Limbo

He woke up, head throbbing, and stomach churning. Feverish. Shaky. A hangover? He didn't open his eyes, not yet. Past experience taught him that light and hangovers didn't mix well. That could be enough to tip his seething stomach over the edge. So, he lay still, trying to assess his body and sooth those signals of distress his stomach and head were sending. He spent a few more minutes collecting himself but somehow things were not settling down as they should.

No, this was no typical hangover. He felt strange. Completely disoriented. Disembodied. Amorphous. His whole world oscillated. He clutched at the mattress to steady himself, but that didn't seem to make a difference. He still swayed. That motion certainly was not doing his stomach or head any favors. He lay, eyes closed, trying to relax, willing himself to remain still so that infernal motion would quit. He decided that had been no natural sleep he'd fallen into. He must have been drugged, probably that wine. It tasted "off." He only drank it because he was thirsty and there was no water.

He finally felt as though he could open his eyes without the world spinning on its axis. He could see nothing. His eyes were open; he'd swear it. Perhaps it was just a dream. He swept a trembling hand across his face and scrubbed his eyes, just to make sure he was awake. Yup. Open. He deliberately shut them, then opened them again. As wide as possible. Same result. He couldn't even see his fingers in front of his eyes, though he thought he felt his eyelashes brush against a fingertip as he blinked. Wherever he was, there was no light to relieve that inky space. The dark was absolute.

He listened for sound, any sound. No clangs of doors, no footsteps or voices outside the room, no scurry of little feet of rodent or insect. Oh, God, had he gone deaf and blind? No, no. Don't panic, he told himself. He'd heard himself move against the mattress and the springs squeak. He could hear himself breathe, but the normal sounds of existence, all those sounds that he just heard as part of his world weren't there. Like he was the sole living being or had been suspended in a vacuum. A vacuum void of light. But he could breathe, he was alive, so no vacuum.

The unknown. Silent. Black. Overwhelming.

He fought to keep fear from overtaking him. It only heightened the sensation of motion and the nausea. Trying to fight that disembodied feeling, he brought a hand to his mouth. He felt it against his lips. He smelled it. Smelled of nothing, just him. He licked it. He didn't know what to expect. He'd never consciously tried to figure out what his hand tasted like. It didn't taste of anything in particular. Just, he thought, just me. Neutral. Not even any salty taste from sweat. He felt his tongue, slightly rough against the skin of his hand, leaving a trace of damp where it touched. His tongue felt the fine cracks and wrinkles in his skin, the hardness of bone beneath. He caught a bit of skin in his teeth; tugged and nibbled, just enough to know his hand was solid and so were his teeth.

Still holding his hand against his face, he flexed it. He felt the stretch of skin, the bulge of bone and tendon as he moved his hand. He spread it wide. Cool fingers splayed along a hot cheek. He slid his hand down to his neck. A pulse beat there. Okay. He was still real, not some amorphous collection of thoughts. He dropped his hand down. At least in the direction he thought "down" was. And this was no dream, unless it was the most vivid dream he'd ever had.

Feeling a bit foolish, he deliberately sniffed the air. It smelled like – air. No smells of food or musty or, anything. Sterile. Which, of course, made no logical sense. How could sterile smell? He thought, the air was safe to breathe. Which, again, was a bit of a foolish thought. If the air was bad, he'd be dead. Okay, these random thoughts about air were all well and good, but not too useful to figuring out what kind of space he was in. His brain was still muzzy if he was thinking those kinds of thoughts, he mused.

He mentally and physically shook himself to bring things back to tangible. He regretted that physical shake as it rekindled the feeling of oscillation. His stomach made some unwelcome burbles. Ignoring those unpleasant sensations, he made a mental catalogue of senses that he could use. Sight. Unknown, but useless right now. Hearing, yes, but there was nothing to hear outside of himself. Touch. Oh, yeah, it worked. His pain nerves were functioning quite efficiently, thank you very much. His upper arm, and now, shoulder, throbbed. Worse than he expected. He imagined infection was taking root there. His head and stomach made their distress known. Taste and smell worked but he didn't plan to lick any unknown surfaces. Or sniff his way out of here, wherever here was. He was no bloodhound following a trail. Now he'd figured out what he had, he needed to figure out where he was. And escape, if possible.

It was so dark, he dared not move from the only safe place he knew. Not until he figured out what the mattress lay on. The last place he remembered was the locked room. Doubtful he was still there. He didn't think it could get that dark. Or quiet. Surely, he would see light around the edges of the door or under it. He didn't think the door fit that perfectly. And even after they'd locked him in, he could hear noises outside of the room. Nonetheless, he had to start somewhere.

He'd just pretend he was still in that room. It was an anchor to reality, and he needed one. He tried to remember its layout; not all that big, just about five or six strides each way. Although he'd paced the room earlier, he hadn't kept track of his steps. The bed was right against a wall, the little pot tucked in an opposite corner, if he remembered correctly. Pity. He didn't feel much like groping his way over to it, especially in this pitch black. He might be needing it again, soon. He thought wryly, he hoped it had been emptied. Trying not to think about internal goings-on, he went back to figuring out where he was.

He decided to use hand and foot to feel for wall and floor. Carefully. He'd hang on to the mattress with his hands. He didn't want to fall into the unknown. It was while he was trying to move his legs, he discovered they seemed to be rather firmly attached to. To something. And his boots. Gone. He'd been so caught up in trying to figure out if he was blind or deaf that he hadn't noticed the restraints.

Crap! That was all the emotion he would let himself feel right at the moment. He needed to keep a tight rein on his thinking; keep his wits about him. It was hard enough to string more than two logical thoughts together. Letting emotions govern his actions might lead to fatal results.

He'd think about that all later. There will be a later.

He still needed to locate where he was in that black space. He just would use his hands and arms.

Where was that wall? It should be right here. He felt with one hand while the other grasped the mattress to keep from falling. Nothing. He tried the other side. Still nothing. He reached an arm over his head to feel beyond the top of the mattress. Just air in that direction. He dangled an arm over the edge. No floor within arm's length. Okay, okay, he told himself. They must have moved the bed away from the walls while I was unconscious. And it stood too tall for me to have touched the floor.

He'd never felt so strange and, he didn't have the words, but out of place and out of control came to mind. He wished it was a dream he was caught in. Shifting on the mattress, he heard the rustle of body against pad. Pain radiated from arm and shoulder. His head hurt abominably. His fever was increasing. And his gut. He didn't even want to think about that. All that misery brought his situation clearly back into focus. He was tempted to call out, but his last conscious memories were of unpleasant and violent men slamming a bolt home to lock him in. Somehow, he didn't think they would be eager to come to his assistance.

Sooner or later, they had to come. There was no point in holding him prisoner unless they had plans for him. It was just a matter of time. Or, and his thoughts turned to the ultimate worst he could imagine. They'd taken him to some dark cave somewhere, suspended him in air over a yawning abyss, and abandoned him to die. Forget that thought. Right now, he just needed to compose himself and be ready when Monsieur Robertson and company came for him. Maybe sleep some more, since he already explored what was within reach. Sleep would be hard, though, as his body was telegraphing SOS, over and over.

Shakes were beginning to pulse through him. His mouth began to water in that unpleasant way that usually heralded a round of sick. He swallowed hard, willing his stomach to hold on. Another tell-tale quiver let him know, he would be losing this battle soon, very soon. Carefully and quickly, he felt around to the edges of his world and grabbed handfuls of mattress. If he was going to be sick, he didn't want to fall off and dangle in mid-air, held only by whatever secured his legs. He wasn't sure he would have the strength to pull himself up.

Spasms swept over him. He rolled over to the side as they wracked him over and over. By the time they subsided, he was exhausted. He lay back, trying to quell the residual waves of nausea that traveled through him. He was sure there was nothing left to bring up, when suddenly the cycle of sick struck again. Once more he rolled to the side, helpless to do anything but hang on to the edge of the mattress and wait until whatever had him in its grip released him. This was more than just sickness borne from an infection and certainly, there hadn't been enough time for a severe infection to take hold, he thought. He got ahold of bad food from time to time, with the usual result, but this was beyond anything he'd experienced from those bouts.

He licked his lips and swallowed hard. All he could taste was bile. What he wouldn't give for a sip of water to wash that terrible taste out. He was sick in a way he hadn't been in ages. Not since he'd been in Africa and dysentery swept through the troops, thanks to contaminated food and water. Gad, if this was dysentery, how would he manage? He couldn't stay on the mattress; he had to get up and away from it if he were going to be that sick. The mattress was his only known space and refuge. He couldn't walk or crawl away. His legs were secured too well for that. Whatever held them barely gave him enough maneuverability to roll to the side during those bouts. He was stuck on the mattress. He shut that thought away for now and willed himself to sleep. If not sleep, at least rest.


XXX

Monsieur Robertson was usually patience itself. He knew from the little time he'd spent with the soldier he would be a challenge to crack. Past experience would guide him. It was too bad the war was so close. He probably had just a few days before the fighting came, in earnest, into his territory. He needed to extract everything he could from the soldier. More quickly than he wanted. Although he was interested in strategic information, information he might be able to use as barter with either side, he was more interested in the sensations and effects the soldier suffered.

The wine and blade both delivered some old family secrets. Recipes with interesting effects. Results that he was sure the soldier was experiencing already. He had concocted some new ones as well. Those he would be trying soon. If they worked as well as he was hoping, the soldier would be in rough shape mentally as well as physically before too long. And the new enhancements to the playroom, as he euphemistically called where the soldier was held, would help speed the process of cracking. He wanted the soldier's opinion of those new features before the man became too damaged to respond.

What a shame to experiment on such a specimen. It might damage him beyond use, but it was for a worthy cause. Robertson had an ultimate goal in mind. Another person entirely. Normally, the caid rarely allowed personal feelings to override professional business. The soldier was merely a handy incidental that would help perfect his techniques.

It was time to move on to the next phase of the experiment. Robertson opened a small valve that led into the room where the soldier lay.