|A Human Perspective - Episode 9|
|Series||A Human Perspective|
|Source||A Human Perspective - Episode 9|
|In the series|
Home, mother, the army, Judy …
Joy, loss, remorse, contempt …
Faces and feelings, places and desires …
The gamut of Charl’s life experiences surfaced unwillingly from the depths as the Banu mind ripper stirred his memories. Rendered helpless by its strange neural technology — as well as who knew how many relaxing injections — he experienced it as if from afar, a spectral witness to someone else’s chaotic dreams.
As this went on, his exterior sensations were virtually nonexistent. On a base level — perhaps it was his survival instinct — he craved any stimulus from outside his troubled mind. For the longest time he got no relief, but eventually he sensed there was an ebb and flow to the process. Like a fish in the sea, he dove into deep depths for a while, then came closer to the surface where he could — barely — see the sun and sky beyond.
Uncertain of his own perceptions, even of his own will, he concentrated against the waves of unbidden memories, and on each subsequent ascent he forced himself closer and closer to the surface.
Shapes and sounds.
Swept deeper, Charl lunged toward the light.
Faces and voices.
Emotionally exhausted, he mustered his last reserves of strength.
“Charl-Grissom regaining consciousness.” Charl blinked several times and saw as if through a fog. He choked a bit and that gave him an idea. He forced himself to choke harder and harder, which not only brought him further into consciousness, but got the attention of the Banu techs.
“Charl-Grissom in distress,” one said, coming nearer. Charl feigned raspier, deeper choking and tensed himself as if he could no longer breathe, writhing desperately against his restraints. “Charl-Grissom danger of suffocation!”
The Banu tech began to unstrap him so he re-intensified his act. The only other tech came over with a syringe — something to calm him down, he wondered? One strap was undone, then another. The moment his arm was loose Charl grabbed awkwardly at the tech with syringe in hand and managed to plunge it into his throat. The Banu gurgled and collapsed onto the floor. By the time the second tech figured out there was a problem Charl was fumbling with his other straps.
“Alarm!” The tech tried to restrain him and the two struggled until Charl managed to get a strap around the Banu’s neck and pull it tight. The tech writhed but could not scream, and after a moment Charl let his blurry victim fall lifeless to the floor. He had thought his military years far behind him, but apparently his body retained its discipline.
He was alone now, shaking his head to clear his mind. He undid strap after strap until he was free. Unable to stand, he flopped onto the floor and crawled to put his ear to the door. Hearing nothing, he opened it and stuck his head out into an empty hallway. He dragged himself quickly into an open wet room across the way and closed its door behind him.
Think, Charl. Think! Until now he had let simple survival guide his actions. Now his clouded mind obstructed more organized planning. He crushed his palms against his temples and rubbed hard.
“What the …” Charl caught himself in a mirror. He ripped the skull cap off his shaved head, still dangling wires that he must have yanked free from the Banu mind machine. He was pale and gaunt, wearing a paper-thin robe. How long have they had me under?
Vague memories came back to him. The mission, the Banu who hired him, even the android. Charl struggled to put names to them, but every thought scurried off like a rabbit looking for its hole. He felt a terrible chill. Had they wrecked his mind, he wondered? Revulsion swept through his very being. Think! He babbled nonsensically, fearing discovery but fearing a scrubbed mind even more.
“The … the … uh …” he struggled, trembling on the wet room floor. “Come on … the … the Reacher!” He caught his breath. Yes, he thought, my ship is the Reacher! And the android was … uh … Angela!” He collapsed on the floor in relief, ecstatic at these simple recollections, but that relief was short lived.
“Alarm! Charl-Grissom escape!” Excited voices gathered in the hallway, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before someone poked a head into his wet room. Charl wiped the sweat from his brow and forced himself to his feet. His legs complained weakly, and he had to practically climb up the sinks to stand, but stand he did. More shouting ensued, and an electronic alarm whined loudly through the orbital facility.
“Checking wet room …” The door opened and Charl yanked the yellow-coated tech inside by his throat, shutting the door quickly behind him. He slammed the Banu’s head against the wall and forced him to the floor, snapping his neck loudly. Sonsabitches! They had turned him into a murderer. A quick flip and he pulled his victim’s lab coat off and squeezed into its narrow sleeves. I’ll never pass for a Banu, he thought, but it’s better than running around half naked!
His only hope was to get off the station. Any Human station would have escape pods, and he was pretty certain the Banu followed the same safety protocol. Once he got free of this place he could trust to his piloting skills to get away, but first things first. A computer link to the station’s layout would be handy, but there was nothing like that in this wet room. He would have to chance some other room, but from the wall’s tight curve he got the impression the station itself wasn’t too big to begin with. He worked his jaw and popped his neck, listened at the door for a quiet moment, then burst out.
“Search corridors here!” Charl heard pursuers in their native language. Several Banu ran across the t-intersection to his left, forcing him to turn his head away quickly and walk briskly to the right. Around one corner, then another, he heard more voices and footsteps approaching from both directions. He picked the first door and dove inside.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Angela!” She was in some kind of plexi-glass habitat, surrounded by workstations and monitoring devices, but the techs were all gone, probably looking for him. Her head was shaved, but he couldn’t mistake her face and voice.
“What are you, another damned robot?” she asked contemptuously, and his addled brain struggled.
“You’re the real Angela,” he said, quickly putting the pieces together. He could see her reach a similar conclusion.
“Whoever you are, you look too ragged to be an android! Can you get me out of here?” She came up to the plexi-glass wall between them, close enough that her breath fogged her side of it. “I haven’t seen another Human in, like, forever!” Then a second doubt struck her. “You’re not working for them, are you?” With that she backed away again, eying him warily.
“Not voluntarily,” he half-confessed, deciding to keep his story for later, assuming there was a later. “Is this the door?” he asked, indicating a portion of the plexi-glass with a hairline seam.
“Yeah,” real Angela came up to it and traced its outline with her finger. “They operate it from that panel over there.” A rattle of footsteps rolled through the hallway outside, and Charl braced himself to face their wrath. “What’s going on? The lab rats all ran off a few minutes ago.”
“They’re looking for me,” he said, clicking around on the control panel.
“Were they mind probing you, too?” she asked, looking at his bald head.
“Don’t worry. The confusion’s only temporary.”
“Thanks, that’s reassuring,” he said, and they shared a tight smile through the clear barrier, before more running footsteps renewed her fear.
“Please get me out of here!” she pleaded, shifting anxiously on her feet and clawing at the door with her fingernails.
The controls were in Banu computer speak, so anyone who couldn’t read it would never be able to get it open. But he could, and he did. The plexi-glass door lifted upward with a whoosh of air. Real Angela stood there for a moment as if in disbelief, then stepped out of her cage. “It’s good to be out of there, you have no idea. What now?”
“We need to get off this orbital …”
“We’re on an orbital?” She cocked her head in disbelief.
“You didn’t know?”
“How would I know? You see any windows in my glass apartment? And they keep me drugged up most of the time.”
“Well, we are, so we need an escape pod or something.”
“Try that workstation over there,” she suggested. “Maybe we can pull up building plans on it. Or orbital plans, I guess.” Charl punched up the screen, and clicked through menus.
“What’s your story?” he asked.
“I pissed somebody off,” she said simply.
“Join the club,” he replied, and she chuckled.
“I was a journalist doing contract work for Torreele. They said I broke their contract or some crap.” “Sounds familiar. Got it … yes, here we go!” Charl found some intelligible plans, locating where they were and what appeared to be escape pods. He traced his finger along the route. “Okay, we need to get down a couple of levels. Let’s move out!”
“Wait! Come here,” real Angela insisted, grabbing his yellow lab coat by the collar and pulling him into an unexpected, wet kiss. Open mouth. Deep. He pulled her close just as she broke it off.
“Okay, you’re real.”
“What do you mean …?”
“Androids kiss funny,” she said simply. “Let’s go!” He decided he could wait until later to find out how she knew that. Wow!
They listened at the door and hearing nothing, opened it and slipped out into the hallway. But no sooner had they turned the first corner than he heard a familiar Banu voice behind him.
“Charl-Grissom, contract breached second time.” It was Tech Two, flanked by a couple of Banu security guards holding laser carbines. Real Angela gasped in frustration.
To Be Continued …