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by cofax

The Peacekeepers had been predictably consistent. One hundred fifty cycles and his possessions -- the robes of royalty, the badge of the House of Rygel, the few trinkets he had pocketed before fleeing Bishan's goons -- had followed him from scoutship to command carrier to leviathan like a hatchling trailing after the nursery monitor. Each transfer carefully annotated, the inventory log kept up to date with military precision.

If Rygel were to access his own file, he knew he would find each torture session noted and logged -- Prisoner 3792 subjected to Level 2 questioning, Class B discipline. One hundred fifty cycles of screaming, of blood and bruises and rage. But Rygel survived even Durka. He learned to out-think his jailers, to discover the ones who could be bribed or flattered into providing tiny luxuries or information. He lost the sentiment that killed his fellow prisoners the fastest.

Rygel had been soft once, too, like the creature Crichton. Naive. He'd favored Bishan, even invited him to the Imperial Table for the Second Moon Feast. Now Rygel knew better than to trust without a handle, an edge sharp enough to slice to the bone. No one was going to betray him again.

One hundred fifty cycles lost. Bishan was secure, propped up by his Peacekeeper allies; or, more likely, manipulated by them. Bishan had always been easily swayed by stronger minds. Rygel's mind was stronger now than it had ever been. He could handle Bishan, just like he could handle these fahrbot shipmates. All he needed was --

All any of them needed was -- but the rest of them didn't matter.

They were trapped, rattling from one end of the ship to the other, scavenging weapons and currency from half-emptied quarters and vented storerooms. Slipping from one system to another like velfish in the pool complex at the Summer Palace, staying in the billbeck's shadow. Running from the Peacekeepers. Some days the difference between imprisonment and life as a fugitive was thinner than a hair from his earbrow.

If now the torture sessions came at less frequent intervals, the food had actually gotten worse.

Not even the Pilot had any idea where they were, and the Delvian and the Luxan seemed to think they had coordinated the escape. Sharing food with -- talking to, by the gods! -- a mindless Peacekeeper, who smelled like all her kind of blood, fire, and chakkan oil. The Delvian at least had a mind, and some awareness of political expedience; the rest were nothing more than hands for the labor that was now -- had always been -- beneath a Dominar.

The long-stored silks felt soothing on his chapped and mottled skin. He knew what they thought of him: the sly one, the thief, the liar. Yotz. And he the one who'd cracked the shell and freed them all. It didn't matter -- he didn't trust them either. He didn't need them. All he needed was --

All any of them needed was --

Bishan would pay. Rygel had had one hundred fifty cycles to plan his return to power.

All he needed was to survive his frelnik shipmates long enough to get home.

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