The first (very rough) draft of a short story. Feedback is welcomed, as ever.


The light hits you like a fist, and you drop to your knees, your sight stolen in the sting of forgotten illumination. Your momentary blindness is as disturbing as it is physically painful – have I really been down here that long? Hunkered on the damp concrete, you hear the grating of the door and the approach of several businesslike pairs of feet. A voice sounds, drawling and disinterested. You still can’t understand the language they speak here, but you recognize the cadence of the phrase they always use in referring to you. Of course, you have no idea what you’ve been ordered to do and therefore can’t comply. The kick, when it falls, isn’t entirely unanticipated; that doesn’t prevent its driving all the breath out of you. Wheezing, you force your streaming eyes half-open to regard your assailant. It’s the white-haired official again, unknown insignia gleaming on her chest and cuffs, polished boot already drawn back for a second blow. You wrap your arms around yourself and brace, but she breaks off the motion, smoothly resuming her position.

She speaks again. By the upward jerk of her chin, you gather you’re to rise. You can’t do it gracefully – your muscles are cramped and your ribs ache where a new bruise is already forming – but you manage to bring yourself approximately upright. You’d be about her height if you were standing straight. Wavering on your feet, you squint into her face in search of signs of her intent. Her expression has not changed since the first time you saw her, you realize (though at this moment you can’t recall the details of that first encounter). Then, as now, she had been impassive but for the faintest derisive creases at her eyes and lip as she appraises you. You’re an insect, inconsequential but in need of squashing. That hasn’t changed, either. With a nod and a brief instruction to the two lesser-ranked guards who accompany her, she turns on her heel to leave the cell. The guards move to your flanks and shove you to follow their superior.

Your head is still fuzzy with the mix of drugs they use on prisoners in lieu of manacles. As you make your unsteady way along the echoing corridor between your unfriendly shepherds, you try for the thousandth time to remember the important things. Name? It begins with an M, you think, but you can’t get beyond that. There’s a tattoo on the inside of your left wrist which probably has something to do with where you come from or what your directive was. You’re pretty sure it was violent, from the strength of the inhibitors they’ve pumped into you. Experimentally, you fold your hands into fists and lift them. Once you’ve got them held in front of you, though, you can’t think of what you’re supposed to do next. One of your guards laughs and knocks your hands down, adding what sounds like an insult to your intelligence. You can’t really blame him – you aren’t feeling particularly sharp.

It’s a long walk. The guards talk back and forth, at ease in their awareness of your ignorance; a few steps ahead, the white-haired official is feeding long, labyrinthine phrases into the comns clip at her collar. You don’t know where you’re going. It’s very possible you’re stumbling towards your execution. An escape attempt would probably be the thing, you tell yourself, but the idea (while a very pleasant one) is too abstract for your restricted consciousness to even begin to act on. You can’t even be angry with yourself for your inability to do anything. Without anything better to do, you pick at your mind for any surfacing answers. Still no name or purpose. You can get at old memories – childhood stuff, your years at school. The day you came home with five new demerits because of that prank – your mother was waiting, ready to scold – what did she say? You stare intently at the passing floor tiles and coax out the echoes of a chiding voice. “Don’t bother looking innocent. I know what happened, M-”

You walk straight into the official’s back – you’re in the lift, you realize. Without a pause, she swivels and strikes you across the face, her two heavy rings leaving what feel like twin score-marks just below your eye. She’s hit you hard enough to make your ears ring, so hard that the rest of your name gets shaken loose from your uncooperative brain. “Mischkol,” you say out loud, even as you stagger back against the closed door of the lift. Unconcerned, the official adjusts her rings and returns her attention to whatever’s coming through her earpiece. Your guards jostle you back into place between them. A warm ooze creeps down your cheek, but you disregard it, latching on in vice-like fashion to the two syllables you’ve salvaged. Mischkol. You hold your name in the center of your thoughts like a key pressed between palms, warming with the contact. If you let it sit there long enough and pretend not to be thinking about it, maybe it will let out something else.

Through the lift windows you keep an absent count of floors. It’s around the twenty-first where the doors slide open; by then, you’re smiling, having tugged loose a chunk of memory. You watch the flick of the official’s pale hair in its tight plait and think of the way it looked under the flickering green-yellow wash of the streetlight. You were lying sprawled and winded on the wet pavement, your blood surging, your body locked – your bike was some ten meters away, equilibrium sensors shrieking at its undignified sideways state. You’d been shot down with a stun gun, one of the new ones. How fast had you been going when you were thrown? But you were conscious, so that when the official pulled her own bike up and swung down to stand over you, you fixed her indifferent face in your mind.

Another long hall. There are skylights overhead – you’re on the top floor, wherever you are. You’re steadier on your feet but still hazy, still unable to conceive of lashing out. Violence is not an option here, however much you wish it were. You don’t know where they’re taking you, but you can guess – you’ve realized that you know important things. You might not be able to remember what those things are, but they know that you know, and they can get at those things better than you can right now. That’s the way these drugs work. There are keys to your mind that somebody else is holding. It makes you itch, and drives you on to keep working at the chemical locks in your head. What do you have so far? Your name. The memory of your capture. You push back against the beginning of that last recollection, hoping to find out why you were trying to escape, who you’re working for, and maybe even what important information you might have.

Nothing comes. You switch tactics, knowing that you must be getting close to whatever destination you’re being led to. You go back to just your name, just those syllables in conjunction, repeating them over and over in your mother’s voice. To your satisfaction, the tone of it changes – it becomes another voice, a firmer, sharper, younger one. This voice has grand plans behind it, and you are part of those plans, you’re sure. “Mischkol. You loop that voice, trying to relearn its cadences and summon forth other phrases you have heard it say. Who does it belong to? She speaks with authority, with urgency. You are important to her plans, gravely significant in some way or another. “Mischkol, she says again, and this time you hear your answer – “Ananth, I understand” – and then the memory cuts off.

The white-haired official has stopped again, and this time your guards grab your elbows to keep you from walking into her. They mutter something incomprehensibly insulting as the official presses her hand to the pad beside the door. You feel panic rise in your throat, bitter and trembling – you must keep thinking – there is an answer somewhere in your head, you’re sure of it. You cannot defend yourself from the forthcoming interrogation if you do not have mastery of the things you know. “Mischkol” “Ananth, I understand”“Do you?” The pad blinks orange, and the official curses at it, wiping her hand on her shirt before trying the pad again. “I do understand” – “Show me, then” – and with that you feel a twinge in your left wrist, just where the tattoo is placed. You glance down at it, but the pain was only remembered – like teeth gripping the skin there. You don’t know what to make of that. You were demonstrating something to Ananth – biting your own wrist?

Now the pad glows blue, and the door slides open. You’re almost out of time. As you’re ushered forward, you pinch at the tattoo, trying to prompt the faltering dialogue forward with the repeated sensation. The pain, and then in a rush – “You idiot, be careful, not so hard“I know what I’m doing” – “Alright. You have eighteen hours, Mischkol. This could be the beginning” – “Of the change, yes, I know” – “Go on, then. Be safe.” You touch your brow, where phantom lips press the ghost of a fervent seal of trust. There’s a warm ache summoned by that feeling, and it savors of deep emotion – you love Ananth, or you love her cause, or you love the strength with which she holds that cause. You only wish you could recall her face.

The room beyond the door is white and windowless. There are three other officials waiting, tablets and styluses ready, seated at a long table which faces you. Between you and them is a clinical recumbent chair with restraints hanging ready at its arms and foot. The metal cabinet beside it is topped with a tray of syringes – the keys to your mind. You brace your heels as best you can against the slick floor. You have to think. Ananth trusted you with whatever you know, and the terror in your gut says that if you let these people have that information, you’ve doomed her and her endeavor. Your guards seize you, but you buckle at the knees and drop your full weight against their grip. You’re not fighting them – your inhibitors can’t keep you from resisting like this. Think! You’re too light to cause the guards much difficulty once they’ve readjusted their hold on you. They’re carrying you by your arms, and your eye is drawn by your tattoo again. It’s only an oval of blue ink, but you’re suddenly certain that it’s vital – it’s your way out. They’ve got you in the chair, and they’re going to tie you down – nownownownownow

You yank your wrist free for just a moment – just the moment you need to sink your teeth into your own skin, lining your incisors up against the rim of the tattoo. Blood flows hot and fierce, but it’s unnaturally sweet – and something wrests loose in your mind to make you swallow. One of the guards slams your head back against the chair; the other pinions your bloody wrist against the armrest, exclaiming in exasperation. They don’t know what you’ve done besides ostensibly go mad. What have you done? You can still taste the chemical saccharine tang in the back of your throat, and it’s inexplicably soothing. Oh – your vision is beginning to go dark at the edges. “I do understand,” you hear again, your own voice directed to Ananth. And you can see her now – the set of her jaw, the heat of her eyes, the slant of her once-broken nose. Have all your memories come unlocked? You’re losing input from the present moment. You can remember, though, if only briefly – you know you’re dying – and you think of Ananth, fists raised high before a basement assembly, burning as she speaks. She is bright against the encroaching blackness. Then her image fades – and she’s gone – and so are you.


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