For almost a month, Jochro did not move beyond the six by eight feet of his jail cell. He began to deteriorate, mind and body, in a way that only captivity could provide.
The first week, Jochro shivered sitting on the cold tile. His captors provided no clothes, leaving him to rub his hands over his goosebumped skin, hoping to create warmth. He sat chilled to the bone, wondering what he was in here for. No one visited him beyond the guards. And they did not speak to him. That first week his own voice was the only sound he heard beyond the grating of metal bars and the snoring of guards. Jochro was fed bread twice a day and he withered into a gaunt form resembling Sledg of half a year ago. He received a vegetable on the days he was fortunate.
By the second week, Jochro had gotten used to the chill. He was no longer bothered by the temperature of the tiles. He was too tired to lift his arms to rub and generate heat anyway. The same guards visited on the same schedule. Jochro came to memorize the pattern of the guards. But just as the guards didn’t speak, he stopped speaking to himself. Instead, he played the descriptions of the guards in his head a thousand times over. Red beard, short and scarred, bald female. He came to know them all by their footsteps. They continued to feed him bread but he came to regret vegetable days as they caused involuntary smiles and those cracked his desert dry lips.
Once Jochro had reached the third week in captivity, he had lost all track of time and seemingly all trace of sanity. The hard gray of the floor meshed with the metallic shine of the bars. It was a world almost void of color, and even the slightest introduction of tone hurt his weary, unpracticed eyes. The guard with the red beard made Jochro’s eyes water. Jochro began to loathe that particular shift, but his comprehension was too far gone to even know why.
On the fourth week, a new guard broke Jochro’s memorized pattern. The guard was slender and had long black hair that flowed over the back of the uniform. For hours, he grunted and twisted, his muscles getting their first workout in days. Near the end of the shift, Jochro fell off the bed and his head crashed into the tiled floor. His head snapped up and his eyes contained an intelligence that hadn’t resided there for days. His arms attempted to push himself up from the floor but that only brought tears to his eyes. Jochro rolled to his back and moaned. This moan contained frustration and confusion.
The guard ignored his barely verbal complaints and nodded to the next as the bald female entered with a grimace. She then fell and was caught before she hit the floor, the same grimace residing on her face. The female guard was dragged to the front of Jochro’s cell and the door opened. The first time in over three weeks. Jochro managed to let his eyes flicker to the open cell door. If only he could walk, or roll, or anything beyond lying with his atrophied muscles. He did see the guard who had just finished his shift, though. It was odd because that guard was the one pulling the female into the cell. Jochro blinked. Tears blinded his vision. He heard the new guard speak.
“Judging by the looks of you I should have left you at the Covelt Auction House. Your current self would likely be thanking me. I’m but a slim spy, how am I supposed to carry your one hundred and eighty pounds of useless flesh?” The guard dropped the female and harrumphed noisily.
Jochro could see the slim guard through his tears stand over him with his arms crossed. Spittle dribbled from his lips as he attempted to talk.
“Who?” The guard asked himself on Jochro’s behalf.
“You may know me as Max, in this state.” The guard beamed so brightly even the half blind Jochro couldn’t miss it. “Yes, and to answer your next question I am here to get you out and no, I don’t know who paid me.” Max shook his arms and exhaled. “Here we-” The spy grunted and pulled Jochro up. They took one step together, and then another. “I’m going to count every blasted step aren’t I?” the guard asked himself. “Yep, have fun.” Maxine seemed to make an appearance with the last response hitting a higher, sarcastic tone.
With every step (twenty-seven so far by Max’s count), Jochro’s legs burned with a pain that made him wish An was there to sever his legs with her powers. Or heal them, he realized a second later. That would work too. For the first time in almost a month, Jochro had made a smart remark. Granted, it was to himself and it was between grunts that would make a boar jealous, but he’d take it at this point.
Fortunately, around step thirty-four, he passed out. He was dead weight either way, conscious or not.
Jochro awoke in the darkness. He was being poked from every direction and could hardly move his arms to scratch himself. So he moaned. It was the only thing he could do.
“Oh! Rella, he’s awake,” came a voice from above his head. Still blinded he moaned again. Light began to trickle into his still tired eyes as he saw the outline of his fiance’s face. He smiled, not even attempting a word with more than one syllable at this time.
“You’re awake! We’ve been on the road for almost a day now.” Shannon reached out of view and brought forward a piece of bread and some water. She pulled Jochro up so that he was in a position that resembled sitting. He tilted his head as far as his stiff neck would allow. He was in the back of a wagon, buried in straw.
“How are you feeling? Do you need anything else?” Jochro shook his head. Really all he wanted was information. But only a bit. His comprehension and processing skills were still slow. “Okay, so then…” Shannon took a deep breath and recounted all the necessary details. Jochro sat back and listened.
She explained they were going to Central Settlement to lie low while Ace got the new and improved Trading Union court system up and running. He had spent so long in the cell because there was no legal precedence for someone being held in such a transition – the new laws being only a few days old and not all procedures in place. It was at this point Jochro raised his arm a few inches off the hay. He muttered the word “what” and Shannon considered his meaning. She guessed several things before she got it right. “What did they take me for?” He had been taken on suspicion of tax evasion. The police had taken him under the pretense that he had not filled the proper forms and paid appropriate taxes as a newly freed rental. Again, with the proper procedures not being in place, there really were no proper forms to fill out.
Two weeks after the arrest it had become clear the courts were not going be up and running anytime soon. That’s when she decided to take matters into her own hands and hire the spy. She apologized for taking so long to rescue him. He didn’t blame her, he was out now and that was all that mattered. Another arm raise and he asked, “Why?” She took that to mean why did she rescue him. Shannon answered that with a bright smile.
“Because I’d be back to square one with the choosings, silly.” After a brief pause she did add more. “And you’re kind. You’re understanding and fairly independent so I can do my own thing.”
Rella’s voice spoke up from the front, “And you annoy me. She loves that part.”
Shannon giggled in agreement. “We can get you back once Ace tells us it’s safe. Unless you take a liking to Central Settlement and my father. Then you can always stay!” She joked. “Get your rest,” she added before turning back to the front of their wagon. “We’ll talk soon.”
Jochro meant to nod but didn’t quite have the energy to do so. He gave up when he realized she had already turned around. Staring forward, his eyes went wide as he thought of Jaymes. Did she know what had happened? That he had now left? He thought about her and what he’d write on his note back to Ikalga once his hand was usable. Jochro fell asleep four words into mentally crafting the potential note.