My head hurts. Hurts? It shouldn't hurt; for that matter, I shouldn't have a head. At least, I shouldn't feel like I have one.
Let's try this again. Do I have eyes? Scan left, right. Yes, I have eyes, physical ones, so I try the eyelids. They open. Interesting. Apparently I'm not deceased, not yet. Typical. Failure. So what am I looking at?
Eyes aren't focusing. Not surprised. Wait. Close them again. Do a few exercises, like Trill taught me all those years ago. Try the eyes again. Open. Okay?
Okay, better. Look around. Wooden roof, couple of crossbeams. Good construction, but not typically Pendorian. Hmm. Turn my head to see the rest of the room.
Doesn't work. Neck's stiff as hell. Wait. Practice again. One muscle, two, two, three... again and again. Force the fire. Try something easier. A hand. Toes move, good. Try some more. Ankles. I'm getting on my feet, at least. How long was I out, that I feel this bad?
Wait a minute. This is familiar. Think. Where have I felt this?
Cryo. Check. Yes! A dead monkey has been sleeping on my tongue. At least, that's the way it tastes. I was in cryogenic suspension. Odd, the last thing I remember was...
I tried to kill myself. Yes, that was it. Brain is NOT, repeat, NOT on-line. Okay. Acceptance. I tried the old fashioned way, too...slit wrists and bath. Stupid. Should have realized that Dave would call for help the moment I was out. Didn't try hard enough. Okay.
Why did I try? Think.
That's idiotic. Got to be something. Think. Nothing comes. No reason for the suicide. Other than.
Depression. Depression of the conceptual artist. There is nothing left to live for, not because I've done it all, but because I know I can. That's stupid.
Is it? I don't know, it is true. I can do virtually anything. Hmm. Frustrated.
Let's try this again. May as well get on my feet. I'm not going to try again, at least not until I determine what's going on, where I am, and who saved me, and should I hate them or thank them, or both?
Slowly. OUCH! Shit, I'm stiff, I hate cryo. If there's anything worse than waking up from coldsleep, I'm not sure what it could be. The effort of sitting up makes my head spin, but I do it. The band of muscle that attaches left shoulder to skull is tighter than anything, hurts like a hot poker. I want to concentrate, banish the pain, but I can't summon the strength.
I stand... and fall to my knees. Much better. Can't stand, may as well crawl towards the door.
There is a door here. Okay, crawl towards it. Locked. Is there another door? Yes. Okay, let me get my bearings. There's a locked door, a rather simple bed, a desk, a mirror, another door, and a big window. Outside the window I see sunlight, a big tree, a willow, and beyond that, the cliff face of a mountain, not too distant, either. Nice place. Willow's cold, the leaves yellowing, although it's still early in its season, mostly green. I crawl for the other door, which is ajar, and peek in around the jamb. It's a bathroom, pretty old- fashioned too. Only thing even remotely unusual is the bidet, but that's an architectural preference. My bladder screams in recognition, and I manage to gradually haul myself up, sit down on the damned commode and relieve myself.
My head swims, clears, and I see a glass on the sink. Fill glass from sink, drink. Cold, clear, feels wonderful going down. Gods, then, it hurts! Throat's raw!
Stupid. Cryo. Forgot that thick syrupy shit I'm supposed to drink afterwards. Oh, forget it, who cares if my electrolytes are balanced?
Drink more water, ignoring, for the most part, the pain signals. Try to rise, steady myself on sink and towel bar. Look in mirror.
Gods I am a mess. No beard, so I wasn't in cryo long. Look at wrists. Nothing, not even scars. Good healing job, but there's a pain in the crux of my elbow. Oh. Intravenous scarring, they were taking care of me in a serious way. It'll go away, I'm familiar with it.
Walk, unsteady towards window. Look out. Same assessment. More trees, again in the beginning of Firith, the season of fading. And there's...
What the? I didn't design those!
And who's she? Whoever, she's beautiful. Thick, small blond curls, big frame, high sweet breasts, naked, freckles, looking Irish almost.
And who built her unicorn? If it's a 'droid, it's from Grand Design, nobody else on Pendor makes them that well. If it's not, I'm impressed, I thought nobody had reached my talent yet, at least not with mammals.
She vanished out of sight almost as soon as I got a good look at her. She rode with just a blanket. I looked. I was on the second floor, but the window wouldn't open. I pressed my hand to the glass, and it was warm to the touch, so I assume it was warm outside.
I began an intensive search of the room. The bed was simple, as I'd said. Small but comfortable, nothing fancy. Tried the desk...Hmm, interesting. The top flips over, keyboard. Okay, where's the...neat, the screen is in the mirror. Good effect, hides a lot, but takes refocusing, it's like looking into a head's-up display. Drawer's got a pen, paper. Try the bathroom. No razor in the medicine chest, in fact nothing at all in there. Soap in the bathtub. I smiled. I could slip and fall and kill myself.
Do failed suicides always think this way?
What's the vidmirror hooked to? Try it. Standard input, but no email output, apparently. Look at the date. 57! It's been FIVE YEARS!? Where the Hell have I been?
Oh, yeah. Waitaminute! Run to the window. Look. Yeah, sun's overhead, can't see much otherwise, damned mountain in the way. Assume for the time being I'm on Pendor. Newsline's Pendorian, at least. Try a music program.
Nothing. No audio throughput at all. I guess I wait for my hostess. I went and lay down on the bed.
"Ken?" Soft voice, sweet and high pitched, with a middlin' southern accent, like from north Georgia on Earth somewhere. I come to consciousness suddenly, flailing.
"Wha?..." I said.
"Easy, easy," she said. My eyes came to rest on the young woman I'd seen before. A better look at her face. High cheekbones, soft, definitely Irish eyes. But that accent!
"Who are you?" I demanded of my...captor? Savior?
"Are you feeling all right, Ken? Hungry?"
"Who are you?"
"My name's Brieanna Flanders. Call me Brie."
"Brieanna Flanders? There weren't any Flanders in my designs."
"I know. I'm not anyone you know, or made." Her voice was infinitely patient with me.
"That's impossible. The year said it was '57."
"Then we're still in the Pocket Realm. You can't be from outside, yet, there is no contact with the outside. The Gate is closed, and will be until '94."
"I'm from here. I'm just not anyone you ever worked on."
I looked at her. "Then where did you come from? Everyone here is someone I worked on, except for one person, and you are not she."
"Oh, no? Why couldn't I be Oenone?"
"Because Oenone reeks of magic, and you, my dear, are exactly what I see in front of me, nothing more, nothing less. You are not Paris' paramour."
"That's true. Stupid bastard, she should have killed him when she had the chance."
"Brie...where am I?"
"Sounds ominous, like number 2 pronouncing I'm in 'The Village.'"
"Not that bad, but the maps won't tell you where you are, and there's no place to go beyond the mountains, anyway."
"Then I am in 'The Village,' at least in that I'm not leaving anytime soon. Am I number 6?"
"No, no, nothing like that. You're Ken, and that's all."
"Are we alone?"
"For the most part, it's just you and me in this house. There's an SI, too."
"Not an AI?"
"Nope. The only person you have to talk to is me. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry. It's okay. So." I sat up, slowly. "Are you going to tell me where you're from?"
"No. And I probably won't for a while. Just take it for granted that I'm here, and that I'm a friend of a friend of yours, and I'm your friend as well."
"So. Why am I here?"
"I'm not sure about that. I think that's for you to decide."
"And you're here to help me make that decision."
"Are you going to help me make my own decision, or the 'right' decision, in the eyes of your... friend."
"Your own. At least, I hope I can. We're pretty independent out here. It's just you and me. And the animals down in the stable."
"Yeah, I saw that. Is that a 'ganic, or what?"
"It's a real unicorn, trust me."
I looked at her face again. The words and the accent went together pretty well. So I've never worked on you in any way, eh, Miss Brieanna Flanders? Then who made you?
What are you?
"Are you hungry?" she asked, after the few minutes that I spent studying her face and she spent patiently waiting for me to finish.
"Actually, yeah, I am."
"Then let's go eat. Drac, dinner in the dining hall."
A new voice, this one well modulated, but unless it was consciously blocked, obviously SI, said, "Yes, Brieanna."
I looked at her. "Drac? Your computer is named Dracula?"
"Sure, why not? It's not AI, it's just a machine."
I suppose. "Well, then, lead on to dinner." She opened the previously locked exit to the bedroom, into what apparently was a main hallway and foyer. There was a railing opposite the door, and below was a huge room, apparently the main room of the estate. There were a couple of stuffed chairs, and some bookshelves. The place had an air of age, but it couldn't be that old... could it? And she did not belong, other than that her accent matched the obviously southern plantation design. There was that wonderful smell of cured, aged wood.
She led on down the single staircase, and when we reached the bottom I looked around. The carpet was oriental. There was a grand piano in one corner, a saxophone next to it. I couldn't play either, so I assumed they were both hers, but then she may have lied about being alone. She led me through a pair of swinging doors into a room with a small square table with two chairs and candles. She sat me, and then seated herself.
"So," she repeated. "What do you want to know?"
"Where am I?"
"I know that! That's more square klickage than all of the rest of the known galaxy together, so that doesn't do me much good. So, where am I?"
"Why don't you step outside and take a look?"
The old Shardik came on-line. "Because I've been invited to dinner by a beautiful young lady, and I'm not about to step out on her to see the weather."
She smiled. "You probably won't recognize it. We're pretty far from either of the major inhabited sectors, and we're not close to the Farside colony, either."
At that moment, a kitchen droid, real old-fashioned type on wheels, no less, came out and began to distribute dinner to the two of us. It was a well done bird, turkey, I'd have guessed, and was quite delicious. We continued the conversation as we ate.
"So you're not going to tell me where I am?"
"Nope. I'm not even going to give you the sector number."
"Oh well. So, am I a prisoner here?"
"A guest. You've got free rein to the place."
"Even access to the kitchen?"
She smiled, a small, wan, smile. "Yes, even access to the kitchen. And I won't hide the knives."
"I appreciate the gesture, but I don't think that's necessary."
"Then you won't try again?" There was a sudden hope in her eyes, like a flash.
"I didn't say that. But remember, you said your job was to let me make my own decisions. Tell me, Brieanna, are you my savior?"
She smiled thinly. "Nothing like that. Your... savior... simply thought that you'd made a rash decision and decided to let you try and look at whatever questions and problem you had again."
I sat there and stared at her, trying to absorb what she'd said, and still trying to figure out who and what she was. Dinner was apparently over. I excused myself, asking for directions to a washroom and permission for leave. She gave both graciously.
Dark fell as suddenly as it always does, and a wild wind whipped past the house as I sat in my room. There was a knock on the door. Startled, I went to answer it. It was my warden.
"May I come in?" she asked.
"I suppose, don't see why not."
She entered and leaned against the wall of the closet. "Are you upset that you're here?"
"Upset? No, not really. Why should I be? I'm alive, after all."
"That's not funny, Ken. Don't be bitter."
"WHY THE HELL NOT? The most precious and personal decision one can make is to take their own life, and when the time in my mind came for me to exercise that right, you take that power away from me and imprison me somewhere on my own homeworld? My warden is a beautiful young women who won't answer any of my questions, impossibly claims to not be a Pendorian, and won't tell me the way home!"
"I didn't say I wasn't Pendorian."
"You said you were nobody I worked on, and you weren't the child of anybody I worked on. The only way that's possible is if you're Oenone, and you are so out of character with her, you don't even smell like her. You're a human, that's obvious, and you aren't any sort of android I know, your scent is too perfect. You aren't Pendorian."
"I am, trust me. Just nobody you ever worked on."
"Okay, say that you are, it's a stupid argument. You still won't tell me how to leave."
"You could walk."
"Oh, great. And how far away are we from the nearest town or village? That distance could be measured in light-minutes!"
"Actually, the nearest town or village would involve a considerable swim, walking in either direction."
"We're on the aspinward side?"
"Wonderful. Nobody lives out here. My best chance is waiting for Maha Oren to find his way by."
"Doubtful, his team is headed the other way, anyway."
"Oh, great. Look, Miss Flanders, I'd really like to go to sleep, alone, if I may."
"Okay. Will I see you in the morning?"
"If I feel like seeing you, maybe." I led her to the door, and, admittedly, slammed it on her as she left.
I awoke the next day sometime after daylight, and began to look around for something to wear. The less-than-comfortable clothes I'd had on yesterday were on the chair, but I had no desire to wear them, so I opened the closet and examined its contents.
Seems somebody knows what I like to wear, at least. There were a lot of T-shirts, collared simple shirts, a few heavier, nicely-cut shirts, two vests with what looked like a million pockets, and several pairs of jeans. I hoped silently that they fit. In the drawers I found appropriate shorts and socks, and dressed myself comfortably.
I tried the window again. It opened. Figures. Outside was cool and comfortable, and I took one of the vests along, the blue one.
I left the room and headed downstairs. I realized that I had no idea what this house was like, and the mistress thereof was nowhere to be seen, so I decided to look around. The first room I headed for was where I assumed the kitchen would be, and I was right. Incongruous. It was done in a lot of stonework, and not many windows, like that of a medieval castle, and the robobutler looked so out of place I laughed. I examined the drawers, and sure enough, she was true to her word. I could find the knives if I wanted.
I examined the cold room and the larder, and found the supplies adequate. I found some grains, some brown sugar, and some milk, so I assumed that that was breakfast. Not bad.
I continued around, finding that a lot of the house was empty. Empty rooms, empty basement, empty hallways. And everything was old, older than it should have been, older than it could have been. There were a few truly Pendorian characteristics to the place, like the fact that there was power, but no outlets. Everything had it's own power source, even the kitchen blender, or the electric keyboard I found in one room, complete with two speakers. I got it to squeal a few notes.
I found a few locked doors, and I figured that there were good reasons they were locked, so I left them alone. Even though, I thought, they could hold the Sdisk out of here. Then again, they could simply be her bedroom doors. They did concentrate towards the center rear of the first floor.
But there were other weird rooms that I didn't understand. If they were trying to keep me from trying again, they were doing a lousy job of it, whoever 'they' were. I found a room with a couple of brass-enclosed chests, unlocked, and when I opened one I found... guns? All sorts of guns, rifles, pistols, even one of my person favorites, a .45 Army Colt. And there was ammunition for them, too. I took the .45, and, after checking the slide and action, loaded seven-plus-one and put it into a belt holster I'd found in the chest as well.
There was a wine cellar, again with very Pendorian wines in it, including varieties I did not recognize, although they were all dated some time ago. This was all so weird, like I'd fallen into another, different reality from my own, yet almost like my own.
I found another room with an easel in it, and a half-done portrait of myself, apparently done by my captor. It was a fair likeness, I decided, but it obviously needed work, since only half was done, the other in pencil sketch on canvas. On an impulse, I fast-drew the pistol, but I decided against shooting my image. Didn't want to put a hole in Brieanna's work, not yet, at least.
I decided, then, that it was time to try the front door, so I headed out that way, but on the way I passed the piano. Actually, it was a full Pianoforte, and it was well-tuned. I can't play piano worth a damn, never did learn anything beyond a few simple melodies. I've always been openly envious of people who can play. And the saxophone, forget it. I might be able to get a sound out of it, halfway between a squeal and a sneeze.
So the front door it was. I opened it and stepped out. The ground of the house stopped very short of the door, so I stepped out into the long grass and walked away from the house. After about five minute, I turned around. The house was in one corner of a large, grassy field, three edges of which were of huge primeval forest, and the final edge was a mountain cliff. It was a good-sized mountain, and the cliff ran vertical for almost, oh, I'd say about four hundred meters. Then I saw the joke.
When I realized what I was looking at, I almost died laughing. Most people probably wouldn't have gotten it, but it was funny to me. The house was an American southern plantation-style design on the outside. What's funny is that there is nowhere in America where the mountain and the building exists together. There is nowhere in Dixie where you'll find mountains like that. Whoever built this had an interesting and subtle sense of comedy.
And a good knowledge of Terra's history. Again, it pointed to Brieanna's lying to me somewhere.
Odd. I haven't decided what I'm going to call my prison guard yet. Brie is too common, but do I then call her Brieanna or Miss Flanders? Gods, Miss Flanders sounds like an old school teacher. Brieanna it is, then.
I looked up, then, along the Ring. Ring it was, so at least I was on a ringworld, although confirming that it was indeed Pendor would take some doing. Although, I thought with a smile, there were no other ringworlds around, at least as far as I knew.
Glancing up, I watched for a few seconds to register the direction the shadows were moving and figure my concepts of 'east' and 'west', and, true to her word, I figured we were aspinward of the ocean, and if that was the Vinyare' sea, then we were pretty far away from any inhabited region. Great.
I walked around the side of the house, and as I did so something caught my eye. The touchstone of the building was there, and engraved on it was "Paul Lewis, '54." Okay, that confirms something else. Paul at least had a hand in this. Figures, my first son doing this to me. Do I kill him yet, or what?
I continued on my walk. Behind and slightly to the left of the house were a pair of buildings, one of which was open, the other of which had a large door on it. I tried the one with the door first, as it was closest, and it opened.
Okay, this was not funny, anymore. Lying on the cement floor of what appeared to be a garage was a full high-suit of Shirow powered armor, and it looked like garbage. Pieces were torn out and the upholstery of the harness was shredded. Whoever allowed this to happen to his armor was really ignorant and shouldn't be allowed near a vehicle again in his life. There were servos scattered about the floor and covered with grease. If Hitomi'd seen this, she'd have screamed. She virtually worships her armor.
I walked into the dark little garage and looked into the gutted armor. There were cracks in the outer shell, too, and the faceplate was garbage. The S.L.A. lenses were all missing, and one of the ears was snapped off. I looked for one of the power switches in the lower arm, and found it. Nothing. I'm more partial to Stark or Haam armor, myself, but Hitomi swears the maintenance efforts are worth the power of Shirow. I tried some of the alternate power sources, and they were dead, too. I looked at the back, and both battery pods were missing, and the two PFusion tubes were cracked and drained. I climbed over the chestplate and tried to get in. Whoever wore this armor was a little shorter than I was, and a little heavier, but if I could find some stuffing, I could sew a new harness that would fit me.
Wait a minute. I have no intention of wearing this armor. It doesn't work. I climbed back out and headed towards the other building.
Horses. It was a stable, again with a robot Maintenance Unit. I asked the MU where its mistress was, but there was no answer. Damned SI, it's not programmed to respond to my voice. Oh well. There were three stalls, but only two had horses in them, one a grey stallion, the other a brown mare. Not knowing much about horses, that's all I could tell you. Except that they seemed to be in excellent condition, with good muscle tone and pelt color. They were shoed, and their teeth were whole and healthy.
So what was the point of all this? Was it some sort of amusement park for suicidal Shardiks? If it was, it was a very poor job, I was not amused. So what then?
The answer was right there, in front of my face. It would be some time before I figured it out, though. The pistol, the horses, the piano, the shredded powered armor, the beautiful girl. All pieces of a puzzle. Even the mountain.
Time passes quickly when there's very little to measure it against other than the time of days. Of course, children grow up quickly, classes come to an end, even projects and spells have their durations, but when you're doing none of those things, but instead merely existing on a day-to-day basis, you don't notice the passage of time.
In any event, the newsline from the outside informed me of said passage, and it meant little. About five weeks had passed, and the weather had gone from pleasant Autumn to cold Winter, and the first snows had come. It wasn't sticking well, but at least it was very white where it did stick. I had taken to daily walks, but these were going to be difficult soon.
My captor, Brieanna, is still here, and I see her daily. We've gone to the point of being informal around each other, seeing as apparently I have to put up with her; either that or take a hike, and I've nowhere to go.
Speaking of hiking, I did find a pair of good walking boots and a backpack, apparently suggestive that I can leave if I want to, but I no longer do. There's a mystery here, and I want to solve it. Of course, the mystery surrounds me. Why am I here? I don't think I'm going to end up being told by Brieanna, but maybe I will.
I've also taken over some of the duties of the household. Brieanna suggested a fire in the living room, so I cut down a few trees and split some logs the other day. Funny how doing physical work like that changes attitudes. There was something more... more real... in doing things like that. In cutting down a tree.
Not that I'm going to become a lumberjack, mind you. But I've read a lot of books in Brieanna's library, almost to the point of saturation, and I'm becoming bored. The other day I set up a holography set I found in one of the rooms, a room that had been empty a few weeks ago. It was an enormous set of gear, and it took me all day to set it up in the field in front of the house. I kept glancing up and praying for it to not rain. It was overcast, but I hoped for the best. Actually it started snowing the next morning.
But after about seven hours in the sun, I waited for nightfall. And when it came, I stuck in a laserdisc of a holographic realization of Shakespeare's King Richard. About halfway through I began to do some of the parts myself, standing up and mimicking the actors on the video. Well, since it was a holographic realizations, the images filled a good deal of the field. About halfway through Richard's curse to the King, I heard a giggle behind me. Somewhat aghast at having been found out, I turned around.
Of course, It was Brieanna. She said, "Don't stop, you were doing wonderfully."
"I don't do public performances," I replied, somewhat angrily.
"But why not? You do an excellent Richard."
"You like Shakespeare?" The fact that she spoke Anglic was something I already knew; her library was full of the stuff. I was surprised, however, that she also spoke some Arabic, a language I don't know.
"Of course. He's fascinating, don't you think?"
"Well, yeah, but..." The play continued on. I hit the PAUSE button on the VHR. The actors came to a dead stop, in mid-argument.
"Why don't you continue?" she asked again.
"Look, if you want to watch the play with me, sit down, but there is no way in Hell you're going to get me to continue."
"But I thought all humans like to copy their heroes. I saw a movie some time ago, from your collection. Risky Business? Same thing."
"Yeah, well. Notice Cruise did that scene alone? It's... well..."
"You're embarrassed. Afraid that if you make a mistake, someone somewhere is laughing at you."
"Well, sure, wouldn't you be?"
"I don't know. I've never really been in that position." Her eyes were dreamy for a moment, and then she said, "Ken, tell me... You made all of this. I mean, the Ring, the people, the whole thing. Well, okay, you didn't make the life on it, but you changed it..."
"That's what a genetic engineer does."
"Yes, I know. What I mean is, how can you be embarrassed about stumbling in something so simple as a line in a play when you so boldly set out to make all this?" She gestured around her.
"Brieanna, I did not make all this. These trees, that grass, the mountain, are all just natural products, spread out after they were imported from Terra. As for the sentients, well, they're... You know, sometimes you are a pain, especially for a prison warden."
"I've told you, you can leave anytime you want."
"Yeah, right, and where am going to go? Walk forever?"
"You could. I know your capabilities."
"Oh, thanks. Look, can I watch the rest of the play?"
"Oh, sorry. Sure, go ahead."
I hit the PAUSE button and the play resumed. We watched in silence, and when the play was over, we parted in silence, as well.
Captivity, Week 12.
It's snowing out again. The snow is now feet deep, and getting to my latest project is a task and a half unto and of itself. I decided that, to stave off the insanity that boredom brings, it was time to work on the Shirow armor.
Well, damn, I hate Shirow designs! All right, so the mel is talented beyond words when it comes to conceptual designs in powered armor. But, hell, that doesn't mean maintaining one of these hunks of garbage is any fun.
The first thing was to check the PFusion tubes. The compression rods were intact, and there was a reservoir, so, assuming I could reassemble the parts accurately, I could get full power into the suit. So that was first.
Disassembled the power plant, tried to fix the reaction chamber. Okay, so, after examining the thing, I find the muon reactor is trash. Great. Biggest problem is getting a laser and carbon short for this thing.
Found the laser. Oh, well, no more Shakespeare. Disassembled the laser-disc player. PFusions plants don't need a whole lot of laser power, just something to start the ionization process that contributes to muon release. As for the carbon short, well, there's one less floodlight on the outside of the house. Broke it to get the carbon rod. Spent hours with a micrometer and a nailfile getting it to the right size.
Reassembled the whole mess, hoping against the odds that everything was right. Eventually, the hydrogen nuclei would fuse. Hopefully.
In the mean time, I was feeding power to the suit through a disassembled power receiver I stole from some servobot. The garage is also cold as a seal's teat, but that's okay. I've got some heavy clothing.
Computer's okay, but the memory's wiped. Means I'm going to have to write some serious learn-by-doing routines and then try to maneuver in a suit that doesn't want to maneuver.
Made a kiln, too, to compress the ceramics I needed for the outer hull of the thing. Also spent a few hours sewing a new harness.
All in all, it took me about four weeks of heavy, constant physical work to get it nearly done. I walked out with a small lasertape player and proceeded to feed my new software routines into the computer through an interface in the main cabin. First mistake.
Second mistake was kneeling across the upper arm section. See, Shirow armor has four arms; Each pair on a side responds according to the way you move your arms inside the lower set; Those are more heavily shielded, but they slide open to expose your hands if you want to do delicate work; In this case the upper arms are rotated out of the way. The upper arms are for combat, like picking up and throwing cars and other suits of armor. Oh, and in case you're wondering, if I keep referring to this thing as a 'suit' don't be put out; truth is, the damn thing's a vehicle, three meters tall. That it's vaguely shaped like a man has nothing to do with its classification.
In any event, the program went in rather quietly and I hit the red reboot button to bring the processor on-line. The upper right arm shuddered underneath me, and pain exploded across my right leg and my chest. I went flying until I hit the wall of the garage, where my left shoulder and head received equal treatment. Then I fell to the ground, doing just a little more damage to my already hurting body.
After a few seconds of intense concentration, I looked up. The right arm had slammed against the ground, and was shuddering violently. Damn. I tried to right myself. I was suddenly very hot, and I felt something wet against my cheek. Great, my head was bleeding. I got into a sitting position, only to realize... Oh, shit, at least three ribs are floating free. I'm a mess. I suddenly noticed how much it hurt to breathe.
But I kept breathing. I'm damned cussed about something like breathing; I've discovered I'm rather fond of it. I found, to my pleasure, that I hadn't penetrated the lung lining; Cardio-vascular system was still intact. Great.
So what did this mean? I could wait until Brieanna noted that I hadn't shown up for dinner. Not really an option. I could think of a dozen nasty things that could happen before then, not the least of which was losing bladder control. Never mind; that's already happened.
That's when I heard Brieanna; She was heading for her horses, probably to exercise them. I gathered my breath; Oh, Gods! that hurt! and shouted, once "Brie!" The effort made my head spin.
I heard her shout back, but I didn't understand the words. I heard her footsteps crunch a little closer through the snow, and I heard her say, "Ken?"
"Brieanna?" I panted, barely above a whisper.
She must not have heard me, as she came closer. "Ken? Are you okay?" She must have been right outside.
"Brieanna? I'm hurt." Now that's an understatement.
She opened the side door, and when she saw how much of a mess I was, she ran to my side. "Don't touch me, yet!" I screamed.
I coughed. "Broke...broke a few ribs. Maybe a leg, maybe the shoulder. Definitely concussed; don't let me pass out. Talk... talk to me." I hacked again, but no blood came up. I was at least somewhat intact, internally.
"Stay right here." She was suddenly business-like. It occurred to me that whoever set her here had made sure she was qualified to keep me alive, if I so chose. So she had to have medical training.
She disappeared out into the snow, and returned in about eight long minutes, with two of her maintenance units.
"I'm going to load you onto a stretcher." And she did, with me screaming in absolute agony. She ignored me. They trundled me towards the mansion, I assume. I don't know. Somewhere along the way, despite my warning to her, I passed out anyway.
So much for my theory.
When I awoke, I was indeed in a different room, and an IV was in my arm, with a couple of bags hanging from it. How quaint, I thought, IV. My ribs were wrapped, and I was doped to the gills on some sort of painkiller, probably a somewhat addictive opiate.
Wonderful. After I get out of bed, I get to go through withdrawal. I thanked Osiris that I'm not the addictive type personality. I checked my motion.
Great. I've got my right arm. And that's about it.
I sat and contemplated my condition. What was I going to do in my present condition? And where was I?
Well, the scent of place told me I was in the mansion, still, so my medical emergency hadn't gotten me out of whatever prison it was intended to be. But, there was a strong presence of Brieanna's here, so I assumed I was in one of her private rooms.
That's when I saw it. I'd been avoiding the idea for sometime. But there on the table was a cyberinterface net, but not one like I use; this one was an induction cyber-cyber link. Brieanna was an android.
That's impossible. You can make AI's that size, and you can stuff them into android bodies that are virtually indistinguishable from human, but there are always things that give an android away.
Like their scent. Can't make an android smell exactly like a human, no way, no how, not yet. Like their body temperature. I'd seen Brieanna's IR signature once, through a rifle scope I'd been tinkering with (No, I did NOT point a rifle at Brieanna), and she was human. Even a 'chassis' type design tends to be too cool to be perfect, and a 'chassis' breath is never even close. Like her aura. I'll never be a competent mage; it's too much effort and tech can do ninety-nine percent of what magic can, so why bother? But I knew enough; she was human.
So what was that link for? My mysterious savior? Unlikely; I was convinced that this was a plot by Dave, Carroll and Paul. An agent? Why bother, Brieanna could just make her own reports?
So what was the damned link for? I decided it wasn't worth bothering about in my doped condition, and fell back into dark slumber.
When I awoke, a few hours later, I was pleased to find my warden sitting on the bed next to me. "Hi," I managed to croak.
"Hi yourself. You had me frightened."
"Thanks. I guess it'd have been bad to lose your best prisoner."
"You're still bitter about being here."
"No, not really. Just the drugs, the pain, and the frustration talking. I'm sorry, Brie, but it hurts like Hell to be slammed up against the wall by a Shirow PAPA." Personal Assault Powered Armor.
"I imagine. Well, I'll tell you the prognosis, above and beyond the fact that you're going to live. You broke four ribs, and I had to set one surgically, so under that wrap is a lot of scarring, but in your case that'll fade away. The right leg is also shattered, and it's set as well. The ceramics are chemically coded, so I can take them out almost at will, but you'll be needing them for a few weeks, at least. The shoulder is also torn up, but not so bad. You should have both arms back in about a week. In the mean time, you sit right where you are."
"And where am I?" I asked.
"The bedroom next to mine. I've moved your stuff down, and I've given Drac a limited set of instructions to follow to your voice."
"Thanks" I said, dryly. That the SI she had responded only to her annoyed me.
"I've got my reasons. It's violating my parameters just to give you control of one maintenance unit. But I figure this is an emergency. I'd hate for you to be bedridden AND bored, and I've got work of my own to do."
"Brieanna." I reached out to touch her, but she was out of reach.
"I won't ask what your work is, you probably won't tell me. But, thank you. In your own special way, you're doing a great job."
She smiled. "Thanks. I appreciate that. Now get some sleep." She rose. "Or at least, settle down and accept the fact that you're going to be in there for a few weeks."
"Hi," Brieanna said as she walked in.
"Well, it's nice to have both arms working. I can turn pages by myself now."
She smiled. "That's good. What 'ya reading?"
"The Art of Professional Homicide, by Gurney Halleck."
"Oh. Planning on killing someone?"
"Who is there to kill? You? Would that do me any good?"
She shrugged. "Would it make you feel any better?"
"I sort of doubt it. You've been good to me, for a warden."
She smiled then, untroubled apparently at my repeated attempts to jibe her by comparing her present career to that of a jailer. "Anyway," she continued, "I brought you something you might like to try your hand at."
She reached into the small duffel she'd carried in and deposited in my lap a... "A flute? What's this for?"
"Well, you told me you liked Ian Anderson, so I figured while you were bedridden like this, you might appreciate a chance to at least play with one."
"Brie, I told you... I have absolutely no musical skill whatsoever.
"I heard you playing Chariots of Fire on the piano a few weeks ago. That's not no skill!"
"Oh come on..."
"Listen to me. That's not an easy piece. I've looked at it, and it's in D-Minor, not an easy key."
"Oh, yes it is. Vangelis only uses four different chords, and as for the key, it's every white key slid down to it's next black key, except for F and C."
"And you say you have no musical skill. Listen to you. You're talking about it in a musician's way. Of course you can learn music. You just never put any effort into it."
"But..." She's patronizing me.
"Ken, I don't give a damn if you never touch that thing again. But at least, give it a try."
"No, and I will not let you listen to me make a fool of myself."
"Even after you told me all those wonderful jokes?"
"Even then. That was performance; this is practice. Besides, doing that sort of thing comes easy to me; I'm auretic, and gestures come easily, so doing skits like that is easy."
"Okay. I'll come by and see you later?"
Why in God's name had I told her I like Anderson? Because he's a great musician, with a hell of a talent? I picked up the flute and began to fiddle with it. I managed a squeak.
She walked in the next day to look in on her charge, and I was feeling a little better. Hadn't gotten much of anyplace with the flute, but at least I was figuring out what notes went where. The damned thing was complicated. Whoever invented the thing should be slow-roasted.
What she wore when she entered really piqued my interest. She came in wearing what looked like mutant riding boots and an electric guitar.
"What's all that?" I asked.
"This? This is my practice gear. I'm learning guitar. There are speakers in the boots so I can hear."
"No, really." You know, I'm rather fond of her soft southern accent all of a sudden.
She distracted me again by hitting a riff on the guitar. Whoa. Those little speakers in her boots put out a lot of sound. She hit a few dials that I was unfamiliar with on the guitar and dropped both the buzz and the volume, until it was at a civilized level, and proceeded to play a few things for me.
"Well?" she asked.
"Not bad. Certainly a lot better than I am. Guitar is not my instrument."
"Is the flute?"
"I doubt it. It's not a keyboard instrument. But I'll work at it.
"I could bring the Korg in here."
"Naah. Let me play with this thing before I retreat into the simplicity of a synthesizer," I said.
She shrugged. "Okay, your choice. Tell me, though," she said, changing the subject, "are you planning on working on the armor when you're well?"
"I don't see why not. Why shouldn't I?"
"Well, it almost killed you this time."
"I'll be more careful."
She sat down on the bed next to me, and covered my hand gently with hers. "I worry about you."
I looked away. "It's your job."
"No, it's not! Look at me. I'm your... your whatever you want to call me, Jailer, Healer, whatever. But I do it because it's what I am, not because I'm hired or because of any damned sense that I need quote the all-father unquote."
Looking into her eyes, I realized the one last straw was gone; there was no way in hell she was anything else than human. She was also about to cry. I made the classic "come here" gesture with my hand, and when I could, I grabbed the blouse she was wearing with my hand and pulled her towards me, until she was about two cm from my face. She looked into my eyes with a momentary confusion, and then, realizing what I was doing, descended on me, kissing me.
Our tongues met, and hers was soft and kind to mine as we danced in each others' mouth, and I was lost in the pleasure of the kiss for as long as it went on. Which was quite a while.
After what felt like a long time that was too short anyway, she broke away. "Why'd you do that?"
I shrugged, felt ribs settle painfully. "Because I wanted to."
"Did you really?" She asked, her eyes full of both nervousness and wonderment.
"Yeah..." I smiled. "Yes, I did. You're a good kisser."
"You're not angry towards me, then?"
"I haven't been angry with you in a while. I just didn't want to get intimate with my warden."
"Oh." She gathered up her guitar.
"Hey, where are you going?" I asked.
"I need... I'd like to attend to some other things. I'll be back later." She left hurriedly.
Damn. I wanted to be with her a little longer. She's probably left to report to her co-conspirators. Leaving me frustrated.
She's a damned good kisser. And what in hell am I going to do with an erection on the wrong side of a lower-body cast?