CONFUSİON. Am I conscious? Everything’s dark. A moment later, pain flares my body to life. I’m awake, I have to be to acutely feel every inch of throbbing skin. I grind my teeth together against the agony, but I can’t stop the tears that leak from my eyes. I’m lying on my side, my weight pressed against my bad arm, my wrists bound behind my back. If not for the pain, I wouldn’t even know I had a bad arm. I can hear people talking, and I smell oil and steel. But I can’t see any of it. Something covers my face. I try to shrug it off with my shoulder, but I don’t make any progress. What’s going on? I search my mind, but there’s nothing to grasp onto. I cannot remember a moment before this. What actions led my life here, cuffed and wounded. My past and my identity have been cleaved away, along with my freedom, and I have no idea what any of it means.
The floor dips and rises, and my bodyweight is thrown against my injury. The agony is instant and all-compassing. I can’t hold back my gasp, but it cuts off as the pain overwhelms me and my mind shuts down. I wake off and on to voices, pain, and jostling. I should know what’s happening to me, but the explanation is a wil-o’-the-wisp; the more I chase it, the farther away it gets. My entire existence is a series of shallow breaths drawn from damp, recycled air, my world contained within the bag that covers my head. I do not know my name, the color of my eyes, the shape of my face. Most importantly, I have no idea what’s going on. And now I’m being jerked to my feet, and now we’re walking. I hiss in a breath at the pain.
My legs can’t hold me up. They keep wanting to fold under me, but my captors grip my elbows and force me to remain upright. I can hear cheering as I’m carted away. A migraine pulses behind my eyes and along my temple, and the noise stirs it. A crowd must be watching this procession. People begin to boo. At me, I realize. The entire mass of them are booing at me. Who am I? Something smashes into the side of my head. I stagger, and my headache unfurls the full force of its power.
I have to swallow back the bile that rises up in my throat. “Move!” an angry voice shouts. A booted foot kicks the back of my knee, and I stumble forward. Beneath the pain and the confusion, anger simmers. My cuffed hands curl into fists. If I wasn’t restrained, I’d gladly endure more suffering to land a few good blows on my captors. I’m no helpless thing. The air cools as I’m directed indoors. That doesn’t stop the booing crowd or the objects flung at me. Whatever’s happening, I’m supposed to be humiliated.
They’re wasting their efforts. I’m in far too much pain to care about what they think of me. This goes on for a while, and I resign myself to enduring this for the time being. It’s not until I hear the heavy turn of locks and I’m pushed forward once more, that my situation changes. Now the noise from the crowd dulls and the thump of dozens of footsteps break away. I can’t say how much farther we walk, or how many turns we take. I’m weaving on my feet. The men holding my arms halt. Ahead of me, locks tumble and then another heavy door creaks open. A tug on my injured arm has me moving forward.
We only walk a few steps forward before I’m stopped again. Behind me, the thick thud of a door cuts the last of the sound off completely. Someone rips the bag from my head, taking some strands of my hair along with it. The overhead light blinds me, and I squint against it, gnashing my teeth against the new wave of pain behind my temple. I sense more than see the men on either side of me. I finally breathe in fresh air, and it shakes off a bit of my weariness. The last time air was this crisp … I stand in a moat of bloody bodies. Men in dark fatigues creep closer. I don’t know who they are, but I know I need to fight them. The memory’s blurry, and I can’t be sure it’s real.
I blink, my earlier confusion roaring back to life. Why can’t I place where I am? Who I am? I know I should remember these things, so why can’t I? And then there are the things that I inexplicably know. The fact, for instance, that I’m in a holding cell. The kind with a one-way mirror. I have no memory of this place or any like it, yet somehow I recognize exactly what it is. A room for prisoners. That’s what I am. I can’t say what my crimes are, though I’m obviously someone important. Someone infamous. As my eyes adjust, I notice three men in uniform standing around me.
Soldiers of some sort. They appear wary of me, like I might get violent at any moment. I think they’re wise to be wary. One of them shoves me to my knees. Roughly, he grabs my bound hands behind my back and unlocks the cuffs. Pain slices through my arms as they’re released and sensation flows back into them. I pivot on my knees, primed for attack. I may not know what’s going on, but I have muscle memory, and it’s leading me now. I lunge for the nearest of my captors. Clumsily my arms wrap around his calves as I slam into him, and God, does my injured arm burn.
The pain almost stops me. Almost. He loses his balance and falls. Not good for him. My instincts are directing me. Before he can recover, I move up his body and slam the fist of my good arm into his temple. Again and again. I was right. It is absolutely worth every bit of agony to pummel one of these men. Just as quickly as I find myself on my captor, I’m dragged off of him by the other two.
The entire time they curse at me. Like I actually give a shit. I struggle against them, and even injured as I am, I still manage to slip their hold. One tackles me to the ground. “Your gun, man, your gun!” he shouts to his comrade. I don’t understand the order until I see the hilt of some military grade weapon raised above me. The butt of it slams into my temple, and I’m out cold once more. WHEN I COME to, I’m cuffed to a chair in my cell. Across the table I sit at, an enemy soldier watches me with obvious disgust. That one-way mirror looms behind him.
Someone’s watching us. I can practically feel their eyes on me. I catch sight of myself in the mirror. It’s brief, just a flash of blood-matted hair and skin that looks more like overripe fruit. I can taste blood in my mouth, and a tooth is loose. I don’t think I have a concussion, but that’s sheer luck. They hit me hard and repeatedly. A chill slithers up my spine. Perhaps I already have a concussion, and that’s why I can’t remember anything about myself. Standing guard next to the door of my cell is another soldier, a military-grade rifle in his hand.
His finger loosely cradles the trigger. I can read nothing from his face. That, more than anything, convinces me that if I so much as flinch the wrong way, he’ll shoot me. Looks like my situation just went from bad to worse. “I’m Lieutenant Begbie. Do you know why you’re here?” The man across from me wears dark fatigues, and he has a gristly look about him, like he’s held together mostly by sinew and anger. “You want answers from me,” I say. “Yes, ma’am.” He settles a bit more into his chair. “And you’re going to give them to us.
” “And if I don’t?” But it’s not if, it’s when. Begbie studies me, sucking on his teeth while he does so. “We’re going to try this the civilized way first. If you answer our questions, we won’t use force to get them out of you.” I raise an eyebrow, even though my heart pounds like mad. Torture. “We’ll start off easy. Tell me your full name.” I can feel the burn of the cuffs on my wrist, rubbing my skin raw. My body is a mass of wounds, and my head feels as though it’s ready to split open.
These are all injuries this man and his people gave me. Perhaps this little tasting of their wares is supposed to scare me. I don’t feel scared. And I don’t feel very talkative. But I am angry. I’m very angry. “What’s your name?” he repeats. I lean to the side and spit out blood. Answer enough. My interrogator’s scowl only deepens.
The door to my cell opens, and angry voices from the hall trickle in. “—I don’t give a damn. I need to see her for myself.” My eyes flick to the man that enters. Old, strong, his hair cropped close to his head. His features are hard, even his eyes. A man used to making tough decisions. I can already tell he’ll show me no more kindness than the rest of them. “Serenity,” he says to me, “what happened to him?” Serenity—is this my name? It doesn’t sound like a name. I stare at him curiously.
Does this man know me? “Kline.” Begbie says the word—another name perhaps—like a warning. The older man stalks across the room and leans over me. An intense pair of blue eyes fix on mine, and I see a mixture of anger and grief in them. “What did you and the king do to him?” He rests his hands on the metal backing of my chair and shakes it to emphasize his point. Air hisses out of me as the movement jostles my already screaming gunshot wound. The headache that’s been pounding behind my temple pulsates with pain. “For the love of Christ, Serenity, what did you do to my son? I want to hear you say it.” This man might know me, but he’s no friend of mine. “General,” Begbie rounds the table and grabs the man’s upper arm, “that’s enough.
We’re in the middle of an interrogation.” The general—I assume this is a title—shrugs off Begbie’s grip and gives a jerky nod, his gaze trained on my face. “Get her to talk,” he says. And then he turns on his heel and stalks out of the room, the door slamming shut behind him. I stare at the space he took up. Whoever that man was, I did something to his son—me and this king they keep asking about—something that broke a hardened man. I search the empty halls of my mind for a memory—even just a fragment of one. Nothing comes to mind. And now I have the general’s cryptic words to add to my already addled state. The whole thing makes me weary.
I’m injured, locked up like the world’s deadliest criminal, and being questioned about a past I can’t remember. They’re going to torture me, then kill me, and at the end of it all I’ll have no idea why. It seems so pointless. My interviewer runs a hand over his cropped hair. “Why don’t we start where we left off?” “What do you really want to know?” I ask, leaning back into my seat. There’s no use in me stalling. Torture’s coming, either way. “Where is the king?” the man across from me asks. This mysterious king whom I can’t recall. I must work for him.
It makes sense. “I don’t know,” I say, still distracted by my own thoughts. My interviewer leans forward. “Surely you know where he would go.” “Maybe,” I hedge, shifting my weight as the injury on my calf begins to burn. The movement causes the pain in my arm to flare up. Would it be wise to reveal how little I know? Begbie must read my expression because he says, “If you’re not going to cooperate, Serenity, then we’ll force the answers out of you.” Serenity must be my name. “That I’m well aware of,” I say. My reflection catches my attention once more, and I shift my eyes away from Begbie.
Aside from the bruises that cover my face, and I have a deep scar that runs from the corner of my eye down my cheek. I look … sinister. And hardened. Oddly enough, that gives me courage. Begbie tries again. “What do you believe you’re worth to the king?” “I don’t know.” The Lieutenant leans back in his seat and studies me. “Alright,” he finally drawls, coming to some sort of decision, “what locations in the WUN do you believe the king will select for his armories?” “I don’t know.” Begbie touches his lips with two fingers; he taps one of them against his mouth as he watches me. I know he’s trying to figure out the best way to crack me.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Serenity,” he says, “I really don’t, but you have to give me information for this to work.” Contrary to his words, this man wants to hurt me very, very badly. We stare each other down. I’m going to be killed either way, and that knowledge settles on my shoulders like a cloak. Whatever else happens, my words won’t get me out of here. He leans forward in his chair, his hand coming to rest on the table. “What do you know?” This is one question I can answer. “That my name is Serenity, and my memory is gone.”