I’ve decided not to trunicate the chapter this time – it’s when you click to Read More that you get the squished margins, thanks to this template, and I love this template too much to switch. Black is so very slimming, yanno.
So here’s Chapter 2 – what I call the Emo Character (I feel sick) Just keep in mind this was me 10 years ago. We all grow and mature as writers!! 😀 (this is when I also admit that, in retrospect, the character from chapter 1 was always easier for me to write) And I’m timestamping this post, because as you read this – if you read this in the morning – I’m sleeping in! I have Friday off this week, and must write like a madwoman in order to get ready for the Penman Shipwreck in January.
So here ya go: When the Stars Walk Backwards, Chapter 2
It was a nightmare.
Somewhere along the line, this vision had gotten out of control. It used to be something he longed for, even dreamed about. One of those fantasies that you could replay in your mind, and revisit for comfort. Only this time it was real, and it was out of his control.
They were coming.
Strangers, and lots of them. That longing for rescue, even human contact, had changed to fear of the unknown. They wouldn’t be landing to take him away, and it was doubtful they’d be landing to secure his safety. It was even more remote to dream these strange people would accept the truth he had to present them.
Such as it was.
“So what the hell am I going to tell them?” Bryce ran a hand through his long hair for the tenth time in the past five minutes. He was fully aware his hands were shaking, but somehow the motion seemed to help. The blip on his screen was getting larger as the shuttle entered the atmosphere half a world away.
Five wasn’t being much help, either.
“You simply tell them the truth,” the computer replied with it’s usual calmness.
“I don’t know the truth!” God, some days this machine could be exasperating. Bryce knew Five had been aware of the approaching ship for days and had kept it from him, but they hadn’t discussed that yet. As long as the new arrivals were in space, the computer had the advantage. And he couldn’t afford to piss it off. “What am I going to say when they ask?” Bryce began to pace again in front of the screen, glancing at the display on each pass. The shuttle would land in front of his buildings in less than an hour at this rate.
“All you have to do is explain to them why you don’t know. I sent the data. If they’re the scientists they’re supposed to be, I’m sure they’ve understood it all by now.”
“What does that mean? ‘If they’re the scientists they’re supposed to be’?” Bryce’s heart jumped in his chest. He should be used to this damned machine’s mind games by now, but he wasn’t. Not this time, anyway. But that one guy, the Captain, he’d mentioned having the data. Surely he was able to figure it out. It looked like he was trying to control the situation, as confused as it had been. He’d said there was nothing to worry about, and something in his voice made Bryce want to believe he was right.
“Calm yourself,” Five chastised. “You’ve got nothing to be afraid of. These are colonists come to join the first group. I haven’t been able to ascertain a reason for them being so late, but I’m sure they will be able to explain.”
Bryce shook his head as he paced. “They’ll want to know what happened.”
“And you’ll tell them. I have it all here in the medical files, as well as my own documentation of the occurrences.”
“You don’t even remember where they went.” He stopped pacing and stared at the screen, judging the time left.
“We both know that section of my hard drive was damaged. Much the same way your memory was affected by the accident.” Five switched the view from the approaching shuttle to the larger ship in orbit around their planet.
“What are you doing?” Bryce found himself looking at a huge ship hanging motionless in the blackness above.
“Just checking the model of that ship against my records.”
“It appears to be an old military vessel, refurbished as a transport.”
Bryce felt all the blood wash out of his face. “Military?” They had said they were the second group. He swore they had.
“Refurbished,” Five repeated. “Don’t worry, they’re the colony group. And it’s time you went out and met them.”
Why wasn’t any of this like his dream? He was supposed to be thrilled when the fabled Second Group came. So many years of being alone, with only the computer that had kept him alive for company. Years of dreaming about rescue, the companionship of other humans. All those years, waiting for this single moment when the ship would arrive and people would come to live here again. Dreams of no longer being alone were now churning in his stomach as the shuttle appeared in the sky above the mountains.
Bryce swallowed hard, then straightened up to his full five feet seven and walked toward the main door. Panic washed over him the instant he stepped through the archway. This time, it had nothing to do with what he was walking to meet.
“Five, you’ll leave the doors open?” The shuttle was landing now, a hundred yards away from the courtyard, but he knew his voice had carried to the outdoor sensors.
There was no reply. At least not one Bryce could hear over the braking thrusters of the ship. In an instant, too quick for him to hold onto, an image flashed through his mind. An image of darkness, walls closing in all around, and gut wrenching fear.
As quickly as the image appeared, it was gone. Bryce had no time to try and get it back, but the impact left him breathless and cold. And facing a shuttle that was huge, two levels, with a large sloping gangway already snaking down from the door on the upper level.
“Five, did you hear me?” Only the engines answered as they powered down in front of him. Fine. He still had a way in if the computer was going to pull anything on him.
With a swish, the shuttle door opened. Bryce swallowed again, wondering if any small part of his dream was going to work out. There was little he could do about anything now. The first of the new arrivals was stepping through the door.
It was the older man with the white hair, the one he remembered as being Commander something-or-other. The man paused at the door, then smiled down and began walking the steep ramp. Behind him was a woman, close to the same age, who kept looking out at the landscape while she followed him down. Behind her came another man, younger than the first two, but with a look of age about him. Bryce suddenly recognized him as the man on the screen with the bright blue eyes and short hair who had told him everything was going to be okay.
What did he know?
Still, as the three approached, Bryce felt drawn to him over the other two. He had an air of control, a self awareness. The other two just looked excited. Swallowing hard, Bryce stepped up to meet them. He didn’t have a clue what to say.
“I’m Commander Alexander.” The older man stepped up first, extending his hand. “This is Doctor Lise Weller, and Captain Brennan, the pilot who brought us all this way.”
Bryce took the hand that was offered, praying his own wasn’t shaking as much as he thought it was, and smiled at the three arrivals. His heart was racing so fast he could hear the blood rushing through his ears.
“I’m Bryce.” He shook the woman’s hand and she gave him a puzzled glance. “I’m the only one here.” Were they going to believe him? He reached out and shook the Captain’s hand. There was something in his manner that spoke of calm control. He must have seen right through the fear, since his hand held on firmly, giving Bryce the moment he needed to gain some composure. The ice-blue eyes met his with warmth and a kind sparkle.
“We understand from the data the computer sent up that no one else resides here.” The Commander glanced around. “Did they move on?”
Bryce looked at the man, then shook his head. “I don’t know.” His gaze dropped instantly to the ground, but he recovered quickly. “Five can tell you more than I can.”
“Has the computer kept things from you?” The Captain’s voice was quiet and not accusing.
“No, I don’t–I’m not sure.” This wasn’t going well. His heart was racing again. How much could he tell these people? How much should he tell them? He looked up and felt another surge of fear knot up his gut.
“That’s the first load.” The Commander pointed to the large group of people massing down the gangplank. “I’m sorry to barge in on you like this, Bryce. You should have had more warning we were coming, but things haven’t worked out right for the past twenty years, I’m afraid.”
“They said you’d come, when I was a kid. But since it never happened, it was just a story, nothing more.” A story he used to think would be a fantastic adventure, until now.
“There was a . . . delay.” The Commander sighed. “But we’re here now, and I’m sorry but we’re going to be invading your camp. If you could just show us around? Our people will begin unloading the gear.”
Numbly, Bryce motioned toward the main building then led the group through the courtyard to the front doors. They were invading his home, but a small voice inside was trying to convince him this had been the plan all along. It wasn’t really his home, after all. It belonged to the others, the ones who brought him, and had been planned as a temporary shelter. He didn’t really have any rights to it.
Bryce saw them all stare up at the Tracker as they walked through the courtyard, but no one stopped until they got indoors.
“What is that large silver structure?” The Doctor pointed out to the courtyard. “It’s beautiful.”
“That is what the original group called the Tracker,” Five chimed in, catching everyone off-guard for a moment. “Just a statue, really. Made from local metals. I’m told humans find the movement very soothing.”
Bryce felt the muscles in his jaw tighten and he looked away for a moment, glaring over his shoulder at one of the monitors in the wall. When he looked back, the captain was watching him.
“You must be the Adam Unit?” Commander Alexander stepped farther into the room, looking around at the mostly vacant, large foyer. He spoke into the air, having no terminal visible in that room to speak toward.
“I’m called Five, Commander. At your service.”
“Well, Five, perhaps you could direct me to your Medical Unit? I’d like to give Bryce here an examination.” The Doctor turned to Bryce and smiled, eyebrows arched. “That is, if you don’t mind?”
Mind? He wanted to run away. Everything in his head was telling him to get the hell away from these strangers and crawl into one of the caves in the hills. But he couldn’t. They were in his home. And he’d waited all this time for them to come. Nervously, Bryce shook his head. “No, I don’t mind.” He was going to have to adapt to these people, and to do that he’d have to get to know them. At least, some of them. He was perfectly willing to look on the bright side.
If only he could find it.
“I can assure you, Doctor, Bryce is in perfect health. My medical unit may be outdated, but I’ve had no trouble at all in–”
“Thank you, Five,” the doctor interrupted easily, taking Bryce by the arm with a smile. “I can manage, if you’d like to give the Commander some assistance.”
Bryce couldn’t help noticing the look Captain Brennan gave the Commander as he allowed Doctor Weller to lead him out of the room. He couldn’t really interpret it, but there was something exchanged between the two men, and he got the feeling it wasn’t about him. Once through the first hallway, he pointed toward the Medical area. “It’s right in there, but Five’s right, I’m fine.”
“I’m sure you are, young man. But it’s been a while since you’ve been examined by a doctor, hasn’t it?” When they entered the room her eyes darted immediately to the monitor in the far corner. “We got your files, and I just wanted to check you out and have a talk, if you don’t mind?”
Was that the trick? Separate him from the others while they move in, leave him with the female so she can get him to reveal . . . what? “So you know about the accident?” What was he doing? Scared to death, surrounded by strangers, and willingly he sits on the exam bench and starts talking?
“I read the medical report, yes.” Doctor Weller smiled as she glanced around the room.
“I believe the equipment you’re looking for is in the lower left cupboard.”
Bryce looked up at the ever-present monitor, but before he could reply, the Doctor beat him to it.
“Thank you, Five, but I’m sure you understand the importance of privacy between a doctor and a patient?” She punctuated her sentence by flipping off the power to the computer’s access terminal, leaving the monitor and sensors lifeless.
He thought his heart would stop. “You—Wait, you can’t–You turned him off!” Bryce had to fight to keep from lunging across the room and flipping it back on. Only the shock of what she’d done — and an odd small bit of relief–kept him from it.
“Bryce, it’s all right.” Her hands reached out for his shoulders, but he pulled back and she stopped in front of him. “I know he must have been your constant companion for quite some time, but it’s going to be fine.”
Fine?! What the hell did she know from . . . Okay. Deep breath. “He controls the building.” She had to understand that, right?
“You can’t turn him off, he has to control the building.” Another deep breath still didn’t calm his racing pulse.
“It’s okay. I’ve only switched him off in here. He’s still on throughout the complex.”
He met her eyes and forced himself to relax. This was too much all at one time. It wouldn’t do to prove himself a nutcase in front of these people. Not when they must already figure him for the bad guy. “I’m sorry. I just — He’s never been turned off before, that’s all.”
“I understand.” She pulled a diagnostic unit from the drawer beside her. “What can you tell me about this accident?”
Five had to know it wasn’t him who had flipped that switch. Besides, he’d be using all of his circuits dealing with the other people right now. “Nothing. I don’t remember it.”
She held the unit in front of his chest. “Can you unbutton your shirt, please?” The older medical unit came on without protest. “Nothing?”
“I remember waking up in here with a headache. Five told me there had been an accident. He had to use the robotic servos from the lab to get me inside.”
“There was no one else here who could help?” She motioned for the shirt to come all the way off, then moved around to scan his back.
“No, I was alone.” The slight vibration of the unit was warm against his skin.
“Was there anyone with you before the accident?” Finished with his back, she set the machine down and picked up a smaller one, aiming at his eyes.
“He said they were gone.”
“Five told you they were gone?”
“His hardware was damaged. Some of the memory was erased.” The light shining in his eyes moved, then turned off.
“Bryce, have you had any contact with anyone since the accident?”
She wasn’t buying it. “No, there isn’t anyone. They’re all gone, all right? They’ve been gone for ten years, and I don’t know why or where!” Quickly, Bryce pulled his shirt back on and pushed away from the exam table. “I can’t even remember what it was like when they were here! And you –You people were just stories Five told me when I was a kid!” He was about to run out of the room when he realized there was nowhere to run to. He was trapped, and not dealing with it very well, judging by the look on the Doctor’s face. He took a deep breath and pushed some hair from his face. “I’m sorry. I just–”
“No, don’t apologize.” She held up a hand and smiled, almost sadly. “And call me Lise, okay? Everyone who knows me calls me Lise, not Doctor.” Slowly, she took a few steps toward him. “And I assure you, Bryce, you’ll get to know me. You’ll get to know all of us. We’re not planning on vanishing. And we’re not here to cause you any harm.”
He supposed that was intended to make him feel better. “Yeah, well . . . I’m sorry. I can hardly remember the time right after the accident, and I can’t remember anything before except little things.” Life is made of little things. He’d heard that before, somewhere.
“I realize this has to be hard for you, having been alone for so long.” Lise pointed toward a pair of chairs near a desk in the far corner of the room. “We were scheduled to come twenty years ago, just as your computer said. We should have arrived while you were still a young boy.”
Reluctantly, Bryce followed her to the chairs and sat down. “Why didn’t you?”
“There was a war. A long one.” Lise sat down with a sad sigh and turned toward the small table between them, folding her arms over the top so she could lean forward. “It started three months before the second colony’s scheduled departure, and lasted twenty years.” She sighed again and shook her head. “All that time, the Bureau wouldn’t allow any ships not in military service to use the Particle Launch.”
Bryce nodded. “Five taught me about that, the thing that shoots your ships out this far.”
“He was your teacher, then?”
Her tone was casual, but he couldn’t help feel there was more to it. “He was programmed to teach the children, among other things. He can tell you about that.” Why weren’t they asking Five what happened? Or were they, while they kept him in here? Separate the two?
“I’m sure he can.” Lise smiled as if she sensed his uneasiness. “That’s not important right now. I assume you know your environment? What plants are edible, the animals that can and can’t be used for food, that sort of thing?”
“Of course. They planted crops over the hill to the north that I’ve kept. It doesn’t take any effort to keep things going around here. There used to be cattle, but they went wild a long time ago. You have to hunt them.” This kind of information came out easily enough. At least they couldn’t accuse him of poisoning them, if he was eating the stuff too. But then . . . “There are some toxic plants, sometimes deadly, that mimic the right ones.” Did he still have that written down, or was it all in Five’s banks?
“We have some diagnostic equipment that can help identify most edibles, but it would help if you could give us a list, or signs to watch out for. We can only look for known toxins, and this is an alien planet to us, after all.”
Alien. Bryce nearly laughed, hearing his world described like that, when it was these new arrivals who were alien to him. “I think there’s a catalog somewhere. I just know them,” he shrugged.
“That’ll be fine. We’ll get to know them, too, as we get to know you. And we brought more cattle, in embryonic stasis, just like the ones your group brought out.”
“How many are there? Of you, I mean.” It was time to change the subject. Five talked to him like this sometimes, treating him like a scared child, but only when he was trying to get inside his head. He had no choice but to let these people inside his world, but he be damned if he was going to let them inside his head.
“Three hundred. But don’t worry, as soon as possible, they’ll be building new shelters and spreading out.” She nodded around the small room. “But for a bit, it might feel pretty crowded around here.”
Bryce nodded, then had to swallow to moisten a suddenly dry throat. “I should move my things.” Not that he had much, but it was everything. “To make room.” He stood, glancing again at the lifeless terminal on the wall.
“Don’t worry too much, Bryce.” Lise stood with him, reaching out a hand that stopped short of touching his arm. “We’re fully aware this is your home, I promise you that. Anything you have in these buildings will remain yours, whether you want to move it or not.”
Her smile seemed sincere, at least. “Are you finished with me, then?”
“Yes, certainly.” Lise pulled back her hand and let it push long, dark hair off of one shoulder. “Oh, but I do have one question, if you don’t mind? Your eye color, as listed in the log from the original ship’s records, is blue.”
Bryce arched both eyebrows for a moment as he guessed her question. “Five said it was the water. Something about years of exposure, or DNA or something.” He shrugged, not really knowing the technicalities. “Five told me only people with pale colored eyes changed.”
Lise nodded, considering that for a moment. “Interesting. It’s attractive, though. Just very unusual. I’ve never seen anyone with lavender flecks in their eyes before.”
He shrugged. “I’m sure you’ll all adapt the same, over time.”
“Yes, I’m sure we will.” As he turned to leave, she stepped forward quickly. “Bryce, if you need anyone to talk to, if you need a friend while you get used to us being here, please feel free to come to me. Or Captain Brennan, if you prefer. He’s not a scientist like the rest of us, so he’s somewhat of an outsider himself. I’m sure he would prove a good sounding board, should you need one.”
Bryce let a small movement of his head serve as an answer, leaving her free to interpret its meaning as he left the exam room. His heart had been racing the entire time, he was sure. Whether she’d been able to see right through him, he didn’t know. All he did know right now was confusion. It was happening too fast, all around him. This dream that had become a nightmare was happening and he had no control over it. His troubled thoughts took him down the hall, back into the meeting room of the main building, only it wasn’t the same room he’d known.
When he brought Lise, the Commander, and that Captain in here not long ago, it was as it had been for years. Large, mostly empty except for some built-in equipment lining the walls, and monitored from one corner to the next by Five. The room he was in now resembled that one in size only. Even that was deceptively lessened by the boxes, crates and stacks of new equipment, tools, living supplies and computer terminals.
They were everywhere, carrying boxes in from outside, examining the rooms of all three buildings that made up the complex, talking and pointing and adding more and more clutter to every corner there was. And they all knew him. Or at least, who he was. Everywhere he went, rooms full of people turned and nodded at him. Some smiled, some whispered to their companions. But they all knew who he was. He couldn’t get away from them.
“Five?” Bryce eased himself into the room where he’d been keeping the majority of his private things, checking first to see if any of them were inside. It was empty of people, but boxes were strewn around the large room. There were bed frames stacked against one wall, and his own bed had been pushed to the corner, with struts now attached to each post, ready to accept additions.
“Pardon me, coming through.”
Bryce nearly jumped out of his skin. He’d been expecting–hoping–for Five’s voice to answer him. Instead, he found himself facing a short, red-haired man in his late twenties, both arms full with more of the bed frames as he squeezed through the door.
“Oh, hey, you’re the guy, aren’t you? Bryce, right?”
Shaking himself out of his surprise, Bryce nodded. “Yes, I am.”
The bed frames fell to the side with a loud clang that was ignored by their depositor. “I’m Eddie.” The man extended a hand and smiled broadly. “Eddie Peck. I’m in hydroponics, but they have us all doing grunt work right now.”
Bryce accepted the hand but he couldn’t think of a word to say. That, he quickly learned, would have been hard to do anyway.
“Yeah, listen, I’m sorry about barging in like this and all, but we’re kinda pressed for space right now. But listen, none of your things have been moved.” Eddie reached down and straightened up the frames he dropped. “Well, moved, yeah. But only to make more room, you know? I have boxes you can use, if you want to gather your stuff up so nobody touches it.”
“Boxes?” A rush of panic washed over Bryce’s face, then settled in his stomach. The air grew thick — too thick. He couldn’t breathe! “I need — I — Could you just–”
“Peck, how about giving him something other than boxes, huh?”
Bryce looked up, trying to focus through the strange wave of terror washing over his mind and body. He found the captain standing in the hall.
“Oh, right, sorry about that.” Eddie turned back to Bryce. “I get a little caught up in the moment sometimes.” He shrugged and turned to leave. “I’ll leave you alone for a bit, kid. Hey, Brennan, I have one more load before you take off. Be done in a sec.”
Bryce stared at the departing man’s back, desperate to find something he could focus on long enough to get over this feeling before it took him over. When his focal point rounded a corner, the only thing left to rest his gaze on was Captain Brennan, still standing in the doorway.
“Eddie’s okay, really. But he can talk you to death.” The Captain smiled apologetically.
“Yeah.” Numbly, Bryce nodded, looking away while he tried to regain some sense. He was alone now, except for the Captain who remained in the hall. “I just — I need to get this stuff out of the way.” He needed to hide, somewhere small and walled off, where they wouldn’t find him.
Captain Brennan glanced around the room and shook his head slowly. “These people can be pretty clueless sometimes. But they don’t do it on purpose.” He looked down and caught Bryce’s eye. “At least, not all the time.”
Swallowing hard, Bryce nodded. “I guess I was a little spread out. I’ll just get some stuff together and–”
“Listen, Bryce,” he held out a hand but made no move to enter the room. “This is your home. I guess, like it or not, you’re being invaded. But this is still your home. You’re not in anyone’s way, and they can’t muscle you out.”
Bryce turned and found an empty box, nodding back. He still couldn’t think very straight, but he suddenly realized all of the boxes in the room were empty. Put there for his stuff to go into? He cleared his throat and set a box on the bed. “You talk about them like they’re something you’re not part of.” The man was still in the doorway. As long as he stayed there, that claustrophobic sensation wasn’t returning. And his voice was the only one so far that didn’t have that tone. The one that people used when they wanted to hide the meaning behind their words.
“Technically, I’m not.” Brennan leaned on the door jam and shrugged. “I’m just the pilot they hired to fly them all out here.”
“But it’s a one way trip.” The box was filled too quickly, so he had to find another. As he reached for the second one, he caught the Captain’s eyes. That blue was going to change, like his had. Fleetingly, Bryce wondered if he knew that.
“Yeah, that it is.”
“So . . . why did you?” He stood there, feeling no return of the panic from earlier. This guy was different from the rest of them, so far. An air of control hovered around him, something Bryce was beginning to wish he could borrow, just for today.
He shrugged. “I wanted a change, I guess. Being a pilot in the war gave me my fill of space, I figured it was time to see something new.”
“I used to think new was a good thing.” Bryce turned back to his boxes and fought off the sensation of hopelessness creeping over him. Many more of these mood swings and he’d explode.
“Look, if you–”
“Brennan, shuttle’s all yours.”
Bryce looked up, dreading the return of the short man.
“Right.” Brennan nodded, then glanced at Bryce before turning to Eddie. “Listen, Peck, I want you to give Bryce here some time alone to get his things where he wants them. Go find another room to stuff your crap into, okay?”
“Uh . . . sure, Captain. But I–”
“No buts. Give the kid a break, for Christ’s sake.”
Bryce glanced away when Eddie looked in, but he saw enough to catch a repentant look on the man’s face as he nodded to the Captain before walking away. When he was gone, Bryce looked up again “Thanks.”
The Captain looked at him for a moment before speaking. When he did, his voice was quiet, directed calmly into the room. “Don’t even try to take this all in right away. Things have a way of working out, if you give them enough time.” He smiled again, but didn’t walk away until Bryce nodded in reply.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” he whispered at the man’s back as he left. The room remained empty even though people were still walking by, so he closed the door and turned back to the mess that had once been his personal space.
It took nearly three hours to stuff everything he considered personal into the boxes left for his use, then carry it all down to a corner of the basement that hadn’t been moved into. Five still wouldn’t answer him, but he could be busy himself, dealing with the invasion. Every other room, corner, and storage bin had been occupied already, filled with new equipment, supplies, furniture, and people. Below the main building was a basement used for storage and work space, spanning the entire length of the complex. Bryce rarely went down there. Living alone in such a large settlement had given him the freedom to gather that which he’d use most often and keep it as close as possible. That way, he was free to lock doors and shrink the area he had to call home. Now, all the doors and windows were unlocked, all the corners moved into, all the storage areas filling up. But so far, while they had started to stack boxes and crates in the huge basement, Bryce was still able to find room in a far corner. As far away from that broken door leading out as he could manage.
It was mid-afternoon when he finished. Each trip back upstairs revealed more and more people as the shuttle came and went, bringing more colonists down by the hour. They were spread out in the courtyard, scurrying around their crates and machines, crowding even the outdoors. Lise caught his eye and smiled when he walked past the crowd, but she made no move to join him and motioned for a few others to continue what they were doing. He needed room! Or time, or something. The only place he could find any peace, as temporary as it might be, turned out to be a familiar one.
The tree, huge and dominating that grew a few hundred yards away from the edge of the outermost building, had been a favorite play area when he was a child. That was one of the few memories he still had of that time, long ago. Massive branches that scooped downward, ending in a spoon just right for small boys to slide into. No leaves like some of the other trees had to get in the way of a great swoop into the cup. Just the fuzz that grew in summer, covering the smooth wood and adding a softness that cushioned the sleeping trespasser. He’d fashioned a chair out of a fallen branch that was perfect for curling up in during the evening hours. It was in the basement now, holding his boxes.
Bryce climbed into a lower branch, into the spoon that hung four feet from the ground, and pulled his legs up so he could sit on his feet. From there the entire complex was visible, with its scurry of life dashing around like bugs. No one seemed to notice him, or if they did, they were at least willing to leave him alone for a few hours.
He’d brought a container of water and some fruit for lunch, but they sat beside him untouched as his appetite failed to take interest. A few minutes after he sat down, the shuttle returned to land in the same spot on the rise. Within an instant of landing, large doors opened and began disgorging passengers and gear. From the upper level, Bryce spotted the captain walking down the gangway, ignoring the commotion below. He shouted something to two men, who stepped up to the ship, then pointed toward the buildings. One of the men nodded, and the captain moved away, giving the unloading process one glance over his shoulder before he walked to the complex. That man might not be one of them, but they appeared to obey whatever it was he’d said. Bryce watched him walk to the courtyard, then lost him around the edge of the northern-most structure.
Far enough away to hear nothing more than muffled voices, he sat back in the tree and watched. The breeze blowing off the hills was warm with the promise of summer, carrying with it scents of flowers and herbs that grew all around him. The grass was nearly purple this time of year with all the blossoms, interrupted here and there by the blues and yellows of herbs that grew wild on the plain. Clouds of soft pink and white drifted across the deep blue sky, casting shadows now and then on the snow-capped mountains in the south. Someone exclaimed and pointed upward when a bird flew overhead. Bryce knew these animals were unusual to the extreme, at least to the newcomers. They had been to him once, long ago. He remembered seeing one for the first time, awed by the twelve foot wingspan and long, trailing feathers of the quiet, grass-eating Koutara birds. Something brushed his arm and he looked down, catching the teal feather that had shed from a wing of the passing avian. The soft fluff sat on his forearm where he stared at the shimmering color that changed in the light, until the soft breeze lifted it up again and sent it farther down the hill with a soft puff.
He hated this place.
No sooner had it landed, than the feather was picked up, examined, and carried back up the hill toward his tree. Bryce hadn’t seen Captain Brennan come back out of the buildings, but now he was approaching, quietly twirling the feather between two fingers. In his other hand he held a water bottle, half empty.
“I’ll say one thing for this planet, it’s certainly colorful.” He smiled, then let the feather loose on the breeze again, stopping a polite distance away.
“I’ve seen pictures of Earth. It seemed pretty colorful to me.” Bryce couldn’t really recall anything in particular, but he did remember seeing colors.
Brennan shrugged. “I’ve only been there a couple of times.” He took a drink, looked at the bottle in his hand and shook his head. “This is definitely the only place I’ve been that has a color to its water.”
“You’re not from Earth?” So far, Bryce had felt no return of his panic from earlier. Brennan was staying a few feet away, standing casually beside the branch he was sitting in. His voice was calm, quieter than the others, and held none of that nervousness or hidden agenda feel. This must be what the doctor had meant by a big brother.
He shook his head, gazing out over the complex’s courtyard below them. “I was born and raised on a mining station, till I left to join the military.”
“So you — you’re really not a colonist, then?”
“Nah, not me. Well, not before now.” Brennan smiled slightly, cocking his head to one side as he half-shrugged.
“No.” Bryce looked up and met the captain’s gaze. “You’re not what they are. No more than I am.” It could all be an elaborate trick to try to get some kind of information out of him. If so, it wouldn’t work. He simply didn’t have any.
Brennan’s eyes met his with an odd sort of understanding behind them. “They’re not all the same, Bryce. Keep that in mind when you’re around them. I just spent six months with them, and I survived.” He smiled, stopping just short of a laugh.
Bryce had expected questions, about his past, about the colony. He’d even accidentally left the line open by asking where the captain was from, but none came. The man seemed content to stand there and watch all the people dashing around unpacking the shuttle. He was just getting up the nerve to speak to him again when someone shouted up the hill.
“Brennan, you’re ready for another round!”
The captain waved his acknowledgment, and turned back to Bryce. “Duty calls.” He finished his water and set the cap back on the bottle. “You take it easy, all right? I’ll see you later.”
He couldn’t answer with more than a nod, couldn’t make his mouth form anything coherent through the sudden sense of uneasiness that washed over him. Brennan was walking back to his shuttle, giving instructions to a few people who were securing the large doors on the lower level of the ship.
Bryce glanced around the courtyard, wondering if he could make it inside and down to the basement without anyone stopping him. His heart felt five times heavier than it should, and was thudding in his chest in slow motion. How long had it been? How many hours had it taken for his peaceful, dead-quiet home to turn into this chaotic mass of strangers? Just that morning his had been the only human footprints in the loose dirt of the hillside. Just yesterday, he’d been lounging in the hot spring, gazing at the clouds without a thought of what might be coming. And now . . . Now it was never going to be the same.
There didn’t appear to be a clear way inside, so Bryce remained where he was, watching the shuttle lift off in a thunder of engines and cloud of dust. A small sense of apprehension grabbed the back of his throat as the ship moved out of sight, heading again into space for another load. There was something about Captain Brennan that suggested he understood what Bryce was feeling, how hard it was going to be for him to adjust to this invasion. Silently, he prayed he was right, that there was at least one person here who wasn’t going to want something from him. Who wasn’t going to want answers he couldn’t give.
“Bryce, there you are.” Lise stopped in front of the tree, slightly out of breath from the climb up the rise. “I was hoping you could show me a few things about some of the plants we’ve gathered. Perhaps give me a list of what’s edible?”
Maybe if he answered other things, they’d forget the rest? He doubted that.
“Yeah.” His seclusion invaded, Bryce unfolded his legs and got out of the tree. Maybe the captain was right about judging all of these newcomers alike. This was, after all, the companionship he’d longed for all this time. Being invaded so suddenly was a shock he’d have to get over, then maybe it would work.
The botanists had been gathering samples of crops, plants, herbs, and unbeknownst to them, several toxic weeds, and had them displayed along one of the long tables in the laboratory. He had to get a printout from Five, which was made more complicated than usual once he learned they’d turned off his audio outputs. Someone said the Commander was deep in conference with the computer and didn’t want it sharing resources, but Bryce wasn’t convinced. The fear of what was happening to the machine responsible for his life had to be pushed aside before it could consume him. They wouldn’t be so foolish as to damage Five, surely.
At least the botanists were thrilled with their discoveries, and very pleased with the information Bryce supplied about the plants and crops. His readout had been compiled from the original records, then amended every time something new was learned, and included the proper methods to safely turn a poisonous plant into an edible root, or how long to boil the venom from the meat of a sandfish. They were happy just pouring over the data and asking him questions about this or that leaf or flower. Not once did anyone ask him who compiled the records, or where they were now. The atmosphere of the room was so highly concentrated on one subject, Bryce found it easier to tolerate the room full of seven people, only four of whom had paused long enough to tell him their names. Maybe Captain Brennan was right.
He heard the shuttle land outside twice more during his plant-schooling session, and once the captain came into the lab to see what they were doing. Everyone seemed very comfortable around him, treating him with the respect of an equal. Members of the groups milling around the complex were slowly beginning to fall into place as Bryce watched and listened. So far, the only ones he judged to have complete authority were the commander, Lise, and Captain Brennan. A few others could be seen giving orders to one group, while taking orders from another. With so many of them, it would take weeks for Bryce to get their pecking order figured out. And longer, he was sure, to figure out where he belonged.
Right now, he belonged downstairs. Someone had come inside asking for a light before the sun was completely gone, and that was the last thing Bryce remembered clearly. He must have made it down without anyone noticing, since he next found himself surrounded by boxes and crates in the basement, with no one else around.
“Five?” Where was it? The handheld unit was in the top box. “There you are.” Bryce retrieved the portable terminal and opened the screen, flipping the small unit on as the display unfolded. “Five, where the hell are you?”
“What’s going on?! They disconnected some of your–”
“They’ve disconnected everything.”
A strange, cold, almost white-out sensation froze the entire world in place. Bryce had no real idea how long he sat there, trying to catch his breath. “They turned you off?”
“I did manage to download entirely into your personal terminal, but I no longer have any control functions.”
Oh God, the — how could — what was he going to do? “Five — The doors?” His voice was no louder than a whisper, forced out through the lightheadedness.
“There’s nothing to worry about, you’re secure.”
“Bryce, there’s nothing to worry about, trust me. The doors are secure.”
He knew the machine was lying, but he accepted the answer. If he was disconnected from the controls, how could he know? There were only two ways into or out of his section of the basement, and both of those doors were shut and secured. Bryce was at least sure of that.
“We have other things to worry about right now.”
“Other things? Aside from the three-hundred strangers who just moved in and took control?” It wasn’t a good time for one of these games, but Five’s attitude forced it out. “Why did they disconnect you?”
“Never mind that now, Bryce. We can fix that as long as all of my files stay in this unit.” The screen flickered to life with images of various rooms throughout the complex. “I can access the cameras with the wave output, but nothing more.” After a few tries, the screen settled in on one room. “I think you’ll want to listen in.”
Bryce watched the screen focus, displaying one of the conference rooms beside the main dining hall. Inside the room were four people, all seated around the table, cups of steaming liquid in front of each. “There’s no audio.”
“Just one minute, I’m trying again.”
He watched the Commander and Doctor Weller enter the room and join the other four with nods and smiles. Around the table sat Captain Brennan, with someone to his right Bryce hadn’t met yet, then to her right was a guy he remembered as being Bill someone, and standing at the far end of the room was the head botanist, Carl Simon.
“What about audio, Five?”
“…a list of edible plants, which we’re making copies of now.” Carl’s voice suddenly kicked in over the small unit’s speaker. “He’s been extremely helpful, in my opinion.”
“There, that should do it,” Five replied. “I’m not sure how reliable it will be.”
“Quiet.” Bryce leaned forward, perched on a pile of bedding tucked close into the far corner of his hideaway.
“Did you get anything out of him during your exam?” Commander Alexander pulled a chair out for Lise as he spoke, motioning for her to sit first.
“Technically, no. But I think I have an idea on how to get past his memory loss.”
The hairs on the back of Bryce’s neck stood up as he listened.
“Is it physical, or psychological?” Captain Brennan leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. He appeared to be rolling his cup back and forth in both hands, savoring the smell of whatever was inside. From the camera angle, it looked like coffee.
“There’s no denying he was injured.” Lise reached up and pointed to her own forehead. “He has a scar, quite deep, that hides up under the hairline. And the medical records are clear about the severity of the trauma.”
“But?” The commander sat down beside her, glancing around the room.
“But, I’m also positive a good deal of what he can’t recall is due to repression. Possibly psychosomatic, some kind of emotional trauma.”
“I, for one, would like to know what could have happened out here to cause a man to forget where three hundred people went.” The unidentified man spoke, pushing his empty cup to the middle of the table. “Have you noticed, there are no graves? Not one. I’ve been all around this area in the past six hours and haven’t found one single grave.”
Oh, God. “Five . . .” What were they going to do?“Just listen. We don’t need to panic yet.”
That was easy for it to say, the computer didn’t have a heart that had started to race again.
“Just what are you proposing?” Brennan asked, looking at the doctor.
“Well, it’s worked several times in the past. I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve assisted with some of the procedures.” She sat back, folding her arms in front of her chest. “Regression therapy can bring out anything he can’t recall, but there’s a new treatment that has proven successful in revealing those memories repressed due to emotional or physical trauma. They’ve even managed to–”
“Wait a second, how far back can this go?” Bill’s question overshadowed the objection raised by Captain Brennan.
“Five, what are they doing?” And how was he going to get away? There was nowhere to go, nowhere he could run.
“We can bring up anything relevant to the reason or cause of his suppression. Even have him recall things he wasn’t consciously aware he’d known. Things hidden by emotional upset or turmoil.”
“No.” Captain Brennan objected again, only this time loud enough to get their attention.
“Yes, I’m sure it will work.” Lise unfolded her arms and glanced at the commander.
Brennan was shaking his head. “I’ve seen this done and I’ve seen the results.”
“Now, Captain, I’m sure you–”
“No, Lise. No offense to you, but I’ve seen some of your colleagues’ work.” He stood and walked to the end of the small room, then turned back to face the group. Bryce couldn’t help notice the way his jaw was clenching when he turned around. “The human mind can take a lot of punishment, but sometimes it has to shut down to stay alive. Am I right, doctor?”
“Yes, of course. That’s the whole concept behind traumatic repression. The patient has either seen or done something that is simply too painful to accept, so the mind pushes it away, hides it from the conscious, until it’s able to deal with what occurred.”
“But sometimes it never deals with it. Sometimes these people never remember what happened.” Commander Alexander looked from Lise to the captain.
“That’s my point.” Brennan held up a hand while he spoke. “I’ve seen good men, damn good men, completely ruined by this kind of therapy. Men who had successfully managed to suppress or forget whatever the hell they saw and get on with their lives. Until some doctor comes along and decides it’s best for everyone if these memories are forced out before the patient is ready.”
“Sometimes they’re never ready,” Bill interjected.
“Exactly.” Brennan nodded once, lowering his hand. “Sometimes they’re not ready.”
“What happens then?” The commander turned to Lise.
The blood rushing through Bryce’s ears was like thunder.
“There are documented cases of patients going insane when the memories are forced back too soon. Or worse.”
“I’ve seen the worse.” Brennan remained in the far corner of the room, jaw still clenching. “I’ve seen more than one man take his own life after being forced to confront memories he’d successfully shielded himself from.”
“Yes, that is a possibility. If we go with this option, it’s–”
“It’s not an option. You doctors always want to mess with something that’s being dealt with naturally.”
“Brennan, making someone remember a trauma can be a beneficial–”
“That’s bullshit and you know it! You’re talking about taking something that this kid has successfully found a way to deal with, and forcing it back on him.”
“I don’t consider repression a successful way of dealing with something, do you?”
“If it leaves the victim alive and dealing with it his own way, yes.”
“But we need answers!” The man Bryce didn’t know turned to the captain. “That kid knows what happened down here.”
He wanted to swallow, to moisten the sandpaper that lined his throat, but he had no spit. And his hands were shaking too much to push the hair from his eyes.
“So you’re willing to sacrifice this kid for a few answers?”
“Brennan, what the hell do you care?”
“Somebody has to.”
“This is a colony matter, Captain.”
“This is a human matter, Eckland. He’s no more a colonist than I am, but he’s stuck here with all of you just the same. He didn’t ask us to come any more than he asked to be brought here twenty years ago.”
“Gentlemen, please!” The commander tried to raise his voice over the argument. “Rob, Brennan’s right. Bryce is not the enemy here. In fact, Carol and I think we found something in those computer files. It took some digging, but we–”
Both the screen and audio went blank, leaving Bryce alone and dizzy.
“I’m sorry, but the remote connection isn’t very reliable. They have some equipment running that seems to be interfering with my signal.”
“God, Five, what am I going to do?” How long could he stay here, if they were already discussing ways to force him to remember a past he couldn’t even dream about? “Can they do that? Can they force me to remember?”
“Relax. I doubt it will come to that.”
He stared at the small computer in his hand, still feeling a little whitewashed and cold. Outnumbered three-hundred to one, there was little he could do if it did come to that. Only the captain had stood up to them, but how long would that last? If he really wasn’t one of them, how long would his influence hold any weight?
“Bryce, you’re going to have to find a way to get me back into the mainframe.” Five’s voice cut through the numbness. “I can’t do anything unless I’m hooked back up.”
“Not now.” Without another word, Bryce shut the computer off and tossed it aside. He felt so dizzy, even sitting down he feared he might pass out. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to move to, and he had no answers to give these people. They were the authority now by sheer weight of numbers, they’d do whatever they wanted to do. Not even Five could stop them. Not like — Another image flashed through his mind, again too quickly to be understood, but this time not of darkness and walls closing in — This time it was doors. Large doors, slamming shut, closing off the screams.
“Dammit!” Bryce shoved the portable terminal away from him and closed his eyes tightly, trying to find that image again. This wasn’t happening! He’d never had flashes like this before, never felt this kind of fear before. Not since . . . Since when?
Something moved at the far end of the room, sliding over the floor. Voices suddenly interrupted Bryce’s thoughts, reaching him from the doorway.
“Yeah, sorry, Brennan. I’m pretty sure it’s down in there somewhere. You need help looking?”
“No, thanks, Eddie. I can handle it.”
Bryce sat up quickly and took several deep breaths, hoping some blood would eventually find its way back to his head. The door closed again, but one man had come inside, moving around the crates near the far wall. In a matter of minutes, he was spotted.
“Hey.” Captain Brennan approached his corner, smiling slightly. He stopped several feet away from where Bryce sat leaning into the corner on a pile of bedding. “Is this where they chased you off to?”
Bryce shrugged. “Seemed as good a place as any.” He nodded around the room. “Are you looking for something?” He wanted to ask about the meeting he’d seen, but he couldn’t admit to having spied. Not until he knew if this man was really on his side or not. Maybe not even then.
“Yeah, I need a control box for the Kensington’s auto pilot. That twit Eddie unpacked it from the shuttle by accident.” He looked around the room, taking in the huge amount of equipment piled all around him. “I’m lucky the pilot seat was permanently fixed, or he’d have unpacked that too.” He shook his head and sighed. “I think I’ll give up for the night, though.”
“Are they all down here, now?” It felt like there were three-thousand people massing in the buildings, not three-hundred.
“Don’t worry, that was the last of them a couple of hours ago.” Brennan moved around the area, looking at the stacks of extra bedding and mattresses. “I’m a little sick of the crowds myself.”
Bryce watched him, afraid to look away for fear the flashes would come back. “It won’t be this crowded for long.” His own words took him aback and brought a quizzical look from the captain.
“No, they’ll spread out soon.” He glanced back toward the door, then turned to Bryce. “You mind if I bunk down here tonight? They’ve got me stuffed into a room with about thirty other guys upstairs.”
Bryce swallowed hard, but managed to shake his head. “No, I don’t mind.” He had no illusions of sleeping tonight anyway, not with those people waiting for the chance to force his memories back. If he had one ally in this confused world, it felt good to know he might be willing to stay close. And if the only man he could trust did turn out to be this captain, at least he was a trained fighter, still commanding the authority he needed to make people stand up and listen when he argued. Even if all that did was give Bryce time to run, it might be worth it.
Captain Brennan made a nest of sorts out of the bedding materials on the opposite side of a large crate, giving Bryce complete visual privacy in his corner. There was no way he was going to fall asleep, but he did get more comfortable on his own mattress, moving the computer completely off the blanket and pushing his legs under it. It was warm in the basement, but he was shivering.
Within minutes of getting the overhead lights off, he could hear quiet breathing coming from around the crate. “God, Five, what am I going to do?” Bryce’s whisper went unheard by the disconnected computer, and he was almost glad. His only companion for as long as he could remember, Five had been his sole source for mental stimulation, instruction, help, and all too often, suspicion and fear. Now he had other things to be afraid of, other things to suspect. But no one to talk to about them.
The only way he could calm his troubled thoughts was to find a focus. And down there in the basement, the only thing he could find to focus on was the totally alien sound of another person breathing. So mesmerized by it, Bryce didn’t notice the change until he opened his eyes.
“Good morning.” Captain Brennan was standing a few yards away, tucking a shirt into the waist of his khaki pants.
Bryce sat up quickly, shocked that he’d been asleep. “Good morning.” He couldn’t have slept very long, judging by the pounding of his head. “Did you find your . . .” What was it again?
“The control box, yes, I did.” He nodded to a small blue case on the floor near his feet. “Listen, it’s pretty chaotic up there today. Everyone’s getting settled in, rushing around.” He ran a hand over his very short hair then picked up a shoe. “I have to take the shuttle back up to the ship, give it a last go over, then set the controls to destroy it.”
Bryce nodded, climbing out of his impromptu bed. He’d figured this respite would be short; now he was on his own against the ones who wanted to make him remember. At least he had some warning now.
“I could use a hand, unless you have something you need to do.”
“What?” The hand pushing long hair from his face stopped as he tried to understand what the captain had just said.
Brennan shrugged. “Okay, that’s not entirely the truth. I can do this myself, but to be honest, I could use the company.”
Bryce weighed the options quickly in his mind while he looked for a clean shirt. Stay here, in the complex, and take his chances around people he knew wanted the truth no matter what, or stay close to the only man so far who’d made any attempt to protect him.
The captain smiled. “Great. They’ve got the kitchens going full force upstairs. Let’s grab some breakfast and get outta here.”
After a quick stop in the one sanitary unit in the basement, Bryce followed the captain back upstairs, and into chaos. There were people everywhere, some hurrying around with equipment in both arms, others walking slowly, studying stacks of printed sheets. By the time they made their way slowly through the main building to the east wing where the huge kitchen and mess hall were, Bryce was sweating. He’d never known claustrophobia before, aside from the word itself, but when they rounded the corner and found the mess hall teaming with people, he’d had all he could stand.
“I can’t.” He stopped at the doorway, unable and unwilling to step into the room. The captain was going to think he was a child, but he couldn’t go in there. “I just–I–”
Brennan turned and met his eyes. “Do you drink coffee?”
Numbly, Bryce nodded. The noise of so many conversations was deafening.
“Go out the side door and meet me at the shuttle, alright?”
He nodded again and didn’t wait for another word before ducking through the side corridor and out. Fresh air hit his face like a slap, but his heart didn’t stop pounding until he was halfway to the large shuttle. There were people everywhere. In the buildings, in the courtyard, climbing the hills outside, talking, rushing, shouting, laughing.
He reached the shuttle and stopped at the base of the gangplank, breathing deeply to try to steady his heart. “Get a grip!”
“That’s good advice.” Brennan was a few yards behind him, carrying a tray and two cups. “But you’ll have to give it time.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Bryce leaned against the shuttle, getting his face into shade so he could see the captain approaching.
Brennan only nodded as he came up beside him, then offered one of the cups of steaming coffee. He set the tray of fresh fruit between them.
Bolstered by his silence, Bryce took a deep breath, feeling his heart rate finally settling back to a normal rhythm. He didn’t feel nervous around the captain, though he wasn’t sure why. “I used to dream about this, about people coming.” He looked at the ground and shook his head. “But it was never like this.”
“Dreams rarely are.”
Bryce sighed quietly, fingering the edge of his cup. “I should be happy to have people here again. Being alone for so long. But this . . .” He shook his head and took a drink. Maybe the captain didn’t understand. Maybe no one would.
“It’s a lot to ask.” Brennan’s voice was quiet. “You’ve had this place to yourself for ten years, and even if you dreamed about having people around, it’s never the same as having them.”
Bryce looked up, meeting the captain’s eyes in the shade of the ship.
“People are a strange lot.” Brennan sat back, leaning against the metal shuttle. “Individually, they’re okay. You can get to know them, maybe predict what they might do or say. But people, they’re a whole other animal. With people you get groups, cliques, sometimes even mobs.” He shook his head and gazed out over the complex below them. “The only way to deal with people is one at a time.”
Before Bryce could comment, the captain picked up a wedge fruit and held it up.
“So, how do you eat one of these?”
“Here, like this.” Bryce took the fruit and set his cup down. “You press here.” He forced his thumb into the base of the ripe fruit and pressed in, feeling the pit start to slide out easily. Once the pit had fallen to the ground, the round fruit fell open in his hand, revealing red and yellow splotched meat in perfectly formed wedges.
Smiling, Brennan reached out and took a wedge. “You didn’t show the botanists how to do this yesterday, did you?”
“No, it never came up.” Bryce put a wedge of the slightly sweet, moist fruit into his mouth.
“You should see the mess they’re making in there trying to get these things open.”
The next twenty minutes were the calmest Bryce had known in the past day and a half. They spoke of nothing but the different fruits and the different methods of eating them while he demonstrated, explaining the finer points of each of the native and hybrid edibles. The captain was pleased to learn how well coffee beans grew on Oblivion, and the ease with which they were processed. Cocoa was another plant that grew well in the valley, and while Bryce found little use for the beans, his assurance that the complex had processing capabilities for turning the bean into chocolate drew a satisfied smile from the man.
They had just finished with their breakfast when a buzz emanated from one of the pockets in the leg of the captain’s pants. He reached down and retrieved a small communication unit, flipping the screen up as he pulled it out.
“Brennan. Yes, Ben, I’m just about to go up.”
Bryce stacked their cups together and picked up the plate, now empty of all but various rinds and seeds. He could see Commander Alexander’s face on the small screen, but he didn’t want to hear what the man who had just interrupted his good mood had to say.
“Have you seen Bryce, Captain?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. Why?” Brennan glanced at him, then looked back down at his screen.
“We need to discuss what to do with him when you return.”
Bryce’s blood ran cold in the morning sun.
“Define ‘What to do with him’.”
“Now, I didn’t mean that to sound cold, Captain, but you understand what I mean. We’ll need to assign him to a group, or give him a job, or something. It’s for his own safety as well as the colony. Every member has a place, it’s how we keep track.”
Bryce felt his jaw muscles tighten. He’d never been one to clench his jaw before, and it was beginning to get sore. Keep track? It sounded more like being corralled to him.
“He’s got a place, Ben.”
“He’s my right hand man. I can’t run a security operation for three-hundred people by myself. That is, if he decides to accept the offer. I’ll let you know when he makes up his mind.”
The captain’s words were echoing around in his head
“Brennan, that might not be a bad idea.”
The face on the small screen glanced down as if considering the same words Bryce was trying to comprehend. If he said no, what would they do with him? Didn’t he have any say in the matter? No, of course not. These were the same people who wanted to force his memories back, regardless of the cost.
“Yes. If he accepts.” The captain looked up from the screen, eyebrows arched slightly. “It’s a big planet, I could use an expert on my side.”
The only thing he felt certain about was the danger he was in with these people. Danger that might be lessened if he stayed on this man’s side. Out of everyone he’d met so far, Captain Brennan was the only one yet he wasn’t terrified to be around.
Unable to find his voice, he nodded.
“I just got my answer, Ben. Bryce is with me.” Without waiting for a reply, he flipped off the screen and put the small unit back into his pocket. “Well, partner, what do you say we go blow up a ship?”