Part 4: Fugitive
Drogen was keenly aware of how little difference there was between him and the young men standing on the other side of his hospital room door. A few days ago, he had wanted, more than anything, to be one of them. Heâ€™d wanted to stand proudly among them and protect his people. And so far as they knew, thatâ€™s what they were doing. He didnâ€™t want to hurt them.
To think the Imperium rests on what I do tonightâ€¦ Shogar, Three Ladies, and even Dorallâ€™shan bless me. It was not often that he called on the sky god who ordained the caste system. But surely preservation of the Imperium might be worthy of his attention, even it was only a lowly member of the servant caste about to go into battle.
I must remember â€“ their weapons cannot hurt me. Although he couldnâ€™t be absolutely sure. They hadnâ€™t ever tested the alloy on someoneâ€™s skin before.
Drogen looked at his hands. Hints of starlight from outside his window reflected off them. He considered, for a moment, going out the window. There were bars on it, but he suspected he was now strong enough to remove them. Â But, no. The point of his escape was to catch attention. If it were up to him, he would slip out the window and use his knowledge of the serving passages of the hospital. There would be very little danger of hurting anyone else. But this decision wasnâ€™t his alone.
Enough stalling. Time to cause a spectacle.
Drogen kicked the door outward, startling the two young soldiers stationed there. â€œBy Shogarâ€™s hells!â€ one of them cussed, training his gun on Drogen.
Although he knew it wouldnâ€™t hurt, Drogen couldnâ€™t stop himself from jerking back as the energy bolt seared against his skin. All he felt, though, was a flash of heat. No pain. Relieved, he roared at the soldiers. Best to scare them into fleeing, if he could.
It worked on one of the two, but the other stood firm. He aimed to fire again. But before he could pull the trigger, Drogen backhanded him. That sent the boy reeling into the wall so hard the plaster cracked. Drogen took a brief moment to hope he hadnâ€™t crushed the boyâ€™s skull.
That should bring more guards running. But Drogen couldnâ€™t just stay here. He had to get moving. The hangar was 15 yards from the Imperial Hospital. Which meant he had to make his way out of the hospital first. He could cause a spectacle as he went.
As he ran, a deep alarm began to gong. He kept running, twisting and turning through the long public corridors, all the while knowing that there were far simpler paths he could take, were he to dive into the servantsâ€™ passages. Â Instead, he ran towards the central junction of the corridors on his floor. Thatâ€™s where he would find the soldiers. After all, they would assume he had to go through there to get out.
Sure enough, six young soldiers stood at the juncture, waiting for him.
â€œThere he is!â€ one shouted.
Three of them shot at once. He winced, but again felt only a splash of heat. He slowed and growled. Still, he moved towards them.
â€œThe hells!â€ another soldier cursed. â€œWhat is he?â€
â€œGo ahead!â€ Drogen challenged. â€œShoot me again! Your guns wonâ€™t touch me. Thank your precious Admirals for that!â€
Their energy bolts did nothing to him, even as they kept shooting. Again and again. One threw his discharged gun against the wall. With a holler, he dove at Drogen.
Using the manâ€™s momentum, Drogen propelled him down the corridor. He slammed into the far wall and fell to the floor.
â€œAnyone else?â€ Drogen opened his arms wide.
Two more tried to tackle him. A simple kick to the knee took one of them out with a sickening crack. The other he punched in the shoulder. Again, something snapped loudly. More than heâ€™d intended.
Three more young soldiers remained in front of him. â€œRun,â€ he told them. â€œRun. And donâ€™t forget what your precious military did to me.â€ And he roared as he ran at them. They broke and fled before him. He let them escape down a side corridor.
Behind him the soldiers heâ€™d injured moaned. He knew he ought to go on, but he stopped, knelt beside the man whose shoulder heâ€™d broken. The fellow had passed out, and there was blood everywhere. Drogen stared, trying to make sense of what he saw.
I ripped his shoulder out. Shogar burn me forever, I ripped his shoulder out. He wanted to call for a nurse. Wanted to carry the boy to safety. But he couldnâ€™t. He checked the boyâ€™s pulse, which was still going. The best he could do was get out of there immediately, be seen elsewhere, so that these men could be rescued.
He ran. This time, there was no reason to his path. He just ran.
Everything became a blur of endless corridors, of boys with toy guns that couldnâ€™t do anything. And of his fists making impact. Of bones breaking. Of actual projectiles slamming into him, but doing no more than slowing him down.
More and more soldiers kept pouring into the hallways. So many. So many young men and boys to hurt. All doing their duty. All terrified of him. He wept as he fought. He knew heâ€™d killed some. He had to. No matter how hard he tried not to, there were so many of them. The only way they could stop him would be to bury him in greater numbers.
Heâ€™d just decimated another unit, and was surrounded b y moaning and broken bodies, when he heard someone calling his name.
â€œDrogen!â€ it was an urgent whisper. â€œCome on, Drogen, Iâ€™ve got the door for you.â€
He looked up, wiping his blood covered hand against his tears. There, at the end of the hallway, was his father, holding open the service corridor for him.
And he did. He knew he should keep fighting. Knew that was what Gho had asked of him. But he was tired of doing what Gho asked of him.
â€œFather,â€ he gently, oh so gently, wrapped his arms around the older man and held him. His father kept patting his back.
â€œThere. Iâ€™ve found you, now. There.â€
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€ he let go of his father, looked into the old manâ€™s face.
â€œYour Scientist Gho told me you might have need of me,â€ the old man patted his shoulder again. â€œForgot the service corridors, did you?â€
â€œNo,â€ Drogen said. â€œNot exactly.â€
His father snorted. â€œWell, letâ€™s get you out of here, eh?â€
He followed his father down the service corridors. All the while, they could hear footsteps pounding along the public corridors. Men shouted, calling for weapons, calling for more men. Blessedly, they were also calling for nurses and doctors. That lifted some guilt from Drogen.
â€œWeâ€™re to get you to the shuttle,â€ his father said. â€œFigure we take the backways there. Iâ€™ve a coverall for you. Should still fit.â€ He turned and flashed a grin at Drogen. â€œYou may be silver, but youâ€™re still a big boy.â€
â€œGho told you all of it?â€
â€œOh, not all of it, Iâ€™ll warrant,â€ the old man said. â€œThat one keeps his secrets close to his heart. But enough to want you out of unfriendly hands.â€
â€œShogar bless you, father.â€
His father snorted. â€œIâ€™ll pass on Shogarâ€™s blessings. The Three Ladies are kinder.â€
â€œThat they are,â€ Drogen agreed. Shogar was, after all, a god of fiery death and volcanic explosions. He was a soldierâ€™s god.
â€œWeâ€™ll get you to the shuttle, and you can find your way somewhere to work. Take on a good job,â€ his father said. â€œScientist Gho says you can come back in a year or two. So wait it out and be patient.â€
â€œYou should come with me,â€ Drogen said. â€œSomeone may have seen you helping.â€
â€œAnd what of it? A father should help his son. No worry for me. Scientist Gho will help me, he said, if I come to him. And so I shall, if I need it.â€
After what seemed forever, his father stopped moving. â€œHere.â€ He turned then, reached up and touched Drogenâ€™s brow. â€œYouâ€™re a good boy.â€
â€œTch. Iâ€™ll have my say. You are a good boy. And you would have made a fine soldier. Too fine a soldier for them,â€ he jerked his chin towards the sound of the military pursuit in the public corridors. â€œYou go, make a life for yourself. And then come back safe.â€
Drogen smiled down at his father. His amazing father who somehow didnâ€™t panic at the sight of the blood, who didnâ€™t pause at the knowledge that his son was a military experiment, and didnâ€™t fear the soldiers one bit. He rested his hands on his fatherâ€™s shoulders as he promised. â€œI will come back for you.â€
â€œGood lad,â€ and with that his father turned and opened the door.
It took only a moment. Only a moment in which Drogen realized he should have gone first. Only a moment for Drogen to cry out. And only a moment for his father to take the blast intended for him.