Lois McMaster Bujold
[20 sep 2001 – scanned, proofread and released for #bookz]CHAPTER ONE
Miles returned to consciousness with his eyes still closed. His brain seemed to smolder with theconfused embers of some fiery dream, formless and fading. He was shaken by a fearful conviction that hehad been killed again, till memory and reason began to place this shredded experience.His other senses tried to take inventory. He was in null-gee, his short body stretched out flat, strappedto a surface and swathed in what felt like a thin foil med wrap, standard military issue.
Alllimbs seemed present and accounted for. He was still wearing the soft bodysuit that had lined his now-missing space armor. The straps were not tight. The complex scent of many-times-refiltered air, cool anddry, tickled his nostrils. He secretly snaked an arm free, careful not to rattle the wrap, and touched his bare face. No control leads, no sensors—no blood—
where are my armor, my weapons, my command headset?
The rescue mission had been going as smoothly as such missions ever did. He and Captain Quinn andtheir patrol had penetrated the hijackers' ship, found the brig. Blasted through to the captured BarrayaranImpSec courier officer, Lieutenant Vorberg, still alive though addled with sedatives. The medtech had pronounced the hostage clear of mechanical or chemical boobytraps, and they'd begun the exhilaratingtrip through the dark corridors back to the waiting Dendarii combat shuttle.The hijackers, very much occupied elsewhere, had made no attempt to jump them.
What went wrong?
The sounds around him were quiet: the bleep of equipment, the hiss of atmosphere recycling onnormal operation, the murmur of voices. One low animal moan. Miles licked his lips, just to be sure thatnoise wasn't coming from himself. He might not be wounded, but somebody nearby was not in goodshape. A tangy whiff of antiseptics escaped filtration. He slitted open his eyes, prepared to playunconscious again and think fast if he found himself in enemy hands.But he was—safely, he hoped—in his own Dendarii Fleet combat shuttle, strapped to one of the four fold-down bunks toward the rear of the fuselage. The emergency medical station was a familiar sight,though he didn't usually see it from this angle of view. Blue Squad's medtech, his back to Miles, hovered by a bunk across the aisle that held another strapped-down form. Miles couldn't see any body bags.
Onlyone other casualty.
except that there weren't supposed to be
Only one casualty,
Miles corrected his thought. A violent headache throbbed at the base of his brain.But he bore no plasma arc burns, no nerve-disrupter paralysis. No intravenous tubing or hyposprayinjector pierced his body, pumping in blood replacements or synergine against shock. He did not float in anarcotic haze of painkillers, and no pressure bandages hampered his slight movements. No sense- blockers. The headache felt like a post-stun migraine.
How the hell could I have been stunned throughcombat armor?
The Dendarii medtech, still combat-armored but with helmet and gloves off, turned and saw Miles'sopen eyes. "You're awake, sir? I'll notify Captain Quinn." He hovered briefly over Miles's face, andflashed a light into his eyes, doubtless checking for abnormal pupil response."How long . . . was I out? What happened?""You had some kind of seizure, or convulsion. No apparent cause. The field kit test for toxins didn'tturn up anything, but its pretty basic. We'll go over you more thoroughly as soon as we're back to theship's sick bay."