this place.'
'I don't know yet. Maybe tomorrow we'll find out.'
'I can't wait.'
'Tell me about it. So how's Kyle?'
'We tracked him down. He really is a sort of pet engineer here. He knows the generator rooms like the back of his hand, and he seems to just know when something's about to happen, so he never gets hurt.'
'He's clairvoyant. I guess even Khivar couldn't take that away from him.'
'He's also a lot sneakier than you'd think from the looks of him. He still disappears every day, and damned if I can figure out where he goes or how he gets out of there without anyone noticing. There must be a hidden entrance or something.'
'You haven't been able to connect with him?'
'No. He trusts me now, so it's not that. It's his mind it's like a crucial part of it's missing, or turned off,, or something. But that reminds me, today there was something different.'
'When he came back, he was carrying food and he was wearing different clothes.'
'Do you think someone's helping him?'
'That's exactly what I think.'
'Keep me posted.'
This time they try something different.
They administer the drugs and then stand back, as if waiting for something. And when I open my mouth to ask what, I find out what it is.
I can't speak.
So I can't scream when Khivar enters my mind this time. And this time, he brings reinforcements. I can feel them, chipping away at different parts of my conscious and subconscious mind as he focuses on breaking the block he's finally located.
It hurts. It hurts a lot. It hurts in ways that defy description. I didn't know it was possible to hurt this much and live.
Finally I catch a surge of something from him - some strong emotion I can't identify - and then it's all too much and something gives and everything goes black.
'Are you okay?'
'How long have I been here?'
'Why are you talking to me?'
'We have Kyle.'
'Kyle. The Human prisoner.'
'You were right. They don't really check on him unless he doesn't take his rations. Other than that, he has free range down here. So we've been spending a lot of time with him.'
'Who are you? Are you real?'
'Liz? This is Olan. I'm here with Drav. Remember?'
'No. Tell me.'
'We're friends. You're a prisoner of Khivar's. You're here to stop him.'
'I don't know. Only you know that. But we're here to help.'
'Any way you tell us.'
'I'm here to stop this?'
'All of this?'
'Can I destroy it? Is that okay?'
'I know how to do that.'
'Oh, thank everything that is holy in the whole fucking universe. Please, tell us what to do.'
'We need to make the noise bigger.'
'What do you mean?'
'The noise. The one that shakes the floor.'
'The vibrations? From the generators?'
'That means stalling them. I guess we could. Drav's been working with Kyle, and the two of them know this place inside out by now. But we're on a space station, Liz; it'll lose structural integrity, gravitational pull, hell, the entire thing could break apart - oh. Got it. Actually, that could work. We just need to prep a shuttle before we go, and - hey, Liz, why didn't you tell us about this before?'
'It wasn't time.'
'Is it time now?'
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