No Help

Sestra left on one of the other transports. Barely composed, Cartog called for medical evac for the squad. No one was wounded, but he was afraid to stuff them into a transport without having a gallon of sedatives ready to go in case they freaked out.

When they got back to base, Cartog grabbed the medic by the shoulder and said, “Get them all to medical. Take care of them. These people are wounded, get me?”

The medic said, “I don’t see any injuries…”

Cartog stuck his sidearm in his face. “If I find out they haven’t been taken care of, people in white uniforms are going to die next.”

The medic nodded. “I’ll take care of them.”

“Good. Go.”

Cartog walked to the captain’s tent as fast as he could. When walking wasn’t enough, he jogged. When he couldn’t bear that anymore, he ran. He punched out two guards that got in his way, and walked directly in. The captain and his aide looked like they were having a friendly afternoon drink. In fact, the captain looked drunk.

“Where’s Lord Sestra?”

The bloody soldier standing in front of the captain was more war than he’d seen in five years. The captain took a step back. “Stand down, soldier! Who do you think you—”

It was the wrong answer. Cartog reached for his blaster. He stepped toward him and shouted, “Damn you, tell me where he is!”

The captain’s aide spotted Cartog’s slave collar. He was carrying a control box, and hit Cartog with a jolt that knocked him to the floor. Electricity arced all over Cartog’s body. His fillings shot pain into the nerves of his jaw. Cartog writhed in agony. He didn’t scream. It had been used on him enough times over the years that he’d stopped screaming. When it stopped, his memories of the battle still felt worse.

Cartog looked from the aide to the commandant. “Sestra,” he croaked.

The captain said, “Hit him again.”

Once he was too weak to resist, the guards dragged him to the stockade. For the next few hours, the captain taught him a lesson about the Imperial chain of command. They used the shock collar, mostly, but switched off with batons and kicks, too. After a while, Cartog decided to give them a new trick in return. Whenever they paused, he started laughing.

They finally stopped. The captain’s aide put the shock collar’s control device back on his belt. Cartog lay in a puddle of his own drool. His head ached from where he’d banged it against the ground when he’d convulsed.

“That’s funny, corporal. Laughing. I know it hurts,” the captain said.

Cartog said nothing. Of course it hurt. So what?

“Take some advice. Lord Sestra’s the only chance you have to be more than a slave.”

Huh. The captain was a slave, too, and he wasn’t even wearing a collar.

Cartog rested his head back on the floor. The ground smelled like urine – he didn’t think it was his – and grit. It felt damp. The captain’s boots walked out. The guards’ boots did, too.


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