The boy opened his eyes to a sky the color of melted butter and a sense of inexplicable terror.
He sucked in a ragged gasp of air and sat up. The pain followed a second later, smacking the back of his head like a club. The world swam around him in a blur. He grasped for simple facts: where he was, how he’d gotten here. Why he hurt. Why he could barely see.
Shoving aside his confusion, he pushed himself to one knee with a grunt. The muggy air seemed to vibrate, but he couldn’t tell whether it was real or whether he was imagining it. He squinted hard enough to make out the gray shape of a nearby building, and something vast and green behind it. What was this place?
A hand landed on his shoulder. With a cry of surprise, he turned and saw a blurry figure crouched beside him. It took a moment to unscramble what the person was shouting.
“Who are you? How’d you get past the fence?”
Fence? He shook his head. Something had begun to rise in his chest, a bubble of vital information—what was it? His mouth worked silently, trying to pin down the words dancing at the edge of his tongue. The pain swelled, crowding everything else out, and he felt himself slipping away.
“Guide the star!” he shouted, just before the blackness closed in.
* * *
“Hey! Hey, wake up!”
He opened his eyes. The blinding sunlight was gone—he was somewhere dim and quiet, breathing processed indoor air. A dark-haired boy leaned over him, studying his face. “There you are.”
For a moment he struggled to form a slurred question. “Where am I?”
“I brought you inside. You’re safe. You’re in my house.”
He stared at the pale, sharp-faced boy. Was this the same person who’d spoken to him outside? “Uh … who are you?”
“Okay, you’re welcome. I’m Parker. Now who on Taras are you? Where did you come from?”
Letting the questions fly over his head, he looked past Parker to take in his surroundings. He was lying in a bed, inside a small, empty bedroom. The only light came through an open door. He turned his head to see what lay beyond the door, and winced as throbbing erupted behind his eyes.
Parker had crossed his arms as if he were waiting for something. Did he know this Parker? He didn’t think so. His eyelids grew heavy and began to droop.
“No you don’t. Stay awake.” Parker reached down and slapped his cheek lightly, but he may as well have swung a hammer. Jagged bolts of pain raced across the boy’s skull, and he cried out.
Parker raised his hands. “Whoa, sorry! Good lords, what happened to you?”
“What happened?” he repeated, looking for the answer himself. The confusion he’d felt outside started to rise again.
“Um, yeah. How did you get through the fence?”
Parker shook his head. “What is wrong with you, kid?”
“Kid?” He felt like a bleating idiot repeating everything, but it was as if his brain had shorted out. Why didn’t he know the answers to these questions? Why didn’t he know anything?
“Yeah, what are you, thirteen?” Parker said, with the authoritative air of someone much older. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen himself.
How old am I? “I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Don’t know how old you are? Are you some kind of runaway?”
“I … I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Who are you?”
Who am I? He stared into Parker’s gray eyes, and his confusion began to twist into fear. “I don’t know,” he repeated a third time, his voice dropping to a whisper.
Parker’s face lit up with a grin. “Are you kidding me? You must’ve really gotten your brains scrambled. I know what to do—hold on a sec.” He left the room and returned a minute later, thrusting a mirror into the boy’s face.
Wincing, the boy hoisted himself up on one elbow and grabbed the mirror with the other hand to steady it. His stomach plummeted and his heart began to race. A sandy-haired, ashen-faced stranger stared back at him from the mirror with wild eyes.
A low gasp diverted his attention from the mirror. “Oh lords,” said Parker, staring past the boy at something behind him.
Tingling panic raced over his skin. “What is it?”
Parker was already backing toward the door. “I’m gonna call the doctor,” he said quickly. He turned and ran, his pounding footsteps echoing down the hall.
Frantic, the boy on the bed wrenched his head around. Fresh explosions of pain knocked him back into unconsciousness, but not before he glimpsed the bright red stain spreading on his pillowcase.
* * *
Warm, firm fingers pressed on his neck, probing it gently. One hand cupped his head while his upper body was lifted away from the bed. The fingers moved to meander through his hair. Someone was speaking in a low, calm voice, but his brain only processed snippets of words: the fence, run a pulse, huge risk.
He felt himself starting to drift away again and forced his eyes to open. A man in glasses with a gray-speckled beard leaned over him. When their eyes met, the man smiled.
“Hello, there. I’m Dr. Silvestri. I’d like to take a closer look at this wound you’ve got on the back of your head, so I’m going to need you to roll over on your side. Can you do that for me?” He lifted the boy’s right shoulder and helped him turn. An agonizing bolt of pain shot from his head down through the middle of his shoulders, and the boy groaned.
“On a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?” the doctor asked.
“Nine?” the boy gasped, his voice muffled by the pillow. The pain spread out in waves, blotting out the rest of his thoughts. His fingers curled into the sheets.
“Alright, hold on a moment.” There was a rattling sound, and the doctor placed a hand along the boy’s jaw and pressed something against the back of his head. A cold sensation spread out from the area, and the pain cut off instantly, like flipping a switch. The boy sagged into the mattress with relief.
“Can I get you to roll forward a little bit more?” Something beside the boy’s ear made a series of clicks. “We’ll get you all cleaned—” Dr. Silvestri drew in a sharp breath.
The boy’s pulse sped up a notch. “What?”
“Hey, is that—?” Parker’s voice rang out across the room.
“Get out of here, Parker,” the doctor snapped.
“Oh, come on!”
There was a huff and the door slammed.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Silvestri said. “I’m going to talk with you in a second about this wound, but I think I’ve already found something that may help us out.”
The boy waited, feeling nothing, his ears filled with the rushing of his heartbeat.
“Parker told me that you can’t remember your name,” the doctor murmured as he worked.
“No,” said the boy in a tiny voice.
“Well, let’s see what we can do about that. Okay, you’re all bandaged up. It was just a flesh wound; the steamgel I used should heal it up in about twelve hours. You can roll over now.”
When the boy turned back around, Dr. Silvestri was squirting clear liquid into a flat glass dish. He swirled it around a few times and held it out to show a tiny black fleck resting in the bottom of the dish. “I suppose you didn’t realize you had an ID marker implanted under your scalp, did you?”
Leaning over to get a closer look, the boy shook his head. “Does that mean you can tell me who I am?”
“The chip’s been damaged, but it looks like there’s some readable data on it. I’ll run a scan on it right now.” The doctor fished a hand-size device from a case on the floor and held it over the tiny marker for a few seconds. “It’ll take a few minutes for the frag analysis to run.”
The boy sank back into his pillow. In a few minutes, this confusing nightmare would be over. He looked around the small, windowless room, which contained little more than the bed he lay in and a blinking console by the door. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Asa Kaplan’s estate, in the Wesley District. We’re on the far outskirts of Rother City.” The doctor paused for a reaction, and added, “We’re in the Eastern Territory … on the planet Trucon.”
The doctor could have been speaking gibberish for all the boy knew—none of the names were familiar to him. He remembered the strange yellow sky he’d seen outside and shook his head.
“You were lucky to make it here safely.” Dr. Silvestri inhaled as if he were about to say something else, but stopped himself. “Parker told me you said something to him before he brought you inside?”
He remembered the words he’d spoken and the urgency he’d felt, but had no idea why it had seemed so important to say them. “‘Guide the star.’ I don’t know what it means.” He stared at the foot of the bed, and his vision shimmered and doubled as tears filled his eyes. Why couldn’t he remember? What kind of a mess had he gotten himself into?
Dr. Silvestri placed a hand on his arm. “Just relax. How does your head feel now, Chase?”
“Fine,” the boy mumbled, looking away as he wiped his face. When he realized what the doctor had said, he looked up. “Chase?”
Dr. Silvestri had pursed his lips in the beginnings of a smile, but he stopped when he saw the boy’s confusion. “That doesn’t sound familiar to you?”
The boy raised his eyebrows doubtfully. “My name is Chase?”
“Yes.” Dr. Silvestri peered at the screen on his device. “It says here your name is Chase Garrety.”
Chase lowered his head, swallowing back disappointment. He had hoped that his own name would sound familiar, would open up his memory like the key to a safe. Instead it sounded like two arbitrary words, no different than if he’d been told his name was Blue Shirt or Wooly Fantastic.
“You found that on the chip?” Chase asked, once he could control his voice.
“Yes. There’s more coded on the chip than just your name, but it’s pretty badly damaged. I’m going to take it back to my lab and see if I can recover any information from it. I took a tissue sample as well, in case we need to use DNA records to track you down.”
“What should I do?”
Dr. Silvestri regarded him with a sober expression. “I’m going to tell you the truth. The wound on your head is not something I see often, particularly not on someone as young as yourself. It looks like…” He paused for a moment, glancing down at his hands. “It’s a blast mark. I can tell by the small radius, and the burned edges. It looks like someone fired an annirad blaster at the back of your head. Low frequency, obviously, or you wouldn’t be here, but still … it looks like you were attacked.”
Attacked? A flicker of the earlier urgency surfaced, but with no details attached, it felt meaningless.
“And you really don’t remember anything at all?” the doctor asked. “Not even a partial memory or an image?”
Chase closed his eyes and willed himself to remember, but his mind was maddeningly empty. He shook his head.
“I’d like you to stay here for the time being. We don’t know what happened to you or who did it. If there’s one place I know you’ll be safe, it’s here at the Kaplan compound. Sound good?”
Chase hesitated. “Isn’t there someone that I should contact for help? To see if anyone’s looking for me?”
Dr. Silvestri held Chase’s gaze for a long moment. It looked almost like there was something important that he wanted to say, but he gave a quick sigh and smiled. “Let me handle everything for now. I’ll run a search on your name in the local databases, see what I can find.”
He dug into his equipment, pulling out a clear vial. “I’m going to give you something that’ll make you feel a lot better. Get some rest, and I’ll be back in touch as soon as I know anything.” He slipped the vial into a slim metal cylinder with a flat disk on one end, and pressed it against the inside of Chase’s right elbow.
A peaceful sleepiness rushed over Chase as the medicine kicked in. He was safe. The chip held the answers. The doctor would help him.
“I’ll see you very soon,” said Dr. Silvestri as he stood. “Don’t worry. You’ve survived the worst already. We’ll figure this out.” He walked out of the room, turning off the light as he went.
With every beat of his heart, Chase could feel himself floating farther away. The last thing he saw was a silhouette standing in the door frame, and then he slipped into the blackness.
Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Searles