“You are weak, Verdon. You kill like a woman!” I glared at my half-brother.
His narrow shoulders tensed. A hush fell over our late father’s great hall. The dog lying before the hearth groaned loudly.
Sick with anger and helplessness, I gloried in his reaction. He condemned me to a living death, marriage to a man some considered unsettled. Still I could evoke fire in my frigid sibling. I knew his soft places where the words would sting most. Rage prodded me on.
“Your mother would writhe in her grave if she saw the slovenly murderer she brought forth. It would be better for her if you never lived.”
“Hush, Verity, hush.” My old nurse’s hands trembled where they gripped my arm. Ealdine served more as a companion now that I reached adulthood.
She had good reason to cower. My cheek still stung from Verdon’s last loss of composure. Wisdom urged me to let go of the burning emotion in my gut. Yet the anger demanded I rant or sob.
I refused to give Verdon the satisfaction of tears.
His fingers closed on the hilt of our father’s sword. My sword. Our father promised it to me, yet Verdon refused me even that. I unleashed the final blow.
“Our father would rise up and call you coward for this act. Selling me to a mad man will not silence my tongue.”
The impact of his fist snapped my head back. I welcomed the pain. It grounded the anger, distracting me from the agony in my chest that began with our father’s death. The grief ached with every breath those moments I missed him most. I was helpless without Father’s protection, a fact never more clear than now.
Another blow, this time behind my right ear, rocked my sense of the earth. The crack of my skull on the stone echoed, preceding searing pain. A fog blanketed my senses. The hand I lifted to my scalp came away red.
“Foolish move, Ravenridge.” Sir Hirion’s face wavered above me. I blinked, but he remained out of focus. “Lord Silvaticus paid for a living bride, not a corpse. If you wish to remain in Silvaticus’ favor, she should be well and whole when he arrives.”
“A fortnight is time enough for her to heal. I have not left a lasting mark on her features, only her head. He will see nothing amiss. Now lock her in the tower. I grow weary of her lies.”
Rough hands lifted me from the floor. Ealdine’s pleas for caution grew distant as my senses finally faded.
Darkness enveloped me completely. I breathed stuffy blackness in labored pants, struggling to tolerate the closeness. Cottony, the warmth threatened to suffocate me in a billowing blanket of malevolence.
I hated when I woke early.
The sensors glued to my forehead and scalp screamed to be scratched, but the arm bands made that impossible. I mentally clawed for something to fixate on, anything other than the inching six walls trapping me.
Why they called the box a dream suite I don’t know. I never dreamed, and it only barely contained me. Six by three by two feet, built to contain one average sized human, it was one of thirty stacked drawers in one wall of the ward. I suppose I should have been thankful I was a below-average-sized humanoid. Sometimes I managed to ignore the walls because I wasn’t constantly in contact with them, only the padded pseudo-bed beneath my back. However, no matter how I strained, I couldn’t truly believe they didn’t exist.
With a soft hiss, jets of cold air bombarded my naked feet signaling the waking time. The weight on my chest dissipated slightly in the cooler air, but in its place nagged the raw instinct to tuck my freezing feet closer to my body. I couldn’t bend my legs far enough. The knowledge degenerated into panic. Hysteria edged in just as a hum and jolt warned me to check that my eyes stayed closed.
Another whirling hum, jolt, and sucking whoosh later, piercing blue light assaulted my face as my chamber slid out of the wall into the ward. Arm restraints retracted into the sides.
“Down, female, 7682R.”
The droid’s grating mechanical voice invaded the borders of my mind, setting my teeth hard against each other. A final blast of icy air from the suite’s jets, meant to encourage me to move faster, did the exact opposite.
The rebel in me wanted to defy the automaton until a humanoid showed her face. However, the penalty wasn’t worth the temporary high of asserting my own will. My skin crawled at the memory of the waspmice. Dark pock-like scars still marred my legs from last time. I clamored out of the DS and padded barefoot across the slick floor to the cleansing stations on the far side of the room.
The android, a bulky P-73, stalked behind, whining through its exhaust hose. It probably worried I would throw another fit or fall into hysterics. I was allowed to remember a few bits from day to day, like incidents of rebellion and the resulting punishments. With drugs and therapy, they attempted to erase the rest.
My skin crawled. I concentrated on unlatching the sealed door on the cleanser and climbing inside the chamber. A deep breath to brace myself and I pulled the panel closed. Alternating jets of tepid and steaming water blasted me from all angles. I ripped the rubber suction cells off my skin and threw them in the refuse slot. My temples throbbed where the probes had recently entered my skull. A light touch of my fingertips brought away blood. I wondered, how many times had I stood here. I didn’t know. It was disconcerting, to never remember one day to the next.
A pathetic sputter of water-flecked air constituted the cleanser’s attempt at drying my abused skin before a panel popped open with a belch of perfumed air. I coughed as I reached for the two-piece jumpsuit contained within. My arms executed the complicated movements of dressing myself without much direction from my thoughts. I knew I had been here long enough for this routine to become rote, unless
, of course, I had worn clothing just like this before I came here. Or maybe I had always been here?
Pssst! There is another story about Exchange's characters available. Go to this blog entry to read more.