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The Oath

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 2 of 7

As his mind constantly replayed the horror of his last battle, Travis drifted wretchedly between oblivion and white-hot agony. The more he tried to retreat into darkness, the more insistently his caretakers prodded him back to wakefulness. He attempted to fight off their ministrations, but the weakness of his own body betrayed him, leaving him helpless to resist.

Gradually he became more aware of the sounds and smells around him. The muted hum of machinery. The singed smell of his own burned flesh and the pungent ointments and creams that they swabbed on it at agonizing intervals. The thick bandages, covering the upper half of his face and the stump of his shoulder. Muted fearful whispers of his caretakers and the one sharper voice who seemed to be in command.

Command. As he'd once commanded the fear and respect of his subordinates and troops... and the admiring glances of the Senators' wives and beautiful women drawn to power. But no longer, not after what that rebel malcontent Blake had done to him.

He gritted his teeth, holding back his screams at the memory of the white hot laser blast that charred his arm as he raised it in a futile effort to shield his face. Even that agony paled beside the anguish he experienced a microsecond later as his left eye was boiled away by the blast. The images ravaged his nervous system, threatening to rip away his reason and leave him a gibbering madman.

He stirred feverishly, trying again to retreat into the welcoming darkness and away from those searing images that constantly replayed inside his head like a broken vidtape. Away from that shattered image of himself, blinded and maimed; an object of pity and scorn Damn that bloody surgeon! Why hadn't the man obeyed his command? Did he think he was doing Travis a favor, salvaging the wreckage of his body; trying to fit broken and missing pieces back into some mockery of a whole man.

Travis was all too aware of the fate of human wreckage that occasionally survived their tour of duty in the Federation Space Forces. Cast off as little more than flotsam, aged and crippled troopers lived a precarious hand-to-mouth existence back in the crowded Delta warrens that most of them had joined the service hoping to escape.

Officers like himself fared little better, unless they managed to ingratiate themselves with a powerful Senator or cultivated Alpha grade friends or political connections. But he had none of those powerful connections and damned little influence within Space Command itself.

Why had the surgeon left him to the mercy of these caretakers and their well-meaning efforts to drag him out of the darkness? One particularly determined individual prodded and manipulated him on a daily, almost hourly, basis. Changing his position at frequent intervals to improve circulation. Putting him through range of motion exercises to maintain mobility and muscle tone - as if he'd ever need it again!

He groaned in angry frustration and his tormentor halted in the middle of the methodical flexion and extension of his remaining arm. A disembodied voice echoed out of the darkness, "Commander Travis, are you awake now? Did the movement cause you pain? Nod your head if you understand me."

He cursed savagely under his breath. Bad enough that they were trying to salvage his useless body, but judging by the questioning note in that voice, they weren't even sure he hadn't been brain-damaged in the blast!

He ran his dry tongue across cracked lips before demanding in a tattered rag of a voice, "Where's that damned surgeon? Why didn't he obey my orders?"

His caretaker ignored his questions, although he heard the click of a summoning beeper. The medtech then spoke to him in the slow, deliberately patient tone of someone addressing an idiot child.

"I've summoned Dr.Maryatt, Commander. Lie still until he arrives. He will evaluate your progress and answer any questions that you have."

That calculated soothing note only agitated him further and he tried to sit up, dragging at the numerous wires and monitors and almost dislodging the tubing that fed into his veins.

"Damn the man," he grated hoarsely. "I told him...."

The hands pressing him back against his pillow were no longer quite so gentle and the calm, dispassionate voice held a hint of irritation. "You must lie still, Commander. You still need the drugs and fluids in this intravenous line."

He subsided, too physically and mentally weakened to resist any longer.

"Why?" he whispered, despairing "Why didn't he let me die?"

Moments later when someone hurried in, Travis appeared to have lapsed back into his earlier unresponsive state, although he was actually conscious, listening intently to their discussion of his present condition.

"What happened?" He recognized the surgeon's voice.

"The patient regained momentary consciousness and had voluntary control of his extremities."

The tech's tone was calm and precise, yet Travis sensed strong emotions held tightly in check.

"What about his mental status?" Maryatt demanded. "Was he oriented? Did he know who or where he was?"

"Brain damage appears minimal. He was aware of his identity, spoke rationally, even seemed to have short-term memory recall of recent occurrences." There was an uneasy silence. "He was aware of the severity of his injuries. . . and remembered his orders to you quite clearly."

"However, the Supreme Commander's orders took precedence."

"She wants him kept alive?"

"More than ever, since the Council dealt so leniently with Blake, merely mind-wiping and reprogramming him." Maryatt's voice held a note of apprehension. "The Supreme Commander wants to assure that Travis survives as a tangible reminder of Blake's threat to society."

"Or to her ambition," the first voice answered dully.

"If Travis recovers completely, she may be inclined to intercede on your behalf."

"I stopped believing in happy endings a long time ago, Doctor." As the second voice echoed in the room as cold and inhuman as any mutoid's, Travis drifted off to sleep, wondering at Servalan's sudden interest in his survival.

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