Airun sat up in bed. His face was slick with sweat and his heart thundered in his chest so hard he felt that if not for his rib cage, it might leap right out of his chest. He held a hand to his chest, took deep breaths, tried to steady himself. The darkness was stifling and enveloped him like a blanket. Despite the flashes of heat the seemed to surge up from his core, Airun shivered and his teeth clattered like pebbles in a windstorm. The last time he’d awoken this way was when the chemical restraints were wearing off. That time, Professor McKinley increased his dosage and started administering them intravenously. Something was happening, and Airun was just on the verge of naming it, but something else that he couldn’t name was getting in the way.
The drugs. It’s the drugs, like a wall pushing up from the ground of my mind. Every time I have a lucid thought, it strikes a wall and dissipates before I have a chance to gain clarity. But this is changing. I can feel it.
Airun reached for the glass of water next to his bed, but too soon. The shivering hadn’t stopped yet, and instead of grasping the glass, he knocked it from the table. He expected the glass to shatter against the tightly woven carpet, but it simply bounced and rolled under the bed. Airun chuckled, “It’s not glass after all. Probably afraid I’d use a shard to slit my wrist.” Then his breath caught. Now that was a lucid thought, wasn’t it?
Airun’s roommate, Seth, slept like the dead, which figuratively speaking he was, on the other side of the room. His chemical restraint contained a hit of sodium pentothal. He had no will to resist anything that the Professor suggested or requested.
Although Seth’s official job was as the cook, anything else the professor demanded, he did, without so much as a sideward glance. Anything else the Professor wanted could include cleaning the bathrooms, serving his guests, or cleaning the kennel where the Professor’s ferocious hybrid canines lived. Seth also acted as a spy for the Professor. Even at his worst, Airun knew to watch himself in front of Seth. He'd willingly to reported anything with little prodding, including the quantity and consistency of his excrement that day.
Airun slid his legs over the edge of the bed and reached for the glass. The jangle from the bracelet on his wrist caught the scant moonlight that managed to creep in from between the heavy black out blinds. A small face flashed into his mind. A small face surrounded by a mess of dark hair. A smile like spring in the forest. Laughter like a sparrow. Who was she?
Airun threw his hands over his head, growled deep in his gut. He wanted so desperately to recall but this face, and he had seen it before for the briefest time, slipped just out of his grasp, slippery as a wriggling fish. A wriggling fish? The next vision was that of a silver fish vigorously jumping on the end of a line. "Tonight we will have fish stew for dinner,” he said. He suddenly saw himself, as if a ghost, sunlight passing through him. He turned and looked back. It was that girl again. Not a girl, but a woman. His woman. She smiled and reached out to claim the fish. "Small isn't it? Maybe you should throw it back and try for something bigger." Then she laughed. "I am only kidding with you. This will indeed make a lovely fish stew, if you can collect some basil and oregano and maybe wild strawberries for dessert.”
"And where will I get any of that?"
"The far end of the forest." She smiled again mischievously.
But he would surprise her by agreeing to go. "Anything for you," he assured her.
Airun remembered. He remembered coming back from the far eastern edge of the forest where there were once homes with lush kitchen gardens. Those homes were now vacant, and the kitchen gardens were now overrun by weeds and wild animals. Those that were still somewhat enclosed had some herbs left, but they were hard to find and grew fairly wild. Most of his people didn’t even recognize an herb when they saw one.
Airun head was aching now and his vision blurred. He longed for this woman and life he could barely remember.
He fingered the bracelet on his wrist. It was his binding chain fashioned with silver links. She had fashioned it for him herself, this nameless woman. There was no obvious latch, so he didn't know how to get it off.
Airun sat on the edge of a bed in a sterile white room. He was dressed in a white jumper. There were two, or three other men. One of the men sweated over his wrist. He had tried all manner of tools to remove this loop of silver links to no avail. Finally, a man who stood in his periphery said, "Leave it." It was the Professor.
"But sir," said one of the men. "You said that you wanted any reminders to their pasts removed. You don't want something as benign as a bracelet to unhinge his memories, do you?"
"It's just a stupid meaningless chain. Besides, your concoctions should do the trick to keep him under. Correct?"
The man shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, it had better. Failure is no option here." Give him the loading dose and get him ready to return to my compound. I need a driver. I would still have Manuel, had you imbeciles not poisoned him."
"A mistake, Professor McKinley." The man kept his eyes cast to the floor.
"Mistakes won't be forgiven. I cannot afford them, and neither can you."
Airun glanced over at Seth, who remained sleeping, his soft breaths steady and quiet.
The memories cost Airun so much in energy and pain. He gripped his head again and ground his teeth to prevent himself from crying out. He had to find something for this head ache and the fever. He swiped a hand over his forehead, beaded with sweat. He was nauseous as well. What was happening?
You fool. The restraints are failing. Take note because this may be your chance to run.
But Airun had never run from anything in his life, and certainly never from a Scientist.
This thought, more clear more lucid than any of them jolted him, straightening his back. It was almost as if a hand had pushed away the fog and suddenly he could feel something of himself.
Evera! Her name is Evera. She is my wife. My mate. Her face came to him now more clearly than before. She spoke to him this time. "You foolish man. You could've gotten hurt going all the way to the old habitations for mere herbs. I was only joking."
He laughed. "I would do that, and more for you."
As quietly as he was able, with shaking hands, Airun slipped into his clothes, an ill fitting chauffeur’s uniform the only clothing that he owned. He tucked one shoe into each of his pockets; they would be heavy and loud against the marble of the professor's mansion. He slipped out of the room.
His head throbbed like a mallet against a gong and his mouth was as dry as onion paper. He stopped at the end of the hall and turned left toward the first floor back entrance. If he behaved properly, like the drugged zombie he’d been for the past…he didn’t know how long it had been, he could take the limousine and ride up to the invisible electric front gates. He’d tell the guard that the Professor had requested a late night snack of curried chicken and a mango shake from his favorite Jamaican restaurant. This wouldn’t be the first time and the guard would accept the rouse, release the invisible perimeter and let him go. Airun could leave, go back to Midling territory, reclaim his life, his woman, his position as leader of the Midlings.
I am the Midling leader? I am the Midling leader.
But Airun had never run from anything in his life, and certainly never from a Scientist.
A right turn would take Airun down a hall with only one door, at its very end. This is where the Professor, slept, worked, meditated. He would almost certainly be questioned by the Professor if he were caught wandering the halls at this time. And if he didn’t answer correctly, he would be subdued and his dosage changed and increased. He’d become a zombie again.
Airun stood there, unmoving for over a minute, running different scenario over in his head.
He turned right. When he came to the end of the hall, he saw that the Professor’s door was ajar. Dim light shone out.
He could hear the Professor’s voice…and another as he talked on the vid-phone.
“I have reports that she has traveled through Midling territory though I am certain she hasn’t gone back.”
“But she might,” said the other voice. “You need to breech their land, capture their leader, learn what you can of Honor’s plans.”
“I agree, which is why I have already sent a few of my men on a reconnaissance mission to learn their weaknesses.”
Airun sank to the floor, hands shaking, heart pounding so that he felt that his head might explode.
“Good thinking Hashimoto, but we need to know where she is now.”
“The girl is on the move, and I would bet everything that she will go after the boy.”
“You mean her brother, Truth?” Airun realized that the voice sounded synthesized and mechanical. He couldn’t tell if it was a woman or a man.
“Yes. Now that she knows about him, I have no doubts that she will try to reunite with him.”
“This could prove dangerous.”
“True. She is immensely powerful and though he hides it, we know he is too.”
“He is a bright boy.”
“Yes, this is for certain. He keeps his gifts to himself. I have no doubt, and incidentally, quite a great fear, that when the time comes to take him, we may have a bit of trouble.”
“And loss of lives.”
“Ah well,” said the Professor, “some things are inevitable, as distasteful as they are.”
“Then you will have to take him yourself, before Honor comes for him.”
“No,” said the Professor, “I have already explained that this might be a mistake. I will leave him with the Esclaves.”
“Imbeciles, you said so yourself.” Reuniting them must be done in a strictly controlled situation.”
“Yes.” The Professor’s voice grew wary.
“Reuniting Honor and Truth must be done under strictly controlled conditions.”
“I agree, but---“
“Then, you must retrieve him.”
The Professor was quiet for a long time before he finally spoke. “Alright.”
Airun could hardly believe what he was hearing. Had the Professor just acquiesced to someone else? Does this mean he has a superior?
“You will keep Truth safely on your compound. Honor will be forced to come for him there and then you will have them both.” The laugh that followed was throaty and followed by a hiccup. “Once they are within your compound, treat them kindly. Do them no harm.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“We wouldn’t want to destroy our only chance of ensuring our own survival and that of our progeny, would we?”
“No, sir.” The Professor sounded less sure of himself. In fact, he sounded almost afraid. “When would you like me to retrieve the boy.”
“Within a week, I think.” After a bit of a silence the synthesized voice added with a yawn, “This conversation is tiresome and it is late.”
“Yes, I understand, good night.”
The next thing Airun heard was the dial tone. Then something he had never heard before. The Professor was whimpering, muttering to himself. “I could die trying to get those children here.”
Airun leaned against the wall, throbbing head in his hands and he had the most lucid thought yet, so much so, that he thought for a moment that he had spoken it out loud.
Don’t worry professor. I’ll get them first.
Airun also realized that this lucid thought was probably his most dangerous.