A high-explosive shell hit the spot where I had been standing. Everything went black.
And was black when I woke, but of a different kind. I felt suffocated and found myself bound. For a moment I panicked, then lucidity returned and I explored my bonds. Only I wasn’t bound as I had thought; rather my torso was encased in a hard plastic shell, either bandages or a cast – or both. I stood up, supported myself until the first dizziness had passed, then explored in the darkness. I had been lying on a pallet in a room no larger than a closet with cold, metallic walls and one door. There were no windows and no other facilities. After a while I lay down again and slept.
Light wakened me again and two men entered my cubicle. The elder seemed kindly enough, but his young, armed companion had the look of hate. Had he been alone I do not think I would have fared well.
“How do you feel?” the elder asked.
I shrugged. He ignored my reticence and took my pulse, then passed over me with a medical sensor, so I concluded he was a doctor. “What happened to me?”
“You were struck by the blast from an explosive and cracked three ribs, presumably when you hit the ground. This,” he tapped the plastic corset, “is a cast. In a month you will never know you were hurt.” He turned to his companion, “Conduct him to the head, then bring him back here, and provide food and water.”
After that the lights cycled on and off at regular intervals which corresponded to the day outside. I was fed, watered, doctored, and ignored for four days. On the fifth day I was escorted to an office and left there to face a Patrol officer.
I seated myself and said nothing. Let the soldier make the first move. He was somewhat older than my father, with the first hints of gray in his hair. He stared at me a long time before speaking.
“How old are you, son?”
“No doubt. How old is old enough?”
He nodded and made a job of lighting his pipe.
“What’s your name?” I said nothing. “You are Jan Andrax, son of Daniel Andrax, are you not?” Again I said nothing. “We had some local people identify you while you were still unconscious, you see. We would like to get your cooperation, in hopes of ending this pointless war. Your father can stay up in those hills and continue to wreak havoc for quite some time. I won’t lie to you, son; our job isn’t easy. But we will win. Eventually, we will win.”
I spat on his rug. Anger flared on his face but he controlled it. “If you will help us, we can save many lives, not only Pertoskan but your people’s as well. It’s time for your father to stop fighting a losing battle.”
Then we were both silent and he merely stared at me. For a few moments I matched his stare, then turned away, shamed by my weakness.
“Damn!” It seemed as if he were talking to himself, not me. “How can they do this to one so young?”
“I’m old enough to make you bastards bleed!”
“Yes, you certainly are. And inordinately proud of the fact.” He leaned forward, “Son . . .”
“I’m not your son!”
“No!” He struck the table with his fist. “No, you aren’t, dammit. My son was killed in that ambush.”
He came around the desk with speed amazing for a man so heavy and struck me down before I could dodge.