John was on his back, breath shallow and chest aching, trying with increasing alarm to remember where he was. Someone came to his side and applied an oxygen mask to his mouth and nose. There was no hose or tank, but he knew a high oxygen mix when it flooded his brain.
They had fled Delhi. He remembered that clearly. It had nearly been impossible to convince Khan to abandon the city, but they had to run or he would die. The tide had turned against them all, but it was Khan who needed to be protected from the world and himself alike. John blinked slowly and gazed at a featureless ceiling. The harder he tried to think, the further his thoughts slipped away. They had all split up and they had fled, but things grew vague after that.
There was a woman standing next to the bed, leaning down to look at him intently. She wore a deeply blue smock; the color burned the cones of his eyes. "I think he's awake," she said, her voice low and awed. "I can't believe it. He's awake."
John did not like the sound of that.
He was hurt, he supposed. He drifted in and out of consciousness, but he couldn't pinpoint a specific injury when he was alert enough to try. He didn't even feel drugged: only immeasurably tired. Drugging him was a massive undertaking, and he would know the difference.
Where were the others? There was no one in this room aside from him and the woman he assumed to be a doctor. She was certainly not one of his doctors, but he'd left his own doctors behind when he'd defected. She spoke quietly, apparently to herself, and when she touched him it was with almost fearful care. He tried to ask where he was, but the air only scraped in his throat.
"Don't try to talk," she said. The oxygen was applied again, and he saw no reason to resist.
They had fled Delhi. They were supposed to meet again in... Beijing. What was in Beijing? Something important. It was very important that they all reach Beijing. He couldn't stay here.
"Medical chief's log, supplemental," the woman said. "Circulation and brain activity are improving rapidly. There may be no organ failure after all." She paused. "Some vital signs are still lagging."
Something about her voice bothered him. He tried to ask her if she could be more specific, but summoning the energy to try speak pushed him under again.
John woke again to a voice that was male and loud. "Is he conscious?"
"He's..." The woman hesitated. "Well, he is now."
"Son? Can you hear me?"
John squinted up at the man leaning over him. Older, military. Unquestionably military. "Tell me your name," he said.
American. That was it. They were both American. He couldn't possibly be in America, so this had to be an army base. He'd been captured? If they hadn't killed him on sight, then they were preparing to return him to Britain.
"Son? Is your name Singh?"
"He can't speak yet," the woman said. "His recovery is... well, amazing, but the freeze damaged his lungs extensively. He isn't breathing well."
"Nod or shake your head," the man said. "Are you Khan Singh?"
"Admiral, with all due respect," the doctor said, "he's going to need a day or two."
The man sighed loudly. "The second you deem him fit for interrogation, doctor, report to me directly and have security escort him to my office. This isn't a spa."
John had closed his eyes again, but that seemed to be the end of the exchange. The Americans had army bases everywhere save the bottom of the damned ocean; he could be anywhere. There wouldn't be time for anyone to turn around and mount a rescue for him. No margin for error. No time.
He opened his eyes again and found the room empty.
The thermal blanket covering his chest slipped into a glittering heap in his lap as he gripped the sides of the bed and pulled himself upright. He fought a wave of dizziness to swing his legs off, and then he carefully pushed his weight onto his feet to stand. God help him, he felt like he'd been hit by a truck. His clothing felt strange. The air tasted thin and metallic. There was a large pane of glass set into the wall beside his bed, flashing numbers like a television screen.
He pulled open drawers and pawed through their contents, but there weren't any scalpels or needles or even scissors. When the doctor returned, eyes wide, grasping his shoulders and urging him to lie back down, he sighed and just snapped her neck. Her body fell against his and, to his surprise, sent them both tumbling to the floor.
He lay still for a moment, struggling to catch his breath, and then shoved her off and went through her smock's pockets; she had medical equipment, but he couldn't identify any of it. Something was wrong. The room's light didn't look incandescent or fluorescent. He couldn't tell what material the floor was made of.
If he'd sustained some sort of head injury, he'd have to worry about it later. He needed to find Khan if the American military was on them. Always fashionably late, the bastards.
The man standing guard in the hallway outside the room blinked at him. "You woke up?"
John punched him in the throat and broke his neck as well. Then he had to lean against the wall for a moment to gasp for breath. This was ridiculous.
The man's belt yielded up what looked like a gun -- it was far too light, but John was treating his assumptions with some caution -- and a gadget like a compact that chirped at him when he opened it. He didn't know what it did and he didn't have pockets, so he left it with the guard.
The floor was cold against his bare feet and there were no windows, so John decided that he should be trying to go up. He wandered the hallways for a long time, pausing frequently to catch his breath. He didn't find any stairwells.
It was curious, he thought, how quickly one's life could change. He still chose to believe that it was for the better; he had done nothing to earn his knighthood beyond existing, and he'd never felt any desire for the positions of power he'd been groomed for. He'd hated his handlers and his peers. He'd hated London. When he'd been brought before Parliament and asked, pointedly, what he thought should be done about his considerably more ambitious friend in India, he'd been glad to realize that it finally didn't matter, as Parliament had already decided what should be done about John Harrison. He was not going to go back. He had real family and real loyalties now.
He didn't know why the American thought he was Khan. He didn't know why the guard's gun looked like a toy. He couldn't quite remember what the plan had been. Something desperate. Something... sad.
"If we die," Khan had said, "then we'll all die together. We will all be together, whatever happens."
"But we won't die," he'd said. "I'll be here when you wake up. So sleep well, Sir John."
John looked down at himself, and then up at the ceiling, and then at the gun in his hand.
"There he is!"
He flung himself at an open door without turning around, finding himself in another featureless hallway. He sprinted down its length despite his short breath and followed it as it turned a corner, and then another one. He was forming a mental map as he went, but it was useless without a grounding context. The sound of clattering boots grew more distant, but he couldn't lose them like this--
The hallway terminated in a huge and brightly lit hangar. It was filled wall to wall with sleek, bullet-like pods, each large enough to hold an adult. The far wall was a window, and it showed nothing but a night sky from the wrong angle, blackness and pinpoints of light reaching out into infinity. John fell to his knees, gasping for air. When his pursuers caught up, he didn't have the strength to turn around.
John had taken a bullet before. It wasn't a bullet that struck the back of his head; it felt like a cattle-prod. Every nerve exploded with pain as he fell over onto his side without a sound, his breath thoroughly knocked from him. Footsteps approached him as he struggled to breathe, and the American knelt down to pluck the gun from John's limp fingers.
He pressed a switch a couple of times on the gun and pointed it at the nearest pod. "I'm only asking you one more time," he said, his voice dangerously low. "Are you, or are you not, Khan Singh?"
He had a full security team with him, and they had rifles all pointed at John. But his own gun, confiscated from the man John had killed, remained on the cryogenic tube. John had just been struck with some kind of electrical surge; what would that do to a suspended life support system? "Because if you're not," the American said, "I will be all too happy to stick you back where we found you, you goddamned psychopath, and wake up someone worth negotiating with."
John thought of Khan. Noble, stupid, optimistic-beyond-all-reason Khan, who had only come this far because he'd done what he had been created to do. Khan, who could be in any one of the tubes behind him; removed from the freighter, there was no way to know. "Maybe," he'd said in Beijing, staring up at the DY-100 freighter, "when we wake, everything will be different."
John closed his eyes. He nodded. "Yes," he croaked.
"Yes, what?" the American said.
John took a deep breath. "I'm Singh." He could barely manage more than a whisper. "Khan Noonien Singh." He swallowed. "Please... don't."
The silence that followed probably wasn't as long as it felt. John could hear his pulse rushing in his ears. "Damn," the American finally said. He dialed the gun back down and thrust it into his belt. "Got it in one. What are the odds of that?"
"You don't have to know a lot about the twentieth century to make an educated guess," someone else said dryly, and John looked at him sharply.
The American nodded. "Cuff him."