We traveled for about two hours. I was afraid to ask where we were going. Whatever answer Barrett gave me, it wouldn't mean anything to me. I couldn't remember the names of the planets and stars and various other cosmic objects. I should have known them all. I could have if I hadn't been afraid to learn what I'd forgotten.
I was hungry, but I said nothing. I wasn't sure I'd remember food. Apparently, I didn't remember my name right. I had no reason to think the rest of what I thought I knew was right. I wondered how old I was and decided not to ask about that either. I didn't feel too old, but they'd probably tell me I was fifty or sixty.
Barrett pulled the ship into a hangar hidden in the side of a mountain. There was another ship in the hangar, but it wasn't Withershins. It was a larger ship that looked like it had been through hell. It was scarred from laser blasts and pock marked from bullets. One piece of sheet metal looked newer than the rest. For some reason, I felt drawn to the ship. I pulled my hand away from Anala's and went towards it.
"Talon ... " Anala said.
I ignored her. She grabbed my arm. "She's mine," I said.
"Come on." She started to pull me away.
"No. I wanna go on board."
"I might not have a later."
"All right, but - "
"Wait out here."
The hatch wasn't open, but I found that my hands knew exactly what to do. When I got inside, I thought I heard a voice welcoming me home. I crawled along the floor of the dark cargo bay, using my hands as I had once used my eyes. Every inch of that ship was familiar to me. I wanted it to make me remember everything else.
I stood up when I reached the galley door. My arms tingled with cold. My head began to spin. I tried to shake it off, but it wouldn't go away. I pushed open the door. The galley spun around and tossed me to the floor.
I saw black hands reaching out to grab my throat, a black mask cracking and crumbling to dust, a small girl lying dead in a corner, bodies under sheets, knives with blades that sparked and swirled and the blood of what should have been a life. The visions faded. I stood up and rubbed my eyes. I remembered that whole incident. We had picked up a kid with pointy ears while we were stranded on Junket and his brother had come to take him back to a place where they tortured the kid and drank his blood. Shikaku Hitokage had killed everyone on board except me and Duncan. When he left with Duncan, my crew was alive again. Of all the things to start remembering, why did it have to be something so traumatic? Oh well. It was a real memory.
I made my way to the bridge, hoping to get more pleasant memories from there. I sat down in the pilot's seat. It fit almost too well. I remembered the ship's name. Blue Ava's Angel. I had named it after Regan's mom. I had always planned on naming a ship for her. I loved her. Then I met her sister, Cherry. I loved Cherry, too. We'd gotten married not long after I'd finally avenged Petrine's death. Rune had made the wedding rings for us. Anala had performed the ceremony. Regan had been the maid of honor. Dylan had been the best man. I looked down at my left hand. There was no ring there.
I looked out the window. The bright hangar was washed in red. The cold chills spread out over me again. On the glass in front of me, I watched a shuttle explode. I listened to a roar that shattered everything and saw a star reflected in broken glass. And then I remembered Shaman.
Still, not all the fragments made sense. I knew what I needed to do to get my memory back. I knew how to use my power. And I really was a pilot.
I made my way off Blue Ava's Angel and heard her crying as I left. I promised her I'd be back. As soon as I remembered how to fly. Anala was wringing her hands. I could see waves of nervous energy rippling around her. Her white aura was dim. It flared when she saw me.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I'm getting a little tired of being asked that, but yeah," I said.
"Well, as soon as you stop making me worry about you, I'll stop asking. Deal?"
"Deal. Can we eat now? I feel like I haven't eaten in years."
We took an elevator down several hundred feet. It occurred to me that Rune was far too comfortable with that way of life. It seemed to have taken him no time at all to establish a loyal army, though a tiny one, and to find places to hide. This man was my friend? That was the company I kept? My parents would be so disappointed. Then I found a piece of a new memory. I decided to keep it to myself just in case it wasn't accurate.
Eating proved to be harder than I had expected. I couldn't see my meal well enough to know what I was eating, so once I got it to my mouth, the taste was unexpected. I kept expecting things to crunch when I thought they were soft and to squish when they were supposed to crunch. Every bite was full of fear. I bit my tongue. My teeth grinded. In the end, I gave up on utensils and used my hands. That didn't quite work for the soup, but at least I expected soup rather than salad.
I tried to help Anala clean up and kept getting in the way. She made Barrett take me on a tour of the hideout, which was less than useful since I couldn't see anything. The place was actually pretty big for what it was. There were sleeping quarters for about thirty, a recreation room, an empty swimming pool, an exercise room, several storage areas, an infirmary and all the requisite militaristic features. We ended the tour in a cramped communications room that had been upgraded and expanded beyond the original intentions.
"So did Rune build this, too?" I asked.
"No," Barrett said. "It used to be the base of operations for a special military unit that never quite worked out. I don't know how Rune knew about it."
"That's good to know because I was starting to think he made everything."
"Well, in a sense, he did."
"I'm supposed to understand that. I don't."
"Why are you all so sure I'll remember everything? What if I don't want to? It doesn't sound to me like things were very good."
"They haven't been since you've been gone, but that will change."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I believe in Rune. I believe in you."
"You believe in us? What, are we gods or something?"
"It's simpler than that. You have the talent and power to change this. This isn't the universe you had in mind. You can't sit there and watch it die. And Rune will do anything for you."
"I can't answer that, but I think the fact that he's in love with your daughter might have something to do with it."
"I really need to get my memory back, don't I?"
"It'd be helpful, yeah."
I studied the instruments on the panel in front of me while Barrett tried to contact Tristan. I was able to make out the radar screen and watched it sweep around. It was clear for two sweeps, and then I saw a smudge that moved a little too fast. I rubbed my eyes. The smudge didn't go away. Barrett clicked off the radio.
"He's on his way," he said. "Alone."
"I think we have visitors," I said.
Barrett looked at the radar. "I don't see anything."
I put my finger on the screen and traced the smudge's path toward the center.
"That's too fast to be a ship."
"You don't see it, do you?"
I pressed my hand against the screen and concentrated on the smudge. My skin prickled with cold. My vision spiraled down into the smudge until I could see exactly what was coming towards us. "It's a man," I said.
"A flying man?" Barrett asked.
"Yeah. He's using magic. And he's got Rune with him. Go open the hangar for him."
"What if he's -- "
Barrett bolted out of his seat and ran to the hangar. I kept my hands on the radar screen and tried to get more information.
The man in control of the magic bubble was wearing some kind of black armor, and his face was covered with a black mask. There was a sword at his side. He was the one who had killed my crew. I remembered watching him die after he'd taken Duncan home and decided he didn't want his little brother to be someone's dinner. I wondered how he was alive or if he really was alive.
"Hello, Jake," I said to him.
"So it's true. They found you. It's good to see you're alive," he said. The touch of psychic contact didn't seem to bother him.
"You have Rune with you."
"Yes, but minus pieces. Is your healer there?"
"He's already started regenerating, but he may need her."
"The hangar is opening for you."
I took my hand off the radar screen and made my way out of the communications room. I thought I'd end up getting lost, but I remembered every turn and every hallway and soon made it to the galley where Anala was feeding Peter oranges.
"We need to go up to the hangar," I said.
"Is that where Barrett went in such a hurry?"
"Is he with Tristan?"
"No. Someone else found him. Come on."
The elevator inched upwards. When we got to the hangar, Jake had already arrived with Rune and was bent over him, assessing the extent of his injuries. Barrett was just staring at them. Anala rushed over to Rune. He had lost most of both his arms and part of his left leg in the explosion, but new limbs were poking out of the charred stumps. The only thing Anala could do for him was ease the pain. Jake helped her take Rune down to the infirmary, and she stayed with him all night.
A while later, I found Jake in the recreation room playing pool by himself. He had taken the mask off, and I could see that something about him wasn't quite right. He was almost translucent, like a ghost.
"I thought you were dead," I said.
He lined up a shot. I watched the dark shapes of the balls roll across the table. He missed. "I am," he said. "My spirit is bound to my armor by a spell. If the armor is ever destroyed, I'd go away, but the armor is nearly indestructible and protected by another spell."
I picked up his mask and turned it over in my hands. I could see a faint webbing of magic over the smooth black surface. "Did Duncan do it?"
"No. Rune did."
"That's kinda weird."
"He needed skilled fighters. When he told me what happened to Duncan, I was more than willing to help. I owe you all anyway, though I can never make up for what I did."
"Well, you can always fall back on the whole following orders thing."
"That's no excuse."
"I guess not. But I think we all realized what you're really made of when you sacrificed yourself to save Duncan."
"Every choice I made was to save him. I needed to be alive if he was ever going to come back from Boston. I had no chance of survival against that many of them, so I became one. I betrayed my whole race for him. I don't think I could ever express to you how hard that was."
"Could you have saved your people if you hadn't been changed?"
"No. There were few of us who could fight. We had little reason to prepare for war. The Servants of the Wash fought against the creatures that came out of the darkness beyond. We never saw a threat from the Akurei. They were powerless until they discovered what the blood of the Kihaku could give them. And then there was no way we could stand up to them. That war was over before it even began."
"This one isn't."
"The odds are against us."
"Fuck the odds."
"I have to say I agree with that."
I watched Jake continue to miss shots until Barrett came into the recreation room with another man who radiated bright red. His name was Tristan Cale, and I had a very vague memory of him that seemed to have happened just before I'd been captured. I could hear Rune saying something about a war. I was looking at a small group of men and women, all of them armed. My vision had slipped away and I saw only auras. Of all those auras, I had known then that only two would survive. Tristan's passionate red and Barrett's steady yellow. The rest of the auras had been dulled by fear and doubt. We were a handful fighting an entire empire. We couldn't win. But it seemed we had gotten that far without losing.
There wasn't much to do but wait for Rune to recover. Jake had something he wanted to tell us, but he wanted to wait for Rune. Whatever information he had, it seemed to disturb him. It was going to change things.
Tristan scanned me with some device I couldn't identify even when I put my hands on it, and he assured me that there was no tracking device embedded in my skull or elsewhere. We were safe for the time being. I was still convinced that the Imperial army had some way of tracking me. If it wasn't by machinery, then it had to be by psychics. They would find us eventually, and there wasn't a way to jam up that kind of tracking device. Or at least I didn't know how yet.
When everyone had gone to bed, I went back up to the hangar and got aboard Blue Ava's Angel. I spent nearly an hour running my hands over the controls and hoping I could figure out some way to fly without my sight. That trick with the radar was something new. I could manipulate machines with my power. Some experiment had triggered an ability to see into the machines and use that sight to control them. Still, if I couldn't see where I was going, seeing inside the machine wasn't going to help me any. I had to remember how to pilot the ship first anyway. So I closed my eyes.
Cold chills washed over me. I felt myself shudder and fall back against the seat. I spread my fingers and felt the stream of time slipping around me. All my memories were there. All the things I needed. All the things I wanted. And lots that I wished I could leave behind forever. Visions flitted by. Voices whispered in my ears. I heard a gong and wind chimes. I closed my hands on my memories.
They flooded my mind. I knew why I had two names and why the one I had remembered first wasn't really me. I remembered who was on that shuttle I watched explode in front of me. I remembered shooting Vinny Vea in the crotch with a slug gun Rune had made for me. I remembered when things started to fall apart.
Kaylan had refused to do anything about the pirates. I could never figure out why. They continued to attack anything and everything, even Imperial ships, yet Kaylan sat back and watched. One ship couldn't fight the pirates and win. I had to just wait. But when I learned that the pirates had killed Hiram Shoals, I decided to stop waiting. Against Kaylan's orders, I sent a message out to as many explorers, mercenaries and merchants as I could without risking the pirates getting wind of it. By word of mouth, Rune recruited even more. The pirates hurt us all. We were going to fight back. We did, and we won.
Kaylan wasn't pleased. Two days after that successful battle, a fleet of Imperial ships attacked us. We didn't have enough weapons to fight back, so I tried to outrun them. The fighters were too fast, and we were loaded down with cargo. It was Duncan's idea to fly the shuttle into the fleet. Leysa wouldn't let him go alone. I knew they were going to die, but I didn't stop them. Rune got in their way only briefly. He realized then what we were about to get in to. He knew there would be losses. He knew that those losses would be necessary, but he hated it. I never really understood why he felt that way, and I never would.
We got away that day, but the war had begun. We fought. We recruited others to fight with us. A lot of the former pirates joined our side. We watched the universe spin out of control. Planets turned to deserts as their resources were sucked dry. News of new genetic experiments leaked out. Alien races refused to get involved until their homes became targets for Kaylan's greed. Almost every planet was a war zone.
Two years after we started the war, I was captured. Rune, Dylan and I had gone to one of the newer planets, one that hadn't quite been drawn into the fighting yet. We had hoped to establish some kind of base there and get the inhabitants on our side before the Imperial forces quashed them. A battalion was waiting for us. We ran. Dylan reached our small ship first and fired it up. The battalion fired at our backs. I must have been shot five times before I was anywhere near the ship. I remembered reaching up for Rune's hand as he leaned out of the open hatch, shouting at me to hurry up. I couldn't. I grabbed his hand for just a second before the battalion overwhelmed me. My wedding ring slipped off in his hand. He had to tell Dylan to take off. There was nothing they could do. I watched as they receded. I heard Rune shout that he wouldn't let them win. There was fire leaping from his eyes.
After that, there weren't a lot of memories to get back, but I knew it had been six years since I'd been captured. I knew that they had experimented on me until they realized that they couldn't control me, and then they put me in some kind of suspended state, thinking I couldn't hurt them if I wasn't aware of them. But I was aware of them, and I did what I could.
I opened my eyes. The control panel was washed in red haze, but I knew what do to with it. The war was going to end very soon.