Part 5: Sacrifice
Drogen dropped to his knees by his fatherâ€™s body. More energy bolts crackled against his skin, but they affected him no more than a light hail. It was as if everything had fallen silent.
â€œFather.â€ He reached to check his fatherâ€™s pulse. Three Ladies, be kind. I will serve you forever more, above Shogar, above any. Just let him live.
It was there. A faint flicker. His brain clicked into overdrive. His father needed medical attention, if he was to live. The hospital was behind them â€“ but, there were even more soldiers inside. That would take too long, too much fighting, and too much risk of his father being shot again. Besides, the Admirals had control of the hospital.
The lab. The lab had a an injury unit to deal with overexposure to energy. It happened from time to time, no matter the safety procedures they put in place. This was like overexposure, just worse. If he could get his father to the lab, could get him to an injury unit there, it might work.
It all took only seconds. Suddenly, the shouts of soldiers crashed in on him again. One of them had shot his father. How many would he have to face?
He came up roaring, blocking their view of his fatherâ€™s body. There were three of them standing there. Terrified, weapons trained on him.
Fighting them was short work. He backhanded one into the other, and kicked out the third oneâ€™s legs from under him.
He scooped up his father and ran.
Years later, he would realize how short that run had been. At the time, it seemed to last forever. At the lab, he kicked through the metal side door. It cracked like dried kindling under his new strength. Into the building, down the hall. The first laboratory room wouldnâ€™t have an injury unit. But the second would.
He gently placed his father on the bed of the unit. â€œStay a while longer, father. The Three Ladies have been kind, donâ€™t let them down.â€
â€œDrogen Lar!â€ it was a familiar, and unpleasant, female voice.
He whirled to find Scientist Rhega staring at him. â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
He narrowed his eyes at her and growled, â€œLeave.â€
â€œOh, donâ€™t bother trying to intimidate me,â€ she snapped.Â â€œWhat are you doing with that old man?â€
â€œOh, Shogar be blessed. Youâ€™re supposed to be on a ship off of Dorvala, and youâ€™re gallivanting in the labs with your father?â€
She knew the plan for his escape? No matter. â€œMy father,â€ he said through clenched teeth, â€œwas shot by soldiers while helping me.â€
He turned his back on her and closed the injury unit. He began adjusting the settings, ignoring Rhega as she came to stand at his elbow.
â€œEnergy injury?â€ she asked. â€œThatâ€™s less than optimal. That program will take hours and only undo a small portion of the damage. Donâ€™t you know how to use one of these things?â€
â€œThis is what I was taught. If you know better, then do something! My father is dying in there!â€
She sniffed. â€œFine. Would you kindly move your vast bulk out of my way?â€
He stepped back and watched as she recalibrated several settings and reset the time allotted. Her hands danced quickly over the controls. Whatever else one could say about Rhega, she was efficient. And a good scientist. Even if not so kind a person. At least, he had thought her unkind before she offered her help.
â€œThere. That should at least have a chance of healing him, and leaving him somewhat more useful than a summer squash. Although he is a janitor; I suppose intellect wonâ€™t matter much.â€
Just when he was beginning to detest her less. Still, he forced himself to bow to her. â€œThank you for helping my father.â€
She snorted. â€œLeave,â€ she told him. â€œI will care for your father, but it is time for you to leave.â€
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œNo. How did you know about Ghoâ€™s plan for me to leave?â€
She laughed a short, bitter laugh. â€œYou thought that was Ghoâ€™s plan alone, did you? And I suppose you thought it was purely his idea for you to deny the Admirals?â€
He stared at her. Rhega had made his life hell from his first day in the lab. Sheâ€™d resisted his presence, refused to allow him to work on her projects, and treated him like a servant the entire time. Whereas Gho, Gho had offered him scraps from the table. Gho had treated him like a person. Gho had let him help on projects, had accepted his presence in the lab. And yetâ€¦
â€œGho was the one who sent my father,â€ he said. â€œGho sent my father.â€ Into clear and obvious danger. Heâ€™d made Drogen promise to flee and make it spectacular. And yet heâ€™d send Drogenâ€™s father to help. And to die.
She shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t know everything Scientist Gho does.â€ Her voice was bitter and her eyes were hard.
â€œTell me,â€ Drogen said, â€œwhen did they choose me for the experiment? How long ago was it? Before I was in the lab? Or after?â€
â€œItâ€™s the only reason you were in the lab,â€ she told him. â€œYou werenâ€™t here to become a scientist! No one pretended that. Except Gho. And only when you were present.â€
He shook his head.
â€œDonâ€™t believe me if you donâ€™t want to!â€ She slapped her hand against the injury unit. â€œBut leave. You have no time. Soon the Admirals will go looking for you, and Gho will play his part and cry out against them.â€
â€œAnd it will save the Empire,â€ Drogen said softly. He had to believe it would at least do that.
â€œOh, yes. It will preserve the Imperium.â€
“Then it will be worth it.”
“Even if your father dies?” she asked.
“Even so,” he looked at the injury unit, doing its work. “If the Imperium falls, there will be blood in the streets. He would never consider his life worth that price. Besides,” he smiled slightly, “he would never approve of the mess.”
She stared at him, then shook her head. “I’ll be sure to tell him that, if he lives.”
He nodded. “Do.” He held Rhega’s gaze. “I don’t like you,” he told her. “I never have. And you’ve never liked me. But I will trust you to care for him, if you give me your word.”
She gave him a twisted smile. “I don’t see that you have any choice.”
“There’s always a choice, and always a cost,” he told her. His mistake, he realized, was allowing others to the set the limitations of his choices. “I can stay here until you give me your word. And the Admirals will find me, and Gho’s carefully wrought plan will be for nothing. Which means that your work, and all the time you put up with Gho’s plan, with me in your lab, will be for nothing. And I will be kept captive in a facility built to hold even my new strength. But my father will receive the care that he needs.”
She met his eyes, unblinking. “You’re not quite as dumb as you look. You have my word. I will do my best by your father, but-” she raised her hand to stall any thanks he might offer, “but, I make no guarantees. He may die. He may be damaged beyond function. All I promise is that I’ll give him the best care I can. And if he is too damaged, I’ll give him peace.”
Drogen nodded. “That’s all I could ask.”
“Now get out of my lab. And if I ever see you back here, I’ll invent a weapon to kill you myself.”
He laughed. At the door, he stopped, turned. “I do have one question. Gho said that there was one other in the lab who could bond with the alloy, but that he couldn’t trust him. Who was it?”
Then she smiled at him, a smile of such sweetness, it took his breath away. “Why, it was Gho himself.”