Authors: S. L. Viehl
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General, #Adventure, #Speculative Fiction
ALSO BY S. L. VIEHL
c Beyond Varallan Endurance Shockball Eternity Row Rebel Ice
Bio Rescue Afterburn
PLAGUE OF MEMORY
A Star Doc Novel
S. L. Viehl
RbC A ROC BOOK
I did not often think of abducting my daughter, stealing a launch and leaving the
the ensleg ship upon which we presently lived. Perhaps two or three times during my waking hours did I consider how it could be done, and only when there were no ensleg near me.
The other people on the ship never left me alone for very long.
I woke up one morning, several weeks after joining the crew, and thought myself alone until I saw the beast. It sat only a few inches from my face. It stared at me, its eyes the color of old ice, its thick pelt in the gray shades of storm-brewing skies. The beast was, like the crew, ensleg—not from my homeworld of Akkabarr—but I knew it did not like me. As I sat up, it hunkered down and made a low, rumbling sound like that of a jlorra prepared to make a kill.
"Try," I told him, showing him my blade as I did every time he came to threaten me. "I will wear your fur."
The beast rose on all fours, the hair around his neck bristling before he backed slowly away. His mate, a black-furred, smaller feline, stood watch by
the door panel. The two touched noses and padded out of my daughter's room.
I rose with care from the place on the floor where I slept, and in silence scanned the area. Sounds told me that the child was taking care of her needs in the privy room. I went to check anyway. In this place, I could not take anything for granted.
Once I assured that my daughter was reasonably safe, I left her room and went to the metal box where I stored the garments the ensleg had given me to wear. I took out the blue-and-white uniform that I was obliged to wear while working as a healer, and the strap-sheaths and blades I had carried during the rebellion. Here on the ship I did not have to hide my features behind a head wrap, as was proper for women on Akkabarr, or under a mask formed by the sentient mold my husband called Lok-teel, as I had when I was vral. These ensleg thought nothing of looking upon a woman's face. I had never shown mine to so many; it made me feel naked.
"Cherijo." I fastened the front of my tunic and clipped on my belt before I turned to face my husband.
Duncan Reever, the Terran linguist who had taken me to wife, stood a short distance away. Tall, lean, and very fit, my husband had the same golden hair and curious, color-changing eyes as Marel, our daughter.
He held out his hand. "Please give me the blades."
I curled my fingers around the hilts of the two I wore on either side of my belt. My daggers had been gifts from various Iisleg warriors grateful for my healing. I was very fond of them. Although my impulse was to immediately obey him—among my people, a woman did not argue with a man's orders—Reever had made it clear that it was acceptable among his kind for me and every other woman to question any such command.
So I did. "Why?"
"You are making the cats and the Jorenians nervous," he told me. "None of the other crew members report for duty armed with six different weapons, and I have told you before that Jenner and Juliet will not harm you."
I usually carried eight blades, not that I would volunteer such information. Reever knew enough about me.
"The ensleg will grow accustomed to my ways," I suggested, although I only meant the Jorenians. The small, sharp-toothed beasts perpetually stalked me. Them I thought I might have to kill.
He frowned. "You are ensleg, too."
My body might be ensleg, but my soul had been bom on the ice-bound slave world of Akkabarr. Whatever Reever wished to think of me, I was Iisleg, one of the people of the ice.
"Weapons are not necessary here," my husband said. "We are no longer at war."
He wasn't. Each day for me was a battle against the strange, unfamiliar, and disturbing newness of my life. I also suspected it would be a very long time before the fight ended, if it ever did.
"War is like death," I said. "It comes regardless of invitation." "It came, and it left." A faint edge colored his
tone. "You refused to touch weapons in the past. You hated them."
There, the first shot in the day's battle: Another reminder of a past that did not belong to me, a life I had not lived. It gave me another reason to dislike the female who had once inhabited my mind and body. Cherijo had been trusting and foolish enough to walk about unarmed. I carried daggers.
Why could he not see that my way was better? After all that had happened, we owed it to ourselves and our child to be on our guard. It was not as if
had ever given any thought to our personal safety.
must not despise her,
I thought. If not for Cherijo, I would not exist. I could not fight a memory.
Still, they were
blades, not hers. "My former self hated weapons. I do not. This ship is strange to me, as are you and all who serve on it." I would not plead—it was beneath my dignity to behave like some frightened tribeswoman—but I had learned to use his odd concern for me to obtain what I wished. "The blades give me comfort."
Reever's face never showed any emotion, but he would look away whenever I spoke of anything he disliked, as if he could not bear the sight of me. "Would you conceal them in your garments, so they are not where they can be seen?"
"If they are not seen, I will be viewed as defenseless," I pointed out. He was ensleg; it was not his fault that he did not understand how wisely the Iisleg lived. "A show of weapons is as much a deterrent as the use of them. These ensleg on the ship—"
are ruthless fighters." This I knew from firsthand experience serving Teulon Jado, an enslaved Jorenian who had become the Raktar of the Iisleg rebellion. "I would earn their respect by demonstrating that I am not helpless."
"I understand your logic," Reever assured me, "but by wearing them so openly you are also frightening some of the children."
I frowned. "I am?" He nodded. "Why? They are the children of warriors, are they not?" "They remember you as you were." He touched my face. "Please, Joey."
was his pet name for my former self. He had others as well:
Waenara. I did not understand his need for so many. Had not one been enough?
I would have to consult Cherijo's journal files again.
Each day I put aside my plans to escape to learn more about the woman who had lived in my body before me. Dr. Cherijo Torin had been a Terran surgeon who left her homeworld to be a healer to other ensleg beings. From the files Cherijo had written about her life, she had also cured a plague that thought, stopped a disturbed killer, saved this ship upon which we traveled, allowed the Jorenians to adopt her, become enslaved, led a revolt and destroyed a slave depot, returned to Terra to confront her father, and cured another plague on her home-world and two more on other worlds, before witnessing the Jado Massacre and being captured by the League and taken to Akkabarr to be sold as a slave.
6 S. L. Viehl
Simply reading about all the woman had do made me feel weary.
If the journals were true, disaster, heartbreak, an death had chased my former self as fervently as fr mercenaries wishing to collect the various bounti on her head. I felt I would be very happy not membering a single moment of Cherijo's life. It ha not been a pleasant one.
"I will wear my daggers beneath my garments. I watched the fine tension lines around Reever' mouth relax. "Someday, will these people accept for what I am?"
"It will not be necessary." Reever sounded mo confident now. "It is only a matter of time bef you remember who you are."
My own past was brief and uncomplicated comparison. I had been born in Cherijo's body aft her ship crashed on Akkabarr and her mind ha been erased. For more than two years I had lived Jarn, a handler of the dead and later a vral battl field healer among the Iisleg, the natives who ' habited the surface of the ice world. I had borrow the name from the true Jarn, who had also lost h identity on the day my mind had been wiped cle of Cherijo's memories.
Reever and the others on this ship were wai
' for me to revert back to the woman for whom th cared.
I did not believe it would happen. My friend, tl true Jarn, had eventually regained her memorie but I never had. Inside my head, there was only m my personality, my memories. I suspected that Cherijo Torin had been had died on Akkabarr, an
her passing had left behind only an empty shell for my use. That was why it was so difficult to make myself answer to her name.
I was not Cherijo Torin. I had never been.
The real Tarn had also acquired a new name for herself—Resa—by the time we met again on Akkabarr, more than two years after the crash that had so altered both of us. We became friends and joined the native rebellion, serving Raktar Teulon together. The war on Akkabarr had been long, bloody, and, at times, terrifying. It had ended only when Teulon used it to stop another, intergalactic war between the reptilian slaver Hsktskt Faction and the space-colonizing Allied League of Worlds.
Resa was with Teulon now, helping to negotiate peace between the League and the Faction. That my friends had found happiness together pleased me, but too often I missed them. They had never known me as Cherijo. They had been the most important people in my life as Tarn.
Reever had come closer, and his expression was so fierce that I abandoned my brief defiance and dropped without thinking to a respectful crouch.
He will beat me this time,
I thought, closing my eyes and bowing my head to the inevitable. Daneeb, the headwoman of the skela, had warned me it would be so, and while I despised the thought of again being treated like a woman of the tribe, which was little better than a life slave, a tiny part of me felt almost relieved to see my husband act in a manner I understood.
"No." He took my hands and drew me up, handling me as he might an infant. "I will not strike you. I will
strike you. I am not angry with you for thinking of Teulon and Resa. The men here do not beat women."
Because Reever was a telepath, and shared a bond with my mind and body that I had yet to understand, he always knew precisely what I thought.
am scheduled to report for duty in ten minutes. Before this, I must take the child to where she is educated." I stared at his boots, which were black, like his garments. Reever did not wear uniforms. I would not think of my life on Akkabarr. Reever did not like it. "May I do so now?"