We had forgotten about Brin.
Well, really we hadn't forgotten about Brin - we both knew perfectly well that Brin had likely been resurrected from his backup; what we didn't know was how recent that backup was, and whether or not he would recognize either one of us given our carefully maintained disguises.
Then, when big moons went by with no sign of him, we started to hope that he'd been transferred out in disgrace, demoted, killed for incompetence - whatever, that he was gone and not to be worried over any more. I put him out of my mind as something I couldn't do anything at all about anyway, at least not unless I saw him first.
We actually saw one another at about the same time. I was just coming out of breakfast, past a group of the grey masters that were coming from the general vicinity of the gate (which was inside a building necessarily built on the surface off some distance from the ``monastery'' proper and fatally off limits to all slaves under all circumstances).
I paused to listen in, as they were discussing the ongoing search for Sharra and myself with somebody that had apparently just returned through the gate from a fruitless grooming of planes. I raised my head to see who was speaking at the same instant that he turned his cowled face to me and there we were, looking eye to dead-shark eye.
A split second later I was lying on the ground writhing as intense, ongoing pain rocketed across my neck. The shock went on and on. I smelled burning flesh from my neck and remember thinking that any second now the loop would start to tighten and that it would be an actual mercy, no matter how slowly they choked my life away. Then everything went black.
If the usual interpretation of many-universes quantum theory was correct (it isn't) an entire sheaf of Sam Fosters never woke up from that blackness, as it was produced by the instant snipping off of his head to roll across the floor. On those worlds, the bad guys won, except on still others where they lost because of Sharra alone and still others where the Lone Ranger himself arrived to save the day. The notion that just because anything, in principle, can happen that somewhere in the multiverse everything does happen is simply not correct.
This isn't opinion - it is statistical mechanics. The space of possible multiversal states grows faster (in a scaling argument) than the already immense space of states within any given universe by some combinatorial/factorial arrangement that makes the biggest numbers you can possibly imagine seem minuscule. The multiverse makes for bundles of trajectories in nearby universes, but the occupied phase space volume of these trajectories is still vanishingly small compared to the total available volume. If that makes any sense to you at all - it probably won't unless you're a physicist or mathematician.
There is also an interesting existential argument here - if there are multiversal bundles containing dead Sam Fosters, then as far as my awareness is concerned they are perceptually bifurcated out of my universe bundle, and hence out of my story.
Just playin' with your mind here, understand. Multiversal physics can give you a headache.
Just like the headache I had on awakening, not dead and head on shoulders, in what appeared to be late afternoon from the sunlight streaming cheerily in through the window.
Let me explain something. Of all the ways I have ever woken up in my long lifetime, that particular one was the worst. There is something about being strapped, naked, to an ill-padded stainless steel starfish-shaped table with your legs and arms stretched out so that your joints are barely creaking that is quite unpleasant all by itself, but people endure worse in a colonoscopy and survive.
Throw in the operating room lights. Add several trays of very nasty looking implements, the wires running to pads glued onto your skin in unpleasant places. Add the silent circle of grey cowled, grey skinned figures, with Brin in their midst, and it becomes downright horrorshow. I wasn't, for the moment, in terrible pain, so the body wanted to live. My mind, however, was already cringing away from what was coming and yes, I longed for death even before it started. I had no illusions about the Lone Ranger coming, at least in time to save me from what was now inevitable. I had a single hope - that Sharra could remain undetected and possibly finish off this nest of vermin without me.
I cleared my mind of everything as best I could. No fear. No pain. No me. I had no will, could do nothing. Except endure.
Brin stepped forward, staring into my soul with his twin pits of horror and said, in perfect English ``You killed me.''
It was a statement, not a question, but I nodded.
``I, of course, have no memory of it. How was it accomplished.''
``How is it that you recognize me?'' I asked.
He smiled, a horrible sight. ``I doubt that you would understand. I remember everything up to small moon before my death, and know of most of the events that followed. Only my direct perceptions of the last few days are missing. Enlighten me.''
I saw no particular point in lying or resisting. I knew already that if I tried he would simply hurt me until I told him, in English (as it had a bunch of the words I needed where Ushti did not).
``I managed to slip a drug into your wine made from local herbs. It wasn't really a poison, so I suppose your built-in detectors missed it. I then strapped you into a furnace and cranked up the heat. Your nifty little personal defense system, however, was working amazingly well and actually managed to protect you in the middle of a forced-air fire at temperatures well over a thousand degrees. Perhaps in time the fire would have overwhelmed it; perhaps in time you would have suffocated, but instead you woke up - your defenses were apparently working to counteract the drug.
``Since I'd heard stories about those defenses, I expected that they were based in electronics on your wrists. I had prepared the kiln into which you were placed with electrodes. I had built a simple electrostatic generator, one capable of delivering a fair burst of energy at a million volts or so. I cranked it up and just as you were using your finger in some way that would probably have killed me, I sent a spark through you that obviously fried your electronics. You then died, rather spectacularly I thought. Too bad it wasn't permanent enough.''
The latter was pointless, sure, but there was nothing to be either gained or lost by bravado except the tiny possibility that I could keep their attention focussed on me until Sharra had time to make her play. Her play, unfortunately would take time. Time I probably didn't have.
The smile on Brin's face turned into an open grin. ``I see. A small chance, but you discovered it and exploited it. You are to be congratulated. Now, however, it is my turn. First I will cause you pain, not for any particular purpose but because your pain will please me, especially as I see your arrogance turn to despair. Second, I and my friends here will ask you questions, and with the use of pain and drugs you will give us answers, complete and correct answers that leave nothing whatsoever hidden. Third, I will administer your death. I will employ all of my not inconsiderable skill in this, as well as the full range of technologies at my disposal. I expect that I will be able to keep you alive and in very close to the theoretical maximum degree of pain for a long, long time - as long as one of your years. Perhaps you will go mad from the pain, but I think not. I expect that you will still remain, suffering, until the very end. Every day I will force all the other servants and slaves in this compound to observe your current state of disassembly and pain, that you can be a useful lesson to them for the future.
Although my throat was so dry and choked up that I could hardly trust myself to talk, I nodded. ``Yeah, I figured that you would have some sort of sick agenda like that, if I ever got caught. The one consolation I have is that with any luck, a rain of asteroids will happen long before that and you, and I, and this entire place will be turned into a lake of lava a thousand kilometers wide. You evil grey fucks aren't exactly popular in the multiversal culture, you know. There are groups waiting in line to reduce your whole species to a bad smell and a memory.''
Something like rage spasmed over his face. ``Enough!'' He shouted. ``If you or your compatriots had succeeded in getting out the information on where this place is, signs of an attack would already be in place. You, or your agents, have failed. No immortality will preserve you from what is in store - in fact,'' he paused with obvious relish, ``it will preserve your vitality and sanity where both would be lost to an ordinary mortal. It is unusual even for our best efforts to keep a mortal alive for longer than a week of peak level pain.
``And if they do learn the location of this facility, it makes no difference. We have defenses that no one else imagines to be even possible. No possible attack on the physical plane can succeed, not even with information given out freely by spies like you. The cause of the god Shelmor and his consort the DEMigod Shelmah will triumph, and all other gods and DEMigods will bow down or perish the real death, long before the next yuga.''
``Now,'' he said. ``Let us begin. I have noticed how males of your species have their psychological selves emotionally and hormonally linked to their sex organs, which are also extraordinarily pain-sensitive. We will therefore begin today with the gradual removal of those organs, coupled with the application of electrical shock, heat, and the selective flaying of skin to prepare you to receive the pain that will accompany your actual questioning tomorrow.''
And it was so.