The Ironclad SagaPart 3: Exile

Ironclad Saga

Part 3: Exile

Drogen stared at his silver hands.

“Yes, the alloy!” Vhen sounded disgusted. “The ever precious alloy.”

“It catches the light,” Drogen murmured. It was all he could think to say as he tried to understand how the alloy could have bonded to him, and what it meant for his future.

“It will simply make you a better soldier,” Qyr said. “So you’ll be a little shiny. Better to catch the girl’s eyes!” He laughed, as if he’d just made some excellent joke.

“You blustering idiot,” Vhen said without much venom. “Tell him, Gho. Tell him what the alloy does for him.”

Gho was still sitting by Drogen’s bed, his brows knit with worry. “You will have all the invulnerability of the alloy. Your genetic profile allows you to bond with the alloy in a way very few can. The alloy has replaced your skin, and become part of you. It will live with you, breathe with you, grow with you. You will be completely immune to radiation, you can resist nearly anything any of our weapons can deal out, and your strength will be several times what it was. You are the first, and you have become the perfect soldier.”

Drogen looked at all of them, then. Gho sitting worried by his bedside. And Qyr falsely cheerful. And Vhen, clearly hating him, clearly resenting breaking caste. And yet agreeing that he could be a soldier. Not just a soldier, one of the Space Corp.

“It wasn’t an accident, was it?” he said softly. “I was the only one in the lab. Everyone else was at dinner, with you,” he looked at the two Admirals. “And those lights were blinking. You knew,” he looked at Gho, “you knew I would check them. And it was only when I input my code that the explosion happened. That wouldn’t have happened to anyone else, would it?”

“No,” Gho said, not meeting his gaze. “It wouldn’t have.”

Vhen  gave him a sour half smile. “You would never have made soldier,” he said, “if not for this. And now, thanks to no effort of yours, you’re the future of the Dorvalan military. Welcome to the Marines.”

Admiral Qyr was looking at him with a vague expression of concern. He seemed about to say something, when Vhen poked him in the shoulder. “Come on, Qyr. We have a luncheon with the It’s time for you to go play hero of the people again. I doubt your verbal circumlocutions would go over well here at the moment. We’ll come back later to discuss the future with Cadet Lar.”

The two Admirals left. Which meant it was just Drogen and Gho.

“For what it’s worth,” Gho said, “I am sorry.”

“You knew.” It wasn’t quite a question. He hoped Gho would deny it. He wanted to believe that the old man had really noticed him because of his own merits, not because of some genetic profile that fit the alloy. He wanted to believe that Gho had been an unwilling accomplice. That maybe Rhega had done it, setting up Gho’s equipment.

“I knew.”

Drogen shook his head. The entire last year had been a lie. He’d thought his promotion to work in the lab had been recognition of his potential. That the military couldn’t handle someone from the servant caste being a soldier, but that they were willing to admit he was more than his caste and let him at least be a lab assistant. And how proud his father had been, to think his son had earned a position with the scientists! Lies. All lies.

He looked up to find the older man watching him, waiting. “And how shall you make use of this gift?” Gho asked.

“A gift?” Drogen said. “If they had asked me, maybe it would have been a gift. Maybe then it could have been a gift I gave the Corp, to offer myself up for experimentation. But now? The Corp doesn’t want me. They want only the technology that covers my skin. Me, they loathe.” He clenched his fists. “Three Ladies of mercy! How can I serve a military that treats me like an expendable, filthy lab animal?”

“Drogen –“

“Tell me differently, if you can! Do they respect me? Do they think I’ve earned my place? Will I ever be credited with anything more than being the result of your genius?” he demanded of Gho.

“Did you always want to be a soldier?” Gho asked him.

He looked at Gho in disbelief.

“Or did you want to be a hero? The two are different, you know. There are many soldiers who are heroes, like Admiral Qyr–”

Drogen snorted at that. Gho smiled slightly, but continued. “But there are even more heroes who are not soldiers. Which one will you be? Are you only capable of heroism within the Corp? Or are you capable of more than that? It will not be easy.”

It will not be easy. It will be even harder for you than it was for me. I apologize for that. I have done my best by you… Gho’s voice echoed in his mind. It’s what Gho had told him before the accident. Before leaving the lab, and knowing full well what was about to happen to him.

“You’ve been playing a very deep game, haven’t you?” he asked. “You never intended me to serve the military.”

“Ah.” Gho smiled slightly. “Have I been that obvious?”

“You could have hidden this from me. But you didn’t. You knew I couldn’t serve the Corp under these circumstances. Vhen wouldn’t even think I’d resist, and Qyr is clearly confused, but you knew I would never accept this.”

“Yes,” Gho said. “Your sense of personal honor won’t allow it.”

“There’s no way for me to stay on Dorvalla now, is there?”

Gho shook his head, “I’m afraid not. The military would never leave you alone if you did.”

“And what happens next?” Drogen asked him.

“You fight your way out of here,” Gho told him. “To the hangar. There you’ll find the Admirals’ shuttle with enough fuel and resources to get you to Malva. You’re smart enough, you’ll figure out how to pilot it. And I will be distraught and outspoken over how the military mishandled you. How they attempted to destroy your honor. This will necessitate an Imperial Investigation of the military, which will find the source of the corruption that lead to this stupid plot to secretly create a super soldier. Which, they will find, was lead by men who intended to usurp the throne from the Emperor.”

“Shogar,” Drogen whispered. “Is that true?”

Gho nodded. “Yes. Otherwise there would be no need for secrecy.”

“Three Ladies have mercy,” he said. “That will change the world.”

“Yes. When you leave, causing an outcry too large for the Admirals to silence, the world will begin to change.”

“And I’ll become a hero,” Drogen murmured, “in my absence.”

“Yes,” Gho said, “but that’s often true. At least, unlike many heroes, you won’t have to die first.”

“All I had to do was burn with fire for… how long?” Drogen asked.

“Three days,” Gho whispered, his eyes haunted. “I am truly sorry for that. It took me three days to make a syringe that would pierce your skin. I had forgotten that necessity.” Gho closed his eyes for a moment, looking both very tired and very old. “Your father will be taken care of, in honor of his heroic son. In several years time, you will even be able to return to Dorvalla, if you wish to.”

Better this, Drogen thought, than serving under Vhen and Qyr. At least this he could respect. He nodded. “When should I escape?”

“Tonight,” Gho said. “The Admirals will be at a state dinner. There will be guards here, and you will have to fight them.”

Drogen snorted. “Good thing for me that I have this near impenetrable alloy on my skin.”

Gho smiled slightly in response. “Indeed. Make noise, make it spectacular. Remember that they cannot hurt you.”

“I will,” Drogen said.

“There is a bag of your things,” Gho said, “that I retrieved from your quarters. As well as my notes on the alloy. Hopefully, those will help you.”

Gho rose to leave, “I am sorry,” he said again. “If I could have done this without making you an exile, I would have.”

Drogen just nodded. He didn’t know quite how he felt about Gho anymore. It was all too complicated.

At the door, Gho stopped and looked back at him. “There was one other in the lab who had the same genetic variation you do, but I could not trust his honor. He would have taken their poison gift and been glad of it.”

And then Gho was gone.

Shogar guide me, Drogen thought. Strangely, though, he felt nearly peaceful for the first time in his life. He knew what he was doing, and he knew why, and he knew his sacrifice would be understood and honored.

Tonight, I battle my way to freedom. Tomorrow… Who ever knows what tomorrow holds?

To be continued…














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