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Lois McMaster Bujold

MEMORY

CHAPTER ONE

Miles returned to consciousness with his eyes still closed. His brain seemed to smolder with the confused embers of some fiery dream, formless and fading. He was shaken by a fearful conviction that he had been killed again, till memory and reason began to place this shredded experience.

His other senses tried to take inventory. He was in null-gee, his short body stretched out flat, strapped to a surface and swathed in what felt like a thin foil med wrap, standard military issue. Wounded? All limbs seemed present and accounted for. He was still wearing the soft bodysuit that had lined his now-missing space armor. The straps were not tight. The complex scent of many-times-refiltered air, cool and dry, tickled his nostrils. He secretly snaked an arm free, careful not to rattle the wrap, and touched his bare face. No control leads, no sensors—no blood—where are my armor, my weapons, my command headset?

The rescue mission had been going as smoothly as such missions ever did. He and Captain Quinn and their patrol had penetrated the hijackers' ship, found the brig. Blasted through to the captured Barrayaran ImpSec courier officer, Lieutenant Vorberg, still alive though addled with sedatives. The medtech had pronounced the hostage clear of mechanical or chemical boobytraps, and they'd begun the exhilarating trip through the dark corridors back to the waiting Dendarii combat shuttle.

The hijackers, very much occupied elsewhere, had made no attempt to jump them. What went wrong?

The sounds around him were quiet: the bleep of equipment, the hiss of atmosphere recycling on normal operation, the murmur of voices. One low animal moan. Miles licked his lips, just to be sure that noise wasn't coming from himself. He might not be wounded, but somebody nearby was not in good shape. A tangy whiff of antiseptics escaped filtration. He slitted open his eyes, prepared to play unconscious again and think fast if he found himself in enemy hands.

The sounds around him were quiet: the bleep of equipment, the hiss of atmosphere recycling on normal operation, the murmur of voices. One low animal moan. Miles licked his lips, just to be sure that noise wasn't coming from himself. He might not be wounded, but somebody nearby was not in good shape. A tangy whiff of antiseptics escaped filtration. He slitted open his eyes, prepared to play unconscious again and think fast if he found himself in enemy hands.

Only one casualty, Miles corrected his thought. A violent headache throbbed at the base of his brain. But he bore no plasma arc burns, no nerve-disrupter paralysis. No intravenous tubing or hypospray injector pierced his body, pumping in blood replacements or synergine against shock. He did not float in a narcotic haze of painkillers, and no pressure bandages hampered his slight movements. No sense-blockers. The headache felt like a post-stun migraine. How the hell could I have been stunned through combat armor?

The Dendarii medtech, still combat-armored but with helmet and gloves off, turned and saw Miles's open eyes. 'You're awake, sir? I'll notify Captain Quinn.' He hovered briefly over Miles's face, and flashed a light into his eyes, doubtless checking for abnormal pupil response.

'How long . . . was I out? What happened?'

'You had some kind of seizure, or convulsion. No apparent cause. The field kit test for toxins didn't turn up anything, but its pretty basic. We'll go over you more thoroughly as soon as we're back to the ship's sick bay.'

Not dead again. Worse. This is still more of the leftovers from the last time. Oh, hell. What have I done? What have they seen?

He would rather have been—well, no. He would not rather have been nerve- disrupted. But almost. 'How long?' Miles repeated.

'The seizure seemed to last four or five minutes.'

It had certainly taken more than five minutes to get from there to here. 'Then?'

'You've been unconscious for about a half hour, I'm afraid, Admiral Naismith.'

He'd never been out so long before. This was the worst attack ever, by far. He'd prayed the last one would be the last one. Over two months had passed since his previous unwitnessed, brief collapse. Dammit, he'd been certain the new medication had worked.

He made to free himself, fighting out of the heat wrap and bunk straps.

'Please don't try to get up, Admiral.'

'I have to go forward and get reports.'

The medtech placed a cautious hand upon his chest, and pressed him back onto the bunk. 'Captain Quinn ordered me to sedate you if you tried to get up. Sir.'

Miles almost barked, And I countermand that order! But they did not seem to be in the midst of combat now, and the tech had a medically steely look in his eye, of a man prepared to do his duty whatever the risks. Save me from the virtuous. 'Is that why I was out so long? Was I sedated?'

'No, sir. I only gave you synergine. Your vital signs were stable, and I was afraid to give you anything else till I had some better idea what we were dealing with.'

'What about my squad? Are we all out? The Barrayaran hostage, did we get him out all right?'

'Everybody got out all right. The Barrayaran, um . . . will live. I retrieved his legs; there's a good chance the surgeon will be able to reattach them.' The medtech glanced around, as if seeking comradely assistance.

'What? How was he injured?'

'Uh . . . I'll call Captain Quinn for you, sir.'

'You do that,' growled Miles.

The medtech ducked away into free fall, and murmured urgently into an intercom on the far wall. He returned to his patient—Lieutenant Vorberg? IVs were pumping plasma and medications into the man through sites on both an arm and his neck. The rest was concealed by heat foil. At a light-signal from the forward bulkhead, the medtech hastily strapped himself into his station jump seat, and the shuttle went through a quick series of accelerations, decelerations, and attitude adjustments, in preparation for locking on to its mother ship.

Properly, upon docking the injured hostage was rushed out first. In two parts. Miles gritted his teeth in dismay at the sight of the soldier clutching a large cold-container who followed the medtech and float pallet. There did not seem to be much blood smeared around, though. Miles had just given up waiting for Quinn and was releasing himself from his medical restraints when she appeared from the flight deck and floated down the aisle toward him.

She had doffed the helmet and gloves from her space armor, and pulled back her bodysuits hood to free her dark, sweat-flattened curls. Her beautifully sculpted face was pale with tension, her brown eyes dark with fear. But his little three-ship fleet could be in no immediate danger, or she would be attending to it, not to him. 'Are you all right?' she asked hoarsely.

'Quinn, what—no. Give me a general status report first.'

'Green Squad got the hijacked ships crew out. All of them. There was a bit of equipment damage—the insurance company's not going to be as ecstatic as the last time—but our Life Bonus is safe and warm.'

'Praise be to God and Sergeant Taura. And our hijackers?'

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